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Bottled water, comfy shoes and deodorant: The big E3 survival guide

We’ve written this as an E3 survival guide, but it basically applies to any big geek event, like GDC, PAX, or Gamescom.

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We’ve written this as an E3 survival guide, but it basically applies to any big geek event, like GDC, PAX, or Gamescom.

When conferences and events come around, you’ll usually find advice threads, particularly on Twitter. In them, “experienced hands” will tell people what they must and mustn’t do to “get the most” out of an event.

When it comes to “getting the most” out of an event – whether you’re press, professional, or punter – there are no hard and fast rules. Some people will want to network like crazy. Others will want to lurk in the background and take it all in. Some people will be hummingbirds, and want to taste as many different games as possible. Others will be happy waiting in line for several hours for the one game they care about.

When these advice threads start, our advice is generally to ignore them. You do you. Only you know what’s going to be the most enjoyable way for you to spend three days, and you don’t need to do anything you feel uncomfortable with because someone else said so.

All that being said… there really are some things you need to know to survive an intense event like E3. Some of them are for your health and wellbeing. Others are for the wellbeing of those around you. Others are just common sense.

Read this list. Take it in. And then tackle the content of the event itself however the hell you like, by all means, but make you sure you do these basic, decent things. For your own sake, and everyone else’s.

The big E3 survival guide

Deodorant

People joke about it, but the stink from a convention centre can be overwhelming. Especially in a warm, humid location like Los Angeles. In the middle of June.

On the first morning of E3, when it’s just press and professionals, it smells like fresh paint and new carpets. By the middle of the week, it smells like any other busy, crowded place. By the end of the week, it smells like a locker room. And it’s not the games that smell; it’s the people around them.

That’s not to say it’s just the “gamers” who smell bad. Press and developers have also been known to stink the place up! But it’s only in the free-for-all public sessions, where the crowd density is higher, that the smell really kicks into high gear.

If you come to E3 without showering, putting on deodorant, and wearing clean clothes, you are an awful human being and you’re making the whole experience worse for everyone.

Hand sanitizer

Like showering, deodorant, and clean clothes, hand sanitiser is an essential component of what can potentially be a disgusting environment.

Consider that game you’re really been wanting to play, that you’ve queued for several hours for. Maybe there’s been 3-400 people in that queue in front of you, who have all touched that controller before you got there. Maybe it’s the third day, and that number can be extrapolated upwards.

Now consider that one of those people has been eating something greasy and disgusting and didn’t have a napkin. Maybe they have a cold (or worse) and have been sneezing into their hands. Or they went to the bathroom and touched their junk and wiped their arse and didn’t wash their hands.

Now consider that all of the people in front of you in the queue might be disgusting incubators of disease and pestilence. Carry hand sanitizer with you, use it liberally, and share it with others. But don’t use it instead of washing your hands! It’s both, not one or the other.

Oh, and fist bumps are better than handshakes for not spreading germs. (Assume that, under no circumstances, hugs or kisses are appropriate – unless you know the person very well and that’s how you always greet one another.)

Bottled water

Remember that Los Angeles heat we mentioned earlier? You’re going to spend a lot of time on your feet, walk miles upon miles, and become very dehydrated.

Water fountains are suspect – see the reasons under hand sanitiser – but the Los Angeles Convention Center is replete with water refill stations. But they don’t supply cups or bottles.

bottled water

If you can, bring a reusable water bottle from home. If you’ve got one with a sports or screw-on cap, that’s even better, as it means you can put it away in your bag without leaks. Having to keep a bottle in your hand means you’re more likely to put it down and lose it. If you lose it, you’ll need to find or buy a new one. But if you don’t have a reusable bottle, then buy one plastic bottle of water at the start and hold onto it for the entire event.

Remember to drink plenty and keep your bottle replenished. You’ll feel so much better for staying hydrated. (And the planet will be better for your using one bottle for the week.)

Make sure you grab some lunch and snacks, too. Being dehydrated will hit you faster, but not eating is also not healthy. Also, keep in mind that food and drink inside the LACC can be expensive, and options are limited!

Comfortable shoes

You’re going to walk literally miles over the course of an event like E3. Even if you’re not actively walking somewhere, it’s very rare you’ll be sitting down for long. Standing on the Los Angeles Metro, waiting for security checks, queueing for food – and that’s before you wait in line for hours to play games.

