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Heat wants to be Red Dead Online for the PC, but the developer has a troubled history

Rockstar Games’ decision not to bring Red Dead Redemption 2 to the PC has left a bit of a vacuum on Steam. For fans of the most powerful and flexible gaming platform who want to ride horses and wield six-shooters, there really isn’t a viable alternative right now. Later this month the team from Codehatch hopes to rectify that situation with a Western-themed MMO called Heat.

Early footage looks OK, with decent lighting and functional, if somewhat blocky, character models. The video trailer itself is suitably bizarre, tailor-made for fans of sandbox sims like Scum and Rust. For instance, rarely have I seen this many diapered babies inside a log cabin before in a video game.

Looks can be deceiving, however. This particular developer has a notorious reputation of promising the moon to eager fans, and then delivering a pile of rocks instead. Heat will be Codehatch’s third major release. Both its previous titles — Starforge and Reign of Kings — were effectively disasters. So why should consumers trust them with their money for a third time?

Canada-based Codehatch burst onto the independent scene in 2013 with an early version of Starforge, its first game. Funded in part through a successful IndieGoGo campaign that earned more than $135,000, Starforge is described as a “sci fi survival sandbox” on the official website. There are mechanics for crafting, building, and forming parties with other players. Most intriguing, it promises a “fully infinite procedural world.”

The game was in many ways ahead of its time. Even Codehatch’s peers in the Independent Games Festival recognized its potential, naming it a finalist in the technical excellence category in 2013.

An interview with Rock Paper Shotgun from around that time makes the team out to be a bunch of rebels. Co-founder William Sworin goes on a bit of a tangent about game developers having “untold stories and unexplored worlds trapped inside our minds” while deriding AAA developers who “dumbed down or removed features to cut costs.”

“They use tricks to keep us playing a game long after its novelty has long since depleted,” Sworin continued, “instead of making the costly decision to provide new content. They put franchises we love in the hands of people who view games solely as an instrument of profit. We will not rest until this changes.”

Codehatch’s track record of hyping games and then effectively abandoning those projects paints very much the opposite story.

Over the course of 2014, it seems that Starforge was rushed onto Steam. The 1.0 version left many underwhelmed, as it remained full of bugs and unfinished features. Not long after, rumors began to swirl that key members of the development team had left, and that Codehatch itself was running out of money.

After several years on the market, Starforge’s Steam storefront was filled to bursting with negative reviews. Long-time supporters called the game a scam, and even launched a largely ineffectual petition demanding their money back. By 2017, the game itself was removed from sale on Steam and released for free on Codehatch’s own website.

In the interim, the developer appears to have moved on to a separate project called Reign of Kings. The game has a surprisingly similar set of features to Starforge, including survival mechanics, base building, and crafting. But, also like Starforge, the game itself appears to remain unfinished.

It’s telling that the first video on its official website, nearly four full years after its release, is for its alpha reveal way back to 2015.

The reviews right now on Steam are mostly negative. Only 49 percent of owners who wrote a review in the last 30 days had anything positive to say at all. Meanwhile, most acknowledged that development on the game seems to have stopped entirely.

From a Steam review dated Jan. 9: “This game is a waste of money, time, desk space, resources and definitely developers. It’s an unfinished product, lacks too many features to even address, end of subject. (It’s been abandoned by the devs for a year(?) now and you’d only enjoy it in the very beginning when you haven’t learned anything about it.)”

From another review, dated Jan. 7: “It’s funny how Codehatch makes reskins of this game over and over and never develop one, just a cash grab scheme …”

After two games that left fans frustrated and unsatisfied, Codehatch is now spooling up for yet another new release.

Heat is aimed squarely at fans of Red Dead Online, Rockstar Games’ multiplayer version of Red Dead Redemption 2. According to its Steam page, the game sounds an awful lot like Codehatch’s two previous survival sandbox titles. Even Heat’s biggest hook, the ability to rise up the ranks to become President of the United States of America, is eerily similar to the feudal systems it attempted in Reign of Kings.

Polygon has reached out to the team at Codehatch multiple times over the last few weeks to learn more about the project. So far, we’ve received no response. The game was expected to launch in December, but has since been delayed until later this month.

Maybe the third time’s the charm here for Codehatch. We’ll know more when the game actually launches on Steam.


The Master Chief Collection Is What Happens When A Studio Doesn’t Give Up On A Game

It’s now taken as gospel that the future of a game isn’t written in stone when it first comes out. Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six Siege rebounded from a lackluster launch, hampered in large part by its grinding, fragmented progression system, into one of the most successful shooters on PC right now. No Man’s Sky released bereft of a lot of the features players felt led to believe would be in the game, like multiplayer, only for last year’s NEXT update to make feel like a new (and much better) game. Fortnite went from being a cooperative tower-defense shooter most people didn’t care about to a battle royale sensation.

Master Chief Collection never made a similarly triumphant return, but it is a far better game than when it launched. In the four years since it debuted it’s become one of the better examples of how it’s never too late to get things right. Microsoft could have simply abandoned it in favor of people playing the old games through the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility program but didn’t. The collection is now arguably worth owning an Xbox One for, assuming you like Halo of course, and is now the basis for a series of big Halo 3 throwback tournaments taking place throughout 2019. It was a long time coming.

Master Chief Collection launched back in November 2014. It had been two years since Halo 4, the first numbered game after 343 Industries inherited the series from Bungie, and one year since the launch of the Xbox One. The collection was Microsoft’s effort to take the legacy of the old games and neatly package it for a new console generation so that classic Halo multiplayer could live on throughout the 2010s. There was just one problem. The collection’s online component was broken.

On launch day, Kotaku’s then deputy editor, Tina Amini, tried to play a match of Capture the Flag but was instead greeted by a nearly 30 minute wait during matchmaking. Other players reported similar wait times as well going entire matches with incomplete teams on both sides. 343 Industries acknowledged the initial problems, and promised things would get better, but the issues persisted, compounded by weird bugs and occasional crashes. Two weeks later things were still a mess. By the following month, 343 Industries was still trying to address these issues with subsequent issues. Matchmaking times improved on average but not for everyone, and once matches completed the game seemed intent on always breaking existing parties apart and sending everyone back to a new queue.

By mid-December 343 Industries head Bonnie Ross was calling the experience “humbling” in a letter to fans. She thanked them for sticking with the game up to that point, and promised players one free month of Xbox Live Gold, an exclusive in-game nameplate and avatar, and future content, like new maps and eventually the Halo 3: ODST campaign, as free updates. But the game was far from turning a corner on the multiplayer front. In late January of 2015, 343 Industries announced players could sign-up to beta test the game’s next update aimed at solving its wonky multiplayer. In terms of sound, music, and visuals, Master Chief Collection was arguably the definitive repository for the old Halo single-player campaigns, but as a platform for reviving the series’ classic multiplayer, it was a bust.

Even though that portion of the game moderately improved over the first 100 days, it was still in an unacceptable state. Parties would still disband at times for seemingly no reason and hits would occasionally not register in Halo 1 and 2 matches, in addition to general connectivity problems worse than most other online games. 343 Industries inability to right the ship in a reasonable time frame led plenty of people, including diehard Halo fans, to write the collection off as just the latest in a growing trend of games launching before they should.

Still, 343 Industries kept working on the collection. Even though it wasn’t really a game-as-a-service like Destiny or The Division, with regular updates, Microsoft still treated it like one. Major updates came in March, April, and May of 2015, continuing to reduce matchmaking times, rooting out bugs that caused some players to deal extra damage and others to deal none at all, and increasing the accuracy of matchmaking based on skill so teams were less lopsided.

Spurred on by the launch of the Xbox One X, 343 Industries announced in the fall of 2017 that it was going to really clean house on Master Chief Collection’s multiplayer architecture, helped in part by an extensive beta program starting in the beginning of 2018. In effect, rather than putting more bandaids on the game, the studio was going to rebuild its online portion through big updates to the game’s underlying engine. It was finally implemented in the game in the summer of 2018 in a whopping 73 GB update after months of quiet, unrushed play testing. It worked. No more dropped matches. No more obnoxious queue times. No more weird breakdowns or glitches when trying to go from a multiplayer match in one Halo to a matchmaking in a playlist in another.

Microsoft added The Master Chief collection to its subscription download service Game Pass last September.

We see studios collapse, games launch and fail, or get canceled altogether, a lot. It can still be surprising when, without much fanfare or hype, one of them gets resurrected from the dead and turned into what everyone always hoped it would be.

343 Industries is still tinkering around with and improving Halo: MCC, the latest fruits of which arrived in the game’s January update earlier this week. More aim options, additional skulls for the single-player campaigns, and a freshening up of some of the match playlists. At this point it’s hard to think of any other shooter series as pivotal as Halo that’s been preserved an revitalized in the same way. Hopefully it doesn’t stay that way for long.


How Resident Evil 2 fell apart, then became one of Capcom’s biggest hits

[Ed. note: Since 2014, Alex Aniel has been working on a book chronicling the history behind his favorite series, Resident Evil. Looking back at the franchise’s development history from the earliest days, the book — planned as two volumes — folds in interviews with many of the key figures who worked behind the scenes at Capcom.

Aniel isn’t planning to release the first volume — titled An Itchy, Tasty History of Resident Evil: 1994-2006 (Vol. 1) — until later this year. But to celebrate today being the 21st anniversary of Resident Evil 2’s release, he has put together a preview of the book in the form of an excerpt looking back on the creation of RE2. It’s a story about staff changes, failed experiments, and extraordinary success. And it starts with the promotion of game director Hideki Kamiya.]

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Capcom released games that achieved respectable sales. Mega Man and Street Fighter did not light sales charts on fire in 1987, particularly compared to the success stories of other companies like Nintendo and Sega, but they performed well enough for Capcom to release sequels that put these franchises on the map. Mega Man 2, believed by many to be the best in the series, outsold the original and became a global million-seller. The success of Street Fighter 2 was even more remarkable: it blew the first game so far away that the original is barely a footnote in Capcom history.

