Nuts ‘N’ Bolts: Volume 1
For those of you who don’t know, there’s a war going on. Billy G seems intent on toppling the mighty Sony from its throne. Nintendo seem to be content with satisfying its customers with re-makes of classics than its position behind Xbox and PS2. They also seem to have finally got it right with the GBA SP, a handheld console with good graphics, stylish casing and backlit display. Gamers want better games for less dough, with the internet toppling the high streets rip-off retailers. Game developers are struggling to make enough cash to stay afloat, fuelling the row over high retail prices. Sega have hinted several times that they might make another console. Oh, Bush and Blair have started bombing Iraq by the way.
Yes, it’s here. The next-gen console war is in full swing and we are now gearing up for the hefty spring deposits after the dull few months after a hectic Christmas release schedule. For those of us with common sense (or all the major consoles) we have quite a time on our hands. Metroid prime is nearly ready, as is Sonic Mega collection for GameCube.
Microsoft have recently released their potential goldmine of an online plan in the form of Xbox live, meaning those with a broadband connection can rejoice as they frag away on Unreal. Sony has also announced their decision to make the ps2 broadband only after the failure of 56k connection over the pond. There are also some quality games coming out for the black beauty in the shape of Starsky and Hutch, Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid Substance to name a few.
With the imminent launch of its new budget range of titles, the Nintendo GameCube has finally started to move its arse off the sofa and up to the fridge for a bite to eat. Titles like Super Smash Bros and Luigis Mansion are to be re-released at £19.99, so good news then. Unless you just bought them for full price. Games like Metroid Prime have a massive fanbase dating back to the NES classic meaning only good things for the purple cube (despite the fact its not actually cube shaped) are to come. Or at least they should. The departure of Sega sports means no games like Virtua Tennis or mad US sports will be seen, and with the demise of support from Codemasters meaning no quality boxing or racing titles or even a sequel to Prisoner of War. However Virtual Tennis will be released on the GBA within the next month. So back to normal for Ninty then.
The latest craze of re-releasing old favourites has grabbed the GameCube as Sonic Mega Collection, Metroid Prime and Phantasy Star Online land on our shores. But it’s not just a case of beefing up the graphics and hoping for the best. Oh no. Sonics compilation has seven classic titles from the Mega Drive days, and while neither the gameplay nor graphics have had significant improvements you are getting seven games for the price of one.
Samus makes her next-gen debut as Metroid Prime takes top spot in the Nintendo must-have chart. This is the GameCube equivalent of Billy g’s Halo, and sales so far reflect that. But one of the most exciting features that will have many retro gamers clapping their hands in sheer joy is that the original Metroid game is a hidden extra upon completion of the new title.
And finally my favourite game of all time Phantasy Star Online makes its return. Sonic Team have taken the best from the two titles released on the Dreamcast in its prime and bolted it on to a whole new adventure. The graphics haven’t been improved to next-gen spec but the menus have been tarted up to look futuristic and loading times are next to none. A new multiplayer mode has been lodged in place too but is terribly glitchy, only gives split screen and you can’t see the specs of your weapons. It’s also a bit cheeky by releasing the game way before any online plans have been laid down. Despite this it’s a huge game and is very addictive, as you’ll find it takes ages to level up you and your mag.
With the release of Resident Evil Zero on GameCube comes a few screens on a new project in the Resi Evil series titled RE: Dead Aim. Yes it’s a return of the disappointing light-gun series but this time its taking a turn for the better. The graphics look stunning and it promises to be huge. News on remakes of the old PSX Resident Evil titles is scarce but a press release from Capcom just before Xmas told us that Capcom was considering making the move.
On a much higher note Winning Eleven Final Evolution (the game that PES is modelled on) has been released on the GameCube. Graphics have been improved and the gameplay tweaked to give the feeling of a more realistic kick about. Unfortunately there still are no real player, team or cup names but word is the edit mode is more in-depth than before. Those of us with freeloaders should be able to pick it up on import around about now.
News on the future of the PS2 however has taken an alarming silence from Sony. It seems they are letting third party developers make peripherals such as the mini-camera to make weird Japanese games even wackier. The way Sony has handled their online service is also a big hint that PS2 isn’t here to stay much longer. Also GT4 (made by Sony) is rumoured to be the last on the PS2 making the rumours of a PS3 more rife than usual.
The sudden gold rush that has gripped both GameCube and Xbox has taken its toll on PS2 as Starsky and Hutch is set for release in early April. The Incredible Hulk is also in development, with a string of classics in the pipeline as recently announced by SEGA.
For Beat-em-up fans the battle between Soul Calibur 2 and Virtual Fighter 4 could be too much to take on. The long-awaited re-emergence of Namco’s’ classic fighter has been disappointing because not much has changed. No breakable scenery or tag matches, just the most rewarding, most addictive, most playable game since PES2. Get set to smack fat people with sticks then laugh when they stop wobbling 3 weeks later when Soul Calibur 2 is released in August.
In the blue corner is AM2’s Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution. There are vast improvements on the 4th installment including the missing rain from Lau’s stage (it was present in the arcade but not the home version), smoother textures, higher resolution and faster loading times. The meat and drink of Evolution are the two new characters; Brad Burns, an Italian hardman with a name like an American shoe-salesman and Goh Hinogami; an assassin for a dark organisation called J6. Brad happens to be the best kickboxer in the whole of Europe (though obviously he’s never set foot in the King Billy in Northampton). Besides bearing a startling resemblance to top footballer Allessandro Del Piero (search Google- its true honest) he’s fed up with the lack of competition in his homeland and joins the tournament looking for fresh prey. All we know about Goh is he was thrown into the criminal underground by the death of his father when a jealous associate decided to let him sleep with the fishes. So now he’s out for revenge. Think fundamentally decent with a mile wide nasty streak.
But the release of Devil May Cry 2 by Capcom has left a lot of us with a sour taste in the mouth. Remember the unique experience, the suspense and action that you wanted to carry on forever? Well they didn’t turn up in time for the game so spotty novices have replaced them. Despite great graphics like the original the game has no real challenge. This drags down the suspense and overall horror effect leaving it feeling far too soft.
As Billy G stirs up speculation of a second console, Xbox LIVE was launched relatively low-key here in the UK.
Now many titles on the one ton machine will be released with online plans in mind, meaning a lot of content to download in new levels, items, characters and much more. Not to mention the superb online gaming. The technology used in broadband gaming allows players to speak to each other with phone-quality speech. However, in Sony HQ it seems that there are a few jealous heads as a spokesman was quick to announce that Sony would too be launching a headset with their online service, which is currently still being beta tested.
The game on everybody’s wanted list has been delayed until early 2004. Bungie put back the proposed release date of Halo 2 saying they need more time, but apologised to fans by adding it was to make the game even more special.
And now there’s no reason to turn a blind eye to owning a ‘box because of the launch of the controller S, meaning fanboys cant whinge and whine about the controller being too big for their puny hands.
Meanwhile, the classics remake phase has landed as Panzer Dragoon Orta, Shenmue 2 and Toejam and Earl 3 force their way onto the one-ton wonder. Panzer has some of the most stunning visuals and gameplay seen so far in the next gen war in its return after nearly a decade of uncertainty over its future. Luckily Smilebit managed to capture the true spirit of the series, which isn’t surprising really seeing as most of the talented 100-strong SEGA division are ex employees of SEGA PC and Team Andromeda, the original makers of Panzer.
Unfortunately Shenmue 2 isn’t much of an improvement over the Dreamcast version, which is a shame really seeing as it would have been at home on the Xbox with its stunning visuals. What we get is a few extra polygons on the characters and a bit of smoothening the flickery bits in the scenery, and not any exclusive features like we all hoped. But despite this fans of the series who didn’t get to play the game on the Dreamcast wont be disappointed here as Shenmue 2 delivers everything that the first game did and much more.
Finally the long-awaited release of Toejam and Earl 3 is a tad lame. Hardcore fans will lap up every minute of this classic but gamers just looking for something new had better look else where because when the humour wears thin we’re left with an average platformer with ‘collecting token’ bits. Again it seems the Xbox has been let down by some greatly-anticipated titles not showing the full worth of what made them classics back in the ‘good old days’.
Expect the best reviews of these games and more on Thunderbolt in the near future. I’ll see you all soon.