Today marks the first pitch in one of the United States' oldest and most cherished traditions. The World Series is a notable custom in American history, as it signifies the annual pinnacle of the nation's de facto pastime. This year, both teams have much on the line. Though similar lines are hurled about before nearly every major sporting event, it holds special weight for this year's World Series participants.
The Tampa Bay Rays have made history by being the first team in the franchise's 10-year history to win over half of the games of the regular season, let alone becoming division and league champions. And after finishing the 2007 season as the worst team in all of baseball, they've achieved a miraculous feat by propelling themselves to the top game. After defeating the Red Sox on Sunday night, they've dethroned the previous World Series champions and now have their sites set on claiming that title. With the momentum that they're carrying, it'll be difficult to slow them down. But in their way lies the Philadelphia Phillies, a team with so much tenacity that it can cause bleeding of the soul. After handily disposing of the Brewers and the Dodgers, the Phillies look to bring a World Series title home to championship-starved Philadelphia, a city which hasn't won a major sporting championship title since the Sixers swept the Los Angeles Lakers in 1983.
With so much on the line, the 2008 World Series is an event that no fan of the sport should miss. Wiffle Ball for the DS? Not so much.
Well, I could write a whole paragraph about the publisher / developer Destination Software Inc., also known as DSI Games. But I think all that needs to be said is that they were willing to publish Deal or No Deal, which is perhaps the worst game I've ever played.
While that would be fun and easy, I guess I can elaborate by stating that their catalogue is comprised of many shovelware suspects, some of which I never even knew about. Looks like I'll be doing Bury the Shovelware for a long time! (Sorry, Nick) Surprisingly, they did publish the excellent port of kill.switch for the GBA.
For this edition of Bury the Shovelware, we're talking Space Invaders. We'll be examining the recently released and critically acclaimed Space Invaders Extreme against 2005's suspected shovelware Space Invaders Revolution.
Space Invaders is a staple of the industry. Some incorrectly identify it as the first video game. Though this is incorrect, its significance to gaming as a whole just might make it the most important game of all-time. Released in 1978, the title was groundbreaking in that it changed the public's perception of gaming from being an interesting obscurity to a major form of entertainment. Check your local Wikipedia for more information.
Like many classics, the game has been re-packaged and re-released countless times. In its four years of life, two separate versions of the game have been released for the DS. Both versions were developed by industry veteran Taito, creator of the original ground-breaking title. But while Space Invaders Extreme was published by heavyweight Square Enix, Space Invaders Revolution was published by Rising Star Games. Though virtually unknown by comparison, the publisher has been given access to a surprising number of classic franchises, including Bomberman, Dungeon Explorer, Bubble Bobble, and New Zealand Story.
Thanks for the feedback from last week! Reactions to the new format seem to be somewhere in the middle, so perhaps we'll alternate between the two styles, or possibly merge them. Continued feedback is always appreciated. With that said, here's another stab in the new format. This time, with Mega Man 9 fever still running rampant (made all the more frantic with this past Monday's release of Proto Man), we've decided to take a look at the blue bomber's non-ZX series on the DS: Mega Man Star Force.
Mega Man Star Force 2: Zerker X Saurian is -- hang on, I've gotta catch my breath after that title ... whew ... okay, I'm good -- a sequel to the Mega Man Star Force titles. I say "titles" because Capcom decided to split the title up into three "versions," similar to Nintendogs and most Pokemon games. When done right, this can be awesome. But as is the case with most things Capcom touches, it's a money-maker. That's the rub with Capcom: they produce some of the finest titles ever, but they certainly aren't shy about squeezing every penny from a game or franchise possible. Back to Star Force, once again Capcom has released multiple editions of the title. This time, only two were created: Ninja and Saurian, the latter of which we'll be using. The game is an indirect successor to the Mega Man Battle Network series. Like its predecessors, it involves light-action incorporated into RPG-styled battles. The root gameplay is enjoyable, but doesn't seem to have the lasting power to be re-packaged perpetually until the end of the time as does the primary franchise.
