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DuckTales: Remastered

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DuckTales: Remastered (2013)

If you read yesterday’s post about DuckTales for the NES, you may have thought, “Wow, I’m surprised he didn’t mention anything about the re-make that came out in 2013.” Well, that’s because I was saving it for its own post! DuckTales: Remastered is a complete remake of the original NES game for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and Nintendo Wii U. Initially a digital only release, DuckTales: Remastered would receive a tangible release as well, and for a game the started as a budget-friendly digital title, I can think of few others that received as much attention and fanfare as DuckTales: Remastered.

Capcom debuted the game at E3 with a memorable video hyping it up before indulging the audience in a sing-along of the memorable theme song from the show. The release of the game coincided with the 25th anniversary of the NES original, and it was a worthy title to revisit based on the fact that the original is still a ton of fun to play. Naturally, remaking a game many consider to be a classic is a tall task, but with such simple play mechanics, how could Capcom go wrong?

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Transylvania got a lot scarier over the last 25 years.

DuckTales the game is largely unchanged at its core. The player still controls Scrooge who jumps and pogos his way through various levels (now six) in an effort to accumulate more wealth for himself and eventually to recover his lucky dime. What is changed are the production values. Modern game consoles can obviously handle quite a bit more, and this being tied to a Disney property, means a remake needs to meet the expectations and standards of The Walt Disney Company.

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A comparison of the sprites from the NES original and the Remastered version.

For the first time ever, a Disney Afternoon property can now basically look just like it does in game form as it did on television. The game is still a 2D side-scroller, but now the sprites for the characters are lovingly hand-drawn in great detail in bright, expressive colors. Scrooge will mostly sport a happy expression, but when he encounters the Beagle Boys or Magicka DeSpell he’ll scrunch his face up into a frown. The enemies too feature changing facial expressions, and not just the boss characters, but even lowly spiders and the like. The levels really come to life as the difference in climate is really accentuated by the enhanced presentation. All in all, DuckTales: Remastered is a beautiful game to behold and one of my very favorites from a visual point of view.

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Another comparison shot to the original.

The enhanced fidelity of the game’s graphics are not the only aspect of the presentation to be enhanced with better technology. The audio is also greatly expanded upon featuring full-voiced characters with actors from the show as well as remastered music. Alan Young, in what is basically his swan-song as Scrooge, does a great job of voicing the greedy old duck and shows that time hasn’t taken much away from his vocal chords. Russi Taylor is on-hand to reprise her role as the nephews, Huey, Duey, and Louie, while  Terry McGovern returns as Launchpad. The wonderful June Foray was even brought back to voice Magicka DeSpell, making this a reunion of sorts for the cast. This seems all the more special since the new version of the cartoon set to launch this summer will feature an all new cast for these characters.

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I love how cold this cavern looks.

The downside to all of these resources is the need to make liberal use of them. DuckTales for the NES was a quick and fun to play title that would have worked even without the DuckTales license. For Remastered, a lot of cut scenes and cinematics were tacked onto the experience, not just in between levels, but even during them. They can be skipped, but even so they really break up the experience of playing the game and not in a welcomed way. Worse, I feel kind of guilty skipping over any line from Young and the other cast-mates, but it can get old hearing the same lines over and over if you’re forced to retry a stage. The game has also been lengthened quite a bit, not just with these scenes, but with a new level and longer boss encounters. Some of the boss fights are fine in their new form, while others do drag. I particularly hated the very final encounter with Magicka and Glomgold. What was a pretty simple race to the top of a rope in the first game, is now a death-defying escape from an active volcano with questionable hit detection. I had to replay the final, added level (which aside from the ending was quite good) repeatedly because I kept dying on this final part. Once I finally beat it I was too aggravated to enjoy it.

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And you thought only Zelda came in gold carts.

The game also adds additional collectibles that can be unlocked as you play, giving you something to do with all of the money Scrooge accumulates throughout the game. It’s mostly limited to concept art and background stills from the game but it’s still fun to look at, though not really enticing enough to encourage repeated play-throughs. I wish Capcom had gone the extra mile and included an unlockable version of the original game or its much rarer sequel. There was a press kit sent out to select individuals that included an actual copy of the original NES game, painted gold, and with the Remastered artwork on the cart. Acquiring one of those on the after-market will set you back a few grand, though it is a pretty neat collectible (and one that probably really irritated those select few that had a complete library of NES games in 2013).

