I’ve found one more gap that I can fill in my Electronic Gaming Monthly Recaps – with issue 104 for March of 1998. Our cover story for this issue is Yoshi’s Story for the N64. This issue also has the absolute dumbest ad for Klonoa ever – in that it deliberately tries to draw a connection between the main character of the game and blood-borne pathogens of the sexually transmitted variety. Yeah.
Our editorial column for this issue is from Editorial Director Joe Funk, about starting a retro gaming section in the magazine. If it weren’t for that thus far this blog has covered retro games rather heavily, I’d be all for it. Actually, that said, one of my favorite bits from Game Informer Magazine is when they’d review one old game they hadn’t reviewed before, and then re-review an old game that they had previously reviewed, to give the game a modern perspective. Ultimately though, they’re not going to run a retro gaming column at this time, just for space constraints.
We also get a very nice two-page ad for Final Fantasy Tactics.
We have a letter wishing everyone some rather odd holiday wishes. If they still did the Psycho Letter of the Month, I’d think this letter would qualify. However, our letter of the month is better, and focuses on the concept of game endings, and game length. In particular, game design philosophy. The writer comments that a lot of earlier game designers – even when they were working on a game for the home, were still operating from an arcade game mindset – where rather than designing a game experience as a cohesive whole from a storytelling standpoint, instead they were trying to build a game from the mindset of an arcade game.
Let me put it another way. The narrative determines the pacing of most modern video games. The story determines how long the game is, and how long the levels are. On the other hand, older games borrowed the arcade game standpoint for game length – the game could be played through entirely in one sitting. However, the game would make it difficult to play through the game in one sitting through various factors. The difficulty of the levels would make it difficult to get through them without practice and memorization. Additionally, on home consoles the player would have limited lives and limited continues, forcing them to start over from the beginning at a certain point, etc. So, with the new focus on narrative on modern consoles, the way games are paced now has to change to reflect the narrative. However, because this is kind of new to them, it’s going to take it a bit, which is why, at the moment, games are kinda short.
Oh, and we get a picture of Paul “The Big Show” Wright (then wrestling in WCW as “The Giant”) putting Crispin Boyer and Dan “Shoe” Hsu in headlocks. As a fan of The Big Show, I approve of this.
Sega is in trouble, and we get an analysis piece on why. The Saturn did poorly, but was neglected from a first party software standpoint, and was ultimately sabotaged by Sega’s marketing department – who probably, at this time, would fit the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation Definition of “A Bunch Of Mindless Jerks Who Will Be The First Against The Wall When The Revolution Comes.” It doesn’t help that Bernie Stolar, then head of Sega already declared the Saturn dead at their E3 Press Briefing, with no explanation of what would be taking its place. You’d think they would have learned something from Commodore.
For those unfamiliar, Commodore’s downfall was basically expedited by the following words being repeatedly said by the Marketing Department: “If you think this model is great, just wait until the next model.” This in turn lead to the Engineering department devising elaborate revenge fantasies against the Marketing department for forcing them to do even more work. Meanwhile, the Sales department has much more mundane fantasies about killing off the Marketing Department ala Joe Pesci in Casino, due to Marketing costing them sales.
Anyway, we get notes on the planned Mortal Kombat Live Action series, which does rather poorly, though it does manage to survive for a season. There’s also a note about Nintendo starting a greatest hits line of titles, and pushing a few titles back – notably Banjo-Kazooie, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and F-Zero X.
It seems we’re still getting two CES events a year, as they’ve just had Winter CES in Las Vegas, Nevada, spread between several hotels. From earlier experience, having your convention spread among several buildings is a bloody nuisance for attendees. The big thing on display at that year’s CES was the new HDTV technology, being pushed by DirectTV, which was demoed on the show floor. More DVD players were also demoed, and the Divx disk format is officially dead in the water.
Oh, and we’ve gotten the Pokémon Anime Seizure mess, which for some bizarre reason, lead to American news outlets (particularly Fox News – no surprise there) making a big deal about how horribly violent Japanese anime is, because of flashing colors – with the then-programming director of Cartoon Network, Mike Lazzo (creator of Aqua Teen Hunger Force) taking pot shots at Anime in USA Today. Of note, he says that anime is edgier and more violent, and less focused on story. Really. And how is “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” better from a narrative standpoint than, say, Cowboy Bebop? Or Legend of the Galactic Heroes? How about the original Mobile Suit Gundam?
Or how about you just pour yourself a nice cup of Shut The Fuck Up.
