At Demonhead, We Clash

Clash at DemonheadI rented my share of dud video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System when I was a kid, but sometimes I'd rent a game I couldn't quite crack, and my need to figure it out would drive me to rent it again and again.  Sometimes it's for compellingly bad reasons like with what happened with Back to the Future Part II and III, but sometimes it's for good reasons.  Consider 1989's Clash at Demonhead that was somewhat ahead of its time in terms of level progression, power-ups, and storyline.  This was a game that played out more like an episodic animated adventure with talkative supporting characters and a series of Mega Man Robot Master-type bosses with lots in the charisma department.  Over at Kotaku, Peter Tieryas reminds us all why Clash at Demonhead is one of the console's unsung greats.

Similar to some of my favorite games of the era like Zelda II, The Battle of Olympus, and Goonies II, Clash’s sidescrolling action has areas you can tackle in any order you’d like. The overworld map consists of 42 routes. The routes generally have you going from one end to the other, clearing out enemies, and procuring wads of cash. Some of the areas have multiple levels that take you up into the mountains, sink down into the ocean depths, and barely cross deadly lava pits.

The navigation can be a bit confusing on the overworld map since the actual routes only have their numbers show up if you’ve selected the area (I wish, similar to the way it is in Bionic Commando, destinations could have had numbers on top of them). In this case, a trusty paper-and-pen come in handy to chart the way. To alleviate some of the difficulties of backtracking, which you’ll have to do quite a bit, you gain special Force powers from a magical Hermit that allows teleportation to any route Bang has finished.

I think what really ensnared me was the massive for it's time collection of power-up suits that allowed the hero Bang to fly, jump higher, swim, survive in lava, and so much more.  Each suit offered a different key utility that was essential in some levels and useless in others, and the trick was to accumulate these suits and choose when to deploy them at the optimum time.  Talk about replay value!  Usually the progression in games like these was to constantly grow stronger in a one-way path.  Bigger guns, better shields, etc.  In Clash, the suits could be swapped out when needed to boost Bang's stats in one manner while potentially decreasing them in another.  For me at the time, it was a revelation.  The problem was that the game could be unrelentingly difficult if I wandered off the assumed path and it was easy to end up at a dead end where I needed an ability I hadn't unlocked yet and would have to backtrack across an area I'd only just barely survived the first time.  I really should revisit it as an adult armed with more patience and trusty save states.

Sony PlayStation Celebrates 25th Anniversary

Sony PlayStationLandmark anniversaries can really sneak up on you in the video game industry, particularly when you forget sometimes that consoles once often launched a year or more earlier in other regions than the one you call home.  Consider Sony's original PlayStation which landed in North America in 1995, but released in Japan on this day in 1994, so it's time to celebrate the console's twenty-fifth anniversary (and I'm sure we'll do it all again next year for the American date).  Game Informer has a massive cover story by Jeff Cork chronicling the life and times of the PS1 and beyond as remembered by the people who were there at the time.  It's an absolute must-read for fans of the industry itself, not just Sony products.

KEN KUTARAGI [Former Honorary Chairman, Sony Computer Entertainment]: There was a fair amount of resistance within Sony for devoting precious resources toward the creation of “children’s playthings.” However, we were convinced that the technological and business prowess required to position ourselves at the apex of a new entertainment age existed within our walls. Hence, I went straight to Mr. Ohga, the president of Sony at that time, who possessed the necessary knowledge and experience in both the software and hardware fields. I believe his dream at the time was to build Sony’s next big business domain from the ground up. At the executive meeting slated to decide the future of the PlayStation project, I voiced my passion to Mr. Ohga directly, to which he responded, “If you believe you can do it, then do it!” Those decisive words still echo in my mind like it was yesterday.

