Friday, July 30, 2021

Neo: The World Ends With You Review – A Catchy But Familiar Refrain

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release: (PlayStation 4, Switch), 2021 (PC)
Rating: Teen
Reviewed on: Switch
Also on: PlayStation 4, PC

14 years ago, The World Ends With You hit the Nintendo DS and was praised for its style and innovation. It had an electrifying soundtrack, an exciting battle system that utilized the DS’ touchscreen, and the undeniable hook of exploring Shibuya, Tokyo. There was nothing like it on the market. Neo: The World Ends With You doesn’t make the same grand entrance; instead, it’s content to embrace the first game's strengths and even some of its faults. What that leaves is an experience that’s still engaging and intriguing, but it doesn’t create a lasting impression like the original.

Neo: The World Ends With You brings in a brand-new cast and the start of a new Reapers’ Game, where players must fight to win or face erasure from the world. Protagonist Rindo gets randomly caught up in the competition when a psychic battle breaks out in front of him and his buddy Fret in the middle of Shibuya. From here, they learn they’ve been transported into the deadly game and must face its stakes: compete against other teams in various challenges around the city if they ever want to return home to the real world or die trying.

This time around, the narrative focuses more on how the places we come to love are shaped by the people with whom we experience them. It’s not quite as dark as the original, and I didn’t experience the same emotional pull, but I still liked the overall message and found the characters endearing. While the narrative is a slow-burn, the plot has compelling revelations and twists, especially how it connects to the first game's events. If you haven’t played the original, you aren’t likely to feel the impact of reuniting with beloved characters and seeing loose threads tied up. Those aspects are where I felt the most payoff and enjoyment, especially in the finale.

That being said, the new cast quickly won me over. As a cautious and compassionate leader, Rindo is a likable protagonist. It’s refreshing to see someone who genuinely puts others before themselves, even when they disagree with them. His buddy Fret starts out very happy-go-lucky, but then his character develops wonderfully beyond just being Rindo’s lighthearted friend, and we learn why he avoids serious conversations. I also really enjoyed the awkward-yet-perceptive Nagi, who takes her video game fandom very seriously. Many characters come in and out of the story, almost to a fault, so be prepared to have a lot of faces to keep track of throughout the journey. At times, I found this overwhelming and felt it didn’t allow me to form strong attachments to non-party characters, but I also liked the feeling of a large group coming together for the good of Shibuya. 

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Like the first game, you can expect fast-paced combat that rewards you for chaining combos with team members to eventually “drop the beat” for devastating specials. The game still centers on “pins” to customize your abilities in battles. You can equip these on every character for their main battle ability; each pin has a specific ability on a cooldown tied to a particular button input. Not relying on a touchscreen like the first game, this works better than I expected, but I still found it challenging to keep track of all the chaos on-screen at times. Trying to play characters’ abilities using multiple buttons at a time, the combat demands you multitask, making it easy to slip up.

I loved the variety of the different pins and enjoyed experimenting to see which ones worked best together. I had abilities that unleashed giant volcanoes, let me put down minefields, and hurl vehicles at enemies. Finding a new pin and seeing how it changes your play style is a thrill. I constantly shuffled mine up and appreciated how they made me feel my growing power and helped keep combat fresh. When you’re firing on all cylinders and watching your groove rise due to your intelligent pin combinations, the battle system is extremely rewarding. 

A big focus is finding abilities that complement each other, which requires some trial and error. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out, like having a tripwire ability so you can ensure an enemy can’t escape a bomb explosion. Other times, changing one pin can mean life or death in a boss battle, and you won’t know this until you’ve played - and failed - the lengthy encounter. The bosses themselves are fantastic and a highlight of the experience. Every big bad has a cool enemy design and keeps you on your toes in different ways, like having you dodge multiple lasers or finding weak points to break through. 

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Unfortunately, some of the enjoyment I had with the combat was brought down by another issue: subpar difficulty balancing. For a good chunk of my adventure, things would often be ridiculously easy, and then I’d hit a huge difficulty spike out of nowhere where I’d barely survive. You can adjust the difficulty at any time, but I shouldn’t have to shuffle difficulty to make a fight feel satisfying. 

Another area that falters is the game’s repetitive nature. Like its predecessor, Neo is structured around the Reapers’ Game, which is a blessing and a curse. I love the chaos and frenzy of having to complete the game’s challenges, like defeating a certain number of enemies or solving riddles, but they start to feel like a laundry list of things to do. The game plays out in days, and with each day comes new tasks to reach the top of the game rankings. During this time, you can eat at various restaurants for stat boosts or buy new clothes for your equipment. 

The game has a comfortable rhythm which hooked me at the onset, but the repetitive structure and lack of variety in the tasks really grated. I was excited when the new turf wars, called Scramble Slams, were introduced, until I realized they played out in the most uninteresting way. You’re just killing a certain amount of enemies in each area then a boss to take it over. These can be lengthy affairs and show up on multiple occasions during the game. 

It doesn’t help that the characters’ special abilities to use within the world also feed into this repetition. For instance, Rindo can turn back time once a day, which functions as part of the overall story. I hated this, as it felt tedious and like it just prolonged every day by making you revisit the same scenes and places while sometimes fighting the same enemies again. Nagi has a “dive” ability, which lets her get to the root of people’s complicated emotions; this overused power means you’re battling more enemies to smack some sense into people. Fret can make people recall memories by tilting the left and right sticks in to complete a picture. Unfortunately, I liked Fret’s ability the least, as it requires more precision than I expected. I played on Switch, and using the Pro Controller fared better for me than the Joy-Cons. Unfortunately, the Switch version proved unstable; the game crashed several times. Even after downloading the day-one patch, the issue persisted. 

In some ways, it’s disheartening that Neo: The World Ends With You doesn’t evolve much from its predecessor. It may even feel like a step back, but there’s still a fun game here that I had trouble putting down. The world draws you in, the boss battles provide a worthy challenge, and I loved watching the relationships between characters grow. There’s also some excellent payoff for fans of the first game. Exploring Shibuya and dropping the beat is still a delight, and the music captivates you in the best way. 

Score: 8

Summary: Neo: The World Ends With You faithfully mirrors its predecessor – for better or worse.

Concept: Bring back the Reapers’ Game, where players must fight for their lives, with new characters and events that tie into the original game

Graphics: The comic-inspired dialogue sequences look great, as do the detailed cutscenes, but the environments aren’t all that impressive

Sound: Composer Takeharu Ishimoto is back and delights with catchy tunes that capture the city’s style and essence. The beats are so infectious they stay in your head long after powering the game down

Playability: The mechanics are easy to grasp but can take some time to master. The controls have you focusing on a lot of button inputs in the heat of battle, which can be difficult to keep track of

Entertainment: Neo: The World Ends With You faithfully mirrors its predecessor, offering entertaining combat, endearing characters, and a fabulous world to explore

Replay: Moderate

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Here’s A Real-Life Version Of Pokémon Red And Blue’s Bicycle

One of the best moments of Pokémon Red and Blue is finally obtaining the bicycle. Quickly speeding across the world you spent hours trudging across on foot feels liberating and you appreciate it as much as any of your pocket monsters. Well, what if I told you that The Pokémon Company is giving away a real-life version of that bike? That's right it could be yours … as long as you live in Japan.

