Where I Read – Electronic Gaming Monthly #82
Finally, after a stretch of hopping, skipping, and jumping across gaps in the archives, we now have contiguous issues. So, this week’s issue is #82 for May, 1996, and our cover story is Virtua Fighter 3, with notes on a preview of the “Saturn 2.0” – which I suspect becomes Sega’s last console, the Dreamcast. Also, a little notable first for this issue is the debut of Dan “Shoe” Hsu as an assistant editor. We even have his baby picture (as we get a semi-collage of the editorial staff’s baby pictures).
Well, the Nintendo 64 has been delayed again, to June 23rd for Japan. Apparently it’s still on schedule (at the time this issue was printed) for September 30th. Additionally, Matsushita’s M2 system – the successor to the 3DO, has also been delayed – the system itself became vaporware because the 3DO was considered a commercial failure. To be honest, I can’t really dispute that claim. Anyway, Panasonic/Matsushita’s plan is to include DVD technology so they can grab the early adopters for that format as DVD becomes the successor to VHS. That’s a good plan, and it does work – but unfortunately not for Panasonic as the system is not released. It is successful for Sony and the PlayStation 2. I wonder – if the M2 had made it out and it had managed to get a good selection of 3rd party publishers working on games for it, would the system have succeeded, because of the inclusion of DVD. While the inclusion of Blu-Ray technology in the PS3 didn’t get the system on top of the console market, it did get a lot of people to buy it who wouldn’t have gotten the system otherwise – especially considering the various changes to the Blu-Ray technology as the system was released.
We also get a breakdown explaining why a game costs as much as it does, and breaking down the costs. Mind you, the costs for making CD games are in 1996 dollars, when they were a little more expensive to make. That said, it’s interesting to see that while publishers make a larger profit for CD-ROM games, due to the decreased manufacturing cost compared to cartridge based games, the developers see not a dime more. I’d say the developers got screwed.
Just like last issue, our review crew is Andrew Baran, Mark Lefebvre, Mike Desmond, and Sushi-X.
- Resident Evil (Capcom, PlayStation): You all know what Resident Evil is, right? Good. Survival horror, zombies, tank controls, very limited ammo economy, bizarre puzzles. It’s all here. We get a lot of justified comparisons with the original Alone in the Dark. There is no mention of the game’s terrible voice acting (some of the worst voice acting in the entire history of the PlayStation. We do get some complaints about how sluggish the tank controls are, particularly regarding how sluggish turning is, particularly with the inability to quickly turn to face enemies behind you. Andy gives it an 8, Mark gives it a 9.5, and Mike & Sushi give it 9s. Overall: 35.5/40, is the Game of the Month, and receives a Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
- Mario RPG (Square, SNES): Square’s last hurrah on the SNES, and on Nintendo Systems in general until the release of the Crystal Chronicle games on the GameCube. However, unfortunately, the Crew gives Nintendo all of the credit, even for stuff that clearly would have been done by the developer, like sound design. I’m actually really disappointed by the review crew here. Modern game journalists are willing to give the developers the credit that they’re due. Here though, the contributions of the developer are practically an afterthought. The game is lauded as an imaginative RPG that manages to get a decent story out of the Mario franchise, though it does have a “childish” tone. Andy gives it an 9.5, Mark gives it a 9, Mike gives it an 8.5, and Sushi gives it an 8. Overall: 35/40 and receives a Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
- Marsupilami (Sega, Genesis): This is a licensed platformer based on the Disney animated series (which is in turn based on a French comic book) that I’d actually totally forgotten about until I started writing this. The problem is that, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ll remember that the 16-bit console generation had massive numbers of such platformers – even more than the modern console generation has cover-based third-person shooters. Additionally, the graphics are sub-par which is unfortunate for a game at the end of a console generation, as by this point people working on the system should have built up some familiarity with the system, and developed engines that can get the most graphically out of the system. Andrew gives a 6, Mark a 5.5, Mike a 6.5, and Sushi a 7. Overall: 25/40.
- Iron Storm (Working Designs, Saturn): This one is a World War II hex-based strategy game along the lines of Military Madness from Hudson but, like the later Advance Wars games you get an animated sequence whenever units engage in combat. However, the game is rather difficult, which isn’t surprising since the Military Madness games were pretty tough also. Andrew gives a 9, Mark and Mike give 7.5s, and Sushi gives an 8. Overall: 32/40 and receives an Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
- Night Warriors (Capcom, Saturn): So, this is a sequel to Capcom’s semi-Gothic horror fighting game Darkstalkers. We have a general consensus on the game. Specifically, they consider it a solid arcade port, but it does have some response problems with the controls–especially when it comes to stringing combos. Andrew gives a 7.5, Mark and Sushi give 8s, and Mike gives a 7.5. Overall: 30.5/40. As an aside, if they ever make another strictly Darkstalkers game, I hope they make Dante a guest character.
