Monthly Update: September 2021 Game Releases

September will be kicking off with a bang with the fall release schedule of games. There is a lot of variety getting released to boot, from little indie’s to big-budget action; we have a lot to look forward to this month. Get your pocketbooks ready! It’s about to get crazy this holiday season!

September’s Highlights

Tale of Arise - Sept 10th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Tales of Arise is the latest installment of the long-running RPG “Tales of” series. The planet of Dahma has always been ruled by the planet in the sky, Rena. You play as residents of Dahma that are often used as slaves trying to find freedom. Experience the most stunning Tales game yet powered by Unreal Engine 4 with dynamic action RPG battles and classic Tales gameplay. Dive into this vibrant new world and rich story on September 10th.

DEATHLOOP - Sept 14th (PS5, PC)

The much-anticipated game from Arkane Studios is finally here. A true “next-gen” title coming to PC and PS5, you will be taking down your foes with glorious style and precision. Deathloop has you playing as two deadly assassins that have to relive a time loop to find the best possible way to reach their target and put an end to the time loop trapping everyone inside. An innovative take on first-person action, Deathloop will allow players to find a preferred playstyle, be it stealth or guns blazing. End the Loop of Death on September 14th.

Aragami 2 - Sept 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

You are an Aragami, a group of elite warriors afflicted with a supernatural condition that corrodes the body and mind. You also control Shadow Essence, a mystical power to control the shadows. Go it alone or work with two friends to free the village from invaders who are enslaving the Aragami. The shadows are your ally in this 3rd person fast-paced stealth action game, where you build your own shadow assassin to save and protect your people. Become a master ninja in Aragami 2 on September 16th.

Kena Bridge of Spirits - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5, PC)

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a story-driven action-adventure set in a charming world rich with exploration and fast-paced combat. Players find and grow a team of tiny spirit companions called the Rot, enhancing their abilities and creating new ways to manipulate the environment. Kena has been developed by Ember Labs, an animation and digital content studio, and is their first-ever game. There has been a lot of anticipation for this gorgeous Pixaresque looking adventure since it was revealed. Help Kena and befriend The Rot on September 21st.

Diablo 2 Resurrected - Sept 23rd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Diablo 2 Resurrected is a fully remastered version of the original action RPG, which many believe to be the best. It will have the same classic gameplay as the remaster is built on top of the original game. It will feature cross-progression across all platforms with updated features and support for modern gaming needs. The entire game, including monsters, items, and spells, has been updated, including the original expansion, so you get the full Diablo 2 story in one package. Play with up to eight people and return to this classic adventure or play for the first time on September 23rd.

The complete list…

Big Rumble Boxing Creed Champions - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

KitAria Fables - Sept 3rd (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

The Medium - Sept 3rd (PS5)

Chernobylite - Sept 4th (PS4)

Sonic Colors Ultimate - Sept 7th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

WRC 10  - Sept 7th ( PS4, PS5, Xbox)

Hindsight 20/20 - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Life is Strange True Colors - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Olympia Soiree - Sept 9th (Switch)

NBA 2K22 - Sept 9th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Tale of Arise - Sept 10th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Lost in Random - Sept 10th (PS4, Ps5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Colors Live - Sept 14th (Switch)

DEATHLOOP - Sept 14th (PS5, PC)

Ever Forward - Sept 14th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Aragami 2 - Sept 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom Prince's Edition - Sept 17th (Switch)

Tails of Iron Crimson Knight Edition - Sept 17th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Lost in Judgment - Sept 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

Apsulov: End of Gods - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5)

Kena Bridge of Spirits - Sept 21st (PS4, PS5, PC)

Diablo 2 Resurrected - Sept 23rd (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Death Stranding Director’s Cut - Sept 24th ( PS5)

The Addams Family: Mansion Mayhem - Sept 24th (PS4, Xbox, Switch, PC)

FIFA 22 - Sept 26th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Hot Wheels Unleashed - Sept 26th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch, PC)

Alchemic Cutie - Sept 28th (Xbox, PC)

Lemnis Gate - Sept 28th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

New World - Sept 28th (PC)

Open Country - Sept 28th (PS4, Xbox)

Streets of Rage 4 Anniversary Edition - Sept 28th (PS4, Switch)

Insurgency: Sandstorm - Sept 29th (PS4, Xbox)

RICO London - Sept 30th (PS4, Switch)

The Riftbreaker - Sept 30th (PS5, Xbox, Gamepass, PC)

Xuan Yuan Sword 7 - Sept 30th (PS4, Xbox)

What game are you most looking forward to playing this September?

Yes, I Live With A Survival Horror Junkie

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Right? Or does he have a problem? How does this work? 

Suppose you live with a gamer. Maybe it's a family member, a roommate, or even a significant other. And because you live with them, you are exposed to whatever games they like to play. This includes the horrifyingly graphic and disgusting games with copious amounts of blood. Oh my god! The blood! It's the kind of games that they play over and over and over again and on harder difficulty each time. 

If this is you, my friend, you just might live with a survival horror junkie.

I have never been a fan of games designed to terrify the living daylights out of me. I prefer to play games that let me escape the horrors of everyday life because, let's be honest, most jobs are a nightmare. But since I moved in with my significant other, I have been exposed to some of the scariest, most intense, and squishy (you know, the sounds that zombies make when they chomp on your face) games I have ever seen. He has actually tried to get me to play some of his favorites, including Resident Evil. The old-school pixelated original version of Resident Evil didn't freak me out (that much- okay, the spiders got me). 

*WARNING: Very salty language in the following clip*

I mean, seriously, I told him there’s never anything good behind red doors. And I was right! 

He also got me to play the re-released version of Resident Evil 2, and that was a giant NOPE for me. I tried. I really did. But when there is a massive blood smear leading under a half-opened door that I have to crawl under, no thank you, I would like to live. I stood there so long that he finally took over the controller. 

I guess you could say that I have a powerful survival instinct. I would rather run away from danger! Not into it! Growling and snarling noises? Go the other way! To me, it’s very simple. Not to a survival horror junkie. They run headlong into the most gruesome and disturbing scenes imaginable and watch as their characters die in incredibly awful ways over and over again. And these are the games they enjoy playing! I get it. It's all about the challenge. I think. 

I have had the incredible privilege (I'm holding up my sarcasm sign) of watching him play through things like The Last of Us, Days Gone, The Evil Within, and a slew of Resident Evil games. This is just a small list. There are many, many more. And sure, today's graphics are incredible, and they can do so many things to make everything look more realistic, but must they? I have seen more realistic-looking entrails and body parts that main characters have to slip and slide through to get away from whatever madness is chasing them than I ever care to (I'm looking at you, Evil Within). Never EVER try to eat ANYTHING when the person you live with decides to start playing one of these games. Just DON’T. 

And why would I want to play games that have literally made him scream? The first time he played Phasmophobia (a ghost hunting game) with his friend, they were both screaming. Like girls. For more on those hilarious shenanigans, you can check out my previous article “When Men Scream Like Girls”.

Shana's creation

As much as these games can make me squeamish and blow my blood pressure through the roof, sometimes funny things can come out of it when I am forced to watch some of these horrifying games. While streaming Evil Within, I had asked my significant other to please turn his "butt light" off (the lantern that hangs from the character’s belt) because it attracts zombies. I thought it was a perfectly reasonable request. It became a hilarious possible t-shirt idea thanks to fellow Replayer and stream watcher Shana Martin. 

I sometimes have an easier time dealing with these types of games if I am co-oping them with him. We played Dead Space 3 together and I was so proud of myself when I had a headshot on the space zombies (or whatever they are), but those bastards kept coming! Headless! Full spine headless space zombie grossness crawling at me was not what I had in mind for a romantic evening of co-op gaming with the man. 

I have also started playing Phasmaphobia with him and friends, but it is seriously scary no matter how many times I have played it. I've been known to stay in the van to “look for orbs” on the cameras. Don’t judge! I live so I get to keep my money and my equipment to help fund future ghost hunting expeditions. That’s my story and I am most assuredly sticking to it. I have also been known to just guess what the ghost is and drive off with the van when we get a particularly nasty ghost that has killed off the rest of the crew—because I am not going in that house!

