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It’s official: GDC 2020 is cancelled (but alternatives and relief efforts are underway)

The organisers of GDC 2020 say it’s “postponed” until “later in the summer” but the effects of the conference’s absence are far more immediate.

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GDC 2020 cancelled
Official GDC Flickr

The organisers of GDC 2020 say it’s “postponed” until “later in the summer” but the effects of the conference’s absence are far more immediate.

Ever since Sony/PlayStation and Facebook Gaming/Oculus pulled out of GDC citing health fears – just days after the deadline for attendees to cancel and refund passes – the writing has been on the wall of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It seemed inevitable that GDC 2020 would be cancelled, but its organisers weren’t flinching.

Over the past week or so, big-name attendees – including almost all of GDC’s Diamond Partner sponsors – pulled out. It’s been like watching a slow-motion domino rally. Microsoft/Xbox, Unity Technologies, Epic Games/Unreal Engine, Activision Blizzard, Gearbox; they all pulled out. Even smaller publishers like Annapurna withdrew, while individual attendees and press also revealed they would be missing the event.

The inevitable cancellation

Then, last night, the inevitable happened: GDC 2020 was cancelled. Or rather, it was “postponed” until “later in the summer”. Here’s the full statement from the GDC website:

After close consultation with our partners in the game development industry and community around the world, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone the Game Developers Conference this March.

Having spent the past year preparing for the show with our advisory boards, speakers, exhibitors, and event partners, we’re genuinely upset and disappointed not to be able to host you at this time.

We want to thank all our customers and partners for their support, open discussions and encouragement. As everyone has been reminding us, great things happen when the community comes together and connects at GDC. For this reason, we fully intend to host a GDC event later in the summer. We will be working with our partners to finalize the details and will share more information about our plans in the coming weeks.

The initial statement didn’t indicate what would be happening with regard to refunds. The mention of “postponement” made people worry that passes would be transferred to a later event, while travel plans might not be. Luckily, the official GDC Twitter account followed up with an additional set of FAQs on the original announcement:

Q: I am a current GDC 2020 paid conference or expo registrant – now the event is not taking place in March. can I receive a refund of my pass money?
A: If you are a currently registered passholder. you will be receiving an email about your registration status and any next steps regarding refunds, which conference and expo attendees will be receiving in full.

Q: What is the situation with hotels if I booked through the GDC hotel website/room blocks?
A: Individuals who have made hotel reservations inside the GDC room block will not have to pay penalties or fees associated with their reservations. More information will be available early next week on next steps.

Q: What is happening to the talks that would have been presented at Game Developers Conference 2020?
A: In order to allow our conference speakers to still participate in the event. we are intending to make many of the presentations that would have been given at GDC 2020 available for free online. After speakers (optionally) contribute their talks in video format. they will be distributed on the GDC YouTube channel and the free part of GDC Vault.

Q: What is happening to the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards – will they still take place?
A: We also intend to stream a set of these GDC 2020 talks and the Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards via Twitch during the week that the event would have taken place in San Francisco (March 16th to 20th). so that our community can continue to honor & celebrate its best games.

So in summary:

  • GDC 2020 is postponed for several months effectively cancelled
  • Attendees will receive refunds on their passes
  • Hotels that were booked through GDC’s allocation will waive cancellation fees
  • GDC will host video talks for free through its vault (that speakers can voluntarily contribute)
  • The IGF and GDC Choice Awards will be live-streamed instead

Now we know what’s going on, but what are the implications? And what’s next for developers displaced by the effective cancellation?

The alternatives

Big companies pulling out of GDC 2020 are grabbing the headlines, and the inevitable cancellation has come as no surprise, but it’s the indie developers and individuals planning to attend GDC who will really suffer.

GDC passes are extremely costly, while San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in the world to visit and live. As a result, most people hoping to attend can only do so if their employer pays for it, or if they can grab a free pass as a speaker. Even so, a trip to GDC can set you back thousands of pounds. For some, it’s literally a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

And that’s if you’re able to attend at all. Aside from the travel costs, hosting the conference in the USA severely limits who is able to attend. Obtaining visas to travel to the US has never been straightforward if you’re not from the “right” country, but since the disturbing regime change of 2017, it has become practically impossible.

In the wake of GDC 2020’s cancellation, it brings a decentralised “event” like #notGDC to the fore. It’s a loosely collected group of talks, networking and educational opportunities, delivered by a ragtag band of peers who are unwilling or otherwise unable to attend GDC proper. We spoke to the organisers of #notGDC in 2018 about the importance of an accessible, global event, and the way the last 24 hours have unfolded, it’s clear that #notGDC – with a revamped website launching soon – will be more relevant than ever in 2020.

