THE FINAL CURTAIN CALL

October has come to Ten Games to Look For, and with it comes the release dates for the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. As expected, they’re both due out next month (November 12 and 10 respectively), and are (for the most part) priced competitively. The fun takeaway from this is not that the two boxes are almost matching tit-for-tat, it’s how normal and boring it feels. We’ve gone from sticker-shock moments like the PS3’s $599.99 USD announcement to the realization that it’s not even about the box; it’s the software that matters. That’s how it was always supposed to be – but good luck telling the fanboys that.

Speaking of software, the end of last month met with the shocking news that Microsoft had acquired ZeniMax Media, and all the studios that go with it. Machinegames, id Software, Arkane Studios, Bethesda – everything from Doom to The Elder Scrolls joins an increasingly impressive first party roster under Microsoft’s roof. If software is king in this new generation, then Microsoft enters with a clear advantage. I don’t like what the move says overall for the industry, though. What’s to stop the other console manufacturers from buying up a bunch of third parties to fight back? Imagine if Nintendo bought Level 5, Capcom, and Chucklefish right now. Or if Sony went after Ubisoft. The initial thrill of the acquisition would be exciting, but it would also mean less major third party games, and the return of the tribalist console wars of the past.

However, before we can wring our hands over the future of the industry, we still have October’s batch of games to get through. We’re one month away from a major shift forward and looking at the kinds of games coming out this month – you can tell most everyone’s hunkered down to wait out these last few weeks. This list ended up more of a mixed bag than I expected with tons of Switch ports, and a handful of releases for current hardware with no next-gen discussion in sight. But that could change, it always does.

Anyway, see you in November for the big console launches. It might be the biggest month Ten Games to Look For has encountered yet. I’m already preparing the list as we speak. It’s sure to be exciting, and – better yet, by the time those consoles are out, the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election will be over! Yahoo!

What’s 99 divided by 35?

Super Mario Bros. 35
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Arika | Release Date: 10/1/2020


What is it?
Super Mario Bros. 35 builds off the success of Tetris 99 by transforming the battle royale experience into a Mario-sized glove for the series’ 35th anniversary. 35 players compete together to see how far they can get in Super Mario Bros. while sending enemies to their opponent’s games, and keeping pace with everyone else. The game is free (provided you subscribe to Nintendo’s Switch Online Service) and available for a limited time – until March 31, 2021. 

Why is it important?
In addition to the weird limited time factor (which sucks), the important thing about Super Mario Bros. 35 is just how unexpected it is. A Super Mario battle royale is the kind of idea people tell each other as a joke, never really expecting it to be real. However, this game is actually pretty on brand for developer Arika, who in addition to developing the Street Fighter EX series, has worked with Nintendo on titles like AR Games (included on the 3DS), the Endless Ocean series for Wii, and several Dr. Mario iterations, including Dr. Luigi on Wii U.

The dawn of Ys.

Ys Origin
(Switch)

Publisher: DotEmu | Developer: Nihon Falcom / DotEmu | Release Date: 10/1/2020


What is it?
Ys Origin is a prequel to the entire Ys series, going back hundreds of years before the birth of Adol Christin to focus on the background of the series’ world. With three playable characters and a stronger than normal story (for Ys), and the same great action-RPG gameplay, Origin offers enough distinct ideas to make it a great jumping on point for new players. Now that it’s on Switch, that recommendation is even easier to make.

Why is it important?
A decade ago, when I followed Xseed Games’ quest to localize Nihon Falcom games with the respect they deserved, Ys Origin seemed the least likely to get attention. At the time, it was a Japanese-only PC exclusive (running on Windows XP) and hadn’t been ported anywhere, unlike other Falcom games of the time, like The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. Fast-forward to 2012, as companies realized niche titles like Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale were turning profits on Steam, Ys Origin finally got a modern PC re-release with an English translation. DotEmu has since taken over publishing duties from Xseed and ported the game to each of the modern systems with the Switch being last.  Just in time to see the launch of two new consoles next month.

A statement and a descriptor.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
(PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Activision | Developer: Toys for Bob | Release Date: 10/2/2020


What is it?
Crash Bandicoot 4 is a continuation of the Crash Bandicoot series, as taken from the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy remaster from 2017. It features several playable characters from Crash himself, to Coco and Dr. Neo Cortex, and focuses on the use of Quantum Masks that change level layouts and provide traversal power-ups throughout the game. I’m most interested in how the game separates Retro Mode, which gives players the classic platforming experience of collecting lives and avoiding game overs, from the Modern Mode, where deaths are simply counted up by each character. If both modes provides a decent challenge, maybe more games should offer players the option to experiment with both these styles for themselves.

Why is it important?
It turns out people will come to your game if it’s marketed well and designed with care and reverence. Activision learned this with the Crash N. Sane Trilogy, the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and recently with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 – especially when the latter is compared with 2012’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. I’m happy to see Activision get out from behind the safe haven of Call of Duty sales and popular remasters, but it feels like this was inevitable, given the nature of the Crash IP. Yet, this release begs the question – does Activision have more to offer these days besides CoD and a handful of legacy franchises? I’m thinking not, unless Sekiro gets a sequel somehow.

