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October 2009

September 2009

Castlevania Arcade Game Disappoints

Castlevania: The Arcade

Back in February there was news that Konami was working on a Castlevania arcade game that made use of a motion-controlled whip mechanic.  It sounded intriguingly awesome at the time, and the trailer that came with the announcement looked promising.  There's only so much that can be told in a trailer though, and in the end we need actual commentary from someone who has actually played the game before passing judgment.  1UP's Jeremy Parish played the game on a recent trip to Japan and he's not very satisfied with it.  Read what he has to say about Castlevania: The Arcade over at 1UP's Retro Gaming Blog.

Each player can choose to control evocatively-named characters "Vampire Hunter" and "Lady Gunner." Both play more or less the same way: you point and shoot by using the trigger on a weird-looking light gun, or you can activate a short-range melee attack by making a whipping motion. The ranged attack requires Hearts, which you acquire by breaking items in the scenery.

Some of the game mechanics are poorly explained and hardly intuitive, such as: How do I keep Death from damaging me when there's no way to duck his scythe? How am I supposed to take out enemies at a distance consistently when ranged attacks require Hearts which don't appear nearly often enough?

To make matter worse, my whip controller was horribly mis-calibrated. I had to hold the thing gat-style like some medieval gangsta in order to get my targeting cursor to appear on the screen at all. Five minutes of the game made my arm and wrist cramp up something awful.

That's a terrible shame.  Even though it was unlikely that this game would have landed in North American arcades, I was hoping it would be worthwhile.  I like the Castlevania franchise and Konami is capable of creating memorable products, so whenever the company drops the ball and comes up with something so mediocre, it's a major disappointment.

North America Not Eligible For PSPgo UMD Trade-In Offer


Earlier today the news broke that European owners of the new Sony PlayStation Portable variation called the PSPgo will be able to acquire three free downloadable games once verifying that they own the UMD versions of the games up for grabs.  The question about how this program will play out in North America came up immediately after the news hit, and now Kotaku has an answer.  As it turns out, there will be no UMD trade-in program in North America.  So much for meeting customers halfway.

"We were evaluating a UMD conversion program, but due to legal and technical reasons we will not be offering the program at this time," a Sony Computer Entertainment of America spokesman told Kotaku.

So, to sum it all up: Sony wants you to buy a portable game system that costs more and does less than the cheaper version of the same basic hardware that's already on the market.  Yeah, this whole PSPgo thing makes perfect financial sense, doesn't it?  Don't preorder all at once, gang.  There's plenty of the baffling business plan to go around.

Midday Monstrous Turtles Musical Moment

Super Mario World

When presented properly, a selection of video game music can become lodged in one's brain where it will pop up unannounced from time to time.  Some of the medium's most memorable music lives on today thanks to this behavior, but sometimes it's not enough for music to survive through the subconscious mind.  Some music yearns to be improved.  Consider the fortress theme from Nintendo's 1991 classic Super Mario World.  It's a memorable enough tune taken at face value, but leave it to Overclocked Remixer zircon to make it much more awesome.  Behold "Monstrous Turtles!"

This remix was played in the lead-up to the Video Games Live concert I attended in the closing days of E3 this year.  As tremendous as it sounds here, just imagine the effect it had on a crowd of game music junkies when blasted over a proper amphitheater sound system.

(Image via MobyGames)

UMD "Trade-In" Offer For PSPGo Takes Shape


UPDATE: But what of North America?

So, you're interested in replacing your standard Sony PlayStation Portable with the new UMD-less PSPgo model, but you have a stack of games in UMD format that you're not willing to drop.  How will you get your favorite games into the new machine without buying them all over again in the new format?  Ever since the PSPgo was announced back at E3, rumors have swirled that Sony would offer some sort of trade-in program to turn those UMDs into their downloadable equivalents, and now the European version of that program has started to take shape.  Kotaku has the details.

PSPgo buyers will be given three free games from a list of seventeen PlayStation Portable titles. That list is, as far as we can gather, comprised entirely of first-party Sony titles, including Killzone: Liberation, SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo 3, WipEout Pure, echochrome, LocoRoco, Patapon and more.

The rewards system will run from October 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010 in European territories. And according to the release, will require PSPgo owners to register for their three free games by accessing the PlayStation Network with their older PSPs with a UMD in the drive.

Considering that Sony doesn't have to offer anything at all, I'm glad to see that they're willing to meet casual long-time PSP owners halfway.  However, for those us with with moderate to large UMD libraries, this offer really isn't good enough.  I'm very curious to see the sales numbers for the PSPgo once it's released.  I imagine they'll sell some units, but I just don't see the new iteration of on-the-go PlayStation being a rousing success compared to the traditional existing hardware.

Xbox 360 Rebate Drips Of Desperation

Xbox 360 rebate

Not content to merely cut the price of the Microsoft Xbox 360 Elite package to $299.99 to match the MSRP of the recently redesigned and repriced Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft is now offering a $50 rebate to those in the United States who buy a console between now and October 5, 2009 and jump through the requisite rebate hoops by November 20, 2009.  If you're interested in buying a Xbox 360 and haven't yet done so, then this seems to be the time to buy.  Kombo has the details.

