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June 2012

Rocking Through The Turbo Tunnel

BattletoadsGames for the Nintendo Entertainment System have a reputation for being brutally difficult compared to today's products (heck, even the generation that followed the NES lightened up slightly), but one of the most challenging and outright unfair games from the old days is Rare's Battletoads which kicked off with a strong start, but turned the frustration up to maximum levels starting with the third level, the infamous Turbo Tunnel.  While the stage starts out as another side-scrolling beat-'em-up experience similar the first level, almost immediately players find themselves dealing with an out of control speed bike in an autoscrolling nightmare of tricky jumps and dastardly dodges.  It did have one thing going for it though: the awesome soundtrack. If you could feel the rhythm, you might have been able to reach the goal.  Steve Watts at 1UP has a look back at music games that aren't exactly music games and posits that players needed the music in order to have a chance in hell at finishing the stage.

Once you fought your way to Turbo Tunnel, you found a reason to invest in controller manufacturer stock. This stage put you on the back of a zooming speeder and threw a seemingly endless supply of walls at your 'toad -- and we considered this "fun!" But the headache was soothed somewhat by noticing that the game set a tune to the beat of your approaching threats.

The rhythm element turned this stage from rote memorization to... okay, rote memorization with a beat. The level was sadistic no matter how you slice it, but it became significantly more manageable if you timed your movements to the song. The music didn't even kick in until you were already on the bike, and the two moved at a steady clip together.

The Turbo Tunnel was basically the end stage of Battletoads for a very long time when I was a kid, but eventually I memorized the sequence of obstacles and was able to move onward.  I was able to make it through the frozen ice stage, the surfing challenge, the snake pit, and more all the way up to the long vertical shaft packed with hazards.  That became the new end of Battletoads and, frankly, by that point that was just fine with me.  If you've never experienced the horrors/joys of the Turbo Tunnel, check out this video of the stage in action.  Pay attention to how the music meshes with the gameplay while trying to comprehend how Rare expected a majority of players to complete this within a reasonable amount of time.

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Atari's Corpse Celebrates Anniversary

AtariThe Internet has been heaping congratulations and praise on Atari in celebration of the company's fortieth birthday, but for those who have closely followed Atari's story over the years, it's painfully clear that the Atari we know today is far removed from the Atari that gave us Pong, Asteroids, and the Atari 2600. As Luke Plunkett at Kotaku explains, today's Atari is just a walking corpse pretending to be a once great company.  The Atari brand has changed hands several times over the years, moving further and further away from its origins and today exists primarily as a recognizable name with distribution rights to the original Atari's back catalog that runs alongside a few original projects based on licensed properties.

In 1984, a year after the great Video Game crash, the company was cut in two. One half handled mostly arcade stuff, and was called Atari Games Inc. The other was called Atari Corporation, and handled mostly home consumer electronics.  Atari Corporation was the company responsible for products like the Atari 7800 and Atari ST home computer, and at least through the 1980s maintained a reasonable level of success. In 1989 it released the Lynx, a serious competitor for Nintendo's Game Boy, and in 1993 released the Jaguar, the Atari brand's last meaningful contribution to the home console market.

By 1996, with the Jaguar a failure, Atari Corp. merged with hard drive manufacturers JTS. Only two years later, JTS offloaded the Atari name and properties to Hasbro.  Still with me? Well, in 2001 Atari's corpse traded hands again, this time to French publisher Infogrames, who in 2003 then began adopting the Atari name for itself. By 2009 this process was complete, and the people once famous for publishing games from the likes of Microprose had completed their public cosplay act and become a company that, for all intents, didn't really exist anymore.

We've come a long way since Atari National Pac-Man Day.  It's sad to see Atari's history exposed as a series of transfers, sell-offs, and closings.  The modern Atari still releases new games, mind you; they've released a slew of games based on Dragon Ball, The Matrix, and Godzilla as well as my beloved Ghostbusters: The Video Game, and I really hate to kick the company on the anniversary of the founding of the original corporation, but looking back over its history, it's evident that the Atari brand is one of those things that is passed around the corporate world every few years.  Considering how much money the current incarnation of Atari has lost recently and knowing that the company has given up on most conventional retail releases in favor of cheaper digital distribution products, I can't help but wonder who will take the name next.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 53: Dan "Shoe" Hsu Clears the Electronic Gaming Air; Saboteur Non-Demure?

