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Halloween Rarities

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I’m really into lucrative titles, especially when they are about Halloween or horror.  For the most part these games are classic titles from the past that you have either never played or never had a chance to play.  On the plus side, thanks to rom¹ hacks and translations, you can easily find any of these games to play on an emulator.  While I don’t condone piracy, nothing in this list was released in the US save for one title so for a single play to see what you’re missing I feel there’s no harm, especially since you have no other option.  I cannot link any of these roms directly, but feel free to search for “(title of game) rom” on Google and you shouldn’t have any problems.  Without further ado, here’s the list of great Halloween games you’ve probably never played.

Sweet Home (Suīto Hōmu) – Famicom – 1989

Considered by some to be the original version of Resident Evil, Sweet Home is actually a licensed game based on a movie of the same name.  It was developed by Capcom and produced by RE producer Shinji Mikami, who later admitted that Resident Evil began as a remake of Sweet Home.  For many modern gamers, RE is a tough sell with its fixed camera angles, blurry graphics and tank² controls.  If this describes you, then Sweet Home may be the outdated choice for you.  Although developed on the Famicom there is a surprising number of similarities with RE on the Playstation.

Even in 8-bit, the mansion holds that eerie feel

When you change rooms the all-too-familiar door opening animation will escort you through.  The inventory system and puzzles will ring extremely familiar for those that explored the mansion as Chris or Jill.  In fact, the big spooky mansion is probably the most distinguishing similarity, although instead of a biological outbreak it’s merely haunted by the ghost of Lady Mamiya.  And even though it’s technically a survival horror title, the game plays much more like a classic Japanese role playing game (JRPG) with random Final Fantasy-like battles.  If you’ve always wanted to explore a haunted house JRPG style, check this one out, especially considering the decent english translation making the rounds.

Clock Tower (Kurokku Tawā: Za Fāsuto Fiā) – Super Famicom – 1995

You’re probably familiar with the Playstation title developed by Human Entertainment, but only in America is that the original.  Human brought the eerie series to the Super Famicom first, loosely basing the game on the film Creepers (Phenomina outside US) by European filmmaker Dario Argento (a master of horror in his own right).  What sets this series aside from others is the fact that there is no fighting back, only running and struggling.  In this original, now subtitled The First Fear, the genre most closely resembles a point-and-click adventure where you control protagonist Jennifer through a series of investigations.  Along the way you will encounter Bobby, a killer with the signature scissor-like shears, which will delay your progress or require certain actions to continue.

When you catch Bobby hunched over Ann’s body it’s a rush.

Not only is this game extremely tense and creepy, especially for a Super Famicom title, but the tension is incredible when you confront Bobby.  To top it off, the game has 8 possible endings (and 2 more if you can get the glitches to work), which was definitely rare back then.  Even more impressive is that the events in Clock Tower 2 (again, Clock Tower (PSOne) in the US) are compatible with all endings in the original.  While it did hit the Wonderswan portable (Japan only) and PC at the end of the 90s, the fan translation on the ‘net of the Super Famicom version is the best way to enjoy this great horror game.

Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti (same in Japan) – Famicom – 1989

It’s not all cupcake and butterflies in any iteration of the Splatterhouse franchise

Lets face it, the Splatterhouse series seems tailor-made for Halloween and horror, but that’s not why this particular title is on the list.  Nope, much like Sam Raimi’s famous Evil Dead trilogy, the second installment of Splatterhouse is a comedic homage to horror.  Technically, especially as the US is concerned, the second title is the Genesis game Splatterhouse 2 but this second “offshoot” title in the late 80s was intended to put a cute spin on the horrific arcade game.  Like the arcade title (or Turbografx-16 near-perfect port that came to America), Wanpaku Graffiti is similar in concept but drastically changes in execution.  Think of the treatment that Final Fight got moving to the NES in Mighty Final Fight – Rick is now very cartoony, as are the enemies, with big heads and small bodies.  There is blood, but its all portrayed in such a tongue-in-cheek way that you can’t help but disregard the horror aspects.  This title also features many more platforming elements and enemies that require multiple hits (in the original, most enemies died with a single smack).  Best of all, it’s funny.  With comedic takes on everything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller (probably the first to do so) and even the fact that **spoiler** the ending reveals it was all just a movie, Wanpaku Graffiti is not intended to be taken seriously.  At the same time the game is very difficult, but that’s not to say a little practice can’t net a solid victory.  As with most others on this list, you can easily find a fan translation on the net to enjoy, but if you can manage to get your hands on a Famicom cart you won’t really lose much in translation.

The licensing issues alone are most likely why this never made it stateside.

Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (Akumajō Dracula X: Chi no Rondo) – PC Engine CD (Super CD) – 1993

This opening battle with Death is a great intro to Rondo

The only title on this list that both was released (recently) in the US and has a reputation that proceeds it.  Everybody has heard of this title and that you have to play it, but I don’t know about you guys, the hardware itself will run you a cool $200-$250 (at time of printing on eBay) and that’s assuming you know what you need, and the game itself still runs $100-$200 depending on condition and other variables (again, at time of printing on eBay).  For a single game, and out of the difficult Castlevania franchise to boot, that’s a bit out of my psychotic obsession with rare video games price range.  Fortunately over the last few years you can spend a mere $9-$15 to get your hands on this collector’s cache.  It has been re-released on the Wii’s Virtual Console (near-perfect port) and PSP (in Dracula X Chronicles with varied opinions on the quality of emulation).

The burning town in the background is the one from Simon’s Curse

Boy am I glad Konami finally decided to do this because this game is truly amazing in so many ways.  As a gamer who’s not too keen on the metroid-vania” style but really dug the branching pathways of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse this was the perfect blend of both.  I had heard that the SNES title Dracula X, which was definitely released in the US albeit quite rare, was the same game.  Having played and beaten both, they are far from the same title and Dracula X is more of a classic-style remix.  Unlockable characters, secret locations, an endurance round of boss battles and especially the ability to save the level you are on make this one of my favorite in the series.  Again, although not as rare or difficult to find these days, I feel many gamers (even retro ones) have skipped this and it is definitely worth going back to.

New Ghostbusters II – Famicom/NES – 1990

Not to be confused with the Activision mess of a title, Ghostbusters II, this game only released in PAL (European) territories and Japan.  Developed by HAL Laboratories this is a much better game than the trash we got, but thanks to license rights or various other decisions made by Activision (they published both) we never got it.  It’s really too bad because this game is a lot of fun to play and may very well be the best Ghostbusters game to hit consoles.  In it players control a lead ghostbuster and a secondary chosen character follows behind (computer controlled, but it falls in line with your movements).  The A button activates the proton pack of the lead character and the B button slings out the trap of the secondary character.  Think of it as a ghostbuster version of Zombies Ate My Neighbors and other isometric view titles of the 16-bit generation.  With only a handful of levels, it’s still fun and difficult enough to keep you returning whether you beat the game or not.

Hellraiser – NES – 1989?

The most notorious of Nintendo games because, well, frankly no one is even sure it exists.  Whether or not it was actually in development has never been revealed but an article in GamePro definitely seems to suggest it was in some form.  From what I gather, a new cartridge type was being created by ColorDreams – the named “super cart” basically contained a Z80 processor (same processor in a Gameboy) and additional RAM.  This wasn’t anything new, expanded RAM was making better games all the time – the MMC5 being responsible for the great music of Castlevania III and the MMC2 allowed for the huge sprites of Punch-Out!!  No matter how many searches you do on the web, several screenshots (I believe the one I have here is the actual one) and even potential roms will be available, but none of them can be verified and I’ve heard that none of the existing roms have programming actually capable of being displayed on the NES.  This title is even more intriguing given the truly adult nature of the Hellraiser franchise and the odd concept of the licensed product being on the NES.  Once it was re-acquired, ColorDreams’ projects, including this and a few Amiga ports, that didn’t adhere to a strictly Christian set of values was destroyed.  Needless to say even if it ever existed in any form it was quickly destroyed in this “cleansing”.  Still, a man can dream and I can only imagine how cool it would have been to play a technically astounding NES version of a Hellraiser game at the tender age of 8.

