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August 2009

A Boy and His Blob Preorder Bonus Needs Work

Blob stress ball With all of the clever and creative ways this one could have gone down, GameStop / EBGames misses the mark with its preorder incentive for the upcoming Majesco title A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo Wii.  Reserve your copy today and get a free little Blob stress ball squeezey toy.  Don't everyone line up at once now.  MTV's Multiplayer points out how this is a missed opportunity for something much more creative.

A Boy and His Blob is a charming redux of the classic NES game of the same name. It's all hand-drawn and features a button that lets you hug your adorable blob whenever you want. Seriously, that's like the definition of charming.  Less charming is the pre-order bonus that GameStop is dolling out for people who pick up the game. It's basically a stress ball with a face drawn on it.  Now I know I may be nitpicking here, but with a creative game like this, it sometimes takes a little more effort to set itself apart.

Now, Blob is not the kind of AAA+ release that warrants a weapon replica or character statue or other expensive knick-knack to give away.  Realistically, Blob probably will not sell the billion copies needed to financially justify a valuable preorder freebie.  Whatever item is offered will have to be produced cheaply, so chances are we're looking at a regular item with the game's logo or other imagery stamped on it (such as the stress ball with a smiling face).  This is a property that has plenty of creative potential.  Can't some of that potential spill over into the preorder incentive?  How about a bag of the game's classic jellybeans?  At least that's related to the property.  They're tasty, too.   

It Takes More Than A Costume And An Attitude To Do This Work

Batman Forever With Warner Bros. and Rocksteady Studios releasing Batman: Arkham Asylum in North America and Europe this week for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, it seems like as good a time as any to review Batman's video gaming career.  UGO takes a stab at the topic with A Concise History of Batman in Video Games in which the Caped Crusader is chronicled from his early days on the MSX through titles based on the Tim Burton films and Animated Series all the way to a floundering series of titles that aren't based much on anything at all.  Batman has certainly seen his share of digital lows.  Remember Acclaim's dismal Batman Forever that was basically a watered-down overly digitized take on Mortal Kombat reworked as brawling platformer?

As Batman's movies became worse so did his games, beginning with the atrocity that is Batman Forever.  I mean, the game isn't all bad. The graphics for instance, weren't terrible. For some fans though they just looked too much like another game. This is mainly because Acclaim just pasted a bunch of Batman imagery over the latest Mortal Kombat game and called it Batman Forever.  By this point however, we're probably all aware that graphics alone can't make or break a game.  Horrible controls, on the other hand can, and Batman Forever was endowed with some of the worst. Simple actions like deploying your grappling hook were often insanely difficult, requiring odd button combos and pinpoint precise timing. Not to mention the game was quite hard even on the lower difficulties, making it a general displeasure to play. Batman Forever did have one thing going for it though: an ending.

I've had a half-written article of the five best Batman games in the "unfinished" bin for years because I can't come up with five actual great Batman games.  Konami came closest thus far with 1994's The Adventures of Batman and Robin for the Super NES, and the Batman arcade game based on the first Tim Burton film is alright, but it's all downhill after that.   I have high hopes and great expectations for Arkham Asylum.  What is it about the character that most developers and publishers just can't seem to grasp?  As Batman himself once explained, it takes more than a costume and an attitude to do this work.

We All Need A Mushroom Kingdom

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker Why are video games so appealing?  It's a deeper question than you may think.  Beneath the flashy graphics and beepy music is something much more difficult to pin down.  There's a sense of wonder and a spark of imagination at the heart of the best video games, and as children we pick up on that right away.  Then, over time, most people lose that spark.  School, career, social engagements, relationship drama, mortgage payments, credit card debt, medical ailments, and other things that we pick up on our way to and through adulthood weigh us down and we forget the simple pleasures of saving the princess or preventing the moon from falling out of the sky.  Those of us who continue to play video games and who make them a part of our adult lives found a way to keep that spark alive.  We appreciate and understand video games in a way that the naysayers never will.  Over at NeoGAF, GDJustin is exploring just why we appreciate video games and how much they enrich our days.

