Super Mario Sunshine

Hooray! It’s July! The summer doldrums are kicking into full gear, E3 hangover has struck our throbbing heads, and Sept. 1 is the day that will finally start to clear up. That is the start of the holiday gaming season. The day Konami releases Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Warner Bros. releases Mad Max, and the three of us start our annual fisticuffs and ankle-biting over who gets to review what game.

I would implore you not to disregard the next two months, though. The summer of 2015 has plenty of great releases if you are willing to dig into the cracks and take a gamble on something small yet sweet. Here are a few games you should pick up to help kill the summer doldrums, because who needs blue skies, wonderful beaches, and family outings?

Lost Dimension – July 28 – PS3, PS Vita

Contrary to popular belief, the PS Vita isn’t totally dead in that water. If you don’t like Japanese games, I don’t know what to tell you, but Atlus is adding to the pile this slick looking strategy game from debuting studio Lancarse. The PlayStation 3 is also getting a nod with this one, but Lost Dimension feels like it was built specifically with a mobile platform in mind.

The premise is pretty simple. The leader of a task force known as S.E.A.L.E.D. commands his squad through a series of missions, and each member has a special ability to help them accomplish their goal. The kicker is that a certain number of characters are traitors, and our leader will have some tough decisions to make as he psychologically evaluates them between missions. Who is a traitor? Who can he trust? Which traitor’s abilities can we exploit the longest? Who can lead a revolt within the group?

Most importantly, who do we execute after every battle?

What’s especially interesting is that the traitors will be randomly chosen with each playthrough, meaning that Lancarse hopes for Lost Dimension to be replayable like a roguelike, providing a different experience with each passing playthrough. If you are sick of AAA releases and need a quirky Japanese hit, you’ve found it here. I just wish the gunfire had a bit more punch to it. Those bullets are weak sauce.

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King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember – July 28 – PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC

King’s Quest is a franchise that might be familiar if you are a 30-something gamer. Back during the early days of PC gaming, graphic adventures were all the rage, and Sierra led the pack with this groundbreaking series.

Let’s not get too rosy about that past on this one, though. Each and every entry in this brutal franchise hates your guts and will punish you in the worst of ways, creating unwinnable situations or flat out being unfair. Luckily, LucasArts came around and taught adventure game developers how to play nice with Monkey Island, but Sierra refused to play along releasing the sadistic King’s Quest V and King’s Quest VI in response. Ugh…

The first chapter of the first King’s Quest game in over 18 years is bound to give us a little insight into what Activision has planned. Most importantly, we get to see how genuine the relaunch of the Sierra brand is, and we can finally get to see if it can make a graphic adventure that is both challenging and not a complete jerk to its players.

King’s Quest’s graphical choices look like it is trying a little too hard to be a Telltale game, but I’m willing to give it a gander if the public responds positively. It might need all the help it can get with competition in the genre coming from Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Marvel. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to tackle Telltale these days either.

Etrian Odyssey II Untold: The Fafnir Knight – Aug. 4 – Nintendo 3DS

Atlus’ excessively green RPG series returns this summer with a proper first-person entry. Etrian Odyssey II Untold is a remake of the second game on the original Nintendo DS, which is believed by fans to be the most balanced in terms of content and challenge. The right amount of job classes, the right amount of dungeons, the right amount of everything.

Untold II’s added story mode is a bonus that most will undoubtedly look forward too, but I’m going to simply enjoy me some good old fashioned dungeon crawling. One order of vanilla “Classic Mode,” please! Fire up the cartridge, roll me five solid characters, squeak out a few slots on their skill tress, and just set me loose into the jungle. That’s all I really require from an Etrian Odyssey game. No unnecessary story attached.

Maybe I’ll check out the added plot at a later date, but I see no reason to shake up the formula my first time through. This series has been on fire ever since the first one launched back in 2007, quickly climbing the ranks as one of my favorites. I love how its shallow stories don’t get in the way of my exploring, grinding, and character building, and no matter how hard I try, every copycat franchise out there just can’t seem to deliver the same magic. The brains behind this franchise know what’s up.

I always look forward to the next Etrian Odyssey game, and this year is no different. Etrian Odyssey games always come in pairs. This one teamed up with Etrian Mystery Dungeon released back in March, so my guess is we’ll be seeing Etrian Odyssey Untold III wrap up the remakes at about the same time Atlus get around to finally developing Etrian Odyssey V.

