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April 2006

Xbox Live Arcade Set To Swell

Xbox Live A lot of folks say that the Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade service offers more interesting fare than actual Xbox 360 games, and if Spong is correct then the service is about to become much more... interesting.  Rumor has it that Microsoft has been quietly securing and acquiring all kinds of licenses to classic arcade games from years gone by in order to increase Live Arcade's offerings to near MAME-like levels.  Best of all, since it's all legal (unlike emulating arcade classics on modern PCs which is, at best, usually a gray area) everybody in the development and production end of the spectrum gets paid for their work.

Microsoft seems to be looking to crush Nintendo's upcoming Virtual Console service before it even launches.  Microsoft has even snagged a bunch of Sega licenses, something that seems to surprise Spong. 

What's more, it looks as though Sega will be offering a major contribution, though frustratingly, we didn't get to the bottom of exactly what will be included in this major revision of Xbox Live Arcade. "Sega games will be included in a major way. It's a surprising addition to the deal and will include games that Nintendo will also be selling. The Nintendo deal is not exclusive."

Why should it be exclusive?  Back in the old days did you ever know only one chain of arcade that was allowed to carry a certain game?  It was certainly likely, even expected, to be able to go into the old Barrel of Fun arcade and find Konami's The Simpsons and then go across town to Blip's Arcade and find Konami's The Simpsons.  Both places could profitably co-exist.  Exclusivity deals are a child of the world of home console gaming.  We all get wrapped up in the business end of things sometimes, but the important part of video gaming to keep in mind is that games are meant to be played, and whether we can play Street Fighter II on Live Arcade or on the Virtual Console shouldn't matter in the end.   The important thing is that these beloved games are coming back.  That deserves a cheer no matter which console or company one backs in the gaming wars.


"Return Of The Forgotten" At AMN

Ghostbusters Every now and then I get the chance to step outside the review/preview scope at AMN and do something really special.  A few months ago I was asked to write a "sequel" to my original "The Forgotten" article that was published in 2004.  The thing about "Forgotten" articles (and PTB entries, for that matter) is that often I find myself playing the games I mention all over again from start to near-finish.  What other job allows for playing video games and calling it "research"?

"Return of The Forgotten" takes a look at several classic games (ranging from the old Commodore 64 all the way up to the Nintendo 64) that deserve to be revived for the Nintendo Revolution by using the unique controller and Internet capabilities.  Special thanks go to PTB reader and frequent contributor BGNG for providing new F-Zero X information that he discovered buried deep in the original game's data files.  I won't spoil just what he found though.  You'll have to read the article to find out.


American Dad/Family Guy Game Tweaks Kombat, Others

American DadThe first season of TV's American Dad hits stores on Tuesday on DVD which must mean it's time for some of that viral marketing we hear so much about.  This time the marketing is actually kind of fun.  American Dad Versus Family Guy is a Flash game that challenges players to pick a character from either show and then proceed through a fighting game reminiscent of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, complete with unique special moves for each character and even Fatalities ("Finish This!"), such as Peter Griffin's use of Ipecac to vomit on his opponents and Stan Smith impaling his foe with an American flag.  The animation is well done, there's plenty of references to both TV shows, and if you play all the way to the end you'll face off against a familiar special guest boss in, of all places, Thailand.  For an advertisement it's pretty good and makes me wonder how a real console fighter in the same spirit would perform.  Yes, the odds are that it'd be a complete disappointment, but there's always hope.


G4's Death By A Thousand Cuts

IconsOnce again I find myself on the soapbox about G4, the video game cable channel that apparently doesn't want to be about video games anymore.  The one bright spot on that channel has been Icons, a Biography-style show about pivotal people, technology, games, and characters in the video game industry.  It was canceled last year (of course), but I've been watching reruns lately on my cable system's OnDemand service.  They've had some interesting stuff such as the history of the Game Boy, the rise & fall of the Sega Dreamcast, a profile of Yuji Naka, the life & times of Donkey Kong, and even a look at Ralph Baer's impact on the video game industry.  Now G4 is set to relaunch the show, but it won't be about video games anymore.  Variety has the story.

