Monday, April 27, 2009

Old school to the next generation in one afternoon

Finding myself at a loose end on a Sunday afternoon I decided to find something to play and found myself unable to find anything out of several hundred console games, many consoles, a few PCs with its games including quite a few emulators making a few thousand more games available or the arcade machine with several thousand games of its own. And lets not count the hand-helds... or the retro games.

It is hard to fathom on human nature but it reminded me of being back in my school days when I had literally thousands of ZX Spectrum games to play (on hundreds of C90s) and couldn't find any particular one to play. I am willing to concede that this could just be me.

So it was time to reel in the past. First up was Robotron 2084 on the arcade machine and was pleasantly surprised to pass the 110,000 mark on the first go and the few after that, couldn't reach the 135,000 high score though. Then I ran through the game list to Battle Zone which I played until I passed the high score; I even ran it with the bezel and found it a pretty good addition. Feeling good with vectors it led me onto Asteroids, which I also played until I beat the high score, which to be honest, was not that high to begin with. I noticed that there was a Asteroids Deluxe and gave that a go, once again with the bezel. This wasn't so good with a rather distracting background drawing, although I did enjoy the game.

It was like a warm-up giving a taste for something more expansive, so it was onto the PS2. I remembered playing Ecco the Dolphin a few years ago and picking it up again it was a game I really want to enjoy playing. I found myself really enjoying the control of the dolphin but that is really where the enjoyment ended; I could never tell the coach dolphin from the others during the training (does that make me a dolphin racist?) and found myself wandering around trying to solve rather obtuse puzzles in the game proper, with little direction and little satisfaction. By the second hour into it I'd solved little of consequence to give any sense of progression with the exception of a few 'songs', which are all awfully alike and involve pressing the same button, regardless of the song. The final straw was a massive leap backwards to a previous restart point when I died and I really couldn't face going through it all again.

So it was time to pick up something more action orientated and decided it was time to open up Shinobi X on the Saturn. Having never fired it up before, I was immediately impressed by the shonky, quite badly acted video cut scenes of Japanese actors dressed in plastic ninja armour; you gotta love the early CD 'multi-media' games. It did lead to a rather good example of action platforming though which controlled well and was as forgiving as Beelzebub with a hangover. I did notice, as I always do when I use it, that the Saturn doesn't have any way of saving the progress which is a bit disheartening. But Shinobi followed Ecco onto the pile when a restart point placed me back at the very start of a level having worked my way through a maze of tree branches and a Boss battle and then stupidly getting hit by a simple knife afterwards. It is something that never fails to give me the biggest cause to dump a game.

It was a jump to the Xbox 360 next, firing up Stranglehold, which I had found for sale in Game for less than $30 a few weeks ago. It was very enjoyable, although I do have bias as I rather enjoyed the film this game is a sequel to; I stumbled across Hard Boiled during a particularly pretentious foreign movie phase during my younger years. In the game, the main character gets hit by a bizarrely large number of bullets and it doesn't even try to explain why your 'Tequila Bomb' meter heals you if you shoot enough people. Great stuff. The whole game is based around shooting people in the most stylish way possible, including throwing yourself on a food trolley and shooting as many people as possible while rolling across a floor. Pretty much like the film. And pretty much like all of John Woo's other Hong Kong films.

It was, all-in-all, an interesting afternoon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What? Really?

The blog has been a bit dearthy (sic) recently as I've actually been spending time playing some games; given that this is a gaming blog, it seemed appropriate.

The biggest bantam

I was recently given a PSP by a friend - which is, by any criteria, a rather splendid gift. The PSP itself is an excellent piece of technology, especially the screen, and it looks the biz. There were a few things that put me off purchasing one though when it came out. The first thing was that I already had a Nintendo DS which I was using rather a lot at the time, especially having purchased Meteos (and later, Mario Kart). The second thing was the disappointment of finding out it had an analogue 'stick', but one that required a disjointed thumb to use comfortably. The third was the price - that was a biggie; the result of my wife finding the receipt was more than my medical insurance would be able to cover. The fourth was the battery life, thanks to the rather splendid screen it was sporting. The fifth was the battery life, thanks to the use of discs to play games.

This was all pretty much swept away when the PSP fired up (with a larger battery at the ready) to play something. Burnout Legends was the first game and it looks magnificent, the sound was also snuggling up close to the graphics in the magnificent category. The only doubts that remained were from the pain in my left thumb after playing it for an hour; but, you know, tendons can stretch.

One of the benefits of getting a console that has been out for a while is the host of budget, traded-in and generally cheaper games. I headed out for a search and picked up Echochrome ($38) and God of War: Chains of Olympus ($25). Starting with Echochrome for the train journey to work, the time flew by as my brain tried to kick in. It turns out to be a rather original game that occupied my mind in pretty much the way puzzle games should. There were minor flaws, with my brain capacity being the main one; but in any original concept I don't see the flaws as a show-stopper - unlike most of the reviews I read later that day. Giving my brain a well-deserved rest, I kicked in God of War the next day and was very, very impressed indeed. Although I had completed God of War and its sequel on the PS2 a while ago, I wasn't sure what to expect from the hand-held incarnation. But from the get-go, it plays smoothly with the same grandeur and impact that the console games had.

I guess that the games and the console itself belie one of the biggest problems it has had since release. It is more like carrying a full living room console around, with proper living room console games and the suite of media options that you would expect from such a machine. Whereas the DS really feels like a hand-held with cut-down games, quick games and nothing apart from games.

When you buy a Tomb Raider game for the DS, it is generally a sprite driven, top-down or side-scrolling affair - it feels like a hand-held game. You get the game for the PSP and it is the full monty - not a proper hand-held game at all. You have to invest yourself in a full game much more to learn the controls, follow the story line, sit through the cut scenes, etc, etc. I can pick up Meteos and play far quicker than I can get to grips with Echochrome; I can't even remember the last game I played on a DS that had a tutorial to work through. So I guess that maybe for the PSP, perception is reality and it is not perceived as a hand-held. Which is very much a shame.

Anyway, I'm forcing myself to put God of War down for enough time to write this and will be back to it before I get home; but as someone who has to use hand cream, I do have some issues with finger prints. This PSP would be CSI's most easily solved case...

As a final point, I've never actually had any problems with the battery life.

Decrying the missing

I am more and more finding myself missing something that everything points to being really important; the media, the adverts and the games themselves...

Why is it than when I complete the Resident Evil remake on the Gamecube I get the option to play through exactly the same game again with the main character wearing a different costume? What? Why would I want to do that? Why would anyone want to do that?

Why would I be interested in playing a beat-em-up with the character wearing a different pair of trousers? Why would I want to paint an in-game car a different colour? Do go-faster stripes actually make the car faster? On the subject, why would I want a new Nintendo DS because the plastic is a new colour? What did a platinum Gamecube or Silver PS2 provide that the others didn't? If it did have anything useful that the others didn't then it would be incompatible with the standard unit; it makes no sense.

What is it with all these things that add nothing to the game, but are given as some kind of bonus? Never once have I played a game and thought, "I can't wait to get to the end and play all this again with the character wearing a new hat."