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

June 29, 2005

Review: Meteos (DS) - Pummeling you with mediocrity



Meteos comes from the genius behind Lumines for the PSP, Q Entertainment. Not unlike Lumines, Meteos is an innovative puzzler but doesn't retain the wholesome gameplay values found in Lumines. Your "planet" is being bombarded with a deluge of meteos, which you mystically line up into rows or columns of 3 or more and morph them into rockets which you launch back at an enemy planet. That's a mouthful. The meteos rain down in a spectrum of destructive colours, so ingesting hallucinogens before playing Meteos is not recommended. Meteos lineage, which is drawn back to Lumines, is rather impressive; which is why it's so frustrating to see this game be so mindlessly average. I do mean mindlessly literally however. The game is clueless, and anyone without a clue can still play and finish Meteos. Where a game like Tetris proved how deep simplistic game design can be, Meteos epitomizes how simplistic game design, if not handled correctly can have devastating side effects.

When your last outing into videogames was Lumines, following it up with a game that matches it is almost an impossible task. Mizuguchi-san of Q Entertainment, the mastermind behind Lumines has created Meteos, and for what it's worth has let us down. For starters, the visual aesthetics are overly complicated, busy, and clutter the screen tremendously. The HUD surrounding the game field is unnecessarily clutterd with radar graphics, and superfluous maps and windows featuring pictures of planets. What all this does is narrow the playing field significantly, making the only part of the screen you focus on a thin strip in the centre of the touch screen, which begins to fill up as the meteos incessantly fall from the top screen which merely displays a planet, and fancy planetesimal designs that add flare, but no substance to the game. All things considered, the DS screen is already incredibly small, so narrowing down the field to half of that leaves the player wanting. These psychedelic colours and fluff are only part of everything surrounding the game, not including the actual gameplay surface itself. It's all very distracting and makes playing the game more difficult than it should be.

In each stage, you're charged with fighting off a hostile planet by sending the meteo fragments back into space, aimed right for said enemy planet. Each stage is it's own planet, and there are quite a few planets to face off against. Apparently planets pose great risk to whichever race you represent, so destroying them at all costs is the primary objective. The only planet posing any great risk is planet Meteos, however destroying every planet on the journey to planet Meteos seems to be necessary. All this said, this game is still just a puzzler, so this whole idea of weaving a plot through the many holes in this game doesn't make it float any more, because it absolutely sinks. The plot is again superfluous fluff that adds nothing.

Meteos fall at a steady rate in the narrow half screen you're left with, and there are about 6 different coloured meteos per round, so multicolour rain is only par for the course. Herein lies the problem, the colour just becomes too much. I'll explain later. As the coloured blocks fall, a la Tetris, they begin to pattern themselves in random fashion and you have to align them into rows or coloumns of three or more identical blocks. Once aligned, the blocks transorm into rockets which begin the initial launch phase of shooting the meteos back into orbit. Once airborne, the initial alignment acts like the fuel for the secondary launch. Align blocks already on the rocketized blocks, and they'll begin a second launch phase leaving the screen, headed straight for random enemy planets. The objective is to destroy each planet, at least in the primary mode known as Star Trip. There's truly a robust puzzle engine here. This idea, this concept is genuine and is truly challenging and fun. However the game itself clutters this ideal, and makes it unnecessarily difficult and distracting.



The random patterning of the coloured blocks creates a daunting wall of technicolour mayhem. Even on the easiest setting, the meteos fall faster than you can blast them into space. The colours are just so distracting and chaotic that finding the possible chains and alignments is often made overly difficult just because as you look for a single colour, the other colours cloud your vision as you optically wade through a soup of colours to find only a single block, making finding chains you'd normally pick up well on, tedious. It's just a mess. It is possible to eventually adjust your vision, much like adjusting to the low light of a dark room, but it's too long after the fact, and by then you've managed to discover the fatal flaw of Meteos. Don't get me wrong, once you've adjusted to the kaleidoscopic screens of confusion, if you haven't discovered this flaw yet, the game offers some of the best challenge since Lumines (however does not match it).

The flaw, if you're still wondering, is the fact once you begin to lose the short lived bouts of meteo deflection, you will frantically swipe the stylus across the screen "just for the hell of it", as you've already predicted the inevitable loss anyway. What you begin to notice is that this tactic is more effective and more efficient than anything you've tried before. Yes, brushing the stylus up and down the columns of meteos will allow players to find alignments, chains and sequences of meteos not otherwise visible due to the sea of lush and disorderly colour. This in and of itself, is the biggest reason why Meteos falls flat on it's face. Once you've discovered this simple yet effective tactic, Meteos turns into a mindless brush-a-thon, mindlessly scratching at the screen to catapault meteos back into space. It's extremely shallow and disingenuous.




While the audio quality suffers from background static, the music is enjoyable and the sound effects distract you from how poor the game design is here, if only for a short while. The game itself suffers from a painfully fatal flaw, but sports a lot of game modes, and the abilitiy to synthesize new items and planets to play with is fun to do, but actually using them is hauled back several notches because the game is so poorly organized. There is a healthy chunk of unlockables, but the incentive isn't there to play the game long enough. While I could recommend that you avoid using the "swipe and win" technique, it's an easy thing to resort to since it's so effective, and such a great way to avoid tight spots. For such a shallow game, it still has some lasting appeal, regardless of how short it actually is. It isn't a complete failure, and I'm sure some will find enjoyment in Meteos, just not the people who discover the easiest way to win a game since the level glitch in Final Fantasy II.

Verdict


6.5

June 23, 2005

Review: Forza VS Gran Turismo 4 - Who get's the checkered flag?

By Cesar Herrera



Forza vs GT4

So here am I making a comparison of two of the most current racing simulators on the market. Two strong reasons support the reasoning for a comparison. The first and most obvious (contrary to the racing fan’s mindset) is that each game almost represents one side rather than its own content and style. GT4 is commonly accepted as the console racer to own by PS2 users. Forza, on the other hand is MSG’s first attempt at a racing simulator, and therefore, it has been touted as the GT4 killer by Xbox fans. The second and most obvious reason as that both GT4 and Forza try to reclaim the title of the closest console adaptation to a racing simulator. Both have its flaws and strong points but this of course is going to be taken down by fanboys, and the decision it is going to be ultimately up on your hands.

