In a landscape already oversaturated with live games, differentiation is vital. Ninjala attempts to forge its own path through a combination of bubbly style and unique melee mechanics. And though it's light on content and heavy on microtransactions at launch, those two qualities are enough to make it stand out, and could give it the necessary staying power to live on long-term.
The mechanical differentiation comes from eschewing the usual shooter tropes of competitive online games. Instead, Ninjala is a multiplayer game focused primarily around melee combat, forcing tight confrontations between kid-ninjas with limited range. That gives it a feeling akin to a game like Devil May Cry, as you may see an opponent from a distance and charge in to do battle and then dash off quickly. The attack button is mapped to the shoulder like a traditional shooter by default, but I found a different control preset that set it to a face button much more natural to the character-action feel.
The weapons are limited to only three types--balanced katana, powerful hammers, and ranged yo-yos--but they produce a surprising amount of variety. The weapon types come with a handful of design variants, each with their own special properties and powerful ultimate ability. Finding your preferred playstyle is a matter of narrowing down the options, first by toying with the weapon classes themselves and then diving into the next layer to find which combination of special abilities suits you. None of the weapons feel obviously overpowered compared to the rest, so it really comes down to personal preference.
Xbox Series X,
PC), TBA (PlayStation 5,
Xbox Series X)
Rating: Rating Pending
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
We recently had the amazing opportunity to go hands-on with Cyberpunk 2077, which you can read about in our full playthrough impressions as well as our biggest takeaways article. We also sat down with some of CD Projekt Red’s talented developers, learning more about their creative process and how they approached this ambitious project. One topic that consistently surfaced was the team's signature shades-of-gray storytelling and how it enhances the experience.
During our four-hour demo, we wrestled with who to trust, never feeling completely confident in our decisions or what the consequences would be. If you played CD Projekt Red’s Witcher series, you know this feeling all too well, but with each passing project, the developers only seem to be getting better at keeping you on your toes and making you second-guess your actions. To learn how much care and thought goes into these interactions, we asked lead quest designer Paweł Sasko for more insight into the complicated process.
“It’s a very complex thing,” Sasko says, laughing. “It’s very easy when you design things to just fall into one [extreme] or another, and this is how our production style comes into play.” According to Sasko, every quest gets created with the writer, quest designer, and cinematic designer working together and challenging each other to show different sides to the character. “We’re always keeping each other in check… to figure out the correct way to present elements or the character when you look at it from their perspective,” he says. “We always look at it from a perspective of balance.”
Sasko says it comes down to feedback from both designers and testers. If they feel strongly against a character, the designers come together to think of ways to better showcase the character’s point of view and give more context for their actions. Sasko worked on the famous Bloody Baron quest from The Witcher 3, where you find out the man who offered his hospitality to Ciri also has an abusive past. “One of our objectives was to find a parallel between Geralt as a father and Baron as a father, but also throw enough bad things in there so the player will like him and dislike him at the same time,” Sasko says. “This is what we are almost constantly playing with in Cyberpunk 2077, having it be like in real life where people say one thing and then do another.”
CD Projekt Red goes to great lengths to pull this off in its games, using body language and dialogue to throw you in different directions. Just like in real life, you can never really know someone’s true intentions or what they’re thinking. Cyberpunk 2077 offers a world of danger, where it feels like everyone is out for themselves, just waiting to pull one over on you. As customized protagonist V, you must try to navigate these shady people to the best of your abilities, and deal with the repercussions. “It might be that a character is speaking in a very convincing manner, but through the animations, through their poses, and through the setup of the scene, we are showing that the character is not like that,” Sakso says.
A character in our demo named Evelyn is a good example of this. Evelyn is shrouded in mystery when you meet her; she's a confident, charming young woman who contracted Dex, the fixer you get one of your first big jobs from. All your interactions with her prove she has some connection to Night City’s high circles, but every time you ask her questions, it feels like you’re only getting half the story. At one point, she offers to just cut Dex out of the deal so only you two split the riches. It’s suspicious, but then again, you don’t know Dex that well. Still, are you ready to cross a legendary fixer who could make your life hell?
“When you're meeting Evelyn in Lizzie’s [Bar], she's doing very specific things in the specific moments and there are things she is not certain about that she’s discussing,” Sasko says. “The way she's moving in that scene, that's specifically designed to present that character in the best possible way, and to give the player lots of different interpretations and hypotheses.”
Sasko says the team then throws in more potential clues to give players a certain perspective or vision of the character. Then in the next meeting with the character, the team tries to twist this a bit by adding more elements to the picture that test or confirm the player's hypothesis. It’s a tricky balance between conveying a sense of who that character is as a person, but also reflecting the complexity of people and their capacity to omit, forget, or alter details. After all, memory is a tricky thing, and people’s versions of events sometimes change as they relay them.
