Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, composer for a number of Nintendo games such as Donkey Kong, Metroid, and Earthbound, has released a new solo album titled Django.

Under the stage name of Chip Tanaka, Django is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of original chiptune music that invokes a lot of Tanaka’s earlier works throughout the 8- and 16-bit eras.

You can check out a preview of the album below, which is available on ITunes.

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Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and founder of Quicken Loans, has invested in the new franchise team 100Thieves as a partner.

The reveal of 100Thieves came from a Riot Games announcement for the ten franchised teams participating in the 2018 League of Legends season. Team leader Nadeshot announced the partnership via both video and tweet earlier today, confirming the huge esports investment.

You can check out the announcement video below and follow the team as new developments proceed.

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The acclaimed developer has unveiled three new vinyl soundtracks for some of their most popular games, complete with custom album covers.

In a post to Twitter, Rare revealed that vinyl albums for Battle Toads, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Viva Piñata would be available through a collaboration with iam8bit. The records will be released in 2xLP with the full soundtracks composed by Robin Beanland (Conker), David Wise (Battle Toads), and Grant Kirkhope (Viva Viva Piñata), and boast custom made album art. The albums are priced at $35, with preorders opening on November 24.

Interested in soundtracks from more recent games? Check out our discussion on some of the best tracks of the year during the most recent GI Show

 

Our Take
These look like some well made albums, from the custom art and colors to the reasonable price. Fans of any of the three games should definitely consider putting in a preorder later this week.

After Electronic Arts made a last-minute adjustment to Star Wars: Battlefront II’s microtransactions by turning off the ability to buy its virtual currency, the publisher has issued a statement to investors that they do not expect this to change earnings much at all.

The statement comes as EA attempts to assuage investors’ fears that microtransactions are a big part of the revenue EA was expecting from Battlefront II this financial year. EA does not believe it will impact things too much.

“On November 16, 2017, Electronic Arts Inc. (“EA”) announced in a blog on its website at www.ea.com/news that it will turn off all in-game purchases for the Star Wars Battlefront II title until further notice,” said the statement. “This change is not expected to have a material impact on EA’s fiscal year 2018 financial guidance.”

EA plans to bring the microtransactions back at a later date, but has not specified in what form beyond stating that it will still be tied to progression.

Star Wars: Battlefront II is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. You can find our review of the game here.

[Source: EA Investor Statement]

 

Our Take
While EA is right to be concerned about investor feelings after the story got mainstream attention, it does come off as surprisingly tone deaf to the consumer furor around the title, especially the week after release and the week of Black Friday when sales are important. It undercuts the change they made by hoping people only care about the results and not the intention.

After getting a delay, Final Fantasy XV’s multiplayer expansion Comrades finally launched last week. The long-awaited mode is included for those who purchased Final Fantasy XV’s season pass, or can be purchased separately for $19.99. For a little context, Comrades allows you to create your own avatar and be a member of the Kingsglaive, the Lucian royal family’s special forces unit. The expansion covers the missing 10 years of time near the end of the main story, so I recommend you play through Final Fantasy XV before touching it. However, if you don’t care about the story, you can still enjoy this new mode. After playing close to 20 hours of Comrades, I’ve learned the ins and outs pretty well. Here are my extensive impressions, which should help you decide if Comrades is a good fit for you.

Making Your Character
Going into Comrades, I didn’t know what to expect. The beta was far from smooth, and outside of its MMORPGs, Square Enix isn’t exactly known for implementing strong multiplayer experiences. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at how captivated I was immediately. The creation tools are extensive, letting you customize everything from your facial features and body type, to even the color of your clothes and birthplace. You can go as crazy as you want with your appearance or create an avatar in your own image. I chose the latter (as you can see above) because, as a longtime fan, there’s something about seeing yourself as a Final Fantasy character that’s exciting as hell.

Getting Down To Business
As you complete missions, you unlock money, new materials, and meteorshards to help power up the world of Eos. This is an engaging loop, as in-game money can be spent on new weapons or even new clothing and tattoos. One thing that works in Comrades’ favor is the lack of microtransactions; you can’t pay your way to progress or become more powerful. You use meteorshards to open up new areas of the world and missions. Watching your impact on Eos as you supply power to even more areas to save those in peril and seeing the map expand provides a satisfying sense of progression that had me hooked.

