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July 2009

Wario Land II Never Says Die

Wario Land 2 If there was ever a crime of gaming that I've committed, it's that I missed out on Wario Land II when it first appeared on the original Game Boy back in 1998 (and then again for the Game Boy Color in 1999).  It seems bizarre that I'd have not bought it immediately on release before zipping home to greedily enjoy my latest purchase.  Wario is of the Super Mario Bros. lineage, a franchise that I was extremely devoted to in my youth (and even still now, although that passion has been diluted a little with all of the spin-off titles that fall outside of my realm of interest (Mario Party et al, I'm looking at you)).  I can only justify that I missed it because I had drifted away from the Game Boy by that point, as I was moving to wrap up my high school years with SATs and ACTs and APEs and all kinds of other pre-college exams that involve acronyms and permanent records.  This failure to fully explore Wario Land II is something that I have rectified in recent years, and if you too missed out on Captain Syrup's revenge plot, then I suggest you fix that immediately.  If I can't convince you, maybe Jeremy Parish over at GameSpite can.

Wario Land II threw an even bigger wrinkle into the fabric of platforming clichés. Where its predecessor had been a bit of a screwball concept, letting you play as the prior game's villain and dropping you into a Mario-esque world with more aggressive skills, Wario Land II inverted one of the genre's most fundamental assumptions: that death was an inevitability to be avoided. Unlike his rival, Wario simply couldn't be killed. He could be burned, frozen, squashed, or mutilated in any number of other ways, but those were mere setbacks that would cause him to react comically in the classic Warner Bros. style. Bump into flames and Wario would begin running and waving his arms frantically as the fire sizzling on his rear end slowly burned itself out. A strike from a large mallet would cause him to become springlike, bouncing erratically. Crushing simply caused Wario to become paper-thin until he encountered water. Not even the undead could stop him for long: he might become a zombie, but eventually he'd encounter sunlight and crumble into dust—only to regenerate, phoenix-like.

The concept of an indestructible main character radically transformed the nature of Wario Land II's challenges. No longer was the goal of the game to avoid dying long enough to succeed. Rather, it became a challenge to avoid the minor inconvenience of being afflicted with semi-fatal status changes, and to deduce when to use them to advance. Unlike typical Mario games, where death was simply death, Wario's mutilation could be used to the player's advantage—a flattened Wario could slip through narrow openings, while a springlike Wario could bound to previously unreachable heights. In effect, R&D1 ended up creating a puzzle platformer almost by accident... but one that avoided the usual tropes and techniques of other entries in the genre.

Strangely enough, while I believe that Wario Land 3 is the better game, I like Wario Land II more.  There's a simple purity to Wario's movements and obstacles in his second adventure that his third manages to complicate.  There's much more gameplay in 3 (plus a more vibrant color palette), and while II is rough around the edges in comparison, it seems to enjoy itself more.  I've been replaying II recently for my own amusement and have been impressed by it all over again.  Wario Land 4 and beyond backtracked from the immortality concept that drove II and 3, making those two games all the more special.  Perhaps you should play them both while you're at it (and just like that you have homework for the weekend, but please finish your SATs first).

(Images via MobyGames)

Kombo Breaker - Episode 38: Game Writer Anne Toole Joins Us

Kombo BreakerThe next time you blow up an alien mothership or tame a dragon, ask yourself just who has the task of getting you to that mothership or dragon.  Gaming is much more than just creating pixels and polygons.  There's also a story involved, and this week on Kombo Breaker we have an hour with video game and television writer Anne Toole.  Anne guided us through the writing process, speaking about her work with The Witcher and Stargate Worlds as well as how one might break into this line of work in the first place.  Download this week's episode directly from Kombo PTB or subscribe via iTunes.  Also, as if that isn't enough, we're giving away something Killzone-related, but you'll have to listen to the show to find out what, how, and when.  Scriptwriting and a giveaway?  You can't refuse that one.

