Archive for the ‘ Video Games ’ Category

Growing Up Gaming – Sega

Sega. It does what Nintendon’t.

One thing it didn’t do that Nintendid was grab my interest. There were some games, yes, but not as many to come close to the Nintendo and the Super Nintendo. In fact, I’m going to cover my experience with all Sega systems in a single post due to lack of in depth experience with them.

I first played Sega at another kid’s house in the neighborhood. It was the original model Sega Genesis and I think we really only played Sonic the Hedgehog, which was alright. I was impressed with the colors and music and, of course, the seeming speed at which Sonic would travel, the screen sometimes barely, if at all, keeping pace. I later got the model 2 Sega Genesis bundled with Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

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While I liked the original Sonic the Hedgehog okay, and eventually beat it with all the chaos emeralds, the sequel was certainly better. I vividly remember the first time flying to the Death Egg and the battle against the giant mech-Robotnik (and yes, I still like “Dr. Robotnik” better than “Eggman” as an official name). One thing the Sonic games did well, a thing that became a notable feature, was their music.

I still love Sky Chase Zone’s music

Of course, Sonic 3 and the Sonic & Knuckles expansion came after and were also great. I also played Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast, but they really weren’t as good. I have, however, always found it odd that the characters created for the Archie Comics, who appeared on the popular Saturday AM cartoon, were never utilized by Sega for any games other than cameo appearances in Sonic Spinball. I think a game based on the comic/cartoon would be far better than some of the recent offerings.

I did like the X-Men game on Sega Genesis, but primarily with a cheat code that gave unlimited mutant powers since I never thought it made sense otherwise. Cyclops isn’t limited to a certain number of optic blasts before he has to recharge and Wolverine certainly doesn’t have his strength sapped when he uses his adamantium claws. I know I played the sequel, X-Men 2: The Clone Wars, but I don’t remember it as well as the first.

I only played one RPG on the Sega Genesis: Shining Force II. I really liked how the combat had a strategy element with a full army of party members to move about the battle field with different reaches for their attacks. I’d like to go back and play the first one, though I understand it is quite difficult.

I did play a bit of Ecco the Dolphin, though never really knew what to do. Despite that, just swimming around impressed me with how fluid the animations seemed. Despite not playing them too much, I’m still a fan of the Ecco series today.

I never played anything on Sega CD or Sega 32X addons for the Genesis, though I always wanted to play Sonic CD. I’ve since gotten all of the systems of the “Genesis Trio” here and hope to get to play the games I missed out on eventually.

At some point, and for some silly reason, I also had a Game Gear. I loved the bright colors of the screen, but it was certainly a large, unwieldy device with practically no battery life so the hand held was basically a home device for me, using an AC adapter. I had some Sonic games, X-Men, and Tails’ Adventure, but nothing really stood out to leave a lasting impression.

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“Feed me your batteries!”

From Blockbuster, I rented a Sega Saturn to play Panzer Dragoon, thinking it looked like Star Fox on a dragon! I did definitely enjoy the game, but not enough to try saving up for the system and try more games for it.

As most know, the Dreamcast came out not too long after that, but I never had it. Instead, I had a friend I was roommates with in college that had it hooked up in our living room, but I only ever played Sonic Adventure on it.

So ends my woefully limited exposure to the Sega systems. Next, I will discuss my continued relationship with Nintendo as the N64 came out, though I certainly have less games to speak to there as well.

Growing Up Gaming – SNES

The Super Nintendo is definitely my favorite system. I enjoyed the NES, but Super Nintendo is where things really took off for me.Similar to the NES, I saved up the money to buy the system myself. I remember purchasing it in Houston, TX when we were visiting family.

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Buying just the system, I started with Super Mario World and was blown away. Granted, in my last post I did mention Super Mario Bros 3 introduced more new concepts that Super Mario World iterated on, but it did that so darn well. Flying moved from a raccoon tail to a yellow cape, but now able to glide along and even dive bomb with it. The big addition so many, including me, loved was Yoshi. I also really liked the music, which had some nice variety to it.

Super Nintendo also had some great beat ’em up games. While NES had Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Battletoads, plus TMNT2 and 3, the SNES continued these with Super Double Dragon from Technos, Battletoads & Double Dragon and Battletoads in Battlemaniacs from Rare. The Super Nintendo also brought us Final Fight from Capcom.

Looking back, though, all my favorite SNES beat-em-ups have comic book origins. Of course, the first an foremost that has to be noted is TMNT IV: Turtles in Time from Konami. The game has smooth animations and great music and felt like the original arcade game had finally come to consoles (at the time, I didn’t realize there was a Turtles in Time arcade game). Just like many NES titles, it was a lot of fun with friends. We played the game fully through more than once, each as our favorite turtle.

The next I particularly liked was Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage from Software Creations & Acclaim, which was really hard. Perhaps not the best game (okay, it’s definitely not the best game, even for a beat ’em up), I still liked it. Playing as Spidey or Venom and playing through the story from the comics crossover was a awesome and the first time I felt a game started to capture the feel of being Spider-Man to some extent (previous titles didn’t do it for me). It would have been cool to have more of the characters playable instead of cameos for special attacks, but I still liked the game and there are certainly other comic book games that fared much worse.

Next would be what I feel is one of the best beat-em-ups and one of the best X-Men games for its time, X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse from Capcom. You played as Beast, Cyclops, Gambit, Psylocke, and Wolverine, each with their own stages, with basic beat ’em up levels, but some moves used more Street Fighter style controls to execute. The animations were fluid, the controls were responsive, and the story was fairly well done. Capcom took the gameplay of this game and went forward to be use it in another fun game late in the SNES lifecycle, Marvel Super Heroes in War of the Gems. Wolverine returned for this one, but instead of X-Men, you had Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Hulk.

I also really liked Capcom’s Street Fighter II on the SNES, despite being horrible at it in the arcades. Street Fighter II Turbo and Super Street Fighter II were also favorites to play. I was never particularly good on the console either, but still enjoyed playing the world tour at least. At the time, the big fighting game rivalry was Street Fighter and Midway Games’ Mortal Kombat. I never cared for Mortal Kombat, though. I preferred holding back to block more than having a block button and I thought Mortal Kombat was ridiculous with the blood spatter. A single punch seemed to send a liter of blood flying from your opponent. However, like many, I did find the fatalities ridiculously amusing just because of how over the top they were.

Continuing the exploration into genres I never got into on NES, we come to Nintendo’s new first party IP, Star Fox. I never played any sort of flight simulator or flight combat except perhaps a brief attempt at NES’ Top Gun that failed miserably. I think it’s safe to say Nintendo Power had a lot to do with drawing me into this one. I was 12 years old at the time and still on the tail end of TMNT-mania and had liked the space adventure of Bucky O’Hare (the NES game is an underrated gem – too bad I sold my copy and it skyrocketed in price since), so the Nintendo Power comic presented a good story basis to get excited for the game. I played Star Fox multiple times to explore each path. The Nintendo Power comic turned out to have little connection to the game’s story, but that didn’t matter. I still loved the game.

Just look at those cutting edge graphics that blew our minds:

Still continuing the exploration of genres I hadn’t tried with NES, I also loved another new one from Nintendo: F-Zero, despite never really caring to try racing games. The music went a long way for me and the health of your car being depleted and restored during the races added something fun. The other racing game I liked from Nintendo on SNES would be Super Mario Kart, particularly the four player battle matches. I still don’t think any of the sequels have matched the fun of the original simple balloon busting battle matches.

