Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Contrabulous Fabtraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel

This is IGN's rendition of the next Nintendo game controller.  Nobody is going to buy this.

I still can't believe Nintendo and their investors would allow the company to literally turn 180 degrees around and release a PS360 clone that appeals solely to the dying "hardcore gamer" crowd.  I can't believe that Nintendo would, in effect, renounce its Blue Ocean Strategy that has made the company billions of dollars.  And, yet, this is what many inside sources are saying.  Nintendo is desperate to win the favor of the core gamer and the software community.  Never mind that both are in terminal decline.  Facts, schmacs.

Sooner or later, Nintendo is going to face a very unpleasant truth: for all their whining and bawling, the "hardcore" gamers never deliver the goods.  They scream and cry for games to be made just the way they want it, but they don't show up with the money, and they don't buy the games.  Did Goldeneye become a major hit?  Did Epic Mickey become a major hit?  What about Monster Hunter 3, Sin & Punishment, Metroid: Other M, NBA Jam, Kirby's Epic Yarn, or even Donkey Kong Country Returns?  Even Donkey Kong Country has only been a modest success.  The strategy of "bringing home the core gamers" has failed.  The core gamers never bothered to show up.

The best-selling Wii game of the 2010 holiday season?  Just Dance 2 - a dreaded casual game.  Oh, noes!  The horror!  And Wii Party was the last breakout Wii hit in Japan.  No more.  Sorry, folks.  If you bought the Nintendo Wii because you loved Wii Sports, and you thought you were getting a new era of family-friendly video games, the kind we haven't seen since in 30 years, sorry.  No soup for you.

Nintendo seems to believe what the market demands is not two identical, interchangeable HD consoles, but three identical, interchangeable HD consoles.  Because that's what yer getting, whether you like it or not.  The software business model today is wrapped around $50 million "blockbuster" games, and the only chance anyone has of not going bankrupt is to publish that $50 million video game on as many machines as possible.  It means having the exact same Resident Evil, the exact same Metal Gear, the exact same Grand Theft Auto on multiple formats.  In other words, what software publishers want is for Nintendo to subsidize their terrible losses and bad business decisions.

Here's some simple numbers for you, courtesy of Wikipedia.  In Generation 6, he Xbox 1 sold 25 million consoles worldwide, and Playstation 2 sold 150 million.  That's a total of 175 million consoles sold for the hardcore gaming systems.  Now look at the sales in our current Generation 7.  The Xbox 360 has sold 50 million units, while the Playstation 3 sold....50 million units.  That's a total of 100 million "hardcore gamer" video game consoles.

Generation 6 = 175 million
Generation 7 = 100 million

This is the market that Nintendo suddenly wants to pursue.  They're damned fools.  The millions of new gamers and lapsed gamers are not interested in another PS360.  If they wanted an HD console with Hollywood cinematics and a controller with 14 buttons, they would have done so.  Obviously, that hasn't happened, and it's never going to happen.  They didn't care in 2006, they do not care in 2011.

Let me repeat that again: Expanded Audience Gamers Will Not Buy This.  Not now, not ever.  The grandparents and soccer moms and children young and old have had 15 years to play around on a 14-button game controller.  They don't want that.  What the general population wants is ease of use, simplicity, and an iconic design.  Something like...the Wii Remote.  The Wii Remote should be the foundation of the company.  End of discussion.

Can I play Just Dance 2 or Michael Jackson with that hideous controller?  No.  Can I play Wii Sports or Wii Play with that controller?  No.  Can young children, parents and grandparents who have never played video games understand this controller?  Can they jump in and play and have fun?  No and no.

That leaves the hardcore gamers, who are shrinking and disappearing at an alarming rate.  You wouldn't guess this from all the noise you hear from websites, magazines, and programs on Youtube.  But this is a market in terminal decline.  And they're not going to flock in great numbers to an HD Nintendo console just to play PS360 ports.  Remember what I said about there being no new consoles form Microsoft and Sony?  They can't find anyone to lend them money, because the PS360, while successful commercially, has been financially crippling.  There is no Playstation 4 and Xbox 3 because nobody is willing to finance them.  Maybe in another three years, investors will get their money back.  Maybe.

