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July 2010

Defend Saturn Valley With EarthBound Tower Defense

EarthBound Tower Defense

The Starmen are massing and only you can defeat them!  A new tower defense game created by XX Stone will be of interest to fans of Nintendo's neglected EarthBound franchise as it uses a familiar cast of critters such as Mr. Saturn, Foppies, and the Tendas in full defense mode as they defend various locations around Eagleland from hordes of Starmen, Super Starmen, Ghosts of Starmen, and other Giygas-related monsters. The basic design is pretty clever, as Mr. Saturn can shoot energy beams at the invaders, the Tendas toss spikes, the Foppies fire like a cannon, and so forth.  Every character/weapon is upgradable, and from time to time the Kraken swims by at the edge of the playfield, offering a bonus to those who are quick enough to click on him.  It's a free download for PC, offers three levels of difficulty, and will undoubtedly consume some of your free time.

(via EarthBound Central)

Virtual Boy Games That Never Were

Virtual Boy Mega Man

Had Nintendo's Virtual Boy lasted longer in the marketplace than a scant seven months, chances are we could have seen more familiar franchises gracing the red and the black besides Wario LandOver at PixelJoint, digital artists have come up with mock-ups of Virtual Boy games that never were in celebration of the 3D console's fifteenth anniversary.  Some of the creations are a little too optimistic considering the system's technical capabilities (no way would a Metroid Prime game look like anything we knew from the GameCube era), the proposed Mega Man and Secret of Monkey Island screenshots look dead-on to me.  There's also some hypothetical Mario Kart, Star Fox, and Castlevania mixed in with a bit of original material not based on existing franchises.  I really wish some of these games had been real (even if few of them try to use the system's layered 3D effects).  Alas, it was just not meant to be.

(via Tiny Cartridge)

StarCraft II Waiting Is The Hardest Part

FoxTrot Fans of Blizzard Entertainments's StarCraft have been waiting a long time for a sequel.  Eleven years, in fact.  Younger players have been waiting their entire lifetimes to get their small hands on StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty for the PC and Mac, but in Jason Fox of FoxTrot's case, he's been waiting even longer than that.  Check out this Sunday comic strip in which the youngest Fox pleads his case to his mother when she informs him that he has an appointment with the dentist on the game's release day.  Who says that gamer kids today aren't overachievers?

Weekly Poll: Clash Of The Titans

Weekly Poll for 7-19-2010I included as many Capcom properties as I could in last week's poll regarding which franchises should cross paths with the upcoming Mega Man UniverseBionic Commando takes the top honors (as it should!), and I know I'd certainly like to see Nathan Spencer snagging Prop-Tops with his bionic arm and ripping them out of the sky.  Okami clocks in at the second position which surprised me.  For a game that didn't sell well, it has its loyal fans (again, as it should!).  Then we hit on Darkstalkers, another seemingly forgotten franchise that has plenty of fond memories attached to it.  Perhaps Felicia and Okami's Amaterasu can pull off a cat and dog team-up of some sort.  I was really surprised to see both Strider and Resident Evil score so comparatively poorly though.  After all, lots of people still love Strider and want to see a modernized sequel, while Resident Evil is one of Capcom's major moneymakers these days with a large fan base and plenty of big-budget titles under its banner.   I'd also expect a Dead Rising preference since that's one of the company's rising star franchises and has already included a number of Mega Man references in its games.  Time will tell just what makes it into Mega Man Universe.  Heck, time will tell just what Mega Man Universe actually is supposed to be.  Aside from the teaser and some vague comments from Capcom's Keiji Inafune, we really don't know quite what to expect.

Speaking of major franchise crossovers, Capcom and Namco are teaming up to produce Street Fighter and Tekken mash-ups with Capcom producing Street Fighter X Tekken and Namco working on Tekken X Street Fighter.  Capcom's creation is based on Street Fighter IV and occupies a 2D plane, while the Namco title is a 3D fighter like its native Tekken.  Which of the two titles has your attention the most?  Or do neither of them matter to you?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Street Fighter And Tekken Cross Paths (Also, Street Fighter III Returns!)

