Saturday, January 24, 2009

Is Sonic Unleashed hardcore?

Play Magazine seems to think so.

Cool, occasionally even fun, retro-inspired daytime segments couldn't save us from the dreadful and numerous God of Werehog nighttime levels.

In the February 2009 issue of the always enthusiastic Play Magazine, an uncredited staff writer discusses the NPDs under the headline "Read it and weep" near the front of the issue. He/she goes on to say, under "The OK news" section,

Arguably the hardest (but ever so rewarding) game of 2008,
Sonic Unleashed [bolding mine], managed to sell 137,000 copies in its first week on sale (US) showing that the enthusiast gamer still has a pulse. Imagine if Sega marketed the game to its core audience rather than children; Sonic might actually break back into the big time. [Play Magazine, February 2009, p. 15]

This rattled me on a few levels, and with all due respect to Play, my nonplussed reaction turned quickly to skepticism.

I had to wonder at first if I'd played the same game as this fellow/gal, as I did not find Sonic Unleashed particularly taxing, but then again, I probably didn't survive the horrid voice acting, endless cutscenes, soul-leeching tutorial, excruciatingly boring town segments, and horrendous God of Werehog levels long enough to get to any challenge*, and the last thought on my mind was anything having to do with the game being "ever so rewarding". About the only reward I felt I'd culled was the knowledge that, thanks to press reviews, I'd only rented the thing instead of spending $50 on it. Taste differences notwithstanding, the second thing that caught me was the assertion that it had been "enthusiast gamer[s]" who'd purchased the title, despite the author of the article's own underscoring of the truth that "Sega market[s] the game...[to] children".

I still get excited when I see the box art. The first Sonic in 3D, the last not to be terrible.

Frankly, I find it likely that Sega marketing Sonic to children all these years is what's kept the franchise afloat since the last decent outing, that being 1999's Sonic Adventure on the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast. It certainly can't be the gameplay that people have been spending money for in the new millennium, because every Sonic game in the last 10 years has been a varying degree of utter disaster.

...I think? Do I need to take a drink/drag/whiff/shot/sniff of whatever this fellow/gal uses before I play a Sonic game in order to enjoy it?

Shane Bettenhausen (ex-EGM and writer, now Director of Business Development at Ignition Entertainment) calls Sonic fans the "battered wives" of gaming who'll keep coming back, time after time, despite the terrible abuse. I've heard him claim it on many a podcast (both Retronauts and the now dead/in transition 1UP Yours); perhaps this Play Magazine scribe is the sort of which he spoke.

If Sega really wanted to do better with Sonic, I think their first step would have to be to make the games cease sucking. That tackled, I'd imagine marketing would fall into place as well. Again, swift marketing is, in my opinion, the only thing that's kept Sonic around, and I don't think those 137,000 copies (likely many more by now) were sold to enthusiasts; they were purchased by parents of daffy, juicebox-drinking little waddlers who don't know any better. Like the hum-drum Harry Potter games I wrote about previously, Sonic seems to be doing quite well for himself, despite magnitudes of gameplay bankruptcy.

Sonic and the Black Knight is the shambling, grunting, reanimated corpse of a once-interesting franchise.

Elsewhere in the magazine, Dave Halverson (whose publications I've read and adored since I discovered GameFan Magazine in the very early '90s as a drugstore rack-browsing youth with a sinus infection waiting for a prescription to be filled) still has the audaciously good attitude to list Sonic and the Black Knight as one of his "most wanted games of 2009". "Battered wives" indeed. He does, at least, point out, in his fairly long (and rather whiny in a grumpy old "gaming is going to hell! back in my day...!" kind of way) 2008 recap that,

The big surprise for me however came by way of Sonic Unleashed. The more I play the new Sonic, the more I want to (but can't) love it. It's so beautiful, but by daytime Sonic is too unruly a beast and by night too lumbering.
[Play Magazine, February 2009, p. 37]

Still, that's more praise than the rest of the game journalist community could muster combined.

"Sonic and his shitty friends," to again quote, for old time's sake, Shane Bettenhausen, a true ex-battered wife.

Jesse Dylan Watson lacks Blast Processing.

*Frankly, I don't think any game could touch Grand Theft Auto IV in the sheer, frustrating, throw your controller and kick your neighbor's dog because you're so angry that you keep dying in the same ridiculously hard car chase with rubber-band AI department.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Building a Better Potter

The Harry Potter license is wasted on high-budget, low-quality, rushed movie tie-ins, but it doesn't have to be.

