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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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Thursday, May 1, 2008
The parallels between those taking sides in the battle over the merit of Grand Theft Auto and the battle over the merit of blogs as journalistic devices are striking.

It’s no secret that Grand Theft Auto IV is, at this point, an utter phenomenon, not just a gaming entity but a media entity that is currently, in the few days following its release, destroying every other form of entertainment in terms of popularity, interest, and commentary.  On one hand, we have the side of 99% of the gamers who have bought it: basically, that it’s the best damn thing since San Andreas came out.  Then, there are those who are utterly and unequivocally against its release, suggesting that it should be locked behind counters or banned outright.  There is very little in-between to be found, which makes for a dearth of common ground from which intelligent discussion of the merits and flaws in the game can appear.


Buzz vs. Will, Round 1…FIGHT(Image courtesy of AOL Fanhouse)

Buzz vs. Will, Round 1…FIGHT
(Image courtesy of AOL Fanhouse)


Interestingly, this particular split is happening just as another such split is popping up and threatening to consume the media: blogs vs. the mainstream (read: print) media.  It’s a split that had been brewing for some time, but it all seems to have come to a head now that Buzz Bissinger, the author of Friday Night Lights himself, relentlessly browbeat Deadspin.com progenitor Will Leitch all over Bob Costas’ HBO show the other night.  The divide is framed as such: those who have spent their life cutting their teeth on print media can’t stand the brash, brazenly amateur tone favored by the majority of blogs (and have no trouble saying so via endlessly trotting out the tired “living in their moms’ basements” line), and blogs are dismissing those criticisms as baseless and completely without merit (often by indulging in exactly the sort of bottom-feeding that the “old guard” is criticizing).  Much like the split inspired by Grand Theft Auto, sanity can only be found somewhere in between those two arguments, but let’s face it: arguments that try to reconcile two sides of a very tall fence are a) difficult to present, and b) bound to be slammed to death by both sides of that fence.


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Friday, Apr 11, 2008
Google unwittingly sent me to PETA this week. I have to admit -- I was surprised at what I found...

Here’s why Google is great, and their advertising scheme works:


Just last week, I was sending an e-mail to somebody about Super Mario something-or-other (I think it was an Ebay seller about a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 or something, but that’s not all that relevant here).  I couldn’t help but notice that, after I sent the mail from my Gmail account, one of those little one-line text ads popped up at the top, saying something like “Like Super Mario Bros.?  Try Super Chick Sisters!”  What kind of responsible journalist would I be if I didn’t click on that link?


Hovering over the link, I couldn’t help but notice that I was on my way to PETA’s website, but I clicked anyway.  There’s a certain sleaziness about PETA that’s hard to shake, in that what they’re doing tends to be motivated by good (or at least understandable) causes, but their methods tend to be a bit, well, questionable.


Super Chick Sisters has actually been around for almost a year now, as it turns out, and it’s easy to see why it continues to draw visitors:  For a piddly little Flash game, its production values are quite high, and its presentation pretty slick.  Pamela Anderson has been kidnapped, you see (just before she was about to break the story that KFC’s methods are, um, unsavory, to put it lightly), and it’s up to Mario & Luigi

Nugget & Chickette to save the day from the evil corporate KFC warlords who have kidnapped her!  As is told in a variety of cute little cutscenes between levels, Mario & Luigi have been afflicted with “Wiitis”, which I think roughly translates to Wii Sports: Tennis elbow.


It’s not just the cutscenes that are “cute”, either; the entire game has a gloss and a happy feel to it that’s entirely at odds with the information being presented.  It’s classic let-down-your-guard kind of stuff, presenting a Mario-esque functionality and power-up system with a Sonic the Hedgehog Green Hill Zone sort of happy shinyness to it (the first level is most reminiscent of the latter, but the happy shinyness never really lets up).  As you run around stomping on Colonel-bots and whatnot, you also get information from randomly scattered people as to the specifics regarding KFC’s cruelty.  Example: They cut off the beaks while the chickens are still alive.  It’s a terribly gruesome thought, and the juxtaposition of this sort of education with the primary-colored glare that comes off of the game is difficult to resolve.


