Archive for August 2012
Psychonauts has still got to be one of the most interesting cases of game neglect I have ever seen. Okay gamers, lets cut through all the lies we tell ourselves and face facts: when someone tells you a game is a “great game that you should try out”, we rarely do. As hobbyists that claim to have so much in common we are quite fickle when it comes to altering our plans on what we’re currently playing and what we will play. As someone who maintains a site destined to never generate the traffic that I would if I focused on contemporary gaming, it’s almost a waste of breath and writing to mention a title from last generation. This is the world that Psychonauts lives in – no one played it when it released and few will drag themselves back to play it now. It’s a shame because this is an imaginative masterpiece that justifies the, frankly, so-so releases that Double Fine has offered in recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of Double Fine’s efforts more than the average gamer, but most of the studio’s games require some sort of caveat as of late. Not Psychonauts. It’s a complete package. Although it’s a waste of my time, I have to say it: You need to play Psychonauts.
Almost every excuse you can clamor is gone for not playing this game. It’s on every HD platform: Steam, PC download (on gog.com so it’s compatible with Win XP-7), Xbox 360 (it’s an Xbox Original), and as of today it’s on PSN as a PS2 digital release. You won’t even pay more than about $10-$15 for it either. Okay, so it’s easy to get, but you’re still wondering why to play it, right?
As a retro gamer, it’s inevitable that you have to acknowledge games from other countries, especially Japan. Why? Because many of the foundations of gaming began in the land of the rising sun and lets face it, there’s just something intriguing about integrating completely foreign languages and concepts to a domestic gaming collection. Well and there’s that whole thing about a long list of amazing games that we never saw on our shores. It wasn’t until this console generation that gaming started to go region free (unless you’re talking portables, which ironically just recently started segmenting by region after decades of being region free), and even now it’s really only the PS3 and 360 with plenty of exceptions. Before that games were segmented into different regions for distribution, licensing, and localization, resulting in a diverse list of releases from country to country. On a macro level your release decisions were segmented into three major regions: North America, Europe, and Japan. Import gaming skates an odd line in America because Europe has the common language (English) but a completely different broadcast standard (covered here) that requires special modifications and/or hardware to play games on. Japan has a language many Americans can’t understand (and more importantly in retro games, read) but has similar broadcast standards making most games essentially plug and play. As a result you’re more likely to import a Japanese game than a European game, most likely choosing an action platformer or fighting game over, say, a high-end RPG. But limiting yourself to just those games means all you’re going to play are licensing titles from the Super Famicom like Ultraman or PS1 games like Dragonball Z. That’s where this guide comes in – it’s a cheeky, sarcastic look at the elitist gamer that thrives on Japanese titles and gives you starting hints at how to pretend you are a Japanese gamer in the know. Those of us who love Japanese gaming are guilty of at least a few of these in our lives and who knows, maybe it’ll even give you the starting point you need to enjoy Japanese gaming.
We continue our Final Countdown series that swaps the wonderful stories associated with some of the most beloved games of all time. We still couldn’t quite wrap it up, but we crank through games 39-10 and break down some of the biggest titles ever released. This time around Fred from Gaming History 101 is joined by Trees from EZ Mode Unlocked and Jake/Jacob from Gameranx.
Normally we focus on developers, the true makers of video games, but it’s also important to focus on the publishers responsible for making sure we ever see the game in stores. In many cases these notable publishers are the ones that grab a bunch of smaller developed or imported games and grants them release in another region.
Sunsoft was such a great publisher back in the days of the NES. Back in those days the few of us who read the labels of game boxes didn’t normally notice a developer, but rather a the publisher logo (although to be fair the two were often the same). Whenever the Sunsoft logo crossed your boxed copy you could almost guarantee two things about it that normally don’t go together: 1.) your game would be a license game 2.) it would be good. Yes, you read that correctly, Sunsoft made good licensed games on the NES. As time continued, Sunsoft got more linked in with lackluster mascot games of the 16-bit era, but that doesn’t stop them from still being a publisher worth noting. In fact, had it not been for Sunsoft porting many a game that wasn’t slated for release outside of Japan, we may never have seen these classics. Oh yeah and Blaster Master, they made that too.
Sunsoft is not in any way related to the short-lived SunSoft that was part of Sun Microsystems in America, but rather a subsidiary of Sun Denshi (or Sun Electronics) that entered the video game realm in the late 1970s. When the publisher/developer opened a branch in the United States it went under the title Sunsoft of America but the logo still remained simply “Sunsoft”. They developed mostly unknown games on arcades at that time: Arabian, Ikki, and Kangaroo – a weird hybrid of Donkey Kong and Popeye – but it wasn’t until the company moved to the NES that it really started making waves. Sunsoft developed arcade ports and original Famicom games in Japan, mostly odd titles that would never come out over here like Tokaido Gojusan-tsugi (English: Stations of the Tokaido), which is a side scrolling action platformer where you play Kintaro, a fireworks salesman and use fireworks as a weapon. Of the most famous is a kusoge (Japanese slang for cult video games that literally translates to “sh*tty game”) known as Atlantis No Nazo (English: Mystery of Atlantis), which has the player navigating an explorer through 100 levels of platforming. What most don’t know is that the hit detection is horrendous and the platforming physics are a crash course in masochism, not to mention the game doesn’t move linearly (ie: you don’t necessarily go onto level 4 when you beat level 3). Like most other games of the 8-bit era, a game over results in you completely starting over and the real aggravating part is that the game is completed by doing a sequence of about seven brutal stages in a certain order (including hidden warp zones). Without having the information from the onset, I’d safely declare this title impossible.
