Kingdom Hearts III

Pixelkin’s 30 Most Anticipated Games of 2018

Posted by | Feature, PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One | No Comments

We’ve seen lots of exciting new game announcements throughout 2017, with the inevitable disappointment when we saw ‘2018’ as the date. The new year will bring us our first full year with the Nintendo Switch, including several new game entries for Kirby, Yoshi, and even Metroid.

Several big console games have been in development for years and made last year’s most anticipated list, including Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Spider-Man, and Detroit: Become Human. There’s all new games like Anthem and Sea of Thieves and remasters of classics in Shadow of the Colossus and Secret of Mana. And is this the year we’ll finally see the incredibly long awaited sequel that is Kingdom Hearts III?

Here are our 30 most anticipated games of 2018!

 

For Younger Kids:

 

Dreams

Platforms: PlayStation 4
Date: 2018

What is Dreams? It’s by Media Molecule, the fine folks who developed the LittleBigPlanet series. Dreams looks to build on that user-generated concept, providing even more creative freedom through multiple styles, genres, and gameplay conventions.

Kingdom Hearts III

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: 2018

Kingdom Hearts fans have been waiting for an official third entry for over a decade. This year should finally see the release of Kingdom Hearts 3, which will again feature the unique and beloved mashup between Square Enix and Disney.

Kirby Star Allies

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Date: 2018

A new Kirby game was announced for the Nintendo Switch during E3, later titled Kirby Star Allies. The 2D platformer will feature four player co-op, and each character will possess Kirby’s signature power-copying abilities.

Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Date: March 23, 2018

Beloved anime film company Studio Ghibli isn’t directly involved with sequel Ni no Kuni 2: Revenant Kingdom, but it still possess that same beautiful art style and story-telling that make this JRPG series so memorable.

Sea of Thieves

Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Date: March 20, 2018

One of the few Xbox One exclusives (and Win 10 PC) coming in 2018, Sea of Thieves features cooperative and competitive multiplayer within a colorful, goofy world of pirate ships and buried treasure.

Secret of Mana HD

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Date: February 15, 2018

Secret of Mana was recently featured as one of the games included on the SNES Classic Edition, and the classic RPG still holds up well today. The HD remaster will feature all new 3D graphics and some modernized improvements to gameplay.

Spelunky 2

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4
Date: 2018

Spelunky 2 was a surprise announcement at the Sony’s conference at the Paris Games Week. All we know about it is from this trailer, which doesn’t show any gameplay but hints that we’ll be playing as the protagonist’s daughter this time around.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Date: Fall 2018

The toys-to-life genre did not have a good year in 2017, and the future looks bleak. One of the few new games on the horizon is Ubisoft’s Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Starlink features buildable, modular starship figures that attach directly to the controller.

Yoshi for Nintendo Switch

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Date: 2018

A new untitled Yoshi game coming to Switch was announced at Nintendo’s E3 conference. It looks similar to Yoshi’s Woolly World, but features more of a paper/cardboard aesthetic, letting you manipulate the world. It will also include two player co-op.

 

 

For Older Kids and Teens:

 

Anthem

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: Fall 2018

With cooperative sci-fi action, Anthem looks a lot like EA’s answer to Destiny 2. It’s actually being developed by RPG veterans BioWare. Hopefully it’ll end up better than Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Fe

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Date: Early 2018

Fe is a 3D adventure-platformer, and the first product of EA Originals, EA’s collaboration with indie developers. Fe emphasis exploration, discovery, and puzzle-solving within a striking forest world of shadows and contrasting colors.

Jurassic World Evolution

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: Summer 2018

The correct answer to the question, “What is the best Jurassic Park game?” is 2003’s Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis. Jurassic World Evolution, developed by the makers of Planet Coaster, looks to provide more great dinosaur theme park sim action.

Lost Sphear

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch
Date: January 23, 2018

Tokyo RPG Factory’s followup to 2016’s I Am Setsuna is Lost Sphear, which features more solid retro-inspired Japanese RPG goodness.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Platforms: PlayStation 4
Date: 2018

Insomniac has been working on this big-budget Spider-Man game for awhile. Instead of being tied to any of the films, it will feature an open world design in New York City with an older, more experienced Peter Parker.

Metroid Prime 4

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Date: 2018?

