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September 2011

Power Button - Episode 63: PlayStation Vita Pricing Is A Trickster While Netflix Spins Off Qwikster

Power ButtonWe're all excited to see what Sony's PlayStation Vita can do once it breaks loose into the marketplace, but that $250 sticker price won't get you everything that you need for a fun time.  This week on Power Button, Brad Hilderbrand, Joey Davidson, and I examine the Vita's accessories including the charge dock, extra battery, & memory card and discuss how outrageously overpriced they all are.  $250 doesn't buy as much as it once did.  Then, after the break, we wonder why Netflix chose to break its DVD-by-mail service off into the oddly-named Qwikster division and compare notes on what it would take to get us to switch from game-by-mail rental service GameFly to Qwikster's newly announced competing service option.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via  and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Power Button - Episode 63: PlayStation Vita Pricing Is A Trickster While Netflix Spins Off Qwikster


The Joker's Master Plan Unfolds In Batman: Arkham City

Joker Once it was announced that Hugo Strange was the primary antagonist in the upcoming Batman: Arkham City for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC, the Joker slipped into the background.  Over the past few months, more and more villains have been announced as having roles to play in Batman's next adventure, so it's only natural to be concerned that polarizing and charasmatic characters such as Catwoman, Two-Face, Bane, Mr. Freeze, and the Penguin are poised to steal the spotlight from the Clown Prince of Crime.  Never fear!  A new trailer provided by MTV Multiplayer shifts the spotlight back to The Joker and promises an amazing showdown, another classic performance from Mark Hamill, and a few surprise twists and tricks.

There are plenty of quality games coming out through the end of the year that I can't wait to play, but Arkham City may be the one that I'm anticipating the most.  It's been a while since I've played an action game with a strong storyline featuring memorable characters and a sense of running continuity, so I'm very ready to step back into the role of Batman again.  Seeing the Joker prance around in this trailer and offer intriguing threats just makes me want to play the game all the more.  Arkham City hits stores next month for consoles and in November for PC.  The waiting is the hardest part.


Ol' Angry Eyes Is Back

Kirby Mass AttackNintendo of America has a long-standing practice of giving its pink puffy protagonist Kirby a set of angry eyebrows whenever he appears on American box art.  For the past decade or so, the company has gone out of its way to turn Kirby into an angry, raging foe in the belief that cute, cuddly characters won't sell as well in North America.  However, the past few Kirby titles that have made their way out of Japan have gone back on this practice, presenting Kirby as the happy-go-lucky adventurer his fans know him to be.  Kirby Super Star Ultra and Kirby's Epic Yarn have both depicted the character with wide-eyed optimism, but apparently anger really does sell more copies as the North American box art for Kirby's next two adventures, Kirby Mass Attack and Kirby's Return To Dreamland, bring back the rage face front and center.  IGN has a retrospective of Kirby box art both international and domestic in which the difference is clearly seen.

[R]ounding out our 10 Kirby box art picks, the next Kirby game coming to America in less than two weeks – Kirby Mass Attack. In a way, the differences between its two packages sum up everything we've observed so far about Kirby's boxes – because it's both a shift in style of artwork and in emotion too. Japan's package seems to do a better job at letting you know this is a game featuring 10 Kirby characters under your command at once, giving each of the 10 equal weight in a circular layout. America's gives one of the Kirbies a more focused position, but also better conveys the "Attack" part of the title by showing two enemies getting brutalized in the background.

I understand why Nintendo of America makes these kinds of changes, but I don't necessarily agree with it.  Kirby is really not the furious character that his American box art makes him out to be.  The Japanese Kirby boxes always strike me as creative and visually pleasing, while the American equivalents look to be assembled from clip art.  It's really a shame, but in the end it all comes down to sales projections and business image.


Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One Beta Opens To Everyone

Ratchet & Clank: All 4 OneInsomniac Games kicked off a closed beta for its upcoming multiplayer co-op fest Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One last week, but now the beta is open for anyone with a Sony PlayStation 3 who wants to give it a try.  Head over to RatchetAndClank.com and click on the "Click Here For Beta Access" link to generate a voucher code and instructions on how to use it.  You'll have to download just under two gigabytes of data and agree to a license agreement that includes a confidentiality clause, but after that you'll have access to two levels each with its own unique challenges and hilarious moments.  I'd say more, but... well, confidentiality clause and all.  The free beta runs until September 27 with a proper demo of the game available early next month leading up to an October 18 release of the finished product.


