It Looks Like Sega Has Finally Rediscovered Sonic The Hedgehog

Sonic ManiaSega's Sonic the Hedgehog has taken plenty of knocks in his post-Genesis career.  His transition into 3D was bumpy and it seems that the further away we get from those Sega Genesis glory days, the less that Sonic Team and its partners seem to know how to handle the franchise.  Sonic Generations was the best thing to star Sonic in a very long time and long-time fans practically cried out to Sega that it was the Classic Sonic elements that made that game work so well.  Sega followed up that title with the poorly received and rapidly developed Sonic Boom series, so it seemed that hope was lost for the company to learn the right lessons from Generations.  Thankfully it now looks like good things come to those who wait as Sega had announced two new Sonic games that look like they know what they're doing.  For me, the one to be most excited about is Sonic Mania coming in 2017 from Sega, Christian Whitehead, Headcannon, and PagodaWest Games for the Sony PlayStation 4, Microsoft Xbox One, and PC which follows on from those excellent conversions of Sonic the Hedgehog for iPhone and Android as a 2D (actually 2D, with sprites!) side-scrolling title feature new zones and reimagined classic levels.  Just look at this trailer and try not to smile.  I don't think you can resist.

Remember a few years ago when Sonic fans said that Sonic Team should go back to the Genesis roots with a side-scroller for consoles and Sega responded with Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and everyone kinda felt like we'd made our wish on a monkey's paw?  I'm just judging by the trailer here, but it looks like Sonic Mania is the game we all thought we would be getting during that interval between hearing that Sonic was going back to pure side-scrolling and actually seeing how Sonic 4 ended up.  Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are the only playable characters just like nature intended.  I know I'm risking being caught up in the Sonic Cycle again, but I really want this game to be solid and the title that fans have wanted for such a very long time.

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Mini-Review: Sonic Unleashed

Sonic UnleashedThis review of the Wii version of the game was originally published at Kombo.com on December 2, 2008. 

Sonic Unleashed begins where most Sonic games end. Dr. Robotnik has put his latest plan at conquering the world in order to build his own Eggmanland into motion, but Sonic had found the seven Chaos Emeralds and is rapidly racing through the doctor's latest badniks. Sonic turns Super and smashes his way through a robotic blockade, but the doctor's fallback plan captures Sonic, drains the Chaos Emeralds of their power, and transforms Sonic into a monstrous feral beast. Oh, and the planet below splits open and releases an evil force destined to doom mankind. Sonic is ejected into space where he falls back to the planet and apparently lands on a mysterious little critter that has no memories of himself or his place in the world. Sonic and his new friend (named Chip after the little guy's craving for all things chocolate) have to travel the globe to revive the Chaos Emeralds and put the planet back together before Robotnik can completely take over.

Unleashed is basically divided into three types of gameplay. The game's primary levels are locked at the start of the adventure. Players will have to talk to villagers around the world to learn the location of the actual gameplay. Sometimes Sonic will encounter a daylight stage which is what we've come to expect from Sonic the Hedgehog game: blue skies, branching paths through which to run, enemies to smash, rings to collect, and everything else that makes the really good parts of the Sonic experience so joyful. The idea is to race to the goal ring as quickly as possible. Each daylight level alternates between 3D camera-behind-Sonic segments and, in a nice twist that reminds me of Sonic games of the 16-bit era, 2D sidescrolling levels with the camera turned perpendicular to our hero. However, at night Sonic transforms into the beast and must punch and slam his way through contained environments full of creatures made of dark energy. The objective is still to reach the goal ring, but now Sonic moves very slowly and is built more for savage beatdowns than raw speed.

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The Rise And Fall Of Sega's Vectorman

Vectorman 2The one thing I always think of first when I recall the Nintendo versus Sega console wars of the 1990s is that whatever one company did first, the other would follow up with their own version soon after.  Nintendo Super Scope?  Sega Menacer.  Super FX chip in StarfoxSVP chip in Virtua Racing.  Pre-rendered graphical style for Donkey Kong Country?  Pre-rendered graphical style for Vectorman.  While Donkey Kong Country went on to spawn two direct sequels during the 16-bit era, a Game Boy side series, and so much more over the years up through Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U in 2014, Sega's answer to the gorilla in the room went on to star in a single sequel in the Genesis era and then a couple of aborted relaunches.  Hardcore Gaming 101 has the story of Vectorman's rise and fall.