“Business, business, business. General business, but good business.”

Game Dev Tycoon
(Switch)

Publisher: Greenheart Games | Developer: Greenheart Games | Release Date: 10/8/2020


What is it?
Originally released for PC/mobile in 2012, Game Dev Tycoon is a simulation game that, as the title suggests, follows the rise of the player’s game development company to the top of the industry. Partially known for its similarities to Game Dev Story, and also known for an anti-piracy feature that forces players into bankruptcy if they torrent the game, this is still the only release by Greenheart Games, and the first port of the title since its original release. A second game, Tavern Keeper, is in the works but a release date has not been confirmed.

Why is it important?
I think the ability to follow the mythic story of most tech start ups, beginning with minimal means and budgets and ending up with manufacturing plants and warehouses, is a wonderful thing to have in game form. Certainly better there than in real life. I’ve always appreciated the ending in Chrono Trigger where players get to meet the staff behind the game, and actually downloaded a game earlier this year called Code Shifter that combines the working-as-a-developer story with a side-scrolling platformer. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up liking Code Shifter, so my heart is open for Game Dev Tycoon. And Game Dev Story I guess, too.

I’m sure 2020 could get its own Quiplash expansion.

The Jackbox Party Pack 7
(Droid TV/Fire TV/Linux/Mac/PC/PS4/Switch/XB1)

Publisher: Jackbox Games | Developer: Jackbox Games | Release Date: 10/15/2020


What is it?
I’ve always had an appreciation for Chicago-based Jackbox Games because their approach to trivia-based party games is consistent, clever, and always evolving with the times. The introduction of the yearly Jackbox Party Pack in 2014 has been a huge success for them, and rightfully so. Taking advantage of the power of streaming services like Twitch as part of the groundwork for their games made them a staple of charity events and holidays with family members. They also paved the way for other developers to experiment with how they can make the technology work for them. It’s amazing how only seven years can make Twitch integration seem so normal.

Why is it important?
In the early days of the COVID-19 quarantine, the Jackbox games became a way for friends and family to interact with each other online. In my own life, my Facebook feed filled with tons of people I didn’t even know played games talking about Quiplash and Drawful, and for the first time I bought some of the funny shirts I loved in Tee K.O. This sets the stage for Jackbox Party Pack 7 to be bigger than ever – both in terms of commercial success, and the critical realm as well. The cultural relevance of this series only grows with time, and I’m excited to see where it goes next. Plus, hey, Quiplash is back!

Still waiting for the day someone has the nerve to call one of their robots “Freakachu.”

Zoids Wild: Blast Unleashed
(Switch)

Publisher: Outright Games | Developer: Eighting / Codeglue | Release Date: 10/16/2020


What is it?
I never knew much about Zoids growing up. As a child, I saw Zoids: Battle Legends on Gamecube at stores but that’s about it. I sort of assumed Zoids was one of the many Saturday morning animes aimed at kids in the early 2000’s that never got far off the ground. In doing research about this game though, I was surprised to discover that the series has a history that goes back to the 80’s. Tomy’s rival to Transformers may have not had as much success here, and the break between Zoids shows lasted for over a decade, but the latest iteration, Zoids Wild, is streaming on Netflix now, and a sequel series just wrapped in Japan this week.

Why is it important?
Eighting is a developer with a primarily positive history of fighting games and anime adaptations. They usually work with Bandai Namco on Naruto games and Capcom on titles like Marvel vs. Capcom 3. They also developed Zoids games back in the day, so this project isn’t unusual for them – I’m just surprised it’s being handled by publisher Outright Games, instead of a much larger, well-known company. Outright usually handles licensed games with names like Paw PatrolJumanji, and Ice Age – seeing them tackle something like Zoids is different, but I suppose makes sense if the anime is big with kids. If they manage to find a market for the game, then great news! A second game is coming out in Japan soon.

LOH: TOCS4

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel IV
(PS4)

Publisher: NIS America | Developer: Nihon Falcom | Release Date: 10/27/2020


What is it?
There’s The Legend of Heroes, there’s the Trails subseries, and then there’s the individual Cold Steel arc of games. Trails of Cold Steel IV is the finale of the Cold Steel arc, the ninth to bear the Trails name, and the fourteenth mainline Legend of Heroes game overall. The Trails storyline (as opposed to the initial Demon Slayer duology and the Gagharv trilogy) has been on a steady progression since 2004’s The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, and follows Estelle Bright, her adopted brother Joshua, Rean Schwarzer, and other protagonists introduced throughout the series’ different arcs. Though there have been efforts to translate the Trails saga for the past ten years, there are still games in need of localization to make sense of the whole plot. (Such as the Crossbell arc in between the Sky and Cold Steel arcs.) With Cold Steel IV coming out, we’re almost caught with the latest releases in Japan but, unsurprisingly, a new game came out just this year – The Legend of Heroes: Hajimari no Kiseki. One step forward, one step back.

