>getting it back

>So it’s been quiet here at SFTC, and for that I apologize.  Things have been pretty quiet on the gaming front since my last post.  There wasn’t anything new to play, and I wasn’t necessarily doing all that much on the backlog, Steam sales be damned. 

But then Little Big Planet 2 came out, and then Dead Space 2 came out, and now the 3DS and the PSP2/NGP have been formally announced/dated, and I find that I’ve got some things to say.

LBP2:  I finished the single-player campaign earlier this week, and started to dabble with some of the community-made levels.  The game is as charming as ever, and the single-player campaign certainly did its best to illustrate what the game is capable of.  And it should be noted that the game’s website, lbp.me, is perhaps the best game-related website ever made – the ability to look at community-made levels on the web, add them to a queue, and then have the game automatically have your queue waiting for you the next time you log in – it’s so elegant and well-made that it seems downright bizarre that it hasn’t been done before.  If I have a problem with the game, then, it’s that I don’t think I’ll ever have the time/patience/imagination to make my own levels, which makes me feel like my experience with the game will be artificially cut in half. 

Dead Space 2Finally got this via Gamefly yesterday, and I’m about an hour in.  I never finished the first game, though not for lack of trying, and so my first playthrough of DS2 is being done on the easiest mode, because I’d really like to make it all the way through and see where the story goes.  As the game is apparently very friendly in terms of incorporating previous playthroughs into new ones, I can see myself giving it another go on a higher difficulty level.  I’ll say this – I’m loving the hell out of it.  I do scare pretty easily, when it comes to movies, but games don’t really scare me – sure I’ll get startled (like when the dogs jump through the window in RE2), but there’s a big difference between being startled and actually being creeped out and scared.  So, then, no, I’ve not been scared.  And I wasn’t scared in the first one, either – I never finished it because there were sections that were just too hard, or I didn’t have enough ammunition, and I got frustrated and gave up.  The first hour of DS2 has been thrilling, however, and certainly startling, and there’s been a few times where I’ve said things out loud that I normally wouldn’t say.  I’m very much looking forward to diving back in.

As for the new handhelds…

I’m certainly intrigued by the 3DS, there’s no doubt about it.  But I’m not really all that excited about the games that have been announced, and ultimately that’s the most important factor.  Hell, right now I play my DS maybe once or twice a year, if a good puzzle game comes out, and I can’t justify spending $250 on a snazzy piece of tech that I’m never going to use, especially since I’ll be getting a Verizon iPhone 5 later this year.  And I really don’t want to spend $250 just to play up-rezzed ports of N64 games, no matter how snazzy the ports are. 

Similarly, I’m very intrigued by the new PSP – very snazzy tech, and a more hard-core lineup of titles (I’m especially interested in that new Uncharted title) – but I don’t know that there’s any one must-have title out there that can help me justify the purchase.  And I’m already wary of Sony’s ability to sustain a handheld – I was excited to buy a PSP, sure, but I got bored with it and sold it back within 8 months, and I haven’t missed it at all.  And if the plan is simply to port over 360 and PS3 titles, well, that’s not necessarily what I want out of my handheld experience.

I generally play handheld games either on the subway or in bed.  I never have the sound on, and I’m not really all that interested in narrative.  I want something to do for a few minutes here and there while I’m unable to do anything else.  My iPod Touch has been excellent at filling that void, and the $1 – $6 price point is very appealing.  So, again, it’s hard for me to justify $300 + $50-60 per game, when the games they’re offering are games I’d rather play on my HDTV. 

I still think I’ll end up with a 3DS, eventually.  I think I can wait for the inevitable redesign and price drop, though.  The PSP2, on the other hand… I don’t know.  The PSP2 is the machine I’d rather have, frankly, but I need to know that Sony can maintain a healthy game library for more than 6 months.  Otherwise, I’m just going to stick with the iPhone.

