I felt like Shenmue merchandise had peaked earlier this year with the official Shenmue rubber duck and cologne, but they’ve been topped by what is possibly the most beautiful piece of memorabilia I own.
From French record label Wayô Records and part of a series of music boxes, the €275 price tag did give me pause, but this thing is seriously beautiful. I’ve got a couple of albums from Wayô and always found the presentation of their releases to be top-notch, and the music box is on another level still.
Here’s how they unveiled it to the world:
Well, it looks and sounds just as good in the flesh. It’s absolutely stunning. See for yourself…
It also comes with sheet music signed by composer Ryuji Iuchi, which will shortly be on my wall alongside my Shenmue III poster with Yu Suzuki’s mark.
Here’s the full unboxing, in lovely 4K HDR for those with a capable display.
She won’t admit it, but I suspect my girlfriend’s slightly sick of the ornamental positions in our new house slowly being given over to Lego. There have been some phenomenal sets in recent years, as attested by the prominent positions of not family photos, but rather my UCS X-Wing, Saturn V and Old Fishing Shop.
The Mario 64 Question Block, though? For someone who spent their formative years obsessing over the N64, and who basically divides their childhood into Before Mario 64 and After Mario 64, this is just everything I ever wanted.
It’s so full of Easter eggs and intricate details. Here’s a step-by-step walk through the build and some of my favourite touches.
The first couple of steps are focused on the structure and a couple of faces.
The sheer number of glossy yellow tiles to apply is perhaps unavoidably tedious, but it doesn’t take long for the first secret to emerge…
A sliding panel reveals this cute little Bowser, seemingly comprising even fewer polygons than his in-game counterpart but nonetheless capturing Mario’s nemesis. The purple button in front of him hides another surprise, but more on that later.
Lethal Lava Land is the first stage to make an appearance.
Love the little custom printed piece for the sliding Bowser puzzle, and how few pieces the designers needed to represent the Big Bully and floating eyeball.
Next comes the game’s overworld, Peach’s Castle, which sits above the basement stage, appropriately enough.
Up close you can see Mario, Peach and even Lakitu the cameraman — a relic of when 3D gaming was so new that we needed an in-universe explanation for the floating camera — and the front of the castle pops off to reveal the paintings leading to the featured stages. And who’s this hidden on the roof for those who find all 120 stars?
Polishing off the castle also involves some finishing touches for Lethal Lava Land, including a power star hidden behind the Big Bully and the spinning volcano (which actually rotates!), as well as an opportunity to show you the rubber bands that spring load the whole structure.
Next comes the game’s opening stage, which even outdoes what we’ve seen so far in terms of attention to detail.
Everything’s there, from the cannons to the floating island with its tree and red block, the rolling cannonballs to those little stakes that you can run around for coins. King Bob-omb and the Chain Chomp round it out with little custom-printed spheres.
The layout of Bob-omb Battlefield is seared into my memory and I loved finding details as throwaway as the little warp cave halfway up the mountain, barely even visible around the back.
That leaves only Cool Cool Mountain to slide (sorry) into the final berth around the castle.
The detailing is as impressive as Bob-omb Battlefield, representing the penguins, the snowmen, and even the rope lift, rendered in actual string. And, in a cute touch, you can pop the side off to reveal the stage’s iconic slide to relive your favourite GamesMaster moment. The scale of the baby penguin might be a bit off, though — wouldn’t dare chuck that beast off the stage. He’s bigger than the cottage!
The four stages can then be mounted atop the unfinished block and folded back into their hiding place. Finish the two remaining sides and the build is complete — all 2,064 (ha!) bricks of it. My Saturn V is only 1,969 (ha again!) pieces and that’s over a metre tall, showing how densely packed this set is.
One last secret reveals itself when you press down on that button in Bowser’s hidden alcove…
Colour me thoroughly impressed with this set. It’s got superb attention to detail and piles of Easter eggs, showing what fans the team who designed this thing were, and makes a superb little ornament when finished. Straight into pride of place on my shelf as one of my favourite Lego sets ever made.
This month marks Sony’s annual Days of Play sale, and I’m seeing lots of European digital PS5 owners expressing disappointment at the small discounts on offer. Demon’s Souls, a remake that’s now six months old? £60.89. Bargain.
But I have to ask. What did you expect?
This isn’t America, where there’s borderline price-fixing on retail game releases. The benefits of convenience are slightly more understandable when you’re paying $70 no matter where you buy.
