Pokémon Prism was just days away from release when developer Koolboyman was hit with a cease and desist from Nintendo. At that point, the Pokémon fan-game had been in development for eight years and some change.
Prism, a ROM hack of Pokémon Crystal, featured a Pokémon league with 20 badges to collect, an entirely new region—the Sevii Islands—and introduced Pokémon from more recent generations in old-school 8-bit form. It was an impressive undertaking that gained attention after the game first appeared on Twitch Plays Pokémon and various gaming publications.
The time is right. The lights are low. The CD player is playing soft, sexy tunes in the background. You're so into the moment that you barely stop to wonder why anyone still has a CD player anymore. There's a pretty face in front of you and it's slowly approaching your own, lips pursed, a gentle blush spreading across their cheeks. It's smooch time, and you're into it.
And then the face-skin disappears and you're both just disembodied eyes and tongues flapping in the breeze. Your mother never warned you about this.
Ah, you know what? It's too easy to make fun of Assassin's Creed Unity for its buggy kisses. That whole face-disappearing thing was fun, but the kissing in that game—when the faceflesh was present and accounted for—was actually really, really good. And not even with a "for games" caveat.
And it was more than just a good snog, too. The scene that everyone's hopefully seen by now—if not, do so, here—is intimate and passionate in a way that many games don't quite manage to convey, because animating two discrete entities is, frankly, a total pain in the arse.
Whereas any remaster of a past-gen game is bound to carry with it dated visual qualities however good the added gloss, as is absolutely the case with the returning PaRappa the Rapper, Mad Fellows' brand-new Aaero is immediately cool on a cursory impression. It's packed with big, busy polygons, bright particles that pop and sparkle across the screen, and fantastical, futuristic landscapes to fly into. You're a little spaceship thing, impossibly small against the odds, locking onto and destroying enemies of all shapes and sizes—some of which shoot back, so you'll need to eliminate those projectiles, too, by sweeping a target around with the right stick, Rez style.
It looks like a slick shooter, but is actually a rhythm action affair—your missiles impact in time to an array of bass-heavy tracks, and all the while a racing line of sorts must be stuck to, or else a substantial part of the song in question simply falls away to silence. So then, it's more than Rez in feel—when it's properly singing, tasking the player with navigating their ship on the left stick and lining up shots with the right, there's a rising whisper of Gitaroo Man to proceedings, just with more Katy B and Flux Pavilion, and less "Legendary Theme".
"After six long years, can the Ministry of Admissions keep us safe?"
That newspaper headline greets you at the beginning of Lucas Pope's Papers, Please. The borders of the fictional post-Soviet autocracy Arstotzka are opened for the first time in years, and you are one of the everyday citizens tasked with securing your nation's borders. Every day, there are new rules limiting who you can allow into the country. You will deny far more people than you admit.
Papers, Please's relevance has only grown in the four years since its release. We are more than two months removed from Donald Trump's first attempt to implement his Muslim Ban—an executive order barring immigrant and refugee status to residents of seven Muslim majority nations. The ban is dying in the courts, but the situation for many immigrants in America is still a nightmare.
Papers, Please is an honest examination of the practical limits of resistance for anyone working in immigration and a demonstration of how oppressive states use bureaucracy to obscure their abuses. The increasingly complex rules for who you admit to Arstotzka don't just exist to arbitrarily increase the game's difficulty.
All Papers, Please screenshots courtesy of 3909
It's a bureaucracy suffocating you under an avalanche of regulations, guidelines, and checklists so you don't have time to think about the "why" of what you're doing. The legalistic framework surrounding every aspect of your life and job serves to separate you from your own morality, replacing it with a series of rules and regulations. You may have been assigned a job without consent, you may have to screen refugees and immigrants according to nonsense criteria, and your family can be forcibly relocated at any time… but it's all legal. And if you have a moral problem with any of those laws, confronting them makes you a criminal.
A state that requires self-immolation in the act of genuine resistance is a state designed to enforce compliance. Part of Papers, Please's power is that it doesn't offer you a heroic path out of your dilemma. There are no good options: you're either enforcing these rules and therefore you become part of the problem, or you are doing what you can to subvert those rules, and in doing so, you put your life and the life of your family at risk. All for seemingly meaningless results, since you have so little agency as an inspector that any commonplace acts of defiance seem futile.
A few weeks ago, Mic Fok got a weird email. The person writing it claimed they'd been playing Overwatch on a PlayStation Network account for more than six months, but the password had changed recently. But why would Fok know anything about this random dude's account? As it turns out, they'd "purchased" Fok's account through a website called PSN Games, one of many businesses trafficking in the selling of cheap games by sketchy means.
The individual who bought Fok's account was an Overwatch fan named Bennett Eglinton. "Hello I purchased overwatch from psngames.org and this email was used as the account info," reads an email from Eglinton, sent in early March. "However the password I was given for the PlayStation Network sign in no longer works. Did you happen to change it? Can I get the new info."
Taken aback, Fok pressed Eglinton for more information, and informed him he probably got scammed; Fok was still using this account. After Eglinton was able to produce Fok's old (and legitimate) password, he stopped responding to the emails. That's when he contacted me, and put me in touch with Eglinton, who passed along the PSN Games confirmation email with Fok's password.
"Simply put, we don't want the experience to be spoiled for people who haven't played the game," the company explained in the post. "Our fans have waited years for the game to come out and we really want to make sure they can experience it fully as a totally new adventure."