Why is it important?
It’s a rare opportunity to talk about two Nihon Falcom releases in the same month, and there’s no way I’d pass up on the opportunity. While I’m not caught up on The Legend of Heroes like I am Ys (I loved Trails in the Sky on PSP), I love how this series has transformed from an obscure JRPG franchise loosely tied by a common name, to a serialized saga telling a continuous story for over a decade and a half. RPGs franchises dream of this kind of consistency, and it helps that the scale of these games has increased as budgets got bigger, and gaming platforms became more powerful.

Cinematic platformers are admittedly not for me.

Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey – New ‘n’ Tasty!
(Switch)

Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants  | Developer: Just Add Water | Release Date: 10/27/2020


What is it?
To add to the number of surprising, wait-this-wasn’t-on-the-system-already Switch ports this month, we now have Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty! A remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, this cinematic platformer first launched on PS4 as a sort of reboot for the series. The sequel, Oddworld: Soulstorm is still in the works for a 2020 release date, but as we wait for that, New ‘n’ Tasty has been ported to every modern platform imaginable. Creator Lorne Lanning will pretty much do anything he can to keep this series going, whether he has to return to its roots, or find new ways to keep people engaged. He’s tenacious, that man.

Why is it important?
Between periods of franchise inactivity, financial woes, and all the changes, Oddworld stands above many of the ambitious worlds and complex storylines that have come and gone in its time. ShenmueAdvent RisingXenogears, Xenosaga – where so many of these projects have been abandoned due to low sales or lack of interest, Oddworld has only rebooted to keep up with modern times. New ‘n’ Tasty is actually the third Oddworld game to make it to Switch this year, following Stranger’s Wrath in January and Munch’s Oddysee in May. Perhaps Soulstorm will one day be in its orbit, too.

The second of eight Dark Pictures

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
(PC/PS4/XB1)

Publisher: Bandai Namco Games | Developer: Supermassive Games | Release Date: 10/30/2020


What is it?
Last year’s Dark Pictures game, Man of Medan, wasn’t my favorite game of the year, but I enjoyed my time with it. I had problems with the game design, but hoped that Little Hope would fix those problems. I partially got my wish – according to the trailer, people who preorder Little Hope will get the “Curator’s Cut” of the game, which offers “previously unavailable scenes with different playable characters.” What I imagine this means is that people playing in single player will have a closer facsimile of the online experience, which allows a greater freedom of choice and control than playing alone. That’s what I want anyway – we’ll see if that’s what I get.

Why is it important?
Since Supermassive Games’ Until Dawn became one of the sleeper hits of this generation, I’ve been excited to see how they expand their mix of adventure and survival horror with The Dark Pictures. The core ideas – shorten the experience so the game can be finished in a night and create several stories as opposed to one – are sound, but part of me would still like to see more risks taken. Giving some of the lead roles to named actors (like Will Poulter from We’re the Millers here) is interesting, but more of a fun footnote than a selling point. I wonder if the next title in the anthology will push things further, or if it’ll be more of the same?

Pikmin‘s back. Again.

Pikmin 3 Deluxe
(Switch)

Publisher: Nintendo | Developer: Nintendo EAD | Release Date: 10/30/2020


What is it?
Like a lot of Wii U ports, Pikmin 3 Deluxe is the same game as before, just a bit more enhanced and on Switch. This new package is really just another reason to get rid of your Wii U, provided you don’t have some attachment to Xenoblade Chronicles X and Devil’s Third you can’t let go of.  The new content includes all of the previous DLC, new story bits with the old Pikmin protagonists, and co-op play in the story mode. It’s not the biggest surprise, but it’s sure to be a nice time.

Why is it important?
It’s hard to ignore how dry this year has been for Nintendo. I know there’s a pandemic, but even before quarantine happened, their biggest pre-Animal Crossing releases included a port of Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE and a remake of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. The rest of the year has been split between casual games (Clubhouse Games), more ports (Xenoblade Chroncles: Definitive EditionSuper Mario 3D All-Stars) and a handful of core titles like a new Paper Mario, a version of Mario Kart with a real RC car, and the upcoming Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. Even weirder is that Pikmin 3 Deluxe and Hyrule Warriors are all Nintendo’s sending against the launch of the new consoles. Their holiday season will be among the quietest in recent memory and – no, sadly, the release of Fitness Boxing 2 in December won’t change that.

Carrying the load.

Ten Games to Look For is a monthly series that breaks down releases throughout the year, to better help readers understand what these games are and why they’re important. For more articles from A Gaming Life Pt. 2, you can head here. If you’d like to respond to this list, please leave a comment below, or: get in touch with me on Twitter, or by email: dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios(dot)com. Thanks for reading!