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—ahem—marvel at the superhero mash-up of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, get down to brass tacks in Fantasy Strike, and go bookish with a pair of young-adult fiction inspired stories. Plus, a grim warning about the state, and future, of big-budget games.
Last week saw the release of an unexpected but totally fitting crossover, when Nintendo partnered with Marvel published Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 as a Switch exclusive. Scott Stein reviewed the surprising sequel, which is bursting at the seams with Marvel characters and flavor. The hack-and-slash RPG style of it all means repetition sets in pretty quickly, but “the insane mash-up of it all,” taking players all over the Marvel universe and into the tights of dozens of heroes, does a lot of work to make up for the slog, Scott says.
The fantastical fisticuffs don’t end there. Also this week, Mike Andronico reviewed Fantasy Strike, a new fighting game that takes on the noble task of cutting away the executional hurdles that complicate the genre and make it too difficult for many players to crack. It aims to do that by eliminating arcane joystick wiggles and some other complexities, leaving only the deceptively simple fundamentals for players to learn and hone. Mike, a fighting-game guru in his own right, thinks the game “succeeds with flying colors” when it comes to the prime mission, saying it “does a fantastic job removing the barriers that typically keep newcomers from enjoying fighting games, without sacrificing the tactical depth or visual excitement that makes the genre so compelling.”
And Ronald Gordon shared his thoughts on The Lost Legends of Redwall: The Scout, the first in a six-part episodic adaptation of the long-running Redwall fantasy book series. He enjoyed the game’s storybook look and storytelling method—framing the action as a story being passed from grandfather to grandchild—but the game’s rough edges, like a bugs and a poor frame rate, will need some ironing out in future episodes if it’s going to match up to the beloved books, Ronald said.
While we’re on a literary bent: Elizabeth Ballou brought us the story of Jordan Ifueko, a young-adult author who found her calling as a teenager writing fan-fiction in the Neopets community. This wasn’t just any, fanfiction, though. This was a Neopets spin on Pride and Prejudice. But the openness of the game’s community and world—one without the racial prejudice or the colonial history of British literature—allowed Ifueko, a first generation American of Nigerian descent, to comfortably retell Jane Austen’s famous story while projecting herself into the central role.
Most grimly, Joshua Rivera published a wide-ranging op-ed that’s probably best summed up by its title: “The Video Game Industry Can’t Go On Like This.” Joshua rightfully notes that, when taken together, many of the major trends and stories coming out of the big-budget game development over the last few years—inhumane work practices, mass layoffs, exploitative moneymaking mechanics, skyrocketing budgets and smaller profit potential—paint a dire picture of where that industry is and where it could be headed. He doesn’t stop there, though, pointing out that the biggest cloud hanging over all our futures, climate change, also looms large over gaming as well.
Finally, Adam Sessler spoke to the high school students, part our Bronx Summer Videogame Journalism course. Adam was the driving force behind G4TV, but beyond his appealing on-camera presence, he’s an excelent writer. In fact, Imad Khan, our Critics Circle journalist who’s working so hard to help teach this daily course with our DreamYard Project partners, showed Adam’s deep review of Bioshock Infinite prior to his talk. It still stands strong to this day.
From Beyond The Circle
Red Dead Redemption 2 might have taken the world by storm in 2018, but it never quite eclipsed the juggernaut that is Rockstar’s last game, Grand Theft Auto V and, particularly, Grand Theft Auto Online. That multiplayer mode is still going strong, and this week, it got a big update in the form of a massive casino dropped into the heart of South San Andreas. While some players are making headlines by turning themselves into the poor valet attendant’s eternal torturers, the addition itself is stirring up some questions about the appropriateness of videogame gambling in a game where you can turn real money into digital currency and casino chips. The BBC did some investigating into whether this constitutes gambling, in a legal sense, and requires more oversight. And Kotaku reported on the fact that, while all regions have received the casino update, there are some countries where, for regulatory reasons, players simply can’t gamble.
Earlier this week, Stanford University published a compelling article about two of its researchers who have become champions of what they call “scientific discovery games.” These are games designed to not just empower players to learn about science, but to also contribute to its practice. Foldit, which simulated the folding of proteins and collected user data to help scientists better understand and better design proteins, is likely the earliest and most famous game in this field, and it’s slowly grown in the years since.
Last but not least, we have a very cool announcement from The Strong Museum. Late last year, The Strong teamed up with two other great Rochester gaming institutions, the Rochester Institute of Technology and the education experts at Second Avenue, to release a clever smartphone game based on the museum’s collection of old timey physical dexterity games, starting with 1880s “Pigs in Clover.” (You know, the kind that has you tilting around a little hunk of wood to get a bunch of tiny marbles into a hole.) The resulting collection is called The Original Mobile Games, and it’s part digital museum exhibit and part old-school exercise in momentum, dexterity, frustration. This week, the game made its way to the Nintendo Switch as well. Check it out!
That’ll do it for this week’s Roundup. Thank you 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.