Compared to Mega Man and Street Fighter, the first Resident Evil was a more immediate success, putting it ahead of Capcom’s historical curve. Resident Evil 2 was thus born. For Capcom to maintain its momentum in the newly christened survival horror genre, though, Resident Evil 2 had to be better than its predecessor, much like Mega Man 2 and Street Fighter 2. The team wanted the sequel to be what James Cameron’s Aliens was to its predecessor, Alien: more groundbreaking and more ambitious.

Ideally, any video game sequel is propped up by the experience gained by its creators during the production of its predecessor. Creators aim to improve the quality for the sequel, usually adding new elements that were not previously possible due to time, technology, or budget constraints, all while expanding the scale to attain a better value proposition. However, even before Resident Evil 2 officially got off the ground, personnel shakeups at Capcom ensured that it would be created under a different environment than its predecessor.

Tokuro Fujiwara
Photo by Alex Aniel

The first change was the departure of Tokuro Fujiwara from Capcom in late 1995, before the original game was even released. Having been the grand master of Capcom’s console games since 1983 and a mentor to younger creators at the company, his departure marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Fujiwara’s decision to leave came down to his desire to make new and original games, something he says he would have been unable to do within Capcom. “Outside of Resident Evil, Capcom wanted to continue making franchise titles like Street Fighter. Meanwhile, I wanted to develop original games, but it didn’t look like there’d be any opportunity to do so in the foreseeable future,” Fujiwara says. Officially, he resigned from Capcom immediately after the release of Resident Evil, although in practice, he had stopped coming into the office in December 1995 in order to use up his accumulated vacation days, of which there were plenty given his 13-year tenure, which encompassed thousands of hours of amassed overtime and unused days off, a pattern that was prevalent at Capcom during these years.

Fujiwara went on to establish his own independent development studio, Whoopee Camp. There, he assembled a team to develop a 2D platformer for PlayStation called Tomba! (known as Tombi! in Europe), which was released in December 1997. While not a tremendous commercial success, it performed well enough to receive a sequel two years later called Tomba! 2: The Evil Swine Return (Tombi! 2 in Europe). Unfortunately, Fujiwara did not enjoy the same level of success at Whoopee Camp as he did at Capcom. Neither Tomba title sold well enough to sustain the costs of operating the company, and as a result, Fujiwara placed Whoopee Camp into dormancy. The company continued to exist, but was effectively inactive.

Fujiwara went on to work on a number of games as a freelance consultant, such as the 2001 survival horror game Extermination for PlayStation 2. He would reunite with Capcom for the first time in a decade in 2006 for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) platformer Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins, a remake of the game he created two decades earlier. Later, he would work with PlatinumGames on a beat-’em-up title called MadWorld as a designer in 2009. Afterwards, Fujiwara took a break from working on games for several years due to health reasons. After his recovery, he quietly returned to the games industry in 2015 as a consultant. To perform these jobs, Fujiwara brought Whoopee Camp out of dormancy; as of 2018, he is operating under the banner once again. His involvement in the Resident Evil series may have been brief in retrospect, but had it not been for his seven-year-long desire to bring a legitimate horror experience to video games and his ability to recognize the talents of Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil might not exist as we know it today. Mikami is often credited as the father of Resident Evil, but Fujiwara should certainly be considered its grandfather. With Resident Evil 2, grandfather was no longer around.

The other notable departure was that of Kenichi Iwao, the scenario writer for Resident Evil. Iwao joined Capcom in the early 1990s, after the release of Street Fighter 2, and he initially worked on games like the Super NES platformer Demon’s Crest. Whereas Fujiwara as executive producer was more influential behind the scenes, Iwao’s contributions to the series are more direct and tangible. Iwao created the core elements of the Resident Evil game universe, like the T-virus, Umbrella Corporation, S.T.A.R.S. members, zombies, the Tyrant, and all other enemies. He also wrote the game’s files, including the iconic line “Itchy. Tasty.” from the Keeper’s Diary. In Japanese, the line is written as kayui uma (かゆい うま), which is more or less a direct translation of “Itchy. Tasty.” The phrase has become a pop culture reference in Japan, as the word kayu is a homonym that means either “itchy” or “rice porridge,” while the word uma (うま) is a homonym meaning either “delicious” or “horse.” Thanks to Iwao, Japanese Resident Evil fans can occasionally make jokes about the game featuring some combination of delicious porridge, itchy porridge, delicious horse, or itchy horse.

Upon departing Capcom, Iwao returned to his hometown of Tokyo and joined Square, where he went on to direct Parasite Eve 2, the sequel to a Resident Evil-inspired survival horror game whose plot is based on a novel. He also worked on the scenarios for the massively multiplayer online RPGs Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV. It is difficult to imagine the Resident Evil universe without the framework Iwao created early on. His departure meant the Resident Evil 2 team would have to find a new scenario writer, which would have profound consequences on the game’s development.

Hideki Kamiya
Photo by Alex Aniel

Meanwhile, Shinji Mikami, now an established figure within Capcom thanks to his successful directing of Resident Evil, decided to take on a different role for the sequel as its producer, a task more involved with budgeting and project management than just working one’s creative juices. This meant having to choose someone else to direct Resident Evil 2. Mikami wanted to pass the baton over to a younger colleague in order to foster his or her professional and creative development. Among the many talented people on his team, Mikami took notice of a 25-year-old man named Hideki Kamiya who had recently joined the company.

Hailing from Matsumoto, Kamiya, like most creators, has his own humble beginnings. He became an avid gamer during his childhood, having owned an NES and played arcade games. He also enjoyed drawing. After graduating from university, Kamiya wanted to work in the games industry, leading him to apply for several companies. He received job offers from two major publishers: Capcom, for a designer position, and Namco, who wanted him as an artist. Ultimately, Kamiya chose the former, joining in April 1994. He was soon put through the motions, as most new hires in Japanese companies are during their first year. Following his job training, Kamiya performed entry-level tasks such as quality assurance and basic planning before joining the original Resident Evil team. There, Kamiya was a designer for certain environments in the Spencer Estate, though his most permanent contribution to the series’ lore was the naming of some of the characters, including Jill, Chris, Wesker, and the others. “I got the inspiration for their names from various media sources, including pornographic magazines,” Kamiya muses over dinner at an Osaka restaurant one rainy autumn evening in October 2017, when trying to remember exactly how he came up with their names.

Of course, Kamiya’s creative talents went beyond just naming characters, and Mikami soon took notice of his potential. Over drinks one night in mid-1994, Mikami told Kamiya, “You’re the dark horse of the new recruits. You’re either going to fail spectacularly, or you’re going to be a huge success.” While Kamiya admits he was fairly boisterous in his 20s, his colleagues universally describe him as diligent, thoughtful, and hardworking, traits that Mikami saw as vital to successfully leading a project. When it came time to choose a director for Resident Evil 2, Mikami called Kamiya into a meeting in spring 1996 to formalize the decision, much like Fujiwara had done to Mikami nearly three years earlier. Kamiya, for reasons even he himself claims not to understand to this day, was now the director of Resident Evil 2.

‘Resident Evil 1.5’ and the arrival of Noboru Sugimura

Survival horror games are not for everyone. Aside from being intended for mature audiences, their spookiness and haunting imagery require a certain level of mental preparedness, lest there be plenty of screaming and panicking. It was ironic, then, that Hideki Kamiya was now in the director’s seat for Resident Evil 2. Despite his newfound responsibility for overseeing the creative direction of the hyped sequel to the most successful horror game at the time, Kamiya was actually not, nor has he ever been, a fan of horror movies or games. He admits to being easily startled and having a soft stomach when it comes to violent and grotesque imagery, elaborating that even the gruesome death scenes in Resident Evil, from scenes of people being chewed by zombies to being decapitated by Hunters, can be far too much for him. However, Mikami chose him to direct Resident Evil 2, which meant that Kamiya needed to get over his distaste for horror, or else hand off the responsibility to someone who could. For the next two years, Kamiya would do his best to put on a brave face.

Unable to ever completely set aside his fear of horror, Kamiya decided that Resident Evil 2, while adhering to much of the core gameplay framework of its predecessor, would be more action-oriented. This direction was a reflection of his own preference for Hollywood action films. The original Resident Evil, as an early PlayStation title, neutered the combat abilities of its protagonists, resulting in a slow-paced action experience. With minor additions like automatic weapons and faster and more numerous enemies, Resident Evil 2 would largely abide by the original’s framework. But instead of an isolated mansion in the woods, the game would take place among the streets of Raccoon City. This meant more zombies on screen — as many as seven, in fact, which is more than double the maximum of three seen in the original. The sequel would star a new cast across two scenarios, including characters like officers Leon S. Kennedy and Marvin Branagh, civilians Ada Wong and Robert Kendo, young motorcyclist Elza Walker, and a teenage Sherry Birkin (most of their names were different earlier in production). Kamiya came up with unique and expansive scenarios for both Leon and Elza, much like the ones that set Jill and Chris apart in the original. Wanting Resident Evil 2 to stand on its own, Kamiya decided that the game would have few direct connections to the story of the original game, although they take place in the same universe.

With Resident Evil capturing gamers’ imaginations since 1996, the sequel garnered considerable media and consumer attention in both North America and Japan. Resident Evil 2 was shown publicly for the first time at the spring 1996 Tokyo Game Show. While it was still early in production, players could already see improvements in the graphics and gameplay. Hype began to build among fans and expectations grew high, which in turn added to much of the pressure felt by Kamiya and his team. There was also considerable pressure internally from Capcom management. Having averted the threat of bankruptcy with the success of the original game, Capcom was now in better shape, though still far from being in the clear. A mishap or two could send the company back into difficult times. Thus, Capcom could not afford to squander its momentum. Resident Evil 2 needed to be successful like Street Fighter 2 had been earlier in the decade. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1996, Kamiya’s team continued to develop the environments, scenario, and gameplay system. They managed to complete about 70 percent of development by the end of that year.