Here, in Europe, we have actual competition on pricing, which means physical games are almost always cheaper and drop dramatically much faster. It’s been the case for years, going back to annual price wars in supermarkets over each year’s FIFA or Call of Duty selling the games for below cost.
I remember it being cheaper for us to load up the Video Game Centre with copies of Grand Theft Auto IV from Asda than to buy them from the distributor.
And as a result, digital buyers are paying a premium for what? The convenience of not having to swap discs? Great. I’ll suffer the walk to the shelf and keep the option to sell a game if it turns out to be shit, thanks.
I always assumed it was some deal to keep the retailers sweet by not undercutting them. But now that Sony and Microsoft both sell systems without disc drives and I think it unlikely that the next generation will have discs as an option at all, we’re seeing that, with much of their install base over a barrel and so even less incentive to discount, they won’t.
I’m trying to think of another entertainment industry where the platform holders have pushed to digital and no only blatantly just pocketed the savings on manufacturing, distribution and retailers’ margins but actually increased prices. And it boggles my mind that so many people defend it.
I have almost all modern music, including all the new releases, at the tip of my finger for £9.99 a month. Thousands of movies to stream for a similar cost, and digital 4K versions routinely on sale for under a tenner. Games, though? £70 for Returnal. Good luck with that.
Something has to change. Hopefully, Microsoft’s Game Pass is showing the way of the future, because £70 a game with no demo and no returns isn’t it.
Meanwhile, I just got physical copies of Ghost of Tsushima and The Last of Us Part II for less than the digital version of Tsushima alone. I’m buying physical games as long as the option exists.
While many complain about the dearth of PS5 software – not sure what they expected, given the way new consoles work – I’ve been using mine to partake of some of the best games of the last few years, many of which I skipped due to indifference or poor performance on my launch PS4.
Ratchet & Clank was OK (and free!), Titanfall 2 was superb (also free!), and now I come to another Respawn Entertainment game: the awkwardly punctuated Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Fallen Order barely has an original bone in its body. The developers have borrowed freely from Metroid, Uncharted and the Souls series in particular – all classics, to be sure, but if originality is important to you, there’s not much of it here. Even Force powers don’t really do much more than The Force Unleashed did years ago, or any more recent action games with telekinetic heroes.
But, frankly, I’ve always been enough of a Star Wars fan that ‘something good but now it’s in the Star Wars universe’ is a winning formula for me, and none more so here. If I’m going to occasionally get spanked by random mooks, better a Scout Trooper or Nightbrother than some skeleton, I say. Mercifully, bonfires meditation circles are more liberally distributed here, though.
And think about those climbing sequences in Uncharted, but now it’s a crashed Venator-class Star Destroyer, and being spotted devolves into actually enjoyable combat rather than a Naughty Dog gunfight. There’s even that Shadow of the Colossus boss where you climb up his beard, only now for some reason it’s an AT-AT.
And you know how netting new abilities in Metroid unlocks new areas in previously explored zones? This does that, but new Force abilities are accompanied by flashbacks to Jedi training.
Plenty of Star Wars fan service, too, though not obnoxiously so. You get to play through a formative moment in Cal’s past and Star Wars lore, and it follows Rogue One and Rebels in its brilliantly terrifying treatment of an iconic villain. It even confirms a fan theory that links The Clone Wars and The Force Awakens.
Nostalgia isn’t all it has to lean on, though – which, frankly, is more than can be said about a lot of post-Disney Star Wars. All of these pilfered ideas are executed with quality and the same eye for the cinematic that made Titanfall 2’s campaign so impressive.
There’s a next-gen update for Fallen Order coming in June, so if you’ve so far missed out and are desperate for something to play on that new hardware, it gets my hearty recommendation.
An optimist can take the current absurd difficulties in getting hold of a PS5, now three months after launch, as evidence of how the industry has grown since then, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Even the absurdities of the PS2 hype cycle didn’t feel this bad.
The truth is almost certainly a perfect storm of factors causing shortages and supercharging demand. It’s a pandemic, so people are stuck at home and looking for new toys. Also, it’s a pandemic, so manufacturing and logistics have been severely affected. Furthermore, it’s a pandemic, and chip shortages are affecting everything from GPUs to in-car entertainment systems, and no doubt consoles as well.
And, notoriously, this particularly high demand means scalpers abound, and this time more than ever they’re packing bots that can seemingly order dozens of machines while mere humans are still loading the page.
