REGGIE SMASH!!

I can’t believe I missed this. There’s a petition on Change.org requesting that Super Smash Bros. designer Masahiro Sakurai place Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime in the game, which is set to be launched on Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS consoles next year. To date, the petition has already amassed 21,800 signatures, just 3200 shy of its goal.

If you don’t know who Fils-Aime is, search him on YouTube first. You’ll find videos of his speeches at past video game conferences which tend to be quite good. He’s a very eloquent speaker.

Fortunately for fans, Fils-Aime is apparently open to being in the game, saying that his “body is ready.” Unfortunately for Sakurai, this may be just another brick in the wall. In an interview with the online gaming magazine Polygon, he stated the pressure he feels to decide which characters should be on the Super Smash Bros. is “almost to the brink of death.” Thank heavens for that word “almost,” but I get the idea. It’s a tough job.

How cool would it be If Fils-Aime were to appear in Super Smash Bros.? Fans would go bananas. Actually, I would go bananas and I don’t even like Super Smash Bros. The idea alone is just be glorious.

If Reggie is apparently ready, so am I. If this petition works, maybe I should start a petition to make Randy Pitchford a downloadable character. Until next time.

Peace and Pixels

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Here’s to You, McClane

July is essentially done, and I missed a very important birthday. Two weeks ago, the classic action movie Die Hard turned 25. Yes, I know. My man card should be taken away and I’ve failed as a blogger. For shame, indeed. Though this post is not as timely as it should have been, being tardy has never stopped us from covering anything on the Chomp.

Twenty-five strong

Based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the John McTiernan directed Die Hard stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, a New York cop in Los Angeles to reconcile with his wife Holly. McClane meets Holly at Nakatomi Plaza, where her company is holding its Christmas party. The festivities end when the party is taken hostage by Hans Gruber (brilliantly portrayed by Alan Rickman) and his group of armed men. Although posing as terrorists, Gruber and his troupe are actually thieves seeking to steal the $640 million in bearer bonds locked in the Plaza’s basement vault.

As the lone person to survive Gruber’s grasp, McClane must find a way to survive. Barefoot, outnumbered, and armed with only his police sidearm and his wits, McClane faces impossible odds during what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.

Made on a budget of $28 million, Die Hard became a smash hit, raking in $140 million worldwide by the end of its theatrical run. The film made an action star of Bruce Willis, who reprised the role of McClane in four sequels: Die Hard 2: Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard, and this year’s A Good Day to Die Hard. Altogether, the Die Hard films have grossed over $1.4 billion worldwide.

While business has been very good at the movies for the Die Hard franchise, it’s been a different story in video gaming. If you check the scores on both Metacritic and Game Rankings, you’ll notice most of the Die Hard games have received a tepid critical response overall. Today, we’ll be looking at two Die Hard games I’ve actually played (which happen to be some of the better Die Hard games released): Die Hard Trilogy and Die Hard Arcade.

Die Hard Trilogy

Yippie-kay-yay!!

First released in 1996 for the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and Windows PC, Die Hard Trilogy loosely covers the first three films of the Die Hard franchise. The game features three different gameplay types (third-person shooter, first-person rail shooter, and driving) each representing a Die Hard movie (Die HardDie Hard 2, and Die Hard with a Vengeance respectively). Die Hard Trilogy was developed by Probe Entertainment and published by Fox Interactive, the gaming division of 20th Century Fox.

The first game of the set is the third-person shooter Die Hard. As John McClane, players must traverse several floors of Nakatomi Plaza while defeating enemies and rescuing hostages. Once every enemy on a given floor is killed, a time bomb is activated somewhere on that level, and if not disarmed before it explodes, McClane loses a life.

The second game is the first-person rail shooter Die Hard 2: Die Harder.  McClane must battle terrorists throughout Dulles Airport while trying to clear a path so the airplane his wife is on (which has little fuel) can land safely.

The third and final game is the action racer Die Hard with a Vengeance. McClane and his unwitting partner Zeus must race around New York City as they attempt to disarm a series of time bombs set by Simon Gruber, the brother of Hans Gruber from the first film. Bombs are disarmed by running into them, which sets off only a small explosion compared to the nuclear blast they emit if not reached in time.

