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Review: Söldner-X 2: Final Prototype

June 25, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype is the epitome of 2D scrolling shoot ’em up gaming, cloning the classic R-Type and improving on it in every respect. If you played Soldner-X: Himmelsturmer last year, you may be nervous about this purchase. I was too, but don’t be: Eastasiasoft have taken everything that was good about the first game and fixed everything that was bad. The result is a slick, polished and highly playable 2D shooter.

Set across seven luscious levels (of which only five are accessible at the start), the aim is of course simple: shoot everything, avoid bullets and collect power-ups. Each level takes about ten minutes to complete including the final boss, and if that was all there was to it, it would become quickly boring. Fortunately, Soldner-X 2 is a dream for those who like challenge stages and unlockables.

Let’s start with the gameplay first. Your ship has two weapons to start with, plus one extra which can be unlocked, or swapped out for weapons collected by power-ups. By taking out the baddies you collect chain rings which boost your chain bar. If you can manage to fill this within a certain time, a power-up is released in addition to those which spawn when you kill enemies. Conserving bullets and taking down opponents quickly extends the time you are allowed to fill this bar.

There are, as you might imagine, tons of different types of power-ups to collect. Chasers add mini-ships which follow you and shoot at the enemies; regular power-ups increase the firepower of your currently selected weapon, and to a lesser extent those of your other weapons. Shockwaves and so-called limit attacks can be acquired which do massive damage to everything on the screen, plus plenty of other goodies.

Dotted around the stages are various secret keys. Collect 4 out of 5 on each level to unlock additional stages. Collect all 35 for a silver trophy.

Difficulty-wise, Soldner-X 2 strikes gold. The game can be as easy or as difficult as you like, which is in stark contrast to the rather tricky affair that was the original game. Two difficulty levels are unlocked at first: Beginner is dead easy, you will be able to complete the whole game without losing a ship, and Normal is not that challenging either. Later difficulty levels up the ante considerably once you’ve unlocked them. The real masterstroke though is that the game features dynamic difficulty, relative to the base difficulty level you’ve selected. You have a rank, either S (the best) or A-G, which goes up and down and is indicated in the corner of the screen along with your trending as you play. The more efficient you are, the more enemies and bullets are thrown at you. Perform poorly and the difficulty will be cranked down.

This may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it is perfectly balanced – never making the game too easy or too hard, again, relative to the difficulty you originally selected. You can also start the game from any stage, and the game thoughtfully provides you with a bunch of power-ups at the start commensurate to how far into the stages you have selected. This also makes hunting down those secret keys less of a chore.

Allow your health to drop below a certain amount and Beserker Mode is activated; much like in the original game this reduces the damage you take but increases your damage output. Survive long enough to pick up some health and normal gameplay will resume.

A tutorial system has been added which is less intrusive than the original game – but a little too unintrusive in fact. The top-left of the screen blinks to tell you to press triangle when a new tutorial is available, but if you don’t press it within a few seconds you’ll miss it altogether. Some of the tutorials are somewhat important to understanding the finer points of the gameplay mechanics, required to get the most out of the game. Fortunately, they are all available for re-reading in the options menu, which is also accessible during the game’s pause screen.

Soldner-X 2 includes two-player offline co-op which works seamlessly, with all power-ups shared except chasers. This does however mean that if your buddy picks up a naff weapon, your tertiary weapon slot acquires it too at the expense of what you previously had equipped.

The graphics are crisp and smooth, with excellent use of colour making this the most beautiful-looking 2D shooter on the PS3 to date. Boss designs are adequate but not breathtaking, and the music is the typical kind of mellow background dance noise you’d expect from any self-respecting 2D shooter. There is plenty of variety in enemies, however many of the backgrounds are quite dark so some of the levels can feel slightly samey – though there are many differences between them.

Onto the unlockables then. Soldner-X 2 features a challenge mode with a large number of tasks to complete, ranging from collecting 999 chain rings on a stage, to maxing out a weapon’s power in a certain time, to finishing a level without missing more than 3 enemies, or without killing any enemies except the boss. Some of these challenges are fairly simple and can be attempted on any difficulty level; others are punishingly difficult. Trophies are awarded for some of the challenges and you will be able to rack up more than in the original game because they are better balanced. It is really in the challenge mode where most of the fun and replayability of this game lies.

Since many people looking for classic shooter action will have already purchased the first game, I’d like to touch on some of the differences. First of all, the ill-thought out gameplay mechanic which causes your chain bar to be reset when you switch weapon has been scrapped. Your health slowly regenerates if you perform certain tasks, which it doesn’t in the first game. Issues with the backgrounds being too bright and easy to confuse with enemies have been resolved, with a much better contrast between foreground and background in the new game. The cheesy cut scenes between levels have been removed, and the difficulty can now be made much more forgiving if you are just in it to see what comes next. I also like the radio chatter during boss fights where your ground controller lets you know which parts you’re supposed to be attacking. Finally, the vast amount of unlockables: ships, stages, weapons, ‘specials’, challenges and difficulty levels, plus trophy collecting, give Soldner-X 2 far more replayability than its predecessor.

Online leaderboards are present and correct, but a pain to scroll through; there is no online play.

Pros:

  • Addictive, massive replayability due to tons of unlockables
  • Difficulty can be made as hard or easy as you want
  • Good variety, good graphics
  • Seamless offline co-op

Cons:

  • Only 7 stages, so you’ll be replaying the same areas over and over

There are quite a few single-stick shooters on the PSN store now. In my opinion, this is the best of the bunch. It has been well-designed, balanced and tuned to perfection, and is a big improvement on the original. If you have been thinking of buying the bundle, I would recommend you save a few pounds and just go for this game as it will hold your attention much longer than Himmelsturmer.

8/10

Review: Demon’s Souls

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

This review is based on the US import version of the game. The European release comes with a strategy guide in addition to the game.

While reviewing Demon’s Souls, quite a few people have asked the question, “Is it really as hard as everyone says?”. The answer is no: it’s harder – but before you go back to Virtua Tennis 2009’s career mode, allow me to explain further.

Demon's Souls

Demon’s Souls (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are different kinds of hard in a video game. There is the Mirror’s Edge hard, where you know exactly what to do but you always mess up one tiny little move and the whole game becomes a trial of nerves and shouting. Then there is the Resident Evil 5 boss hard, where you need pinpoint accuracy and tons of luck and ammo to take down a tricky enemy, you repeat it over and over and eventually get frustrated to the point of throwing your controller.

