This is the first year I’ve paid serious attention to Gamescom, which basically amounts to Europe’s E3. Perhaps it’s because I’ve even less chance of getting to go it than I do to E3, but it’s kind of a blank spot in my games journalism career, if you want to call it that. But with a suite of teases at this year’s E3, not a lot of solid details and a whole slew of games all coming out in the next 2-4 months I’m actually interested in, I figured it was time to give the big game show on the other side of the Atlantic a try. With Bethesda saving most of its content for QuakeCon, which ran at the same time last week (which I’ll get to later on), and me not being terribly happy with Sony and Microsoft it was naturally only Nintendo I cared about, so here’s a rundown of what they did at Gamescom this year.
I’m not sure if companies do the big press conferences at Gamescom like they do at E3-If they did I didn’t see anywhere to stream them, and either way Nintendo seemed to once again go the route of releasing information directly to its fans through its own social media profiles. So strap in, it’s time once again to overanalyse some trailers.
Fire Emblem Warriors is a game that I’ve gotten progressively more interested in as the months have gone by. I don’t know much at all about Fire Emblem as a franchise: The earlier games’ permadeath turned me away from what basically amounts to Medieval Fantasy Advance Wars, but the corner it seems to have turned as of Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS, making the permadeath optional and adding in a visual novel/dating sim style relationship mechanic (clunkily implemented as it is) seems to have made it into something that seems marginally more up my alley. I was all ready to put down cash for Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE on the WiiU in spite of my total disinterest in Persona, Shin Megami Tensei, Fire Emblem and JRPGs in general simply because that game looked and sounded freaking awesome, but the collector’s edition turned out to be *way* more money than I wanted to spend at that time, especially with the WiiU at death’s door in 2016 and other releases causing me to have an existential crisis about the video game medium. I do still kind of want to at least add that to my collection given its critical acclaim, possibly if I can get it at a budget price, but it’s definitely not a priority anymore.
In the end, it took Omega Force releasing a musō game based on the franchise to get me to really pay attention to Fire Emblem for the first time. My hunger for any and all things musō cannot be satiated, and I’ve been desperate for another game like this I can take on the go with me and play without an Internet connection since grinding Hyrule Warriors Legends into dust last year, and in lieu of a proper Dynasty Warriors Empires or Samurai Warriors Empires release on the Switch I initially thought I’d have to settle for this.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on Fire Emblem to prep for its Warriors debut and hopefully get me more excited for it, and while it hasn’t *quite* worked to the degree I’dve liked, I could still see myself getting this one, if for no other reason than to support Omega Force’s work on the Switch (and Lucina). At Gamescom, Nintendo and Koei-Tecmo released a new trailer showing a new handful of playable characters (Hinoka, Camilla, Takumi and Leo, I guess?), while Koei-Tecmo Japan independently released a new character showcase trailer for the female version of Robin. Omega Force says this game will have more playable characters at the start than any prior musō game ever, so I’m sure this isn’t the last of the reveals we’ll be seeing over the next month. I’m holding out for Tiki, because “Beastie Game” from Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE is one of the greatest video game theme songs ever recorded. I’m also hopeful this will be the musō game to get more Western women interested in the genre (as modern Fire Emblem fandom is very female-driven) and also resolve some of my lingering hangups about Koei-Tecmo’s historical fiction (as I talked about in my video podcast with Ben Knaak awhile back).
I just have two concerns. One, we still know very little about what sorts of modes are going to be offered, and the one big problem I keep having with musō is that the non-Empires games are so story driven they tend to lack replay value and staying power after you’ve played through the main campaign. Also, I hate to say it, but…The English language dub of Fire Emblem Warriors sounds…alarming. If for whatever reason the West doesn’t get the option of a Japanese language track, I have to say I’m gonna need to import this from Japan if I’m ever to play it.
But even if I’m disappointed by Fire Emblem Warriors I now know I have other options, because on Friday this happened. For those who can’t read Japanese, Koei-Tecmo announced (obviously not at Gamescom) that Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada and Warriors Orochi 3: Ultimate are *all* coming to the Nintendo Switch *the same day*, November 9, and I am so incredibly beyond happy. This is *three times* the news I’ve been waiting on with bated breath *all year*: Any single one of these would be a system seller for the Switch for me, and now we’re not just getting one, but all three. If you’ve never played a musō game before, you frankly can’t go wrong with any of these: Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada has a wonderfully melodramatic and comprehensive story that’s a great fit for JRPG veterans, Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires is as close to a perfect musō game for my tastes as I’ve yet found, and I’m really excited to finally play get a chance to Warriors Orochi 3: Ultimate, which many (including non-musō fans) consider Omega Force’s masterpiece. I was thinking about getting the comparatively-stripped down WiiU version, but now that the Switch is getting the definitive edition I’ll just wait for that instead! These are some of the greatest and most critically acclaimed musō games of all time, and that we’re getting not just one of them, but all of them makes me frankly feel a bit spoiled.
