Where I Read – Electronic Gaming Monthly #122
This week we come to what will be the last of my EGM recaps, sort of – for September of 1999. I say sort of because there are some back gaps in my archive which I really need to fill, and once I get the issues to fix them, I will. However, as I’m not recapping any issues of EGM’s current run (the one that they’re currently publishing both online and in print), I won’t be recapping any issues chronologically after this one. Unless some get put up on Retromags. Have I confused you enough yet? Good.
It’s appropriate then that this issue’s cover story is the launch of the Sega Dreamcast, which is somewhat widely accepted as the last console to be considered “retro”. Now, eventually I suspect the retro game community to accept the GameCube and Xbox as being retro systems, but for now, the Dreamcast is the last retro console. Considering that this is the first console launch of the “next” generation, the EGM staff is understandably pumped.
Letters to the Editor
We get a couple letters about prior articles on the gender gap among gamers. One writer feels that rather than having games that are “tailored” to girls, more girls should just play games. We also get a letter singing the praises of Visual Novels. This reminds me to see if there’s an official English version of Fate/Stay Night, as I’ve heard good things about that. Apparently there isn’t.
Our first story of the issue is that Square is working on a all-CGI movie – Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I thought it was a decent movie, but it bombed enough at the box office to kill Square’s theatrical feature division, at least until they started the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII project and they resurrected it for Final Fantasy: Advent Children. Additionally, the first commercially available PS1 emulator, Bleem! was released. The software tried to get around copyright infringement problems by requiring you to own the physical disk to play the games. The problem is that the software still had to infringe on the PlayStation’s BIOS, which meant they still got sued.
In other news, Buckner and Garcia re-recorded their hit, Pac-Man Fever, as CBS wouldn’t re-release the original to cash in on the retro revival. Being that their web page is actually still live (as opposed to many other web pages that are featured in this magazine), I’ll send you there to pick up the album. Though if you do want to give me a kick-back, in some form other than the PayPal link to the side of the page, you can go to Amazon.com to get it. There’s also an interview with founder and CEO of Crave, Nima Taghavi, CEO of Crave Entertainment.
For Quartermann’s rumors of the month, Dreamcast versions of Driver and Soul Reaver are looking more credible. While I’m not seeing a Dreamcast version of Driver in my research, I am seeing a Dreamcast version of Soul Reaver. There’s also a rumor that the PlayStation 2 is going to be the center of Sony’s media-center hub strategy. Well, yes and no. This concept is Sony’s intent when they designed the system, but they abandoned the concept on that system, and later moved it to the PS3 where, in my opinion, it worked considerably better than the on the PS2, because of how it handled music, Blu-Ray films, streaming video, and photographs.
On the Dreamcast, Midway is working on NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC. Essentially this is a “next gen” (for the time) version of NBA Jam. Activision is also bringing their sequel to Vigilante 8 (appropriately sub-titled “Second Offense”) out for the system – the prior installment only came out on the PlayStation, PC and N64 – not the Saturn. The Dreamcast is also getting a port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 and another of King of Fighters ’99, which unfortunately runs into some problems with the controller design. Though, the Dreamcast version of KoF ’99 includes connectivity with the Neo-Geo Pocket Color if you’ve got King of Fighters R-2 for some kind of fighter builder mode.
On the N64 we have Pokemon Snap, an on rails “shooter” in with a camera instead of a gun. There’s the more lighthearted golf game Mario Golf. There’s also WCW Mayhem, possibly one of the last WCW games to come out, as we’re coming to the end of that promotion’s life. We also get a look at the N64 version of Rainbow Six. I prefer the PC version myself, if only because of the improved precision you get when planning missions. While the PC version had some path-finding problems, which EGM staff hopes is fixed on the console version, I found that with proper placement of troops I didn’t run into problems with path-finding.