I’m sure I will continue to get roped into either sitting with him while he plays or attempting to play with him because apparently, my reactions are “funny.” The small bit of satisfaction I get is that many times my reactions to jump scares actually scare him more than the actual game itself. What can I say? I’m jumpy and we get a good laugh out of it, and it makes for some entertaining streams and content. You’re welcome?

As much as I complain about the awfulness that I hear and see emanating from his screen on a daily basis, I don’t think I would have it any other way. It makes him happy, and the fact that he can share something with me that he is passionate about is incredibly important to both of us. I have learned a lot about the franchises and do get interested in the great stories behind things like the Umbrella Corp, for example. Even if I am watching while my hands are covering my eyes.  

 

What games do you get exposed to that you wish you didn’t? Do you or someone you know live with a survival horror junkie?

Monthly Update: July & August 2021 Game Releases

Summer is in full swing which, unfortunately, means not too many big game releases. However there are still many new games for the months of July and August and some are worth checking out if you are itching for something to hold you over until fall.

July’s Highlights

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin - July 9th (Switch)

Monster Hunter Stories 2 is a spin off of the popular Monster Hunter series. Offering RPG Monster Hunter fans a rich storyline and unique experiences set in the Monster Hunter Universe. Players will assume the role of a young rider who sets out on a sprawling adventure where you hatch, train, and live alongside Monsters. Think Monster Hunter meets Pokemon. Collect various monsters and add them to your team to battle your way through an emotional and expansive journey.

Death’s Door - July 20th - (Xbox, PC)

Reaping souls of the dead and punching a clock might get monotonous but it's honest work for a Crow. The job gets lively when your assigned soul is stolen and you must track down a desperate thief to a realm untouched by death - where creatures grow far past their expiry. In this Zelda like action RPG, you play as a Crow working his day job as a reaper, you know fighting monsters, collecting souls, reaper stuff. With some light Dark Souls influence, battle intense boss fights, earn souls, and power up your crow reaper in this offbeat and humorous adventure.

Microsoft Flight Simulator - July 26th (Xbox Series)

Take to the skies in the latest edition of the long running Microsoft Flight Simulator, now available for Xbox Series S and X. Choose from hundreds of planes and fly to anywhere in the world in this deep and realistic simulator. Even train on how to actually fly a plane. The acclaimed PC game is now available on Xbox with a free Top Gun expansion available this fall and available on day one to GamePass subscribers.

The Ascent - July 29th  (Xbox, PC)

The Ascent is a cyberpunk themed action RPG. With twin stick shooter gameplay and deep RPG elements that fans of Diablo and Hunter the Reckoning will enjoy. You are an Indent, owned by the corporations, working to live in this grimy city run by the corporations. Go it alone, or play Co-op with friends online and couch co-op. Customize your character to your play style by spending skill points where you want them, equip weapons and armor, and try various augmentations. Will you rise up this July, in the Ascent?

August’s Highlights

Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut - August 20th (PS4, PS5)

Ghost of Tsushima Director’s Cut sees the Game of the Year contender released with additional content, including a whole new island to explore and PS5 updates. For those that wanted this amazing action adventure game, now is the time to grab your katana and avenge your people with the addition of Dual Sense controller functionality and 4k 60 resolution targeting. Those that already own the game can upgrade for an additional cost.

Aliens: Fireteam Elite - August 24th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Aliens: Fireteam Elite is a new 3rd person survival shooter where you and 2 friends fight to survive against waves of horrifying aliens. Create and customize your own Colonial Marine, choosing from an extensive variety of classes, weapons, gear and perks, battling overwhelming odds in this heart-pounding survival shooter experience. Choose from five character classes, each with their own unique perks and special abilities.

Psychonauts 2 - August 25th (Xbox, PC)

The sequel to the beloved Psychonauts is finally here after 16 years. Picking up where the first game left off, you play as Raz, a gifted psychic and acrobat, who wants to join the international psychic espionage organization known as the Psychonauts. Fans of the original have a lot to look forward to in this classic style action platformer which is set to release for Xbox and PC August 25th as well as PS4, Mac, and Linux at a later date.

No More Heroes 3 - August 27th (Switch)

Travis Touchdown is back in No More Heroes 3 exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. This zany series from famed director Suda51 has you battling a slew of evil aliens, but first you might have to mow the lawn. Travis Touchdown is the #1 assassin and now he has to stop some of the most powerful aliens in the universe. Are you up for the challenge?

The complete list…

July

Oddworld: Soulstorm Day One Oddition (Physical Release) - July 6th (PS4, PS5) 

Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin - July 9th (Switch)

Worms Rumble: Fully Loaded Edition - July 13th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD - July 16th (Switch)

F1 2021 - July 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox) 

Hotline Miami and Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number - July 16th (PS4)

Observer: System Redux - July 16th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

AKIBA'S TRIP: Hellbound and Debriefed 10th Anniversary Edition - July 20th (PS4, Switch)

Cris Tales - July 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Death’s Door - July 20th - (Xbox, PC)

Pokemon Unite - July 21st (Switch)

Last Stop - July 22nd (Xbox, Switch)

Blue Fire - July 23rd (PS4, PS5)

Orcs Must Die! 3 - July 23rd (Xbox)

Microsoft Flight Simulator - July 26th (Xbox Series)

Hell Let Loose - July 27th (PC)

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles - July 27th (Switch)

NEO: The World Ends with You - July 27th (PS4, Switch)

Samurai Warrior 5 - July 27th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

Spiritfarer - July 27th (PS4, Switch)

Tribes of Midgard - July 27th (PS4, PS5)

Blaster Master Zero 3 - July 28th (Xbox, Switch)

Chernobylite - July 28th (PC)

OMNO - July 28th (PS4,Xbox, Switch, PC)

Disgaea 6: Defiance of Destiny Unrelenting Edition - July 29th (Switch)

Fuga: Melodies of Steel - July 29th (Xbox, Switch)

The Ascent - July 29th  (Xbox, PC)

August

Spiritfarer - August 3rd (PS4, Switch)

Zengeon - August 6th - (PS4, Switch)

Foreclosed - August 13th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Hades - August 13th (PS4, PS5, Xbox)

PAW Patrol: The Movie Adventure City Calls - August 13th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

Greak: Memories of Azur - August 17th (PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Ghost of Tsushima Director's Cut - August 20th (PS4, PS5)

Madden NFL 22 - August 20th (PS4, PS5, Xbox) 

Monster Harvest - August 20th (PS4. Switch)

Aliens: Fireteam Elite - August 24th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, PC)

Hoa - August 24th (PS4, PS5, Switch)

King's Bounty II - August 24th (PS4, Xbox, Switch)

RiMS Racing Sim - August 24th (PS4, PS5, Xbox, Switch)

Psychonauts 2 - August 25th (Xbox, PC)

American Fugitive - August 27th (PS4, Switch)

No More Heroes 3 - August 27th (Switch)

Tormented Souls - August 27th (PS5)

The Forgotten City - August 31st (PS5, Xbox Series)

Rustler - August 31st (PS4, PS5, Xbox. Switch)

Song of Iron - August 31st (Xbox)

KeyWe - August 31st (PS4, PS5, Xbox. Switch)

The Rumors and Possible Revival of Silent Hill

There are whispers happening in the dark dungeon of games past that Silent Hill, the game that helped define bone-chilling psychological horror in gaming, could rise again. With recent rumors and the latest announcements, fans of the series are getting pretty excited, myself included!

In my restless dreams, I see that town.

The rise of the survival horror game genre in the 1990s made it a fun time for horror fans. Games such as Parasite Eve, Alone in the Dark, and Resident Evil were bringing in new ways to be scared and experience horror in the gaming world! But Silent Hill, a relative latecomer to the party, brought something different to the mix: psychological horror

Resident Evil was undoubtedly a favorite of mine growing up, but as a horror game, it didn’t feel particularly scary. Resident Evil, to me, felt more action-based with zombie blasting and giant mutant creatures. It has its jump scares, but it can also be a little campy at times, and that’s okay! It’s part of its charm, and it's a great franchise. Personally, though, I wanted something a little more sinister, and I found that in Silent Hill. 

