Archive for the ‘Scandalous Strategies’ Category

News of the World: Updates

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

In this fast-paced digital world, things can change in the blink of an eye. Dream and Friends would like to share with you these recent updates to our late-breaking coverage. This is news you need, when you need it.

When I theorized that the “original edition” of Donkey Kong bundled with European Wii consoles was an unreleased prototype game, I was making an assumption based on the likeliest case among a series of unlikely scenarios. I was wrong. Donkey Kong’s reality is, somehow, even stranger than what I’d suggested.

After examining the ROM’s code, NES hacking wizard BMF54123 posted the following analysis at Lost Levels:

Guys, I don’t think this is a prototype at all, but an official Nintendo ROM hack.

The first half of the PRG ROM contains all the new data for the cement factory level, a copy of the title screen with the updated 2010 copyright, and a lot of code patches. The second half is identical to the US PRG1 ROM, except various routines have been hijacked to point to the new patches.

A lot of them do really hackish things, like manually copying the entire sprite data page to unused RAM and shuffling it around (so the cement pies don’t disappear), checking Mario’s current animation frame to see if he’s climbing (for the moving ladders?), and shoehorning in new data if the current level number is 02. It’s also coded pretty sloppily in places, jumping to the same subroutine 5 times in a row, for example. This might explain why it glitches occasionally.

A true prototype would have certainly been built on the original source code, as Mario Bros. Classic was, not split into a bunch of patches. Whoever did this either didn’t have access to the original source, or no longer had the necessary tools/knowledge to compile it.

I had assumed that Donkey Kong: Original Edition was an unreleased special version coded during the NES’s lifespan. And yet we have proof here of something even more unlikely — Nintendo apparently still employs the rare breed of individual who is familiar with the inner workings of a console that hasn’t seen a new first-party release in 15 years. Let us never doubt Nintendo’s power ever again.

Another unexpected discovery was made during Wizard Week — specifically, the mid-week break in which I focused on a series of strategy guides published by Bantam Books.

Doing some Internet sleuthing, readers Madeline Henry and Michael Stearns identified the cover artist as Bill Mayer. The surfing cat featured in “Ultimate Unauthorized Nintendo Game Boy Strategies” is actually the mascot for the smooth jazz outfit The Rippingtons — he appears on several album covers, and even stars in one of their videos!

Mayer himself later found the comments thread and left a reply:

Too funny…Where the hell did you find these? I am the illustrator responsible for those little diddies, all of the picture Nintendo Strategies were originally done for other clients and uses. They were not allowed to use any of the copyrighted material so they looked around for images of monsters. eventually ran out of monsters and started just looking for anything bright and colorful to stick on the cover. These books were done in ,I am guessing the 1980’s? Can’t believe they are still out there haunting the halls of used book stores in small quiet unsuspecting small towns all across the country Beware…

These books have been in my collection since I was a kid, and finding out more about them after all these years was a real treat. Thanks for the comments, guys!

Finally, Kotaku picked up on the iPhone smash hit My Virtual Girlfriend a full eight months after I’d originally featured it here. Somehow, the fabric of time itself was altered so that the game could be released “just in time for Valentine’s Day” in the year 2011. This serves as an important reminder to always trust Dream and Friends as your first-on-the-scene source for video game news that matters.

Wizard Week: Finale

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Sandwich Islands Publishing had two more volumes in its Awesome strategy guide series that I’ve neglected to cover until now. As much as I hate to end Wizard Week on a downer, the full story must be told.

I know what you’re asking yourself right now: “What are these? Are they video game strategy guides? They claim to offer all the latest strategies and hottest cheats, but if that’s true, where are the wizards?

Faced with declining interest in 16-bit consoles, Sandwich Islands Publishing’s cover designers resorted to drastic changes for Awesome Sega Genesis Secrets 5 and Awesome Super Nintendo Secrets 4. These changes included the elimination of its cover mascots.

Predictably, without a wizard, dragon, or sorceress to guide their purchasing decisions, gamers were confused as to whether these guides offered awesome secrets or not, and they sold very poorly. It should go without saying that these two books were the last volumes in both series.

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Wizard Week: The Sorceress Strikes

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Sandwich Islands Publishing had a problem. It needed a new character to represent its upcoming line of Super Nintendo Entertainment System strategy guides. Its stalwart wizard mascot, sadly, was not ideal for the job.

Why? Well, in short, the Genesis was an incredibly masculine console. Its limited color palette resulted in games that had a rugged, manly aesthetic. If the Sega Genesis was a beard, it would be the most majestic beard of them all: a wizard’s beard. SIP knew this, and designed its covers accordingly.

The SNES, by comparison, was a passionate, fertile system, brimming with feminine wile and charm. Developers were given free reign over a dazzling spectrum of colors, and Mode 7 technology ensured elegant rotation and scaling effects.

Sandwich Islands Publishing needed a female lead to serve as the physical embodiment of 1991’s juiciest Super Nintendo secrets.

Wizard: Well…
Dragon: No
What’s that growth on her shoulder? I think it’s a raven.

Let’s get this out of the way first: she’s no wizard. Sadly, wizards don’t really have a female equivalent. Witches are the closest physical match, but witches aren’t exactly strategy guide cover material. Wizards suggest wisdom and mastery; witches bring to mind lunatic buffoonery.

While it makes sense that SIP would choose a sorceress as its cover girl, the series is off to a rocky start in terms of cover content — there are three different animal classes on display here, and yet no dragon.

