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May 2006

Yoshi's Island 2 Storyline Revealed

YoshiandbabymarioNintendo has updated their online press room with a metric assload of new information about nearly every new game the company revealed earlier this month at E3.  Mixed in with all of the "TBA" notices and concept art are some new details about some highly anticipated games.  For example, now we know the storyline behind Yoshi's Island 2 for the Nintendo DS.  Cross your fingers and behold!

A mysterious floating island has suddenly appeared over peaceful Yoshi's Island. Soon after its arrival, a gaggle of kids vanishes from the island school. Thankfully, Baby Mario, Baby Peach and Baby Donkey Kong manage to avoid being kidnapped. Now, Yoshi and the three young superstars must set out on a wild and colorful quest to rescue the kids and investigate the ominous island hovering overhead.

While the story element wasn't a major force in the original Yoshi's Island, it did provide some helpful framing elements, so it's good to see a little thought put into the story for the sequel (unlike Kirby's upcoming DS adventure that features this plot: "When someone steals some strawberry shortcake, the pink powerhouse sets out after them, learning new skills.").  I'm just thankful that Yoshi's Island has managed to avoid being transformed into a book yet again (two of Yoshi's four major games feature that plot gimmick if you're keeping score).  Now if we can just avoid the DS "magic pen" claptrap and overplayed light/dark world dynamics, everything will be fine.

AMN's E3 2006 Picks

Super Mario GalaxyIt's very hard for those of us in the game journalism industry to let go of the glut of information that is E3, but at AMN we're finally saying farewell to the week of games, sleep deprivation, and McDonald's meals by picking our five favorite games of the show.  My colleagues and I have put together lists of what we each consider to be the best that E3 had to offer over all of the major consoles (both current and upcoming).  Now then, on to E3 2007!

Weekly Poll: The New Mushroom Kingdom

Weekly Poll for 5-22-2006 Sorry gang, but I did not buy a Microsoft Xbox last week.  I did pick up some more Sony PlayStation 2 games from the used bin, however.  I spent the weekend exploring Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, the original Ratchet and Clank, and still untouched is the first Devil May Cry.  It looks like I'll have plenty to play during the review drought between the decline of new Nintendo GameCube releases and the rise of the Nintendo Wii.

Speaking of Nintendo, now that New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS has finally been released, what do you think of the game?  Is it everything you'd hoped for and more?  Was it lacking anything?  I've been crowing about the game for a year now so we all know my thoughts on the matter.  What are yours?

New Zelda Keeps Link On The Run

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom HourglassI've never been a fan of puzzle adventure games that include an progress-hindering ticking clock.  You know the idea.  "Jump through all these rings in ten seconds to lower the drawbridge!"  "Stab all four statues in four different rooms in one minute to reveal the treasure!"  I like to take a moment and think about the puzzle challenge in front of me.  Basically, I don't like to be rushed.  If you feel the same way then I'm afraid I have some bad news for us all.  The upcoming Nintendo DS title The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass includes a "hurry up!" gimmick: chasers.

The dungeons contain invincible and deadly enemies [Eiji] Aonuma affectionately calls "chasers". When they see Link, they'll pursue him relentlessly. They're invulnerable to Link's attacks, and can down him in a single hit, so these guys aren't someone you want to try to hack your way through. Thankfully, they appear on the top screen map, so Link can plot routes around them. The dungeons feature sanctuary zones where Link can hide from the chasers as well as special jars that, when thrown, create smaller sanctuaries Link can use anywhere.

While the new game could turn out to be loads of fun, the news of these chaser creatures doesn't fill me with excitement.  I've often observed that forcing an ongoing ticking clock or similar gimmick in a game is an attempt at padding out a short gaming experience, as since gamers will often fail to complete the frustratingly arbitrary task before time expires, they'll have to try again and again (I'm looking at you, Star Fox Adventures).  When I complete a section of a game that includes this type of dynamic my first thought is usually "Whew, glad I've finished that part and I never have to play it again."  Does that seem odd to anyone else?  If I'm not having fun then why do I keep playing?

Plok's Platforming Perfection

Plok One of my favorite games to spring from the great cartoon character game mascot wars of the 16-bit generation has to be Plok for the Super NES.  Released in 1992, Plok tells the story of our intrepid hero (Plok), a little fella made up of what appears to be boots, gloves, a hangman's hood, and a torso.  Plok's self-assigned mission was to drive the nasty fleas from his island, a feat accomplished by shooting his own arms and legs at his targets.  Without his limbs poor Plok is defenseless, meaning he must hop around on his torso until he can recover his missing parts.  The game is downright hard to complete, as it's very long and lacks a save feature or password ability.  Taking on the world of Plok is one hell of a commitment even today.

I'd seen Plok in one of the video gaming magazines of the day and was very interested in picking up the game.  At the age of 11 my love of platforming video games was in full bloom, so imagine my joy at finding a new copy of Plok on sale only one month after its release for only $20.  That's right - the game was already marked down for clearance just a few weeks after its debut.  I always wondered what happened to Plok.  The game was never ported to the competing systems of the day, nor did the character appear in sequels like competing characters Aero the Acrobat or Bubsy the Bobcat.