Very few areas of E3 are geared around sitting down. You might find a stool to perch on while you’re playing a game, or get sat down in a chair to test a VR experience. You might even head over to one of those stalls selling gaming chairs to sneak a furtive seated break while pretending you might order some of their wares.

But other than those rare occasions? You’ll be on your feet. A lot.

Do not wear shoes that are not comfortable. It’s not worth the pain. Do not wear new shoes that you’ve not broken in. It’s not worth the pain. Make sure you wear comfortable socks, and for the sake of keeping your feet healthy, a fresh, clean pair every day.

And even if you do take all those precautions, you still might get blisters. So carrying around some sticking plasters in your bag isn’t a bad shout, either.

More deodorant

Yes, we mentioned this one already, but personal hygiene is really important.

Did you know that – in addition to being showered and wearing clean clothes and putting on deodorant before you leave in the morning – they also sell tiny deodorants, small enough to put in your bag, so you can keep yourself topped up all day?

If you get one that’s smaller than 100ml, you can take it on flights in carry-on luggage, too. Yes, people do occasionally give you a bit of a funny look if they catch you sneaking a little roll-on in the bathroom, but do you know what? Screw those guys. You’re making sure you’re not gross, it’s for everyone’s benefit, and if anybody’s giving you weird looks for reapplying deodorant? Don’t stand near them. They probably smell disgusting.

Take breaks

The ESA, E3’s organiser, has since deleted this tweet, but we screen-grabbed it because it’s worth highlighting:

Do not stay awake for 72 hours. It is not healthy. It will do bad things to you, and encouraging people to do it is incredibly irresponsible. (That’s why the original tweet has since been deleted.)

But more than that, even a sensible E3 schedule is still very draining, especially now the running hours have been extended. It’s tempting to try and see everything, but you need to pace yourself and be prepared to miss some stuff, if you need to. If you’re on the go between 9 am and 7 pm every day – including maybe an hour or more’s travelling on either side – that’s nearly a full working week in three days. On your feet. In sweltering heat. In an incredibly over-stimulating environment.

Make sure you take some time to chill out. You’ll feel better for it.

Drink in moderation

This one’s more for the professionals, the developers and press who see an event like E3 as their big outing, but it applies to everyone.

There are a lot of parties. At these parties, there tend to be some socially awkward people who don’t get out much. An afterparty at E3 or GDC or Develop might be their one chance to socialise with their peers, who tend to be globally distributed, and people get a bit over-excited. Maybe they feel like they need the drink as a social lubricant. Maybe they just don’t know their limits.

But when people drink too much, particularly when they’re not used to it, things tend to go wrong.

Fallout beer

Best case scenario? You make a fool of yourself in some fairly inoffensive way, you get sick, and you have an awful hangover the following morning.

But that’s the best case scenario. You might get alcohol poisoning. You might be so drunk you physically injure yourself. You might say or do something really inappropriate that hurts you, your career, or worse, someone else.

Which leads us nicely onto our next point:

Don’t be creepy

This one is super important, so pay attention.

Don’t stare at people. Don’t invade someone else’s personal space. Don’t demand someone’s attention or to strike up a conversation. Don’t initiate physical contact with them. Don’t linger too long if there is mutual physical contact. (Like a handshake – remember, fist bumps are better, both for fewer germs, and to give you an easier escape.) Don’t compliment or comment on someone’s appearance. Don’t tell them if you think they’re attractive. Don’t ask for someone for their personal or contact information. Don’t take pictures of other people without asking for permission.

Yes, that includes developers, publishers, PR people, cosplayers, and members of the press. They, we, are all working. We’re there to do a job. Yes, that’s to provide you with information and/or entertainment, but that doesn’t entitle you to anything.

If you’re on the receiving end and anybody is giving you a hard time, don’t suffer in silence. Find your friends and remove yourself from the situation, if you can. Speak up, if it’s safe for you to do so. Find a member of staff, either from the ESA or the Los Angeles Convention Center itself, and report the person or persons who are bothering you.

And if you see two older guys, with greying hair and “Thumbsticks” written on their press passes? Come and talk to us! We’ll greet you like an old friend, chase away anybody who’s bothering you, and hang out with you until you feel safe again.

But if everybody just wasn’t creepy or unpleasant to start with? We’d all have a better time of it.

Seriously, deodorant

Clean body. Clean clothes. And deodorant: applied liberally, and reapplied as required.

It shouldn’t need saying, but here we are. The fact we’ve said it three times might give you some clue as to how big of a problem it is.

