The Death of Videogame History

Duck Hunt is dead. To be more accurate, Duck Hunt is dead to anyone who owns a flatscreen TV. The tech inside of the NES Zapper (the “light gun”) isn’t compatible with flat screen TVs, thus rendering the peripheral completely inoperable for anyone feeling an itch to shoot digital fowl. While some might be quick to dismiss this loss as insignificant, in reality it’s emblematic of the looming problem of incompatibility that will soon cripple our ability to enjoy older games and consoles.

Every console to date has been compatible with composite cables, which most people think of as the red, white, and yellow cords that stick out of a game system and into the back of the TV. The current generation of consoles offer dual compatibility with composite and HDMI cables, but some systems like the Ouya and XBox One don’t/won’t offer composite support at all. As technology advances, these old methods of input are becoming ever more obsolete and unsuitable for modern screen resolutions. As such, within the next 10 to 15 years, it’s more than likely that composite jacks won’t even be offered on new TV models.

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The lack of composite support would mean the death knell of classic consoles. The NES, Genesis, Dreamcast, PS2, and many other systems would be unplayable without the availability of composite ports. Gamers can try hoarding tube TVs and older flat screens, but that’s an untenable solution to the problem. The timer is ticking ever closer to rendering these great consoles bricks and there’s no viable alternative in sight.

What’s most worrisome about this scenario is that many of these systems are home to games that can’t be played anywhere else. For example, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy is still inexplicably absent from the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Consoles, so it remains landlocked to the SNES hardware. While digital distribution of older titles allows some classic games to remain playable, there are still large chunks of obscurer games that remain absent and have little chance of ever being brought back. What’s worse, licensed games face particularly uphill battles to see the light of day again, as legalities enter the fray and further obfuscate things. If we can’t even depend on the availability of AAA titles like Donkey Kong Country, it makes the prospects of future players experiencing these games doubtful.

My primary concern beyond not being able to play older games is that there is a very limited effort being made by the videogame industry to preserve its history. As time marches along, older systems are relegated to thrift shops and specialty stores, along with the memories they once provided. Again, digital marketplaces help to keep some of these titles in the public eye, but anything not collated and catalogued or remastered in HD is crumbling to dust in the sun at flea markets across the country. Classic pieces of gaming history confined to the cartridges and discs they were printed on that will never be played again. It’s infuriatingly unnecessary.

As videogames become more accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment, the more important it will be for publishers to preserve their back catalogs of games. There should be no lost masterpieces of gaming because we live in an age where it’s easy to keep everything saved and stored. Duck Hunt might not be Uncharted, but it holds a special place in the memories of gamers and it’s saddening to think that there’s no way to share it with new players. Hopefully the videogame industry will begin realizing the worth of its past and make a more concerted effort to keep it alive, well, and appreciated.

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Toy Box 3-Klik Nintendo Candy Dispensers

Toy Box is dipping into the candy jar this week, as we highlight Klik’s line of Nintendo candy dispensers from 2001. The series consisted of three primary characters; Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong. These original three are similar to PEZ dispensers, but with a sliding mechanism. Klik continues to makes Nintendo candy dispensers, but these are among their earliest.

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More toy treasures next week, dear readers!

Retro(spective) 14-Resident Evil 4

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It’s interesting that such a beloved game as Resident Evil 4 should have as chaotic a development history as it does. RE4 as it’s known today is the end result of at least four different builds over a six year period. The culmination of Capcom’s efforts remains one of their greatest achivements, as RE4 is widely considered to be a landmark videogame for its advances in play control, narrative, and graphics.

When development of RE4 began in 1999, series director Shinji Mikami had handed control of the series to fellow Capcom veteran Hideki Kamiya. At the time, Resident Evil was arguably Capcom’s biggest and most successful franchise, so expectations were high for the impending PS2 sequel. Management’s orders were simple; RE4 needed to be cooler and edgier than anything that had ever come before. Kamiya and company set out to deliver exactly that, when suddenly they hit a snag.

