Starting Screen is our weekly column featuring news, commentary, and music to help you get over your case of the Mondays.
Hello USgamer! Kat’s still away on vacation (but worry not—she’ll be back on Wednesday), so in her stead, I’ll be wrangling today’s edition of Starting Screen. Also going forward, we’re making Starting Screen a group endeavor, so look forward to the quick little capsules from all of us on a subject of our choosing!
As I wrote in our Community Question last week, I hardly recall the last time I played Pokemon Go. It was likely a month or so after it launched, when the core playership began to wind down (or rather, I just saw less people on the street swiping upwards on their phones). As someone who worked from home, Pokemon Go was once my excuse to leave the house. But after a month, that excuse waned away. The local pizza shop that was a Pokestop stopped offering their Buy One Get One Free slices for Pokemon Go players, and I remained bored.
Yet this past weekend, that all changed. When I fell off the Pokemon Go bandwagon, I assumed I had deleted the game off my phone entirely (as I often do when I'm done with a game). Turns out, I hadn't. It was buried in a folder on my phone, quietly saved for a rainy day by Past Caty. And here I was now, downloading the latest update for the augmented reality-inhibited game, ready to catch some Johto region Pokemon.
So I channeled my inner Trainer and went on a PokeWalk. My partner and I travelled about ten blocks; we caught Woopers, Marills, Murkrows, Skarmorys, and more. But my personal quest was more narrowed: I needed an Espeon, the cutest Eevolution next to Sylveon. I was about to give up hope when, a block away from my apartment, I managed to capture an Eevee. I quickly looked up how to evolve the beloved dog-cat-like creature into an Espeon, named the creature the necessary name, and turned it off, tucking the app away for another day.
Though, I realized on my PokeWalk that Pokemon Go isn't the same as it once was. People no longer stop in their tracks on the street to play it. Strangers don't talk to one another like old friends, with a shared commonality of a pocket monster capturing app now gone from their lives. And no new added Pokemon can really fix that magic.
Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week
In honor of Horizon Zero Dawn (which Caty admittedly savaged in her review), I give you the Super Nintendo's Robotrek—an odd hybrid of action RPG, tactical combat, and traditional turn-based mechanics. Okay, the two are only superficially similar in that they both have robots, but this capsule is all about making tenuous connections to games you've never heard of.
This strange little RPG stars the son of a famed inventor fighting aliens with the help of a Pokémon-like robot, who does the bulk of the fighting. The battles resemble those of 16-bit Final Fantasy, complete with an ATB gauge of sorts, but includes the abillity to move your robot around the field and attack with left, right, and rear weapons. It was pretty experimental, and a bit rough around the edges to put it kindly, but it came out in an era where developers weren't afraid to throw stuff at the wall to see what stuck. In that respect, it's kind of the opposite of Horizon Zero Dawn, I suppose, which is safe to a fault. If you don't mind outdated graphics and a bad localization, it's worth checking out as a novelty, if nothing else.
Side note: I'm taking suggestions for more obscure RPGs to highlight. Wanna share one with me? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Something tells me this capsule is only going to get longer.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box
I never finished Breath of Fire V for the PlayStation 2. Between its difficult battles, its growth-through-death system of leveling up, and its unorthodox method of dragon transformation, the game is just a real handful. Double-handfuls, even. I can't hack 'er. But man, it has a great soundtrack courtesy of veteran game music composer Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII, Odin Sphere).
My favorite piece in the game is Electric Power, which accompanies you as the party makes its final push to the surface. The song carries a low note that's soothing in a weirdly foreboding way. This is very much a song that tells you, softly, "All right -- steel yourself, bucko. You're going in." The subtle sires and crackling electrical sounds in the background add just the right touch of danger.
Mike's Media Minute
I get to talk about comics, movies, anime, and tokusatsu and other entertainment on USgamer again! Huzzah! This week, I'm kicking it off with the changing face of superhero films. Over at Warner Bros, production of the The Batman has hit a snag. WB needs that film sooner rather than later, but star/writer/director Ben Affleck decided to drop one of those titles and step down from directing the film. The front-runner to replace him was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves. Unfortunately, negotiations with Reeves have broken down, leaving the film still without a director.
Warner Bros has a host of great characters at its disposal, but the production side of things has been anything but smooth. Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were profitable, but they weren't great films. Flash has lost two directors and The Batman is entering the same rough waters. Cyborg has no director or screenwriter. Basically, WB is flying by the seat of its pants and all hopes lie with Wonder Woman, Justice League, and to a lesser extent Aquaman. Fingers crossed they can pull this franchise out of a dive.
When you really give a film a chance to play around, you can create some amazing work. Fox found this out with Deadpool and it looks like Logan is mining similar ground. It's shocking that two of the best X-Men films are Rated-R, but that's the spread in front of us. I think there's room for the mainline X-Men movies to really wow people, but that would require a different filmmaker other than Bryan Singer, I'd think. (X-Men: Apocalypse was also not good.)
Marvel is also finding way to potentially surprise. Thor Ragnarok follows two middling to boring films, but director Taika Waititi is a legitimately inspired choice. He's normally a comedy director. Watiti has already said wants the film to have an "70s/’80s sci-fi fantasy" feel. "I made an effort to ignore the fact there are other Thor films," he told Slashfilm.Marvel films are rather safe, so anything that stretches the forumla is welcome. Following that will be Black Panther, which stars every black actor in Hollywood.
And with that, I wrap up this small corner. Join me again next week for other things that I will come up with at random!
Caty’s (AltGame) Corner
Reel, the first microgame among independent developer Nick Preston’s ongoing Toryansé series, follows an elderly woman as she explores the building where she works. It’s a quiet, simple experience. Instead of directly guiding her as you would in most games, instead you’re interacting with things alongside her as she moves through her environment, like a more passive point-and-click adventure. Sometimes you interact with things to progress the narrative (such as removing a broom blocking a doorway), other times you click things just to make an item fidget, albeit briefly. Reel is available for PC, Mac, and Linux.
Jaz Goes Racing
Although it wasn't exactly a top-tier game, I nevertheless enjoyed putting time into Milestone Entertainment's motorcycle racer Ride when I reviewed it back in 2015. Featuring 113 bikes and a baker's dozen of real-world tracks, it delivered exciting and challenging arcade-style action that was a nice change from the usual four-wheeled racing format. While I criticized it for its long loading times and graphics that felt distinctly last generation, I hoped that Milestone would continue to develop the series - and indeed they did. Released in Europe late last year, and finally arriving on US shores this week, Ride 2 packs almost twice the bikes and tracks of its predecessor. I've been playing it a little on Xbox One, and so far it's been pretty entertaining - if occasionally frustrating. If you want to find out why, keep an eye out for my review, which I'll be posting later on this week.