Say hello to the Game of the Year
And we got a PlayStation 5 release date, price, and terrible pre-order debacle
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Yu made the perfect video game in 2008. He’s had to live with it ever since.
First came Spelunky, a pixelated PC adventure released for free on a video game forum for friends and peers. It plants you in the boots of a diminutive Indiana Jones-type explorer who rappels through a series of cavernous stages cluttered with traps, baddies, and treacherous falls, using little more than bombs, ropes, and whatever the occasional shopkeeper will sell him. A splash of math and creativity generated the game’s stages procedurally, which is a fancy way to say that no two runs through Spelunky will be exactly the same. Some big-name designers and some little-name critics dubbed it a mini-masterpiece.
Yu expanded on perfection in 2012 with the help of a small squad, creating Spelunky HD, a prettier revision and expansion of the original game; it was released on Xbox 360, and eventually elsewhere. Yu and the team added multiplayer, along with a daily online leaderboard. Released alongside the rise of video game livestreaming, the HD edition found a fiercely dedicated fandom of video makers, who mined it for secrets. Then came toys, T-shirts, and countless fawning reviews, including my own.
It’s not like Yu has been unproductive in the 12 years since Spelunky debuted. He co-designed a card game, and has been gradually co-developing something akin to a video game mixtape. He became a husband, a father, and something of an elder statesman in the indie video game world, his work inspiring countless other games, books, and podcasts. But for better and worse, he’d created Spelunky, and most of us had one question for him even if we were too afraid to ask it out loud: “What’s next?”
The answer, as you know by now, is Spelunky 2. The new game from Derek Yu’s Mossmouth studio and Blitworks launches Sept. 15 on PlayStation 4 and arrives on Windows PC later this month. I’ll let you know up top that I adore this game. If you’re a fan of the original, I expect you’ll fall in love, too.
But how the hell do you make a sequel to a perfect game? My best answer, 20 hours deep, is that you don’t.
The NVIDIA RTX 3080 is legit
For folks who don’t follow PC gaming: the RTX 3080 is the latest and arguably best “consumer-grade” graphics card — the contraption that makes the pretty visuals appear on your computer.
NVIDIA will also offer the cheaper 3070 and the WAY MORE EXPENSIVE AND COMICALLY POWERFUL 3090, but the company has shrewdly pitched the 3080 as porridge that’s just right. Whether or not it’s right for you depends on if you’re willing to spend a grand or two (or three) on a new gaming PC — or $700 just for the 3080 and no other parts.
“The RTX 3080 will be will a staggering leap in performance if you’re upgrading from something like a GTX 1080, especially at 1440p or if you’re moving to 4K. That could tempt a whole host of people to upgrade, especially those who avoided the RTX 2000 series.” (Tom Warren, The Verge)
“Certainly, I really enjoy using this card - I like using RTX 2080 Ti for 4K gaming and the RTX 3080 doesn’t feel like an iterative upgrade. I can do more with it, I can feel the difference. Side-by-side with RTX 2080, it’s almost a night and day improvement in many regards. But with that said, I still think the 20-series cards have much to offer: they don’t become obsolete overnight, they’re still strong performers and they have the complete next-gen feature set. (Richard Leadbetter, Digital Foundry/Eurogamer)
Three games to play
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
“The package is somewhat bare-bones, but the games included make it compelling nonetheless. It’s rare that 3D games remain fun and interesting so long after release, but it’s a testament to Nintendo’s designers that this feels like a crucial Switch release, something to get excited about rather than complain about yet another Mario 64 port.” (Andrew Webster, The Verge)
“Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a perfect re-creation of an imperfect batch of games.” (Russ Frushtick, Polygon)
“What dazzles me is how vividly Spelunky 2 is still a game of the moment. Take this: there is so much greatness emerging from the simple decision that you’re going down and not up in Spelunky. It means that gravity can take some of the effort out, and can also add its own brilliantly Newtonian timing to the comedy that erupts when things go wrong. It means that levels can rain chaos from above and that rock ledges can crumble and take you on terrifying shortcuts. You can’t argue with gravity. It’s such a good basis for things.” (Christian Donlan, Eurogamer)
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
“Here’s an incomplete list of things you will encounter in 13 Sentinels: a talking cat. Time travel. Time travel, but also not really. Androids. Clones. Android clones. Memory-wiping drugs. A robot that looks like Wall-E. An underground UFO. Oh, and of course it’s the story of 13 highschoolers getting into giant mechs to fight monsters.” (Malindy Hetfeld, Eurogamer)
Three stories to read
“How flash games shaped the video game industry” is the most novel media project I’ve seen in the video game space this year. (Jonas Richner, Flash Game History)
“Two decades after Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, I finally got on a skateboard” (Nicole Carpenter, Polygon)
Three videos to watch
This review of Doom is longer than Avengers: Endgame… and maybe better?
