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Stephen King, David Lynch, & The Art That Inspired ‘Silent Hill’

It is readily apparent almost immediately upon starting Silent Hill that rather than providing a steady supply of fleeting shocks, the game wants to deeply unsettle the player over a longer period of time.

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This article contains major spoilers for Silent Hill, Silent Hill 2, Silent Hill 3, The Mist, Carrie, Jacob’s Ladder, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, and Lost Highway, as well as some disturbing images and themes.

In the late ’90s, survival horror was a burgeoning trend on home video game consoles. While there’d been numerous forays into horror gaming previously, it was the enormous success of Capcom’s Resident Evil that proved the genre could be commercially viable as well as critically lauded. The advent of the compact disc as the industry standard for storage had allowed developers to be more adventurous in their games, and Resident Evil, in particular, benefited from the boons of the medium. On a cartridge-based system the full motion video cut-scenes and hours of recorded dialogue would never have been an option, and while the dubious quality of the storytelling and voice acting in the game have been the subject of much ridicule in the years subsequent to its release, it was these cinematic qualities that helped Resident Evil stand out against mechanically similar titles like Alone In The Dark.

As is always the case in the wake of an unexpected bestseller, developers around the globe frantically raced to capitalize on the success of Resident Evil and the popularity of the newfangled buzz word, “survival horror.” The point and click adventure series, Clock Tower, was re-imagined as a third person horror game that retained an emphasis on puzzle solving rather than combat, while Squaresoft envisioned an amalgamation of the role playing titles that they were famous for and third person action-horror in 1998’s Parasite Eve. While the roots of most of these games laid firmly in schlocky B-movies and the George Romero zombie flicks of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when Konami decided to throw their hat into the proverbial survival horror ring with Silent Hill in 1999, they sought inspiration in some altogether less conventional places.

Resident Evil’s FMV intro would never have been possible on a cartridge-based system, which is perhaps the best argument for why the Nintendo 64 was designed as a cartridge-based system.

Relying more on the kind of slow-burning psychological terror famously employed by Japanese horror movies rather than the jump scares and gross-out moments typically found in American exploitation cinema, for all of the similarities that Silent Hill bore to Resident Evil in terms of combat mechanics and control schemes, the two games were tonally a gulf apart. Cheesy one-liners and zombie-dogs leaping through windows helped Resident Evil to successfully replicate the feeling of a straight-to-video popcorn shocker, but it was readily apparent almost immediately upon starting Silent Hill that rather than providing a steady supply of fleeting shocks, the game wanted to deeply unsettle the player over a longer period of time.

Perhaps the most ingenious tool used by the developers of Silent Hill in order to upset players was the static-emitting radio. After the radio is found by protagonist Harry Mason in the opening minutes of the game, it begins to crackle with white noise just as a winged creature bursts through the window and attacks him. After battling the monster in a confined diner and ultimately killing it, Harry realizes that the radio he’d picked up produces feedback whenever there are otherworldly creatures nearby; the louder it gets, the closer they are. In a town like Silent Hill, perpetually blanketed in a thick fog, the radio becomes both an ally and a source of torment to Harry and the player alike; whenever you hear the crackle of the radio you know that you need to be on guard because there could be enemies lurking in the shroud of the fog, but not knowing where the creatures are and whether or not they’ll even attack proved disturbing to many gamers.

While most people who have played or even heard of Silent Hill will be familiar with how the radio works, what’s less common knowledge is that the idea for this now iconic feature, present in most of the games in the series, was not conjured by the director, Keiichiro Toyama, or even the composer, Akira Yamaoka, but was lifted practically wholesale from the Stephen King novella, The Mist. In the story of the novel, a small town in Maine is covered in a thick fog which harbors a gaggle of abhorrent creatures, including a pterosaur-like flying monster of startling similarity to the one Harry fights in the opening minutes of Silent Hill. The creatures, like in Silent Hill, cause radio equipment in their vicinity to produce nothing but harsh static.

The guy looks sad because the tentacle is dragging him to the local cinema to see The Mist.

The similarities Silent Hill bares to The Mist don’t begin and end with a radio and a flying monster. Later in the novel, once it becomes apparent that the killer fog enveloping the town isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, different factions arise among the survivors with conflicting ideas on what the mist is and what should be done. One such group led by a fanatical religious woman believe that the hellish creatures that plague them are indicative of the end-times as per the description of Armageddon within the Holy Bible, and they start to believe that the only way to appease their new demonic overlords is through human sacrifice. Silent Hill, too, features a religious cult, and although the grisly fate of the town is actually a result of the machinations of said cult in the game’s story, the similarities are too stark to overlook.

In the story of Silent Hill, the disciples of the religious cult led by the dreadful Dahlia Gillespie have used her daughter as a vessel to birth the dark god Samael, an act which unfortunately requires a hellish amount of pain and turmoil. Never one to shy away from unimaginable suffering, even when it afflicts those with a familial connection, Dahlia has her own daughter set on fire in an act of sacrifice, and then uses an evil incantation to keep the poor girl alive and in a state of perennial agony under the supervision of the drug-addled nurse, Lisa Garland. The dreams Alessa has in her tormented state are the basis for the nightmarish Otherworld that Harry has to battle through while exploring Silent Hill; the physical manifestation of the harrowing thoughts of a young girl, victim to an unspeakable wrong enacted upon her by her own mother. Another of Stephen King’s works, Carrie, features psychic vengeance at the whim of a teenage girl, bullied by her peers and mistreated by her deeply religious mother.

In the best ending for the original Silent Hill, Dahlia Gillespie is ironically, hilariously, burned alive by her God Samael, mere seconds after seeing her plan to birth him brought to fruition.

The developers of Silent Hill have never been shy about their influences when creating the game, and then later the expanded series, including the allusions and homages to some of the writings of Stephen King. In addition to plot points and characters that seem to pay more than a passing nod to those in stories by the famous horror author, there are numerous references to other Stephen King works within the game. Posters can be seen for the movie adaptations of Pet Semetary and Carrie, while the pinball machine in the café was included as a nod to Children of the Corn. As if these weren’t enough, the street on which Harry awakens after crashing his car at the beginning of Silent Hill is named Bachman Road, which King fans amongst you will likely have realized is in reference to Stephen King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman.

