Why would a video game playing female name herself "Surfergirl"? Don't they usually go by names like "My C-blog will be filled with 100 comments with in 15 minutes" or "Rock me, Whiteboy"? I mean, surfing and girls are the last two things I associate with video games. When I was growing up neither surfers nor girls would come anywhere near an Atari "paddle". We games were lonely, pasty boys, and we liked it.
But what really makes Surfergirl an enigma is the amazing level of secrecy and accuracy of her tips. She revealed the new Prince of Persia game way before anyone else. No one actually believed the news was real, which made it even better when it was. Adn from there she has continued to drop huge news bombs on the internets on personal, non-profit site. It's unheard of for someone to leak this kind of info without making dime one.
The latest tip I've seen from here is that Nintendo characters were originally planned for the Wii version of Marvel Ultimate Alliance, as seen in pics below.
Now these pics could be fake, but so could Paul McCartney (according to Seaman). You don't know if anything is real unless you see it for your own eyes, and even then there could always be a mind explosion afoot.
But I ask you this, why would Surfergirl fake news about a game that has already come and gone, a game that is more or less universally though of as worthless? If you are going to make fake news, you make it about Sonic being confirmed for Brawl, or Metal Gear Solid 4 coming to the 360, right?
Well, I guess that's a amtter of opinion. But one thing is for sure, as long as Surfergirl continues to keep "her" identity hidden while providing just mind exploding news, I'll be wondering just who the hell she is.
PS, I think she is a dude. A dude named Ron Workman.
So even though I'm so hot for Mario Galaxy right now, I still bought not one but two new games today. The first was Contra 4, a game I've been waiting for since I first beat Contra 3 on the SNES. Yet, I haven't even played that yet. I was actually more excited for the other game I brought home to momma.
So far, the game is just a little bit above average. It's not at Star Fox 64 levels of fun and surprises...yet. We've only beaten the second boss, and that's still in the recreation Resident Evil Zero chapters, one of the least appealing games in the series. Still, it's a solid on rails shooter peppered with the RE conventions we have grown to love over the years. Ammo conservation, weapon customization, spooky mansions, and most importantly, crappy dialog about situation inappropriate topics.
Billy and Rebecca are in the mansion and are suddenly attacked by monkies with huge fangs (they look awesome by the way). As the monkies continue to attack, Rebecca says something like "So, tell me more about your past. Did you really kill 23 people?" All this while the monkies are screeching, jumping through the air, biting your face, etc. Billy says something like "My past is dark and mysterious. There are things I just can't open up about..." Of course, we were laughing too hard to really be sure if that's what he said, but it was something like that.
Note the pronoun "we". That is the one and only reason I'm really enjoying this game.
Above all other things, Umbellicals is giving me and my finance a chance to game together. She hates most action games, even on the Wii. If a game involves any risk of death, is at all hard to control, or punishes you too frequently, she drops the controller and says "This really isn't as fun as not dying. I think I'll go do that instead.".
But she's loving the Umbrellicals. I could see it being a gateway drug for casual gamers to get into the series. It's like Resident Evil lite, too weak for experienced RE smokers to really get high on, but just right for those who haven't built up a tolerance the RE experience as of yet.
It would have been better if this game were $40 like Zack and Wiki, because as fun as it is, it really does feel like a rehash (especially compared to Galaxy). But all and all, I recommend this game to fans of either Resident Evil or House of the Dead, or anyone trying to get their girl to play and action game with them.
But if you don't like on-rails shooters, this title definitely will not change your mind. Wait instead for the inevitable release of a new RE Wii game using the RE4 engine. After the huge success of the RE4 Wii-make, it's bound to happen. Or just keep playing Galaxy. Either way, it's win.
I hated Mario 64. Everything about the 2D Mario's I had grown to love was chucked out the window with the advent of Mario's sell out cross over into the world of "3D exploring" and "analog movement". Mario 64 signaled the end of an era for me, and almost caused me to give up on Nintendo entirely.
Mario 64 had awesome music, great graphics, and it looked like a Mario game, but that's where the similarities ended. All the Mario games up until Mario 64 had five specific traits in common that gave the series cohesiveness, and made them all awesome (Doki Doki Panic doesn't count).
1) Linear levels that never required (or even allowed for) backtracking.
2) Multiple types of power ups potentially hidden around every corner.
3) Sudden death also lurking around every corner in the forms of 1-3 hit kills, spikes, and bottomless pits
4) Insane, surrealistic worlds.
