Monday, June 27, 2011

So, The SNES Is The Great Grandfather To The PS3

Over the years, Sony and Nintendo have gone from collaborators to bitter rivals. Many of Sony's moves in the video game market have been executed with the intention of breaking Nintendo. They got into the market by taking a concept that was originally intended to be a CD-Rom add on for the SNES and modding it into the original Playstation console. Much of Sony's success came from wooing away third party support from Nintendo in the mid 90s.

It was always strange to me that their relationship soured, as Sony had released several great games for the SNES including Extra Innings and Sky Blazer. Also, Sony's CD-Rom technology was being used everywhere, including by Nintendo's chief rival Sega, so one would think the partnership for this SNES CD add on would be a win for everybody involved. Money and Ego got in the way, however, and led to Sony jumping into the video game market strictly off the back of that unused tech and a desire to crush Nintendo under their heel.

a funny thing happened though, and Sony's rise in the home gaming market seemed to mirror what Nintendo had done during the 80s The NES came out of nowhere much like the Playstation did. The most popular games on Sony's systems tend to be first party exclusives, much like Nintendo, both are major players in the handheld market (though Sony is just starting to get the buzz Nintendo did with it's Game Boy line), and a growing number of gamers are fiercely loyal to one or the other. I have gone on many message boards and noticed the almost ingrained hate for Nintendo that owners of Sony's systems have and vice versa.

The quality of each company's second home console has been a tale of the same story told on different days. Much like the SNES was superior technically to the NES in every category, so was the PS2 considered a major jump over the original Playstation. With the good also comes the bad, as both the SNES and PS2 both suffered from huge amounts of shovelware that came as a result of folks figuring out that parents buy anything tied to kid's favorite movie or cartoon.

At the end of the day, a corporate rivalry led to the creation of the Playstation, and while the consoles came at different points in the game industry, their evolution seems to have mirrored each other. So the next time you hear of see a Fanboy waxing on about how great Sony is or how great Nintendo is, let them know how dependent one had to be on the other to get to this point.

Friday, June 24, 2011

No Sir, I'm Sure I Don't Want To Pre-Order Madden

So, there I am in a local Gamestop...I'm not shopping for anything in particular, just wanted a new game or two. I approach the employees of this establishment and ask a few questions about some games. My inquiry must have led them to believe I was interested, so in an almost crudely blurted out fashion, one of them asks if I want to pre-order the latest incarnation of the only modern NFL simulation on the market, John Madden NFL Football. Now, I don't have a problem with being asked this as I am at the register, but not while I am asking questions about a puzzle game that's releasing next month or a handheld that I'm considering purchasing. I don't want to make assumptions as to why they thought I wanted to pre-order Madden, but I will suggest that the decision to yell that out to me pretty much solidified my desire to not pre-order a game there that day. As I have said over the years, places like Gamestop are far more concerned with pushing pre-orders than providing competent assistance to gamers looking to buy that game that will typically not set the world on fire sales wise, but offers a break from the norm. Another reason I take issue with being badgered for Madden pre-orders is the same reason I don't like being followed around when I go into my neighborhood corner store. I make these comparisons because there is a stereotype associated with African American video game players. Apparently, according to most folks who sell video games, all African Americans tend to play are Sports games and First Person Shooters, and sadly, I know a lot of folks who fall into this pigeonhole. It's funny when someone finds out I'm a gamer, but I'm not buying Madden or Call of Duty every year. The reactions are even funnier when those people find out I play things like Katamarti Damacy, Robotron 2084, Ikaruga, Secret of Mana, or any other extremely random (or old) video game I come across. A person will like what they like, and my tastes should have no bearing on the purchasing and gaming habits of another, but my life would be a little bit better if I wasn't stereotyped at a video game store.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Sonic!!

