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Year in Review: The Winners & Losers For PlayStation in 2017

Let’s cast our minds back across the last twelve months and take a moment to remember the winners and losers for PlayStation in 2017.

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Well, it’s that time of the year again. Christmas is just around the corner. Here at GoombaStomp HQ we bloody love Christmas, and if you don’t, and you don’t have a great excuse like that girl in Gremlins, then frankly we don’t know what to say to you. It’s the one time of year in which it’s socially acceptable to be drunk at all hours of the day and to have a breakfast that consists of nothing but chocolate and miniature pretzels. It’s the season of mulled wine, pigs in blankets, good will to all men, and rewinding and rewatching that bit with the bricks in Home Alone 2 with tears in your eyes. Honestly, if Daniel Stern getting whacked on the head with bricks over and over again doesn’t get you in the Christmas spirit, then damn it, Jim, I don’t know what will.

Still, December isn’t all eggnog, mince pies, and arguments about whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie – which it obviously is. It’s also the season for hastily thrown together list articles and year in review pieces. And what a year it’s been. Mm-mhmmm. What a corker. One day in the far flung future, when Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un have obliterated the world in atomic fire over an argument about who has the stupidest hair, we’ll be looking back on 2017 with our radioactive mutant children, telling them all about what a great year for video games it was. Sure, everything else in the world might be well and truly fucked, but at least we got some kick ass games this year. And isn’t that what really matters? The answer, of course, is no.

PlayStation in particular has had an incredibly strong year in 2017. While just how well Sony has done this year might have flown under the radar for some since Nintendo and Microsoft had shiny new consoles coming out to steal a little thunder, it’s still been one of Sony’s greatest years ever. The array of games that have hit the PS4 in 2017 has been mind-boggling and wallet busting, while sales for the four year old system show absolutely no signs of slowing down. 2018 looks to be another winner with a plethora of exclusives scheduled to release for PS4 over the next 365 days, but for now, it’s the past we’re concerned about, not the future.

So let’s cast our minds back across the last twelve months and take a moment to remember the winners and losers for PlayStation in 2017.

WINNER: Persona 5 Is One Of The Best JRPGs Ever Made

Not featured in image: The talking cat.

When Persona 5 landed early in the year it somehow managed the semi-impossible task of living up to – and perhaps even exceeding – the ridiculous level of expectation placed upon it by fervent supporters of the long running JRPG series. If you’re not one of us dorks that has been playing these games since back when Hitler was in them, up until the fifth installment your only knowledge of the Persona series likely came from dorks like us constantly harping on about great it is. Well, our perseverance apparently paid off, because Persona 5 was regularly sold out shortly after release as demand for the title was beyond anything Atlus anticipated.

If you’ve managed to completely miss out on one of the year’s best games (or maybe even the best) then allow us to give you the elevator pitch: a bunch of Japanese high schoolers are granted the magical ability to enter the subconscious mind of evil doers in order to steal the malicious intent within, forcing them to confess their crimes. So it’s kinda like Inception in reverse. Only there’s also a talking cat in it.

Persona 5 is the slickest and most stylish game of 2017, with a killer cast, a compelling story, a fantastic battle system, a ludicrously catchy soundtrack, and a talking cat. The cat talks, people.

WINNER: Crash Bandicoot Is Back

Man, the ’90s were so wacky. Just look at how wacky Crash is. He’s so wacky.

Honestly, if I’d had to put a bet on before The N-Sane Trilogy released, I would have gambled my bollocks that Crash Bandicoot was going to crash and burn critically and commercially. Once again, I was spectacularly wrong. The remastered Crash Bandicoot trilogy was greeted with a warm reception from critics and settled at a “generally positive” 80 on Metacritic, but it sold like hot cakes, with the general public’s penchant for nostalgia helping to ensure that the Bandicoot will almost certainly live to fight another day, and all but guaranteeing there’ll be more games in the franchise coming sooner rather than later.

Crash Bandicoot’s return to PlayStation country wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though. Millions of people around the globe slapped the N-Sane Trilogy into their consoles expecting to be treated to a wonderfully old school platforming experience, only to discover that old school platfomers were harder than a coffin nail, and Crash Bandicoot was absolutely punishing. Not only that, but thanks to the less angular design of the titular Bandicoot in the modern remake, it was actually harder to land some jumps than it was on the already controller-snappingly tough original. Ouch!

