The New York Times Has A New Puzzle Game For You To Obsess Over

It’s E3 week, which means it’s time to check in on the latest games from all the hottest game development studios, like the New York Times. That’s not a joke—the New York Times has stepped up its game development efforts in order to support its wildly popular crossword puzzle. Two new games have come from the newspaper’s Games Expansion team over the last year, each offering a different flavor of word game—Spelling Bee and Letter Boxed each challenge players to spell as many words as they can within certain parameters. Tiles, which the Times released this week, is different: It doesn’t involve words at all. It’s brilliant.

A game of Tiles starts with a grid full of intricately patterned tiles. It looks like this.

To play, you click on a tile, and then another tile with at least one similar pattern on it. See the two tiles in the lower half with the pink flower design in their centers? Those would be a good place to start. Click on both, and then the pink flower would disappear, and the last tile you clicked becomes the first tile in your next pair. The goal is to keep the chain going as long as you can, but if you mess up, the game doesn’t end—your current combo just resets. The game continues until all tiles are clear of all designs.

Here’s what it looks like when you’re almost done:

Like a good crossword puzzle, there’s no “winning” a game of Tiles. You just finish one. You can set your own goals if you like—keeping combos going for as long as possible is satisfying, and while I haven’t pulled it off yet, I really want to be able to clear a whole board in one long combo. It’s harder than it seems—Tiles’ limited color palette means that patterns can overlap and fool you into thinking something’s not there when it is—but not so hard that it ever frustrates.

According to Adweek, the Times developed Tiles in response to subscribers looking for a game that would help them “zone out,” and Tiles is extremely good at that. It’s just demanding enough to command your attention fully, but not so demanding that it takes much effort to start playing. Accessible puzzle games are kind of like an open bag of potato chips sitting in front of you when you aren’t even hungry: It’s extremely easy to eat one anyway, and once you have, why not the whole bag?

Unfortunately, you can only play Tiles four times a day for free—after that, you’ll need a subscription to the New York Times’ Crossword section, which is separate from a regular Times subscription. (Seriously, the Times crossword is a big deal.) That’ll run you $6.95/month, or $39.95/year, with a 50 percent discount if you subscribe to the Times for, you know, news. Turns out newspapers are in on the games-as-a-service trend too!


Revisit the Sounds of Your Favorite Old Analog Gear at ‘Conserve the Sound’

Analog WeekJust because ‘there’s an app for that’ doesn’t mean you have to use it. This week we’re going analog, reminding ourselves that we can live—and live _well_ —without smartphones, and seeing what’s worth preserving from the time before we were all plugged in 24/7.  

I’m very glad to live in a time where I can just hop on the internet whenever, instead of having to dial up a number and wait for the modem to do its little connection concerto that took so long you could start dialing, go do something else, and walk back over when it was nearly finished.

I do, however, appreciate what it was like to use old-school technology. And while it’s easy to get nostalgic by pulling up YouTube and finding someone trying to use a dial-up modem in the present-day, there are even better resources out there if you want a little reminder about what your favorite geeky gear sounded like way back when.

My colleague Michelle pointed me in the direction of the German website Conserve the Sound the other day, and I already love it. When you pull it up, you’re immediately greeted with a featured gallery of older gadgets—cameras, typewriters, phones, an NES, et cetera. Unfortunately, you won’t find a modem on here (yet), so you’ll have to continue to turn to YouTube to experience the thrill of the handshake noise for the time being.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Click on a device, and you can hear a recording of the devices sound while you view a lovely little slideshow featuring great pictures of whatever you’re listening to. Some of these audio clips are short examples of the device being used for its primary purpose, while others are more ASMR-like recordings of someone fiddling with an object any way they can.

My favorite? The Klick-Klack-Kugeln, of course. I’m also partial to the Büchereistempel, which reminds me of the 1989 SCUMM hit Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, as well as the classic View-Master, which everyone can probably recall using at some point.

Screenshot: David Murphy


Men in Black: International isn’t the post-Thor: Ragnarok team-up you hoped for

Early in Men in Black: International, two agents riff on how the alien-monitoring organization is still called Men in Black even though there are, you know, women in it. Later, another character calls them “the Men and Women in Black.” They’re belabored, groan-worthy moments, not because gender parity isn’t important (it is, very much so) but because the gag is old and, frankly, binary.