One can only wonder if this is perhaps the result of pressure from a combination of Sony's recent price cut and Nintendo's rumored price cut. In the case of the former, they're underselling the PlayStation 3, and in the case of the latter, they've matched pricing, unless a drop in the Wii's price does indeed take effect.

Anything that results in lower costs to the consumer is great, but in this case I can't help but see the desperation dripping from this offer.  It's all about sales numbers this time around.  PS3 sales have skyrocketed since Sony cut the price on its console, and yet while Microsoft has offered their own deal, I have a feeling that the company is afraid that sales numbers for this month will show an embarrassingly large gap between its console and the comparative competition.  This rebate arriving at the tail-end of the month looks like an attempt to give the Xbox 360 sales numbers a quick kick for the sake of saving face.

PS2, Dreamcast Games Allegedly Coming To PSN

Sonic Adventure

Once Sony began to remove PlayStation 2 backward compatibility functions from the PlayStation 3, I knew it was only a matter of time until classic PS2 games began to turn up for sale in downloadable format via the PlayStation Network.  Sony has denied such a thing for quite some time, but it really seems inevitable.  Now a document supposedly leaked from Sega of America of all places details the coming PS2-to-PSN plans, plus a selection of Sega Dreamcast games up for digital grabs.  Kotaku has the details.

The notes mention two titles, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City and an unspecified Sonic the Hedgehog game—there are seven Sonic-starring games for the PS2—as examples of candidates for release.

The same document also mentions what appears to be downloadable Dreamcast titles for the PlayStation Network. Those titles don't appear to be exclusive to the PlayStation 3, however, as the rumored meeting notes read "If we provide a list of DC titles SCEA will let us know which ones they're interested in having exclusively."

Depending on the cost of each downloadable game, this would be a great way to revisit those old classics that players may have missed last generation.  I'm hesitant to spring for the original Ratchet and Clank trilogy when I still have a working PS2, but if — and that's if, since I think this is a step too far — the old PS2 games were updated with visual improvements, I might be tempted to double-dip and repurchase a beloved classic.  As for the Dreamcast selections, I have to appreciate the idea of Sega offering games from its final console to the successor of the console beast that killed it.  As an aside, Kombo has some additional information from the Sega document related to other aspects of the company's upcoming plans.

New HD Wii coming in 2011 [Question Mark]

WiiRumors and speculation about a mid-generation revamp of Nintendo's Wii hardware have been buzzing practically since the console first hit stores in 2006, especially when it comes to the possibility of the next iteration of Wii sporting HD visual capabilities (as you're probably aware, the Wii currently tops out at 480p displays).  The rumors are circulating again thanks to the head of Square-Enix, Yoichi Wada, bringing up the topic and slapping a date on it, but it's all just hearsay until Nintendo makes an announcement.  What interests me here is not the rumor, but the way that the industry is covering the rumor.  CNET's Crave gadget blog is my example here, but they're not the only one to use a headline like "New HD Wii coming in 2011?" which is perfectly accurate, but then the question mark is dropped when the headline is passed on to RSS syndication and URL file names, turning the question into a fact.  "New HD Wii coming in 2011".  Set in stone, see?  And then you see that apparently solid truth in your news aggregator or search results and dive in, eager for the information.  In the end you learn nothing, yet the site enjoys the increased traffic.  My, how deviously innocent...

Weekly Poll: The Magic Number

Weekly Poll for 9-14-2009I see that we're getting smarter as the years go by when it comes to announcements from Sega about new Sonic the Hedgehog games.  We're going to need more information about this "Project Needlemouse" before we become excited or disappointed.  Now that we've been teased, the time has come to wait for screenshots, gameplay video, character artwork... heck, just about anything beyond Pikachu In A Sombrero.  I really do want Sonic Team to get this one right though.  Maybe the developers can follow the example set down by Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Mega Man 9, and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and create a fantastic game in the old style with modern improvements.  The demand is certainly there. 

While "Project Needlemouse" has to wait until 2010, something more timely is the ongoing rumor — backed up with multiple examples of photographic evidence, by the way — that Nintendo is on the verge of cutting $50 off of the Wii's price tag in North America, bringing the console down to $199.99.  Would such a price cut finally encourage you to buy a Wii?  Does it need to be cheaper still?  Do you already own a Wii?  Or are you just not interested?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Maybe This Whole PlayStation Thing Is Not For You

Geek Squad sets up PS3

In this age of diminishing economies it is understandable that companies want to do everything to squeeze those last dimes and dollars from their customers.  Usually we bristle at being charged for what we perceive to be simple, stupid little add-ons and extras, but these sorts of superfluous services can actually serve a useful function.  For instance, consider Best Buy's generous offer in which you pay the Geek Squad $129.99 and, in return, someone from the store will come to your home and set up your newly purchased Sony PlayStation 3.  Yes, for just 43% of the cost of the new slim PS3, you can have a professional arrive to plug the console into the power outlet, configure the Wi-Fi or LAN connection, update the firmware, create player accounts, turn on parental controls, and create one (and only one) PlayStation Store account.  Now, while this may seem like an overpriced rip-off at first glance, Best Buy is actually offering a very unique service here.  See, if you need to pay an inflated price to get your PS3 out of its box, then perhaps owning a modern game console is not for you.  Kudos to Best Buy for helping customers understand why they aren't cut out for this whole PlayStation thing and are better off spending their would-be gaming money somewhere else.

(via Reddit)