Up close and personal with terror.

I always felt Silent Hill stood apart from other franchises that were around at the time by focusing on the darker parts of the human psyche, very real human emotions, and relatable themes that are often more terrifying than any mutant monster. I also feel that the action moments in Silent Hill are much more daunting. 

As an example, during battle segments, you sometimes only have a melee weapon at your disposal which forces you to be up close and personal with the terror. Some enemies featured in the game are purely there just to taunt you, and your best option is to run! Silent Hill’s most famous resident, Pyramid Head, shows up periodically throughout the game as a tormentor who can’t be killed but will surely kill you! Pyramid Head is a demon created in James Sunderland’s mind in Silent Hill 2. The demon is a personification of guilt and represents James’s wish to be punished for his wife's death.

This is also just one example of Silent Hill’s iconic psychological storytelling that has stayed with me long after the game has ended. 

Another reason why Silent Hill became a favorite for me is that it takes inspiration from classic horror movies such as Eraserhead and Jacob’s Ladder. Those films were strong influences in the game’s themes of a person's downfall into madness. Writers such as Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz and directors such as David Cronenburg and David Lynch have been cited among others for inspiring such rich horror environments. The creators of the games are big fans of horror and literature, and it shows! For me, it was a joy being able to immerse myself in playable worlds featuring inspirations from these great masters of darkness. I’m a girl with an unhealthy obsession with serial killers; what can I say?!

Pyramid Head
Pyramid Head, the Tormentor.

The door that wakes in darkness, opening into nightmares.

Unfortunately for the fans, we haven’t seen a new installment in the series since Silent Hill: Downpour in 2012. This was the same year Time magazine named Silent Hill one of the top 100 games of All Time. To me, it feels even more unfortunate that there hasn't been any new Silent Hill content since this accolade. Briefly, in 2014 there was hope...

In 2014 Konami released the P.T. (Playable Teaser) Trailer reigniting the franchise in a big way! The P.T. Trailer was a short demo set in a repeating hallway that became even more sinister as the player progressed through its levels. Those who completed the demo were gifted with a pan-up shot revealing Norman Reedus as our protagonist, standing in a deserted, foggy town right before the Silent Hills titles were unveiled. Finally, after a long wait, we had a new game, and it was even more terrifying than before! But, alas, it was - canceled.

The P.T. Trailer is unfortunately no longer available to play in its original form; it can only be watched in hilarious reaction videos online. This feels like a big loss for those who weren’t able to experience it on its release, but it is definitely worth checking out some of the playthroughs online. 

 After creative differences, Kojima and Konami separated, and the much anticipated Silent Hills project suffered from the breakup. A new project was released in its place, Death Stranding, that a lot of people loved. To be fair, it is a good game! I wasn't so overjoyed with it, though with so much promise from P.T. and so long waiting for another installment to the Silent Hill series, the release of Death Stranding felt anticlimactic for Silent Hill fans. Our franchise was, again, dead in the fog and abandoned like the town itself. 

Now the dream of this life must end, and so, too, must the dreamers within it.

There have been ongoing rumors of a Silent Hill franchise revival for years, and, to fans, this has been as psychologically torturous as the games themselves. Rumors often tease at everything from series reboots to new installments coming to the series. Unfortunately, they often amount to nothing but hype. Recently, though, two big rumors have been causing more than a little stir, and these rumors surround Blue Box Studios and Bloober Team.

The first set of rumors piqued the interest of  P.T. fans who have been looking for clues into whether the project will be picked up again: a recent trailer for Abandoned has got fans raising eyebrows. The trailer opens in a foggy forest with a girl's voice talking about being alone with no one to guide her. She speaks about a small community led by a cult and suggests an escape from a place. It does sound a little like Silent Hill. 

Could the name Abandoned be a clue to a Silent Hills revival with the Silent Hills project literally being Abandoned?

It’s a stretch, but this is actually just one of the connections fans are looking into. 

There’s also speculation that Blue Box Studios may not be who they say they are and that they are, in fact, Kojima being devious. Speculation continues with everything from the studio’s Games Director Hasan Karahman secretly being Hideo Kojima, to the studio’s logo looking suspiciously like the PlayStation logo, to cryptic tweets from Blue Box themselves loosely teasing that the game Abandoned’s real name starts with S and ends in L (which they later redacted with an apology for teasing Silent Hill fans). The fans are still convinced that the tweets were intentional to fuel hype. You can follow all the rumors surrounding Abandoned at playstationlifestyle.net

I agree that details surrounding Abandoned do feel a little too convenient to be just a coincidence, but I am cautious with my excitement. I am also aware that Kojima has a reputation for being a little devious with his game promotion, so I can't be entirely skeptical. Perhaps I would have more faith in the hype surrounding Blue Box if it weren't for another set of rumors. 

This second set of rumors involves Bloober Team, the developers behind The Medium, a game heavily inspired by Silent Hill. It has the feel and the story like Silent Hill, and it even has music composed by Silent Hill’s original composer, Akira Yamaoka.

The Medium, a game heavily inspired by Silent Hill.

The similarities in story and gameplay are so strong between the two games that many fans feel The Medium could be a showpiece for a bigger Silent Hill branded game in the future. To reinforce this idea, Bloober later announced that they and Akira are indeed pairing up again on an "existing horror IP from a very famous gaming publisher," which later turned out to be Konami, the studio behind Silent Hill!

Me meeting Silent Hill music master Akira Yamaoka.

Akira Yamaoka was then interviewed by Middle East outlet Al-hub where he confirmed working on a second project with Bloober in addition to The Medium, saying it wasthe one you’ve been hoping to hear about.” That interview was later taken down. Did Akira reveal a little more than he was supposed to?

There was a hole here. It’s gone now.

Konami, Bloober, and Blue Box Studios have all denied currently working on a Silent Hill project, but that’s not to say that they might not be working on one down the road. Out of the rumors posed, the Bloober Team theories seem the most viable given their survival horror experience, previous work with Akira, and official connections to Konam. If The Medium is the showpiece of their Silent Hill potential, I am excited to see what they could bring to the franchise.

One day, that small foggy town will have a lost wanderer in its streets again, and you can be sure that when Silent Hill does awaken from its purgatory, I’ll be here to share its darkest secrets. 

What are some of the rumors and theories you have heard about a new Silent Hill game? And what do you think about the rumors circling the franchise right now? Let's speculate together in the comments below.

Our Journey As Female Gamers Part II - Featuring Charlotte Merritt & Stephanie Watson

What would it be like to have an extensive gaming experience that spanned forty years? What kind of evolution would be experienced over the course of an entire generation? 

I had the honor of talking with two of our Replayers who have been gaming in one fashion or another for around forty years. I started gaming from a very early age, but I was very curious about what these ladies’ experiences were, considering they had more background knowledge of the earlier systems and have played significantly more video games than I have. 

They have seen and experienced the evolution of the online collective community of video game players. What kind of environment did those first communities foster, and how have they since changed? 

Let’s start with a little history from them to see how things have changed from the early days:

How did you become a gamer and was there a specific influence that led you down this path?

The Commodore 64 was introduced in August 1982.

Charlotte: My father bought a floppy drive for our Commodore 64. Dad liked some games, but he really didn’t lead me to them. It’s more that he introduced them.

Stephanie: I was about 7 or 8 when Pac-Man, Galaga, and other early arcade games started appearing in local restaurants. My parents bought us portable Pac-Man and Donkey Kong games to play at home. It started as something to do at restaurants while my family was waiting for a table or socializing after eating. Later, I started asking if I could ride my bike to the arcade and play. Friends and cousins had PCs with games and Atari 2600 consoles, and I'd try to visit them so I could play there too. Back home, though, my parents didn't buy anything until I was around 15, and it was a Nintendo NES for my brother. I played it a lot, but it always meant having to hang out in my brother's room. 

What are some of your favorite games you grew up with and why? What kind of gamer are you? Do you like challenges, is it more for the social aspect, do you prefer games that are puzzles or have a relaxing element to it? Has that preference evolved over time? 