Demon’s Souls is different: it’s all about the planning. On the face of it, the basic combat system in this hack’n’slash-style adventure RPG is fairly simple to operate, and as long as you retreat and heal when you need to, you can progress. The difficulty comes from a few things: first, the world is full of traps, ambushes and areas that are tricky to navigate. What this basically means is you will repeat the same areas over and over, slowly memorising the correct path and where the traps are, getting a little bit further each time. Each attempt is like a training run allowing you to improve your strategy bit by bit. Having said that, it is annoyingly easy to fall to your death while fighting an enemy on a narrow platform, and sometimes you’ll be randomly overwhelmed by enemies you’ve successfully tackled many times before; so expect to repeat each area many, many times.

The second prong of difficulty is grounded in the absolutely punishing conditions which befall you upon death. Die once and you turn from living form to Soul form and your health is cut to half (or some other percentage depending on your stats) until you complete the area or satisfy certain other conditions like taking down one of the epic bosses or completing a co-op or competitive multi-player task (more on that later). You’ll also lose all your currency, although your weapons and inventory stay intact. To recover your money – which is denoted as Souls in the game – you need to get back to where you died and touch your bloodstain. Woe betide you if you die on the way though, as only your most recent bloodstain is retained, and there is no bank – the Souls you have on you are all you have – so the chances of you losing the majority of your Souls altogether is excruciatingly high. Expect to play the vast majority of the game in Soul form with half your health points. The other difficulty is that the distance between checkpoints is bordering on the insane; be prepared to lose 30-45 minutes of play time on a regular basis.

As a final word on difficulty before we get to the meat of the game, it took me over 6 hours and probably 40+ attempts to complete the first dungeon. I’m not great at video games, but I’m not terrible either. There are no difficulty settings to make it easier. However, the game exudes a certain elusive addictiveness. You will get fed up of re-spawning at the same point over and over and turn the game off, but a couple of hours later you’ll be ready to try again with the “this time I’m going to get further” attitude. Because each individual fight isn’t usually intrinsically too hard, Demon’s Souls has a knack of keeping you coming back to try just one more time, and see what comes next.

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Categories: Game Reviews Tags: ,

The Gaming Rant 13

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

This is an unedited, uncensored re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that fans can read the uncensored versions.

WARNING! This article is intended as a piece of satirical diatribe. Some readers may find the language and themes within extremely offensive.

Contains strong language, drug references and sexual references. This article is satire and does not reflect the views of TheSixthAxis or myself.

Bit of a mixed bag this week, mostly because I’ve spent most of the week staring at odds, spreadsheets and guys running around on grass. In the case of England, they were literally on grass, it is the only reasonable explanation why they moved around like snails in a vat of treacle. So here is a random assortment of stuff that piqued my interest this week.

Bob Kotick wants Call of Duty subscriptions. My initial reaction to this was “Oh really asshole?” But not so fast! For once in his life, the man has actually come up with an idea that has some merit, because this could go one of two ways:

  1. Those bloody 12-year old American ADD kids with headsets will finally be dissipated to the delight of people who can actually string sentences together without using the word ‘gay’ or ‘n00b’, or:
  2. Lots of stupid American ADD parents who are too loaded on Ritalin to notice they have children will blindly shell out their hard-earned welfare money to keep those kids subdued so they can continue feeding their pill-popping Dr. Phil-watching habit. The kids will then be further locked into Modern Warfare 2, reducing the risk of a random encounter with one of them in a proper video game.

As it happens, both these results are actually pretty good for us, so logic dictates we have to support the subscription model Bobby has proposed.

You’ve got to love the logic. Lots of people bought our game therefore everyone likes our game therefore everyone will pay for it again. Everyone uses Google too, but imagine the fallout if Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter all suddenly decided to start charging subscriptions. Pretty much instantly, the internet would become a desolate wasteland of neglected services as everyone goes back to doing meaningful things instead.

There is, however, a certain creep of irony to all this. We all know that Activision only makes money on Modern Warfare 2 because millions of underage kids are playing it. If MW2 could only be played by real people, it would have been a total flop because we’re all smart enough to play Battlefield instead. If it had been up to Activision, the game would’ve been rated PG, but they weren’t too worried: they know parents are stupid and easy to exploit, and they capitalised on it. The upside here is, if we cleverly get millions of parents to buy Call of Duty subscriptions, we will have concrete paper trail evidence that they are mentally retarded to wave at The Daily Mail, then we can lock them up in psychiatric facilities for life as a form of passive eugenics, and hopefully save our asses from the current hell that is online play by the time OnLive 3 is out. Stupid gay n00bs.

Bob Kotick is concerned about the price of PlayStation Move and Kinect. You’ve really got to laugh, otherwise you’d cry. So let’s just get this straight Bob: a company that has set RRPs of £54.99 for Modern Warfare 2, £10 for a map pack with 2 old maps in, £109 for a single DJ Hero game and turntable, and some obscene amount for a pro skateboard cleverly disguised as a cheap tacky piece of plastic is concerned about the price of a peripheral that will be usable by the vast majority of games released in the next couple of years? Are we, like, on the same planet here? You can’t even use the DJ Hero turntable as a sex toy for goodness’ sake, although it does make a good tomato slicer if you glue a kitchen knife to it then spin it round really really fast. Get a grip! (haw haw)

Bob Kotick doesn’t like the way the interwebs talks about him. I can sympathise with Bob here actually; after all, my weekly job at TSA is to write a bunch of worthless shit that slowly decreases my street cred and ability to get hired in the industry. Don’t underestimate the impact of talking shit on the internet: I opened a German newspaper a couple of months ago (don’t ask) and somewhere a few pages in there was an article “TheSixthAxis criticises Polyphony Digital” with a link to my Gran Turismo 5 rant. Then I go onto Metacritic and they have quoted me slagging off Guitar Hero Van Halen. So, if the smear campaigns of a gay n00b writer like me get erm, smeared, all over the internet, imagine the impact of Bobby’s words.

None of this will prevent me from slagging him off of course. What a cry baby. If you’re gonna talk out of your ass, expect to be slammed by an anonymous group of pricks who would never dare talk to you that way in a bar for fear of having a bottle of Smirnoff Ice smashed over their heads. Yes, I’m afraid you’re just an anonymous group of pricks. When I slag off something you like in my column, I expect you to tell me I’m a dick in the comments. It’s part of the entertainment value. I enjoy seeing how easily some people get so provoked and wound up over nothing.

There are two big differences between Bobby and myself. First of all, Bobby is making an inordinate amount of cash out of his endeavours, whereas I just love to be hated. Secondly, I have this thing Bob could learn about: charisma. I know these are unfamiliar words for him, having learned everything he knows about PR from his tutor Gordon Brown. If Richard Branson was in charge of Modern Virgin and announced there would be a subscription model, people would cheer him and say good on you, hope it funds your next balloon flight. If Michael O’Leary of RyanAir did the same thing, they’d say, well he’s Irish, so he’s a c*ck anyway.

