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August 2008
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October 2008

September 2008

Kirby's 88 Keys Revisited At Kombo

Kirby sings Several months ago I pointed you at Karl "Bladiator" Harmdierks and his performances of classic video game music rearranged into traditional piano solos.  Today over at Kombo I'm bringing the joy to those who may have missed it the first time around, so waltz on over there to have a look and a listen.

People love to talk about visuals and plots when it comes to video games, but music tends to fall through the cracks sometimes. Everyone can hum the overworld theme from Super Mario Bros., but how often do you hear a proper piano arrangement of the timeless tune? What about themes from Yoshi's Story? Final Fantasy IIX? Put down your Rock Band guitar and be prepared to find yourself whisked away to a world where beloved gaming music becomes grand piano waltzes.

I'm still waiting for a major gaming publisher to release a proper sheet music collection.  Fans can only take transcribing melodies by ear so far, and while the unofficial sheets are fun to play, I can't help but feel that the original tone of the songs don't quite make the transition to paper.


Nintendo Reveals Wi-Fi Router For Wii, DS

Wii router When Nintendo discontinued their Wi-Fi Connection USB dongle last year many people assumed that the company was leaving the task of getting an Internet connection to speak wirelessly to the Wii or DS up to the players themselves.  A solid wireless router is easy to find these days for a fair price, so it's rather puzzling that Nintendo has announced a Wii-branded wireless router.  Joystiq has the story via Famitsu.

Anyway, if you struggle to get your Wii or DS online (and we know from experience that it can be fiddly), then this dinky wireless LAN router is for you. It can be used with the Wii, the DS, your PC, and other devices, and will be available on Nintendo's Japanese homepage from September 18th, priced at ¥5,800 (US$53).

Is there really a need for this router now?  It may have been a must-buy item for gamers without an existing wireless network when the Wii first launched, but at this point it just seems a day late and a dollar too much.


Weekly Poll: Button Collection

Weekly Poll for 9-02-2008I'm glad to see that the majority some of you are enjoying Super Mario RPG.  It was one of the last great Super NES games out of the gate before Super Mario 64 appeared and wowed us all.  Suddenly it was if 16-bits were standing still and even rendered visuals and a fun story weren't enough to keep it in the spotlight for very long.  Take your time and enjoy this one.  Savor the experience.  There aren't many more like it.

Let's move from software to hardware.  The days when one could get the full multiplayer experience with a mere two controllers are long gone.  Today's game consoles offer all kinds of simultaneous multiplayer action, but one needs to invest in extra controllers to get the most out of the fun.  How many controllers do you own for what you consider to be your primary game console?  Did you stock up on Wavebirds for your Wii in addition to extra remotes?  Did you retire your Sixaxis controller in favor of a DualShock 3?  How many Microsoft Xbox 360 controllers are charging their batteries right now?  Let's hear your answers.


It Came From The 1980s!

Nintendo Cereal System Today's children are growing up in an era of super-realistic video game graphics, fully animated cinema scenes, and extremely detailed environments.  My generation may have missed out on experiencing those things at a young age, but we had the better deal when it comes to gaming tie-in merchandise.  Who needs Master Chief binders and Kingdom Hearts stationary when we had folders, backpacks, lunchboxes, cereal, and party goodies featuring Mario and Link?  How They Got Game explores a bunch of early Nintendo licensed products in "Errant Nintendo Licensing: Parties, Cereal, and School".

Working through the collections provides some rather weird challenges to the discipline of library science.  An entire segment of the collection is devoted to items termed as realia, basically commercial products tied to video game concepts or characters.  They don't fit on shelves very well, and the exact means of how to preserve these detritus of commercial culture are fraught with an internal debate about their validity to humanity. I think everything should be remembered or recorded fastidiously, but then again I get a thrill out of looking at old Nintendo marketing crud, and I work in a library. That said, these items make my inner child awaken anew and crave some tasty morsels of the past.

