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It Looks Like Sega Has Finally Rediscovered Sonic The Hedgehog

Sonic ManiaSega's Sonic the Hedgehog has taken plenty of knocks in his post-Genesis career.  His transition into 3D was bumpy and it seems that the further away we get from those Sega Genesis glory days, the less that Sonic Team and its partners seem to know how to handle the franchise.  Sonic Generations was the best thing to star Sonic in a very long time and long-time fans practically cried out to Sega that it was the Classic Sonic elements that made that game work so well.  Sega followed up that title with the poorly received and rapidly developed Sonic Boom series, so it seemed that hope was lost for the company to learn the right lessons from Generations.  Thankfully it now looks like good things come to those who wait as Sega had announced two new Sonic games that look like they know what they're doing.  For me, the one to be most excited about is Sonic Mania coming in 2017 from Sega, Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest Games for the Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, and PC which follows on from those excellent conversions of Sonic the Hedgehog for iPhone and Android as a 2D (actually 2D, with sprites!) side-scrolling title feature new zones and reimagined classic levels.  Just look at this trailer and try not to smile.  I don't think you can resist.

Remember a few years ago when Sonic fans said that Sonic Team should go back to the Genesis roots with a side-scroller for consoles and Sega responded with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and everyone kinda felt like we'd made our wish on a monkey's paw?  I'm just judging by the trailer here, but it looks like Sonic Mania is the game we all thought we would be getting during that interval between hearing that Sonic was going back to pure side-scrolling and actually seeing how Sonic 4 ended up.  Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are the only playable characters just like nature intended.  I know I'm risking being caught up in the Sonic Cycle again, but I really want this game to be solid and the title that fans have wanted for such a very long time.

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Telltale's Batman Trailer Shows The Burden Of Being Bruce Wayne

BatmanFor as long as I can remember, the primary focus of the Batman franchise has been, well, Batman (with a side order of Joker), but lately there's been a renewed push on exploring the man under the mask.  Batman comics took a jaunt into showing us Bruce Wayne unburdened by the Bat legacy, TV's Gotham has given mixed results showing us Gotham City in a pre-Batman world, and now Telltale Games has a new episodic Batman game coming August 2 for many platforms including the Sony PlayStation 4, PS3, Microsoft Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, and mobile that, judging by today's new trailer, gives us plenty of Bruce Wayne action as well. 

I've been a Batman fan since I was first exposed to Batman: The Animated Series in 1993 as a preteen, and it wasn't until later that I backtracked to the Tim Burton films for a larger picture of what the character was all about outside of the comics.  His iconic rogues gallery always steals the spotlight and Batman himself is always good for some daring action scenes, but Bruce Wayne is often the more interesting character.  I think that's because (as has been so often cited) Batman is the man and Bruce Wayne is actually the mask.  Consider how Kevin Conroy portrays Batman's voice in The Animated Series, for instance.  His Batman voice is deeper and more intense (not as far as Christian Bale's guttural growl from The Dark Knight trilogy) befitting a costumed vigilante and his Bruce Wayne voice is casual, friendly, and general lighter.  When Conroy's Bruce is with people in his inner Bat circle, he speaks in his Batman voice.  They know who he is.  There's no need to hide it.  Batman is who he really is. 

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Mini-Review: Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Ghostbusters

This review was originally published at Kombo.com on June 23, 2009.  Many of the technical issues described below were later fixed with a software update.

Two years after the Ghostbusters dealt with Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II, a new exhibit on Sumerian god Gozer the Gozerian is about to open in New York City's history museum. When a sudden increase in paranormal activity leads to the reappearance of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rampaging through downtown, the Ghostbusters become involved in a renewed attempt to summon Gozer to destroy the world. The boys in gray (along with you, the player cast a the fifth member of the team charged with testing the latest in experimental ghostbusting equipment) have to solve the mystery of who is trying to summon Gozer and how they can save the world one more time. Meanwhile, nemesis Walter Peck, who was last seen working for the Environmental Protection Agency, is back to cause trouble for the team, and just who is the alluring woman that seems to constantly be in the wrong place at the wrong time?   

It's taken twenty-five years, but this is the Ghostbusters video game for which fans of the franchise have been waiting. With a story written by Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis and voice acting by Aykroyd, Ramis, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton back as Walter Peck, Alyssa Milano joining the team as new character Ilyssa Selwyn, and Brian Doyle-Murray as Jock Mulligan the mayor of New York City, this game provides a detailed story that ties up loose ends from the two films and answers lingering questions you most likely didn't know that you had. Fan service abounds as players are sent to search the hallways of the Sedgewick Hotel in pursuit of the escaped Slimer, run through Times Square as a revived Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attempts to stomp the heroes into paste, consult with Vigo the Carpathian's painting on important matters, learn the backstory of the ghostly librarian that scared the Ghostbusters away at the start of the first film, fight a giant sloar, discover the source of the psychoreactive mood slime from the second film, and — it has to be said — slide down the firehouse's iconic pole.

