Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

January 26, 2006

Lite Hearted, Heavy Hitting

Nintendo DS has gotten some well deserved flak from gamers everywhere. The machine is somewhat ugly. I mean, the original silver DS was just a monstrosity all up in your face. It's edges were too "sassy", it's clam shell was some what abstract with it's uneven edges, and no overall symmetry. It was just ICK! Then came along the electric blue DS, which prompted not only this writer, but many others to take part in the DS revolution. Sure the form hadn't changed, but it was far better than the plain and vanilla silver tact. New colours followed, and I think it'd be safe to assume that with the multitude of colours the DS sports, there'd be something for everyone. Well, almost everyone. Techy sticklers would have you believe that form factor is a big part in making a piece of technology worth the sticker price; and they'd be mostly right. Up until now, the PSP has ran laps around the DS with respect form factor and "sexyness". This is no longer the case...

Say hello to the DS Lite. Now I'm sure you can get the news anywhere, so I'm not going to pretend like this is breaking news or even unexpected. This is somewhat surprising though. To see Nintendo boldly denying they have anything to announce merely weeks ago, to now unleashing upon us what looks to be a fantastic redesign of the once ugly duckling of the handheld breed. Just look at it? The flush clam shell design, the rounded corners, no more edgies, the elimination of the God forsaken buldge of the clam-joint...and even better, mirroring the Revolution's aesthetics and design. This not only adds a detectable streamline from their handhelds to their consoles now, but it clearly shows forethought in what is sure to be a changing image for Nintendo (possibly for both good and for bad). My only concerns at this point are: will the screens be the same size? Smaller would suck, and bigger would be "teh B0mbzorz", but keeping the screens the same size is crucial in this much needed redesign. Lastly, will button size increase? I sure hope so, and for the sake of all that are annoyed, no more "clicky" buttons. Those two things aside, I think a round of applause is in order. Nintendo has given the DS a face lift sleak enough to show the PSP it isn't the only one with a metaphorical bosom. Now that DS has both the style and the software, it's only a matter of weeks before Sony announces a "secret announcement to be made at E3 about the PSP", and only a matter of months before they unveil the PSP redesign. I can't see Sony letting this slip by.

The one thing I think we should all hope for is a black colour option alongside this white version. Nintendo says it will launch with with two unannounced colours other than white, which is great because white is so Apple, I almost want to puke. I understand that Apple has it's iPod which is strikingly hip with the tech heads and style whores, but it only works for Apple. It just looks down right prissy on the DS Lite, and while the form and layout is exceptional, the colour is off-putting. Nintendo NEEDS a black DS Lite, and I expect they'd be smart enough to see that a simple colour and this redesign is all they'll need to show up the PSP as a piece of "fashionable" hardware, once and for all.

PSP redesign countdown commence...

January 23, 2006

Review: Electroplankton - Ushering in non-games, unfortunately...

VGP Score


From the musically infatuated mind of Toshio Iwai, Electroplankton is one of sure to be many, non-game games for the Nintendo DS. Due to the nature of Electroplankton, there isn't much to say about the game. The length of this review, is precisely indicative of just how little there is to Electroplankton. It's not that I've forgone delving into the game's intricacies, it's just so devoid of content, that saying much more than a few paragraphs would be purposefully stretching thin something for the sake of a word count.

The game boots up, and immediately greets the gamer with the title screen. No logos or corporate affairs here, this game is all about the planktonite creation of musical fusion. The box exclaims that the Electroplankton will respond to your voice and your touch, to mesmerize you with unforgettable sounds; which couldn't be further from the truth. Let's get one thing straight, there is no game here. There is no sense of progression, no sense of agency, no underlining goal to be accomplished. It's a hodge-podge of 10 mini-games that ostensibly mesh well with the game's clearly defined sense of style. And when I say there's no game here, I mean it. This is what Nintendo calls "reeling in a new type of gamer". What I don't understand - or at least, what perplexes me - is that while attracting this new breed of gamer, they've up and abandoned the gamers that gave them their now diamond name-sake. Let's digress for a moment and look at Nintendogs. One of many "niche" titles that Nintendo created with the DS - a piece of software that can only be done with a DS, and was designed to attract a new kind of gamer; specifically, the rare and elusive gamer-girl. They succeeded. Not only did they succeed by creating a brand new fish to fry, they pleased most of us "main gamers" (whatever you call us) simultaneously. A grand slam, wouldn't you say? Here we have a "game", that appeals to no gamer, not even this new demographic hooked, lined and sinkered by Nintendogs, and to top that it barely even qualifies as a non-game.

You have two options, one of which is the game, the other is a participatory showcase of the Electroplankton mini-games, which in and of itself, is useless. There is no game there, and there is little to no interaction. Software-user interfacing takes a back seat as playing in this mode, known formally as Audience mode, is not interesting, not fun, and wholely lacking in every aspect of software design. This however, is neither the focus nor the bulk of the game, thankfully. In Performance mode, you have the choice between 10 different mini-games, each with their own aural fixations and rudimentary "game" mechanics. Each mini-game is based upon the aquaitic horseplay of different "plankton" - I'm sure some of them are fish, and others tadpoles, but who's keeping track, really? Playing with Tracy lets your draw a path for a quintet of arrow-head plankton to swin along. As they breast stroke across the screen, cacophonous or harmonious bells will chime in, depending on how rhythmically you set their paths. End game, moving on. You'll progress through several analogs of this plankton, but the end result is the same: touch fish, fish make noise. Rec-Rec, a fish like plankton lets you record 4 voice tracks, and sync them to background music. There is no choice of background music, and once you've recorded a few tracks, it's over and there's nothing more to see. Moving on...if you skip down the homogeneous list of plankton mini-games, you'll come across the Lumiloops. Think back to that 5th grade talent show, where the nerdy asian kid licked his finger and polished the rim of a wine glass, with varying volumes of water. While interesting, it lasts only as long as it takes to explain what it is. Melodious humming eminates, and eventually disipates, and the gimmick is done. One of the few "neat" plankton events, but distracting to say the least.

