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May 2014

Reminder: Yoshi Is A Dinosaur

Pete Holmes and his team at The Pete Holmes Show on TBS are skewering classic video games again, this time with a parody video set in 1991's Super Mario World that reminds us all that while cute and helpful, Yoshi is a dinosaur and will react like one from time to time.  Sure, it's a easy joke that repeats multiple times in this video, but the ending payoff was worth the long walk needed to get there.  Personally, I just think it's great that a late night comedy show is turning to video games to connect with the audience.  Those of us who grew up with Nintendo are finally calling the shots in big media pop culture.  It's a beautiful thing!

Ultra Street Fighter IV Is About What You'd Expect

Ultra Street Fighter IVCapcom is preparing another update to its Street Fighter IV line with a new $40 retail release and a $15 downloadable add-on to Super Street Fighter IVI've talked about Ultra Street Fighter IV before, but as we get closer to the game's release in June, outlets are starting to get their hands on the new content.  Mike Williams at USgamer has taken a look at what Ultra brings to the party and how despite the new characters and content, it feels like Capcom took the cheap way out and reused as many existing assets and designs as possible so as to not tax the game's budget.

They're solid additions to the cast, but honestly they feel like Capcom is phoning it in. All five characters have existed in some form elsewhere, with Capcom just bringing them along for the ride. Ultra features the same options and menus as its predecessor and even that breaks down in certain modes: in the preview build I played, Trial Mode only exists for the pre-Ultra characters. Ultra Street Fighter IV's platforms of choice increase the feeling that Capcom is just trying to wring that last bit of money from your dry wallet; despite the recent release of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the publisher only gave the Street Fighter team enough money to launch on platforms that already hosted previous SFIVs.

As much as I hate to admit it, I'm just not playing my PlayStation 3 as often as I did before I bought a PlayStation 4 and a Wii U.  While I was originally excited about this update, now I'm just kind of lukewarm about it.  Strange thing is, I'd buy the full priced retail release in an instant if it were available for the PS4.  I think it has something to do with the sharing functions available on that console and the refined PlayStation experience.  Going back to the PS3 feels like a step backward these days (and that's terribly unfair to a great generation of games gone by).  I'll probably still get around to the PS3 version of Ultra if that's truly where the series stays, but not for a while. 

Microsoft Drops Kinect From Xbox One, Lowers Price

Xbox OneAfter spending tens of millions of dollars in research, development, and marketing and telling everyone everywhere that the Kinect is essential to the Xbox One experience, Microsoft has fired another shot in the console wars by offering a Kinect-less Xbox One package for $399 bringing the price point down to match the competing Sony PlayStation 4.  Moreover, soon an Xbox Live Gold subscription will not be required to access entertainment apps such as Netflix on the device.  Here's some of the announcement (I've cut out the unrelated PR hyperbole for your convenience):

First, beginning on June 9th, in all markets where Xbox One is sold, we will offer Xbox One starting at $399. This is a new console option that does not include Kinect. 

Next, we’re bringing more value to Xbox Live Gold members and offering all Xbox 360 and Xbox One owners access to entertainment apps whether or not you have an Xbox Live Gold membership.

While it may seem like another major backpedal from the company to remove the Kinect from the Xbox One, anything that brings the price down is a welcome move (particularly if you're someone who doesn't care about the Kinect and had no plans to use it even if you did own it).  Offering a Kinect as a separate purchase for those who wish to pick one up later is better for the consumer, too.  On the other hand, by making the Kinect an optional accessory, developers can no longer assume that everyone with a Xbox One has one and can no longer require Kinect features.  Requiring expensive add-ons can be a risky proposition (consider Nintendo's position with its Wii U GamePad), so Microsoft must have weighed the consequences of taking the Kinect out of the equation before making this move in favor of continuing to push the accessory as essential to the Kinect experience.  The projected increased sales must have justified fragmenting the Kinect user base.  I'm curious to see if this gives Xbox One sales a boost and how often developers will include Kinect features in their future games now that it's no longer a required accessory.  Anything that gets quality video games into more hands is a good thing, and if the Kinect was holding the Xbox One back from its true potential, then it's understandable that it had to go. 