Common Retro Halloween Games To Avoid
This drives me nuts every time I see it – web sites that have either never played the following games (or at least not recently) suggesting them as decent titles from yesteryear.  These games are essentially crap, you may just want to avoid them altogether.  As a retro enthusiast I am tempted to suggest these games as well, but just like E.T. on the 2600 is a little less horrid once you know what to do, it does not excuse the fact that the games are useless to the uninformed player.

1: A rom is the name given to the programming that was stored on the rom chips in a cartridge.  Think of it as a bundled program.
2: Because the characters in Resident Evil moved so slow and cumbersome, many said it was like controlling a tank, thus “tank” controls became the given name.

Now & Then: Resident Evil Code: Veronica

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Technically the Resident Evil series has more Sega console lineage than what I and many other gamers regard as a Sony franchise.  The original launched on the Saturn alongside the Playstation and although it took some time, enhanced versions of the second and third title appeared on the Dreamcast.  Mind you, all three of the first titles still premiered on Playstation and were ported to Sega’s platforms.  Code: Veronica was first announced and released on Sega’s Dreamcast and marked a significant change for the series.  A mere one month after its February 2000 release date, the Playstation 2 had one of the worst launches in history with a vast library of titles no one wanted to play.  To have Veronica on the launch list to usher in Sony’s new console would have been amazing.  This wasn’t a case of Capcom turning its back on Sony, though, they had always planned on having named titles on non-Sony consoles, reserving numbered titles for Sony.  Given that Sega co-produced the game, it was clearly a paycheck game to give the Dreamcast a strong exclusive library, but it also ended up being a great addition to the series.

Despite his incessant begging, Claire decides it's best not to come out of hiding

Then:  When the Dreamcast launched, the timing in my world was really lousy.  Coming out at the beginning of my senior year in high school, I was swimming in a sea of amazing Playstation titles at bargain used prices.  By then the Internet was more prominent and I had a subscription to Electronics Gaming Monthly (EGM) so I knew that the PS2 was around the corner with a DVD player and backwards compatibility with all my Playstation games.  Even though the small $200 price tag of the Dreamcast was tempting, my college dorm would be screaming for a PS2.  Furthermore, the controller was awkward and the library of games looked like a lot of arcade title ports, which had begun to dwindle and held little interest to me.  I wanted longer, deeper experiences like I was enjoying with Parasite Eve and Resident Evil.  Needless to say it was like a kick to the chest when Code: Veronica released as an exclusive title for the Dreamcast just before the PS2 launch.

To make things worse, the game was given high marks by all the major gaming publications and many were saying it was a return to form for the series.  Technically it was a sequel to the second game and expanded on the Chris and Claire Redfield storyline.  Even more tempting the game was huge, taking up 2 discs on the Dreamcast, which already had higher capacity than CDs.  I loved RE3 and critics felt it was only okay, so needless to say I needed this game.  Luckily for me (but not for Sega), the Dreamcast discontinued quickly and I was able to pick up the console plus Code: Veronica during holiday 2002 for around $100.

Early enemy once you take control of Chris...seriously...

It was great, the pinnacle of the concepts that had been established before.  You really felt isolated as you trudged an abandoned island where you found almost no survivors, zombies randomly respawned and you were trapped with huge monsters with no way to escape.  This game was hard, much more than any of the previous games, which really only employed an occasional difficult hook.  In Code: Veronica you were always on the verge of death with no ammo in tow; it was the only time in the series that I actually used the combat knife.  After a brutal eight hours of play I finally overcame the impossible odds only to fall at the hands of Umbrella as Claire.  I stared at the screen in disbelief, what the hell else could they cram on that disc?  Then I was prompted for disc 2, which at that point had been completely forgotten, and began the second half of the campaign as Chris Redfield climbing rocks to aid his sister.  A brief plot point from the beginning came rushing back as I began the even more difficult half of the game.

In the end it was just too much for me, having no easy access to a walkthrough, and I gave up on defeating the Ashford twins on that remote island.  I wanted to cry when I walked into a GameStop not a month later and got propositioned to pre-order Code: Veronica X, a higher quality PS2 port.  Not only that, there was a special bonus disc, Wesker’s Report, that came free with pre-ordered copies.  This was my first, and definitely not last, experience with companies tempting me to re-purchase games I already owned for a meager upgrade in content.  Never did beat Code: Veronica X either, this time quitting almost immediately following the Chris portion of the adventure.

Now:  With the re-release in HD on modern consoles, I’m still reminded how much this title is the apex of a concept thought up in the second game.  A fully functioning island with everything going awry and every nook, cranny and building could be explored.  Sure, it was properly planned and the fixed camera angles remained, but credit should be given to creating a fully interactive island.  Furthermore, this title is sparse in items and insane in difficulty – easily the hardest in the series – which makes your heart pound when you’re low on health, haven’t saved for 25 minutes, and getting chased by three dogs.

Fight a tyrant in the cargo area of an airplane? Code Veronica makes you do just that.

In hindsight, I can’t see modern gamers wanting to play this title in the least – hell, even my coveted Wesker’s Report DVD is rampant on YouTube.  It harkens back to a time long forgotten and only if you had tracked the progress through each game would you appreciate Code: Veronica for what it accomplishes.  Tank controls, fixed camera angles, large difficulty and sometimes unfair scenarios are just a bit too much when compared to all the the better options in contemporary survival horror.  Still, if you can appreciate the series for what it does best or go into it knowing that the experience will feel dated, you can find a gem with this title.  The story goes deep and helps expand on a plotline that I hope will be picked up at some point in the franchise.  I now have a full walkthrough and I’m trudging slowly through the game trying to my best to not constantly consult the guide.  I’ve died a half dozen times, gotten stuck once, and fully started over so far.  How am I ever going to do this if I’m not even as good as I used to be?

Fact Sheet

  • Release Date: February 3, 2000
  • Consoles Released For: Dreamcast – all other versions are the enhanced Veronica X: PS2, Gamecube, PS3, Xbox 360

Fun Facts

  • While it was supposed to be the beginning of the spin-offs on non-Sony consoles, Code: Veronica is the only game in the series that builds heavily on the cannon without a true number in the title.  Even more baffling is that most other spin-offs like Survivor, Dead Aim, and Outbreak all appeared on Sony consoles.  Despite not being a numbered addition, most fans consider it the fourth installment to the series.
  • Despite being named in the title, Veronica Ashford is actually a dead relative that doesn’t appear in the game.  In addition it is revealed that the Ashford twins aren’t quite what they seem (but I don’t wanna give spoilers).
  • The 50+ programming team of the first three Resident Evil games would eventually form Capcom Production Studio 4, which would be solely responsible for Resident Evil titles moving forward.  Since then things have changed, but they were responsible for Resident Evil 4.  Capcom Production Studio 4 was not responsible for the GameCube remake or Resident Evil Zero, that was actually Production Studio 3.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Now & Then: Resident Evil 3 Nemesis

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (RE3) gets the worst treatment within the series because it was released on the tail end of the Playstation cycle and as the third release in as many years (most people remember RE‘s re-release, the Director’s Cut, more than the initial release), there really wasn’t that much new brought to the table.  Having said that, it was the most polished title on the Playstation and finally made the concept attempted in RE2 a reality.  With a few slight tweaks, like the ability to flip a quick 180 and a much more agile Jill Valentine, RE3 felt a lot more like games of the time.  Unfortunately with the diluting of the franchise via frequent releases and the fact that the game looked identical to the first two on the box, it just didn’t hold players’ interest.

