The end of November usually signals the happening of the annual Southern Pinball Festival in sunny Orlando, Florida, but this year the event gave way to something bigger and better: Free Play Florida, a three-day event packed with pinball machine and arcade games spanning from the earliest machines to today's exciting releases. Former Power Button co-host Brad Hilderbrand, his wife Barbara, and I made the drive into Orlando on a pinball pilgrimage last weekend and did not come away disappointed. The tables spread out as far as the eye could see and many classics were there: The Addams Family, Theater of Magic, Bride of Pinbot, Spider-Man, The Avengers, Stargate, Star Trek (Limited Edition), Doctor Who... the list goes on. For the arcade side of things, old favorites like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Turtles in Time, Battletoads, Punch-Out!!, Outrun, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Donkey Kong, and plenty of others all vied for attention.
As Thanksgiving comes to the United States once again we found it fitting to take an episode of the Power Button podcast and list some of the video gaming-related things that we're thankful for this year. Join Blake Grundman and I as we give thanks for the continued push for pinball, the embracing of Remote Play between the Sony PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, the Nintendo Wii U finding its feet, a strong start to the new generation of consoles, and much more. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.
Once again it's time to dig through the massive amounts of amazing video games released this year to pick a celebrated few that would make fantastic gifts for friends, family, or that special person in your life (or even yourself — tis the season, right?). This year we have selection of games to consider featuring famous fighting mascots, swinging gorillas, plumbers in fast cars, white hat hackers, a trio of criminals back for an encore, a pink puffball with a bottomless stomach, a gallant knight armed with a shovel, a collection of 8-bit classics reworked into microgame form, and so much more. You won't go wrong with these picks.
Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, includes the original Bayonetta)
Once upon a time there was a game published by Sega starring a scantily-clad witch with awesome powers who fought her way through some bizarre action sequences. The game, Bayonetta, was a critical darling for the PS3 and X360, but it didn't sell well enough to warrant a sequel. Nintendo saw potential though and bankrolled the sequel as a Wii U exclusive as well as a revised edition of the original game that ironed out some of the technical snags from the other versions and adds new exclusive features. Now both are available in a $60 single package. Bayonetta 2 follows on from the original game with more action, larger set pieces, crazier boss battles, and a loopy story that doesn't make sense (but just roll with it; you'll be happier that way). Rated M for a very good reason thanks to sexual innuendos and adult references, the Bayonetta games may appear out of place in the Wii U library, but they are very welcome there.
I finished Grand Theft Auto V last year when it was released for the Sony PlayStation 3, but now that the game is back for the PlayStation 4, I can't help but revisit the world of Los Santos to see what's new. I've been doing some livestreaming of the game on Twitch and have captured some highlights to the PTB YouTube channel. Here's one of my favorite early missions in which Michael and Franklin team up to rescue Michael's son who has been kidnapped following an attempted yacht sale gone wrong. It's up to the duo to chase down the stolen boat while bantering and forth (here's your profanity warning). Watch what happens and see just how quickly it can all go wrong. It's a shame that the licensed soundtrack doesn't export to the stream (at least, I can't hear it on playback). Most of the car chase was set to Boston's "Peace of Mind" which makes any action scene even better.
Twenty years ago this week in Japan, Sega pushed on from its Genesis heyday (with the 32X debacle included as a pack-in) into its next generation of hardware. Management felt it was making all the right moves with its Saturn console, but ultimately that arrogance would lead to the company's undoing as a hardware manufacturer. Over at USgamer, Jeremy Parish looks back on Sega's mistakes and finds the goodness buried underneath all of the bad decisions and strange choices that make up the Saturn story.
Sega's internal struggle had made itself manifest long before Saturn launched in the company's bizarrely uncoordinated attempts to define a successor to the Genesis. "The decision to launch the 32X (favored by the American branch) and the Saturn (favored by the Japanese branch) so close together only served to siphon sales from both pieces of hardware," says Zeller. "It really started to foster the idea in the minds of consumers that Sega didn't stand behind its consoles and would make whatever decision would net it a quick buck, regardless of how that screwed over early adopters."
