Sign of a coming trend? Square Enix porting Tomb Raider to next-gen consoles

Brace yourself… the next-gen ports are coming. Square Enix is kicking off the madness with a PS4/XBONE port of their critically acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot. The game sold over 4 million copies across PS3, Xbox 360, and PC platforms, yet Square Enix has been notoriously displeased with the game’s sales totals. Their solution? Give next-gen console owners one more opportunity to buy it.

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Tomb Raider already looks great. Why does it need to look better, Square?

Details are scarce, but Amazon Italy listed a “Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition” that was recently taken down from the site. Just how definitive this upcoming is remains to be seen. If it’s all right with you, I’ll go ahead and forecast upgraded visuals, new bonus content, and possibly some free DLC. You okay with that? No? You want improved multiplayer? Don’t we all…

Much as I loved Tomb Raider, I don’t want to see barrel-loads of PS3 and Xbox 360 ports next year. I’ve beyond had it with HD remakes of games I played ten years ago. Now we’re talking next-gen makeovers of nine-month-old games? Please, somebody cut my thumbs off.

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Top 5 Tuesday: Launch Games

PS4 has already taken off to the tune of over a million shipped units, and we’re just days away from the latest in ESPN entertainme–er, Xbox One. While we’re caught between console launches, it’s worth reflecting on the greatest launch games I’ve ever played. I’ll be honest with you: this is dangerously close to being a Top 5 Mario list, and heavy hitters like Halo and Soul Calibur are absent. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Wii Sports, and NFL 2K missed the cut as well. So what made my list?

Well, since you asked…

5. Sonic Adventure (DC)

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If you were man enough to endure the Amy and Big segments, SA1 gave one hell of a finale.

Why not kick things off with something controversial? The original Sonic Adventure may be the most polarizing game in the series, possibly even in the entire Dreamcast library. You either love the intense speed of Sonic and Tails’ levels, or your hate the impossible-to-wrangle camera. You either welcome Knuckles and Gamma’s levels as fresh breaks in the formula, or you knock the game for Amy and Big the Cat’s dreadful quests. You either play proud parent to your Chao or cast off the minigame like a black sheep. As for me, I side with the former parts of those three statements. Give me Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Gamma, and Chao Gardens. And let’s pretend Big’s fishing levels never happened, cool?

4. Super Mario Bros. (NES)

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Nothing owned my childhood soul like Lakitu in World 8-2.

I’m not even going to mention the game’s greater impact. I love the original Super Mario Bros. for what it is: a simple-yet-rich platformer with enough secrets to drown in. World 8 is still one of the high points in the series, and to this day I still shiver at the sight of the Hammer Bros. sprites. The game welcome multiple playthroughs and speed runs, and if that weren’t enough, mess around in the Minus World or try beating every Bowser with fireballs (a bonus requirement in the Gameboy Color re-release).

3. Super Mario World (SNES)

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Nothing beats swallowing a blue shell.

Though many consider Super Mario Bros. 3 the apex of 2D platforming, I don’t even consider it the best 2D Mario. World does everything Mario 3 does, then scales it up for the hefty gentleman: bigger levels, bigger secrets, bigger green dinosaur companions. Sure, you lose out on a few zany power-ups, but in their place you get Yoshi and all his gameplay wrinkles–the extra layer of protection, three different special forms, and those daring hop-off jumps. And let’s not forget that the madness that is the Special World. Mondo? Tubular? Groovy? Right on, dude.

2. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

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Though some argue that the sword controls felt tacked-on, I was too damn happy to care.

If you were an early Wii adopter, you either owned Twilight Princess or had nothing great to play for roughly a year. For a series filled with magic moments, Zelda never felt more incredible to me than the first time I swung a sword with my Wii remote. Waving the controller back and forth for slices and slashes was my first and favorite taste of motion-sensing immersion. Then came aiming arrows, shaking the nunchuck for spin attacks, thrusting the nunchuck for shield bashes–and those are just the controls. Once you nail them down, throw on your green tunic and embark on one of the meatiest, grittiest Zelda quests, complete with nine dungeons, six or seven of which are superb.

1. Super Mario 64 (N64)

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The Michael Jordan of Platformers

Forget for a second what Super Mario 64 means to gaming and 3D gaming in particular. All impact aside, this is still the best 3D platformer on earth. From circling to the top of King Bob-omb’s mountain to grabbing Bowser by the tail and chucking him into the final spiked ball, you won’t find a better run and jump experience in the realm of 3D. Each level was a game in itself, and the straightforward platforming of the Bowser stages kept things fresh. Then you have the time-shaving slide levels (Why couldn’t there be a dozen of these?), the Koopa races, the frantic Rainbow Ride, the tweakable Tick-Tock Clock, the lava surfing, the wildly creative enemies, the Wing Cap, the damned monkey, the endless stairs… the list never ends.