The E3 survival guide – in summary:

Don’t be disgusting; don’t be creepy; take breaks; drink plenty of water; don’t drink too much alcohol; wear clean clothes and comfy shoes; look after yourself, and look after each other. Oh, and please, wear deodorant.

But also, remember to have fun! Play some games, meet some cool people, learn about the industry, and make the most of your time there. There’s so much to see and do, with something for everyone, so you’re going to love it.

Just try and be considerate of others while you do it, OK?

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Tom is an itinerant freelance technology writer who found a home as an Editor with Thumbsticks. Powered by coffee, RPGs, and local co-op.

Features

Dan Marshall: It was ‘astonishingly easy’ to add accessibility options

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, says adding accessibility features to Lair of the Clockwork God was “all pretty straightforward, easy work.”

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Lair of the Clockwork God
Size Five Games

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, says adding accessibility features to Lair of the Clockwork God was “all pretty straightforward, easy work.”

The year is 2020. Technology has never been more advanced. And yet, we live in a bizarre, regressive world where anti-vaxxers are on the rise, the UK is leaving the EU of its own volition, and the President of the United States yells at an autistic teenage girl for daring to suggest that his generation perhaps doesn’t ruin the planet for future generations.

In the world of video games, one obvious symptom of this intellectual vacuum is the anti-accessibility crowd. From gatekeepers who want to preserve the rarity of their “achievements” to those who are simply incapable of human empathy, there are still people who don’t believe video games need accessibility features. In 2020.

They’re dead wrong, by the way. (And if you disagree with that, maybe don’t read our website? We’re big advocates of accessibility in games and we’re frankly better off without you, thanks.)

Dan Marshall, of Size Five Games, spent a few hours this weekend adding accessibility features to upcoming game Lair of the Clockwork God. A sequel to Time Gentlemen, Please! and Ben There, Dan That!, Clockwork God is a mash-up of indie platformer and the series’ classic point-and-click adventure mechanics. It’s obviously a text-heavy game.

We spoke to Marshall via email, to ask about the process of making Lair of the Clockwork God more accessible, and why it’s important.

“I have been useless at all this stuff,” Dan concedes, “but the reality is it’s always good to make sure the game can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. Getting a game out the door is hard, and I do think it’s understandable when this kind of stuff hasn’t been implemented, because that pre-launch to-do list is so incredibly long, and especially for smaller indies who have such astonishingly low resources.”

“So for me, this kind of thing has always sadly fallen off the back burner,” he continues. “This time around I’m in the fortunate position to have the cash and resources behind me to spend a little time thinking about and implementing a few minor changes, that make the game so much more enjoyable for so many people.”

“Oddly enough, Lair of the Clockwork God’s themes kind of deal with all this,” Marshall explains. “By the nature of the beast, that it’s written by and starring two straight white guys… I mean, there’s obviously nothing we can do about that, so we’ve tried to be mindful every step of the way making sure the game is as inclusive elsewhere as possible.”

“The script itself deals head-on with topics like the ‘wokeness’ of the indie scene, or getting older and feeling out of place with new trends and other peoples’ needs… y’know in the game Ben’s this kind of relic from the LucasArts era, and Dan’s desperately keen to be part of this new vibrant indie movement he’s heard so much about, so taking the steps to make the whole game as accessible as possible kind of goes hand-in-hand with all that.”

So how easy has the process been, to add accessibility options to Lair of the Clockwork God?

“Astonishingly easy, to be honest. I spent about 4-5 hours total adding 9 core changes (including some that people had recommended over Twitter), and honestly,” Marshall says, “it was all pretty straightforward, easy work, which is exactly what I need right now. In the scheme of things, that’s probably less time than I spent choosing the colour of the options menu, so it’s worth doing.”

Lair of the Clockwork God accessibility options

“And yeah, some of it was just unbelievably quick. Two lines of code and a new toggle added to the menu and it’s in. So why not do it? There’s obviously some bigger stuff that’s likely to let’s say, break everything, and I’ll do my best to get them in before launch. Lesson learned for the next project is: it’s just sensible to keep this stuff in mind the whole way through!”

For little more than an afternoon’s work, Lair of the Clockwork God is now a far more accessible experience.

Clockwork God now includes options for a dyslexic-friendly font, and adjusting the size, colour, speed, and labelling of text to make it easier for everyone to follow. This might not seem like a big deal if you don’t need it, but it will literally be the difference between someone being able to play the game or bouncing off it.

