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November 2019

Of Course It was Mortal Kombat That Sparked The Creation Of The Video Games Rating System

Mortal KombatWhile it's fun to talk about video games that have major anniversaries this month (both Donkey Kong Country and the Sega 32X turn twenty-five years old), it's seemingly less fun to reminisce about the anniversary of the creation of a regulatory body, but thanks to author of Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation and friend of the Power Button podcast Blake J. Harris, we're going to have a good time exploring the genesis of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary.  Harris has written a seven-part oral history article that chronicles the ESRB's rise to ratings prominence, and each week the ESRB blog will publish an installment.  Everything kicks off this week with the first part in which the United States Congress learns about a horrifying new video game called Mortal Kombat and then uses it to score political points with family-friendly constituents.

On October 20, 1993—mere weeks after the release of Mortal Kombat—California’s Attorney General, Dan Lungren, spoke to a group of police investigators at an event in Los Angeles:

“We’ve got impressionable young people dealing with interactive games that are very realistic and I wonder if that is what we should be teaching our kids. The message is: destroy your opponent. I would ask you if that is very different from some of the messages in gang culture.”

The following month, Lungren upped the ante asking game manufacturers to stop selling games that teach youngsters to “demean and destroy.”

It's easy to point the finger at Mortal Kombat with the benefit of hindsight, but if it hadn't been Scorpion and Sub-Zero raising government hackles, it would have been another game (most likely Night Trap which was also in the hot seat around the same time).  Video games were becoming a major business, and whenever something becomes popular and successful, people take notice and put it under the microscope.  The same kind of exaggerated political rhetoric we hear today in government over pet causes was used in 1994 to demonize video games.  Was it all worth it?  Well, Congress eventually left the gaming industry alone to regulate its own content, and while there was a renewed burst of censorship and "are games art?" discussions in the 2000s as Grand Theft Auto sparked the same reactions as Mortal Kombat did a decade earlier, we've largely come out on the other side with fantastic gaming experiences presented as their creators generally intend them.  Just nobody show Congress the new Fatalities in Mortal Kombat 11.  I don't think they could handle that.

Journey With The Doctor To The Edge Of Time

Doctor Who: The Edge of Time

I can understand why it's a challenge to make a video game based on Doctor Who that honors the spirit of the source material.  The Doctor abhors guns, so a shooter is out of the question.  You could make a platformer because the Doctor and his/her companions certainly do a lot of running, but there's not much of the show's soul in a jumpfest.  Match-5 puzzle game?  Well, now you're not even trying!  Thankfully, the folks at the BBC, PlayStack, and developer Maze Theory have seemingly cracked the puzzle of what it takes to make a solid Doctor Who game with a VR adventure that casts the player in the role of the Doctor's latest assistant who must come to the rescue when she (voiced by Jodie Whittaker from the television series) needs help solving the latest universe-ending jam.  Doctor Who: The Edge of Time released last week for the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Vive Cosmos.  Here's a bit of the press release that summarizes the experience:

Armed with the iconic Sonic Screwdriver, players will solve mind-bending puzzles, grapple with classic monsters and encounter new horizons in a quest to find the Doctor and defeat a powerful force that threatens to destroy the fabric of reality. They will face the infamous Daleks and other known faces from the Doctor’s world plus some brand new never-before-seen monsters as they travel through stunning cinematic environments that truly bring the show to life!

The Doctor has been hurled through time to the end of the universe. A virus that threatens to rip apart reality itself has been unleashed. Players can pilot the TARDIS on a journey across worlds both familiar and strange to recover a series of powerful time crystals that can repair spacetime and ultimately, save the universe itself.

I've been playing the game on PSVR and am impressed with what I've seen so far.  I mean, I get to wave a sonic screwdriver around to make things happen, and that right there is at least 25% of what you need for a real Doctor Who game.  The rest comes from monsters both familiar and new, an engaging story that feels like an episode of the TV show (even the opening credits have been reworked for VR, sending players hurtling through the time vortex in first-person), solving puzzles, and finally being able to remark for myself that "It's bigger on the inside" when I step inside the TARDIS for the first time.  I have more to play before I'm ready to write a review and issue a verdict, but first impressions are solid except for one issue: as I unfortunately experienced with Borderlands 2 VR, playing the game for more than twenty minutes or so makes me incredibly nauseated.  I swear there's a monkey's paw at work because the more I want to play a VR game, the more likely it is to make me sick.  My girlfriend (who is also a gamer and Doctor Who fanatic) and I have decided to switch off playing every few minutes so that we can recover from nausea by watching the old fashioned 2D television screen while the other one wears the PSVR helmet.  We'll solve the puzzles together and stave off stomach issues just like in one of those grand romantic montages from an old movie.  I'd like to think that the Doctor would appreciate our teamwork.