Excess is the north star by which Men in Black: International, directed by F. Gary Gray (The Fate of the Furious), operates. More aliens, more jokes, more guns, more locations, and more special effects get heaped on as Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth attempt to save the world.

The glow-up (or blow-up, really) from the relative simplicity of the 1997 original makes sense not only because “more” is a mandate of all blockbusters these days, but because it’s the impulse anyone like Molly (Thompson) would have. Men in Black: International is a science-fiction comedy, of course, but it’s also a wish fulfillment movie for anyone who saw the original Men in Black in adolescence and wished they could join the secret agency, too.

H (Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) at an alien club.
H (Hemsworth) and M (Thompson) at an alien club.
Sony Pictures

As a child, Molly finds an alien in her room, and witnesses her parents having their memories wiped by Men in Black agents. Having escaped a memory wipe, herself, Molly spends the next 20 years searching for the truth — about aliens, about the Men in Black, and about the world as a whole. When she finds it, her ensuing MIB-makeover is the stuff of dreams. The tailored suit, cool gadgets, access to extraterrestrial intel and whole other worlds; it’s the sci-fi version of Harry Potter being welcomed to Hogwarts.

Unlike Harry Potter, that sense of wonder involved isn’t generated by an original story but nostalgia for a better movie. It’s both a curse and a blessing that, as soon as Danny Elfman’s Men in Black theme music kicks in, the sequel/spin-off earns a considerable amount of goodwill — it doesn’t have to work as hard to hit its marks. But the loosey goosey TK of the film takes its toll sooner rather than later.

As the rookie and the famous veteran, respectively, Thompson and Hemsworth aren’t lacking for charm or charisma (see: Thor: Ragnarok), but they have precious little to work with. To wit: A key aspect of Hemsworth’s agent, H, is that he’s changed ever since saving the world a few years ago. But we don’t know what he was like before, and none of the characters — who keep telling him he’s different now — deign to clarify that point, either.

A detour through the desert for the MIB agents.
A detour through the desert for the MIB agents.
Sony Pictures

The best thing that can be said for International is that it will be a perfect airplane movie. Whatever black magic was at work that made 2012’s Men in Black 3 so great (the supernova charm of Will Smith, a genuinely emotionally affecting story, more practical effects) is mostly gone from the soft reboot. The film is constantly throwing things in your face, but none of them really stick.

Similarly, Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), who plays the requisite cute sidekick alien, and Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Fallout), as a well-armed arms dealer, fail to make much of an impact because they’re really set dressing. Rafe Spall, who plays the bureaucratic Agent C, fares a little better, going as wacky as a wacky franchise about secret organizations and aliens should be. (Vincent D’Onofrio played a bug wearing a man! C’mon!)

The film’s action — despite being fairly relentless, as each scene introduces either a new computer-generated alien or opportunity for Hemsworth to flex his muscles — is just as pedestrian. The villains, matter-shifting aliens played by French dancers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, allow for some cool effects work, but they get lost in the CGI soup that characterizes the final battles of so many recent superhero movies.

If there’s anything that Men in Black: International proves, it’s that the franchise has potential, but this film fails to grab that brass ring. It’s fun — I don’t want to seem unnecessarily down on a movie that is the epitome of a popcorn-muncher — it’s just likely to be in one ear and out the other, the cinematic equivalent of being neuralyzed. Some time will have passed, and you’ll feel a pleasant daze; you just won’t remember much of what came before.


Fall Guys is the weird, wonderful Ninja Warrior of battle royale games

What if over-the-top, obstacle laden reality shows like Takeshi’s Castle and Ninja Warrior blended with today’s current battle royale-influenced trend? It may be a question nobody thought to ask, but Fall Guys proves the answer is delightful.

Fall Guys is developed by Mediatonic — also making the thematically similar Gears Pop for mobile — and is being published by Devolver Digital, which debuted the trailer during its E3 “press conference” on Sunday evening.