What Vectorman lacks in consistent difficulty and compact level design, it more than makes up for in its presentation, which is where all of BlueSky Studios' offerings shine the brightest. Proclaiming that the SNES is graphically superior to the Genesis may be a tired cliché nowadays, but it's an undeniable fact that most titles of the time looked better on Nintendo's 16-bit console than they did on the competition and that Donkey Kong Country deserves praise for stuffing all of its then-high-tech graphics and timeless soundtrack in a single 32-meg cartridge with no special chips inside despite its bland gameplay (which the sequels greatly improved upon). In comparison, Sega's console had a much paltrier VDP/PPU and less access to large ROM sizes, but its lightning-fast and easy-to-program-for Motorola 68000 processor could easily trump Nintendo's choice of CPU (the unique, yet terribly slow Ricoh 5A22) in every aspect imaginable if in the hands of a talented programmer, and this is what makes Vectorman's unique graphical style look good up to this day.

By the way, do you know Vectorman's dirty little secret?  It doesn't use vector graphics at all.  That doesn't stop it from looking impressive on Sega's 16-bit hardware though.  It was the unique visuals that first drew me into wanting to play the game.  When I was in high school in the mid-to-late 1990s, a friend had the game and we spent too many weekend afternoons trying to clear the second level.  We were absolutely terrible at it; poor Vectorman may as well as been a magnet for incoming enemy fire.

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Telltale's Batman Trailer Shows The Burden Of Being Bruce Wayne

BatmanFor as long as I can remember, the primary focus of the Batman franchise has been, well, Batman (with a side order of Joker), but lately there's been a renewed push on exploring the man under the mask.  Batman comics took a jaunt into showing us Bruce Wayne unburdened by the Bat legacy, TV's Gotham has given mixed results showing us Gotham City in a pre-Batman world, and now Telltale Games has a new episodic Batman game coming August 2 for many platforms including the Sony PlayStation 4, PS3, Microsoft Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, and mobile that, judging by today's new trailer, gives us plenty of Bruce Wayne action as well. 

I've been a Batman fan since I was first exposed to Batman: The Animated Series in 1993 as a preteen, and it wasn't until later that I backtracked to the Tim Burton films for a larger picture of what the character was all about outside of the comics.  His iconic rogues gallery always steals the spotlight and Batman himself is always good for some daring action scenes, but Bruce Wayne is often the more interesting character.  I think that's because (as has been so often cited) Batman is the man and Bruce Wayne is actually the mask.  Consider how Kevin Conroy portrays Batman's voice in The Animated Series, for instance.  His Batman voice is deeper and more intense (not as far as Christian Bale's guttural growl from The Dark Knight trilogy) befitting a costumed vigilante and his Bruce Wayne voice is casual, friendly, and general lighter.  When Conroy's Bruce is with people in his inner Bat circle, he speaks in his Batman voice.  They know who he is.  There's no need to hide it.  Batman is who he really is. 

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Power Button - Episode 211: Pokémon Go And New NES Classic Console Bring The Joy

Power ButtonIt's been a big week for Nintendo fans who like excitement thanks to the arrival of the Pokémon Go mobile sensation and the announcement of a new small classic Nintendo Entertainment System packed with HDMI output and thirty of the best games that the NES era had to offer.  We're talk about both of these on this week's Power Button, so join us for a conversation that spans from Pikachu to Punch-Out!!, Meowth to Metroid, and Zubat to Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton.


Mini-Review: Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Ghostbusters

This review was originally published at Kombo.com on June 23, 2009.  Many of the technical issues described below were later fixed with a software update.

Two years after the Ghostbusters dealt with Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II, a new exhibit on Sumerian god Gozer the Gozerian is about to open in New York City's history museum. When a sudden increase in paranormal activity leads to the reappearance of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man rampaging through downtown, the Ghostbusters become involved in a renewed attempt to summon Gozer to destroy the world. The boys in gray (along with you, the player cast a the fifth member of the team charged with testing the latest in experimental ghostbusting equipment) have to solve the mystery of who is trying to summon Gozer and how they can save the world one more time. Meanwhile, nemesis Walter Peck, who was last seen working for the Environmental Protection Agency, is back to cause trouble for the team, and just who is the alluring woman that seems to constantly be in the wrong place at the wrong time?   

