“IN THESE UNCERTAIN TIMES”

The story of this month is like the story of last month. Fear, uncertainty, and a lingering doubt about the importance of video games in the overall cultural discussion. Luckily, 2020 has been such a quiet year so far that the lack of major new releases is nothing new. Unique games pop their heads up here and there, but the lion’s share of what we have, once again, are ports and remasters. Originally, along with The Last of Us Part II, there were a few more games I was looking to cover, like the indie game Justice.exe, but plans are constantly changing. With the quarantine on, it’s a miracle content gets dished out on a regular basis at all.

More importantly: how are you all doing? Are you staying home? Staying safe? I hope the pandemic hasn’t affected you too personally. My priorities seem to change by the week. I’m still playing games, but I’ve become more interested in reading books and watching movies. I’m slowly working towards getting all 180 emblems in Sonic Adventure 2: Battle, but the closer I get, the more I wonder what the point is. The appeal of seeing Green Hills Zone in 3D has a limit. I’ve also gotten my hands on a copy of Ring Fit Adventure, and the physical activity is kicking my ass – it’s definitely everything it’s been hyped up to be and, even better, it’s fun.

Circling back to my doubts for a second, I was pretty convinced for a while I wouldn’t be making this list. It felt like I was encouraging people to buy things when really, we should be focused on making the money we have last as long as possible. However, the thing I realized was that, in the end, my goal for this series has always been about posterity. We might not remember down the road what we were playing in 2020, but at least we’ll have a list talking about the kinds of games that were coming out at this time. Chronicling game releases, in a sense, remains as important as it’s ever been. And that varies greatly depending on who you talk to.

Anyway – hard to believe it’s almost summer! Take care, wash your hands, and stay safe whether you’re at home or out in the world working an essential job. Thanks for all that you do – your individual contribution to humanity is important, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. See you in June!

Simulating the outdoors.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill
(Switch)

Publisher: Thunderful Publishing | Developer: Megagon Industries | Release Date: 5/7/20


What is it?
Lonely Mountains: Downhill is sort of in the extreme sports genre, but with a lot of de-emphasis on the word “extreme.” You’re figuring out the perfect route down a mountain while trying to boost your score, but it’s the kind of game that focuses more on the beauty of the mountains and nature than even your own character model. When the rider crashes, the blood splatter looks like LEGO bricks. The point isn’t to revel in the violence; it’s just there as a kind of punchline to switch up an otherwise serene experience.

Why is it important?
When it originally released on other platforms last October, what drew me to Lonely Mountains was the review by Matt Miller of Game Informer. He highlights the “relaxing aesthetic” and calls the game “a figurative breath of fresh air when compared to other games that compete to be the loudest and most in-your-face.” This made me see the game as more than just another Trials-like biking game. I was reminded of the way I vibed with Death Stranding more than Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Now that it’s on Switch, Lonely Mountains: Downhill is easier than ever to check out. I should finally get on that.

You know the caption. I’m not going to write it.

Star Wars Episode I: Racer
(PS4/Switch)

Publisher: Aspyr | Developer: LucasArts / Aspyr | Release Date: 5/12/20


What is it?
A number of people my age who grew up with the Nintendo 64 as an early console likely have some memory of Star Wars Episode I: Racer. I rented and owned it at different times over the years, and what I always liked was how it took one of the aspects of The Phantom Menace I genuinely liked and made it its own thing. This new PS4/Swith port doesn’t look that much different graphically than it did 20+ years ago, but seeing this trailer and these screenshots brought up a ton of memories of the first Star Wars game I ever played. I wonder if the dual-analog controllers will make the controls feel different?

Why is it important?
I haven’t really talked about Disney’s efforts to re-release certain classic Star Wars games on modern platforms, but that’s what they’ve been doing. While games like Jedi Outcast get a lot of the spotlight, I never had much experience with those myself, which made reporting on them with any enthusiasm difficult. In a time when my indifference to Star Wars as a whole has never been greater, remembering the good times I had with Episode I: Racer makes me surprisingly nostalgic. Maybe it’s a good time for this game to come back, after all…

Yet another nail in the Wii U coffin.