“The thing that makes #notGDC really special,” Mike Cook, game developer, AI researcher, and one of the organisers of #notGDC told Thumbsticks in 2018, “is passion – people are writing because they’re excited. You can see the energy and motivation in their tweets. I always think that makes it extra special. It’s also a chance to meet new people and learn about what they care about. You see new faces, new names, new perspectives. We’re hoping people will also write in languages other than English too – we want to make people feel welcome and support everyone in sharing their ideas.”

To try and ensure that planned talks still get to go ahead, various events – including #notGDC – are offering homes for displaced GDC talks that will no longer be delivered. Gamedev.world, Rami Ismail’s decentralised virtual game developer’s conference, will host video talks with translation into a number of languages, ones often not served in the games industry. LudoNarraCon, another virtual conference exclusively for narrative-focused indie games, has re-opened its submissions for displaced GDC speakers.

And for those who can’t cancel their travel plans or recoup their costs, a number of initiatives are trying to find ways to bring game developers together in San Francisco, in the hole left by GDC 2020’s cancellation. Impromptu talks in the park are no surprise at GDC, so there’s no doubt that there will be plenty of ad-hoc social and networking opportunities on offer. Emily Rose, of Rebind.io, is trying to collate all of the available options to that alternative event ideas can be organised.

The relief effort

It’s not just the loss of the educational and social aspects of GDC that will be felt in the wake of its cancellation, however. Passes can be refunded, but some portion of travel costs will be unrecoverable. And if you’re a small indie developer or individual attending GDC, one year’s attendance could equate to several years travel, events, training and marketing budgets, all rolled into one. Often, people have to pay their own travel costs out of pocket.

To try and redress the balance and help the financially disadvantaged recoup costs, developers are doing what they do best: banding together.

Wings, the indie publishing fund, has teamed up with Landfall Games, Raw Fury, Modern Wolf & The Games, Online Harassment Hotline, and Gamedev.world to create a GDC Relief Fund that can “help alleviate the burden” for indie developers who are struggling with the cost of GDC’s cancellation.

“For an indie developer travelling to and attending GDC is a significant investment,” reads a statement on the Wings website, “between the GDC ticket, the flight, the accommodation, the visa sometimes. It’s also a lot of time invested in demos, pitches and travels. The investment is made to meet key partners: investors, publishers, business partners and journalists – in addition to learning and sharing with industry peers.”

The fund has already raised $35,000 and is open to all indie developers who are affected by GDC’s cancellation. Wings is also hoping for further sponsors to come on board with the GDC Relief Fund, and more information on the amount of funding available will be released on Monday, March 2 2020.

“We understand how much effort and investment, financial or otherwise, comes with attending GDC for independent developers,” says Wings co-founder, Cassia Curran. “Postponing the event so close to the date can have a disproportionate financial impact on small teams working on a game outside of a full-time job for example, or travelling from abroad. We hope the GDC Relief Fund will make it easier to deal with the recent developments.”

Gamedev.world is also working with digital storefront Itch.io to raise funds for developers that have been impacted financially by GDC 2020’s cancellation. Fundraising events will happen between March 28 and April 3, and at the forefront will be a game jam.

“To further support that fundraiser,” a statement reads, “gamedev.world is also organizing a bundle and game jam in collaboration with Itch.io. All submitted games – whether resulting from the jam or from developers that have made their existing games available – will be made available as a Pay-What-You-Want bundle, with all proceeds going towards the same goals of alleviating the financial burden of the developers most affected by these events.”

It’s not just big organisations who are offering to help, though. Glumberland, the developer behind Ooblets that recently received funding from the Epic Game Store for exclusivity, is offering to help indie developers in any way they can.

It’s a shame these things happen, and GDC will be sorely missed this year, but it’s always remarkable to see the way the game development community comes together in the face of adversity.

“As we continue to organize these efforts, we’re heartened by the solidarity and excitement amongst all layers of the industry to support those who are affected most by the heartbreaking cancellation of such a central event in our industry,” says Rami Ismail, executive director of Gamedev.world. “While there is no way to replace all the opportunities of the Game Developer’s Conference, we hope to help alleviate and minimize the loss of opportunity and the financial damage to those that had hoped to attend.”


If you’re a developer (indie or otherwise) who has been impacted by the closure of GDC 2020 and you would like to offer your take on the story (anonymously if required) please email [email protected] or DM @Thumb_Sticks or @TomThumbsticks on Twitter.

