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January 2015

Nintendo's New 3DS XL Launching In North America (Just The XL)

New 3DS XLIf you're like me (and I know I am) and you were looking forward to picking up a pocket-sized New 3DS in North America, then prepare for the disappointment.  Nintendo of America announced this morning that while it is launching the jumbo New 3DS XL on February 13 for $200, the small, original-sized New 3DS will not be joining it.  While Japan, Australia, and Europe are all in on the classic New 3DS size party, North America isn't so lucky.  I turn you over to Chris Kohler at Wired for some analysis on this boneheaded economical move.

So why would Nintendo make such a decision?  There are a variety of potential reasons.

First, recall that Nintendo has actually phased out the regular 3DS in the U.S. The only models on sale here are the $200 3DS XL and the $100 Nintendo 2DS, an inexpensive low-end model with a 2-D display and a single-piece molded-plastic body instead of a clamshell design.

2DS is not for sale in Japan and likely never will be, so it’s not a factor. But in the U.S., if Nintendo only wants two models on shelves at once, this is how it’s going to do it.

In Japan, the New 3DS XL has outsold the smaller model by a factor of two to one. In the U.S., such sales data is not public, but we might surmise that the gap would be similar or perhaps even more pronounced here.

Finally, launching the New Nintendo 3DS requires also launching faceplates, and lots of them. Nintendo of America has often spoken about the difficulty of getting shelf space at the major retail chains in the United States, often in relation to its Amiibo figurines.

I'm disappointed by this decision.  I like carrying my 3DS around with me when I go places in order to collect StreetPass tags and have the option of playing a quick game when time allows.  Nintendo spent years training me to carry their handheld console in my pocket, sold me extra StreetPass games that rely on portability to function, and now they're backtracking to sell a handheld system that I can't easily take with me.  I already have a handheld system that never leaves the house.  It's called a PlayStation Vita.  I love playing my Vita, but it's too bulky and cumbersome to slip into my pocket.  The 3DS was meant to go along for the ride and I was looking forward to slipping a New 3DS into its place. 

While I can't say I'll never buy a New 3DS XL (sooner or later there will be a Super Mario game or other title I can't refuse that will demand a purchase), when that time inevitably comes, that's when I stop carrying my 3DS with me and adjust my purchases accordingly.  No more StreetPass.  No more buying games with the intent of playing them when I'm out.  Perhaps I'll skip some games I'd have otherwise bought if they were intended to be played outside the house.  So I'm sitting this launch out.  Maybe someday Nintendo will decide to release the smaller New 3DS here and when that happens, I'll happily upgrade.  For now though, the New 3DS XL does not meet my needs and I'm passing on it. 

Power Button - Episode 161: What Have UDON For Us Lately, Matt Moylan?

Power ButtonWhen it comes to producing video gaming art books, one of the companies that immediately comes to mind is UDON Entertainment so we're fortunate to have UDON's Managing Editor Matt Moylan on the podcast along with returning friend of the show David Oxford to discuss all of UDON's various publications involving the world of Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Maximo, and many more.  Join us to hear all about how the art book sausage is made and what it takes to get Capcom to hand over the keys to its most popular licenses.  If you want a Bionic Commando UDON book, speak up now!  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.

2014 Box Art Walk Of Shame

Winx Club: Saving AlfeaAt the end of each year over at GamesRadar, Lucas Sullivan looks back over the many video game releases that graced store shelves in the past fifty-two weeks and compiles a snarky list of the worst box art that the industry has to offer.  As 2014 came to an end, I was concerned.  The annual list had yet to appear.  I reached out to Lucas with concern via Twitter.  Where was the article?  Had the terrible artwork finally driven him to the breaking point?  Was it all finally just too much for him to handle?  Say it ain't so!

Whew!  Thankfully, patience has been rewarded as the feature published today and, my goodness, there are some clunkers on there.  From major first-party releases to the latest in shovelware and beyond, no game with stock art, Photoshop errors, or uninspired ideas is safe.  Witness Pac-Man's angry Kirby eyebrows, a murderous Sherlock Holmes, a game with art so lazy it couldn't even be bothered to display its entire title on the box, a racist Mahjong game, Sonic the Hedgehog looking bored, and my personal favorite: cut and paste faces.

On the day that they finally cart me off to an insane asylum, I'll be screaming 'THE FAIRIES! THEY HAVE THE SAME FACE! IT'S A COPY-PASTE JOB FOR TWO CHARACTERS WHO ARE STANDING RIGHT NEXT TO EACH OTHER! CAN'T YOU SEE IT?! AHA! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!' Decades after my death, the truth about Winx Club: Saving Alfea will finally be uncovered, and my name will be posthumously cleared of all criminal charges.

Thank you, Lucas, for risking it all to bring us this list each year.  You're doing the important work that the rest of us dare not attempt.