Yoshiki Okamoto
Photo by Alex Aniel

As it neared completion, Resident Evil 2 now had to pass inspection by Yoshiki Okamoto, just like the original in late 1995. Resident Evil had actually been in rough shape when he took over for Tokuro Fujiwara as its executive producer, but Okamoto turned out to be even more dissatisfied with the status of Resident Evil 2. Notably, the visual premise, with its overly bright neon-lit environments and emphasis on Hollywood action elements, seemed to run contrary to an authentic horror experience. Simply put, the game was not very scary. There were also a plethora of other personnel issues impeding on the project, which Mikami attributed in a 1998 interview in the book Research on Biohazard 2 -final edition- to the high number of young, relatively inexperienced developers on the team.

The story also proved to be a more tremendous hurdle than anyone could have expected. Okamoto felt the plot and writing were particularly subpar and uninteresting, with the game as a whole lacking originality. The Resident Evil series was Capcom’s first game in which the plot was an important part of the universe. The Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Ghosts ’n Goblins series all had simple stories with little dialogue. For those games, the stories might as well not be there. The team’s goals for Resident Evil 2 were thus unprecedented in Capcom history. Kamiya had taken charge of the story after Iwao left, carefully trying to work within Iwao’s framework while injecting his own style. However, Kamiya’s lack of real experience in scenario writing was evident. In its present state, Resident Evil 2 was nowhere close to becoming the Aliens that Capcom originally set out to create.

The team needed to modify the scenario, but no one else at the company had a credible replacement. Capcom thus decided to look outside of the company for help. Okamoto decided to get in touch with Noboru Sugimura, a well-known writer in Japan who by 1996 held an impressive two-decade pedigree for his work on Japanese television shows such as Super Sentai Zyuranger (adapted for the West as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) and Kamen Rider (adapted for the West as Saban’s Masked Rider). Sugimura happened to be a fan of the first game, so he accepted Okamoto’s invitation. In late 1996, Sugimura visited Capcom’s Tokyo office to meet with Mikami and Kamiya, who were visiting from Capcom HQ in Osaka.

Sugimura played Capcom’s latest build of Resident Evil 2. Upon finishing, he immediately offered Mikami and Kamiya his feedback. Sugimura, as a writer, believed that the story lacked both depth and thematic coherence, which he emphasized were key elements to creating a universe that would be engaging for gamers while surpassing what Capcom already achieved with the first game. The idea of “thematic coherence” was particularly vital to Sugimura, who lambasted Kamiya for creating a story without any ties to the original. “That’s terrible! You need to create a proper link between the two games!” Sugimura exclaimed. Sugimura believed that if Resident Evil was to evolve into a full-fledged game brand, then the games needed to be tied together in a manner that was deeper than what Capcom was used to doing with the Mega Man and Street Fighter series, which did not depend on their minimalist plots to define their identities as game franchises. Sugimura proposed the provocative idea of having the team cease development of the current build and begin anew. Mikami and Kamiya could not make the decision during this meeting. They told Sugimura they would discuss it with their team and get back to him.

Shinji Mikami
Photo by Alex Aniel

After the meeting, Mikami and Kamiya rode the bullet train for the three-hour journey back to Osaka. During the ride, the two discussed Sugimura’s feedback. While he was quite negative about the game, they agreed that Sugimura had raised many valid points that were difficult to ignore. This was the moment when Mikami and Kamiya realized what they needed to do: the existing build of Resident Evil 2 would need to be completely overhauled, and they would need to bring Sugimura aboard to steer the ship in the right direction. Such a drastic move would result in a year-long delay, which was still a long period of time in the PlayStation era. While a game created on schedule might take anywhere from three to five years to complete today, in the 1990s such long development periods were less common and often a sign of troubled production. Regardless of the lost productivity and financial impact on Capcom, Mikami and Kamiya had made up their minds. Okamoto analyzed Sugimura’s feedback, much of which mirrored Okamoto’s initial concerns. Okamoto backed Mikami and Kamiya, thus making the decision official: Resident Evil 2 was to be scrapped, delayed, and re-created. “We decided to cancel it because we knew it wouldn’t meet the expectations of players,” Okamoto says.

When asked about his feelings the moment Resident Evil 2 was officially canceled and whether he had any particular regrets about the experience, Kamiya unambiguously argues that starting over was the correct decision. “It truly was a piece of shit. It was boring, devoid of vision, and a poor excuse for a horror game,” Kamiya colorfully describes. Armed with a strong choice of words, Kamiya appears steadfast and confident in a way that only someone with the requisite experience could be. “To be honest, I was actually relieved when we canceled the game,” Kamiya admits. “It was my first time sitting in the director’s seat, so I was quite inexperienced. I like to experiment with different ideas to see what works and what does not. Another thing that contributed to the failure of the game was my lack of vision. I do not usually have a specific vision going into a project. I like to experiment and see what sticks.” When asked if he ever considered resigning — an act not unheard of in Japan, where a single failure can prematurely end one’s career — Kamiya stoically says, “No, not at all.”

When news of the cancellation made rounds within Capcom, a number of team members were dismayed. One year of development time had gone down the drain, and team morale had sunk. Certain team members even went as far as to arrange private meetings with Mikami to request that Kamiya be replaced as director. Mikami was not remotely impressed with such requests. He would flip the tables on the members and challenge them by rhetorically asking, “Why don’t you direct the game, then?!” No one offered to step forward to take over as director. Kamiya’s position was safe — for the moment. For everyone, however, it was back to the drawing board. During round two, Kamiya could not just rest on his laurels. Another failed attempt would not be tolerated, even by Mikami, who was Kamiya’s cheerleader at Capcom and the sole figure who stood between Kamiya and the more discontented members of the team.

The initial version of Resident Evil 2 was now gone, although not forgotten. The developers assigned it the codename “Resident Evil 1.5” in order to differentiate it from the release version of Resident Evil 2 that they were now working on. The “1.5” is meant to reference the prototype’s development taking place between Resident Evil (“1”) and Resident Evil 2. Most games change between their initial conception and final release; such transformations are usually kept out of the public eye until a game is close to its release date. But because “Resident Evil 1.5” was prominently covered in game media prior to its reboot, Capcom recognizes and openly acknowledges its existence as a canceled Resident Evil 2 prototype. To Capcom, it serves as a testament to starting over from zero when the situation truly calls for it, and that games had evolved to the point where seeking outside assistance such as that of Sugimura could help improve a project’s fortunes and set it down a path not previously available. Its cancellation was also a pivotal point in Resident Evil history, because it was the first step in creating a sustained and interconnected narrative that endures to this day. Capcom also learned that not all of its games needed to follow the Mega Man or Street Fighter approach of having only loosely connected stories. Even some of the prototype’s development engine found new life later on in another action game, Onimusha: Warlords, which was released in 2001 for PlayStation 2.

A curated trailer of “Resident Evil 1.5” was included as a bonus with Japanese copies of Resident Evil: Director’s Cut Dual Shock Ver., which was released in August 1998 (after the final release of Resident Evil 2), giving fans a glimpse of what could have been. Fifteen years later in 2013, an incomplete but playable prototype demo managed to leak onto the internet. The game-modding community has attempted to transform the demo into a playable product that adheres to the development team’s original vision, with varying degrees of success. Although gamers might find the prototype an interesting relic of gaming history, Kamiya is unenthused by such efforts to bring “Resident Evil 1.5” back: “Honestly, no one needs to play through such a bad game.”

Resident Evil 2 (2019) - aiming at a zombie on the ceiling
Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake for PC, PS4, and Xbox One keeps the same structure as the original game, but overhauls the visuals and gameplay.

Kamiya strikes back: Resident Evil 2 rebooted

Having been recruited into the Resident Evil 2 team by Yoshiki Okamoto to steer the ship in the right direction, writer Noboru Sugimura wasted no time getting his feet wet. Recognizing the value that well-written stories brought to games, Okamoto established an independent company called Flagship Co., Ltd., in April 1997 for the purpose of developing game scenarios. With Okamoto in charge of the new company, Sugimura was designated as the head of scenario development. While technically working for a separate company outside of Capcom proper, Flagship and Sugimura were very much integrated into the Resident Evil 2 team and would have hands-on involvement with the project’s new direction.

First, Sugimura examined what could actually be salvaged from “Resident Evil 1.5” or otherwise repurposed for the new game. Although Resident Evil 2 was being redesigned from the ground up, not everything from “Resident Evil 1.5” was getting thrown to the wayside. Sugimura decided to reuse some character designs to suit the new direction. He als decided that someone from the cast of Resident Evil 2 should have direct ties to someone from the first game. As a result, he chose to replace Elza Walker with a similar but new character: 19-year-old Claire Redfield, who would serve as the younger sister of Chris Redfield. The game now contained that direct connection to the first game that “Resident Evil 1.5” was lacking. The designs for Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, Sherry Birkin, Marvin Branagh, and Robert Kendo were largely carried over from the original version, and given expanded or modified roles.

Sugimura also decided to keep the general Raccoon City backdrop, given that it was actually one of the few elements directly tied to the original game to begin with. And as with Hideki Kamiya’s original concept, the settings would be dramatically larger than those of the original. Raccoon City has been overrun with zombies, in contrast to the quieter, more isolated, and claustrophobic corridors of the Spencer Mansion. Three months after the original game, Leon and Claire have arrived in Raccoon City, where they are unwittingly thrust into the zombie outbreak. They seek refuge in the Raccoon Police Department (RPD), perhaps the series’ most iconic setting next to the Spencer Mansion, and where the real fun begins. Sugimura suggested that the RPD be given a specific backstory to allow for it to function as a puzzle-ridden maze. “During ‘Resident Evil 1.5,’ the setup of the RPD made no sense at all,” Kamiya explains. “Sugimura suggested making it so that the police building was formerly an art museum, explaining why there are bizarre puzzles throughout the building.”

