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February 2012

Weekly Poll: Fool Me Many Times

Weekly Poll for 2-13-2012An overwhelming majority of you are not buying a Sony PlayStation Vita at launch.  I'm passing for now as well.  I've been over my reasons several times over the past few weeks, so instead of explaining again how I feel that the hidden costs are a dealbreaker, I'll share a quick story.  My girlfriend and I were out at the mall over the weekend and while browsing around a GameStop, I picked up the demo unit to see what was installed on it.  The Vita had been in my hands for less than ten seconds when the clerk behind the counter immediately started the hard sell, urging that I buy a system bundle because they only had seven left.  Now of course GameStop employees are going to push the system, but I can't remember ever being aggressively pushed to buy anything from the chain like the Vita.  There was a desperation in the clerk's voice mixed in with the forced enthusiasm.  I can't be the only PlayStation fan sitting out the Vita for now, and I'm very curious to see some sales numbers on all of this stuff next month.

Moving on, last week we were able to see a fresh look at Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II.  The previous episode of the sequel didn't please as many Sonic fans as Sega expected, and it would seem that Episode II has learned from some of the last installment's visual mistakes.  Are you willing to take a chance on Episode II?  Let's hear your thoughts.

What's The Deal With Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning?

Kingdoms of Amalur: ReckoningYour pal and mine, Power Button podcast co-host Brad Hilderbrand, has a new project which has just given rise to its first review of a recently released video game.  Over at Brad The Broke Gamer, readers are invited to vote for which game they want to see Brad play and review next as well as donate a few dollars to the purchasing fund to help cover the cost of that game.  First out of the gate is Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning from Electronic Arts:

The gameplay elements of Reckoning are also highly enjoyable, but the major drawback is that they lean far too heavily on the games that have come before. The real-time combat system is very reminiscent of a game like Fable, where varied timing and charged attacks dominate most encounters. The ability trees seem to have been stripped out of just about any fantasy MMO on the market, and the quest structures and exploration elements bear all the hallmark’s of Rolston’s time with The Elder Scrolls, both for good and ill. Nearly all of the quests fall into the rote pattern of talk to Person A who orders you to retrieve Important Item B from Dangerous Location C, and the system for managing loot could use a lot more streamlining considering the extreme number of drops. Sure, it’s nice to be able to group all my unwanted stuff into a junk pile and sell it all with a single button press at the nearest merchant, but having to dive into the menu every time I want to compare a couple swords or helmets can eventually grow annoying. One major point in Reckoning‘s favor though, at any time players can visit a Fateweaver, pay a few coins and completely reassign their skills and ability points. It’s a wonderful bit of flexibility in a genre which normally forces you to choose a path and then deal with the consequences of your actions from that point on.

The next games up for review consideration are Asura's Wrath, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and SSX.  I suggested to Brad that it would be too easy for readers to stuff the ballot box with suggestions for horrible games.  Left unchecked, he would end up having to review copious amounts of uDraw titles and the latest in Nintendo Wii shovelware.  Then again, having to play titles like Kingdoms of Amalur and Final Fantasy XIII-2 that aren't my genres at all feels like a punishment to me, so what do I know?  The point is that Brad has a new project.  Check it out.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 59: Mass Effect 2 Special with Alexander Sliwinski

Power Button Presents Kombo BreakerWith the release of Mass Effect 3 rapidly approaching, it seemed only proper to revisit Episode 59 of Kombo Breaker in which Joey Davidson, Brad Hilderbrand, and I welcome Joystiq's Alexander Sliwinski to discuss Mass Effect 2.  This installment originally aired on February 1, 2010 and includes mostly spoiler-free discussion regarding combat, mining (oh, how Brad loves mining planets until they're hollow shells), characterization, and so much more.  Mass Effect fans will want to set aside the hour and twenty minutes required to take it all in.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 59: Mass Effect 2 Special with Alexander Sliwinski

PTB Celebrates 4,000 Entries

WarioHere's a fun fact: if you were to start reading the Press The Buttons archive from the very beginning, you would have four thousand articles spanning nearly seven years worth of content to explore.  As is custom at each major article milestone, it's time to look back on my personal favorite selections from the previous five hundred articles.  There's plenty of interesting pieces to enjoy here spanning Power Button podcasts to reviews to lost game levels to intriguing hacks to nostalgic looks back on games you missed back in the day and beyond.  There's also some material in there from last year's E3, too.  Sit back, make yourself comfortable, and let's review some of the best of that PTB had to offer in the past eleven months.