If I were really spoiled though I’d quibble a bit about some of the choices: I can’t say I wouldn’t prefer Samurai Warriors 4: Empires to Spirit of Sanada, but the latter *is* the newest release, has all the officers yet made playable and has received incredible (and, for a musō game, unprecedented) accolades from fans and critics alike. I also hope Spirit of Sanada and Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires are optimized better on the Switch than they were on the PC, and there is a slight concern that Omega Force could get lazy and just port over the PlayStation 3/PlayStation Vita versions again, like they did with 8: Empires on PC. But, given Koei-Tecmo’s close relationship with Nintendo (as Fire Emblem Warriors demonstrates) I have enough faith that they care (and know) enough about the Switch hardware to give us versions of these classics custom tailored for it.
Also, all three games have so far only been announced for Japan, but even in a worst-case scenario in which they’re never exported, the Switch is region-free and is programmed to recognise Japanese games and trigger an English language option where available, so I can always just import them if need be! I have a hard time seeing how Omega Force *wouldn’t* at least include the localization as an option as all three games have received Western releases before (and in the case of Warriors Orochi 3, several times) anyway.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch made a surprise appearance as a playable demo on the show floor. Digital Foundry says the game runs impressively: Though it was only shown in handheld mode, they guessed it was hitting a solid 720p/30 frames per second consistently, and, while it was tough to tell, it seems to be performing closer to the XBOX One and PlayStation 4 versions of last year’s Special Edition release, as opposed to the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the original 2011 release, which is good to hear. I will say I’m a bit disappointed to hear Bethsoft haven’t seemed to get it to crack 60 FPS in handheld mode, especially as EA stunned everyone by doing just that with their specialized version of FIFA 18, but it’s not like I’m going to not get Skyrim on a Nintendo handheld because of that. I’ve been getting more and more excited for this release the more I think about this prospect, and between Skyrim on a Nintendo handheld and Koei-Tecmo’s dizzying triple-header announcement (in addition to ARMS, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Poi: Explorer’s Edition and Sonic Mania), I’ve never been more confidant, self-assured and proud in my decision to invest in the Nintendo Switch.
What a launch this has turned out to be.
There were two announcements regarding updates for the Switch’s big multiplayer phenomena, ARMS and Splatoon 2. Like the original Splatoon, both are getting regular “free DLC” updates that add a bunch of new content in addition to bugfixes and balance tweaks. ARMS is getting a new character in the sure-to-be-fan-favourite Lola Pop, while Splatoon 2 is getting some new weapons and a new map for its competitive modes and Salmon Run co-op mode. There’s also a bizarre collaboration between Nintendo and the cartoon show We Bare Bears to promote both games. For some reason. I’m still pretty frustrated with Splatoon 2 (it’s actually a big part of the reason I’ve been so self-critical about my gaming habits recently) to the point I’ve given up on it completely as being simply not made for me, so news about that game really doesn’t help me anymore. It’s a good thing I no longer feel I need it, and, as for ARMS, while I do want it, I’ve had my clown fix for awhile and I’m almost certainly gonna be maining Twintelle.
Yes, I’m one of those people.
Preorders and stuff were announced for the Super NES Classic Edition Mini. Do not get me going on the Classic Edition Mini devices. Long story short, I don’t care about them (especially not this one, cashing in on retrofetishism for what is unquestionably my least favourite Nintendo console) and I don’t think you should either. They’re a waste of your time (and money, if, gods forbid, you cave and seek out a scalper). Much as I love and respect them, Nintendo clearly bit off more than they could chew with these things, the retailers screwed everyone over and there are far easier, better and less stressful ways to play retro games in your living room. The only thing the Super NES Classic Mini has going for it is an official release of the fabled Star Fox 2, which is going to be a near-final build previously unavailable publicly and which developers stress is completely different to (and better than) the commonly available ROM versions. But you can bet within minutes of the Super NES Classic Edition Mini releasing there will be other ways to play and enjoy that, if you are so inclined.
It’s Kirby’s 25th Anniversary this year. Nintendo didn’t do much for it but release a brief retrospective trailer for the series’ history and plug the upcoming Switch game, but it’s a pleasant watch and you can catch glimpses of the minigame collection HAL released on the 3DS eShop to celebrate.