The audio and dialogue also play a huge role in uncovering new information and giving you different ways to interpret characters. “When you talk to the characters and ask more questions, they can actually throw things in that are contradictory or will give you some more clues to what they really think to make you question things,” Sasko says. “It’s just really fun because that makes the player be conscious and look at the characters. Of course, we cannot be all over the place with that, because if you go completely random, then it won't work. It has to be designed very specifically.”
People are complicated, multi-dimensional beings, and CD Projekt Red certainly likes to display that in its games. In Cyberpunk 2077, there are no correct answers – just a bunch of choices and seeing where they lead. Either way, we can’t wait to see more of the intriguing people and conundrums V will face.
Platform: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Outriders is the upcoming cooperative shooter/RPG from developer People Can Fly and publisher Square Enix, and the companies are giving eager players a new look at the game in action. The latest video dives into how Outriders' world and quests are structured.
Highlights include some info about your base/truck, a look at some members of your crew, and an explanation about how the hub-and-spoke layout of the map accommodates different sidequests. Get those details and more by watching the footage above.
The battle royale arena always has new contenders entering, taking shots at the big players in the genre. Today, Ubisoft showed off its latest first-person foray into the battle royale ring, Hyper Scape. With 100 players, three-person squads, and some mechanics that change things up for longtime fans of the "where we dropping?" genre, Ubisoft is betting heavily on another element to power its boisterous bash: the viewers. Tapping into the world of streaming integration, Hyper Scape allows viewers to engage with the players in important ways, like voting on in-game events to change the shape of the game. Hyper Scape is free-to-play and coming to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
The game begins in a familiar fashion. In a waiting room, players wander around and size each other up as the player count ticks up. Then, it's drop time! Pods fly down from the sky (no fall damage) and allow you to pick and prioritize your landing zone. The major landmarks contain significantly more loot than the smaller ones, but as is the standard, you'll probably have to blast your way out of an early conflict to walk away with the gear.
Gear in Hyper Scape works a bit differently than other battle royales. Your weapons and abilities have different tiers that can be upgraded by collecting multiple copies, making those extra guns a boon when you find them. So if you have a shotgun and find another shotgun, it might upgrade the magazine size, and the next copy might upgrade the damage. Upgrade enough times, and you max out a weapon or ability, turning it golden. If you're really lucky, you can find golden items out in the wild without having to do any upgrading at all. If you're looking to score some fully-upgraded loot right away, the hot spots often contain them.
Hyper Scape keeps it simple with two weapons and two abilities. That's your kit. Some of the abilities are familiar fare – healing, teleporting, invisibility – but I had a ton of fun with the bouncy ball. Yes, one of the skills you can pick up is an armored ball that you can bounce around in to giant heights, and then jump out of your ball midair and let loose a salvo at the enemy. The ball is a great way to dive into combat or escape a dangerous encounter, plus it looks really cool and plays up the game's vertical focus.
One mechanic that battle royales are tackling today is how to handle death. What happens if your teammate dies? Well, in Hyper Scape you can bring them back with a little effort, but the journey to make that happen is the most interesting angle. When a player dies in a squad scenario, they become a ghost. They're still in the game, but they can't interact with anything, meaning they still have sight and can feed you information regarding enemy movements with zero risks. If you defeat an enemy, a beacon appears where they've been slain, and your fallen teammate can head to this beacon and sit on it. At the beacon, you can revive your dead ally. They come back without their loot, but ready to get back in the action. This means theoretically a player could come back in a match many times, assuming they have savvy teammates willing to take risks and communicate to bring them back.
As with other battle royales, the field of play whittles down as areas of the cityscape collapse in stylish fashion over the course of a game, which feels less like a strict circle closing in and more about closing off the field chunk by chunk. With all the death involved in a final-zone scenario, you may be wondering how things get resolved when teams can potentially bring their allies back to life many times. That's where the crown comes in. In the late game, when players are corralled into the final district, a crown will spawn. If a player on your team can hold the crown for a short period of time, you win and the game is over. Of course, you are highlighted on the map while holding the hot potato, so everyone remaining is gunning for you. If you go down holding the crown, someone else can grab it, and the action continues until one team is left or a player holds the crown long enough.
