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It was October of 2005 in Canada, at the tail end of the original Xbox and Playstation 2’s retail lives. A month before the Xbox 360 was to be released—shipping with flashy titles like the World War II shooter Call of Duty 2—the only home video game console ever to be designed and distributed in Canada, the Game Wave, went to market.
Four years later, in 2009, it was gone.
Canada made a Christian video game console. pic.twitter.com/Mk64IDoHoV
— VICE Canada (@vicecanada) December 21, 2017
I came across the Game Wave when I recently visited the home of Syd Bolton, who runs the PC Museum in Brantford, Ontario. Bolton might be best known for his collection of old computers, but he’s really all about video games. Inside his house, he has rooms upon rooms stacked with games. He’s a collector in the truest sense, as some of the things he’s stockpiled aren’t even really valuable: Every original Xbox game ever made, every Wii game ever made, and so on. They’re not classics, but he has them all, and that’s what matters.
Near the end of my visit, Bolton looked at me with a sly grin and said, “Hey, want to see something cool?” Wondering what that could possibly mean to a guy like Bolton, I said yes. What he pulled out was the Game Wave—a glorified silver DVD player that shipped with four remote controls, all snugly nestled inside a soft case emblazoned with the slogan, “Unity Through Play.” Bolton told me that he owns five of these things.
Game Wave was a family-friendly machine, and it was lauded by Christians for its focus on trivia games and competition in good fun. While not explicitly Christian, the Game Wave certainly courted that audience. One of the system’s few games was a Mario Party-esque title featuring characters from the popular Christian media franchise VeggieTales. According to the Christian Broadcasting Network, ZAPiT Games, the Canadian makers of the Game Wave console, partnered with Big Idea (which owns VeggieTales) in 2008 to sponsor a tour called “The God Made You Special, Live! Tour.”
Bolton and I played a trivia game that was, in all honesty, kind of fun. It wasn’t anything special in terms of its focus—mostly questions about history and famous people, etc.—but it did feature some impressive CGI interstitials and historical videos to accompany the questions. Learning and playing!
It’s unclear why the Game Wave never made it, although one can probably speculate that it was simply outclassed by every other video game console on the market. It was essentially a DVD player, after all. There’s also the small detail that one of ZAPiT’s former executives, Toronto-area businessman Hari Venkatacharya, was arrested in 2013 and convicted in 2016 for arranging phony company loans in exchange for hefty fees.
All in all, it’s just one more piece of doomed Canadian tech for us to fawn and puzzle over years after it died.
Sega Genesis Flashback is an attempt to capture a seemingly new, or at least reinvigorated, market while also not being too ambitious. At $80, the same price as the Super Nintendo Classic Edition, the Genesis Flashback struggles to approximate the user experience of Nintendo’s throwback. Instead, it tries to best it with back-of-the-box bullet points that, while impressive sounding, do little to cement its superiority.
Last year’s NES Classic Edition upended the low-end plug ‘n play console market, long dominated by a company called AtGames, which is responsible for the Atari and Genesis consoles littering checkout aisles everywhere. AtGames has been at this for a long time, but the low price is about the only thing easy to recommend on one of its consoles.
Still, the company doesn’t have trouble moving units over the holidays. But when the NES Classic Edition happened, AtGames needed a response.
The hardware is where the Sega Genesis Flashback gets a few things very right, but each checkmark in the positives column comes with a companion check mark in the negatives column. The Genesis Flashback comes with two 2.4 Ghz wireless controllers, an improvement over the SNES Classic’s short wires … but, while also a step above AtGames’ previous infrared wireless implementation, the wireless latency still isn’t great, and the controllers feel cheap, hardly like exact replicas of classic Genesis controllers.
Some other minor gripes: The battery tray is secured with an obnoxious tiny screw, and the package doesn’t include the controller’s necessary AAA batteries.
But the Genesis Flashback also wisely includes the standard DB9 port that the original Genesis had, meaning your old (or eBay-acquired!) controllers will work just fine on the Flashback, a major improvement from the SNES Classic’s bizarre choice to use a Wiimote expansion port. The negative on that one? AtGames throws in not bad, but not excellent, wireless controllers instead of taking the opportunity to offer excellent wired controllers. Another negative: You will have to use the six-button Genesis controller, even though many of the included games don’t require it. No three-button pads allowed.
The wireless controllers do include two notable enhancements on the original Genesis controllers (and the SNES Classic controllers, for that matter): a Menu button, giving players access to the system’s UI from the couch, and a Rewind button, letting them quickly access what is essentially an undo function for video games. If you opt for the six-button Genesis controller, its Mode button serves as the Menu button here, and you can invoke the Rewind feature by pressing Back + Start. This is a thoughtful solution that, strangely, Nintendo still fails to adopt in its offerings.
While Nintendo has wisely opted to use USB power for its miniature consoles, AtGames includes a barrel-plug power supply, removing any opportunity to power the console off your HDTV, or easily replace a missing plug. It’s a minor complaint, but it seems indicative of AtGames’ failure to recognize some of the more clever simplifications its competition has introduced and how audience expectations may have shifted.
In the positive column, the Genesis Flashback actually looks like a Genesis. While AtGames’ previous Genesis consoles were generic plastic boxes, the Flashback is barely “mini” in the Nintendo sense, but a scaled-down Genesis. Here it is next to my classic “High Definition” model 1 Genesis:
The games run badly. In fact, they ran so badly on the first unit AtGames sent me — the same unit that other outlets reviewed back in July (!) — that the company told me it had an issue with the emulation software and asked me to not review it, in order to give them a chance to send me an updated unit. A reasonable request, considering the product wouldn’t be released until late October, albeit curious why a subpar product was sent to reviewers that far in advance of release in the first place.
