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December 2011

Extra Levels Cut From Rereleased Sonic CD

Desert DazzleSega's recently released remake of Sonic CD is turning some heads due to how well-done it is, but like any captivating game, it's hiding a few secrets.  Specifically, two additional levels were planned to be included in the new version of the game, but were cut towards the end of development.  All that remains is a secret unlockable screenshot of one of the lost zones.  Here's developer Christian Whitehead discussing what happened to the now-lost Desert Dazzle and Final Fever areas:

Basically, earlier on in the remake's development there were 2 new levels: Desert Dazzle & Final Fever (another boss).  Neither level was fully complete, and we had to make the call whether or not to go ahead and finalize them. Sonic Team felt the game should not deviate too far from it's original form, and in retrospect it was for the best since we had a lot of other work to do anyway.

It's understandable why Sonic Team wanted the game to remain true to its roots, but personally I think that there is no harm in introducing a few new elements.  After all, the remake already includes Tails as a playable character and a revised spin dash maneuver that matches up with Sonic's trademark attack from Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  What's one or two more changes?  If Sonic Team is so concerned about maintaining the integrity of the original game, why not make the extra levels optional via the options screen?  Y'know, the more I think about it, the more I realize that while these new zones were cut from this initial release, the great thing about downloadable games is that it's always possible to update them with new content...

Let's Save Some Systems

Sega DreamcastFor every monumental video game hardware success such as the Nintendo Entertainment System or the Atari 2600, there are missteps like the Nintendo Virtual Boy and the Atari Lynx.  Every video game producer makes a mistake sooner or later, but what matters is the ability to bounce back from miscalculations and return to glory.  Where some companies stumble and find a way back to success, many do not. has a pair of interesting articles that look back at failed hardware, examine why they failed, and suggests ways that flailing consoles could have come back from the brink.  All of your favorite dead consoles are included including the Virtual Boy, TurboGrafx-16, Sega Saturn, Atari Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket Color, and the lamented Sega Dreamcast.

In the tumultuous system wars of the 1990s, Sega often proved its own worst enemy. Tom Kalinske, the Sega of America CEO credited with the company's smash-hit Genesis campaign, would later recall that Sega's Japanese offices disliked the American branch for their success. Sega of Japan CEO Hayao Nakayama had let Kalinske run Sega's show in North America, and the Genesis was a bigger hit there than it ever would be in Japan.

Whether it was jealousy or not, the two sides of Sega didn't get along nearly as well as they should have. They were effectively competing against each other by 1994, when the Sega Saturn and the 32X warred for the attention of Sega supporters. It later led to Kalinske's departure, with former Sony executive vice president Bernie Stolar taking his position.

Stolar was forced out of the company on the eve of the Dreamcast's launch, along with several other high-level Sega of America employees. Nakayama didn't survive the year either. He was succeeded by Isao Okawa of CSK Holdings Corporation, which had acquired Sega in 1984, and Okawa's vision for the company didn't include the Dreamcast.  "I don't believe he was committed to the hardware," Stolar told Bitmob. "He just believed it should be a software company."

While it's fun to wonder what would have happened if dying hardware had survived in the market, sometimes good things have to come to an end in order for better things to happen.  Sega's exit from the hardware business enabled the company to bring its popular characters to gamers who had a minor interest in Sega, but would rather own a Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft product.  The Neo Geo Pocket Color's withdraw from stores led to the rise of SNK Playmore which today cranks out new home console titles featuring popular SNK properties.  Nintendo gained valuable data and experience in the world of 3D gaming thanks to the Virtual Boy, and the company's in-house experiments in the years following would eventually lead to the Nintendo 3DS.  And, finally, without the Atari Lynx, I wouldn't have had a fourth thing to mention to close out this paragraph. 

Everything You'd Ever Want To Know About The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Video Games

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe many incarnations of Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael are well known to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans of all ages partially thanks to the team's many video game titles.  Starting with a Nintendo Entertainment System game released by Konami alter-ego Ultra Games and spanning all the way to a Wii title developed by Ubisoft, the turtles have enjoyed a long and varyingly successful video gaming career.  Hardcore Gaming 101 has a massive article that explores each game in the franchise from the popular arcade games to the obscure Game Boy sequels to the modern revitalization of the property for today's consoles.  It's fascinating stuff even if you're not a fan.

