Author Archives: lewispackwood

About lewispackwood

The first game that Lewis ever played was "Horace Goes Skiing" on the ZX Spectrum. Yes, he's that old.

From The Armchair: Say Hello To Merriweather Jr

ArmchairWhat-ho, chums!

You may well have noticed my conspicuous absence from this illustrious online tome over the past month or so – my endless thanks to Sir Gaulian for keeping things ticking over with a steady stream of fantastic articles. I have a good excuse for my blogging slackness, however – the birth of my son.

[FANFARES]

[STREAMERS]

[FOGHORN BLAST]

Yes, that’s right, Merriweather Jr has finally made his way into the outside world, glory be! Needless to say, he’s been keeping us all very busy these last few weeks, but things are gradually calming down now as we get used to his cheery (sometimes teary) presence.

Needless to say, my gaming time will be rather limited from now on, but I’ll endeavour to post here as often as I can.

Toodle-pip for now!

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Why I’m looking forward to Rare Replay

My article on the Xbox One Rare Replay collection just went up on Kotaku UK. And there’s one game I’m particularly looking forward to playing again: Solar Jetman.

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As I say in the Kotaku article, this NES game wasn’t hugely successful in terms of sales, but it garnered huge critical praise – and it had me hooked. Yet despite this, I never quite managed to finish the game, mostly because it’s rock hard. I still hope to finish it one day though, and hopefully if they include a way to save the game in Rare Replay, this will be a bit easier than it was back in the day. The original game had a password system so you could skip levels, but extra lives were incredibly limited – an option to reload a save game would be most welcome, if a little cheaty.

I actually still have the original Solar Jetman cartridge – it’s the only NES game I’ve kept hold of, although I no longer have a working NES. For ages I’ve been toying with the idea of picking up another NES just to play this game again, but thanks to Rare Replay I no longe have to. Hurrah!

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Buy Rare Replay (Xbox One) from Amazon.

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From The Armchair: Sega Sentimentality

ArmchairWhat-ho, chums!

So, Ms. D’s two lovely sisters came a-visiting recently, and we ended up chatting about their video game habits of old. It turns out that the sisters three were once enthralled by the Sega Mega Drive as youths, and would happily spend hours passing the controller back and forth through epic sessions of Streets of Rage 2, Sonic The Hedgehog and, to a lesser extent, Ecco The Dolphin (which left them “baffled” for the most part, a reaction I can empathise with).

After hearing of this winsome Sega nostalgia, I immediately fired up the trusty old PS3 and promptly downloaded Streets of Rage 2 for a pittance – much to the sisters’ delight. There ensued a highly enjoyable evening of ass-whupping, nineties style – and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Ms. D so enthused over a video game before. As I watched, nostalgia took its vice-like grip as the siblings were transported back to pre-puberty…

Sadly it was an emotion I couldn’t partake of. As a Nintendo-devoted teenager, I only played on a Mega Drive a handful of times, and certainly never owned one – and it’s difficult to be nostalgic about a game you’ve never played. But having said that, it was wonderful to leap back into a simpler time, when games only required a couple of buttons and a big helping of bloody-mindedness, particularly before save games were commonplace and it was de rigeur to play through the opening levels of a game several hundred times, simply because you had no other choice.

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But although I’ve never played Streets of Rage 2, I’ve heard lots of very good things about it, and I was keen to sample it for myself. And what do you know, it holds up surprisingly well for a game originally released in 1991. Yes, the gameplay is simple, but there’s just enough variety in the enemies and environments to make it engaging, and the artwork still looks fantastic. OK, some of the bad guys are recycled a little bit too much, but the combinations they’re presented in change throughout, and the final boss is fantastic.

Buoyed by the wave of retro-gaming nostalgia generated by SoR2, I went on to download Sonic The Hedgehog 2, which the sisters greeted with misty-eyed joy. Yet I struggled to warm to this one like I did to Streets of Rage. Back in the nineties, I remember playing Sonic The Hedgehog for the first time and being blown away by the speed of it. Yet very quickly it became apparent that going quickly was actually a recipe for disaster – at top speed it was impossible to see what was coming next, resulting in lots of unfair deaths from unseen spikes. So even though the game’s raison d’etre was speed, perversely it did everything it could to stop you going fast – and the same is true of the sequel. I found Sonic 2 initially fun but very quickly infuriating, and once we progressed to the later levels my long-held suspicions were confirmed: i.e. that the first levels in Sonic 1 and 2 are by far the best levels in each game, leaving little reason to progress.

