198X Review

198X taps into our love for the games of the ’80s, giving you a handful of short gaming vignettes wrapped around a simple story about the pain of growing up. The games themselves look more like ’90s SNES games than ’80s arcade titles (albeit very handsome SNES games), but 198X’s neon aesthetic (and, of course, its name) is clearly trying to evoke a sense of nostalgia for this period. Unfortunately, despite a few nice homages, it’s not a particularly transportive experience.

198X features five faux-’80s arcade games to play through, and they’re short enough that the whole thing, story sequences included, wraps in less than two hours. They’re not quite minigames–they’re framed as tiny slices of full games that exist within the narrative’s world, the first few levels of five larger experiences. These games, which are chained together sequentially by beautiful pixel-art cutscenes set to a synth soundtrack, make up the entirety of 198X’s gameplay. The plot centers on the “Kid” (he’s never named beyond this), who lives in a suburb outside of a major city. He watches the highway at night and thinks about getting out of town. He seems generally unhappy with his life, until he discovers an arcade hidden away in an old abandoned factory and discovers a sense of purpose and place amidst the machines and patrons there.

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198X suffers from some of the same problems that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One suffered from. If that book’s insistence that being a geek is inherently good irritated you, then 198X’s vague reverence for arcades and youth will likely have a similar effect. There’s something very immature about the game’s portrayal of the Kid and the way he talks about his idealistic childhood, while giving limited insight into why things are so hard on him now. “You get to high school and everyone’s brainwashed,” he says at one point, which is about as deep as the game gets in its exploration of the difficulty of one’s teenage years. You’re not given enough insight into the Kid to really get a sense of why this arcade is so important to him, beyond a few vague references to his father not being around anymore.

Of the five games you play through in 198X, only two really touch on the boy’s struggles in a meaningful way. Playing through the five games in order, then, doesn’t tell us a lot about more about the Kid’s private life, and there’s little real sense of why they are important to him beyond a general sentiment that games are powerful and important by default. Much of this narrative assumes your own investment in the power of an arcade, and the game doesn’t put much effort into selling you on why this particular arcade, and these particular games, mean so much to the Kid.

Your first foray into the arcade comes through Beating Heart, a Final Fight-style brawler with a simple two-button control scheme. It’s the most basic game included–you can punch, do a jump kick, or perform a spinning kick, and if you die while facing off against the handful of enemy types, you can immediately respawn without penalty. It’s a simple introduction, with a lovely period-appropriate midi soundtrack that does a great job of evoking the arcade classics it is paying homage to (in fact, this is true of every game in 198X). But it doesn’t offer anything interesting or unique in its mechanics, nor does it contribute much to the narrative of the Kid.

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Next is Out of the Void, a shooter clearly inspired by R-Type, which only runs for two levels. You fly from left to right, collecting ship upgrades and firing regular and charged shots to take down your enemies. It’s solid fun, if nothing spectacular, and things get quite hairy in the second level. It’s one of the more enjoyable games in 198X simply because it actually feels pretty close to a decent arcade space shooter. Alas, it’s over very quickly, and while it’s relatively enjoyable, it’s certainly not as inventive or intense as the best games in the genre–the final boss, for instance, is a pushover. A more challenging experience, or some unique mechanics, would have better represented the games from this period that we have actual nostalgia for.

After this comes The Runaway, an OutRun-style driving game that lacks the arcade classic’s sense of speed and whimsy. The lack of gear changes and sharp corners makes this one a bit of a snooze, although it’s also the game in the collection that achieves the most resonance with the narrative–at a certain point, elements of the world you’ve seen in the cutscenes blend into the game. It’s a neat trick, but it’s in service of a plot that isn’t particularly gripping..

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Shadowplay, a “ninja” game, is the standout of 198X. It’s the longest game in the collection (although you’ll still likely finish it in about 20 minutes). You play as a fast-running ninja across a series of automatically-scrolling screens. You can move left and right, jump, slide, and slash your sword at enemies ahead of you. It’s got the feel of an involved auto-runner, and timing your jumps and slashes to avoid enemy attacks and traps is engaging, with ever-changing level designs and interesting challenges that hit the right balance of difficulty where the game is challenging without being frustrating.

The platforms, spikes and pits you encounter make you read your environment and think about how you time your movements as you run through each level slashing at your enemies. You can collect power-ups to give your sword a greater reach, and there are more levels here (and more gameplay variety) than in the other games. There’s even a great boss fight at the end where you have to dodge between multiple platforms as a demon shoots tendrils at you, and reaching the end feels satisfying in a way the other games don’t. As much as 198X feels like a gimmick, Shadowplay stands out as an experience that feels like it could work as a full title. It feels disconnected from the overarching narrative, but it’s the most enjoyable part of the 198X.