5) The inability to ever get lost (see point #1)
Mario 64 gave up on each and every one of these points, effectively neutering Mario, changing him for an out of place daredevil explorer facing potential murder or accidental suicide at any moment... to a kid's playground tester.
First off, I found myself getting lost Mario 64 the second I started playing it. That had never happened in a Mario game, ever. Being lost naturally led to being bored, which has also never happened in a Mari game. Yet I struggled on, knowing that since it was a Mario game a cool power up was sure to be in my hands at any moment.
Well, that moment never happened. Metal Mario and Wings Hat Mario were all the game had to offer (as far as I know). And they didn't show up for a long time. A far cry from the Mushroom you get in SMB1 after the first five seconds of play.
Mario did have some attacks to get him through the game, in the way of totally out of character karate moves. For long time Mario fans this came off as very, very lame. Not only is is wrong to see Mario suddenly kicking ass when for years he had no such ability, Mario's new found fighting skill makes him an almost unstoppable opponent. It almost takes effort for Mario to "lose" against his enemies. In prior games a pin point precise jump was necessary for Mario to take out even the smallest of foes. Now, button mashing the attack button was all you needed, even against some bosses.
Not to mention that now Mario had a freaking Life Bar.
I after chugging through the first five or so paintings in Mario 64, I think I had more than 50 lives. The concept of difficulty I had grown to love in Mario's world, starting with the instant deaths in the original Donkey Kong, had died right before my eyes.
But at least I'd get some signature Mario weirdness in Mario 64, right? Well, sort of. I got a 3D version of all the Mario weirdness I had grown to love, but that was it. No new weirdness for the entire game (more or less). This begs the question, "Is more of the old weirdness still technically weird, or is it now just the new 'normal'?"
Yeah, yeah, I know what that smells like.
All philosophical tangents aside, I found nothing exciting about Mario 64's world. It was just Mario again, except watered down and old feeling. It was the first time Mario had really repeated himself, and that made me sort of sick.
So in a nutshell, that's why after ten years and multiple attempts at play (on both the N64 and the DS) I have never been able to like Mario 64.
Yet, I love Mario Galaxy. It's so much better than I thought it would be. All five of the above precepts of 2D Mario are back with a vengeance. No backtracking has been necessary at all (I'm about 15 levels into the game), giving the game the 2D Mario "Must always move forward!" feeling I had so badly missed. Through the collection of Star Bits, you are powering up in this game constantly, no to mention the Bee, Boo, Fire, Ice, Spring, and Star suits that could show up at nearly any time. And death finally lurks around every corner again. The life bar is still there, but it's size has been reduced to three bars. After just the first few hours of play I've fallen to my death, been electricuted, and gotten my ass kicked by Gombas on more than one occasion. And it feels good.
Most of the planets are so small that you never get lost, yet are still faced with a constant sense of purpose and challenge. But more importantly, these planets are Insanely weird. I have never seen this kind of stuff done in a video game, ever. It's a new level of surrealism for the entertainment world in general. Yellow Submarine, Frederico Fellini, David Lynch, Katamari and Psychonaughts have officially been de-throned.
If you lost interest in Mario games when they went 3D like I did, Galaxy will bring you back into the fold. Give it a try, for serious. And not just the first few levels. Until you've surfed on the manta, you haven't really given this game a chance.
Bonus spoiler vids of Olimar's ship from Pikman, L-Block from Tetris, and Yoshi all making cameos in the same level.
It was fairly easy to sum up Square/Enix last week (thought I sure was long winded about it). They are the Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest company. That's all they do. Even though their attempts at other types of games have sometimes been great, they have never sold. Now the company is all Final Fantasy/Dragon Quest all the time, for better or worse.
Konami has done a lot of different sorts of games, so it's harder to sum them up as a developer. Game developers like Konami are more like record labels than musicians. Your average band does one or two types of music in their career, where as you average label produces multiple types of music through out it's life cycle. But there are some trends in Konami's history that are worth observing, and with those observations some predictions are possible.
Carl Sagan was right when he said "The past is the best predictor for the future". So let's get crackin'
Konami in the Nintendo era: The first "mature" game developer?
I'd say Konami was over all the #1 third party developer for the NES. Capcom and Square had some huge games, as did now nearly forgotten developers like Data East and Tecmo, but Konami had the most enormous, persistently popular game series on the NES, even more than the big N.
