Things are looking up for ‘Pro Evolution Soccer 2020’

After Konami lost the UEFA Champions League licensing rights to EA Sports in 2018, I was quick to count out the future of the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. That’s because, for me, having that European club competition was the only thing keeping from playing FIFA almost exclusively — even if I do find the PES gameplay more fluid and realistic at times. Thankfully for PES fans, though, Konami isn’t drowning in its sorrows over losing the Champions League to FIFA. And this year, the company is moving forward with eFootball PES 2020, which doesn’t only comes with a shiny new name but also plenty of exciting features.

For starters, Konami has finally listened to players’ feedback and redesigned its entire menu system, making it more modern and easier to browse. If you’ve been playing PES for a while, you know how tedious and cumbersome the menus have been. Konami says it has enhanced its lighting engine, too, which will make stadiums, fans and players seem more realistic than ever before. The company says it spent a lot of time getting 3D scans of players, so that physical attributes like tattoos, hair and body movements better match those of players in the real world.

With additional animations, attack players can now push off defenders, while the grass on the field can appear longer or shorter depending on the stadium you play in. There are also new cameras that bring a broadcast feel to matches, which is part of Konami’s effort to “beautify” the game.

Here at E3 2019, I got to play a couple of matches in eFootball PES 2020 and instantly realized how much the graphics have improved compared to PES 2019. I would go as far as to say they’re on par with those from FIFA 20, which is usually the gold standard for soccer (er, football) games. Stadium’s like FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou just pop, thanks to visual that make it hard to figure it out if you’re looking at a video game render or a TV broadcast.

As far as gameplay goes, it didn’t take me long to notice the improved passing, shooting and one-touch controls, which Konami says now take into account more of the physics of the ball. And if you’re a defender, you’ll get new ways to go after attackers, including additional slide tackle animations, more ways to head the ball and, wait for it, an option to commit an intentional foul. The latter is going to come in handy when your only option is to foul an attacking player, but just be ready for a yellow or red card from the referee, since you’ll be taking one for the team.

While I only played kick-off, Konami does have an all-new mode called “Matchday,” which will link the game to the schedule from professional leagues and let you play with your favorite team during rivalries and other big matches. If you play with FC Barcelona and win, for instance, those points will be added to to the total from the online community who are also fans of the same time. The goal is to win as much as possible and help your favorite team be at the top of the standings.

eFootball PES 2020 seems like a fresh start for Konami, and that’s a great sign for fans of the franchise. The game will be arriving on September 10th for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam, with pre-orders available now. If you get the Standard Edition, you’ll get Lionel Messi on the cover, while the Legends Edition (which is digital only) features Brazilian icon Ronaldinho, who’s going to be a playable character in the game.

Gallery: Konami’s ‘eFootball PES 2020’ | 15 Photos

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Konami's TurboGrafx-16 mini is ready to ride the retro-gaming wave

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TurboGrafx-16 mini

Konami

Need a sign that the retro gaming console market just won’t come to an end? At E3 Konami just announced the TurboGrafx-16 mini, marking a return for the console that debuted in the US alongside the Sega Genesis in 1989, but never quite enjoyed the support or sales of its competitors. There’s no price or release date yet for this bit of late 80s / early 90s nostalgia, but when it is released it will include the requisite suite of throwback games including:

  • R-Type
  • New Adventure Island
  • Ninja Spirit
  • Ys Book I & II
  • Dungeon Explorer
  • Alien Crush

Other titles have yet to be revealed (where’s Bonk’s Revenge?) , and outside of North America the box will have different names just like it did way back when. In Europe it’s called the PC Engine Core Grafx Mini, and in Japan, where the system originally launched in 1987, it’s just the PC Engine Mini. It’s unlikely we’ll see anything as groundbreaking as the original TurboGrafx-16’s CD-ROM add-on — a first for consoles at the time — but it’s good to see the name in circulation again all the same.

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'Contra' anthology will include game versions from around the world

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Konami has outlined the full game lineup for Contra Anniversary Collection, and it’s good news for, well, collectors. In addition to the four already-announced titles (Contra, Super Contra, Super C and Contra 3), the anthology will include both more familiar games (such as Hard Corps and Operation C) as well as examples you probably wouldn’t have bought when new, including the European adaptations Probotector for the Mega Drive and Super Probotector for the NES. You’ll even get the slightly upgraded original Contra for Nintendo’s Famicom.

On top of this, Konami will bring the Japanese versions of six games (such as the arcade versions of Contra and Super Contra) to the collection as part of a free update.

