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May 2009

E3 2009: And So It Begins

E3 Expo If all is going according to plan, I should be landing in Los Angeles soon for a week of entertainment, excitement, and a little chaos that comes with covering the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo.  I'll be here all week attending press conferences, meeting with developers, snapping photos, walking the show floor, and then sharing what I learn right here on Press The Buttons and over at Kombo.  I'll also be adding photos to my E3 2009 Photo Album both in bulk from my trusty camera and on-the-go through my spiffy new camera-equipped phone.  The Kombo Breaker podcast is also swinging into gear with plans to do short reports every evening to recap whatever Brad, Joey, and I have seen during the day.  I'm expecting a big week; in addition to the E3 events I also have tickets to see the new The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien and the Video Games Live concert.  Just to give you an idea of my interests this year, here are some of the games I'm hoping to get some hands-on time with before the week is over (well, the ones I can tell you about right now, anyway, assuming that these all make an appearance):

  • Ghostbusters: The Video Game
  • A Boy and His Blob
  • Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time
  • Katamari Forever
  • Metroid Prime Trilogy
  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
  • Marvel vs. Capcom 2
  • Tatsunoko vs. Capcom
  • The Legendary Starfy

See you on the west coast.  ÿØÿà!

PSP Go Revealed, Detailed

PSP Go The rumors about the most recent worst-kept secret in video gaming have been solidified with actual photos of the Sony PlayStation Portable's latest iteration, the PSP Go (maybe without the exclamation point now).  The word on the street seems to have been true, as the UMD drive is history.  Engadget has the first pictures, technical details, and a video clip from next month's episode of Qore.  Someone sure spilled the beans early (assuming it's all true, of course).

  • 3.8-inch display (resolution is undisclosed)
  • 43 percent lighter than the PSP-3000
  • 16GB of Flash storage
  • Bluetooth built-in; supports handset tethering and BT headsets
  • No UMD drive
  • Memory Stick Micro slot
  • New Gran Turismo, LittleBigPlanet and new Metal Gear Solid (!) on the way
  • Full PlayStation Network support (movie and TV rentals / purchases)
  • Integration with PlayStation 3 (works the same as the PSP-3000 does)
  • Sony views each of its products as "10-year lifecycle products," so the PSP "needs to live on."

Despite my earlier hesitations, I'm still interested in the PSP Go with its 16GB of storage space, but I need to hear something about the fate of my UMD games before I take the leap.  It's a snazzy l'il gizmo though, particularly its lighter weight compared to its PSP-3000 predecessor.  Who knew that the future was so light?  More to come at E3, I'm sure.

Kombo Breaker - Episode 30: Big Red

Kombo BreakerThis week brings a shortened episode of Kombo Breaker as 75% of us prepare for the long trek to Los Angeles to cover E3 2009.  Although there's much to do, we made time to discuss things like the new Bionic Commando, Red Faction: Guerilla, and other such topics.  Be sure to get caught up before all of the new news breaks in the coming days.  Download this week's show directly from Kombo or subscribe via iTunes.

Hello, Mr. Spencer!: In Defense Of Bionic Commando

Bionic Commando Capcom's modern 3D revival of the classic Bionic Commando franchise is finally with us here in North America, but some people out there aren't enjoying the game as much as I'd anticipated.  There's a lot to love in Bionic Commando, but some people just don't see it.  Instead they criticize the controls, story, and basic gameplay structure.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so who among us is qualified to say if these naysayers are right or wrong?  I am.  They are wrong about Nathan Spencer's latest adventure and I've written an editorial over at Kombo to prove it.

Spencer's bionic arm does take some practice to control efficiently, but that should not be a surprise. It took some time and a little effort to master the bionic arm in the original 1988 Bionic Commando as well as last year's Rearmed remake. Like anything worthwhile in life, practice makes perfect. Being able to swing through the air while shooting at enemy grunts does not come easy, but is so rewarding when done right. After about three hours worth of total playing time I was able to perform three consecutive swings into the middle of a troop of soldiers, shoot one as I approached, drop a grenade on two others, and dispatch the last one by snagging him with the bionic arm and slamming him into Spencer's boots all without losing momentum. Just like performing on-demand headshots in a first-person shooter or power sliding around every curve in a racing challenge, mastering the bionic arm requires patience and training. Automating the bionic arm's lock-on mechanic as some have suggested would have completely defeated the purpose of the game, just as if Mario's jumping were done on-rails or Captain Falcon's racecar sported automatic acceleration.

I know that E3 is just around the corner and everyone is already looking onward for the next big game in development, but do yourself a favor and explore Bionic Commando.  Do not let it pass you by.  Swinging through the bombed out radioactive ruins of a major city while gunning down enemy grunts hasn't felt this good in a long time.