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Be Ready To Believe The Inside Story Of Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Ghostbusters

Long-time readers of my work may remember I once wrote for a now-defunct video game news and reviews outlet called Kombo, and when I learned that developer Terminal Reality was working on a new Ghostbusters game featuring most all of the cast of the original films, I pushed hard to convince the staff that we needed to cover this game with all the resources we could muster.  That led to a great working relationship with Terminal Reality's Environmental Lead / Senior FX Artist Glenn Gamble who became a good friend of the Kombo Breaker podcast, who over the course of several episodes told us lots of inside dirt and fascinating secrets and stories about the development process.  It broke my heart that we weren't able to get the Internet at large to care about the coverage, and while I've read retrospectives about the game over the years, I've never seen anyone reproduce the stories we had on Kombo all those years ago.  Now with a resurgence in Ghostbusters interest thanks to the new Paul Feig-helmed film due out soon, people are starting to wonder about the 2009 game and how it all came to be.  Matt Paprocki has written a brilliantly detailed look at the game's history from initial idea to finished product that corroborates much of what I was told both on and off the record back in 2009.  This is excellent work and digs deep.  For instance, here's a bit on the difficulty of working with actor Bill Murray who reprised the role of Peter Venkman for the game:

There was a problem: for reasons known only to Bill Murray himself, Murray had planned only to do some of his lines to get started, and to return later to do the rest. “He thought he would give us lines to get started,” said Melchior—but development time was short at this point. “Well, the game ships in June [2009], so, no.”

Melchior recalled the stressful days that followed. “We went through as many lines as we could on Saturday, took a lot of breaks. We kept him engaged because he likes baseball, I like baseball. Every time there was a dead period where it looked like it was going south, I just started talking about baseball. He recorded [a] few lines but delivered them well then said we were going to do the rest tomorrow because we had two days. There was a sleepless night between me and the associate producer Ben Borth in New York because there was a chance he was not going to show up for day two. True to his word, he showed up.”

The problem was Murray never finished. How many lines Murray completed is unclear—Melchior claims it was half of his scripted 750-800 lines, while Haworth hesitated to give a number. Regardless, Murray’s work was done. He wasn’t coming back. “I’m not going to judge the way he works because it’s how he probably works on everything,” said Melchior.

If you're hungry for more Ghostbusters game stories, then you'll be happy to know that I've republished most of my old Kombo coverage here on PTB over the years along with some new material that was exclusive to this site because, well, to be honest I think I made my Kombo co-workers sick of the topic and they were tired of indulging my interest.  There was just so much to tell!  Settle in and consume as much as you like.  Covering the development of this game was the absolute highlight of my years with Kombo. 

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Power Button - Episode 208: E3 2016 Wrap-Up

Power_buttonAs another Electronic Entertainment Expo fades away into the sunset, it's time for our annual recap of memorable E3 moments.  Blake Grundman and I are joined by our old E3 pal Ross Polly to discuss Microsoft's Project Scorpio, Levar Burton's excitement for Star Trek: Bridge Crew, Crash Bandicoot's return as a Skylander, Norman Reedus and his Norman fetus in Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding, the Stargate connection in the new God of War, Nintendo's unveiling of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and oh so very much more.  We have an absolutely supersized episode for you this week clocking in at over two hours long.  Grab a drink, settle in, and enjoy.   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.


Injustice 2 Announced For 2017

Injustice 2I am such a big fan of 2013's Injustice: Gods Among Us from the Mortal Kombat folks at NetherRealm Studios that I own the game four times over: the original Sony PlayStation 3 release (plus season pass) and the Ultimate Edition for the PlayStation 4 (bought on a disc as a launch bundle freebie and then later as a PS+ digital freebie) and PS Vita (bought during a PlayStation Store super sale).  Knowing that, you can imagine how excited I am that publisher Warner Bros. has announced a sequel due in 2017 for the PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One.  Batman and Superman are back for Injustice 2, but there are some new additions that sound like they will change the flow of the game.  The PlayStation Blog has the details.

