Unit 13 has quickly become one of my favorite launch window games. The controls are tight, it looks good and there’s a ton of content. When I made recorded this video on thursday night everything was ok but when I recorded the audio on saturday Zipper Interactive was no more. A big bummer. But they claim they are going to continue to support this game (and MAG/Socom). In this video I run through a very short daily mission and then hop into a single player mission.
I switched gears a little bit and decided to take a look at a couple of PSP JRPGs on the wonderful Vita screen. I went with a remake of a classic in FFIV and a more modern soon to be classic in Trails in the Sky. I did make the mistake of recording the video in the dark which creates some issues with the screen flaring up, but hopefully it’s not too much of a distraction. Anyway, watch a video with your eyes please!
This week Pete is amazed by polygamist cults, James made a big, big purchase, pete made a slightly less big purchase that is a tad more frustrating, Codemaster’s does everything in their power to make James hate Operation Flashpoint, Pete gets electrocuted, the Battlefield 3 patch did more harm than good (which is incredible being that the list of ‘good’ is pretty long), pete wonders still if he needs Skyrim PS3 and he enjoys some Luxor Evolved and Age of Empires Online on Steam
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Hustle Kings is one of the underlooked gems of the Vita launch. Weighing in at a healthy $10 if you buy it on the Vita or the PS3… you get both. Or, if you were like me and bought it on the PS3 over a year ago, you get it free on the Vita now. The graphics and gameplay/physics are stellar and it has this really nice asynchronous multiplayer mode a bit hidden within its menus. So here’s a quick look at that with some actual gameplay mixed in.
For most of my life the 1958 horror flick ‘The Blob’ has occupied a special place in my psyche. As a child I happened to catch it on TV one night and the thought of being dissolved within the mass of this relentless thing had a special resonance for the terror centres of my young lizard-brain. I think it was a claustrophobia thing. Fast forward to 2011 and the PSN release Tales From Space: About A Blob represented something of a power fantasy for what’s left of seven-year-old me. This time I controlled the blob devouring hapless humans. The whole thing was so bloody satisfying – it was unquestionably one of my favourite PSN titles of last year. With the release of the Vita, Drinkbox Studios have brought us a sequel of sorts – Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack, and they’ve excelled themselves again.
MBA is fundamentally the same game as its predecessor. Its aesthetics are a clear homage to the 1950s setting of the original film – both with respect to the art style and the soundtrack. This presentation is very distinctive, and succeeds in giving the game a strong identity. At its heart MBA remains a 2D platformer combined with the roll-and-grow elements of the Katamari games. This is in fact the core mechanic of the game – only by consuming objects (and people…and cows…and so on…) can the blob get sufficiently large to absorb whatever is blocking its path to the next level. As you progress through the game the blob gets bigger relative to its surroundings, culminating in a deeply satisfying final section in which the blob is all but invulnerable – the ultimate catharsis for my traumatized inner child.
For anyone who has played the PS3 game, all of this will be familiar. However the Vita incarnation brings a number of new mechanics to the table, some of which work better than others. Probably the most successful are the areas in which the blob acquires the ability for rocket-powered flight, and the top-down tilt levels (think Labyrinth, or maybe Tilt to Live). The accelerometer controls are very responsive, and these sections offer a nice change of pace – although the eat-everything mechanic remains constant. Drinkbox may like to mix things up, but he’s a one-trick pony this blob.
I was less taken with the addition of touchscreen controls to MBA. Occasionally you are required to reposition your hands to manipulate objects on the screen. I found it fiddly and unnecessary. It may have helped if you were able to use any part of the screen to control the object – as it was, I found it mildly irritating to have to change my grip on the Vita, and the objects often did not respond in the way I intended.
There are also a few omissions from the PS3 game that I found slightly disappointing. There is no longer a main antagonist, although story is hardly a reason to play these games. The co-op is gone, but that was local only on the PS3 anyway. The ability to…umm…swallow and spit, in which the blob consumes objects and then shoots them to places he could not otherwise reach, has also been removed. This is one area where MBA really falls short of its PS3 predecessor. The spit mechanic, along with the use of the ability to magnetically repel the blob from, or attract him to certain objects, made for some really ingenious and rewarding puzzles in the first game. While the magnetism remains in MBA, it is used almost exclusively as a platforming mechanic (albeit a very enjoyable one). The Vita game has just enough puzzles to be considered a puzzle-platformer, but they do not match the standard of those in the original game.
As someone who played a lot of About a Blob on the PS3, Mutant Blobs Attack left me with the feeling that if Drinkbox had kept the puzzle-friendly elements of the first game, they would have a genuine classic on their hands. That said, there is enough new here to keep it interesting, and in any case I would happily have paid more just for new levels. For people who did not play the original (for shame), this is as good a game as you will play on your Vita. This middle-aged-seven-year-old loved it.
The Hot Shots series doesn’t change. This is usually viewed as a stigma, the lament of gamers who are sick of having money go to the same product over and over. For Hot Shots though, this is a comfort. They have a winning formula and they aren’t going to run away from it. Instead they just add to it in ways that don’t rock the boat.
All this may sound negative, but if you love the Hot Shots series it is in fact great news. HSG:WI is every bit as addictive and fun as its predecessors. There are improvements mixed in with nothing old taken out. The game has three new shot mechanics, but they kept the two old ones as well. All of the courses are new, of course, but are also instantly familiar as Hot Shots links. There is a new leveling system, but really it’s not much different from the old days when you unlocked things as you progressed in the game, except that with this system you still get points when you lose, lessening the frustration.
Back from HSG: Out of Bounds on the PS3 are the online tournaments. They run on a set schedule and you have to book a spot before they start. Once you’re in, you play along with 29 others. This mode is great fun, but it can be frustrating having to wait for the slow-as-molasses timer to let everyone begin the next hole. Missing from the online modes, however, is a stroke-play mode where you and some friends can play on the course together. This is a supreme bummer keeping the game just shy of greatness.
The biggest addition to the game, and possibly the greatest addition in the franchise’s history, is the inclusion of daily tournaments. There are three of them a day, two nine-hole tournaments and one eighteen-hole tournament. They will sometimes have special rules or the courses will play at different lengths or be mirrored to keep the whole thing fresh. The asynchronous nature of this, plus the simple ability to sort the scores by your friends list after the fact, make this extremely fun and competitive. Leagues have sprung up from these tournaments all around the world and for good reason… these tournaments are by far the most fun I have on my Vita.
The single player game is the same as it ever was, including the fact that it becomes ludicrously difficult as you hit about the 75% mark. I am hoping that if Sony does go the DLC route with courses that they focus on easier courses. The difficult courses are great for the small percentage of people good enough to play on them, but the vast majority of us don’t get to experience their great (and usually weird) design because they are just too difficult to play on. Plus, almost every online and daily tournament is the first three courses, which are the easiest to play, so getting more in that range should be of utmost importance.
In the end Hot Shots doesn’t do anything new, other than asynchronous daily tournaments, but it doesn’t need to. The underlying golf physics are superb, it now has five different shot systems and the courses are creative and fun (until you reach the very last ones). At some point Hot Shots Golf probably won’t be the best game on a Sony system around its launch, but that point is not now. Highly recommended.
This video picks up where the last left off with me loading the cloud save from the vita version into the PS3 version. Unfortunately it didn’t load in game like I thought it would, more investigation is needed there. So instead I play through the first inning of the same game and my voiceover veers way off topic into the future of the Vita and some fears that I would like Sony to alleviate. Enjoy!