In 1991, Sega was in need of breath of fresh air. While their Arcade games were popular the world over, they didn't have a character that could sell their home consoles. The long time mascot for the Master System, Alex Kidd, was nowhere near as popular as Nintendo's Super Mario and while the Master System was popular, it was largely considered a cult hit in the US. Enter a small five man team charged with creating Sega's new mascot and wrapping a quality game around it. the team was led by a young programmer named Yuji Naka, and the team took the name of their new character as their development team's name. Sonic Team created with this project one of gaming's true great icons. Sonic oozed attitude not seen in other character driven platformers up to that point. the Blue rodent was also fast, and that speed became a selling point for Sega's 16 bit console. Sonic's popularity spawned two sequels on the Genesis and also spinoff games for Sega's other consoles until the company left the console market with the Dreamcast. From there, things got strange for the franchise, as Sega released multiple lackluster games with the only deviation from mediocre and downright bad games was Sonic Colors on the Wii and DS. Sega is celebrating this anniversary with the impending release of Sonic Generations, which blends retro and modern Sonic gameplay. I'm concerned though, since by and large, modern Sonic games have been horrid. I personally love the early Sonic the Hedgehog games, especially Sonic CD. Playing Sonic CD is like taking a trip through every moment of what made this series magical for gamers during the 16 bit generation. It's always stood next to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 as the high water mark in the series for me, and is one of the best games in Sega's back catalog in my opinion. Missteps on Sega's part have left the Blue Blur battered and bruised, but he's far from broken. So I say happy birthday Sonic the Hedgehog, and here's to hoping Sega rights the franchise's ship with the pending release of Sonic Generations.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Guilty Gear: Rocks Hard...Fights Harder

The 90s, for the most part, were the decade of the fighting game, but the last few years of the decade proved difficult for the genre, especially with the waning popularity of arcades, and the coming rise of the first person shooter. Enter: Arc System Works, who in 1998 released what would become, for a time, the standard bearer in 2D fighting games, Guilty Gear. Most fans were somewhat disappointed with Street Fighter III when it released, citing the game's speed as a major gripe, so when Guilty Gear hit the market with it's frantic pace, solid combo system, and the novel idea of putting fatalities in the game automatically, curious gamers became hooked. There's no real sensible story to speak of, but Guilty Gear does feature an eclectic cast of characters and a hard rock soundtrack that drove the action nicely. I remember being introduced to Guilty Gear during my first semester of college, and was hooked. The series has undergone some slight changes, and the latest game in the franchise, Guilty Gear Overture, wasn't even a fighting game. it leaned more towards the Real Time Strategy genre, and according to reviews, it wasn't a very good one at that. Guilty Gear is still played at many major fighting game tournaments, and continues to garner a strong following despite not having a new console game in the series since 2004's Guilty Gear Isuka. The Guilty Gear series not only breathed a breath of fresh air into a genre in need of new blood, but also made Arc System Works a major player in the video game industry.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hardcore OR Casual...More Like Silly Or Childish

E3 has come and gone, and to be honest, it was quite underwhelming. Not a lot of truly new anything was announced. To be honest, nothing much has truly excited me about video games lately, mainly because the culture of gaming has become as diluted and marginalized as everything else in society. The PSN outage showed me that gamers honestly don't know how to play a multiplayer video game without being online. Developers have helped this phenomenon along by making local multiplayer a thing of the past unless the game is a sports or fighting game. Xbox Live and PSN were great ideas that allowed players to continue to play games with friends that have moved away, and it gave gamers an opportunity to meet new gamers that had similar tastes. You know what else gave the chance to meet other gamers? Talking about video games. Not starting random flame wars on message boards, not heaping labels like "hardcore" or "casual" on someone because of what their tastes are. Those labels are almost as dumb as the East Coast / West Coast rap beef of the 90s, but at least nobody has died from a message board beef. Also, who cooked up calling gamers "hardcore" and "casual"? What makes a game either? Is it based on whether a game has violent content, adult language, is it "hardcore" because somebody told you it is? It's a little silly to me. I remember a time when the only thing that differentiated a game like Contra from a game like Super Mario Bros. was that Contra had guns. Fact is, gamers have adopted the same sheep mentality that has messed up the music and television mediums. It's sad that people with obvious bias have the loudest voices in all walks of life, and people have become gullible enough to take whatever someone sells them and proclaim it to be the best thing ever. I'm glad that I still have my old consoles, because the modern atmosphere of gaming is a sad place full of either angry or complacent people, and existing outside of that can be a liberating thing.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wizards and Warriors: A Knight's Tale...

