Xbox 360 Demo Pod

Xbox 360 demo pods have started appearing around the country in the last week, with most (if not all) Virgin Megastores packing them as well as a select few branches of GAME. I saw the one in the Southampton Virgin Megastore beckoning to me when I was checking out the DVD sale (Band of Brothers tin for £19.99 = bargain of the century), so I took the opportunity to play around with all of the demos (in English this time so I knew the controls) and some of the videos, as well as update my TGS impressions on the hardware.

First of all the TV that they’re running on is just beautiful. I think it was the Samsung LE23R41B but either way I really want one and it’s gone up my list of possibilities for when I invest in an HDTV next year. I’m just waiting for Sky HD to launch so that the prices will start to plummet.

The 360 hype has really grown the look of the hardware on me, and it looks great. Smaller than I seemed to remember and a hell of a lot nicer than the current Xbox, which I never really disliked anyway. It certainly won’t be something that I’ll be hiding away. The controller is also a thing of beauty – it looks bigger in pictures for some reason and when I last used it I compared it to the Logitech Cordless Precision for the Xbox, a comparison which I stand by. It’s quite small but feels substantial and fits the hand very nicely, although it did seem that the shoulder buttons could be uncomfortable to use at the same time as the triggers. I’m willing to put that down to the awkward mounting of the controllers on the demo pod (too low for me and not much movement).

Games-wise, I played all the way through the Call of Duty 2 demo which seemed the same as the TGS one except with the controls in English so that I knew what I was doing and could use grenades (both smoke and explosive) effectively. That made it more fun and I can’t wait to play through the whole game. Kameo looked really nice and seemed pretty inventive, but it didn’t really strike a chord with me. I might rent it at some point but I can’t see myself buying it. With King Kong I tried a bit of fighting as Kong (having played the adventure sections on the Xbox) and it looked good, but the framerate was suffering and I didn’t like it as much as I enjoyed the Driscoll sections. I’m still hopefully getting that one for Christmas, though.

The interface of the pod was designed to look like that of the dashboard and it was very slick. None of the options were accessible but you could see most of them and, as someone who loves to fiddle with options with new kit, I’m looking forward to going through all those lovely menus almost as much as I am the games.

I’m really up for a new console now. The next few days is going to go incredibly slow…

I Hate Presentations

I don’t think there’s anyone who truly enjoys presentations and public speaking, but they’re one of the inevitable evils of education. What I really hate is when they put innocent students through all the rigmarole and trauma of researching a subject, writing a speech on it, talking about it in front of a crowd of people, and then having it picked apart by a lecturer, and the subject matter doesn’t even seem relevant. I’ve just been the victim of this, as despite the fact that I’m in the middle of a journalism degree I’ve just had to do a 40-minute presentation on whether or not Britain’s future lies at the heart of Europe or with the United States. I don’t underestimate the historical significance of the Marshall Plan but, really, what does it have to do with journalism?

Myself and my group did alright and should get some good feedback on it, but still. Last year I did a presentation comparing the design styles of a magazine and newspaper which actually has a point to me and I might actually find useful. I swear that it’s nothing more than an excuse to keep us on our toes a bit and waste some time that could be spent on the essays due before Christmas.

Anyway, that’s my random little rant out of the way. Now I’m home free until Thursday at midnight! On that subject this review of the 360 hardware is probably the best I’ve read.

More Mario Kart DS

Mario Kart DS came out here today so I got a copy and having spent some more time with it my previous opinions haven’t changed. If anything, I like it even more than the quick blast that I had a couple of days ago. The last two Mario Karts, Mario Kart Super Circuit (GBA) and Mario Kart Double Dash (GCN) didn’t strike the same chord with me that the first two, especially Mario Kart 64 (many disagree with me on that one, I know) did, but this one just seems to work. No gimmicks like the tag teams of the Cube version, but makes some real progress for the series unlike the GBA one.

Single player is fairly standard fare, with the prerequisite Grand Prix, Time Trials, etc and the addition of various missions which give you tasks to do within increasingly strict time limits. It doesn’t help the single player become the real draw (which it obviously isn’t), but it’s a change of pace from the racing. Speaking of racing, you’ll want to jump right in at 100cc or 150cc because it will make the races faster and the rival AI more competitive, and if you’ve played Mario Kart before the 50cc races are frankly a cakewalk.