We also get a look at the N64 version of Starcraft. While they spend much of the preview talking about the removal of online multiplayer, replacing it with split-screen, my main concern is with the cutscenes from the original games. I know the N64 doesn’t have online, so you don’t have to tell me that they took it out. However, the original game had a lot of character, which was really born out by the cutscenes. When Kerrigan was revealed as the Queen of Blades in the Brood War expansion, we, as the players, actually gave a crap. The fact that her voice actress did a really good job at making her look like a scarily evil character helped. Anyway, the N64 also has Hot Wheels Turbo Racing, which doesn’t look so hot.
On the PlayStation we get a look at Final Fantasy VIII, which basically combines the summoning and materia system from the last game into the Guardian Force system. How well that works varies depending on the player. Naughty Dog is also working on a cart racer for the Crash Bandicoot series. There’s also a look at Suikoden II from Konami, which I’ve heard decent things about, though the port was apparently somewhat unfinished and still a little buggy. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been released from the PSN store yet. Psygnosis is working on Wipeout 3. Spyro the Dragon is also getting a decent sequel.
Perhaps more importantly, we’re finally getting some really good skateboarding games for the PS1. By really good, I mean Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Thrasher: Skate and Destroy. Hopefully, if I manage to get a few more issues of EGM after this one, I’ll get to see John Davidson stop complaining about Extreme Sports games. Speaking of good games, EA is publishing (with Dreamworks Interactive), the first Medal of Honor game, which in turn starts a long string of World War II shooters from various developers that continues to this day. Westwood Studios RTS Dune 2000 gets to be the latest real-time strategy game to be ported to the PlayStation. While, frankly, RTS games don’t work well on consoles, in theory a RTS game could work better on a console that has a dual-stick control system.
Activision is putting out a fighting game with the Wu-Tang Clan license, using the Thrill Kill engine. While I wouldn’t mind this being decent (sort of an ahead of its time “Def Jam: Fight for New York”) with the engine it’s using, I can’t imagine it succeeding. Anyway, the PS1 is also getting a port of You Don’t Know Jack, which should work well – except for questions that require typing, like Gibberish Questions. Now, what it doesn’t say is who the host is. I’m going to guess it’s Cookie, since he’s the iconic You Don’t Know Jack host, but I could be wrong. We also get a look at Metal Gear Solid: Integral, an expanded version of MGS. While this version of the game itself is not released in the US, we do get the added content in the form of the VR Missions add-on pack. Also of note is a brief glimpse at Vagrant Story, the latest game from the team at Square that did Final Fantasy Tactics, and which we still haven’t gotten as PS1 Originals on PSN, even though Japan and Europe have already gotten it. Come on Square. We’re waiting.
At arcades we have Tekken Tag Tournament, which becomes the first Tekken game to come out on the PS2. There isn’t anything of interest coming out for the Game Boy.
First up is EGM’s look at the Dreamcast’s launch. By the time this issue’s come out, the Dreamcast would be out, which leads to the question of what to get with the system. We get another rundown of the system’s hardware. As an aside, if you come across one of these and want to go online with your broadband connection, there’s an add-on unit you’ll need to get – the Dreamcast Broadband adapter, which will run you in excess of $100, and since the connector on the Dreamcast is proprietary, there isn’t particularly anything you can do about it. Also, the Dreamcast has region protections, so if you want to play Japanese Dreamcast games, you’ll need to get a Japanese Dreamcast – or get a boot disk.
Anyway, the five launch games they’re recommending you pick up are Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, NFL 2K, and House of the Dead 2. Also of note among other launch titles is Marvel Vs. Capcom. We also get a look at the Dreamcast’s online functionality – the first console to ship out of the gate with online support, and the best online support for any console until we got Xbox Live on the original Xbox.
