Monthly Archives: January 2013

Getting Chummy With The Nintendo Prez

Satoru Iwata: adorable.

Satoru Iwata: adorable.

Satoru Iwata is just so… so lovable, isn’t he?

I watched the latest Nintendo Direct presentation last weekend, and I just couldn’t get over what a brilliant marketing tool it is, mostly due to the cuddly persona of the Nintendo President, Mr Iwata. As he cheerfully whips his way through the presentation, you can’t help but mentally cheer him on, especially as he stumbles over a few hard-to-pronounce words but stoically carries on regardless. (‘The Wonderful 101‘ caused a few problems, as you can imagine – it’s hard enough to say with English as your first language.)

Fils-Aime: no-tie lounger.

Fils-Aime: no-tie lounger.

I’m particularly fond of his penchant for gestures. For most of the presentation he remains in the rigid, hands-straight-by-sides posture of the professional Japanese businessman – none of this no-tie lounging that seems to have been adopted by Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. No, Iwata-san is the very model of business-like statesmanship, which is why when he breaks out one of his trademark gestures, it’s hard not to smile. I’m not sure whether there’s someone behind the camera who holds up a sign when it’s time for him to wave his hands about, but I almost want to cheer when he starts flapping his paddles.

As Tiny Cartridge points out, Iwata-san also seems to have developed an official gesture for when he says ‘Nintendo DIRECT’ – the ‘DIRECT’ is accompanied by a charming palms-out ‘viewfinder’ gesture, as if Mr Iwata is reaching out into your very home to touch you with his well-manicured hands. I may have to adopt this gesture in real life, although how I’m going to slip it into conversation is anyone’s guess. Maybe we’ll have to start ‘A Most Agreeable Pastime DIRECT’, in which I can tell you all about the games I haven’t had time to play.

"Welcome to Nintendo... DIRECT!"

“Welcome to Nintendo… DIRECT!”

As I said at the start, the chief reason why the Nintendo Direct broadcasts are great is that Iwata-san is so lovable, so basically I just believe anything this cuddly little man says without question. I was a bit miffed about the lack of games for the Wii U and 3DS at the beginning of the year, but then Iwata-san said he was sorry about it, and that they’d been really busy, you-know-how-it-is etc etc and suddenly all was forgiven. In fact I felt a bit guilty that he’d been working so hard for my benefit. The man has a magnetic power I tells ya.

I was sad to hear about Nintendo’s lower than expected Wii U sales figures this week (check out this interesting analysis by Eurogamer), but I wasn’t that surprised either: I love my little Wii U, but after the launch-day flood of games, there’s been an absolute drought of quality software, so no doubt that has something to do with the tail off in sales. The lack of marketing doesn’t help either – when I told my office co-workers that I was buying a Wii U, not a single one of them knew what it was, and this was during the week it was released.

Still, the good news is that lovely Mr Iwata has promised us lots of wonderful games in the future, including two new Zeldas (hurrah!), a 3D Mario, Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Yarn Yoshi and a new one from the makers of Xenoblade Chronicles (which looked a lot like Monster Hunter from the clip they showed – no bad thing). Plus there was great news about an improved Virtual Console heading to Wii U, along with loads of promotions to celebrate 30 years of the Famicom, including an immediate offer to download 1987’s Balloon Fight for 30p. Bargain!

To my shame, I’d never even heard of Balloon Fight, but it turns out to be a brilliantly addictive game: if you’re got a Wii U, download it now before the offer runs out, you won’t regret it. What’s more, it turns out that even watching other people play it is addictive too, as this compelling footage of a middle-aged Japanese man shows:

[As fawned over by Lucius Merriweather.]

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Patriotic

Australian FlagHAPPY AUSTRALIA DAY!  It’s Australia Day down under and we Australians like a good celebration.  The First Fleet arrived in Australia on 26 January 1788 and marks the date of European settlement in this great nation.  Of course on the flip side of that it marks the beginning of a rather difficult period in the history of our indigenous Australians.

