BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER

Last month, I posted Ten Games to Look For in June 2020 a few days into the protests against police brutality in the names of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other victims. I could have used my opportunity, my platform, to rewrite my introduction to address what was going on, but the thought did not occur to me until a while after the article was published. I regret that oversight.

So, this month is dedicated to the ongoing protests, and the victims of countless injustices that have been perpretrated against people in minority populations in America. Why is this necessary? Because, whether one, seven, or fifty people read this blog, I have a responsibility as a white person with a platform to speak out against injustice. After all, as a gay man, the Stonewall riots are a part of my history. From a larger perspective (though none of my ancestors lived here at the time, as far as I know), the Boston Tea Party protest was also an important marker in the move toward American independence. Protesting, fighting for change – it’s a part of history we need to embrace.

All my life, I’ve heard stories about the use of excessive force and abuses of power cases where cops harassed, beat, maimed, and/or killed BIPOC. Whether it’s using a traffic stop to check why a black person might be driving a nice car in an upscale (read: white) neighborhood or the government finding ways to crackdown on protesters standing up for indigenous rights in the face of giant energy companies with their oil pipelines, these issues have never gone away. They’ve sometimes morphed with the times but, usually, they just seem to get worse. To me, it’s easy to understand the protests in the streets, the calls for defunding the police, the reconsideration and destruction of prominent statues made in the name of Confederate leaders, and more. Now that we’ve come this far, we need to keep on pushing for equal rights for everyone. If BIPOC are still facing persecution, if trans people are still facing persecution, then none of us are free.

As you might expect, in light of all that’s gone on, video games once again take a backseat to my other concerns. Yes, I’ve been putting a bunch of hours into Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, but it’s also a privilege of mine to enjoy that game when there’s so many things affecting other people. The experience just doesn’t hit the same as it usually would – for as well told as the story in Xenoblade can be, it’s still a tale about the cycle of revenge that takes place between two conflicting sides. In this game, it’s different species, the Homs and Mechon, but in real life it’s usually between people of two (or more) different countries, or different groups in the same country. The game says this cycle is wrong, but it does not find a way to tell this part of the story to make it compelling beyond standard video game tropes.

Anyway, if you’re like me and want the opportunity to donate to charities in support of Black Lives Matter, bail funds for jailed protesters, members of the LGBTQ+ community, victims of COVID-19, and more, you’ll find some links below. See you in August.

As of this writing, the Homeless Black Trans Women fund has almost reached its initial goal. Go here for the Justice for Breonna Taylor fund. Click here for the Chicago Community Bond Fund. Go to this link for the Autistic People of Color Fund. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union here. Please consider donating to The Trevor Project to help out LGBTQ+ Youth. You can also give to the National Police Accountability Project. As well as The Navajo Water Project. There are still charities focused on COVID relief as well – such as the BET + United Way COVID-19 Relief Fund. If you’re looking for a charity focused on something outside of America, consider donating to help the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia in the aftermath of the Australian bushfires. This organization allows you to not just donate funds, but specifically requested items for Australians suffering from the pandemic as well. Here’s a link to help support Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders (SAGE). You can follow this link to support COVID Bail Out NYC…

The options go on. Here’s a list from New York Magazine that highlights many of these charities and more.

There’s no helping this whiplash transition, unfortunately.

SINoALICE
(Droid/iOS)

Publisher: Pokelabo | Developer: Pokelabo | Release Date: 7/1/20


What is it?
SINoALICE is a mobile game by creative director Yoko Taro (Drakengard; NieR Automata) originally released in Japan in 2017. The story details a world where characters from classic literature (all girls) have to fight each other to the death to bring their authors back to life. With music from Keiichi Okabe (Drakengard, NieR) and support from Square Enix, this game is technically Taro’s follow up to NieR: Automata. He’s since made a campaign for Final Fantasy XIV and is currently working on the mobile game NieR Re[in]carnation, but SINoALICE is still his latest original game.

