Monthly Archives: September 2015

Konami – you were so good

My latest Kotaku UK article is up – this time it’s a look back at all the games that made Konami great, seeing as all the indications are that they might stop supporting consoles:

RIP Konami Console Games 1983-2015

I should point out that the slightly melodramatic title was the doing of the Kotaku UK eds, although I quite like it – it sums up the grief and annoyance that I and many others feel that Konami no longer seem to be bothered about continuing their beloved franchises. Or coming up with new franchises, for that matter – one thing that struck me when compiling my list was that Konami’s last original franchise of note was the Boktai series, which made its debut back in 2003.

Rakuga Kids was sauce-some. See what I did there?

Rakuga Kids was sauce-some. See what I did there?

There were a few games I’d almost forgotten about, too. Rakuga Kids on the N64 was one – although it will never be regarded as a classic beat ’em up, it was packed full of great characters and I have fond memories of playing it against my little sister.

I also managed to squeeze in a reference to Nine to Five – which was also the last film we covered for 101 Films. And speaking of 1o1 Films, hopefully we’ll have some new podcasts up soon if we can finally get our arses in gear after a lengthy hiatus!

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Honey Moon Solid: Subsistence

I’m officially an adult.  In the dying days of the Australian winter I married the most amazing person I’ve ever met after a lengthy 13 years of what Jane Austen would suitably call ‘courting’.  It was – I think it’s fair to say – the best day of my life, so to celebrate, we took a two week journey to Australia’s eastern island, travelling from the ski-heavy town of Queenstown all the way up the west coast to Greymouth, before crossing over the Christchurch and then heading home.  It was a pretty full on schedule, driving from destination to destination, on a seemingly daily basis.  And that was great, because in a relatively short two weeks, we saw a hell of a lot of what New Zealand’s south island has to offer.

But despite being a hectic schedule, there was plenty of waiting.  Waiting to catch planes at airports.  Waiting to catch trains in Greymouth.  And in the coastal town of Hokitika, waiting for the sandfly hordes to devour my exposed legs, while keeping a campfire going on shitty damp wood.  And as the ‘loud’  flowing stream running in front of our tent kept my new wife awake, waited for the hours until we headed back to the relative civilisation that Christchurch offered.  And finally as I travelled across the admittedly breathtaking scenery that the scenic transalpine wound itself through on the way.

Cook_fromsailortolegend_coverI knew there would be downtime going in, so in the days leading up I carefully planned what I’d need to pass those hours.  Books were the first consideration, and I had an almost romantic image of sitting on the bow of a boat as it made its way through Doubtful Sound, only the sound of its engine and the stillness of the sound as my soundtrack. So it seemed fitting that the first book to make its way into my bag was the rather heavy hardcover copy of Rob Mundle’s definitive biography of the rather brilliant Captain James Cook, Cook: from Sailor to Legend, who happened to name the fiord “Doubtful” 250 years prior to our journey, simply because he was unsure he’d be able to sail out if he and his Endeavour entered from the Tasman Sea.  Being an admirer of Cook, I’ll admit that my imagination ran wild as the boat veered into the rather choppy Tasman sea, recalling my time in the surprisingly cramped replica HMS Endeavour two years ago.

GC_Fierce FocusOf course no trip was going to be complete without a book on Australia’s favourite pastime, and going to New Zealand, it seemed fitting that Australian cricketing great Greg Chappell’s autobiography Fierce Focus made the cut.  Why Greg Chappell, you ask?  Well because of his infamous direction to brother Trevor in 1981 to bowl the final ball of the match – with Brian McKechnie requiring a six to tie the game – underarm.  A low blow sure, but short of running around and opening wounds of New Zealand’s thrashing at the hands of Australia at the Cricket World Cup earlier this year, it felt rather good having a nice subtle pisstake of our friendly rivals across the ditch.  And if that wasn’t enough cricket reading – and seldom is it – I picked up Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography on a whim at a bookshop in Greymouth.  Sadly the little master’s story didn’t get a look in (if you fancy learning more about cricket, i’ve written posts here and here on the matter!).
Of course then came the decision of what games I would take to fill in those painful moments of inactivity.  I needed a line-up that catered to my fickle tastes and restricting myself to just three made for some hard decisions.  And so for a solid hour I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the shelf housing my 3DS collection, making a mental pro and con list for taking each and every game with my on my travels. Super Smash Bros 3DS was a shoe-in, having been the game that has practically lived in my 3DS since its release, recently pulling me through the late nights of Australia’s failed Ashes campaign in England, where I reckon I clocked up a solid 30 hours of nonsensical brawling mayhem.  It’s the sort of game that I play when I can’t be arsed playing a game, and for that reason, I assumed it’d fit the bill of companion to a weary traveller.  Second, I needed something I could sink my teeth into, y’know in case I got stuck anywhere unexpectedly.  “Fire Emblem would do nicely”, i thought to myself.  Turns out I did get stuck somewhere, as freak snow hit the Haast Pass, bogging the car and stranding us in the freezing cold for a few hours.  Fire Emblem however never got a look in as we instead chose the mature option of building snowmen.