If everything said about Project Cafe is true, then it's the worst decision Nintendo has ever made.  It's worse than the Virtual Boy, worse than the N64 or Gamecube.  They will have literally turned their back on the emerging market that they themselves created, and turned around to embrace the very chaos they predicted in 2004 and 2006.  Does that make any sense?  This is madness.  The 3DS was a foolish and ego-driven idea, but this?  This is far, far worse.

If I were an investor, I'd be mad as hell and I'd want somebody's damn scalp.  This is going to ruin the company.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Sears Video Arcade II

Just to drive the point home once again, and also because I have these photos on my desktop, here's the packaging for the Sears Tele-Arcade II.  It's a re-branded Atari, the version that was sold in Japan under the name, Atari 2800.  I actually saw one of these up close at a used-games store in Bloomington, MN.  It's very stylish and very nice.  Too bad the controllers or the box weren't included, but I guess that's what Ebay is for.

Video games were not a new idea in 1983, when this model was released.  The general public had a pretty good idea of what these machines were about, and kids were already hooked for years.  So this isn't a matter of introducing a new technology to an uninformed audience.  This is about branding.  It's about selling video games as a fun social tool, a leisure activity where friends and family can come together, and everyone is welcome, young or old.  Let's have fun together.

I love the illustrations from the game cartridges on the box.  The box art is one of the best-loved things about the Atari era.  We just loved these illustrations.  I was even showing some Atari games to Marcee tonight, and we were having a lot of fun admiring the artwork and cracking jokes.  I can't remember the last time I saw a video game box that was remotely interesting.  It's all photoshop and corporate marketing and CGI art assets.  Snooze.  Doesn't anybody use pencils and paints anymore?  The Atari illustrations could be put into museums and hung on your wall.  They're magnificent.

Sean Malstrom was right.  The biggest threat to modern videogames is indifference.  It was never chiseled into stone that these things would last forever.  Pinball machines didn't last forever, neither did rock 'n roll or drive-in theaters.  Why should this icon of youth be any different?  Today's video games are no longer fun.  They're bloated and pompous and arrogant, and far too expensive.  Heck, these people don't even want to make video games anymore; they want to make movies or art statements, or whatever.  I'd much rather just tell my kids to go play outside.  They'll face enough pompous bullshit when they get to high school.  Let 'em have fun for now.

Modern Video Game Packaging is Terrible and Makes My Feet Sad

Yeah, I know it's a bit silly. But I mean it - video games come in terribly boring packages today. It's a certain design aesthetic, of course, but far too sterile and boring. It's not just Nintendo, it's everybody.

The thing I loved about the Wii's ad campaign so much is that it brought back the image of the family playing video games together. That's how games were sold back in the Atari 2600 and NES days. Video games are meant to be fun, they're meant to be social. Today, the game industry is desperate to be treated "seriously" and treated like adults. Games are seen as the New Hollywood, as Lifestyle Chic. Personally? I think these are toys, meant to bring smiles to children of all ages. We shouldn't feel embarrassed about that, but celebrate it.

C.S. Lewis once said that when he was a child, he read fairy tales in secret and in fear of being discovered; but as an adult in his 50s, he read them openly. That's what I'm thinking of here (wish I had that quote). The video game business needs to overcome its fear of appearing childish. He who is not busy being born is busy dying, sayeth the bard.

I'm pretty sure this is a generational thing. Marc from Classic Game Room HD made the very same points about the 3DS box design. We just grew up with these exciting, fun packages that were full of color and warmth and excitement. Imagine how much fun it is for children to open their "big" Christmas present...and they're greeted with the Atari Video Computer System, or the Nintendo Entertainment System, or the Game Boy. Woww!! Remember that Youtube video of the boy who got a Nintendo 64? THAT is the goal of your package design.

Does that make any sense? I should also say that there is no problem that Nintendo couldn't fix with the 3DS. If they could bring the price down, extend the battery life, create new and original games that show off the system's powers, and demonstrate why 3D is the wave of the future, the 3DS will be a success. We're still in the first inning. The only problem is that reputations are made and solidified fairly quickly. If we're still talking about this in 12 months, then Nintendo is going to be in a lot of trouble. They can't take anything for granted.

The PS3 is a perfect example of everything going wrong. It was an unmitigated disaster for Sony, and Nintendo does not want to follow that path. IMHO, as always.