The problem with Kamiya’s RE4 was that it became too cool and edgy to ever be considered a proper installment in the series. The game was packed with action and skewed heavily away from the survival horror elements that put Resident Evil on the map. Kamiya knew, however, that even though the game couldn’t work as RE4, it was good enough to be its own thing. A nip, tuck, and rebranding later, and suddenly the world was introduced to Devil May Cry. Not bad for a failed game build!

Birthing a new franchise was great, but Capcom still had to turn out a proper sequel to Resident Evil 3. At that point it was 2001 and many changes were coming to RE4. Rather than continue as a PS2 project, RE4 was now a GameCube exclusive and being helmed by a different director, Hiroshi Shibata. His team developed what some refer to as the “fog” version of RE4, which featured Leon S. Kennedy infiltrating Umbrella’s secret headquarters using a mysterious power in his hand to survive. Certain elements of the game became cemented at this time, particularly the use of Leon as the main protagonist. Shibata’s take was certainly visually impressive, but it lacked the spark needed to be what Capcom envisioned.

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Another build, another restart, as 2003 brought with it more tweaks to RE4‘s development. The setting was altered again, this time placing Leon in the eerie halls of an abandoned house, plagued with spirits and otherworldy enemies to fend off. An iconic aspect of this build was a ghostly hook-handed man that chased Leon through the environment. While progress seemed to be being made on the title, it wasn’t enough to save this version of RE4. Hallucinations, the paranormal, and a haunting ambiance failed to impress Capcom, and their rising frustrations were about to yield the biggest shakeup yet.

Crunch time had come to RE4, with Mikami reinstated as director for the game as an emergency measure by management. For Mikami, it was a bittersweet return to the director’s chair, as Capcom wanted results-or else. There would be no more restarts once Mikami took over, as management wanted the game both finished and successful or it would be the last hurrah for Resident Evil. Mikami, perhaps in an effort to match the zeal of his bosses, shocked everyone when he dictated RE4 was to now be an action horror game.

Mikami’s first step in realizing this new direction was the implementation of a third-person camera system for movement and combat. Mikami had actually intended to utilize a control setup very similar to RE4‘s for the first Resident Evil game, but tech limitations on the PlayStation prevented that from ever happening. With the power of GameCube, though, Mikami was able to remove the infamous “tank” controls of the first three games. The added horsepower of the system also freed Mikami to fully-render the environment of the game. Previous Resident Evils (with the exception of Dreamcast’s Code: Veronica) had featured static, pre-rendered backdrops. While certainly impressive in their own right, the pre-rendered imagery was unnecessary on GameCube, and creating a fully 3D-environment opened up new design possibilities to the team.

As if implementing the new tone and controls for RE4 weren’t enough of a departure, Mikami would take things a step further by replacing zombies with the new “Ganado” enemies. To Mikami, the new third-person shooting elements meant that the traditional, shambling hordes of the dead weren’t going to remain viable; he had vision of intense thrills and action, so the enemies had to change. He wanted to challenge players with a smarter breed of foe, one who would move more quickly and deliberately in their attempts to kill Leon. Combat was also amplified with quick time events, or timed, precision button prompts that allowed for more elaborate fight scenes. Some games have shamelessly spammed the use of quick time events, but for RE4 they were refreshing and different. After six years of development, RE4 was finally coming together, but Mikami had no idea just how big of a hit he had on his hands.

When RE4 finally released to the public in 2005, fans weren’t quite sure what to expect of the title. Hype had built to a fever pitch and no one knew if Mikami’s new take would mesh with their memories of PlayStation’s Resident Evil trilogy. It didn’t take long, though, for players across the world to fall in love with this new direction. The controls were exceedingly sharp, allowing for more precision than anything before it. The graphics alone were stunning, but the brilliant character and monster design made them truly shine. Leon was intentionally made a more appealing leading man than he was in Resident Evil 2, endearing himself to fans and helping make the transition a bit easier for holdouts.