The Gear System uses RPG-like mechanics to reward you with loot drops every time you play the game. With each loot drop, you will earn character-specific gear to outfit and power up your roster – changing not only the look of each character, but your fight strategy and your personal approach to every match. As you gear up your characters, you’re building a roster of DC Super Heroes and Super-Villains that reflects your choices, and your preferences, which can be vastly different than your opponents. A few play sessions in, you can expect your Aquaman to look and play different than anyone else’s Aquaman you may come across.

I need to see how this upgradable character mechanic works before I judge it either way.  I do enjoy leveling up characters in game that are not really RPGs.  I feel like I'm making progress in games like Assassin's Creed when I see strength and speed meters increase as I clear objectives.  Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS allow players to customize players with add-on gear and it works pretty well. On the other hand, Capcom's Street Fighter X Tekken used a power-up gimmick with its upgradable gems that was baffling to comprehend and confusing to implement.  I trust NetherRealm, although I also fear the power-ups will fall into microtransaction hell right away.

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Power Button - Episode 206: Turn The Lights Out When You Leave

Power_buttonVideo Game consoles burst into this world with a collection of highly publicized launch titles, but nobody ever promotes their game as the last title out of the gate before production moves on to the next generation.  Everyone remembers that the Nintendo GameCube debuted with Luigi's Mansion, but what was the final release for the system?  How did the Super NES wrap things up?  Who turned out the lights on the Sega 32X?  On this week's episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman take a walk down the weedy, unkept side of Memory Lane to discuss the final releases for some of the industry's most beloved or infamous consoles.  You know you want to find out how the Atari Jaguar folded.  Join us for an hour and be sure to turn the lights out when you leave.!  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.


Power Button - Episode 205: Favorite Fresh Features

Power_buttonThe current generation of consoles have introduced multiple new features and refined capabilities introduced last generation, so it's only right that this week on Power Button we discuss our favorite of those features.  Share buttons, live streaming, YouTube sharing, screenshot capturing, off-TV play, backward compatibility, Remote Play, 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.


Power Button - Episode 204: Disney In-finish-ity

Power_buttonBlake Grundman has a problem.  He's invested a lot of time and money into collecting Disney Infinity figurines and video games and now Disney has canceled the entire product line.  He needs some time to air his grievances and openly weep, so on this week's episode of Power Button we hold a farewell for the biggest Toys To Life product that somehow didn't make enough money.  Also, knowing that Disney is going back to licensing its properties to other publishers again, we pitch some ideas for Disney-owned properties we'd like to see become new games.  A dream is a wish your heart makes (unless you fail to turn a profit).  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.


Disney Exits Console Publishing, Disney Infinity To Be Discontinued

Disney InfinityFailing to definitively conquer the video game console publishing market, Disney Interactive is exiting the business and taking its Toys To Life game platform Disney Infinity with it.  The game will shut down in June following the release of the final two character packs (based on Alice Through The Looking Glass and Finding Dory) and the studio behind it all, Avalanche Software (not to be confused with Avalanche Studios, the Just Cause folks), is now out of business.  It's a grim day for Infinity fans as despite performing what any other company would consider to be successful in this business, it's not enough for Disney.  USgamer has the report.

Disney Infinity probably made a good deal of money, but for Disney, the licensed Star Wars Battlefront represented the future moving forward. Pachter estimated that Disney Infinity made $200 million in revenue last year, while Star Wars Battlefront earned $660 million. The $200 million estimate put Disney Infinity ahead of Lego Dimensions and Skylanders, but Disney is a huge company and its perspective on 'successful' is vastly different.

By licensing the Star Wars brand to Electronic Arts, Disney doesn't have to have developers on hand to make titles. It reaps the rewards and the risks are all Electronic Arts. At some point, management looked that the gulf between Infinity and Battlefront and wondered why it was publishing games in-house. You can probably expect to see more licensing of Disney properties, but most of that will probably lean on the mobile side.

If you're still interested in the Infinity figures, watch for clearance sales at your favorite retailer over the summer.  It's disappointing to see Disney exit the business, but now that the company is switching gears back to a licensing model, perhaps we'll see some creative ideas based on Disney properties from other companies.  Yes, there will always be a place for Star Wars games, but where are the Arkham Asylum-like Avengers game, Darkwing Duck Remastered, and of course my biggest, most wanted pipe dream of them all...

It's a shame that being merely successful at a business like this isn't enough for Disney which has an "engulf and devour" mindset in the video game industry as it engages in a repeated cycle of buying established studios, pushing them to deliver, closing them when they fail to quickly produce top selling sensations right out of the gate, and then withdrawing from the business altogether before trying again a few years later.  I don't understand why anyone would spend so much time and money to build a platform that is successful by standard metrics and then throw it away just became it makes only some money and not all money.