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May 2014

Amazon Offering Huge Discounts On PC Games

Buy somethin' will ya!If you're looking to load up your hard drive with bundles of cheap PC games, look no further than Amazon which currently has dozens of recent releases on super deep discount.  There's some amazing bundles here including the three Batman: Arkham titles plus the Origins Season Pass for $25, a Rockstar bundle for $25 that includes a ton of Grand Theft Auto and Max Payne titles among others, the Saints Row franchise pack selling for $19, a massive Sega bundle of old and new Sonic the Hedgehog titles for $13, a brawler pack including Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat for $25, Mirror's Edge and its DLC for $5, and so much more.  Check out the complete list of deals and I'm sure you'll find something you want.  Purchasing via the green link above means that a portion of your payment goes to help support Press The Buttons which means so much at times like these.

Let's Compare The God Of War Remasters

KratosSony and Santa Monica studio produced two of the best looking PlayStation 2 games in the original God of War and its sequel.  Bluepoint Games took the reins of updating the titles for the PlayStation 3 for God of War Collection, and recently Sanzaru Games took the lead in bringing those remasters to the PlayStation Vita.  How do all of the versions of these games compare?  For very detailed technical answers to that question, check out Eurogamer's report on how God of War and God of War II have changed over the years to accommodate new hardware platforms.

In line with many major releases on the platform, both God of War and its sequel render at 720x408 before upscaling to the full 960x544 dimensions of the display. The result is considerably more muddy and blurred than we'd expect, which isn't helped by the grounded greys and browns of the series' colour palette. Visually, it's worth stating right off the bat that almost everything in terms of textures, geometry and lighting makes the jump from the home console editions - but this chop to image quality can't help but impact our appreciation of the fact.

The other major disappointment is in the handling of frequently used pre-rendered cut-scenes, where Sanzaru appears to have significantly cut down the original assets (squeezing both games into a mere 3.3GB download). This reduction comes down to heavy compression of both audio and video assets on Vita, resulting in a muffled dialogue, plus obtrusive macro-blocking artefacts during cut-scenes.

Don't miss the detail photo gallery comparisons and video examination as well.  While I think it's unrealistic to expect the Vita versions to stand up to the PS3 remastering, it's interesting to see how the games had to lose a few things to make the jump to a handheld system.  I've been playing the games on Vita over the last few weeks and while I do notice that they're not quite as fluid as the PS3 versions, they're not as unplayable as the angry community would have you believe.  They're perfectly serviceable and present the core God of War experience.  If you really want the true PS3 versions on your Vita though, there's good news: the PS3 versions support Remote Play on the Vita and are Cross-Buy compatible with the Vita versions; buy one digitally and get the other at no addition charge.  I've tried playing the games that way as well and have no complaints with them, but of course Remote Play performance is only as solid as one's Wi-Fi connection.  God of War stays true to itself through all its conversions.  Some just come out of the process looking a little better than others.

Scarecrow Returns In Batman: Arkham Knight

Developer Rocksteady is bringing Batman and the world of the Arkham games to the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One for Batman: Arkham KnightA new trailer released this morning which provides some information on the plot and shows a lot of the game's driveable Batmobile.  Like most trailers, it looks absolutely amazing and I can only hope that the finished product performs this wonderfully.  The Arkham games have set the standard for what a licensed property title based on superheroes can be and I'd expect Rocksteady to raise that bar even higher with this next title.  We'll certainly see more of Arkham Knight at E3 in a few weeks.  I know I'll be watching for it.

Hidden Unlockables Are A Secret To Everybody

Ninja GaidenMost video games hide a few secrets for players to find, and often those secrets are worth the trouble of discovering them.  Sometimes a game goes above and beyond, hiding the goodies past the point of reasonable actions.  GamesRadar has put together a sampling of games that feature some neat secret stuff, but you'll have to jump through some bizarre hoops to get to them.  Consider how much 2004's Ninja Gaiden for the Microsoft Xbox makes you work to unlock the hidden 2D original trilogy:

Instead of making the classics unlockables for finishing the game (no easy feat in and of itself), you have to undergo some weird trials to get each game one by one. The first game is the highest mountain to climb; you have to snag each and every one of the 50 hidden Golden Scarabs and trade them for the OG NG. For the second and third original titles, you need to shoot an arrow at a clock and revisit a spot where you had found a particular Golden Scarab before. At this point, you can play them at Ryu's safehouse. If you want to access them via the main menu, you have to complete the game after collecting them. Okay Team Ninja, everybody gets it; your game is hard.

I don't think I'd even bother with that.  I was always fond of the hidden versions of Donkey Kong and Jetpac in Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64, and while the legwork required to get to them was a challenge, it wasn't too unreasonable.  Players had to collect the special Nintendo coin in an in-game recreation of the original Kong arcade game in order to play it on demand, while Jetpac required snagging fifteen banana medals during the main quest.  I spent a lot of time playing both of those retro games instead of the main Kong adventure.  They made a nice break when collecting bananas, medals, coins, blueprints, and everything else the story required became tedious.

