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March 2012

The End Of The Console Road

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3Stunning launch titles for new video game hardware such as Super Mario 64, Battle Arena Toshinden, Sonic Adventure, and Halo go down in history and become forever associated with the consoles that they helped to usher into the marketplace (the Nintendo 64, Sony PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, and Microsoft Xbox, respectively).  There's less of a fanfare for a console's final release.  Who remembers the games that closed out console lifespans?  What was the final title released for the Super NES?  The Sega Saturn?  The Sony PlayStation 2?  Game Informer digs into history to find out which games (in North America) turned the lights out when they left.

System: Nintendo 64
Launch Day: September 29, 1996
Last Game Released: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 - August 20, 2002

System Life: 5 years, 10 months, 22 days

Starting in 2001, Nintendo was far more concerned with making the Gamecube compete with Playstation 2 and Xbox than they were with releasing new Nintendo 64 games. The slowed release schedule started before the GameCube's November release, as only a handful of titles saw the light of day in 2001 (including Conker's Bad Fur Day and Mario Party 3). The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series was in its prime at this point, and its third installment served as the final game for Nintendo's last cartridge-based console.

Many of the titles on the list are half-hearted downgrades of annual sports installments.  While that makes sense from a business perspective, it seems like such a downer of a way to end a console's life.  I want to see a console go out with a big bang of an amazing title that pushes its capabilities to the absolute limit as if the developer is saying "This is the total sum of what can be done with this machine!  This far; no farther!"  That would be an expensive undertaking for hardware on its final lap though and it's easier for Electronic Arts or 2K Games to kick out a quickie conversion of Football 1998 or Baseball 2007 or what-have-you. 

Game Informer only covers the major home consoles in its article, but what about handheld games and historical also-rans?  The Atari 2600 hung in until 1990 when it wrapped things up with Klax.  The Sega Master System bowed out with Sonic the Hedgehog in late 1991.  Pokemon Yellow was the final dedicated release for Nintendo's Game Boy in 1999, while Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets sealed up the Game Boy Color story in 2002.  Sega called it quits on the Game Gear in 1997 with The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  Nintendo's Virtual Boy went out with a whimper in 1996 with 3D Tetris (the same year that Sega's 32X died with Spider-Man: Web of Fire).  The Game Boy Advance came to an unspectacular end in 2008 with Samurai Deeper Kyo.  Nokia's n-Gage - oh, the n-Gage! - finally sputtered to a stop in 2006 with a port of Civilization.  It's mostly a series of lesser ends for some of gaming's most famous and infamous hardware.  For more lists of final titles for additional hardware around the world, check out Wikipedia.

Mini-Review: The Godfather II

The Godfather IIThis article was originally published at on April 8, 2009. It is a streamlined version of the mini-review published at PTB. Ironically, the so-called mini-review is longer and covers more material than the full Kombo review! Kombo's review guidelines at the time did not encourage heavy details and I enjoyed this game enough to say more about it on my own terms and turf.

This sequel picks up shortly after where the first Godfather game left off. Players are cast as Dominic, a newly made Don of his own family within the Corleone organization who has taken over for the previous game's lead character, Aldo. Don Vito Corleone is just a memory now, as the family is run by his son, Michael. Michael, Fredo, Tom Hagan, and other characters from the original film help guide Dominic as he builds his family and expands his grip into the underworlds of New York, Florida, and Cuba. While the game does not follow the plot of the film closely, several iconic scenes from the movie are integrated into the game's storyline. Watch for memorable moments such as the blackmailing of a certain senator and the famous "You broke my heart" speech delivered by Michael. The plot unfolds as key events are completed, but there are plenty of opportunities to meander from the script. Plowing through the story is possible, but it's best to take one's time to expand an empire and consolidate power by taking over the businesses controlled by rival families.

Continue reading "Mini-Review: The Godfather II" »

On The Trail Of Super Mario Bros.'s Launch Date

Super Mario Bros.When exactly did Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System go on sale in stores in the United States?  Most everyone has agreed that the game was released in 1986, but pinning down the exact month is a challenge and divining the precise day is next to impossible.  The state of gaming history when it comes to these small but important details is poor, but that didn't stop Frank Cifaldi at Gamasutra from doing some investigating.  What he found will amaze you.

I contacted United Press International, on the off chance someone there could verify that October 14 publication date, but had no luck. I called the Seattle Mariners and left an unanswered voicemail for former Nintendo VP Howard Lincoln, tracked down former VP of sales Ron Judy to a horse breeder he's associated with, put in a request to Nintendo to ask if I could speak to Rob Thompson (one of three employees who were at the company in 1985), dug through every news and periodical archive available to me, and even called in a favor to a friend of a friend of Minoru Arakawa's, all of it with no luck.

As I was wrapping up this article, Nintendo finally responded to my requests for help. After a few back-and-forth emails clarifying my questions, the company thanked me for the opportunity to be a part of this article but has to "politely decline at this time given the limited resources as we're gearing up for other projects."  Whatever that means.

