Where I Read – Electronic Gaming Monthly #120
My original intention for my next EGM recap was to do a recap of issue #117, but my copy of that issue was incomplete. So, I’m moving on to issue #120. Our cover story for this issue is WWF Attitude, and it’s autographed by Stone Cold Steve Austin even. Now, while this is EGM’s 12th year, they’re calling this their 10th anniversary issue. That doesn’t quite make any sense with me, but I’ll leave that aside.
Our editorial column for this issue reflects on another of the string of school shootings the nation was contending with in 1998 and 1999, and the worst of the shootings at that – the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. On the one hand, while this was the worst of all the school shootings, to my knowledge any school shootings after that point either didn’t get any media attention, or they didn’t happen. However, this shooting, being the biggest, and because the shooters listened to heavy metal music and developed custom levels for Doom, brought the anti-video game hysteria to a pitch above that caused by the Night Trap hysteria, and wouldn’t be seen again until the Hot Coffee controversy. Thanks to some poorly informed and in poor taste remarks from Littleton’s sheriff that were jumped upon by the New York Times Magazine, it even threatened to resurrect the anti-D&D hysteria, that had died when Patricia Pulling had been discredited.
Fortunately, this game industry appears to have weathered this storm, though some of the consequences have yet to be resolved. As I write this, California’s video game sale restriction legislation is going to the United States Supreme Court, having been overturned as unconstitutional at all lower levels. If the Supreme Court declares the law constitutional, then we can finally move past the video game violence controversy, and we’ll finally be able to move out of the shadow of Columbine. If the Supreme Court upholds the law, then the dark shadow that Klebold and Harris shall forever linger on this country, and those two psychopaths will have obtained an immortality that they do not deserve.
Unsurprisingly, much of the letters in this issue of the magazine are also about the video game violence debate that has once again come to the forefront after the Columbine shooting. Being that this is a video game magazine, the letters are universally anti-censorship. Which is fine. We also get few letters defending wrestling fans, particularly of the “Smart” variety (who tend to watch a bit more ECW than WWF, and who later become early members of Ring of Honor’s fan base). There’s also a letter about the Cho Aniki series.
Press Start (News & Features)
You have three guesses to find out what the first article is about, and the first two don’t count. Seriously, I’d say that the political and media reactions to the Columbine shooting (and other school shootings) was the event that built the most political apathy in my generation, which kept a great deal of inertia until Barack Obama ran for President. Rare is the situation where the media and most elected politicians are able to essentially insult an entire generation of young people, who aren’t old enough to vote so they can’t make their displeasure known by giving the people insulting them a swift kick in the rear – thus instead breeding a massive amount of voter apathy.
We also get a sidebar developer profile of Silicon Knights, listing as their two projects in the works as Eternal Darkness for the N64 (which is later released for the GameCube), and Too Human, which doesn’t get released until the current console generation, and only on the Xbox 360. Speaking of which, Nintendo is expected to unveil their Project Dolphin at E3 (the system later becomes the GameCube). We also have an interview with Jenny Stigile, who does the voice of Luna in Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, and she hasn’t done much since then, at least not in terms of voice acting, or acting on the screen, judging by her IMDB profile. She may have done some stuff on the stage, but I have no record of that.
Quartermann’s rumors for this issue are that Capcom’s already working on titles for the PlayStation 2 (which is possible). Another rumor suggests the next Metal Gear Solid is going to come out for the Dreamcast. Q-Mann also suggests this one is probable, but it is ultimately shown to not pan out. There are still rumors going around about a N64 Metroid game, but no such game comes out. We do, however get the Metroid Prime series for the GameCube, as well as a new Metroid game for the Game Boy Advance when it comes out.
The Dreamcast is getting an arcade-style boxing game (ala Mike Tyson’s Punch Out) with Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, featuring the voice and likeness of Michael Buffer (the guy who brought you that phrase). As an aside, considering how much TNA wants to be WCW at times, I wonder why they haven’t hired Michael Buffer yet, especially considering that Buffer was probably one of the best celebrities that WCW ever hired. For that matter, I’m surprised WWE didn’t hire him after WCW went under either. Michael Buffer doing ring announcing for the main event at Wrestlemania has a certain appeal to it – especially since Howard Finkel has retired from active duty.