2007's Order of the Phoenix game wasn't awful, but I'm also not sure I'd call it good.

I've got a confession to make. I've been a big Harry Potter fan since around the same time the first movie was released and the fervor hit a high pitch. I tore through the books as fast as I could, watched the movies multiple times. While I'm hardly as fanatical as some, the fiction affects me in a way I can't explain. I even played a few of the games, and that, dear readers, is where the rub lies, where there is an itch I must scratch. The raw potential of the IP in gaming form is utterly misplaced. EA's handling of the series has been disappointing on multiple levels, but what if things could around, at least in a perfect gaming world?

Seven years old and still the best amidst a clutter of lackluster, Chamber of Secrets succeeded where others failed by taking lessons from Zelda.

Almost unquestionably the best game released under the banner has been the one tied to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. While the first movie had an odd assortment of games (including a well-intentioned but mostly just bizarre RPG on Game Boy Color), its PSone iteration, sort of a Zelda-clone, seemed to me to be the most successful gameplay-wise. Eurocom's Chamber of Secrets took this and ran with it on Xbox, PS2 and GameCube, ripping off Zelda: Ocarina of Time more than anything and really to excellent effect. From the get-go there were "dungeon" levels filled with puzzles, completely reminiscient of what has gone on in Zelda games since the original. Hogwarts was almost entirely explorable, and it used that standard Zelda practice of allowing the player more and more freedom as abilities were gained, doo-dads acquired, and new obstacles could be cleared, opening the path to more areas. There were even stealth scenes where Harry would have to sneak past prefects while he was getting his naughty on. It was short a somewhat short game, but it was a desperately-needed, quality experience, and it brought great ideas to the table. They made the best of their short production cycle by taking what they knew worked in other games and applying it brilliantly. Hardcore gamers who weren't interested in Potter might not have liked it, but for a licensed game, it satisfied more discriminating fans of the series.

Believe it or not, the Sorcerer's Stone RPG on Game Boy Color was a step in the right direction. Where is that innovation now?

And it remains the best Potter game because, apparently, EA didn't know a good thing when they had it. The third movie released, and a weird, lukewarm action game was the sad follow-up. It seems to be the standard format for fantasy movie games now; the Narnia games, Golden Compass games and most of the Potter games have all adopted it and been extremely bland and, frankly, that's all they need to be. They still sell, regardless, and I can't help but think EA knows this, knows little time or effort are needed at all. This might be great for EA, who likes money, but it's bad news for gamers, who want something to sink their teeth into. And whether the legions of acumen-lacking casual gamers emerging from theaters with big grins and $50 to blow on terrible movie tie-ins know it or not, it's bad for them, too. (I know. I'm the taste police. Plus, I'm sure bad games release cancer-causing carcinogens in their bloodstream.)

Therefore, what could happen if the franchise was truly given the care it deserves? What if EA took their unlimited resources and put someone like Bioware (EA does own Bioware, technically) to work on it? They made a Sonic RPG, and it's the best Sonic game in years. Would it really be so bizarre to see them do Harry up right? What if someone like Bethesda Softworks (Fallout 3, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) took the franchise under their wing?

The Sorting Hat is the perfect excuse for a "choose your class" kind of character creation setup.

I picture the player being sat under the sorting hat as a first-year student at Hogwarts (that's right--we'd be acting out the role of our own, created character, not Harry), and aside from just being a fun ritual from the fiction, being sorted, it would also work as a fine method to make the "class choice" for the character and set the stage for the type of game that would be played. Gryfindor is courageous and strong (paladin?), Ravenclaw is scholarly (perhaps a full mage), Hufflepuff hardworking (the fighter to Gryfindor's paladin), Slytherin is sneaky (thief class) though not necessarily vile, and from these bases, the player would springboard into whatever kind of skill trees they wanted to go into (herbology, potions, the dark arts--the list is really endless, and it's all there in the Harry universe).

Imagine this stats screen from Oblivion had skills on it like "herbology," "potions," "dark arts," and "countercurses", and your very own Hogwarts witch or wizard character in the corner to play dress-up with and guide through seven years of magic-learning, and you've got a sense of the Harry Potter game I want to play.

In fact, the Four Houses could form the backbone of the player's choices throughout the game. Maybe dialog and story would have branching paths, a la Mass Effect, based upon the color-coded Houses. In conversation, one would choose between Gryfindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff or Slytherin responses to dictate how events would proceed, and depending upon the situation, each approach would have different effects (maybe you'd want to use the Gryfindor method when Malfoy's younger brother is harassing your new lady friend, but you might need the Slytherin approach to keep her from finding out about the other gal you keep on the side, you letcher).

