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Roadmap Roulette

So, like, I understand the economic realities that have resulted in games launching unfinished and then getting substantial post-launch updates. I did complain about how this devalues physical media, but I’ve mostly made my peace with it. However, I am a busy adult with a substantial backlog who basically doesn’t have time to replay games. And the more interested I am in a game and the more I’m anticipating it, the more I care about getting the best and most definitive experience of it. So for games whose release I’m actively following - if it launches with a roadmap of major updates scheduled over the next year, for me that basically means the game actually launches a year later.

But that’s all fine. Like I said, I get it - there are a lot of reasons (especially for smaller studios) that this Early-Access-lite approach makes sense. And it’s not like I don’t have other games to play in the meantime. What isn’t fine is when this happens with multi-platform games and all the roadmaps and update announcements just talk about the game getting the update and don’t say on which platforms and it’s unclear whether the update is rolling out at different dates or skipping some platforms entirely (especially when you find out that, say, the PC version is made by the primary developers and the console ports are handled by a third party with much less transparency) so you don’t even know what the trade-off choice is.

Most games that are on Switch and something else, I’d rather play on Switch for the portability - but it’s often bizarrely difficult to find whether the updates that came to the Steam version have come to the Switch version, are going to come to it at some unknown date, or are just never coming at all. And so I end up just… never buying the game.

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Heckdivers

I love finding clusters of games that are built around similar concepts but which differ in important ways. I’ve previously argued that good games are beacons in design space, pointing us to an area likely to have many other good potential games nearby - it’s fun to see it prove out.

Helldivers, for example, is a top-down co-op shooter starring space marines killing aliens and completing tasks on hostile worlds. It’s clearly a good game, but I’m not quite in the audience for it. The tone of Starship Troopers-like dystopian satire casting the players as obvious bad guys if you pay attention to the mission descriptions isn’t an appealing fantasy to me, and I dislike the way the game basically must be played online with strangers, especially when its mechanics (friendly fire, easy-to-alert enemy patrols, etc.) require coordination and cooperation between the players. I played it a bit with Senpai-chan, and when we screwed up near at the end of a mission in a way that delayed our escape shuttle, our online teammate team-killed us in order to safely escape themselves - and as far as I can tell, this was mechanically the correct choice to make. I’m not attacking this design - but I want to be clear it is not for me.

But there’s so much else about Helldivers’s theming and structure that is for me. I like twin-stick shooters! I like co-op! I like sci-fi! I like mission-based structure! If Helldivers let me pop the hood and tweak things, then - like Razbuten with Halo 2 - I’m sure Senpai-chan and I could have found a version of the game we both loved.

That’s not an option, so I’m glad there are other games exploring nearby regions of design space. There’s Battle Planet - Judgement Day, which casts the players as escaped criminals and has a more roguelike structure but otherwise hits a lot of the same beats - twin-stick co-op shooter about killing aliens and completing tasks on hostile worlds. I tried it, it was also clearly solid, but still not for me (I don’t find playing as a murderous criminal more appealing than playing as a fascist soldier, and roguelikes are the wrong kind of repetitive for me).

But now we’ve also got Space Pioneer - another top-down co-op shooter starring space marines killing aliens and completing tasks on hostile worlds. And this one finally tries a version of the formula that resonates with me. You don’t play as a bad guy. You don’t need to go online. Your progress is never lost. Gameplay varies at a good rate, with objectives that encourage you to change up your play style, weapon, and gear on a regular basis. It’s Helldivers with much more chill and that’s was I was looking for. I’ve barely put the game down since starting it.

Some might call Space Pioneer a Helldivers clone, but I wouldn’t. I like when games take inspiration from each other but don’t stop there, and bring their elements to new audiences.

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First Eleven's Free

Given that attention is more important than price on the Switch eShop, I’m impressed by the marketing-through-discounts done by QubicGames.

In addition to periodically putting their older games on sale, QubicGames often offers launch-window discounts on their new titles - if you already own a QubicGames-published game. This basically means they can send launch announcements for their new titles to people through the news channel for the game they own where it won’t get buried in the huge list of games coming out every week - but in a way that is less annoying, because it’s a coupon and not just an ad, and it’s positioned as a loyalty reward rather than just a devaluing of the game.