The naming of Bachman Road is just one of many references to influential figures, as in each of the games in the Silent Hill series the various streets and locations that the player visits tend to be named in honor of people who were inspirational to the creative minds on the development team in some way. There’s nods to Ira Levin, the author of Rosemary’s Baby, Mary Shelley who penned Frankenstein, and Michael Crichton who wrote the dinosaur-thriller, Jurassic Park, among other things. When Harry reaches Midwich Elementary School – itself named after a street in Village of the Damned – he can read a list of the names of the teachers who work at the school, which includes a Ranaldo, a Moore and a Gordon – the names of the three members of experimental rock band, Sonic Youth. There’s even a street named after the astrophysicist and celebrated author, Carl Sagan. Practically everything in Silent Hill is named in tribute to someone or something.

Everywhere in Silent Hill seems to pay homage to someone who inspired the development of the game.

Sonic Youth were one of the most influential rock bands of ’80s. If you’ve not listened to them, check out Daydream Nation.

It’s not just the naming conventions that pay homage to novels, bands or movies, though. Some of the sights and sounds within the town of Silent Hill are themselves either references to, or directly taken from other properties. The aforementioned café that Harry Mason visits at the beginning of the first game is named “5 to 2” in reference to a similar diner in the Oliver Stone directed and Quentin Tarantino penned, Natural Born Killers. There’s a poster advertising an album by the British trip-hop band Portishead, who were undoubtedly an influence for series composer, Akira Yamaoka. Their modest 1994 hit, “Sour Times” in particular seems like it may have inspired the main theme of the first game in the Silent Hill series.

The Metropol Theatre is a direct reference to Dario Argento’s Demons, and there are posters featuring an image of the green-goo spewing monsters that appear in that movie just around the corner. A cinema in the town has some posters, too, for upcoming attractions that look remarkably similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard 2. The sepia photograph of Alessa Gillespie that Harry finds numerous times throughout his twisted journey shows her dressed in practically identical attire to Pamela Franklin in The Legend of Hell House, and down one of the dangerous alleys behind the café, he can see that somebody has scrawled “REDRUM” on a shutter door just like in The Shining – a movie directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by, once again, Stephen King.

The 5 to 2 café in both Natural Born Killers and Silent Hill.

A newspaper seen in Silent Hill is almost identical to one from The Silence of the Lambs.

Scenes from Dario Argento’s Demons alongside their references in Silent Hill.

A photograph of Alessa Gillespie found by Harry Mason in the original Silent Hill.

Pamela Franklin in The Legend of Hell House.

A horror game liberally borrowing from and paying homage to directors like Dario Argento, or writers like Stephen King isn’t all that surprising, but there are also numerous amusing references within the Silent Hill games that are somewhat less expected. Perhaps most out of left field is Midwich Elementary School in the first game, which is actually quite a faithful recreation of the school from the Arnold Schwarzenegger action-comedy, Kindergarten Cop. Everything from the outward appearance of the school to many of the recognizable features within it are directly lifted from the Arnie classic, leading to some tongue-in-cheek speculation online that the kids from the movie all died terribly, and Silent Hill is actually just a fantastically depressing sequel. Similarly, the characters of Laura and Mary in Silent Hill 2 are wearing outfits that are almost identical to ones worn by Nicholas Cage’s wife and daughter in the ridiculous ’90s action movie, Con Air, while the character of Maria wears an ensemble once worn by Christina Aguilera at an awards show. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Christina Aguilera’s middle name is Maria.

Silent Hill would still be a better Kindergarten Cop 2 than Kindergarten Cop 2.

James Sunderland’s wife looking remarkably similar to Nicholas Cage’s in Con Air.

Christina Aguilera and Maria from Silent Hill 2.

The protagonist of Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland, wears the same jacket that Tim Robbins wears in the 1990 psychological horror movie, Jacob’s Ladder, but there are more numerous, and more deeply ingrained similarities between the two properties beyond a worn military coat. The story of Jacob’s Ladder, ostensibly an abstruse testimony of the psychological collapse of its eponymous lead, ultimately reveals itself to be a fiction created by Jacob’s dying mind as a means to acquiesce to his own death in the Vietnam War. Each game in the Silent Hill series features multiple potential endings for the story, based on criteria that must be fulfilled but are generally hidden from the player. Perhaps the most dejecting potential conclusion to the original game appears to be in reference to Jacob’s Ladder, and sees Harry Mason dead in his car after the crash at the beginning of the game, with the varying grotesqueries he meets on his journey being little more than apparitions, the result of randomly firing synapses in his brain as his life ebbs away.

There are locations in Silent Hill that seem to have been directly inspired by some of the events of Jacob’s Ladder, most notably the hospital – various incarnations of which appear in almost every title to bear the Silent Hill name – and the Subway station from Silent Hill 3. Interestingly, the subway station prison from Jacob’s Ladder was itself inspired by a vivid nightmare experienced by the screenwriter, Bruce Joel Rubin. Many of the creature designs in the Silent Hill series are, too, similar to those seen in the movie, with the palpitating, paroxysmal movement of monsters like Silent Hill 2’s Pyramid Head and the third game’s Valtiel, the valet of Metatron, being reminiscent of the various monstrosities seen in Jacob’s visions.

Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder, complete with jacket and appalling haircut.

James Sunderland complete with jacket and not-quite-as-appalling haircut.

The visual design of many of the hideous creatures that players will go up against in the various Silent Hill games have been inspired by numerous famous works of art. The bulbous, distended Insane Cancer that attacks Heather was inspired by some of the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch, while Francis Bacon’s famous triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion was used as a starting point for the creatures, Mandarin, Closer and Flesh Lip in Silent Hill 2 and 3. Rembrandt was cited as an influence for much of the design of Silent Hill 2 by the game’s art director, Takayoshi Sato, as was Andrew Wyeth, whose painting “Christina’s World” was also used as inspiration for the outside of Dahlia Gillespie’s home in the first Silent Hill, while the interior of the abode was based on Norman Bate’s home in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Another locale, the squalid strip bar Heaven’s Night where Silent Hill 2‘s Maria works, is almost a brick for brick recreation of a similar establishment in David Lynch’s noir classic, Blue Velvet. In fact, comparisons between Silent Hill and the work of David Lynch are perhaps even more numerous, and of greater thematic significance than even the previously mentioned similarities to the writing of Stephen King, and the many elements the games borrow from Jacob’s Ladder.