Anyway, moving on to Quartermann’s rumors, we have word that we’re not going to get the N64DD in the US. Further, because the N64DD isn’t getting an US release, Nintendo’s stretching out their release schedule to cover this. Meanwhile, Capcom is going to release Puzzle Fighter and Vampire Savior (the latest Darkstalkers game) in the US. Frankly, I was never really able to get into the Darkstalkers series of fighting games. The animations and speed of the game seemed too sluggish and clunky to me. Oh, and Street Fighter Alpha 3 will feature the return of Guile, Blanka, and E. Honda (as well as new character Rainbow Mika).
First up is our preview of the N64’s installment in the Legend of The Mystical Ninja series, titled Mystical Ninja Featuring Goemon. The game’s plot apparently features an invasion of aliens in space ships shaped like peaches (which I presume is a reference to the character of Momotarō from Urusei Yatsura, which was in turn a reference to the Japanese legend of Momotarō). Acclaim has another NHL game for the N64, and Titus has their own little version of Battle Chess for the same system, which lets you rotate the camera any which way you want.
In Japan, the Saturn is getting Shining Force III. The US, however, doesn’t get it, which means if you want it you have to import it. Or find a translated ROM. There’s also a sequel to the sports game DecAthlete, titled Winter Heat. There’s also the strategy RPG Dragon Force II, which has already been confirmed to not be getting an US release, with Working Designs not even touching it, which makes sense, since it probably makes more financial sense to focus on supporting the PlayStation over the Saturn, which Sega has officially declared a dead-end system.
Anyway, there’s also the Saturn Dungeons & Dragons Collection, and the Strategy RPG Solo Crisis from Quintet. What I want to know is, how many party members can you have in this game. Just one or multiple party members?
On the PlayStation we have a port of Diablo that doesn’t work well with multi-page memory cards. There’s also a look at Need For Speed III, and word that the PlayStation version of Tekken 3 will include the character of Gon, which can best be described as the biggest pain in the ass in the history of the series, due to the fact that he can hit you with everything, while you can only hit him with low attacks. I wonder if Tekken 3 is the game that turned Tomonobu Itagaki off of the series.
Interplay is working on the action game Heart of Darkness, which unfortunately has nothing to do with the Joseph Conrad novel, and the sci-fi vehicular shooter Crime Killer. Of particular note we get our first screen shots of Grand Theft Auto for the PlayStation. Oh, and funny that I mentioned Itagaki earlier, as we get, thus far, our first ad for Dead or Alive. We also get a preview for it which confirms that the (ahem) physics were there from the beginning. Oh, and there’s the racing game Running Wild which changes up the cart-racing formula by just having it be a foot race.
There’s also a look at Bloody Roar, which I played a lot of at a friend’s house when I was in High School. The preview says that in the game the can expand the fight to new areas by beating down barriers, which is different then how it turned out in the first game. In the first game – you had ringside barriers you could join into juggles for more damage, until they the barriers broke. Then you could get a ring-out. Talus has the strategy RPG Rebus, which I’d never heard of before, mainly because they retitled it Legend of Kartia or Kartia: The Word of Fate for its US release.
There’s also a preview of Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, which is finally getting a re-release for the PS3. On a less significant note, MGM Interactive is putting out a vehicular action game with the WarGames movie license. Odd, but I don’t recall Matthew Broderick driving a tank around and blowing stuff up in the film. Acclaim is working on Jeremy McGrath Supercross ’98. For the record, I have no idea who Jeremy McGrath is. EA’s also working on a ReBoot licensed game – a concept which seems delightfully meta. Oh, and Square has SaGa Frontier, which is probably one of the best games in the SaGa series. Taito’s also putting out Darius-G, the latest shump in their Darius series, and which I suspect is a port of Darius Gaiden. Finally, in arcades, the first Marvel Vs. Capcom game is just about ready to come out.
Feature – Yoshi’s Story
We have our first in-depth look at Yoshi’s Story for the N64. We get a brief run down of the game’s story before moving on to what really counts for Nintendo Games (since, really, when’s the last time you bought a Mario game for the Story) – the gameplay. The game apparently looks good and, I’m noticing for the first time that the preview considers the game’s 60 FPS frame rate a big deal. Previously, while frame rate would be a factor in reviews, hard numbers would never particularly be brought up, particularly due to size of the review. That said, the fact that hardcore gamers are also starting to become Audio Video nerds around this time is probably a factor.
Anyway, from a gameplay standpoint, the game’s been dumbed down a bit. You can’t ricochet your shots anymore, which takes out a fair bit of the strategy. Additionally, the total number of stages has dropped from 54 to 24, which is also a bit of a bummer, considering the increased storage capacity of N64 Cartridges, and the fact that this game is a 2D platformer, instead of a 3D game. If this was a 3D platformer, I probably would have cut it more slack.
