Working at a media outlet like EGM means having the chance to play games that I might have totally missed otherwise. However, it also means sometimes missing games that I did have on my radar due to being busy with other commitments. With the release of two new video game consoles last November, our attention was on digging deep into the hardware and their launch titles—leaving some of the numerous current-generation releases to inevitably get lost in the shuffle.
As I’ve often done in previous years, I’ve now spent the first few weeks of the new year going back to play a handful of the games I missed in the months prior. So now, let’s take a look back at some of the games that I—and quite likely you as well—missed in the final days of 2020.
|#1||Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin
Publisher: Marvelous, XSEED Games ▪︎ Developer: Edelweiss ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Switch, PC
Of all the games I was frustrated over not getting a proper chance to play when they first hit last year, Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin has to be near the top of the list. Having seen or demoed it in various states of development for years at XSEED’s E3 booths, Sakuna looked to be a side-scrolling action platformer that promised a nice amount of gameplay depth.
What I hadn’t fully appreciated until I recently spent some time playing it post-launch, however, was that the game has a whole second side to it. When not out in the world fighting enemies or hunting down materials, grumpy goddess Princess Sakuna has to teach a group of hapless mortals how to farm. Sakuna’s action-oriented growth throughout the game depends on the simultaneous growth of crops, so the more bountiful and higher quality her yields, the more capable she’ll be when facing foes.
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin seems to have turned into something of a cult hit for Edelweiss and Marvelous since its release, and I can now understand why.
|#2||Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle
Publisher: Bandai Namco ▪︎ Developer: Bandai Namco ▪︎ Platforms: Stadia
There’s humor in the fact that, in 2011, Bandai Namco released a game called Pac-Man Battle Royale—and then, nine years later, released a Pac-Man game chasing the battle royale trend not using that name.
Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle is an ambitious twist on the old formula, as 64 players are all brought together in a competition to see whose round, yellow dot-muncher can be the last to survive. As a longtime Pac-fan, Mega Tunnel Battle is an interesting idea, one that has more complexity than you’d originally expect. Do you stay in your own maze and advance that way? Or do you invade the mazes of other players? If you do, do you help them or hunt them?
Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle is the type of game I’d be spending more time with if it didn’t have one major flaw: It’s currently only on Stadia. Unfortunately, the random bouts of lag, image degradation, and other common streaming issues can seriously drag down games like this that require a deep level of precision. Pac-Man Mega Tunnel Battle is set to hit other platforms this year, so for now, waiting might be the best option.
Publisher: Nacon ▪︎ Developer: Kylotonn ▪︎ Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC
I first became interested in rally games back in the days of Sega Rally on the Saturn and Power Drive Rally on the Atari Jaguar, but as the complexity of the genre continually increased, my tried-and-true racing technique of “gun it then powerslide through the curves” wasn’t cutting it anymore. So, while I still dabble in the subgenre here and there, there’s plenty I’ve missed out on.
WRC9 is the first title I’ve ever played in the franchise, and coming into it, I’d assumed it would be similar to rivals such as the Dirt series. On some levels it is, as completing each track takes a careful balance of terrain consideration, a keen eye for controlling your speed, and paying proper attention to your navigator. What I hadn’t expected is WRC 9’s extensive simulation core, as you have to manage your team’s funds, crew members, sponsors, vehicle upkeep, racing schedule, and so on.
It’s all fascinating as someone new to the series, but now presents me with a problem: Because of those elements, I actively want to play more of WRC 9, but also because of those elements, I know that’ll require a much larger time commitment.
|#4||Pretty Princess Party
Publisher: Aksys Games ▪︎ Developer: Nippon Columbia ▪︎ Platforms: Switch
When I heard that a game called “Pretty Princess Party” was on its way to our shores from Japan, I knew I had to play it. Visions of a Mario Party–style collection of minigames where rowdy princesses battle one another for ultimate royal supremacy danced through my head.
In reality, Pretty Princess Party isn’t that—but it’s still appealing in its own way. After your personalized princess gets whisked away to a magical fantasy world, she’s tasked with helping a handful of past princesses revive their castle’s magic by bringing its empty rooms back to life. Pretty Princess Party takes on something of an Animal Crossing feel at that point, as you unlock new recipes for furniture pieces and objects, character customization items, and more. There are also a handful of minigames that I’ve found so far, and while none of them are the deepest things around, they’re still enjoyable.
The problem? For whatever reason, Pretty Princess Party refuses to work with a Pro controller, a headache for me given my Joy-Cons are drifting something fierce. Instead, I’ve been playing it on my Switch Lite, but a lot of the game’s text is frustratingly small—making it a game I’ve had to play in short doses.