A Mario Paint Music Remix Is Hiding In Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is the gaming gift that keeps on giving as fans are still finding new things about it weeks after release.  Consider this unused medley remix of music from 1992's Mario Paint, for instance, whicn incorporates sections of the title theme, one of the primary background themes, elements from the in-game music editor, and even the chanting from the famous sit-up cartoon.  The Cutting Room Floor lists the other songs found on the Smash Bros. disc which include several Mii-related themes and a remix medley of Nintendo Land music.  Speculation is that this material will be part of the upcoming new stage based on Miiverse.  Either way, the Mario Paint remix does justice to the original source material and will surely make you smile if you spent hours making your own animations on the Super NES back in the old days.

Nintendo Announces The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D Collector Edition, Includes Skull Kid Figurine

The Legend Of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3DNintendo doesn't offer Collector Editions of its games often, but when they do, they go all out.  Announced this morning for North American release at select retailers, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D special bundle for the Nintendo 3DS is coming for $49.99 and includes a limited edition figurine of the game's mysterious Skull Kid antagonist.  GoNintendo has the press release.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D follows in the footsteps of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, which launched for the Nintendo 3DS system in 2011. Like that game, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D is a reimagined version of a classic Nintendo 64 game with updated 3D graphics and new features.

There is a reason The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is loved by fans all over the world. It is one of the most unique and suspenseful entries in The Legend of Zelda series, one that critics and fans have called a true masterpiece. The game finds players solving puzzles, battling enemies and controlling time itself to help Link save the mysterious world of Termina and its terrified inhabitants from being crushed by the moon. By releasing this one-of-a-kind adventure for the Nintendo 3DS family of systems, a new generation of fans can experience the dark, twisted, fantastic adventure for the first time.

Usually Nintendo's special editions are limited to stock at the company's Nintendo World Store in New York City, so it's fantastic to see that they're offering this bundle for sale at regular retailers this time around.  You will have to preorder if you want a chance at buying it though.  No way will this make it to regular shelves.  No release date has been announced yet, so keep your eyes open for more information.  These will go fast, I promise you.  Let's just hope that given Nintendo's recent talent for undershipping demanded products that they manufacture more than seven of these sets.

PlayStation Now Subscription Service Revealed

PlayStation NowSony has been doing its best to convince you to spend money on its PlayStation Now game streaming service that allows you to play select games from the PlayStation 3 library on your PS3, PlayStation 4, and other devices.  The problem is that the technology isn't quite 100% ready for prime time (you need an amazing Internet connection to have a chance of making it work reliably) and the cost of renting a game is ridiculous compared to buying the game outright (why pay $30 to rent a game for a few days when you could pay $20 to own it outright?).  Pretty much everyone who has seen PS Now detailed has said it would make more sense to offer it as a Netflix-type subscription service where players pay a set fee each month in return for full unrestricted access to the PS now library.  Sony listened to that demand and now the company is set to start offering monthly plans for PS Now.  Here's the PlayStation Blog to explain:

You’ve been able to rent games through PlayStation Now for several months now, but many of you have asked –- what about a subscription? I’m pleased to announce that starting January 13th, we’ll launch a subscription service for PlayStation Now that will provide instant and unlimited access to a catalog of more than 100 PS3 games. And since you’re using PlayStation Now, you can enjoy the freedom to quickly discover and play a wide range of full games without downloads, installs, or patches (not to mention trips to the store). The subscription service will be available first on PS4 across North America, and will come to other PlayStation Now enabled devices in the future.

You’ll be able to choose from two subscription plans: one month for $19.99, or a three-month package for $44.99 (about $15 per month). The subscription provides access to a large and diverse catalog of PS3 games, ranging from action to RPG and everything in-between.

That's certainly a better pricing structure than the per-title rental fees, and if you missed out on the PS3 era and don't want to buy another console, there's some great stuff worth playing here: Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, God of War, Sly Cooper, Infamous, Saints Row, and a ton of indie titles just to name a few.  I wasn't impressed with the PS Now service when I tested the beta last year on PS3, but perhaps it's matured enough now to make it worth another try.  I have enough on my gaming plate already without adding another monthly fee to my life (and my PS3 still works) so I can't see myself getting involved with this subscription plan right now, but if it continues to grow and improve, I'm certainly willing to give it a try down the line.  It's just nice to see Sony listening to its audience and giving the people what they want.  Just think about what Sony is set to achieve here.  For a fair monthly fee, you'll have all-you-can-play access to a decent chunk of one of gaming's greatest libraries.  That's an amazing feat and proof that, yes, we are living in the future.

