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June 2006

Weekly Poll: Go Away!

Weekly Poll for 6-06-2006Online gaming certainly seems to have its fans, as the vote for last week's poll was nearly evenly split regarding the requirement of online features in the next generation of video games.  I feel that online capabilities are important to multiplayer games, but I don't see the need to shoehorn online features into games that don't really need them.  Sure, I'd buy a new level now and then, but I don't want to start down that road of buying only half a game and then having to pay for each individual level pack afterwards.  That's a slippery slope to slide down and not what I'm eager to do.   

In the past I've talked a lot about classic games I'd like to see revived.  This week let's look at that idea from the opposite direction: which long-running game series just needs to go away for a while?  Does Sonic the Hedgehog need a rest?  Are you ready for the final Final Fantasy?  What has Kirby done for us lately?  This is a rather open question, so feel free to vote for the "other" option and leave your comments below. 

DS Lite Walks Among Us

Nintendo DS LiteNintendo unleashed the DS Lite on the North American market earlier this week, bringing iPodish white joy to anyone willing to fork over $130.  You all probably know by now that I love Nintendo products, and while I am impressed with the DS Lite, I'm not planning on trading in my "classic" DS for this year's model. I'm very protective of my gaming hardware, so I've been careful to take good care of my DS. Aside from the usual wear and tear one acquires with a portable system, my DS is in excellent shape. It's not scratched or gashed or cracked or anything like that. It serves my needs, so until it no longer does so, I don't see myself upgrading. The time will surely come for that, but not today.

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Trust The Fungus

Super Mario Bros.: The MovieSuper Mario Bros.: The Movie may not be fondly remembered today by film fans, but it still has its place in movie history as the first film inspired by and based on a video game.  X-Entertainment has approached the film with a "stream of consciousness" style of writing, cranking out a rambling review that occasionally skews off on unusual tangents (you know, like the movie itself).

More importantly, do they fit the criteria of what we Nintendo fans think of when envisioning Mario and Luigi on the big screen? I'm not sure I appreciate the question. You had to expect some liberties. It's not like they could've had Hoskins yell "woo hoo" over and over again with Luigi repeating whatever he said in a slightly deeper voice. They're plumbers and they're good guys, and Mario's the fatter of the two. That's all we could've asked for. A Kuribo's Shoe for Mario would've been a nice concession, but there's always the sequel. Then again, he did kinda have a Kuribo's Shoe. Only it was made of metal. Yes.

Come to think of it, I don't believe I've seen the movie since it was originally in theaters back in 1993.  I rounded up a group of friends to go with me to see the movie and we all crowded into the Searstown Mall theater (now with *two* screens!) to watch what we had hoped would be cinematic greatness.  Instead we ended up with Super Mario Bros.: The Movie.  Life is like that sometimes.  I had high hopes though.  When the film lit up the screen and the familiar opening notes of the Super Mario Bros. theme echoed throughout the theater, a friend turned to me and said "Admit it, you loved that."  Damn right I did.  It was all downhill from there, but at least those opening notes were true to the game.  One of these days I'll watch it again.  I think if I were to see the movie without any expectations, it might be somewhat entertaining.

Bleemcast Blast From The Past

Bleem!Retrogaming has a taken a look at the oft-forgotten bleemcast! Sony PlayStation emulator for the Sega Dreamcast.  An ambitious project, bleemcast! (from the creators of the PS1 emulator for Windows, bleem!) allowed stock Dreamcast hardware to play such PS1 titles as Gran Turismo 2, Metal Gear Solid, and Tekken 3.  In fact, that's all that could be played.  Lawsuits with Sony drained the bleemcast! team's production capital, driving them out of business before any further updates or editions of the emulator could be released.  However, that hasn't stopped the emulation community from continuing the company's work.

Since the retail death of the Dreamcast, enthusiasts have obtained leaked betas of the Bleemcast emulator that runs a number of other games.  There have also been a number of Dreamcast scene releases that combined the Bleemcast emulator with the Playstation ISO built into one self-booting Dreamcast disc.