Perhaps it's not important that we know exactly when Super Mario Bros. debuted in the United States, but wouldn't it be nice if we knew for sure?  While being a business first and foremost, the video game industry is also about history in addition to profit and revenue.  Someone needs to keep track of this stuff.  Some major developers keep a historian around to chronicle this sort of thing (most have special vault rooms where every product the company in question has produced is safely stored), but others lose information and material as if it were perfectly reasonable to throw away or misplace old source code or character artwork.  The history of the industry is important.  Publishers, developers, and the gaming community need to take steps to safeguard important and interesting information now in order to be sure that it's around for tomorrow. 

Rock Band 3 Calibration Assistance Needed

Rock Band 3After searching for a used Rock Band drum set in solid condition for the Sony PlayStation 3 version of Rock Band 3, my girlfriend and I finally found one.  Combined with my microphone and keyboard, we're ready to rock!  Well, except for one minor problem: the system calibration is way, way off.  We cannot get the video and audio to line up properly with the drum beats.  How on earth do we properly calibrate the game?  We've tried the manual calibration in which we have to strike the drum pad in time to a beat and I've tried tinkering with manually entering calibration numbers, but we just can't get either to work.  Automatic calibration is not an option, as we do not have (nor have any interest in getting) a guitar.  So, little help?  How do we do this?  There's a million faces out there in the virtual crowd and we want to rock them all.

And Now, A New Super Mario Bros. Wii Orchestral Moment

The original Super Mario Bros. theme has been performed by just about every professional orchestra out there that enjoys zinging pop culture, but how often do you hear of themes from more recent titles receiving the symphonic treatment?  Nintendo's 2009 release New Super Mario Bros. Wii packed plenty of new music in with some familiar themes and sound cues.  Sit back and enjoy this performance from the 2010 Press Start musical event in Japan that included a performance of a few key selections from the recent multiplayer Mario title.  It's reassuringly well done and a joy to hear some familiar sounds performed in impressive ways.

Sony Strikes Down PSP Games To Prevent Vita Hacking

Motorstorm: Arctic EdgeSony is very protective of its new PlayStation Vita when it comes to users hacking it to run their own custom homebrew applications, and considering how piracy helped to sink the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable, can you really blame the company for being extra cautious?  Sony is being so cautious, in fact, that it would rather forego business than allow for a window into homebrew access to exist.  That's why the company has removed two PSP games that can be played on the Vita from the PlayStation Store.  See, word on the street is that Motorstorm: Arctic Edge and Everybody's Tennis can be used to break into the Vita's PSP emulation layer which allows people to run all of the old PSP homebrew software on the Vita.  While this isn't a direct Vita hack, who knows what industrious hackers could learn from this layer of access?  GamesRadar has the story.

Sony has removed PSP title Everybody's Tennis from the PlayStation Store after hackers discovered it contained an exploit that allowed them to run PSP homebrew applications on a PlayStation Vita. It follows the removal of MotorStorm: Arctic Edge which was taken down shortly after the new handheld was launched. We can confirm both games have indeed disappeared from our download list on not only PlayStation Vita, but also PSP Go as well, despite having been there for re-downloading last time we looked. It is a shame as both are rather good.

Hopefully the two PSP games will be patched and restored to the PS Store, although we wouldn't bet on it. In the mean-time, if you have PSP games that you haven't re-downloaded, perhaps best to get them on your memory card now in case this happens to more titles. Or in case Sony patches out the PSP emulation altogether as it did with PS3's Other OS. Don't say it'll never happen...

It's a shame that Sony felt it had to remove the two games from the store and hopefully they'll be available again soon after being patched to remove the vulnerability.  It seems very heavy-handed to me to totally scrap them, particularly since PSP owners can no longer purchase or redownload them as well.  We've seen examples of how Sony giveth and Sony taketh away over the past few years when it comes to the PlayStation 3, but I certainly hope that the company leaves the Vita's PSP semi-backward-compatibility alone.  The company has known for years that certain classic PSP games can easily enable hackers, yet still built PSP emulation into the Vita.  Removing that feature overall is incredibly short-sighted.  Not that sort of thing has ever stopped the company before, mind you.  This incident also goes to show the biggest pitfall of digital distribution: if and when a publisher decides to remove its product(s) for sale, then they are just gone in an instant.  There are no used digital copies of "out of print" games like Motorstorm on a shelf down at GameStop.  If you happen to own a working PSP with a UMD drive and you want to play either of these games, however, the used game market has just become your best friend.

Amazon Offers Another Gold Box Deal On Video Games

Buy somethin' will ya!Amazon has developed a reputation for dedicating its Gold Box and Lightning Deals to video games all day long every few weeks, and today the hourly sales have returned.  The primary deal is a $40 discount on a Sony PlayStation 3 bringing its price down to $259.99.  Other things going on sale throughout the day include Mario and Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, a PlayStation Vita fighting title, an exercise game, the PlayStation Move, an ultimate fighting title, a PS3/Xbox 360 gaming headset, and plenty more.  Every purchase you make via the green link here goes to help support Press The Buttons which is, as always, greatly appreciated.  Happy shopping!

