Transitions: The Launch Games/End Games Blog

Posted on Oct 3rd 2012 at 12:20:11 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Pinball, launch games

The following was written up early last summer for appearance on another site that ultimately didn't run it. So I'm posting it here...

When I was in my early teenage years, the arcades were experiencing what would be their final hurrah before entering into a sad and ongoing fifteen year decline of increasingly shuttered mall stores, vacated boardwalk buildings, and empty pizza parlors.  In many ways, however, the pinball arcade had already gone through this transition while the arcade itself was yet thriving.  When I was a kid, most arcade hideouts had long ago tossed Pin-Bot and Space Shuttle machines to make room for more Mortal Kombat, Tekken, or NBA Jam cabinets.  Pinball Wizard was not an anthem for my generation (I guess we had Guile's Theme, instead) and pinball was starting to be seen as a poor investment for arcade owners. As a kid, I didn't care.  Pinball was something that I'd play to bide my time if all the video game machines were already taken.  As an adult, however, I now lament the lost opportunity to spend more time with these masterful creations.

Pinball Arcade, published by FarSight Studios, offers a salve of sorts to my feelings of regret. FarSight previously published the excellent Pinball Hall of Fame titles which featured classic tables from pinball companies Gottlieb and Williams, each of which were painstakingly and lovingly recreated in video game form for a wide variety of consoles. Pinball Arcade takes that basic concept - detail-focused recreations of classic tables (complete with spot-on physics) - and offers it in the form of an PSN/XBLA/iOS title.  This entry represents not only their best work to date, but it is also perhaps the best pinball video game to ever grace a console.

On consoles, the game comes with four tables at an initial offering price of $10.  Those tables are Theater of Magic, Black Hole, Ripley's Believe it or Not!, and Tales of the Arabian Nights.  These are all heavy hitters in the pinball machine  market: Theater, Ripley's, and Tales regularly command $5,000+ to purchase a machine on eBay or at conventions, and Black Hole will likely cost you at least a couple of grand.  No video game can give you quite the same feeling as you would get playing the original, but I find it much easier to drop $10 for an excellent facsimile of that experience that to drop $20,000 for the real thing. Having played a wide variety of pinball video games in the past and having played three of the actual tables that are included in this collection, I can say that I've never played a title that feels closer to reality than Pinball Arcade.

There are a number of things that Pinball Arcade does right.  For one, it offers online leaderboards that allow you to compare your scores with those of your friends and with others from around the world.  I have been surprised by how much I have enjoyed this feature of the game, as it really delivers a sense of mutual competition that is reminiscent of the actual arcade experience.  For another, it offers extremely easy to understand breakdowns of table goals, how to score, what spinners and lights mean what, etc.  It seems a small thing for a pinball game, but the writer for the brief tutorial paragraphs deserves a bonus: those short blurbs of explanation are extremely succinct and informative without being condescending.  The game offers a number of incentives for playing often and improving your skills: each table has a set of table goals and harder wizard goals which you can try and achieve (successful completion of which will net you trophies or achievements on PSN and XBLA, respectively), and finishing all of the goals will allow you to play tables with tilt turned off.  Each tables menu also has a section detailing the history of the table and offers scans of the original flyers for you to pour over.

Oh, and those who purchase the PS3 version get the Vita version for free, so that's a nice bonus as well. The Vita version, while taking a slight drop in the visuals, performs extremely well and is my preferred platform for the game. You can't go wrong with any version, though.

FarSight has indicated that more tables will be continue to be released as DLC at about $2.50 per table.  So far these tables have included "Monster Bash," "Bride of Pin-Bot", "Medieval Madness," "Funhouse," and "Cirqus Voltaire" with promises of "Attack from Mars, "Star Trek The Next Generation" and "Twilight Zone" coming soon (and, again, almost all of these are extremely expensive machines on the pinball market).  They have also built into their game the opportunity for tournament and challenge play with the addition of future tables, which should make leaderboard chasing even more exciting.

Whether you are a grizzled veteran of the pinball craze in arcades, a video gamer who has ever enjoyed any video pinball title in the past, or just a person who likes games that motivate you to improve your score, youll find a lot to love in Pinball Arcade. It might not give you the exact sensation of feeling all the bumpers and becoming part of the machine, but you can still work out those crazy flipper fingers (on shoulder buttons) while pursuing your own (virtual) pinball crown.

Posted on Feb 22nd 2012 at 11:38:46 AM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Vita, launch games, system launch, PlayStation

This week marks the North American release of the PlayStation Vita, Sony's second handheld gaming device and the follow-up to the PlayStation Portable.  As a PSP enthusiast, the Vita has me quite excited; in fact the Vita is the first system of any kind I am picking up on release day in over a decade (the PS2 was the last time I had a system from day one).  Since I also happen to run a blog that focuses, in part,  on system launches (I've previously chronicled the launch of the Game Boy Advance, the NES, the SNES, and the VCS), I figured it would  make sense to share my thoughts on the Vita's debut.

There are several interesting considerations when analyzing the Vita launch: the machine itself, the launch lineup, and its place in the current gaming landscape.

The Hardware
The Specs. As was the case with the PSP before it, the Vita comes onto the market as the most impressive handheld gaming device ever created.  It has a blazing quad core processor (vs. the 3DS' dual core), the ability to push 33 million polygons a second (vs. the 3DS' 15.3 million), a relatively small 512MB of RAM (vs. the 3DS' even more paltry 128MB), a beautiful 5 OLED screen with 221 pixels per inch (vs. the iPhone's superior 320ppi retina display), and a host of ways to connect the device to wireless networks, computers, the PS3, etc.  The unit is backwards compatible with PS1 classics and PSP games downloaded from PSN.  The price point of $250 for the base system, considering what you are getting, is quite impressive.  It would seem that Sony is probably selling these at a loss, which follows their standard model.

The Features.  Easily the most maligned design choice of the original PSP was the absence of a second analog stick, forcing many genres to abandon the platform altogether or to be adopted with hit-or-miss work-arounds. The most obvious addition to the Vita is the inclusion of a second analog stick, an addition that places it more comfortably in the hands of gamers who prefer a dualstick or a 360 control pad.  In addition, the rear touch pad on the Vita allows for both interesting gameplay mechanics as well as way to incorporate L2 and R2 buttons (via touch) into the unit.  Like most handheld devices made in the past several years, it also sports a pair of cameras, a touch screen, and a gyroscope, all of which further expand the potential to do lots of different things with the Vita.  Battery life over time is yet to be determined, but 3-5 hours of gameplay at a time seems to be typical for most users so far and is pretty close to what you can get with a 3DS or with more resource-intensive iOS or Android games. 

The Media. One questionable design decision Sony has made with the Vita is the lack of substantial on-board storage memory.  Instead, users are required to purchase a separate proprietary flash card (between 4GB and 32GB) if they want to store PSN downloads, media, or game data.  Sony also will continue to publish games at retail, abandoning the UMDs used for the PSP for flash cards that are similar to (but smaller than) what is produced for the DS/3DS.  That means that most users will have two cards -  a game card and a memory card - in their system at any given time.  Sony is also pushing digital distribution of all Vita games for users who want an experience closer to what was available on the PSPGo, Sony's less popular UMD drive-less version of the PSP.

The Launch Lineup

The U.S. launch of the PS Vita includes a pretty strong selection of games from different genres, and at 24 titles, features about 25% more games than the PSPs launch seven years ago (by comparison the 3DS launch featured about 18 games and the DS launch featured only 6 games).  A few things stand out about the launch lineup:

Racing Heaven. Even though the Vita is the first PlayStation system of any kind to launch in the US without a Ridge Racer title available on launch day, there are five racing games available for the system at launch ranging from futuristic racers (Wipeout 2048), to Kart Racers (ModNation Racers and Ben 10: Galactic Racing), to more standard racing fare (F1 2011 and Asphalt: Injection).  Racers are traditionally good at showing off system horsepower, and most of these titles have features which are only possible on the Vita (ModNation's use of the rear pad for design, Wipeout's cross-platform play, etc.).  If you are at all a fan of racing games, odds are there's something for you in the Vita's launch.

Lack of games that benefit from the second stick.  One surprising component of the Vita launch is that the vast majority of the games are in genres where the second analog stick -  one of the Vita's major selling points - is rarely used. Uncharted and the PSN-only downloadable game Super Stardust Delta are the most obvious second-stick required games, but the majority of the games available at launch could have worked with the inputs available on the original PSP.  There are no FPSs and only a few games that would require the second stick to navigate the camera (e.g. Touch My Katamari).

Target Audience?  Given Sony's past emphasis on attracting a different demographic than those who play on Nintendo's handhelds, it is surprising that there are only three M rated games at launch (Ninja Gaiden, Shinobido 2, and Army Corps of Hell).  Furthermore, there's an abundance of 2D titles (BlazBlu: Continuum Shift Extend, Marvel vs Capcom 3, Lumines Electronic Symphony, Rayman Origins), a few games aimed at children (Ben 10 and, arguably, ModNation Racers and Little Deviants), no first person shooters, only one RPG (Dungeon Hunter: Alliance), and no sports titles from the four big leagues in the USA (NHL, NFL, NBA, or MLB).  Many of these games are currently in the pipeline, but so far the Vita hasn't done much to differentiate itself as a platform to attract those audiences that blindly throw down $60 on any iteration of Madden, Call of Duty, Final Fantasy, or other "core" franchises.