Power Button Presents Kombo BreakerIn this classic episode of the Kombo Breaker podcast we cover two of our favorite topics: insightful analysis on the print side of the gaming journalism industry and female nudity!  Originally airing on December 7, 2009, first Dan Johnson, Brad Hilderbrand, and I speak with Dan "Shoe" Hsu, once and future Electronic Gaming Monthly guru, about his return to the revived publication as part of Bitmob which was a new development at the time.  Then we switch gears to discuss Electronic Arts and the "Midnight Show" downloadable content that adds topless women to the then-new The Saboteur.  The catch?  The DLC was free with purchase of a new copy of the game, whereas the used and rental markets had to pay $3 in order to see the adult content.  What does this mean for the future of the DLC market?  Moreover, what does this kind of offering say about gamers in general?  We hash it all out and come to a tentative conclusion.  Listen for the throwaway joke about how "this Kombo Breaker thing is only temporary".  Two months later, it would be gone.  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 , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 53: Dan "Shoe" Hsu Clears the Electronic Gaming Air; Saboteur Non-Demure?

Animal Crossing Squatter's Rights Explored

Animal Crossing: Wild WorldNintendo's Animal Crossing series of games provide some of the most personalized experiences in video gaming.  Playing an Animal Crossing game casts players as the newest resident of a town after which the town grows and changes based on player action and input.  Stop playing, however, and conditions in town deteriorate.  Everyone's Animal Crossing experience is distinct.  That's why it's so damn depressing to move into someone else's town long after the original player has abandoned it.  Just ask Joey Davidson at TechnoBuffalo what it's like to take over someone's long-forgotten town, as he recently bought a used copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World and had to deal with a dead village.

I bought a used copy earlier this week. Rather than delete the save file within and start my village from scratch, I decided to see what the previous owners had done before trading the game.  The sadness of the traded town was more overwhelming than I could have imagined. Firing up the game for my first brief session meant I was made to walk through a virtual wasteland covered in weeds and, believe it or not, garbage.

As I made my way around Philly, I was approached by each resident and asked the same basic question: where the heck had I been. Rob and Joey hadn’t visited Philly in more than 60 months, one particularly cranky duck told me. The result was a dilapidated city and a host of very lonely villagers.

What made me turn the game off, though, was something that I honestly didn’t think would bother me. Villagers in Animal Crossing send players correspondence from time to time. Since Rob and Joey had traded their game in, the villagers had taken time to send them each a batch of letters.  The subjects of those letters? They’d moved.

I've wiped out my share of saved data on used and rented games over the years, but I've never known a genre that makes me feel bad about that practice like RPGs.  For instance, when I rent an RPG, I become choosy about which data I delete.  My general rule is to delete the save file that has the least amount of progress on it.  You know the type; there's always one save file that's finished the game with near 100% completion, a second file that's about 40% of the way through the game, and one pathetic attempt that gave up after seven minutes.  When it comes to time sunk into a game, I respect effort.  Quitters find their data deleted (not that they'd care, I bet).  When I buy a used game, however, I purge everything.  The game in question is mine now, and I have no desire for the previous owner's data to stick around like an old bookmark inside a used book.  Of course, with the rise of saving data to console instead of a cartridge's internal memory, this kind of thing is on the way out, but in the meantime we can continue to peep into abandoned towns and forgotten quests for a little while longer (and then delete them!).

Weekly Poll: Good Nintentions

Weekly Poll for 6-11-2012Nintendo walked away with the honors for the most impressive press conference in the last poll, although I think that while Nintendo certainly showed plenty of games that excited me (anything with a Mario in the title, essentially), I thought that Sony had a better understanding of what made for an interesting show (minus Wonderbook, of course).  Nintendo's show became bogged down on a demo of Nintendo Land and the shaky uncertain speaking style of the company's Scott Moffitt brought a lack of confidence to the affair.  Moreover, Nintendo seemed to have saved most of its big news for its post-E3 Nintendo Direct briefing.  I always enjoy Nintendo's press conferences, but this year they seemed slightly off their game (no pun intended).  Satoru Iwata didn't even speak!  I can't give top scores for a Nintendo show without Iwata's annual speech.  Sony had plenty of exciting PlayStation 3 games to show off that had me planning out of end of the year shopping plans.  As for the other companies, Ubisoft impressed me with Rayman Legends, Assassin's Creed III, and Watch Dogs, whle Electronic Arts wowed with its new SimCity project, and Microsoft had a neat showcase for Halo 4.

