Japan 2005: Shinjuku

Visited Shinjuku today. It’s a district with a lot of shops, from clothes and souvenirs to traditional and foreign food with the usual plethora of places to buy games and a lot of arcades which put the ones at home to shame. In Shinjuku we went to a Yoshinoya which is a huge chain of restaurants selling traditional Japanese fast food for lunch – I had some mix of beef and pork on a bowl of rice which was delicious. We planned to visit the local shrine but forgot that it closed early, so we’re doing that first thing tomorrow morning.

Didn’t get a particularly big haul today – picked up the Minna Daisuki Katamari Damacy soundtrack in HMV, got Mawaru: Made in Wario (Ware Ware Twisted) for the GBA, and also got the latest Famitsu which has some good stuff on MGS4 and other games on show at TGS. Bargain of the day was definitely Jude’s white Saturn for £25.

Japan 2005: TGS Impressions

Right…the easiest way for me to do things is probably just to list the main stuff I played and saw and what I thought, so here goes. It’s in no particular order because I’m going through what I saw in the order that I saw it.

  • Xbox 360 – The machine itself is bigger than I expected; very similar in size to the current Xbox. The controller felt very nice, though – softer edges and analogue sticks that felt more accurate than the current ones. It reminded me a lot of the nice wireless Logitech ones. Graphical quality obviously varied from game to game, but went from disappointing (Test Drive Unlimited) through to the impressive (Call of Duty 2) and the amazing (Ridge Racer 6).
  • Test Drive Unlimited (Xbox 360) – I didn’t play it but graphically it was very limited. Very detailed and everything but the framerate was incredibly poor and I think I can see why it was delayed from the launch window.
  • Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360) – Now holds the title of the first Xbox 360 game I ever played. Gameplay-wise there’s very little to differentiate between it and the other COD games (not necessarily a bad thing at all), but graphically I was very impressed. There were a ton of effects and detailed characters and objects around but the framerate was nice and steady. The lighting was very accomplished with the blinding effect of walking from a dark room into direct sunlight actually affecting the way you play. I’ll probably be picking this one up on launch day.
  • Ridge Racer 6 (Xbox 360) – I only watched someone play it and it looked like vintage Ridge Racer, but graphically it’s spectacular. High definition shows it off with the typical vividness and exuberance of a Ridge game, and the whole thing runs rock solid at 60fps. Absolutely gorgeous and another probable purchase.
  • Boku no Watashi no Katamari Damacy (PSP) – Looking at least as good as the PS2 version and gaining an almost current affairs-based storyline (instead of creating stars you’re now rebuilding an island destroyed by a tsunami), this is going to be worth a look. The controls will definitely need some getting used to as the dual analogue PS2 controls are replaced by dual digital using the D-pad and face buttons, but still a great game that should be ideal for short portable blasts. I want a prince puppet like the guys at the demo pods had.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3) – Obviously only in trailer form, but it looked spectacular and the resolution looked ridiculously high even on the 50-foot screen they were showing it on, and it’s definitely running in real time. It’s hard to take anything concrete from it but it seems like this will be more action-orientated that the predecessors and I couldn’t help but feel echoes of the Seoul level from Splinter Cell Chaos Theory. I can’t wait to see more.
  • Okami (PS2) – Graphically beautiful. The whole world looks like an animated painting and the gameplay, where you do things like paint a bridge over a chasm so that you can cross it, looks very unique and interesting. I’ll definitely be looking out for this one.
  • Chromehounds (Xbox 360) – This wasn’t playable but Sega gave a demonstration on a massive screen and it looked very impressive indeed. There were loads of mechs on screen with some excellent effects bringing the carnage to life, and they showed what looked to be gameplay footage (no HUD, but seemed to be a playable camera angle) which was very reminiscent of MechAssault.
  • Street Fighter Zero 3: Double Upper (PSP) – A decent conversion of one of my favourite fighting games of all time. The PSP D-pad isn’t exactly great for this so the analogue nub provides the best control, but even that’s not optimal. Even so, the GBA version was hardly true to the arcade experience so I’m probably going to overlook those relatively minor flaws.
  • Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360) – Wasn’t playable but they were running videos on a high definition monitor where it looked stunning. I was impressed by the trailer that came out online a little while back and this one has me considering yet another game for the 360 launch.
  • Kameo: Elements of Power (Xbox 360) – Didn’t play it but watched it being played and came away impressed visually – very bright and colourful, but also very detailed. Rare need to make that $375 million investment by Microsoft worthwhile and Grabbed By The Ghoulies and Conker aren’t really doing that, so this and Perfect Dark Zero could go some way to paying it back.

Overall it was a pretty good show. Smaller than I expected and insanely busy with even 30,000 people there (the public days are supposed to have double that at least), but I got to see a lot of cool stuff and play the Xbox 360 so it was worth it. Nintendo, as usual, don’t have any presence at the show but I’ve still seen and been slightly worried by this. I’m really beginning to think that they’ve lost it completely when they can come up with a fantastic idea like having all their old stuff emulated and downloadable on the Revolution and then back it up with that.

Japan 2005: The TGS Aftermath

I’m back from TGS which was fun. I’ll post some decent impressions of stuff I saw and played later, but in the meantime here’s a rundown of the day.

As for the rest of the day, I woke up at around 5am and couldn’t sleep so after grabbing this photo out the window I jumped on Skype and made some calls home. When everyone else was up we headed on over to the Makuhari Messe for TGS (about an hour by train) and on the way got talking to a Japanese guy who lives in New York but was back in Japan for business. He helped point us in the right direction when we couldn’t read the kanji on the signs. Before we headed into the show we got some traditional Japanese food for breakfast (thick noodles with various seafood and vegetable things – £5 in yen can get you a hell of a lot of decent food if you eat traditional). I failed miserably at chopsticks but got there eventually.

After a good few hours around TGS we headed back and dropped into Akihabara briefly on the way back. I picked up both Katamari Damacy games (£15 for the first one and around £25 for the second) and the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, as well as a couple more of those PSP screen protectors. Jan picked up a white PSP for himself and Eynon managed to find four more Famicom Game Boy Micros. After that we were so tired from so much walking that we just got a taxi back to the hotel (five minutes’ walk at most) and that’s where you find me now.

Tomorrow has nothing planned but we’re probably going to look at a nearby shrine and the Imperial Palace.

Japan 2005: Live From Tokyo

Well, I’m here. I’ve been in Tokyo for about twelve hours and it’s an incredible place.

The flights were surprisingly good considering the great deal we got on them, even if it did seem unbearably long at times (40 minutes from London to Paris, 45 minutes going through security again in France with some arseholes for security people, and then almost 11 hours from Paris to Tokyo). In-flight entertainment wasn’t great but I watched Sin City on my laptop and slept a couple of hours, and I got the seat next to the emergency exit so I had about two metres of leg room the whole way.

It was about two hours on the coach from the airport which wasn’t too bad since we got to see a lot of the city. After a quick pit stop at the hotel we went straight to Akihabara to do some of our essential shopping – I came away with two white PSPs (launched today), two copies of Winning Eleven 9 on PSP (also out today, complete with insanely long load times), Lumines, Rez on PS2 (for the irresistible price of ¥500, or about £2.50), and a PSP screen protector. I would have bought more but I didn’t want to blow my proverbial load on the first day and we’ll be heading back after TGS when the crowds of spoddy Americans have left.

The Game Boy Micro came out a couple of days ago and has a seriously impressive screen, and the Famicom versions have sold out everywhere. Eynon managed to hunt down four for the shop but they’re going to be hard to come by. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is rare on UMD at the moment and absolutely impossible to find on DVD (even in £250 limited edition form) because it looks to have been wildly popular. I was on the lookout for iPod nanos and they were sold out everywhere too, although I tried a demo unit and was really impressed with how tiny it was. Tomorrow we’re heading to the Tokyo Game Show so hopefully I’ll have some interesting photos and stories (not to mention freebies) from there.

The weather here isn’t actually especially hot (around 23 degrees today, I think) but it’s very humid and feels far hotter. It’s supposed to be pushing 30 in the next few days so I’m not really looking forward to that. The Japanese people are also great – most don’t speak much, if any, English but between my bad Japanese and their bad English we can usually find enough common ground to make ourselves understood. They always go out of their way to help you out, especially if you make the effort to try to speak Japanese. One thing that really summed up how different the culture is was when we saw a whole group of schoolchildren who must have been well under ten, all walking home and catching the train by themselves. You just wouldn’t see it in the west.

Packing for Japan

The time is almost here! By this time tomorrow I’ll be ready to head over to Eynon’s house ready to leave at 5am the next morning, so this could be my last update until I’m on the other side of the world. I’m also excited to think that in a matter of days I’ll have my white PSP and will have played the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well as seen MGS4 in action.

As I type this I’m starting to get stuff together for my carry-on which is going to be interesting to show to all the security people at the airport. I’m packing my iBook, Bluetooth mouse, Nintendo DS, digital camera, MP3 player, a few DVDs (to be decided), my UMDs, Xbox Live headset (for Skype), a spare laptop battery, and a small jungle of cables and chargers. If that doesn’t look like a bomb when it’s passing through a security machine I don’t know what will.

I’ll probably put off the actual packing of clothes until tomorrow morning since I really can’t be bothered and then I’ll be ready to finally visit Japan after years of waiting. Can’t wait!

Next-Gen Sonic

I’ve just been regressed to 1998, sitting in a crummy little Internet cafe to watch the spoils from the unveiling of Sonic Adventure with some friends since our 56k connections were so woefully futile. Yes, Sega have unveiled their next-generation Sonic title to hit PS3 and Xbox 360, and if you have access to certain press release sites (or just know where to look) you can find some absolutely stunning 1080p shots.


I’m still weird about having a Sonic title without a Sega console to play it on but seeing a character as beloved as this looking so incredible just makes me think that this generation really is going to be the huge step that the rhetoric is telling us. I was blown away in Sonic Adventure at that moment when you passed through a tight tunnel and emerged in a huge valley split with a vast chasm, and then found a whole forest to run through at Sonic’s blinding speeds, and the above shot looks like that turned up to eleven. Green Hill Zone; only looking like you could reach out and touch it. I just hope they stick to those wonderfully fast Sonic levels and don’t stick in crap like the Big The Cat fishing games or Knuckles’ horribly protracted scavenger hunts.

Either way, this baby just shot up my wishlist.