Feature – Editor’s Choice Awards
We have our Editor’s Choice Awards, which is interesting in that normally we get Editor’s Choice Awards and Reader’s Choice Awards in January or February. Anyway, I’ll put the winners as a list.
- Best Overall Game: Goldeneye 64. Runners-up: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Final Fantasy VII. Analysis: I have to disagree with this one, as Symphony of the Night and Final Fantasy VII have aged better. While Goldeneye 64 is fondly remembered and is getting a remake for the Wii, the original hasn’t aged very well (and opinion I’ve heard echoed elsewhere), while SotN and FFVII are still very playable.
- Best Game for the N64: Goldeneye 64. Runners-up: International Superstar Soccer 64. Analysis: I haven’t played ISS 64, but this could be a situation where there wasn’t a lot of competition.
Best Game for the Playstation: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Runners-up: Final Fantasy VII and Colony Wars. Analysis: No objection here.
Best Game for the Saturn: Saturn Bomberman. Runners-up: Street Fighter Collection, Madden ’98. Analysis: Bomberman is and Street Fighter are, frankly, two games which can keep a party entertained. If you keep the rotation going, you can get a crowd of people gathered around the TV, laughing, jeering, and talking smack. Consequently, I can’t argue with either of those just with the information I have (I haven’t specifically played Saturn Bomberman myself though).
Arcade Game Of The Year: NFL Blitz. Runners-up: Tekken 3 and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Analysis: I’m not much for sports arcade games. But I did like Tekken 3 and I would have given the award to that.
Action Game of the Year: Goldeneye. Runners-up: Symphony of the Night. Analysis: As mentioned before, I’d have gone with SotN.
Sports Game of the Year: International Superstar Soccer 64. Runners-up: Madden ’98, NFL Gameday ’98. Analysis: I’m not going to judge this category, as I’m not much for sports games.
Fighting Game of the Year: Street Fighter Collection. Runners-up: Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, Soul Blade. Analysis: Considering the winning game contains two solid ports of Street Fighter II as well as a port of Street Fighter Alpha II, I can’t argue with this pick.
Racing Game of the Year: Diddy Kong Racing. Runners-up: Rage Racer & NASCAR ’98. Analysis: There had to be a better racing game out there this year.
Role-Playing Game of the Year: Final Fantasy VII. Runners-up: Wild Arms and Alundra. Analysis: No complaints here.
Side-Scrolling Game of the Year: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Runner-up: Mega Man X4. Analysis: No complaint.
Adventure Game of the Year: Tomb Raider II. Runner-Up: Enemy Zero. Analysis: Being that I’ve never heard of Enemy Zero, I’m siding with Tomb Raider.
Shooter of the Year: Starfox 64. Runner-up: RayStorm. Analysis: Again, no complaint here.
Strategy Game of the Year: Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Runners-up: Warcraft II and Vandal Hearts. Analysis: In my opinion, RTS games just don’t work very well on consoles – particularly ones without at least one analog stick, since an analog stick is the closest you’ll get to a mouse. Consequently, I would have given the award to Vandal Hearts.
Multiplayer Game of the Year: Saturn Bomberman. Runners-up: Goldeneye, Mario Kart 64. Analysis: No problem with this one, and I wouldn’t have complained with Mario Kart either.
Light Gun Game of the Year: Time Crisis. Analysis: If there’s no one else in the running then I can’t argue with this.
First Person Shooter of the Year: Goldeneye. Analysis: Aside from the fact that there were no runners-up, I honestly can’t think of another FPS that was released this year.
Puzzle Game of the Year: Bust-A-Move 3. Runners-up: Super Puzzle Fighter II, Intelligent Qube. Analysis: The Bust-A-Move series has been solid overall, so I can’t complain on this one.
Most Original Game of the Year: PaRappa the Rapper. Runners-up: Monster Rancher, Blast Corps. Analysis: While I’m not going to say that PaRappa was the first rhythm game ever, it’s certainly different from most other takes on the genre.
Best Graphics: Final Fantasy VII. Runners-up: Colony Wars, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddyssey. Analysis: While I like Final Fantasy VII, Oddworld had better graphics.
Best Mascot: PaRappa. Runners-up: Lara Croft, Crash Bandicoot. Analysis: I have no complaints here.
Best Music: PaRappa the Rapper. Runners-up: Symphony of the Night, Soul Blade. Analysis: While I have no complaints over PaRappa winning, I do think that Final Fantasy VII should have been in the runners-up.
