Countdown to E3-games that rock my world.

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3) will be held between the 7th and 9th of June somewhere in the United States. It is a trade show involving all the movers and shakers from the video game industry, and is basicly my kind of thing. As I am unable to be there in person (although I am VERY much hoping to be in Japan for the Tokyo Games Show in September) I thought I’d occupy my pining for video games (and countdown to time when all the decent games for the 3DS come out and therefore warrant purchasing the thing).

This is a list of games that I have loved, liked, or generally been driven mad by over the last god-knows-how-long. I have tried to group franchised games together and give them their own retrospective. I have also tried to be as diplomatic as possible, but I of course have my faves.

SO… I thought I would kick things off with the first ever video game (and system) I owned as a kid…Alex Kidd in Miracle world.

I still to this day remember the theme music and the HOURS of time we spent riding pedal powered helecopters and avoiding and trying to kill that giant octopus hiding the secret area. Also, looking back, one of the main elements was playing Jyan-Ken (rock, paper, scissors) against bosses to progress. This has taken on a whole new realm of resonance for me being in Japan, as the Japanese are OBSESSED with it, from kids with their overly animated actions to grown adults trying to make a decision fairly. This game will always be my

first and fondest memory of entering video game culture.

Game 2 is………….

Bishi Bashi Special (Playstation, 1998- Japan)

See what I did there?!

Anyway, the best way to describe this game is ‘competitive chaos’. People are probably more aware of a game called ‘Wario Ware’ that is on various Nintendo consoles, and is same kind of thing. But…Bishi Bashi takes the randomness to a whole new level!

It was a game I was introduced to in my 3rd year of uni, and it held its own against the likes of pro evo and Mario Kart regarding this delicate recipe:

take a group of students, add a large volume of beer, and a mainly testosterone fuelled level of competitiveness, simmer for an hour or two and add a very fitting video game to channel said competitiveness. Finally, after hours of shouting, banter and general fun, try to remember the night!

This game had the key element of  ‘I have NO idea what is going on but neither has my opponent- and I’m going to WIN!!!!!!’ Skill was not a word that was in this games vocabulary, and it was all the better for it. half the fun was trying to figure out what to do, and THEN beat the poor sod sitting next to you- and they had an expression on their face resembling a post ‘Donnie Darko’ sitting.

pure, undiluted Japan best served with friends!

smiles= good!
No idea...

Game 3… Turok/ Turok 2.

It’s 2011. Nintendo (still) have a  reputation for creating cute, bright and colourful video games and arguably pioneering (although certain competitors thought certain motion controls were gimmicky and would be a passing phase…) systems to play them on. They are still a major player in the industry, despite some obsession that the gaming public has with online gaming.

Anyway, my point is that back in 1997 the launch of the N64 was competing with the more mature titles on Sony Playstation and Sega’s Saturn/ Dreamcast.  Acclaim had pretty much one last roll of the dice before floating to the big developer place in the sky, and Nintendo were eager for third parties to show off what their new hardware could do and appeal to people other than the plumber loving masses. Together with a certain Bond game which I will OBVIOUSLY cover at some point, Acclaim made Turok.

A first person shooter based on their own comic that had buckets of atmosphere (mainly accredited to the fogging to disguise the distance issues caused by the consoles technical limit), oodles of prehistoric beasties that staggered, ran, jumped and dropped in your path, and some ridiculous weaponry to make as much mess with as you pleased. Turok was a massive (by 1997’s standards) game, both in scope, difficulty, and the financial commitment. The first one cost 70 QUID! even by N64s pocket burning standards, it was a statement of intent.

A year later, a sequel arrived, boasting the (criminally underused) 4mb expansion pack. Turok 2- Seeds of Evil consiquently looked AMAZING. The locations, enemies and scale of the game matching anything around at the time, whether console or PC, and with the final boss (The Primagen) making the Campaigner (the first games final boss, and pretty much anyone else) look like Mary Whitehouse at a Tom and Jerry convention. It also introduced the world to the ‘Cerebral Bore’- which I think is one of the most absurd weapons ever created in a video game. The gun fired a kind of shell, that dug and bored into the enemies brain (complete with near eye-watering sound effects) and after a few seconds, blew up. They don’t quite make them like they used to!

The Cerebral Bore- I think he has now got a bit of a head ache...

Game 4.

to celebrate the fact that I FINALLY got my grubby mitts on a 3DS, I thought I’d go for (in my opinion) the greatest fighting series of them all…

Street Fighter. 1987- present.

One word… HADOKEN!!!

In I wanted SNES and Street Fighter 2 (something that has never left me!) but whatever consoles I have owned since, Street Fighter has been a secure favorite of mine. Admittedly, Street Fighter EX plus Alpha felt like a sluggish and surly beast compared to the work of art that Street Fighter 4 turned out to be. SF4 breathed new life into a series that was in serious danger of being swept under the nostalgia carpet, but not only managed to get the balance between satisfying old school faithful,  gave a new generation the same experience that took over arcades in the early 90’s. Since being in Japan, I have played SF2 and SF4 in the arcades- a bleary eyed journey through the last 20ish years of the humble fighting game. Mortal Kombat might have had the gimmick of gore filled lunacy, and Virtua Fighter and Tekken maybe technical showcase for their respected home systems, and games like Marvel vs Capcom added variety, but Street Fighter will always be the most fun you can have whilst furiously bashing buttons- be it on coin-op or console. Add to THAT, the game I played on the 3DS was, you guessed it, SF43D. And for the record, it is awesome.

Game 5- Auto Modellista (2002, PS2, XBOX, Gamecube)

If I was forced to chose between style and substance, the chances are that I would choose the first one. I had my eye on Auto Modellista for a while. I’ve never been a fan of realistic racing games, mainly because I’m rubbish at them and haven’t got the patience. This game had the opinion splitting ‘cell shaded’ look, which for a racing game made it one-of-a-kind and I thought it was quite cool. Things were looking good, a decent amount of praise and interest at the 2002 E3. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm was not shared with the currency parting punters, and it was a commercial flop. It was also a real shame that the game handled like a 3 legged rhino with gout. which is never cool. Maybe one to try again…

Game 6- Bomberman (1983-present)

I think Bomberman has existed in some way shape form on every console that has ever been released. There were multi player games before this, but especially with utilising various consoles’ ‘multi tap’ peripherals, Bomberman cemented a place in the 16 bit generations hearts with pure cartoon carnage and damn good laugh that you could shake a controller at. Various incarnations have tried to ignore the simple charm and mechanics (The N64 version I actually had a soft spot for) and the Xbox ‘effort’ (tragically) reimagined the franchise and what resulted was a soulless mess. Somewhat ironically (and annoyingly), the more advanced consoles and hand helds become, the more Hudson seem pressured to make a more ‘complete’ or ‘contemporary’ iteration- which unfortunately seems to gradually distance the fans that grew up with a charming, basic and chaotic fun fest. Maybe, if it ain’t broke…

Game 7

Okami.

After a watching an Americanised (but knowing the original story, no less moving) version of the legendary Japanese dog Hatchiko, I thought I would continue the theme and take some time to recognise one of the most stylistically Japanese (not all Japanese games are just random!) game I have experienced- Okami.

