Friday, January 29, 2010

Ready 2 Rumble on Sega Dreamcast

Here is why the Sega Dreamcast is legendary.  Ready 2 Rumble was always more of a college party game - with copious amounts of pizza and alcohol - than a technical fighter, or even Nintendo's Punch Out.  It was easy to grasp and fun to play and always good for a laugh.  Here is one of Midway's arcade classics.

Atari Interactive released a Wii sequel, Ready 2 Rumble Revolution, early in 2009.  It's a lousy game, best forgotten, lacking all the charm and the soul of the Midway original.  Avoid it at all costs; better yet, find yourself a Dreamcast and play the original.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Just Dance - Ubisoft Jacks up the Price

Bad move, very bad move. The price for Just Dance has jumped from $30 to $40. During the holiday season, you could easily find the game at Amazon, Gamestop, and Best Buy for the lower price. Now that the game has become a runaway hit, the price is getting jacked up.

Third-party publishers love to complain about the difficulty of cracking the Wii market, yet the obvious culprit is staring them in the face: cost. The general population is not willing to spend more on video games then they spend on Blu-Rays and DVDs.

"Hardcore" gamers have been conditioned to accept $50 as an acceptable price for video games. These are the types who stand out in line for hours, so they're the first to have the newest game or gadget Regular people will not. They will have priorities and demands on their money and time. Their lives do not revolve around video games.

Game publishers are going to have to re-learn some basic lessons of business. They've become lazy and spoiled after years of catering exclusively to the hardcore fanboys. But that market has long since stagnated, and is now in decline. Sooner or later, you'll have to face regular people, and you'll be surprised to discover we aren't so easily led by the nose.

Ubisoft must be very careful if they are to build a long-term franchise out of Just Dance. The game would never have succeeded in the marketplace against Mario and the Wii series at their price point. But it could sneak under the radar at $30. In the UK, Just Dance sold for 15 Pounds Sterling - just under $25 USD.

I believe this is the ideal price range for third-party Wii software: $20-$30. Raise the price and you'll sacrifice long-term gains for immediate profits. But, hey, it's not my money.

Smithers, Release the Hounds

Mean spirited bastards.

Let People Play the Games

Game demo kiosks have long been a fixture in videogame, but they have never been utilized to anywhere near their fullest potential.  Video games are the only consumer market where the public is expected to pay $50 for something unseen.  I can thumb through books at the bookstore.  I can play with the iPods and Macbooks at the Apple Store.  I can watch movies in the theatre before they arrive on DVD.

There used to be an outlet for trying out new games: the video arcades.  Why not use the modern equivalent?  When I visit Best Buy at the Mall of America, I see a few game kiosks scattered about, and it's no surprise the best-selling titles - Wii Sports Resort, Super Mario Bros, Madden - are the ones running on these stations.

There should be a dozen kiosks at the store, all lined up just like the old video arcades.  People will want to buy the games if they are allowed to try it out first.  Let people play the games.  Nintendo should supply retailers with more kiosks immediately; it's the smartest move they could make to support third-party publishers.

NeoGAF Post of the Day

"With the way this generation's gone, it's clear that the status quo just isn't going to work anymore. Halo and Call of Duty sell millions of copy, right we all know that, but for how much longer? I think it'll only be a matter of time before the people who buys those games just stand up and say "enough". When that happens, what will those companies that have invested so much time and energy into narrowing their focus and tweaking age-old gameplay types do? It'll be hard to make the transition like Nintendo did. A lot of them will probably have to shut down just because they've become so used to doing one type of thing that a sudden change to something else, something that will actually provide them with long-term stability, just isn't achievable.

"Nintendo decided that changes was necessary and they made it NOW. Not tomorrow or next year, when it's change or die time, but NOW. They can see what's coming down in the next few years and they realized that it in order to weather that storm, they had to build a ship capable of reaching broad horizons.

"I see these pictures all the time of women playing the Wii and old people too and it just makes me smile. These people GET IT. Nintendo's about everybody playing games and having fun and laughing. Why can't "hardcore gamers" understand that? The problem is that they're too focused on that same old formula, they don't like change. They want games that are hard and complex so they can feel good about themselves and then point their gamer score and say "Look at the score. Can you do that?" But that's not what games are about, competition and "being better than somebody else", they're about having fun.

"Wii gamers get it, Nintendo gets it. It's time for the rest of the world to wake up and realize it too before it's too late." - Great Rumbler, Third Party Wii Games thread

Happy Anniversary Marcee!

January 27 was our designated "anniversary."  Marcee and I first met on Facebook somewhere during January, 2009, but we both forgot the exact date, and the earliest records in my collection point back to the 27th.  So we decided to stick with that date.

As fate would have it, January 27, 2007 was the day I bought a Newmark portable turntable, which sparked my love of vinyl records and classic analog music.  It was a revelation to me and a major event.  I didn't plan on having everything fall into place on the same day, but I have to smile when I see how it's all worked out.

Our new goal is to bring Marcee to the United States, where we can get married and live happily ever after.  That's our big agenda for 2010.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Howard Zinn Has Died, Age 87

Birth Certificate

I am officially betting that the Republicans will impeach President Obama for the birth certificate if they retake the House this year.  And they'll have the majority of Americans believing them when it's over.

Ubisoft's Wii Sports Re--cough! ahem! Racquet Sports

I had three quick impressions on Ubisoft's trailer for their upcoming Racquet Sports on Nintendo Wii: 1) Oh, no, another cheap mini-game collection; 2) This game came packaged with my Wii, it's called Wii Sports; 3) Another game set in a "sports resort"; and 4) Hmm....You know, this actually looks pretty good.

I'm sure there is still a demand for more games like Wii Sports, but the titles by third-party developers have become a running joke.  I don't think anybody wants to see another mini-games package on the Wii.  Either Racquet Sports has been in the pipeline for a very long time, and they just missed the boat; or Ubisoft is really confident they have a great game on their hands.

So this is going to be variations on Wii Sports Tennis and WSR Table Tennis.  I think it's going to be very difficult to beat the Nintendo originals; Ubisoft is incredibly dumb or incredibly bold.  In another six weeks, we'll find out which.

Games like this live or die by the controls.  WM+ support is good news, as it suggests the designers are devoting that needed energy to making the controls handle right.  Nintendo has a masterful sense for perfectly intuitive game controls, so natural.  Other developers could learn if they seriously studied the "Wii series" games.

I don't know how Racquet Sports will turn out; this game would be the perfect candidate for a demo disc.  Remember those?  They were so effective during the PSX and Dreamcast days.  Where are the demo discs for the Nintendo Wii?  Why do I have to come up with all these ideas myself?  What are they paying these people?

Oh, and Ubi?  Change the damn game cover.  Shamelessly ripping off other, more successful products is the mark of desperation.  This had better be good, or I'm throwing eggs at your house.

Some Thoughts on The Death of Air America Radio

Air America went under for a very simple reason: they got rid of all their best shows.  Two words for ya: Morning Sedition.  The best morning radio show ever, and I mean ever.  It was wickedly funny, politically pointed without becoming overbearing or preachy, and willing to laugh at itself.  Morning Sedition was the soul of Air America (even more than Randi Rhodes).

There was another morning show that immediately followed, featuring Lynn Wynsted (sp?), Rachael Maddow and Chuck D.  Loved that show.  A bit more political than MS, but they also had a lot of fun and keep things casual.  That show got the axe first, before the others, and it was unfortunate, but at least Rachael Maddow got her own show during the after-work rush.

The Al Franken Show, of course, was marvelous, funny, whip-smart.  His MPR co-host was a great teammate, and I missed her departure.  Franken's run for the Senate sadly meant the end of his radio career, and his humor is now locked in an attic somewhere.

I think somewhere around the time Morning Sedition got cancelled, and Jerry Springer - are you FREAKIN kidding me?! - came on board, I stopped caring.  Most of the early humor and satire had been weeded out.  In its place was typical liberal activist preaching and droning.  I don't mean to be harsh, because I consider myself part of that camp (I've marched in plenty of meaningless anti-war protests).  But progressives can come off like Black Sabbath's Master of Reality, and it's a turn-off.