It’s all about conduct. When Bob goes to Asda – no wait it must be Waitrose, slaves dressed in rags lay out blocks of solid marble in front of him so he doesn’t have to get dirt on his Adidas Solid Gold shoes. His butlers wipe his ass with freshly minted £100 notes. While Richard Branson at least gives the impression of being the good guy who wants to please his customers, and made his empire through legitimate business practices, Bob’s approach is more to just mow over his entire customer base with unwanted pap with no regard for what they actually need or want, or whether it benefits them or not.

Don’t like what I said Bob? Then stop acting like a greedy petulant temper tantrum child of the 90s and start acting with some genuine consideration for your fellow human beings.

Piercings. Why do teenage girls get their belly buttons, tongues, lips and other more personal body parts pierced? Is it because they’re dirty whores? Or is it because they’re just dirty whores? The question arose when a teenage family member informed me that she wants to have her belly button pierced.

There are worse places a woman can get a piercing, though. One of my bisexual colleagues has a piercing in that most painful of places that only a true masochist would dare to do. I asked her what possessed her to do that, she said it made the bedroom activities better. Yes, I can just imagine it: what I really want when I’m getting some is to hear clank, clank, clank like a bloody cowbell every half second. That’s just one more thing for your boyfriend to drag you into the kitchen by the next morning when he wants you to cook him a fry-up.

Oil spills. As we all know, BP are taking the Katamari Forever approach to cleaning up oil in the Gulf of Mechhicho: roll up a ton of trash and hope that the resulting katamari soaks up all the oil. Guys, it works well in a video game, but you really shouldn’t let your behaviour be affected by our malicious evil industry. Actually, that sounds kind of like the oil industry, but I digress: real life is a little different, and I believe this excellent summary of how BP deals with spilled coffee explains it best:

Motion Controllers. What is it called now, KiNatal or something? I ‘kin’ ‘ate it. Am I the only one on the planet who doesn’t give a rats ass about Move and Kinect? If I wanted motion control I would buy Wii Sports Plus. What I want is to sit on my ass expending as little energy as possible pushing buttons shooting shit up. Proper old-school like. And we’re all lazy b*stards so I’m pretty sure we’re all in agreement here. As the media has correctly told us, the very purpose of video games is to dumb our minds and bodies, become unhealthily unfit and get fat. And that is exactly why I bought my PS3 and exactly what I want to do. Why would a coach potato want to do anything else? I don’t even go the 5 minute walk to the store unless there happens to be a taxi outside.

A much better peripheral would have eliminated that troubling physical effort of moving analog sticks and pushing buttons by simply allowing us mind control over what our character does. Then we wouldn’t have to Move at all, and if Microsoft’s E3 presentation is to be believed, they could’ve easily put mind control in Kinect, they just cut it out to save $10 on the manufacturing cost as they felt it was an unnecessary over-complication.

I am getting really worried now. Heavy Rain Move, Gran Turismo Move, SOCOM Move, SingStar Dance (using the Move). Move games DO NOT WANT. Please, I beg you Gods of game development, do not deny me my DualShock 3 gaming pleasures.

FirstPlay. Hehe no I’m just kidding, the less said the better.

PlayStation Plus. I really didn’t want to rant about this, but let’s face it, background patching? It should’ve been free, and besides, who doesn’t have a 100Mbit internet connection these days? I mean, apart from everyone in England, but their football team is so God damn awful they all deserve to be on dial-up anyway. Beating Slovenia by only one goal? *golf clap* Wow you must’ve really exerted yourselves on that one. Watch me laugh to death on Sunday when Germany slaps you losers into eternal oblivion.

Sorry, got sidetracked there. Oh yes, PlayStation Plus. No cross-game voice chat? Such a shame. Definitely when I’m playing games, all those messages I get from people asking me for beta keys and if I want to play LittleBigPlanet would certainly have been less intrusive if they had been allowed to bellow out of my speakers while I’m enjoying a nice quiet game of Aliens vs Predator, or Frogger Returns.

What about the first 2 months’ games and discounts? Surely something decent there, right? Hmmz. LBP, Wipeout HD, Field Runners, Age of Zombies, Shatter, Savage Moon, Gravity Crash, Fat Princess DLC, Killzone 2 Steel & Titanium DLC, ModNation Racers, Heavy Rain, Zen Pinball, Blast-Off, Alien Zombie Death, Mushroom Wars, Super Stardust HD, WipeOut Fury, MotorStorm Adrenaline Pack, Flower, PixelJunk Shooter. Now I’m going to concede, for anyone who is new to PSN, that is a damn fine list of games and a spectacularly excellent start to PlayStation+. But what about those of us who have more money than sense?

You know when you were a kid and you collected football cards in the playground, and you looked through your friend’s cards and were like “got, got, got, need, got, need, got, got, need, need, got”? Well this was more like “got, got, got, got, got, got, got, got, got, got, got… bollocks”. Then you look through the list and realise you haven’t even played 80% of them anyway and think what a dork you are for wasting so much money on games you never get time to play. Must remember to pop to the store tomorrow and pick up Naughty Bear, Singularity and Transformers: War For Cybertron so I can stare at their shiny cases and not play those either.

Germany. Sorry if you’re not following the World Cup, but do expect me to rant about football until approximately July 11th. I bet £70 that Germany would beat Serbia. You may begin laughing, now.

As soon as that red card came in the first half, I knew financial doom was imminent. What followed was what I can only describe as 65 minutes of screaming at my TV at a decibel level that would put a vuvuzela band to shame. After missing the penalty, and his performance in general, Podolski is now Kill-on-Sight to me. And well, Özil, nice goal on Wednesday night, but man is he butt ugly. There were genetically mutated babies in Alien Resurrection with more charm. It was pretty disturbing though to be watching matches as a staunch lesbian and occasionally feel compelled to say “hm, wow, he has a nice ass”. Stupid men. I refuse to be corrupted by your fine asses.

Gran Turismo 5 has Stunt Arenas, Karting and Track Creation. So Yamauchi Kazinori saw ModNation Racers and thought “OMG WE MUST HAVE THAT FEATURE!”. OCD is a beautiful thing. Unless it’s compulsive Xbox 360 gaming, then you’re royally screwed. For anyone who is suffering from that, I sympathise: it is more than understandable why you’d want to wash your hands 50 times a day.

I could write a book full of jokes about this announcement – sorry, “leak”. Stunt Arenas particularly tickled me though. Have you ever been able to roll a car in Gran Turismo? Have you ever been able to damage one (and don’t say the new game has damage modelling, we all know it basically consists of the occasional door falling off and that’s it)? What about jumping more than 10cm off the track? No, you can’t do any of those things, because Gran Turismo’s uber-physics model is so realistic that the cars stick to the tracks like lycra to a footballer’s ass. *zones out for a minute* Anyway.