Nevertheless, I waited … and waited … and waited. I sent emails. Finally, the new unit was shipped and, curiously, it had a new embargo, a strange request given it was for a review of the same product they shipped to myself and other reviewers months ago. Even more curious: While some other issues were corrected in this updated unit, as best I can tell it similarly suffers from framerate issues, just like the July unit. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Now, let’s talk about the user interface because … well, it’s something else. While Nintendo pairs its Classic consoles with a charming — and fast! — UI that makes navigating your library a charm, AtGames has created what is arguably the world’s least-intuitive interface.
The sad thing about the Sega Genesis Flashback is that, while it may be enough to satisfy the under-the-tree urge in the absence of alternatives, every unit purchased represents a lost future customer for a good Genesis throwback console. AtGames has been selling the composite video variant — the so-called Firecore — since 2009, blanketing the impulse-buy aisles at Bed Bath & Beyond stores nationwide. Each one of those is a bulwark against a future good Genesis release.
Sega has done meaningful, arguably irreparable harm to the consumer proposition of purchasing its classic games, while Nintendo has elevated 30-year-old products to must-have status. As a one-time Genesis kid whose nostalgic sweet spot is a Sega Genesis, I feel qualified to say that the Genesis deserves better from its owner. But as long as Sega is willing to license out its platform instead of making its own hardware, it seems unlikely to get better than this, the most declarative console war victory imaginable.
In my opinion, the Genesis was the best console of the 16-bit era. But if you want to purchase the best 16-bit plug ‘n play system this holiday, get the SNES Classic Edition.
A huge bombshell just got dropped for Sonic Mania! We got a brand new trailer showing off the brand new Special Stages, as well as the Special Stages from Sonic 3 & Knuckles making a comeback! Not only did we get this, we also got a glimpse of Studiopolis Zone Act 2 and a brand new mode being the Time Attack mode! All of this and more is discussed in this video today! Sonic Mania releases on PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on August 15th!
Featured above, you can hit play to listen to the new track for Stardust Speedway Act 1, and in the worlds of the immortal Pablo Francisco, man is it sexy and smooth. It might even be mellow enough to make sweet, sweet love to.
Here’s a brief description of the track (as well as some hints for the level itself), via Sega:
Relax to the mellow funks of the past as Sonic and friends return to Little Planet’s firefly-lit marble cityscape. But things aren’t so simple as fauna has grown rather lush.
Sonic Mania is launching across for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Switch on August 15th.
The Sonic Mania Comic Con panel has come and gone, with it we got news regarding lots of things Sonic Mania related (which will be covered in tomorrow’s video) but we also got to see a Sonic Mania’s instruction manual in the form of a promotional item that was given away at the event. On this episode of the SEGA News Bits we look through some of the pages of the Sonic Mania instruction manual, talk about concept art for a never before seen Sonic Mania stage and cry that we didn’t get a manual for our personal collection. In the comments below let us know what you think of the Sonic Mania instruction manual and should there be a physical release for this game already? Feels like Sonic Mania has everything released physically besides the actual game, right?
First up we got some behind the scenes info. In early development the game was called Sonic Discovery, but it was only after the game was pitched to Sonic Team’s head Takashi Iizuka that the game was rechristened Sonic Mania. The early build the team pitched was also noteworthy for featuring a fully playable Studiopolis Zone.
We also get confirmation about the game’s story, which will be told through sprite-based cutscenes much like Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Early drafts featured Dr. Eggman retiring and his robots forming their own gang, the Hard Boiled Heavies. These villains got their own theme a few days ago, so while the story won’t be quite the same, they’ll still be a factor.
Attendees got a closer peek into the game’s narrative and characters thanks to a manual that was distributed to the audience. Give it a look
Mania will also be getting a fully animated intro courtesy of Tyson Hesse, who worked on the adorable animations seen in the pre-order trailer. This will be uploaded the day before release on August 14th if you can’t wait to see it in-game.
The most significant announcement, however, was of the game’s special stages, which look to take a page from Sonic CD’s, with Sonic chasing after a UFO.
The Tee Lopes-composed special stage music was also unveiled at the panel, and thankfully it was uploaded to YouTube earlier today. Check it out:
Sonic Mania launches August 15th for Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC. We’ll be sure to bring more on the retro throwback as we approach release!
Two Sonic games are coming out this year. Sonic Forces is a modern game, with a large cast of woodland creatures that look like no living thing and many 3D sections. Sonic Mania, though, is an homage to the early ‘90s 2D platformers that made the blue hedgehog a legend, and if it’s received well, it might have a bigger impact than you’d think.
column spoke with the boss of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka, about the two different approaches on each game. It’s been a while since an exclusively 2D Sonic was made – and he’s uncertain about the reception. Yet, if things go well, it seems Mania could affect the entire course of the franchise:
“For Mania it’s kind of like a new approach – to target specifically 2D fans,” he says. “So we don’t know whether it’ll be accepted positively in the market. We’ll find out after the game’s released, and we can figure out the direction of future titles after seeing the reaction.”
That’s slightly surprising, as Mania is made by an indie team plucked from the Sonic fan community. You’d be called cynical, but probably forgiven, if you assumed that the Sonic Team view it as a sop to the old-school fans while they get on with another flashy 3D title. Not so, apparently, and that’s encouraging.
You can read Metro’s preview in full here – it’s a fun read with lots of other details, and well worth a look.