>What I Played This Weekend: "Oh right, I own a Wii" edition

>I’ve said this before, but in the context of this particular post it bears repeating – there once was a time when my hunger for a Wii was all-consuming. My heart and wallet may have belonged to Microsoft, but I yearned for something more; I ached to waggle. And, most importantly, I wanted to get my wife interested in gaming – or, at least, gaming with me. She was never going to get into Halo or Portal, but at least we could play tennis or bowling for a little while.

The irony, of course, is that once the novelty of the Wii’s control scheme wore off, the crushing disappointment started to sink in. There were no games to look forward to, at least to someone in my demographic; Nintendo saw their revenue streams coming in from non-gamers and you can hardly fault them for trying to make money, especially in this shitty economy. That said, my enthusiasm for the Wii didn’t drop off as much as it entirely evaporated, and I know I’m not the only one – when people came over to my apartment for birthday parties and other such gatherings, we would always pull out Rock Band instead of Wii Sports. It is true that my wife and I had started to use the Wii again in recent months, but only as a goddamned exercise machine. This was not my beautiful game console.

So why the hell did I buy Wii Sports Resort yesterday? Why did I succumb to Nintendo’s charms, again? Why did I enable Nintendo to continue to ignore me?

I can’t really answer that without offering at least one rationalization: I didn’t actually spend any cash in order to get it. I traded in my PSP and all 7 PSP games I owned specifically so that it could be a cashless transaction. Because as disappointed as I’d been in the Wii, I was even more disappointed in the PSP, and there was even less to look forward to on that platform.

Anyway. Wii Sports Resort is what Wii Sports should’ve been. It’s yet another collection of mini-games, in both single- and multi-player configurations, and the big difference in this collection is that the Wii Remote’s new add-on makes the Remote… more sensitive? It’s hard to explain what’s different about the Motion Plus controller add-on thing until you try the frisbee mini-game. Suffice it to say, it is as close to throwing an actual frisbee as one can get. Similarly, the ping-pong mini-game is remarkable, especially in terms of how you can throw different kinds of spin on your returns. I was as big a fan of Rockstar’s Table Tennis as anyone, but I must admit that the ping-pong game in WSR is arguably more engaging.

The rest of the mini-games are pretty hit or miss. Archery is certainly interesting; the sword-fighting game is fun but not particularly deep; bowling feels pretty much identical to the previous iteration, and golf is actually much harder now that the remote is more sensitive to wrist positioning. I suspect that I’ll play this just as long as my wife remains interested, and then that’ll probably be it.

—————————-

As long as the Wii was powered up, though, I figured it would maybe be a good time to get back into Super Mario Galaxy. I had been enjoying it thoroughly at first, but got hung up after getting my 15th star or so; then I tried to go back to the earlier levels to stock up on some easy 1-ups, and found that the game (smartly?) makes that prospect a bit trickier than I’d anticipated. In any event, I got past whatever it was that had gotten me stuck before, and now I guess I’m back in it. I’m up to 21 stars now, and I’m continually impressed with each new world’s mechanics. I suppose it could be argued that if the Wii produced nothing of value except SMG, it would still be worth a purchase. It could also be argued that the first half of the previous sentence is actually, literally true.

>What I Played This Weekend: “Oh right, I own a Wii” edition

>I’ve said this before, but in the context of this particular post it bears repeating – there once was a time when my hunger for a Wii was all-consuming. My heart and wallet may have belonged to Microsoft, but I yearned for something more; I ached to waggle. And, most importantly, I wanted to get my wife interested in gaming – or, at least, gaming with me. She was never going to get into Halo or Portal, but at least we could play tennis or bowling for a little while.

The irony, of course, is that once the novelty of the Wii’s control scheme wore off, the crushing disappointment started to sink in. There were no games to look forward to, at least to someone in my demographic; Nintendo saw their revenue streams coming in from non-gamers and you can hardly fault them for trying to make money, especially in this shitty economy. That said, my enthusiasm for the Wii didn’t drop off as much as it entirely evaporated, and I know I’m not the only one – when people came over to my apartment for birthday parties and other such gatherings, we would always pull out Rock Band instead of Wii Sports. It is true that my wife and I had started to use the Wii again in recent months, but only as a goddamned exercise machine. This was not my beautiful game console.