Speaking of post-E3 Nintendo announcements, the company has revealed that it plans to offer paid downloadable expansions for its new games beginning with the upcoming New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS.  After release at a price to be announced, new Coin Rush levels will be available in the 3DS eShop.  This is Nintendo's first foray into the world of paid DLC.  Do you trust Nintendo to offer fairly priced DLC?  Or is this move going to take the company down a greedy road as time goes on?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Journey: Collector's Edition Coming To PS3

Journey: Collector's EditionDeveloper thatgamecompany has made a name for itself with critically lauded titles like flOw, Flower, and Journey for the Sony PlayStation 3, and now all three of those titles are leaving the digital distribution world behind and will soon head to stores on a disc along with a number of other extras and bonus content until the banner Journey: Collector's Edition.  The thatgamecompany blog details what you'll find on this $30 release.

The complete set of bonus flOw, Flower, and Journey content includes:

  • 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of Journey
  • Creator Commentary play-throughs of all three games
  • Three exclusive mini-games from thatgamecompany
  • Concept art and screenshot galleries for all three games
  • Original soundtracks for all three games
  • PS3 dynamic themes and wallpapers
  • PSN avatars including 8 exclusive new Journey avatars never released before
  • Official game trailers and developer diary videos
  • Reversible cover art

I've played all three of the spotlighted games on this set and can't say that I cared for any of them.  I found them all to be pretentious wastes of my time.  I'm not a thatgamecompany fan, but I know there are plenty of people out there who disagree with me and will eagerly snatch up this set when it releases on August 28.  I hope you all enjoy this one; I'm obviously going to steer clear.  I just hope that the creator commentary explains just what what going on in Journey because I'm told that my interpretation completely missed the point, llamacats and all.

Nintendo To Offer Paid Expansions For Retail Games

LakituAfter resisting the practice for years and insisting that it would never offer a half-baked product that would then be filled in by later add-ons, Nintendo's Satoru Iwata announced today that it is venturing into the world of paid downloadable expansion content.  The experiment begins with the upcoming New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS in which players will be able to buy new levels for the Coin Rush mode.  These levels will not be created until after the game ships and will be based on player comments and outreach.  Moreover, Nintendo claims that these expansions will not be a part of the main campaign that have been carved out for later sale.  No pricing or release dates have been announced (probably because Nintendo hasn't figured that part out yet when it comes to exact details).  Coin Rush was announced back at E3, but if you need a refresher on what this asynchronous multiplayer mode is all about, check out this new trailer:

Considering that Coin Rush requires StreetPass to play and I never have the opportunity to StreetPass anyone outside of events like E3, I don't see myself paying for the extra levels.  Nintendo has to start somewhere with paid DLC though, and this seems as good a way to begin as anything else.  I trust Nintendo not to gouge us with its foray into DLC.  I don't expect them to, say, add extra power-ups to the game after the fact and charge us $3 for a Hammer Bros. Suit expansion, nor do I believe that an add-on World 9 would cost us $5.  Maybe I'm being naive considering that every other major publisher has succumbed to the greed this generation at one time or another, but Nintendo has always done things its own way and has resisted offering this kind of content long after the rest of the industry began to consider it as a requirement.  Most importantly, Nintendo has never cheated me on DLC, so unless/until it does, I'll give the company the benefit of the doubt and assume that they won't screw us all over with outrageous paid expansions.

