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February 2009

Kombo Breaker - Episode 17: The One with Garnett Lee

Kombo BreakerI hope that you're ready for this week's episode of the Kombo Breaker podcast because it is certainly ready for you.  This week we talk with 1UP Executive Producer Garnett Lee about the future of the game journalism industry (but don't call it journalism, apparently), surviving the economic collapse, and the demise of print media as well as lighter topics such as my week with Street Fighter IV & the Legendary Cars of Burnout Paradise, Joey Davidson's decision to sell his Nintendo Wii after buying a Sony PlayStation 3, purchasing indie games, and the madness that comes with doing one's taxes.  Download this week's episode directly from Kombo as an MP3 file or subscribe via iTunes, and, of course, be sure to check out the show notes for links to some of the topics discussed on the show.

Pikachu's Newspaper Career Cut Short For Good Reason

Pokémon Take a moment to think about the best that newspaper comic strips had to offer.  The medium gave us such classics as The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Dilbert, and the early non-sellout days of Garfield.  One strip that you'll never see on such a list is the creatively bankrupt Pokémon comic strip that ran in papers for a brief period at the turn of the century.  Platypus Comix walks us through some of the worst that Pikachu and friends had to offer in this latest installment of the ongoing series Worst Comix Ever.

Back when a higher percentage of the human population read newspapers, lazy syndicates could get away with licensing pre-existing, already-popular characters for new comic strips instead of buying original concepts. The peak of this practice was in the early 80's when Star Wars, Star Trek, Tarzan, Bruce Lee, several Hanna-Barbera characters and even Dallas had their own newspaper strips. The majority of them came courtesy of Creators Syndicate, ironically named because it was intended to sell creator-driven things, but they soon broke their promise and became the worst offenders for soulless product-based strips.

I'm not a Pokémon fan and my knowledge of the characters is limited to what I learned from the Super Smash Bros. games, but even I can tell that these comics betray their source material in favor of low-hanging humor fruit.  They're obviously aimed at the younger fans of Pikachu, but it just makes me shake my head in disappointment that this sort of thing is expected to share the page with creative works from talented artists.  Many of the strips remind of the little four panel comics I used to draw in early elementary school that relied on private in-jokes and poorly drawn sight gags.  They were funny to me at the time, but nobody else had any hope of finding them the least bit amusing.  These Castlevania comics I mentioned last year follow a similar theme.  The Pokémon comic isn't the first waste of newspaper space to appear as an attempt at a quick cash-in and it certainly won't be the last, but I wonder, is there any hope of producing game-based comic strips on a mainstream level that are actually entertaining?

Anyone Who Opposes Me Will Be Entertained

Street FighterWith all of the Street Fighter talk going on lately it's only natural that some renewed interest toward the original 1994 film based on the video game would follow.  A few days ago there was a little discussion here on PTB about Raul Julia's portrayal of the Shadoloo general and warlord M. Bison and how much fun the actor seemed to be having during his performance.  Someone else out there is on the same wavelength, as YouTube user AnimeMaser has put together a sixteen minute selection of Bison's greatest moments from Street Fighter: The Movie.  Are you ready to live in the loving grip of the Pax Bisonica?

Raul Julia really is the best part of this movie. He chews the scenery, relishes the overdramatic dialog, and really seems to embrace the role of Bison and the over-the-top aspects of the character. He could make the best of a bad script, be it as Bison or, say, Aram Fingal.

(via Kombo)

Street Fighter IV Review At Kombo

Street Fighter IV I've spent the last week digging deep into the Sony PlayStation 3 version of Capcom's new Street Fighter IV and now my glowing praise and a handful of criticism has been published over at Kombo.  I had a lot to say about this game and blew passed the usual word count limit we have for reviews, but for a title with such a high profile, I think it's worth it to express everything worth saying.  Here's a snippet:

Visually, Street Fighter IV is a step away from the 2D graphics of previous games in the series, but the World Warriors have never looked better in 3D than they do here. Fighters move with a fluidity never seen before in a Street Fighter game, giving the illusion that matches are not barbaric brawls, but carefully choreographed works of art. The characters almost seem alive at times based on the way they look at things that catch their attention. They even breathe, inhaling and exhaling deeply when pushing themselves to the limit. Some of the animation keyframes can be a bit goofy at times (for instance, take a sucker punch at Blanka to see for yourself), but it helps maintain the animated levity of the Street Fighter experience. The animated story sequences and kick off and finish Arcade mode are presented as 2D animation, giving a little taste of the best of both visual styles.

