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June 2010

Donkey Kong Returns In Style

Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong When Donkey Kong Country Returns arrives for the Nintendo Wii later this year, it looks like we can count on the developers doing right by the original Country trilogy.  The development team at Retro Studios played through each game in the series (plus Donkey Kong 64, it seems) as work commenced and they're aiming to keep the original spirit of Country intact in ReturnsKombo was able to get a few choice words with Retro's Bryan Walker about just what we can expect in the final adventure based on the previous titles in the series.

One of the things they noticed was how challenging the games were, and this was very much something they wanted to recapture for the new game. Kombo's own Mike Rougeau died about five times throughout the course of the five minute demo, and assures everyone it was nothing to do with any lack of gaming skill on his part. The game has simply returned to being an old-school unforgiving platformer which demands precision.  One example of this is a mine cart level that demands absolutely perfect timing with very little room for error. Jumping from one mine cart to another as the previous one falls into an abyss is the sort of thing gamers were doing twenty years ago. How will modern gamers respond to it?

The music in the game, according to Walker, is the work of Kenji Yamamoto, who previously worked on
Metroid Prime with the studio. The team are deliberately working with all the past Donkey Kong themes to keep the soundtrack very reminiscent of the rest of the series. The original Donkey Kong Country games, as well as Banjo-Kazooie, were cited as strong influences on the soundtrack.

Walker also talked a little about the controls. The demo uses a Nunchuk and Wii Remote combo. The Wii Remote's pointer facility is only used on the map screen, and Walker explained that the team understood most players preferred an analog stick for most functions. He also mentioned that in the final game, players will be have the option to remove the Nunchuk altogether and play with the Wii Remote on its side for true "classic" gameplay. There are a few "shaking" controls throughout the game, too, which cannot be removed. This presumably means that using the Classic Controller won't be an option.

Take it from one who knows firsthand: Returns is not easy.  While clearing the demo's jungle level was monkey's play, the pirate level (heavily based on elements from the second Country game, Diddy's Kong Quest) is darn difficult and I wasn't able to clear it.  Given a little practice I know I could complete it, but I found it to be strange that I was playing a Donkey Kong Country title in which I did not know what was going to come next.  It was an odd feeling, but I actually enjoyed it.  At last I'll have a whole new Country to explore.

Mainstream Media Calls Fan-Created Image "Worst Video Game Of All-Time" [sic]

Sonic the Hedgehog Oh, mainstream media.  I admire your continued attempts to understand the video game culture, but you're just not suited to running articles best left to places like Kombo and 1up.  Thanks to one of my readers from Florida who sent me a slideshow piece running on the local CBS affiliate's website entitled "Game Over: Worse Video Games Of All-Time" [sic] in which the usual low-hanging fruit is plucked: E.T. and Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 are at the top of the list, for instance, along with other titles those of us who follow video gaming closely are sick of hearing about such as Action 52 (with The Cheetahmen which, for some ill-informed reason, the article lists as a Nintendo-created product) and one of the Legend of Zelda games for the Philips CD-I.  Get down to the bottom of the list and you'll find the 2006 release of Sonic the Hedgehog which belongs on such a list, but not when it's represented by fan-created artwork.  Slide 45 of the article mistakes some of the fantastic desktop wallpaper of classic games created by Mikaël "Orioto" Aguirre as an actual screenshot of Sonic the Hedgehog.  The next time the mainstream media wonders why modern generations do not turn to it for news in favor of niche websites, this pathetic slideshow should be on the list of reasons.

E3 2010: Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Gets It Right

Sonic the Hedgehog 4We've all been a little concerned ever since Sega announced it was taking Sonic the Hedgehog back to the 2D plane where he best belongs for Sonic the Hedgehog 4 for all three consoles and the iPhone, but now that I've had the chance to play part of the game's first zone (Microsoft Xbox 360 version) and first boss encounter with Dr. Robotnik (Nintendo Wii version), I can assure you that the company is on the right track here.  Sonic moves, spins, jumps, and attacks just as you'd expect (personally I think his acceleration is a little slow, but everyone I've talked to about that thinks I'm nuts).  The added homing attack feels like it belongs.  The HD visuals are crisp and vibrant (but stay away from the muddy, fuzzy Wii version if you have the option).  Level structure allows for exploration and not just blind speed.  Even the fight against Robotnik which at first glace looks like a retread from the original Sega Genesis game has a few new tricks.  I only wish I'd had more time to play through everything that the demo had to offer.  Now we all have to wait until later this year to see what comes next.