Ask anyone who grew up playing NES games and they will tell you that Super Mario Bros. 2 was somewhat of an anomaly. It is completely unlike the other games in the series, complete with an Arabian theme, veggie-pulling, the option to select one of four protagonists, and Bowser (King Koopa) is nowhere to be seen. Fortunately for Nintendo it blended right in with sequels to various other popular franchises in the console, including the radically different Zelda II: Adventures of Link and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. As a seven-year-old gamer back then I shrugged it off and said, “why not?” It may shock you to discover that the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is not actually the intended sequel to the original Super Mario Bros., nor is it in Japan. The true Super Mario Bros. 2 is better known as Lost Levels in America and our Super Mario Bros. 2 began life as the game Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic! and based on a Saturday morning cartoon in Japan and was later re-worked, improved, and re-released as Super Mario Bros. USA. Both versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 are as different as two games can get and thus warrant a head to head.
Mascots, you have to love them. No, wait, you don’t. For the most part mascots have been one of the dark spots on a game publisher’s marketing blitz. At first there was only one iconic mascot, Mario from Super Mario Bros., and frankly he was an accidental mascot that Nintendo had never imagined would become its poster child. After Mario other companies were consistently trying to establish mascots no matter the negative cost to the consumer. Mario is an exception not because he’s a particularly good or mistakenly genius mascot, he’s just iconic because his game was the catalyst to the return of video games after the crash of 1983. During the mid 80s Nintendo established a handful of strong franchises that are beloved by many fans and despite Mario being the “leader” per se, he’s definitely not alone when Nintendo wants to sell a product. I would argue that Link (from Legend of Zelda), Kirby (from Kirby’s Dream Land), Pikachu (from Pokemon), and to certain extent Donkey Kong (from Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Country) and Samus (from Metroid). Much like Disney, Nintendo brings with it a cast of characters and franchises that all assist the overall brand in creating long running quality games. Everyone wanted to have that same wonderful family in the 90s (all of the above named characters had at least one title on the NES by 1992), but they seemed to miss the point that these characters were not created to be mascots, they just happened to get popular enough to become mascots.
So everyone’s been buzzing about that new Ouya console that managed to raise its $1 million Kickstarter goal in only 8 hours! At first glance this console looks way too good to be true especially with backed support from none other than former Xbox creator himself, Ed Fries (he also made Halo 2600 for you neo-retro fans). Ouya promises to offer a full catalog of Android-based software, online capabilities (wired and wireless), a controller, recently announced OnLive support, free games, and at only $100. All that’s missing is an “act now and you’ll save $5 off the price!” Oh, but wait, that’s exactly what they did for the first 1,000 Kickstarter donators. They even came back and said this would easily support old school gaming via emulators, opening up the possibility for even more games and essentially makes this the catch-all console for anyone not interested in contemporary console titles. Obviously we here at Gaming History 101 were going to weigh in on this and I just want to forewarn you that after I get through all the smoke and mirrors you will not only know why all of this is possible but also what they’re really selling. I may break some hearts here, but it’s all in an attempt to inform the consumer.
Console: Sony Playstation (also released on Sega Saturn in Japan only)
Japan? Yes (as Akumajo Dracula X: Gekka no Yasokyoku Translation: Devil’s Castle Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Played it as a child? No
Value: $22.87 (used) $64.45 (new) (pricecharting.com) – NOTE: There are two versions: original and greatest hits. Original is much more rare and expensive, so adjust your buying habits appropriately.
Price: $15-25 (used GH) $35-$60 (used original) $90-$130 (new GH) $400 (new original) on eBay
Digital Release? Yes – released as PSOne title on PS3/PSP and on XBLA – $10.00 for all versions. Also available with Rondo of Blood in the Dracula X Collection for PSP – $15 digital, varies on UMD.
***We also did a podcast on this and other Castlevania titles like it here.***
While Rondo of Blood may be the hidden gem of the Castlevania series, Symphony of the Night is anything but. There wasn’t a Playstation gamer around that didn’t see this release back in 1997, bringing a much-needed change to the traditional formula. Every Castlevania game that released on consoles seemed to push the hardware to do things it was never intended to do and usually had amazing results, so it was interesting that in a world consumed by 3D polygonal graphics Symphony of the Night was a 2D side scroller. In Japan, the series has a much easier way to identify the games that go together – main campaign titles often wore Akumajo in the title and in this case Dracula X – but in America we had not received (and most of us had not played) Rondo of Blood. The game starts out with you climbing the stairs to Dracula’s chamber at the end of Rondo and you re-create the final fight with Dracula (of which you cannot die). Then a long bit of lore scrolls the screen and next thing you know you’re playing as Alucard, Dracula’s son, and you’re rushing to Castlevania to rescue Richter from its curse. It was like being dropped into the middle of an epic you had not previously learned the story of. Frankly, it didn’t matter, and even today playing Rondo of Blood only assists in giving you background detail because like all other Castlevania games it’s the gameplay and level design that keeps you hooked.