Mini-Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum

Batman: Arkham Asylum

This article was originally published at Kombo.com on September 9, 2009.

When the Joker goes on a rampage in Gotham City, Batman intervenes and apprehends him. After delivering him back to Arkham Asylum, the clown prince of crime escapes custody and flees, forcing Batman to intervene yet again. This is no escape attempt, however. The Joker is putting his latest mad plan into action this night, and the other residents of Arkham - Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, and a few others lurking in the shadows - are eager to take a swing at the Dark Knight. As Batman, players must not only use his formidable combat skills to bring down Joker and his henchgoons, but also his sleuthing skills to save the Arkham staff from Joker's mad plot.

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Let's Watch Batman: The Telltale Series - Episode 1: Realm of Shadows

BatmanTelltale Games is taking a different approach to its new Batman game by casting players more as Bruce Wayne than as Batman.  I wrote last month about how much I was looking forward to this idea and now that the first episode of the game, "Realm of Shadows", has been released, you can watch me guide Bruce through his first adventures as he throws a fundraising party for Harvey Dent's mayoral campaign and works with Selina Kyle to solve the mystery behind mobster Carmine Falcone's criminal empire.  I'll have more on Batman this week including a review of this installment of the game and a Power Button podcast episode in which Blake Grundman and I talk in-depth about this new Batman adventure.


Nintendo Power Loved Mario Paint

Mario PaintNintendo Power magazine had a knack for pushing upcoming video games that its mothership company, Nintendo itself, wanted to be overwhelming critical and sales successes.  One of the titles that enjoyed the extra coverage boost was 1992's Mario Paint for the Super NES which took the cover of Volume 39 of the magazine and sported eight pages of coverage which explained the point of the "game" (more a creativity tool than a proper game, really), how to control it with the new mouse controller, the best way to use stamps, the wonders of the Undo Dog, a basic animation primer, introduction to music composition, and much more.  Fan site SuperLuigiBros.com has the Mario Paint coverage from that issue for you to see.  Marvel at the era when video game enthusiasts had to be taught the concepts behind of frames of animation.  Today we see that same target demographic vehemently arguing over how many frames per second a game outputs with such values measured down to the decimal.  These truly were simpler times.


The Listen Of Zelda: Master Quest

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the GoddessesBack in 2012 I happily attended a performance of The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses when it toured through Florida, so when I heard that it would be passing through the state again this year with its revised Master Quest program, I eagerly bought tickets.  My girlfriend and I sat in the center of the front row balcony last Saturday evening at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando to enjoy the Orlando Philharmonic perform selections from thirty years of Nintendo's beloved The Legend of Zelda franchise.  Hearing favorite musical selections played loud and with intense energy from Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess while dramatic moments from the games were projected onscreen behind the orchestra and choir gave me chills and sent me back in time to memories of exploring those games for the first time, making me want to replay them all over again (if I only had the time!).  Just about all of the major Zelda titles were represented in some form: Ocarina, Majora's Mask, A Link to the Past, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, and Skyward Sword were all present. 

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Relive Nintendo History With The Nintendo Power Archive

Nintendo PowerUPDATE: The magazine archive has been deleted.  Lawyers strike again.

Like every Nintendo console-owning kid in the 1980s and 1990s, I had a subscription to Nintendo's in-house review/strategy/propaganda publication, Nintendo Power.  I came onboard the magazine with Issue 5 in March 1989  (Ninja Gaiden on the cover!) and for over ten years I read each issue cover to cover multiple times to  guide me through the games I owned, help me choose the games I wanted, and help me look like a gaming superstar on the playground with secret codes and tips.  I purged my collection when I left home after graduating high school, but the memories live on at Archive.org which earlier this year quietly put up a scanned collection of the first 143 issues which will take you from the days when Super Mario Bros. 2 was taking North America by storm though the launch of Super Mario World past the dawn of Super Mario 64 into the heady days of Super Mario Advance's impending arrival for the Game Boy Advance in 2001.  Seeing each cover again after all these years takes me back to specific moments in my life: laying in the family recliner and tracing a path through the maps for Mega Man 3 in Issue 20, reading Issue 50 while waiting for a haircut, reading Issue 61 in the backseat of the car...  I intended to list a few "greatest hits" issues as recommended reading, but as I browsed the collection I found myself marking down each and every issue, so let me just say to pick a magazine and start reading.  You really can't go wrong.


Mini-Review: Sonic Gems Collection

Sonic Gems Collection

This review was originally published at Kombo.com on September 5, 2005.

Several years ago Sega stuffed the best that Sonic the Hedgehog has to offer into the compilation title Sonic Mega Collection. The title sold well enough on the Nintendo GameCube to prompt the release of a Plus version for other platforms, but one highly demanded title of days-gone-by eluded both iterations: Sonic the Hedgehog CD. Fans clamored long enough and loud enough that Sega has finally brought Sonic CD back to the store shelves along with several other seldom-seen Sonic titles with Sonic Gems Collection.  Considering that Sonic Gems Collection is a compilation disc, it would be inappropriate (and unfair) to review the collection taken as a whole. Instead the parts that make up the sum must be showcased separately, highlighting the bright spots and briefly dwelling on the disappointments.

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Shovel Knight Goes To Japan

Shovel KnightThe localization industry is a fascinating business.  There's more to bringing a video game from one country to another than just running the text through Google Translate and then knocking off early for bowling and cheese fries.  It's not enough to translate the script; localizers must tweak and tune all kinds of game elements to better fit the target market.  Sometimes that means rewriting dialogue to change cultural references.  Sometimes that involves altering graphical elements or sound effects to fit into a culture's frame of reference.  Sometimes it even means that the developers had a little more time to work on the base game and can improve aspects of it that they felt still needed improvement.  Today's modern games have the benefit of decades of localization best practices and history to fall back on, but during the Nintendo Entertainment System era, localizers did sort of just outright translate the script (often poorly!) and call it a day.  Yacht Club Games recently brought its NES love letter Shovel Knight to Japan which meant that they needed to localize the game for that market.  They split the difference between the modern and the 8-bit era with their process resulting in a Nintendo Famicom-type version of the game that is professionally altered, but keeps the 8-bit era localization effort intact.  Check out how far they went with localization studio 8-4 to get it just right.

