By Matt Gerardi
Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s weekly look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. This week, our critics wrestle with some games that might be a little too earnest for their own good and get their hands on Nintendo’s newest bit of kit. Plus, we have some fabulous news about the Circle’s latest mentoring initiative.
The Roundup is back after a week of Independence Day celebration. We have plenty of ground to cover, so let’s dive straight in with a review of one of the most hotly awaited releases of the year: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. This is Koji Igarashi’s long-gestating return to the influential style of exploratory action games he perfected with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The game was Kickstarted way back in 2015, promising its legion of eager backers a new game that was as close to Symphony as possible, and, as Joshua Rivera says in his review, the final product delivers just that—for better and worse. It’s a solid, slavish recreation of a beloved formula, but, he asks, shouldn’t we expect more than that?
Jo-Mei Games’ Sea of Solitude is another recent, highly creator-driven release, and Christopher Byrd reviewed it for The Washington Post. The game gained a lot of attention for its explicit exploration of mental health issues and desire to communicate those experiences to players so that they might better understand loved ones who live through them. It’s a noble goal, but with ham-fisted symbolism and underwhelming writing and acting, the game struggles to stick the landing, Christopher argues.
Circle intern Zante Barker also wrote about an incredibly earnest game published by Electronic Arts: Unravel Two. Zante loves puzzle-platformer games, and so this quiet, mysterious co-op adventure struck a chord right away. Besides the head-scratching puzzles, Zante was especially taken with the game’s atmosphere and foggy, photo-realistic look.
Final Fantasy XIV is one of gaming’s great comeback stories. Having recovered from a dreadful launch, Square Enix gave it an acclaimed overhaul, and it has slowly grown into an MMO juggernaut. But that revamp is now six years old. With several expansions under its belt, including the recent Shadowbringers, getting into the game is an intimidating prospect. Luckily, Heather Alexandra has assembled a wonderful beginner’s guide to help interested adventurers understand how to buy FF14 and get started with its dizzying array of content.
After much rumor and speculation, Nintendo has unveiled its first new model of Switch. Dubbed the Switch Lite, this cheaper, portable-only version of the popular console is set to launch in September. Scott Stein got some hands-on time with the new iteration and even spoke to Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser about what it brings to the table. Scott came away feeling it was noticeably more compact and solid—just what you’d expect from a more travel-friendly device—and that the smaller size had some nice benefits, including a slightly sharper screen. The real question is how easily Switch owners picking up a second console will be able to transfer their saved games between devices. Scott tried to get Doug Bowser to answer that one, but the exec punted, saying “Yes, you will have the ability to transfer between devices, your gameplay experiences. More to come on there, but that is the intention.”
And finally, we have some major Circle news. Our mentoring partnership with the DreamYard Project took a monumental step forward this week with the launch of our first daily course: a summer-long program in games journalism featuring speakers, trips, and six weeks of concentrated mentoring taught by city educator Stefanelli Romano and Circle member Imad Khan. Harold Goldberg gave us the scoop on all the details, including a look at the radical custom-painted classroom. Congratulations to all involved in this wonderful project!
From Beyond The Circle
Take This, a non-profit that provides support for and awareness of mental health in the game industry, released a “State of the Industry” white paper breaking down the trends it has pinpointed as having distinct negative impacts on the mental well-being of industry employees and leaders. Leading negative trends were job burnout and instability, a lack of diversity, and negative public reaction to games, including online harassment. In addition to the report, Take This has also announced the formation of a working group of five game companies, including heavy hitters like Bungie and Zenimax, that will partner with the organization to share data and work with Take This to develop plans for alleviating some of these issues. Polygon has a full report on the initiative that’s well worth reading and includes illuminating quotes from Eve Crevoshay, Take This’ executive director.
At Forbes, Matt Paprocki wrote about an interesting game that recently made its way to Steam from students of the influential USC Games Program. Called Plasticity, it’s a 20-40 minute puzzle platformer that takes place in a different sort of post-apocalypse: a realistic future overwhelmed by plastic waste, leaving “leaving lifeless lands, flooded cities, and widespread debris.” The free game is of course meant to inspire awareness about waste and climate change and to reinforce the notion that our small daily choices have an impact, whether positive or negative. “Plasticity strives to give people immediate feedback for the actions they take to affect the earth,” says game director Aimee Zhang.
We’re just two weeks away from the Game Devs of Color Expo here in New York, and the organizers behind this vital annual conference recently unveiled the exciting lineup of games and speakers that attendees can expect to see when they head to Harlem’s Schomburg Center on July 27. The games lineup is especially striking, a diverse mix of video and tabletop games from around the world. And the schedule of talks includes some familiar faces, like Shawn Alexander Allen talking with the likes of Mike Eagle and Mega Ran about the intersection of hip-hop and videogames and an appearance from our own Sherri Smith.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week!
Matt Gerardi is a writer from New York, the former games editor at The A.V. Club, and a member of the New York Videogame Critics Circle.