It's 2020 and visibility and watchability are key factors for some games. Hyper Scape is one of those titles. With a robust Twitch extension, viewers can alter the game state in real-time by voting on alterations. Want to see some low-gravity action? Vote! Unlimited ammo? Vote! Health for everyone? Vote it up! As a viewer, you can have a direct impact on the game by slinging votes and then watching how your favorite players and teams handle the new rules. There are other ways that viewers can interact with Hyper Scape and streamers, like integration that allows you to play with your favorite streamer without any laborious friend invites; it's all handled by the extension. It's stream-centered gameplay from the ground up, so we'll see if Ubisoft's bid to win the viewers via integration pays off.
You can score an invite to Hyper Scape right now via drops by watching your favorite streamers, with more information on a wide release coming in the future.
Platform: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Switch, PC
Developers The Game Bakers are taking a different approach for Haven compared to the studio's last title, action game Furi. Haven is designed as a simpler, less-frantic PS5/PS4 co-op action/RPG.
Creative director Emeric Thoa says he was inspired by the game Flower and its chill gameplay. Although Haven has standard elements like crafting, different approaches to combat, and much more, the aim was to make things as simple and un-confusing as possible, doing away with complex skill trees, crafting systems, and UI overload.
Instead, Haven wants you to focus on controlling Yu and Kay as they explore the world – including enabling seamless drop-in co-op – and becoming invested in the couple's story.
Haven was announced as part of Sony's PlayStation Indies initiative, but does not yet have a release date for either version.
Revealed as part of PlayStation's recently announced indie-focused initiative, Where the Heart Is is an new narrative adventure slated to hit PS4 later this year.
The game is being developed by Armature Studio, and tells the strange story of a man named Whit Anderson. He falls down a sinkhole on his family farm, and then relives moments of his life in a series of vignettes. These story scenes have a dream-like quality, and players have the opportunity to make choices that impact the course of Whit's life and the consequences of his actions.
You can get more details (and see more of the game in motion) by checking out the spotlight on the PlayStation Blog.
Click image thumbnails to view larger version
Right now, Where the Heart Is has only been announced for PlayStation 4. However, since the game is releasing this winter, the question of a possible PlayStation 5 release naturally arises. Though the team has no additional platform announcements at this time, a PR representative for Armature Studio tells us that the team is incredibly excited for the PlayStation 5 and what it means for gamers and developers.
Today brought the reveal of F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch, a new action/platformer from TiGames. With the help of Unreal 4, F.I.S.T. features a gorgeous dieselpunk aesthetic, showing off an industrialized world filled with anthropomorphic animals whose world has been overtaken by a malevolent machine legion.
Players take on the role of Rayton, a rabbit war veteran who dons a mechanized backpack suit that provides tremendous facility in battle. The suit can shift between a fist, drill, or whip attack form, giving Rayton different approaches to combat, from slow and devastating (drill) to fast and longer-distance (whip). Each weapon is built to allow for combo-heavy arcade-style combat against an array of mechanical enemies.
Beyond the 2D battles, F.I.S.T. is also billed as an exploration game, as Rayton makes his way through the interconnected city, so it’s fair to expect at least a bit of Metroid DNA in the mix.
F.I.S.T. makes a strong first impression. The visuals look great, the combat appears fast and reactive, and the world seems both charming and gritty. Take a look at the trailer below.
F.I.S.T.: Forged In Shadow Torch is planned for release on PS4 sometime in the next few months.
In the late '90s and early aughts, a little fellow named Mr. Driller burrowed his way into the hearts of puzzle game fans worldwide. The years that followed saw several Mr. Driller releases across multiple platforms, but after a while, Namco seemed content to entomb the series and focus on other things. Now, a little over a decade later, Bandai-Namco has decided to unearth one of the most beloved Mr. Driller games, the formerly Japan-and-Europe-exclusive Mr. Driller Drill Land, to release on Switch and PC for a new generation of fans to enjoy.
Mr. Driller Drill Land focuses on the titular Mr. Driller, aka Susumu Hori, and his extended gang of excavator friends and family (including his dad Taizo, who you might remember from Dig Dug). They're off to visit a new underground amusement park called Drill Land, filled with attractions that very coincidentally are based around the colored-block-drilling gameplay that defines the Mr. Driller series--with some notable twists. Challenges, cards, and plenty of collectibles abound in Drill Land, and you'll have to see if you have the chops to conquer each of the park's different attractions for high scores and goodies. (And you might just save the world, too.)