Spin-Off and Port City.  Though the Vita lacks a lot of the big name franchises at launch, it does feature a lot of familiar titles.  Only 3-4 games are representative of new IPs (the PSP only had two at launch), with the rest of the launch library representing a port of a preexisting game or a new entry in a previously established series.  This is probably a safe bet for Sony, as new consoles need to have familiar names associated with them.  Still, it is a strategy that could backfire given the PSP's (perhaps undeserved) reputation amongst many gamers as a home for titles that were (sometimes inferior) ports and for less impressive entries in existing series. 

The Vita's Place

The hacking question.  Undoubtedly the PSP's life was shortened and sales were hurt by rampant piracy.  But, on the other hand, the ability of the machine to emulate a wide range of retro consoles and to play those pirated games certainly contributed to hardware sales.  I personally have little interest in playing pirated Vita games, but the prospect of playing PS2, GameCube, or Dreamcast games on the device via emulation and homebrew was enough to make me drop some extra dough on the largest memory card for the system.  As with any console, it is only a matter of time before hackers figure out how to do some interesting things on the Vita (some have already posted some exciting video clips of early work), and the thought of playing virtually every console game from pre-2005 on one handheld device is a tantalizing prospect.

Do Smartphones = Death?  A frequent point raised by the media at the launch of the 3DS last year and with the Vita this year is the question about whether or not there's still a market for handheld gaming devices given the widespread adoption of smartphones with excellent touch-screen gaming capabilities.  The argument goes something like this: "The Vita has to compete against not only Nintendo, but also against Apple and Android devices.  Many quality games can be had for free or $1-$5, take up minimal storage, and are stored remotely for download as needed.  In addition, smartphones can handle a lot of other tasks (web surfing, GPS navigating, etc.). Given that an iPhone can do so many things well, why do we need an additional device that does one thing better?"  These questions have some merit, and the answers remain to be seen, but it is hard to imagine Sony sees the Vita as a direct competitor to any of these devices or to the 3DS (which, incidentally, has now moved over 5 million units).  The PSP was certainly financially successful for Sony despite not eclipsing Nintendo in the handheld market, so is it unreasonable to expect that the Vita can be successful without being as successful as its competitors?  The question, for me, is less about whether or not the Vita can surpass or stay close to the sales of the 3DS or smartphones manufacturers, but whether or not it can carve out enough of a niche for itself to have a successful run in its own right.

Is anyone else picking up a Vita this week/month?  Are you enthused or bored by the launch lineup and by the potential of the system? Is handheld gaming on its way out? Share your thoughts below!

Posted on Feb 13th 2012 at 06:00:36 AM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Total Eclipse, launch games, Playstation

Looking across the PlayStation launch library, there are a number of games which, to this day, continue to ring familiar. NBA Jam Tournament Edition, Rayman, Ridge Racer, The Raiden Project- all of these games are part of ongoing franchises.  Even launch games like Battle Arena Toshinden and ESPN Extreme spawned a number of sequels, and are familiar to most gamers.  However, there were also some more obscure launch titles, one of which is the subject of this entry: Total Eclipse Turbo.

Total Eclipse Turbo is the PlayStation's version of Total Eclipse for the 3DO, a game which had been released almost a year and a half earlier for the that system (which was already starting to die by the time the PlayStation was released).  The PlayStation version added a password feature and sped up the gameplay (thus the "Turbo"), and can be considered the superior version of the game.  The game is an on-rails, 3D space shooter that shares some gameplay characteristics with something like Panzer Dragoon (but without lock-on).  There was a Saturn exclusive sequel named Solar Eclipse.  As a launch game, it is significant for several reasons...

Yes, the cover art is the same on the inside as on the outside.

This was the only 3D flying game at launch. Though the PlayStation's early days would eventually be dominated by titles like Air Combat and Warhawk, both of which used polygons to allow players to move around in space like never before, Total Eclipse Turbo is the only launch game to feature this style of graphics (albeit on very flexible rails).  The engine actually uses a combination of 2D and 3D graphics to an excellent overall effect, and the experience is ultimately faster and more arcade-like than any of the aforementioned titles.  Total Eclipse Turbo ends up feeling like a 3D shmup of sorts, and is the only launch game that probably didn't really fit into a traditional genre category. (The closest gameplay one may have found previously would have been in something like Star Wars: Rebel Assault or StarFox)

There is evidence that the game was rushed to meet launch.  Other than the very slight additions to the game over the original 3DO version that were mentioned in the intro above, there are two other things suggest that Crystal Dynamics rushed this to the PlayStation in order to make the launch.  For one, theres a discrepancy between the names of each level in the instruction manual and those in the game itself.  For example, the manual lists the title of level 2 to be "Omega Nebula"  whereas the game itself calls this level "Magma Prime."  Second, it feels rushed because the game features a very basic and bland menu (something that was typical of many early PS1 games), which is difficult to navigate and unintuitive.  If the developers spent any resources working on new presentation elements for the PlayStation, they were minimal.

Same level, different names!

Total Eclipse Turbo shouldn't be overlooked as just another clunky FMV-filled game from the early PS1 days.  It features a fast and consistent framerate, forgiving gameplay and ample continues, and decent production including what, for the time, was well-done CGI and a non-typical game soundtrack.   Compared to most other launch titles, the game has faded into obscurity a bit, and it obviously didn't become the powerhouse franchise that Crystal Dynamics probably had hoped for.  Still, if you were standing in a store on August 30, 1995 trying to pick out a game to go with your new PlayStation, you could have done much worse.

"The more you kill, the better you feel!" Brilliant marketing!

Posted on Jun 15th 2011 at 05:39:33 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Game Boy Advance, GBA, Launch Games

Welcome to a special co-production of the Transitions Blog and Game Boy Player Land. We teamed up to investigate the launch of the Game Boy Advance, a system which was released ten years ago this week in North America and went on to sell over 80 million units worldwide over the next decade. 

For gamers that can walk into a GameStop in 2011 and still buy GBA carts, it is hard to imagine that there was ever a time when the Game Boy Advance would have seemed like a risky proposition with an uncertain future.  When the system launched in June of 2001 (March in Japan), there were legitimate questions about the viability of 2D handheld gaming in an era that was championing 3D.  To put it in perspective, the GBA launched a year after the release of the PlayStation 2, almost two years after the release of the Dreamcast (which had just been dropped in North America by Sega in January)  and just six months ahead of Nintendo's own GameCube console.  Financially successful 2D games had been all but eradicated by the previous generation of console hardware, and the Game Boy's slumping sales coupled with poor international showings from the Wonderswan and Neo Geo Pocket Color pointed to an uncertain future for handhelds.  So when Nintendo introduced a unit that offered the functionality of a portable Super Nintendo, there was some apprehension in the air. 

So, let's consider what it would have been like to stand inside your local retailer of choice at midnight on June 11, 2001.  What would you see? What would you be thinking? You probably knew to bring two AA batteries with you to start playing, but what might you bring home to play?

Part 1: The Games

At launch, Game Boy Advance games sold for between $29.95 and $39.95 each, and the lineup of seventeen titles in North America was more than what had been seen before for any handheld launch in history.  The titles spanned a wide swath of new and old IPs:

Army Men Advance   As the millennium turned, there was a successful run of games in the Army Men series across several consoles.  So when the GBA launched in 2001, it was perhaps no surprise that the series made an early debut on the handheld.  While the isometric game is lacking in many aesthetic areas such as graphics and sound (especially compared to later games in the same series on the GBA), it stands out in the launch library as the only completely new title that allowed the played to run around and fire a gun (Earthworm Jim was a port).  Players could revisit levels of their choice using a password system, and those who struggled through the more technically impressive later levels were rewarded with a congratulations screen at the end of the game (which, incidentally, could be accessed from the main menu).

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon - There's a good argument to be had that this was probably the most anticipated launch game for the GBA, and by most counts it did not disappoint as it was probably the best reviewed launch title for the system.  As the first 2D Castlevania game since 1997s Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation and Saturn, the game delivers all the Metroidvania action you could crave along with the kind of distinctive artistic style that has marked the best entries in the series.  Though the game was a bit dark (and thus more difficult to see on the launch model GBA compared to later models), it offered a showcase for the abilities of the system, an intriguing story, gameplay with depth, and battery backup!

Chu Chu Rocket - There was something dirty about placing a cartridge bearing the Sega logo into a piece of Nintendo hardware in 2001, but any unease associated with that once-unholy pairing was soon erased by starting up this gem of a game.  Like most puzzle games, ChuChu Rocket is probably most at home on a portable console.  While the GBA version doesn't feature quite the same level of polish as the Dreamcast version (released just a few months before in the US), there are enough added features (such as multiplayer support from one cart and 2500 user-created levels) to more than make up for any loss in visuals or sound.  Given that it was the only true puzzle game at launch (why the GBA didnt launch with a Tetris title still confounds), this was a great release day choice.

Earthworm Jim - If you have played the SNES port of this classic 2D platformer, youve essentially played the GBA version.  Everything about the game (down to the lack of a save feature) is included here, and that's pretty much it.  It is impressive that this was the only SNES game ported directly to the GBA at launch, as it may have been fairly easier for lots of publishers to get started on the system with one of their older classics.  Thats what Shiny did here, and it helps to round out the launch with a little bit of familiarity.

