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February 2010

Mega Man 10 Borders Spoil Everything

Tango Capcom's Mega Man 10 launches next week for Nintendo's WiiWare service and over the rest of March via Sony PlayStation Network and Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade, but eager fans are already tearing apart available screenshots.  While the game displays in a trusty ol' 4:3 standard aspect ratio, special borders will display on either side of the action on widescreen televisions to fill the extra space.  These borders are packed with just about all of the game's characters, so The Mega Man Network has torn apart each and every image to theorize just which enemy grunts the blue bomber will blast apart during the course of his adventure.  The most interesting find in the border images is the apparent return of Dr. Light's robotic attack cat, Tango, who was first seen in 1994's Mega Man V for the Super Game Boy.

It’s kind of hard to fix the color, since there’s clearly a blue tint on them. But it’s easy enough to make out that Tango is there. Having made a sole appearance in Mega Man V for Game Boy (and Rockman & Forte on Wonderswan, if you’re in Japan), could this cat finally be coming back? If so we can finally see what those Game Boy sprites would look like in color, officially.

I never thought we'd see Tango again.  Most of that doubt has to do with the fact that he was such a useless character/item.  When summoned, the cat would roll around the screen and cause damage to enemies that happened to be in his way.  It sounds useful in theory, but I always found that I could blast enemies much more quickly and efficiently than Tango could crash into them.  If he's back in Mega Man 10 in something beyond a quick cameo appearance, I hope he's been tuned up to be a better weapon.

Nintendo Cereal System Proves To Be Stale Investment

Nintendo Cereal System During the first reign of King Nintendo, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda were two of the hottest licensed properties around.  Appearing in cartoons, on t-shirts, and as food, Mario and Link were everywhere.  Ralston bought the cereal rights to the characters back in 1988, leading to the launch and inevitable decline of the Nintendo Cereal System.  Nintendo: it's for breakfast now!  Nintendo: an old box of the cereal recently sold on eBay for $207.50.  How?

Ever wanted to know what vintage cereal tastes like? In this case, it probably tastes about the same as it did when it was fresh. A seller on eBay recently sold a 22-year-old box of Nintendo Cereal for $207.50. A total of 22 bids were cast on the stale box of cereal, which features both Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.

The cereal box is divided into two different packages, The
Super Mario Bros. Action Series and the Zelda Adventure Series. The Mario portion contains fruity-flavoured Marios, Super Mushrooms, Goombas, Koopa Troopas and Bowsers, while the Zelda portion contains berry-flavored Links, hearts, boomerangs, keys and shields.

During my childhood years I insisted on eating this cereal, although my brand loyalty only went so far and I stopped asking my parents to buy it after I'd downed a few bowls of the stuff.  It wasn't particularly tasty, and I can't imagine that it's improved after twenty-two years of storage.  Whether or not the stuff is worth keeping in a closet for a 5200% return on the original investment is left as a thought exercise for you.  Do you know how cereal from two decades ago tastes?  Like despair.

Roll & Rocker Novelty Controller Is Ready For Radical Action

Roll & Rocker The late 1980s gave rise to plenty of really stupid alternative video game controllers.  For example, consider the madness that is LJN's Roll & Rocker.  It's a large wobbly platform of a controller that claims to be able to turn a player's body movements into appropriate onscreen actions.  Check out the marketing blurb on the back of the box (warning: cheesy '80s radical style and tone ahead):

The ENTERACTIVE [sic] ROLL & ROCKER is the radical action controller for all of your Nintendo Games.  It is the ultimate way to "feel the Power of Nintendo."  By simply plugging into your NES deck and getting on, you're ready for some fast and wild action.

This "Full Body" controller electronically transforms your normal reflex movements into high speed, on-screen video action.  Not only does the Roll & Rocker introduce a level of excitement never before experienced by "seat-of-your-pants" power players, but it also brings new life to all of your favorite old titles.  It changes the play value of any game so radically that some of those tired, unused cartridges collecting dust in your room just might re-emerge as new favorites.

The Roll & Rocker... State-of-the-Art Nintendo like you've never experienced before.

Or wanted to experience since, I'd imagine.  I can't believe that LJN actually expected people to get up and move around in order to control a video game.  Can you possibly imagine shifting your balance on some board to influence the action?  Thank goodness technology has outgrown such pointless endeavors.  What would've been next?  Moving your arms?

(Image and box blurb via eBay)

Kombo Breaker Crew Transitions To New Podcast: Introducing Power Button

Power ButtonAfter one year and a little more than fifty episodes, the current Kombo Breaker podcast crew — that's myself, Joey Davidson, and Brad Hilderbrand — have decided to shake things up.  Our show format in which we interview video game developers, publishers, public relations specialists, and journalists isn't changing, but we're leaving our friends and colleagues in the Kombo nest to do what we do best on an independent level.  Say hello to Power Button.  It's the same show format with the same creative team and talent, but with a new name and a new home right here at Press The Buttons.  Power Button is a work in progress, so we want to hear from you!  Post comments, find us at the @PressTheButtons Twitter feed, or just plain .