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And now we come to the real meat of my love for Super Nintendo. Roleplaying Games. Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy II (really IV) was my first Final Fantasy game and I believe the first roleplaying game I played other than a little of of Quest for Glory on PC. While I agree other entries may be objectively better, I still put this one as my favorite. I was completely engrossed with the story as Cecil gained and lost allies, fought monsters, and went through dungeons from dark knight to becoming a paladin. The combat of controlling the party, each character with their own class of skills and abilities, magic, and Rydia’s summons were all so great. I played through the game twice shortly after one another and was eager for more games like it.

Then it was Final Fantasy III (really VI). My friend recalls I was skeptical of it since it wasn’t a sequel to Cecil’s party. At the time I didn’t realize it was actually the sixth in the series with each being a new story. I quickly warmed up to it, though, and was once again fully immersed in the story. Overall, I do still feel like the cast could have been trimmed back a bit and that story driven games can easily suffer from “here’s a dozen characters…choose four” as you need certain characters in certain places to get more of their backstory or see their personalities come out and their character growth as certain events unfold. Still, I loved Final Fantasy III and never got rid of my original copy, the box, manual, or map.

Opening credits scene is near obligatory when talking about Final Fantasy VI

And finally there’s the winner of most “Best SNES RPG” lists as well as many “favorite SNES game” lists: Chrono Trigger, also from Squaresoft. I loved this game as well. So many great tracks on the soundtrack and a different take on combat from the other RPGs I had played. Chrono Trigger nailed almost everything for me. Characters were interesting, music was great, animations pushed the capabilities of the SNES, especially with facial expressions. Then on top of all that, it turned out to have multiple ways to beat the game for variations on the ending. This is another I’ve kept complete in box all these years.

A few honorable mentions for me with the SNES RPG line up would be ActRaiser from Enix, Breath of Fire from Capcom (but published in the US by Squaresoft), Illusion of Gaia by Quintet and published by Enix & Nintendo, and definitely the Lufia games by Neverland. Squaresoft also really hit a home run for me with Secret of Mana, which has one of my favorite pieces of music on the SNES.

Mega Man took a huge leap from NES to SNES with Mega Man X from Capcom, another favorite of mine. I only played the first, but have since picked up the second, which two of my friends feel is the best in the series. Eventually I’ll play it and someday find a copy of Mega Man X3 as well.

Similarly, I only played the first Donkey Kong Country. I’ve since gotten all three and am also told by friends the second is once again the best banana in the bunch, so someday I’ll have to get through all of them too. Donkey Kong Country was so cool because of how unique and impressive the graphics style was at the time. It was also just a fantastic platformer.

To wrap up this post, though not my favorite game on the system, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past introduced me to the Zelda franchise and is among my top games of all time. The charm of sprite based games holds up to time better than early polygon games.

One last honorable mention would have to be The Lion King from Virgin Interactive. One of my favorite animated Disney films, I got the game and was amazed at how smooth the animations were. I was also amazed, but not pleased, by how hard some of the later levels were. It also had some pretty good music adaptations from the movie that were impressive for the time.

Next I’ll talk about my memorable games from the other side of the console war: Sega.

 

 

Thoughts on Nintendo Switch

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Nintendo unveiled their new console, the Nintendo Switch, this week and the Internet has all sorts of reaction, as expected. Some are proclaiming the death of Nintendo (again). Unfortunately, investors are not convinced with the console either as stocks dropped after the system’s reveal event. Many are voicing worry that it will be a repeat of the Wii U’s underperformance and, to some extent, I am too.

A lot were thinking $250 was the smart, and likely, price point for the Switch. Instead, $300 gets the Switch console unit with dock, AC adapter, the Joy Con controllers and charging grip. However, once you add a game for $60 you’re looking at $360 to get started and $430 if you want to add a Pro Controller. What’s more, it’s a weaker system than Playstation 4 or XBox One. This could have still been appealing if it was released head to head with PS4 or XB1 at launch, but with those consoles currently priced around $250 with a game included, it’s a lot to justify. When the competition has a more powerful, current gen system, having one of the cheapest release prices in console history (when adjusted for inflation) doesn’t mean much.

On top of that, the accessories seem extremely steep. $70 for the Pro controller, $80 for extra Joy Con controllers, $30 for the charging grip, $90 for an extra charging dock set (if you want a second TV set up with one). If there’s a reason for the Pro Controller costing $20 more than the Wii U Pro controller (and a Dualshock 4), such as motion control or the advanced haptic rumble feedback like the Joy Cons, Nintendo needs to make it clear to make it seem like the value is worth the price.

Many are also marking a lack of games as a strike against it. 1-2 Switch seems like it should be the Wii Sports equivalent, packed in with the system, but it is a launch day game. Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders: Imaginators, and Super Bomberman R are all launch day titles. It does strike me as odd that Nintendo didn’t make more of a showing of Bomberman R, though I’ve seen complaints that it has micro-transactions tied up in it.

Within the release month, Has-Been-Heroes, Snipperclips: Cut It Out Together, and I Am Setsuna are also releasing for the Switch. While I Am Setsuna is available on other systems, I’d be interested if Nintendo and Square Enix offered a physical release here. Still, that’s 8 games available in the first month where Playstation 4 had 26 and XBox One had 21 launch day titles.

There was a Wii vibe from some of the titles presentations, but I’ll admit with the high prices, the game line up, and the presentation, there is a Wii U performance vibe here.

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The fact that Nintendo didn’t come up with this themselves is also disappointing.

However, with the information provided, I heard some real excitement at work the next day from fathers who loved the idea of the games for family nights and the ability to go from TV to handheld. The battery life didn’t remotely phase them as they expected portable charger options to be available. If that spreads, the Switch could actually be more of a Wii, adopted by families and less of the “core gamer” crowd, than a Wii U.

But here is my opinion on what Nintendo needs to do to get some interest in Switch, as equally irrelevant as everyone else’s opinion!

Indie Games – Court them!
I thought this about the Wii U and I feel the same about the Switch. Since the console is less powerful than the other two on the market, Nintendo should make a strong effort to court the indie games that don’t need as much power. If Nintendo made themselves into the key console for indie devs, they could build a library that’s unique to them. Seriously, Nintendo should have secured a Wii U console exclusive of Undertale.

And even if it’s not a Switch exclusive, Nintendo could stand out by putting in the extra effort to of releasing those indie games in a physical release that are otherwise digital only. This may seem like a minor differentiating factor, but Limited Run Games has been showing there is a demand for physical releases of indie games.

Imagine if Nintendo had picked up Mighty No. 9 rather than it being a Kickstarter project. If the project had been developed with Nintendo involved, their quality requirements having to be met, would we have gotten a better product? After all, since Mega Man was a staple on the NES and SNES, I felt Nintendo should have been involved in getting Mighty No. 9 up to snuff and securing it as an exclusive.

Or how about another NES staple with Castlevania? Would it increase interest in the Switch if Nintendo had picked up Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as an exclusive rather than that being a Kickstarter project?

In the same vein as indie developers, Nintendo needs to re-evaluate their handling of fan projects. While I understand the legal necessity to protect their IPs, they could take a look at these projects they’ve shut down and work out a deal with the creators to complete the project for Nintendo. Moreso, they could start a program allowing fan’s to submit passion projects to Nintendo for approval and release. If Nintendo could bring these creators on board and officially release the fan made Mario 64 HD  or the recent fan remake of Metroid 2: The Return of Samus, it could offer relatively cheap exclusives for Nintendo.

