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Psychotic Reviews: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

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One of my favorite series on the original DS was Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Each game was serious and completely whimsical at the same time. The characters are over the top and blown out of proportion in some cases, which only serve to make the courtroom scenes incredibly memorable as all of these personalities clash. The mystery element meant that the full picture of what happened was never entirely clear to the player until the trial and the investigations leading up to the courtroom scenes slowly reveal the whole story, or could also go down the rabbit hole at times. Its really a perfect blend of point and click puzzle adventure games with the narrative style of a visual novel, making the series stand out as the sum of its parts.

In contrast I’ve only played the first game in the Professor Layton series. I enjoy the game but can never sit down and play it for too long in any one sitting. Its really a gauntlet of puzzles. There are some point and click elements involved in this game as well, but they mainly serve as a way to find hint coins and hidden puzzles. The game is more of a slow burner compared to the Ace Attorney series, which will mix in dramatic courtroom scenes with the slower investigation to mix the pacing up.

These two series in terms of gameplay actually make sense putting together, and when I first heard about the crossover I was rather excited since I knew of Layton at the time and am a massive Ace Attorney fan. Despite only playing the first Layton game I was impressed by this game! The Ace Attorney style investigations mixed well with Layton style exploration and puzzle solving. It never felt like the gauntlet of Layton’s puzzles was getting to be too much of a grind since there is plenty more to enjoy and move through in the game.

In terms of story the world and area feel much more inspired by Layton. There is a village filled with magic where witches are burned after being found guilty at a trial. Professor Layton, Luke, Phoenix Wright, and Maya Fey all find themselves brought to this village. As Phoenix you play through a witch trial and work to get the first exoneration of a witch in the village’s memory! This case introduces a unique twist to the system of cross examination that was standard throughout the Ace Attorney series. In the courtroom scenes the witness testimony is all done at once, the witnesses line up and Phoenix cross examines them one after the other. This does allow the witnesses to collaborate with their stories and add in information that fills in any holes on the fly. This style feels stacked against you. No wonder there were so many guilty verdicts in a row before Nick and Maya showed up here!

After the two pairs meet up the overall goal of the game becomes to uncover the secret of the village and keep working to get rid of this stigma against witches. After all, magic shouldn’t exist in our rational, modern world of science right? This games does a fantastic job of leading you along through the story, with twists and turns helping to guide you. The drama of the courtroom spills out into the streets and these strangers soon become well known for their alien idea of ‘logic’. That’s right, this village has not been enlightened to the basic Western ideas of Greek logic.

Once again Capcom shows that they are the complete master of the crossover, but they had plenty of help from Level-5. Both companies worked together to add the elements from their respective games, and then to polish it up and make it presentable for the player. As a result of this the game is incredibly strong. If you’re interested in either series you’ll be pleased with the results here since Layton is more of the same and Phoenix has a nice change to make this game feel like a unique entry to the Ace Attorney series. Despite their differences the characters work well, but I feel like Layton himself solves these major puzzles because of hazy and unexplained reasons. This difference could be a result of Phoenix taking details in one at a time since everything in his series is evidence based, and only one piece is usually relevant at any one time. If you have a 3DS and are looking for a story based adventure jam packed with fun and wit, check this game out!

Psychotic Reviews: Mario’s Time Machine

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Why does this exist? I understand educational games, but throwing in a huge, well-established character just seems like a lazy cash grab. A good educational game should be able to stand up on its own by mixing good teaching tools with fun. Mario’s Time Machine fails as a teaching tool.

Mario’s Time Machine was developed and published by The Software Toolworks for the Super Nintendo and MS-DOS. Radical Entertainment developed the NES port with Nintendo publishing this version themselves. When this game was released in the early 90s, it was not the first Mario themed educational game; it was preceded by Mario is Missing! (which had the same developer). As you might be able to discern from the title, Mario’s Time Machine is a game meant to teach history. However, I find that as a teaching tool the game fails. As an adult who understands and knows the basic historical content presented in this game, it is extremely easy to get through and beat quickly. The basic gameplay involves you having historical artifacts with an attached document with information on it; this document has blanks in it that you must fill. As an adult, you’ll likely know most, if not all, of the answers without thinking too much. However, if you’re a kid, you may have trouble filling in these blanks. Other than context clues in the document, the game does little to actually teach history beyond blind guesswork and memorization.

