Category - Game Editorials

Editorial Articles related to the Game Industry in general.

Shamoozal’s Game Club #2 – Streets of Rage 2

Shamoozal's Game Club - Streets of Rage 2

We present for your approval, the Shamoozal Game Club Episode 2. This time around we spent some time playing the Genesis classic “Streets of Rage 2″  and now we’re gonna talk about it… without apologies. You also get 3 classic tracks from the Streets of Rage 2 OST, there’s even some opinions from our outstanding community thrown in there for good measure.

Next time we’re going to be playing one of two Xbox Live Indie games:  A Game About My Cat or PLATFORMANCE: Temple Death. The poll runs until July 16th at 8:25 EST, so be sure to head into our forums and vote!

If you’re already subscribed to our Podcast feed then all you need to do is wait for the episode to show up in your Podcast aggregator. Or, you can go a head and listen to it right here:

EA Sports Active 2 and Exergaming in general

EA Sports Active 2

EA Sports Active 2

I really wanted to write a scathing post about how I bought EA Sports Active 2 and that while conceptually the game is leaps and bounds ahead of the original, it just doesn’t work half the time. The thing is, when I did my weekly weigh in on Wii Fit Plus, I was down 4 pounds, finally hitting my BMI goal for the first time in the three years I’ve owned Wii Fit and only 1 pound away from my personal goal of weighing 160 pounds.

It’s kind of hard to write about something being a not so hot product when you see results from it anyway. Sure, a seemingly endless amount of yard work over the weekend coupled with my daily routine of lifting up my two 20 pound human weights every five seconds (my twin girls) and healthier eating choices helped reach this goal, but Active 2 gave me JUST the right amount of push to trim off those final few pounds.

I really like the idea of Exergaming, the gaming and exercising mash up that was introduced in the 80s but never really capitalized on until Nintendo blew minds with Wii Fit. While I’ve mainly stuck with just Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus along with EA Active 1 and 2 (why bother with the others?) they still aren’t perfect as far as I’m concerned. EA Active 2 (which I’m playing on PS3 BTW) is pretty darn close to being perfect. On the first EA Active I was getting nothing out of using the tension band and decided to switch to weights. The trouble is that it’s impossible to do those exercises while holding a Wii remote AND weights, so what I’d do is the set of reps and then tell the game to skip the exercise and move onto the next one. I wasn’t getting any credit for my work with those exercises, but I knew I was doing them and at the time that’s what mattered.

EA Sport Active 2 goes completely hands free so I could finally use weights and get credit for my work. Well, in theory anyway. The fact is, the sensors that are included to attach to your body work like shit. They mostly get the job done, but I’d say I end up having to skip by 2 or 3 of the activities per session. It’s kind of bullshit when all you want the thing to do is work and keep track of those lost calories and give you credit for that work you’re doing. Nothing is worse than doing a painful squat and having to smack the sensor on your leg in order to jolt it to make the game think you’re doing the exercise. I’ve already been giving up and just went back to my ways of how I treated the first one on Wii, so if my exercises aren’t registering, I just roll on with the set and skip it. If I had paid the original 100 dollar asking price for this package, I would be completely furious. That said, I paid 25 for it new on Amazon a few weeks ago, so I can’t complain too much really.

Wii Fit on the other hand, which I did pay 90 dollars for upon release, doesn’t have all the cool features EA Active does, but I never had a time where I didn’t feel like it wasn’t working. Wii Fit always works. It always registers what you’re doing, and in a lot of cases shows you crazy accurate stats to allow you to see how in control of your body you are. Nintendo knows how to make the thing feel more like a game than just an interactive exercise DVD, which EA Active tends to feel like. I love how Wii Fit, especially Wii Fit Plus with its new Balance Board Games feels like something you can get good at. Sure, maybe the player can do a full set of reps for a particular exercise, but how well did that person do them? Wii Fit is great for making someone want to achieve more with their workout while Active is just fine with those sensors being jolted. It’s a bummer that Active 2 pretty much falls in line with that, but I didn’t expect it to. EA attempts to hide gaming like activities in the game by including stuff like mountain biking, but again, it’s not really something you get improve upon or get good at nor does it feel a thing like actual mountain biking.

