In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of Nintendo's famous Game Boy, Blake Grundman and I spend this week's podcast discussing the iconic portable gaming system and remembering our favorite handheld memories. From our own Game Boy origin stories to classic games such as Super Mario Land, Tetris, and Wario Land to underwhelming licensed games including Ren & Stimpy: Space Cadet Adventures and Home Alone, we honor the big gray brick and recommend a few games you may have overlooked in the past three decades. Oh, and of course I'm going to tell you to play Bionic Commando. You had to know that was coming. And did someone say Pokémon? 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.
These days if you find a slot on a piece of Nintendo hardware it's likely that it's a place for a standardized piece of technology such as an SD card or a USB port, but the company used to have a knack for adding proprietary ports and slots to its consoles that were used for increasingly esoteric add-ons and upgrades. Check out this fun article from the Nintendo World Report archives chronicling the history of Nintendo's various expansion ports from Nintendo Entertainment System to Nintendo 64 to Nintendo GameCube and beyond. How many of these add-ons did you own? Hint: likely zero.
First up is the Famicom and NES. Unlike the NES, the Famicom came with hard-wired controllers. Any extra controllers and peripherals could be plugged into Nintendo's first expansion port, which was located at the front of the machine. This port was used to host light guns, 3D shutter glasses, keyboards, extra controllers, and other items. Many system expansions plugged directly into the cartridge slot, such as the Famicom Disk System and the Famicom Modem. The Sharp Twin Famicom, a system that combined the Famicom and Disk System into one machine, added an additional three expansion ports, but these remained unused.
The NES shipped with an expansion port on the bottom of the console. On multiple occasions, modems were planned to be connected there. However, the NES expansion port never received a commercial application. Originally, the port was covered by a snap-in cover, but later model systems actually had a plastic tab covering the port completely. The port was still there, but the plastic actually had to broken off to access the port. The lack of expansion port utilization outside of Japan was an ongoing trend that started with Nintendo's first system.
Nintendo had lofty goals that usually went underwhelming fulfilled with most of the expansion port accessories debuting in Japan to provide niche gameplay experiences with experimental ideas and then appearing nowhere else. Third parties filled the gap with increasingly obscure hardware that used the ports without achieving much success. The NES, Super NES, and N64 all featured commonly unused expansion ports overseas and it wasn't until the GameCube era that the ports saw a mainstream use with the Game Boy Player (a pair of networking add-ons which also made use of the ports were offered for sale online in limited quantities and worked with a handful of games). Hobbyists have long since cracked the mysteries of these ports, too. While Nintendo didn't get around to doing much with these ports internationally, I'm glad they were there. Had history unfolded a little differently, we could have been able to experience some of the unique ideas made possible by the expansion hardware and those ports were the gateway to making that happen.
We're back! We've been on a forced hiatus for a few months due to my sudden health issues and Blake Grundman's conflict with the Norwegian tax authorities, but now that everything is getting back to normal we are here to discuss recent gaming happenings including Nintendo's announcements about the Switch Lite and a better battery for the original Switch, time spent with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Blake finally getting around to Marvel's Spider-Man. Join us for an hour of catching up. 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.
Family Guy has skewered pop culture for two decades and I always laugh the most when the production team sets their sights on a classic video game. In Season 17's "Griffin Winter Games", Peter Griffin and his daughter Meg are captured while trespassing in North Korea and must stage a thrilling escape in the style of a nostalgic video game. Peter suggests they use Rare's famed GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 as their inspiration, and what follows is a loving tribute to the console's most beloved shooters. From the ammo count in the lower left corner of the screen to the targeting reticule that appears when Meg needs to target bolts to shoot open a grate to the little cinematic cut scenes, Family Guy knows the source material and has fun with it. Peter even offers fun observations about the gameplay and environment while they make their escape. It's an unexpected moment that will make GoldenEye fans smile.