F-Zero: Maximum Velocity - Other than a Mario title, this was the only first party game Nintendo had ready for the GBA launch.  Like Earthworm Jim and Pitfall, F-Zero felt like a 16-bit console port (even though it isn't a straight port) and helped establish the idea of the system as a portable Super Nintendo.  That means that your feelings about this game will closely mirror those of the SNES original, as the control and difficulty closely match that title.  The graphics actually look a bit nicer, though, and having something so fast on a small screen was a bit dizzying at the time. 

Fire Pro Wrestling  This long-running series had already published almost thirty entries in the series before the Game Boy Advance launch, and so its inclusion in the launch library didn't come as a real surprise.  This edition of the game featured many of the things that have made the series great  the ability to create your own wrestlers, a deep roster of available players, a smart grappling engine, and enough production quality to make it seem like a polished release. Since there was no other realistic fighting game at launch for the GBA (Ready 2 Rumble doesn't count) and no sports games aside from racers and Tony Hawk, a wrestling title probably looked alluring to a wide variety of consumers looking to scratch their competitive itch on launch day.

GT Advance -  Gamers in 2001 may have had to do a double take when they threw GT Advance into their GBA.  The combination of mode-7 style graphics and some excellent shading work really make the game pop off the screen.  The pseudo-3D effect is really quite something, and the selection of cars, colors, and other customization options meant that this game was an innovation in handheld racers upon its release.  The password system (instead of a battery save) is a real pain in the ass, though  it would have been nice to just use a battery backup.  Nonetheless, the controls feel very good, the amount of racing that you can do is impressive, and this was one of the few launch titles to feature link play capability.  Give that the only other racing options at the GBA launch were an F-Zero game (futuristic) and Konami Krazy Racers (kart racing), this would have been a strong choice for someone looking for something more realistic.

Iridion 3D -The 16-bit era had been regarded by many as the heyday of the shmup, so you could forgive gamers who picked up Iridion 3D while looking to find a GBA launch title that might deliver on the rich history of SNES games like Axelay or Phalanx.  Unlike the excellent sequel, however, the original Iridion game is a 3D corridor shooter that has more in common with the Genesis' Galaxy Force than it does with any of the great 2D shooters of the late 1980s and early 1990s.  The graphics and sound are certainly passable in that they showed off what the GBA could do, but the core gameplay is quite boring and pretty frustrating.

 Konami Krazy Racers - If you've ever wondered who would win in a race between Goeman and the Octopus from the Parodius games, then Krazy Racers is for you. Although Mario Kart Super Circuit had been announced at launch, Konami beat Nintendo to the punch. This charming little Super Mario Kart clone is actually a blast for fans of the SNES classic kart racer and borrows heavily from it. Everything from terrain to coins and Mode 7 scrolling is present. However Konami enthusiasts will love all the fan-service with appearances from beloved franchise characters, music and even the Twinbee! bells returning as power-ups.

 Namco Museum - No system would be complete without Namco repackaging a handful of ROM's from their pool of classics. This GBA collection is decent but underwhelming, and certainly not a launch game that showed off what the GBA system could do. While gamers could rejoice to have such nice portable renditions of Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man, Pole Position and Dig-Dug, it must have also been disappointing considering the small collection of games offered. The lack of a battery feature to save high scores would just kick retro-enthusiasts while they were down.

 Pinobee: Wings Of Adventure - A prime example that lush, colorful graphics do not make a great game. Pinobee is actually pretty sub-standard platforming fare. The controls are awful and the levels, though gorgeous are extremely boring to actually play through. There's not a whole lot of challenge or even reward to motivate you to play through the game. Though certainly a fine tech-demo, Pinobee perhaps should have not made it to the launch lineup.

 Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure - Based on the SNES game of the same title, this platformer looks nice but really doesn't play all that great. Not only does it commit the cardinal sin of making B the jump button but it also goes overboard with stage design that's all style over substance. Its as if there was so much intention to show off what the GBA was capable of graphically that often the flow of a level is confusing -- you can pass in front of one tree, but another that looks just like it proves to be a roadblock. Ultimately its a frustrating game in a rather long series of letdowns.

 Rayman Advance - Whereas the GBA was touted as a portable SNES pretty much out the gate, Rayman Advance was one the few launch games that argued it could actually be a lot more than that -- in this case a portable PlayStation. This port of Rayman is absolutely gorgeous. More importantly, it plays remarkably well and may have been the best platformer available upon the GBA's launch.

 Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 - For an arcade style boxing game Ready 2 Rumble is surely a bit of a fun. It looks impressive for such an early GBA game using scrolling to give a slight feel of 3D movement in the ring. It also uses some nice voice samples to add a touch of realism to the sprites as well. However the controls are also quite laggy, which can lead to frustrating gameplay as punches are often thrown after a bit of delay which makes strategizing rather hard. Its not quite game-breaking, but its awful close and can often lead to resorting to button-mashing out of frustration.

Super Dodge Ball Advance - This port of the classic Kunio-kun sports title is bittersweet. While it retains the fantastic gameplay of the original -- mixing a bit of brawling in with everyone's favorite Phys. Ed. pastime -- for some reason the developers, Million decided to complete re-design the Kunio-kun appearance of the sprites. Certainly this won't sit well with fans of the long-running series of games, but the upside is that it's still as fun to play today as it was at launch.

 Super Mario Advance - Though its no surprise that a new Nintendo system would launch with a Mario platformer, it is odd that a remake of a rather infamous black sheep would be one of them. Super Mario Advance is just that, a somewhat upgraded version of the NES Super Mario Bros. 2, which adds in the welcome addition of a save feature but also adds in a lot of infuriatingly horrible voice samples as well. If you can get past the voices though (or at least play with the volume turned off) then its still a pretty decent take on the game and features some very bright, colorful sprite work which was especially welcome on the original GBA's overly dark screen. Perhaps Nintendo figured it would use the GBA launch to give players a chance to reevaluate this oft-overlooked sequel.

 Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2 - The first Pro Skater game was released on the Game Boy Color, but didn't resemble the console versions at all. Instead it was a horribly stripped down mess that couldn't even redeem itself as a decent Skate Or Die clone. So when Activision rolled out the sequel on the GBA it was amazing to see how well they had captured the PlayStation/Dreamcast versions of the game. Pro Skater is presented in an isometric view that works beautifully on the handhelds small screen. And though obviously there are omissions to the graphical detail and soundtrack, the game really plays excellently. The same game engine would later be used to bring the cult-classic Jet Grind Radio to the GBA as well.

Part 2: The System

The system launched for $99.99 in North America, $10 more than the original Game Boy fetched upon its release in 1989. 

Hardware: The system had some interesting similarities and differences to both the Game Boy/Game Boy Color systems and to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that had launched a decade prior.  The most obvious change was the number of buttons.  The GBA introduced SNES-style shoulder buttons that had not been there on the original line of Game Boys, though Nintendo decided to stick with only two primary buttons on the unit's face (the X and Y buttons wouldn't make their debut on a Nintendo handheld until the DS).  The most damaging similarity to the GB was a screen that lacked any backlighting, meaning that gamers needed to shell out for worm lights and the like for any nighttime gaming plans.  Luckily the system only needed 2 AA batteries to run, and could last for as many as 15 hours under the right conditions.

Furthermore, even though the GBA was actually a 32-bit system, most launch games shared more in common (from a technical standpoint) with Nintendo's 16-bit console.  This was good, as most games looked remarkably improved over even the most technically impressive GBC titles, but also contributed to a misconception about the system that it was only able to do SNES-level graphics, a view that dogged the handheld for its whole life.  To combat this, Nintendo stamped "32-bit" prominently on many of the retail boxes, hoping to convince consumers that they were getting high-end graphics in a handheld for a bargain price.

Wide Compatibility:   One of the major selling points for the system was that it would support all previous Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartridges.  Furthermore, like the Game Boy before it, the GBA would continue to be a region free console.  These two decisions effectively extended the library of games available for the system into the thousands. The system even offered options for screen stretching and color palette swapping via the use of L&R buttons.  In many ways, it was like the GBA has a built-in Super Game Boy.

Connectivity:  Like the Game Boy series before it, GBA units were able to connect to one another for multiplayer gaming, something that titles like Chu Chu Rocket took advantage of from the get go.  In addition, they launched with the promise of future connectivity with the Nintendo GameCube, something that was instituted very well for several of the games in that system's life. 

Part 3: The Launch

As mentioned above, there was some trepidation in the air over the launch of the GBA. 

Audience:  Much of the press covering the launch emphasized the unit's appeal to children  it was seen by much of the mainstream media as a purchase that parents would be asked to make.  For example, USA Today held a focus group of young kids to review the consoles the week before the system's US launch.  The article emphasized that

The latest version of the most successful game system ever, the $100 Advance (in stores Monday) wowed our testers, ages 9 to 13 and all Game Boy veterans, with a combination of compelling games and realistic graphics.

The next day The Washington Post explained that
Parents concerned about what all these games might cost them -- or kids worrying about how to stretch their own allowances -- do get one break with the GBA. Not only can gamers link up to four handhelds with an optional Link Cable, they can also share certain games with friends with only one cartridge on hand.

At a time when console games had clearly broken through to an older audience (after a half decade of struggling to do so), handheld gaming was still largely considered by mainstream media coverage to be toys for kids to play with on car rides in the back seat.  In some ways, over its lifetime the GBA would work to change that perception, but at launch the designation of "toy" was very much a real problem for Nintendo.