Welcome to the first edition of the new Bury the Shovelware. We're going to shake things up a bit in the interest of keeping it fresh. Instead of simply timing the games, we're going to explore the titles in five specific areas. They are:
Pedigree - The background of the developer, publisher, and franchise.
The Critics Said - A brief overview of what the critics said.
Rap Sheet - The main glaring flaws of the game.
Silver Lining - Redeemable qualities found (if any).
Our Deduction - The final word on the title.
We hope you enjoy this new approach. Let us know what you think in the comment section. Our first swing at this new format will take a look at Cake Mania.
Cake Mania is a restaurant simulation based around baking -- you guessed it -- cakes. The franchise is relatively new but is featured on several other systems, including the PS2 and PC. It's published by Majesco Games, a company which walks a thin line between quality titles (Nanostray, Cooking Mama) and shovelware (Nacho Libre, Fish Tycoon). Plus, we're totally angry at Majesco for canceling the remake of A Boy and His Blob. Developer Digital Embryo is relatively green in terms of games produced, as Cake Mania makes up 25% of its entire catalog. Other games developed include the shudder-inducing titled Puppy Luv Adventures.
Man, it must feel like I'm just trying to pick fights this week. Allow me to explain myself: I love n+. It's incredibly fun, elegant, and well-made. JC gave the game a 9.5 / 10, and I'd say that's a pretty fair score. So how on earth does a good game get picked for Bury the Shovelware?
Throughout the duration of this column, we've learned a lot about shovelware. We've examined the sharing of blame between the publisher and developer, the curse of a license, the effects of critics' perception, and much more. Our top priority has been determining common attributes. One might ask what is the single, definitive trait common throughout all shovelware. The easy answer would be "it sucks." But to who? You? Me? Everyone? If you were to wander through the graveyard of the DS's library, even the loneliest tombstone will have a sympathizer or two. Particularly for younger gamers who might not know any better, cognizance is everything.
Thus, we must focus on the objective. As the swipe for this series states, "shovelware refers to any game in which time and effort were eschewed in favor of turning a quick profit." Theoretically, any game which shows compromise in any area for the benefit of time and/or money might be considered shovelware. Even if the game is a critical success, one can still identify flaws in its design. Without labeling n+ as shovelware, let's examine how its existence relates to the bottom-feeders of the DS.
The fall from grace. Unless your heart is nothing more than a cold, shriveled lump, you probably don't like to witness a once-respectable series slowly degrade. It's happened to many franchises. Often the decay is gradual, with gamers slowly noticing a decline in quality and is correlated with slumping sales. Other times a single misstep can throw an entire series against the ropes and nearly into submission. Either way, it's never pleasant to witness failure. Well, almost never.
What was once a prominent pillar in the stealth world has been slowly regressing into mediocrity. The Tenchu series was one of the first and most successful entries in the emerging stealth-based genre of the late 1990's. Though games involving evasive maneuvering over combat had been around for awhile, they truly flourished in 3D. From the onset, Tenchu was there. Peered with and rivaled against other top-notch franchises such as Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, the word "Tenchu" was synonymous with heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping sneaky gameplay. But everything eventually dies. And the Tenchu series received a terminal illness in the form of Tenchu: Dark Secret. Unless somebody steps in and performs some sort of miracle, we might have to talk to Tenchu fans about video game heaven. It's where all game franchises go when they pass away. All of Tenchu's friends are there, like Golden Axe, ToeJam & Earl, and Ecco the Dolphin (Sega, please prove me wrong on these).
Ports are tricky. Indeed, the DS's big brother gets a lot of flak for hosting PS2 ports with tacked-on waggle. Yet, if the original game is good and a reasonable amount of bonus content is added, we generally give the game a pass.
But things get even trickier when discussing the retro-port. I touched on this at the end of the Petz Dogz Fashion post, but it's worth restating: would you pay full retail price for an exact copy of your favorite retro game? As the Super Mario Advance series proved: yes, you will. Apparently, identical or near-identical copies of older games at standard market prices can still sell extremely well. It'll be interesting to see how successful the Chrono Trigger port will be (my prediction: very). It'd be especially nice if we could determine how many of those purchasing the game have never played it before (my second prediction: not very many). Information such as this would allow us to determine what effect -- if any -- retro-ports have on the current state of gaming.