The most interesting, and probably the best of the mini-games, comes in the form of the Beatnes, or more appropriately, the BeatNES. Polygonal heads, attatched to chains of beads swaying with the rippling water, remixing the old school Super Mario Bros. theme song. How nostalgiac it is to hear the sounds of a warp pipe and ding-dong-ing of the 1-Up green mushrooms. Tapping the heads of these "Beatnes" will play a classic SMB sound, be it the warp-tubing or 1-Up-ing I just mentioned, or the classic, and mildly annoying coin collecting rings. Subsequently, these Beatnes recall the taps and musical effluence you just created, and will play them back to you in a loop overtop of the already hip-hop happening SMB theme song. Tapping the elongated, beaded bodies of these 5 different plankton, pops in with a single piano note which if your rhythm isn't too adept, will sync to the music automatically to the best of the software's ability. You can create some really neat stuff with this mini-game. Beatnes is a show stopper in terms of Electroplankton fun, and will probably be the one thing you spend the most time with. However, all that said, these 10 mini-games won't last you any longer than about 30 minutes. Half of the musical madness here is either too simple to create anything symphonically amusing, or too mundane to try for more than 30 seconds, just so you can say "Yeah, I tried it".

The three main attractions here are the Luminaria, Lumiloops, and Beatnes. Everything else can be thought of as filler. There's just no amusement there. It'd be a no brainer to say though, that overall, no matter which mini-game you chose, you're going to be getting the utmost in high quality sound, as I'm sure the lack of required compression allows for cleaner, crisper and more audible audio cuts. Great stuff to be sure, it's just a shame there's nothing here tempting you to enjoy it. Trying to shy away from the term "gameplay", Electroplankton offers mild amusement for a short while. The user interface is intuitive and easy to navigate, given the simplistic nature of the title. The glaring problem here is that Electroplankton doesn't offer anything more than you should come to expect from amateur flash games from websites like Newgrounds. The fact that Nintendo is charging top DS dollar for this title, is an insult to DS owners everywhere. There's no game to be played, for the gamer and the non-gamer alike. As a music creation tool, it's still sub-par, since there isn't anyway to mix tracks from different mini-games into a self-created masterpiece, and is sorely lacking in all of the composition departments. The ability to change tempo, change background music, and overall have total control are things that NEED to be in Electroplankton - but sadly, are not.

Given the mini-game nature of Electroplankton, would it have really been that hard to put in some sort of goal oriented gameplay here? Sure the music is fun, but what about doing something with that music? There are endless possibilities here, especially for a music game and DDR and Guitar Hero have shown us this. Yet, it would seem that Nintendo and Toshio Iwai collectively passed them all up, for reasons unknown. Is the game fun? Sometimes. For the most part, the game offers little satisfaction, even for a non-game. Were I to even grade it based on a non-game grading curve, the game still comes out stale though. As a piece of software, and not as a game, it's a mediochre at best music creation tool, and even worse for user controlled creativity. I just can't help but think on what a missed opportunity this is. I want to like Electroplankton, I even did enjoy some parts of it, but not enough. Even if every one of the ten plankton shared with me a visceral experience, it wouldn't have lasted much longer than 45 minutes, and would still fall short based on the bars of content and user control. It's something I'd wouldn't even pay a nominal fee for online for a flash based game, let alone the full $40 ($50 CDN) retail price, plus all applicable taxes. It just doesn't cut the mustard, sorry Nintendo. Sorry Mr.Iwai.

By the time you've finished reading this, you will have been completely finished with Electroplankton.

January 20, 2006

Destroyer of men - Kingdom Hearts 2

In the midst of slaying trolls and maliciously attacking evil-doing Nintendo fanboys, I came across a curious gamer. A man, whose soul has been ecclipsed by the rotund shadow of videogames, and the damned piece of software, known only as Kingdom Hearts II. I tried to console the man, but only came to realize his humanity had been robbed, his life destroyed, and a future annihilated. How could this come to pass? I managed to conduct an interview with the man before his mortal vessel succumbed to the vacuous void of the television screen. Let's hear his story...

For personal reasons, our victim would like to remain known only as Mr. Malediction

The face of what is now the destroyer of men.

VGP: For the record, it was indeed Kingdom Hearts II that put you in this greivous situation?

Mr. M: ...(all the man could do is shudder -- Ed.)

VGP: So how exactly have you suffered?

Mr. M: I've lost my job, my wife parted with me, I do not sleep, I've been reduced to rummaging through my neighbours' trash cans and recycling bins for some morsel of sustinance, as I've been roobed of time go to purchase food. I've been infected with dysentery ever since the feces started piling up, now that I can't go to bathroom either.

VGP: Sounds terrible. How exactly has Kingdom Hearts II done this to you? How could such things come to be?