All the old school Konami games more or less had two things in common, attributes that made them beloved by the more "mature" and "hardcore" gaming dudes of the NES days. The first was Konami's unprecedented the use of big name Hollywood actors.
I still don't know how they got away with it, but Konami used more Hollywood actors in the 1980's than Heidi Fleiss did in the 1990's. Lance and Bill from Contra were clearly based off Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
Another example, this time in GIF format.
Snake from Metal Gear was at times a Micheal Beihn (Terminator, Aliens) look-a-like...
...other times based off Kurt Russell.
Sean Connery clearly shows up in Metal Gear 2.
And lets not forget the unlicensed appearance of the Lethal Weapon dudes in Policenaughts.
Castlevania and Gradius are the two exceptions to this rule, as neither feature Hollywood stars. But a case could be made for Castlevania being the most like a American Action/Horror film out of all of Konami's games. It's got Karloff as Frankenstein, it's got Mummies, and it's got Wolfman. All appear in the game in the Hollywood style. But does Castlevania's Wolfman have "nards"? That's a question for another time.
Aw heck, I can't hold out on you like that. I'll just come out and say it.
As weird as it sounds, Konami's link to R rated Hollywood movies gave their games an air of sophistication. By using popular action stars in their games, Konami sent the message that video games were capable of standing right along side Hollywood films in terms of content, not just with cartoons and board games. Konami was arguably the first to take the "Hollywood" direction in game production that's now commonplace in today's gaming landscape.
The second thing that made Konami's NES games "mature" was the required level of practice and skill to play them.
Many big name Konami games were incredibly hard. Contra and Gradius were both one hit kill games. Castlevania's Simon Belmont usually dies after no more than 4 hits from common enemies, even less from bosses, not to mention his inability to control his jump sin mid-air leading to countless deaths via spikes and bottomless pits.
And Snake? He starts his special covert mission against hundreds of soldiers while armed with nothing but a pack of cigarettes. And if he smokes them, he'll slowly die. Does it get any "mature" and "hardcore" than that?
When first playing any NES Konami game, you expected to die at least once a minute, if not faster. But these games strayed away from cheap deaths. With skill and practice, both arguably traits of maturity, all Konami games could be mastered. And if not, then there was always the code.
Konami in the 90's: Hitting the ceiling on "maturity"
The early 90's were a difficult time for Konami. Many of their best developers had left the company to form Treasure, a developer many believe to be the greatest producers of shooters known to man. This left Konami without the skilled man power to continue creating the great shooters it had been known for. And beyond loss of quality employees, Konami had to cope with the entire world of gaming being turned on it's head. 2D gaming's future was in question, and 3D polygon based graphics were suddenly taking over. During this time of evolution every gaming developer had to evolve or die, and Konami was no exception.
Like many of NES's 3rd party developers, Konami more or less jumped ship on Nintendo with the advent of the N64. Nintendo reportedly charged exorbitant fees to develop on it's doomed cartridge based system. And the call of the limitless memory that CD ROM technology had to offer was too great for Konami to resist. The PSX became Konami's new home, and the developer was a key player in making the Playstation name what it is today.
Metal Gear Solid, the third game in the series, is considered by many to be the most "mature" game ever created. Not only is MGS rife with sexual and violent content, but the it's storyline has more intrigue, double cross, historical references, and and complex relationships than most R rated films. And the acting was often better than those films as well (I'm looking at you Beverly Hills Cop 3).
When a long time, 18 year old gamer played MGS for the first time, they felt like gaming had truly grown up along with them. MGS was the perfect hybrid of Hollywood movies and the classic NES Metal Gear games, coming together to create a new form of entertainment. To a lesser degree, the same could be said for Konami's Resident Evil/Clive Barker tribute Silent Hill,. But that's not to say Konami was all about innovation. For the old schooler Konami provided Castlevania:Symphony of the Night and the Suikoden series, staying true to their hardcore 2d roots.
To sum up, in the 90's Konami spearheaded the move towards adult appropriate storytelling in games, while "keeping it real" with old school 2D gaming goodness.
Konami now: More of the same, plus Hollywood
What worries me about current day Konami is the same thing that worries me about Square Enix. They are stuck in a rut, no longer pursuing new IP's and instead rely on the same games that got them big in the 80's and 90's. Metal Gear Solid 4 looks great, but beyond the graphical upgrade it promises to be more of the same. That's great for diehard fans of the series, but the chances of MGS4 appealing to a new audiences are slim. The MGS series has always been marred with a high difficulty, weird controls, and long winded cut scenes. These elements remain highly appealing to fans of the series, but also continue to turn off non-fans. And the lack of intense action in the MGS series compared to the FPS of Survival Horror genres is also a turn off to many. Minutes may go by in a MGS game without a shot being fired. To the average Halo fan, that's practically blasphemy.
