Video-Bytes: Retro Time With Super Mario 64

Sometimes you need to have a little nostalgic fun. For me, Super Mario 64 has always fit the bill. Here’s about an hour and twenty minutes of old-school fun!


Video-Bytes: An Hour With Assassin’s Creed: Unity

I play an hour of Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and discover that certain treasure chests in the game cannot be opened unless you use the AC:Unity companion app, and see the microtransaction screen for the first time.

Firmware 2.DOH!


A year and a half doesn’t sound like a long time, but in video game land, a LOT can happen.  Case in point, my perception of the ‘green’ and ‘blue’ competitors have flip-flopped.  After the initial console reveals in 2013, I golf-clapped towards Sony and rained fire and brimstone at Microsoft.  Flash forward to today, and Microsoft – despite being forced – seems to ‘get it’, while Sony does virtually nothing to maintain the gobs of good will they had acquired prior to the PS4’s launch.  I know my opinion rests amongst the minority, but will that change over the course of this generation?  After scouring countless message boards across the web, I’ve begun to see some sparks of discontent fly, sparks which have the potential to erupt into the fiery flames that fuel an awakening.  Simply put, people are beginning to understand that Sony isn’t the savior they once appeared to be.

Yes, Sony may have been able to resurrect a bed full of roses after Microsoft poisoned the soil with toxic waste, but were they really the ‘good guys’?  Not really.  For starters, Sony have experience selling a console that most consumers noped themselves away from… at least until cheaper iterations became available and the library had expanded.  Making this statement didn’t exactly help, either:

Ken Kutaragi:  “…for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one’.  We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”

Sony arrogance was at an all-time high… but people like to dismiss the ‘Sony is arrogant’ claim from conversation as if it were hyperbole, especially now that Don Mattrick – previous President of Interactive Entertainment Business for Microsoft – is on record saying:

Don Mattrick:  “We have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called the Xbox 360.”

As a result, fan boys tend to partake in the continual volley of ‘my black box is better than your black box,’ or ‘your preferred company sucks, but mine understands what gamers want!’  And you know what?  Each and every person that holds that ‘mine is better than yours’ mentality is missing the point:  BOTH companies are arrogant.  From time to time, Sony AND Microsoft display a lack of common sense.  After all, no one is perfect.  Everyone makes mistakes.  However, when you’re in business and responsible for communicating with millions of potential consumers, mistakes are costly.  Sure, Ken Kutaragi probably meant well enough… maybe he meant the PS3 was so good, people would do whatever it took to get one.  Perhaps Don Mattrick was saying that Microsoft still fully supported the Xbox 360 as a viable option.  Or not.  Who knows?  Point is, loose lips sink ships, and both companies are now painfully aware of that.

But, here’s the difference:  Microsoft have done everything in their power to make the Xbox One an attractive option for consumers.  Has it worked?  Not entirely, but they’ve certainly come a long way and they’re fighting hard with the temporary price reduction this holiday.  Sony, on the other hand, have been watching the money roll in and… well, that’s just it.  That’s ALL they’ve done.  Not only have they sold over 10 million consoles – it’s what, 13 million now? – but they sneakily slipped multiplayer behind the PS+ pay wall.  What have their loyal customers seen in return?  There’s been a host of minor changes over the last year, but the only things of any real significance to come along has been ShareFactory – their video editing suit, which handsomely beats what Xbox has – and more recently, firmware 2.0.

Why was 2.0 going to be such a huge step forward?  Well, at launch, the PS4’s UI was clean, but its ‘home row’ setup left a LOT to be desired.  Imagine everything you ever downloaded or purchased showing up in one long, continuous row… all lined up in order of last app used.  It only took about a day of installing games – both physical and digital – to see how ugly things would get later down the line.

In retrospect, it’s like Sony just made as simple a user interface as they could… not so they could wow us with something clean and sharp, but to ensure their console got out the door on time for launch.  Why do I feel they weren’t ready?  Well, let’s take into consideration that of their two biggest features – SharePlay and Suspend Mode – only one has seen the light of day.  SharePlay – which allows one of your friends to play any game in your library, via streaming technology, for an hour at a time – was finally introduced in 2.0… nearly A YEAR after the console hit retail shelves.  Suspend mode – which allows you to leave your game and come back where you left off – is still floating in the ether with no target date in sight.  But joy, you get to change the PS4 UI’s background now!  Isn’t that great?!

