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Thursday, May 15, 2008
Clover Studio has returned as PlatinumGames, complete with a publishing deal with Sega. It's time to celebrate, people.

It was a sad, sad day when Clover Studio was unceremoniously disbanded.  Honestly, when you look at Clover’s body of work, there’s not much to it: a pile of Viewtiful Joe games, Okami, God Hand, and…well, that’s pretty much it.  Still, when Capcom decided that Clover’s time had come and gone (probably due to the fact that God Hand sold something like 53 copies, total), it was like a punch to the gut for gamers who had already come to look forward to the development studio’s unique, wonderfully independent approach to making games.


Clover's Okami

Clover’s Okami


Okami, of course, is the big name in Clover’s history.  Okami actually managed to take some of the wind out of the sails of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess upon that game’s release, offering a play dynamic that was quite similar to that of Zelda, but with a thumbstick painting dynamic combined with an art style which together created an experience that felt unique and utterly unprecedented.  The game sold pretty well, but was of course ultimately overshadowed by the impressive pedigree of its Triforce-adorned counterpart (of course, the ultimate slap in regard to Okami was the removal of the Clover team’s names from the newly-released Wii port).


God Hand, for its part, was a unique take on the God of War-meets-Double Dragon genre, focusing on combos and an ultra-violent (thought bloodless) style that was utterly unique in its style (again) and its execution (again).  Indeed, Clover to this point had been masters of taking established genres and twisting them in completely unexpected ways.


Clover's God Hand

Clover’s God Hand


It’s been just over a year since Clover went the way of Moonlight, but those of us who mourned Clover’s departure now have reason to celebrate.


Hot on the heels of the announcement of an exclusive publishing deal with Sega (Sega!), the ashes of Clover have made themselves known as PlatinumGames, which could logically be called the evolution of Clover (it’s basically Clover with a few extra developers added on for good measure).  We haven’t seen much of PlatinumGames to date, and it’s going to be a while before we actually get to play any of their games, but given what they have allowed us to see so far, they’re picking up right where Clover left off.


There’s Bayonetta, which is being described loosely as a Devil May Cry-like game, and at the very least, it features a character who uses a pistol as a stiletto heel.  It’s not exactly a chainsaw gun, I suppose, but it’s pretty freakin’ cool nonetheless, and the nigh-unintelligible action style hinted at in the short trailer (which I have helpfully appended to this post) looks like an utter trip.  That one’s for the Xbox and the PS3, but to these eyes, it’s the PlatinumGames Wii offering that looks like the true winner.  Think Sin City meets The Evil Dead, in video game form.  MADWORLD features a protagonist with a chainsaw for a right hand, and an art style that features only three colors: black, white, and red.  You see, red only appears when someone is bleeding, which happens, apparently, a lot.


PlatinumGames' MadWorld

PlatinumGames’ MADWORLD


Again, on the surface, it’s not really a unique idea for a game, in that you’re basically going to be walking around ripping baddies open with your chainsaw hand.  Still, style counts for a lot, and MADWORLD looks to have style bleeding out its ears.


There’s even a DS RPG called Infinite Line that’s going to be showing up along the way as well.  They certainly seem to have the platforms covered, anyway.


In any case, the rebirth of Clover as PlatinumGames is an excellent thing on so many levels.  For one, and perhaps most importantly, it’s excellent for the developers themselves, as it seems that they have not had to sacrifice their vision of what makes a great game.  It’s a great thing for Sega, as a publisher whose name has suffered under the weight of countless subpar Sonic franchise offerings and a lack of other universally-known IPs gets to bask in the credibility that comes with the admiration of hardcore gamers for whom the PlatinumGames/Sega deal means something.  Finally, of course, this is great news for us, the gamers, the ones who died a little when Clover disbanded, the ones who believe that games can be art and appreciate the developers who make a concerted effort to make sure it is seen as such.  We won’t get to see the fruits of PlatinumGames’ labor until next year, but for this, I’ll wait.