So we begin with GT4, Polyphony Digital’s fourth iteration of the monster Gran Turismo series. All together, they have sold millions and made themselves a strong reputation on the console racing sim market. Being developed, shortly after GT3’s launch, Polyphony’s goal was to fix their past mistakes and without compromising the package, add some features that could improve the game. From now on, rather than naming the whole Polyphony Digital team; instead I will put this name: Kazunori Yamauchi. Don’t get me wrong, GT4 was not a single man’s job, but I feel the need to put his name here. After all, Kazunori has been the mastermind behind the GT series since the beginning on the PS1 era.

Flashback to 1998, The Gran Turismo series emerges on the Playstation as a racing game different from any other console racing game on the market. Kazunori’s goal? Try to imitate the sport and passion of motor sport racing. Gran Turismo was widely praised for its simulation style gameplay. Use of real world car licenses such as Toyota, Mercedes, Chevrolet (among others), altogether were implemented in a tight package with quality graphics and equally impressive sounds for their time. Seven years later, the Gran Turismo series still reign supreme on the console racing sim market, and consequently, Kazunori’s latest work comes in the form of GT4.

Speaking about the game now, GT4 seems to truly have improved in some areas, but at the same time leave others unattended. This comes not as the developer’s fault but rather due to the PS2’s inferior technology. Still GT4 is a work to marvel and admire especially running on PS2 hardware. So let’s get to the things that GT4 does excellently, which are that connection of the driver and the road, the true to life handling physics, the impressive garage of cars and the lengthy Gran Turismo mode (a more in-depth career mode).


Gran Turismo 4

Unlike other racing games, GT4 makes the connection of “driver and the road” perfectly, such that you can almost feel every bump, and hear the wind whistling through your ears as you hit the double and triple digits on the speedometer. This is possible due to the very believable physics engine that runs the handling of the car. Take a turn too late and you will feel the need of griping to that small piece of road left; brake at the last minute and you will feel all the weight transfer as your view tilts to the front; hit a bump and watch how your view changes drastically as you try to correct your driving path. GT4 lets you feel this with over 650 hundred racing machines which vary from company and year. You can either opt to drive concept cars such as the Cadillac Cien or go back in time with the Ford TT. Of course, you won’t get your hands on all these classics and concepts right away, as you are going to have to make your way into the expansive Gran Turismo mode, which could easily take more than a hundred hours to complete. Sink your way into the GT mode and mess with your car settings, this in part to the wide-ranging amounts of tuning parts which can be bought either from real-life automotive dealers or from popularly known tuning companies such as Opera, HK, Spoon, etc. All these extensive features come at a price though, as the common gamer will feel overwhelmed or worse, become lost in the complex system. Every GT fan knows that the Gran Turismo games have always been about spending time, comparing cars and prices, upgrading and downgrading, winning/losing and of course, tearing your way into any of the 100 tracks offered on this game.

Unfortunately, not everything is good news. GT4 is definitely an improvement over GT3, but on features rather than substance. The handling physics have been enhanced along with a new - rather unnecessary - Photomode feature. They could have spent some of that time to fine tune the AI, because frankly it is the worst part of the game. The computer still adheres to its racing line no matter what, and that often means taking you out of the road. This makes GT4 more like a driving simulator than a racing simulator. Another thing that for others was disappointing (not for myself however) was the lack of damage. Despite being on its fourth iteration, the Gran Turismo series remains “damage less”. Damage made its appearance on GT2 but it seemed to be an “arcade-like” thing, as you could damage the crap out of your car, but still have it running. Sure, it sounds interesting, but it’s also artificial for a racing simulator. We’re talking about real damage physics, which would make your car completely inoperable at any point thereafter. That is realistic, but of course would take the fun out of the game. Finally, another expected feature that didn’t make it up to the retail version was the online mode. I’d say a good portion of the newcomer fans were disappointed with this. I can’t say the same about the old time GT fans. Still Kazunori expects an online version to come sometime during fall 2005. It is not known if this version will come as a patch disc or as a completely different version.


Forza Motorsport

So now it’s Forza’s turn. There is nothing much to say in the way of background information about Forza, as this is MSG’s first foray into the console racing market. In terms of a racing game, it is a sure bet that Forza surpasses GT4, but as a driving simulator, it falls flat. For some reason, I had a very hard time playing this game with the Controller S. Honestly, it’s too sensitive and is completely uncomfortable for the very demanding turns this game inflicts on the gamer.

Speaking about Forza’s handling, one of the most hyped features of this game, I can say it disappoints. The physics feel rigid but at the same time not on a simulation level. For example, all cars tend to over steer regardless of drive train, even FF cars. Another annoying thing is the braking. Without ABS, it’s very easy to lock your brakes. It doesn’t even happen when you are pressing the brakes at full, but it can happen even if you press the brakes at 50%. The game is completely unplayable with ABS off and the Controller S. The Controller S may do a decent job with arcade racing games but it fails with Forza. Then arises the problem that even maxing the brake pressure won’t solve the problem. I think it’s rather a problem of tire selection than brakes. Even buying the best tires (racing slicks) won’t solve the problem. It feels like finding the limits of your racing machine on economy tires. Every videogame racing fan and real racer knows that all that matters in a race is not how much power you have but how good does your car grip the road, and all of that falls under the condition of your tires.