Die Hard Trilogy is a personal favorite of mine, and has been since I first played it in high school. What makes it unique is its successful attempt to combine three different gameplay genres in one package, providing an experience tailored to the movie it represents. The Die Hard portion of the game recreates the thrill of being outnumbered and an office building; Die Hard 2 emulates the gunplay of the movie; and Die Hard with a Vengeance  echoes that film’s suspenseful car chases.

Although Die Hard Trilogy is certainly fun, it’s plenty difficult, especially Die Hard 2. That game doesn’t require a light gun, but it’s highly recommended because a game pad really isn’t quick enough for all the action. Die Hard Trilogy offers a challenge similar to the action games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, when you were stacked against an army with only a limited amount of extra lives and (if you were lucky) a decent health bar that allowed you take a moderate amount of damage. You needed your wits and reflexes to survive. Sitting in a corner and waiting for your health to regenerate wasn’t an option back then.

Die Hard Trilogy has a little bit of dark humor that pervades its three game set. In each game, civilians are present and can be killed if caught in harm’s way. This is especially visceral in Die Hard with a Vengeance; when running over a civilian using the cockpit view, blood splatters across the screen and is cleaned off with the vehicle’s windshield wipers.

Whoops

After a civilian is killed, sometimes McClane will say “Oops!” or “Sorry, pal.” Bloody as it is, McClane’s remorseful quips are amusing because his voice actor did a great job impersonating Bruce Willis’ voice.

Although Die Hard Trilogy is fun and challenging, it can be repetitive, particularly during its Die Hard and Die Hard with a Vengeance sections which feature multiple versions of a single level. Overall, Die Hard Trilogy is a fun title. If you enjoy a challenge, it’s worth picking up.

Die Hard Arcade

Of the two titles covered today, Die Hard Arcade perhaps has the most interesting background. Released in 1996 as a joint effort between Sega AM1 and Sega Technical Institute, Die Hard Arcade is a 3-D beat-em-up for one or two players. The title is known as Dynamite Deka (often translated as Dynamite Cop) in Japan, because Sega only managed to obtain the Die Hard license just before it released the game overseas. The game was released as a Sega Saturn exclusive in 1997, and in 2006, was released exclusively in Japan (as Dynamite Deka) for the Sony PlayStation 2 as part of the “Sega Ages” collection.

Die Hard Arcade follows the exploits of John McClane (Bruno “Mr. Dynamite” Delinger in Deka) and his partner Cindy Holiday as they fight army of terrorists led by Wolf Hongo. The terrorists have overtaken a skyscraper in order to steal the money from its vault. To make matters worse, the U. S. President’s daughter is inside the tower, but has managed to elude the terrorists for the time being. Players must rescue the President’s daughter and foil Hongo’s wicked plans.

Back in the mid-1990s, the genre known as the beat-em-up was fading. A staple of 2D gaming, the beat-em-up is usually a side-scrolling game in which players sparred against waves of enemies that mainly attack from the player’s left or right side. Die Hard Arcade is the first 3D beat-em-up title, and mainly stays true to the genre’s 2D formula.

Most games of the beat-em-up genre focus on brawling and melee weaponry, but Die Hard Arcade has an emphasis on the use of firearms and explosives. Players can use a range of weapons from pistols and shotguns to grenades and rocket launchers. Players do have the option of defeating enemies by handcuffing them, but that’s just boring.

Die Hard Arcade is ridiculous in the best way possible. The action is furious and relentless; danger lurks around every crevice of the embattled tower, causing one to keep a tight grip on the joystick. Enemies range from a sumo wrestler and afro-wearing martial artists to spider-like robots that fire lasers. When I first played the game in a Super KMart well over a decade ago, I had a great time with it. Fighting waves of enemies was immensely satisfying, mainly because you’re not limited to just punching and kicking. Finishing an opponent off with an uppercut is enjoyable, but clearing a room with a rocket launcher is edifying.