Imagine if you will, the excitement of stunt racing in Gran Turismo. After precisely executing a 3-point turn to get lined up to the massive 10 degree incline jump ramp – being careful not to skid out on the grass – you rev up and about 10 seconds later when you reach 40mph the tension is really mounting as the jump approaches. Gritting your teeth, you reach the apex, only to find that apart from a slight upward shift in your suspension, the car doesn’t lift-off at all. You would go back and try at a higher speed, but the run-up is only 2km long and it will take a good 5 minutes in your Volkswagen Cappuccino to get back there, so you give up. Marvelous.

Kazinori has spent about 20 years raving about how Gran Turismo 5 is all about the realism and nothing to do with being a fun game. So, seriously, go-karting? What is going on here? That’s a bit of a U-turn isn’t it (haw haw again!). Last I checked, go-karting and the Nurburgring don’t mix. Much more disturbingly, last I checked go-karting is usually quite entertaining – surely going against every core principle of what the guys at Polyphony have got planned for us. When I get to the first corner, will a minor deflection of the left analog stick send me careering at a 90 degree angle into the barrier?

The only explanation I can see for these things is that Polyphony Digital looked at ModNation and said, “well that game isn’t fun either, so we better incorporate it into ours”. They are however planning to improve on the loading times, shooting for a full 5 minutes between menus, which will be awesome.

Pre-owned games wars. My God don’t get me started. Online pass premium content access key bonus DLC one-time use code BOLLOCKS TO YOU.

This really is despicable behaviour. It’s out of control and it’s going to make a mockery of our hobby. Even I buy pre-owned games, sometimes in Norway it is the only way to acquire them at all once they’re not new releases anymore, because our game stores don’t exactly have mountains of shelf space. Are you going to punish me for the fact you’ve pushed out too many good games too fast and I can’t afford to buy them all at once?

The one thing that all the other industries have in common where the games market differs, is that only gaming retailers sell new and pre-owned product side by side, and that is where the problem lies; not with the consumer. When Toyota recalled all those cars last year, they didn’t turn round and say, ooh we’re losing a packet, better slap on what basically amounts to an additional tax on the end user. Why? Because it’s totally unreasonable.

When I buy a book, does it have a 1-time use code to access the last 3 chapters that subsequent readers can’t access? When I buy a movie (lol, ok, I have BitTorrent so this is a highly theoretical scenario I admit), is there a 1-time use code to access the extra features on the disk? When I buy a CD, is there a one-time use code to access the unreleased singles?

When I buy a car, is there a 1-time use code that allows the original owner to have a funky digital dashboard, whereas the poor sod I sell it to has to put up with a horizontal analogue speedometer?

When I buy a house, do I have to pay royalties to the builders who put the bricks and mortar there when it was originally built? No I fucking don’t, so stop screwing up the games market.

That is all.


The Gaming Rant 12

June 14, 2010 Leave a comment

This is an unedited, uncensored re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that fans can read the uncensored versions.

WARNING! This article is intended as a piece of satirical diatribe. Some readers may find the language and themes within extremely offensive.

Contains strong language, drug references and sexual references. This article is satire and does not reflect the views of TheSixthAxis or myself. Death to vuvuzelas and all who own one.

Now, I know you’re probably expecting me to rant about E3 this week. As a professional gaming guru, it is of course my job to sit up at 1am watching boring presentations and taking notes over copious amounts of coffee. UN-fortunately, my expert attention has sort of been, ehm, a bit shall we say ‘diverted to other purposes’ this week. That’s a euphemism for saying pretty girls are more important than real work. Although, maintaining Norwegian girls is probably a full-time job in itself – not that I’m complaining, but I wouldn’t know anyway because I’m rubbish at things like that. As a result, I have completely missed almost everything at E3 for the first time in about 12 years.

I have to admit, it’s been a struggle to be grumpy on demand lately. This week has been exceptionally difficult: it’s hard to be angry when you’ve got an interesting new friend constantly casting mood buffs on you. But if we leave aside DJ Hero 2 and Microsoft’s utterly shambolic E3 performance (which I was unlucky enough to have to sit through), there are a few matters of personal bane to attend to.

Vuvuzelas

I know, it’s not video game-related, but it is topical, and although I like to pretend I don’t know the offside rule and have never heard of the World Cup, let’s cut through the smoke and mirrors: I own FIFA 10 World Cup and I’ve watched most of the matches. Please don’t tell anyone, I’ll be the butt of their jokes for months and years to come.

I was rather glad EA didn’t patch vuvuzelas into FIFA 10 World Cup for “added realism”, because right now I would like to ram these devices created purely for the irritation of non-paying TV viewers like myself right down their owners’ throats.

I have heard American comedians who are actually less irritating than vuvuzelas. Every time I settle down with a frosty beer to watch a nice bit of football, my ears are assaulted with the sound of hundreds of angry beehives all stuffed into my living room and peppered in tobasco sauce, then released. It is bloody HIDEOUS. If Satan took a dump out of my speakers, I suspect this is what it might sound like.

So FIFA had a meeting on Monday and announced that vuvuzelas are part of South African culture and will not be banned during the championship. Let’s not worry about the fact the players can’t hear their instructions properly, that the commentators can’t hear themselves and that millions of TV viewers are getting a freaking headache for 4.5 hours per day. I read in the newspaper this morning that the volume of the vuvuzelas in the first match with South Africa was 140dB – that’s 20dB louder than a jumbo jet plane taking off – and were right next to the commentators’ box, constantly, for 90 minutes. Why are we not seeing blood spattering on the camera lens as these poor guys’ ears explode into pieces?

You can’t even get away from it when you turn the TV off. Some shitfaced bunch of c*cks decided they would start blowing vuvuzelas in the street outside my house today. It went on for an hour, and that’s a sound I can’t turn off. It really is amazingly loud. I wanted to walk outside, go up to one of them and shove a tennis ball into the end of it with maximum force, hopefully smashing the little shit’s teeth in at the same time.

For God’s sake TV sound engineer people, please filter that bloody sound out before I lose my mind and have to be sectioned. Psychiatric wards around the world are currently filling up with people who have spun into uncontrolled rage and smashed anything nearby that looks like a horn or musical instrument over the head of the nearest human being.

Replace it with singing from Euro 2008. Replace it with drums. Hell, play Samba de Janeiro when someone scores a goal if you really must, but for Christ’s sake, please filter out those f*cking vuvuzelas.

Sony Ericsson’s Retard Testing Button

So who here has a W995 or other SE phone with threaded SMS? Am I the only person who goes back over an SMS they just wrote to re-read it? Can someone please tell me why the hell ‘View’ and ‘Cancel’ are on the same button on these stupid phones?

I’ll admit I’m a Nokia smartphone fangirl. The phones are as slow as a ZX81 with its tape drive stuffed full of marijuana – taking a photo can take a full 10 minutes if you have the audacity to try and use the pre-focus – but the interface is good.

