Monday, May 30, 2011

E3 2011 Predictions

To think it has been well over a year since Third Rate Minion appeared online, and one of the first major things we did was create a series of videos regarding E3 2010, including predictions and impressions.

This year, we are doing the same thing, but now we are much more cohesive and prepared. Okay, maybe not cohesive, but at least we prepared! Below you can see our thoughts regarding the big three and the majority of third parties who will be attending the show. We shot these videos a week ago, so any announcements since then were not taken into account.

During E3, we will be marking down correct or incorrect predictions, which we will show off with each impressions video. Also, expect us to give more insight on game announcements throughout the week of E3. Not to mention more Third Rate Game Play and Game On videos!



This year Microsoft will be the biggest competitor walking in. Last year, the company faced great scrutiny with its canned Kinect demos and absolutely flabbergasting display with Cirque du Soleil's presentation. However, without any major Wii game or Move product to hold it back, the masses saw Kinect and have since bought over ten million of them! Not to mention the new Xbox 360 has since accelerated the system past the Wii's sales on a monthly basis! Needless to say, Microsoft is walking tall right now.

But that does not mean they are going to repeat last year this time. With casual buyers now on their side, we predict that Microsoft will head toward the more accustomed 360 player. Yes, Gears of War 3 and Modern Warfare 3 will delight those gamers, but now Microsoft will aim to pull them into the Kinect market.

Tony predicts that Kinect compatibility will become the norm for "hardcore" games, particularly shooters which are, in some way, enhanced by the Kinect interface, but Alex is more inclined to believe that exclusive Kinect games are on the way moreso than enhanced products. We should expect Kinect Sports 2, Dance Central 2, and a number of more casual products using Kinect, but other large Kinect projects will be shown, including last year's TGS reveals: Project Draco, Codename D, and efforts from Sega and Capcom.

In terms of outlandish predictions, Tony feels a Rare Hardcore Kinect game will see the light of day. Alex expects a new Harmonix product to arrive, but whether it is for MS or not remains to be seen. A Halo Remake has been hinted at, but at least one new Halo game will appear, regardless of whether it is a remake or not. A Lionhead project might be teased, but it might be a little too early for a game announcement. More Media Content is to be expected, especially with Skype's acquisition.

It is believed that there will be ten non-sequel IPs from MS this E3 using Kinect, and while one has, at this posting, been proven false, this is the list we ran with at the recording.

Alan Wake “Night Springs” for Kinect
Hole in the Wall
Frontier Roller Coaster Game
Codename Kingdoms (Non-Playable)
Star Wars Kinect
Forza World (Kinect-enhanced)
A “AAA Shooter” (MS Vancouver)

We do think Microsoft is the type to do projects without others knowing, simply because of the massive amount of interconnections and smaller companies it has formed over time. However, there are plenty of hints as to the games coming out, including Kinect Me services and a number of light-gun-based ventures. I expect a few more games to fill out the lists here, but the biggest game for Microsoft will likely be Halo and/or Kinect-related.


Sony has been in bad shape since the beginning of this generation, but since its rebooting of PS3's image and the continued support by Japanese developers, Sony has grown in mindshare these last couple years. The PSP had a major resurgence in Japan thanks to Monster Hunter, but elsewhere, it was much bleaker compared to the DS, and seeing Nintendo releasing its newest handheld this year, it is now time for Sony to follow with its venture.

The NGP, the Next Generation Portable, will be the company's core focus. Unfortunately, what with the earthquake and continued financial uncertainty in Japan, it might be hard to open a handheld out with a high pricetag. That is why we think the two-SKU concept will help, particularly when Sony announces that one of them will cost just over what the 3DS currently costs. A new WipeOut, LittleBitPlanet, Modnation Racers, and Uncharted game will fill the launch window greatly, and new IPs, including Little Deviants and Smart As will increase Sony's output when the device launches. We believe the biggest push, however, will be the immediate support of Thirty Parties: Call of Duty from Activision, Lost Planet or an equivalent by Capcom, and one major product from Square-Enix. The launch date might be this year, but if they are hush hush about its release date, do not expect it until March 2012. Either way, a Fall 2011 release in one region is a lock.

Outside of new hardware, Sony will have Resistence 3, Ratchet and Clank All 4 One, Uncharted 3, the newly-announced Starhawk, and Twisted Metal from our roster of already-known games. Sly Cooper 4 would not be unheard of, what with the teaser video in the HD Collection released this year. The Last Guardian most likely will slip into 2012, with the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus Collection releasing this Fall. The PSP Remaster Series will be discussed, and the unfortunate PSN debacle will be briefly mentioned at the beginning of the show or not at all.

Move will remain a side idea for the moment, but it will be demonstrated in at least two games on-stage. Sorcery will be back and ready for release, or completely revamped and redesigned. It has not been shown at all since E3 2010, after all.

Oh, and no Kevin Butler this year. Hopefully.


Despite coming out last year as the best of the three, Nintendo fumbled over the last year compared to Microsoft and (in Japan) Sony. Yes, Donkey Kong Country Returns was a great success, as was the third-party exclusive Disney Epic Mickey. However, Wii Party and Mario Sports Mix failed terribly in America, and absolutely no Wii games from them outside of Sports Mix damned the Wii saleswise for the first half of 2011. Meanwhile, the 3DS launched with a desolate launch window of games; even though third parties were given the chance by Nintendo to fill the gap, barely any major releases have graced the device since late March. Combined with Pokemon launching weeks beforehand, and the high price tag compared to the DSi, it has not sold very well at all. Seeing this, Nintendo is hobbling into this E3, but thankfully, it has plenty to unveil.

