Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Love me some Mass Effect (Spoiler free!)

I’m already into my second Mass Effect play through and will eventually play at least one more time after that (perhaps one more on top of that depending on DLC). I’ll list the details of what I’m doing/planning at the very end of the post so folks not wanting spoilers can just stop reading. So is it my “Game of the Year”? It’s a pretty solid lock. It just hits everything I wanted a follow up to KOTOR to be and then some.

There hasn’t been much time for any other game except for King of Fighters XI since it can be enjoyed in very short bursts. If you still enjoy 2D fighting games at all, you should absolutely pick this up for the PS2. It’s packed with new characters and little touches for fans to discover. I have to admit that I’m not getting as much enjoyment out of XI as KOF 2006, the last 3D installment of the series. Having owned many of the earlier 2D KOF games, there isn’t enough new in XI to make me want to play a ton. At $14.99 though, it’s priced right. Very much looking forward to KOF XII which is supposed to be a total reboot of the 2D series with all new sprites.

The plan for the rest of the year involves mostly going back to finish games I started. I “beat” Mario Galaxy, but didn’t get all 120 stars. I held off on playing through Bioshock a second time on the harder difficulty in anticipation of some DLC and glad the wait has paid off. I really want to finish HL Episode 1 and 2 and maybe complete some more achievements for Portal. I’m probably one or two long sessions away from completing Phantom Hourglass. The mood has sort of passed me, but it would be great to go back and beat Odin Sphere.

I would certainly love to pick up some of the other hot November titles like Uncharted and Rock Band (game only), but there’s no way I’m getting anything new till next year. By then, there should be some great discounts and price reductions. I’ve already done my part in pumping up the game economy with large amounts of day and date purchases this year, so I need to give my wallet a big break for the first half of next year.

MINOR MASS EFFECT SPOILERS FOLLOW
I completed my first game as female/soldier/paragon. Second game decided on male/all biotic/renegade. I’m thinking for the third play through to go back to my female soldier so I can get the level 50 and 60 achievements. I also want to try out an all Tech character too (I’m not big on characters with split specialties). I didn’t get the completionist achievement the first time (finished the game around the 30 hour mark) so debating whether I want to try to explore everything on this renegade play through or wait to till I go back to my soldier.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Feather Stylus arrives

Registering your copy of Phantom Hourglass and answering a survey on Nintendo’s site rewarded you with a feather stylus. I just got mine in the mail yesterday.

I was impressed that the box had a fancy outer sleeve and the stylus is held in place by molded foam. The stylus itself is a very elegant clear solid plastic and feels nice. I haven’t had a chance to use it on the actual game, but I will soon. Hopefully Nintendo starts ramping up more of these bonuses for its fans here like it does in Japan.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Busy Season

It’s been tough to find much time to do anything besides work, but here’s a round up of what I’ve been able to squeeze in over the past month:

Phantom Hourglass – I think I’m just about at the halfway point or maybe a tad further. Still loving it and the ability to write notes on the maps is super handy since I need to be reminded what I was supposed to do after being away from the game a few days. Going to take my time with this one and not rush.

Orange Box – For me, Portal is right up there with Bioshock in the “Best of 2007” games race. You MUST play Portal. Avoid spoilers! Slowly making my way through Episode 1 and waiting for them to patch Team Fortress 2 before playing some more.

Guitar Hero III – I love the set list. Perfect game to pick up when the mood strikes and not feel rushed to finish.

Call of Duty 4 – Finished this over the weekend and I think I’m completely done with it. I loved the campaign, but the mp requires too much time commitment for me to truly enjoy.

Buzz Mega Quiz – Some friends brought this PS2 game over the other night and it’s a ton of fun. Quite a fun party game and supports up to 8 players if you buy another four buzzers. This might be a worthy pick-up for upcoming Thanksgiving/holiday gatherings. Fairly noob friendly.

Mario Galaxy – With any luck, I’ll be able to pick this up tomorrow. Can’t wait.

Mass Effect – After Mario, this may be the last game I have time for this year. Especially since there are other older games I’ve been itching to get back to. That would probably be the smart move allowing me to snag the rest of the interesting Oct/Nov titles when they are discounted next year.