Anyway, that's my take on Air America.  I think the network made a lot of poor business decisions, and they should have been more successful, but they came along at a crucial moment, and became a ray of hope during the dark days when Bush was seemingly beloved by all.  Those first two years were a revelation and they kept me sane.  Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Just Dance - A Review For Reluctant Hardcore Gamers

Here is my latest attempt to sell hardcore gamers on the merits of Ubisoft's Just Dance on Nintendo Wii, as originally shared on the Digital Press forums:

My go-to Nintendo Wii game these days? Just Dance. Now I know this game is hated by the "hardcore" gaming sites, but bear with me here. Just Dance is an excellent game. The songs are widely varied, covering the '60s to today, and everything from Surfing Bird and The Beach Boys to '70s disco, '80s pop, '90s rock, and modern pop tunes from Gorillaz to Fat Boy Slim to Brittney (yeah, I know). And they've got MC Hammer - and the dancer wears the Hammer Pants. The dancers wear a lot of goofy period costumes, in fact, keeping everything tongue-in-cheek and fun.

Just Dance is a classic arcade game at its core. You hold the Wiimote in your right hand and follow the dancer on-screen. The scoring is based on controller momentum, and keeping the beat. The game is actually quite sneaky. Sometimes it judges your hitting the beat, sometime it judges your final pose, sometimes it judges your movement towards the pose. Sometimes it even checks to see if you're standing still. It's more subtle and varied than Dance Dance Revolution, taking advantage of the motion controls.

The scoring system is quite strict, but you can score, and more importantly, you can learn. You'll get a lof of X's early on, but you will turn those numbers around very quickly if you're paying attention. As I've said, the game judges velocity and momentum. If you're not scoring moves, be patient, follow the dancer carefully, and slow down. If I can do this, you can do this.

I hope this isn't rambling. I just wanted to help communicate how Just Dance works to some genuine gamers. This is THE exercise and party game of the season. I think this is the next step beyond the older rhythm games like DDR and Guitar Hero, which challenges you to press buttons. This is more involving, more three-dimensional, and I think it opens the door for real improvisation, the way Wii Music opens up improvisation and breaks the Guitar Hero mold.

I'm not demanding that you love this game, run out to the store, and score a pair of Hammer Pants.  I'm not asking you to give up your XBox 360 games.  The world is big enough for Modern Warfare 2 and Just Dance.  I'm asking you to give this game a fair chance.  If you look deeply, you'll discover that Just Dance isn't alien at all; it's an arcade game with modern controls.  And you might even enjoy yourself.

This is a Sucker's Bet

Like Digby said:

Reagan may have proved that deficits don't matter politically, but Clinton proved that fixing deficits doesn't matter politically either. They impeached the man over unauthorized fellatio and then ran on tax cuts, stole the election and immediately put the country into debt all over again. The idea that Democrats will get some political benefit from a lot of sharp talk about deficits and "freezes" is a pipe dream. Obama will be hurt by the bad economy and benefit from its revival. But unlike Reagan, he's tied his own hands on policy leaving him little room to maneuver if the economy stays bad. And when (if) the economy rebounds he will not seen as someone who was courageous for "staying the course" and validating his own liberal beliefs --- he will be seen as having acquiesced to the conservative agenda, which will get all the credit. And conversely, liberalism will be discredited even though it did all the heavy lifting. Awesome.

Photos - Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom

Capcom's Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom for Nintendo Wii hits stores today.  Diehard fighting fans are already snapping up their copies and practicing for the inevitable tournaments.  After a long lull, Capcom fighters have returned with a vengeance.  This game just looks fantastic and promises to be as wild and crazy as the fabled Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 on Sega Dreamcast.

You want a AAA third-party game on Wii?  Congratulations.  You got your wish.

Marcee Wants a Pony*

I never realized there were so many "pet horse" games there are on the Nintendo DS.

Chris Kohler should know better.  He's not in grade school anymore.  These hardcore gamer boys sure are sensitive, aren't they?  They're so easily threatened.  Girls and woman are now a force in video games, and I don't know why I have to point this out to grown adults, but girls don't like shooting things.  They do, however, love horsies.

Bonus points: Chris Kohler was a fellow zine editor with me back in the early '90s.  Another alumni, Jess Ragan, shows up in the comments as "ManekiNeko."  Also, today I read a Gamasutra article by faned (and now successful game designer) Ara Shirinian.  The whole zine crowd is out today.  Strange.

*Actually, Marcee wants a dog, not a pony.  As soon as I can get her to the States and we're settled, we're getting a dog.

Hardcore Whiners

Everytime there's a discussion on why third-party videogames "won't sell" on Nintendo Wii, I just roll my eyes and wonder what these hardcore types are drinking.

"Third-party games that don't sell" usually means the hardcore games they want - Madworld, The Conduit, Resident Evil Darkside, Dead Space Extraction.  It never dawns on these kids that, maybe, just maybe, these hardcore games just aren't any good.  Why should I pay $50 for a lightgun shoot-em-up, when there are nearly 20 similar games to choose from?  And why should I pay for "mature" titles that drown in blood and f-bombs?  The public is just expected to line up with money in hand, like nice obedient little pets.  The real world doesn't work like that.

There are plenty of successful third-party games on the Wii. They just aren't the kind that hardcore nerds want anything to do with.  The new Expanded Audience games - fitness and dance games in particular - are waved away and ignored.  Meanwhile, here in the real world, Ubisoft's Just Dance is selling like hotcakes, topping the charts, and giving Nintendo a run for its money.  Not a peep.  Not a word.  Just Comic Book Guy sneering (IGN's temper tantrum of a review is a case study).

Namco's We Cheer has been a great hit on the Wii.  So have nearly all the fitness titles from Ubisoft, Namco and EA.  EA Sports Active has sold millions, and will stay on the charts forever.  Shaun White Road Trip was a big hit, and so was Boom Blox, De Blob, House of the Dead.  Muramasa and Little King's Story have found success on the Long Tail, slowly but steadily finding an audience.  And, of course, there are those great WiiWare titles like Bit.Trip.Beat and World of Goo, and all the Virtual Console classics.

There is no excuse for whining.  Thankfully, it appears that major players such as Capcom, Namco, Konami, Ubisoft, and EA are respecting the Wii market and are providing their strongest games for the platform.  2010 is already shaping up to be the Wii's best year yet.

Two words for the hardcore whiners: NBA Jam.  NBA Freakin' Jam, kids.

It's Not an Across-the-Board Freeze, it's a Targeted Freeze

Watch Rachael Maddow's takedown here.

That is a terrible slogan for the Democrats to hang their hat on.  And they're only going to save $25 billion a year?  Is that really worth all the lumps they'll inevitably take from every direction?  The only thing the voters will hear is, "Spending Freeze."  That was John McCain's economic plan in 2008.

I won't say I'm worried at this point, but I am concerned.  If this is for real, then the Dems will have a fight on their hands with their own voters; and if it's merely political posturing, it will only breed cynicism.  Add in all the big budget targets that are off-limits (we spend a trillion dollars a year on the military-industrial complex), and this just looks like a mess.  I hope Obama has a plan.

Obama's Fiscal Pivot

While I do agree that the details of Obama's "spending freeze" suggest this is more a political maneuver than anything, I also have to agree with Sullivan.  Obama has to tackle the recession and address the jobs program, and the Democrats must pass the health care reform bill, but he also has to get America's fiscal house in order.  I didn't ask Bush and the GOP to hand us trillion-dollar structural deficits, but that's what we are facing and we have to deal with it.

The White House has been making some poor play calls on the field this month, but Obama is still the smartest man in Washington.  The stage is set for his State of the Union and he needs to hit another home run.  He knows what he needs to do.

Spending Freeze?

