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March 2006

Kickass Genesis Platformers!

Sega Genesis 3One of the benefits of gaming several generations in the past is that time and criticism have divided the dreck from the best games a console has to offer.  Racketboy has put together a list of the best action platformer games from the Sega Genesis era, highlighting favorites such as Sonic the Hedgehog and shining a light on titles you may have missed, such as Ristar, Pulseman, and *gasp* a game featuring Mickey Mouse.

While I didn't have a Genesis when I was a kid, I did have a friend who had one.  Unfortunately his limited funds and short attention span meant that he rented more games than he actually bought, so my Sega experiences back in the day were mostly RPG-based with the occasional splash of Ecco the Dolphin and The Ooze.  Years later it's nice to see that there's still plenty to explore and experience from the world of Sega.


UMDIt looks like the UMD death rattle heard last month is in its last stages.  Next Generation has word that Hollywood movie studios are abandoning the Sony PlayStation Portable movie format because - surprise, surprise - nobody is buying movies on UMDs.  Universal Studios is already out of the UMD business, while Paramount may be next.

One unnamed president of a major studio is quoted as saying, "No one's watching movies on PSP. It's a game player, period."  Universal Studios Home Entertainment has ceased UMD production. One exec told Reuters, "Sales are near zilch. It's another Sony bomb."

Wait, the PSP is a game player?  Huh, I learn something new everyday.  All this time I thought it was Sony's poor attempt to kill both the Nintendo Game Boy and the Apple iPod.  Has Sony told anyone that the little device plays games?  It seems like they'd want to advertise that fact and then support it with plenty of great games.  But then again, what do I know?

James Bond Will Not Return

GoldeneyeIt was probably too optimistic to assume that Rare's old Nintendo 64 classics such as Banjo-Kazooie, Blast Corps, and Perfect Dark would appear on Nintendo's upcoming virtual console download service now that the developer is part of the Microsoft empire.  Sure enough, word from last week's Game Developers Conference is that due to Microsoft's new hand in Rare's business, these old classics won't be helping to line Nintendo's pockets in the next generation.

Also sitting things out is everyone's favorite N64 multiplayer shooter, Goldeneye 007.  Consider the licensing boondoggle behind that game: it was published by Nintendo, developed by Rare (which is now owned by Microsoft), contains the James Bond characters and scenarios owned by both the Broccoli family (producers of Bond films) & Ian Fleming (creator of Bond himself), plus today the video game rights to the Bond series are held by Electronic Arts.  Convincing all of these entities to go along with a Goldeneye reissue is just not likely despite the fact that they'd all stand to make some nice residuals from a downloadable re-release.  Office politics, business pride, and overall marketplace competition stand in the way of bringing back James Bond's greatest video game adventure.

If You Knew This Sound You'd Be Cheering By Now

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass Quickly now, identify the video game from which this fanfare originates.  Did you answer as soon as you heard the sound clip (or possibly even before it finished playing)?  If you did then chances are you weren't at Nintendo's Game Developers Conference presentation last week.  I say this because I've come across this video clip of people in the audience at the presentation watching the trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.  The trailer opens with a nondescript door upon which someone uses the stylus to draw a symbol.  When the symbol is complete, that glorious little "secret revealed" fanfare from every major Legend of Zelda game to date plays.  Then Link appears and walks through the door.  Then the scene changes to a shot of Link fighting in a field, and... watch the video carefully now... that's when people start to cheer.

I've been playing video games for just about twenty years now and I like to think I know my memorable sound effects and visuals.  Last year at E3 during the Nintendo press conference there was a brief video in which a bunch of new games were revealed for the Nintendo DS.  During that presentation a short clip of what would become Mario and Luigi: Partners In Time was displayed, and as soon as I saw Mario and Luigi doing their heroics in an RPG backdrop, I cheered because I recognized what was on display.  I was the only one who cheered at that time, mind you.  Three seconds later the crowd figured out what they were seeing and then celebrated.  Listen to a recording of that conference and you may hear a lone "YEAH!" for the game; that'd be me.

So, my point is that we have a room full of game developers at the GDC presentation and yet apparently none of them recognized the supposedly-familiar Zelda jingle?  I mean, this group that is supposed to be tuned into video games on such a deep level can't instantly identify a legendary recurring sound effect?  Or the actual initial appearance of the famous Link?  There's nothing particularly wrong with that; I just find it unusual considering the audience.

Link's Ultimate Foe: Bad Animation

Badly Drawn Link Lots of folks seem familiar with the fact that due to the near-deal to create a CD-ROM add-on for the Super NES back in the mid-1990s, hardware developer Philips gained the right to create several original titles for their CD-I system based on Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.  Nintendo's creative teams had nothing to do with these games, a fact that I cannot stress enough.  For you see, these games had very poor production values and are probably the worst games one could come up with based on the popular characters.  Consider the various Zelda games and their horridly animated story clips, for instance.  Kotaku has clips from the beginning and end of two of the games, Faces of Evil and Wand of Gamelon.  Go watch them and then come back here.  I'll wait.  Keep in mind that these animations set up the storyline to come or tie up the plot into a neat little package.