Ads: Nintendo ran a series of bizarre ads in 2001 promoting the GBA, some of which can be seen here:

These artistic ads, featuring CGI and high end production, certainly oversold the capabilities of the GBA.  However, they also gave it a certain "cool factor" for older gamers, as these ads weren't aimed at the young children suggested by the press coverage above: they were aimed at older teens and young adults.  The unit itself was only featured briefly in these spots, as was any footage of actual gameplay.  Instead, Nintendo was selling an image of the company and of the handheld that looked to break from its more traditional image and, perhaps, to blend better with the marketing that existed for its console contemporaries.

Availability: Reports in the days after launch suggested that the unit was selling out at many locations, and any fears about its initial success were quickly dashed when the unit passed the one million units sold mark by July of 2001 (by contrast, the 3DS took more than three months to hit that milestone).

We hope you've enjoyed this retrospective on the GBA launch but there's certainly more to be said...Were you there on launch day? What did you pick up and why?  What else do you remember about the system's marketing and sales? Speak up and share your stories in the comments below!

Posted on Feb 6th 2011 at 02:02:32 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Street Fighter The Movie, Launch Games, Playstation, Street Fighter, Classic Gaming

Here we have a perfect postmodern product, the kind of thing that made Baudrillard's head spin and which will make future generations look back on our culture with painful embarrassment.  This is a game based on a movie that is based on a game that is a sequel.  The inspiration for this game, Street Fighter II, was a beautiful and innovative arcade giant. The film, on the other hand, was a widely panned and campy take on everything that made the game interesting.  Where would the game stand?  Would it improve on the lowly film, or would it drag the Street Fighter name further down?

It would be easy to understand if early adopters for game consoles were leery of the Street Fighter name, as the previous launch title in the series largely failed to deliver the goods.   Nonetheless, on the day the PS1 launched in September 1995, early adopters who were interested in bringing home a fighting game (at a time when fighting games were still all the rage in the arcade) were presented with a choice of two titles: the new IP Battle Arena Toshinden providing a 3D graphics engine or the newest release in the wildly successful Street Fighter series: Street Fighter: The Movie.  Neither had seen an arcade release (although a different SF:TM game was released in arcades a few months earlier), so the new buyer had to rely on word of mouth, what they could learn from their past experiences, and what they discern from the boxes themselves.

So, if you were standing at a Babbage's or EB on that fateful day in September of 1995 with the two fighting games in front of you, what did you see?  For one, you saw Van Damme's giant fucking head:


On Street Fighter: The Movie you also saw a few additional important pieces of information on the cover.  You saw the boast of "DIGITIZED GRAPHICS FROM THE HIT MOVIE!"  You saw two names that were giants in the arcade industry in Capcom and Akklaim.  Turning the box over, you saw that the back cover was filled with content:  five in game screen shots, 14 pictures of the digitized fighters ("including Jean Claude Van Damme!"), and no less than 15 exclamation marks.  The whole thing appears to be a beautiful and/or unholy marriage of Mortal Kombat graphics, Street Fighter mechanics, and celebrity worship.  By contrast, on the Battle Arena Toshinden cover you see some awkwardly drawn, generic looking Japanese fighting characters, a handful of less than flattering screenshots of the game, and a description that does its best to make the launch title sound like the most generic fighting game of the era (and only seven exclamation marks).  So, if you had to go on the box art in front of you on launch day, you probably made a decision that you would come to regret: you probably took home Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game.

As a launch title, Street Fighter: The Movie is notable for several reasons:

It offered plenty of FMV.  It is important to remember that the PlayStation launched only a short time after FMV was the newest innovation in gaming, and if there's one thing Street Fighter: The Movie had going for it, it was copious amounts of FMV, both from the film and original to the game itself. This is especially prominent in the main story mode of the game in which you must play as Guile (Van Damme) and beat opponents on your way to M. Bison and the most obscenely gut-punching end game music video you've seen today:

Interesting trivia? This is actually the second music video affiliated with Street Fighter: The Movie.  The other? A video starring Street Fighter: The Movie actors, MC Hammer, and Deion Fucking Sanders .  Really. (CAUTION: the gut punch is even stronger from this video, as it manages to distill almost everything horrible about pop culture in 1994 into its purest form.)

"Hey! Kylie Minogue is in my PlayStation!"

It looked good when paused. Ok, this is debatable, but the game does feature passable digital capture work for the main characters, close approximations of the movie settings as backgrounds, and  reasonable effects for at least some of the various special moves.  If you were used to playing stuff like the Genesis port of Primal Rage or the SNES version of Mortal Kombat 3, then the look of the game (while paused) was quite impressive and showed off some of the potential of the PlayStation as a system.  When you unpaused, however...

The game was jerky, stuttered frequently, and controlled horribly.  A good fighting game must be fluid, and Street Fighter: The Movie: The Game's biggest flaw is that it is not a fun fighter.  It is randomly fast or slow, it isn't especially good at recognizing inputs for special moves, and the action of pressing a button isn't quite 1:1 with the movement on the screen, as it must be.  Even if you really liked Street Fighter: The Movie or really liked Capcom games, this title managed to kick you in the balls either way.  Built on the SSF2T engine, control shouldn't have been a problem (in theory).  I guess when you introduce motion-captured graphics into a 2D engine, problems result.

This picture of pissy Bison is courtesy of the excellent write up on the film and games @ RetroJunk!!!

The game didn't end the PlayStation's life immediately.  Bad launch games can hurt a system's pedigree from the start, and by the time the PlayStation came along the Saturn had already built an impressive roster of 2D and 3D fighting games (including its own launch title: Virtua Fighter).   The fact that a rushed, buggy, misguided game like Street Fighter: The Movie didn't kill the system's chances with fighting game fans is probably due to the fact that it had already been released on the Saturn and, presumably, been as widely panned as the film itself.  Maybe good-hearted Babbage's employees guided new PlayStation owners towards the superior Battle Arena Toshinden, maybe they urged them to wait for the upcoming Street Fighter Alpha (released about three months later), or perhaps they suggested that proof of the PS1's arcade chops could be found in games like Ridge Racer instead.

Street Fighter: The Movie must be regarded as one of the worst launch games for any system ever, and certainly the worst fighting game available for any launch.  As Van Damme's Guile asked Raul Julia's Bison in the film based on the game: "What happened to the purity of unarmed combat?!!!!"

Posted on Dec 24th 2010 at 09:39:50 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Launch Games, launch game, PCE, TurboGrafx 16, Street Fighter, CD, Classic Gaming

In 1988, NEC released the $400 PCE-CD (or TurboGrafx-CD, in North America) without any included titles.  Buyers needed to drop an additional hefty sum to actually play some games on the thing, and many probably opted for the premiere title in a series that would go on to be one of the most loved of all time.

If Fighting Street was any indication, CD-based systems and the Street Fighter series should have been dead in the water. 

Fighting Street is a particularly bad example of the one on one fighting genre prior to their golden age period in the arcades of the early 1990s.  Though the game included some of the same features that would go on to help define its sequels, the basic core components - gameplay, graphics, and sound - are all extremely rough compared to what would be accomplished just a few years later.   Even when considered in context, the game was a mess.

As a launch game for the first CD-based console, there are several things worth pointing out:

The game included "high quality" CD-audio.  One of the most marketable features of CDs was their ability to include higher quality music than would be possible with sound chips.  Superior audio fidelity was driving CD sales in the music industry, and held promise for the gaming industry as well.  Fighting Street does feature sound that is marginally better than most of the PCE's Hu-Card based games, but as it is emulating the soundtrack from an arcade machine, there is not the huge jump that some might expect.  Of course the CD format would also become known in gaming for introducing voice acting.  Voice acting is also included here, in a way.  There is one recorded voice.  Win or lose, a poorly recorded Japanese voice SLOWLY speaks the English words you see on the screen. Every time.  You will hear this voice about every two minutes, which means that after an hour you have listened to it 30 times.  Give a listen here around 2 minutes and again around 3:55. 

The game actually had bearable loading times.  One thing that plagued many later CD systems such as the Sega CD and 3DO were atrocious loading times.  Even the fighters on SNK's Neo Geo CD suffered from long loads.  Not so with Fighting Street.  While the game does have some loading (usually to cue up the spoken voice), there's no waiting for more than 5 seconds or so between screens.

The game should have been packaged with a six button controller.   The arcade version of the game used two buttons, and the intensity of a punch or kick was based on how long you held down the button.  That set up was translated to the PCE-CD, but it just doesn't work as well as a 6-button set up might.  In addition,  the standard d-pad is poorly suited to this kind of game.  I personally found myself fighting the controls more than my opponent, which is never something that bodes well for a game in this genre.

There was no ability to save.  Feature-wise, this was one of the biggest surprises of the game.  The PCE-CD had the ability to save game data on internal RAM, something that even later CD systems often neglected.  The ability to save progress, high scores, settings, or other features could have highlighted this strength of the system.  Opportunity lost.

The game was not good. I've made it a point to try and not do much in the way of reviews in this blog, instead focusing on specific novel features of the games I've addressed.  For this game though, I feel I can make an exception: avoid paying any money for this.  The bad controls and irritating sound are features that - while bad separately - really ruin the game when experienced together.  It is a small miracle that the PCE-CD went on to have some of the best games of the era, and that Street Fighter would go on to the success it found. There's little here to promote the CD medium over carts/cards, and even less to encourage people to play fighters on the PCE-CD.

Posted on Oct 19th 2010 at 03:30:00 AM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Launch Games, Launch Game, NES, Super Mario Bros., R.O.B.

