Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: Pokémon X and Y

Pokémon X and Y have been out for a while now and we're only just writing a review? Well we are well aware that nobody reads this, it's just we felt that the reviews that came out when the game did were just a bit lazy. We can understand why, it must be horrible for an RPG to land on your desk, especially if you're not a fan of a series like Pokémon. Plus, is there any point in a review of such a mega franchise? Unless the series curators massively messed around with the recipe, it's going to sell like hot cakes anyway. Might as well phone that review in (and many did). Job done.

So we're writing this for ourselves more than anything. When the aliens are poring over the remnants of our burned out civilisation maybe a media studies student might pull this review of the charred remains of a Google server somewhere. So we're writing this for us and the alien.

Evolution not revolution is the phrase that hacks might turn to when reviewing a new Pokémon game. We're gonna go in subtle like and suggest that Pokémon X and Y is more of a culmination than evolution. Or revolution. It seems that a lot of the systems that have been toyed with over the last five generations of games have finally found their stride and there's a lot that's in here for the European crowd. 

First things first, the new Pokémon. As it increasingly is the case with these games (what there's more than 150 QQ) it's a mixed bag. Some of those taxonomic gaps have been filled. We know that we've been waiting for a panda, mantis shrimp and barnacle based Pokémon since red and blue and they're finally in here. The candy floss with a face and the Pokémon inspired by a bunch of keys. Well the less said about those the better. What is a nice touch is that the starters seem to be Pokémon via a rather Japanese reading of the animals of farthing wood with a fox (we already had one of those) a frog (there were already two of those) and a hedgehog thing (that isn't sandslash). There's also a new type which may or may not have interesting implications on the 'Pro scene' were the 'Pro scene' to exist (I know a guy who's sister dated a prop Super Smash Bros player). 

There's also mega stones which may or may not be a game changer. At the moment an eclectic mix of Pokémon have special items which allow you to 'evolve' your Pokémon into it's ultimate form for the duration of a battle. No doubt more Pokémon will get mega evolutions down the line (hello DLC. Free DLC we hope but DLC nonetheless). The strategic weigh up is that mega evolved Pokémon get some mad stat boosts, however, they can't hold other items so it'll be interesting to see if mega evolutions break the competitive game in upcoming global tournaments, the last of which we got utterly spanked during.

A Proper MMO
One massive improvement is that this game finally feels like a massively multiplayer game. Previous generations included all kinds of gubbinz and features that worked great in Japan where it's okay to stand on street corners wifiing fellow players (lowlights were the fucking platinum flag and the method of getting Spiritomb in Pokémon Sapphire) but were nigh upon unusable elsewhere where Pokémon tend to actively avoid each other rather than congregate in public. So now, if you're connected to the Internet, the bottom screen is nothing but other players from all over the world. Our game tells us we've had a staggering 41,374 other players whizz along that bottom screen and each one we could have suspended our game to trade with, battle, kill with kindness in the form of O powers or share our trainer PR video with (a short ten second film you 'shoot' in the game). Also, remember how Nintendo systems were all rubbish because the friend system didn't work like the Xbox 360? That's fixed now. You now have three levels of other Pokémon players you've interacted with, passerbys are other people playing the game at the same time as you, acquaintances are people you've had some interaction with, either trading battling or video sharing and it's just one more step after a couple of interactions with acquaintances to make them fully fledged 3DS friends. You'll want them too. The new friend safari offers some great benefits in that any Pokémon you catch will have guaranteed high stats. The rub is that each friend will only ever have three Pokémon of one randomly(?) generated type to catch. So you NEED more friends to help breed that super-killer new team. It can be slightly annoying to be bombarded with challenges when your trying to get on with other things but already we've interacted with hundreds of other players without the displeasure of ever having to you know actually interact with them. This is a huge step forward and one we're deeply surprised more reviews didn't mention or focus on. It's a novel way to incorporate online play into an RPG that doesn't have a completely separate front end and gets around the previous problems of having to know someone to play with them online. And this is all on a handheld console. Impressive indeed.

