A few months ago, Sega pulled their Yakuza spin-off Judgment off store shelves following a drug scandal with one of the actors. When actor Pierre Taki was arrested for cocaine possession, Sega moved quickly to pull Judgment from store shelves, with promises to recast the actor and put the game back eventually. Now, several months later, Sega is finally ready to put the game back in retail and on PSN with a new actor in July.

Last month, Sega showed the new actor for the game replacing Pierre Taki. The voice actor, who is separate from the acting likeness, will be Miou Tanaka, who played a character in Yakuza Kiwami 2 just recently. While the recall on the game was immediate, many copies still managed to filter through to consumers in Japan, and likely command an exceedingly high price as an incredibly rare print featuring Taki.

This new version of the game will be what we get on the western shores next month on disc on June 25, releasing a few days earlier on PSN for pre-orders. Judgment is currently exclusive to the PlayStation 4 and, for the first time since Yakuza 1, will contain an optional English dub.

It probably has occurred to Valve by now that the most popular Dota 2 spinoff in the world is not their card game Artifact, which ended up being such a failure that Valve had to nix their roadmap in order to work on it from the foundation, but instead is the fan-made Dota Auto-chess. We explored the popularity of the mod a little while back and it has only gotten bigger from there. It even got to the point where the developers have launched an original mobile version without Dota characters in China.

In that context, it makes perfect sense that Valve is taking the idea and doing it officially.

The news comes from a Dota 2 blog post, where Valve explains that they flew the mod team to their headquarters where they got their blessing to make an official Dota 2 version of the game. In exchange, the Auto-chess mobile game in China will be able to import the Dota Auto-Chess accounts that already exist into their game.

The actual post is pretty heavy on the corporate speak, but this paragraph in particular leaped out as…likely quite a bit more sanitized than what most people think happened.

“And if you’ve followed Valve closely over time, you know what usually comes next: we’ll play something we love or meet some people we’re inspired by and then figure out a way to work together,” Valve wrote. “In fact, Dota 2 exists because a group of us here at Valve couldn’t stop playing the original mod. After we played the game, roughly 1 billion times, it was pretty clear that we should reach out to the creators, Drodo Studio, and start a conversation about working together.””

Valve promises more details on their own version of Auto-Chess sometime down the line.

April tends to prove out to be an interesting month for game sales, as it starts a new quarter for a lot of companies and begins the financial year for others beyond that. That makes it an odd combination of some publishers putting their best put forward while others have already spent whatever is in the chamber the month prior, meaning that April game sales tend to be a combination of what’s new and what stuck.

This year is no real exception. The month’s biggest release was the multi-platform Mortal Kombat 11, a series which has been on an upward trend since the release of Mortal Kombat 9 last generation. MK11 was critically acclaimed and featured a drastically shorter marketing cycle than other NetherRealm Studios games, having only been announced in December, and crucially was also on the most platforms ever at launch this time around. PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC all got the game, meaning it was well-primed for success in terms of sheer volume if nothing else.

Days Gone follows behind it. While not quite a critical success, fans were still eager to take the latest Sony-developed PlayStation exclusive for a spin. The open-world zombie game ranked at the #2 spot for the month, a strong debut for a new property that has been fairly well-marketed in the last few months. As the last major first-party game from Sony currently on the release schedule until possibly Dreams, Days Gone could stay there for some time.

The rest of the top ten software list is not terribly surprising, with MLB: The Show now edging in as the 10th best selling game of the year so far and as the best selling MLB game launch-aligned. 

Note that items with an asterisk only have physical sales counted while everything else has both digital and physical.

Mortal Kombat 11   1
Days Gone   2
MLB 19: The Show   3
Tom Clancy’s The Division 2   4
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate*   5
Grand Theft Auto V   6
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice   7
Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII   8
NBA 2K19   9
Yoshi’s Crafted World*   10
Red Dead Redemption II   11
Mario Kart 8*   12
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey   13
Minecraft   14
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe*   15
Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster   16
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild   17
Jump Force   18
Battlefield V*   19
Borderlands   20

Borderlands is still hanging on at the tail end thanks to the Remastered edition, which seems to be whetting brand appetite before Borderlands 3 comes out this September. In the world of remasters, Final Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster has popped back onto the list likely owing to the recent release of the Switch version of the game.