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Features

Is Half-Life: Alyx worth playing?

After a 13-year gap, Valve return to City 17 and the battle against the Combine in the new action-adventure VR game, Half-Life: Alyx. Here’s our review round-up.

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Half-Life 2: Alyx - Review roundup
Valve

After a 13-year gap, Valve return to City 17 and the battle against the Combine in the new action-adventure VR game, Half-Life: Alyx. Here’s our review round-up.

When Half-Life: Alyx was announced, there was an expectation that Valve would create a landmark in virtual reality gaming. That expectation ignores the progress achieved by many other developers in recent years, but the prospect of a return to City 17 was long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated.

In the event, Half-Life: Alyx isn’t quite as groundbreaking as its predecessors, but it does present a refined, polished AAA VR experience.

Half-Life: Alyx has received praise across the board. The game’s narrative, puzzle-centric gameplay, and stomach-churning Headcrab encounters are all highlights. After a long wait, it appears that the Valve people love is back. Here’s our pick of the game’s best reviews.

Half-Life: Alyx review round-up

Kotaku

“Half-Life is a different beast in VR. It is more stressful and intense than its non-VR predecessors. It can be downright exhausting—sometimes for extremely laudable reasons and other times for deeply frustrating ones. Alyx reveals what VR games can be, but perhaps also what they should try to avoid for fear of overwhelming or frustrating players.”

No score – Review by Nathan Grayson

USGamer

“If Half-Life: Alyx is a success, I think there’ll also be a strong argument for more Half-Life needing to stick with VR moving forward. This game will reach a limited audience at launch, surely. There are some limitations in scope that may rankle, such as a small set of (upgradable!) weapons. Some people may dislike it purely because they don’t like VR. But having played through Half-Life and Half-Life 2 numerous times, along with some of the best FPS campaigns released in their wake (Titanfall 2, 2016’s Doom, Halo: Reach), I think that Half-Life: Alyx stands as proof that Half-Life’s continued evolution can’t look like those of other shooter series.”

4.5/5 – Review by Matthew Olson

Eurogamer

“The controls are as clear-headed as the narrative. Playing room-scale or simply standing with a more confined space, you can choose one of four movement options, two of which work brilliantly as teleport jobs while the other two offer continuous movement guided by either the hand or the head and seemed to me pretty clumsy and nausea-inducing. Whatever movement you choose, one hand generally holds a weapon or gadget – switching them is as easy as pressing a button and waving your arm up and down – while the other is always free for interacting with the environment, opening doors, grabbing ammo clips from your backpack and ramming them home, priming grenades before lobbing them.”

RecommendedReview by Christian Donlan

Polygon

“(But) Half-Life is back, and Valve has finally released another AAA single-player game, something many of us doubted the company ever would, or even could, do again. The impossible has already been achieved, and the fact that it’s happening in VR only makes it more novel. Valve has succeeded at just about every goal it must have had for this project. The only thing left is whether hardcore fans will be willing to buy, and use, a virtual reality headset in order to learn what happens next in the world of Half-Life.”

RecommendedReview by Ben Kuchera

IGN

“Back when VR first became a real thing and we all started spitballing which game worlds we’d most like to be fully immersed in, Half-Life topped my list (tied with BioShock). It took a few years, but Half-Life: Alyx has more than realized that potential. With it, Valve has set a new bar for VR in interactivity, detail, and level design, showing what can happen when a world-class developer goes all-in on the new frontier of technology.”

10/10 – Review by Dan Stapleton

RockPaperShotgun

“For better and worse, HL: Alyx feels at times like a beat-by-beat recreation of Half-Life 2, with that Vault taking the place of the Citadel. More excitingly, and perhaps more surprisingly, many of the game’s best elements feel like they’re drawn from the original Half-Life. Half-Life 1 was much more of a horror game than its sequel, trapping you inside the B-movie nightmare of a research facility overrun by monsters from another dimension, and eventually sending you to that dimension, Xen.”

Not scored – Review by Graham Smith

The Verge

“While it’s about as long as the landmark Half-Life 2, with my game clocking in at 15 hours, it doesn’t feel as big or as narratively and mechanically fresh. It advances the series’s main plot, but it doesn’t come close to resolving it.

But if you keep these admittedly big reservations in mind, Alyx is a worthy addition to the Half-Life universe. It’s not just a good VR game; it’s a good video game, period.”