There has to be some middle ground for fan projects to meet with Nintendo. Just look at Sonic Mania, a passion project including team members who were working on a fan project high-definition remake of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Having a program that encourages fans to submit their examples of levels or game work might find Nintendo new talent to bring on board.

Nostalgia & 3rd Party
One of the criticisms leveled at the Wii U is now being leveled at the Switch: lack of third party support. Some of the multi-platform games announced for the Switch are reportedly ports of last gen versions of the games due to the weaker power of the Switch. If the Switch doesn’t have the power to handle current gen games, they need to establish a unique niche that becomes a “must have” apart from what PS4 and XB1 offers.

The greatest strength Nintendo has is nostalgia, as recently demonstrated by the high demand for the NES Classic. They should capitalize on this with their new console as well. Not only do they have the nostalgia in their favor, but retro games are definitely in favor right now.

Rather than highlighting a lack of power, Nintendo could pursue third party developers to make exclusives, even if timed, that are lower cost and retro inspired. A perfect example is the XBox One’s upcoming Cuphead. Pursuing developers for these types of games while reaching back into their past library for inspiration could give them a good line up of new games. And if these games are cheaper to develop, a lower price tag on them could increase appeal. If Nintendo’s system costs as much or more than the competition, but the games were, on average $10 to $20 cheaper at retail, that could balance out the cost perception a bit.

Here are some Nintendo heyday series Nintendo could pursue convincing developers to bring back:

Adventure Island – Last seen as WiiWare, converting the original game to a 3D approach, Konami could come back to this series either as a classic style side scroller or keeping the 3D approach.

Adventures of Lolo – Another series that’s been forgotten, HAL Laboratory made Kirby and the Rainbow Curse on Wii U, so they still have a relationship with Nintendo. Lolo was a maze puzzler that would fit pretty well with Nintendo’s modern offerings.

Ghosts n’ Goblins – Though the original 8-bit and arcade versions have been re-released, a complete remake would be a solid exclusive. Staying true to the original difficulty, this could be Nintendo’s side scrolling “Dark Souls” of difficulty.

Ikari Warriors – SNK hasn’t done anything with this series since the NES. They were originally 2 player, but adding more enemies and really making the game chaotic could lend itself well to the Switch supporting 4 players, either on 4 Switch units for local co-op, or 4-way split screen could be loads of fun.

Capcom – Yes, we could long for Capcom to make another classic Mega Man that outshines Mighty No. 9, but no. Well, okay, if Nintendo could convince Capcom to make them an exclusive by the name of Mega Man Legends 3, that would get some attention for sure. But no, my thought was more towards a few remasters. Following the success of DuckTales Remastered, let’s get Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and TailSpin Remasters out.

TMNT – It’s been a while since the turtles had a good game and Mutants in Manhattan didn’t hit a home run. Either as a 3D approach or a classic side scrolling beat ’em up, Nintendo’s family gaming image might be a good fit to partner up with Nickelodeon for an approach at the four brothers.

Sparkster – Another longshot since it’s stuck in the depths of Konami, but perhaps Nintendo could pry it from their cold hearted fingers. I loved Rocket Knight Adventures and Sparkster and I don’t know why they never took off (pun intended). I’d love to see Sparkster brought back as a modern side scroller or as Nintendo’s contemporary to Ratchet & Clank.

Earthworm Jim 3 – Another title that hasn’t seen much attention other than a 2009 remake, Nintendo could do worse than to clench a new Earthworm Jim as an exclusive.

Samurai Jack – Ol’ Jack is on his way back to Toonami on Cartoon Network. Another potential partner for Nintendo to pursue, if they could land a deal to publish games based on this IP, it would be a decent win. With the new show said to be darker, it could offer a less “for kids” game for the Switch.

??? – This one will be a little difficult as it has the problem of no current developer or publisher, but Nintendo could go a long way if they could get a partnership deal with Disney now that Disney Interactive is defunct. Remember Aladdin and The Lion King on SNES? Smooth animation, tight controls, great music. Yet where was the game for Zootopia or Moana last year?

Staying in Disney’s court, where are the Marvel games? There hasn’t been anything in the MCU area since Captain America: Super Soldier from Sega. Aside from Lego Marvel Super Heroes, anyway. Where is X-Men Legends 3 or Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3? While these likely wouldn’t be Switch exclusives, having them on the system, if it was made, would be great fits for the multi-player that Switch promotes.

Mother Collection – Simply stated, if Nintendo would make a Mother Collection release for the Nintendo Switch, it would swell. At least to its fan base. If they’re that worried about it, they could do a limited first print run to gauge interest in the US with a 2nd print planned if the demand was there.

Nintendo’s Missing IPs
Nintendo has Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at launch and Mario Odyssey slated for holiday 2017, but there are still a number of Nintendo IPs that need games lined up for Nintendo Switch.

Kirby – Almost a guarantee a Kirby game will release on Switch at some point.
Donkey Kong – Donkey Kong Country is on SNES, N64, Wii, & Wii U. It’ll happen.
Pokemon – With Switch’s portability, I’m sure it will get a Pokemon game. They may not want to step on Sun & Moon’s foot on 3DS just yet.

Metroid – I can’t really imagine Nintendo isn’t finally planning a new game in this series, likely in the Metroid Prime series. I have to think Nintendo will want to do one with the Joy Con controllers. If they are planning one, it would be wise to announce sooner rather than later.

Kid Icarus – Similar to Metroid, I think it might be interesting to see what the Joy Con controllers can do to emulate archery with the haptic rumble feedback. When was the last time Pit had a console game, after all?

F-Zero – Mario Kart has taken all the attention as Nintendo’s racer, but I’d like to see F-Zero come back on Switch.

Star Fox – Star Fox fans are still eager for a good Star Fox game whereas Star Fox Zero was really a Star Fox game built from testing the Wii U capabilities. Fake leaks suggested Star Fox 64 HD remake and that might actually be all Nintendo has to offer to satisfy fans. Personally, I’d like to see Star Fox move forward with a new story after Command. Pick an ending to make canon and go foward. I’d also like to see a little more depth brought to the story. Have Fox, Falco, Slippy, and Krystal piloting with Peppy as tactical advisor. Play up the mercenary basis and have them framed as traitors having to prove their innocence & bring down a new threat. Bring in supporting cast characters and implement cut scenes to actually make a story. Honestly, I’d even be okay with Star Fox Adventures coming back if that series went more towards Ratchet & Clank meets Zelda with more of a Star Wars style story. Or go 3rd person shooter mixed with flying levels like N64’s Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire.

Bravely Switch – Since Square Enix is developing for the Switch, I’d love to see I Am Setsuna get a physical release on the system and Bravely Third developed for it instead of 3DS. For that matter, Square Enix could bring Breath of Fire back to console.

The Big Deal – Super Mario RPG or…

Paper Mario has taken the place of Super Mario RPG, but I’d love to see Square Enix do another true Super Mario RPG sequel to Secret of the Seven Stars.

But going a step beyond that, I’d like to see Nintendo and Square Enix do a spiritual sequel: Super Smash Bros. RPG. Taking the page from Kingdom Hearts and mixing Smash Bros. cast with Final Fantasy characters for an RPG. If they come up with a good story, having these casts interacting could be fun. And they could negotiate to give us an entire line of Final Fantasy amiibos. Even splitting profits on those, I think the volume might make up for it.