Oh, you're back.  So, what do you think?  Are those the worst clips of Nintendo characters you've ever seen?  Don't forget to consider all of those crappy fan-created Flash animations when you come up with an answer.  Why didn't Philips realize that these games (animation and all) were nowhere near the Nintendo standard one expects from Link and Zelda?  Few people owned a CD-I, so these games were off of most people's gaming radars at the time, but it's just painfully obvious that Philips produced these games on the cheap and hoped to rely on the name recognition of The Legend of Zelda to sell these Octoroks to an unsuspecting fan base.  For shame, Philips.  For shame.

Nintendo Reveals Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass It's amazing how Nintendo can still surprise us all after all these years.  Here we all were expecting new information on the Nintendo Revolution during Nintendo CEO's Satoru Iwata's GDC keynote address and instead comes the unveiling of a new Legend of Zelda title for the Nintendo DS, Phantom Hourglass.  AMN has some first impressions of the game as well as a not-to-be-missed trailer, a trailer that apparently caused everyone in attendance at the keynote to erupt with cheers and applause.

Phantom Hourglass follows in the tradition and style of Wind Waker, although seemingly with a dash of Link to the Past and a bit of Ocarina of Time.  Watch the trailer and you'll see what I mean.  The camera appears to stay somewhat isometric in the classic style, while Link is followed by a fairy friend (and I don't mean Tingle).  It also appears that players can take notes on the game's map screen, something that I find very intriguing.  How better to take notes of symbol patterns and item locations than on the DS's touch screen itself?  The game will be on display at E3 (probably next to that "other" Zelda game, Twilight Princess), and I have to say that I'm looking forward to checking it out.  I'm very eager to see how Nintendo plans to adapt the familiar Zelda mechanics for the DS's unique abilities.

Sony Has Fancy Plans, Pants To Match

Sony PlayStation 3You've probably read the recaps from yesterday's Game Developers Conference keynote address from the folks at Sony by now.  Slashdot has a good blow-by-blow summary if you missed it and AMN put in some hands-on time with some of the various technical demos on display.  It always amazes me how Sony's top brass can hold a press conference or give a speech in which they say nothing at all, but yet reveal so much. 

As far as my opinion on the Sony PlayStation 3's future, I think they'll do quite well.  They seem to be taking their time and getting their ducks in a row, so to speak.  Microsoft rushed to get the Xbox 360 out first, and while that has certainly worked for them to a point, there's something to be learned from taking the extra time to get everything right.  If Sony follows through then I believe they'll turn a lot of heads come November.  Now then, let's see some actual playable games at E3!

Roll Your Own Super FX Games

SFX2+The rare video game collectors over at Assembler Games have struck again, this time with a piece of Super NES development hardware designed to aid in the creation of games using the Super FX chip of days of yore.  Yes, armed with this piece of equipment (called the SFX2+ which includes a Super NES on a 3" x 3" chip) you too could create your own Starfox or Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island.  There's plenty of pictures at which to gawk, too.

SFX2+ was Sculptured Software Inc.'s advanced development system for the Super Nintendo. SFX2+ has basic capabilities such as software breakpoints and Cartridge emulation. SFX2+ is self contained in the PC. No PIC interface card or external SNES is required. The SFX2+ fits in a slot within a PC. SFX2+ is a high-speed development platform for the Super Nintendo. DSP, mode 21, mode 20 and advance mode 20 are all supported. SFX2+ includes a AV-SNES and four megabytes of emulation ROM (SRAM).

Getting a look at old development hardware is always neat, but what interests me is comparing this comparatively tiny piece of Super NES development equipment to the massive Sega Genesis development unit discussed late last year.  I have a feeling that, somehow, there's a lesson to be learned from the size of the development tools and the fates of the respective consoles.  Or maybe it's all about the pretty pictures.  I can't decide.

New Super Mario Slightly Delayed

New Super Mario Bros.Nintendo's gone and broke our hearts by delaying the upcoming Nintendo DS title New Super Mario Bros.  It's only been delayed by a week, mind you, but it still stings.  Part of me wonders if Nintendo finally realized they'd scheduled the release for the week of E3.  New Super Mario Bros. is the game I spent most of my free time playing at E3 last year.  If the game had been released during this year's E3 week, I'd probably have found a quiet corner of the convention center to sit and play the game all week long, new amazing revolutionary stuff on display be damned.  Delaying to the week following E3 makes more sense, at least from this fan's point of view.

Tomato Reprise

KwirkOpening the mailbox each day invariably fills my life with bills, junk mail, and the occasional magazine.  However, some days there's a package pleasantly buried in with the drab papers.  Imagine my surprise last week when I found something from an old friend in the mail.  Opening the padded envelope revealed a paper, folded and stapled to form a sealed pouch.  I carefully opened the paper, causing something that was secured inside to fall to the floor.  Before checking to see what had landed on the carpet, I read the note written on the inside of the paper:

"Happy Birthday!  Will you actually play this one?"

At my feet lay another Kwirk game pak for the Game Boy, this one already opened and ready for play.  And to answer her question, yes, I will play this one.  Like the sealed copy, it serves as a reminder of childhood games and childhood friends (plus it's really fun to play).