We'll talk about this news on an upcoming episode of the Power Button podcast, so call our voicemail hotline right now at (720) 722-2781 and leave a message telling us your thoughts on removing Kinect from the Xbox One package.  You may hear your call on a future episode of the show.

Power Button - Episode 127: How I Met Your MonkeyPaw Games With Ryan Olsen

Power ButtonIf you're only playing video games released in your own country, then you're missing out on a few things. Some of the most interesting (if bizarre) games in history come from regions abroad. On this episode of Power Button, Blake Grundman and I are joined by Ryan Olsen of noted import game publisher MonkeyPaw Games to discuss the allure of import gaming, how MonkeyPaw chooses games for modern digital release, what makes games like The Firemen 2: Pete And Danny and Tomba 2 worth playing, the challenges involved in releasing these games around the world, and much more. We have an hour of conversation for you about games from foreign lands. Domo arrigato!  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.

Remember The WonderSwan

WonderSwan CrystalThere were many challengers to Nintendo's Game Boy throne in the 1990s.  Sega struck with its Game Gear, Atari attempted the Lynx, and SNK's Neo Geo Pocket has its fans.  One of the more intriguing competitors to Nintendo's dominance comes in the form of Bandai and its WonderSwan line of handheld game systems.  Designed by the man who originally designed the Game Boy, the WonderSwan was created specifically to challenge Nintendo.  The fact that you've probably never played one and may not have ever heard about it before now tells you how that worked out.  Jeremy Parish at USgamer takes a look back at the system on its fifteenth anniversary.  It's an interesting piece about a line of hardware that deserved better considering its pedigree.

The connections between WonderSwan and Game Boy ran deep. At its debut, Bandai's handheld felt like a genuine successor to Nintendo's handheld, which at that point was a decade old. Despite seeing a few hardware refinements over the years, including Game Boy Pocket's clearer, more energy-efficient screen, Game Boy still ran on the same old '70s-vintage Z80 variant processor that it always had.

The WonderSwan, on the other hand, employed a more powerful 16-bit NEC V20 chip. And while it incorporated a black-and-white screen, its monochrome display wasn't limited to four shades of grey; it could display twice as many tones, which allowed for much more detailed graphics. And it was an absolute beast in terms of efficiency; while the Game Boy Pocket could run for 20 hours on a pair of AAA batteries, WonderSwan could squeeze as much as 40 hours from a single AA. And all of this for the incredibly reasonable price of ¥4800 – about $42 at the time.

The system never made it out of Japan, but some of its better mainstream games ended up on competing hardware following Bandai's withdrawal from the hardware market.  I've never had the opportunity to play a WonderSwan, but would like the chance just to be able to have some personal experience with one.  Few games in the library look interesting at first glance although Capcom produced a Mega Man game that I've always wanted to try despite the fact that everything I've read about it says that it's terrible. What can I say?  I'm a glutton for punishment.

Sony Reverses Unpopular DriveClub Pricing Policy

DRIVECLUBSony announced the social racing title DriveClub for the PlayStation 4 some time ago, and while originally due for a November 2013 release, the game has slipped a few times to October 2014.  To spark increased interest in the game, Sony plans to offer a stripped-down version to PlayStation Plus members free of charge.  If you'd like to upgrade to the full experience's fifty-five tracks and fifty cars, there's a one-time fifty dollar fee (a ten dollar savings from buying the sixty dollar retail version).  Like most good things in life, there was a catch: let your Plus subscription lapse and your purchase becomes inoperable.  The video game community didn't care for that stipulation and took to social media to raise awareness of the problem, and now Sony has come forward to lift the Plus requirement.  Kotaku has the news and this quote from the company:

UPDATE: Our priority for DRIVECLUB is to enable you to play and enjoy everything it has to offer and PlayStation  recognises that the prior plan for DRIVECLUB entitlement for the upgrade to the PS Plus edition was not appropriate. As a result, we have adjusted the PlayStation Plus terms for DRIVECLUB.