Kirby's Dream Collection Announced With Cuteness

The contents of the twentieth anniversary salute to Nintendo's Kirby franchise were revealed a few weeks ago, but today the company has officially announced the upcoming Wii compilation and the bonus goodies contained within. This is no mere Super Mario All-Stars-type Super NES game dropped on a disc, nosiree.  There was actual effort expended here as this new trailer shows.  Come September 16 you'll be able to pick up Kirby's Dream Collection which contains Kirby's Dream Land, Kirby's Adventure, Kirby's Dream Land 2, Kirby Super Star, Kirby's Dream Land 3, and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards as well as a timeline detailing all of the Kirby titles and their place in history, new bonus challenges based on the extra content from last year's Kirby's Return To Dreamland, a soundtrack CD, and an informational booklet.  It's not a bad deal, but I mainly mentioned all of this as an excuse to show you the trailer which is packed with personality and Kirby cuteness.  As if that isn't enough, Nintendo also released a promotional image which features every incarnation of Kirby and his many special abilities.  Check that out below for all your adorableness needs.

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3DS Virtual Console Heats Up For Summer

Wario LandFor the past few months I've felt that Nintendo has been holding back on us when it comes to releasing worthwhile Virtual Console games for the Nintendo 3DS.  Perhaps the company had grown bored of releasing new titles for its retro throwback service in the same way that its Wii Virtual Console offerings seem to come few and far between anymore.  Not so!  Nintendo is launching a summertime handheld classic gaming release event that it's calling 8-Bit Summer in which two new retro releases will hit the 3DS eShop each week in July.  These are real games, too, and not bizarre, overpriced filler.  The Legend of ZeldaWario Land: Super Mario Land 3Kid Icarus: Of Myths And MonstersPolygon has the good stuff:

  • The Legend of Zelda — July 5th
  • Kirby's Pinball Land — July 12th
  • The Sword of Hope 2 — July 12th
  • Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters — July 19th
  • Tumblepop — July 19th
  • Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 — July 26th
  • Sonic Blast — No date specified
  • Sonic Labyrinth — No date specified

Look at all of that aged-well goodness!  Zelda, Kirby, Kid Icarus, and Wario Land are the must-owns on that list.  The two Sonic titles haven't particularly aged well, while I've never played Sword of Hope 2 or Tumblepop, so I can't speak for those.  Moreover, the original Super Mario Land is discounted to $2.99 for the duration of the event, so don't let that 1989 classic slip away.  Hey, would you look at that!  Nintendo put one of their beloved golden eggs on sale for a limited time as one might expect from the PlayStation Store, Steam, or the Apple Apple Store and the world hasn't ended!  While an increased release rate for classic games is extremely appreciated,  I'd like to see more sales on the eShop in the future.  Nintendo will always go its own way and exhibit its trademark stubbornness, but slashing a price now and then isn't going to do anyone any harm.  Check out the 8-Bit Summer trailer to see all of the upcoming releases in action.

Next Smash Bros. Title To Be Developed By Namco Bandai

Super Smash Bros.While it may seem like a safe assumption to believe that Nintendo is developing the new Super Smash Bros. titles for the Wii U and 3DS internally, it turns out that the company has tapped Namco Bandai Games to handle the heavy lifting.  Game Informer has the news that while the studio famous for Pac-Man and Katamari Damacy is developing the new mascot brawler, the main brain behind the series, Masahiro Sakurai, is still calling the shots.

Nintendo president Satoru Iwata announced Namco Bandai Games is leading development on the Super Smash Bros. title for Wii U and 3DS.  Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of the Super Smash Bros series, is heading the project from his Sora Ltd. studio. Masaya Kobayashi (Ridge Racer) and Yoshito Higuchi (Tales series) from Namco Bandai will oversee the game as well.

With Namco Bandai handling development and considering how third-party characters have been welcome to the series since the Wii's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I'm calling it right now: Pac-Man and The Prince of All Cosmos will be in the next Smash Bros. in some capacity.  It makes too much sense to not happen.  I have no problem with Namco Bandai driving the game forward, and I trust Nintendo's guiding hand to keep any potential trouble spots in line.  Like any other highly anticipated game, however, some are not happy about the way that development is shaping up despite the fact that we do not know how the game looks at this point.  One disgruntled person even went so far to complain to Sakurai directly via Twitter to which the developer replied with a shutdown so succinct that it led to the complainer deleting his Twitter account.  Said Sakurai, "Knock off looking down on them with narrow-minded thinking."  Well said, sir.  Smash Bros. is too impotant a franchise to risk on a studio that can't handle it, and if Sakurai and Nintendo believe that Namco Bandai is up to the job, then I'm not going to second guess that without ample evidence to the contrary.