I’ll wait patiently, and try to not let the anticipation kill me.


UPDATE: The MADWORLD trailer is out.  Hide the kids:




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Wednesday, May 14, 2008
by Darwin Hang
Darwin Hang takes on the PlayStation 2's latest Sonic the Hedgehog-based racing game...

An object’s velocity is equal to its displacement divided by the time of travel.  This means that an object which starts and ends its voyage at the same position has a velocity equal to zero.  Now, let’s say that that object A is Sonic the Hedgehog riding a hoverboard.  Object B is a robot chasing object A in the story mode of Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity.  Both objects start at position X and end at position X, giving both of them a velocity of zero miles per hour.  The story mode, like Sonic on his intergalactic hoverboard, goes nowhere.


Sonic’s distinguishing trait has always been his speed.  He was fast without any technological aid.  That was the point.  He was able to use his natural skills to defeat Mr. Robotnik, or Eggman, who was obsessed with technology.  This racing-obsessed version of Sonic does not appear to be made within the same continuity as the original Sega titles.  It fails in its inability to retain the spirit of the Sonic franchise.  Sonic doesn’t need a vehicle, he needs to run and jump and spin fast.  Eggman has become comic relief.  Because the story mode has to be played through to unlock features of the game, there should have been some course alterations so that the races would feel like a natural progression of the story.


When the game sticks to racing, it’s tolerable.  The courses play differently for different characters, and a slow motion “drift” function is well designed.  Sometimes gameplay is exciting.  The courses play differently for different characters as long as you stick to Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles.  The “Rogues” are feathered mirror images of the mammalian main characters.  The racing is fast and there are many gimmicks which work well and many gimmicks that don’t.  Because of the gimmickry, there is not an even playing field, meaning that this does not make for a good party game.  Once a course is played through with each character, it loses its charm.


Like its intended tween audience, the Sonic franchise is going through an identity crisis.  Does Sega keep churning out Sonic titles that no one cares about until people just start ignoring him and pretending he doesn’t exist?  Will Sonic someday have MTV Made help get his singing career started?  Too bad these questions could not have been addressed earlier, before Sonic reached his mid twenties.


As someone who grew up playing Sonic the Hedgehog (yes, I was that kid who had a Sega Genesis instead of a Super Nintendo), it was hard for me to play Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity.  I am going to keep typing that name, because it is part of the problem.  My generation grew up on side scrollers and 2D first person shooters.  Most of the time we had no idea what the plots of the Sonic games were or if they even existed.  Then, it didn’t matter.  Now it does.


Art builds upon its predecessors.  It doesn’t rely on nostalgia to retain an aging audience.  It connects generations while creating gaps between them.  Art causes friction.  Art makes us question our limits as a human race, our future, and our past.  With all the mediocre, thoughtless, effortless, useless titles I play, such as Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity, the more I wonder if I was wrong about stating that video games are art.  Maybe, like Van Gogh, this game won’t be appreciated until the Sonic franchise is finally dead.


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Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Video game trailers are becoming more and more important to the success of the games they depict. What are the best ones you've seen this year?

Having been the one to plaster the trailers at the bottom of the game reviews you’ve been reading on PopMatters for the last year and a half or so, I’ve had the privilege to watch hundreds of these game trailers over that time.  Given the increasing prevalence of YouTube, Google Video, and more specialized spots like the aptly named GameTrailers, the videogame trailer has become as important as the movie trailer in their respective media arenas.


As it turns out, they have awards (“Golden Trailers”) for game trailers!  This is a fact of the industry that I had no idea existed until I got an e-mail announcing the winner of this year’s award:


Yes, “Medal of Homer” actually beat out the Halo 3 “Believe” ads, which is actually pretty incredible for the folks at Hammer Creative, who made the thing. 