This week on Power Button, Joey, Brad, and I discuss why we chose to move the show to PTB, then we engage in a spirited conversation about what we would create if given the chance to create our dream game consoles.  We keep things mostly realistic (no demands for cartridge slots for every past console) with discussions on how much 3D is too much 3D, paying for an online service like Microsoft's Xbox Live versus a free service like Sony's PlayStation Network, and other such things.  It's an hour of independently produced magic.  Download this week's episode of Power Button right here from Press The Buttons or just listen to it below. 

Power Button - Episode 1: "The Dream Console Is Alive"

Weekly Poll: You Can't Spell "Damaged Relations" Without D-R-M

Weekly Poll for 2-15-2010I had assumed most people have skipped around a series, but it's always nice to find out for sure.  As gaming continues to develop as a storytelling medium we're starting to see some franchises that really want players to experience them in order.  Consider Mass Effect, for instance; the sequel takes one's save file from the original game and uses it to continue the individualized story.  Other titles like Ratchet and Clank reward players by reading older save files to provide optional bonuses in sequels.  I like when games offer little rewards like that, but for something like Mass Effect I wouldn't feel as if I weren't getting the most out of the sequel without playing the original game.  Coming in late to a franchise like that is a daunting experience. 

Moving on, last week I commented on Ubisoft's new digital rights management scheme for PC titles such as Assassin's Creed II.  As you'll recall, this is the system in which one must have an active Internet connection at all times while the game is running.  Lose the connection for any reason and the game comes to a halt.  Do you feel that this DRM scheme goes too far?  Does it not go too far enough?  Or is it fair?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Sonic the Hedgehog's Lost Adventures

Sonic the Hedgehog Sega's startling reveal of Sonic the Hedgehog 4 has also put the spotlight on the speedy character mascot's past adventures, and as part of ongoing reminiscence over at the network of blogs, the Retronauts crew has put together a look back at the Sonic the Hedgehog games you didn't get to play.  Sonic's lost adventures are lined up one after the next with brief looks at titles including Sonic Jr., the tech demo that would become Knuckles Chaotix, the infamous Sonic X-Treme, Sister Sonic, and a few unnamed Genesis-era concepts.

Sonic the Hedgehog (PC version)

Back when the original Sonic the Hedgehog was under development, Sega licensed software house U.S. Gold to port the game to home computers. We're not sure why the project never materialized, nor do we know how far the project went. The screenshots above allegedly come from the Amiga version, though ZX Specrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and Atari ST versions were also announced.

Early concepts and tech demos always look a little rough, but I'm not so sure we missed out on anything here.  Considering some of the subpar Sonic games that did complete development and make it to the market — Sonic Labyrinth, Sonic Blast, and Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, to name a few — you have to wonder how little faith Sega management had in a Commodore 64 version of their flagship title.

Fly Free With Pilotwings

PilotwingsAs one of the Super NES launch titles back in 1991, Pilotwings made a name for itself as one of the early must-own titles of the 16-bit era alongside games like Super Mario World, SimCity, and F-Zero.  The flight simulator makes boastful use of the console's Mode 7 capabilities, almost as if daring the competition to try and do better.  Nadia Oxford of Retronauts takes a loving look back at the title that challenged players to master landing a light plane, hitting the target safely while skydiving, zooming around with a rocketbelt, and floating freely with a hang glider.

Twenty years after its initial release, Pilotwings' flight physics still feel surprisingly accurate. Not that I've ever been behind the wheel of a plane (planes use wheels, right?), but I would guess that a light plane wouldn't feel as “light” as described. You really do feel like you're in control of a machine that's fighting gravity's deadly pull at every second. With the rocket belt, you must fight inertia and wind resistance. And straying into a thermal at an inopportune time can throw you off the hang gliding course, leaving you to deal with an irate instructor.

Rarely is a game improved by the inclusion of excessive swearing, but I believe Nintendo should have allowed
Pilotwings' instructors to call the player a dumbass whenever necessary. Let's face it: no matter how many times you play the game, you're still going to occasionally hold off on opening your parachute until the last second—if you choose to open it at all. Or you might be compelled to test your belief in magic by attempting to land on your wing. You can't die; your instructors will berate you after you screw up, and it's not likely they'd waste their time yelling at a corpse. You're even allowed to try for a passing score again, presumably after spending some time in the trauma ward.

I was never all that great at Pilotwings with one exception: the first rocketbelt challenge.  After lots and lots of practice back in the day I learned the proper routine to score a perfect 100 points each and every time on demand.  I haven't tried it in years and doubt I can still do it without major refresher courses, but for a while there I was the king of the rocketbelt.  Please don't ask about my hang glider skills.

