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August 2012

Master Your Pre-Order Potential

Assassin's Creed IIIPre-ordering video game is big business these days as retailers team up with publishers to offer you little bonuses with purchase when you reserve a new upcoming video game.  The problem is that each retailer has its own deal, so while you may want to own all of the content that, say, Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed III has to offer, you'll instead have to choose between the special weapon from Amazon, the exclusive mission pack from Walmart, the extra multiplayer character from Target, a different exclusive mission pack from Best Buy, and so on.  Keeping track of all of your options is maddening.  What's a potential customer to do?  Turn your attention to my pal David Oxford's new project, The Pre-Order Blog, in which all of these offers are tracked by title, tagged by retailer, and listed in order to ease your reservation decisions.  The site is just getting off the ground, so content is a bit limited as of this writing, but I hope for big things from it down the line.  If we must deal with these kinds of incentives and the terrible choices that come with them, we should at least be as best informed as possible.

EvilCast Recap - Episode 143: SpoilerCast: Spec Ops: The Line

EvilCastHere it is at last!  It's a podcast event weeks in the making!  I sit in with my pals over at the Games Are Evil EvilCast show — Blake Grundman, Keri Honea, and Ross Polly — to discuss the complete details regarding the mindbending storyline of one of my recent favorite video games: Spec Ops: The Line from 2K Games and Yager Development.  We analyze every major plot point and dig into the game's multiple endings to see how they hold up to scrutiny and backtrack to watch for foreshadowing and telegraphing.  If you only listen to one podcast about the brutal twist within Spec Ops, make it this episode of the EvilCast.  We also cover some of the news of the week (all of it bad as studios close and companies implode) and I also talk a bit about Nintendo's recently released New Super Mario Bros. 2Head on over to GrE to download the show and spend a little time with us.

Amazon Holding Another Big Gaming Sale Today

Buy somethin' will ya!It's Tuesday near the end of the month so that must mean that it's time for another of Amazon's big Gold Box and Lightning Deal video game sales.  I know you know how this works by now: different games and accessories will be on sale for limited periods today.  The primary deal today is a PC bundle pack of Grand Theft Auto IV which includes the two downloadable expansions, The Lost and Damned plus The Ballad of Gay Tony, as well as Max Payne 3 for a mere $24.99.  That's a great deal if you still haven't explored this generation's take on Liberty City and you're shopping for some Payne.  Other items on sale today include a Sony PlayStation Vita memory card, Batman: Arkham City (presumably the Game of the Year edition), the PlayStation Move, NBA 2K12, and much more.  Remember that a portion of each purchase you make via the green link here goes to help support PTB, and I appreciate that support now more than ever.

Weekly Poll: Getting Kinected

Weekly Poll for 8-20-2012Those of you who have played New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS are satisfied with the experience.  I'm happy with it, although the game is a bit short at first glance.  I cleared the six main worlds two days after I bought it.  The three bonus worlds were unlocked a day later, and the true final boss was defeated the day after that.  Now I'm just clearing up loose ends and collecting those last few Star Coins.  The real replay action is in Coin Rush mode which has really surprised me.  I thought it would be a throwaway side option that has turned out to be a fun endurance run.  I'm actually looking forward to the downloadable expansions that Nintendo has promised.  I think that's the biggest surprise of all.

Moving on, Microsoft has cut the price of its Kinect camera add-on for the Xbox 360.  Will the new lower price of $109 entice you into buying one?  Do you need the price to drop further?  Do you already own one?  Maybe you don't want one at all.  No matter what your Kinect leanings, let's hear your thoughts.

Virtual Lab Just Doesn't Care

Virtual LabI have a decent collection of Nintendo Virtual Boy games that I've acquired here and there from eBay, and while I have titles such as Virtual Boy Wario Land, Jack Bros, and Panic Bomber in my collection, I've never been able to find intestine-based puzzle game Virtual Lab for sale at a price I was willing to pay.  Now that I've read Hardcore Gaming 101's look back at this obscure title from developer J-Wing, I think perhaps that I've dodged a bullet.  There doesn't seem to be anything worthwhile here in this title that involves manipulating pieces of bowel, and the game's rarity tends to drive up the price regardless of the actual quality of the experience.  Here's how much Virtual Lab just doesn't care:

Starting the game you're presented with speeds for Low, Med and Hi, except they're all pretty much the same slow speed and - thanks to a coding error - the medium speed is faster than the high speed option.

