Forget all those too-big-to-fail AAA games, blending together to become a flavourless broth of open worlds and 100-hour campaigns. It’s the next tier down where the real juice is: where you’ll find the wacky high concepts, the left-field experiences, the bad voiceovers. We’re not afraid to say it: we love the AA game.
Yes, it’s our way of saying that there’s no real blockbuster releasing in June 2021. Welcome to the quiet before the E3 storm. But aren’t you still wading through Mass Effect: Legendary Edition and Subnautica: Below Zero? Wouldn’t you prefer a bevy of hopefuls, whose only chance of making money is to catch your eye with something unexpected? This is the month for niche re-releases, unexpected sequels, weirdo indies and abstract RPGs. Fill your boots.
Ninja Gaiden: Master Collection
Before FromSoftware became the shorthand for diamond-hard experiences, there was Team Ninja and the Ninja Gaiden series. Reaching their peak in 2007 and 2009 with Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Sigma 2, before flunking it in 2012 with Ninja Gaiden 3 (admittedly spruced up a bit with Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge), they have all been collected together in this lovely Master Collection.
You can be a killjoy and question the inclusion of Razor’s Edge over the original Ninja Gaiden Black and Ninja Gaiden 2, but this is a generous Orange Box (Black Box?) of Team Ninja classics, with all the DLC that you can remember from their original releases. Ayane, Rachel, Momiji and Kasumi will all be playable, on top of Mr Ryu Hayabusa, and the physical deluxe editions get rather fetching art books and soundtracks. Hopefully Team Ninja have lavished a lot of care on this collection, creating the museum piece that the series deserves.
Since this is such a generous and unexpected surprise of a collection, we’ll give them a pass for not making it fully optimised for Series X|S, but it still feels like an obvious omission. Not that we’d notice the 4K detail as the floor gets wiped with our faces.
Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance
Alright, we’re confused. Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance was remastered and released in May, but this is a different Dark Alliance? Even though Baldur’s Gate is set in the Dungeons & Dragons universe too?
Turns out, there’s little relation, but cheers, Wizards of the Coast, for confusing the hell out of us. No, this is a third-person brawler that’s yanking all of the best R.A Salvatore characters from the Forgotten Realms books and then offering them up as heroes for you to play. There’s Drizzt Do’Urden, Catti-brie, Wulfgar, and Bruenor Battlehammer all at your thumb-tips, and you get to chummy up with a party of friends and take down frost giants, white dragons and everyone’s favourite autonomous eyeballs, the Beholders.
Dungeons & Dragons games have a habit of doubling down on the nerdiness with character sheets and turn-based tactics, but this one is going full-pelt for action. Rather than Baldur’s Gate, this is aiming more for God of War. Could be worth 2d12 of your time.
Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 2
Sometimes all you want is a bit of the snippy snipes. There aren’t many better feelings than chaining headshots when you’re a full postcode away, and CI Games knows this full-well. So, following the enjoyable if a little ramshackle Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts, we’re getting a sequel.
When polish was the first game’s biggest crime, a year and a half to tighten things up and release a sequel sounds ample. Going by the trailer, though, the majority of that time has been spent on making enemies’ craniums pirouette off their heads in glorious 4K Ultra HD.
It has a few other things to offer, beyond heads like watermelons, including a leap forward in the tech you have at your disposal. Yes, you have drones in your arsenal now, so you’re a thoroughly modern marine. There’s a slightly greater emphasis on story, too, as the challenges become something like a campaign, and you’re given free reign of five sandbox maps and over 1,000m+ extreme-range sniping. Be prepared to showboat to your heart’s content, as you thread your ballistic needle through a necklace of heads.
Carrying on the chain of macho games (oh yes, there is more to come) is Chivalry 2. Unfortunately not a social sim about opening car doors for ladies like a true gent, this is a strategy-action game where you don your plate mail and wander into medieval sieges with a group of mates.
The first Chivalry found itself on the Xbox One after a long spell on PC, and it was impossible to hide its desktop origins, with controls that were skew-whiff to say the least. Chivalry 2, however, is launching simultaneously on PC and console, which could be a good sign that console isn’t an after-thought. It could be a sign of biting off more than you can chew too, but – eh – we’re optimists.
One bonus of launching on all platforms at once is full cross-play, so you can have arguments with friends about whether playing on mouse and keyboard is cheesing it, and which platform is optimal. Regardless, we’re looking to join the fray, as it’s a game that puts ‘burning villages’ as one of its USPs, and you can throw pitchforks at people’s faces.
Probably not “1,000m extreme-range” pitchfork throwing, but we’ll leave that to Sniper Ghost Warrior Contracts 3.