The dialog wheel from Mass Effect could be used to, well, massive effect in a good Potter RPG.

As for the setting, it could be after the fall of Voldemort, after Harry and everyone have graduated, leaving plenty of room for cameo appearances and lots of space for a non-linear, sprawling game full of options. If the Japanese got ahold of it, they might even add some dating sim elements (see above parenthesis). Why not? And like in Oblivion, there could be plenty of room for the player to pursue the "main quest" (which needn't even be of the "save the world" variety; that's gotten so cliche in games, and even one year of a "normal" life at Hogwarts is certainly spicy enough to carry a 50+ hour game), numerous side quests and guilds (a quest chain for each of the Four Houses, for instance, which would encourage replayability since the player can only be in one house each game), or just piddle around with whatever they please, taking classes, exploring, interacting with Hogwarts' inhabitants, and bettering their character as they persue their wizarding education.

Oblivion's Mages' Guild quests, and the Arcane University (pictured here) were a blast, probably partly because they reminded of Hogwarts.

Alternately, it could certainly work as a more linear experience, either set after Harry Potter puts Voldemort to rest, or, if you please, running concurrently with the main Harry Potter story. For instance, in Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, another EA licensed title, the player acted out not the role of Frodo and the Fellowship but rather a party running through side events. Maybe it irritated purists, but it certainly made for a fun, interesting play in what turns out to be one of the best Western takes on the Japanese-styled console RPG.

Lord of the Rings: The Third Age is Tolkien meets Final Fantasy X in an innovative, interesting movie license game. It was great, so naturally there were no sequels or attempts to do anything similar.

But then again, Lord of the Rings: The Third Age has yet to get a sequel, which is a shame. It was, by far, the best of all of EA's Lord of the Rings games. The rest have all been rather uncreative real-time strategy affairs or hack and slash tie-ins with the films. Yawn.

EA CEO John Riccitiello has recently been stating that he wants EA to adopt a new quality over quantity approach. I see no better place to demonstrate this than in their fabulous fantasy movie IPs: Lord of the Rings, and, as we've been discussing, Harry Potter. I do think the audience is there. While Harry certainly has wide appeal, whether his game is "hardcore" or not, Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Mass Effect were so well constructed that even many non-core gamers were attracted to them, even able to enjoy them (gasp). I don't think the idea of making a truly excellent game with the Harry license should be ruled out, even for the sake of corporate convenience. Sure, you can put crap in a box, label it Harry Potter House Elf Poo', and it'll sell more copies than the Bible, but what if we had a really phenomenal game that appealed not just to franchise fans but gamers in general? Maybe it would really be the holy grail of big-selling software, capturing a wider appeal than Quidditch World Cup ever did.

If Fallout 3 is "Oblivion with guns" (it's not, actually), why can't Bethesda do Harry Potter as "Oblivion at Hogwarts"?

And the building blocks are all there, right at EA. There is the precedent of Lord of the Rings: The Third Age, being a great movie game not based particularly on any of the movies at all, and there is even the talent at EA's Bioware, which could at least be consulted if not tapped outright.

The potential is immense. Maybe after the final three Harry movies (year 6, then two year 7 movies), and a final three crappy tie-in games, EA will need new ideas for the franchise, and maybe they'll turn to something more interesting than a sequel to Quidditch World Cup.

Quidditch World Cup didn't catch this seeker, but it was a nice idea.

Jesse Dylan Watson is certainly not holding his breath for the Half-blood Prince games, but maybe, just maybe we could get a second coming of the quality seen in Eurocom's Chamber of Secrets adaptation. Then again, you know what they say about lightning. "It prefers money to quality," or something like that.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Breaking up with Uncharted at 45%

Enjoy this position, because when your tight-panted ass isn't jumping from ledge to ledge like a confused monkey, it's going to be smashed up against a wall, just like this, gun in the air, ready to shoot unnamed non-caucasoid number 54,395.

Oh, when I signed up for this little adventure, Nathan Drake, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought, my, this will be a lark, exploring the world, doing archeology, seeing the sights, sampling the cultures. Sure, maybe we'll get into a gunfight (or 15,000). Maybe we'll have to shoot a villain (or 64,395). Maybe we'll die and have to reload once (or ninety-thrice). The allure was so great that I never considered how angry you'd eventually make me.