There are two things about this game that I didn’t care for: it’s use of quick-time events and the elevator shaft sequences. The quick-time events consist of a prompt that instructs you to do something such as punch or kick an opponent or dodge.  These moments weren’t terribly annoying, but I always had trouble with the event where you’re running through a long corridor and are prompted to hit an enemy. For some reason, my timing was usually off, and I often missed the enemy entirely.

Didn’t see this screen often

Fortunately, there wasn’t a severe penalty for botching this event. I just had to  recover and fight the enemy like normal.

The elevator sequence was a real pain, though. Set in a large elevator shaft with a pair of ladders, gamers are tasked with leaping across these ladders to avoid elevators that are traveling through the shaft. This was the point in the game where I died the most; I may have gotten through it only once. Blighted elevators…

Amazing that it’s been twenty-five years since Die Hard first hit the cinema. Happy trails to you cowboys and cowgirls. Until we meet again.

Peace & Pixels

Strider Returns!

Sometimes you pray and the heavens answer. Before I explain, watch this:

Strider is based on an old action game of the same name made by Capcom. The first Strider debuted in the arcades back in 1989 before later being ported to several of the video game consoles and home computers of its time. The game stars Hiryu, a “Strider” (basically an elite sword fighter) who opposes the tyrant known as “Grandmaster” in the year 2048. Strider was a hit for Capcom and became renowned for its fast-paced sword-fighting, music, and magnetic star character.

Strider received two sequels, the Western only release Strider II (also known as Strider Returns) which was developed by U.S. Gold under license from Capcom USA. Strider Returns debuted in 1990 on various platforms, among them the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, and PC. The second sequel is Capcom’s self-made  Strider 2, which was released exclusively for the Sony PlayStation in 1999. Although the Strider series had been dormant until the announcement of this latest release, the character Hiryu remained popular through his appearances in the Marvel Vs. Capcom fighting games.

I owned the Sega Genesis port of the original Strider as a kid, and it was definitely one of my favorites. Hiryu was such an acrobat, and was capable of swinging his sword even while he was doing flips in mid-air. Every time Hiryu used his sword, it would emit this incredible crescent-shaped flame that curved around his body. The boss battles were ridiculous, ranging from a gigantic robotic gorilla to fighting a large, spherical death machine in an anti-gravity chamber.

I no longer own my Genesis copy of Strider, and never played any of the series’ sequels. However, now that the Strider franchise has received new life, I have another chance to swing the blade of Hiryu in a dedicated title once again. You best believe that I’m excited to do so! Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

1983: When the Third Generation Came to Be

Yesterday we celebrated a very important moment in video game history; the 30 year anniversary of Nintendo’s Famicom video game console.

But as important as July 15, 1983 is, that entire year has some historical significance for the video game industry. Both the North American Video Game Crash and the debut of the third generation of video game consoles occurred that same year, two significant events that occurred on opposite sides of the world.

The third generation of home video game consoles debuted in Japan with the releases of the Sega SG-1000 and the Nintendo Famicom. This is perhaps the most important generation of consoles ever; without it, console gaming likely would not have had the foundation to become the phenomenon that it is today. It is because of the third generation that we have had some of the greatest rivalries in the business, as well as some of the industry’s greatest characters and franchises which were created by the would be legends of a young industry.

Although the groundwork for future success was being created in Japan’s home video game market, things were not going well in the West. North America’s video game industry (specifically the home console market) was in trouble, the result of years of bad business practices, an overcrowded market, and both angry consumers and retailers.

The North American Video Game Crash of 1983

There was a time in this world when even the video game consoles had a wood finish.

Pledge not included.

Yes, the station wagon and those old analog television sets (back when the phrase “Don’t touch that dial” wasn’t figurative) weren’t the only things with some wood grain on them; the Atari 2600 console features that look as well. Back in the early 1980s, Atari was the king of the video game industry in North America. By 1983, the 2600 was in its sixth year and was still the top console. Business was good; the home console market earned about $3.8 billion dollars in 1982. But as a drop of water can erode even the strongest of rocks over time, the home console industry had already begun its implosion.

