Category Archives: Editorials

Editorials meaning extended rants.

What happened to mobile games?

It seems so long ago, but there was once a time when iOS and Android heralded the future of games. They were growing while the rest of the market contracted, and the buzz around open microconsoles like the Ouya, based on mobile technology, as they pushed into the traditional console market must have had Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft worried. Phones and tablets were getting exciting new experiences, classic ports, and new properties that looked like they were vying to be the iPhone’s Mario or Halo.

Now, though, I haven’t put serious time into a single mobile game since Super Hexagon. I sold my iPad. I can’t remember the last time I browsed the App Store. I’m still using an iPhone 4, which struggles with anything newer than 2012, yet I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

Maybe it’s caused by the fact that indie developers have carved a niche for themselves in the promised land of consoles and Steam – they don’t need to hamstring themselves with anaemic hardware and touch controls any more. What they’ve left is a wasteland of match three puzzlers – fun, but I used to play those on the SNES and they haven’t moved on since – and frankly depressing revivals of long-dormant franchises as “free-to-play” monstrosities.

It probably says a lot that as soon as I saw headlines for Rollercoaster Tycoon’s revival, I knew it was going to be a F2P mobile game. That mitigated the disappointment, I suppose, but while the execrable Dungeon Keeper was rightly castigated, at least that had the defence of being free. RCT4 charges you for the privilege of being made to wait around, accurately simulating the experience of visiting a theme park.

What hurts the most, though, is to see this shit succeeding, helped along by the proliferation of dreadful mobile review sites that struggle to give anything a lower score than 4/5. And that success is aiding the mechanics in seeping into retail games, with Forza 5 being one of the more egregious examples. Thankfully the backlash there seems to have been heeded somewhat.

Even as something of a gaming traditionalist, keen to preserve consoles and dedicated handhelds alongside newer, more exciting formats, I’m disappointed in what’s happened to what was a promising new gaming landscape. It wasn’t a passing fad, as the numbers playing games like Candy Crush Saga show. But the innovation that once filled the vacuum has moved on, abandoning it to the vultures with shocking rapidity.

Me and my Kindle

Kindle

Despite my assurances in my last post that I’ve been gaming as much as ever, there’s one area where I’ve been letting the side down, and it’s in portables. I love my 3DS and Vita – aka Persona 4: The Console – but my omnipresent-electronic-companion-that-isn’t-my-phone has been a simple Kindle. I love the little thing.

What I like about the basic Kindle is that it’s cheap, it has a long battery life, and it focuses on doing one thing very well. In other words, it’s the complete opposite of modern portable hardware. It’s the original Game Boy reborn, minus games.

Every function of the thing is available on just about any phone or tablet, but they don’t match the experience of reading on paper like an E Ink screen, and just being on for a day will drain their battery, whereas this can last me a month. That’s why this will be going with me on holiday – it can survive a long-haul flight and a few days away from a power outlet, whereas my Vita certainly couldn’t.

Mostly, though, I like that it’s rekindled – seriously, no pun intended – a love of reading that’s been latent since I hit my teens. I cleared 46 books in 2013, my first full year with a Kindle, which is probably more than I managed in the previous decade. I’ve sworn off reading at that pace again, simply because it turns it into less a hobby and more a production line, but I’m already on my tenth book of 2014.

Unfortunately, it seems like ebook reader sales in general have been falling. The market has spoken and shown that people prefer one device that does everything – tablets, in other words. It’s not a surprise, since we’ve seen how many use their console as their primary Blu-ray player, or who prefer the ‘good enough’ phone camera to a dedicated unit. And thankfully Amazon has never required Kindles to be profitable, as they’re really a vector to sell ebooks, so falling sales aren’t the disaster they can be for a console.

It’s sad that ‘good enough’ so often trumps ‘great’, as any videophile who weeps at the thought of DVD outselling Blu-ray will tell you, but the Kindle seems to be one that’s set up to survive nonetheless, able to serve its dedicated following thanks to the fortunate position of not needing to make money. If only Nintendo could crack that one…

Reports of my demise and so on…

It’s funny how getting out of the games media, despite leaving this site as largely my only outlet for writing about games at a time when a long-overdue generational shift has left plenty to talk about, has led to me writing almost nothing. Seriously, apart from last year’s top ten and coming out of retirement for one freelance review, posting on GAF is all I’ve done.