Just look at the giant box for the Atari Video Computer System (aka the Atari 2600).  Doesn't it look inviting?  Doesn't it look like everyone is having fun?  Doesn't that look like the greatest Christmas present in history?  It's a scientific fact that giant Christmas presents are awesome.  And the Atari 2600 VCS box was enormous.  But that's because it came with two joysticks, a pair of paddle controllers, the Combat cartridge, and a comic-book catalog.  That's value, kids.

Now take a look at today's video game machines, which have nothing interesting on the outside of the box, and nothing interesting on the inside of the box.  If I was a kid today, I'd rather ask Santa for some socks.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Cranky Grampa Complaints About the Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo's 3DS was released with great fanfare, but early sales returns have been disappointing.  Nintendo, unfortunately, can sometimes be their own worst enemy, and for every step forward (DS, Wii), they take one or two steps back (Virtual Boy, Gamecube).  It's a weird little cycle that I've seen many times over the past 20 years, and by now it's something I've just learned to live with.  I really enjoyed the DS, and I really enjoyed the Wii.  But right now, I am not enjoying the 3DS.  In fact, I don't much like it at all.

Let's take a look at my Cranky Grampa Complaints about the Nintendo 3DS, and you can either nod approvingly or chuckle under your breath.  Either way, here goes:

1)  The 3D effect is just a cheap gimmick.  Seriously, I had a 3-D Viewmaster when I was, like, five years old.  Seeing Herbie the Love Bug in 3D back in 1978 was pretty cool.  It's not cool in 2011.  The problem here is that Nintendo has bet everything on a novelty that was good for exactly one Hollywood picture (Avatar), and once the moment fades, it's gone for good.  Nintendo has yet to make the case why, exactly, any of us should care about stereoscopic 3D in video games.  They're treating the "wow" factor as a given, and that's a foolish mistake.

2)  The 3D effect hurts my eyes.  Let me repeat that again for the sake of padding out the Google search engine - The Nintendo 3DS Hurts My Eyes.  The whole 3-D effect is achieved by basically staring cross-eyed at the screen, much like those novelty "magic picture" books in the 1990s.  And it causes eye strain and headaches and completely messes my vision for hours afterward.  This is a very real problem.  I don't like things that hurt me, and I don't like the idea of my video games turning me into Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion.  And, no, the slider option does not help.  3D is pretty much the whole point to this system.  It's certainly the excuse for the outrageous retail price...

3)  $250 is way too expensive for a portable video game system.  The original Gameboy was sold for $99.  It came packaged with a set of headphones and Tetris.  The 3DS costs two-and-a-half times that much and comes packaged with nothing.  Meanwhile, the DS Lite sells for half the price, and has a library of over 5000 games.  An 8GB iPod Touch sells for $229.  A coloring book and box of crayons sell for $5.  Hiking through the woods and climbing trees is free.  We have plenty of options for our time and money.  Nintendo needs to shave $100 off the price of this immediately.  Stop chuckling.  I'm serious.

4)  $40 is way too expensive for cartridge games.  Gameboy games used to sell for twenty bucks.  
Heck, you can find a Gameboy Advance SP on Craigslist for $40 or less, and usually get some games included in the deal.  For the price of one 3DS game, I could be playing Tetris or Advance Wars or Kelly Slater's Pro Surfer or Final Fantasy I & II?  For that matter, how many iPod games could you download for that money?  There's no excuse for this sort of price-gouging.  Drop the retail prices in half.  Okay, you can chuckle at this one.  It ain't ever gonna happen.

5)  The 3DS battery life is abysmal.  Three hours?  We're talking Atari Lynx levels of power drainage, kids.  And let me tell ya, I loved the Atari Lynx, but I hated the battery life.  So did most kids, which is why they all ended up with Gameboys instead.  C'mon, people, we put twelve men on the moon with less technology.  Hmm, for that matter, why haven't we gone back to the moon, or moved on to Mars?  Instead of exploring the galaxy, we're melting the polar ice caps.  Progress!

6)  None of the 3DS games are any good.  Sorry.  In all fairness, I will say that Pilotwings Resort and Super Street Fighter 4 are the standout titles, but sequels of ripoffs of spinoffs don't work in the year 2011.  All this does is make me want to play Wii Sports Resort and the Capcom 4-MEG fighters on Sega Saturn.  There's nothing in the 3DS library that really sells the machine, or compels me to play.  Nothing is jumping out at me, so to speak.  Shouldn't that be the whole point of a 3D video game system?  At some point, you actually have to make some good games to sell your game machine.  That's kind of how it works.