Konami also continues to churn out cookie cutter DDR, Contra, and Castelvania games to please their diehard fans, but the latest titles in those series will do nothing to bring in new players. Teh new Contra looks awesome for Nostalgia freaks and will likely please who dropped the series after it left Nintendo consoles, but if you don't already love hyper-difficult 2D shooters, Contra IV is not likely to change you mind. All attempts at a 3D Castlevania have more or less failed, and though Tristero's awesome interview with Castlevania's current producer revealed that Konami would still like to do a proper 3D game in the series, nothing to that effect has yet been announced.
But it's not all stagnation with Konami in the 2K. A place where Konami is actively innovating is in the realm of video game movies. It's some how not a surprise that the company that made it's name on Hollywood inspired games is now poised to excel in Hollywood itself. The Silent Hill movie was a relative success, a hit with both fans of the game and with those totally unfamiliar with it. How'd they do it? Well, the creators of the movie reportedly were actually fans of their source material, and thought the film adaptation to be worthy of a serious tone. The Silent Hill the movie has no over the top "video game" moments like the Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, or Street Fighter movies. It's a "real movie", and was therefore respected like one. With any luck tho forth coming MGS and Castelvania movies will follow suit.
Konami: What they should do in 2008
This is a tough one. The easy answer is of course "make awesome games on every platform", because that's what Konami has always done in the past (except for the N64 and Saturn). More specifically, Konami would be wise to cease it's seemingly singular support of the PS3. The PS3 continues to look like the losing horse in the console race, at least for 2008, so Konami better start making games for other consoles if it wants to survive the year. A 360 port of MGS4 is one obvious move, as is putting some sort of MGS and Castlevania game on the Wii.
But more than anything, Konami needs some new IP's. There are a whole new batch of Hollywood actors that Konomi could steal and put in contemporary games. Why not a Hiedi Fliess inspired GTA style game, where you do crimes and pimp out whores to the likes of all new Stallone, Russel, and Schwarzenegger inspired characters? I know I'd pre-order that game, with or without Hot Coffee.
Or at the very least, Konami needs to start to using their old IP's in new ways. Why not a 3D Castelvania game that plays like a cross between Simon's Quest and Assassin's Creed? Or why not a Castlevania MMORPG? Why keep turning out the same Devil May Cry wanna-be turds?
And it's time for some new talent. Iga and Kojima haven't worn out their welcome, but they seem worn out themselves. They turn out quality games, but they turn out the same quality games year after year. Neither seems to do well outside their famous franchise (Castlevania for Iga, Metal Gear for Kojima), and it might be wise to hire some blood for those series, while giving each of the above famous producers a well needed rest to reflect on gaming and actually come up with some new ideas.
And lastly, a new Bayou Billy game for the Wii (called Bayou Wiilly, of course) seems like a no brainer. Pew Pew Pew, mate.
But enough out of me. After all, An Analyst is YOU! How do you think Konami's going to do next year, and what do you think they should do to succeed?
Resident Evil:Umbrella Chronicles just gain some credibility. I think that all RE fans were disappointed when they heard this game was once planned to play like RE4 on the Wii, but was instead changed to a on-rails shooter. Like a crappy remix of your favorite song, the game looked like a retread of RE0, 1 and 3 but with all the fun extracted. For me this disappointment has slowly eroded, and with today's scan I'm actually quite excited for the games story, as stupid as it may turn out to be.
Like the Metal Gear series, the RE games have a convoluted, silly plot. But again like Metal Gear Solid, after playing the games for the past ten years or so, I can say I'm actually attached to the characters. So seeing Ada return in this "should be dead, but instead looks like she was married to Ike Turner" manner, and knowing that we will finally get an explanation as to how she survived the destruction of Raccoon City, for me that alone makes RE:UC worth the price of admission.
All the same, part of me wants this game to sell like crap so Capcom will see that consumers bought 1 million copies of RE4 on the Wii not because they follow the RE name around like mindless zombies (har har) but because RE4 is an awesome game. I want a RE2 remake for the Wii with the RE4 game engine. That's not going to happen if a RE lightgun game reusing graphics from the Gamecube games outsells the real games in the series.