The game uses a lot of Japanese mythology and the visuals look like a moving water colour painting (sumi-e) and looks stunning. It was one of the last games released for the Playstation 2 (with a control-specific port on the Wii and a sequel just released on the DS) and therefore was enjoyed by reviewers and unjustifiably overlooked by the public, which is a real shame. It also borrowed a lot of game mechanics from a series involving some little dude wearing a green hat (I forget the name…) but Okami was an overall experience all of its own. The Celestial brush worked in a similar way to the above-mentioned dude’s little clay musical instrument (again I forget…). When you unlocked a new ability, you were able to bring up a ‘canvas’ on screen and draw certain objects such as bombs. When ported to the Wii (the version I spent most time with) the game achieved a new level of control (say what you like about the Wii) and therefore felt more immersive. The new version on the DS (which I hope will achieve more commercial success than its older brother) should go further to enhance controls and be the systems swansong.

celestial brush

http://www.computerandvideogames.com/293400/features/how-japanese-folklore-inspired-okamiden/

I have been slack- game 8 coming soon…

This is a story about an ape.

30 years ago, a young, upcoming designer by the name of Shigeru Miyamoto (if you are reading this, then you WILL know who he is!) was employed by Nintendo to ‘Americanise’ a space shooter that had received poor feedback from test audiences. Rather than redesign the game, he used the hardware to create what has become one of the most iconic and beloved video game characters (and game series) in the industry. You can forget your Master Chief or Felix whateverhisnameis (and countless others for that matter) and go bananas for a true legend.

Donkey Kong.

In 1980, an arcade game was released which involved a giant ape, a princess and a portly Italian plumber with a tash. The idea was to avoid barrels being lobbed by said ape to rescue said princess. It was as simple as that. The game, both in the arcades and as various Game and Watch incarnations became massively successful, but when it came to the home console market, Mario was flying the flag with another adversary to save his ever kidnap prone princess from. When the ape and the plumber went their separate ways between 1984 and 1994 (although regularly meeting up again, but I will get to that) the ape needed a bit of a reinvention to cater for the advancement in technology and consumers desire for more than arcade goodness.

1990-1994. Sega’s Mega drive (or Genesis if you are in North America) had a head start on the Super Nintendo but interest was slow until a game was released involving a speedy blue hedgehog and suddenly, the Mega drive went from struggling in unchartered territory, to counter anticipation for the SNES to genuine parent botherer.

1994- Return of the Kong.

The Super Nintendo has had some of the greatest games ever made (sorry Sony and Microsoft fan boys). The system was launched with one of the most beloved games of the era (if not of all time) Super Mario World. But 2 years on once the Mega Drive had gained a bit of momentum and a more  ‘mature’ image, but after the potential of Pilotwings and Star Fox, it was time to see what Nintendo’s 16-bit beast could really do.

A small British based company called Rare produced the perfect mixture of developing a series of loveable characters from a much loved game of yesteryear, with (at the time) revolutionary pre-rendered and detailed character models, parallax-scrolling backgrounds, lighting and weather effects together with a great (though not quite perfect) platform engine. The result was Donkey Kong Country. Not only was DKC a system seller, it put the character right back in the frame to make subsequent sequels and spin offs. 2 more games were made for the SNES before 1996 and the N64 came to take over.

1997- 2004- round two.

With the release of the N64 (and Super Mario 64), Kong had a sense of deja-vu on his mind. As with the SNES, DKC had been technically a superior game to Super Mario World, but never quite matched the perfect balance, and it was the same when Donkey Kong 64 was released. An absolute behemoth of a platform game. REQUIRING the 4mb expansion pack to show off the beautiful, expansive 3D worlds and no less than 5 playable characters. Add weapons and musical instruments to the mix and it was no weekend rental job. Not only was Mario 64 a landmark game, but Rare had almost made the task impossible for themselves by making Banjo Kazooie a year earlier. As great a game as DK64 is, it felt like more of the same.

2003- Konga time.

I spent a lot of time at University playing a rhythm action game that went by the name of Donkey Konga. It involved a set of plastic bongos, catchy party songs to try and beat in time to, and usually a lot of beer and sore hands in the morning! I will leave it there, because if you haven’t played this (or decent rhythm games- guitar hero and rock band do NOT count) then you probably won’t understand. It was great fun though!

There was also a (largely overlooked) platform game ‘Donkey Kong’s Jungle Beat’, which used the bongos to control Kong through a small number of levels, but that really isn’t the main aim. It’s all about smashing the hell out of the bongos to get ‘beats’ or pummel the great looking bosses to progress.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong series were great little platform/ puzzle games; similar to lemmings, and involving getting all the little Mario’s to a goal, avoiding various enemies and traps. The level designer in the second game also was a very successful time killer.

Aaaaaaand that’s about it. Oh, wait. At the end of last year, the (apparently dead) Wii was granted an old school, proper Donkey Kong game. Together with Metroid Other M, Retro Studios made Nintendo fans very happy indeed by making a (sometimes mentally) difficult, amazing looking nod to the good old days. With New super Mario Brothers Wii already released, my fears were ‘Here we go- round three’… But I think DK might have this one…

Kong is king!!!

Game 9.

There are two types of horror games. Anyone who knows me will know that the ‘other’ type is one of my favourite games of all time, but I will not even mention its name, for fear (pun intended) of going off on a tangent. For this instalment of ‘games that rock my world’, I will concentrate in ‘the first type’. A series of games that concentrated on jumps, guns, a virus, scares, zombies, fixed camera angles and THAT fmv face that looked over it’s shoulder at you.

Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan, 1996-present)

Whilst the plucky plumber was starting to go into the 3rd dimension, Capcom was busy creating a game for the Playstation that proved to be one of the defining titles in distancing the machine from its charcoal grey, cartridge wielding competitor.

First, a brief history lesson.

Sony and Nintendo weren’t always in competition for the pocket money and Television time of households and their offspring. During the SNES days, they were in talks to co-produce a CD-ROM based add-on. Things went sour after the two companies could not agree for various reasons, and Sony decided to go their own way. Ken Kutaragi, dubbed ‘the father of the Playstation’ formed Sony Computer Entertainment, and managed to entice developers such as EA and Namco. The Playstation’s use of discs as opposed to cartridges made the console more cutting edge, and the third party support was strong. It could also be considered the first popular multi media entertainment device. Being able to play games as well as standard music CDs was seen as another big selling point.

This combined with impressive tech demos that showed off what it had under the hood, and it was clear to see the transition from 16 to 32-bit was not going to be a two horse race. With a bit of a head start on the Sega Saturn and Nintendo still favouring cartridges, Sony found and captured a demographic that was not just kids, but adults looking for the evolution the industry had been yearning and looking for. 1993’s Amiga CD and later, The Atari Jaguar, despite their supposed technical muscle failed to have a consistent and genuine leap forward in games and had not captured the media and consumers attention.

The Playstation had an arcade theme to it in the beginning, with versions of Ridge Racer, Wipeout and Tekken being in the launch window. It was the first time that graphics and games with this level of realism had been seen on a home console, and with Sega releasing ‘stop gaps’ such as the 32X, the stage was set. It wasn’t until adventure games such as Tomb Raider and Resident Evil dropped in 1996 that the Playstation really began to gain momentum, and the Survival Horror genre was born.

Resident Evil came along and scared the bejesus out of me. The movie-like characters, story and cut scenes (at the time, a relatively new term) immersed players into a world of fear, suspense and a battle for survival. I for one can still remember jumping when the zombie dog leapt through the window of that mansion. Pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera angles helped construct a realistic and atmospheric environment that tested audiences’ lateral thinking, aim and nerve. I consider one of the most iconic elements of resident evil to be the excruciatingly long ‘opening door’ transitions. Marketing would say it was building tension (which it did), but in reality, it was trying to disguise the Playstation’s technical limitations and loading times.