Now, If you intend on downloading DRIVECLUB PlayStation Plus Edition, and upgrading to the full game experience, you will have access to the full game even if your PlayStation Plus subscription runs out.

This is a smart move on Sony's part, but the smarter move would have been to not require Plus membership after upgrading to the full version at all.  Games bought with Plus discounts often come with restrictions, but this DriveClub case is a major overreach.  I'd expect the free version of the game to stop working if I let my Plus subscription end, but if I pay fifty dollars for a game, it had better work no matter what my Plus status is.  I'm glad that the community spoke up and convinced Sony to change course.  So far the message behind this generation of consoles is that companies do listen if enough people speak loudly and often.

My Wii U Needs A Boost

Wii U GamePadI'm new to the world of Wii U ownership, but already I'm impressed with what Nintendo has accomplished with its latest home console.  Is it perfect?  No, but it's certainly a fun system to use, has a small library of must-play games, and features enough material to draw me back each day.  I'm especially fond of the GamePad and its built-in touchscreen.  While mirroring on-TV video may seem redundant and a waste of battery power when playing in front of the television, it's a godsend for off-TV play.  Being able to play Super Mario 3D World or Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze while not anchored to the media room is a wonderful thing. 

Off-TV play only works as long as the GamePad is within communication range of the console.  Wander too far out of the Wii U zone and everything comes to a stop.  The Wii U zone extends downstairs into my bedroom, but not quite enough.  If I'm sitting up in bed, the GamePad works just fine.  If I dare to lie down, however, I back out of the zone and lose the Wii U signal.  Some games sense when this happens and automatically pause (NES Remix, for instance), but others do not and by the time I can sit up and get the Wii U and the GamePad talking again, poor Mario or Donkey Kong are dead and I'm back at the map screen. 

While all technology has its limits, I wish there were such a thing as a Wii U signal booster or repeater that I could buy.  Imagine a reasonably priced little box that you plug in, put at the edge of the Wii U signal zone near the spot you want to be able to play a game, and then forget about.  While there's latency and lag issues to consider by adding an additional signal hope, I'd like to think it's possible for this device to exist.  Nintendo would know best how to make such a gizmo work properly and with the expected level of quality, but I'd even settle for a third-party solution if it worked.  In the meantime, I'll continue playing sitting upright.  Is this the ultimate first world problem?  Probably so, but it's still an opportunity for Nintendo to please customers and allow me to be entertained while resting comfortably. 

Nintendo Announces NFC Figurine Platform For Wii U And 3DS

NFPEver since Activision began raking in amazing amounts of money with Skylanders, people in the gaming community have said "Boy, if Nintendo ever decides to get into that business model with its own characters, my wallet is screwed!".  Hang on to your plumber's caps, boys and girls and boys and girls at heart.  Nintendo has announced that it's getting into the NFC figurine market on a wide scale (last year's Japanese Pokémon experiment doesn't count) by introducing figurines featuring its popular characters.  These figurines can be used with upcoming Wii U and Nintendo 3DS games.  While the Wii U GamePad was designed with this functionality in mind (it includes a NFC reader), the 3DS is going to need a hardware boost with a special reader that communicates with the system via IR.  Here's some of the translated details via GoNintendo:

What is especially unique about [Nintendo Figurine Platform] is that it is not classed as an accessory product of a certain software title but as a platform itself.

And it has been designed to be compatible with multiple software titles for Nintendo platforms.

In other words, the figurines, which consumers can buy and collect, are going to work with multiple software titles to be released in the future, and we are aiming to develop more software titles compatible with the figurines.

Nintendo has a lot of well-known character IP that has originated in video games, and we have been regularly releasing titles from game franchises that make use of this character IP. This is why I believe a brand-new type of platform will be born when the character IP becomes compatible with NFP.