The paintings of Francis Bacon served as inspiration for many of the horrors in the early Silent Hill games.

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion by Francis Bacon.

Lost Highway is, in Lynch’s words, “a jealous man’s state of mind who has indeed committed, and then denies, murder, even to himself,” which for fans of the Silent Hill series should sound evocative of the basic narrative outline for Silent Hill 2, in which James Sunderland believes his deceased wife Mary is actually alive, despite having previously killed her himself. When James arrives in Silent Hill, he quickly meets Maria who is aesthetically identical to his dead spouse, but in stark contrast to his wife, displays an overt confidence as demonstrated by her choice of attire and her occupation as a stripper. When Maria is killed over and over again in increasingly brutal fashion by Pyramid Head, it becomes apparent that she is in fact merely a construct of James’ guilt-ridden mind, her extroversion a direct result of James’ repressed sexual desires during the later, illness stricken months of his dead wife’s life. Her murder, regardless of the ethical and moral case in favor of euthanasia in instances of prolonged suffering through illness, haunts James, and Pyramid Head exists as the physical manifestation of his guilt, murdering Maria time and time again in front of his traumatized eyes.

The use of doppelgangers in order to reflect a character’s guilt over the murder of a loved one is a significant thematic device in Lost Highway, but Lynch also uses doppelgangers in some of his other work, most notably his television show, Twin Peaks. In the show, when agent Dale Cooper is attempting to track down the murderer of Laura Palmer – who worked as a prostitute and was confirmed to have had sexual relationships with a number of major characters – her cousin Maddy comes to stay with the Palmer family, displaying practically identical looks (and portrayed by the same actress) but with an almost entirely opposite personality. Maddy is an introverted, reserved brunette to Laura’s confident, tearaway blonde, but ultimately, Maddy meets her end at the hands of the same person who murdered Laura, which is similar to the fates of both Mary and Maria in Silent Hill 2, killed by James and the product of his guilt, respectively.

Laura Palmer and Maddy Ferguson in Twin Peaks.

Within the lore of Twin Peaks, there is a structure of supreme evil known as the Black Lodge, itself a counterpoint to an opposite construct of pure goodness known as the White Lodge, which bares some similarities with the Otherworld present in each Silent Hill game. In Twin Peaks, the lodges are home to numerous bizarre, backwards speaking entities of various moral persuasions, including helpful characters like the Giant, and nefarious, destructive ones like Bob. These realms exist on a separate plane of existence to the town of Twin Peaks, and can only be reached under specific circumstances. When asked about the Black Lodge, the Native American deputy, Hawk, tells a story from the perspective of his people:

“The legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow self. My people call it ‘The Dweller on the Threshold’ … But it is said, if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.”

In Silent Hill, the Otherworld is a nightmarish facsimile of the real world that periodically superimposes itself over the tourist town while an air raid siren sounds to trumpet the transformation. Brick and mortar are torn asunder and replaced by bloody, rusty, chain link fences, and the only illumination one can find amidst the perpetual night comes from a flashlight carried by the player. Monsters are numerous once the Otherworld takes over, and danger lurks around every corner. The origin of the Otherworld changes depending on the game, but in Silent Hill and Silent Hill 3, it’s the result of the demonic god buried within Alessa Gillespie’s womb, transforming her nightmares into reality. The Otherworld in Silent Hill 2 is different depending on which character is observing it, with Angela – a victim of sexual abuse – seeing walls covered in pulsating flesh and phallic pistons constantly pumping, while Eddie – who eventually snapped and murdered the bullies who had tormented him for years – sees constant reminders of the people he has killed. Regardless of its nature, there are scant references to Native Americans originally revering the town of Silent Hill as a holy place, perhaps because of its capacity as a portal to the Otherworld.

The Otherworld, as seen in Silent Hill 3, is a vile place.

Another parallel between the Otherworld and the Black Lodge in Twin Peaks is found in its ability to conjure doppelgangers, known in Twin Peaks as tulpas. There are numerous tulpas in Twin Peaks, including one of agent Dale Cooper that he actually meets within the Red Room towards the end of Season 2, and who eventually goes on to replace him in the real world. Similarly, in the original Silent Hill, the nurse Lisa Garland is herself a fabrication, a tulpa of the real Lisa Garland who died before the events of the game, a fact that she remains tragically unaware of for most of the story. Lisa is only encountered by Harry when he’s traversing the Otherworld, and never within the real Silent Hill, existing only as a tribute to the real nurse Garland who was the only person who ever cared for Alessa during her years of torment, but wound up murdered by the very religious fanatics that had employed her to look after the poor girl. When Lisa realises that her true self was killed months ago, and she’s merely the dream of a tortured teenager, she has a psychological breakdown and begins to bleed profusely, not unlike what happens to doppelgangers in Twin Peaks who become aware of their origin.

The red skirts that the girls are wearing (Silent Hill 3) are a nod to the curtains of the Red Room in Twin Peaks.

Like Twin Peaks, and much of the work of David Lynch, little concrete information is ever given about many of the ideas and themes presented in the various Silent Hill games, with the story told in an almost dream-like fashion by a catalog of bizarre characters. Even in the real Silent Hill, many characters appear to be either oblivious to or unfazed by the strange creatures and occurrences within the town, implying that perhaps only the protagonist is experiencing the horror as the player sees it, much like Dale Cooper seeing visions of the Red Room and the Giant that don’t appear to anybody else. This is further insinuated in Silent Hill 3, when Vincent incredulously asks Heather about the creatures she’s been killing: “They look like monsters to you?”