Forza Motorsport

Now we get into Forza’s visual presentation which happens to be the best feature of the game. There are a lot of nice visual effects like the tire marks, natural lightning (something very noticeable in the New York track) and very smooth edges. The tracks look well lit and very smooth. Jaggies are almost non-existent in this game. Car models are a lot cleaner than GT4 counterparts, but they seem to be simpler. The color palette is a lot more vibrant and the car designs suffer for this reason. They look way too perfect. They almost shine on the tracks, even during nighttime. Shadow effects also happen to be better done than GT4. In Forza, you get the full model reflected on the pavement rather than the latter, in which you just get a blurry image. Damage models are another of Forza’s strong points, although they have their limit. Take a turn to wide, and you’ll kiss the wall, which would end on performance damage and a nice bumper dangling in the front of you car. Damage is not limited to the front but can happen on any side of the car. As I said, the damage is nice but it has it limits. There is not a lot of visual damage that you can do to the car. For some reason, no matter how many times I crashed in my “steam boat” Bentley, the bumper would always stay hanging there. Reflections are also another nice aspect, but they are not a pretty thing to see in action. They are pretty to look at but at a choppy rate. It doesn’t move as fluid as GT4’s. Xbox’s extra power makes up for awesome looking racing tracks, although I didn’t enjoy the blue and yellow rumble strips.

Next thing is Forza’s sound, which in my opinion also disappoints. Sure the car and environmental sounds are there but they sound way too muffled. Even in first person view, there is a chance that you are going to hear the audience yelling more than your own engine. The braking also sounds kind of ho hum. No matter how hard your tires are losing traction, the sound is the same. It makes up for a very deceiving thing (very important thing for racing). Sounds are good but they don’t resonate as well as GT4’s. For a clear example, take your Japanese Integra aka American RSX and you will notice the difference on GT4’s more vivid engine revs than Forza’s muffled “same-tune” sounds. The soundtrack is a very forgettable thing but fortunately there is the option for custom soundtracks, so you can trash the Nurburgring while listening to your favorite band.


Gran Turismo 4

Another much acclaimed feature from Forza, the AI… the only good thing going for Forza’s AI is that it is simply better than GT4’s bumper AI. In GT4, a car stopping on the middle of a turn becomes a crash fest; in Forza, the cars will actually brake and change racing lines accordingly. Don’t get me wrong, the AI still sticks to its racing lines, it’s just that it actually acknowledges your presence on the track. One very unpredictable and very annoying thing is Forza’s AI’s aggressiveness. No matter what you do, you will often find yourself restarting a race due to the AI spinning you out for one reason or another.

Then we get to Forza’s Drivatar vs GT4’s B-Spec. There isn’t much science going on in either, as they’re more like the ideal feature for lazy gamers. I prefer to actually play a game instead of the computer playing it for me (although B-Spec will become handy on GT4’s long, and I say very long endurances).

Speaking about extra features; it is obvious that Forza gets the upper hand. In the online aspect, you can do so many things; traditionally compete for first place on races classified by car class, make your own racing clans, and differentiate them by the design on your car (thanks to Forza’s unnecessary but amazing nonetheless visual customization feature). GT4 wins it on car selection, although Forza’s 200 car offering gives you some pretty good racing machines not offered in the first one. For instance, you get cars from such manufacturers as Porsche and Ferrari. I mean 700 cars can look like the better choice but not so when you get so many repetitions of a single car, *cough* Skyline *cough* and some other unnecessary machines like the Ford model-T.

So here I reach the end and still I haven’t reached a verdict. Well…it is not that easy to pick the winner as Forza does things better than GT4 does, and vice versa. All I can say is that for the racing fan that worries more about physics than presentation, GT4 would be the obvious winner, but for that fan who prefers fierce racing, Forza would be the obvious choice.

In my opinion, it all comes to a tie. In the end, if you are a real racing fan, and own both consoles, you will get Forza and GT4. One thing though, use the DFP and Fanatec wheels for each game, as the experience is obviously improved. In today’s age of very complex racing games such as Forza and GT4, a simple controller just won’t do.

Verdict


Forza Motorsport


8.0


Gran Turismo 4


8.0

Carnivale Episode III : Revenge of the Nerds

If you don't already know about it, go to the new Carnival of Gamers III, where people submit editorials from all walks of the gaming life, including yours truly. You can walk the walk, but can you talk the talk...

June 22, 2005

"500 trillion by 2056!" -- Sincerely, Bill



Alright, so we've been over the rampaging machine of crazy known as Microsoft many times already. There's no beating around the bush here: Microsoft is run by baboons. That's the only reasonable conclusion I can come up with. Examining the market at face Value, Microsofts brand name has been stretched to it's limits. Xbox has become a household name, and the vente console that could is still managing to plug holes in the industry that Sony and Nintendo have moulded in the past ten to twelve years. Microsoft recently told the world that they expect to sell 10 million Xbox 360s in the first 12 - 16 months of the consoles life cycle. What I'd like to know is what intel is Microsoft basing these numbers on? It took the Xbox a sluggish 4 years to sell 20 million units, a feat the Ps2 accomplished in only a year. Do they think they're releasing the next Playstation 2? The reason the Playstation 2 sold so well was because it had an installed base of 100 million users with the original Playstation. Not to mention the Ps2 was a cheap and affordable DVD player, which was a technology only in it's infantile (and pricey) stages, yearning for early adopters. The Xbox 360 (no console for that matter) doesn't have the advantage of being a technology requiring early adopters (with possibly the exception of Blu-Ray). The Xbox 360 is still using the minimalist DVD9 format, a format which is already as widespread as DVD5, in a DVD saturated industry. There's nothing alluring or enticing about the Xbox360's features (no next-gen console for that matter). It's all pretty basic stuff we've layed hands on this generation. So it takes Microsoft 4 years to sell 20 million units of a console with the same allure as the Playstation 2, being that it's behind the scenes career is a DVD player, and now Microsoft expects to sell half of that, in units of a console with less desireable "newness" in 1/4 the time.

"Gizmondo sells 20 million in 2 years, gold fish, Albuquerque!"
See, I can do it too.