Charlotte: Some of the games I grew up playing were Police Quest, Doom (1993) specifically, and Twisted Metal. At-home gaming was just coming in when I was a kid. I would say I am an eclectic gamer. I love the social aspect of video games. RPG’s are grand (Ultima Online & SWTOR). Puzzles are my favorite. Uncharted, the entire series is my absolute favorite. I think my preference has evolved as games have advanced.

Stephanie: Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were always favorites, and I got a lot of Super Mario Brothers playtime. I fell in love with The Legend of Zelda on my brother's NES. He got the Nintendo Power magazine for a while, so I would dive into the guides for specific games so I could get past the sticking points that made me rage quit.

I like a combination of puzzles and story-driven missions, and I usually play on story or normal modes. A story will keep me playing if I was really compelled by it or if there are different options for playing the story on repeated runs. Thus, RPGs are often a big draw. I also love achievement hunting and team challenges when I can play with other people. I love going back to play games like Destiny and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Throughout the years have you noticed a shift in women gamers? What’s been your personal experience with this?

Charlotte:  For sure. Growing up, my generation's games were marketed to boys. Girls who played them were weird. Thanks go to the younger generation of gamers and streamers who have really helped try to normalize us. I remember so many times in UO (Ultima Online) other players not believing that I was a woman. “Women don’t play games” or “Women don’t know how to do RPG’s.” I was judged a lot by other girls as a teen because I would go home and throw on Doom, instead of reading Cosmo and learning the new makeup tips. Now it’s so nice that thanks to Retro Replay, I have this fantastic group of female gamers around me.

Stephanie: When video games first came out in the late 70s and early 80s, toy stores had no idea where they should put them. At the time, stores segregated toys by target gender (boy and girl). They chose to put them in the boy section and market them to boys. Many girls like me have felt the results of that marketing decision for three decades. Even today, people assume I'm a "he" in online games, even if I'm playing a female character. Fortunately, girls are really starting to come into their own now in ALL KINDS of games, and gaming communities are starting to outright reject people who discriminate against female gamers. I'm all for that, and it's great to see more females proudly calling themselves a gamer without feeling like they have to qualify or distinguish their gender.

Have there been any specific female leads in games over the years that have inspired or motivated you? How did they do so? 

Chloe & Nadie don’t look like they need rescuing.

Charlotte:  Lara Croft was a big one. Tough, strong female character. This has now grown to include Elena, Chloe, and Nadine. They don’t need to be “rescued”. They hold their own.

Stephanie: I admit I've mostly played games in which the lead was male just because I found the story intriguing. That said, I love how Star Wars: The Old Republic wrote the female versions of each character class to be equal to their male counterparts in the main plots of the story.

Do you feel that women have been underrepresented as leads in games throughout the years? Have you noticed a shift in recent years? Expand on this. 

Charlotte: For Sure. They’ve been insanely underrepresented AND over-sexualized when they are in a game. Yes.

Stephanie: We've absolutely been underrepresented as leads. There has been an effort in recent years to have a female alternative lead in games, but most of the marketing and labels use the male lead. I suppose that's because of their demographic, with males still being the majority of gamers in certain game categories. I appreciate the move that RPG games have made to ensure that the female characters had just as compelling of a story as their male counterparts. And the game stories are also bringing in a lot of diversity.

Some of us are streamers: 

 

What’s been your experience with becoming a streamer? 

Charlotte: It’s been fun. I recently became a Twitch affiliate. I have my first subscriber (Thanks Adam!) People have been very welcoming and supportive.

Stef's new setup

Stephanie: It's a fun hobby, and it's given me an excuse to improve my gaming setup at home. It also helps me accept that I'm not perfect (I can't just edit out the rough spots) and that's okay. My streaming schedule has been incredibly limited since 2021 started, though, as I now spend most of my hobby hours editing articles for a website or producing a podcast.

 

What are some of your favorite things about streaming versus your least favorite things? 

Charlotte: I love seeing my friends interacting in my chat. I hate seeing a new name and hitting that second of panic of….are you here to troll or are you here cause I’m playing a game you like? Luckily, I’ve only had to deal with a couple of bots. So I’ll claim a win, so far.

Stephanie: My favorite part of streaming is seeing people who come in regularly, people who have been supporting me and the channel from the start. I love that I can talk to them while I'm playing or cooking or whatever I'm streaming that day. That social part is even better when I can stream with friends, too. 

Back to gaming:

 

What is one of your favorite achievements in your personal gaming history you’ve accomplished? A game you’ve beaten, an achievement reached or a charity stream goal achieved? 

Charlotte’s family resulted from her playing an online game and meeting her Prince Charming. Now she is living her “Happily Ever After.”

Charlotte: My 15-year-old son, Troy. I met my husband on a video game (Ultima Online) back in 2002. We married in 2003.

Stephanie: My favorite "old school" achievement is finishing The Legend of Zelda on NES. I've even replayed the game multiple times in the years since when I could find it. My favorite current achievement is hosting an Extra Life team and charity stream. We raised almost $1500 for children's hospitals and the whole team brought so much energy, enthusiasm, and support for each other. It was a joy to be able to host, and I hope we can do it again in 2021!

https://www.extra-life.org/

Charity Streams are a great way to pursue your hobby and give back to a great cause! 

Video games have evolved significantly in the last few years in regards to diversity and strong female leads. What more would you like to see from the industry in the future?

Charlotte: Would love to see even more diversity, gender, and race. I would also like to see schools promote the E arts to female students. It’s sad how much more the boys are pushed to them. I feel like if girls had new opportunities in jobs available they would go for more of those classes.

Stephanie: We've already come a long way with female leads and gay representation. I'd like to see more story writers and game producers take that to the next level by having characters who are bisexual, polyamorous, transgender, transvestite, and non-binary. I'd especially like stories to not assume every romance is going to be hetero or monogamous.

 I had a lot of fun discussing these questions in further detail in a Zoom chat with six of us female Replayers.

I learned a lot from Charlotte and Stephanie. From the early days of gaming to our current era it seems we have come a long way already in a short period of time. There have already been great strides in diversifying stories and gameplay. In recent years we have seen a significant influx of strong female leads giving us women gamers someone to finally relate to. You can look at a past interview of female replayers here.

Thank you again Charlotte and Stephanie for chatting with me and sharing your experience with the rest of us.

Check out their socials!

Charlotte - Twitter: @snapefantasy Twitch: twitch.tv/snapefantasy Instagram: snapefantasy

Stephanie - Twitter: @StephanieDoesVO Twitch: twitch.tv/Jicori Instagram: stephaniedoesvo

What other kinds of diversified roles would you like to see in video games? 

Talking Zombies, Hobbits, and Mocap with Nicole Tompkins

Over the past few decades, gaming has evolved from readable text to 8-bit sprites to a cinematic experience. Video game titles now have the same or more depth than a Hollywood Blockbuster. Nicole Tompkins has taken part in the evolution of performance capture or the recording of an actor’s movement, voice, and facial expressions to bring an animated or virtual character to life. Her first role as Idril in Middle Earth: Shadow of War was just the starting point. She also has taken on the lead role of Jill Valentine in the Resident Evil 3 Remake. And currently as Daniela Dimetrescu and Elena in the new Resident Evil Village.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nicole to talk about her career in performance capture, gaming, and maybe we played a game or two to pass the time!

Can you tell us about your acting journey from your beginnings in Middle Earth: Shadow of War to now?

I did a lot of film and TV and started to do voice-over work because my agent told me I am good at doing this. I like to be in the booth and be a silly actor. I submitted 4 lines for a role of a 16-year-old British girl for some sort of fantasy game for an audition. I got a callback afterward in the Warner Brothers lot and thought, “This is the coolest thing ever!” Little did I know it was Middle Earth: Shadow of War.  This was my first time doing motion capture. It was a cool experience because I was surrounded by great people to work within the gaming world on the acting side. And I had a great introduction to how the gaming world can be.

I went back to more movie gigs and got the Jill Valentine role in the Resident Evil 3 Remake. I went through the casting process and found myself in Tokyo playing a lead in a Resident Evil game which was a very cool jump. I had so much fun and had the time of my life getting to do that working with Capcom. 

