What has happened to all the sports games?

Whatever has happened to all of the sport games?

I am sure I am not the only person who remembers video games such as Actua Soccer, NFL Quarterback Club, NBA Inside Drive, Links Golf, the NHL2K and NFL2K series of games and Adidas Power Soccer.  It seemed back in the era of the Playstation and Nintendo 64, a month barely passed by without at least one new sports game being released but today, it feels like this situation has been almost completely reversed.

Take football for example, only two football games are now released on a yearly basis, FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer. Both of these series have been aroudn for long time now and in one form or another, they can both trace their origins back to the 16-bit era of gaming, and have managed to fight off a myriad of competitors in what once a very crowded market.

Fans of other sports though don’t often even get a choice of two games to pick when it comes living out their sporting fantasies in video game form.  EA Sports  Madden franchise, has been the exclusive NFL game now for ten years now, there has only been one NHL game for four years now, and until recently if you didn’t like the NBA2K series of basketball games, you had no choice but to buy it if you were a basketball fan.

For some sports this situation is even worse.  Golf games seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years, and even EA haven’t bothered to make a new Tiger Woods game for a while and to be honest, they were becoming so poor maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.  The problem is if you are a big golf fan, apart from the admittedly excellent but not really realistic Everybody’s Golf games on Sony’s consoles, the only other choice you have is the bug ridden The Golf Club.  Some sports though don’t even get the a choice at all, there hasn’t been a video game portrayal of Rugby Union now since 2011; though there is one scheduled to be released early next year.  Boxing is also another sport that seems to have fallen out of favour as there hasn’t been a boxing game for over three years.

The question is, has the lack of competition really been bad thing?  The answer to this, really does vary from sport to sport.

Lets start with football, for the last few years now FIFA really has had very little competition from its traditional competitor Pro Evolution Soccer.  the last truly great PES game was released on the PS2, as Konami have struggled to adapt to online gaming which became more or more important to sports games enthusiasts.  FIFA though after a few shaky years, had a nice leash of life, and from 09 to 13, EA Sports produced some really great football games which had most importantly had generally great online features  Sadly though in the last few years, FIFA games have been degressing, culminating in this year’s title that was average at best.  It seems EA has grown complacent after six or seven years of dominating the market and personally, all the new features they have added recently have actually made FIFA an inferior game.  Thankfully, Konami after years of tarnishing the once great PES brand, have finally stepped up to the plate, and this years entry of the franchise is easily the better of the two football games released this year.  Hopefully this will give EA a boot up the backside and maybe next year’s FIFA will actually be concerned with playing a good game of football, instead of just being a vehicle for EA to make money from the Ultimate Team mode that has been so profitable for the company in recent history.

Now I must come to my biggest issue and it concerns the poor state of the NFL sports titles, or in this case I should say title.   Back in 2005 2K Sports released their NFL game ESPN NFL 2K5 to great acclaim, gaining rave reviews, and with the help of a reduced retail price, it’s sales figures came close to that year’s version of EA Sports Madden NFL title.  EA were were running scared, their Madden title was their biggest seller, so EA being EA made a move that even today still annoys fans of American football.  In 2005 they made a exclusive deal with the NFL that allowed only themselves to release any future NFL video games.  To cut a long story short, even today after ten years with the same number of new Madden titles and far more powerful hardware to play with, EA have yet to produce a game that is superior or even as good as NFL 2K5.  Lack of any competition of any kind, has allowed EA to rest on their laurels and quite frankly the standard of their NFL games has been shameful at times. With barely any innovation, and still lacking the gameplay and presentation that 2K Sports did so well Madden in recent years has been a game so poor I have only kept most of them for a month at most before trading them in.  Hearing the news EA had managed to prolong their exclusive with the NFL was a sad day for gamers who were hoping their misery would end and finally we might get to play a really great NFL game made by someone who wasn’t EA Sports

Other sports have thankfully fared better in recent times with the lack of competition, Basketball and Baseball being the two best examples.  The former has been luckily to be represented in video game form by the amazing NBA2K series of games from 2K Sports, with this year’s title possible being the best one yet.  While the latter. not only has the one game representing the sport, it is also only available on Sony consoles as well.  Luckily this game is MLB The Show, which in my opinion is the only sports game that even close to the NBA2K games in terms of quality and it’s simulation of the real life sport.  EA Sports though have recently brought their NBA series of games back from the dead, and while they are not up to the standard of 2K’s game as yet, competition can only be a good thing and will hopefully keep 2K on their toes and will continue to keep pushing the standards of their NBA game to even greater heights.

Now while fans of realistic sport games have an ever decreasing selection of games to pick from, at least they have a choice.  Fans of arcade type sport games, literally really don’t have choice at all.  In the past games like NBA Jam, Virtua Sriker and NFL Blitz, catered for the gamers who wanted to just have some mindless fun and were not worried about any type of realism in their sport games.  Today though it is almost impossible to find any type of these sort of games, and even indie developers have failed to fill this gap in the market which for me is a crying shame.

They say competition breeds success, and in general, when it comes to sports video games, this statement rings true. The sad state of the Madden franchise is testament to this and while luckily some sports have been graced with some great video games, most others have really suffered from the lack of choice and us poor gamers have paid for this.

Early Access – Delays Delays Delays

Another weekly web show from Gamestyle. We launch our new show Early Access, which is very much in its early access stage. This week we talk about delays, the horrible delays that are rife in the industry right now. Especially on PSN.

It’s not the smoothest presentation, but hey it is early access and that is our excuse. Enjoy!

 

Gamestyle Live – 19th November 2014

Another week another episode of Gamestyle live.

Bradley and Steve are joined by Jonny and even though we promise not to deviate… We do within the first minute. Because that is just how we roll. But we do talk about some game related things.

We also wholeheartedly apologise for Bradley’s partner randomly swearing at Peggle throughout the episode.

If you missed the live show then fear not, as you can watch right below

We’d love to hear you feedback, so either leave them in the comments here, or one of our many social networks.

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Retrospective: Donkey Kong Country

In recent times there’s been somewhat of a backlash towards the original Donkey Kong Country. Okay, it was never Super Mario World levels of brilliance, but it was still highly regarded at the time of release. These days though it’s often looked down on as being “of its time” and those who like it are said to still be looking through the old rose tinted glasses. So, with its recent re-arrival on the Wii U Virtual Console, it marks the perfect time to take a retrospective look at the Rare platformer.

When initially released it was the visual style that made everyone sit up and take notice, and while it may have lost the wow factor as time has passed, they still look pretty decent. DKC definitely needed a way to differentiate itself from the countless platformers on the system and they achieved that quite well. It almost looks like claymation, especially with the many characters in the game and the unique animations.

One such character is Diddy Kong, who makes his debut. The sidekick who would later take centre stage, does feel a little different than DK. He’s lighter, feels more mobile, but unfortunately can’t kill the heavier and armoured enemies. It doesn’t exactly bring much of a tactical edge to proceedings, but then it really can’t, as after only one hit you lose either Diddy or Donkey. So naturally losing one at a crucial time would mean hitting a bit of a brick wall. And the only way to bring them back is by smashing the rare DK barrels. So get hit twice and it’s back to the start of the level or the mid-level checkpoint. And as you’d expect, it gets incredibly difficult.

Not just from the enemies who all have a wide range of attack patterns, but also the many pitfalls that seem to be placed in the most annoying of positions. Many expletives were spoken as we took a tumble time after time after time. One of the most common deaths we succumbed to though were the moving barrels. Nightmares from childhood came flooding back as mistiming when to launch more often than not resulted in flying straight into an enemy or the deep beyond. Not helped by the fact the barrels almost feel like stop motion. A horrible, jerky movement that means it’s hard to judge when to actually fire. Not ideal when seven out of eight possible directions results in death. It’s a challenging game then, yet it is doable. At times it can feel unfair, but the sheer elation when you reach the end of the level makes it all worth it in the end.

The levels themselves being nicely varied. Mine cart levels, that have become a staple of the series since, are great. Then there are the levels you always expect from platformers, including the traditional underwater ones. And also a few animal companions can join you on your adventure, from rhinos to dolphins, it’s a decent length game with enough hidden collectables to keep the completionists coming back.

So is Donkey Kong Country worth going back to? Absolutely. With Tropical Freeze being one of our highlights of the year, it was nice going back to see where it all began, and with the original developers behind the wheel. It may not be the best platformer on the system, or even the best DKC game (that belongs to the sequel), but it can proudly stand alongside them.

Gamestyle Live – 12th November 2014

ABC
Easy as
123
Or simple as
Do re mi
ABC, 123, baby, you and me girl! 

We have made to to episode 3 and there are people watching still, so thank you for that. In this episode Steve and Bradley have a chat about stuff and things… All kicking off with console talk, but no fanboyism here.

If you missed the live show then fear not, as you can watch right below

We’d love to hear you feedback, so either leave them in the comments here, or one of our many social networks.

Interview – Mike Daw (Don’t Die, Mr Robot!)

We recently reviewed the excellent Don’t Die, Mr Robot! A game that wasn’t on our radar initially until we got to play it. We then fell in love.  

So, when the opportunity came up to have a chat with one of the games co-creators Mike Daw, we jumped at the chance. So below is our interview.

You can check out the review for Don’t Die, Mr Robot! HERE

Gamestyle Live – 5th November 2014

So it wasn’t a complete disaster last time out. Which means we are back for another show. 

In this episode, Bradley is joined by Steve and also briefly by Jonny. Unfortunately we lost Jonny early due to technical difficulties. But we pushed on like the troopers we are and tried to talk about all things positive in gaming. We think we managed it.

 

If you missed the live show then fear not, as you can watch right below

We’d love to hear you feedback, so either leave them in the comments here, or one of our many social networks.

Evo Moment 37: Book Review

“The Daigo Parry”.

The most famous moment in competitive gaming history, equalling millions of views online, this one moment catapulted the fighting games scene and the Evolution tournament to another level. Evo Moment 37 captures every moment, the birth of Evo, the rise of Street Fighter III: Third Strike and of course, the moment that cemented Daigo Umehara as the fighting game scenes greatest player.

The Daigo Parry.

It’s probably worth explaining the parry system and how it works. Basically, as your opponent attacks, pressing forwards will parry it causing zero damage to your character. This is for a high parry. A low parry work the same way only you press down. It’s difficult to parry two attacks in succession. Parrying an entire super seemed impossible. It wasn’t.