There have been numerous sequels, remakes and other media tie-ins, including a dreadful bunch of movies, but I don’t think there are many games at the time that could encapsulate what an audience were looking for in interactive home entertainment like the first Resi.

Only Resident Evil 4 has come close to matching the originals sense of ambition, and a celebrated game play shift, with the spin-offs either rehashing the classic formula or going for a more ‘arcadey’ action-horror approach.

Forever copied, never bettered and constantly trying to capture the old magic, the Resident Evil series may be showcasing modern machines engine and graphical capabilities, but the old school cheap scares and cheesy B-Movie dialogue seemed to be lacking for now.

Game 10 is big…

Really big…

2005 was a truly epic (pun intended) year for video games. World of Warcraft was just starting to take over the world and Modern Warfare 2 (which eventually did, becoming the best selling video game of all time in the UK and the second best selling in the US, depressingly) was still 4 years away.

The Playstation 2 was holding its own against the imminent release of the XBOX 360, and by the time the red ringed machine launched, Sony’s mighty but soon-to-be replaced rival still had no less than 10 AAA titles released from the back end of 2004 and going through 2005.

Today, the market is flooded with sequels, updates, DLCs, maps and probably other things I care not to know about, but in November 2005, Microsoft’s big black box SHOULD have been overshadowed (again, pun intended) by a game that is always challenging for the coveted title of the best game ever made. Anyone who says video games cannot be art need to experience this game.

That game is…

Shadow of the Colossus.

The game concept is pretty much as simple as they come. No multiple playable characters, weapons, levels (as such), no complex dungeons to navigate or lengthy dialogue to endure. It is about a boy, with a sword, a bow and a horse for company. His task is to resurrect a girl due to her being sacrificed because she had a cursed destiny. He and his faithful steed must scour the games vast overworld in search of 16 ‘Colossi’ and return to the Shrine where the girl lies in order to lift the curse.

This synopsis does little justice to a game where the plot and characters have infinitely more resonance by actually experiencing the game (which I encourage you to do). Notice that I didn’t use the word play. To just ‘play’ this game is like saying you just ‘hear’ Mozart or just ‘see’ a Picasso. The analogy might be difficult for some to comprehend, but I believe Shadow of the Colossus is one of the few cases that exemplifies that video games CAN be either an aesthetic or interactive art form.

Rarely does a game portray a genuine and visceral sense of isolation, self-reflection and the soundtrack generating an atmosphere normally associated with film, whilst technically showing what the Playstation 2 could do, in both environment, scale and character models. The Colossi are exactly that, creating a sense of scale truly unrivalled, arguably still to this day. God of War may have gone mental in the boss department, but ‘Colossus’ still maintained a story and characters that take the player on an epic journey of discovery in a subtle, emotional and gorgeous manner.

The high definition re-release of ‘Colossus’ along with its spiritual sequel ‘Ico’ and the team’s new title ‘The Last Guardian’, the temptation to invest in a PS3 is almost unbearable. In my opinion, the game rivals anything that Peter Jackson has committed to celluloid. This story of one boy and his horse is just as epic.

Game 11 is… Brain Training (DS, 2005-Japan)

HEAR ME OUT!

Games like Fallout, COD and Halo may have taken over peoples lives over the last few years, but when Brain Training was released in the UK in 2006, I, and quite a few others were addicted to it. I am sad enough to admit that I watched ‘Countdown’ as a kid and even now, shows like ‘Are you smarter than a 10 year old’ frighten me to my very soul. I can spout rubbish about media/ music/ film etc till the beer stops flowing, but mental arithmatic, logic puzzles and spelling etc, especially for a teacher (which I can now call myself) I am SHAMEFULLY bad at.

Brain Training was developed by Nintendo by using the research of a Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima. Although Nintendo never claimed that the product had any scientific validation that it improved your brain, it was nonetheless a fun and bite sized distraction from work and occasionally TV.

Puzzles varied from simple addition and subtraction, join the dots, memory games and spelling to reciting piano excerpts and reading passages from great novels. It also included the almost criminally popular and addictive Sudoku, which took off at around the same time. The game was also part of Nintendo’s plan to take over the world again, by making the DS appeal to kids and their parents alike. For me and my housemates, it had an element of competitiveness (due to the timed challenges) that filled the ad breaks during serial drama time quite nicely. It was something that you could spend 2 minutes on (the tag line being ‘train your brain in 2 minutes a day’) or just use as a (pretty expensive if used exclusively) sudoku toy.

With devices like the I phone, I pod, I pad and various smart phones that are probably more powerful than my laptop, games such as this are all over the place. But I still remember playing this for the first time, and thinking… well… I always have been a bit of a geek…!

My two pence.

Ok. First things first. There have been light wobbles this week, both in Japan, but also on the Internet. These wobbles- on the net at least- turned into full-scale rumblings regarding the successor to the box-like juxtaposition that will forever be the victim of some considerable debate (and urine jokes), the Nintendo Wii.

In true ‘me’ fashion, a quick recap. The successor to the Gamecube was previously codenamed ‘Revolution’. A kind of cool and potentially enticing product name to try and win back the demographic lured and trapped by the electronic behemoths Sony and Microsoft (slightly respectively). What was delivered was a fun, relatively inexpensive and, indeed, revolutionary device. If you don’t believe or agree with me, then Sony and Microsoft would not have released the Move or Kinect. the writing was on the wall for all to see. What was once a ‘gimmick’ and would never last, got people who had never held a controller, and, maybe ironically, got them up and playing video games.

Despite sales figures (which are massive by the way, combined with Nintendo STILL making a profit on each unit sold- take THAT Sony!) and key IP’s providing some truly inspirational titles, the Nintendo Wii (as it became) is still considered somewhat of a betrayal by Nintendo on it’s faithful- although, the term ‘hardcore’ in video game terms, I think, was invented by games like COD and Halo. Nevertheless, there were some elements of the Wii and Nintendo’s philosophy that left the non-waggling public a little disappointed. I sit on the fence to be honest. I thought the Wii was a great thing to get involved with, especially in a social setting. But looking at the competition, there are only so many party games and a few exclusive IPs before I thought maybe it was time to jump ship. I have owned a PS1 and PS2, as well as a Gamecube and Wii, but now is the time I (HOPEFULLY!!!) can justify holding back from getting a PS3 (sorry Bill…)

SO… enough corporate rhetoric, this is MY wish list for the long rumoured, and maybe sooner-than-expected unveiling and release of the console to get Nintendo back into the game they haven’t been in for 15 years. Codenamed Project Café or (Wii2, Stream, or what I prefer at the moment- the N6)…

1)    3rd party support.

I find it quite depressing that Modern Warfare 2 is the best selling game in history in the UK, and the second best selling in the US. While I am not an advocate for war games per se (on the contrary, in fact), there are some elements regarding games like COD that Nintendo NEED to address. One of the main things that held back both 3rd party developers and their games was the lack of horsepower under the Wii’s hood. COD has appeared on the Wii, but a shadow of the phenomenon that has taken over PS3 and 360. It would really put Nintendo back in the running with a serious games machine that could technically take on PS3 and 360. Games like COD, GTA, Red Dead Redemption and Street Fighter 4 and others have been massive on both platforms. These games in particular lead me on to my next point.