7)  Repackaged sequels.  This kind of builds upon the previous point, but bears repeating.  People will not spend $250 for reruns.  Sorry.  Nintendo's DS and Wii were terrific systems because their innovative designs forced software developers to - gasp! - create new video games.  Yoshi: Touch & Go, Zoo Keeper, Meteos, Trauma Center, Brain Age, Nintendogs, Wii Sports, Wii Play, Just Dance...Very impressive!  Why aren't we seeing this on the 3DS?  Instead we get: another Street Fighter, another Ridge Racer, another Pilotwings, another Dead or Alive, another Metal Gear, another Star Fox, another Zelda.  Shrug.

8)  The packaging is terrible.  Seriously, who decided that video games should come in such dour, miserable packages?  Probably the same folks who are embarrassed to be making video games and want to be making movies, or something.  Whatever.  This drive to legitimize the medium as "high art" is foolish and misguided.  If you work in the videogame business, you're not a storyteller with a vision, and you're not an "artist."  You're a toymaker in Santa's Workshop.  You bring smiles to children of all ages and make everyone feel young and happy.  This is a very good thing

Just look at the package design for the original Game Boy from 1989.  Now this just screams, "Play with me!  I'm fun!  Whee!"  And then Nintendo included a pair of headphones and Tetris in the box - still the best video game ever made.  Yay!  In fact, I may just buy myself a Gameboy just so I have the box in my house.

9)  Where are the touchscreen games?  I hadn't quite realized it until I thought up that list of games, but all the best DS games were the early ones that relied on the touchscreen, and the best Wii games used motion controls to their fullest.  But game designers don't want to be bothered with the new control schemes, and they've all but disappeared now.  So what's the point of even having the damned thing if it's never going to be used?  What's the point?  Why should Nintendo add an analog thumb-pad to the 3DS when the touchscreen is already available?  Seems to work perfectly fine on an iPod Touch, so why not here?

10)  No pack-in game.  Super Mario Brothers made the NES.  Tetris made the Gameboy.  Sonic the Hedgehog made the Genesis.  Wii Sports made the Wii.  Why isn't there a pack-in game for the 3DS?  You know what I think the pack-in game for this portable should have been?  Minecraft.  Nintendo should have flown to Sweeden and handed Notch a blank check for the exclusive console rights.  Reggie could still do that if he really wanted, but it's probably too late by now.  Minecraft is headed for the iPod and iPad instead.  Ah, well, it's not like Apple's about to dethrone Nintendo and take over the portable-games market, right?  Right?  Bueller?

Bottom line: Nintendo's 3DS is a very expensive gimmick, and it's lumbering out the gate with a number of issues that could become serious problems.  Fortunately, Nintendo is already on the ball and they're planning for the future.  They're buying a ton of Apple stock.

Friday, April 15, 2011

One Theory For the Next Nintendo Controller

The next Nintendo game controller sounds a lot to me like the uDraw tablet that they designed with THQ and released last year.  I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea of a joypad with a hundred buttons (like the PS360 gamepad) and a six-inch touch screen in the center.  Perhaps it will resemble a PSP with handlebars.  Or perhaps it will be closer to the uDraw design.

What I can't stomach is the idea of Nintendo eliminating the Wii Remote entirely.  That's beyond stupid, it's suicidal.  But notice how the uDraw combines with a Wiimote to offer motion control for the tablet.  What if the Generation 8 tablet followed the same approach?

Consider the idea of a Wiimote with a touchscreen instead of buttons.  There would still be the Power and Home and Start buttons, but aside from that, a big screen.  The Wiimote just happens to fit into a 6" diagonal.  So perhaps the new controller would feature a detachable Wiimote-touchscreen, and the tablet would include dual analog sticks, triggers, and way too many buttons.  That doesn't sound quite so terrible.

Right now, the hardcore clique is dreaming of the idea that Nintendo will renounce the Wii and its Expanded Audience, and make a third clone of the PS360 duo - a PS-Wii60, where the exact same $50 million gun games appear on three consoles.  From a business perspective, it's appallingly stupid, a fanboy fantasy.  Like I've said, the hardcore gamers are in decline, and if it weren't for the DS and Wii, the video game industry would be in near total collapse.  Nintendo would be mad as hatters to go down that path.