Then:  Resident Evil 3 released about a month before Halloween, my favorite holiday, in 1999 so naturally for me it was just as essential as costumes and horror movies.  I was finishing my senior year in high school and had so many things on my plate with sports and theatre that even I, one of the largest RE fans, considered skipping it.  That is, until I read the preview in Electronic Gaming Monthly that revealed Nemesis.  As returning protagonist Jill Valentine was attempting to escape Raccoon City, you would consistently encounter a huge mutant opponent.  Not much was revealed about Nemesis, save that he was a big hulk of a creature and had a rocket launcher strapped to his back.  This immediately became a day-one purchase for me.

As much as I regret ditching my buddy Joel’s house party and taking a day off work unpaid, RE3 was totally worth the sacrifice.  The game started you off in a similar background to the second title except that you were armed to the teeth, you had an infinite ink ribbon and plenty of moves at your disposal.  Raccoon City felt like a playground with branching paths and alleyways as well as many buildings you could enter.  Despite all that, your progress in the game was surprisingly linear, with only one way to eventually proceed.  It was interesting to see characters from previous titles make short appearances, like Brad Vickers, the helicopter pilot from the original.  Even though she was only dressed in a tube top and miniskirt, a costume choice I found ridiculous even in my testosterone-induced youth, Jill was spry.  She could run, cut corners, turn around quickly, leap boxes, and shove zombies aside like you would expect from a true zombie outbreak survivor.

Sometimes both decisions sounded a little stupid, other times they both seemed rational and necessary.

My favorite part of Nemesis was definitely Nemesis himself.  His first appearance came at the police station, a staple from the second game, where you meet up with STARS member Brad for the second time in the game.  Just as you think this will be a new possible teammate, Nemesis drops down and slaughters Brad like he’s nothing.  The cutscene then changes perspective to Jill as the beast turns and mutters, “SSSSTTARRSS….”  That’s the moment you see her “oh crap” face as the cutscene ends and you gain control of Jill as the giant lumbers over to you with two options: run or fight the monster.  Those that had played previous titles knew that running from anything wasn’t a good idea – it was only a matter of time until you were cornered.  So naturally I chose to fight the monster.  I had a decent arsenal and plenty of bullets but no matter what I threw at him, Nemesis didn’t even stagger backwards.  Then he pulled out his rocket launcher, the coveted one-hit kill weapon that ended the first game, and fired it right at me.  Damn he had good aim.  I missed taking the rocket full force but was definitely injured by the nearby impact.  Then he charged at me, running incredibly fast and slammed me to the concrete.  Now it was my turn to say “Oh crap,” and ran into the RFPD.  Normally you would be safe there too because enemies didn’t move from area to area, but not moments later the game paused, I heard the standard door open/close, and there he was chasing me inside the PD!  In no time flat I was pummeled to a bloody pulp and the horrid “you are dead” screen appeared. 

That was when I learned a valuable lesson: Nemesis was not to be underestimated.  For the first time ever I had encountered an enemy in the Resident Evil franchise that could not be killed.  I had to run from this creature for the sake of my life.  As the game progressed, Nemesis would make cameos at the worst times, almost like I was playing an early version of the sadistic AI director in Left 4 Dead.  Capcom didn’t waste time varying the encounters either – sometimes you would have to run and escape to a safe location, other times you would find your path very much blocked and you would have to get the brute down for the count before moving on.  Some may consider Nemesis to be cheap or unfair, but he was just another great way to integrate horror to me, especially now that I could kill zombies with the precision of a black ops field agent.  With an ending that concluded the Raccoon City incident for good, it was bittersweet to think the journey was over (little did I know), but also very satisfying. 

Now:  If you have never played a classic Resident Evil title and wanted to give the tank-controlled originals a try, RE3: Nemesis is probably your best bet.  Sure Code Veronica X perfected the formula, but it’s terribly difficult and long in comparison.  On the other hand, this title has two difficulties, easy or hard (which any gamer who usually plays on “normal” pauses to contemplate for a few minutes) – easy is very accessible without being a breeze.  I also like it because it requires the least amount of prior knowledge with the series; in fact, it can be played as a standalone title (but there are plenty of nods to the previous games).  Given that you start off with unlimited ink ribbons, a huge arsenal and an agile new set of moves, it dodges that outdated feel without the ramped up difficulty of future titles. 

If I were escaping a zombie outbreak and had to make sure I was equipped for leaping over things and high railways, this skirt would definitely not be my top choice.

Going back to it this week I am still reminded how much I love this iteration.  Many people complain that there aren’t two campaigns, but in truth very little of any of the separate campaigns were very different.  In Nemesis graphics and area design replace multiple campaigns and craft an overall lengthier story, despite the fact that there’s only one.  Additionally your main enemy, the appropriately named Nemesis, is the best format of the Tyrant enemy that I have encountered.  I know that RE2 is the most popular, but RE3 is clearly the best of the PSOne titles.

Fact Sheet

  • Release Date: September 22, 1999
  • Consoles Released For: Playstation, Dreamcast, Gamecube, PSN (PSOne title)

Fun Facts

  • While it is the third in the series, the events of the game take place just before and a few days following the events of Resident Evil 2.
  • While in development, the team referred to the title as Resident Evil 1.9.  I have been unable to find documentation on why they did this, but my theory is that producer Shinji Mikami was consistently upgrading and expanding on his definitive concept began in the first title.
  • The second feature film, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is loosely based off RE3: Nemesis and is the closest game-to-film adaptation in the movie series.  Unfortunately writer Paul W.S. Anderson appears to have taken the wrong portions of the game and integrated them into the movie, making a sloppy mess of the plot.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 26, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Now & Then: Resident Evil 2

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Resident Evil 2 (RE2) hit the market with a steep price; like other series favorite RE4, this title was scrapped and redone after it was more than 60 percent complete.  In order to keep hype and demand strong for the series after the extremely popular original, the sequel began production one month after the release of Resident Evil.  This first version, dubbed Resident Evil 1.5 by Capcom when production stills and videos released, featured a similar plot without crisscrossing paths.  Leon was still the male protagonist and Elza, a motorcyclist college student, as an early version of what would eventually become Claire Redfield.  Graphically the game was much uglier, looking the same (or worse) than the original, but only so that more zombies could appear on-screen.  In 1.5 Umbrella had already closed down, the outbreak still occurred, and the police station looked a lot more modern.  Players could equip different clothing, which changed their appearance (as did combat damage).  There were also many more survivors for players to encounter along the way, some of which played new roles in the final version of RE2.  Producer Shinji Mikami scrapped the project when it was near beta (60-80 percent completion) because he found gameplay and locations to be “dull and boring”¹.  Originally the series was supposed to end with the sequel, but supervisor Yoshiki Okamoto wanted a more open-ended series.  As a result Elza became Claire Redfield to connect to the first game and the plot was made more big budget movie style to get Capcom to the 2 million copy sales goal.  Graphics were updated, adding more polygons to each character, and items were made much more scarce to increase tension and fear.  Since it would miss the planned early 1997 release date, the Resident Evil: Director’s Cut and Complete Edition were released instead and included a demo of RE2.

Then: What I remember most about Resident Evil 2 was just how prevalent it was at the time.  That game released on almost every console imaginable and with plenty of advertising behind it.  It released in late January and thanks to my January 6 birthday I was able to get both RE: Director’s Cut and RE2 in a homemade bundle from Babbage’s as a present.  I also owned a Playstation by this point so there was nothing holding me back from enjoying the next installment to its fullest.  I even replayed the original, this time playing as Chris instead of Jill, and finally completing the game (I got the so-so ending).

