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May 2008

The Wario Primer, Part 2

WarioJust when you thought it was safe to leave your gold and garlic unguarded, Kombo has finally followed up on the original Wario retrospective article and published the final part of The History of Wario.  I'm glad to see I'm not the only one disappointed by the cruder, grosser Wario that has evolved in recent years.

Unfortunately, Wario World also heralded a new character development for Wario, as he moved from simply greedy and egotistical into the realm of disgusting, as promo art for the game depicted him picking his nose and bizarre cross-sections of his anatomy. It would become the start of a trend which would only escalate over the years.

I'm still waiting for a Wario compilation, Nintendo...


Wii Fat

Wii Fit It always hurts when a trusted loved one insults you, so it's understandable how some people are upset with Nintendo's new Wii Fit.  The game has the gall to tell portly players that they are overweight.  Wii, dude, I thought we were friends!

We all heard the story of the girl who was "mistakenly" called obese by Wii Fit. We also all know that, unfortunately (I suppose) for this distraught family, Wii Fit can't offer up apologies, I guess that's being held back for Wii Fit 2.

However, as I unpacked my copy of Wii Fit and set it up, I knew the label I was going to get stepping onto the balance board. At 6'6", 320 pounds, I'm not exactly a toothpick. I was slapped with a BMI of over 37, and pronounced obese. My Mii looked morbidly obese but it seems Nintendo knew that a line had to be drawn somewhere.

I have two thoughts about this.  First of all, it's not in Wii Fit's best interest to proclaim that players are healthy right out of the box.  Healthy gamers are those who don't need Wii Fit's exercise regimen and daily routines, right?  Next, maybe this kind of treatment is what some people need to take charge of an expanding waistline.  Concerns from family and friends about turning off the games for a while may be ignored, but it could be worth some consideration if the video game itself says that it's time to get up from the couch and move a little.


Rare Thinks Outside The [X]Box Again

Viva Pinata Former Nintendo developer turned Microsoft acquisition Rare has a long history of trying to make gaming hardware behave in ways other than intended.  Remember the mysterious Stop N Swop method that was supposed to link Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie?  How about the Perfect Dark face mapping option that made use of the Nintendo 64's Transfer Pak and Game Boy Camera?  What of the original gameplay engine for Banjo Pilot?  Now the company is at it again, this time breaking all the rules by getting the Microsoft Xbox 360 to work with the Nintendo DS (in an admittedly low-tech way) to unlock new content in the Viva Pinata series.  Unfortunately, we won't be seeing this functionality in the near future.  MTV has the story.

The new Viva Pinata game features more creatures, more terrain and an interesting photo feature. The game supports the Xbox Live Vision Camera, which is used to scan patterned codes off of Viva Pinata character trading cards. The scanned data unlocks in-game pinata characters.

During a demo of the game last week at Microsoft’s San Francisco showcase event, Trouble In Paradise designer Justin Cook mentioned that the camera feature also works with card codes that are displayed on the video screens on objects such as iPods or Zunes. Just hold them up to the camera while they display a proper Pinata image and they should work.

[UPDATE at 3:10PM EST: In case it wasn’t clear, the way this would work would be that the DS would display an image that had the card-code on it. The gamer would hold it up to the Xbox camera, as they can an iPod, and the photo feature would snap away — voila! DS-360 connectivity.]

Rare may not crank out the hits as often as they once did, but I have to give them credit for continuously playing with hardware in order to develop strange new ways to access content.  Hearing about projects like this one makes me wonder what else the company has silently toyed with over the years.  Somewhere down the line when these kinds of projects are no longer classified trade secrets, I wish Rare would throw open the vault and show us some of their experiments.  Would Stop N Swop still have competitive value in the year 2025?  I'm willing to wait it out.


Indiana Jones And The Raiders Of The Lost Cartridge

Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures With Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull coming up quickly it seems only right to look back at the history of the Indiana Jones video games.  British Gaming Blog has put together a list of the character's digital adventures that spans from an Atari 2600 game up through today's modern consoles.

Yar's Revenge creator, Howard Scott Warshaw (know by the insignia he left in his three games, HSW) was asked by Atari to create a game loosely based on Indy's first flick. "Since Warren Robinette had done such an amazing job with "Adventure" there was no point in doing another adventure style game (in my opinion) unless it was a quantum leap forward from where he left off," says Warshaw.

A sort of pseudo point and click adventure, Raiders asked the player to use two controllers; one to move Indy and the other to flick through your inventory. While there was plenty of action, and snakes, the main core of the game involved blowing up walls with grenades, parachuting to safety and digging up the Ark.

After Raiders was a huge success for Atari, the game grabbed Steven Spielberg's attention and he asked Warshaw to create a new game: E.T.

Sparked by nostalgia while watching the original three Indiana Jones movies last weekend, I dusted off Indiana Jones' Greatest Adventures for the Super NES and took it for a spin.  It wasn't such a great game when it was new, and over the years it has aged terribly.  The game brags that it contains all three of the character's greatest adventures, although quite a few of the memorable scenes from each film did not make the cut for the game.  The controls tend to be a little wonky, too.  Nevertheless, I keep coming back to the action determined that the next time will be fun.  It's the same kind of blind optimism that compels me to drag out Back to the Future II and III once or twice a year.


Lose Yourself In LostWinds

LostWinds We're one week into the North American debut of Nintendo's WiiWare service.  Have you sampled any of the downloadable games yet?  Only one of the available titles piqued my interest: the side-scrolling platformer LostWinds.  It's a very charming game that stars Toku, a little fellow with a big red hat.  He can walk and hoist himself up little vertical ledges, but it falls to the power of his wind spirit buddy, Enril, to turn him into a proper video game hero.  Wiggling the Wii remote causes the wind to blow which is used to heave objects, fire, water, and even Toku himself around the land.  There's definitely a story going on in LostWinds, but admittedly it's not very memorable.  I've completed the three-hour adventure and still have no idea why I performed the tasks I was assigned.  There's something about driving evil from the land and a bit about restoring someone's lost memories, but that's about all I retained. 