Mr. M: You have no idea. It prevented me from going to work. At first it was only one night, but it kept asking for more. It became obsessed with me, always wanting more from me; time I didn't have, but I had no choice! It tempted me to a point where refusal only meant more suffering. It was a vicious cycle of one evil in place of another. If I left it, it would haunt and hound me to no end. It was like a living hell! But if I stayed by it's side, I would suffer financial hardships. The temptation became too much, and I had to make a choice. I had to make the chocie that would lead to the least amount of pain. For God only knows how much I've had to endure trying to peel myself away from this hellishly parasitic relationship.

VGP: And this was only the catalyst, was it not?

Mr. M: Yes. It then proceeded to tempt me with morsels of information, that would in turn lead to greater understandings; understandings of how things worked. Do you know how hard it is knowing only a small part of the bigger picture? I had to have more. I began to crave the information so much that I neglected my wife. She tried to take it away from me, but the connection I had with it was unbelievably strong, such that it transcended love or hate. It was a symbiotic emotion; a hybrid of the two former. I protected it with every ounce of strength. As long as their was breath in my body, I remained steadfast. I eventually wore her down, but in turn she left me. It was now all I had left. It forced me to stop answering my phone, but it levitated me to an enlightened state of informity. I now knew all there was to know, but it wouldn't stop there. It taunted me. Driving became a regular activity between the two of us. Every ride was another path down insanity, which would lead to only more suffering.

VGP: So how did you detach yourself from this menacing entity?

Mr. M: It isn't easy, things became more complicated than I had anticipated. I began to realize that if I co-operated, I in turn experienced greater suffering emotionally and humanistically, but co-operating fooled it into thinking I was swaying; that I was becoming part of some larger than life ideal it had planned. I soon realized playing It's game, began to wear it out. It's final chapeter was coming to a close, as I beat it at it's own game, on It's own terms. No more were the shackels of servitude clenched to the flesh of my wrists. The bindings changed hands, and now I was in control. I was the master form of this epic battle. Things played out in my favour. I finished it deftly with a blade most fierce. Never have I triumphed so purposefully, yet deteriorated so lamentably in one swift blow. For the life-eater that was Kingdon Hearts II, was no more, but did not part with it's physical form before laying seige on my life, eradicating every ounce of dignity, free time, sanitation, and hour of sleep from me. I was a shell. A shadow, a heartless entity, a nobody.

VGP: And here you are...

Mr. M: No, it doesn't end there. I soon learned that I came to miss it. It became so integral to my lifestyle, that I yearned for it evermore. I revived the one thing I had left in my life...IT. Which is where I am today. To this very moment, I am haunted and stalked by the prolific events that subsequently turned my life from one of happiness, into one of insanity. Kingdom Hearts 2 has not only destroyed my life, it has overtaken it. Now I serve only it, and there is no turning back. Good bye cruel, RL(sic)!

(After he spoke these words, his face then stared blankly into the illuminous glass panelling of the television, which once stood in the middle of a fulfilled man's living room. Now, it was a dungeon. A dungeon for a man now captivated by a relationship with something so sinister, it trades pleasure for pain, and suffering for happiness. Thumbs twirling, twirling, twirling...) One can only hope they do not suffer the same fate as our now oblivious gaming brother.

January 02, 2006

VGP's Best of 2005!

*high profile awards are measured up to the top 3 titles, while the lower key, yet still important awards are only measured up to the runner-up.

Best Graphics

: Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube)

As if there was any question. Resident Evil 4's graphics engine stands up to the challenge, and rises above all expectations. The living disposition of Leon and his fellow cast mates never cease to amaze, and the pus spewing sores of the ganado and blunt toothed jaws of the el gigante don't disappoint either. As I exclaimed in the written review: this game is next-gen now, and looks better than most high-end PC titles and even the elusive Xbox 360, and it's bevy of launch software. Gamecube owners get the King Shit of graphical presentation.

Silver: Shadow of the Colossus (Ps2)
Bronze: Killer 7 (GC)

Best Story

: God of War (Playstation 2)

A broken man, seeking redemption for the murder of his very own wife and daughter, brought about by the trickery and deceit of the God of War, reaps the ultimate reward for doing what no lumbering army of God's could do. This game has "epic" written all over it. Graphic and non-gratuitous, God of War is an adults rendition of greek mythology, and it sparkles with perfection. The only thing that could make one forget the superb and moderately pornographic story telling here, is the fact that a sequel is, as we speak, in transit.

Silver: Killer 7 (GC, Ps2)
Bronze: Resident Evil 4 (GC, Ps2)

Best Soundtrack

: Shadow of the Colossus (Playstation 2)

Evocative of some of the euphoric feelings most gamers got from experiencing the polyphonic masterpieces of Final Fantasy-past, Shadow of the Colossus shares it's emotions with gamers, rather than just show them off. From the opening moments where nothing but desolation and lonliness prevail, up until the triumphant battle cheers of tussels with the Colossi, Shadow does more than just play music, it is music, and music is art.

Silver: God of War (Ps2)
Bronze: Killer 7 (GC, Ps2)

Best Videogame "Extra"

: Separate Ways (RE4, Ps2)

When a developer can deliver an unlockable feature that lasts almost as long as the game itself, you've done more than create a great extra, you've fabricated a whole new dimension of playability. Ada herself gets her own special abilities like the flip kick; her own gadgets like the grapple gun which allows traversal to new areas altogether; her own set of bosses, including one boss exclusive to Separate Ways, as well as her own cut-scenes, story-line and special weapons. Separate Ways is good enough to be a standalone piece of software. Heck, if all you could play was Separate Ways, the game would still exude the same rich quality of the game we've all come to know and love, starring Leon Kennedy. Separate Ways is more than compensatory for the tardy arrival of RE4 on the Ps2, it's a gift. One which all Resident Evil 4 players should experience at some point in their gaming careers.