Raccoon City Police Department - my most coveted location in the game

Not only was this game the sequel, it had two discs, one for each character.  Not knowing back then that the easy version of the campaign was the female’s, I started up Claire Redfield’s campaign.  Since I was playing it for the first time along with everyone else (and didn’t yet use the Internet/newsgroups for walkthroughs) I remember being extremely frustrated with this title.  Unlike the original, there was a scant amount of ammo and I wasn’t yet accustomed to dodging zombies, so I kept dying in the disorienting intro.  I’m sure critics at the time applauded the fact that your overall futility mirrored the character’s situation for immersion, but I was ticked off that every time I died I had to restart the whole game, including unskippable in-engine cutscenes.  The first game started you off with a typewriter and an ink ribbon; RE2 required you to run like hell for the first 15-20 minutes before reaching some sort of solace with the Police Department.

These guys were nastier than anything in the original

After reaching the Raccoon City PD, however, it was back to a familiar ground with an all new intriguing story.  Graphically the game was gorgeous, generating great backgrounds and high polygon renders that felt like a well-deserved sequel.  New enemies like the licker gave you a run for your money and the upgraded G-virus made the bosses and bigger uglies more mutant-like and horrifying than ever before.  Still, the game had that familiarity that I was thankful for.  RCPD was basically a bigger version of the mansion, complete with an underground passageway and subsequent lab, just like the original.  Two campaigns and branching storylines also assisted in creating that similar but different feel.  I also liked that the game ended with an obvious setup for multiple sequels.  It was satisfying, especially since that cheap opening was the only truly unfair part of the game – of course this was solely the opinion of my 16-year-old self.

Now: Ironically enough, I find the love and hype surrounding this title to be very questionable, even for nostalgia’s sake.  Back when I first got the game I merely completed the campaign for both Leon and Claire to learn the story, but I never touched the B scenarios and had no idea that Hunk and Tofu were unlockable characters.  Even with those in mind, this game is little more than the next step to what Mikami was finally able to produce in Resident Evil 3: a scenario where you’re literally running the streets of an abandoned Raccoon City.

My only guess is that RE2 was offered on so many consoles – this was the only iteration to get a port on N64, which I still can’t believe – that it’s most familiar to the largest number of players.  This campaign is predictable, short, basically the same path as the original and gets super easy at the end.  It’s one of those games that can be very difficult if you don’t know what’s coming but boss battles don’t even have me batting an eye now that I know all the little tricks.  Remember the first time you took on the big crocodile and he took thousands of hits to kill?  Man was I ticked to find out that one flipped switch and a single bullet could end him quick and easy.  To me, this game just feels too in-between so it doesn’t hold significance in any regard.  Everyone was clamoring for a fleshed out remake after the original’s release but I can’t see why it’s necessary especially considering the sequels.

This is your final boss - have fun!

Fact Sheet

  • Release Date: January 21, 1998
  • Consoles Released For: Playstation, N64, PC, Dreamcast, (modified ver), Gamecube, PSN (PSOne)

Fun Facts

  • Pre-rendered cutscenes were created using stop-motion videos of action figures and adapting them to CG.  Ada Wong’s figure couldn’t be created in time and for this reason she’s the only character not to appear in a pre-rendered cutscene.
  • Ironically, given the circumstances of the original, Resident Evil 2 was given a more gory “game over” screen in the US and was also more difficult to prevent rentals of the title.  In Japan you can’t rent games so it wasn’t a concern.
  • Director Hideki Kamiya and Shinji Mikami apparently disagreed greatly on what RE2 was supposed to be.  Mikami frequently tried to get staff to adjust the game to his liking before eventually deciding to go hands off of the title save for a once-a-month visit.  This would result in the scrapped RE 1.5, although Kamiya was still director and Mikami still producer on the finished product.
1: Various sources have been cited in the past for Mikami’s comment, mine was found in an old copy of Tips & Tricks in regards to a Famitsu interview.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 25, 2011 at 10:12 am

Now & Then: Resident Evil

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

“You have once again entered the world of survival horror…”

Those famous words set up a genre that has undergone more definitions than probably any other in video games.  Depending on your personal taste in titles, survival horror can mean different things but it was used first and defined by Resident Evil¹.  This game was basically a haunted house brought to life and has spawned a series that many gamers, myself included, follow endlessly.  Despite the direction of the series not holding well with fans of the originals and a slew of poorly made films, Resident Evil lingers on, if only in our nostalgic minds.

Then: It was 1996 and I was still clinging tightly to the 16-bit era, strolling into my local FuncoLand and asking to see the selection of Sega CD games.  Up to that point, simply asking for that section revealed that you had the coveted $400 console powerhouse that so few 14-year-old gamers had at the time.  I had traded a small fortune in Magic cards for mine, but no matter how many Funco employees warned me, I refused to believe that full motion video (FMV) titles like Night Trap and Sewer Shark were horrid.  That is, until the Playstation came out.

I walked in and all of the back wall Sega Genesis/CDs were removed, completely replaced by new consoles: the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation.  With staggering price tags of $400 and $300 respectively I had no chance of getting my hands on these consoles anytime soon.  At the same time, I was intimidated by the introduction of polygons, titles like Virtua Fighter 2 and Battle Arena Toshinden looked daunting to control and complicated.  That is, until I went back to the trade-in section where a screen displayed a group of marine-looking characters getting attacked by an unknown creature.  Even more enticing, the situation was in FMV, a personal favorite of the Sega CD fans, and looked like a cheesy horror film.  While the employee lazily looked up trade-in values for my pathetic stack of Genesis titles I asked him what the game was.  His response said it all: “What?  Resident Evil?  It’s one of the first Playstation games.  Basically it’s a horror game that drops you into a haunted house.”

He couldn’t have handed me the controller fast enough.  I eagerly booted up the game and re-watched the opening cutscene where a group of police officers get attacked by what looked like disfigured dogs and end up in a spooky mansion.  I was worried when the screen displayed those 3D polygons I feared so much, but the camera angles were fixed and the characters moved at a reasonably slow pace that I could control.  I know this is probably a burden to most gamers today, but back then it was more difficult to grasp the concept of 3D space.  I explored a blood smear and entered a back room only to find a zombie feeding on a body – the short cutscene amazed me with its detail and blood.  Before I knew it, I was back in the action and the zombie was coming for me!  I had selected Jill as my character because I’ve always chosen females as my gaming characters if available, and I did what most of us would have done in real life: I ran.  My partner, Barry, was still looking over the blood smear in the dining room and I escaped into there for safety.  Thankfully he pulled out a huge .357 Magnum and blew the zombie’s head clear off.  I was sold.

At that moment the sales guy told me that I would get $22 in store credit and that my game time was up.  I handed him the controller, scooped up my games and headed out the door.  Back in those days it was always good to have a friend with rich parents and that friend in my life was Chris.  It took a few visits and convincing, but eventually Chris took enough interest in Sony’s console to get one.  Not two weeks later he was slated to go on vacation for the weekend and with a ton of begging he agreed to let me borrow the console – unbeknownst to him I had already traded in a slew of games and allowance to purchase Resident Evil on my own.  That was the best weekend of my high school career that didn’t include dating.  Resident Evil had it all – dogs jumping through windows, traps, and even huge sharks and snakes as bosses.  Even the horrid voice acting and the famous “master of unlocking” line² aided in the true b-movie feel.  Furthermore, it was difficult.  As a  console gamer, the concept of saving often, especially when you never knew what was coming next, was new to me.  After stumbling upon a snake with only a handful of Beretta rounds and three shotgun rounds, I quickly learned my lesson.  Sadly, Sunday evening came just a bit too fast and despite nearly 12 hours of persistent playing, Chris came home and I had to give back his Playstation before getting through the final lab.