The cinematics and motion capture director for Resident Evil Village, Steve Kniehibly, approached me to be in Village since I worked with him previously on the Resident Evil 3 Remake. And he also brought in all the actors who were previously in Resident Evil Biohazard, and Capcom agreed with bringing them in. We came in and worked hard to make something new. And here we are, at the Village, and it was this chaos of an amazingly huge cast of interesting characters, and I am grateful to be in the middle of it. That’s what’s happening in the game world and in my life right now.

Tell the Replayers about a career highlight that you’re proud of from day one to wrap.

I have so many! Definitely being part of the Resident Evil world at all is a massive career highlight. I get to work with such a great company and interact with such an incredible fanbase. I am surrounded by so many talented and inspiring people working in both Resident Evil 3 and Village. It’s always the people that you’re with that define your experience working on a project. 

And everyone who works there wants to be there. That’s one of the favorite things I love about working in video games in general. The crew is a fan of the Resident Evil games, the video game industry, and love what they do. They are passionate about what they do, and there’s nothing like that!

What is an obstacle that you’ve come across in your acting career?

I say this all the time when people ask me for acting advice: You get so many No’s in the industry, and you learn to not take it personally. You will eventually get a yes if you’re meant to do this and you’re passionate about it. It’s never personal. They never are. And that’s interesting since any artist knows how personal their work is to them. And yet, the decisions behind the scenes are never personal. It takes a lot of persistence. 

I think one of the challenges I have to overcome is to continue to show up authentically and with optimism, passion, and excitement, knowing there’s a chance you will, or you won’t get the job. Even when you do get the job, the project may even not see the light of day. Projects shut down for all sorts of reasons. So knowing there’s always a unique challenge, roadblock, or setback and just continuing to show up alive and not letting those obstacles bring you down or be cynical. Let it continue to fuel you and what it is you want to do and strengthen you.

Who is an inspiration or an influence in your acting career that you’ve worked with?

I feel like everyone I’ve ever worked with grows on me in some way, and I love that about acting in general. I can point to any person that I’ve worked with and know what I’ve learned from them or what excites me.

I have so much love and appreciation for Jeff Scheine, who played Carlos Olivera in the Resident Evil 3 Remake, and Chris Redfield in Resident Evil Village. He’s such a talented human. We have a lot of mutual respect for each other and enjoyed working together. We have similar values of approaching the craft and in life: showing up with as much humility as possible and always doing your absolute best. I respect him a lot, and there’s a lot of ways that he inspires me.

I am also super inspired by Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and Ike Amade on Shadow of War. I was super young at the time, and they just took me under their wing and taught me how to fly. And I did! Troy also directed and acted in Shadow of War and a lot of that dynamic inspired me and that’s super cool! These people are incredibly talented. 

You can’t look at someone like Laura Bailey with her career, personality, and the way she shows up and not be inspired by her. She is also one of the women in video games that made me realize that this is a career that can be rewarding. And more recently, Maggie Robertson, who plays Lady Dimetrescu in Village. I love her so much! There are so many people that inspire me. And that is just on the acting side!

There are producers, writers, producers, booth directors, and all the behind-the-scenes people. And it always takes a village behind any person that has any success or performance that you like. There are so many people that have contributed to who and where I am, and I am indebted forever to just look back and nod and be excited to watch everyone else’s success in all sorts of areas in life. That’s one of the best parts of doing this.

We took a little intermission and played a game of word association. I used words and characters that are associated with the Resident Evil franchise and here is what Nicole says the first thing that comes to mind:

Zombie

Apocalypse

Nemesis

Neil (Newbon)

Leon

Nick Apostolides!

Ethan

Hands (with a giggle)

Daniela

Having a good day!

Back to our regularly scheduled article!

How are we doing so far? How am I doing so far?

Dandy! We’re doing great! We’re chilling so far!

We dabbled into performance capture a little. What’s been that experience so far compared to traditional film, stage, and screen?

Performance capture is a beautiful marriage between film and theater in many ways. There’s physicality involved. You end up doing long takes or full scenes because we’re not waiting to move the camera or get a specific angle because any take could be your close-up. In so many ways it’s like theater. You’re doing a lot of pretending. You’re with objects that don’t look the way that they will. It takes a lot of imagination. 

Simultaneously, there’s something incredibly cinematic and technical about performance capture. We’re wearing an incredible amount of technology on our actual persons. And there are specific marks and places you end up having to hit. Or ways to look or be there at this moment. So timing becomes a thing. Starting and stopping positions. Doing your T-Pose before and after a scene. Much like a film set, it can get really technical when it comes to how it operates 

I have been very lucky to just be in a lot of sets that value the story enough to feel like we’re actually making a movie. Every performance is important and has this grounded naturalism. These games are turning into playable movies with incredible cinematics and emotionally driven stories and concepts. And I think it’s really cool because it gives us that much more material and depth to work with and dig into.

Check out the video below on how a performance capture session can turn into a cutscene in a video game-like in Resident Evil Village:

What are some memorable moments to share when you did performance capture?

I definitely have some fond memories of when we do our ROM (Range of Motion) in the morning. That is when I get my suit, connect the dots to our character, and track all the dots for the day on our person. We had some ROMs where we would end up doing a little dance to get the dots all lined up. There’s music on, and all of us do the motions at the same time. It’s a hilarious adventure of joy and silliness of us all in these wetsuits with velcro everywhere just jamming out to some intense song.

That and freaking mocap heels are a thing! There are always mocap shoes. But we had mocap heels because walking on heels changes how I physically walk. So for Daniela, Alcina, Cassandra, and Bela Dimetrescu, who are the witches in Village, we had to wear heels for the whole day. One because they’re very tall, and two, there is an in-dresses kind of movement. And that was kinda fun. My feet are done by the end of the day for sure! I would be like, “All right, cool. Kick ‘em off. I’m done! I’m out!”

Tell us about how you approached the role of Daniela as you do your performance capture during Village.

I felt like we were deciding on the day what these characters were going to sound like and how they walked. These ladies are very flirtatious and intentional on the part of the writers. For Daniela, it was pretty easy. She’s clearly kind of disconnected from reality, and like I said: She’s having a good day! She’s incredibly flirtatious and wants the player’s attention, not desperate for it.

There were days where I coordinated with Bekka Prewitt, who plays Bela, and Jeanette Moss, who played Cassandra. We wanted to show up as individuals but also as a cohesive thing because they look similar. A lot of people got them mixed up based on how they looked. But we knew our subtle character differences, and we had room to work with. Along with Maggie Robertson as Alcina, the head of the house, it came together as a cohesive unit. In the game itself, the team did a fantastic job of adding Easter eggs throughout the entire castle that teaches the player more and more about who they have been throughout time.

You’ve been part of legacy franchises like The Lord of the Rings and now Resident Evil, is there a wish list for future roles or a particular studio that you would like to work with?

Let’s be real: I would like to work with Naughty Dog! I played all of the Uncharted series and The Last of Us. They are just so groundbreaking in everything they do. They have fantastic talent, artists, and people. They find ways of evolving their games and create compelling stories and, specifically, interesting characters. Whether it’s a light, levity-filled character like Nathan Drake or super serious like Ellie, you can’t look at a character in a Naughty Dog game and not say, “That’s interesting.” The worlds they create are deep, layered, and emotional as well as entertaining. They’re a fantastic studio and I would love to hang out with some close people at some point.

I would also love to work with new, original IP’s. It’s fun how original IP’s start, and there’s something compelling about it like The Last of Us, Horizon Zero Dawn, and even Control. I love how a new world is created that is unique. I have had the pleasure of working on legendary IP’s. And there is something so satisfying about that because I came from an established world and fanbase. I throw my best at it and be like, “Hey, this is my version of this thing!” And, thankfully, I am warmly welcomed by everyone who enjoyed those games. But as far as being part of a new IP, that would be satisfying and cool for its own reasons. There’s something in my future and I don’t even know what it is yet!

Which franchise made you nerd out more: Lord of the Rings or Resident Evil?

Jill Valentine is the coolest role I’ve had the joy of playing, let's be honest. However, I will throw it to Shadow of War. There’s nothing like walking in your first video game role being a Triple-A Lord of the Rings game. I was like, “I’m sorry, what? That sounds amazing! Really?! Is that what we’re doing?! Okay, cool!” There’s something about it that made me so giddy inside.