Mini-Review: Terminator Salvation

Terminator Salvation The Terminator film franchise has been a fantastic canvas on which to paint intriguing stories as well as hot gobs of explosive action, but the key thing about Terminator that some people have yet to figure out is that there are only certain stories in the series's universe that are worth telling.  Kyle Reese traveling back in time to protect Sarah Connor?  That's worth telling.  A reprogrammed T-800 model Terminator protecting a teenage John Connor?  Also worth telling.  Just another day of trying to stay alive in a post-Skynet future war environment?  Not so much, which brings us to Terminator Salvation, the video game tie-in to this summer's film of the same name, and although they share a title, they feature different stories.  The game sets up some of the film's backstory, casting players as John Connor prior to humanity lining up to follow him into hell just because he says so.  It's just another day for Connor when he vows to rescue a group of trapped humans from behind enemy lines before they're terminated once and for all.

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Terminator Salvation" »

The Matrix Deloaded

The Matrix OnlineWay back in March 2005 I held up The Matrix Online as an example of an online community that may one day dry up and blow away, and sure enough, that day is today.  After passing through several owners over the years, the MMORPG based on The Matrix films is coming to an end today, after which the servers are shut off and all of the prospective Neos out there vanish into the ether.  Say it ain't so, Big Download!

A post on the soon-to-be-shut-down message boards for the game states that if you have an old Matrix Online account in good standing (i.e. you don't owe Sony Online any money on it) you can log into the game and play for free until the shutdown occurs sometime on Friday. So you only have a little more time to learn kung-fu.

It's always sad to see an online community die, particularly when it dies for economical reasons as opposed to player disinterest.  Of course, if there had been an interest in The Matrix Online, it would still be with us after today.  As I said four years ago, an empty world is a lonely place.  Even if you do know kung-fu.

Nintendo Has Not Abandoned Virtual Console

Wii Shop ChannelYou may have seen a quote from Nintendo during your Internet travels lately that basically explains how the company has chosen to discontinue new releases to the Wii's Virtual Console library to instead focus on more WiiWare and DSiWare.  Shock!  Just like that the curtain fell on VC releases of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, Super Smash Bros., and other anticipated titles destined for an eventual re-emergence.  You can relax now, as over at Kombo we've gone straight to the source to find out what's really up with the future of the Virtual Console.

The next part took a bit longer, but I received word back from Nintendo of America's senior director of public relations, Charlie Scibetta:

Each week Nintendo makes available a mix of Virtual Console, WiiWare and Nintendo DSiWare games. Combined, these services currently provide gamers with hundreds of fun and interesting downloadable games to choose from. There is no preset schedule as to how many games will become available in a given week, but many more are on the way via all of these digital delivery systems.

And there we have it, the official word from Nintendo of America. True, it doesn't exactly tell us anything particularly concrete, but as established before, that is the nature of the beast.

However, that doesn't mean that there is nothing positive to take away from the statement, as it sounds as though Nintendo still plans to support the Virtual Console service. Furthermore, there is no definitive statement about the service's seeming demise, thus at least leaving room for hope.

As much as I cheer for the Virtual Console's future, I have to admit that it's been a long time since I've purchased anything from it.  With all of my old hardware still fully functional and connected to my television, I can grab Super Mario World from my shelf and play it the old fashioned way whenever I want, plus I've already bought the VC versions of most the games I missed out on originally (such as the TurboGrafx-16 Bonk trilogy).  Whenever Nintendo decides to release something I really want on the service that I don't already own, I'll gladly kick over my $5 or $8 again.  Until then, I wait...

Stargate Worlds Facing Power Loss, Money Drain

StargateYou know there's a problem in the world of Stargate when I start to run out of clever franchise-related puns and wordplay when it comes to headlining articles about troubled Stargate games.  There's peril in Cheyenne Mountain once again as the second video game based on the popular Stargate franchise seems to be headed down the path of its predecessor: cancellation.  MMORPG Stargate Worlds may be days away from imploding as franchise-owner MGM is apparently threatening to pull the Stargate license from the game's developer and publisher, Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment and Firesky respectively, unless the companies can manage to raise millions of dollars in additional capital by August 1. has the report

Firesky, which had several projects on the go, essentially ran out of money last fall, but rather than pull the plug, has continued to move forward. Most of the key personnel have moved onto other projects and many are behind on pay.  At this time, according to our sources, there is only one member of the client team and one member of the server team still at work on the game.