Super Training
The other major step forward is that EV training has become so much easier with this game and interestingly, this is the most transparent Nintendo and Game Freak have ever been with the systems at work behind the scenes (that serious players all knew about anyway). For those who don't know, EV training is a way to train up your Pokémon to give them the best chance of reaching their maximum stats within a spread that is part genetics, part luck and part hard fucking graft ensuring your stats don't get botched. In previous games it required a notepad, hatching a bajillion eggs with carefully bred parents, a family tree, some held items and some crossed fingers. You'll still need most of that if you want to get the top percentage of rattattas (in joke) but it's every so slightly easier and ever so slightly more transparent through super training. Super training involves grinding a it-could-be-so-much-worse minigame and you can plan and observe how your stats improve after each round. This replaces the endless running around in long grass laboriously KOing 152 lillipups to ensure your stats ended up where you want them. We'd prefer if Nintendo and Game Freak just cut the cryptic bullshit all together and let you see the stat increases you'd earned up front. The information is already out there on sites like Serebii and Smogon, we don't see why they continue to pretend it's some sort of magic trick as to why one Porygon may end up with better attack stats than another one. So we can't quite ditch the web tech, spreadsheets and notepads yet but it's becoming a helluva lot less laborious to train Pokémon 'properly'. 

So with the addition of super training, all the online activities and the tamagotchi distraction of Pokémon Amie, playing Pokémon becomes less an RPG and more like the micro management of an RTS or MMORPG. O powers are buffs you can grant to yourself, passerbys, acquaintances and friends, which level up the more you use them and it's cheaper to use them on others than yourself forcing you to dish them out like an altruistic fairy godmother when in fact you want to just level them up as quickly as possible. You only have a fixed amount of energy to grant O powers that regenerates over time and regenerates quicker the more steps you have on the 3DS pedometer. So just the daily routine becomes a schizophrenic juggling act for maximum efficiency. You'll be juggling O powers both the ones you want to use on yourself (eggs hatch quicker, heal boosts, prize money and exp up) with levelling up the other ones with stuffing your Sylveon with poké puffs in amie, with trading and battling with randoms to add to your friend roster and test out your team whilst breeding and hatching eggs to level up your next Pokémon for your team. There's rarely nothing to do and criminally in the age of climate change it's tempting to leave the 3DS on all the time either to fill up your O power meter or accrue gifts for Pokémon Amie. Our 3DS hasn't been off charge since the day Pokémon Y launched.

All That Glitters is not Heart Gold
It ain't all that though. There are a number of things we'd have loved to have seen improved. Firstly, although the full feature set hasn't gone live yet, StreetPass and play coin features are extremely poor. StreetPasses generate poké miles but as yet there's nothing to do with them. Play coins aren't used at all. Although we are grateful for features that don't rely on face to face interactions this seems like a massively missed opportunity. In fact compared to Pokémon Black and White's online functionality the new Pokémon Global Link is a bit of a let down. There's virtually nothing to do (again, with Pokémon Attractions yet to launch) and bizarrely the addictive medal rally, think achievements, for the hardcore Pokémon fans, only exists online with no notifications in game. Okay so this might be one reason why you'd bother checking the online linked profile but actually I'd like to know when I got medals as I get them. Surely, that's the whole point?

Another downside is that compared to Pokémon Black and White 2 and Pokémon Soulsilver and Heartgold, there's little to do once the credits roll. Yes there's filling out the Pokédex and EV training for competitions but there's very little else. Even the dailies seem a little less interesting than previously. There is a battle tower and thankfully it's been tweaked so it isn't quite as hard to earn those battle points for the top items but it's no battle frontier, Pokélympics or the sheer diversity of distractions in Black and White 2. This is always a problem with the first Pokémon games every generation and we'd expect the companion to this pair, Pokémon Z or Pokémon X and Y 2 to be the definitive version of this game in the same way that Emerald, Platinum and Black and White 2 were the definitive versions of their 'trilogies'.

Lastly in the gripes bucket remember all those features that got lip flaps a flappering? Sky battles, riding Pokémon around and walking diagonally? All more or less bullshots. You get to have maybe a dozen sky battles ONCE. The Pokémon riding sections are slow, annoying and oddly you can't use your own Pokémon. There's literally one sequence in the game where walking diagonally helps you but by that point, it's a ice sliding puzzle, you forget you can move diagonally at all making a simple 'puzzle' seem impossible. All three of these that were extensively shown off before launch could have been more than they turned out to be. Instead, to our mind, they were rather naughtily used to pretend that this Pokémon was shaking things up much more than it actually was.

