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Power Button - Episode 309: Not-E3 2020 Roundup

Power ButtonIn a normal year would have just come off of a June full of E3 announcements and news, but this is no ordinary year.  News has still come in bits and pieces though, so as we leave this Not-E3 behind, it's time to take an hour and discuss some of that news.  We have Min Min arriving in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Nintendo backing away from the mobile gaming world, Crash Bandicoot 4 on the way, and more.  Join us and escape for a little while.  Apologies for my poor audio quality this week.  Skype decided to be "helpful" and use the ambient room microphone instead of the proper desk microphone. 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. 

Shakedown: Hawaii Coming To Wii And Wii U

Shakedown HawaiiVblank Entertainment's delightful 16-bit-stylized Shakedown: Hawaii was released for modern gaming platforms such as the Nintendo Switch last year, but developer Brian Provinciano loves a challenge, so he's bringing the action/adventure title to a pair of older consoles just for kicks.  Later this summer the game will launch for the Nintendo Wii and the Wii U.  Why did he do this?  Because he can.  Here's how it worked out:

While it still feels like yesterday, it's been nearly 14 years since the Wii launched. Although we've still seen some Wii releases over the past few years, seeing one more wasn't a given. Indeed, despite my best efforts, it just wasn't in cards anymore, at least, not for North America. However, as luck would have it, the doors hadn't quite closed yet with Nintendo of Europe, so it was still able see a release! Words truly can't express how appreciative I am, and I can't thank them enough for all the heavy lifting they did on their end to make it a reality. It's meant the world to me, and these Wii discs specifically hold an immense place in my heart.

As incredibly as it all worked out, unfortunately, Wii discs aren't region-free, and I didn't want North American players to be left out. Although I continued talks with NOA, floating around a Plan B, Plan C... Plan Z, sadly, every idea hit a wall. The clock was ticking, and after exhausting all other options, I decided to pivot to the next best thing: the Wii U. After all, the Wii U still supported Wii Remotes, Wii Classic Controllers, and even 4:3! So, I rushed against time to port Shakedown: Hawaii to Wii U as well, and get it through certification before that door could close too!

I absolutely love this.  Bringing this game to a pair of dead platforms is really money down a hole, but sometimes things need to be accomplished just because they can be.  North America will miss out on the Wii version completely, as in addition to the disc not launching outside of Europe, the Wii Shop Channel was discontinued some time ago, so a downloadable release is out of the question.  I suppose this makes Shakedown: Hawaii the final Wii game to be released on disc.  Hang on to that for future trivia nights.

Official Mario Paint VHS Teaches Digital Artistry

Mario Paint VHSNintendo's 1992 release Mario Paint for the Super NES sought to turn the console's audience into artists and musicians with its suite of creative tools, and while the game came with an instructional manual, the learning curve could be steep if you didn't have a basic grasp on the concepts behind digital art and music.  Nintendo published an official player's guide packed with stamp templates and basic tips to get you started on your creative adventure, but in Japan you could also get an official Mario Paint instructional videotape.  Released by Ape Inc., this thirty-minute video explains how to use the tools in far more detail than any printed page could ever hope and shows off some of the creations developed by the video team.  James Eldred at Mostly Retro bought the VHS and ripped it into a YouTube video for posterity. He also has some of the promotional inserts for other guides that came packed in with it, so be sure to go to his site for the full story.

I really wish I would’ve had something like this when I was a kid and playing with Mario Paint. There are some really fantastic tips in here. Using stamps to make ultra-fine lines, for instance, I don’t know if I ever thought of that. I only used stamps to make pixel art.

I enjoyed messing around with Mario Paint as a kid, but never accomplished much beyond recreating sprites from my favorite games with the stamp tool (more pixel art!) and tinkering with the music editor.  Nintendo Power would occasionally run images from Mario Paint animation videos sent in by very talented artists that blew away anything I could ever hope to create.  It was intimidating stuff and helped drive me back over to Super Mario Kart when the inspiration ran out.

Nintendo Backs Off From Mobile Gaming

MaxresdefaultNintendo believed it was poised to become a billion dollar force in the mobile gaming app market a few years ago when it announced its first game developed exclusively for mobile hardware, Super Mario Run, but as Takashi Mochizuki at Bloomburg reports today, the company is retreating from that market following a series of lackluster returns and a question of whether its worth continuing to pursue that market now that the Switch is so successful.  As the article points out, Nintendo's mobile projects were announced during the Wii U era when the company needed profitable successes, and with that console never reaching the heights of its predecessor and the handheld Nintendo 3DS approaching its sunset years, the only other option was to strike out into the mobile market.

President Shuntaro Furukawa proclaimed two years ago that smartphone games would be a $1 billion business with growth potential, building on his predecessor’s promise that Nintendo would release two to three mobile titles each year. That spurred hopes among investors that the gaming powerhouse could carve out a substantial slice of the market. In May, however, the president adopted a markedly different tune, saying “We are not necessarily looking to continue releasing many new applications for the mobile market.”

Mobile games are expected to make $77.2 billion this year, which would account for half of the overall video game industry’s sales, according to research from Newzoo. But “since the release of Mario Kart Tour in fall 2019, Nintendo’s mobile pipeline is empty,” said Serkan Toto, a mobile games consultant in Tokyo. “In a sense, Nintendo’s enormous success on console reduced the need and the pressure to put resources into mobile.”