The company's biggest unveiling, and arguably the biggest question mark this E3, is the company's new console. Dubbed Project Cafe, it is believed via some rumors that the console will have a screen located on the controllers, allow for wireless game-video streaming, be HD 1080p, and have an enhanced online structure that people have been wanting for a long while. With an expected 2012 release, post April, the console will likely have only a few games to demonstrate its gameplay techniques, so anticipate tech demos on the show floor. Nintendo will have major games to show with it, though, and we believe Pikmin 3 and another Mario title will fit that requirement greatly. A new Super Smash Brothers is asking too much. However, if at least one new IP is unveiled with the new console, we would not be surprised. Third parties will have their usual "this device is great and innovative" schpeal, but I also expect Nintendo to pull what they did with the 3DS: announce at least two or three major third-party projects in the works for Cafe. Just logos, maybe teasers. Either way, fans will walk away surprised one way or another.

And yet, the new console will only be some of the focus for them. Nintendo still has Wii releases despite its end in sight. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Kirby will see releases this year, but we feel that The Last Story and Xenoblade will also have an appearance (and if not both, just one for this year). Wii Play: Motion and Mystery Case Files will appear and be playable, but in a minimal stance. Pandora's Tower is almost definitely staying in Japan. Outside of these games, I see perhaps one or two unannounced Wii games to appear this Fall season, but not something as big as Zelda, though with the 25th Anniversary this year...

...expect a 3DS bundle. Ocarina of Time 3D launches mere weeks after E3, so anticipate a trailer and maybe a single kiosk, but nothing extraordinary. However, a special 3DS bundle featuring both OoT3D and a 3DS could be a good combination for this holiday. Then again, with GREZZO working on OoT3D for the most part, could the handheld Zelda team be working on something else for this Fall season? Maybe.

For 3DS, we will see the slew of games which were seen in video only last E3, including Paper Mario 3D, Mario Kart 3D, Animal Crossing 3D, and Star Fox 64 3D. Animal Crossing might just be another teaser trailer, especially with Mario Kart filling in the casual space. Super Mario 3D will be heavily shown this E3 and will be a combination of Mario Galaxy and old school Mario games. Do not expect a New Super Mario Bros. game for 3DS until next year at earliest. Kid Icarus: Rising will also be heavily shown, and someone will most likely demonstrate the game at the Press Conference to show how it has improved over the last year in development.

The eShop will be launching the night before Nintendo's conference, so expect videos and maybe even demos to appear on 3DS worldwide post-conference. Nintendo will not have major software associated with it, yet, but independent games, 3D Classics, and Virtual Handheld and Netflix products will be explained fully at the conference. And before I forget: NO NEW 3DS MODEL! People complaining about the model will have to wait until next year to get a confirmation of one, if that.


If we were to take the time to discuss each third party in detail, you would go mad trying to read it! So we will be a bit briefer about them.

2K (TakeTwo)
Bioshock Infinite will be the big focus. XCOM might be there in a different form. The Darkness II is guarranteed to show. Grand Theft Auto V will likely be kept hidden until the summer, as Rockstar loves to unveil games outside of the usual E3 deluge.

Activision Blizzard
Modern Warfare 3 will be the big game for Activision, but other Call of Duty games will likely fill the lineup as well. Skylanders: Spyro's Big Adventure will have a large focus, as well, as Activision will attempt to jump start Spyro as part of a bigger new franchise of both games and toys. Prototype 2 is Radical's last chance for survivial. Bungie's project will be an equally large focus, especially as it is rumored to be an MMO. Blizzard will not show.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is the big game for them, no doubt about it. Rage will be big as well, and rightfully so, making Bethesda quite a competitor for Game of the Show. Duke Nukem will not show on account of its release, and Tango might not have a game out, but a teaser is expected.

Capcom heads have already said not to be hyped for this E3, but there are plenty of unreleased games to show off and enjoy. Resident Evil: Revelations will be at Nintendo's booth, but Operations Raccoon City will be there. A trailer for Street Fighter X Tekken will show, and there is some possibility for a Super Marvel Vs Capcom 3, thought doubtful. Dragon's Dogma will be the biggest internal project, and Megaman Legends 3 will not be at the show, particularly due to the Prototype Edition's delay. No DmC outside of a teaser trailer.

EDF EDF EDF, or Earth Defense Force. Outside of the massive bug-invasion shooter, D3 will publish White Knight Chronicles II and probably small projects many are not aware of.

Disney dropped a lot of staff last year, even with Disney Epic Mickey's success in America. We can expect Cars 2 to appear, as well as the LittleBigPlanet and Lego-game inspired Disney Universe. Social games will be big for Disney, perhaps even a Marvel MMO? An outlandish belief is another Epic Mickey, but we've seen weirder things happen before.

EA wants the Modern Warfare crowd, so Battlefield 3 will be the biggest product there. Star Wars: The Old Republic will probably have some clout there, but Bioware's Mass Effect 3 will be more noticed by certain fans. Insomniac's Project will have a teaser, but it won't be ready this year.

After slaughtering Hudson, Konami is probably preparing for releases from the company, so do not expect a Hudson title unless Konami kept production with those 3DS products after its acquisition. Silent Hill: Downpour will be pretty large, but Metal Gear Solid: Rising should outdo it in the hype category. However, rumors speculate that Rising has shifted developers and might miss a 2011 release as a result. Peace Walker for PS3 is also rumored. A teaser for a new Castlevania from MercurySteam would not be out of the unexpected, and for some reason, Alex feels a Contra for the 3DS is in the works.

Star Wars Kinect. Maybe something with TellTale Games. Not much else comes to mind.

