We need to talk about the PSP Vita.

We need to talk about the PSP Vita.

It isn’t exactly lighting up the sales charts.  True, it isn’t technically out yet in the West, but if it is true that its Japanese numbers are still hovering around half a million units, then the 3DS almost matched Vita sales in its first week alone.  Unless fortunes reverse, and the Vita ends up doing gangbusters over here, I think we can agree that Sony has a problem on its hands.

What frustrates me is why this is happening.  For all appearances, the handheld is a marvel of hardware design, is relatively cheap, and has strong launch titles.  So why is it that no one is going nuts over it?  It seems to me that for all the Vita’s strengths, Sony messed up on the little things, and they’re adding up to a lot.  →  Ys: The Article of Napishtim

2012 Gaming Uncertainty

I wanted to write a 2012 predictions piece about how uncertain I am about what gaming in 2012 will look like.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to format such an article.  By sheer coincidence, Tim Bray recently wrote a similar piece on his personal blog (albeit about topics much more serious than gaming).  I liked his approach so much that I had to unashamedly use it as a template for my own attempt.  Here then are my Bray inspired 2012 Gaming Uncertainties.

Playstation Vita – Will the West embrace it as tepidly as they did the PSP?  And will it perform as well in Japan as everyone thinks (and hopes) it will?  Already the analysts of the world are framing this as Sony’s fight for survival, and if their words really do have an impact on the business world, then should we be afraid that they seem to have their minds already made up about the Vita’s chances? →  To be this lame takes ages.

2011 Year in Review

Last time I did a year end retrospective, it posted two months after the end of the year.  I won’t make the same mistake twice in a row.  Here now are the highs and lows from my 2011 in games.  Note, as always, that this is not a “best games of 2011” list, nor did all of the games actually come out this year.  These are simply the best (and “worst”) titles I played within the last twelve months.

The Tops

Async Corp

I actually posted my review of Async Corp. months after the initial draft was first written. and in the intervening months, I hadn’t actually played the game that much.  When I sat down to clean up the review and prepare it for posting, I insisted on sitting down with the game again, to see if it held up to the lofty words put forth in the first draft.  

 →  We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we play.

Review – Async Corp.

Async Corp is the latest, and probably last release from indie developer house Powerhead Games.  There are many reasons to mourn Powerhead’s departure, the biggest of which is that Async Corp. is a marked improvement over Glow Artisan, its award winning predecessor.  While Glow was a wonderful concept, Async demonstrates some of the fundamental qualities of the all time classic puzzle games.

In Async Corp, players are given two wells filled with squares of three different colors. Players select one square on each side to swap with each other in order to form a packet.  Packets are generated whenever some number of same-colored squares are arranged in the shape of a rectangle (squares being rectangles too, of course).  The rules of the game state that a swap can only occur if it will create at least one packet, and packets themselves can be cleared off the screen by touching them (clearing packets becomes, ultimately, the point of the game). →  Let’s get read-y.

Review – Kayne and Lynch

Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was, for lack of a better pun, dead on arrival in the minds of Internet savvy gamers, all thanks to the fiasco surrounding Jeff Gerstmann’s scathing review for Gamespot.com, and Eidos Interactive’s possible manipulation of the site.  That being said, if the controversy never occurred, I don’t imagine the game would have fared any better.  The signs of a troubled development process are all over the place, and the final product is a constant stream of highs and lows.

Where to start?  Visually, the background objects are gorgeous, but the foreground environments are criminally ugly.  The game often tries to hide this by placing levels in the dark, or by filling setpieces with several layers of tear gas smoke. It doesn’t always work, and when I got the chance to stare at some of the more atrocious urban environments, I wondered if I was looking at an Xbox 1 game. →  Holy crap, show me more!

Time isn’t on my Side (and I’m okay)

Former VL writer and Powerhead Games designman Matt recently posted a question on Twitter, to which I responded as succinctly as a I could.  All told, it’s an interesting topic, so I wanted to elaborate on it a bit more in a meatier blog post.
Matt’s initial question was the following:

With so many new games being released every single day, what does that do to a player’s appreciation for a single title?

I’m not exactly sure what, if anything, he is getting at with the question, but I know what it means to me.  My response was this:

honestly? It makes me appreciate that title more, if I’ve come to see most of those new games as “noise” in the release year.

This answer is the result of a major change in my gaming habits over the year.  →  Article Hominid

Alternate Take – Nier

Note: Some folks on Twitter asked me if I was going to write anything about Nier after finishing it.  I obliged, as I did find the game very interesting, but I want to point out that the game was already reviewed by Chris back in December.  The original review can be found here, and I recommend you read it first.  It covers some of the same ground, and  Chris has a much better handle on the genre than I do.