There are few things I regret in my rather colourful life history, but oh how I wish I could turn back time to the fateful day I ordered that W995 and order an iPhone instead… sorry *slap* What was I thinking.. I meant I wish I had ordered an Android phone instead. Slip of the tongue.

So, about 1 in 3 SMSs, you go back to read it and hit Cancel before it’s sent. Then, in true technological fashion, resending fails repeatedly until you finally coax it into behaving itself with threatening looks. The phone has a freaking cancel button, how about using it to, oh I don’t know, cancel the SMS? I know, it’s radical creative thinking to assign a button function to be the same as the icon painted on it, but I like to think outside the box.

Anyway, Mr. Sony Ericsson Fanboi, my friend Thomas – who owns a Nokia N73 that I bought him 3 years ago and not a Sony Ericsson phone – says the View/Cancel button is a test of your level of retardedness, and I apparently fail that test. Yes, that’s like saying I can’t operate a phone with a gay user interface, so I must be heterosexual. I’m guessing the people who programmed the interface on the Sony Ericsson were the same criminal masterminds who came up with the Xbox 360 NXE, another utterly useless and unnecessarily cluttered interface that reminds you of that time you had to wade through a field of cow pat while drunk to get were you were going.

The Wii is Cool

Such heinous words, when uttered in my house, usually constitute a crime worthy of the most inhumane forms of capital punishment. We’re talking bear traps on timers screwed into your face and set to snap open when the timer runs out. Real Saw 1 stuff. Not video game stuff I might add, because no video games are actually that violent. Funny thing that.

Apart from putting Wii Sports boxing down and actually getting into a physical fight with my ex, Super Mario Galaxy was easily the most fun I ever had on my now extremely dusty Wii, which until recently was functioning as an excellent doorstop. There are sawmills with less dust flying around than the awesome collection of dead skin, insects and bacteria I’ve collected on my Wii.

Imagine then, if you will, the feelings of self-loathing that pervaded my body as I played through the first couple of hours of Super Mario Galaxy 2 over the weekend, shook my head with resignation and said “Man, this game is epic.”

And then I remembered: the Wii is actually really fun. Most of the games are fun, not just Mario. The problem is, you just have to actually be bothered to turn the thing on. And change the batteries in the Wiimote of course, because they have a life span somewhat resembling that of plankton. The only problem with it is that although you can wave your Wiimote around as much as you like, you can’t wave your d*ck around with all the trophies and achievements you collected, because there aren’t any. And there’s no online. And there’s no hard disk. And there’s no streaming media. And it doesn’t play DVDs or Blurays. And it only outputs at 480p. Oh who are we kidding, the Wii is a piece of shit.

World’s Deadliest Catch

(If you aren’t familiar with World of Warcraft lingo, I suggest Google Translate – not that that’ll be any help)

Last week I wrote about some fairly high level questing in the Norwegian grocery store Kiwi – let’s call it the Kiwi Auction House or AH for short. For the sake of creative license, let’s stay the story’s protagonist is called Kat and the pick-up group (PUG) member is called Kirsty-Ann. *looks around* Ahem, yeah.

So, Kat picked up Kirsty-Ann in the Kiwi AH last week by doing a recruitment spam in trade chat. In the days that followed, Kirsty-Ann and Kat slowly turned in reputation points for each other and she quickly became a trialist. Many of you know the reputation branch goes neutral, liked, honored, revered, exalted. They are past neutral already, but as it takes weeks of grinding, delivering reputation points and doing daily quests to reach exalted level, they are currently only somewhere between liked and honored.

As a trialist for Kat’s new guild, Kat and Kirsty-Ann did a few quests together – mostly simple gathering and farming quests for low-grade coffee and high-grade cigarettes interspersed with large amounts of cut scene dialogue. Kirsty-Ann was pleased with the Taunt Box of Variation (TV) and Boxes of Ultimate Sound Emission in Kat’s dungeon.

The Green Tabard Kirsty-Ann is forced to wear as part of the Kiwi AH’s dress code is highly misleading. In reality, Kirsty-Ann’s avatar is extremely well-designed – especially her smile which causes an instant area-of-effect resistance debuff on Kat every time she casts that spell. It’s an extremely potent high-level spell with a very low re-use timer, giving Kat a +10 happiness buff within a 40 yard range, unless there are line-of-sight issues of course. It’s clearly imbalanced, but hopefully the scheduled patch and downtime won’t fix the issue or it will create massive lag and ruin the entire gameplay experience.

Kat was also happy to see that Kirsty-Ann had spec’d her personality as well as her avatar, with little to disagree about. Kat was thrilled to learn that Kirsty-Ann is also a geek, but to speak out of character for a moment, no Kirsty-Ann, the Xbox 360 controller is NOT better than the PS3 controller. For fuck’s sake get a grip on reality woman. Apart from that near deal-breaker, the trialist seemed like everything Kat could want in a guild officer.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Kirsty-Ann was already in another guild: a newly appointed officer of <Platekompaniet>, one of the highest ranking guilds on the server and headed by none other than the feared Bluray loot king GM Sargent Disc. Kat was particularly dismayed to learn that Kirsty-Ann had been guildless on their first encounter in the Kiwi AH trade chat two months prior.

Kat asked the new trialist about her existing guild and, although not a judgmental character, felt some slight unease about the way the guild is run, based on her own past guild experiences. Their guild hasn’t been formed for that long but it seems like they haven’t set up a Teamspeak or Ventrilo server yet, which occasionally makes officer meetings (where important things are discussed) difficult. Also, while the GM is not very good at doing courier quests between the Kiwi AH and Kirsty-Ann’s dungeon, he also frowns upon his officer being couriered by others, especially Kat. Confused by this, Kat consulted with a couple of wise old mages in long-standing guilds about appropriate guild etiquette, and they confirmed that 3rd party courier quests are not usually problematic if the guild is running smoothly to start with.

Achievement whoring is another issue. For example, while the GM would like to obtain the Marriage Achievement and Children Achievement, neither Kirsty-Ann nor Kat are particularly excited about that grinding path right now. The Children Achievement would turn Kirsty-Ann from a druid into a hunter, with a pet that constantly needs attention, making costly mistakes, wiping raids and making any normal raiding schedule impossible; whereas the Marriage Achievement ties you down to only participate in guild raids, disallowing PUG-ing.

Kat of course feels that Kirsty-Ann’s current guild should be disbanded and that she should sign a charter with Kat to create a new guild, <Wiitard Button>. It is possible that Kirsty-Ann could form this guild with Kat using an alt and stay in her current one with her main, but that would of course be frowned upon by her existing GM as it is against guild etiquette, and Kat wouldn’t recommend that. When preparing for the guild spec’ing Kat will start doing some daily cleaning and cooking quests to get her kitchen rep up, then ensure she is regularly farming materials for food buffs.