Sound: Oddworld: Abe’s Oddyssey. Runners-up: Goldeneye, Colony Wars. Analysis: No objections here – Oddworld depends a lot on its sound, and the sound quality here makes the game.
Best Peripheral: The Rumble Pack. Runners-up: The Namco GunCon, The Dual-Shock. Analysis: No complaints here.
Best Compilation: Street Fighter Collection. Runners-up: Namco Museum Vol. 3, Arcade’s Greatest Hits: Midway Collection 2. Analysis: Again, no complaints here.
We also get our Reader’s Choice Awards, but because this is getting long, I’m just going to post a scan for their results.
Feature – The Future Of Arcades
We get a look at the next generation of arcades, starting with the GameWorks arcade in Seattle, started by Steven Spielberg (if you thought his interest in video games with Boom Blocks was new to him). Basically, the concepts of this wave of arcades is that in addition to including your standard arcade games, they’ll also include games you’ll only be able to play at arcades due to stuff with the user interface or various other things, known as Location Based Entertainment, or LBE for short.
The article puts its focus on the GameWorks series of arcades. In addition to the use of LBE, they also dump tokens in favor of smart cards that you pre-load with a certain amount of cash. They also discuss the Dave and Buster’s chain.
Anyway, of these chains, GameWorks still exists, as does Dave and Busters. As I live in Oregon, I have access to neither of these. However, we do have Ground Kontrol in Downtown Portland, and the Family Fun Center in Wilsonville.
Our review crew for this issue is Shawn Smith, Dan “Shoe” Hsu, Crispin Boyer, Kraig Kujawa, John Riccardi, Kelly Rickards, Sushi-X, and guest reviewer News Editor Chris Johnson.
- Aerogauge (N64, ASCII): This wants to be a hella-awesome futuristic racer like Wipeout. It gets the Futuristic Racer part right. The game has some major pop-up problems, which is a big deal when you’re playing a racing game. Kraig and Shawn give it 5s, with Sushi giving a 6, and Kelly a 6.5. Overall: 22.5/40.
- Fighter’s Destiny (N64, Ocean): This is the N64’s attempt at a fighting game. The crew is impressed with how the game implements a scoring system that requires the player to win by points in addition to beating the tar out of the other guy. Also, your fighter can also learn new moves by beating a boss. Even with the average graphics the game gets some decent scores. Dan gives it a 7 and Sushi gives it a 7.5. Crispin and Chris give it 6s. Overall: 26.5/40.
- Jeopardy (N64, Gametek): Well, it’s Jeopardy. It also has serious problems with questions repeating as it doesn’t remember what questions you’ve already answered, as well as really anal spelling for answers. All of this leads to a poor gameplay experience – Crispin give the game a 3, Shawn a 3.5, John a 4, and Dan a 5. Overall: 15.5/40.
- Nagano Olympics ’98 (N64, Konami): Another Olympic Year, another Olympic video game. Unfortunately for this game, the Crew isn’t too impressed with it. They fault the game for not having simultaneous multi-player in the events (though to be fair, I can’t think of any games in this genre to have simultaneous multi-player), and sluggish gameplay. Crispin and Shawn give it 4.5s, Kraig gives it a 5, and Kelly gives it a 5.5. Overall: 19/40.
- Olympic Hockey ’98 (N64, Midway): This should, in theory, have a great deal of potential. It doesn’t capitalize on it though, as it’s identical to Wayne Gretsky’s Hockey ’98, with all the same flaws as the original, with re-skinned arenas and different teams. Sushi and Shawn give the game 5s, with Kraig giving it a 5.5, and John giving it a 3. Overall: 18.5/40.
- Snowboard Kids (N64, Atlus): Downhill snowboarding racing game. The Crew applauds it’s multi-player, and how it handles power-ups in the game (like in Mario Kart, racers further back get more better power-ups). Actually, the crew compares the game favorably with Mario Kart. John and Dan give it 8s, Crispin and Shawn give it 8.5s. Overall: 33/40 and it receives an Editor’s Choice Silver Award.
- FIFA – Road to the World Cup ’98 (Saturn, EA): Dan thinks the gameplay, both in terms of control and physics for this game is rock solid. However, he considers the graphics to be atrocious and gives the game a 6.5. Everyone else laments the fact that this will be the series final installment on the Saturn, and likes the game and expresses all the potential the series had to become even better in the future, with Kraig giving a 6.5, and Kelly and John giving the game 7s. Overall: 27/40.
- NBA Live ’98 (Saturn, EA): Kraig and John has some problems with this version of the game’s sound quality and graphics, and give it a 5.5 and a 6 respectively. Kelly and Sushi like it though, giving it a 7 and a 7.5, for solid graphics and gameplay. Overall: 26/40.