There was a point in time, maybe close to two years ago, where I was mixing it up between the first EA Active or Wii Fit, and to cool down, Punch Out!! Wii. Punch Out got a lot of flack for being unplayable with the balance board, and I suppose if you went into it blind it would be. However when you know the fights well enough it’s actually quite fun and challenging and it’s a good way to keep your body going for a few more minutes while having some fun playing a game. What would be really cool is if there was a exergaming title that had the challenge of Punch Out!! Wii (I’m not saying a boxing game, but a full fledged game mode), the perfect control of Wii Fit, and the huge amount of depth and content offered in EA Active. Wii Fit Plus was pretty close, with its fun mini games (skateboarding was particularly awesome) but it still lacked the depth, flexibility of Active, and with EA Active 2 that depth is even further beyond what Plus offers. Including something like a 90 day work out program where all you need to do is attend on certain days is pretty cool, as opposed to Nintendo’s approach where you’re pretty much just dropped into a situation with no real guidance.

Punch Out Wii

I had told myself a few years ago I was out of the exergaming thing until there was a product worth looking at. I thought that product would be EA Active 2, and while it’s a solid improvement over the first, it’s still not exactly what I was hoping for. That said, the now cheap price point makes it worth looking into, but I’m glad I didn’t day one it like I had actually thought about doing. I doubt Nintendo will ever knock it out of the park like I’d like them too, so I get the feeling exergaming is pretty much where it will remain until the end of time. With stuff like the Zumba games taking off, it means my ideal exergaming title is even further out of reach. The fact of the matter is that this stuff is aimed mostly at middle aged women, and no offense to them, but they probably don’t mind the more Exercise DVD approach that these games offer. Considering that, there is no reason for publishers to think they need to push the actual game mechanics further than just having a sensor recognize a movement, and that’s the real bummer here.

So I’ll continue to play EA Active 2 for the foreseeable future, but I’m not sure when I’ll bite on the next exergaming title. There is still lots of work to be done with this genre, though I doubt anyone will ever truly push the genre past the point it could be.

New Podcast: Shamoozal’s Game Club

dreamstime_339807_2_statue_angels_trumpets-594x269

Phil and I have been hinting around about a new game related podcast here at Shamoozal for a pretty long time. Doing the Born Again Casual podcast was always a lot of fun and I’ve regretted that we had to stop doing it. Our personal schedules over the past year and half have made it really difficult to coordinate something, but things have started to settle down for both of us. When we started talking about doing another game podcast we both agreed that it had to be an idea worth doing. BAC was a cool format, but it was kind of a pain in the ass to pull off every week with all the video capture, live streaming and keeping the topics fresh. We knew that if we were going to start a new podcast that it had to be something different.

One of the most important things about BAC to us was that it relied on involving the audience and that’s something we definitely want to continue. Another thing that has been missing from Shamoozal for a long time was our scheduled Game Nights and its our hope that this new podcast helps to rectify that on some level.

So without further ado, we’d like to announce our new Podcast Shamoozal’s Game Club. The podcast will essentially be like a book club for classic and retro games. A poll will be posted in our forums with 2-3 games. We’ll ask our audience to vote on the game they want to play for that cycle. After a couple days (TBD) we’ll close the poll and lock in the game.

Over the next week to week and a half, we (Me, Phil, you guys/gals) will play through the game and collect our thoughts. We’d love it if the audience would offer opinions via the forums or Twitter. Then on Tuesday nights (bi-weekly) we’ll record the podcast, discuss the game and include some comments from you all as well. The podcast will be edited and released by Thursday.

After the podcast is out we’ll post a new Poll and the cycle starts again.

Now while this will be a large portion of the podcast, we’ll also be sure to hit some Game News Headlines and offer some editorials on them. We’re also going to feature Game Music and Chip-tunes on the show, spotlighting new artists as well as music from the game we’re discussing on that episode. There has also been discussions about getting some guests on the show with us from time to time to take part in the fun.

So right now the plan is to record our first episode on Tuesday June 28th. We’re going to have a poll in the Podcast Forums for the first game. Right now it’s between Rayman and Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. Head on over and cast your vote!

We’re going to stick to games that are available through various digital distribution methods and cost no more than $9.99. In most cases we’re going to try to stay even lower than that. Your participation is optional, but we’re really hoping to build a great ongoing community event out of this… something that has room to grow.

We’re excited about this, we hope you are too!

Another Nintendo Day One

photo

I made a crucial error last night before bed. I put in my earbuds and selected the latest episode of Weekend Confirmed. I usually like to listen to podcasts as I go to bed, it helps me doze off. However, this episode started out with a lot of talk about the new Nintendo 3DS. I’ve been holding off on reading or listening to too much about the 3DS because I know my track record. I figured I’d wait a few months and then pick one up once I knew the water temperature.

I don’t know if it was going to sleep listening to the Weekend Confirmed guys praising the 3DS, but I woke up with one mission to accomplish.

I went out to pick up breakfast for the family (a Sunday tradition) and decided to stop by my local Target… just to check. It was around 8:45 am and no one was waiting in line by the door. I saw about 10 people standing outside the GameStop on the other end of the shopping center. I figured if people were lined up at the GameStop then there was probably no chance that Target had any left.