Even with Resident Evil, I knew it was a big deal when I booked the role (for Jill). I was super excited to take it on and be part of it. But I didn’t have much context of how immersed I would end up with the Resident Evil community and the fans and how expansive that would be. Especially when Resident Evil 3 came out, we were heading straight into lockdown for COVID. So I ended up with all this time connected with all these humans online that were playing this game and enjoying it! The age range of fans is incredible, from nostalgia players who loved the games from the ‘90s to new players who are discovering it for the first time. It’s an incredible diversity of people, and I think that’s really special.

What have you been playing recently that you have enjoyed?

I’ve been playing a lot of stuff on Twitch. I love bringing the other cast members from Resident Evil Village and playing along with them on Twitch which is super fun! I play them because I want to see our performances and celebrate with the people that are involved. Also, people online suggest games I can play and make a list out of it. I also played the Tomb Raider trilogy on stream but out of order accidentally! Someone gifted me the third game (Shadow of the Tomb Raider) thinking that it’s the first in the series. It was the person’s favorite game of the trilogy. As I was playing it into Act One, I told my chat that I feel like I might be missing some context! Chat replied, “You’re playing the third game, Nik!” I was like, “Oh. Okay, cool.” So I played the third one, then the first one (Tomb Raider), and now I’m playing the second one (Rise of the Tomb Raider), and I’m enjoying the second one. I love the Japanese island of the first (game). But it felt claustrophobic and that was their intention.

What do you want to share with the Replayers what you’re currently doing and where can we find you on socials?

If you want to come hang out on a stream sometime, I have been streaming Resident Evil Village and bringing a lot of the cast members from that particular game lately. You can find me at www.Twitch.tv/nicoletompkins.

Or come say “Hey” on Twitter or Instagram: @nikileetompkins on either. That is where I get to post new projects and exciting things when I can do that. Until then, Love will be there and you’ll find out when the time is right!

During the interview, we added one more game to close out. Fellow contributor Daniel Morris and I wrote suggestions and put them in a hat. Nicole acts out the scenes based on those suggestions. It’s reminiscent of the segment on the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” The suggestions are Resident Evil, entertainment, or pop culture related. Let’s see how she did:

Thanks again Nicole for interviewing! Also huge thanks to Daniel Morris who helped facilitate this interview.

Have you heard of Nicole Tompkins before this interview? What stands out from her growing career in gaming? Let’s hear them in the comments and talk about it!

8"x10" Daniela Dimetrescu print signed by Nicole Tompkins.

Also here's your chance to win an 8"x10" Daniela Dimetrescu print signed by Nicole Tompkins (valued at $50)! Enter below.

Nicole Tompkins Signed Print Giveaway

Why Sly Cooper Deserves a Return

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Master Thief himself, Sly Cooper has been tiptoeing on the periphery of recent entertainment. Originally created by Sucker Punch Productions, Sly Cooper first leaped onto the scene as a suave, stealthy thief with a penchant for a particularly foxy cop. His story grew to explore themes such as grappling with the weight of familial legacy, overcoming your past, supporting your loved ones, and forging new futures. 

Tragically, the Cooper Gang hasn't had a game since 2013, and Sucker Punch hasn't created another installment for their original PlayStation-exclusive IP since 2005. Despite this, the fandom has been alive and well. Sly loyalists thrive in all corners of the internet such as the various Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook groups that faithfully await the day the Cooper Legacy takes the stage once again. With the recent marketing hype surrounding Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, I'm making the case as to why now would be the perfect time for Sucker Punch to revive their most beloved character.

The Cooper Gang

The History of Sly Cooper

Duality at its finest.

Before we dive into why we need to hit the respawn button, let’s take a glance at Sly’s history. Sucker Punch Productions, the creator of not only the Sly Trilogy but also the groundbreaking games Ghost of Tsushima and inFAMOUS, originally introduced the smooth criminal to the world in 2002. The first game, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, follows Sly as he recovers the Thievius Raccoonus, a treasured family heirloom while staying ahead of both the fiendish Clockwerk and the zealous Inspector Carmelita Fox. With their second installment, Sly 2: Band of Thieves, Sucker Punch explored themes like betrayal, friendship, and the cost of hatred. In their final in-house production of the original trilogy, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, they close Sly's story masterfully by tackling topics such as forgiveness, making peace with your past, and defining your own legacy. The fandom has been constantly requesting a continuation by Sly's original creators, who have even left Easter eggs for the breakthrough franchise within Ghost of Tsushima and inFAMOUS

The Gang's all here.

How We Left Things

To keep things brief and spoiler-free: Sly 3 begins with the Cooper Gang about to launch a high-stakes heist against a new villain, but things go sideways. During the height of danger, Sly provides us with an extensive flashback comprising the main story of the game. After the final battle, Sly is seen offering a mischievous wink that implies to the player he's not out of the game yet. This leaves the door open for a new installment to pick up right where things left off. 

Sly and Carmelita

What the Fandom Wants

In the meantime, the fandom has been keeping the Cooper Gang alive. A quick visit to the subreddit r/Slycooper will reveal a treasure trove of media coverage, screenshots of Easter eggs, and humorous raccoon videos reminiscent of their favorite Master Thief. A visit to the Twitter hashtag #SlyCooper will uncover extensive celebration of the Sly Cooper Funko Pop!, fan-made memes, and some truly epic fan art. The official Sly Cooper Facebook FanPage boasts lively support of Sly's sneaky cameo in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, hearty debates, links to discussion and retrospective videos, and even tattoos. Sly is a truly iconic platforming mascot with a stunning story that's appropriate for all ages, carrying its players well through adulthood with its meaningful narrative and timeless character arcs. Thus, fans have been asking for a remake of Sucker Punch's original trilogy for years.

Planning... and lunch.

Now is the Perfect Time!

Sly is getting more press now than he's seen in years. In fact, Funko just released a new POP! figurine as a GameStop exclusive in the U.S.! Plus, Sucker Punch Productions is in a great position right now: Ghost of Tsushima was released to incredible success and brought Sucker Punch to new heights in the world of video game production, including winning the Players Voice Award at The Game Awards. That award-winning game brought in solid revenue that could theoretically be applied to reviving the Sly Cooper IP. 

Not to mention, the PS5 has brand-new features such as the AMD Radeon RDNA 2 sporting variable frequency, 10.3 teraflops, and ray tracing, all of which produce even more realistic lighting effects through a complicated rendering technique that impeccably imitates light in natural environments. These new enhancements would allow the developers to showcase Sly's unique design and gameplay mechanics on the next-gen console. 

The world's most intellectual thief.

Suggestions for New Content

There are various options for bringing Sly and the Cooper Gang back to the screen. Sucker Punch could offer a remaster, which is the original game offered with amplified graphics. Even better, they could produce a remake by rebuilding the game from the ground up with smoother mechanics, improved graphics, and enhanced voice acting audio (keeping the original cast, of course–who can replace Kevin Miller as Sly?). 

A reboot may not be preferable, as these often involve changing beloved character origins, design, story, and voice. If they decided to go in the direction of a movie or television show, they would adapt the characters, animation, and storytelling for the big screen or a streaming service. In fact, there was even a teaser trailer released in 2014 featuring "the world's greatest thief-turned-hero."

Smooth criminal.

In short, Sly Cooper brought wisdom and maturity to platformer storytelling that has never been seen before. He has the heart and soul, narrative prowess, history, and fandom to support a new installment or continuation. Every Easter egg, teaser, or piece of media shared featuring Sly and the Cooper Gang receives stand-out support from the online gaming community. And, of course, the new PS5 console can truly deliver the franchise's stellar plot with mind-blowingly gorgeous new graphics and riveting gameplay possibilities. As I’ve heard from Sly Cooper connoisseur @r116terrell, who has collected everything down to the complete press kits for the trilogy, now is the time for the Cooper Legacy to come back to life!

Legend.

Have you ever played the Sly Cooper trilogy? What are your thoughts on the franchise receiving new content? Slip your thoughts into the comments and let's talk about it!