You won’t likely see any dramatic changes to the experience when Konami releases the collection on the PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One this summer. However, that might be a good thing. You can play the exact Contra games you remember, largely the way you remember them. The only way it could get more authentic is to use the original controllers.

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Konami is bringing 'Castlevania' and 'Contra' to modern consoles


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Konami is celebrating its 50th birthday with three new compilations based on Castlevania, Contra and its early arcade games, each available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC (via Steam).

The first collection, Arcade Classics, comprises a bumper pack of Konami’s 1980s hits, including Haunted Castle, A-Jax, Gradius, Gradius 2, Life Force, Thunder Cross, Scramble and TwinBee. This one goes on digital sale on April 18 for the reasonable price of $20.

Next up, and arriving in “early summer,” is the Castlevania: Anniversary Collection. This will also include eight titles, four of which have been confirmed: Castlevania (NES), Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge (Game Boy), Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse (NES) and Super Castlevania 4 (Super NES). Most of these have been accessible before in some shape or form, but having them on Switch and other contemporary platforms is a nice addition to the Konami catalogue.

The Contra: Anniversary Collection will also arrive in early summer, again an eight-title collection, with confirmed games including Contra (arcade), Super Contra (arcade), Super C (NES), and Contra 3: The Alien Wars (Super NES) — a great pickup for retro enthusiasts.

Konami says that each collection will come with a digital book that features behind-the-scenes notes, never-before seen design sketches and interviews with development staff. While it’s not yet clear which other titles will round out the Castlevania and Contra collections, Konami certainly has a decent catalogue to choose from. It would be great to see Vampire Killer for the MSX2 on a modern platform, for example.

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When esports blew up, DDR moved to the suburbs

Even in a packed arcade, David Maiman stands out from the crowd. He’s wearing a black T-shirt with multicolor DDR arrows darting across the front, his long, dark hair curling down to his shoulders. As he walks into his local arcade in suburban Long Island, he’s almost like a celebrity, shaking hands with the manager, snapping selfies with fellow players and cheering on his friends as they set high scores.

“Rhythm games are social,” says Maiman, traces of a New York accent in his voice. “That’s what makes DDR, and our community, so special.”

For a little over a year now, Maiman has served as a DanceDanceRevolution (DDR) pied piper of sorts. Under the collective name RhythmCore Gaming, he and a few friends have been hosting DDR tournaments, meetups and community outings at local arcades throughout the Northeast. His most recent tournament, held in Middletown, NY — a sleepy town about two hours outside Manhattan — drew a crowd of more than 80 attendees.

With the release of Dance Dance Revolution A in North America in late 2016 — the States’ first major DDR release in nearly a decade — Maiman has noticed a renewed interest in the once-venerated arcade series.

“What I’ve learned, quite simply, is that anytime you say, ‘Let’s have a DDR meetup,’ people will come,” he says. “Just create a Facebook event and post about it on DDR sites, and boom: It’s a chain reaction.”

In an age when esports have become synonymous with big business — with the Overwatch League selling out Barclays Center and DOTA 2 smashing global Twitch records — American DDR remains a strange anomaly: a completely grassroots movement with regional organizers keeping their local communities engaged.

“It’s sort of like we’re in a secret society,” says Damonte Salkey, one of Maiman’s RhythmCore partners. Even fighting games, once a similarly niche, grassroots community, have gone corporate, now boasting major TV coverage and prize money.

“I sometimes look at tournaments like EVO and get a little bitter,” Salkey continues, “because I feel like DDR should have that same experience. But that’s what we’re working towards.”

DDR

With zero support from Konami, the game’s parent company, American DDR competitions are entirely passion projects: Maiman and other organizers sometimes spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to host each event. But they are dedicated to growing their communities, and prominent coordinators across the country are tackling as many small towns and regions as possible.

There’s David Seltzer in Texas, David Hua in California and Anthony Capobianco in the Midwest, just to name a few, all ensuring that tournaments are held from Fresno to Grapevine, Urbana to Columbus. Some organizers even host tournaments out of their own homes, spending thousands of dollars on arcade cabinets for the benefit of the community.

These private cabinets are typically well maintained and offer a nice change-of-pace from local arcade machines that are sometimes left in disrepair. For example, the DDR at Dave & Buster’s in Times Square is notorious for its malfunctioning dance pad. “There’s only one machine in Midtown Manhattan,” one gamer lamented, “and it’s the worst-conditioned thing on Earth!”

Steve Foster, another member of RhythmCore, recalls a home tournament he attended in New Jersey a few years ago.

