Sonic and Mario... together?

If we weren’t but a few days off from April Fool’s day, I probably wouldn’t have such a hard time believing this. This is the video equivalent of the Beatles teaming up with the Rolling Stones to form the world’s greatest band. Why, there’s no way this could not be awesome!

Uh…

TOKYO (March 28, 2007) - SEGA® Corporation and Nintendo Co. Ltd. today made a historical announcement that two of the biggest icons in the entertainment industry, Mario™ and Sonic™, are joining forces to star in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. Developed for the Wii™ video game system and the Nintendo DS™ system, this momentous agreement marks the first time these two renowned stars have appeared together in a game.

Published by SEGA across Europe and North America, and published by Nintendo in the Japanese market, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games will be available for Christmas 2007 and is licensed through a worldwide partnership with International Sports Multimedia (ISM), the exclusive interactive entertainment software licensee of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

In Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, players will compete in events that take place in environments based on the official venues of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Using a supporting cast of characters from the amazing worlds of both Mario and Sonic, gamers will be able to compete as or against a range of lovable personalities including Mario, Sonic, Luigi™, Knuckles™, Yoshi®, Tails™ and more. Innovative usage of the Wii and DS control systems to maneuver a favourite character will allow players to race the likes of Mario and Sonic down the 100m track, engage in exhilarating rallies in table tennis and churn water in a swimming heat, all while competing for the much sought after gold medal.

“We are thrilled to partner with Nintendo and ISM on this groundbreaking title,” said Hisao Oguchi, President and Chief Operating Officer, SEGA Corporation. “For the first time, two of the world’s greatest games' characters come together to compete in the world’s greatest sporting event and we couldn’t be more excited.”

“Mario and Sonic have been respectful rivals since the early days of video games,” says Shigeru Miyamoto, Senior Managing Director and General Manager, Entertainment Analysis and Development Division, Nintendo Co., Ltd.. “In fact, for a long time they have been discussing the possibility of one day competing against each other. Now that they have been given the perfect opportunity to meet at the Olympic Games, we may finally learn who is actually faster, Mario or Sonic?”

“The Olympic Games represent the true spirit of competition and passion,” said Raymond Goldsmith, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ISM. “Bringing together intensely competitive and fun characters like Mario and Sonic in an Olympic setting helps showcase the sports of the Olympic Games in a new and compelling way for all generations."

A Sober look at the Nintendo Wii

Now that I’ve had my Wii for almost two months and the shock of the new has worn off, I think it’s time to step back and take a good, hard look at the system and see what needs to change before it can become… ahem“the most successful console of all time."

“Hey, what’s your friend code?”

True story: I was listening to someone I know on the radio today talking about the Vista launch - the presenter mentioned that he was crazy about the Xbox 360 and said that they should swap gamer tags. “Sure,” my friend said, “I’m $foo.” Now, I can guarantee he’ll have a few extra friends on Xbox 360 tonight. People he could play games with in the space of a few minutes. Leaving aside all other parts of their latest console offering, Microsoft nailed the online aspect. They made it ridiculously simple for people to find each other and play online.

Nintendo’s online strategy has been built around the idea of protecting children from sexual predators. The idea being that if you make the system ridiculously cumbersome, the sexual predator will lose interest and go back to stalking teenage girls on myspace. So we’re left with the following: If I want to add you as a friend, I have to give you my 16-digit code, you put this into your Wii, and then you have to give me your 16-digit code and I have to put this into my Wii. Except we can’t actually exchange codes over the Wii, so we have to find some other way of getting our friends codes to each other. But once we have independently added each other, that’s when the fun begins! We will be able to… well, we can’t play any games together yet, because there aren’t any games to play online yet. We can send each other messages, I guess. And send each other Miis (those cute characters that are popping up everywhere). Apart from that, uh…

The exchange (and entry) of these 16-digit codes is so awkward that I have actually traded Wii friends codes using Xbox Live. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing in Nintendo HQ, there’s something very wrong here.

And to top this all off, Pokemon Battle Revolution – the first online-enabled Wii game – will require an entirely new, completely separate code for friends to play with each other. I mean, good grief! Iwata-san, protecting children from online predators is commendable and all, but surely the rest of us shouldn’t be punished as well?

