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...

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020" »


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!


Sony To Discontinue PlayStation Vue

PlayStation VueAfter five years of trying to make its live TV streaming service a success, Sony has announced that it is shutting down PlayStation Vue.  A precursor to similar services such as Hulu's live TV service and YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue offered a variety of so-called "skinny" bundles of cable and local broadcast television channels as a streaming replacement for traditional cable TV.  The idea was that instead of paying a cable company for a glut of channels you'd never watch just to get access to the few that you do want, Vue would let you buy smaller packages of channels such as AMC, FX, and TBS.  This was a great idea when the service first launched, but in an effort to stay competitive, management began adding additional bundles of channels to even the most basic levels of service while gradually inflating the price and it wasn't long before the monthly cost of the service was comparative to the traditional cable model it was trying to eschew.  Worse, the new channels added to the service was some of the garbage channels that viewers were trying to ditch in droves by cutting the cable cord in the first place.  You start out only wanting your favorite TNT dramas and suddenly you're paying $85 a month for a service tier including channels like Babyfirst and the Olympic Channel.  The PlayStation  Blog bids farewell to Vue.

Today we are announcing that we will shut down the PlayStation Vue service on January 30, 2020. Unfortunately, the highly competitive Pay TV industry, with expensive content and network deals, has been slower to change than we expected. Because of this, we have decided to remain focused on our core gaming business.

While sad to see Vue come to an end, it's probably for the best.  Price increases and an increasingly lackluster library of channels weren't winning any fans, and while the service has 800,000 subscribers, it's long since been surpassed by services like Hulu's live TV service which boasts nearly 2,000,000 subscribers.  It probably didn't help that by branding Vue with the PlayStation name, prospective customers assumed they would need a PlayStation to access the service which is not true; apps for mobile devices and set-top streaming boxes such as Amazon Fire TV have been available for years.  There's also the baggage that the PlayStation name carries with it, implying to the uninitiated that the service is related to gaming instead of general television.  I can't help but wonder if Vue had not been tied to the PlayStation brand and if it had stayed true to its mission of only offering small channel bundles that people wanted to watch for a fair price, it would have found success.  There are already too many ways to overpay for channels we never watch.  We certainly didn't need another option.


Missing Pieces Of Sega History Reappear

Sega multimedia demoIt's funny how sometimes when you least expect it the answers to long-running questions suddenly just appear.  I remember eagerly making my way through an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly back in 1992 and coming across a quick blurb discussing Sega's upcoming CD-ROM peripheral for the Sega Genesis and how the company was working on a CD version of the then-upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  The article even had screenshots to back up the claim.  Of course, now we know that the CD Sonic project became Sonic the Hedgehog CD and was its own thing compared to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but those screenshots of Sonic holding a CD that Dr. Robotnik wanted to take from him didn't turn up in either game and ended up as lost gaming lore.  The EGM piece states that the screens are from technical demo that may not end up as part of the final product, but now we know for certain that is the case as HiddenPalace.org has posted the original Sega CD demo for curious fans to discover.

Among the exhibits present at the show for the Sega CD was a technical showcase of what the Sega CD was capable of. The demo features everything that the Sega CD would be known for - full motion video, sprite rotation and scaling, a larger color palette, and CD quality audio, all presented in a neat five minute presentation running on actual hardware! This was one of the very first projects that the Sega Multimedia Studio would create before going on to create Jurassic Park for the Sega CD - a project that would end up taking over 20 months to complete. The demo features clips from then upcoming films such as Cool World, Batman Returns, and even a little clip from a Bugs Bunny cartoon (a clip from "The Big Snooze" no less)! While the demo is very sporadic with what it presents, almost seemingly random for the sake of throwing things on the screen, it's a nice demonstration of not only what the Sega CD could do, but what the Sega Multimedia Studio were capable of.

Unfortunately, not everyone present at the show was aware of what they were really seeing. Reports of a Sonic game exclusively for the Sega CD can go as far back as February of 1992 under the title "Super Sonic". With rumors of the upcoming Sonic 2 appearing at SCES 92, and the fact that expectations were set with the upcoming Sega CD, it's no wonder that the first instance of Sonic appearing on the Sega CD was misidentified as a new Sonic title. Each video game magazine at the time would take the same shots of Sonic (not of anything else from the demo, suspiciously) and would write how it was proof that the screenshots were of either an upcoming Sega CD exclusive title, a Sonic 2 port, or even a Sonic 1 port.

Of course all of the magazines of the day published articles "confirming" this demo as proof of a Sonic title for the Sega CD.  Sonic the Hedgehog sold magazines back in his prime, and word on a new (or even old!) Sonic game for the new hardware would draw much more attention and interest than an article drying explaining the contents of a five-minute demo reel that only included Sonic for an moment.  Today we'd call such articles clickbait, but back then it was just called "selling magazines".  And speaking of Sonic CD, HiddenPalace.org has also released a series of eight in-development versions of the game spanning from early work to nearly finished product, so there's plenty for Sonic fans to check out this weekend.  As a fan from way back who remembers reading about all of this stuff in magazines such as EGM, it's great to have a chance to see exactly what it all was and learn about its place in gaming history.


Mini-Review: Star Fox: Assault

Star Fox: Assault This article was originally published at Kombo.com on February 11, 2005. 