How Bruce Lee has influenced (and appeared in) dozens of video games
A new documentary about the Earthbound Americans weren’t supposed to play
The best of the rest
On the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., Keza McDonald speaks with the series’ top designers about its incomparable legacy. (Keza McDonald, The Guardian)
Because one good Mario interview isn’t enough, here’s another. (Gene Park, Washington Post)
Five years ago, a dude got fired from his EVE Online army. Now he commands a massive fleet of players and has one goal: to eliminate his old boss. (Charlie Hall, Polygon)
A potent essay that ties together the new Tony Hawk game, skateboard culture, the breadth of games criticism, and the need for shared memory, community, and mentorship. (Heather Alexandria, TransGamer Thoughts)
How Madden’s sales explain something no gamer wants to hear. (Owen Good, Polygon)
Nintendo has discontinued the 3DS, bringing an end to the Nintendo DS era. My friend Andrew Webster wrote a fitting eulogy. (Andrew Webster, The Verge)
Have we really been given a good reason to buy a new Xbox or PlayStation? (James Batchelor, gamesinudustry.biz)
I despise the use of “console wars” to describe the parallel releases of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. The creators of these consoles have different approaches to distributing and powering video games, leaving enough room for both to co-exist. While this New York Times’ story has the tired “console wars” headline, the actual reporting gets into the subtleties of the new generation of hardware. The piece’s author, Kellen Browning, recently covered Roblox and chess streaming, too. (Kellen Browning, NY Times)
A must-read thread on the new game consoles and wealth. (Alysia Judge, Twitter)
Sony’s approach with the PS5: “It’s not ultimately about how people buy and consume your product. It’s not about consumers engaging with one another. It’s not about prices. It’s not about technology. It is not even about innovation. Those things can all play a role. But in the end what matters is the content.” (Seth Schiesel, Protocol)
Sony finally revealed the price and release date of the PS5 in a showcase engorged with fancy graphics and gameplay. (Nicole Carpenter, Polygon)
This story has links to all the different places that will be offering pre-orders in the coming days, weeks, and months. (Emily Heller, Polygon)
The company botched the initial rollout of pre-orders, with stores going live with pre-orders without notice, the consoles selling out in seconds. (Chris Kerr, Gamasutra)
Sony leadership knows it did a bad:
Leo Baker is the first non-binary skater to appear in a Tony Hawk game. Here’s a profile of Baker, who is part of a young, diverse pool of contemporary skateboarders. (Sam McGuire, GayTimes)
I know I shouldn’t spend $135 on an illustrated copy of Dune, so why can’t I close this damn tab???
Speaking of good books: here’s the shortlist for the 2020 Booker Prize. (Alex Marshall, NYTimes)
The criminal case against Donald Trump. (Jeff Wise, NY Mag)
“Will Smith’s TV cousin is best remembered for his bowtie and love of Tom Jones, but the character was much more complex than that.” (Julian Kimble, The Ringer)
But what do you think?
Send links, tips, comments, questions, games, and challah recipes to @plante.
That’s a wrap. See y’all next time. Wear a mask!