The final game, Kill Screen, is a simple first-person RPG. It’s aiming to be weird and creepy rather than particularly challenging, and on that level, it works fairly well. It’s meant to represent the mental state of the protagonist, who has, up until that point, spent every cutscene moping. It works as a mood piece, and there’s some cool weird imagery in there, but the gameplay, which involves hunting for dragons in a maze full of random encounters, is very simple. There’s a neat Paper Mario-inspired mechanic where you can time button presses on attacks to do more damage, and the weird enemy designs are inventive, but it’s fairly one-note in both its gameplay model and its commentary on the Kid’s state of mind.

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198X ends with a “To Be Continued.” This feels appropriate because the game, which is not being explicitly billed as episodic on its Steam page, feels not just short, but incomplete. As neat as the concept is, 198X doesn’t do enough to sell you on the connection between the metanarrative of the Kid and the arcade games he is playing–or spend enough time investing you in why any of this matters. There’s promise in some of these short genre riffs, but the game doesn’t give you many reasons to care about the Kid and his desire to get out of the suburbs.

198X is a great idea with middling execution. While its games offer some brief enjoyment, there’s not enough here for the game to feel like a proper ode to ’80s arcades, nor does the Kid’s plight, and his longing to escape his current life, totally connect. There’s definitely a spark of something here–and Shadowplay, in particular, is a lot of fun–but 198X feels more like a proof of concept than a final product.

Psychonauts 2 Delayed To 2020

Psychonauts 2 will not release in 2019 as planned. Developer Double Fine, which was recently acquired by Microsoft, has announced that the adventure game is shifting to 2020.

The news was announced in a post to Fig, the crowdfunding website where the game raised $3.9 million in funding back in 2016. In the post, Double Fine said the delay–while it’s tough–is the right thing to do to make Psychonauts 2 a better game.

“We’re now targeting next year for release. We know it’s always disappointing when you have to wait a bit longer, but we also know that you are an amazing, supportive bunch, who–just like us –want the game to be as good as possible. So we’re hopeful you’ll understand,” Double Fine said.

Double Fine also confirmed in the blog post that, despite being bought by Microsoft, the studio will still honor Psychonauts 2’s release on every promised platform. That means the game will still come to PlayStation 4; it’s also coming to Xbox One and PC.

While you have to wait until 2020 to play Psychonauts 2, Double Fine’s next game–the 3D action rogue-like game called Rad–will release on August 20 for console and PC. That game is published by Bandai Namco.

More Of Marvel’s The Eternals Phase 4 Cast Revealed, Including Millie Bobby Brown

With Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home out of the way, MCU Phase 3 is over. Phase 4 is expected to be revealed during San Diego Comic-Con next month, and one of the movies in the mix is The Eternals. Now, a new report reveals who may star in it.

Variety reports that Stranger Things and Godzilla actress Millie Bobby Brown is in the movie, alongside Oscar winner Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones). The film is to be directed by Chloe Zhao (The Rider).

Other MCU Phase 4 movies are expected to be Shang-Chi, which will be the first MCU movie with an Asian lead, along with Doctor Strange 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Black Panther 2, and Black Widow.

The first Eternals comic was published in 1976 by late writer and artist, Jack Kirby (1917-1994). The Eternals, an offshoot of life created by an alien race called the Celestials, were established to protect the Earth from the Deviants, a dastardly project by the Celestials gone awry. 30 years later, eclectic writer Neil Gaiman gave the superheroes a facelift in 2006, bringing them and their universe to the modern era with a seven-issue miniseries that concluded in 2007.

For lots more, check out GameSpot’s rundown of everything we know about MCU Phase 4. You can also check out the video embedded above.

Nintendo Announces Next Free NES Games For Switch And A New “Rewind” Feature

Nintendo has announced the latest free NES games for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers, along with a brand-new feature for all NES games.

The new titles are Donkey Kong 3 and The Wrecking Crew, which will become available starting July 17. As for the new feature, the “Rewind” feature is exactly what it sounds like. You can hold the ZL + ZR buttons to rewind gameplay for all of the games in the NES library on Switch.

It sounds like how it works in the Forza Horizon series. Bungle a section or just want to try again? You can press the buttons to rewind the gameplay and have another go. It sounds like a handy feature that could be most useful in more challenging titles.

The Rewind feature arrives on July 17 alongside the release of The Wrecking Crew and Donkey Kong 3. Those titles join the 40+ others in the library of freebies for Switch Online members. Classics like The Legend of Zelda and the original Donkey King are also included.

A Nintendo Switch Online membership also provides access to online play and cloud saves, while the battle royale game Tetris 99 is also included with the membership.

Nintendo Switch Online has more than 10 million subscribers. Looking ahead, Nintendo plans to grow and “enhance” Nintendo Switch Online, but no other details are available yet.