Weekly Poll: Its Own Reward

Weekly Poll for 3-19-2012Like the majority of you, I bought Kid Icarus: Uprising for the Nintendo 3DS.  I was on the fence for a while, but was eventually won over by developer Masahiro Sakurai's history of well-developed titles, the free 3D Classics version of the original Kid Icarus included with preorders, and my need to acquire just a few more Club Nintendo points to put me over the top for Platinum status for the year.  In the end, I lucked out.  Uprising is a blast to play (either with or without the included 3DS stand).  I feel as if I've only scratched the surface of what the game has to offer.

Speaking of controversial new releases, Sony and Thatgamecompany unleashed Journey for the PlayStation 3 recently.  If you played it, did you enjoy it?  Did you find it to be a deeply moving experience worthy of replaying and continued exploration?  Was it existential art in its truest form?  Did you find it to be a pretentious waste of your time and money?  Did you just plain not like it?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Is Nintendo Working On Super Mario 64 3D?

Super Mario 64Once Nintendo started converting some of its classic Nintendo 64 titles such as Star Fox 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time into stereoscopic 3D for play on the Nintendo 3DS, many people started to assume that the N64's flagship title, Super Mario 64, had to be in line for similar treatment.  After all, who wouldn't want to romp through Big Boo's Haunt and Lethal Lava Land in glorious 3D (oh, and the Princess's secret slide!)?  Calm your expectations though; while releasing a Super Mario 64 3D seems like a natural move, Nintendo has abandoned the idea.  Game Informer had the opportunity to speak with  the director of Super Mario 3D Land, Koichi Hayashida, and got to the bottom of this issue.

I saw during your GDC 2012 presentation that you used levels from Mario 64 to test out the 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D. Fans were really excited by Super Mario Galaxy 2’s Mario 64 tribute level, Throwback Galaxy. Would you ever consider a 3D Super Mario 64 remake?

That early test that we did on the Mario 64 level when we were beginning development of Super Mario 3D Land was actually just to see how that game might play with stereoscopic 3D. What we figured out very quickly was that that way the levels were all designed was going to create so many stereo window violations – where an object would come in between Mario and the camera – that we knew we were going to need a different approach. So at the very least, we did rule out a remake of Super Mario 64 in stereoscopic view on the Nintendo 3DS.

Goodness knows I'd love to see Super Mario 64 3D (or, better yet, Super Mario 64 DS 3D with all of the extra content from 2004's handheld release included), but if the technology just can't handle the game's iconic camera system, then it's just not meant to be.  Considering the nature of the stereo window violation in this example, I wonder how many other N64 titles are off the table when it comes to 3D remakes.  That console's library was packed with action platformers that imitated Super Mario 64 (most of which came from Rareware, come to think of it, so they're off the table for different reasons).  Perhaps it's just as well though.  Without as many classic titles to fall back on for quick 3D remakes, Nintendo will have to continue to encourage new creations and ideas.

LittleBigPlanet Karting Is Coming

LittleBigPlanet KartingMost of us certainly had Sony's ModNation Racers pegged as the LittleBigPlanet of kart racing video games, but now that honor will fall to the actual LittleBigPlanet Karting title for the Sony PlayStation 3.  Officially announced this morning over at the PlayStation Blog, Karting appears to be the lovechild of ModNation and Sackboy's own franchise.  That's fitting since Karting's developer, United Front Games, also brought us ModNation.  Here's the senior producer at United Front, James Grieve, explaining some of what we can expect from LittleBigPlanet Karting:

Our goal with LBP Karting has been fairly simple – provide a fast-paced experience that captures the best of classic karting gameplay, married with the unbridled creativity of LBP. This new adventure will be accessible to players of all ages and have all of the variety necessary to satisfy both the hardcore and more casual players.

This is an LBP game, so we could never talk about it without mentioning the Create tools. LBP Karting is set in an entirely 3D world that will enable players to create rich and varied gameplay experiences. Tons of familiar LBP gadgets will be present, along with a new toolbox specifically tailored to allow for building in LBP Karting’s 3D world. Along with fan-favorite racing and battle modes, players will be able to modify the rules of the game itself to create completely new modes and challenges. All of this is wrapped up in a community experience that should have LBP fans feeling right at home.

Honestly, I'm not quite sure why Karting exists.  ModNation seemed to fill the need for a user-customizable kart title for the PlayStation family.  That's not to say that a publisher can't release more than one series per genre, of course, and I'm sure that the folks who love creating their own LittleBigPlanet levels and/or ModNation Racers tracks will buy into this immediately when it releases later this year, but at first glance I don't see what should excite me about this.  I want to be excited and I do enjoy the LittleBigPlanet titles, but my first reaction when seeing the Karting trailer is "Hmm, ok, so that's happening."  That's not really a wonderful first impression.  Am I off the mark here?  Are you all excited about this one?