Until now, Microsoft’s deep pockets have given us Bethesda acquisitions and the gushing font of games that is Game Pass, but there’s one thing they haven’t been able to buy: big games from Japan. But 2021 may change that. We have already been given the first Dragon Quest on a Microsoft console, and we’ve just about survived an avalanche of Yakuza games. April, to continue the trend, is offering us not one, not two, but three killer joints from Japan, and the Xbox is all the better for it.
A gold star also goes to Square Enix, who takes the publishing MVP for April. They’re offering us the Destiny-baiting Outriders, which arrives on April 1st as a free title for Game Pass subscribers, and also the remaster of Nier, with the improbably titled Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139… (and that’s Numberwang!).
If those don’t tickle your wattle, then April offers Judgment, a detective adventure from the same universe as the Yakuza series; Breathedge, which is Gravity mixed with Subnautica mixed with chickens; and MLB The Show 21, which will excite a couple of people down the back, but genuinely offers a huge number of improvements.
A little April shower of games for this month’s Up Next, then, which is appropriate, as you get to play a cloud in one of them. Yep, a cloud.
We’ve been here before, of course. A big budget loot ‘n’ shooter promising the world on launch. You’d be forgiven for having scars from Anthem and Avengers, among others, and forgiven further for eyeing Outriders with a smidge of suspicion. It’s out on Game Pass on day one, you say? Pffrt, probably means it’s rubbish. It’s coming out with co-op, a multi-class system, Diablo-style looting and a polished end-game on launch? Spreading themselves thin, clearly.
But – you know what? – the demo’s actually promising. Not Warframe or Destiny-levels of promising necessarily, as the story seems about as hokey as you’d expect from the developers of Bulletstorm, but the looting feels great, with all the socketing and strategising that you’d want, and there are some cracking firefights. And hey, Game Pass! What can you lose?
Not content with tormenting TheXboxHub’s resident Yakuza fan, Richard Dobson, with four Yakuza games in the past month, Sega are now tucking Judgment into his belt and saying ‘go have a good time’. Crikey, Sega, these are thirty hour games. He has to write for the site occasionally.
Judgment isn’t quite a Yakuza game, but it shares a universe and is similarly determined to distract with Space Harrier minigames and bowling. You play Takayuki Yagami, a former lawyer turned private investigator, who’s investigating three murders of prominent Yakuza members in the region.
To solve these cases, you have all of the daytime-TV detective tools at your disposal: you can disguise yourself in a trenchcoat and wig; you can tail the suspect at an adequate distance; and you can grab compromising photos of suspects. It remains to be seen if you can bark “just one more thing” at the end of an episode, but you can certainly shout “Objection!” and point, a la Phoenix Wright, which is more than enough.
This one looks an utterly bonkers take on the detective genre, and it has some fighty-shooty bits too. Might be worth a look.
Nier Replicant ver.1.22474487139…
Square Enix have a bit of the April swagger this month, as they’re following up Outriders with a 10th anniversary remaster of the cult 360 and PS3 hit, Nier. Now, if you haven’t played the original Nier then prepare yourself a wee bit, as this needs a couple of caveats.
First, this is an existential crisis in a box; it might not look like it, but it hits you repeatedly in the feels and then doesn’t wrap it all up with a Disney-like blow. You have been warned. Second is that Nier is aggressively odd. You could probably guess from the title, which is less a title and more a puddle of vomit from a scientific calculator (Kingdom Hearts would be proud). Nier Replicant 5318008, or whatever it’s called, is an apocalyptic tale with a fetish for blindfolds, white hair and nightmare-inducing masks. It’s also furiously imaginative, with a gloriously operatic score.
It’s probably hard to work out whether we’re recommending Nier Replicant or not, and we’re not sure if we are either. Be reassured, though, that Nier Replicant is an acquired taste that you may want to tentatively lick, just a bit.
Subnautica in space! Breathedge probably gets that a lot. But there are worse things to be compared to (we’ve already compared two games to Anthem and a scientific calculator, so go Breathedge!).
You play Man (oh, come on), who is the only survivor of an interstellar collision. Your spaceship is a complete wreck, sprawling across an asteroid belt, with small sections of the ship still standing. Like Matt Damon in The Martian but with fewer potatoes, you have to salvage from the ruins of this failed mission and see if you can construct a base that will offer enough life support until rescue arrives.
It looks lovely, in all honesty, so full credit to Redruins Softworks for coming out of the blue with something that tickles the edges of AAA gaming. The zero-g looks great, it looks like it’s filled with moments that will make you go ooh with a bit of aah, and it does imaginative things with chickens. Hopefully this one’s a cult hit in the making.
R-Type Final 2
Not so final, eh, R-Type?