Killer Instinct hits Xbox One in unfinished form

If you like your games, well… complete, then you might want to hold off on downloading the XBONE revival of Rareware’s classic fighter. As it stands now, Killer Instinct offers only training, survival, and two-player online modes (and from what I’ve read, the online duels do not allow spectators). That’s it. No arcade mode and no story mode, although Double Helix Games has promised the latter.

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Under construction: please use left lane.

 

Oddly enough, KI offers more download options than gameplay modes:

  • A free-to-play version that limits you to playing with one single character, Jugo (essentially a demo).
  • Additional characters will run you $5 each.
  • $20 will score you all six release-day characters and two more characters to be added later.
  • $40 gets you the Ultra edition, which includes the eight aforementioned characters and–for your extra $20–two versions of the original 1994 Killer Instinct.

If you’re keeping score at home, you can enjoy an unfinished next-gen fighter and two versions of a twenty-year-old arcade game for forty bucks. And you thought you’d have to wait till Black Friday for outrageous deals…

 

Sony addresses PS4’s lack of MP3/CD support

Last Friday, I discussed the PS4’s surprising lack of MP3 and CD support and suggested that the lack of audio-play options was part of a devious plan to to boost Sony’s Music Unlimited service.

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PS4 owners won’t be limited much longer.

Earlier this week Sony President Shuhei Yoshida responded to fans’ threats to cancel their PS4 pre-orders, promising that Sony was already working on implementing MP3 playback. He even directly addressed fans’ suspicion regarding Music Unlimited:

“It’s not like we actively decided ‘let’s not do this [MP3/CD] feature so people will have to subscribe to Music Unlimited.’ The focus has been more on the game features. Some of the features we wanted but we couldn’t get in on day one.”

I can buy that to an extent. Game-related features should rank higher on the totem pole. Can’t blame Sony there. Yet at the same time, let’s not forget that the PS4 Ultimate FAQ originally said that the system would not play CDs or MP3s. Period. Not until consumers backlashed did Yoshida and company scramble for solutions.

Whether or not Sony is greedy or lazy is no longer the issue here. Instead we’re seeing a company that responds to the requests and complaints of its customers–even if took the threat of pre-order cancellations.

Let’s just hope Sony continues to prove responsive with no more pre-orders left to cancel.

Sony president blames overworked journalists for low PS4 game scores

I never thought I’d miss the days whencompanies would address weak launch lineups by promising that great games were on the way. Waiting is no fun, but it beats listening to excuses like the ones Sony president Shuhei Yoshida made in this Gamesindustry article.

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While addressing the low review scores that have dogged PS4 launch titles, Yoshida insisted that part of the reason behind the disappointing grades is an overworked gaming media:

“[W]ith this launch there are lots of games coming out, so the media must be very busy going through the games quickly, and especially since the online functionality wasn’t ready until in the last couple days. So we have to look at how much time they spend on what aspect of the games and how that may be contributing to some of the lower scores.”

Translation: We wanted to release the PS4 before the holiday season, but we didn’t prepare any killer aps for the system’s launch. Instead of admitting to another disappointing launch lineup, we’ll just blame the gaming media for having opinions.

It gets better. After throwing the gaming media under the bus, Yoshida said:

“I totally enjoyed playing through [KillzoneKnack and Resogun]. I’m now on my second run of Knack and Resogun at a higher difficulty – these games really grow on you when you play more.”

Translation: We can’t offer any standout games at this time. Please play through these launch titles repeatedly until then. Maybe you’ll enjoy these games once you’ve coped with the disappointment.

Now, obviously Yoshida is a company guy, and he’s going to make statements to support his company. That’s fine, but his claims sound thin, and not just because Japan tends to dislike shooters like Killzone. I can’t prove whether or not he enjoyed the aforementioned games as much as he claims, but at the same time I can’t buy the idea of a company president having the time to play through three games, two if them twice. Shouldn’t he be more concerned with… oh, I dunno, the business aspects surrounding the launch of his company’s new landmark product?

The bottom line here is Yoshida making excuses. There’s no need to get defensive of a weak launch lineup–people are going to buy the new next-gen systems regardless of the quality of the launch lineup. What Yoshida should be doing is addressing the issue with a forward-thinking attitude. Emphasize a exciting upcoming title or two. Remind us that we’ll want a PS4 now so we’re prepared to play Metal Gear and Infamous when they release.

But don’t go after reviewers for telling it like it is. C’mon now.

Final Fantasy spinoff Bravely Default scores US release date

If you’re craving an RPG that looks like Final Fantasy IX and plays like Final Fantasy V, then grab your 2014 calendar and circle February 7th. Bravely Default, a spiritual sequel to 2010’s Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light, seeks to revive the days of crystal hunting and turn-based battling on the 3DS.

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Save up enough Brave Points and you can spray enemies with arrows.