It wasn’t laziness on the part of the developers leaving so many unanswered questions in Silent Hill. The director, Keiichiro Toyama, sought to create a “fear of the unknown” by deliberately not giving the player all of the information, and in some instances actually giving them contradictory versions of events in order to instil confusion, and generate speculation as to the true meaning of much of the story. Keiichiro Toyama wasn’t particularly familiar with the horror genre when he was put at the helm of Silent Hill, and instead used his interest in UFOs and David Lynch movies as inspiration. Eighteen years after the release of the original Silent Hill, there are still numerous fan-sites on the Internet, containing forums in which devotees of the horror series discuss the lore of the games, and offer different interpretations of the themes explored in each of them. One suspects, when it comes to unexplained phenomena, we’ll likely have answers regarding UFOs before we ever get concrete solutions to the secrets buried within David Lynch’s work, or indeed, the impenetrable darkness of Silent Hill.

But while the deeper meaning behind much of what happens in the hellish town of Silent Hill might forever remain a mystery, what inspired the developers at Konami when creating what is widely regarded as one of the greatest series’ of horror games ever made, is often beyond doubt. The creators of the Silent Hill games don’t hide their influences, but rather, they wear them like badges of honour, with part of the fun of each instalment being in spotting the nods and homages to various movies, books, and other art, as well as in seeing how the amalgamation of those influences has been used to create something new, exciting, and utterly horrifying.

John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he's drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Ricky D

    October 3, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    It is rare that I find myself wanting to replay a game after reading an article but this post is brilliant and now all I want to do is drop every other game and play the Silent Hill series.

    • John Cal McCormick

      October 4, 2017 at 3:28 am

      Thanks a bunch.

      Having dabbled with the second and third games recently I can tell you that they play quite awkwardly in 2017 (as you’d probably expect) but that the stories and the themes still hold up very well. The first three games are very strong, in that regard.

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‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 4 Review – “Faith”: A Journey Through Trump’s America

Life is Strange 2 continues its strong trajectory from the previous episode, weaving a complex and troubling tale of faith gone mad.

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Life is Strange 2 has returned for its penultimate episode, a dense and troubling exploration of faith, prejudice and family in a time and place that has never been more divided: modern America. Following the events of Life is Strange 2‘s stellar third entryEpisode 4: Faith sees Sean attempting to pick up the pieces of his shattered life after Daniel’s violent outburst at Merrill’s farm.

Though the story of Faith begins in a hospital, with Sean working to recover from his injuries, the trajectory of the tale explores more settings and environments than any previous episode of the series. From wandering the highways of Nevada, to exploring a dusty motel, to sneaking into a remote church, Life is Strange 2‘s 4th entry never lacks for something new to see, or someone new to interact with.

Life is Strange 2
However, the cynical bent of the story is the new centerpiece of Episode 4. Though Life is Strange 2 has never sidestepped the controversy and division of Trump’s America, Faith leans into these ideas with renewed fervor. Violence is committed more than once against our Mexican protagonist, and his skin color often sees him at odds with the more conservative denizens of the highways he journeys down. In a particularly telling exchange, Sean even finds himself beaten and placed on the other side of a closed compound, with a gun-toting guard glaring at him from the other side. Metaphors don’t really get much clearer than that.

This will, no doubt, lead to more calls of keeping politics out of games and other entertainment by the president’s more ardent supporters, but as other writers have pointed out, gaming has never been apolitical. Further, it would be categorically irresponsible to tell a story like this without addressing the elephant in the room. With these elements in mind, the politics of Life is Strange 2 have never been clearer than in Episode 4: Faith, and they account for some of the strongest storytelling fuel the series has found yet.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Politics aside, Life is Strange 2 also puts Sean at a variety of other disadvantages. His starting injuries include a lost eye that must be tended to medically throughout the episode, and the various beatings he takes throughout Episode 4 more than leave their mark. This leaves Faith as the typical darkest, and most troubling, episode of this second series, where we find our protagonist at his absolute lowest point, and must continue on with him in hopes of finding a better future. It’s a common enough trope, but one that is used to great effect here.

There are many returns of characters from previous episodes, some through letters and other communications, and others through surprising reveals and revelations. A particularly shocking character joins the story with zero preamble, and emerges as one of Life is Strange 2‘s finest editions yet. To spoil who, or how, would be criminal, but rest assured that Episode 4 is more full of surprises than any of the previous entries.

Life Is Strange 2, Episode 4: Faith
Though the main conflict that eventually reveals itself, that of Daniel being used as a messianic figure for an isolated Nevada church, feels contrived initially, the layers that are eventually revealed, and Daniel’s reason for joining the church, make a lot of sense in the overall scheme of things. Due to this strength of narrative, it really feels like all bets are off during the climax of Life is Strange 2: Episode 4, and that’s a good thing for a game so centered around the notion of interactive storytelling.

Fresh, prescient, and altogether rewarding, Life is Strange 2: Episode 4 — Faith, is a welcome piece of fiction in a society that has become so increasingly fragmented. It illustrates the horrors of the modern American landscape, but always remembers to remind us that there are good people out there, even when hope has never seemed so far away.

Strongly Recommended

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I Still Don’t Understand ‘Death Stranding’ (and That’s a Good Thing)

Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

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It may only be a few months until launch, but Death Stranding remains shrouded in mystery. This first independent project from gaming auteur Hideo Kojima has been an enigma ever since it was first announced. When the world first saw Norman Reedus standing on a foggy shoreline with a weeping fetus in his arms, many questions naturally arose. Why is a celebrity actor cradling an unborn child on a beach? What kind of gameplay could we expect from this? And what does “Death Stranding” even mean, anyway?

Years may have passed since that initial reveal, but in my view at least, these questions still haven’t been fully answered. I simply do not understand Death Stranding. It’s confounded me like few games before it have – and yet, that may be the very best thing about it. There’s something enticing about that mystery. Death Stranding could create an experience unlike any game before it, and while I can’t claim to understand it, I’m certainly excited for it.