Not scored – Review by Adi Robertson

UploadVR

“If you’re prepared to pantomime, Alyx holds some of the most active and immersive combat you can experience in VR. In its tougher battles I’d find myself huddled on the floor, opening car doors to fire through the gaps in driver seats, instinctively flinching at the hammer of gunfire above and then poking out remaining shards in a shattered window to access a stray ammo clip with the flick of my Gravity Gloves before fumbling a hasty reload.”

5/5Review by James Feltham

Other publications

  • Gamespot – 9/10
  • GamesRadar – 4.5/5
  • Shacknews – 9/10
  • VGC – 5/5

Title: Half-Life: Alyx
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Release date: March 23, 2020
Platform: Windows


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Is Animal Crossing: New Horizons worth playing?

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the season’s big Nintendo Switch exclusive. Is it worth playing? Here’s our review roundup.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Nintendo

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the season’s big Nintendo Switch exclusive. Does it offer the respite from the real world many of us are seeking right now? Is it worth playing? Here’s our review roundup.

The timeliness of this week’s two big video game releases has provoked much conversation. Each game offers some small solace from the world outside but in uniquely different ways. At one end of the scale, Doom Eternal lets players vent their frustrations in a (mostly) satisfying parade of things to shoot. At the other, Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers an escape. A chance to isolate on a deserted island that can be grown into a community of (mostly) happy villagers.

Nintendo’s latest Switch exclusive evolves on its predecessors in small but significant ways. New crafting and terraforming mechanics allow the experience to be even more personal than usual. The extra power of the Switch makes this the most beautiful game in the series yet. And Nintendo’s commitment to supporting the game through future events means it should be a reassuringly lengthy escape from reality.

The critical response to Animal Crossing: New Horizons is nearly unanimous in praise. Here is our pick of the game’s best reviews.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons review round-up

Eurogamer

“Is this a gritty reboot for Animal Crossing? As unpalatable as that might sound, it kind of is – and it definitely works. There’s a more grounded logic at play here, to those first few weeks at least. Your first pieces of furniture will likely be made from naked wood chopped from the very trees around you (though rest assured you’ll soon enough get the option to lend them a lick of paint or apply a fresh design with a customisation kit – another new feature for New Horizons). Elsewhere there’s a stronger throughline thoughtfully imposed on a game whose aimlessness has always been one of its biggest strengths, and once you’ve flipped your first few houses and invited a couple of animals to stay the sense of ownership over your surroundings is unparalleled in the series.”

Essential – Review by Martin Robinson

Ars Technica

AC:NH‘s first great success is in threading the needle between that classic mantra of patience and giving addicted players more to do when they want (without charging them more money). Like in prior installments, the game starts with players moving into a sparsely populated village—in this case, a remote island—and being informally tasked with helping the village develop. That impetus is doubly emphasized by AC:NH‘s island gimmick because your new home is billed as a getaway to an uninhabited island.”

Not scored – Review by Sam Machkovech

Nintendo Life

“In all seriousness, the presentation in every sense here is all but flawless. It’s one of the prettiest games on the Switch, so when you couple that with atmospheric lighting, a crisp 1080p docked resolution running at 30fps, sound design that hangs like honey in our ears, and undoubtedly the finest museum in video game history, this is nothing short of an audio-visual dream. Handheld play unsurprisingly feels extremely natural given the series’ history, but docked is where you’ll get to see the shiniest of the pretty things in the quality most deserving.”

10/10 – Review by Alex Olney

IGN

“The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, and Super Mario each found new life on the Nintendo Switch, and following those games in kind is Animal Crossing: New Horizons: An expanded, polished, next-generation reboot of a classic Nintendo game. Perhaps most importantly, like Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is full of surprises. I cannot wait to see what’s to come: Seeing cool custom islands from the community, special events, season changes.”

9/10 – Review by Samuel Claiborn

GamesRadar

“This is an Animal Crossing game through and through, and although that comes with some time-based frustrations, that urge to just spend ‘five more minutes’ on your island deepens with every passing day. As your island evolves and starts to drip-feed fresh things to discover and see, you’ll have the urge to check up on your toe bean-boasting critters on a daily basis more than ever before. Animal Crossing: New Horizons has perfected the gameplay loop the series is famed for, and somehow manages to keep its steady pace relevant in a world where there are plenty of genre rivals.”

4.5/5 – Review by Sam Loveridge

Vice

New Horizons is asking you to create a society from scratch, to build a community out of a deserted island, but making a community isn’t dependent on how many trees you cut or weeds you pull. Community in New Horizons is built in the same ways it is built in the real world: by talking to your neighbors, and listening to them in return.”