So why the hell did I buy Wii Sports Resort yesterday? Why did I succumb to Nintendo’s charms, again? Why did I enable Nintendo to continue to ignore me?

I can’t really answer that without offering at least one rationalization: I didn’t actually spend any cash in order to get it. I traded in my PSP and all 7 PSP games I owned specifically so that it could be a cashless transaction. Because as disappointed as I’d been in the Wii, I was even more disappointed in the PSP, and there was even less to look forward to on that platform.

Anyway. Wii Sports Resort is what Wii Sports should’ve been. It’s yet another collection of mini-games, in both single- and multi-player configurations, and the big difference in this collection is that the Wii Remote’s new add-on makes the Remote… more sensitive? It’s hard to explain what’s different about the Motion Plus controller add-on thing until you try the frisbee mini-game. Suffice it to say, it is as close to throwing an actual frisbee as one can get. Similarly, the ping-pong mini-game is remarkable, especially in terms of how you can throw different kinds of spin on your returns. I was as big a fan of Rockstar’s Table Tennis as anyone, but I must admit that the ping-pong game in WSR is arguably more engaging.

The rest of the mini-games are pretty hit or miss. Archery is certainly interesting; the sword-fighting game is fun but not particularly deep; bowling feels pretty much identical to the previous iteration, and golf is actually much harder now that the remote is more sensitive to wrist positioning. I suspect that I’ll play this just as long as my wife remains interested, and then that’ll probably be it.

—————————-

As long as the Wii was powered up, though, I figured it would maybe be a good time to get back into Super Mario Galaxy. I had been enjoying it thoroughly at first, but got hung up after getting my 15th star or so; then I tried to go back to the earlier levels to stock up on some easy 1-ups, and found that the game (smartly?) makes that prospect a bit trickier than I’d anticipated. In any event, I got past whatever it was that had gotten me stuck before, and now I guess I’m back in it. I’m up to 21 stars now, and I’m continually impressed with each new world’s mechanics. I suppose it could be argued that if the Wii produced nothing of value except SMG, it would still be worth a purchase. It could also be argued that the first half of the previous sentence is actually, literally true.

>Sony: I bitch, I praise

>This post was originally intended to be a mini-rant about Sony’s ass-backwards approach to online interactivity, but then I glanced at my RSS feed and they came out with a press release that suddenly makes the PSP instantly relevant again. So: toh-may-toh, toh-mah-toh. I say: why not write about both?

When I bought my Blackberry Storm, it came with a bluetooth headset that I never use – until I realized that I could use it as a headset for the PS3. I don’t really do a lot of online gaming on the PS3, but I do like communicating with the few PS3-owning friends I have, and chatting is easier through speech than with the clunky text interface, and I wasn’t about to spend $50 on a Sony headset or the official chat-pad thing which, speaking of being ass-backwards, look at that thing. So a free solution to the problem seemed awfully appealing…

… except that the process of getting a headset hooked up to the PS3 is not at all intuitive and there was a key thing that I apparently wasn’t doing, and I only figured out what I missed through extensive google searches. (It’s not just enough that you pair your device; you then must dig into another sub-menu on the dashboard and flip a few switches, and I’d never have figured that out on my own.) A lot of fanboys like to point out that PSN is free while XBL is a paid service, but I say you get what you pay for; if you want to use a 360 headset, you put the plug into the controller and that’s it. In any event, I was eventually able to get my headset to work, and so I was finally able to talk with my friend as she kicked my ass in Street Fighter 4 yet again, and I was able to send the game back to Gamefly with a clear conscience, knowing I had tried my best.

As for the PSP news, peep this MTV Multiplayer article for the full press release; the important PSP releases are as follows:

  • LittleBigPlanet (sounds like a port, with added levels and features)
  • Assassin’s Creed (and a themed bundle)
  • Rock Band Unplugged (I’m actually pretty curious about this – it’ll have its own wi-fi store)
  • Madden 10 and Tiger Woods 10 (meh)
  • MotorStorm Arctic Edge
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy

It’s maybe not as jaw-dropping when you look at it like that, but this is a hell of a lot better than the nothing that’s been the PSP’s status quo for the last year or so. I’d certainly like to see a new GTA title on the PSP (as would lots of people, it would seem).