Another element carried over from “Resident Evil 1.5” was the use of two protagonists. However, rather than have their stories occur in complete isolation like in the original, Kamiya and Sugimura worked together to come up with a new mechanic called the “zapping system.” Leon and Claire explore the same locations and solve many of the same or similar puzzles, but because their stories occur simultaneously, players must finish both scenarios to witness the entire story and earn the true ending. Leon and Claire cross paths from time to time, so there are instances when the actions in one scenario directly affect what happens in the other. The most notable would be deciding whether it should be Leon or Claire who acquires a specific weapon; players must weigh the pros and cons of the decision, as it could make things easier in the first scenario but more difficult in the second, and vice versa.

The zapping system contained an additional layer of depth: the presence of both “A” and “B” scenarios. In the A scenario, Claire is chosen, while Leon is chosen for the B scenario. The inverse, Leon for A and Claire for B, is also possible. The stories and gameplay elements, such as enemies and items encountered, would change depending on which scenario combination was selected. In total, there were now two combinations across four different scenarios. The B scenarios feature an exclusive stalker enemy, the trenchcoat-donning T-102 Tyrant, commonly referred to by Western fans as “Mr. X,” who would go on to become one of the more iconic monsters in the series. While the zapping system has come to define the identity of Resident Evil 2, neatly setting it apart from other entries, it was actually implemented late in development. Kamiya decided to incorporate the concept of two overlapping story arcs, an idea he actually came up with during the end of the first game’s development, when it was too late to implement into that game. Kamiya admits that there are repetitive elements shared across all scenarios, such as both characters having to open the same doors with the same key, but he also notes that obsessing over making the game too realistic would have made it less entertaining.

On the technical side, the team managed to make tangible upgrades to the game’s engine, particularly its graphics and animation. Whereas Resident Evil was an experiment in getting a 3D video game up and running on PlayStation, the team was now more skilled and experienced, and it clearly showed with the technical improvements in Resident Evil 2. The character models and backgrounds are more detailed, and characters will slow down and clutch their sides as they sustain injuries. The enemies are faster and more aggressive, thanks to improvements made to the game’s AI. This is most obvious with boss animations, which are faster and more threatening than anything from the first game.

One accident during development was how Resident Evil 2 became a game shipped across two CDs. In the final game, disc 1 contains Leon’s scenario, while disc 2 features Claire’s. It was technologically possible to have all of the final data for Resident Evil 2 fit on a single 700 MB CD, just like the original. This was what Capcom had planned to do initially. However, the team ultimately miscalculated the game’s final audio data size algorithm, which no one noticed until it was too late to change. Mikami recalls learning of the issue from Yasuhiro Anpo, a software engineer. Anpo called Mikami, who was working on a different floor from the rest of the team. “Anpo told me there was a problem. But before he could explain, I actually hung up on him!” Mikami laughs. “Anpo eventually came over to my desk, where he told me that Resident Evil 2 would require two discs instead of just one.” Mikami remembers gasping in surprise. As producer, he was responsible for keeping the game within budget. This would surely force a recalculation. Capcom management was not at all pleased with the development. It would result in higher manufacturing and shipping costs due to the thicker double-disc jewel case required. However, given that Resident Evil 2 was already behind schedule at this point, rather than give the team time to reprogram the audio algorithms, Capcom conceded and allowed the game to ship on two discs. Kamiya, in a January 2018 tweet reflecting on the game’s 20th anniversary, attributed the move to his youth and recklessness, but it certainly left its mark for years to come. Even though the team never initially conceptualized Resident Evil 2 as a two-disc game, it did have a positive net effect: it made the game seem even larger, and therefore better, than the single-disc original in the eyes of the average consumer who knew nothing of the game’s technical composition.

Meanwhile, Sugimura rewrote the sequel’s plot to be more expansive and engaging than both the original and “Resident Evil 1.5.” He improved the story by affording deeper roles to the supporting cast, which consisted of Ada, an enigmatic spy operating for an unknown organization, and Sherry, the 12-year-old daughter of the researchers at Umbrella responsible for developing the G-virus, which was capable of creating more powerful B.O.W. than the T-virus zombies from the first game. In contrast to the one-dimensional interactions of the original that were stymied by budget limitations and poor voice acting, the interactions among all the characters in Resident Evil 2 are more varied, containing elements like fear, tension, trauma, naïveté, romance, friendship, and family.

The story is presented more effectively in Resident Evil 2 than the original thanks to the sequel’s improved audio experience. Resident Evil 2 was the first time Capcom outsourced voice acting to a professional recording studio outside of Japan. Whereas the original game had Mikami and other core staff members working with amateur or non-professional English voice actors who happened to be local, the talent pool improved greatly for the sequel. Notably, voice actress Alyson Court joined the series as Claire, a role she would reprise multiple times over the next 14 years. Meanwhile, the soundtrack, composed by Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, and Syun Nishigaki, featured moody and melodic tunes that managed to squeeze an orchestral sound out of the PlayStation’s sound chip. The music was so well-received that in 1999, Resident Evil 2’s soundtrack, along with tracks from other Resident Evil games, was orchestrated by the prestigious New Japan Philharmonic. To this day, many fans still remember iconic themes such as the B ending rock-and-roll credits theme, or the boss themes associated with the Birkin G-Type and T-102 Tyrant.

Resident Evil 2 also has more extra gameplay modes than its predecessor. The most notable is “The 4th Survivor,” which stars the enigmatic Umbrella agent codenamed “HUNK.” The mode was directed by system planner Kazuhiro Aoyama as a bonus scenario that unlocks after you’ve met a specific set of conditions in the main scenario. This marked the first time players could play as one of the bad guys. The idea for the minigame came late in production, when the development team had just enough time until the game was mastered for release to include an extra mode. “The 4th Survivor” was crafted together out of existing assets from the main scenarios, with Aoyama admitting that all of HUNK’s animations were identical to Leon’s. From a design perspective, they chose a masked character to avoid having to create an entirely new character. The other minigame, “The To-fu Survivor,” features, as the name implies, a character resembling a giant block of bean curd with floating hands, holding nothing but a Combat Knife. This bonus feature is a remnant of the game’s bug-testing phase, which used the tofu block to test the characters’ collision detection against enemies.

Due to its stylized all-caps spelling, fans over the years have speculated whether the name “HUNK” was an abbreviation for anything specific. Aoyama says that “HUNK” is just his name. An American on the Resident Evil team who wants to remain anonymous claims, “HUNK’s name was actually supposed to be ‘Hank,’ but the developers misspelled it as ‘hunk,’ which they also wrote in all caps. That’s why his name is stylized that way, even though it makes no sense.” Indeed, in Japanese katakana, “Hank” and “Hunk” are spelled the same way, ハンク (hanku), due to the lack of differentiation in Japanese between the /æ/ (A) and /ʌ/ (U) sounds. In Japan, nouns, proper or otherwise, are often spelled out in all caps. Most Japanese developers are not fluent in English, and thus are less discerning about grammar and punctuation; many have told me that all-caps spellings make it easier for developers to spot key terms in verbose conceptual documents. The same can be applied with “To-fu,” which was the result of someone on the development team not realizing that in English, “tofu” is spelled without a hyphen. Kamiya disagrees with the HUNK/Hank assertion.

Resident Evil 2 breaks sales records

At last, after an expensive and protracted production cycle that saw one prototype scrapped and development restarted from zero, Resident Evil 2 was finally completed in December 1997. The game was scheduled to be released in North America on January 21, 1998, and in Japan on January 29. Capcom hoped to sell 2 million copies of the game in a short span of time, a very tall order for video games in the 1990s, when the industry was far smaller than it is today. Resident Evil 2 launched under the watchful eye of both Capcom and worldwide Resident Evil fans.

The response was far better than Capcom could have ever hoped for. Straight out of the gate, Resident Evil 2 sold a very large volume of copies and received a vast amount of critical acclaim. In Japan, the game sold nearly 1.4 million copies in its just four days, making it an instant platinum-seller and doing what it took the original game a year to achieve. In 1998, only Square’s Final Fantasy and Enix’s Dragon Quest series ever sold beyond a million copies at launch, indicating how popular the Resident Evil brand had become since 1996. Resident Evil 2 was also very successful in the United States, where over 380,000 copies had been pre-ordered, constituting 60 percent of its initial manufacturing run of 633,000 units. The game grossed $19 million, earning it an accolade in the 1999 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. It even outpaced Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario 64. Despite Capcom USA still being a relatively small operation with limited marketing resources at the time, Resident Evil 2 cemented the series as one of Capcom’s most lucrative franchises, ultimately replicating what Street Fighter 2 and Mega Man 2 did for their respective series: take something great and make it even greater. Capcom had succeeded in making its equivalent to what Aliens was to Alien.

The game’s success brought Capcom financial gain that allowed it to pay dividends to its employees. By the time Resident Evil 2 was released, Capcom had introduced an incentive-based bonus system, in which a team’s salaries would be commensurate with the sales of the games they developed. Having sold 4.96 million copies globally, Resident Evil 2 was very lucrative for the team. Mikami and Kamiya in particular had complained of low salaries during the time of Resident Evil, with Mikami admitting in a 2014 interview with Polygon that “[his] salary on Resident Evil was probably less than a first-year employee would get today. [Mikami] was actually unable to get married because of [his] financial situation.” Resident Evil 2 had allowed each member of the team to achieve greater financial stability, in an industry infamous in Japan for its low salaries and long work hours.

