GAMING HAS A HOLIDAY

It’s the first of November 2019, which means we’re just months away from a new decade. This month is the last big push for games coming out this year to make many of the industry’s Game of the Year lists. I’ve gone back and forth a few times about whether this has been a light year for games, and while my overall impression is that it’s not, I bet it’ll be remembered that way. It’s the year before the launch of next generation consoles, and though several highly rated games have come out so far, we know that developers and publishers are gearing up for that next transition.

What I find exciting about this year’s GOTY discussions is that no overwhelming favorite game has emerged. Red Dead Redemption 2 and God of War ran away with the majority of last year’s awards, but this year is totally up in the air. Between Resident Evil 2Devil May Cry 5Sekiro: Shadows Die TwiceApex LegendsBloodstained: Ritual of the NightFire Emblem: Three Houses, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s AwakeningAstral Chain, and more recent releases like The Outer Worlds and Luigi’s Mansion 3, there are a number of games that have reviewed extremely well that some people might support. Plus, there are important games still coming out like Death StrandingStar Wars Jedi: Fallen Order and the latest Pokémon titles that could emerge as dark horse favorites. If there’s any consensus at all, my bet is it might fall on less traditional choices like Sekiro or Resident Evil 2, but it’s hard to know for sure.

As for myself, I’m pretty certain what my GOTY will be, and if you’ve followed my blog for a while, I doubt you’ll be very surprised. I still try to keep an open mind though, which is why I’ll be attempting to push as many reviews out the door as I can before the year is over.

Anyway, enjoy the month of November, everybody. It’s the last big blowout of the year. December’s looking pretty empty, I won’t lie, but I hope you come back anyway because we’ll still have plenty to talk about. See you then!

(Note: Shenmue III is also coming out this month, but as a Kickstarter backer, I’ve elected not to cover it beyond this blurb here.)

Wii | Stadia

Just Dance 2020
(PS4/Stadia/Switch/Wii/XB1) (Google Stadia available Nov. 19)

Publisher: Ubisoft | Developer: Ubisoft Paris | Release Date: 11/5/19


What is it?
Ubisoft’s annual music game franchise is back with more songs and less platforms. It’s likely the only time we’re ever going to see a game launch with on the Wii and Google’s new Stadia service side by side, so I hope you enjoy that as much as I do.

Why is it important?
Ubisoft’s getting in on the ground floor with new forces in the industry while staying true to the system that made the original Just Dance a success ten years ago. This is one of my favorite stories in gaming this year, and I hope it’s not the end. If Just Dance 2021 comes to the Wii as well, we’ll be seeing that logo alongside the PS5 and Xbox Scarlett. Talk about wild.

Special Items Score Time

Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san!: A River City Ransom Story
(PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: Arc System Works | Developer: Arc System Works | Release Date: 11/7/19


What is it?
The latest entry in the River City Ransom (or Kunio-kun in Japan) series, Stay Cool, Kobayashi-san! stars one of Kunio’s many rivals, Masao Kobayashi, in a time-traveling, side-scrolling brawler. It’s reminiscent of the kind of action you might find in the original River City Ransom or Double Dragon, but different from other offshoots this series has seen, like Super Dodge Ball and Nintendo World Cup.

Why is it important?
Like the Atelier series, this franchise has seen several new entries in the past few months, and I haven’t had the chance to cover them until now. With River City Girls in September and River City Melee Mach!! last month, this  30+ year franchise appears as strong as ever, and shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.

Hideo Kojima doing what he loves.

Death Stranding
(PS4)

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Developer: Kojima Productions | Release Date: 11/8/19


What is it?
Death Stranding is Hideo Kojima’s latest game, and the first after establishing Kojima Productions as an independent company. I’ll be honest: after dissecting the trailers and demos, and hearing other people talk about them as well,  I still can’t entirely grasp what’s going on. It’s easy to say what it’s about – the game stars Norman Reedus as Sam Porter Bridges, who seeks to reconnect a futuristic version of the United States by bridging society together, but what does that really mean? What can we read into from this idea? Is most of the game just walking? Why is having a baby in a container of liquid so important? I don’t expect all of these answers to be as satisfactory as I’d like, but I’m very eager to see what the game says for itself.