2)    ONLINE!

This machine needs to tear apart the competition in terms of online play. SF4 on the 3DS has proved that Capcom want to push the system and their software in terms of connectivity and user base. It might take a while for fan boys to defect, but the implementation and execution of a seamless online interface would bring Nintendo closer to where the action is. And that is before things like demos, DLC, and trophies are used- and lets face it- a new Zelda dungeon or new Mario Kart tracks via DLC should excite any Nintendo fan waiting for their Playstation or Microsoft mates to stop laughing at them.

3)    INNOVATION!

Nintendo historically have changed the way people play video games, since the days of the NES. Every game on current gen systems owe at least one of their technical or aesthetic elements to a Nintendo game and/or system. 3D? Analogue control? There are too many to mention. Even though the Wii got a Nintendo console into non-gamers homes, I’m sure there are people out there who have a PS3 or 360 just because the waggle was not their bag- secretly hoping for 3rd, Nintendo-reared horse to mix things up. With the rumours that it will technically surpass anything available at the moment, it gives Nintendo at least 2 years to fully embrace and utilise developers and public alike and to take what is happening at the moment with the consumption of digital media (I phone anyone?) and make the stage their own again. An integrated touch screen in the controller? Streaming full games? Who knows what those mad scientists have up their sleeves…? Not only do Nintendo need to deliver on their promises for the 3DS- their execution and reputation of both will be needed and scrutinised fully on the ‘N6’.

4)    New, killer IPs.

Mario, Zelda and Kong will get you so far, but with new and superior tech behind you, the time to introduce new, mature, complex, cinematic and organic IPs is NOW! Games like Unchartered, Assassins Creed and God of War show that incredible realism is possible whilst not sacrificing game play. And if anyone can do it, I hope Nintendo can. They have some of the best in the business who are making engines and level designs based on beloved, albeit familiar and (dare I say it) almost obsolete franchises. DON’T GET ME WRONG! My thinking is that how awesome would it be to have a Zelda game with the scope and visuals of something like Shadow of the Colossus, God of War, or a 3D Pokemon game rivalling FFXIII (OK, I’m not into Pokemon, but it still a massive cash cow) or F-Zero truly rivalling Wipeout. There are franchises that were tragically overlooked or done a disservice to on the Gamecube and/or Wii, and they NEED to be rebooted. And please, for the love of Mario- IGNORE the 360 ‘re-imagining’ of Bomberman! I hope I’m not contradicting myself!!!

5)    Kidnap Kojima!

With MGS3 coming out for the 3DS, I sincerely hope that ‘Rising’ will not only appear on the ‘N6’ but also obliterate the other versions. Or better yet, an MGS N6 exclusive telling the story of Snake and Grey Fox in Zanzibar…

Pipe dreams aside, Konami is a massive player in terms of software, and truly definitive versions of key franchises such as Pro Evo, MGS would go down a treat. Get Rockstar, Capcom and Square on board and we may be in for a very interesting year or two.

6)    Blu Ray.

I am certainly NOT an adopter of Blu Ray, but it would be nice when I finally give in and get a HD TV, that my new Nintendo Console had HD visuals and a drive to play my movies on. I realise Nintendo are a gaming company, but it took them 5 years to convert to optical discs. I think it is an inevitability to be honest, but we will wait and see…

Right. If you think that you’re A (or X) button is only for reloading, then I’m afraid you’re mistaken. Before war games took over the consciousness of the game playing world, a moustache wielding plumber previously known as Jump man had a princess to save. He is the icon of the industry and has flown the flag for Nintendo for over 25 years. I was still in nappies when he first defeated King Koopa, and since then he has been a pioneer of innovation and changing the perceptions of interactive entertainment. For the man that needs minimal introduction, I present to you- Mario.

I am going to keep the history lesson light, as I have my favourite game of ALL TIME to talk about. Suffice to say, in the early eighties, the video game industry had reached a bit of a block in terms of originality. Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and Pac Man were insanely popular, to the point where the public yearned for not only more, but something they could sink their teeth into at home. Too many substandard games and consoles lost consumer confidence and it took a few years of testing for the American retail market to fully embrace the NES, but when they did, the industry not only had its first genuine landmark console, but a more than adequate mascot to go with it. Along with several other, now household names, the Mario games, at over 200 million, is the best selling series ever. Nothing comes close. The first one ALONE sold over 40 million copies and was the best selling video game for over two decades.

The Super Nintendo launched with Super Mario World, which is considered the best example of the platform game genre, with good reason. Teeming with ideas, quirks and a genuine showcase of level and character design, Mario had reached what many thought was the pinnacle of the linear run and jump format.

1996. The Ultra 64 was launched after many delays and hype reaching unbearable levels. Sony Play station (and to a lesser extent, the Sega Saturn) became a logical and pioneering step forward for the public looking to advance from the SNES/ Mega drive era.

The PlayStation had over 1100 games compared to the N64’s fewer than 400, but success of the N64 can be attributed to a few landmark games, the first and arguably the most innovative…

Was Super Mario 64.

I love this game.

It was the perfect transition and progression from 2d to 3d, taking everything that made Mario games fun and popular and throwing them into an immersive, continually interesting, fully 3D and colourful world. That combined with genius level design, fluid character models and a strong engine makes this game very special. Considering cartridges had only 10% of the memory compared to CDs.

Here is an extended list (but not all) of things that make (present tense) Mario 64, in my (and many others) opinion, the best game ever made.

The giant world lovingly recreated from SMB3 in full 3D

Developing the controller for a system and the game side by side, flawlessly utilising innovations such as the control stick and 4 camera buttons.

Sneaking up to and punching piranha plants.

Surfing on koopa shells.

Jumping into a painting at different heights to adjust the water level of ‘Wet Dry World’.

Going in at different times to change the timing of the mechanism of the ‘Tick Tock Clock’ level.

Rolling a snowball down the whole of a level to see it being reunited with its head and making a giant snowman.

A vast, varied and brilliantly implemented set of character moves.

Exploration of 15 vast, different worlds, full to the brim with tasks, characters and secret areas.

Racing Koopa the quick

Seeing the submerged door outside the castle when you first start the game, thinking ‘how do I get THERE?!’ and later on, emptying the moat.

Finding out how to get into the haunted house and boo on the balcony.

Terminator Mario.

The boulder rolling at the start of ‘Hazy Maze Cave’, in a great homage to Indiana Jones.

Getting in to and exploring inside the pyramid.

The eel/ getting inside the sunken ship.

The Penguin slide.

The hands boss inside the pyramid.

The Bowser levels and spinning him around.

The sitar tinged music to the lava level.

I have tried to keep it as concise as possible, because it would be easy for me to descend into a bleary eyed mess of hyperbole and nostalgia. Mario 64 will always be a contender for the best video game ever made. BUT just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy 2. As much as I thought the first was amazing (and it is) I don’t love it as much as Galaxy 2, purely because 2 is more of a love letter to what has made all Mario games great over a quarter of a century. Whether I’m still playing it in 15 years remains to be seen. Yes, Mario 64 is 15 in June!

But I will say again- if you think online play, levelling up or war simulation games are the be all and end all, Super Mario 64 (along with a few other N64 titles) were the real nucleus of where modern video game ideas stem from.