Nintendo have a real problem with all of their main franchises and increasingly their hardware are becoming niche platforms for the franchises you are a fan of. We picked up a 3DS just for this game and subsequently have picked up a couple of other outstanding titles and have really enjoyed them. We just needed that kick up the arse. Before Pokémon came out it just felt like a series of re-runs we already own three times before. Mario Kart, New Super Mario Bros, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem. The latest Wii U Mario game pretty much summed this issue up, previews were lukewarm but the reviews were glowing, sizzling even. It's the Nintendo polish that makes all the difference. Yes they are games we've played a million times before but hey, they're really really good. Pokémon is the same. Get over the feeling that it's another Pokémon game, there's enough polish and love in there and what many have described as dusty mechanics are actually robust dynamics that were well ahead of their time and have stood the test of time in the way that the mechanics of games like Gears of War, Assassin's Creed and Uncharted are already feeling very very tired a mere four or five games in.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Can I even justify a new console?!?

Yeah so new generation has hit, there is updated graphics, physics, engines... the lot. But I'm not done with "Current Gen".

I will save you the resounding cry of thirty somethings with real jobs, complaining about responsibilities, not having comparatively enough time for games. I specifically am not done with Current gen as I have a back log of around 10 games (with more hitting soon!) I need to finish them first. Hell there is even DLC I need to pick up for Skyrim and waste another 100ish hours on that!

I know folks are banging on about playing an Xbox through an Xbone but something about that really does not sound economical/or indeed necessary, and frankly the machine should have some back compatibility anyways!

So Fuck it, next/Current gen can wait a minute, and calm the fuck down, get some updates, and some good titles. Then I may consider it worthy of my wallet.

Thank you and see you in 6 months PS4/XB1


Love and Grinchy Hugs,

Richie X

Friday, November 15, 2013

The PlayStation 2 x 2

Okay so everyone is going on about it but here's our exclusive lowdown on the PS2x2, that is two PlayStation 2s taped together. We've unboxed ours, here's the extensive feature list.

  • Extensive Game Catalogue. What is it they say about buses? You wait a whole generation for a decent game (thanks PS3) and then hundreds come along. The PS2x2 can play some of the best games ever released straight out of the gate.
  • Backwards compatibility. You can play all your favourite PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games and playing them couldn't be easier. Just put your old games in either of the disc slots and play away! With a PlayStation or PlayStation 2 memory card you can even continue your old games from where you left them. No rebuying games you already own. No waiting for downloads. Microsoft are going to have to really nail it to beat this.
  • Forwards incompatibility. The PlayStation 2x2 is completely incompatible with PlayStation Move, any Resistance games or Heavy Rain
  • Stream live TV on your TV. You can watch live TV at any point by using your TV remote to turn over to the television seamlessly. 
  • All your favourite movies! Just put any DVD in either disc tray and your favourite movie is beamed into your living room. INSTANTLY. Even your Grandma can work it out! Better yet, DVDs are cheaper than Blu-Ray and they both come with chapter selection, subtitles and CD-ROM content you never check anyway!
  • Your favourite Sony characters. Unlike PlayStation Allstars Battle Royale, the PS2x2 features some of your favourite PlayStation characters. Crash Bandicoot, Jersey Devil, Kain and Raziel, Tommy Vercetti, Spyro the Dragon, Lara Croft and even the dude from Quake II
  • No patches or updates ever. They've achieved the impossible! With the PlayStation 2x2 you'll never have to wait for a day one patch, infuriating updates or two weeks copying a game to the hard drive so that it plays properly. All the games load up almost instantaneously and you can play them FOR EVER. Even if they decide to turn the servers off six months after a weak launch window. 
  • Something for everyone. Half your friends want to play an FPS and half want to play a karting game? No problem. With an extra television (sold separately) you can have half your friends play Timesplitters 2 and the other half play Crash Team Racing across two TVs. NAY BOTHER.
  • A great controller. Thankfully Sony have dropped sixaxis completely and all the balls touch pad shit from the Vita is nowhere to be seen. Just a comfortable functional pad. Also, NO MORE BATTERIES. EVER. You can plug the controllers directly into either of the consoles. 
  • Great price point. You already own the consoles & the games. If you're a PS2 short then you can buy one online for 3 euros. Away you go son. 
  • Take your games with you! Want to go to a friends' house but they haven't unlocked all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Path Warpath yet? Once again an emphatic NO PROBLEM. Just take your game and your memory card over to their house and you'll have all your characters unlocked straight away. No DRM and no downloading bullshit. 
  • Worried about the apocalypse? Are you concerned that when society falls you won't be able to play your games because you can't connect your console to the Internet every five minutes? Once again, Sony has you covered. As long as you have access to a generator you can play your PS2x2 until the gas runs out! Even zombies can't stop you finishing Beyond Good and Evil
It may be too early to call but we're confident enough. The PlayStation 2x2 just won this gen. We give it 145 different colour variants of the PS3 out of 147 different colour variants of the PS3. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Demo Seen and the 3DS:Part 2