The Nintendo Switch is never going to compete with the Playstation 4 nor XBox One and Nintendo shouldn’t try to. Their best bet is to establish themselves with a solid line up of games that make themselves unique and worth having. First party games alone aren’t going to be enough, as the Wii U showed. They need to get third party developers offering games as well, but not just ports that aren’t on par with the competition. If they can carve out some unique offerings, though, the Switch could still be an appealing console and with a price drop to $250, it could become an easy choice. Most gamers today are willing to drop the money for two consoles if both are offering enough unique experiences the other isn’t.

And also…cut the artificial scarcity nonsense. People want your product. Get into as many homes as you can before they get frustrated and decide to just pick up your cheaper competition.

What do you think Nintendo could do to make Switch a must have console apart and separate from the competition?

 

 

Growing Up Gaming – NES

In the last post, I mentioned not being certain about specifics of my gaming roots, but my memories are more clear as we proceed to the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I didn’t get one at release, but I certainly wanted one.

I was in elementary school and we had a fund raiser selling raffle tickets with the grand prize for who could sell the most being $100. While my parents took me door to door in the neighborhood or out to the local golf course, and my grandparents around their neighborhood, I had to give the sales pitch myself. Ultimately, I did sell the most tickets and got my $100 prize, which I opted to spend on buying myself the Nintendo Entertainment System.

This set me on a path that I grew rather proud of, having bought every console I’ve ever owned through the years myself rather than asking for one from my parents. While they bought me games at birthdays and Christmas, I always bought my own consoles. I think it was a good lesson in responsibility for young me.

I got the Action set with the console, controller, grey zapper, and Super Mario Bros./ Duck Hunt.

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Note: I pronounce it as N-E-S, not “ness” which is just silly.

My first game, of course, was Super Mario Bros., and my father and I started playing it together. Now, my father certainly has never had much interest in video games prior to this, nor since, but at the start of the NES era, we did play together some. In fact, he played enough that I remember him picking me up from school one day with a big grin on his face. When I asked why, he told me he had beaten Super Mario Bros. My father beat Super Mario Bros. before I did. I beat it not long after, and with the Fire Flower’s power, which he hadn’t.

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I tried to claim he cheated because I was at school, but I knew the truth…

The other game I got early was also because of my father: Golf. My dad has always been a golfer and I imagine he hoped playing the game together might spur an interest in the actual sport, but the game did no such thing. It wasn’t all that great of a game either, but it still holds a special place in my memory because of that time playing it with him.

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Mario played the gentleman’s sport of golf.

Now, there are plenty of other games I will be talking about in this post, but only one other with a connection to family for me. I had my tonsils removed when I was young and after surgery, I got The Adventures of Lolo as a get well gift. I seem to recall beating the game, but never played the sequels.

While I didn’t have a lot of familial connections in gaming, I did have friends. All my close friends had gotten an NES and we would play whenever we visited one another’s house. One friend and I played through Bubble Bobble on 2 player together. I played DuckTales at another friend’s house, but never owned it. I borrowed Mega Man 2 from a friend to play through.

DuckTales The Moon Theme may be my favorite NES tune.

And that social aspect, the trading games, led to exploring other games. I got Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers because I liked DuckTales. I got Mega Man 3 because I liked Mega Man 2. I went back to the original Mega Man via rental because I liked Mega Man 2 (but never beat it.. darn rock monster in Wily’s castle).

Rentals. Ah yes, before our town even had a Blockbuster, we had a local family owned rental store. I remember renting Dragon Warrior, which I didn’t care for at the time, Dick Tracy, Robocop, Yo! Noid, and Ninja Gaiden games. My friend and I would play Ikari Warriors for hours each rental. I also remember loving Wolverine on NES after the disappointing offering of Uncanny X-Men. Unfortunately, I owned (and still own the same copy of) Uncanny X-Men and only rented Wolverine, though I’ve rectified that now.

Like almost every young boy in the USA, I was wrapped up in turtlemania, so of course I got the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. I don’t recall how I got it, but I’d be willing to be it was a birthday or Christmas present one year. While many had trouble with the underwater level diffusing bombs, I never had too much trouble and with some practice, I was able to ace that level every time with minimal damage. It was the level afterwards that always got me, with so many places to go and not knowing where the correct path was. I’d waste too much health going to dead ends or in circles and lose lives. Without YouTube and the Internet, the best we had was whatever Nintendo Power had to offer (which I was subscribed to starting with July/August 1989, Volume 7). We watched my friend’s older brother get to Shredder once, but he didn’t manage to beat him.

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Some of the covers were pretty amazing.

By the time TMNT 2: The Arcade Game was out, we all knew the arcade game (which I would love to own one day) and though not as good, the NES version was still a blast. We still went over to each other’s houses to play it and we’d replay the full game again and again after beating it.

Another curiosity of the NES era is the movie games. Today, and for a few generations now, it is generally expected that movie tie-in games tend to be fairly lackluster, though there are some exceptions. This wasn’t the case with the NES, possibly due to the more simplistic game designs. Still, the NES had some decent movie tie-in games. The 1989 Batman movie game was a pretty good side scrolling platformer for its time.

I also still love the Who Framed Roger Rabbit game with the ability to drive around in Benny the Cab and outrun the weasels being one of my favorite parts. The game had some puzzle solving, amusing items to employ (exploding cigars and cartoon holes to cause enemies to fall through), collecting pieces of Acme’s will, some joke telling mini games, and a little bit of fisticuffs for combat. I remember spending a lot of time on that game, and a lot of frustration against Judge Doom.

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Seriously, it was a hard fight.

Other movie tie ins I remember being pretty good include the Robocop games, Dick Tracy, and particularly Gremlins 2 was a lot of fun. I think Back to the Future is supposed to be pretty good, though I don’t recall playing it. I also liked both Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, despite what anyone else says. Of course, not all were great, like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but the ratio of good to bad movie tie in games is definitely in the system’s favor.

I also played Super Mario Bros. 2 at my friend’s, or borrowed it, yet never owned it. Once again, it spurred me to get Super Mario Bros. 3 and eventually went through every level (though I definitely prefer wise use of warp whistles). The third is definitely my favorite on NES, though Super Mario World on SNES may edge out as my favorite of the series. Still, Super Mario World made polishing touches where Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced so many new things. Flying with the raccoon tail, saved games (correction, this was not on NES’ SMB3), the different suits with different abilities were all impressive and stunning new additions.

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In hindsight, I actually missed a lot of great titles that set the standard in their categories and launched both their own franchises as well as imitators since. I only briefly played, or watched friends play, Legend of Zelda and Adventure of Link. The same goes for Metroid and Kid Icarus. I never played Kirby either, though a friend of mine had the GameBoy game.

Bomberman.
Metal Gear.
Castlevania.
Even Final Fantasy!

All games I never played as a child and still haven’t played through yet in some cases. I’ve got them in my library now, added to the ever monolithic backlog, but haven’t played through them.

Honorable mentions of other games I did love: Contra, Bucky O’Hare, Tiny Toon Adventures, Little Nemo, Battletoads, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, Double Dragon, and Shadowgate.

As a bit of a sidenote to the NES, I never really got into hand held games. I never had a GameBoy, but later got a GameBoy Pocket and then GameBoy Color, but I pretty much only got in on the Pokemon craze with Blue and then later Yellow. Otherwise, I didn’t really play GameBoy through its iterations.

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Back when he was a pudgy Pikachu.

To me, the Nintendo was all about fun. Well designed games with solid gameplay. Often light on plot, they were still a lot of fun. And some did have decent plots within their constraints. But Nintendo, the NES, was also about fun with friends and sharing your experiences and your knowledge with each other.