So when we went about localizing Shovel Knight, we wanted to recreate some of the fun differences you might find between regions. We even went through the process of trying to “reverse” localize it. That meant to us, asking what features Shovel Knight would have had if it started out as a Japanese game. We had a few rules in all our changes though: 1) We wanted the gameplay to remain consistent 2) We didn’t want any significant change that made you feel like you missed out by not playing the original version 3) We didn’t want to do something that was traditionally considered bad localization. To us that meant, no typos or bad English, and nothing that would diminish the quality of the game. We also didn’t want to change too much! In the end, we wanted create a great localization by today’s standards. But we had to add a little fun! So we made a few subtle changes here and there that we think really made a big difference!

Now that there's so much information out there about classic NES games and their Famicom counterparts, it's easy to see that, for instance, Nintendo was able to animate the water on the overworld map in the Japanese version of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link while it's static in the international versions.  Likewise, Shovel Knight's Japanese version has animated grass.  Just like when I learned about the Zelda II water, I found myself thinking "No fair!  Japan has a better version!".  That's how authentic this localization process is and I commend Yacht Club Games and 8-4 for their dedication to the craft.  Of course, unlike the differences between Zelda II in which the international version has extra bosses, improved music, and other cosmetic upgrades compared to the Japanese original (so overall I did experience the best version of the game when I first played it), in the end I think that the differences in Shovel Knight do not detract from either version of the game.  It doesn't feel like anything is missing that would notably impact the game which really is the right way to go about things.  They really did follow their own rules.  Bowling and cheese fries all around!


Latest Nintendo NX Rumors Reiterate Home/Portable Console Hybrid

InterocitorNintendo hasn't officially revealed its upcoming new NX video game console, but the rumor mill has churned for months regarding the exact nature of the hardware.  Eurogamer is the latest to stir the pot with a report stating that the NX is a portable console with detachable controllers that also plugs into your home television for proper home console gaming as well.  There's also talk that the NX uses cartridges rather than discs.  I don't usually report on rumors, but this one is fun to think about, so I'll bite.  Here's Tom Phillips at Eurogamer:

Considering NX's basis as a handheld first and foremost, the choice may not come as too much of a surprise - although we have heard the suggestion Nintendo recommends a 32GB cartridge, which is small when considering the size of many modern games.

Naturally, we expect digital game downloads will also be available. We were told Nintendo considered but then decided against making a system which supported digital downloads only.

There's a lot to like about this idea.  Nintendo no longer needs to split development of a title to accommodate both handheld and home markets (The most recent Super Smash Bros. games for Wii U and 3DS which are essentially the same game but each tweaked and compromised in some way with their host platforms in mind say hello).  Moreover, if publishers are interested in porting their popular games to the NX, suddenly there are handheld versions of, say, Overwatch, available for the same price as the home console version.  Of course, that assumes that publishers would want to rework their games to run on the NX.  It's been said for years that people buy Nintendo hardware to play Nintendo games, full stop, and with Nintendo going off in their own direction again, I doubt belief that will change much.

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Akuma Challenges You To Read His Violent Backstory

AkumaCapcom's Street Fighter franchise boasts many larger than life characters each capable of crippling you at a moment's notice, but one of the most powerful, more dangerous, and most mysterious combatants is Akuma.  First appearing as a secret character in Super Street Fighter II Turbo where, under certain difficult circumstances, he interrupted the climactic final battle against M. Bison, he's gone on to become one of the faces of the Street Fighter brand.  Den of Geek chronicles his history across video games, movies, anime, comics, crossover appearances in other games, and much more.

Akuma is the younger brother of Gouken. Together, they studied Ansatsuken (“Assassin’s Fist”) under their master Goutetsu. Akuma, obsessed with becoming the strongest, believed that the dark side of the martial art style is where it’s at and let the killing intent consume him. He mastered the Raging Demon (also known as “Shun Goku Satsu”), a Penance Stare-like fatal attack that does more damage depending on the sins of the victim, and used it on both his teacher and brother. Now Akuma hides in the shadows, hoping to find the one worthy opponent that he can fight to the death. He’s powered by his own negative emotions, and it's physically transformed him into a demon.

I remember first reading about Akuma in an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly right about the time that SSF2T was hitting arcades, but I knew I would never be able to face him there.  He remained a secret character locked away behind complex requirements for most of his early appearances, and it wasn't until the original release of Street Fighter IV that I finally was skilled enough to unlock him on a regular basis.  While other Street Fighter warriors have complex reasons for why they fight, Akuma's is refreshingly simple.  After all, anyone who is known for a special attack called Instant Hell Murder probably has his priorities straight.

Reading the Den of Geek article, I was surprised at just how many guest appearances Akuma has racked up over the years.  Making him appear as a technologically augmented Cyber Akuma in Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter should feel like Capcom descending into self-parody, but it works.  I want to see him appear in Street Fighter V, but for now he's only slated to play a large part in the upcoming Tekken 7 where instead of being a guest character for the sake of just being a guest, trailers imply he's a major part of the storyline.  That's a pretty good character arc for a character originally created to keep up with Mortal Kombat which gained extra popularity and mystique during its rivalry with Street Fighter II thanks to the hidden ninja Reptile. 


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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