And now even big developers are telling Nintendo that the Wii “Friend code” system is broken and dumb. So there’s hope yet.

Post-launch Game Drought

Zelda aside, there hasn’t been a single truly compelling purchase for the Wii since it launched. Wario Ware: Smooth Moves is a fun diversion, but the system already has a bunch of games based around mini-games, so it’s hard to get excited about a bunch more. The upcoming release pipeline is pretty bleak, with no real excitement until Mario Galaxy in June. Until then, we get a bunch of lackluster third-party titles and ports from other systems (Price of Persia being a port of the PSP version(!) of the game).

Come on Nintendo, people knew there was going to be a bit of a drought while you found your feet. People still went and bought the system on the promise of something remarkable. How’s about you live up to that with more than just mini-games?

Features Removed From Virtual Console Games

When I first spoke about the Wii’s Virtual Console in December, I said

But the games that you play on the Virtual Console will be pixel-perfect versions of the games you played on your NES, SNES, N64, Megadrive or PC Engine. As the man says: Nothing added, nothing taken away.

Turns out this isn’t quite true - Nintendo removed expansion port functionality from Nintendo 64 games on the Virtual Console, which means that you can’t save data on some games (such as ghost data on Mario Kart 64), but more importantly means that there will be no rumble in VC games, despite the presence of a rumble motor in the Gamecube controller. These may be relatively minor issues, but all the same, as someone who is being asked to pay unreasonable prices to play these games, the least I can expect is the same experience. I mean, it’s only right. Right?

Misc issues

  1. Wireless out of the box! Always-on technology! Why can’t these two things come together and give me an experience where my Wii doesn’t have to do a 15-second connection test each time I connect to the Wii shop?

  2. We’re no longer dealing with bricks-and-mortar distributors and export laws, so why can’t I buy games from the US Virtual Console shop? Why are Nintendo only going to allow me to buy games that were originally released in Europe? Playing games that were never released here is half the reason I love emulators so much.

  3. I was going to make a joke about straps here, but then I figured, nah…

Elite Beat Agents

eba.jpg If Full Spectrum Warrior can be used to train soldiers in the US Army, I don’t understand why crisis negotiators and bomb disposal teams aren’t using Elite Beat Agents to train their new recruits. No other game comes close to teaching you the importance of staying calm under pressure like EBA.

Elite Beat Agents is the English-language version of Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, a cheerleading game which appeared on the DS in Japan a while ago. It’s basically a rhythm-action game, requiring you to tap the screen in the right place, in time with the music (the unbearably cute J-Pop of the original replaced with unbearably cute western pop in EBA). Simple, right?

Wrong.

The whole time you’re playing, your “Elite Meter” is trickling down. Tapping the screen at the right time will top this up slightly (How well you tap the screen in time with the music affects the amount that this gets ‘topped up’). Miss a note and your Elite Meter drops slightly. If your Elite Meter drops to nothing, it’s game over.

There’s a point, roughly halfway along your Elite Meter where it turns from yellow (fine) into red (danger!). Once you cross into the red, your on-screen cheerleaders stop cheering. They stand there, panting, until you manage to bring the Elite Meter out of the red. With all its liveliness and constant movement, the sight of your cheerleaders standing completely motionless, is the most distracting thing in the game.

If you get into the red, it’s very easy to drag yourself back out: all you need to do is score some perfect hits and boost your Elite Meter. But when you realise your cheerleaders aren’t dancing, you panic. You start keeping one eye on your Elite Meter. Then all sense of rhythm goes out the window and it’s virtually impossible to get the perfect hits you need. In other words, if you panic and lose focus, it’s game over. It took me a long time to learn this. Frustration almost drove me to shove the stylus through my DS while trying to crack “Jumpin' Jack Flash”, but I got there in the end.

So if you ever see a guy defusing a bomb and humming ‘Sk8r Boi’, don’t worry. You’re in good hands.

So far, Elite Beat Agents hasn’t been given a UK release, but DS games aren’t region-locked, so buy a copy from eBay and enjoy.

{games, nintendo, DS}

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