This same conflict began to hurt Saturn right out of the gate. Sega announced at E3 1995 — a late spring event — that its Saturn would be available at select retailers immediately, not in September '95 as previously announced. This precipitous maneuver, likely a panicked response to Sony's strong start with the PlayStation overseas, gave Sega's new machine a several-month lead over PlayStation in the U.S. Unfortunately, Sega let the competition have the last word at E3; in its own press conference the following day, Sony's entire message consisted of the system's price at launch: $299, $100 less than Saturn. Sega, having already released its machine into retail channels at a higher price, found itself unable to make a graceful countermove.
Sega really was in over its head with the Saturn. While I appreciate a can't-lose attitude, the company didn't have the products to back up that arrogance during the Saturn years. The continued schism between the Japanese and American offices just made the problem worse. Moreover, few of the Genesis's major franchises made the leap to the next generation. Where were Streets of Rage, Ecco the Dolphin, ToeJam & Earl, and Eternal Champions? Even poor Sonic the Hedgehog only appeared in re-released versions of his 16-bit adventures (we all remember what happened to Sonic X-Treme). I remember reading the gaming magazines of the day when the Saturn was on the way and being impressed by the screenshots, but couldn't find any excitement for the games themselves. There was nothing in the Saturn library that interested me. With Nintendo about to practically invent the 3D platformer two years later and Sony's new PlayStation project preparing to make a big entrance, buying a Saturn really felt like backing a losing horse.
Ubisoft has created a massive fictional world in the Assassin's Creed franchise that spans across a variety of platforms all the way to the Nintendo DS to the Microsoft Xbox One and just about everywhere in between. Spanning centuries of history, it's difficult to decide where to jump into the narrative now as a Creed newcomer. Are you better off entering through the Italian Renaissance or during the period of colonial expansion in North America? What about the Crusades? Maybe the age of piracy in the Caribbean? Mike Williams at USgamer has put together a detailed guide of which Assassin's Creed games are worth your time and which you can safely skip. Here's some of the introduction:
The Assassin's Creed franchise as a whole tells the story of the The Assassin Order, also known as the Brotherhood, and their enemies, the Templars. The two forces have been fighting a philosophical war for centuries: the Assassins believe in total freedom for all people, while the Templars believe true peace is achieved through establishing order. The war has been going on since 465 BC, but what we seen in the series started with the Hashashin and the Knights Templar during the Third Crusade. It's from this period that franchise draws its name with the Assassin Order's creed: Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
The conceit of the series is that you're not directly playing the assassins of each era. You're actually in control of their descendants in the modern day or near future. These descendants are using a machine called the Animus to connect to the genetic memories of the original assassins, living through their lives. The Animus was created by a large corporation called Abstergo Industries, which is actually the modern face of the Templar organization. Most games in the franchise have a modern day component, which range from simple loading screens to full missions for the modern day protagonist.
I rented Assassin's Creed II on a curious lark the year after it was originally released for the Sony PlayStation 3 and immediately fell in love with the setting. Climbing around Italy during the Renaissance was so much more fun than I'd expected, and since I already knew some about that point in real life history (thanks to an AP European History course I'd taken back in high school), I felt I was getting more out of the game and enjoying it on a different level than the developers probably intended. Assassin's Creed is a franchise that rewards the player for knowing something about its historical setting. You don't have to know the details to enjoy it, of course, but it certainly helps to have a working knowledge of the era in question. It's also a series that isn't afraid to commit to the surreal. I'll never forget Assassin Ezio Auditore's endgame fist fight with Pope Alexander VI, for instance. I eagerly bought the immediate sequels Brotherhood and Revelations, but it was the buggy Assassin's Creed III that started to put me off the franchise. I barely scratched the surface of its tie-in game Liberation and only played the first few hours of Assassin's Creed IV.