It is also worth noting that, one year after the Labo concept’s launch, Labo VR has failed to make any of the waves Nintendo likely expected. This puts it in line with the other Labo kits, which didn’t set the world on fire. It is unclear what Nintendo plans to do with this initiative now, but it would not be surprising to see few, if any, more releases.

Hardware is mostly unchanged from previous months. While the Switch experienced growth, and was the best selling console of the month, hardware overall declined. This is not unexpected, as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are winding down, and any last-minute revitalization plans ahead of next-generation consoles will provide temporary boosts, at best.

Next month’s sales should mostly focus around Rage 2 as the biggest release of the month, but it will be interesting to see if Team Sonic Racing can capture any of Mario Kart’s evergreen audience. 

Dreams Review – Bringing Your Imagination To Life

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Media Molecule
Release: April 16, 2019
Rating: Teen
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

More than any developer, Media Molecule has been driven by a singular goal: to empower players to make and share their own games. LittleBigPlanet focused this concept on the 2D platformer, but clever players spent years devising ways to stretch and twist their creations beyond the genre’s confines. With the release of Dreams, Media Molecule obliterates those confines completely, giving players a broad and flexible suite of development tools to create whatever their hearts desire. Dreams may not strictly be a game, but the tools are easy and intuitive enough to make the creation process fun for everyone, which delivers a wealth of entertaining experiences noncreators can enjoy.

As someone who spent hours tinkering with LittleBigPlanet’s editors but never published a single level, I didn’t hold a lot of hope for what I could create in Dreams. At best, I figured I’d muddle my way through the myriad tutorials, then spend most of my time “surfing” the creations of other more talented players. Instead, the reality has been the reverse, my skepticism replaced by continual astonishment at the possibilities Dreams offers.

Dreams Review – Bringing Your Imagination To Life

Foundational controls make sculpting and moving objects in 3D space a breeze, a visual programming language eases novices into computer logic, and a streamlined interface lets you hop between editing and playing prototypes instantaneously. You still need to devote several sessions to learning the ropes from Media Molecule’s video tutorials, but I can’t overstate how smartly designed everything is, and it makes the creation process feel less like work and more like experimental play.

Not only can anyone piece together a prototype out of primitive shapes, they can also make it beautiful with Dreams’ ground-breaking art tools. Much of the magic lies in Flecks, small artistic brush strokes applied to the surface of every object that result in the game’s evocative, dream-like aesthetic. These Flecks can be colored, unraveled, and animated as you see fit, and can turn a simple hemisphere into a lush, grassy knoll in seconds. If you’ve ever felt the frustrating sting of having a drawing fail to live up to your imagination, Dreams delivers the opposite sensation – I’ve routinely been surprised by how much better my creations turn out than I expected. Every facet of Dreams, from sculpting to painting to the application of animations and effects, features this same ease of use.

10 Coolest Tools In Dreams

No matter how easy Media Molecule makes it, more people will want to just play games than create them. Again I was skeptical of what Dreams would have to offer, and again I was pleasantly proven wrong.

Part of the entertainment of playing other people’s games stems from the novelty of knowing they used the same tools as you (“How did they make that?!”), but I’ve also played plenty that are fun in their own right, from simple puzzle games to clever platformers to throwback arcade games. One user’s riff on Geometry Wars is so polished you could easily mistake it for the real thing. A 3D Bomberman prototype already looks better than any official title Konami released in years. At this point, most offerings are bite-sized experiences or works-in-progress, but Dreams has only been in early access a few weeks, and the amount of content is expanding exponentially.

All Dreams creations are uploaded to the Dreamiverse, which is essentially Media Molecule’s take on what the Internet should be: a communal space full of positivity, sharing, and collaboration. Media Molecule tries to surface the best content for surfers via tags and filters, but more important is the ability to make and share collections. Once you find a creation you like, you can see what collections users have added it to, then jump directly into their other picks. I’ve spent hours falling down rabbit holes within rabbits holes this way, and other players’ creations are more than just entertaining; they are inspiring.