Between trailers, interviews, and a fairly hefty amount of gameplay footage, there’s been an increasingly constant stream of information about Death Stranding for over a year now. This is especially true at Gamescom 2019, where the game has had an extensive presence with two full trailers and a live gameplay demonstration. For most games, this extensive amount of coverage should eliminate all the biggest questions, presenting a relatively clear idea of what the final product should be. But consider the content of Death Stranding’s most recent trailers: one consists entirely of an exposition dump about the power and proper maintenance of jarred fetuses, while another opens with Norman Reedus urinating in a field to create a giant mushroom before dropping off a package for Geoff Keighley. Previous trailers show ruined cities overflowing with tar, gold-masked lion monsters, and levitating shadow creatures. If you can make heads or tails of all that, then you’re certainly cleverer than I.

With every new piece of information, I find it more difficult to wrap my head around the game. Even with the few concrete details known about it, Death Stranding continues to defy simple categorization. Although it features stealth elements, it certainly doesn’t seem like another Metal Gear; while it will have a massive open world, it doesn’t look like it will follow in the footsteps of signature modern open worlds like Horizon Zero Dawn or Breath of the Wild; and though it tells a story about reconnecting the broken cities of a post-apocalyptic United States, its mixture of stealth, politics, and the supernatural make it distinct from most other narrative-focused games out there. Each trailer introduces another wrinkle to the perplexing web of Kojima’s latest vision.

It is this very ambiguity that makes Death Stranding so enticing. With most games, it’s easy to understand them based on a quick glance at their trailer alone. This will reveal their genre, their personality, any unique gimmicks – all the usual culprits. But with Death Stranding, the more we learn about it, the more the mystery grows. At this point, it’s even difficult to pin the game into a single genre. Only the most ambitious games manage to create genres of their own, but from what we’ve seen so far, Death Stranding looks like it could be one of them. It could simply be little more than excellent marketing, but knowing that Kojima’s unbridled imagination is behind it, my hopes are high.

Death Stranding

It would make sense for Death Stranding to be so inventive given the circumstances behind its creation. For years, Kojima’s corporate overlords at Konami had stifled his creativity as they moved the company’s focus away from Kojima’s traditional titles like Metal Gear and Silent Hill towards more immediately lucrative pursuits such as mobile platforms and pachinko machines. Now that Kojima has freed himself from those restrictions and formed an independent studio of his own, his vision can run more freely than ever before. It’s to be expected that, finally presented with the opportunity to fully express his vision, he’d do so by creating something truly daring, something never seen before.

Of course, as attractive as the intrigue around Death Stranding may be, it doesn’t change that it’s difficult to really judge a game without knowing much about it at all. With so many important details remaining unspecified, there’s no telling whether Death Stranding will actually achieve its clear ambitions. If I were to view things pessimistically, I’d posit that the game’s ambiguity could be nothing more than an elaborate marketing scheme meant to mask the lackluster game beneath it. While I’m certainly much more optimistic about the game than that, I can’t deny the very real possibility that it could be the case.

But at the end of the day, I simply cannot resist the romantic allure of a game so surrounded by mystery. The core of Death Stranding may be wrapped in an inscrutable fog, but Kojima uses this layer of secrecy to invite players to experience a game that is truly new, an all-too-rare commodity in games today. Kojima hasn’t been free to express his vision so fully for years now, but at long last he has his chance. I cannot comprehend Death Stranding, and that’s exactly why I’m so excited for it.

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‘Daemon X Machina’ – Spotlighting 2019’s Least-Hyped Switch Game

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

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Daemon x Machina

Daemon X Machina made a bold first impression with its bombastic announcement at E3 2018 – and gamers promptly stopped caring about it. It’s time for that to change.

From the very beginning, Daemon X Machina has struggled for attention.  It’s certainly not for lack of trying; after all, Nintendo has worked tirelessly to help promote this Switch-exclusive mech action game from Marvelous, even going so far as to position it as the first announcement of its big E3 Direct last year. Despite these efforts, though, Daemon X Machina has often been lost in the shuffle of other Switch exclusives. When there’s constantly talks of a new Animal Crossing, Zelda, or Smash Bros., an original IP like Daemon X Machina easily gets left out of the conversation. However, there’s no denying that it has some incredible potential, making it a game that’s certainly worth checking out amidst the crowded release schedule for the rest of the year. Now is the time to spotlight that ahead of its launch on September 13.

A good mech game doesn’t need to do much – it must simply provide the player with massive robot suits, near-excessive over-the-top action, and a story to help the game make at least a little sense. Daemon X Machina looks set to deliver in all three of those departments. It will feature a huge amount of flexibility to create the perfect mech, thanks to hundreds of interchangeable weapons and body parts, many of which can be scavenged from fallen enemies. With gargantuan destructible environments and hordes of robotic foes to take down, the combat looks to be as extravagant as some of the best action games of recent years. That’s not to mention the main plot, which focuses on the aftermath of the moon exploding. Yes, it does sound like ridiculous anime-inspired fodder, but a game about giant roots blowing each other out of the sky doesn’t need a plot that adheres to realism. It need only set up a somewhat-reasonable backdrop for intense mechanized combat, and in that regard, it’s looking like a recipe for success.

Daemon X Machina

All these features are great on their own, but what makes them truly exciting is the pedigree behind them. Daemon X Machina is being developed by a dream team of developers who have worked extensively on some of the most iconic mech games ever made. For instance, the team includes Kenichiro Tsukuda and Shoji Kawamori, who respectively produced and designed the mechs for the legendary Armored Core series. This team aims to take the classic formula that made Armored Core and other classics so special and put it back in the spotlight with Daemon X Machina. However, that doesn’t mean that it will be merely derivative. It already displays a distinct personality of its own thanks to its ambitious gameplay concepts (again, exploding moon) and its distinctive cell-shaded visuals. Its striking color palette of bold reds, blacks, and whites shouldn’t be surprising, considering that its art is directed by none other than Yusuke Kozaki, who has worked on such stylish titles as the No More Heroes series.

