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November 2009

Mario's Less Than Super Adventures

Mario Teaches Typing There's a reason why players continue to sing the praises of games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Galaxy long after competing games are bought, consumed, and tossed into the dust bin of history.  Mario's adventures often set the gold standard, but sometimes he misses the mark and appears in sub-standard trash. His gatekeepers over at Nintendo should really know better than to license him to a developer that will tarnish his reputation.  Topless Robot takes a look back at eight times the plumber stumbled.

Hey, let's play a Mario game except instead of having fun punching blocks and stomping on turtles, let's type! Wait a second...that's no game at all! Yes, this 1991 program duped poor, typing-challenged kids into learning a useful skill by emblazoned the famed plumber on it.  Even the title screen image has Peach, Luigi and Toad running away in horror from Mario, because they know learning how to type sucks.  Also, why is someone who speaks in broken English and says things like It's-a Me, Mario!" allowed to teach anyone about anything relating to English? Also, how does he type with those gloves on?

I own three of the games featured on the list, and while they certainly be terrible at times, I think it's a bit harsh to come down so forcefully on... heh, I can't even finish that sentence without bursting into a laughing fit.  But seriously, Mario Clash isn't so bad if you can get past the headaches.

Your Hands Will Scream: Six Bizarre Game Controllers

AlphaGrip AG-5 PC Gaming and Text Entry Controller For every groundbreaking video game controller that reaches the market, there are about a dozen really baffling controllers shoved into the world of retail in the pitiful hope that curious players and unaware parents will buy, say, a Power Glove before words spreads too far that said controller is a piece of junk.  Cracked has taken a snarky look back at six of the most confusing, pointless, or just plain bizarre controllers that have been drop-kicked to stores over the years.  Consider, for instance, the AlphaGrip AG-5 PC Gaming and Text Entry Controller.  Note to self: need more fingers.

The AlphaGrip's idea of making things easier is by simplifying the keyboard and mouse that PC gamers are so used to, and cramming it all into one controller. While the average PC game controller has 12 to 15 buttons, the AlphaGrip makes things easier by having only 42. So it's like simplifying Shakespeare by translating it into Klingon. The 42-key design was to allow all 10 fingers to be in use at the same time. Apparently the makers felt that your pinky finger was getting left out of all the fun. The makers also couldn't think of 42 functions for the buttons so 6 of the buttons are SHIFT keys.  There is a capital-shift, punctuation-shift and number-shift on both the left and right sides of the controller (don't worry, they didn't forget caps lock).

Other items on the list include the Sega Activator and the Atari Mindlink, a gizmo that allegedly allows players to control Atari 2600 games with the awesome power of the human brain eyebrows.  One could consider all of these strange input devices successful in that someone somewhere convinced corporations to develop and produce these things, but maybe I'm just feeling charitable today.

Woody Woodpecker Claims Continued Relevancy

Woody Woodpecker Racing After Nintendo released Super Mario Kart in 1993, publishers around the world took a spin through Mario Circuit 1 and said (in unison, I bet) "Me too!", giving rise to a new genre destined to be milked dry: the mascot kart racer.  Characters such as Crash Bandicoot, Jak, Mega Man, and even Banjo would go on to star in their own racing titles over the years, but not every race has a winner.  Topless Robot takes a look back at ten of the most baffling kart racers to come along over the years.  Did you know that Woody Woodpecker once toplined his own Konami-published racing game for the Sony PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, Game Boy Color, and PC? 

To be even remotely fun, racing games require proper controls to simulate performance steering on all kinds of terrain. This kart incarnation of the smart-ass Woodpecker's animated adventures just flat-out doesn't have it, leaving painfully jerky gameplay to instigate as much rage as Woody's maddening guffaw. Adding injury to insult, the characters are animated in the rich spirit of gross overcompensation. Each driver's head warbles dramatically from side to side through turns, resulting in vicarious player whiplash. The graphics are also second rate (even for a rushed 2001 PC game), resulting in a sad experience for everyone involved, much like a woodpecker hitting a nail.

All of your favorite has-been characters make an appearance on the list, plus a few franchises that really should have known better than to star in a quick cash-in kart racer.  Is there really a modern audience for a racing game starring the Smurfs?  Or the Muppets?  Or third-string Disney characters such as Ned Shredbetter?  If you want to know where aging franchises go to die, look no further than the cheaply produced, poor quality kart racer genre.