Silver: Julius Mode; Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Nintendo DS)
Bronze: Call David Jaffe; God of War (Playstation 2)

Best Handheld game

: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Nintendo DS)

There's just no competition here. Konami has delivered a phenomenal iteration of the Castlevania series. The strage thing is, it makes use of the Nintendo DS' "features" in very artificial, and gimmicky ways. It isn't the final banishment seals or the ease of navigation with the second screen map that make C:DoS great (they're great additions to be sure, though). It's the depth of gameplay and multitude of customization options, coupled with superb boss encounters and dense sprite 2-D visuals that make Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow a must-own for any self-respected DS owner. It takes action RPG to an all new level for handhelds, and is light years ahead of the rest of the franchises golden, yet unpolished, titles.

Silver: Lumines (PSP)
Bronze: Nintendogs (DS)

Best Voice Acting

: God of War(Playstation 2)

Sophisticated dialogue, and narration on par with blockbuster motion pictures like Lord of the Rings, God of War offers the gamer a believable and emotionally attached cluster of voice work. While technically short-casted, Kratos, Ares and the narrator - remindful of dame Judy Dench - really have been personified within all parameters of humanity. God of War proves to the industry that only a few voices, honed and tweaked to perfection, is by and large better than a large cast of just "good" voice actors.

Silver: Resident Evil 4 (GC, Ps2)
Bronze: Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (GC, Ps2, Xbox)

Most unique title

: Killer 7 (Gamecube)

When someone asks you what was one of the most memorable games of this entire generation, I would hope that on a top ten list, Killer 7 is one of the games you mention. Regardless of whether or not you loved or hated Killer 7, it's a game that caused quite a stir among reviewers everywhere, and should be something you can look back on ten years from now and reminisce. It polarized the entire industry, and not a single game has ever been able to pull off such a feat. From the self-proclaimed lunatic, Suda 51, Killer 7 is a unique perspective on the first person shooter and third person adventure hybrid. It also boasts a storyline more cryptic than the Metal Gear Solids of gaming, or any movie the existential film community would care to conjure. There's no denying the staying power of Killer 7. To this very day, few will say they were in the middle. Most either hated it (as if it had raped and murdered their dog) or loved it (like a mother loves her child). It's suprising to see such reception, but it's that polarity that will forever cement Killer 7 as a memorable game. Even despite this love-hate relationship, the game's cast was crafted masterfully, and really challenged what we think we know, what we actually know.

Note: The Ps2 version of Killer 7 is a glitchy, fat-trimmed version of the Gamecube version. To get the full effect of the unique antics of Killer 7 and the Smith's, do yourself a favour and pick up the Gamecube version if you haven't already..and if you can find it.

Silver: We Love Katamari (Ps2)
Bronze: Kirby: Canvas Curse (DS)

Best Action game

: Devil May Cry 3 (Playstation 2)

Take it or leave it, Devil May Cry 3 is the best action game to date. It's a hardcore gamer's wildest dream, featuring a combat engine as lame or as badass as you can make it, and as fast or slow as you want it to be. Just be prepared for the flurry of enemies and bosses, designed to fully test the mettle of anyone, anywhere. Put it this way: if DMC3 is any indication of where DMC4 is heading on Ps3, then next generation is going to blow minds and break barriers, and Capcom will be on the forefront with Devil May Cry.

Runner-Up: Resident Evil 4 (GC, Ps2)

Best Adventure Game

: God of War (Playstation 2)

Without much competition in the category, and God of War already being the masterpiece that it is, Kratos and his Blades of Chaos were a shoe-in for best adventure title. The total game-time probably won't exceed 10 or 11 hours for 99% of gamers out there, but theres more earth shattering content in those 10 hours, than in the whole of other adventure franchises like Zelda and now Shadow of the Colossus. What those guys do is stuff in a lengthy travel period of mundane button mashing to traverse the trail from point A to point B. God of War cuts the fat, and gives gamers all of the things that matter without that, yet comes to a more complete finish. It's reasons like that that make David Jaffe one of this generations greats. God of War isn't just the best adventure game of 2005, and not just the best game of 2005, it's one of this generations best games. Easily in the top ten, if not the top 4 or 5.

Runner-Up: Shadow of the Colossus (Ps2)
Honourable Mention: Killer 7 (GC)

Best Platformer

: Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (Gamecube, Playstation 2, Xbox)

I know what you're thinking: Prince of Persia is an adventure game, not a platformer! You couldn't be more wrong. When you're scaling the outer walls of the Tower of Babylon, and solving some of the most mind bending, platform intensive puzzles, not to mention the fact that the primary means of travel in PoP is to scale the walls and platform your way across the condemned rooftops of Babylon, I'd say PoP does more than just adventure. It does platforming better and smarter than any game to date. That's the God's honest truth.

Runner-Up: Sly 3 (Ps2)

Best RPG

: Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Nintendo DS)

RPG fans had some pretty slim pickings in 2005. Without a doubt, no RPG-nut should be without C:DOS or DQ8, but it all comes down to which one is better. Dragon Quest VIII suffers from some pretty hard to miss flaws. Square Enix really fell flat in a lot of areas, but came out smelling cleaner than a daisy with respect to others. However, Castlevania does not ever once suffer from the same stigma. At it's worst, C:DoS does some things mildly mediochre, while remaining quite faithful to the series, and fair to the gamer. Where Dragon Quest VIII has longevity, Castlevania has depth. Where Dragon Quest VIII has satisfactory game design, Castlevania's is great. Where Dragon Quest 8 is breath taking, Castlevania is simply mind blowing. Konami and the Nintendo DS have a winning combination here, and you'd be hard pressed to challenge that notion.

