The Roundup: Hades and Spelunky 2 Reviewed, Amazon Enters The Game-Streaming Fight, And More!

By Matt Gerardi

Welcome back to The Roundup, the New York Videogame Critics Circle’s look at our members’ writing and news from around the world of videogames. In this installment, our writers get into the loop of two extraordinary roguelites, give us the scoop on a very ’90s gaming doc, and breakdown Amazon’s entry into the game-streaming scene. Plus, updates from our young writers and our mentoring program.

Fans of the endless, procedurally generated chaos of roguelike (or roguelite or run-based or whatever you want to call them) games have had a lot to celebrate over the last few weeks with the launches of both Spelunky 2 and Supergiant Games’ Hades. Christopher Byrd reviewed the former at The Washington Post, calling this sequel to one of the most influential games ever made “Blazingly difficult and completely addictive.” Chris had never played the original, so his time with Spelunky 2 has been especially grueling, but he’s found himself, like so many other players before him, enamored with the game’s chaotic, endlessly interlocking systems.

Jordan Minor, meanwhile, reviewed Hades at PC Mag. Steeped in a modern and endlessly compelling approach to Greek myth, this latest game from the stellar team at Supergiant Games puts you in the role of the prince of the underworld as he seeks to escape his father’s domain. As to be expected, the gauntlet of battle arenas and Olympian-fueled powerups you find change on every attempt. But the thing that sets Hades apart, Jordan says, is the way it works all the deaths and runs into narrative and character arcs that actually progress as you keep grinding your way to the end. “Hades masterfully nails its minute-to-minute mechanics alongside the larger character and story progression,” he said. “I didn’t want to love Hades, but still loved it. I love looking at, fighting in, and absorbing more of this underworld that never stops.”

Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda and all its studios was a huge, shocking news story—especially that $7.5 billion price tag. But while pundits wondered how this might give Microsoft a leg up in its competition with Sony, some news came bubbling out of Amazon that portrays this purchase in a whole new light: Amazon is launching its own game-streaming service called Luna that could be a big threat in the new battle over gaming-subscription cash that goes well beyond your average console wars. With interviews from Amazon representatives in tow, Scott Stein covered everything we know about the service so far and offered some commentary on where it stands among the competition in terms of its tech, payment model, and game selection. 

Speaking of console wars, a new documentary by that name recently hit CBS All Access. Based on Blake J. Harris’ book and co-directed by Harris himself, it covers the 16-bit-era rivalry between Nintendo and Sega using archival footage, interviews with key players, and lots of nostalgia-biting animation. At The Gamer, Whitney Meers wrote a pair of pieces about the film. Her review paints it as a David and Goliath story, with spunky upstart Sega coming to breakup Nintendo’s domination of American home gaming. “The documentary works because the story comes directly from the mouths of people who lived and breathed it,” she says. Whitney also interviewed the filmmakers behind Console Wars, getting their insights into why this story demanded to be told and the process of translating from book to film.

On the Circle site, Jade Entien, one of our high-school writers from the Bronx’s DreamYard Prep School, gave us the lowdown on The Ambassador: Fractured Timelines, a tough-as-nails retro-styled shooter with a time-freezing twist. The fast pace helps with the challenge, though, Jade says. It’s “an amazing time waster of a game that will make you wish you could freeze time in the real world,” she wrote.

Also on the Circle site, Harold Goldberg delivered another check-in from the group’s ongoing mentoring work in New York’s homeless shelters. This session in question was a challenge, as Harold was working with a student group that’s a little outside our wheelhouse: girls between the ages of nine and 12. But with some reworking of our material, he was able to put together a lesson that resonated with the class and led to some really thoughtful writing.

From Beyond The Circle

Over the summer, Twitch was just one of many organizations named as dozens of survivors shared their stories of sexual abuse and harassment within various gaming companies and communities. This week, following interviews with numerous former Twitch employees in the wake of these allegations, GamesIndustry.biz’s Brendan Sinclair reported on further allegations of sexism, racism, and abuse within the company. Sinclair’s sources note that diversity and professionalism at Twitch improved after it was acquired by Amazon in 2014, but that this improvement did little to eliminate the biases and toxicity that harmed not only employees but also people using its service, particularly women. When asked for response to the allegations, Twitch told Sinclair “”We take any allegations of this nature extremely seriously, whether on our service or within our company, and work swiftly to investigate and address them as appropriate. Any suggestions to the contrary misrepresent our culture, leadership, and values.”

A few months removed from the release of the game itself, David Shimomura looked back at the conversation that followed the release of Ghost of Tsushima and the hostile silencing of diasporic Japanese critics who sought to write about the game’s handling of its setting and themes. There’s a lot more to unpack in this story than your usual case of “angry gamers irrationally attack dissenting voices” (although that’s certainly at the heart of it), and Shimomura does a great job interviewing a number of critics and editors to touch on as many of these ideas as possible, from the obfuscating lens of translation and excerpting to the English-speaking press’ often-orientalist coverage of Japanese games media and blatant disregard for informed Japanese voices not emanating from within the country itself.

In light of the lack of woman-identifying developers working in the industry, AT&T has launched a game development competition exclusively for creators who identify as women. Called AT&T Unlocked Games, the competition is currently accepting submissions from development teams that are “woman-led and/or made up of at least 50% women, including a woman developer lead,” through October 26. Six finalists will be chosen, and representatives from those development teams will have a chance to showcase their projects on a livestream taking place on December 2. Afterward, the competition’s industry-expert judges will select a grand-prize winner and runner-up, while a third “Gamer’s Choice” winner will be selected through fan voting. All three winners will receive various amounts of funding and promotional support, with the grand prize including a “$50,000 grant to fund final phase of game development and/or offset development costs.”

That’ll do it for this Roundup. Thank you for reading, and we’ll see you again soon.

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.

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