Atlus' pitch is that it wants to protect people from spoilers, a claim that's hard to give weight when people watching Let's Play videos are probably there to watch the game in question. Nonetheless, that's the explanation Atlus is sticking with.
When Destiny came out, I played through the story, bounced off the game, and didn't return until The Taken King—a full year later. When I asked friends what I should check out, the answer was universal: raids. Raids are meaty, multi-hour affairs, combining the game's best-in-class shooting with layered puzzles and some deeply calibrated teamwork. And while I'd dumped dozens of hours into The Taken King, I didn't have a group I regularly played with, and even if I did, it seemed unlikely I'd find six hours to dedicate to figuring out a raid. My solution came from an unexpected place: a fan whose group agreed to be my raid Sherpa.
Their pitch to me was pretty simple. Their group ran the latest raid, King's Fall, all the time. At this point, beating King's Fall was straightforward, routine, and a way to pass the time in search of more loot. Because everyone was so well-versed in King's Fall's setup, bringing along someone who didn't know what they were doing wouldn't have much impact.
The opening area to The Ringed City, the latest downloadable content for Dark Souls 3 and possibly the final expansion of the Dark Souls universe, is a brutal slog, even by Souls standards. Angelic creatures hover, capable of firing laser-like barrages every few seconds. It means instant death. If you spend 10 minutes trying to meticulously take one down with arrows, they wither away—only to reappear seconds later. Your best option is to run like hell, pray that enough arrows manage to sail past your face, and hide. It feels a lot like trying to survive 2017.
I've been dreading the release of The Ringed City for a little while now. Though I'm almost always down for more Souls, it's bittersweet knowing that The Ringed Citymight signal a curtain call for a series that's transformed my gaming worldview. Even if it's time to say goodbye, a notion I'd settled on after the uninspiring Ashes of Ariandel, I prefer staving off the inevitable. It's why I laughed when the unlocking mechanism Bandai Namco sent me to play The Ringed City early didn't work. It meant I could put off the final ascent for a few days.
But the ascent means nothing if the journey isn't worth it, and like Ashes of Ariandel, The Ringed City continues to suggest FromSoftware is right to move on from Dark Souls. I'm usually beaming with pride when I've scaled the latest mountain FromSoftware has put in front of me, but by the end of The Ringed City, I was left empty, bored, and ready for change.
Images courtesy of FromSoftware
Playing a Souls game is asking to be kicked in the gut, but as far as gut punches go, they feel pretty fair. But little felt fair about the way The Ringed City introduced itself, as I ran in circles, hoping to avoid the angels' glare. Spawn, run, die. Repeat. Invincible enemies aren't the Souls way; the game is usually happy to let you cowardly pelt even the toughest enemies with arrows. There's nothing inherently wrong with subverting expectations, but in this case, it mostly induced frustration. Though you eventually discover a way to dispatch the angels, it came after I spent too much time wondering why I wasn't playing Breath of the Wild instead.
The Ringed City punctuates this intro with a two-on-one boss fight, complete with a last-minute transformation. After banging my head against the boss for a few hours, I succumbed to summoning a friend for jolly cooperation, and we took them down together. I'm normally against summoning, except in the most extreme of circumstances, but it was deeply satisfying to split our efforts, before coming together for the main event. It made me retroactively wonder if my desire to beat everything on my own in a Souls game had done more harm than good. Given how much time you spend alone, having a buddy during the farewell tour felt appropriate.
Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
The opening thirty minutes of Baldur's Gate are some of the strangest in the history of role-playing games. You don't begin as a dirt farmer or a chosen one (although we do get there). Instead, it all starts in Candlekeep, a giant library that contains thousands of volumes of arcane knowledge, pulled from every corner of the Forgotten Realms. Whether the character you have just created is a level 1 paladin, sorcerer, or a thief, it becomes apparent immediately that you have grown up surrounded by the biggest nerds in this entire branch of the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. You've lived in this monastery-slash-megalibrary for your entire life. You were raised by a man named Gorion. The game really starts when you're forced to flee this place in the middle of the night.
It is during this midnight journey that you first encounter Sarevok. He's a horrifying figure in spiked armor, and he stops both the player and their adoptive father in their tracks with his small band of adventurers who are dead-set on making the player, well, dead. An epic fight ensues, or at least an epic fight in terms of what the Infinity Engine could do in 1998, and the adoptive father lies dead on the ground. Sarevok has slewn him—although you don't quite know who Sarevok is yet—and the player is left to wander around this weird world.
Scant things bother me more than when a video game wastes my time. It's why, at first, I was bothered by the notion that I needed to finish Nier: Automata multiple times to fully appreciate it. Such tactics are usually deployed as a cheap trick to pad a game's length. Nier avoids this problem, for the most part, and it's best to think of the endings as chapters. Forty hours later, I've now seen Nier's final conclusion—ending E—and I'm still thinking about it. It was devastating.
Nier's premise is simple: humans have retreated to the moon following an alien invasion, and use increasingly advanced machines to fight on their behalf, as they attempt to retake Earth. If you only complete the game's first ending—ending A—you're left with some sense of hope. 2B and 9S, the androids at the heart of the story, have dealt the alien forces a sizable blow. But the questions Nier has raised—what meaning and purpose should the machines' lives have in the absence of humanity's limitations?—continue to haunt.
It's only when you begin playing again, prompting the perspective to shift from 2B to 9S, that everything begins to unravel. 9S has the ability to hack into machines and objects around him, occasionally providing glimpses into the mental state of the machines the two are pulverizing.