Why is it important?
In an industry that shies away from promoting individual artists, Hideo Kojima has been beloved by fans for decades. It’s interesting to see what he’s able to make now that he’s not stuck creating Metal Gear sequel after sequel. Even if this game ends up not doing well, I’m glad it was made. It’s been such a fun mystery trying to decipher what it’s all about, I’m almost sad that part of the experience is over.

Vertical orientation courtesy of the mobile version.

Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy
(Switch)

Publisher: Level-5 | Developer: Level-5 | Release Date: 11/8/19


What is it?
After launching on mobile devices and the 3DS in 2017, Layton’s Mystery Journey finally upgrades to Switch. Lead by the daughter of Professor Layton, this entry is a reinvention of the series that focuses on several different cases and a new cast of characters, but retains a love for puzzles and the soothing British charm it’s known for.

Why is it important?
After saving the world and meeting Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton’s pretty much done it all. Level-5 wisely took a break from the series after its success on the DS and early days of the 3DS and brought it back with new goals in mind. There’s been no word of a sequel yet, but the Switch seems like a wonderful home for more adventures in the Layton saga. If a new game doesn’t end up happening, perhaps we could get an English release of the anime Layton Mystery Tanteisha: Katori no Nazotoki File instead?

Photorealism still works well.

Need for Speed: Heat
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Electronic Arts | Developer Ghost Games | Release Date: 11/8/19


What is it?
Heat is the latest entry in EA’s long-running Need for Speed series. Compared to previous years, this title has seen a lot less promotion. Messaging on it has been muddled at best. Players can choose to play during the day or at night to access different races in the open world, and there’s another subplot involving police cracking down on illegal street racing. Beyond that, though? It’s hard to tell what makes Heat stand out. Even after letting the series cool down after the reaction to Need for Speed: Payback, EA and Ghost Games’ vision doesn’t seem to be a grand reinvention of the series, but more of the same, with possibly less controversy.

Why is it important?
It’s a strange situation. With new consoles coming next year, it’d almost be more advantageous for EA to wait another year to reintroduce the series, so they can hit those all-important launch days with a next-gen look at what racing can be. That game could still be happening, but in the meantime we have Heat, which might have been more interesting if it was a Switch exclusive meant to test the series’ viability in that market. I guess it keeps Need for Speed in people’s heads another year, which for EA is probably better than nothing.

Playful tonic.

New Super Lucky’s Tale
(Switch)

Publisher: Playful Corp. | Developer: Playful Corp. | Release Date: 11/8/19


What is it?
Super Lucky’s Tale had the unique distinction of launching as a Microsoft exclusive the same day as the Xbox One X. While it’s a bright and colorful 3D mascot platformer, it got mediocre reviews and never really made a case for its own existence. Now that it’s coming to the Switch, home to almost every other platformer of note these days, it may finally find the right audience.

What is it important?
This follows the release of other formerly Microsoft-only titles on Switch like Cuphead and Ori and the Blind Forest. I realize this phenomenon isn’t as cool as it was earlier in the year,  but Microsoft loosening up its tight restrictions on its library of games is one of the biggest stories of the year. Super Lucky’s Tale doesn’t seem like it’s for me, but personal interest or not, this is worth following until the next phase of Microsoft’s greater plan, whatever that may be, is unveiled to the public.

Righting wrongs one project at a time.

Romancing SaGa 3
(Android/iOS/PC/PS4/Switch/Vita/XB1)

Publisher: Square Enix | Developer: Square | Release Date: 11/11/19


What is it?
Originally released on November 11 1995 in Japan, Romancing SaGa 3 was one of several Squaresoft SNES titles to remain a Japanese exclusive for decades. While the Romancing series was different from previous SaGa games (known as The Final Fantasy Legend in North America), it became the standard for the franchise going forward. It emphasizes non-linear gameplay and player choice, offering the stories of eight different characters to be completed in any order. While this style of RPG has appeared in the few SaGa games Square Enix released overseas, it was more recently popularized by Octopath Traveler, which many thought was a SaGa game before its name became final.