Namco Bandai
Namco Bandai is in an odd place, what with few franchises to sell to gamers nowadays. Soul Calibur V will be the company's big one, with a trailer expected this week. Ridge Racer Unbounded is an attempt to Burnout the series, but we are not entirely optimistic about it. Tales of Graces F and the 3DS Tales games are going to be Namco USA's attempt to revitalize the company's RPG market; if they fail, we expect another hibernation for localizations.

Sega will be pushing a number of titles, but Sonic Generations and any variants of it will be the big push. Binary Domain and maybe Yakuza: The End will fill the mature gap for games, with a Kinect horror game to go all the way. Sonic 4: Episode II will not be playable but will have a trailer.

Square-Enix had been hit this year financially with the failure of Final Fantasy XIV Online. From Eidos, expect Hitman: Absolution and the Tomb Raider reboot to be the biggest focus, although Deus Ex might drop by for a little while. From the Japanese side, Kingdom Hearts 3D, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and maybe something Dragon Quest related will be at the show. No XIII Versus. There is a chance Final Fantasy Type-0 will be finally announced for NA though.

The only major title there will be Ninja Gaiden III. Surprise me, TK!

THQ has been in the midst of change over the last few years, and while it has not been entirely successful, at least the company is growing toward unique IPs and more well-designed projects. For one, the company is releasing Metro 2033, a sequel to the niche shooter, and we should expect a Homefront 2 Teaser of some sort. Saint’s Row: The Third will be the company's biggest project this E3, and The Devil's Third will appear from at least a trailer.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations will clearly be the company's big game this year, being the fourth game in the series this generation. Driver: San Francisco will likely make a return this year but in a more playable form. Rayman Origins as a retail title will also be highlighted by the company. Child of Eden will be demonstrated once more, but with the game more complete, we should expect a full understanding of what the final product will contain. If I Am Alive does not appear in any way this year, then we believe that the game is in deep trouble.

Warner Bros
To be blunt, Warner Brothers will heavily push Batman: Arkham City, along with other projects: Bastion and Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster from Double Fine.


And with that, we look toward E3 with a mixture of tension and delight. Will Microsoft win over the cynical hardcore gamer with its shooter Kinect products? Will Sony's NGP lineup and price make it a viable competitor against the 3DS and iProducts? Will Nintendo's new console and software lineup brings favor back to the company from its fanbase?

All, or at least some, will be unveiled next week!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Third Rate Game Play: FantaVision

Game: FantaVision

System: Playstation 2

Developer: SCEI (Ape Escape)

Publisher: Sony

Player: Alex

Experience: Blind

The year was 1999. The first gaming generation of Sony was ebbing, and with the company being victorious in capturing the mindshare of consumers and developers alike, it looked like the second generation was going to be that much greater. Sega was releasing Dreamcast worldwide, but Sony would use that year’s Tokyo Game Show to let the world know who really dictated when the generation started. While no major game was truly demonstrated at the show, a myriad of Playstation 2 tech demos revealed the strength of the system and how it fared against the Dreamcast in graphics.

The tech demos ranged from water effects to animation prowess. To show off reflective surfaces and water effects, Sony showed off a demo involving a submarine, a rubber ducky, and a large sink. Meanwhile, third parties helped create their own tech demos, ranging from the dance scene in Final Fantasy VIII to the leading lady of Ridge Racer. However, the only demo which really emerged as a full game right at the Playstation 2's launch was a demo which featured explosions of color and fireworks to demonstrate the system’s particle effects to the TGS audience. That demo would become FantaVision.

Before FantaVision was created, its Designer Katsuyuki Kanetaka had worked on the Playstation adventure title Ape Escape, in which a young boy named Spike must catch monkeys who have spread havoc across time in an effort to rule the present and ruin humanity. The game’s biggest focus was demonstrating how to use the DualShock controller, which debuted late into the Playstation’s original lifecycle. FantaVision does not share much design-wise from Ape Escape, however. Whereas one is an adventure platformer, the other is an arcade puzzle game.

"Fireworks are launching across a city's skyline. In this puzzle game, you must connect them quickly to have them explode. Earn more points for detonating more fireworks at the same time. You can also work against another player to see who can gain the most points. Be careful, as control of the screen can shift and one player could be left with few fireworks to explode."

FantaVision is an arcade title in which players must trigger firework flares after they are launched into the air and before they fall away from the player’s view. The single player campaign features eight levels of increasing difficulty, each with their own unique song and pathway through a number of environments. The first few levels take place in a city, and as the game progresses, players will see fireworks on the Moon and into the farthest reaches of space. However, if the player fails once, the game has to be played from the beginning, leading to a very difficult experience for some.

As the screen moves along a fixed path, flares of different color are shot into the game screen. Players control a reticule which moves in the direction of the DualShock 2’s Left Stick once a button is pressed. Once locked onto three or more of the same color flare, the player can ignite the fireworks and create explosions of color in the sky. Some flares have different explosive properties, including ones which burst into many smaller explosions. If explosions and a flare of the same color collide, that flare will also ignite, giving potential for larger and longer combos. Once enough flares are lit right, players trigger Starmine, which gives them the ability to create massive combos for high scores. There are also power-ups which can greatly benefit players as more flares arrive than can be triggered at one time.

The North American and European versions of FantaVision both have a sufficient 2-player versus mode in which both players attempt to trigger a select number of flares first or get the most triggered in a specific time. Unique power-ups, including a screen flip mechanic, change the limits in which each player’s reticule can go, helping or hindering them in the process of creating explosive colors in the sky.

A unique aspect of the game is that the music differs from each region of its release. The North American, European, and Japanese versions of FantaVision all have their own soundtrack.

