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Earthworm Jim: PR Stunt, Vanity Project, or Harmless Nostalgia?

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Earthworm Jim

Intellivision is a name from far back in the history of video games. Mattel Electronics released the Intellivision console in 1979, where it emerged as the main competitor to the Atari 2600, selling more than 3 million units before the console and related brand was retired in 1990.

In 1997, the Intellivision brand was acquired by former Mattel Electronics executives Keith Robinson and Stephen Roney, who supervised the release of several compilations of Intellivision games for PC, as well as licensing a range of plug-and-play mini-consoles and other compilations for consoles.

Fast forward to May 2018, when Tommy Tallarico announced he was creating a new Intellivision company called Intellivision Entertainment, which acquired all the intellectual property associated with the brand. The Intellivision Amico console was soon announced at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October 2018, with a scheduled launch date of October 2020.

According to the information released about the console, it will feature a host of remastered Intellivision and Atari games. Many of these games will be built-in, while several others will be available on the online store. The company also promised that all games on the platform will be exclusive and will cost between USD$2.99 and $7.99. The low price point will also extend to the console itself, which is expected to retail between $149 and $179.

The technical specifications for the device have not yet been revealed, though, according to the early press release, the Amico features a ‘21st century 2D chip and architecture’, making the console strictly for games with 2D graphics. A curious choice for a console release in the modern era.

During his keynote address at the Portland Gaming Expo, Tallarico stated the Amico would be more family-friendly than its competitors, saying: “Most every game being made for the home consoles these days is created with only the hardcore gamer in mind.

“We see a world where everyone is interested in playing at home and with friends, but this isn’t currently possible because the barrier to entry is nearly impossible for a non-gamer.”

Tallarico has a long history with videogames, though he is known primarily as a composer and musician, creating soundtracks for titles such as Cool Spot, Time Crisis, Metroid Prime, and Earthworm Jim. He also runs the successful Video Games Live concert series, which uses a symphonic orchestra to play live versions of classic game tunes.

The announcement of the Earthworm Jim revival confirmed at least ten of the original team members who worked on the original for the Mega Drive are returning to the project, and, in all likelihood,Tallarico leveraged his own involvement with the game to get it off the ground and acquire exclusivity.

Earthworm Jim 2019

Nostalgia sells. However, history has proven the possibility of bungling what is, on paper, a sure thing. Observe the problems Sony had with the PlayStation Classic, which suffered from poor game selection, a steep price point, and several software issues.

Moreover, recent history is littered with the corpses of failed game consoles. A relevant example from recent years is the Sinclair Vega+, which ended up mired in scandal and legal action, with very few backers receiving the product.

Since Intellivision Entertainment was only formed in early 2018, the publisher has given itself an extremely tight time scale to actually market its flagship product. Even assuming that off-the-shelf hardware is being used, that still does not leave much time for design, production, and thorough testing.

A number of design choices regarding the Amico are questionable. As well as the aforementioned 2D exclusivity, the company has chosen to try to replicate the look of the original Intellivision controllers, resulting in a gamepad that somewhat resembles an iPod Classic. The controller is said to be equipped with touch-screen and motion controls, but the jury is still out on how well it will perform both functionally and ergonomically.

The possibility of Earthworm Jim being a launch title for the Intellivision Amico is unlikely since trying to create a fully-featured game on new hardware in the time available seems nigh-on impossible. Therefore, the company is most likely using the announcement to raise the profile of the console among gamers, particularly retro gaming fans.

With this in mind, however, another statement from Tallarico raises even more questions, since Intellivision Entertainment and Tallarico have said that no game on the Amico will  be rated higher than E10+ under the Electronic Software Rating Board (ESRB) system.

Intellivision has confirmed it has no plans to allow Teen, Mature, or Adults-Only games on to the system. Why, then, is Intellivision Entertainment targeting older gaming fans? The most obvious answer lies in demographics—those older fans tend to be the ones with spare cash. Could Tallarico be priming the pump for a crowdfunding announcement or similar money-raising effort? Perhaps. If that is the case, the decision to position the device as a family-friendly machine, pushing the angle of parents playing together with children, seems even odder.

What is particularly curious is that Earthworm Jim is the first major announcement about the console since it was originally revealed in May 2018. With a planned release of 2020, questions arise as to why the console hasn’t been put into marketing, especially if the company is serious about selling the Amico as a family-friendly console.

One possible explanation for this dichotomy is that CEO Tommy Tallarico, though a respected composer and musician, has little practical experience with consumer electronics or running a company concerned with such. Moreover, so far the only major game announcement for the console that is not a direct remaster is a game franchise Tallarico has prior ties with. Is Tallarico just seeking the cachet of creating a new console? If his goal was to re-launch the Earthworm Jim series, far easier paths could be explored.