Not scored – Review by Gita Jackson

Polygon

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a respite from the current state of the world. I find my general anxiety slowly subside as I run through my town, water my plants, and build furniture for the sassy chicken gentleman living down by the beach. It’s exactly what I need right now.

There are moments when I look up from a long session and realize that I’ve been ignoring everything around me. Then I take a look around at what actually is going on around me, and realize that maybe I’d better stay in my island paradise for a little while longer”

Recommended – Review by Russ Frushtick

Other publications

  • Destructoid – 8.5/10
  • Game Informer – 9/10
  • GameSpot – 8/10
  • Videogamer – 9/10
  • USGamer – 4.5/5

Title: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Release date: March 20, 2020
Platform: Nintendo Switch


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Is Nioh 2 worth playing?

Team Ninja’s Nioh 2 is another deadly slice of action RPG adventure for the PlayStation 4, but does the game improve on the acclaimed original?

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Nioh 2
Team Ninja

Team Ninja’s Nioh 2 is another deadly slice of action RPG adventure for the PlayStation 4, but does the game improve on the acclaimed original?

Nioh 2 continues Team Ninja’s strong run with another rough diamond of a game. Its combat is universally acclaimed, requiring finesse, expertise, and resilience. The Dark Souls comparisons loom large, of course, but, like its predecessor, Nioh 2 manages to carve out a distinct identity.

Many critics also agree on the game’s flaws, believing that Team Ninja has perhaps added too much content into the mix. A plethora of gruelling side missions, and some less than memorable locations, take the shine off an otherwise top-notch action experience.

Here is our pick of the game’s best reviews.

Nioh 2 review round-up

GameRadar

Nioh 2 very much doubles down on the vision of the first game. It tells another story of feudal Japanese warlords, samurai and demons. It again sticks close to From’s Dark Souls structure, with added loot and frenetic combat that recalls Team Ninja’s own classic Ninja Gaiden series. And it’s still huge, with long, meandering main missions bolstered by optional sub-missions that often reuse parts of the same maps.”

4.5 – Review by Jon Bailes

Polygon

Nioh 2 is Ninja Gaiden mixed with Dark Souls and Sekiro and drowned in an ocean of complexity. Every enemy is a threat, if I’m anything less than deliberate. I don’t feel skilled when I succeed. I feel smart. And I guess I like feeling smart.”

Not scored – Review by Dave Tach

GameSpot

Nioh 2‘s definitive feature is its challenge. With core mechanics refined from the bones of Dark Souls, Nioh 2 boils down to a series of battles and duels in all kinds of situations. These battles demand intense precision: Not only are your attacks and skills limited by a stamina meter–called Ki–but any extra attack or mistimed movement will leave you exposed, often to an attack that will cost you a substantial amount of health. Like other Souls-like games, there is a painful pleasure in mastering whatever opponents the game throws your way.”

8/10 – Review by Mike Epstein

Kotaku

Nioh 2 has some glaring flaws in spite of the fantastic combat and challenging encounters. Chief among them is level design that turns most of the game into a blurry slog. The Sengoku period is packed with battles and sieges, but Nioh 2 delays on embracing a more magical presentation until the latter half of the game. As a result, there are strings of levels that are either muddy battlefields, crumbling towns, or dilapidated castles.”

Not scored – Review by Heather Alexandra

IGN

“It took me about 55 hours to beat Nioh 2, and while every single hour of gameplay was challenging, none of the main missions ever felt insurmountable or made me think that I needed to grind in order to overcome them. However, some of the sub-missions definitely skirted a little too close to the line between difficult and unfair.”

9/10 – Review by Mitchell Saltzman

Eurogamer

“In Dark Souls, the world is an interlocking, eldritch conundrum. In Nioh 2, it’s a series of fiendish puzzle boxes. Engrossing and oppressive, for sure, but not that startling or intriguing. Nioh 2 is a work of immense skill and scale, but Team Ninja’s next project needs to be more about changing things than adding them. After all, no amount of equipment buffs can protect you against the element of surprise.”

Recommended – Review by Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

Destructoid

“If there’s one point I want to get across above all others, it’s this: Nioh 2 isn’t as revelatory as the first game, but that shouldn’t be held as a mark against it – at least not this time. Team Ninja was right to iterate and expand carefully. Nioh got so much right on the first go.”

9/10 – Review by Jordan Devore

Other publications

  • Game Informer – 8.5/10
  • Metro – 9/10
  • USGamer – 3.5/5
  • Atomic – 82/100
  • ShackNews – 8/10

Title: Nioh 2
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Koei Tecmo / Sony Interactive Entertainment
Released: March 13, 2020
Platform: PlayStation 4


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Is Ori and the Will of the Wisps worth playing?