I decided to go in anyway… just to make sure (you have to be sure, you know). The place was empty, bu there were a couple people working at the electronics counter. The guy asked me what I was looking for and I said “Are there any 3DS left or if have they all been pre-ordered up”. They both laughed and said they had tons of them, what color would I like? I bought a blue one and a copy of Pilotwings Resort.

Something about Nintendo systems always brings out the kid in me. I sat on a curb in front of a Toys R Us with my wife the morning the Gamecube was released. I stood in line with the Shamoozal crew for the Wii’s midnight launch. I even pre-ordered a DSi from Amazon and raced home from work on my lunch break to intercept it. For me, Nintendo reminds me of Christmas mornings playing Mario games or exploring Hyrule after my homework was done. It’s something I enjoy with my six year old daughter in the same way that a parent might enjoy riding Dumbo with their child at the Magic Kingdom. It’s a connection between your own childhood and the child you’re raising.

So far since getting it home, we’ve been playing with all the pre-installed stuff. The AR Card Games completely blew me away. I really wasn’t expecting it to do anything that neat with the 3D. As I write this, my daughter is walking around the house taking 3D pics of the dog and everything else she can. I figure we’ll try out Pilotwings at some point today.

So there you go, Nintendo gets another day one purchase out of me.

5 Biggest Gaming Letdowns of ’10 from ‘Whenever

crash_bandicoot

Unlike the previous list in which I went over my five favorite games from 2010 that did not come out in 2010, this list is made up of anything I have played from this year. Regardless of this rule, only one game that I’ve played from 2010 made the list anyway, so whatever. Anyway, the following five games are in no particular order and they vary in quality. Some of them are outright awful, while others just managed to let me down mostly due to expectations. Some picks will probably make you angry, while others you might agree with. That said, let us begin our journey!

Tomena Sanner – WiiWare – Originally released 2010

You’ve probably never even heard of Tomena Sanner, and that’s actually an okay thing. Being billed as a “One Button” game, Sanner takes players through a wacky world of whatever the developers could think of. I was drawn to Sanner because I’m a fan of quirky Japanese titles and the price point of 500 Wii Points wasn’t too shabby. After reading a handful of reviews that actually liked it, I decided to give it the ‘ol download. It took me an hour to finish the “game” and I immediately wanted my Wii points back so I could spend them on a much better NES game. Sanner sure does have a wacky sense of humor, but this on rails “one button does it all” game lacks any real thrill. You might laugh, sure, but there’s not much depth here and barely anything to keep the player coming back for more. It lacks the addictiveness of the simpler, much cheaper (or free) Canabalt and Robot Unicorn Attack, or the sheer ingenuity of one button gaming captured in the free One Button Bob from early this year. I suppose it isn’t so much that Sanner is a terrible game because it’s okay at what it does, just that there’s much better alternatives out there and for a fraction of the price (or in this case, zero price).

Shadow Complex – Xbox Live Arcade – Originally released 2009

I’m a huge fan of Metroidvania games, so when I first heard about Shadow Complex upon its anouncement, I knew I had to have it. Factor in the rave reviews when it was released and that made it even more clear that this was the 2D HD Metroid game I was waiting for. However, the game came out when my Xbox was dead, so when I finally got around to downloading Shadow Complex this year I was rather let down. Shadow Complex has the right intentions. It’s aping one of the greatest games ever created, but it does so in the most boring way possible. It looks about as generic as any other HD game with sterile, muted colors and boring environments. The lead character that might as well be Nathan Drake is an uninspired as they come, and his corn ball Master Chief meets Samus costume that he eventually earns is a joke. All of this would be fine if the core game held up well enough, but the awful control holds it back from taking advantage of what is actually a well thought out world map. The jumping mechanic is about as off as you’d expect in a 2.5D game, and the pseudo 3D twin stick shooting is a disaster. I eventually just gave up shooting and spent the entire game running up to guys and watching the same canned animation of the dude punching guards in the face. It’s a bummer, because the game offers plenty to do and would be an incredible value if it were actually any real fun. I ended up taking the quickest route through the game and never played it again. As an aside, the bitter gamer in me sort of hates the fact this game has probably outsold the games that inspired it (Symphony of the Night included) and it just sort of bums me out that people just want to play generic looking stuff like this. Anyway, it’s heart is in the right place, it just needs better art direction and tighter, more simplified control. Some music could help spruce things up too. Oh, and forget the lame story next time too.

