Welcome to The Watchlist for the week of January 8-14, 2023. Every Saturday I’ll tell you about the games you need to waste your time on that come out next week. Some games you may know, some you won’t, but every game has been researched and has earned a place in The Watchlist. That doesn’t mean you’ll end up loving them, but you should give them your time. It’s the beginning of the year, so it starts slowly, but like any good roller coaster, that’s exactly how you want it.
January 11, 2023
KartRider: Drift kicks off 2023. It’s developed by Nexon Korea Corporation and published by Nexon America Inc. Here’s the elevator pitch from the developers: “KartRider: Drift is the fun free-to-play, cross-platform kart racing game where arcade thrills and fast drift-fueled competition meet customized karts and character personalization.”
I look at this and immediately think this is a Mario Kart knockoff but KartRider has been around since 2004 with Crazyracing KartRider, and only spun off into KartRider with KartRider: Rush for mobile. The franchise has been very well-received in South Korea, so Nexon has had time to get this right for a western release.
Nexon chose to sell KartRider on its goofy themes based on the trailers but it’s actually a competitive racer. It’s a similar approach Player First Games took with MultiVersus. Instead of leaning on the party vibes that Nintendo wants Smash fans to desperately engage with, MultiVersus leaned into the competitive scene. Same thing with KartRider. It takes skill to master the type driving KartRider demands, but it doesn’t leave causal fans in the dust by including party modes. KartRider’s focus on competitive might be a deal breaker for you, but I think it’s an encouraging sign because there’s going to be an attention to detail in how the karts feel as you drive so everyone can have a good time racing, and then there will be different mechanisms to separate skills. So either all karts will be the same or if they are different, they’re going to be balanced, but you will be rewarded for learning the game, and I imagine it won’t feel like you’re trying to beat the system in order to gain advantages like in Mario Kart.
Judging by reactions to KartRider: Drift in different playtests, people are enjoying it. They’re looking forward to Drift. Best of all, I’m not seeing comments that this is simply a mobile game turned into a game you can play on PC, so I take that as Nexon properly adapting KartRider for PC, which would be a good sign. The biggest concern would probably be KartRider’s business model. It’s a free-to-play game, but that’s not the root of the issue. If we haven’t been able to tell from 2022, paid games can screw you over in the wallet, too. The concern would be: KartRider: Drift is developed by Nexon, who, I think in America, is most famous for Maple Story. Will Nexon be responsible with their microtransactions? They say on their Steam description: “Challenge your friends across platforms with no barriers, no pay walls, and no pay-to-win elements preventing you from having a great time while topping the leaderboards.” Okay, so you’re not going to have pay-to-win stuff, but will it feel like a grind to earn characters and cosmetics? Will there be a steady stream of content with satisfying progression? I can’t tell because they didn’t put it out there like MultiVersus did during its tests, so you Maple Story fans will have better insight into that. But it’s 2022. There are too many good examples of good free-to-play business models, there’s no excuse to create a cash grab if your game is good. And it looks like KartRider: Drift will be good.
I recommend wasting your time on this one. KartRider: Drift is coming to PC first, then Xbox, PlayStation and mobile.
January 13, 2023
One Piece Odyssey
Bandai Namco and ILCA will release One Piece Odyssey, a JRPG set in the One Piece universe. The back of the box description says: “A brand new RPG set in the world of the popular anime, ONE PIECE! Play as members of the Straw Hat Crew in a fantastic adventure set in the ONE PIECE world!”
Clearly that description is meant for One Piece fans. That is a lazy description. I’ve never had interest in One Piece the anime or the games, but One Piece Odyssey looks like the game that will finally get me into One Piece.
Historically, One Piece games have been action games, but turning Odyssey into a JRPG is a smart move. JRPG’s are designed for in-depth storytelling. You expect JRPG’s to develop the characters. Odyssey is clearly focused on that. Plus, ILCA isn’t settling for standard turn-based combat that we’ve seen for decades. They’re putting their own twist on it by creating, what they call, Scramble Area battles, which is basically placing characters in different zones and you have to strategically attack enemies or defend against other enemies in order to survive. They also added, what they call, “Dramatic Scenes” where you’re in the middle of a cutscene but it transitions to a battle, but the battle is a continuation of that cutscene with a very specific scenario you have to fight through. For example, one of the characters confidently walks up to fight some weak looking creatures but finds out they’re hungry and he freezes, so you enter a battle where that character can’t fight and you have to save him from those hungry creatures. I’m not sure how interesting each one will be or if all the parameters will be worth it, but they’re not just copying and pasting JRPG combat tropes. The fact that ILCA is not just taking a well-known franchise and throwing something together and calling it a JRPG is a great sign for fans and for those who may not have played any One Piece.
But this game gives me a lot of Tales of franchise vibes with the environments, some of the item names, and the art style that is very reminiscent of Tales of Arise. To me it seems like Bandai Namco decided to set the framework for ILCA around the Tales of franchise, which is good because ILCA hasn’t developed their own game yet. They’ve worked on a lot of big titles like Nier: Automata, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Ace Combat, but they’re a cinematics studio, so most of their work has been in shot selection and cutscene creation. It wasn’t until Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl that they ventured into full development, which all they had to do was upgrade it — not that that’s easy — but that wasn’t starting from scratch. Odyssey is the closest thing ILCA has had to making their own game and while it looks rough around the edges, especially compared to a Tales game, it doesn’t look C level.
But sometimes you have to take the bad with the good, and I think One Piece Odyssey is one of those games where it’s looking like the good will outweigh the bad. It will have rough edges, there’s no question about that, but it looks like you should waste your time on this one.
One Piece Odyssey is coming to PC, Xbox, and PlayStation.
Anthony Shelton hosts and produces the Gaming Trend podcast and creates opinion videos occasionally on YouTube. He carries some of the strongest opinions among the staff and is generally harder to impress. But if impressed, he sings developers' praises just as loudly. He typically plays everything except horror and most RTS, but genres he gravitates towards are platformers, FPS, racing, roguelikes, fighting, and loot-based games. He has quit Twitter and uses Threads. Follow him at iamashelton.