I do so love exploring.

I mean, it wasn't always so frustrating, and I somewhat enjoyed the time we spent scouring dark caverns, looking for conveniently placed hand holds for you to leap, sprite-like from; how we'd turn the brightness and contrast all the way up on the TV in order to ascertain just exactly where we were supposed to be going; how the "hint" button would pop up, and after pressing it, I'd still be just as confused as before. The minute or two we'd share exploring before being "surprised" by another hour-long gun-battle was sublime.

It started out as a fine, rather contrived little tale...

Do you remember the flooded bowels of that fortress on an island in the Pacific (we sure had a time getting in; how did those 700 "terrorists" get in before us?), where you died 15 times in as many minutes and I began slamming my fist into my chair repeatedly and accidentally punched myself in the groin? Yes, I couldn't scramble for Easy Mode quickly enough. And then you still died another 15 times before we got through, mumbling to yourself about how ridiculous it all was, and I screamed at the TV that I couldn't agree with you more, that it was entirely ludicrous, one man with a pistol taking on 150 men with machine guns, absorbing hails of bullets as he played musical cover points, then happily trundling, briefly (unless we got confused), around a pretty environment before getting into yet another gun fight... dying over and over... even on Easy Mode...


Listen, Nathan, it's not you; it's me. You'd be a lot happier with some other boy, the kind with fast, twitchy reflexes who loves Gears of War and delights in homo-erotic gunfire and grunting, bleeding, dying and headshots. I'm into archeology, you know? Exploring the world! Oh, this beautiful world we live in, but you want to keep me in corridors shooting at black men. Our interests just don't seem to pan out. You told me we'd be doing archeology, but every time we find some little trinket, it gets soiled in the blood of the thousands we shoot along the way.

I wanted to spend more time taking in the sights...

...and less time taking it in the ass.

Really, Nathan, if we could've just kept all this killing to a minimum, like it was in the Incan temple, it would've been a fine, passionate whirlwind of a fling, doing our ledge-leaping and artifact-grabbing. It would have been over much too quickly, but it would have been rather more quality. In fact, I get the impression all this shooting is just here to extend our tenure, to keep me here longer. You can't keep me in a cage, Nathan.

The Prince of Persia won't die once, and maybe I won't put a fist through the TV.

I want to see other people. There's an Arabic Prince with an American accent restoring beauty to the Persian world, and he promises that if I play with him, he won't die even a single time! He's got a pretty friend, too, witty banter, and even a donkey! And frankly, I prefer girls. And donkeys. And witty banter. Who wrote your dialog, anyway, and why were they writing for 12 year-old boys when the box says it's for adults? Nathan, it would be better for both of us if we just moved on. Do you know how many times you've died since we met, even on Easy Mode? You're just not that easy at all, Nathan, and I have needs...

And I get to play with her, too!

I was completely taken in by your promises of seeing the world, but to be honest, I feel all I've seen is you crammed up against walls, getting shot repeatedly while the screen goes black and I swear at my cat. I should have known you'd be just as frustratingly obtuse as your older brother Jak, who made similar vows but just died over and over and made me do bike races that threatened my sanity.

Uncharted Waters 2: New Horizons, still the best "uncharted".

I think you belong with someone a little more sadomasochistic than I. Goodbye, Nathan Drake. Maybe we can try again someday, if you learn a little bit more subtlety.

Naughty Dog makes frustratingly difficult games, and whether it's Jak and Daxter (above), Uncharted or Crash Bandicoot, you'll always find at least one scene where you're running confusedly straight into the camera, like an actor with an unstoppable magnetic attraction to the cameraman's face.

Jesse Dylan Watson just wants to find his donkey and go home.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Games for Mom

You wish your mom was that badass. I sure do. Maybe then she'd play Animal Crossing or date Shane Bettenhausen.

Like so many other "casuals" out there, Mom recently bought herself a Nintendo DS. I, of course, being a gamer, took it upon myself to try to educate her. I brought over a boatload of DS games, everything from Professor Layton to Animal Crossing to New Super Mario Bros. But, "I don't like to read manuals," she said. Understandable. You can put the hen in a new coop, but you can't change the hen. She wants simple, I'll give her simple.

Clubhouse Games is so delightfully simple, I really have nothing snarky to say about it.

Therefore my coup, or so I thought, was Clubhouse Games. After watching her while away the hours playing Hearts on a relic of an iBook, I thought I had a surefire hit on my hands, but, alas, "It goes too fast," she said, and went back to the laptop. (Too fast? It's a card game, not Contra.)