Previous Milestone Celebrations

Free Shank Comic Slashes Your Way


Klei Entertainment and Electronic Arts recently released the sequel to 2010's slashing platformer, Shank, for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC.  I've been working my way through Shank 2 over the past few days and while I'm enjoying it so far, one of my criticisms is that I have no idea what is going on with the story.  The original Shank ended with the protagonist completing his roaring rampage of revenge against his former partners in crime, while the sequel opens with him becoming embroiled in some sort of rebellion.  How does it all fit together?  What happened between the two titles?  Thankfully, Klei has come to the rescue with answers in the form of a free downloadable Shank comic that bridges the gap between the two games.  In the span of just a few pages, Jeff Agala and Vangelis Christou explain what happened after Shank slaughtered his enemies and just how he wound up on a bus in the middle of nowhere.  It's a quick read and worth your time if you're a fan of the series, but be aware that like the Shank games, it is rather gory.  Head on over to the official Shank website to catch up on your Shank lore.

Next Sonic The Hedgehog 4 Episode Looks Really Good

Sonic The Hedgehog 4

Microsoft's Xbox Live Marketplace website has some surprisingly impressive screenshots of Sega's upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II that are leaps and bounds above the comparatively simple visual style of 2009's Episode I.  Perhaps the creative team behind these downloadable releases has been paying attention to constructive criticism after all because some of what I see here looks like it's on par with last year's Sonic Generations in places.  Check out the the detailed character models!  Marvel at the lighting!  Swoon at the the textured objects!  This looks downright gorgeous and probably explains why a Nintendo Wii release isn't happening for this installment (every other current platform will see it though; it's coming to Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7, and PC).  Episode II is expected later this year, but if the game plays as well as it looks, then its release can't come soon enough.

The Dawn Of Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Nathan Drake has explored many mysterious places, but his latest destination is the most unknown: the Sony PlayStation Vita.  Guiding the Uncharted franchise into the handheld realm for the first time, Sony's own Bend Studio has taken the helm for Uncharted: Golden Abyss with franchise creator Naughty Dog assisting in a supervisory role.  Can Uncharted really be Uncharted without Naughty Dog calling the shots?  1UP has a fascinating look into the creation of Golden Abyss and just how Bend crafted this new adventure from the ground up starting way back in 2008. 

Over the course of 2008 and 2009, the Bend team chipped away at the then-officially-untitled Uncharted project -- which at different points they called Uncharted: Project X and Uncharted: Dark Secrets, the latter of which may have been a better fit for Nintendo given its initials -- building a new engine, consulting with Sony, and setting up the mechanics that would make it feel at home in the series.

"We had been given such advanced access to SCEI and the hardware and the development tools very early on, so we were pretty much ahead of everyone," says [co-director Christopher] Reese. And for better or worse, or probably both, being ahead of the curve meant being a guinea pig for Sony's tech group.  "They were using us to help them refine and build the hardware," says [co-director John] Garvin, noting that the team would get new versions of the development kits every three months as the hardware became more stable.

Golden Abyss is drawing mixed reviews from some publications, and it seems that its biggest sin is that it wasn't developed solely by Naughty Dog.  I think it's unfortunate that there'a a perception in the gaming community that the key Sony brands such as Ratchet & Clank, Jak & Daxter, God of War, and now Uncharted are passed to lesser studios when it comes to developing for handheld hardware.  That perception is not helped by the notion that Bend is seemingly at a disadvantage with Golden Abyss, as today's audience expects to see the Uncharted franchise grow from Among Thieves and Drake's DeceptionGolden Abyss started development following the first game in the series, Drake's Fortune, and the Uncharted franchise has come a long, long way since then.  It's hard for me to shake the notion that it's shape stems from that first game more than any of the better sequels.  Here's some of what Kirk Hamilton had to say about Golden Abyss in his review over at Kotaku:

But the specters of past, better Uncharted games loom over Golden Abyss from start to finish. This game mimics the Uncharted formula to a fault—we all know the banter, the pacing; when a handhold is going to crumble, when enemies will turn up at an inopportune time.

More specifically, Golden Abyss is more or less an inferior carbon copy of the first game in the series, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It takes place in and around a single jungle in Argentina, the cast is limited to four main characters, and there's even a bit where you pilot a boat down a river while blowing up guys with a grenade launcher. After spending Uncharted 2 and 3 going on globe-hoping adventures, it feels like a step backwards.