Nintendo's ongoing flirtatious partnership with the mobile gaming space continues with the upcoming Mario Kart Tour for iOS and Android in which the console Mario Kart experience is reformulated for a streamlined experience with microtransactions. While the company's Super Mario Run released as a one-time purchase and failed to meet sales expectations, follow up titles based on Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem included microtransactional elements and have, so far, lit up sales charts, so I'm not surprised that Mario Kart Tour follows that mold. The game is in beta for Android starting today and while players are bound by a restriction on posting screenshots of the game, you know that hardly anybody is honoring that. Ethan Gach at Kotaku has a writeup on how the game plays and how much money it expects you to spend to have a fighting chance at winning.
To unlock additional circuits you collect Grand Stars by completing races and other challenges. Earning stars is also how you unlock gifts, some of which contain green gems, Mario Kart Tour’s premium currency. This is where things start to get weighed down with overlapping in-game currencies. For five gems you get to “pull” on a green pipe that shoots out a new driver, kart, or glider, each of a different rarity. My first pull got me Morton, one of the Bowser minions. Currently the in-game shop, which doesn’t allow you to buy gems yet, is advertising Metal Mario.
I'm interested in trying Mario Kart Tour once it releases, but I don't expect to put any money into it if it's just going to go to lootbox-style random pulls from a bank of items or characters. I will spend money on mobile games provided that it's a single fee (such as the aforementioned Super Mario Run) and I realize that is a dying if not already dead business model in the mobile space that is increasingly built around monthly subscriptions or slot machine-style payouts of randomly generated items. That said, I enjoy Star Trek Timelines and have paid a few dollars into its premium currency from time to time to support the development studio, but we're talking more along the lines of four dollars every few months as opposed to the $99 whale package that the game promotes every few days. I'm sure that Mario Kart Tour's beta period will be used to gauge whether or not the current pricing model used in the game is fair and undoubtedly the marketplace in the release version will be balanced based on player input. Whenever a mobile game goes into a public beta these days I naturally assume that's really what the developers are testing. The gameplay is probably pretty well locked in by that point and its the engagement with the in-game store that really needs testing and input. Mario Kart Tour's shop doesn't sell gems yet for real money, but it's only a matter of time before it does.
Since the dawn of time, humanity has had a single collective dream: to have a wall-mounted shelf that resembles a stage from Donkey Kong and to stock that shelf with little 8-bit stylized figurines of Nintendo characters. Now I have achieved this dream. Gaze upon the Donkey Kong shelf and the tableau it presents with Donkey Kong himself on the top level guarding both Princess Toadstool and a classic Donkey Kong arcade machine (it lights up and plays sound, too!). Mario and Luigi are on their way to save the day and maybe earn a free game, plus Toad and Link are heading up the rear for backup. A lone Goomba patrols the lower level; sadly, Link is the one hero on the scene who cannot jump, so maybe the Goomba has a fighting chance. Also, Gizmo the mogwai from Gremlins has stumbled into the scene and is hanging from a ladder for no reason other than he looks cute doing it. Hang on, Gizmo!
Special thanks and appreciation to my girlfriend who spotted the basic shelves at IKEA and painted them to something more appropriate for a big gorilla. Acquiring the figurines was a costly chore as several of them have been out of print for some time. Amazon to the rescue, naturally, but it took patience and time to wait for a third-party seller who wasn't charging outrageous prices for essentially an $8 chunk of plastic. Seriously, resellers, when it comes to pricing, how high can you get?
Today it's common for video game developers to speak up about their work either in unofficial forums such as social media or in proper interviews in publications, but thirty years ago nobody in a position of journalism power cared much about what a developer had to say. We've gnawed modern games like Super Mario Odyssey to the bone, but so many older games never had a chance to shine in a development context. One of those large voids in gaming history is the original Castlevania trilogy for the Nintendo Entertainment System as Konami isn't exactly known for keeping up with their own history until very recently, but thankfully for us there's a translated series of tweets at Shmuplations discussing the original creator of Castlevania, Hitoshi Akamatsu, that covers so much about how the game was conceived, balanced, and expanded upon in sequels.
Akamatsu’s sense of game design was very deep. In Castlevania, the knife appears first so the player can get used to the subweapons. He made the stopwatch so you could get used to enemy attacks. Then the strongest items are the Cross and the Holy Water. And that was how he determined the order in which the items would appear to the player.