Historical atrocities aside though, Australia is a great country.  The thing about Australians is that we’re pretty low-key on the whole patriotism thing.  Okay sometimes our Prime Minister tells Eurozone leaders to ‘get their s#!t together‘, which to be honest is somewhat justified, but by in large we don’t feel it necessary as a group to tell the world how bloody amazing we are.

Australians are proud and patriotic, but subtly so.  In fact we are more likely to take the piss out of ourselves than to big-note our achievements.  Even in video games we have a hard time taking ourselves seriously.

The Adventures of Down Under Dan (1995)

The Adventures of Down Under Dan (1995) <Source: http://www.mobygames.com&gt;

Patriotism takes many forms however, and there is of course more than one way to skin a cat as the United States of America is testament to.  A nation of great achievements, of global power and addictive culture – and Patriotic Pinball.  What better way to celebrate your nation with hitting a steel ball around a table?

Patriotic Pinball (2003)

Patriotic Pinball (2003) <Source: http://www.mobygames.com&gt;

Blatant propaganda or endearing patriotism?  You decide!  Tell us your thoughts by leaving your comments below.  <Sir Gaulian>

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Constant Runner – ten video game tracks to have on your exercise playlist

If you’re like me, video games are one of many things that I spend my free time doing.  You may also be like me in that I find I am having less and less time to actually spend with games, what with all the earning money, keeping fit and domestic duties that have quietly seeped into my daily routine over the years.

In some ways this makes me sad.  But quietly there is a part of me that is grateful that at some point real life got my attention and began to point out to me all of the things I would be missing if I sat staring at a TV screen all day.  That’s not to say that video games aren’t absolutely fantastic things that can enlighten and teach us all, because they certainly do that.  It’s just saying that other there are other things that we should all do to make us better people – in addition to video games.

Anyone will tell you that exercise in one of those things.  Love it or hate it exercising should be an important part of all of our lives.

For me that exercise is running, which I find incredibly rewarding.  Pushing the limits of the human body is almost (at a very long stretch) like succeeding at a very hard video game, or if you’re new to running, getting further and further into the game.  It is a challenging, rewarding, and not to mention healthy hobby.

But if my word doesn’t get your blood pumping, there ARE WAYS you could inject some tunes into your exercise routine.  And what is better than some of your favourite video game tracks to get you started?

Here are ten of my favourite game-related tracks to run to:

  1. Dogfight (from Ace Combat: Assault Horizon)
  2. Wheatley Science (from Portal 2)
  3. Syndicate – Skrillex Remix (from Syndicate)
  4. End of Line (from Tron Legacy)
  5. Valkyrie Run (from Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine)
  6. Fly (from Yakuza 3)
  7. option : the reporter from ch5 (from Space Channel 5)
  8. Maybe I’m a Lion (from Final Fantasy VIII)
  9. Tasso (from Infamous 2: Red Soundtrack)
  10. The Assassin Looms (from The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings)

I’d love to hear your suggestions, so please leave them in the comments below!  And if you’re not into real running, Bit.Trip.Runner (below) is a great little game from Gaijin Games that I wholeheartedly recommend you pick up.

CommanderRunner

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Phoenix Wright 3 wraps things up nicely

Phoenix Wright 3 box artThere really is very little to the Phoenix Wright games, but I can’t get enough of them. In essence the gameplay basically boils down to tapping through screen after screen of dialogue for about 25 hours, occasionally interspersed with the odd section where you’re required to make some leap of logic, but really it’s more like an interactive novel than a game. And that’s no bad thing: as I pointed out in my last post, big RPGs or action games aren’t really suited for handheld gaming, but a bit of light reading is exactly what I want when I’m heading somewhere on the bus.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations is the third game in the series, and it carries on the tradition set by Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All of having far too many subtitles for its own good (in Japan it goes by the rather more economical name of Gyakuten Saiban 3, or Turnabout Trial 3). Why on earth didn’t they just go with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 2 and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 3? It seems the unncessary subtitle is a gaming trend that’s here to stay, unfortunately. I’m playing through El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron at the moment, and the less said about that ludicrous subtitle the better.