Let's see what they've got planned for us.  If I can't play Wii Sports 3 and Just Dance 3 on this machine, then count me out.

Nintendo Has Officially Gone Insane

If gossip and news reports are to be believed, Nintendo will unveil the successor to the Wii at this year's E3 in June.  The so-called "hardcore gamer" crowd is clucking like hens at the prospect of Nintendo repenting for the sin of the Blue Ocean Strategy, and returning to the hardcore fold where they belong.  It appears Nintendo may do just that.

Motion-control video games and "casual" titles like Wii Sports and Wii Play and Wii Fit have been staggeringly successful with the greater population, particularly the masses who have been too intimidated to play video games, or the former gamers who quit.  The only ones who want nothing to do with that.....the prima donnas who actually make the games.  They want to make low-rent movies and churn out endless reruns of the same four franchises.  Yuck.

"Hardcore Gamers" are nothing more than fat, old Generation Xers, overgrown men of the Peter Pan Generation who should have far higher priorities for the rest of their lives.  And their numbers are declining.  Microsoft and Sony have taken a financial beating these past five years, and it appears that a whole host of bad habits is sending the video game business careening towards a cliff.  Maybe I'm just being a bit grouchy for comedy's sake, heh heh.

But, seriously, though, I don't see where Nintendo is going with this.  If "Project Cafe" is to be believed, then they've lost their damned minds.  The controller sounds bizarre, surreal, and nothing like the simple clarity of the Wiimote.  Indeed, it sounds more like a mutant offspring of an Xbox 360 and the uDraw tablet.  It's not going to be a Wiimote.  And all those nasty, irritating "casual" games like Wii Sports and Just Dance are out.  Only grandparents and babies and losers want games like that.

Reality and sales numbers be damned.  Nintendo now caters only to a hardcore clique that will never buy the hardware and never buy the games.  But be damned sure they'll cluck like mad chickens.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nintendo Bothers to Make Another Wii Game

I see that Nintendo is bothering to pay lip service to the Wii console in 2011.  Wow, two games in six do they do it?  Seriously, there had better be a new console announced at E3, or a ton of 3DS games, or else Nintendo owes us one hell of an explanation.  I've never seen such shoddy support for a video game console since Atari's declining days with the Lynx and Jaguar.  You would never believe that this was the dominant player of this console generation.  You'd never believe the Wii outsold the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 combined.  Such facts may well fall into the realm of urban legend.

Something is seriously wrong with Nintendo's mindset these days.  Much like last year's Wii Party, the sequel to 2006's Wii Play is two years too late.  That much should be a given.  Do the suits in charge even bother to pay attention to the towering pile of third-rate dreck that constitutes the Wii software library?  Do the suits know exactly how many baby games, or how many games featuring rednecks, or how many games about shooting chickens have been made?

We're in the year 2011, and Nintendo has announced its first new Wii title in over six months.  And it's a mini-game collection.  With a free Wiimote in the box.  Using the Motion Plus attachment that was only ever used once.  Five years into this experiment with motion controllers, and this is the best they can offer.  This is literally the least they can do.  It will not be enough.

The irony is that motion-control video games are extremely popular with the general public; the only true haters are....the losers making the games.  Oops.  And so this very strange Generation X staple circles in on itself once more, bringing it one step closer to eventual extinction.  We'll make room next to the jukebox, the drive-in theater and the pinball machines.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A Pair of YouTube Poops

I'm posting a couple of these hilarious and wildly inventive YouTube remix videos, dubbed "YouTube Poops" by the teenagers who threw them together.  This is where I really start to accept that I am now on the other side of a generational divide.  I had no idea these things ever existed, but they've been around for a number of years.  I'm really impressed.  This is like the video equivalent to the Bomb Squad productions from 20 years ago.

Again, these mash-ups are mostly made by teens.  I'm amazed at that.  I can't imagine that I would have had the skills to create one of these when I was 16.  I thought I was pretty cool because I could beat all the super-tough NES games.  Yeah...that looks good on a resume today.