We saw only the slightest of logo teases at the tail end of Nintendo’s E3 press conference for Metroid Prime 4. There’s little chance we’ll actually see it in 2018, but any news about more Metroid is good news.

Monster Hunter: World

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: January 26, 2018 (PC version not yet dated)

With a big home console release and four player online co-op, Monster Hunter: World is posed to be the first game in the series to transcend the obtuse and challenging gameplay and welcome a wider audience.

 

Project Octopath Traveler

Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Date: 2018

Weird tentative title aside, Project Octopath Traveler features a gorgeous “HD-2D” style and gameplay inspired from classic 16-bit RPGs. It’s created by the same team at Square Enix who made the Bravely Default series.

Shadow of the Colossus

Platforms: PlayStation 4
Date: February 6, 2018

One of the biggest cult-classics from the PS2 era is finally getting an HD remake for PlayStation 4 next year. All the visual assets have been rebuilt for Shadow of the Colossus, but it will retain the same monster-scaling gameplay and poignant story.

Skull & Bones

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: Fall 2018

If Sea of Thieves looks a bit too cartoony and goofy, Skull & Bones may suit your pirate needs. We don’t know much more than the initial E3 announcement, but it will feature multiplayer co-op, and utilize the widely loved naval combat from Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Surviving Mars

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: 2018

Paradox Interactive is making some of the best strategy sim games of the modern era. Surviving Mars will be upon the success of Cities: Skylines while adding the challenge of colonizing the red planet.

 

For Mature Teens and Parents:

 

A Way Out

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: March 23, 2018

A Way Out is a much more mature offering from the developer of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It features a purely cooperative experience as two players control a pair of convicts who need to work together to break out of prison.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Date: 2018

Castlevania auteur Koji Igarashi made headlines by raising over $5 million on Kickstarter for this new 2D Castlevania-like. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night looks utterly fantastic, and will hopefully cement Igarashi as the rightful master of the “Iga-vania” genre.

Days Gone

Platforms: PlayStation 4
Date: 2018

Sony has been showing Days Gone, an open-world zombie game, for years, and it looks more impressive each time. We should be able to explore the post-apocalyptic Pacific Northwest sometime this year.

Detroit: Become Human

Platforms: PlayStation 4
Date: 2018

Detroit: Become Human‘s advanced facial features and animations make for harrowing trailers as players navigate complex dramatic moments involving androids in a near-future world.

Far Cry 5

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: March 27, 2018

The Far Cry series typically drops players into remote, exotic, war-torn locations around the world (or in the past or future). Far Cry 5 sends players into the uncomfortable evils reflected deep in the rural American heartland. I’m sure it will be completely free of controversy.

God of War

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: 2018

The eighth God of War game will drop the numbering scheme and add a new sidekick for Kratos, his own son Atreus. Added RPG elements make for a fairly big departure for the action series, as well as the new focus on Norse mythology and monsters rather than Greek.

Metro Exodus

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: 2018

The third game in the survival horror Metro series, Metro Exodus, looks far more expansive, letting you explore more of the surface world of a post-apocalyptic Russia gripped by nuclear winter.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: Spring 2018

Rockstar Games doesn’t release a new game very often, but when they do, it’s a gigantic event. The very long-awaited sequel to 2010’s open world western, Red Dead Redemption 2 was initially teased with a 2017 release date. We still don’t know much about it other than it’s a prequel and will undoubtedly be hugely successful.

State of Decay 2

Platforms: PC, Xbox One
Date: 2018

Everyone asked for one feature after playing State of Decay: what about multiplayer? Undead Labs have listened, and State of Decay 2 will combine the excellent sim-action zombie game with cooperative multiplayer.

We Happy Few

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Date: April 13, 2018

We Happy Few is a BioShock-like immersive sim, set within a drug-addled British city in the 60s. As one of several playable characters, you’ll need to blend in with the citizens of the bombed-out city, who wear creepy masks and take a hallucinogenic drug called Joy.

skylanders: imaginators

Opinion: We’re Witnessing the Death of the Toys-to-Life Genre

Posted by | Opinion, PC, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One | No Comments

Last year Disney abruptly announced they were ending Disney Infinity after three years. Earlier this year Activision gave the foreboding announcement that they would not release a new Skylanders game this year – for the first time in six years. This week Warner Bros. confirmed that they’re ceasing development on LEGO Dimensions (though online support will remain).

