Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite game music, movies at the box office, and more.
The Pokemon marketing machine is truly a sight to behold. Twenty years after the franchise's debut in North America, it's stronger than ever. And Detective Pikachu might be its greatest triumph to date.
My initial reaction upon seeing Ryan Reynold's live-action take on Pikachu was, "What the the hell were they thinking?" I compared it to a CollegeHumor parody. And I wasn't the only one with a, uh, strong reaction to the trailer.
*Detective Pikachu throws his cigarette into the river with all the bodies*"Forget it, Jake. It's Lavender Town"— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) November 12, 2018
I’m glad that with Detective Pikachu we’re somehow back in this aesthetic zone for movie adaptations. pic.twitter.com/0I6AGkzEPC— Jake Rodkin (@ja2ke) November 12, 2018
Whoever made this happen should be both fired *and* promoted with the highest raise possible. https://t.co/rLxajqzCmI— Jim Sterling (@JimSterling) November 12, 2018
Love it or hate it, the Detective Pikachu trailer is memorable. Its use of practical effects demands an instant opinion. Are you into the strangely realistic look of Jigglypuff and Pikachu, who look like they hail straight from the Kanto Field Guide? What do you think of the disturbingly fuzzy Pikachu?
The master stroke was including Mr. Mime. Everyone was bound to wonder how the human-shape monster, consistently rated as one of Pokemon's most disturbing creations, would fit in this film. Detective Pikachu rips that band-aid right off and gives us an extended scene with the freaky clown. And... it kind of works? We even get a bit of slapstick with Pikachu trying to play Bad Cop and running straight into Mime's Lightscreen.
In this respect, Detective Pikachu manages to avoid feeling like a cheap cash-in and more like a weird, loving tribute to the universe at large. All of the Pokemon, bizarre as they look, are true to form. And you don't just see the original 151 monsters, either. Emolga, Greninja, and Rufflet all make appearances. There's a reference to the Sinnoh Championship. It feels like it embraces the entirety of Pokemon, not just the nostalgia of the original games.
All of this is to say that I've come around on it (I know, it didn't take long). It's a weird, wonderful trailer that ends up feel perfectly calibrated for the internet of 2018. If it had merely been CG, as everyone would have expected, it might have garnered a reaction, but it wouldn't have immediately taken over social media to the extent that it already has.
It's also worth pointing out what a disaster this could have been for The Pokemon Company. For an organization that guards its image jealously, this was actually something of a risk. If the puppets had gone over badly, it might have torpedoed the film before it even made it to theaters.
But more than ever, you have to take risks to get noticed in this insanely crowded media environment, and The Pokemon Company seems to recognize that. The result is the most talked about movie trailer I can remember since... ever? Well, let's just say that it hasn't been a good environment for video game movies. But as usual, The Pokemon Company's sheer savvy gives it a chance to break through and succeed where others have failed.
Anyway, I know I'll be there, if only to get whatever exclusive Pokemon Go monster is inevitably available on opening weekend. The Pokemon marketing machine wins again.
Major Game Releases This Week: November 12 to November 16
- Fallout 76 [November 14, PC, PS4, Xbox One]: Fallout 76 isn't even out yet and it somehow already feels like a misfire for Bethesda. Beta feedback has been mixed, to put it kindly, with many outlets calling out its compromised design and lack of design. I wrote about how weird it is to make a Fallout game all about combat. We'll see how it turns out, but it's certainly an odd direction for the series.
- Hitman 2 [November 13, PC, PS4, Xbox One]: Hitman 2, meanwhile, appears to take everything that made the first Hitman so great and make it even better. The first game was great, but it ultimately got lost in the shuffle. Hopefully the same fate doesn't befall the sequel, which unfortunately has to go head-to-head with both Red Dead Redemption 2, Pokemon, and Fallout 76. That's a lot of competition at the best of times. But maybe Hitman 2 has enough word-of-mouth to overcome it. Here's hoping.
- Pokemon Let's Go [November 16, Nintendo Switch]: Will Pokemon Let's Go be a proper Pokemon game? Will it be a watered down game for young children? We'll find out this week. Regardless, for the hardcore Pokemon fans worried about the franchise's future, we're still getting a proper Gen 8 game next year. Think of this as an appetizer.
- Spyro Reignited Trilogy [November 13, PS4, Xbox One]: Spyro is back! This is actually a pretty handsome collection, and gamers of a certain age probably have very fond memories of the little dragon. I am not one of those gamers, mostly because I didn't get a PlayStation until much later. Anyway, this collection is most likely the main reason for Spyro not appearing on PS Classic, which is a shame. But maybe still worth buying if you're a Spyro superfan?