Bizarrely, after completing a level, you're given a 7-digit number, which appears totally unrelated to the 6-digit score in the upper right corner.  Websites such as PlanetVB say it's a password, but also explain there's no password screen to input it, thereby making them totally useless. This seems like a mistake on the part of various websites, since there's almost no differentiation between levels. Why would the developer have considered a password function? The more likely answer is that it's some kind of strange secondary scoring system... Maybe. Whatever your preferred explanation, neither makes any sense!

By far our favourite blunder though is the misspelling on the box of "Nintenndo", and on the cartridge as "Ninntenndo", showing that not only did they not care, but they couldn't even be consistent. Released at the end of the VB's life, and only in Japan, Nintendo Life claims it was rushed out by developer J-Wing after they discovered Nintendo was abandoning the hardware. It doesn't sound far fetched!

Yes, I think I'll stick to Galactic Pinball and Teleroboxer, thank you very much.  It just goes to show that even out of a library of games just under two dozen in size, there will be great titles and there will be rushed, unfinished trash.  Despite it's poor quality, Virtual Lab still fetches a high price when it turns up on eBay just for the rarity factor and not for any measure of enjoyment.  Not that it's on eBay much anymore.  People who own it tend to hang on to it.  Aside from the collector mentality being in play, I can't imagine why.  While it misses the mark as an enjoyable game released for a Nintendo system, I'd imagine that as a Ninntenndo game, it's done quite well for itself.

Unexpected Maneuvers Added To Madden NFL 13

Madden NFL 13

Some critics have accused Electronic Arts of failing to innovate and improve its long-running Madden NFL series of football titles, but Best Buy has the news that this year's new 2013 edition of the game includes some fantastic new tricks.  As reported over at Kotaku, the Best Buy product details for the new Madden lists that it's now possible to execute chain kills and pickpocket opponents.  You can even pursue enemies downfield in a canoe!  Why, it's almost as if a detail point for Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Liberation accidentally worked its way into the Madden fact sheet.  When informed of the new additions that are bound to be controversial, EA's Brad Hilderbrand said "Well you wanted zombie mode, how do you think we make the zombies?"  Madden NFL 13 is in stores next week.  Don't expect to be able to kill players on the field despite Best Buy's promises.

Microsoft Drops Kinect Price

KinectIf you've held off on buying a Kinect for your Microsoft Xbox 360 because $149 was a bit steep, then you might have to reevaluate things now that the company has dropped the price of the camera unit to $109 in North America.  Similar price reductions are in effect around the world.  Joey Davidson over at TechnoBuffalo has the news and suggests how you can buy a Kinect for even cheaper than the new low price:

One point worth mentioning, at least as far as I’m concerned, is that the Kinect saw massive sales and price cuts during the holiday season last year. I purchased a three game bundle for $100. If you really want a Kinect, wait until the holiday sales start in order to take the plunge. It’s $109 now, perhaps it will tumble to $80 or below when the discounts hit.

As companies like Microsoft solidify their next generation hardware plans and eye an upcoming launch, they're marking down the prices of current generation accessories to clear the shelves one last time before this stuff becomes obsolete.  Just as Sony has gone crazy with budget-priced PlayStation 3 game compilations, here's Microsoft moving some extra Kinects before the new Xbox model rolls into town and steals all of the attention.  This is a good deal heading into the holidays if you're in the market for the Kinect, but as Joey says, there will be better deals still to come. 

