The Fall And Rise Of Sonic The Hedgehog

Sonic the HedgehogSega's Sonic the Hedgehog has suffered through some rough times for most of his existence.  While enjoying success on the Sega Genesis and Game Gear, the franchise began a downward slide during the Dreamcast era after rushing to meet deadlines and staff attrition caught up with the company behind it.  Game Informer's Brian Shea chronicles all the ways that Sonic went wrong from the canceled Saturn-exclusive Sonic X-Treme to Sonic Adventure 2 being developed by a staff of just eleven people to unrelenting holiday shopping dates to get 2006's disappointing Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360 out the door on time.

Despite this fragmentation and turnover, Iizuka asserts that the real problem with Sonic 2006 was the deadlines. "We missed out on that really important time to polish and tune and manipulate the map and make sure that the world really felt good and the gameplay felt good," he says. "Because it didn't have that, it didn't turn out as good as the development team wanted."

The lack of polish is evident. Sonic 2006 is full of visual and audio glitches, environmental clipping, and imprecise gameplay. The title has become synonymous with the struggles the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise had faced in recent years. Sonic 2006 was meant to be a return to the series' roots, but it ended up damning the franchise in the eyes of many. The series had taken obvious turns away from what made it great in the first place.

It sounds like Sega may have finally learned a lesson after years of middling sequels.  The company delayed its latest Sonic Boom title for a year to allow the developers time to turn it into a polished product, and the upcoming Sonic Mania finally reaches back to the Genesis-era design that made the franchise popular in the first place.  Instead of hearing "oh, we'll fix it next time" from a Sonic Team spokesperson and then nothing happens to follow up on that halfhearted enthusiasm, we're actually seeing some behavioral changes behind the scenes with the delays and design decisions and even choice of staffing.  Let's hope that Sega finally has this whole Sonic the Hedgehog thing figured out.

PTB Tip Jar Now Available

LuigiOver the past few months, several of you out there asked if there was any way for generous folks to kick a few dollars into a tip jar to help keep Press The Buttons running.  I'd always said no because I didn't want to charge you for content or lock any of it away behind a paywall.  Ultimately, PTB is my fun hobby job that I pursue in my spare time.  For years I ran banner advertisements on PTB to help pay the bills around here, but as the online advertising market turned more and more towards annoyance and malware, I dropped the banners, depriving the site of its key source of income.  I figure if the ads are so irritating that even I want to block them on my own site, there's no way I could or would expect any of you out there to deal with them either.  People keep asking about the tip jar though, so who am I to keep turning down the idea?  I've set up a PTB tip jar through PayPal at where, if you like, you can send me a few dollars to help cover my efforts here.  Thank you all so much for your continued support of Press The Buttons through reading, commenting, sharing links, and now the tip jar.  I have the best audience on the Internet and it's because of all of you that doing this work is so much fun and fulfilling.

Power Button - Episode 223: Nintendo Switches It Up

Power ButtonNintendo revealed that its secretive NX project will be known as the Nintendo Switch when it hits the market in March 2017, but the Internet isn't waiting five months to start the speculation fires.  A short concept trailer has revealed the basic idea behind the Switch and now that our theme shows for Halloween and Election Day are done, we have time to focus on the Switch and discuss what is yet to come for the company's new console.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.

Behold, The True Source Mario

MarioEver notice how merchandise that features Nintendo's beloved Super Mario all uses about the same design of the famous plumber?  The days of off-model interpretations are long gone as the company has tightened up its licensing guidelines to ensure that each and every Mario product is faithful to the approved and intended design of the character.  We've already seen how Nintendo handled its 1990s character manual that specified exact details for 2D illustations, but here in the twenty-first century we have 3D models to guide licensees.  Here's a photo of a Mario maquette used as a master reference for toys, collectibles, and other merchandise on display as the Nintendo World Store in New York City as shared by @VGArtandTidbits on Twitter.  This specific pose is used to get the character as close to perfect as possible.  And yes, I know what you're thinking, but I'm 99% sure that this reference object is not also a giant amiibo.  This can't be the only maquette that Nintendo has produced for its licensing needs and now I really want to see the rest of the set: Luigi, Yoshi, Kirby, Link, and the other stars from the world of Nintendo.  Better yet, I want to own one of these.  It looks better than any actual Mario statue I've ever seen for sale as a mass-produced item.

NES Classic Edition Launches, Sells Out Everywhere

NES ClassicNintendo launched its NES Classic Edition retro console today in stores across North America, but the only way you'd know that was by the "out of stock" notices and unhappy customers waiting in line for nothing.  As usual with Nintendo, the company only manufactured, like, twelve consoles for this first release.  OK that's an exaggeration, but considering that most retailers only received around three to five units to sell per location, it's understandable why people are a little ticked at Nintendo today (and that's before mentioning how many of those consoles went to eBay scalpers who are charging hundreds of dollars for a $59.99 product).  Mike Williams at USgamer explains.

