RETROGRADING 12.24.04

Okay, maybe there is. Consider this a Holiday Present. I’ve been having so much fun with Nyogtha and getting a lot of great feedback, but there’s still emails and forums comments about “Bring back Retrograding.” And so I decided to do the occasional column just to keep you wonderful bastards on your toes.

Many of you know I thought 2003 was a terrible year for gaming. There’s a very small amount of games I can remember caring about. Pokemon Channel, Disgaea, Ikargua, a new Panzer Dragoon game. That’s really it. But 2004 has been one of the most memorable years of gaming in a very long time. And what better way to look back at 2004 than with RETROGRADING?

1. The Year of the Retrogame
Man, has this year made my old school gamer heart swell with pride. Above all else in 2004, this was the year of old games coming back and making a big name for themselves. The two biggest remakes on the top of my head are on the Game Boy Advance. I’m talking about Pokemon Fire Red/Lead Green and Shining Force; Resurrection of the Dark Dragon. Not only are both of these two of my favorite series of all times, but the remakes were totally authentic to the originals, allowing long time fans to recapture the magic they found with these games all those years ago. And with graphical updates and slight tweaks and changes, the games managed to draw in new and skeptical gamers, creating a whole new generation of fans who will cherish these games as we did so long ago (in video gaming years).

And there’s more. The old Metal Slug 3 (well, old for us crazies who own Neo Geos and plunk down triple digits in cash for video games) which sold like hot cakes on the Xbox and even got popular enough to get nominated for TWO Inside Pulse Game awards; Best Classic Shooter, and Xbox Game of the Year! Impressive isn’t it?

Bubble Bobble made a return on the GBA system. Although the print run was obscenely small, this game is still one of the best ever made and received the highest average score from Inside Pulse on a Tribunal yet. And from all the letters I got, many of you, including out own Chris Pankonin, are thankful as f*ck that I made you aware of this release and how to get a copy. You’re welcome. But thank Taito. Hopefully with all the clamor raised over this re-release we can get them to do a second release of this GBA cart.

We also saw Midway Arcade Treasure 2 sell well, Mortal Kombat: Deception boxed in MK1 to get people to buy it, and two of the most beloved video game franchises of all time came out with completely new gaming baring their titles, and proved to be just as good as the original 8 bit classics. I’m of course talking about Ninja Gaiden and The Bard’s Tale. Both titles haven’t been seen in well over a decade, and even though the new titles have no continuity with the originals, they are still in the same spirit and even had some of the original team members working on the games.

There is however, a downside to this. There were three games that followed this same pattern that were also my picks for the worst three games this year. River City Ransom EX, Advance Guardian Heroes, and Nightmare of Druaga. The first two have two of the biggest most rabid fanatical zealots in all of video gaming. I should know. I consider Guardian Heroes my favorite video game ever (Valkyrie Profile is just my favorite RPG) and River City Ransom was my favorite NES game. But the remake of RCR and the Sequel of Guardian Heroes were so bad it made me want to rip my hair out, chew my fingers into nubs and poke out my eyes. God damned awful. These games were so poor the only way their release can be justified is by the fact some people wanted to make cash off long time fans believing new versions of these games that would do justice to the originals would some day be released. But nope, the need for a supply of easy made cash from a shitty game with a fanatical following won out instead. Shame of everyone involved in this heartbreak.

As for Druaga? Well, I know 5 people in the world that remember the original. God knows why they made a sequel. And a terrible one to boot. Someone at Namco lost a bet
with that.

For good or for ill, more than any year before this, the Re-makes and Re-releases ruled 2004. More than sequels like Halo 2 and GTA: SA, these are what we’ll remember.

2. A minor 2D shooter Renaissance.
This too brought a tear to my eye. 2003 I had but my beloved Ikaruga to console my 2D/side scrolling shooter loving heart. This year look at all I had! I had the wonderful Gradius V, the awesome R-Type Final. I had a port of R-Type 3 to the GBA. A port of Xevious to the GBA. TWO Metal slug games, including a brand new one for the GBA and Metal Slug 3 for the Xbox, which I’ve already praised in the previous commentary. We had Neo Contra, which was short but fun and even a few others.

We all know that I may be best known for my RPG knowledge and my Fighting game prowess, but it’s with the old school shooters where my heart lies. If it’s side scrolling and things go boom, I’ll be giddy as a schoolgirl.

I really hope this trend continues. Even if it’s six shooters a year, it’s five more than we had in 2003. They’re the genre with the highest degree of difficulty, and also require the most skill. But then, maybe that’s why so few gamers play them.