The historical content in the game involves major figures, most of them Western European. You’ll visit Joan of Arc, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Isaac Newton, Marco Polo, Cleopatra VII, Thomas Jefferson, and Plato, among others. The only major Eastern figure you meet up with is Kublai Khan, and he’s not the main target of that trip back in time. Since this game is targeted at young children and is exclusive to North America, it can be forgiven for ignoring most of Eastern history. The intended market of kids are only going to be learning the basics at this age after all.

All of these random, historical figures across all periods of time, from Ancient Greece to Thomas Edison, are pulled together by a crazy narrative. Bowser has built a time machine and steals all of these critical artifacts to build a huge museum in his castle. I have never considered Bowser to appreciate any history other than one where he has the Princess and rules as supreme evil overlord. Apparently, Bowser was bored so he single-handedly did what our scientists insist is completely impossible. If he used this power for good, who knows what kind of damage he could help alleviate!

After finishing your homework assignment, Mario has to set the year and location he needs to go to give the item back to its rightful owner and help prevent too many space-time anomalies. Any date and location you pick will take Mario into a surfing mini game, which is by far the most fun aspect of this game. During this surfing section, Mario needs to collect aquatic mushrooms and then jump into a whirlpool. If you pick the right location and time, then you see an example of juxtaposed visual design.

The locations and characters throughout Earth’s European-centric history are realistic in design. The backgrounds and sprites would be right at home in a Western PC RPG of the time, where each town would have its resident eccentric that would send you out on some fetch quest to find their astrolabe or sculptor’s pick in the bottom of some dungeon. Mario’s presence in these realistic areas just stands out and looks awkward. His sprite is ripped straight from Super Mario World, so there’s a huge contrast between his cartoony look and the realistic looks of all of the historical locations.

Overall, this game is best avoided for all but the most curious or the completionist collector. It lacks any real fun for an adult and lacks the tools to properly teach kids the dynamic nature of history. The gameplay is rigid and you will ultimately obtain the correct answers without understanding the why or the implications of the work of these influential people. For these reasons, I will likely stay away from any educational Mario games from now on, except perhaps Interplay’s Mario Teaches Typing, but that’s just because I’m a sucker for Interplay games!

5 Best and Worst Examples of Video Game Box Art

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One of my favorite parts about video games, collecting them, and playing them is looking at the art included with the whole package. Your first impression of a game is likely going to be the first part of the package you see, the box art. With thousands of games comes as many examples of box art, and it ranges from artistic genius to as bad as a five year old’s first photoshop. While everybody else is doing their Top Games of 2014 I wanted to do something different. Those that have read me since my earlier blogging days know that most of my lists are usually different from the rest. I want this holiday special to be no different. In no particular order here are five examples of the best, and worst examples of video game box art!

Worst

We’ll start with the worst first, since these are usually hilarious and you’ll get all your gut wrenching laughter out of your system before we get super serious with the great examples of good box art.

Black Belt

I think Sega was trying to convey minimalism with this game, but with such a poorly drawn foot it ends up looking like a toddler’s doodle of daddy’s crusty toes. A positive I have about this example is that you do in fact kick people with your foot in the game, so it gets a few points for being relatively accurate. Sega’s Master System is littered with pieces of awful box art, but there are plenty of great pieces in the libraries as well. Don’t let this one example sour your opinion of a great system.

Bomberman

This one is a double whammy. The Turbo-16 art is pretty awful, but so is the NES art as well! I love how the NES box claims that ‘Nearly 1 million sold in Japan.’ I know the gaming market was smaller back then, but nearly could make one think that its not good enough to be more than a million! Also, the actual word “Bomb!” is used as a sound effect. The Turbo art looks like it could be a buddy comedy about two older and out of shape terrorists trying to get back into the game of blowing stuff up. So they dress up in space outfits and start chucking old tyme bombs all over the city to let the young’uns know who’s still in charge!

Rival Turf

Nothing makes me more frightened than seeing a couple of suburban 90’s kids looking so tough. This is their turf, so you best back off!

Tongue of the Fatman

How many of you reading this could tell, just by looking at the cover of this game, that Tongue of the Fatman is a fighting game? Not only is it a fighting game, but it is a fighting game for various PC systems. Prepare for awful keyboard controls and disgusting character design. There’s no reason at all to play this.