Looking for Player 2: Keeping Local Co-op Gaming Alive

Let’s rewind for a moment. It's the 90s... TV has taken the fast train to Boringville, but you don’t care. There’s no internet to pull you away, no social media to scroll, it's just you and a friend with a game. Put in that cartridge and push the button. Then untangle the cables, plug in the controller, press Start. Welcome, Player 2! You and your buddy, brother, or sister are excited for that long-awaited night of gaming. You’re lying prone on sleeping bags in the dark, feet curled in the air behind you with a bowl of noms between you. You laugh. You’re told to keep it down and you giggle it away. There are games like Contra, Double Dragon, Mario Kart, Final Fight, Streets of Rage. There’s cheating, there’s banter, and there’s the occasional punch in the arm. 

This is co-op gaming, and it is local.

At one time, the console was the hub that brought groups together under one roof. We planned gaming nights, invited our buddies over, or visited a friend's house to check out the newest games. I remember some of the best gaming memories I had as a kid were family game nights. We would prepare in advance: take a trip to the store, load up with all the sugar and candy. We would settle down for the night around the console. It was an event! The curtains were closed, the phone off the hook (actually off the hook, and not in a rad way, kiddos)—we closed ourselves off from the outside world for quality time within our family unit. 

We would also visit arcade halls for those group experiences. It was an opportunity for us to see the future of gaming: these impressive, interactive rigs with rideable motorcycles, guns in holsters, and incredible graphics for the time. They were all multiplayer! 

Fast forward to the multiplayer gaming of today that's replaced the local play with an online experience. Hundreds of players are playing in a single game simultaneously. Teams are taking on teams in huge matches across the globe. Headsets and microphones are at the ready, with players speaking hundreds of languages in a huge melting pot of community. It’s a dream come true for gamers to see their passion become so global and widespread. But in this age of connectivity, why do I feel so disconnected

Where is Player 2? Can I play with you?

I can’t help but feel that there has been a loss in the personal, more direct social experience through the years. There is something simple about closing the doors to the rest of society and sharing a moment with the person beside you.

On a recent trip, my husband, Jacob, and I packed our Nintendo Switch. We were in a home somewhat isolated with less-than-stellar internet, and it was a rainy day. It did not matter. We played Mario Kart 8 in 4-way local multiplayer with our young niece and nephew. You'd better believe we schooled those kids in how we immature adults did it back in the day! We laughed and joked. They promised they were going to beat us, and we showed them otherwise. They also showed us a thing or two! 

Showing the kids how we Kart.

So why is there a decline in split-screen co-op? Looking back at the evolution of gaming, it seems clear that once consoles and PCs started offering network connectivity, the world opened up to new possibilities in gaming. LAN parties grew in popularity. And, as accessibility to the internet became easier, more players could connect around the globe. 

Online gaming was upon us. Multiplayer no longer had to be local.

Searching further, an article on the website Highsnobriety.com mentioned how "there's a more practical reason for the decline in split-screen gaming, which is that it simply eats up too many console resources. This results in reduced frame rates and impaired graphics, sullying the 'perfect' impression one gets from a game in single-player mode."

I understand that split-screen and co-op modes can be taxing on graphics and performance, which may take away the immersive experience that developers work so hard to achieve. I feel like I would take some of the downgrades for a chance to play amazing games with the person next to me. It is achievable. There are some big modern games out there such as Gears of War, Halo, and A Way Out that are still impressive games and yet offer co-op options. But in an absolutely huge collection of games available, there isn't a lot to choose from. 

As the Little Mermaid sings so desperately, "I want more…" 

Being an avid gamer who also stays tuned in to gaming trends, I still feel that there is a healthy demand for local cooperative gaming. When a game is released that touts a pure co-op mode or split-screen, there is genuine excitement in the gaming community. Is it because the split-screen co-op is such a rare gem these days that adding the feature brings something "new" to the mix? 

Online multiplayer gaming has a lot of advantages over the local co-op. It’s great for meeting new friends and staying connected to those at a distance and allowing gamers to challenge themselves and play with more competitive or skill-matched players. It’s also great for gaming when you don’t want to leave the house or put on pants. 

Ideally, I'd like the best of both: online multiplayer games and more 2-player split-screen/co-op games for some balance. 

A Quantic Foundry Survey found that local co-op was the most consistently appealing mode across all age groups. I also feel like a lot of people prefer to play with people they know and have it as an extension of their friendship. Co-optimus.com user SirGaryColman said, "A lot of gamers that grew up on couch co-op STILL play video games. We have girlfriends/wives/families in the house that we'd love to play with." 

I can relate to this. Jacob and I are big fans of couch co-op and have noticed the lack of two-player content as the consoles have evolved into the modern era. These days, when buying a new console, getting a second controller isn’t necessary. It makes me a little sad that the new age of gaming that's so connected and so open to the world isn’t as inclusive to the rest of the household as it once was. 

It's also not hard to see that some of the funniest episodes of Retro Replay feature two-player on the couch fun with banter and laughs and interaction that gets missed over a mic and headset. Check out John DiMaggio in the basement with Nolan playing Metal Slug:

There's still hope for us fans of the couch co-op!

Here's what it looks like when you convert Super Mario 64 to a split-screen co-op (as featured on my “Co-op Chaos” stream).

There are still some really good modern two-player games for consoles and PC. Borderlands has been a favorite of ours, and the continuous split-screen campaign has kept us revisiting the franchise throughout the years. As mentioned earlier, Halo, Gears of War, and A Way Out offer great experiences. Diablo 3, It Takes Two, and Overcooked also come to mind, and these games have sold over a million copies each! The game-modding community has not forgotten the local co-op experience, either. Did you know that there are mods out there that can turn Star Fox and Super Mario 64 into local split-screen co-op games?

Although modern gaming may have shifted away from the traditional couch co-op, interest from both avid players and certain developers are keeping the local co-op alive. And if those game developers drop out, it looks like the game-modding community has our back. Hope is not lost for us couchers just yet, so pick up your controller Player 2! Press Start! You’re still in the game!

Do you have any treasured local co-op or arcade memories, or some games you'd like to see add a co-op option? Share your stories in the comments!

Friendship Enders: Mario Party

There are three universal truths in life: light travels at one astronomical unit, gravity exerts a force onto the Earth equal to 9.8 m/s, and Yoshi is the best character to play in Mario Party (fight me).

Speaking of Mario Party, we’ve got the second installment of Friendship Enders after a long hiatus, and we’re focusing on part two of the relationship-ending trifecta – Mario Party. Now because there are quite a few games in the franchise, I’ll be grouping them into my own personalized categories. The following stories are based on real events… the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

For all of you that have never experienced the true rollercoaster of emotions that is Mario Party, you roll dice and move around a set of boards each with interesting themes and play minigames to earn coins which you use to buy stars. This goes on until the set number of turns ends and bonus stars are awarded to players or someone gets frustrated and hits the power button. It’s like a family game night except you can’t flip the table unless you want to replace your gaming console.

Mario Party 1 – 3: A Rocky Start

With any great work of art, you’ve always got the first few rough drafts, and even the juggernaut franchise that is Mario Party is no exception.

So, we’ve got the first three Mario Party games on the Nintendo 64, which is in and of itself a bit of a rough draft console, especially with the early polygonal 3D graphics employed that could take someone’s eye out if they looked too closely.

Apart from feeling like I’ve had my retinas sanded down after playing these games, these do feel like the first floundering steps of the developers. The maps are pretty simple and lifeless compared to later games, the minigames are a little rudimentary and underdeveloped, and there seems to be a bizarre prevalence of 3 v 1 minigames as opposed to the 4 v 4.

All this being said, Bowser really feels more like an agent of chaos and embodies the random chance of these Mario Party games that I have come to miss with later games in the series.

Still, these games gave me some great times and some lifelong memories, specifically ruining the palm of my hand playing Tug of War ten times in a single 50 turn game.

Worse for your palms than masturbation

Jumping from the early cave paintings to the renaissance Tintoretto styling of 3D graphics, we’re ditching the N64 and jumping aboard the good ship SS GameCube for our next three games. These games, much like the graphics of the GameCube compared to the N64, were a more refined experience.