Lost EarthBound Characters Have Something To Say

EarthBoundWander through the world of Nintendo's EarthBound for the Super NES and you'll end up talking to hundreds of people.  Every city, village, and dark underworld is packed with folks all too eager to speak with hero Ness and his band of adventurers.  Some of these talkative characters fell victim to programming errors, however, and fail to appear during the course of the game.  Nothing vital to the quest was lost, but since it's well documented just how rabid EarthBound fans can be, you probably shouldn't be too surprised that those missing characters have been hacked back into the game where possible.  EarthBound Central explains.

[T]here’s a whole load of unused text in EarthBound. Some of it is just loose scraps that isn’t fully implemented into the game anymore, but there are some lines of text that work perfectly except for simple programming bugs that prevent the NPCs from appearing. Using the power of ROM hacking, we can see how they were meant to show up.  The bug in those instances were simple event flag settings being incorrectly set. It looks like Threed was probably one of the first few big areas that was developed in the game, so maybe that’s why these bugs snuck in.

There are additional bits of dialog summarized in the original article, so be sure to check it out to get the whole story.  Once again, game archeologists have sifted through the dust to find a neat fossil.  Consider this another artifact to display in the museum.

Something Rotten In The State Of Sonic & Knuckles

Sonic 3 and Knuckles Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was one of the most highly anticipated titles of its day back in the era of the Sega Genesis, and the release of sequel/second half Sonic & Knuckles half a year later only raised the blue blur to new heights.  Some people, however, were skeptical of what the whole lock-on technology aspect of the experience meant for the future of the franchise, and even as Sonic fans were ecstatic at being able to connect to the two cartridges to form one long adventure (or one long adventure and one slightly new adventure, if one takes the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 lock-on into consideration), a few folks (such as Andrew Bentley over at GameSpite) only saw the long way to fall.

The con becomes readily apparent once you think about it a little, obviously enough. The original Sonic 3 cart had an absolute plethora of save spots, something new to the series altogether, and a spiffy menu to go with it, and it was just as long as the previous two Sonic adventures with the addition of a multiplayer mode to boot. The Sonic & Knuckles cart, on the other hand, had that goofy “Lock-On” dealie on top of it and had no save menu at all, and you could only choose between the title characters on the main screen with no extra menus and no multiplayer mode. Of course, if you were a kid like me, you probably just popped the Sonic 3 cart into the lock-on slot and had at it with the mind-blowing realization that Sonic 3 & Knuckles let you pick up at the start of the new material from a clear save from the first game.

My only Genesis-owning friend of the time owned Sonic & Knuckles, but none of the other games in the franchise.  He never actually locked it on to Sonic 3 or Sonic 2 which, to me, seemed like such a waste.  The end result feels like only watching half a movie or just reading half a book.  I never did understand the method to his particular brand of madness.

Robot Pop Star Calls For Extermination Of Squishies

Courtney Gears Exploring the galaxy in Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time has left me thinking back at the previous games in the franchise, particularly the third Sony PlayStation 2 title, Up Your Arsenal, in which robotic Crack villain Dr. Nefarious first appears. His plan?  Transform the entire galaxy's organic population ("squishies", as he calls them) into robots as part of a plan for galactic domination.  Let's take a rockin' trip down memory lane and watch a portion of his scheme in which Nefarious hires sexy robot song sensation Courtney Gears to perform a catchy little pop number to inspire robots across the galaxy to rise up and exterminate all organic life.

Good luck getting that song out of your head.  It's intensely contagious despite calling for genocide.  Moreover, it's a dead-on parody of the pop music scene thanks to the over-reliance on dance choreography, autotune, and a driving beat.  The organ synth tones are what really sell it for me though, and I think that if the lyrics were removed and the instrumental portion were set against a Castlevania adventure, it would fit perfectly (especially starting at the 0:37 mark).  Dancing robots in Dracula's castle are optional.  Here's an extended take on the song that serves as the background music when Ratchet and Clank are forced to take Courtney out of the picture in a thrilling boss battle.


Dr. Mario and Nurse PeachUnfortunately, today is the day that I must hang a "be right back" sign on my virtual door, as I will be away from PTB for a week or two.  I've been dealing with ongoing digestive health issues for years, but back in 2007 things went especially wrong and I've been trying to bounce back completely ever since.  While the original hope was that my condition could be treated with medication, we've been seeing diminishing returns lately on that front and have come to the point where the only option left is surgery.