Twenty Five years ago today, the Nintendo Entertainment System launched in the United States.  Before its run was over with the release of Wario's Woods in 1994, the system became the bestselling video game console of all time (a mark that would not be passed for many years), the company's name literally became synonymous with gaming, and the NES' library had achieved a special place in the hearts and minds of gamers the world over.  Even today, the system is usually recognized as the most popular of all retro consoles, and many gamers continue to collect games in cartridge format or play them via the Wii's Virtual Console or emulation. 

That success was far from guaranteed when the system launched in the U.S. on October 18, 1985.  In fact, many onlookers felt dubious about the chances for Nintendo's console to succeed in the post-crash market of the mid-1980s.  And even though the system had been moderately successful in the two years since it had launched in Japan (as the Family Computer), the kind of reception it would receive amongst American audiences was widely unknown.  For this reason, the U.S. release was a limited one.  The October 1985 date was for the New York City test market, and the full nationwide launch wouldn't be until February of 1986 after Nintendo saw some success in New York (and a few other markets).

Long before Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, or Contra became household names, Nintendo launched a product in the U.S. that had to convince a skeptical audience that it was worth investing in a new console.  What was it like to purchase a brand new Nintendo Entertainment Center in October of '85 (or February of 1986)?  What was the system launch like? Did those early decisions help the system achieve later greatness? Read on!

Part 1: The Games

The launch lineup consisted of eighteen games!  This was almost twice the amount of games that launched in the U.S. with the Atari VCS, and half again as many games as had launched with the Colecovision.  In some ways, this was a curious decision.  While it afforded gamers a high degree of choice, it also served as a reminder that chief catalyst for the gaming crash a few years earlier had been a market flooded with low-quality games.  Fortunately for Nintendo, their launch titles were not low quality.  But, standing in a store 25 years ago, it might be hard for a gamer not to think that they were seeing more of the same practice that had killed enthusiasm and sales for Atari a short time ago.

The launch lineup took cues from Atari. As we've covered previously, the Atari VCS launch featured games with very short, descriptive titles (Combat, Blackjack, Street Racer, etc.).  This let consumers know what they were buying, whereas a game named after a character might not.  For the most part, Nintendo followed suit.  Roughly half of the launch games featured titles which made gameplay elements explicitly obvious (10 Yard Fight, Baseball, Duck Hunt, Golf, Kung Fu, Pinball, Soccer, and Tennis) and another set made it easy to guess what the game featured (Excitebike, Ice Climber, Stack-Up, and Wild Gunman).  Unlike Atari, however, Nintendo did include a few of their well known IPs in the launch lineup: Mario (Super Mario Bros.) and Donkey Kong (Donkey Kong Jr. Math) both made the cut, only leaving gamers scratching their head over titles like Clu Clu Land, Hogans Alley, Gyromite, and Wrecking Crew.  In any case, like Atari, Nintendo offered a wide variety of launch titles, the scope of which wouldn't be offered again until Sony's PS2 launch almost 15 years later.

The launch lineup featured the system's iconic game (and character).  The NES launch has several solid titles, but none were as important as Super Mario Bros.  Mario was already a well known character based on the success of the Mario Bros. games and Mario's link to Donkey Kong, but Miyamoto's side-scrolling masterpiece was the game to define the console from day 1.  Some of the launch bundles included the game, and it would go on to become the best-selling game of all time (a mark not passed until Wii Sports recently took the crown) .  Few launch lineups in history have featured a game that made it into the all-time top 10, and all of them are games that launched with Nintendo systems.

Quality assured.  In another nod to the video game crash, Nintendo included the Nintendo Seal of Quality on its titles to (hopefully) let consumers know that the games they were buying were bug-free, high quality titles.  The seal may not have meant much in 1985, but by the time the NES was in homes across the country a few years later the seal came to represent an important departure from the flooded market that came to symbolize the latter days of the 2600's run.

(Note: I plan to cover many of these games in the blog individually in the future, but in the meantime there is an excellent run-down of the basics of each launch game here:  I shamelessly stole their images of box art, too.)

Part 2: The System

The D-Pad.  Nintendo was not technically the first console maker or video game company to include a standard D-Pad, but they certainly popularized it.  Nintendo's games were designed with the D-pad in mind, and anyone who has tried playing a Super Mario Bros. or Zelda game with an arcade stick knows that the experience is lacking.  The D-Pad also signaled that the console would be more than a platform for arcade ports (which used joysticks), but that plenty of new content produced specifically for the console and its controller would be coming.

The graphics and sound. It is easy to forget that the NES once was a powerhouse system, as today when most of us look back on the 8-bit days we think about the simplicity of the visuals and sounds.  Put simply, even Nintendo's launch games blew away anything that had been seen on a console up to that point, and rivaled some of the best computer graphics and sound of the era.  Seamless scrolling, character RAM, 20+ colors, dedicated audio, and region-specific refresh rates all meant that the NES was a system that had both innovated and capitalized on the best of what was available in mid-1980s hardware.  And while the launch lineup was impressive, the games in the system's later years would demonstrate just how impressive the processors inside the NES were.

Part 3: The Launch

The bundles were a good deal, but the games were pricey.  If you bought a new NES in late '85 or early '86, you most certainly wanted to buy a system bundle and probably didn't end up buying very many games off the bat.  I haven't yet found reliable data, but some web searching suggests that in 1985/1986 NES games were priced between $40-$70 MSRP depending on where you lived.  When their launch went nationwide, Nintendo sold two bundles for consumers interested in buying the system. The Control Deck bundle with 2 controllers, a zapper and Super Mario Bros. retailed for $130 and the Deluxe Set, which included R.O.B., a zapper, two controllers, Gyromite and Duck Hunt sold for $250.  Adjusted for today's inflation, games cost around $100, the control deck cost about $250, and the Deluxe Set cost just shy of $500.  This means that consumers in 1985 were getting the system and accessories for roughly $150 in today's money, and that R.O.B. could be valued at about $150 himself.  That might seem high, until one realizes that robots were all the rage in 1985...

Robotic Operating Buddy. A Japanese newspaper in  July of 1985 announced the upcoming U.S. release of the NES in an article entitled "Nintendo to sell video game player-robot combination in U.S." In the article, they discuss the strategy behind R.O.B.

Nintendo displayed the Family Computer this year at consumer electronics shows in Las Vegas and Chicago, and has carried out market research. The home video game boom in the U.S., dominated by Atari and Commodore International, peaked out three years ago, and since then the market has contracted with much underselling.

For this reason, the Family Computer, with its attached robot, is to be billed as a different concept from the conventional video game. The robot is run by a cartridge inserted into the computer, and both it and the video screen can be operated simultaneously. The robot measures 22.8 by 18 by 23.5 centimeters.

The robot contains three battery-powered motors which control such operations as picking objects up and putting them down, raising and lowering, and turning around and carrying objects. Commands are sent by a flashing signal from the monitor screen, which is picked up by a light sensor in the robot.

In Japan, the robot sells at a low Y9,800, with two types of cartridges prices at Y4,800 and Y5,800 respectively. In the U.S., the player, robot and cartridge will be sold as a unit for around $100.

From early on, the emphasis was on the robot, as evidenced again by a Guardian article from October of 1985 that mentions Nintendo's console as R.O.B.-centric:

Toy makers in Britain and North America have been predicting since January that 1985 would be the year of the robot. Or at least of the toy robot.

Nintendo - has its eyes on the toy robot market. Primarily a computer and video games company, it has invented an interactive robot to play some of their video games.

Using a light link to the television, the 10in tall robot adds a new dimension to the video game. Prompted by invisible sensory devices which read messages from the TV screen, the robot performs a variety of spontaneous interactive affect game play. Standing on its stationary 6in base, the robot can assume 60 different lifelike positions by rotating its arms and shoulders left or right, and up or down, and can lift and move objects. It can pick up screen messages from as far away as 15ft, adding tremendous challenge to play strategy.

Nintendo plans to offer four robot games packs with the initial introduction of the system, and up to four additional games will be developed by the end of the year. The robot costs pounds 100 and the games about pounds 15.

Again, today we often think of R.O.B. as an interesting afterthought or as a failed, largely gimmicky accessory for the NES.  But in 1985, most of the press surrounding the launch of the NES focused not on its games, but on this accessory.  This was by Nintendo's design, and suggested from the moment of their first U.S. console release that they were trying to attract interest from a broader population of consumers instead of just gamers.  They would of course repeat this strategy with their most successful console, the Wii.

It was not marketed as a gaming system.Due in large part to the gaming crash of a few years prior, Nintendo marketed the console as a device that allowed for learning and other forms of entertainment beyond simply playing video games.  Their ads focused not on the graphics, the game library, or the features often touted when a new console releases  -- they focused instead on the interactive nature of accessories like R.O.B. and the Zapper.  The first NES commercial in the U.S. is an example of this:

Another example is the 1986 Sears Wishlist catalog, which emphasizes that the NES was a

fully equipped video system with the most progressive components such as a robot and the light-sensing Zapper Light's not just for kids.

The art.  As is the case with any new product, good art is important to help sell the attractiveness of the item to the consumer.  Nintendo's emphasis in two areas - the game box design and the system box artwork - most certainly helped move units. The game box design (as seen above) emphasized the graphics of the games .  A drastic departure from the Atari VCS or Colecovision game boxes before it, the NES game boxes showed blown up approximations o f the sprite art that players would find in the game.  Even if the graphics weren't emphasized in marketing, they were certainly emphasized on store shelves.  The art for the systems themselves featured a dark blue/black with stars background.  The control deck set featured the system and hardware floating in space, while the Deluxe set emphasized R.O.B.'s head.  At a time when there was still enthusiasm about the space program, sci-fi was seeing a renaissance in theaters, and robots were all the rage, the art reflected the broader interests of consumers.