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Even with a healthy selection of tutorials, Dreams pushes you out of the nest a little too early, leaving you to figure out some of the more advanced gadgets and variables on your own. Media Molecule also offers little guidance in the way of actual game design lessons, a role the studio is uniquely qualified to provide. It’s no wonder many players have focused on creating clones of other games instead of tackling their own ideas. Dreams’ ongoing development may very well fix this, as Media Molecule says it intends to add more tutorials and masterclasses, but I hope it also fleshes out the number of gameplay templates, genre examples, and design exercises.

Dreams is an idealistic vision of game development, where people create, collaborate, and share games purely for the love of gaming. No Dreams game may ever reach the polish of a triple-A title, but they also lack the cynical business side of game development, where test groups and microtransactions take precedence over unbridled creativity. The prospect that we’ll someday see future developers who got their start in Dreams seems inevitable, but also moot – in a very real sense, Dreams players already are game developers. We may have longer to wait for the official release and Media Molecule’s single-player story levels, but Dreams is already a magnificent wellspring for those who love playing, creating, and thinking about games in all their many forms.

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Score: 9.5

Summary: Dreams’ robust design and sharing tools offer endless possibilities to creators and a growing tidal wave of fun, hilarious, and moving gameplay experiences for players.

Concept: Give players a robust toolset to create and share their own games, or specialize in one aspect of game development

Graphics: Dreams’ ingenious Fleck system allows non-artists to create visually arresting scenes in minutes

Sound: The included library of instruments and effects provides plenty of flexibility, but the ability to record and upload your own sound banks is next-level

Playability: Dreams’ gyroscopic controls massively simplify the movement of objects in 3D space, but they have raised accessibility concerns for some players

Entertainment: With an ever-growing wealth of content, few games continually surprise or amaze like Dreams

Replay: High

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Nippon Ichi, the company behind games like Disgaea, Phantom Brave, and Labyrinth of Refrain, is reportedly unable to pay its employees after a recent Disgaea title met unexpected financial hardship. The new report might be the first steps of the end of the company, if accurate.

The news comes from Japanese site from Ha-Vi, which reports that Nippon Ichi has had to issue a MS Warrant to shift stock at a reduced price to investment firm Daiwa Capital in order to raise emergency funds. This is generally done when a company cannot raise funds through other means, such as loans or advanced payments, due to already being at a deficit, but needs the money immediately.

The cause of this issue appears to be the flubbed launch of the online mobile game Disgaea RPG. Technically launched on March 19, the game only survived for about two weeks until it was taken down indefinitely due to technical issues. All progress from the game was wiped and Nippon Ichi has not spoken publicly about the game since taking it down. They have, however, encouraged consumers to request refunds, a policy which is no doubt contributing to their poor financial state.

It is unclear what the next steps will be for the company.

With the shocking announcement last week that Sony will be working with Microsoft to engineer and incorporate new cloud streaming technology into future gaming initiatives, it is no surprise that Sony thinks streaming will be big soon. The question is, then, how soon? Does Sony expect this to be a big deal with the PlayStation 6? A new remote play initiative? According to Jim Ryan, we’re already there.

During an Investor Relations meeting yesterday, where Sony showed off a bit of what they expect from next-generation hardware, PlayStation’s newest boss Jim Ryan spoke a little bit about Sony’s next big initiatives with streaming services. The PlayStation chief said “we believe the streaming era is upon us and is about to begin a period of rapid growth.”

This does not simply mean streaming games from a server, but an emphasis on things like Remote Play as a major feature of the PlayStation ecosystem (and is returning for the next generation console). According to Ryan, Sony’s experience with PlayStation Now gives them a leg up in this upcoming world of streaming things to consoles, allowing them to be ready when it does really blow up.

“While others are in startup mode or in catchup mode, SIE has been steadily investing, organically and through acquisition, for over 20 years, and now has a network of over 13 powerhouse studios in all regions serving gamers across the globe,” Ryan said.

One important delineation the PlayStation boss makes is that a digital future does not come at the expense of a physical one. When asked about a disc drive in the next PlayStation, Ryan said “We never forced the digital model on any one,” reiterating that gamers value choice most of all.