Examining Myst for the DS has been on my queue for quite some time. The reason for the delay was simply because I was unsure if it was fair to put it under the spotlight since I never played the original. But upon deliberating the sentiments above, I realized the DS port of the 1993 graphic adventure would be the perfect opportunity to put the question to a litmus test.
If you've been reading Bury the Shovelware regularly (as I hope you do!), you've noticed that a common trait amongst the shovelware titles we've examined are licenses. In fact, anyone who vaguely follows gaming knows that licensed games have higher-than-average odds of being awful. But what's almost guaranteed to be awful is a license which has little-to-no relevance to a video game. Sure, Superman Returns, Peter Jackson's King Kong, and Jackass: The Game may have not been great, but at least they had the potential. I mean, who wouldn't want to fly around defeating enemies, swat down airplanes as you scaled the Empire State Building, or be gored by an angry Bull? Even other types of entertainment such as sports and game shows work just fine as the basis for a video game (well, for the most part).
Then, of course, there's the IP that has no business being involved in a video game. Not too long ago, a symphony of forehead smacks was heard throughout the gaming press when GameSpot reported (in error) that a video game based on the successful film Juno was being planned. And rightfully so. Television shows and movies grounded in reality have no business being the basis for a video game. Are there any successful video games about washing the dishes? About paying late fees for overdue books at the library? About going to the convenience store and finding that they're all out of Nantucket Nectars? The majority of situations we find ourselves in during the course of a regular day does not translate well to video games. So neither should a television show that doesn't involve robotic children. Here's an exemplar piece: Drake & Josh: Talent Showdown.
They say that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but who'd expect it to plummet far away from its source, carried far by strong winds and subsequently rolled down a series of steep hills, and later to be picked up by a curious passer-by who takes it home as a souvenir ... overseas. Well, that might be a bit strong. While some felt that Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of King Kong was too long or used too many distracting CGI effects, it was generally well-received. The critical reception of the home console games based on the film were also fairly positive. I personally didn't play any of the other versions of the game, all of which looked to have that big-budget feel. Lacking access to the DS version's development financial reports, I'm not sure about the amount of resources that went into creating it. But whether it was an honest effort that encountered flaws along the way or it was simply lacking from the start, there's no denying that it's shovelware once you've gotten your hands on it.
This title seemed to be doomed from the beginning: it's made by Ubisoft, it's a pet simulator, and it uses Z's where there should be S's. But you may be surprised to learn that this actually isn't quite a terrible game. Yet it's still shovelware. So how does one achieve this seemingly contradictory state? Last week, we discussed imitation. While Best of Tests DS was clearly trying to bite off some of the Brain Age momentum, its limited content and awful design made it a lackluster game. Thus, it was easily identified as shovelware. But what does one do when a seemingly good game is, at its core, nothing more than a simple clone of an existing title (albeit a well done clone)? Here's my take on things.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the world of gaming it often comes across as a slap in the face. Let us distinguish between inspiration and outright mimicry. It's not at all uncommon for a good game to have strong roots in a previously-released title. Descendants of popular titles are acceptable and standard, as many early popular arcade games including Galaxian and Centipede were heavily based on the groundbreaking Space Invaders. Even the industry-revolutionizing Super Mario Bros can be seen as the prototype for nearly every side-scrolling game since, itself having traces of Pitfall.
But in order to avoid being a cheap imitation, the inspired game must expand upon or branch the formula in a new direction. Before its release, the excellent Banjo-Kazooie was seen by some gaming journalists as nothing more than a Super Mario 64 clone. In hindsight, that's an amazingly foolish indictment. But there's the trick: while they do share similarities, they are very different games. Banjo-Kazooie did what a good game inspired by another should do: use a solid foundation and build upon it. Some titles, like Best of Tests DS, takes the solid Brain Age foundation, but instead cuts it open and squeezes lemon juice inside.