Why is it important?
In a sea of mobile games (particularly mobile RPGs), a game directed by Yoko Taro has potential to stand out. I don’t often cover mobile exclusives, but my love for the first NieR might drive me to check this one out for myself. Taro’s work usually combines a sardonic sense of humor with post-modern game design, strong character development, and often unique (if unrefined) gameplay segments. Translating this to phones might provide some bumpy, frustrating roadblocks in the process, but the experience, by the end, will likely be satisfying and subversive as Taro’s games generally are.

Actually… go here to donate to the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.

Marvel’s Iron Man VR
(
PS4) (VR)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: Camouflaj | Release Date: 7/3/20


What is it?
Marvel continues their strategy of pairing IP and publisher/developer combos by giving Iron Man to the developers of… République? As a Playstation VR exclusive? It seems a bit random (though République did get a VR version), but I suppose it’s on the same level as Nintendo and Tecmo Koei working on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Anyway, this game follows Tony Stark’s retirement from Stark Industries, and his fight against Ghost, a hacker who’s hijacked Stark’s old weapons for evil purposes. Between this, Dreams getting PSVR support this month, and the release of Ghost of Tsushima, July is shaping up to be a busy month for the PS4 – likely the last hurrah before the release of the PS5.

Why is it important?
Iron Man VR was one of several games delayed due to the pandemic, after a previous delay pushed it out of its initial February release window. Given its relative closeness to the launch of the PS5, this game brings up several questions about the state of PSVR, and its future in next gen. Sony’s said VR will come to PS5 at some point, but they’ve yet to reveal the specifics. Will VR still have first party support like this game, or will it mainly rely on third parties’ goodwill? Will Playstation Move controllers still be widely used, since they’re in Iron Man VR and Dreams, or will Sony transition to a second generation? Those controllers are older than the PS4 itself…

Donate here for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2
(PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: Inti Creates | Developer: Inti Creates | Release Date: 7/10/20


What is it?
Curse of the Moon 2 is the follow up to Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, the 8-bit prequel/spinoff to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Detailing the further adventures of Zangetsu, CotM2 introduces new companions players can swap between, the highlight being a corgi in a giant robot named Hachi. With supervision by Bloodstained creator (and former Castlevania producer) Koji Igarashi, this game is more of what you expect, but it’s also priced appropriately – $14.99.

Why is it important?
In the years following the initial Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (which I backed), it was uncertain when the game would come out, or if it’d be any good. When Curse of the Moon released in 2018, it signaled that perhaps things were moving in the right direction – and the release of Ritual of the Night in 2019 to great reviews and acclaim (being named one of the best games of the year by Giant Bomb among others), confirmed that to be the case, problems with certain ports aside. It’s fascinating how quickly the series has been annualized, but to be fair it does feel like it’s been two years since 2019 ended.

Please consider donating to the Marsha P. Johnson Institute as well.

Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise
(Switch)

Publisher: Rising Star Games | Developer: Toybox | Release Date: 7/10/20


What is it?
Deadly Premonition released in 2010 for the Xbox 360 and became known for being at turns a janky, hard to play mess and an oddball cult classic that highlights a commitment to vision over tech performance. Ten years later, we get a sequel that brings the divisive story of Agent Francis York Morgan and his buddy Zach to a new generation. It also is set, curiously, both in Boston circa 2019 and a town called Le Carré, Louisiana all the way back in 2005…

Why is it important?
Games like Deadly Premonition and NieR were part of a trend of cult classics in the PS3/360 era that highlighted unique style over traditionally polished gameplay mechanics. Part of this was due to the increase in budget games went through in the transition to HD, but it also coincided with the greater acceptance of video game auteurs. Auteurs that would often find ways to use unusual mechanics or presentation to make the experience memorable, even if it wasn’t always fun to play. In the same way that people began to track Hideo Kojima’s career after Metal Gear Solid and Suda51’s work after Killer7, games like D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die and The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories became more notable because they were Swery65 games, just like Deadly PremonitionA Blessing in Disguise cashes in on that clout, but is janky charm universal, or does it change generation to generation, depending on the circumstances and limitations of the consoles available?

