TAKE A BREATHER

After what felt like an extended holiday season filled with high profile games and corporate drama, April’s release schedule looks to keep things level for a few weeks. There are still a couple of attention-stealing titles to look forward to (Moral Kombat 11Days Gone), and there’s plenty more on the horizon with more getting announced every day, but I’d like to spend this month’s list celebrating some of the quieter releases, too. There are a number of interesting ports, indie PC exclusives, and oddballs coming down the pipeline, and there’s no better way for me to call people’s attention to them than with this list here.

One particular game I want to highlight a little bit more is Weedcraft Inc, a Devolver Digital published title that’s pretty much what you think it is. As a weed-themed money management sim, players play the part of a dealer and seek to grow their marijuana empire. Seeing a title like this is amazing to me, because it’s hard to imagine something like it getting approved five years ago, let alone ten. The conversation about marijuana legislation is still relevant and support continues to grow, but it’s rare to see a game take on a subject like this. Where years ago, this title might have been called out and banned by public opinion, the response that I’ve seen, if anyone knows about it, is generally positive.

This is just one of the many ways that video games can continue to improve as an art form and a force in our culture. I realize that it may not seem like much, and that part of the reason people might check it out is still due to the shock value of playing a game with weed in it, but it’s a game that’s challenging a hotly debated political topic in a space where companies work to de-politicize their games instead of staying true to their stories. It’s as maverick a game as Devolver has ever put out, and if that doesn’t count for something, I don’t know what does.

Without further ado, here’s this month’s list. See you next month!

Far: Lone Sails

FAR: Lone Sails (PS4/XB1)
Publisher: Mixtvision
Developer: Okomotive
Release Date: 4/2/19

What is it?
Originally released on PC last May, FAR: Lone Sails is a side-scrolling game where players are in control of a giant futuristic car, and must ride it from one end of of a post-apocalyptic wasteland to another, while moving about the vehicle to perform different tasks that keep it going. It is a solitary, lonely game with sparse storytelling and no enemies to speak of, which definitely sets it apart from the crowd given its genre and art style.

Why is it important?
FAR’s mix of puzzle solving and vehicle maintenance got great reviews last year and even some award nominations. It’s an indie game with textless storytelling, kind of like Gris, that manages to express what it needs with mostly visual language. It is also a great example of how far games have come in recent years – imagine this game coming out on the Gamecube or PS2 back fifteen years ago. I don’t think it would have caught on. In the advent of digital sales platforms, emotional platformers like Gris and Braid have done exceptionally well, often outlasting many of the games that release around that time. I don’t think FAR is any different – it’s a title you’ll remember for years to come.

Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission

Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission (PC/Switch)
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Dimps
Release Date: 4/5/19

What is it?
Dragon Ball Heroes is a Dragon Ball digital card game spin-off originally released in Japanese arcades in 2010. A number of ports and sequels released over the next several years on the 3DS, and a physical trading card game has existed in the West for years, but this is sort of a rebirth meant to bring in a new audnence. It’s just in time, as a new Super Dragon Ball Heroes ONA has released periodically in Japan over the last several months, and Dragon Ball FighterZ is still a popular title in its own right.

Why is it important?
Dragon Ball‘s popularity has been on the rise again for a number of years. The newest movies are doing well at the international box office, and FighterZ is a juggernaut. It makes perfect sense for Toei and Bandai Namco to strike with the next big pillar for the franchise, especially since it revitalizes a part of its history that not everyone might be familiar with. It’s not the new thing that everyone may be looking for, but it’s a bold direction that should pay off nicely if people buy into it like I think they will.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy (PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 4/9/19

What is it?
An HD remaster of Capcom’s classic visual novel/adventure game trilogy, this release collects all fourteen of the original cases and publishes them in one package – including the special case that was written when the first Ace Attorney was first ported to the DS from the GBA. Previously, Capcom had kept the series mostly on Nintendo consoles and mobile phones, but with this release hitting all major platforms in a wide release, that no longer seems to be the case. This is totally fine, because these games are exceptional and everyone should try them at least once – just prepare for a lot of late 2000’s jokes that might not have aged like people may have hoped. SPARDA, indeed.