As spotted by Kotaku, The Pokémon Company is celebrating reaching one million Twitter followers by creating a replica of Generation 1’s bicycle. While garnering a million fans is a big deal, that number has dual significance. It directly references the in-game price tag of the bike, which fans likely remember stood at 1,000,000 Poké-monies (or whatever Pokémon currency is called). Since players’ wallets were capped at 999,999, it was literally impossible to purchase and could only be obtained by trading a bike voucher earned earlier in the game.

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Before you get too excited about recreating your Kanto adventure in real life, you can't actually ride this bike. You’ll notice it lacks a bike chain and is purely meant to be displayed. The bike also isn’t for sale and will be given away to one lucky fan that follows the @poke_times Twitter account and retweets ポケモンの100万円じてんしゃ which translates to “# Pokémon's 1 million yen bicycle”. Anyone can enter but The Pokémon Company states that the bike will only be shipped domestically in Japan. 

The giveaway begins today and runs until August 3. If you reside in Japan or at least have an address there the bike can be sent to, may the odds be ever in your favor. If you’re like those of us who are not in Japan, we’ll continue to jealously admire the craftsmanship and fun attention to detail in the photos. 

[Source: The Pokémon Company via Kotaku]

So, any of you living in Japan planning to enter the giveaway? Let us know in the comments!

The Forgotten City Review – A Narrative Masterpiece

Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Modern Storyteller
Release: (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC), 2021 (Switch)
Rating: Teen
Reviewed on: PC
Also on: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch

A Roman city resides within a large mountain, hidden from light and prying eyes. Only 23 people call this secret society home, and they appear to live harmoniously together, but looks can be deceiving. Time has taken its toll on each soul, but they can never leave, and more pressing yet, cannot sin, for even the most minor white lie or act of theft will steal the life from everyone. An angry god lords over this cave, and any misgiving will trigger a curse called “The Golden Rule.” The offenses of previous generations can be seen across this city – grim reminders not to sin, no matter where you are or what you are doing. These people need your help, and they somehow summon you from 2,000 years into the future.

Equipped with technologies they’ve never seen before (like a flashlight), you are now a part of their world – a newcomer that these people don’t seem to fear or question. But why? The Forgotten City skillfully plays up this mystery through a beautifully penned story loaded with meaningful player choice, making you feel like you are genuinely sculpting your path as the plot unfolds.

The name “The Forgotten City” may seem familiar to Skyrim players, as it’s the title of one of that game’s most popular mods, downloaded more than 3 million times, and so successful in its storytelling that it won an Australian Writer’s Guild award. The creator of that mod is Nick Pearce, and he’s taking a second spin with his time-traveling concepts in this excellent standalone game of the same name. While shedding Skyrim’s dark fantasy setting for a brighter aesthetic, it still clings tightly to the Elder Scrolls formula. That’s perfectly fine, as Pearce and his development team at Modern Storyteller play it like a beloved fiddle to bring the characters, their world, and your exploration within it to life in fascinating ways, even if the tech behind it all feels a little dated.

When you step foot in this hidden Roman world, you’ll see it has everything the people need: gardens, water, extravagant homes, yet no way to leave. You arrive via a wormhole and quickly find that your first motivation is to get to know all residents. This task unfolds through extensive conversations that almost always give you numerous questions to ask. Most of The Forgotten City’s gameplay consists of conversations. Thanks to the excellent writing, you walk away from most of these chats with a better understanding of the characters, their motivations, and what they may be up to – not to mention being intrigued by the large narrative that unfolds around it. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot or mystery at hand, but many conversations initiate quests (both critical path and optional) that you can activate and pursue. Most are of the simple variety of locating someone, questioning someone else, or perhaps even setting a trap, but most add up in significant ways when it comes to gaining leads.

The Golden Rule these people are governed by also applies to you, and you may be tempted to break it from time to time in conversations or as you explore the city. A lie could get you an answer, or you could steal a potion you need to heal someone’s illness, but these acts may doom everyone in the process. Doing these things may seem foolish, but here’s where things get interesting: As the people lose their lives, you need to race back to the wormhole to reset time. If you make it, you retain the knowledge you’ve gained and any items you grabbed, but the society resets to square one. You now have information that will help you solve the riddles faster. You can also use the information you learned about people against them, as they are taken aback by the knowledge you are weaponizing.

Time travel is used in awesome ways, and much like the film Groundhog Day, you make parts of the same day different each time you reset it. Modern Storyteller knows people won’t like redoing the same things over and over and found a few solutions to speed up events that you should be repeating. Depending on how you play your hand, you can reach four different endings. A few come up quickly, but the true ending takes about 10 to 15 hours to reach. I managed to see two of these endings (and a timeline shows where the others I missed take place in the larger narrative). Both of my conclusions were somewhat shocking in their setup but satisfying in how they closed the door for the society and my time traveler.

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As the story unfolds, some quests focus intently on a blend of combat and environmental navigation. The combat and jumping mechanics are a little rough (feeling just like Skyrim). Still, these sections remain fun, spin the larger mystery on its head, and above all else, give you a nice break from the conversations at the right times to keep the experience from getting too repetitive.

The Forgotten City does a great job making you feel like a skillful sleuth, pushing you to run across town with sizzling leads. The only downfall to this excitement is some of the more significant moments come up short in visualization. If characters are doing anything other than talking, they often move in strange ways, and the environmental events (like falling debris) are quite janky. You also won’t learn much from facial expressions or body language, as characters are all primarily expressionless, yet are thankfully saved by exceptional voice work and writing.

Regardless of the visual shortcomings, The Forgotten City stands tall as a unique game that pulls you in with its world and words. I got a huge kick using time travel as a detective tool and found many of the characters to be delightful to chat with (even if they hold many dark secrets). If you are in the market for a different type of game that pushes you to stitch together a story in different ways than you would expect, don’t sleep on this inventive experience. It’s one that you won’t soon forget.

Score: 9

Summary: Extensive player choice fuels a mystery that pays off in big ways.

Concept: Time travel and player choice are put to excellent use in a thrilling story

Graphics: The Forgotten City’s roots stretch back to Skyrim, and it still holds those old-school visual traits in the character animations. The world is beautifully conceived and easy to navigate

Sound: The voice cast makes up for the robotic character movements and delivers the emotion you need to make determinations. The score fits the mood nicely

Playability: The writing is so good you look forward to the long conversations

Entertainment: One of the better choice-driven games in recent memory that makes you feel like you have ownership over your actions and the narrative flow

Replay: High

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The Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters Are Awesome

It’s been a few days since the first three Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters hit Steam and mobile devices, and I’ve had a chance to play through the first title – and I’m absolutely going to be hitting the others. Yes, even 2. While they’re not perfect, they are vastly superior to most of the options that players had to go back and play these classics, and they may eventually be regarded as the definitive editions. Yes, the font is a little off-putting at first, but that can be swapped out in about three seconds, and I also found that I just got used to it after a few hours.

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In the case of Final Fantasy 1, it’s quite faithful to the original game with some alterations here and there. Sure, you can get ethers so if you want to play a magic-centric party you won’t find yourself out of spells when you hit a critical boss or you’re tackling an extended dungeon crawl. Yeah, the big bad at the end is definitely not the NES version. And there are various tweaks and foibles throughout, but at the end of the day, it feels adherent to the original experience I had on a crummy TV decades ago, while at the same time serving up some minor quality of life upgrades. Perhaps the best thing about this entire series of remasters so far is the absolutely incredible music.