Mini-Review: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena Expanding on The Chronicles of Riddick and Pitch Black films, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena from Atari and Starbreeze Studios for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC continues the story of Riddick after his escape from Butcher Bay (as seen in the previous Riddick game, aptly titled Escape from Butcher Bay).  When Riddick is brought aboard the mercenary ship called Dark Athena, he will have to escape from his captors and dispense a little dark justice, if you know what I mean.  If none of this makes sense, then don't worry: Assault includes the original 2004 Butcher Bay game dressed up with current generation elements and an added sequence to bridge the plot of the two games.  Two complete games on a single disc makes for an incredible deal in these uncertain economic times, but is the game worth your time as well as money?  Will you take a shine to Riddick's first-person stealth exploits?

Continue reading "Mini-Review: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena" »

Punch-Out!! Trivia Knocks You Out

Von Kaiser Have you stepped back into the ring as Little Mac yet?  Nintendo's classic Punch-Out!! franchise is back, this time for the Nintendo Wii.  Last week I brought you up to speed on the history of the series that has brought us such bombastic personalities as Von Kaiser, King Hippo, and Soda Popinski, but today it's time for a little Punch-Out!! trivia lesson courtesy of PTB reader Guy Perfect.  He sent in some interesting minutiae about the series that intrigued me enough that I just have to share it with you.  There are spoilers for the new Wii game beyond this point.

  • The Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!! arcade games are both basically identical with different opponents (and you can duck in the second one). Many of the fighters made their debut here, though Kid Quick and Pizza Pasta (both from the first one) were never seen again. The arcade games are more similar to the SNES game than the NES one: always a three-knockdown rule, and a power bar that goes up as you hit the opponent in place of stars and hearts.

  • Gabby Jay from SNES Super Punch-Out!! is a clone of Glass Joe from arcade Punch-Out!!, complete with jumping back and taunting "Come on!" Jay was supposedly Joe's student at one time, and Joe is the only opponent Jay ever defeated.

  • When dealt a certain number of consecutive jabs to the face in Super Punch-Out!! (SNES), fighters go into a dizzied state that usually leaves them open to any kind of attack. An exception is final boss Nick Bruiser, who steps to the back of the ring to regain his composure then steps back into the fight. The exact moment he starts walking back, you can fire up an uppercut that will knock him down if you time it right. There has been, like, one time in recorded history when this somehow managed to KO Nick after his first bar of Stamina, leading to a record time of less than 7 seconds.

Continue reading "Punch-Out!! Trivia Knocks You Out" »

We Still Need Mega Man 2: Powered Up

Mega Man Spare me the sob story of how Capcom's Mega Man: Powered Up for the Sony PlayStation Portable didn't sell well enough to justify a sequel.  While I initially had my doubts about the Powered Up concept, the finished product made me a convert to the cutesy remake of the original Nintendo Entertainment System game, but the idea just feels incomplete without Powered Up iterations of the beloved Mega Man 2 and Mega Man 3.  With the rumored PSP Go's emphasis on digital distribution over struggling retail sales, the time has never been better for sequels.  Doubt me?  Maybe this fan art of reimagined updates of the next two sets of Robot Masters will change your mind.  Heat Man, Quick Man, Top Man, and Shadow Man have never been so adorable.

Mega Man 2: Powered Up

Mega Man 3: Powered Up

(via Gaming Rocks On, although I can't find the original source for the artwork)

Exit, Shoulder Button Right

Super NES controller Video game controllers have been gaining buttons for years.  We started with a single action button, moved up to two buttons in the 8-bit era of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System, and so on until we've arrived at the ten buttons monster that is the DualShock 3 controller for the Sony PlayStation 3.  The first example of "button creep" that I remember striking me in a "why do we need this?" way has to be the Super NES's L and R buttons.  Located on the top of the controller, it took a while for these two buttons to find their purpose.  1UP's Retro Gaming Blog seemingly agrees in an article that calls these shoulder buttons one of gaming's noblest failures.

The problem is, no one's quite sure what to do with the L and R buttons. Their placement makes them convenient for auxiliary inputs but impractical for commands executed in the heat of action. The player's index finger rests on them, sure, but their arrangement is such that it's difficult to squeeze off quick actions like you can with the classic thumb-on-the-face-buttons approach. The shoulder buttons look impressive and bespeak a machine with incredible power. But what on earth are they for, really? In 1991, it was a mystery.  Just because Nintendo wasn't sure what to do with the shoulder buttons, though, didn't mean they didn't give it the ol' college try. And so they made a sporting effort with the system's flagship launch title, Super Mario World. By pressing the L or R triggers, players could scroll the screen ahead (or back) very slightly to get a glimpse of what lay in store (or behind). 

It was a clever idea... and it was also practically useless. Peeking ahead would be a big help in games with arbitrary pits and unfair hazards, but the rub is that this was Super Mario World; it was better than that. The game could be challenging, but it was never cheap. Danger was always properly telegraphed. The peep maneuver wasn't even much help in the auto-scrolling stages, because activating it was too slow and cumbersome. It was, in short, a completely unnecessary feature -- a real rarity for a game directed by Shigeru Miyamoto, who normally takes a "lean and mean" approach to design, culling any feature that doesn't make a significant contribution to a game's overall design.