RE4 isn’t without it detractors, of course. Some complain that the heart of Resident Evil was lost by foregoing tension and dread for adrenaline and excitement. There’s no denying that RE4 empowered the player more than ever with its generous ammo and health drops. Gone were the days of clinging to a clip of ammunition for the most dire of circumstances, and with it went the sense of fear helplessness that was so instrumental to Resident Evil’s ascension. While I can appreciate that some fans might have felt betrayed seeing Resident Evil stray so far from what had come before, I truly believe that RE4 struck the perfect balance between action and survival horror that all subsequent sequels have struggled to recreate. RE4 was as scary as it was thrilling and remains the perfect evolution of the series.

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RE4 is probably the most ported version of any Resident Evil game to date. Originally a GameCube exclusive, the title saw ports to PS2, Wii, PC, iOS, PSN, and XBox LIVE. There are actually two limited editions of RE4; the GameCube version was released in a special tin case while the PS2 version came in a steelbook. They’re both pretty awesome, but the GameCube one is harder to find. The Wii version of RE4 is particularly loved, as it introduced fluid and natural motion controls in addition to exclusive content from the PS2 edition. Second to the Wii version would have to be the HD remakes on the PS3 and 360’s digital marketplaces. The graphics have been lovingly updated and make the experience look better than ever. Regardless of how you play RE4, you owe it to yourself to experience this masterpiece of a game. The story is campy but engaging, and features some of the most memorable and intense boss fights in all of gaming. Whether a fan of the series or playing it for the first time, you will find very little to hate and so much to enjoy. Go play RE4 today!

Developed and published by Capcom, 2005.

Resident Evil 4 is available on the GameCube, PS2, PC, and Wii. An iOS version of the game is also available, along with HD remakes on PSN and XBox LIVE.

What Should Retro Studios Do Next?

IGN reported recently that Nintendo is giving Retro Studios “high priority” status as the potential developer for the next Metroid game. Just on a bit of a separate note, I thought it odd that a Wii U Metroid isn’t already being developed, but regardless, it was a positive sign that Nintendo should so openly declare Retro as their prime (punny!) choice. While I don’t hate Other M, it certainly was a low point for Samus as a character, and combined with its needlessly-limiting control scheme it remains one of the most polarizing installments in the series. The Prime trilogy, however, is more universally beloved, particularly in the West, so it’s pleasing that Nintendo seems to be continuing the trend of being more conscious of their audience’s wishes. A return to the Prime-style, or whatever ingenious evolution Retro might have percolating in the recesses of their hard drives, would certainly be a boon for the struggling Wii U. From a purely creative standpoint, however, I can’t help but wonder if more Metroid is necessarily the best move for Retro. Here are five alternatives to Metroid that have the potential to yield even more engaging results!

5) F-Zero

Donkey Kong Country Returns signaled that Retro was capable of tackling genres outside of the first-person shooter. “Capable” being a bit of an understatement, as DKCR is one of the best platformers ever made. Coming off of Metroid Prime, Retro really impressed by so successfully developing the drastically different play-style of DKCR’s intense platforming. With that said, it might be beneficial for all to have Retro spread their wings even further and take on yet another entirely different genre; a racing game. Retro’s scifi sensibilities are without question, so the only mystery remaining is what unique twist the developer would bring to F-Zero’s anti-grav mayhem. Nintendo has expressed their intent to produce more internally developed games for their mainline series, but Miyamoto himself noted that they’re having trouble working out where F-Zero should go next; I say straight into the heart of Texas.

4) Kid Icarus

Hear me out, as I know a lot of you are chomping at the bit in hopes that Sakurai might change his mind and come back to the franchise. First of all, he’s busy with Smash Bros, which would mean any Kid Icacus Uprising sequel would be years down the line. Second, as Sakuari has expressed that he more than likely wouldn’t make another Kid Icarus game, that leaves the lovingly-overhauled franchise a bit of a masterless samurai, sitting idly and growing stagnant. I personally don’t prefer another decades-long gap between games, so I say let Retro keep interest in the series strong with a Wii U sequel. Considering the core experience of Uprising is incredibly sound (and fun!), Retro would simply have to find a way to properly adapt it to the home console. The shooting mechanics are right in their wheel-works, and given the GamePad’s touch screen, Retro could either carry over a modified version of Sakurai’s innovative control scheme or develop something even better. The emphasis on story and character development in Uprising would be another element welcome to see brought back, particularly through Retro’s filter.

