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January 2011

Favored Superhero Games Of All Time

BatmanIt's taken a long time, but it seems that the video game industry has finally figured out how to do right by everyone's favorite superheroes.  Gone are the days that Superman had to fly through rings at Lex Luthor's behest.  Nobody asks Spider-Man to punch mice anymore.  Now when we fire up our favorite superhero games we get to send Kevin Conroy's Batman after Mark Hamill's Joker and let Wolverine prove why he's the best at what he does.  Erik Norris over at Crave Online has put together a list of the ten best superhero games of all time that skews heavily towards modern titles, but features a few throwbacks for good measure.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is easily the best Batman video game ever made, and a perfect use of a well-established license by Rocksteady Studios. Arkham Asylum had everything a Batman fan could ask for: phenomenal graphics, excellent voice work, an amazing combat system, proper use of Batman’s detective reasoning, and a boatload of cool gadgets.

But Batman: Arkham Asylum isn’t just a game made for the Bat-fanatics. Arkham Asylum is a great game period. It was runner-up only to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for our game of the year back in 2009. Batman’s history in the video game market is not one that shines, to say the least, but Rocksteady has proven they have a fantastic handle on the property and we should expect more great things from them in regards to Batman in the future. So here’s a toast to Batman: Arkham Asylum -- the best superhero video game ever made. Now bring on Arkham City!

While Arkham Asylum is the reigning Batman video game champ, I still have a soft spot for Konami's The Adventures of Batman and Robin and even the original Sunsoft Batman title for the Nintendo Entertainment System (even if it gets nothing about the character or his world correct).  Poor Superman, on the other hand, has yet to star in a video game that truly captures what he's all about.  I really think that the infamous Superman for the Nintendo 64 set the property back decades in the gaming world.  Eventually someone is going to figure out how to do a Superman title properly.  I just hope that I'm around to see it!


Power Button Wants Your Questions For Back To The Future: The Game's AJ LoCascio

Back To The FutureWe're currently scheduled to interview the man behind Back to the Future: The Game's Marty McFly — AJ LoCascio — for next week's episode of the Power Button podcast.  While Joey Davidson, Brad Hilderbrand, and I all have questions for him, we know that this Telltale Games adventure for the PC and Mac (and, soon, for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Apple iPad) has a lot of dedicated fans who would love the opportunity to ask him a question or two, so here's your chance to ask away.  or leave a comment below before 9:00pm ET on Wednesday, January 12 and if we like it, we'll ask it when he joins us to record the show.  Then next week be sure to check out Episode 36 of Power Button to hear the end result.


That Is So Absolutely Rose Street!

Absolutely Rose StreetSega made plenty of strange decisions during the 1990s, and of course it's hard to forget the 32X when thinking about those decisions, but something that is often shuffled away into the dustbin of history is one of the ways that Sega chose to advertise the ill-fated mushroom of a peripheral.  Print ads and traditional television commercials were not enough to push the 32X vision.  No, to really entice consumers into picking up a 32X and saving Christmas (for Sega), the company decided to produce a thirty-minute infomercial and buy time on MTV, Comedy Central, and other demographically-friendly cable channels.  This was no ordinary infomercial, however.  It had a plot!  In fact, it masqueraded as an episode of a Wayne's World-type show radically titled Absolutely Rose Street about a pair of teens who hosted their own video game show (and who, coincidentally enough, promoted Sega products like there was no tomorrow).  Billboard covered the infomercial in its October 29, 1994 issue.   Here's a piece of the article:

The name of the show is Absolutely Rose Street and it follows the ups and downs of a pair of teenagers who produce a video game review show for cabled called Game Beat.  An evil TV producer tries to cancel the show so his girlfriend can have the time slot.  The games featured on the show, of course, are Sega's, which will also use the half-hour to promote the company's new Genesis 32X hardware upgrade.

The show will run during time slots usually reserved for Tony Little or Susan Powter infomercials in 20 markets during November and December.  But, to denote the difference between this plug and an infomercial, there will be no 800 number to call to place an order.  Sega project manager Peter Loeb describes the campaign as "context advertising", or an attempt to "show how Sega product fits into the context or people's lives" with an expanded story line and characters. 

Sega plans to produce only one episode of Absolutely Rose Street which will repeat more than 50 times during each one-week ad flight.  If the response warrants, future episodes of [the infomercial] could blossom.

