The Phantom Dust name has gone through quite an ordeal with Microsoft recently. The deck was stacked against the original game when it released between 2004 and 2005 in Japan and America, respectively, solely thanks to being a Japanese-developed action game for the original Xbox, a system where such games sold the least. It also appeared Microsoft didn’t see much sales potential in it when they decided to pass on bringing the game to America, and left those duties to a considerably smaller operation in Majesco Entertainment. The game was also part of the final round of notable games released for the system, and was low-key enough that no one bothered to release it in Europe.
However, it obtained a good reception, and sold to a dedicated audience that really enjoyed its approach to online multiplayer arena play. In fact, they found it enjoyable enough that many of them reminisced about it for years, and hoped that Microsoft would remember it for a revival. And they did! Somewhat.
It appeared to be on the cusp of a revival when a remake was announced at E3 2014 for Xbox One, though it was done in the form of a CG video, and Microsoft didn’t provide many details outside it.
Sadly, the game never surfaced, and we eventually discovered how its development at Darkside Games was tumultuous to say the least. The developer said the announcement trailer was created and shown without Microsoft consulting them first, and their name wasn’t associated with any part of it. They took this as a sign that Microsoft didn’t have much faith that they would deliver anything palatable, which was made worse when some of the artwork assets didn’t match what they’d already developed. They also claimed they couldn’t create a remake at the scope Microsoft was asking for with the budget they were given. In other words, they felt like Microsoft stabbed them in the back, which led to the game being cancelled. Darkside was forced to shutter after they couldn’t find stable work afterward.
Instead of pursuing another developer for the remake, Microsoft opted for a cheaper option and simply worked on an enhanced port of the original Xbox version for a new audience on XB1 and PC. The game will now be rendered in a 16:9 resolution as opposed to the 4:3 one of the original, and will run in 1080p on XB1 and 4K on PC. It’s likely the game will also run on 4K on the upcoming Xbox Scorpio, the more powerful iteration of the XB1 whose full reveal is coming at E3 2017 in slightly over a month.
While this version will present the same experience some people knew and loved, Microsoft is making changes that will ostensibly benefit the final product. Players will no longer have to venture through the single-player campaign to obtain the deck-building mechanic. Also, if a player fails a mission three times, they’ll receive the option to skip it, but will still obtain the rewards for completing it. Both changes should allow players to jump into the multiplayer quicker, so they don’t have to spend too much time slogging through the solo quest. There will still be Achievements tied to completing those modes without skipping them, however.
Like any online game, Microsoft will be patching it with updates for as long as they can maintain a sizable player base. They plan to provide free and paid DLC down the line, the first of which will be a free pack that will include a slew of skills and an arsenal case, so players can jump right into multiplayer without bothering with single-player mode for too long. The first paid pack of DLC will provide accelerants that will give players a bunch of typically-unlockable skills immediately, and hopefully they’ll provide more clarification on this soon, because it sounds a lot like pay2win scheme on the surface.
Polygon posted a lengthy video showcasing this version in action. Though its 2004 origins are visible in the environments, it still holds up well for a game from that era. It’s one of the reasons why Microsoft isn’t calling it a “remaster” in the video, as despite the increased resolution, new aspect ratio, and minor gameplay modifications, it’s identical to the original Xbox version. But even the original is still mostly aesthetically pleasing, so it looks good enough for the assuredly-low price they’ll charge. The job was tough for the team at Microsoft that spearheaded the port, because they didn’t have access to the original version’s source code (Japanese development outfits used to have a serious problem with source codes), but they appear to have done well.
This Phantom Dust port will arrive sometime by the end of the year. Expect Microsoft to provide a precise date sometime between now and E3, if not at the show itself. It looks mostly done here, so perhaps it could be one of the titles that will be released immediately after their E3 conference.