Indies and Sports Headline a Breezy Summer
The last time we checked in on our fantasy league, the staff of The Punished Backlog had made some big plays to mark the halfway point of the season. The E3 2018 Fantasy Draft came and went, and with it, many of our competitors were able to give their teams a much-needed shot in the arms. From Super Smash Bros. Ultimate to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey and everything in between, the remaining fantasy gladiators have been chosen, and only time will tell which team will reign victorious over the rest.
In the meantime, the summer has practically blown by, and in a few short weeks the fall season will be upon us. Spider-Man, Tomb Raider, Red Dead Redemption 2… the gaming world never rests. Yet despite how impressive the fall will be, especially when it comes to fantasy, there’s been quite a bit of movement already in just the past several weeks. It’s been a month and a half since the last update, which means we’re in for a hefty summary.
To trim the fat a bit, I’m switching up the formula this time around. In lieu of fancy headlines, I’ll be rapid firing through each of the eight teams to check in on their progress—both the good and the bad. We’ll update the standings, see where everyone is at going into the dangerous money and time sink that is September, and even touch on a couple of missed gems, as always. Oh, and it’d be remiss if I didn’t share a few words on the Dead Cells controversy. I’ll keep it brief.
Sound good? Well, strap in.
Team PJ — Finally Scores Points, But Are They Enough?
Rejoice—he’s on the board! After six months of being slapped with delay after delay after delay, Team PJ has not just its first fantasy scorer, but three. Count ’em. After all this time, though, has the patience and mental fortitude made Team PJ any stronger? Well… let’s break it down.
On June 22, Mario Tennis Aces released on the Nintendo Switch to generally favorable reviews. Although the game didn’t set the world on fire, particularly due to a messy campaign and lack of multiplayer modes, Tennis Aces won a majority of critics over with its strategic gameplay. The game currently sits with a 75 Metascore on Switch based on 81 critics.
Next, on July 19, a bit of a wildcard released on PC and Switch in the form of Pool Panic. While PJ had confidently bet on Pool Panic, citing its wacky premise, the results are more middling than good. The game has a 72 on Metacritic on Switch with 14 critics.
The last piece of Team PJ’s fantasy trifecta? WarioWare Gold. A compilation of over 300 different “microgames” inspired by previous entries in the series, WarioWare Gold seemed like a low-key, enjoyable title to kick back on a recliner to and relax with after a busy day when it was initially announced. And, by and large, WarioWare Gold seems to have delivered just that. The game has a 78 Metascore on 3DS with 38 critics. Again, it’s not winning any Game of the Year awards, but it’s a respectable title for the aging 3DS handheld.
So what does this all mean? First of all, it means Team PJ can finally ditch its “N/A” qualifier and be ranked on the leaderboard based on actual data. More importantly—and without giving anything away—it means that Team PJ is currently in second-to-last place. Not exactly a commanding lead, but hey, at least it’s not dead last.
Oh, and what’s more? Remember when PJ dropped Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight because it’d been pushed to 2019 in the West? Yeah, sike—the game is coming December 4 now. Just another reason why, even with three fantasy games finally recorded, PJ can’t seem to catch a break. Although, let’s be fair: at that point, December 4 is a risky die to be rolling. Plus, it’s not like the game was going to be a knock-out sort of game; the previous entry, Persona 4: Dancing all Night, scored a 76 on Metacritic, for comparison. I think PJ made the right call.
Regardless, it looks like things will only get better for Team PJ from here on out, with Spider-Man and Red Dead Redemption 2 set to deliver in a big way in the coming months. Chin up.
Team Sam — Slight Growth, Marred by a Slight Delay
Unlike Team PJ, Team Sam has been used to being in the fantasy spotlight for a while now. However, if the story for PJ was that he couldn’t catch a break from delays, the story for Sam was that he couldn’t catch a break from poorly received Microsoft exclusives. Sea of Thieves (69) and State of Decay (67) hurt his score early on, while the delay of Crackdown 3 to 2019 served as the nail in the metaphorical, paid-for-by-Phil-Spencer coffin.
So how does Team Sam look now? In short: better. The Banner Saga 3 came out the gate swinging on July 26, racking up impressive reviews and making me sure glad to be a Switch owner who has yet to play any game in the trilogy. The game has maintained an 83 Metascore on PC, with 43 critics reporting in. While this improves his average score ever so slightly—by just shy of a point—Team Sam has also been hit by a discouraging setback.
Just days ago, Activision announced that Spyro Reignited Trilogy would be delayed from September 21 to November 13, as it needs “more love and care.” While far from a crippling delay, I must reiterate, for those in the back, that there are no safety nets in this second half of the fantasy season: if your game gets pushed to 2019, you’re down a game. Spyro‘s might be a slight delay, but all it takes is an additional delay to January to derail things quickly. Here’s hoping the delay is just for polishing purposes, and nothing more.