Oh, and by the way, we have one of the 9.9.99 “It’s Thinking” ads for the Dreamcast. I kind of like the way the Dreamcast was marketed. Throughout the Genesis and Saturn eras, we had the Sega Scream and the attitude that came with it. The Dreamcast turned that on its head by switching from a shout of defiance to a sneaky whisper. The Dreamcast is also getting the survival horror game Carrier, about an outbreak of a virus that (wait for it) turns people into horrible monsters on an aircraft carrier.
We get another interesting ad, for the fighting game Evil Zone from Yukes for the PlayStation, which is an anime style fighting game, presented with the structure of an anime series. However, much to my surprise, it doesn’t get a spin-off anime series. I’m interested to see what critical response it gets, and then I might even consider hunting down a copy of the game.
Anyway, the N64 is going to be getting Pokemon Stadium, which is also one of the first games for the N64 to feature connectivity with the Game Boy. 3DO is also working on a new Army Men game for the system, sub-titled Sarge’s Heroes. This one is more of a 3rd person action game, then the real-time strategy game the first title in the series was.
On the PlayStation, we have R-Type Delta (which I’ve reviewed for Bureau42). We also get a look at the PlayStation version of Too Human, which doesn’t particularly appear to have any of the Norse mythology trappings that the final version of the game has. We also get brief mention of Fear Factor, a survival horror action game which features some lesbian characters, as well as Suikoden II, along with Final Fantasy Anthology, which compiles Final Fantasy V and VI, both of which have since been released for the Game Boy Advance. We also get a look at a semi-aerial fighting game Psychic Force, which takes some inspirations from Katsuhiro Otomo’s work, like Akira, as well as his earlier Mai: The Psychic Girl, and other stuff from around that time.
As far as the Game Boy goes, we’ve got a couple titles of note. In particular, we have Revelations: Demon Slayer, which is another of the games in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. It’s not a core title in the series, and it doesn’t have the same degree of demon summoning that, well, the Demon Summoner games or core games in the series has. We also get Oddworld Adventures II, which features Abe as a protagonist.
Meanwhile, in the arcades (remember them), Tekken Tag Tournament is coming out, along with Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike, which ends up being tied with Street Fighter Alpha 3 for the title of “Best Street Fighter Game” until Street Fighter IV, and now Super Street Fighter IV, come out. There’s also SNK’s fighting game Buriki One, which is one of their early attempts at a 3D fighting game ala Tekken. It has never gotten a home console release.
Our first feature this issue is about the WWF (now the WWE). Now, this article isn’t going to be a complete shoot, but it does take the half-shoot/half-work style that the WWE’s used for some of their more recent documentary works. For those unfamiliar with the terms I just used, a “work” is something that maintains the fiction that everything you see in the ring is “real” and not planned in advance – wrestlers gimmicks are their real personalities, finishes aren’t booked in advance, that sort of thing. On the other hand, “Shoots” take the audience behind the curtain – they’re more inside baseball. Gimmicks are just personas that wrestlers put on to perform. They’re not trying to actually hurt each other, and the winners of the matches are planned out in advance. Anyway, this leads into inside information about the development of Acclaim’s last WWF title, WWF Attitude, as well as notes on where the series is going when THQ takes the reins after Acclaim (Aki developing the Wrestlemania series on the N64, and Yukes developing the Smackdown series on the PlayStation).
We get a 10-year retrospective about where EGM has been. Now, if you’ve been following my recaps, you kind of already know where it’s been. A few notable things – Acclaim was the first publisher to pull advertising from EGM over the bad review score they got for Total Recall.
