Video Games Live Goes To Super Mario World

Super Mario WorldVideo Games Live has created dozens of memorable orchestral rock adaptations of favorite video game soundtracks from Sonic the Hedgehog to Chrono Trigger to Street Fighter II, and the group's latest album, Level 5, keeps the hits coming.  Featuring music from games including Metroid, Ico, Phoenix Wright, and Okami, the album is required listening for game soundtrack fans.  My favorite track from Level 5 has to be a medley of music from Nintendo's classic 1991 Super NES hit, Super Mario World.  Take a musical journey through Dinosaur Land with this cut from Level 5 and then head over to check out the other tracks.  I've had the good fortune to attend VGL's live shows several times in the past few years and they never cease to entertain, amaze, and poke the nostalgic sweet spot.  Be sure to see about tickets if and when they tour in your area.  I eagerly await Level 6!

Rockin' Kats Rocks The House

Rockin' KatsWhenever I hear that Atlus has a new video game to announce, I hold out hopes and light a candle for a revival of the company's 1991 Nintendo Entertainment System classic platformer Rockin' Kats, but instead it's all Persona and Shin Megami Tensei all the time.  No matter; I am a patient man.  As for you, if you're unfamiliar with the fun wonder that is Rockin' Kats, then lucky for you that Hardcore Gaming 101 is here to educate you in the ways of kitty protagonist Willy, his girlfriend Jill, and bulldog bully Mugsy.  Part DuckTales and part Bionic Commando, Rockin' Kats truly does rock.  Here's Dylan Cornelius at HG101 describing the mechanics of Willy's signature weapon: the punch gun.

The Punch Gun is the heart of Rockin' Kats. The Punch itself is a large fist that emerges from Willy's gun, and is one part weapon, one part swinging mechanism and one part pogo stick. If you've ever bounced on Scrooge McDuck's cane in Capcom's DuckTales, the pogo stick will seem familiar. Punching little gangster dogs in the face shouldn't be much trouble for anyone that's played a platformer with a weapon. Using the Gun to swing, however, doesn't come as naturally. When you shoot the gun at a platform, the fist attaches itself to the platform. From here, you swing with the 'B' button and press the 'B' button again to detach when ready. It's easy enough to launch Willy forward across chasms or bodies of water, but there are sections where you'll need to swing him backwards to reach an out-of-the-way platform or combine the swing with the pogo ability to move upwards. The more complex maneuevers never feel natural, and often result in trial-and-error deaths if you misjudge the momentum or timing of your swing.

I rented Rockin' Kats many times at the Movie Gallery in 1991 and I was determined to reach the end.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the end wasn't so easy to reach.  Complete the game's four main levels and a fifth level unlocks featuring a boss rush of all of the previously featured enemies and a showdown with Mugsy himself.  Even that was not the end; after all of that, Mugsy challenges Willy to one last lengthy level designed around more intense challenges and remixed encounters.  Moreover, in this final stage, all of Willy's hard-earned weapons and items are disabled.  It takes skill to make it to the true end of Rockin' Kats, but it's well worth the journey.  The soundtrack offers the kind of peppy, energetic charm that was the hallmark of the best NES games.  Willy and friends are nowhere to be found today, sadly, and this game is perfect for a Virtual Console revival on Nintendo platforms.  I really hope that Atlus brings it back.  It's a purrfect perfect game to pick up and play without a major commitment.

How Did Zelda: Link's Awakening Do That?

The Legend of Zelda: Link's AwakeningNintendo's Game Boy is remembered a simplistic handheld gaming system, but its real legacy is that it could accomplish so many amazing technical feats despite being so simple.  The platform came a long way from the basics of 1989's Super Mario Land.  Even by 1993, for instance, the hardware was running games far more complex than even Nintendo itself imagined.  While a traditional-for-the-time Legend of Zelda adventure was at one time considered off the table, eventually the developers were able to coax such an experience from the Game Boy which led to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening.  The game would be updated for the Game Boy Color in 1998 which is where we join this interesting technical analysis behind the game's special effects.  How did the developers squeeze so much out of so little?

The original Game Boy was first released in 1989, and has quite basic capabilities. The graphic primitives are based on tiles, background and sprites. Tiles are 8x8 bitmaps, arranged into the grid of a large scrollable background.  This grid is very rigid: that’s 8x8 for you, and nothing else. Fortunately, sprites are objects that can move with smaller increments, positioned over the background.  Note that there is no “direct drawing” mode of some sort: you can’t draw individual pixels on the Game Boy screen, it has to be part of a 8x8 tile.  This severely limits the drawing possibilities. Any advanced effects will have to use complex workarounds.  To understand, let’s have a look at the introduction sea sequence. We’re going to strip it of all special effects, and only use background scrolling, tiles and sprites.