Demo report

I also got around to checking out a few demos that have long been downloaded, but forgotten on the 360 and PS3 hard drives.

Sega Rally Revo (360) – What a surprise! I was a big Sega Rally fan back in the day so it’s with great relief that it maintains most of it arcade-style flavor. The two tracks available in the demo look good and the controls are nice. Even so, racers aren’t at the top of my play list these days (with the exception of Mario Kart which I am up to play anytime). This might have a chance if the mood strikes me.

Conan (360) – I like how Conan can pick up new weapons to change his move set and the voice over work is solid. There’s enough “story” in the demo to intrigue me, but the combo system hasn’t won me over. Seems like a solid rental.

Puzzle Quest (360) – If this was released in the summer, I would have been all over this.

Every Extend Extra Extreme (360) – The PSP version has long been on my want list, but this demo is a real let down. Mostly because I have no clue what I’m doing, but the musicality of it isn’t as immediately engrossing as Lumines or Rez either. I’ll certainly give it another chance eventually.

Fatal Fury Special (360) – Very great port. I have the Neo Geo cart and this one has a slight visual edge. I really wish there was some way to get the CD arrange soundtrack to play with this, but for $5 it’s a steal. Not sure if the price has gone up at this point since I bought this the week of release.

Ratchet & Clank Future (PS3) – Very solid, but doesn’t feel like there’s enough new things to draw me in. This was in my day one purchase list for the longest time, but now I’m not so sure. I know I’ll like it, but in this crowded holiday I might have to skip for now.

Bladestorm (PS3) – The super cheesy voice work is entertaining. Other than that, it’s a snooze fest.

Gran Turismo 5 Prologue (PS3) – It suffers from some aliasing issues, but still looks great. Although it’s a real showpiece, my enthusiasm for the game is lessened a bit by this demo.

Uncharted (PS2) – Out of all the demos I’ve played, this was the only one that changed my mind from a “wait and see” to a “must purchase”. The only thing holding me back is it comes out the same week as Mass Effect. Depending on when I can put down ME, Uncharted may be able to sneak into 2007.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Gave in to Orange Box

Despite not wanting to dive into another fps, a full week of peer pressure and rave reviews destroyed my resolve (not to mention interrupting my pure Phantom Hourglass bliss). Loooove Team Fortress 2, especially since Halo 3 mp hasn’t done much for me so far.

Played some Ep 1 briefly and have been told I will be underwhelmed. With expectations in check, I was actually extremely impressed…with the audio. I played Half-Life 2 on my PC equipped with 5.1 surround sound, but Ep 1 sounds so much better. It’s probably a case of my crappy pc card/speakers vs. a full on AV receiver/surround speakers, but the result is I’m very happy so far.

All that and I haven’t even started Portal yet.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Time to enjoy DS is now

Aside from Jam Sessions, I haven’t been using my DS enough. I need to fight the urge to squirrel games away to enjoy only while traveling or for a time when playing on a TV is impossible. I intend to break mental block by popping in Phantom Hourglass this weekend and perhaps another DS title right after that.

What’s caused this renewed resolve to start enjoying the DS? The announcement of Advance Wars 2 and Fire Emblem. The Fire Emblem announcement is loooong overdue. I have the GameCube FE, but it’s hard for me to embrace that experience on the big screen. It doesn’t help that the graphics aren’t spectacular either. I guess the point is that strategy games are my favorite travel genre and knowing two gems are enroute free me to get to playing. I haven’t even touched the first Advance Wars for DS (finished the two GBA ones though).

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Craving some whimsy

Finished solo campaign Halo 3 last night and...it was fun. Any portion with vehicles was great, but the rest was just average. The levels feel very much like they are meant to be played co-op. Haven't played multi-player matches yet, but I just haven't been in the mood for that.

I'm much more looking forward to tracking down Phantom Hourglass (seems like it's sold out at a lot of places) and Folklore (for PS3 next week). I'm craving some whimsy and fantastical magical worlds now. Had enough of the shooting for quite a while. That means HL2 Orange Box is gonna have to wait, perhaps till next year or even till episode 3! That's probably fps burn out talking.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

3rd FPS Game of the Year contender in a row

I pondered very briefly for a few seconds at midnight last night whether I should get dressed and head down to the GameStop a few miles away. That moment passed without much regret.