Oh, good grief.  That is the last thing Obama's supporters want to hear now.  People want jobs and some economic security; instead they've seen a massive bailout of Wall Street fat cats, and now Obama's asking the voters to pay down the debts.  This will not go over well.

Did our President change parties without telling us?  One of these days, someone is going to have to explain today's Democratic Party to me.  Does Karl Rove have incriminating photos on all of 'em?

Haiti Overwhelmed

The humanitarian crisis in Haiti is absolutely horrifying.  UN and American military are just overwhelmed by the scale of human hunger and suffering.  Have we really confirmed 100,000 dead, with the possibility of reaching 200,000?  My mind can barely comprehend the scale of this tragedy.

The frustrating thing for me, as an American, is knowing that our national media will quickly become bored and return to its regularly scheduled celebrity gossip, and the average citizen will just block it out altogether.  Out of sight, out of mind.  We cannot allow that to happen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monster Hunter Tri & Classic Controller Pro Reminds Me That Videogames Are Too Expensive

Now this is very good news, and very smart.  Capcom will package Nintendo's new Classic Controller Pro with their upcoming hit Monster Hunter Tri.  Nintendo has had great success bundled packages - Wii Play, Wii Sports Resort, Mario Kart, even Punch-Out.  They clearly need a way to get the Classic Controller into more hands, and adding it to one of 2010's most anticipated Wii games is a very shrewd move.

It also helps that the CC Pro is a major upgrade from the existing joypad, which was patterned after the Super NES joypad.  This one is much closer to the PS3-Xbox 360 design, and should be far easier to hold and control.  The piano gloss black is also quite excellent, and goes nicely with the black Wiimote and Nunchuk.  I can't wait to get my hands on one of these for my Virtual Console games.

My only complaint at this point?  Price.  Monster Hunter Tri will retail for $50 as a standalone, and $60 with the CC Pro.  I think that's too much money to ask; the prices should be $20 cheaper for both releases.

I am convinced that $30 should be the absolute limit for any third-party Wii game.  $20 would be even better.  That's the price range of DVDs and Blu-Ray movies.  The general public considers that a good value.  They are very reluctant to spend $50 on a single game, as sales figures have demonstrated.  It's the lower-priced games that been successful on Wii.  The full-priced games have struggled.

Notice that Just Dance is a runaway success.  It can be found easily for $30.  De Blob and Shawn White Road Trip, two more examples, sell for $20.  I think those are good bargains.  I'm willing to take a risk and try an unknown game at that price point.

Notice, also, that I don't need to feel this cautious about Nintendo's games.  That's because they have built a reputation with gamers for many, many years.  I can trust them.  I see Mario Kart, Wii Play, Wii Sports Resort, and Wii Fit Plus, and know I'm getting someting of value.  Nintendo has never let me down, so I am willing to spend $50 per game.  And I assure you that every parent in America feels the same way.  Money is tight and we have to set priorities.

Third parties don't have that luxury.  They squandered their reputation with the public by dumping too many cheap cash-in games, hurled together at the last minute in an attempt to ride the coattails of Wii Sports.  At this point, everything is suspect, and developers have to prove themselves to me.  They have to earn their trust.  At $20-$30, I am willing to listen and consider buying one of their games.  That's how I wound up with De Blob and Shawn White.

This is why I think Monster Hunter Tri would be more successful if sold for $30 alone, and $40 with the Classic Controller Pro.  That extra Andrew Jackson makes a world of difference in this troubled economy.  Personally, I'm looking forward to this game, and I hope it really is the second coming of Phantasy Star Online.  I also hope it becomes a hit in the Americas.

Moral Lesson: Fifty Dollars is too much money to spend on a video game.  Lower the price, sell more copies, make more money, win over more customers.  Thus endeth the lesson.

Just Dance Holds #1 on UK Charts for Second Week

Just Dance continues to burn up the charts. Here's the report from GFK Chart in the UK:

Ubisoft’s ‘Just Dance’ (-33%) continues to strut its stuff at the top of the All Formats Chart for a second week, well ahead of ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’ (-10%) which just manages to sneak past ‘Wii Fit Plus’ (-17%) to claim No2.

It is the first Ubisoft title since the original ‘Assassin’s Creed’ to hold on to the top spot for more than one week. Last week ‘Just Dance’ recorded the highest ever sales for a game in the 2nd week of the year and this week the only game to sell better in week 3 is ‘World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade’ back in week 3 2007. It is traditionally a quiet time of year for both sales and new releases and 2010 is no exception as the top sellers all jostle for position amongst themselves. The Top 10 is made up of games from only 3 different publishers this week with Nintendo still well represented with 4 titles.
I bought Marcee a Nintendo Wii for Christmas, and it finally arrived in Bogota last week. I bought three retail games for her: Wii Sports Resort, New Super Mario Bros Wii, and Just Dance. She and the family are loving all three and having a blast. I guarantee once her friends find out, they'll never leave her alone.

I promise you that everyone who gets to play Just Dance for an evening will want to buy one for themselves. This is an instant-fun machine, and it's going to become a smash success for Ubisoft. The videogame press, meanwhile, continues to ignore and deny. I really can't explain it; it's very strange.

You can read GFC Chart's Top 40 UK charts here.

Namco Sells 23 Million App Store Games Since 2008

Is anybody paying attention to this? This is important:

Namco Networks said it is averaging 36,450 downloads per day since the App Store's opening in June 2008. A rep for Namco Networks told us that the total download amount includes both free and paid downloads, although the company did not immediately have a ratio at hand.

Namco has partially relied on popular franchises born in the arcade and home consoles in order to gain a foothold in digital markets, with App Store renditions of Pac-Man, Mr. Driller, Galaga and Ace Combat. The company has also released new properties such as Garters & Ghouls and Isaac Newton’s Gravity on the App Store.

People love video games. They want classic arcade video games. They want Super Mario Bros. They want Galaga. They want Pac-Man. The greater public is not interested in Playstation Movies; that is the realm of the stagnant "hardcore" gamer clique. That way points to the past. The future of games lies with Nintendo, Apple, Facebook, and mobile devices.

If I were to start a videogame magazine in 2010, I would focus exclusively on those formats. I'd ignore PS360 entirely; not out of malice or some high school social snobbery, but because those retail formats are well represented by existing games journalism. The arcade game player is being ignored, and they're the majority. They're the future.

"Critic-Proof" This - Your "Game" Sucks

Amusing article at Gamasutra on Mass Effect 2.  The developers are boasting that their project is now "critic proof." about this critique?  It's not a video game at all, but a low-budget CGI movie that costs $50.

There was a long commercial for Mass Effect 2 during the second half of the NFC Championship Game.  I just hated, hated, hated it.  Wanted no part of it.  It was a movie trailer, loaded with all the usual Michael Bay cliches that you've seen in a thousand summer movies.  But at least you could see those films for $8 or less.

I honestly have no idea what sort of "game" this is supposed to be.  Is it a space shooter?  Is it a first person shooter?  Is it a third person adventure?  Is it a role-playing game?  Is there really a point?  Of course not.  This is a videogame that wants to be a movie, parroting movies that want to be videogames.  It's an expensive albatross and an embarrassment.  $20 or $30 million was spent on this vanity project; meanwhile, in the real world, Tetris sells 100 million mobile downloads in five years.

Somewhere around the time the Dreamcast died, the game industry collectively decided that they didn't want to make videogames anymore.  They wanted to make movies.  And that's where I, and many others, lost interest and tuned out.  I don't want Playstation Movies.  These look like plastic dolls, and all I can imagine is a group of overweight Peter Pans playing with their Star Wars action figures in Daddy's basement.  Meanwhile, life goes on outside all around you.

Besides, the Vikings-Saints game had more drama and excitement than a dozen Playstation Movies.  And I got to watch it for free.  Value, kids, value.

Will Heavy Rain Change Games as We Know Them?

No.  You're clearly tripping on mushrooms.

Why would someone go into the video game business if they clearly don't want to make games?  These developers want to make movies.  So why not just move to Hollywood?  Is it an ironclad rule that every human must hate their day job?

Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom Ultimate All-Stars - More Gameplay Movies

Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom has already dropped in some locations, and the videos are already spreading on Youtube.  Here are a couple videos of online matches.  This game looks fantastic.  2010 is shaping to be an excellent year for Capcom on Wii, between TVC, Mega Man 10, and Monster Hunter Tri.  They're finally respecting the Wii and it shows.

There hasn't been a rush of Capcom fighters since the Dreamcast days.  It's such a thrill to see a new Vs game this stylish and intense.  TVC is definitely on my must-buy list.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Clueless Nice Guys

Reading through today's WaPo article on Obama and the Democrats, one word strikes out at me again and again: Clueless.  These people are absolutely clueless.  Did Obama seriously believe the Republican Party, firmly in the grip of Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes, would play nice and be his friend?  Did he seriously believe Republicans would hop on the bandwagon?

The Obama legislative agenda was built around an "advancing tide" theory.

Democrats would start with bills that targeted relatively narrow problems, such as expanding health care for low-income children, reforming Pentagon contracting practices and curbing abuses by credit-card companies. Republicans would see the victories stack up and would want to take credit alongside a popular president. As momentum built, larger bipartisan coalitions would form to tackle more ambitious initiatives.

This is just a pipe dream, a seven-year-old's idea of politics.  But the adult world doesn't work this way, and never will.  It's one thing to be this naive about American politics if it were 1993.  But it's 2009, and we've lived through the Clinton Wars and eight years of Karl Rove.  There is simply no excuse for this behavior.

I often get the feeling that the Democratic Party only knows two strategies: 1) play nice, and 2) hide under the bed.  The events of this past week only reinforce this belief.  2010 is going to be a looong year.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Atari Dropped the Ball on Wii

Where the heck is Atari?  The current owners of the Atari name and vast legacy have absolutely no clue what to do with it all.  There have been a few "classics" compilations here or there, but they've all been poor retreads.  The original classics - arcade, console, handheld, computer - have never been touched.  For what reason did Infogrames buy Atari's assets, anyway?

It's obvious to me that Infogrames has the perfect home for Atari: the Nintendo Wii.  Isn't that obvious to you?  It should be.  The Virtual Console is free money in the bank, and this is doubly so for Atari.  Between the children of the '80s who are now parents, and their Millenial kids, there is a vast market for Atari.  Indeed, the brand could be hotter than ever, if anyone tried to find out.

I want to see the Atari 2600 and 7800 on Virtual Console.  I want the Atari 800XL computer on Virtual Console.  I especially want the computer, since it could break the doors wide open for third-party publishers like Electronic Arts.  We already have the Commodore 64 on VC, so there's no excuse.

Finally, the price.  I want these games available as cheaply as possible: 50 to 100 Wii Points.  That means a dollar or less per game, which, frankly, is where most of these classic games should be sold.  You want customers to buy a batch of your games, not just the few brand-name hits.  The reason we choose the familiar name over the unknown name - Super Mario over a third-party title - is all about money.  We don't have much money to spend on video games.  So lower the prices and keep them as low as possible.

You know you'd rush to download Warlords the second it was available.  You would then download a half dozen more Atari games, just on impulse.  You can't just pick up one Atari 2600 game if it's less than a buck and takes up no memory.  You'll have to grab Adventure, then Circus Atari, then Air-Sea Battle, then Space Invaders and Asteroids and Missile Command.  You might even pay to download Pac-Man, that wretched blocky mess.  It's only a buck, who cares?  The kids might like it.

And Infogrames collects free money.  Is any of this clicking?  Am I getting through to you, Mister Beale?

Super Mario is Back! 10 Million in 2 Months

The spectacular success of New Super Mario Bros reveals a great demand for 2D arcade games.  This should surprise no one; with the arrival of the 3D polygon age, software developers focused entirely on the flashy new technology, and 2D was suddenly considered passe and outdated.

I think we're now at a point where the novelty of 3D has worn off, and the pull of classic 2D is reaching critical mass.  Now is the perfect time for a game like New Super Mario Wii.  It's astonishing that this game has sold 10 million copies more or less instantly.  Once I saw the game in action, I knew immediately it would become a smash hit - 20 million, easy.  Now I'm wondering just how high it could go.  What kind of numbers are we looking at next Christmas?

Mario is Back!  That's really the only message to gleam from this.  It's the return of Mario as a system-selling cultural icon.  We haven't seen this since the NES days.

This brings us to a surprising truth about the Mario games: 3D Mario doesn't sell.  I'm sure that sounds absurd, given that Galaxy has sold 8 million copies.  But Galaxy was not a hit in Japan.  3D Mario doesn't sell in Japan, and it certainly doesn't sell anywhere near the numbers of 2D Mario.

Most importantly, 3D Mario is not a "system-seller."  It doesn't move hardware.  The 1985 Super Mario Bros, that was a system seller.  So was Super Mario World and Sonic the Hedgehog in their day.  This is not to say the 3D games aren't good; I loved Super Mario 64 to pieces, and I thought Galaxy was amazing when it came out.  But notice that I didn't rush out to buy a Wii just to play Galaxy.  That's the key difference.

The general public has been starved for classic 2D arcade games.  There is still a great demand for these kind of games.  It's only natural that they would stampede over Super Mario 5 and its red box, and until the rest of the game industry gets over its Hollywood fixation and figures this out, Nintendo will have these crowds all to themselves.

The Return of Arcade Video Games: Tetris Sells 100 Million

This is just astonishing:

Tetris has sold 100 million paid downloads on mobile devices since 2005, making it the most successful mobile game of all time, EA Mobile and Blue Planet Software said Thursday.

100 million copies.  Five years.  That is an absolutely astounding number.  People today want arcade games.  They don't want $30 million interactive movies.  They want arcade video games.

The game industry doesn't want to make video games anymore; they haven't for at least a decade.  That much was obvious during the Dreamcast era.  No, they want to work in Hollywood now, and create interactive Jerry Bruckheimer movies.  They've managed to secure a small, rabid base of "hardcore" gamers, but the production costs are staggering, and there simply aren't enough nerdy 30-year-olds to sustain this business model.

Meanwhile, Nintendo completely dominates the console market on a scale not seen since the NES era.  Wii Sports sells 50 million copies.  Wii Play sells 25 million.  Wii Fit sells 20 million.  Mario Kart sells 20 million.  Wii Sports Resort is at 13 million and climbing fast.  And New Super Mario Bros. sold 10 million copies more or less instantly.  Heck, Wii Music and Animal Crossing: City Folk sell 3 million copies each, and they're considered "failures."

There's no secret to this success.  Nintendo makes arcade games.  Arcade games are fast, quick, easy to play, hard to master, and accessible to everyone.  You can play an arcade video game for a few minutes, or make a party with friends and family and stay up all night.  They're bright, they're colorful, they can be understood very quickly, and - this is the most important element - they have a "hook."  Every successful video game needs a hook, something that makes you sit up and say, I wanna try that!

This brings us back to Tetris, which has now sold 100 million copies in five years on mobile devices.  Who doesn't love Tetris?  Who hasn't wanted to give it a try over the years?  What does it say that we're still eager to pay good money for this game after all these years?  I'm still willing to play Tetris.  Has anybody in the game industry examined this idea?  Or are they still trying to recreate Tomb Raider for the millionth time, only this time with more explosions and Hollywood cliches?

Arcade games never went away because the public grew tired of them.  Arcade games went away because the game industry would rather do something else.  But that demand is still there, and that demand will be met, sooner or later.  Nintendo will meet that demand.  Apple will meet that demand.  Cell phones will meet that demand.  That's the future of video games, kids.

Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom All-Stars on Nintendo Wii

At long last, the third-party developers are coming to grips with the Nintendo Wii.  The entire video game industry was knocked on its heels in the wake of Wii's disruptive success, and after seemingly going through the five stages of grief (most of the videogame press is still stuck in Anger and Denial stages), we are finally seeing quality games that take respect the hardware and takes advantage of its abilities.

Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom is Capcom's latest fighting title, a revision of its Japanese version from last year, and exclusive to the Wii.  If you're an arcade gamer who remembers the Marvel Vs. Capcom series on Sega Dreamcast, you'll be perfectly at home here.  TVC promises that same manic intensity and ease of control.

I am really looking forward to this game.  The complete lack of any decent fighting games on the Wii is simply scandalous.  And there is no excuse why Street Fighter 4 hasn't appeared on Nintendo, none whatsoever.  TVC is an excellent move towards solving that problem.  Let's hope Capcom supports this game properly and gives it the audience it deserves.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Onceler's Defense

"Let us saw the tops of these mountains, of China takes over?"  "Mercury or Mandarin?"  Are these real excuses?!  Are these greedy Oncelers for real?!

Better start apologizing to your grandchildren now.  They're going to inherit a wreck of a planet.

Please Fire Bernanke

I'm rather surprised to see Ben Bernanke suddenly fighting to keep his job.  Perhaps the Massachusets election will have some positive fallout; populist frustration and anger will be a major factor in 2010, and as Mel Brooks said, "We gotta protect our phony baloney jobs, gentlemen!"

Bernanke was asleep at the switch when Wall Street melted down.  We barely averted an economic catastrophe, and yet we're still stalled with 10% unemployment, a housing forclosure crisis, a looming CRE crisis etc.  Faced with this, Bernanke decides the real problem facing our economy is....inflation?  Are you kidding me?!

Please, fire this man.  The Obama Administration needs to shake up their economic team, and fast.  Paul Volker is a good start.  Firing Bernanke should be the next step.

NBC Royally Sucks

Tonight is Conan O'Brien's final night as host of The Tonight Show.  It's a sad day for all of us who are fans, but at least we have the consolation of a future show on another network (Fox? HBO? Comedy Central?) this September.

Unfortunately, in one final kick to the stomach by NBC execs, Conan cannot bring his many sketch characters with him.  NBC owns the rights.  No more Triumph the Insult Comic Dog?  Just jolly effin' great.  I really hope Robert Smigel owns the rights; if not, I say they should just change the characters enough to thwart the lawers.

So Jeff Zucker kills fires Conan but keeps the characters.  None of which will ever be used again.  What a jackass.  Why does this man still have a job?  Remember when executives were held accountable for their failures?

That Why It's Called a Permanent War, Winston Smith

Andrew Sullivan isn't feeling hopeful about Iraq, neither its future chances for political reconciliation, nor the possibility that America will finally withdraw.  Given the complete paralysis in Washington, thanks to nihilist Republicans and cowardly, incompetent Democrats, I remain very doubtful that we will ever leave Iraq.  And thus the American Empire lurches needlessly toward oblivion.

Here's Sullivan's take:

So what do we see now?

Purging of key Sunnis from the electoral process, growing restiveness in Anbar, no solution in Kirkuk, and a population armed to the teeth and trained by the US for another round of civil war. And at that point, of course, the neocon right will insist on staying there for another five years, because the alternative is so awful. And we will have this discussion as frequently as we discuss how to reform healthcare and entitlements, with the same result: nothing will ever be done because the US system cannot agree on what should be done.

Maybe we can avoid this fate. Maybe Iraq's Sunnis can come to terms with a Shiite government. Maybe the Kurds can come to some deal over Kirkuk. Maybe the election can be rescued. Maybe. I sure hope so.

But doesn't this feel like a chapter from a text book on how empires implode? Paralysis at home, over-reach abroad, mounting debt, and the disappearance of any political center. And we remain trapped in mistakes we cannot undo and yet cannot abandon.

Until even the borrowed money finally runs out.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Photos - Just Dance (Wii)

I had to snap a photo of my high scores on Just Dance.  Once you've won those crowns, you've earned some bragging rights.  You win gold borders for breaking 10,000 points - breaking your score beaker in the process, a nice touch - and you win crowns for breaking 15,000.  So for traditional gamers, you do have goals to reach for.

Note the scoring breakdown from the song.  With a little practice and steady reflexes, you can see scores like this.  When I began playing, the breakdown was tilted pretty heavily towards the X.  Now those X's are down to 10% or less, and I'm more than happy with that.  I enjoy that Just Dance doesn't punish me for missing my timing on the moves; it just quietly grades you, and I learn to perfect my moves while having a blast dancing around the living room.

As I've written before, the game judges momentum, not spacial placement.  There are many times when my moves are backwards, right-left instead of left-right, and I still score points.  The scoring is very precise and very strict much of the time, and I have had my moments of frustration like everybody else.  But it's nothing you can't improve upon.

Just Dance is currently my most-played Wii game.  It has proven to be an excellent workout (my arms and shoulders are toning up nicely).  It's just a terrific amount of fun, always tempting you to get up for one more go, just one more song.  The word-of-mouth success of this game is well and justly deserved.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fire the Democrats

If this memo really is going to be the Democrats' response to yesterday's Senate race, then I say to hell with 'em.  If these spineless, incompetent cowards are so unwilling to do their jobs, they need to be fired.  Bring on the Republican majorities, bring on the Obama impeachment, whatever.

In a functioning democracy, this is the point where progressives and liberal activists begin actively fielding candidates against incumbent Dems in the primaries.  Unfortunately, I suspect most of us will just stay home on Election Night and watch movies.

"Mathematically impossible."  Ugh.  What a pack of pathetic losers.  Is it time yet for Marcee and me to move to Canada?  Or do I have to wait until President Palin is sworn in?


Despite all the hype and hand-wringing and gloating and panicking, the bottom line is that the Republicans won the Massachusets Senate seat by fielding a much better candidate.  Coakley's campaign was an absolute disaster.  Brown came to play four quarters of football, and Coakley went on vacation.

The fundamentals of campaigning for office will always apply.  If you're a terrible candidate who angers the voters, you'll most likely lose.  If you knock on doors, kiss enough babies, make yourself known, and work your butt off, you just might pull off an upset.

The hyperventilating and panic attacks from Democrats really have to stop.  It's so unbelievably irritating to me, and if this is what we're going to deal with from now until November....Whew, it's gonna be a looong year, folks.

Well, That Was Fun

Democrats are reduced to 59 seats in the Senate, and the world comes to an end.  All the usual panic attacks, accusations and finger-pointing, proclaimations of doom, yadda yadda.  The way everyone's behaving, you'd think the Republicans just took back both houses of Congress.

And yet, the Dems still hold sizeable majorities in the House and Senate, President Obama has fairly decent approval numbers, and the House is sitting on a health care reform bill that they could pass at any time.  Add to this mix the five-second attention span of the average American, and the comical state of the Republican Party, and 2010 has barely begun.

If the Democrats want to retain their majorities in the coming midterm elections, then they have to work for it.  If they sit on their hands and hide under their desks, they lose, Republicans take the House, and Obama gets impeached in 2011.  If they pass health care reform and pass some legislation - ya know, actually doing their jobs - they win.  It's really as simple as that.  We're going to learn just how badly the Dems want to keep their jobs.

I'm really tired of having so many crybabies running our government.

Monday, January 18, 2010

We're Doomed

You know, I have my pessimistic streak every now and then when it comes to America, but at least I know there's always Andrew Sullivan to give me hope.  Seeing him collapse into that is bad news.  It's like that Simpson's episode with the colliding comet, and Reverent Lovejoy is running through the streets in panic.

"It's all over, people!  We haven't got a prayer!"

Hah hah....Yes, I think we'll need to evolve a darker sense of humor through these difficult times.  Our nation is run by cowards, sellouts, tools and losers.  Those are just the Democrats.  The Republicans are religious fanatics and completely insane.  The citizens are dumber than a bag of rocks.  Not even Barack Obama could save the United States of Stupid from extinction.

Just Dance Tops Charts, Becomes Ubisoft's Biggest Wii Hit

Ubisoft has a monster hit on their hands, kids.  Just Dance has topped the UK charts this week, becoming the company's fastest-selling Wii title.  Only a few weeks, ago, Ubisoft was planning to shift their focus to Microsoft and Sony, citing disappointing sales.  Now they are burning up the charts with one of the hottest video game of the season.