The year is 2020. Fictional Ben may be insistent that Lair of the Clockwork God’s mechanics stay rooted in 1991, but just like his in-game counterpart, real-life Dan is making sure it’s a modern video game, too.


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The 20 most anticipated video games of 2020

We put together one of those lists again. This one’s the 20 video games we’re most looking forward to in 2020.

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20 most anticipated games 2020
Square Enix / Naughty Dog / Xbox / CD Projekt Red / Thumbsticks

We put together one of those lists again. This one’s the 20 video games we’re most looking forward to in 2020.

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2020. Well, in video games, at least. The rest of the world is a nightmarish hellscape of fire and fascists, but in the final run-in to the next generation of video game consoles, there are a lot of brilliant games just waiting to release.

Maybe it’s because we’re coming to the end of the current generation. Lots of developers who have targeted the current generation have a very limited window to get their games out – games that have been in development for a very long time, like Cyberpunk 2077 and the Final Fantasy VII Remake – before there’s a risk of them being eclipsed by titles on the more powerful PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Whatever the reason, 2020 is shaping up to be a vintage year for video games. Here are the 20 games we’re most looking forward to – 20 games, 2020, see what we did there? – laid out in alphabetical order. Just so the screeching loons can’t bicker and argue about how we’ve “ranked” them. (It’s not our first day. We know how the internet works.)

Update: This post has been amended to include updated release dates for games that have been delayed since it was first published.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Yes, the most recent trailer for Animal Crossing: New Horizons felt like a Tom Nook timeshare presentation, but anybody who says they’re not excited for this slice of loveliness is lying to you. We’re wondering if KK Slider will swap his guitar for a ukulele, for the full island vibe? We’ll find out March 20, 2020.

Carrion

Carrion, the “reverse horror game” from Phobia Game Studio and Devolver Digital, is for anybody who ever wondered what The Thing would be like if the protagonist were the thing, and not Kurt Russell’s MacReady. Messy is the answer to that query. Very, very messy.

Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 Keanu 500px

This is a game that’s been in the works for so long, there always felt like a chance it might slip to the next generation of consoles. There’s little doubt that Cyberpunk 2077 will look amazing on the PS5 and Xbox Series X, but we’ll all get to experience the breathtaking Mr Reeves on April 16, 2020.

Update: Cyberpunk 2077 has been delayed to September 17, 2020.

Dreams

Dreams has been out in a limited form of early access for a little while now, and what people are making in it seems remarkable for a hobbyist, console tool. But Dreams launches proper on February 14, 2020 – happy Valentine’s Day! – which is when the fun will really begin.

Dying Light 2

Dying Light 2, which is expected to launch in Q2 2020, has been rumbling around the events circuit for a few years now. Every year, we see more and more impressive demos of the worldbuilding and the game’s Chris Avellone-powered branching narrative chops, but we’re yet to actually get our hands on it.

Update: Delayed until… we don’t actually know. Just delayed.

Fall Guys

Expected to launch sometime in 2020, Fall Guys was one of the unexpected stars of E3 2019. Developed by Mediatonic and published by Devolver Digital, it’s a cross between the 100-person battle royale spectacle, silly physics games (like Gang Beasts and Human Fall Flat) and physical comedy game show Takeshi’s Castle. What’s not to love?

Final Fantasy VII Remake

Final Fantasy VII Remake 500px

The Final Fantasy VII Remake has been in development for an age, and when the game does release on March 3, 2020? We’re still only going to get to play about a third (at most) of the original game’s story. (Our bet is that the first “episode” will run until the assault on Shinra headquarters, and the subsequent escape from Midgar.) But it looks so flipping good, and our hands-on preview was one of the highlights of E3 2019.

Update: Delayed until April 10, 2020.

Ghost of Tsushima

Sony showed off four games at its last foray to E3 in 2018, in a confusing, venue-changing press conference. Two of those games, Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Death Stranding, have since released, while The Last of Us Part II is slated for May 29, 2020. That leaves Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima as the last remnant of PlayStation at E3. We still know precious little about the stealth game, but it’s still expected to launch in 2020 before the PlayStation 5 hits in time for Christmas.