Hurrah! The 3DS being so nice 'n' all has pulled us kicking out of the slump thinking about all that time we'd spent on gaming when we felt that gaming just didn't love us anymore (thanks XBONE and PS4). We've spent over 15 hours playing through demos alone. Here's Part 2 of our coverage. If you're even here reading it, congratulations, you're unique. Part 1, for the hard of clicking is embedded in the word here not that here or the last here or that here, it's here. 

Dead or Alive Dimensions We remember Dead or Alive. We still say "It is like the desert" when the situation calls for it. Dead or Alive Dimensions looks like Dead or Alive and sounds like Dead or Alive.It's probably Dead or Alive which means playing it online will be an experiment of continuously getting destroyed by the three people still playing it. We're happy to report that there was slow motion upvag in the cutscene and vibratits in the demo alone. Just in case anyone was wondering if the constant moaning about Team Ninja's love of such things was waning. Not only that but we found an image of the specific scene in mind so, you know, it's really really working. 

Theatrhythym FF Or Theatrerhythym Final Fantasy if you're not restricted by characters. Our second rhythm action game in the line up. The prelude that plays on the title screen is worth the download alone. Sadly, the game itself just isn't that great. There's little connection between the on screen prompts and the music and the song selection for the demo includes some of the least memorable FF songs of all time which is actually an impressive feat. 

Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed During our recent two month shunning of this blog and the world of gaming generally one of the few games we played was Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed on the Xbox 360 with three friends. For a day. What it lacks in Mario Kart's not-crashing-every-five-minutes it makes up for in letting four players play through the entire game together. Genuinely the most fun I've had couch co-opping with three other people since Timesplitters 2. The 3DS version is too fiddly and chaotic and unsatisfactory as a kart game can be. 

Pokemon Dungeon Gates to Infinity We own two of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games and it combines two of our favourite things. Games that tap into the GET ALL THE LOOT and POKEMON centres in the medulla oblongata. By all accounts this is a dumbed down, albeit '3D' version of the game. From the demo alone it's pretty much the same. There's a nice hook in that it'll let you carry over your save if you buy the game. Good work.

Project X Zone If you ever wanted to have no idea what's going on with none of your favourite Sega, Capcom and Namco characters look no further. At certain points 'playing' this demo I had to check to see if I hadn't had a stroke.

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate Loved the Wii version so, so much. This seems to be pretty much the same although prolonged sessions are probably a thousand times comfortable with a circle pad pro. We imagine. Yes there's the usual extra bits and pieces added as Capcom are want to do with this franchise but we just don't see the sense in these iterative releases in games that are already absolutely huge. Holding out 'til 4 methinks.

Hint. To get those instant high review scores from That Guy's a Maniac just recreate this scene here
HarmoKnight Probably the best of our three rhythm action game demos available with bonus tracks from Pokemon being a personal highlight. Probably the one we have least to say about too. Scratch that. Definitely the one we have least to say about. 

