That Back Compat Thing

Talk about setting one up. Even so, I’m going to start by playing a bit of a devil’s advocate by saying that the news doesn’t affect my desire to own a PS3. I still won’t be buying one next month. That’s my cheap shot out of the way.

Honestly, I think backwards compatibility is overrated. I was always going to have to keep my PS2 around since it’s chipped and my PS2 collection takes in games from all three major regions, and I think I’ve played a grand total of five Xbox games on my 360 since last year. Two of those for more than a few minutes, or for more than just to check out how they looked in HD. Aside from a bit of FFVII last summer, it’s similarly underused on my PS2. Others might find it more important, as I know plenty of people who only want one box under their TV and don’t want to chuck out some of their favourite games. Not to mention the appeal of seeing what PS1 games you can find for a couple of quid each in Gamestation.

What’s irksome about the whole issue is the way in which they’re going about it. I’ve made it clear how I feel about the price, as have countless others, and this just makes things worse. We’re now paying more for a late, lesser piece of hardware? Sony had already twisted the knife in the wound; now they’re pouring salt onto it. The fact that this all comes out weeks from launch with preorders (mysteriously not sold out anywhere yet) in full swing is just low. That’s pissing on you while you’re down and still crying about how much the salt hurt.

This is where the obligatory Kutaragi quote comes in:

“PS3 will feature backwards compatibility with PS and PS2 games from day one. I’m emphasising this because, from what I hear, there are some platforms that haven’t been able to completely do this. It’s costly in terms of hardware, but we’d rather invest firmly on compatibility from the beginning, rather than to have issues later on.”

I hear there are two platforms that haven’t been able to completely do this, Ken.

I don’t think anyone would really object to them switching to software emulation to save hardware costs when their emulator is mature, but why do we have to, essentially, pay extra to beta test this feature? Why not keep the EE/GS chip in there for the machine to fall back on if the emulator doesn’t support the game? And, more pertinently from a European perspective, why not roll this out worldwide if you’re going to do it? Why just us?

Fuck them. I’m going to sit back and wait for the next of the weekly PR disasters.

Crackdown: So Many Orbs…

Xbox Live’s achievements can vary in quality of implementation, from the most perfunctory bookmarks of progress (King Kong), to the outrageous (finishing Smash TV without dying; 10,000 online kills in Gears), with very few doing what I think is the best thing these can do, in rewarding you for doing those unessential little quests that you take up as a personal challenge.

Climbing the tallest building in the game with your bare hands qualifies – think of the people who managed to scale the temple in Shadow of the Colossus – and this probably qualifies as my favourite achievement yet:

King of the world!

It’s a long climb that takes a bit of planning and lateral thinking, and the reward (10 points aside) is an absolutely spectacular showpiece of the strength of this engine. It’s seriously impressive; a huge draw distance and solid framerate, without the usual caveat of obviously decreased detail. Then, to top it off, there’s another achievement for jumping from the roof and landing in a small pool at the base of the tower. Brilliant stuff. I hope other devs are taking notes.

That sums up what I think of Crackdown so far. I played about seven hours yesterday, running through the first gang on my own and then again in online co-op (every game should have this after Crackdown and Gears), and just messing around with piles of cars and a grenade launcher. Oh, and spending an inordinate amount of time hunting for those agility orbs (250-odd so far, and about 55 hidden ones). God, the orbs! So many! Argh!

The game has been criticised for length, and it did only take me about three hours to finish off the Los Muertos kingpin and all six generals. A third of the main campaign, basically. And that includes several digressions in order to relieve nearby rooftops of their agility orbs. This isn’t a long game, to be sure, but the point isn’t simply to finish it, just as it was with GTA. Those who I’ve spoken to who are as into it as I am spend far more time fucking around, and I’ve enjoyed it for the lack of structure rather than in spite of it.