Where's the logic? Neither Sony nor Nintendo have ever projected sales higher than their installed base. In Nintendo's case, they actually aim low, and inevitably raise their unit sale projections within a few months of launch; at least in their handheld gaming divisions. The most recent example is Nintendo's DS. Raising expectations of selling 3.5 million units worldwide to 4 million. Nintendo's installed handheld base is about 80 million. Microsofts 10 million mark is about the same as Nintendo expecting to sell 40 million DS units in 12 to 16 months. Early adopters are never a bulky bunch, and don't normally number quite as high as the "wait and see" crowd. A general rule of thumb with any new product, is use the previous generation of technology as a guideline to predict sales of the next for the next wave of gamers. The predictions can never be spot on, so never count on complete mimicry, but expect numbers comparable with the previous years. That's a trend that has continued throughout most of gaming history. Nintendo has made this lumpy mistake once before, but has never done it since. Even Sony's nursling the PSP has had it's projected sales of 18 million units shed to about 13 million units. In that case however, no market data is available for comparison or unit projections, so it's an uncommon case, usually tacked onto new tech. Similarly, Microsoft is acting like the Xbox doesn't even exist. Dropping support for the Box to support the 360 was one suprise, but now we're seeing Microsoft pretend the market trend of the Xbox has been erased from memory. All the power to you Microsoft, but you're aiming high for a console whose pedigree has been met with criticism and languid sales.

File Under: Idiocy, ad nauseum.

June 19, 2005

Review: Kirby Canvas Curse (DS) - Curlicue to Redemption



The Nintendo DS has seen many games, and many promises, none of which have bee very enticing or promising. What Nintendo has done with Kirby: Canvas Curse is quite possibly the one gem that can forgive all of that. Canvas Curse is a reimagining of the Kirby universe, as it tracks back to the old school 2-D sweetness from years back on the SNES. The stickler with Kirby is that he's a whimsical and timeless character. When I see him turned into a shameless cash-in (Kirby's Air Ride) I cry on the inside. All I really needed was a gift wrapped Kirby game that reinvented my love for the little guy. Canvas Curse does just that for me. The fluffy marshmellow kid inhales once again to take on an evil Witch with a magic paint brush, and blah bla blah bla bla. Plain and shallow as always. Hey thats not what makes Kirby: Canvas Curse such a marvelous game though. Kirby takes up arms with a special...paint brush? Blah! Why is it that I feel like I'm describing drug induced fantasies when I begin talking about this game?

Ostensibly, Canvas Curse is skewed towards children, and younger. The aesthetics of the game don't do anything to change that, but the gameplay does. Simplistic backgrounds which look like random jottings and sketches of an office intern that were thrown together at the last minute don't really scream production values, and the 2-D visuals may be a little off-putting at first, but it takes Kirby back to his roots, which is very nostalgic and the effect is pulled off quite well too. The cutesy and bubblegummy world of Kirby is nothing new, and isn't forced upon you too hard. Apart from that, the visuals attain the goal they were shooting for, but may be something that turns people away from this game. The densely and full-bodied sprites, while bubble gummy and playful, show us that 2-D is not out, and is still very much alive.

The bulbous fruit of Canvas Curse lies in the game itself. As Kirby, you take the form of a fluffle puff ball of pink, that rolls through 24 different and unique stages. As the player, you need only the stylus to play this game, simplifying the controls. If you're think by "simple" that implies this game is easy, you'd be wrong. Canvas Curse dishes out a healthy amount of challenges. While the first 3 or 4 worlds will require little or no skill to complete, encroaching the 7th and 8th worlds will require you to make use of the stylus is many different (offensive and defensive) ways. Tap Kirby to make him dash roll, and tap enemies before he hits them and you'll kill them and snatch up their powers. Kirby, suprisingly, cannot fly in Canvas Curse. How do you propose Kirby scale large mountains or cross impassable ravines without his patented "sucking"? The answer to that question is what makes Canvas Curse one of the most innovative titles this year, and almost ever. You use the stylus to draw rainbow colour-scaled bridges, loop-de-loops, and magical curlicue escalators that Kirby uses to become airborne and reach new places to explore. The idea however is not limited to travel, you can use the paintbrush/stylus to draw bubbles of safety around Kirby, or draw impentetrable barriers in front of enemies, preventing Kirby from taking the backhand of a giant cannon or icy stalagtite. Early on you'll only be required to ink bridges and skyways for the pink bubbly friend; though in the latter stages use every tactic you have to traverse a minimal amount of square footage. Each of the 24 unique stages pose different challenges, which means good news for gamers avid about keeping games fresh.



Control is easy, and very satisfying. Kirby is in perpetual motion meaning the game is very fast paced, and as the player you'll need to be quick with the stylus and think up creative solutions on the fly. Dreamland has never felt like a better place to be. All evil run amok aside, simply going back to a previous stage to explore is just as satisfying as the first time. Be sparing with your ink, but don't be afraid to have a good time. The game is very forgiving for those who slip up. Many will find such a forgiving game welcome since getting used to using only the stylus for the many and varied abilities Kirby has is wishy washy at first, and becoming accustomed to Kirby's floaty nature is somewhat obscure. There is a learning curve, but it isn't too steep. There's a bulky amount of secrets for the curiously minded gamer, and there are mini-games to unlock, and sound bites and new colour/patternful inks to find. Kirby packs a wallop of a punch when it comes to fun. While this game is no slouch in delivering a visual Kirby masterpiece, the heart of the game is just in how fun it is.

All the fun and flurry of rainbows aside, there are a few things which could see some improvement. Boss fights are dumbed down to the level of mini-game, sullying the challenging bosses of Dreamland past. The underwater navigation is partly aggrevating with the finnicky sensitivity of the touch screen, and the second screen is used only for a map (however incredibly useful it is), meaning no real significant use for both screens. Apart from the chaff, Kirby was hailed as an innovative venture from day one, and Nintendo never let us forget that. I suppose sacrificing complexity for fun is a sacrifice some are willing to make, though others will not, but I guarantee it's worked out for the better. Where Wario, Mario and Yoshi have seen somewhat gimmicky and in some instances horrible transitions to the double screened world of the DS, Kirby translates well and Canvas Curse is one of the greatest handheld projects ever taken on, and the results are mind blowing. Innovation and fun both in the same room at the same time. The game will satisfy the many desires and playful urges of gamers everywhere, and regardless of how plain and mundane the plot and childish underpinnings are, it's a hell of a ride. Don't forget to breathe.