It was a very, very close call. My previous entry was my favourite and one of the most revolutionary video games in the history of the industry. But while the plumber was running and jumping into 3 dimensions, a young challenger to Miyamoto’s throne was working on a significant reinvention of his own franchise.

In 1986, a college graduate had aspirations of joining the video games industry after being heavily influenced by the Super Famicom and, ironically enough, Super Mario Brothers. Unfortunately, his first project was canned after 6 months, and the despondent young man was given one last chance to create an action combat game. What he designed was not a ‘run and gun’ rehash like many before it (even in the early days, a winning formula generated a lot of similar games wanting in on the action (pun intended). He went against the grain and created a game where the porogative was to avoid confrontation. Also the game carried a much deeper story and set of characters that was previously seen, especially considering the limitations of hardware.

It was a risk and a hard sell to his superiors at Konami (guessed who it is yet…?) but fellow games designers were very impressed, and the game debuted on the MSX and became popular on the NES. An unofficial (and disappointingly generic) sequel followed, prompting a colleague to persuade him to make a proper sequel in 1990. The slow burning success and two other franchises meant the next instalment waited in limbo until the birth of the Playstation in 1995. It would be 2 years until the reveal and a further year until the release of, in my opinion, one of the truly greatest, most ambitious, and innovative series in the modern era.

The man is Hideo Kojima.

The game is Metal Gear Solid.

While the joy of playing Mario 64 was in the near perfect transfer of the 2D institution that went before it, Metal Gear Solid started to bridge the gap between movies and video games like nothing else. Never had a game had such a rich and diverse array of characters, each with their own motives, personalities and back-stories. Backed up by amazing artwork from one Yoji Shinkawa, MGS was a technical and stylistic masterpiece.

The first 3d iteration of MGS also showed what the Playstation was truly capable of. The graphics look a bit ropey now (my advice would be to play The twin Snakes, which is essentially the same game, but with MGS2 graphics) but the physical structure of the indoor and out door environments was spectacularly realised with the inclusion of a cinematic camera system, built from the ground up to visually emphasise the stealth element of the game and to give the player a genuine sense of atmosphere and scale. Add to that, a seamless and extensive weapons and items system and a score worthy of Hollywood, and a true classic was formed.

The set pieces in this game still hold up today as some of the most groundbreaking on any system. From the opening credits rolling while you infiltrate the first area, to the battle with psycho mantis and even looking for the infamous CD case (if, after 13 years you haven’t played the game, I won’t spoil it). Suffice to say it evoked the same reaction as wondering around a certain castle merely 2 years before. The complex and layered plot touched on things from genetic engineering and morality, to espionage and political unrest.

MGS was not without it’s critics. Kojima himself proclaimed that he went into the project to create the best Playstation game ever. In my opinion, he succeeded. But the game was massively hyped and delayed, and many were against the long cut scenes fleshing out a game that could be finished in a day or two. But I believe that is missing the point. MGS is an experience that very few games have managed to replicate, not least back in 1998.

Subsequent games have had increasingly long, increasingly complex (to the point of just plain incomprehensible) story lines, and the surprise in the second game is still being felt, with the (again delayed) Metal Gear Solid Rising hoping to establish that particular characters credibility in the series.

MGS3 provided a welcome back-story, combined with a different location and some great boss battles (an area which the MGS series seldom disappoints), with subsistence being the best example on last gen consoles.

One thing is for sure. The MGS series has continually pushed the graphical capabilities of the respective hardware and taken the player on an epic and at times confusing journey. Now all that needs to happen is a HD remake of the first three games on Nintendo’s new dream machine.

For part 1 of this double header, I am going to concentrate on video games and their credentials that make them worthy of adaptation to the big screen. A contentious, and some would say futile idea, but as always, it is my intention to talk about my favourite games in the lead up to E3, so you might have to bite your tongue and humor me while I try and make build a valid argument. I am the first one to admit, video game films, on the whole, suck. Big time. Which I think is a bit of a shame, considering there are a lot of IP’s in the video game world that could have a faithful and satisfactory interpretation put on to the silver screen. Not to mention that my favourite games either have been or are being made into films. There is one that I thought that, despite a few less than subtle story and character changes, did a pretty decent job. In this part, the game, conveniently, comes first. So turn off the lights, and lock the door because it is time to go back to that ‘tainted town’.

1999. The Playstation was 4 years old and had seen some of the best games at the time, in most genres. Resident Evil was the king of B-movie jumps and MGS was a masterpiece of character and narrative. But there was a bit of a gap between the two. Then a game came crawling out of the shadows and left a malignant, visceral and foggy memory that I still think is one of the most creepy, atmospheric and downright disturbing series ever.

Silent Hill.

The first game ‘utilised’ the hardware’s draw distance limitations by using fog to limit the viewers’ vision and perspective. It was also a true 3D adventure. Admittedly, there were some fixed camera angles, but the worlds felt solid and were able to be explored, whilst at times feeling claustrophobic. Some of the environments, like the amusement park and the school, presented players with a shocking physical and psychological juxtaposition. The basic story is a man trying to find his daughter in the mysterious and desolate town of Silent Hill. The themes involve loss, the relationship between parent and child, belief and suffering, along with a supernatural and cerebral fear that gestates in the mind. In addition, the masterful use of music and sound effects (the composer’s comments about the use of silence in particular) creates a constant and terrifying aura of suspense and dread. And then, like all good horror games (and films), there are the monsters. Twisted, contorted and sometimes provocative beings stagger, lurch and crawl towards the player, while Pyramid Head was an ever-present personification of threat in the same vain as any horror films lead, and became an icon to rival Nemesis or anything else for that matter.

The second game improved on the original in every way, both technical and in terms of story. The iconic piano theme in particular still brings back fond, if frightening mixture of emotions, from tension to melancholy.

Now, the film. In terms of the look and feel of the film, Gans got it pretty much spot on. From the monsters that were lovingly transferred to the screen, but the story and the script were not. The source material was rich enough to create a film that could be judged on its merits as a horror film, regardless of the games existence. But on visuals alone, the film is a faithful transfer.

I fully admit, the liberal changes regarding character and story disappointingly diluted the prominence of the games themes, and there were iconic set pieces in the first two games that would have looked amazing on the big screen, with surround sound being perfectly implemented. It was negatively affected by Hollywood. I can’t help thinking if Del Toro had got his hands on it and the script had been given a bit more thought it would be a much more celebrated movie amongst the game’s fans. There is a sequel in the works (in, yawn, 3D), and it has a slim chance of being better than the original. But I will be approaching it with an open mind. The ‘re-imagining’ on the Wii did nothing for it, and the series has waned significantly since. Shame.

Well, THIS hasn’t ‘alf caused a stir!

It exists. It has a name (albeit a pretty rubbish one) and it will be about a year until it is released. But the successor to the Wii has finally been revealed. I will try and be impartial when I give my reaction to everything I have seen so far, but suffice to say, it is a mixture of excitement and confusion.

Nintendo has always been innovative since the NES days, with d-pads and buttons replacing joysticks and the addition of shoulder buttons before we entered the 3D world for the first time. While it has had some patchy (to put it politely- Virtual Boy) periods, the new generation of home and handheld will be running side-by-side, and it is a potentially interesting adventure to say the least.