Team Anna — The Disappointing Chasm Drags the Team Down
When Anna drafted Chasm during the E3 draft, I thought it was a smart move. The game had been in development for years now, and the fact that it was finally releasing in July must have meant that it was going to “wow” critics after such a long wait, right? Wrong. Chasm released on July 30 to lukewarm reviews and equally mixed reaction from fans. As of now, the game has a 72 on Metacritic on PC based on 23 critics.
Once again—like how I prefaced back for Where the Water Tastes Like Wine in the Fantasy February Update—I ended up writing a review for Chasm that contributed to its overall Metacritic score. As with the last time, in no way, shape, or form did fantasy impact my score; my review is a reflection of my unbiased opinion on the game and its strengths and flaws alike. Disclaimer over.
Based on my playtime, Chasm isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t a great one, either. The game genuinely tries to provide limitless entertainment value with its procedural Metroidvania map layouts, and in several ways, the development team succeeded in doing so. Unfortunately, the actual meat of the game—like combat, platforming, and progression—just aren’t fun enough to justify playing through the game more than once. Not to mention, there are just too many good Metroidvanias available nowadays to get caught up playing a single one forever.
Getting back to fantasy, Team Anna had a second little fantasy scorer that goes by the name of Madden 19. Again, a smart bet at the time, and one that turned out to be a relatively successful gamble. Madden 19 released to generally favorable reviews, even if it’s clear that franchise fatigue, coupled with micro-transactions, is continuing to bring the series down a peg. The game has a Metascore of 80 on PlayStation 4 with 25 critics reporting in.
Looking at the bigger picture, Anna’s 72 and 80 have brought her average score down by over six points since the last update—the biggest team slide this month. With Soulcalibur VI and Hitman 2 still in play, however, there’s still time for Team Anna to bounce back.
Team David — Holding Steady, David Continues to Lead the Pack
No major updates for Team David this time around. David’s God of War and Iconoclasts scores remain unchanged at 94 and 83, respectively, and his team has managed to keep a slim lead—not even two points—over the competition.
Next month, however, will be huge for the team. Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Dragon Quest XI both release in the coming weeks, and are set to put up AAA-level numbers based on both series’ review histories.
The only thing I worry about (I normally write about myself in third person for these updates, remember?) is October 2. While that date is set to see the releases of Team David’s two remaining titles, Forza Horizon 4 and Mega Man 11, I get this sinking feeling that Mega Man could get pushed. Call me crazy—critics were saying it felt polished at E3—but I figure that Capcom wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a three-month delay if it meant making sure all levels in the game hit the same level of quality as those shown in June.
I might just be covering my bases, though, as by all intents and purposes, I’m pleased with how my team is doing. Still, there’s another team I need to watch out for from over my shoulder; they say the knives come quickly when you’re at the top of the mountain…
Team Augustine — Octopath Traveler and WoW Give Augustine a Huge Boost
If Team Anna had the biggest slide compared to the previous update, then Team Augustine had the biggest jump. In desperate need of a boost after the subpar releases that were Dynasty Warriors 9 (65) and Vampyr (70), as well as the good-but-not-good-enough Detroit: Become Human (78), Augustine has finally come out to play.
Octopath Traveler arrived on July 13, bringing with it an impressive volley of critical praise. Despite citing some repetition and a weak overarching story as the game’s primary faults, reviewers were nonetheless positive about Octopath Traveler‘s vibrant presentation and deep combat system. The game has garnered a respectable 83 on Metacritic on Switch according to 73 critics. Based on my brief five to ten hours playing the game, I would have to agree with critics; this JRPG is certainly worth your time.
Then, there’s World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth. Disregarding for a quick second that it’s already outpacing past expansions, Battle for Azeroth is also leaving journalists impressed. While reviews are still coming in, so far so good; the expansion has an 83 Metascore on PC with 11 critics recorded.
With these two beasts to carry him, Augustine has leapt up by nearly four points compared to the last update. While his overall position on the leaderboard hasn’t changed, Augustine has put his team in a position to succeed—especially if Fallout 76 ends up being something special later this year… See what I did there? Special? S.P.E.C.I.A.L.?
I’ll show myself out.
Team Jack — Dead Last, Jack Still Has Gas Left in the Tank
If Team PJ has taken the second-to-last seat in the standings, then which team is in last? That would be Team Jack.
Look, admittedly, Team Jack started out the gate looking rough. Despite having a solid showing from Far Cry 5 (81), Jack got absolutely shafted by the abomination that was Metal Gear Survive (60). And in his defense, he didn’t think to pick it—PJ suggested it!