Resident Evil 2 was critically successful as well. It was reviewed positively in all of the mainstream U.S. game media at the time, including IGN, Electronic Gaming Monthly, GameSpot, and the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. On Metacritic, it enjoys a rating of 89 out of 100 and an average user rating of 9.2 out of 10. It cannot be overstated just how much of an improvement the sequel was over the original: it was larger and improved in nearly every respect. Perhaps the exception to this may be the actual horror elements, which some consider to be stronger in the original. But Resident Evil 2 is no slouch either, offering up its own fair share of frightening and disturbing moments, all while taking a more action-oriented approach that successors would adopt in the years ahead. Combined with a more dramatic and elaborate storyline thanks to Sugimura, one can say that while Resident Evil gave birth to this survival horror series, it was Resident Evil 2 that ultimately transformed it into a full-blown game franchise.

Resident Evil 2 (2019) - two people in a tunnel
The upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake is one of the most visually impressive remasters to date.

Ask your mom: Reflections from Hideki Kamiya

The tremendous success of Resident Evil 2 was just what Hideki Kamiya needed after such an arduous experience. The cancellation of “Resident Evil 1.5” had set the project back one year, cast doubt among some of his colleagues about his leadership skills, and nearly sent Capcom’s franchise careening off a cliff to an untimely demise. Armed with Shinji Mikami’s unwavering support, Kamiya never gave up on his goal of delivering a Resident Evil 2 that would be groundbreaking and high-quality. Kamiya prevailed, but the rest of his blossoming career still lay ahead of him. Kamiya never fails to remind everyone that he would never have been able to make it without Mikami’s support. “Without Mikami-san, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Kamiya proclaims.

But perhaps the most important relationship within the Resident Evil 2 team was that of Kamiya and Noboru Sugimura. During our interview, Kamiya mentioned Sugimura’s name far more than anyone else’s, including Mikami’s. It is also notable that Kamiya always refers to Sugimura with the Japanese honorific title “sensei,” which is commonly used to address teachers or people who are masters at their craft. For Kamiya, Sugimura was the master at creating stories whose guidance helped get Resident Evil 2 back on track. “Sugimura-sensei was old enough to be my father,” Kamiya muses. In Japan, age and seniority are the social fabrics that profoundly shape how any two people interact with each other. Deference is given to elders, who are often seen as sources of wisdom and guidance.

It was Sugimura that carefully constructed and contextualized nearly every story element of Resident Evil 2, wrapping it all up within a coherent and interesting universe. That said, few people would give the Resident Evil series credit for having a story befitting the great literary masterpieces of our time, though that is not what Sugimura ever set out to achieve. He gave Resident Evil 2 characters and a story that fans would grow to care about, just like fans of Sugimura’s other work, such as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. More importantly, Sugimura was the leader that Kamiya needed. “He really loved Resident Evil,” Kamiya explains. “I learned so much from him.” In the years ahead, their relationship continued, growing beyond just a simple professional relationship. Kamiya retells an anecdote about a motorcycle accident that left him hospitalized. Kamiya lay on a hospital gurney recovering from surgery when his mother arrived with a package from Sugimura. Kamiya, believing it to be work material, opened the package up in front of his mother and found five pornographic books inside, much to his embarrassment.

Today, Kamiya is one of the game industry’s most recognized creators. As of 2018, he is the senior vice president for Osaka-based PlatinumGames. On social media, he has earned a reputation for his colorful vocabulary and choice of words when interacting with followers on his Twitter account (@PG_kamiya). Kamiya, who tweets in Japanese and English, often mocks those who send him messages that he perceives to be inane, incomprehensible, redundant, false, or irrelevant. He particularly dislikes questions about games he never worked on and subjects he has discussed previously. If one wants to communicate with Kamiya on Twitter, one would best check his posting history first, for fear of getting publicly told to ask either one’s mother for the answer or to “go eat shit,” or perhaps worst of all, getting publicly blocked from viewing or responding to his tweets altogether.

From a distance, Kamiya might look like a grumpy, unapproachable celebrity. Even I was slightly nervous before meeting him for an interview in October 2017, apprehensive at the thought of bothering him for asking about something he may have answered countless times before. However, in real life, Kamiya is the complete opposite of his Twitter personality. He is very friendly, open, and hospitable. The Kamiya that most people witness on Twitter is, by his own admission, a character. His Twitter persona is an alter ego befitting a WWE actor. “When I post on Twitter, I talk as if I’m having drinks with someone at a bar. I’m not interested in maintaining a veil of formality like I do at work,” Kamiya explains.

While Westerners might be accustomed to the idea of freedom of expression on social media, in Japan fewer people take such liberties to the same extent; often, famous people are expected to show restraint in how they express their opinions to avoid drawing undue attention to themselves. In the game industry, overt criticism of fans, customers, competitors, or other companies is discouraged, which makes Kamiya a very notable exception to that pattern. Others in the game industry who tweet anything half as provocative as Kamiya have been reprimanded, though not Kamiya himself. In an April 2013 interview with Polygon, Tatsuya Minami, Kamiya’s former boss, said of Kamiya’s tweets: “Up until this point, everything he’s said on Twitter has been on the very close side of the safe line. I’ve never asked him to delete anything. But he pushes that safe line when he decides to use some of the more foul language that he knows in English.” Perhaps Kamiya’s online persona works well due to his status as an accomplished, charismatic creator in an industry where people are unfairly stereotyped as being socially awkward or lacking in communication skill. Whatever the reason, Kamiya’s colorful commentary dazzles observers time and time again.

Regardless of whether one agrees with his style of interacting with people on Twitter, Kamiya has certainly earned the privilege of being vocal and opinionated. Within the two-year development cycle of Resident Evil 2 alone, he catapulted from a rookie director who depended on Mikami and Sugimura for guidance to the charismatic creative who helped Capcom reach new heights in the PlayStation era. He had tasted the bitterness of failure with “Resident Evil 1.5” and the sweet sensation of success after Resident Evil 2. Kamiya’s involvement in the Resident Evil series would continue in the years ahead, although for various reasons, Resident Evil 2 remains his most notable and impacting contribution to the franchise.


I Hate Deciding Where To Land In Fortnite

This won’t end well
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

Lately, I’ve been playing squads in Fortnite, instead of my usual short-lived solo runs. I mostly play with strangers and keep voice chat off. Playing squads has definitely helped me get better at the game, but there’s one thing I still can’t master: choosing where to land.

Because I’m not playing with voice chat, there’s no ability to discuss where to land once the Battle Bus takes off. I tend to wait until someone else chooses a spot by placing a marker on it, and then I place my marker next to them immediately so I seem like a team player, even if it’s not my ideal landing spot. But sometimes another player sets a different marker, or someone insists on another spot by selecting and de-selecting it multiple times. I don’t know what to do in these cases. Should I trust the person who was quickest on the draw because they seem confident? Should I go with the person who seems most emphatic, since maybe they have their reasons—a challenge to complete, or maybe a plan? If I switch my marker, will I look wishy-washy? If I don’t, will I look stubborn? Will I make an enemy of a team member that will come back to bite me when things get tough?

In some ways it’s worse when no one picks, because then I feel like I have to. In these instances, I’ll pick the least populated area that catches my eye first and wait to see what happens. When the rest of my squad goes along with me I’m always a little disturbed—why would they trust me? Does this make me the leader? Will I have to call all the shots now? Sometimes the act of choosing will convince another player to pick a different spot, and I’ll quickly swap to that one. But does that make me look like a pushover? How do I establish myself in the hierarchy of silent strangers through nothing but setting a glowing beacon on the game’s map?

I asked folks on Twitter to tell me how they decide where to land, and people’s answers varied. Some told me they followed whoever picked first, while others said they wanted to be the one to pick. No one seemed like they overthought it quite as much as I do, which is probably a sign that I’m reading too much into things. Still, picking a landing spot is the first way your team learns about you, and I want to make a good impression on the people who will be responsible for my virtual life for the next two seconds to ten minutes, depending how the match plays out.

Other than this brief moment of social stress, I’ve been having a great time playing with strangers. The other night I ran back into the storm to rescue a squadmate who had fallen off something high. Later, I was caught in the storm and died. I knew my squadmate was too far away to save me, but I like to believe they felt bad about it, the way I do when I can’t get to someone to revive them. Fortnite feels like a different game when played with others, and it’s definitely helped me rank up my Battle Pass (I just got a new dog!). I’ve even gotten a bunch of eliminations, which rarely happens when I’m solo. I’m going to stick with it, even if all my matches start with a bit of awkwardness.

How do you pick who decides where to land? Let me know in the comments. (Also, let me know if it’s rude not to accept friend requests from strangers I play with, because that’s a whole other can of social worms…)


Pikuniku Review – Tasty Morsel

With its simple character designs and a game world that often looks like a young kid designed it by cutting up and sticking together different bits of colored paper, Pikuniku sometimes feels like a video game adaption of a children’s book. It tells a simple story that doesn’t always quite make sense, it’s pointedly very silly, and there are scenes within it that seem to be based on how a child understands the world. A giant company pays a town by making money rain from the sky; a trendy nightclub will only let you in if you dress “cool” by wearing sunglasses; you play a game someone “invented,” but which is, essentially, just basketball mixed with soccer.

But Pikuniku (Japanese for “picnic”) never feels like it was designed specifically for children. It’s a game about battling a corporate takeover, and the writing has the playful, sarcastically irreverent tone you’re more likely to see from someone in their 20s or 30s. But the childish veneer is charming, and while Pikuniku isn’t the deepest game around, it’s lovely, funny, and engrossing in its own weird way.

At the game’s opening, your character–Piku, an entity made up of an oblong red body with dots for eyes and two long spindly legs coming out of it–awakens in a cave, prompted by a ghost to go outside. The opening tutorial doesn’t take long, because the controls are simple: You can jump, causing Piku to spin haphazardly as he moves through the air, you can kick in any direction, and you can curl your legs into yourself and roll around in ball form. You spend the rest of the game wandering through the small game world, encountering characters and helping solve their problems until, eventually, you find yourself fighting against Sunshine Inc, a giant corporation that is sending robots all over the land to harvest natural resources from the game’s three regions.

