Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 05.06.04

Welcome to TGIT! This is the Thank God It’s Thursday News Report, which can be found each Thursday here at 411 Games. I’m your host, Bryan Berg, and I thank you for stopping by.

I’d also like to thank those people who called me on last week’s Commentary. Turns out that a prior Madden game DID have the Mulligan feature. Nobody was really sure which one because it came and went so quickly, and it obviously wasn’t promoted all that well if nobody can remember much about it. But the bottom line is, it was in a game and can never be a totally new feature. Still, it’s the kind of thing that might be very much at home in a Blitz-type game.

On a non-gaming note, congrats to Mike Piazza of the New York Mets for setting the all-time home run record from the catcher’s position. Definitely a testament to the consistently great career of a future Hall of Famer, and he deserves all the praise he’ll get for this achievement. As for the rest of the team… it’s still early. You never know.

So today’s column, as always, begins with news. Not much at all, but one semi-big story that’s actually a really big deal, so it’s the subject of today’s Commentary as well. Let’s roll!



Another One Bites The Dust
Sony’s 989 Sports team has never been a stranger to failure. From the demise of the NHL Faceoff series to delays in the NBA Shootout series, 989 Sports has fallen from competition with EA to the bottom of the barrel. Which makes the following news not so surprising.

989 announced that they will not be creating 2005 versions of their sports and basketball titles. This means that the following titles will not be available this year:

– NFL GameDay
– NCAA GameBreaker
– NBA Shootout
– NCAA Final Four

These games are slated to return in the 2005 calendar year for Playstation 2. However, 989 stressed that it will not be totally inactive this year, promising the following…

– A new NHL franchise (presumably, not entitled Faceoff)
– Athens 2004
– World Tour Soccer
– MLB 2006

989 cited the example of MLB 2005 to show that a franchise can benefit from a year off. However, NBA Shootout also skipped a year and is now missing another. Whether any of these franchises will have the momentum to recover from this remains to be seen, but it’s pretty clear that these games are afterthoughts in the sports gaming community at this time.

Those of us old enough to remember can recall a time when NFL GameDay was THE game to purchase, even over EA’s Madden franchise. When EA didn’t release a Madden title to launch with the Playstation, sports gamers fell in love with the original NFL GameDay. The same happened with 989’s NHL Faceoff series. Unfortunately, 989 couldn’t keep up with EA. Madden passed GameDay a few years later, never again to be challenged by 989’s titles. And once EA’s brand of hockey hit Playstation (coupled with the inexplicable terribleness that was Faceoff ’98), EA was able to cement a stronghold over all comers.

Will 989 be able to recover from this setback? Odds are good that a franchise or two will be saved, but probably not all four. Similar to the XSN titles for X-Box that were shelved for 2004, the 989 titles did feature excellent online features which compensated for any deficiencies in the gameplay or otherwise. However, the 989 games may have run its course with a community that probably won’t even notice their absence.

And, just as predicted, it’s becoming EA vs. Sega, with no real challengers in the fold. What a shocker. And what a shame.

Quick Hits
Terrell Owens To Appear on ESPN NFL 2005 Cover. Everybody’s favorite Sharpie spokesperson and new Philadelphia Eagle Terrell Owens has agreed to appear on the cover of ESPN NFL 2005. Says Owens, “It’s only natural that I’m a part of ESPN NFL 2005. I’m one of the best on the real field, and ESPN NFL 2005 is the best on the virtual field.” The latter part of that remains to be seen, but you get the idea.

FamilyFun Video Game Of The Year. The FamilyFun contest will pick the best “family-friendly” game released each year, in which games rated E (for everyone) are eligible. This goes along with FamilyFun’s Toy of the Year contest. Some games would rather be banned than be considered “family-friendly”, but score one for morals here. With everybody obsessing over mature content, this will get at least one game some deserved recognition for being a good game without resorting to sleaze or violence.