There's a lot to like in
Street Fighter IV and a lot to do. Mastering each of the fighters and guiding them through the game's many modes will take quite a while if one wants to see and do absolutely everything, but those looking to pick up the controller for twenty minutes or so at a time will find much to enjoy here as well. Street Fighter is not a casual game by any means, but can be satisfying in little spurts in addition to hours at a time.

For as much as I like this game it's hard to imagine that, as a kid, I hated fighting games and wanted nothing to do with them.  Why would I want to punch people in the face when I could collect coins or rescue princesses?  Then GamePro magazine started an ongoing series on Street Fighter II that put the emphasis on the larger than life characters rather than the brutality which captured my interest, and while that did make me curious about this whole Street Fighter thing, it wasn't until a neighborhood friend convinced his grandmother to buy the Super NES version of the game for us to play that I started to understand the point of it all and actually enjoy the different layers of gameplay.  Now here I am, years later, raving about Street Fighter IV with high praise and enjoyment.  Who says that gamers never grow up?

Wii Ghostbusters Gets Real

Ghostbusters Atari is finally starting to take the protective wrapping off of the Nintendo Wii version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game which, as you'll recall, sports a less realistic, more animated style compared to its Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 counterparts.  Kombo has some screenshots to show you in which we see the team in action plus looks as receptionist Janine Melnitz, pet ghost Slimer, and much more (there are a few screenshots of the powerhouse console version of the game mixed in for some reason, so just ignore those).  Take special notice of the image featuring a ghost wearing an old military uniform that resembles the one worn by Ray Stantz during the dream sequence in the first Ghostbusters movie.  That dream sequence was actually part of a longer scene in the original script and the film's novelization in which the team is called upon to clear ghosts out of Fort Detmerring.  Coincidence?  Maybe that lost scene has made it into the game.  We'll find out in June.

Does The New Street Fighter Movie Understand That Clothes Make The World Warrior?

Chun-LiThe latest attempt at forging a live action film franchise based on Capcom's Street Fighter series of video games, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, is about to be unleashed on the world, and Sci Fi Wire sat down with the latest actress to take on the role Chun-Li, Kristin Kreuk, to discuss a variety of film-related topics.  It's more promotional fluff for a movie with low expectations, but one thing that she said regarding the famous Chun-Li costume stood out:

How did it feel to wear the blue dress and have your hair in the buns?

Kreuk: It felt fine. It's hard to fight in that stuff, really hard to fight in heels and a dress, because I was used to having pants, and I could move more and I was more flexible. They made the dress loose on purpose so that we could fit pads in it and do a lot more movement. The buns are cute. I felt like a 2-year-old, but they were cute.

Here's the problem with trying to create a realistic Street Fighter film: since the game's explosive moves are entirely unrealistic at best and physically impossible at worst (Kikoken fireballs tossed from the palm of one's hand?  Spinning Bird Kicks that defy gravity?), the only way to visually tie the film to the game is with the use of recognizable costumes.  If you take Chun-Li's lightning legs and qipao away from her, then she's not really Chun-Li anymore, is she?  The new film makes this sort of misstep with M. Bison by dressing him in a business suit instead of his iconic military garb.  Take away his stylish red dictator hat with the snazzy Shadoloo skull logo and he's just not that intimidating anymore.  Want proof?  Check out Bison's alternate costume from the new Street Fighter IV.  Do you even recognize him without his hat?  Do you still fear him without it?  I think not. 

(Chun-Li image from Street Fighter Galleries, for all your World Warrior image needs)

A Salute To The Sega Mega Drive

Sega Mega Drive Those of us in North America who survived the great 16-bit video game console war remember the mighty schism that divided fans of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis, but across the sea in that strange land they call Europe, the war had its own regional spin.  There the Genesis went by the name Mega Drive, but no matter what one calls it, Sega's mighty expandable console still conjures up images of sunny days spent indoors with a speedy hedgehog, rapmaster aliens from outer space, or blue and pink cartoon bunnies (no relation).  Allow me to point you to Robin Clarke's detailed tribute to and recap of the Sega Mega Drive in belated celebration of the console's twentieth anniversary.

Before Sonic, I guess a typical reference for speed in platform games was thinking that sprinting in Prince of Persia was jolly exciting, and Super Mario Bros 3 or perhaps Shadow of the Beast would be the benchmark for environmental detail, not that anyone would be using the term “environmental detail” for a good few years. I can remember seeing the first (black and white) screenshots of Sonic in Sega Power, and imagining perhaps a moderately slicker version of Rainbow Islands or Flicky. Seeing the game running for the first time was a revelation. Sonic (the game) wasn’t just a vehicle for an iconic mascot, it was a motivational force, a hypnotic form of sensory overload that shifted countless units and inspired a million playground oaths of allegiance.