I had a bunch of this kind of thing when I was a kid.  I had the folders shown in this article and convinced my parents to make the Nintendo Cereal System a temporary part of my non-balanced breakfast.  Kids today don't know what they're missing.  Halo-flavored Mountain Dew?  Pah!


Doom, Quake, Other Single-Word Shooters On Sale This Weekend

Quake 3 Break away from your game consoles for a moment and check out the amazing sale going on over at Valve's Steam store this weekend.  Some of the best shooters and action platformers to come out of id Software during the late 1990s and early 2000s are incredibly discounted this weekend at 50% off.  All your old favorites and their sequels and expansion packs are there: Doom, Quake, Hexen, Wolfenstein, Commander Keen, and more.  Better yet, do what I did and buy the Super Pack collection which includes every game and pack listed in the sale for a single low price of $34.99.  The sale ends sooner than later, so don't drag your feet on this one.


We're Ready To Be Teasing You

Ghostbusters What if they advertised a video game that never materialized?  Sure, we're told that the Ghostbusters video game is still on track to be published by somebody someday, but in the meantime the project is hanging in that horrible state of limbo between here and the afterlife.  Considering that the game was supposed to be released very soon, the advertising machine had already cranked up to promote the game.  Unfortunately, it can be difficult to turn the machine off once it's begun to charge up, meaning that if you went to Penny Arcade Expo last week, you may have spotted (or acquired) Ghostbusters lanyards meant to stir up some excitement.  Variety has the story behind the advertisements that could not be stopped.  What a tease!

I was interviewing Penny Arcade business chief Robert Khoo for a story about PAX running this weekend (look for it!) and he noted that Vivendi label Sierra signed up to sponsor the lanyards all the way back in January and sent them, with the Ghostbusters logo, back in June. But it wasn't until two weeks before the show (probably right after ActiBlizzard made its fateful announcement) that Sierra pulled out of displaying Ghostbusters (and, I assume, other games, many of which are now cancelled). Awkward!

As Khoo himself said, "We didn't have much of a choice as finding an alternate lanyard provider, so we just ran with it." Of course, one publisher or another is going to put the game out in 2009, according to licensor Sony Pictures, so as Khoo added, "SOMEONE out there is benefiting from it!" Just not the folks who actually paid for it.

Some of the best Ghostbusters tie-in merchandise becomes hard to find.  Why, I remember when fast food chain Hardee's had to recall the kiddie meal Ghostbusters II noisemakers back in 1989 because they were a choking hazard.  This isn't quite the same issue, but the lanyards are probably going to end up attached to lost Ghostbusters merchandise lore just the same.  If you want to get a lanyard for yourself I'd recommend that you get over to eBay right now before they become rare collectibles.  Some of the most expensive game memorabilia is for games that never actually reached stores.  I bet that somewhere out there is a big box packed full of t-shirts for Stargate SG-1: The Alliance that will pay for someone's down payment on a home someday.


Explore The Consoles That Never Were

Project X The tragic sagas of video game consoles such as the Super NES CD-ROM and Sega Neptune that withered on the vine are well known, but the world of unborn consoles goes deeper than everyone's favorite 1990s gaming rivalry.  GamesRadar has taken a look at seven consoles that never actually saw the light of day, and while our old favorites are listed, there's also some hardware that is seldom discussed these days.  Consider the enigmatic Project X: 

As its name suggests, Project X was kept under tight wraps for years - but for all the secrecy, people still knew enough to be interested. As the creation of Atari veterans from the Jaguar days, the console was surrounded by a low, constant buzz, as well as plenty of rumors that it was vaporware. Almost nothing was revealed until January of 1998, when a few tidbits of information were announced: Project X would be cheap and easy to develop for, it was gathering interest from third-party developers, it would be manufactured by several different companies and it would launch in 1998 with six games. Naturally, VM Labs expected it to sell millions of units in its first year.

Shortly after the announcement of VM Labs' plans for the console came the announcement that it wouldn't be a console at all. Instead, Project X was pared down to the Nuon, a chip that enabled specially enhanced DVD players to play games and do cool things like zoom in during movies. It was enough to make a lot of gamers lose interest, although a few big names, including Capcom and Activision, seemed to like what they saw.