For the first time thus far, Sushi-X is absent from the Review Crew. Instead, the lineup this issue is Crispin Boyer, Dan “Shoe” Hsu, newcomers Che Chou and Chris Johnson. Chou has since become Community Manager at Turn 10 Studios (developers of the Forza series), and Johnson is currently working on the Player One Podcast. John Davison, John Riccardi, and Shawn Smith are still on the Crew, and in the course of the gap the crew has added Dean Hager. I don’t know what Dean’s been up to, if anyone has that information, please feel free to let me know.
- A Bug’s Life (N64, Activision): Licensed game based on the Disney movie, developed by Traveler’s Tales (who have since gone on to develop all the Lego games). They’d probably rather that we forgot all about this game though. In particular, this game has problems with character and camera controls, though the graphics look good. Chris gives this a 5, and Shawn, Crispin and Dean give it 4s. Overall: 17/40.
- Hybrid Heaven (N64, Konami): This is a kind of odd mix of survival horror, 3D platformer (ala Tomb Raider) and RPG. The crew has some problems with the camera and the framerate in widescreen mode, though the story and the controls seem to be enough to compensate for this. To be fair, most games during this period had terrible cameras, so at the time you just had to role with them. Chris gives this an 8, Crispin and Shoe give it 7.5s, and Shawn gives it a 7. Overall: 30/40.
- Ken Griffey Jr’s Slugfest (N64, Nintendo): While the game is an improvement from prior games in the series, it still has some significant problems with bugs in the game, particularly related to fielding and base-running. Dean gives it an 8, Shawn a 7, Che a 6.5, and Shoe a 5.5. Overall: 27/40.
- Monaco Grand Prix (N64, Ubi Soft): Formula 1 racing fame without the Formula 1 license. The game is pretty solid, with the main complaints being more design philosophy related. John Davison gives the game a 6.5 because it’s too accessible, while Shawn gives the game a 6 because it doesn’t let you do some of the things that arcade style racers let you do, like ram opponents into walls and cut off road, because that isn’t the Formula 1 way. On the other hand, Che and Dean enjoy the game much more, and give the game 8s. Overall: 28.5/40.
- Quake II (N64, Activision): This version of the game has simpler level designs than the PC version, but apparently the four-player multiplayer is still good (which is important). However, there are still some significant problems with single player. In particular, there are no mid-mission checkpoints, and you can’t save anywhere, so you have to complete the level in one go, including the boss. Shawn gives the game a 9, John Davison and Shoe give it 8s, and Crispin gives it an 8.5. Overall: 33.5/40 and it receives an Editor’s Choice Silver Award.
- Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer (N64, Nintendo): One of the better parts of Episode One gets its own racing game. There are concerns with the speed of the game outpacing the responsiveness of the control. Otherwise they like it. Crispin and Dean give the game 9s, Chris gives it a 9.5, and Che gives it an 8.5. Overall: 36/40 and it gets an Editor’s Choice Gold Award, along with Game of the Month.
- Superman 64 (N64, Titus): Here’s a stinkburger if I ever saw one, and the scores demonstrate this. This game is terrible in literally every single possible respect, from controls (both in terms of the player and the camera), the level design, the mission objectives, the story, the graphics, everything. John Davison gives the game a 0.5, Shoe gives a 1.5, Dean gives a 2, and Chris gives it the incredibly high score of a 4. I wonder why John didn’t give the game a zero? Overall: 8/40.
- World Driver Championship (N64, Midway): This is a sort of Gran Turismo racing game, but without the licenses for the cars. The game is also lacking the sense of speed that the Gran Turismo games have (sort of). Che gives the game a 6.5, Shawn gives a 7, Dean gives a 7.5, and John Davison gives the game an 8. Overall: 29/40.
- Castrol-Honda Superbike Racing (PlayStation, EA): You really don’t get a lot of dedicated motorcycle racing games in general anymore. This one runs into some problems in the review scores, because of the limited number of licensed bikes, mediocre graphics and AI, particularly with some framerate problems. John Davison gives it a 6.5, Dean gives it a 5, Che gives it a 3, and John Ricciardi gives it a 4. Overall: 18.5/40.