Ultimately, DuckTales: Remastered is a fine enough love letter to the original game. It looks and sounds great, though it’s not quite as much fun to play as the original (though Scrooge’s pogo is still just as satisfying as it was back then) due to the pacing issues. It’s an odd duck (pun intended) in that regard, as most objective onlookers would take one look at both and immediately decide they’d rather play the remake. If you enjoyed the original, Remastered is still worth your time as it’s pretty cheap to acquire and includes enough fan-service to make you smile. And at the end of the day, it’s still DuckTales and still inherently fun, even if it could have been more.

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Gaming Controllers: Your conduit to a virtual world

When it comes to video game development, there are a lot of factors to consider when crafting the perfect game. Visuals have always been a top priority as they’re the simplest way to demonstrate quality to the consumer so the necessary hardware is required to craft some pretty graphics. A fast processor is certainly required or else those pretty games will be choppy and slow. Audio is obviously important, as who would ever want to go back to mono? When it comes to actually interacting with a game and that little avatar on the screen, few things are as important as a controller. There are a lot of different factors that go into creating the perfect controller. Before the NES the joystick was the preferred input method, which was replaced by the directional pad or rocker switch, which has now mostly been supplanted by the analog stick or nub. Those early Atari controllers usually only featured one action button, now anything less than eight is unacceptable. As games have advanced through the decades, the controller has been asked to do more. Let’s pay tribute to those who have done it the best.

First, let’s also make some dishonorable mentions, those controllers that failed to impress.

nintendo-64-controller-gray-flatNintendo 64 – How to rank this one? You all know it, that oddly shaped, three-handled device released in 1996 alongside the Nintendo 64. It wasn’t the first controller to feature an analog thumb-stick, but it certainly made it standard, which is about the only good thing I can say about it. It was chunky, the face buttons felt cheap, and the shoulder buttons offered little satisfaction. The Z-trigger was a nice touch, but unless you were playing one of the many 3D platformers featured on the N64, this one was lacking.

images-222Atari Jaguar – Just look at this thing. If you never handled one consider yourself lucky. Ignoring that the system was a terrible waste of money, this controller was a beast of unwieldy proportions. See that key pad? Of course you do because it’s gigantic. That thing had inserts that could be snapped over it depending on the game, but it was mostly a tacky, useless feature that just made the controller obtuse. The cheap feel didn’t help things either.

All right, with those out of the way let’s move onto the top five. For the controller to be considered, it had to be a “stock” controller during a system’s lifespan, meaning it came bundled with a new console. I also tried to give some deference to the controllers that paved the way, otherwise this top five would be really slanted towards the modern additions since developers have naturally had many opportunities to improve upon the designs of yesterday. Before I get to the top five, let’s first pay homage to the godfather of the modern controller:

nes-controller-flatThe NES controller – It’s the one that standardized the modern layout of basically every controller. The d-pad on the left, and action buttons on the right. Maybe the squared edges weren’t the best idea but the re-designed “dog bone” bundled with the later model NES rectified that mistake. It’s been improved upon by leaps and bounds, but few people thought at the time there was anything wrong with it.

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5. The Neo Geo CD Controller – Neo Geo is the console for SNK and their many arcade games. It was a high-end console for arcade enthusiasts as the giant cartridges were essentially identical to the arcade counterpart. As such, it was really expensive. It was also heavily populated by the fighters, and since every arcade cabinet is equipped with a joystick, the Neo Geo was bundled with one as well. When the Neo Geo CD came out though, it came with a more traditional controller. The layout is the standard established by the Super Nintendo with four face buttons arranged in a diamond shape, but the thing that stands out is that analog slider type of input on the left. Quite simply, it’s the finest analog stick or slider I’ve ever encountered, which is incredible since it’s over twenty years old at this point. It has a satisfying click to it and enough resistance for more precise actions. I’m not sure how well it would hold up with modern 3D games, but for 2D games it’s flawless. And best of all, it’s the only analog thumb-stick I’ve ever encountered that’s usable with fighting games. Anyone who tried to play Street Fighter IV on an Xbox 360 can tell you how impossible a task that is.

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4. Sega Genesis Six Button Controller – Not a stock controller initially, the six button version of the Genesis controller was the preferred controller by gaming enthusiasts who had a Genesis. And if you were really into fighting games, it was probably your favorite across all consoles. It maintained the standard Genesis d-pad, which included easy diagonals making it superior to the one offered by the Big N. The three buttons layout though was suboptimal, and the six button controller rectified that shortcoming. The layout made it super easy for games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat to access the strongest punch and kick attacks. By the time the Genesis 3 and the CDX came to be the controller even came with a turbo function (in case you forgot, gamers in the 90’s thought turbo was the greatest)! The only criticism that can be levied on this one is the size. Being quite small, it takes some getting used to in the hands of an adult male.