Videogame Classics - Virtual Kasparov

Virtual Kasparov
Titus Interactive
Gameboy Advance

April 14, 2003

Video chess is one of those novelty ideas that never really panned out. It reminds me of the Atari 2600 days, when designers experimented with video versions of Checkers, Backgammon, Tic-Tac-Toe, hide-and-seek (seriously), and chess. These games were needlessly awful, and functional at best. Pretty much the only chess program worth playing has been the Chessmaster series. There just isn't much point to playing against a computer when you can play against, well, real people. Maybe I'm still burned at how Atari's Video Chess cheated (it stole your pieces between moves).

If there's going to be a good video chess program, especially in this day and age, there has to be some pizzazz. Chess may be the greatest game ever invented, but, believe me, it does not have pizzazz. Watching people play chess is slightly more exciting than watching people sleep.

Thank goodness for Titus. I have to say, the Gameboy Advance has surprised me a lot so far, and among those pleasant surprises is Virtual Kasparov. Finally, here is a chess game that is actually geared towards gamers, without insulting their intelligence or boring them to death.

My favorite feature is the tutorial mode, which offers a wealth of knowledge about the game. Beginners start off by learning the rules, the pieces, and their functions. Then you progress to the opening game, various tactics and strategies, different mate schemes, and endings. For more advanced lessons, you study several games, learn about Queen Sacrifices, and even watch three famous grandmaster-level games.

The title is, of course, a giveaway, as Garry Kasparov walks players through each step; not only showing, but asking feedback as well. This approach works wonderfully; you learn better when you're asked to provide the answers, instead of just taking notes. It certainly helps to gain the insights of the greatest living chess player.

The meat and potatoes of Virtual Kasparov is Story Mode. Here, you square off against a succession of opponents around the world. Your first matches are embarrassingly easy, but as you travel across the globe, unlocking more continents to visit, the computer challengers become increasingly difficult. Unless you happen to be a master of the game already, you won't be finishing Story Mode anytime soon. Thank goodness chess isn't one of those games that need to be updated every year; you could be coming back and playing matches for years. The final challenger is, of course, Kasparov himself, and, no, I am nowhere near him yet. Ask me in 2008.

Titus Interactive Studio is the French software house responsible for this game, ad it ranks among their best. There is always a certain devotion to style in all the French gaming studios, and Virtual Kasparov is no exception. I enjoyed the many portraits of your different opponents, from housewives to school nerds to businessmen to world-weary travelers. There are also a dozen different chessboards to choose from: two boards in 3D, ten in 2D. The boards show a wide range of colors and styles, from the conventional to the abstract; a couple boards have an almost cubist feel to them. And yet, it is still easy to make out the pieces. Even the game's default black-and-white chessboard looks great, classical in its simplicity.

This is the perfect game for a handheld like the Advance. I can also see this as the perfect solution for anyone who wants to learn the game, from your friends or your spouse or your kids. Anything to get them off Fox News and start using their brain.

Videogame Classics - Motoracer Advance

Motoracer Advance
Delphine Software
Gameboy Advance

April 21, 2003

Shortly after getting into Moto GP (and loving every minute of it), someone pointed me in the direction of Delphine Software's own Motoracer Advance. I can't remember how exactly the subject came up, but I'm glad it did. I have an affinity for anything that shows genuine creativity, that spark of fun, be it art or music or film or even videogames. Motoracer has sparks to spare.

The game is loosely based on a series of motorcycle racing games on the Playstation by Delphine, which featured different styles of racing fused together. I can't say I've ever seen the original games, but chances are that I've missed out. That's not to suggest this title is yet another port; not so. Everything has been built from the ground up.

Every game needs a hook. I found myself hooked once I started my first race and quickly discovered how wonderful everything looks. I wouldn't call it a "cartoon" look, but everything is drawn with a painterly approach, as though sketched with watercolors and stencils. There hasn't been anything on the Advance quite like this; "cartoon" games are usually covered with a saccharine gloss; Motoracer instead resembles an underground comic book. Smooth color, rich tones. Consider, for example, the Kenya course, with its rich browns, its animated locals waving from the side.