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney- Dual Destinies We are gamers we swear but this is yet another series that has largely passed us by despite owning two volumes of the manga. The detective sections of the first two games in this series to get released in Europe just weren't intuitive or rewarding enough, obvious conclusions had to wait until the right time to draw them and other solutions were too much of  a stretch to link without a very Japanese logic. This looks fine with a new gizmoguffin to grill witnesses with.

Resident Evil Revelations Lots of people hated Resident Evil 5, all the people I know who loved it played it couch co-op. Operation Raccoon City has been officially wiped from history from the FBI and our copy of Resident Evil 6 is still in it's shrink wrap because we've got medals and mercenaries to do on 5 still. Squeezing Resident Evil Revelations onto the 3DS is a fantastic feat given that we were over the moon to be able to play the original on the DS. We played the demo three times, downloaded the digital version of the game which was also 40% of in the eShop and we haven't looked back. Glorious.

And there we have it. There's a few we haven't downloaded yet, Heroes of Ruin, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate, Farming Simulator 2012 3D and Shifting World still beckon. I Love My Pets, every LEGO game ever and Pyramids not so much. But you don't have to take our word for it, you can go and download all of these for free right now. You too can have opinions about these demos. It costs nothing!* Do it. Go on. Do it. Pin him. Piiiin him.

*Assuming of course you live in the first world, have access to electricity, a 3DS, an Internet connection, an SD card, a backup SD card and time on your hands which is perhaps the most expensive and incredible luxury most of the world just don't have.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Demo Seen and the 3DS: Part 1 Downloadable Now

Aaaaaaaaand I'm back. The messages have been pouring through our social media channels. Where is Cunzy1 1? Well maybe they have. We think maybe the filters are too high. We didn't receive a single message. But here I am anyway. This year's E3 put me in an anti-gaming malaise. Not only was I not looking forward to what next gen has to offer (what has next gen got to offer?) but it left such a bad taste in our mouth (we share all body cavities here) that I couldn't bare to even pick up a game. Let alone play a game. Let alone write about a game. I've spent my time watching Let's Plays on Youtube and crying into our wank sock (we share that too). 

Backstreet(Pass)'s Back
And then Pokemon Y came out. Global release. Which meant I had to get a 3DS and boy. Wow. We're back in. We love games again. Pokemon Wersion X and Pokemon Wersion Y are fine games, more on that in a blog post for another time, what impressed us most jumping on the 3DS is virtually everything about the 3DS.

I'd been sitting on the fence with the 3DS for a while. There were some games I would probably enjoy playing but it felt too much like reruns of the DS and DSi. I don't know who console and handheld makers thing their audience is but £200 (the price of a 3DS, don't even  get us started on next gen's console prices) is not a small amount of money by any means and until Pokemon Y came along there was no way of justifying that spend. Well, more of a case of bypassing justification and going straight into lying in the supermarket aisle kicking a screaming "I neeeeeeeeeeeed a 3DS for Pokemon". 

Now we have our hands on one, we're super impressed. We thought that perhaps the tubes we were firing the Nintendo Now Showing posts down somehow weren't connected to the Internet. The Nintendo Channel and Shop Channel on the Wii, a mental mental massively popular console, just continued to disappoint with awful videos, every rarer updates, a tiny selection of demos for games you felt less likely to buy after downloading if you could be bothered to keep juggling virtual console and Wiiware games to and from SD cards to free up enough blocks. Fortunately, this side of the Wii seems to have been nought more than a testing ground for the much much much improved 3DS and probably Wii-U eShop. We bought a 3DS a week before Pokemon came out and filled that week playing nothing but demos. Amazing demos. A variety of gaming experiences that washed away our memories of rubbish last gen and got us excited about gaming again like the wonderful technicolor happy days of the PS2. A heady mix of indie games, popular franchises, arcadey experiences and off the wall batshit stuff. Games that make us smile. That's the problem with last gen's home consoles there wasn't enough to excite the old grey matter.

So we played a bunch of demos. Well, the activity log, the 3DS offspring of the Wii's Nintendo Channel (R.I.P.) tells us we've played demos for 15 hours and counting and here's what we think. Why should you care what we think about months old demos of games for a nearly three year old system? We didn't say you should. Don't be so fucking presumptuous. 