I aim to change that. I’ve given the place a facelift, and now I’m going to be more regular in posting impressions and opinion pieces. Honest.

My biggest dereliction of duty has been nothing about my PS4, as letting the opportunity to post impressions on  a new piece of hardware would once have been unthinkable. I’m more positive than a lot of places have been, being happy with the price/performance ratio and the focus on gaming at the expense of multimedia functionality, which will no doubt come through future firmware updates. It’s nice to have a non-evil Sony back, and I’m even hopeful at the prospect of the benevolent dictator situation that gave us such a great library in the PS2 generation. But maybe that’s from spending too long on NeoGAF.

The biggest criticism of the new hardware has been entirely predictable, as it happens every single generation: no games. I disagree. I loved Infamous: Second Son enough to make it my first platinum trophy, have put over 120 hours into Battlefield 4, and enjoyed Ground Zeroes (don’t pay more than £20), Assassin’s Creed IV, and the freebies from PS Plus. I liked Tomb Raider enough to give that another crack once the definitive version reaches a more justifiable price too. Just don’t be tempted by Killzone; any reviewers who scored it higher than a 5/10 are insane, and Infamous has supplanted it as the essential eye candy.

Admittedly I have been playing the PS3 more than the PS4, but Dark Souls II and Final Fantasy X HD are no mere games. The former captured my interest more than either of its predecessors and will happily be upgraded if the rumoured PS4 version turns out to exist.

But like I said, a software drought happens every generation, so you should at least give it a year before you start worrying. If you bought a PS4 without expecting this, you must be new at this early adopting lark.

In other news, a little over a month from now I’ll be heading to India for a fortnight, spending time in the Himalayas and the desert of Rajasthan. I’m not sure what sort of network access I’ll have apart from the odd forays into towns with Internet cafes, but whether they come before or after my return, this and Twitter will be my main repositories for photos for those at home. I hope you’ll enjoy them.

And no, I still haven’t given up on Shenmue.

Bring Back Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Whichever N64 game you want to play, chances are there’s a port, HD update, or Virtual Console release out there somewhere. GoldenEye’s a notable but understandable exception given what must be a minefield of rights issues – published by Nintendo, developed by Microsoft-owned Rare, based on a licence held by Activision, based on a film produced by a company that has since gone bankrupt and is now distributed by Sony – but at a push we have a couple of reasonably good remakes. How am I supposed to play Conker’s Bad Fur Day, though? It’s one of those annoying games that lacks a definitive edition – Persona 3 is another one – only with the frustration compounded by all the legal means being seriously compromised in some way.

The Great Mighty Poo in Conker: Live & Reloaded

What brought this to mind was selling my N64 copy. Given its condition and the fact that it came out quite late in the N64’s life, I made good money on it, but it was a hard sale to make because it’s a tough game to play legally nowadays. I could, of course, have plugged in the old N64, but that would be reliant on my controllers still working and, let’s face it, it’s going to look like shit on a modern TV. Plus, you know, £100.

Nintendo wouldn’t touch the game, so it was published in the UK by THQ and Rare kept the rights. Rare’s still owned by Microsoft, so no Virtual Console release.

Mercifully, then, we have the Microsoft-published Xbox remake, Conker: Live & Reloaded. It’s much prettier and it works on an Xbox 360. Problem solved? Nope. You see, it had its name changed before release from Conker: Live & Uncut, which should set off alarm bells. Compare, for example, the Great Mighty Poo scene on a Nintendo 64 to Microsoft’s adult-friendly shooter box. As someone who won’t watch a film when it’s been cut by seconds, this is completely unacceptable. No shit. Literally.

Microsoft isn’t new at this console game any more, and it’s certainly not averse to publishing adult content in its games. In that case, how about giving Conker the same treatment as Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, which both had excellent, well-received Xbox Live Arcade ports that updated the games and even added functionality that was dropped from the N64 originals? Get me a playable, uncut version of the game – hell, maybe throw in the lovely assets from the Xbox port – and you’ll both redeem yourselves for Live & Reloaded and make me feel much better for having sold out on my original copy.