Then there’s Metroid. Oh Gods, Metroid. Metroid: Samus Returns, to be precise. There was apparently a gameplay showcase for it I didn’t see, but to be honest I’m not sure what more needs to be shown of that game that wasn’t in the exhaustive series of E3 Treehouse segments. More galling was the “Overview Trailer” showing off the game’s key mechanics: Aside from clearly (and very, very badly) attempting to sell Metroid as Nintendo’s Aliens to an embarrassing degree (the link between Metroid and the Alien film series is but one of many threads I could incessantly pick at in regards to this messed-up series. Perhaps I will whenever Jack gets around to starting his Alien project), what also bugs me (hah) about this is how, in spite of this being a remake, it focuses so much on the new features and the features it inherits from Super Metroid as opposed to those that were actually in the original Metroid II: The Return of Samus. As my first Metroid game and one of the only ones Yoshio Sakamoto wasn’t heavily involved in this is kind of an important game to me, and everyone’s tried to take a swing at it over the years to make it “fit” better with the Master Narrative set down by Sakamoto and Super Metroid (or, ironically enough, Metroid Prime but Oh Gods that’s a whole other howling abyss of madness). Although I have faith Nintendo and MercurySteam will come up with *some* kind of good sidescrolling Metroid, the frenzied marketing seems to be trying to turn this game into something bigger than it actually is.
But let’s stop beating around the bush. My real concern is Yoshio Sakamoto himself and his legions of Metroid faithful. I’ve no doubt Metroid: Samus Returns will be a rock-solid and evolutionary return for the series’ sidescrolling roots, but absolutely none of that matters if the plot this team cooks up is anywhere remotely reminiscent of Super Metroid, Metroid Fusion, Metroid Zero Mission or the crateringly disastrous Metroid: Other M. And in this day and age, I’m skeptical that, if it is, it will ever be called out on this because of how important this game is going to be to so many people. People are going to *desperately* want this to be Metroid’s return to form, Metroid’s Sonic Mania, and I shudder to think what’s going to happen if it turns out to be anything less than an instant classic (and gods protect anyone for whom this is going to be their first introduction to Metroid). Sakamoto-san has seemed pleasingly relaxed and casual in his recent appearances, and interviews like this one with Eurogamer give me hope, but still, for me, in spite of how important the Metroid series and Samus herself have been to me over my life, I will not even consider buying Samus Returns until I see a shot-for-shot, scene-for-scene spoileriffic breakdown of its story and I’m fully, 100% convinced the series has finally turned a corner again.
Because, you know, speaking of MercurySteam and Metroid, there’s also this.
Nintendo released two new trailers for Pokkén Tournament DX. They both more or less go over the same material and don’t tell us anything new about the game we didn’t know from E3 or the earlier Pokémon Direct presentation and are mostly noteworthy for their stunning terribleness. I don’t think the announcer could have given a smarmier or more grating performance if he was consciously trying. Far be it for me to criticize Nintendo’s marketing given the fact the Switch is flying off shelves and I’ve been wrong about everything else this year, especially given the debacles that were the 3DS and WiiU launches, but it seems to me this kind of approach isn’t going to win them very many admirers. Perhaps, like everything, it’s another sign of my age. Pokémon is said to be a series for “everyone”, but it’s really for kids. Even Pokémon fighting games that play like Tekken. And maybe kids don’t mind a little cheese in their commercials.
I’d be more upset about this if it hadn’t been for this past week: My challenge to Nintendo this year has been “If you’re returning to your toy company roots and don’t want adults like me to play the games you consider for children anymore, than give me some other way to support your console if you still want to reach me”. And until the announcement of Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires, Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada and Warriors Orochi 3: Ultimate I wasn’t really seeing enough of that (hell, even Spirit of Sanada is a bit of a young adult fiction story, as all JRPG stories are). But now that those games are coming, combined with stuff like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for Nintendo Switch (which is really just a matter of it being an intensely personal symbol for me) and ARMS, which is every bit the competitive eSport I need, I think I’ll be OK.
There’s going to be a new colour for the Nintendo 2DS. This is the original model, not the newly-released New Nintendo 2DS XL. In keeping with Nintendo’s renewed emphasis on children, the 2DS has always been positioned as a young child’s first video game console, and the commercial reflects this angle. That’s about all there is to say about that.
Apparently there were some other games demoed Treehouse-style, but once again I missed out on that as I operate from a North American and Japanese perspective, not a European one. At the very least I hope I caught all the most interesting news bulletins from Nintendo at Gamescom this week. And anyway, there was another weeklong video game event that I found far more stimulating on the whole: QuakeCon.
