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February 2008

January 2008

The Secret Wii Friend Code Exchange Ritual

Super Smash Bros. Brawl MTV's Stephen Totilo has a radical idea: Americans should use their upcoming "free" money to buy a current generation game console.  If everyone buys a game console, he reasons, then the United States would become a much better place.  However, one of his proposed positive outcomes is absolutely shocking.

Consider the far-reaching impact of an America that boasts 100% console ownership:

  • Wii Friend Codes — Solved! The struggle to remember your friend code and add others’ will be gone, as every Wii-owning American will feel encouraged to write their friend codes on their car bumpers, making trading friend codes as easy as getting into a fender bender.

Hold it!  Wii Friend Codes on car bumper stickers? But Nintendo told me never to give my Friend Code to strangers! I’m only supposed to exchange codes with trusted friends! And even then we have to do it in person by writing the codes on little scraps of paper which must then immediately be shredded and burned to ash! And then there’s the whole matter of the Secret Wii Friend Code Exchange Ritual (see pg. 53 in your Wii manual (then shred and burn it, too)).

PS3 Family To Be Rejiggered Again?

80 GB PlayStation 3 So, who wants to buy a Sony PlayStation 3?  If your wallet or purse is a little light this month they you may want to pick up the comparatively cheaper 20 GB model of PS3 which... huh?  They discontinued it?  Oh, well then I guess your best bet to maintain total PS2 backward computability is to snag a 60 GB model and... oh?  That one's gone as well?  Well, the 80 GB version has... you've got to be kidding me.  That one's going by the wayside too?

Are the 80 GB PlayStation 3's days numbered, after all? The above picture comes from PS3 Fanboy, who say that it's an internal Best Buy memo leaked by an anonymous register biscuit. If this is a) true and b) indicative of a larger trend, then the $500 high-end model of PlayStation 3 is on the way out.

Let's bear in mind that this, if it is indeed real, could mean any number of things. Sony might be removing the current 80 GB SKU and replacing it with a slightly different package: For example, they could be unbundling the Motorstorm game from the 80 GB package, which would be a long-overdue move.

The conspiracy theory generators are working overtime to explain this latest alleged change to the PS3 family.  Some people say that this is a maneuver to kill off PS2 compatibility once and for all in order to drive down the costs of producing PS3s.  Others say that it's all about killing off PS2 built-in compatibility so that Sony can sell PS2 games back to use via digital distribution and use software emulation to make the whole thing happen.  Still others say the idea is to step away from the Microsoft method of perplexing customers with multiple variations of the same basic console.  And then there's the contingent that believes this is related to the supposedly imminent ceramic white PS3 model.  So which of these theories (if any) is correct?  Like most answers in life, I believe that the truth is somewhere in between.  Is that a vague and visionary enough answer for you?  Hmm?

Smash Bros. Icon: What The Hell Is It?

Super Smash Bros. iconDo you recognize this image?  It's the Super Smash Bros. icon.  You'll find it in places such as the "O" in the word "Bros." on the Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl title screens, the life meter icon for Smash-specific characters such as Master Hand & Sandbag, and other such places where the more traditional and familiar character icons (Mario's mushroom, Kirby's warp star, Link's Triforce, etc.) don't apply.  Lately I've found myself wondering what, if anything, this logo is supposed to represent.  Nothing about it seems very "smashy" to me.  So, I ask you: what the hell is it?  Does it mean anything? 

Global Warming Strikes Mushroom Kingdom

Super Smash Bros. BrawlHave you seen the new Mushroomy Kingdom [sic] level from Super Smash Bros. Brawl?  It's the familiar World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros., but look what's happened to it.  It's a dead and dusty world.  What happened?!  I practically grew up in World 1-1, so to see it so dry and lifeless now is a little depressing. 

Ah, the Mushroom Kingdom. Most Smash players recognize this place from previous games in the series, where the world was represented in a pixel-art style reminiscent of the original Super Mario Bros. But why the "y" on the end of "Mushroom"? What’s the difference? This time around, we’ve designed a stage that recreates the layout of World 1-1 in Super Mario Bros.—but with rich backgrounds added to the mix. The stage scrolls forward at a leisurely pace. Pieces of familiar scenery scroll by. The kingdom you once knew has turned to ruins over the long years, and it is now your battlefield.

How could things have gone downhill there so quickly?  I mean, I was just there last year in Super Paper Mario and everything was green and alive.  Now this.  How could Princess Peach have let this happen?  I know she was busy late last year being kidnapped away to the center of the universe and all, but to let things in World 1-1 deteriorate like this is just poor government no matter how one looks at it.  I wonder if global warming is involved somehow.  At least we get a new remix of the famous overworld theme to help ease the pain.

Putting The Squeeze To Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Advance 4You've come a long way, Super Mario Bros. 3.  First you sprang to life for the Nintendo Entertainment System, then a few years later you bulked up into the full 16-bit power of the Super NES.  Then in 2003 it was time to slim down again when Nintendo managed to squeeze you into the pocketable power of the Game Boy Advance for Super Mario Advance 4.  We've seen how you made that first transition, but what about the second?  Just what changed when the Super Mario All-Stars variation of one of the best games ever was given yet another renovation?  The Mushroom Kingdom knows and is outlining the various changes from the major edits right down to the little things most folks would never notice.

Perhaps the most obvious difference between the two versions is available screen space. Whereas the SNES has a resolution of 256×224, the GBA has only 240×160. For the SMA4 team, this meant losing 16 pixels (one block) in width and a whopping 64 pixels (four blocks) in height. Even after removing the 32-pixel high status bar, they still lost 32 pixels (two blocks) in height. Many changes for SMA4, such as raised or lowered platforms, were to adapt SMB3 to the smaller screen.