FantaVision was received modestly, with its minimal presentation and basic game design. It was Sony’s only launch title for the Playstation 2 in America, but other companies such as Agetec and Tecmo took the liberty of making its launch more than acceptable in consumers’ eyes. Of course, having DVD playback options helped, too, as DVD players were equally expensive compared to the PS2.

In Japan, FantaVision had a special rerelease called Futari no FantaVision, or FantaVision for You and Me in 2002. This version added the previously-excluded 2-player mode from the NA and EU versions of the game. The music was also remixed to provide a new experience for those who had played the first game. Some refer to this game as FantaVision Version 2, as it is a more complete and altogether better product than what was pushed out quickly at its March 2000 Japanese launch.

After developing FantaVision, the team went on to work on a similarly-designed title with less puzzle elements into the mix. This game, Flipnic: Ultimate Pinball, was released in Japan in 2003. The game would come out the following year in Europe through Ubisoft and 2004 through Capcom for the US. In Flipnic, players go through a number of uniquely-designed pinball tables with an “evolutionary” twist throughout the game. Designer Katsuyuki Kanetaka later acted as support for Ape Escape Academy and Ape Escape: On the Loose for the Playstation Portable, but since then he has been inactive in game development, based on MobyGames information.

Sony was wholly successful during the Playstation 2’s reign, outpacing Nintendo’s new console, effectively killing Sega’s last console, and moving forward against Microsoft’s first console venture. Having sold over 150 Million consoles, the Playstation 2 is seen as the highest-selling console of all time, let alone in the previous generation. With over two-thousand games over the past eleven years, the system is one of the most diverse and highly-competent video game consoles of all time. Since the Playstation 2, however, Sony has been met with some conflict. The PSP, Playstation Portable, was made to win the handheld space owned by Nintendo, and while it has gained a foothold in Japan, the device failed to make a mark against the Nintendo DS worldwide. The Playstation 3 launched with an infamous price of $599, ultimately yielding sales to the similarly-powered Xbox 360 and the much cheaper and unique Wii. Of course, with this generation still proceeding onward, it is unknown as to how the Playstation 3 will be remembered relative to the other two consoles. Currently, the NGP, or Next Generation Portable, is in production and will be releasing at the end of 2011 in America. Regardless of what is happening now and in the future, many can agree that the Playstation 2 will be a console with the perfect lineup and most likely will never be eclipsed unless the gaming industry continues to expand.

FantaVision was something we had not expected to reach us in time, but the game appeared to us just as we were ending our runs through the PS2 launch collection of videos. FantaVision, being a puzzle arcade game, did not have a lot to demonstrate, but we decide to run in blind, which turns out to be a bit stupid in hindsight.

We explore the main game twice, once after watching a tutorial video and the other after watching more tutorial videos. After getting Game Over screens both times, we take a look at the multiplayer element of the game, just to get a feel of what the game has to offer. There is not much else with the game, so we make do with the little game content we have.

FantaVision was not entirely the game I expected, while at the same time, it fit perfectly within my perception. Graphically, it must have been a nice game to watch back then, but a decade later, the age is definitely more apparent. The game design is very unique, asking players to aim at flares and detonate them as fireworks and, through that, create chains. It took a few notes from other arcade puzzle games, and that I must admit makes it a better fit into the genre.

However, the game does not offer much. Unless you perfect the combo or powerup systems, you are bound to fail early into the game. This is definitely the type of game you have to try out several times in a row to actually complete. Seeing as we did not want to bore anyone, we moved forward as quickly as we could. The multiplayer aspect of the game was interesting, but the overall experience was something I would see in the downloadable space nowadays. How different the industry gets after only a decade!

3RM Says: This game blows my mind. Into many colors! Ooooo.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Game On: Let's Play 3.01 - NiGHTS into Dreams

Game: NiGHTS into Dreams
System: Sega Saturn
Developer: Sonic Team
Publisher: Sega
Player: Mark Greenfeld

Game Overview

Sega was in a great position in the early 1990’s. The Sega Genesis had been taking market share from Nintendo in the United States and was doing well in Japan. However, its handheld devices had been failing to compete with Nintendo’s outwardly-inferior products. As the next generation started to come into play, Sega developed a console which retained the great 2D game design Sega thrived with and ensured that 3D graphics would also be useable for the new console. This system would later be called the Sega Saturn, and to help push the new system, a new Sonic would be warranted. Sega Technical Institute, the developer behind Sonic Spinball, had been working on a new Sonic title, Sonic X-treme, which would use a special fish-eye lens and emphasize 3D exploration in each level; unfortunately, friction between the Western and Eastern sides of development made it impossible to complete in time for the system’s launch. In late 1997, Sega had to officially cancel the project, leaving a new IP to push the Sega Saturn. The question was: could a Sega console sell well without the blue hedgehog?

NiGHTS was designed and directed by Naoto Ōshima, who is labeled as one of the biggest creative leads for Sonic Team. He had directed and designed several games from Sonic Team, although his last major directorial role was from Sonic CD for the Sega CD. Yuji Naka acted as the producer and lead programmer for the product, while current Sonic Team lead Takashi Iizuka acted as the lead game designer. The lead character and game design of NiGHTS was inspired by Mystère, a show ran by the great Cirque du Soleil, and its fantastical style shows through quite amicably.