The leading contender so far this year?  I’ve seen some excellent trailers for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, GTA IV, and even Persona 3, but the leader in this particular race right now has to be Metal Gear Solid 4, for a trailer that’s less than 48 hours old.  The reason?  The mere presence of Don LaFontaine, a.k.a. “The Movie Voiceover Guy”, elevates pretty much any trailer to must-watch status (a fact not lost on Sega, who actually hired him for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games), and the sheer drama of Metal Gear Solid 4 only adds to the weight.  Here it is:


 


Hell yes!  Whoo!  When the end of it—that “...but Courage is SOLID” part—happens, I want to get up and cheer like a 14-year-old who just watched Saw.  It’s so, so cheesy, but it’s so earnest about it as to actually be kind of endearing.  And AWESOME.  Have you seen anything better?  Pop it in the comments.  I wanna see.


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Monday, May 12, 2008
In the sixth installment of the Zarathustran Analytics series, L.B. Jeffries explores those games that fall outside the boundaries set by his guidelines.


As any classification system necessitates, there are exceptions to the four basic categories being used in the Zarathustran Analytics. Going beyond the mere nitpicks of innovative games that strike careful balances or parallels, it is important to identify the games that specifically lack one of the three variables. When analyzing a video game by its experience rather than game design or player input, one might conclude that a game that does not feature all three variables isn’t really a video game. You don’t classify them this way to be belittling, though, you do it because these games create a different experience and should be judged by different criteria. Why criticize a game for not having a story when it wasn’t created with that in mind to begin with? Why criticize a lack of options when they would have served no purpose? There needs to be room for purists in the medium of video games and the exceptions to the four forms addresses that.

The most obvious place to start is with games that don’t have plots. Note the difference between that and not caring about the plot for a moment. There are plenty of games where the plot is entirely forgettable or the plot is one sentence long. Save the princess. Get to the end of the level. Or at the very core: beat the game. I contend that the goal of winning is in and of itself a story in a game. It has a beginning, middle, and end. The game may consist of nothing more than jumping off platforms or wanting to be “The Guy”, but that’s simply an incredibly small story. It has finality and the player puts in all the details. That doesn’t always make it a good story, but it definitely should be considered one.


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Text:AAA
Monday, May 12, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-05-12...
This is Pop.  You pop bubbles.  I guarantee it's more fun than it sounds.

This is Pop.  You pop bubbles.  I guarantee
it’s more fun than it sounds.


Oh, I know, WiiWare is out this week, but I already posted about that at length.  Given the list of WiiWare releases, LostWinds certainly looks like the one to get (though Pop is a nice surprise for WiiWare release day)...I certainly know what I’m doing when I get home from the day job today.


So…is there anything that’s not WiiWare worth picking up today?  Well…you fans of Narnia-related stuff are in for a treat, as you get a game to go along with your movie this week.  Released for pretty much every major system (except the PSP, oddly), Prince Caspian looks just about the same as any other movie-related game this week.  Hudson’s releasing Deca Sports, which actually seems kind of fun, not to mention that it’s the first Wii curling experience available, which may make it a must-buy.  Come on!  Curling!  Who doesn’t like curling? 


Atlus's Drone Tactics.

Atlus’s Drone Tactics.


Still, the DS looks like the software platform of choice if you’re not into downloadables this week.  For one, Myst is finally making its way off the PC.  I mean, it only took 13 years.  Still, I have to give this week’s cookie to Atlus, who is abnormally active for this time of year.  Do you like bugs?  Do you like robots?  Do you like tactical warfare?  If you answered yes to the previous three questions, there is no way that you will not like Drone Tactics.  Honestly, it looks like a can’t miss formula on paper, as you get to customize your little bug things to your hearts content and sic ‘em on (presumably) evil robot bug things.  Okay, I honestly have no idea if the thing will be any good, but Atlus + Robot Bugs + Turn-Based Strategy should = AWESOME.  I hope that equation holds.


The full list of releases and a Drone Tactics trailer are hidden after the jump.  CLICK IT:


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