TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS

It doesn’t feel like it should be August, yet here we are. In a way, months have ceased to matter since February. Yet, we’re inching closer to another holiday season, and though we don’t know when, new consoles are coming soon. Will the effects of the pandemic cause people to buy these new boxes without a second thought, or might they stick to the older, cheaper machines because they have most of the same games anyway? It’s worth considering both outcomes, because they will shape the console generation going forward.

In the meantime, the games coming out this month encompass a lot of licensed titles, some Microsoft first party action, and the release of an obscure JRPG that fans have wanted for years. It’s a great example of the weird and wonderful titles publishers put out towards the end of a generation, when they’re firing on all cylinders and have a great understanding of the current hardware. After several months of turmoil and delays, this is a month that’s comparatively pretty beefy. I actually cut stuff from this list for the first time in a while in favor of titles I thought needed more attention. And then of course, you have My Universe: My Baby

I myself haven’t been playing games lately (Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition still sits unfinished), but the release of Dontnod’s Tell Me Why gives me more excitement about the industry than I’ve felt in awhile. I really like Dontnod’s style; they remind me of an author who consistently puts out solid, socially-conscious novels that straddle the line between young adult and adult fiction. It’s wonderful to see Xbox Game Studios publishing such an interesting game from an outside developer, and it’s (for me, anyway) the most meaningful exclusive they’ve had this entire generation. Hopefully, you’ll see why below.

Anyway, that’s it for this month. Here’s to a better September.

They always say it’s “about family,” but…

Fast & Furious Crossroads
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment | Developer: Slightly Mad Studios | Release Date: 8/7/20


What is it?
True to the name, Crossroads is a new part of the Fast & Furious saga. Originally meant to launch in May after the April release of F9, the pandemic shifted everything around so that Crossroads comes out in August, while F9 waits all the way until April 2021 to have a shot in theaters. This is probably for the best, because while the trailer shows nice cars and environments, the character models in Crossroads look like they’re from the 360/PS3 era. With new consoles on the horizon, delaying this game any further will only make its graphical shortcomings more apparent.

Why is it important?
There’s something about this game, a racer developed by Slightly Mad Studios (Project CARS), that feels like a throwback to the heyday of licensed movie games and celebrity tie-ins. Part of this probably has to do with the bizarre way it was announced – as the final big reveal of the 2019 Game Awards that was supported by appearances from both Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez. However, instead of being blown away by the announcement, a lot of people focused instead on the sub-par graphics, and memories of Rodriguez’s role in the film The Assignment, the premise of which has been widely criticized as transphobic, as have Rodriguez’s comments in support of the film. While there is no connection between The Assignment and the Fast & Furious franchise, seeing Rodriguez take such a public role in support of the game just rubbed salt into old wounds.

Let’s take a trip back to 2017…

Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition
(PC)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: Guerrilla Games | Release Date: 8/7/20


What is it?
Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition is the same game as the 2017 PS4 open-world RPG developed by Guerilla Games (previously of Killzone fame), except now it’s being released on PC, DLC included. Since this game predates Ten Games to Look For and has gone on to sell over 10 million copies on PS4 alone, I thought why not give it a shout out here? I haven’t played it myself, but the setting looks great, and the mix of decayed post-apocalypse with high tech creatures is intriguing.

Why is it important?
In the same way I’ve followed former Microsoft exclusives like Cuphead come to Switch (and also PS4 recently), I’m just as fascinated by any sign of a loosening grip in regards to Sony’s exclusives. This started with the announcement that Sony’s MLB: The Show is going multiplatform, but has continued as other title find themselves on PC, like Death Stranding. I’m also fascinated with how Horizon has transformed Guerrilla from being a strict first-person shooter developer to an RPG studio of significant renown, culminating in their leader, Hermen Hulst, being named Head of Sony Worldwide Studios late last year.

Sports games roll on, whether there’s live sports or not.