The Wonderful 101 Remastered
(PC/PS4/Switch)

Publisher: PlatinumGames | Developer: PlatinumGames
Release Date: 5/19/20 (digital; retail in June) (5/7/20 for Kickstarter backers)


What is it?
The Wonderful 101 was a Wii U exclusive developed in collaboration between Nintendo and PlatinumGames. Like most Wii U exclusives, a port to Switch seemed all but inevitable, but this one has a twist. Platinum is handling the publishing duties themselves. Not only will we see a Switch version, but a PS4 and PC edition as well. The project was Kickstarted back in February, which makes the speed of all this a little dubious, like they were just trying to drum up interest and cover marketing costs rather than having players contribute to its development. On the bright side though, it’s one of a number of moves that have helped get Platinum off to a good start in 2020, all things considered.

Why is it important?
If the Kickstarter hadn’t been so successful, would they really have let a nearly-finished PS4 version sit unreleased? It’s hard to say, but it’s otherwise nice to see Platinum get the appreciation they deserve. The Bayonetta & Vanquish: 10th Anniversary Bundle launched in February, shortly before the Kickstarter got announced. Before that, in January, came the announcement that Chinese juggernaut Tencent had invested in the company, enabling Platinum to self-publish. They’ve since made a number of announcements through their Platinum Four website, of which the Wonderful 101 remaster was the first, that highlights the brightness of their future if releases like this sell well.

Fisheaters unite.

Maneater
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Tripwire Interactive / Deep Silver | Developer: Tripwire Interactive / Blindside Interactive
Release Date: 5/22/20


What is it?
Have you ever heard of Jaws Unleashed? Imagine playing as a giant shark in an action RPG, a “ShaRkPG” if you will. That’s the premise of Maneater. Blindside Interactive’s creative director, Alex Quick, cited not only Jaws Unleashed as an inspiration in an interview with PC Gamer, but games like Dishonored and Deus Ex as well. It’s amazing how Majesco’s by-all-accounts-mediocre 2006 open-world game has reverberated through the industry all these years later. I guess it really caught people by surprise.

Why is it important?
Minecraft Dungeons may be the biggest game of the month in terms of bankable IP, but Maneater is probably the most ambitious. It’s an open-world RPG. You play as a shark. The game is narrated by Saturday Night Live alum Chris Parnell. That’s all I really have to say. It pretty much demands your attention.

High fantasy, longer game.

The Elder Scrolls Online – Greymoor
(Mac/PC)

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks | Developer: ZeniMax Online Studios | Release Date: 5/26/20


What is it?
Greymoor is the latest “chapter” in the Elder Scrolls Online saga. Beginning with the DLC pack Harrowstorm, released in March, this new part of the story takes players to the land of Skyrim long before The Elder Scrolls V takes place, and specifically focuses on Western Skyrim, a new territory for the game. Interestingly, the release date shifted as I was editing this entry, from May 18 to May 26. It could still move further, but a week delay tells me they’re pretty confident it’s close to done. Plus, the console version releases only two weeks later on June 9.

Why is it important?
In his note about the slight delay, game director Matt Firor outright states the reason this particular release is important: “we have more people playing ESO right now than at any point since 2015.” It’s hard to guess exactly how society will be at the end of the month, but dropping new content like this when there’s been a surge in subscribers is pretty huge. It’s a great way to retain players and score points with longtime fans. As long as Bethesda’s employees are safe and working from home, I don’t see an issue. Maybe a rougher launch but, who knows? I’m sure the company will be more than happy to do their part as long as they make money.

Your ten-year-old cousin is probably already better than you at this.

Minecraft Dungeons
(PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: Xbox Game Studios | Developer: Mojang / Double Eleven | Release Date: 5/26/20


What is it?
Minecraft Dungeons is a procedurally-generated dungeon crawler that’s stripped to the basics and encourages experimentation with any gear players find. That is to say, it lacks the crafting and complexity of the original Minecraft, but should theoretically be open-ended and flexible enough to keep younger kids interested without frustration. Despite being a first party game, Microsoft will release the game on all major platforms, much in the spirit of the original Minecraft. Too bad the word on crossplay is vague and discouraging.

Why is it important?
Minecraft continues to expand at a respectable rate. With Story Mode long over and a movie probably still in the works somewhere, it’s about time to see the franchise get another major shot in the arm. Yes, the free-to-play AR game Minecraft Earth went into early access last year, but that seems like the perfect project to finish up in line with the movie’s supposed 2022 release date. Before we get there though, Dungeons could be an important pillar that helps the franchise maintain its long-running legacy.

The margarine to Nintendo’s butter.