Nobuo Uematsu’s remastered and rearranged musical tracks from these games are worth the ticket of admission alone, in my opinion. While these tunes were always iconic, they absolutely slam with incredible instrumentals now, from the basic battle theme to the banging sounds of the Chaos Shrine. If there is any singular element that makes these games worth going back to and exploring today, these tracks are breathtaking and astonishing in their modern incarnations. You very well may find yourself stepping back from the controller and taking them in. I know I have.

Other small elements include an auto-battle function to help grind out those extra levels for taking on tough bosses with fun party compositions like 4 monks or 4 white mages. There’s also a super handy minimap, sprinting, and a bestiary, but it’s also kind of sad that the bonus content featured in some of the other remasters isn’t around. Still, it’s a wonderful return to some more simplistic games that laid the foundation for one of the most important RPG series of all time.

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While these first three titles are important, the next three are far more so. Final Fantasy 6 is often regarded as the best title in the entire franchise. 4 is my personal favorite, and 5 is actually quite brilliant as you see the job systems come into their full potential. The promise for these already highly-regarded titles with the remaster treatment is incredible, and I can’t wait to head to the moon and beyond again.

Obviously, one of the major concerns right now is that there has been no console announcement for these remasters. It seems a little strange that these new games would be limited to mobile and PC, so I’m hoping that we’ll hear about a bundled package for consoles after all the titles have been completed and released.

Final Fantasy still rocks, so many years later. Grab a fighter, a thief, a white mage, and a black mage and go explore the world. Or ya know, 4 black mages. Whatever you feel like!

Halo Infinite Gameplay Flight Test Footage – Game Informer Live

It's Halo time, baby! The first Halo Infinite Flight Test is now live, and we've got that Spartan spirit! We are ready to rock out with our new Pulse Carbines out. To kick off the testing period for Master Chief's latest adventure, we here at Game Informer are diving all in to make the Halo community proud. Join us, won't you, for a special two-hour stream while we dive right into some multiplayer action. 

The Halo Infinite Flight Test is the first of several early access periods 343 is hosting before the game's launch later this year. This particular testing period offers a first look at multiplayer with just one map. Unfortunately, it's against bots, which would make us losing all the more embarrassing. Which, really, if you think about it, just gives you more reason to watch! Make fun of us, cheer us on, dealer's choice. 

Join Alex Stadnik, John Carson, and Liana Ruppert as they check out Halo Infinite for the first time. You can find us on our YouTube and Twitch channels to join in on the fun live starting at 2 p.m. CT. Join in on the conversation, talk about your favorite Master Chief moments, where you want to see the franchise go next, and show Craig the Brute some mad love. Just remember: this is a multiplayer-only Flight Test, so we won't be streaming any of the story, but we will be talking about the unique weapons that the new game brings, so if you're interested - all are welcome! 

Also included in the Flight Test is the ability to play around with the Battle Pass a little bit. The Battle Pass is optional and will, like most, include cosmetic options. That being said, 343 has confirmed that it will only offer cosmetic options and nothing that could be interpreted as supporting a pay-to-win model. Unlike most, however, it won't be a time-sensitive feature. For example, like Destiny 2's, others are only available for a limited-time-only, which means the cosmetic options available disappear in the void; Infinite's never expires. Players can take as much time as they want on each Battle Pass, even purchasing older ones if they come into the game early. While you can only progress through one Battle Pass at a time, there is not a time limit placed upon them. 

To learn more about the upcoming 343 Industries shooter, check out our dedicated Halo Infinite hub here. We've got gameplay, updates, and incredible inside looks from the studio itself. 

Halo Infinite Multiplayer Technical Preview – New Gameplay Today

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Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Developer: 343 Industries
Release: 2021
Rating: Teen
Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC

Halo Infinite has been in the crosshairs of the gaming community since it was announced at E3 2018. Originally set to release last November alongside the launch of the Xbox Series X and S, growing concerns about the game following an extended look at the campaign caused 343 Industries and Microsoft to reconsider when Infinite was ready for prime time.

Now, almost exactly a year since gameplay was first shown, we’re finally getting hands-on time with Halo Infinite in a technical multiplayer beta. Join Alex Stadnik, Liana Ruppert, and John Carson as they share their first impressions of the game and give a look at Halo Infinite multiplayer in action. How does it look? What’s new and different compared to previous entries? Does it live up to the grandiose reputation of Microsoft’s first-person juggernaut? We cover those questions and more in this episode of New Gameplay Today.

This technical flight for Halo Infinite is currently limited to folks who signed up for, and were chosen through, the Halo Waypoint website. Multiplayer is one of two modes found within this test, alongside the Academy, a series of gun-specific challenges which lets the player loose at a firing range to rack up high scores. Currently, the multiplayer matches are 4v4 Slayer matches on the new map called Live Fire. It’s a condensed battleground that keeps the action fast and consistent, while retaining many paths for getting around the map. Matches during this test consist of matchmade human teams warring against AI driven bots. While we’d prefer to go head-to-head against real people and really put these Spartans through their paces, that experience will have to wait for another time.

Halo Infinite is set to release on an undisclosed date later this year for Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC. How do you think Infinite is shaping up? Which weapons are you looking to know more about in this technical flight?

Marvel's Avengers’ War For Wakanda Begins In August

War for Wakanda is easily the most exciting expansion to hit Marvel’s Avengers, and we finally know when it’s coming. On August 17, players will get to take control of Black Panther to explore a brand new story serving as the game’s largest content update yet. 

In addition to adding a Christopher Judge-voiced T’Challa to the roster of heroes, the free expansion (yes expansion and not an Operation like with Kate Bishop and Hawkeye) introduces new enemy types and two supervillains, one of which is Klaw. Black Panther’s long-time nemesis has teamed up with AIM to invade Wakanda to steal its precious vibranium. 

Wakanda and its surrounding jungles offer a vibrant new biome to explore that contains the Birnin Zana Outpost, the laboratory of T’Challa’s brilliant sister, Shuri, and other locations. There's also a new drop zone for solo or team play. In addition to the story quests, players can engage in new threat sector missions and other superheroic activities. Of course, you can also expect plenty of new hero outfits as well as a power level increase. 

Marvel's Avengers

For a deep dive into what War for Wakanda entails, Crystal Dynamics will stream an Avengers War Table on its Twitch channel on August 16 at 10 a.m PT. The presentation will share additional details and show off new footage of the expansion in action.

If you love you some Black Panther but are on the fence about Marvel’s Avengers as a whole, you can play the entire game for free thanks to an all-access period running now until August 1 for the PlayStation, PC, and Stadia versions of the game. During this time Marvel’s Avengers is available at a 40% discount should you decide to buy, and your progress will carry over as well. There's also a 400% XP gain in effect and 50% off sale for the in-game store. The Tachyon Anomaly event also makes a return. For Xbox players, Crystal Dynamics promises a similar all-access period will come to those platforms in the coming months. 

Marvel's Avengers is currently available for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Stadia, and PC. 

Report: Horizon Forbidden West Delayed To 2022

Earlier this year, Sony shared an extensive look at Aloy's continued story with Horizon Forbidden West, but the lack of a release window had many wondering if we would see the sequel this year. Following the rumors that followed said speculation, Horizon Forbidden West has officially been delayed to 2022. 