EA Sports UFC 4
(PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Electronic Arts | Developer: Electronic Arts (Vancouver) | Release Date: 8/14/20


What is it?
EA Sports’ UFC franchise is a rare breed among EA’s roster in that it doesn’t adhere to the traditional yearly release. Of course, a two-year schedule means you can still expect a new game on a regular basis, but an extra year of development is an extra year of development. It can go a long way. An open letter from series creative director Brian Hayes discusses some of the changes the developers have made since UFC 3, including the removal of the Ultimate Team mode, and improvements to UFC 3’s RPM technology. Submissions have been simplified, there’s a new grapple assist to help newer players, and there’s a new online mode called Blitz Battles if you’re looking to get some quick matches in as well. The updates have a slight give-and-take feel, but at least they’re not trying to force strict uniformity across all titles anymore. As the letter points out, UFC is not traditionally a team sport.

Why is it important?
UFC 4 was announced only recently – on July 11th – and there’s conspicuously no mention of next gen platforms, even though other EA Sports games like Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21 have already been confirmed for the new consoles. Though the circumstances are a bit different, I can’t help but think of a similar situation last generation with NCAA Football 14. It remained a PS3/360 exclusive and became the last game in its franchise due to legal issues about the use of player likenesses. As a result, it’s one of the most expensive games of its era, and while I don’t expect that’ll happen with UFC 4, it’s something to keep in mind.

Raising a baby? In this economy?

My Universe: My Baby
(Switch)

Publisher: Maximum Games / Microids | Developer: Smart Tale Games | Release Date: 8/18/20


What is it?
The title My Universe: My Baby may sound vaguely threatening, but the game itself is pretty much what it says on the box. It’s the inaugural installment of the new My Universe series and lets players customize their baby and raise them for unknown purposes. Plenty of games like this have existed before, Babysitting Mama being one example, but I’m always curious what the end goal of these games is supposed to be. Do you raise the babies until they become toddlers? Full-grown adults? Is the end of the game sending them off to college and coming home to your empty nest to cry out your grief? If that were the case, I might be excited to experience such an emotional journey, but alas. I don’t think My Universe: My Baby is that kind of game.

Why is it important?
This game isn’t as “important” as other games on this list, but it’s an interesting oddity. Watching the trailer (which, fair warning, is in German), I was mostly reminded of Nintendogs in terms of what the minute-to-minute gameplay actually looks like. You’ll watch your baby toddle around a bedroom, play with sandcastles in the park, and you’ll even take them on some first-person stroller rides. Yes, there seems to be some kind of changing minigame involved, and yes, I do think the big eyes on the babies look a bit soulless and creepy. But, I hope the mild amount of uncomfortability I felt researching this game results in some entertainment for you. Play this game – or not. I don’t care. 

I don’t know what’s happening on this screen but it sure looks nice.

Battletoads
(PC/XB1)

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Developer: Dlala Studios / Rare | Release Date: 8/20/20


What is it?
Battletoads is a beat ‘em up revival of the classic NES/arcade franchise co-developed by series creator Rare and Dlala Studios. Back when this game was announced in 2018, the list of upcoming Xbox exclusives was quite small. Aside from Battletoads, highlights included Ori and the Will of the WispsCrackdown 3, and Halo Infinite. Over the past year, Microsoft has worked to turn that around, giving us titles like Grounded, Bleeding Edge, and Tell Me Why in the process. However, it wasn’t until very recently (as in, July 31st) that Battletoads obtained a firm release date.

Why is it important?
Right now, this is the biggest question mark in Microsoft’s library. With the sudden announcement that Battletoads is set to drop in a few weeks, I get the feeling that they want it out the door and gone before the Xbox Series X drops, making its Xbox One console exclusivity irrelevant. The new trailer is sharply animated, and I quite like the art style, but the glimpses of gameplay we see don’t really convey if this is something I’d find fun or not. I hope for the best with Battletoads but I’m not convinced of anything just yet.

