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April 2008

Nintendo-focused Wii Channel Coming To USA At Last

Nintendo logoJapan has been enjoying the Everybody's Nintendo Channel since last year, but now North America will get into the action in May when Nintendo rolls out the free Wii channel alongside the new WiiWare initiative.  Frankly, it's about time we saw this channel turn up elsewhere.  So what do we have to look forward to with this new feature?  Game|Life has the details.

The Nintendo Channel dishes out lists of upcoming games for the Wii and Nintendo DS, which users can sort by release date, publisher, genre, etc. It also allows players to download demo versions of games for the portable Nintendo DS: The Wii beams the game demos to the DS wirelessly, and the demos stay on the DS until it is shut off.

Release lists are nice, but what I'm especially anticipating are the DS demos.  Unfortunately, I have this sinking feeling that the demos will revolve around games targeted at the casual market, but I'm trying to be optimistic.  I'm sure not every demo will be a taste of basic titles Crosswords DS.

ALF's Gotta Cat-ch 'Em All

ALF I know we all appreciate a good game acquisition quest, and now MTV's Jason Cipriano is the latest man on a mission.  His goal?  Finding all four video games based on ALF.

A key fixture of 1980’s sitcoms, ALF was an alien from the planet Melmack who’s spaceship crash-landed in the Tanner family’s garage. They subsequently took him in, and in return he tried to eat their cat. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’re too young to appreciate that there were actually ALF video games. I uncovered a total of four ALF games while I was poking around over at Moby Games, and it’s now become my mission to procure them all.

I had the ALF game for the Commodore 64 back in the day.  It's a maze game (sort of a Pac-Man clone) with ALF has the main character.  Players must guide ALF through the maze of city streets to collect cats and pizzas.  Cats must be stored in the Tanner family garage; catch 'em all move to the next level.  However, there are hazards to avoid.  Running into a trash can stuns ALF for a moment, while Willie Tanner patrols the maze trying to catch ALF and set the captured cats loose (thus resetting the level).  The local dog catcher is also following ALF, and if caught our favorite alien goes to the animal shelter and loses a life (but the captured cats remain captured).  There are only four levels in the game, but they contain several screens worth of content.  There's also something going on involving ALF's secondary mission of collecting spaceship parts, although I can't recall the importance of gathering them all.  It was my second favorite C64 game (right behind Ghostbusters).  Good luck in your quest, Jason.  Just watch out for Willie.

Sega Genesis For Two

ToeJam and EarlWe're living in an increasingly connected age.  The current generation of consoles enables lots of people to play online simultaneously.  Want a 32-player team deathmatch?  Go for it!  Back in the old days, however, most of us were limited to playing with just a single person (and we had to be in the same room to do it).  Finding games that allowed players to smash at one another were not hard to find, but what about playing with someone in a cooperative adventure?  The Sega Genesis has quite a few cooperative multiplayer titles in its library and Sega-16 has taken a moment to list the best games that require teamwork and coordination.

If there was one game made to be played co-op on the Genesis, it was ToeJam & Earl. Not to say that it can't be played alone but making it through over twenty levels is an experience to behold that requires a few hours to kill. It's not a terribly difficult game in that regard, it doesn't take too much skill to beat. The controls are simple enough for first time players (A tip-toes or uses whatever item you currently have, B brings up the present screen, and C shows the map). The real joy of the multi-player comes from the dialog between ToeJam and Earl in the elevator between levels that can be acted out with your buddy along with the fact that you're never playing the same game with randomized levels. Many games lose their luster after racing the same track or beating the same level over and over but not in ToeJam & Earl. Multi-player does have it's occasional frustrating moment like when your partner decides to open a certain present the first time and it happens to be "Total Bummer!", stealing a life from each of you but even that is not as bad as the fights over who gets to be the dwarf in Golden Axe. If you have a friend and time to kill, ToeJam & Earl is for you.

I did not have a Sega Genesis as a teenager, but a friend did, so between the two of us we had access to the best of both the Genesis and Super NES gaming libraries.  Unfortunately, his mother was rather stern on how long video games could be played, so when we played the Genesis it had to be in bite size chunks.  It was just about impossible to make any progress in a game before his mother ordered the console to be turned off and actually disconnected from the television (it had to be kept in a closet in a box when it wasn't turned on for some parental reason, and the time spent connecting and disconnecting the console counted as part of the twenty minute restriction).  At my house we could play Super Mario Kart for hours and hours, but at his home we were limited to only twenty minutes of Sonic the Hedgehog 3.  Obviously we spent much more time gaming at my place than at his. 

Weekly Poll: Home Or Hand?

Weekly Poll for 4-14-2008I suppose my Smash Bros. Dojo blog withdrawal has about run its course by now, but I have to admit that my mornings feel a little emptier without a fresh update from the Brawl developers.  Hopefully The Powers That Be across the industry took notice of the blog's success and we'll see more development chronicles for future games.  Not every game is suited for the Dojo experience, of course, but I can think of a number of properties that lend themselves quite well to a daily update cycle.