With up to three companions (friends, strangers, or A.I.), you tackle quests types that range from escort and defense to hunt and urgent. These different objectives lend variety to the experience, although sometimes you need to repeat missions to earn enough meteorshards to unlock new ones. Thankfully, missions are on the short side and usually don’t take more than 10 minutes. My favorite quests are escort and urgent. While in most video games escort missions can be a drag, these force you to protect a target on the move such as a truck, while enemies come piling on you. Urgent missions have you taking on the biggest bosses, often providing the greatest challenges. The rewards for these clashes are worthwhile, such as letting you unlock a new branching path on the map or tombs to get Royal Sigils, which allow you to add stat bonuses alongside unique abilities to your character, from enhanced healing to extra combat maneuvers. 

The Art Of The Battle
A big part of the game is collecting materials to add to your weapons, which range from maces and shurikens to shields and pole arms. All weapons have a level cap, and deciding which materials to use can be make-or-break to your success. Some materials even imbue your weapon with passive abilities, from charge boosts to an increased chance to negate damage. I had a blast experimenting with weapons; nothing makes you feel more powerful than adding a new ability or watching its power increase before your eyes. Your weapon choice can be crucial to battle and also change up your play style. Shurikens and daggers may be fast, but do less damage, while lumbering maces hit hard but leave you more vulnerable. In addition, crafting can help exploit enemy weaknesses depending on what elements you imbue in your weapons. When I fought fire bombs, I made sure to make good use of my ice shuriken. Comrades does a good job encouraging you to experiment with different weapon types and their affinities. At first, I thought a shield wouldn’t be much fun in battle, but then I realized charging with it and blindsiding foes is fun, and its protection against status ailments is a great perk. 

If you liked Final Fantasy XV’s battle system, you’ll feel right at home with Comrades – the expansion sticks well to what made Final Fantasy XV’s combat feel so fluid. Warp-strikes are still a big focus, and you can initiate a chain with your party members with a well-timed block in order to do devastating damage. Swapping among weapons is fun; shurikens are perfect for slashing up enemies both in long and close range, and crossbows are a great choice for those who want to stick to the sidelines and focus on avoiding an enemy’s reach.

While combat is just as entertaining as I remember, I enjoy it even more when I team up with friends. Technically, you can just play through the expansion with A.I. companions, which are adequate, but you’re missing out on part of what makes the experience so fun. Battles are still flashy and energetic, but I prefer marveling with a friend at a larger-than-life boss coming our way,  then teaming up for a well-timed chain of warp-strikes to eviscerate it. Better yet? Just like Prompto’s photography skills in XV, pictures are taken during battle as a way to commemorate your achievements. (And just like Prompto’s, some are hilariously bad). 

While I loved playing Comrades with friends, the load times can get in the way of the fun. You need a lot of patience at start-up and after missions, and even loading into the different zones you open that are essential to visit for new gear and weapons is a pain. When playing with others, I didn’t experience too many connection issues; only one quest dropped my party and they were quickly placed as A.I. members so I could still finish the mission. 

So, Should You Play Comrades?
That depends. Did you like Final Fantasy XV’s combat? Do you want to revisit the world and uncover a part of the story that’s been missing? Are you just looking for some fun with your friends? Comrades provides all of these things, and it’s much better than I expected. However, the experience is far from perfect. Comrades does a poor job of explaining its mechanics to you, so expect some guesswork. Also, anticipate repeating quests just to get more shards. It feels like a slow burn in a way. I’m level 16 and I’ve invested close to 20 hours into it. Right now, the level cap is 50, which means there’s a lot to do. However, the grind to unlocking new content often feels tedious. Still, nothing can replace the fun moments I’ve had playing it with my friends and the delight we take in unlocking new things, even if it’s just cool new clothing or a minor mission. Also to its strength is its callbacks to the main story. You never know when you’ll come across a cool reference to the main game or spar against a familiar face. Despite my few frustrations, I know I’m happy with the time I’ve invested in it.  

Battle Chef Brigade is a weird, delightful, and intense match-three cooking game that also pushes players to hunt for ingredients through fervent hack-and-slash combat. This strange hybrid of genres works surprisingly well, as both push for speed and precision. One botched combat encounter or poorly placed ingredient could spell disaster.

Obvious inspiration is drawn from the Iron Chef cooking show, complete with an animated host who reveals the competition’s primary ingredient, and an array of snooty judges who demand different things from your cooking. The game is also wildly imaginative; it’s set in a kingdom called Victusia where monsters are kept at bay by a legion of magic-wielding cooks. Again, this strange union of ideas works, and is used to create an engaging backdrop for players.