Nier is a bog standard action adventure game in which the lock and key puzzle system of modern Legend of Zelda releases is replaced with traditional jRPG time wasters (mainly sidequests and weapon upgrades).  Its environments range wildly in style, but the over world sections tend to be empty, sweeping plains which don’t really tell you much when viewed as a screenshot.  →  Readout 3: Takedown

Review – Glow Artisan

I have been meaning to review Glow Artisan for a very, very long time. Unfortunately, I had trouble sinking my teeth into it after just a couple of days (though those couple of days were, admittedly, fun). Did my struggles signify that it was, in fact, a bad puzzle game? I had to weight all the possibilities. My conclusion, at least for now, is that Glow Artisan is a good game, but it triggers a major psychological stumbling block within me.

Glow Artisan takes place on a grid of small squares. You are meant to color in the grid, using the three primary colors (which naturally create secondary colors when mixed) and an eraser. In addition, there are rules which dictate how you can manipulate each hue. A series of “glow emitters” sit next to the left and upper edges of the grid, which allow you to pull what is essentially a strip of color, either down through a column, or to the right, through a row. →  What can change the nature of a post?

Review – Radiant Historia

Radiant Historia gets so, so close to being a bona fide classic. For three quarters of its length, it was my favorite genre-piece since Demon’s Souls. After that, it segued into its (shockingly) boring, generic final act. The biggest surprise of 2011 became the biggest headscratcher.

Radiant Historia is a classically styled jRPG with a time travel mechanic at its core. The player guides the protagonist through two different timelines, with the ability to travel to the past or present of either of them at will, maybe to fix a mistake, or to ensure that a certain event occurs. Time travel is at the very core of the game’s design. It drives, and explains, so much of what goes on. For example, while the hero can travel between the timelines, he can’t travel into the future (at least, not any future he has yet to experience). →  Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty article.

iPod Gaming Report

Now that I have owned an iPod Touch for several months, I figured it was time to come back and report on the iOS gaming experience. The only problem is that there hasn’t been much of an experience to speak of. I bought quite a few games, most of them highly acclaimed, and only played a handful of them. This is, in a way, a good thing. Since the games were so cheap, I didn’t waste more than a few bucks on bad purchases, and it taught me quite a bit about this brave new world of gaming.

Specifically, it is no different than the old one. Just like with the Xbox, the Wii, or the PSP, iOS devices have the potential for both great and awful games. More importantly, the same decisions which can lead to good or bad games on those “traditional” platforms are also in effect in iOS land. →  I’m gonna take you for a read.

2010 Favorites

I know, I know, it’s February 2011, and here I am with a 2010 retrospective. The truth is that this has been written and ready a while now, but only now have I remembered to post it. Keep in mind that these are my personal favorite games of 2010. If one of your faves isn’t on here, chances are good that I simply didn’t play it.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn

I put Kirby’s Epic Yarn on this list with a few caveats. I find that the game is significantly more interesting with two players, and in my personal experience, is even better when at least one of those players isn’t particularly good at video games. That’s because Epic Yarn is so cleverly built as to be able to accomdate both kinds of players. →  Sounds mildly entertaining, I guess.

Potent Portables

So both Sony and Nintendo have revealed their next generation handhelds. I suppose it is time for new hardware in the portable space, though considering I only got a PSP in 2007 (and a DS in ’08), these launches still feel premature based on my own time with them. I’ll probably treat the 3ds and PSP 2 the same way I did their predecessors — I’ll largely ignore them, and wait for the price drop, the hardware to be revised, and the software library to improve before I make any move. In the dedicated console space, hardware revisions don’t mean too much (I don’t know anyone who is embarrassed for having an original 360, and people are proud of OG PS3’s), but with portables they can make a huge difference. And considering both Sony and Nintendo are pushing the boundaries of what should be considered an acceptable price for a portable, it is getting more and more risky to beta test 1st gen hardware. →  If you die in the article, you die in real life.

iOS Gaming Thoughts, Part 1

Warning – this is a rambling rant, based on little experience. It is all speculation on my part – I’m not saying these things will happen, merely musing on what it could mean it they did. Don’t take it too seriously.

As I mentioned on the VL Twitter feed, I now have an iPod Touch. I guess that means I should take a serious look at some iOS games.

I’ve mentioned it briefly in the past, but I’ve been a supporter of iOS gaming, even if I haven’t played on it. The hardware is powerful and plentiful, and the motion control/touch screen combo can be used to great advantage by clever developers. I can’t see it ever replacing my DS or PSP, but it will definitely live along side them.

That being said, I don’t think the platform is all sunshine and rainbows. →  I am become game, destroyer of words.