Half-Life: Alyx

One of the biggest shocks of 2019 was that Valve – the game developer who stopped making games to develop a big storefront, instead – is developing a third game in the Half-Life series, Half-Life: Alyx. It’s not strictly Half-Life 3, nor is it entirely a Valve creation, as recently-acquired Firewatch developer Campo Santo has shelved In the Valley of the Gods to work on Alyx. And it’s also a VR-exclusive, which has ruffled some feathers, but Valve is hoping that Half-Life: Alyx will be the killer app that has hitherto been missing, and brings a payday for its investment in VR technology.

Halo: Infinite

Halo Infinite 500px

It seems wild that Halo: Infinite is the only next-generation title on this list of the most anticipated games of 2020, but that’s simply a result of how few launch titles have been confirmed for the PlayStation 5 or the Xbox Series X. If we’re being completely honest, we’re not that excited for a new Halo, but it felt wrong not to include something from the next-gen.

Lair of the Clockwork God

Lair of the Clockwork God, from Size Five Games, is the third game in the Dan and Ben Adventure series, following on from the brilliant Time Gentlemen, Please and Ben There, Dan That. Ben is sticking with series’ staple point-and-click gameplay, while Dan has decided the “real money” is in indie platformers. Lair of the Clockwork God mashes the two together in a brilliant character-swapping adventure.

Maneater

Maneater is a goofy, B-movie of a video game, where you play as a man-eating shark. It features open-world (ish) gameplay and RPG mechanics as you level up to become the biggest predator in the water. It won’t be safe to go back in the water on May 22, 2020.

Microsoft Flight Simulator

Microsoft Flight Simulator was always one of the most deeply boring aspects of PC gaming. Why would you want to execute boring, realistic manoeuvres in the real world when you could be whizzing around space in an X-Wing, for instance? But the modern version, that combines cloud computing with high-resolution satellite imagery, really looks like something else.

The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II 500px

The Last of Us Part II – along with Cyberpunk 2077 and the Final Fantasy VII Remake – is one of the big-ticket items of 2020. We don’t need to sell this one to you. At all. Not even a little bit. We’re equal parts excited and terrified to pick up Ellie’s adventure on May 29, 2020.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the follow-up to 2015’s indie darling, Ori and the Blind Forest, from developer Moon Studios and published by Xbox Game Studios. Simple, stylish, beautiful; expect more of the same on February 11, 2020.

Resident Evil 3 Remake

If you’d asked us a couple of years ago if we’d be excited for a remake of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, we’d probably have shrugged. Said something noncommittal. Tried not to hurt Capcom’s feelings with our lack of interest. But after the stellar Resident Evil 2 Remake in early 2019, we’re expecting the Resident Evil 3 Remake to be similarly superb when it releases on April 3, 2020.

Spiritfarer

Spiritfarer 500px

Spiritfarer, Thunderlotus’ beautiful, poignant game about helping others into the afterlife was one of the stars of E3 2019. We played it and it is every bit as lovely as it looks. Rumours that we spent our entire time with the demo just hugging the cat are completely unfounded.

Streets of Rage 4

It’s been almost 26 years since the last Streets of Rage game, Streets of Rage 3, released for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. At one point, we would’ve been happy with it being left in the past. But seeing the stellar work done by Dotemu and Lizard Cube on the remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, and the amazing glimpses of the art and style of Streets of Rage 4, this is a blast from the past we can’t wait to play.

Wasteland 3

Speaking of blasts from the past, Wasteland 3 is scheduled for release on May 11, 2020. It’s part of a wider revival of classic C-RPG series, including Torment, Pillars of Eternity and Baldur’s Gate, but Wasteland’s place in history – as the grandaddy of Fallout, among other things – can’t be overlooked.

Watch Dogs Legion

Watch Dogs Legion 500px

Watch Dogs has been on a journey, hasn’t it? From the po-faced Aiden Pierce to the neon giddiness of Marcus Holloway’s San Francisco, it’s facing another yo-yo in tone for Watch Dogs Legion, where Brexit has happened and the outcome for the UK is about as awful as we all expect. The real highlight, though? The ability to recruit any NPC in the game, with the right motivation. Yes, even Helen, the Antifa nana who stole our hearts at E3 2019.

Honourable Mentions

Here are a bunch of other games we’re also looking forward to in 2020, but we had to be ruthless and keep it down to 20. (Otherwise, we could just list games for days.)

