For Your Viewing: Unit 13 (gameplay/daily mission)

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.

For Your Viewing: Final Fantasy IV Complete/The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (PSP games on the Vita)

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!

FyFYI Episode 137: Cults, Electricity and Sex Pest


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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For Your Viewing: Hustle Kings (asynchronous multiplayer)

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.

Review – Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

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.

Sometimes a blob just has to eat some space men and then eat some of their space shapes on their floating space platforms.

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.

Are these mini games ‘tacked on?’ Well, I guess we would have to ask the developers, but what we do know is that they are well executed and fun.

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.

The art style in this game is perfect and that is a scientific fact.

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.

Review – Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational

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.

No one is going to claim that this version of Hot Shot's is an amazing looking game but the visuals do have a bit of charm to them.

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.

I wonder if I can get my wife into Hot Shots cosplay...?

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.

For Your Viewing: MLB 12: The Show (gameplay/cloud saving (part 2 – PS3))

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!

Review – Plants vs Zombies

Plants Vs. Zombies has been ported to death by this point and unfortunately I have played it every step of the way.  I say unfortunately, as if there was a gun put to my head, but I guess it goes without saying that I chose to do it.  I first played it on the iPhone, and then the iPad, and the 360… and then the PSN and now the Vita.  It’s a good game but it really isn’t worth all of that.

Admittedly I am a tower defense addict, I have been for several years now, and when I first played PvZ I thought it was a stroke of genius.  It boiled the genre down into something even casual gamers could understand, but offered the depth to keep people like me happy.  PvZ never actually gets hard for people familiar with the genre, but it’s not a cakewalk either.  And for those that truly crave a challenge there is a survival mode that by its very definition is unbeatable – you just go as long as you can.

I believe in symmetry.

Popcap has a way of making the banal seem sublime.  Bejeweled is just another match 3 game yet I’ve probably poured 100 hours into it in various formats (with Bejeweled Blitz being my current favorite).  Plants Vs Zombies is no different… even though I have beaten the game numerous times and know the game like the back of my hand, I still have fun playing it.  I don’t know how, I don’t know why… but I do.

The questions that most people probably want answered are: ‘Is it worth $15?’ and ‘Is it the best port around?’  To answer the former; no, it’s not worth $15.  I know that PSN/XBLA/Vita games can’t compete with iOS price points, but $10 should be the max for this.  To soften the blow, the game does come with a full suite of trophies, 18 to be exact, including a platinum.  To answer the latter question, it may not be alone at the top of the heap, but it’s neck and neck with the iPad version.  The extra screen real estate of the iPad does help the game out considerably, but the Vita version has a nice little tilt mechanic that collects all of the sun for you, so you don’t need to tap the screen like a madman. Also, to my untrained eye the sprites seem a bit sharper.

The live area is quite boring only tracking trophies achieved so I've taken it upon myself to make it interesting.

There are certainly worse uses for $15.  Plants Vs Zombies is one of the better games around and this version is one of the best ports.  The inclusion of the platinum trophy can help give closure to completionist/trophy whores like myself.  It may cost a bit too much, but what on the Vita doesn’t at this point? Plants vs Zombies is a game that many of us have played far too many times, but that doesn’t erode its greatness.

Review – Ridge Racer

Ridge Racer on the Vita is a strange game to review.  Up front I’ll tell you that I’m giving it two stars, which by according to our review scale means that some fans of the genre might find some fun, but most folks could safely skip it.  The odd part is that I actually find Ridge Racer to be a ton of fun – but nearly impossible to recommend.

The two points which are bound to drive most folks away are that there is a very limited number of tracks and the game has no proper career mode.  In regards to the tracks, Namco plans on expanding the total via DLC. In fact those who bought the game at launch got the first track pack included, which doubles the number of tracks from 3 to 6.  The game itself is cheap, $25 on the PSN and $30 MSRP in stores, and the downloadable packs seem to be about $7.  By the time all is said and done we will likely have a decent number of tracks for somewhere around the $40 mark, but getting there is a weird ride and the whole thing just poses the question:  why not just ship it with all the content and charge $40?

Ridge Racer is a solid if not spectacular looking game.

The lack of a career mode may be tied to this DLC model; how do you make a career for a game that is expanding every other month? They instead decided to focus on online races, either competitive or asynchronous through ghost data. The game has a built-in leveling system and car upgrades, so grinding away in online races and time trials does have a point. There is also a team system which is similar to the factions in MAG (for the 6 people who played that game…).  These teams don’t have a big impact on the game as a whole, but it does give you opponents to focus on beating to maximize your XP and money-making.

The time trials/ghost battles are the coolest feature in the game. Someone picks a car and a track and then goes and sets a time and either posts it online or on Near, and that person’s time placement is listed as 0G. Once posted someone can download it. If they beat the ghost, they can repost it and they are now 1G. And someone can then download that and if they beat it they become 2G… and on and on and on.  You can sort online by friends, but the easiest way to make sure it’s friends only is to post them through Near. The problem with that, however, is that Near only lets you post once per hour. This is the type of thing that game developers and Sony alike need to work out. Even with this restriction it is quite fun having a time trial where you can look at a list and see each step of the way who beat what time.

The live area feed is servicable with notices of special actions and trophies. I would love to see these expanded in the future with ghost times that you can touch and launch straight into the game to battle.

Offline you can race developer ghosts, do a time trial by yourself or do a “spot race”, which is just a quick race. You pick a track, decide whether it’s frontwards or backwards and then you race against 7 AI cars. This is the most boring of the modes to grind because it doesn’t give you much in the way of rewards and it’s mind-numbingly easy.  I’m getting to the point now where I’m lapping guys, and the races are only three laps long.

The nuts and bolts of what makes Ridge Racer a fun game are there. The tracks are all classics, the music is cheesy at time but it always fits, the graphics aren’t mind blowing but it’s a solid-looking game. Most importantly, the act of driving around the course, and of course the drifting, are still as fun as they’ve ever been. If you are the type of racer that can get sucked into an XP grind and enjoys online races and ghost races I think Ridge Racer is for you. Though, if you are looking for a large track count and a meaty single player experience run far, far away from this one.