Review – Ys Seven

Ys Seven is a momentous release for developer Falcom. It is the first Ys game developed natively on the PSP, and it is also the first game in a major licensing deal struck with publisher XSeed Games. Westerners can finally play an original Ys game exactly as it was intended, rather than through a shoddy port.

Anyone excited for their first taste of this cult franchise will be sorely disappointed, however. If you’re looking for an introduction to Ys, you’re better off with Oath in Felghana, or the upcoming Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles. As for Seven, it isn’t an awful game, but even someone as hardly experienced with Ys as I am can tell that it isn’t the best showing the series has to offer.

Ys Seven still uses a realtime combat system, but lacks any need for strategy or precision outside of the boss battles. →  Guitar Hero III: Legends of Read

Review – Ys: The Oath in Felghana

Ys: The Oath in Felghana is a modern remake of Ys 3, one of the more radical entries in Falcom’s long running franchise.  While the first two games were top down adventures in the same vein as Zelda 1, Ys3 is a side scroller similar to Zelda 2.  The promotional website for Oath in Felghana goes into detail as to what the remake entails, stressing that it expands upon the original without heavy alterations or retconning.  I can’t say for certain if it succeeds in this regard, but I can take a guess, because Oath is an excellent game on its own.  It has an old school charm without feeling arcahic, yet it is a careful update that avoids adding the cruft and excesses of modern games.

Oath in Felghana once again stars series heroes Adol and Dogi, who have continued adventuring together after the events of Ys 1 and 2.  →  Oops, I did it again.

The Ride of Your Life

Gran Turismo 5 is out now, after years of development time and a daunting number of delays, including a few last minute announcements which left retailers stuck with incorrect ads and preorder cards, and no reliable information for customers as to when they can expect the game .  The end result is that the biggest release in Sony’s most iconic franchise is being met with confusion and ambivalence.

After all this, the question is simple – was it worth it?  The jury’s still out, but the early reviews are coming in, and the good ones all express the same common feeling about the game, even if some of the final scores are typically inflated.  Specifically, the general sentiment seems to be that Gran Turismo 5 has made huge improvements in driver AI and cornering physics, but by trying to cram so much into a single game, the total package feels at once both overwhelming and underdeveloped.  →  Now bear my arctic post.

Gadgets and games – when to move on?

One of the nicest things about this console generation has been the lack of concern over the next generation. At the very least it demonstrates that the industry isn’t entirely insane. Microsoft might have put the original Xbox to bed too quickly, but at least its successor, the 360, has been in it for the long haul. Game consoles are damn expensive, and it is a nice feeling to be able to go several years worrying only about what games you want to buy next, rather than how you will be able to afford another “investment” of several hundred dollars.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before some writer decided it was time to declare this generation dead, and this small essay is one of the first pieces I have seen so far. →  Readius III and IV

Review – Half Minute Hero

Half Minute Hero is a wonderful little game, but it is also one which, in my experience, was  poorly described upon release. It features several modes of play, but one of them, labeled “Hero 30”, compromises at least fifty percent of game time.  As a result, this one mode received the majority of attention from the media, and this skewed perspective is what caused me to lose interest in the title.  I couldn’t believe that its core concept could sustain itself for any length of time, and when it comes to Hero 30, I was correct in that belief.  Yet while the other modes are significantly shorter, they’re also a lot of fun, and their existence makes the whole package worthwhile.

Half Minute Hero is a sendup of old school 8 and 16 bit RPGs.   →  Now bear my arctic post.

Medal of Honor and Today’s Market

The new Medal of Honor game is out this week.  The reviews have been wishy washy at best, the sales will probably not reach Call of Duty levels, and once again, we should have all seen this coming.

A game like Medal of Honor is frustrating for me.  I can see what it is striving to achieve (aside from make EA money), and I know it is an impossible goal.  The most heavily hyped aspect of the project was how it was made with input from elite soldiers who took place in some of the earliest operations in the current war in Afghanistan.  There are stories to be told there, and I believe that the developers wanted to tell them. But at the same time, they had to ensure that their single player campaign was long enough to satisfy consumer desires, and flashy enough to emulate that Hollywood movie feel.  →  One must imagine video games happy.

Opinion – Final Fantasy 13

For weeks, I have been trying to write something, anything, about Final Fantasy 13, but the task has proven difficult.  One reason is that anything worth saying about the game has been stated already, and by better writers.  Another is that I continue to suffer from the longest period of writer’s block I have ever encountered.  Recently, I came to a third conclusion about my struggles; you can’t say much about a game that itself has no point. That’s the best way I can describe FF13.  It exists as multiple pieces and components, none of which work together to create a unified experience.

This problem runs throughout the entire product.  Take the environments, for example.  They serve no purpose beyond offering the player a new color palette every few hours.  →  I’ll read you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!