According to a new report from Bloombergthe open-world story of Aloy is set to continue some time in the first quarter of 2022, though an exact date has not been revealed at this time. The news broke via a "person familiar with the matter," according to the site following PlayStation's Hermen Hulst's previous statements that the game was still on track for a holiday release back in June. While Hulst sounded hopeful that the release progress would remain on course, he did mention that nothing was "quite certain" yet, leaving wiggle room in case a delay was inevitable. 

Game Informer has reached out to Sony, though no comment has been made at the time this article was written. 

When Horizon Zero Dawn was first released on PlayStation 4, it was an instant hit with the PS community. The franchise's dual-nature setting with futuristic technology in a more tribal society made the parallels between the two worlds a unique one for the game's narrative. With Forbidden West promising even more adventures, a larger world to get lost in, and new ways to master combat and hone Aloy's skills, the upcoming journey from Guerrilla Games aims to take what so many loved from the first adventure and make it even better. 

To learn more about the game thus far, including more footage, behind-the-scenes looks, and special interviews with the team at Guerilla Games, check out our dedicated game hub here

Sonic Team Looks Back At The Blue Blur's First 30 Years

Earlier this summer, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise turned 30 years old. Sega marked the occasion by holding a Sonic Central stream that teased three new projects (Sonic Colors: Ultimate, Sonic Origins, and an untitled mainline Sonic game) in May, followed by a special 30th-anniversary concert featuring an orchestra playing classic Sonic music.

With the bulk of the celebrations in the rear-view mirror, we caught up with five longtime developers from Sonic Team. Ranging from directors and producers to composers and artists, we covered the spectrum to learn about each individual's unique experiences with the franchise, as well as what 30 years of Sonic means to them. 

What is your first memory of working on the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise?
Takashi Iizuka, creative officer, head of Sonic Team:
Moving to America and living there for a year and a half to develop Sonic 3 is my first memory. For someone like me who had never experienced being in a foreign country before, it was an exciting and fresh experience.

Hiroshi Nishiyama, art director: Being responsible for creating the 3D Sonic World in Sonic Jam. It was really hard doing texture design with the new shapes and models, but because of that I was able to really make things shine in Sonic Adventure, so that is a great memory.

Kazuyuki Hoshino, creative director: I joined Sega in 1991 and my first memory was going to a game show with [co-creator of Sonic the Hedgehog Naoto] Ohshima-san and at the show getting introduced to [co-creator Yuji] Naka-san who had just gotten back from America. It all started from there.

Yuji Uekawa, character designer: Sonic Jam was the first Sonic title I worked on, and was the first game in the series that used 3D polygons for the characters and environments, so everything felt fresh and it seemed like anything was possible.

Jun Senoue, sound director, guitarist of Crush 40: My first memory was about the process for selecting music on Sonic 3 when development was happening over in America. On the Japan side we would create a demo tape of all the tracks we created, then send that tape to America via boat, and the comments we would get back after the team in America reviewed the tape all came by fax!

Do you have a specific moment you remember when you realized just how big the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise and character had become?
There have been many moments over the years where I have felt just how big the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has become. The first time was in 1993 with the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, then again in 1998 when we had over 10,000 people show up for the big event where Sonic Adventure was first announced, and even just last year in 2020 when the Hollywood movie was released.

Nishiyama: For me it was the big Sonic Adventure title reveal event in 1998 and the release of the Hollywood movie in 2020. Even to this day, I will never forget seeing just how excited the fans were.

Hoshino: Hmm, every time I meet up with all of our fans I get that feeling, but if I exclude that I would say a couple of years ago when some characters that looked a lot like Sonic and Knuckles took over the internet as a viral meme, maybe?

Uekawa: It's not too surprising when it happens in the the game industry, but once we started having collaboration with other strong IPs from comics and movies and moving across different media was definitely a moment, also the reality of where we stand now that we have tons of licensed Sonic product being sold all over the world would be another moment for me.

Senoue: The fact that he is widely recognized by so many people is what gets me. Whenever you say the name "Sonic" it doesn't matter if the person is young or old or male or female, they always say "Oh, yeah, I know Sonic!" and a blue hedgehog pops to their mind. And, of course, having a major Hollywood movie come out in 2020 really expanding the franchise is another great reason why so many people know him.

What was your favorite Sonic game to work on?
It was Sonic Adventure 2, and we had all of the development team move out to America to make it there. It was a small development team so we were able to condense all the good elements from the previous game, and deliver a story and game that was satisfying to players everywhere.

Nishiyama: It was when we moved out to America to develop Sonic Adventure 2. I had a lot of new ideas for the game because of all the new stimulus and experiences I got by living in America and was able to make a game with a lot of great moments together with the other members.

Hoshino: On Shadow the Hedgehog I had a lot of fun as a character designer. It wasn't only the robots that Eggman created, but also human soldiers, and weapons and vehicles from an alien civilization – I really threw myself into making a game that was totally different from what the normal conventions of what a game was thought to be was back in the day. Did everyone enjoy it?

Uekawa: It was Sonic Adventure, where I was the character designer and also had to make the models and animations for the characters. I also made all of the artwork used for publicity for the title, so it is a game that has a lot of meaning for me personally.

Senoue: It was making Sonic Adventure 2 in America with the small development team there locally. This new environment everyone from the team was in creating a very stimulating experience, so we had a lot of fun while also stoically developing the game.

Sonic Mania

What is your favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game to play?
The first title I would recommend is Sonic Mania because it condenses all the fun of the classic Sonic titles into one experience. For those that like the 3D Sonic games I would recommend Sonic Colors: Ultimate because of the variety of play styles.

Nishiyama: Sonic Heroes was a title I worked on that had a lot of variety in the world, needing to strategically use the unique skills of each character to play the game with a high level of teamwork, so I really like that.

Hoshino: Sonic Heroes is a game I had a lot of fun playing with my friends because we would be strategizing as a team while we played. Each team has its own finishing move, so it was always so fun matching up each member’s unique abilities.

Uekawa: I would say the original Sonic the Hedgehog. It has simple controls, vivid graphics, and very pure gameplay.

Senoue: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on the Genesis. I enjoyed playing the first Sonic the Hedgehog, but in such a short amount of time we got this new title that was powered up and had a variety of new things added to it, and it was such a fun game to experience. As a fan, this was one of those titles I really got into and was impressed by.

Who is your favorite Sonic the Hedgehog character other than Sonic?
It would have to be Shadow. One reason why I have this affinity is probably because I helped create and form the character, but I also really like his backstory as a dark hero.

Nishiyama: Back before I joined Sega and was playing Sonic games I would have to say Knuckles from Sonic 3. I liked the mysterious background, how he was all alone guarding the Master Emerald. When I joined the team I helped create Shadow, so he is another character I really like.

Hoshino: I think the passion Dr. Eggman has for constantly creating things no matter what challenged he faces is amazing. I really wonder how many hours he works every day to make all that stuff?

Uekawa: I am one of those people who really like Big the Cat. I appreciate his casual and relaxed attitude towards a slow life, which is in contrast to Sonic who is always so busy.

Senoue: Shadow. Part of the reason why is because I was a part of the team that created him, but I also like his dialogue (especially in Japanese), as well as the color combination of black and red.

Sonic Forces

When you started working on the series, did you ever think it would reach the 30th anniversary and still be going strong?
I first started working on the series when I was 21, so I had never even thought about 30 years into the future. But at the time I did have that desire to want to keep making Sonic games forever.