At this point there are more discontinued (or on hiatus) toys-to-life games than ongoing. In the span of a year we went from most major game publishers wanting a piece of the surging toys-to-life pie, to suddenly being left with a grim outlook for the future of the genre.

The concept of “toys-to-life,” that is, physical figures with built-in Near Field Communication (NFC), began with a little known toy series called U.B. Funkeys in 2007. U.B. Funkeys was a PC game with cutesy figures designed by Mattel.

I’d never even heard of it, and it looks more like a toy with a gimmicky toys-to-life mode rather than a full-blown video game. Being PC-only appeared to cause lots of technical headaches and vastly limited sales, and it was discontinued in 2010.

The House That Spyro Built

Meanwhile Activision took a chance with developer Toys for Bob (who ironically originally pitched their toys-to-life concept to Nintendo). They used a similar concept as U.B. Funkeys, using well-made physical action figures armed with NFC readers along with a “Portal of Power” that digitally transported the figures into a vibrant game world. The entire concept was still commercially uncertain, so Activision slapped a semi-recognizable brand and character on top of it. Skylanders: Spyo’s Adventure was born.

Skylanders’ immediate success was at least partially due to the exciting novelty of the toys-to-life technology. But its staying power is owed to the quality of the figures as well as the solid, kid-friendly, cooperative gameplay. Skylanders included funny characters, simple puzzles, fast-paced action, and a light-hearted Saturday Morning Cartoon story.

toys-to-life

Every year begat a pricey new Skylanders starter pack along with several waves of figures and bonus levels. Each game introduced new types of figures or concepts (you couldn’t even jump in the first two games).

The third game, Skylanders: Swap Force, was particularly noteworthy by adding swappable figures with interchangeable top and bottom halves. In many ways Swap Force represents the peak of both physical innovation and brilliant game design. Trap Team added Pokémon-style monster catching, while the most recent game, Imaginators, let you create your own digital custom Skylanders with multiple unlockable body parts and weapons.

Activision was able to leverage the series into a full-on kid franchise, saturating the Skylanders brand from everything to paper plates to an animated series on Netflix. Skylanders became the World of Warcraft of the genre, the one game that dominated its space and dared anyone else to compete with it.

To Infinity…

Disney answered the call in 2013 with Disney Infinity, an unabashed Skylanders-like game that also used NFC figures along with a portal and 3D platformer-like gameplay. Anticipation was huge; this was basically a Skylanders game but coupled with the immense backing and popularity of Disney characters and series.

Avalanche Software produced three games in three years, each modeled after a major Disney property: Disney movies, Marvel, and Star Wars. Figures ranged from superheroes to princesses to obscure Tron characters, though there was some criticism for conforming such a wide variety of characters into a uniform art style.

toys-to-life

Unlike Skylanders, Disney Infinity’s gameplay pushed more toward a Minecraft model. Players could build their own levels and content and share them online. The community that sprang up was impressive and some of the content and level designs were amazing and creative. Unfortunately official gameplay was limited almost exclusively to the playsets. Disney made the odd decision that only characters from that franchise can play in their own playset.

Between the two game series I vastly preferred Skylanders. Skylanders’ gameplay was much more RPG-like and the combat more fun and interesting. The level designs also felt more like an actual game.

Disney Infinity’s figures all controlled too similarly and simplistically, with only major differences coming with figures like Tinkerbell who could fly, or Star Wars characters with Force powers. The user-generated content was a really neat idea, but Activision wasn’t making money off of it, they needed to sell playsets and figures. If Minecraft + Disney couldn’t end up successful, what chance does anyone have?

Enter Nintendo

We may joke that Nintendo is always a step behind the times, but when they enter a new market it’s almost always hugely successful (see mobile development, and Wii sales). Nintendo introduced amiibo figures in 2014 to immediate success. Unlike all other toys-to-life games, there wasn’t an actual game to go with the figures. Instead Nintendo uses its figures to unlock goodies in other games, such as costumes or extra levels or power ups in games like Mario Kart, Smash Bros., and Super Mario Maker.

This simple concept proved so effective that a New Nintendo 3DS was built with an NFC reader to accommodate amiibo scanning. Both the Wii U and Switch came with built-in NFC readers.