Crash Bandicoot’s 2017 return from the vault of forgotten heroes was a surprise hit, and the ludicrous amount of money that the orange marsupial has generated has already got Activision talking about which other dead and buried series’ they can try to resurrect next in order to milk your nostalgia udder dry. Until then, while you’re contemplating smashing your living room to pieces after falling off the bridge on The High Road for the 4,000th time, you can always take solace in the fact that I got the platinum trophy in Crash Bandicoot. Just sayin’.

LOSER: A Disappointing E3

I don’t even think Square Enix arsed themselves to turn up and announce a game that won’t be out for a million years at this E3.

It feels kinda nit-picky to even consider Sony’s E3 presser a negative, since it wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination. But in the four years prior to E3 2017, Sony unleashed some of the best press conferences the gaming industry has ever seen, including one that is widely regarded as possibly the best of all time. Sony’s games games games mentality has been winning the hearts of gamers around the globe for the last couple of years, and so perhaps expectation for what E3 2017 would deliver was a little too high, and perhaps their own past successes worked against them, but it’s hard to look at this year’s conference as anything other than a disappointment.

The games they showed off looked great, but we already knew about practically all of them with them being announced at previous pressers. At their E3 shows in years gone by they’d made blockbuster announcements for games like the Final Fantasy VII remake, Shenmue III, and the aforementioned return of Crash Bandicoot, but this year was sadly missing the surprise factor, with only a remake of Shadow of the Colossus managing to raise a mildly astonished eyebrow.

The games we saw looked lovely, and 2018 bodes well for PlayStation with God of War, Detroit and Spider-Man all slated to make an appearance, but after a string of stellar press conferences, a merely decent one felt massively insufficient in 2017.

WINNER: PlayStation Sales Are Out of Control

Don’t try this at home, kids. You’ll break your necks.

PlayStation 4 is, again, the best selling console of the year – a statistic that comes with the caveat that the impressively selling Nintendo Switch has faced multiple stock shortages and didn’t release until March. While a lot of people have been gushing over how well the Switch is selling and others are wondering how the bumper-priced Xbox One X will do without much in the way of exclusives, the PS4 has stealthily had its best year since launch. Somehow, incredibly, the sales for the console are up year on year again, with the fourth PlayStation now clocking in at over 65 million units sold. For those of you keeping score, that means that at its current rate of sales it’ll probably overtake the total number of PS3 units sold sometime next year in roughly half the time on sale. Cha-ching!

Where it stops nobody knows. Depending on how long it is before Sony unveils the PlayStation 5, it seems likely that the PS4 will outsell practically every other console barring Sony’s own PlayStation 2, which we all got bored of counting sales for once it hit 150 million. There’s probably no touching that one. But it’s not just PS4 that’s allowing the Sony top brass to swim around in money like Scrooge McDuck. PlayStation VR is selling surprisingly well too, to the point that some at Sony have even begun to lament a lack of serious competition. While Vive and Oculus have the edge in terms of power, the more affordable and user friendly Sony future-goggles have had more mainstream appeal than team PlayStation anticipated, and PSVR now commands over 50% of the market share when it comes to virtual reality hardware. That’s a lot, by the way.

Virtual reality headsets have been adopted more readily than a lot of people imagined, which indicates that Sony were wise to hop aboard the VR train early. VR may very well be the future, and not just for video gaming, with daft goggles perhaps eventually providing those unable to travel because of disability or laziness an avenue to see sights they’d otherwise not be able to, to go to concerts half-way across the globe, and to be in the front row at Wrestlemania without running the risk of being hit by globules of sweat or spittle every time The Rock slaps someone. For now, though, just be content that you can live as an artisan cheesemonger in Skyrim VR if you so wish.

LOSER: Vita is dead. Forever.

I was going to use an image of Kenny from South Park here, but then that would imply that Vita has the chance to come back to life.

While the PS4 and PSVR are doing very well for themselves in terms of sales, profits, and worthwhile games, the PlayStation Vita is, officially, deader than disco. Now, I love disco, and I love my PlayStation Vita, but while as a piece of hardware it’s one of the best handhelds ever made, as a gaming platform it’s a bit of a gigantic failure. A solid build and a gorgeous screen are all well and good, but if there’s sweet Fanny Addams to play on it then it’s just an incredibly good looking paperweight, isn’t it? Console gaming on the go was the initial promise, which obviously sounds like a stupid idea which is why nobody bough- hang on, the Switch is doing what, and is selling how many?