Playing video games at my friends, trading games to borrow, and talking about how to beat them pulled me deeper into loving video games. They weren’t just for introverted kids (even though to some extent I am an introvert), there was always a social aspect to them, even to single player games.

And though I may have missed some great games, I still had great experiences with the ones I did play. Experiences I hope to share.

In the next entry, I’ll talk about my favorite games from the Super Nintendo, where I fell fully into RPGs.

Growing Up Gaming – Arcade & Atari

I don’t remember all the specifics of years and ages for the milestones of my childhood playing video games. As such, I can’t say with certainty what I played first, but I have some small recollection. I do know as a child, before I owned any system, I played arcades at hte Dairy Queen restaurant in my home town when my grandparents would sometimes take me after school.

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I’m fairly sure Ms. Pac-Man was the first game I ever played and it was at that Dairy Queen with their single arcade cabinet, asking for extra quarters whenever I could. It turns out that Ms. Pac-Man and I are closer than I’ve realized in my youth, as her initial release on January 13, 1981 was only 8 days prior to my birth.

The second game I seem to recall playing was Galaga. I didn’t chase high scores, being young enough that such a thing wasn’t important to me if it even truly registered in my mind other than putting your initials in to be saved, but I had fun playing them. To me, that was, and still is, the core focus of video games – to have fun.

I never got an Atari system growing up, either. The Atari 2600 had been out a while, releasing in 1977, and the Atari 5200 released in 1982, right after I was born, but still a while before I was starting my discovery of video games. My friend, however, had an Atari 2600, so I was introduced to home consoles at his house when I’d go over to play.

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I remember playing Pac-Man and, despite the graphics being a fairly poor imitation of the arcade, absolutely loved it as well. I didn’t care that it didn’t look as good: it sill played basically the same and was still fun. I guess even in the 80s, you could have a debate over the importance of graphics to the overall experience of a game.

Another game I remember playing frequently with my childhood friend was Joust. For hours we would battle over the lava pits on those birds. Joust still remains one of my favorite games on Atari and I was quite amused to see it recreated in World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion.

I don’t remember too many specifics of playing it, but I do remember I loved Chopper Command on Atari 2600 as well. My friend may have gotten this one later, as I think I vaguely remember playing it while he was playing NES at the same time. Or perhaps we just took turns playing it.

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Thrill at the lifelike graphics as you rescue your men from the enemy!

While my introduction to video games, or videogames if we want to get into that debate, was not largely in depth with vast exposure to the arcade scene nor a large library of Atari home console games, it did create the spark to light what would become a wildfire in my life. It’s interesting to me that I was born just before the video game crash of 1983, but games were still out there enough to gain my interest for the two years before Nintendo would release the Nintendo Entertainment System.

In a way, the crash may have contributed to setting the stage for Nintendo’s explosive arrival with their console. Had it not been for Atari consoles, and their games, having prices slashed, many may have never played them. If we hadn’t been exposed to them then, who’s to say we would have been excited when Nintendo came along? Sure, a lot of people never played Atari and still jumped on the Nintendo train, but perhaps some of us, perhaps myself, wouldn’t have.

Yet oddly enough, not once during my childhood was I even aware there was a crash. There was always a couple arcade cabinets in town growing up, either at the Dairy Queen I mentioned or the bowling alley and later a pizza place. One friend or another would still have an Atari 2600, though I don’t recall any of the later Atari systems being in any friend’s home. Then the NES was here before we knew it.

While this little post was rather small, it’s because my introduction to games was small, but in my next post, I’ll start to discuss my memories and favorite games starting with my first console, where I truly got into video games with the Nintendo Entertainment System.

National Videogame Museum Opens Its Doors

The National Videogame Museum (NVM) opened in Frisco, TX on April 2, 2016. It was a bright, sunny Saturday morning. 10:00 AM, to be precise, was the opening of the doors. I was there and I was excited. Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to get to writing my thoughts on the grand opening of the nation’s, the world’s, first museum dedicated to the history of video games (I use “video game” though the museum officially uses “videogame”).

I had arrived at the Frisco Discovery Center, where the NVM is located, at 10:05 with a bit of a hurried step. I wanted to get in with plenty of time to look around as I was meeting someone in 3 hours to hand over some video games I had accumulated that weren’t going into my collection. I knew the doors opened at 10, so I went right in. And found the line. I followed the line outside again and saw just how many had arrived to see the history of their hobby.

There were a lot. The Museum holds about 240 people and the line was well out of the building and along the sidewalk, starting to curl around the build like a human formation of Nibbles.

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One or two people showed up

I stood in line with a mother whose 7 year old son was running around playing with other kids while they waited. Preston was here to see more about video game history, particularly Pac-Man and Galaga. I learned something from Preston’s mother in the hour we waited outside.

Pixels was a good movie. That’s right, Pixels.

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Yes, THAT Pixels.

Preston saw Pixels more than once in theaters and probably a dozen times at home since it released on blu-ray and DVD. Pixels introduced this young boy to Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Q*bert, and made him want to learn more. He went to Google and began reading about these games and these characters and when they came out. He grew interested not only in the games themselves, but their history.

If a 7 year old boy loves a movie about video game characters, and that movie drives him to pursue the history of the industry, then I have to say the movie did something right. Adults and critics may not like it, but if it stirred the interest and curiosity of children, then it’s a good movie by my measure.

And so, there we were, at the first museum in the nation that would let him explore more of that history. TekForce was present and volunteered to provide music and MC the waiting room that we reached at 11 o’clock. I was able to speak with him a moment and learned that the museum was expecting 1,500 visitors for the grand opening day. In the first hour, they were adjusting expectations to 4,000. They underestimated how many people would come out for the grand opening.

As we waited for our ticket groups to be called there were pictures available to color, music played, and a couch set up with a Wii U and Super Mario Bros. available to play. Kids were having a great time. There was also trivia to win prizes – the question I was present for was regarding Pac-Man’s original name (The answer is Puck Man).

At 11:35, our ticket group was called up and we finally went into the NVM lobby to pay for our tickets to the museum proper. Tickets are $12 for adults, but include $1 worth of tokens for the arcade at the end of the museum. By noon, 2 hours after arrival, I finally set foot inside.

The Museum is divided into 16 stages, all of which cover a different portion of video game history.

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But first, you’re greeted by Mario

 

Stage 1, “Begin” covers the early days of video game history. In fact, with Ralph Baer’s “Brown Box Prototype” on display, it might be safe to say this touches on video game pre-history and then advances through history from there.

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An important aspect of the NVM is that it’s not just exhibits to look at and read. There are a lot of interactive features at the museum, mostly in the form of playable games in the exhibits. Almost every Stage has something you can play.

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Just like the one you grew up with, right?

Stage 2, “Timeline” is the most time consuming interactive option. With screens set up above oversized Super Nintendo controllers, this allows visitors to browse every single video game console ever released to get some information about them. Release year, MSRP, some highlighted games, as well as notorious games, and some of the most valuable on the system can be reviewed. There are 53 different consoles to read about, all of which are on display on the wall.

Stage 3, “Third Party” showcases a number of the third party titles that helped consoles excel with the public. Pitfall, which is playable in the exhibit, Stampede, Megamania, River Raid are on display in their original boxes in a display case while some notable Nintendo entries from Activision share the bottom shelf of the display with Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II, Rampage, and more.

Stage 4, “Control” is, quite simply, a full wall with a history of controllers through the years. Multiple controllers from each system are displayed, as well as a disassembled Atari 5200 controller.