Nishiyama: I was just focused on giving my best effort on what I had to do right in the moment, so I wasn't really thinking about the future. I do remember having a really strong impression that Sonic was cool and the gameplay was really fun as we were developing things.

Hoshino: After the world really expanded for the Sonic characters with Sonic Adventure, I really felt there were still a lot of stories to tell and a lot of challenges to face with the series. As long as that stays true, Sonic will continue.

Uekawa: To be honest, I didn't even think of what the next couple of years would be like. Part of that was because we just continued making games and doing more licensing and the Sonic IP just never seemed to stop. It feels like, because we kept moving forward, as a result, we are here now 30 years later.

Senoue: When I was in my early 20s there was no way I could even imagine myself in my 50s, so in a similar way I was unable to even imagine what Sonic would be 30 years in the future. From the beginning, Sonic started us on this amazing adventure and here we are now 30 years later getting to celebrate this milestone.

Sonic Colors: Ultimate

What does the franchise reaching the 30th anniversary mean to you?
I am so happy to have been able to bring fun and excitement to people around the world through the 30 years of our team's efforts at work. I am also very happy Sonic has gotten so much support from our fans over the past 30 years.

Nishiyama: I am happy to know that after 30 years of fun Sonic has left an indelible mark on the lives of our fans. I am also looking forward to delivering some more fun games to people in the near future.

Hoshino: My career in this industry is also hitting 30 years. Turning around and looking back at things makes me realize just how far we have come. I look forward to thinking of new ways to entertain our fans for the next 30 years to come!

Uekaya: 30 years is a long time, but I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the support for Sonic is a testament to all of the members of the team. I look forward to sharing the NOW with our fans, and together with the fans sharing the fun times in the future.

Senoue: I believe the past 30 years have been built alongside our fans, so I would really like to celebrate with everyone for making this happen. Happy 30th Anniversary Sonic!!

For more on the 30th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, check out our interview with Takashi Iizuka about all of the announcements the team made during the Sonic Central presentation in May here. You can also watch the full Sonic Symphony performance (at the end of which Jun Senoue and Crush 40 performed) here. Finally, if you'd like more historical looks at the Sonic series, including why the series experienced such a downturn, why Sonic 2 was Sega's great hope, and how Sonic made the leap to Nintendo platforms after the Dreamcast was discontinued, check out the articles listed below:

PS5 Abandoned Game Speculation Continues When Another Tie To Konami Was Spotted

BlueBox Game Studios can't seem to escape the rumors that the PS5 game Abandoned is actually a Silent Hill adventure in disguise. There have been many theories about what Abandoned would be, but one of the most prevalent rumors links it back to being a Silent Hill project that Hideo Kojima is keeping hidden. Studio head Hasan Kahraman has plainly stated in the past that Abandoned is its own game, in no way related to Kojima, Konami, or Silent Hill. However, that wasn't enough to assuage fan theories because an additional Konami link has been discovered, kicking the proverbial hornet nest once more. 

Kahraman recently appeared on a podcast to promote the mysterious PlayStation 5 game. As with anything Abandoned-related, the internet immediately assumed a sleuth position and found out that the podcast called Al Hub is actually sponsored by Konami. When Al Hub tweeted out its interview with Kahraman, intrigued mystery lovers got to work. In the original findings, the podcast shared that Konami was sponsoring the interview, then it was taken down and replaced with Bloober Team (a studio also rumored to be working on Silent Hill). The third time was the charm because a third edit reposted Konami as a sponsor alongside Bloober. 

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Though Kahraman has point blank denied that Abandoned is related to Kojima or Konami, a recent teaser from just this week seems to contradict that directly. At least if you read into the comment section. BlueBox tweeted a new image for Abandoned with a blurred background of an older man with an eyepatch, not unlike in a certain Metal Gear series, with blurred text in the background that many believe reads "Welcome to Silent Hill." If you missed it, you could catch up on the latest puzzle piece with our previous coverage here

Abandoned is certainly one of the greatest mysteries in gaming right now, but this entire situation does bring up a concern. Abandoned seems to be promising a lot with such a small team and a team that we don't really have any history with for comparison. Where my concern comes in is that the speculation-driven hype surrounding the elusive PS5 game will place deep-rooted expectations on what Abandoned even is, and these expectations will likely be impossible to reach because the very experience itself isn't what people are assuming. It will be interesting to see what the road to launch looks like, especially if the past month is any indicator. 

Pokémon Unite Review – A Thunder Shock To The System

pokémon unite review

Publisher: The Pokémon Company
Developer: Tencent Games
Rating: Everyone
Reviewed on: Switch

The MOBA genre is a competitive space, as it typically features robust rulesets, requires team cooperation, and has a high skill ceiling that doesn’t always welcome new players. Games like League of Legends and Dota 2 continually change their gameplay meta with the release of new characters, which is a hurdle for fledgling players. Newcomers have much to digest, but if you put in the effort, you’re rewarded with loveable characters, strategic battles, and interesting gameplay mechanics. Pokémon Unite distills the genre’s characteristics into an easy-to-understand format and brings its beloved pocket monsters into the fold, resulting in a genuinely fun and approachable MOBA, albeit with a flawed microtransaction system. 

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Unite’s Standard Battle mode is the centerpiece of the experience, featuring battles between two teams of five Pokémon. After selecting characters, consumable battle items, and stat-boosting held items, each team starts the match on opposite ends of the map. Experience points are earned by eliminating smaller Pokémon, destroying enemy goal zones, and defeating other players. You slowly unlock new abilities throughout the match, and after enough experience, fully evolve your Pokémon into their final form. I like that Unite doesn’t shake up the mold, because the series’ loveable monsters and flashy powers are a perfect fit with this format.

Unite features over 20 playable characters, ranging from fan favorites like Pikachu and Venusaur to lesser-known Pokémon like Cramorant and Crustle. There’s a nice range of Pokémon including originals from Red and Blue all the way up to popular monsters from Sword and Shield, though strangely there isn’t a single Pokémon included from the series’ second generation, Gold and Silver. Each character is grouped into one of five battle classes: All-Rounder, Attacker, Defender, Speedster, and Supporter. While characters don’t have elemental weaknesses like in mainline Pokémon games, each critter has unique stats, ability trees, and Unite Moves that make them distinct from one another. This is where Unite shines.

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Each Pokémon’s moveset remains faithful to the franchise but also makes sense in the context of a MOBA, and I love experimenting with different ability loadouts with each Pokémon. Sometimes I pick abilities like Flamethrower and Fire Blast that allow Charizard to be a spellcaster, and in other games, I focus on melee fights by unlocking Fire Punch or Flare Blitz. Charizard’s Unite Move, Seismic Slam, is pure spectacle, as he jumps into the air and soars above the map, spewing molten flames onto enemies below. At the end of his Unite Move, he picks up the nearest enemy Pokémon and slams them back into the pavement. When I’m not playing as an All-Rounder like Charizard, I prefer to play as Crustle, who has a completely different role. As a Defender, this crustacean assists the team by stunning enemies, tanking damage, and blocking paths with his Rock Tomb ability. I love partnering with an attack-focused Pokémon and working together to lock down and isolate enemies from their team.

