All About MooncalfReviews
1 - Internet Connection Required
2 - Kenect Always On
3 - No Backwards Compatibility
4 - Pre-Owned Unlock Fees
5 - XBLA Games Don't Carry Over
6 - More Focus of TV than Games
7 - Specs Fall Short of Highest End
8 - All Games Must Be Installed
One thing that really bothered my about Smash Brothers: Brawl was that it included so many duplicate convenience characters, who looked almost exactly the same, were from the same game, fought the same, but had a different skin. Why they chose to include Lucas as well as Ness I'll never understand, nor will I understand the inclusion of both Link and Cartoon Link, or (as if Fox wasn't enough), Falco AND Wolf. Come on now Nintendo you're just being lazy. Nintendo opened a whole new can of worms when they started including characters such as Snake in their Smash Brothers series. What they were basically saying was that it was okay to add non-Nintendo characters, as long as those characters have featured in at least one game on a Nintendo console. As long as they can afford to pay out a share of the profits to the companies that own the characters in question, then, the sky is the limit, and Nintendo really should considering bumping their character roster to insane numbers. This got me thinking about some of my favourite characters from old Nintendo games who I would love to see included in Smash Brothers. While being mindful of how much each character's licence might cost Nintendo, here's some of my picks:
Bubsy the Bobcat
Published by Accolade, Bubsy was a comical Sonic style game featuring some weird fast-running cat creature, lots of wacky levels, and suitably quirky music. Accolade are gone now, so paying for Bubsy's inclusion wouldn't cost an arm an a leg, and would be a nice nod to the SNES / Famicom faithful of old.
Alex / Ryan from River City Ransom
Alex and Ryan returned to the Nintendo when RCR Ex was released for the Gameboy Advance some years back, and in Japan they were given many sequels. In the west, they are just as popular, if not moreso, due to their quirky appearance in the original RCR, which was far ahead for its time. Released by the relatively unknown Technos (then later, by "Million" on the GBA), including these cult favourites wouldn't cost Nintendo much at all. Think of the dust-bin pounding, ground-stomping, acro-circus possibilities!
Conker from Conker's Bad Fur Day
Rare have already allowed Nintendo to include characters which were created by themselves, such as Diddy Kong. Even though Diddy was created for a Nintendo originated franchise (Donkey Kong), Diddy was Rare's creation, as were the Proximity Mines (Goldeneye). Conker was one of Rare's best ever characters, and although he might have to be censored slightly for such a kid-friendly game, he was already included in Diddy Kong Racing, after all.
Olaf from Lost Vikings
Olaf comes complete with his large shield, a horned helmet, and a futuristic race car from Rock 'n Roll Racing. Yeah that's right, bring out the hover car with guided missiles! Although Lost Vikings was originally developed by the now super-rich Blizzard, development of later sequels was handed over to the recently defunct Krome Studios Melbourne. Who holds the rights to Olaf? The answer to that would also answer how much his inclusion would cost Nintendo.
Another cult classic, Rygar was one strange little game on the NES, which was unfortunately sullied by its sequel years later on the PS2 and Wii. Tecmo was the company responsible for his creation, the same company who created Dynasty warriors and Dead or Alive. Yes, Rygar might cost Nintendo quite a bit in licensing, but his host of interesting weapons and gadgets would make him a welcome inclusion into the brawler.
Rash from Battletoads
Another character developed by Rare. Rash was practically made for Smash Brothers! With hands which morph into anvils and hammers, and heads which spontaneously grow horns when head-butting oversized demon pigs. I'm unsure which publishing company holds the rights to Rash, but many of those listed in its long history (such as Tradewest) are now defunct, so it very well could be in Rare's hands.
Ebishimaru from Mystical Ninja
Forget Goeman! It's all about Ebishimaru (the fat one)! With his comical walking, drawling on his back, and insane Japanese dialog, Ebishimaru would be a fan favourite for those who remember the original Goeman / Mystical Ninja series. He throws coins, he hits people with umbrellas, and summons giant robots named Impact ("dash dash dash!"). Konami currently hold the rights to Ebishimaru, and let's be honest, those guys aren't poor, so they would probably ask for a nice fat slice of the profits if Nintendo wanted 'Bishy, but they most recently returned the Mystical Ninja series to the Nintendo DS, so who knows?
Jake Armitage from Shadowrun
The greatest western-made game for the 2nd generation Nintendo console? Very possibly. The guy might have looked liked a Nazi torturer, but damn could he hack. Not to mention shoot guns, summon magic, and call on the aid of his massive troll bodyguards. Data East created Jake for Shadowrun on the SNES, and they have long since dispersed. With no foreseeable Jake Armatage sequel, how much could it really cost Nintendo to include him in the next Smash game?