I need to play Golden Abyss for myself to form my own concrete opinion, but the impression that I'm getting ahead of actually doing that isn't a positive one.  It's difficult as a game player to see a studio create something new with a franchise originally created by a different studio.  Sometimes it works out in the end (Capcom did some interesting things with Nintendo's Legend of Zelda in the last decade for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance, for instance).  Unfortunately, it also invites (and even demands) comparisons between the smaller developer and the flagship with the famous name.  Bend Studio has done good work in the past, but they're not just competing with past Uncharted games here.  Bend is competing with past Naughty Dog Uncharted games.  That's a high mark to reach.  What I've read so far on Golden Abyss is that it's a fine try at matching the Uncharted experience, but it falls short of what one would expect from a Naughty Dog Uncharted title.  There's a reason for that: Golden Abyss isn't a Naughty Dog Uncharted title.  It's a Bend Studio Uncharted title, and that's a completely different thing by definition.  I'd think it should be judged accordingly.

Mini-Review: Sonic Classic Collection

Sonic the hedgehogThis article was originally published at on March 15, 2010.

It's sometimes difficult to accept that there are young fans of Sonic the Hedgehog who have never actually played the character's original Sega Genesis adventures. For these children, Sonic sprang into existence with titles such as Sonic Heroes, Sonic Advance, and Sonic Rush. Despite the fact that Sega has re-released their flagship character's early adventures in compilations such as Sonic Mega Collection, Sega Genesis Collection, and Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection, the holy quartet of the original Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles (and the various lock-on technology combinations therein) have never turned up in a single collection for a handheld system until now with the Nintendo DS release of Sonic Classic Collection. Bundling the aforementioned games together on a single game card, Sega aims to introduce the blue blur to a new generation in preparation for the upcoming Genesis-imitating Sonic the Hedgehog 4.

Assuming that most readers have played a classic Sonic game before, there's no need to recap Dr. Robotnik's scheme to gather the Chaos Emeralds to power his Death Egg, nor should the concepts of spin dashes and collecting rings need additional explanation. Instead, the technical side of the Collection needs a closer look. Worth noting right up front is the fact that the games found in the Collection are not ports of the original Genesis titles, but are actually emulated using a properly licensed, legitimate, and slightly updated version of the jEnesisDS emulator that homebrew aficionados have been using for a while now. Emulating the games avoids the embarrassing results of half-assed ports like the Game Boy Advance title Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, but introduces a few new quirks and changes that long-time Sonic fans will notice right away, while those who have never played the original games will likely remain unaware of any tinkering. Overall, this compilation presents a mostly faithful handheld version of the original classics perfect for new players and returning speedsters alike.

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Sonic Classic Collection" »

Weekly Poll: Here Comes Vita

Weekly Poll for 2-06-2012Most of you are not interested a realistic reboot of Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter franchise, so it's for the best that the project is no longer happening.  There is a bit of interest in possibly supporting such a thing if it were handled properly, but I think we need to let the animated character remain animated.  So many fun, colorful games have crossed the line to try and be dark, gritty, and serious, but it never quite works out in the end.  I wouldn't want to see Jak and Daxter in a realistic style any more than I'd encourage the next Uncharted to become a sparkly anime adventure.  Experiments in visual style can bring something fresh to a well-worn franchise (see what Kirby's Epic Yarn accomplished, for instance), but the resulting apple shouldn't fall too far from the established tree.

Speaking of new and uncertain things, Sony is sending its PlayStation Vita out into North America and the European/Australian regions in the days ahead.  Will you buy a Vita at launch?  Have you had a preorder in place for months?  Are you just going to walk up to a store counter and ask for one on a whim? Are you waiting to see how the system performs in the weeks and months ahead before making a commitment?  Or are you totally disinterested in it altogether?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 25: Controlled Response

Power Button Presents Kombo BreakerThis week's classic episode of Kombo Breaker dates back to April 24, 2009 and features a clearing of the air as Dan Johnson, Joey Davidson, Brad Hilderbrand, and I settle a few issues that had been building up over the previous weeks.  The heart of the first segment revolves around a debate on control stick placement on video game controllers, but there's also time for Brad to share in the pain of Lux-Pain as I shake my head in disappointment at Sonic Unleashed's extra downloadable content challenges. Peggle addiction shows itself once again and Joey revisits Outrun and explores Killzone 2, too.  Oh, and I also brag about getting tickets to see the then-upcoming The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien while in Los Angeles for E3 that year.  After the break we come back to discuss Stephen Totilo's jump from MTV Multiplayer to Kotaku that was big news in the game journalism business that week. Will that work out well for him?  Yes, I think it will.  Then before all is said and done we beg Harmonix to add a keyboard to Rock Band.  That also worked out well in the end.  Join us for eighty minutes of flashback fun.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach all three of us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow all of us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons, @aubradley84, and @JoeyDavidson or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

Power Button Presents Kombo Breaker - Episode 25: Controlled Response