>Weekend Recap: Fallout 3, The Maw, RE5 demo

>So I accidentally finished Fallout 3 over the weekend. That’s a problem, of course, because when you finish the last quest, the game is over; the credits roll, and that’s it, and I still had a bunch of stuff I never finished doing, as well as a bunch of other stuff I never saw. I (fortunately) had a save point right before the last mission, and so I’ve taken advantage of this rip in the space-time continuum in order to keep playing and exploring. This also means that I can start messing around with the DLC and still be super-powered.

Fallout 3 is a very impressive game, on many levels, but it’s also problematic. After all the hours I’ve put into it, the combat still hasn’t ever really felt totally satisfying – come to think of it, I had the same problem with Mass Effect. My favorite thing in the game, ultimately, is simply exploring and finding new points on the map, and yet this is also a little bit of a bummer because everything kinda looks the same. Still – the amount of content and the level of detail is absolutely staggering, and Bethesda did a really great job revitalizing this franchise. I’m going to be keeping this game in my rotation for quite some time to come; I’ve got a few more Achievements to score, of course, but really there’s just so much more in the world that I’ve yet to see.

Played a bit of The Maw, which is one of the better XBLA titles to hit in some time. It’s pretty simple but very enjoyable, although I’m not sure there’s a lot of replay value. (I tend to prefer my XBLA games – as well as my handhelds – to be either puzzles or just straight-up arcade titles, as they don’t get too repetitive.)

Speaking of which, I actually fired up my PSP this weekend and tried to play the latest Star Ocean title. Unfortunately, I stopped giving a shit about 10 minutes in; endless, unskippable cutscenes plagued the pacing and I’m a little tired of cookie-cutter JRPGs. I would regret buying a PSP more if I remembered I still had it. I came very close to trading it (and all my games for it) towards Wii Fit this weekend, except (of course) Wii Fit was sold out everywhere.

Finally, I fired up the Resident Evil 5 demo this morning before I left for work. Not ideal circumstances for trying highly anticipated titles, but whatever. I saw what I needed to see, and what I saw is that it’s basically a hi-def RE4 with slightly less clumsy controls. I’m hoping to try it tonight via online co-op; maybe that’ll make the experience less disappointing.

>Crush’d

>It’s nice having a PSP, even though there’s really not a tremendous amount of stuff I can do with it; I put God of War aside so I could play the PSP GTA games, and I haven’t even touched the Crisis Core Final Fantasy game yet. The problem is, all those games are somewhat… involving, and you kinda need sound in order to get the full experience, and if you put them down for more than a few days, it’s harder to pick them back up and remember what’s going on. One of the reasons why I like the DS so much is that, unlike the PSP, there are lots of puzzle games that don’t require sound or any complicated set up – if I’m on the subway, or simply playing before bed, I like the idea of simply being in a puzzle, and not having to get involved in some sort of story – I like exercising that specific part of my brain.

Which is why Crush is such a nice change of pace, as far as the PSP goes. I’m already thoroughly entranced by the 2D/3D mechanic because of FEZ which runs along very similar lines, and Crush fills the logic puzzle / no-sound-required PSP void quite admirably. If anything, the game is proving that my brain may not quite be ready for this kind of puzzling; while the game does a pretty good job of easing you into the mechanics, it also ramps up in difficulty at a somewhat accelerated pace – well, at least for me it does.

It’s certainly worth at least a rental; there are only 40 levels, so that might not necessitate a purchase. At my current rate, though, it’s doubtful I’ll see them all any time soon.

>PSP: God of War

>I bought 5 games for my PSP yesterday, which is probably a little too much to digest at once. I tried all of them for about 5 minutes – enough to reach a save point – and then decided to stick with God of War: Chains of Olympus.