“Overall, funding is obviously a huge challenge for us, but our management is working on it daily,” Hensley said. “It's visible progress and we obviously have great faith. The struggle has been more than most could bear, but there are a few here who have independent means or significant personal investment who have been able to ride it out.”  While Hensley obviously continues to have some hope that the troubled company can come back, he is also realistic.  "I doubt this will last much longer, but those who are here currently are amazingly dedicated and continue to make progress on our projects despite the circumstances.”

I've never felt that the Stargate franchise was right for a MMORPG (and I still wish that the previous game to meet the bad end of a Jaffa staff weapon, traditional action shooter Stargate SG-1: The Alliance, had been completed), but I think the bigger issue here is that MGM is not licensing the property to companies that can treat it properly.  I'm not saying that a major player in the gaming industry like Electronic Arts or Activision could create and release a Stargate game worth playing, but I have more faith in proven developers and publishers than I do in companies such as Cheyenne Mountain and Firesky or Alliance partners in crime Perception and JoWood.  If MGM wants to see a proper Stargate game through to completion then they're going to have to trust the property with a team that knows how to actually bring a finished product to the marketplace in addition to handling the Stargate lore.  That does not happen inexpensively, but if I were calling the shots at MGM, I would rather spend money to develop a product that will earn back that investment rather than continue to skimp, thereby burning resources on unfinished material.

(via Massively)

Swing Over To Hear The Bionic Commando Soundtrack

Bionic CommandoYou passed over the fantastic Bionic Commando for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC, but maybe I can still forgive you if you sample the recently released soundtrack from the game.  Sumthing Digital and iTunes have the twenty-track album for sale in downloadable format now, and if nothing else you should at least listen to the previews for each track.  Bionic sports a wonderful soundtrack that uses the themes from the original Nintendo Entertainment System as a base and then orchestrates them to create a unique, concert-worthy end result.  I like this soundtrack so much that I actually bought it to get the high quality MP3 files.  My personal favorites from the album include "Main Theme", "Groder's Anthem", "Preparations", "Hunters of the FSA", and "The Gauntlet".  Check it out one time, won't you?  Here's a taste of the intense, epic portion of "Main Theme" for your consideration.  Fans of the original Nintendo Entertainment System game and/or last year's Bionic Commando: Rearmed should recognize it...

(via Joystiq)

Nintendo Entertainment System 101

Nintendo Entertainment SystemHey, you there!  Yeah, you, the young kid in the back jamming away on your Sony PlayStation Portable while I go on and on about the wonders of Castlevania, Mega Man 2, 3, & 4, and Super Mario Bros. 3.  Video Games didn't just appear in the world when you were introduced to the PlayStation 2 a few years ago.  There are hundreds of superior games from years ago and it's time that you checked them out.  Put your PSP on standby, gather up your allowance money, and go buy yourself a Nintendo Entertainment System.  I won't send you into the retro market unprepared though. Retrogaming with Racketboy has everything you need to know about Nintendo's 8-bit box.  It's time for NES 101.

What To Look For When Buying

There’s the older, iconic Control Deck and the newer NES 2. For most, the Control Deck is the way to go. The NES 2 is highly sought after because of higher reliability and collectability factors, but can be expensive, especially if you’re buying online. The extra cost and inferior connections of the NES 2 are big negatives. On a purely aesthetic note, the NES “game paks” weren’t designed for the shorter form factor of a top-loading console, and so the carts look a bit odd sticking up out of the top of the machine (which is also the reason for the rounded cover on the slot, which you don’t see on the A/V Famicom). The older models can be finicky, but if you replace the 72 pin connector they will likely work perfectly. You can do this repair yourself, and most retro gaming shops worth their salt will be able to do it for you for a few bucks. The new connectors usually cost $8 to $10 bucks, much less than the cost of an NES 2 on eBay. The Control Decks can be cleaned fairly easily as well, which will improve reliability.