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the latest game from Moon Studios. It’s the follow-up to Ori and the Blind Forest, but is it as good?

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Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Moon Studios

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is the latest Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive from Moon Studios. It’s the follow-up to the 2015’s acclaimed Ori and the Blind Forest, but is it as good? We dip our toe in critical waters to find out. 

Creating a sequel to Ori and the Blind Forest was never going to be an easy task for Moon Studios, but based on the overwhelmingly positive critical response for Ori and the Will of the Wisps, it appears the studio has once again struck gold.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps refines and expands on what made the first game so special with a delicate and affecting story, a glorious, imaginative world to explore, and some spectacular boss battles.

Here’s our pick of the game’s reviews.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps review round-up

Mashable

“When everything lines up so perfectly like it does in Will of the Wisps, it’s hard to pull away. It’s an experience that’s probably familiar to those who’ve played some of the legendary games that make up the 2D platforming pantheon — games like Super Metroid, Celeste, Hollow Knight, and Super Meat Boy.”

Not scored – Review by Kellen Beck

PC Gamer

“I prefer Ori and the Blind Forest for its compactness and simplicity, but Ori and the Will of the Wisps is also worth playing to the end. It trips over its complexity at times, and really doesn’t need so much combat, but it’s gorgeous, funny, and the triple-jumping could go on forever without getting old.”

81/100 – Review by Tyler Wilde

Polygon

Ori and the Will of the Wisps offers a gorgeous world to explore and a varied, creative series of abilities and tasks that guide my exploration and help me see more of this wonderful place. It expands my options in combat and offers me more to do, and mostly benefits from that added complexity, while losing some of its focus in the process.”

 Not scored – Review by Andrew King

GameSpot

“Ori’s suite of acrobatic moves makes delving into new areas a thrilling treat. Exploration becomes especially engaging as you unlock more abilities and become increasingly adept. Some of them are lifted directly from the first game, which can be disappointing next to the excitement of discovering a shiny new ability. Still, those old standbys still work well and make the improvisational leaps and bounds feel as great as ever.”

8/10 – Review by Steve Watts

VentureBeat

“As a huge fan of Ori and the Blind Forest, Will of the Wisps is everything that I could have wanted from a sequel. It’s a longer adventure with fantastic additions, especially the incredible boss fights. The ending sequence will go down as one of the best in gaming history. The occasional technical problems can be annoying, but I’d put up with five times as many bugs to play through this masterpiece.”

98/100 – Review by Mike Minotti

Videogamer

“I would place Ori and the Will of the Wisps in the small catalogue of games, tucked into a sunny corner of my mind, from which I would make prescriptions for anyone with rainy spirits. The solution, when life stands no chance of imitating its art, is merely to jump back in.”

9/10 – Review by Josh Wise

IGN

“In Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Moon Studios has taken an excellent foundation and made even more out of it. Its many new elements expand on and add to the first game’s fun without bogging it down or becoming overcomplicated. And that’s really the best praise you can give a sequel – it stays true to the spirit of the original, doubles down on what made it great, and gives you more stake in the world and options to navigate it.”

9/10 – Review by Brandin Tyrell

Other publications

  • TheSixthAxis – 100
  • GameInformer – 95
  • VGC – 100
  • Twinfinite – 90

Title: Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Developer: Moon Studios
Publisher: Xbox Game Studios
Release date: March 11, 2020
Platform: Xbox One, PC (Available via Xbox Game Pass)


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An idiot’s guide to Dragon Ball Z, learned entirely through Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot

When we realised that plot of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot spans the entire history of the franchise, we wondered: is it possible to gain a passable understanding of the series’ vast history through one video game?

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an idiots guide to Dragon Ball Z Kakarot
Bandai Namco

When we realised that plot of Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot spans the entire history of the franchise, we wondered: is it possible to gain a passable understanding of the series’ vast history through one video game?

It seems impossible, right? The Dragon Ball media franchise, in various forms, has been running for decades. It’s a ridiculous undertaking. You’d have to be an idiot to think you could cram the entire franchise into a single video game.

Luckily, we know just the right idiot for the job. So without further ado, here’s an idiot’s guide to Dragon Ball Z – learned entirely through playing Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot – by our own Callum Williams.