Don't pretend you don't want him on your roster. Jim appeared on most consoles back in the 90's, and although his game wasn't a masterpiece, simply being on the Nintendo at one point makes him a viable candidate for Smash inclusion. His cartoon-like appearance and fantastic moves and weapons also makes him ideal. Plus, who could say no to an Earthworm stage, complete with orchestrated cartoon theme? An alternative to Jim, should Nintendo fail to obtain his rights: The Tick. Oh yes, I went there.
Julie from Zombies Ate My Neighbours
Water guns, lawnmowers, holy relics, inflatable clown decoys, and six-pack fizz bombs. Do I really need to say much more?
Video Games: The Superior Storytelling Medium
There's a very deliberate flaw in the heading of my blog entry. You see, it's a lie. Most people will probably see that heading and instantly disagree, and so they should. However, place one word in that subject line, and suddenly it becomes arguably quite true. The word is "potentially".
They offer unique possibilities in the area of story telling and audience involvement that no other medium of art or entertainment can offer. They excel in areas that other mediums do not, making up for the brevity of films, the formulaic nature of TV, the forced perspective of 2D visual art. They are vastly untapped and hugely underrated by those with limited imaginations or pre-conceived bias against the industry.
So let's take a look at the competition, and see what video games are up against, and in which ways they are potentially superior or inferior.
Comics have only recently been accepted as a legitimate art form, but they have always been indisputably considered a notable form of entertainment involving storytelling. Visually, they tell a story without limitations on budget for special effects, realism, or author imagination.
But their narrative itself feels somehow lacking at times. The time-consuming task of telling a story through a series of pictures often limits the possibilities of the story itself, especially when it comes to character development or pacing. Although a comic with a brilliantly told story is indeed possible, there are certain unavoidable limitations to comic narrative, including but not limited to the possibility of music.
Video games, on the other hand, have no such limitations. In the time it takes a comic company to create a single visual novel, which lasts perhaps a few hours of reading time, a game developer could tell a story that lasts weeks, and fuels its intricate character development and twisting plot lines with a beautiful score and fully explorable environments.
(Video:Batman Arkham Assylum, based on a comic but does things that no comic ever could.)
In many ways, the potential of television shows feels nearly as untapped as video games. Up until recently, that is. Shows such as Lost, Breaking Bad, Dexter, 24 and the forthcoming Game of Thrones have shaken off the formerly restrictive cliché of serialised episodic narrative, and instead tell a story at their own pace, where characters grow and things change, people die and nothing is completely predictable.
Although they sometimes offer beautiful scores, and even huge budgets to deliver their massive and lengthy stories, the flaw of television shows comes from the undeniable fragility of their existence. They all are -- in one way or another -- around at the whim and economic viability of the networks. A show doesn't meet the required audience target, and it has a few episodes to wrap up its entire story, whether its ready or not. As an artistic medium, there's something a little wrong about that.
Video games, while they are indeed subject to the demands of publishers (and yet, not always), usually get to finish their stories before the plug is pulled on them. Not only that, but the episodic nature of television still demands a form of cliff hanger at the end of each and every episode, and fitting chunks of entertainment into neat little 45 minute slots can make (and indeed, has made) narrative possibilities of the medium somewhat limited.
(Video: Alan Wake.Didn't sell well. So as a TV show, wouldn't have made it past episode 3)
Film was once like game. Many refused to see it as a legitimate art form, even while avant garde artists created experimental moving pictures that truly broke the mould and expanded upon all former possibilities and limitations of art. Nowadays, films often tell stories that are entertaining, moving, grand of scope and intricately told. They have outstanding acting and music with which to deliver their stories, and their directors often put such thought into even the smallest of shots that the atmosphere of a great film can be almost unbeatable.
Almost, that is, but for video games. The atmosphere of a great game can be likewise heightened by brilliant music and masterful use of cinematography, but it has one distinct optional advantage that film does not. Interactivity. Think back to the first time you played a good survival horror game. Did you slowly find yourself so immersed in the projected reality that you found yourself slipping into the shoes of the protagonist? The nature of giving the audience control over the protagonist is such that some small part of your subconscious feels like it is actually there, and when those zombies first attacked you in that survival horror game, didn't you feel different to all of the times you've watched similar horror movies? Not only that, but games with a degree of choice and consequence actively force the spectator into an emotional involvement with the supporting cast, and perhaps even the fictitious universe itself. While this might not be technically better than something that a film can offer, simply having this possibility -- this narrative tool at your disposal -- is something unique to gaming, and something which film can never offer.