Thoughts on the PS4

Although their commercial performance has been heartening amid reports of the slow death of the console market, the long-overdue launch of a new hardware generation has been greeted with a lukewarm critical response. I can understand the disappointment that the days of launching a system alongside a bone fide classic seems to have died in the years since Halo, but I’m shallow, damn it, and I wanted a new toy. It’s been eight years. I’m only human.

PS4

This round of launches has brought two firsts: the first Xbox launch at which I haven’t jumped in, and the first PlayStation launch where I have. Past habit would have put it the other way round, but anyone who’s been following the two consoles will understand. The Xbox One has been woefully mismanaged, and even after numerous 180s, it’s still facing an uphill battle to win me over. I’ll get one eventually, but I’m past giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. The downright scummy F2P business model in full-price games shows that it might not be a bad idea.

The PS4, on the other hand, while the most technically impressive is also the most pleasantly nostalgic. I like that it’s a games console first and foremost. It’s not a trojan horse for a new media format and it’s not diverting large chunks of its processing power to things I don’t want. It’s got a great controller – so good, in fact, that hardcore Sony fans now feel comfortable admitting how bad the Dual Shock 3 was. It has a premium online service that actually gives you something for your money. It’s been built to avoid the kludgy, obnoxious amount of time spent watching progress bars on the PS3. It’s svelte and looks nice – another first for a launch model PlayStation in my book.

Maybe I’m being optimistic here, but I hope that a console designed by the newly humbled Sony, likely to be a clear market leader this generation with the best third-party ports and the lion’s share of newly resurgent (please?) Japanese support, can be a kind of benevolent dictator. Think of the PS2 coupled with the hardware advantage of the original Xbox and the superlative first-party line-up that Sony pulled out of somewhere in the PS3 generation. Let Nintendo and Microsoft learn from their mistakes this time around and come back stronger, like Sony has after suffering through its own third console curse.

Let’s just hope the success doesn’t go to their heads like last time…

Fire Emblem Awakening

In a year that’s already showing signs of being a vintage one for gaming, at least compared to the disappointments of 2012, the rush for GOTY titles is going to be fierce. We’ve already had two prime candidates in BioShock Infinite and The Last of Us, which are probably going to clean up in December unless GTA V ends up being something special, but now that we’re past 2013’s halfway point, neither is looking like being my number one.

Fire Emblem Awakening

For the first time in years, it’s a Nintendo game that’s foremost in my thoughts. And for the first time ever, it’s a strategy RPG.

Deciding what it is that Fire Emblem Awakening does so much better than other examples of its genre, which have historically failed to excite me, is difficult. It makes great use of the 3DS hardware, for one, making subtle but pretty use of 3D and taking advantage of system features like StreetPass, while ditching the more annoying gimmicks. It seems Intelligent Systems has worked out that gyro controls break the 3DS’s banner feature before Nintendo. It’s also controlled almost entirely with the buttons, using the touchscreen mainly for information. Thank God.

It’s clearly been put together with great thought. The translation work from 8-4 is witty and full of character, from the support conversations to the quips that accompany critical hits – Frederick’s badass “Pick a god and pray!” is my favourite. The Japanese voices are there for those who prefer their European fantasy setting to have an Asian language and not match up with the translated text. There’s depth to be found in every aspect, from which characters you pair up to how you move them up and down through the classes in an attempt to create an army of supermen.

I came late to this one thanks to my 3DS packing in when I was barely 40 minutes into the campaign, but since my system returns – eight weeks later, but that’s another story – I’ve been hammering this like nothing else. It’s kept me off the new Mario & Luigi and Animal Crossing, and it’s meant my ongoing playthrough of the 50-hour Grandia has taken not the expected couple of weeks but rather two months and counting. It makes a mockery of the RPG collection that I deliberately expanded to cover the lean summer until the next generation begins that my gaming time has been monopolised so willingly by a strategy game in a series that I haven’t afforded much attention until now.

Of course, the people don’t have feet, but we can forgive it that.