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The Next Generation, Round Three

Or "One Hundred Twenty-Seven and One Dal-Mario's"

    So what's been going on since we last talked? Well...

     Sony is poised to take the US by storm in less than a week with the release of Playstation 2. The all-in-one Video Game/CD/DVD player will launch with an impressive line up of games and the sony name behind it. Pre-order sales have been mind blowing and despite shortages, there's no chance that Sony's uber-system can fail... at least at launch time.

     Sega has leveraged it's lead into a web based marketing strategy, touting online play through the Dreamcast's built in modem, and a "free" dreamcast upon sign up for 2 years of service. They also have a few minor hits in titles like Crazy Taxi and Chu Chu Rocket, and the impending epic Shen Mue and NFL/NBA2K1 oughta help sales even more. It's still unclear whether they'll be able to stand against the Sony juggernaut, but they definitely have a chance.

     A third force to be reckoned with now is Microsoft, and their mysterious X-box system. The system, set to come out in a year, will reportedly be more powerful than any competing system, and developers with development kits arescrambling behind it. Microsoft is putting a full $500 million into marketing this behemoth directly against Nintendo and Sony. Only time will tell whether Microsoft can succeed in the console gaming market, but less than 5 years ago, a little company called Sony proved that outside companies cna break into this business.

     So what's up with Nintendo? Well, as you've all no doubt heard, they released the almost full story on their GameCube back in August, and reviews have been mixed. Some say Nintendo really has a chance with a strong showing of demos, while others say that without anythnig playable, it's just too little too late in the face of competition. Let's look at what they showed, and how it affects Mario's future.

     First off the system itself. The multicolored, cubed design seems taken directly from Apple, and has drawn criticism from a variety of sources. This is trivial though compared to the controller, which hardly seems revolutionary (as the N64 controller was) and more like a copy of Sony's Dual Shock. Until we get a chance to actually use it to play the games, it's hard to judge, but Miyamato-san assures everyone that it is very comfortable and easy to use (despite it's looks). They also threw around a lot of numbers, showed off the mini-disk format, announced a possible price point, etc., etc. This is all rather immaterial compared the tech demo.'s they showed.

     Well, there's the "Mario 128" demo. If you've been under a rock, this demo features 128 fully 3D Mario's (700 polygons each) running around a dynamic environment, picking up boxes, rollnig each other around, etc. This impressively showed off the systems power, and evidenced how easy it would be for developers to make realistic physics models (Miyamato said his team "threw this together in a few nights"). Still, it doesn't look very revolutionary, especially when compared with the huge leap Super Mario 64 was 5 years ago. So far it looks like more of the same Mario with prettier graphics. Hopefully, a playable demo (possibly at E3) will show some of that Miyamato magic again.

     The "Luigi's Mansion" demo was probably the most interesting one shown for Mario fans. In it, a very detailed rendering of Luigi is shown running around a castle, sliding down banisters, being scared of ghosts, etc. The demo is interesting for it's amazing facial expressions and cartoony movement if nothing else. Luigi is shown screaming, running, and shaking in extremely exagerated detail. Even more exciting, many sources have speculated that this demo is a sign of what's to come in the new, more mature Mario game.

     Finally, we have Mario Kart Advance. While I'd like to say I'm excited about this title, I can't really muster up that much enthusiasm for another Kart game... especially one that's so similar to Mario Kart 64. While I loved MK64's multiplayer mode (which should be even better with link cables), the thought of another mediocre one player mode is not heartening... even if it is portable. Then again, it's possible that this game can return to the one player greatness of SMK and re affirm my belief. Frankly, I just don't know enough about it yet. We'll see.

     Above all though, what we've learned from the recent Space World show is that Nintendo is not abandoning Mario. In the light of popular, super-cutesy games such as Pokemon, and a slightly more mature focus with the likes of Perfect Dark, it's comforting to know that Nintendo is sticking by everyones favorite plumber (comforting for me at least). And that's all I have to say about that.

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