Metro Cross

Remember when I mentioned a five year old’s first photoshop? I wasn’t joking, not entirely at least. Metro Cross is the punchline. For trying to be rad and extreme there is entirely too much safety equipment on this piece of art. Remove your knee and elbow pads chump, we can discuss the blue and orange turtleneck one piece suit afterwards.

Best

Now that you’ve gotten your laughter from these awful, but in some cases hilarious out of your system, check out these pieces and get ready for an awe inspiring tale of talent, vision, and good planning.

Time Soldiers

Consider this the Master System’s redemption. I love the art on this cover, and the game inside is quite fun if you dig Commando or Ikari Warriors. My favorite detail about this art is not just the tank and the dinosaur trying to get through the time portal at the same time, nor is it the guy firing his bazooka at the visible time portal. No, the best detail is the guy firing his bazooka towards the viewer, alluding to the fact that there is something just off to the side that is just as intimidating as a T-Rex and a tank that we can’t see. You have to play the game to find out!

Ys Book I & II

And here is the Turbo’s redemption. These Ys remakes are considered to be the killer apps of the Turbo CD here in North America. They were highly regarded critically upon release, and had some of the best CD quality audio in video games for its time. The soundtrack has held up well, so go give it a listen. This cover makes me think this is a long lost Dio era Rainbow album. I am not disappointed that its not.

Wasteland

There is no other box like Wasteland’s, well except for Wasteland 2’s. Wasteland is considered to be one of the all time classics of PC role playing games, and introduced the gamers for the platform to a post apocalyptic view of the American Southwest. The idea and the setting would be used as the groundwork for a spiritual successor almost a decade later in the more popular series Fallout. No other game at the time took the perspective of the game, in this case top down, and made such a wonderful piece of art for their product.

System Shock 2

Looking Glass Studios is one of my favorite developers of all time. It was loaded with talent that produces some of the most well loved games today, and when it came to quality they were almost unrivaled on their native PC platform. These green eyes and the circuit wiring on the face, with the wires protruding to each side, let alone the space ship on the bottom, just let the viewer know that they are in for a wild science fiction ride.

Awesome

Just look at everything Psygnosis. That’s my advice. I don’t know what to say other than the word that’s already the title of the game.

Composer Compendium: David Wise

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In simpler times there were great melodies driving the music composition of games. When you’re limited to a handful of sound channels it really tests composers to make a piece that fits the game they are working on and is memorable. It also has to survive repeated listens, as many games were short and had only a handful of tracks. Today we look at one of the best Western composers for one of the best European game development companies. David Wise was Rare Ltd’s house composer from 1985 to 2009, and his work stands out like the company he worked for.

His first handful of years were spent with Nintendo’s juggernaut Entertainment System. Rare’s philosophy at this time was to make as many games as they possibly could, and some stand out as great titles for the system, while others are quite smelly. The first games with Wise’s compositions came out in a year or two after his hire, and they were Slalom and Wizards & Warriors. One of the best racing games on the system carries Wise’s compositions, R.C. Pro-Am!.


I like to call Slalom ‘Downhill Butt Simulator’.

The following year saw double the number of Wise compositions, showing that he most likely was not sitting around for the first couple years of his existence at the company. The rest of the year’s work featured game show adaptations in Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Rare’s own video board game Anticipation rounds out 1988.

1989 was a big year for Mr. Wise, and includes almost too many games to list, as does the following year. The Sesame Street games are well known for their high quality digitized voices, which sound almost too good for the NES. Wise helped with those, starting with Sesame Street ABC. It includes such beloved classics as Taboo: The Sixth Sense, Hollywood Squares, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and WWF Wrestlemania. In seriousness though there were great games or ports that Mr. Wise composed or rearranged, those include Marble Madness, Cobra Triangle, Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II. Finally, push your periscopes up and look across the horizon for the best and most valuable game ever made. Silent Service.