Stage 5, “Portable” explores portable games. Game n’ Watch is on display, along with others that pre-dated the Game Boy most think of when “portable gaming” is mentioned.

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Again, there are playable games set up here as well. However, one of the most notable items features in this display is the Barbie Edition Game Boy, which is an unreleased prototype Game Boy Pocket. Supposedly the deal never went through and only two of the systems, along with a gaudy carry case, were made.

Stage 6, “Crash” is ironically my favorite exhibit, despite its dark days in gaming history. It deals with the video game crash of 1983. The first thing I liked was the introduction plaque does detail that the cause of the crash is much more complicated than the simple examples often cited, but not without being self aware of these rumors. Poor E.T. still appears in the stage’s image, even though it’s acknowledged the game was not the cause.

What I really liked about this exhibit, though, was the “going out of business” store front. With various 80s items such as Pac Man trading cards and bubble gum under the glass, a Top 5 sign for the week’s hottest games (which includes E.T., I might add), and a sign indicating the store is going out of business, it’s a very nicely done presentation.

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I promise I was also NOT the cause of the crash.

Stage 7, “Rise” presents the return of video games, stronger than ever, on both computer and with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A lot, and I do mean a lot, of set ups are here to play and interact with.

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At this point, as you venture through the museum, you’ll find the bathrooms. Not exactly something you’d think worth mentioning, but this is the NATIONAL VIDEOGAME MUSEUM, so of course the bathroom entries are worth mentioning with their clever indication of “Men’s” and “Women’s” signs.

 

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Women’s

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Men’s

Stage 8, “Create” presents games moving from just being games and actually involving the user in the creative process. Games like Mario Paint are on display, but I wasn’t able to spend much time hands on (there were a lot of people here, remember?).

Stage 9, “Invent” presents a theoretical game studio’s office. Games adorn the shelves, a PC and work station are present, various articles and news clippings are framed on the walls.

Stage 10, “Transmit” discusses the rise of online gaming with various Blizzard entries, Quake, and two terminals that visitors can use to communicate and send a webcam image to each other on either side of the exhibit with.

Stage 11, “Listen” details music coming into games more with entries such as Parappa the Rapper and, of course, Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution.

Stage 12, “Unplugged” is likely to surprise many visitors with the various board games that were released based on video game properties. Frogger, Q*bert, Pac-Man, Legend of Zelda, and more are all on display.

Across from “Unplugged” is an exhibit showcasing various items. Systems, the Pokemon series, rare and valuable games, this section is an eclectic mix of things that didn’t belong to a single exhibit, but are definitely fun to look at.

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Before venturing to the next stage, there’s also an exhibit with various pieces of merchandise, including the wearable Mega Man helmet.

Stage 13, “Family” accurately portrays a family living room from the 1980s, with a console hooked up for play on the television, a fake plant, wood panel walls, and a Dogs Playing Poker painting on the wall! There are even family photos on display.

Stage 14, “Sanctuary” depicts a teen’s bedroom. Bear in mind, the NVM is in Frisco, Tx, so if you aren’t a Cowboys and Rangers fan, forgive the decor!

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A Pac-Man throw pillow, 80s movie posters, a record playing 80s music, and a Mario phone. It’s worth noting that the visitor I caught in this picture….still had trouble with the NES Zapper hitting the ducks in Duck Hunt.

Stage 15, “Respect” isn’t an exhibit so much as an art display. A cube art mural of Ralph Baer hangs near the conclusion of the museum tour.

Stage 16, “Bonus” is a collection of framed posters, displays, arcade machines, and a life size statue of Gabriel Belmont. Along the wall next to Stage 16 are a line of consoles, all of which had someone playing them. I did get to finally play a bit of Bonk’s Adventure on Turbo Grafx-16, though. Above the consoles is a mural with a number of recognizable video game characters.

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Stage 16 leads to an 80s style arcade to conclude the tour of the National Videogame Museum. The lights are dark and lit more by the neon marquees and the screens of video games than overhead light and it was packed with a person on just about every cabinet. A machine is in the arcade to give tokens for dollar bills in case your 4 tokens from entry aren’t enough to get your gaming fix.

Finally, you exit the arcade to find yourself in the gift shop. I didn’t look at everything, but overall they had some cool items in there. Some books particularly caught my eye and they were all priced reasonably compared to Amazon.

I’ve gone on for over 1700 words about this museum and don’t think I’ve scratched describing it. I was hopeful for this endeavor after visiting the “History of Videogames” exhibit at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA, but this is far beyond what was presented there.

The one thing I’d like to see NVM add if they are ever able to expand in size is to build a display library for every system. The curators, I believe, have only brought out a small part of their overall collection. I would love to see a glass display shelving every Atari or NES title in their boxes. In time, seeing every video game on every system lined up on shelves, their spines facing out would be truly a sight to see.

If conclusion, if you’re in the DFW area in Texas and have time to get to Frisco, the National Videogame Museum is well worth your time. I only had a couple of hours available and don’t feel like it was remotely enough time. I’m looking forward to going back with friends when they come into town, but I might have to sneak an extra trip before they make it.

My only hope is that they get repeat business and are able to stay open for a long time to come. Video games have become a huge part of our culture, both in America and across the globe, and it’s great to see a museum preserving and sharing their history.

 

The Unanswered Question at #SPJAirplay’s #GamerGate Panel

Like many other gamers, I was watching the Airplay panel on #GamerGate at the SPJ convention in Miami, FL yesterday. While you’re sure to see articles about the event and the debate, as well as the results of a bomb threat forcing the venue and surrounding neighborhood to evacuate, I wanted to talk about what wasn’t actually discussed as a result of that evacuation.

The moderator, Michael Koretzky, wanted the afternoon panel to discuss how journalists should approach hashtag groups in the future, not specific to #GamerGate, and was adamant about not bringing up past mistakes and past issues. He repeatedly stated he, and the journalistic ethics representatives Lynn Walsh & Ren LaForme, weren’t originally there and didn’t know who did what in the past and thus wanted to hear nothing of it. Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopooulos questioned how to advise what to do going forward if past mistakes couldn’t be cited.

I don’t think it’s difficult, but it is best approached by redefining Koretzky’s question, which is what I wanted to do here, as well as answer it using the broad beginnings of GamerGate as the example:

If GamerGate had only started within the past week, how do gamers feel journalists should approach the situation to present a fair story?

My answer:

Examine what’s happened to start. Assuming we’re in the first week of stirrings, there’s been a post from a jilted lover claiming their ex, a game developer, was emotionally and psychologically abusive as well as involved in repeated infidelities within their relationship. One name specifically mentioned is a game journalist, though no accusations of conflict of interest or quid pro quo relationship has been mentioned in this post. Nonetheless, conversation has started in community forums and social media regarding perceived conflicts of interest and moderators have responded with very heavy hands to silence any discussion of the accusations to any degree.

If your publication is involved with anyone named in the post, the first and immediate thing to do is to talk to those named and understand specifics. Was there any positive coverage or mention of this person in your work and what was your relationship at the time? Is there any actual or potentially perceived conflict of interest? If so, update the articles with disclosures immediately and place those updates prominently at the top of the article.

Second, release a statement acknowledging the accusations and informing your readers that not only is that specific incident being evaluated, but your group is evaluating their ethics policies regarding conflicts of interests and disclosures as a whole. Update this if necessary, expanding to other topics that may have grown since its last revision, such as the arrival of platforms like Kickstarter or Patreon.