One of [Laurie] Finn's priorities will be to scout people to profile when Icons relaunches this summer. The Biography-style skein has been revamped to focus on figures that appeal to young men, including J.J. Abrams and Bryan Singer.

Let me be blunt: I don't care about J.J. Abrams or Bryan Singer.  I like Lost and the X-Men films, sure, but I don't care about their life stories.  I'm just not interested in biographies about the current "hot name" of the month.  The original incarnation of Icons could hit some obscure topics, something that I believe was part of its charm.  I cannot believe that the new "hip" Icons would even consider approaching someone removed from the 18-24 year old demographic (someone like Ralph Baer, for example).  This is all part of G4's move away from video gaming, and I just wish that the channel would move on and officially dump the gaming theme already.  They obviously no longer want it.  If the channel wants to be an all-purpose young mens' network, then just let it happen.  Don't keep killing the few bright spots of the network in slow pieces like a prolonged torturous execution.  Just swing the blade and be done already!


Sony Drops PS2 Price To $129.99

Sony PlayStation 2 It was probably inevitable that Sony would drop the price of its PlayStation 2 game console, but was anyone really holding out on waiting for the PS2 to drop in price by only $20?  Seeing how Sony has sold over 101 million of these consoles, doesn't everyone who wants one have one by now?  Was that old $149.99 price really that prohibitive?  I'm not complaining about the price drop, but initially I am puzzled by it.  Why only $20 and why now?

It seems to me that if you're going to drop the price, drop it enough to make it count.  $20 is just a drop in the bucket.  Then again, the timing of this announcement allows Sony to go into E3 and say something about how their console is so great that they've dropped the price (and then follow that up with a quote about market share).  I think it's more about spin than it is actually trying to save anyone money.  But hey, that's business for you.


Mother 3 Looks A-OK

Mother 3Now that Mother 3 (Earthbound 2 to us non-Japanese folks) has been released in Japan the fan-ripped video clips and MP3s are starting to appear online.  Nintendo Gal has a few (non-spoiler) things to see from the opening introduction sequence plus a few song files just waiting to be heard.

After watching the clips and listening to the music I have to say that from what I've seen so far it follows the Earthbound legacy exactly.  The visual style and "camera" angles are precise and there's even some Runaway Five beats in one of the songs.  Fans who have been following the game's development since its Nintendo 64 days (nearly ten years ago) may recognize one of the songs from the game's first development period.  The only thing not right about this game is that it isn't already on Nintendo's worldwide release list.  Here's hoping for an announcement at E3.

(Thanks to Terrence Breitsameter)


More Fun With A Coworker

Mega Man 2Sometimes during those long work days at the office I just have to have some fun.  Take this morning, for instance.  While a co-worker was away from his desk I installed this little program that causes the level selection introduction from Mega Man 2 to appear on his desktop every time he launches a program.  Of course, when the co-worker returned he went back to work without launching a new program.  It wasn't until about two hours later that he finally triggered it, causing a boisterous intro for RealPlayer.  He's a gamer so he recognized the reference immediately, but at first he blamed the effect on RealPlayer.  Then he found out it happened for every program and he eventually put it all together, asking "How'd you do that?"  Here's hoping the Mega Man program lightens up your day as it has mine.  As for the co-worker, he's going to try the program on his wife.