NiGHTS into Dream stars two children, Elliot and Claris, both of whom live in Twin Seeds and each face their own personal hardships leading up to a particular night. Elliot, an avid basketball player, is beaten easily by older children and is greatly hurt by the results, and Claris, who is signed up to perform in a play, is overcome with stage fright and has low confidence for the events to come. As the two sleep, they both endure nightmares surrounding their problems, and in an attempt to escape the monsters which invade their dreams, end up in the mysterious world of dreams. It is here they learn of the Nightopians and Nightmaren, two types of beings bent on creating dreams, good and bad, all around the world. What they also learn is that Wizeman the Wicked, the ruler of Nightmare, is stealing dreamers’ personalities, known as Ideya, in order to take over Nightopia and, eventually, the real world! Thankfully, a Nightmare traitor named NiGHTS wants to stop Wizeman, too, and together, both Elliot and Claris must work together to defeat Wizeman before it is too late.

The game is an arcade adventure, split up into worlds exclusive to each of the two protagonists. Each character has their own set of three levels, followed by a shared fourth level which contains the final boss. Players initially play as the children, moving around in the dream world’s 3D space. The goal of each area is to retrieve the children’s stolen Ideya from Wizeman’s minions, and in order to retrieve each Ideya from Wizeman’s captors, players need to collect enough blue chips around each area before they can move onto the next. While one can try to complete these goals as the children, they are most susceptible to Wizeman’s monsters. The real meat of the game is played as NiGHTS, whom players turn into by freeing NiGHTS from his prison. As NiGHTS, players fly around the world along a fixed plane. Players can capture items and defeat enemies in the sky using NiGHTS’s skytrails to create circles, otherwise known as paraloops. After each area is completed, players are given rankings based on score and time. Initially, only the first stages, Spring Valley and Splash Garden, are available to play, but after completing each world, the next ones unlock. The final world requires that each of the children’s three exclusive levels have an overall ranking of C or higher. The game is made for replaying each world many times in order to get as high a score as possible.

Beyond the main game, players can raise Nightopians and Nightmaren using the A-Life engine. Depending on how each Nightopian is treated, the game’s music shifts to their current mood. Merging Nightopians and Nightmaren create Mepians, and other beings can also be created over time using the engine.

Since Then…

NiGHTS received a bit of acclaim among certain news outlets, and it is seen as one of the best Sega Saturn exclusives available. Its popularity has created a large amount of hardcore fans which continue to speak about the game to this day, even after the game’s sequel release on Wii several years later.

During late 1996, the year of its release, Sega started to release a limited edition version of NiGHTS into Dreams in bundles and through special promotions. The game, called Christmas NiGHTS, is a single level version of NiGHTS which takes place after the events of NiGHTS into Dreams. Both Elliot and Claris play through a special version of Spring Valley, containing unique item placements for each child. Depending on the time of the year, the world changes its graphics and music to suit the season. In November and January, the world is snow-covered and labeled Winter NiGHTS, and in December, the world is covered with Christmas-related content and plays “Jingle Bells” as the world song. Furthermore, the game has unlockable artwork and a special mode in which players can play the game as Sonic the Hedgehog.

The creators of NiGHTS moved on from Sonic Team some years later, sans game designer Iizuka. Creator and Director Naoto Ōshima would leave Sonic Team after Sonic Adventure, citing Yuji Naka’s attitude as a producer. He would later form developer Artoon, which started with the Game Boy Advance title Pinobee. The developer would be notable for its development of Blinx the Timesweeper for Microsoft and Yoshi Topsy-Turvy and Yoshi’s Island DS for Nintendo. Artoon would later help Mistwalker develop the Xbox 360 RPG Blue Dragon and The Last Story for the Wii. In late 2010, the company was officially reinstated into its owner AQ Interactive, but the company still exists without the official title. Ōshima’s latest major character work is believed to be Cubic Ninja for the Nintendo 3DS, to be released soon in the US via Ubisoft.

Yuji Naka left Sonic Team after Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) failed to meet expectations. He would create Prope, a small developer focused on unique experiences. Since its inception, the company created Let’s Tap and Ivy the Kiwi? for Wii (and a DS version for Ivy). Its latest project is Rodea the Sky Soldier, published by Kadokawa Games for the 3DS and Wii, expected for a Japanese release later this year.

A true sequel to NiGHTS would not arrive until both Naka and Ōshima had left Sonic Team. Iizuka had shown interest in creating a sequel, and by 2007, the game had been announced to be in development. NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams was apparently being developed for HD consoles, but Sega management requested the game be shifted to Wii and did not change any release date or budgeting requirements. It is believed that this is partially to blame for its uneven reception. The game follows two new children, Will and Helen, whose problems are very similar to those in the predecessor, one with sports (soccer) and the other with music (violin). Unlike the previous game, JoD’s worlds have multiple missions ranging from the original game concept to vehicle-based missions. The game would be the last title developed by Sega Studio USA, the same team behind Shadow the Hedgehog. No current sequel has been announced for the series since. Meanwhile, the game’s A-Life system has been continually improved and used in other Sonic Team games, particularly the Chao parts to both Sonic Adventure games for the Sega Dreamcast.

Outside of major new games, NiGHTS has appeared as a cameo in a massive amount of projects, although not many feature NiGHTS gameplay elements. Specifically, NiGHTS has been an unlockable character in Sonic Riders, Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity (both developed with help from NOW Productions), and Sonic Shuffle (co-developed by Hudson Soft). Sega SuperStars, Sonic Adventure, and Sonic Pinball Party all feature minigames based on the property, with the first being closest to replicating the flight aspect of the original game. Another NiGHTS based minigame is available through GameCube-to-GBA connectivity in both Phantasy Star Online Episode I & II and Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg. Most recently, Sumo Digital has featured NiGHTS in both Sega Superstars Tennis and Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing.