3. EA edges out Square-Enix for most evil and vile Publisher/Developer in all of Video Gamedom.
I’ve always said EA was the devil. I’ve refused to buy games from them since the days of 16 bit when the last money they got from me was Mutant League Hockey. And now? Look who can say, “I told you so.”

Remember this? Thanks to greed and stupidity, EA now has exclusive rights to the NFL copyrights, trademarks and players. Ugh ugh ugh. You know, I don’t enjoy football at all, but this is just about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in regards to gaming.

First off, the Madden games have ALWAYS been inferior to the Sega Sports games. ALWAYS. And to have no more NFL games by them or 989 or any other company that puts out football games, that’s ludicrous. That’s a monopoly and it forces all football fans to shill out money for EA’s second rate game.

Now granted, that’s just my opinion, but even Madden fans have to see how horrible of an idea this is. So much for $20 sports games. Get ready for 60$ ones. Why not? Madden’s the only game you can get. They can (and will) raise the price all they want and you don’t have a choice.

And quality or improvements? Fuck that! What’s the point? Where’s the drive? They won. They can make the shittiest games in history and football fans will still have no choice but to buy them if they want a football game using real characters and stadiums and the like.

So what are the options? A football game with fantasy characters? It worked for Mutant League…but that’s an EA property. And you know they’ll sue if there’s anything even remotely tangibly familiar with that series, so that route is out. You could sign a petition but those never do anything. Good luck in fantasy world.

So what’s left? Simple. DON’T BUY THE FUCKING GAMES No matter how much you love football. No matter how much you love football video games, don’t f*cking buy it. Don’t tell EA that you’re a mindless sheep that will put up with their corporate bullshit. Don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing you’re that weak willed and willing to be kicked in the balls. Stand up for yourself and say no to Madden. Any Madden game. And if you want to go further, then don’t buy ANY EA games at all. Refuse to buy any games that EA has an exclusive contract with. The NFL, NASCAR, the PGA, FIFA. Don’t buy any. Write those organizations telling them you are boycotting. And if you really want to go to the Extreme, boycott the NFL itself for being that f*cking stupid and greedy to allow EA to do this and wreck it for everyone. No matter how shitty of a company EA is and no matter how scared they are of people finally realizing Sega Sports is superior, this is the NFL’s fault first and foremost and if you want wrongs to be righted, you have to attack the cancer at its heart, not just treat the symptoms.

My response? Fuck EA. Fuck the NFL. And f*ck anyone who buys a Madden game from this moment on. Because you’ve just told every video game company on God’s Green Earth that the consumer doesn’t matter; only the dollars do.

4. Neverwinter Nights Platinum
Sorry. I’m f*cking addicted. It’s not THE greatest game I’m ever played, but if I redid my Top 30 RPG countdown, this would make the top 20 easily. I love it, I really love it. I play it every single day and I never get bored. I wish I got more than 2xp for killing things nowadays, but still…a great game!

Remember, these are my memorable moments, and for me to love a PC game this much is a big admission. But in truth this leads to a much bigger conversation. See, I’ve been playing a LOT of PC games this year. Some like NWN and MISSING have really captured my imagination. Others like V:TM Bloodlines and Doom 3 have been underwhelming, but they still pulled me away from the console to play on my laptop.

Neverwinter Nights Platinum is one of my 5 favorite games for 2004 along with Pokemon FR/LG, Gradius V, BG:DA 2, and Shining Force. I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have the original, and I’d be more than happy to play an online game of it with some of my readers sometime.

5. The Death of the Game Cube
In 2003 I said the GameCube was my system of the year. In 2004, I bought less game for the Cube than any other system. I bought Ribbit King, Pokemon Coliseum, Matt Yeager gave me the Zelda collection and…Pokemon Box which isn’t a real game anyway.

You know, I was never a Nintendo fan before the Cube. I preferred the Master System to the NES. I preferred the TG-16 and the Genesis to the SNES. I didn’t even buy a Nintendo 64 until I was a full fledged Pokemon addict and then only for the Pokemon games and even then only for the Pokemon Pikachu style N64 which I got new for 29.88 at a Media Play.

But the Cube? I trusted the Cube. I had always loved the Game Boy. I really loved my GBA. And in buying the cube over the PS2 and Xbox, I was making a statement. I was standing by a company that knew games. That was about games. That loved games. That wasn’t a faceless soulless corporation bent on greed and profit margins. I chose Nintendo in its darkest hour because it felt like the right thing to do. The Cube was cute. It had some good launch games in TH4, Luigi’s Mansion, Super Monkey Ball and SMB Melee. Eternal Darkness was announced. And things looked bright.