We've been here before with Nintendo. With the launches of the Wii, the Wii U, and Amiibo, the company is known for playing it safe with hardware shipments. Nintendo would rather not have loads of stock sitting on the shelves, as opposed to the more traditional US stocking methods of companies like Microsoft and Sony: ship as many as you have, and if some are on store shelves, that's good because it encourages impulse buying.

Nintendo isn't flying high financially and misjudging a hardware launch can be an expensive proposition. It absolutely makes sense to slowly roll out stock of the NES Classic Edition. Especially during the holiday season, where lower stock can drive consumer interest. 

The problem is that lower stock can also drive consumer resentment and disengagement. There are a number of people who waited in line, only to find out they were consumer #6 for a store that only had five units. There are those looking to purchase the system as gifts, not profit-making auctions. Nintendo is advertising the system, but for an average consumer, heading to retail will only end in a clerk letting them know the system is out-of-stock. And there's a likelihood that's where their interest will stop.

I was ecstatic about the NES Classic when it was first announced months ago, but being unable to preorder left me with time to think it over and since I already own about 80% of the thirty games included as either Virtual Console releases for Wii/Wii U/3DS or as original game paks for my actual still-working Nintendo Entertainment System, I wasn't interested in waiting in line for something that would be out of stock immediately or constantly refreshing a website like Amazon for the three-second window that the product would be available before either selling out or the website crashing due to spiked demand.  I'm reminded of poor Homer Simpson waiting in line to buy tickets to the big football game.

I don't expect Nintendo to change this behavior.  I've often criticized companies for trying to take in All Money instead of just Some Money by overpricing items beyond reason (have you seen the complete edition Watch Dogs 2 from Ubisoft?  It costs $100 for the game plus a season pass plus exclusive extra DLC), and by keeping demand outweighing supply, Nintendo is only making Some Money here on the actual product (stock price seems to be doing alright thanks to the PR value of the whole NES Classic campaign), so I have to give credit for that even though it feels like I wished on a monkey's paw to make it happen.  Meanwhile, there aren't enough consoles to go around, the company promises an eventual restock, scalpers gonna scalp, and sold-out stores are already tired of having to tell people they don't have any consoles left.  Merry Christmas!  We'll see you back here in March for the Nintendo Switch launch.  I hope the company ships more than a dozen units on launch day.

Manos: The Hands Of Fate Game Takes Care Of The Place While The Master Is Away

Manos: The Hands of FateBack in 2012 we were teased with an indie game for iOS based on the "classic" film / Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode Manos: The Hands of Fate.  The game has come and gone now and Hardcore Gaming 101 has given us a look at what it ended up becoming and how it fared in the transition from dare to finished product for mobile platformers and PC.  There's even mention of the 2015 upgrade to the game that added a new level and Torgo as a playable character.

The fundamental flaw of Manos is that it mimics an NES knock-off too well. All the issues with unpolished titles of the era are mirrored here: slippery controls, cheap hits, bad enemy placement, and more. The graphics also don't rise above early NES game appeal, nestled into the blocky tilesets from 1986-87 releases. However, the music does an admirable job replicating the film's meager score into 8-bit sound channels. The playthrough is also very short, being over at a runtime quicker than the film it's based on -- which for many is a perk. Difficulty levels are available, but they only increase or decrease the amount of powerups and health packs.

This is one of those games I meant to pick up, but it was lost in the shuffle and the talk of frustrating difficulty and poorly placed elements are a turn off.  Still, I love the idea of turning MST3K films into little indie games and would love to see more games made with that idea in mind.  Give me games based on The Incredible Melting Man, Soultaker, and Mitchell.  The possibilities go on and on!

New Blaster Master Coming To 3DS

Blaster Master ZeroSunsoft's Blaster Master franchise has been largely dormant for years.  Having first achieved prominence in the Nintendo Entertainment System era, the vehicular shooter with on-foot platformer segments also landed on the Sega Genesis, Nintendo Game Boy, and even the Sony PlayStation over the years in sequels and remakes.  It was last seen in 2010 as a WiiWare title, but now the series is coming back as Blaster Master Zero for the Nintendo 3DS.  Due out in March 2017, developer Inti Creates is taking the reins to create something new using what appears to be the best elements of something old.

Using the original Blaster Master game as a base, we are setting out to create a fully 8-bit experience in a way that both hearkens back to the golden age of the NES and uses the current generation hardware to optimize and power up the game for the players of today. This of course includes new areas and bosses, and new gameplay elements such as extra sub-weapons, improved gameplay when battling outside of your SOPHIA 3rd tank, a more robust scenario, refined and expanded exploration mechanics, and more.