NiGHTS into Dreams has had only one rerelease since its original Sega Saturn adventure which was developed by Sonic Team China. Released for the Playstation 2 in 2008, the game had both retro and improved graphic modes and came with a picture book remade from the original’s release. Furthermore, the Christmas NiGHTS levels are available as unlockables. Unfortunately, the remake never left Japan, despite fan requests.

The Let’s Play

With a new season, we had plenty of games to choose from, and considering that we had only so much time, we decided to start the season off with something exceptionally unique.

Mark had wanted to do a runthrough of a Saturn game, but unfortunately some of the games he wanted to record were damaged, including a copy of Mr. Bones. However, we found that Sega’s flagship Saturn title was within his catalogue and gladly asked for him to play through the game in one sitting.

We began the recording with a look at each introduction video for the two children. Then, starting with Elliot’s side, Mark ran through each world, attempting to do what he could for the camera. Would he be able to defeat Wizeman in a timely fashion, or was his victory but a dream?


Both, I would say. His playthrough of Elliot’s levels left much to be desired. Mark had not played the game in years, and unfortunately, that reflected in his attempt. Elliot’s levels are a bit harder to get high scores on, and having been more accustomed to Claris’ levels, he was unable to qualify for the last level as the young boy. However, he was capable of going to Claris’ final level and, ultimately, her ending. Of course, there was still his ending to receive, but we had to stop there for time’s sake.

Overall, I felt the video was well done. This was our only episode to use a green screen, despite our want to do more with it. Part of the issue was how to key the color away in post production, and it also required more equipment to be carried to the shooting location. I enjoyed the result, but in the end it was not worth the effort at the time. Also, this was our first time recording game footage using a DVD Recorder. Using a capture card was nice, but we had issues when it came to earlier games (and it would take until recently to understand why that was the case). As a result, this would become our method of game footage recording for the remainder of Game On (and a large percentage of Third Rate Game Plays). As in the last episode, it seems the credits music is a bit too loud to hear our commentary, but I will leave it this time for those willing to decipher any humor from our words.

NiGHTS was certainly a unique episode, and it aired constantly at Rowan University as a result of issues in programming. Still, I was glad to see all the people watching it when it was on. Then again, who wouldn’t watch something so absolutely trippy while having lunch?

Friday, May 13, 2011

StreetPass Princeton's First Event!

When Nintendo released the 3DS to the world, it anticipated people worldwide to travel past other gamers and exchange game information between the two in an act known as StreetPass. However, ownership is not universal right now, and even then many people in the United States do not wander around crowded places everyday. That is why a number of individuals are creating StreetPass groups in which local gamers can meet up, swap game data, and just hang out and talk about video games.

Friday May 13th was the first official event for StreetPass Princeton, a group of gamers in the area interested in meeting up for gaming discussion and gathering StreetPass data for the games currently out for Nintendo 3DS.

The event's locale was closed in, located within a private room of the local Panera Bread on Nassau Street, but the gathering was very welcoming and altogether friendly. As new people arrived, other attendees shouted hellos and gave warm cheers, both happy to see a newcomer and to see more activity within their 3DS systems. A charming number of individuals filled the area, including a nice cosplayer and Neal from NintendoWorldReport.

The event began at 2PM, and for those without lunch, there were bagels and cake available to enjoy while attendees introduced each other. Printed AR Cards and a large number of QR codes were attached to the walls within the two-roomed corridor, and sitting in the center of it all rested a number of Sonic dolls and real AR Cards to use for photos. In fact, there was a contest to make the best picture at the event. Contests were not in short supply here!

In particular, the biggest event was the QR Contest, in which everyone had to race to get all twenty six QR codes uploaded into the MiiMaker program. The first four to obtain them would match up in a miniature tournament in Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, one of the few games which uses StreetPass currently. Getting some of the codes seemed harder than anticipated, at least for me, but eventually four victors arose for some beatdowns. Videos of the bouts should be available soon. The winner of this event was Jordan White, the lead man for the StreetPass NYC group; funnily enough, he spent a while explaining how he was going to lose and ultimately won. As the winner, he received a $5 gift card to Gamestop and the Sonic-themed plushie of his choice.

While that was the only real active event at the meeting, there are other contests happening in relation to it. Those who can produce the best logo for StreetPass Princeton will receive a Gamestop gift card, as will the person who produces the best photo from the event. While there was not much more in terms of game-specific events, it makes sense as the 3DS lacks many multiplayer games thus far. However, there was a lot of discussion of games already out and those to come, particularly about what is expected out of the Nintendo eShop and Nintendo's E3 Press Conference, both of which are happening around June 7th, less than a month away!.

Rob stated that the next event would be held elsewhere in the area late June, and he explicitly mentioned Dead or Alive Dimensions would be played extensively there. In the meantime, we can enjoy the memories of the first get-together of Nintendo 3DS fans in the Princeton area.

Even Pikmin enjoyed the bagels!

Mario kept quiet, but he seemed to enjoy the seating.

Who is this guy? Darned if I know.

For those who want to know more about future events with StreetPass Princeton, go to the official Facebook page or Twitter account.!/StreetPassPrinceton

Sunday, May 8, 2011

XBLIG of the Week (5/1/11)

Every week, many games appear on the Xbox Live Indie Game lineup, from people from all professional backgrounds and with all types of skillsets. Unfortunately, there are so many games coming out that it becomes hard to try every game and figure out which to truly play for the best bang for your buck.

That's why we here are Third Rate Minion hope to create a weekly feature where we discuss the best game or games for each particular week, with information on the developer and the game itself. We might occasionally give a brief look at older XBLIGs, too, when game lineups seem thin for some weeks. For now, however, there seem to be many great games to look forward to in the coming weeks. Either way, let us venture forth!