Of course, reputation gain with one faction sometimes leads to reputation loss with at least one other faction, but Kat got lucky at the Kiwi AH. On Monday she completed a simple coffee gathering quest and delivered it to the AH at closing time. This low-level quest awarded more reputation points than expected, and several group members cast Smile when Kat arrived, triumphantly held up the inventory and proclaimed “I BRING COFFEE!” across the entire AH. However, she now dreads the weekly PvP quest: gathering “game reagents” in the Platekompaniet Arena Stage, as she has surely gone to hated there and doesn’t particularly want to spend gold on a PvP re-spec to deal with Sargent Disc.

Kat was fortunate to get unexpected loot from the world server (tax office) this week, although to be honest they had hacked her account then decided to just give her the gold back. As this gold refund came in Kat saw the opportunity to invite Kirsty-Ann to two scheduled raids: the first a 2-man instance taking place in Restaurant, followed up by the fearsome 300-man strong Cinema instance – a PUG-able encounter where you buy in with “tickets” to enter a long cut scene. This might seem like a waste of time but it gives a good intelligence buff and builds reputation points. Unfortunately their raiding schedules have thus far proved incompatible.

Kirsty-Ann – being a geek – is in fact a TSA reader and believe me, the amount of back-pedalling Kat did over last week’s article significantly dented her agility index, although amazingly it also raised her charisma. Readers are therefore strongly urged to provide Kirsty-Ann with feedback on the best choice of guild in the comments below. Because you guys aren’t biased at all!

Epilogue

A thought for Steve Pope. Kirsty-Ann has an 18 year brother, of whom she said the following in passing: “It’s funny, my brother has been playing FPSs for years, but he’d never pick up a gun in real life.”. How odd.

I wish you all a good weekend. Get your barbecues out.

The Gaming Rant 11

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

This is an unedited, uncensored re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that fans can read the uncensored versions.

WARNING! This article is intended as a piece of satirical diatribe. Some readers may find the language and themes within extremely offensive.

Contains strong language and sexual references. This article is satire and does not reflect the views of TheSixthAxis or myself. Video games make children violent – I should know, I’ve had to kill a few already just in self-defence.

If I’m honest, apart from my nurse kindly asking me to remove her from being set as my mum on Facebook, nothing really stands out as getting on my tits this week. Sure, my wisdom tooth is still being a bitch, but finishing Prince of Persia was like pulling teeth so it kind of balanced itself out. Hot girls I can’t shag are still cruising around in their bikinis on the street, and the reflective glare of the Sun’s rays bouncing off their perfectly formed breasts and into my living room is still rendering my extraordinarily expensive TV completely useless for playing video games during daylight hours. Which is becoming a bit of a problem, because it never really gets dark at the moment in Norway.

Lesbians are still chatting me up on Facebook, and they still fall into the same tedious categories: ugly, psychopathic, sporty, on the other side of the planet or in a relationship. Usually all five. Not a single Scandinavian woman has answered my plea for attenshunz. Oh well, my PS3 loves me and he’ll never leave me *glances nervously over to check it didn’t YLoD as I said that*

My friends are all still broke and never want to go clubbing or even for dinner. My office is still as hot as Cameron from House being dipped in an acid cauldron and then dowsed off with boiling water. My ability to acquire new games is still based on short selling Credit Default Swaps.

Yes, all in all it’s a pretty standard summer, with one exception: Federer got knocked out of a grand slam. Oh how I laughed.

DJ Hero 2

Sub-ordinate 1: *pointing at map of Germany on the table* “Hip-hop and rap DJs are appearing on PlayStations in several locations. We have tried to make an advance of trance and house music but Activision are blocking us. At the current rate we estimate that no teenager will have heard of trance music by 2011.”

Me: *waving finger in the air* “Not a problem, DJ Hero 2 will fix that.”

*long pause*

Sub-ordinate 1: *sweating* “Mein Führer… DJ Hero 2…”

Sub-ordinate 2: “DJ Hero 2 will feature Metallica, Rihanna, Dr. Dre, The Chemical Brothers and the sultry sounds of Lady Gaga. There is no trance music.”

Me: *takes off glasses, my hand shaking* “All of you who do not owned Clubland Smashed, please leave the room.”

WHAT THE F*CK! In January Bob Kotick specifically came out and said, and I directly misquote: “We made a mistake with DJ Hero …. the next instalment will be more Europe-centric.” Of course, rather than hiring actual Europeans with cultural knowledge to help them with that, they just left it to their bunch of retarded American in-bred cousins to do the research, and we all know how good Americans are with European culture.

“Ow I love Europe!”

“Really, so what do you know about it?”

Yeah, fuck all, that’s what I thought.

“Ow I really want to go to Europe!”

“Really, which part? There are 39 countries in Europe last I checked”

Yeah, you really have no effing idea as long as you’re on the continent. Go to Belarus – our last remaining dictatorship – that’s in Europe, let us know if you still love it then. Or if you’re from Alabama, come to Norway and let us know your views on homosexuality, see how well that goes down (it’s safe to say that because Alabama only has dial-up internet at the moment). Actually don’t, I don’t want your fat ugly ass spoiling the view from my balcony when you’re standing at the other end of town. Next you’re going to tell us English people have bad teeth and that you loved the latest episode of Fawlty Towers in a vain attempt to be socially relevant.

So with such a geographically competence-challenged population, it’s not really any wonder that Activision thought I would appreciate Metallica. I mean, they already have it licensed so it’s cheap, right? Because I don’t know about you, but whenever I go to a nightclub with the guys at Whatstheirface Studio who developed DJ Hero, the first thing we always do is look at each other while the beats are pounding and say, “Hey, you know what would liven things up a bit? A nice bit of Metallica.” The funny thing is, they are never actually playing Metallica when we arrive. I wonder if there’s a reason for that? Perhaps Europeans, say, don’t want to fucking listen to Metallica when they’re expecting to hear dance music.

You useless bunch of cocks. Oh and BTW, thanks for not bothering to put the free DJ Hero 2 mix on the European PSN store yesterday. Assholes.

PSN Maintenance Timing

Speaking of blazé ineptitude, whose bright idea was it to take the PSN down for 12 hours on exactly the same day it was updated with a ton of new stuff? I mean, I don’t know if you’ve checked your calendars lately Sony, but there are 7 days in the week. Maybe 5 in yours because you’re lazy sods, but that still leaves – I think – 4 days where you can do an update that won’t interfere with my impulse buying addiction. I got the shakes on Wednesday when I couldn’t log on to buy pointless crap I don’t want or need. What were you thinking?

SCE really are the masters of timing aren’t they? So we’re bringing out God of War 3 on 16th March, let’s be sure to engineer a massive world-wide stock shortage to hit the same week.

Christmas is coming! Make sure the factories are closed by November.