In October of 1989 across all arcades in North America and Europe, the game that would solidify Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles's place in gaming and set the standard for the beat-em-up genre going forward was released. The apt titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles allowed players to take control of the four mutant teenagers at the same time, leading to awesome mayhem and lifelong memories. It was released several months later in Japan, and was the first TMNT affiliated product to actually bear its original name there.

The big selling point of this game is precisely what it should be, the ability to play as all four brothers at the same time. With three friends, there was guaranteed melee to be found in the game with non stop action and interactive environments. Numerous elements were put into the game to make usefulness of the cooperative nature of the game, uniting the players together in their cause. Enemies now consist exclusively of foot soldiers and other Dimension X beings recognizable from the cartoon series, and they are a clever bunch themselves. The Foot soldiers act together, often sneaking up behind the turtle to hold him down while another Foot scores some free strikes to the beak. This calls for the other players to come to the rescue, helping out their "brother" in need and have their backs at all times. Players are free to join in at any time into the game by inserting coins to the machine.

I didn't really follow the turtles when I was a kid, but I wound up playing some of the games in the series thanks to friends excited about picking up a copy of the home version of the aforementioned arcade game or the home version of the arcade sequel, Turtles In Time.  I honestly had no idea that so many Turtles games had been produced.  We talk a lot about annual sequels come hell or high water, but Konami and the other companies that licensed the property over the years must have been the first to raise that practice to a true art form.  After reading this article, I understand how the market suffers from turtle fatigue every few years.

Nintendo Releasing A Legend Of Zelda Art Book

Hyrule HistoriaI've said on several occasions that Nintendo needs to follow in Capcom's footsteps and release art books featuring illustrations, promotional pieces, and concept works for their famous franchises just as we've seen for books like Mega Man: Official Complete Works.  Now Kotaku reports that the company is working on such a project as part of The Legend of Zelda's twenty-fifth anniversary.  Hyrule Historia is coming, although only to Japan.

Called Hyrule Historia, it's 274 pages of concept and promotional art from throughout the series, while also including historical info on the characters and the games they've starred in.  So far only Japanese language and release details are known, the book is due out on Dec. 21 and priced at ¥3255 (USD$41).

I know that there is no shortage of fan demands being tossed at Nintendo these days, but the company really needs to get this book translated and released outside of Japan.  It would sell very well amongst the Nintendo faithful, I'm sure.  Get it into traditional retail markets, sell it as an online exclusive, even make it a Club Nintendo reward... whatever it takes!  Add it to your lengthy to-do list, Nintendo.  Link's fans are waiting anxiously with cash in hand.

Just Dance 3 Features Dancin' Mario

Dancing MarioI loved the 2005 Nintendo / Konami co-production of Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix in which everyone's favorite Mushroom Kingdom denizens came together to dance, dance, dance to awesomely amazing remixed Super Mario tunes.  I've been hoping for years that the two companies would get the band back together and create a sequel (first for GameCube, then for Wii), but it seems that Mario has boogied his way over to another dancing franchise.  DDR is so yesterday's news, it seems.  Just Dance is where it's at now.  Ubisoft has borrowed the iconic plumber to guest star in the new Just Dance 3.  While Konami's version of dancin' Mario gave us colorful, whimsical settings and a rocking soundtrack, Ubisoft gives us... this:

When I wanted to see Mario dance again, this is not at all what I had in mind.  As Hank Hill once said, this is like when you get a wish from a genie but you ask for it in slightly the wrong way and wind up with a solid gold head or something.  The Mario add-on for the Wii version of Just Dance 3 is downloadable content and costs 250 Wii Points.