I like to think I know a lot about Super Mario Bros. 3, but this listing makes note of when individual coins were moved a block or two from previous locations and takes special consideration to mention corrected punctuation.  I can't imagine how close to the source material one would have to be to pick up on all of these little seemingly insignificant changes.

"Arcade" Revisited

NewsRadioAlmost two years ago I told you to rush out and see the "Arcade" episode of TV's NewsRadio, but did you ever get around to it? Uh huh, yeah, that's what I thought. Fortunately I'm still looking out for you which is why I'm directing you to this condensed five minute version of the episode over at infringement-free video streaming newcomer Hulu in which all of the non-gaming plot has been excised.  Let us join Dave Nelson and the rest of the staff at WNYX as the old sandwich vending machine is replaced with the classic Stargate Defender arcade game from the glory days before the 16-bit processors.  Don't forget to save the humanoids! 

Endless Ocean Is All Wet

Endless Ocean Strap on your swim fins, casual gaming kiddies, because Nintendo's Endless Ocean for Wii is coming up fast.  Yes, you too can go swimming in the briny deep with this scuba simulator where you can swim with the fish and the dolphins and the penguins and those other fish and that other dolphin.  Thrill at the variety of life under the sea!  Just check out these screenshots:

Endless Ocean
There's a dolphin!

Endless Ocean
And a stingray!

Super Mario 64
And an eel!

Super Mario Galaxy
And penguins!

Super Paper Mario
And a... hey, wait a minute...

Weekly Poll: Pieces And Parts

Weekly Poll for 1-14-2008Most of you still haven't played Portal, but I forgive you.  After all, I dragged my feet on it for weeks and weeks.  I'd painted the game all wrong as yet another gritty shooter after misinterpreting its Half-Life connection.  I'd even assumed that the charming "Still Alive" end theme was more of a "Fuck You!" generic guitar rock thrash metal piece from the player character to the homicidal main computer at Aperture Science instead of a tender love ballad from the perspective of... well, telling you that would be spoiling it.   Play Portal on the PC if you can make it happen.  Valve even sells it over Steam apart from The Orange Box for $20 if Half-Life 2 and its episodes aren't really your thing.

Moving on, let's talk about the raw components that make games so special.  Gameplay is typically the focus above all else, but let's not forget the other pieces and parts that stand out.  Which piece is typically your favorite?  Do you buy game soundtrack CDs?  Is there a game-based art book on your coffee table?  Do you keep all your game boxes, cases, and manuals for reasons beyond storage and instruction?  What about plots and characters?  Let's hear your thoughts on the parts that make up the whole.

Who Watches The Watchdogs?

Caught you! Ever wonder why politicians tend to use video games as scapegoats for society's ills?  The answer to that question is a very long multi-part essay, but here's the condensed version: money.  Other large entertainment industries have enjoyed the privileges that come with donating lots and lots of money to political campaigns which (as you can imagine) include staying out of the line of fire on censorship crusades.  Lash out against, say, movies and all that sweet Hollywood money dries up.  Why would a politician bite the hand that feeds him or her?  it's more financially sound to go after the gaming industry which up until now did not have an organized political action committee.  With news that the industry is forming such a committee comes word from the prying watchdogs groups that they plan to shout long and hard about which politicians accept money from Big Gaming.

The news that the videogame industry plans to make campaign donations to politicians has gotten conservative watchdog group Parents Television Council ready to "expose" any legislator who accepts the donation. "Any public servant who cashes a check from the video game industry will be exposed by the PTC as taking a stand against families, and his or her actions will be communicated to constituents in his or her congressional district," said PTC president Tim Winter in a statement earlier this week.

Legal financial donations are already done "in the sunshine", as it were.  Records of who donated money to which campaign are already recorded and made available to the public.  Ideally the PTC plans to badmouth any politician who accepts a donation, but these kinds of things work both ways.  Let the PTC shake its angry fist at the sky and announce all the names it wants.  That'll make it easier for gamers to know just which campaigns to support.  Better yet, since these kinds of donations are public record, what's to stop someone from "exposing" politicians who accept money from groups like the PTC? 

Big Penguin Thief

Shortpacked It's time again for a brief fun entertainment comic break.  Web comic Shortpacked! doesn't usually dip into the video game end of the pool, but creator David Willis has made an exception to the rule for Super Mario GalaxyCheck out what happens when Mario completes one of the penguin swim coach's aquatic tests in the Beach Bowl Galaxy.

Mario's dear to my heart. I've been doodling him in my notebooks since elementary school. In fifth grade, my best friend and I used the bulletin board surface of our huge shared cabinet space to lay out the most awesome Super Mario Bros level plan you can imagine. It had Wart and Bowser. It had plains, it had dungeons, it had ice. It was a feat of awesome. I remember seeing the first screenshots of Super Mario 3 in Video Games magazine and adding new characters to our bulletin board accordingly. I remember redrawing and recoloring Mario with blue overalls and a red shirt when he began appearing that way consistently instead of appearing occasionally in the reverse. I was a Mario dork.

Take special note of the attention to detail in the background of the first panel.  That pillar out there by itself is actually found in that spot in the game.  There's supposed to be a 1-Up mushroom on it, but for the sake of artistic license we'll just assume Mario's already collected it which is why we cannot see it here.  David isn't the only Mario dork fanatic, y'know.