Whatever Happened to Plug and Play?

Remember when a new console had to be connected to power, connected to the TV, and that was it? Those were the days…

With all of the big three espousing network connectivity and, to wildly differing extents, higher resolutions, will those days ever come back? Getting the full experience from a games console is no longer a case of picking up a SCART cable along with the new hardware. As well as needing an expensive TV, just setting it up relies on an intimate knowledge of your TV’s supported inputs and resolutions as well as the favoured sound formats of your audio setup. I’m a technical masochist and so actually like fiddling with settings, but I doubt the average person does. We all must have cringed at friends with nice widescreen TVs but with their DVD player set to 4:3.

Networking is just as bad, requiring either a wired network within range of the console or a headfirst dive into the world of wireless networking – encryption protocols, DHCP servers, MAC filters, SSIDs, keys, and other such fun – to get what can be the main thrust of the hardware in the case of the 360.

And then there was firmware. The risk of completely killing your hardware aside, it’s more than slightly annoying to find yourself unable to play a PSP game because it has a mandatory firmware upgrade on the disc and your machine doesn’t have enough battery power to let you flash it. So much for ease of use there. Since its release the PS3 has had two firmware updates weighing in at nearly 100MB each, which is no quick and painless download on a 2Mb connection with a bandwidth limit. I’m sure you’re familiar with the stories of firmware updates killing 360s and Wiis, as well. Don’t even get me started on game patching and modern developers’ inability to notice players randomly disconnecting from online games.

Necessary evils though these may be if we want these new experiences, surely someone out there can come up with some kind of standards. Why not make TVs that can tell your devices what resolution they want? Why not test your bloody games before you ask us to pay for them?

More Hours in the Day, Please

One of my favourite arguments for why emulation is usually a bad thing is that, when you have a few gigs of SNES games, you don’t appreciate them and never get to give them your full attention. I can’t say I enjoyed spending £60-70 per game, but at least I’d play the hell out of them and enjoy them all.

What I’m discovering now that I can afford to buy more than a handful of games each year is that I’m having the same problem. I mentioned back in October how hard it was going to be to buy everything I wanted and, having bought a good chunk of them (seven, according to a quick count), I’m now finding that it’s just as hard to do them all justice.

Okami sits abandoned at the 20-hour mark, I rushed my way through Call of Duty 3, I’ve barely scratched the surface of F.E.A.R., fifteen songs through Guitar Hero II, maybe a couple of hours into GTA: Vice City Stories, ran through Splinter Cell once (unusual, given my track record with the series), and I’m lagging behind the rest of my friends list on Gears of War. Thank God I don’t have to juggle the PS3 and Wii at the same time. Anyone else having trouble with too much of a good thing?

I guess I’ll have a nice backlog to work on in the slow summer months, but then I’ll be too busy complaining that there are no new releases to play any of this old stuff.

Just chalk this up as another reason to stagger releases throughout the year.

The Zelda Conundrum

The reviews of Zelda: Twilight Princess are coming in and it looks like a certain contender for game of the year. Naturally, being a Zelda fan (who isn’t?), I’m desperate to play it. Therein lies a problem.

  • I want it now.
  • I want it in widescreen and 480p. Strictly speaking I want it in 720p, but I’ll take what I can get.

So get the Wii version, right? Well…

  • I don’t want to look like a twat while I’m playing it. That may sound shallow, but my reservations over the controls go into the functionality as well: I want to be able scratch my nose without clattering the poor maiden who I’m trying to save with my sword, for example. In short: I want to play it with a controller. The ports are there so why not give me the option to use them?
  • Twilight Princess is the only Wii game that I want for the forseeable future. I’m reluctant to buy a whole new system for this game when there’s a perfectly functional, albeit slightly crippled, one on a system that’s been gathering dust since, well, the last Zelda. Doesn’t my faithful Cube deserve its last hurrah?

What’s a guy to do? It’s tempting just to get pissed off with Nintendo for doing this, since ultimately if they’d put widescreen and 480p into the GameCube version I wouldn’t have any issues here. The Cube can certainly handle it in 480p (the game runs on the Wind Waker engine, and that was progressive four years ago) so it’s clearly a deliberate decision to annoy the gamers with a side job in geekery. And get them to buy a Wii, of course. The console that’s designed to draw in non-gamers…


PlayedStation 3

I got to have my way with a Japanese PS3 earlier today. First thing I should point out that this was just connected through composite so I can’t claim to talk with any authority about the graphical acuity that people will get through component and HDMI. Unless they’re on a 1080i TV, of course. Ba-dum tish!