We also get brief impressions from the crew for each of the launch titles – full reviews will be in EGM’s next issue (which I don’t have), so this is what we’ve got for now. I really like this article – it takes a very conversational tone, like they guys sat down a table, plunked a tape recorder down in the middle, and discussed. The only way this article would be better would be if it was in something like the modern EGM, were we have the staff of EGM sitting around a table, talking with video cameras on them, and the guys having the time to really discuss each game. Maybe even doing it as a podcast, spending 2 hours or so on the whole lineup.
They really like Soul Calibur and Sonic Adventure (not surprising – Sonic Adventure is considered to be one of the last great Sonic games). They’re a bit more split on Ready to Rumble boxing. They also kind of like House of the Dead 2, though they’re disappointed with the lack of a first-party light gun. They also really like Power Stone and Marvel vs. Capcom.
Our crew for this issue is Crispin Boyer, Che Chou, John Davison, Dean Hager, Dan “Shoe” Hsu, Chris Johnson, and Shawn Smith.
- NFL Blitz 2000 (N64, Midway): The latest installment in the series has some slowdown problems, particularly with four-player modes and when there are a lot of players close together, but otherwise it’s okay. Shoe gives it an 8.5, Chris gives an 8, and Dean & Shawn give 7.5s. Overall: 31.5/40
- Command and Conquer (N64, Nintendo): Shawn and John like this port (which looks like it’s been re-built from the ground up), with John liking the new AI, while Shaw likes the new 3D graphics over the earlier versions sprite-based graphics, and both give it 8.5s. Crispin gives it a 7 for similar reasons. Shoe is a little less impressed with what the game has lost in the port (save slots, cutscenes, and some control stuff), and gives it a 6.5. Overall: 30.5/40.
- Duke Nukem: Zero Hour (N64, GT Interactive): Duke Nukem is now officially no longer relevant. The game is panned for it’s unchanged, banal gross-out humor (I’m not gonna call it “frat-boy” because it’s insulting to frat-boys). However, perhaps even worse, from a gameplay standpoint – there are no checkpoints in any of the levels. None at all. If the levels were short this wouldn’t be too bad, but they’re not short – they’re huge! Shawn gives the game a 6.5, Crispin gives a 5.5, John gives a 5, and Chris gives it a 3. Overall: 20/40.
- Mario Golf (N64, Nintendo): This is a fun little arcade style golf game (which we actually saw previewed earlier). The only complaints I’m really seeing here is that you can only play 18-hole courses – you can’t play just the front or back nine of a course, which is a point I can see. Che and Shoe give the game 7.5s, while Crispin gives it an 8.5 and Dean gives it a 9. Overall: 32.5/40.
- Monster Truck Madness 64 (N64, Rockstar): You read this right – this is from the publisher of the Grand Theft Auto series. They just hadn’t hit it big yet. John doesn’t see the appeal of Monster Truck racing, seeing it only as an American thing. Frankly, the rest of the crew doesn’t see the appeal either, and they all have problems with the game’s controls. John and Shoe give the game 5s, Dean gives it a 4.5, and Chris gives it a 6.5. Overall: 21/40.
- Pokemon Snap (N64, Nintendo): The crew for this game finds it fun for people who aren’t too familiar with Pokemon and fans of the series alike, as well as finding it a novel concept. Come to think about it, only Endless Ocean and Africa come close in terms of concept, with the difference being that the latter two games innovate on the formula by being free roaming. Che & Crispin give it 8s, and Chris & Shawn give it 8.5s. Overall: 33/40 and it receives the Editor’s Choice Silver Award.
- The Next Tetris (N64, Nintendo): It’s Tetris with the option for four-player simultaneous play, which is kind of innovative. I wouldn’t mind seeing a modified version of this for XBLA or PSN to be frank. Anyway, the consensus is that this is a solid Tetris game, and gets 7s Shoe & Crispin, and 8s from Chris and Shawn. Overall: 30/40.