A large portion of the book is from the viewpoint of Justin Wong, the player who found himself on the end of Daigo’s full parry and his is the most interesting tale. A story of essentially lying to his parents so he can go to all these gaming tournaments, he trained and trained in order to rise up the ranks. A true underdog story that almost feels like a Hollywood story.

Not just focusing on Justin, it also jumps between a number of individuals who were involved in the tournament scene at the time, including Seth Killian who recorded the infamous footage. For someone (like us) who only has a passing interest in the fighting game community, there’s a lot more here that some people would not know. For instance, the incredible unpopularity of Street Fighter III at the time and the troubles of changing Evo from a purely arcade cabinet tournament to the world of consoles. It sounds strange now, but something that at the time was hugely controversial.

Despite being a niche product, even for those who aren’t big fighting game nuts will be able to appreciate the time and dedication that each of these players puts in. And maybe it’ll be something that gets them swept up and actually look at more Evo Tournaments. Our one recommendation for you then would be to check out the BlazBlue finals at the 2014 Evo Tournament to see some truly high level play.

If there’s one downside of the book it’s that the writing when it comes to describing the matches is staggeringly poor. Admittedly there’s very little you could probably do when describing Street Fighter fights, but it just made us want to load up YouTube and try to find the matches in full rather than reading the rather mundane match reports. In defence though the writer does try and tone down the technicality of certain aspects, so there’s no talk of “frame traps” and the like. It’s all simple fireballs, sonic booms and kicks.

Is Evo Moment 37 worth owning? Probably, yes. If you’re a fighting game fan then you’ll already know the story, but the insights into people’s lives at the time and what was going through their heads makes it a worthwhile read. This is particularly evident during the Daigo Parry as this moment is relived three times from three different angles. If you’re not into fighters as much then it’s still worth a look. It’s simple in its terminology that you’ll be able to understand, and it’s interesting enough that maybe it’ll be the doorway into the world of Evo.

VERDICT: YAY!

Gamestyle Live – 22nd October 2014

We did it! We hosted our very first live show and moved Gamestyle into the modern era. We’d like to thank those of you who watched live and hope that you enjoyed the ramblings. We enjoyed it and hope to be back next week as this becomes a regular thing.

If you missed the live show then fear not, as you can watch right below

We’d love to hear you feedback, so either leave them in the comments here, or one of our many social networks.

Thank you again.

Paid Downtime: Sony’s Online Woes

You’ve had a bad day at work. Things didn’t go according to plan and all you want to do is go home, sit back and play some video games. As you crash on the couch you turn on your PS4, throw in a copy of Destiny and want to release some rage in The Crucible. Only you can’t. Because PSN is down. Again. Welcome to the world of Playstation 4.

Sony has never been the best at online. Next to Microsoft they are a shocking ways behind. This is going back all the way to The Great Hack of 2011 where the service was down for weeks forcing Sony executives to bow and give away a bunch of free games. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson.

Over the past couple of months, PSN has been down longer than in a decade of Xbox Live. And this is no exaggeration. It seems like every week there’s either scheduled or unscheduled maintenance, almost always during peak European times. The most hilarious being on a Bank Holiday weekend. Yes, as people have said, “it’s always peak times somewhere”, but do they always have to be scheduled for 6pm here in the UK? After all, it is one of the biggest PS4 markets. But we have to ask. What is all this maintenance achieving?

It certainly didn’t stop the DDOS attacks as they became frequent and crippled the likes of Call of Duty and Destiny, and they didn’t seem to speed up the store or friends list which are glacial. So what did they do? Nobody knows because Sony isn’t particularly forward with this sort of information.

After the downtime earlier this week, a quick gander through social media and message boards showed us something, all the goodwill Sony accumulated is dissipating rapidly. During the console reveals Sony were saying everything right, and Microsoft the complete opposite. The power had shifted; Sony seemed to be once again on top. The PS3 launch arrogance was a distant memory and this was cemented when people bought PS4’s in their droves. Both consoles sold extremely well, but the PS4 was clearly the frontrunner. But the tide is shifting. People were starting to miss the solid as a rock Xbox Live and with Forza Horizon 2 earning critical accolades (and DriveClub having a shaky start to say the least); maybe it’s time to make the move. After all, the multiformat games may be 900p, but at least it’ll work online.

Earlier this week Sony released the news that Destiny had done wonders for PS4 sales and helped it achieve the highest selling console for September, its ninth month running in the States. Despite this, as a company overall Sony is struggling. So maybe all this money is being siphoned off to help the other ailing sides of Sony’s business? It’s the only explanation, after all, how can something so successful not be doing anything to fix what at its core is staggeringly broken.

Maybe the upcoming 2.00 update will fix all this, but then again, maybe not. In the list of what to expect, not one mention of anything stability related, and maybe you’d think if it was included, they’d want to advertise that fact. But don’t worry. You change the colours of the background! Yay!

We felt that this all needed to be said, as aside from a few “PSN is down” news stories, nobody appears to be critical of the online infrastructure. PSN is no longer free, that’s not something they can hide behind anymore. And you know what? We’d happily take less free games if it meant producing a more stable online network.

Hopefully as Microsoft build up more and more momentum Sony will take notice. They need too.

Persona 4: The Golden Animation Review

Last year we took a look at the Persona 4 Animation and pretty much loved it from beginning to end. It was a great adaptation of one of the best games ever made. Now, a year and a half later, we have the follow up.

The Golden is an odd one. On Animax (where it can be consumed) it’s actually listed as “Season 2”, which sort of makes sense. You see, it’s an adaptation of the Golden remake on Vita, but not the entire story, only the new scenes and characters that were added. It makes sense, as why would you watch another anime just over a year later that follows the same story beats? But it also makes the series unwatchable unless you’ve played the game. Even if you only watched the prior anime it can still be a little difficult to grasp.

So describing the plot as it appears in Golden can be hard. Overall it revolves around Yu Narukami, a teen who goes to live with his Uncle for a year in the quiet town of Inaba. Soon after his arrival murders occur and Yu finds that he has the power to summon Persona’s in the world inside the TV. Yes, there is a world inside the television where all sorts of craziness is happening. This setup is only really the basis for the first episode, after that it barely touches on any of this. Instead there are twelve episodes in total and largely they cover the Marie storyline. Marie being the new character they introduced in Golden. A blue hatted girl who resides in the Velvet Room, she has amnesia and her revelations about who she is forms the basis of the series.

Those familiar with the game will know that aside from Marie and a brand new dungeon, a lot of the new scenes were filled with comedy hijinks. And that’s really what you have a lot of here. In that regard, with the exception of the opener and penultimate episode, action is in short supply. There were the slow episodes in the first series, but they were always sandwiched between brilliant action set pieces, with rousing musical scores and people shouting “PERSONA!” as it all kicks off. Golden is on the other end of the spectrum with a large portion dedicated to the comedic, character building moments, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are many laugh out loud moments in the game and those are represented here faithfully and brilliantly. The trip to the beach resulting in some rather unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions, Yosuke’s motorcycle adventure and Yu’s Christmas disaster. All are here, and all are hilarious.

At times though  it can be best to make sure nobodies in the room when watching. It was strange, clicking on the “Play” button and being greeted by a “Rated 18” prompt. Yes, like the game, it’s a little more risqué. The bathhouse scene with Marie is just the tip of the iceberg; there are a number of moments with scantily clad teen girls that can get a little uncomfortable.

At the moment there is no English dub of the series. This may be blasphemous to some, but the English voice acting was great and is sadly missed. However, as a first taste of the Japanese voices, a lot of the time it’s actually like the English cast are speaking Japanese. There’s a definite sound to each character that translated over regions, such as Kanji’s deep vocals or Rise’s incessant whining (sorry Rise fans).

Compared to the original series this is definitely a hard one to review. In short, if you played the game and watched the prior series, then yes, this is a must watch full of memorable moments. If you did neither, then avoid as you won’t have the foggiest on what’s happening. Until of course you play the game. Because you should. As it’s brilliant.

Looking Back: Mega Man X2

With the first Mega Man X Capcom took the formula and re-invented it, creating one of the best in the series. Then just a year later we got X2. It may not be the reinvention X was, but it certainly manages to stand alongside it proudly, even if it does have a few issues that cause it to fall a little short of greatness.

A direct sequel, X2 takes place just six months later where a number of new Mavericks (dubbed the X-Hunters) are causing all sorts of trouble and it’s up to X to stop them. A standard setup with an interesting key plot point. Despite being killed in the first game, the X-Hunters have pieces of Zero, with X able to obtain the pieces by beating them on specific levels. In addition the levels the X-Hunters appear on are random, and if you happen to beat a level without beating an X-Hunter along the way then they disappear and that piece of Zero is then lost. It adds an additional strategic element to the usual Mega Man weapon strategy. And if you don’t obtain all of Zero’s parts by the final level, then well, prepare to fight.

On the surface, graphically X2 isn’t much of a leap, aside from a few new unnecessary 3D effects. Overdrive Ostrich for instance makes his rather clever entrance by running along the background in the distance before jumping onto the same plain as X. The biggest graphical leap however is with some of the 3D wireframe boss encounters. There are only a couple, which is quite lucky really. The final boss for instance seems to be pushing the SNES a little far as the framerate gets absolutely murdered. Not something you want with a game that requires pinpoint jumping. Luckily with the right weapon the final boss is an absolute cake walk, not mattering how many times you get hit, just spamming him with the same weapon will do the trick.

All the elements that set X apart from the original series are largely present and correct. New suit pieces can be acquired by finding hidden capsules and energy tanks and heart capsules are also scattered throughout levels. The only thing really missing are levels not interacting with each in the say way they did in the original. For instance in Mega Man X beating Chill Penguins stage before Flame Mammoth would cause his level to be completely frozen over. It added a nice additional tactical nuance that is sadly absent from this game.

In the end, you can pretty much just sum it up with, “great, but not as good as the original” for pretty much every aspect of Mega Man X2. But then this is hardly a criticism. Mega Man X rejuvenated what was becoming a stagnant series and arriving only a year later X2 was never going to do the same. The level design and music is still of a high quality, and while still having the classic Mega Man challenge, it’s made easier by the upgrades you can obtain. If you manage to find them of course.