Who makes the superior music?

No Straight Roads
(PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: Sold Out | Developer: Metronomik | Release Date: 8/25/20


What is it?
No Straight Roads is a new game from Malaysian developer Metronomik that’s reminiscent of Gitaroo Man, but shaped into a music-based action game. Controlling one of two characters Mayday and Zuke (or both in couch co-op), the two work to introduce the EDM-dominated Vinyl City to the magic of Rock ‘n’ Roll by taking down the biggest music company, No Straight Roads. The combat is rhythm based, the visual style is colorful and vibrant, and the call back to games like Jet Set Radio leave me intrigued.

Why is it important?
However, part of me wonders if there are enough stories in the world portraying rock as “the truth” or “the right way to enjoy music” while ignoring the qualities that EDM, techno, and disco bring to the music scene. I’m reminded of the stories my dad used to tell me of “The Disco Demolition” where Chicago White Sox fans were implored to bring in disco records for discounted tickets on a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers in July 1979. The plan was to blow up the records in-between games in an attempt to rebel against the disco trend and support rock music. This NPR description of the night by Derek John goes into not only the riot that broke out when fans stormed the field, setting things on fire, and stealing bases, but also points out that it wasn’t just disco records that fans were bringing to destroy. When you hear that “friggin’ Curtis Mayfield records and Otis Clay records” were among the collection, it starts to make sense why some people believe the event was “a not-so-subtle attack against disco’s early adopters: blacks, Latinos and gay people.” Now, being a Malaysian developer, Metronomik is far removed from this story and is likely approaching this game from a different angle, but I’m still left wondering why the distinction between rock and EDM really matters. They’re just different types of music people can enjoy at the end of the day. One is not better than the other.

Move it, Bucketheads.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered Edition
(And/iOS/PS4/Switch)

Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: The Game Designers Studio / Square Enix | Release Date: 8/27/20


What is it?
At one time, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles was notable for being the first Final Fantasy made for a Nintendo console since Final Fantasy VI. Though released after the merger between Squaresoft and Enix, it was conceived at a time when Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within bombed at the box office, and Sony purchased a minor stake in Squaresoft to keep them going. In order to develop for the Gamecube without impacting their other projects, The Game Designers Studio was created as a shell company just for this game. Eventually selling over a million copies, this sub-series went on to spawn a number of sequels during the Wii and DS era, and hasn’t really been revisited since.

Why is it important?
What this remaster helps highlight, interestingly, is that feats that were once impressive back in the day (the reigniting relationship between Square and Nintendo) sometimes become obscure historical footnotes. These days, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is just Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Now that the game is on modern consoles, it’ll actually be easier to experience it as it was meant to be played. As it’s not on Gamecube anymore, the requirement to have 3 GBAs linked to a console for four player co-op is gone, giving closure to those of us that were only children and didn’t have the friends to make the experience worth it back in the day.

2020 is a great year for moon-themed games on Switch.

Moon: Remix RPG Adventure
(Switch)

Publisher: Onion Games | Developer: Love-de-Lic / Onion Games | Release Date: 8/27/20


What is it?
Moon is a unique RPG. Sucked into a world where a Hero has already left on their grand journey, the player character, Moon, is tasked with fixing the mess the Hero leaves behind. Part of this includes capturing the souls of the animals killed by the Hero to boost Moon’s Love level, which in turn gives him the power to grant the wishes of certain people in the world. If you’ve ever wondered about the people who have to clean up after the protagonists you usually play as, this game might be for you.