3) Golden Sun

It might be Camelot’s baby, but Nintendo has custody, so I say give Retro a shot at the venerable RPG and turn it into the premiere franchise it deserves to be. What Camelot has done with the series to date has been incredibly fun, but there’s no denying that Golden Sun is more niche than powerhouse. Nintendo has yet to cement a true RPG as part of their arsenal (Fire Emblem is probably closest to that, but it’s a RTS, so…), but if Retro can bring a new spin to the series/genre, all bets are off as to how far Golden Sun can go!

2) Donkey Kong

Say whuuu…? No, I have not last track of the point of my post, I just honestly believe Retro has one more amazing Donkey Kong Country game to make. What Retro did to update this franchise is nothing short of breathtaking, so I wouldn’t object to a third installment and make Retro’s work into a good, old-fashioned trilogy. Of course, that’s all assuming Tropical Freeze doesn’t suck! I also think that seeing Retro develop a 3D Donkey Kong platformer could be a fun alernative. Retro’s innovations with 2D platforming have left me curious as to what they might do with a Donkey Kong game that plays closer to the Nintendo 64 installment. If they upstaged Rare once, they can do it again!

1) Star Fox

It’s too obvious, to the point that I’m a bit embarrassed to jump on the bandwagon of so many other people, but Retro + Star Fox would be golden. When Retro developed the first Prime game, they not only moved Metroid into the first-person genre, but masterfully fleshed-out her world in a way not previously seen. The amount of detail that went into the mythology is staggering in both its volume and scope, and I’d love to see Retro bring that keen eye for detail to Star Fox. Build a game with the core Star Fox 64 experience at its heart, bring in whatever new mechanics and innovations Retro can come up with, and sprinkle in details about Fox’s world that we’ve never seen before, and you will have an amazing game to play.

Considering most folks never though that Retro would make a Donkey Kong game to begin with, maybe there’s hope that Retro might tackle any of the other series I listed above. Even if they don’t, I’ll be waiting in line for another Retro Metroid game any day of the week!

Toy Box 2-Pokemon School Supplies Set

Welcome to Toy Box #2, dear readers! Today, I have an interesting 3-piece school supply set of unknown origins. It was released circa 1999 and is comprised of a Pikachu calculator, Jigglypuff tape dispenser, and Bulbasaur pencil sharpener. I originally had the packaging, but (sigh) it’s been lost to time and the trash man. As a result, I’m not 1000% sure who the manufacturer might be. My internet searches have yielded nothing. The closest I came to figuring out was a similar set by Tomy, but it featured a couple of other Pokemon than the ones I have. Regardless, they’re super cool and guaranteed to make you the most awesome kid in school if you can get your hands on a set!

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Here goes the three figures head-on.

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Tape!

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Sharpener!

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Calculator!

That’s it this time, folks. I’m still experimenting with the format for this, so bear with as I find the right groove for my toy showcase. Until next time!

Retro(spective) 13-SEGA Game Gear

It’s fitting to peg the SEGA Game Gear for the thirteenth installment of Retro(spective), as it’s probably one of the unluckiest consoles of all time. The Game Gear represented the best chance yet of dethroning Nintendo as the reigning champion of the handheld market. With a backlit, color screen, better graphics, and the promise of SEGA’s franchises appearing in portable form, the Game Gear seemed to have every advantage it needed to push forward to the head of the pack. If not for some shortsighted engineering decisions, the Game Gear could have fulfilled its great potential. Though SEGA ultimately fell short, the Game Gear still managed to cultivate a powerful legacy.