Readily available on the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console it’s easy to get hold of and comes highly recommended. Now to wait for X3.

MovieStyle: Prince of Persia

You can always tell when a movie has had a lot of faith put into it, whether it is the budget, director or producer. In the case of Prince Persia it came with all three. A Jerry Bruckheimer produced blockbuster that was supposed to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean. This didn’t go according to plan and it failed both critically and commercially, sinking without a trace and its franchise potential evaporated immediately. However, it has to be said of all game adaptations thus far, Prince of Persia is actually the one that feels most like a movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal leads a surprisingly star filled cast as Prince Dastan, an orphan adopted by the King, with Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley and a scene chewing Alfred Molina rounding out the frontline cast. It’s also worth noting that creator of the game Jordan Mechner came up with the story and was heavily involved in production, which probably explains why it’s rather faithful to The Sands of Time, the game in which it is most heavily based on.

The plot revolves around Prince Dastan being tricked into leading his army on an invasion of another city; it soon becomes apparent this was all to obtain the dagger of time. Then framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Dastan is on the run from everyone, joined by Tamina (Gemma Arterton), the princess of the city Dastan invaded, he now has to clear his name and stop the dagger from falling into evil hands.

The dagger working the same way as in the games, using it reverses time for a short period, which is quite cleverly utilised from a special effects standpoint. Dastan turning to sand as he sees the events that led up to that moment rewind before him. The one, major difference between the game and film would be the sand monsters who are noticeably absent, and rightly so to be fair. It would’ve been a bit jarring to go from a rather grounded reality to having zombie sand people attacking everyone.

I should probably take this time to mention Alfred Molina’s performance. The standout moment of the movie is when Dastan and Tamina find themselves meeting Molina’s character running a weird, ostrich racing league. Yes, ostrich racing. In certain movies there’s one actor who appears to just be loving every minute, and Molina is that person. Stealing every scene he’s in, he’s given the best lines, and even comes with a knife throwing assassin to back him up. A definite highlight of the movie, I just wish he was in it more.

But on the whole, Prince of Persia proves that having the budget and the cast means nothing when the script itself is so pedestrian. The plot is so predictable that you’ll guess how it ends as soon as you reach the halfway point, and a moment in which the audience are supposed to be shocked when it’s revealed who the real villain is, something you’ll guess right from seeing the panto quality acting. Gyllenhaal while a proven leading man doesn’t really bring the Prince to life in any meaningful way. A rather lifeless character, who aside from a few game inspired acrobatics, doesn’t really have any stand out moments. An hour after viewing the entire film pretty much disappeared from my memory.

And that’s really the main problem. It’s not good enough to be entertaining or bad enough for everyone to laugh along with. I felt nothing after watching and I suppose that’s the harshest criticism you can level at a film.

PlusCast June 2014

The PlusCast is a monthly podcast by rllmuk members talking about the Instant Games Collection provided by Sony as part of their PSPlus subscription service.

Every month, rllmuk members talk about the games that have been available that month and the games available next month on the service. Listen in to hear about the games that you have been playing on the service and to hear about what lies ahead for you next month. Other discussion includes DLC, other games in the series and general gaming design.

This month Barry and Bradley are joined by Jimmy as they talk about Stick it to the Man, Puppeteer, Everybody’s Golf, Pay Day 2 and Murumasa.

Enjoy

The Gamestyle Archive

Long time readers may already know the story, but Gamestyle has been the victim of two hacking incidents. Both times causing a lot of content to go up in smoke. The fact that we were originally a Dreamcast only site should tell you how long we’ve been going, and how much content would’ve been lost. The hacking took a lot out of us, and in some ways, Gamestyle was never the same again. But this week something miraculous happened.

Like the E.T cartridges in the desert, former editor Mr Jason Julier unearthed something. Discs containing around 200 old reviews, previews and features. All of which are being uploaded and be viewed by CLICKING HERE. It’s amazing the amount of content that was lost, but even more amazing that a good chunk of them have been found.

Over the coming months these may start to appear on the main site, maybe in retro themed weekends, but for now why not head over and check out some of our older work.

Games are Games

Something has been bothering me of late and it has a lot to do with games that have just been released and those that are coming soon to various consoles. The games themselves are fine, but the reactions to those games get under my skin somewhat.

There seems to a fairly decent sized group who have decided that the word Indie is a negative and that if a game hasn’t got amazing new graphics that blow things out of the water, then they don’t count as games. In fact, I would go as far as to say, that having a distinction between Indie games and big Triple-A titles needs to stop.

Because of the pure size of a supposed Triple-A game, publishers rightly don’t want to take any major risks. If a game doesn’t check all the boxes, then it is likely never going to see the light of day, which is why we have had many games that have been critical successes, but not commercial ones.

We entered a phase whereby following the format of a Call Of Duty, Gears Of War and the likes became the norm. Publishers saw that success and wanted a piece of the pie, which saw some fantastic games like Singularity, Bulletstorm, etc which tried to do something new within the popular genre, but still failed in the publishers eyes. It is the reason it has taken so long to potentially something like  a new Beyond Good & Evil (please Ubisoft, make my E3 2014), why there have been so many cancelled games.

We have also seen the end of real middle-ware games, because again, if something scores a 6 or 7 out of 10, in the eyes of the public that is seen as a bad game. The PS1 and PS2 era was flooded with games that weren’t perfect, but were still pretty fun to play overall, but towards the end of the 360/Ps3 era, if games were nigh on perfect, the indication was to stay away. So less risks were taken.

Then something happened, digital distribution became something that could be implemented. Because internet speeds were getting better, bigger games could be downloaded and it became less of a risk to put a game out there. Would Trials have gone on to become the success it currently is without Direct Distribution? Would publishers have taken the risk of that as a retail only game?

As much stick as Microsoft get now, there was a time where they could be seen as the heroes of the console generation. Their implementation of XBLA gave a platform to new types of games, riskier games that just wouldn’t be possible as a disc only release, as gamers would unlikely be willing to pay £20-£40 for something that may be small, or not matching the ‘quality’ of a Call Of Duty, GTA and the likes.

The success of promotions such as the Summer Of Arcade and the releases of amazing games like Super Meat Boy, Braid, Fez, Trials, Shadow Complex, ‘Splosion Man, Bastion and much more forced a change in attitude. Sony had no choice but to follow suit and make sure they were getting good games on their system, with the likes of Joe Danger, Journey, the PixelJunk games, etc. Which then lead to a battle of power between the two giants.

Both wanted to own this market, to the ones who had the rights to these games, they saw the figures and the potential profits that could be made and the winners were the consumers…For a while at least. All of a sudden the publishers then got their hands into this new idea and began to influence what was released and where. What this meant for the most part, was that the PC was still the place to go to for some wonderfully creative titles, thanks to Steam.

Then comes the Vita a man called Shahid and the release of the PS4. Sony seemed to know what gamers wanted. They had seen the calls from owners of the Vita for more and more Indie titles on the wonderful little handheld. Shahid Kamal Ahmed loved his Vita and he too wanted more good games to improve what was a pretty sorry looking library at the time. All of a sudden we were able to play some of those amazing games that were previously only for those with a PC, on our PS Vita, with ‘DAT SCREEN’ they were a perfect fit.

It was clear again there was a market for these games and Sony made what could likely be the best business decision they could. They basically said to the Indie community…”You want your games on our system? Then go ahead, no restrictions”. Developers had the control, they could put their games out there, on to a console, without the need for a publisher. They were no longer bound by what publishers would see as ‘safe’ options and could have their own games played by as many people across as many platforms as they wanted.

Sure Microsoft’s [email protected] initiative isn’t ideal, with some of the policies it has, but it too shows that they know there is a market for these games and the Indie movement is riding the crest of a wave right now, so they rightly want a piece of that. But what this means is that we have games like Octodad, Resogun, Don’t Starve, Outlast, Daylight, Stick It To The Man, Stealth Inc and more, available on our PCs, Vita, PS3 and PS4 and that is just for starters.

The Binding Of Issac, N++, Nidhogg, Pavillion, Rime, Hyper Light Drifter, Hotline Miami 2 and so much more, are already on the horizon. For many of us, that is just so exciting, these are fantastic games that are a joy to play and the fact that more and more people will get exposed to them is even better, as it should mean the developers earn the money they deserve to go on and make yet more wonderful games.

However, whenever these games are mentioned, you always here the same comments pop up…”I didn’t buy a PS4, just to play games I could play on a SNES” and other comments which allude to the same thing. As though because a game has a certain style, it doesn’t deserve to be on this system, or that system. It somehow doesn’t deserve to share the same space as the next big-budget extravaganza.

Worse still, some believe that games like the ones mentioned above are somehow stopping the big budget games from even seeing the light of day. That releasing Nidhogg will stop the released of the next Call Of Duty. Having Stick It To The Man on PS+ is stopping Square from making the next Tomb Raider.

That is disappointing, because as a gamer, I am just glad I have the choice. It would be a sad world of we didn’t have choice. It is what makes things interesting and this is just as true in games. The fact I can spend a few hours playing Spelunky, but then move on to Infamous: Second Son, before jumping back to my Vita to play some Luftrausers should be lauded. Every gamer should be celebrating the diversity of games we now have access to.

I think it shows we are now at a stage though, where many of the voices you see on the comments sections of blogs, YouTube, etc have come from an era where their first experiences of games were from the PS2 era, maybe even some whose first experience was a 360 game. They haven’t experienced the joys of an original 2D Mario game, or some of the wonderful titles that came out of a bygone gaming era.

2D gaming is looked down on rather than admired. Titles such as Rayman Origins and Legends showcase what is possible with a simple platformer today and no matter what some will say, this wasn’t possible back in the 16-Bit days of the MegaDrive and SNES. Sure the basic actions aren’t far removed, but just look at the world Rayman is in, it is alive and it looks beautiful, there is so much going on. Now look back and some of the older games and look how lifeless they are in comparison.

That is the major difference now. There are no limits on what an artist can create, or at the very least, minimal limits. Creativity was dialled back in previous generation, simply because hardware would have been unable to allow this rich lavish worlds even in 2D games, but now this has changed and for the better.

You just have to look at Ubisoft’s recently released Child Of Light, or the upcoming Transistor, they are stunning looking games in every sense of the word. Sure they aren’t trying for hyper realistic graphics like DRIVECLUB, Watchdogs and other such games, but then that wouldn’t suit them. But they can now match what a creator originally envisioned, with games able to look much more like the original concept art, rather than something that gets scaled down the further along the development process it goes.

