Thank God It’s Thursday News Report 06.10.04

Holla at your boy! Time for TGIT – everyone’s favorite news report, and it can be no worse than your second-favorite news report so far this week! Thanks for checking in to see what’s cracking in the video game world. To be honest, it’s not much. But what’s out there is pretty neat, so definitely read on!

First, let me hit one topic that’s been big this week – the new Bad Religion album. AMAZING. I’m biased since I’ve been a big fan for a very long time, but this album doesn’t sound like one from a band that’s been together for almost 25 years. The music is a little different from what you might expect from BR; namely, it’s a little slower overall, but the overall package is awesome. You can tell the band’s focused with this album and that they have something to say. The message is mostly political, and the bitterness and anger is evident on every song. Fans of Bad Religion should pick this one up as soon as possible (especially since it’s only $9 at Target), and non-fans should get on the bandwagon and see what they’ve been missing.

Now, here’s what’s on the docket for today: news, plugs, and the Commentary that didn’t appear last week will finally be in this column, complete with a link to the River City Ransom that inspired two Commentaries before the thing was even posted! Should be a good one. Let’s get started!

TOP STORY: ESPN NFL Football = Budget Title?
Before we get to the meat of the Top Story, there’s a little background that you need to know. On Tuesday, Take-Two Interactive announced that it had reached an agreement with Sega to co-publish and distribute the ESPN/Sega Sports titles. The deal obviously helps Sega because the ESPN titles will now have a more capable marketing backing, not to mention greater worldwide distribution. But that’s not all this deal did, and prepare to be blown away when you see what else has come of this…

Most sports gamers consider the elite of the professional football gaming field to be EA’s Madden series and Sega Sports’ ESPN NFL series. Others have come and gone, yet these two have fought it out over the years. Many give the edge in quality to ESPN, while the casual gamers have always gone for Madden. With prices being the same, it’s simply easier for many to go with what they’ve been playing for so long, rather than spend $50 on a new system that they may or may not like. Many have already predicted that this year will be no different.

Guess again.

In a move that will turn the football gaming industry on its side, Sega/Take Two have made it known that they intend on selling ESPN NFL Football 2K5 for the ridiculously low price of $19.99. Read that again. $19.99.

Now, this hasn’t been officially confirmed by Sega yet. But and have both listed the game at the low price. Things change, but there seems to be enough of a buzz about this to at least take the news seriously. And what sweet news it is to the ears of those financially restrained people who feared facing the 2004 season without a football game.

There are a number of ramifications of this news, and here are just a few of them…
This had better work. The average game sells for $50. Sega plans to sell this for $20. In essence, since the game is selling for 2.5 times less than the average game, it needs to move 2.5 times as many units for Sega to match last year’s financial totals.

For example, assume that ESPN NFL Football 2K4 sold 1 million copies, creating $50 million in revenue. For Sega to have the same amount of revenue, ESPN NFL Football 2K5 needs to sell 2.5 million copies to create that same $50 million number. And for it to be proven that this experiment worked, they need to improve on that revenue marker, so the total sales need to be even higher.

Is Sega admitting failure? You may remember Sega’s all-out attempt to overtake EA in the summer of 2002, heavily promoting NFL 2K3. Sega banked on NFL 2K3 to bring in huge numbers, placing huge importance on the title in relation to the overall stature of the company. Of course, we all know how that turned out – Madden out-sold NFL 2K3 by something like a 7-to-1 ratio. The failure of NFL 2K3 nearly killed Sega.

While ESPN NFL Football 2K4 received all kinds of critical praise, it still failed to significantly derail Madden from being the game of choice in 2003. Perhaps this move is a sign that Sega knows that it can’t compete with Madden on a name recognition standpoint, instead hoping that a GameCube-esque price cut will at least move the game from store shelves into homes. Whether the sales come at Madden’s expense is now of no consequence, which means that the barrier of competition has now been eliminated.

Speaking of competition… Since these games have such a huge price gap, they can’t really be compared as equals anymore. This is going to tricke down into every “ESPN vs. Madden” column you read this summer. When magazines review ESPN, they may give the game a better review than Madden because the overall package (i.e. price) is so much more appealing than EA’s game.

The war is over. There will be no more objective comparisons of the two games without price being a big factor. The consumer may never get the best game now; instead, they might get something close to it for cheaper. That’s a shame.

The future. Two parts to this one…

First, this is a tactic that will be tried time and again by competitors in any close market. That means most other sports games will be fair game, and any other sub-genre where games (even similarly-based exclusives for different platforms) are fighting for market share. Again, the game won’t be the be-all and end-all, which is sad. It should be.