The decade changed but the NES still reigned supreme. As a result of this David Wise still had plenty of projects to work on. 1990 was the biggest year yet, with many classics, as well as the first foray onto the Game Boy. The game show adaptations continued with Double Dare being a new challenger. Rare must have had a monopoly on these game show adaptations. On top of these he got to work on some original Rare titles such as Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Super Glove Ball, Time Lord, and Pin*Bot for the NES, with Wizards & Warriors Chapter X: The Fortress of Fear and The Amazing Spider-Man on Game Boy. There were some arcade ports and movie adaptations as well including Captain Skyhawk, NARC, Cabal, Arch Rivals, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Battletoads was the next big and well remembered Rare title that Wise composed the music on. You can thank him for that groovy pause music as well as everything else in the original NES release and the mostly unrelated Game Boy release as well. Sesame Street ABC & 123 released in 1991 alongside the aforementioned Battletoads, Beetlejuice, and super R.C. Pro-Am.

The next year saw Rare stretching its arms onto the up and coming Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, with Championship Pro-Am. They did not completely abandon the Nintendo systems, but did not have him move forward to the new Super Nintendo yet. On the NES there was R.C. Pro-Am II, Wizards & Warriors III, and the port of Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. Battletoad mania would start in 1993.

Since the original release of Battletoads the series had proven quite popular, so Rare had the first Battletoads ported onto the Genesis and Game Gear. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and Battletoads & Double Dragon marked the move onto the SNES. The latter also saw releases on the NES, Genesis, and Game Boy. Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World is a proper Game Boy port of the first Battletoads that also released this year. Other than Battletoads Mr. Wise also arranged the 16 bit port of Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll for the Genesis, as well as X The Ball for the Arcade.

The next year may well be the year that solidified Mr. Wise as a truly great composer, as his music got to grace one of the most beloved video games of all times, not just of the 16 bit era, but ever. This was also the year that saw a severe decrease in output from our composer, almost being entirely limited to the series spawned by this game. You may be asking what game I’m getting to. Donkey. Kong. Country. There was also Monster Max and the arcade port of Battletoads, but 1994 was the year of Kong.

For the better part of the next decade Mr. Wise was mostly limited to the Donkey Kong Country series, so his early output of many games in a year decreased to one or two a year until his departure from Rare. Both of the followup games to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES were composed by Mr. Wise, but his contributions diminished with each game. The first Donkey Kong Land on Game Boy features some Wise compositions. Diddy Kong Racing on N64 was the lone game he composed for on the Big N’s system.

There was a three year lull between Diddy Kong Racing and his next game, which was the Game Boy Color port of the first Donkey Kong Country. After that he moved onto his lone Gamecube game, Star Fox Adventures. A couple Game Boy Advance games followed, Its Mr. Pants and Donkey Kong Country 3. Next was the DS games Diddy Kong Racing DS and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise. By this point Rare had been sold by Nintendo to Microsoft. He only worked on one Xbox 360 game before his departure from Rare, War World. After this he went freelance with his own studio, composing the iOS game Sorcery! Retro Studios brought him back to the land of Nintendo earlier this year to return to his most famous series. The Wii U needed help and David Wise delivered with the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. His most recent game is Tengami for iOS and the Wii U.

Composer Compendium: Naoki Kodaka

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Naoki Kodaka is one of the most listened to 8-bit composers. I’m sure most of you have heard some of the music from the games he worked on, but may not have realized how many classics he had a hand in. Kodaka is known for his work at a company called Sunsoft, and he spent the better part of a decade composing soundtracks for the company. His first one was a shooter for the Famicom Disc System, Dead Zone in 1986.

His next game would also be exclusive to the FDS, Nazoler Land. Sunsoft was stepping up in the world and got the rights to port a couple of popular games to the NES. Activision’s PC hit Shanghai and Bally Midway’s arcade smash hit Spy Hunter were both ported to the NES by Sunsoft, and the soundtracks were re-arranged by Kodaka.

Sunsoft soon went international as a result of the success of these ports. In 1988 their Zapper game Freedom Force and first international sensation Blaster Master both had soundtracks composed by Kodaka and his fellow associates at the company. Naohisa Morota developed a sound engine that lead to Sunsoft’s unique bass heavy sound style. This is now known as Sunsoft bass as a result of how much it stands out and the high quality of the company’s soundtracks from the NES era. This year closed out with a port of Platoon and the Japanese FDS exclusive Nankin no Adventure.