I think we can safely assume that there were no additional episodes of Absolutely Rose Street.  My, how the times have changed since the heyday of Max and Christina's Game Beat.  Now when a video game hardware developer wants to get their product on television, they just buy out (or synergize)  a chunk of primetime.  Anyway, how far down the memory hole has this Sega production fallen?  Far enough that there doesn't seem to be a trace of a video clip of it online.  The best that I could dig up is this musical track associted with the program from Sega's 1995 soundtrack sampler.  Burning up the charts, here's "Change of Plans":


Pac-Man's Nemesis Haunts Other Franchises

Ghosts

We're all familiar with the timeless spectral forms of Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Clyde, but what happens when other video game franchises slip into the world of Pac-Man?  Just ask Redditor Coleman811 who has created a unique take on forty-eight favorite fictional characters cast as the ghosts of Pac-Man.  You'll find your standards like The Legend of Zelda's Link, indie darling Super Meat Boy, and Sega's own Sonic the Hedgehog as well as characters from other forms of media such as Batman, Superman, Bender Rodriguez of Futurama fame, and Tobias Fünke from Arrested Development.  Even the Reddit alien joins the fun.  I ain't 'fraid of no ghosts when they're this delightful.


New Jurassic Park Game Takes Inspiration From Heavy Rain

Jurassic ParkEver heard a dinosaur bellow "Jaaaaaasooooon!"?  Alright, that was a low blow, but the joke writes itself once you hear that the upcoming Jurassic Park episodic game from Telltale Games will feature less action than one would expect in an adventure about running from hungry dinosaurs and will instead follow in the footsteps of Quantic Dream's Heavy RainThe Escapist has the news:

A new feature in Game Informer has revealed that Jurassic Park only landed at Telltale Games because Universal didn't want another first-person shooter in the franchise. Still, Telltale Games' proven adventure game process doesn't exactly seem like a perfect fit for the suspenseful Jurassic Park either. Telltale realizes this, and is going above and beyond to develop something new for Jurassic Park: Episode 1.

Telltale's Jurassic Park will still feel like a Telltale adventure game, but with a bit more spice. Telltale has studied the films and believes that Jurassic Park must feature both slower-paced character building with the tense and terrifying experience of a dinosaur jumping out of a bush. To do so, Telltale is taking inspiration from Heavy Rain.

Jurassic Park's gameplay is still being crafted, but executive director Kevin Boyle says players will experience moments where they must investigate or explore, which will be followed by tense portions that leave players scrambling and possibly performing Heavy Rain style inputs. Also similar to Heavy Rain, players will have some aspect of choice that will change Jurassic Park's story, though the system Telltale is implementing isn't nearly as open-ended.

As for the storyline, the article goes on to mention that the plot will tie up some of the loose ends from the film (including the fate of the lost embryos hidden away in a can of shaving cream).  As long as Jurassic Park's first episode doesn't open with a child being run down by a car in the middle of a busy street, I think I'll be alright with it.  But seriously, I really don't have much of a wish list for Telltale's Jurassic Park.  While I liked the first movie, the sequels never really did much for me and while I'm open to playing the game, it's not high on my list in the way that Telltale's other Universal co-production (you know, the one about time travel) is.  I'm just hoping for a well-made game with some fun and a surprise or two. 

(via Joystiq)


Nintendo 3DS Game Coins: Gotta Collect 'Em All!

CoinThe Nintendo 3DS sports plenty of new features, but one that we haven't heard much about involves some virtual currency called — in Japan, at least — Game Coins.  What are Game Coins, you ask?  My first blind guess involved Nintendo's stab at PlayStation Trophies or Xbox Achievements, but according to Tiny Cartridge, Game Coins are more of a take on Ubisoft's Uplay system.  Game Coins earned while using the 3DS can be used to unlock special features and other bonuses in supported 3DS games.  The coins are not necessarily earned by completing specific objectives in games, however.  So how do you earn them?  Shove your 3DS in your pocket and start walking.

Game Coins (as far as I can tell from translating) are a system-wide currency designed to unlock features/items in supported games. Players acquire Game Coins by walking around with the 3DS — the system tracks steps like a pedometer, and then translates some number of steps into a Game Coin. So it’s like the PokeWalker, but for everything.

There is a catch, though, and it’s “supported games.” Remember how many third-party Wii games actually had Mii support? So, expect this to be used with a few Nintendo games and maaaaaaybe a Sega game occasionally. Right now, no Game Coin use has been announced for anything.

Seeing as how this is built into the hardware, I hope that Game Coins have a well-supported and long life.  Otherwise we're stuck with a dead feature taking up valuable screen real estate and.  Think back to the original Nintendo DS's prime placement of Pictochat on the system menu, for instance.  When was the last time you used Pictochat?  The first day you owned a DS?  Maybe one other time to show it off to bemused friends?  Nevertheless, it hangs around on the menu like a weed that has taken root in the garden.  Imagine earning the maximum 999 Game Coins one is allowed to have at once and not being able to spend them on anything.  Thankfully, Game Coins sound like too neat a concept to go unused.


What Does The Mainstream Consider As 2010's Unsung Classics?