In retrospect, much about the NES launch seems strange today.  Most launches haven't followed the same cues (e.g. test markets and a downplayed emphasis on games/graphics), the system itself is no longer known for many of the things that Nintendo chose to highlight at launch, several launch games are still regarded as among the best on the system, and one launch title continued to be the best selling game for the console throughout the system's life.  Nintendo took a huge gamble with the release of the NES, and though their strategy seems a bit unorthodox today, it certainly paid off for them twenty five years ago.

Do you remember anything about the NES launch?  Were you in a test market?  What do you think of their strategy?  I'd love to hear your stories and thoughts, so sound off below!

Posted on Oct 8th 2010 at 02:51:11 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under launch games, launch game, end game, Ridge Racer, racing, PS2

This is the second part of a five part series looking at those titles in the Ridge Racer series of games that have been launch titles.  Part 1 covered the first Ridge Racer game, for the PS1.  This entry covers Ridge Racer V for the PS2.

The first Ridge Racer was arguably the highlight of the PS1 launch, being the only game featured as a launch title in all three major regions.  It was also the only arcade-style racer released at that system's launch, and so for many it had helped to define Sony's first console from the very start as the place to go for arcade quality titles.  Certainly Sony had high hopes that Ridge Racer V would live up to this legacy.

When the PS2 launched ten years ago this month (October 2000 in the USA), the gaming landscape was markedly different from what it had been when Sony's PS1 hit stores five years prior.  The second golden age of the arcade (the mid 90s) had ended, arcade style racing games were losing market share to driving simulation games such as Gran Turismo, and gamers had become accustomed to graphically polished and in-depth experiences from the racing genre.  They had also become accustomed to choice, as there were probably a dozen racing franchises in active production at the turn of the millennium.  Fortunately for Namco, Ridge Racer Type 4 had been quite successful and so hopes were high for Ridge Racer V.  Nonetheless, V certainly had to contend with a different context than its PS1 launch game predecessor.  How did it fare?  As a launch title, it is significant for several reasons:

Ridge Racer V

It was the only traditional racing game at the PS2 launch.  The PS2 launch had no shortage of opportunities for gamers to drive fast .  On launch day, Smuggler's Run, Wild Wild Racing, Midnight Club: Street Racing, and Moto GP offered racing fans a wide selection of titles that could address their need for speed,  but only Ridge Racer V offered the option to drive a racing car around a traditional track in an arcade style racer. This seems like it was probably a deliberate choice by Sony, as they did this with the first Ridge Racer game at the PS1 launch and would repeat this model with the PS3 launch.

It was a return to the series' roots. In an often criticized move, Ridge Racer V stripped away many of the additions the series had seen over the years in terms of gameplay, car selection, customization, and other more simulation style racing enhancements.  The main track is similar to the one featured in Ridge Racer 1, and all the tracks are quite similar to one another.  The main gameplay mode is a Grand Prix mode for trophies, but there are only a few interesting rewards for doing well.  In other words, it is very much like the first Ridge Racer. 

Ridge Racer Type 4 shipped as a special edition with this Namco JogCon force feedback controller.  The controller could also be used in Ridge Racer V.

It was a showcase for PS2 graphics...but not in a good way.   Graphically, Ridge Racer V is a competent title and arguably looked better than the previous entries in the series with the possible exception of Type 4.  The tracks have more shading, lighting is better implemented, some nice spark effects are used, and the menus are slick.   But, the game features lots of flickering and aliasing problems (or "jaggies") which were a major concern at the PS2's launch.  One argument that some Dreamcast owners made was that their games featured a smoother look than those on the PS2, and Ridge Racer V was a common punching bag for these criticisms. 

An example of the "jaggies" found throughout the game.

It was really hard. Well, at least I thought so.  I can do pretty well in most of the Ridge Racer games without running into many problems until the latest levels.  Not so with V.  I've struggled with this game from some of the very earliest stages - in part because of the looser steering, in part because of some of the issues with graphics, but mostly because of the cheap AI and unresponsive controls.  It isn't that I can't drive the cars, but there often seems to be a disconnect between what I want the car to do and what it actually does.  This is certainly one of the more punishing games from the PS1 launch.

It failed to showcase many of the PS2's best features.  The audio CD-swapping trick, the unlocakables, and the mini-game features found in the original Ridge Racer all showcased the capabilities of the PS1.  There is nothing about Ridge Racer V which suggested the PS2 was a machine that could do new things or do old things better.  Part of the reason the PS2 sold well out of the gate was because it was a DVD player and because DVD-based games could hold much more information.  Ridge Racer V shipped on CD and didn't really feature very much content compared to some of the earlier CD-based titles in the series.  Furthermore, it didn't provide surround sound, use the new ports found on the system, or really push the hardware the way that some of the other launch titles did. 

It would be the only PS2 Ridge Racer game.  Perhaps all you need to know about Ridge Racer V's ability to hook people on the PS2 or get them interested in future racing games comes from this fact.  Whereas the PS1 had seen four Ridge Racer titles in five years, the PS2 turns ten this year with only one Ridge Racer game to its credit. 

In retrospect, even though Ridge Racer V offered a fully fledged arcade racing experience, it seemed like a rushed and incomplete project that failed to distinguish itself amongst the PS2 launch lineup the way that the first game in the series had on Sony's first console.  In future installments, we'll explore whether or not the series' other launch titles addressed these shortcomings.

Posted on Sep 18th 2010 at 10:10:37 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under launch games, launch game, SNES, Super Mario World

Ah, the late August of 1991!  Bryan Adams' song from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was burning up the charts, Terminator 2 was blowing up the box office , and eager Nintendo fans were getting a chance to finally buy the console that had gone on sale in Japan as the Super Famicom almost a full year earlier. 

The North American launch of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a bit surprising in several ways.  For one, the unit was the last of the fourth generation of consoles to launch in the United States, launching more than two years after the release of both the Turbo Grafx-16 and the Sega Genesis.  By contrast, the original and highly successful Nintendo Entertainment System had been the first major console to the market in both Japan and the United States.  Many observers felt that interest in gaming was starting to dwindle, as it had towards the end of Ataris market dominance.  Sales of NEC and Segas machines were modest compared to the sales the NES had seen during the height of its popularity, and clearance price NES carts and systems on store shelves suggested that Nintendos time, like Ataris before it, had perhaps passed.

In an article from Time Magazine a few months before the August 23, 1991 release of the console, writer Philip Elmer-DeWitt penned that

Sometime in the next few months, an argument is going to break out in the 30 million families infected by the Nintendo video-game craze. The kids, primed by saturation advertising, are going to tell their parents they gotta have the awesome new 16-bit Nintendo system for Christmas. The parents, remembering the hundreds of dollars they have invested in the old 8-bit Nintendo, are going to say, "No way."... The machine will also be backed by a $95 million nonstop marketing blitz designed to convince every American preadolescent that life without 16 bits wouldn't be worth living. It's not going to be an easy sell.

It seemed that Nintendo was facing a tough road, and it is debatable whether a launch day full of some questionable decisions did much to brighten the initial outlook for the SNES.  Though the unit would go on to be quite successful, there were several notable and, in retrospect, perhaps poor launch day decisions.

There were only three games available on launch day, and only two on shelves.   Super Mario World was packed in with the SNES, and while the game remains one of the standouts of the SNES library, gamers looking for variety in other titles were left with little to choose from.  Given the length of time that the console had been out in Japan and the depth of the library that had been built up by mid 1991, it seems that Nintendo should have had more options for the earliest adopters.

2/3 of the launch day games weren't representative of popular genres or franchises. While both F-Zero and Pilotwings (the other two launch games) are strong titles in their own right and showcase some of the SNES hardware capabilities, neither flight sims nor futuristic racing games were especially popular in late 1991.  It seems odd that the SNES didn't launch with any titles geared towards fans of action games, sports games, RPGs, puzzle games, or any number of other genres.  In fact, given the popularity of the arcade and the success of arcade conversions (such as shmups and beat em ups) on the TG-16 and Genesis, Nintendo missed an opportunity to show how well their system could handle some of the most popular genres.  Given the widespread popularity of many first and third party NES games, the lack of a launch day Metroid, Zelda, Contra, Tetris, or Mega Man is surprising.

There was a lack of hype.   Today, a console launch is issued in by major announcements, extensive gaming and mainstream press coverage, midnight releases, and an overall media blitz.  Though Nintendo did put aside almost $100 million to market the unit in the US, one need not look much further than its own Nintendo Power to see that the console was still playing second fiddle to Nintendo's earlier NES and Game Boy at the SNES launch.  The issue of Nintendo Power that coincided with the SNES launch featured a cover story on Super Mario World, but only about 25% of the issue touched on titles for the new system.  Most other major gaming publications dedicated even less space to the console's launch, perhaps because there just weren't many games to cover!

The console was not backwards compatible.  Many of the reviews and reports surrounding the SNES pointed to the fact that it would be unable to play NES or Game Boy games.  Considering the rather large NES cart library that many families had built, this seemed like quite the oversight.  By contrast, Sega's Genesis console was compatible with the earlier games for its system (via a converter) and the Atari 7800 had been compatible with 2600 games.  So, Nintendo's decision not to include support seemed out of step with what consumers wanted.  The Super Game Boy wouldn't see release until some three years later (1994), after the console had already become popular.