Moving on, I think it's time to ask a very simple gaming-related question.  Do you prefer to play games on home consoles or on portable systems?  Both platforms have their advantages and pitfalls.  Home consoles offer better visuals and larger gameplay experiences, while handhelds feature that all important play-anywhere ability with bite-size challenges.  So which is your favorite?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Happy Mother 3's Day!

Mother 3Let us commemorate the release of Mother 3 for the Game Boy Advance in Japan, for it was two years ago today that the sequel to Earthbound became available in a language a lot of the series's fans cannot read.  Die-hard Earthbound enthusiasts are still hard at work on translating the game into English, and to mark the occasion the translation team has released a video to show the progress that has been made and examples of what still needs to be done.

This project really started sometime last June or July, and as far as ROM translations go, things have been progressing at an incredible rate. Most ROM translation projects die after a few months or take 5+ years. The short video here shows how much has been done on the hacking side of things since we started last summer, and shows some of the stuff that’s left to do. There’s really not that much left to hack when you step back and look at it like this. At least, hopefully it helps explain some of the to-do list stuff a little better.

I can't believe that it's been two years already.  It seems like just yesterday that the first word of the game's existence dribbled out onto the Internet.  Now the game has come and gone in its homeland while the rest of us still wait with anticipation.  I find myself wondering how many gamers unfamiliar with the game have discovered Lucas, New Pork City, and the other Mother 3 elements in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and wondered what the deal is with that bat-wielding PSI-armed kid.  Keep up the good work, translation team!

Old Meets New In Mario Kart Wii (Or: It's Chemistry Class All Over Again!)

Mario Kart WiiNintendo's new Mario Kart Wii features a bunch of new tracks for the Mushroom Kingdom crew to explore, but the game also revisits tracks from previous games in the series.  While this isn't the first time a Mario Kart game has looked in its own rear-view mirror (both Mario Kart Super Circuit and Mario Kart DS included sets of retro tracks), for some reason seeing old courses reborn this time feels not quite right.  I couldn't figure out why I felt that way until I saw these videos from in which the original tracks from Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! are put up in a side-by-side comparison with their Mario Kart Wii counterparts. That's when I had a flashback to a chemistry class from my college years.  The final exam in that course consisted of both new questions and questions lifted verbatim from previous exams, and most of the time the old questions that returned for an encore were the most frustrating parts of the previous tests.  I didn't care for Mario Kart 64's Sherbet Land when it was new (damn penguins always diving in front of my kart!) and I can't say I'm looking forward to slogging through it again now.  That's the risk developers take when they reintroduce old content in new packages.  People go into old levels with preconceived notions and expectations (including knee-jerk reactions, such as my issue with Sherbet Land), while new material is typically given the benefit of the doubt.

Someone's Gotta Create The Pidgits

Pidgit Typically when you hear someone talk about breaking into the video gaming industry, chances are the person babbling on about the idea has his or her aim set on programming in some capacity.  Programming is certainly important, but creating a game takes much more than just proficiency with C programming or middleware.  All of the realistic physics and cel-shading in the world is for naught without memorable characters and a solid storyline.  Write The Game takes a look into what it takes to become a game writer.

The sad thing is, most game companies will always put programmers before writers. The reason for this is pretty simple. A game without a story-line can still be fun, playable and profitable. A game without programming, however, is not.

The good thing is, this is changing. Lots of game studios are now investing in writers. Story-line is starting to sell, and although it will always be at the lower end of the priority chain, a career as a game writer will be viable pretty soon.

However, in my experience, the route by which writers become video game writers is often fairly roundabout and unexpected. Studios are usually only interested in successful writers - people who have published novels or created blockbuster film scripts.

One of my early career aspirations as a child was to be — and I hope you'll pardon the technical term here — "the guy who comes up with the Pidgits".  What better playground for an active imagination than a video game world with its seemingly limitless settings, props, characters, and narratives?  I remember spending a lot of time with a Commodore 64 program that allowed me to create my own basic 2D shooter.  I could edit sprite templates to create enemies, power-ups, and the other elements that go into a typical Xevious knock-off, but most of my time working on these games was spent conceiving the plot behind why the little red guys were shooting at the little blue guys.  If there's ever a demand for two minutes of gameplay preceded by ten minutes of opening text crawl, I'm ready. 

Sub-Zero Versus Batman

Batsignal Stand back, folks!  Someone's ripped a hole in the fabric of reality again and crossed over to a parallel universe.  I have proof: see, in our reality we've long enjoyed the Marvel Vs. Capcom games in which Marvel's superheroes and villains battled with and against Ryu and the Street Fighter crew, but in this alternate reality it seems there's a Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe game in which Batman and Sub-Zero grapple for some reason.  Now this fighting game is apparently manifesting in our continuum.  Kombo has the early word and some teaser concept art.