Crash Bandicoot – Playstation – Originally Released 1996

I only played the original Crash game briefly back when it came out. I never really cared for the character and as a result never played any Crash Bandicoot games ever. After playing Uncharted 2, I had this crazy thought that maybe Naughtydog was this amazing company all along and that’s when I decided to go back and play Crash Bandicoot. I was surprised to see that Crash had much more in common with classic platformers of the 16-bit generation than a real Super Mario 64 contender that it was made out to be when it came out. I was also surprised to find out just how damn brutal and punishing the game was too, especially since I expected to blow through it in an afternoon. I wouldn’t mind the challenge if dying was my fault, but generally you’re falling down holes thanks to a terrible camera angle, or getting hit by an enemy thanks to both awful hit detection and (once again) poor camera placement. It lacks the momentum based platforming of 2D greats like Mario, Sonic, Donkey Kong, and even contemporaries like Super Meat Boy, and considering the amount of evil jumps laced through every single stage, it just kills the entire flow of the game. It’s one of the most frustrating and poorly designed games I’ve ever played in my entire life. It amazes me that Crash Bandicoot went on to have a rather good career, though thankfully time has not been on his side and his latest games are pretty much ignored by the masses. It’s hard to believe that Naughtydog went on to create Uncharted, I imagine no one from the Crash days is involved, either that or that just learned a lot since then. If that’s the case, good on them.

Fantasia – Genesis – Originally released 1991

There are a handful of somewhat cherished Disney games on the Genesis, highlighted by Castle of Illusion and its successor World of Illusion and sorta spin off title Quackshot. Having played through Sega’s very capable if not a bit aged Disney platformers just a year ago, I happened across a copy of Fantasia for a whole dollar at this years MAGFest. I can honestly say that I think I played this game for less than 3 minutes before being completely disgusted by it and immediately turning it off, returning it to the shelf in which it’ll never be played again. The title screen was the dead give away that this was not going to be on par with the others as it was developed by Infogrames and not internally by Sega. It’s one of those awful 16-bit platformers with semi-okay graphics and animation but completely unplayable. The difference in quality between a game like this and Castle of Illusion is actually pretty amazing. An absolutely awful game, no wonder it has been forgotten by time.

Gears of War – Xbox 360 – Originally released 2006

I almost bought an Xbox 360 to play Gears of War, but that Christmas I had a hard time explaining to my then new wife that I needed another console after dropping close to 400 dollars on a brand new Wii and games that November. So I sucked it up and never muttered a word about it again. As time passed I eventually found myself owning a 360 anyway, but never ended up getting Gears until this past summer.

Let me start by saying that I can appreciate what Gears was in that it was probably the first game to really have that true next gen look. Most 360 titles up to that point basically looked like higher resolution Xbox and PS2 games, but Gears showed us the future of video game graphics. On top of that, I suppose Gears can also be credited for bringing co-op back to the forefront of a game experience. It could probably also be credited for its refined cover based mechanics that have obviously inspired the rest of this gen, but lets be honest here, cover based game design has been around since the sort of terrible Winback on the N64. In that way I can see why Gears was important when it released. It was a bold game at the time and its ideas have, for better or worse, affected this entire generation. That said, Gears is a boring, already out of date game which has given me zero incentive to stick with it let alone play more games in the series.

I was sort of digging Gears at first, the control is mostly solid and shooting guys was fun for a bit, but from my experience with Gears, what you see in the first hour is what you see for the rest of the game. The game never makes you learn much more than stop and pop, and it never adds anything new to turn the experience on its ear and demand more from the player. It does one thing semi-right and it sticks to that for what I’m going to assume is close to 8 hours. I wouldn’t know because I became so frustrated playing Gears on single player that I stopped completely.

Your buddies are the biggest dip shits in the universe. I made it to the sequence where stepping onto dark spots will send in a bunch of hungry bats that eat everyone alive within seconds and the only way through is by blowing up propane tanks to light the way. It’s not a bad idea, but the fact that I continued to be punished for the dumb choices my partner made infuriated me to no end. My partner, Dom I believe, must have died 10 times on this sequence alone (this isn’t counting all the other times he died). The poorly placed check point meant that each time he died I needed to go through a wave of enemies again (another part where he would become an idiot and storm the bad guys, falling and most likely dying) and then hope to the lord above that Dom would be able to control himself once we made it through them. The worthless commands assigned to the D-Pad didn’t help matters either. Your comrades are going to do whatever the hell they want to do regardless of what you ask of them. Why even have them in there? It completely breaks the single player experience. Between doing the same thing over and over again and having Game Overs left and right thanks to my idiot pal, I grew tired of the game and turned it off. I remember the night I made the decision to never play it again.