It's always fascinating to get a look "under the hood" of a video game, especially one as beloved as Link's Awakening.  What we took for granted as fluidly moving a character around a screen or watching a ship crash against stormy waves at sea actually has a lot of work behind it to make it function properly.  There will be more installments in this series at the KZONE website and I encourage you to continue reading along as more are published.  I know I will.

Power Button - Episode 214: Big Changes From Nintendo, Apple, And Sony

Power ButtonThis week's new product announcements from Nintendo, Apple, and Sony certainly turned heads and sparked anger.  Ranging from Nintendo's Super Mario Run for iPhone to the new iPhone 7 ditching the reliable headphone jack to Sony introducing the 4K-capable PlayStation 4 Pro that doesn't quite play 4K things as you'd expect, there's a lot of news for Blake Grundman to rant and rave about.  If you like Blake on the soapbox, then you'll love this week's episode of Power Button.   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: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

This article was originally published at on November 24, 2009.

When Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings spring a booby-trapped birthday cake on Princess Peach, Mario, Luigi, and two mushroom retainer Toads chase their escaping airship across the Mushroom Kingdom through a healthy dose of traditional side-scrolling platforming action for up to four players in New Super Mario Bros. Wii for the Nintendo Wii. Expect to make full use of Mario's signature power-ups such as the Super Mushroom and Fire Flower along with new aids like the Ice Flower that freezes enemies in throwable ice blocks, the Penguin Suit that combines the power of the Ice Flower with enhanced mobility in the water and on frozen ground, and the Propeller Suit that allows for a quick on-demand flight through an adventure suited for mushroom power pros and cautious casual gamers alike.

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PlayStation 4 Pro Is Coming Soon

Sony PlayStation 4 Pro

Sony officially announced its Neo upgrade for its flagship PlayStation 4 console today as an actual product you can soon buy rather than a mysterious project currently in development.  Now known as the PlayStation 4 Pro, the upgraded console boasts a faster CPU, expanded hard drive space, an upgraded GPU, 4K and HDR capabilities, and a $399 price tag.  This is exciting news for people with a 4K television and some expendable income to spend this holiday season as the console is due out in November 2016USgamer explains what this all means for you and includes a list of upcoming PS4 games that will look better on a Pro console.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Mass Effect Andromeda were among the games shown for the console, with Andromeda showing an intriguing - but ultimately lightweight - gameplay sequence.

Here are the rest of the games that support the PlayStation 4 Pro:

  • Spider-Man
  • For Honor
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Days Gone
  • Watch Dogs 2
  • Farpoint
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III
  • FIFA 17
  • Battlefield 1
  • Dishonored 2
  • Final Fantasy XV

Netflix and YouTube apps that support 4K visuals will also be available.  This looks like a solid list and if you're hungry for 4K gaming and are already invested in the PlayStation ecosystem, the upgrade may not be such a bad idea.  On the other hand, people like me who are still holding fast to "only" a regular high definition television that tops out at 1080p will see an even steeper price tag to make this upgrade totally worthwhile.  Sony boasts that on the Pro, "all games will run in 1080p resolution, and some will even run in a higher or more stable framerate" which, to me, sounds like the kind of promises we first heard about the original model of PS4 back in 2013 when it was preparing to launch.

I'd imagine that if and when I get a 4K television, I would be interested in maximizing what it can do and could surely talk myself into a PS4 Pro.  However, as I said this morning about buying a New Nintendo 3DS, I'm not one to toss out a working console so long as there's life left in it.  My PS4 would have to die a horrible death before I'd eagerly replace it when it is already meeting my current needs to my satisfaction.  I know there's a market out there for the Pro, I'm very curious to see just how large it actually is, and I hope that everyone who wants a Pro is able to get one, but I also see more popularity for the also-announced PS4 Slim console that takes everything people already enjoy about the existing PS4 hardware and redesigns it to fit a smaller price at $299.  Sure, an extra one hundred dollars isn't that much of a leap if you're already buying or have bought a 4K television, but if you don't have 4K in your home and don't expect to any time soon, what's the incentive to spend money on extra features you'll primarily never use? The short version of all of this: wait for the reviews before you buy.

So I Bought A New Nintendo 3DS

New Nintendo 3DSAfter several months of debating whether or not to replace my dying Nintendo 3DS battery with a new one or just retire the system and replace it with a New Nintendo 3DS, I finally talked myself into the latter option.  It wasn't too hard of a choice once Nintendo and Target teamed up to sell a non-XL version of the system with Super Mario Maker cover plates and Super Mario 3D Land preinstalled.  That's a bundle I could go for!  I bought it a week ago and have been exploring what the n3DS offers over the original model, and so far I'm impressed.  Any buyer's remorse or lingering hesitation I may have experienced on my way out of the store last week is long gone by now.

