1. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Pre-order Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Castlevania granddaddy Koji Igarashi had this on Kickstarter a bit ago and it’s finally ready for its painterly debut. Looking like the gameplay of Igarashi’s own Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with the artistic tint of VanillaWare’s Odin Sphere, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night seems like a nostalgic revelation. Anyone who grew up on 2D gothic adventures should feel right at home in what will hopefully be a better bet than the underwhelming retro-fest Might No. 9, which hit our bright-eyed mugs like a single slap of thick bathwater.

See, the problem is that those old games we love to death like Mega Man and Castlevania took risks in their design, while these homages take what they please and hope a bunch of disembodied feelings for old games will magically cohere into a new experience. Retro-styled releases like Shovel Knight and Bastion manage to base themselves not on those old titles, but on how we felt when we found the magic hidden between the coded lines. By contrast, Bloodstained may be playing it too close to the hilt, to much as those games really were instead of how they felt,to be much more than a novelty.

Still, the promise of yummy graphics and spunky toons should get Igarashi acolytes on the pre-order screens without much fuss.

  1. Scalebound

Pre-order Scalebound

Platinum Games sure is a fickle bunch. They’re the phoenix risen from the ashes of defunct Clover Studios (Okami and Viewtiful Joe) and it seems like every new game is a plunge into unknown wilds, with only their signature humor and wild action to carry you over. In Vanquish and Bayonetta they showed off the goods that will hopefully inspire Scalebound to break the curse of terrible dragon games, maintained with religious intensity since the last amazing Panzer Dragoon.

Devil May Cry on a dragon sure looks like a good time, right? We know this’ll be an action RPG and that there’s an AI component to that big scaly fellow, but what else do we need? Colorful fun is always a plus in the grey-brown mire of the modern market, but true to Platinum Games fashion, Scalebound might be too much newness for its own good. Personally I’m just hoping it ousts The Last Guardian at its own game in, like, 1/12 the time.

  1. Nier: Automata

Pre-order Nier: Automata

Nier was a weird little game, skimmed off the top of lower case cavia’s artsy froth by the publishing equivalent of Megatron over at Square Enix. After leeching cavia’s resources with vampiric enthusiasm for their hot-ticket goo puddle of shiny textured hallways called Final Fantasy XIII, Enix left Nierhigh and dry with the graphical capacity of a PS2 game (and not even one published by theirs truly). But there was a tasty weirdness down deep in that RPG. It felt creepily aware of itself, and at times reaped a little age-old adventurer’s verve the likes of which hasn’t been felt since text adventures were trendy.

But Nier: Automata doesn’t look much like Nier so what am I talking about? It looks like steampunk Bayonetta, the likely course for whoever at Platinum Games isn’t working on that knobbly dragon sim. But the best things about Nier were the rustic folk music and strange awareness, and the art design of the sequel makes some wonderful promises. Since the games industry needs a little weird awe, steampunk Bayonetta is just fine with me.

  1. Mass Effect: Andromeda

Pre-order Mass Effect: Andromeda

Okay, so, not everyone was overjoyed when Mass Effect 3 ended. But my more pressing question is, “Will this new entry have a reason to exist other than an extended apology?” The E3 trailer is like one of those “Experience the Magic” theme park announcements that doesn’t advertise a game so much as its scenery. Hard-working art school grads move some nodes around a fully rendered face on a fully rendered planet that looks great. But what’s the game about, in this commercial for a game?

Who knows. Maybe it’ll be as advertised: a fresh spaceman romp in alien wilds. Maybe the vehicle segments won’t be so much like trying to maneuver a bouncy castle while keeping all the elephant seals on top from falling off. Maybe this game won’t crash quite as much as the hallowed original. Star Wars Battlefront might have taught us not to take its designers’ passion for modeling grooves on the horizon of a thermal detonator as proof that the game will be good, but boy those Asari’s lips sure look real! What could go wrong? Well I have no idea, and that’s my point really.

  1. Pyre

Pre-order Pyre

Supergiant Games continues its combo string of juicy old-school romps with Pyre, the spiritual successor to their Bastion and Transistor with clear cues taken from the parallax beat-em-up masterpieces over at Vanillaware. A hand-drawn Day of the Dead vibe permeates the storybook look of this isometric RPG that seems to be raised with the care and kindness of ye old adventure days.

This kind of anticipation article is really about how games look, and to one person for that matter, and for an interactive medium this is judging the book by its cover to a libelous degree. So how can I place greater emphasis on a game like Pyre than Mass Effect? Well, a smaller development team means more creative consistency and overall control. Without squatting in the shadow of a looming franchise giant, games like Pyre can find their own aesthetic legs to walk on without worrying so much about a consistent fan base, or the kinds of miniscule decisions that it takes a boardroom a month to make and which have nothing to do with the game itself (Look! Commander Shephard has a beard?!). That’s when marketing takes precedence over game design, and is that ever good for us, the players? Supergiant has proven themselves as one of our pillars of sprite-worked ingenuity and until someone proves otherwise, crispy hand-drawn goodness wins out over hair follicles any day.

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