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August 2007

Platinum Medals And Second Quests: Twenty Difficult Games

Mischief Makers Leave it to Gamasutra to come up with a fantastic list of twenty of the most challenging video games of all time.  The games on the list are fair challenges, too, and include titles such as Blast Corps, Mischief Makers, The Legend of Zelda, and a bunch of other such games both retro and contemporary.

It is forgotten sometimes that Treasure makes games other than shooters. Mischief Makers got a bum rap upon its release, but the moaners missed out on a surprisingly clever 2D platformer. And while most people can make it through the main game, the amount of the ending the player got to see depended on how many Gold Gems the player had found. Every level had such a Gem. In most levels they weren't too hard to find, but boss levels had them too, and to earn it the player had to win without getting hit. And the last one could only be earned by getting an 'A' time on every level of the game. That is not an easy task; take my word for it.

There are a few games missing from the list, of course.  The older Castlevania titles are absent, as are Kid Icarus and BattletoadsF-Zero GX is nowhere to be found either.  Note that the list seems to exclude titles that are difficult due to poor design.  I think we can all agree that a game such as, say, Ghostbusters 2 for the Nintendo Entertainment System is difficult because the controls are a mess and the level designs are tedious.  That's the unfair challenge of frustration.  True and fair challenge results from solvable puzzles, solid level design, and the occasional amazing acrobatic controller feat.

(via GameSetWatch)

Know Your Roots

Super Smash Bros. Brawl Those who don't know their video game history are doomed to be completely clueless when an older gaming character or concept returns for some modern glory.  Consider the recent announcement of Yoshi's Final Smash attack in Super Smash Bros. Brawl in which our dinosaur pal sprouts big white wings and can spit fireballs.  Sound familiar?  It really should; those are two of Yoshi's maneuvers right out of 1991's Super Mario WorldCoin Heaven laments that a lot of younger gamers missed the boat on this one.

Young Mario gamers may have experienced Mario only in 3D, or worse, only in sports games. You won't believe how many people out there think Mario Kart 64 is the first Mario Kart title or Super Mario 64 is the first Mario platformer. (Although this problem isn't as grave as within the Zelda community, where veterans are forced to explain to newbies that Ocarina of Time ISN'T the first Zelda game on a daily basis.) It's alarming. People don't know Tatanga. The knowledge about epic moments like the Raphael boss fight in Yoshi's Island is dwindling. White Mushroom House? Wario's Dragon Hat? Shell Creepers? No one learns that stuff any more.

I agree that this sort of thing is disheartening.  While I can understand how younger fans may not be up to speed on gaming obscurities, some things really should transcend generations when it comes to the more popular and timeless characters.  You may not need to like Yoshi to be a gaming enthusiast, but younger players who are just downright ignorant of his existence desperately need a crash course in gaming history even if that means *shudder* playing a game with mere 8-bit visuals. 

End Of The Line For DS Web Browser?

Nintendo DS BrowserIf the folks over at NeoGAF are correct then it looks like the end of the line for the Nintendo DS web browser. According to this forum post Nintendo has ceased production of the lackluster application, so whatever is left floating around at retail is all there will ever be.  It's a shame to see the browser go under so soon, but it's even more of a shame that the browser was such a half-hearted product to begin with.  Nintendo of America took seemingly forever to release it in the USA (Japan and Europe had it ahead of us) and once the company finally set it free we were all dismayed to find no upgrades or enhancements were added during that extra time.  Worse, the browser is supposedly very slow to display web pages, offers no Flash support, and is just generally a poor product.

Give me the Sony PlayStation Portable web browser any day when it comes to mobile web work.  Hey Nintendo, here's some free advice: when development of the DS's successor swings into high gear, consider building a competent web browser into the device's firmware.  Perhaps the DS web browser could be somewhat forgiven for its failings if it didn't also take up the DS's game card slot and Game Boy Advance slot while in use.  I like being able to carry a single gadget that has multiple games ready to go, and the DS web browser's requirements consume those resources.  Strike 3, game over, thanks for playing.

Project Falcon Is In Flight

Falcon Remember Microsoft's mysterious Project Falcon?  Sure you do.  It's the codename for the redesigned Microsoft Xbox 360 console that uses smaller chips or some such technical thing.  They could tell me that it's an upgraded version of the magic smoke that makes all technology work and I'd just smile and nod in agreement.  The point is that these updated 360s are finally headed to store shelves, but you may have a hard time finding one.  Microsoft isn't planning to make identifying Falcon 360s easy.  Dean Takahashi has the full story.

Here’s where it could conceivably start to matter to consumers. The Falcon-based machines with the 65-nm chips will only go on the machines with the HDMI ports. Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft’s group product manager for the Xbox 360, told me some weeks ago that HDMI will initially be available only on the Xbox 360 Elite and Halo 3 special edition boxes. Over time, the Falcon-based machines will replace the Zephyr-based machines and appear on the Xbox 360 Premium units, which currently cost $350 in the U.S..