Developer: Iridium Studios
Price: 240 MS Points ($3)

Sequence is an RPG/Music hyrbid, in which players control Ky, a young man who has been selected to venture into the Tower, a seven-level fortress filled with monsters and other menacing beings bent on killing him. Thankfully, with the help of Naia, a mysterious woman he meets upon waking up, Ky learns of how to defend himself and vanquish the evil creatures inside the Tower.

Players have to watch three game windows from which arrows fall toward markers, akin to Dance Dance Revolution or any current music game such as Rock Band. The three game windows represent Defense, Mana Collection, and Spell Casting. Players must hit the notes falling in the Defense window to prevent being hurt by the enemy in battle, and in order to give a few back, players must cast spells on the Spell Ring using the Right Stick and then clear every note which falls in sequence on the Spell Casting window. Because spells cost Mana, players have to hit notes falling on the Mana Collection window in order to keep casting spells. In the end, each battle becomes a fight between casting spells, collecting mana, and defending against enemy attacks. There is more to it than simply hitting notes, too, as spell types and special equipment comes into play.

Complete with voice acting, hand-painted backgrounds and lots of monsters and strategy to encounter, Sequence offers a lot more than the average XBLIG. Sequence does to the music genre what Puzzle Quest did to the puzzle genre, and it does it with a smirk and a nod.

Other Games of Note:


Developer: Turtle Toss Studio
Price: 80 MS Points ($1)

Minions! is an overhead and over-the-shoulder shooter action game in which players select their own armless beings known as Minions in order to complete a variety of missions. While the world seems exceptionally low in polygon count, the game feels solid and shows enough variety to differentiate itself from the usual shooter on Xbox Live Indie Games. Meanwhile, the game allows for players to change the appearance and the weapon choice for their own Minion. Not only that, but the weaponry and enemies in the game change over time, making the game more than the basic dual-stick shooter.

Stick 'Em Up: VS Arena

Developer: Wicked Worx Games
Price: 80 MS Points ($1)

A new versus component to another Xbox Live Indie Game, Stick Em Up. Player enter eight different arenas with up to four players fighting one another. The game offers 2vs2 modes or full free-for-all events. Later arenas also feature spaceships to fly and shoot at the other players. It feels faster and smoother than the original, so it really fits the multiplayer environment it is trying to become. If you do not have friends to play with, the game thankfully has a good set of AIs to take over for them, ensuring that you can get your dollar's worth, even when you are alone.

That's all this week. Have fun, indie gamers!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Third Rate Game Play 003: Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore

Game: Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore

System: Playstation 2

Developer: Team Ninja

Publisher: Tecmo

Player: Tony

Experience: Purchased, Played Before

The Dead or Alive series was brought into creation from the creative mind of Tomonobu Itagaki, who joined Tecmo’s development crew in 1995. While his first major project was Tecmo Super Bowl, his claim to fame would be the creation of the Dead or Alive series, which came about after he showed disdain toward the trend of fighting games at the time. The original Dead or Alive arrived in the Arcade, but ports were made to Sega Saturn and Playstation. Itagaki-san would grow up the ranks until, in 2001, he became the head of Team Ninja, the development team behind the Dead or Alive franchise.

Dead or Alive 2 would grow from the success of the original title, and Itagaki wanted to ensure that the game would be full of details barely seen in other fighters, including realistic body movements and intricate character relationships. Also an arcade-original, the game was brought to the Dreamcast in 2000, but Team Ninja was not entirely pleased by the results. After releasing multiple updates to the Dreamcast version online, a culmination of gameplay tweaks and additional levels and costumes would result in what became Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore for the Playstation 2.

Tecmo was formed in 1967 as Tehkan, originally focused on selling cleaning equipment. It changed its focus to look toward entertainment products a few years later. After some years of releasing arcade games, the company changed its name to Tecmo in 1986. Its major franchises up to Dead or Alive included Ninja Gaiden, Solomon’s Key, and Rygar.

"The world has become chaotic and disoriented since the tragic murder of Fame Douglas, the sponsor of the legendary Dead or Alive I World Combat Championship. Now it's up to you to ensure that the world returns back to a state of peace. With 12 characters to choose from, your mission is to win the championship and save the world from the Tengu Disaster that will take place at the end of the century. Your ability to battle using various fighting techniques will determine your character's fate."

Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore is a fighting game which is, for all intents and purposes, an enhanced port of the Dreamcast title, Dead or Alive 2. As stated in the Background, Hardcore features a large number of additional modes and extra content so as to create the ideal package of Dead or Alive 2. Characters were made more realistic, and fighting animations were tweaked for better performance.

The game, like the Dreamcast original, has a Story Mode in which players can explore each character’s influence on the greatly intertwined plot built within the series. On top of this, there is a Versus Mode, as expected, and a team-based battle mode in which players choose two duos to fight one another rather than the usual one-on-one match. There is also a survival mode, in which players continue to fight AI opponents until they lose, trying to get the most wins in a row.

Among the original Dreamcast modes, a few new modes were created specifically for Hardcore. For one, the game added an Items Collection feature, in which players earn and can view items as they play in matches, which range from food items to small tanks. A CG Gallery section was also introduced, featuring renders of female characters in various dresses and poses for players to watch at their leisure. Other additions include an increased framerate, more outfits, and new voiceover work.