I mentioned Watchdogs above and almost everyone must know the issues that game has had, tons of money thrown at it, but still needing to dial back features and visuals. It is a game that has had a rough time of it, because it cannot match it’s creators original concepts. But with these so called ‘small’ games, that is different. These are games that want to take you out of reality, take you to a whole new place and there is loads of room for games like that, alongside everything else.

It is why I hate the terms Indie, Triple-A and so on, because they pigeonhole games, they almost stop certain gamers from trying them. You get the Call Of Duty crowd who won’t play Indies, because they are ‘for kids’ or ‘crappy old games’ and the elitist Indie gamers who look down on those who love the big blockbuster shooters like they are a cancer on gaming.

The truth is, it is fine to like different genres of games, I myself used to avoid RPGs like the plague when I was younger. Tastes change though and I am having a wonderful time discovering the genre with stuff like Persona 4 Golden, Demon Gaze, Ys, etc. But I still enjoy a good FPS at times, I still play NHL, FIFA, Madden, dip in and out of racing games, and fall head over heels for new Indies, just to see what concepts could be coming out as these developers start to have creative freedom.

There is something else though that  I touched upon that is really sad to see and that is the hatred for mid-tier games and this notion that a game must be perfect, or else it is a failure. This is personified with Knack, a PS4 launch title that was the whipping boy for the media, which carried over to gamers.

Knack was destroyed by the opinion of various critics and also by many vocal gamers who hadn’t played it. It was described as a kids game, but described as that in such a way that it became a derogatory term. Now Knack is the quintessential mid-tier game, it is far from perfect, but it still offered some elements of fun, especially when played in co-op with a member of your family.

Now, whilst it is all well and good to always want fine dining, sometimes it is ok to have a home made Bolognese, it isn’t the greatest food you will ever eat, but it is still fine, it does the job and you enjoy that meal for what it is. The same is true of Knack, it isn’t Super Mario World, or Half Life, but it doesn’t need to be. What it did was offer some nice variation to a launch lineup, making sure there was something for everyone and for many who did play it, they enjoyed it…for what it is.

I can understand the tribal nature of gamers when it comes to the systems they have, why people will defend Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and Valve to their graves. It is because they invested a lot of money into a system and they want to be justified. What I never understand is, why this carries over into the amazing choice we have in the industry. Why we have to pigeonhole genres, gamers and even specific games so much, why we cannot be happy that there is something for everyone.

If there is one thing I want to see from the games industry over the next few years, is that we start to understand a game is a game, no matter the cost, the size, the genre. No matter what. If you can play it with a controller, a mouse & keyboard, with Kinect, Move, VR, gamepads, Vita, touch-screen, hell even mind control, then it is a game. If you paid 69p, £2, £10, £40, £100 it is still a game. If it is sports, RPG, puzzle, FPS, racing, life sim and god knows what else…IT IS STILL A GAME!

Remember, it all started with a few lines and a dot and look where we are now!

 

MovieStyle: Doom

Video game adaptations usually fall into two categories, either the so bad they’re good, or so bad they’re just unwatchable. The first game I did for this feature (Wing Commander) certainly fell into the latter. Doom though is stuck somewhere between. The first time I watch it I found it dumb, stupid and yet watchable, but on future viewings (yes, I’ve seen this movie more than once) it too started to be less fun and more tedious.

An early-ish role for Dwayne Johnson before he would later turn himself into a Gears of War character, Doom feels like it so desperately wants to be Aliens you almost feel sorry for it. Something I missed on my first viewing there are a number of moments that definitely bring to mind the sci-fi classic, and not just the ragtag group of military types that get sent into a hellish situation. One character decides to take a look into an air vent before falling backwards in shock, there’s a sewer section and one characters fate is nigh on identical to Hudson’s. A few new ideas wouldn’t go amiss.

As fans of Doom would know, the game takes place on Mars where, quite literally, all hell has broken loose. Problem with the movie is, aside from the Martian locale, the Hell section of the story has been excised completely. Instead the story focuses on scientists on Mars (one of which being played by Rosamund Pike doing a shaky American accent) finding humanoid remains that have an extra chromosome that essentially makes them superhuman. Obviously this leads to experiments on humans and it all goes a bit pear shaped. Cue the arrival of Dwayne and his team, the only other one of note being Rosamund Pike’s brother Grimm (played by Judge Dredd Karl Urban), who show up all guns blazing.

The other squad members being interchangeable and range from a creepy rapist guy who reminded me of a young Rik Mayall to the one they just call The Kidd, as soon as you’re told it’s his first mission you know exactly how well it’s going to go for him. I suppose it makes a change from the usual “this is my last mission” stereotype. There is one character that could’ve been quite interesting given a decent script. This being a born again Christian type who cuts himself whenever he takes the lords name in vain. Of course, this would’ve been a lot better and more appropriate if the whole story of Hell had actually been included.

To add to this stream of negativity, the Mars setting may have made things interesting, but far from it. In fact, I actually forgot the film was set on Mars until Karl Urban stops for a moment, looking out at the window to briefly see the Martian landscape. All of the film is set around dark, poorly lit corridors. So poorly lit that it’s actually hard to tell what is happening half of the time. So I guess in that respect it’s very faithful to Doom 3.

And speaking of faithful, let’s talk about the first person segment. Instead of scattering first person moments throughout the movie as a nod to the game (which could have worked), for some reason the directors thought It would be a good idea to have one long section where Karl Urban is in full on Doom mode. First person camera positioned just as in the game with gun in front and a musical rock track that sounds sort of like a remix of the music from the first Doom level. It comes complete with monsters jumping out, a pinky demon and even a chainsaw. This is the sort of thing that would sound amusing during a script meeting, but in theory is just bizarre and is the worst kind of fan service.

Doom is quite clearly aiming to grab in the video game crowd and really doesn’t care about the large movie going public, which probably didn’t help the critical reaction it got. But the weird thing is that despite its faults, the movie sped along at a decent pace and unlike with Wing Commander didn’t feel like time itself had stopped. So I guess there’s that.

How Games Saved My Life

I generally won’t speak out about the perceived view of videogames in the media and with the wider world. Part of that is a confidence issue, part of that is that it becomes tiring having to justify why you love something like this.

Often if I mention games, or that I am a game’s critic, I get people look at me in a certain way. That “shouldn’t you have grown up by now” kind of look. I have had it from family, friends and even strangers who see me with my Vita out and about. Not everyone of course, but enough that it is noticeable.

I went through a stage where I would try and justify myself to others, but than I thought, why? Why do I need to justify liking games, when you don’t need to justify watching soaps, daytime TV, chat shows, reading certain books, etc. I do what I do, because I find it fun. Well that wasn’t always the only reason and recent news about the tragic killing of the Leeds school teacher by her 15 year old student had lots of old memories flooding back.

When I was at school I was bullied and I was bullied badly. Not the physical type of bullying, though that did happen on occasion. It was the daily psychological bullying, from not just one or two kids, but much larger amounts. I was seen as an easy target, to the point that the new kids in school would use bullying me as a way to find acceptance with others.

For five long years I put up with this and the one time I spoke out, it got even worse. So I had no choice but to keep it bottled up, not let on to family that it was an issue. I tried many things to silently change the attitude towards me, but everything failed. My Mum was told that I bring it on myself and that I need to change to stop it…I was a child, yet it was my fault, I was the one in the wrong for BEING bullied. That was something my Mum was told by a teacher, someone in a position of trust…It was my fault!

Now my issues are still about today, I lack confidence in public and can very often come across as rude, because I am worried what someone will think of me, or do to me if I say the wrong thing, or say something in the wrong way. That scared child still has a hold of me and I doubt very much it will ever let go. What you see of me in public, in person is mostly always an act, me trying my hardest to not be that person I was 15+ years ago.

But what does this have to do with games? With the recent tragic incident?

Well, it is mainly down to the media here. I have empathy with the young man who killed his teacher. Now that isn’t to say I agree with what he did, by no means do I condone it and I feel for the teacher and her family. What he did was wrong, he should and will be punished, but he also needs a lot of help.

Anyway, the media! They have taken their stance, especially a certain paper often filled with hate. There are clearly many issues that surround this child (and please remember at 15 he is a child) but there has been a focus on blaming videogames. All because he liked to play some of the more violent ones, was part of online communities and was a fan of a gaming based Youtube channel. Really? That is the main focus?

Let’s look at a few things. How many people the world over play videogames? Millions right? How many of those millions play the more violent games? You know the Call Of Duty, Battlefield, Grand Theft Auto’s of this world? The ones the media use as their go to for stories. I’d imagine it is still in the millions. How many of those millions go on a murder spree? I am thinking it is not the millions that are playing them, but a very small percentage.

You see, it isn’t JUST the influence of the games that will cause the individuals to do what they do. I am not arguing that there may be some influence, but it isn’t just that. It is also the books they read, the TV they see, the films they watch, the NEWS they hear about on a daily basis. It is the world around them and it is something that isn’t quite right in their heads in the first place.

Maybe this is caused through abuse at home, bullying at school, hell it could be anything, they may just be mentally ill. That is the thing with mental illness, it isn’t always apparent, so who really knows what is going on inside any one person’s head at any given time. We don’t, so to put the focus of blame on one area is just wrong and dangerous from a media outlet.

But here we are yet again, I find myself having to defend something I love to do, because of careless reporting from news outlets. So let me tell you something.

GAMING SAVED MY LIFE…IT PROBABLY SAVED SOMEONE ELSES TOO!!!

When I was at school, I didn’t have various forums and communities online to reach out too, I was alone with my thoughts, with no one I felt I could turn to. I tried to take my own life and I dreamed of taking the lives of my bullies…and if any of you are reading this, you have no idea how close I actually came. But I didn’t and it is down to videogames.

They were my escape, they were the one place I could be in control, where I couldn’t be hurt and all of life’s problems faded away. I could come home from school and put on my Spectrum or eventually my MegaDrive and shut out the world around me. I remember loading up Head Over Heels, Seymour Goes to Hollywood, Operation Wolf, Treasure Island Dizzy, 180 Darts and more.

That noise of the tapes loading was like heaven, that noise meant I was in my own home and I was safe for at least another 17 hours, before the next school day started. I could be the hero, no one was there to judge me and I was some kind of happy.