Power Button - Episode 129: Nintendo's Road Ahead

Power ButtonWhere does Nintendo go from here?  The company is facing serious problems as its flagship Wii U continues to sell at a very unprofitable pace.  On this episode of the Power Button podcast, Blake Grundman and I discuss Nintendo's issues, identify their problems, look at the recently announced Nintendo figurine plans, and speculate on how the company can turn things around.  As part of this conversation I talk a lot about my new Wii U, my favorite games so far, what I'd change about the hardware, and offer my general impressions as an owner of the console.  Not to be left out, we also hit the 3DS for a moment as Blake talks about Mario Golf: World Tour.  We have an hour of conversation for you primed and ready to go.  Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.

I Want To Go To There

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind WakerHave you ever been walking through an area in your favorite video and noticed a place in the background that you wished you could access?  Intended to be mere scenery, many memorable locations in gaming are not part of the actual gameplay which disappoints many people.  The folks at NeoGAF are talking about these kinds of places with a desire to get a first hand look at the flooded Hyrule Field from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Gruntilda's old lair from Banjo-Kazooie in Banjo-Tooie, the secret planning meeting in Fourside for EarthBound 2, blocked areas in Pokemon Red, the distant island in the dam level of GoldenEye 007 (which can be reached with GameShark codes; it's empty), 1999 before Lavos attacks in Chrono Trigger, and many more.  Here's Eusis talking about Wind Waker:

This is what pisses me off the most about not getting a new console game with Wind Waker's design: as much as I've said I'd want to go to a new place and not Hyrule I'd LOVE to run around a Hyrule that looked like that, and that was kind of what I was expecting when Wind Waker was announced before it became clear it was primarily sea based. Instead there's not much to do there, and the backlash gets us grey-and-brown Twilight Hyrule.  Plus it reminded me of the NES artwork. It wouldn't REALLY be like playing a game with that actual art, but it'd get the feel at least.

As much as I like these kinds of areas, I'm more impressed by distant locations that you actually can (and are meant to) visit.  You can see Dracula's tower in the background early in the original Castlevania where the final boss battle occurs.  Princess Peach's castle from Super Mario 64 is off to the side of the Royal Raceway in Mario Kart 64 and you can drive right up to its door.  Death Mountain and Ganon's Tower loom in the background of the Pyramid of Power area in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  Background scenery with a detailed life of its own really help bring games to life, turning fictional realms into places that seem real.  Inaccessible towers or blocked paths can be frustrating to those of us who feel a need to explore ever possible path.  We'll never get to these places, but it's fun to dream.

Halo 5: Guardians Announced For 2015

Halo 5You didn't really think that Microsoft would allow its popular and profitable exclusive Halo franchise to end after the last game in the series, did you?  The company has announced that Halo 5: Guardians is in development for the Xbox One with a planned 2015 release date.  Kotaku has the story.

"Halo 5: Guardians is a bigger effort than Halo 4," 343 general manager Bonnie Ross wrote on the Xbox Wire today. "That applies to the content and scope of the game, as well as the technology in what's now a brand new and more powerful engine. Certainly there are some core elements carried over from prior games, but we've invested a huge effort in retooling our tech to take full advantage of the Xbox One's hardware and ecosystem to create worlds and experiences worthy of next-gen."  Ross didn't offer too many specifics about the game, though she noted that the next big Halo will have dedicated servers and run at 60 frames per second. The Steven Spielberg-helmed Halo television series will also be out in fall of 2015, according to Ross.

There's more to come at E3 in a few weeks, but if Microsoft feels comfortable announcing this game ahead of the big show, they must have something large to crow about on stage.  There have been rumors of a remastered Halo 2 for for a while now that could potentially release this year which for those who feel burned out on Master Chief's recent adventures and prefer his earlier work would be a must-buy title.  Or perhaps Microsoft wants fans to know that Halo 5 is on the way so that they'll pay closer attention during E3.  Maybe the company wants to ride the wave of press that the Xbox One has enjoyed this week after unbundling Kinect.  For all I know, someone in management threw a dart at the calendar which landed on today for an announcement date.  Whatever the reason, more Halo is coming and while I'm not a fan of the series, I do like to watch it grow from afar.

But What Did The Critics Say?

BubsySome video games are better remembered today than others, but time has a funny way of altering perceptions.  What was once seen as marvelous is today trash and vice-versa.  It's interesting to look back at what critics said about famous (or infamous) games at the time of their release and Defunct Games has done just that with a recurring feature called Review Crew.  Scouring old magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro, Cyril Lachel reminds us that there was a time where Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind was highly recommend and EarthBound was considered a backwards bore.  For instance, here's what Feline Groovy (probably not this person's real name) had to say about Bubsy's first adventure in the May 1993 issue of GamePro:

"The cat is out of the bag -- at last! Bubsy is a must for any gamer's library. Hot on the trail of Sonic the Hedgehog, this cat really moves! He may not be as fast as Sonic, but he definitely has a lot more purrrrr- sonality. This cat's excellent graphics and great digitized voice make this rollicking, multi-scrolling adventure well worth the wait."