I'll be in the hospital for a short while in order to have a section of small intestine removed, so obviously I won't be around to share my thoughts on any breaking news that should occur during my absence.  I'm not going to leave you alone in the cold though.  I've prepared a series of articles that will auto-publish while I'm away, so continue to check in at PTB to see the latest.  I have a long road ahead, but the eventual destination should make it all worthwhile.  Besides, the recovery downtime will give me a chance to get around to that stack of games that I never can quite find the time to finish.  Look out, Mother 3, because I'm coming for you! 

- MattG

Mini-Review: Need For Speed: Shift

Need for Speed: ShiftIn the beginning (well, my beginning) there was Super Mario Kart, and it was fun.  My hunger for more speed led me up the ranks over the years intro increasingly serious titles such as Crusin' USA, F-Zero GX, and into this generation with Burnout Paradise.  Now I've moved up one more step into the realistic world of Electronic Arts's Need For Speed: Shift for the Sony PlayStation 3 (also for Microsoft Xbox 360 and PC) where the cars are digital recreations of real vehicles, the tracks are modeled after actual tracks found around the world, and my inadequate skills at realistic racing titles lead me to rethink returning to Super Mario Kart where at least I usually win.  I'm getting ahead of myself though.

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Need For Speed: Shift" »

You Too Can Drink Like The Blue Bomber

E-tank drink Ever since the good old days of his second adventure, Capcom's Mega Man has been able to recharge his energy with the aid of special blue E-tanks, and now you too can power yourself up just like the blue bomber.  Available in Japan for a while now, North America will soon get a taste of the E-tank sports energy drink, but the can has lost a little something in translation.  The Japanese can looks like a iconic Mega Man E-tank, big black "E" and all.  The North American version misses the point of the whole exercise and puts Mega Man himself on the can.  Why'd that happen?  Marketing, of course.  Protodude's Rockman Corner has a statement from North American E-tank distributor Boston America:

"I understand why that Japanese version had such a tremendous appeal to the hard core Mega Man fan but when we showed this to the buyers here in the US they didn’t know if the majority of their customers would understand the product. They felt that if we created a branded drink that this would have a broader appeal. That being said, our strategy with this drink is to create a demand for the brand with the attached design and then follow this up in 2010 with a design similar to the one you suggested below."

Japan seems to love their gaming characters in greater numbers than we do here in the America.  Video gaming is such a part of the culture overseas that companies can put a big blue E-tank on a store shelf and the majority of the customer base will get the reference right away.  Here in America where gaming is still looked down upon by far too many people, the E-tank imagery is meaningless to most people, so we end up with Mega Man on the can, and frankly even that seems like a risk to take when marketing to the unwashed domestic masses. 

Nintendo Mobilizes Fans In Fight Against R4 Retailers

R4 kitEverybody likes to get something for nothing, but leave it to the software pirates to cross the line into unacceptable territory.  Japan has become something of a haven for the R4, a little unauthorized Nintendo DS MicroSD-equipped game card that allows players to download DS titles via the Internet's dark underground to play on the handheld console without actually purchasing the game.  It has other uses, of course, but the real emphasis is on snagging free games through improper channels.  Nintendo is working overtime to crush brazen Japanese retailers that sell the R4 alongside official Nintendo products and, as Kotaku details, the company is calling on its fans to assist.

Nintendo launched a website devoted to collecting information about R4 sellers. "It's getting increasingly difficult to track down R4 sellers as day by day they get more ingenious, flourishing online and complicating matters," said Nintendo in a written statement. Because of this, Nintendo is calling on the strength of the masses to eradicate the sale of these devices.

The website Nintendo has set up has an anonymous form that can be filled out. Selectable choices include retail stores, internet shops, online auctions selling R4 devices. Another choice includes "game software uploads" - or those sites or individuals making DS games available online. There's also spaces for dates and time, a box for details and another box for the shop's address or home page.

Nintendo has such an ardent fan base that I'm not surprised that the company is relying on their customers to snitch on stores that help enable pirates.  I've even turned in a few of those fly-by-night businesses that operate out of shopping mall kiosks to sell those cheap controllers that plug directly into the television in order to play a few dozen pirated games.  Nintendo really inspires a special kind of brand loyalty among its fans.  It makes perfect sense to mobilize that loyalty in this instance.