And that is the most I’ll ever play of the Gears of War series for the rest of my life. I’ll give it the credit it deserves, but time clearly hasn’t been kind to this game.

So what have you played this year that was a let down?

Top 5 Games of ’10 that didn’t come out in ’10

wario_land_4_featured

It’s that time of the year again where I’ve decided to put together a list of my favorite games of 2010 that didn’t come out in 2010. With all these lists focused on stuff that came out this year (and generally populated with over rated bullshit) I like to bring it down a few notches and focus on the things I personally enjoyed while the rest of the universe is out there buying over priced 60 dollar games. I’m not guilty of Day 1 purchases myself, though I’ve gotten MUCH better this year as far as being able to control my urge to buy the latest and (usually not) greatest.

So anyway, here’s the rub as far as this list is concerned. It doesn’t matter which year the game came out, it just has to be something that was new to me. So while I’ve replayed stuff like Metroid Prime on Wii, I can’t add it to this list because I’ve already played it before. Without further ado!

Ristar – Sega Genesis (Originally released 1995)

I’ve always wanted to play Ristar, even when it was originally released during the days when I considered Sega the enemy. I intended to buy it when it was released on the Virtual Console a few years ago but never ended up nabbing it. I happened across it one night while I was looking for some retro games at a local shop and finally bought it. Anyway, it’s really good stuff. As a late gen Genesis game it features a really bright color palette, and nicely detailed sprites with some decent animation. It’s obvious that Sonic Team knew the Genesis inside and out by this point because it looks great even today. It’s an interesting little game because it’s clear that it hails from the same guys that made Sonic The Hedgehog, with it’s big sprawling stages, punchy music, similar title cards for the stages, and lead character with pointy hair (well he IS a star). I’d argue it’s better than a Sonic game though, with a focus on more deliberate platforming and the titular hero’s Bionic Commando-like grappling abilities. One of the few original projects from Sonic Team that they really knocked out of the park, but like most of their games outside of Sonic, this is about all you get as far as Ristar goes.

Interested in Ristar? Purchase it on Steam for $2.99!

Cave Story (Originally released 2004, on WiiWare 2010)

Okay so I’m cheating my list a little bit here. I bought this when it was new on WiiWare which was released this year, so it’s sort of a 2010 game, but the fact of the matter is that it’s been available for free on the internet since 2004. The Wii version has some new little tweaks, but it’s largely the same game, so it’s accepted onto my list. Does that make me a sucker for waiting to pay for it and play it on Wii? Probably, but developer Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya deserves my money for his amazing efforts. Cave Story is a fun throw back to the old days with a game design similar to that of Metroid (though more linear than a standard Metroid game) but with the gun play of something like Metal Slug. It’s kind of amazing that such a well balanced and pitch perfect platform game came from one single man. It even plays by the same rules as a classic game in that it teaches the player how to play without the aid of a tutorial. Just really well designed stuff here, nothing more, nothing less.

Want to try out Cave Story? Play it for free!

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Originally released in 2009)

I think I hated Phantom Hourglass. I’m willing to say it’s the only Zelda game I’ve ever disliked. I really appreciated the work that went into making a Zelda game work with just the stylus, but the boring over world, tedious sailing, been there done that puzzles, and terrible Ocean King Temple absolutely killed the game for me. Oh and the music sucked too. I never finished it. I like to look at Spirit Tracks as an apology for Hourglass as there is actually a proper game designed around those fantastic controls. It stays pretty true to the Zelda formula, but I found the train parts interesting, and I loved Link’s new weapons and abilities. The dungeons seemed much more clever than Hourglass and on par with you’d expect to find in a Zelda game, especially some of the puzzles that required Phantom Zelda as your helper. Speaking of which, actually hanging around with Zelda herself for the entire adventure made for a fun story too. Minda still might take the crown for best Link sidekick, but Zelda sure was better than the likes of Ezlo.

Curious about this Zelda? It’s currently $18.00 on Amazon!

Resident Evil 5 (Originally released 2009)

Resident Evil 5 is kind of a mess, but it’s a very fun and intense mess. Instead of improving upon what was built with Resident Evil 4 (which Visceral Games sort of did as far as control in Dead Space) Capcom decided to complicate things by building the game as an online co-op experience. The result? A dreadfully complicated real time item system, a steep learning curve, and a sometimes brain dead partner if playing single player (which is how I played it). Despite these glaring faults, I still had a ton of fun playing through RE5. RE5 nails the spectacle of modern day games with loads of cool set pieces but still retains the elements that Japanese game designers are so good at, like amazing boss battles. It’s also a rather lengthy adventure, but Capcom does a great job switching up the locals and always introducing some sort of new hook. In this way, it feels very much like RE4 and it’s what you’d expect out of a sequel to that game. It’s certainly not going to go down in the history books the same way RE4 will, but RE5 is still loads of fun regardless of the fact that it fails in moving the series forward.