So what happened this year? FF:CC was blah. Tales of Symphonia did nothing for me. I’m even now only tempted to get Donky Konga for the Pokemon song, and even then Taito Drum Master for the PS2 is calling to me more. Double Dash and Power Tennis and Even Paper Mario do nothing for me. I’ve been a diehard Sega fan for so long, I can’t enjoy a Mario game. That’s how weird it is. I recognize they are good games, but they don’t grab me or inspire me with passion. And this year, it was two Pokemon games, 1 game I could have bought on the PS2, but chose not to in order to support the Cube format, and a game Matt gave to me.

It’s realty not the death of the Cube as I know tons of people who enjoyed their RPG selection this year, all the new Mario games, and Donky Konga. It was the death of my support for the Cube as nothing on it excited or interested me. I was a Sega fan giving his arch rival the benefit of the doubt in the face of M$ and $ony. And it was a great start, but now I find myself saying ick.

I’ll be honest: Next Console War, I’m starting with the NeXt Box unless Nintendo can offer me something awesome out the gate. Something other than Pokemon. Because you know, Blind loyalty only takes you so far. Just ask the Dreamcast.

6. The Death of Portable Gaming
I will say the GBA was my favorite system this year, but I didn’t buy the DS at launch, and nothing really grabs me for the system. Sure I’ll get it for Pokemon games and Animal Crossing. But what else grabs me for it? Nothing. That’s two games for an entire system. One in March. One in September. Jesus, there were more games for the N-Gage that I wanted.

There I said it. Right now, I’d rather have an N-Gage than the DS. And that is chilling to admit. And the PSP has one game, Darkstalkers 2, that interests me. That’s it. 3 games for two new portable systems over the next YEAR. What’s the point?

But I still have my GBA and my Neo Geo Pocket Colour. Tons of great games for me to enjoy for countless hours. And then there’s the Lynx, the Game gear, and even the Nomad if I want to include those as well.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have a feeling by the end of 2005, both games will have about half a dozen games each I’ll want. Heck, I might actually buy both systems if the games are good enough. But right now both look dismal to me.

Again, this could be because of the offerings. PSP has some big name titles like Metal Gear, Twisted Metal, Gran Tursimo, and more. But I don’t care for any of those games or their genres. Nintendo has Square doing a new RPG for them and some Pac Man Games, and even Sonic the Hedgehog, but again, we know my feelings about Square and their lack of quality and innovation and I’m not a platformer fan. So again, I’m left with nothing.

When some shooters and some RPG’s come out for the new portables, I’ll be happy. But until then I am perfectly content with the old portables. Content with my Bubble Bobble on my GBS and CVS on my NGPC.

For a guy who used to do a biweekly column on portable gaming, this is pretty memorable for me; it’s just not a happy one.

7. Good Bye Neo Geo
The last Neo Geo game has been released. Whether you want to call the latest Samurai Showdown 0, V or Spirits, the fact remains it is the final game released for the Neo Geo. There will be no more. No more expensive MVS or AES additions to my collection. My collection of Neo Geo software is at its apex. It is complete.

And that feels weird. Especially as I’m saying good bye for the second time. The first time was when SNK died and I mourned. For truly, SNK was my favorite of all companies. They gave me Metal Slug, they gave me King of Fighters, they gave me Fatal Fury. So many wonderful games. And when they died, I felt part of me died with them.

Then SNK came back thanks to Playmore and has made some excellent games surprising me with the quality they possessed. I can’t believe how much I enjoyed KOF: MI and Metal Slug Advance.

But the fact remains that even though SNK lives on, the NEO GEO is dead for a second time, and will not be resurfacing like a vampire or some other revenant. The longest lasting system of all time is finally part of history.

Oddly enough, I’m not sad. I used to KoF and Slug on the GBA. Used to all their games on PS2 and Xbox consoles now. SNK still lives on, and that’s what matters in the end.

8. Hype Hype Hype
Doom 3, GTA: SA, Halo 2, Half-Life 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Fable. My god, it was not only the year of the remake, but the year of overhyped, media sound byte saturated, super high marketing budget sequels. There was more fellatio going out to these 6 games alone than every other game for all systems combined.