It would be two more years before I was able to afford and pick up Resident Evil again, but luckily there were a few more games to enjoy at that time.  I had long since sold my copy of the original game, wanting the later released Director’s Cut, and unable to get Chris to show any interest in the game.  I purchased the Director’s Cut  and RE2 in an in-store bundle at Babbage’s and spent an entire summer week, the one my girlfriend always spent camping with her family, surviving the various perils of Raccoon City.

Now:  Resident Evil still holds a special place in my heart (as well as the hearts of many gamers who experienced this title like I did), but my opinion is shrouded in nostalgia.  By the release of the second title, most games were taking advantage of the dual shock controller and offered moveable camera angles.  Protagonists moved with a smoothness like that of Lara Croft, whereas the characters of Resident Evil were boxy, slow-moving, and unable to move with the versatility of their opponents.  It’s pretty sad when you’re competing against a zombie for mobility or speed and losing.  Still, I love the games, even today in all their blurry PSOne mess.  For the newer generation the GameCube or Wii remakes are the way to go, bringing a slightly updated feel to the classic.  I just don’t feel right playing a Resident Evil game without a Playstation controller, though, despite having beaten the game on every possible console/PC iteration.

As a history lesson, it’s a great glimpse into the progress gaming made at the time with the introduction of immersion and monster closets to intensify gameplay.  If you were just hoping to replay a classic and you have never touched a title in the series, you will find Resident Evil hasn’t aged well at all.  Limitations of the time were adapted to create a free flow for gaming, but it’s a tough and slow-paced road from beginning to end.  Heck, you spend most of your time running from and shooting at creatures you can’t even see.

Resident Evil Fact Sheet

  • Date of Release: March 30, 1996
  • Consoles Released for: Playstation, Saturn, PC, GameCube, DS, Wii, PSOne on PSN

As you can see, the update on the GameCube was drastic and visually stunning.

Fun Facts

  • Director Shinji Mikami had previously done an RPG-like version of Resident Evil on the Famicom (NES) back in the 80’s.  The game is named Sweet Home and never released in America (although a translated version is available for emulators).
  • The Japanese version was much more violent and difficult.  Scenes in the opening FMV were altered in America which changed the visuals to black and white, cut so many moments in the attack on Joseph that it’s impossible to tell what happens, and cuts a shot of Chris smoking.  There were also random scares removed from the US version and none of the boxes are connected in the Japanese version (you have to return to the specific box you put items into).  Many of these features were added to the US version in the Director’s Cut, save for the original opening (which was wrongly advertised on the box).
  • Capcom released the Director’s Cut after the original concept for Resident Evil 2 was scrapped and they needed something to keep fans interested.  In the Japanese release you could get the complete edition that allowed you to view video and screens from the canceled game, named Resident Evil 1.5, or simply purchase the regular version that released in the US and contained a demo of Resident Evil 2.
  • In the GameCube remake several new plot points and areas were integrated into the mansion of the original.  Certain puzzles were changed or removed completely while others remained unchanged.  This version is still seen as the most definitive and most difficult of all versions.

1: Resident Evil is known as Biohazard in Japan, although due to legal issues with the band of the same name, the US and European versions had the name changed.
2: The most popular bad line in Resident Evil is when Barry hands Jill a lock pick and says, “maybe you, the master of unlocking, can use it.”

Written by Fred Rojas

October 24, 2011 at 11:14 am

Generation Gap Pt. 2: 8-Bit

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Amidst the video game crash of 1983, it seemed pretty unlikely that home consoles would have a future.  Fortunately a Japanese toy maker had figured out how to re-sell video games to the masses despite the world economy turning its back.  That company was Nintendo.

8-bit Generation (1985 – 1995)

Nintendo Entertainment System – Launch Price: $200 – Released: 1985
Depending on your age, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) probably needs the least introduction or background, but there were many things going on behind the scenes that assisted this console in becoming the giant it was.  Initially Nintendo had to figure out how to overcome the world economy’s opinion on video game consoles, which the Famicom/NES clearly was.  In Japan, where personal home computers were all the rage, it was marketed as a computer for your family, hence the name Famicom (for “family computer”).  In America the better way to sell it was as a toy, which everything from the console’s marketing to the simple boxy aesthetic suggests.  It worked and in both regions this little 8-bit system assisted Nintendo in virtually running the 8-bit era.

Among the most substantial difference was the changing of games as a whole.  Launch title Super Mario Bros. was very different from previous generational titles because it actually scrolled and the player had a sense of moving along a broader space than the screen in front of them.  Most arcade and console games from the generation before worked screen to screen with predominantly repetitive concepts for a higher score.  In the case of Super Mario Bros. the score was inconsequential, being ignored by many players.  It added versatility to the games.  For this same reason, most console ports of arcade games were expanded, creating longer experiences in comparison to its coin-op counterpart.  A great example is Double Dragon, which consists of levels more than twice the length of the arcade title, a simple leveling system to unlock moves, and areas never previously conceived.  This trend continued during the life of the NES with varied results, but it changed the face of games from a single screen concept to a more connected, linear experience.

Nintendo was smart enough to learn from previous companies’ mistakes, so various things were implemented into the NES to assure success.  It’s important to note moving forward that while similar, the Famicom and NES are completely different pieces of hardware, exchanging strengths and weaknesses with various multi-region releases.  For starters, the NES had controller ports that allowed its accessories to be expanded beyond the two controllers.  Over the years a myriad of first and third-party accessories would sell for the system to broaden the overall experience and appeal.

Another large difference was the fact that many games released in both Japan and America had various differences for various reasons.  It is for this reason that the process of bringing video games from one region to another is regarded as localization rather than translation.  Due to cultural and social differences, simply translating the game wouldn’t quite fit.  In some cases it was because games were seen as too hard or easy for a region, many were edited for content, some received updates or upgrades due to years difference in release windows, and some simply got stuck in licensing hell.  In America, Nintendo of America (NoA) was in charge of what Japanese titles we got in the US, but since Japanese companies at that time were basically run from Japan the ultimate decision was made back home in the East.

As for non-localized US releases, Nintendo placed some very stringent rules on would-be developers to prevent the issues apparent in the video game crash of 1983.  If you wanted to create a game for the NES, you would have to pitch the title to NoA for approval and a contract would have to be signed.  Nintendo would license permission to make your game into a cartridge, but you would have to put up all the capital to manufacture and release the game.  Nintendo owned and controlled all the chips and carts, so they initially made money on your prepaid order of games (which you were forced to decide the quantity to purchase).  This resulted in occasional chip shortages that delayed many titles here in the US and also explains the rarity of some titles that weren’t able to get another print run.  In addition you could only produce 5 games per year, per company, which is why companies created second labels to release more games – Konami’s second branch was Ultra and Acclaim’s was LJN.  Some publishers straight up refused to conform to the system, choosing instead to reverse engineer unlicensed titles in their own cartridges.  The most popular among these being Atari software, under the name Tengen, who was responsible for a port of Tetris that later led to a heavy lawsuit between the two companies for who actually owned the rights to release the game on the NES.  Not that it mattered, but of course Nintendo won.

As frustrating and limiting as the licensing system was, it definitely kept a mild sense of quality among games (although this is highly debatable) and prevented the flood of games that ruined the industry in 1983 from happening again.  At the same time there was definitely no lack of games in the NES library, with titles being released well into the next generation of consoles.  The NES had many bundles over the years, the most popular being the Action Set, which included a console, two controllers, the light gun Zapper, and a Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo cart for $100.  Eventually in 1993, during the rush of the Super Nintendo (SNES), the NES 2 (model NES-101) released with the top-loading look of both the SNES and Famicom in a hybrid form.  This new design helped secure the 72-pin connection that failed so often with the NES and caused the all-too-common “blinking console” issue.