It’s a clever system, and it got me to purchase Space Pioneer during its launch window (and I’m really glad I did - but we’ll talk about that game later). But of course this only works once you own one of their games - so it is important that they still do regular sales as well. I didn’t know about it until I picked up One Strike on sale, and for all I know there are a bunch of other publishers doing the same thing whose ecosystems I just haven’t entered.

But now, QubicGames is doing a much more aggressive push to get people on board - over the second half of December, they are giving away ten games as long as you own a QubicGames game. The magnitude of this promotion has gotten a lot of attention, resulting in people online pointing out that one of their games is free-to-play, meaning you can get the games without spending any money at all.

The giveaway is structured such that as long as you pick up a given day’s free game, you are eligible to get the next game for free the next day - but all the games are also on sale, so if you miss a day you can cheaply get back on track. And the final game is not yet announced, so the mystery encourages people to do so even if they fall off near the end.

This is going to get a lot of people owning QubicGames games, feeling good about the publisher, and in a position to be marketed to for future titles. Clever stuff.

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Capsule Review: The Touryst

A brief but charming action adventure that casts you as a tourist vacationing on a series of small islands. Explore peaceful environments, perform odd jobs, and investigate an ancient mystery. The relaxed atmosphere and varied gameplay are enjoyable but a few difficulty spikes damage this effect. Gameplay consists mostly of walking around islands talking to people and seeing what there is to do.

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Why am I still excited when a game has an arcade...

Why am I still excited when a game has an arcade with playable games in it? I find myself going “Ooooh, video games!” having completely forgotten that I am already playing a video game, one I chose to play instead of the many, many more arcade-like ones to which I have constant access.

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Capsule Review: New Super Lucky's Tale

A simple and cartoony 3D collectathon platformer. Play as Lucky Swiftail, anthropomorphic fox seeking the missing pages of the Book of Ages to reunite with his family after an attack from the evil sorcerer Jinx. These pages are the game’s main collectible gating progress through the game and are earned by exploring colorful and inviting levels and completing a variety of challenges.

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Persona 5 Action, not Persona 5 Musou

So like - I knew that Persona 5 Scramble was gonna be awesome. But that’s because I’ve played Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes and Fire Emblem Warriors and I know that when modern Omega Force makes a crossover Musou game, they are deeply respectful of the source material and they find interesting ways to incorporate it into the Musou formula, often in ways that improve both. They don’t just, like, reskin Dynasty Warriors and call it a day.

But not everybody knows that, and outside of its fan base Musou in general has a reputation as samey and shallow. Plus, back when “P5S” was being teased and nobody knew what it was yet, there were hints that it might be a Switch port of Persona 5 and a lot of people got excited for that possibility. So when the reveal was Persona 5 Scramble, a crossover Musou game by Omega Force, a lot of people were very disappointed.

Persona 5 Scramble thus had an uphill battle to fight. But it’s been doing a really good job managing expectations.

First, it was probably the right choice not to call it Persona 5 Warriors. As compelling as that title would have been to players like me, for other players it’s better to avoid baking the Dynasty Warriors expectations right into the name.

Second, Atlus and Omega Force have been aggressively marketing the game via many trailers. Early trailers focused on gameplay that is clearly not just Dynasty Warriors and is strongly influenced by Persona 5. This resulted in write-ups saying things like “Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers – the upcoming action role-playing game from Koei Tecmo and Omega Force – isn’t just some Dynasty Warriors-style spin-off. As evidenced by the title’s most recent livestream blowout, Scramble is actually an in-depth sequel to Persona 5.” The trailers keep coming, showing off gameplay systems and the game’s cast of beloved characters, and the response is always something like “The game continues to look like much more than your typical Dynasty Warriors-like experience, meaning it’s one we’re hotly anticipating as we head into 2020.

The game is being seen as an action-based sequel instead of a lazy cash-in spin-off. And as much as I already knew what it was going to be, and as frustrated as I am that this sort of marketing push is necessary for people not to just say “DYNASTY WARRIORS BOO!” and shut down when they hear “Omega Force”, I recognize that this is really good marketing and expectation management. It gets past the unfair, inaccurate perception people have and paints a clearer image of what the game actually is - to the benefit of both the developer and the game’s potential players.

And I’m hoping it’ll help change Omega Force’s reputation, and future Musou crossovers won’t need as huge a marketing budget to get a fair shake.