Though I tend to be skeptical about gorgeous Square Enix games these days, Bravely Default won a lot of critical praise at the time of its Japanese release last year. The game’s battle system echoes that of classic RPGs: attack, magic, and building characters through a job system. However, it’s 2013–we need a twist, don’t we? Well, pay attention: Every action consumes a certain amount of “Brave Points,” which can be hoarded for the sake of combo barrages. How you manage your consumption of Brave Points determines the flow and success of battles, and you can even get excessive and final your point tally in the negatives. Check the second-half of the video below for some battle footage:

Bravely Default erupted over Japan’s sales charts last year, selling 140,000 copies in its first week. Our Asian friends are getting an updated version of the game on December 5th, which offers some gameplay tweaks and a significant cut-down on game length (a dip from fifty to thirty hours). In true class-RPG tradition, us English-speaking folk will receive this “easier” edition when the game hits the West in December (Europe/Australia) and February (US).

Top 5 Tuesday: PS3 Exclusives

It’s not time to embalm the PS3, but let’s face it: we’re three days away from PS3 passing the torch to a new generation of console gaming. But no need for tears and tissues: PS3 ain’t going anywhere, and there are still some rockin’ games in its future (Lords of Shadow 2, anyone?). So rather than celebrating the end, I’m celebrating the era and checking the rearview mirror for my five favorite games that were exclusive to PS3.

This is an awkward list because a lot of my favorite PS3 games are multi-platform. Arkham City and Fallou 3 would probably top a non-exclusive list… Just goes to show how picking the right console these days is more about the console itself than exclusive games.

5. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

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Derailed train? Or largest ladder in the history of gaming? You decide.

You could make an argument about the various game franchises that defined PS1 and PS2, and your answers would boil down to Final Fantasy or Resident Evil for PS1 and either Grand Theft Auto or Metal Gear for Sony’s sequel system. But nothing defined PS3 like the Uncharted series, which initially seemed to come out of nowhere. The first game in the series was fun but raw, then Among Thieves took everything top shelf with a movie-like presentation, immersive action and climbing, and a witty cast of characters.

Uncharted for me has always felt like Resident Evil 4 on three cups of coffee. The third person shooting happens faster, and all the jumping and rolling picks up the pace. It also helps that the storytelling moves at a frantic pace and the game doesn’t get bogged down in weapon assembly/customization like a lot of shooters do these days.

Favorite moment: The snowy train ride, particularly the part where you have to shoot out the logs from beneath a burly, invulnerable soldier. That eureka moment when you realize you can shoot the strap is gold.

4. Tales of Graces f (2012)

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Graces is at its best when you’re slaying beasts. Now if only you could slay half the main cast…

Cliched storylines and cheesy characters are forgivable when you have one of the best JRPG battle systems at your disposal. Graces did the unthinkable and one-upped Symphonia’s masterful combat by incorporating a snappy block-and-dodge system and combo chains for extra strategy. Graces’ combat is so exhilarating that I’m not going to write two exhaustive paragraphs criticizing the obnoxiously obnoxious female cast or the overbeaten theme of friendship.

I swear. Watch. I’m moving on to #3…

3. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011)

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Things get shifty early on in Uncharted 3. Then it explodes off into gunplay and outrageous climbing puzzles.

Take Uncharted 2, improve the bland melee combat, provide another gripping storyline, juice up the multiplayer, and you have Drake’s Deception. Though the level design and plot get utterly ridiculous at times, it’s the most fun game in the series. The postmodern intro with Nate and Sully faking their deaths outside a bar remains one of my favorite intro scenes in recent memory. From there Naughty Dog lumped on 12 more hours of action and enough Nate/Sully banter to keep me grinning for days.

2. Ninja Gaiden Sigma (2007)

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Sure, it looks like Ryu’s kicking ass, but there are about two dozen Game Overs waiting to happen.

I’m cheating a little. Ninja Gaiden appeared twice on the original Xbox, but last I checked Sigma is a PS3 exclusive. Don’t like having a remake of a remake on this list? Fine, scroll back up to the top and ask for a refund.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma earns a high ranking for its poetic combat feel and brutal difficulty. Whereas Devil May Cry feels too clunky and God of War feels too chaotic, Ninja Gaiden nails combat with a blend of offense and defense that requires timing, memorization, and strategy. Oddly enough, I love playing defense in Ninja Gaiden almost as much as slicing and dicing. Hold down L1 and move the control stick to roll away from danger and set up anything from a flying decapitation to a wall jump combo. Relentless fun.

1. Valkyria Chronicles (2008)

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Though you can slip around a tank in most Strategy RPGs, VC will make you pay in it’s real-time segments.

I can’t name a more original JRPG from the past generation. Valkyria Chronicles somehow combines real-time strategy with turn-based strategy and manages to execute compelling, challenging gameplay with only four different character classes. The fusion of simplicity and complexity proves mindblowing, and the storyline contains one of the most genuinely gutwrenching moments of any RPG I’ve played. Oh, and the characters are likable–from the main cast all the way down to the army recruits who are loaded with as much personality as ammo.

If you own a PS3 and haven’t touched this one yet, do so. It’s like $15 on Amazon.