Mario In Their Own Words

MarioThe Internet loves to discuss video games, so it's only natural that when sought out people from the gaming industry and the online community in general to discuss Mario, there would be much to say.  Everyone involved spoke up to say why they enjoy the Super Mario series so much and why they think it endures after so many years.  Read far enough into the article and you'll find a few thoughts from me regarding how all of these Mario games can co-exist without totally saturating the market:

"I started gaming with Mario and I still come back to Nintendo hardware to play the latest Mario titles, but I skip the releases that don't interest me. For instance, I couldn't get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy 2 quickly enough, but I didn't care to play Mario Sports Mix. More Mario is always fine with me so long as the quality doesn't suffer, and despite the rapid releases in the past few years, I think the series is doing fine overall. There's enough Mario for everyone in just about every genre. I think the trick is not to oversaturate any one genre at a time. New Super Mario Bros. 2, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon are all on the way and since they're all different kinds of games, I don't see how they're stepping on each others' toes. Even New Super Mario Bros U seems to be just different enough from NSMB2 (GamePad emphasis, high definition visuals) to stand on its own feet."

I think that the best proof that the Mario franchise has lasted the test of time is that even after all these years, people still enjoy playing the games and discussing them.  There's a timeless quality to these titles, but they also have a way of bringing us back to the point in our lives in which we first played them.  I can't separate Super Mario World from the cold winter wind blowing through my open window on an overcast morning, nor can I break New Super Mario Bros. away from relaxing in a hotel room at E3 2006 with my Kombo pals at the end of a long day of work.  These games are locked into our lives and our memories, and with new players finding them all the time, I'm glad to know that new generations of fans will have their own stories to tell that are tied to the best that Mario has to offer.

Nintendo Power Shutting Down

Nintendo PowerAnyone who grew up with Nintendo hardware most likely was exposed to the company's in-house publication that covered the hottest upcoming games, Nintendo Power.  Many of us left the magazine behind ages ago, but it continued to publish and has been under control of Future Publishing since 2007, and now comes word that Future is ending its role with the publication, bringing Power's production to an end.  Why now?  Apparently it has nothing to do with dwindling subscriber numbers or the sorry state of the advertising business.  Ars Technica reports that Nintendo itself is to blame:

[O]ur source says that Nintendo, which was always "difficult to work with," was uninterested in renewing that contract or in taking part in a number of digital initiatives that Future saw as necessary for the long-term health of the brand. He added that Nintendo doesn't seem interested in taking over direct control of the magazine again.

It's unclear exactly how many more issues of Nintendo Power are planned after the recently published August issue (its 281st), or how current subscribers will be compensated. Nintendo Power enjoys a total monthly readership of 475,000, according to Future press materials.

I stopped subscribing to Nintendo Power during the Nintendo 64 generation, although I wound up with a free courtesy subscription for a while around 2006.  The book has changed a lot over the years, and sadly with the rise of the Internet and the push for gaming news to be reported and discussed online at a breakneck pace, it seems that without Nintendo's cooperation, there's nothing that the magazine can add to the overall picture.  We've come a long way from that off-model clay Mario on the cover of the debut issue, but the spirit of the magazine will go on thanks to all of those who fondly remember it and do their part to spread the word of video game news.  It's worth noting that this is not the first time that Nintendo Power has been in trouble, however, so perhaps we'll see it rise again someday.

Power Button - Episode 84: Assassin's Creed Producer Calls On Race; OnLive Service Falls On Its Face

Power ButtonWe have a downer of a show for you on this week's episode of Power Button as we discuss two topics that traditionally do not have many smiles nor sunshine behind them: racism and layoffs.  First up, Joey Davidson and I react to Assassin's Creed III producer Alex Hutchinson's remarks in the media calling the video game industry is racist.  We're hoping that he doesn't really mean it and that he's just having a bad week.  Then in the second segment, Brad Hilderbrand arrives to talk about the restructuring of cloud gaming service OnLive and whether or not the company can bounce back from the sorry state in which it finds itself.  We have an hour or conversation waiting for you.  Join us!  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 - Episode 84: Assassin's Creed Producer Calls On Race; OnLive Service Falls On Its Face