  • 12 Minutes
  • Bleeding Edge
  • Boyfriend Dungeon
  • The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope
  • Doom Eternal
  • Empire of Sin
  • Godfall
  • Gods and Monsters
  • Hollow Knight – Silksong
  • Kerbal Space Program 2
  • Little Nightmares 2
  • Marvel’s Avengers
  • Murder by Numbers
  • Nioh 2
  • Oddworld: Soulstorm
  • One-Punch Man: A Hero Nobody Knows
  • Psychonauts 2
  • Sports Story
  • Super Meat Boy Forever
  • Twin Mirror
  • Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines 2
  • Way to the Woods
  • Windjammers 2
  • Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Did we miss anything you’re looking forward to? Then why not let us know – politely and calmly – on Twitter.

Support Thumbsticks

We hate to ask, but global advertising revenues are the lowest they've ever been. It's killing the online publishing world. If you like what we do and want to support free, quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.


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Features

Is Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot worth playing?

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a new open-world RPG from CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco Entertainment, is out now, but is it worth playing?

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Dragon Ball Z Kakarot
Bandai Namco

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, a new open-world RPG from CyberConnect2 and Bandai Namco Entertainment, is out now, but is it worth playing? We take a look at the game’s critical reception.

Despite a lack of pre-release reviews, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot topped the UK video games chart in its debut week. It’s an impressive performance for an ambitious game that blends RPG mechanics, brawling, and open-world exploration.

Reviews for the game are still hard to come by, but publications covering the game have found it to be an enjoyable enough adventure with engaging combat. The consensus, however, is that the open-world lacks substance. The game, ultimately, appears to be one for committed fans of long-running anime franchise.. Here is our pick of the game’s reviews.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot review round-up

PC Gamer

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is by no means perfect, but it’s a solid RPG that very efficiently covers the entire Dragon Ball Z saga. The game sometimes crumbles under the weight of its own systems, but Kakarot is still a fun title for anyone looking to revisit (or even experience for the first time) the Dragon Ball Z saga.”

76/100 – Review by Liz Henges

Polygon

“As a video game, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is competent. Flying around the world takes some getting used to. But with practice, you can soar just like Goku and friends in the anime, even if it’s just to see how the massive Dragon Ball Z world fits together and to collect upgrade orbs. The combat is also more complex than it originally seems. There’s only one button for punching, but the combination of dodges, punches, Ki blasts, and special moves manages to keep fights fresh and, occasionally, challenging. The real meat of the game is still the combat, and the combat is still competitive with some of the better brawlers out there.”

Not scored – Impressions by Ryan Gilliam

Collider

“I don’t know how folks who aren’t familiar with DBZ will respond to this game, but I can’t imagine it has a lot of appeal for them above and beyond what other action-focused RPGs offer. Kakarot is a nostalgia play, through and though, and it excels at that. It’s absolutely gorgeous, arguably more dynamic and powerful in its epic moments than even *gasp* the anime itself. Sure, the pacing is quite a bit faster than the anime, so there’s not as much time in the build-up to those powerful and sometimes heart-breaking turns, but man do they pack a punch.”

Grade B – Review by Dave Trumbore

Destructoid

“It’s not the anime game to end all anime games. It’s not going to convert any non-believers or onboard them into this decades-old classic universe. Even as someone who still re-watches DBZ, it can be grating at times ⁠— but the juice is mostly worth the squeeze.”

Not scored – Review by Chris Carter

GamesRadar

“… numbers and tutorials aside, the world of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is actually quite good fun to explore. There are loads of places to discover from caves to ravines. It’s just a shame that there’s not much reason to do so. One of the biggest issues that Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot faces is meaning, at least when it comes to everything outside of the main story. There’s never enough reason to take part in the multitude of things you can do, not unless you’re simply trying to kill time, which renders many of the large open areas effectively worthless.

3/5 – Review by James Coles

Publication

“As a Dragon Ball love letter, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot is nearly perfect, featuring an amazing world and attention to detail. But as an RPG and action-adventure game, it’s only good. Its combat can be fun and some of the more in-depth elements are a good change of pace, but a lot of it feels pointless or time-consuming.”

7/10 – Review by George Foster

Other publications

  • PlayStation LifeStyle – 80/10
  • Spazio Games – 7.5
  • The Sixth Axis – 7
  • Famitsu – 34/40

Title: Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot
Developer: Cyberconnect2
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release date: January 17, 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows


Visit our new releases section for more on this week’s new video games.

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Interview: Making AO Tennis 2 a Grand Slam winner

We speak to Big Ant Studios about the development of AO Tennis 2 and the pressure to improve on last year’s instalment.