E3 2010 PTB Photo Album Complete

MattG with Pac-Man When I go to E3 each year I bring my camera along for the ride, and 2010 was no exception.  I've finished uploaded and labeling this year's batch of pictures over at the PTB E3 2010 Photo Album, so be sure to check out my photos of the E3 show floor, Nintendo & Konami press conferences, booth displays from Nintendo, Sega, Bandai Namco, THQ, & more, and a few extra shots of after-hours events such as Capcom's Dead Rising 2 party and Video Games Live.  No photos of me with the Ecto-1 or wearing a proton pack this year, but I did encounter a certain famous pellet-chomper while rushing from appointment to appointment.

Weekly Poll: Winner TakE3 All

Poll060710The Nintendo 3DS captured most of your imaginations in the run up to E3 this year, and I had to agree.  We basically knew what to expect from Microsoft's Kinect (née Project Natal) and Sony's PlayStation Move, but the Nintendo 3DS had a big question mark box hovering over it.  Now that I've had the chance to get my hands on it and take the demos for a spin, I can safely say that Nintendo is going to make another billion with this technology.  We were right to be so interested.  It's clearly the more intriguing technology at this point.

And speaking of Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, it's time once again to crown an E3 winner.  Which major hardware producer won the show this year?  Let's hear your thoughts (even if I think I already know what they are).  I'm going to go ahead and give you my answer now: Nintendo wins this one.  After several years of openly pandering to the family/casual crowd at E3, this year the company announced a demoed a massive slate of games featuring old core friends that have long been missing.  With titles like Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby's Epic Yarn, GoldenEye 007, and even early things like Starfox 64 3D and Kid Icarus: Uprising, it looks like an excellent time to be an old-school Nintendo fan.

E3 2010: The Return Of Donkey Kong Country Returns Strikes Back

Yes, the reveal of Kid Icarus: Uprising was mindblowing and the art style for Kirby's Epic Yarn blew me away, but if you want to know the one moment at the Nintendo E3 Media Briefing that made my spine tingle, it was the moment that this music faded up and I realized what was about to appear on the big screen. The original Donkey Kong Country trilogy was one of the high points of the Super NES's golden age, and with the departure of Rareware from the Nintendo family of properties, it seems as though nobody quite knew what to do with the franchise (and, by extension, the character) in a way that lived up to his past triumphs. Leave it to Retro Studios (of Metroid Prime fame) to bring the big guy back and, at first play, get things absolutely right. I had the chance to take two of the game's demo levels for a test hop 'n bop at E3's West Hall.

Continue reading "E3 2010: The Return Of Donkey Kong Country Returns Strikes Back" »

E3 2010: Hands-On With Nintendo 3DS

Kid Icarus: Uprising Being part of the media has its perks.  I was able to skip the two-hour long line and vault right to the VIP entrance of Nintendo's 3DS preview area and enjoy plenty of time to experience as many tech demos, playable concept demos, and video previews as I liked.  Allow me to run down each of the samples I tried and offer a few comments for each.

Kid Icarus: Uprising: This trailer showed Pit in glorious 3D as he flew through the air while shooting at familiar enemies from the classic Nintendo Entertainment System adventure.  The Super Smash Bros. Brawl influence on Pit's character design is impossible to miss, while the music blaring in the background is an orchestrated rendition of the original game's theme.  Pit dodged lasers and swooped down into a village where the action shifted from apparent rail shooter to 3D action platformer.  The trailer ended with Pit threatening Medusa from afar.

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E3 2010: Sonic Colors Is Actually Fun

Sonic ColorsI stepped up to the playable demo of Sega's Sonic Colors for the Nintendo Wii expecting disappointment, and the fact that it was the one kiosk in Nintendo's booth that did not have a line of people waiting to play looked to be a sign of trouble brewing.  Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find that the upcoming adventure is actually a lot of fun.  It's basically Sonic Unleashed's speedy daytime stages of joy with both 3D and 2D segments mixed up with several gimmicks from both Super Mario Galaxy 2 games (such as the drilling element).  The zone I played was vibrant, featured multiple paths, and really felt like what I've always thought a modern 3D Sonic the Hedgehog game should be.  Assuming that there isn't some horrible catch not present in the demo, don't count Sonic Colors out just yet.  While Sonic the Hedgehog 4 has plenty of hopes and dreams pinned on it, it looks like these Colors are in for quite a run.

E3 2010: Mortal Kombat Preview At Kombo

Finish Him!Warner Bros. and NetherRealm are bringing back Mortal Kombat after Midway shuffled off this mortal coil with a new title for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.  While the game was not playable over in E3's South Hall, there was a demo on display for the media.  Two of the developers fought it out with favorite characters such as Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Kung Lao in order to show us that this game is just as brutal as it's meant to be.  My take on the action has been published over at Kombo.  The demo was behind closed doors and I wish you all could see it because it's made me interested in Mortal Kombat again after many years.  I was never very good at any Kombat games, but the changes and additions I saw today make me think I might stand a chance now.