Before I even get to GoW, though, let me talk about the PSP itself. This is really the first time I’ve ever actually held one in my hands, so I can’t make any comparisons between the Slim (which is what I bought) and the Original (which I didn’t). Generally speaking, it’s a pretty impressive little machine. The FMV in Crisis Core: FF7 is friggin’ gorgeous, so now I understand the appeal of the PSP as a movie-watching device (as much as David Lynch might disapprove.) That said, the clarity of the FMV only served to point out how not beautiful the actual gameplay graphics are – having played 360 games on an HDTV for so long, it’s hard to go back to PS2 graphics (as impressive as they may be for a handheld). The sound is also impressive; I fired up one of the GTA games – I think it was Vice City – and the Foreigner song that opened the game’s first scene was shockingly pristine.

The battery life leaves a lot to be desired – 5 hours won’t cross the Atlantic. I do appreciate, though, that the PSP tells you exactly how much time is left. I wonder if there’s an appreciable difference if the sound is off? I tend to play my DS games without sound, which isn’t really a problem since you don’t need sound for Crosswords, PuzzleQuest or WordJong. Sound, though, definitely enhances something like God of War.

Which brings me back to God of War. I should maybe feel a wee bit embarrassed that my first experience with the GoW franchise is this PSP edition; I never owned a PS2, what can I say? At least now I understand what all the fuss is about. It doesn’t necessarily feel that revolutionary or life-changing – in fact, it kinda feels very familiar. What it does do is provide tons of visceral, bloody, acrobatic combat, and it has a pretty remarkable sense of scale. I’ve of course heard about the titanic size of bosses in the PS2 games, and I must admit I actually laughed out loud when I was introduced to what I thought was the game’s first boss – the monster that I was about to fight was then promptly eaten by the game’s real first boss, whose head was twice as big as the entire monster he ate.

I’m about 3 save points in, which obviously isn’t very far at all. I think the biggest thing for me is that since I’m totally unfamiliar with Sony’s controllers, I am constantly screwing up the Quick-Time Events because I can’t remember which button is which. (Whereas on the 360, I’m a total whiz.) I get it, though – I get what the game is trying to do, I get what it’s about, and (obviously) whenever I get around to getting a PS3, I will absolutely be on board for GoW3.

>PSP’d!

>So I couldn’t contain myself any longer; on my lunch hour today, I went to the Best Buy over on 5th Avenue and bought:

  • PSP slim
  • 2gb memory stick
  • Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
  • God of War: Chains of Olympus
  • MLB08
  • GTA: Liberty City Stories
  • GTA: Vice City Stories

Total: $400.13. It’s burning a hole in my bag; all I want to do is rip open the box and start playing, but I know that as soon as I do, I’ll start getting super-busy at work, and in any event, I didn’t buy any sort of carrying case, and I don’t really want to have it just sitting loose in my bag.

That said. This is a watershed moment: this is my first piece of Sony-manufactured gaming equipment that I’ve ever purchased. I played a lot of PS1 at my buddy Jongre’s apartment back in my post-college years (mostly the Oddworld games, with some Crash Bandicoot here and there), but never owned one myself; I bought a Dreamcast instead of a PS2, and then bought an Xbox; I had a Gameboy and then a DS, which covered my handheld needs, and I’m still holding off on a PS3 until later this year.

The PSP, though… it’s strange. I’ve wanted one ever since they announced it, but then the dead pixel thing happened when it launched and outraged everybody, and until recently there’s been almost nothing worth playing on it. Plus, that horrendous “all i want for christmas is a psp” fake-commercial really turned me off – even now I’ve got that fucking song stuck in my head.

I’ve seen people playing it on the subway and I’m always curious to see it in action, and yet I never really get that good a look; display units at stores are generally useless, since they’re (a) never turned on or (b) playing something I don’t care about.

There are other games that I’m curious to check out…

  • Lumines (although I’ve already got it on XBLA, and I’m not very good at it)
  • the 3d Castlevania game
  • Wipeout / Wipeout Pure
  • flOw
  • Jean D’arc
  • Disgaea (or however you spell it)

…but I’m not, like, foaming at the mouth for any of them, and I’m sure I can track them down on GameFly.

If I have time tonight, I’ll try to have a full rundown for tomorrow.