It's a shame that bleem! was run out of stores thanks to Sony's lawsuit.  I believe that the common mainstream market would embrace emulation of older games on modern platforms.  The Xbox Live Arcade and upcoming Nintendo Virtual Console are proof of that.  Imagine if every Joe Sixpack knew he could play the best gaming has to offer on his PC or just one console.  Console emulation is still largely confined to the Internet "underground", but someday soon it will become more mainstream (and that's when a fresh round of lawsuits begin, of course).

Sonic The Hedgehog Meets The Ugly Stick

onic the Hedgehog 3 box Sega did a lot of great things during the company's glory days, but unfortunately decent box art isn't necessarily one of them.  There were a lot of great games hiding inside terrible boxes, particularly in the case of the adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog.  Over at The Green Hill Zone fans (the good kind of fans, not the wacky folks who have trouble telling fiction from reality) are discussing the worst box art the Sonic series has to offer.

Sonic 3 -- US & PAL versions: The US version has a lovely background that lacks any of the qualities that we actually associate with Sonic games, Sonic himself has a boring pose except maybe for his "three fingers up" hand, which looks uncomfortable to say the least, and we've got Tails in his classic "ready for anal" pose. Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, they've got a more game-inspired background and a way cooler pose for Sonic, but the colors are not especially eye-catching, and Knuckles is not especially well-drawn. Also, Sonic seems to be holding up three fingers, but he's got a thumb in there too. Does anyone else find this confusing?

I've always found it interesting to compare how character art evolves over the lifetime of a character.  In Sonic's case he's become much more, well, bendy.  His arms and legs seem to lack joints, as they can bend any which way at just about any time if box art is to be believed.  He's also become filled with what the kids today call "attitude".  I don't think Sonic has smiled since 1997 or so.  Then again, considering the quality of Sonic titles since that time, neither have his fans (*zing!*).

Monopoly: Nintendo Collector's Edition Coming Soon

Nintendo MonopolyUPDATE: The game is now available for sale.

Now this is a surprise.  Let's take the classic board game Monopoly and strip out all that Marvin Gardens and New York Avenue nonsense.  Then we'll replace it all with Nintendo-themed characters and elements, such as Slippy Toad, Princess Zelda, and King Dedede.  That's right; USAopoly has been granted the license from Hasbro and Nintendo to create a Nintendo-centric Monopoly board game.  Get ready to "play" as iconic items such as Mario's iconic hat, Donkey Kong's famous barrel, the familiar Koopa Troopa shell, a majestic Hylian shield, Link's heavy metal boots, and the classic original NES controller all recreated as pewter tokens.  I never liked the old iron and automobile anyway.

"As someone who grew up with a Nintendo controller in his hand, working on this game was like a dream come true," said Derek Stucker, Game Designer, USAOPOLY.  "Throughout the games development I tried to include as much for the old school Nintendo players as the newer ones, from faded back screen shots on the game board center of the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda games, to the integration of the original NES controller as one of the tokens.  Whether you’re someone like me who grew up glued to the original Nintendo Entertainment System, or a young kid just picking up a Nintendo DS or Wii for the first time, you’re sure to have a blast with this game."

This sounds like a great idea and will surely sell plenty of units.  As someone who doesn't own any incarnation of the Monopoly board game, I know I'd buy this.  Well, if I knew enough people interested in playing on a regular basis.  While this is all well and good, let me ask the obvious question: where's the video game version?  A Nintendo DS edition with online multiplayer is just begging to be made.  C'mon Nintendo, get to it!  Check out the first prototype images of the board game below.

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Rare Nintendo Prototypes Discovered

Earthbound for NES Congratulations to the lucky bastard out there who came across a whole cache of prototype, competition, and unreleased NES and Super NES games at a garage sale on sale for a mere $40.  This lucky person has put up the collection for sale on eBay a piece at a time, releasing new copies of the Star Fox Championship Weekend game pak into circulation as well as prototype versions of Tetris and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past plus the second known copy of the English version of Earthbound for the NES.

