October 2009


Like most any other American gamer, I’m insanely jealous of Japanese gamers. Not only do they get all sorts of wacky games that will never come out stateside and all sorts of cool gaming collectibles, but they still have a vibrant arcade scene. Recently, though, I’ve discovered yet another reason to be jealous of Japanese gamers: They can get extremely good deals on good, used videogames.

The man behind my newfound jealousy is Wired game writer Chris Kohler, who recently created what he calls the “1000 Yen Challenge” to demonstrate just how far he (and others) could stretch their money in Japan’s many used-games shops. The results so far were astonishing to this American gamer. For the equivalent of about 10 U.S. dollars, these savvy Japanese shoppers were able to pick up a dozen games or more! Sure, some of the games were no-name, forgettable dreck, but the hauls so far have also included classics like Soulcalibur, Wave Race 64 and Resident Evil: Code Veronica, as well as obscure games of interest like Seaman and Vib-Ribbon. These games were going for prices as low as 20 yen. Twenty yen! That’s less than a quarter! As long as you aren’t particular about condition, and aim for systems that are old but not yet classic, it seems you can make a killing out there in the Japanese game market.

Too bad the American used-game market isn’t so amenable to ultra-cheap deals. Or is it? To find out, I decided to take on my own slightly modified version of the 1000 Yen Challenge in my own backyard. Here’s how it went.

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The gods of videogame news have abandoned me

In this issue:

  • Chumbawumba: We’re “totally open” to the idea of Chumbawumba: Rock Band
  • Angry fans stage boycott of Madagascar Kartz, demand new content
  • Nintendo reassigns massive development division to DSi clock and calculator development

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Is Nathan Drake’s second outing really the second coming? We combed through the glowing reviews to pick out the negative bits that tend to get glossed over.

Uncharted 2 received so many perfect scores, is there anything it does wrong? Well, yes, there is.”3 “The bread and butter of Among Thieves is by-the-numbers shooting, broken briefly by some linear platforming and the occasional light puzzle.”5 “There’s not really a lick of originality … It would have been nice to have at least something for the game to call its own,”7 and “it’s unfortunate that the gameplay doesn’t scale the heights of the production values.”5 “No, Uncharted 2 is not perfect.”8

Uncharted 2‘s storyline is more or less predictable. … The story sounds like the premise for a cheesy and easily forgotten novel”2 and “contains a number of not-so-surprising twists.”6 “The story isn’t incredibly original,”7 and “felt a bit too familiar at times.”8 It’s pretty much “standard action fare”5 with a “forced ‘warfare’ feel.”9 “The reasons for Nepal being a bombed-out shell provide a few eyebrow-raising ‘really?’ moments.”9 “Not everyone will be fond of the game’s concluding location — or, rather, what Drake discovers there … [and] few will argue that the climactic confrontation is a fitting way for [the game] to bow out.”4 What’s more, “the writing doesn’t have quite the same panache or character chemistry as the original.”9

“The gameplay isn’t perfect — the cover mechanic is too sticky in tight places.”6 The game’s “less than perfect cover system”1 includes “a cover mechanic that [feels] like a slightly clumsy version of that in Gears of War.”9 No, “moving from cover to cover still doesn’t feel as slick as it does in Epic’s Gears of War series, with Nate occasionally refusing to do what you want him to.”1 “Cover transitions can get you stuck in some precarious moments.”3 For instance, “it can be frustrating during some of the more intense battles if you find yourself sitting in the open air when you meant to hide behind a nearby desk.”6 Yes, “the occasionally unreliable cover system provides a larger frustration in the heat of competition.”5

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You are likely to be eaten by a videogame news

  • Warner Bros. Interactive announces Citizen Kane: The Video Game
  • I’m sorry, but these reviewer freebies just don’t merit a perfect score
  • Money-saving tips for gamers

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In which I introduce my family to the joys of rhythm gaming, and learn something in the process.

The Beatles: Rock Band (TB: RB) is notable in the history of gaming for a few reasons. It’s the first time the Fab Four’s music has been featured in a videogame, for instance. And it’s the first music game to allow for three-part harmonies, to my knowledge. For me, though, the game is historic for a unique reason. The Beatles: Rock Band will always be the first game that both my mother and my mother-in-law expressed genuine interest in playing without any prodding from me.

