Thursday, December 29, 2005

It’s a Christmas time miracle…or it’s about frackin time!

Although I’ve been able to spend time with the 360 due to my job, it was more than a little annoying that I had yet to secure a personal one even though I had pre-ordered it months ago. Well, on Christmas Eve no less, I get a call from EB saying my premium console had come in. What are the chances of that? Christmas frackin Eve. It was insanely cool and not so cool at the same time. I mean, the previous estimate they gave me was January.

Of course there’s a hitch. I’m in southern California at this time visiting family and EB is near my office in the Bay Area. Then a real Christmas miracle happened, my wife’s mother and brother trecked across the bridge to snag it for me since EB can only hold the item for 48 hours (and I wouldn’t be back by then). Very, very cool.

There was still bad news as the ship date for DOA4 appeared to have slipped yet again to the very end of this year. I was pretty sure this meant we’ll have to wait till January at the earliest. Then, word starting spreading on the interweb that the Japanese version had shipped to stores. A few days later, an official press release comes out announcing the game is in (some) stores today! After calling all the local EB and Gamestops in a 5 mile radius, there’s five if you’re curious, only one knew for sure it would have it today. I had to do the dreaded pre-order yesterday to “make sure I got one”, but the upside for driving to the GameStop was I got handed the promo calendar. I also ordered the Hori stick online for overnight delivery (none of the stores had the Hori arcade stick, which supposedly had shipped last week), so with fingers heavily crossed, I await both today. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about them till they were both in my hands, but I’m up earlier than usual during vacation, so what the heck.

Now that DOA4 is a few hours away (I hope, I hope, I hope), I think the chances for finishing Shadow Hearts: NC just went out the window for a few weeks. I’m pretty close to finishing Condemned and I beat Trace Memory for the DS during the trip too. I knew Trace Memory was short, but it’s much shorter than I thought. Still it’s a very nice, engaging graphic adventure. I made my wife play it first and she liked it a lot. The Nintendogs are still getting daily attention, as is Animal Crossing. It was nice visiting the town on my birthday and Christmas. I missed to first big fishing tournament, but I finally got to see K.K. Slider! On the downside, it sounds like all the songs are the same as the GameCube version.

I’m also fairly close to finishing Perfect Dark Zero, but I may not bother. The realization has sunk in that I’m not having that much fun. The level of challenge has kept me coming back, but many of the obstacles in front of you feel cheap. To be continued.

Getting back to Christmas, it was good times. Need to go back again very soon to see friends I only saw for like a minute. Found a cool new Chinese restaurant, I think it was called Mandarette. Decent size, but not big enough for how popular it seems to be. Nice atmosphere, very good food, and good prices. It’s on Beverly, near La Cienega if you’re in the area soon.

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I had seen a show about fried chicken on the food network and they highlighted a place in LA called Pollo Campanero. The joint was a popular fast food chain originating in Guatemala and the lines were said to me very long. Guatemala fried chicken? I had to try me some of that. The lines were indeed long, but the chicken is quite fantastic. My wife and I were the only non-Latinos in the place, which I took as a good sign that an eatery is still authentic and keeping it real.

Surprisingly, I bought no new books or toys this trip. I’m eagerly awaiting new figures due to ship between January and March, so saving up till then. Preview pics coming soon.

Battlestar baby
The latter half of the post title also refers to the long awaited return of Battlestar Galactica (Jan 6th people!) after it’s midseason hiatus. The last episode was so intense, it’s made the wait all that more difficult. I’ve been tempted to pick up the DVD sets out, but I’m going to hold out (it’s probably going to be a while I know) for a blu-ray or HD-DVD release. Having seen the series in HD, there’s no going back. The DVDs are indeed great, but I’m getting 60% less pock marks on Edward James Olmos’ face. In a word…unacceptable.

Update 12/31/05

It seems nothing Xbox 360 related can go off without some drama. The store I pre-ordered DOA 4 from didn’t get the game on Thur (which I didn’t really expect anyway), but they also were the only store in the area that didn’t get it on Fri. I cancelled and bought it at another EB, so that was that. The arcade stick did come in Thur, so it’s been all business since yesterday afternoon.

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As a DOA fan, I’m happy with the game. My thoughts spoiler free thoughts so far:

- The majority of character moves have revamped, which is a good choice. I’m not so sure about other engine revisions. More on that below.

- The stages are drop dead gorgeous. Wow. The way the fighting engine finally complements how big or small a stage is. You still can’t run around easily though.

- I’m hoping Team Ninja really support the Xbox Marketplace with reasonably priced goodies for the fan. The DOA player is one I know will shell out points for premium items.

- I really enjoyed the story. It still doesn’t make much sense, but the few parts that do are wrapped up to a certain degree.

- The online lobby system is really cool, although waiting around in groups anything larger than six feels like a waste of time. That is unless you know everyone there and can have fun chatting while waiting.

- Not many costumes and the few characters that have more than four have a lot of color swap outfits.

- While everything looks crisp, I wish the player models were more detailed. I haven’t done an A to B comparison of DOAU to DOA4 though.

- The end boss isn’t as cheap as the Genra from DOA3, but still not fun to play against.

Jury still out
- The three new characters are a mixed bag. I love Mariposa, Kokoro is ok, and Elliot I’m not too hot on.

- The way your character is stunned and recovers from getting hit has been changed greatly. DOA has always favored the defensive counter player, but now that power has shifted to the aggressive attacker who can mix up high/mid/low attacks. It feels like Team Ninja chose the lesser of two evils, but it doesn’t sit 100% right with me yet.

- My limited online play so far was really fun, BUT half of my matches were silky smooth while the other half were riddled with nasty lag.