The core Mr. Driller gameplay is a neat twist on the "falling colored blocks" idea. You control Susumu (or one of his companions), using your drill to break up colored blocks and dig deeper and deeper into the earth. As you destroy blocks and work your way into the earth, you'll free up other blocks, which will fall and join up with (and also break) others of the same color. Your goal is to reach a certain depth, but that's easier said than done--you have a limited air supply that acts as a timer, and some poor drilling choices could lead to your driller getting smooshed under a landslide. This makes the game a tense, careful balancing act--while air pickups are frequently available, being too hasty with your drilling decisions when oxygen is limited could lead to disaster. It might sound intimidating, but it's much easier to understand once you play a few sessions and see for yourself how loose blocks fall, combine, and break. After you grasp the basics, you'll grow into a groove and skillfully obtain pickups, create chains to eliminate lots of blocks at once, and find safe spots among a cascade of falling earth.
It all starts in a familiar way, with an invitation from Princess Peach. Toad Town is hosting a special origami festival, and Mario and Luigi are among the requested guests. Say no more! The brothers head out to the event, only to find that the ordinarily thriving town is virtually abandoned. Worse, Peach has been transformed: Her body has been reconfigured into an origami form, and her normally friendly personality replaced with a detached automaton.
Peach is among the latest victims of King Olly, the diabolical ruler of the Origami Kingdom. After she drops Mario into a dungeon, Olly wraps Peach’s castle in five massive streamers and places it atop a far-away mountain. Fortunately, all is not lost. Mario meets Olivia, one of the few origami creations who isn’t his enemy. Together, Mario and Olivia need to figure out how to unravel this plot and restore Toad Town and the rest of the land to its normal, flattened format – even helping a partially origami’d Bowser along the way.
That’s the elevator pitch for Paper Mario: The Origami King, the latest entry in Nintendo’s RPG series. It may be hard to believe, but Paper Mario is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Over the course of that journey, players have become comfortable with a “Mario, but flat” conceit that, if you step back, is about as weird as it gets. The tone is often as strange as the paper-thin setup, too, with plenty of humor and silliness scattered throughout. The Origami King is building on the past, but is also taking the series in some new directions, including an interesting ring-battle system and the introduction of open-world levels you can traverse seamlessly.
Ring Fight Adventure
“When continuing a game series, it’s much easier to carry over the basics from an existing game system rather than building new systems for each new installment,” says Kensuke Tanabe, producer at Nintendo. “But that’s not how you create new experiences or unexpected surprises. As a game designer, I want to deliver new experiences and surprises to our fans, so I always challenge myself to create something new. To be sure, I will sometimes use the same system in a subsequent game to further develop that system until I feel it has reached its full potential. But my goal is to continue to tackle new challenges as much as possible.”
This is a subject Tanabe knows a thing or two about. He worked on Super Mario RPG back in the Super Nintendo days, and has been involved with every game in the Paper Mario series since Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door released on GameCube in 2004. For the most part, combat has been consistent over the years, with turn-based battles that incorporate a little bit of timing. If you manage to hit your attack at the right moment, your attack will squeeze out some extra damage. It’s fun, but Tanabe and the developers at Intelligent Systems wanted to push themselves further with this entry.
“Mr. Naohiko Aoyama, who is a member of the staff at Intelligent Systems and the director of the previous entry in the series, Paper Mario: Color Splash, asked for a battle system in which the enemies surround Mario to attack from all sides,” Tanabe says. “That became our starting point when thinking about how the battles would work.”
The designers thought about how best to reflect this feeling of being surrounded, and came up with an unusual take on a battle grid. Rather than setting the action on a traditional checkerboard, they arrived at something similar to the concentric rings and segments of a dartboard. Then players could rotate each of the concentric circles to line up attacks. But something was missing.
“We kept thinking about what to do, until one day an idea suddenly popped into my head while I was in the shower,” Tanabe says. “The idea was based on a Rubik’s Cube. It inspired me to add vertical rotations to the horizontal rotations, so we got the slide mechanic added to the program, and it worked well. That is the moment I was convinced we’d be able to build our battle system.”
When combat begins, players have a set number of turns in the planning phase to optimize their positioning. The goal is to line enemies up in groups so that Mario can take them out efficiently. His stomp attack hits enemies lined up in a row, and his hammer deals more concentrated damage to groups of enemies that are standing side-by-side and one row deep. It’s almost like a puzzle, with each combat scenario having an optimal solution. You can spend coins to purchase more time to think if you’re running low on time, or your Toad friends can give you hints – provided you pay them. Even if you blow it on your first attempt, you can still rearrange the stragglers once both you and the enemies have taken turns.
Each of the five streamers encasing Peach’s castle is guarded by a member of the Legion of Stationary, which are realistic depictions of familiar art supplies such as colored pencils, rubber bands, and tape. Tanabe says the team initially wanted to use the same basic battle system in these boss encounters, but they ran into a problem: Since you fight these bosses one at a time, you didn’t have anything to line up.