I find it interesting that the crushed dreams in this article can be divided into two groups: established game industry titans that were swept away in the hype of new technology, and the little guys who were in way over their heads.


Mario Super Sluggers Review At Kombo

Mario plays baseball Mario and friends are back on the baseball diamond in Mario Super Sluggers for the Nintendo Wii.  My review of this sequel/do-over to last generation's Mario Superstar Baseball is now available over at Kombo.

There are dozens of playable characters to unlock, but the roster feels padded by duplicates of generic characters. Part of the fun of the various Mario sports games is to see unique characters such as Diddy Kong and Birdo bring their unique talents to the experience. Expect to have to deal with scores of different colors of interchangeable Piantas, Nokis, Yoshis, and Kritters that bring little personality or special skills to the game. A single Noki or Kritter would be alright, but do we really need multiples of each species? And I suppose it just wouldn't be a modern Mario spin-off game without including five of the Mushroom Kingdom's bawling babies on the team.

This was one of the games that the Nintendo representatives were reluctant to let me try during our behind-closed-doors meeting back at E3 (where it was essentially finished considering that the Japanese version of the game had been in stores for nearly a month at that point), and now that I've played the final version of the game, I don't see what the fuss was about.  The controls can be oversimplified at times (playing with just the Wii remote means that the game handles maneuvering your characters for you), but it's not like there's a problem with the core gameplay.   


Everybody Loves Konami Brawlers

Homer Simpson I have a brief article up at Kombo today which points your attention to a retrospective article about Konami's many many many arcade and home console brawler games based on licensed characters.  All your old favorite quarter munchers are there, from The Simpsons to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to X-Men to Bucky O'Hare and beyond.

The Simpsons game has not aged well at all both in terms of gameplay and the overall development and progression of the television show (the maniacal Sideshow Bob actually appears in the game to offer the Simpson family a little help), but I still have fond memories of setting up camp at the arcade machine whenever my parents would take a friend and I to the local go-kart track and video arcade fun center. The Springfieldian fun never lasted all that long (those arcade machines were hungry for more tokens than we wanted to spend in one place), but raging against Mr. Burns endless army of cohorts was always a fun diversion until the go-kart track opened for the day.

The Simpsons game also includes an odd gag in that certain frames of animation reveal that Marge Simpson's iconic blue tower of hair is actually a wig that conceals her two long rabbit-like ears.  It sticks out as completely bizarre now, but it's not entirely from out of left field.  I recall hearing a story on one of The Simpsons DVD box sets in which the writers eventually planned to reveal Marge's secret rabbit ears in a very early episode as just another random sight gag.  The idea was dropped, but someone on staff must have shared the concept with Konami.


Weekly Poll: Like The Moon Over The Day

Weekly Poll for 8-25-2008Like most of you, I've also been playing other consoles while waiting for some enjoyable new Nintendo Wii material.  Mostly I've dipped back into the Sony PlayStation 2 library and trying games that I just never got around to sampling.  I've been kind of disappointed in my picks, but that's probably why I didn't get around to playing these games sooner.  I wanted a kickass modern Batman game, and goodness knows that Batman: Vengeance wasn't it.  Star Trek: Encounters was beyond disappointing.  Let's just say that reviewing Mario Super Sluggers this weekend has been a breath of revitalizing air.  I should be set until Wario Land: Shake It!! arrives at the end of the month (plus there's Mega Man 9 coming at some point soon), but after I finish consuming that... well, I'll cross that bridge when I reach it.

Speaking of games to play on the Wii, Nintendo has finally deemed those of us in North America worthy to play (or replay as the case may be) Super Mario RPG, one of the shining gems of the Super NES era, on the Virtual Console.  Will you (or did you) buy the game?  Did you pass on it because you still have the original 16-bit cartridge?  Are you just not interested for some terribly misguided reason?  Take a break from giving evil Smithy the business and share your thoughts.