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...