Upcoming Assassin's Creed: Revelations Includes Free Original Assassin's Creed On PS3

Altaïr Ibn-La'AhadAnyone out there who came into Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed franchise starting with the sequel (such as myself) are missing a piece of the Animus puzzle.  While the original Assassin's Creed hasn't really had a bearing on the adventures of Ezio Auditore as he's stabbed his way around the Renaissance, the protagonist of the original game, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, looms large in the upcoming Assassin's Creed Revelations.  Anyone looking to pick up that first title in addition to the new sequel should take note of yesterday's announcement that all copies of the first print run of the Sony PlayStation 3 version of Revelations will include a free copy of the original Assassin's Creed.  Here's some of the press release:

SAN FRANCISCO - September 19, 2011 - Today Ubisoft announced a special partnership with Sony Computer Entertainment offering the first PlayStation®3 players of Assassin's Creed Revelations an opportunity to relive the beginnings of the epic Assassin's Creed saga.

In Assassin's Creed Revelations, master assassin Ezio traces the footsteps of his predecessor, Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad. Now, gamers will be able to go back to the beginning of the Assassin's Creed storyline as the day one copies of Assassin's Creed Revelations on PlayStation®3 will include a copy of the original Assassin's Creed.

Whether being introduced to the award-winning original Assassin's Creed for the first time or going back to relive the start of the epic journey, players will be drawn into the secret war between Templars and Assassins in ancient Jerusalem.

Assassin's Creed® Revelations will be available on November 15, 2011.

Now I feel foolish for picking up the original game for $15 a few months ago and then never playing past the second hour.  Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood greatly expand and refine the formula from the first game in the series so much so that stepping back to play that older game felt like exactly that to me: a step back.  In hindsight, Assassin's Creed plays more like a detailed concept pitch compared to what later games would bring to the experience.  Free stuff is great and I applaud Ubisoft for including the bonus directly on the Revelations disc itself, but I'm not so sure that playing the original game is a priority.  Unless, of course, completely understanding Revelations hinges on experiencing it (in which case I have some homework to finish).


Weekly Poll: The Old And The New

Weekly Poll for 9-21-2011The Nintendo 3DS Slide Pad Expansion isn't lighting many of you on fire right now, but a majority wouldn't be against the design being integrated into a future 3DS Lite.  We talked at length about Nintendo's new add-on during Episode 62 of Power Button, so be sure to listen to that segment to hear plenty of thoughts on the peripheral, but I'm still not eager to slap one of these on my 3DS.  It will completely ruin the form factor and portability of the device.  I can't exactly fit one of those in my pants pocket based on a cursory visual estimation, but I could use it at home.  I'll just have to see what happens when it comes to games that support it.  So far, nothing announced interests me.

Moving on, it's time for a general interest question.  With so many different generations of video games easily available to us in our modern future, which kind do you play most often?  Do you stick with the new, flashy, current stuff for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and Wii?  Are you reaping the savings by sticking with last generation's PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube?  Have you gone for the full nostalgia trip with hardware that's older than that?  Let's hear your thoughts on how (and when) you're spending your gaming time.


Another Amazon.com Video Game Sale Today Only

Buy somethin' will ya!If you're looking to pick up some worthwhile video games at a discount, then today is the day to watch Amazon.com's Lightning Deals as the online retailer is holding another of its frequent all-games-all-day events.  Zumba Fitness for the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii is the Gold Box deal today, while the blink-and-you'll-miss-'em sales involve F.E.A.R. 3, Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto IV: Complete Edition (which includes the two downloadable expansions), something for fans of Blizzard's strategy games, and much more.  As always, every purchase you make through the green link here goes to help support Press The Buttons which, also as always, is greatly appreciated.


Let's Go Shopping At Best Buy In 1996

Best Buy sales flyer from September 15, 1996

Rev up your DeLorean and engage your Epoch because it's time to back in time fifteen years to see what the big name items were at your local neighborhood Best Buy.  I'm sure we can get a heck of a deal on some cutting edge electronics!  Via Reddit, here we have a Best Buy sales flyer from September 15, 1996 in which lightning fast Pentium computers from Packard Bell for a mere $2000 will make any multimedia room sing, VHS tapes are now available in that new-fangled widescreen format, and the biggest video games of the day are Madden '97 for the Sony PlayStation, Mega Man X for the PC (only $10!), and Wheel Of Fortune for the Sega Genesis.  What a time to be alive!  Browse around and take a walk down technology memory lane.  Only $70 for a pager, and be sure that your new four-head video cassette recorder includes VCR+ functionality!


Bizarre Bionic Commando Plot Twist Explained At Last

Emily SpencerIf you played Capcom's 2009 release Bionic Commando (and not enough of you did because the game's poor sales led to Capcom's development partner, Grin, going out of business), then you hopefully came across the shocking twist at the end of the story.   More surprising than Batman's Scarecrow-induced hallucinations in Batman: Arkham City and more of a shock than learning that Super Mario Bros. 2 was all a dream, the climax of Bionic Commando involves the protagonist, Nathan Spencer, learning that his missing wife is closer than he thought.  It turns out that bionic limbs such as Spencer's arm require a catalyst to function, and the best catalysts are loved ones.  Spencer's own Federation abducted and murdered his wife in order to place her brain inside his bionic arm.  This is one of the more disturbing twists in video gaming, and it's fair to ask from where this dark turn originated.  Joystiq spoke with former Capcom head of production Keiji Inafune to find out.