“Giant alien monkeys”

Although I’m sure it’s blasphemous to admit it, I’ve never watched Dragon Ball Z. While I’m aware a lot of kids my age watched the re-runs of the anime smash-hit on the Cartoon Network, I was far too pre-occupied living out my Star Wars fantasies to care what Goku and his merry band of supporting characters were up to. Before long, Dragon Ball simply became “that show where a load of dudes with weird hair shot laser beams at each other” to me. And until around two weeks ago, it stayed that way.

However, because of the thorough journalist I am, I decided to correct that mistake and finally experience Dragon Ball Z as it was intended: by skirting around sixteen seasons of well-paced anime and playing a brisk video game adaptation instead. That’s right, I’ve finally had my first experience with the Dragon Ball universe entirely through the newly released Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, and let me tell you, it’s been quite the ride.

Dragon Ball Z Kakarot giant space monkey

From epic battles with giant alien monkeys to a newfound reverence for the words “power level,” I’ve almost learnt too much and too little about Dragon Ball Z in the thirty-hour crash course that is Kakarot. Whether or not this was the way the game was meant to be experienced – and the fact the Dragon Ball Z Wiki is now firmly lodged in my favourites tab seems to indicate the latter – there’s such a strong affinity for Akira Toriyama’s world condensed into this video game adaption that it’s almost overbearing. So, sit back, and let me explain what I learnt about Dragon Ball Z through not watching the show at all.

The first revelation that hit me fairly early into Kakarot was that this is far from the beginning of the Dragon Ball story. For one, there’s very little explanation of what the world of Dragon Ball is about and who on earth its inhabitants are. Essentially, the story takes place on a part-fantasy, part-science fiction interpretation of earth. From what I can gather, everyone is either cosplaying as Ryu from Street Fighter or Spock from Star Trek. Or both. (This means they can fire off some Hadoukens, but also fly spaceships, too.)

There are also some magical blue men in the sky and a whole realm for the afterlife, but Kakarot doesn’t think they’re important so it doesn’t bother explaining them. Just know the gods sometimes do magical stuff that essentially acts as deus ex machina whenever the writers are trapped in a corner.

In truth, the only thing that really matters in this universe is seven magical spheres known – surprise, surprise – as the Dragon Balls.

Bringing all these balls together summons a big dragon in the sky who lets you make a wish, but only if you follow a long list of rules that mean Dragon Ball’s writers can rebuff Redditers poking flaws in the series’ logic. They’re a McGuffin that every villain is at least partially interested in acquiring, but they also let any character that dies come back from the dead, no doubt resulting in a horrific overpopulation problem. Goku, who is the story’s main protagonist, defends the galaxy from a series of increasingly colourful antagonists that want these dragon balls to wish for immortality.

“A giant green pickle and a little bald man”

Now, in Dragon Ball’s universe, one thing is abundantly clear: Goku is the centre of everything. When you’re playing as Goku, you get every attack, thousands of experience points, and tonnes of combat variety. Every other character? Well, they can have a watered-down imitation of Goku’s move set. This is because Goku is a Saiyan, which in Dragon Ball terms basically means he can do anything the story needs him to do at any given moment. In short, if you’re not Goku, you might as well not bother, because you’re pretty inconsequential. This is increased ten-fold by the fact that Goku easily has the best moves in the game, so when you’re fighting literally any enemy, it feels like he’s a freight train hurtling towards a snail.

Dragon Ball Z Kakarot driving test

He does, however, have some lowly, lesser powered friends, because he’s such a humble guy. These consist of his son Gohan, a giant green pickle called Piccolo, angry Goku (AKA Vegeta), and a little bald man called Krillin. Where Dragon Ball Z seems to secretly excel is in the fact these characters are actually far more interesting than Goku will ever be. (See also: DC struggling to keep the perfect superhero, Superman, interesting and relevant.)

Vegeta wrestles with his pride. Piccolo struggles with his identity. Gohan desires to leave battle and become a scholar. And Krillin is… well, to be honest, Krillin just seems like a nice dude. I’m sure the show gives them ample screen time to blossom as characters, but the game cares little for their petty issues. After all, they are not Goku.

As I played the game and experienced my first two official sagas, I was feeling assured about my knowledge of the Dragon Ball Z world. Sure, I had no idea who the creepy blue god with sunglasses in the sky was, and I’m still baffled why a giant pink troll with a Viking helmet welcomed me to the afterlife, but the stories themselves were fairly easy to follow.

Before I knew it, I’d fought both Vegeta and Frieza, and finished my first two major story arcs. It was an exhilarating handful of chapters, and I’d learned as much about the Dragon Ball world as Kakarot’s exclusively action-packed take on the story could show me.