So... this could be interesting, I guess. Sure, we could have Batman vs... actually, who would they fight? I thought the next MK game was supposed to be a fresh break for the franchise, so will any of the old guys even be around any more? Guess we'll see tomorrow.
It'll be a laugh if it were to "explode" in the same way Capcom's go did, with a full-blown
Midway vs. DC going on. Who else could they use to round out Midway? Max Force from NARC?

There's also a rumor going around that the game will not include the Mortal Kombat trademark Fatalities.  Weren't those brutal finishing moves the only reason to play Mortal Kombat?  I can understand how those attacks may not translate well to the DC roster of comics characters, however.  Batman doesn't kill, so it'd be out of character for him to eviscerate someone.  Plus, how could any character perform a fatality against Superman without the aid of Kryptonite?  The Joker, on the other hand; now there's a character full of Fatality potential.  Imagine a finish with a high voltage hand buzzer, acidic boutonniere, or even some classic Smilex gas.  Perhaps the developers should not discount Fatalities so quickly.  Congress wouldn't like it, but if there's going to be a game in which Mortal Kombat combatants and the world of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern beat the hell out of each other, why not go all the way and make it an encounter to remember?

Also, is it too early to hope for a Smash Bros. Dojo-type of development blog for this game?

Nintendo Shuns Comet Observatory

Comet Observatory Remember Super Mario Galaxy?  C'mon, sure you do.  It's only the Super Mario adventure that launched late last year for the Nintendo Wii.  Surely you recall all of the fun we had running and jumping our way across the stars via Rosalina's comet observatory starship.  Kombo's David Oxford remembers, although he believes that Nintendo does not.

I haven't exactly kept close tabs on Mario Kart Wii-- at least, not the tracks, as I like to see them for myself the first time I drive through them. I have a rough idea of what's there, that's about it. So reading through this article which details four tracks the writer would like to see in Mario Kart Wii, it dawned on me further that Nintendo does seem to be losing a little bit of touch with what made Mario Kart so great.

Not that I'm not looking forward to it, quite the opposite: The buzz surrounding this one has me looking forward to it more than any other since Mario Kart 64, truth be told. But I agree that while stages like Coconut Mall and Wario's Goldmine look like fun trips I'll play over and over, I do wish there were more distinct courses that you could easily look at and, without a doubt in your mind, say "that's Mario."

Super Smash Bros. Brawl has the problem less so, but with the amount of time it spent in development, alongside and after Super Mario Galaxy, I found myself quite disappointed with the lack of anything related to the game within. In either title, the observatory (seen above) would have been a most welcome addition. In the case of Brawl, it could even have acted like [Super Mario] Sunshine's stage, taking you from the observatory to other galaxy settings from the game.

I think it's more a matter of Nintendo choosing which nostalgic moments to emphasize over time. Back in the original Super Mario Kart we really didn't have all that many Mario-type places to revisit compared to today's atlas of the Mushroom Kingdom and its neighboring lands. How can you squeeze nods to each Mario game into a single Mario Kart? As time goes on there are more and more Mario destinations to consider. The developers have to hit the key locations that people remember the most, it seems, and not just the new elements.  It's easy to pick through the recent Mario adventures in search of excluded locations (where's the Beanbean Kingdom from Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga, Vibe Island from Super Princess Peach, and the Super Mini-Mario World theme park from Mario vs Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis?), but the main issue here is that some settings stick to the collective gamer memory more than others.

New DualShock 3 Worth The Upgrade?

DualShock 3 Send in the DualShock 3 controller for the Sony PlayStation 3.  Oh, wait, it's already here.  Is it worth the $55 cost if you already have a non-rumbling SixAxis controller parked next to your PS3?  Will your existing library of PS3 games take advantage of the new rumble ability?  Kombo takes a look at some of the major PS3 titles (such as Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction, Resistance: Fall of Man, and Gran Turismo 5 Prologue) you'll most likely want to have rattle while you shake the controller and rates them on how well they roll. 

Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction - If you could sum it up in one word, it would be "inconsistent." Sure, whenever Ratchet gets hit, or you fire off the RYNO, you'll get some kickback, but the moments which aren't rumble-enhanced (not every weapon has force-feedback mapping) stand out that much more by comparison: toast enemies to a crisp with your flamethrower, speed along the ground with your boost boots, and hover to the ground with Clank's helicopter attachment, and you won't feel a thing. Given Insomniac's (mostly) proper use of the controller in Resistance, this is even more unexpected, and quite disappointing.

Verdict: Not recommended

One of the reasons I held back on picking up a PS3 is that I did not want to be caught in the inevitable DualShock upgrade trap.  I'm content to wait until the rumbling controller is the bundled pack-in of choice over the SixAxis.  Of course, I spent most of last generation gaming with a non-rumbling WaveBird, so at this point I'm probably accustomed to a quiet traditional-style controller.