Surprisingly, Plok's creators still own the rights to the character.  John and Ste Pickford have launched an archive of material detailing their many many games, and fortunately for Plok fans everywhere there is a special archive devoted to the little guy.  Marvel at unused concept art for future unrealized marketing endeavors, thrill at the unreleased coin-op prequel Fleapit, and hope someday for a new proper Plok adventure.  We miss you, Plok.  Come home.

Wii Price And Shipments Teasingly Announced

Nintendo logoNintendo has done it again.  They've put out a press release that somehow manages to confirm what we think we already knew, yet doesn't actually say anything revealing.  In this case it's a confirmation that the new Wii console will not sell for a price above $250 and will be released worldwide in the fourth quarter this year.  This all falls into line with what was being talked about in the backrooms at E3, but it's good to see it in official print.

With all the positive media buzz surrounding the Wii it certainly looks like Nintendo is set to make a killing in the gaming market very soon.  I don't know if they'll ever return to the glory days of 1987-1994, but they'll certainly enrapture a lot of new fans this time around.  Some people believe the Wii will make a great "second console" next to a Microsoft Xbox 360 or Sony PlayStation 3, but I bet for most casual gamers the Wii will be more than enough to satisfy that craving for games for a while.  Then once the casual gamers become rabid gamers they can dive into the overpriced market.  See?  Everybody wins.

WarioWare Persona Disappoints

Wario in Super Smash Bros. Brawl I was afraid of this.  It appears that when Wario makes his fighting debut in Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii he'll be appearing in his WarioWare persona complete with biker costume and flatulence attack.  Masahiro Sakurai, why have you forsaken me?

This time, the Wario you know from the "WarioWare" series makes an appearance. In trying to embody the flavor of the original game, we've aimed to give him some rather...excessive movements.  What does that mean, you ask? You'll just have to wait and see.  The flatulence you saw in the movie is a fantastic move we're tentatively calling the Wario Waft. The more time passes, the more Wario's gas builds up...

Video games don't need toilet humor to be entertaining, but mostly I'm disappointed to see that we're not going to get the Wario from Wario World or Wario Land.  That's the Wario persona that I know and love with his power-up hats and whimsical transformations and brawling attacks; not this new identity in which he's basically just the poster boy for the microgame concept with some gas humor thrown in for sport.

Prepare For Video Armageddon

The Wizard You've probably heard by now that after years of begging and pleading with Universal Studios the company is finally ready to release the video game product placement masterpiece of a film, The Wizard, on DVD in North America.  You remember The Wizard, right?  It was the film that all eight-year-olds in 1989 demanded to see because of the masterful acting ability of TV's Fred Savage.  Or maybe it had something to do with the promised sneak preview unveiling of the then-upcoming Super Mario Bros. 3.  It's been so long that I really don't remember which reason is correct.

One aspect of the film that annoyed me royally in 1989 was the many gaming inaccuracies and discrepancies.  Why does Jimmy press buttons during Double Dragon's opening non-interactive cinema scene?  How can Jimmy clear three levels of Super Mario Bros. 3 in less than fifteen seconds of gameplay?  How do Corey and Haley know that there's a hidden warp whistle at the end of "World 3" (really World 1-3, but that's a mistake stacked on top of an inaccuracy)?  And how do they know that it goes to World 4?  These questions will most likely go unanswered on the new DVD and I can't say I'm eager to buy a copy, but if they include interviews in which the actors apologize for the gaffes I may be inclined to reconsider.  Maybe.

Some Words With Joshua Buhler About Duck Hunt And Beyond

Lakitu You may never have heard of Joshua Buhler, but chances are that you've come across his Flash creations online.  His portfolio includes a Flash recreation of Nintendo's classic Duck Hunt, an emblem creator for Mario Kart DS, and a Dashboard widget that uses Lakitu to indicate the current status of the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.  He even put together the Flash for the PTB E3 2006 Video Album.  Not too long ago I had the chance to talk with Josh about his projects and his future.

Continue reading "Some Words With Joshua Buhler About Duck Hunt And Beyond" »

No Longer Sanitized For Your Protection

Red SteelOne of the great unanswered questions of E3 2006 has to be "How can a sword slasher game called Red Steel not include any blood?"  I'm not a blood booster, but it seems to me that if you're going to make a sword game called Red Steel that you'd want the game to live up to the title.  To do otherwise would be like creating a game called Mortal Kombat that involved intense slap fights.  Well, Ubisoft has come forward with a promise of blood for Red SteelAMN has the story.

In regards to the blood, there will be blood - just not in a graphic way. I believe you can have blood spurt and then disappear and still receive a teen rating.

Some have said that the E3 demo of Red Steel lacked blood because of the concerns of bad press over "another" bloody video game during the Nintendo Wii's grand debut.  Others have said that Ubisoft used the time prior to E3 to work on the game's controls instead of visual touches.  I can believe the latter theory.  Red Steel needs some texture refinement and detailing, so it's not hard to imagine that adding blood is somewhere on the post-E3 task list.  E3 was all about selling the freehand controller, not about showing another vein-bursting combat game.