The name (brand). Although the name Nintendo have decided upon is a bit lame to say the least, the company would have been making a monumental mistake by discarding the Wii brand after 5 years, 80 million sales and counting (pending one last Zelda flavored and reduced price hurrah). So in that respect, everyone who was drawn in by the Wii can now see what the next step is. The controller (which I will get to), the backwards compatibility (which I will also get to) and the games (you guessed it) will not isolate an already pretty large user base. Savvy move, Nintendo, as I present to you…

The Wii U.

I know… maybe it is a grower…

Tech demo.

It is with cautious optimism that I say the Wii U has the horsepower to go head to head with the PS3 and the 360. Whether the machine holds its own when those consoles are updated remains to be seen, but look at it this way. The Wii was significantly less powerful than both, and yet produced games like Mario Galaxy 2 and the upcoming Skyward Sword. Now Nintendo really has a chance to open the taps, with the intended user base hopefully spanning across demographics. I refuse to use the terminology, because I don’t like it, but it will certainly start to rebuild the bridge that Nintendo seemed to have epically burned during the Wii`s life. Granted, it was not all their fault, but again, more on that later. The `bird` demo was nice (the footage I have seen is a bit blurry to make a proper judgment) but the disappointing bit as far as I’m concerned at the moment, is that the game demos are of PS3 or 360. There is promise there, though.

Controller.

This was always going to be the most contentious element regarding the Wii U. Nintendo has obviously been eating apples for breakfast, lunch and dinner over the last (enter how long console has been in development), as the controller seems to more than slightly resemble a certain portable product line, in both aesthetics and functionality. As mentioned before, the whole Wii `style` is clear to see, and for better or worse, I think it will stick. Whether is gets a re style before launch, the size and functions (of which there are many) will be the topic of conversation, just as the Wii before it. Although the majority of the controllers new functions were demonstrated using Mii style games (lets face it, the use of dual sticks and such like are second nature to a fair few people) I believe there is more than a bit of potential in these functions. Taking influence from the I pad, most definitely, but if Wii U developers use their imagination, and Nintendo introduce an interface and a variety of software as functional as the app store, then we could have something pretty special approaching. Demo versions of games for use on the controller, using the TV and controller screen in a similar vain to the many uses explored on the DS, not to mention the full range of tracked movement and camera available. One thing is for sure, if this thing achieves half of it`s potential, we could have a new kid on the block.

Games. Good grief! The list of games was a bit on the light side, and the games that utilized the new controller were explicitly shown as `experiences`, NOT demos of games in production. OK then… But there does seem to be slightly more in play than simple `evolution` of the Wii remote. After all, Nintendo are far from abandoning the remote, allowing devs to control their games as they see fit.

Back to the subject of games- it is definitely a step in the right direction, with Dirt, Batman- Arkham City, Assassins Creed, Ninja Gaiden, and a couple of epic looking FPS games, including Battlefield 3, in the pipeline. On the Nintendo side, Smash Brothers, Pikmin, Super Mario Bros Mii (it is exactly as it sounds) and a (PLEASE MAKE THIS) HD technical demonstration purpose ‘only’ (wait for it) Zelda. My socks were hanging on the edge of my toes. It looks stunning, especially this early in the systems life. This NEEDS TO HAPPEN!!!! Aaaaaaand that is pretty much it so far. No rumored GTA 5, and no big hitters from Konami or Capcom yet. I am still hoping and praying for the MGS, ZOE and Silent Hill collections announced earlier on in the week, and I think it is fair to say that with the support those devs are giving to the 3DS, it is not out of the question.

oh. sweet. lord.

Spec.

Not much has been revealed, but it seems that it is going to at least compete. It could be argued that, publicly anyway, that Nintendo has never seen themselves competing with the other two. Behind closed doors, I am sure they felt the need to get involved with some of the killer cross platform games such as Red Dead Redemption and such like. I think that now Nintendo have a much more powerful beast at their disposal, we will see what they can present to the demographic they seemingly ignored for such a long time.

Release.

April to December 2012 is the ‘official’ standing, but the closer to April may seem like a good idea for consumers, and to give the system a head start, but the 3DS launch has proved to be stuttering at best. As long as there are a number of games at launch to show what the new control scheme and the hardware can do, along with plenty of games in the works, the backwards compatibility should keep me happy. There were a few games I didn’t get for my Wii before I came to Japan, so having the chance to play them (and Skyward Sword) will allow some time for the AAA titles to drop.

My hopes.

Tomb Raider looks immense. With the games already announced probably appearing on other systems first, it needs a game to really show what it can do at launch. Metal Gear Solid, either a collection or a new exclusive. Same with Silent hill. Nintendo should really be showing that now they are appealing to two polar opposite demographics, and let their first party games reflect that. Games like Wii sports were fun for a bit, but more substantial games should be thought about, and DLC and such like should be whole heartedly embraced.

The 3ds.

Some great titles have been announced for the 3DS, with most of them dropping before year-end. Star fox looks amazing, and the new Mario Kart is interesting. Everyone knows OoT 3D is great, but another 40 quid great? The e shop is live, so that needs full backing. 3rd party stuff like MGS3 and Resident Evil should add weight to the system in the run up to the holidays.

Sony and Microsoft.

Hmmmm… there weren’t many exclusive titles to go nuts over. A relaunch of the Halo franchise and lots of kinect support fleshed out what was a pretty drab presentation from the 360 in my opinion. Sony fared a little better, with Uncharted 3 looking epic, Resistance trying to plug an affordable 3D HD TV with split screen, NBA 12 looking good and the new portable getting priced and dropping before year end providing something to look forward to.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I am a Nintendo boy at heart, and the idea that they would not come through for this E3 was a nervy time to say the least. But as much as the new system is dividing opinion across cyber space, I will remain cautious but excited. There is potential here for it to be brilliant. It could come across as a new gimmick, but the fact is that Nintendo are not above or below the competition- they re write rules and explore new boundaries. The way digital interactive entertainment will not survive purely on becoming more and more realistic on screen. Sony and Microsoft introduced their answers to motion control, and Nintendo has upped the ante once again. Until they shamelessly reinvent their respective wares, Nintendo are once again going into unchartered territory. Many people consider the Wii a failure. Over 80 million sold. A pretty successful ‘failure’ I think. Whether they can replicate that kind of success, only time will tell.

Final thought- bring on the Tokyo Game Show in September. I will be there.

Tokyo Game Show 2011.

Despite the fact that I couldn’t find anyone who was keen to go, my decision to not attend this years TGS was justified for two reasons. 1- no Wii U.For shame Nintendo, for shame! The second is… 84000 people went each day. I’m not too good with crowds. or queues, or excessive noise. So I bought a PS3 instead.

I think it has been about 3 months since I last updated this segment of my blog. That saddens me, but I am back and looking forward to the next three months of the year. There are some killer games coming out. In the spring, I caved/ folded (whatever you want to call it- I know I was weak!) and bought a Super Famicom (or SNES in the west). At the end of August I was even weaker… I joined the 21st century gaming community and bought… a PS3!

5 years too late to the party, I know, but I have had it for about a month and it is awesome. I have got some great games already, with more coming out over the coming months- that I will get to. The HD remake of Shadow of the Colossus brings back fond memories. Street fighter is as awesome as ever, Arkham Asylum is brilliant, and Uncharted 2 is like an interactive film. There is one game in particular on the horizon that fits in pretty nicely where I left my blog all those weeks ago.

As I recall, I was trying to decipher the phenomenon known as ‘game to film’ syndrome that Hollywood takes beloved gaming franchises, extracts what made them awesome and lobs the hollowed remains into a cinema in the vain attempt to make some quick cash. And tragically, it works.