Street Fighter X Tekken The rumors that Capcom and Namco are working on a pair of fighting games together became fact over the weekend as the two companies announced Street Fighter X Tekken and Tekken X Street Fighter for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360.  The former title is in the works by Capcom and will feature characters from both franchises in a game modeled after Street Fighter IV, while the latter is under development at Namco and will pit challengers from each property against one another in a Tekken-style arena.  Kombo has the details, and be sure to check out the trailer.  I guess I'll finally have to learn about all of these Tekken characters.

In other related news, in the spirit of Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, Capcom is also planning to bring Street Fighter III: Third Strike back into the spotlight with a downloadable re-release and added online multiplayer.  It's just entered development, so it's not due anytime soon, but Capcom is interested in hearing what fans want, so be sure to be vocal in your demands as long as they're reasonable demands.  I guess I'll have to finally learn about all of these Third Strike characters.

Cheating In The Name Of Efficiency

Action Replay DS The Action Replay cheat device brand for game consoles goes all the way back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System era, but crafty players have found that the peripheral can be used for more than just granting unlimited lives or extra ammunition.  Dragon Quest IX fans have found little ways to tweak the Nintendo DS experience in order to make the game more efficient.  Nadia Oxford over at's DS site has the summary.

Dragon Quest IX is a remarkable game, but no game is perfect. I am, for instance, a little miffed that the game's text speed is not nearly as adjustable as it's been in past installments of Dragon Quest. But there's an Action Replay code that actually allows character text to pop up instantly in its box. No scrolling.  There's also a code that eliminates slowdown in town environments by "putting away" your train of party members. Only the main character is shown running around, which makes travel a bit faster.  There's even a code that allows for full 360 degree rotation in towns with the L and R button, but apparently the environments don't show up very well. Still, the idea is intriguing.

How about that?  Action Replays and their kin have a legitimate and beneficial use after all.  And here I've been using them to cheat my way around and generally break older games to see what secrets might be hidden away inside them.

Exploding Barrels: The Next Generation

Audio logsInclusion of exploding barrels in video games has been a bit of a community running gag for a while now, but the current generation of games provides a whole new set of clichéd elements.  Mike Minotti of Bitmob has come up with a list of five overly-recurring design choices such as a glut of zombies, auto-regenerating health, artsy sidescrollers, and — my favorite — audio logs.  It seems that when civilization is coming to an end, everyone has time to record their plot-advancing thoughts on tape before everything goes dark.

What would you do if the world was about to end, if someone was trying to kill you, or if you were performing some top-secret scientific experiments? If you're a video-game character, you'd probably record an audio log. These diaries either advance the plot or reveal the code to a locked door you passed up 5 minutes ago.

Audio logs can be an interesting mechanic in gaming. In BioShock, you would often enter a room filled with corpses and mysteries that would only unravel after playing the diary found in the room. But the audio log presents a number of logistical problems. Why are these people recording such intimate details about their lives, just to leave the tapes lying around?  Often the speaker perishes in the middle of the log. Does their murderer politely push the "stop recording" button for them?

I'll agree that zombies are wearing out their welcome.  I don't particularly like zombies in the first place because they lack characterization and personality, but they are turning up everywhere this generation in places where they don't really belong.  As for the audio logs, when they're done right, they're genuinely entertaining.  Batman: Arkham Asylum turned collecting audio logs into an intriguing, ongoing mystery, for instance.  Other times, I just wish the game would shut up and let me get back to blasting zombies.

Xbox 360/PC Cross-platform Multiplayer Project Ends In Surprising Failure

Xbox 360 controller Being able to play online multiplayer modes with players who own competing consoles has long been one of those seemingly unattainable goals in the world of video games, but Microsoft made a serious run at the idea once upon a time when it tried to allow for Xbox 360 players and PC players to compete when playing the same game on Xbox Live or Windows Live.  It ended in failure, but not for the reason you'd expect.  The technical side of things worked great.  No, the problem was that the PC players never lost a match.  Rahul Sood has the story.

There was a project that got killed at Microsoft. This project was designed to allow console gamers and PC gamers to interact and battle over a connected environment. Personally I wish it would have stayed the course. I've heard from reliable sources that during the development they brought together the best console gamers to play mediocre PC gamers at the same game... and guess what happened? They pitted console gamers with their "console" controller, against PC gamers with their keyboard and mouse.

The console players got destroyed every time. So much so that it would be embarrassing to the XBOX team in general had Microsoft launched this initiative. Is this why the project was killed Who knows, but I'd love to hear from anyone involved --- what happened?

