The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games 06.01.04

Ah, greetings, friends! And welcome to another chapter of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Video Games. I’m Misha, as ever, and just over here, we have Marvin
*Hello
And this week, to confuse you all, we’re not doing a ‘proper’ intro.
*So there

News

Is this a perfect Cell?

Following on from Sony’s E3 announcements, more details are beginning to emerge on the Sony/IBM/Toshiba co-production “Cell” chip, that will form the basis for the Playstation 3. Whilst it’s been confirmed that the PS3, due for release in March 2006, will be the “focus” for the chip, Sony eventually plan to introduce the technology into TV sets, and possibly other electronic devices. Details of what that means, exactly, are sketchy, but it could potentially allow for dual-processor synchronisation between a PS3 and a Cell-enabled TV.

Marvin: Hmmmm. So, Sony want to put the brains behind their new console into their TVs as well. I smell a deliberate ploy to stop other consoles being used in Sony TVs
Misha: But then again, you would…
Marvin: Watch, and see if I’m wrong. Sony’s trying to make Cell in the Windows Kernel of their entertainment empire
Misha: Honestly… If you were any more paranoid, you’d start accusing me of plotting against you…
Marvin: And who says you’re not?
Misha: Me. Now calm down.

credit: The Times (UK edition)

Nintendo: New Releases

Okay, so maybe there are no *real* dates attached to any of these. But here’s the definitive list of what Nintendo will be bringing your way in the next few months/years.

GameCube

Winter – Fire Emblem
Winter – Star Fox
TBA – Metroid Prime 2: Echos
TBA – Geist
TBA – Odama
’05 – The Legend of Zelda

Game Boy Advance

TBA – MOTHER 3
TBA – Mario Pinball
TBA – Donkey Kong: King of Swing
TBA – The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap
TBA – Mario Party Advance

Nintendo DS

TBA – Super Mario 64 x 4
TBA – WarioWare DS
TBA – Metroid: Hunters
TBA – PictoChat
TBA – Mario Kart: DD DS
TBA – Animal Crossing DS
TBA – New Super Mario Brothers
TBA – Nintendogs

The hotly-rumoured New Super Mario game is confirmed as being on its way to the DS, and is arguably *the* killer app for the new system. Nobody really knows what Nintendogs is about (the title is a translation from the Japanese), though… But it should be interesting. As ever, 411 will keep you up to date with any and all relevant information..

Misha: Now there’s a healthy lineup. It makes me glad, that it does
Marvin: Now, just wait till those release dates start to slip… They always do, you know…

credit: gamesarefun.com

Atlus: Sneaky like ninja

It appears perennial 411 favourites, Atlus, have popped up again, away from E3, with shots from their new PS2 RPG, StellarDeus. It’s another tactics-style RPG, set in a world where power is running out, and a strange religious order known as the Ekuwe are holding sway over the people. Due for Japanese release on June 24th, Images, courtsey of The Magic Box, can be found here If you take the time to look, you’ll also note that the programmers involved have some very prestigious projects on their CVs… Including ex-SquareEnix employees…

Misha: I didn’t see anything about this in the E3 coverage. Did you?
Marvin: Nope. Caught me by surprise, too
Misha: Either way. Tyhe game looks really rather good, had hopefully by the time the game’s ready to be released in English, the success of the Shining remakes will convince Atlus to release the game over here…

credit: the-magicbox.com

European Superstars, from Sega

Sega have confirmed that their new EyeToy-compatible game, Sega Superstars, will be released in Europe on October 29th

Misha: Woohoo! This is looking good!
Marvin: Just a shame you don’t have an EyeToy really, isn’t it?
Misha: It’s OK. I know some people who do… And they can be persuaded…

credit: the-magicbox.com

Rumour Monkey: Back again!

Oh yes… He just couldn’t stay away! This week, he’s got something REALLY special, apparently. Marvin, if you’d care to translate?
*I suppose so
Rumour Monkey: OOOK ooook ook ook OOK
*Well, well… It seems that Sony are recruiting SquareEnix to help push the PSP
Oooook oook ook OOOOOK ook ook
*Current speculation suggest that the FF7 “followup film”, Advent Children, may be released ONLY for the PSP
Ook OOK ooook OOOOK oooooook
*If true, it;s going to mean a release delay. Hot bets are on a drop from “Summer 2004” to “Christmas 2004”
Ooook ook ook ook OOOOOK ook OOK
*But wait, there’s more! Is seems that another PSP title is in the works from SquEnix: a followup to the Gamecube game Crystal Chronicles
OOOOK ook OOK oook OOOOOOOK
*Apparently, the company hopes to build a following on the new system that’s strong enough to support a series.