- SNK 40th Anniversary Collection [November 13, Nintendo Switch]: Digital Eclipse's latest joint is a collection of some of SNK's greatest home and arcade hits for Switch. Digital Eclipse did a wonderful job with the Mega Man Legacy Collection and the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection, and its latest work seems to have received an equal amount of care. Certainly worth checking out if you love retro games.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: The World Revolving (Deltarune)
Last week I showcased another Deltarune song on the Beat Box, specifically Field of Hopes and Dreams. Thing with a Toby Fox soundtrack is, you can't celebrate just one tune. Hence why I'm giving a shout-out to The World Revolving, a hidden track from a secret boss fight.
Though chapter one of Deltarune is more like a demo (and what a demo), it contains an epic boss battle with a little imp called Jevil. The fight with Jevil is almost as nail-bitingly hard as the fight with Sans in the Genocide route of Undertale, and The World Revolving is a suitably frantic earworm to accompany your struggle against the clown-beast. Chaos! Chaos! Shall we play the ring-around?
Caty’s AltGame Corner
Over the weekend I went to Day of the Devs, Double Fine's annual indie game showcase that's open to the public. As always, it was super duper crowded, but I played a handful of games (and watched people play even more). The one that most caught my eye was Unpacking, a chill game about unpacking boxes after a move. One of its developers, artist Wren Brier, told me about how it's sectioned out into different points for the unseen protagonist's life. Each "level" focuses on a point in their life as they move around, from childhood to adulthood. You learn more about them through the items you're unpacking.
You have relative freedom in unpacking things, but largely, you still have to ensure it's logical. That means appliances should be near outlets, nothing really belongs on the ground, and so on. The sprite work is excellent, and I've always had a thing for games that utilize little dioramas. Judging from the demo I played, Unpacking's shaping up to be a relaxing puzzle game, with a neat narrative hook. There's no release date for Unpacking, but you can follow Unpacking's development on Twitter, which includes some entrancing GIFs.
This Week's News and Notes
- Stan Lee died today at age 95, stunning the worth of comics and gaming alike. Lee was a controversial figure in some ways, particularly when it came to his relationship with Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, who died in 2018 and 1994 respectively. Questions of credit aside, though, Lee was an unabashed booster of nerd culture long before it was cool, and he was beloved for it. Perhaps more importantly, Lee was adamant in his determination to tackle social issues through his work. He will be missed.
- Microsoft confirmed the acquisition of inXile and Obsidian over the weekend, tossing a lifeline to two studios who have struggled to build momentum of late (Pillars of Eternity 2 was reportedly a flop, Bard's Tale 4 was released and forgotten about almost immediately). Of the two, Obsidian is the studio that bears watching, as writer Chris Avellone has heavily criticized his former employer over the past year, calling the management "terrible." Whether or not his criticism is justified, there's no denying that Obsidian is a long way from the days of Fallout: New Vegas. We'll see if Obsidian and inXile are able to enjoy a revival in their new home.
- I had a little bit of a moment last week with Red Dead Redemption 2, and it served to crystallize why RDR 2 works despite some very real failings. Anyway, Midnight Miracle is fine, and I'm relieved.
- While everyone talks about Detective Pikachu, the internet is collectively ignoring the new Monster Hunter movie. And ya know? It's probably for the best. It's strange to see Capcom entrust probably its biggest franchise to the pair who arguably ruined Resident Evil's theatrical productions, but it should make for good camp value if nothing else.
- Why are fans obsessed with Geno appearing in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? I'm still puzzled about it myself, but Nadia might have an explanation.
- In case you missed it last week, Matt has this neat article about what real cowboys think of Red Dead Redemption 2. Worth a read, not the least because it sheds some light on what gaming looks like in an agricultural setting (hint: A Switch is really useful during calving).
- Final Fantasy XV seems to be done. Director Hajime Tabata announced his surprising resignation from Square Enix last week, upon which several DLC episodes and other projects were canceled.
It's a shocking departure for Square Enix, who will be losing one of its best producers. Tabata was an incredible manager who had a knack for shepherding troubled projects through production. It would have been nice to see him get an opportunity to build a game from the ground up at SE, but alas, that will never happen.
- Have you finished Red Dead Redemption 2 yet? Our partners at Red Dead Radio have an even more in-depth review for you, as well as the Red Dead drinking game. Check it out!
- Axe of the Blood God: Nadia and I remember Fire Emblem on GBA, discuss the end of Final Fantasy XV as we know, and ponder why Super Mario RPG's Geno is so weirdly popular to this day. Subscribe here for the full podcast!