Bart Simpson Just Wants To Play His Games

The SimpsonsHere's a fun blast from the past courtesy of @90sManiax on Twitter.  Acclaim published a series of poor-to-lackluster games based on The Simpsons in the early 1990s for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Super NES, Sega Master System, and Sega Genesis, and here we have an advertisement for several of the titles featuring original Simpsons animation as Bart tries to avoid his chore obligations in order to play.  The three games advertised here - Bart vs the Space Mutants, Bart vs the World, and Bart Simpson's Escape from Camp Deadly - were all semi-popular in their day based solely on the red-hot Simpsons license, but had little to recommend in terms of gameplay.  Even for NES games, these products were extremely basic with poor hit detection, grating sound, and unintuitive controls.  I rented both NES games at different times in that era based just on being a fan of the license and came away disappointed.  It wasn't until 1992's Bart's Nightmare for the Super NES that I finally found a Simpsons game worth owning, and even it isn't reaching its full potential.  It was in 2007's The Simpsons Game that the property finally succeeded in the gaming world, largely because publisher Electronic Arts brought in the writers and animators from the television show to work on it.  Now that's how you use a license!

(Image via Retromags)

Power Button - Episode 296: Super Fun Holiday Season Gaming Preview Show

Power ButtonWith only about six weeks left in 2019 we are staring down the end of the year and all of the new games that come along with it.  This week Blake Grundman and I are talking about all of the new games due out between now and the end of December that we want to check out including titles like Luigi's Mansion 3, Death Stranding, Mario & Sonic the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, and more.  It's a great season to play some games!   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. 

Mini-Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

It's become a surprising tradition since the Wii era that whenever the Olympic Games gear up for another installment, Nintendo's Super Mario and Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog will be there for a fresh round of sports mini-games featuring the extended casts of both franchises.  Now in its sixth iteration in celebration of next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 covers familiar territory in new ways for the first time on the Nintendo Switch.  The big draw to this sequel is the new 2D retro event series in which the Mushroom Kingdom and Green Hill Zone gangs trade their shiny 3D models for old fashioned, nostalgic sprites from the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis days.  What justifies the throwback?  It seems that Dr. Eggman and Bowser are cooking up a new scheme to be rid of their nemeses once and for all...

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020" »

The Terminator's Greatest Hits

Terminator 2The Terminator just won't die - both the T-800 killing machine and the franchise that it spawned.  The sixth film in the series, Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters now and it tosses aside the newly established continuity from the fifth film, Terminator: Genysis, which threw away the continuity from the fourth film, Terminator: Salvation, which dumped the continuity from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (not to mention the television continuity of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles).  Thanks to the timey-wimey ball, all sorts of Terminator media has been disowned from its parent franchise.  These Skynet-style erasures from history do not impact the various Terminator video games because, like most tie-in media of their eras, nobody ever expected the games to officially tie into anything.  Luke McKinney at Den of Geek recaps the Terminator games spanning from the original film all the way up to Terminator: Salvation.  What I found strange was that the games based on the original 1984 film are not for Atari or contemporary hardware from its day, but hail from the early 1990s.  I had no idea there was a Terminator game for the Sega CD, for instance.

This isn't just the best original Terminator game, it's one of the best Terminator anythings. In 1993, this truly felt like future technology had been sent back in time to kick our human asses, and was so good at the job we enjoyed the process. It didn't waste then-revolutionary CD storage capacity on overlong FMV (Fuzzy Massive Video). It knew we were playing because we'd already seen a great movie and we wanted to kick ass. It filled all that extra space for explosions and rock music, and both blasted big holes in the timestream.

If this games' version of Kyle Reese had been in the movie, he'd have blown the Terminator apart, leapt over the pieces, slam-dunked grenades into Skynet's central processing unit, and carried Sarah Connor into a future where the only "road of bones" was their honeymoon. If John Connor had had this Kyle for a father in Terminator 2, the kid wouldn't have been such a wise ass.

Of the Terminator games I have played over the years, none of them captured both the essence of the films and a fun gaming experience.  I put more time than I should have into Terminator: Salvation for the Sony PlayStation 3 because I'm a fan of the franchise and the developer behind the game, the late lamented GRIN of Bionic Commando fame; plus the game awards nothing but gold trophies.  No bronze, no silver, just gold for completing each level.  Sadly, it's really not worth the effort.  The game is a grim bullet-sponge shooter with little to redeem it.  The strange thing is that I don't know why I own the game.  I don't remember buying it and it's not the kind of game I would purposefully acquire because of its poor reputation.  GRIN was already circling the drain by this point and purportedly rushed the game to shelves which explains its half-finished nature in places.  I didn't review it for Kombo according to my records.  It's just on my shelf without an explanation.  Clearly this is Skynet meddling with time again.  The futuristic AI has already erased one Terminator game from history.