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Still, Ms. D remains a Sonic fan, and while charity shopping the other day I came across the critically lauded Sonic Generations for the PS3 for a mere £3. I’m hoping that both of us can enjoy this update of the old Sonic formula, and that perhaps the 3D sections fix that old Sonic problem – by actually letting you see where the hell you’re going.

But through all this, and despite the D sisters’ Sega sentimentality, my nostalgia glands have remained dispiritingly unstimulated, purely because I’m coming to these games for the very first time. So over the weekend I decided to treat myself to an old Sega game that I HAVE played before – many times in fact.

OutRun was a staple of my youth, being my go-to arcade game in musty waterfront arcades from Portsmouth to Porthtowan on many a family holiday. Recently released on the 3DS, 3D OutRun is an utterly wonderful update of the arcade classic, laden with subtle improvements but still retaining the enthralling gameplay of the original. As soon as I began playing I was transported right back to that beachfront arcade, the ten-year-old me peering over the top of the sweat-slicked steering wheel as I frantically stamped on the sand-covered pedals…

Ah, there it is: that sweet, sweet, intoxicating hit of nostalgia.

Toodle-pip for now!

3D OutRun

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When English translation doesn’t quite work

The Last Story was great, and so is Xenoblade Chronicles – although they’re not without their niggles. One quirk is that both games use British voice actors, which makes for a refreshing change from the usual American voices in video games. But having said that, the acting isn’t particularly, well, awe-inspiring, and in Xenoblade particularly the script is filled with repetition and lots of stating the obvious. In fact, I’ve now switched the voices over to Japanese because I just couldn’t take any more of the actors saying the same thing over and over again.

Also, the cut scenes just work better in Japanese. The conversation structure of Japanese doesn’t properly translate to English – often there are enormous pauses in conversation, after which one character will nod and gravely say “hai” (“yes”: but really it can convey all sorts of meanings depending on context, and it’s used more extensively than “yes” in English). In the game translation, you usually end up with someone saying “I agree” after an enormo-pause, which just sounds ridiculous.

The best Japanese to English translations tend to involve the translator reinterpreting the text and, where possible, redoing the lip sync to suit more usual patterns of English conversation. But unfortunately that’s not always possible – there was a fascinating article in EDGE issue 278 (unfortunately not available online, but discussed here and available to buy here) in which translator Alexander O Smith details the difficulty he had in rewriting the script to match the fixed lip syncs in Final Fantasy XII (most agree he did an outstanding job on the translation).

But certainly with Xenoblade, the game just makes more sense in Japanese… if that makes sense.

xenoblade-chronicles-dialogue

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I’ve set my gaming goal: finishing the Operation Rainfall RPGs

The number of games I want to play far outweighs the number of games I have the time to play (a subject I’ve touched on before). And with a baby soon to enter the Merriweather household, that gaming time is set to shrink even further.

There are a few things I’m doing to make the most of the game time I have. One is to focus on shorter games in order to pack more in. Another is to avoid time-consuming subquests and DLC and just focus on the main story. And a third is to focus right down on only the genres and titles that I enjoy the most.

There are lots of games that I’m intrigued about. I’m quite curious to play Titanfall and Sunset Overdrive, for example. But these sorts of shooters aren’t really my bread and butter – the genres I most enjoy tend to be turn-based strategy games, RPGs, point and click adventures and pretty much everything by Nintendo. So although I’ve got first-person shooters like Killzone 3 and Crysis 2 on my backlog, the chances are that they will never be played, as I’ll always choose a Zelda game or X-COM instead when I’ve got a window of playing time.

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And as part of focusing on specific genres and titles, I’ve set myself the goal of finishing the three ‘Operation Rainfall’ RPGs: The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower. These three were some of the last games to be released for the Wii, and they were the subject of a successful fan campaign, dubbed Operation Rainfall, to have them released in North America (Xenoblade Chronicles had already been released in Europe).

I’ve already finished The Last Story (see my review), and I’m playing through Xenoblade Chronicles at the moment. Plus I bought the newly released Wii U version of Pandora’s Tower last week, so I’m well on my way to achieving my goal. Perhaps the only snag in my plan is that I’m enjoying Xenoblade a bit too much – I’ve already ignored my rule to avoid subquests, and although I’m 35 hours in, I’m nowhere near the end of the game. Still, there’s no time limit on finishing the Operation Rainfall games – it may well take a year or more if my time is truly limited. But the important thing is that it’s an easily achievable goal.