After the hundreds of free-roaming crime-infested cities that we’ve played around in since Liberty City in 2001, all either po-faced and taking themselves far too seriously or failing to capture the wit of Rockstar’s games, Crackdown is a breath of fresh air. I want to say that GTA IV has a lot to live up to, but that’s going to do its own thing and do it well, as it has over the last few years. Spider-Man 3, however, is going to need to be really special.

Burn! Hot Blooded Rhythm Soul!

Today is a good day. Elite Beat Agents may not have been quite as good, but with a touch of impenetrable Japanese weirdness and some more obscure J-rock I’m confident that iNiS will be able to capture lightning in a bottle again. If you still haven’t played Ouendan (or even EBA), shame on you. Atone!

My only fear is that they won’t come up with such a brilliant soundtrack – the original has been in my car CD player for months – but everyone who helped give this game such a massive cult following can pat themselves on the back. Whatever happens, they’ve outdone themselves with the title. Moero! Nekketsu Moero! Nekketsu Rhythm-Damashii Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan 2 roughly translates as Burn! Hot Blooded Rhythm Soul! Go! Fight! Cheer Squad 2. Superb, but Ouendan 2 would have sufficed, wouldn’t it?

The Morning After

Much has been made of a recent CVG editorial, in which they ask whether or not the novelty of the Wii is beginning to wear off. I must confess to wondering the same thing.

Twilight Princess was a wonderful experience – all 37 hours of it – and I’m glad that I decided to take the risk and get the version with the prettier graphics and funky controls. Far from being an obstacle, I thoroughly enjoyed swinging my virtual sword and getting the occasional funny look for squinting down the remote to aim. Likewise, Wii Sports was brilliant and the most astute pack-in since Super Mario Bros.

What now? WarioWare is great fun for a few hours, and next there’s Super Paper Mario (another survivor of the GameCube) which should be worth a look. Metroid Prime 3, Mario Galaxy, and Smash Bros should – fingers crossed – make it out this year. Fire Emblem will be a buy if it’s as good as the GBA games.

Now…what links those games? Could it be their publisher? Anyone else worried that we’re heading for another GameCube situation here?

Hot Fuzz

Hot Fuzz

Last night I got to see Hot Fuzz, the latest from Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, et al. I haven’t seen this one hyped up nearly as much as Shaun of the Dead was, but as a Spaced devotee I was always going to see it.

First of all I’ll get the bad out of the way. I didn’t like Hot Fuzz as much as Shaun and certainly not as much as [sound of angels singing] Spaced. Secondly, a couple of good laughs aside, I didn’t think the first half hour was particularly brilliant. That’s it. The rest of it’s really good.

Once the main plot gets going and we have the wonderful rapport between Pegg and Frost, things are dandy. Like Shaun, it’s packed full of references to look out for, and of course Edgar Wright’s direction is as fundamental to the humour as the two stars and what’s almost a who’s who of British comedians and their previous collaborators. There’s an unhealthy obsession with Bad Boys 2 and Point Break which is milked for all the humour it’s worth (a surprisingly large amount), not to mention the ubiquitous Cornetto’s. It’s got all the hallmarks of the people who made it, but considering how stylish their oeuvre has been thus far, I’m more than happy with that.

What ultimately won be over, though, was two things. Both are possible spoilers so you might want to save them until you’ve seen the film for yourself. Number one: flying kick to a granny’s face; number two: that the whole thing is basically about militant Daily Mail readers. That gets a thumbs up from me.

Best of the GBA

Now that I’ve got Final Fantasy VI Advance, as far as I can tell there are no more big GBA games set for release. If it wasn’t before, it’s now going to be a home for nothing but budget pap. But let’s not mourn; let’s celebrate the life of Nintendo’s little handheld with ten of my favourites, in alphabetical order.