And now you want to blow up zombies don’t you? You can buy this for $14.99 (free shipping!) on both Xbox and PS3 at Newegg.

Wario Land 4 (Originally released 2001)

I bought a Gameboy Micro this year. I was in a GAF thread with nothing but love for the device and I decided to pick one up at a local Gamestop since I only own the original ugly GBA and a DS without a slot for GBA games. I’ve had a blast with the thing replaying old titles for the first time in years, and discovering lots of stuff I missed out on during the GBA’s initial run. The highlight of all these games I played is Wario Land 4. It’s basically your classic 2D platforming game, the sort of thing you come to expect out of Nintendo, but with a few twists to make it its own. It has some really well thought out level design, with areas where the game crosses into puzzle platformer territory, but it never breaks up the flow. Each stage also ends with a brilliant escape sequence in which Wario backtracks through a stage before a timer runs out, which while it sounds like an awful idea is fun in its execution. Finding all the treasures and replaying levels by doing perfect runs is where the game finds most of its challenge and re-playability. It’s funny because I played through Wario Land: Shake It for Wii about a week or two before I played this one, and it’s very similar to this. While that game is good in its own way, it totally lacks the charm, charisma, and just general Nintendo touches of quality found in this one.

Playing this one will require you to leave the house and head to Gamestop, but it’ll be yours for $4.99!

So there you have it, a list in no real particular order and all fine titles in their own way. If you were willing, you could get this entire list of games for just over 40 dollars, that’s 20 dollars less than the piece of shit game already collecting dust that you bought less than a month ago!

We currently have a thread going on the Smorg about our own personal Games of the Year. I’m having a hard time actually picking mine, if only for the fact that I’m finding myself to be reluctant about automatically listing Mario Galaxy 2 and Donkey Kong Country by default. I can’t help it though, they’re SO good. I should probably make a list excluding Nintendo games, because it’s just getting redundant by this point.

If you were curious, take a look at my list of favorites in 2009 that weren’t from 2009!

Thoughts on the big three from E3

Another year, another E3 I didn’t get to attend. It’s okay though, because the conferences are my favorite part of the show, and I get to watch them online for free anyway. The biggest take away from this year is that the industry still doesn’t “get it.” Once again we’re being treated to nothing but shooter after shooter, and in a lame attempt to grab the expanded market, we’re shown absolutely insulting “casual” games.

Most eyes were on Microsoft this year since they’ve spent the last year telling us how great Natal, now known as Kinect, would be. It would usher in a new era of gaming much like the Wii and soon we would all be believers in Microsoft’s vision. Well in that year it seems all Microsoft has managed to come up with are a bunch of Wii-too titles including Sports, Kart racing, Dancing, and Fitness. Some games admittedly looked better than others, but nothing on display here is a game changer outside of maybe Dance Central, the latest rhythm game from Harmonix. Of the 15 launch titles, 4 of those launch titles will be Fitness games. Talk about overkill.

While some of these games could end up being fun regardless of looking like uninspired mini-game fests, will the public be willing to shell out the rumored 150 dollars for the device? That’s only part of the problem too. Microsoft wants the expanded audience, an audience they don’t currently have, meaning they need people to buy Xbox hardware in addition to Kinect. I imagine we’re going to be looking at something double the price of a Wii in the end. The people that haven’t bought a Wii yet will most likely pass on Kinect and an Xbox. For the people that already have a Wii, why update to Kinect? What is the incentive? Even if Dance Central turns out great, I get the feeling it doesn’t stand a chance against Ubi Soft’s Just Dance 2.

This is only part of Microsoft’s problem right now. They front loaded their show with “hardcore” games, kicking things off with Call of Duty Black Ops, and then going into the usual suspects like Halo, and Gears of War. The issue with these sequels is that this is the third time gamers have been through this territory with those franchises during this console generation. Sure, there are plenty of people excited for these games, but those people are already an established fan base. Do these games excite anyone else? Personally speaking, I have no interest in those games. In fact, if I saw one more third or FPS shooter during a press conference I was going to scream. So as someone that isn’t interested in the same old shooting games, and a little too savvy to fall for second rate Wii clones, what did Microsoft offer a person like me during that conference? Not much.

Sony on the other hand, while having a stronger conference, still suffered from similar issues that Microsoft did. I’m positive Move is a better controller than the Wiimote in the grand scheme of things, but what are they doing that’s different? It’s almost embarrassing that this is Sony’s second attempt at motion control in one console generation. Does anyone remember the Six Axis, or have we already forgotten that every controller packed in with a PS3 has motion control? Considering that barely any games use motion control for the PS3 these days, I’d say yes. So if developers aren’t using something that is already built into the device, why would they want to use Move?