Other games given the time capsule treatment include Donkey Kong Country, Sonic CD, Altered Beast, Mortal Kombat, Ecco the Dolphin, Gunstar Heroes, and even Bad Dudes.  It's fun to see what the enthusiast press through of these games in context of their time and has me wondering how today's games will be recalled tomorrow.  Could my beloved Bionic Commando find its audience?  Well, anything is possible!

What Could Have Beens And Never Wases

Banjo-Kazooie If you follow video games in the media from announcement through development to release, it's common to play the finished game and wonder what happened to some hyped feature or advertised gameplay element that has gone missing.  Wasn't Perfect Dark supposed to let you use the Game Boy Camera to add your face into the game?  Didn't BioShock Infinite include a boss battle with Songbird at one point?  I'm certain we were meant to visit the Hidden Palace Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  Parts of showcased features are cut during development all the time and GamesRadar has picked up twelve such elements from the cutting room floor and held them up for all to see.  Banjo-Kazooie, Skyrim, Mass Effect, Portal 2, and more are all represented.  Here's what was cut from Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag:

Ubisoft had once planned to have Edward Kenway participate in the high seas battle that led to the arrest of Calico Jack, Mary Read, and Anne Bonny. If your high school history classes skived on the piracy lessons, I’ll catch you up: it was the tightest shit ever, with Read and Bonny fending off the British dogpile until they were overrun. Getting to participate in that would have been an adrenaline-pumping pirate extravaganza (plus educational!), but alas, it was shuffled into the background early in development. It's like a knife in the heart... or back, or wherever. Or a plank walk. What else did pirates do?

Some of the cut features are heartbreaking removals (especially when they push the limits of the available technology as in Banjo's infamous Stop 'n' Swop function).  Some of my favorites from over the years that aren't in the article include the Super Leaf from Super Mario Bros. 3 returning for Super Mario World, GoldenEye 007's "All Bonds" option for multiplayer that lets players play as every incarnation of James Bond through Pierce Brosnan, Banjo-Tooie's lost two-player mode "Bottles' Revenge", and the inclusion of a playable Dr. Wily in Mega Man Soccer.  Sometimes an idea exceeds the available time, money, or technical horsepower needed to implement it correctly which leaves us with this graveyard of deleted bits.  Like any cemetery of buried love ones, take the time to visit every now and then.

The Saga Of Mario, Wario, And A Bucket

Mario and WarioWario stole the show in Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins for the Game Boy in 1992, and while he didn't really make a big splash on home consoles until appearing in Mario Kart 64 four years later, he did pop up in a few titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super NES prior to that.  Most notably, he fills the antagonist role in 1993's Mario & Wario for the Super Famicom.  Released exclusively in Japan and requiring the SFC mouse accessory, this Lemmings-like puzzle title chronicles Mario wandering through trap-filled platformer levels with a bucket stuck on his head.  Players control the fairy Wanda with the mouse to manipulate the environment as Mario marches to the goal.  Hardcore Gaming 101 has revisited the forgotten game as part of a series focusing on Pokémon developer Game Freak who tackled this title prior to coming up with Pikachu and friends.  Here's a piece:

Mario & Wario only saw release in Japan, available with the game only or with the mouse controller and pad for those who haven't picked one up with Mario Paint prior. The game would see previews in magazines in North America like Nintendo Power and was listed as one of the prizes people could win in a Kellogg's cereal contest in Canada. However, unknown factors such as marketing or other costs seemed not in alignment as the Western release never came to pass, despite the game itself only containing English throughout. It's a shame since it would have been a big-name title that could've helped maintain a use for the SNES mouse, though later on the US-exclusive light-gun game Tinstar published by Nintendo was compatible as an alternative to using the Super Scope. As for Wanda, she made a small cameo with a radically different design as a tiny helper in both versions of Wario's Woods. Aside from that, she made a brief appearance in the long-running manga Super Mario-kun in a volume based on many spinoffs of the mid-90s era. Furthermore, the concept of the gameplay would be later expanded with touchscreen controls in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, leading wind-up toys to a door. A reference to this game would make its way into Pokémon Red / Green / Blue / Yellow and their remakes, as the TV in Copycat's bedroom in Saffron City has a Super Nintendo hooked up to it and mentions displaying Mario with a bucket on his head. Super Smash Bros. Melee also contains the bucket as a trophy.

I've played Mario & Wario and it's an acquired taste.  It wouldn't have sold more mouse packages in North America, but for those of us who had the accessory, it would have made a nice addition to our collections.  It's fun, but requires patience.  It would make for a neat eShop remake on the Wii U thanks to the GamePad's touchscreen where players could tap obstacles to trigger them instead of using a point and click interface, but I wouldn't expect to see this game again.  It's one of those lost Nintendo games that turns up as little references in bigger games caught by those in the know.  Now you're part of that club!