- Tonic Trouble (N64, Ubisoft): This is a sort of 3D performer, ala Rayman. The crew’s kind of split on it. The members of the crew who review it find that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table and considers it kind of dull, but they disagree about whether or not that means that it’s a terrible game – as the game itself is competent. Chris gives it a 7, John and Crispin give it 6.5s, and Dean gives it a 4.5. Overall: 24.5/40.
- In-Fisherman Bass Hunter 64 (N64, Rockstar): Yeah, again, this is published by Rockstar. We only get one score on this one – a 5, as the game is really dull.
- Chessmaster 2 (PlayStation, Mindscape): Only one score on this one, but it’s a higher one – a 7.5, as the Chessmaster series has generally been well known for putting out excellent chess games.
- NFL Blitz 2000 (PlayStation, Midway): This version of the game doesn’t have the slowdown problems the N64 version has. Dean and Chris give the game 8.5s, Shoe gives it an 8, and Shawn gives it a 9. Overall: 34/40 and it receives an Editor’s Choice Silver award.
- Driver (PlayStation, GT Interactive): This game is really ambitious with its semi-open world gameplay with a 3D perspective (as opposed to the GTA-style top-down perspective), which leads to some slowdown, which is the game’s main problem. Shawn gives the game an 8, while John, Shoe and Dean give the game 8.5s. Overall: 33.5/40 and it receives an Editor’s Choice Silver Award.
- Evil Zone (PlayStation, Titus): In Japan this game was called Eretzvaju, a fighting game that was structured so that each character’s story mode was like it’s own OVA series, with a plot specific to that character that progressed among the fights, as opposed to most fighting games, were they’re just a string of fights, with occasionally one or two story-specific fights in the sequence. Then Titus got their hands on it and did a horrible localization. I’m not simply paraphrased the review here – I’ve played the English version of the game, and it was a terrible localization. The bad localization is the crew’s main complaint – it leads to some tonal incongruities. The people who played the Japanese version and who like anime recognize it as being just a bad localization, the people without familiarity with anime think it’s meant to be parody – but one executed poorly. Except for Che, who thinks it’s great and gives it a 7. Chris gives it a 5.5 and Dean gives it a 4.5 for the reasons I cited earlier, while John gives it a 4 with the added criticism that he hates the controls. Overall: 21/40.
- Jade Cocoon (PlayStation, Crave): Basically, this is an attempt to provide an answer to the Pokemon-style monster battling game, though technically Pokemon was meant to be a more kid-friendly version of the Shin Megami Tensei games. The complaints from he crew are that the game is kind of dull and monotonous, with lots of text to read in the story (which is, itself, rather generic). The problem is that unless you’ve got an awesome story like the Megami Tensei games (which leans on the side of the epic), you need to have something like being able to trade and battle your monsters with other players to make up for it. Pokemon is great for this because it’s a portable game. Jade Cocoon is, on the other hand, is a home console game – so unless they have it set up for trading critters between saves, allowing players to bring their memory card to a friend’s house, the trading and battling option is gone. Crispin gives the game a 7, Che gives it a 6.5, Shawn gives a 6, and Chris gives a 5.5. Overall: 25/40.
- Konami Arcade Classics (PlayStation, Konami): This is another retro arcade game collection, but with Konami games. Being that this has Gyruss, Time Pilot and others. The crew likes this collection, with Crispin and Che giving it 7.5s, and Dean & Shoe give it 7s. Overall: 29/40.
- NFL Xtreme 2 (PlayStation, 989 Sports): The game uses a capital X in place of an “Ex”. Never a good sign. Indeed, this game is a piece of crap. AI for receivers is terrible – when they reach the end of their pass route they stop dead. Animations in general are poor, and in general the game puts being “edgy” and “extreme” over being a good game – a problem that would saddle Acclaim’s BMX XXX later. Crispin gives it a 3, Shoe gives it a 3.5, Shawn gives it a 2.5, and Dean gives it 4. Overall: 13/40.