About a year ago I was conversing with someone when the topic of my work came up. I mentioned I work in the video game business, for a company that publishes websites focused on games. They asked if I was a big fan of video games in general and I said yes, absolutely. But then they asked me something that caught me off guard:

"Why do you like games so much? What is it about them that is so attractive to you?"

I didn't have a good answer for them, at the time. In the following months I've continued to turn this question over in my mind, and I still don't have a very good answer, to be honest. But that isn't going to stop me from trying, here in this topic. The best answer I've been able to come up with is that the medium of video games, unlike any other, presents people with a sense of endless possibility. As an adult, the majority of my life is mundane. Enjoyable and fulfilling, but... mundane, nonetheless. Things simply don't happen in the "real world" to spark one's imagination.

Actually... that isn't 100% true. Things DO happen in the real world to spark the imagination. It's just that, in the end, that spark will end up being extinguished, rather than nurtured and encouraged. A perfect example: The other day during a typical Wikipedia crawl, I landed on a piece on the Great Lakes. I read that Lake Superior is over 1300 feet deep. 1300! "Jesus, that's amazing!" I thought to myself. "There could be ANYTHING down there, at the bottom!" But the truth is... there's nothing down there. Because that's how the real world operates. But in a game, a mysterious, deep lake is always worth exploring. There will always be something there, waiting to be discovered.

Think about how empty life would be without that imaginative spark.  We all need a way to escape the drudgery of the average day and indulge our creative and explorative sides, but too many people believe that's unnecessary.  We all need a Mushroom Kingdom or a Hyrule to visit.  We always have.  Society would be a better place if more people realized that and did something about it.

Continue reading "We All Need A Mushroom Kingdom" »

Your All-Access Pass To Onett

EarthBound Sure, you've brawled with beloved Nintendo characters in the EarthBound Onett stage of fighting classic Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but have you ever stepped outside of the battle to have a look around town?  A little Brawl hacking allows for complete camera control, meaning that it's time for a casual trip around the 3D version of EarthBound's opening location.  How closely does it resemble its Super NES counterpart?  Did the arcade, Giant Step, and police department make the cut?  Are there garbage cans hiding hamburgers?  What of the town hall?  Take the tour of Onett and find out for yourself.

The layout is a little different, but I'm surprised by how many EarthBound set pieces are hiding in the background where most of us will never see them.  The meteorite on the hill is present, for instance.  There's also an iconic Onett billboard that contains a hyperbolized warning message (in this case, a notice about a black van that speeds through the city and knocks Brawlers out of the ring).  Then there's the arcade where the local gang of Sharks hangs out, the town hospital, plenty of small residential buildings, the Runaway Five tour van visiting from Twoson, and some other small details that I won't spoil.

For the record, here's the map of Onett obtained from the library early in the EarthBound adventure.


(via EarthBound Central; images via Mobygames and

Xbox 360 Gets A Price Cut Too

Microsoft Xbox 360 EliteSony isn't the only console manufacturer that's cutting prices this month.  Word has it that newly priced Microsoft Xbox 360s are about to start appearing in stores in North America with the Xbox 360 Elite package now set at a PS3-matching $299.  That'll get you a Xbox 360 console with 120 GB hard drive, 3 USB ports, a headset, and a HDMI port, but not a HDMI cable (instead you get old fashioned composite video cables — how quaint!).  Kombo has the scant details, and if all of these console reconfigurations have you stumped, then Gossip Gamers has a handy feature comparison chart focusing on what's in and what's out in the new version of the PS3 and the three flavors of Xbox 360 (which, note, hasn't been updated with the new Xbox price list or HDMI cable-less Elite package).

Price cuts are good for everyone in end, as they tend to kickstart a fresh round of purchases.  Larger install bases make for larger audiences, which in turn can be a tasty carrot for publishers on the fence about greenlighting the next big great game.  Meanwhile, more people playing new consoles leads to a larger available pool of gamers for online multiplayer games.  Even if you aren't planning to buy a new PS3 or Xbox 360 because you already have one (or both), you'll still benefit from the additional sales that these price cuts and console redesigns will generate.  Everybody wins!