Capcom Digital Collection Brings XBLA Games To Retail

Capcom Digital CollectionCapcom has been cranking out some great video games that are only available via digital distribution, but if you've been reluctant or unable to buy their products via Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade, now there's an alternative that brings eight of the company's top XBLA games to the exciting world of retail.  Capcom has announced the Xbox 360 compilation disc Capcom Digital Collection that makes the following games available at a discounted bundle price:

  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
  • Final Fight: Double Impact
  • Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo HD Remix
  • 1942: Joint Strike
  • Bionic Commando Rearmed 2
  • Flock!
  • Rocketmen: Axis of Evil including Rocketmen: It Came From Uranus expansion
  • Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3

That's a great day for the $40 retail price.  Street Fighter, Final Fight, and Bionic Commando are the stand-outs on the set.  Buying just those three titles from XBLA would set you back $40 alone.  Most of these titles have been around for a while, so something tells me that Capcom believes they've seen most all of the digital sales they're going to see with these titles and is ready to try them in a different market.  Traditional retail is a much different distribution beast than the online marketplace.  Here's hoping Capcom Digital Collection does well when it hits stores in Spring 2012.  Digital copies are convenient, but there's something to be said for an actual tangible product.  Just ask all of the digitally distributed games that have been removed from services like XBLA.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time Re-shelled and its discontinued friends say hello from the murky afterlife.

The Last Of Us Was A Secret To Everybody

ThelastofusThere's definite interest in developer Naughty Dog's next project, The Last of Us for the Sony PlayStation 3.  The game's debut trailer aired on the Spike Video Game Awards last week (and that's causing a stir itself thanks to Viacom), but Eurogamer reports that we could have seen it much sooner than that.  It turns out that the game's writer and creative director accidentally left his iPad (which had the final trailer saved on it) on a plane back in October.  Oops!  In fact, it's amazing how close the game's existence came to being revealed ahead of schedule, as several different close calls nearly outed The Last of Us to all of us.

Two months ago, Neil Druckmann, creative director and writer on the project, left his iPad on a plane. An iPad with the debut trailer for the game stored on it. Frantic calls to the airline ensued, but the device was gone. Naughty Dog waited nervously. And, to its considerable relief, nothing happened.  Druckmann and game director Bruce Straley began work on The Last of Us after completing Uncharted 2. No-one outside the company realised this, until a friend of Druckmann's noticed his name wasn't in the credits for Uncharted 3. But, once again, he managed to shake off suspicion.  Then, one week before the VGAs, studio co-president Evan Wells emailed the entire company warning everyone not to bugger everything up with a careless whisper on Twitter or Facebook. "Don't be that guy."

With days to go, a teaser site named the game, but there was nothing to link it to the studio. Or so everyone thought. A clue was uncovered in Uncharted 3 and word quickly spread across the internet. But, in spite of the evidence, Naughty Dog's involvement was dismissed since, as everyone knew, it was a "one game studio".  "We were very serious about keeping it a secret, limiting the people that we're exposed to it even internally in Sony," admits Wells. "It never crossed our mind that putting an easter egg like that in Uncharted 3 would rat us out."  It turns out that this easter egg was included before the game's original planned announcement at E3 2011. When that changed, Naughty Dog forgot all about it. Luckily, though, it wasn't until the company's logo faded into view on the big screen on Saturday evening, that the penny finally dropped. What a carry on.

The article goes on to mention that Uncharted 3 was rushed as the release date announced last year closed in on the team and that, as a result of that stress, The Last of Us won't be released until it's well and truly done.  I think that's a smart decision.  I'd like to think that Naughty Dog is doing something unique and special beyond the typical survival horror zombie monster attack game that many have already branded The Last of Us as.  Even with Uncharted 3's missteps, that franchise has always delivered a compelling narrative.  Last will end up a disappointment compared to the studio's other works if all it has to offer is "Ahh, monsters!".   This game is definitely one to watch.  Oh, and be sure to let me know if you find a Naughty Dog developer's iPad sitting around.

3DS Game Boy Advance Ambassador Games Announced

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThose of us who sprang for a Nintendo 3DS before the price dropped by $80 have been waiting to hear when the company will offer up the ten free Game Boy Advance games promised to the early adopters (otherwise known as the 3DS Ambassadors Club).  Now comes word that the list of free GBA titles has been finalized along with the release date.  Charge up your 3DS battery for this Friday, December 16, when (according to GamesRadar) you'll be able to snag the following games if you're part of the Ambassadors Club:

  • F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
  • Yoshi's Island: Super Mario Advance 3
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
  • Kirby & The Amazing Mirror
  • Mario Kart: Super Circuit
  • Mario vs Donkey Kong
  • Metroid Fusion
  • Wario Land 4
  • WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!