“It occurred to us that one way to avoid introducing a different system would be for the boss battles to be the opposite of regular battles, with the boss in the center and Mario creating a route to the boss from the outside,” Tanabe says. “I drew concentric circles on a whiteboard, put mock-ups of some panels using magnets with arrows and other things drawn on them so Ms. Risa Tabata [the assistant producer] and I could simulate how a battle would play out multiple times. We felt that we had gotten something pretty good out of that process, so I proposed it to Intelligent Systems.”
A New Crease On Life
These bosses aren’t just waiting in one location for Mario to find them. Instead, they’re scattered around the world. That creates a striking visual, as players can see the streamers far in the distance, while also giving them a hint as to where their next challenge lies. One of the biggest departures with The Origami King is that the story isn’t chapter-focused as past games have been. Instead, players can travel from region to region seamlessly in an open-world setup.
“One major feature that makes the world where this adventure takes place special is that there are huge maps to explore at every turn,” says Masahiko Magaya, director at Intelligent Systems. “Because the game is laid out this way, we were careful during the design phase to make sure there is always something in the player’s field of vision to catch their attention.”
Players can watch the scenery unfold through several modes of traversal. Mario can run around, but crossing major distances might get tiring. Fortunately for his feet, he can drive a boot-shaped car around (a nod to Super Mario Bros. 3’s shoe power-up?) and pilot a boat. I also saw him aboard an airship, where he takes command of the ship’s defenses to fire rockets at incoming paper planes.
That variety extends throughout the game. Players can expect to encounter lots of one-off activities and miscellaneous diversions. During his travels, Mario encounters a host of Toads who have been folded into different origami forms. Hitting them with his hammer reverts them back to their normal form, then several things can happen. They might return to Toad Town, restoring valuable services to the location, like selling items or opening the dock. The Toads may also join Mario in battle, watching from the sidelines and helping when asked (and paid). You can also go fishing, if you’re looking for some downtime.
Mario doesn’t do any of this alone. Olivia is a constant companion throughout the adventure, and other characters join and leave along the way. The shuffling cast is a function of the story, so players aren’t deciding which allies to bring along.
“We never considered whether or not we should implement a party-based system like some other games,” Tanabe says. “As we worked on Paper Mario: The Origami King, we decided we could create more memorable moments if Olivia and the other characters team up with Mario along the way. In other words, we first determine what elements are needed in a game and then figure out how to implement and program them. Bobby, the Bob-omb, was the first character we decided to include, and from there we chose the characters that would be the best fit for the events in each stage of the game. Bowser Jr. was an exception. The director, Mr. Masahiko Nagaya, personally had strong feelings about including a storyline where a son sets out to save his father, so in this case, we decided to include the character before deciding exactly what we would have him do.”
With an interesting combat system and a larger world to explore, Paper Mario: The Origami King looks like a nice evolution for the series. There are certainly some elements that are foundational to Paper Mario, but it’s great to see that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems are willing and able to color outside of the lines.
Paper Mario: The Origami King comes to the Nintendo Switch on July 17.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the music gaming genre is familiar with Harmonix, or at least one of the studio’s many games. The developer has been synonymous with music gaming experiences for decades, and consistently reinvents itself with new perspectives on the always-changing world of popular music.
The studio’s latest effort is Fuser, a music mixing game that targets the festival music scene – in particular the music mixing DJ culture that helps define that experience for fans. In its gameplay, Fuser allows players to draw individual parts of a bunch of different songs – including vocals, guitars, drums, and more – and add them into a growing mix. Thanks to some remarkable technology behind the scenes, the music that results manages to sound great, like it was meant to go together, no matter which songs you select.
From there, it’s all about changing up the mix with new parts (often in response to fan demands), hitting the downbeats to create smooth transitions, and even writing in your own riffs on instruments like synths and drums, which then get added into the song as it plays live. And unlike many of Harmonix’s previous projects, Fuser requires no additional peripherals.
The game begins pre-orders today for a planned fall release, and doing so nets you three bonus DLC songs: Dua Lipa “New Rules,” Khalid “Young Dumb & Broke,” and The Killers “Mr. Brightside.”
In addition, Harmonix is offering a digital-only VIP edition that includes entitlements for the first 25 DLC songs, along with several in-game apparel options for your DJ. You can check out participating retailers by clicking over to the game's official site.
NCSOFT is handling publishing duties on the project, and platforms include PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Check out the new trailer below, and scroll past the video to read a list of the 34 songs already announced to be included in the core game release - the full game will include over 100 songs, even before the inevitable flow of DLC songs gets started.