NFP has a writer function as well as a reader function, so it can not only tell what character figurine is on the Wii U GamePad, but also a compact amount of data unique to each game can be written into it and read from it. That is to say, you will be able to customize your NFP to raise or train your own Nintendo characters, for example.

I already collect Nintendo figurines, so as much as my wallet hates to accept it, I'm interested in this announcement.  There's great potential in this, but I hope Nintendo doesn't turn to the greedy dark side by offering exclusive pre-order figurines at different retailers, blind buys, exceptionally rare figurines that boast amazing in-game content, and other things that suck the fun out of the experience.  Different regions will undoubtedly get different figurines and the company will surely start with the big guns first: Mario and Pikachu.  Link will follow.  Samus Aran will show up eventually.  Something tells me it'll be a long time before we see Ness or Captain Falcon though. 

As far as what these figurines will be able to do in game, I can see many options.  Imagine carrying your unique Fire Emblem hero from one game to another with his or her levels and stats intact.  Consider dropping Wario into the next Super Mario game as a playable character.  What if you could add a special level based on elements from Metroid to a Kirby adventure by loading up your Samus Aran figurine?  The Pokémon possibilities alone are practically a license to print money.  The NFP system could be absolutely huge if marketed properly, priced fairly, and if it actually improves the games with which the figurines interact.  In the end, it's all about enjoyment.  If NFP can't deliver that, then there's no point in producing it.  

Behind The Creation Of Super Mario 3D World

Cat MarioNintendo's Super Mario 3D World owes a lot to Super Mario 3D Land, the similarly titled Nintendo 3DS adventure.  Both games send Mario though a series of isolated obstacle course worlds that emphasize the plumber's famed jumping skills and tricky platforming talents.  As part of a recent deep dive into the game's development at Edge Online, Chris Schilling recounts how the Land team transitioned into creating World and how the lessons learned during the 3DS game's development period helped influence the Wii U title's direction.

Plans were set in motion after Super Mario Galaxy 2 was completed. “We decided we should make an entirely new title, rather than another in the Galaxy series,” co-director Koichi Hayashida says. “Up until that point, we had only been working on games for the home console, so you might expect that we’d go on to develop a game for Wii U. In fact, we got really interested in creating a 3D Mario game that could be played with the 3D effect of 3DS. That’s why we chose to develop for the handheld system instead. Saying that, though, at that same point we also planned on making a version for Wii U. So, in that sense, you could say the game was in development for over three years.”

Hayashida admits that Nintendo may have had to reconsider its approach had Super Mario 3D Land been a failure. But the critical and commercial success of Mario’s 3DS debut encouraged the company to stay its course. With the help of Nintendo subsidiary 1-Up Studio (formerly known as Brownie Brown, which worked on the likes of Mother 3 and Heroes Of Mana), the largest development team in EAD Tokyo’s history began work on its Wii U spiritual sequel. And with the core concept established at a very early stage, there was plenty of time for experimentation.

And experiment they did!  Some of World's most interesting elements came about by accident such as the new Double Cherry power-up that spawns a Mario (or Luigi, or Toad, or Princess Peach) clone that is controlled simultaneously with the original character.  The article is packed with peeks behind the curtain and at the cutting room floor along with some exclusive production sketches (some of which you can see became final, finished promotional artwork).  I love articles like this and while it left me wanting more, there's plenty to soak up here. 

Power Button - Episode 128: Laughing It Up With Mel Kirk About Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within

Power ButtonZen Studios has recently released the Heroes Within add-on pack for its Star Wars Pinball game across thirteen different platforms, so that means we had to invite the company's Mel Kirk to come back and discuss the four new pinball tables.  Learn the secrets and inside stories behind the development of the Han Solo, Droids, Masters of the Force, and Episode IV: A New Hope tables; hear about tables left on the cutting room floor; consider the ongoing business relationships between Zen, Disney, Marvel, and LucasFilm; find out what projects the company has in the pipeline (with a big announcement coming soon); and enjoy some good old fashioned high score comparison trash talk.  May the Force and May the Fourth be with you!  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.