Microsoft cut the price of the 360 two years ago and got a huge market share lead. Maybe we should cut the price of ours soon?

Apple just came out with the iPhone 3GS! Let’s release a portable device with no touch screen that also can’t make phone calls, but costs disproportionately more and has far less applications, which also cost more. Just to throw in some further insults, let’s make sure it only supports wireless b and not g, won’t work with WPA2-PSK and doesn’t have predictive texting. The PSPgo does have some things in common with the iPad though: no USB ports, no camera and no Flash support; so it’s not all bad news.

Then they cut off PSN on the same day that IGN’s highest ever rated PSN game is released (Joe Danger). Seriously, you’d think Sony wants to lose money sometimes.

Please release some rubbish games

The summer dry spell. Orly? Yes, June is a dry spell alright: with only Soldner-X 2, Joe Danger, SBK X, Green Day Rock Band, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Naughty Bear, Singularity, Demon’s Souls and Transformers: Cybertron and probably Quantum Theory shortly afterwards to tide us over, how on Earth are we going to manage?!

Now I don’t know about you, but I still haven’t got round to Super Stardust HD yet, which got me thinking. The game studios must surely be losing money by not developing more slowly and staggering the releases, and I’m sure I’m not the only one getting frustrated with the sheer volume of high quality games being released in the last year or so. When there are more blockbuster games being released than blockbuster movies, you know we’ve got a problem. The solution, of course, is to adopt the movie industry’s approach: produce more shit.

If we can’t slow down these developers, we need to tweak them to produce worse games instead. That way, we won’t have to spend so much money, and we’ll have more time to play the good titles. On top of that, the studios producing the slop will go bankrupt and we’ll prune down the number of people working on new titles as a bonus. And I just happen to have some ideas!

Modern Warfare 3: it will be set in 14th century Italy and you will control a guy called Ezio. There will be no guns, only fists and sword play. That should hopefully kill this stupid franchise dead once and for all.

Damnation 2: get all of Infinity Ward, sorry, I meant Respawn of course, working on it. There is no need to inform them that it needs to be as bad as possible; with half of the IP missing they don’t have a hope in hell of making it any good anyway; a self-solving problem.

DJ Hero 2: for this we just need to pick some incredibly inappropriate artists for the game. I’m thinking Dr. Dre, The Chemical Brothers, Rihanna, the sultry sounds of Lady Gaga and ooh, of course.. Metallica! …. *person puts a note on my desk which I read* … *looks up* You are joking, right? … Oh.

Girl-pulling Skillz: I Haz Dem

Hm, perhaps I’ve been reading too much “Please May I Have A Cheeseburger Dot Com?” lately. But anyway, at the risk of turning my weekly rant into a personal blog, those of you who were amused by my weak escapades in GameStop and Platekompaniet the other week will deeply relish the personal hell I suffered through today. I have thinly veiled it below as in some way being vaguely relevant to video games, but really it isn’t.

We are of course talking about the girl behind the counter in Kiwi (a Norwegian grocery store chain). Who else? This girl has teased me with her cute smiles, grins and giggles ever since the innocuous little words “you’re pretty, by the way” may have inadvertently slipped out of my mouth as I was walking off with my shopping 2 months ago.

Ever since that day, going into that shop has been like playing Far Cry 2. First, reconnaissance. Patrol the area. Determine if she is on the counter while retaining the maximum possible distance from the store entrance. If so, enter Bioshock mode: turn your head in the other direction and pretend to scratch your ear when entering to avoid detection – this is like avoiding the video cameras in Rapture. I have tried hacking them before to disable them but I got arrested, so I had to knock that on the head.

I tend not to use the Uncharted 2 cover system while I’m in the grocery store because it can lead to some funny looks, especially when you vault over cover from one aisle to the next, shopping cart in tow. Who said video games affected my behaviour eh? So instead, I take the Modern Warfare 2 approach: go prone and crawl to the counter.

Today though, I didn’t have my game head on, and broke all ranks. Instead, I chatted her up with five people behind me in the queue and a bunch of people to my side, which she seemed to take well. Like all good stalkers who use video games for their training, I stood in the longer queue so I was served by the girl in question (also called “the currently selected target”, she was highlighted in pretty on my HUD, and trust me, if I had an “objective marker” it would have been pointing straight at her; as it happened I only had an extremely small spray can). I went home kicking myself as usual.

And then something different happened. An unexpected plot twist. I said, you know what? Fuck it.

So I put my boots back on and walked back to the store – I returned to the last checkpoint to retry a failed mission. Unfortunately the target had levelled up to her lunch break and I had to engage in a side quest of asking the manager for “the girl who was on the counter an hour ago”. This went down about as well as giving a dozen roses to the Helghast, so before I got mowed down with an incendiary device I meleed my way the hell out of there and looted a coffee and some cigarettes from some NPC shopkeepers to regen my stamina. The target’s lunch break was 45 minutes and let me tell you, those minutes in the park and the coffee house passed like days. It was at this point when I wished real life took as long to load each area as ModNation Racers, but unfortunately real life has been designed with background streaming, an idea blatantly stolen from Asheron’s Call. I sat re-assigning my gadgets (cellphone and PSPgo), thinking the mission was perhaps too high level for me, but after the regen and freshly buffed from coffee, I went back and re-acquired the target.

The boss fight was, to be honest, much easier than anticipated, all I had to do was hand her a low-level Slightly Chewed Pen, then endure four hours of Alpha Protocol-style SMS dialogue to which there are no right or wrong answers, only reputation points and three choices of answer: Suave, Professional or Cocky. Fortunately I worked up my reputation enough to unlock a higher level mission – coffee at about the time this will be published on some web site the name of which I’ve temporarily forgotten.

Wish me luck. It’s been four years since I unlocked a quest of this difficulty level. And no, I do not want to form a pick-up group with you to help me complete it. This one I’m doing solo.

Review: Prince of Persia Classic

June 8, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

Nostalgic remakes of classic old games have got me a bit worried lately. We fondly remember these pivotal defining titles of our hobby, but gameplay mechanics have moved on a lot, and much like movie franchise tie-ins, I’ve discovered that replaying these titles in 2010 sadly often isn’t as fun as I remembered it to be.

Prince of Persia (1989 video game)

Prince of Persia (1989 video game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So after the mediocre Mega Man 10, the decent-not-great Digger HD, the antiquated Bomberman Ultra and the truly awful Thexder Neo and Frogger Returns plus whatever else I’ve forgotten, it was with some trepidation that I powered up new PSN title Prince of Persia Classic, one of my favourite classic games of all-time.

I’ve hated every single Prince of Persia game since the original. Sands of Time, The Two Thrones and the recent Forgotten Sands were all a bit meh, for me this was one case where 3D spoiled a perfectly good concept. So how did this re-implementation of the original fare? Pretty well actually.

