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, critics celebrate the biggest Pokémon yet and the 15th anniversary of Halo 2’s industry-changing innovations. Plus, the world of Death Stranding gets explained and one of our young writers gets physical with Nintendo’s latest exer-game.
It took 23 years and a handful of half measures, but Nintendo has finally gone and released the first original set of Pokémon games for one of its TV-connected consoles (albeit one that still doubles as a handheld, of course). Daniel Howley reviewed Pokémon Sword and Shield at Yahoo!, calling it “The Pokémon I’ve always wanted.” For Daniel, that really comes down to the huge leap in scope and density this move to the Switch has allowed the developers at Game Freak to bring to this new England-inspired Pokémon world. “I’ve wanted to be able to play a full-fledged Pokémon title on my television since I was in middle school,” he wrote, “and Sword and Shield have finally delivered on that.”
Every few years, a new multiplayer shooter comes along and sets the stage for a complete shift in the way the entire genre—and often, all of online gaming—operates. Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds mainstreamed the battle royale. Call of Duty 4 got everyone hooked on persistent progression and the slow drip of unlockable goodies. And before all that, it was Halo 2, the game that established many of the hallmarks of online, console-based multiplayer we take for granted today. To celebrate the game’s 15th anniversary, Anthony John Agnello looked back on its legacy with the developers and innovative marketers who turned the humble original into an industry-redefining phenomenon, as well as the pro players and content creators who used it as a launching pad for their own careers and gave us a preview of what the broader gaming community would look like today.
We’re a week into the publicly released life of Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding, but unless you’ve dug way into the game’s strange sci-fi world, you might still be finding yourself asking what the heck it’s all about. Well, fresh off her stellar review of the game, Heather Alexandra put together a quick and dirty primer to help fill in the gaps. What is a death stranding anyway? Why are there ghosts everywhere? And what’s the deal with the baby? All is answered here for the curious and confused alike.
And finally, we head over to the Critics Circle site, where Isaac Espinosa dove headfirst into Ring Fit Adventure, into Nintendo’s latest stab at turning exercise into a game. He was impressed by its wealth of options and fine-tuned balance between gaming and exercising, all of which makes it especially well suited for appealing to exercise newbies and gym rats alike. Plus, as one might expect from a Nintendo game, it’s great at keeping the encouragement going. “[It] also throws plenty of helpful words and tips your way, convincing you not to give up,” Isaac wrote. “When you tire, those words are super helpful to keep going.”
From Beyond The Circle
If you’ve followed the online discourse around Obsidian Entertainment’s The Outer Worlds, you probably noticed that one character in particular, the charming space engineer Parvati, has come to stand out as a strong, resonant figure and one of the more shining examples of the game’s writing. That is, in part, because of the writers at Obsidian conceiving of Parvati as a queer character, one that identifies as a very real but very uncommonly represented combination of sexual orientations. At Vice, Patrick Klepek wrote a feature about how Obsidian achieved its level of nuance and quiet gravity when it came to the subject of Parvati’s sexual orientation. Vitally, she was scripted by a writer who shares that orientation and crafted using her own experiences and personal struggles to craft not just the character’s arc and dialogue but also the tenor of the conversations players are able to have with her. “I want that conversation to feel like a safe space for the players who are playing it and identify with it,” she said. “I don’t want to pull the rug out from under them and say, ‘Haha, actually you’re a joke,’ or ‘other people think you are a joke,’” Kate Dollarhyde, Parvati’s writer, told Vice. “[…] I don’t want to write a homophobia simulator. That’s not what I got in the game writing for.”
Most everyone has known for a while now about Dungeons & Dragons’ resurgence. Whether you want to pin its renewed popularity on the invasion of ’80s iconography into mainstream pop culture—like Stranger Things—or the phenomenon of “actual play” podcasts and video shows, there’s no denying D&D is more more popular now than it has been in decades. The New York Times finally caught up with the trend. But what’s most worthwhile in this feature by Ethan Gilsdorf isn’t its examination of the same old D&D revival story; it’s how this article touches on the game’s renewed dedication to representation and how it can be a powerful tool for players struggling with various social, emotional, or mental disorders.
Also worth checking out this week is the latest short doc from Noclip, the Patreon-funded studio that’s been crafting great video documentaries about games and the people who play and make them. This newest video (embedded above) takes viewers behind the scenes of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (better known to all of us as the ESRB). There’s always been a vague understanding of the ESRB’s rating process floating around in the gaming public’s consciousness, but hearing about those guidelines directly from ESRB employees paints a much better picture of how those all-important ratings get decided. The interviews also touch on how the organization is grappling with the ever-changing state of games, from the growth of independent publishers and digital distribution to live games with long, potentially rating-changing content plans and the question of dealing with lootboxes.
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.