Then, of course, things start moving, and you realize how brilliant the game's graphics engine truly is. There are certain expectations with racing titles on Gameboy Advance, usually variations on the Super Nintendo "Mode 7," or the twists and turns of Sega's Hang-On and Outrun, or some attempt at 3D polygons (with mixed results). Adeline has achieved something different here. The game is entirely presented without polygons, and yet we have roads that buckle, heave, and twist in every direction. The first time you take a jump over a hill is a rush; sometimes, there are so many bumps and drops that one could feel dizzy. And everything is wonderfully smooth and very fast, even with a screen filled with trees, poles, buildings, animals, crowds, oncoming traffic. Motocross Advance has achieved something of a minor benchmark with old-school bitmaps. The question then remains: if this is what can be achieved on the Advance with sprites, why even bother with polygons?

That sense of speed is, of course, crucial to any great racing game. And the fact that this is achieved without sacrificing frames of animation only adds to my respect. I'm amazed at how far the horizon stretches. Perhaps that's just a benefit of all the hills and turns that I can see so far. The benefit to the player is that they can plan better for those upcoming turns. The game's camera is low to the ground, closer to a first-person view. Some may complain that their view is blocked because of this, but I've never had any trouble. Most driving games set the camera too high anyway.

Of the three different racing modes, the dirt bikes are my favorite, since they offer the most jumps and hills. In addition to dirt bikes are the GP and Traffic levels. GP includes the same high-speed motorbikes that made Moto GP so cool, with smoother curves and hills. One course takes place across a highway, where players must constantly drive across the narrow off-ramps. Traffic does just what it promises: you race against other drivers through city traffic. Trying to gain the lead while diving down the San Francisco hills is one thing; trying to avoid those trollies is another thing altogether. There are eighteen racetracks between the three modes, each similar in approach but noticeably unique in style.

Regardless of which bike you drive, the steering is impeccable. It's ironic that the motorcycle games on this handheld have turned out to be the best-playing. More often than not, bike games are throwaways after the cars have had their fun. Again, notice how your vehicles don't swerve recklessly every time you make a turn. There's a real sense of gravity at work here, between the traction and those insane drops. Even with the faster bikes (that you unlock as you progress), things never get out of control. Note that I don't crash to a complete stop if I touch one of the other bikers. Note how they actually put up a real fight, instead of letting me walk away with trophies.

There are more features to be discovered in Motoracer Advance. Suffice it to say, there's a lot of game here. Championships, crashes, squashing chickens, hitting fans, cheerleaders, and on and on. Up to four players can race against each other; which of course makes this title a must-have if you and your friends all have Gameboys. I'll be so bold as to say this is the best racer on Nintendo's portable. Alright, the best racer that isn't Super Mario Kart. Close enough.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Nintendo 3DS' Very Thin Lineup

The launch lineup for Nintendo's 3DS is surprisingly thin.  After all the hype, and after it became obvious that Wii software development was being curtailed, I assumed there would really be some bang-up games to show off their new handheld.  Instead, not much.  A new Pilotwings, a new Nintendogs, and some game involving a submarine.

20 years ago, I learned to be patient and generous when a new videogame console launched.  The first wave of titles were little more than tech demos or cheap knockoffs, and that's fine.  The real hits would arrive around six months later.  It's very rare that you see a "killer app" at launch, like Tetris or Super Mario Bros.  That said, I have far less patience in the year 2011.  The Sega Dreamcast tipped the scale for what was considered acceptable for a system launch, and I'm not willing to go back.

Add in the fact that the 3DS' display seriously messes with my vision, and...well, maybe I'm just getting too old for this stuff.  My heart lies in arcade video games, and those are a dying breed.  I'm pretty happy with the Genesis and Saturn that's sitting on my desk, and the temtation to grab another Dreamcast is always strong.  I'd much rather play around with a Gameboy Advance SP than a 3DS.  Maybe that says something about the 3DS, and maybe that says something about me.  I'll leave that mystery for you to solve.

Right now, I can't recommend the Nintendo 3DS, however reluctantly.  Maybe my eyes will adjust and that cross-eyed strain won't become an issue.  Maybe there will be some killer video games that really show off 3D as the Next Big Thing.  But I'm not so sure about that.  I certainly don't think yet another Zelda and Mario is going to do the trick.  I want something new.  Whatever happened to Nintendo's quirky, left-field mindset?  Remember the early DS games like Wario Ware: Twisted, Yoshi: Touch & Go, Meteos, Animal Crossing, and Brain Training?  Where did that indie spirit go?