As for the rest of you, isn't it time to revisit some of the greatest games of all time?  So what if they don't feature 3D polygons or HD textures.  Have you ever heard the soundtrack from Mega Man 2 piped through a modern surround sound system?  It's a thing of beauty, my friends.  It's as if Bubble Man is loudly coming at you from every direction.

Whatever Happened To Super Mega Man?

Mega Man XCapcom certainly took its sweet time bringing Mega Man to the Super NES back in the day, as the company relied on its existing Nintendo Entertainment System for Mega Man to bring two sequels to the old system before getting down to business with the 16-bit Mega Man X (and launching one more NES installment after it).  Prior to X becoming, well, X, the next generation adventure carried a different, more generic name.  Travel back in time with Protodude's Rockman Corner to an early 1993 report from Game Players magazine to learn all about the fantastic Super Mega Man.

"We understand the game is well into development, but haven't seen anything yet," says Joseph Morici, senior vice president of Capcom. "You can assume, however, that the game will be substantially better than other versions just because of the quality of the machine."

Although Morici doesn't have much information on Super Mega Man, he does know that it includes a fairly large memory configuration and a battery backup — definitely something new for the series. He's got bad news for Sega Genesis fans, however. Like Street Fighter II, there's "nothing in the works" for a Genesis Mega Man. There's no 32-bit CD-ROM game in the planning stage, either.

Considering how history eventually unfolded, one wonders if Morici was just spinning assumptions for our amusement or if Mega Man X actually was once planned to contain a battery backup.  Moreover, versions of Street Fighter II and Mega Man for the Sega Genesis did eventually come to pass (in late 1993 and late 1994 respectively), so if Morici did know anything about them at the time of this interview, he wasn't sharing it.  I believe him about the lack of a 32-bit CD-ROM game in the works at the time.  Super Mega Man 3, er, pardon, Mega Man X3 on CD didn't launch until 1996, and here the company was still working on the first game in the series at the time of this interview.

Koopaling Comeback Covered

Ludwig von Koopa After being denied a proper reintroduction several years ago in Super Princess Peach, Bowser's original seven children, the Koopalings, are returning for New Super Mario Bros. Wii later this year.  Never one to overlook the reappearance of classic Nintendo lore, Kombo's Lucas DeWoody has taken a moment to offer praise to the heirs of the Koopa throne in the form of a brief historical profile that spans coverage of several entertainment mediums.  Larry, Morton Jr., Wendy, Iggy, Roy, Lemmy, and Ludwig are coming back at long last*.

Beyond Super Mario World, Bowser's seven children were forgotten by Nintendo altogether. They made a brief appearance in the little known SNES Super Scope game Yoshi's Safari, and were heavily featured in the Nintendo Power published "Super Mario Adventures"comic serial (the only time to date that time their official personalities were use in full effect) but that was it. Once Mario transitioned into the 3D era with the N64, the proverbial red button was hit and the Koopa children were unofficially ret-conned out of the franchise altogether. They were left out of all the endless spin-off titles that began spawning soon thereafter, which is all the more sad because who couldn't have imagined them in Mario Party or Mario Kart?

It's anybody's guess as to why Nintendo chose to drop the Koopalings from Mario's later adventures, but it's nice to see them back.  The kids are much more interesting characters than Bowser's eighth child, Bowser Jr., who is just a younger variation of the turtle king.  The seven kids have distinct appearances and personalities that the generic youngest son has never been able to top despite having the modern technological advantages of speech and animation behind him. 

* Yes, I typed those names in order from memory.  Some things one just does not forget.  Alternatively: Iggy, Morton Jr., Lemmy, Ludwig, Roy, Wendy, and Larry.