Despite these oversights, Nintendo did do a few things right on launch day.

The launch package was a good bundle deal.  Though its $200 price tag (a little over $300 adjusted for inflation) put it at twice the cost of a NES and made it a bit more expensive than its contemporary competitors, Nintendo packaged in two controllers, two kinds of AV cables, Super Mario World, and a coupon for $50 off a future game purchase.  Considering SNES games regularly cost $60-$70 or more, this was almost the equivalent of giving buyers a second game .

The pack-in game was a killer app. Considered by many to be the best SNES game, Nintendo took a gamble that Super Mario World would be enough to bring NES owners into the SNES fold.  And to some extent, they were correct.  Nintendo didn't take many risks by including this title: they didn't reinvent the Mario franchise, they didn't hedge their bets on an unknown character or IP, and they didn't choose a game that would later look dated compared to the technology seen in future SNES titles.

They had it where it counted. Nintendo's machine was attractive not only to gamers looking for the next Mario fix, but also to those excited about hardware specs.  The SNES outperformed either the TG-16 or Genesis in almost every technical category.  In an era where graphics were central to much of the advertising surrounding games and systems alike, Nintendoc clearly had the upper hand by entering he fray late. 

Overall, the SNES launch wasn't the brightest moment for a console that would eventually go on to win the 16-bit console wars. Nonetheless, all three of these launch games are still considered some of the top titles for the system, and Nintendo quickly rolled out more games in a variety of genres so that by the holiday season, they had begin to build an install base.

Posted on Aug 11th 2010 at 01:04:40 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under end game, end games, launch games, last hope, dreamcast, neo geo, shmups

Although homebrew console games are a phenomenon that have been with gaming for decades, the relatively recent popularity of emulators and the web itself have created a rich environment for an ongoing renaissance in self-made games. Almost every classic game system has enjoyed an assortment of wonderful homebrew games over the past decade, including those that have seen official releases in formats original to the systems that they are created for.  Since this blog attempts to chronicle games released both at a system's launch and a system's end (and beyond), these games are a natural fit.

Last Hope is an especially interesting candidate, as it is not only a "last" game for one particular console, but for three.  Developed in 2006 by NG:DEV.TEAM for the Neo Geo, Neo Geo CD, and Dreamcast, Last Hope is a horizontal-scrolling shooter that borrows obvious inspiration from games like IREM's R-Type and Aicom's Pulstar.  More polished and better produced then a majority of homebrew games, NG.DEV.TEAM's game was generally well-regarded by consumers and reviewers alike.  Furthermore, the most common complaints about the game (the difficulty, the tough-to-discern appearance of various objects, etc.) were addressed in an updated 2007 release for the Dreamcast entitled Last Hope: Pink Bulllets.

One of the most impressive feats of this release is that NG:DEV.TEAM made an effort to mimic the standard packaging for each of the ports of the game. This adds to the overall sense of high production quality found in the game itself, and rounds out the full package nicely.  Because the AES carts were prohibitively expensive to produce, only 60 were made and sold, for around $700 each.  Because of the rarity, prices for the game have gone upwards of $1000+ in the time since.  The Neo Geo and Dreamcast versions were available for closer to $30-$50 each, depending on whether the standard or limited edition (with a soundtrack) was purchased.  All versions of the game were region free, so they could be played on any system.

Here you can see what each version looked like (sorry for the watermarks, but I don't have my own copies of these.)

The Neo Geo AES cart, box, and manual

The Neo Geo CD case, disc, and manual

The Dreamcast case, art, and manual

The version I own is the aforementioned Pink Bullets update for the Dreamcast.  For this release, NG:DEV.TEAM opted to go with a pink DVD-style case instead of a standard jewelcase.  I can't say I am a big fan of the redesigned packaging since I like my Dreamcast games all to look the same on the shelf, but the general quality of the paper, printing, etc. is still high.

The inside of the Pink Bullets edition of the game

As an "end game," there are several things worth noting about Last Hope:

The old-school look and feel.  Since the game was designed for the Neo Geo and then ported to the Dreamcast, the game retains the style and appearance of other shooters from the early 90s.  What that means is that the Neo Geo ports are some of the better looking shmups available for the system while the Dreamcast port is one of the least visually impressive shooters available for that console.  The game also plays like those other "tactical" shmups that inspired it: it is a tough game that will leave even veteran gamers muttering obscenities at the screen.

The soundtrack. One aspect of the game that received almost universal acclaim was the soundtrack by composer Rafael Dyll.  Full of creatively employed, sweeping synthesizers and strings, the game is a joy to listen to.  Since the Dreamcast version was published on a CD-ROM instead of a GD-ROM, it can be listened to on a CD player.  Dyll has since gone on to produce the excellent soundtracks for both Soldner-X games.

Dreamcast features are listed on the back of the box

The extra touches for the Dreamcast.  Since I only have the Pink Bullets edition, I can't comment on how well the game takes advantage of the tech available on the Neo Geo systems.  What I can comment on is the ways in which the game includes features that highlight the strength of the Dreamcast.  For one, the game includes VMU support as some graphics are displayed on the screen and scores can be saved.  It also supports the use of a VGA box, something that wasn't true for all DC games. Perhaps most importantly, the game provides support for a Dreamcast arcade stick should the player wish to use one.  I found that the standard DC controller worked well as you could use the L and R triggers to rotate the pod on the outside of the ship clockwise or counterclockwise, something that feels awkward on an arcade stick but natural on the DC controller.

The Dreamcast manual

Last Hope is not ever going to be mistaken for one of the greatest shooters ever, but it is one of the best post-system life-cycle shooters I have come across thus far.  It seems that NG:DEV.TEAM is dedicated to producing high quality work and the success behind a release like this will help keep the Neo Geo and Dreamcast viable as platforms to receive new games.  And while it is technically a homebrew game,  it is presented very much like a licensed title.  For me, those little touches make a big difference.

The team that created Last Hope have gone on to produce other post-life cycle games (they recently released another AES cart).  Here's hoping that we see another Dreamcast port!

Posted on Aug 3rd 2010 at 02:01:39 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Ridge Racer, Launch Games, Playstation, Racing

Some of you may instantly recognize the title of this post, others of you may be curiously scratching your heads.  If you don't recognize the quote, those are the immortal words uttered by the in-game announcer at the start of every race  in the very first Ridge Racer game for the Sony Playstation, one of the system's ten launch titles and one of its best known racers.  Many things can and have been written about the Ridge Racer series of games published by Namco, but they are interesting for this blog because five of the eleven games in the series have been in a console launch lineup.  The launch titles were:

This five part series of blog entries will look at each launch title in the Ridge Racer series and what, if anything, they did to showcase the new capabilities of each system.

Ridge Racer  - Sony Playstation

The Playstation's U.S. launch in September of 1995 featured only one game that had also been released when the system premiered in Japan the prior December: Ridge Racer.  In fact, Ridge Racer was the only launch game featured in all three major  game markets (JPN/NA/EUR ).  It seemed clear from the start that Sony was banking on Namco's arcade hit to help sell systems.

In the U.S., Ridge Racer was one of two racing games that new console buyers could choose from when entering their favorite game or electronics store on that Saturday morning in September.  The other, ESPN Extreme Games, featured an assortment of X-Games events such as street luge and mountain biking.  Only Ridge Racer provided a traditional automobile racing game.  So, new buyers looking to take the arcade racing experience home were faced with little choice but to buy it on launch day.  As it turns out, they couldn't have done much better: Ridge Racer is an absolute gem of a racing game that accomplished many technical feats fifteen years ago and holds up well to this day.

Arcades in the U.S. were still doing quite well in 1994 and 1995, and though the focus for many players had shifted from fighting games to racing games, there was a lot to choose from in coin-ops around the country in the mid-90s.  Increasingly, the best arcade games were seeing  high profile ports for home consoles.  During the period of time that the Saturn, Playstation, and N64 were released (between May 1995 and September 1996) each console had a racing game associated with it, a game that promised to push the limits of the console.  For Nintendo, that game was Cruisn' USA (though the game didn't make the N64 launch).  For Sega, the game was Daytona USA.  For Sony, it was Ridge Racer.

At the time, I was a die-hard Sega fan and insanely jealous of my friends who were able to enjoy their copies of Daytona USA at home.  Sure, the Daytona USA port didn't look arcade perfect, but it seemed close and impressed me nonetheless.  When I couldn't play on a friends' Saturn, I would still frequently pump quarters into the Daytona USA arcade machine as my home racing was limited to Virtua Racing for the Genesis for several more years (an excellent game in its own right).  By the time I finally joined the 32-bit generation and picked up a Playstation in late 1996 (skipping the Saturn altogether!), I was anticipating the release of new racing games for the PS1 (most notably Gran Turismo) and passed on picking up Ridge Racer.  I'd had my fill of racing with Daytona and Crusin' and decided to pick up games for other genres in the interim. 

So, I only recently acquired the classic PS1 launch game, and now wish I had done so a decade ago. 

Early PS1 games didn't feature many of the icons on the back indicating compatibility with memory cards, number of discs, etc.