The entire situation remains something of a head-scratcher. OnlySP plans to keep a close eye on events, and readers can follow the coverage by checking Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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Opinion

The Final Fantasy VII Remake Might Turn Away Fans Instead of Creating New Ones

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final fantasy vii

In 1997, Square Enix, then Square Soft, released a title that would change the role-playing genre forever. Until then, the genre only found popularity within smaller, niche communities. In January of that year, Square Soft released Final Fantasy VII,a classic that would hold a special place in gamers’s hearts for years to come.

Until my early teens, I had only heard of the marvel known as Final Fantasy VII. Before that point, I had never experienced the game or seen much of its offerings. For years, I searched stores for a copy until finally locating a version that broke my juvenile bank. I had finally earned a chance to experience a game I had, until then, only known through word of mouth and, after my first few hours with it, found love.

Final Fantasy VII gave me characters to care about and a cause worth fighting for. With a protagonist as gloomy as Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII’s extended cast of misfits needed to outshine the leading man and give players a reason to care. The lovable Aerith/Aeris, adamant Tifa, and strong-headed Barret are some examples of FFVII’s supporting cast that remains iconic into modern gaming.

At E3 2015, Square Enix surprised audiences with the announcement that Final Fantasy VII would be getting a full-fledged remake. Fans would ride an emotional high for a while before the title was announced to be broken into multiple parts. A multi-part release, along with some questionable visuals and character design, was enough to shift fan excitement to worry, until both the game and conversation faded out of the limelight.

During Sony’s State of Play stream, audiences were shown new gameplay for the Remake, which featured adjusted character models and the inclusion of more beloved characters. Once again, fans were left on an emotional high after the stream until confirmation came later that the title would still be chopped up into multiple releases.

Square Enix is advertising this game as being too large for a single launch window. For reference sake, the single-player experience of Red Dead Redemption 2 launched in full in October 2018. Given how grand the narrative is for Red Dead Redemption 2, the title still needed a separate disc for installation. Nonetheless this did not encourage Rockstar to split the title into multiple launches. What Square Enix is effectively stating here, is that the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be more expansive than Red Dead Redemption 2 – a title that is already one of the largest games to date. Either the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be groundbreaking for the industry, or this is an attempt by Square Enix to capitalize on the fandom surrounding this beloved title.

As a primary curiosity, fans want to know how the game will be divided. For now, all that is known around this subject is just rumors and speculation, but that does not eliminate the need to discuss such possibilities. For example, will the game be split into two parts or will the division be more akin to the three-disc original version? This version of the split would be more faithful to the original, but then creates a new issue for fans.

The more parts Final Fantasy VII Remake finds itself in, the more expensive the overall experience will be for the players. Square Enix has not yet explained how it will charge for this remake. Given past trends within the industry, the potential for monetization comes via DLCs, expansions, or season passes. For example, Square’s previous entry into the Final Fantasy series – Final Fantasy XV – saw numerous added content post launch, including a second season pass before being cancelled. Additionally, the title received mobile spin-offs and tie-ins full of micro-transactions. In a perfect world, Square Enix would release each part at a lower price point than a full title, allowing the consumer to experience the full game at a ‘normal’ price. Fans will have to wait a little longer to get details on the pricing models, seeing as a release window for the first part is still nonexistent.

One aspect Square Enix should keep in mind, however, is player retention. As with past episodic titles, the possibility always exists for the playerbase to die off during the down time between releases. A large player-base exists that wait until the full title is released before purchasing and playing the game. Since Final Fantasy fans are not used to this kind of launch, many of them may purchase the first part out of excitement and anticipation and become turned off by the required indefinite wait afterwards.

For Final Fantasy VII Remake, Square’s decision to release the game in parts may not be as beneficial as it initially believes. Since the game is a remake, fans will have a certain expectation for the quality of its execution and development. The expectation towards the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be exceedingly high due to the fact that a Final Fantasy VII revered by many already exists. Ultimately, some fans will be disappointed by the remake depending on how faithful the content is to the original, already placing Square at a disadvantage with this beloved IP.

Despite the negativity surrounding Square’s insistence on breaking up the title, excitement for the Final Fantasy VII Remake remains high as fans are once again discussing what it may have to offer. Despite the confirmation of an episodic release, the community will not have any concrete facts until the game’s next showing later this year. Until then, all one can do is speculate based on trends within the gaming industry. I am genuinely excited to see a title loved by many re-imagined for modern technology, but the potential of it turning away die-hard fans due to business decisions leaves me worried for the worst.

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