For a succinct account of what occurred during the Crash, do read Nadia Oxford’s article “Ten Facts about the Great Video Game Crash of ’83” on IGN. Oxford gives an informative and brief breakdown of the myriad issues that led to the home console market’s collapse. As good as business was in terms of revenue in 1982, that year the home console industry saw some of the worst things happen to it at the time.

If you wanted a video game console in 1982, there was no shortage of console for you to choose from. Actually, the home console market was flooded with choices, and that led to some confusion amongst customers and frustrated retailers trying to sell what they had.

Software was an issue of frustration as well. Third-party titles were made legal in 1982, and that led to a lot of bad games being designed and programmed by neophyte developers (while many proven professional developers were getting short changed). One of the most egregious examples of bad game development came from juggernaut Atari, which released two disasters that year: the 2600 version of Pac-Man and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

There was a lot of excitement for the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man, which was supposed to be a port of the arcade version of the game. Released in March of 1982, Pac-Man at home sounded like a great idea, but unfortunately for gamers, the version of Pac-Man they got was poorly developed and rushed to the market. This soured consumer confidence in Atari, and many gamers stayed away from the game. This was proved to be awful for Atari, because the company decided to publish more games (12 million copies) than it had Atari 2600 owners at the time (10 million) and was having difficulty trying to convince non-owners of Pac-Man to buy the game due to bad press.

E.T. was an even bigger mess. Released in December of 1982, E.T. was released The game was universally panned (and has been named one of the worst games of all time), and became such a financial disaster for Atari (which paid over $20 million dollars for the property rights) that unsold copies of the game are said to be buried in a New Mexico landfill.

By 1985, the full effect of the Crash was felt. Revenue for video game consoles in North America that year was only $800 million.

Enter Japan

While North America’s console game market was in flux, Japan was getting set for big things. There wasn’t much of a console market in Japan (that was more of a North American thing), but that was about to change. The seed for the Nintendo and Sega rivalry in the home console market was soon to be planted on one day in July.

The Sega SG-1000

Sega’s first entry in the home video game console market, the Sega SG-1000 (Sega Game 1000) is a top loading cartridge and cassette tape based video game system. It first launched on the Japanese market on July 15. 1983 at the cost of 15,000 yen. Later releases of the console came in New Zealand (through Grandstand Leisure Limited) as well Italy, France and Spain, with a rumored release of the console in South Africa. The Sega SG-1000 was never a blockbuster success, partly because its run coincided with the much more successful Famicom.

In the beginning…before the Genesis.

A few clones of the SG-1000 were made throughout its life cycle. Tsukuda Original produced the Othello Multivision which had its own set of brand name games. Telegames produced a clone named the Telegames Personal Arcade in North America, which was based off of Bit Corp’s clone of Coleco’s gaming system named the ColecoVision. Due to the similarity in architecture between the ColecoVision and the SG-1000, the Personal Arcade is able to play both SG-1000 and ColecoVision games.

Sleek.

Released concurrently with the SG-1000 was its computer equivalent, the SC-3000 (Sega Computer 3000) seen above. Selling originally for 29,800 yen, the SC-3000 was marketed as an entry level personal computer which could be used for educational, entertainment, or business purposes. Like the SG-1000, the SC-3000 was first released in Japan with subsequent releases in New Zealand, Australia, and a limited release in Europe (specifically France and Italy). A variant of the SC-3000, the SC-3000H was released later in 1983 and features a full-travel mechanical keyboard.

The SG-1000 would later be updated twice in the future. The first update, the SG-1000 Mark II, was released in Japan in July of 1984. The Mark II functioned similarly to its predecessor, but sported a redesigned exterior. The second and final update of SG-1000 is the SG-1000 Mark III, which would be redesigned and marketed in the West as the Sega Master System.

