Power Button - Episode 351: Thirty Hours With Sonic Frontiers

Power ButtonThere's lots to do in the open zones of the Starfall Islands in Sonic Frontiers, and since I spent thirty hours last week seeing it all and earning the platinum trophy, it seems only right to spend this episode of the podcast discussing the game.  Before we get into that though, Blake Grundman regales us with tales of his recent European tour and we take a suggestion from the audience and give The Pinball Wizard for PC, iOS, and Nintendo Switch a spin. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, Amazon Music Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 


Remembering Sega's Cancelled Erotic Thriller

The Sacred PoolsSega experimented with content for older audiences beyond the teen market in the 1990s, from allowing Mortal Kombat's blood code on the Genesis version of the arcade smash to creating the Deep Water series rating for games with mature themes.  The company was ready to go beyond those markers though through a subsidiary with the development of its erotic thriller title The Sacred Pools.  Planned for release on the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, PC, and Mac back in 1997, Sacred Pools was one of those underwhelming full motion video games from that era.  Dylan Mansfield at Gaming Alexandria has the story of the multimillion dollar game that was never released until now, and you can download and try the unfinished version of the game if you want to be, y'know, erotically thrilled.

“If you crave mystery, power, and seduction, step into the world of Sacred Pools,” read SegaSoft’s original press release. “The once secure, safe, and beautiful island of Amazonia is now a land of temptation and danger. […] Sacred Pools exploits today’s technology creating a new level of gameplay so unreal you have to feel it to believe it.”

The game’s story revolves around the mystical sacred crystals on the far-off island of Amazonia. The island was once a safe area but has now become a dangerous spot littered with lust and desire. On your way to the titular sacred pools, you’ll encounter a plethora of far-out sci-fi enemies, who you’ll need to navigate past to get to the crystals.

Although the game featured many scantily clad women, none of the footage contained any fully naked bodies (and certainly no “hardcore sex scenes,” as some websites claim). Sega of Japan actually announced in August of 1996 that no future Saturn games would feature nudity of any kind.

The United States Congress already didn't like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap.  Can you imagine their reaction if this game had actually made it out?  Just the hint of a "sex video game" produced for mainstream consoles where children play would have sent the politicians running for both their committees and 60 Minutes.  It doesn't matter how titillating Sacred Pools was or whether or not there was any nudity in the game.  Just look at how everyone reacted to the Hot Coffee mini-game in Grand Theft Auto: Andreas in 2005, and that was supposed to be deleted content.  I think overall the industry was better off without it.  That said, I'm also glad that pieces of it survive for curious players to examine today as part of the historical record.


Star Fox Gets A Boost

Star Fox EXNintendo's Star Fox for the Super NES is fondly remembered today despite aging terribly.  It runs at twenty frames per second if you're lucky, its polygons are very basic, and it lacks the refinements found in its sequels.  Aiming to make the game a better modern experience without sacrificing what still makes it fun, kandowontu has created a hack of the game called Star Fox EX that adds a ton of improvements and refinements.  There's seventeen new levels, a model viewer, support for the Super NES mouse and Super Scope, multiplayer mode for up to five players, wingmen controlled by the player, and much more!

The Mario Bros. have decided that the Star Fox franchise no longer has a place within the grand Nintendo universe, and has set out to destroy the Lylat System forever, with the help of characters from more successful Nintendo IPs! They have also posed as Andross in order to hire the infamous Star Wolf team, a rival band of mercenaries led by Wolf O’Donnell, to distract Star Fox while they pull off their plans! Can Fox and his team put aside their former friendship with the Nintendo All-Stars to save both the Lylat System and everything associated with their franchise?”

I love hacks that build something entirely new out of the original content.  Watch for appearances from Mario and Luigi, Metroids, and many other familiar faces from the Nintendo universe.  Better yet, if you have the right accessories, you can play this hack on original Super NES hardware.  It's exciting stuff.