In addition, Just Dance reached #1 on the weekly Amazon charts in the US and the UK.  The game has steadily climbed the charts since its late-November release, which is a genuine rarity in this business; with the exception of Nintendo's evergreen titles, most games sell big in their first weeks and then sharply drop off (much like mainstream movies).

If you want to see the enthusiasm generated over Just Dance, just read through the Amazon Customer Reviews.  This is the sort of dedication you typically see with Nintendo's stelllar first-party titles.  This really is the ultimate party game; endlessly fun, physically challenging, always good for a laugh, always inspiring one more round to win those elusive crowns.

This is a genuine Long Tail success, and at this point, I say the sky's the limit.  I always felt way; Just Dance has that perfect mix of style and substance.  It feels new, inventive, and everybody wants to give it a go.  If Ubisoft is wise and patient enough not to rush out sequels too early (the Wii market is very hostile to yearly sequels), they will have the evergreen blockbuster currently enjoyed by Nintendo.  The implications for third-party publishers are enormous.  Stay tuned.

Update: Is it telling that Just Dance knocked Modern Warfare 2 from its nine-week run at #1?  Very interesting.  That's an attention-grabbing headline if there ever was one.

The Guantanamo "Suicides"

Harper's newly-released article on the abuse, torture, and possible murders of detainies at Guantanamo is deeply disturbing, shocking to any lover of American democracy and the rule of law, and somehow all to predictable.  You can feel it in the pit of your stomach.  We have yet to uncover the totality of Cheney's torture regime.  And there will be more revelations, each more damning than the last, we can be assured of that.

Read the Harpers article here.  Bookmark it, pass it along, head to the bookstore and buy the magazine.

Sullivan, true to his concience, has pursued this monstrous scandal at every turn.  He remains a lone voice in the wildnerness as what passes for American news media remains obsessed on the trivial.  Who crashed our last party?  How many women has Tiger Woods slept with?  Who the bloody hell cares?  It's days like this when I feel a deep fatalism for the future of this nation.

Thank God Sullivan is willing to stand up and speak the obvious:

This deserves to be the biggest story on the torture issue since Abu Ghraib - because it threatens to tear down the wall of lies and denial that have protected Americans from facing what the last administration actually did. Notice that these torture sessions - so severe they killed three prisoners - were conducted in June 2006. Long after the original crisis was over. Long after we have been told real torture sessions occurred. They were part of an ongoing torture program whose methods were so extreme that the Pentagon has already conceded that over a dozen prisoners had been tortured to death and up to a hundred US authorized deaths-by-torture are alleged by many human rights groups.

This case deserves a thorough and complete and exhaustive inquiry and investigation. I no longer believe that any entity in the US government can be trusted with such a task. The investigation must be able to go right to the very top of the torture program and do so with no political influence whatsoever. The investigation must be conducted by an independent prosecutor - Patrick Fitzgerald comes to mind - or by the Red Cross or an international body. It must go up the chain of command to the very top to find the real people who are responsible for this war crime and three homicides.

Among those who need to be subpoenaed are the former president and vice-president of the United States.

Andrew Sullivan on MA-Sen

I used to read The New Republic back in the 1990s, when Andrew Sullivan was its editor, and today I find myself glued to his must-read blog, The Daily Dish.  His thoughtful, intelligent observations are a rare breed these days, as is his willingness to question all authority, even questioning himself.  It's such a rare breed in this fundamentalist age.

Case in point: Sullivan's thoughts on this week's MA-Sen race.  Sadly, I find myself in agreement:

So you have resistance to machine politics in a seat controlled by elites for ever; you have an atmosphere of unrest and discontent after two years of recession; you have the Republican base whipped up into an FNC-induced frenzy against the end of America as they know it; and you have the Herald readers sick to death of Kennedy power. For good measure, you have the ugly spectacle of closed door final meetings in Washington over health reform.

I don't see how even Obama can turn back this perfect storm.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Photos - Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master

Shinobi 3 on the Genesis was a spectacular action game, and remains so today. When I see the breathtaking 2009 Muramasa on Nintendo Wii, I'm immediately reminded of Revenge of Shinobi and its sequel. Like Super Metroid, this represents a standard of 2D video games that showed room for growth, only to be entirely abandoned in the rush towards 3D polygon graphics.

We've had enough time with the modern polygon era to judge these decisions more fairly. I believe games have made astonishing leaps in the past 15 years, since the arrival of Sony Playstation. Many new and innovative video games have been created, and the artform has never been better. But for all these gains, much has been lost, and the spectacular success of New Super Mario Bros proves there is still a demand for classic, 2D arcade games.

I believe the next Metroid and Zelda should be 2D. Sega should also follow suit with Sonic and Shinobi. To hell with these $30 movie-games. I want video-games. And I'm not the only one.

Videogame Classics - Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master

Shinobi is one of Sega's most celebrated heroes. The arcade original was a smashing success, building upon the foundation of Namco's Rolling Thunder (an early example of the long-running Sega/Namco rivalry), and adding in a ninja theme. Most of the home versions were pretty weak by comparison, but you didn't mind too terribly as long as there was a Shinobi down at the local arcade.

For the Genesis, Sega turned to its ninja master with one of the greatest videogame sequels ever made, Revenge of Shinobi. That game was arguably the first killer ap on the Genesis (although some would argue for Ghouls 'N Ghosts), and stands today as a masterpiece of the action-platform style. Another arcade sequel appeared, dubbed Shadow Dancer, but neither it nor the Genesis port (which was an almost entirely different game) managed to reach that earlier peak. So Sega turned back to their roots once more as the Genesis was winding down.

The result is Super Shinobi 2, or known in the West as Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master. In both cases, the title makes it clear that this is the follow-up to Revenge of Shinobi, and that's plainly obvious at the very start. Thankfully, Sega creates a masterful sequel that builds upon the gameplay conceits of the original Genesis classic, offering a brilliant example of gameplay and design, and pushing the console's graphics powers to their limit.

I think these two titles were the only time anyone came close to matching the brilliance Tecmo achieved with Ninja Gaiden on the NES. Amazing, then, that with so many ninja games in the early '90s, nobody could reach that high peak. No one except Sega.

One thing Shinobi 3 has in spades is a sense of speed. It's a much faster game. Joe Musashi, the series hero, has a variety of new moves, including a sprint dash, the ability to climb on ceilings, and an assortment of attacks, both with his sword and his shurikens. The exciting thing is that it's equally fun to play both ways; in fact, I really wish there were an option to remove shurikens from the game entirely, and just go it with sword slashes and kicks.

Level design, likewise, throws out all the stops. Playing through this game is like taking a sightseeing tour of the Genesis' finest moments. You have assaults through the forest, stealth through underground caves, an attack on a military base, a vertical climb over falling rocks in a valley, one chase on horseback, another chase on surfboard....yadda yadda. Add in a series of challenging, thrilling boss battles that show off every visual effect mastered by Genesis, and you have a platformer almost without peer.

If you asked me which Shinobi title was the better one, I don't know what I'd say. Most probably I'd still go with Revenge of Shinobi, if just because of its immense impact on the early Genesis scene, and its towering stature at the time. Shinobi 3 is more of a 1993 refinement of that standard, albeit with all the bells and whistles you can ask for. Oh, and there is the music. Yuzo Koshiro's music for Revenge is among the finest you'll ever hear. Shinobi 3's music is standard action fare, probably the game's only letdown.

Sadly, Shinobi became another casualty of Sega's tragic fall at the close of the 16-bit era. The name was revivied a few years ago, instead as a 3D polygon series. But the Playstation 2 incarnation was a different beast entirely, and nowhere near as compelling. Like most 3D platformers, the tight structure and skillful design of the 2D sprite-graphics era is mostly lost. For these kind of fast-paced action games, you just can't beat the old school.