- NHL ’98 (Saturn, EA): Kraig absolutely loves this game and gives it a 9. The rest of the crew have problems with choppy framerate and poor animation. John can forgive it and gives it a 7.5, while Dan and Sushi give it 6.5s. Overall: 29.5/40.
- Beast Wars (PlayStation, Hasbro Interactive): Transformers licensed game. Crispin’s review can be summarized in this quote from his part of the review “Beast Wars even takes the fun out of being a Transformer.” He gives it a 4. Chris calls it “the perfect example of how not to do an action game” and gives it a 3.5. Shawn gave it a 4.5 for a similar reason, though I get the impression that part of that score relates to the Beast Wars concept. Sushi’s the only one who actually likes the game, giving it a 7 and drawing favorable comparisons to the MechWarrior franchise. Overall: 19/40.
- Courier Crisis (PlayStation, GT Interactive): This is a BMX Stunt racing game. Dan and Shawn give the game 5s, finding it very mediocre. Crispin calls it “one of the most annoying games that he’s played in a while” due to a sudden spike in the difficulty curve and gives it a 3.5. Sushi likes it considerably more and gives it a 7.5. Overall: 21/40.
- Final Fantasy Tactics (PlayStation, Square): The Crew loves this game with no faults stated with the game. Dan and Chris gave it 8.5s, Crispin gave it a 9, and John gave it a 9.5. Overall: 35.5/40 and it receives the Editor’s Choice Silver Award.
- NBA In The Zone ’98 (PlayStation, Konami): Kelly points out some problems with the game being unbalanced in favor of defense, and gives it a 6.5. Dan gives the game a 7 for the same reason. Kraig feel that the game is a solid and well-rounded game, though it still has some rough spots with graphics and gameplay (apparently you can’t inbound the ball to the back court), and gives the game a 7.5. John gives the game an 8, adding that the next big improvement to the series needs to be Icon Passing. Overall: 29/40.
- Point Blank (PlayStation, Namco): Namco’s other big light gun franchise aside from Time Crisis. This game isn’t just acclaimed as a good gun game. It’s lauded as the best gun game to date. Shawn gives it a 9, and Dan, Crispin, and John give it 9.5s. Overall: 37.5/40, and it receives an Editor’s Choice Gold Award and is tied for Game of the Month.
- Resident Evil 2 (PlayStation, Capcom): This game is loved just as much as Point Break is. Shawn, Kraig and Dan give it 9.5s, and John gives it a 9. Overall: 37.5/40, and it receives an Editor’s Choice Gold Award and is tied for Game of the Month.
- Riven: The Sequel to Myst (PlayStation, Acclaim): The highest selling video game of all time has gotten a sequel. The game is lauded for increased interactivity and improved graphics, though it isn’t for everyone – Kraig found it dull and gave it a 6, while Shawn and Kelly gave it 7s and Sushi gave it an 7.5. Overall: 27.5/40.
- Skullmonkeys (PlayStation, EA): This is a platforming action game from the same people who created The Neverhood, with a similar art style. Kraig likes the art style but finds the gameplay itself kind of dull and gives it a 6.5. Kelly, Sushi and Shawn enjoyed it considerably more, with Kelly and Sushi giving 8s, and Shawn giving an 8.5. Overall: 33/40.
- X-Men: Children of the Atom (PlayStation, Acclaim): This port is panned, with Kelly saying outright that Capcom’s fighting games aren’t suited for the PlayStation and that the Saturn was the only good console for them, something I disagree with. He also says the PlayStation controller only has 4 buttons, which makes me wonder if he’s holding the controller wrong. Kelly gives it a 5.5. Dan brings up the slowdown and choppy animations that Kelly missed, and gives it a 4, and John a 4.5. Sushi can’t even find anything nice about it and gives it a 6. Overall: 20.5/40.
We also get an excerpt from EGM2’s guide for Resident Evil 2. In our “Get Some” feature, which covers some of the old Lifestyles material, we get a look at the first Universal Remote Control with a LCD display from Sony. Finally, we get an Op-Ed column from Ed Semrad, with recommendations for things Sega can do to get the proverbial eye of the tiger back. The suggestions include giving Sega of America more freedom from oversight by Sega of Japan, Sega of America having stateside development teams working on games, major 3rd party support with exclusives, and a very strong ad campaign. To be fair, Sega did all of that with the Dreamcast, and they very nearly did it. It’s just that PlayStation 2’s built-in DVD and backwards compatibility gave them the edge they needed to win.