The difficult thing about Super Chick Sisters is that it’s actually sort of fun as far as Flash games go.  Not only that, but the presence of actual unlockables (in a Flash game!) and an ever-changing landscape is enough to keep you going.  The thing is, the propaganda never, ever lets up.  You see tale after tale about the overcrowded, crippling conditions, and you become either an activist or an accomplice; there’s really no in between once the game beats you over the head with its message long enough.


As such, as much as I’m loathe to allow a game to muck with my psyche as much as this one does, I think it’s a brilliantly executed stunt on PETA’s part.  They have actually managed to tread the line that makes a game casual enough to draw you in and absorbing enough, once you’re in, to keep you for the long haul (something that far too many big name developers have been trying and failing at for years).  As long as they keep you, then, they can slowly wear down your defenses, to the point where you’re putting Pamela Anderson in your MySpace top 8, dousing yourself in sheep’s blood and yelling things outside KFC’s corporate headquarters.  This is brainwashing at its most subversive, and as such, it’s really rather brilliant.


Since the release of Super Chick Sisters, PETA has actually released another game, called Bloody Burberry: The Fur Fighters.  While it appears to use the same color palette, its PETA-specific activities, bleak tone, and questionable attempts at humor (models are stupid, tee hee!) don’t capture the imagination nearly to the extent that something like Super Chick Sisters can.  If you haven’t before, go give Super Chick Sisters a try, and let me know how you feel once you’re done.  Are you comfortable with getting preached at while you’re trying to enjoy a game?  Was the message easy to ignore in the name of silly fun?  How did this survive the legal hand of the mighty N?  Drop your thoughts in the comment box, and, of course, enjoy your weekend.


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Thursday, Apr 10, 2008
The release of Rock Band in Europe has finally been announced, but the price announced with it has some recoiling in horror.

It’s bad enough that European gamers have to wait longer than gamers in the States for consoles and games.  But the recent Rock Band pricing announcement for Europe really sticks it in and breaks it off.  In the UK, the cost for the whole thing will be roughly $350 in American dollars, and the rest of the continent has to pay around $375 American.  While the VAT tax is being used, at least partially, to defend the price hike, that tax is around 17.5%, which doesn’t really translate to doubling the price.


One of the most ridiculous defenses comes directly from Rob Kay, director of design at Harmonix.  In an interview with videogamer.com, he said: “This is a different experience. You cannot have a multi-player, multi-peripheral game be in the same price point as a regular game. What it delivers is so much bigger and so much better. We understand that people are going to feel a little bit aggrieved about it but we hope that playing the game will override that feeling.”  I’m having trouble understanding how this “different experience” is different from the “different experience” that was released in the US last year for half the price.


I can’t justify spending the price of a console for a game, particularly one where the high price comes from peripherals.  Steel Batallion, anyone?  You almost had to buy the second game in that series to justify having blown $100 on the first one.  I guess it remains to be seen if the money I’ve spent on the Rock Band peripherals will be a decent investment.  Harmonix is starting to have a history of not supporting interoperability between the peripherals it produces and the various games for which they probably should work.  I had trouble deciding to whether to purchase Rock Band, even living in the States.  If I lived in Europe, I’d almost certainly just have to play at a rich friend’s house.


Tagged as: eurogaming, rock band
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Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008

Times like this, I wish we had a woman on the PopMatters Multimedia staff (and hey, any who wish to apply only have to click here and follow the directions).


It being the case that we don’t, I decided to go ahead and check out this past Sunday’s Best Buy “Wii for Women” event myself.  In case you hadn’t heard of the event, either through Best Buy itself or the countless blogs that went ahead and did some of Best Buy’s advertising for them, here’s the flyer:


Right from the outset, it looks a little bit suspect—I mean, we have a flyer that’s attempting to lure women to a video game based event by making a point of offering non-video game stuff.  Granted, it’s Best Buy, so the GPS sort of makes sense, but raffling off spa visits?  Do we even have spas in Buffalo?


(Oh, stop that.  Of course we do.  Somewhere.)


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