The game’s rounds are set up like episodes of a game show, whittling down the 100 Minion-like Fall Guys through a series of challenges set on stages that feel like bouncy castles on steroids. During the three rounds on display at E3, our group of 100 (which was four human players against 96 AI, for the purposes of the demo) was pared down significantly; failing one of the stages meant you’re just spectating the rest of the episode.

Fall Guys run into doors, trying to find the real one. Mediatonic/Devolver Digital

In the first round, I barreled down lime green slopes with my little magenta Fall Guy (the game named him Pickle Pancakes, and you better believe I stuck with that). Every 50 yards are so, players would be met with a row of doors they’d have to crash through to make it to the next section. But some of the doors were actually solid walls, meaning it was almost better to hang back just a little until someone else had cleared the path. About a fourth (the developers didn’t provide a number) of the slowest to reach the bottom didn’t make it through.

During the next challenge, Tail Tag, half of the contestants would start the round with pink tails stuck to their back. My one goal was to make sure I finished the round with my tail, or face elimination. I scurried over neon blue bouncy bricks and dodged massive hammers to protect my tail, which others could grab off with the game’s simple controls. This round is the most frantic, but also the most fun, as I usually lost my tail in the final moments and had to race to get it back.

Fall guys trying to make it up fall mountain to grab the crown. Mediatonic/Devolver Digital

The final challenge was the race to the top of a mountain and be the first Fall Guy to grab the crown. Of course, the climb isn’t that easy. I dodged giant magenta boulders that tumbled down in waves, and tried escape a row of rotating hammers, which ended up trapping me and tossing my Fall Guy around like a tiny, magenta rag doll. All which felt very akin to Takeshi’s Castle, the Japanese game show that inspired so many other reality stunt shows since.

Even with such short courses (the entire playthrough was maybe 10 minutes, which I repeated once more), Fall Guys feels repeatable. Its shakeup to the battle royale formula is welcome, especially since it only needs three buttons to play. There isn’t specific release timing, but Mediatonic told me they hoped to launch Fall Guys at the start of next year for PlayStation 4 and PC.


Why Pokémon Sword and Shield’s limited Pokédex is such a huge deal to fans

All is not well in the world of pocket monsters. The official Pokémon Twitter account is getting inundated with angry fans. The latest gameplay footage for Pokémon Sword and Shield is getting massively downvoted on YouTube. The Pokémon subreddit is full of concerned threads, some vowing to not buy the upcoming game at all. For a little while, a hashtag was even trending on social media: #bringbacknationaldex.

The hashtag refers to an ongoing Pokémon feature where players are allowed to have a full Pokedex of monsters once they’ve beaten the main game. Whenever there’s a new set of games, they introduce new monsters, and the title will limit you to that repertoire to help you get to know the new cast. But this is only temporary. Eventually, you can import your full collection to the game in question.

Not so in Pokémon Sword and Shield. As we reported earlier this week, producer Junichi Masuda said that only Pokémon from the Galar region will be available in Sword and Shield. According to Masuda, the ever-growing list of Pokémon — which now includes over 800 creatures — coupled with the features of the Nintendo Switch, made importing all monsters into the new games a tough task. The aim was to represent the collection with “much higher fidelity with higher quality animations” than we’ve previously seen before, Masuda told USGamer. Some familiar faces will be back, as every new region includes older Pokémon. But the Galar region will only be home to Galar Pokémon.

Masuda’s comments instantly displeased Pokémon fans. Part of the issue is that Masuda’s explanation doesn’t quite make sense, at least on its face. He speaks of improved animations, but Pokémon games have always presented limited movement when on the battlefield. To wit, one of the viral Tweets floating around presents the dichotomy between what Masuda says, and what the games actually show:

The issue with this line of thinking is that we don’t actually know what animations Masuda is referring to. For all we know, the extended animations might be in reference to Pokémon Amie, which allows us to pet and pamper our favorite buddies. An increasingly convincing leak of Pokemon Sword and Shield states that the upcoming game will allow you to camp with your Pokémon, and while doing so, you’ll be able to play with them, and cook and feed them curry. As camping didn’t exist in previous games, it’s possible the bespoke animations Masuda is talking about aren’t in battles — that’s never been where Pokémon places its animation resources in the first place.