That said, it seems developers are using Move for the time being. Third party games are going to incorporate it into titles like Resident Evil 5, SOCCOM, and Dead Space. So in that area, Move already has the advantage over Kinect in that the tech will at least be used in some of the more core games. But what about the games made for Move? Again, we’re essentially just seeing Wii Sports clones. Where is the innovation? Why should we upgrade and/or buy a PS3 for Move? We haven’t even talked about price yet. Sony made it sound tempting at first announcing a price of 50 dollars for a single Move controller, but that’s without the EyeToy and the Subcontroller. A Move bundle, which includes a game, the Eye and Move controller is 99 dollars. The catch? It doesn’t come with a subcontroller which sells for an additional 30 dollars. Sony’s answer? You can hold your dual shock in your free hand and it’ll do the same thing. Who wants to do that? So once again, I ask the same questions I had when it comes to Microsoft. Who is going to buy this over a Wii? Who is going to upgrade from their Wii to a PS3 for Move? Where’s the innovation? I guess Sony felt their innovation would be in the 3D space, which ironically was swept up by Nintendo’s 3DS.

Nintendo made a strong point when they stated that no one wanted to use glasses for 3D. As someone that already wears glasses on a daily basis, the idea of wearing glasses over top of my glasses is nauseating. How much dorkier do these people want me to look? I felt like a tool while seeing Avatar wearing those things, and they gave me a headache and dimmed the colors thanks to the tint in the lenses. So it’s interesting that the first device to do 3D right is on a tiny portable console. It makes sense though, because where else can you experiment with those sorts of ideas cheaply and cost effectively? While I haven’t actually seen a 3DS myself, apparently the image looks fantastic. Nintendo did an amazing thing by getting the device into people’s hands the moment the show was over so that they would be able to understand the product. Just like when they originally got the Wii remote into people’s hands, it worked. It’s pretty amazing that Microsoft held a big glitzy show the night before their conference to hype of Kinect, going more for spectacle over function, and then in knowing they just disappointed the enthusiastic press in attendance, decided to butter them up by giving them a free Xbox Slim just for being there. What did that get them? Nothing as far as I can tell.

To say Nintendo stole the show this E3 would be an understatement. They captured the imaginations of everyone in attendance as well as those of us at home with the promise of 3DS. The features sounded great, the Kid Icarus reveal was shocking, and the list of developers and games that Iwata casually flipped through was astounding. That doesn’t even include the things that were reveal post conference, like new versions of Mario Kart, and remakes of classics like Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64. And that’s just on the DS side of things.

While this E3 has shown us that third parties have essentially bailed out on Wii, minus a handful of great exclusives Nintendo showed at their conference, Nintendo itself is still committed to the console. People probably don’t realize this, but Donkey Kong Country Returns was probably one of the secret most important games of the show. Last year Nintendo proved that big budget 2D platformers can still be sold for full price and become huge hits with New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Being that Donkey Kong Country was the game that single handedly tipped the scales in Nintendo’s favor during the 16-bit wars, this is not a game people can ignore. With Zelda being delayed until next year, it’ll be the second year in a row where Nintendo will push an important 2D platformer as their main holiday title. I don’t expect it to New SMBW numbers, but I’m going to imagine it’ll be one of the biggest games of the year. Donkey Kong Country has the same nostalgic appeal of Mario Brothers, and it has the strength to appeal to new gamers that weren’t around during the time where DK reclaimed his spot as one of gaming finest icons.

Donkey Kong is backed by an interesting new take on Kirby with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, another 2D game that Nintendo will back with their all during the holiday season. On top of this, there is a new take on Metroid, Goldeneye (which I personally don’t care about, but I’m shocked at the number of people that are) and NBA Jam. Then there was Warren Spector promoting and demoing Disney Epic Mickey, an interesting 3D adventure game developed for the ground up for Wii. Unlike something like say, Kingdom Hearts, Epic Mickey handles the source material with the kind of respect you don’t often see in a Disney game. For the extended audience, there is Wii Party and Mario Sports Mix, two games that don’t look half as insulting as something like say, Motion Sports. These are the types of games that will keep expanded audience Wii owners loyal to their machine. These games probably don’t appeal to the people that will be lining up for Call of Duty and Gears of War 3, but there’s no denying the variety on Wii this year. If there is one thing that was impressive with the Wii line up, it’s how colorful everything was compared to most other games shown.