Secondly – and this ties in with the first point way up there – Sega has to think about how this will affect ESPN NFL Football 2K6. Is this just a marketing gimmick designed to achieve sales and beat Madden in units sold? Or is this a new methodology for Sega intended to make its games more available to a cash-strapped public? Either way, it’s up to Sega to figure out exactly WHY people will purchase ESPN NFL 2K5 in droves, and if it can be repeated in next season’s title. If it piques the public’s attention from a strictly financial standpoint, then Sega hasn’t done an effective job. If the converse is true, then Madden may finally have a competitor with the ability to overtake the juggernaut.

Either way, this is something that the entire industry will be watching with a very close eye. It should be VERY interesting to see how this plays out, and how Sega markets this change in relation to the changes made in the game itself. Once again, the video football season just got even more interesting, thanks to Sega and Take-Two.

Quick Hits
Madden 2005 Deluxe Edition? This one comes from my friend Billy – evidently, first-run copies of Madden 2005 (i.e. uber-limited edition) will allow gamers to play the game with the graphics of ANY previous Madden game. I haven’t heard anything about this anywhere else, so I really don’t know how true this is, but imagine how awesome this would be!!! You could load up the Madden ’94 Genesis graphics and have a right-handed Byron Leftwich throwing to an un-numbered Jimmy Smith! The possibilities are endless, and here’s hoping this one turns out to be reality…

Nintendo Bashes Microsoft. Nintendo of Europe managing director claims that the reason Microsoft is so eager to enter the next generation of consoles is because Microsoft isn’t profiting off the X-Box. Methinks that maybe Microsoft is so used to the computer industry updating in very rapid fashion (i.e. new computer hardware, new Windows every few years, etc.) and feels that the console industry isn’t far off from that. He also blames the media for propagating the idea that the current generation of gamers is bored with what’s out there. More specifically, nobody’s ready to pay tons of money for a system they’re not ready for. Same here, guy – I’m still up to Game 42 of my NHL 2004 season! No rushing things from this end, anyway.

Revolution Teasers. You already knew this, but Nintendo intends on focusing its upcoming Revolution on the latest in GAMEPLAY, not technology. Not to say that they won’t improve on the Cube’s specs, but that the main idea of the Revolution will be to forge a new direction into the world of in-depth gameplay. Shouldn’t Nintendo have thought of this before they put out a system with the most ridiculous controller in video game history? Nintendo engineers also claim that the system will be able to hook up to your computer monitor as well as a TV. Now THAT’S revolutionary.

News Report
Matt Yeager – Casual Gamers News Report. Matt’s report is actually the only news report to appear on 411 Games this week. Fortunately, Matt brings us up to date on what’s been going on – again, not much. He mentions that the PSP was given “Best of E3” honors, which is kinda mind-boggling when it’s really nothing more than a system that can play select PS2 games for 2 hours before having the battery crap out. I’m much more impressed with the potential of the DS.
Also, was Def Jam: Fight For New York honestly the best fighting game there, because then I’m worried about the state of fighting games.

Alex Lucard – Retrograding. The REAL #1 game is here! And it got an unprecedented PERFECT score on the usually harsh 411 Games review scale! What is it? Read the column!
No RPG has ever come to catching my imagination and heart the way Valkyrie Profile did.

Liquidcross – The Angry Gamer. Remember in Rocky III when Rocky tried to make Clubber Lang so mad that he’d get tired, then Rocky would go in for the kill? Well, this is nothing like that. LC appears to have run out of topics to be angry about! So he turns over the subject matter to the Angry Fanbase for some good inspiration. He also has a bit about annoying camera angles in 3D games, which I (not surprisingly) totally agree with. The lack of a great camera angle has killed many a game, including NHL 2003, and the absence of a playable camera angle (along with the ultra-annoying Navi) kept me from playing Ocarina of Time for longer than 15 minutes.
Compounding all of this is that some early 3D games like NiGHTS into Dreams had perfect camera angles. If they could get it right then, why are they f*cking up now?

Alex Lucard – River City Ransom EX (GBA). Final Score: 5.5

Michael Donahoe – Breakdown (X-Box). Final Score: 7.0

Nick Ranger – Samurai Warriors (Playstation 2). Final Score: 8.0

Alex Lucard – Metal Slug 3 (X-Box). Final Score: 8.0

“411 Games Staff” – Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne (Playstation 2).

Commentary of the Week
Earlier this week, Alex Lucard, devoted River City Ransom fan, took a critical look at the game’s port from the NES to the Game Boy Advance system. A large part of Alex’s review deals with the changes that the developers felt compelled to make. Changes that took away from what the game should have been – a chance to relive a classic. According to Alex, what we have here is a classic that has been butchered.

I haven’t played the new River City Ransom. But I’m an avid fan of the original version on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and I recognize the game’s place as a treasure on the old system. From what Alex said in his review, the GBA version did the wrong thing and changed too much. To me, that’s unacceptable.