- I’m beginning to feel like all 3D fighters need a block button and should not use holding backwards for defense. It works so well for the Soul Calibur and Virtua Fighter series (the two most balanced 3D fighting systems out there), it can work for DOA. Even though countering has been made much harder in 4, you still want to go for it since blocking doesn’t seem to be an effective alternative.

Hmm, this was a much longer post that I thought. Well, heading back to counting down the New Year. And Montry, look for a friend invite in a few minutes.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Nice long break

I’ve been having lots of random ideas of things to post about before the holiday break so here goes in no particular order:

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- Rule of Rose is a Sony of Japan developed horror game for the PS2 that is about to come out this January. It involves English children in some sort of boarding school house and it looks super creepy – both in a scary movie way and a “seems like something uncomfortabley naughty is happening” way. Hit up the official site and watch the trailers, especially the first one. It’s all CG stuff, but it gives you an idea of what it’s about…sorta. I hope this comes out here.

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- Ryu Ga Gotoku is sort of like Shenmue meets Japanese gangster Grand Theft Auto. I’ve been obsessed with it as the theme seems really cool to me, but not enough that I want to import it at this time. I played through the first Shenmue in Japanese and had a ball, so language shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s more of a time thing I guess at this point. I just have too many damn games I want to play that sit on my shelf, which makes it hard to justify paying an import premium. I really hope they bring this out here. I mean, everyone is trying to make a “better” GTA (True Crime comes to mind), but they all are mining similar territory. Exploring the underworld of Japanese gangsters would stand out more I think. You can do it Sega!

- I was mildly tempted to ask for the 20th Anniversary Gameboy Micro for Christmas, but held back because: A) The US release should have been the domestic NES style and not the Famicom. B) Where are all the extra faceplates? All I keep seeing are more versions of Micro hardware. C) It still costs too damn much. D) I’m very happy with the new backlit GBA SP already.

- I’ve been playing a lot of NBA 2K6 for Xbox 360. It’s so damn good, I can’t understand a lot of the knocks it’s gotten in some reviews. There’s just no contest between Live and 2K this year. Live is all flash and 2K is slightly less flash, but ultra rich content.

- There’s no doubt now, the denizens of Animal Crossing DS are much weirder than the GameCube version. The random things they talk about, ask you to do, etc. It’s very entertaining. The best part about the game is how relaxed I feel when walking around town. Nintendo has done it again!*

- Now that I sit back and think about it, I can’t remember a holiday where I was so obsessed with games. I love the widening selection of types of games in both the home console and especially the portable realm. Without really thinking hard on it, I’m willing to say the DS was the console of the year. The PS2 and 360 are close in that race though. The year isn’t over yet and I’ve a lot to play before my mind is made up on it.

*The post on the history of that quote is coming soon, I swear.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Farewell Phil!

So this past Friday was Phil’s last day at GameSpy. I’ve known him for almost seven years when he used to do some writing for me on OPM. He’s decided to pursue the noble career of teaching although he’s sure to keep at least one toe in some game writing. The good news is I’ll spend far less on geeky gaming pursuits without the guru in the office.

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We had a nice good bye lunch where much fantastic food was consumed. Here we see the posse strolling to the eatery.

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I forgot to take pictures of the other food, but here’s desert! Yummy tiramisu. Good luck Phil!

Christmas break looms and I have a ton of gaming I’d like to get on. I’m on the 2nd disc of Shadow Hearts Covenant and guestimate I have about 12-15 hours left to go. I still have to get back to my unhealthy fascination with Beat Down.

I’ll have more access to the 360 over the break and want to finish Perfect Dark and finally start to mess around online. I’m not so sure I’ll keep the game too long after though. I want to spend more time with Call of Duty 2, NBA 2K6, and Condemned (which is scaring the heck out of me). I’d like to get a higher score on Geometry Wars too. If Dead or Alive 4 ends up shipping before the end of the month, I’ll be all over that.

I’m still having a great time with Animal Crossing. On my birthday, I received presents from neighbors and seemed to have abnormally great luck fishing. There’s quite a stack of DS and GBA games I really want to get to as well. So many great games this holiday.

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Speaking of my birthday, my wife threw me an awesome surprise party. I was totally not expecting it. Thanks!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Give me your fruit!

As the ridiculous drama of elusive 360s continues, I decided it’s more exciting to focus on Animal Crossing DS. I just picked up the game today and starting to get my town ready for visitors.

What type of letter will my friend drop off today? Who left this thingy in the middle of my town? Why are all my apple trees dug up? What type of shirt design will shock everyone? You get the picture.

It’s the fun of what your friends bring to the party. The more creative or weirder they are, the better. I’m hearing that the way you use WiFi is not as cool or fully featured as one would like, but I’ll manage.

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RPG revival
I was really in the mood to play Dragon Quest VIII, but I put it on my Xmas list and can’t just go out and buy it right now. So, I looked over my PS2 RPG collection and decided it was time to give Shadow Hearts: Covenant (that’s part 2 for those not in the know) a twirl. It has a very quirky story that mixes heavy themes like death with sometimes out of place bits of comedy. I’m absolutely loving it. It’s going to get harder to spend time with it now that I have Animal Crossing though.

I was almost about to drag out Valkyrie Profile for the PSOne, but decided against it at the last minute. It seems news points to a sequel for the PS2 being made, less concrete is a long rumored port of the original for the PSP. I’ll see if that pans out. RPGs stand a much better chance of being played if they are on a portable system for me.

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Darkstalkers Book Ends
My wife threw me an awesome early surprise birthday dinner and one of the gifts I received were these awesome Darkstalkers book ends. Morrigan is indeed "puttin 'em on da glass" as the kids like to say. They’re so wrong and yet so right. Thanks again Sean and Keith!