Progression rarely requires much thoughtful effort. You explore the world on a 2D plane, talking to as many people as you can, kicking at everything, and solving objectives as they’re handed to you. There are platforming elements that require some finesse, especially when you explore some of the slightly more challenging optional side quests that pop up throughout the game. Pikuniku is entertaining rather than challenging, though, and even the hardest areas you’ll find are unlikely to trip you up for longer than a few minutes. But this is to the game’s advantage–it’s accessible to inexperienced and young players, and I never felt like the game would have been more enjoyable if it pushed me harder. Piku’s weird, wobbly walk, his awkward jump, and the force of his kicks mean that just moving through the game world is inherently entertaining.

Your ability to kick everything and everyone is crucial, and much of the puzzle solving in the game comes down to kicking an object from one place to another. The kick mechanic is great fun, with objects reacting differently depending on the angle and distance you hit them from, although there are occasional moments of frustration when, for instance, a box gets wedged into a corner and is tricky to get out. Getting stuck for a moment kicking something out of a corner, or dealing with an object that isn’t behaving how you’d like, can interrupt the flow of gameplay.

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You can kick every character you meet in the game with no real punishment, which rarely stops being funny. In a few other instances Piku needs to don different hats or use items he has collected to push forward. Again, the mechanics around this are quite simple–if you see a blooming flower, for instance, you know that you need to use the watering can hat on it because a silhouette of that hat will appear above it. This makes it easy to keep track of what you might now be able to do or unlock when you find a new item. It’s not the deepest mechanic, but it means that finding a hat or item can spark immediate excitement when you already know what it’ll do.

Pikuniku throws little minigames and oddities at you among all the platforming to mix things up. At one point early on, you’re asked to draw a new face for a scarecrow using the analog stick; later, you need to win a button-matching dance-off against a robot. There’s even a Dig Dug parody, which amusingly devolves into a little joke about how some retro games don’t age well. There are boss fights, too (there’s no combat in the game otherwise), and while they’re not super involved affairs they use the game’s simple mechanics to good effect.

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Pikuniku is a funny game on numerous levels–the script often undercuts tension and plays with tropes in amusing ways, the goofy way you flip when you jump is a constant source of amusement, and the game will often throw you into strange situations without much explanation. Mess with a toaster in someone’s house, for instance, and you’ll be hurled into the “toast dimension,” which is essentially a dungeon area that you can escape by completing the simple platforming challenge within. In another instance, you enter a pottery store that is clearly begging you to smash everything inside it–it’s a clear Zelda homage, but the real delight is in the merchant’s zen approach to your destruction. Pikuniku is playful and mischievous. Even the soundtrack is wonderfully kooky, and often faintly reminiscent of Koji Kondo’s work with Nintendo.

However, Pikuniku doesn’t last long. You can jump back in after the end credits, which roll within about three hours, and enjoy the aftermath of everything you achieved, but even mopping up the last few missions and trying to collect all the optional trophies scattered around the game world doesn’t add much. The world you’re exploring is compact, and it doesn’t take long for you to feel like you’ve seen everything there is to see. Pikuniku is so charming, and so much fun, that I wanted more time with it (even though the ending is great and absolutely bonkers). The game wrapped up before I was ready to leave it behind, and more story content, or another village to explore, would have gone a long way.

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Pikuniku also comes with nine two-player levels, as well as a multiplayer version of Baskick, the aforementioned basketball/soccer hybrid featured in the campaign. These levels are divided between co-op challenges where Piku and his identical friend Niku need to work together and competitive levels where you race one another. You can play with two detached Joy-Cons, and the game holds up well on the smaller screen if you’re playing in portable mode. This is not a major component of the game, though, so don’t expect a whole second campaign. You’re unlikely to get more than an hour out of these levels, but its simplicity makes it ideal to play with a younger relative or someone with little gaming experience.

While Pikuniku is a light experience, it’s got enough charm and verve to stick with you well beyond completion. From Piku’s weird wobbly gait and looping jumps in the opening right through to the game’s funny, bizarre ending, Pikuniku is more gripping than its simple aesthetic and playful tone would suggest. It’ll make you feel like a kid again.


The Shrouded Isle is a horror game about making bad decisions

Horror video games are successful when they induce anxiety through visual design and game mechanics. The Shrouded Isle, a cult manager sim that was released in 2017 and recently came to Nintendo Switch, is a successful horror game. While the developers at Kitfox Games took aesthetic inspiration from Lovecraftian lore, I found myself paralyzed by a crippling fear of making the wrong decision, not by a sense of cosmic horror.

In The Shrouded Isle, I’m put in charge of a secluded village controlled by several houses. I must investigate the virtues and vices of each house’s members and appoint an adviser for the season. Those advisers then do their part to control the village, by doing such things as increasing the village’s ignorance to the outside world or bolstering their religious fervor. I reward one of them with the privilege of being sacrificed to the dark god our village worships after they’ve all carried out their tasks, and the cycle begins anew next season.

To succeed, I must delicately balance my cruel control over my villagers, the relationships I have with each of the houses, and the ever-dwindling supply of advisers to choose from (I sentence one to death at the end of each season). The game induces a ridiculous amount of analysis paralysis, which feels ceaseless; each decision I make is a double-edged sword.

The complexity begins when seeking out advisers. Each adviser I investigate can reveal not only a specific virtue, but also a vice. Virtues are worth seeking out, as they can increase the strength of each house’s functions, such as discipline or obedience. I also have the choice to seek out an adviser’s vices, which have an adverse effect on the village. Advisers with heavy vices will give you more rewards when you sacrifice them, however.

There are no good decisions when it comes to picking an adviser for a sacrifice. Killing an adviser with a vice that hurts the village will improve my situation, but it will harm my standing with the house. This is by design: Every decision you can potentially make is a bad one. But they are all bad in unique ways.

Choosing someone to sacrifice in The Shrouded Isle Kitfox Games

The game’s free downloadable content, Sunken Sins, further complicates the situation. Potential advisers can get stricken with afflictions that I must purge them of. The process takes time, and pulls people out of my pool of potential advisers for the season. The DLC basically just gives me more variables that can, and will, go wrong.

The Shrouded Isle is one of the hardest games I’ve played in the past few years — not because of any external physical challenge, but one that’s wholly technical. The anxiety of constant decision-making adds up. The further I progressed in the game, the harder it was to keep all the plates spinning before they came crashing down. It’s a masochistic challenge, to be sure, but the mental gymnastics are satisfying when I finally succeed. This isn’t a downside to the game — it’s the point. The thrill comes from overcoming the fear of a situation where the odds are heavily stacked against me.

The Shrouded Isle is available on Steam for Mac and Windows PC, and on the Nintendo Switch.


Anime Movies Are Finally Getting The U.S. Theatrical Releases They Deserve

Image: Night Is Short Walk On Girl

Just a couple decades ago, anime fans would pore over Japanese dictionaries to hand-translate subtitles for their favorite anime films, which they’d disseminate over IRCs and password-protected forums. Over the last couple of years, those same fans to see marquee displays for “SPIRITED AWAY” and “YOUR NAME” hanging above their local brick-and-mortar movie theater. More and more American theaters are screening new and old anime movies, a welcome change for fans tired of pirating anime on their tiny MacBooks.

It’s true that in 1999, kids lined up outside theaters for the 75-minute feature film Pokemon: The First Movie, a viewing experience my mother cites as the number one most challenging thing she did as a parent next to giving birth. Also, in 2002, Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away—with meagre marketing—was shown at 151 theaters a year after its Japanese release, but grossed $5.5 million. Yet between the big releases, anime films used to be a rare sight to see in a U.S. theater—outside of film hubs like New York or Los Angeles. What we got was almost always accompanied by the words “limited release.”

Things are different now. After the enormous success of anime films like Your Name, which earned $1.7 million its opening weekend in 2017, the floodgates have been opened. Along with the excitement of participating in a cultural moment—the release of a movie to a large audience—fans can experience a lot of these films the way they’re meant to be seen: with booming sound, high-quality video and the cinema atmosphere.

Image: Ponyo

In 2019, we’re getting spoiled. The 2018 love story Mirai, a critical hit, is still showing in theaters across the country, and at its peak was showing in 700 theaters. Dragon Ball Super: Broly earned $7 million at the box office on January 16, the day it was released. Soon, we’re getting I Want To Eat Your Pancreas, Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel II, Okko’s Inn, and Anemone: Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution. 2017 tear-jerker A Silent Voice will screen again late this month. We’ll have yet another year of the Studio Ghibli Fest, a nationwide event that will bring nine Studio Ghibli movies—Ponyo, Pom Poko, Princess Mononoke—to middle America as well as the big cities. (There was a listing for The Cat Returns in The Idaho Statesman last year.)

Fathom is one of the major companies behind the flood of anime movies to theaters and is also spearheading the Studio Ghibli Fest. “We initially premiered several anime titles 6-7 years ago, however in more recent years, we have increased our focus on this type of programming,” said senior director of programming Brian Deulley. “This focus mainly stems from overwhelming fan response and demand, both domestically as well as internationally.” In 2017, the Ghibli fest earn $5.29 million at the box office. In 2018, that number grew to $6.78 million.

“For so long, many titles could only be viewed on imported VHS/ DVD/ Blu rays, or fan sites that people may or may not have stumbled across,” Deulley continued. Theatrical releases allow audiences to “enjoy their favorite characters or relive classic scenes on the big screen in a packed auditorium with other fans.”

It’s not just that there’s a greater hunger for anime movies in theaters. American distributors are also getting the rights to more anime. In 2017, boutique animation distributor GKIDS took over most of Studio Ghibli’s distribution rights from Disney (GKIDS had acquired theatrical rights in 2011). Disney got worldwide distribution rights in 1996, a little before the release of soon-to-be-classics Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. In 2017, GKIDS released half of Hayao Miyazaki’s film output on Blu-Ray.