Each path on the map is populated with goal zones teams must attack or defend by obtaining Aeos Energy. Players collect Aeos by defeating wild Pokémon near the path, and then slam-dunking that energy into enemy goal zones. After depositing enough Aeos energy, a goal zone is destroyed, opening the next part of the lane. After 10 minutes, the team with the most deposited points wins the match; these short time limits make losses easier to swallow and help to cultivate an online environment that focuses on fun.

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Matches are full of additional objectives to conquer, like Zapdos, that pop up throughout the match. Zapdos, in particular, is incredibly powerful and doesn’t spawn until the last two minutes of the match. The team that successfully defeats the Legendary bird is rewarded with an enormous goal-scoring buff that can potentially change the tide of battle. While I really like the catch-up potential this brings to the game, there’s nothing more frustrating than playing strategically for the majority of the match and losing Zapdos because one teammate isn’t paying attention. But to be fair, that’s part of what makes MOBAs so exciting. On the top path, players can battle and escort the electrically charged Rotom to leave enemy goal zones vulnerable. Meanwhile, Drednaw resides on the bottom path and grants a shield buff to whichever team successfully defeats him first. These Pokémon are fun to hunt and have my imagination racing with ideas for other characters they could swap in during future events.

Pokémon Unite’s microtransaction systems let you purchase a battle pass and all sorts of fashionable cosmetics for your trainer and Pokémon. This is standard fare for free-to-play games. Unfortunately, Unite drops the ball by allowing players to purchase item enhancers that can level up a Pokémon’s held items and boost their stats. Players can obtain these item enhancers for free by simply playing the game, but it takes weeks to fully upgrade an item to its level cap. I haven’t experienced a tangible disadvantage playing the game without purchasing microtransactions, but this system’s pay-to-win potential certainly diminishes its long-term competitive integrity.

Pokémon Unite is a fun way to spend your time despite these frustrations. The game eats away the hours of my day as I reassuringly say to myself, “Just one more match.” Battles play out with the spectacle that the Pokémon series is known for, and with so many abilities to choose from, no match feels the same as the last. The game’s simple mechanics and recognizable characters make for an approachable MOBA experience; and with a potential catalog of nearly 900 Pokémon to pick from, my hopes are high for the future of Pokémon Unite.

Score: 8

Summary: This Pokémon MOBA is an exciting interpretation of the franchise with flawed microtransaction systems.

Concept: Duke it out with your favorite Pocket Monsters in a 5v5 online multiplayer arena

Graphics: Pokémon are faithfully rendered in 3D and their ability animations make battles even more satisfying

Sound: Orchestral horns, bombastic drums, and electric guitars imitate classic battle themes and fill me with nostalgia

Playability: Certain Pokémon have lower difficulty tiers with approachable mechanics while others provide a high skill ceiling with context-sensitive abilities

Entertainment: Recognizable Pokémon, distinct move sets, stylish animations, and easy-to-understand objectives make this a good introduction to the MOBA genre

Replay: High

Click to Purchase

Ubisoft Employees Say CEO Yves Guillemot "Sidelined" Demands In Activision Blizzard Open Letter

Earlier this week, over one thousand Ubisoft employees, both current and former, penned an open letter to executives, including CEO Yves Guillemot, demanding change in relation to workplace abuse allegations. The open letter was also drawn up in support of the Activision Blizzard walkout that occurred earlier this week in protest of a similar issue after details of an ongoing lawsuit against the company were made public. Now, the group behind the letter says that despite public statements being made by leadership, the reported behavior behind the scenes does not match what is being said on the surface. 

Following the open letter to leadership, Guillemot responded with an internal email to all Ubisoft staff. Game Informer was able to confirm the contents of the letter, first shared by Axios' Stephen Totilo. The most recent email, much like previous statements against the allegations of sexual misconduct and workplace abuse, claims to be working towards making Ubisoft a better environment to be in and has "made important progress over the year." It also talked about how meaningful change takes time, but previous reports earlier this Summer allege that nothing has been done save the first wave of public firings of high-level executives and one member of HR. 

The initial email from Guillemot also included plans to continue investigating the matters at hand in Q3 and will share an "HR roadmap" during that time. Shortly after the internal email went public, the group that organized the first open letter told that the demands of the initial correspondence were "sidelined" and that only "a few" points in their expressed memo were even addressed. "We are aware that the company has made some improvements, and we are happy to hear that Yves and the leadership team agree that it is not enough," a Ubisoft employee told the site in relation to the letter. "However, Ubisoft continues to protect and promote known offenders and their allies. We see management continuing to avoid this issue. It is also worth clarifying that an invitation to reach out to company management personally is not the same as having a collective seat at the table."

It was said that the group hopes that the rest of the demands and points made are addressed in a "full response," calling for an industry-wide effort to combat what is becoming an apparent widespread issue. This group reiterated the purpose of seeing "real, fundamental change" not only at Ubisoft but everywhere in the gaming industry. For this to happen, honest conversations need to be had, and leadership not involved in the alleged discrimination and misconduct needs to step up and swiftly act to correct these internal issues. This includes toxic workplace culture that is detailed in the "cubicle crawls" detailed in the Activision Blizzard lawsuit, it includes pay discrimination based on gender. The details alleged in the lawsuit show a reported increase in negligence and harmful behavior against women of color, in particular.

The statement from the Ubisoft group pushing for change ended, saying: "It's exhausting, frustrating, and it counters the messaging they give us. We cannot be happy or satisfied with this hypocrisy. For the one person who signed, there are countless others who simply were too terrified. Do better or keep losing good people."

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Pokémon Unite Review, Early Looks At Tales of Arise And Darkest Dungeon II – GI Show

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In this week's episode of The Game Informer Show, we discuss a handful of games we've been digging recently, including Pokémon Unite, Wildermyth, Genshin Impact 2.0, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, Neo: The World Ends with You, and Tribes of Midgard. We also talk about our newest Game Informer cover story: Tales of Arise. Then Dan describes his time talking to Red Hook Studios about Darkest Dungeon II.

Pokémon Unite has been one of the bigger surprises and might be a good breakout MOBA for a lot of people. Alex says he "can't put this damn game down. It's a genuinely fun MOBA with a pocket monster twist, and it's probably better than you think." Wildermyth is an indie strategy game that shouldn't be overlooked. We were a little late to the review party, but in his review, Dan said, "If you’ve always wanted a fantasy Dungeons & Dragons stylized XCOM game, Wildermyth might be exactly what you’re looking for." Meanwhile, Neo: The World Ends With You is the long-awaited sequel to the beloved JRPG The World End With You. Kim said, "It captures the magic of what made the first game so special, but it also retains some of its bigger issues and frustrations with difficulty balancing and the repetition of tedious tasks."

It's a full show, but we make time for another fantastic round of community emails. So please join Dan Tack (@dantack), Jill Grodt (@Finruin), Alex Van Aken (@itsVanAken), Kimberley Wallace (@kstar1785), and Ben Reeves (@Benjaminreeves) for a new wild and ever-entertaining episode!

Thanks for listening! Please make sure to leave feedback below and share the episode if you enjoyed it. You can watch the video above, subscribe and listen to the audio on iTunes or Google Playlisten on SoundCloudstream it on Spotify, or download the MP3 at the bottom of the page. Also, be sure to send your questions to for a chance to have them answered on the show!

Our thanks to The Rapture Twins for The Game Informer Show's intro song. You can hear more of their music on their website.

