Whew, not going to lie, February was looking a whole lot better before delays started hitting it. At one point, we were due to see Square Enix’s new looter-shooter Outsiders and Ubisoft’s Riders Republic, but everyone took a look at the Cyberpunk 2077 farrago, did a Brave Sir Robin and ran away.
What are we left with? Not much, in honesty, but there are still a few noteworthy titles to talk about. Not least is Little Nightmares II – the sequel to the deserved sleeper hit that made yellow raincoats scary again. There’s the arrival of the much-complained-about Xbox Series X|S edition of Control (they’re not giving it away free to owners of the vanilla edition, see), and a werewolf stealth-hack-and-slash thing from the developers of Call of Cthulhu, called Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood, which has a name that sounds like it was farted out by a malfunctioning AI.
But strip out the triple-A titles from a month and it lets the indies shine. If there’s a theme to these smaller titles this month, it’s ‘cash-ins’. Or, if we’re being a little less cynical, games that take us on a wild nostalgic ride around old favourites. Horses for courses. Expect riffs on Crazy Taxi, Overboard!, Diablo and – bizarrely – WrestleFest.
Control: Xbox Series X|S Edition
Having missed the Series X|S launch date as the DLC was still being polished, Remedy are finally launching the next-gen upgrade of Control on the 2nd of February.
What does the next-gen upgrade mean in pure performance terms? Expect 60fps as standard, with the ability to knock it down to 30fps and enable ray tracing. Control was a game that already looked stellar on Xbox One, so the two new graphics modes will be a feast. We’ll take any opportunity to jump back into one of 2019’s GOTYs, if we’re being honest.
This is all automatically unlocked if you have the Ultimate Edition of Control, which was a slightly curmudgeonly move by Remedy if we’re being honest, as original owners of Control have to pony up. We should also note that February 2nd is the release date for the digital version of the upgrades, but if you want to buy everything from scratch physically, you’re going to have to wait another month.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood
Bloody awful title aside, Werewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood has a few things going for it. It’s by Call of Cthulhu and Styx developers Cyanide Studios, who have a habit of cranking out rough-edged games that sit somewhere in the double-A area (as in, not quite triple-A, but more lavish than your average indie). They don’t make them like this anymore – on the 360 you’d have games like Dark Sector and Binary Domain, but they’ve dried up on modern generations.
The trailer’s suitably slick and bodes well, and we’re all in for a game where you play as a stacked werewolf. We’re racking our brains for the last time we got to play as a werewolf in an Xbox title, and are coming up short. From the little that we’ve seen, it’s also trying to mix the unmixable: stealth and Prototype-style mega-destruction.
Honestly, this one could go either way. It’s certainly trying something new, and the involvement of Cyanide Studios pretty much guarantees that there will at least be some memorable moments, suspect dialogue and a smattering of decent ideas.
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
February comes packaged with three ‘so willfully bonkers that they have to be played’ games, and the first is Anodyne 2: Return to Dust.
This is the sequel to Anodyne, which was always a brave name to give a game, considering it essentially means ‘somewhat dull’. That game was a straight Zelda clone, but Anodyne 2: Return to Dust is not willing to repeat the trick. Instead, what we have is a 3D adventure game that’s trying to capture the fuzzy polygonal look of an N64 title, and – when you dive into the bodies of characters in that world – the entire art style shifts into the 2D Zelda view, and you play through their bodily organs like a dungeon. Of course. Oh, and your character can morph into a car at will for fast-travel purposes.
There’s story reasons for it all of course, as you’re a nano cleaner in the land of New Theland, which effectively means you’re Dennis Quaid in Innerspace, shrinking down to insert yourself into the ill. Not the first job we’d choose in a sci-fi futurescape.
Still, Anodyne 2: Return to Dust has originality on its side and, frankly, it nails the N64 aesthetic. It’s not the first console that modern games look to emulate, and we can’t recall many games that have attempted it. It looks great.
Little Nightmares II
Grotesque puzzle-platformer Little Nightmares gets a sequel this month, and it’s going to be the highlight of February for many. The first was something of a sleeper hit, and OG devs Tarsier Studios are back on board.
Six, the girl in the yellow raincoat, is also back, but you won’t necessarily be playing as her. Instead, Little Nightmares II introduces Mono, a boy with a box on his head. Six is fading out of the world, and it seems the blame for this falls on The Signal Tower, which is distorting the world with a mysterious broadcast. She can’t solve this herself, as she’s on the brink of fading out of reality, Back to the Future style, so it’s down to Mono.
As with Little Nightmares, it’s all about where you go and what you’re trying to avoid. The role-call of beasties include The Doctor, who crawls along the ceilings of his practice; The Thin Man, floating around in his posh get-up, searching for something mysterious, and Teachers, who have a taste for corporal punishment, wielding canes. Your travels will take you to sinister schools, creepy woodlands and more, as Little Nightmares II escapes the claustrophobia of the original.