If it achieves its potential, Daemon X Machina could be a godsend for its genre. While it would be unfair to call the mech action genre “dead,” it is certainly quite niche. This would be the first time in years that a giant robot action game has had the full support of a major company like Nintendo behind it. And while Nintendo has already supported this genre in the past, this will be the first time that it’s done so on a hit console like the Switch, which automatically gives it a wide and passionate audience. Even with its inherent niche status, Daemon X Machina is already in a better position than many similar games before it thanks to its publisher and platform. If it does well, it could inspire Nintendo and other companies to promote similar games, leading to a needed revival of the genre’s popularity.

But this leads to one of the simultaneously best and worst aspects of Daemon x Machina: its demo. Marvelous released an early demo on the Switch eShop back in February with the intention of drumming up interest in the game and getting player feedback. To put it plainly, it wasn’t very good. The action felt unsatisfying with a lack of any feeling of real impact with each blow; it was difficult to aim at enemies due to imprecise targeting systems, poor visibility, and an absence of gyro controls; and worst of all, its performance was horrendous. It was stuck at a mere thirty frames per second, which is already less than ideal for such a fast-paced action game. But it didn’t even manage to hit that target consistently, leading to a choppy and unsatisfying experience. One need only take a quick look through Digital Foundry’s breakdown to understand the demo’s many issues.

Daemon X Machina

“Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans.”

However, the demo has turned out to be something of a blessing in disguise. Shortly after the demo’s release, Marvelous distributed a survey to many players and requested their feedback. A few months later, Nintendo released a new trailer showing how the feedback had been integrated into the game. The full list of changes reads like a wish list of everything that needed to be adjusted following the demo. Highlights include the addition of gyro controls, improved targeting and feedback systems, and most importantly, an improved framerate. In fact, the developers have stated that performance was one of their “top priorities” when adjusting the game.

Marvelous did something incredible here: they listened to their fans. The fact that they were so open to feedback and eager to improve bodes incredibly well for the final release. They know that the mech action genre isn’t what it used to be, and they seem truly passionate about creating a quality title in the genre they love. In an industry that is so often focused more on emptying players’ wallets than creating a worthwhile title, this attitude is incredibly refreshing, hinting of a project that’s filled with genuine care and passion.

The unfortunate truth remains that Daemon X Machina is bound to be one of Nintendo’s least-hyped games this year. As long as games like Astral Chain, Dragon Quest XI S, and Link’s Awakening are all releasing within the same month, it will almost inevitably remain that way. But there is incredible promise for it nonetheless. With the quality of the game design, the legacy of its creators, and their clear passion for their project, it looks set to become something very special and deserves every bit of attention it can get. If fans can look past the games that typically hog the spotlight to find this bombastic little secret, they could be in for an enthusiastic, if under-hyped revival of a once-dormant genre.

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‘Earthbound’ is one of the Weirdest, Most Surreal Video Games

25 Years later…

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Games that Changed Our Lives

The SNES is arguably home to some of the best Japanese role-playing games ever made, but even among such revered company, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 in Japan) stands out as a brilliant satire about growing up and our fears of conformity. It’s anarchy versus conformity, only conformity doesn’t stand a chance.

EarthBound has been often compared to Catcher in the Rye with its complex issues of identity, belonging, loss, connection, and alienation. Blistering, hallucinatory, often brilliant, Earthbound is a one-two punch of social satire and a hilarious ride into the twisted recesses of a boy’s psyche. This often funny, always poignant coming of age tale, deeply embedded in suburban mores, centers around four kids, off to save the planet by collecting melodies while en route to defeating the evil alien force known as Giygas.

Earthbound
Earthbound
didn’t reinvent the wheel, but it sure had fun twisting the usual JRPG tropes. There’s a princess you must rescue, not once, but twice, who’s really just a child prodigy, and there’s an arch nemesis who turns out to be your next-door neighbour. The game puts you in the shoes of a young boy named Ness as he investigates a nearby meteorite crash. There, he learns that Giygas, has enveloped the world in hatred and consequently turned animals, humans, and inanimate objects into dangerous creatures. A bee from the future instructs Ness to collect melodies in a Sound Stone to preemptively stop Giygas from destroying the planet. While visiting eight Sanctuaries, Ness partners with three other kids, a psychic girl (Paula), an eccentric inventor (Jeff), and the prince of the kingdom of Dalaam (Poo). Along the way are underlining themes of corrupt politicians, post-traumatic stress, corporate greed, depression, capitalism, police violence, terrorist attacks, homosexuality, religious cults, and xenophobia. Your adventures take you through modern cities, prehistoric villages, cold winter climates, a desert wasteland, monkey caves, swamps, dinosaur museums, and even a yellow submarine.

“Ness, you’ve stood on the eight power spots of the earth. From these, you created Magicant, the realm of your mind.”

A pivotal moment in the game comes after collecting all eight melodies with the Sound Stone. After Ness has taken control of his Sanctuaries, Ness visits, Magicant, a surreal location that exists only in his mind and contains his warmest memories and his worst fears – an allegory perhaps, for how the entire game allows us to see into the mind of the creator. There, Ness must face his dark side. A man tells him, “Magicant is a place where you must cleanse yourself of the evil hidden within your mind. Take the time to look around, it is your mind after all.”

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game.


The tone of Earthbound is perhaps its most fascinating attribute, best exemplified by its most famous quote: “There are many difficult times ahead, but you must keep your sense of humor.” Earthbound skillfully surprises you with a reservoir of emotion and sentiment that happily counters the game’s trendy ironic veneer. Along the way, Ness visits the cultists of Happy Happy Village (based on a real-life Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984); their mission statement is to paint the town red by literally painting it blue. You’ll fight a watchful puddle of vomit and battle through the zombie-infested town of Threed. You’ll use a peculiar device called the Pencil Eraser to remove statues of pencils that block you from advancing through specific areas, and you’ll suffer through terrifying hallucinations of your family and friends, and be asked to dismember your arms and legs, or otherwise, lose your mind. In one of the game’s most memorable moments, Paula is kidnapped by the Department Store Spook, an unseen entity that resides in the town’s shopping mall. And after defeating Frank Fly and his evil creation Frankystein Mark II, you’ll be escorted to the back of a police precinct, only to be assaulted by four officers and Captain Strong, the chief of the Onett police force. Defeat the corrupt cops and you’ll gain access to the second town you’ll visit (named TWOson, so as not to be confused with Onett, Threed, and Fourside). And when entering a cave, you’ll battle five moles made up of members who each believe themselves to be the third-most powerful of their group. Then there is backwards city Moonside, a warped mirror image of Fourside, that hides a secret more terrifying than the town itself. Just walking around feels like something between an out-of-body experience and a nightmarish trance, in which abstract art attacks you and the psychedelic imagery, lit by gaudy fluorescent neon-lights which contrasts the entire look and feel of what came before. It’s a city where yes means no and no means yes; a place where blond-haired business men teleport you across the city blocks and where an invisible man with a unibrow and a gold tooth gets you past the sketchy sailor hiding out in the back alley.


