Previous month:
April 2020
Next month:
June 2020

May 2020

Lost Samurai Shodown Sequel Shows Up

Samurai Shodown V PerfectSomewhere in the middle of the major Street Fighter versus Mortal Kombat fighting game wars of the 1990s was SNK with its fighting favorites such as Fatal Fury, King of Fighters, and Samurai Shodown.  Each of these title led to several sequels and revisions in the arcade and home console markets.  Samurai Shodown is set for a compilation re-release in June from the developers / archivists at Digital Eclipse, and in the process of working on the project they were able to snag a lost, unreleased version of Samurai Shodown V to include in the collection.  Ian Walker at Kotaku chronicles how this all came about and why the inclusion of Samurai Shodown V Perfect is such a lucky happening.

After being tapped by SNK to develop Samurai Shodown V and its Special follow-up in the early 2000s, development studio Yuki Enterprise and director Kouji Takaya soon set about working on a third and final update. Samurai Shodown V Perfect was meant to fix some of the gameplay issues still present in Special as well as introduce new stories for every character. The only problem was that no one told SNK, who only found out about the game when Yuki installed it in a single local arcade for testing. As work had already begun on Samurai Shodown VI, SNK quickly shut down the Perfect project, relegating its legacy to a handful of blurry photos from the test site.

Sheffield later told Kotaku via email that, despite it being generally “frowned upon” to hang onto company data, SNK was actually ecstatic to learn that Takaya still had a copy of Samurai Shodown V Perfect on hand. He credits SNK employee Adam Laatz with making sure the proper channels were notified and permissions were granted within the company to allow Perfect into the collection. Getting the game accepted took work, but thanks to a group effort, players will finally be able to experience this unreleased fighter.

I love when this kind of thing happens.  Absolutely love it.  Here we have a final revision of a game that was unceremoniously dumped by the publisher that, years later, is finally being released so the fans can experience and enjoy it.  What's to be gained by leaving it in a metaphorical vault to gather dust and be otherwise lost to time?  We've seen other publishers dig up their buried titles in the past few years.  Nintendo is starting to build a reputation for mining its vaults for finished-but-unreleased games such as EarthBound Beginnings (originally meant for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991, but held back for the Wii U's Virtual Console in 2015) and Star Fox 2 (planned for the Super NES in 1996, but missing in action until it was part of the Super NES Classic console in 2017).  What other finished-but-cancelled games would you like to see given another chance?

Lost "Puc-Man Fever" Variant Challenges Everything You Think You Know About "Pac-Man Fever"

Puc-Man FeverI know that you know all about Buckner & Garcia's famous "Pac-Man Fever" hit single from the 1981 album of the same name (seriously; it hit number nine on the Billboard Top 100 chart that year).  After all, you have the original vinyl album, the cassette release, and even the 2002 re-recorded CD version and 2015 remix inspired by the Adam Sandler film Pixels.  The poster is hanging on your wall right now, I bet.  What you, the "Pac-Man Fever" superfan, are missing is an exclusive Japanese variant of the song that was re-recorded as "Puc-Man Fever" to match the famed video game character's original Japanese name.  Lost Turntable has a look and a listen at this missing piece of gaming music history.

When the time came to release the song in Japan, Buckner & Garcia apparently went back into the studio to re-record the chorus of the song, changing every instance of “Pac” to “Puck.” If you ever wanted proof that record companies just had fucking millions to burn in the early 80s, there you go.

I highly doubt this version of the song ever got any other official release aside from the Japanese 7″ single. The album itself was never issued in Japan. Hell, the original version of “Pac-Man Fever” has never been re-issued on a proper Buckner & Garcia CD or digitally (any CD or iTunes version is a re-recorded take from the 90s). So I feel safe in assuming that this is a proper rarity.

Happy fortieth anniversary to you, Pac-Man, and thank you for everything you've done for the world of video games including, yes, "Pac-Man Fever".  Next time: the horrifying secret behind "Do The Donkey Kong".

The Rise And Fall Of Perfect Dark

Perfect DarkWhen you develop a first-person shooter for a console that isn't expected to sell many copies but then becomes a colossal hit and redefines how the genre is treated on consoles, what do you do for an encore?  That's the question asked of Rare's developers in the late 1990s after the company's GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 became one of the best games on the console and one that is still remembered and revered today for its multiplayer mode.  The easy answer is to follow it up with a direct sequel and make Tomorrow Never Dies, but the better answer is to drop the James Bond license to create something original, refine the ideas that came about too late in the process to benefit GoldenEye, and push the limits of the console so hard that a hardware upgrade is required to make the most of the experience.  Over at Nintendo Life, James Batchelor has the story behind Rare's Perfect Dark on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary.