Weekly Poll: Slimming Down

Weekly Poll for 8-17-2009 It really surprises me how few of you out there bought Marvel vs Capcom 2 last week.  I know that my audience tends to skew Nintendo-centric (which does not feature a version of the game for sale), but I'd expected a little more interest than this.  Moreover, of those of you who did buy it, most of you bought the empty case version from GameStop.  I'd admonish you for that, but I'm just as guilty of walking to the shop and saying aloud "Yes, I'd like to buy that empty box, please," so I'll just keep my criticizing mouth shut on this one.

The big news story from last week has to be the official announcement of the new smaller and cheaper Sony PlayStation 3.  Is $299 the magic price point for you?  Are you planning on taking the PS3 plunge now?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Kombo Breaker - Episode 41: The PS3 Slim Will Change The Console Landscape!

Kombo Breaker Sony's newly announced smaller, lighter, cheaper PlayStation 3 has the focus on this week's episode of Kombo Breaker in which our usual panel is joined by Kombo's own Chris Holzworth to discuss whether or not this new flavor of PS3 changes everything in this generation's console wars (answer: it does).  We cover all the bases as some people are unimpressed, some non-PS3 owning people make plans to buy one, and some PS3-owning people prepare to buy another one (how's that work, exactly?).  Existing catalog titles are primed for a boost, while upcoming releases such as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time will enjoy the extra sales that come with being on the shelf next to a top-selling console.  It's forty minutes of analysis and conversation wrapped up in a MP3 package.  Download the show directly from Kombo or subscribe via iTunes.

Concept Art Runs Wild At GameFluid

ClankWhenever those of us in the video game journalism world need some character artwork to accompany an article, we go to the various online media hubs that the many publishers maintain.  These hubs are usually locked with passwords reserved only for media professionals, meaning that if John and Jane Gamer want a decent quality image of Clank holding a really big staff without a pesky third-party watermark in the corner, they're out of luck.  Thankfully, relatively new site GameFluid is establishing a free archive of concept art taken from some of those online media hubs. is all about showcasing original illustrations, in-game screen shots, concept art, development storyboards, and more from the games of past and present to our viewers.

Right now the collection is skewed in favor of the current console generation with an emphasis on titles such as Heavenly Sword, Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, Puzzle Quest Galactrix, Street Fighter, and Soul Calibur, but the place is just getting started.  Check it out the next time a low resolution image that turns out to be 80% GameSpot watermark gets in your way.

New Need For Speed Shift Looks Sharp And Speedy

Need For Speed Shift I like a good racing game, but I've never really been one for "serious" racers.  Give me a kart racer or the fast-and-loose Burnout Paradise any day.  However, the more I see of the upcoming Need For Speed Shift for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360, the more intrigued I am.  The old urban street trappings of previous entries in the franchise such as Need For Speed Carbon are long gone and replaced with realistic takes on racing around enclosed tracks.  Check out these concept renderings of the Nissan GT-R SpecV racer. Does that look like something you'd find on the run from the police while competing for street cred? I don't think so.

Nissan GT-R SpecV racer



I think what's impressing me the most about the new Need For Speed is how Electronic Arts basically has admitted that the urban street racing settings of past games had become ridiculously stale.  They've rebuilt the franchise from the ground up which is something most publishers would be afraid to do.  If nothing else, they're taking a chance with this one, and that's the kind of behavior that should be rewarded in this era of yearly revisions to the same basic ongoing game model.

Super Mario 64 Big Band Musical Moment

Mario and Bob-omb If your day is dragging and that clock on the wall just isn't ticking quickly enough, then this track from 2003's Mario & Zelda Big Band Live album will get you moving again.  Japan's Big Band of Rogues kicks off a concert performance with this peppy take on the opening fanfare and  Bob-omb Battlefield overworld themes from Nintendo's classic Nintendo 64 launch title, Super Mario 64.  There's lots of saxophone, some snappy percussion, and plenty of energy to be heard here.  The full CD that this track comes from has some other bright moments and includes songs from related games such as Super Mario Sunshine and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (some with Japanese vocals that really seem out of place in what are traditionally instrumental arrangements), but I've always thought that this is best of the lot.  Enjoy!