Even when I went to college a few years later, or was able to afford the next console, it was still the same. The bullying may have been over in college, but the damage was done. I found solace in my Dreamcast, Playstation 1, Playstation 2, XBOX and beyond. I played Silent Hill with my Mum and I must admit, it is one of my warmest memories of my teenage years, my Mum was able to do something with me that I liked, was on my terms. It is the safest I have ever felt. It may sound odd to some, but there you go.

I do remember one occasion where I got home after a really bad day at school. I had it in my mind that the next day I was going to go in and do something about it. I won’t go into detail, but it wasn’t going to end well for anyone. Yet a few hours later, after spending the rest of the afternoon, the evening and even into the night playing Sonic The Hedgehog 2 from start to finish and then some Road Rash. I had lost the urge I had just a few short hours previous.

Had I not had games, who knows where my head would have been. I still have no idea what I would have done that next day. That night, gaming literally saved my life and I maintain saved the lives of others too.

I am in a much better place now and whilst the mental scars from those days are still with me. I have been able to move on to a degree. I have a family and I (hope I) have real friends, people who genuinely want to be around me. Yet part of my mental scarring means I cannot be 100% sure of that. My family I love with all my heart and I know they love me back equally. To see your son look at you like you are his hero, like you are perfect is the best feeling in the world.

But I still need that escape, I still play games but now more than ever I do it out of enjoyment. There are some days that a whole other set of life’s challenges can get me down and again being able to put my headphones on, get out my Vita, or switch on the PS4/Ps3 and escape just for an hour or so.

There are games that I play today that really do resonate with me, such as Persona 4, Virtues Last Reward, etc where the characterisation plays a huge part, but one of late that hit me harder than most was Thomas Was Alone, a game that touched me more than most, yet this is a game featuring nothing but blocks. Yet the human aspect was done better than most and is a great example of the emotional power of games, the sort of thing that often goes unnoticed in the media.

I apologise, I may have rambled a bit and this may not be the most coherent article you’ll ever read, but it comes from the heart and is something I felt needed to be said. Because no matter what some quarters of the media want you to believe…Gaming isn’t the big bad evil cause they want you to think. Sometimes it can be the cure, but those stories are boring and you never see them in the headlines.

PlusCast May 2014

After some issues with the April podcast, Barry and Bradley are back for the May edition of the PlusCast.

We look at the April releases on PS+, have a few discussions on Free 2 Play, a potential future for sports games using PS+ and more. Before looking forward to May’s releases.

Leaving PS Plus:

Entering PS Plus:

So without any further delay:

PlusCast: May 2014

MovieStyle: Wing Commander

For £5.99 Netflix is an utter delight filled with countless hours of great movies and TV shows, but lurking underneath, there’s a dark hole. For every wonderful piece of entertainment, there’s a Hellraiser VII just around the corner. And I’ve found myself watching an awful lot of rubbish, purely because it’s there, one click away. If you look at my Recently Watched list it’s a cause of shame and embarrassment with gems like Breaking Bad buried in the middle of The Crow: Salvation and Saw: The Final Chapter. Which brings me to the Wing Commander movie! It was quite recently added to Netflix UK, it’s based on a video game, so why not give it a review and see if it’s as terrible now as it was fifteen years ago. Spoiler: It is.

The most curious thing about Wing Commander is it’s directed by Chris Roberts, the creator of the video game. So you’d at least think it’d be incredibly faithful to the source material, but it isn’t. The main antagonists of the film (The Kilrathi) have had a design overhaul and characters have changed in nationality, bearing zero resemblance to the actors who portrayed them in the game. For instance, replacing Biff Tannen himself (Tom Wilson) with Mathew Lillard is a terrible piece of miscasting. In fact, all the characters are utterly terrible. The acting being on par with the Wing Commander games, but without the wink wink nudge nudge “yeah, we know this is hammy over the top nonsense” that was so endearing.

I wish I had a better grasp on the story so I could explain. Basically, it’s humanity vs aliens with Freddie Prinze Jr taking over the role of Christopher Blair from Mark Hamill. A blank slate of a character who we find out is half-pilgrim. Pilgrims being these sort of terrorist-like people who fought against…something. I only watched this film a couple of days ago and it’s already, mostly escaped from my memory. The main plot point I can remember is the Kilrathi have captured a navigation computer from a ship they blew up, and in doing so have the location to Earth. With the clock ticking it’s up to Blair and his buddies to save the day.

Say what you will about the likes of Doom, Street Fighter etc, at least those movies had memorable scenes, Wing Commander has nothing. It’s just so, unbelievably boring. During one point in the movie the audience is supposed to care about the fate of a certain character, but we don’t. Because the relationships all feel so fake, not to mention the outcome being guessed as soon as the character is introduced.

You’d think with a space-based action movie the space battles would at least fare better, right? Yeah, not so much. These follow the same lifeless pattern as the rest of the movie. The special effects aren’t terrible (for a movie made in 1999 at least), but the direction lacks the excitement you’d want from these scenes. You’re also really never given a lead antagonist. The Kilrathi exist as one giant being, there’s not really one standout character who you can call the leader. It’s also strange how for a large part of the movie all you see are spaceships, without a single Kilrathi actually on screen. Maybe they were embarrassed by how they look? I mean, they don’t look great, and differ a little from their game incarnation, but the scenes are lit in such a way that it does hide the costumes a little. At least until they get shot by a boarding party later on in the movie, it’s at this point they fall back like mannequins pulled over with a piece of string.

There’s not much else to say really. A lot of the video game adaptations fall into the so bad they’re good region, Wing Commander doesn’t even come close to that. It’s so bad it’s just plain boring. Maybe if it had an actual director at the helm they’d have been able to inject some life into proceedings, but as it stands Wing Commander isn’t worth any of your time.

Looking Back: Mega Man X

It’s weird that a console featuring the likes of Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country amongst others, the one platformer that took over my life the most was Mega Man X. Since it came out way back in 93, I’ve bought the SNES original twice, followed by the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console versions and finally the PSP remake (Maverick Hunter X), so yeah; I’m a bit of a fan. What had once become stale had new life injected into it and to this day is one of my favourite games of all time.

The core concept of Mega Man X remains the same, following a short intro stage you’re then given a stage select with eight robots (now known as Mavericks) to face. Defeating each will give new series protagonist X a specific weapon; with some Mavericks being weaker to certain weapons it once again brings this tactical edge of choosing the easiest route through the levels. Built around this familiar framework, Mega Man X brings a number of new elements that revitalise the once stagnant series.

The most obvious introduction right from the opening level is the introduction of new character Zero. Here’s a fun fact, originally the idea was for Zero to be the start of the X series, but I guess Capcom got cold feet and wanted a more traditional looking Mega Man design to front the series, reducing Zero to sidekick status. But a great character nonetheless, who would eventually get his own series further down the road.

Aside from newly introduced characters the way levels themselves would interact with each other made choosing your path through the game even more interesting. For instance, beating Chill Penguin would result in Flame Mammoth’s stage being completely frozen allowing you to simply walk across what would otherwise be deadly lava. This is something that really never got utilised the same way again. It gave another reason to plan the best path through the bosses. Also, with altering these levels it more often than not aids you in finding certain upgrades, energy tanks to use if you find yourself low on energy, heart containers to increase maximum health and most importantly, new suit pieces.

If you happen to own the original SNES box then you would notice the character of X looking a little different than his Mega Man predecessor. Although starting off in traditional blue, there capsules scattered across the levels that contain armour upgrades. As well as new abilities, from taking less damage to more powerful weapons, these also come with a nice, new shade of white. Collect them all and the “blue bomber” would be blue no more.

Mega Man X is such a tight experience, that while can be completed in one afternoon session if you know what you’re doing, everything from the level design to just the music will keep bringing you back to finish it all over again. And I did, time after time, it almost became a yearly tradition. To this day the music has become so engrained in me that I can recall certain themes instantly. It’s such a well-designed experience that you can tell so much love and care was gone into each factor. A far cry from today where Capcom seem to treat Mega Man as an embarrassment that remains locked away in a vault along with Power Stone and Onimusha.

Not to end this walk down memory lane on a downer, but it’s sad the X series eventually went the same way as the original, with the series suffering a similar fate as staleness set in. Not surprising when there are eight games in the main series, not to mention a few other spin-offs, like the surprisingly not that bad JRPG game Command Mission. With its availability in a variety of forms, from the Wii U/Wii Virtual Console to the solid PSP remake there are plenty of ways to track down a version rather than spend the ridiculous prices the original seems to fetch on eBay (£70 is a bit steep even for a game as good as this). And even just over a decade since its release, it’s still one of the best platformers around.

Plus Cast Episode 2

Recently I joined Barry from RLLMUK to take part in a new podcast focusing on Playstation Plus. Where we discuss the each month’s offerings and look ahead to what is coming up. As well as the benefits and effects of the service.

There was an issue with episode 1, which will be forever lost, but episode 2 was a success. We have decided to post each month’s podcast here at Gamestyle as we think it is a nice addition to the site. So please check back every month to find a new episode.

So without any further delay:

Plus Cast Episode 2: March 2014

How Sony Have The Complete Package

So, the PS4 has been released and the new generation is upon us. However, it isn’t just with their new console that Sony have got things right. They still have two members of the family that have plenty to offer.

When Sony introduced PS+ there was initially a bit of cynicism, it was just a way to get people to pay extra money to them, with a few discounts here and there, some early access and other little bits. However, that idea evolved and became one the the best decisions for the consumer they could have made.

The Instant Game Collection offers insane value for money, it doesn’t matter to the average gamer how money is made on this, the simple matter of fact is that, we, as gamers are getting amazing content for around £4 a month (cheaper if you purchase a 3 month or yearly package). Starting off by offering free games playable on the PS3, usually offering up a PS Mini, or PS1 and occasional PSN title, the service quickly grew to give full blown retail games also.

As time passed the quality of the games began to improve, before offering up PS Vita and eventually PS4 games also. What it did though, was breathe new life into a console that should be slowing down and coming to the end of its life. Recently the likes of DmC: Devil May Cry, Borderlands 2, Guacamelee, Need For Speed Most Wanted, GRID 2, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, Remember Me, among so many others have come to the service. Most of those are less than a year old and will still set you back £20 in the shops.

