NextGen #25: January 1997

We are starting 1997 in NextGen magazine – typically a slow time for game releases.

Cover: Net Yarouze (or just Yarouze in these articles), the Sony independent game development initiative, is the cover story this issue.

Industry Interview: Our interview, tying into the cover story, is Claud Comair of Digipen. We’ve talked about the school on some past episodes of Nintendo Power Retrospectives, and NextGen is covering the school now. There’s a discussion of the curriculum, along with the game development track crosses over with the art tracks. There’s also some advice to aspiring programmers with a Yarouze or equivalent who are considering make game design a career. Claude also stresses the importance of teamwork and collaboration – of making games with other people, not by yourself.

News: Sony had their PlayStation Expo event. In particular, Sony unveiled their dual analog stick controller – which reportedly had force feedback, meaning this would be what would become the DualShock. Koei has the first Dynasty Warriors game – which is a fighting game instead of a hack-em-up. Other than that, there’s a very brief mention of Metal Gear Solid (described only as Metal Gear). The JAMMA Show also had finished versions of VF3 from Sega, and X-Men vs. Street Fighter, but also a sizzle reel for Street Fighter III, but nothing available hands-on.

In some smaller stories, Sony is using the RICO Act to go after sellers of mod chips.

Yarouze: NextGen has in-depth coverage of Sony’s PS1 home development kit, Yarouze. We have notes on the system’s strengths and limitations, and comments from game developers on the system, along with advice from established developers on what to do with the system. There’s also discussion of what’s in the box, and what SCEA thinks about it (they’re hyped, but not enough to bring it out here).

As an aside, there’s an ad for Virtua Cop 2 this issue that has aged very poorly.

Ooof.

Platform Rundown: We have a collection of all the review scores for all of the now-current gen consoles to date – PlayStation, Saturn, and N64, with a one-paragraph or less summary of the reviews.

Alphas (Previews): First off, we have Apocalypse, which does not yet have Bruce Willis attached to it, and which also reportedly has some interesting animation tech (for the time). More significantly, we have our first big Rhythm Game, PaRappa The Rapper. Jordan Mechner also has a graphical adventure game with The Lost Express. The preview includes an interview with Mechner.

As another high-profile title, there’s a preview of Baldur’s Gate, currently known only as “Forgotten Realms”. We also have a preview of one of our first polygonal traditional JRPGs, with Grandia, which is currently only on the Sega Saturn. It’s not the first one chronologically, but it is one of the first games of this type that NextGen has covered.

There’s also Carmageddon, a title that will come up prominently in the next wave of video game violence hearings. Sega has a sequel to Shining in the Darkness on the Saturn, called Shining the Holy Arc, which has 3D polygonal dungeons. And wrapping up the previews, there’s an extensive preview of Mario Kart 64, which I’ve already reviewed on Nintendo Power Retrospectives.

Finals (Reviews): Only one N64 title this issue, but it’s a doozy – Wave Race 64, which gets 5 stars for the game-play and the water physics, which makes it a very strong showcase of the N64’s capabilities. There’s a much wider array of titles on the PlayStation, including Andretti Racing from EA and Contra: Legacy of War from Konami, which get 4 and 3 stars, respectively. Contra being a fully 3D run-and-gun. Psygnosis has a sequel to Destruction Derby – which also gets a favorable review, and makes me realize that I’ve never played any games in that series, and perhaps I should rectify that oversight.

However, the biggest of the PS1 titles this issue comes from Konami, and is another of our high-profile JRPGs – Suikoden. The game’s scope has the reviewer (whoever they are – again, NextGen doesn’t credit their reviews, which is why I gloss over them) incredibly impressed by the game’s scope, both in terms of narrative and game mechanics. There’s also a port of Samurai Shodown III, which has them more underwhelmed, both by staying with 2D and some load-time issues.

On the Saturn, we’re getting that console’s version of Tomb Raider before the PS1 version, which is something of a big get.

On the PC, Command and Conquer: Red Alert is coming out, as is the Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries Expansion. Plus there’s Star Control 3 and Syndicate Wars, all of which receive very strong reviews, though those last two are not remembered as fondly.

Finally, on the SNES, there is only Donkey Kong Country 3 – which has been covered on a previous Nintendo Power Retrospectives.

Letters: Rather promptly, we have a replay to the letter from last issue about Conquest of the New World – with the reply being by Interplay’s Vince DeNardo. DeNardo’s response is that the game inspires further reading & learning in its players and that portraying the realities of the colonial invasion of South America isn’t “fun”. To the credit of NextGen’s editorial staff, they justifiabily point out that the game is distorting sensitive history for entertainment purposes is questionable at best. Bringing up that the game “inspires further reading” isn’t much of an excuse for that.

As an aside to this – while Sid Meier’s Colonization is also problematic, it’s also problematic in different ways, and manages to avoid the pitfalls that Conquest of the New World does. Native American and First Nations tribes are represented by their actual groups and with actual historical figures as leaders, and as the governor you can take steps to try and treat them with respect diplomatically – as much as you’re able while also facing pressures from the home country to meet production goals, which puts strain on those relationships.

There’s also a letter from an Independent Game store complaining about having been short-changed for N64s by Nintendo, while the big box stores get their full stock. I wonder if this particular sort of behavior from console manufacturers helped hasten the decline of the independent game store. That being part of a larger company meant you could leverage that presence to make sure that you got all the stock you ordered – you’re a bigger customer for the manufacturer, since you’re ordering more units, so there’s more at risk if you piss them off.

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