The fundamental problem with Vita – or, at least, one of them – was made abundantly clear to all and sundry the second that Nintendo Switch landed on our very shores. Console gaming on the go is a neat idea, but there actually needs to be console quality games that matter released for it in order for it to work. While Vita was getting Uncharted spin-offs that don’t really count, and appalling Call of Duty games that don’t play anything like their home console bigger brothers, Switch is getting mainline Zelda and Mario games. And sure, as a Switch owner, I think the games control like hot garbage when in handheld mode – although, perhaps that’s just my big sausage fingers – but it doesn’t matter. Those are the main entries in beloved series’, and not spin-offs shat out by third-tier studios. Half-arsing it isn’t good enough, and that is just one of the many reasons that Switch is a hit and Vita will be lucky to outsell the Wii U.

RIP, Vita. Now let’s have Persona 4 Golden ported to PS4 so I can fire my Vita out of a cannon and into the sea, to be forever lost to Davy Jones’ locker.

WINNER: The Lost Legacy Proves The Uncharted Series Can Live On

I wish, just once, that they’d resolve their issues through diplomacy rather than just blowing everything up.

After the Uncharted series was officially finished forever way back in last year, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy came out this year to remind us that if something makes money it will never, ever die. The Lost Legacy started life as a DLC mission for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but the project grew in scope and ambition until it was considered hefty enough to be released as a standalone game. The only problem is, how do you continue a series without it’s main protagonist, who’s story was wrapped up neatly in the last game? Well, apparently, you promote a couple of side characters to top billing status, and you blow a bunch of shit up real good.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is a winner not just because it was another wonderful Uncharted adventure, but because it proves the long-term viability of the franchise even without its star, Nathan Drake. Uncharted is the sort of series that could go on forever, and likely will, as long as it keeps making money. There could be more adventures for Chloe and Nadine, or perhaps we’ll see some starring Sam and Sully. Maybe a future Drake will take over the reigns of the series, or perhaps we can go back into the past and see Sully in his early years fighting the good fight for fortune and glory.

The options are potentially limitless, but whatever they choose, as long as we get to hang out of the back of fast-moving vehicles, explode things dramatically, and occasionally offer a cheeky one liner, the future of Uncharted as a series is looking rosy.

LOSER: Cross-Platform Play PR Blunders

Sony’s Jim Ryan hasn’t been Don Mattrick bad in 2017, but he’s dropped enough clangers for us to be a little worried.

Sony decimated the competition at the beginning of this console generation thanks to a winning combination of listening to their fans, sterling PR work, and all of their competitors simultaneously, and repeatedly, shooting themselves in the foot. As far as console wars go, this one is long since over. Nintendo has already abandoned ship on the Wii U, and Microsoft is hiding sales figures because they *wink wink* don’t matter, and they’re definitely not *wink wink* just treading water until they think they can announce the Xbox Two without facing consumer backlash. Sony’s PR game has largely been strong this gen, but as their sales figures have been rising so have their egos, and they’ve mis-handled a couple of things this year.

Cross-platform play has been a bit of a hot button topic in 2017. Microsoft has said that they want Xbox players to be able to play online games with PlayStation players, because they’re always thinking of you, the gamer, and not because they’re getting obliterated in sales. Weird how they never mentioned any of this stuff back when the Xbox 360 was cleaning house and Sony was actually doing cross-platform play with Final Fantasy XIV. But hey, maybe I’m just being cynical.

Anyway, nefarious intentions or no, Sony’s handling of whether or not to adopt cross-platform play with Microsoft as well as PC has been pretty poor. The reason why they don’t want to makes perfect business sense – players who like online gaming are more likely to buy the console that’s sold more, an advantage that would be negated if you could play with your friends regardless of which console you bought – but for whatever reason they didn’t just say that. They offered numerous cack-handed half-answers that all sounded like bullshit because they were, well, bullshit. Let’s hope that these PR blunders aren’t indicative of a return to the mentality of the old, early PS3-era Sony who thought it was totally okay to tell you to just get a second job if you couldn’t afford their ludicrously overpriced console. Gaming doesn’t need that Sony. Nobody needs that Sony.

WINNER: Horizon Zero Dawn Has Robot Dinosaurs In It

Oh snap!