Necromunda: Hired Gun
Now, don’t judge, but a 12-year old version of us spent more or less every penny of their lunch money on Necromunda figures. Basically a smaller, squad-based version of Warhammer 40k, it had a Borderlands-y vibe and at least didn’t cost us an early mortgage, like its Games Workshop peers.
Last year, we got the thoroughly meh Necromunda: Underhive Wars, which tried to capture the tape-measures and dice-rolling of the table-top game, but was fooling no-one. It was plodding and awkward. We got a hankering for a game that played loose with the universe and instead went full Michael Bay, and lo – Necromunda: Hired Gun is here.
An FPS from Focus Home Interactive, it’s taking the bold move of making you an independent – separate from the various Eschers, Goliaths and other factions that make Necromunda iconic. You’re a merc, a bounty hunter, and you’re taking jobs that involve raiding these factions. You have a mastiff, an autogun, and a snarky attitude, and it should be enough to get you by.
In all honesty, it looks slicker and more pyrotechnic than we expected, so this could be a surprise hit.
We’re not sold on the word ‘Brainpunk’, but it gets across a lot of what makes Scarlet Nexus a bit of a One to Watch. This is a far-future game, set in a world where everyone talks via telepathy, advertising gets projected right into your visual cortex, and most actions are done through psycho-kinesis. With all these psychic shenanigans, you’d expect us all to turn into slovenly blobs, like the ending of WALL-E, but it seems we’ve all become extra-athletic anime idols.
The Japanese action-RPG has given us some real clunkers over the years – we’re sorry Hyperdimension and Dynasty Warriors fans – but this one looks like it’s top drawer. There’s the presentation, which is slick and over-the-top. There’s the skill-borrowing, where you get to nab the powers of beings around you. And there’s the Prototype-like fascination with chucking cars at enemies, making you feel extremely powerful.
We’ve got an inkling that Scarlet Nexus might surprise us. When they’re not licensing games, Bandai Namco has the capability of publishing a masterpiece or two, and this looks like it has a lot of the best bits from Astral Chain, NieR:Automata and Tales of Cold Steel.
Like Creature in the Well, this looks bloody lovely, as it borrows a little of the screen-printed look of that game, but ratchets it up a few notches. We’re not quite sure if it takes place in an alien world or a ‘Honey I Shrunk the Kids’-style micro-world, but you seem to be barely an inch tall, and tiny invertebrates want to nibble on you.
Luckily, you have a Stonefly: an insect-like mech that can spring in and out of action, and also blast away at the beetle menaces. This looks like it’s going to be an action-RPG in the vein of a Diablo or Torchlight, but with some twin-stick shooting thrown in for good measure. There’s plenty of story running through it too, taking advantage of the unusual setting.
Of all the indie games we sifted through this month, Stonefly was the one that most grabbed us. Plus, Creature of the Well made it onto Game Pass, so fingers crossed that the same fate will come to this one.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX
Alex the Kidd, Alex the Kidd, Alex the Kidd in Miracle World!
Yep, we can still recall the theme song, and we’re going to carry it to our dotage. This was a game that came built-in to our Master System, only a flip of the power-switch away, and we can say – with some confidence – that it was a whole lot more difficult than it looked. Like Battletoads, which pre-panics us in the same way, Alex the Kidd in Miracle World was a beast to beat.
Now we get to face our traumas once again with Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX. One of the more surprising re-releases in recent memory, this was a fan project that – Nintendo, take note – was embraced by SEGA rather than slapped with a lawsuit, and it was given the funds it needed to become a thing. SEGA did the same with Sonic Mania, and it’s definitely bearing fruit for them.
There are new levels, new modes, alternative boss fights (we might take them up on an alternative version of the Castle boss) and a retro mode, should you want to switch back to the original Master System. It looks beyond beautiful, with smoothed-over pixel art that makes it look like an utterly different game. Which, considering the day-glo horrors of the original Alex Kidd, is a very good thing indeed.
See what we mean? Not a blockbuster amongst them. But there’s plenty that’s curious, odd or nerdy, and we’re willing to bet that one of them will surprise us by being exceptional. As usual, we will be following in their wake like an over-enthusiastic puppy, hoping that a review code will tumble out, so that we can grapple with them and offer up a score and an overview.
What does July bring? Things are changeable and games are pushed back more often than they stay in place, but we’re hopeful that Curve Digital’s The Ascent, JRPG juggernaut Cris Tales and F1 2021 will stay in their lanes. And with E3 coming in June, we will hopefully hear a lot more about what our future holds.