WoW Classic Will Have Australia And New Zealand Servers

Ahead of World of Warcraft Classic’s release in August, Blizzard has now confirmed that there will be local servers for Australia and other parts of the Oceanic region, which is great news.

The Oceanic realms will be available for players in Australia, New Zealand, and other parts of Southeast Asia. The servers are physically located in Australia, and they’ll be available at launch on August 27. The specific names of the servers will be announced soon, coming sometime before character name reservations begin on August 13.

Blizzard has also confirmed that the final stress test for WoW Classic will be held July 26 and 27. The test is global, and the aim is to give Blizzard one more opportunity to test the game at scale before its public release. The version of WoW Classic available in the testing period features a number of fixes and changes; Blizzard says testers have filed some 17,000 bug reports from the closed beta. That closed beta is ending on July 13.

“We agree with the many WoW Classic enthusiasts in Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia that it will be a very good thing for players in that part of the world to connect to realms that are hosted in that part of the world,” Blizzard said in a statement. “Planned it all along!”

WoW Classic is just what it sounds like: it’s the base game, in the state it was more than a decade ago before the release of the Burning Crusade expansion. The game operates alongside the regular WoW. Access to WoW Classic is available through the standard $15 USD/month regular WoW subscription price.

Stranger Things 3 Breaks Viewing Records For Netflix

Stranger Things Season 3 premiered on the 4th of July and a lot of people watched. The streaming network announced on Twitter that the show is “breaking records.”

According to Netflix, 40.7 million “household accounts” worldwide watched Stranger Things Season 3 after its first four days. That’s higher than any other movie or TV show on Netflix after its first four days. According to Netflix, 18.2 million people finished the entire season in its first four days.

A “view” according to Netflix is when an account watches 70 percent of an episode of a show or 70 percent of a movie.

Stranger Things Season 3 is pacing well ahead of some of the other most popular Netflix shows. 45 million homes worldwide watched Umbrella Academy during its first month, while Sex Education and You were pacing toward 40 million household views over their first months, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

With Stranger Things Season 3 reaching 40.7 million homes in four days, it’s clear to see how hugely popular Stranger Things in comparison to Netflix’s other big shows.

For lots more on Stranger Things 3 and what’s to come, check out the story below (but beware, it contains spoilers!)

  • Stranger Things Season 3’s Ending, Credits Scene, And Season 4 Theories Explained

Xbox One July Update Out Now, Here’s What It Does

The next big update for Xbox One is out now, and it includes some changes to Xbox Game Pass and improved Alexa support for voice commands. Starting with the new Xbox Game Pass features, a new “Play Later” tab has been introduced. As its name suggests, this is a hub where you can add games as a reminder to yourself to play later.

The other big part of the July Xbox One update is improved functionality for Alexa voice commands. Specifically, a variety of new voice commands have been added that are specific to Xbox Game Pass. For example, you can now ask Alexa things like, “What’s new on Game Pass this month?” or “What’s popular on Game Pass?” or “What’s leaving Game Pass,” among many other things.

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You can also now use Alexa for social networking; you can ask, “Alexa, what are my friends playing?” or, “Alexa, is [friend’s name] online right now?” among many other things. Also, you can now pair your Xbox controller using Alexa by saying, “Alexa, ask Xbox to pair my controller.”

You can see a full rundown of all the new Alexa voice commands here. A complete list of Alexa voice commands for Xbox are available here.

In addition, Alexa now supports more countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, and Spain.

In other news, the next Xbox–Project Scarlett–was announced at E3 2019. The next-generation system, which plays Xbox One games, too–is scheduled for release in Holiday 2020. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet; it might depend on Trump’s tariffs.

Joker Movie Director: “We Didn’t Follow Anything From The Comic Books”

The upcoming Joker movie is based on one of the most recognizable comic book characters, but the film itself doesn’t borrow much at all from the source material, it seems. Director Todd Phillips said in an interview with Empire that the movie doesn’t follow “anything” from the comic books. People are probably going to be upset about this, he predicted.

“We didn’t follow anything from the comic books, which people are gonna be mad about,” Phillips, who also wrote the script, said in the interview. “We just wrote our own version of where a guy like Joker might come from. That’s what was interesting to me. We’re not even doing Joker, but the story of becoming Joker. It’s about this man.”

Pretty much every movie based on comic book characters varies in part from the source material, but it’s interesting to hear Phillips say Joker will stray even further and that he anticipates some amount of blowback. The movie is an origin story of sorts, but beyond that, the plot details are under wraps.

Three-time Oscar nomineee Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck / The Joker in the upcoming film. Empire magazine also has an exclusive new image of Phoenix putting on his Joker makeup that you can see in the embed above. The movie also stars Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, and Frances Conroy.

Joker opens in theatres on October 4. It’s something of a change for Phillips, who previously made the Hangover and Old School comedies. He also wrote for Borat, which earned him his Oscar nomination.