Sonic had the effect of raising the bar for the technical quality of Mega Drive games, and the newly expanded userbase that the machine netted over Christmas in 1991 justified publishers making the investment to try to match that level of quality. As a result, 1992 saw a new wave of more ambitious and polished titles with the massively enhanced Streets of Rage 2 and Sonic 2 (at the time, probably the most hyped gaming ‘event’ yet seen) showing that Sega weren’t content to rest on their laurels. Sega also continued to try to offer games outside of their traditional arcade/action specialisation, bolstering their slightly anemic lineup of RPG titles with Climax’s isometric adventure Landstalker, which garnered a brief but fervent pre-release buzz heralding it as the Mega Drive’s answer to Zelda, as well as being the first game to ship on a 16 megabit cartridge.

As I've said before, in my youth I was the Super NES booster while one of my friends was the Sega Genesis promoter, so between the two of us we had access to the greatest hits of the 16-bit generation.  We missed a lot of ground though, so I've made it a point in recent years to explore some of what I missed the first time around.  Yes, we all know about Sonic the Hedgheog and Vectorman, but there are plenty of other Genesis games that have yet to make a reappearance in a modern retro compilation or digital re-release and deserve an hour or two of your time.  Add these to your shortlist the next time you go retro game shopping: Castlevania BloodlinesAero the Acrobat and its sequel, B.O.B., Ghostbusters, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure, and - for the international Mega Drive folks out there - Mega Man: The Wily Wars.

Original photo by Bill Bertram

Commodore 64 Comes To Nintendo's Virtual Console

Commodore 64Nintendo added another classic gaming system to the Virtual Console line-up here in North America today as three Commodore 64 games — The Last Ninja, International Karate, and Pitstop II — are available for 500 Wii Points each.  I had a Commodore 64 computer as a kid.  It was the first computer I ever owned and was a holiday gift from my parents at a very young age.  In fact, it was "always" in our home when I think back to my earliest memories, although I also remember being introduced to it one December morning.  In addition to early word processing and newsletter publication applications, I had a bunch of games for it.  Today's Virtual Console additions were not among them, and here's where the nostalgia trap springs shut on me.  500 Wii Points is, in my mind, too steep for most Commodore 64 games.  However, the list of games that I would consider to be worth the price — games such as ALF: The First Adventure, Ducks Ahoy, Seesaw, Catastrophes, Project Space Station, and, of course, Activision's Ghostbusters — are also games that I loved in my youth and would love to see again outside of emulating the classic computer on my modern PC.  So, there you have it, Nintendo.  If you want me to gobble up Commodore 64 games, make a few of my early gaming memories available on the service, and I'll gladly take a bite.

Weekly Poll: Location, Location, Location

Weekly Poll for 2-19-2009There's not as much adoration and excitement for Street Fighter IV as I'd expected.  Is it because the Street Fighter concept has grown stale for you or is it because you do not own the consoles that can play it?  I know the majority of the PTB audience tends to only own Nintendo Wiis this generation, but still... I guess this explains why nobody was interested in challenging me to a match over the weekend: there isn't anyone out there to do it!  Street Fighter IV has thoroughly impressed me.  I think it's the best of the series yet and it's going to get a very glowing review from over at Kombo, but you'll have to read that later this week to find out why.

Looking ahead, we spend a lot of time talking about playing games, but hardly ever discuss where games are played.  So this week I'm asking you about how you have your consoles and PC arranged in your home.  Where is your gaming sweet spot?  Are the consoles sharing space in your living room?  Crammed into a bedroom?  Enshrined in a special media room?  Crunched into a shared dorm unit?  Let's hear about your use of space. 

Kombo Breaker - Episode 16: John Davison and the Other Side of Game Journalism

Kombo BreakerThe end of another week brings a new episode of the Kombo Breaker podcast.  This week John Davison of What They Play is our guest, and he basically takes over the first hour of the show to talk about his past working at the now-dead Electronic Gaming Monthly magazine, his efforts to educate parents about which games may contain objectionable elements, and how his staff's review methods differ from conventional video game journalism.  Then we get back on track with discussion of Burnout Paradise, two WiiWare games that I'm currently reviewing, Valentine's Day at White Castle for some reason, and wrap it all up with a look at the upcoming North American release of the Nintendo DSi and how we expect it to perform in the market.  You can download the show in MP3 format direct from Kombo or subscribe through iTunes.  Then there's the ever-present show notes to review, too.  What do you think, sirs?