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AO Tennis 2 header
Big Ant Studios

AO Tennis 2 is the second officially licensed Australian Open video game from Big Ant Studios. We talk to CEO Ross Symons about its development and the pressure to improve on last year’s instalment.

AO Tennis 2 – which is developed in partnership with Tennis Australia – is billed as a significant upgrade on its predecessor and includes a plethora of new features and gameplay improvements.

The headline addition is a revamped and narrative-focused career mode, similar in structure to Codemasters’ impressive F1 campaigns and FIFA’s The Journey. The studio’s full-featured content editor also returns, giving players the tools to create everything from venues and players to car parks and uniforms. It also helps players fill the gaps that the game’s licence doesn’t cover to create a comprehensive simulation of the sport.

We spoke to Big Ant Studios CEO Ross Symons on the eve of the 2020 Australian Open to find out more about this year’s game.

Thumbsticks: AO Tennis 2 includes a new, narrative-driven career mode. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Ross Symons: One of the things that people love about tennis is the personalities that are involved; people have their favourite players, and watch their careers, with the highs and lows that it entails. When looking at AO Tennis 2, we wanted to find a way of reflecting that – tennis is as much about what happens off the court than on, so giving players a chance to engage with that side of the sport was important.

What is the most challenging aspect of adding narrative elements to the game?

We had to build a lot for the narrative career mode – we needed to build the manager’s rooms and the press conferences for the cut scenes, for example. We also needed to find a way of balancing what occurred through those scenes, and making sure they had some impact on the development of the player’s career.

To do that we needed to introduce new systems (such as the reputation system) and new mechanics to go with that. It was a lot of work. We think that the results have been more than worthwhile, though, and a lot of fans have come up to us to say they appreciate what we’ve done there.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

The first AO Tennis game had a slightly rocky launch, but it was much improved by a series of patches and updates. Did you take anything from that experience and apply it to the development of AO Tennis 2?

We always take fan feedback on board at Big Ant Studios. It’s a core principle that drives our team and we use that feedback to help inform our development. AO Tennis’ improvements came thanks to the excellent feedback and support of a truly passionate community of fans, and AO Tennis 2 is the next stage in that ongoing evolution.

Speaking of that community, Big Ant’s content editor has a devoted user base. How important is the editor to AO Tennis 2, and do you see it as a key component of the studio’s future games?

Our content creation suite has been a point of pride in our games for a very long time now, and we continue to build on it as we can. Whether it’s Tennis, Cricket, Rugby League, or another property that we’ve worked on, we’ve always wanted to provide that sandbox experience that allows players to take the game, and make it their own in every way.

Being able to share content online also means that we’re able to give our players an endless well of new experiences to enjoy. You’re right that we’ve got an enormously devoted community – AO Tennis 2 has over 20,000 players available to download already! It adds great value to the game for everyone.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

AO Tennis 2 stars some of the sport’s biggest players, including Rafael Nadal, Ash Barty, and Angélique Kerber. How do you approach bringing such distinctive athletes into the game and representing them accurately in-game?

With a lot of research. We make sure we take the highest quality photogrammetry of each player that we can – and we personally take control of the photography to ensure that it’s of a universally high standard. Then we sit down and watch hours of videos to understand how each player moves and behaves on the court.

We’re lucky that we’ve got a lot of passionate tennis fans at Big Ant, who have a great eye for the subtleties of the sport, and a great respect for how individual the game really is.

As a Melbourne-based studio, do you feel a sense of responsibility in developing the official game of the Australian Grand Slam? 

It’s not just that we’re Melbourne-based – we’re just a couple of minutes walk from the tennis precinct itself! Yes, we do feel a great deal of responsibility for making sure that our game reflects the energy and excitement of the biggest tennis event in the southern hemisphere.

Luckily we’ve been able to work very closely with Tennis Australia themselves, who are very much fans of video games and want to give tennis fans the complete experience – watch the games at the venue, and then come home and recreate your favourite moments on your gaming console.

Are they any aspects of the Australian Open that give the tournament a specific flavour that you try to capture?

Melbourne Park is such an iconic venue. It’s not just a court where people play tennis. It’s a space that, after many years now, has a heritage and history that deserves respect. We’ve gone to great lengths (and worked closely with Tennis Australia) to make sure that we’ve got the small details of this venue down right for the game.

Generally speaking, the Australian Open is well-regarded as “the happy slam,” so we also wanted to make sure that AO Tennis 2 reflects that positive celebration of the sport that the crowds that come to the event have come to love.