Verdict


8.9

June 16, 2005

Billion Dollar Babies [Machine]

If there's one thing Microsoft isn't short on, it's marijuana and other illicit mentality manipulative drugs. Upon hearing J.Allard say "We expect to reach 1 billion gamers", I sh*t myself with laughter. Is such a number even possible to reach? Well I suppose if Micrsoft begins catching the consumers eye prematurely in the womb! Little do we know, Microsoft has equipped 12 million ultrasound clinics with specialized ultrasonic devices, that while projecting the image to expecting parents of their in-transit bundle of joy, plays subliminal Xbox 360 commercials to the fetus inside the womb. Rather than blood curddling screams upon birth, the baby instead hums the Xbox jingle. Assuming Senor Allard wasn't under the influence, that would in fact be the only way to attain a goal of such gargantuan proportions.

The farcical goals Microsoft has are enough to make even Ken Kutaragi look completely sane. First, they expect to overthrow Sony's dominance, and second they want to attract 1 billion gamers. Steven Ballmer will say he only wants the industry to reach 1 billion consumers, but we know damn well that he wants those 1 billion people on Train 360. The company execs in the comfy arm chairs, who more than likely have never picked up a controller, must have no idea about how poorly the Xbox has done compared to Playstation 2. On top of that, they also expect to beat Sony on their home turf, Japan. Let me point you here. Does anyone else notice something out of place? Yes, that's right. In 2005 alone, and exclusively to Japan, Playstation 2 has sold nearly 1 million units...and in the far corner: Xbox with a barely mentionable 7000 units. Let's examine that for a minute: Microsoft has managed to sell only 0.7% of Sony's gross (and even Nintendo's with the DS) in Japan. That's right folks, Microsoft expects not only to outsell Sony worldwide, they expect to increase their sales in Japan by 15 000%. Ludicrous!

Sliding along to the even higher goal of reaching 1 billion consumers. As a whole, the gaming industry has maybe 200 million gamers. To reach that goal of 1 billion, the entire industry has to increase 500% by the end of the next generation console cycle, circa 2011. Trends indicate that we're only growing by a (still hefty) 20%. How are we supposed to reach Microsofts (clearly not insane) goal of 1 billion gamers? Even crazier on the highway of lunacy - since Microsoft would expect that gamers they've drawn will get their game on with the Xbox 360 - they would have to increase their total hardware sales projections by 5000%! I think I speak for all mankind when I say: What...the...F*ck? It would seem Microsoft has insider information into an oncoming "boom" in videogame consumership. Their source seems to be the highly respected "Myass" e-zine.

No one other than Microsoft thinks they'll reach their goal. My hope is that Microsoft be drawn and quartered this generation by both Sony and Nintendo, so when they return two generations from now, they'll have more realistic (and human) goals. Having high expectations is one thing, but being down right friggin mental is another. Barring pre-calculated fetal interception, Microsoft is royally f*cked [with respect to their goals].

June 15, 2005

Review: Beyond Good & Evil (GC) - Originality and undeground rebellion...




First off let me proclaim, I am one of those people who just didn't take any interest in Beyond Good and Evil. Since E3, I wasn't really interested at all, reason being that there are so many hyped games out there that mask the true quality of this game. After playing this game, I realised that many people are missing out on this piece of art. Although it may only take 6 hours to complete, this game has some of the most addicting gameplay to ever grace any of the consoles.

The story of this game almost seems like some thing that comes out an RPG. It starts off with our lead heroine Jade being assaulted by a mutant race knwon as the DomZ. The only protection against the DomZ are sheild generators and Jade's Dai'jo which she uses in combat. Her Uncle Pey'J (who is also a talking pig) assists Jade on her Journey, as well as the ill-fated Double H whom you meet up with in the latter part of the game. A myriad of plot twists and turns and buckets of charisma, and you have award winning material here.

The graphics are very pretty. The character models are smooth, but lack a lot of detail. The NPC's aren't as crisp as the main characters, but it's to be expected on a multi-platform game, to help in the conversion process. The world of Hillys is huge, and full of life. So much so, that it is your daunting task to take a photo of every creature species in the world of Hillys, one of primary modes of the gameplay.
Besides the alright polygons of our heroes, the water effects are something else. No matter which console you play this on, you'll be baffled by the realistic glimmer of the water. Over all this game is aesthetically pleasing, but still has some room for improvement.




BG&E sports some of the best gameplay elements of 2003. The first task is to train yourself in combat. It's pretty straight forward, with a flurry of different combos which vary depending on the direction of the analog control. The second-most aspect of this game, is the photography. You're given a camera, and are charged with a task of collecting photos of different species to send to the "Science Centre". A meaningless task at first, but later on becomes one of your main sources for both money and Pearls, which are a form of currency on the Hillys black market. Collecting Pearls and MDisks is also a major part of this game. Collecting MDisks usually moves some of the backstory closer to the game, while giving you information on tasks to come, and enemy specs or weaknesses. Pearls are your reward for completing tasks, like using up a whole role of film, defeating a boss, or winning a race.

With puzzle elements that would make Prince of Persia jealous, this game is both visually and manually pleasing when solving different puzzles; somtimes, using two different people to accomplish one goal. You will be hitting a lot of switches, but is is expected in a puzzle-esque game like BG&E. Your primary mode of hitting far off switches is the Gyro Disk Glove. A glove which propels purple energy discs, which activate switches and distract enemies.

Everything is tied so closely together in the gameplay, that you'll be addicted and glued to your seat. Whether it be a full-on battle with a giant boss, or Solid Snake-ish stealth missions, this game has it all, and is definately a hidden gem among much of the chaff from rival developers. The controls are pretty straight forward, but how they coincide with each other is what makes the difference. As intuitive as the controls are, the camera isn't always helpful and is often in the wrong position, which isn't useful when facing armies of DomZ.