The following two years are arguably the golden years of 8-bit soundtracks, with Kodaka and Sunsoft being one of the biggest reasons for this. In 1989 the company released Fester’s Quest and Batman. The next year saw the Genesis/Mega Drive version of Batman, as well as the almost Terminator game Journey to Silius, as well as Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Nantettatte!! Baseball was the last of Sunsoft’s Famicom exclusive games. All of these games had Kodaka at the musical helm.

Sunsoft was rather slow to convert to the 16 bit systems overall. They did release Batman for the Genesis, but continued pouring a great effort into the declining Famicom. Still, some great games and soundtracks came about from this arrangement. In 1991 Sunsoft released Ufouria seemingly everywhere but North America, they developed an updated version of Spy Hunter called Super Spy Hunter, and followed up on Batman with Return of the Joker. 1992 saw the release of Super Fantasy Zone for the Mega Drive. Again, these are all Sunsoft’s games that had Kodaka as the lead composer.

Kodaka’s output finally started slowing down when Sunsoft had him start work on their flagship strategy RPG series Albert Odyssey for the Super Famicom in 1993. The following year would have Albert Odyssey II and Sugoi Hebereke release for the SFC.

A two year break would follow before the third Albert Odyssey game released, Sunsoft moving the to the very popular in Japan Sega Saturn. North America had this game released by Working Designs as Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean. Kodaka’s final composing project before retiring from video games would be Out Live: Be Elimiate Yesterday for the Playstation, and exclusively in Japan.

Psychotic Reviews: Shadowrun Returns

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When it comes to my collection list of wants I have two RPGs for the major 16 bit systems up very high on this list. Shadowrun for the SNES and the completely different game of the same name for the Sega Genesis. These games are examples of the very few Western developed RPGs released for these systems, at least ones that weren’t ported from the PC that is. Both versions are considered good games, with the SNES game widely being considered ahead of its time with its noir style narrative and tactical gameplay. It was a critical darling when it released, but commercially flopped.

Fast forward two decades and we have Kickstarter. This is one of the best tools for a small team to completely fund and develop a game from the ground up. I’m sure most of us are aware of what it is and does for developers. They basically pitch their game to their final customers while development is either very early, or still in the planning stages. Customers then throw money at the project, if the developers make their goal then they can start development. If they surpass their goal then they implement ‘stretch goals’ which basically add ideas or staff to the process of development. The Kings of Kickstarter, at least in the video game world, are Tim Schafer and Brian Fargo, the latter of which has two massively successful projects.

Good ol’ Jake Armitage even returns for the Ripper investigation!

Harebrained Schemes also had a very successful Kickstarter with their project, Shadowrun Returns. This project ended with over $1.8 million of funding. So now the game has been out for awhile and I picked it up while it was on sale. Shadowrun is one of my absolute favorite tabletop settings. It takes our real world and completely flips it upside down with an event called the ‘Awakening’. Earth is now covered with humans, elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls in various quantities. At its heart it is cyberpunk with the ability to use technological enhancements as well as magic to build stronger characters, and the Deckers’ ability to physically jack into the internet (or as the game calls it, The Matrix).

Anyway, as of this review there are two different official campaigns to choose from, the original one Dead Man’s Switch, and the latest one released as DLC, Dragonfall. Dead Man’s Switch takes place in the Free City of Seattle, while Dragonfall takes place in Berlin. The game is presented in an isometric perspective reminiscent of the SNES Shadowrun as well as Interplay and Bioware RPGs around the turn of the century.

The game is easy to control, click where you want to go and who you want to talk to. Combat is actually more in the style of XCOM than other RPGs. There are various items and decorations to use as cover, there’s even Overwatch in the game. To keep with its RPG roots your stats influence your chance to hit as a percentage, get close to the enemy and the percentage increases, use buffs to get that even higher. I rolled as a shaman with Eagle Totem, so I could buff everybody’s chance to hit in a small radius, as well as cast Haste on my various party members. By the end of the game this meant that at any one time half the party had double the Action Points, and could easily have over 85% chance to hit as long as they were close to my PC. Combine all this with a spirit that shamans can summon for an extra party member and its easy to see why this support class is completely awesome.