Admittedly, the L and R scrolling gimmick in Super Mario World didn't do much to boost the gameplay.  The first game that I felt actually used the shoulder buttons for something useful is 1993's Mega Man X in which X's special weapons could be turned on and off without having to stop and navigate the pause menu first as in previous Mega Man titles.  Not having to stop for a weapon change helped keep the action moving, and although it's a little thing, it was one of the elements that made Mega Man X a bit more frantic than its traditional Mega Man franchise counterpart. 

Sega Announces Another Damn Sonic Racing Game

Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing Sonic the Hedgehog is the fastest thing alive, right?  Then I have a great idea: let's put him in a sports car!  Cynicism aside, Sega has jumped the E3 gun with the reveal of next year's Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing for presumably all three major platforms, although I'm guessing this is the Sony PlayStation 3 / Microsoft Xbox 360 version we're looking at here today.  It looks like we're in for a Poochie-fied Mario Kart for the other side of the 1990s console war featuring Sonic, Tails, Dr. Robotnik, Amy Rose, Amigo, Aiai, and other characters from the world of Sega.  Here's the trailer straight from YouTube:

I know I'm being especially hard on this project mere minutes after learning that it exists, but it just seems like such an empty soulless cash-in of a game.  I think I've been burned by too many disappointing Sonic games lately to muster any more enthusiasm, although I do think that Dr. Robotnik's monster truck fits his character perfectly.  Mike Fahey over at Kotaku has this to say:

[W]hile some may rail about mishandling the Sonic property, this is exactly the sort of thing Nintendo has been doing with Mario for years. Our own personal feelings about the Sonic character aside, Sega is still a business, and if it sells, then by all means sell it.

Sonic & Sega All-Star Racing He has a point, but this sort of thing still makes me shake my head in bewilderment.  A decent Sonic-themed racing game should be a foregone conclusion, but it didn't work in 1994 as Sonic Drift or its sequel one year later, nor did it work in 2006's airboard-driven Sonic Riders or its 2008 sequel.  The closest that Sega ever came to producing a proper and enjoyable Sonic racing game was, of all things, 1997's Sonic R along with the two Sonic Rivals titles for the Sony PlayStation Portable released in recent years.  Those three games weren't perfect by any means, but it put Sonic on the ground and let him use his fleet feet instead of a focus-grouped and audience-tested X-TREEEM! mode of propelled transportation.  Here's one more quote for you, this time from the European Marketing Director at Sega Europe, Ltd., Gary Knight:

"Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing is no ordinary racing game. Its huge variety of characters and vehicles, plus the ability to play both online and off set it apart from other games of this type."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe that is actually the definition of a racing video game.  "This is no ordinary racing game.  It has vehicles and multiplayer modes!"  Do you think the vehicles will be steerable?  Oh my, I really should go rest and work the remaining crankiness out of my system.

New PSP Go To Be Shown At E3, Slim PS3 Seems To Be Real

Insert your own revised PSP concept image hereRemember the buzz around the rumored UMD-less version of the Sony PlayStation Portable, the PSP Go! (again, their exclamation mark, not mine)?  And the supposedly leaked blurry photos of a smaller PlayStation 3Ars Technica has it on good authority that both of those products are real, although you'll hear about one before you hear about the other.

Not only is the PSP Go real, but we'll be seeing a slimmed-down PS3 in August or September. However, this news likely won't be announced during E3. Allow us to explain. There are plenty of PS3 systems sitting on store shelves right now, and Sony is planning on sitting back and allowing the supply of those units to dry up over the summer. We shouldn't expect a price cut, but the possibility is certainly there. After retailers are ready for new stock, Sony will begin releasing the slimmer units to retail, although what features have been taken away or added is still anyone's guess.

When will we know for sure? The PSP-Go will likely be announced at E3, so that rumor will be confirmed very soon. As for the slimmer PS3, that will be kept quiet for quite a while. Why tell customers that new hardware is coming when you're trying to clear the retail channel of your older models? The mole did say the hardware could be shown to select partners at E3, behind very tightly closed doors, so more leaks may provide extra evidence of the system's existence.

It makes sense for Sony not to show its cards on a new version of the PS3 if the company wants to clear the supply of existing consols before introducing a "better" model, but it seems counterproductive to hide the slim PS3 at E3.  At this point it seems to be one of the worst kept secrets in the gaming industry.  They may as well at least tease it at E3 rather than do a poor job of denying its existence while the select partners embark on a three-month game of "I know something you don't know".  As for the PSP Go, I'm interested in seeing just what it has to offer (or not offer, e.g. UMDs), but I'm also glad that the current model of PSP will remain an option for a while more.  Without some kind of economical upgrade program for my existing UMD library, I'm not so eager to lose the disc drive.

(via Kotaku)