Opinion leadership. It's quite a scary concept. When planning the waves of advertisement for a product, marketers will implement what they describe as "opinion leaders": those who are viewed with respect by the potential market and will help persuade "lower-level consumers" to purchase their product. In other words, we're too stupid to know what we want and so they're going to pay someone we think is legitimate to tell us what we like. I wouldn't dare point fingers, but perhaps you've seen this before: a large gaming news source suddenly seems to be hot for a certain upcoming game. (Don't look at us.)
As discomforting as this sounds, it's actually a very common and natural occurrence. Certainly we've all been persuaded by friends, family, and respectable gaming news sources. Additionally, the influence isn't restricted towards the positive. Indeed, in the wake of anti-French sentiments and boycotts following France's denouncement of the Iraq war, French's Mustard (unrelated to the country) felt the need to release a press statement assuring consumers that "the only thing French about French's Mustard is the name." As you can see, unrelated negativity can percolate into that which is only similar in the letters used to identify it.
Superman for the N64 -- commonly referred to as Superman 64 -- is widely regarded as one of the worst games of all-time. So when I discovered Superman Returns for the DS floating around the very bottom of the system's metascores, I was truly puzzled. "Could they really have messed up Supermanthis bad twice?" Read on to find out.
To learn all there is about something, you sometimes need to go to the extremes. For shovelware, we are about to boldly trek into the eye of the storm. Deal or No Deal has the lowest aggregate score according to Metacritic, narrowly edging out Homie Rollerz. But we need to give it a fair chance. We can't succumb to the self-fulfilling prophecy. And besides, as a poster hanging in my high school English teacher's classroom profoundly stated, "what is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right." Indeed, just because one nerd hates Castlevania 2 doesn't mean you should automatically define it as a bad game. Okay, I can't fluff this anymore: Deal or No Deal for the DS isn't as crappy as you expected. It's crappier.
Licenses can be lethal. But as in all facets of life, prejudice shouldn't rule our thoughts. Every title should be given a fair chance. And yes, the same ought to apply to a game based on a television program in which Johnny Knoxville artificially inseminates a cow.
To be honest, I was really hoping to be pleasantly surprised by this game. While Jackass was never the Jeopardy! of its time, it has swiped at least a chuckle or two from nearly all who bear witness to its inane displays of consenting human mutilation. This kind of brainless nihilism could easily lend itself to an arcade-style video game: small challenges with cheap thrills. Maybe Sensory Sweep could deliver a unique collage of pain and amusement. Perhaps it could be a truly unique experience, going against the grain of nearly every other game in history and rewarding the player for injury and humiliation, not sustainment or style: the true anti-parkour. But I might be expecting too much from something titled Jackass the Game. Yes folks, you guessed it ... we've got shovelware.
Nintendo's big E3 press conference has come and gone. While the mainstream media outlets will praise titles such as Wii Music and Wii Sports Resort, the hardcore gamer has reason to feel underwhelmed. Whenever the Big N fails to please its base, one might wonder how the seemingly impervious Nintendo could fail to deliver on expectations. However, like all that is human, the house Miyamoto built is not without its blemishes. When "mistake" and "Nintendo" are mentioned in the same sentence, those who aren't hurling bricks at the heretic are known to immediately think of the Virtual Boy. Nonetheless, Nintendo has had its fair share of publishing misfires involving some of its biggest licenses.
Often, the company will allow its intellectual properties to be used in games developed by second or even third parties. Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, and Metroid have all had titles outsourced. Like a mother bear protecting her cubs, Nintendo tends to insist on quality development. They will publish these games themselves in part to assure the consumer that the title is worthy of its featured IP (otherwise, things can get ugly). Nintendo is a business, however, and businesses need to make money. And what's one of the quickest ways to turn a profit? That's right: slap a well-known franchise onto a subpar piece of shovelware. The exemplar piece can be found in Pokémon Dash, a disastrous "scratch-your-DS-into-submission" racer.