Oh hey, did you hear that those guys who made Killzone are doing a post-apocalyptic open world game? You mean the guys behind the drabbest shooter in Christendom are mixing the most overexposed genre and the most overplayed setting imaginable? Oh, color me excited. But then you find out it’s got robot dinosaurs in it and suddenly the game sounds one billion times more exciting.

From the moment Horizon Zero Dawn was announced – and looked absolutely fucking incredible – it seemed poised to become Sony’s next, big, post-Uncharted franchise as long as Guerrilla could pull the trigger on the fantastic concept. Well, pull the trigger they did, repeatedly, Chow Yun Fat in Hard Boiled style, until everybody and their mothers knew that there was a new sheriff in town. Horizon wasn’t perfect – the combat against human enemies was dreadful, for instance – but it ticked enough of the right boxes to be a sure-fire hit, and to set more than solid foundations for an inevitable sequel or three.

The open world is beautiful, the characters are interesting, the protagonist goes on a compelling journey, and fighting robot dinosaurs is seriously fucking awesome. Horizon absolutely delivered, and if it hadn’t had the rotten luck of being released like four minutes before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild it could perhaps have made an even bigger splash. As it is, it still wound up an indisputable winner for Sony in 2017, and the future for Aloy and her robot dinosaur buddies looks very bright.

WINNER: YOU

Awful. Just awful.

Seriously, remember when Time magazine pulled this shit? Ridiculous as that was, if you’re a gamer in 2017 you really are a winner, unless you’ve got no money, in which case you’re like Charlie Bucket at the start of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, watching all of the other kids eating delicious candy bars with burning, murderous rage in his eyes. But let’s say you do have money, which means you’ve been treated to a bunch of amazing games this year. Congratulations, you. Sony’s 2017 line-up has been incredible. Most of the multiplatform games that came out this year will be covered in more detail in the Xbox year in review article presumably, or it’d be like three sentences long, so we’ll just skim past them all, and a couple more exclusives right here, shall we?

Nioh took the Dark Souls formula to feudal Japan, and was awesome no matter what features editor Mike Worby tries to tell you. What Remains of Edith Finch took the walking simulator genre to giddy new heights, while Nier Automata wowed critics and gamers alike with its unique approach to storytelling. The Stormblood expansion for Final Fantasy XIV further cemented its place as one of the best online RPGs on the market, Final Fantasy IX saw itself get a lick of paint and an absolutely awful trophy list as it made the jump to PS4, and Final Fantasy XII looked better than ever (and sold well, too) in the remastered Zodiac Age earlier in the year.

Resident Evil VII was one of the first games to offer players the option to play the entire campaign in virtual reality, while Skyrim VR breathed new life into the five year old RPG via the medium of PSVR. Wolfenstein II caused controversy by suggesting it’s totally okay to fuck up Nazis, which is more of a sad commentary on the state of the world in 2017 than it is of the gaming industry, while The Evil Within 2 improved on the solid foundations of the original game, resulting in a superior sequel. Pillars of Eternity made the jump from PC to PS4 with ease, giving us one of the best role playing games available on console this generation. There was also appearances from Everybody’s Golf, Nex Machina, Injustice 2, Undertale, Yakuza Kiwami and Yakuza 0, Wipeout, Hatsuna Miku, Danganronpa, Superhot, Tekken 7, Hellblade, Assassin’s Creed, Rime, Gravity Rush 2, South Park, Zero Escape, FIFA, Life Is Strange, Telltale’s Batman, Call of Duty, and… breathe… it’s been a real good year.

LOSERS: The Dregs

Valkyria Revolution is an action RPG in which there’s no action, and the role playing sucks.

Well, they can’t all be zingers, can they? For as good as the year has been in terms of quality games hitting the PS4 at a regular pace, there’s also been some bum notes that have left gamers a little upset. Gran Turismo Sport wasn’t savaged by critics upon release, but it didn’t result in the critical circle jerk that its predecessors did, while Knack II fared well critically, but absolutely bombed in the shops, proving itself to be the video game equivalent of an answer to a question that nobody asked.

Perhaps the biggest dud of the year was EA’s space shooter Mass Effect Andromeda, at least until EA’s space shooter Star Wars Battlefront II came out. The former was besieged by a tortured development cycle and the finished product felt like the husk of a Mass Effect game, gutted of practically everything that made people fall in love with the series in the first place, while the latter was a game ostensibly built as a Trojan Horse for the express purpose of tricking people into paying for micro-transactions on a biblical scale. The Internet booted off about both of them, and rightly so. The biggest disappointment for me personally was the remaster of PaRappa the Rapper – AKA the greatest game of all time – which wasn’t adjusted to take into account for the input lag that comes as standard with high definition television sets that weren’t available when the original game released, resulting in a rhythm game that can’t keep time.

