What I loved about Banjo-Kazooie is what I hate about Yooka-Laylee. But why?

(The following post is an editorial based on my current game experience. The opinions expressed are mine as of the writing but may change in the future.)

When I saw Yooka-Laylee was going to be added to Game Pass, I was excited to finally get to play it.  I was curious about what a modern take on the ‘collect-a-thon’ genre would look like, especially from these developers.  I had skipped it at its release, for at least three reasons.  Middling reviews were one, plus I didn’t want to add a large (and unproven) title to my game backlog.  And lastly, I’m still not sure if I still had a taste for collect-a-thons anymore.  Completing Donkey Kong 64 to 101% kind of killed my interest in the genre, even two decades later.  But to check it out for ‘free’ on Game Pass?  Seemed like a perfect proposition.  Continue reading “What I loved about Banjo-Kazooie is what I hate about Yooka-Laylee. But why?”

Cover art: homage, thievery, or inspiration?

YouTube channel NES Friend uploaded a new video today talking about Little Nemo for the NES.  He’s a good guy and I’d appreciate it if you would give it a watch.

This reminded me of something that I never fully figured out.  Little Nemo was released in September of 1990.  Here’s the cover art.

43186-little-nemo-the-dream-master-nes-front-coverThat’s Nemo riding a sentient(?) bed away from danger, towards adventure.  Pretty nice, dreamlike cover actually.  

Well also around that same time period, late 1990 to sometime in 1991, although it’s a little tougher to pinpoint exactly when, Disney was producing a series of Roger Rabbit comic books.  Two different books to be precise, Roger Rabbit, and Roger Rabbit’s Toontown. Well across these books, two of the covers always reminded me of Little Nemo’s cover.

Especially the first cover, the same general composition and similar bed leg position.  I always assumed one of two things.  Either the cover for Little Nemo was an inspiration for the Roger Rabbit cover artist, or they both are homages from some unknown third piece of media.  I never fully figured it out, and it’s one of those arcane pieces of trivia that, for some reason, still resides in my brain.

What do think?  Have you seen another illustration that would shed some light on this mystery?  Or is it as simple as it seems?  Let me know your thoughts, thanks!

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Why does Sony suddenly care about PlayStation Now, well, now?

Today Sony released a new commercial for its long-running streaming service, PlayStation Now.

It’s a clever ad that gives a bombastic contextualization of what a streaming service provides and fits in well with the aesthetic of other recent PlayStation adverts.  On top of the ad, they’ve slashed the subscription price as well, and added, at least temporarily, a few of the PS4’s greatest hits, God of War, GTA V, Uncharted 4, and InFAMOUS Second Son.

Why the sudden push on a five-year-old service?  I think the answer is pretty obvious, but before we get there, let’s go through some history.

PlayStation Now launched in 2014.  It was built off of the technology and patents that Sony acquired when they purchased the streaming tech startup Gaikai in 2012 for $380 million.  When PlayStation Now launched, it hit the ground limping.  The streaming business model is very different from existing delivery methods and appropriate pricing is a challenge.  Sony has a large buyout to recoup, and game streaming directly costs them on a per instance, per-second basis.  So how much should that convenience be worth to the end-user?  Their initial offering had little more than overpriced short term (even mere hours) rentals.  In many cases, the entire physical (or even digital!) game could be purchased for the same price or less than a 90-day rental.

By 2015, they adopted the much more reasonable subscription model, even if it was still priced at a premium.  Also in 2015, Sony purchased the assets from the defunct OnLive, although I suspect this was merely a tactical move to limit competition.  I doubt any of OnLive’s assets have been added to or were needed for the already operational PlayStation Now service.  2016 added PC support via a PS Now app, but 2017 dropped support on the PS3 and PS Vita.  One step forward, two steps back.

Things remained pretty quiet for the service for a while.  It was first positioned as a way of adding some form of backward compatibility to the PS4 before the sheer available game count started to be the trumpeted feature.

The latest addition to the service was added in early 2018, a selection of titles that can be downloaded for play on PS4.  This benefit was added with no additional charge to subscribers.  Now, this is important, so let me say that again.  With a PS Now subscription, you can not only pick from over 700+ games to stream on-demand but now some select games can be downloaded and played locally.  Why would Sony add downloaded games to a streaming solution?  Especially when its own PlayStation Plus already offers a similar proposition?  Well, to answer that we need only to look at the PlayStation 4’s competitor.  The second positioned Xbox One offered its own subscription download game service, Game Pass, in early 2017 and by early 2018 they announced that first-party titles would launch with Game Pass.  This is separate from its existing Xbox Live Gold and Games with Gold offers and really brought Game Pass to some prominence.  Sound familiar?  It seems to me that Sony is actively positioning PlayStation Now as a “me too” platform in the face of competition.