Rumour Monkey’s Down-Lo Rating:
Advent Children to be PSP-only: 3/10
PSP sequel to Crystal Chronicles: 6/10

Misha: Not releasing Advent Children on DVD would be a huge mistake
Marvin: But I can definitely see a Crystal Chronicles followup
Misha: Don’t know how they’ll do the story, though
Marvin: Eh. They’ll probably rehash something. It’s the Final Fantasy tradition…

credit: Rumour Monkey/spong.com

Commentary

This week is special. Why? Because I’ve gotten enough feedback to devote part of the column to a Mailbag. The topic? Last week’s bemoaning of when Nostalgia Isn’t Enough

First up, posessing one of the most impressive names I’ve seen in a long time, here’s Parhaum Toofanian

You raised a pretty interesting point. For some reason I haven’t really thought of games that way directly, but I know that in the back of my mind I’ve avoided playing emulated copies of most of my old games for that very reason. Games like Shining Force have avoided that fate, but as much as I loved Chip ‘N Dale’s Rescue Rangers for the NES, there isn’t much beyond the music and the nostalgia that would cause me to play it again these days. I love it more for the memories (and the music!) than the gameplay itself. A game needs to have a lot of good, solid gameplay in order to maintain its fun factor when played after a 10+ year divide, I think. Multiplayer games are more of an exception, though, because the fun from the team factor can overcome the nostalgia effect you brought up.

I know exactly what you mean, Parhaum. In music terms, my favourite is to plug in Super Mario World, wander into the Special Stages, and wait for the Special Remix to kick in. Mario World, somehow, manages to save itself from The Fate. And you’re 100% on the multiplayer comment, too. I still maintain that Super Bomberman 1 on the SNES has the best battle mode of *any* Bomberman game. And I’d genuinely rather play Mario Kart battle mode in its Super, rather than 64 or Double Dash, incarnation.

Next up, it’s NikTheGreek

Ah yes, the nostalgia problem. It all boils down to how advanced the game is in it’s particular genre – is it a milestone, or a pinnacle? Both will gain high ratings at the time, but a milestone is merely the best thing in it’s genre, whilst the pinnacle represents the final evolution of a genre – the point after which no improvements can be made. Anything added or taken away is really little more than a gimmick.

To best illustrate the point, I suppose we can compare Way of the Exploding Fist to Street Fighter 2. WotEF was revolutionary in it’s day, and has become recognised as an all-time classic, but by comparison with modern-day fighters it really lacks stuff – special moves, buttons representing seperate limbs/strengths, etc., and you’ll find yourself missing those aspects of the game. With Street Fighter 2, it doesn’t feel too different to what you can play today, because many fighting games borrow so much from it. In essence, it is the perfection of the concept of a one-on-one fighting game. Whereas WotEF was a landmark but the improvements since are obvious, no game has substantially improved on the formula of Street Fighter 2, which is celebrating it’s 15th anniversary.

Some genres take longer to perfect than others: driving and fighting games have been around since the dawn of gaming, but driving was taken to it’s ultimate level much later, in 1998 (courtesy of Gran Turismo). Platform gaming concept reached perfection in 1991 with Sonic the Hedgehog, whilst 3D platformers were perfected on one of the earliest attempts, 1996’s Super Mario 64. Whilst people will bicker and debate about such matters as which game perfected which genre, the fact remains that at a certain point, a concept will be perfected and anything before it will no longer feel as revolutionary as it once did.

To be honest, I’d not considered the nostalgia implication of being genre-defining. But the more I think about it, the more I find myself in agreement. If we only take 2D Mario games as our example, you can look at the NES games as epoch-defining in their day, but then the acceptance comes that it was Mario World that REALLY defined Mario in two dimensions. And of course, because there are no absolutes, people’s views will be forever skewed by what *they* saw as Perfection within a genre. Example (which ties in with Marvin’s comments in Lucard’s #1 game column): I see FF6 as the Pinnacle of Final Fantasy games, while Alex L will argue for FF4, and others I know would maintain that 7 is the finest. If you were a person whose first exposure to the whole concept of turn-based video-game RPGs was Final Fantasy 7, then it’s hardly surprising that it might stick in your mind as your personal Pinnacle. From there, your gaming views take shape.