Valkyria Revolution was an action spin-off to the tactical RPG Valkyria Chronicles series that was awful on every conceivable level, and it would have been my pick for the shittest game of the year, hands down, if it wasn’t for Road Rage. That’s a bike combat game like Road Rash, except it’s called Road Rage, and it’s absolutely fucking dreadful. Take my word for it, kids. It wouldn’t be worth playing if it was free. They should pay you to play it. And handsomely, too.

There were probably more rubbish games released in 2017, but let’s not dwell on the bad stuff. It’s been a great year for gaming, and one of the best years in PlayStation history. We hope you’ve got a bunch of these wonderful games sitting under your Christmas tree. Except for you, Kevin Spacey. You’re getting a copy of Road Rage.

How did you like 2017? Raise a glass of sherry in the comments below.

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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Games

10 Years Later: ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ Is Still The Apex of Comic Book Video Games

Batman: Arkham Asylum was the twenty-first-century masterpiece that revolutionized the video game adaptation genre through its phenomenal voice cast, character diversity, challenging detective work, and gothic setpieces.

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“Ah, it’s always nice to return to my sweet little ha-ha-hacienda.”

When diving through the deep rabbit hole that is comic book video game adaptations, finding something above decent can be quite troublesome. The Batman license has been used to create video games based off of its various forms of entertainment media since the early days of the Amstrad Colour Personal Computer, however, the caped crusader could never exactly crack the case on how to make the perfect video game adaptation- then again, neither could any other superhero. It was not until Eidos Interactive obtained the license to the Batman franchise in 2007, where the pinnacle point of comic book video games would be created under the roof of British developer Rocksteady Studios. 

Batman: Arkham Asylum was the twenty-first-century masterpiece that revolutionized the video game adaptation genre through its phenomenal voice cast, character diversity, challenging detective work, and gothic setpieces that shined as if they were oozing out of the pages of a fresh official DC Comics graphic novel. Although it has been ten years since its original release on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, Arkham Asylum still stands the test of time as not only one of the best comic book video games to date but as one of the best video games ever created.

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The story begins as Batman rushes to Gotham’s insane asylum in the batmobile while an uninjured, hand-cuffed, cackling Joker rides shotgun. Shortly after our hero meets up with Commissioner James Gordon and Warden Quincy Sharp, the Joker begins the first phase of his big homecoming trap by escaping custody through the help of Harley Quinn. Throughout the game, players are tasked with re-establishing order over the out of control island by infiltrating its various districts, saving allies, and taking down a top tier rogue that resides inside each building one by one.

While the plot may seem like your ordinary comicbook one-shot, the writing of Arkham Asylum is a storytelling work of art. Characters constantly bicker and banter to each other through words penned by none other than legendary Batman writer Paul Dini; creator of the critically acclaimed Batman The Animated Series and comics such as Dark Night: A True Batman Story and Batman: Harley Quinn. Every character talks and acts as if they were pulled directly from the source material — just as they should due to Dini’s impeccable recurring work on the franchise. 

To further emphasize creating an authentic recreation of Batman’s world, Rocksteady worked tirelessly to bring back fan-favorite recognizable voice actors for the majority of the characters who had been previously featured in Dini’s work such as Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. The combination of both Dini and the outstanding voice cast culminate into what is often viewed today as the definitive interpretation of the world’s greatest detective. 

Batman: Arkham Asylum

The characters are what became the defining aspect of Arkham Asylum and the most notable talking point by critics at the time of its release. As the game consistently jumps from villain to villain through its more than stellar pacing, nothing ever seems to grow stale. While the main heroes such as Batman, Gordon, and Oracle are always a pleasure to listen to, the rogues are the true stars of the show. Characters like the Joker, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, and Poison Ivy never disappoint. Each villain brings surprising throw downs to the table, leaving players to truly test their skill-sets against Gotham’s finest. It was always — and still is — a thrilling experience to see who you will have to go toe to toe with next, as you experiment with different mechanics to defeat each boss.