The Nintendo Famicom

Nintendo’s involvement in the home video game market goes way back to 1977, when the company released Color TV Game-6, the first entry in its Color TV Game series of dedicated video game consoles. Only released in Japan, the Color TV Game consoles worked by plugging directly into a television set. There are five consoles total: Color TV Game-6, Color-TV Game-15, Color TV Racing 112, Color TV Game Block Breaker, and Computer TV Game. The Color TV Game series ended in 1980 with a combined sales total of 3 million units .

テレビ

The preparation for Nintendo’s next foray into the home console market began with an idea to create a system to be designed by Masayuki Uemura. Initially, the idea was to create a system similar to a personal computer, with a keyboard and floppy disk drive. Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi decided against this, feeling such a system would be too costly, and instead decided to create a new cartridge based dedicated video game console.

Red, white, and winning.

The Famicom debuted in Japan at the cost of ¥14,800 yen. The launch titles for the console were Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. The console was not an immediate success. Furthermore, many of the systems and games malfunctioned due to a faulty chipset within the console. At great cost, Nintendo decided to do a full recall on the Famicom before the end of the year in order to fix the issue.

Despite the rough start, 1984 became a great year for the Famicom, finishing that year as Japan’s top selling console. In October of the following year, the Famicom would debut in North America as the Nintendo Entertainment System, and eventually help carry that country’s console market out of its recession.

The Legacy

An entertainment medium can be defined by not only by what works provides to entertain people at a given time, but what works can survive beyond a given time and become something truly memorable. During the third generation, those memorable works arrived, and some of the franchises, characters, and their creators are still viable today. Where would the video game industry be without Super Mario Bros., Shigeru Miyamoto, Final Fantasy, or Hironobu Sakaguchi? I shudder to think.

Despite all the warm feelings the third generation brings the time in which it came has shadow that looms over today. The video game industry now is in a bit flux, what with major companies gambling on the so-called “AAA” titles to be profitable. It’s one practice that is giving the industry trouble, and likely can’t be sustained as it is without causing future harm.

Furthermore, we have a saturation of sorts in regards to the availability of video game playing devices. In addition to the seventh generation of consoles (which are near the end of their run) we have the upcoming eighth generation consoles in addition to (at least to a degree) mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. That’s not even considering the proliferation of the personal computer, which is much greater in households now than it was three decades ago.

Is the industry heading for another collapse? Time and the market will tell us. In an effort to leave this post with a more positive vibe, here are some commercials for the SG-1000 and the Famicom.

For more reading on 1983, do read Jeremy Parish’s article at US Gamer. Great stuff, there.

For more information on Sega’s consoles, visit Sega Retro, which provided most of the information for this post.

Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

The Nintendo Famicom Turns 30

The Originator.

Thirty years ago to the day history was made. On July 15, 1983, Nintendo debuted its Famicom video game console in Japan.

The Famicom (short for “Family Computer”), was one of Nintendo’s earliest forays into the home console market, the first being the Color TV Game consoles which debuted in 1977. The Color TV Game consoles (of which there were five) ended their run with a combined sales total of 3 million units by 1980.

It was during the early 1980s, that Nintendo planned to create a new home video game console to be designed by Masayuki Uemura. The title of this new project was originally “GameCom”, but Uemura’s wife suggested the name Famicom as a way to market the console as a computer made for the family. The console was designed to be small and compact, with controllers modeled after Nintendo’s Game & Watch devices, a series of electronic handhelds which debuted in 1980.

In a scenario that must have been destiny (but was really just business) the 8-bit Famicom debuted on the same day as rival Sega’s first video game console, the SG-1000. Although initial sales of both consoles were lukewarm (the Famicom would be recalled due to a malfunctioning chipset on some units) the Famicom became a hit by late 1984, ending that year as Japan’s top-selling video game console.

In October of 1985, the Famicom entered the North American home console market as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sporting a larger shell (with a unique front-loading design for cartridge input) and a white, black, and gray color scheme, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES for short) had a much different look than its Japanese counterpart. Soon, the NES became successful in North America as well, helping to lift that country’s video game console market out of the collapse it experienced in 1983.

Old Faithful.