This kind of discovery is what all gamers hope to come across at some point in their lives.  Imagine finding not only the Holy Grail of video gaming, but a whole box of Holy Grails that can all be yours for mere pocket money.  I check out the local used game shops from time to time in hopes of discovering something like this, but of course I never do.  As I once said in an essay on acquiring used video games, it's always best to buy from people who don't know what treasures they have.

The Mario Mystique

Raccoon Mario Even though it's all been said before, I'll read anything that attempts to analyze Nintendo's Super Mario and explain just why the stout plumber is so popular.  AMN's Michael Kelly is the latest pundit to toss in his two cents on the matter, summing the character up nicely in just a single paragraph planted in the middle of a two-page editorial.

So why is Mario still popular? Undoubtedly this is in no small part due to the nostalgia factor. Gamers nowadays have grown up with Mario. They’ve seen him evolve as they’ve matured. Mario has gone from a single pixelated sprite to a living, breathing character, with many new adventures and friends to help him. And as he’s evolved we’ve been there for most every step of the way. He’s a companion, a friend who is always there.

I can agree with that.  Mario has grown, yes, but he's consistent.  How many fictional characters are still plugging away twenty years later with fresh adventures that haven't included a radical revamping or two?  The original Mega Man is long gone, Sonic the Hedgehog is all attitude these days, and we get a new incarnation of Link with nearly every Zelda title.   There's plenty of long-running characters full of angst and pain, but Mario is the gaming personification of joy.  He's a constant; a reminder of how things should be in a perfect gaming world.  He's always happy and courageous, and as long as he stays that way then all is right with the real world.  As long as he remains true to that philosophy, he'll always be welcome in my home.

Nintendo's Missed Opportunity

Nintendo DS LiteYou may have seen the various stories hitting the Internet about Nintendo's packaging for DS Lites sent out to members of the press.  You gotta love this: when the box is opened, lights inside the box kick on and trumpets herald the arrival of the Nintendo DS Lite.  Personally, I think that every new piece of video game hardware should include this amazing technology.  I want a fanfare whenever I open a box.  Unfortunately, I can't help but think that Nintendo missed an opportunity with this fancy packaging.  What's with the generic trumpets?  Everyone knows that opened boxes should play this sound instead.

What Are Wii Going To Pay For Retro Content?

Master using it and you can have this.Nintendo's Satoru Iwata has let some new information out of the vault, this time revealing the proposed probable prices for retro games on the upcoming Nintendo Virtual Content service.

Iwata revealed that games for Nintendo's "virtual console" that will allow Wii owners to play old titles on their consoles will be priced at ¥500 and ¥1,000, roughly US$4.50 to US$8.99. For reference, classic retro games for the Nintendo GameBoy sold for upwards of US$35 for some titles, US$19.99 for others. Uptake was understandably low, as gamers were reticent to pay that much for old content.

I can handle that kind of pricing model.  I remember a year ago the unofficial pricing estimate was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 for NES titles, $5 for Super NES, and $10 for Nintendo 64.  I wouldn't expect Nintendo to underprice their games; they're famous/notorious for earning a profit on nearly everything they do, plus I can't see them metaphorically devaluing timeless games such as Super Mario Bros. 3.  I would expect to pay more for classic games that have helped change and shape the industry.  After all, great games are still great games five, ten, or fifteen years later.

When I told a co-worker about this news he immediately panned the prices, saying they were too expensive and that he'd stick to downloading game ROMs and playing them on PC emulators.  I think he's missing the point here.  While that's still an (illegal/gray area) option, the point here is to actually download official copies of games without having to hunt for real ROM sites, put up with forced "Top 50 ROM site" voting & download queues, and configuring the emulator to run those special games that utilize some neat tech tricks.  Now we can just pay a small fee to download the game on demand and play it without any fuss or frustration.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I like that idea much more than dealing in the gray area.