My exposure to the system came from my aunt, who had purchased the Game Gear more out of curiosity than anything else and would let me play it when I’d visit. As a kid, the system’s girth stood out to me almost as much as its beautiful screen. The Game Gear is one of the biggest handhelds you’ll ever encounter, clocking in at about eight inches wide and four inches high. Even as a grown man, the Game Gear still feels huge when I hold it! What the Game Gear lacked in pocket-friendliness, it more than made up for with its brilliant graphics and screen. Bright and vivid, the Game Gear’s visuals far surpassed anything the Game Boy had to offer. It’s d-pad and two face buttons were a little mushy, but they got the job done. Looking at all that in retrospect, it might seem strange that the Game Gear struggled as it did given how much of an evolution the system was compared to Nintendo’s. The problem, as it turned out, came from something more practical; batteries.

The Game Gear remains one of the biggest energy hogs ever brought to market. Six AA batteries powered SEGA’s portable, with a run time of roughly three to five hours. Compare that to the Game Boy’s economical nearly thirty hours of run time off of four AA batteries, and it becomes clear how huge SEGA’s blunder was. While the Game Gear was already being sold for $60 more than the Game Boy at $150, factor in the cost of replacing batteries constantly and it’s pretty obvious why so many people chose Nintendo’s portable. There was the option of using an AC adapter to extend playtime, but being tethered to an outlet severely hampered the “portability” aspect of owning a handheld versus a home console. Being big, power-hungry, and expensive all tipped fortune in Nintendo’s favor.

Negatives aside, the Game Gear was and still is home to some great titles. It feels lazy to list Sonic games on a SEGA system as the must-have titles, but it’d be a disservice to not mention them. Sonic the HedgehogSonic the Hedgehog 2, and Sonic’s Triple Troubleare particularly fun. Shinobi plays solidly as well, along with Columns (a puzzle game),Mega Man, and Castle of Illusion, just to name a few. A chunk of the Game Gear’s titles are actually ports of SEGA Master System games, but they’re faithful and fun nonetheless. Unfortunately, as the Game Gear was unable to ever saturate the marketplace in any significant way, developers quickly abandoned the system to focus their efforts on the much more profitable Game Boy. Still, even if the number of great titles isn’t as large as the Game Boy’s, there are more than enough fun games to seek out and play! Keep in mind that the Game Gear is not region-locked, so you’re able to add imports from the UK and Japan to any collection.

Speaking of collecting, the Game Gear is also a nice system for new collectors on a budget. Games without packaging sell fairly inexpensively, though if you do want boxes, expect to pay a bit more in dollars and time searching. The Game Gear itself didn’t have a ton of color variations, but there are four official ones to search for. The US saw standard black and blue, while internationally the Game Gear was sold in yellow and red. Notice I said “officially” those are the four colors, because beyond those four I’ve had some trouble figuring out the rest. As far as I know, there are some Japanese exclusives that are incredibly elusive, along with legends of colors like pink, purple, clear black, and so on. The second I hear more, I’ll let you all know, but in the interim shoot for those four if you can!

There’s one more variant I forgot to mention above; the Majesco Game Gear re-release. SEGA officially stopped supporting the Game Gear in the US around 1997, but in 2000 Majesco brought it back for a second run. The differences are minor, but the most obvious one is the coloring of the Game Gear logo and buttons on the Majesco unit. The SEGA version features three, oval-like shapes on the face colored red, green, and blue, while Majesco’s is monochrome. The Majesco unit also has a purple start button and a darker casing color. Other than those alterations and a slightly better screen/battery life, the Majesco version is virtually identical to the original. It can make collecting a little tricky for people if they don’t know the difference between the two units, so keep that in mind when purchasing.

The Game Gear might not have turned as many heads back in the day, but its legacy continues to this day. Along with Majesco’s mini-revival of the system, many of the Game Gear’s titles have seen re-release on Nintendo’s eShop for the 3DS. As a bit of a bonus, unlike Nintendo’s Virtual Console re-releases, SEGA’s ports feature a host of options for playing. The four color variations I listed above are available as frames during gameplay, and you can even recreate the graphical fidelity of the Game Gear screen. The selection as of this writing isn’t huge, but in recent months Game Gear activity on the eShop has been picking up. Here’s hoping for Mega Man to make its way onto the service! The Game Gear is a must-have for true gaming enthusiasts and I encourage you to give the old system a look. Though historically viewed as a failure, I still have a lot of fun pulling out my old games, searching for gems I missed, and just reliving a fun piece of gaming history.