It has made PS+ a must have for anyone owning a PS3, but Sony weren’t done there, don’t own a PS Vita? (you really should) Then you can still grab the Vita offerings and they are ready to add to you system when you pick one up. Uncharted: Golden Abysss, Soul Sacrifice, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Gravity Rush, Velocity Ultra, Street Fighter X Tekken, Lumines, Rayman Origins and so much more. All there waiting for you.

Even heading into the PS4 era, there are games from the very get go, Contrast and the best game on the new system in Resogun. There was meant to be a version of DriveClub, but the delay in the game’s release put pay to that for a while. Still though, it shows Sony has found something in PS+ and know they cannot drop it now. Whether the money from subs, or the word of mouth that has bought new people to the systems, it is doing something right for them.

With the PS4 offerings, it reminds us of the days of the SEGA Master System, with built in Alex Kidd, you get the console, which for most is a significant outlay and there is no need to buy software to get use out of it on day one, no need to even worry about bundles from retailers. Buy the console and with PS+ you already have games to play. It is a stroke of genius from a company that had severely lost its way when the PS3 released.

It isn’t just with PS+ that has made Sony the console gaming company of choice either, they continue to support the PS3 with some fantastic exclusives. In the final few months before the PS4 would hit the shelves, there was the stunning Puppeteer, and interesting Rain, and the outstanding experience of The Last Of Us, which as we stated here, is a game that will live with you to the day you die. What Naughty Dog pulled off with a system supposedly hitting its sell by date, was truly something.

But still, even with the PS4 now upon us, Sony are far from done with the aging system, there was the recent release of Gran Turismo 6 and even the upcoming exclusive in Persona 5. These are simply small quick port titles, these are fully fledged games that can shift systems. Gran Turismo is Sony, it has been a flagship franchise for them since the days of the PS1. Persona too is enough of a reason to keep the PS3 around.

When the jump was made from PS1 to PS2 and then from PS2 to PS3, it would pretty much see the older system relegated to a bedroom, or even the attic, with the intention to maybe go to it once in a while for a quick blast. With the jump from PS3 to PS4 however, we have found our gaming time has been an even split. We have yet to finish many of the games we own, whether that be through our own purchases, or those given to us through PS+. There is a huge backlog of some incredible titles. The desire it there to work through them, enjoy them and still get the most out of a system that despite all the flaws of the last seven years, just isn’t ready to retire.

When you talk about a hard life, you cannot ignore the PS Vita. A system that has been much maligned from all corners of the gaming world. Sales numbers have been mocked, the quality of the software on offer has taken a bashing and the age old ‘Vita has no games’ often gets spouted. Yet, for those that own one, they know what a glorious console the Vita is. It has some quality games on it and has become a haven for Indie titles, thanks mainly in part to Shahid Kamal Ahmad. The man who came from nowhere to become a rockstar on social media, the man who said “This game should be on the Vita, so this game will come to Vita” he made a promise and lived up to that promise.

We have the likes of Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark, Proteus, Velocity Ultra, Thomas Was Alone, Spelunky, Hotline Miami, Lone Survivor, The HD Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character and so much more. Thanks to this man’s vision and the team he works with, PC is no longer the go to place for something creative and different. Such was the success, that Sony themselves took this mantra to make sure their platforms would be easy for Indie developers to release their games, no longer bound by the risk management of publishers.

It is a revolution, it is changing the face of console gaming in a huge way. Other major revolutions haven’t always been for the better, not when you look at the likes of DLC and Online Passes, they have been there to be almost anti-consumer, from holding back content, to trying to stop the second hand market. In all honesty, gaming could have been in danger of falling to bits.

It shows how far Sony have come over the last couple of years. Looking at my living room and I see three Sony consoles and that is it at the moment. It is hard to pinpoint when the transition happened, but the 360 was being played less and less and when money needed to be raised to afford the PS4, it became the logical choice to sell that.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the 360. XBLA was an amazing thing and but for it, then maybe we wouldn’t have seen Sony pushing for the smaller Indie titles and other downloadable offerings. XBLA had a 2-3 year period where it was on fire and it was sad to see those games just go, but in all honesty I knew the PS4 was my next console and I was playing the PS3 a lot more than the 360, even picking up NHL on Sony’s machine for the very first time. I do hope to revisit the 360 at some point, I still have unfinished business on there.

But I look forward now, over the past month or so I have jumped back and forth between the PS4 and Ps3, a little Resogun here, some Puppeteer there. Playing Killzone via remote play on the Vita whilst my son plays some NHL or Need For Speed on the PS3. Taking the Vita with me whilst out and about, playing a little of Treasures of Montezuma Blitz, or Everybody’s Golf (among others). Hell, even playing some Knack from the ice rink whilst my son does his hockey training.

For the first time, it feels like there is a full transition between generations, it isn’t simply a case of out with the old and in with the new, not when the old still has so much to offer. Anyone who made the jump from the XBOX to Playstation for their next console should really consider picking up a PS3 and most definitely Vita also, you are missing out on so much if you don’t.

Adam’s Best of 2013

As 2013 draws to a close I’ve decided to look back on what my favourite games of the past twelve months were. It’s been an absolutely fantastic year for gaming, with a whole heap of great games across all platforms. There are a ton of games that I would’ve loved to put on the list (Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite being two of them), but I finally managed to whittle it down to a Top 5. So, in no particular order as I’m incredibly indecisive, here are my favourite games of 2013.

Persona 4: Golden

While the US and Japanese markets managed to get Persona 4: Golden in 2012, us Europeans had to wait till February 2013 before getting our hands on the Vita’s greatest game. Now I’m not a huge JRPG guy, having tried a number of Final Fantasy’s and their like, but there’s something about the Persona series (mainly 3 and 4) that bring in those who aren’t fans of the genre.

Everything about Persona 4 Golden is masterful in its design. From the deep, yet simple combat, to the insane and gripping story. The original PS2 version of Persona 4 was great, yet with Golden they’ve took what criticisms the original had and the ironed them out to perfection. New characters with their own sub-plots that play into the overall tale, new special features (our favourite being songs played at Persona Live concerts in Japan) and even new locations to explore. This is the reason you need a Vita.

Grand Theft Auto V

I was a little late to the party with GTAV, having only completed it a couple of weeks ago, and I’m glad I eventually went to it before the years end. The world of Los Santos is just so wonderfully realised that it’s an absolute joy to cruise along the streets to each mission. It’s probably the best open world sandbox ever created. The only downside came from the dialogue between Lamarr and Franklin. Maybe I’I’m just getting old, but the constant swearing became stale after the second cut scene.

Rockstar clearly getting the last bit of power out of the current consoles, it’s going to be interesting to see what they manage on PS4 and Xbox One.

Saints Row IV

While GTA V is the semi-serious sandbox world, Saints Row has gone in the complete opposite direction. From its initial beginning as a straight up GTA clone it’s morphed into something entirely different, with the latest release Saints Row IV being the craziest game yet. The end of the world is just the beginning as your character (The President of the United States) is thrust into a virtual reality world once Earth gets blown to bits in order to stop a bunch of evil aliens.

Comedy is a subjective thing; I feel Saints Row IV certainly hit more times than it missed, with some of the best use of licensed music you’ll find this year. And we should probably mention that while you are the President, the Vice President is none other than Keith David playing himself. It’s a weird game that feels like it was made by a bunch of crazy people in some sort of drug induced haze.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The third open world game to make my list is from an unusual source. Even with the PS4 and Xbox One released around the same time, this was the game I was most interested in.

Essentially giving the player the ability to buy or rent all the items needed near the beginning of the game is a genius move. Allowing you to tackle the dungeons in whichever order you wish. This unfamiliar structure matched with the familiar world of Hyrule from A Link to the Past makes this one of the best handheld Zelda’s you can buy.

The Last of Us

One of the most anticipated games of the year did the unthinkable and actually lived up to that expectation. A post-apocalyptic world where a fungal disease has infected the majority of the human race turning them into zombie-like creatures, your job as Joel is to take Ellie on a journey across the country to hopefully a find a cure.

The relationship between the main characters Joel and Ellie is really the driving force behind the game. Acted superbly by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, never before has there been such a lifelike, human interaction between two game characters. It’s a journey that I was thinking about well after the credits rolled. A sign of a great game if ever there was one.

Why the Wii U is my Christmas console of choice

It’s early December and the Xbox One and PS4 are selling in their droves with no doubt many people expecting one of these consoles sitting under the tree come Christmas Day. Not me. Despite having a PS4 pre-order up until a month before release, this was cancelled around the same time as the Watch_Dogs delay, simply because I had a sudden realisation that there are actually no games that interest me, at least not enough to spend around £400 on a new console.

So in the end the only reason I’d be buying it is simply to have something new and shiny. Something I’ve done with consoles before and regretted it when I realised I could’ve picked it up cheaper down the road with a larger and more diverse catalogue of games. It seems like the excitement of ordering a launch day console, tracking the order online, and joining many other people on forums shouting “OMG IT’S DISPATCHED” is more exciting than the moment the console arrives at your door. Or in the case of Yodel, a bush across the street.

So why will I be receiving a Wii U this Christmas? The answer is simple, games. It may not have the greatest of third party support (and that’s putting it lightly), but it does have something no other console does, that Nintendo magic. And while Xbox One and PS4 fans were at each other’s throats over resolution and graphical power, Nintendo threw out Super Mario 3D Land to critical acclaim. Weird that, it’s almost as if it’s the games that matter the most! Of course, one game doesn’t make it worth putting down hundreds of pounds on a new console and Nintendo’s other prime franchise is on hand.

Everyone remembers the furore that occurred once The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was announced right? They turned it into a kid’s game they cried! Obviously under some illusion that the previous games were like Nintendo’s version of Grand Theft Auto. If you managed to overcome this and stopped weeping into your Ocarina of Time bed sheets you’d discover one of the best Zelda games around. Personally I’d actually rate it second only to Ocarina of Time in the “Best Zelda” stakes, I loved it that much. I even enjoyed the triforce quest, which was so derided it’s actually been ‘fixed’ in the Wii U version. I don’t know why, I just loved the sailing, the open ocean as you search for that last triforce piece. The only downside was using a song to change the win direction. Something which has also been fixed if what I hear is correct.