AO Tennis 2 screenshot

Big Ant Studios produce games across a range of platforms, from iOS and Android to Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. How do you work to scale your games across platforms of such varying capabilities?

We develop our own engines and technology at Big Ant, and having that extra level of control over the engine allows us to be more flexible and creative with it. As a result, we’re able to work rapidly to bring our games to new platforms.

AO Tennis 2 feels like a significant step up from the first game. Do you plan to continue your partnership with the Australian Open, and what else can we look forward to from Big Ant in 2020?

While we can’t discuss future development plans in any detail, we can say that we remain committed to our existing properties, and we’re always on the lookout for new opportunities. It’s going to be an exciting couple of years for sports fans, so stay tuned!

AO Tennis 2 is available worldwide on PC. The Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One versions are out now in Europe and Australia, and will come to North America on February 11, 2020.

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Is Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore worth playing?

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the latest Wii U game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch. Is the game worth a curtain call?

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Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore review
Atlus

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore is the latest Wii U game to be ported to the Nintendo Switch. Is the game worth a curtain call?

Slightly overlooked on its original 2015 release, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore takes to the stage once again as the latest Wii U game to make a Nintendo Switch comeback. It’s a heady blend of the Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem franchises that taps into Japanese idol culture to create a distinctive RPG based around dungeons and dancing.

The game is broadly untouched on Switch, but it does include all post-release DLC, a new zone and some new costumes. Some of the features that used the Wii U Gamepad have also been adapted.

The critical response is broadly positive, with many reviewers having the chance to experience the game for the first time. Here is our pick of the best Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore reviews.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore review round-up

The Verge

“It’s becoming cliche to say that a game is perfect for the Switch, but RPGs in particular benefit from the platform. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a great example of this. So much of the experience is slowly trawling through maze-like dungeons, with plenty of strategic battles along the way. These moments are perfect for playing on the go, while the story sequences — particularly the gorgeous cut scenes — benefit from a bigger screen. Either way, the game looks great, and the copious text and menus are still legible on a small display.”

Not scored – Review by Andrew Webster

Eurogamer

“Generally, the Fire Emblem influence remains incredibly easy to ignore, certainly due to the Fire Emblem developer Intelligent Systems hardly having had a hand in either design or development. That makes Tokyo Mirage Sessions approachable for people who are unfamiliar with either series, but it seems odd to market something as a big crossover of two beloved properties and then skimp on the crossover elements.”

Not scored – Review by Malindy Hetfeld

Nintendo Life

“Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a constant barrage of colour, J-pop music and general unrepentant joy. Even during its less enthralling story moments or its more repetitive sections, it still does its very best to put a smile on your face with its constant positivity.”

8/10 – Review by Chris Scullion

USGamer

“When #FE failed to make an impression on RPG fans in 2015, it wasn’t the game’s fault. Now that it’s a well-advertised game on a popular platform, it should make more of a splash. It deserves to. I missed out on #FE Encore during its first tour, and I’m happy I was able to indulge in its strange hybrid charms the second time around.”

4/5 – Review by Nadia Oxford

Destructoid

“It’s an unapologetically silly game. But for as unconventional as it is, Tokyo Mirage Sessions frequently manages to pay clear homage to both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem in interesting ways. For instance, the rock-paper-scissors-styled combat of Fire Emblem is still in play here. While the battle system itself feels like a particularly flashy spin on the type of combat found within Shin Megami Tensei or Persona, having a level of familiarity with Fire Emblem’s mechanics is going to help a lot in pinpointing an enemy’s weakness.”

Not scored – Review by Dennis Carden

Twinfinite

“Your enjoyment of this game will depend on how much you love and embrace the carefree lightheartedness of the story. Tokyo Mirage Sessions is very much a bubbly and upbeat RPG that never dives too deeply into the sinister side of idol culture, and instead focuses on fun and colorful musical numbers, and the general sense of having a good time.”

4/5 – Review by Zhiqing Wan

Other publications

  • God is a Geek – 8.5/10
  • The Sixth Axis – 9/10
  • Metro – 7/10
  • DualShockers – 9/10

Title: Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: January 17, 2020
Platform: Nintendo Switch


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Support Thumbsticks

We hate to ask, but global advertising revenues are the lowest they've ever been. It's killing the online publishing world. If you like what we do and want to support free, quality games writing, then please consider supporting us via Patreon, buying us a coffee, or subscribing to our newsletter.


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