As a teenager, I skipped out on the entire PS1 era.  I was a Nintendo guy, so while Sony's initial console was launching stateside in 1995, I was eagerly anticipating Donkey Kong Country 2 for my Super NES, and then a year later Super Mario 64 and the Nintendo 64 arrived, so for many years I never looked back.  I did look from side to side sometimes though as my favorite franchises such as Mega Man and Castlevania skipped out on traditional side-scrolling adventures on the N64 in favor of Mega Man 8 and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the PS1.  I continued on solely with Nintendo consoles until the summer before the Wii era arrived, and with Nintendo's GameCube wrapping up and development moved on to the next still-unreleased thing, the company and its partners weren't publishing enough games to meet my needs.  I ended up with a free copy of Street Fighter Alpha Collection to review for the PlayStation 2 in 2006 and figured, hey, why not?  I bought a new PS2 from Best Buy, picked up a few of the most popular games including Ratchet & Clank and Grand Theft Auto III, and indulged.  I continued buying Nintendo consoles and handhelds as the years have gone on, but that PS2 led two years later to buying a PlayStation 3, and then a used PlayStation Portable off of eBay, and then a new PlayStation Vita, and then a new PlayStation 4, and then a PSVR unit, and next year most likely a PlayStation 5.  Who could've guessed that Street Fighter would be a gateway drug?

As for the PS1, I never really did circle back around to buy one.  Thanks to the PS2 and PS3 supporting classic PS1 discs, I picked up used disc copies of Mega Man 8 and Mega Man X5 to play prior to those games re-releasing digitally on the PlayStation Store where I bought them again, and of course today both are available in various collections that I also own.  I bought a few choice PS1 digital titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon to experience those for the first time on my PS3.  Earlier this year I caved and bought the lackluster PS1 Classic at its get-it-out-0f-here price of $30 and have yet to open the box.  Who has time when there are so many new games to play?

I've logged a lot of hours with PlayStation products in the past decade and change, and while I'll forever be a Super Mario man at heart, there's always something special happening on PlayStation consoles.

Of Course It was Mortal Kombat That Sparked The Creation Of The Video Games Rating System

Mortal KombatWhile it's fun to talk about video games that have major anniversaries this month (both Donkey Kong Country and the Sega 32X turn twenty-five years old), it's seemingly less fun to reminisce about the anniversary of the creation of a regulatory body, but thanks to author of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation and friend of the Power Button podcast Blake J. Harris, we're going to have a good time exploring the genesis of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary.  Harris has written a seven-part oral history article that chronicles the ESRB's rise to ratings prominence, and each week the ESRB blog will publish an installment.  Everything kicks off this week with the first part in which the United States Congress learns about a horrifying new video game called Mortal Kombat and then uses it to score political points with family-friendly constituents.

On October 20, 1993—mere weeks after the release of Mortal Kombat—California’s Attorney General, Dan Lungren, spoke to a group of police investigators at an event in Los Angeles:

“We’ve got impressionable young people dealing with interactive games that are very realistic and I wonder if that is what we should be teaching our kids. The message is: destroy your opponent. I would ask you if that is very different from some of the messages in gang culture.”

The following month, Lungren upped the ante asking game manufacturers to stop selling games that teach youngsters to “demean and destroy.”

It's easy to point the finger at Mortal Kombat with the benefit of hindsight, but if it hadn't been Scorpion and Sub-Zero raising government hackles, it would have been another game (most likely Night Trap which was also in the hot seat around the same time).  Video games were becoming a major business, and whenever something becomes popular and successful, people take notice and put it under the microscope.  The same kind of exaggerated political rhetoric we hear today in government over pet causes was used in 1994 to demonize video games.  Was it all worth it?  Well, Congress eventually left the gaming industry alone to regulate its own content, and while there was a renewed burst of censorship and "are games art?" discussions in the 2000s as Grand Theft Auto sparked the same reactions as Mortal Kombat did a decade earlier, we've largely come out on the other side with fantastic gaming experiences presented as their creators generally intend them.  Just nobody show Congress the new Fatalities in Mortal Kombat 11.  I don't think they could handle that.