One thing I noticed this year was the lack of lifestyle trailers during Nintendo’s conference. The lifestyle trailers, in which you usually see people playing Wii games more than the actual game, served the purpose of making people understand the Wii console. Now that we’re four years into the game, it appears that Nintendo doesn’t have to rely on these trailers in order to teach people how their software works. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, which featured a number of lifestyle trailers, and numerous situations of people acting like goof balls on the stage. We haven’t seen performances this bad since Nintendo showed Wii Music two years ago. So in a sense, Nintendo is no longer insulting the audience by beating them over the head with the “this is how you play our games” commercials.

I find it interesting that in the four years since the Wii has been out, we’ve continually watched Microsoft and Sony try to play catch up. This year we’ve seen that their biggest issue is that they simply don’t get it. They don’t understand how to balance the entire framework of their library, latching onto shooters as their Triple A titles, and crapping out lazy me too ideas in a sad attempt to grab a market they obviously don’t understand. It isn’t just them however, as third parties that have developed me too games for Wii have also taken a beating and as a result abandoned the Wii long ago. What they don’t understand is that the expanded audience isn’t stupid, they simply have different taste.

Super Mario Brothers 3 Twenty Years Later

I can’t believe I was 8 years old when Super Mario Brothers 3 was first released on the NES. I had been lucky enough that SMB3 was released around my birthday, and being that my birthday and Christmas was the only time I would get new video games, I knew that this was my one moment to own the game. The fact that this is one of the very few birthday presents that I can recall opening up first thing that morning says something about the game. I remember peeling back the wrapping paper and exposing that bright yellow box. When all the paper was off I looked at that cover of Mario flying in that raccoon suite for a few minutes and the very idea of actually holding onto Mario 3 with my own hands finally struck me. I now possessed Mario 3, and I knew it was good before I even played it.

The build up to Mario 3 was rather incredible. Thinking about it, up to that point Mario 3 had to be one of, if not these most hyped game up to that point. There really wasn’t such a thing as a hyped game in those days. Sure there was licensed stuff that people couldn’t wait to play like Batman and Ninja Turtles, but nothing video gaming could claim as its own that the public was fully aware of. These days its common to find big marketing muscles behind stuff like the latest Halo, Call of Duty, or hell, even New Super Mario Brothers, but at those times it was unprecedented. Heck, Super Mario Brothers 3 essentially had a movie built around it in the form of The Wizard which hit theaters two months before Super Mario 3’s release. Talk about genius marketing. Then there was this commercial, which proved that in 1990, Mario Mania was at one of is heights. I would have said it’s peak, but looking at the sales of games like New Super Mario Brothers Wii, DS, and Mario Kart, the guy has never been stronger.

It’s hard not to see Nintendo employing similar marketing techniques in that video that they still do to this day. That commercial pimps the entire Mario catalog up to that point, meaning back in those days Nintendo really believed in the “long tale.” Mario releases didn’t just come out to be a top seller for a month, they came out to sell for the entirety of the consoles life cycle. If you owned a NES, chances are you owned at least 2 out of the 3 of those games. You came to the party to play Mario, not to play Nintendo or video games.

Looking back it is also interesting to see what Mario 3’s competition was. Sega’s Genesis had already been out for a year with its arguably superior graphics and sound, along with NEC’s TurboGrafix-16, which was hoping its Mario killer, Bonk’s Adventure, would help woo over some of the Nintendo faithful. Mirroring today’s market, Nintendo’s ancient technology managed to fight off two superior machines. Mario 3 came at the perfect time to remind everyone that their faithful NES still had plenty of life left in it.

The ground breaking thing about Mario 3 at the time was the scope. I can remember looking at a map of the first World and thinking that was the entire game. Most games in those days probably would be that long, but Mario 3 felt like it never ended with 7 more of those amazingly huge maps. The game was riddled with secrets and short cuts, hidden modes and tiny details that other companies just weren’t thinking about at the time. If Mario was running down a slope, players could actually have him slide his way down the hill. Nintendo apparently had fun with the concept of stages and built the entire game to look like it was an actual stage show. It’s filled with so many great design touches that people are still finding things out about it today. In a time where most sequels played it safe (Mega Man) while others reinvented the wheel (Zelda), Mario was one of the first ones that took lessons from the original game it was built upon and just refined the hell out of it while making it feel wholly unique. At its core, Mario 3 is Mario 1, but the level design and over all package was so much more.

Did Mario 3 live up to the hype? Absolutely. It’s still just as fun to play today as it was then. People are still buying the game on a regular basis through the Virtual Console (and previously through the GBA release and Mario All Stars on SNES). The game was a phenomenon upom it’s release, and to day it’s still considered to be the pinnacle of classic platformers.