"I don't even know what happened there," Inafune lamented. The project was apparently rife with development issues, which Inafune exemplified with a phrase that represented the attitude Grin and Capcom had for each other at the time: "Whatever, do what you want, I don't care."

Though he couldn't say what specifically happened to result in such a bizarre game ending, Inafune explained that the issue of foreign companies working with Japanese ones was at the heart of the situation. "At the beginning, things are very, very good between the two companies. Things get kind of weird from the middle, and it gets really bad at the end -- especially for the Japanese companies," he said of the development process.

As enthusiastic as I am about Bionic Commando (read the PTB archives and you'll find that I may be the only person in the world who throroughly enjoyed it), I did find "his wife is in his arm" to be a sudden jolt.  Spencer proceeds to go mad from the revelation and kill the man who ordered his wife's murder (among other crimes), but it's still a lot for Spencer to come back from in the end.  We've seen heroes tortured before in plenty of games, but what happened to Emily Spencer and the result for Nathan is one of gaming's darkest, cruelest twists.  Knowing now that neither Capcom nor Grin really seemed to care about how the game ended explains a lot, I think.  If neither team was watching out for the other's best interests, then the system of checks and balances that usually exists in the development relationship would have convinced someone to take a second look at Emily's fate.  If all that mattered was shipping the final product, then suddenly things make a bit more sense. 

Continue reading "Bizarre Bionic Commando Plot Twist Explained At Last" »


Netflix Spins Off DVD Rentals Into Qwikster, Adds Game Rentals

QwiksterNetflix took plenty of heat recently when the company raised rates on its DVD rental and streaming content options, and now Reed Hastings, Netflix's CEO, has offered a sort of half-hearted apology mixed with another announcement that is sure to rile people up.  Netflix is spinning its DVD rental business off into an entirely separate division called Qwikster.  Anyone currently subscribing to the newly-expensive DVD and streaming content plan will have to deal with a separate Qwikster account, separate billing from Qwikster, separate Qwikster queue, etc.  Is Netflix involved in some kind of race to the bottom in terms of popularity?  The company lost one million subscribers over the price hike.  Here's Hastings:

So we realized that streaming and DVD by mail are becoming two quite different businesses, with very different cost structures, different benefits that need to be marketed differently, and we need to let each grow and operate independently. It’s hard for me to write this after over 10 years of mailing DVDs with pride, but we think it is necessary and best: In a few weeks, we will rename our DVD by mail service to “Qwikster”.  We chose the name Qwikster because it refers to quick delivery. We will keep the name “Netflix” for streaming.

Qwikster will be the same website and DVD service that everyone is used to. It is just a new name, and DVD members will go to qwikster.com to access their DVD queues and choose movies. One improvement we will make at launch is to add a video games upgrade option, similar to our upgrade option for Blu-ray, for those who want to rent Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 games. Members have been asking for video games for many years, and now that DVD by mail has its own team, we are finally getting it done. Other improvements will follow. Another advantage of separate websites is simplicity for our members. Each website will be focused on just one thing (DVDs or streaming) and will be even easier to use. A negative of the renaming and separation is that the Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated. So if you subscribe to both services, and if you need to change your credit card or email address, you would need to do it in two places. Similarly, if you rate or review a movie on Qwikster, it doesn’t show up on Netflix, and vice-versa.

My guess is that Netflix is priming the DVD side of things to be sold to someone else.  DVD rentals are a sinking ship in the extreme long term and I'm sure that the company doesn't want to be caught unprepared when the streaming revolution nails discs to the wall, but until the Instant Watch library is more comprehensive and high definition streaming is available to more subscribers at a fair price, I don't see the disc side of the business going away.  Unless, of course, Netflix forces it away.  Sending little discs around the country is inefficient compared to the promises of streaming content, but unless Instant Watch picks up more worthwhile content from more sources, there's still value in sending discs through the mail. 

The other bit of interest in today's news is that Netflix... er, pardon, Qwikster... will start to offer video games by mail in a bid to compete with companies such as GameFly.  There's no word on how much adding games to one's subscription plan costs, but if Qwikster can undercut GameFly's prices & quality of service and offer movies to the mix, we could be in for a nice competitive war.  GameFly has its problems, but it's always been good to me, so I'm in no rush to switch, but if I can get a better deal from Qwikster for less money, it might be worth investigating.

Really though, "Qwikster"?  That's a terrible name.  It sounds like a fly-by-night company.