It's a challenge to compare LostWinds to a specific familiar franchise.  There are Metroid-like elements, but no deadly monsters to blast (enemies can be blown away, but not directly attacked by Toku).  There are switches and gates that call up some Legend of Zelda memories, but the epic story is just not there (or, at least, wasn't retained after playing).  The game includes a little walking and wind-assisted jumping, but it's not really a Super Mario type of adventure either.  There are familiar elements at work, sure, but the experience feels fresher than I'd anticipated.  I like the wind gimmick; unlike past wind-related games such as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, I actually feel in control of the breeze in LostWinds.  I play as the wind.  Toku is just a puppet.


Weekly Poll: Digital Decay

Weekly Poll for 5-12-2008I really didn't know what to expect from last week's poll, but I'd imagined that one option would crush the other.  Instead the results are close.  As for me, I own a few Japanese Virtual Boy games, and thankfully they don't require any non-English language skills to play them.  Panic Bomber is the same in any language.

We certainly love our retro titles this generation, but as the Virtual Console train rolls on I'm starting to rethink the overall playability of some of what we consider to be classics.  There are lots of older games that just have not aged well at all.  How did we ever tolerate the blurry textures of first generation 3D gaming?  Horrendous load times plagued too many games in a world before on-board console storage.  Once upon a time it was acceptable for character sprites to make use of only two different colors.  Take off those rose-colored glasses for a moment and answer this question: which generation of home consoles has aged most terribly?  Let's hear your thoughts.


Battle Of The Bots

Joel and the 'botsI've been on a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kick lately (and by "lately" I mean "for the past twelve years or so"), so on a quiet Saturday like today I thought I'd take a break from watching terrible movies and point you towards a little Flash fighting game whipped up by distributor Rhino to publicize a MST3K DVD box set.  Play as Crow T. Robot himself in a battle of the bots against an aggressive Tom Servo.

It seemed just like another lazy Sunday on the Satellite of Love.  Little did Joel and the robots know it would soon become a CRAZY Sunday.  Halfway through the third consecutive Manos: The Hands of Fate screening, something inside Tom Servo's bubble head snapped and the previously peaceful robot became a KILLING MACHINE.  With Joel defenseless against Tom's gumball fury, only Crow T. Robot stands between Tom Servo and the end of civilization as we know it!

I would love to see a proper Mystery Science Theater 3000 video game someday, but I don't know how such a project could capture the spirit of the television series.  This bot battling promotional game isn't quite what I had in mind for such a project, but at least it's something.  Besides, all of the great fictional characters nowadays eventually wind up in shallow web-based games.  Just ask Stan Smith and Peter Griffin.


A Stunning Attention To Detail

Warning In this crazy world of ours there are fan-based video game translation projects and then there are fan-based video game translation projects.  The team working to convert Mother 3 from Japanese into English continues to impress me as they try to replicate the Nintendo experience.  How dedicated are they?  Well, for one, they've taken the time to translate the annoying WARNING - HEALTH AND SAFETY message found at the start of most Game Boy Advance games.

In addition to inserting an intro screen of our own, we also changed the health warning screen into English. This was a pretty straight-forward hack, and didn’t require any actual assembly code hacking, aside from the fact that we moved the blinking “Press a button” text up a few notches.

It truly is the little things that count.  Keep up the good work, team! 


Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia Officially Revealed

Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia The summer season is coming up in North America, but it's already time to look ahead into the later part of the year.  We're going to be due our annual Castlevania experience, and this year the series is landing on the Nintendo DS again in Castlevania: Order of EcclesiaKotaku has some early information about the storyline.

The story takes place years after the Belmont family has completely disappeared, but Dracula is still going strong. Many organizations have cropped up to try and defeat the vampire but the only ones who seem up to the task are the mysterious Order of Ecclesia. The art style for the characters has changed from the traditional anime style to a much more pleasing (to me anyway) illustrative style that really shows of the beauty of the female protagonist in particular.

The combat has changed as well, this time relying on a "glyph" system. Essentially, magical glyphs can be absorbed that provide [heroine] Shenoa with magical weapon abilities. These abilities can be assigned and used from three different areas: left hand, right hand or back. These glyphs can be used at will, but beware because they will sap your magic points! Equipping the same glyph to both hands will provide you with a quicker attack, but will drain your magic faster.

So, if the Belmonts are gone, just where does this game fall in the Castlevania timeline?  And how does the new protagonist, Shenoa, fit into the legacy?  Some sources will tell you that Shenoa is the first woman to topline a Castlevania game, but don't let them banish poor Sonia Belmont into obscurity.  And what are these glyph things all about?  Somehow I've wound up with more questions about the new game than I had before I knew it officially existed.


Amazon.com Offers Cheap Game Music

You should know by now that I love a solid video game soundtrack, so you can bet how enthused I was to discover that Amazon.com sells game music tracks as single un-DRMed MP3 files and complete albums.  I've poked through the catalog and put together this list of some of the more interesting songs I found.  It's loaded with quality Castlevania picks, but scroll down to find some rock interpretations of Nintendo Entertainment System classics, some Legend of Zelda guitar stylings, and even that cringe-worthy Street Fighter II rap album that I dissected a few years ago.  Browse the catalog for yourself and let me know if you find anything else worth a listen.  Note that there should be a fancy Flash widget displayed here where an image would normally appear.  If you don't see it, you can always hit the Amazon catalog directly.