Click here to see a list of our NES reviews

Sega Master System – Launch Price: $200 – Released: 1986
Mostly unknown to the American audience, Sega’s Master System (SMS) is actually an adapted version of the Japanese console the Mark III and chose probably the worst possible time to premiere in the United States.  Releasing the summer of 1986, approximately one year after the NES, the SMS launched with just as much versatility as the NES and boasted better graphics.  Unfortunately Sega made the big mistake of minimizing the on-the-box advertising and everything looked incredibly bland.  With an all-white box that had blue grids on it, the SMS came with everything in the Nintendo Action Set (console, game, two controllers, light gun) but just looked cheaply made.  That wasn’t the Master System’s worst problem by far, its biggest problem was that by this point Nintendo already had the US game market on lockdown.

You could play the SMS in two different ways: either by the Sega Cards that loaded in the front and looked basically like credit cards or via top-loading cartridge.  Sega Cards had less storage space and thus contained smaller, less expensive experiences that were all but concepts of the past and still reminded gamers of the horrid Atari titles that led to the crash of 83.  Cartridges provided increased space that led to higher graphical fidelity that could look better than any NES title.  Unfortunately there were very few games to put on the console due to US licensing agreements.  In the US, Nintendo made its 3rd parties sign agreements to license games that prevented them from putting any title on another console.  With the already vast Nintendo library, that meant very bad news for Sega.  For the most part, the SMS library consisted of first party Sega titles and arcade ports, with a few odd exceptions.  The Wonder Boy series, which continued on both SMS and Genesis for a few sequels was basically a sprite swap with Master Higgins in the NES series Adventure Island.

As time went on, Sega was partially responsible for the apparent lack of support on the hardware side of the SMS.  This led to an ongoing trend with Sega for supporting hardware concepts ahead if its time and resulting in console sales issues.  In 1989 Sega released the Genesis, its next generation 16-bit console, and released an inexpensive piece of hardware that allowed the console to play SMS carts and cards thanks to the SMS chip being used as the sound chip for the Genesis.  In 1991 when the Sega Game Gear released, which was basically a portable SMS, ports of its various best-selling titles, like Sonic the Hedgehog, were released on SMS as well.  However by that time most SMS gamers were either in other countries or were using their Genesis to play the updated versions of these games.  Mind you, the failure of the Master System in America is much more attributed to the poor number and quality of games and short shelf life, making it less than worthwhile in the US.

Click to see our list of Master System reviews

While Sega may have screwed up in the 8-bit era, they certainly came out much stronger in the 16-bit era with the Genesis.  At one point the Genesis actually held a 55 percent market share over the Super Nintendo and was the catalyst for the first console war.  Read about it in Generation Gap Part 3!

Written by Fred Rojas

October 21, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Generation Gap Pt. 1

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It’s difficult to understand and discern the various console generations that have existed, so here’s a brief overview of each one and the consoles that spawned in North America during these generations.  Please note that these posts cover home consoles only (and goes into broad detail on specific larger market share, not every console that released) – while arcades and PCs were a signficant part of gaming in the respective 80s and 90s, they will be covered in different posts.

First Generation (1972 – 1983)

Magnavox Odyssey – Launch Price: $75-$100 (retail dependent) – Released: 1972
Designer Ralph Baer’s team started working on the console, codenamed “brown box”, in 1966 and completed a prototype in 1968.  I wasn’t even remotely alive when the Odyssey was on the market, so my experience with the console is limited to a few brief and clumsy plays of Ski at various Midwest Gaming Classic conventions.

The Odyssey had interchangeable cartridges that were purchased individually, much like more modern consoles, and also included an overlay for the television.  Since it was unable to generate graphics necessary for the games itself, it would instead use the TV overlay to create the playfield and dots or lines would be the only true visual created by the console.  Each cartridge would trigger jumpers in the console to generate the desired images or items on the screen.  Some games would also include dice and various other items, creating a virtual board game of sorts.  One of the most popular among the Odyssey titles was of course Pong, which was actually named Tennis on the console.  Unfamiliarity with a device of this sort and co-branding with Magnavox stores created a public perception that the Odyssey would only work with Magnavox televisions, which wasn’t true. 

Click to see a list of Odyssey games

Pong Clones – Launch Price: (Variable)
Although Atari and Magnavox were making “official” versions of Pong various clones began to flood the market made by a whole slew of manufacturers.  Eventually the demand for the simple paddle game dwindled and companies that had invested large sums of money were seeing a staggering drop in sales as the bubble burst.  Some refer to this as the “video game crash of 1977″, a clear foreshadow to the eventual crash of 1983.  After 1977 only Magnavox and Atari remained in the market, dug out by the arcade release of Taito’s Space Invaders.

Atari 2600 – Launch Price: $199 – Released: 1977
You may know this console also as its original name, the Video Computer System (or VCS) to compete directly with the Video Entertainment System (or VES), later being renamed to the Fairchild Channel F.  Both consoles were essentially Pong clones upon release until after the crash of 1977 forced developers to put the hardware to work on other potential projects.  Ironically enough, the title that the console launched with was Combat as well as two classic joysticks with a single red button. 

With the exclusive content and the bowing out of Fairchild for what they considered a dwindling market, Atari became the front-runner for video games by 1979, taking home markets by storm.  In January 1980, a licensed version of Space Invaders hit the console and by 1982 the console had also acquired another arcade pleaser, Pac-Man, which sold over 7 million copies itself.  1982 was also the year that the console officially was renamed to the Atari 2600 to make way for the Atari 5200, which also released the same year.  This new model was completely black, removing the signature 70s wood paneling and moved two of the dipswitches to the back of the console.  Several updated versions of the system would release, including a slim-lined version named the 2600 Jr., and even co-branded products like the Sears Video Arcade (which was the Sears brand of the VCS/2600).

List of 2600 games

Mattel Intellivision – Launch Price: $299 – Released: 1979-1980
This can technically be considered the first console intended for multiple title and cartridge distribution, although the 2600 had clearly planned for multiple cartridges upon its initial market release.  Mattel decided to go right for the throat with the Intellivision (standing for an “intelligent” and “television” hybrid), doing side-by-side screen comparisons with the VCS/2600 in its 1980 commercials for mass market release (although it started in test markets in 1979).  It launched with the title Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack, possibly suggesting an older target market (especially in combination with price).

Titles for the Intellivision would include overlays for the odd 12-button numeric keypad located at the top of the controller and a multi-directional pad on the bottom.  Intellivision’s list of games provides an impressive combination of licensed arcade ports and original games.  Its best-selling title, Astrosmash, also managed to top 1 million sales.  In an attempt to find its place in the market, the Intellivision announced a keyboard peripheral and teased add-ons to make it a full computer, but the peripheral was eventually recalled and plans for the computer add-on were canceled resulting in several customer complaints.  There were two revisions, the Entertainment Computer System (ECS), which was basically an Intellivision with limited programming capabilities, and the Intellivision II, released in 1983 and not actually new hardware, was manufactured to be cheaper and more sleek with disconnecting controllers. 

Click to see a list of Intellivision games

ColecoVision – Launch Price: $200 – Released: 1982
Launching in summer 1982, the ColecoVision had a short but sweet life.  With a design similar to the Intellivision, the only real difference was that the directional pad was replaced with an arcade-like analog nub and relocated to the top of the controller.  It’s marketing goal was simple: take any arcade ports that Atari hadn’t nabbed and gobble up the licenses.  Even more significant was the fact that it could create near-perfect arcade ports and in some cases even create ports that were superior to the arcade.  With an impressive pack-in at launch, Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, the console was able to move more than half a million consoles by Christmas of 1982. 