The central problem with Nintendo's mobile games is that to be a highly successful and profitable mobile gaming company, you pretty much have to be a greedy amoral jerk of a company.  The most successful mobile games are bottomless pits of endless microtransactions that are designed to entice players to spend more and more money without really thinking about it.  That way of doing business has never been Nintendo's style.  Super Mario Run required only a one-time ten dollar fee to unlock everything in the game, while other games in the company's mobile realm included microtransactions, they were never as predatory as the other big fish in that pond. 

I bought the full game unlock for Super Mario Run, but I haven't played the game in over a year.  I tried Dr. Mario World, but never paid any money for it and soon quit playing it.  I pay the five dollars a month that it costs for a Mario Kart Tour gold pass which earns me extra bonuses while playing the game, and I feel I get my money's worth out of it as I play multiple races every day.  Yes, there are more expensive packs for sale that offer exclusive drivers and vehicles that are priced for the so-called mobile gaming whales out there, but that little five dollar fee is enough for me.  It would seem that to be profitable enough to be worthwhile, it's not enough for Nintendo.  I'm OK with Nintendo letting mobile go.  Their best work has always been found on their own hardware.

Mini-Review: Evan's Remains

Evan's RemainsWhen a genius inventor named Evan Goldstein disappears, his last supposed location is on a mysterious island.  Years later, a letter arrives asking that a girl named Dysis go to the island and find him.  That's about where things are when we pick up the plot of Evan's Remains, a new indie game developed by Matías Schmied for the Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.  The publisher, Whitethorn Digital, offered me a free download of the game to check it out, and since I'm a fan of side-scrolling puzzle platformer adventures, I eagerly accepted.  What I got in the end wasn't what I expected at all and I'm left wondering if perhaps this is one of those games that just isn't for me.

Continue reading "Mini-Review: Evan's Remains" »

Zelda 3 Lives On

Electronic Gaming MonthlyThose of us who grew up with gaming in the 1990s relied on magazines such as Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly for our news on new titles, and often those titles were teased in print before they had official titles.  Everyone was talking about Zelda 3 before it was The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and, and before we bought The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time we knew it as Zelda 64.  The thing is, these shorthand titles tend to stick.  Clyde Mandelin discusses the staying power of temporary titles over at Legends of Localization.

I’m not alone, actually – many other gamers my age still refer to A Link to the Past as “Zelda III” out of habit. A large part of it is that magazines at the time called it “Zelda III” even though it had a subtitle. This led everyone to call it that on playgrounds, in homes, at workplaces, etc. Basically, for a short period, “Zelda III” was what almost everyone called it, at least for short.

A similar thing happened with “Link’s Awakening” and “Zelda IV”. My recollection is that this numerated title didn’t stick around nearly as long, so it’s rarer to hear anyone refer it to as “Zelda IV” these days.

While this kind of thing isn't exclusive to the Zelda franchise (Super Mario World was colloquially called Super Mario Bros. 4 before its debut and the game even carries that subtitle in Japan), the wordy titles of the franchise tend to make the numerical shorthand something of a necessity.  Somehow I expect that if the third Sonic the Hedgehog game was entitled Sonic the Hedgehog and the Floating Island, we'd still refer to it in passing as Sonic 3.  There are too many Zelda games today to count them off in sequential order, but for a while there it was a handy tool. 

Power Button - Episode 307: Favored Endings

Power ButtonWe're looking at some of our favorite video game endings on this week's new podcast episode with a trip through our dreams with Super Mario Bros. 2 and The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, a long game of endings spanning the Mega Man X series into the Mega Man Zero series, Halo Reach's unhappy ending, Mass Effect 2's suicidal ending, Portal 2 ending with a song, and much 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. 

Nintendo's TV And Movie Ventures Recapped

The Super Mario Bros. Super ShowDepending on which generation's members you ask you would think that Nintendo's only forays into the world of movies and television shows were either 1993's Super Mario Bros.: The Movie which is notorious for being... let's just say something else, or of course the juggernaut that is Pokémon.  The company has licensed several other of its properties to film and animation studios over the years, and rather than let those slip through the cracks, Matt Paprocki writing for Polygon has put together a detailed recap of all of those productions spanning The Super Mario Bros. Super Show in 1989 up through 2019's Pokémon Detective Pikachu with stops at Donkey Kong Country, Kirby, and F-Zero along the way.  Here's a piece of the article detailing an early problem facing the Super Show producers:

Work on Super Show ran into an early problem. Nintendo was new to this, but DIC’s team sought to closely mirror the in-game content — things like the sounds of Mario grabbing a coin or sliding down a pipe — to capture the authentic Mushroom Kingdom aesthetic. The issue?

Super Show creators couldn’t use the game’s direct audio because Nintendo provided it in a digital form meant for the NES. “[The sound effects] were not compatible with any other format, so we couldn’t play them,” says John Grusd, a producer at DIC Entertainment.

The Super Show team went on to tape some sound effects while playing the games, and cleaned them up afterward. Others came from musical instruments or techniques such as foley, in an effort to best match the distinctive 8-bit tones; either way, it required more work for DIC.

Based on Nintendo's working relationship with the animation studio DIC as showcased in this article, it's a wonder the producers were able to accomplish anything considering how Nintendo wanted to be hands-off and yet exert some control.  I wonder how many questions and concerns were lost in translation along the way.  Today I'd imagine that the studio would be able to use digital files or, failing that, would call their counterparts at Nintendo to ask for the sounds in another format.  This history makes it sound like Nintendo sent a box to the studio filled with limited elements to use in making the show and then that was the last of the cooperation.  I'm glad that Nintendo has taken more of an interest in adapting their properties today and is more interested in what they and their partners can accomplish by working together.

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.