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3. The Xbox One – It’s more or less the same as the 360, which is probably what most gamers wanted. The ergonomics of the controller are pretty tried and true and this point, though while most controllers are trended more towards the smaller side, Microsoft still likes to keep their controller a little thicker than others. While the original Xbox controller was too much like the Dreamcast in that department (which was a contender for a dishonorable mention), the Xbox One controller has found a nice balance. The only thing holding it back is that damn D-pad. One of the measuring sticks of a controller is how well it handles all genres of games, and the Xbox One’s inability to properly control a quality 2D fighter is a hindrance carried over from its predecessor. If you don’t like 2D fighters though, a genre that has certainly seen its popularity apex long ago, then you’re probably good with this one.

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2. The Super Nintendo – The Super Nintendo is essentially the root of all modern controllers (excepting, of course, the oddball Wii controllers) as it established the preferred layout for virtually every game. A directional input on the left, diamond shaped action buttons on the right, and shoulder buttons for easy trigger finger access. The rounded edge made it comfortable, and the center of the controller was open for less important buttons and functions which is something future controllers took advantage of. The Super Nintendo controller was essentially perfect for its era. While most gamers would agree the the d-pad on the Genesis controller was superior, it wasn’t able to match the feel of the SNES controller, nor was the d-pad advantage enough to make up for the extra buttons. Oddly enough, Nintendo has been the one company to not really carry forward the SNES controller’s design. After it came the N64 and Virtual Boy, which also featured a terrible input device, before the Gamecube sort of brought Nintendo back to the old design. The Wii and Wii U obviously went in completely different directions for their input device, but at least they’ve had secondary controllers that resemble the SNES one. Sometimes it’s better to just stick with what works.

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  1. The Dual Shock 4 – Stick with what works seems to be an unofficial motto for Sony and its Playstation controllers. The original Playstation featured a controller that was essentially a SNES controller with two extra shoulder buttons and handles for added comfort. After the N64 made analog a big deal, it was replaced by the Dual Shock which added a vibrating function and twin analog sticks. The PS2 and PS3 did little to change from the Dual Shock, but the Dual Shock 4 brought about some slight modifications that have helped to make it gaming’s best all-around controller. The D-pad is still placed in a prominent spot despite the fact that it’s utilized less than an analog stick, but the analog input manages to remain in a thumb-friendly zone. The rear triggers are comfortable and responsive, and the diamond layout for the face buttons is preserved. Sure, the touchpad in the center of the controller is a novelty addition, but it’s not one that takes away from the controller’s main functions. It’s the one controller I really can’t complain about as it has a nice weight to it, it’s durable, and never lacking for buttons. Good luck to those who try and top it, but hopefully Sony continues to stick with what works.

What to Make of E3 2012?

If you’re even remotely into video games then you know that every June the Electronic Entertainment Expo (better known as E3) takes place in LA and all of the major players in the video game world unveil to the public what they have in store for the masses.  Often times E3 is the first chance for gamers to get a look at the next big “thing” from the major developers, be that thing a new console or the return of a beloved franchise.  This year’s E3 promised to reveal more about Nintendo’s next machine, the Wii U, and the public figured to get its first look at the latest in long-running franchises like Halo and Super Mario Bros.  As for surprises, well it was entirely possible, though not likely, we’d get some info on the successors to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and maybe a new 3DS.  Now that E3 2012 is in the books, what did I think of it?  I’m glad you asked!

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I’m lumping these two together for reasons that will be obvious once I’m done.  Both console publishers weren’t expected to unveil new hardware at E3 and instead would aim to boost their current market share.  Microsoft, predictably, threw a bunch of Kinect stuff at the attendees since that’s presently making them a boatload of money even if the “hardcore” gaming community couldn’t care less about it.  There was Halo 4 though, which was the game most Xbox fans were interested in.  As the first Halo not developed by Bungie, there is some uncertainty surrounding it but it seems like most were satisfied.  Beyond that it was mostly third party games that were spotlighted and some kind of fancy touch-screen junk.  Ho-hum.