Journey With The Doctor To The Edge Of Time

Doctor Who: The Edge of Time

I can understand why it's a challenge to make a video game based on Doctor Who that honors the spirit of the source material.  The Doctor abhors guns, so a shooter is out of the question.  You could make a platformer because the Doctor and his/her companions certainly do a lot of running, but there's not much of the show's soul in a jumpfest.  Match-5 puzzle game?  Well, now you're not even trying!  Thankfully, the folks at the BBC, PlayStack, and developer Maze Theory have seemingly cracked the puzzle of what it takes to make a solid Doctor Who game with a VR adventure that casts the player in the role of the Doctor's latest assistant who must come to the rescue when she (voiced by Jodie Whittaker from the television series) needs help solving the latest universe-ending jam.  Doctor Who: The Edge of Time released last week for the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Vive Cosmos.  Here's a bit of the press release that summarizes the experience:

Armed with the iconic Sonic Screwdriver, players will solve mind-bending puzzles, grapple with classic monsters and encounter new horizons in a quest to find the Doctor and defeat a powerful force that threatens to destroy the fabric of reality. They will face the infamous Daleks and other known faces from the Doctor’s world plus some brand new never-before-seen monsters as they travel through stunning cinematic environments that truly bring the show to life!

The Doctor has been hurled through time to the end of the universe. A virus that threatens to rip apart reality itself has been unleashed. Players can pilot the TARDIS on a journey across worlds both familiar and strange to recover a series of powerful time crystals that can repair spacetime and ultimately, save the universe itself.

I've been playing the game on PSVR and am impressed with what I've seen so far.  I mean, I get to wave a sonic screwdriver around to make things happen, and that right there is at least 25% of what you need for a real Doctor Who game.  The rest comes from monsters both familiar and new, an engaging story that feels like an episode of the TV show (even the opening credits have been reworked for VR, sending players hurtling through the time vortex in first-person), solving puzzles, and finally being able to remark for myself that "It's bigger on the inside" when I step inside the TARDIS for the first time.  I have more to play before I'm ready to write a review and issue a verdict, but first impressions are solid except for one issue: as I unfortunately experienced with Borderlands 2 VR, playing the game for more than twenty minutes or so makes me incredibly nauseated.  I swear there's a monkey's paw at work because the more I want to play a VR game, the more likely it is to make me sick.  My girlfriend (who is also a gamer and Doctor Who fanatic) and I have decided to switch off playing every few minutes so that we can recover from nausea by watching the old fashioned 2D television screen while the other one wears the PSVR helmet.  We'll solve the puzzles together and stave off stomach issues just like in one of those grand romantic montages from an old movie.  I'd like to think that the Doctor would appreciate our teamwork.

Bart Simpson Just Wants To Play His Games

The SimpsonsHere's a fun blast from the past courtesy of @90sManiax on Twitter.  Acclaim published a series of poor-to-lackluster games based on The Simpsons in the early 1990s for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Super NES, Sega Master System, and Sega Genesis, and here we have an advertisement for several of the titles featuring original Simpsons animation as Bart tries to avoid his chore obligations in order to play.  The three games advertised here - Bart vs the Space Mutants, Bart vs the World, and Bart Simpson's Escape from Camp Deadly - were all semi-popular in their day based solely on the red-hot Simpsons license, but had little to recommend in terms of gameplay.  Even for NES games, these products were extremely basic with poor hit detection, grating sound, and unintuitive controls.  I rented both NES games at different times in that era based just on being a fan of the license and came away disappointed.  It wasn't until 1992's Bart's Nightmare for the Super NES that I finally found a Simpsons game worth owning, and even it isn't reaching its full potential.  It was in 2007's The Simpsons Game that the property finally succeeded in the gaming world, largely because publisher Electronic Arts brought in the writers and animators from the television show to work on it.  Now that's how you use a license!

(Image via Retromags)

Power Button - Episode 296: Super Fun Holiday Season Gaming Preview Show

Power ButtonWith only about six weeks left in 2019 we are staring down the end of the year and all of the new games that come along with it.  This week Blake Grundman and I are talking about all of the new games due out between now and the end of December that we want to check out including titles like Luigi's Mansion 3, Death Stranding, Mario & Sonic the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, and more.  It's a great season to play some games!   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. 