Unfortunately, in the game of fantasy, you need to look out for yourself, first and foremost. I’m not calling this foul play—I think PJ, being a big MGSV fan, legitimately thought Survive could be good. But even still, I wouldn’t blame anyone for mistaking this as a premeditated murder. Hey, but then again, it’s not like PJ got off scot-free himself, either; he’s right down there at the bottom alongside Jack. Hindsight is 20/20.
On the bright side, however, Jack has only seen two of his six games released thus far– erm… I mean 2.25 of his six. The first episode of Telltale’s four-episode The Walking Dead: The Final Season released on August 14, and reviews are looking pretty darn solid. Episode 1: Done Running currently has a 76 Metascore on PC with 21 critics, giving Team Jack an ever-so-slight boost compared to the previous update. With any luck, the next three episodes will be even better.
Jack’s other three games also look to be winners. FIFA 19 is guaranteed to receive a good score, even if it’s a relatively unexciting choice. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, meanwhile, could do either very well or very poorly, depending upon whether critics can look past the lack of a single-player campaign and embrace the game’s new battle royale mode. And then, there’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which looks fantastic and has the potential to be a heavy hitter later this fall.
Jack may be down for the count, but he’s certainly not out. Not by a long shot.
Team Genesis — Guacamelee! 2 Makes a Huge Splash
Last we checked in with Team Genesis, the team was right in the middle of the pack. Not in a bad spot, but not in a great one either.
That may change now, as Genesis jumps over two points thanks to an extremely strong launch from an unlikely last-minute pick-up: Guacamelee! 2.
While the first Guacamelee! was a phenomenal game, the sequel came a bit out of nowhere for me. There have already been so many stellar Metroidvanias this year, from Hollow Knight and Steamworld Dig 2 to Iconoclasts and Yoku’s Island Express, that I couldn’t fathom any more coming out and being well received.
Well, I was wrong, and Guacamelee! 2, released on August 21, is sitting pretty with an 84 on Metacritic on PS4 based on 50 critics. And with the quirky Ooblets and sports stalwart NBA 2K19, things could get even more interesting for Genesis in the coming months.
Team Kei — The Dark Horse Candidate Lurks in the Shadows
Somewhere, in a dark, deep corner of our quiet New England town, Kei is plotting to take over the world. He has the brains for it, and he’s read enough sci-fi books to know the effects of a global hegemony on the world economy, especially once we bring aliens and other star systems into the mix. Whenever I think like that, I imagine that winning this fantasy league, for him, is but a small pawn capture on a far bigger chess board.
Kei picked up F1 2018 as one of his E3 2018 draft choices. It’s not a glamorous pick, nor is it particularly a series he would ever play. And yet, the game, which released on August 24, has outperformed all other relevant sports/racing games this year with a criminally good 84 Metascore on PS4 with 26 critics. Because of course he knew that F1 games always perform well on Metacritic.
This is all part of his master plan. He had first dibs during the E3 draft, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is looking more and more like the definitive Smash experience. Battlefield V is primed to do some damage, especially with its combination of battle royale, multiplayer, and single-player modes (critics love a good campaign). Then, there’s the long-awaited return of Valkyria Chronicles on consoles with the release of Valkyria Chronicles 4, which is looking every bit as colorful and as refreshing as the first game was nearly a decade ago. All this, and we’re forgetting that Team Kei is already just shy of being two points off of the lead.
This month, I learned that everyone else and I have been playing checkers. Kei, meanwhile, is busy playing chess.
Shoutout to our Fantasy Sleeper Studs
It wouldn’t be a fantasy update without some brief mentions of the best games we missed since the prior update. This time around, we have quite a few.
First up is a game we missed way back on May 31 (mainly due to the nontraditional format of the June Fantasy Update). Just Shapes & Beats is an absolutely bonkers game that merges the stylish, music-driven action of games like Sound Shapes and then cranks things up to eleven. The game has an 83 Metascore on Switch with 17 critics, and if I wasn’t already drowning in Switch games (Celeste and Hollow Knight have been quite good), I’d be chilling on my couch bumping my head to this bad boy.
Another title that rocks a minimalist yet vibrant art style, Flat Heroes looks equally as intense and pulse-pounding as Just Shapes & Beats. Not to mention, the game released just two days after its fellow Switch indie! Eschewing rhythm-based gameplay for pure twitch-platforming bliss, Flat Heroes seems to have been a hit with its (admittedly small) base of reviewers. The game, which released on August 2, has an 85 Metascore on Switch with 8 critics.
While Flat Heroes may have been overlooked by critics and fans, one indie that had no issues being noticed was Overcooked! 2. Following the success of the first game, particularly on Switch, Overcooked! 2 released on August 7, bringing the same co-operative cooking mayhem fans know and love with some new gameplay twists. The game currently sits at an 83 on Metacritic on Switch with 34 critics.