My First Snowman

The last game was a captain’s pick, based less on how they’d dovetail into the trip, and more because it was a flavour of the month.  Lamenting the fact that I was missing out on the launch of Hideo Kojima’s opus and finale to his long-running tale of nonsense and espionage debauchery, Metal gear Solid V, I chucked in the somewhat compromised 3DS port of Metal Gear Solid 3 as a sort of consolation.  Having struggled with the controls years ago, shelving it after only a handful of hours, I felt it was the best and perhaps only chance it’d ever have of getting a look in.

It didn’t.  And that became the story of the trip. Because despite having ample opportunity in the hours spent periodically checking my watch waiting for the next leg of our journey, not once did I care to pick up the 3DS located conveniently in my backpack.  Not once did I think “You know what’d be better than watching New Zealanders very slowly go about their business?  A video game”.  Instead there I was staring into space, wondering why McDonalds in New Zealand sells meat pies, and all the while having an unplanned hiatus from video games.

Two weeks later, I arrived back home, a newly married and slightly more well travelled but tired man. New Zealand is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, and if you haven’t been you’re certainly doing yourself a disservice.  But if there’s anything our two week dalliance with our beautiful neighbouring nation, it’s that there’s nowhere I’d rather be than right smack bang in the middle of Oceania on this enormous, dry and beautiful continent we call Australia.  But it also revealed something about myself and my gaming habits, while perhaps giving me a glimpse into my gaming future, or more aptly lack of it.  I left as someone who was up in arms that he’d miss the launch of Metal Gear Solid V and returned as one who hasn’t given a moment’s thought to running down to the shops and picking it up.    And as my 3DS still sits in my backpack, probably fully charged, it almost feels as if I’ve played it for the last time.  I haven’t of course but it’s hard not to think that the sun is starting to set on videogames’ place at front and centre of my free time.  And that’s a rather exciting prospect.

TasmanSea2015_NZtrip

Sunset over the Tasman Sea (2 September 2015)

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Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

PS_Wii_XenobladeChronicles_PEGIMy god that game was long. After something like 116 hours, I’ve finally put Xenoblade Chronicles to bed, and now I can move on with my life.

That description makes it sound like I had an awful time, but that’s far from the truth. I mean, I wouldn’t have bothered playing the game for so long if I wasn’t having fun. But there definitely came a point towards the end when the balance of “fun” to “unnecessary grinding” tipped too far in the wrong direction. It probably kicked in just at about the time when I was struggling to find an ice cabbage.

First things first though, Xenoblade works mostly because the setting is so wonderfully ludicrous and fun to explore. The game is set on the body of an enormous giant, and scurrying along the creature’s verdant kneecap while watching the eerily glowing eyes of another enormo-giant in the distance is as epic as it sounds. In short, it’s a fun world to explore, and the game is at its best when it gives you side quests that prompt you to seek out the farthest corners of the world and encounter unique monsters. Often these quests will generate other quests, and I spent hours happily padding back and forth, filling in bits of the map and generally having a great time.

xenoblade-chronicles-3d

Unfortunately, however, the game overdoes it a bit on the quest front – with over 400 side quests, many of which are meaningless collect-a-thons, exasperation eventually sets in. My breaking point was the moment when I was one step away from the final bit of colony reconstruction, only to realise that the quest to get the parts I needed would involve levelling my characters from from around 80 to 90 – i.e. several hours’ worth of grinding. It seemed a shame to leave the colony unfinished, but my gaming time is at a premium now and I can’t waste it on grinding: so I bit the bullet and faced the final boss.

Speaking of which, the ending of the game is great, and in general the story is a cut above the generic RPG fare, mostly thanks to its setting. My only major quibble is the sheer amount of similar collecting missions – if they’d just trimmed down the number of quests and kept the fairly meaty ones that actually affect the characters or story in some way, the game would have benefited.

Unfortunately, it seems that the sequel, Xenoblade Chronicles X, has gone the other way, with an even bigger world and more quests – and I can’t help but think they won’t be able to top the setting of a world atop two giants.

Less is sometimes more, right?

xenoblade-chronicles-great-falls-screenshot

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