Phoenix Wright Trials and Tribulations screenshot 2

Anyway, going back to Phoenix Wright, the third entry in the series turned out to be a pretty satisfying game in that it ties up a lot of the loose ends from the previous two entries, as well as providing a fitting end to the saga of the Fey clan. Not only that, you also get to play as Mia Fey and Miles Edgeworth in a couple of sections, which provides a nice change from stepping into the shoes of the blue-suited one. I won’t bother going into all of the plot details here, but suffice to say there are more outrageously complicated murder trials involving needlessly convoluted set-ups and deviously complicated backstorys, culminating in one uber-trial that seems to involve pretty much every character and plot point from the whole series. As I said, a satisfying ending.

Phoenix Wright Trials and Tribulations screenshot 1

It’s great to see a few more intriguing and bizarre characters introduced as well – Godot, the coffee-swilling masked prosecutor, is a particularly brilliant addition. I was also surprised by how attached to the main characters I’d become by the end of the third game, which I think is testament to the generally excellent writing and translation throughout the series. I spotted a few spelling errors along the way, but the dialogue made me laugh out loud on many occasions, and it’s certainly never boring. I still have a bugbear about the frankly bizarre decision to ‘set’ the game in America when all of the locations and characters are so obviously Japanese (see my previous review), but it’s easy enough to ignore this strange filip for most of the game.

All in all I had a blast with Phoenix Wright 3, and I can’t wait to get stuck into the sequel, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. Here’s hoping Ace Attorney 5 makes it over to the West sometime soon as well…

[As cross-examined by Justice Lucius Merriweather.]

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She says I’m just too controlling

competitionproA500There it sat, full of mould waiting for its next battle.  It was a well made machine of war, having been to hell and back again and battled the most harsh and bloody opponents.  But it was always ready, always standing to attention and willing to follow me into war.  It was my Competition Pro.

It actually was full of mould.  

The Competition Pro by most is regarded as the greatest joystick to grace the Amiga 500.  I certainly consider it so.  Everything about the controller just feels right, the feel of the stick, the tactility of the buttons, the contours of the base.  A fault just could not be found.  It is essentially the epitome of functional industrial design.  Substance over style.    And more importantly it just never broke.  The Competition Pro was the victim, wrongly accused, of many-a-tantrum.  Every time my beloved Brutal Deluxe fell to a lesser team, every death in Shadow of the Beast and every loss in Sensible Soccer saw my beloved thrown to the ground.  Made to suffer for my shortcomings.  And time after time, every time,  I came crawling back to the Competition Pro it – she –  would forgive and forget, and serve me as well as it had the countless times before.  This was a love affair plain and simple.  But a love affair that had to end.  With a new generation I saw younger, prettier models that played the games I wanted to play.  And with that it ended in a flash.

Of course there have been others since.  But none of them, not one has been so unconditionally loyal.  And as beautiful as they have all been since my first, they haven’t had the heart and soul of the one I loved so.  And sometimes that’s all that matters.

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The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is not bus-friendly

The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time box artI’ve finally given up on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. I’m 11 hours in and just about to face the dreaded Water Temple, but I just can’t ever see myself finishing this otherwise excellent remake, and I’ll tell you for why.

It’s impossible to play this game on the bus.

More to the point, it was never designed to be played on the bus – it was designed to be played on a home console for hours at a time, not on a tiny screen for 15 minutes between Holloway and King’s Cross. Every time you load up the game you’re dumped back at either Link’s house or the Temple of Time, which means that the first few minutes of any gaming session are spent trying to remember what you were meant to be doing and then trekking all the way across the game world to get back to where you left off. The Sheikah Stones are a useful addition to the remake, as they provide a vision of your current objective, but even so it’s often tricky to recall exactly where you’re meant to be heading if you haven’t played in a while. Meanwhile, you’re already at Caledonian Road.

legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-3d-screenshot 1

By this point you’re wondering whether it’s even worth bothering to start a dungeon, seeing as there’s only ten minutes of the journey left, and you know that when you turn off the system you’ll be back where you started again. It’s frustrating, and it just shows that the game was never meant to be played on the go.