Those of us who have been in the gaming business for over a decade know the real deal. You simply don't get the same level of detail or control as you do with a PC over a console. It's a real shame that Microsoft killed this -- because had they kept it alive it might have actually increased the desire of game developers and gamers alike to continue developing and playing rich experiences on the PC which would trickle down to the console as it has in the past.

I bet that's an outcome that the development team hadn't considered.  I'm a console controller gamer to the end.  I hate having to use a keyboard and mouse to play console-type video games.  There are just too many button options and overly precise control issues, although typing that out loud now sounds silly.  I was playing Just Cause 2 on PC a few nights ago via the OnLive service and had a terrible time acclimating to the controls.  I need control sticks and just a few buttons to press.  Having to deal with the WASD keys to move, the mouse to aim, the F button for the grappling hook, the R button to reload the gun, number keys to choose weapons, mouse buttons to fire and throw grenades... gah!  It's all just too much and it's spread out all over the desk.  No, give me a controller each and every time. 

(via Gizmodo)

Netflix On PS3 Due For Update Soon, Will Ditch Disc

NetflixStreaming movie service Netflix offers a very useful solution for watching its content on a Sony PlayStation 3, but it's not very elegant.  Users must insert a special Netflix disc into the PS3 each and every time they want to watch a movie.  People have been begging and pleading for a disc-less Netflix solution since the service came supported on the PS3, but now it looks like it may actually happen.  Word from the company is that those Netflix discs will be obsolete by the end of October.  IGN has the news.

CEO Reed Hastings recently stated in the company's latest earnings call that an improved version of Netflix for PS3 is coming in the next couple months.  "Before our next call in October, we expect to be launching a major new version of our Sony PS3 user interface which doesn't require a disc and is dynamically updated continuously with the latest Netflix UI improvements," he said.

I've never really minded using the special disc, but I'll be glad to see it go.  What really has my attention from this news is that we can expect periodic updates to the Netflix software.  I'd love to be able to access my content queue through alphabetic sorting instead of the default preference sort requirement.  I have eighty-some items in my queue and having to scroll down to the bottom of the list is a hassle.  I don't know what else the company has in mind for updates, but I'm eager to find out.

Lost In Localization

The Real Ghostbusters Despite a history of poor critical results, video games based on licensed properties continue to be big business.  These days most titles based on, say, Iron Man or Wolverine are custom-made for the property in question, but back in the 1980s and 1990s the standard procedure was to drop a famous licensed character into any ol' game sitting around in the workshop and call it a day.  When these games were localized for other territories, the star character was often expendable.  1UP has a fascinating feature article written by Ryan Winterhalter detailing several video games that switched or dropped licenses when moving abroad.  My favorite entry on the list in terms of sheer bizarreness is the Crazy Castle franchise which has gone by many names and faces around the world.

In 1988 Disney released "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" under their Touchstone Pictures label. LJN Toys bought the video game rights to the film and produced an NES game based on it. At the same time, Disney sold the rights in Japan to Kemco, who produced the plainly titled "Roger Rabbit" in 1989. Kemco was unable to release its version of the game in America thanks to Disney's deal with LJN. However, the rights to make games based on Warner Brother's characters were available, and they could at least make a Bugs Bunny game. The Famicom Roger Rabbit became The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle on NES in America. This licence changing would become endemic to the series.

By late 1989, the Roger Rabbit licence was old news in Japan. Kemco used their pre-existing relationship with Disney to get the rights to Mickey Mouse, a character that has proven to be eternally popular in the country. Using that licence, Kemco produced a Game Boy sequel to Roger Rabbit/Bugs Bunny simply called "Mickey Mouse." Once again, Kemco found that Disney had already sold the rights to their game's IP in America, and in 1990 Mickey Mouse became the Game Boy version of The Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle outside Japan.

That's not the end of it though.  By the time the series came to an end, characters such as Garfield, Hugo, and Peter Venkman of The Real Ghostbusters would grace the front of a Crazy Castle box.  Same game, but different protagonist.  That is crazy.  Actually, what's really crazy is expecting Crazy Castle fans to keep track of all of the changes across territories.  I enjoyed the first Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle title as much as one can enjoy a Crazy Castle adventure, but would never have guessed that it was related to any of the other iterations.