  • Advance Wars – While certain developers continue the vain struggle to make an RTS work on any console format (although the GBC has a little-known gem called Warlocked), Nintendo took a Japan-only series from 1988 and did strategy on the GBA. Not real-time, admittedly, but I need an analogy. Regardless, this was most people’s introduction to the Nintendo Wars series and proved to be an excellent fit for the handheld: deep, moreish, and just as easy to play in quick bursts. And that’s the hallmark of a well-made portable game.
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – Choosing a GBA Castlevania is a bit like choosing your favourite child, but if I’m pressed this is my favourite. It doesn’t suffer the issues of Circle of the Moon (i.e. it was visible outside of direct sunlight). It’s also more of a challenge than Harmony of Dissonance, which was a cakewalk after COTM. Throw in the variety of weapons and the addictive soul-collecting system and the third time’s a charm for this series. Still buy them all, though.
  • Final Fantasy VI Advance – Ditto what I said about the Castlevanias. These translate amazingly well to the GBA, but FFVI gets my vote simply by being the best 2D Final Fantasy (don’t deny it). FFI/II haven’t aged too well, so they’re out. FFIV and V are both superb, though, especially V with the added customisation of the job system. The thing that this one has over them is just that little extra sheen that comes from being a later game developed on known hardware, and some real flourishes in the storytelling department that don’t come on the older, more linear games. You should still buy all of them.
  • Fire Emblem – Another perennial series that made its western debut on the GBA, think of it as Advance Wars goes to Middle-earth. Playing fundamentally the same as Wars, it brings characterisation and more story to the mix, with the unusual trick of permanently killing off characters should they fall in combat. I like it better than Advance Wars as you’re not controlling anonymous soldiers, but unique characters with enough of their own abilities to make that trick of restarting the mission from scratch if you get any of them killed difficult to resist.
  • Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap – There has to be a Zelda here, obviously. I picked this over the sterling port of Link to the Past (still a classic) just because of what a surprise it was, arriving with little fanfare and turning out to be a brilliant little Zelda game. Tons to do and featuring the charming animations from Four Swords, and presentationally let down only by the mildly annoying voice samples, it’s a slightly whimsical but no less essential take on the series. Plus it came to Europe first, showing that Nintendo only dislikes us rather than outright hating us.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga – Speaking of whimsy, this game almost defines the word. It wasn’t long ago that Nintendo kept such a tight grip on their flagship that something like this – to Super Mario RPG as Hot Shots is to Top Gun – would never have happened. It’s a great RPG in its own right, with some recognisable Mario hallmarks, but is also one of those rare games that manages to be funny. It has an Engrish-speaking boss, for God’s sake!
  • Metroid Fusion – Super Metroid is my favourite game ever, so I have to have this in here. While it tended to hand-hold – Samus now has an AI companion that tells her where to go – Fusion proved that it still works in 2D, even after the seemingly permanent shift into 3D first person. It also boasts some of the prettiest visuals on the system and brought to the table a truly threatening bad guy. Or girl. Castlevania has done it twice, so can we get a 2D Metroid on the DS, please?
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival – Street Fighter II shouldn’t work so well with two face buttons, but this has been one of my most consistently played GBA games since I got it in 2001. In fact, this summer, when I was tragically limited to my Micro and one game, this is the one I chose. Since the GBA lacks a puzzle game as perfect as Tetris DX, this is my next best thing.
  • WarioWare: Twisted! – How many of these games have there been now? However many, this is probably my favourite, even up against the original. The use of a twist sensor is ingenious and the team of course comes up with a couple of hundred inventive ways to use it. For a new twist (ba-dum tish!), play it by spinning yourself, rather than the GBA, in circles.
  • Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 – The 2D platformer to rule them all, even twelve years after its release this game still looks and plays wonderfully, and will continue to age better than the early attempts at 3D of its contemporaries. It’s testament to how much talent was poured into this game that even with essentially the same components and art assets, a less able team couldn’t make something nearly as good as the original. For more on the game, read my retrospective.

Unless you want it to die, don’t forget to lobby Nintendo for an English-language version of Rhythm Tengoku. It’s a top game that hardly anyone’s heard of, and the GBA deserves to go out on an original title rather than a SNES port. Even if said port is one of the finest RPGs ever made.