Third, if your site hosts forums, allow for discussion under heavy, but reasonable, moderation. Personal attacks, release of private information, or unhealthy comments are not acceptable, but in silencing all questions or discussion, moderators only add to the perception that there’s something more going on. Moderators should have a responsibility to help guide discussion in the right direction. In the case of the post that sparked GamerGate, the discussion should have been directed not at the game developer, but at the journalist, the publication(s), their policies, and if those policies lacked in ways that would allow, or already had allowed, other misconduct.

If you’re just a journalist wanting to cover a story about an online hashtag and weren’t involved in the situation to begin with, Milo said “just do the work.” Simple, yet also complicated in a leaderless, largely anonymous, online group. As a group of people only united by a hashtag to say “I agree there’s an issue here,” the question of who to talk to is obvious, but I don’t believe it can’t be answered.

So what would a journalist need to do? Again, we’re assuming the controversy is in its infancy here.

  1. Follow the hashtag for a day or two and identify two things.
    1. Who is well spoken and commenting on it favorably?
    2. Who is well spoken and commenting on it unfavorably?
  2. Contact a number of these people and ask if they’d be willing to be interviewed. As discussed at AirPlay, explain the difference between complete online anonymity vs journalistic anonymity where their full real name won’t be used in the article, but the journalist and their editor need to know who they are. I believe people will be willing to talk.
  3. Listen to both sides, take their statements and comments, then follow up on those by verifying them as much as possible. Find chat logs or online records such as Twitter history, archived pages, etc. to support claims. Basically, “trust, but verify.”
  4. Present both sides of the story. With GamerGate, it would have been: detail why one side believes the outrage is an attack against an indie dev for being a woman developing non-traditional games and the other side believes there is justifiable concern over impropriety and conflicts of interest in the publications they rely on to give them information on where to spend their money.
  5. COMB OVER DETAILS.
  6. When presenting the story, make it clear these are individuals who support the concept of the hashtag as they personally relate to it, but that they don’t claim to speak for the group as a whole.

I honestly believe in its infancy, it was this simple. Now, a year later, there may be more nuance and complications, but I wouldn’t change much. The only main addition I would advise journalists today, as the 1 year anniversary approaches, would be slight alterations/additions:

  1. Follow the hashtag and see which prominent online figures are cited. If the opposition to a position is citing someone as a prominent figure, it’s worth contacting that figure whether they are legitimately involved or not.
  2. Lurk on forums like Reddit and see where the users are listening for information, then talk to that source. Again, this may largely be YouTube channels.
  3. Contact people for interviews, as before.
  4. Be prepared to do multiple stories on the topic. There will be plenty of material.
  5. Again, COMB OVER DETAILS.
  6. When presenting the story, make it clear these are individuals who support the concept of the hashtag as they personally relate to it, but that they don’t claim to speak for the group as a whole.

I emphasize number 6 because I think it’s crucial to covering online groups associated with one another only through social media hashtags. With enough interviews, though, I think it is possible to identify common themes and present both sides of a story, even with sources who can be paranoid about their anonymity.

So basically, that’s what I think should be done not specifically to cover #GamerGate, but to start laying the groundwork for future stories with hashtag groups, which will likely only grow as our reliance on social media to communicate continues as well. This is simply my opinion based on nothing more than my thoughts. I don’t have experience in journalism beyond a single community college class years ago and don’t claim to be an expert, but I think it’s something that will grow more important in the years to come.

To paraphrase Oliver Campbell, journalism is essentially about communication. The people aren’t going to tell journalists how to do their jobs, but journalists are going to have to adapt to evolving methods of communication among people to pursue their stories.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – More of the Same? That’s Okay!

This week, Ubisoft officially announced the next Assassin’s Creed game would be titled Syndicate and confirmed it would take place in Victorian era London. As has become standard for the Internet, responses ranged from eager anticipation to bemoaning a release of yet another Assassin’s Creed game that is essentially the same game repackaged with a new coat of paint.

The first Assassin’s Creed was released in 2007 and in the past 8 years, there have been 9 entries in the main series with an additional thirteen side games, as well as comics, graphic novels, a short film, animated shorts, and soon a full length feature film starring Michael Fassbender. It’s hard to argue that’s not a lot of games in 8 years. It is.

Focusing on the main series, 9 entries is essentially a new entry in the main series every year with a little short of here and there to squeeze an extra in that cycle time. This has led to some gamers seeing Assassin’s Creed as old, dull, boring, or a cheap rehash of the same game with nothing new. Some would prefer more creativity and true innovation in each sequel with longer cycle times while others are happy to play the games as they are each year.

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With the exception of when they’re released buggy as all get out.

Essentially, Assassin’s Creed has become Ubisoft’s Call of Duty, a franchise that uses the same engine and same gameplay with each installment allowing for short cycle times and fast turn around getting the product out. Personally, I’ve played every installment except for Rogue and have yet to play Unity. I own it, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. I actually acknowledge it’s the same game each time with a new location, but I’m actually okay with that. It’s not exactly a new phenomenon in the game world either.

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8 games in 9 years with only two missing an annual release.

The question, though, is whether or not this rehashing with a few new bells and whistles is acceptable or not. Personally, I’d argue it is.

Assassin’s Creed is Ubisoft’s tentpole movie if they were a Hollywood film studio. Paramount Pictures has a proven track record that year after year they will make millions of dollars on sTransformer, though I’d actually take any Assassin’s Creed plot over Transformers films myself. Essentially, Ubisoft knows they’ll make money with each installment with minimal development time and minimal investment. It’s a low risk, high return on investment game.

Some will feel that’s bad from a perspective of the art and craftsmanship of a team making the games, but I again point to Hollywood. Not every movie, nor every game, needs to be a critically acclaimed artistic achievement. Some are summer blockbusters you enjoy with popcorn, talk about for the weekend, and maybe watch again later on DVD, Bluray, or Netflix. Maybe you make your child watch/play through it one day.

The reason I compare it to the Hollywood tentpole movies is that it serves a similar purpose. It keeps revenue coming in and allows Ubisoft to continue to operate and take chances with other games. For every wildly profitable Assassin’s Creed they publish, they can take chances on smaller games and new IPs like Watch_Dogs, Child of Light, or Valiant Hearts The Great War plus games like South Park The Stick of Truth. Ubisoft isn’t a one trick pony milking their only cash cow. They’ve made a lot of games. 76, to be precise, of varying types just between Assassin’s Creed and Assassin’s Creed II, for example.

If the profits weren’t rolling in from the blockbuster title each year, would we have gotten Child of Light or Valiant Hearts at all? Valiant Hearts was already a labor of love that almost didn’t get the okay to be made. And while, yes, Ubisoft doesn’t make award winning game after award winning game, it’s still good for them to be doing some exploration with other ideas and genres. Plus Watch_Dogs likely wouldn’t have been made at all if it weren’t for Assassin’s Creed’s success. That game had its share of complaints as well, but I wager the second is going to be a huge improvement much like the leap from Assassin’s Creed to its first sequel and may give Ubisoft two flagship games to generate revenue and allow for more experimentation with other games as well.

So whether you’re like me and love some stabbin’ each year or you’re tired of Assassin’s Creed entirely, I think it’s worth remembering that so long as the games are bringing in a profit, it’s quite likely that we all could benefit from it allowing Ubisoft to bring other games forward in the future.