But look at that strategy lineup! Street Fighter II! Super Mario World! The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past! Despite some questionable filler material (anyone need a walkthrough for Hole-in-One Golf? Or Super Off Road? Or Hook?), the strategy offerings here are strong enough to sell the book on their own merits, despite the loss of our beloved wizard and his dragon.

Rating: Tentative Approval

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Wizard Week Gaiden: Bantam…Bluh…Huh?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

While the 16-bit strategy guide wars raged between Prima and Sandwich Islands Publishing, Bantam Books wanted its own slice of that sweet pie. Bantam started off by publishing guides covering 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System games, then produced one volume for Game Boy games. Then they stopped making video game strategy guides.

I’m not quite sure how to approach these. Um.

Wizard: No
Dragon: No
Dapper zootsuited runaway sailor fox/wolf thing: Sure enough

Huh.

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Wizard Week: Wizards at War

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Awesome Sega Genesis Secrets, huh? Oh, real mature. Do those jerks at Sandwich Islands Publishing seriously think they can get away with this? We’ll show them a thing or two. We’ll make a sequel to Sega Genesis Secrets…with the exact same cover!

Well, it’s not the exact same cover. It seems to take place a few seconds after the events shown in the first volume — the warrior looks a little more exhausted, and the Amazon has finally made up her mind to attack the dragon. Otherwise, the art tells the same, tired story as before. Why should anyone expect the book’s contents to be up-to-date with the latest hints and tips for killer Sega Genesis games?

The third volume, on the other hand, skips over the rest of the battle and focuses on the thrilling aftermath of our heroes looking at a dead dragon. What happened? Who killed the dragon? Given that the pair was given two entire strategy guide covers to kill a dragon but failed to do so, someone else — say, a wizard — probably swept in and saved the day.

Wizard: HOLY SHIT YES
Dragon: Do snakes count as dragons?
No: Then no, there’s no dragon.

While Prima was screwing around with its “dragon / dragon / dead dragon” saga, Sandwich Islands Publishing retaliated by taking its wizard mascot into outer goddamned space. At this point in the Prima trilogy, Sandwich could’ve responded with a painting of a wizard squatting on a toilet and still emerged the victor. But a cover featuring a future wizard? That’s just raw as hell.

This new direction actually hurt the Awesome brand, in the long run. Taking the wizard into space would have been a natural conclusion for the series, but Awesome Sega Genesis Secrets still had three more volumes to go at this point. Where do you go from here? How can you follow up on a wizard in space?

The short answer: you can’t. A future space wizard would normally earn a perfect score on my review scale, but Sandwich Islands Publishing’s poor timing softens the intended impact.

Rating: 9.98 out of 10

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Wizard Week: Awesome Sega Genesis Secrets

Monday, April 26th, 2010

You’ve got competition. The biggest name in the strategy guide biz — Prima Games —  has rushed its own Sega Genesis Secrets to the market, beating you in your quest to reveal gaming’s hottest strategies to the public. You now face a problem: how are people going to know that your secrets are better than their secrets?

Well, you can start by calling your book AWESOME Sega Genesis Secrets.

Wizard: Yes
Dragon: Yes
Is that…another dragon?: YES!

Awesome Sega Genesis Secrets is actually pretty great. Whereas Prima’s Non-Awesome Sega Genesis Secrets wasted your time with bullshit strategies for bullshit games like Whip Rush and Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf, Sandwich Island Publishing’s Awesome guide delivers secrets for games that people might actually want to play — Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Strider, to name a few. It even has full maps for Shining in the Darkness (a godsend, back in 1991) and strategies for lesser-known greats like Toejam & Earl.

More importantly, though, Awesome Sega Genesis Secrets started the early ’90s trend of putting wizards front-and-center on the covers of video game strategy guides. Never mind that wizards are not actually found in most video games — gamers know that if any book features a wizard or a dragon on the cover, it’s probably worth reading.

Wizard review: This wizard is pretty sweet, as far as wizards go. His hair, in particular, goes above and beyond the call of duty by growing out from his eyebrows, accenting the cobweb-like wisps that flow from behind his robe.

Otherwise, how goddamned garish is this cover? Hot pink and cyan are the dominant colors here, and the words in the title look like they were glued together at the very last possible second before going to print. It’s as if the designer forgot to include the word “Sega” in his first draft. And “Secrets.”

The artist attempted to distract from these flaws by flipping and duplicating the dragon in the wizard’s crystal ball, and while the addition of more dragons is always appreciated, the design and color scheme ultimately result in a decidedly non-visceral experience.

Rating: 6.75 out of 10

TOMORROW: Prima’s counterattack!!

Wizard Week Prelude: Sega Genesis Secrets

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Wizard: No
Dragon: Yes
Instant mastery for all players: Yes

Kicking off Wizard Week (I’ll explain later), here we have…a strategy guide with no wizards on the cover. Don’t worry. I’ll get to the good stuff soon.

This well-worn guide is oddly memorable for me, for several reasons. It also serves as a prototype of sorts for what’s to come later this week. For now, note the cover’s fantasy setting and conspicuous lack of wizards, which I assure you will be addressed shortly.

Read on for more incredible artwork and stunning strategies.

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Sonic and the Unexplored Passages

Monday, April 19th, 2010

This strategy guide deserves a spot on my bookshelf because 1) it’s a reminder that, at some point in time, a publisher thought it was necessary to dedicate an entire book to secrets and strategies for Sega CD games and 2) this:

Indeed.