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Review: My Aquarium

September 30, 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.

Now released on PSN and XBLA is a port of last year’s Wii title My Aquarium. Let’s get this out of the way first: this is not a game, it’s a virtual aquarium. Know this before you make a purchase.

This is another kind of anemonefish. A little ...

Fishie!

I actually started a saltwater aquarium this summer to get away from my PS3 a bit, and have crammed my head with new knowledge on the steep learning curve from never having owned a goldfish to keeping some of the toughest marine animals a hobbyist can acquire, so it was with both trepidation, excitement and idle curiosity that I just had to check out what My Aquarium had to offer.

You are offered the opportunity to manage up to six aquaria, two small, two medium and two large. Into these you can place whatever fish you want, and decorate with various items. You can name the fish if you want (which prevents them from getting eaten), and feed with three types of food. Trophies are available for keeping fish alive, feeding smaller fish to larger fish, breeding the fish and so on. A quick press of a button removes everything except the tank from the display so you can enjoy your fish swimming around.

First the good: as a keeper, I was really enthralled to see the application actually has a database of saltwater fish with accurate 3D models and information. If ever I want to buy a real fish, I can just take a look.

Now the bad: everything else. The application is well-constructed and easy to use, but it just isn’t fun. At all. I can’t imagine anyone actually booting this up to look at their fish. There are weird omissions, for example you can’t place corals – and why not? They are some of the prettiest things you can put in a tank – there are no invertebrates, most of the important food types are missing and there is no maintenance required. In a nutshell, there is no progression, and thus little reason to come back to it. Worst of all is that there are only a few fish unlocked at the start, and the process of unlocking new fish is simply to wait a few days. It will take an eon to unlock everything. The publishers have also had the cheek to offer paid DLC to acquire certain fish that aren’t in the original download.

I am probably jaded from owning an aquarium, since it is easy to sit and stare at your animals for hours, bond with them, talk to them and enjoy their behaviour and the general feeling during maintenance that you are making your fish happy and giving them a pleasant and healthy environment to live in. My Aquarium evokes no such emotions, and while I never expected it to be anything like a real aquarium, it is not even fun in an EyePet-like way because from day 1 nothing ever changes.

Pros:

  • Pretty fish
  • Easy to use

Cons:

No replay value

  • Unlockables take forever and aren’t based on anything you do
  • Lots of missing items you would expect in a virtual aquarium
  • Just isn’t particularly fun in the first place

There is nothing wrong with My Aquarium per se. It does what it’s supposed to do. It’s just pretty tedious.

2/10

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Review: Space Invaders Infinity Gene

September 30, 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.

Technically I could review this game in one line: it’s great, just go and buy it. Unfortunately we have to spin rhetoric over a certain minimum number of words so here are the beans:

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

Space Invaders Infinity Gene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is a 21st century remake of Taito Corporation’s true classic, Space Invaders. Those of us old enough to remember going into the pub and putting 10p in those top-down machines with old-school CRT monitors rounder than a well-lubricated sphere will no doubt have fond memories (I was -1 years old so what I just wrote is a lie).

Retro games on PSN and XBLA have made me nervous lately. I’m not a fan of most of them, and I suspect like most of us, each time I buy one I curse myself for not learning from previous mistakes. Infinity Gene is published by Square Enix, recently responsible for the epicly bad Thexder Neo. Fear not, however, because Infinity Gene is a modern remake of a cult classic at its very best.

Last year saw the rather good Space Invaders Extreme of which this is the sequel. Sadly it was only available on XBLA – PlayStation 3 owners can now rejoice as Infinity Gene is available on both platforms.

First, this game is huge on style: it’s almost entirely black and white with a mono-spaced font (yes you read that correctly, that is stylish), and old school music. However everything has been renovated; it is in one way completely faithful to the original, yet in another way it raises the bar massively and kicks it into 2010 with great success – which is a good thing, because if it was faithful to the original, it would be Capcom Classics, which was rubbish.