Of course, all immersion and interactivity aside, a film costs sometimes billions to make, and is forced to squeeze its story into 3 hours at the most, which is often a very damaging factor to films, especially those based on books.
(Video: Resident Evil, which scared us all in totally new ways when it first came out)
They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, and that might even be an understatement. Although visual art doesn't often aim to tell a story, it usually does, in one way or another. The story might not be linear; it might simply be a feeling or a hidden message, but it is still a story, and often a very powerful one.
Without dwelling on the obvious advantages video games have over this medium of story telling, let's compare the one thing already mentioned as a positive aspect of visual art. The picture itself. Of course, there's simply no denying that no game has ever come close to the visual artistry or imaginative depth of some images and sculptures created by the greatest of humanity's artists. But we're talking potential here, so imagine for a second that you could step into a Cezanne painting, or explore a full world populated by the imaginings of Salvador Dali. Picture a game universe created with the visual styIe akin to Picasso's later works, but with equal originality and artistic scope. Now step beyond that picture, and actually explore those images in your mind. Stand by a lake made up of impressionist brush strokes, and spend as much time there as you like, watching raw art just drift by, and then go to the other side of the lake, and explore the story found in that part of the painting. True enough, a sculpture already has a similar exploitative narrative involved in its artistic imagery, but picture an entire world populated by such sculptures, and then explore them at your leisure. The reality itself becomes the story - becomes the sculpture.
(Video: Flower, tells a story without words, about a beautiful world that we are ruining)
Reading through some comments and threads on Gamespot, I noticed an opinion trend that more than one person seemed quite outspoken about. 'If you want a good story, go read a book', they said. True enough, books are regarded as the pinnacle of story telling by many, even in this day and age, where the visual and musical absolutely dominate our lives and entertainment. And rightly so. Games, thus far, have seldom come close to the scope, length, depth and believability found in the stories by the greatest authors of all time. Books can be written quickly be just a single person, and can explore not only the relationships between characters, but their innermost thoughts and feelings. They give us a world painted by the seemingly limiting palette of words alone, but by using only words, the world comes alive in our minds. We flesh out what the words say, as if we were dreaming the reality presented to us and filling in the blanks, and in doing so we form a basic emotional attachment to the memories made in reading. The creative process is activated when we read in a way that no other medium of story telling could possibly provoke; we create as we explore, and that is a powerful thing indeed.
To say that games have not matched the narrative level of books could be a true statement. But to say that games never will would be a limited and somewhat blinkered view of what is possible, and the potential of the interactive medium of storytelling via games. Firstly, we have the fact that games offer visual and audible components of their stories, and music can be even more powerful than using our imagination. A piece of music alone could be considered art, or a story, and when combined with a well-written and performed script, or a tragic visual scene, games would seemingly have a distinct advantage.
But all obviousness aside, what about the aforementioned creative process and audience participation (through imagination) which books offer? In many ways, the creative process is also at work while playing a video game. Though this might not be true in all of us, and certainly not in all games, it is possible to imagine aspects of a game as we play through it in a very similar way to which we imagine as we read. If we are given choice in a game -- choice over the creation, development, and personality over a character WE create -- not only does it sometimes force us to directly use our imaginations to play a certain role, but it also leaves certain blanks in that character's history and personality which we are free to imagine as we like. Oblivion and Fallout are both very good examples of this. The motivations of what our characters choose to do can simply be a matter of what we feel like doing at the time, or they could be born from a very complex personality we have created for our characters. Moreover, such games give us a world, not just to explore, but also to inhabit. Where we make our homes, who we decide to like, what profession we take, all things provoke a small degree of imaginative reasoning. Perhaps not to the same degree as which books instigate the creative process, but there is still the same basic attachments formed in the characters we create, and even the decisions we make and how we deal with other characters within the world.
(Video: Jade Empire, based on cIassic chinese novels, encourages imagination by decision making)
When you combine all of these advantages; from the visual to the musical; from the interactive to the lengthy, you start to see the potential of video games. And pretty soon developers are going to start realising this too, even as the industry grows and begins to outshine many of the other storytelling mediums. Maybe soon game developers will start to realise that a good story in an adult video game is not only optional, but essential.
Perhaps games have not yet reached their full potential of narrative excellence -- and perhaps they never will -- but the day that they do, it will be something very special indeed.
(Video: Dreamfall, my personal favourite storyline in a video game ... so far)
My Recent Reviews
Footage from the character, car and tattoo customization in APB.
In 2009 Bub and Bob defeated Master Chief in Gamespot's "Greatest Ever Video Game Hero" contest. This is a video recording of the events that day...