Now I'm making my way through the broken Assassin's Creed Unity for the PS4 and when the game is working, I can feel some of the old magic that drew me into the franchise in the first place. When it breaks (and it breaks often in all kinds of strange ways on a scale from hilarious to aggravating), I'm reminded of why I started to drift away from the Assassins and the Templars. Despite my misgivings and frustrations in recent years, I'm still a fan and still recommend the series overall, but it's not necessary to play every game. Just like an Assassin, you have to choose your battles.
Nintendo's famous characters have entertained us for years in video games and, as previously discussed, in film and animation, but what about comic books? This week on Power Button, David Oxford returns to talk about officially licensed comics featuring the world of Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Captain N, Star Fox, Metroid, and Punch-Out!! covering the 1990-91 Valiant comic run and the Nintendo Power comics that ran from 1992-1994. Join us for this super-sized episode! Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.
Nintendo released the first downloadable expansion for its Wii U racer Mario Kart 8 this morning, adding the previously announced playable characters and new tracks to the popular game. With new tracks come new addition to the soundtrack, of course, and Nintendo's sound team has gone all out to create new arrangements of tunes from The Legend of Zelda, Excitebike, and F-Zero to include with the new tracks based on those franchises. Check out the theme from Mute City, for instance. It's one of the best remixes of the original Super NES theme that I've heard in years. See you on the raceway!
I never thought I'd get involved with the Wii Fit program, but here I am about three weeks into wearing the Fit Meter, playing the balance board games, and working on a training regimen in Wii Fit U. Most surprisingly to me, I'm really enjoying it. How did I end up here? Exercise has never been a priority for me because of my traditionally poor health and my love of being stationary, but following my medical drama this year I've found myself in a unique position. I lost over 140 lbs in 2013 and the start of 2014 due to serious illness and ended up having to gain weight back over the summer to reach a healthy size. I'm a point now where I don't need to lose weight, but I don't need to gain any either. I need a light exercise program that encourages toning up and rebuilding lost muscle. Since I'm still healing from surgeries, I also need a program that doesn't end with me sweating or doing too much vigorous movement. Wii Fit U seemed like the answer, so I bought the whole starter kit: game, balance board, and Fit Meter pedometer on sale at a Best Buy four days before my July surgery, then put it aside until I was healthy enough to start on it.
I spent nearly eighty hours having a grand time exploring the island of Panau in Just Cause 2 from Avalanche Studios last console generation, so I'm very excited by the news that the next sequel, Just Cause 3, is due for release next year for the new generation of consoles. Last week a few screenshots from an early version of the game leaked to the Internet and soured everyone's expectations with imagery showcasing microtransactions and virtual currency that was purchasable with real money. That's not how I imagine the perfect Just Cause experience, and thankfully the company has gone on the record that those screenshots were from an old version of the game in which they were exploring ideas and options. Here's Christofer Sundberg, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Avalanche Studios, explaining a little about the controversy:
Following last week's rumours and speculation, we also wanted to take the opportunity to address a few misconceptions. Those leaked screenshots were taken from an ancient version of Just Cause 3. Like most games, this one went through an exploratory phase where we looked at different control schemes, different technologies, different business models. Those leaked screenshots show aspects of that process, and in no way reflect the game we are making today.
To be perfectly clear: Just Cause 3 will be available in 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC. It will be distributed as a retail box and digital download. It is not a Free To Play game. It does not feature in-game micro transactions.
Just Cause 3 will include the customary post-release downloadable expansions as is expected from today's modern AAA video games. Just Cause 2 featured similar content, so I'm fine with those inclusions. As long as I get to blast my way across a massive world filled with destructable environments primed to allow me to pull off daredevil feats, I'll be happy. Just Cause 2 included a basic YouTube export tool for sharing exploits in 480p, but that feature will pale in comparison to what today's consoles allow for sharing video content. I can't wait to show you all what I can do in this new sandbox world just as much as I want to see what you're all capable of doing. Bring it on, Avalanche! Your fans are waiting.