On the plus side, it’s still as wonderful a game as it was back on the N64, and the added graphical polish makes it look better than ever. The 3D looks really good, but at the same time it gets disorienting in some of the larger caverns, as swinging the camera round too quickly often causes your eyes to lose track of the 3D effect, meaning you’re constantly having to refocus. It’s also impossible to use the 3D on a bumpy bus, as your eyes are constantly being thrown off, so for most of the time I was playing without the 3D switched on. Sadly this is still the main problem with the 3DS: its raison d’etre is 3D, but the times when you most want to play on the thing – on public transport – are also the times when the 3D doesn’t work terribly well.

Despite all of these problems, my first few hours with Ocarina of Time 3D were genuinely brilliant, and a large part of that was clearly down to nostalgia. My first glance of the freshly detailed Great Deku Tree brought back lots of happy memories of discovering the game for the first time, and that rose-tinted nostalgia stayed with me for a long way into my trip through Hyrule. Eventually though frustration set in, and I also started noticing a few niggles, such as the frankly irritating race you have to undergo to get Epona, your trusty horse. I don’t remember finding this a problem in the original, so either I’ve become less patient or I’m used to games being easier nowadays, but I was tearing my hair out trying to beat that bloody ranch owner Ingo. Even more irritating is the fact that you have to pay 50 rupees every time you fail a race, and running out of money means spending ages hunting through pots and bushes for more rupees. Annoying.

legend-of-zelda-ocarina-of-time-3d-screenshot 2

I haven’t picked up the game for probably six months now, and I’ve not had the slightest inclination to play it again, even though I use my 3DS pretty regularly. What I have been playing though is The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which I downloaded from the Nintendo eShop a few months ago. Comparing the two games, it’s easy to see the difference in bus-friendliness: whereas Ocarina of Time is a sprawling epic, Link’s Awakening is divided into bite-size dungeons that are perfect for short journeys, and it also saves the game every time you enter a new area so that you never have to trek back to the action.

For all of these reasons I’ve decided to part with Ocarina of Time 3D: it’s still a fantastic game and a decent remake of the original, but it doesn’t suit the medium. Here’s hoping Nintendo announce a 3DS-exclusive Zelda title soon that takes advantage of the system’s strengths and avoids the pitfalls of Ocarina 3D.

[Penned with a heavy heart by Lucius Merriweather.]

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Dishonored is just the shot in the arm the gaming scene needs

Dishonored Xbox 360 cover artIt’s January, the weather’s horrible outside and no-one has any money – in other words it’s the perfect time to stay in and rattle through a few games from my epic games backlog. No doubt my Australian blogging companion Sir Gaulian is currently sunning himself in the 42 degree heat of the land down under, with games being the last thing on his mind as he tosses another shrimp on the barbie and puts his feet up on a wombat, but for me the cold weather has provided a chance to get some serious gaming time in, and I’ll post the fruits of my labours over the next few days.

The first game to be plucked off the shelf was Dishonored, which is the game I’ve been most looking forward to playing since I bought it about a month ago. I’m glad to say it didn’t disappoint.

It’s quite a brave move for Arkane/Bethesda to release a brand new IP into the world so late in the console cycle: with the Xbox 360 and PS3 in their twilight days, game sales have dwindled away, and most publishers have been relying on sequels to tried and tested mega-franchises, like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, in order to generate much-needed sales. The gamble with Dishonored seems to have paid off though: it topped the charts on its release, and it’s popped up in pretty much every ‘game of the year’ list going.