Plugs
News Reports
Cory Laflin – Gamer’s Hangover News Report. This week, Cory rips on Usher, which I think is pretty well-deserved. This is a guy who claims that the public was “waiting for some real music to come out” as his song, entitled “Yeah”, hit #1. We’re still waiting, Urr-shur.
They’ve also announced that support of the Game Boy Advance will continue all the way until March 2005! Wow, they are just LOATHE to abandon systems, aren’t they? Cripes, why didn’t they just break up with them with a “Dear Luigi” letter?

Misha – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games. Misha discusses a bunch of FF-related tidbits, including what SquareEnix plans on unleashing at E3. I can only guarantee that 411 Games will hate a good portion of these titles.
Well, love might be a bit strong. Disguised contempt might be a better way to describe it…

Bebito Jackson – 411 Games Rumor Down-Lo. Wow. Who saw this coming? Not even I, and I speak to Bebito fairly regularly. Damn, it’s good to be plugging this again! Unfortunately, it’s for the last time…but Bebito’s a legend that deserves a great retirement.
BJ? Did anyone notice my initials are exactly the same as the slang for “Blow Job”?? I didn’t!! That totally sucks. And holy crap! The same thing goes for Bella!! No wonder she never wore that chain I got her with her initials on it… I mean just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you should advertise it.

Matt Yeager – The Casual Gamer’s Corner. Matt answers my question about his column title with this edition of The Casual Gamer’s Corner! I really like Matt’s “Cheap Cheap Sweep” section, even if he plugs Circuit City… those bastards… argh….
Q: What’s a pedophiles favorite part of a Hockey game?
A: Before the first period.

Columns
Alex Lucard – Retrograding Mailbag. The man who gets the most mail prints the best ones here. This is a really good one, and it’s pretty much an essential tool in understanding how it is we review games around here. Definitely check it out.
It seems most gamers when confronted with the truth admit other sites and their ratings padding is annoying and that the inflated scores are obvious. Hence why people come here, right?

Chuck Platt – A Thumb To The Eye. Chuck’s back! His latest is a list of what he’s been up to recently. While I can’t back him up on the Slipknot single (although I’ve heard it’s quite good from Slipknot fans), the new Bad Religion material I’ve heard is outstanding! Good to have them back, just like it’s good to have Platt back.
I will, respectfully, say this to Cory, where you see God, I see nature, where you feel Faith, I feel Enlightenment, where you see Religion, I see hate and the slavery of Man. We are both wrong and we are both right.

Reviews
Alex Lucard – Shining Soul 2 (Game Boy Advance). Final Score: 5.5



Commentary of the Week
If you haven’t read today’s news story on the cancellation of Sony’s 989 Sports games for this season, read it above and then come back down to this.

The recent announcement that Sony would postpone its 989 Sports titles for one year comes as a shock to some and a surprise to nobody. Every sports gamer could tell you about the inferiority of the 989 games as opposed to the juggernauts such as EA and Sega. They’d tell you that the 989 games are a waste of time, and they’d wonder aloud as to why Sony would even bother making these games anymore. After all, if the dollar is the ultimate determinant of which games succeed and which fail, Sony’s games have been blown by long ago.

When Microsoft’s decision to postpone its XSN titles comes up, it’s a different song sung to the same tune. The simple response: Microsoft’s not as good as EA or Sega when it comes to sports games. A little deeper: Microsoft hasn’t been in the game as long as its competition, so the games obviously won’t be as high-quality. The scalding truth: Gamers weren’t ready to give the newcomer a chance.

So, when it comes to two big-name sports publishers throwing in the towel before Round One of the upcoming sports season, the most notable consequence is the reality check that it provides for the entire gaming world. And it’s a summary of sorts as to how the entire world is changing.

In America, we live in a society that has become far too homogenized for its own good. There are about seven banks to choose from. When your doctor gives you a prescription, you have maybe three choices as to where you’d like to get it filled. If you want to rent a video, you might have only two options. And if you live on Long Island and you want cable television, you don’t even have a choice. This is a fact of life that most of us simply accept under the false pretense that we’re somehow better off without all of these choices. We assume that when huge corporate conglomerates buy/drive out mom-and-pop stores, the nuances that made the mom-and-pop store succeed are assimilated into the corporate conglomerate. In essence, we believe that the corporate conglomerate is doing us a favor by making our lives simpler.