To jump to a particular point in the discussion, check out the time stamps below:

00:00:00 - Introduction

00:02:34 - Neo: The World Ends With You

00:14:56 - Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

00:22:49 -  Wildermyth

00:27:50: Genshin Impact 2.0

00:31:51: Pokémon Unite 

00:41:45: Tribes of Midgard

00:50:18: Tales of Arise Cover Reveal Discussion

01:02:43: Darkest Dungeon II

01:09:36: Community Emails

Rounding Up Everything In Today’s Annapurna Interactive Showcase

A month after the flurry of events surrounding E3 week back in June, indie publisher Annapurna Interactive put on a gaming showcase of its own. The company's debut presentation was filled with fun game announcements, release date reveals, and a few surprises.

We were excited to see more of several Annapurna titles going into the show and we were not disappointed. Stray, Solar Ash, The Artful Escape, and Neon White, among others, all took the spotlight today with fresh trailers and exciting news to share.  The show even revealed a handful of new indie projects and we may have to update our list of indie games to watch.

If you missed the Annapurna Interactive Showcase, don't worry. We have rounded up all the exciting games and announcements from the show for you. 

The Artful Escape

Kicking off Annapurna’s presentation with a bang was The Artful Escape. It’s been a long journey for Beethoven and Dinosaur’s rock adventure, but The Artful Escape finally has a release date and an impressive, star-filled, cast. Some of the actors lending their voices to the title include Lena Headey, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Strong, and Carl Weathers. The Artful Escape jams out on Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox Game Pass, and PC on Sept 9.

Neon White

The creator behind Donut County, Ben Esposito, decided to shake things up for Neon White. Instead of raccoons, you’ll find demon assassins taking the stage in this first-person shooter with card mechanics. The main character, White, has days to clear all the other demons from Heaven. If he is successful, he might just get to stay up in the clouds. The new trailer in today’s presentation showed off the game’s gunplay and relationship system.

A Memoir Blue

Reality and reveries blend together in A Memoir Blue, a new, aquatically-inspired game by Cloisters Interactive. The reveal trailer features a series of recollections that play out in front of Miriam, a champion swimmer. Her childhood memories of one special day with her mother manifest in the game as wonderful, hand-drawn art. These memories blur the line between the character’s thoughts and the world around her.


One of the most unique announcements of the presentation, Storyteller challenges its players to create literary masterpieces. This puzzle game will start you off with primary figures of the story, a fitting place for the action, and important themes. It is your task to successfully weave all these elements together.

Solar Ash

Solar Ash is coming out on October 26 for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC. The cherry-on-top date reveal came after an epic trailer showcasing the game’s stunning landscape, intimidating monsters, and speedy traversal. As the second project from the developers behind Hyper Light Drifter, we have some big expectations for this game and Solar Ash’s launch is only months away.

Annapurna Interactive Teams Up With Studios For Unannounced Projects

Some exciting things are coming down the pipe from developer Jessica Mak (Everyday Shooter and Sound Shapes), the creators at No Code (Observation) and Outerloop Games (Falcon Age), and brand-new studio Ivy Road lead by Davey Wreden and Karla Zimonja. We don’t get to know what the projects are just yet, but you may want to bookmark these names for the future.

Skin Deep

The Annapurna Interactive Showcase gave us a look at Skin Deep’s personality-filled gameplay. In Skin Deep, you play as an insurance agent, the kind of insurance agent that shoots guns and hunts space pirates. Stuck aboard a starship filling up with hostile invaders, it is your job to ensure the insurance corporations’ valuables are protected.

Platform Updates

Heads up, Gorogoa and Telling Lies are coming to Xbox Game Pass some time in the near future. The Pathless’ Steam release is on November 16, and What Remains of Edith Finch is heading to the App store on August 16. Last but not least, I Am Dead launches on the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Xbox on August 9, just a few weeks away.


Stray is set to launch early next year and the team’s personalized tour through the game’s worn streets will give us plenty to think about in the meantime. BlueTwelve Studio confirmed you will be taking control of the titular stray cat, before offering up a few more hints about the story and gameplay. We don’t know what happened to the humans in Stray’s setting, but we do know that a helpful drone will join you on your quest to escape the city and rejoin your feline family.

Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye

The final surprise of Annapurna Interactive’s presentation turned out to be an Outer Wilds DLC. Called Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye, the game’s first and only expansion, will be ready for lift-off on September 28. Today’s minute-long trailer sets a creepy mood but doesn’t reveal much about what to expect. The DLC is just around the corner, so hopefully, we see more it Outer Wilds: Echoes of the Eye before launch.

Exploring The Opening Hours Of Final Fantasy III Pixel Remaster – GI Live

All of you lucky Game Informer readers and stream viewers have quite the treat today. Shortly after Dan Tack and Alex Stadnik wrap up watching the Annapurna Interactive 2021 Showcase today, we’re going live yet again to play one of this week’s big releases: Final Fantasy III Pixel Remaster. At around 3 p.m. CT, Associate Editor John Carson and PC Editor Dan Tack will be partying up and venturing forth onto Twitch to show off this classic the way we never got to see in North America.

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Originally released in Japan for the NES on April 27, 1990, Final Fantasy III did not receive a release outside of Japan for over a decade. 1994’s Final Fantasy VI on SNES was released in the United States under the name of Final Fantasy III because it technically was the third game in the series to be localized. However, after years of being passed up for re-releases and ports, the true Final Fantasy III was completely remade on Nintendo DS with all-new 3D graphics. This version was ported to PC and Mobile and has been the prevalent version of this game for years. That is until Square Enix announced the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster Series.

These remastered versions of the first three Final Fantasy games are currently available on PC, iOS, and Android devices with IV through VI coming at a later date. Featuring all-new sprite art, remastered music, filters, and more, the original FF adventures can be experienced by old and new fans alike. And because the NES game is the source of Final Fantasy III’s remaster, we get to play the game closer to the way it was released back in 1990.

For more on the Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster series, we recorded an episode of New Gameplay Today which you can watch right here. If you like hanging out with us and our community, please consider joining our brand new Discord server which is currently exclusive to subscribers of our Twitch channel

Outer Wilds DLC Revealed With New Echoes Of The Eye Trailer

Outer Wilds from Mobius Digital is a phenomenal space program adventure that was met with positive reviews and excitement for the future of indies. The universe is constantly evolving, changing, and every mystery reveals ten more just beyond it. Because of this freedom, this exploratory wonder, a new Outer Wilds experience is on the way. During the Annapurna Interactive showcase, a first for the publisher, new Outer Wilds DLC has been revealed called Echoes of the Eye. 

The newest adventure begins with a strange satellite photo that can't be explained and a question emerges: is it better to uncover all of the mysteries that the universe holds, are is some knowledge better left alone? Secrets like who build the alien ruins on the moon and what secrets does the ominous Dark Bramble old. The Echoes of the Eye expansion takes that adventure one step further when the Hearthian space program finds an anomaly that has no tangible traces to the galaxy we know, something new entirely. 

See what Echoes of the Eye has in store with the reveal trailer below: 

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Interested but haven't delved into the Outer Wilds experience yet? "At the end of it all, I admire a lot about Outer Wilds," reads our full review. "The entire world operating on that 20-minute timer is a fascinating theatrical accomplishment of craftsmanship, but I find it more fun to think about than to play. A lot of ideas linger here, some of them beautifully executed, others slipshod and pushing against each other. I love roaming inside the bellies of mysterious planets, but don’t like how the urgency of the timer undercuts my exploration. I have left Outer Wilds’ galaxy feeling as much exhaustion as satisfaction, but also with a list of several enchanting interstellar moments."