Arguably, the Falcon-based machines will be inherently more stable. Machines that use them will probably have fewer thermal issues. Those machines should be more reliable, logically speaking. But that is conjecture. I haven’t seen one of these Falcon-based machines and no one can say whether they are in fact more reliable.

Fantastic news for all of us sitting on the Xbox fence waiting for Microsoft to fix the console's design flaw.  Nobody wants to see the "Red Ring of Death" on their brand new Xbox 360, and from the sound of things the new Falcon design may alleviate the problem.  We'll have to wait for the more technically minded Xbox fan to get hold of one of the new consoles and dissect it and put it through stress tests, but seeing as how I've waited this long for Microsoft to get its act together, I think I can wait a little longer.

Photo credit: Joe Kosack / PGC Photo

Forbidden Cookie Factory Was A Secret To Everybody

Super Mario GalaxyPsst, hey you.  Yeah, you.  Wanna see a level from Super Mario Galaxy that Nintendo doesn't want you to see?  A clip of a place known as the Cookie Factory filmed this week at GC (Games Convention) in Germany is flying around the Internet, and if you stay tuned to the end of the video you'll hear a Nintendo representative tell the cameraman that he cannot film this particular level.  The Internet at large seems to be having a laugh over the issue, and rightly so.  I've said it to Capcom, I've said it to Square-Enix, and now I'll say it to Nintendo: if you don't want the media to see something, don't show the secret material at a media event!

By the way, the Cookie Factory was quietly available back at E3, too, with the same restrictions not to film it (or see it, for that matter).  Apparently it's locked away in the demo and not accessible from the main demo menu, but there must still a way to access it.  I say this because I saw what looked like the Cookie Factory in action at Barker Hanger for just a moment before a Nintendo representative told the guy playing the demo (unsupervised, of course) that people weren't allowed to see the level.  Somehow the player knew how to get into the forbidden world.  Someone standing nearby filming the gameplay action was told to turn off his camera.  The representative then promptly reset the demo and sent the Cookie Factory back to the shadows where it remained a secret... until now.  So take that, Nintendo!  Today we know about your secret interstellar cookie factory.  Just imagine what we'll learn tomorrow.

Sony Tries Movies On PSP Again

Sony PlayStation PortableEither Sony is very stubborn or they just aren't getting the message.  The company announced a video store for the Sony PlayStation Portable today which will allow users to download movies such as Spider-Man and Ghost Rider along with television content and other such things directly to the PSP for a fee (either a subscription or pay-per-view).  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe we've already tried and rejected the whole "watch movies on PSP" thing when we didn't rush out to Best Buy and raid the UMD shelf.  Now they're trying it again, only this time it sounds like it'll be up to us to provide the storage space (hello, expensive Memory Stick Pro Duo) and we'll have to pay each time we want to watch the movie.  If we didn't go for movies on UMDs (which, as you'll recall, are a one-time purchase and provide their own storage space), why would we go for this?

Here's hoping Sony can sweeten the deal somehow, because as it stands right now, without knowing more details I can say that this video store concept doesn't interest me at all.  I probably don't have to worry though, as so far the store is just for Europeans to partake.  Sony's American arm is supposedly investigating a similar service for the USA, but personally I think they're solving the wrong problem.  I'd rather see PS1 games offered as direct downloads for the PSP instead of another overpriced helping of Spider-Man.

Xbox 360 "Red Ring" Leads To Frustration, Anger

Red Rings of Death I must admit that with my new HDTV it is very tempting to take the plunge on a Microsoft Xbox 360.  I've held back for a number of reasons, but somewhere in my Top 3 is the fact that Xbox consoles have this bad habit of just up and dying.  The "Red Rings of Death" have plagued many gamers including Bradley Trousdale of  He ponders the long-term effect on Microsoft's Xbox division if the "Red Ring" issue continues to be an ongoing problem.

Microsoft does have a great line-up planned for this fall and holiday season but, with the hardware failure rate of  Xbox 360, the future doesn't look all so promising. Try and think about this situation like this: A gamer is trying to decide which of the new consoles to purchase. The Xbox 360 has some great games coming out, and said gamer plunks down the money for the Xbox 360. Now, lets say this gamer has the misfortune of getting the RROD and has to return the console for repair. During this repair, he/she misses out on the release of Halo 3, BioShock, or Call of Duty 4. That is going to be one pissed off gamer. Now, what do you think that gamer is going to do? Maybe that gamer will just be pleased as punch and sit quietly while their system is repaired. Doubtful. Someone new to the Xbox 360 who experiences these problems will be turned off to the console and possibly switch brands.

Maybe it's just me, but I have this crazy idea that when I spend a large amount of money on a new gizmo, said gizmo should function without a major malfunction for years.  I take excellent care of my possessions.  My Nintendo Entertainment System from 1987 is still alive and kicking, original 72-pin connector and all.  My 1991 Super NES lives on with only a discolored case as a battle scar (damn you, cheap plastic that turns yellow with age).  How can I expect my hypothetical Xbox 360 to live for fifteen years or more if most Xbox consoles don't even last fifteen months?