Throughout the game, Ness is repeatedly antagonized by his neighbor, Pokey, who resurfaces several times, and countless other enemies including Titanic Ant, professional thief Mr. Everdred, and a glorious evil statue Mani, Mani. But the real big bad of the game is the aforementioned Giygas, a.k.a. The “Embodiment of Evil” and the “Universal Cosmic Destroyer”, who intends to sentence all of reality to the horror of infinite darkness. Giygas borrows heavily from Stephen King’s It and was inspired by a murder scene from the black-and-white Japanese horror film The Military Policeman and the Dismembered Beautya sequence which scarred creator Shigesato Itoi, when he accidentally watched the film as a child. Giygas is without question, the most disturbing, and strangest end-boss villain of any Super NES game – a character so deranged, there’s been hundreds of fan theories about what he really is.

While EarthBound’s overall gameplay feels like a traditional Japanese RPG of the era, the game is full of ingenious ideas that buck genre trends. EarthBound also makes no apologies for being very difficult to complete. It takes days to finish and is most challenging at the beginning when Ness travels alone and hasn’t yet powered-up. Inventory space remains incredibly limited since each character can only carry a certain amount of items and you can’t drop many of the items since they will come in handy later in the game. Boosting your XP is a must, otherwise, you won’t stand a chance in defeating any boss; and currency is also important when buying new weapons or visiting the hospital to attend to fatal injuries. Money must be withdrawn from the nearest ATM, deposited by your estranged father, and a bedtime snack from your loving mother sends you off to bed to recharge your stats. There are other refreshing deviations from RPG tropes, and every one of the four characters has a specific skill-set.

Earthbound is a strange game, themed around an idiosyncratic portrayal of American culture from a Japanese point of view. The game subverted popular role-playing game traditions by featuring a real-world setting while playing with various staples of the genre and adding a number of pop-culture references throughout. The Japanese title was inspired by the song of the same name by John Lennon – a song about growing up without a father for most of his life, and unsurprising, Ness’ dad is never once seen, and only communicates with his son via telephone. And that’s not the only Beatles reference you’ll see: EarthBound makes two additional nods to the world’s greatest band, along with allusions to Bugs Bunny, comedian Benny Hill, Rob Reiner’s This Is Spinal Tap, the Blues Brothers, Monopoly (Monotoli), Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Rambo, Mr. T, and The Who, to name a few. Written, directed, and created by famous Japanese personality Shigesato Itoi; this is surely his love letter to 20th-century Americana.

Localizing Earthbound was a massive undertaking. Under directives from Nintendo, Marcus Lindblom worked with the Japanese artists and programmers to remove references to intellectual property, religion, and alcohol from the American release, such as the Coca-Cola logo and the red crosses on hospitals (due to issues with the Red Cross). Alcohol became coffee, Ness was no longer walking around nude in the Magicant area and the Happy Happyist blue cultists sprites were altered to look less like Ku Klux Klansmen. The Runaway Five members’ outfits were changed to make them look less like the Blues Brothers, and the “Sky Walker” was changed to the “Sky Runner” to avoid the Star Wars reference. Apollo Theater was changed to Topolla Theater, presumably to avoid issues with the real-life venue and the use of the word drug, seen on the various town maps was removed or changed. The list goes on and on…

Chock full of odd charm and humour in a genre that usually takes itself a little too serious, Earthbound is one of the weirdest, most surreal video games you’ll ever have fun playing.

earthbound

The game had a lengthy development spanning five years and involved a number of Japanese luminaries, including writer Shigesato Itoi, songwriter Keiichi Suzuki, sound designer Hirokazu Tanaka, and future Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Released in a huge box-set that contained a strategy guide with scratch-and-sniff stickers, Earthbound came with a $2 million marketing campaign derived from the game’s unusual brand of humor. As part of Nintendo’s “Play It Loud” campaign, EarthBound’s tagline read, “this game stinks.” Earthbound was proud to one of the most bizarre RPGs – and it didn’t shy away from its offbeat premise. Unfortunately, the game was met with poor critical response and sales in the United States, but as the years went by, the game received wide acclaim and was deemed by many a timeless classic. It has since become one of the most sought-after games in the second-hand market, selling for upwards of $80 for the cartridge alone. Holding onto an incredibly dedicated cult following, the main character Ness became a featured character in the Super Smash Bros. series and in 2013, EarthBound was reissued and given a worldwide release for the Wii U Virtual Console following many years of fan lobbying.

EarthBound is arguably one of the single best RPGs ever made, and boasts one of the best storylines of any game. There are two extremely popular fan-made sites dedicated to the game (Starmen.netEarthboundCentral), and dozens of other sites have devoted countless hours in translating the sequel for English-speaking audiences. Earthbound was ahead of its time when released and its influence continues to be felt, inspiring the likes of Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Majora’s Mask, Chibi Robo, Retro City Rampage, and South Park: The Stick of Truth.