Another example is Tomb Raider. In 1996, we’d never seen anything like Tomb Raider – massive wide levels to explore, relatively intelligent enemies, puzzles that would be impossible in 2D and an incredible atmosphere. It was a new level for adventure games, and because of this we were prepared to accept faults like the horrible controls and the engine requiring almost military precision for certain actions. Tomb Raider 2 appeared the next year, and was more of the same – but because things hadn’t changed much in the space of a year, it didn’t show. Tomb Raiders 1-5 were essentially the same game, with almost inconsequential extras tacked onto each sequel. By the fourth game, some people were starting to notice the lack of improvement, but most were simply buying Tomb Raider yearly and thus ignoring any improvements elsewhere, because they thought they had the best. When Angel of Darkness appeared last year, people had been treated to a few years off of TR, and had gone out and tried other games and their methods of negotiating terrain. People had a chance to try something better, and when they returned to Tomb Raider, it wasn’t as good as they had remembered.

To be fair to Core, I don’t blame it all on them. They’d been pushed by the publishers for yearly updates whilst still having to design other games, and as such didn’t have the time to implement huge, redefining changes. With AoD, Core had three or four years to implement seven years of evolution. To this end, the game was always going to disappoint and the final still felt rushed, because really it was. The appearance of Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time later in the year hammered the gap home even further.

Just for the record, though, I’ve hated TR since the first game. I was never sold on the graphics and the gameplay did nothing for me (those controls.. UGH…) but it’s interesting to hear someone NOT blaming Core for once. And I suppose that, given the pressure they’d have been under, it might be understandable. But it still doesn’t qualify as a good excuse :)

Another thing that can damage your view of old games is a poorly ported or emulated version. For example, if you didn’t know that the emulation on Sega Smash Pack (Dreamcast version) sucked, you’d be inclined to think you were simply deaf all those years ago and that Golden Axe’s music was in fact dire. Other crimes against retro include the version of Afterburner on Sega Arcade Gallery, and the GBA port of Donkey Kong Country.

Poor-quality alternate versions to kill nostalgia? Oh yes indeed. As I write, the link’s not yet available, but when Lucard’s review of River City Ransom pops up, go read it. Then you’ll see exactly what can happen when a long-held nostalgia paradigm is left shattered, rose-tinted specs lying broken on the floor.

Of course, rose-tinted spectacles can even occur on the best of games and overhype them. I seriously suspect that half the people who won’t play anything newer than SNES are fooling themselves about newer games…

And anyone who won’t play anything newer than 16-bit isn’t just being foolish. They’re being retarded. There are too many great games that they’re missing out on. They’re just as idiotic as the sort of people who refuse to play older games just because they’re old…

Last, but by no means least, is 411 Games’ most prolific feedback-er, Matt Hardin

Hey dude, just wanted to say that you are not alone. A lot of the old stuff, when I pop it in today, I find lacking. The SNES days seem to hold up the best though, as long as you stick to the classics. And no, SM All-Stars doesn’t count… they’re all NES games ;-)

I find that the further back you go, the more you have to stretch the meaning of “entertainment” before the game falls through the attention zone. Take, for example, the arcade collections that all the k3wl 1337 k!dz are gaga about these days. Now, I dunno about you, but when I see these games, they mostly fall into one category: games that were designed to keep you pumping quarters into them. Roadblasters and Super Sprint were a hoot to finally play again… till I realized that I could keep on going on and on and on and on forever… as long as I kept pushing START when prompted (aka dropping coins). All for what? My initials on a high score board. Ok, so… what happens if you play the game so much that you can play for hours on the same quarter? You’re rewarded with… no, not an ending. A killscreen. A level designed to be impossible to beat. WTF? Some reward. Right down there with “Sorry, but the princess is in another castle! Just kidding!”

It’s funny: I had that exact same feeling when playing Gauntlet on Midway Arcade Treasures. When you can keep hitting the button for more credits, you’re effectively invincible. There’s no skill, unless you deliberately limit yourself to “only this many continues”. No tension, just a grind. And the cop-out ways of ending the games… Ah, yes. The classic Unbeatable Level… Evil as hell, and a genius bit of game-design, but only as long as you don’t have free-play.

But anyway, yes, the games get stale. Some hold up better than others (Mega Man 2? Chrono Trigger? Rock n Roll Racing? Zelda 2? Alls yeah!), but most are flawed, and when the hype is history, so is the magic.

All too true, my friend. All too true

OK then. Thanks for your help there, guys. To finish off, I’m going to do a quick namecheck of a few of MY favourite retro-games… A small selection of the ones that, for me, have stood the Test Of Time in the best way possible. Yes, there are a lot of Nintendo games, but that’s because I mostly bough Nintendo in my youth.