Why is it important?
I have long been frustrated by the way Capcom has handled this series since the 3DS launched – not translating certain games in the series, pushing others to a digital-only approach despite a retail release in Japan, and generally just a lack of interest to the bafflement of fans who use to hang on this series’ every word. I hope that with this new release the series can pick up steam once again and convince Capcom that, hey, maybe this is a series worth taking seriously, but there’s no guarantee it will work. These games are totally worth it though, and deserve to sit in a box alongside the best adventure games and visual novels on the market right now.

Weedcraft Inc

Weedcraft Inc (PC)
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Vile Monarch
Release Date: 4/11/19

What is it?
Grow weed. Sell weed. Avoid getting arrested. Keep your customers happy. Devolver Digital and Vile Monarch look at the burgeoning marijuana industry with a new sim that is emblematic of its time and totally fitting for this kind of treatment.

Why is it important?
As I’ve indicated, I think it’s important for games like this to push boundaries and make names for themselves. It’s possible the final product will be way more of a joke than I’m giving it credit for, but even if it is, the name and concept will get people talking. I also think it’s smart that Devolver avoided the obvious 4/20 release date, as that would have made the game more clearly just a joke than something meant to be played. It’s still a close enough release to get some buzz, but it does wonders for the game’s legitimacy.

Anno 1800

Anno 1800 (PC)
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Blue Byte
Release Date: 4/16/19

What is it?
While not as well known as other city builders and RTS games like SimCity or Age of Empires, the Anno series has been around for two decades. This particular entry is set during the Industrial Revolution and presents the player with issues like labor strikes and pollution, while also pioneering a new Blueprint system, where players can plan out buildings in their city, but only pay for them when they’re actually ready to build them. Though it’s never touched the throne of leadership in the genre, the Anno series has been consistent throughout its run, and I would like to see 1800 be the one to finally get the franchise name out there and speak for itself. 

Why is it important?
This title is the latest in the train of games that are abandoning Steam for the Epic Games Store as the digital platform of choice (while still accepting Steam pre-orders). As a part of that controversy, it may draw more people in than ever before, which presents a great marketing opportunity if Ubisoft wants to take advantage of it. I personally never knew about this series, and was surprised to that it’s gone through several publishers, including Electronic Arts, and has had entries on the Wii and DS. Maybe putting an Anno game on Switch wouldn’t be a bad idea – but I guess it would depend on how Civilization VI has done, and how sales for other Ubisoft games are doing on the platform a well.

Cuphead

Cuphead (Switch)
Publisher: Studio MDHR
Developer: Studio MDHR
Release Date: 4/18/19

What is it?
Cuphead was formerly an Xbox One exclusive known for its hand drawn 1930’s animation-inspired art, and also its difficult run and gun gameplay. Though some people always thought the Switch would be a perfect fit for the game, no one seriously expected for that to become a reality. Not, at least, until Studio MDHR announced, as part of Nintendo’s March 20th Indies Showcase, that the game would be coming. 

Why is it important?
The friendship between Microsoft and Nintendo is taking an interesting turn. It’s not completely out of the blue – developer Rare was allowed to make games for the GBA and DS long after they were bought by Microsoft – but it’s still surprising to see. Despite what Sony may want people to believe, the idea of a “console war” has waned in recent years and this is only the latest sign. Whether this precludes a true version of Xbox Live coming to Nintendo’s system is another question, but let’s take it one step at a time, shall we?

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (Switch)
Publisher: Capcom
Developer: Capcom
Release Date: 4/23/19

What is it?
A port of the expanded version of Dragon’s Dogma that’s been on almost every major HD console to date, this is another cog in the Capcom port machine I find myself returning to over and over. It’s such a different title than Onimusha or Ace Attorney, as it’s an RPG inspired by Western sources like J.R.R. Tolkein and Fable, but still contains that Capcom charm all the same. Since the Switch version is now the sixth version of the title floating around out there, I’d argue Capcom clearly thinks this game is worth preserving. Perhaps we’ll see a sequel before too long.