For example, the backgrounds are in cool 3D wireframe, sometimes quite deliberately aliased awfully with 2-frame animation just like in the 80s, other times they are smooth with many polygons and beautifully animated, throwing in tinges of colour. Some enemies are blocky 2D sprites, others are 3D masterpieces. Gameplay is usually in the traditional top-down view but you will sometimes find yourself flying into tunnels, other times there will be a mix of 2D and 3D baddies on screen simultaneously while your ship moves in 2D, which actually works really well. Only the power-ups are coloured, and while there is occasional confusion on what you can and can’t touch, this is a minor problem compared to other recent retro titles, with the shade of grey usually indicating quite clearly if something is in the foreground or background.

The effects are also oozing with style: collect a power-up and a simple rectangle expands to show you have collected it. Shoot an enemy and it disappears with a single-frame white circle explosion. The backgrounds are really trippy at times, and the sound effects match up too, with classic animation and explosion sounds mixed in with more modern effects.

Onto the meat of the game then, and be warned: if you play for only 5 minutes, you will be convinced it is awful. The first level is the classic wave of space invaders with a ship that fires slowly and only moves left and right. At this point alarm bells were ringing in my mind, but the scene cuts away after a few seconds to the real game, which rapidly becomes fast and frenetic with weapons of mass devestation, fast-moving ships and enemies, mini-bosses and full-on boss battles coming thick and fast. There is plenty of variety in the baddies and the bosses are for the most part well-designed.

The game is almost as well-balanced as Soldner X 2 for difficulty, and with your choice of starting weapon and difficulty level, you can make the game as easy or hard as you want. The difficulty curve increases gradually and starts to get really tricky around the early level 20s. Infinity Gene is also brimming with game modes: the main campaign consists of 31 levels, there is a bonus mode with numerous extra levels you unlock as you play through the campaign, a challenge mode with 99 randomly generated levels, and my personal favourite: music mode.

In music mode, you choose a song from your own collection and the game generates a level based upon it, somewhat synchronized to the music. The brilliance of this is that you always get exactly the same level for a particular song. Testing with trance, dance and even Lily Allen all worked flawlessly and the levels were interesting and varied.

Infinity Gene has the one-more-go factor in a two-pronged way: not only do you always want to see what comes next, but as you reach certain point threshold the game triggers ‘Evolution’, each time adding something to the game. Initially this is very basic stuff like being able to move up and down, collect power-ups or execute Nagoya attacks (a handy bullet-dodging technique which makes the game a little bit more forgiving), but as you progress you’ll unlock new weapons, levels, difficulty levels, music and game options such as number of starting lives. Multiple playthroughs are required to reach every stage of Evolution, but you’ll be fine with this because once you unlock the fearsome Field weapon you’ll definitely want to go back and rack up a huge high score – and you’ll need to in order to beat some of the rather difficult trophies on offer. Another nice touch which keeps you playing is that your online rank is shown in real-time as you play, and it’s satisfying to see this ticking down as you plaster the hordes of enemies.

What are the downsides? Well apart from the occasional confusion about what is in the foreground and the fact the campaign will only take you 3-5 hours to complete, there are a few bugs. After the first time I switched the game off and re-loaded it, none of my high scores registered on the stats screens or leaderboards. The leaderboards only have My Score and Global – no Friends option which really kills your ability to compete. There is also a potentially serious issue unique to this game: it may actually hurt your eyes. The game has many fast-moving backgrounds with extreme contrast and I did actually have to break because of eyestrain once or twice. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you have epilepsy (as I do) I would strongly advise against a purchase unless your medications are working.

Pros:

  • Massive style which is matched by substance
  • Tons of replayability for fans of unlockables
  • Lots of game modes, with music mode being particularly fun

Cons:

  • No friends leaderboard
  • No replayability if you’re not a fan of unlockables
  • May cause eyestrain in some players

Space Invaders Infinity Gene is not just the best re-creation of Space Invaders I have played, it is also one of my favourite PSN titles of 2010. This is an absolute no-brainer recommendation to anyone who played the game or its clones in the 80s, and for anyone who hasn’t played it, you will enjoy a very quirky and unusual top-down shooter.

9/10

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