Sony was expected to tout the Vita to PS3 connectivity in hopes of boosting the Vita’s severely lacking sales.  Sony’s presentation ended up looking like a business meeting at times and was a total snooze-fest.  They did talk up the connectivity of the Vita and PS3, but really didn’t get behind the Vita like I thought they would.  Like Microsoft, the emphasis was on third-party releases but Sony did flash some new exclusives such as The Last of Us and the latest from Heavy Rain developer, Quantic Dream; a new title similar to Heavy Rain called Beyond:  Two Souls.  I was surprised at how shitty 2012 looks for the Vita as the best titles coming to the handheld are PS3 ports like Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time and Guacamelee, making me feel less secure in my purchase.

Studio Ghibli is being used to help develop a game? You bet I want in on that!

If you can’t tell, I was pretty unimpressed with the offerings Sony and Microsoft made.  The game that excited me most on their machines was probably Ni No Kuni, the Level 5 and Studio Ghibli collaboration for the PS3 that’s already out in Japan.  I already knew enough about that title though, so it wasn’t like E3 was some big unveiling for it.  Plus it’s a JRPG which doesn’t attract much attention these days.  There was really nothing from Square-Enix, which surprised me, other than their produced revival of Tomb Raider which got a lot of people talking (IGN gave it the title of best game of E3), but I just can’t get excited about a Tomb Raider game.  Microsoft and Sony essentially punted on E3, and with next year’s E3 expected to showcase their new machines, I suppose it’s understandable.

Nintendo

Nintendo had the most to gain with E3 2012 so I expected the Big N to pull out the big guns.  After all, E3 marked the best opportunity for the company to sell the public on its latest console the Wii U, while also pumping up the money-printer known as the 3DS.

Before I get to the Wii U, let’s look at the 3DS.  Interestingly, around this time last year the handheld was floundering and Nintendo was already contemplating a price cut which it would eventually implement.  That price reduction, along with some better software, propelled the 3DS to the top of the sales charts.  Nintendo may be losing money on each unit sold right now, but it’s better than having them sit on the store shelves.  It was thought that Nintendo would show off a 3DS Lite, or as media reports before the show appeared to leak, a 3DS XL which would basically combine the existing hardware with the Circle Pad Pro attachment.  These reports proved erroneous, for now anyways, as Nintendo did not have a new 3DS to show off.  This probably has a lot to do with the current model both selling well and at a loss.  Why sink more R&D into it now?  Nintendo will likely wait for sales to slow down before unveiling a new SKU.

Ghost-busting, Luigi style.

As for the games, well the 3DS didn’t show off much new, and instead finally gave the public a glimpse into games it had already announced but had yet to really show off.  These games included both a new entry in the Paper Mario franchise and a sequel to the decade-old Luigi’s Mansion.  Both were on display at E3 this year and both pretty much delivered what I think most gamers were expecting.  Neither one appears to break the mold much, and Paper Mario:  Sticker Star has some weird sticker gimmick that I’m not sure I like, but gameplay-wise both titles appear solid.  Luigi’s Mansion:  Dark Moon is perhaps slightly more interesting just because it’s a franchise Nintendo has yet to exploit.  The first game, released as a Gamecube launch title, was a solid enough title but one that felt like it needed a sequel to fully realize its potential.  It’s surprising a sequel has taken this long and hopefully it’s a more complete game this time out.

I hope you like coins…

The big, new, title for the 3DS announced just before E3 is New Super Mario Bros. 2.  New Super Mario Bros. is one of the DS’s all-time best sellers, while New Super Mario Bros. Wii is one of the all-time best sellers period, so it’s no surprise the game is returning in 2012.  NSMB2 looks to be more of the same.  Nintendo is bringing back the leaf power-up, much as it did with Super Mario 3D Land, though this time it’s function is identical to it’s original powers in Super Mario Bros. 3, complete with P Meter and all.  It’s also incorporating the Wii version’s simultaneous play, as two players can play as Mario and Luigi at the same time, which sounds like more fun than it looks.  This edition also places emphasis on coin collecting (one of the new power-ups, a gold fire flower, lets Mario turn pretty much everything into coins) with the goal being to collect a million over the course of the game.  It’s unclear if that’s some sort of requirement or just a challenge, but it’s not something that has me excited at all.  Coin collecting, and collecting things in general in platformers, is mundane.  I don’t mind a few hidden items, like the star coins, which are usually some-what challenging to get, but just grabbing coins is often an after-thought.  The games are so easy that the player doesn’t really have to go out of their way to get coins and yet will still end up with over 100 lives.  I’ve recently been playing a lot of the Super Nintendo classic Super Mario World and I wish Nintendo would look to that title for inspiration.  The challenge in that game was finding numerous secret exits and extra levels which was far more gratifying than coin collecting.  NSMB2 does at least return the Koopalings, something I wish had been included in Super Mario 3D Land, so that’s a plus.

