Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 10.23.03

Welcome to the Thank God It’s Thursday News Report, 411 Games’ best Thursday news report! I’m Bryan Berg, and I’d like to thank you for clicking the link that got you here.

A personal note: I’m running on fumes here. Spent all Tuesday studying, Wednesday was a test, studying, and work at night, and today is another test. Still, I feel like this report is going to be a good one. So sit back and enjoy!

The Best Buy Jaunt
This is the newest feature found in TGIT, the Best Buy Jaunt. It’s like this: I go to Best Buy a lot. In the video game section, they have games available for different systems that you can play. I often play these games for a few minutes, just to see how they play. In The Best Buy Jaunt, I’ll provide mini-reviews of these games, as well as a recommendation for picking it up or not.

Will this feature be included each week? Probably not. But will it be a good time? You betcha! On with the mini-reviews!

Viewtiful Joe
I once swore that I would never play Viewtiful Joe for the simple reason that I was tired of hearing about how great it was supposed to be. After giving this game a spin, I was VERY impressed.

The cel-shading was a bit weird at first, having never played a game like this. The game plays just like an old SNES/Genesis era game – my first thought was Alex Kidd meets Streets of Rage. Fun game to play; simple, but a blast.

Recommendation: Buy. Who doesn’t like getting on bandwagons? Besides, the game is pretty rockin’ as well.

NFL Gameday 2004 (PS2)
The best way I could review Gameday is to recount my experience with the game. Matchup was Jets vs. Texans. So here goes…
– Moss Kickoff return from back of end zone to NYJ 35
– 5 yard Martin run on 1st down
– 15 yard Martinrun on 2nd down
– 10 yard Pennington pass to Conway on 1st down
– 35 yard Martin run on 1st down, Touchdown

Running game was WAY too easy. Passing game is pretty okay. Lots of choppy play overall makes it not a very fun play.

Recommendation: Head over to the Madden booth on the other side of the display to see a much better game.

F-Zero GX
Wow, this game is fast! Kinda like the N64 F-Zero, only at an even higher warp speed. It’s pretty hard to control your racer at this speed, but it’s still fun. Different enough from F-Zero’s predecesors to make it unique, but similar enough to pick up and play.

Recommendation: Buy if you’ve been an F-Zero fan since you were 9 years old. Otherwise, play it first to make sure you like it.

Super Mario Advance 4
This is a port of Super Mario Brothers 3, which was originally released for the NES way back in 1990. Well, it’s actually a port of the Mario 3 we saw on Super Mario All-Stars for Super Nintendo, but whatever. Anyway, not much to say about this game besides it’s a portable version of one of the best games EVER! Just awesome.

Recommendation: You NEED this game if you want to consider yourself a video game fan. If you’re too young to remember Mario 3 for NES, you owe it to yourself to pick up this version and see it for yourself.

First Impressions: NBA Live 2004
On said Best Buy trip, my brother picked up NBA Live 2004. How is it?

Last year, I bought NBA 2K3. NBA Live 2004 is a MUCH faster game. It’s more arcade-style, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The camera angles put you right into the action, one thing that NBA 2K3’s default angle definitely did not do.

A lot has been said about the Freestyle control. Well, it’s awesome. You’ll use it a lot, and it’s actually pretty useful. There are two shot buttons, one for a regular shot and one for a lay-up/dunk. This is one of the really neat things about NBA Live 2004, and it’s probably something that should have been in NBA Live 1999.

Dynasty mode is here, but there’s not all THAT much to do. It’s not as in-depth as Madden or NHL, but it’s got its quirks. For example, make a trade during the season and you’ll see your new player walk into the locker room and be greeted by the veterans. Win a post-season award and watch your player accept the award in a suit. Hell, just DRAFT a guy and he’ll go up and give props to David Stern! However, some parts of the Dynasty are simply terrible, like the free-agent signings. At the start of the second season, anyone who didn’t sign anywhere else (which is just about everybody) is available for the league minimum. It’s a neat little loophole that will help YOU out, but it’s something EA should have noticed and corrected.

Overall, this is a good basketball game. Pick it up if you didn’t get one last year, if you just want something to hold you over until the season starts, or if you have an incomprehensible desire to play as the Charlotte Bobcats before they even enter the league. If you’re a Sega Sports guy, you might want to give NBA Live 2004 a try and see how different it is. But definitely check out NBA Live 2004 if you’re a fan of the NBA.

News? What news?…

Leisure Suit Larry
Anyone out there remember the early 1990’s, when Sierra ruled the PC gaming world? Games like Front Page Football, King’s Quest, and Police Quest were all the rage, and Sierra was the hottest company out there.

At this time, Sierra had one other classic franchise – Leisure Suit Larry. This was a very “adult” series which threw this ordinary guy, Larry, into these hilarious situations involving attractive women and sexual humor. The franchise, of course, has faded into oblivion along with the rest of the old Sierra stable.