Another part of the narrative that is fueling this backlash comes from the hacking scene, which is well acquainted with how Pokémon games are built. As hackers tell it, the in-game models are being reused from previous games.

This, of course, is difficult to confirm — but it’s definitely influencing a lot of the angry rhetoric I’ve seen floating around. But again, even if it’s reused models, that doesn’t account for the time needed to make hundreds of new animations for new features. Beyond the potential camping mechanic, we’ve also got Dynamaxing, as well as whatever else hasn’t been shown off yet. People are working with limited information at the moment.

Perhaps this seems like an entitled response, but a lot of it has to do with Pokémon’s ongoing identity. At one point, the franchise tagline was “gotta catch ‘em all.” While this phrase still occasionally appears, overall, it’s been retired as the official tagline. Even so, players still approach Pokémon in that way. People love to hunt down complete collections, spending endless hours tracking down rare monsters. Others spend ages hunting shiny Pokémon. And when you’ve been able to transfer your collection from game to game for years now, it means that you start forming attachment to these digital creatures. Each monster has a history. People don’t want to lose that.

Part of the dissonance here is that Game Freak, the developers, encourage this type of approach to the games. Hardcore players pay for the privilege of putting their monsters in the cloud, to preserve them for future games. For some, it feels like a slap in the face to pay for something you won’t be able to use in the latest games.

Dynamax Pikachu appears in a screenshot from Pokémon Sword/Shield Game Freak/The Pokémon Company

So, to some degree, the backlash makes sense: People have spent years playing Pokémon in a specific way, and it’s built up an expectation to be able to do exactly that forever. Criticism and disappointment was inevitable. But, in some ways, the backlash has gotten out of hand. Many miffed players are calling Game Freak “lazy” for not bringing the entire compendium of 800 monsters into Sword and Shield, which is a wild thing to say.

There is no such thing as a lazy game developer. Even disappointing or “bad” games are often a labor of love and crunch. I believe Masuda when he says that animating all 800-plus monsters is hard work. I mean, look at the battle animations that are being skewered right now: Yes, Scorbunny’s attack is just a stock animation. But Scorbunny still has a specific hopping idling animation that unfolds while this attack occurs. That animation must have taken time and effort, and it’s not a resource that can be reused for any other non-bunny monster.

The problem isn’t laziness. The problem, if you can call it that, is a difference in priorities. If Game Freak thought it was important to have the entire Pokédex available in the Galar region, it would do exactly that. Instead, the developer seems to be putting its focus on other portions of the game. We know that Sword and Shield will have raids, an open world, extended online capabilities, and a 3D camera, all in addition to improved graphics. So we know that Game Freak is putting in the effort to make a good game, that effort just isn’t going where fans want it to go. This gap makes it easy for people to put down Game Freak’s existing vision for the game.

Right now, fans are making a fuss in the hopes of grabbing Game Freak’s attention and convincing them to change course. It might not work — Masuda says there are currently no plans to change the compendium via future updates. But unless something changes, we’re probably going to see discourse about the missing National Dex up until the release of Sword and Shield.


Brand-New Hearthstone Legendary Card Is Already One Of The Most Popular In The Game

From time to time, Blizzard gives away free Hearthstone cards. Sometimes, they are good. But sometimes, as with the recently released free Legendary card SN1P-SN4P (pronounced “snip-snap”), they are great. Seriously, if you see this thing pop up while you’re playing a game of Hearthstone, you should be scared.

Hearthstone Card Of The Month

Every month, we take a close look at a card that’s been getting a lot of buzz—good or bad—in the world of competitive Hearthstone.