The other side of the coin is just as cursed and shameless- ‘film to game’ syndrome.

SO. Here I am, listening to some good old fashioned rock and roll, preparing to wade through the garbage and try and find shining examples that show that video games of successful films are not just cynical cash ins to keep the merchandising and accounting departments happy.

Lets start with the title that started it all.

ET.

The biggest film of 1982 spawned a game that almost single headedly caused the great video games crash of 1983, and is responsible for a rumoured cartridge filled hole somewhere in Mexico. It was awful.

The best part of the game- the title screen.

Disney/ Pixar/ Dreamworks.

Pretty much every single animation film has had a video game adaptation, from the Lion King to Cars to the Wii-only Epic Mickey. The heyday of the SNES and Mega drive saw loads of generic cross-console platform fares, and kept kids quiet all over the world.

WARNING- contains cute.

Batman/ Comic books.

Comic book films are massive business these days. Most of the games are drab ‘action’ attempts, but some of the SNES Batman games were pretty good at the time, and Arkham Asylum is awesome, probably the best example of the character and universe in a game, and maybe the second best effort overall after the dark knight. X Men origins- Wolverine was an ultra-violent angle on the franchise. And light RPG levelling up elements cover a linear, balls out and pretty fun, if repetitive game. Spider-man 2 was a great film, and a worthy game adaptation followed.

There have also been a few ‘Marvel vs. Capcom’ fighting games to add comic book characters to the beloved street fighter roster.

Spider-man vs. Ryu = win.

Like animation games, comic book films (and therefore games) are big business, and studios are never reluctant to cash in, but still with varied results.

Blockbusters.

You may have noticed an omission from the Batman segment, but I will start with a reference to an Internet rule. Suffice to say if you have any knowledge of the Internet, you know what I am talking about. I would like to boldly suggest a new rule- if it exists, then it could be made from Lego. The amount of franchises that have been given the Lego treatment is increasing all the time, with Star wars, Batman, Harry Potter, Pirates and Indy games selling by the bucket load. It is simple and fun for the kiddies, and with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour that will make older players smile.

The second part of the ‘blockbusters’ segment relates to the summer seat fillers guaranteed to spawn a game to rinse audiences of every last penny. From the already (and intentionally briefly) mentioned ET, to Star wars, Jurassic Park, the Matrix etc. also epic Christmas releases such as Avatar, King Kong, Lord of the rings have been given reasonable if predictable and generic counterparts. Even classic films such as Scarface and Godfather have been given their own GTA clones. I will not mention games such as Bad Boys or Fight club…

So, my quest to find the best film to game adaptation was never in dispute. For the last 14ish years, a game that I loved as a kid is about to get ‘Craiged’ and a glorious HD makeover for the PS3, taken from the Wii remake released last year.

Goldeneye.

It admittedly makes no sense that one of my favourite games of all time is a first person shooter. I don’t like first person shooters. I’m not even a massive fan of Bond films.

Goldeneye perfectly took the tone, locations, characters and story from the film and turned it into a brilliantly playable, stealth drenched and epic single player campaign. The levels go chronologically through the film, starting with the opening set piece at the dam, going through the boat, train, and jungle, ending on the Goldeneye itself.

To try and describe the intricacies of what makes this game great is futile for two reasons. You need to PLAY it! If Metal Gear Solid did 3rd person stealth, then Goldeneye is the First person king. The other is that today, Goldeneye has a hard time trying to convince new audiences of it’s pedigree when games like Halo and Call of duty rule the FPS roost. Back in the day, though, The N64 was a pioneer in control and presentation of a first person shooter on a home console. Difficulty settings, a rewarding cheat system and multiple objectives lengthened what was already a meaty single player game.

It's Sean Bean!

But that isn’t even a fraction of the story. Hopefully you know where I am going with this. Goldeneye had yet another ace up its sleeve. Along with Mario Kart 64, it used the N64s 4 controller ports and had one of the best multiplayer experiences on the system, or any system for that matter. Now that online multiplayer dominates the FPS (and most other genres for that matter) landscape, the concept of a group people, the game, food and booze is almost lost. I have very fond memories of playing Goldeneye from its release in 1997, right up to when I left university in 2005. I have been tempted to get an N64 from the gaming Mecca store a couple of towns over, but with my sparkly new PS3, I will wait patiently for what I hope will be a worthy contemporary remake, due for release in November. Maybe after all this time I will see what all the fuss regarding online multiplayer is about.

Choose Oddjob- lose friends. fast. fact.

I will leave you with this. . Goldeneye was the best selling fps game for 9 years, with 8 million copies sold. Halo 2 beat it with 8.3 million, and I dread to think what the figures are for call of duty are.

And I didn’t even mention Waterworld on the Virtual Boy… or Street fighter the movie- the game…

 

Life in your hands- 3ds vs. vita vs. smart phones.

February 2011.

I played a Nintendo 3DS for the first time (super street fighter 4 to be exact) shortly after it’s launch here in Japan. I found the 3d effect difficult to deal with (that dreaded ‘sweet spot’!), but the tech proved itself by running a more than adequate handheld incarnation of an arcade and console modern classic.

My initial impressions were, and to a certain extent, still are mixed. I don’t know why, but I have become increasingly favorable towards the 3ds’s current physical state (for reasons explained later). At first I thought it was a cheaply made, unfinished kids toy (and still do to be fair), but over time and many more plays, I have grown a bit more tolerant of its build quality. In its current state, it is not on my shopping list, but I will get to that.

Games.

Yawn-inducing corporate rhetoric citing the need for ‘big hitters right off the bat’ and software that ‘push the envelope’ are not inaccurate during a systems launch, but the system undoubtedly had a stuttering start due to it’s price point and it’s lack of games in the launch window. A worldwide release and a baron release schedule hobbled into summer, where the 3ds was given a shot in the arm and a blast from the past. Well, two actually, in the shape of the seminal Ocarina of Time and the stellar Starfox 64. Both given a new lick of paint and a 3d aesthetic to really show what the fuss was (is) about. The idea of playing either of these on the go used to be enough for me to pre-order without a moment’s hesitation (amongst other things). These days, I am older, a tiny bit wiser, and less hasty than I used to be. But, a definite step in the right direction. E3 also came and went, with a better look at Super Mario 3D land and a host of other big titles dropping by the end of the year. Interest was gaining momentum until it went into the stratosphere with the announcement of a franchise that is loved by millions across Japan.

Monster Hunter.

Not one, but two games were announced for the 3DS (whether they remain exclusive, only time will tell) but along with a 30 % price drop, the run up to Sony’s PSVita launch was starting to look like an intriguing year-end hurrah…

Rock the boat and surviving the media storm.

Along with the announcement of Monster Hunter, a (repeatedly emphasized- if statements from Nintendo are anything to go by) peripheral affectionately nicknamed ‘the boat’ (real name Circle pad pro) would be shipped alongside the game. It is essentially a second circle pad cradle to help with aiming/ 3d camera and add a couple of extra buttons. As you can see, it looks horrendous.

The reaction from press and public alike was one of shock, disbelief and contempt, but no-one can say that (along with the price cut and software line up) Nintendo doesn’t listen. Many say the 3ds should have had a second circle pad in the fist place. This is surely an interim solution, trying to get rid of the stock of original systems so that there isn’t the need for a hole in Mexico to be dug next to the ET cartridges. With support from MH, MGS Snake Eater 3d, Resident Evil and Kid Icarus (I think), the add-on is gaining a bit more justification before Nintendo announce a hardware revision. THAT is what I am waiting for.