Power Button - Episode 160: The Best That 2014 Had To Offer

Power ButtonWith 2014 filed away in history at last, it's time for us to look back at the best video games that the year had to offer.  Blake Grundman and I called in author of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation and friend of the show, Blake J. Harris, to join us on this one to talk about the year that was in gaming releases.  Which 2014 title will take top honors?  Kirby Triple DeluxeCaptain Toad: Treasure TrackerShovel KnightDestinySuper Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DSWatch Dogs?  Join us for this supersized episode and find out.  Plus, as if all of that isn't enough, we catch up with what's happened to the Console Wars project since we last spoke with Blake in Episode 134.  Things are in motion!  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. Next Week: Get out your art books because we'll be talking with Managing Editor of UDON Entertainment, Matt Moylan, about the company's takes on Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, and other familiar gaming properties.

Nintendo's Classic NES Game Boy Advance Series Goes Above And Beyond To Discourage Emulation

Super Mario BrosNintendo has dealt with unauthorized, legal emulators running their products in places and ways that the company disapproves for decades now.  From the first basic freeware Nintendo Entertainment System emulators for DOS to simple gray-market handheld devices made to run emulation software to fully functional third-party products on the shelf at your neighborhood Best Buy, there have been many ways to drop Super Mario Bros. somewhere that Nintendo doesn't want it to be.  The company has been creative and clever over the years when it comes to preventing its products from working on unauthorized hardware.  The creator of an up-and-coming open source Game Boy Advance emulator called mGBA, Jeffrey Pfau, has been working to make his program run the 2004 Classic NES Series of GBA game paks and has discovered that these games have their own unique ways of discouraging emulators from running them successfully.

From a GBA emulation perspective, the games were especially interesting. The average Game Boy Advance game is extremely buggy, and the platform itself contains a number of safeguards to prevent games from crashing. As a result, emulators tend to need to be bug-compatible with the original hardware to ensure that the games actually work. However, the Classic NES Series goes above and beyond the average game in an attempt to ensure they don’t work in emulators.

If you’ve tried to load one in some older emulators, you’ve probably been confronted with a Game Pak Error screen, as seen above. As it turns out, these games exploit several tricks and undefined behaviors that make emulating them challenging. This appears to be a deliberate attempt to dissuade copying these games. In the interest of accuracy, I have painstakingly investigated, implemented and chronicled all of the unusual things I’ve found these games to do.

At first glance it seems kind of pointless in retrospect; why lock out compromised, scaled-down versions of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda from running in a GBA emulator when the NES originals were working flawlessly in the emulators of the day even back in 2004?  Over at Reddit, there's some interesting discussion regarding Nintendo's reasons for making the Classic NES Series so difficult to emulate and my favorite proposed explanation involves Datel's unlicensed GBA add-on for the GameCube that competed with Nintendo's own Game Boy Player.  The Classic NES Series does not work with Datel's product, but it does run on the Game Boy Player.  Was all of this trouble just to keep products like Datel's solution from working with what Nintendo projected to be a popular product line?  That makes just as much sense to me as anything else.  Nintendo can be just as spiteful as it is creative.

Sega's Absolutely Rose Street Infomercial Recovered

Absolutely Rose StreetBack in January 2011 I directed your attention to Sega of America's 1994 attempt to sell 32X expansions for its popular Genesis console through the use of a radical Wayne's World-style episode of a non-existent television series.  Entitled Absolutely Rose Street, the infomercial ran in the middle of the night on Viacom-owned cable channels such as Comedy Central, MTV, and other networks watched by the desired demographic.  At the time there weren't any clips of the program available online, but proving once again that the Internet never forgets anything forever, the full commercial/episode has turned up at last.  Courtesy of Video Game Ephemera, here's Absolutely Rose Street.

It’s not really a surprise how contrived and cheesy this show is. The production budget for Absolutely Rose Street could not have been much greater than that of the fictional Game Beat itself! What is a surprise, though, is the appearance of two real-life game creators: Sam Nicholson (producer of Sega’s Tomcat Alley, Midnight Raiders and Surgical Strike) and American McGee (Doom, American McGee’s Alice), playing themselves and patiently answering breathless questions from the Game Beat hosts.

Yes, it's about as terrible as it sounds and is clearly an idea and production rooted in its era.  This kind of thing could only comfortably exist as a legitimate promotional idea in the 1990s; the 1980s weren't ready for this kind of in-your-face attitude and the 2000s had moved past it.  If actual video games couldn't save the 32X, Absolutely Rose Street certainly wasn't up to the job.  Can't blame a company for trying though considering the challenges that Sega of America faced at the time from its Japanese parent company.  At least the American arm tried to make a go of it.  Say, you know what?  Maybe Absolutely Rose Street could work as a 3:00am series on Adult Swim.  They could run the existing infomercial each morning in that early time slot.  Put it on a double billing with Too Many Cooks.  It'd fit right into the whole "what the hell am I watching?" aspect of AS's original programming slate.