Build Your Own Game Boy Pocket SP

Game Boy Pocket SPNintendo's Game Boy Pocket does a lot of things right when it comes to handheld gaming, but the one thing you cannot do with it is fold it in half (and expect to be able to use it again afterward, anyway!).  Programmer Allison Parrish set right what once went wrong by taking the best aspect of the successor Game Boy Advance SP in terms of folding, the hinge, and applied it to the Pocket hardware.  The result is a Game Boy Pocket SP, and with a little engineering knowledge and access to the proper resources, you can build one of your own.

Over the summer I dug in deep with Game Boy modding and made this: the Game Boy Pocket SP. It’s a Game Boy Pocket motherboard that I cut in half and then put into a custom-designed shell with a hinge, a la the Game Boy Advance SP. The build has a pair of custom-designed flex PCBs to make routing signals between the two halves of the board easier. Along the way I taught myself CAD (with FreeCAD), PCB design (with KiCad) and 3D printing. The 3D models and PCB layouts for the Pocket SP are available on GitHub.

In this post, I’m going to talk about why and how I made the Pocket SP, and how you can make your own.

At first I couldn't figure out why anyone would want to do this.  After all, the GBA SP already plays Game Boy games right out of the box and then some.  The Pocket cannot play Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance games.  Why go through all this trouble just to end up with a piece of hardware that does less than its more advanced counterpart?  Then I saw the photos of the GBP SP and understood completely.  Sometimes these kinds of things are worth doing just to accomplish them.  I have no need for a GBP SP, but damn if it's not a beautiful little device.

(via MetaFilter)


Celebrate Twenty Years Of Ratchet And Clank

Ratchet and ClankSony and Insomniac Studios are marking the twentieth anniversary of the Ratchet & Clank franchise with streaming re-releases of the Ratchet titles for the PlayStation 3 for PlayStation Plus Premium members and an article of remembrances from Insomniac staff.  Oh, and some free DLC nostalgia armor for last year's Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart.  Seems kind of lackluster, but it's poor fate that led to a landmark anniversary year falling just a year after the most recent game in the series released.  Maybe something larger will happen for the twenty-fifth anniversary.  Anyways, here's Insomniac President Ted Price remembering when he knew they had something big cooking with these characters.

"I remember a bunch of us crowded around an old CRT TV watching our first test cinematic. It was the ad for Al’s Roboshack where Captain Qwark (voiced by the great Jim Ward) states in his typically snarky tone “There’s nothing worse than staring down a Blargian Snagglebest…from the inside”. Even though I knew the script by heart, after watching the scene I laughed out loud. The lines, the delivery, the animation, the subtle social commentary – everything fit. To me, that ended up being the scene that set the comedic tone for the entire franchise.”

I came to the PS2 Ratchet titles late enough that I picked up all three used from GameStop after I bought my console and was immediately taken in by the strongly-written characters and explosive humor.  I've come back for more ever since.  If you've somehow missed out on these games, you absolutely have to try them.  While the PS2 trilogy (plus one, Deadlocked) was remade for the PS3, I'm surprised that the PS3 Future trilogy (also plus one, Into the Nexus) was not remade for PS4 or now PS5.  Still, there is that twenty-fifth anniversary coming up and I suppose it's never too late...


Mega Man: The Wily Wars Gets A Boost

Mega Man: The Wily WarsThe Sega Genesis compilation remake title Mega Man: The Wily Wars has received some long overdue attention in the past few years thanks to re-releases on the Genesis Mini, Nintendo Switch, and as an actual Genesis cartridge produced by Retrobit.  While the game has a lot going for it over its Nintendo Entertainment System predecessor, there are a few design choices that purist fans look down upon when comparing the two versions including shot speed and enemy invincibility windows in which Robot Masters enjoy a few seconds of invulnerability after being shot.  ROM hacker Josephine Lithius has modified Wily Wars to fix some of these issues, creating a best-of-both-worlds combination of design choices.  Here's a summary of the changes:

  • Enemy invulnerability time has been all but eliminated.  This means that enemies can take damage more frequently and reliably.  No more “missed” shots!
  • The default weapon (the Buster) has been sped up to match its 8-bit counterpart.  Watch those lemons fly!
  • The default weapon and some boss weapons can be fired more rapidly!  Hammer that “fire” button and launch waves of projectiles!
  • [Mega Man] pulls his Buster back a little sooner after firing!  This… only affects a handful of weapons and the change isn’t that big, but hey!  It might help!