I stuck to my original plan and hit the nearby Costco as soon as they let in the non-exclusive business members (11AM) and enjoyed the best price in town - $49.99. I would have gone at lunch, but I did sort of panic at the thought of it getting sold out. They had at least 60+ on display and perhaps more in the back. Still it was nice to get in and out before the larger crowds wandered in.

It is very, very strange that not only am I playing three fps games in a row (BioShock, Prime 3), but they are all uber fantastic (the jury for me is still not in for Halo 3, but it'll be good I'm sure). I finished Metroid Prime 3 just this past weekend so the timing is perfect.

So if you have a Costco membership, grab yourself some Halo 3. They also had the Halo 3 Xbox 360 which comes bundled with the special edition of the game.

Friday, September 21, 2007

My favorite podcast right now is…

Smodcast. If you are a fan of Kevin Smith’s movies or have seen any of his “An Evening With” DVDs, it’s a must listen. For everyone else who enjoys his style of humor, it’s still absolutely worth checking out. It’s Kevin Smith and his producer/buddy Scott Mosier talking no-hold barred about every topic imaginable and it almost always get insanely raunchy. It’s not for the sensitive types.

I have a 40 min to 1 hour plus commute each way so I listen to a ton of podcasts. There has never been one that has made me laugh hard and often as Smodcast. I started with episode 24 (it’s up to 29 right now), but I’ve gone back and downloaded all of them. Unlike many podcasts that start slow and build their style and rythm with each subsequent episode, Smodcast is guns blazing right from the first one. Check it out!

Rock Band Shocker!
I was dead set on buying only Rock Band this holiday and skipping GH III, until I stopped and actually looked at the track lists. GH III has a ton more songs I want to play! It’s not that I hate GH, but I really want that Rock Band 360 wireless guitar and at this point, it’s not for sure it will work with GH III. I’ll have to think about this one right up to release day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The rest of 2007

I’m almost finished with Metroid Prime Corruption and debating whether I have enough time to play through Bioshock one more time before Halo 3 comes out. Corruption has been so enjoyable that I may play that again too (word is you unlock a harder mode after completion). I’ve even managed to sneak in sessions of Odin Sphere in the bedroom when the TV that the Wii is attached to is in use. Playing great games really makes you hungry to play more games all the time.

That got me thinking about the line-up for the rest of this year. This list will have to undergo more painful pairing down, but as of this moment all these games are on my buy right away list. Everything else will get picked up further down the line…maybe.

DS
Jam Sessions
Legend of Zelda Phantom Hourglass
Phoenix Wright: Trials & Tribulations

Xbox 360
Halo 3
Mass Effect
Virtua Fighter 5
Rock Band
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare

PS3
Ratchet & Clank Future
Folklore
Singstar
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Wii
Super Mario Galaxy
Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles
Super Smash Bros. Brawl

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Metroid holds its own (Spoiler free)

After coming off the visual and story laden feast that was BioShock, I was very concerned how I would receive Metroid Prime Corruption.

After only two hours in, I can safely say Corruption is rocking my world. There is far more story than I expected and it looks good enough. My only regret is that I never got around to playing Echoes and it’s just not going to happen now that I’m used to the Wii controls.

I definitely plan on going back to BioShock on hard difficulty and being “bad”, but Metroid should keep me busy for a long while. Especially since I’m scanning everything like a madman.

If you have a Wii and were on the fence about Corruption, relax and go get it now.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Everything is cool now.

All is not well in the land of new receivers. The Onkyo 605 I got a few weeks back suffers from audio popping/cracking. It appears to be a problem that plagues the entire line of recent Onkyo receivers. The tragedy of this is that the 605 is the most affordable option for next gen audio playback on the market today. The list of features makes it as future proof as possible and the sound quality is awesome.

So, I had the option of shipping it back and hoping the replacement was better (owners who have done so have reported mixed results) or explore an alternative solution. A message board post on the AVS forums recommended using PC cooling fans. Normally I would not pay my own money to fix something the manufacturer messed up, but I have several items that could use cooling. My DVR runs really hot (the last DVR literally burned out last summer), the PS3 runs also quite hot at times and the 360 is an ever worrisome overheating bomb.