While Sony is not attending E3 in 2019, it is likely that they will talk more about their next-generation console by this time next year.

Sony’s new production studio has wasted no time getting to work on adapting its games. Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO Tony Vinciquerra confirmed in an investor relations presentation earlier today that a TV series based on the Twisted Metal franchise has begun development. “We have a TV show we just agreed to get underway that will be developed from the IP on PlayStation, it’s called Twisted Metal.” Vinciquerra stated. The explosive car battle series has been dormant since 2012, with a film adaptation announced but never acted upon.  

Vinciquerra also confirmed that the Uncharted film has not fallen by the wayside, describing it as in ‘advanced development’ after the director of 10 Cloverfield Lane attached himself to the project. While very little information was given about either project, neither are expected to be released any time soon. “We don’t have to rush to market. We don’t have a list of ‘X number of titles must be done in this year.’ None of that,” says chairman of SIE Worldwide Studios Shawn Layden. “The company has been very accommodating to our ambition around this, to grow this in a measured, thoughtful way.

You can read more on PlayStation Productions here.

[Source: IGN]

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Release: May 9, 2019
Rating: Mature
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also on:
Xbox One, PC

On their way toward Mexico, brothers Sean and Daniel have had harrowing experiences change their lives and complicate their relationship. This episode continues following the ups and downs of their bond as the boys take refuge at a hippie camp and marijuana farm. It’s a wild premise, but new characters are boxed-in stereotypes and the episode struggles with poor pacing.

 

While the last episode focused on harnessing control over Daniel’s telekinesis power, this episode is more about embracing freedom and individuality. Among the hippies, Sean is discovering more about himself, and his younger brother resents him for it. Your decisions, particularly how you interact with Daniel, have been crucial this whole journey, and this episode is a fascinating culmination of the web of choices with a thrilling conclusion. However, the road to that end is sloppy and forgettable.

 

It starts off on a good foot, with a flashback taking place three months prior to the incident that led the brothers to flee home. I enjoyed trying to make amends with Daniel after treating him unfairly, as well as understanding the weight Sean bears by acting as a second parent after their mother’s departure. The flashback does a good job of showing some of the roots of the boys’ relationship, giving the impression that their core bond can overcome anything.

 

Unfortunately, the middle parts of the episode aren’t as compelling. The setting, which takes place in a Californian forest and on a weed farm, is much more interesting than the events that occur within it. You spend most of your time doing painfully boring tasks; washing dishes, carrying water tanks, and trimming marijuana buds. That last chore is performed through a minigame where you perform timed button presses to continue onto the next plant. The minigame isn’t interesting, and the chatter from other characters during it is equally mundane.

 

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I continue to care deeply for Sean and Daniel, but their new hippie friends are forgettable, predictable, and painfully stereotypical. They are a group of dreadlocked young adults with tragic backstories who follow alternative lifestyles, but they come across superficial rather than deep. Two antagonists who run the weed farm are problematic as well, fitting neatly into their cruel archetypes without offering anything more substantial. They’re villains who are nothing more than narrative devices to push the story toward conflict.

 

Despite poor characters, I enjoyed some of the thematic moments of the episode, including its juxtaposition between freedom and oppression. Sean tries to tell himself he feels free, but the monotony of the weed farm feels like a prison. Daniel also struggles with who he is and what he wants, and the two butt heads about it throughout the episode. While Daniel wants more time with his brother, you can decide whether Sean goes along with that or follows his own path. Both choices come with big consequences, and the growing rift between the brothers is intriguing and dangerous – especially since Daniel’s gift is uncontrollable during emotional turmoil.

 

The episode also does a great job of handling Sean’s sexuality and letting players decide how (or if) he explores it. You can choose from two different love interests: a young girl named Cassidy or a young man named Finn. You can opt out of both, but pursuing a relationship brings added complexity and tension to the final scene. Furthermore, because Sean has identified as straight his whole life, exploring his sexuality through Finn can, for now, only go so far. This creates some agency for the player without sacrificing Sean’s established sexual identity – something we don’t see often in video games. Sean’s queerness is a fascinating layer that Dontnod balances realistically as the young boy fumbles through his journey of self-discovery.