Runner-Up: Dragon Quest VIII (Ps2)

Most innovative game design

: Kirby: Canvas Curse (Nintendo DS)

When the Nintendo DS launched, Nintendo was hot on it's heels, enforcing this notion that the dual-screened, touch friendly handheld would lead to innovation. The launch lineup of software never once proved that point. Instead, we were left with a slightly in-tact rehash of a ten year old game, and 10 other low profile titles that really could be summed up as underwhelming at best. None of them were unique, none of them were innovative, and sure as the wind at my back, none of them were doing Nintendo any good with this new image they were intent on setting for themselves. Then comes our stay-puffed marshmallow space cadet, Kirby. Unleashing upon the DS crowd, true innovation. There's just no denying the power of an innovative game mechanic. It's something no one has ever experienced before, and when it's as good as the penmanship of our pink, fluffy friend, it can only result in good times with what is now the best handheld of 2005.

Runner-Up: Archer McLean's Mercury (PSP)

Game of the year

: God of War (Playstation 2)

David Jaffe has proven once and for all why a game doesn't need to be revolutionary to be great. All it takes is polish. God of War, while technically not markedly different from it's brethren, features some wholelly refined gameplay that gleams in comparison to other adventure titles, and boasts an unmatched sense of scale. From the peon minions of Ares, all the way up to the supersized god of war himself, there's just no umbrella to put the content of this game under. It's something that needs to be seen to be believed. These things coupled with an amazing story, great voice acting, and enough unlockables to warrant the purchase twice over, God of War is the full package.

Silver: Shadow of the Colossus (Ps2)
Bronze: Resident Evil 4 (GC/Ps2)

Reviews for Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, Sly 3, and Dragon Quest VIII coming soon...

December 29, 2005

The orgy of fantastic: 2006

It's true, VGPundit has lacked in the update department for the last two weeks. Lacking as in, not at all. Working in the lab and updating was just proving to be a job I needed a vacation from. So like any good Christian, I took a couple weeks off for the Christmas season and all the fluff and burdens that come with that, ie: shopping, eating, spending, and familying.

It has proven to be a great year though. This year has seen the announcement of all 3 next-gen consoles, a bevy of quality software, most of which residing on the Playstation 2 and Nintendo DS. However, the launch of the PSP proved to give us some quality software, as did the Gamecube. Xbox was all but barren with Xbox 360 looming on the horizon, yet with all of these high profile games overloading the minds of nerds everywhere the year wasn't without it's fair share of controversy and suprises. The Revolution Remote being the most notable event of the year.

It would almost seem like this year kicked so much ass, that the blood shed could never be matched by any other annual-contender. Yet, lo and behold, 2006 comes out from the darkness to deliver what could very well be the best year the gaming industry has ever seen in all of it's long, gory history. Kingdom Hearts 2, Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the launch of both the Ps3 and Revoloution, Super Smash Bros. Online and an E3 and TGS that will showcase all of these things in the greatest detail yet. What's so exciting about all of these things, is that Zelda could very well be the best game the game the GC has ever seen, and the same for Kingdom Hearts and it's philial Ps2. And who could forget, Metal Gear Solid 4...

...If 2005 was sex, 2006 is going to be a full on orgy!

The annual VGP awards will be handed out first thing in the new year, and a batch of reviews will be posted in the mean time, since some of the years late comers are also the years best. Just keep in mind, most of this years games have had time to digest in the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere, even my own. So don't be expecting a direct score to award conversion, a game is not always the sum of it's parts, and each game has it's own ying and yang. See you then.

December 11, 2005

A few orders of business (12/12/05)

Xbox 360 -- Japanese Launch Update

Looks like Microsoft has decided to bite off more than they can chew. The console first retailed for 38 800 yen, and now after only 4 days on the market, Xbox 360 is practically being given away at 18 800 yen. This is a rather big deal for poor old Microsoft, yet not entirely suprising. They launched with a paltrey 6 titles, and have done nothing to prove to the Nihon people that Xbox 360 is going to be any different than Xbox. Four days in and prices are being slashed to less than half, in turn for some retailer kick-back who can't give the things away? Oh the smell of success...if only Microsoft Japan knew what that smell was. I bet it's cherries. I bet!

Wise words from a wise man: "In my studio, 360 degrees means that nothing changes."

I'm not going out on a limb here and calling Xbox 360 a failure. I'm really not. It's just not suprising that our friends in the land of the rising sun have no interest in this thing. When it comes to videogames, if it isn't a Sony or Nintendo product, people just don't seem to care. Similar in fashion to the declining popularity of Nintendo's once dominant rule over home consoles here in North America.

REVIEW: Kingdom Hearts (Ps2) -- (9.5)

My mouth waters every moment KH2 peaks it's head out from the hole it hides in.

"I'm now a believer. I can certainly say that Kingdom Hearts, even though a game with some hard to miss flaws, is a fantastic and euphoric trip down memory lane. It teaches us so many things we didn't realize about games, Disney and the depth of both children's literature and RPG's." Read the full review

Review Retro Recall: Devil May Cry (9.3) and Devil May Cry 2 (7.2)

December 02, 2005

One, Two Punch: DS takes 2005 with a last minute victory!