- Panzer Dragoon II Zwei (Sega, Saturn): Another rail-based shooter with the main character mounted on a dragon. While the game is improved from the last game in the series, Andrew didn’t complete the game due to losing interest. That’s kind of unfortunate, as the rest of the crew was able to beat the game rather quickly though they weren’t able to get any replay value out of the game to speak of. Andrew and Sushi give the game 8s, Mark and Mike give it 8.5s. Overall: 33/40 and receives an Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
- Worms (Ocean, Saturn): For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, this is a game where two teams of Worms use basic physics and adjustment for wind movement to blow each other up on a 2 dimensional plane. It’s also slightly more addictive than Civ, provided you’ve got someone you can play with – because the AI is a pain in the ass, which is their main complaint with the game. Andrew and Mike give it 9s, Mark gives it an 8.5 and Sushi gives it an 8. Overall: 34.5/40 and the game gets an Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
- Magic Carpet (Electronic Arts, PlayStation): Peter Molineux’s first game outside of the God Game genre hits home consoles at last. That said, well, Molineux’s habit of his reach exceeding his grasp is very much in evident here – the plan for the game is clearly meant to be basically an ambitious real-time strategy game, very similar in some ways with a later game from another developer – Sacrifice. Anyway, Andrew isn’t too impressed with the game, and gives it a 6. Mark gives it an 8, and Mike & Sushi give the game 7s. Overall: 28/40.
- Namco Arcade Classics (Namco, PlayStation): Here is the point where Namco really came to realize that they had a gigantic cash cow they were sitting on called their back catalog of titles, and started milking it, and doing a decent job of it too. Andrew gives it an 8.5, and the rest of the Crew gives it 8s. Overall: 32.5/40 and receives the Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
- Lucienne’s Quest (Panasonic, 3DO): The 3DO, as it reaches the end of its life is finally getting an RPG, and one developed by a company with a decent pedigree (the makers of the Princess Maker series). Unfortunately, both the Genesis and SNES already have much better RPGs, and the PlayStation will be getting better RPGs soon as well. Hell, the PC is getting Diablo later that year. So, while Panasonic is making a good effort, it’s ultimately too little, too late for the 3DO. Andrew gives the game a 5, Mike and Mark give it 6.5s, and Sushi gives the game a 7. Overall: 25/40.
- Arena (Sega of America, Game Gear): It’s an isometric run-and-gun shooter, and one that executes pretty well, except for a few problems – the Game Gear has a small screen that doesn’t work well for shooters, the Game Gear’s speakers are terrible. Andrew gives the game an 8.5, Mark & Sushi give the game 8s, and Mike gives it a 7.5. Overall: 32/40 and the game gets an Editor’s Choice Gold Award.
Both Sega and Sony are considering price cuts for their systems in an attempt to steal the Nintendo 64’s thunder. That said, apparently rumor also has it that the chip shortage that Nintendo’s been contending with may push back the US release for the N64 to Thanksgiving – Black Friday. All things considered, that’s not a bad time for a launch, though if Sega and Sony drop their prices around the same time, that could make things very tricky for Nintendo. Fortunately (I guess), they do meet their September release date in the US. Apparently Sony’s PlayStation 2 is set to come out in 1997. Well.. they’re off by 3 years – which is fine, because that would be an insanely short Console Life Cycle. As it is, I’m glad these rumors didn’t do as much damage as they could have – these could have done as much damage as Commodore’s marketing die to their systems (as in Sales: “If you thought this system is good, just wait until you see the next model.” Engineering: “Excuse us for a moment. *stabs Sales to death with a ballpoint pen and dumps him in a supply closet*). Also, apparently, Killer Instinct 2 isn’t coming to the N64. This isn’t entirely true, it’s ported to the N64 as Killer Instinct Gold. We also our first hints about the Mortal Kombat: Annihilation film, as well as the upcoming Star Wars fighting game, Masters of Teras Kasi.
We have a look back at the history of EGM, from the first issue to the present day. I don’t really need to go too in depth here, because if you’ve been following this series of posts, you’ll probably know a lot that they already covered in EGM. Anyway, we also get a rather sleazy ad for Iron Man/X-O Manowar made to look like it’s an article in the magazine. The only distinguishing it from the articles is the fact that it’s white-text-on-black, and the word “Advertisement” in small print. Not cool. You’d think that EGM’s staff could have said “No, we can’t run this ad, unless you make it more clear that it’s an ad.
We also have our preview of Virtua Fighter 3. It’s not as good looking as current gen games in the series (obviously), but it’s not terrible looking either. It’s almost the peak for the Virtua Fighter series in its console generation–except for the fact that Virtua Fighter 3 was released for the Dreamcast, which was the same console generation as the PlayStation 2, which in turn got the even better looking Virtua Fighter 4. We also get a look some of the games from the Arcadia trade show, from Midway’s War Gods, to Namco’s Xevious 3D/G, to Tecmo’s Dead or Alive. While the is not Itagaki’s first game with Tecmo (that would be 1994’s Tecmo Super Bowl II), it’s the start of the franchise that would give Itagaki his greatest fame. Namco also has their weapon-based fighter Soul Edge, which would develop into the Soul Calibur series.