While I save my “words” on Dead Cells as it relates to Filip Miucin in a bit, let me just talk about the game for a second. I’m reviewing a copy of the game on PS4 (stay tuned!), and while I wouldn’t say I’m quite as high on the game as other critics have been, I still think that there is a lot to like about this game. I dug it back at Paris Games Week 2017, and I do now, too.
As crappy as the whole plagiarism debacle has been, I’m glad Dead Cells and its high unconventional team is getting the praise that they deserve. Released on August 7, the game has a whopping 90 Metascore on Switch based on 31 critics—not one of which, I assure you, is Mr. Miucin.
Coming out of nowhere! While developer Wadjet Eye Games is well known in the adventure game community for making awesome point and clicks, from the Blackwell series to Gemini Rue, Unavowed looks like the team’s best game to date. The game released on August 8 and currently has an 86 Metascore on PC with 22 critics. Hey, I’m just happy that point and clicks are alive and well. Gotta go back and finish The Blackwell Legacy one of these days…
Last, but absolutely not least, Yakuza Kiwami 2 slipped onto this list, as the game’s not even out yet. Releasing on August 28, the anticipated remake of Yakuza 2 on PS2 has critics raving about Kiryu’s latest. The game has an 86 Metascore on PS4 with 40 critics. And yet, I still haven’t made it through Yakuza 0 or Yakuza Kiwami… I’m noticing a bit of a trend here.
A Word on Dead Cells and Plagiarism
Boy, oh boy. Where do I start with this?
So what do I think about the whole ordeal? Most of my thoughts have already been articulated by those much more knowledgeable on the subject than I’ll ever be. That said, however, I have to reiterate what IGN’s Brian Altano so effectively nailed in this Tweet: what is the point of getting into games journalism in the first place if not to share your own opinion?
That’s the key observation that will continue to make Filip Miucin such a hazy enigma to me. Even now, as I type this 3000+ brute of an article, everything that I’m putting to paper– ahem, text, is my own unique thoughts. The thoughts may not always be good. The words may not always come to me. But I’ll always struggle to find the right words and thoughts, not necessarily because I think I owe it to my audience or even because I feel it’s a journalist’s responsibility, but simply because it’s what I love to do.
If there’s no love—no passion for the work that you do, then why do it at all? Life is too short to be wasted on anything we don’t find joy in doing, and it sure as hell is too short to be spent reading the words of a disingenuous individual that aren’t even his own. Plain and simple.
That’s all I have to say on the matter.
Upcoming Fantasy Releases
We’re officially entering the fall season, and boy is it filled to the brim with game releases. With the exception of one game (Ooblets—fingers crossed, Team Genesis!), every remaining fantasy player has received a release date with a month and day. And with only four full months remaining in the year, fireworks are bound to start firing in the world of fantasy sooner rather than later. Check out the full list of upcoming releases:
- Dragon Quest XI – September 4 (Team David)
- Spider-Man – September 7 (Team PJ)
- NBA 2K19 – September 11 (Team Genesis)
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider – September 14 (Team David)
- Valkyria Chronicles 4 – September 25 (Team Kei)
- The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 2: Suffer the Children – September 25 (Team Jack)
- FIFA 19 – September 28 (Team Jack)
- Forza Horizon 4 – October 2 (Team David)
- Mega Man 11 – October 2 (Team David)
- Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey – October 5 (Team Jack)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – October 12 (Team Jack)
- Starlink: Battle for Atlas – October 16 (Team PJ)
- Battlefield V – October 19 (Team Kei)
- Soulcalibur VI – October 19 (Team Anna)
- Red Dead Redemption 2 – October 26 (Team PJ)
- The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 3: Broken Toys – November 6 (Team Jack)
- Hitman 2 – November 13 (Team Anna)
- Spyro Reignited Trilogy – November 13 (Team Sam)
- Fallout 76 – November 14 (Team Augustine)
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – December 7 (Team Kei)
- The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 4: Take Us Back – December 18 (Team Jack)
- Ooblets – 2018 (Team Genesis)
The Current Standings
The leaderboard has changed quite a bit since last we showed it. Take a look:
- 1st) Team David: 88.50 avg, 177 total
- 2nd) Team Kei: 86.33 avg, 259 total
- 3rd) Team Anna: 81.75 avg, 327 total
- 4th) Team Sam: 78.20 avg, 391 total
- 5th) Team Genesis: 77.50 avg, 310 total
- 6th) Team Augustine: 76.40 avg, 382 total
- 7th) Team PJ: 75.00 avg, 225 total
- 8th) Team Jack: 71.11 avg, 160 total
Thanks for reading, and check back in September for the next fantasy update!