I have beaten Dead Man’s Switch, and its set up as a murder mystery. You get a message from one of your fellow Shadowrunners Sam Watts, your main character is down on his/her luck at this moment but this message promises a huge payout for you to find your friend’s killer. He’s already dead by the time the message gets to you, hence the name Dead Man’s Switch. You go on a long journey through the city of Seattle’s underbelly in the 2050’s. This story ends up tying in with the events that lead to the downfall of Chicago in the novel Burning Bright and sourcebook Bug City. You also get to have the completely awesome immortal elf Harlequin in your group during the end game, as well as meet a representative of the Dragon Lofwyr who hails from Berlin, tying Dead Man’s Switch into Dragonfall.

While the game is simple to play and fun when it works I did run into crippling, near game breaking problems. There were times when my main character would just get frozen in combat. She couldn’t move, but she could still cast spells, heal, and control her spirit. When I tried to move the game completely froze for a few minutes. I could still control the rest of my team though. I ran into this problem in 2nd half of this campaign, even the final battle. But, with Harlequin and Coyote I managed to win and brought justice to Sam’s killer.

Dead Man’s Switch was not long, even with this problem I managed to beat it in about 16 hours. It was just incredibly annoying to have the game lock up, freeze, and then have to find workarounds to still win said game. If you decide to try this game and do not run into the problem I did (which a majority seem to not run into) then you might be able to shave an hour or two off of my completion time. I also missed a couple side quests when I went back to check walkthroughs for what I missed.

If you’re interested in science fiction and want a different, near future take on the genre, mixed with heaping doses of fantasy and warped reality then Shadowrun might scratch that itch. Your chances of running into the problems I had are quite low after all the forum research I did to find a solution. If you’re already familiar with some of the lore from Shadowrun this should fit in quite nicely, especially if you’re familiar with the tie ins I already mentioned. If you’re skeptical then you might want to wait until it goes on sale again.

21st Century Video Game Crash?

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Is the home video game industry charging headfirst into another market crash?

I ask myself this question because there are so many signs pointing towards another crash when I look back on the previous ones. We are on the cusp of the 8th console generation really getting ready to begin, only Nintendo having dived head first into these potentially treacherous waters. Unlike the 7th Generation, where the current Big 3 stepped in to tango against each other largely without disturbance, they will have competition from fan favorite Valve, as well as some more unknown companies. So let’s take a look at some of these and extrapolate the events and lessons learned to the modern era.

In 1977 there was a major crash of the video game market that is largely ignored by the public and even by gamers that were around at this time. The major problems that lead to this crash were centered around the insane popularity of Pong through the early to mid 70’s. This game was so popular in the arcades that every company wanted to make a standalone Pong system for home consumers. Even the beloved and mighty Nintendo is guilty of this. By 1977 the market was flooded with so many Pong and dedicated systems that consumers had no idea which ones were good, which were bad, or which one was made by the original creators of the game.

Nintendo’s Color TV Game. Exclusive to Japan.

However, one piece of the video game market continued to grow through 1977, the handheld market. If you’re a bit younger like me you’ll probably remember the Tiger handhelds with crappy LCD screens and primitive beeps for sound. These standalone handhelds are a relic of this growth in the late 70’s, and they kept going strong through the 80’s with some still being released today. Nintendo had their hit Game & Watch brand of handhelds while they moved into the arcade market and dipped their toe into the home console market with some VCS ports.

But SirPsycho, you may be asking, didn’t Atari release their VCS/2600 in 1977? They did, and they managed to survive this crash on the strength of their brands and high quality products they put out in the arcade, which was untouched by this ‘crash’. The Atari VCS did not really take off until 1980 when the company secured the rights to port Taito’s enormous arcade hit Space Invaders to their system.

So what lessons does this archaic crash have for today’s incredibly diverse market? Too many systems on the market at one time is a bad thing for the game consuming public, and all of these systems did roughly the same thing, they all played Pong with fancy names like table tennis, raquetball, handball, they were all the same game at heart though. None of these machines offered interchangable cartridges, the machines that did are not considered Pong consoles even if they had a Pong clone cart.

Even if some upcoming tangential systems secure a foothold in the market, like the Ouya from Boxer8, it is essentially a modernized Pong console if all of their promises and features will deliver. The Steam Box from Valve is roughly the same idea, all digital distribution, firmware updates, and streaming. You push a button or flip a switch to change modes. Valve has a massive leg up on Boxer8 however, a huge, hardcore, and loyal fanbase. There’s also the GameStick on Kickstarter right now, which just looks like its an Atari Flashback in USB form.