The card is a 3-mana Mech with 2 Attack and 3 Health, and it comes with a Deathrattle effect that summons two 1/1 Mechs when it dies. If you do the math and add the stats of the Deathrattle minions to the base stats of SN1P-SN4P, you’ve got 4 Attack and 5 Health, which is already extremely powerful for a 3-Mana minion. Remember: In Hearthstone, 3 Mana is worth around 3 Attack and 4 Health on a minion or vice versa. Anything less, and its effect would have to be really good to justify its cost. Anything more, and it’d need to come with some sort of drawback to justify its power level. Those two Mechs that are spawned when SN1P-SN4P dies aren’t a joke, either: Mechs have tons of synergy with other Mech cards, and even though they don’t seem like they pose a huge threat, they can get buffed by other cards if they’re not dealt with immediately. Very annoying.

Not only does SN1P-SN4P have high stats and survivability for its Mana cost, but it also comes with the Magnetic and Echo attributes, which bring its power level to even greater heights. Magnetic means it can attach to other Mech minions, allowing it to buff other creatures and deal damage to the opponent on the same turn it’s played. Echo means you can replay the card as many times as you want in a single turn. Since it costs 3 Mana and the Mana pool maxes out at 10, most players will only be able to play it 3 times in a turn, but if one were able to decrease its cost, it’d mean trouble.

When the card was first announced with the “Rise of the Mechs” special event, players began to obsess over the combo potential of this card. Using a Priest card called Reckless Experimenter, Priests could discount SN1P-SN4P’s cost to 0 mana and, using the card’s Magnetic attribute, infinitely attach it to another Mech minion already on the board, allowing the Priest to stack infinite damage on the board and kill the opponent in a single turn. As a result, Blizzard actually nerfed Reckless Experimenter so that it couldn’t reduce a card’s Mana cost below 1.

That doesn’t mean this infinite damage combo can’t be used in other scenarios. In Hearthstone’s Wild mode, where players can use every card that’s ever been allowed in competitive play, Warlock players can combo SN1P-SN4P with a card called Mechwarper, which reduces the cost of all Mechs by 1, and another card called Summoning Portal, which reduces the cost of all minions by 2, to pull off the combo in a more roundabout way. Some streamers have put together compilations of all the existing infinite damage SN1P-SN4P combos, but many of them are so hard to pull off that they’re not actually viable in competitive play.

The thing is, even without the ability to use SN1P-SN4P infinitely in a single turn, it’s still ultra-powerful on its own. According to the Hearthstone stat-keeping site, it’s currently played in about 26.7 percent of decks, making it the second-most-popular card in the game after another extremely powerful Mech called Zilliax. Decks that use SN1P-SN4P average a 55.6 percent win rate, a full 5.6 percent more than the baseline 50 percent average win rate that one should typically expect from any given deck. It’s a high-power, high-versatility, high-synergy card, and it’s free until July 1.


Pokemon Sword and Shield for the Nintendo Switch won’t have Z-Moves or Mega Evolutions.

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield will not have Mega Evolutions or Z-Moves. Producer Junichi Masuda stated in an E3 interview with Famitsu today that the two features would not be ported to the latest set of games.

The decision to remove them makes sense given that Pokémon Sword and Shield will not contain all existing Pokémon. Masuda has expressed a desire to create high quality, expressive Pokémon, rather than focus on bringing every single Pokémon species to Sword and Shield. Masuda also cited considerations like time, the number of workers, and the Switch hardware as constraints on the development process.

This change will address concerns with competitive play as well. Now the competitive Pokémon scene won’t be forced to balance Z-Moves, Mega Evolutions, and the newly announced Dynamax modes.

Mega Evolutions were first introduced to the franchise in Pokémon X and Y, and Z-Moves were part of Pokémon Sun and Moon. Neither will come to Pokémon Sword and Shield in 2019.

Overall, it seems like a smart move given their priorities. However, we can’t say that we won’t miss the absurd Z-Move animations.

Trainer doing Naruto style Z-Move
Game Freak/Nintendo Co.

Pokémon Sword and Shield will be released Nov. 15 on Nintendo Switch.


Tropico 6 gets ready for consoles with Xbox Game Preview release

Tropico 6, the city/nation-builder which launched on PC back in March, is encroaching on consoles with an Xbox Game Preview version available now. Three months into the new game’s lifespan, developers are comfortable that the changes they’ve introduced are stable and play well with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Sept. 27.