Why is it important?
Dragon’s Dogma released at the end of the 360/PS3 generation, and capped off a number of years where Capcom showed a willingness to expand and produce new IP. Okami, Dead Rising, and Lost Planet released during this time, and Ace Attorney got its first worldwide release on the DS as well. Since then, Capcom has become more reliant on sequels and ports to keep them going (not that they weren’t before), but that’s okay. A new console generation is around the corner. Hopefully then they can marry the run of success they’ve had recently with Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2Monster Hunter: World and more, and create even more new IP to love in one fell swoop. That’s the dream, anyway.

Mortal Kombat 11

Mortal Kombat 11 (PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Release Date: 4/23/19

What is it?
One of the goriest fighting franchises returns in yet another installment. The first to grace Nintendo consoles since being rebooted by NetherRealm Studios with Mortal Kombat in 2011, MK11 looks to keep improving the fighting system they’ve been working on for almost a decade. The plot involves time travel and changing the past, which signals that maybe the aforementioned reboot won’t be such a reboot anymore, but I’m not going to pretend that I understand the whys and hows of this idea. To me, this is a franchise about brutalizing people, and while a story is nice, it’s just window dressing for the main meal, so to speak.

Why is it important?
In my eyes, this is the biggest multi-platform release of the month. Days Gone is a huge new Sony-exclusive IP and Capcom putting Ace Attorney Trilogy on everything feels like big news of its own, but if there’s going to be any singular game that dominates the topic of conversation in the weeks to come, this is most likely that title. Now that NetherRealm has made three new Mortal Kombats and two Injustice titles, I’d love to see them tackle something else – perhaps a new IP or a spin-off in the vein of Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. Whatever they work on next, my guess is we’ll see it sometime in 2021.

Boxboy! + Boxgirl!

BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! (Switch)
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer HAL Laboratory
Release Date: 4/26/19

What is it?
Box puzzles, as told by a rectangle named Qbby. This series began on the 3DS and looks like the kind of game you could play on a scientific calculator, but don’t let that fool you. At the core here is a puzzle game with tons of content, inventive level design, and now a new co-op feature thanks to the introduction of BoxGirl. This may not be one of Nintendo’s top franchises, but I remain fascinated by this series’ slow trudge from 3DS eshop obscurity to genuine recognition as a legit puzzle franchise. I just want to root for each new entry – go BoxBoy! + BoxGirl! Go!

Why is it important?
This is the only significant Nintendo release of the month. With all of the ports pouring in, and a beefy summer on the horizon, it perhaps stands to reason that a few months need to remain dead to let people save up money or something, but I can’t help but see spots where other projects could fall in and make the Switch lineup even better. A new F-Zero here, a port of Pikmin 3 there. Perhaps Nintendo could bring back The Legendary Starfy next. That’d be cool to see on Switch.

Days Gone

Days Gone (PS4)
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: SIE Bend Studio
Release Date: 4/26/19

What is it?
Days Gone is an open world with elements of survival horror, survival, and stealth, and contains zombies known as “Freakers.” Originally announced at E3 2016, this game has had a rough time trying to find an identity, with comparisons to Sony’s other major zombie franchise, The Last of Us, being absolutely unavoidable. A focus on biker culture and massive hordes of zombies roaming the environment as opposed to small groups helps add color, but hopefully there’s enough going on in this game to give it the identity it truly needs.

Why is it important?
This is the first Playstation 4 project developed by Sony’s internal team in Bend, Oregon and their first console game since Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain in 2004. Between their stewardship of the Syphon Filter series and some releases on the PSP and Vita, the studio has made their presence known, but this game feels like their big break if it manages to be everything it promises and more. Where every other Sony team pumps out a game every three years or so, letting one team work on one game for so long, especially when it’s their first HD game period, feels like the right decision, but a risky one nevertheless. I’m going to remain positive on it until I can check it out for myself, but it does seem like the deck is stacked against Days Gone just a bit more than most games out there.

Will Days Gone be Sony’s Crackdown 3? A new classic like God of War? Or somewhere in the middle? Stay tuned…

Excited for any of April’s releases? You can leave your excitement in a comment below, or you can contact me on Twitter or email me at dcichocki@tiltingwindmillstudios.com and tell me yourself!