Silent Hill Origins Cannot Be Contained

Silent Hill OriginsKonami and developer Climax are trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle and the horse back into the open barn as the group's upcoming Sony PlayStation Portable title Silent Hill Origins has somehow escaped to the Internet in playable demo form.  Oopsie!

Silent Hill is one of Konami's strongest franchises and the embarrassing and potentially damaging incident happens just days before it is due to show off the game to the public at the Games Convention in Leipzig.  Websites checked by reveal that the demo was uploaded August 19, with one site seeing well over 1200 users downloading the code at the time of writing.

Some people seem to think that it's the E3 version of the game (or one very close to it) that leaked out to the masses.  If that's true and if you should happen to get your hands on it, I'm interested in hearing if you find the puzzles contained therein to be a confusing, frustrating mess.  As you'll recall, when I played the game at E3 last month I had to have help from a Konami representative to know what to do and where to go next.  I dare you to figure out what to do with the golden egg without assistance.

Leaked Slides Reveal Immersion/Nintendo Lawsuit Plans

Wii remote To sue or not to sue?  That is the question over at Immersion as the company that holds several patents for rumbling controllers is trying to decide whether or not to sue Nintendo over the Wii's rumbling remote.  Rumor Reporter (a division of AMN) summarizes the issue nicely.

Apparently, the company has received considerable value from its settlement with Microsoft and judgment against Sony. Without having a opportunity to work with those companies in the future - any chance of the company working with the console industry for the long-term could just be a mirage. This has given the company ideas towards getting value from Nintendo, which is having great success with the Wii. Immersion could receive unit royalties in a settlement that would take several years, aiming for something around the range of $75-100 million dollars. This is with the assumption of 100 million units (all systems) from 2007-2001. This $1 unit royalty estimation that I have been hearing could take up to five years to finalize.

However, a few things are keeping the company from pulling the trigger, including no guarantee of winning and the obvious departure from the game business entirely. Avoiding such a lawsuit against Nintendo from happening would also allow Immersion to license Wii technology for use in mobile and web devices. The company could work with Nintendo in more ways than one, especially marketing rights. The estimations of doing this instead — $20 million in revenue per year.

Nintendo has steered clear of such lawsuits in the past as the company has its own patents for rumbling technology that are different than those held by Immersion.  Why Immersion thinks it has a case here I really do not know, but the company seems to be seriously considering a lawsuit.  Rumor Reporter has also offered up what are supposedly a few PowerPoint slides from an Immersion presentation that discuss the benefits and costs of moving forward with legal action.  This looks like nothing more than an attempted cash grab from my point of view.  Now that Nintendo is back on top of things, Immersion seems to believe it is entitled to a piece of the Wii profits for some reason, either through a lawsuit or through licensing agreements.  Pretty slimy, eh?

Weekly Poll: Metroid Mania

Weekly Poll for 8-13-2007 Somebody help me because I'm about to make the same mistake again.  Time for the confession: I don't really like the Metroid Prime games.  There, I said it.  I jumped right into the original Prime when it first came out, even preordered it from Best Buy just to be sure I'd get a copy on release day, and proceeded to play through it with the hope that sooner or later it would become fun.  As often for me with first-person perspective games, eventually Metroid Prime kicked my ass somewhere around the battle with the Omega Pirate.  Then came the sequel, and since I'm a sucker for the whole "light world / dark world" dynamic I bought Metroid Prime 2: Echoes on release day (without a reservation; ooh, living dangerously) and once again got my head handed to me barely midway through the game while waiting for the whole experience to become fun.

You think I'd have figured it out by then that Metroid Prime just ain't for me.  But no.  Metroid Prime Hunters hit the Nintendo DS last year and - get this - I knew I would not enjoy it after playing the First Hunt demo included with the DS and playing the multiplayer mode at E3.  Let me say it again: I knew I would not enjoy Metroid Prime Hunters.  As you can probably guess, I bought it anyway.  On release.  Why?  Deep down I wanted it to be fun.  I want to enjoy a Metroid Prime game so badly that with Metroid Prime 3: Corruption coming next week, I'm very tempted to pick it up.  On release.  I'm fighting back that urge somewhat by choosing to rent it first, but if all of the rental copies are taken then I may resort to my lowest end.  To date the only Metroid Prime game that I have enjoyed and completed is Metroid Prime Pinball.  Make of that what you will.

But the crazy thing is that I love the 2D Metroid games.  All of them from the original NES title to the gray-and-white Metroid II: The Return of Samus through Super Metroid and into Metroid Fusion and Zero Mission.  This week I'm asking you to choose your favorite Metroid title.  Feel free to explain why you love that one special Metroid game by leaving some comments.