God of War III

UPDATE: Peter Skerritt at Consoleation offers an alternate point of view that takes the Journal to task from the non-mainstream, gamer perspective.  I've been discussing this article with colleagues all day and I want to clarify that I don't believe that this is a good Journal article, but an article that apparently does what the Journal wants it to do (e.g., portray gaming as an immature, shallow hobby while highlighting quality titles to a stodgy, uninterested audience with preconceived stereotypes of the gaming community), and in that regard it is a success.  The mainstream does not want to read a detailed description of Kratos's fate, for instance.  Saying that Kratos "kick[s] immortal ass" is much more friendly and, frankly, expected to that demographic.

Those of us who follow the video game industry and community on a daily basis have a sense of what the core crowd is devouring at the moment, but sometimes it's nice to take a step back and look to the mainstream media to see which games are being held up as worthy titles.  The Wall Street Journal's Off Duty section has come up with a list of what it considers to be the unsung heroes of 2010 that may not have received much hype (remember, mainstream hype) but are solid purchases none the less.  So what does the WSJ's Daniel Dumos see as under-recognized video games?  Oh, just the usual: Mass Effect 2, Gran Turismo 5, Super Street Fighter IV, God of War III, and GoldenEye 007.

GOD OF WAR III
Can't remember someone named Kratos from classics class? Don't worry about it—you've definitely heard of whom he fights in the third installment of the God of War series. Beings with names like Poseidon, Ares and Zeus are all on a bloody "to do list" and it's up to you to kick immortal ass.

Remember, folks, the keyword here is "mainstream".  This article is not specifically for us.  Core gamers followed these titles for months with increasingly fervent attention leading up to release, but all the mainstream media heard about last year was Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's PlayStation Move along with a handful of fitness titles for the Nintendo Wii.  Moreover, the mainstream audience doesn't want to read pages of analysis for each title.  A simple short paragraph will do.  Hats off to Dumos and the WSJ for showing the rest of the world what the gaming community already knew: there were some awesome games released last year.


Weekly Poll: Format Wars

Weekly Poll for 1-03-2011

There's an overwhelming love for Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy 2, and why shouldn't there be?  It's the best platformer of the year and one of the absolute best platformers of all time.  As for me, I voted for Just Cause 2.  While I believe that Galaxy is the better-made game, I've spent nearly seventy-five hours blasting across Panau in the past eight months versus less than a fourth of that amount of time exploring space with Mario.  In terms of overall bang for my buck, how could I not pick Just Cause?  Donkey Kong Country Returns and Red Dead Redemption are also solid titles worthy of your time, but with the new 2011 games about to begin flooding the market, who has time to backtrack to last year?  We have more quality games to choose from this generation than ever and we've come to the point where you're just going to plain miss something worthwhile because of time or cost limitations.  So don't feel too bad about scoring zero votes, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.  You were just steamrolled by a massive amount of superior games.

Speaking of a flood of new games, plenty of titles are debuting on a variety of digital download services.  The PlayStation Store, Xbox Live Marketplace, Wii Shop Channel, Steam, and other such places are doing a lot of business these days as gamers save themselves the trip to the store and skipping the traditional opening of a case and insertion of a disc.  How much of your gaming collection is made up of discs or cartridges?  How much of it is comprised of downloadable titles?  Of which format do you own the most?  Let's hear your thoughts on shopping habits and download preferences. 


Nintendo Game Music Live!

Meanwhile, over in Japan, Nintendo World 2011 has been in full swing over the last day or so with all kinds of new Nintendo 3DS information revealed.  Screenshots, video clips, Japanese launch titles, and all kinds of other important information have been revealed, but there's plenty of time to disect that stuff in the days ahead.  For right now we need to sit down for thirty minutes and watch this concert of beloved and iconic music from popular Nintendo video games performed live.  Several of your favorites are here: "DK Island Swing" from Donkey Kong Country, an Animal Crossing medley, the traditional selections from Super Mario Bros., and a suite from across the Legend of Zelda franchise.  It's all intermixed with some discussion that you'll probably get more out of if you can understand Japanese.  Thank goodness video game music is a universal language.


Go Ape For Donkey Kong Country Returns Concept Art

Donkey Kong Country Returns concept art

It certainly seems as if Donkey Kong is enjoying a resurrgence lately.  It's almost impossible to go very long without hearing something new about the character or one of his games.  Keeping the trend alive, GameSetWatch points out some striking pieces of concept artwork created by Retro Studios as part of production on Donkey Kong Country Returns for the Wii.  Some of the scenes and settings seen in the portfolio did make it into the game (note the Donkey Kong ziggurat holding a Wii remote, for instance).  My favorite piece has to be the barrel factory, Barrel&\orBarrel, that evokes imagery from the original Donkey Kong arcade game as well as the pieces and parts that make up the history of Nintendo hardware.  Look closely and you'll see controller ports, power buttons, control pad pieces, and plenty of other little elements that will make you smile.  Why are these samples not available for sale as full-size frameable prints?  They're all irresistibly charming.