The team didn’t want to abandon everything it had accomplished with GoldenEye 007, of course. For most of them, the James Bond shooter was the first game they had ever made. They had developed a brand new engine, so it made sense to build upon that and create a new title in the same vein, with similar gameplay and the same “weapon centricity,” as Hollis put it.

From the very beginning, Perfect Dark was planned as a spiritual successor to GoldenEye, with the aim to have the game finished within just one year. In theory, the main effort would go into building new levels that ran on the previous game’s tech. But the team’s ambition expanded throughout the course of the project, and many of GoldenEye’s systems were improved and overhauled.

Perfect Dark was like the semi-sequel to GoldenEye, and it’s always difficult making a sequel,” recalls Mark Edmonds, who led development by the end. “Can you make it better than the first one? That should be easy, but generally, it isn’t. So everyone was in the mindset of ‘What can we do to make this better than GoldenEye?’ There were a lot of ideas for new features and everyone had thoughts about what could have gone into that game but didn’t.”

There's lots to unpack here including the creation of the game's protagonist, Joanna Dark, and how she fits into the storyline that aimed to surprise players with AI briefcases and an alien invasion.  All of the action required the N64 Expansion Pak add-on to play anything besides the basic multiplayer mode.  N64 development kits were equipped with more memory than retail N64 console, so it was very easy for the development team to pack in too many things that worked fine on the development kit but wouldn't work on a home console.  The Expansion Pak solved that problem.

The issue, Edmonds says, was the N64 developer kits had more memory than the home models, which made it all too easy to add in more features. The challenge of bringing the game’s size down to something that would fit in a single cartridge and run on a standard console became impossible, so he was relieved to see both the Donkey Kong and Zelda teams using the expansion. “It happened to be around the same sort of time we found we didn’t have enough memory either,” he recalls. “So we were lucky because if they weren’t doing that, we would have been stuck.”

Chesluk adds: “We did a load of work trying to get it down, spent a few months on it, but the best we could manage was the version you got without the Expansion Pak, where it’s a bit of multiplayer but it’s more of a taster. There was talk of bundling with the Expansion Pak at one point, but Donkey Kong 64 had already done that – although I’m not sure how much demographic crossover there was between people buying both Donkey Kong and Perfect Dark.”

I was a GoldenEye fan, although I'd only rented it a few times throughout my high school years, and by 2000 I was in college and was drifting away from video games for a while.  I had Donkey Kong 64 which came packed with the Expansion Pak, so I had everything I needed to play the game, and although I rented it a time or two, I never felt the need to buy it.  GoldenEye felt revolutionary in 1997, but Perfect Dark in 2000 felt outdated even with that Expansion Pak boost.  I figured I'd pass on this first installment and try again with the inevitable GameCube sequel, and we all know how that went instead.  I should revisit Perfect Dark sometime and give it a fair shake on its own merits.  It's one of those games that I may not have liked, but I definitely respect.

Piano Pro-Am

R.C. Pro-AmTimes are tough lately and we can all use a pick-me-up.  Start your week out with some peppy energy thanks to musician Rob "88bit" Kovacs and his piano rendition of one of the Nintendo Entertainment System's best racers, R.C. Pro-Am.  Composed by Rare soundtrack master David Wise, these songs make some interesting use of the NES's limited sound channels.  Rob explains:

The opening title screen theme is one of the more unique NES themes in that it is saturated with triads, something you don’t hear too often due to the 3-voice limitation of the NES soundchip. Composer, David Wise, gets around this by using all three channels to perform the melody and the harmony and then squeezing the bass notes in between the melody notes. The result is a really thick and packed sound.

Rare's sound team always did amazing work when given limited tools, and Rob does a fantastic job of translating the Pro-Am soundtrack for piano.  Check it out and listen to his other recordings on his YouTube channel.

Power Button - Episode 306: Leak Sneaks

Power ButtonMajor gaming leaks in the past few weeks have shown us the past and the future as Nintendo suffered a system breach that resulted in all kinds of trade secrets and information from the late 1990s through the 2000s posted online and Naughty Dog and Sony had to deal with fallout from spoiler-laden videos from the upcoming The Last of Us Part II were posted online.  All of this talk of leaks and stolen data had us thinking of all of the most memorable gaming leaks that have happened over the years, so this week's podcast topic explores focuses on that discussion.  Blake Grundman and I revisit some old favorites from Half-Life 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, Destiny, Assassin's Creed Unity, Star Fox 2, EarthBound Beginnings, and plenty more. 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. 

Power Button - Episode 305: 100 Hours

Power ButtonThanks to the pandemic lockdown I've recently clocked one hundred hours spent in Assassin's Creed Odyssey and still have lots more to do, so that's a natural jumping point into this week's podcast topic in which we discuss games we're spent more than one hundred hours exploring and enjoying.  You'll find some expecting titles here such as Destiny, Borderlands, and Red Dead Redemption along with some unexpected entries including Crosswords Plus for Nintendo 3DS. 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.