Undeniably, the PSP's launch line-up was spectacular. Representing at least one game from every major genre, and most of the titles were fairly good, if not incredibly satisfying to boot. Admittedly, I was wowed by Lumines and Metal Gear AC!D. Both titles were the killer apps the PSP needed. Both worthy of a system purchase, even if both were fairly niche (and at moments, mildly underwhelming: MGA). So it was a shoe-in: Nintendo had nothing but Zoo Keeper and a ported rehash of an N64 classic - aged 10 years of course - and now Sony's wonder machine was poised to unleash upon the gaming community real next-gen handheld gaming. To a point, I'd say they succeeded. A new standard for graphical excellence has been marked. A mark no current Nintendo handheld can reach, but only yearn for. Post-launch, the PSP lost it's momentum, though. Software was steadily released, eventually trickling into a drought (a common thing for any new piece of gaming technology), and most of the games were "okay" at best.

Yet, without any real high profile titles of it's own, the DS was left behind in Default Second place, since really the best titles for each came in the launch pack, with PSP easily trumping the DS' offerings. That's not to say the DS didn't have any reasons to play, they just weren't worth the 200 dollar investment. Then came along Kirby: Canvas Curse. Wow, the game just blew me away. Ostensibly it was nothing special, but mechanically and practically it was genius. Pure genius. Hands down, Canvas Curse's curlicue's of destruction were ultimately more addicting than the trance-mix antics of Lumines. Of course it's presentation as a product was more streamlined towards "minors" and the cutesy people out there, but it was a damned good game, and still is, even after almost half a year of incubation.

It still wasn't enough though. As the whole package, the PSP still had better games, and was still leading, leaving the DS in it's wake. Months pass, and the DS is still without it's reason to live. Yearning for that higher calling. Then August rolls around...and the DS finds it's inner beauty. Nintendogs and Advance Wars: Dual Strike swoop down and rescue our dual-screened friend from iminent drowning. Like most Nintendo gaming machines, it had obtained it's completed Tri-Force. Power, Wisdom and Courage...Nintendogs, Advance Wars and Kirby. While no individual title would be called better than Lumines, I would gladly take those three over any single killer app on the market. The DS had finally caught up, and was finally putting up a fight. Dukes raised, mouth guard in...let the fight begin.

Months passed again, and still no clear winner. This was getting exhausting. Then that glimmer, that light, that something that renews the meaning of "Gamer", that ignites what small spark of excitement, laying dormant. You begin to realize that through thick and thin, there will always be a saviour: that game is Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. Easily the best handheld game the DS had, and even easier, the best game amongst the rubbish and rubies of the PSP and DS software lineup. It was That edge the DS needed. Solidifying the Nintendo DS as 2005's "must own handheld", Castlevania DoS could very well be one of the greatest handheld games ever made. And with that, the Nintendo DS pushes forward in a momentous leap of faith, to take the title of "Handheld of the Year". Proving itself to be more than a contender with software, rather than hardware, the PSP was left wallowing in it's own pool of excessive UMDs, as it's killer apps were ecclipsed one after the other. While the PSP is still a stand-out piece of technology - being the publicly advertised tech-nut that I am - the DS just has more fire power. With some hot 2006 salvos coming from the Sony camp, I wouldn't be suprised if the DS is given a run for it's money once again, but right now, the crown jewel is firmly centred on the DS.

November 24, 2005

One broken Xbox, medium Rare...

By now you've probably been caught in the middle of some Xbox 360 buzz about it's diseased guts and the craptastic Perfect Dark Zero. Reviews have been pouring in for Rare's highly anticipated killer app, PDZ. Whats funny about this high ratio of high scoring reviews, is that it's unusually so. For the most part, every review tears the single player apart...shreds into strips of scrap paper, boils it and feeds to the dogs. PDZ suffers from "the same exact enemey 100 times" disorder, renders characters via injection molded Barbie and Ken templates, and has textures that are almost next-gen, but not really there - and I'm of course citing these reviews here, not my own experience. Some reviewers construe the "dodge for cover" and lack of jump constricting and limiting. The flip side to that coin is that the online co-op and multiplayer options have gamers gleefully smiling and raising their controller grasping fists in the air. Yet, despite a piece of shit single player campaign, most reviewers are scoring the game high - and even extremely high - simply because the multiplayer is so great. Okay, so multiplayer is great...that's incredible, I'm happy for you. But what about those non-online, non-multiplayer kind of people? Would it not stand to reason that if every facet of your game, especially the primary single player campaign, are not up to snuff, that the game should not be scored well? If half of your game is a torrential shit storm and the other half an ocean of warm, delicious, gooey chocolate...does that not put the overall product somewhere in the middle?

It would seem reviewers are taking for granted that they can actually play online. They mistakingly forget about the single player campaign in lieu of the multiplayer, which is down right wrong. If the single player were great, but the multiplayer
"shit faced", you can bet your bottom dollar the reviews rolling in would be at best slightly above average. I take pride in being part of that niche species of gamer that actually read the words accompanying the shiny score in the top corner...and I'm not impressed. I'm reading reviews that explicitally call the single player version of Perfect Dark Zero sub-par and dreadfully disappointing...yet I'm witnessing scores of 9.0+, because it features some extravagant fluff mode, that is almost standard with every game anyway. This same phenomenon occured with the dawning of Halo 2, and it's stellar online mode. Despite an obviously unfinished and unpolish single player experience, the online was great...and some how warranted scores of anywhere from 9.5 - 10. This perplexes me, and has me wondering if the single player experiences of these games were really as good as their multiplayer counterparts, would reviewers be so inclined as to slap an "11/10" approval stamp on the title, breaking all laws of mathematics, setting new precedent in the review community?