With the obligatory bash out of the way, on with the impressions. First, the hardware itself:

  • This mutha is mahoosive. Imagine the monolith from 2001 with an HDMI port. It’s slightly bigger than the 360, and a similar size to the original Xbox. Where are all the jokers who made the size quips when that came out, I wonder? Queuing for their PS3s, I’d assume.
  • It has the same shiny finish as the PSP. Thankfully you’re not required to touch it and therefore smudge the hell out of it as you were with that, but it looks nice.
  • (whisper quiet). A very good thing. A bit louder than the near-silent slimline PS2, quieter than the 360…not that that’s difficult.
  • Slot loading disc drive and touch-sensitive buttons are extremely slick.
  • If you’ve used a PSP you’ve used the “XMB” dashboard-thingy. I wasn’t that keen on it then and I’m still not, but it’s a dramatic improvement on the PS2’s frontend…not that that’s difficult.
  • The web browser is decent but a mouse and keyboard is a necessity. The controls for it are even more convoluted than on the PSP.
  • 100MB firmware updates? Let’s not make this a regular occurrence when some of us have bandwidth limits.
  • The jury is out on the SIXAXIS. I’m not a huge Dual Shock fan anyway, and although the sticks have a nicer finish than the DS2, they’re still not nearly as accurate as Nintendo and Microsoft’s analogue sticks. Rumble is one of those things that you miss when you don’t have it. It’s not as light as I’d heard, and so I was expecting to hate it since I’d been given comparisons to the SNES controller; it’s still a bit on the cheapy side, but not bad. I’ll talk about the motion sensitivity where relevant in the games.

Continue reading PlayedStation 3

Elite Beat Agents Impressions

Elite Beat Agents

I don’t think I really need to go over how much I liked 2005’s cult DS hit Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan (in case I do: 1, 2, 3) so to say that a whole new sequel excited me should go without saying. Well, having played a good few of its songs now, I can safely say that Elite Beat Agents is a great addition to the burgeoning series, even if some of the quirky charm is lost in translation.

The wacky sense of humour is still in there, to be sure, but I can’t help but feel that it loses something when what’s going on beyond what you can work out visually. Does it even need to be in English? Diarrhoea is a pretty universal language.

OK, so marketing is an obvious concern in that respect. CIA agents just sell better than male cheerleading squads for some reason, and for god-knows-what-reason people prefer Ricky Martin to L’Arc-En-Ciel. The music may have been more appealing if they’d gone for less obvious artists that could have been pulled straight out of thin air, and again just don’t have the idiosyncratic charm that the best stages of Ouendan had. I’d just pick any of the original songs over the embarrassment of having YMCA suddenly blare from my DS.

Regardless, the great fundamentals are identical and on that basis it still gets a firm recommendation. Just be sure to pick up Ouendan as well (handy Play-Asia affiliate link!) so that you won’t miss out. The original is still the best.

Call of Doody?

I really don’t understand 1UP’s review of Call of Duty 3. 6.5 isn’t a bad score but generally qualifies as “above average”, which this game really isn’t. COD2 is arguably still the best game on the 360 and, while COD3 doesn’t mess with the formula too much, it looks great, sounds astounding, and gives the multiplayer an overhaul.

OK, so it’s possibly more like COD2.5, but an expanded version of an excellent game is still an excellent game. It currently averages out on Game Rankings to 86% at the moment which seems fair next to the low 90’s that COD2 was getting.

I don’t know…I enjoy 1UP – especially their podcast and The 1UP Show – but it seems like they sometimes try to be controversial and edgy for the sake of it. It’s not unusual for their reviews to differ dramatically from IGN and GameSpot, who used to be renowned for overrating and underrating respectively. Just the other day I was completely thrown off by the negativity in Dan Hsu’s Gears of War review, in which they eventually gave it…a perfect ten.

The last section of that review possibly justified it and the fact that it became the centrepiece of the 360 fanboy argument against the impending PS3 and Wii definitely helped their ad revenue, but surely a fantastic game with some niggling flaws is a 9 on anybody’s scale? Maybe I’ll change my tune when I finally play it next week.