Photos - Super Metroid

Some screenshots of the great Super Metroid on the Super NES. I really hope Nintendo has been paying close attention to the spectacular blockbuster success of New Super Mario Bros Wii. 2D games are in demand and bigger than ever. We want a new Metroid, and we want it in glorious two-dee!

When I played this game back in the mid-'90s, I had no realization that would be the end of classic Metroid. God Bless the fine folks at Retro Studios for their Metroid Prime series, but it really isn't the same experience. And that goes double for the pair of overrated Gameboy Advance Metroids. I want Super Metroid - dark, moody, mysterious, and fiendishly difficult.

Videogame Classics - Super Metroid

Name the best game ever made for the Super NES. For some, it's Super Mario World or Zelda 3. Others, Super Mario Kart. A number will point to Final Fantasy 3, which was how it was named here in the States). And a lot of you will insist that it's really Super Metroid.

You may be right. This might very well be the SNES' finest hour.

I think some part of the mystique about Super Metroid is the fact that the game remained alone, without any sequels or follow-ups, for so many years. While Mario and Zelda and the rest continued with newer games on the Super NES and Nintendo 64, Metroid held back, alone in its own little world. It really wasn't until 2002, eight years later, that a new installment finally arrived, and even then, gamers were surprised to discover a 3D shooter that was closer to Quake and Doom then their beloved Metroid.

And, in the meantime, Konami completely reinvents its old Castlevania franchise by aping the gameplay structure of Super Metroid. The forgotten classic was becoming a legend, influencing others. Goodness knows Konami sure loved that game, enough to shamelessly steal from it for every 2D Castlevania game ever since.

Oh, yeah, sure, Nintendo eventually figured things out, and returned to their roots with a pair of Metroid titles on the Game Boy Advance. But let's be honest here. Those games weren't any good. The first one, especially was a clunker. The second, Zero Mission? Eh, better, but, again, it just felt like a dumbed-down kiddie version of the 1994 masterpiece. Remember those Atari 2600 games that had the child-friendly mode with the teddy bear icon? Yeah, that's exactly what Zero Mission was all about. A Metroid that holds you by the hand, when not stumbling into Miyazaki's Ohmus.

What comes to mind when I think of Super Metroid? Dark, moody, mysterious. This is just about the heaviest game Nintendo ever made - heavy in that late-'60s, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple sense. The whole enterprise just breathes in a dark, misty atmosphere, this strange alien landscape, this mishmash of different cultures. This world that Samus Aran finds herself in, this is a world with a history. You can almost trace that history as you progress through the game, spotting the places where some poor fool vainly tried to civilize the place. You can see the corpses for yourself to see how that turned out.

Modern videogames, if they really can be called "games" anymore, shove narrative down your throat. They think story can only be conveyed by scripted movie scenes. But a good game, all of the best ones, can tell a story without these tired cliches. Story, setting, mood, character - all can be shown by the actions and environment of the game itself. That's one of the things that makes Super Metroid a masterpiece. It's a very story-driven game at heart, but one that lets your imagination roam.

The only other exploration game that captures that same sense of mood and mystery, to my mind, is Todd's Adventures in Slime World on the Atari Lynx. And that game was created back in 1990. How's that? In many ways, Slime World serves as a foundation for the expansive game world Super Metroid builds upon. It seems impossible to keep the two seperate in my mind; the original Metroid serves as the original starting point, but this sequel stretches and expands and builds so far beyond those first boundaries that they become almost unrecognizable.

So that's what I take out of the experience. The dark, underground world, teeming with life and teeming with secrets. And the whole enterprise is hard. Real hard. In this game, Nintendo drops you into a cave, in the middle of nowhere, and just leaves you. No goofy sidekicks pointing the way out of the maze. No cheap icons to hold you by the hand and make things easy. In this life, things are much harder than in the afterlife. In this're on your own.

Forget about that first Metroid. It's a good game, but it's too dated to really hold your affections. This is the real version, the one that carries all the mystique. This is the moment which all future Metroids struggle to recapture. They'll struggle in vain. You'll probably never see a better action/adventure no matter how many years you'll live.

Videogame Classics - Ghouls 'N Ghosts

The winner and champine...Ghouls 'N Ghosts on the humble Genesis. I remember when the young EGM heavily promoted this game with its fourth issue. Steve Harris, the founder, boasted in no small way that this was the greatest home videogame, like, ever. Ever! Okay, he was prone to the hyperbole in those days. But he and his writers had their fingers on the pulse of gaming. They knew their stuff.

If I remember correctly, this was the game I bought a Genesis for. Or, more precisely, this was the first genuinely great game I played on it. Does Altered Beast really have to count? Ugh. It shouldn't. Start with this one instead.

Sega had established a unique partnership with Capcom early on, and it resulted in some of the best of the early Genesis games. Capcom would license their arcade hits, the ones that were not available on the NES, and Sega would develop and produce. From this partnership, we got Forgotton Worlds, Strider, Mercs, and Ghouls 'N Ghosts.

Younger gamers need to understand something very important. When Nintendo ruled the roost, they ran the place like tyrants. They called all the shots, bullied everyone into submission. Basically acted like jerks. For third-party developers, their demands were simple: no games on the NES could appear on any rival console, and companies could only release so many titles per year.

Sega learned from the Master System era, and entered the 16-bit age more aggressively. And Capcom was no doubt looking to expand their horizons. Perhaps they even knew that Nintendo's reign was bound to end, that the videogame market was expanding too rapidly to be contained by one player. Whatever the reason, Capcom's arcade titles started to appear on the Sega Genesis in 1989.

When Ghoulss 'N Ghosts appeared, it gave Sega a crucial advantage in the console race, as well as one hell of a game. Poor Turbografx was crippled by Nintendo's policies, and its chief patron was Hudson; they were a quality player, but they were not on gaming's A-list, and they had little to no presence at the arcades. The Genesis quickly became the place to turn for your arcade thrills.

Good lord, how I miss the arcades. This business is so much poorer without them, it's uncanny.

Anyway, that's the history lesson. What does this mean for you in the new century? It means you get a classic home version of a classic video arcade game. You get one hell of a challenging platformer, one that will shake your confidence and test your reflexes like nothing you've seen before. This game will knock your teeth out; and when you've thought you had reached the end, you'll be asked to complete the whole thing all over again, a second time. Those brave souls able to carry the distance will be rewarded with one of the greatest final boss fights of all time.

This remains my favorite entry in Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins series, mainly because it's the only time you can throw your weapons up and down, but also because of its brilliant level design that remains varied and challenging without ever becoming kitschy or dull. That's a tough needle to thread. But this was Capcom at the peak of their arcade skills, and the days when they had the entire platform genre mastered. Good heavens, they were only at Mega Man 2. The horrible sequel curse hadn't struck them yet.

Pretty much a no-brainer for an addition to your library. Good luck nursing those blisters.

Photos - Neutopia 2

Frankly, I wish the modern Legend of Zeldas would play like this game. I miss the action, the arcade combat, and I miss the way Classic Zelda (pre-Ocarina) perfectly balanced action with puzzle strategy.

I'd recommend both Neutopias for the Virtual Console, but if you only want one, the sequel is far, far better. Every Zelda fan should have a copy of this game. fact, I think I'll download it right now, heh heh.

Videogame Classics - Neutopia 2

Did Neutopia 2 really arrive on Virtual Console one month after the original? Hudson likely figured that you had enough time to finish that game, and since you had such a fun time wasting your precious hours away, here's the crack sequel, better in every way. Pony up the cash, kids.

If you thought that first game was a ripoff from Legend of Zelda...hoo, boy. Get a load of the title screen from the sequel. Hudson didn't even try to hide it this time. They gave up any pretense of originality, and instead focused on creating the best damned Zelda ripoff they could. I think they really did a great job. No, I still insist that Sega's Golvellius was the best Zelda clone ever made, but Neutopia gives a serious run for the money.

This game features one unique premise, and it's one that I'm surprised Nintendo never tried. In this game, you play the son of the hero from the first game, who has turned up missing. You spend the game chasing him down. Travelling through towns and exploring dungeons just happens along the way.