Our guide through Victusia is a young, aspiring cook named Mina, who is upbeat and joyous, and doesn’t seem like she’s done anything bad in her life. When we first meet Mina, she’s trapped as a cook at her family’s restaurant, forced to make the same dishes day-in and day-out. She knows she has talent, and is destined for something far greater, so she runs away to Brigade Town to enter a cooking competition to become the next Brigadier and protector of the world. This story is narrow in scope and you know exactly how it’s going to conclude, but is fun to follow thanks a wild ensemble of supporting characters, including a two-headed Cyclops and a rival cook who uses the undead to help him gather ingredients.

Brigade Town has all of the makings of a hub in an RPG, allowing Mina to purchase new cooking wares from shops, take on side jobs to make more money, and interact with the locals to learn more about the world. While the side activities give the game a bit of character, they don’t last long, and all funnel into the big cooking competitions, in which Mina squares off against an opponent.

When the secret ingredient is revealed, the two contestants run in different directions, past their kitchens, and into the wilderness where they must hunt. The combat mechanics have depth – such as punching combos, aerial maneuvers, ground bounces, projectiles, and magic – but don’t offer much in terms of challenge or strategy. A dragon may have more hit points than a bird, but can be exploited just as easily. While I felt the stress of the clock pushing me to perform as flawlessly as possible, I felt like I was going through the same motions for all encounters. The only moments of intrigue come from a creature grabbing a slab of meat before Mina can, which leads to a chase, or waiting for a bird to lay an egg – which is a nice ingredient to add, but takes time to produce.

With a satchel full of supplies, Mina races back to the kitchen to prepare them. At first, you are just working with one dish, but she eventually needs to cook for three judges at once. The pans she uses are like weapons in traditional RPGs, and embrace player choice. For a certain judge that likes watery dishes, she may want to use a pan in which she only has to match two water gems instead of three. She may also want to use a slow cooker that increases the taste of a gem over time. Plenty of variety is offered in the utensils and sauces to enhance taste and add even more variety to the cooking.

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The matching gameplay takes place on a small 4×4 grid, yet offers plenty of variety, strategy, and chaos. Matching three in such a confined area can be tricky, especially since some gems are too fragile to be moved, or may pollute others. Mina may also need to bring out specific flavors, as each ingredient contains different elements (water, earth, fire, bones, poisons, and delicate materials). If a dish is missing something, a frantic race back into the wilderness is likely in the cards. As a dish is prepared, it takes shape and is shown a rating, giving the player an idea of whether it’s good or not. Even if you are happy with a meal, the judge may have other things to say and lower the score if it doesn’t hit the right notes.

Battle Chef Bridge is breezy and fun, offering roughly 8 to 10 hours of stressful cooking with a decent narrative and beautiful pastel visuals to pull it along. It may seem lighthearted and innocent, but it succeeds more in being overly chaotic in its match-three gameplay.

In September, SNK and Manga Productions held a contest in the Middle-East asking for a character and a stage for SNK’s latest King of Fighters title, the surprisingly successful King of Fighters XIV. A winner has been declared and their character is being added into the game as soon as development finishes.

The winning character artist Mashael Al-Barrak of Saudi Arabia was chosen by a panel of judges of SNK staff, including character designer Eisuke Ogura, and Manga Productions staff. The character Al-Barrak designed is named Najd, pictured above, hails from Saudia Arabia herself. Other than her design, no details are known about the character, like how she will play or what backstory she is being given..

Zainab Al-Lawaty was chosen as the winner for the stage contest with his interpretation of Masmak Fort, a historical landmark in Riyadh. 

SNK has not given a timeline yet for when the character will be available, but the company did reaffirm support for King of Fighters XIV into next year. SNK also recently announced that they have become profitable again after pivoting back to video games.

King of Fighters XIV is available for PlayStation 4 and PC.

Fans of Breath of the Wild have created art pieces inspired by Guillermo Del Toro’s new film, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by him.

Recently, fans of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are creating Link X Sidon fan art inspired by The Shape of Water, an upcoming film directed by del Toro involving a romance between a woman and a fishman creature. Twitter users @cheneysin and @katiesimrell in particular created pieces influence by the films’strailer, incorporating fan art using Link and Prince Sidon. Del Toro seems to approve of the mashup, retweeting the pieces using his official Twitter account over the weekend.