So back to my original question.  Why so much focus and effort now?

ps-now-price-drop-september-2019

I think the answer to that is very prominently displayed in the current messaging.  Like in this ad for PS Now on PC.

how-to-use-playstation-now-ps-now-pc-computer-guide.original

And in this ad, not for PS Now, but instead for PS4 Remote Play streaming to Sony Xperia phones.

 

 

efuwvwbxyaaxdnwFavorite games.  More Screens.  Where have I heard that pitch before?

google-stadia-release-date

 

Oh, yes.  That is one of the biggest promises of Google Stadia.  It seems to me that Sony’s current PlayStation messaging with both PS Now and PS4 Remote Play (which don’t forget is also available to Mac, PC, Vita, PS TV, in addition to some smart devices) is to get in front of Google Stadia’s promises with a reminder that “we do those things too, and we’re here now!”

It’s not that I think Sony sees Stadia as in imminent threat, although that might be a part of it.  It’s just that they need to remind people that you don’t have to wait for streaming’s future promises, they are here now and have been here for years.

Stadia is really intriguing, especially with a company as big (and as cash-flush) as Google behind it, but when it launches, what is initially on offer isn’t really that innovative.

google_stadia_hands_on_5

Will greater innovations come with time?  Almost certainly, assuming Stadia exists for long enough.

But if you are cautiously curious about Stadia, the best advice I can give you is to try the cloud gaming solutions that already exist and are struggling to find their own market share. If you have the appropriate device, try out GeForce Now.  In the UK?  Try Antstream Arcade.  Try PS Now, it has a free trial.

And I think the messaging and aggressive pricing is Sony’s best play to gain at least some much-needed attention to show the possibilities that their services and hardware provide.

I’ve used and enjoyed PS Now and I can say that this current subscription price is the first time I felt it had the right value proposition.  The only thing that prevents me from grabbing a one-year PS Now subscription right now is that I already have too many games, too little time, and waste too much money on things that I don’t maximize the use of.  But I’m sure that I’ll have an upcoming moment of weakness, and so I’ll probably be a proud PS Now subscriber soon enough.

 

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My Problem with Super Mario Maker.

Super Mario Maker is literally a ‘game’ I’ve wanted since I was a child.  I’ve always had a fascination with create modes and put together many creations in Hyper Lode Runner, made courses in Excitebike, and watched the custom WAD scene for Doom.  I never had the drive or understanding to do full computer programming or to actually make any WADs myself, but built in level editors are still fun for me.

I still have, somewhere, scraps of paper with Mario level layouts, level themes, and ideas for new and unique challenges that I scribbled together in the very early ’90s; 2D Super Mario’s heydays.

When it launched in 2015 for the Wii U, like most first party Nintendo games, I bought it immediately.  In the nearly four years since then, I’ve published exactly one level for it.  How can I be bestowed with the exact thing I’ve wanted since childhood and have taken so little advantage of it?  What exactly is my problem?  Continue reading “My Problem with Super Mario Maker.”

Team Sonic Racing Review

(Xbox One review code provided by Sega.)

What’s left to do after you’ve ‘transformed’ kart racing?

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 7 years since the last Sonic racing game, 2012’s Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed.  Even though it was released somewhat in the shadow of Mario Kart 7, a Nintendo first party game with a superficially similar vehicle gimmick, Sumo Digital was still able to deliver an exceptional game that stood apart from other kart racers.

Now all these years later, and after a significant development delay, have they done it again?  What does the new Team dynamic bring to kart racing? Will this game be as memorable as its predecessor, or is the upcoming CTR: Nitro-Fueled likely to completely overshadow it? Continue reading “Team Sonic Racing Review”

Solution Telegraphing vs Player Agency

I recycled aluminum cans and saved my money all summer to be able to afford The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past at launch.  A few weeks after its release date (the cart was in short supply) I had procured it and was able to return to that familiar world of Hyrule.  This new 16-bit incarnation contained mysteries and technical wonders around every corner. As I progressed ever deeper in the game, among all of countless innovations I found one aspect to be a minor disappointment. Continue reading “Solution Telegraphing vs Player Agency”