Mario Party 4 got the ball rolling in a big way. It really felt like the developers broke down the first three games to their fundamental elements and reworked them to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment out of it. First of all, they gave us chances to team up with our mates and gave us a couple of new characters to play. The minigames were similar to the first three but with the rough edges sanded down.

The fourth game in the franchise may have gotten the ball rolling, but Mario Party 5 was the real game-changer with the introduction of their capsule/orb system. These little capsules had all sorts of items crammed into them, from extra dice blocks to chance time events. It lends each and every game that extra helping of randomness that has become the basis of the famous Mario Party idiom “the only turn that matters is the final turn.”

The best part is that Mario Party 6 pretty much perfected the formula, smoothed out the last of the rough edges, and kept the party going.

All the memories I have of these three games are always either crazy chance times that ruined my perfect strategy or stupid bonus stars handing me a second-place loss out of nowhere.

Little did Daisy know that with three small button presses she’d end up putting first place to fourth, seizing the means of production and topple the Roman Empire

Mario Party 7 – 9: The Downward Spiral

With every peak comes the trough, and for every winter comes the spring, bringing with it the stench of decay that the winter snow mercifully covered. In the case of Mario Party, that stench of decay emanates from these next three games.

So, imagine this; it’s 2006, and you’ve been waiting for ages to play the latest Mario Party after the US has had it for months. You finally get the game, start playing, and something just doesn’t feel right, kinda like the heart and soul of the franchise has started to leak out of it, and there’s a bit of a weird smell coming from it.

You keep playing but you can’t shake the sense of Deja Vu with its copy-paste gameplay and art style. Some of the boards have a couple of unique gimmicks like Neon Heights, but it doesn’t have the same spark from previous games. Still, the series has been going from strength to strength, so you write it off as a small stumble.

Then Mario Party 8 and Mario Party 9 come out to put your fears to rest *switch to an ominous tone of voice* or so it seems. Admittedly, some of the minigames have a uniqueness lent to them by the power of the Wii mote waggle.

All of this doesn’t hide the very simple fact that you’ve played all of this seven times before. Looking at these games in a vacuum they’re good enough, but comparing them to the wider franchise, they’re always going to come up short.

With exciting games like hide and seek, how could this one have been anything but a surefire hit?.

Mario Party 10 & Super Mario Party: Rock Bottom and A New Hope

Here we are, the bottom of the barrel and the remake that was needed with Mario Party 10 and Super Mario Party respectively. It seems that with Mario Party 8 & 9 not exactly setting the world on fire, the developers decided to scrap the competitive focus and make Mario Party 10 a more cooperative game. Unfortunately, no sane person was there to tell them that you don’t make Mario Party cooperative. Just like you don’t combine ranch dressing and fish sauce with the sterling logic that both flavors work well together because you like them (spoiler: it won’t).

For me, the scales had fallen from my eyes back in Mario Party 8 & 9, but it seems like everyone else has reached that point with the tenth entry because absolutely no one ever mentions this game when people discuss great games in the series. The fact it was on the Wii U also didn’t help with that console being the red-headed stepchild of the Nintendo family.

I’ve only played this game a couple of times and there’s nothing memorable in this game that hasn’t happened to me in previous games. Let’s move onto a better game – namely Super Mario Party.

Oh man, so I got my switch and was so excited to play all the new Mario Party maps… all four of them. Well, then maybe they put a bunch of effort into the boards, right? Well… kinda. The board gimmicks are pretty much the same as previous entries in the franchise but each of the four boards are different enough so they don’t feel samey, but with only four, they lose their novelty pretty quick.

While the boards and number of maps are a bit on the lean side, the minigames are where it feels the majority of the development time went and they have got to be some of the best Mario Party games I’ve ever played (Sizzling Steaks!). It’s the first time since Mario Party 4 I’ve had to check the instructions and it was a great feeling.

Yes, Super Mario Party is a little lackluster in the quantity department, but the quality of the minigames is a real breath of fresh air and personally, I’ve had more fun with this game than any other in the series.

Mario at its finest

Here’s looking forward to the next Mario Party.

Have you played Mario Party? Which game’s your favorite? Let me know in the comments below.

Early Access: Ground Branch

To begin this article I have to ask you all something first. Have you ever wanted to play a game that had realism, tactics, and with a pinch of unique shooting mechanics? Welcome to Ground Branch, a realistic tactical shooter where you actually have to think like a Tier 1 Operator in order to play this game.

WHAT IS SO UNIQUE ABOUT GROUND BRANCH?

Ground Branch is not your every day “First Person Shooter”. The game puts legitimate elements together for you where you have to actually think about and how to overcome certain objectives.

Let me give you an example: think of a plane taken over by terrorists and the surrounding buildings. What would your approach be? Do you go in with stealth to take over the buildings before going to the plane? How would you get to the plane without being noticed or getting shot in a wide-open area? What weapon will you take with you? Do you take an M416D CQB or an M16 rifle? Do you want to go long-range and back up your team, or do you want to clear the plane in a close-quarters battle?

These are just some of the questions that you ask yourself when playing this game. Preparation is vital in this, and believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to playing Ground Branch.

CO-OP/SINGLEPLAYER AND GEARING UP

If you want to squad up with your buddies and play some good ol’ fashion co-op mode, Ground Branch has you covered! When you start in a lobby, you will be placed in an Operations Center. This is where you can customize your loadout (Will talk more about customization further down!), test your equipment at the shooting range, vote on what map to play/match settings, or customize your character.

I’m gonna be honest here. When it comes to the customization in Ground Branch, I was completely blown away by how much attention to detail there is. When I put together my gun, I used the M416D CQB option(A carbine used for Close Quarters Battle) with a basic holographic sight, foregrip, suppressor, and laser sight.

Customizing my rifle was fun. You can place the foregrip anywhere on the under-barrel. You want it closer to where your magazine is? No problem! You want the sight a little bit further down on the rifle? You can do that!

If you wanna do some sniping but are concerned about getting up close with the enemy, you can put a sight on top of the scope! Just make sure the scope has a flat mount first, then you can put a mini red dot sight with the flat mount.

Let's move on to the character. You will have an encumbrance meter (Weight of gear that you are carrying)for your loadout, so be aware of that when customizing your operator. With every operator, you will have a chest rig or platform that holds your ammo. Now with this, you can put which type of ammo you want in your pouches. It usually defaults to your primary ammo, so I would keep it to that.

The same can be said for the grenades. If you want flashbangs or smoke grenades instead of the frag, you can change that out! I can go on and on about the customization, but I feel like I should leave some of it out so you can experience this for yourself!

Once you have everything you feel is the right fit for your loadout, you will find a briefing room where you can get a strategy going with your team and pick where to insert yourself on the map. The map will only give you two points of entry, so decide where you feel it is best suited for your loadout! When playing with bots, there are only two game modes to choose from. You will have the traditional Terrorist Hunt game mode and Intel Retrieval. You will also have mission settings where you set the difficulty, expected resistance, search time, etc.

IS THE GAMEPLAY ANY FUN?

The gameplay and gunplay in this game are extensive, so I will do my best to describe how fun it was while keeping it relatively short.

Again I want to reiterate the realism in this game. While going up against bots/other players, a single bullet can and will kill you (Insert Murphy's Laws Of Combat).

While I was playing, I noticed that arm strength is a real mechanic in this game, and if you keep your rifle up at the ready, you will sway a lot more than usual. In this case, I will introduce another mechanic to the gunplay. You can raise, lower, or ready your rifle from the hip before doing a breach and clear. You can even lean left and right out of cover to get a better shot without exposing most of your body.

If you want to go in with some stealth, you can find a panel and turn off the power to a building while your team readies at the door. While at the door, you can choose to open the door slowly and quietly while entering, keeping the element of surprise!

I will be honest, I had a lot of fun playing this game solo but wanted to try it out with a group of random people in co-op. Now I did have fun, but with all games, you will get a lot of people griefing you, but overall I had fun in the end.

Now I know I didn’t cover everything. I did that on purpose because I want you to try it out for yourself and discover what other mechanics are out there in Ground Branch.

So to finish off this article, if you are into tactical shooters where you need to think while playing, I would highly recommend this game. I do need to remind everyone that this game is in early access so everything is still subject to change! Have fun!!