- Centipede (PlayStation, Hasbro Interactive): Basically this is Centipede with 3D polygonal graphics – which is the game’s main problem, because the graphics aren’t good, and the camera angle shows of the graphics instead of being the ideal angle for gameplay (the original game has a top-down camera angle). Chris gives the game a 2.5, Che gives it a 6, and Dean and Shawn give 3.5s. Overall: 15.5/40.
- Croc 2 (PlayStation, Fox Interactive): While the graphics for this 3D mascot platformer are good, the camera and the controls are very unresponsive. John Davison gives this a 5. Crispin and John Ricciardi give this 5.5s, and Chris gives this a 4.5. Overall: 19.5/40
- High Heat Baseball 2000 (PlayStation, 3DO): Basically this is a pretty awful baseball game, with terrible ball physics and animations. John Ricciardi gives the game a 1, Dean gives it a 2, Shawn gives it a 3.5, and Shoe gives it a 4. Overall: 10.5/40
- Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete (PlayStation, Working Designs): This is the last port of Lunar from Working Designs. I mean it (the later ports are by other people). This version has been given a much needed overhaul, and the scores reflect it. Now, the PlayStation Portable version has further been overhauled, but it doesn’t have all the extra features that this version has. John Ricciardi and Crispin give this 9s, Chris gives it a 9.5, and Che gives it an 8.5. Overall: 36/40, and it gets the Editor’s Choice Gold Award and Game of the Month.
- Monaco Grand Prix (PlayStation, Ubi Soft): PlayStation version of the racing game that also got released for the N64 (see above). The scores, and the justifications thereof, are the same as the N64 version, except Shawn’s is half a point higher. Overall: 29/40.
- Star Ocean: The Second Story (PlayStation, SCEA): I actually owned this one, but for some insane reason I traded it in. I’m still kicking myself over that – I need to hunt that game down again. Anyway, the players like the multiple story perspectives and many ways you can go through the game, with multiple characters and multiple endings. Not enough JRPGs have that anymore. It’s odd how Western RPGs have taken up that sense of consequence instead, particularly with games like Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2. Some one at Square Enix asked a writer at 1up about why Mass Effect was so popular – it’s because decisions matter. They need to go back and look and see how character decisions were handled in Chrono Trigger & Star Ocean 2. Anyway, the Crew likes this game, particularly the game’s story (as I’ve gone into), and the game’s combat. John Davison and Shoe give the game 8s, Crispin gives it an 8.5, and John Ricciardi gives it a 9. Overall: 33.5/40 and it receives and Editor’s Choice Silver Award.
- Warzone 2100 (PlayStation, Eidos): This is a Real-Time Strategy game. Chris isn’t an RTS guy – he just doesn’t like the genre, and this didn’t change his mind, so he gives it a 5. The rest of the crew (Shoe, Crispin and Che) thought this was a decent RTS, and give it 7.5s. Look, you have the rotating Crew for a reason, to avoid situations where the guy who hates RTS ends up reviewing a RTS and messing with the average & overall scores. Overall: 27.5/40.
We’ve also got a few games which didn’t get the full Crew Treatment. These are Grand Theft Auto: London 1969 (which, much as they’d later give the series the Scarface and the Boys ‘n The Hood treatment, they give the The Long Good Friday treatment in this game) and Ultimate 8 Ball for the PlayStation, and WWF Attitude and All-Star Baseball 2000 for the Game Boy Color.
The Final Word for this issue comes from John Davison, Dan Hsu, Chris Johnson, and Shawn Smith on one topic – the importance of explaining what the ESRB ratings mean and why games get the ratings they receive. Fortunately, we have gotten some significant strides in clarifying the ESRB rating system, both what the ratings mean, and why they’re handed out. For example, my copy of Dissidia that I picked up recently says on the back that the game received a T rating – which is defined as meaning “Teen”, and that it received it for “Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, and Partial Nudity”. Now it needs to take the next step, by giving a numerical