As a launch title, the game is significant for several reasons:

The graphics.  There's no denying that an important draw for purchasers on launch day is graphics horsepower. The graphics put out in the PS1 port of Ridge Racer are simply better than they were for the Saturn port of Daytona USA.  The polygons are less blocky, the sense of speed is faster, and the scenery is more diverse.  There are usually more things happening on the screen at any given time, and aside from the poorly designed menus, the interface is quite polished.  Daytona may have been better in the arcades, but if these racing games were meant to show off what the system could do, Ridge Racer was an early harbinger of the doom of the Saturn.  Ridge Racer's graphics are bright, pop in is quite good for a first-gen title, and the scale of the landscape surrounding the courses is impressive.   

It allowed you to choose your own music.  Once the game was loaded and a race started, you could swap out the Ridge Racer CD for your own favorite disc.  The game would then randomly select tracks on your CD to play while you raced and navigated menus.  Since Daytona USA was a frequent point of comparison at the time this game came out, I should note that I also prefer Ridge Racers original music over Daaaaay-tohhhhhhh-nah's ( especially given the "classic" nature of the latter's songs). That said, nothing beats choosing your own musical selection.  In playing the game again for this post, I chose the era-appropriate Beck album "Mellow Gold."  Hearing track 11 playing over the credits was a sweet bit of randomness.  In an age where CD sales were really catching on, this was a nice way for the Playstation to showcase its versatility.

Place this in the CD drive to make Ridge Racer unplayable.

It featured a mini-game with a generous reward during the only loading screen.  Popping Ridge Racer into a console usually meant a few resets until all the enemies in this one screen version of Galaxian were cleared.  Clearing all the enemies in the limited time granted you access to three times the number of cars that would be available otherwise.  Not only did you have more options, but many of these were better cars.  Furthermore, the game only loads once at the very beginning, a welcome change from the frequent and frustrating waits experienced by owners of many other CD-based consoles at the time.  The fact that the loading screen is a game itself was icing.

The game featured a hefty amount of unlocakbles.  There were certainly games with unlockables in the previous generations, but Ridge Racer was one of the first CD-based games to offer multiple versions of tracks to unlock, cars that could be won, and other goodies for the devoted player to discover.  The ease of saving data on a memory card (times, unlocked tracks, etc.) meant that you could take these unlocked items with you, one of the key selling points for Sony's console.

The back of the manual provided alternate cover art.

Taken as a package, it is easy to see why Sony pushed for Ridge Racer to see a release in every major region on launch day.  Better racing games would eventually come, but compared to racers on other consoles that preceded Ridge Racer, Sony clearly had the upper hand and could better capitalize on the ongoing arcade craze.  The game is far from perfect; it is single player, some of the drifting feels too loose, the various tracks are all variations of one main track, the announcer voice is annoying, and the difficulty ramps up considerably in later stages.  However, the game is still worth playing today despite these weaknesses, if only to appreciate how different it was compared to what had come before.  The game would go on to see huge sales and win numerous awards in the next year.  It would also become Sony's first pack-in game. 

Ridge Racer spawned over 10 sequels.  We will revisit some of those games in future installments.

Next Up: an "end game"

Posted on Jul 25th 2010 at 02:36:56 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under Atari 2600, Atari VCS, System Launch, Launch Games, Classic Gaming

Easily the most popular early cartridge based system, the Atari Video Computer System (a.k.a.  Atari 2600) would forever change entertainment in the home.  This entry takes a quick look at what gamers encountered when picking up the system almost 33 years ago.

The VCS launch itself was a delayed event, held up due to some legal issues between Atari and Magnavox.  Magnavox (makers of the Odyssey 1 and 2) owned the rights to publish Atari games through June of 1977, and so even though a working version of the VCS was ready in 1976, Atari waited until that contract was over so they could publish their games for their own system.  In June of 1977 the contract expired and Atari brought the VCS to the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago (which, incidentally, was the same show that introduced VHS to North America). 

A few months later, on October 14, 1977, the console was released for $199 (or $249, depending on which source you read) in the United States.  This initial VCS unit (later nicknamed the Heavy Sixer for its weight and number of switches) launched with nine titles.  Surprisingly, the system had trouble maintaining sales, failing to sell all units shipped in 1977 or 1978 (it wasnt until a home port of Space Invaders hit in 1980 that the system really started moving off shelves). 

The nine games released for the VCS at launch were Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math, Black Jack, Combat (as a pack-in game), Indy 500 (with driver controllers packed in to a big box), Star Ship, Street Racer, Surround, and Video Olympics.  Customers browsing store shelves on launch day that October had these titles to choose from:

Launch games were sold in gatefold boxes (they open up like a book, similar to Odyseey2 boxes), a packaging style which was discontinued after the first year of (relatively poor) sales for the system. 

I had some difficulty tracking down prices for new games, but based on what I found $20-$30 seems like a reasonable guess.  Adjusted for inflation, that is $70-$105 a pop today!  Purchasers could console themselves with the fact that they got multiple games, or modes, per purchase.  With the exception of Blackjack, each game offered between 8 and 50 different games in each package, with the number displayed prominently on the box.

I plan to look more closely at some of these games in future installments of the blog, but there are really only a few titles that seemed to have much staying power through the life of the console or today.  Combat is the obvious gem, but Indy 500 and Video Olympics both made this informal poll of AtariAge readers Top 100 2600 games of all time .  Past those three however, the rest of the launch games are a mixed bag.  Air-Sea Battle and Star Ship both offer some fun shooting, and the latter actually shows off some interesting graphics for a launch game.   Surround is more or less a Tron cycle style game, and Blackjack is, well, blackjack (a very tough version played with a paddle controller).  Woe to the poor kid whose parents brought home Basic Math or Street Racer, both of which were low points in fun for the launch lineup. 

If you wanted to pick up four titles with your new system, you would be looking to spend about $300-$350 in 1977, or about $1000-$1200 today.  By comparison, a 60GB PS3 at launch with four games and an extra controller would have cost about $900. 

A few things stand out about the system launch. 

For one, the titles of most of the games were very basic and descriptive, a strategy also used by Nintendo when they launched their NES in the U.S. some seven years later (with titles like Tennis, Kung Fu, Baseball, Golf, Pinball, Duck Hunt, etc.).  This simple naming practice, paired with what continues to be some of the most imaginative box art ever produced , allowed for shoppers to easily identify what kind of game they were buying. 

Also notable is the lack of any well known arcade games, games based on movies, or any other connections to popular culture of the mid-late 1970s (the first arcade port would be the aforementioned Space Invaders a few years later).  Atari basically had to launch a system featuring games with no known properties, something that has not been done since.

The inclusion of a pack-in game, a practice that has fallen out of favor with many of the more recent system launches, is significant.  Not only did it give purchasers the illusion of extra value at the register, but unlike pack in games for some other systems (Super Mario Bros., Altered Beast, etc.) Combat doesn't have a single player mode.  This sent the message to consumers that the VCS was meant to be played with others and that multiplayer gaming was the foundation for the console.  This message was reinforced by the inclusion of two joysticks, another practice that has unfortunately dropped out of most system launches.

Indy 500, which was released with the driver controllers in a bog box, is also an important title for its inclusion of accessories.  While pricing information is scarce and unreliable, Indy 500 most certainly would have cost more than a standard game because of its inclusion of these controllers.   Like modern console manufacturers, it seems Atari recognized that money could be made selling additional hardware, controllers, cables, and other add-ons for their system (the 2600 would see many accessories over the years).  Starting customers out on launch day with some extra hardware made good fiscal sense.

As a whole, it seems that the launch of one of the most successful game consoles in history did some things right (pack-ins) and some things wrong (no known IPs).  Fortunately for Atari, they did enough right to sustain the VCS for a few years until it really became popular with the addition of licensed titles. Tracking down the original launch games and the Heavy Sixer itself in the original boxes would be quite a daunting task today (the Heavy Sixer alone fetches a hefty premium over the other models on eBay), but I'd love to hear from anyone who has done so or who remembers the launch itself.

Posted on Jul 22nd 2010 at 01:09:37 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under launch, launch games, end games, beggar prince, goonies

Inspired in part by some of the guys over at the forums, I've decided to enter into the wide world of gaming blogs.  So, I am proud to introduce "Transitions: The Launch Games/End Games Blog."

One of the things that I've always found to be interesting about collecting games and learning about gaming history is the beginning and end of a system's life span. 

There is usually so much excitement and anticipation at the launch of a new system that gamers are overwhelmed with the choices put before them.  If you are like me, you've usually been very limited in your purchasing power on launch day and have to very carefully pick just one game or two from the launch lineup.  Often, the other launch games get forgotten as newer, more hyped, and often more advanced games are released.  This blog will look back at those launch games and highlight titles that were released when systems hit store shelves (primarily in North America).  Sometimes these launch games represent some of the untapped potential for a new system. Sometimes they were highly polished versions of games released for a previous generation.  Sometimes they introduced a new franchise, other times they faded into obscurity.  Whatever the case, this blog will highlight them.

On the other side of the coin, this blog will also highlight those games which are released at the end of a system's lifespan.  These are the games that come out when most people are playing games for the next generation of consoles and are thus frequently overlooked.  Some of these games represent the pinnacle of development for a system, while other titles are cheap shovelware published as a quick cash grab.  These "end games" also include those new games released by individuals and small companies well after a system's games have stopped appearing on store shelves.  Games like Beggar Prince for the Genesis and the upcoming The Goonies 'R' Good Enough for the MSX are fascinating post-lifespan releases that bear further attention.

So, I hope you enjoy this blog. I can't make any promises about how often I'll update (I already spend plenty of time generating game related content for the Racketboy podcast), but I can promise that you'll learn about some games you may have never heard about, forgot existed, or didn't know much about.

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