She began regretting her purchase of a DS, like so many "casuals" seem to do (her friend bought a Wii for bowling but returned it in disappointment). I was ready to give up, but Liv Tyler gave me new hope.

She's not in her underwear or in Elvendar, just chatting inanely.

Thus, I took one last risk and purchased Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir (and a copy of TouchMaster because I thought it was porn). I felt a little goofy ("People won't think I'm buying this for myself, will they?? Here, you buy it!"), but at the smart pricepoint of $19.99 (way to go, Big N), it was worth a chance. I wrapped it up for Christmas, stepped off, and let it do its magic.

"It's basically just 'Where's Waldo', Mom." "Don't say that! It takes the fun out of it!"

A few days later, I had a mother who spent most of her time on the couch, glued into a DS until the battery ran out of juice. I have to say, it was still a bit of a thrill to see my 58 year-old ma enjoying a video game. And without my help! The only other times I'd seen her game were when she was playing Super Mario Bros. with me when I was 6 (lifting that controller up in the air every time she jumped like she was churning butter) or driving backwards on a Super Mario Kart course in 1992 ("Why is the turtle in the cloud waving at me?" she'd say, cranking the controller to the left or right whenever she'd turn).

While other moms are having virtual sex in Second Life, my mom is having virtual scavenger hunts and has no life.

But I worried it wouldn't last. Even though her favorite thing about the game was "all the cute cats that are sitting around all over!", I've played enough adventure games in my day to know that when it's over, it's over. I began looking for step 2, which I thought was probably going to be something by the highly successful publisher of Peggle, PopCap Games. Amazing Adventures: The Forgotten Ruins is just a rip-off of the Mystery Case Files stuff, so it can't fail, right?

Amazing Adventures--it's no Professor Layton, and according to Mom, could use cats.

I'm afraid it still sits, though, mostly unplayed. "Nothing is as good as that first one, that MillionHeir! 'Heir' with an 'H,' you know." Oh, I knew. That's when I realized Mom had discovered her very own Final Fantasy VII, a game that, no matter how much critical disdain it would pick up over the years (right, because people will still be talking about Mystery Case Files in 10 years), would forever be her holy grail.

Luckily, she's finally gotten into Touchmaster (heh) a little bit, or at least the solitaire portion.

I thought it was a game about groping women on crowded Japanese subways.

"I never have time for any of the other things I plan to do because I keep wasting time playing video games," she confided in me. My reply, "Well, I never have time for any of the video games I plan to play because I keep wasting time on other things."

Seems fair enough, really. Mom, maybe you need to learn better time management skills, like many of us gamers end up doing. Or, maybe it's just solitaire addiction.

Peggle will be destroying lives and marriages anew this March, including within my own family. Or so I hope.

Jesse Dylan Watson wants Google to kindly stop turning "moderate safesearch" on. If one searches for TouchMaster with it off, one deserves what one gets.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Not enough names (spammity #2)

Also (implying I've had other thoughts besides this one), it's come to my attention that there simply are not enough names in the world. While I have every bit of malice for sadists naming their children some cluster of consonants without any thought for vowels, also those who string together a random assortment of phonemes and dance around merrily as if they're so original at their neo-renaissance faires, it does add a much-needed influx of more names.

There are Jesse Watsons in the world, quite a few of them. I know, because I'm one, and we're like rabbit turds: where there's one, there's bound to be a damn stinking cluster. There are Jesse Dylans, too, one a famous director of popular smut masquerading as great American wholesome culture, as American, indeed, as apple Pie; and Dylan Watsons, one of whom is on my Facebook simply because we like to super poke the hell out of each other. I may be the only Jesse Dylan Watson, but it becomes cumbersome and self-important to use all of one's names. I can't think of many who've done it without coming off as a bit of a prig, but then again, maybe that's what I'm going for. (Top ten words Jesse uses all the time but knows not the meaning of, entry #4, "prig". #2, "ostensibly". #7, "phoneme".)

I was watching the local PBS, and a man for an antique show came on and said, "I'm Mark Wahlberg." My first thought was, well, no, you're not, but then I realized, just because I already know a Mark Wahlberg, I guess from that old Sega CD game, that doesn't mean he's the only one with rights to the name.

