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 give some of Nintendo’s latest offerings a whirl, with a review of the mecha action extravaganza Daemon X Machina and an in-depth look at Banjo and Kazooie’s long-awaited Smash Bros. debut. Plus, Sega gets into the mini-nostalgia-console market and Greedfall struggles to reckon with its ugly setting.
Nintendo’s onslaught of Switch-exclusive games continued this week with Daemon X Machina, a heavily stylized giant robot—or “mecha,” if you will—action game in the mold of long-dormant cult favorites like Armored Core. Austin Walker brought his deep wealth of mecha expertise to his review for Vice, comparing Daemon to the broader “humanoid war machine” sub-genre and finding that, while it might not pursue some of the more high-minded aspects that contemporaries like Battletech offer, it nails the sheer sensory delights of piloting a high-speed death robot through torrents of bullets within visually arresting post-apocalyptic landscapes.
A smaller but nonetheless exciting part of Nintendo’s fall slate surprise dropped last week when the beloved ’90s duo Banjo and Kazooie came to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate as the game’s latest downloadable fighter. Imad Khan teamed up with Tom’s Guide to breakdown the capabilities of this formidable twosome. By Imad’s measure, Banjo and Kazooie make for a pretty good Smash character, being relatively nimble and long-reaching for a fighter with this much heft and power. If you’re looking to learn more about this long-awaited Smasher, be sure to check out Imad’s detailed guide for plenty of insights and tips.
Nintendo’s old rival Sega is back in the hardware game—in a way. Following the wild success of the miniaturized NES and SNES Classic systems, Sega has finally taken throwback emulation consoles seriously and is gearing up for the release of the Sega Genesis Mini, an adorable replica of its iconic ’90s system pre-loaded with 40 games. Scott Stein reviewed the unit for Cnet, calling it “the beautiful little Sega retro box I wanted forever,” but noting that, if you already have modern consoles, you have easier and cheaper ways of accessing many of these games. Still, for collectors and those interested in the oddities tucked away in the Genesis Mini’s collection, Scott argues, it’s definitely worth the look.
Meanwhile, at Kotaku, Heather Alexandra ran down her experience with the first 10 hours of Greedfall, a new choice-filled RPG that takes place in a fantastical spin on the early American colonies and has the player maneuvering through a web of conflicting factional interests. While Heather has found that all the questing and battling has been perfectly fine, the thing that’s ultimately driving her away from the game is its premise and the troubling feeling that it won’t go far enough to address the very real, very painful issues of violent colonization in which the game is dabbling. “There’s been very little opportunities to push back,” Heather writes. “You might prevent a tragedy here or there, but so long as the game pushes the player acquiesce to formality and political decency, there’s no room for any transformative action.” Heather is hopeful that will change, and hopefully, we’ll get to check back in with her as she keeps trudging through the game.
And now for some Circle news. Our mentoring program recently completed its yearly scholarship competition, this time taking the form of a long-term narrative design project. In a post on the Circle site, Harold Goldberg described the process all these talented students went through—first writing a thoughtful poem that reflected social justice themes, then translating that poem into a pitch for a game level and building that level in LittleBigPlanet 3. Click on through to Harold’s article to find those original poems, along with, of course, the announcement of the competition winners.
Goldberg also wrote about the general failure of the story mode in NBA 2K20, created by LeBron James’ company, for The Washington Post. The rest of the basketball simulation game shines, he says.
Also, coming up this weekend, the Circle will be in attendance at the Henry Street Settlement Block Party. This jamming community event features music, food, vendors, and raffles, and we’ll have members on hand to hang out, chat about games and our education efforts, and even to play a few games with anyone who stops by.
From Beyond The Circle
Kate Willaert, who creates deeply researched articles and video essays about games and comics at A Critical Hit, published a fantastic piece about a tremendously important landmark in gaming that, were it not for the efforts of a few stalwart preservationists, would have completely disappeared from gaming history. It’s called The Sumerian Game, and it was a piece of early educational software designed for students way back in 1964. By Willaert’s estimation, it’s the first narrative videogame ever created, using an IBM terminal and mainframe connected to a slide projector for still visuals and a cassette tape for audio—“This is the first cutscene,” Willaert writes. “The first unskippable cutscene!”—to turn kids into the ruler of a Sumerian city-state. Just as important is the fact that this forgotten landmark was written and largely developed by a woman, a school teacher from upstate New York named Mabel Addis. Be sure to head over to the article to find out the rest of the history behind this fascinating game.
This week, Kentucky Fried Chicken decided it would be great PR to get into the videogame space, launching a meme-filled Twitter account and announcing the upcoming release of a free advergame. But the wacky premise and high-production value of that game—a visual novel that lets players “date” an impossibly pretty anime version of Colonel Sanders—turned it into a viral hit not just on social media but in the games press as well. This prompted Ana Valens, writing for The Daily Dot, to argue that journalists have a responsibility to pass up these sorts of corporate stunts, which, at the end of the day, are still just carefully calculated marketing campaigns. This is especially true, Valens writes, when the massive corporate actor at the center of the story is tapping into a niche sub-culture like visual novels and dating sims, which often goes under-covered and has been such an important avenue of expression for marginalized creators.
Similarly, writer Jeffrey Rousseau put out a call to game developers to be better, in this case about building more inclusive character creators. Rousseau thoughtfully illustrated how this issue is way more complex than just equipping character-customizers with more skin tones (although that’s certainly a huge issue and easy place for the improvements to start). It also means filling games with Afrocentric hairstyles and, crucially, being more mindful about deploying lighting, particularly in these character creation screens, that properly illuminates melanated skin. It’s a great, vital read, and even ends with Rousseau’s recommendations for character creators that do well by people of color.
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.