But, oh, what’s this?  SharePlay isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Apparently, there are some restrictions that won’t allow you to share every game in your library.  What’s sure to be one of the biggest releases this holiday is already behind a restriction wall – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.  How can this be?  Sony previously promised SharePlay would work across ALL PS4 games, as there was no opt-out clause for developers/publishers.  Certain scenes were to be blocked, as to not reveal any major spoilers to potential customers, but that was it.

Well, that was a bunch of hocus pocus, because Activision said ‘Hahaha, sorry, but no,’ restricted every bit of Call of Duty, and Sony?  They’re in damage control mode, of course.  Here’s Sony, per Gamesbeat (of Venturebeat):

“Share Play is a system level feature enabled by System Software Update 2.00, making it available for all PS4 titles; however, the option is available to developers to disable the feature according to what they feel will best benefit the consumer experience,”

Sony made a promise they can’t keep?  That sounds awfully familiar… (link to the Driveflub article with that last bit of text) I guess they just hoped every publisher would fall in line?  Poor form, and poor business, at that.

That aside, the real problem with 2.0 isn’t what it did or didn’t include, but what it failed to do:  Keep the PS4 stable.  Basically, the console’s Standby Mode – which allows you to keep your PS4 in a low powered state so you can Remote Play or download updates when you’re not around – was renamed to Rest Mode… although some aggravated customers would probably dub it ‘Rest In Peace Mode’.

Basically, a bunch of people complained that after putting their PS4 to sleep, it refused to awaken.  Some were able to temporarily resolve the issue by holding their power button down for a while, rebooting in safe mode and rebuilding the database.  Others found that ensuring the disc drive was empty could work.  Various tweaks to system and color settings seemed to work for others, but none of these resolutions worked for everyone, and in some cases, some PS4’s were bricked.  And what really stunned me, was that there were STILL people apologizing for Sony’s goof.  Here’s a brief conversation I had on Reddit to show what I mean(name of the reciprocate kept private):

Some Guy: In the land of the entitled, everything is amazing yet…no one is happy.

Me: I don’t think there’s anything ‘entitled’ about expecting a machine people pay for, to work properly. Some people are getting stuck in an endless reboot loop, some can’t even use the power button to boot out of ‘rest mode’ and into ‘safe mode’. You spend $400 on a machine, it should work. Some on the internet can say, “Well, firmware can have some bugs to work out.” Why should that be something ‘we just deal with’? Why should that be acceptable?

Some Guy:  You paid that money to play games predominantly. Perhaps find a new, less stressful waste-of-money-type hobby? Or do what the rest of us are doing…waiting for it to be fixed. You seem to live in a perfect world where nothing goes awry and the cost of something immediately indicates it’s level of flawlessness. TL;DR Shit happens. Deal or kick rocks.

Me:  And when firmware comes along that’s preventing some from playing their games? I guess that’s to be expected with a $400 price tag, too?

Some Guy:  Expected? No. Reasonable considering it’s a relatively new system? Yes. Also, I own a launch-date console and it hasn’t given me one problem. Best 400 I ever spent.

Me:  So a firmware that can corrupt your $400 machine is reasonable? Okay. You must love licking the bottom of Sony’s boots when they want them shined.

I own a Wii-U, Xbox One and PS4. The PS4 is my console of choice this generation because it’s the one that performs the best with the multiplats, but that doesn’t mean I can’t call ‘bullshit’ when Sony are off their game. Ever since the launch of the PS4, it’s been clear that they launched this thing in a state that was ONLY able to play games. Microsoft did the same, but look how far they’ve come in the last year. Sony? Eh… In an effort to make sure nobody had a yearlong head start like last generation, they both released their machines in a state that wasn’t quite ready. Just ‘good enough to play games’.

Playing games is ultimately what counts, but Microsoft haven’t really busted anyone’s console with a nasty firmware update. They even have a program that allows certain users to test firmware at their own risk if they want to, which allows MS to gather feedback and release a good product to the general product when it can finally go live.

And that last bit highlights another difference between Sony and Microsoft.  A lot of people like to say, “Well this should be expected from Sony.  They’re not a software company like Microsoft…”  That’s not really an excuse though, is it?  If you buy an expensive product, you expect it to work.  Not only that, but you hope the company that sold you the damn thing doesn’t break it somewhere down the line.  How can they rectify this?  Easy:  Take a page from the book of Microsoft.  Allow people to enter some sort of testing program so they can report the kinks.  Then, Sony can use that feedback to correct issues before they become a problem for PS4 owners worldwide.