So there you have two major, critically acclaimed releases and then there’s also the games you can pick up on the Virtual Console. No doubt I’ll end up buying Mega Man X for about the fifth time due to it being the best Mega Man game ever made (yes it is, shut up) and then there is also the back catalogue of Pikmin 3, ZombiU and Wonderful101. All of which are unique, and best of all, exclusives. These are games designed for the system, making best use of the consoles capabilities and not a watered down 360 or PS3 port.

A console could in the grand scheme of things be considered an investment. You’re investing in a consoles lifespan and this is probably my biggest worry with the Wii U. It may have some great games right now, but can anyone really seeing this last any longer than two years? Even two years might be pushing it if the dire sales figures don’t pick up. There’s a new Zelda, Smash Bros and Bayonetta 2 on the horizon, but past that and it gets a little foggy. Maybe a new Metroid if Reggie’s stammering when pressed on the subject at the VGX is anything to go by.

So yeah, thus ends my little ramble. I truly hope other people have seen the light and realised there’s more to games than prettier graphics and shouting instructions at your console. Maybe the Wii U will actually pick up over Christmas, because as it stands, it deserves to be selling far better. Whatever the outcome, this could very well be Nintendo’s last holiday season to turn things around.

Local Edinburgh Film Company DeepFried35 prepares to release Halloween Zomedy

Edinburgh, Scotland- October 29th 2013- New local ‘Zomedy’ from film producers DeepFried35 aims to propel Scotland into the online film scene.

Local Edinburgh film company ‘DeepFried35’ are launching their debut film in time for Halloween. The ‘zomedy’ based on the video game ZombiU for the WiiU, ‘The Real ZombieU’ is due to be released on 31st October 2013 and will be available to watch online. The plot follows main character, Ron Dee on his search for an essential mystery object through a Zombie infested city. It is the first major project from ‘DeepFried35’ and showcases some of Edinburgh’s finest local talent of actors and film producers. Also featuring innovative interactive QR code technology; ‘The Real ZombieU’ is certainty aiming to push the boundaries further than any other locally produced short film.

ZombiU the game was released in November 2012 as a launch game for the WiiU console and Greg McCraw and Shaun Paul Johnston, the creators of fan film ‘The Real ZombieU’ are both fans of the game. They wanted to create a film where they could combine the game with some of their favourite zombie films such as Shaun of the Dead. They said “We were inspired by the originality of films like Shaun of the Dead and obviously we are big fans of the ZombiU game so we thought, why not incorporate the two?”

The visual effects in the film carry a ‘game-like’ feel throughout with the main characters scanning device representing the WiiU console and the on screen EKG monitor giving the illusion that the audience are playing the game. QR codes will also pop up during the film which the viewer can scan with their mobile phone to receive extra content and information about the characters which may be a first for the indie film scene. The film is both creative and clever allowing the audience to interact with the film like they could a game.

“This is the first major film we have created as ‘DeepFried35’ and wanted to make sure it was something that people would be interested in.”-Shaun and Greg. The film will contain elements of the game and the guys hope to engage the interests of both film and game aficionados, so far gaining a lot of attention from Nintendoenthusiasts.com and other gaming sites alike. DeepFried35 plan to break the barriers and put Edinburgh on the online film industry map and hope by releasing ‘The Real ZombieU’ might help bridge the gap between the film and game industries.

 

Background Information

DeepFried35 started earlier this year when graduated film student Greg McCraw and actorShaun Paul Johnston decided to create a film company to break into the Scottish independent film scene. They wanted to emulate the success of US Freddie Wong who has rose to fame with his online short film creations. Johnston says “There’s not much going on in Edinburgh or Scotland in terms of pushing the online film industry forward. Guys like Freddy Wong have seen success from their films on YouTube in the states but no one seems to be making it big here in the UK. We wanted to show people there is great talent here in Edinburgh and the in rest of Scotland.” The guys are currently planning their second film which will go into production later this year.

 

Additional Information

‘The Real ZombieU’ will be available to watch online on Wednesday 31st October from:

www.deepfried35.com and www.youtube.com/user/deepfried35
Facebook: www.facebook.com/deepfried35
Twitter: www.twitter.com/deepfried35
Google+: www.plus.google.com/117899185931211380981/posts
Amber Dryden: [email protected]
Sam McCraw: [email protected]

Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers – Intro Pack

Gamestyle have had many positive things to say about the XBLA and PSN releases of Magic The Gathering: Duels Of The Planeswalkers. We recently gave the 2014 edition a solid eight out of ten. So when I was given the chance to jump into the real world of this fantastic card game, I jumped at the chance.

Well, I say jumped at the chance, it was done so with a little fear, as going from the digital version, with all its hints, tips and features that stop you making a fool of yourself, to the physical game itself, is like swimming without armbands for the first time, losing the stabalisers on your first bike, skating without the aid of a penguin. All of a sudden it is you, your cards and battle to the death.

The first thing you notice is how well made the cards are. Yes they are just cards,  but they share more in common with a good deck of cards you’d find at a casino poker table, rather than a 99p pack from your local 99p store. They slip of each other with ease, never sticking to each other or proving difficult to slide from the deck. It’s not a massive selling point, but when you are used to playing with nice feeling cards, it is good to see that the cheap option hasn’t been taken here.

I started with the M:14 Core Set and specifically the Lightforce version. The set comes with a 60 card deck, an instruction sheet and two all important booster packs. Enough, the makers claim, to get you started in the world of Magic The Gathering.  Well not quite it seems. Ideally needing a deck of 60 cards, the core set on its own doesn’t allow you to really sit down and just play, you do need to find someone who also plays, easier said than done for a complete beginner.

The initial idea to get a feel for playing live, was to sit down with a family member and play through a game slowly, making that jump from digital to live. Yet, with just the single deck it wasn’t possible. Well that isn’t strictly true, as a quick internet search brings up that very question. The official rules say no, but if you are playing a casual game at home, then you always could. That however doesn’t really help for someone learning the game.

So the next step was to reach out and find someone who also had a set. Luckily I found a friend who was a fan of the series. They hadn’t played for a while, but wanted an excuse to jump back in. Waiting a few days for their set to arrive and for us to arrange a time we could both sit down and play gave me an excuse to have a good look at the cards.

Land cards, yep I know those, I know exactly how they work, got plenty of those in my deck. Creature cards, along with your land cards, they are the bread and butter of the game. You need these to deal damage and defend yourself. It was looking at the creature cards that it suddenly struck me. The artwork is beautiful, I hadn’t noticed this on the digital version, not really considered the care and attention that goes into creating the cards.

Each creature card, instant, enchantment, etc has an individual bit of art on it. I lost loads of time, just going through the deck and admiring the artwork on the individual cards. Honestly, it is something that really comes through on a physical card, the attention to detail that brings the game to life.

Something then dawned on me, while looking through. I know of cards that affects the attributes on my creature cards, that can add bonus points to attack and defense. When I get one of these cards on the digital version, it updates the attributes on the screen, so I know exactly what I have. I am going to have to work all this out myself, back to the internet to find out how other players do this.

A notepad and a pen, perfect! Whoa, there are rules for this? No outside notes are allowed? What on earth does this mean? So another few hours is lost going through various articles, looking at what is allowed as part of the game, what isn’t. What is considered good gamesmanship, what is frowned upon. It’s not a minefield perhaps, but there is a lot to take in. I have lost a lot of time to this game already and not even played a game. I had been warned and it seems those warnings were right.

I did finally get to play a game, being soundly beaten by my friend as I clumsily felt my way around my first live attempt. I felt good in the opening few exchanges, as I got some land cards down, played a couple of creature cards, got an attack or two in and found myself leading, having knocked around 5 Life Points from my opponent. Playing through those digital games had the desired effect, I can play this live without an issue.

Then it turned around, those 5 Life Points I took were the last I would take. My opponent (no longer my friend, why would a friend destroy another friend in such a manner – I kid of course) started making moves that left me bewildered. “Are you allowed to do that?” A quick explanation later and proof he had played a legitimate move, he went out and destroyed me.

What was nice though, was being taught a few things after our initial game. Failing to use Instants at the right time, not using my Sorcery cards properly, wasting enchantments, focusing too much on attacking and a lot more. It hit me then, the digital versions, whilst fun to play do hold your hand a lot. They show playable cards with a glow around them, so you get reminded about cards you may have forgot about, they then show you how you can use them, but highlighting cards they can be played against. In a physical game, this is all gone, you are relying on your own skills. My real life opponent isn’t going to help me mid-game. They want to win, just as much as I do.

However, my friend (see we are still friends) is kind enough to talk me through how to make notes, how to read the board and try to use things to my advantage. I play chess, I know how to plan ahead. I play Texas Hold-Em Poker, I know how to play the odds, play the people around me and use my playing style to my advantage. There is a lot of that, which I can transfer into a game of Magic.

I have to take time to understand my deck, make sure I know what cards I have, try to keep on top of what I could have drawn next, or at least over the next few rounds. This isn’t a game you can go into blind and I am beginning to understand why the most dedicated players will spend so much time building different types of decks. They know what their strengths are, they will start to understand their opponents weaknesses, so they plan for games in advance.

We played a few more games, I lost all of them, but I felt my understanding of the game was increasing. We agreed to meet again and have some more games. Just for fun… I am coming back with my Deck Builders Toolkit!

Whilst the digital versions of the games were a bit easier to follow, it doesn’t compare to holding the physical cards themselves. The sense of achievement you get when getting some good outcomes is great. If you enjoy the digital version, then we highly recommend this core packs as an entry point.

Persona 4: The Animation

For the past couple of years I’ve become obsessed with the Persona series. And oddly it didn’t start because of any of the games themselves. It started with a little video series called the “Endurance Run”. A video series produced by Giantbomb where two guys (Jeff and Vinny) played through the entirety of Persona 4, the series ending after 100 hours. My two weeks off work were completely dissolved by this wonderful commentary on the most bizarre yet intriguing game I’ve ever seen. I had to play it, yet being mainly a Nintendo/Microsoft guy I didn’t own a PS2. It was a couple of years later when I would finally own an enhanced and upgraded version on the Vita, Persona 4: Golden, and it would quickly jump into my top three games of all time.

My Persona passion would continue when I would finally go back and play Persona 3: FES. Not ideal considering the mass improvements that the fourth game had over 3. Still, I loved the craziness of the story and excellent characters. And now I come to the point of this little blog ramble, the Persona 4 Animation. Released in three blu-ray sets (or “Boxes” as they are called on the blu-ray spine), across 26 episodes, this tells the story of Persona 4 in its entirety, from comedy antics to epic battles. But how does it work as an animated series?