While not having a centralized game is bizarre, it’s proven effective in lowering the cost of buy-in. There’s no pricey $70 starter pack required; all you need is the appropriate Nintendo console. Nintendo’s recognizable roster of characters have proven extremely popular for collectors, despite their limited gameplay use.

toys-to-life

Yet even Nintendo’s toys-to-life beacon is beginning to dim. Nearly 25 million figures were sold in the 2015-16 fiscal year, taking full advantage of then-popular game Super Smash Bros. for the Wii U. Super Smash Bros. used amiibo figures as RPG-like fighters you could level up.

But the first three quarters of the next fiscal year (ending March 2017) saw only 6.5 million amiibo units sold. No game since Super Smash Bros. has been able to effectively use amiibo figures beyond simply unlocking a costume or perk.

Many complaints have surrounded amiibo as little more than physical DLC you can buy for Nintendo games. There’s also the sadly typical Nintendo frustrations regarding limited supply. Amiibo figures are still popular (millions of units sold is nothing to scoff at), but without better game tie-ins like Smash Bros., the future doesn’t look good.

Everything Isn’t Awesome

LEGO Dimensions’ cancellation is equally upsetting, though probably the least surprising. Warner Bros. and Traveler’s Tales (TT Games) have been successful making fun, cooperative, family-friendly LEGO video games for over a decade. Creating a toys-to-life version, with actual LEGO toys, feels like a natural evolution.

LEGO Dimensions was released in 2015. It launched with a starter pack that took advantage of the popular LEGO Movie along with Warner Bros’ access to various movie franchises, everything from Lord of the Rings to The Goonies. They planned on a three-year cycle of expansion pack content. That’s a long time for an increasingly aging game that still supported last-gen hardware.

They would make it to the end of year two before the announcement hit this week. Figures and sets weren’t selling as well as they’d hoped, and any parent is all too familiar with how expensive LEGO sets run.

toys-to-life

They banked heavily on blockbuster movie tie-ins, which didn’t quite pan out with big sets like Ghostbusters. I also question the target audience for LEGO Dimensions. Their tie-in franchises ran the gamut from The Simpsons to 80s stuff (The A-Team, really?) to modern kiddie cartoons. I can see kids being interested in Batman and Harry Potter, but Knight Rider and Gremlins?

LEGO Dimensions’ wide-net approach has proven unsustainable, and TT Games will return to making regular LEGO games, such as the upcoming LEGO Marvel Super Heroes 2.

Toys-to-Death

The future of the genre looks bleak. The only new AAA toys-to-life game on the horizon is Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which was announced during Ubisoft’s E3 press conference. It will feature buildable spaceships that will spring to digital life by attaching directly to the controller. It has a tentative Fall 2018 release date, but Ubisoft is very aware of the current market of toys-to-life games, and there’s a chance this game won’t even see the light of day.

Not all is lost. For a more indie option you have Lightseekers, which was successfully Kickstarted last year and launched earlier this year on iOS and Android.

Lightseekers uses bluetooth technology instead of requiring a portal. It has a very Skylanders aesthetic but with fully articulated figures and AR cards that can be scanned in game or played physically. Both cards and figures are actually optional, and the mobile game is completely free to play. Only the two initial launch figures are available, however, and there’s no telling whether Lightseekers can ever reach the sales numbers of the once titans of the genre.

Amiibo figures are still being produced and selling millions, and Skylanders technically hasn’t been canceled yet. It’s entirely possible Skylanders will pull an Assassin’s Creed and shift way from an annual release schedule. Meanwhile season two of Skylanders Academy just hit Netflix, and a third season is in development for next year.

Toys-to-life games are an intriguing blend of toy and game and can be a lot of fun, particularly for families. I’ve enjoyed playing both Skylanders and Disney Infinity with my young daughter (she’s only recently discovering LEGOs). I particularly enjoy the progression of leveling up Skylanders figures over years of games.

The toys-to-life genre offers the rare kind of game that both of us can enjoy equally and excel at, despite our vastly different gameplay levels and experiences.

I’m very saddened and worried to see all these death notices pile up. It reminds me of another genre that was mined, exploited, and died all too quickly just a few years ago – rhythm games with physical instruments. Like that genre, toys-to-life requires pricey initial buy-ins and upkeep, and physical goods are not exactly cheap for companies to produce. I was hoping game publishers learned their lesson about over saturating a lucrative, but expensive market. Time will whether toys-to-life games will meet a similar wistful end, or find the right balance to remain a welcoming avenue for family-friendly gaming.