Sony are already catching lots of crap for how PSN has been an up-and-down roller coaster the past few months (or more), not to mention the botched Driveclub release… why risk bricking a bunch of consoles JUST before the busiest gaming season of the year?  Before the busiest SALES season of the year?  I don’t care if it’s arrogance or just poor planning; something isn’t right.  Their business model seems to be similar to that of South Park’s Underpants Gnomes:

1 – Release Hardware

2 – ??????

3 – PROFIT!!!!

That could work if your console was a ‘one and done’ sort of deal, like the NES, SNES, and so on… but this is 2014.  There’s plenty of competition out there, and make no mistake about it, it’s fierce.  I’m not sure how much longer Sony expects to ride the coat tails of the ‘Xbox One DNR Express’, but being ahead isn’t good enough.  Who cares who wins this month’s NPD’s, the year overall, or even this generation?  What does it matter if by the time the next machine comes around, people are saying, “This company makes good hardware, but man their support and service sucks”?  Hopefully they step up their game sooner, rather than later, because the honeymoon phase is coming to a close.

At least they’ve been quick to resolve the Firmware 2.0 debacle with patch 2.01… even if it doesn’t slap a band-aid over their broken SharePlay promise.  Unfortunately, I just can’t bring myself to feel all warm and fuzzy inside over it.  As I said before, the longer this issue lingered, the more units Sony would be replacing through the mail, and THAT would have been HORRIBLE press just before the holidays, especially with the Xbox One selling for $349.

Sony, I’ve got my eye on you.

Bit-Review: Killzone-Shadow Fall

Yeah... it looks THAT good.

Yeah… it looks THAT good.

Killzone is the franchise that drew a line in the sand… even if it didn’t mean to. It’s not the best FPS series out there, but it has a strong following and for good reason, too – The graphics were jaw dropping and the gameplay actually felt fresh. Instead of merely complying with ‘twitch shooting’ mechanics, the devs opted for movement that took your weapon and armor weight into consideration. Furthermore, they implemented a realistic cover system which wasn’t some mere gimmick, but a vital tool for your survival. The Killzone Trilogy wasn’t a flawless experience by any means, but the alternative gameplay it offered over the likes of Call of Duty had been welcome with open arms. It comes as no surprise that Sony’s highest regarded FPS has made its way to the PS4, but now that it’s here, I’m afraid hype is probably going to work against it. It’s a fine entry in the series overall, but has some identity flaws that just can’t be overlooked.

You’re playing as a Shadow Marshal, which means you’re faster and more agile than the character in previous games. As a result, the controls are more in line with other shooters, as opposed to going against the grain with a weighted feel. As a fan, I was worried this would be a major detriment to the game’s enjoyment, but that wasn’t my experience at all. The gameplay is still heavily focused on cover and tactical maneuvers, so there really wasn’t much lost in translation. In fact, much has been gained – For starters, you have the ability to scan the area and detect and identify nearby enemies. Based on what you find, there’s a number of ways you can decide to dispatch them.

This is where the OWL comes in.

Your drone has been programmed to function in four distinct modes, each of which can be accessed by swiping the DS4’s touchpad (up, down, left or right). If you want to reach a ledge below, your OWL will provide a makeshift zip line. Enemies using high-tech shields? No problem, just have the drone blast an electromagnetic pulse, disabling your foes temporarily and leaving them open for attack. Furthermore, you can actually send your OWL in to attack for you. It’s capable of taking a couple of soldiers out on its own, but more than that, and it’s likely to come back for a recharge sooner, rather than later (it’s never completely destroyed). However, even in situations where the odds are against you, the drone’s attack mode is useful as a diversion so you can move into flanking position. Last but not least, it can set up a shield which will last as long as the OWL doesn’t take too many hits. As you can imagine, all of this brings an intriguing wrinkle to Killzone’s gameplay.