To say I don't have some journalistic discourse with these people reviewing the game would be a lie. I do, and quite a lot. Time and time again, I find people like Greg Kasavin of Gamespot and Hillary Goldstein and Doug Perry of IGN Xbox to be the biggest bull-shitters in this industry. Who are they kidding? These people fall victim to hype far too often, and really do taint what could be great publications. with contradictory reviews and numerical scores that just don't click with the written word. (I will however only point out IGN Xbox. Matt Cassamassima, Jeremy Dunham, Ivan Sulic and Craig Harris of IGN Cube, Ps2, PSP, and DS respectively run their channels with the prestige and videogaming honour they should. However the entirety of Gamespot is still a steaming pile of excriment.) I'd hope that in a few years people will see that this idea of multiplayer trumping single player is a dated and erroneous practice; sure it's great, but grade the game, not just what you deem gradable.

On a related note, 24 hours later and Microsoft is running into some serious problems with Xbox 360. It would appear that a portion of Xbox 360's are actually crashing mid-game, disconnecting abruptly from the internet, and just plain not working. Official word is that ""It's what you would expect with a consumer electronics instrument of this complexity .... par for the course.".

Par for the course? Par for the course?! That's right. You heard it here first, Microsoft calls a complete system crash, "par for the course"...coming from the people behind Windows 98, NT and ME, I can't say I'm surprised. I'm sure there are a few of you who experienced the notorious Disc Read Error (DRE) on the Playstation 2. Sure, occasionally a game wouldn't load - though most eventually would - and some claim a repurchase to solve the problem, but did the Playstation 2 ever crash and give out during a game? Never. Dead pixels on the DS and PSP (not to mention any LCD screen in existence) is "par for the course". This isn't just a minor glitch...this is a full on crash. When you purchase a car, "par for the course" is oil changes, perhaps worn break pads, and the occasional defect; be it kinked transmission fluid hose, or faulty oil pump causing the car not function properly, but fixable at reasonable cost (if any) to the consumer. That's par the course. Starting up the engine, having her purr like a tiger to then promptly drive herself off of a cliff is not "par for the course". Nice try though Microsoft, perhaps next time we'll wait until our product is ready for the consumer, and not just ready to take a bite out of your competitions marketshare. Greedy pricks.

November 22, 2005

We shall call it X-Day!

By now, if you had an Xbox 360 on pre-order, you probably already have the machine in your hands. If not, better luck next time. The day has finally come, and it seems that Microsoft knows how to throw one hell of a party. Kudos to Microsoft of masterminding the largest console launch ever. But was it worth it? Has Microsoft been stretched and contorted to it's theoretical limits? It would seem this launch is anything but "successful". Console shortages are ripping through the hearts of gamers everywhere...and yes even some people who already laid down the full 400 USD for the thing. If you're following, Microsoft is spreading themselves far too thin. The fabric of their being has been pulled taught to the point of tearing. North America, being Microsoft's only source of "million seller marketplace" has received the most generous allotment of machines - obviously - but is even that enough? We got somewhere in the ballpark of 1 million Xbox 360's here, and still there are people who have pre-ordered (months in advance mind you) that aren't going to be fragging or flaming online like they had expected. At this point historically, I'd assume thats the kind of thing that is entirely unavoidable.

The United Kingdom consequentially gets the shaftiest shaft of all shafts, receiving a paltry and insulting 50 000 Xbox 360s to place under the Christmas tree. That's Goddamned offensive (although Europe's running total is around 400k). While I'm uncertain on the actual alotted consoles for our Japanese neighbours, the number is within range of 200k. If Microsoft's brass knew full well about this world wide launch from step one, why didn't they forsee this shortage? It doesn't take clairvoyancy or wizardry to predict this kind of road bloc, but Microsoft has gotten so damned cocky. Both the DS and PSP were in unprecendented demand for a handheld during their respective launches. Both sold at a faster rate than previous GameBoy iterations. Videogames are a hot commodity, that's not news Microsoft.

However, an international launch has one huge advantage: saturation. The console is unleashed everywhere, all at once, and not only becomes the buzz of the town, the state,the province, or the country...but the world. This is definitely Microsoft's 1UP with this launch. But is it worth disappointing eager consumers who actually pre-ordered a console but were in the end ripped of that pleasure? I'd say no. There's no doubt in my mind that Microsoft just wasn't prepared for this launch. Yes, Xbox 360 will sell out all across the country...but is it because of demand, or because Microsoft just couldn't keep up with the ambition they set forth with?

The launch line-up here is getting mixed reviews. It seems that PGR3 and Call of Duty 2 are the "must have" titles of Xbox 360, but those aren't what I'd call "killer apps". Nintendo DS had Super Mario 64, Gamecube had Pikmin and the soon thereafter Super Smash Bros Melee - which probably holds the honour of best launch title ever. Playstation 2 had Fantavision and PSP had Lumines. Each a unique experience you probably wouldn't get anywhere else. The unfortunate thing is you can play CoD2 and PGR3 type experiences on other consoles, and in a multitude of forms. The only non-sports, non-FPS game in the Xbox 360 18 title launch line-up is Kameo, and the game has been getting average to "good" reviews. It certainly isn't the AAA system seller everyone thought it would be (and to debunk a classic Miyamoto quote: a delayed game IS NOT inevitably good!). Do I personally see a reason to be playing an Xbox 360 this year? No, not at all. As a rule, I do not play sports games...they are fun, but ultimately the same experience year after year. First person shooters are a mixed breed, but not something I'd like to saturate a library with. Is it worth the price of admission? The hardware certainly makes it seem so, but with the Playstation 3 on the horizon, and at a likely similar price point, I will opt for the more advanced, more powerful console and deductively the better launch-line up (since any combination of exisiting titles would be better than the sports/FPS ratio that the Xbox 360 sports).