Face it, if the Police found this on your hard drive you're done. 
Etrian Odyssey IV One of those amazing games that sounds like the first three weren't released in Europe. Turns out they were. Either way it's a lovely game. Get past the gratuitous tit and vag paedo character art and it's a game you can spend hours and hours with doing nothing more than filling out a map. Think Rogue in FPS with cartography and you're there. This demo is restricted to three plays only which is the same way drug dealers get you hooked on crack. Inspired. It'll sell twelve copies. 

AiRace Speed We'd make the fairly uncontroversial statement that your demo download service is only as good as the demos on it. The Wii Nintendo Channel was full of awful crap you wouldn't force your worst enemies to play through and there are some stinkers up on the eShop. We were sure this was going to be one of them. Crap title. Uninspiring logo. MIND BLOWINGLY LOVELY. The full game is less than a fiver and we've got a fiver's worth of game from the demo alone. Play it. It squishes all the correct squishy bits in the brain as F Zero, Descent, Wipeout, Burnout's crash mode and oddly Tunnel B1 mixed together and fuck it, whilst we're here it's all of that ON SPEED. Download it already. 

Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] By far one of the worst demos both in terms of the section you get to play and playing the game itself. We loved Kingdom Hearts but the series went a bit Sonic replacing Disney heroes and villains that we love with angsty emo twats. I don't even know how many Kingdom Hearts games there are any more and this demo made me happy for that fact.

Witch & Hero This is probably a free PC flash game, there's nothing that necessitates it being on the 3DS but we were impressed by it and happy that throwaway 'Indie' experiences also have a home on 3DS. I'm not convinced that a demo would make me want to buy FUCK IT IT'S LESS THAN £4. 

Peter Jackson's Metal Gear Solid and the Philosipher's Prisoner of 3D Snakes Official Game of the Game. Like Kingdom Hearts, we lost our way with this series. We played the first one to death, watched a sibling play the second one and then the schlocky adolescent nonsense of a plot just drove us away. Internet communities still seek the deep and hidden meaning in this series. They've got as much luck as SETI to be honest. It just isn't there. The Japanese-ness of it mixed with X files level of scholarly integrity stretched over 200 hours doesn't make it sophisticated or clever. Saying that, I much prefer playing this on a handheld than the four abortive attempts I've made playing it on a console. In fact I may even pick it up for the game bits of it. I can make tea during the endoscope cutscenes up Kojima's arse. 

Fractured Soul Yet another game that feels way more refreshing than it ought too so bland is the palate of experiences in gaming recently. Action occurs across two screens requiring switching between the two in fast paced platforming. Get the timing of the screen switching right and the serotonin and endorphins dribble out of your nose with the flow. Get it wrong and you find yourself locked into sequences of continuously switching at exactly the wrong time proving how it's your subconscious mind that's been in control the whole time your stupid fore brain can't handle this shit. 

Rhythm Thief Rhythm games! Hurrah. In the void left by Elite Beat Agents there's a whole bunch of rhythm action games, three of which have demos. This one is perhaps the weakest of them, the rhythm and on screen action not gelling as well as it needs to. Still if tapping to the beat is your thing get on it.
Even as feminists we'd say that's a totally reasonable outfit. 
Virtue's Last Reward Yet another flavour of game in the ones available as demos, this time it's point and click adventure. The plot hinted at seems typically nonsense but the puzzle design, in the demo at least, scratch an itch that we haven't felt since Hotel Dusk. From this experience alone, we'd say it's actually better. Oh and there's breasts because GOD GROW UP INDUSTRY.

Fire Emblem Awakening We were excited to play this one. It got rave reviews and even EDGE had to admit to there being Nintendo systems to review it. Fire Emblem, like other 'core' Nintendo series seems to be a series that for one reason or another just doesn't resonate with gamers as much in Europe as it does elsewhere. I'll admit, I didn't even know the series existed until Super Smash Brothers Melee came out. By all accounts Fire Emblem Awakening is quite good even above the general accolade that gets poured on games with permadeath in by default. The demo doesn't really make it clear why that might be. The cutscenes look gorgeous though. Seriously. We'd buy all the anime series that came out in 3D on 3DS carts and we really really hate 3D. 

That's it for Part 1. Tune in in seven months time for Part 2. In the meantime go and download them all. It's free

x x x