And I guess the best name for that wrinkle is ‘choice’, and the OWL offers plenty of that when it comes to dealing with the demon-eyed Helghast. The game actually tries to push us into the promise of freedom more often than not, but it’s merely an illusion. That’s probably the most disappointing thing about Shadow Fall in general – Lots of promise, yet never fully realized. The first level is semi-open and lulls you into thinking each level will be expansive and allow you to choose which objectives you’ll tackle in succession, but it isn’t long before the game sets you on a linear path that only LOOKS ripe for exploration. Some levels offer a fork-in-the-road approach to multiple tasks, but that’s hardly the sense of freedom this game hoped to evoke. The forks are often an illusion, too – Sometimes you can forego the obvious path by sneaking around in vents, but other times the vent is literally your only option to progress.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with linearity. It’s worked well for the franchise and continues to work in the latest iteration, but the game was touted as being something more, meaning those who ultimately expected more will be disappointed. Go in expecting more of the same however, and you’ll find the level design to serve its purpose well. You would think having the ability to scan environments and deploy a drone would make you unstoppable, but the devs have ensured the scale will rarely tip in your favor. As with previous installments, you’ll need to find cover from afar and plug away at the opposition methodically. While other games reward a pray and spray mentality, Killzone will put you down in a matter of seconds. So, use what’s at your disposal – Hide behind plants, walls or whatever else in the environment… but be snappy about it. A fair amount of cover options are destructible, which can work both for you and against you. Of course, much like the game’s ‘open nature’ (lack thereof), such freedom is only an illusion. Certain parts of the game allow you to blast through walls, but most of the time it’s only the small stuff that acquires battle damage.

Speaking of damage, health generation has been tweaked for Shadow Fall. As most other shooters nowadays, you’ll notice the outer edge of your screen going red if you’re close to death, and hiding is an effective way to get back in the green… and I mean LITERALLY back in the green. The light bar on your controller has been utilized by the devs as a health indicator – Green, yellow and red. In addition, you’ll find adrenaline packs littered throughout the game… and you’ll need them. If you’re low on health and can’t get to cover in time, it will boost your health and slow down time (think of the COD: MW3 round winning kill cam) while aiming down the sights. If you get sloppy and fall to the ground, your OWL can use the adrenaline to revive you. Of course, if it’s currently charging because it had to flee battle with its tail between its legs, then you’re SOL.

Another thing you’ll notice, is that the AI isn’t very smart. Yeah, they’ll chew you up and spit you out if you leave yourself vulnerable, but their movement is limited. They pretty much get in position and hide, only peeking out on occasion to squeeze off some rounds. The AI in previous Killzone titles had been substantially better, so it’s disappointing to see it take a back seat to all the action.

Anyway, outside of the normal ‘infiltrate – cover – attack’ scenario, Shadow Fall gives you plenty of other objectives throughout its 10-12 hour campaign… and some of them are jaw-dropping cinematic pieces you have some control over. You’ll hang on to a rope dangling from a helicopter, free-fall through the air, fortify and hold down a small base, maneuver and battle through zero gravity, use small bots to sabotage equipment and more. The variety of gameplay is definitely welcome, and helps to keep things from getting repetitive. The only thing they recycle time and time again is using the OWL to hack into computers. This is first utilized to deactivate alarm systems, but quickly devolves into a ‘get to this terminal and hack it so you can get to the next objective’, which gets tedious.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough about the gameplay. As one of the first exclusive PS4 titles, it’s absolutely gorgeous and really makes me excited for the future of console gaming. Graphics aren’t nearly as important as the gameplay, so I won’t prattle on forever… but the graphics go a long way in helping to sell this tale of a ‘world that’s been divided’. You fly over a city, and the draw distance is just… nuts. No lack of detail in distant buildings, no artificial haze to hide details, no tricks whatsoever. I noticed the OCCASIONAL pop-in, but this only occurred with minor details. Lighting is amongst the best I’ve seen in a console title to date, and the colors? Shadow Fall isn’t nearly as drab as its predecessors, that’s for sure. There’s plenty of bright tones this time around, and even when the game is at its darkest, there’s still color being used to bathe us in atmosphere.

Last but not least – I have to address the story. It’s some time after the events in Killzone 3 (30 years, I believe?), and each side of the opposition is basically separated by their version of the Great Wall. Of course, there are some things at play that hope to change all that, and you find yourself smack dab in the middle of it. As a soldier, you were raised to believe in the black and white scenario – You’re good, the other side is bad. Fortunately, the plot attempts to put us in a position where the line between right and wrong is blurred, but it doesn’t do a great job of driving it home. It’s conceptually sound, yes, but much like the previous Killzone titles, the central cast are mostly unlikeable (with the exception of ‘Echo’).

So far, my experience with the multiplayer has been fun, but there’s nothing new or innovative to write home about. If you want a variety of standard multiplayer modes with a control scheme that feels good, and with graphics that look phenomenal… then you’ll have fun. I know I did, but once Battlefield 4 is working the way it should, I expect most players to gravitate towards that.