It's taken twenty-five years, but this is the Ghostbusters video game for which fans of the franchise have been waiting. With a story written by Dan Aykroyd & Harold Ramis and voice acting by Aykroyd, Ramis, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, William Atherton back as Walter Peck, Alyssa Milano joining the team as new character Ilyssa Selwyn, and Brian Doyle-Murray as Jock Mulligan the mayor of New York City, this game provides a detailed story that ties up loose ends from the two films and answers lingering questions you most likely didn't know that you had. Fan service abounds as players are sent to search the hallways of the Sedgewick Hotel in pursuit of the escaped Slimer, run through Times Square as a revived Stay Puft Marshmallow Man attempts to stomp the heroes into paste, consult with Vigo the Carpathian's painting on important matters, learn the backstory of the ghostly librarian that scared the Ghostbusters away at the start of the first film, fight a giant sloar, discover the source of the psychoreactive mood slime from the second film, and — it has to be said — slide down the firehouse's iconic pole.

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Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition FAQ

NES Classic Edition

Today's announcement that the Nintendo Entertainment System is coming back to stores as the NES Classic Edition mini-console featuring a wired classic NES controller and thirty games built right into its internal memory has sparked a lot of excitement online as gaming fans cheered and prepared to preorder.  However, I've also seen plenty of questions pop up on social media about the news and while I'm not a Nintendo spokesperson, I am a long-time customer and consumer of the company's products, so perhaps I can be of help when it comes to answering these queries.  Allow me to condense the questions down to the basic generalized sentiments I've seen all day today and respond with my thoughts.

Q: What is this NES Classic thing?  Are they making new NES consoles?  I have all the old cartridges in my attic.

The NES Classic Edition is a small, new version of the Nintendo Entertainment System that physically resembles the old NES from 1985, but sports a smaller form factor.  It features thirty games such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Mega Man 2 built into its memory, so there isn't a cartridge slot on this console.  It only plays those thirty games, but they are some of the best games in the console's library.

Q: So how do I play Duck Hunt without my old Zapper light gun?

Duck Hunt isn't one of the thirty games, so you won't be playing it at all on a NES Classic Edition.  Besides, the old Zapper and today's modern HDTVs don't work well together at all.  See, when the trigger on the Zapper is pressed, the game causes the entire screen to become black for one frame. Then, on the next frame, all valid targets that are on screen are drawn all white as the rest of the screen remains black. The Zapper detects this change from low light to bright light, and determines if any of the targets are in the zapper's hit zone. If a target is hit, the game determines which one was hit based on the duration of the flash, as each target flashes for a different duration. After all target areas have been illuminated, the game returns to drawing graphics as usual. The whole process is almost imperceptible to the human eye, although one can notice a slight "flashing" of the image. Although the Zapper just detects light, it can only be used on CRT displays. It will not work on LCDs, plasma displays or other flat panel displays due to display lag.  Moreover, the NES Classic Edition uses special controller ports like those found on the Wii remote, so your old Zapper wouldn't plug into it anyway.

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Nintendo Classic Edition Brings Iconic NES Back To Stores

NES ClassicNintendo hit the big time in the home video game console space thirty years ago with the beloved Nintendo Entertainment System and while the company has been re-releasing its greatest hits such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and The Legend of Zelda on the Virtual Console service for the Wii, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS, there's a large startup cost involved if all you really want to do is play Mega Man 2.  Nintendo is cutting through that expense this November with the release of a cute little micro version of the classic Nintendo Entertainment System control deck dubbed the Nintendo Classic Edition.  Priced at $59.99 and packed in with thirty solid, popular games (no Urban Champion here!), the NES is primed to take over living rooms all over again.  The new hardware offers HDMI out and even uses new NES controllers with Wii remote connectors on them so Wii and Wii U owners can use them for the Virtual Console service.  Read the press release for all of the details.  Here's the list of games that are built into the new console.

  • Balloon Fight™
  • BUBBLE BOBBLE
  • Castlevania™
  • Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest™
  • Donkey Kong™
  • Donkey Kong Jr. ™
  • DOUBLE DRAGON II: THE REVENGE
  • Dr. Mario™
  • Excitebike™
  • FINAL FANTASY®
  • Galaga™
  • GHOSTS’N GOBLINS®
  • GRADIUS™
  • Ice Climber™
  • Kid Icarus™
  • Kirby’s Adventure™
  • Mario Bros. ™
  • MEGA MAN® 2
  • Metroid™
  • NINJA GAIDEN
  • PAC-MAN™
  • Punch-Out!! ™ Featuring Mr. Dream
  • StarTropics™
  • SUPER C™
  • Super Mario Bros.™
  • Super Mario Bros. ™ 2
  • Super Mario Bros. ™ 3
  • TECMO BOWL
  • The Legend of Zelda™
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link™