Image: Nausicaa

GKIDS president David Jesteadt was managing a video store before he began working in GKIDS’ distribution department. At that time, it was a tiny company distributing foreign animated films. Ten years later, at age 33, Jesteadt is helping to head some of the biggest theatrical and home theater anime releases the U.S. has ever seen. Studio Ghibli, he said, trusts GKIDS to do things right. “We started theatrically re-releasing a lot of their films which were previously unavailable,” he explained over the phone. Studio Ghibli values theatrical experiences above all else, he said, because “that’s how the films were made to be seen.” If you’ve ever seen Nausicaa in theaters, you know what the booming techno soundtrack does for its skyglider chase scenes.

Studio Ghibli also cares about film format, according to Jesteadt. “They wanted [us] to show the films in 35mm. It was very important for them to have the opportunity for the audience to see those like that on a large screen… They’re a company that deeply respects how things are done, not just being commercially or financially oriented. They want their films treated with care and thought and with a unique appreciation for what makes them special.”

Image: Lu Over The Wall

Jesteadt said that while he has “nothing but respect for Disney and what they were able to do for the Ghibli catalog,” they’re a large studio that has multiple blockbuster films every year. “They have a lot going on. Being able to build from the ground up and say how are we going to get these films seen in theaters has been an interesting challenge for us.”

Ghibli isn’t the only name on the block at GKIDS, but it is the most mainstream. Another of the company’s special projects has been theatrically releasing the films of mastermind director Masaaki Yuasa. Last year, Yuasa made both Lu Over The Wall and Night Is Short Walk On Girl, the latter of which I have described as “the best anime movie in memory.” Both movies had theatrical releases. It was a spectacular thing for fans of the lesser-known but beloved director, especially since his 2004 psychedelic masterpiece Mind Game didn’t get a U.S. theatrical release until last year (again, thanks to GKIDS). Sadly, a lot of these events only last a couple of days.

“It’s a golden age of anime generally and that includes access,” said Jesteadt. His mission now, though, is to pave the way for smaller projects’ theatrical welcomes overseas. “Often, in the past, there were gatekeepers—people maybe like me or a distributor who has to bring over one thing. It’s easier than ever to say, ‘We’re gonna bring over a lot of things and let natural fanbases develop.’ It can be tougher for smaller projects or films that don’t always have that high level of attention and exposure before they release. We want to play a small part in helping to curate and draw attention to titles that may not necessarily be the best known always but have a strong quality thread running through them.”


Anthem: 55 interesting details we’ve gleaned from the tweets of its creators

Anthem is only a month away, with the beta coming up in a few weeks. But like all live games prior to release, there are tons of tiny details that players want to know before they ready themselves for the long winter of grinding to that endgame.

A collection of BioWare developers — lead producers Ben Irving and Mike Gamble, as well as game director Jonathan Warner — have spent the past several months answering fan questions on Twitter. While most of Anthem’s big revelations come in the form of streams and press releases, some of the smallest and most interesting details only come from these tweets.

We’ve rounded up 55 interesting Anthem facts that are worth knowing ahead of release.

1. Individual gear doesn’t level up

Gear in Anthem is static, meaning that once it drops, it’s what you have. However, like Diablo, the goal is to find higher rarity loot with better stats.

2. Using your ultimate makes you immune to damage

Each Javelin has its own ultimate to devastate enemies, but it looks like it’s also a viable tool for defense. Popping your ultimate will make you immune to damage until it runs out.

3. You can start with any of the four classes

This is something we’ve seen conflicting reports on. However, one of the more recent tweets from Warner suggests that the Ranger is no longer the de facto starting Javelin and that players will instead be able to choose their starting suit from the beginning.

4. Story progress is per player, but can be done in a group

Anthem is an open game with a focus on story. So while you can always jump in and play with your friends, you won’t lose any missions because of it.

5. Story is progressed per-player, meaning it can be played in a group without fear

On the flip side of the earlier question, everyone in the group can make progress if they’re all playing through at the same time and on the same mission.

6. Random players can appear in the freeplay game world

In true MMO-lite fashion, random players outside of your team will appear in the open world. However, this only seems true for modes like freeplay, not instanced strongholds.

7. Players will be tethered together in missions so they don’t fall too far behind — in freeplay, teammates can go anywhere

Teammates will be forced to stick together during missions by a tethering system. This seems to be a developer choice, since it isn’t the case in the larger, freeplay mode. Instead, getting too far away from your teammates will teleport you back to the action in more scripted missions.

8. There will be a accessibility option to increase font size

Looking at small text can be grading or impossible for some folks. Anthem will have the option to increase font size.

9. Progress will not be cross-platform at launch

Players will need to choose where they want their progress before they start the game. While Gamble said that cross-platform saves could eventually be a reality, it won’t be there at launch.

10. Your pilot levels up and takes that level to whatever Javelin they’re in

Leveling has some unique perks, like unlocking difficulties and skills for your pilot. But Javelins themselves don’t level up, meaning you’ll only need to go through that process once without being punished by switching suits.

11. Loot is sent to you if you forget to pick it up

If you accidentally leave a piece of loot on the ground — or god forbid it falls off a cliff — there will be some way to retrieve it.

However, Ben Irving clarified on a stream that only rarer items will be sent to those that forget them — everything else will be lost.

12. Servers will be dedicated at launch

Dedicated servers are a big deal in multiplayer games, and should reduce some of the lag and inconsistent effects players are prone to feel when they’re connecting to some random player in their party. It also makes the game far more secure against players who would want to do nefarious things to the game.

13. Pilot customization will be limited compared to Javelins — at least at launch

While pilots in Anthem get all the levels, they get none of the beauty. Because pilots will be locked up inside the various Javelins for most of the game, their customization options are fairly limited — at least at launch. Javelins, on the other hand, are extremely customizable.

14. Anthem will have repeatable, difficult quests in the endgame

Contracts are like early game bounties meant to offer advice to new players or guide them on where to go. But in the endgame, the same system evolves to become a bit more involved and rewarding.

These contracts are mildly dynamic, and will move you around the world so it doesn’t feel like you’re constantly doing the same thing.

15. Loot is per-player, not for the group — Anthem will have no trading at launch

Anthem is a game meant to be played with friends, but loot will drop individually per-player rather than for the group. However, trading will not be available at launch. While not entirely uncommon in games like this, no trading is a bit more concerning in Anthem — which seems to share more of a loot philosophy with Diablo than Destiny. In a game all about that grind, using friends to leverage your bad luck can be useful and personally rewarding.

16. Weapon appearances cannot be changed at launch

While each weapon will look different and unique in Anthem, they will not be cosmetically customizable — at least not at launch. However, each weapon should be visually identifiable.

17. Content will be added for free after launch — no season pass for Anthem

Anthem will have post-launch content — although what and when has yet to be revealed. However, it seems that Gamble is suggesting it’ll be free for all players.

18. Players can have multiple pilots to replay the story alone or with friends

While pilots are the ones that level, players will still be able to have multiple accounts and pilots. It seems that most players won’t engage with this system, but it’s an option for those that want to start fresh with new friends.

19. Harder difficulties will be unlocked from the start

For players looking for a challenge or want better chance at good loot from the get-go, Anthem will offer a harder difficulty from the start of the game.

20. The hardest difficulty doesn’t become available until max level

While a harder difficulty is unlocked from the start, the Grandmaster difficulty tier won’t become available until players have reached max level with their pilot.

21. The entire campaign can be played alone

While the game is inherently multiplayer, Anthem will be playable completely solo — at least through the story campaign.

22. New activities will become available after the campaign

New options for play will open for players after the campaign has been completed, elongating the game as it transitions into the endgame.

23. Players can reconnect to the game if they disconnect

Players who disconnect or have internet troubles will be able to reconnect to their friends as long as they can get back in the game within a reasonable amount of time.

24. Enemies can be afflicted by multiple status effects simultaneously

Different elements attach themselves to enemies and do different things (we’ll cover that a little farther down). But for teams that are running multiple elements, enemies can be afflicted by more than one effect at a time.

However, the more powerful the enemy is, the harder it’ll be to hit them with elemental effects.

25. Loot drops for all Javelins, not just the one you’re currently in

While the game will try to drop loot that is useful to players, there is still a chance that loot will drop for a Javelin they aren’t currently using. For example, if a player is playing the Colossus, they may still come across loot for the Interceptor. This can then be equipped on their Interceptor Javelin for the next time they play it.

26. All Javelins travel at the same speed — some handle differently

While traveling with friends, you’ll all be able to go the same max speed — regardless of which Javelin you’re playing. However, different Javelins will handle flying differently. Some will handle slower than others, while the Storm can maneuver itself very quickly.

27. Loot scales, even when playing with friends

Anthem will offer incentive for players to help their lower level friends. Loot will drop relative to your level, not relative to the level of the host. So while your drops may be less frequent due to difficulty, the loot itself will be potentially useful.

28. Even freeplay mode has a difficulty setting

When free-roaming alone or with friends, players will be able to select a difficulty — just like with all the other activities in the game.

29. Gear drops are based on your overall level, not what you have equipped

Speaking of drops, gear is relative to your pilot level rather than your Javelin’s gear score. Even if you aren’t wearing your best gear, you’ll still receive the best possible loot.

30. Javelins will likely get new abilities as content is added

Abilities are attached to gear pieces in Anthem. A frost arm cannon on your Storm will cause you to shoot frost bolts, for example. As the developer adds new loot, Irving suggested that they’ll most likely add new abilities as well.

31. Experience will still count toward something after max level

While not entirely clear how, experience gained past max level in Anthem will attribute to some kind of progression. In Destiny 2, for example, level ups post max level grant a cosmetic loot box for players.

32. Crafting materials are gained from salvaging items and collecting from the world

Crafting items come from all over the place in Anthem — including breaking down loot you don’t need and picking up materials in the world. Crafting can be used to supplement gear drops with blueprints for weapons.