So, as I said in the beginning – The game wants to provide this and it wants to present that… but Shadow Fall never reaches the heights it strives for. It’s just another shooter with a mediocre plot that’s driven by dull characters… but that’s not to say it’s a bad game. For all the negativity I’ve spouted, it’s only because I have a responsibility to give it to you straight. Still, it’s important I stress that most of the negatives were outweighed by the positives, because Killzone Shadow Fall is still fun as hell. There wasn’t a single time I said, “Come on, just end already.” I legitimately had a good time, and wouldn’t mind going back to play through the campaign again. In the end, that’s what a game is all about – Being fun. If it plays great and I have great time playing it, what’s left to say? I recommend Shadow Fall for anyone who picked up a PS4 (unless you simply aren’t a fan of shooters). It’s not a ‘killer app’, but is certainly leaps and bounds above most other launch titles I’ve played in previous generations.

Keep an eye in the not-too-distant future for my review of Knack. For the time being, I’m compelled to share that the game isn’t the downer that most reviewers made it out to be. It’s simple, but a lot of fun. That’s all I’ll say for now! Until next time!

Congratulations Xbox One – And A Reminder On Perspective…

First and foremost, congratulations to Microsoft for their release of the Xbox One, and congratulations to anyone who picked one up at launch. Thanks to the launches these last couple of weeks, Christmas has come early for many of us, indeed.

For some who haven’t read back in my blog, I’ve been asked if I plan on picking up an Xbox One to sit next to my PS4 – No. I can’t really afford to dump money on two consoles at once, and Microsoft made me pretty upset with their DRM policies early on. They’ve reverted, but the damage has been done. In terms of features and games though, the Xbox One seems like an awesome machine for those who want (mostly) full media integration in the living room, so all the power to anyone who prefers it to the PS4. Personally, I just don’t care about any of that stuff. I want a simple gaming machine, and that’s what the PS4 delivered. Games? I figure Sony is going to have the better exclusives, so I’m pretty excited to see what’s yet to come.

Anyway, there’s something I want to address – The internet hate. Holy shit, it’s been absolutely bananas. When the PS4 launched last week, Microsoft fans were jumping on Sony’s willy for having some issues… issues which were allegedly under 1%. Furthermore, fake reviews were written across the net in an attempt to make the PS4 look bad. There were those of us who said, “Media integration in our society is making this sound wayyy worse than it is… just relax, and enjoy your new console people. Xbox One will have issues when it launches next week as well… and not because we wish harm on the Xbox One, but because that’s just the nature of the beast.”

Well, here we are one week later, and guess what? The Xbox One has issues as well… and you know what? It isn’t a big deal. It sucks for anyone to have a bum console on day 1, but the vast majority are enjoying theirs. There’s no need to drag company names in the mud for errors which obviously happened in a variable manufacturing and shipping process. These things happen, and no product launches at a zero percent fail rate. Ever. Last week, I told many that the PS4 seemed to be well in line for a low rate of failure, and the Xbox One issues appear to be isolated as well.

This just goes to show you folks, that there’s no conspiracies and nothing sinister going on behind the scenes… this is product launch 101. If you’re that concerned about what awaits, get the extended warranty through your company of choice. But please, stop all the bickering online and stop trying to blow minimal fail rates out of proportion.

With that said and out of the way, I want PS4 and Xbox One owners alike to have a great time with their recently acquired games and consoles… I know I have.

Stay tuned to the blog for a review on Killzone Shadow Fall’s single player campaign in the next day or two!

Opinion-Bytes: Annual Game Franchises

Because people love to pay money for the same game over and over again...

Because people love to pay money for the same game over and over again…

Alright, let’s talk annual game franchises. It’s a prevalent practice in the industry, and they’re not going away anytime soon, so we’re just going to have to deal. Batman, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed and EA Sports titles are dropping faster than Taco Bell induced diarrhea, with more likely on the way. How do hardcore gamers feel about this? Ask, and you’ll find yourself violated with an ambitious string of expletives. When their speech begins to resemble something you can actually understand, you’ll hear plenty of valid complaints… but one major component behind their reasoning is a tad misguided. I’ll address that in a bit, but first, my thoughts on the annual business model.