We’ll let them off, as this is the first R-Type to reach our shores since 2008’s R-Type Tactics, which is a hefty span. Plus, there’s always room for a big-budget, over-the-top dose of bullet hell, particularly when it’s got the pedigree of R-Type. While being produced from series newbies Granzella, it’s been designed by Kazuma Kujo, who brought us the original R-Type Final and R-Type Delta, among others.
Check out screenshots and trailers and you’ll get that lovely wave of reassurance that R-Type Final 2 looks gratuitously bombastic. Bosses fill the screen and leave you barely enough room to open a cockpit. Power-ups light up proceedings and do imbalanced stuff like mirroring your ship four times over. But that’s what R-Type is about, and we can’t wait for the dose of adrenaline that it’ll absolutely pump us with.
MLB The Show 21
MLB The Show 21 was beaten to the plate by R.B.I. Baseball 21, but it likely doesn’t care. This is the headliner, and it’s got some dingers in terms of back-of-box highlights. In comes 2K pitching controls, which fans have been calling for yonks. Plus there’s crossplay with other platforms, and both a Hard and Casual Mode, for those who couldn’t keep up with the more testing skill levels of previous releases.
Coming in mid-season allows Sony Interactive to offer the full, up-to-date team rosters, which should quell the naysayers who wanted it before the season started. Beyond that, it’s an overarching improvement to last year’s offering. In all likelihood, you already know whether MLB The Show 21 is your brand of American Cricket.
Lost Words: Beyond the Page
This Up Next has been frustratingly bro-tacular so far, so it seems like ample time to put down the pump action shotguns and appreciate a beautiful and modest indie. Written by Rhianna Pratchett, Lost Words: Beyond the Page is the tale of a young writer called Robyn who’s led a peaceful life in her village. The closest she’s come to danger is in the stories that she writes in her notebook.
Unfortunately, where there’s peace, there’s often a giant dragon. Her village is cooked on a high setting, and Robyn is forced into the wide world to confront the dragon and ask ‘what gives?’. If that sounds conventional then you’re absolutely right, but there are a couple of reasons that we cherry-picked this one for the article. It has a lovely twist, where Robyn’s words have an effect on the game world, as you can hover words like ‘burn’ over the environment and watch as tinder sets alight. Plus, as you’d hope from any award-circuit indie game, it looks dashing, with a lovely watercolour palette that’s a far cry from some of the other games on this list.
Rain on Your Parade
Now you’re talking! There’s nothing like unearthing weird, unhinged games. Rain on Your Parade is one of those titles that takes an unlikely subject – like bread, cake, pigeons, goats, geese or octopi (guess the games!) – throws them up on a whiteboard and brainstorms ‘what on earth would a successful game be like if you made them the main character?’.
Rain on Your Parade does it with a cloud. A cloud! But come back, it’s not throwaway tosh. There’s clearly been a lot of love rained down on this one. We’ve seen screechy livestreamers give this one a go, and it looks frantic, as you herd people by raining on them, put them out when they get set on fire, and generally moisten your surroundings.
But Rain on Your Parade doesn’t stop there. You can be Tiny Cloud, hovering over individuals, or you can be Mega Cloud, viewing the world from a super-zoomed out perspective. You can travel in time, way back to the dinosaurs. And you can fully customise the face on your cloud, with a bundled-in version of Paint. Or something similar, at least.
These weirdo indies are always worth keeping an eye on, and you can trust that we’ll give it a review as soon as we can.
Let’s end on the plucky underdog game. Luckslinger might look like a spin-off of Oregon Trail in screenshots, but that does Luckslinger a disservice. This game has beaucoup style. When you see it in motion, you see exactly what makes it so special.
Firstly, the soundtrack is killer. It’s a mash-up of Western ‘man with the harmonica’-style tunes, but with hip-hop beats and scratching. This theming bleeds into Luckslinger’s world, as you’re choosing save games from your vinyl collection, and checkpoints take the form of decks.
Luckslinger has also got a nifty idea that it wants to build the game on. Towards the start of the game, you’ll get your hands on a luck bracelet. While scooting about the world, you will pick up ‘luck’ that gets sucked into this bracelet. Now, if you’re well-stocked with luck, fortuitous things will happen to you. Bullets will bounce off you, you’ll get saved from your own piss-poor platforming skills, and treasures will appear. But if you’re out of luck, and you’ve spent it all, then platforms will crumble underneath you and bullets will ricochet into your path. It’s a bit like a case of the Mondays and Fridays.
Not impressed? Each to their own. But know that May officially starts the Silly Season, with big games tumbling out of every orifice. Expect us to be running around with cupped hands, trying to grab Resident Evil Village (or whatever you’re meant to call it, with that silly number VIII in the middle), Mass Effect Legendary Edition, Biomutant, Hood: Outlaws and Legends and Subnautica: Below Zero, among others. The future’s bright!