Whenever danger faces the Lylat System, General Pepper turns to the heroes-for-hire Star Fox team to eradicate the enemy menace and restore civility to the solar system. The Star Fox team's battles against the twisted scientist Andross have become stories of legend, primarily because each title in the series has some level of notoriety surrounding it: the original Star Fox brought us the Super FX Chip, Star Fox 2 is still considered "the one that got away", Star Fox 64 rocked our world with the Rumble Pak, and Star Fox Adventures received more attention as the first and last Rareware title for the GameCube than for the actual gameplay itself. Now Nintendo and Namco have teamed up to create the latest installment of the Star Fox saga, Star Fox: Assault, and for the first time Fox McCloud and friends have to stand alone without new technology or nostalgia covering their backs.

One year after the events on Sauria the last of Andross’s troops are attempting to regroup near the planet Fortuna when Cornerian military forces engage the enemy fleet. Andrew Oikonny, the nephew of the late Andross and former member of the renegade Star Wolf team, is attempting to lead his hired troops to glory in a plan to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. The Star Fox team arrives just in time to pursue Oikonny to the planet’s surface where, without warning, a large creature plummets from space and crashes into the would-be emperor’s ship, destroying it. This interstellar visitor is no friend, however. It is an Aparoid, a member of a species of insectoid-like creatures that are devoted to consuming the resources and residents of neighboring solar systems. As the Aparoids invade the Lylat System the Star Fox team springs into action, determined to destroy the enemy menace.

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Star Fox: Assault" »


Darkstalkers Are Not Dead! (Some Restrictions Apply)

DarkstalkersStreet Fighter may be Capcom's brawler bread and butter, but the company has other properties in its fighting game library.  Consider Darkstalkers, the game that sets unique character versions of classic horror movie monsters such as vampires, werewolves, and mummies against one another for our entertainment.  After making a minor splash in the arcades in the 1990s, the series has more or less been moribund outside of a compilation re-release for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 and a daring promise from Capcom that "Darkstalkers are not dead!" except that, no, they totally are as the company has yet to follow up on a long-teased resurrection of the franchise.  If you're late to the monster party, Gavin Jasper at Den of Geek gives you the lowdown on the franchise and its anime and wester cartoon adaptations, while Hardcore Gaming 101 takes you step by step through each game in the series.  There are more Darkstalkers titles than you may think, but still not as many as they deserve.

At first, Capcom wanted to make a game based on the Universal Monsters, but the licensing fell through, so they just used more anime-style archetypes. Dracula became Demitri Maximoff, the Frankenstein Monster became Victor von Gerdenheim, the Creature from the Black Lagoon became Rikuo, and so on. Considering the play these characters would get as part of Capcom’s menagerie, it was definitely for the better.

Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors hit the arcades in 1994 and it kicked so much ass. On the surface, it was a Street Fighter clone, but it was different enough to stand on its own. It introduced air-blocking and EX attacks. The animation made Street Fighter II look stiff in comparison and everything was beaming with personality. Each character was distinct and popped with their mannerisms and unique animations.

Part of it came from the freakshow novelty of the early fighting games. Each game seemed to have a weirdo that stuck out and made you want to play them because of how different they appeared. Street Fighter had Blanka. Mortal Kombat had Baraka. Samurai Shodown had Gen-An. But Darkstalkers? Hell, almost the entire cast is made up of those kinds of characters. The most normal guys are a vampire and a succubus. And the succubus has literal batwings growing out of her back and head.

I fear that Darkstalkers true time to shine again was about ten years ago.  If the series returned today, it would follow in the modern Capcom fighting game mold of extensive paid expansions as seen in Street Fighter V and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite.  No, a new Darkstalkers should have been the creative follow-up to Street Fighter IV.  With so many fighting games pushing to be premier events unto themselves that are either supported for years with additional paid characters to fill out the basic roster or do not sell enough to meet expectations and are dropped by the publisher almost immediately, I don't know where a modern Darkstalkers could fit into today's gaming environment.  That's a shame because the characters have so much personality and potential for storytelling.


Power Button - Episode 295: The Force Is Strong With Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order

Power ButtonBlake Grundman had a unique opportunity last week to play a preview version of the upcoming Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order at a press event in California, so of course we're going to spend an hour discussing this Unchartedesque / God of Warish / Assassin's Creedy kind of game.  Then marvel as Blake explores the recently opened Galaxy's Edge Star Wars section of Disneyland and then lingers around past closing to adventure his way through the empty park.   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. 


Virtual Boy Strikes Back In Luigi's Mansion 3

Luigi's Mansion 3When a Nintendo game really wants to commit to a gag, it goes all out to ride that joke as far as it can go.  Chris Kohler at Kotaku raises the recent example of Luigi's Mansion 3 for the Nintendo Switch following in the footsteps of its predecessor titles by outfitting Luigi not with a Game Boy Horror from the original Mansion or a Dual Scream from the sequel, but with something much more red and failed.

Early on in the game, Professor E. Gadd gives Luigi a way to communicate with him as he trawls the many floors of the hotel. It’s his latest invention… the Virtual Boo.  Nearly 25 years later, the Virtual Boy still fascinates video game likers for its sheer ridiculousness; a “virtual reality” system that projected monochrome red graphics in a headset to create a rudimentary 3D effect. It was pure out-of-left-field Nintendo, but this time it was way over the foul line, and Nintendo had to discontinue Virtual Boy within a year of its release.

I absolutely love this.  The Virtual Boo!  It's perfect and I didn't see it coming.  Using the VB even shades the screen a familiar tint of red and headache and the upgrade cartridges for the device are shaped like the Virtual Boy game paks of days gone by.  It's fantastic when a long-time game developer and publisher isn't afraid to poke a little fun at itself and leave its more recent fans wondering just what the hell is going on.  The Virtual Boo gimmick feels like the culmination of a wonderful twenty-five-year-old in-joke and those of us who remember 1995 are in on the gag.