Tropico 6 gathered mostly positive reviews even if it’s largely seen as a safely played follow-up, either refining or resurrecting elements that worked in the past. That obscures some of the new under-the-hood systems actually at work in the game — most notably the “fully simulated” lives of the populace, which took an extra two months of development to get right.

In that light, the big success of Tropico 6 may be that the risks of changing the day-to-day routines and mundane behaviors of individual Tropicans paid off by not breaking the larger game.

“At this point, I think it has been proven to be a pleasant experience for long-term Tropico fans, but as well for people who are new to the genre,” Limbic Entertainment’s Mark Mussler, the game’s lead level designer, told me in a state-of-the-union recap from Los Angeles. “We’ve seen positive reactions from both kinds of player groups.”

What some fans seem to be scratching their heads over, however, is the archipelago — a primary distinction of Tropico 6 and a major departure from how past games handled the starting map. Players now carry out narrative missions or play in a sandbox of multiple islands, instead of just one, which is topologically more befitting a Caribbean or South Pacific nation. In the past, players worked with a single landmass.

Players seem to dig the concept, Mussler said, but it does make land use and expansion a little more challenging — particularly for industries that require a lot of space.

“People like to spend a lot of time and build a city that is not scattered, but is more like a metropolis,” Mussler said. “In Tropico 6, all of the mission maps are available as sandbox maps. But a lot of players jump into the sandbox mode directly, and if they go to one of the mission maps, they’re commonly running into situations where it feels rather cramped.”

Mussler said that analysis of Tropico 6’s telemetry shows the game’s most dedicated players preferring randomly generated maps where they set as large a main landmass as possible. With that in hand, Limbic is working on Tropico 6’s planned DLC with an eye toward starting players in bigger spaces with plenty of room to grow.

“We’ll stick to the archipelago approach, but we’ve put a bit more emphasis on providing islands with more building space,” Mussler said.

Overall, Tropico 6 published its fifth title update just yesterday, and Limbic will start discussing its premium DLC plans soon, with an eye to delivering the first new modules later this summer. The previous Tropico had a dozen premium expansions after release, offering new buildings, mission scenarios, maps, and assorted oddities. Mussler said that the game has been designed from day one with an eye to how the user interface and other features would have to work on a console. A keyboard and mouse is still a more efficient way to play a city-builder, but Mussler says they haven’t introduced things in Tropico 6 that lose their appeal when handled with a gamepad.

In my time with Tropico (coming to the game with Tropico 5, realizing that hardcore fans have favorite editions that aren’t usually the current one) I’ve found the “dictator simulator” term to be a fun conversation starter but a little reductive. It’s more a lesson in watching a simple vision get more bent out of shape by different constituencies, the more successful you are.

Some of the worst missteps I make are when I bring down the iron fist out of frustration, or even spite. With Tropico 6’s inhabitants, you can make enemies that last generations, impervious to all kinds of apologies and favor-doings later. And, of course, the biggest threat remains my own restive military tossing me out on my keister.

Tropico 6 is also just a good pastime game, and if you’re a people watcher, it’s better than ever. The full simulation of Tropicans’ lives could have really gone wrong — and indeed, Limbic Entertainment delayed the game’s launch to tighten down their pathing and behavior. But it works. I like clicking on one of my subjects, happy or un, following them through their workday, tailing them if they hang out with agitators, trying to build a picture of what they want and if not getting it will cause me trouble. Mussler agreed; it was nice to feel like I was playing his game the right way.

“What’s really interesting to show other people, by selecting an individual agent, that they have certain needs and happiness values that they want to fulfill,” Mussler mused. “Then going step by step with them, going to a restaurant to see him having a beer; then once he leaves the bar, his happiness jumps up. Observing that is a lot of fun. It makes it all really interesting and believable.”


The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep gets a spooky trailer

The trailer for Doctor Sleep — a follow-up to Stephen King’s The Shining — summons the ghost of Stanley Kubrick’s original film.

The movie isn’t technically a sequel to that movie, instead based on Stephen King’s 2013 novel of the same name. The book, and now the film, follows a grown-up Danny Torrence (the kid in The Shining) as he deals with life (and death). Danny is plagued by the trauma he went through as a kid and now as an adult, he works in a hospice center where, aided by a cat who can predict when someone is about to die and his own psychic powers, he provides comfort to dying patients. He eventually teams up with a psychic girl named Abra to defeat a cult known as The True Knot that preys on children with psychic powers.