Not him!
And we can't rightly well live in a society where if someone else has our name, we attack them in the street and force them to change it, or place a "1, 2, 3" or "A, B, C" after it ("I'm Mark Wahlberg #2, and this is Antique Road Show"), so I suppose we'll all just have to deal, and make sure to name our children Crmlsf or Goimfall or Dremsing, as if they're an army of dwarves from the bowels of Mount Mine and Smith.

We'll just have to make do with our excesses of Matthew Johnsons and John Matthesons (thankfully I didn't say "Jack Thompson," that lawyer who God disbarred), and, apparently, Mark Wahlbergs, as Japan has to deal with all their Ryuu Tanakas and Koji Hondas, or whatever other popular names there are.

Strangely, the women seem less susceptible. Maybe they just slay each other in the dead of night when they find a duplicate name, stringing the entrails about as a warning to anyone else who'd dare challenge their title. You don't think they'd let it slide, do you? Watch two women encounter each other at a party, both wearing the same dress. You know as well as I do that one of them has to leave.

And before anyone asks, no, this has little to do with video games, where, if someone so much as makes a fart that sounds the least like "Mario," their pants are sued clean off their intellectual property, their flatulent sphincter exposed for all to abhor, faster than they can say, "It'sa me!".


Jesse Dylan Watson gets cranky with lots of snow and lack of sun.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I don't Qare for Qore.

I'm trying to Qope.

Sony's monthly PS3 showthing rubs me the wrong way. Here are some reasons.

1) Veronica Belmont is too damn Qute. I can see the wheels turning in their funny little marketing noggins as they blow hard in the completely wrong direction. Sony knows most gamers are male, late twenties, early thirties, and what do males in that demographic like? Pretty, sassy, bubbly, young little chicas, and so they got the best they could find, stole her from C/Net or where ever she was, and stuck her in the show. Personally, I resent that. I would rather watch a balding old game journalist. It's nothing against Miss Belmont directly; she's a perfectly talented broadcaster. It's against Sony. Don't insult me by pandering to my carnal lust. A pretty girl won't get me to pay $3.00, watch your ads, and hear about games I would normally have no interest in. That doesn't work. I won't buy your show (you can't take a fart without gassing off on a code for a "free!!" episode anyway), and I still don't care about The Incredible Hulk or whatever you're trying to pander this month. It's a useless tactic.

"I'm Qute! Watch Qore!"

Um, unless you're Soul Calibur IV, in which case, appealing to my carnal lust, and incorporating decent gameplay, got me. Boob physics. What can I say.

I don't feel as guilty objectifying digital women. Plus, Taki here makes a more convincing paranormal investigator than Belmont makes a convincing games journalist.

2) Veronica Belmont is obviously not part of the Belmont Qlan. Yeah, I get their plan. I see your scheme again, Sony. You want me to think, gee, a Belmont! If her legendary ancestors can slay vampires, surely that lends credibility to their descendant! Well, sorry, unless she can brandish a whip and/or take on Upside-Down Castle as well as Alucard, she's no Belmont of mine.

Now this is a Belmont! Though, I admit, I can see a family resemblance. Is it the boots? The twig-thighs?

3) It bodes poorly for the health of our industry. It pains me to see Sony make the same mistakes every single console generation. So far, amazingly, it's panned out for them, but as they learn lessons, they happily throw any useful knowledge right out the window when it's time for a new machine, and this time, it's been worse than ever. Qore feels like another bid to convince the public that the PS3 is some fantastic multi-media machine. That may have worked when the PS3 was the cheapest, or at least a competitively priced, Blu-ray player, but these days, it just ends up looking like an expensive game machine without enough games and plenty of useless little doo-dads. The first-party titles have shaped up nicely, but the fact remains that Sony needs more robust third-party backing. The multiplatform releases, which should be better on PS3, usually still end up inferior to the versions on competing platforms, the third-party exclusives are absent (can you blame them?), and there just isn't enough interesting software coming from Japan, which was a huge strength for the PSone and PS2.

Even as a medical Qonsultant, she can't heal our ailments.

4) Qompletely overpriced.
$3 a month? $25 a year? So you can advertise to me and give me journalism way below the bar of what I could get elsewhere for free? Are you kidding me?

"Quick, bird! Whisper something insightful about video games that I can 'parrot' back! I got nothing!"