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The Ins And Outs (But Mostly Ins) Of Game Boy Cartridges

TetrisThere's something special about holding a Nintendo Game Boy game pak in your hand.  What felt like large square coasters in my childhood hand now feel like small crackers in my adult hand, but they have and still feel like the sensation of fun about to happen.  What's really inside those cartridges?  What does the fun look like in its purest physical form?  Fyrius is engaged in a photography project that catalogs the interior of popular Game Boy cartridges split open for all to see.  Marvel and gawk at the chips, batteries, and circuit boards that combine to bring us beloved favorites like Tetris, Super Mario Land, and Bionic Commando!  It's portable power in the palm of your hand.

Gameboy cartridges

(via Reddit)

Slim PS4 Reviewed Despite Not Being Announced Yet

Sony-ps4-logoSony was seemingly planning a stealthy "surprise, you can buy it today!" announcement for its upcoming redesigned PlayStation 4, but the new slimmer console has been spotted out in the wild prior to its official announcement.  Despite not officially existing yet according to the company line, the new slim PS4 is coming and Laura Dale at Let's Play Video Games has acquired a unit to review.  The short version is that it's the same PS4 but slightly smaller, quieter, and cooler with minor features added and one feature removed, but there's nothing here that fundamentally changes the PS4 experience.

The PS4 Slim model is, simply put, a smaller PS4. It doesn’t perform any better or worse than the previous model, but does run cooler and quieter. It has a slightly improved controller, but the box itself doesn’t run any better. Don’t expect Xbox One S-style HDR and 4K blue-ray support. This is still a basic PS4 model with no internal upgrades over the previous iteration, and is not the upcoming PS4 Neo. It does not make games run better, or upscale them to 4K.

It's good to see that Sony hasn't fundamentally changed the console in such a way that it renders existing PS4s obsolete (that'll come later with the Neo hardware revision).  The real news tagging along with this review is that Dale had to basically disown possession of the PS4 lest she incur Sony's wrath.  Her review opens with a few paragraphs spelling out that she does not own the PS4, nor does she still have it and that it came from a store manager who broke a street date, but did not steal it.  Moreover, numerous large gaming sites had shown interest in publishing the review, but all of them backed off.  Preemptive intervention from Sony warning those sites not to get on the company's bad side by running a review of a product they didn't want "out there" prior to an official announcement?  Sure seems that way.  Here is where Sony learns the hard lesson that it's not possible to keep a secret in our current age of information and social media.

How Long Does It Take For Zelda To Begin?

The Legend of ZeldaNintendo's beloved The Legend of Zelda series has a knack for roping players into its ever-expanding mythos of faeries, gorons, moblins, and zoras, but it seems that with each new sequel, players are forced to have their hands held for a prolonged period of time before the adventure actually begins.  What once started out as simply "It's dangerous to go alone!  Take this." before tossing Link to the wolves has turned into a tradition of hour-long tutorials and lots of expository dialogue ending with something along the lines of "Would you like me to repeat all of that?  → Yes No"  Matthew Martin over at Cult Of Whatever has crunched the numbers to determine just how long these tutorials have become and which games are the worst offenders.

Whereas the N64 game transitioned you from tutorial to first dungeon very naturally (you get your sword and shield and then enter the Tree, easy-peasy), Wind Waker’s first action sequence takes place, not in a dungeon, but in a forest, as you attempt to rescue Tetra from Ganon’s minions. That action sequence is first teased, when you look through the telescope your sister gets your for your birthday, but even the tease doesn’t come until after seventeen minutes of running around town “learning the basics.” After you know what you have to do (adventure!) you still have to go to the sword master (tutorial!) and “fight him” (that is, you have to learn how to do all the various sword strikes, even if you’ve played the game fifty times before). Once you’ve done that, finally, you can head off on the adventure. It’s fun the first time, but after a few more times it can be very tiring indeed.

I don't mind going alone, but just let me go!  These increasingly long tutorials are part of the reason why the Zelda games are starting to fall off of my radar.  I want to play them, but I also know that I don't want to sit through a long learning experience to teach me that rupees are worth money and that it's possible to throw pots.  I've known these series conventions for thirty years!  There really should be a way for seasoned players to bypass all of the instruction or, better yet, shape the experience so that all of the up-front training isn't necessary.

I've bought the modern remakes of Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess intent on replaying them all, but whenever I look at the cartridge or disc, I think of that seemingly endless exposition and put it back on the shelf.  I don't have hours upon hours at a time to dedicate to these games anymore.  Often I am looking for a quick hit of action which is why when I get the itch to replay a Zelda game, I turn to the original Nintendo Entertainment System titles or the Game Boy titles which kick Link off on a journey basically right away.  I'm so glad that the upcoming The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild promises to follow in those old structural footsteps.  I want to swing swords at monsters, not herd goats or go fishing right at the start.

Would you like me to repeat all of that?

→ Yes