To add insult to injury, a week ago, order forms for Xbox 360 still numbered in the thousands per chain in Japan. The launch line-up is even worse, with no RPG in sight and only 6 titles to chose from, the Xbox 360 JP launch is at it's best, rushed and pathetic. Launching in Japan without an RPG is the equivalent of lauching here in North American with no Madden or racing sim. It's not asking for, it's demanding failure. Not to say Xbxo 360 will fail in Japan, but it's launch probably will. I assume the majority of machines will be snatched up by impulse shoppers and mildly interested folk who already paid tribute to the original Xbox, since there doesn't appear to be demand anywhere near the magnitude of "Playstation" or "Nintendo DS".

On top of this evolving list of problems, backwards compatibility is at an all time low. Combined with only 18 games being backwards compatible in Japan, and 200 here in North America and Europe (out of the potential 700 titles, even excluding the most recent titles, like Half-Life 2 and Prnce of Persia), Xbox 360 is going down in history as "the little big console that couldn't". This entire fiasco is just proof that this next-gen jump start is happening far too early. Microsoft just wasn't ready or prepared for this. Microsoft is master of their domain, they know that they could sell you an empty box as long as their hype-campaign was forcibly backing it, so these short comings are something that could have been easily avoided...if Microsoft weren't the industry newbies they're proving themselves to be. Broadening the window for multinational launch would have been a start, and actual backwards compatibility would have been a close second on the list of things Microsoft knew would go wrong, but ignored anyway.

November 16, 2005

Demo-lition Mastery and FFXII HaXxor!

You're just not a hardcore gamer if Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King doesn't interest you. Not only does it fill the pre-requisite of having more words than non-nerds can handle a single title, it fully taps the power of RPG fan service. People wanted a 3D DQ game with that latest tech generation appeal. Akira Toriyama is probably one of the most renowned pencil guys in Japan, and his work is distinguishable from all other forms of manga, and Square Enix brought him on board to sketch the googley eyed disposition of the DQ8 cast. This title is hot in Japan, I can't even tell you how hot, since merely mentioning the hotness will melt the skin off of our faces. What I can tell you, is that it's sold a whopping 4 million units in Japan, and is still casually flying off shelves. Dragon Quest to those Nihonmaniacs is what FF is to us Cannuckle Patriots (ie: North Americans). Sure, FF is wildly popular in Japan, moreso than here in the west, but Dragon Quest is by far the more popular option overseas. We chose McDonalds, they chose Ramen, and occasionally we all eat both.

Saving impressions of the game until review time, DQ8 in North America has come bundled with the english demo of Final Fantasy XII. The game that's been in development for almost 4 years now - a teaser poster with the FFXII logo was leaked only weeks before FFX-2 released in NA during Christmas 2001 - it's about god damned time we get a demo. Trailer after trailer after trailer...one man can only be tempted so long. What a thinker: Square Enix being aware that DQ is a vastly under sold and under appreciated series here, releases the demo of a game most of us have wanted and pined for exclusively with this title. Sneaky? Yes, absolutely. But at what cost? Is it really so sneaky when the game the demo is packed with is freaking fantastic? Konami pulled a similar stunt when they released the godly Metal Gear Solid 2 demo with the low key Zone of the Enders. Zone of the Enders, to this day, was a huge hit with fans, and not because of the tantalizing and manipulative MGS2 demo. The game on it's own merits was friggin' unbelievable. It was a sleeper hit that only Metal Gear Solid fans really nurtured in their collective bosom. ZOE2 hits shelves a little later, and it sells like 10 copies - obvious hyperbole - and the amount of people who bought that game could probably congregate in a 10 feet x 10 feet room. Why? No high profile demo of course. Which is a shame, since ZOE2 is easily one of the best games of this generation past. It was innovative, remarkably original, and was of course a Kojima production (whose name alone sparks interest, due to his unparalleled talent at creating great videogames).

Back to the topic on hand, if the FFXII bundle hadn't come prepackaged with Dragon Quest VIII Journey of the Cursed King - a name I say in full proudly and repeatedly to reaffirm my nerdness - the game wouldn't sell, and would go unappreciated again. It would be another fabulous title in the stinker, simply because people were too distracted by a billion dollar advertising campaing for Xbox 360, instead of looking at the sheer volume of high quality titles available for still viable current-gen platforms. So while sneaky, it's for the best. There is no wrong in tricking people into doing something, so long as it's something they will enjoy (they just don't know it yet).

On a more important note, the demo of FFXII has been u83R HaX'D! It would appear that summoning the esper Hashmal as Vaan in the Phon Coast stage of the demo, allows your newly summoned creature to "pwn" the enemies with his "Roxxor" attack. I shit you not. This attack is real, and it really does own. Is this a humourous jab at internet leet-speak or is it a genuine attempt by Square Enix to be original? I can't even tell, the demo is such a serious venture that it almost seems inappropriate for it to be a humourous jab. Then again, never put it past Square to load a game to the brim with pop-culture homages and esoteric references.