Apparently what everyone wants out of this game, however, is multiplayer. That’s always been where Mario Kart’s heart is and this is no different. Playing against people in the same room is as seamless and easy as you’d expect with no lag issues whatsoever, and, impressively, online multiplayer over Nintendo’s WFC service (take note Sony: you’re now the only ones without a dedicated online service) is seamless and easy with no lag issues whatsoever. I had a couple of games which ran perfectly and setup couldn’t be easier. The fact that Nintendo now have wi-fi infrastructure bodes well for future games and from what I’ve seen this couldn’t be a better flagship title. I know what I’m going to be playing until the Xbox 360 comes out next week.

My friend code is 141793886571 so feel free to look me up online.


I’ve just seen IGN’s ten reasons to wait for a Revolution, but has the irony escaped anyone else that the second reason they give is “Same Games, Prettier Graphics” and then goes on to list a new Zelda, a new Metroid, and a new Smash Bros as reasons to get a Revolution? Those won’t be the same games with better graphics?

OK, so we’ll get them with some quirky new control scheme but will they really be new gaming experiences or will they be the same games shoehorned onto the new controller? To give Nintendo credit they’re far better with original concepts than either Sony or Microsoft, but even their new stuff isn’t always as new as they’d tell you – The Wind Waker took a shocking new direction but was essentially Ocarina of Time with cartoony graphics and dull sailing sections, and although the DS has some great stuff now what was Nintendo’s first big game for it? Super Mario 64 with either less-than-ideal digital controls or unworkable analogue controls. While a Metroid Prime might work with the Revolution controller without any concessions, I really can’t see a Zelda or Smash Bros on that controller without some kind of add-on, which essentially makes them the “Same Games, Prettier Graphics”.

Maybe Nintendo will prove me wrong, but if they want to gain the popularity that Mario, Zelda, and Metroid can afford they’re going to have to stick to the status quo and not make it so that we have to swing a remote as if it was Link’s sword. Their original concept really needs original games, as the DS has shown, and when one of the main selling points is that it plays Nintendo’s whole back catalogue (same games, same graphics?) is that going to happen?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

I’m not going to write about this at great length about this since I’m not a huge fan of the Harry Potter universe – I’m one of the few for whom the books hold very little appeal, but I’ve enjoyed the previous movies as a way to kill a lazy afternoon when they’re on Sky. This one marks the first time that I’ve bothered to see one theatrically after the great reviews that it’s been getting and, overall, I was impressed.

It’s definitely the best yet, and it seems that each film gets better than the last. Even if the Prisoner of Azkaban is apparently the best book, this one seems much more geared towards making an enjoyable film no matter how faithful to the source it is (or isn’t). I heard some obvious Potter fans talking about how they were disappointed that certain things had been cut out, but it already runs at a portly 157 minutes, and thankfully didn’t overstay its welcome. It stayed pretty streamlined, focusing on the Tri-Wizard Tournament and the Yule Ball, so someone deserves credit for making a cohesive movie out of what is patently a monster of a book.

The effects, like the films themselves, get better each time (loved the dragons which follow the Reign of Fire realism angle); I wasn’t annoyed by any of the actors this time which suggests that they’re getting better; and I enjoyed the tone which was surprisingly dark for a 12A. I can’t be the only one who only has to hear someone say that their latest sequel is darker (Prince of Persia wall-runs and swings immediately to mind) to want to scratch my eyes out, but this one was all the better for it. I was very surprised at how far some moments actually went, and knowing what I know about the future books it doesn’t look like they’ll be any different.

In short, highly recommended.

The Next Generation is Here

Well not here exactly; we still have another ten days to wait. Still, there’s a lucky minority on this planet who have the Xbox 360 sitting in their living rooms.

There’s the usual console launch hysteria going on around the Internet, with some managing to net one, others going home empty-handed, and some sad stories that prove that some people in the world are fucking dicks. What’s making me chuckle are the stories of them being very difficult to find for people who were hoping to walk into stores and pick one up, as if they were expecting the stories of shortages around the world that have been on this site and others for weeks were nothing but hearsay. According to articles like this (worth a read, by the way) people are finding out that there won’t be restocks until February, which is what suppliers have been saying ever since the news of small allocations started to come out.

The lesson? Always listen to me. And don’t be too stingy to pay a deposit to preorder and guarantee your machine on day one.