Team Ninja and the Dead or Alive franchise thrived following the release of Dead or Alive’s next title, Dead or Alive 3, which launched with the Microsoft Xbox. Following the great Western success of the series on Xbox, Team Ninja focused almost all of its energy on producing games for that console. A remake of Dead or Alive 2 was made in 2004 with online capabilities and extra content from Dead or Alive 3, renamed to Dead or Alive Ultimate. When the Xbox 360 started development, Team Ninja was there to produce a fast-paced, HD experience by the time the new system would launch. This product, Dead or Alive 4, even included a Halo-based character, "Spartan-458” or Nicole, as well as a Halo-based stage for characters to fight in, further showing the company’s loyalty to Microsoft’s brand. Following Dead or Alive 4, however, the mainline series has remained quiet, but a new iteration for the Nintendo 3DS will be available in 2011, entitled Dead or Alive Dimensions. In fact, in a similar act to Dead or Alive 4 with Halo, Dead or Alive Dimensions will feature a Metroid-based arena in which fighters encounter Ridley and Samus Aran (and no, she is not a playable character).

Perhaps the big reason for the five-year disappearance of mainline Dead or Alive games is the departure of Itagaki-san himself. On June 3, 2008, the Dead or Alive creator left Team Ninja and filed a lawsuit against Tecmo, citing that Tecmo management had not provided him bonuses he earned for the success of Dead or Alive 4. Despite this, Tecmo stated that he was fired just shortly after his departure. After leaving Team Ninja, a number of employees left as well, forming what is now Valhalla Games, producing Devil’s Third for current generation consoles.

It should be noted that Team Ninja has produced more than just the mainline Dead or Alive titles since Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore. In fact, the developer created two spin-off titles using the characters of the franchise: Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball (and its 360 sequel, Dead or Alive Xtreme 2), and Dead or Alive Paradise for Playstation Portable. All of these games involve interaction between the unseen player and a number of the Dead or Alive women, all dressed in scantily-clad bathing suits. Beyond the Dead or Alive franchise, Team Ninja produced the newest renditions of the Ninja Gaiden series: Ninja Gaiden (and Ninja Gaiden Black, its rerelease) Ninja Gaiden II, and Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword for the Nintendo DS. Both mainline Ninja Gaiden games were enhanced for Playstation 3 as Ninja Gaiden Sigma and Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2.

After rebooting the development team and shifting its focus after Itagaki left, Team Ninja released a Nintendo-collaboration project for the Wii: Metroid: Other M. Otherwise known as Project M, the game is a third-person shooter which puts Samus into a space station under attack from an unknown entity, facing her past and her future along the way. The game emphasized the story surrounding Samus’s early years in the Galactic Federation, and the game retained some Metroid gameplay elements while shifting toward Ninja Gaiden in some regard. Its reception has been met with some controversy among fans, but we will not delve deep into that here.

Tecmo grew slightly as a result of the Dead or Alive franchise and its success, but its financial problems grew as other projects failed and franchises ebbed. The company faced not only Itagaki’s lawsuit but another involving 300 employees who had not received particular wages promised by Tecmo. Square Enix offered to purchase the company, but Tecmo would later choose Koei as a merging partner. Together, in early 2009, the companies formed Tecmo Koei Holdings, which would oversee the works of both developers. Tecmo as a developer was disbanded in late February 2010, only to be reestablished mid-March as a game developer under the Tecmo Koei publishing label.

Currently, Team Ninja, headed by Yosuke Hayashi, is working on Dead or Alive: Dimensions for Nintendo 3DS and is believed to be working on Ni-Oh, a massive action game taking place in 16th century Japan. Rumors say that a 3DS Ninja Gaiden is in the works, as is Dead or Alive 5. However, as of this article, only Dead or Alive Dimensions can be confirmed. Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore director Itagaki, as stated above, is working on Devil’s Third for his new development company Valhalla Games, with THQ sitting as the current publisher.

In this third part of the Playstation 2 launch title series of episodes, we had to face the realization that we were going to be playing the game with minimal fighting game skill. Either way, the game was in our possession, and playing it would, therefore, be necessary.

In this episode, we explore through the game’s Story Mode with both Zack and Ayane. Afterwards, we bring the battle to each other in Versus, where you get to see which of the two is the least horrible at fighting games. We also watch a dual match between two computers to better show off the fighting styles of gamers who know how to play the game. Following that, we look at the Items Collection mode and take a gander at the CG Collection, sure to create awkward moments for everyone.

As a launch title, Dead or Alive 2: Hardcore was probably the quickest way to happiness for gamers. While it lacks a lot of flourish, the game plays quickly and offers plenty of interesting locations to demonstrate both artistic and technical beauty from a new generation of gaming. Being the only fighter at launch, it probably also benefitted catching the at-the-time niche console fighter market. Comparing it to the rest of the launch lineup, it seemed to have more polish but still failed to deliver when it came to content.

The amount of additional modes is welcome, but at the same time I feel that some modes were added strictly to pander to particular audiences. The CG Collection was clearly not a gameplay addition of high merit, nor was the Items Collection feature. The tweaked animations and additional graphical and audio upgrades were much more acceptable, in my opinion.

In today’s eyes, though, one has to compare it to the improvements made to both the genre and the Dead or Alive series in general. It stands as the improved version of what became the base of all Dead or Alive titles, and it would act as the doorway through which the fighting series left the arcades in favor of console online battling. I guess your mileage will vary with your enjoyment of DOA2: Hardcore, especially considering its lack of additional content compared to the swaths of characters and additions in today’s fighters (MvC 3, SSFIV, even DOA4).

If you like fighters and have a friend to play with, DOA2: Hardcore might be worth the pocket change. Otherwise, there are probably better Dead or Alive experiences out there for you to enjoy.

3RM Says: I'm not sure how you can be wanted Dead or Alive for a second time.
Not to mention that I'm apparently wanted to be Hardcore, too.