Dishonored screenshot 1

In terms of actual gameplay, there’s nothing particularly new about Dishonored, and you can feel the influence of a range of games. There’s a heavy emphasis on stealth assassinations, which gives the game a feel of a first-person Assassin’s Creed, and the visual style is very reminiscent of Half-Life 2 – unsurprising really as both games share the same visual designer, Viktor Antonov. In particular, the ‘tall boys’ – biped armoured transports with spindly legs – brought to mind the Striders from Half-Life 2, and some of the later enemies are particularly reminiscent of the Combine. However, I felt the most obvious influence was from BioShock: the combination of a weapon in one hand and mystic powers in the other harks back to the plasmid/gun combo of BioShock 2, and there’s also a BioShock-like emphasis on reading and listening to the many books and audio logs scattered throughout the game in order to learn more about how the game world functions.

So perhaps you could argue that really the game is more like a greatest hits package of all the games that precede it, but even though in some sense it’s derivative, the resulting game certainly feels like a breath of fresh air. The chief reason for this is the elegantly crafted world of Dunwall – the game world feels solid and real, burdened with a great weight of history. Every visual aspect has been lovingly crafted and placed with care, backed up with reams of backstory detailing the motivations of each character and the history of the buildings you walk through. Take Greaves Lighting Oil for instance: one of the game’s brilliant conceits is that in place of crude oil, whale oil is the dominant energy resourse in Dishonored‘s world (something that actually echoes real history). Throughout the game there are references to Greaves Lighting Oil, a company that produces whale oil, and gradually you learn that the oil factory was abandoned after flooding, causing whale oil prices to rise. More than that though, you learn of the cost of industrialisation as high-tech factory ships take over and workers are sucked into the hellish conditions of the whale rendering plants, where child labour is exploited while factory bosses rake in profits. Eventually you arrive at the ruined factory building yourself and get to see at first hand the results of the economic and environmental forces that have wreaked havoc on the city.

Dishonored screenshot 2

It’s the enormous background detail like this that really sets the game apart and allows you to become fully immersed in the world it presents: a beautifully dishevelled fantasy Victorian city, dominated by steampunk machines and tainted with an undercurrent of mysticism and corruption. Visually it feels unique, despite the slight nods to Half-Life 2, and I particularly loved the art style used for the main characters, who have deeply etched, beautifully ugly faces matched with outsize hands and elaborate costumes. Just wandering through the world, admiring the view and reading its history is a delight in itself.

The other thing that makes the game feel unique is the much talked about ‘Blink’ ability, which lets you teleport short distances. It’s a brilliantly empowering tool – just point the cursor somewhere, tap the left shoulder button and you’re magically whisked across the gameworld to the disbelief of watching guards. Chaining successive Blinks allows you to zap yourself out of trouble, slip silently past guards or dart stealthily across rooftops, and it’s an ability that never grows old no matter how much you use it.

Dishonored screenshot 3

However, my absolute favourite aspect of Dishonored is the way it presents you with so many different ways to complete each meticulously crafted level. Each goal can be approached in multiple different ways, such as when you’re tasked with infltrating a high-class party to assassinate the mistress of the High Regent. First you have to get inside: but do you freeze time to sneak past the guards, hop across the rooftops to find an open window or possess a hagfish to sneak in through the sewers? Once inside you need to identify your target, but do you opt to wheedle information out of the guests or sneak through the top-floor bedrooms in the hunt for clues to her identity? As with all of the levels, I initially approached the house with the intention of gaining the ‘Ghost’ achievement for gliding through the level completely undetected, but – inevitably – I was spotted within about ten minutes, and the level quickly descended into a bloodbath, leaving the guests cowering in corners and causing my target to lock herself in her bedroom. I spent ages hunting for a key to the room before I realised I could just smash the door in with a grenade and incapacitate my victim. Job done.

I never did get that Ghost acheivement.

[As penned by a dreadfully unstealthy Lucius Merriweather.]

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