Why is it important?
Knowing Square Enix’s track record of shoddy mobile/PC ports, seeing this title launch on every platform possible at the same time is a cause for concern. However, I can’t ignore that they’ve been dedicated to localizing their back catalogue in recent years. As a fan of niche RPGs and translation projects, this warms my heart and I’d love to see it continue. Maybe we’ll eventually see Radical Dreamers somewhere down the line.

This could easily be an in-game ad.

Pokemon Sword/Shield
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo/The Pokemon Company | Developer: Game Freak | Release Date: 11/15/19


What is it?
The eighth generation of Pokémon is here. It’s on a console. It’s every Pokémon fan’s twenty-year-old dream come true. Though the Lets’s Go remakes of the first generation did well for themselves last year, this is the real deal. It may not have every single Pokémon in the game, but there’s always room for a sequel.

Why is it important?
On the one hand, Pokémon is always important. On the other, the move to pick and choose which Pokémon appear in the game is a bold choice. It’s been the cause of anger for a lot of fans, but looking at the logistics of the situation, it makes sense. Could the game be delayed long enough for Game Freak to crank out HD models of every single one of the 800+ creatures in the series? Yes, but this is a game people have wanted for years, and I’d rather see them take a risk like this, instead of following the same formula every time there’s a new console upgrade. It may be variety for variety’s sake, but that’s better than staying the same, stale game forever.

Games look good, y’all.

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Electronic Arts| Developer: Respawn Entertainment | Release Date: 11/15/19


What is it?
Electronic Arts’ deal with Disney to exclusively create Star Wars games yields yet another fruit: a single player action game from the developers of Titanfall and Apex Legends. No microstransactions, no Battlefront-esque lootboxes, and no live service lip service. It’s a traditional game – surprise, everybody!

Why is it important?
In the era of live service games, seeing any large corporation on EA’s level pivot to a traditional single player title is welcoming. Of course, Respawn Entertainment already gave EA that kind of game earlier in the year with Apex Legends, and Star Wars is one of the most bankable IPs on Earth, but the point remains. If we want games like this to come back, then Jedi Fallen Order needs to do really, really well. Then maybe, just maybe, EA and the rest will see it’s better to bank on games like this, than yet another online multiplayer game like Anthem.

Worth hanging in a museum.

Where the Water Tastes Like Wine
(Switch)

Publisher: Serenity Forge | Developer: Serenity Forge/Dim Bulb Games | Release Date: 11/29/19


What is it?
Released in February 2018 on PC, Mac, and Linux, Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is an adventure game set in the Great Depression. With an Americana soundtrack and a beautiful art style that sells the 1930’s aesthetic, its focus on the art of storytelling between individuals got plenty of acclaim from critics. After some silence about the game coming to other platforms, here it is. Suddenly on Switch for the price of $19.99.

Why is it important?
A month after Where the Water Tastes Like Wine released, Johnnemann Nordhagen, the main developer of the project, published a shockingly frank post-mortem on Medium about the game’s poor sales and less-than-expected critical reception. Though a 75 on OpenCritic is not terrible, there was some expectation that this would be the next indie darling. As Nordhagen says in his post, “commercially, it’s a disaster… fewer people bought the game than I have Twitter followers, and I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers…” This quote doesn’t take into account how the game may have sold in the year and a half since that post, and Nordhagen has undoubtedly gained more followers since that time (5621 followers, as of this writing), but it paints a damning picture that reflects the reality of game development. I’m glad this game is getting another chance, and hope it finds the audience it needs on Switch.

Exploring the world on Switch.

Ten Games to Look For is a series that rounds up some of the most exciting releases of the coming month and tells you why they’re worth your time. If you’d like to leave a nice note, the comments section below is always a good option. You can also get in touch with me on Twitter, and by email too: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com.