Be sure to check out the artists’ Twitter pages for more of their content – but be aware that not all of it is as tame as the pieces above – and catch The Shape of Water when it launches on December 8. For those interested in seeing other ways fans have expressed their love for Breath of the Wild, check out a recreation of the opening plateau one fan made using Mario Maker.

Actress Melissa Benoist, best known for Supergirl but also Glee and The Longest Ride, sings all about Microsoft’s world-constructing game in this new video.

The Super Duper Minecraft Musical has Benoist performing in front of a green screen with the various sights and sounds of Minecraft’s world. The whole tune is surprisingly catchy, whether you have an affinity for the subject matter or not, and Benoist definitely has a voice that makes the whole thing gel really well.

Check out the video below and then pretend not have it stuck in your head all day.

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The Xbox One X and PS4 Pro are both out, but this is not the beginning of the next generation of home systems from Sony or Microsoft. Instead, we’re four years into the life of the PS4 and Xbox One, meaning we’re only halfway there. Sports franchises should be on the ascent, but instead it feels like we’re adrift. Modes have stagnated, fanbases have become jaded, and although many sports series offer a solid gameplay experience, I get the feeling this generation of sports titles has already plateaued.

Companies have settled into the practice of focusing on post-launch monetization whether that’s Ultimate Team, MyPlayer, MyClub, Diamond Dynasty or whatever. Along with this is the rise of the esports scene through online and in-person competitions. While these forms have indeed given players a reason to return to these titles after the initial release luster has worn off – and brought extra revenue – I think they’ve made the publishers comfortable with the status quo. New systems are always a convenient jumping-off point for new innovations, but if that point is three to four years away, sports fans can’t afford to just coast there.

Another reason for my cynicism is that we’re halfway through the generation and it still seems like we should have more to show for it. Looking at this year’s titles, I don’t see a lot of innovation happening. The games have gotten arguably better year-upon-year and added nice-to-have features like MLB’s sim features and NBA 2K18’s analytics, but it feels like monetization is the current big wave everyone is riding. Story modes are being included more and more – and these have been enjoyable – but I’ve wondered aloud if these have a limited future, and in the case of NBA 2K, we’ve already seen them folded into the monetization loop anyway. Furthermore, in the wider video game universe, this kind of story-based focus isn’t even new, as the tide of Mass Effects, Telltale adventures, and the ilk is already receding.

We’re halfway through this generation, and yet the term “legacy issues” has stuck around the necks of all the sports franchises to the point that our noses have become accustomed to the smell. I don’t have a lot of confidence that fixing these is all of a sudden going to be a big crusade. It would be a beneficial use of time until the next generation of home consoles, but with sim engines wonky, player and franchise A.I. still not smart enough, and bugs an ever-present fact of video games since time immemorial, I’m not holding out hope developers find the magic solutions they’ve already been searching for.

New toys like VR and the Nintendo Switch offer hope, but VR simply doesn’t have the install base to drag sports games forward. Also, in my sports VR experience, the gameplay and modes offered aren’t robust enough to compete with current standards. As for the Switch, its mobility benefit isn’t additive to the genre (only itself), and is just a different way to represent what’s already there. This is unlike the Wii, for instance, which while certainly limited, represented new gameplay. Besides, EA hasn’t even embraced the Switch yet, so it has had no impact on the sports genre to date.

Next year will bring a new wave of sports games that surely excite, surprise, and also disappoint. I’d love for 2018 to be a major jumping off point that introduces landmark features that carry us to the next systems the way that fantasy/microtransaction modes have taken us this far. But I’m hard-pressed to imagine what they would be.

Missed some of the previous Sports Desk entries? Take a look at the past installments via our Hub page by clicking on the banner below.

Have a suggestion or comment? Put it in the comments section below, send me an email, or reach me on twitter at @mattkato.

 

REVIEW ROUND-UP 

Madden NFL 18 
NASCAR Heat 2 
NHL 18 
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 
FIFA 18 
NBA 2K18 
NBA Live 18 
Golf Story 
Project Cars 2 
Forza Motorsport 7 
NBA 2K18 (Switch) 
FIFA 18 (Switch)
GT Sport 
Mutant Football League  

 

THE TICKER
A quick rundown of some of the sports news from the week

NBA Live 18 Livestrikes Begin  
Franchise starts up its limited-time event challenges for apparel, shoes, traits, and more. This month features gear from companies like Undefeated and BAPE.

Madden 18 November Title Update Now Out 

FIFA Mobile’s Second Season Starts 

Ashes Cricket From BigAnt Studios is Out Now