Whereas all Batman games before Arkham Asylum had a strong emphasis on fighting, Rocksteady decided to shift its gameplay focus on a variety of playstyles to both accommodate for the detective’s vast set of expertise while also remaining true to the character originally depicted in print. Calculated quick-stealth action combat with added forensic science work used to solve puzzles became the groundwork for Batman: Arkham Asylum and the future of the series on top of its already compact control scheme. 

Every gameplay feature did not come with one singular purpose; the core mechanics were built on a multi-functional philosophy that would constantly test players to improve their skills, while also finding various ways to utilize their arsenal. Combat and puzzle-solving became intertwined, leaving players with more than one route on how they choose to approach any given situation.

For example, the new ‘detective mode’ feature allowed Batman: Arkham Asylum to open a floodgate of strategic play-styles and genre variations through the eyes of Batman. A simple game mechanic that changed the view of your surroundings to a wireframed breakdown would serve three main purposes; planning well thought out infiltrations, solving mysteries, and providing an in-game hinting system that could guide players through the asylum. The same can be said for gadgets — such as the Batarang and explosive gel — as they are given to the player for puzzles, but those who experimented while fighting found these tools had multiple purposes.

For those looking to explore deeper into Batman lore, the Riddler provided hundreds of different easter eggs for players to find through his cryptic enigma challenges. Longtime comic fans may be able to solve these puzzles with ease, but for casual audiences, these challenges can often be teeth grinding without background knowledge of what you may need to look out for. The mere text print bios, patient interview tapes, and art cards awarded through finding Riddler trophies and scanning objects associated with riddles made the game’s world seem enormous, as the majority of the characters referenced in these rewards are never present in the flesh. Batman’s world kept growing the deeper a player investigated into the growing crevasse that was Riddler’s optional story arc.

While the game blew away expectations with its extensive gameplay and faithful characters, the most important piece of any Batman media is the look; that mesmerizing gritty atmosphere only Batman comics can present. The character’s world has always been attached to a stylized look that resembles the art-deco years blended with dark noir and realism. It is a recognizable feature that makes the character’s world design stand apart from anyone else in the business. Arkham Asylum flawlessly recreated the look of the modern Batman comics through its heavily inspired gothic imagery with contrasting colors that instinctively pop leaving characters and environments looking prominent from one another. Typically, games that take a more ‘realistic’ approach do not age well, but the entire Arkham series still holds up due to its timeless art style, one that is incomparable to any other game to this day.

Batman: Arkham Asylum will forever stand as one of the most impactful games of its century for redefining what it meant to be an adaptation. It was thanks to the outstanding work Rocksteady Studios put into a faithful recreation of the dark knight that allowed developers to pave the way for a future of video games featuring comic book characters on par with the quality of major triple-A title releases. Batman has always redefined entertainment media in various aspects, but he may never have had an impact quite as unappreciated as Arkham Asylum on the industry. The caped crusader once again revived the feeling of hope, but this time for a medium of gaming that seemingly was going nowhere at the time. The dark knight led the charge to the era of the golden age of comic book games. “Long Live The Bat.”

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Games

25 Years Later: ‘EarthBound’ Continues to Bring Smiles and Tears

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“I Miss You.”

Nearly unrecognized by a company, almost canceled multiple times, saved by an industry icon, a soundtrack present in children’s textbooks, a passionate fanbase, fan-translations for the unreleased entries in the west, a Super Smash Bros. presence, and a three-sixty of a legacy. EarthBound– or rather the Mother series in Japan- has by far one of the strangest yet most fascinating histories out of all of Nintendo’s most known series.

EarthBound went on to become a cult classic in Nintendo’s history and one of the most renowned games of the fourth console generation for Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Through its troubled history in both production and early reception, it still has withstood the test of time to go on as one of Nintendo’s underdog franchises created by the mastermind Japanese copywriter, director, game designer, and actor Shigesato Itoi.

What better time to look back on the games strikingly different legacies across the globe than on the day of its initial Japanese release 25 years ago today. Despite EarthBound being looked upon as one of the greatest role-playing-games today, you would be surprised over how different the game was viewed back in 1994.

Itoi’s Saving Grace

After the completion of Mother in 1989- known to players as EarthBound Beginnings outside of Japan today- Shigesato Itoi began working on a direct sequel to the surprise phenomenon for the next generation of Nintendo hardware. Rather than working with the same development team, however, Itoi decided to allow Ape Incorporated to solely work on the project; a decision that would later lead to an unforeseeable disaster spanning over the course of five years.