I actually skipped out on the launches of the new consoles this generation, mainly due to being in the middle of moving house and so occasionally having less than no money. I rather naively expected to be able to waltz onto Amazon come February or March and be able to grab one whenever.
This proved optimistic.
I’d followed a number of Twitter accounts and Discord servers that shared intelligence on incoming shipments, and eventually managed to purchase one from Game. I missed out in the initial wave, but grabbed one in the third of the day, after they’ve filtered out the bots and repeat buyers.
But then, an hour and a half later, this same system filtered me out and they cancelled my order. That or, I suspect, they simply oversold their stock.
A couple of days later I managed to get an order in with Very. Unlike Game, Very charged me, so I thought I was safe. But then, like Game, Very cancelled my order. They held onto my money for an expensive PS5 bundle for almost a week after that so yeah, I’ll be avoiding Very in future.
At this point, I was increasingly despondent and even chanced a couple of eBay bids as the average selling price – currently about £200 above RRP – approached what I was willing to pay.
But then, last week, I happened to be looking at my phone when this tweet pinged a notification.
Some of the prominent alert services missed this one, so on the off chance, I checked Smyths’ disc consoles as well. They were in stock and I ordered one without trouble. It was such a low-key drop that people on Discord were questioning whether it even happened.
In other words, I love Smyths now. I’ve always liked them in the absence of Toys R Us and for their convenient location in Bournemouth, but my feelings are now more romantic in nature.
The PS5 is lovely. Not to look at – it’s an ugly abomination – but in its performance and the visuals it can put out. My launch PS4 has not kept pace with the ambitions of developers nor modern TVs, meaning anything recent on my 65″ OLED runs like a PowerPoint presentation on a hazy day, with the audio accompaniment of a jet engine.
This one, though? I’ve never seen such pristine image quality. Close-ups in Spider-Man: Miles Morales look absolutely flawless, with no aliasing, shimmering or any undesirable artefacts like that, and all in 4K, HDR, 60 frames per second. With ray-traced reflections in people’s eyes.
It’s astonishing – certainly the most impressive generational leap in a while, assuming you have the TV to get the most out of it.
Those screenshots are 15MB each in full quality PNG, incidentally 😬
It’s early days on this generation, though, and it’s looking like COVID-related developments will have taken a belated toll on numerous 2021 releases – Gran Turismo 7 has slipped in the last few days and rumours are swirling around Horizon: Forbidden West – so that post-launch lean period could be longer than usual.
At least I’ve got all those PS4 games that I’ve stopped playing in the last couple of years because they ran like arse. Like Shenmue III… 🤔
As what has been a rather shitty status quo continues to get worse, I didn’t feel like the big new releases in Doom Eternal or the Resident Evil 3 remake were the appropriate antidotes. Instead, I’ve been relying on a little glimmer of light that’s been occupying my Switch since “social distancing” entered the vernacular: Grandia HD Collection.
The first game’s relentlessly optimistic adventure makes it perfect for these bleak times. It was something of a throwback even at release, with its Saturday morning cartoon storyline and colourful, sprite-based characters bucking the trend of dark and gritty post-FFVII RPGs. There are no brooding antagonists and tortured antiheroes – the main character is a young boy, the son of an adventurer and a pirate because why not, intent on making his name as a first-class adventurer by exploring uncharted continents and discovering ancient civilisations with his friends. There’s a militaristic empire on the party’s heels, of course, but it wouldn’t be a Saturday morning cartoon without its Cobra.
It’s a perfectly upbeat change of pace. Not overly challenging, with no esoteric systems to potentially snooker you later on. And it has what remains my favourite RPG battle system ever designed – a perfect mix of turn-based, active time and the spatial awareness of real-time combat that seems simple and yet, once mastered, rewards flawless victories with this soaring, gloriously of-its-time riff. I’ve spent most of my time with the game with a smile on my face. It’s a proper warm blanket of a game.
The HD collection also contains Grandia II, which is still a great game with Dreamcast era 3D graphics that upscale better than Grandia’s sprites – my one complaint about the first game’s remaster is the smeared filtering job on the sprites, which is bearable on the Switch’s screen but looks worse the bigger your display gets. But the sequel comes with a touch of post-FFVII brooding that I can’t bring myself to like as much. Think of it as a nice freebie, with the first game as the real reason to buy this collection.