(*)Final Fantasy 6 (SNES)

I can replay this game *so* much, and never get bored… I must have gone start-to-finish through the game (finding everything) at least five times. It’s like Lucard and his Shining tendencies. Epic storyline, cast of thousands (well, lots, anyway), and a whole slew of characters to find… Oh yes.

(*)Super Streetfighter II (SNES)

Why, in a world full of SNK vs Capcom vs Marvel vs Everyone, would I want to limit myself to 16 characters, no super moves, tiny combos, and a comparative snail’s pace? Simple. Because the game is both blissfully simple and intensely complex. It’s not a game where button-bashing will win out, or a reliance on flashy super-moves, but at the same time, the moves are classical in their simple elegance. Nothing more complicated than a “Dragon Punch” movement, coupled with a single punch or kick. But within the game lies the potential for “real” combos. Not single moves that do 14 hits in their own, but actual move-strings, requiring precision timing to make the hits “tag”

(*)Goldeneye (N64)

My personal Pinnacle of console-based first-person shooters. James Bond himself, armed with a controller *perfect* for the job (I swear, I even prefer it to Keyboard-and-Mouse half the time), sneaked, shot and shagged his way through a Day In His Life. Rare took everything good about the FPS genre, added a touch of magic, and the result was a wonder. Such was the majesty of the game that not even they themselves could top it (Perfect Dark, while a fine game in its own right, never quite lived up to the legendary greatness of Goldeneye: through no fault of its own, as we’ve discussed above, it could never have done so)

(*)Alien 3: The Gun (Arcade)

Yes, in an age of House Of The Dead III’s shotgun lightguns, and Time Crisis 3’s weapon select, I would prefer to play a game where the gun was mounted on the cabinet with only a small axis of rotation. Why? Because of the sheer exhileration of wave after wave after wave of seemingly-neverending Alien evilness. It was like Space Invaders… you could shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and they just kept coming. It didn’t matter that your gun wasn’t very mobile: all that meant was that you didn’t have to move your arm, and so the programmers had an excuse to throw EVEN MORE ENEMIES at you.

(*) Sonic and Knuckles

Because everybody loves Sonic…
*and there are people I know who’ll kill you if you don’t show The Hedgehog the proper respect…
Well, yes… But in all seriousness, S+K is one of those games that you can pop into your Mega Drive/Genesis, load up, and just play. And play. And play. Last time I plugged-through a copy of Sonic 3, I started a game as Knuckles, and before I realised how much time had passed, I’d gone straight through the first game with all the Emeralds, and had just finished Mushroom Hill Zone with three of the Hyper Emeralds. I have *no* idea where the time went, I just looked round and went “Whoa”. A game in which you can genuinely lose time… That sort of game’s a keeper.

Plugs

Ladies and gentlemen, we begin with the ever-insightful Bryan Berg, who has the lowdown on the Warner Bros Quality Control issue, as well as some well-founded (and new) concerns about the PSP

LiquidCross has shamelessly appealed to the Sci-Fi geek that lurks within me. When Star Trek meets Pokemon in a scientific, non-FurryFic kind of way… It’s good.

AlucardTM is like me, in a way… He can’t resist a cheap shot, either… So here’s his REAL #2 game, and the other link… If you don’t know by now, you NEED to click it.

Look, it’s someone new! Michael Donohoe is here, with a debut review. Feedback’s even more important here, ’cause if you guys like him, he stays.

Since this column is getting posted ahead of schedule, I don’t have a link to this week’s Eric S so here’s the Blackness from last week. He’s wrong about the BBC though… The Hutton Report was a Blair whitewash, and everybody knows it. It was designed to soften the Beeb up for the Charter Renewal negotiations, and force a change of leadership. The BBC’s still a damn fine news source, one of the best in the world. And if you ever have the FBI try and stich *you* up for somebody else’s bombing, consider emigrating over here. Experienced meat inspectors are always needed (if only to quell some of the BSE paranoia) and Blair’s not managed to destory ALL our civil rights yet… Oh, and I’m not a football (soccer) fan myself, I just know something about it. My sister, however, also follows Arsenal; living in London means you get the luxury of actually going to see the team once in a while.

And in case you missed any of it, here’s the big index of all our E3 stuff. Have a poke around, there’s sure to be something there for you…

*And to end in an Eric S-approved way…
That’s all, folks!
**Looney Tunes closing theme plays**