Arcade ports included Donkey Kong Jr., Zaxxon, and even held responsibility for popularising less known arcade titles like Mr. Do!  Of the titles considered superior to the arcade was the standout Space Panic alongside a handful of other titles that continued the trend.  Unfortunately the short life of the system can also be attributed to its lack of true original exclusive titles and a decent number of its titles (including those on the console box) that are considered “vaporware”, meaning no version of the game was actually seen by 3rd parties and its unclear whether the game(s) ever existed at all.

Click to see a list of ColecoVision games

Atari 5200 – Launch Price: $270 – Released: 1982
In the grand scheme of things, the Atari 5200 was a waste of consumers’ time and money, directly demonstrating the cause of the video game crash of 1983.  Released to compete with the Intellivision and boasting higher graphics than its predecessor and Intellivision, it unfortunately launched only a few months after the ColecoVision as direct competition.  With a hefty price tag and little innovation, it was a hard sell to the most enthusiastic of gamers.

The 5200’s controller was nearly identical to the ColecoVision (which mostly copied the Intellivision) save for the more pronounced joystick.  Anyone who owned a 5200 remembers the non-centering joystick that would cause all kinds of problems if not centered before turning on the console.  Main reasons for the console’s failure was that it did not offer backwards compatibility with the 2600, which was twice as bad when you consider that at this point Intellivision had a cartridge adaptor that allowed it to run 2600 titles.  It also featured few games, Atari pumping more time and effort into its ever-expanding 2600 library and doing little more than higher graphical ports of 2600 games with sloppy programming.  Finishing off the console’s future was the fact that compared to ColecoVision the pack-in game, Super-Breakout (an adaptation of Arkanoid), was far less intriguing than Donkey Kong.  Thanks to the improper handling of the console, it died a quick and painful death.

List of 5200 games

Video Game Crash of 1983

With the market skyrocketing with video games, the early 80s had no shortage of options, many of which had become overwhelming.  At the time of the crash one could enter a store and see a slew of consoles: Atari 2600,  5200, ColecoVision, Coleco Gemini (2600 clone), Intellivision (II), and even a new version of the Odyssey (second generation).  This doesn’t even include store specific items like the Sears Tele-game series and the Tandyvision (RadioShack).  Mind you, in 1982 $200-$300 was much more than it is today and with many titles ranging from $30-$40 in price, gaming was no cheap hobby.   Companies overestimated sales and manufacturing, flooding the market with games.  In order to produce games quickly, titles were severely rushed and not given proper treatment – most noteable the poor 2600 port of Pac-Man (which did celebrate commercial success at the price of unhappy consumers) and the pathetic 2600 title E.T. also rushed to meet the release of the movie and a rumored 2 million carts were buried in the New Mexican desert. 

With all of this going on, companies were going out of business at an incredible rate and retailers were unable to sell back unsold and returned games to these bankrupt publishers.  Everyone suffered from the console manufacturer to the publisher to the retailer.  Even the consumer suffered as low-priced software hit the market in droves, enticing gamers away from the high-priced $40 quality software to virtually unplayable $5 carts.  By summer of 1983 every store was overwhelmed with unsold clearance software only to hear from both Atari and Magnavox that the 7800 and Odyssey 3 respectively were dated to release the following year.  The entire market came crashing down and by 1984 retailers didn’t even want to think about video games again.  If it weren’t for Nintendo having the intelligence and foresight to hold back on bringing the Famicom (Japan’s version of the NES) to US until 1985 and selling it as a toy and not a video game, we may not have home consoles today.

Our coverage of video game generations continues in Generation Gap Pt. 2!

Written by Fred Rojas

October 20, 2011 at 10:52 am

Revisionist History

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March 16, 2010 was an important day for Playstation manufacturer and video game publisher Sony Computer Entertainment.  It marked the release of God of War III, a technological stunner that promised to be every bit as fun as it was beautiful.  Not only was God of War significant for being the third in the series (and subsequent end to the second title’s cliffhanger), but it was to be the first outing for Kratos on the Playstation 3 console.  God of War II had been slated for the PS3 at one point in development, but Sony opted to keep the title on PS2, marking it as one of the best titles on that console and a fitting end to usher in the PS3.  There was just one big problem.

God of War Collection PS3

Starting in November, 2007, the Playstation 3 consoles had removed backwards compatibility with Playstation 2 titles, rendering them unable to play God of War or God of War II.  When the decision was made to put God of War II on PS2, it was always thought that new PS3 buyers would be able to use this feature to replay the previous titles.  In an era where storylines are significant and a series like God of War required you to know the storyline of the previous titles to understand the current one, Sony was in trouble.  Fortunately a long rumored concept ended up coming to pass – a high definition remake of the first two games on one PS3 compatible blu ray, and at half the price of a contemporary release.  In November of 2009 the God of War Collection was released to masses, an impressive appetizer to the third iteration, which still loomed more than four months away.  Not only that, but it was a great deal, amassing an impressive 1 million+ sales to date and a solid holiday season.  Not bad for two titles that had released a generation ago.  At $30 apiece gamers (myself included) ate it up and IGN’s Chris Roper even declared it the “definitive way to play the game” (guessing he meant games) in his review.

While the God of War collection was an impressive addition to the modern gamer’s library, it was a clear case of circumstantial success given several factors mentioned above.  Unfortunately it opened a floodgate of HD remakes for games predominantly dating from the previous generation and among the sea of titles now available and soon to release, I’m nervous about this trend.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of these titles and there’s nothing more useful than only using one console for all my needs, but then I have a launch PS3 purely for that reason.  Furthermore, if you are that determined to play these games it isn’t hard to either pick up an older backwards compatible PS3 (although not cheap) or dropping $50-$75 on a used PS2.  You see, while trophy support and a new shiny coat of paint are great and all, these remakes are coming out far too often to justify their market presence.  Like so many other things, it’s a flood of product that will wash the potential for future quality releases.

My first, and probably biggest, problem is that these HD remakes come only from the previous generation (Xbox/PS2/Gamecube).  The reason for this is simple: it’s the only generation where the assets can be quickly and easily uprezed to look great.  In most cases they don’t even have to do any touch-ups, which is only further proven by the lackluster cutscenes in all HD collections unless they are in-engine.  Basically, if it takes re-building the art they leave it alone, which is why we don’t see anything from the generations that drastically need it, like Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 titles.  God of War had a heavy amount of touch-up work, but many other collections don’t take this kind of care.  As a result, we are consistently buying titles many of us had purchased less than 10 years ago and with no updates to the actual content.  Future HD remakes have also raised in price, as the market will often do, to $40 and now even $50 for collections.  What started off as a cheap way to re-visit previous incompatible titles has become a way to cash in on a quick buck with little effort at nearly full-release prices.

RE4 HD Comparison

Definitely an upgrade, but not blowing me away

Not only is this an issue from an effort and cost-to-benefit ratio for the consumer, but it also hinders new releases.  I don’t know about you, but I want to see new titles, intellectual properties and innovations, not a shelf filled with upgraded recycled titles from last generation.  At this point the justification for these games is pathetic.  Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia collection may have been its own trilogy and was the breeding ground for Assassin’s Creed, but it was completely unnecessary for an HD remake.  That story was told and wrapped in the previous era and this generation we have the Assassin’s Creed plotline, there’s no need to reintroduce the past.  Not only that, it was a lackluster effort and included titles that had shaky consumer and critical response – hardly a God of War.  Splinter Cell had the same problem; Sam Fisher has had plenty of adventures in this generation and they don’t remotely mesh with his last gen endeavors, plus they removed multiplayer features and other functions.  Even Tomb Raider¹, which includes the remake of the original with Anniversary along with two modern titles, one of which already released this gen, stinks of the “me too” mentality.  And despite these being amazing games, Sucker Punch and Sony aren’t safe from my frowning face regarding the Sly Cooper Collection, even though Sly 4 will come to PS3.  If it was to refresh gamers before the 4th releases, then it should have been held back until closer to launch (no release date has even been set yet).  I can’t even justify the more recent remake collections, like Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill², which completely ignore the original title and break the whole “getting to know the story” concept.  Devil May Cry’s collection may have been more useful in 2008 when the fourth title released or before they decided to reinvent the series.  I have a bad taste in my mouth just thinking about it.  You’ll notice that Team Ico’s collection is mostly safe given that it follows the God of War Collection formula.