Not so fast. Reports have come out stating that Leisure Suit Larry may be on the comeback trail. Next month’s Computer Games magazine has a cover story on the latest edition of the series, titled Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude. There hasn’t been a LSL game since 1998’s Leisure Suit Larry’s Casino, but hopefully that will change with this potential new title.

If you haven’t played a Leisure Suit Larry game, you can’t really grasp the significance of this news. Trust me when I say that the Leisure Suit Larry series has been a very important and highly influential series. If you’d like to give Leisure Suit Larry’s Casino a spin, download the demo. If you like the demo, shop around for some of the older games.

The numbers are in regarding the launch of Nokia’s handheld system, and to the surprise of nobody, they are quite poor. As 411 reported earlier this week, fewer than 5,000 N-Gages were sold in America during the system’s first week of sales.

Make sure you check out the Commentary for today… I’ve got a LOT to say about the N-Gage.

By now, you’ve probably heard of the teens who were responsible for the deaths of two others in a Grand Theft Auto-type shooting. The shooting occurred on June 25, and has re-entered the public eye due to a lawsuit by the victims’ parents.

The parents of the victims are suing Sony, Rockstar Games, Take Two Interactive, and Wal-Mart for a total of $246 million. Of the $246 million total, $46 million is considered compensatory damage and the other $200 million is punitive damage. Representing the parents is Miami lawyer Jack Thompson, who claims that Grand Theft Auto “inspires and trains players to shoot at vehicles and persons”.

Thompson is no stranger to video game-related lawsuits. He fought video game creators in a similar suit in 1997 where the claim was for $33 million. Thompson claims he has written letters to Sony and Wal-Mart (who sold the game to the criminals a year before the shooting) urging them to cease the sale of GTA3.

Now, there’s no chance of the plaintiffs getting all $246 million, a ridiculous sum of money. However, they will probably get something out of this suit, especially when it’s considered that the teens made their intentions regarding their inspiration for the shooting well-known. And while it’s always sad to see people resort to lawsuits to resolve issues, it’s nice to see Wal-Mart included in this list. It is a clear sign that the retailer can be just as guilty as the manufacturer in cases like these.

It’s not specified whether Wal-Mart sold the game to the teens or their parents. This could make a huge difference in the outcome of the suit. If the world’s largest retailer did in fact sell the game to underage kids, they are in serious trouble. If the game was sold to the parents, then this is just another case of parents not monitoring their children’s hobbies closely enough. Then, the case could be made that the parents might even be somewhat liable for their children’s actions. Which, of course, would be horribly sad, but might serve as the wake-up call the parental generation seems to desperately need.

Advance Game Port
Those of you who hesitated to pick up a Game Boy Player will now have a second option when you decide you want to play your GBA games on a GameCube. Datel has created a device called the Advance Game Port, which functions similar to the Game Boy Player, but has some distinct differences.

Among the differences is the placement on the Cube of the device. The Game Boy Player goes under the Cube. Not so with the Advance Game Port, which actually is placed in the GC’s memory card slot. It’s an adapter that allows you to stick a GBA game in the slot, but notice that it’s a GBA game you can put in; as in, no games for Game Boy or Game Boy Color are compatible. That blows. On the positive side, though, the Advance Game Port will allow gamers to use the analog stick on the Cube controller, which means enhanced gameplay.

So, the question is, is the Advance Game Port really worth buying over the Game Boy Player? Before you go crazy considering the options, let it be known that the Advance Game Port is only being made available in Europe. It’ll probably be over here at some point, though. Furthermore, it’s being priced identically to the Game Boy Player. This is a foolish move by Datel, because most people would rather own a first-party accessory than one from a company they’re not as trustworthy of. Still, they’ve created an interesting device that may put a dent in the sales of the Game Boy Player.

Major League Gaming has announced that its co-founder, Sundance DiGiovanni, will be appearing each Thursday on ESPN2’s new morning show, Cold Pizza, as a “resident gaming expert”. This is huge news for MLG, whose profile will be increased exponentially by this exposure to ESPN2’s market.

Cold Pizza is ESPN2’s attempt at a morning show. It will feature sports news as well as pop culture and, obviously, video game news. In addition to Sundance DiGiovanni, Page 2 writer Bill “The Sports Guy” Simmons will be involved in the show. That alone makes Cold Pizza a must-see.

As a total aside, what’s up with every “niche” channel making shows that have nothing to do with their niche? You have MTV doing shows about people’s houses and following couples around, VH1 showing “I Love The 80’s” 24 hours a day, and The Learning Channel lets people re-design their houses and put it on TV as a show. Why? Is it a rule now that you can’t be a 24-hour sports station or a 24-hour music station? “Playmakers”, as much as it sucks, is one thing. But now ESPN is “expanding”, which is code word for selling out your audience and becoming a crappy network that forgets where it came from.