The Gianna Floyd Fund is also a cause worth donating to!

void tRrLM(); // Void Terrarium
(PS4/Switch)

Publisher: NIS America | Developer: Nippon Ichi Software | Release Date: 7/14/20


What is it?
Well, initially I shortlisted Void Terrarium for the weird title NIS America decided to give it, but now that I’ve done my research, I’m much more weary of what I’ve seen. It’s a post-apocalyptic roguelike about a robot that finds the last surviving human girl and decides to care for her by building a terrarium for her to live in. Why does this happen? Because, in the trailer’s words, she’s “weak” and “helpless.” In a way it’s hard to believe this is a game coming out in 2020, treating a girl as a virtual pet that must be fed and protected because she can do nothing on her own, but surely there must be a twist. Halfway through the game, the girl, Toriko, will come to her senses and become a second playable character or co-op partner for the robot, right? …Right?

Why is it important?
While I haven’t played the game, I get the feeling my hope is misplaced. Something about this feels wrong and skeevy to me, more than most games where you save damsels in distress (which is a lot). I try to make it a point to not talk about games here that I’m just going to rip on, but this time I figure it might be worth mentioning in case people want to pick it up on a whim. Some people, like me, might be taken in by the strange title and think it’s harmless enough, only to find out it’s the same misogynistic content we’ve seen for decades, somehow packaged to look even worse than usual. Again, I’d like to be wrong and see a game that subverts my expectations on that stuff, but if such a game exists, I doubt it’s Void Terrarium.

Don’t forget about the Elijah McClain Memorial Fund either!

Paper Mario: The Origami King
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Intelligent Systems | Release Date: 7/17/20


What is it?
Origami King is a new Paper Mario, but it’s not Sticker Star or Color Splash, and according to this USGamer impressions piece by Nadia Oxford, it’s not the total shift back to total RPG gameplay that longtime fans wanted. As a game, it’s going to be its own thing. It has a more RPG-focused battle system, and open-world exploration, but it’s hard to tell if that’s going to be enough to right a ship that fans claim went down somewhere around 10-15 years ago. On the bright side, the trailer for the game shows off a wonderful art style that combines the Paper Mario aesthetic with 3D-based origami figures. It’s also just in time for Super Mario’s 35th Anniversary!

Why is it important?
A Nintendo exclusive is usually a pretty big deal on its own, but the importance of Origami King specifically is two-fold. First, its announcement and release comes at a point when Nintendo is still figuring out their marketing strategy during the pandemic – this is evident in how the announcement trailer dropped without notice. Second, this game comes almost a year after Mario & Luigi developer AlphaDream went bankrupt, and the last game in that series, a 3DS remake of Bowser’s Inside Story, did not sell well. With the future of Mario & Luigi uncertain, this could be a time for Paper Mario to step up again and deliver a satisfying Mario RPG experience. 

Another good cause to consider is the Colin Kaepernick Know Your Rights Camp.

Ghost of Tsushima
(PS4)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Release Date: 7/17/20


What is it?
As the PS4 winds down into its twilight, this month we see the last big exclusives hit shelves. Iron Man VR is one of them, and the other is Ghost of Tsushima. Developed by Bellevue, Washington-based Sucker Punch Productions (Sly CooperInfamous), this game has been in the works for a number of years (since around the time Infamous First Light launched in 2014), and seeks to combine stealth action and samurais, not unlike Tenchu or the more recent Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Sprawling third-person action games are Sony’s bread and butter, and this is sure to be another one of those, but one has to wonder what a Western developer can bring to the genre that Japanese developers like Acquire and FromSoftware could not?

Why is it important?
Ghost of Tsushima is the biggest game of the month and an interesting shift for a developer who’s been mainly focused on platformers and open-world superhero games. If Tsushima does well, it will be interesting to study how long it takes Sucker Punch to release a new game on PS5 (barring a port), seeing as it took six years to move between an early-gen Infamous release on PS4 to Tsushima at the tail end. They could always continue using the assets they have and build a sequel, but it’s important to wait and see how people react to the game in the first place before we talk about whether or not we need more.