First, I'll just get this out of the way: Acclaim was known for shitty games. With the exception of a small handful of games, Acclaim made some crappy games. Falling into the category of the "exception" is the Wizards and Warriors series. Wizards and Warriors was not a novel idea and produced no real innovations, but what it did was pretty good. It was also another entry in the ever growing resume of a little developer from the UK named Rare.

The Wizards and Warriors series focused on the exploits of a Knight named Kuros and his quest to defeat the evil wizard Malkil. The first game in the series is a traditional "rescue the princess" storyline that was the hallmark of most early video games. the difference was, well, there wasn't really anything that would differentiate this series from any number of 8-bit adventure games except that little bit of gloss from Rare. The strong platforming, solid controls, and driving soundtrack made all three Wizards and Warriors games good. The second game in the series, Ironsword, Kuros isn't looking to rescue a princess. This time the knight is searching for the pieces of the fabled Ironsword that will finally be able to defeat Malkil. To stop Kuros, Malkil takes forms representing Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water, and stands guard before each piece of the weapon. Another infamous factoid of this particular game in the series was the fact that Fabio posed for the cover art for Ironsword.

A major c hange came when the third game in the series, Kuros: Visions of Power, appeared. In this game, Kuros is operating in disguise for large portions of the game, and the gameplay is decidedly nonlinear. This is a major departure from the core basic platforming with minor item collecting gameplay that was the hallmark of the series to this point. Visions of Power was largely nonlinear, with players needing to search areas for shops, powerups and pretty much everything else. while it was a decent game, Visions of Power had a few small flaws that kept it from being great, namely the lack of a legitimate save feature. this wouldn't be a bad thing if the game wasn't twice the length of Ironsword.
By and large, the three Wizards and Warriors series didn't necessarily do anything new, but those three games did a plethora of things right. I sometimes wonder if the success of those games, combined with a few other games is what kept Acclaim around for so long, but whatever the case, Wizards and Warriors and it's sequels proved to be great moments in 8-bit gaming history.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

E3 Press Conferences...In Short: Reserve Judgment

These are my thoughts on the three console makers' E3 press conferences:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The 2011 E3 Conference Is Coming...I Hope This Doesn't Suck

The 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo is about a week away, and while there is some buzz this year, it's not as big as it was in previous years. Several publishers are focusing on showcasing one or two big titles and while I'm sure there will be plenty to discuss after the multiple press events and interviews on various sites, it just feels like there won't be a lot of new fresh content out there for the masses. Sony should be showing off their new portable, currently codenamed the "NGP", in playable form, while Nintendo will reveal it's latest home console, which is being called "Project Cafe". While many video game journalists seem excited about Sony's new offering, they're pretty lukewarm on Nintendo's. Could this be a byproduct of the 3DS and it's lukewarm sales so far, or a general backlash because of Nintendo's seemingly blatant disdain for all things Wii? Meanwhile, besides Gears of War 3, Microsoft will probably spend their press event trying to convince folks that Kinect can be used for more than HD Wii party games with no Remote. As far as games, besides a few RPGs and a handful of random action games, E3 will be overrun with first person shooters. Duke Nukem Forever, Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, Rage, Bioshock Infinite, Resistance 3, Prey 2, and a host of others is making E3 seem more like a gun show than a video game trade event. I'm surprised The NRA doesn't have a new game coming out soon. I hope there are other, smaller games being shown that the "video game media" will give light to, but considering how biased some of these outlets can be, I'm not hoping for much. Hideo Kojima did state that he would have an announcement at this year's show, and Grasshopper Manufacture will have a great deal of info on Shadows of the Damned, so I'm excited about what I'm hearing there. Then there is the Devil May Cry reboot along with games like: Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3, Mass Effect 3, and Elder Scrolls 3. That handful of titles give me hope that the glut of shooters coming to the show won't be the only stories we hear about. All in all, the 2011 E3 conference feels like it might be a mixed bag, and as a veteran gamer, I can't wait to fish through it for some treasure. I just hope my hand isn't full of poop afterwards.