Then, I got stuck into the third and fourth sagas. It didn’t take long for a distinct sense of repetition to set in. Not only were most of the game’s characters practically just standing around going, “Oh no, here comes a massive new villain, and he’s way stronger than the last one,” multiple times every hour, but a number of the story’s beats seemed to be yanked directly from previous sagas.

“I’m a big scary anime villain”

As always, Goku gets a major rest at the start of both stories – in which all his supporting cast get to play hero for a bit – before eventually returning to save the day. Both Cell and Majin Buu – the villains of the third and fourth sagas – have suspiciously familiar world domination plots, seemingly yanked from the same “I’m a big scary anime villain” handbook. Granted, I was getting far more accustomed to the world, while Kakarot’s incredibly bland side missions were a boring – yet still somewhat welcoming – introduction to who most of the side characters were. But something was still a bit fishy.

Dragon Ball Z Kakarot Kid Buu

It didn’t take me long to lock down a pattern for every Dragon Ball saga I had played up until this point. Now I’ve completely finished Kakarot, I have a distinct summary of what I call the seven steps of Dragon Ball. It goes a little something like this:

  1. Goku is written entirely off-screen for some bizarre reason. He might be dead, have severe heartburn or just be sleeping. All that’s important is that he’s gone.
  2. All of his little buddies then have to group together to face some dastardly villain who wants to get the Dragon Balls, for reasons.
  3. They push themselves to the max, but every time they can’t quite topple this massive foe. One of them then has to die or be really badly injured.
  4. Goku’s friends are about to perish. “I guess this is the end,” they say solemnly. BUT WAIT! WHAT’S THAT?
  5. Goku flies in. He looks at the big villain and says, “Hmmmph. You’re no match for me anymore. I’ve dug deep and found a new level to my seemingly limitless Super Saiyan abilities,” and then beats them to a pulp.
  6. The villain then decides to only now unleash his true power, which basically means he just gets buffer. In retaliation, Goku dyes his hair and takes his shirt off. Now, somehow, he’s equally matched in power.
  7. Goku hits them with a massively OTT super move. They die, and everyone goes home.

Now, this is almost definitely because, without the presence of the TV show, Kakarot was essentially showing me a condensed version of Dragon Ball Z that lacks any semblance of filler or quiet story moments. Kakarot is seemingly so against downtime that it even flashes cue cards to avoid filling these giant narrative gaps.

If somebody isn’t fighting, Kakarot acts like an impatient friend that fast forwards a TV show to every fight scene. When you dare to protest it gives you a concise version of the story, as though it will give you any context as to why Goku is currently fighting a giant pink bubble-gum man.

“So damn endearing”

I’m sure within each televised season of Dragon Ball there’s a lot of character development between the story’s epic battles, but going on what the game shows you, Dragon Ball quickly becomes a tale of severely jacked warriors shooting laser beams at each other and saying cringey one-liners. They don’t want to develop as people; all they want to do is dye their hair yellow, beat each other up, and show off their flashy new power levels to their friends.

Dragon Ball Z Kakarot super kamehameha

Yet, as my time with Kakarot went on, I started to learn that not only is the eccentric and formulaic nature of Dragon Ball Z sort of what makes it so entertaining – it’s also what makes it so damn endearing. Akira Toriyama’s incredible designs, the show’s bonkers characters, and the cyclical formula that sees Goku going head to head with endless psychotic villains; they all make for a story that’s hard not to get behind. I felt like I was getting the “my parents are tired but I’ve insisted on being read a bedtime story’” version of the narrative, but even through the confusing lens of Kakarot, it grew on me.

Goku transforming into a Super Saiyan was powerful, Future Trunks demolishing Mecha Frieza was shocking, and Gohan eventually defeating Cell was elating. All the moments my friends had raved about when they watched the show still made their impact through Kakarot, even if all the bits and pieces weren’t exactly in the right place.

It’s a testament to the game that I genuinely feel like I have some attachment to the world of Dragon Ball Z now; well, Dragon Ball Z and the Dragon Ball Wiki anyway. Perhaps it’s more like Stockholm Syndrome? Anyway, I digress. If you’ve ever been interested in getting into Dragon Ball Z, Kakarot is the equivalent of skip reading a novel (or reading the Cliff Notes, or watching the movie) the night before an exam. It’s far from the most detailed analysis, but hell – you’re in a rush. It’ll do.


Let us know on Twitter if you’ve enjoyed this idiot’s guide. (We’re sure the idiot will be willing to do more if we ask him nicely.)

Thumbsticks needs your support

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


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