While Earthbound’s game mechanics stick to the traditional JRPG template, its surreal world, imaginative locals, and experimental soundtrack created a truly unique experience. Nothing stands out quite like its visual style – an 8-bit presentation powered by a 16-bit processor. The graphics might not be as advanced as some of the other 16-bit titles available on the SNES, but it is certainly among the most memorable. The SNES was home to some amazing soundtracks, but EarthBound’s soundtrack remains the best. Created by four composers, there’s enough music here to fill 8 of the 24 megabits on the cartridge – with direct musical quotations of classical tune and folk music, and a few samples culled from commercial pop and rock. It also contains one of the very best endings in any video game, a touching climax that captures the vulnerability and beauty of adolescence and the power of friendship. And the punctuation mark comes during the credits. Throughout the game, you’ll cross paths several times with a photographer who descends from the sky and snaps a photograph of your most recent achievement. These pictures will roll throughout the credits, serving as a makeshift montage of your time spent playing the game. And be sure to stay until the very end. To say more would be giving away the surprise.


I can’t think of another game as irreverently comic and deeply touching as Earthbound. Here is a game that resonates long after completion, and oozes originality in just about every frame. Ness may rock his sweet ball cap, handy backpack, telekinetic powers, and a trusty baseball bat, but even this hero needs to call his mom regularly, otherwise, he may suddenly find himself useless in battle. Earthbound stands, sweet and strong, outrageous and quirky, like its heroes — it’s about the loss of innocence as well as gaining wisdom – and is one of those treasures absolutely not to be missed. While it suffers from a slow start and stretched premise, the charm of its cast debunking an intergalactic conspiracy goes a long way. Of all the games I own on the Super NES, Earthbound is the game I treasure the most and the game that made me fall in love with the medium.

– Ricky D

EarthboundGameManual

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Indie World 2019: The Best Games From Nintendo’s Showcase

With a healthy mix of brand new titles and a few shocking ports, here’s all the best games announced at Nintendo’s Indie World showcase.

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Indie World

Whenever Nintendo announces another indie presentation, it’s impossible to know what to expect. One may be a fairly low-key event, while another might announce a brand new Zelda game. The latest “Indie World” presentation for Gamescom 2019 found itself somewhere in the middle. It didn’t feature quite as many earth shattering reveals as the previous presentation in March, but with a healthy mix of promising new titles, updates on previously announced games, and a few shocking ports, Indie World was a worthwhile showcase in its own right. Without further ado, here’s some of the very best game announcements from the presentation, arranged in order of their appearance.

Eastward

Indie World

I’m firmly of the belief that you can never have too many Zelda-likes in your life. For this reason alone, Eastward looks like it could be an exciting addition to the Switch’s indie lineup. Better yet, this latest Chuckelfish-published game looks like it has all the makings of a great entry in the genre.

It tells a simple story: a miner finds a young girl alone in a secret underground facility, and together, they go on to explore a post-apocalyptic land. Although this world has been apparently ravaged by a cataclysmic disaster, it still looks gorgeous thanks to its lush pixel art and fluid character animations. Pair this with your typical Zelda-like gameplay loop of overworld exploration and dungeon puzzle-solving, and Eastward looks like it will be a promising prospect when it releases next year.

The Touryst

Indie World

Shin’en Multimedia has long been known for making some of the best-looking titles on Nintendo consoles with visual stunners like the Fast Racing series. However, The Touryst is a departure from the games they’re known for. While it’s just as breathtaking as their previous work with its beautiful lighting and voxel-based design, it’ll be a much slower experience than Shin’en’s signature lightning-fast racing games.

As its name would suggest, it focuses on a tourist taking a relaxing tropical vacation, whiling away their time with activities like shopping, scuba diving, and visiting arcades. However, the trailer also hints of a greater mystery lurking beneath this laid-back surface. With Zelda-like dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve as well as a contemporary tropical setting, it seems like it could be considered a spiritual successor to the NES cult classic, StarTropics. It should definitely be one to keep an eye on when it launches this November.

Röki

Who’s the real monster here? Röki is a narrative-focused adventure game set in a world taken straight out of Scandinavian fairytales, featuring a snow-laden forest inhabited by fantastical creatures of Nordic mythology.  It puts players in control of a young woman exploring this mystical environment, with the goal of saving her family and interacting with these various monsters. Its visuals adopt a beautiful storybook style, and with its emphasis on accessible gameplay and telling a touching story, it looks like it could be a worthwhile purchase for anyone in search of a more poignant adventure when it hits Switch this winter.

SUPERHOT

Indie World

It’s not a true Nintendo presentation without a shadow drop or two, so SUPERHOT took it upon itself to be the first to fill that void during Indie World. It’s a striking shooter built upon one simple concept: time only moves when you do. This core idea creates a uniquely methodical approach to the genre, nearly turning SUPERHOT into more of a puzzler than a shooter. It’s already made quite an impact on other platforms, so it should fit right in on Nintendo’s hybrid wonder – and best of all, it’s available right now.

Hotline Miami Collection

Indie World

If it has style, action, and plenty of violence, it’s probably a Devolver Digital game. The boutique indie publisher has supported the Switch with plenty of quality games over the past few years, but the brutal series that launched the publisher into fame in the first place has been strangely absent. Thankfully, that changed today with the surprise release of the Hotline Miami Collection on the eShop.

Gathering both games in the iconic Hotline Miami top-down shooter series into a single package, this release brings all of their signature hardcore difficulty and neon style to a Nintendo platform for the first time. For anyone who’s enjoyed Devolver’s fantastic output thus far on the Switch but hasn’t yet experienced these famously bloody titles, it should be an excellent purchase.

Ori and the Blind Forest

Microsoft’s surreal love affair with Nintendo continues with the reveal that another Xbox One console exclusive will be making its way to Switch. Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition is the ultimate version of the acclaimed artistic platformer. It will feature the same beautiful visuals, detailed world, and touching story that made the original release so special, along with all the additional areas, story, and improvements of the Definitive Edition.

For those concerned that the game’s incredible visuals will lose their luster on Nintendo’s under-powered device, there’s no need to worry: the developers have confirmed that the Switch version contains no compromises, running at a locked 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution while docked, with a native 720p resolution in handheld mode. It joins the ranks of Cuphead and Super Lucky’s Tale as yet another former Microsoft exclusive to appear on Nintendo’s console, and with its uncompromising conversion to Switch, it should be one of the most remarkable Switch ports yet when it releases on September 27.

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Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.

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