Still, as a collector and huge fan of video games, I can’t ignore titles like this.  HD remakes and re-releases make some of my favorite games relevant again, allowing me to talk to my friends about titles they have never touched and to enjoy upgraded versions myself.  That is, until I realized that I was buying $40 and $50 collections for minor upgrades to PS2 games that eBay and GameStop were giving me about $10 for (all of the games in a collection for $10, that is).  It started to tick me off so much that I am basically boycotting them at this point.  I can play Playstation 2 games, I have these games, I know their value.  It just seems like more work to pump into re-creating blockbusters in a downed economy instead of taking some risks and making solid unique titles.

The only exception I can find is in the download market.  I feel these games are perfectly suited as cheap download titles that can be brought to modern day systems for gamers that want them.  Sure, no box or instructions, but then modern games barely have those anymore so if you want a complete package then get the original.  In order for this to work you also have to be realistic about your pricing.  Ubisoft nailed it perfectly with Beyond Good & Evil HD for $10 – it moved copies, saw success, new gamers got to play it and old gamers could pick it up on the cheap (at that price it nearly rivals used copies).  I also liked that the Prince of Persia trilogy was available a la carte for $15 apiece or $40 for everything.  In that case it allowed me to grab Sands of Time for $15 without bothering with the horrendous sequels but also gave an advantage to those who never played these games and wants them all.  At $20 a pop, I can’t agree with the Resident Evil HD remakes, even though I’m an avid fan, but thankfully the $10 markdown of PSN+ saved those titles from being overlooked.  Publishers, if you’re going to do an HD remake, especially at the caliber I’ve seen so far, you can’t charge more than $15 a game.  Furthermore make sure it’s part of a series and hopefully a series that is relevant and still active.  Make it downloadable to keep demand realistic and for god’s sake don’t ignore upcoming releases.

Metal Gear Solid Essential CollectionMGS 2 SubsistenceMGS 3 Subsistence MGS HD Collection
Technically speaking: this is the least amount of versions you’ve been asked to buy of the Metal Gear Solid Trilogy to date.  C’mon Konami!

I know, my thoughts are controversial, I love these games just as much as you guys and appreciate the HD upgrade, but this is ridiculous.  If you are going to sit there and tell me that Halo: Combat Evolved needs to be remade with online multiplayer for $40 while the original (backwards compatible) sits on store shelves for $10 and even $10 in digital format, then innovation is truly dying.  No one would buy a boxed copy of Grin’s amazing Bionic Commando remake (Rearmed), so why in the world are we letting the brief passage of time excuse a critical problem with the re-release economy?

1: Tomb Raider HD Trilogy is a PS3 exclusive that includes Tomb Raider Anniversary, Tomb Raider Legend, and Tomb Raider Underworld.
2: Both the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Silent Hill HD Collection omit the original first game in the series because they were on Playstation 1 and would have required much more work to remake in HD.  As a result you are forced to start with the second game without plot explanation.

Written by Fred Rojas

October 19, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Strength in Numbers

with one comment

Anniversaries.  As time progresses everything ages at the same pace and with each passing year a ton of video games hit new milestones.  Popular titles from the past can be revisited in short periods of time for the sake of nostalgia or the chance to finally complete a difficult game for the first time¹.  Since no one day can go by without something in the video game industry reaching a notable age, it’s no surprise that retro articles are riddled with regular anniversary celebrations.  This site will be no exception.

Sonic 20thGaming companies have now begun to celebrate series anniversaries themselves on a more consistent basis.  In some cases I feel these creations are warranted, but I find myself frowning a bit when it’s a last-ditch effort to revitalize an intellectual property that should have died off long ago.  I think the better anniversary is the for titles that stand on their own and you rarely think about until they are brought up.  A perfect example of this is Chrono Trigger.  Despite a few remakes and Square’s occasional interest in bringing attention to the title, it’s mostly one for the nostalgia vault.  Thankfully, unlike so many other titles, Chrono Trigger holds up today and stands as an individual game even though it technically has two other entries in the series².  Oddly enough, even though the game celebrated 15 years in 2010, it received a GBA port on its 13th birthday and didn’t come to virtual console and PSN until this year (its 16th anniversary).  This only further proves that incremental numbers aren’t always on a publisher’s top priority list.

Of all the anniversary celebrations, Nintendo still remains the biggest mystery of them all.  To be fair, Nintendo has never done things in a “traditional” way and has almost never catered to fans of any series when it comes to revisiting the past.  Sure, the virtual console and several collections from years past prove that Nintendo has no problem shoveling the same titles to us console generation after console generation, but they never deliver a well-rounded package.  A perfect example of this are the recent 25th anniversary celebrations of both Mario and Zelda.

Zelda 25th

For Mario we received a re-release of Super Mario All-Stars, which originally released on the SNES with graphically updated versions of Super Mario Bros. 1-3 and Lost Levels (Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2).  Instead of making any changes to the original SNES rom, Nintendo instead opted to use up an entire DVD for probably 20 MB of content with absolutely no extras.  Included in the package was a soundtrack that consisted of the title track to all major Mario games and a “history book” that roughly chronicles Mario’s entire series in a few paragraphs with large pictures that are taken right out of owners manuals.  At $30 US, this collection was about 30 percent more expensive than buying each game individually on the virtual console and the SNES Mario All-Stars, which is no different, should only cost $8 by virtual console pricing standards.  This means that a quick thrown together package was released to net Nintendo some quick bucks instead of offering historical content or games to show the little plumber some love and respect.  Even more odd is the fact that Zelda’s 25th anniversary this year is celebrated by no collection at all and a weak cross-promotion with the 3DS release of Ocarina of Time.  While OoT is great and all in 3D, I think selling a 13-year-old game that’s available for $10 on the virtual console for a whopping $40 isn’t quite the anniversary celebration I had expected.  Oh well, I digress, Nintendo will do what it wants and instead of re-living the glory days by picking up the originals, gamers will consistently rely on trying to find cheap digital alternatives that publishers won’t release.  As a result, emulation is rampant and no one truly knows what it’s like to play these games³.

Halo AnniversaryIf you are a fan of old school games, there’s always a reason to celebrate.  These titles will often hold a memory or two in the hearts of some gamers and remain significant in name only for others.  In 2011 alone we have Donkey Kong turning 30, Zelda, Metroid, and Castlevania turning 25, Street Fighter and Sonic turning 20, plus Resident Evil and Tomb Raider turning 15.  It’s a banner year to look fondly back at these franchises.  Even Halo turning 10 years old is being celebrated with an HD remake, which is an awkward trend that we will be discussing in tomorrow’s post.  Whether it’s by publishers hoping to cash in on previous properties, a false marketing campaign for brand strength or simply a web site trying to generate hits, anniversaries are definitely here to stay.  Hopefully we will start to see celebrations of more obscure and impressive titles of gaming’s past so that you can read about a game you’ve never played yourself and are tempted to dig up (can I get a shout out to Salamander please?).

1: I just beat Zelda 2: Adventures of Link for the first time this year
2: The other technical additions to the Chrono Trigger series are Satelliview’s Radical Dreamers and Playstation’s Chrono Cross.
3: PC emulation has come a long way, but I personally find that the only true way to play a game is on its original console without technical glitches and graphical overhauls (ie: purist).

Written by Fred Rojas

October 18, 2011 at 6:09 pm


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