Echoes of the Eye is expected to launch on September 28, 2021 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC players through Steam and Epic Games Store. 

Stray Trailer Shares New Gameplay Details And Slight Delay

BlueTwelve Studio walked us through its cat-centric game, Stray, during the Annapurna Interactive Showcase today. The new trailer focuses on the game’s protagonist and world, including a look at one friendly little drone, and breaks the news that Stray will now launch in early 2022 on PlayStation 5, Playstation 4, and PC.

Though the game seems poised to become an indie darling, probably fueled by the internet’s well-documented love of cats, we didn’t know much about Stray before today. First shown at Sony’s PlayStation event last summer, Stray’s announcement trailer communicated two things very well. One, Stray has a cat in it – that sometimes wears a tiny backpack. Two, the game’s fearless feline inhabits a grim cityscape populated by mechanical beings. Humanity, it seems – if several graffiti messages in the trailer are any indication – has met with some unkind end. Between the game's intriguing, though foreboding, world and its adorable character, we were eager to see more.

Luckily, today’s showcase was happy to oblige. Stray’s new trailer explains the game's lead has been separated from its family. Lost and hurt, it makes its way through a hostile and unfamiliar metropolis just trying to survive. The player will experience this through the cat's eyes. Whether it's crossing a lake of toxic sludge or finding a way past whirling fan blades of death, it looks for a while like you'll be left alone to fend for yourself. Until B-12 appears.

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B-12 is a small drone that will let you interact with the mysterious city around you and communicate with the locals. Hovering helpfully above the ground, the drone will aid you with everything from picking up objects to fighting.  Apart from introducing B-12, the trailer shows off a few of the game’s puzzles and some rooftop action, giving us a better idea of Stray’s moment-to-moment gameplay. We are also introduced to Doc, a handy-looking robot occupied by thoughts of his son, that might have an important role to play in your adventure.

Stray's new 2022 release window is announced near the end of the video. This is a bit disappointing considering the game’s initial trailer said Stray would be out in 2021. However, it is not the first game to get pushed out of 2021, and it probably won’t be the last. 

Interview: Skin Deep Offers A Weird FPS Experience Where Cats Are In Charge

What do you get when you have a team that just really wants to make a really weird shooter? A really weird shooter where cats are in charge. That's exactly what the team over at Blendo Games is doing, under the publishing umbrella of Annapurna Interactive, with its newest title called Skin Deep. There's sneezing, there is getting weird stuff stuck to the bottom of your feet, and there is the need to survive while trying to escape a group of pirates after being frozen on a cargo ship by an insurance firm run by ... cats. Yeah. 

We sat down with Brendon Chung, the head of Blendo Games, to talk more about the studio's latest title. Coming off of creating some wild experiences like Atom Zombie Smasher, Thirty Flights of Loving, and more, Skin Deep fits right into the growing library of oddball experiences that are just about having fun. Not every game has to have a billion subplots, not everything needs to be super complicated to be enjoyed. With Skin Deep, it's about having fun, the thrill of a shootout, and not taking life too seriously. 

So what is Skin Deep? It's a world where insurance corporations keep valuables safe, including people, they free you and store you into cargo starships. That's you. You're frozen. Everything is fine and dandy until a group of pirates decide to board the ship and throw everything into mayhem. It's up to you as the player to unthaw and throw yourself into the chaos using weapons and good 'ol fashioned stealth to try to survive in this sandbox. It's goofy but also challenging, providing the perfect blend of gameplay styles to make Skin Deep stand out. 

So where does inspiration like this come from? "I grew up playing a lot of FPS games," Chung tells us. "I got my start making a game by doing maps for like Doom, Quake, Half-Life - things like that. So I've done a lot of FPS stuff, story games like Gravity Bone, but I haven't done anything where you just straight-up shoot people. A traditional FPS game and I love this genre, so I wanted to make it, and I did."

Chung continues, saying, "For me, I am a big Far Cry 2 booster, I just like how games like that play. I kept thinking this is like, playing an FPS for the first time. This is great stuff. So I kind of wanted to play with different ideas of like, what FPS could do like what I've always wanted to see an FPS and like, what are things we could do with a player body? And what are the things that a player's body can be and do and smell like? I just wanted to play with those ideas with questions like 'What are they? What do they felt like this?'"

He also adds that there is one additional component that he hopes players enjoy: "Oh, you can smell those games, which we're very proud of. We have tech that lets you climb into a trash chute and get ejected into outer space. And then when you kind of float out of space and climb back into the ship, there's a big message it says you are smelly, and then you will waft out green smell clouds from your body. And bad guys will smell you and they will track you down by your green smell clouds. And we have different systems for getting yourself clean again. So we're very excited to let people play with this."

The smell component is just one of the many oddities this game has, including the "sneeze system" that builds up when crawling through ventilation shops in an effort to play around with all of the things a body can do in-game. It's pretty interesting, and definitely a unique venture! Check it out in the trailer below to see for yourself how it all works: 

Click here to watch embedded media

With Annapurna, as a publisher, doing so much to increase visibility for indies in the gaming space, I wanted to find out exactly how Chung feels about the current spotlight given to independent studios. "I used to work in the AAA space for about five years," he tells Game Informer.  "And then in 2010, I went independent. And I think from my experience, I always feel that whenever I release anything, is just a giant crapshoot. I think sometimes things catch on, sometimes things don't. Like, sometimes I'll play a game that's like, really, really good. And then I'll read a report later that, like, this game didn't really sell very well. I'm like, what:? How did this happen? And I'm gonna be honest, I don't fully understand. I mean, I think part of it is just that there are just so many games out there. And, there's so much free stuff now.  I couldn't play this, this incredibly well-made game that's totally free, and I don't need to pay any money for it."

He adds, "There are a lot of new things happening. There are lots of like, free stuff for game pass stuff or whatever. So I think there's definitely a lot of things to figure out. I think my general approach to making stuff is that some things catch on, some things don't. And because there's just so much stuff out there. Sometimes things just kind of get lost in the wind. I think we're making something really cool. So I'm hoping I think the best I can hope for usually is like I hope this finds the audience of people that like this kind of thing. That was something like funny and lighter and like plays with ideas. But I think beyond that there are some things are sometimes like out of our control, which is a bummer, but I don't know."

We don't mean to alarm you, dear reader, but games are - in fact - hard to make. I know! Crazy, right? But they are! And that's something Chung talks about, as well. "I think that one thing that sometimes doesn't always get through [to people] is that games are hard to make and that when you want to make a game, you have to create each bit, you have to make all the parts of it. I think it can sometimes feel to some people that like, oh, you think I could just make this game in three months and it actually will take you two years, or whatever. But I think sometimes it's hard to understand that. It's not just like putting a puzzle where you put the pieces down, it's more of you don't know where the straight line goes, if it's even a straight line. It's more like a very, very squiggly line of like, 'ok, let's try this.' So it's a lot of different ideas that you first have to try and fail. And then you find the thing that works. And I think when people say yeah, I can make this in three months they might not be wrong, but coming up with all of these ideas and making them work takes a lot longer than that."

Skin Deep will be on Steam only, though future platform releases are being considered.