Ninjala
(Switch)

Publisher: GungHo Online Entertainment | Developer: GungHo Online Entertainment
Release Date: 5/27/20


What is it?
Ninjala is an online, free-to-play Switch exclusive that looks a lot like Splatoon, but hails from GungHo Online Entertainment. They’re a Japanese company known for other online games like Teppen, Ragnarok Online, and Puzzle & Dragons. They’re also the parent company of GameArts, developers of the Grandia RPG series, and Grasshopper Manufacture, most known for games like No More Heroes and the PS4 game Let it Die. I’m a bit surprised this is a Switch exclusive hyped up by Nintendo itself, but with Fortnite already on the system, I guess they realize free-to-play games marketed to kids sell.

Why is it important?
It’s an interesting bit of marketing – Ninjala doesn’t look exactly like Splatoon, but it looks close enough that many might mistake it for a Nintendo game anyway. Time will tell if it stays a Switch exclusive, but it’s worth noting Let it Die, another free-to-play game, only got ported to PC – no Xbox One or anything. If Ninjala is a runaway success maybe that’ll change, but at the moment it seems like this is an interesting experiment with a low barrier for entry.

Not quite the seventh game, however.

Shantae and the Seven Sirens
(PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: WayForward | Developer: WayForward | Release Date: 5/28/20


What is it?
Shantae and the Seven Sirens was originally released last fall on iOS as part of the launch of Apple Arcade. It came out in two parts and had a slightly belated release for Mac, but you wouldn’t really know it as Metacritic doesn’t even have enough reviews from major outlets to give the iOS version an aggregate score. It’s the fifth mainline game in the cult Shantae series, yet it came and went with barely a peep. I imagine now it’ll get the red carpet treatment, since it’s coming to everything else, but the lack of buzz surrounding the game surprises me.

Why is it important?
Apple Arcade has been pretty much forgotten in just a matter of months. Especially since the quarantine started, I’ve heard more people talk about Google Stadia than Apple Arcade. It could be that I’m living in a bubble and plenty of people are still using the service, but I think the lack of buzz about Shantae says a lot. It seems like the perfect game to make people care about the service, especially with its release in two parts, but evidently it didn’t move the needle. Oh well – at least there’s a likely audience for it elsewhere.

Arriving with rapturous applause.

BioShock: The Collection
(Switch)

Publisher: 2K Games | Developer: Irrational Games / 2K Australia / 2K Marin / Blind Squirrel Games
Release Date: 5/29/20


What is it?
The BioShock Collection launches late this month on Switch alongside the Borderlands games and the complete XCOM 2 experience. At first, I thought about covering these releases individually, but cut it down to just BioShock because it’s the one that fascinates me the most. It’s the perfect time for this collection to pop up again, as there’s apparently more BioShock on the way, and it’s also the first time the series will be on a Nintendo console. That statement is true of both XCOM and Borderlands as well, but I don’t know. When you say it about Bioshock, it just sounds more impressive.

Why is it important?
These port announcements brought back my curiosity about the Wii U – how many ports do you suppose were canned when the system fell flat? I have to imagine there’s code for Skyrim on the Wii U somewhere, and wouldn’t be surprised if BioShock in some capacity had been in the works as well. What do you suppose happens to those unfinished ports? Do they just sit, unused, until they’re forgotten about, or is the code salvaged and converted into Switch versions? It could be on a case by case basis but somehow, someway I’d like to know the answer one day.

My boy Shulk is back.

Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Monolith Soft | Release Date: 5/29/20


What is it?
The original Xenoblade Chronicles comes to Switch from the Wii, after a brief excursion on the New 3DS. With new space to explore, a choice of remixed or original soundtracks, and a brand new epilogue, Future Connected, the game’s journey to HD feels long, but justly rewarded. Now that this game is on Switch though, what does that mean for Xenoblade Chronicles X? Is there a future where that’s the lone, surviving Wii U exclusive? Probably not, with stuff like Devil’s Third out there, but it’d be nice to see all the Xeno games on one console. 

Why is it important?
If I buy any game this month, this will be it – Monolith Soft is not only one of my favorite game developers, but Xenoblade Chronicles is one of the best RPGs I’ve played in a long time. It may not reach the emotional highs of Xenogears or Xenosaga back in the day, but it is functionally a better, more forward-thinking game. It’s hard to say if I’ll be in the mood for a 100-hour RPG given everything that’s happened recently, but I know I’ll play through it one day. Just to see the epilogue, if nothing else.

A buffer before the end.

Ten Games to Look For is a series that breaks down what I consider to be the most interesting releases of each month to describe why they’re worth your time. 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. You can also get in touch with me on Twitter, and by email too: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com.