Overall, it’s not good. The worst offenders, without question, come out of the sports genre. Devs capitalize on roster updates, tweaked physics and gameplay mechanics, making each subsequent iteration a minimal improvement over the last. Oh, and don’t allow yourself to fall in love with any of the new features either, because there’s a good chance they’ll be dropped the following year. From a consumer’s standpoint, I feel these games are little more than incomplete products, Madden being a prime example. Just look at all the reviews from the last 5 years and you’ll see of variety of echoed sentiments – Hit detection isn’t what it should be, offensive AI is too strong, defensive AI too weak, yadda yadda yadda. Isn’t that great? A bunch of noticeable key features, none of which EVER come off as flawless.

How painfully obvious does it have to be that we don’t need a new Madden every year? Furthermore, why do people actually eat it up? Send EA a message – Allow the devs 2 years between each release – They’d be able to make significant changes across the board and actually perfect them, which would ultimately make the final result worth your time and money. In between those releases, just follow-up with some roster updates. It’s a win-win for everyone… except for EA I guess, since they’re used to cashing in on a yearly basis. “Well, nobody is forcing you to buy the game every year.” That’s true, and trust me, I don’t. Madden ’09 was the last I actually bit on, and that’s because my Giants had just won the Super Bowl prior. Point is, devs aren’t given the time they need to create a (nearly) perfect game. Yes, you’ll personally see a significant change if you only bite every 2-3 years, but you’re still getting a lesser quality product than you deserve.

*Interesting fact, by the way – Madden 25 only sold 1 million copies thus far… down from 1.65 mil from the year before. It’s possible that people are waiting to buy the next-gen version, but that’s a significant decrease. Hopefully the trend continues so we can space these games out a bit.

However, we all know that sports are no longer exclusive to the annual business model. No; Now anything that’s been deemed a hit is eligible, which brings us to our first major offender (outside the realm of sports) – Call of Duty… which is basically Madden all over again. Don’t get me wrong, because I was a strong Call of Duty supporter since the beginning. I never thought another franchise would come close to besting Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, but Call of Duty did just that … that is, until the release of Modern Warfare 2. The multiplayer was a marked improvement, but I’ve always considered the single player experience to be paramount. Imagine my surprise then, when I saw Modern Warfare 2’s end credits roll after a measly five hours. I know that quality trumps quantity, but seriously? Five hours? There are a couple of dev teams that trade off with the annual release schedule, so that leaves two years for a dev team to produce the final product… and I can’t fathom how they’re spending their time. Despite the gimped campaign lengths, the multiplayer practically remains the same. New maps, perhaps a new kill-streak package… but that’s it. Even more disappointing? These games have been recycling the same models for years. A main building in a multiplayer map might make its way in the next game’s full length campaign, for example. Hell, even some DLC contained a bunch of recycled maps. What a bargain! People are literally paying for the same experience each year, just with a new coat of paint.

There’s also an inherent issue with using two dev teams to work on different games in the same franchise – The gameplay changes considerably. I know some of you will pepper me with a bunch of question marks for saying that, but here’s where I’m coming from: Infinity Ward actually made you have to think about your approach to any given situation, using cover and timing your shots wisely. It was absolute chaos, making the experience of ‘war’ much more harrowing. TreyArc missed the point however, and made another series of generic war shooters that were far more forgiving. Of course, they’ve emulated Infinity Ward with Black Ops and Black Ops II… so now we truly are getting the same experience every… single… year. It’s ‘Madden’-ing. Get it? Guh-hyuck, guh-hyuck.

I don’t think that a dev has to create a new engine from scratch every year, because it’s just not necessary. However, when you have two years to develop a smash-hit with an enormous budget, devs should stop phoning it in. Just because a formula is successful, doesn’t mean you can’t do something to make the next installment a little different. Get creative and implement some new ideas, and craft a story worth telling. Have you ever connected with a character in a Call of Duty game? No? Me either. Battlefield 3 on the other hand did a MUCH better job at having me look through the eyes of a soldier.

Despite everything I said, I don’t have a problem with the annual business model. There are some good examples out there – Assassin’s Creed, for one. I know a lot of people were disappointed with AC III, and it was definitely lacking in some areas, but it was still a solid entry. Hell, Assassin’s Creed IV looks to be the best yet. Batman is another example – I’m not really ‘jazzed’ for this new Batman game, but I’m not passing judgment on it until I get the chance to play it. It looks good however, and hands on impressions have been positive more often than not (more of the same, and in a good way). I find the real problem is in bed with the publishers – “That sold like crazy! Make the exact same thing again! Don’t change!” Ugh.