And Halo 2 and GTA:SA appears to have lived up to the hype amongst their fan base. Half-Life 2 MGS3 seems to have mixed reactions and Fable and Doom 3 fell flat on their asses.

I can’t remember a time where a select cross cut of games got this level of media coverage. CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and every gaming publication on the planet seemed to have a significant portion of their resources devoted to covering this sextet of electronic entertainment. I can’t say I enjoyed any of these games, or honestly cared about any of them. The games I liked (to no one’s surprised) got very little attention by mainstream media or even the gaming press. Ham Ham Olympics? Shadow Hearts Covenant? Gradius V? Nope. Sorry.

It’s too bad it’s the sequels that get all the attention. There were some highly innovative and original games this year that deserved a hell of a lot more credit than they got. Don’t get me wrong, none of the above games were bad. They deserved at least SOME of their hype. But in the end, when 2004 is Sequels, Ports, and Remakes overshadowing everything else, it’s kind of sad, don’t you think?

9. Originality
Ribbit King
Katamari Damacy
Donky Konga
Taito Drum Master
Ham Ham Olympics
The Nintendo DS
MISSING
Technic Beat
Feel the Magic
Echo Night Beyond
Pokemon Box
The Suffering
Silent Hill 4
A Dog’s Life
Shadow Hearts Covenant
Second Sight
Psi-Ops
Full Spectrum Warrior
Mario Vs Donky Kong

These 20 games showed me originality and Innovation are still possible, even in 2004, Ribbit King and K.D. being chief amongst as they are highly addictive games based on pure insanity. Technic Beat, Donky Konga and Drum Master are all games that put the Rhythm genre on its head.

MISSING is like no game before it and none shall be able to duplicate it. Truly this is the most original game I think I’ve ever played and it sucks you in like no other. It’s cheap and any PC can run it. I can’t state empathically enough how much you need to experience MISSING.

The Suffering ties with Eternal Darkness at the measuring stick for all horror games, while SH4 and Echo Night Beyond were good twists and innovations on what you can do with the genre.

Psi-Ops and Second Sight started a new genre of action games and were more fun than any other action game I played this year.

Pokemon Box is well…an unusual addition to any Pokemaniac’s collection and Ham Ham games is one of the best games for the GBA.

I could keep going and going, but I’ll quickly wrap it up by saying try each of the above listed games. You may not like them. Hell, some I didn’t even like that much. But they are all original and innovative and are worth the experience to say you played them. Step outside the box and try something new.

10. Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes
The most memorable part of 2004 gaming for me? Why the death of 411Games and its phoenix like rebirth as Inside Pulse games. The implementation of the most respected review system in the industry, new members of the Kliq added while others left, and so much more.

But for me the most memorable moment was my top 30 Countdown RPG countdown for Retrograding. It was by far the biggest thing we did at either 411 or Inside Pulse and it got attention like nothing else we covered as well. Although I think that’s more because it went on for so many months instead of being a one shot. ;-)

I appreciate the massive amount of attention Retrograding got in it’s year and a half existence, and appreciate even more how many of you want it back and wrote me emails expressing that. I appreciated the comments on the writer’s forums I got from guys like Lee and Eric S about how much they loved the series and even the great response we got on the 411mania fan forums about it. I loved writing Retrograding as much as you guys loved reading it and I enjoyed all the email and IM and forum based conversations I had with you guys because of the column. I’m sad it’s done because it exposed me to a whole new audience I never had before and I’d like to think RG gave you all a look at gaming that no other columnist had dared to offer you before.

Retrograding started as a way to keep me lucid in England while I lived there and ended after I wrote literally a novels worth of writing about RPG video games. I had nothing left to give in regards to video game columns. Or so I thought.

Don’t get your hopes up. This is a one-shot special. Nyogtha is still where my heart lies, and I know a lot of you are enjoying it, even if you do want RG back. But this is a present to all my readers, my fellow IP writers, my friends, and of course the Kliq for standing by me, supporting me, and telling me how much they enjoy (and sometimes loathe) my writing.

We have a remarkable staff here at IP Games, and with Big Daddy Cool, LC and Alex Williams leading the way, 2005 is going to be one of the best years for gaming journalism ever. Stay with the IP Games team for the most honest and in depth in the industry, some well written previews, features that blow any other video game site out of the water, and a crapload of talented writers.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even see another RetroGrading from time to time.

Note to Widro and Bebito: This page long endorsement is gonna cost you double what we agreed upon. ;-)

Happy Holidays gang, and I’ll see you Monday with more THINGS THAT SHOULD NOT BE.