The Famicom/NES is one of the most successful consoles ever created, totaling  over 61 million units worldwide (with 34 million units of the NES sold in North America alone). It was the best-selling console of its generation, and was home to a number of video game franchises (among them The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Metroid, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy just to name a few) that remain viable to this day.

The Famicom is one of the most successful and important consoles in video game history, and It’s hard to imagine video gaming without it. For many of us gamers, it was the first console that we ever had, and perhaps still remains as one of our most beloved.

Happy Birthday, Famicom!

Peace & Pixels

Shinji Mikami: Member of Goof Troop?

Remember the days of the weekday afternoon cartoon? Not the stuff you see now on cable, but the shows that came on regular broadcast television? I do. Those were some beautiful days indeed.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there was something called the “Disney Afternoon” which came on channel 9 back in the early 1990s. The Disney Afternoon featured several Disney cartoons, many of which were made into video games. As the title suggests, today we will focus on the video game based on the Disney Afternoon show Goof Troop, which starred Disney mainstay Goofy and his son Max. Released in 1993, Goof Troop was published by Capcom and designed by Shinji Mikami. Yes, that Shinji Mikami.

Two of a kind.

This blog has been on a bit of Mikami kick lately because of the 15th anniversary of Resident Evil 2 and my completion of Resident Evil 4 for the first time. Now here we are again, celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the first titles the video game designer known for popularizing the survivor horror genre designed. Supposedly, Goof Troop served as the code base for the original Resident Evil, which Mikami designed.

While on a fishing trip, Goofy and Max notice that pirates have captured their fellow Sponnerville neighbors Pete (who they have mistaken as their fallen captain) and his son, P.J. Goofy and Max track the pirates and their ship to an island where they attempt to rescue Pete and P.J.

As Goofy and Max, players are tasked with rescuing Pete and P.J. by  braving the game’s five locales: the beach, a village, a haunted castle, an underground cavern, and the pirates’ ship. Players can play as both Goofy and Max in single-player and two players can play as either character in multiplayer. Players need to keep both Goofy and Max alive in order to continue. If they both go, it’s game over.

Players can pick up various items (such as grappling hook or shovel) in order to progress, but each character can only have one item at a time. This makes players aware of what items they have and to take care when using them.

This was a game I didn’t play myself, as it was a Super Nintendo exclusive and I’ve never owned one. But the license and the creator both are sources of nostalgia for me. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

China to End Video Game Console Ban?

Not to sound insensitive to another culture, but I couldn’t live in China if I couldn’t have a video game console.

I’ve been a gamer for much of my life, and at some point have always had some video game system that I could play. Blessed as I am, I take it for granted sometimes, and its articles like this one which reminds me to be more appreciative.

Apparently, China is considering its 13 year ban of foreign video game consoles on one condition: the consoles must be made in Shanghai’s new free trade zone. The move is part of an effort by Premier Li Keqiang to make China’s economy more receptive to the world and expand the use of its currency.

Despite this apparent green light for video game consoles, companies will still have to get approval from China’s culture ministry and governing bodies in order to ensure that the games are not “too violent or politically insensitive for young people”. I wonder if half of Rockstar Games’ catalog is in jeopardy here…

Spearhead by China’s Ministries of Culture, the console ban originally started in 2000 to protect the “mental health” of Chinese youth from the violent content within games. Although gaming consoles could have their parts shipped to and assembled in China, that was only for the purposes of exportation to foreign markets. Honestly, I can see the concern about the children, but the banning of foreign consoles is stretching it too far for me.

Chinese gamers have satisfied their pastime through the black market or by playing games on mobile devices such as the iPhone or iPad, which escaped the ban because they are not classified as gaming machines.

So what’s next? We’ll have to see. This news doesn’t come without conditions (naturally) but it still remains to be seen how the software will be treated should the lifting of the hardware ban go through. Considering what’s going on in Australia with Saints Row IV, it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some games that wouldn’t be welcome by the Chinese government. If this ban is lifted, one thing I’m certain of is that console connoisseur Gamester81 will have any system that is sold there. Until next time.

Peace & Pixels

Edit: Added a line to the fifth paragraph.