This is a phenomenal idea and I'm surprised Nintendo hadn't acted on it sooner.  This product hits every basic type of gamer demographic: casual, lapsed, and core.  It will be a popular gift this holiday season for sure.  Even if you discount the cost of the hardware itself, you're paying $2 per game which is a much better deal than the Virtual Console's $5 per game.  Just imagine all of the modern parents who grew up with the NES buying one of these to both play themselves and to share the fun with their young children.   I still have my original NES from thirty years ago hooked up to my media room television, although the muddy visuals from running an old fashioned signal through coax cables and RF adapters looks horrible on my modern HDTV.  I also own a variety of the built-in games on the Virtual Console for both Wii U and 3DS, but I can't resist the nostalgic draw of this mini console.  I think it's time my bedroom TV had a NES of its own.


Be Ready To Believe The Inside Story Of Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Ghostbusters

Long-time readers of my work may remember I once wrote for a now-defunct video game news and reviews outlet called Kombo, and when I learned that developer Terminal Reality was working on a new Ghostbusters game featuring most all of the cast of the original films, I pushed hard to convince the staff that we needed to cover this game with all the resources we could muster.  That led to a great working relationship with Terminal Reality's Environmental Lead / Senior FX Artist Glenn Gamble who became a good friend of the Kombo Breaker podcast, who over the course of several episodes told us lots of inside dirt and fascinating secrets and stories about the development process.  It broke my heart that we weren't able to get the Internet at large to care about the coverage, and while I've read retrospectives about the game over the years, I've never seen anyone reproduce the stories we had on Kombo all those years ago.  Now with a resurgence in Ghostbusters interest thanks to the new Paul Feig-helmed film due out soon, people are starting to wonder about the 2009 game and how it all came to be.  Matt Paprocki has written a brilliantly detailed look at the game's history from initial idea to finished product that corroborates much of what I was told both on and off the record back in 2009.  This is excellent work and digs deep.  For instance, here's a bit on the difficulty of working with actor Bill Murray who reprised the role of Peter Venkman for the game:

There was a problem: for reasons known only to Bill Murray himself, Murray had planned only to do some of his lines to get started, and to return later to do the rest. “He thought he would give us lines to get started,” said Melchior—but development time was short at this point. “Well, the game ships in June [2009], so, no.”

Melchior recalled the stressful days that followed. “We went through as many lines as we could on Saturday, took a lot of breaks. We kept him engaged because he likes baseball, I like baseball. Every time there was a dead period where it looked like it was going south, I just started talking about baseball. He recorded [a] few lines but delivered them well then said we were going to do the rest tomorrow because we had two days. There was a sleepless night between me and the associate producer Ben Borth in New York because there was a chance he was not going to show up for day two. True to his word, he showed up.”

The problem was Murray never finished. How many lines Murray completed is unclear—Melchior claims it was half of his scripted 750-800 lines, while Haworth hesitated to give a number. Regardless, Murray’s work was done. He wasn’t coming back. “I’m not going to judge the way he works because it’s how he probably works on everything,” said Melchior.

If you're hungry for more Ghostbusters game stories, then you'll be happy to know that I've republished most of my old Kombo coverage here on PTB over the years along with some new material that was exclusive to this site because, well, to be honest I think I made my Kombo co-workers sick of the topic and they were tired of indulging my interest.  There was just so much to tell!  Settle in and consume as much as you like.  Covering the development of this game was the absolute highlight of my years with Kombo. 

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On The Outside Looking In At Pokémon Go

Pokémon GoI missed Pokémon when it enjoyed its original spotlight moment.  The original Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue released in 1998 in the United States, and by then I was driving a car for the first time and focusing on finishing high school (with breaks for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on my Nintendo 64).  Since most of my Game Boy time had been spent in the backseat of my parents' car as an underage passenger, once I was able to hit the road on my own and pal around with friends on our own terms, my interest in Game Boy games began to wane (I even missed out on Wario Land 2 and the twin Zelda games Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, all experience gaps I rectified as an adult).  Combine all of that with societal peer pressure that older teens like myself should not partake of the "gotta catch 'em all" sensation that was gripping our collective elementary school siblings and cousins, my social circle never had to choose between Charmander and Squirtle.  Having missed that original window into Pokémon, I never really bothered to pursue it later in life.  That's all a long way to start to explain why when it comes to the new mobile augmented reality sensation Pokémon Go, I'm on the outside looking in.  I'll never have the connection to it that my friends do, but that's OK.

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