I once asked him about the fight with Death, and how insanely hard it was. He told me, “The game design idea there was to get players to understand how to use the cross and axe subweapons. If you can defeat him with only the whip, that means you’re really good.” I can’t defeat him with the whip alone. But if you read the movements of the sickles, I understand it is possible (albeit very difficult) to beat him with just the whip. Apparently the test players were able to do it.
I'm reminded of how World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. is designed in such a way with power-up and enemy placement to teach players what the game expects of them. There's so much more in this article that reveals that those original NES games operated at a deeper level than many of us ever expected such as foreshadowing in the first Castlevania that leads into the sequel Simon's Quest, what Dracula's true form really means, and how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nearly hobbled the series. Settle in and prepare to have all those little questions that you never knew you had answered. While you're doing that, I think I'll go and play Castlevania yet again.
I know it's hard to believe now in an age where Street Fighter fans have been able to play as M. Bison and Balrog for decades, but there was once a time when the four Shadaloo bosses were restricted to CPU control only. They were fruits you must not taste in the original release of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in the arcades and that limitation carried over to the Super NES home version. Still, that didn't stop eager players from being absolutely sure that there had to be some hidden code that would unlock Vega, Sagat, and the rest as playable characters. Electronic Gaming Monthly used its reader mail column back in 1993 to try and convince players that there was no secret boss code no matter how many kids in the schoolyard said otherwise. They did find Game Genie codes that could brute force access to the bosses, but that's not quite the same thing, and the "Champion Edition" mirror match Down R Up L Y B code certainly didn't get the job done either.
I remember playing Street Fighter II for the Super NES the summer it came out with a neighborhood friend and we spent too many afternoons just trying to get to the bosses at all, let alone trying to control them. The challenge with the bosses was that unlike the regular World Warriors, we couldn't practice their moves to understand their strategies in a controlled two-player environment. When Vega leaped up onto his fence and flipped down on us, we had no idea what was coming or what to do about it. Sagat's endless "TIGER! TIGER! TIGER UPPERCUT!"? Forget about it. We were strangers in a strange land and no amount of jamming on the punch buttons to electrify Blanka could save us.
It's been quite a week for video game news as it feels like everyone had something to announce. Sony teased us with the first peek at the concept for the PlayStation 5, Microsoft introduced a new Xbox One S variant that lacks a disc drive, Nintendo dropped version 3.0 of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate featuring Joker from Persona 5, and Capcom baffled everyone with their confusing arcade stick home console box. Join us for an hour as we discuss all of these stories and 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.
With virtual reality making a resurgence in the past few years with companies like Sony, Oculus, and HTC leading the modern wave of headsets, it's only natural to take a look back to the 1990s when VR first tried to break out in a major way. While Nintendo's failed Virtual Boy wasn't exactly true VR, it did gain a reputation for being something unique, special, and painful on the eyes. In this vintage article from Benj Edwards we can explore the genesis of the hardware from a little company aiming to create private PC displays all the way to Nintendo's big gamble. Fun fact: Sega checked out the prototype hardware and passed on it for safety and marketing reasons.
“A big issue was kids got sick, threw up, or fell over when using this,” remembers Tom Kalinske, the former president of Sega of America, which encountered the Private Eye while reviewing potential VR technology in the early 1990s. “We couldn’t take that chance.” But that wasn’t the only downside Sega saw. “As I recall, our problem with it was it was just one color,” says Kalinske. “We were already promoting Game Gear in all colors.”
Nintendo later faced similar safety issues and was afraid of kids playing Virtual Boy in the backseat of cars getting into wrecks which would shove all of the hardware's plastic and glass into a child's face at point blank range. That's a reasonable fear! Design limitations and compromises continued to chip away at what Virtual Boy could have been until eventually it became the product that we know and love. At least, I love mine. I bought a used VB off of eBay in 2003 before the big retro push drove up the prices on all things related to the system as well as a decent library of games. I keep it stored safely in a large wooden Super Mario trunk and take it out sometimes to bewilder friends and family with it. People who weren't paying attention to Virtual Boy in 1995 are always surprised when I set it up and tell them to stick their face into the viewing area. Whether that's a good kind of surprise or a bad kind of surprise is left to your imagination.