Persona 4: The Animation is quite an odd one. On the hand someone who loves the series will get a huge kick out of seeing all their characters in animated form, most with the same voice actors as the game, newcomers however will wonder what all the fuss is about. It can be said that at times it follows the games story too closely and those rare moments where it slightly deviates from it are its best moments. A specific highlight being the insane battle with Mitsuo. One way it most certainly does deviate from the game is with the protagonist or now as he is called, Yu Narukami. Essentially the character in the game was you (“Yu”, get it?), you gave him his name, you made the choices, and not having a voice made it even more personal. Here Yu has a voice, and despite initial reservations, it’s pretty good.

Instead of having Yu be the boring, straight man hero, instead he has some of the best comedy moments in the series. Those that have played the game will be all too familiar with the infamous Kings Game section, well it’s here in all its glory and Yu loves it just as much as the audience did.

Now I’ve come to the sudden realisation that I haven’t even explained what the story of Persona 4 actually is, well, it basically follows the story of the transfer student Yu who gets sucked up into a murder mystery that involves a world inside the TV. That’s the basic set up; though it gets far crazier the deeper you go.

With Persona 4: The Animation there are two types of episodes. The “Social Link” episodes and the “Battle” episodes. Social Links are where Yu helps out the characters many personal problems and the Battle episodes are, obviously, where the real action happens. Often they are spread out quite evenly, but some of the Social Link episodes don’t translate all that well and can be incredibly boring. For instance the Nanako episode is excruciatingly awful where the episode follows your cousin trying to solve the mystery of what Yu gets up to during his days all the while pretending to be a detective. The battle episodes though are a dazzling spectacle of colours, drama and action, even having the great battle music playing over the top. In fact, all of the music from the game is present and accounted for.

Something I did find quite strange is the way the series handles the games multiple endings. Obviously it doesn’t end with the “bad” ending, that would be stupid, but in the main episode list are 25 episodes, the 25th episode ending with the “good” ending. Then stumbling onto the Extras menu and you’ll see “Episode 26”, this being the “true” ending. Why they couldn’t just have them play in order I don’t know, but at least it’s there and doesn’t end with episode 25’s quite anti-climactic final battle.

Personally, despite the odd duff episode and minor annoyances, I loved the animation, but then I would as I loved the series. It would be interesting to see the perspective of someone going into this cold with no prior knowledge of the game it’s based on as I suspect it wouldn’t be quite as glowing as my little write up. Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start a new Persona 4 playthrough.

Why the Playstation Vita is the best thing to happen to me this year…

Well in a gaming sense at least. Life has been pretty busy this year, I have a six year old son who does hockey training twice a week, as well as playing hockey games. It means I spend more time away from home at this point in my life, than I ever did before. That in turn means less time to sit down with a home console or PC.

That is the only reason my gaming time fell away. However, I found I wasn’t enjoying it as much, I was playing games out of habit more than anything, or for the purposes of review. I had a reasons to play, but none of the reasons were for fun, or because I absolutely had to play the latest and greatest. That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed the games I have played. Far Cry 3, Trials Evolution and one or two others have really stood out and have been fine experiences. Yet still if I hadn’t had to review them, I likely wouldn’t have spend as much time with them as I did.

It’s hard to put a finger on why I have had a change of heart in 2012, I still don’t watch TV, I still have no interest in Pop Factor, Celebrity Jungle, Essex thingy or any of the other popular TV programmes that friends and family always mention. I still have plenty of time to myself, when my son is in bed and my partner is at work, I would still turn on the XBOX and play some NHL 13, Forza, Rayman Origins, etc. Again more through habit than anything else. That all changed when I finally acquired a Playstation Vita.

I couldn’t afford one upon release, much to my dismay. I wanted one, I wanted to be there day one in the queue to pick my unit up. However having a family means there are always other priorities, therefore it wasn’t to be. I kind of ignored it after that, not wanting to be green with envy. That’s not me though, ignoring it didn’t last long, so I checked various threads on forums, looked at the games, checked out the opinions of others. What I found was more negativity towards the system than I expected, lack of support, lack of games and generally not living up to expectations. I felt like I had dodged a bullet in many ways.

In November however I was given the chance to get one, as a reward for doing a bit of  work for someone. It was a second hand unit, but hell, it was kind of free. It only came with Reality Fighters and Resistance, both games that didn’t exactly convince me the masses were wrong. Neither game was all that great, Reality Fighters in particular was awful. So a quick trade later and I picked up Everybody’s Golf and Wipeout 2048, because even if there was nothing else, it could at least be my Everybody’s Golf machine. It has become much, much more than that though.

Literally days after getting the machine, Sony outlined what was coming for PS+ and all of a sudden things looked bright. I was getting Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Mutant Blobs Attack and Chronovolt, all for free (well the cost of my sub, which I had anyway). For a start, Everybody’s Golf and Wipeout 2048 are fantastic games, the former being just what one would expect and the latter being stunning on that OLED screen, honestly just wonderful to see.

Uncharted was a bit of surprise too, I had heard mixed reviews about the game, yet when I finally played it, I was blown away, aside from the odd crappy QTE boss, it played so well on the Vita, it look all kinds of wonderful too. Bend (not Naughty Dog) were off to a perfect start for a launch title. It was that good in fact, that I played through every day and finished it within a few days. It wasn’t the visuals or the actual gameplay that stood out for me, it was the structure. it managed to keep the epic feel of the PS3 Uncharted games, but I found I was able to play either a few moments before setting the Vita down, or play through a few chapters. It was a lesson in how to do a handheld port of an existing major franchise.

Next was Gravity Rush, which was a brand new IP and that too really struck me in just how good it looked. It wasn’t as stand out as Uncharted, but again I was drawn in to the game and playing a bit every night. Then something hit me, I wasn’t doing this out of habit, out of some kind of obligation. I had no reason to have to play these games. I hadn’t put down any of my hard earned money, I wasn’t even having to review the games. I was playing because I wanted to, because I was having fun. Somehow this machine that is supposedly set up for failure, had given me back something that had been missing for a while.

I had my passion for gaming back. I would look forward to finishing work, so I could get some time with the games. Enjoying the time I had on my own so I could get a proper session going. My collection was growing too, having already completed Rayman Origins on the 360, I wanted it again on the Vita, so I picked up the game. Then there was Little Big Planet, which for me is the best of the franchise to far, a game that felt like it was created especially for the system. Hustle Kings, Virtua Tennis 4, Lumines and other PSN titles were added. I had promised myself that for this system I would make sure I played one, before even entertaining a new game, but a few bargains later and I have enough games to last me beyond a year already.

It’s not all good though, Modnation Racers is a bit of a let down, something that should thrive on the Vita, just doesn’t work. Poor frame-rates, really slow loading times and a clunky UI means it does just sit there, like the ginger stepchild, unloved and unplayed, it is the one game that feels like it would be a chore to play. Maybe one day when I have absolutely nothing else to play. Which for a system that ‘has no games’ should be soon right?

Wrong, as I said above, I have a enough content to last me at least a year. Because I own Wipeout HD on the PS3, I automatically get that content for free as DLC in Wipeout 2048, I have all my PSP and PSOne titles that I can play, then there are the Cross-Buy titles that already exist and that are also coming. Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, which allows not only Cross-Buy, but also Cross-Play. I can play on my Vita, against my partner or son who are on the PS3, it works amazingly well too. Games like Motorstorm RC and Hustle Kings, also add to my PS3 library thanks to Cross-Buy, there is so much to be happy with.

How can I forget to mention Sonic & All Stars Racing Transformed, a lesson in how to port a full console title to a handheld. It is identical, every level and character is reproduced to perfection, with only the slightest trade off in graphics. It’s a shame there is no Cross-Save with the main game, but it is that good, I don’t mind playing twice over. Need For Speed: Most Wanted too, I only have that for the Vita, purely because it is better than the console versions. It plays like a full blown home release, but here it is in the palm of my hand. There are also some fine free to play games too, with the absolute stand out being Treasures Of Montezuma, which is essentially a clone of Bejewelled, however is a clone that is more than welcome and if I am being honest, has a levelling up system that makes it more enjoyable than PopCap’s effort. Honestly, if you have a Vita, try it.

Another let down though is Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, it’s not awful as such, but it feel like a missed opportunity, released more to have the brand on the console, rather than for a great gaming experience. As I mentioned in my review, it felt like the team who made it, were doing so based on old ideals of handheld ports, rather than trying to bring something that was designed for the Vita itself. However on the whole there are more excellent games, than there are let downs.

Even moving forward, my most anticipated title of 2013 is Persona 4 Golden, a Vita title. P3P on the PSP was probably my favourite game of the system and hearing other’s experiences with P4G has more then whetted my appetite. I could of course get it on import, but I have enough to get through as it is, that I can wait until my will power fails me, upon seeing it on a shop shelf.  The naysayers will continue to predict the death of the Vita, however, should Sony decide to kill the system early, I will feel I have more than had my monies worth, just based on everything available already.

I have barely scratched the surface, I am yet to play Virtue’s Last Reward, WRC 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Disgaea 3, Escape Plan, FIFA, Frobisher Says, Jet Set Radio, MGS HD Collection, Ratchet & Clank, Mortal Kombat, New Little King’s Story, Pinball Arcade, Sound Shapes and more. Those are just the released games, there are bound to be some that will come that are yet to be announced, plus as previously mentioned a whole load of classic PSOne and PSP titles.  Who can tell which of those will also see PS+ releases.

Let us not forget too, that the Vita isn’t even a year old yet. For my money it has the strongest one year catalogue of any system before it. Sure the hardware has lacked the sales Sony had hoped, but I honestly believe that is mainly down to some awful marketing more than anything. With PS+ onboard, Sony should really be pushing the system now, creating bundles which include a subscription and making sure the world knows about it. It needs to show off the potential of the system, show it isn’t just another PSP, that it is now a whole lot more. Show off the games properly, shout from the rooftops… THIS IS THE VITA!

Up until November, I was considering how much longer I can continue gaming for, it is an expensive hobby when you just aren’t feeling it anymore. Now though, I feel I am back, I look forward to new releases, I look forward to playing games again. It is all down to my Vita.