It also wasn’t enough to have just one new entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise as Nintendo also showed off New Super Mario Bros. U, the lead title for the new Wii U console.  It’s basically what you would expect, though Nintendo hopes to high-light the Wii U’s new controller.  By doing so, the Wii U game uses the Wii remotes for general play, but one person can use the new controller to add items to the levels, kind of like a Dungeon Master or something.  The game will have co-op play and will have a different set of levels than the 3DS game plus Yoshi and a new suit; the flying squirrel.

Mario’s new suit: The Flying Squirrel. At least it makes more sense than the raccoon tail.

That little segue brings me to the Wii U and why I really couldn’t care less at this point.  If you weren’t aware, the Wii U’s main selling point is this new controller.  It’s basically like a DS only with one screen and two analog sticks.  The touchscreen on it will be used differently for each game.  In ZombiU, it’s used to display little puzzles like key-code readers for doors and it’s designed to get the player to look away from the screen while hoards of zombies are descending upon the player to enhance the excitement.  In Batman: Arkham City, it just displays Batman’s gadgets and instead of selecting them with a touch of a button you use the touchscreen.  It’s also used to steer his remote bat-a-rang and control his de-encoder device.  A new title called Nintendo Land figures to show off other uses for the controller (the game is basically the Wii U’s version of Wii Sports, though marketed better by using Nintendo characters) but Nintendo hasn’t committed to it as a pack-in title, which would be a huge mistake, in my opinion.

If the uses for the controller do not wet your appetite, then I’m afraid there isn’t much going for the Wii U.  For me, it just doesn’t sound all that interesting.  It’s basically taking the DS experience to the home console.  And it’s being reported a single charge will only get you about 2 and a half hours of gameplay out of the controller which will make owning two a necessity for anyone looking to game for that length of time.  Also hurting it is the fact that some titles, like Arkham City and Mass Effect 3, will have been available for quite some time on other consoles by the time they’re released.  Do the additions to Arkham City make you want to buy it again?  I think for most the answer will be “no.”  And it’s also being reported that the Wii U may not even be as powerful as the 360 and PS3.  All of this tells me that Nintendo needs to get its big franchises onto this thing fast if it expects to move a bunch of units, because I don’t see any system sellers for it right now.

Wreck-It Ralph

I love this concept, hopefully it’s utilized well.

Have you heard about this one?  E3 isn’t known for movie reveals, but there’s also never been a movie like Wreck-It Ralph.  Best described as video game’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Wreck-It Ralph is an animated feature from Disney that’s like a love letter to gaming.  The main character (voiced by John C. Reilly), is the antagonist in a Donkey Kong-like game who is sick of being the bad guy.  The trailer features a visually amusing gag of Ralph sitting in a therapy session with some of gaming’s biggest villains including Bowser and M. Bison.  The CG-animated film is directed by Rich Moore who was the lead director on the first several seasons of Futurama which certainly bodes well for the film.  I love the concept, but honestly found the trailer underwhelming.  The jokes just weren’t very funny, but I’ll refrain from passing judgement until I actually see it.  The film is currently set for a November release.

All in all, I think E3 2012 was one of the least interesting E3’s in recent memory.  Perhaps if Nintendo had yet to unveil the Wii U it would have been more exciting, but we already saw this thing in action a year ago and this year it was all about the launch-window software, which really didn’t impress.  Nintendo also didn’t unveil any pricing, which has me concerned, as I’m sure the company doesn’t want to sell this thing at a loss like it currently is doing for the 3DS.  I’m expecting a bare-bones release, as in one controller and no pack-in games, for around $300.  Any higher and Nintendo is crazy.

And if Nintendo failed to seize the moment, Microsoft and Sony weren’t willing to steal the spotlight.  Neither company really unveiled anything new and preferred to rest on its laurels.  Sure this year’s E3 was the public’s first look at Halo 4 and The Last of Us, but I think we all have a reasonable expectation of what they’ll play like.  There were no new games shown that have me excited, and the most interesting for me was Beyond:  Two Souls but that one is still a long way off.  2012 started off with a bang, but the fall looks to be easier on the wallet, I’ll leave you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.