The Game Gear was developed and released by SEGA in 1991.

How the PS4 Changed the Game

With the bevy of Sony news for both the PS4 and Vita in recent months, it’s hard to deny that the PlayStation brand is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Things quickly unraveled for Sony after the launch of the PS3, with the overpriced system succumbing to the much more consumer friendly XBox 360. Sony spent the better part of the first half of the PS3’s lifespan trying to maintain a facade of control, when in reality their overbearing attitude had driven away the very fanbase they’d so masterfully cultivated with the PlayStation and PS2. The universe does have a way of eventually balancing things out, however, and it finally did in the form of the XBox One. In a twist of fate, the same mistakes Sony made years ago are being repeated by Microsoft, leaving Sony with the chance to reclaim the top of the heap once more.

Let’s face it, before and after the PS3 launch, Sony looked awfully big-headed. An obnoxious E3 presentation combined with a hefty price left consumers scratching their heads and wondering where PS2 Sony had wandered off to. Fun and games had given way to “computers” and statistics. As more of Sony’s share of the pie got eaten up by Nintendo and the upstart 360, the PlayStation brand’s place in the industry had become suspect. Flash forward a few years, though, and something amazing happened; Sony became humble.

The XBox One was lambasted following its reveal, with gamers incensed over the need for a constant internet connection, used game restrictions, and an over-emphasis on non-gaming features. Suddenly, Microsoft were the oblivious corporate stooges, leaving Sony with a choice; follow suit and share the hate, or do something completely unprecedented. In a move that shocked everyone, Sony decided to embrace the very fans they shunned back in 2006 by taking their side. Instead of shooting for bushels of extra cash and multimedia dominance, the PS4 burst through the gates as the very thing the PS3 pretended to not be; a gaming console.

Sure, the PS4 has a bevy of multimedia features, but Sony made sure fans knew right off the bat that the games were the focus of this new console. In another stunning maneuver, Sony outright slapped Microsoft in the face by declaring that the PS4 would neither have restrictive used game policies or the need for a constant internet connection. Putting this in perspective, Sony’s leadership essentially decided (in terms of the used games policy) to turn down a revenue stream in order to woo fans back into their fold. Wow. In a world driven by profits, it was quite the revelation to see a company be so forward thinking as to forego quick cash in favor of good will.

Clearly, there’s a whole slew of business tactics and so forth that went into Sony’s PS4 plans, but there’s no mistaking humility when it’s obviously on display. Sony screwed up with the PS3 and are finally admitting it with the PS4. Putting the focus back on games, acknowledging the needs of players both here and abroad, and frankly taking the strut out of their stride have put the ball back into Sony’s court. Factor in the potential revitalization of the Vita, which itself suffered from “PS3 syndrome”, and PlayStation has a real shot at returning to dominance.

Touching on the Vita for a moment, if anyone needs further proof of Sony’s attitude change, the recent price drops for the system and memory cards is a perfect example. The PS4 isn’t even out yet, but the positive reaction from loyal and lapsed fans around the world was so powerful that Sony decided to acknowledge the whole spectrum of complaints levied against them. It’s unheard of that a videogame company would take its fans concerns so seriously and that can only be a good thing for Sony in the long run. The Vita is a wholly competent handheld that shouldn’t be struggling as badly as it has been; if it can pick up the pace, it will only serve to reconfirm that Sony is on the right track with this new self-image.

Time is the ultimate arbiter of all, so it’s going to be a stretch before we find out if the PS4 wins out against the One (and the Wii U!). Regardless of the outcome, I find it truly heartening that Sony has at least made the effort to satisfy fans and bring some luster back to their name. Making the PS4 more accessible can only be a good thing for gamers, as there are already enough hurdles keeping more people from embracing videogames. Microsoft might have reversed the controversial policies that Sony capitalized upon, but the very sour taste they left in everyone’s mouths are going to take a long time to go away. As a result, Sony is in the best place its been in years and I’m excited to see what happens.