Itoi was under significant pressure from Nintendo in 1993 due to time constraints and funding for Earthbound falling through on multiple occasions over the last four years. EarthBound escaped cancellation by the skin of its teeth several times throughout development. Out of fear of a final cancellation, Itoi knew he needed help from an outside source who can help save the project. In the last resort ditch, he took a trip to HAL Laboratory seeking out the starman of the industry; a close friend, young breakthrough coder, and President of the company, Satoru Iwata.

Shigesato Itoi, Satoru Iwata, and Shigeru Miyamoto- December 2011.

Satoru Iwata meticulously analyzed the coding of the game and gave the team at Ape Inc. two options; take what they had and finish development in two years or start from scratch and finish in six months- the ladder was the only plausible option for Itoi to choose. Iwata and his colleagues at HAL mustered up tools that Ape Inc. could use to finish the game in his predicted time frame; to which they did and less than one year later, EarthBound was ready to hit store shelves and became the first entry in the Mother series to make land outside of its home turf.

A Different Past

During its initial release, EarthBound was met with mixed to favorable reception outside of Japan and did not make sales expectations with the higher-ups at Nintendo. Although certainly not a flop, the game was deemed unsuccessful by the publisher everywhere but Japan. Critics in the west often compared the game to several other RPGs released at the time- specifically Square’s acclaimed Final Fantasy III– citing that the game felt dated compared to what the hardware was capable of. Back on its home turf, the game went on to receive a mostly positive reception. EarthBound and Mother 2 were practically two separate entities in the east and west.

Even in its marketing, EarthBound was a whole different kind of weird depending on territory. Nintendo of America gave the franchise its bizarre and infamously known marketing campaign in the United States, however, in its home territory, the Mother series was advertised as a family-friendly game that was for everyone. The line “this game stinks” was heavily used in Nintendo Power Magazine along with several attached repulsive-smelling scratch and sniff cards. Meanwhile, in Japan, phrases such as “for adults, children, and even young women” were often used in live-action advertisements along with friendlier simplistic informational posters such as the one below.

Going Contemporary

Unlike the majority of other RPGs at the time that focused on the common fantasy and medieval settings, EarthBound took a major curveball and placed itself in a relatable modern American themed country called Eagleland where rather than characters wielding blades or firearms, weapons consist of baseball bats, slingshots, PSI, bottle rockets, and frying pans. Convenience stores and hospitals are used rather than your typical wandering merchants or magic users. Enemies could range to anything from cars, speed limit signs, and clocks, to vomit, tents, and robots. Even a genre staple such as the battle system remains consistently different from any other RPG. The game uses a ‘slot machine’ health and psychic points mechanic where your numbers roll down slowly as you attempt to counterattack, revive, and defend with quick thinking moves before the digits can hit zero.

The contemporary inspired atmosphere blended with fantasy elements is a setting that no other game has tried to exactly replicate. It is still one of EarthBound’s most unique aspects, however, what makes the game so memorable are the characters placed in the deranged setting. Every single entity you come across on your adventure has unique dialogue that can range from poetically charming to outrageously ridiculous. A fan favorite species that has gone on to become what can be considered the series mascots are the iconic Mr. Saturns; notably for being the face of much of the available merchandise through Itoi’s personal company in Japan, having a unique in-game text font, and appearing as an item in Super Smash Bros. series (starting with Melee on the Nintendo GameCube).

A Change In Legacy

Today EarthBound is a Nintendo cult classic. Did it fail to become part of the big leagues at the time of its release because of the puzzling advertisement campaign? Was it to out of the norm for the general public and mainstream media? We may never know the definitive answer, but today EarthBound is regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time and a must-play game for the Super Nintendo. In its 25 years since it first released, it certainly has managed to draw in a captivating legacy that has continually become more loved over time.

The Mother series- whether it will ever receive a new entry or not- lives on through its dedicated fans, spiritual successors, and digital re-releases. No matter where you scatter for EarthBound related content on the internet, you are bound to find some dedicated fans or even entire websites such as the widely known Starmen.net that are packed to the brim with fan content.

If you have never played EarthBound, it is currently available for purchase on the Wii U and 3DS Virtual Consoles and it is also one of the twenty-two pack-in games included on the Super Nintendo Classic Mini console.

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Game Reviews

‘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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Games

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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Games

‘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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Freelance Film Writers

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.

Contact us: Editor@GoombaStomp.com

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