Those are all solid titles and I think you'll be pleased with all of them, particularly the ones you missed out on the first time around.  Mario vs Donkey Kong is criminally underrated and a much-loved return to the old Donkey Kong formula before the marching minis took over that franchise.  Wario Land 4 is the best platformer on the system.  Kirby & The Amazing Mirror brings a Metroid-like exploration factor to the famous pink puffball's world.  I'm sure you know Yoshi's Island, Mario Kart, and Metroid Fusion well enough by now.  There's a lot to like here and I'm glad that Nintendo has kept its promise to deliver some extra value to early adopters. 

Sonic CD Returns!

Sonic CDFor many years it seems that Sonic CD was the one Sonic the Hedgehog game that hardly anybody had played.  Few Sega Genesis owners sprang for the costly and required CD-ROM add-on back in the day and the PC port of the game doesn't officially work on modern operating systems.  The game finally turned up again for the Nintendo GameCube and, internationally, the Sony PlayStation 2 in Sonic Gems Collection, but few people took the plunge.  Now, finally, the best of the old school pre-Knuckles Sonic games is coming back in a variety of formats at a fair price right now.  Game Informer fills us in.

SEGA's re-release of the classic side-scroller Sonic CD is coming to Xbox Live Arcade tomorrow, December 14. It's also hitting PlayStation Network in Europe and iOS devices that same day. PlayStation Network users in North America can get it on December 20 and Android and Windows Phone 7 devices in 2012.  This version contains the original Japanese and US soundtracks, and for the first time, the ability to play the game as Tails, who unlockable by completing the game.

Sonic CD costs 400 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live, $5.00/£3.59/€4.49 /AUD$6.25 on PlayStation Network, and $4.99/AUD$5.49/Euro $3.99/UK £2.99 for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Five dollars for Sonic CD?  Including both soundtracks and Tails as a playable character?  Sold, sold, sold!  We heard about this re-release a few months ago along with some of the extras in store (Achievements/Trophies, spin dash, etc.), but it had fallen off of the radar in recent weeks, so it's great to see it pop up now.  I'd thought for certain that this would have been a $15 release just because Sega felt it could get away with it.  Between Sonic CD and Sonic Generations, this has turned out to be a fantastic season for fans of speedy hedgehogs.  Here's the launch trailer:

3DS Circle Pad Pro Is A GameStop Exclusive In North America

Nintendo 3DS Circle Pad ProIf you live in North America and you're hoping you get your hands on a Nintendo 3DS Circle Pad Pro accessory in order to play a few games that would perform better with a second slide pad, then you'll have to drive by Target and Walmart in order to stop in at GameStop.  Nintendo of America has announced that the peripheral is an GameStop exclusive in North America.  Here's a bit of the press release:

Nintendo is also introducing an optional accessory that gives Nintendo 3DS owners a second analog stick to control compatible games. The Circle Pad Pro will launch in the United States on Feb. 7. It will be sold through GameStop stores and online at at a suggested retail price of $19.99. The Circle Pad Pro is a comfortable cradle that holds the Nintendo 3DS system while adding an analog Circle Pad on the system's right side. The attachment also adds additional shoulder buttons to give it a feel more akin to traditional console controllers. It is designed as an optional accessory and is compatible with Resident Evil: Revelations and Metal Gear Solid 3D Snake Eater.

This isn't the first recent Nintendo product to be offered exclusively at GameStop.  The long-demanded Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii is headed to North American GameStops next year as well.  The message that I'm taking away from this is that, like Xenoblade, Nintendo's American arm doesn't expect the Circle Pad Pro to be in high demand outside of the core gaming market, so there's no need to spend the money and time getting it into stores everywhere.  If a majority of 3DS owners don't own a Circle Pad Pro, then what's the incentive for publishers to release games that support it?  As for me, I'm not against buying a Circle Pad Pro if a game that I really want to play would perform significantly better with the add-on. Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid aren't my thing, so I'm going to hold off for now.  Aftermarket add-ons like this rarely succeed in large numbers (especially if they're hidden away at only one retailer).  Why, if Nintendo hopes to make the second pad a standard, then they'll have to release a new model of 3DS with the extra controls built into the unit, and that would be downright nutty