Which brings me to the point I wanted to touch upon earlier – People are citing money as the primary issue, and it’s not. This is a mindset I’m sick to death of reading about, and people need to stop acting like devs making money is a bad thing. I know we ideally want them to create products for the art instead of profit, but that’s not the reality. It never will be. Devs can make a product that’s artful, but they still need to make some money. If they can’t pay for the bill and fund future efforts, their time in the industry will come to a close. The idea that profit is evil needs to cease… immediately. Take into account their salaries, health care, and the amount of time it takes to build a product. There’s also advertising costs to consider.

In short, video games do not materialize from unicorn blessed rainbow farts and wishful thinking.

As consumers, we need to be a bit more tolerant of the first rule in business, which is – duh – to make money. However, we need to hold devs, and especially publishers, accountable for the product they’re putting out there. If you’re complaining that Call of Duty or Madden never changes… speak with your wallet. Send e-mails. Tell your friends how disappointed you were. This is the only way to turn the tide. I mean, what else can we expect when Call of Duty remains the largest launch of any given year? More of the same, sadly. Don’t buy into it. I haven’t, and you shouldn’t either. If you want a truly great gaming experience, now’s a great time to re-examine all the games you may have missed. Plenty of them are dirt cheap now, meaning you can get more variety and game time with that $60.

Bit-Review: DuckTales Remastered

D-d-danger lurks behind you...

D-d-danger lurks behind you…

The NES played a central role in my childhood. I remember walking around the corner to a friend’s house, spending countless hours playing the titles that were destined to become classics, and Capcom’s DuckTales was amongst the most memorable.

At the time of its release, Capcom was already a well-established company… but how they managed to land a deal with Disney is beyond me. In retrospect, I would have imagined Capcom’s reputation for producing crushingly difficult games would have sent mixed messages to the animation giant. After all, their target audience would have been the youngest of children. Could you imagine little Timmy picking up the latest Disney game, only to spend an afternoon crying because it proved to be just as punishing as Mega Man or Ghosts ‘N Goblins? Well, Capcom’s take on DuckTales was surprisingly well balanced. The gameplay wasn’t easy but not particularly challenging, yet hardcore players kept coming back to see who could find the most treasure. This addicting formula was rounded out with fun level designs and one of the catchiest 8-bit scores of all time.

If you didn’t get to experience this game as a child… I’m so, so sorry. You totally missed out… that is, until Capcom announced they’d been developing an HD remake of the original classic – DuckTales Remastered. Yeah, the first thing that flew out of my mouth was, “SHUTTUP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” The prospect of being able to play this title in HD was all I needed, but Capcom wanted to improve upon the initial experience. I wasn’t sure how that could be possible, but I was intrigued nevertheless.

Before I get ahead of myself, it’s important to discuss what made this title so much fun in the first place – Its gameplay. Scrooge McDuck traverses through the Amazon, Himalayas, Transylvania, African Mines and even the Moon, all seemingly for the sake of acquiring more wealth. I say ‘seemingly’ because the devs never bothered to fill us in on what’s drawing our beloved Unca Scrooge to these locations to begin with. That may sound appalling by today’s standards, but this was commonplace in the NES’s heyday. Anyway, in order to obtain these treasures, he has to battle his way through tough apes, giant spiders, mummies, bats, skeletons, goats, slugs, carnivorous plants and more… and that doesn’t even take the stage bosses into consideration. McDuck doesn’t venture into these areas with any projectile weapons, or even a blade for that matter. No, he uses his cane as a makeshift pogo stick, pouncing his enemies into submission. The cane also doubles as a golf club – Small boulder in your path? Stand next to it and give it a whack, hurdling it towards the next unfortunate creature. Yes, it sounds simple enough, but each level has its own series of challenges to overcome. You’ll have to carefully time your jumps from one careening mine cart to the next, or channel the spirit of Indiana Jones as you hop across a collapsing bridge while a massive boulder nips at your heels. If you want our feathered version of the Monopoly guy to survive, you’ll have to be methodical and precise.

Of course, getting from point A to point B is only half the adventure. As already mentioned, you’re continuously adding to Scrooge’s money vault, and this is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the game. Gems and treasure chests aren’t just sitting around waiting for someone to take them home. Nope, they’ll only be revealed after McDuck moves over their hiding spot, meaning you’ll want to walk and hop in every nook and cranny imaginable. Even still, you’re likely to blow your chance at retrieving certain treasures before you even have the chance to realize it… and shockingly enough, this never seems unfair. Missed opportunities will only demand multiple play-throughs, and even urge you to change your play style.