 

The Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective is another wonderful cause to donate to.

Making History: The First World War
(PC)

Publisher: Factus Games | Developer: Factus Games | Release Date: 7/28/20


What is it?
This is a game I’ve wanted to cover for a few months, so fingers crossed it doesn’t get delayed again. The Making History series started out as a hybrid of turn-based strategy games and interactive educational software. Its first release, the WWII-based Making History: The Calm & The Storm launched in 2007, and has been promoted as a classroom tool to help students understand not only the era, but skills like cultural diplomacy and tactical command, too. Developer Muzzy Lane eventually sold the rights to Making History to Factus Games and devoted itself solely to the educational realm, but the series has steadily pressed on ever since, culminating in The First World War this year.

Why is it important?
I think the intersection between video games and education is a field that’s still worth exploring. I don’t have experience with the franchise myself, so it’s hard for me to say if the latest entries hold up to the educational standards of The Calm & The Storm, but I can say this is the type of opportunity I would have loved to have in middle school. As a kid, it felt like a joke to talk about playing video games in schools, using Dance Dance Revolution in gym class aside, but with games like Making History, the applications now seem much more practical. One small thing I appreciate, is if you look at the game’s Steam pageThe First World War is being optimized to run on OS systems as old as Windows Vista and Windows XP. They’re going the extra mile to make the game accessible to everyone.

Also please check out the You Good, Sis? Yoga Collective.

Skater XL
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Easy Day Studios | Developer: Easy Day Studios | Release Date: 7/28/20


What is it?
We stand on the rim of a new wave of skateboarding games. They’ve been conspicuously absent for the current console generation, the ill-fated Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 aside. However, a movement has been building, and not only do we now have a new Tony Hawk remaster to look forward to, not only is there going to be a Skate 4, there’s also a new generation of skateboarding games to dive into as well. Skater XL is the first of the bigger names to get out there (Early Access opportunities aside), and will likely be the game that the others will be compared to, at least at first. A Switch version of Skater XL should also be coming soon, but no release date has been solidified yet.

Why is it important?
I’m personally ,ore interested in Skatebird myself, but seeing as Skater XL is the skaboarding game that blinked first, so to speak, I’m eagerly waiting to see how people react to it. Theoretically, with games like Skater XLSkatebird, and Session, do we need more Tony Hawk and Skate? Some would argue yes, and given the passionate fandoms behind both franchises it’s easy to see why, but the last thing we need is for this genre to go from barren to overflowing with titles in two or three years. People want more skating games, but I doubt we’ll want this many forever.

For incarceration reform, please donate to the Dream Defenders.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. Maxiboost ON
(PS4)

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment | Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Release Date: 7/30/20


What is it?
Here’s a fun story. Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. is a 3D arcade fighter that originally released in Japanese arcades in 2010. Over time, the game had a few upgrades, was ported to PS3 in 2011 in Japan, and even had an arcade sequel – Mobile Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. 2 in 2018. This month, the most recent version of the first Extreme Vs. is making its current gen debut with a worldwide PS4 launch due at the end of the month.

Why is it important?
It’s important to put into context how long this ten year wait has been. This game is older than Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3, which came out in the West in 2011. When Extreme Vs. launched in Japan, its licensed theme song was “The Catalyst” by Linkin Park, and the game launched the same month as their album, A Thousand Suns. Linkin Park has released three albums since then. There is also, of course, the aforementioned sequel from 2018. If we’re just getting the first game now, there’s no telling when, if ever, the sequel will also come to consoles. By then, it’ll probably be a PS5 exclusive.

Here’s another Gundam picture, and a chance to donate to the Vera Institute of Justice.

Ten Games to Look For is a series that breaks down the most interesting releases of each month and why they’re so cool (or not). 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 the Anti-Racism Fund! Black Lives Matter, Trans Rights are important, and please wear a mask when you go out. Have a great day!