David Maiman

“The competition was intense, but one benefit is that time management wasn’t an issue,” he explains. “Arcades can sometimes kick you out if your tournament doesn’t finish promptly… but at a house tournament, you’ll say, ‘If we don’t get this done by 3AM, how about we just go to sleep and finish this tomorrow?'”

Over the past year or so, local DDR tournaments, at either homes or arcade venues, have increased to the point where there’s seemingly a new one every week. This steady stream is paying off, as tournaments continue to draw larger and larger crowds. For example, Raj of the Garage — a major tournament in the Midwest — started out in 2014 as a competition literally in someone’s garage but has since expanded into a three-day extravaganza at the Hyatt Regency Columbus, featuring 90 DDR competitors and 800 total registrants playing a wide range of arcade games.

Seltzer’s Big Deal tournament in Texas grew from 80 competitors in 2017, its inaugural year, to 200 in 2018. And the DDR Storm event in Florida made waves in 2016 when competitors brought their own personal arcade cabinets to help the tournament run as smoothly as possible.

“These are private arcade owners hauling in their cabs, at cost, just for the sake of the community,” says Seltzer. “And they generally operate in the red. They’re spending their own money, but it’s out of passion.”

Most DDR organizers attribute the grassroots community’s recent growth to two main factors: Konami’s decision to release DanceDanceRevolution A in North America and the emergence of Round1, a Japanese arcade chain that has been aggressively opening locations throughout the USA. Round1 currently boasts 29 American locations in 21 states, with plans to open 50 stores by 2020.

Significantly, Konami also began allowing US competitors to participate in its annual Konami Arcade Championship (KAC) in 2017, opening up a whole new level of interest in the arcade classic. But although Konami uses the term “esport” in some of its KAC promotional materials, most DDR community members agree that it feels more like an exhibition than a true global championship.

“It not only feels like an exhibition — it totally is an exhibition,” says Hudson Felker, a longtime DDR competitor who was one of the first three Americans to compete at KAC. “It’s a very small part of a much larger event, the Japan Amusement Expo,” he explains. “You play two or three songs, it lasts an hour or two, and that’s it. No double eliminations, no brackets — nothing.”

We’ve got all of the greatest players in the world already there … why waste it on only an hour-long tournament with crappy rules?”

To remedy this, Felker tapped into his experience in the grassroots community to organize his own tournament: Extra Exclusive, which runs in Japan on the same weekend as KAC at an arcade down the block from the convention center. A group of more than 50 Americans will be traveling to Japan the last week of January to meet fellow competitors from across the globe, watch KAC and then compete or spectate at Felker’s tournament.

“We’ve got all of the greatest players in the world already there for KAC,” he says, “but why waste it on only an hour-long tournament with crappy rules? Last year’s [Extra Exclusive] was probably the best tournament experience I’ve ever had, and seeing American players interacting with the best from Japan, Korea… it’s just the coolest thing.”

With the grassroots community growing in the USA, active players often debate where DDR should go from here. Some think Konami should step in and create a structured esports league; others think corporate sponsors, like Nike, should jump on board and support local efforts; and others think the game is simply too niche and the community should carry on as is, fueled entirely by players.

“Over the past few years, our community has doubled and tripled in size,” says Felker. “So I certainly hope Konami gets more involved, because there’s a lot of untapped potential here. With the community where it’s at now, this is the time.”


According to Felker, Capcom’s professional eSports league serves as a perfect example of how this can be done well. But he remains skeptical of Konami and questions whether the company is truly invested in DDR.

“We’ve gone three or so years without a brand-new version,” he says, “and although Americans are dominating the leaderboards, we often get the short end of the stick. To reach the next level, we’d need full and utter cooperation from Konami, and they’ve shown no interest.”

Brittney Scott, an online organizer who hosts a number of women-only tournaments in the DDR community, suggests that corporate backing is not necessarily the best option.

“Having the tournaments run entirely by the players themselves is certainly an advantage,” she says. “We understand better than anyone how the players want to compete.”

But whatever the future has in store, organizers like Maiman will continue to focus on their local communities while occasionally taking a moment or two to dream big.

“Can you imagine the Barclays Center sold out to watch tons of competitors stomping around playing DDR?” Maiman asks, and he can’t help but laugh at the idea.

Maiman’s eyes light up as he takes out his cell phone to snap a photo of the hefty crowd gathered to watch his friends play DDR. At the end of the day, this sense of community is what matters most to organizers like him.

“I just want to have people here playing games with me,” he says. “To see people enjoying themselves and spending time together, and knowing I played a part in bringing them together, is a special feeling.”

Images: Gregory Leporati (David Maiman dancing, David Maiman portrait); Steve Foster (all other photos)

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