 

 

‘A PS3 in your hands!’ claims a lot of the video game media. ‘Well, not quite’ it goes on to say in the small print. After a lot of sensationalist and confusing speculation regarding the systems horse power, interface, camera (s), battery life, launch line-up and missing a pre Christmas launch (in the West at least), the Vita landed in Japan half way through last month. A week before launch, I swooned over a row of display models running a loop of feature demos and game trailers. I was impressed, but reserved judgment until I played one. Last weekend I got to play one for the first time, in Tsutaya’s flagship Shibuya store.

Launch-

Over 325,000 PSvitas were sold in the first 48 hours of release- slightly short of Sony’s expectations, no doubt. That doesn’t tell half the story. Less than a quarter of that was sold in its first full week, with the psp shifting more units. Granted, the PSP is an established system, especially in Japan, but if the buzz around a new console is reflected in the numbers, Japanese gamers seem happy with what they have, or after watching the evolution of the 3ds, are biding their time. There was (and maybe still is) a rumor that the 3g version will be cancelled in the west.

Upon wandering around Akihabara, I saw store employees proclaiming deals- Vita for 100yen when sign up for a new 24 month internet plan. It was the same deal with the PS3 too…

 

It has already seen a price reduction by some Japanese retailers. The proof of the pudding will be when gluttonous Western consumers get their hands on it. In terms of the home console market, the PS3 and Wii have been fighting it out in Japan for years, with the 360 almost a discontinued relic. The handheld market is massive here, and it is impossible to go on the train and not see some iteration of DS, PSP or, now, smart phone played by any and every demographic.

Smart phones. The consumer reaction to the I phone (and smart phones in general) during the year I have been here has been (unsurprisingly) overwhelming.

From your home to your pocket. You can also talk to people on it, y'know.

A case in point from a gaming perspective. GTA 3 is ten years old and is now available on I devices. Modern console (and console quality) games (not just ‘re-imaginings’ or scaled down ‘lite’ versions) are now on the increase faster than ever, and the dedicated handheld market is feeling the pressure. The main selling point of hand held consoles (and in particular, the Vita) over smart phones is control. The joystick-less DS felt this when Mario 64 was a launch title,  over 6 years ago. The Xperia Play is a ‘Playstation phone’ in all but name, and hand held consoles are offering more features and similar functionality of phones and their respective app stores to compete. The staggering sales figures of a certain bird flinging time killer alone is evidence that as much of a quick fix as it invariably is, the long term affects will be more and more dangerous to the industry. ‘Jack of all trades, master of’… well, a few, seems to be accurate. Increasingly over the last year, phones have enough features to only justify one device and are surely an attraction to consumers wanting to monitor their pockets in more ways than one.

Playing Uncharted 3 on my PS3 and an archaic, but adequately sized TV, I realized something. I haven’t tried to watch, say, a Michael Bay movie on my I pod. With good reason. Explosions, chases, epic effects and scenery are awesome on the big screen (and now in homes) so the audience is immersed, and playing Uncharted on Vita made me realize that part of the experience is lost when scaled down. Maybe because games are getting more realistic or the scope and scale of video games are getting bigger. I have GTA Chinatown Wars for I pod, and find it, well, fiddly.

An obvious control absence aside, the top down and distant perspective begs for proper buttons, as well as using the touch screen inputs from the DS original (which had 2 screens, so was less cluttered). Back to Uncharted on Vita. I was initially very impressed with the visuals (and the screen in general. It is, admittedly, glorious). But the more I played (and if you have played Uncharted, this happens a lot) and got caught up in cover-based fire fights with goons a fair old distance away, it was getting difficult to see enemies that are tiny, and blend in with their surroundings, whether they are supposed to or not. It is a great technical achievement to take a franchise that has pushed the Vita’s bigger brother to its limit and faithfully recreate it on a portable. The graphics push the console already, and it is a launch title. When Activision and EA release their portable versions of COD and Battlefield, I’m sure that passengers will be missing their stations across the world. But, in that kind of lies my point, but I will get to that a bit later. Killzone and LBP are Sony franchises in the pipeline, and Monster is being rumored (and for the sake of the Japanese market, it NEEDS to happen). The US launch line up is strong (ish). In addition to Uncharted, Wipeout, UMvsC3, Fifa, F1, ModNation racers are included in a 25 strong list on day one.

 

Looks great, plays good, AAA launch title.

Build.

As mentioned, the screen looks great. Until you touch it. Which will happen. A lot. What was regarded as a gimmick on the DS has now become a feature at the forefront (and back- pardon the pun) of the Vita’s interface and methodology in creating interesting and new game play experiences. Where have I heard this before…? Anyway, as soon as the PS2 and XBOX used the ‘dual stick’ control method for FPS (and controlling the camera in 3D) games, the PSP and 3DS have been lagging. Nintendo cobbled together the aforementioned ‘boat’, but obviously Sony waited to release this. As much as a necessity it may appear to be, the Vita’s thumb sticks feel too small, too loose and too fragile for me, but it might have been because it was a display model. The Vita does not look, nor should it be thought of as a robust kid’s toy. It is a sleek, shiny piece of multi media tech, designed for an older demographic. I was initially worried about breaking something on it. The buttons also felt hard, and the whole thing is a fingerprint magnet. The machine in general feels big enough and light enough for extended play.

Price.

Looks like both PSVita models are now 25,000 yen. That is about the same as a PS3 (depending on where you go and hard drive size). People in Japan were reluctant to upgrade their DS when the new model was this price, and PSP owners seem to thinking the same. If the functionality is anywhere near that of a smart phone, Sony (and Nintendo) might have a case. After all, knowing how many angry (SORRY!) birds Apple manage to kill with one stone is really affecting the console industry. The Wii has proved that if it doesn’t have a DVD (or Blu-ray) player, it needs to be reflected in the price. Cameras, touch screen, accelerometers, apps and web browsers are standard now, and whether is the games or the price of the unit itself, the Vita seems to be having a similar start to the 3DS, 10 months ago.

Are they really rivals?

Well, if all three do the same stuff, then surely the direct comparisons come. Nintendo maybe trying to shake a bit of the ‘family friendly’ image off, and Sony’s ‘it only does everything’ motto from the PS3 is carrying over to the Vita, so, in conclusion… not entirely… yet. Fully-fledged app stores for consoles are surely on the horizon, and an e-reader has been mentioned for the 3DS already.

Comparison and personal thoughts.

I don’t use social media any more. I have a laptop that I use every day. E-mail and my blog are the only association I have with the Internet as a communicative tool. I have a phone, which I hardly use. I have a Super Famicom and a PS3 to play games on, and a 2 year old I pod.

Can I justify buying a smart phone or a hand held console?? No. I had a DS, which was awesome, but after playing on I pads, I phones, 3DS and now Vita, I realize that reliance I have on any one device (or application) is actually time better spent in other ways. I am not sure if I qualify as a gamer. I like the games I like, I like technology, history and popular culture, and I of course, love Japan. I do not regret buying my PS3 or SNES (or any other console I have had over the years), but I also enjoy other hobbies.

Online multiplayer and social networking are not for me. Playing OOT on the train is a dream come true, maybe a bit too late.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s