The great ports we’ve seen on the GBA have been either unchanged or have made changes that haven’t gotten in the way of gameplay. For example, most of Nintendo’s first-party ports have been great. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past added The Four Swords mini-game, but that didn’t affect the main quest at all. Super Mario Advance 4 ported SMB 3 with Super Mario All-Stars graphics, which was fine. Very little was changed in the way of gameplay. The main point: upgrade the graphics if you must, but keep the game the same.

River City Ransom EX, by all accounts, didn’t do this. Read Alex’s review for the full list of changes, but there’s far too much that’s changed to make this game reflect positively on the original. When you can’t even play one-player without the help of a computer-controlled comrade (in the original, you could play alone if you wanted), something’s wrong.

This glaring example on how not to remake a game got me thinking about all of the other forms of media out there. And, given the utter lack of originality out there, we can draw some comparisons between what is a “proper” remake and what isn’t. When I use the word “remake”, that can mean any sort of revision, cover version, sequel, or anything that uses the original devices to tell a story.

Good Remakes…
Update the original, not redefine it. The Ataris’ cover of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer” brought an 80’s classic to the 21st century. 80’s synths were replaced by distorted guitars, and a Grateful Dead reference was scrapped in favor of one to punk legends Black Flag. That’s it. The result – a great cover that pretty much everyone enjoyed.
Show a sign of reverence toward the original. To the average moviegoer, “Psycho II” was a decent suspense movie; a good movie in its own right. But to the avid Hitchcock buff, the movie was more than just a simple sequel. Instead, it was filled with obscure references to the first one, with excessive care taken to convey the admiration the filmmakers had toward the original movie. Rarely are sequels this well-done.
Change just enough. Jimi Hendrix changed “All Along The Watchtower” so much that many people don’t even know that it’s a Bob Dylan tune. Still, both were big hits in the 60’s. And, amazingly enough, it’s the Hendrix edition that has endured and has come to define the 1960’s.

Bad Remakes…
Put profit before pride. Look no further than America’s favorite idiot, Jessica Simpson, for how NOT to do a remake. Her putrid cover of “Take My Breath Away” was done for one reason, and one reason only – to make money. This simply did NOT need to be made, and the world is worse off for it.
Change too much. The original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was a horrifyingly creepy movie that, most people say, wasn’t near the bloody mess the 2003 remake came to be. Not to mention the remake’s insipid attempt to “WB-ify” the movie when it didn’t need it.
Don’t change enough. Most people argue that the original “Psycho” is one of the most shocking films ever. So when Gus Van Sant set out to remake it, he decided to shoot the whole thing exactly the way Hitchcock did – a scene-by-scene remake, complete with original score by Bernard Herrmann. The obvious question – why even bother in the first place?
Attempt, but fail, to place time in a bottle. The list of artists (mainly rappers) who tirelessly reference older songs in their newer works, or write sequels to their biggest hits (which came years before), is endless. It should be said that NONE of these have been any good, nor is it a good idea to try to make a living off of what was. The lack of originality almost always yields critical failure.

It can be seen that there’s a very fine line between a good remake and a bad remake. It needs to be clear that the remake isn’t a quick cash-in attempt. The remake can’t be a contrived effort to relive old times or to simply rehash old material. Instead, the remake needs to be vital. It needs to change just the right amount, and those changes need to be what people want. They can’t get in the way; instead, they need to be accepted just the same as the original.

When we look at it this way, can it really be said that River City Ransom EX changes anything for the better? While it’s noble that American Technos appreciated the fact that many enjoyed the original game in two-player format, forcing a single player to team with a mazed-out computer-controlled ally defeats the purpose of cooperation and teamwork. This is a feature that should have either been optional or not included at all. Increasing the prices of shop items is simply a way to reflect a more current time; however, the amount of money received from defeating enemies should have been increased proportionately. The overabundance of special attacks is something that should have been done away with – that’s an example of changing too much. People are playing this game because they played the original and want to experience it again. The core audience of this title is NES veterans, not 10-year olds who have nothing better to do than memorize special move combinations.

And therein lies the problem with River City Ransom EX. When you’re dealing with a cult game, you’re also dealing with a cult audience. One that wants things as they remember them, and one that isn’t exactly tolerant of change. This is the major flaw of Atlus – the company should have taken a number of RCR buffs, had them play through the game, and offer input as to what should be changed and what should remain. Maybe then, we could have had a more faithful remake. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen with this one.

This is a lesson that everybody should learn from. It takes a LOT to ruin a classic like River City Ransom, and it appears that Atlus has done just that with its GBA port. They stepped over that fine line that we tried to define in this column space. And once you step over that line, you’ve alienated your biggest support base. Without them, you’re destined to fail. Another classic has failed the fans that have waited years for another crack at reliving their youth. No hardcore fan should have to suffer that fate.

That’s all, folks. Thanks for reading. See you next week!