The soundtrack is just stupendous. With fully orchestrated compositions for just about every type of mood, and a place for every mood in this game (a place for everything and everything in it's place), the music is fantastical aural bliss. The voice overs ain't bad either, with a lot of emotion, and wide variety of voices. Beyond Good and Evil totes professional audio and musical quality not seen in many other games.

Unfortunately there isn't a heck of a lot to unlock in this game. A mini-game plus a few easter eggs is hardly worth any replay value. But did anyone ever replay Super Mario 3 because they could unlock secret characters or costumes...no, they played it because the game was just downright addicting...which also applies to this game, which is why I don't hold any vices toward BG&E when looking at it's replay value.

Great production values, excellent sound quality with top-notch voice acting, as well as the most addicting gameplay we've seen in while, this game makes us remember and appreciate why we used to be so eager to play those good ol' fashion NES games. Sadly though, this game hasn't been played by too many people, and it's not too suprising. With games like Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando, Final Fantasy X-2, True Crime, Max Payne 2, and Maximo vs Army of Zin clouding the release schedule ofit's time, it's not hard to see why this game was passed by. Even though it game isn't perfect, another installment which improves upon the flaws of this game could very well put it into the ranks of the best games of all time, like Ocarina of Time, Devil May Cry, Halo, and the Final Fantasy series. I give this game a round of applause for being completely unique and original, and for being the most innovative hybrid-genre game in recent memory. A nominal effort fronting originality from Ubisoft. Bravo.

Verdict


8.4

June 14, 2005

Post E3: Revolution or Devolution?

"We came, we saw, we conquered"

..is what I'd like to say regarding Nintendo's presence at E3. Ostensibly, Sony and Microsoft had huge showings. Trailers upon demos upon divulged information; almost nothing was left to doubt after Sony and Microsoft took a bow. Nintendo on the other hand, had a mixed bag of non-sense, and managed to retract promises once again. This was supposed to be Nintendo's year. Revolutionary gameplay was supposedly going to take the world by storm, and the mantra "try hard, die young" seems to be Nintendo's goal. We were promised a full unveiling of the Revolution at E3. What we were given, was nothing short of a disaster. A few paltry tidbits regarding Nintendo's online ambitions, and a hint at backwards of compatibility. Three seconds of Metroid Prime 3, and we're left wanting. Let's iterate the fact that Nintendo is behind. Far behind. In fact, they're so far behind, they've mostly abandoned the GameCube as a viable platform for software. Releasing a few key titles, and leaving the rest to third parties which again leaves the library dry. Promising backwards compatibility and "revolutionary graphics and gameplay", Iwata expected everyone to take his word for it. "Just believe me" he says, "I've never let you down before". News flash you english illiterate dumbass: you make mistakes daily. No one takes you seriously anymore, and every decision you make drags Nintendo down. You're the brilliant mastermind behind Paper Mario 2, which I must say explains a lot.

Revolution

Revolution's revolutionary aspect is that it's invisible. You use your imagination to play the games, and never have to lift a finger, or pinch a penny. Jokes aside, Revolution? What Revolution? All we managed to get was a little black box (strikingly similar to the Ps2) that promised backwards compatibility, online environments, and downloadable content. Welcome to 2005 Nintendo. You're barely even trying to keep up with technology standards. Washing away the flowery buzz words like "online", "backwards compatibility" and "innovation", we were left nothing more than a shell. We were promised the controller was going to be the revolutionary crutch of the Revolution (still codenamed), but Nintendo refused to show it to us. At first they promised us "it really is Revoluionary, please trust us", and claimed they didn't want to display the controller for fear of having their ideas stolen. What I'm about to say I mean in the cruelest sense possible: No one has ever stolen any single one of your ideas. Ever. The venerable Shigeru Miyamoto even admits that they were not the first to the market with the analog controller or the rumble pack. Rather, he covers it up by claiming "We announced it first, but the competition beat us to the market". Making promises is not acting. It isn't Sony's fault they managed to out-analog and out-rumble you before you could even dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s on your promise.

Those who wish to hear Iwata make this claim allowed, click here.

Aside from that, Mr. Miyamoto was concerned everyone was going to steal his "innovative" (not really) Water Pack notion from Super Mario Sunshine. To this day, years later, no one has ever bothered to imitate it. In fact, no one has ever bothered to imitate Nintendo in the last ten years (period). It is with this vain history of paranoia that Nintendo refused to show us why their next console is Revolutionary. As it turns out, there was more to the story than Nintendo was telling us. Apparently Nintendo is undecided on what the controller actually is, leading anyone with common sense to believe that Nintendo didn't just not want to show the controller, they couldn't. Nintendo promised that they were not going to be late this time around, and they won't be behind; and now they're behind. Soon after that, we learned that they're also going to be late again as well, proclaiming that Revolution will launch sometime in Fall 2006, decidedly long after both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 will have hit the market. It's the motor force of incompetence that's driving Nintendo down, and it's mistakes like this that Nintendo seems to think are perfectly natural that are causing their once household name to be ecclipsed by Sony and Microsofts Playstation and Xbox brandnames.

IGN's Matt Cassamassina...

...officially the smartest person in the business of gaming publications (online and print).

Matt assails Nintendo's choice to wipe HD support, and for the most part his argument is indisputable. I think firstly it takes a smart man to deliver the message intelligently, and an even smarter (and brave) man to do it staring hoardes of Nintendo fanboys down the throat. He will be attacked, virtually clawed, bitten, harassed, and probably threatened. Yet, he won't stagger on his ground, and he never takes guff from no illiterate fanboy. I commend him for that.

If you want to read the whole rant, go right ahead, but what's important is the punchline. (Keep in mind the link is time sensitive. I will update the link when another mailbag is updated).