It seems like this year was one of transition for Bethesda and QuakeCon. After spending the past few years using it as a kind of mini-industry event to show off new Bethesda trailers and game reveals, this year it went all the way back to its roots as a pure Quake-focused weeklong extravaganza. The only real news and announcements were release dates for Bethesda’s big VR games: November 17 for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR (sadly exclusive to PlayStation VR), December 1 for DOOM VFR (coming to both PlayStation VR and the PC HTC VIVE) and December 12 for Fallout 4 VR (exclusive to PC and HTC VIVE). The big highlight though was Quake Champions, which came out of beta into Early Access this past week on Steam and the Bethesda.net launcher. The game, targeted explicitly to the eSports scene, is free-to-play, but US$30 gets you access to all current and future playable Champions and a selection of chests and reliquaries, this game’s equivalent to the omnipresent loot crates. Quake Champions was also the focus of a US$1,000,000 World Championship tournament that ran throughout the whole event.
While the wisdom of holding a $1,000,000 prize pool for a game that’s not finished yet is perhaps questionable, what isn’t in any doubt is that Quake Champions is already fucking fantastic, as I learned when I couldn’t resist jumping into the fray and fervor myself. All I can say is that this is Quake, pure and simple, perfectly tweaked and updated for the modern age. The only concessions to modern shooter trends (apart from the aforementioned loot crates) are the very Overwatch and Splatoon-style “Champions”: Player characters who each have unique strengths and weaknesses and whose individual playstyles take practice to master. But personally, I think this enhances the game rather than detracts from it: I mean, it’s not like Quake and Unreal were particularly known for their iconic characters before.
If you have fond memories of the original Quake III Arena, or indeed any arena shooter from the bygone days, you’ll absolutely feel right at home here. Everything feels exactly the way it should feel, exactly as you’d want it to feel. If you missed that era of gaming and are curious to see what multiplayer shooters looked like before Halo, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Splatoon, this is unquestionably the game for you to check out. Furthermore, this is just a really lovely community, and as someone who remembers the Bad Old Days of online multiplayer this was honestly something of a shock: I’ve not seen any verbal abuse anywhere (even with in-game character dialog, which regrettably in past games of this ilk did tend to employ a fair number of gendered slurs), and everyone who comes into the chat is really encouraging and supportive. Frankly between that and the game itself, I cannot recommend Quake Champions highly enough.
That said I am abjectly *terrible* at Quake Champions, regularly placing last or second to last in online Deathmatch. There’s also no bot mode yet, so if you want in now be prepared to learn from the school of hard knocks. The people playing right now are all old pros, and that can be intimidating for a newcomer. Even for me, who’s an old hand at arena shooters, Quake Champions has been a rough go simply because my game of choice in the late 90s and early 2000s wasn’t Quake III Arena, but Unreal Tournament 2004 and Metroid Prime Hunters. And while all games of this genre are superficially similar, the physics and movement mechanics are ever-so-slightly different for each, and the devil’s in the details for this sort of game. Really, what it comes down to is that I’m just not practiced enough at the Quake style of arena shooter. But I’m learning, and trying.
Quake Champions is also reminding me of how uncomfortable mouse-and-keyboard controls are for me: I do prefer them to controllers for this kind of game (the only kind of game you’ll ever hear me say that about), but there’s no escaping the fact it’s hardly ergonomic and a bit awkward to code-shift for, especially in a game where microsecond response times are paramount (at least for me). Honestly I’d love to see Quake Champions, once it’s finished, show up on the Nintendo Switch to take advantage of its advanced motion control, but I know that will never happen. I’m not sure this is the kind of game Nintendo wants right now, and even if it were Bethesda has said this is a PC exclusive. In the meantime, I’ll keep soldiering away at Quake Champions on my laptop. If any of you decide to check the game out, let me know and maybe we can swing a custom match together: I’ll be rocking my girl Nyx, who is this amazing blue-haired ninja assassin lady who mouths off and is snarky just like Rayne from the BloodRayne series. I absolutely love her.
Overall, this past week has given me solid reassurance the video game path I’m going down is a Good one. Ironically, given we’re seeing a resurgent Nintendo, video games seem to be going back to the way they were before Nintendo (at least before Nintendo in the West): Arcade-style social experiences with friendly competition more for adults than for kids. At least those are the ones that most interest me these days, and, once again, maybe that just speaks to me and my age. Even if I’m terrible at eSports (I’m certainly not going to be walking away a millionaire anytime soon) I’ve had more pure fun with games like Quake Champions and Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires than I can remember in a very long time. I would still one day love to find a video game that makes me feel the same way I felt when I played games like Super Mario Bros., Super Mario 64, Sonic the Hedgehog, Metroid Prime and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but if I don’t maybe that just speaks more to me and where I am in my life than video games on the whole.
Looking at the industry now, in August-September 2017, I can’t complain much or say it doesn’t look like it’s in a good place.