Why is it important?
Originally released for the Playstation, Moon remained an obscure cult hit, even in Japan. Its developer, Love-de-Lic, only developed two more titles (including the equally obscure Dreamcast game L.O.L.: Lack of Love), but the staff behind these games have moved on to more recognizable roles in the decades since. Moon’s director, Kenichi Nishi, later went on to make Chibi-Robo! for the Gamecube, while one of Nishi’s co-designers, Taro Kudo, wrote and directed the most recent Paper Mario titles. This Switch release is headlined by Yoshiro Kimura, who directed Chulip and Little King’s Story, produced the first two No More Heroes games, and performed several duties on Rule of Rose, one of the most sought after PS2 games of all time. His company, Onion Games, seems to be handling worldwide rights to this title which leaves me wondering, if this is successful, is there a chance we’ll see the other two Love-de-Lic games in English too?

More like Dontwalk away from this title.

Tell Me Why: Episode 1
(PC/XB1)

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Developer: Dontnod Entertainment | Release Date: 8/27/20


What is it?
Tell Me Why is the latest adventure from Dontnod Entertainment, and stars twins Tyler and Alyson who reunite to return to their childhood home in rural Alaska. As opposed to their last game, Life is Strange 2, where new episodes took months at a time to release, Xbox Game Studios and Dontnod wisely decided to tell the story over the course of three installments, each releasing a week apart. No word on what happened to the other game Dontnod was working on, Twin Mirror, but I’m hoping it still exists.

Why is it important?
Tell Me Why is the most important game of the month for several reasons. The biggest is Dontnod’s effort to make Tyler, a transgender male, a front and center protagonist in a major first party-published game. It’s on both Dontnod and Xbox Game Studios to make sure this story is done right, and Dontnod recently released a FAQ (spoilers if you click) in advance of the game to try and assure people they know what they’re doing. This is necessary in light of the negative way Deadly Premonition 2 handled its transgender representation, especially after Swery65’s last game, The Missing, received positive marks for its approach to the same topic (spoilers in that link as well). In reading the FAQ, Dontnod also reveals more about the use of Alaska as a setting, specifically their efforts to faithfully portray the state’s indigenous peoples. This blog post goes more in depth about Dontnod’s work with artists in Tlingit culture, going as far as to include links to the online stores of specific artists, such as this one for Jeffrey Skaflestad. All of this effort could be for nothing if Dontnod doesn’t absolutely nail what they set out to do, but revealing all this information pre-release projects a self-confidence in their game that leaves me hopeful.

THE EIGHTIES.

Captain Tsubasa: Rise of New Champions
(PC/PS4/Switch)

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment | Developer: Tamsoft | Release Date: 8/28/20


What is it?
As an anime, Captain Tsubasa has been delivering extreme soccer action since 1981. Unfortunately, not many of the previous Tsubasa games have made their way outside of Japan. Other than Rise of New Champions, the most recent game is the very first one on the NES, which was redesigned for the West by Tecmo as Tecmo Cup Soccer Game. Rise of New Champions, freed from that kind of interference, presents audiences with heavily stylized soccer featuring character designs that remain faithful to the look of the series. There’s a lot more flashy action here than your usual FIFA or Pro Evolution game.

Why is it important?
Bandai Namco’s made a large effort lately to bolster their roster of games with several licensed tie-ins. This isn’t new for a big company like Namco, but what’s changed is their willingness to release more of them worldwide. Last month I brought up Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. Maxiboost ON, which had a Japanese arcade and console release about a decade ago. Last year, I mentioned Super Dragon Ball Heroes: World Mission, which was also released in Japanese arcades and had several DS and 3DS releases before its Switch version broke through to the West. With this in mind, it’s not so odd that they’re also in charge of Fast & Furious: Crossroads. I bet Captain Tsubasa will be the better game, though.

Finally, a chance at victory.

Ten Games to Look For is a series that breaks down releases month by month, usually in lists of ten (unless there’s more than one version coming out – in that case… oops). For more articles from A Gaming Life Pt. 2, you can head here. If you’d like to respond to this article, please leave a comment below, or –  get in touch with me on Twitter, or by email: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com. Thanks for reading and please consider donating to both the Huna Heritage Foundation and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Black Lives Matter, Trans Rights are important, and please wear a mask when you go out. I hope you have a great month!