"Will there still be great games? Undoubtedly. Does that make Nintendo sane? Nope. It's officially crazy."





I think in the long run, forgoing any chit chat about their software, Nintendo is not a talented hardware developer. Perchance there are people out that like Nintendo's software, and even their consoles; blinded by the jargon behind the tech, but tech-nuts know when they're looking at something worth the red ink. Does that mean the hardware boasts essence or virtue? Nintendo's cost cutting measures have labelled them as a toy company, and their current choices aren't aiding them in defending against that front. They make all the wrong moves, and yet you have people that lap it up like lap-dogs (excuse the pun)? I'm putting my foot down. Until Nintendo starts letting loose the dogs of war, and stops reserving itself in the name of making profits off of hardware (which is almost unheard of with any normal corporate entity), I don't see Nintendo as a serious competitor. They're aiming so far from the target that they'd be lucky if they hit air.




Nintendo is the Backstreet Boys of the gaming. Most of the industry has all but forgotten about them, yet they keep unleashing release after release all because they continue to be funded by the people who support their mistakes. Let the madness end. Nintendo has been going down hill since it's birthing of the NES, and has managed to attract no new gamers since. In fact, year after year, for the past 20 or so, Nintendo has been mislaying their target audience. Reliably fallible and consistently supporting negative claims against them, Nintendo is on a divotless track to hit rock bottom. Not in the near future, but inevitibility will catch up to them.

June 11, 2005

A lesson in vulgarity...

Fanboys: where would we be without fanboys? For starters we would look significantly less intelligent than we actually are. Fanboys are a rare breed of gamers who often ally with one single corporation while remaining oblivious to the fact that the corporation he/she allies with doesn't give half a sh*t so long as you buy something while you're in the store so to speak. I have a message for those people: get off my virtual lawn. The precious and valuable real estate I've erected here is meant for intelligent discussion if one so happens to form in a cluster of comments. There's no merit in feverishly insulting someone who has scribed something you don't harmonize with. If you have a problem with it, address the problems you have. You have the potential to strike up intellectual debate, yet remain closed minded and would instead look like a complete blockhead (meanwhile assuming delegating someone a booger-faggot-sh*tcock "pwns" the person you're referring to or somehow makes them feel bad about themselves). Piece of advice: suicide is your only option. Warp-Pipe dreams though...

The primary upside to arguing with fanboys is that no matter what you say, in almost all circumstances you appear exponentially more intelligent; Albert f*cking Einstein actually. The only problem is, fanboys roam the virtual plains in heards. Distinctly, Nintendo fanboys savagely stampede across them, in pursuit of validation of self by destroying everything in their wake. Yes, Nintendo fanboys are the cause behind everyone's favourite dad's demise...




Enough of that poppycock; I want to bring into question these fanboys who think anonymity gives them a liscence to be retarded. What is the reasoning behind it? Do you receive sexual pleasure from your keyboard if you type nasty, dirty things with it? Do you get satisfaction out of being this? Does your mommy not let you play games with an ESRB rating above "EC"? If you answered yes/no/I hate you, to any of these questions, you are a Nintendo fanboy. Caveat: that is not to say Sony and Microsoft fanboys are precious and delightful angels. Rather, they take to task anyone who questions the sales of Grand Theft Auto or Halo 2. To no demerit of those titles, as they possess high sell through rates for a reason, but Sony and Microsoft fanboys do it with an awkward and annoying finesse.

In a non aggressive way, Sony and Microsft fanboys are the cute widdle puppy wuppies of the gaming community: they shit on your lawn, and brandish the puppy dog eyes when you scold them on it - how can you resist - allowing them to escape unscathed. Nintendo fanboys on the other hand (for no other reason than that they are almost 95% composed of teenage/pre-pubescent angsters) are like pitbulls. They shit on your lawn, then on your wife, your cat, your Playstation 2 and Xbox, then proceed to shit on you when gab at them for deficating so barbarically. You can collect the shit they spew and toss it back at them, but they digest it and redeficate it moments later only to rehash and reshit it on you again and again. Not that it's hard to defend against, as doo doo is rather soft and mushy and harmless in almost every way, but it gets annoying when there's a lot of it. Wading through the shit becomes tiresome and spends all your energy reserves; Nintendo fanboys manage to somehow defeat you even though every ounce of shit they spewed was worthless and off-topic. Wait, am I off topic? No, that seems right.

Message to Nintendo fanboys: You are not clever. You are not smart. You have not completed the 6th grade. You do not have hair on your balls, nor have you developed anything resembling a stacked rack. You were never useful, and you still aren't. Your existence is not only a nuisance, your collective lack of intelligence is single handedly holding the industry back by supporting Nintendo's clearly flawed and backwards thinking. Validating your existence as a gamer by insulting others and accusing them of being ignorant/single is not clever/witty/funny. You are not cool/awesome/pwninator/respected. We all have a little fanboy is us, but the Nintendo brand has spawned pure and hateful fanboys that are like the plague. All we have to do is wait for the source of the disease to die, and the bacteria will follow suit. Perhaps Nintendo's new moves next generation will breed a new intelligent life form of Nintendo fanboy, but as of now I'd like nothing more than for every child that still "allies" with Nintendo to closet themselves from the world. Divine intervention couldn't even save your souls now.

June 07, 2005

Review: Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door (GC)




Nintendo is no longer a game developer worth noting. Their games are created with minimum budget in mind, and maximizing quality as an afterthought. So long as they make a game, they're happy. Well I'm not. When I play RPGs, I want something worth the 30+ hour investment. Degenerate rehashing for 10 year olds is not what I call a game for "Everyone". While Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door sports an "E" rating, there is no question that the appropriate rating should have been "EC". The only age group this game appeals to is the unintelligent and simple minded children. The game offers almost nothing in terms of strategy, plot or character development, and the visual appeal is quirky, yet lazily accomplished in a rather painfully obvious fashion. While I have nothing against cartoony visuals and almost kiddie like character, I don't appreciate it when the game starts treating me like a child. The best example of this kind of game is Kingdom Hearts. The childish appearance is not to say the game itself mirrors that aura. Kingdom Hearts heartily presents itself with a deep and mature plot, with just as deep gameplay, with brain teasing puzzles, and complex combat. Paper Mario does not exemplify this quality. In fact, it manages to be one of the worst games ever created, but not only that it alienates every Mario fan who knew Mario as the platforming fiend he was born as.