- Rising Zan (PlayStation, Agetec): This is a kind of odd game with a ninja cowboy (as opposed to the usual Samurai cowboy). It’s kind of cliched, but it’s done in enough of an over-the-top (and probably poorly localized) style that it grows on the crew. John and Che give it 7s, Shoe gives it a 7.5, and Chris gives it an 8. Overall: 29.5/40.
- Sled Storm (PlayStation, EA): This is a downhill snowmobile racing game – which is pretty environmentally unfriendly, come to think about it. Anyway, the crew likes this game – even John, who has previously complained about how horrible Extreme Sports games are and how they all need to die. John, Dean and Shawn give it 9s, while Che gives it an 8. Overall: 35/40 and it receives Game of the Month and the Editor’s Choice Silver Award.
- Soul of the Samurai (PlayStation, Konami): Samurai dueling game, and nowhere near as good as Bushido Blade, due to graphics, gameplay style, and lack of depth. Chris and Shawn give it 4.5s, and John and Che give it 6.5s. Overall: 22/40.
- Tarzan (PlayStation, SCEA): A tie-in to the Disney film, and like most movie licensed games go, a generally mediocre game due to sluggish controls and generic gameplay. Shawn and Che give it 6.5s, while Chris and John give it 5.5s. Overall: 24/40.
- Tiny Tank (PlayStation, SCEA): This is actually a re-review. The last time they reviewed it after they’d gotten a finished version of the game, but prior to release. Well, the publisher pulled the game after EGM had sent the issue to bed, but before the release date. Well, now the game has been re-worked and was sent out for review again. This brings us to now. The game didn’t do well before, and it’s still not doing well now. The game’s character – in terms of the title character’s personality, has been toned down. Additionally, the game has problems with slowdown throughout the length of the game. Ultimately, I think this quote from Shawn says it best – “Tiny Tank should have been re-built from the ground up – not just tweaked.” Shawn gives it a 4.5, Shoe gives it a 3.5, Dean gives a 5.5, and John gives a 6.5. Overall: 20/40.
Now, for the Game Boy reviews after this, we only get one score per game.
- Conker’s Pocket Tales (Game Boy, Rare): Now, we haven’t gotten Conker’s Bad Fur day yet, so this is still cute-and-cuddly kid’s mascot game Conker. The game is considered a good kid’s adventure game and is given a 7.5. I’m wondering what parents are going to think when Bad Fur Day comes out.
- Looney Tunes (Game Boy, Sunsoft): While prior Sunsoft Looney Tunes games have been fun (as shown by prior Quality Control picks), the quality has apparently slipped, with this game getting a 4.5.
- Motocross Maniacs 2 (Game Boy, Konami): Think of this as a 2D Trials HD without the physics. It reviews kind of like what I’d expect for Trials HD as well – a 7.5, due to fun gameplay at first, leading to absurd difficulty.
- Pac-Man Special Color Edition (Game Boy, Namco): You’d think they’d know how to avoid messing up Pac-Man by now. You’d be wrong. They even have Pac-Man clipping through ghosts. That probably wouldn’t be a problem if you’re normal Pac-Man, but if you’ve got a power pellet and are aiming for some Ghost Munching, that would piss me off to no end. 5.5.
- Pokemon Pinball (Game Boy, Nintendo): Decent cartridge, and is compatible with the rumble pack. Gets an 8.5.
- R-Type DX (Game Boy, Nintendo): It looks like the camera angle is too close in this, and apparently the controls are too sluggish. It still gets a 7 though.
- Spawn (Game Boy, Konami): Games based on this infamous Todd McFarlane series have never been particularly good, and this is no exception. Pathetic game design gets this a 2.
- Tarzan (Game Boy, Activision): This game comes off better than the PlayStation game from earlier in the issue, getting a 7.5.
The Final Word this issue is about the cost of development possibly stifling innovation in games. It’s safe to say that this doesn’t happen, particularly with games like Uncharted, Dead Rising, and Guitar Hero/Rock Band.