I'm always happy to see a famed property from yesterday return, so I'm glad to see Blaster Master is coming back.  The first screenshots show us an artistic design similar to the old NES game which is fine by me.  The more polished looks of later games in the series never did quite sit right with me.  Some games just need to have that 8-bit style.  They work best in that format.  Inti Creates has a record of strong releases including work on recent Mega Man and Shantae games, so I trust them to get this right.  Bring on Blaster Master Zero!  And while we're waiting, how about bringing the original NES game to the Virtual Console so newcomers can see what all the fuss is about?

$99 New Nintendo 3DS To Be Latest Bundle You Can't Find

New Nintendo 3DSNintendo has a knack for being, oh, let's say... stingy... with its hardware allocations.  If you want to buy one of the New Nintendo 3DS (non-XL) bundles that the company has sporadically released over the past year, you had to hurry because they typically sold out quickly and were not restocked.  Those $150 bundles were popular, but now Nintendo has announced a $99 Black Friday New 3DS bundle that, if history is any lesson, will be available for about thirteen minutes at a handful of retailers, none of which are near you.  $99 is also a record low price for this hardware and it's a Black Friday bundle so, yes, I stand by my belief that while this is a great deal, you'll never find it.  It may as well not exist.  It's pretty though.  Here's some of the press release:

It’s a deal spelled out in black and white: For the first time ever, Nintendo’s popular hand-held New Nintendo 3DS video game system will be offered at a suggested retail price of $99.99. Two special-edition models – one black, one white, both featuring Mushroom Kingdom characters and imagery – will be available starting Nov. 25. This system, along with great software, will appeal to gift-givers and value shoppers alike.

If somehow you can find this bundle and you're in the market for a 3DS, I say snap it up and don't look back.  There's so many amazing 3DS games worth experiencing and the New 3DS makes for a great little Virtual Console machine with titles for the NES, Super NES, and classic Game Boy / Color line.  I'm playing mine so much more since I upgraded to a New model back in August.  If you go hunting for this bundle, I wish you great luck.  You're going to need it.

Power Button - Episode 222: Mike Haggar For President

Power ButtonAs Election Day 2016 looms in the United States it's as good a time as any for us to take an episode of Power Button and discuss our favorite gaming political leaders.  From Final Fight's Mike Haggar to Saints Row IV's President boss to Princess Peach of the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond, we speak truth to power.  As a fun sidequest, we also take a little time to fill the US Cabinet with our favorite gaming characters who are best qualified for the job.  Who will be appointed as Secretary of Education?  Listen and find out, then go vote, Americans!   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, 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. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.

Nintendo Resurrects Power Line To Launch NES Classic Edition

Nintendo PowerlineNot to go flashback on you twice in one day, but once again I say that back before the Internet offered up all help for every game ever, stumped players turned to magazines or, if that failed, to phone services like Nintendo's Power Line that was staffed by game play counselors skilled in all things Nintendo.  Can't find Level 7 in The Legend of ZeldaCall the Power Line.  Looking for a warp whistle in Super Mario Bros. 3?  Call the Power Line.  Completely lost in MetroidCall the Power Line.  The service has been defunct for years now, but Nintendo is bringing it back for three days as part of the marketing push for the NES Classic Edition console.  It even has the nearly same phone number: (425) 885-7529 (the area code is different now).  The revived line won't connect you with a live human as in days gone by, but instead lets you listen to automated messages.  Here's some of the press release:

While playing one of the 30 great NES games included on the NES Classic Edition during the weekend following the Friday launch, you might find yourself puzzled by some of the more challenging games. (“How do I find the first Warp Whistle in Super Mario Bros. 3?” you might ask yourself.) If your memories of the original games fail you, no need to fret. You can just call the Power Line, which will return and run from Nov. 11 to Nov. 13, between the hours of 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT each day. The original Power Line was a beloved service in the ’80s that connected fans to Nintendo Game Play Counselors who offered helpful tips and tricks. In this fully automated version, you can use your real-life phone (bonus points if it has a cord!) to dial (425) 885-7529 to hear recorded tips for several games, plus behind-the-scenes stories from original Nintendo Game Play Counselors. You never know what you might learn!

Nintendo is banking hard on nostalgia to sell the NES Classic Edition.  Aside from the Power Line, the mini console comes with a classic NES-era poster and the company is not allowing pre-orders through (most) retailers, so you'll have to hit the streets and search for the console just like we had to do in the 1980s.  It's a unique idea and certainly points for effort to Nintendo for going all-in on this.  I just hope they're prepared to meet demand.  One thing we don't need the company to bring back from the 1980s is the frustrating "chip shortage" excuses that kept fans from diving into the latest games such as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.