Ubisoft's New PC DRM Goes Too Far

EzioUPDATE: Ubisoft responds.

The endless arms race between software publishers and software pirates continues to wage as Ubisoft unrolls its latest attempt to keep nonpaying players from enjoying their products.  PC Gamer has experienced the new digital rights management impacts in place within the PC versions of Assassin's Creed II and Settlers VII and the results are mind-bogglingly offensive.  If the Internet connection (either your connection or Ubisot's connection) should drop at any time during gameplay, then the game comes to a screeching halt and your immediate progress since the previous checkpoint is lost. 

If you get disconnected while playing, you're booted out of the game. All your progress since the last checkpoint or savegame is lost, and your only options are to quit to Windows or wait until you're reconnected.  The game first starts the Ubisoft Game Launcher, which checks for updates. If you try to launch the game when you're not online, you hit an error message right away. So I tried a different test: start the game while online, play a little, then unplug my net cable. This is the same as what happens if your net connection drops momentarily, your router is rebooted, or the game loses its connection to Ubisoft's 'Master servers'. The game stopped, and I was dumped back to a menu screen - all my progress since it last autosaved was lost.

Even if everyone in the world had perfect internet connections that never dropped out, this would still mean that any time Ubisoft's 'Master servers' are down for any reason, everyone playing a current Ubisoft game is kicked out of it and loses their progress. Even massively multiplayer games aren't so draconian about the internet: you can't play when the server's down, but at least you don't lose anything for getting disconnected.

Sometimes I think companies like Ubisoft want to get out of the PC business altogether and these sorts of DRM schemes are a convenient way to drive away business in order to justify abandoning the platform.  Publishers have every right to protect their products from unauthorized use, but as soon as legitimate users are impacted, then the DRM plan has gone too far.  If Ubisoft is so worried about their products being pirated that they would implement such heavy-handed protection measures, maybe the company should get out of the PC market.  After all, what does not exist in the first place cannot be pirated.

(via Kotaku)

Local Media Tries To Explain PlayStation Home

PlayStation Home The results are never pretty when a local mainstream media outlet attempts to explain the plot or core concept behind a popular video game.  How often have we seen complex games such as Grand Theft Auto boiled down to containing manic gunplay for the sake of manic gunplay alone?  Now that a mother of three in Deltona, FL has seduced a fourteen-year-old boy through Sony's PlayStation Home and fled to Oklahoma to be with him, has to explain exactly what PlayStation Home contains when covering the story.  Did they provide fair coverage or has the whole thing been turned into another scare story?  Here are the relevant bits:

Police said the Deltona woman used online interactive video games to meet the 14-year-old and then went to his house in Oklahoma. Her whereabouts were unknown Wednesday night. Police suspect she might be between Deltona and Oklahoma City.  The woman, identified as Annamay Alexander, told the teen she wanted to be his wife, police said. Police said that she told him she wanted to leave her family, her house and life and start over with him.

Alexander met the 14-year-old boy through an interactive virtual reality video game called PlayStation Home. Players who plug into the Internet can become any character they want and meet anyone they want anywhere in the world.  Oklahoma City police said that Alexander played the game for nine months, chatting with the boy in Oklahoma and sending him messages.

Police said parents should be aware that connecting to PlayStation Home through the Internet is free and players can send messages and photos.  The arrest affidavit said Alexander used the PlayStation console to send the boy a picture of her in her underwear.  Investigators advised parents to watch the habits of their children and pay close attention to what games they play and who they talk to. Parents who own an Xbox or PlayStation should understand that children could be meeting and playing games with strangers from around the world.

That's actually not as bad as I'd expected, although that's probably because Home lacks any sort of complex narrative or battle structure.  It's easier to explain to the mainstream audience that Home is a big chat room rather than a digital world of mini-games and microtransactions, and I'm glad to see that Home itself was not vilified as a result of Alexander's actions.  Had the two met in, say, Halo 3: ODST I expect we'd hear a very different spin on events.

Craig Ferguson Enjoys Wii Sports

Check Ze Tweets The host of CBS's The Late Late Show, Craig Ferguson, spends part of the show each night answering viewer e-mails and inviting everyone who reads his Twitter account to join the Robot Skeleton Army and live inside a hollow-out volcano.  The February 16 viewer mail segment featured an e-mail that asked if Ferguson enjoys playing video games.  Bob Saget happened to be on hand when the question was posed, so the two of them traded answers, and since Saget was around to offer his two cents, you can rest assured that his response was slightly off-color.  The two talk about the boxing part of Wii Sports, the Nintendo 64, and visit the oldest joke in the Wii book for a minute or so in this clip: