New Smash Bros. Games Won’t Feature Single Player Story Mode, Cutscenes

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Fans of Super Smash Bros. Brawl‘s highly entertaining Subspace Emissary single player mode are apparently to blame for the lack of a similar mode in the new Smash Bros. games coming to the Wii U and 3DS. According to game director Masahiro Sakurai, via the Escapist, too many people uploaded videos of Subspace Emissary’s elaborate cutscenes to YouTube.

“Unfortunately, the movie scenes we worked so hard to create were uploaded to the internet,” said Sakurai. “You can only truly wow a player the first time he sees a [cutscene]. I felt if players saw the cutscenes outside of the game, they would no longer serve as rewards for playing the game, so I’ve decided against having them.”

This takes us back to an era where cutscenes served only as rewards for successful play, and not narrative devices meant to help drive a story forward. Perhaps the attitude of treating cutscenes like… well, treats, is partially responsible for this decision. Or, it could be based on Nintendo’s decision to attempt to control rights and revenue for YouTube videos and live streams of their properties, most recently seen in a quickly overturned decision to ban Super Smash Bros. Melee live streaming from EVO2k13.

At least we’re still getting some kind of cutscene treatment, albeit in the form of promotional videos for new characters like Mega Man, Villager, and Wii Fit Trainer. These videos “potentially benefit by being spread around,” which I can personally attest to. The second a new Smash cutscene comes out, my social media feeds are generally abuzz with posts, re-blogs, and gifs of these infinitely re-watchable little vignettes. Maybe the game’s cutscenes would have helped serve to promote the game as well, but now, we’ll never know.

Contra: Evolution Launches on North American App Store

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Though originally only available on the Chinese App Store, Contra: Evolution, an HD remake of the original game, is now available for $0.99 on the North American App Store.

Details from TouchArcade:

I’ve only given it a short go, but it’s pretty much what I hoped it would be: a revamped Contra. The two original action heroes Lance and Bill make their return, but there’s two new female characters to play as too. The remade visuals look nice too, though it does feel like it’s lost some of its charm over the original graphics.

Something that might be a point of concern is the addition of a dual-currency and IAP system into Contra: Evolution. So far it appears to be just the “speed things up” variety, and all the different weapons look like they can just be bought through playing the game, leveling up, and earning the currency. Time will tell how this shakes out.

Revamped Contra is nice, but if you’re playing one of the hardest action series in gaming history, tight control is key. I’m a little torn on the idea of touchscreen controls. The IAP sound interesting, though. Having access to a Spread Gun at any time would definitely speed up my NES runs.

Green Ranger Returns for Power Rangers 20th Anniversary

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If you grew up with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers in the 90s, you’ll be happy to hear that Jason David Frank is returning to Power Rangers Mega Force this year for the 20th anniversary series reunion.

TMZ reports that Frank, now an MMA fighter, will be reprising his role as Tommy Oliver, and is currently on location filming in New Zealand. Frank will be appearing as both the Green and White rangers from the original series in an episode that will feature 10 classic rangers, including Patricia Lee (the current voice of Jill Valentine in the Resident Evil series) as the Pink Space Ranger.

Arguably the most popular actor on the show, Frank has worn five separate ranger costumes during his career. For 90s pop culture aficionados, having Frank back on the show for the 20th anniversary is a delightful surprise, and may lend some hype and nostalgia to a genre of Saturday morning entertainment that has become much less relevant in recent years.

A Look at Gmail’s New Tabbed Interface

Check your inbox today, because Google is rolling out a new version of Gmail that should solve the “e-mail overload” problem that forces people like me to turn off social media notifications and set up ridiculous sets of filters.

The Verge posted a video today that goes over the new tabbed interface. The update adds five tabs, which are somewhat customizable, to the top of your inbox interface. Primary is for friends and family. Social contains your social media updates from Facebook, Twitter etc. Promotions keeps all those Groupon ads in one convenient place. Updates contains bills, and finally, Forums handles all of your message board replies and posts.

As usual, Gmail will learn from what you do, and if you place an e-mail in one of these folders, it will pick up on the action and try to place other emails similarly.

Though the mobile interface for the new Gmail update places all of the tabs in a side bar, which looks a little annoying to use, this system should help alleviate e-mail-related stress once it goes live for all users later today. It’ll take a bit of teaching, and a week or two of checking every tab to make sure credit card bills go to the right place, but once sufficiently educated, Gmail should be easier to use than before.

Xbox One Will Be Region-Locked

Speaking to Digital Trends, a representative of Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox One will be region-locked, surprising exactly nobody:

“Similar to the movie and music industry, games must meet country-specific regulatory guidelines before they are cleared for sale,” A rep from Microsoft confirmed to Digital Trends. “We will continue to work with our partners to follow these guidelines with Xbox One.”

The fact that this not-news is news is what’s interesting about this comment. Did anybody really think that after announcing its plans to control the used game market, in addition to mandatory Internet connections and Kinect sensor functionality, that Microsoft would let you play a new Japanese game without buying a Japanese system?

For most North American users, this won’t be a huge issue, as if history is any indication, there won’t be many foreign-developed games worth importing for the next Xbox. The article does point out that not region-locking a system may allow South American gamers to get their content easier, but due to legal issues, it’s probably better if something like this stays region-locked.

Officials Speak Out Against Xbox One’s Always-On Kinect

The new Xbox One, launching later this year, will require the included Kinect sensor to be connected for the system to function. You can also turn your new system on with voice commands like “Xbox On”, which implies that the system will always be watching and listening for your commands.

Always listening. Always watching.

This doesn’t sit well with Tim Vines, director at Civil Liberties Australia, who spoke to GamesFIX about the possible breach of privacy the new device may cause:

“People should have the ability to turn off the camera or microphone, even if it limits the functionality of the machine,” he said. Vines believes privacy is “all about control”.

“Of course, if Microsoft doesn’t allow that (control), then people should vote with their wallets and skip the next Xbox.”

Vines says Microsoft should be upfront about what it does with data collected by Xbox One.

“Microsoft’s new Xbox meets the definition of a surveillance device under some Australian laws, so they need to be upfront and tell customers whether anyone else can intercept their information or remotely access their device,” Vines said.

The piece also includes a quote from Berlin’s federal data protection commissioner, who feels that the ability for Microsoft to spy on him constitutes a “twisted nightmare.”

Now, Orwellian conspiracy theories aside, the fact that the Kinect sensor has to be connected alongside an online connection does pose a potential risk. That being said, the amount of flack Microsoft would catch if a single intrepid soul discovered any nefarious doings completely outweighs the benefits of watching people play Dance Central naked. It’s all conjecture at this point, but as far as civil liberties go, I think we’re safe for now.

How Microsoft Plans to Control Xbox One Used Game Sales

While the new system was only announced days ago, Microsoft has apparently wasted no time in getting retailers on board with its new system to regulate and control used game sales.

The scenario Microsoft is briefing retailers on, from MCV:

A gamer walks into a retailer and hands over the game they wish to sell. This will only be possible at retailers who have agreed to Microsoft’s T&Cs and more importantly integrated Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure pre-owned system into its own.

The game is then registered as having been traded-in on Microsoft’s system. The consumer who handed it over will subsequently see the game wiped from their account – hence the until now ambiguous claim from Phil Harrison that the Xbox One would have to ‘check in’ to Microsoft’s servers every 24 hours.

The retailer can then sell the pre-owned game at whatever price they like, although as part of the system the publisher of the title in question will automatically receive a percentage cut of the sale. As will Microsoft. The retailer will pocket the rest.

This further lends itself to the theory that games will be individually numbered somehow, most likely through a digital key included in the game code. Otherwise, how would retailers like GameStop be able to de-license games that are missing a physical code?

The idea that Microsoft is securing a portion of the sale for both itself and the publisher is similarly interesting. What happens if a mom-and-pop store starts taking in used games without Microsoft’s blessing? Are we entering a world of underground, black market used game sales? Maybe nothing quite as extreme, but the regulation proposed here definitely points to retailers becoming the submissive member of the publisher/retailer relationship. In the past, console developers and game publishers relied on retailers to carry their games and make them available to the public. Now, they’re being handed heavy stipulations and caveats just for the privilege of carrying said product.

Egotistical, or insanely brilliant? We won’t know for sure until sales numbers start leaking out in the months following the Xbox One’s release.

Xbox One Clarifications Add More Confusion

Does the Xbox One always have to be online? According to Microsoft, no. However, it does require an Internet connection.

What does that mean? The Verge seeks to clarify:

The statement, while accurate, isn’t forthcoming with the information that gamers want to know. How long can I play offline, and is the connection required for single-player games? Kotaku attempted to clarify in a question to Microsoft’s Phil Harrison, asking if you’d need to connect as regularly as once per hour or over a period of weeks. “I believe it’s 24 hours,” said Harrison, before confirming you’d have to connect online once every day. However, Microsoft spokespeople later dismissed the exact timing. “There have been reports of a specific time period — those were discussions of potential scenarios, but we have not confirmed any details today, nor will we be,” Microsoft said in a statement to Polygon.

Basically, Microsoft hasn’t worked out the specifics of its new hardware, and as such, probably shouldn’t have said anything in order to avoid confusion. Also, what happens if we don’t connect every 24 hours? Does the system stop functioning? Do my saves roll back? Does the cotton candy machine stop working?

Further exacerbating the issue is the controversy surrounding game ownership and licenses.

The confusion doesn’t end there. A Wired report on the controversial online requirement introduced the notion of a fee for second-hand games, noting that a disc could be used with a second account, but that the owner of the new account would need to pay a fee and install the game from the disc. The result would mean the new account then owns the game, after the fee is paid, and can play without the disc. Microsoft was quick to note, once again, that this is a “potential scenario.” In a blog post from Larry Hryb, Xbox Live’s Major Nelson, the company attempts to clarify the confusion. “We have only confirmed that we designed Xbox One to enable our customers to trade in and resell games at retail,” says Hryb.

While PC gamers are used to buying a Steam license for a game and downloading it for use on their own account, asking console gamers to pony up the same fee when they have a physical copy of the game in front of them is a bit odd. And how will the system know that the game has been installed under another account? Unique serial numbers identifiers contained in the code of each copy of a game would be my guess, and the system will register that code under that account when connected online.

This is all guesswork at this point, as no real details are known. Not just by the press, but apparently by Microsoft as well. While I would like to say this reveal was handled poorly, I worked at retail during the N-Gage launch, so I can’t really complain.

Xbox One Coming This Year

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The wait is finally over. Microsoft has announced the successor to the Xbox 360, the Xbox One, this morning at a live briefing in Redmond, Washington. The new system will act as a home media solution, with both HDMI in and out ports, 8GB of RAM, WiFi capabilities, a Blu-Ray drive (which is apparently super quiet), Kinect functionality built in, and 64-bit architecture.

All that’s missing is a cotton candy machine. And backwards compatibility. Gamespot reports via The Verge that since the new system boasts x64 processor, and not the PowerPC processor that the 360 used, any Xbox Live Arcade games and disc-based titles will not function on the new system.

Personally, I’m not too heartbroken over the lack of backwards compatibility in the Xbox One. Now, the Xbox 360 will retain some of its value, and we won’t see piles of systems clogging the shelves of our local used game stores. Keeping the two platforms separate and focusing on the future also gives Microsoft the chance to completely rework the Live Marketplace and organize things more intelligently. The marketplace is currently a nightmare to navigate, and going into a new system launch with 1000’s of items already available would make browsing it a total debacle.

Besides, look at the issues we had with the 360 due to backwards compatibility with the original Xbox, friend list caps being chief among them. Starting fresh might be just what the doctor ordered. Never fear, though: all of your achievements will carry over with your Gamertag to the new Xbox Live. At least your legacy of online domination will remain intact.

It’s insensitive to folks who want to retain their libraries all in one place, but I think ushering in the new and focusing on the future is the best thing Microsoft can do right now to refocus the brand in the new direction they’ve envisioned. Whether that’s the correct direction for their business remains to be seen, but you have to go big or go home, and the robust specs of this hardware clearly lean towards big.

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Coming to PC

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It looks like my personal favorite game of the year so far, Metal Gear Rising Revengeance, is coming to PC.

Via Joystiq:

Series creator Hideo Kojima announced Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is coming to the PC. Speaking on his HideRadio podcast, Kojima revealed the upcoming port. The news was then confirmed by Platinum Games creative producer Jean Pierre Kellams.

In itself, this isn’t terribly amazing news. Revengeance did alright in terms of sales, but it’s hard to argue whether or not a Steam version of the game will reach a new audience that the console versions failed to tap into. Financially, this may just be about Platinum Games getting the most out of its development dollars.

On the other hand, porting the game to PC means 1080p visuals, plus whatever goodies modders will come up with. Revengeance is open ended in the way you cut apart your opponents, but when you start including possibilities like custom skins and levels and upgraded enemies and whatever silliness people with too much time on their hands can cook up, fans will likely be able to squeeze quite a bit more enjoyment out of the experience.