Sadistic Sandbox

BowserIf you've been reading PTB for a while you may have picked up that I'm no fan of most online games.  There are exceptions (Mario Kart DS and Tetris DS), but for the most part I really don't care to play Metroid Prime Hunters against the world of idiots out there who play only to shoot and kick people around instead of play as a team and work towards the common goal.  Game Eaters sums up my thoughts nicely with this account of an online game gone wrong:

I was in a game [of Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence], and one player seemed to be playing for no reason other than to abuse people. As Snake he refused to capture the microfilm, but rather just liked to see how many people he could kill by headshot. One time, when someone else was Snake, I sat down in a nook and drew my sniper rifle. He, playing a fellow soldier now, ran up and kicked me out of the way and took my place. As I was about to walk away, he shot me in the head. This really made me angry so I vowed to knock him out next time, just to express my frustration. I eventually found him, grabbed him, and threw him to the ground, a move that does no actual damage when done by a teammate--it merely is a humiliating animation. Literally two seconds later I was booted. He, it turns out, was the host.

Everyone's been a jerk in an online game at some point.  Even me.  Years ago when the Quake 3 demo was new, a co-worker ran a small game server in the evenings and since I knew the password to control the game settings remotely, I used to join the game as a spectator and screw around with the game's gravity.  I'd wait until a player was about to hit a jump pad and then turn off the gravity, laughing as the hapless player shot off into the stratosphere.  Then I'd turn the gravity back on full blast and watch that same player splat to the ground.  It was fun for a while, sure, but a funny thing happens with you piss off the other players: they leave.  Get a reputation for being an immature pest and nobody will want to play with you.  You can't mess around with an empty server.  Some people never seem to learn that lesson, unfortunately.


I'll Take "Famous Plumbers" For $200

Question BlockDo you think you know your video game trivia?  Then hop on over to this discussion at Ask Metafilter that challenges people to come up with the best video game trivia questions (and answers).  Highlight the brackets for the answers below.  Test your might!

What special processing power did Sega claim its Genesis console had? [Blast Processing]
In what title did Mario wield a firearm? [Yoshi's Safari]
Which character from another video game made a cameo in
Clay Fighter 63 1/3? [Earthworm Jim]
What was the code to activate blood in the Genesis version of
Mortal Kombat? [ABACABB]

The answers to those questions and plenty more are yours for the taking.  I love a good round of trivia like this.  It makes all those formative years spent reading Nintendo Power, GamePro, and Electronic Gaming Monthly finally pay off!


The Nostalgia Of Link

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link Remember your second trip to Hyrule?  When you first fired up Zelda II: The Adventure of Link for the Nintendo Entertainment System and were shocked to find it was a side-scrolling platformer game at heart?  IGN takes a walk down Memory Lane with a look back at this often neglected entry in the Zelda series, a game that's only crime was being different than its predecessor.

Then we left the building and witnessed the unfathomable. "What the hell, Zelda II is an RPG!" Or at least, it looked like one. Instead of doing all the exploring, puzzle solving and fighting in the Overworld, Zelda II shrinks down Link when you're outside. Like in Final Fantasy, you essentially navigate a glorified map without the ability to use your sword or magic. As you walk around, you will see black "monster icons," move across the map. If you bump into them, the game switches to a side-scrolling battle where you face off against multiple enemies.

Zelda II was a gift from my parents back in the day.  I hadn't played the original Zelda at the time, so Zelda II's new controversial elements were nothing shocking to me.  If anything, I felt right at home with the game because of its basic similarity to Super Mario Bros. with all the walking and jumping.  Unfortunately, as a child I was unable to get very far in the game.  It took me two months and a stack of Nintendo Power magazines to finish the first palace, another month to reach the second palace, and eventually my progress came to a halt when after nearly a year of tackling Death Mountain, I was unable to collect the hammer needed to progress to the rest of the game.

I started lending the game out to friends (who played on a special FRIENDS character file I'd created), and by the time the game came back to me FRIENDS was nearing the end of the game.  I was no match for the long walk to the final palace though.  It would be nearly a decade before I finished the game on my own.  Looking back on it today I can say that it's a fun game and I certainly enjoy it now (I still make a point to replay it once a year or so), but as a child it was the most frustrating game with which I'd ever crossed paths.  If you put the game aside in 1989, consider picking it up again.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Unless you can't collect that #%!@ hammer.