Never Alone

A tale of a girl and a fox

I’ve been meaning to play Never Alone for a while now. I had it saved on Steam, and I’m not a Steam user, nor am I a PC Gamer, to be honest. It interested me, though, to have a game that’s intended to present a story of a native Iñupiaq people and bring a little bit of their culture to a larger world. With it being on sale, I picked it up on PS4 this past weekend. My regret is that I didn’t play it sooner.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past year about diversity in video games. In my opinion, games like Never Alone are an example of how games can grow and expand into new areas to share experiences with people across cultures. I’d describe the game as a fairly simple platform puzzle game that focuses more on sharing with the player than challenging them. It was a short, enjoyable game, that can be played alone by swapping between the arctic fox and the girl or co-op with each player controlling one or the other.

Graphics
I really enjoyed the gameplay graphics. There was a nice blend of slick modern capability with stylization of some characters such as the Owlman or the Manslayer while Nuna and her arctic fox have an almost Pixar quality to them.

While often simple, the backgrounds are quite smooth and a pleasure to look at. Unless you’re being chased by a polar bear.

Upper One Games did a good job with the view of the screen as well. There’s a slight blur around the edges and corners at times, setting a mood of looking through the blizzard that Nuna and the fox are braving in their adventure.

Between levels, the story is told using cut scenes employing an artistic style drawn from traditional scrimshaw. Some won’t care for this, but I particularly liked it.

Controls
The controls can be a bit frustrating, particularly with the bola, but otherwise I didn’t have much trouble with the game. Jumping was responsive and I only found myself moving wrong when I got impatient. Honestly, impatience is your biggest enemy in this game. There are only certain times that urgency is needed and something is chasing you. Most of my deaths were caused by me trying to rush and not waiting to observe the patterns of spirits or the movements of ice. Much like the lessons taught to children in Alaska, ignoring the natural world around you can have dire consequences. Slow down, observe, and then act appropriately and you will avoid a lot of frustrations during your adventure through a blizzard in Alaska.

Music
I can’t say too much about the soundtrack for Never Alone. It was pleasant enough, but not memorable or striking to me. I would have enjoyed if Upper One Games had incorporated more traditional music into it and explored that more. There is a video on the importance of the drum in the culture, but not too much.

I will note, though, that I found the yaps and grumbles of the fox quite adorable.

Difficulty
The game isn’t hard, really. If you die, you start pretty much right where you went wrong and can try again infinitely until you finish. There aren’t many enemies and you only have to defeat one while the others are about finding ways out of the predicament you find yourself in. The game isn’t long either, taking only about 3 hours to complete with all extra items found, which open videos about the Iñupiaq.

Conclusion
The lack of challenge isn’t a detriment in this case; not for me, at least. Never Alone is more about telling a story and giving you insight into the culture and history of an entire people. In that respect, it’s a fine game. I enjoyed the puzzles, particularly where you had to scramble up walls and leap off of them as the fox in order to open a path for the girl, Nuna. However, I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit and any gameplay was largely driven by an interest to hear the entire tale.

There is even a moment where something happens that sort of made my heart sink. When a simple 3-hour game with a little narrative and no real dialog from the protagonist can have an emotional effect, even if only a slight one, I would say that’s a success. Then again, I may also be a big softie at this point.

Narrated in the Iñupiaq language with English subtitles, there was a certain feel of authenticity (it should, they worked with members of the Iñupiaq, one of whom narrates) and interweaving the videos into the game added some depth to it. Hearing actual stories from native Alaskans about their grandfather’s pet arctic fox or a brother’s pet polar bear were really interesting. I recommend watching the videos as you find them during the playthrough rather than waiting until you’re done.

Never Alone, or, Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (“I am not alone”), is a video game telling a story in an interactive method of traditional Iñupiaq storytelling. As players learn, these stories were often told to teach lessons to children about the world and about their people’s history and culture. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Never Alone as well. Video games can help us view other cultures and their stories as well, and even better understand their history. If one is to play the game and take their time, one may also learn a lesson of patience and enjoying some simplicity, even in a video game amidst our current level of graphics and AAA titles.

I look forward to more games similar to Never Alone from Upper One Games and if they were able to make an ongoing career from short games like this that let us look at other cultures and stories from around the world, I think I’d be willing to play every one of them.

If you have the chance and can get this at a price that seems reasonable, I do recommend giving it a try.

Then again, considering the name of the site, I may also have a soft spot for games featuring foxes.

Sonic Runners Trailer Debuts

In the words of Bender B. Rodriguez, “I’m back, baby!”

It’s been a while since I wrote an entry. Life happens, Holidays come along, you change jobs, and then your PC dies. Really, though, you guys don’t care about my sob story and excuses, so I’m going to just get right back to writing about video games and geekery.

We recently learned that Sega is going to be focusing more on mobile games going forward and this week they presented the trailer for the new Sonic game, coming to iOS and Android mobile devices.  Let’s watch, shall we?

I’ve seen a lot of people saying “RIP Sonic” and that this is the end of the Sega we knew from the days of Genesis and Dreamcast. I’m not so sure. Honestly, this might be the best thing for Sonic.

A Rich History

Sonic the Hedgehog first appeared in the self-titled game on Sega Genesis, which was followed with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic and Knuckles. There were a few other titles, like Sonic 3D Blast and Sonic Spinball, but for “core” continuity games, Sonic 1-3 plus the Knuckles add-on are the main ones from the golden days. Some feel the Game Gear versions of Sonic and Sonic 2 are even better than the Genesis versions, though.

The games were notable for their gorgeous graphics at the time and many, including myself, feel the music was outstanding for its time. Seriously, listen to this.

Personally, Sonic 2 is still my favorite of them, both in game and in music.

Things Turn Sour

Sadly, Sonic has not transitioned well as games have moved forward into more three-dimensional offerings. The first such adventure, aptly named Sonic Adventure, on Sega Dreamcast was a pretty solid and most seemed to agree Sonic Adventure 2 was a good game. I think some disagree on which of the two was the better one.

But after that, Sonic never seemed to find his footing. The switch to a behind the back third-person view seemed to limit the blue blur from the dizzying speeds he was previously known for. Even the first Adventure game has some criticism for slowing things down with other characters, particularly Big the Cat and Froggy. I’ll admit there’s something quirky about that game and its setting. I realize Eggman is human, therefore other humans would logically exist on the planet, but it seemed odd having Sonic and his pals being the only non-humans. I never understood why Sega didn’t leverage their apparent partnership to utilize the world of Mobius from Archie Comics’ Sonic the Hedgehog series (which also shared the setting with the outstanding Saturday AM cartoon). Utilizing Sally, Bunnie, Antoine, and Rotor would have been a far better use of characters and setting if playstyles were going to be slowed down when not playing Sonic.

But I digress. The point is, Sonic hasn’t sold well in 3D situations. The most recent installments, Sonic Colors, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight, and most recently Sonic Boom have all had negative to lackluster response with Sonic Generations faring slightly better.

Mobile Future for a Mobile Hedgehog

And that brings us to the announcement of Sonic Runners and the trailer at the top here. Honestly, I think it might be good. The mobile platform encourages more simplistic gaming and fundamentally almost requires a return to the Sonic roots on Genesis and Game Gear. It’s possible that having Sonic step away from the modern generation of game consoles or PC gaming gives him a chance to show off his strengths. Rather than competing with gameplay and designs that simply don’t work for the blue streak of quilled lightning, a 2D side scroller seems a better fit. The only alternative I can think of that would allow Sonic’s strong suits would be focusing on handheld options for Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS.

Or perhaps Sega should even consider offering him up to an Indie Dev. I’ve heard good things about the fan games Sonic: Before the Sequel and Sonic: After the Sequel.