First off, I'll get the "okay" to "meh" elements out of the way. Visually, Paper Mario (2) manages to pull off the floaty paper effect rather well. There's no complex shadowing, texturing or even renderng. Everything is a 2-D paper cut-out, with the occasional 3-D paper (origami?) model. It's a unique characteristic of the Paper Mario franchise, and it gets the effect it goes for. There's no denying that the very infantile animation style of the charaters is limited in it's appeal (to children). If there was ever a game that completely went against Nintendo's "We really are trying to appeal to everyone", this would be it. Anyone who finds this game enjoyable and is over 12 years of age should have their maturity brought into question. It would be the same as a grown adult finding great pleasure in watching repeats of the Care Bears. The paper effects of the game are short lived. Mario can roll up into a roll of paper, turn himself sideways to a paper thin profile and fold himself into a paper airplane or boat. Again, the effect is gained but it's short lived. The abilities are never used for any complex puzzle solving. Merely a means to traverse to new areas not reachable by normal means. Again, there's a lot of potential with abilities like these, but never is that potential realized let alone even considered.

To say Paper Mario is a simplified RPG would be an utter understatement. As an RPG, the game is a catastrophic failure. Is it simple? Do children pick their nose and eat it?. Mario and one of his many party members battle the koopas, goombas, and bob-ombs of the Mario universe. However Nintendo does a horrible job of creating a battle system that works. Mario and his companion deal on average 1 - 6 damage to enemies. Yes, that is absolute maximum in terms of normal hits. Apparently Nintendo thought first grade math was overly complicated for this game, so all the stats, Damage and HP counting is simplified to an almost comical (no, actually not almost) level. You start off dealing one damage to enemies with a mere 2 HP. Work your way up to dealing 6 damage to enemies with a maximum of 150 HP (?). What?! 150? Nintendo, in case you didn't know (I'm guessing you really don't with that brainless Iwata running your show) numbers do exceed 3 digits. In fact you can have upwards of 4...even 5!? Blasphemy, everyone knows more than 3 digits is far too many for the target audience of Paper Mario 2! As I digress (which I rather enjoy doing), please note that my mockery is indicative of the unsatisfying character progression. In a paltry (RPG sub-standard) 30 hour game, your character goes from having 10 to up to 60/70 HP, and dealing 1 to 6 damage...any RPG fanatic knows there are thousands of things wrong with that; most of them being the missing damage of HP Mario should be dealing. What's the explanation? There are a couple. Nintendo is a newbie in the world of RPGs. Never have they created a quality RPG, and this game is no different. The second is that Nintendo is and always will be a children's gaming company. They create games for the sole purpose of pleasing children under the guise of "We make games for Everyone". No you f*cking don't. End of story.




As I continue to digress let me iterate another point about the horrid combat system. Strategy? Have you heard of it? Good, you should collevtively email Nintendo with a link to the word "strategy" from www.dictionary.com. Apparently they didn't get the memo. Deciding to chose between jumping and using the hammer based on whether or not the enemy has a spike on it's head or encased in a plume of fire is hardly strategy. It's f*cking common sense. Your abilities are limited to the Hammer and the Shoes, jumping and smashing. Thats it. You can use "Super Jump", or "Ultra Hammer", but they're merely variations on the plain abilities with very little added effects. Your partners are no different. One thing that struck me as odd was the defense of the game. You can press A before an enemy attacks to reduce the damage, or during an attack to perform a stylish move, but there is no indication of timing. It's a common excuse to hear that "The timing is too complex for kiddies thus the game is for adults". Thats the same backwards thinking that is keeping Nintendo and it's fans in last place on a constant basis. The timing is difficult because there is no indication of when to press it. In fact, you need to purchase an item more than halfway through the game to learn the timings for the button presses. You can learn them on your own, but after a very annoying trial and error process.

Apart from the battle system, the plot and dialogue are pathetic. No, less than pathetic. It's atrocious. First the plot; the premise: Find the Crystal Stars before the "X-nauts" (because everyone knows the letter X is about as extreme and hardcore as the Japanese using 3 consonants in a row) to unlock the thousand year door. Yes my friends, that is the plot from start to finish. Snippets of Princess Peach and Bowser are added as a bogus afterthought, and really contributes nothing to the overall story telling. If there were more to say I would, but for 30 hours, you trek from bland forest to harvest moon in search of the crystal stars. Yes, 30 long grueling hours of this game's horrid combat engine and contrived plot axis. Apart from the plot, the dialogue is lame. No, beyond lame. It's insultingly childish. It would be slightly less painful were the dialogue actually humourous or jovial, but it ain't. It's broken. Not only is the game riddled with "Please don't die Koops, I love you like a lovely loving lover love" and "This guys is bad, we must fight him", the game plays on every single racial stereotype in existence. Proving while imitating and mocking the italian, russian and french accent that Nintendo is incapable of creating a good RPG, but that they're also racist! Go Go Nintendo Rangers!

With nothing to offer, and nothing worth seeing, anyone can do without this game. It's an atrocious piece of software, and it gives a bad name to the RPG genre. As a long time gamer, I'm pleading with you: never play this game. It's a gigantic wreck from start to finish and is entirely oriented around children under the age of 10. There would be nothing wrong were this a game directed at the audience it actually appeals to, but Nintendo insists this game appeals to my age group, and to no suprise, it doesn't. If there are 20-somethings out there that enjoy this game, you've either never played another game in your life, or you're mentally ill. Seek help. This game is worth nothing more than my lowest recommendation, and is about as fun as watching Orange Vs Banana.

Verdict


0.7