5) Veronica called Aquanaut's Holiday "boring". "That's fine," you might be saying. "Everyone's entitled to an opinion." Sure, but has she played it? Of course not. A game journalist would should at least recognize the title, must be familiar with its history and well-versed in the Japanese games available for Sony's system, as it's one of the platform's main strengths historically, but she didn't even know what it was, picking it up off the shelf of a Japanese game store, making her pronouncement, and tossing it back. And they aired it, right in the segment! Sony to their own foot: "Hello there! Ready to be shot again?" Oh, that Veronica. Isn't she adorable? Now when Sony, or some kind, risk-taking third-party, decides to localize Aquanaut's Holiday, she can interview them about it and pretend it never happened. "I meant it was a shame it wasn't getting a US release when I said it was... Qoring! I said Qoring! Like HardQore!"

"Boring"?? There's some Qold water to the face.

6) Qan't focus. But, in reality, Qore would never cover a game like Aquanaut's Holiday, or something the likes of brilliant Valkyria Chronicles that so desperately needs the marketing boost. Sony completely undervalues interesting, unique third-party software, which is, again, a huge part of what powered the PSone and PS2. Somehow it's always turned around later (uncomfortably later) in their systems' lifecycles, but here, when we need it most, they blither on about games that are already getting advertisement elsewhere. Why not champion some lesser-known titles and show what a far reach the PS3 could really have across the user base?

Qome on. The best Japanese RPG so far this generation, and it sells 30,000 copies? What is wrong with you people?

In the end, Qore is symbolic of Sony's mistakes and problems this generation, and if stuff doesn't turn around quickly, it's only going to get worse, and that's no good for anyone who loves this industry, whether you like Sony or not.

Take heart, though, Veronica; at least you're not Jessica Chobot.

Chobot gets her tongue stuck in the UMD drive every time it freezes.

Jesse Dylan Watson is platform agnostic; they can release on Super NES for all it matters to him.

Atlus announces Tokyo Beatdown for Nintendo DS

Who do you reckon is more under-dressed, T-shirt Tommy or Boobs-out Betty? (Note: not real character names--I wish!)

Beatdown? Beat Down? beatdown? Beaten down?

Let's walk left-to-right as we break things/people in Tokyo Beatdown!

Whatever the grammar, Atlus continues to impress me by announcing what looks to be the sort of beat'em up I always wanted as a kid. Tokyo Beatdown promises multiple characters, multiple paths for each character, and multiple endings on top of all that. Whew! Is one of the characters a kitchen sink?

I miss Sega Saturn games like Guardian Heroes.

There were a few sidescrolling action-brawlers in the Final Fight style that flirted with the open-ended, path-branching sort of thing, but I don't recall any of them ever succeeding. What they did interestingly was usually weighed down conversely by poor play mechanics, and the ones that did the play mechanics correctly were usually pretty straight-forward, Double Dragon style, starting on the left-hand side of the map and scrolling right, beating the hell out of people through a set amount of levels until you hit the end or ran out of continues. Not even River City Ransom (below), brilliant as it was, had much non-linearity or path-branching, and for all its fun RPG elements, it certainly didn't have multiple endings. Probably the closest we ever came to seeing a non-linear, side-scrolling fighter (these genre decriptions are becoming increasingly unwieldy) was Treasure's Guardian Heroes (above), but as it was a Sega Saturn game, sadly, no one played it, and the recent Game Boy Advance version did not meet with the same critical acclaim.

If I had a dime for every time I made someone puke all over my foot in River City Ransom...

And so, a new glimmer of hope arises for those who fondly remember sauntering left to right, glibly jabbing A, A, A, A, A, B, jumping from time to time, and using as weapons whatever odd knobs happened to drop upon the street. Tokyo Beatdown looks to include the best of all of the above.

Or, if you're my mom, get hit without defeating these fiendish evil-doers!

As much as I'd like to do some research and report on how Famitsu or some such scored the Japanese version of the game, I'm having trouble coming across what it's Japanese title was. Without knowing its progeny, it's tough to get any glimpse at its relative quality. We'll just have to wait until faithful journos get a grip on some playable code or an import copy.

Really? My uncle's just a pervert who touches me in funny places and wears a trucker hat. Still wanna hang out?

The distinctive Japanese setting and goofy attitude look like they'll be just as much fun as the gameplay, assuming they nailed the whole "break things/people while moving left-to-right" concept. Don't disappoint me, game!

The "beat me (down!) to the punch, but at least I can gank their undersized JPEGs" award: Kotaku

The "I can't link you to the secret e-mail they sent me, but here's the official site" award: Atlus USA

UPDATE: Chris Kohler put up a story about the game and mentioned, in passing, its Japanese title. I did a Google search and came up with this article, which lists its Famitsu scores as three 6's and a 4. Ouch. While numbers aren't everything, and Famitsu isn't necessarily the most reliable (though they usually overrate, not underrate), with a rank that low, it leads me to wonder, as I did with Operation Darkness, why Atlus USA would bother localizing it at all.