If you've put off exploring Wily Wars because it doesn't feel like your muscle memory remembers, give this hack a try.  If nothing else, Mega Man fans need to play this collection in order to unlock the new Wily Tower game in which players can customize Mega Man's arsenal with all weapons and items from the other games on the cartridge.  Mix and match weapons such as the Rolling Cutter, Crash Bomb, and Magnet Missile all in one loadout!  It's absolutely worth experiencing if you're never tried it.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars


Special Thanks To Vram Stoker

CastlevaniaOn this Halloween, let us turn our attention to the end credits of Konami's original Castlevania for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Rather than credit the staff that worked on the game (either real names or pseudonyms), the credits list the supposed cast of the game itself as played by notable horror icons such as, er, Christopher Bee and Jone Candies.  Mistranslation much?  Probably not.  Drew Mackie at Thrilling Tales of Old Video Games has dissected the Castlevania credits to explain who these parodic names are supposed to be.

Slide two: “Screenplay by Vram Stoker / Music by James Banana.” Again, the first one is very obviously a nod to Bram Stoker, author of the novel Dracula, with a little of the [b]/[v] confusion I mentioned in my piece on Sypha’s name. Interestingly, the person who best fits the title of screenwriter for the first Castlevania is again Hitoshi Akamatsu, so I’m guessing the credits are all purely horror references and not stand-ins for actual people. 

James Banana is presumably a reference to James Bernard, Hammer Films composer and specifically the person who scored the 1958 Dracula. The music for the first Castlevania game was composed by Kinuyo Yamashita and Satoe Terashima. For whatever reason, the name has stuck to Yamashita specifically, even though it’s Terashima who wrote the iconic track “Vampire Killer.”

Those three NES Castlevania games use the tropes of classic horror movies starting on the title screens, so it's no surprise that the credits would complete the experience. Today's modern games include closing credits full of real names that scroll on and on and on, listing everyone who worked in programming, marketing, catering, international versions, people who drove by the studio one day, etc., and it's important to credit everyone who works on a game, but sometimes I think we've lost something by doing away with quick credits that go for a laugh (or at least, in Castlevania's case, a bemused "huh?").


Power Button - Episode 350: Gone But Not Forgotten

Power ButtonFollowing on from our last episode where we discussed the closing of Google Stadia, this week's episode follows on from that theme with a discussion of games and modes you cannot play anymore because support for them has been terminated by their publisher.  Spend an hour with us in gaming's graveyard. Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, Amazon Music Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 


Shadow The Hedgehog Gets Reloaded

Shadow the HedgehogSega's 2005 release Shadow the Hedgehog for the Nintendo GameCube and its competing consoles took some bold chances with the Sonic the Hedgehog formula that were watered down to pass kid-friendly muster.  Guns and grittiness were the order of the day back then, so Sonic Team armed Shadow with weapons  and equipped him with vehicles for an adventure that ended up serving too many masters and pleasing nobody.  Sure, let's make a dark Sonic game that's rated E10+ with profanity for the sake of profanity that's censored anyway.   Add in some technical issues depending on which console you played it on, and the result is one of those "can you believe this?" footnotes in Sonic history.  Nevertheless, there's a decent game hiding in Shadow the Hedgehog somewhere, and now modders going by the name dreamsyntax and LimblessVector has released a fan-made quality of life update for the game they call Shadow the Hedgehog Reloaded that smooths out the controls, tweaks the level progression ladder, and adjusts the speed of the sluggish vehicles among other changes.  It's great to see games like Shadow get a second chance if only in the fan community.


Power Button - Episode 349: Live Team Coverage!

Power ButtonWe're in the weather bunker this week as the clean-up from Hurricane Ian continues, but after we check in with podcast meteorologist Dalton Galloway, we discuss the sudden but inevitable end of Google's Stadia service and what that means for all of its customers.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, Amazon Music Podcasts, and Google Podcasts, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.