 

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While the last episode lacked gripping choices, this episode is the exact opposite – at least in the last 20 minutes. Your choices, not just from this episode but from the journey as a whole, impact an explosive cliffhanger with multiple variables. I can’t spoil anything, but I was glued to the screen during these moments, though I was also disappointed that it took so long for the episode to get there.

 

Sean and Daniel’s relationship continues to be the best part of Life is Strange 2. Will they continue to grow apart or will they find common ground despite their differences? I’m eager to leave behind the hippies and weed farm, and see what comes next for the Diaz brothers.

Score: 7.25

Summary: This new chapter in the Diaz brothers’ journey brings an explosive conclusion, but suffers from painfully stereotypical characters and poor pacing along the way.

Concept: Sean and Daniel continue their tumultuous journey to Mexico while making a pitstop at a camp run by hippies

Graphics: Beautiful redwood trees and gorgeous Californian landscapes make this episode aesthetically pleasing

Sound: A blend of folk and indie music continues to bring a good balance of emotion to heartfelt scenes

Playability: Navigating through environments, playing quick-time event minigames, and drawing in Sean’s notebook are all easy to control

Entertainment: Despite a thrilling conclusion, this episode suffers from imbalanced pacing and annoying characters

Replay: Moderately High

Click to Purchase

A few weeks ago, after the unfortunate fire that hit the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Ubisoft decided to briefly give away copies of Assassin’s Creed Unity due to how much that game featured the famed historical landmark as part of its French Revolution-era city. The free copies meant a huge influx of new players who were, emboldened by the publisher’s generosity or the inclusion of the cathedral, motivated to provide hundreds of positive reviews for the game on Steam even if the game itself was not free on Steam.

But this introduced a problem for Valve, which had recently instituted a new method of combating review bombing for what they deemed as irrelevant reasons by not factoring anomalous reviews into the overall score. Theoretically, this is to stop things like review bombing Borderlands 2 because Borderlands 3 is going to be a timed Epic Game Store exclusive or reviews hitting a game hard because the audience does not like the developer. Under those rules, however, the positive reviews for Assassin’s Creed Unity, which also had more to do with Ubisoft giving it away for historical significance reasons rather than the game itself, would need to be similarly dismissed.

In a blog post published today, Valve explains their decision-making on ignoring the positive review bombs, though granted a month after it actually happened. The post goes into the complexities of dealing with situations like this and, in perhaps a reluctant implied admittance by Valve, the necessities of looking at them in a case-by-case situation rather than just having hard and steadfast rules with clamor-driven exceptions.

“In this case, the Notre Dame tragedy has made it so that AC:Unity happens to now include the world’s best virtual recreation of the undamaged monument,” Valve wrote. “That’s a context change that could be increasing the value players are getting from the game, so perhaps the game really is better than it was before? Or maybe that’s unrelated, and it’s actually players feeling good about Ubisoft’s significant donation to rebuilding the monument? Irrespective of the reason, perhaps this is a short-term temporal effect? Should temporal effects even be included in Review Scores? If a game was heavily focused on a time of the year, like Christmas, we suspect we’d see it have Review Score fluctuations around Christmas-time, as more people bought it and thought it was better on average than people who bought it at other times of the year.”

At the end of the day, it does look like Valve is hoping to better understand what makes user reviews tick and simultaneously protect both developers from a mob mentality and potential buyers from anti-consumer practices. It’s a bit of a tight rope to walk, and one that comes down almost entirely to judgment calls, but seemingly one Valve understands better now.

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Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Supermassive Games
Release: August 30, 2019
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Man of Medan is the first installment of Supermassive’s upcoming anthology series, The Dark Pictures. Today the Until Dawn creators released a new trailer for the game, alongside the announcement that Man of Medan releases on August 30. 

Like Until Dawn, Man of Medan is filled with a plethora of choices, ranging from simple to intense. But no matter how little the decision seems, there will always be consequences, and the new trailer from Supermassive stresses just how important they are. 

For more information on Man of Medan, check out Kim’s preview for it here.