Jesse Dylan Watson wonders where Kunio-kun has been lately.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 acquired by Hearst, EGM closes, staff laid off

It's a sad day for gamers everywhere, particularly me, and I hate to make it about me, but, well, it is my birthday, and to wake up to a news story posted on my favorite video game web site saying they'd been purchased by Hearst Publications (who run was not the most celebratory thing. However, I'd heard rumors, figured it was coming, and when I read the surprisingly pleasant text, it didn't seem so bad. Comments left by other perusers, though, left me confused. They were angry, talking about closures and staff lay-offs. Where was this in the article?, I wondered, left a pissy remark to that effect, and blasted someone else for making a rude statement about my pal Jeremy Parish. I read the article twice, saw no mention of any, well, change, shrugged, and moved on, all the while wondering why I still felt so upset.

But alas, I ran into some other posts, particularly this one at Chris Kohler's Game Life. If Chris says it, it dawned on me it had to be true. A magazine with a 20-year run, and one of the last great gaming publications, Electronic Gaming Monthly, has been shut down. Not only was the January 2009 issue, which I'd already devoured, going to be the last, but February's, which is already completed and I've been checking my mailbox daily for, is never going to be delivered.

I'd heard rumors to the effect that EGM was closing. I was prepared for it. UGO doesn't want a print publication, I know. They just want, and who wouldn't? Ziff-Davis (the parent company) wants to sell, they want to buy, and after Games for Windows magazine (which was a reboot of extremely long-running Computer Gaming World, another I'd read in my youth) stopped printing, it seemed likely. I was prepared for EGM to close, but it still stings. I was up late last night re-reading the August 2008 issue, actually, and I'd just renewed my subscription in December.

What I wasn't prepared for is a supposedly authoritative list from of folks who are now being laid off. That's some unexpectedly cold water to the face. I immediately scanned it up and down, like a mother looking for the name of her son on a list of casualties. My son (Garnett Lee--okay, bad analogy) was not on the list, and I'm glad, but so many of my son's friends (okay, yeah, really bad analogy) show up, longtime staffers who I've been reading for years upon years, idolized, and been inspired by, names I'd seen in print and on the internet constantly, and some younger newcomers of whom I've become extremely fond.

It would be difficult to write each name that's had an impact upon me, because I'd (truly) be re-typing almost the entire set, and to single out just a few would be unjust. Still, maybe one wouldn't hurt. Most depressing is that Shane Bettenhausen, someone I've looked up to as an outstanding journalist and whose inspiration (along with Garnett Lee's and others) is in no small part responsible for this blog, has been apparently given the opportunity to seek employment elsewhere.

Shane (at left) with a fan at PAX 2007

Yet, with all the bad news, there is hope. Many of my favorites were not on the list of casualties, and Sam Kennedy has been pretty optimistic (although it's his job to be) in unofficial posts (as reported again by Joystiq) since. He believes Hearst/UGO stepped in when no one else would to "save" 1UP. They were losing money, and if not for them, Ziff might have just shut down 1UP entirely. He also believes that, in the near future, staff members who were let go will be re-hired at 1UP. I certainly hope that's the case. I, personally, think that individuals of such outstanding talent will have no problem finding work elsewhere; I would just prefer for them to all be in one place. Oh, how we humans despise change.

This whole thing is especially personal to me. I've been reading EGM since I was a child (10? 11?), and I can still remember their huge, blowout issues when I was in grade school. I'd sling those things around in my backpack everyday and read them at recess. I've also harbored fantasies for a long time about working at 1UP, but now, if I'm ever given that awesome chance, how many of my heroes will still be there? Maybe I'll never get the opportunity to say, "Hey, your work really meant something to me." Maybe 1UP won't even be there anymore. While Sam Kennedy is hopeful, he almost has to be. Jeff Green, on the other hand, another hero of mine, is not so happy at all.

Maybe this really is the end.

I'd actually planned a rather large article for today about localization versus translation of Japanese games, but to write about anything besides 1UP would be misplaced and disloyal, not to mention it would have been an extreme effort to muster. This is a day of mourning. Happy birthday to me, happy... whatever day it is... to 1UP. :(
If you're really gone, there are no words to describe the huge loss to the industry and your readers.