Mini-Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

It's become a surprising tradition since the Wii era that whenever the Olympic Games gear up for another installment, Nintendo's Super Mario and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog will be there for a fresh round of sports mini-games featuring the extended casts of both franchises.  Now in its sixth iteration in celebration of next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 covers familiar territory in new ways for the first time on the Nintendo Switch.  The big draw to this sequel is the new 2D retro event series in which the Mushroom Kingdom and Green Hill Zone gangs trade their shiny 3D models for old fashioned, nostalgic sprites from the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis days.  What justifies the throwback?  It seems that Dr. Eggman and Bowser are cooking up a new scheme to be rid of their nemeses once and for all...

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The Terminator's Greatest Hits

Terminator 2The Terminator just won't die - both the T-800 killing machine and the franchise that it spawned.  The sixth film in the series, Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters now and it tosses aside the newly established continuity from the fifth film, Terminator: Genysis, which threw away the continuity from the fourth film, Terminator: Salvation, which dumped the continuity from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (not to mention the television continuity of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).  Thanks to the timey-wimey ball, all sorts of Terminator media has been disowned from its parent franchise.  These Skynet-style erasures from history do not impact the various Terminator video games because, like most tie-in media of their eras, nobody ever expected the games to officially tie into anything.  Luke McKinney at Den of Geek recaps the Terminator games spanning from the original film all the way up to Terminator: Salvation.  What I found strange was that the games based on the original 1984 film are not for Atari or contemporary hardware from its day, but hail from the early 1990s.  I had no idea there was a Terminator game for the Sega CD, for instance.

This isn't just the best original Terminator game, it's one of the best Terminator anythings. In 1993, this truly felt like future technology had been sent back in time to kick our human asses, and was so good at the job we enjoyed the process. It didn't waste then-revolutionary CD storage capacity on overlong FMV (Fuzzy Massive Video). It knew we were playing because we'd already seen a great movie and we wanted to kick ass. It filled all that extra space for explosions and rock music, and both blasted big holes in the timestream.

If this games' version of Kyle Reese had been in the movie, he'd have blown the Terminator apart, leapt over the pieces, slam-dunked grenades into Skynet's central processing unit, and carried Sarah Connor into a future where the only "road of bones" was their honeymoon. If John Connor had had this Kyle for a father in Terminator 2, the kid wouldn't have been such a wise ass.

Of the Terminator games I have played over the years, none of them captured both the essence of the films and a fun gaming experience.  I put more time than I should have into Terminator: Salvation for the Sony PlayStation 3 because I'm a fan of the franchise and the developer behind the game, the late lamented GRIN of Bionic Commando fame; plus the game awards nothing but gold trophies.  No bronze, no silver, just gold for completing each level.  Sadly, it's really not worth the effort.  The game is a grim bullet-sponge shooter with little to redeem it.  The strange thing is that I don't know why I own the game.  I don't remember buying it and it's not the kind of game I would purposefully acquire because of its poor reputation.  GRIN was already circling the drain by this point and purportedly rushed the game to shelves which explains its half-finished nature in places.  I didn't review it for Kombo according to my records.  It's just on my shelf without an explanation.  Clearly this is Skynet meddling with time again.  The futuristic AI has already erased one Terminator game from history.

Can You Survive The 8-Bit Nightmare?

Bloodstained: Ritual of the NightEach year on Halloween at PTB we take a moment to appreciate something from the world or lore of Konami's Castlevania franchise, but this year we're looking at something a little more Castlevania-adjacent.  Koji Igarashi's long-awaited spiritual successor to Castlevania, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, finally reached stores earlier this year and one of the hidden areas that players may overlook at a tribute to those original Castlevania titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  The 8-Bit Nightmare sends heroine Miriam into a side-scrolling level fashioned after the classic NES trilogy complete with legally distinct versions of ghosts, zombies, and bone dragon pillars originally made famous by Igarashi's previous series.  Kotaku tells you how to find the area (it's twice hidden as a secret room accessible from another secret room), but beware: it's a challenge!