Understand, when family members from my parents’ generation or higher talk with me about videogames, it’s usually with a polite but shallow curiosity. They’re interested in games as far as they’re interested in what I do for a living, but aside from the rare casual game like Peggle or FreeCell, they’re not clamoring to play any of the latest releases. So I was quite surprised when I got not one, but two requests to bring The Beatles: Rock Band along with me when I travelled home for the Jewish holidays a few weeks ago — to my parents’ in Maryland for Rosh Hashanah and to my in-laws’ in Philadelphia for Yom Kippur 10 days later.

Always eager to share my passion, I packed up the roughly seven million individual pieces required to play a full game of TB:RB and hauled them all across the Northeast. In between many large holiday meals, some horrible college football games and countless reminiscences with family and friends, we managed to squeeze in a few hours of good Beatles-based rocking across both sides of the family. Below are just a few of the things that I learned about my family, videogames, the Beatles and Rock Band itself during those all-too-short play sessions.

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About as fun as a car museum.

Premise 1: Racing cars in real life is tons of fun. Premise 2: Most racing games are not very realistic portrayals of the real-life racing experience. Premise 3: Most racing games are pretty fun. Conclusion: An extremely realistic racing game will be even more fun than those other racing games.

As far as I can tell, this has been the logical motivation behind the Gran Turismo series since its start on the original PlayStation; a logic still in force for the much-anticipated PSP version of the game. But, as my logic professor used to say, the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premises.

Don’t get me wrong, Gran Turismo is as detailed a replica of real-life racing as you’re likely to get on a portable system. The years of development effort are apparent in the almost fetishistic attention to detail in almost all elements of the racing experience. It shows in the hundreds of lovingly crafted car models — ranging from million-dollar racing coupes to pickup trucks (yes, really). It shows in the dozens of accurately recreated racing locales, including city streets and race tracks but also dirt- and snow-covered rally tracks. It shows in the feeling of power and acceleration as you push your feather-light car forward with hundreds of horsepower, past scenery that seems too beautiful for a portable system. The fact that such a realistic and physical racing simulation has been packed into a handheld system is an amazing technical feat.

But none of it makes the game any more fun.

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A game that leans exer-gaming in the right direction, without quite tipping it over into must-play.

Making exercise less boring. For millions of gamers, this was the promise of the original Wii Fit. Sure, the game and its scale-like Balance Board controller could guide and grade you through simple yoga poses and strength-training exercises. But those sections of the game largely replicated exercises you could learn easily from a book or an exercise video.

The real appeal of the original Wii Fit — the thing that made it unique — was found in the Aerobics and Balance Games sections, where the game promised to distract and entertain even as it provided a full-body workout. For a generation that grew up controlling on-screen characters with their thumbs, this new mixture of gaming and exercise had the potential to be a hell of lot more interesting than jogging on a treadmill for an hour.

But most of the games in Wii Fit had a crucial problem: They were shallow. Extremely shallow, for the most part. While they held up decently well for the first few hours, few had enough depth to sustain a gamer’s interest for the weeks and weeks of regular exercise that make up a regular fitness regimen. It only took one or two play sessions to master the art of launching off a virtual ski jump or walking across a virtual tightrope or twirling a virtual hula hoop, or most of the other one-note activities presented in Wii Fit. After that, the games had roughly the same entertainment value as a stationary exercise bike (which provides a much more robust workout, by the by). The concept of “making exercise less boring” only works if the games themselves aren’t, you know, boring.

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It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this videogame news.

In this issue:

  • How to help your Xbox 360 fanboy cope with the PlayStation 3’s turnaround
  • Police raid turns up “hundreds” of illegal casual games at office park
  • Sega drops price of Genesis

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We look at some of the most enduring myths surrounding games and the industry to see if there’s any truth to these legends.

 1. You can jump over the flagpole in Super Mario Bros.

The myth: Hey, so you know Timmy down the street? Well, he said he could jump OVER the flagpole in Super Mario Bros. He told me he could! No, I didn’t see it, but his sister says she saw him do it. No, he can’t do it on any level; he said you can only do it in World 3-3 when that elevator thingy gets high enough and you jump at just the right time. Oh, and once he said he did it in 7-1. I tried like a MILLION times, though, and I couldn’t do it without the Game Genie. Come on, man, Timmy wouldn’t lie! Would he?

The truth: “No way!” “Yes way!” “No WAY!” Yes WAY!

Status: Plausible.

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