King of Seas
Remember PS1 title ‘Overboard!’? We have a little cove in our heart reserved for it, and King of Seas definitely looks like a spiritual successor. There’s a whiff of Sid Meier’s Pirates too, although that may be too high a bar for King of Seas to reach.
Developed by Xenon Racer makers 3DClouds, this pitches you as a pirate captain, then dumps you in procedurally generated waters to complete quests, scuttle opponents and find treasure. It’s Sea of Thieves with the perspective switched and a solo emphasis, and we’re all for it. Having a leaderboard in the form of a ‘Most Wanted’ list is also a pretty cool move.
There’s a chunky vibrancy to King of Seas that, at its best, gives a jolly Monkey Island feel, whilst other screenshots make it look like a mobile game with ambition. It will be interesting to see where it lands, as there’s room for a solo pirate game with replayability, as long as it can nail the gameplay.
No prizes for guessing where Taxi Chaos’s influences lie. This is Crazy Taxi through and through, save – perhaps – for the ‘90s pop-punk soundtrack. You’re in a chunky yellow taxi, tearing your way through a city in the hunt for passengers, dumping them off at their destination before the ticking clock completes its final tick.
You almost wonder why SEGA didn’t throw some cash at Lion Castle Entertainment to make it a fully fledged sequel. Perhaps we should just be thankful that SEGA didn’t throw litigation their way.
While it doesn’t win points for originality, Taxi Chaos gets plenty for understanding what made Crazy Taxi so good in the first place. This is frantic, and the physics are wonderfully over-the-top – as they should be. If you want to catapult over half the game’s map by ramp, then Taxi Chaos gives you the thumbs up. It looks funny and throwaway, and all the time trials and various modes are present and correct. The people at Lion Castle Entertainment clearly get it.
Curse of the Dead Gods
With a release date for Diablo 4 still incoming, and Torchlight III stumbling in its attempt to fill its vacuum, there’s room on the Xbox for a loot-driven brawler. Curse of the Dead Gods is the challenger, then, and it certainly looks the part.
From Masters of Anima developers Passtech Games, Curse of the Dead Gods has a neat cel-shaded look, as well as all the pyrotechnics and VFX that you expect from the genre. It looks a step above the majority of hack and slashers we see on the Xbox, at least in terms of production values, and the emphasis seems to be on fun.
What caught our eye most was the focus on the eponymous ‘curses’. It seems that you get to upgrade your character through all the expected loot drops, including swords, armours and guns, but you also get relics which buff you considerably, but with a downside. We’ve seen the mechanic before, but it seems that Curse of the Dead Gods focuses on it, which is interesting. There are relics that cause your enemies to burst but damage you at the same time, while another will share life-gain between your health and your gold. It’ll certainly be fun for min-maxers to get their teeth into.
There’s something incredibly endearing about RetroMania Wrestling. If you ever played a ‘90s wrestling game (much love to you, Wrestlemania on the Sega Megadrive), you’ll feel that same warmth towards it. In fact, press materials declare that this is an official sequel to WWF WrestleFest, albeit with the WWF stripped out. That’s not to say that it has no licence or official wrestlers, as it’s packed to the rafters with wrestlers even we’ve heard of, and we were moderate wrestling fans at the very most.
There’s personal favourites the Road Warriors, AKA Legion of Doom, but also Matt Cardona, Tommy Dreamer and Brian Meyers, among a dozen others. You get to chuck them into seven different game modes – including a retro rumble mode, yeaaah – and three match options, including a steel cage.
It’s 2-8 local multiplayer too, which is a damn sight more than we expected. This is clearly a labour of love, and there’s no shortage of people who bemoan modern wrestling games and wish there was something out there like the wrestling games they used to play. And hey, the soundtrack sounds killer too.
Roombo: First Blood
We had assumptions, and they were wrong. We expected a game that centred on the Roomba, the automated vacuum for people with more money than sense, and for this to be a throwaway room-cleaning sim. We could imagine the ‘3-2-1-go!’ and the race to hoover up mess, probably with a splash of couch-co-op multiplayer.
Roombo: First Blood is, instead, a stealth-action game where you lie in wait for burglars and then carve them up in fountains of blood. Perhaps you lay traps for them to waltz into, or you use the environment to suck them into fans, propel them off balconies, or cook them in stoves. This is a demented, horrific little game, and it looks like a whale of a time.
Being a Roomba, you also get to tidy up the blood once the burglars have been eviscerated, so you play both murderer and crime scene clean-up, which is a neat twist. In terms of tone and setup, it reminds us a little of the classic Spy vs. Spy, as you lay traps and wait with glee on your face, and it could turn out to be as much of a guilty pleasure as that game once was.
While we try to figure out where all the big games scarpered off to, March is similarly slight: we get the arrival of the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time remake, and the next co-op experience from A Way Out developers Hazelight, called It Takes Two, but that’s it. Who knows, someone might have the gumption to bring their game forward in the schedule and make our lockdown days a little brighter.
For now, we’re much obliged that you’ve taken the time to read this month’s Up Next. Hopefully there’s something on the menu that whets the appetite. Expect reviews of them all as their launch dates approach.