Maybe that will be bound for Nintendo’s handheld successor?

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Rare Replay – Aug. 4 – Xbox One

If I were any more over HD remasters, I’d be on top of Mt. Olympus. Sorry Kratos, but this summer, I would rather spend my bucks on something I haven’t paid for in the last decade. Rare Replay is actually the first of two retro gaming compilations on this list, the hopeful signs of a trend I would just be thrilled to see take off again. You just can’t get enough old games!

Rare Replay compiles 30 of Rare’s favorite and most personal games from over the course of its 30 years of existence, and it will be selling them for $30. A triple coincidence? I think not. We all know Rare from the Nintendo 64 days, meaning of course we’ll get to play Banjo Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, not to forget Blast Corps or Jet Force Gemini, but how just far back do your own personal experiences with Rare go?

Were you alive and British enough to remember it as Ultimate Play The Game? This compilation has revolutionary ZX Spectrum hits like Jetpac and Sabre Wulf waiting for you. Did you learn to struggle through British isometric game design when Rare brought R.C. Pro-AM, Cobra Triangle, and Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll to the NES? I sure did, and those are scarred memories I think need addressing, not more repression.

And of course, we have Battletoads. Talk about a need to fight back some shattered dreams.

Unlike the later retro compilation, Rare Replay isn’t perfect. The museum content reportedly comes up a little short, and circumstances beyond Rare’s control hold a few games back. Donkey Kong Country and Goldeneye are the two most glaring omissions due to obvious licensing issues with Nintendo and whomever controls James Bond these days. It goes without saying that I would have preferred them, but did we really need to be reminded of Grabbed by the Ghoulies? Was there nothing else, Rare?

Wizards and Warriors perhaps? That game was all kinds of sweet and quite a milestone as the first Western published game on the NES. Still, no complaints. 30 games for $30 is a good deal no matter how you spin it.

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Armikrog – Aug. 18 – PC

Kickstarted by funders like you and me, Armikrog marks the return of claymation to video games. Doug TenNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim and cult-classic adventure The Neverhood, has teamed up with Pencil Test Studios to make this spiritual successor a reality.

Armikrog features unique art design and graphical choices that are unlike anything else available on the video game scene these days. Join Tommynaut, voiced by MST3K actor Michael J. Nelson, and his talking, colorblind dog companion “thing” Beak-beak, voiced by Rob Paulson, as they roam across an alien planet, solving puzzles and desperately looking for any means of escape, not to mention survival.

Armikrog will launch for the PC on Aug. 18, and the Wii U and PlayStation 4 versions will follow shortly after.

Mega Man Legacy Collection – TBA – PS4, Xbox One, PC

Our second retro compilation is the one much more near and dear to my heart. The year of apology towards Mega Man fans continues with this wonderful collection of pure gaming goodness from Capcom. Some have complained that this collection is incomplete and deserves to go beyond the original six NES games, but seriously. Shut up. With the Mega Man Legacy Collection, you are getting six timeless classics ported with maximum care and attention to detail for the mere price of $14.99. You just can’t argue with that!

Well, five classics and Mega Man 5. Ugh…

On top of these bits of 8-bit joy, you are getting new challenge modes, perfect 1080p scaling, leader boards, encyclopedias, additional modern day amenities, and a treasure trove of scans, art, and other images that will be new to even the most hard-core of fans. The Mega Man NES games are the very definition of classic gaming and an important piece of the foundation this modern day mammoth we call the “video game industry” is built upon.

The Criterion Collection treatment Capcom and Digital Eclipse are giving these games should hopefully set a standard for future retro compilations. No, it doesn’t have the Super Nintendo’s Mega Man 7 or the PlayStation’s/Saturn’s Mega Man 8, but you can’t have everything. The developers have been adamant about wanting to focus only on the NES games since day 1, and who knows? If you help make this a success, maybe better things will come!

Capcom hasn’t set a release date yet, but it has stated that the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC versions will be out this summer. A Nintendo 3DS version will follow this fall or winter. Chances are I’ll drop money on at least three of these releases. The PlayStation 4 version because it’s convenient, the PC version because it will be immortal and cheap through a Steam sale eventually, and the Nintendo 3DS version because it’s portable and I just plain love the Nintendo 3DS.

What can I say? I just can’t help myself when it comes to Mega Man. He’s the only amiibo I own for a reason.

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And what would the summer be without straight up remasters from a few years ago? Three big names line up July and August

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