Commentary of the Week
The N-Gage. Where to start?

How about with the most recent sales figures dealing with the system’s launch? Fewer than 5,000 units sold in the United States during launch week? Five hundred units sold in the UK during launch week? Are these numbers REAL? Can a system really sell this poorly?

Everything in the preceding paragraph is the truth. Yes, the numbers are real. Yes, the system can sell this poorly. And it did. Now, while Nokia plays the corporate PR double-speak game, prognositcators everywhere are calling the N-Gage a “disappointment” and “a failed system”.

So here we are, two weeks after the worst launch in video game history. Exactly who is responsible for creating this mess? Who is to blame for Nokia’s pathetic sales figures?

Nokia will try to blame the high price and slow economy for this, but that’s an obvious cop-out. The real story is obvious to anybody who is looking for it. If you’ve read my stuff, you saw it coming. If you read Alex Williams’ excellent pre-launch commentary, you saw it coming. Hell, if you knew anything about the gaming industry, you saw it coming.

The N-Gage was created and marketed seemingly on a whim, with no thought whatsoever given to a potential audience for the system. It’s similar to a child who decides to have a garage sale, only to realize later on that he doesn’t have enough stuff to sell. The difference is, the kid thinks it through and decides it’s not worth it. He isn’t stupid enough to actually through with the garage sale.

We’ve seen Nokia publicly humiliate itself trying to find an audience for the N-Gage. First, it ripped the Game Boy Advance, claiming that nobody in the world aged 20 to 25 would want to be seen out on a Friday night with a Game Boy. A bullyish attempt to create a perception of the N-Gage as a “cool” brand at best; detestable mudslinging at worst. Then, it came up with a contest where developers could develop games for the system, for FREE, and the best would be “pitched” to Nokia execs. Nice try, guys. Nobody’s that dumb. Somehow, after all of this, after public failures and ridicule, Nokia decided that the N-Gage was ready for launch.

Nokia unleashed the N-Gage on the world on October 7, armed with virtually no advertising, one cellular service provider, and a $299 price tag. An underwhelmed American public purchased fewer than 5,000 in its first week of sales. An even more cynical UK market purchased just 500. While Game Boy Advance SP units flew off the shelves and GameCubes were sold out across the country, there were plenty of N-Gages to be had anywhere.

The problem: nobody was buying. Think about it: there are 50 states in America. If 5,000 units are sold, that’s 100 per state. ONE HUNDRED units sold in each state. Of a BRAND NEW SYSTEM. Even Nokia’s most jaded executive and the most pessimistic market analyst could not have predicted such poor numbers.

So, what was Nokia’s biggest flaw? Hint: it has nothing to do with price.

One thing that Nokia didn’t get was that the N-Gage was not just another cell phone. The N-Gage is a SYSTEM and should have been marketed as such. It was thrown out onto the market in a very haphazard fashion, which is completely inexcusable. To that end, Nokia got exactly what it deserved. You’ll never see Nintendo or Sony botch a launch that badly – even the GameCube, which was criticized at launch, had some redeeming features that were highlighted and shown off by the launch titles. Nokia has done nothing to show us the best features of the N-Gage at launch. Again, inexcusable.

What’s more, and perhaps even more damaging, is that Nokia did not create any demand for the N-Gage. Did anybody you know ever say anything like, “Boy, I can’t wait for the N-Gage to come out?” Of course not! The N-Gage could have been released at $29.99 and STILL sold 5,000 systems with that kind of anticipation. It could not be more clear that this is Nokia’s first try at a video game system. Did you ever play a demo N-Gage before October 7? Did the guys at GameStop ever beg you to reserve one? Did you, who has owned a Nokia cell phone in the past, receive any direct mail from the company regarding the N-Gage?

No. And that is the problem. Nobody had any reason to want an N-Gage. Nobody HAS any reason to want an N-Gage. It’s not that the public won’t support a second handheld device; the PSP is pretty hotly anticipated and will do very well next year. The N-Gage just got it all wrong. When you’re launching a system, you need a hot title to capture the imaginations of gamers everywhere. And you need to promote the hell out of that game. And I’m sorry, but Moto GP is NOT the game to sell a million N-Gages.

There are rumors that there will be some price cutting by Nokia, and that gamers will be able to pick up an N-Gage for just $199. To which the gaming community replies, so what? Nokia still hasn’t shown anybody why they NEED to own an N-Gage. Just because you cut the price of something doesn’t mean it’s any better of a product. And you can STILL buy a GameCube AND GBA for the same price as an N-Gage. So why on earth would anybody want an N-Gage?

Obviously, Nokia doesn’t know, either. Rumor has it that they are already working on a new game device to be released in 2004.

We’ve reached the end. I hope you enjoyed what you read here, especially the Commentary, as I’m quite proud of it. I’ll be back next Thursday with more news. Have a great weekend!