Ah, February, the traditional month of monsters, spooks, and jump scares.
Sure, in years past February was for romantic dates, groundhogs, and wondering if you should be doing anything special with your time off for Presidents’ Day. But you would be a fool to waste your time with such hollow pursuits this year. A fool! Because for some inscrutable reason, the game industry has decided that February is the new spooky month, with a nicely-stuffed slate of horror and monster games coming out in the next few weeks.
Of them, Werewolf: Apocalypse - Earthblood looked the most promising — an adaptation of the tabletop role-playing game by the studio that did a nice job adapting Vampire: The Masquerade, it promised big tough hairy growling beasts. (Precisely what I’ve been missing with all the bars closed.) And yet, somehow, these fearsome monsters have been outdone by a cartoon turtle last seen wearing a cat onesie.
SUPER MARIO 3D WORLD & BOWSER’S FURY
Earlier this week, I wrote about how everyone’s libido is turned up just a BIT higher than usual due to quarantine; so it is with no shame that I report that while it may not have been Nintendo’s intention, their new colossal Bowser is, and this is absolutely indisputable, now the hottest character in gaming. Last week it was all about the giant Lady Dimitrescu in Resident Evil; next week I expect to see lots of hot horny memes about giant Bowser, and if we’re lucky, Bowsette.
On February 12, Nintendo’s giving us a double-punch of two great games, or really one great game with a second great game tacked on. It’s the re-release of Super Mario 3D World, which came out for the WiiU in 2013 and featured the outstanding innovation of giving the characters cat fursuits whenever you encountered a bell. There’s never been a bad mainline Mario game (the worst you get is just-okay side-games, like Mario Tennis) and every minute of Super Mario 3D World was an absolute delight, with giddy bouncing and flipping and hidden secrets that produce pure euphoria in the player.
This reissue makes a few tweaks: Mario runs slightly faster, there’s a snapshot mode, and now you can play with friends online (That one’s huge! I’m excited for that! Send me a friend request and we’ll play together!).
But for me, the greatest excitement is reserved for Bowser’s Fury, which is just one letter off from a subtle confirmation that “Bowser is furry.” In this add-on, you’ll explore a world of cats and periodically enter into colossal boss fights with a skyscraper-sized Bowser before eventually turning huge yourself. I swear that’s really the game's premise and not an erotic macrophile story I read on AO3.
“Fight fire and furry with feline … so furry,” Nintendo says in one promo video. They know what they’re doing.
PERSONA 5 STRIKERS
What I like best about the Persona games is the strange psychology: Villains aren’t just evil, they’ve been corrupted in some way by trauma that must be healed, with dungeons serving as a sort of therapeutic mind-palace. It’s a conceit that’s often been imitated (super poorly!) by other games; the only title that I can think of that does it better is Undertale. Vanquish the monsters and you’ve vanquished personal pain. If only real therapy was as simple as five-dimensional chess.
An English release of a game that was out last year in Japan, Persona 5 Strikers is kiiiiind of a sequel to, or maybe spinoff of, Persona 5, in that complicated way that JRPGs exist as a sort of floaty nebula of continuity. (Wasn’t Persona 5 Royal already a sequel?) Fans of the franchise will be happy to see the characters of Persona 5 return — not for a full year of turn-based combat, but for a jam-packed summer vacation of hack-and-slash.
This one’s probably not a great jumping-in point, I’m sorry to say; you’re better off starting with the original and working your way up to this one, since the story picks up where it left off in the previous installment. And oh boy I hope you’re ready for a labyrinthine plot: The Phantom Thieves must delve into the dungeon of the Metaverse to fight Shadows to reach evil monarchs who have stolen the desires of humanity.
Release date for this one is February 20, so you have some time to bone up on your Persona lore.
GHOSTS N GOBLINS RESURRECTION
This was the title that had me like, “okay, what’s going on this month?” because every inch of this game feels like an October pre-Halloween release, from the spooky monsters to the Danny Elfman music. It’s a fairly traditional side-scrolling platformer with a picture-book style. Those of us who are extremely ancient will remember the original version from the arcades of our youth, and my memories conjured a faint whiff of Pizza Hut while watching the trailer.
What’s new is a departure from pixel art to a cut-out art style that … I hate to say this … looks extremely cheap. At first glance it looks like a banner ad for a mobile phone game, or like a Terry Gilliam animation with flat images moving clumsily on joints. The levels look great; the mechanics look fun; the jumping looks rewarding. Capcom does a great job with these kinds of remakes and you will almost certainly enjoy playing it! It’s just a bummer that it looks like a game from 6 years ago instead of a game from 36 years ago.
This one comes out February 25, which is also National Toast Day in the UK. I don’t think that’s related, I’m just surprised every day isn’t that in the UK.
ALSO: WEREWOLVES, ROBOT PUZZLES, AND FRACTAL PLANETS
The reviews are in for Werewolf: Apocalypse! And … ahhh geez I hate to say this but it doesn’t look great. The game landed last week after enjoying a lot of pre-release buzz (yes, werewolves buzz, look it up) and this one is probably best left to the diehard fans of the tabletop version. Confusing plot and repetitive slashy gameplay detract from what should be an opportunity to get all hot and bothered about horny beastmen.
But if all these monsters have you feeling a bit tense, perhaps you’ll enjoy something a bit more restful. I’m intrigued by two indie titles releasing this month on Steam: Retro Machina is a tactical/puzzle game where you play as the last good robot on the planet, bouncing through traps and ruins and hacking other robots to solve puzzles. Neat! And Earth Analog positions the player as the captain of a ship fleeing the destruction of Earth, venturing to procedurally generated fractal planets to mine resources. The planets are all conjured by inscruitible math deep in the guts of the game, and it looks like flying through the inside of a kaleidoscope. Could be a good one for some weed-laced relaxation when you’re done getting all excited about the month’s monsters.