The trailer shows Danny meeting up with Abra, talking about his powers and his past, and walking the halls of the Overlook Hotel.

The film stars Ewan McGregor as Danny, with Rebecca Ferguson as the leader of the cult. Mike Flannigan — known for slasher film Hush, Stephen King adaptation Gerald’s Game and Netflix original series The Haunting of Hill House — directs the adaptation.

Doctor Sleep comes out on Nov. 8, 2019.


Collection Of Mana Is 3 Amazing Games With Not Enough Extra Features

Screenshot: Square Enix
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

One of the first Switch games I bought, way back in the spring of 2017, was the Japanese version of Collection of Mana. It was a very simple package: emulated versions of the first three games in the Mana series, and little else. Two years later, the U.S. version is out, and not much has changed.

Collection of Mana is a $40 package containing the first three games in the Mana series: Final Fantasy Adventure for the Game Boy (from back when the series was more explicitly a Final Fantasy spinoff), the widely beloved Secret of Mana for Super NES, and Trials of Mana.

What’s Trials of Mana? It’s the new official U.S. name for Seiken Densetsu 3, the Super Nintendo sequel to Secret that came out in 1995 in Japan but was famously never released in the West until just this week. Square Enix is now releasing it twice: once as a full modern remake coming in 2020, and once in its original 16-bit form in this collection.

It’s really a crime that it took this long to get here officially, since Trials is a 16-bit masterpiece with beautiful graphics, an ass-kicking soundtrack from Secret’s composer Hiroki Kikuta, and…well, the combat’s a bit janky, but what Mana game’s isn’t?

Square Enix has now translated the whole game into English, which, as any fan translator that works with old games could tell you, is no small feat of reverse engineering. It’s even got a nice, very readable variable-width English font that lets them cram in all the game’s dialogue, which Super Nintendo translations rarely got back in the day.

He… hewwo? Twanslatow? This is weally annoying to wead.
Screenshot: Square Enix (Kotaku)

Meanwhile, Secret of Mana is actually an excellent example of what happens when you don’t change the font size and kerning when you go from Japanese to English, and you can see the results of that in this collection too, since the translations of the first two games are untouched.

It’s not ugly or anything, but the letters take up so much space that you can see why the game’s script had to be cut to shreds when it was translated.
Screenshot: Square Enix

So let’s be clear: It is freaking awesome that Square Enix translated Seiken 3 for this collection. New translations of old games happen very rarely, and this is surely the most complex old-game translation project that’s ever been officially done at a game publisher. It probably helps that this was made by the emulation wizards at M2, which also did Konami’s recent Castlevania and Contra collections for Switch. A lot of effort has been put in to get this collection out of Japan and I’m excited to have it.

That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Collection of Mana is just about as bare-bones as a retro collection can be. There’s a music player and a few different graphical options for the display, and that’s it. As I pointed out when the collection originally came out in Japan, it doesn’t even have manuals that tell you how to play the games. It does have a very basic graphic that shows the control-scheme layout, but it doesn’t explain how the games work. That’s a problem since these are pretty complicated RPGs that, like most other games from the era, don’t explain themselves. Trials of Mana, in particular, is a complex game that originally came with a 48-page manual packed densely with tiny text explaining all its facets.

In fact, when Collection of Mana came out in Japan in 2017, players immediately complained about its lack of manuals. Within days, Square Enix uploaded some to the web, and then issued a software update that added digital manuals to the game itself. These are missing from the U.S. version, and I think a lot of players are going to be racing to GameFAQs in the days to come.

Collection of Mana is a simple release, but that simplicity also has its upsides. Square Enix generally seems to be under the impression that if it rereleases its classic games, it has to put a gross graphical filter over them, change the font to Arial, and do other totally unnecessary things in the name of “progress” when all anybody wants is just the original games running in good emulation. This. This is what Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, and Square’s other classic games deserve, and nothing less.


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