For those who never played the original back in 1989 it is a little difficult to describe because at the time it was unique. It is a straightforward pure platform game: explore a labyrinth of loose floors, switches, locked gates and annoying things that kill you, grab the obligatory health potions and make your way to the exit. What made it unique was the way it played: Prince of Persia was the first platform game to use a realistic avatar which climbed, jumped and rolled in a way that looked truly human, despite being a 2D game. Battling enemies takes the form of sword fights, and these too had realistic animations and required skill to win. You can think of it as early imitation mocap that was way ahead of its time.

The game also had a couple of interesting mechanics. There are spikes which shoot up from the ground to kill you, but if you walk slowly you can navigate your way through them. Each screen shows three levels of platforms, but off to the top you can just vaguely make out what is above you, allowing you to spot different routes and dislodge loose tiles to climb up. The other aspect is that while most platformers at the time were really grid/tile-based games where pressing left or right once moved you precisely one square (think Manic Miner), Prince of Persia has pixel-granularity free-roaming – something we now take for granted. Walking, running, jumping from stationary and jumping during movement all move your character very specific distances, so when you are confronted with a path full of spikes, switches you want to avoid and choppy choppy guillotine things, selecting the correct movement strategy is essential.

It’s all rather banal compared to modern gaming, but fans of the original will be thrilled to hear that Prince of Persia Classic is an extremely faithful reproduction, with exactly the same mechanics and levels, with everything slightly improved. Your character will edge forwards or backwards when you try to climb a ledge so that pinpoint precision isn’t required. The graphics are now parallax 3D and the perspective shifts ever-so-slightly as you walk, making everything feel more dynamic. The graphics themselves have been perfectly upgraded to modern standards while remaining completely faithful to the style of the original. And of course, there are the obligatory online leaderboards.

There are 14 levels to hack, slash and explore your way through – the goal being to finish within 60 minutes, although the chances of you managing that on your first playthrough are zero unless you have super-human dexterity. Most objects are deadly and kill you in one hit, but when fighting enemies you have a health bar which can be replenished by picking up health potions. Each level has one or two checkpoints; when you die, starting the level from scratch will reset the timer to the amount you had when the level started, but continuing from a checkpoint will continue the countdown from where you died. Don’t worry if the countdown reaches zero: the game won’t end, it just means you suck.

Is it any good? Well, yes and no. It certainly is one of the better budget remakes out there, but it can be infuriating to play. New parry and time-slowing mechanics have been added to swordplay to make it more interesting, but the outcomes can seem almost random. Sometimes you will take a guy down with 5 or 6 straight hits in a row; other times no matter how good your parry timing is, he will completely thrash you. When each enemy has 6 or 7 health points, you only have 5 or 6 and have to work through three enemies to reach the next checkpoint, this is a recipe for frustration and I threw my controller at the sofa at least twice before the game was over.

The sound is annoying too, especially the re-spawn sound – and you’re going to die a lot – plus there is no in-game music so it’s a rather quiet affair. The other sound effects are functional and unremarkable.

Perhaps the most shocking omission – and this is actually against Sony’s QA policy – is that there is no trophy support. Nothing. None. Nada. Very poor show.

Pros:

  • Extremely faithful re-production of the original Prince of Persia
  • Improvements to graphics and swordplay mechanics

Cons:

  • Not much replay value except for beating your time
  • Can become something of a grind
  • Fights can be infuriating
  • No trophy support

While I enjoyed Prince of Persia Classic, it’s hard to recommend to someone who has never played the original because they will see an old-school platformer and wonder what the fuss is about. If you have played the original, you can’t go wrong with this for 5 bucks, it’s a perfect yet slightly improved re-creation, although be warned that the repetitiveness of the levels may bring you to a point where you have to drag yourself to continue playing. Once you get into it though, you’ll want to finish it, if only just to get it over with.

The score I’ve given below is for those who have already played the original. If you haven’t, you should probably pass on this.

Score: 7/10

Review: Numba

June 6, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a re-print of an article originally posted on another site, included here so that the blog is a complete repository of my written work. The article is reproduced without pagination, formatting, images or editorial changes made on the original site prior to original publication.

If Sony bothered to market Minis properly, Numba would become an instant classic. All you have to do is find number sequences on a grid by holding X and dragging the box across the numbers (which don’t have to be in a straight line as long as they are adjacent to each other). The selected numbers then disappear, the blocks drop down and new numbers appear at the top.

Wow, that’s boring. Actually it’s stupidly addictive. I have found myself playing this game at random hours of the day ever since I got it.

The sequences can be all the same number (1, 1, 1, 1), ascending or descending (1, 2, 3), doubling or halving (1, 2, 4, 8), odds and evens (1, 3, 5; 2, 4, 6), steps (1, 5, 9) and so on. The minimum sequence length is 3, there is no maximum, and each cell has a number from 1 to 9. Some blocks have multiplier bonuses and you can also build up your points by creating runs of five ascending numbers or more (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 etc.), long doubling chains or by finding for example six 6s or nine 9s. Some blocks also give you a “jumble” to use later if you make a sequence with them, which lets you randomly re-assign all the tiles if you can’t spot a move. You can have a maximum of five jumbles at a time.

A number of special tile types exist: fire tiles and ice tiles, chameleon tiles which count up by one on each turn, vanish tiles which are only usable on alternate goes, and so on. No real explanation is needed here to suffice to say that it’s all designed to mess with your head and works admirably.

Classic mode sees you playing through 66 levels against the clock. These start simple with only the numbers 1-3, then they start winding you up with grids full of only 6s and 9s, grids full of only vanish tiles and so on. By the end when everything comes into play, it’s a real mind job. Once you hack through that you can blow your mind with 84 puzzles where you have to clear the tiles on a pre-determined board without missing any. Finaly there is Timeless mode which simply lets you play without a timer or resetting the board at the end of each level, until you run out of moves and have no jumbles left: a pure high score battle.

The difficulty curve is good; both Classic and Puzzle start off very gently, get very difficult by the end and have no annoying difficulty spikes. The music is also quite nice in this game, three relaxing jazz-type themes that are completely inoffensive and don’t get annoying particularly quickly. You can also make four player profiles so competing for high scores with your friends on the same PSP is no problem.

I could pick on this game if I really wanted to: there are no difficulty settings; puzzle mode doesn’t impose a maximum number of moves you can make; and by far the most annoyingly, the developers saw fit to use circle for select and X for back so the menus will drive you nuts (fortunately X is used to select tiles in the game itself).

But really, this has to be the ultimate pick-up-and-play minis title I’ve played so far (out of about 15 games). You can dive in and out, and it has exactly the same kind of addictivity, re-playability and time-wasting potential as Bejeweled. And the price? A derisory £1.24. How can you possibly go wrong?

9/10

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