I've spent some time with this game, since I've missed it entirely the first time around. I only had one or two chances to spend time with the Turbografx back then. Fortunately, I knew this kid in my high school, and we swapped game systems - his Turbo, my Genesis - for a few weeks. It was a good plan. I think this was after Sonic the Hedgehog appeared, by which time Nintendo was in the game, and poor Turbo was on the way out. The next time I saw any consoles was when local stores were dumping their excess stock for sale.

That's too bad, because it meant that a great game like Neutopia 2 largely missed out. And you have to admire Hudson's drive to push the system's limits, and push themselves. The tendency would be to just run through the numbers, planning their jump to greener pastures. But Hudson and NEC were joined at the hip, and the PC Engine was popular enough in Japan to keep the game running for another couple innings. Good news for us.

The first Neutopia looked very good for the time, and the sequel improves in every way. It's really amazing, actually. Far more color and detail, for more touches like grass and trees and rocks, desert and snow, and underground caves without any light. There was a tremendous amount of effort put into the graphics, and the assortment of monsters that lie scattered across the landscape. The landscape, of course, looks terrific, brilliantly conceived and varied.

Your hero, Junior, or whoever he's called, can also move and attack in eight directions. This is a great addition, one of those obvious things that too few developers noticed when copying the original 1986 Zelda. The feel is looser, as well; the pace seems a touch faster and more limber. Neutopia 2 is like an athlete who's already warmed up and ready for action.

I find myself constantly praising Hudson's virtues with their Turbografx reissues on VC, and there's a reason for that. They definitely deserve their praise for this effort. If the greater gaming public doesn't stand up and take notice of the Turbo, then there's really no hope for 'em, is there? They'll probably just go back to their karaoke games and custom drinks.

Videogame Classics - Wave Race 64

And so we come to one of the signature games from the Nintendo 64 library. Wave Race 64 was one of the first launch games for the console, sharing the space alongside Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Yep, Nintendo thought they were really being clever with the names. Well, lemmie tell ya. Throwing "64" at the end of every game wasn't clever; it was annoying as hell. Worse than the "super" prefix for every other Super NES title.

Ahem. It's easy to get sidetracked here. Almost too easy, in fact. This isn't an indictment against the game proper. No, something deeper. I think Wave Race 64 came to symbolize, and embody, all the highs and lows of Nintendo 64. Mario 64 was perfect. The greatest videogame ever made. You couldn't find a pair of eyes in 1996 to disagree,not even the NiGHTS junkies clinging tightly to their Sega Saturns.

So Mario was perfect, and Wave Race was, and is, a great videogame. But it's the true mascot for the console. Here lies the true archetype. I stumbling into a running theme? Blame the collective digital unconscious.

Wave Race 64 was as much a standout for the new Nintendo console was Mario. Those water effects made a tremendous impression. This was a fantastic achievement. Revolutionary, even. This was something that was clearly far ahead of anything seen on Saturn or Sony Playstation. Nintendo was staking the high ground on the graphics war.

And the way the water felt, really, was just as important to that feeling of immersion. The flow of the waves, from serene calm to stormy turrent, moved with an expressionist zeal. The movement of your jetskis across the surface was precise, intuitive, perfect. It's still perfect, which is slightly unsettling. Haven't there been any better water racing games since then? Actually, um, there haven't been any such games in a long time. I remember Hydro Thunder on the Dreamcast. Even that game couldn't carry you through quite like Wave Race.

The jetskis that you control maneuver perfectly, allowing you to steer, cut, swerve, and spin quickly and easily. This was a crucial test for Nintendo's new analog control, and you can clearly see the results. Analog control became standard almost overnight. The last console to use such controllers was the Atari 5200. And that was a train wreck.

Oh, and you can perform some stunts on your ski as well, but I can't remember any of them beyond the barrel roll. It's purely for show, but this has always been a stalwart of the Nintendo design. Makes the games fun and immersive above all else. Create a daydream that you want to frolic in. You shouldn't be surprised to learn that Shigeru Miyamoto, yes, was in command of the design team. His fingerprints are once again on display, demonstrating just why he is videogames' greatest wizard.

Remember what I said earlier about this game being the true mascot for the Nintendo 64. We've gone over the good parts. Now for the downside.

Nintendo's stubborn refusal to give up the cartridge medium would almost prove their undoing, and it damn near sank the N64. The early games were judged intently to see how you could fit everything into that tiny space. The truth? They couldn't. Nintendo really couldn't. They couldn't fit the size and scope of the ever-widening Playstation and Saturn worlds into those carts, not without compromises. Those compromises would only become more and more glaring as the years dragged on.

I think, because of this, poor N64 wasn't allowed to really stretch as far as it could have. The polygon models were always blockier, simpler than the rivals. True, the console relied more heavily on visual effects over pure polygons. It was one of Nintendo's signature gambles. Didn't really pay off.

I remember noticing some limitations in Wave Race 64, and it wasn't pretty. Things like the character models. Your racers are really, really blocky. Chunky, even. It's like they were assembled in the cubist style. Backgrounds, likewise, were simpler, utilizing easier geometry. And those backdrops? The fuzzy textures? Yeah, that was pretty obvious even in '96. Clearly, that water took up most of the space.

I feel a bit guilty for pointing that out. Game reviewers are notorious for behaving like spoiled children on Santa's lap. But I feel no guilt in protesting about the game's biggest weakness - the level design. The race courses are simple. Far too simple. Simple, as in giant circles. Just when racing games on the rival consoles were becoming sophisticated, challenging, and loaded with surprises, Wave Race can feel like a ride at the kiddie park.

There are a large number of tracks, especially when most racers only had two or three courses. But I always had a problem with this. This has always been a thorn in my side where Wave Race 64 is concerned; I wanted some really inventive level designs, like Sega Rally on the Saturn, or Wipeout on Playstation. Instead, we get big ovals and simplistic circles. No doubt this was the inspiration for the game's use of buoys, in which you slalom through in order to build up your jetski's speed. I really like that idea; it's refreshingly original, adds a layer of depth to the races, and maintains a crucial balance in the gameplay. Miss too many buoys and you're out of the race.

Another check in Miyamoto's column. And another highlight of the challenges of working with those damned cartridges.

The game options allow you to change the water, from calm waves to heavy torrents. I've found it necessary to play in a storm in order to keep things interesting, especially for the two-player games (oh, what a shame this couldn't have been four-player). I do wish there were more options for customizing the races, ideas like random placements of the buoys and other objects. The final racetrack is novel for its receeding tides, which drains the water away with each lap. That option should have been available for all the courses. Now that would have added some challenge.

In the end, I have to admit that I remain torn about Wave Race's strengths and weaknesses. Heck, I like the drama. And it's still eminently playable and fun. I've yet to sit down and play the Gamecube sequel, Wave Race: Blue Storm; to date that remains the only addition to the series (which began as a humble Gameboy racer). A bit of a puzzlement, actually. Perhaps that only adds to the game's mystique. Sequel overkill has turned many a videogame into rust. I'd prefer this one fresh, thank you very much.

One final note: you may be wondering about those screenshots posted above (well, they should be there, if this computer cooperates), and why they appear a bit patchy. Nearly all screenshots come with the aid of emulators on my computer. The best Nintendo 64 emulator is one called Project 64. Games consoles become increasingly difficult to emulate properly, and while Project 64 is the best and most comprehensive of N64 emulators, many games remain glitchy and imperfect. Wave Race 64 can be very patchy in play; it's kinda like drunk driving at times. Which explains the glitches in the photos. I've no doubt that everything plays perfectly on Wii, so no worries.

Photos - Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest

These screenshots originally appeared on its Virtual Console review, but I decided to move them to a single post, sending Simon's Quest to a seperate Videogame Classics post.

This is probably my favorite Castlevania game, and despite all the Symphony-themed titles in this series, it's Simon's Quest that has aged the best. At least, it has for me.