We also get our first look at Final Fantasy VII. Apparently development in Japan and localization & translation for the US release is going on simultaneously. On the one hand, this does allow for a release here shortly after the game is released in Japan. However, such a tight time frame doesn’t lead to a great translation – which lead to a translation which I wouldn’t describe as optimal. We also get our first look at Cloud Strife, riding a Chocobo, and smiling–something which the character is definitely not known for doing. We also learn that at this point in the development cycle, Square’s plans were to have the exploration be in the first person, with visible enemies populating the terrain. This is definitely not what happens in the final version of the game. Similarly, they were hoping for 10 party members in combat at once, instead of the then traditional 3 or 4.
Konami has the game Project Overkill, which a looks like Syndicate. For that matter, the tone of the game is a lot like Syndicate, in that it’s a sci-fi game where you’re doing a corporation’s dirty work. The difference is here, instead of trying to defeat other corporations, you’re trying expedite their work while they try to colonize an alien planet, by displacing the locals. To be blunt, I’m not sure what to think about this game. With a mature audience, I’d hope that the player would get that they’re not playing the good guy, and that the game’s meant to have a Colonialism=Bad message. The problem is, if you’ve read Lies My Teacher Told Me, you’ll know that the standard middle-and-high-school education on colonialism can best be described as pathetic – and such pathetic coverage is nothing new. This means there’s a large chunk of your audience which may horrifically miss the point.
The Saturn is getting Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. For those unfamiliar with the difference between this version of Mortal Kombat 3 and the original version, this version re-balances the characters and adds some new animations, as well as having a few new characters, along with upping the difficulty of the game. We also get a more in-depth preview of Iron Storm – which was reviewed earlier in the issue. I’m also going to take a moment to notice something I didn’t spend too much time on for issue #81: the previews are a lot more talky. They’re less about the pictures, and more about telling you about the game. This is, in my opinion, what makes magazines so great after the rise of the Internet – you can spend more space talking about the game (both before and after release), and less space with screen shots which you can just put up on your web page. This also allows you to mention stuff that didn’t necessarily make it in the review. For example, Iron Storm requires the player to make sure his units are kept re-supplied and that they are reinforced when they run into trouble. Also, Panzer Dragoon II Zwei adds, along with multiple paths you can take in the game, some what is essentially a super gauge. The Saturn is also set to get Shining Wisdom, an action RPG in the style of The Secret of Mana, but in the Shining Force universe. We also get an ad hyping their coverage on Nuke.com of E3. Unfortunately, due to the gap in my archive, I don’t have EGM’s coverage of the first E3, but that’s something I’m hoping to cover in the future.
There’s also a look at Die Hard Trilogy Arcade for the PlayStation. Basically, this is a collection of 3 different game types – which don’t necessarily look very good – each based on a segment of a different Die Hard film. One has you rescuing hostages in Nakatomi Plaza. One has you taking out the terrorists in the airport from Die Hard II in a Virtua Cop camera angle, and the third has you driving around New York trying to reach various points to defuse bombs ala Die Hard III. It bears mentioning that for each of these games, they did not design skyboxes – so if you’re outside the sky is always black. For those who are unfamiliar, a skybox is, basically, a part of your environment that represents the sky. To best explain it, imagine your dinner table. The table represents the level design. Everywhere your player can go is on that table. The walls of the room around the table are the skybox. A character sitting or standing on the table can see the walls, ceiling, and so on, but they can’t touch them. The same thing applies to the skybox. You can’t touch the sky or the horizon, but you can see them. Anyway, Mindscape has the alien-blasting third-person shooter Steel Harbinger. Williams has also kind of figured out that Namco’s got a really good idea with their Museum collection and is putting out the Williams Arcade Collection, which includes Defender 1 & 2, Sinistar and Robotron 2084. Being that Robotron is a twin-stick shooter, I wonder how it’s going to turn out in the days before controllers that had dual-analog sticks.
Domark is working on a driving action game (ala Spy Hunter) titled Crime Wave. Acclaim is working on Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, which is at this point a 3rd-person action game. We also get a look at Tomb Raider, which is currently titled Tomb Raiders and is set to be published by US Gold instead of Eidos.
We get a letter complaining about the V-Chip, complaining that it’s essentially Big Brother intruding into your home. I disagree. Frankly, every TV that’s been released since 1998 has a V-Chip built in. Every DVD player, Blu-Ray Player, and so on has a function that lets you limit what movies you can watch by rating. Now, who actually uses it? Anyway, we also get complaints, in the same letter, about the Telecommunications act (or rather, the Communications Decency Act). Frankly, the parts that the writer were concerned about didn’t survive Supreme Court challenges, as did the bill’s successor, the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). The third attempt, the Children’s Internet Protection Act, survived, but only because (I suspect) that it was so narrowly focused that most common citizens wouldn’t be effected unless they used computers in libraries. We also get questions about the Doom licenced novels (they’re bad), and the exclusivity of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for the Saturn. There were also some complaints about the reviews of Kings’ Field for the PlayStation from other magazines. Specifically, they referred to it as “Doom Clone” because it had a first person perspective. Apparently the game journalists making these comparisons had never played Wizardry, which is unfortunate.