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My Fire Emblem amiibo set is complete

IMG_2607Good news everyone! With the arrival of Robin and Lucina, my set of Fire Emblem amiibos is complete! At least until they decide to release any more Fire Emblem-themed amiibos, that is.

Lucina, of course, is one of the main characters in the recent Fire Emblem: Awakening for the 3DS, whereas Robin is the player’s character in that very same game – and until Super Smash Brothers for Wii U came out, I had no idea he/she had a name (you usually give the character a moniker at the start of the game). The amiibo is of the male version of the character – although Ms D thought he was a woman. I suppose he is a bit androgynous…

IMG_2610As with the other Fire Emblem amiibos, I’m impressed with the level of detail on these figures – they really look great. Even Ms D admitted that they look pretty cool, even though she’s slightly concerned that tiny plastic toys are taking over the living room. She asked me how many more are arriving.

“Just one,” I replied, “It’s Yarn Yoshi, but that one’s made out of wool, so it looks really cool… Oh, and Ganondorf as well.”

Cue raised eyebrow.

“Well, he needs to keep Link company…”

IMG_2611Anyway, back to Lucina. I was surprised to see her sporting this rather comprehensive support structure, although her legs are pretty spindly, so it’s understandable. To be honest though, the support is fairly unobtrusive – unlike Link’s massive yellow pole. The less said about that, the better. Although actually I barely notice it any more – like a carpet stain that you get so used to that you’re surprised when guests point it out.

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But I digress. The main thing is that Marth, Ike, Robin and Lucina are together at last, and looking rather lovely on my mantelpiece. I’m looking forward to nabbing Codename STEAM when it’s finally released over here and zapping these characters into the game. But to be honest, that’s just a bonus feature – I mostly bought this lot just to look great on the shelf. And I’m fairly sure that’s what most amiibo collectors will say, too.

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From The Armchair: Affordable Fun

ArmchairWhat ho, chums!

Well, what a wonderful week I’ve had. I downloaded Affordable Space Adventures for the Wii U on Saturday, and it has proved to be an instant hit in the Merriweather household, with even the normally video-game-reticent Ms. D singing its praises.

The game is one of those rare beasts – a Wii U title that actually uses the Wii U gamepad’s capabilities. Apart from the launch games ZombiU and NintendoLand, I can’t think of a single game that has properly taken advantage of the Wii U’s unique control scheme and its opportunities for asymmetrical multiplayer, but Affordable Space Adventures does just that to great effect. The gamepad screen acts as the engineering console, an essential display that lets you divert power to various functions of the ship. This is the key to getting past enemies and obstacles – and at some points you need to switch the engine off completely to avoid detection. Steering the ship, on the other hand, is taken care of by the left stick, and the right stick is devoted to scanning. The game even requires you to pitch the gamepad to alter the angle of your ship – if it used the camera and had amiibo support as well, it would pretty much tick off all the gamepad’s functions.

The engineer takes care of the dials on the gamepad screen, while the pilot steers the ship (on the right).

The engineer takes care of the dials on the gamepad screen, while the pilot steers the ship (on the right).

But the really brilliant thing about this game is the cooperative multiplayer, in which one player does steering (using a Wii remote and nunchuk), another does the scanning, and the third acts as engineer (if you’re playing with just two people, the engineer does the scanning too). Not since Trine 2 have I had so much fun romping through a game in coop – having to work as a team adds immensely to the game’s appeal, and leads to some brilliant eureka moments as a puzzle clicks into place (along with some utterly hilarious fails).

“What are you doing? I wasn’t ready yet!”

“TURNTHEENGINEOFF! TURNTHEENGINEOFF!”

“Give me thrust! Give me thrust! Nooooooooo!”

All in all, I can’t recommend this game highly enough. If you have a Wii U, get it now. And if you don’t have a Wii U, why the hell not? Seriously, there are so many unmissable games on it and it’s only, what, 200 quid? Come on.

And speaking of affordable fun, I also downloaded Box Boy! for the 3DS at the weekend for a shade under a fiver. It’s a Game Boy-style minimalist puzzle platformer that does a wonderful job of creating a genuinely charming character from very few parts. Just a box with legs, in fact. It’s also highly addictive, and I’ve been playing it whenever I have a few minutes to spare. In fact, the short levels are perfectly suited for quick bursts of play between bus stops. The game itself isn’t particularly long, or even amazingly challenging, but I’ve loved every minute of it, and like Affordable Space Adventures, it comes highly recommended.

Toodle pip for now!

Box Boy - I love the Game Boy-style minimalist graphics.

Box Boy – I love the Game Boy-style minimalist graphics.

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