33. Anthem won’t have player versus player at launch

Anthem won’t offer any kind of competitive multiplayer at launch. However, it could come later.

34. Snipers will use first-person own scopes, despite being a third-person shooter

When aiming down the scope with a sniper, the game will transition into first-person for precision aiming.

35. Anthem will have fast travel

Anthem is all about getting around fast with flight, but when you need to go a long distance the game will offer a fast travel system.

36. Even failed missions can be rewarding

Sometimes missions are too difficult to complete and you’ll need to back out and give up. In these situations, any loot you’ve earned or XP you’ve gained will remain with you.

37. High-rarity items don’t have an equip limit

Unlike in games like Destiny 2 — where only one Exotic weapon and armor piece can be equipped at a time — Anthem will allow players to equip any and all powerful pieces they get at once. So an ideal Javelin will be equipped with the highest level gear possible, all of the same rarity.

38. Players can save their favorite Javelin loadouts

Builds can get complicated in Anthem, with multiple gear slots on each Javelin. To manage this, players will be able to save a loadout for when they go out into the world.

39. The bigger your group, the harder the game

Anthem offers group scaling for players. A bigger team will give your group more damage due to the sheer amount of weapons on your side of the playing field. However, enemies will scale up based on your group size, making it harder the bigger the group gets.

40. Armor is cosmetic, components carry all the stats

Stats and cosmetics are completely separate in Anthem. Players can customize the look of their Javelins without altering the stats. Similarly, players can change the components — gear pieces that have different effects on them — without changing the look of their Javelin.

41. Players who AFK for long periods of time can rejoin if a slot is still open

Sometimes life gets in the way of thing when trying to play with friends. Having to step away from the game to deal with a child or another emergency won’t be too punishing in Anthem. Even after getting kicked for inactivity by the game, players should be able to rejoin the mission if an empty roster slot is still available.

42. Weapons can be crafted by blueprints if you’re lucky enough to get one

Like in Diablo 3, blueprints for items will be difficult finds. However, players will be able to earn them in currently-unknown ways, allowing them to craft infinite supplies of weapons as long as they have the crafting materials.

43. Combo bonuses only work for the first player who detonates it

Different Javelins have different effects when comboing enemies. When players apply a status effect to an enemy, it can be detonated by a different kind of weapon. Weapons that can prime and detonate are explicitly stated in the menus. But comboing has its benefits. For example, Interceptor Javelins who manage to combo correctly will surround themselves with an elemental field that can prime nearby targets. Unfortunately for teams, only the Javelin that primes the combo first will receive their unique benefit.

44. Bosses don’t drop specific loot

The loot pool in Anthem is universal, meaning all loot can drop from all locations. This means bosses won’t drop anything specific to them when they’re killed. However, adding this post launch isn’t completely out of the question.

45. Playing with low level friends will scale you back

High level players will be scaled back when they join friends, meaning an overpowered Javelin can’t just decimate all the story enemies.

46. Javelins can share weapons that belong to the same pilot

Switching Javelins is an inherent part of playing Anthem. While many gear pieces are Javelin specific, weapons can be transferred between them — making strengthening a weaker Javelin much easier.

47. Players won’t be able to inspect friend’s gear at launch

Players won’t be able to inspect the builds of their friends or random players out in the wild — meaning old fashioned communication or screenshots will be needed to see what a pal is taking into battle. However, this is a feature the team is looking into post-launch.

48. Ammunition drops for specific weapon types

Ammunition blocks are tied to specific weapon types. For example, you can run two of the same kind of weapon if you like. But since they share the same ammo type, you’ll run out far more quickly than normal.

49. There is no timer on respawns

In Anthem, certain areas of the game lock the respawn of allied players. However, the team won’t lose until all players are dead or the area is completed. Allies can be revived in perpetuity.

50. Difficulty setting mainly bolsters health and damage

Difficulty settings can change enemy behaviors, but the most noticeable change from normal to hard is the damage dealt by enemies and the health they have.

51. No content scales above four players

Unlike other games of this type or MMO-likes, four is the maximum group size across all activities — there are no raids that allow six or eight players to work together.

52. All the elements have different effects

Elements can be applied by some weapons and abilities in Anthem. Each has their own interaction with enemies. For example, setting an enemy on fire will cause them to take damage over time, while electrifying enemies will deal damage in a area around them.

53. Loot can’t be swapped mid-mission

Currently, players will be unable to change loot on their Javelin until they return to the hub area. However, the team is watching how this works and it could change in the future.

54. Enemies will fight each other, not just you

Anthem has quite a few different enemy factions, and players may run into more than one at once. Thankfully, enemies will treat all units not part of their faction as enemies. Players should be able to leverage this to their advantage, letting their enemies take each other out and saving them some ammo.

55. And in case you’re worried that all this information will ruin Anthem before it’s even out …

Like many open-world games, Anthem will have secrets hidden outside in the world. However, the team is being fairly tight-lipped on this aspect of the game — for obvious reasons.


Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story 3DS Review Roundup

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey is a remake of sorts of the 2009 DS game, this time for the Nintendo 3DS. It’s out now in North America, though its release date in Europe isn’t until January 25 (January 26 in Australia). The important question, though, is whether the remake is any good.

Critical consensus has been positive, with many praising the new mode, Bowser Jr.’s Journey. “The extra mode certainly sweetens the pot for those who owned Bowser’s Inside Story on DS, but fundamentally, it’s the same game,” wrote Justin Clark in GameSpot’s Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story review. For more opinions on the 3DS version, take a look below or check out GameSpot sister site Metacritic.

  • Game: Mario + Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey
  • Developer / Publisher: AlphaDream, Arzest / Nintendo
  • Platform: Nintendo 3DS
  • Release date: Out now (North America), January 25 (Europe), January 26 (North America)
  • Price: US $40 / £35 / AU $60

GameSpot — 8/10

“The extra mode certainly sweetens the pot for those who owned Bowser’s Inside Story on DS, but fundamentally, it’s the same game. If anything, the real drawback is the game coming off as an unnecessary surprise on the 3DS–which can already play the original game via backward compatibility. But the game itself remains one of Mario’s RPG best, and it’s a cheerful, inventive journey.” — Justin Clark [Full review]

Game Informer — 8.5/10

“The updated visuals are attractive and the new mode is interesting–especially if you want to spend more time in that world–but if you played the 2009 original and consider yourself satisfied with that experience, then the incentive to return is small. If you’ve never played Bowser’s Inside Story, this is a fantastic way to experience what is probably the best of the Mario & Luigi games. As a remake, it doesn’t drastically change the experience or improve on it in a big way, but that’s a testament to the original’s quality more than it is a knock against this version.” — Kyle Hilliard [Full review]

Nintendo Life — 9/10

“Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey stands as a well-made remake of a game that was excellent to begin with, polishing up the original in small ways and adding some extra content that meaningfully establishes its own identity. If you’ve ever been a fan of the Mario & Luigi series (or are looking for a reason to dust off the old 3DS), do yourself a favour and pick this game up. Although Bowser Jr.’s Journey is just an ‘okay’ addition, the inventive battles, great writing and creative gameplay of the main game make this one an easy recommendation.” — Mitch Vogel [Full review]

Kotaku — No score

“I’d love to have gotten a brand new Mario & Luigi game this year, or even a remake that was on Switch instead of the 3DS. Still, a remake of Bowser’s Inside Story, one of the best games in the series, is better than none at all. I’m enjoying reliving the high points of the story with the beautiful, upgraded graphics and have found a surprising amount of fun in guiding Bowser Jr. through absurdist misadventures with the rest of Bowser’s minions. The Mario universe has become so much bigger in the years since Inside Story was originally released. It’s nice to be able to spend time with some of the under-explored characters on a smaller scale.” — Ethan Gach [Full review]


The Complex World Of Japanese Business Manners

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Manners in Japan are tricky, complex and sometimes hard to follow—even for Japanese people.

Over the weekend, I flipped through a book on Japanese manners I purchased here in Osaka. The book is divided into several sections, such as the correct way to perform rituals at Buddhist funerals (as well as Christian and Shinto services), the intricacies of noshigami and seasonal gifts, the proper way to address and write letters, and more. The book is aimed at shakaijin (社会人), which means literally means “a member of society,” but denotes adults and working people.

Full disclosure: The manner book was published by Kodansha, and Kodansha International, which no longer exists, published my first two books. My most recent books, such as Japanese Whisky, were published by Tuttle.

The Manners Encyclopedia has the inevitable bowing and business card sections. There are bits on the right way to sit, how to politely remove and fold your coat and even the proper way to pick things up off the ground (don’t bend over, but kneel down without touching your knees on the ground and pick up the dropped object). There is also an array of information on table manners, some of which is covered here as well as how to correctly and politely use chopsticks and other tableware.

To give an idea of how complex things can get, here is a section on business manners for how people in a company should ride in an elevator, on a train, in a taxi or in a private car. In the drawings, the number 1 indicates the most senior or important person. The other numbers are of descending importance.

So, for elevators, if there are two button panels, person 3 and person 4 stand in front of each panel with persons 1 and 2 in the back. If there is only one button panel, the person 4 stands there.

When riding taxis, person 1 sits behind the driver in the backseat, while person 3 sits in the other back window seat. Person 3 sits in the middle back seat, while person 4 should sit up front with the driver. But if the car is a private automobile for, let’s say golf outing, then person 1 sits up front with the owner of the car, while person 3 sits backseat in the middle.

For trains with four seats together, person 1 sits next to the window in the direction the train is traveling. Person 2 sits across from person 1 in the window seat. If there are two rows of three seats, then person 5 and 6 will sit in the middle. Person 1 will, once again, sit facing the direction the train is traveling.

Complicated! But this is scratching the surface. A couple of the book’s Amazon Japan reviews say the Manners Encyclopedia has just the most basic Japanese manners, which, if you aren’t already a manner master, might make it a good place to start.