The Ouya from Boxer8.

The North American Crash of 1983 is highly publicized so I will not write about it much here, but the lessons from it are primarily software related. The crash of 1977 left Atari and Magnavox competing against each other in the late 70’s, Magnavox and its Odyssey^2 could not keep up and they bowed out. By the time the ’83 crash happened Atari’s renamed 2600 was holding a gigantic lead over Mattel, Coleco, and its own 5200 before the ground crumbled beneath them as a result of their own leadership, knocking their two competitors out at the same time.

Low quality software from Atari themselves left fans feeling betrayed so they left the system and company behind. A lot of Atari’s veteran talent left as a result of their barbaric employee treatment. A handful of talented developers founded Activision before the crash, and Atari lost a court case against the fledgling 3rd party that lead to a huge growth of 3rd party developers and publishers. There were many new and inexperienced 3rd parties that did not help Atari’s case either.

One case of a third party bad Atari game.

What markets thrived during the down years between the 1983 crash and the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System outside of Japan? The arcade market entered what could be considered a Silver Age. Long time arcade developers released new, cutting edge machines that kept the fans that built and crushed Atari happy. The PC market really hit its first major stride and many of the initial 3rd parties that began as console developers and publishers for Atari’s 2600 and lacked any arcade experience, made a swift move to the home computing market to survive.

There was another swell of parties that entered the console market in the early to mid 1990’s seeing Sega’s success against Nintendo as a call to action. Philips and 3DO tried and failed. Atari’s last gasp with its agile Jaguar fell flat on its face. SNK’s high priced Neo Geo could not penetrate the larger market and remained a small, insignificant niche, their steamlined Neo Geo CD not doing much to expand their audience either. Apple and Bandai’s partnership led to one of the worst selling systems of all time, the Pippin. Sega themselves proved that console add ons do more to alienate a fanbase than to reinvigorate it.

The Neo Geo CD isn’t a bad looking system either.

Now let’s take a look at today’s market. Facebook has risen to become a powerful social and casual gaming hub, and fallen quite quickly as well, perhaps needing to learn the lessons of the 1983 Crash the hard way. Smartphones have been hyped to threaten Nintendo and its handheld dominance while the 3DS started slowly. Now Nintendo’s system is really starting to fly off the shelf, crushing every other system in Japan on a weekly basis. With Pokemon X and Y releasing this year the global market can be expected to fight over incoming shipments of 3DS consoles, perhaps leading to a temporary shortage and more money printing for Nintendo.

News of Sony’s patent filing that would essentially eliminate the used game and rental market, as well as social borrowing and trading, is hitting the community hard. Many gamers are already pulling out their pitchforks, even longtime Sony faithful fans. If this is implemented I can see Sony going the way of Sega, maybe not until the 2020’s if they try and save themselves and bow out with honor. This patent, if implemented in the PS4, would be the beginning of the end. Sony’s recent add ons, the Eye Toy for PS2/PS3, and the Move which uses the Eye Toy sold decently well, but again failed to be a gaming reimagination that they wanted their fans to experience.

Microsoft has been quiet about its 360 successor, already having lost the major advantage it had in the Seventh generation, launching first, to Nintendo’s WiiU. But, sales are still strong, especially after the holidays. Their Kinect for 360 has become nothing more than a dance simulator with a few iOS and Android ports that make decent use of the technology. Most real AAA efforts have released to critical failure. Still, I believe Microsoft would be foolish to not show their new console off at a major convention this year. What would be even more idiotic would be if MS released another console that is as sloppily designed and prone to failure as the fat 360s are. Gamers handled it for one generation, they will not deal with it for two in a row.

My one true nemesis!

If handled well, and the home console market survives, this could be the time where Valve steps up and knocks one of the current 3 major players out, letting it have an effective stranglehold on PC gaming with Steam, and at least have a slice of pie on the home console front with Steam Box. Of course it would have help from the company in question, Sony and Microsoft look the most vulnerable at the time of this article’s writing. If there’s one lesson to learn by looking at the entirety of the home gaming, arcade, and handheld market, it is to never bet against Nintendo. There has never once been a worldwide video game crash, for every one that has happened gamers quite quickly moved onto other ways to play, like handhelds, the arcade, or PC gaming.

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