Wrong.

Instead, life becomes a very restrictive commodity. If none of the three pharmacies fit your idea of the perfect one, you can either stay sick or deal with a situation you don’t want to be in. If you’re looking for a VHS rental when all the local Blockbuster has is DVD, you’ll have to pick a different movie or watch something on TV. Provided, of course, you’ve signed up with the legal monopoly that is your local cable service. Nothing’s perfect for everybody, and no matter what the industry, there’s always going to be a group of people who are dissatisfied. Especially if the number of choices is limited.

The same goes for the sports games we’ve come so accustomed to purchasing every season. There’s no one game that is universally described as perfect. Maybe if you were to combine bits and pieces from every game, you could create a composite game that you would consider the ultimate game. But it wouldn’t be your neighbor’s ideal title, just the same as it wouldn’t satisfy your brother. So instead, you purchase one of the major sports titles in the hopes that the one you purchase meets as many of your needs as possible. Maybe not all, and maybe none of your buddies, but that’s okay – with so many games offering something a little different, there’s something for everybody.

Now, fast-forward to this August. You’re a football buff gearing up for the NFL season. You’re watching exhibition football and when the fourth-stringers come in, you begin thinking about which game to purchase this year. You like where Madden’s going, but have some questions about the gameplay. Then you consider ESPN NFL 2005, which has better gameplay, but a weaker Franchise mode. After that, you think about the other games… until you realize there aren’t any.

You see, despite the fact that XSN Sports and 989 Sports games were considered inferior, there still existed a loyal audience who supported these titles. Maybe only for online play; maybe for something else. But people chose these games over the Maddens of the world for a reason. The same reason, perhaps, why somebody would go to Mike’s Hardware over, say, The Home Depot. Everybody’s different, and everybody wants a different experience.

This year, if you want a good NFL video football experience, you’d better hope it comes from Madden 2005 or ESPN NFL 2005. If you were a Fever fan for XSN Sports, you’re out of luck. Same if you liked the features you found in GameDay 2004. If you were a diehard of either of these two franchises, you’re forced to jump ship this year. And once you jump ship, you might never find your way back.

That’s why even though Microsoft and Sony pledge to return to the sports world in 2005, it’s easier said than done. Even if their games are great (and they really should be, with two years to work on them), they’ve got to win their fanbase back over and then some. Is that feasible with the giants of EA and Sega looming?

Odds are against this happening. Still, if you’re a sports gamer, you’ve got to root for their return, if only to have an alternative. Gamers need variety. This isn’t supposed to be the real world. In reality, you’re stuck with what you’re stuck with, and if you hate Walgreens and RiteAid, you’d better fall head over heels in love with CVS real quick. When it comes to games, we want to escape all of that and just make it fun. Each sports game is fun in its own way. So much so that you’d hate to think of sports gaming as the cutthroat competition that it has become. And once you pop the game in, you forget all that nonsense and just have fun.

But you’re not going to have fun if your favorite features are missing. If you’re stuck with a game you don’t even want, you’re not going to enjoy this football season very much. And while it’s not quite WalMart vs. Target, EA vs. Sega is becoming a battle of two giants with no room for anybody else. In the midst of this battle, the smaller publishers are falling by the wayside. If the industry wants to improve, it needs internal competition. That’s why this can’t happen. We can’t have publishers deciding that it’s not even worth it to make a game, knowing they’ll get beat. Again, we need options. And this year, we won’t have them.



As you all know, E3 is next week, and 411 Games is looking to score big-time in the coverage department. We’ll have Chris, Widro, and Fred on site to give updates, so make sure you check 411 Games daily for the latest developments to come out of California next week.

That’ll do it for this week’s TGIT. Thanks a lot for reading. See you next week!