That’s pretty much the game in a nutshell. Everything worked so well in the original, so people pressed their hands together and prayed that Capcom would stay faithful to the original formula. Well, they did, and reviews of DuckTales Remastered has been mixed as a result. Seems kind of hypocritical to me, but I guess that’s the culture of gaming – Even if there’s nothing wrong with a product, you HAVE to find something to complain about. After all, what kind of news gets the most attention? Negative, of course.

So, how does the remake fare, exactly? In short, Capcom knocked it out of the park. This is about as faithful a translation as you can get – Level layouts are almost exactly the same. There’s a few minor tweaks, but they’re so subtle hardly anyone will notice. And oh, how gorgeous these diverse locations have become. Capcom actually enlisted the original series animation team to design the levels, so it actually feels like you’re playing in HD versions of the show. Furthermore, all the characters have been penned, inked and digitized as well. Last but certainly not least, the music has been lovingly recreated, and the result is pure sonic ear worm.

That wasn’t enough, however – In order to enhance the idea you’re actually playing through a DuckTales episode, there’s now a bunch of scripted segments that tie everything together. Their efforts definitely capture the heart of the show, but you know what really went a long way in driving this concept home? Getting the original cast to voice their respective characters. Yes – Scrooge, his nephews, Launchpad, Gyro, the Beagle Boys, and pretty much everyone else – they’re all here with fresh dialogue, and I dare say they sound better than ever (except for Magica DeSpell, who now sounds somewhat aged). Impressive, considering Alan Young – the voice of ‘Unca Scrooge’ – is over 90 years old.

As far as gameplay changes, there isn’t much to discuss. Certain boss battles have been modernized to be a tad more challenging, but all their classic moves are still present and accounted for. Honestly, the most notable change is that it’s easier to pogo. On the NES, you had to press A to jump, and then simultaneously hold ‘down’ and B. Oh, and move left and right at the same time. I’ll never know how I made it through my childhood with my thumbs still intact. If you’re something of a masochist, you can turn the ‘hard pogo’ control scheme on, but, uh… just don’t.

All in all, this is DuckTales as you remembered it… only better. Of course, there’s an inherent problem with this – Not everyone got the chance to enjoy the NES game or even the original series. So, how are young gamers going to react to the HD remake? Well, reviews from 20-somethings across the web are mixed, and understandably so. There was a LOT of hype for this release, so expectations were bound to get out of control.

As far as the gamers who ARE old enough to have enjoyed the 8-bit rendition, reception has been all across the board. Some herald it as the greatest HD remake of all time, whereas others have criticized Capcom for emulating the original design and gameplay to a fault… but me? I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… this, coming from a guy who wholeheartedly supports major alterations (when appropriate, of course). I mean, take the upcoming Castle of Illusion remake for example – The original Sega ‘classic’ was a fun game, but the controls were dreadful and the level design left a lot to be desired. It appears the studio behind the HD version is changing things quite a bit, and for the better. To those who wanted something more from DuckTales Remastered… I honestly don’t know what to say. That’s a lie… of course I do – Get the fudge out.

That’s not to say there aren’t some minor issues. Some have complained that the amount of integrated cut-scenes is a pain in the tooshie. I actually enjoyed the story bits throughout my initial run, but they do become tiresome on multiple replays. At that point, all you want to do is collect treasure and bonk bad guys with your cane, and the cut-scenes do cut into that experience. Fortunately, you can press ‘start’ and select ‘skip cinematic’ from the pause menu. Capcom, it would be nice to see a patch in the future that would allow us to skip the cut-scenes automatically… just sayin’.

Last but not least, some have complained that Scrooge doesn’t always pogo when you want him to… but these complaints are a tad misleading. I actually found this to be a huge problem at first, but that’s because I was attempting to ‘hard pogo’ with the new control scheme. Once I stopped trying to do more with the controls than necessary, each and every goof-up from then on was a result of MY doing, and not from faulty controls. I can’t recall a single moment where I got frustrated and said, “GAWDAMNIT! I PUSHED THE RIGHT BUTTON!!! WHAT THE &%$#?!”

In all seriousness, this is a must own title. If you’re a fan of the 2d platforming resurgence, or just a fan of old school or arcade-style games in general, then DuckTales Remastered is the (nearly) definitive experience you’ve been looking for.