Publisher: Frontier Developments ▪︎ Developer: Frontier Developments ▪︎ Platforms: Xbox Series X/S, PS5, Xbox One, PS4
I’ve always had a love for games based around roller coasters, and while there’s been plenty of such offerings over the years, I’ve tended to prefer the ones more about building and riding the coasters, and less those about managing the park that exists around them.
While I’m sure it’s not the only game to do so, I found out that Frontier’s Planet Coaster offers both of those aspects in one package, so I decided to give it a shot. And, you know, given my love for plenty of other types of management sims (like SimCity), maybe I should have broadened my horizons sooner. Planet Coaster is pretty darn neat, mixing the thrill of ride creation and the strategy of park planning with a cheeky British sense of humor that helps ease you into the complexities of what awaits.
Sadly, the experience isn’t without flaws, as even running the next-gen version on Xbox Series X, I’m still having moments of frame drops and technical hitches. Still, Planet Coaster is a game I’m glad to finally have tried, and even if it’s not the kind of thing you’d be looking to buy, it’s one of those perfect titles for trying out via Xbox Game Pass.
|#6||Bubble Bobble 4 Friends
Publisher: Taito Corporation, ININ Games ▪︎ Developer: ININ Games ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Switch
I’m always incredibly weary when popular retro games get modern reinterpretations, but Bubble Bobble 4 Friends was a pleasant surprise.
While I still prefer the look of the classic titles, the updated visuals actually retain a lot of the charm of Bob, Bub, and the rest of the Bubble Bobble cast. The way ININ Games handles the power-ups that would randomly appear in the older games here is also a fun twist, as they’re now earned by beating bosses and usable at any time, so long as you’ve got charges left on the item.
The biggest thing holding Bubble Bobble 4 Friends back is that while it’s good, it isn’t quite great. Many of the stages feel more like puzzles to solve than the more tense action setpieces of the game’s arcade predecessors, which comes in part due to the stages being in widescreen (and thus less cramped).
However, to be fair, I do think the “4 Friends” part of its name is where Bubble Bubble 4 Friends will truly shine—yet sadly, I couldn’t give multiplayer a proper try due to it being local co-op only. Hopefully I can rectify that once COVID-19 has gone away and I can actually be around other human beings again.
|#7||Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory
Publisher: Square Enix ▪︎ Developer: Square Enix, indieszero ▪︎ Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Switch
Of all of the games I’ve included on this list, this is the one you should trust my opinion on the least. I am incapable of being a Kingdom Hearts fan, and have never understood the love and adoration the series has garnered from so many around the world.
I am, however, a fan of rhythm games, and that’s where my interest in Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory came in. On that end, I don’t think it’s quite as good as Square Enix’s brilliant Theatrhythm series. As one example, the Field Battles—where your party of heroes battle foes to the beat while walking along a path—in that franchise are much more compelling than the ones found here.
And yet, I do think that Melody of Memory is probably the better game for more casual players, as its gameplay is easier to get the hang of, and the overall presentation is more exciting. Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory—at least from what I can tell—serves as a fairly decent recap of the events of the series, which longtime fans will appreciate on a nostalgia level and newer players will be able to use as a primer to the narrative chaos of the Kingdom Hearts series.
|#8||Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia
Publisher: Matrix Software ▪︎ Developer: Happinet ▪︎ Platforms: PS4, Switch
My inclusion of Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia is not without controversy. It actually originally came out in June on Switch, the version that I’ve been playing—the PS4 release—hit in December, not November, and I’ve still only scratched the surface of the game so far.
So why is it here? Because this, more than any other title I’ve mentioned, is the type of game that will get nowhere near the attention that it deserves. As a sequel to the original PlayStation release Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena, The Legend of Runersia is one of those Strategy RPGs that’s incredibly intimidating at first but enjoyably deep once you get the hang of its rules and systems.
In a similar vein to Koei Tecmo’s historical sims, you pick one of six nations to rule, and then go to war to conquer—and unite—the rest. The game’s turn-based battles play out using your Rune Knights and the monsters they control, and when away from the battlefield, you’ll need to train your troops, adjust your country’s resources, and otherwise properly manage your kingdom to keep it prosperous. All of this is enhanced by the game’s beautiful art style, especially in the portrait art of each of the main characters.
As I said, I’ve still got a long way to go, but if you’re an SRPG fan searching for something new, definitely look into Brigandine: The Legend of Runersia.
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.