I decided to take the plunge and order the power supply and three fans. One for the receiver, one for the DVR, and one for the PS3/360. WOW. The impact was immediate. It completely solves the popping problem. The DVR is running smoothly and I’m not as worried about the long term health of my consoles. Plus the fans are SUPER quiet. Despite being fairly large, you can’t hear them at all unless you put them next to your ear. You’ll want to follow the advice of the poster and get the rubber feet for maximum noise cancelling once you place the fans.

The biggest side benefit was for my PC. Yes, that same desktop I thought was dying just a few months ago. I cracked it open for a cleaning and was shocked to discover the fans in there are quite small. The fan I was going to use exclusively for the PS3/360 (I just move the DVR fan to the console in use) now sits inside my PC. It no longer crashes and now starts reliably.

In any case, I can’t recommend enough turning to outside cooling to improve the mileage of your gear. The life of the fans is listed at 150,000 hours, which is roughly 17 years of continuous use. That’s certainly a better investment than any warranty.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A tale of two demos

It only took 5 minutes of playing the BioShock demo to convince me I had to own this game. I even stopped playing because I want to save the as much of the experience for when the game comes out next week. It would be great if I happen upon a store that has leaked it early, but whatever. I would have bought it anyway I guess, but the demo has me psyched out of my head.

On the other hand, I now know for a fact that Stranglehold will be totally skipped over, but not for the reasons you might think. I actually liked the demo a lot. It’s great fun, looks good, etc. The problem was that it made me dizzy as hell. The only games that ever made me dizzy were the first Turok on the N64, Half-Life, Half-Life 2, and Prey. Out of those, I only finished HL 1 and 2. I’m willing to deal with headaches for HL Episode 1 and 2, but I didn’t enjoy Stranglehold enough to warrant getting sick.

Does anyone else get selective dizziness from certain games?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Putting a hold on Stranglehold

I was out of my mind psyched when the initial news broke that the PS3 Collector’s Edition of Stranglehold would contain the HD version of Hard Boiled on Blu-ray. As the weeks passed, several serious questions and concerns nagged at me:

- How good will Stranglehold actually be?
- Will the HD mastering of the movie be up to snuff?
- Do I really want to keep the Stranglehold game forever in my library the way I intend to keep Hard Boiled? (very important since they are on the same disc)
- The CE is supposed to be very limited so you almost have to commit now to make sure you get one. This removes the possibility of waiting for the reviews to come out before purchasing.

As I was thinking things over, I happened across this interview that explains the movie will only play on a PS3. Since it is one Blu-ray disc, that is sort of understandable, but it really limits where I can playback the movie. The interview also mentions that the production run of the CE is in the six figures, so at least 100,000 will be available.

Let’s digest that number shall we? Now 10,000, that there is a limited number. 10,000 happens to be the US production run of Panzer Dragoon Saga for Saturn and that (plus the fantastic quality of the game) justifies the $100+ asking price on eBay for the game. Most games are lucky to even reach the 50,000 sold mark. Very few do. But 100,000?

For 100,000 to truly be a limited number, the game would have to be a massive, massive hit. Let’s put this in perspective. Final Fantasy XII sold/shipped 1.5 million copies in the US. I couldn’t find how many of those were the Collector’s Editions, but I do know that they sat around unwanted on the shelf long enough for me to pick it up at a hugely discounted price a few weeks back (this discount was across all EB/GameStop stores). This happened even though FF has a huge fan base and tons of people own a PS2.

Combine the installed base of PS3 owners with the fact that the Xbox 360 and PC versions of Stranglehold come out three weeks BEFORE the PS3 version and you begin to question just how scarce the PS3 CE will actually be.

I’m going to wait until Hard Boiled makes a stand alone appearance on Blu-ray. I want the whole disc to be dedicated to the movie for optimum audio and video quality. I also am hoping Criterion will enter the HD market by that time since their regular DVD version of Hard Boiled kicked all kinds of ass (except in the video department, but that is only compared to the higher picture standards of today. Back then it rocked hard. It also contained a huge amount of special features).

If Stranglehold turns out to be a must play, I’ll rent the 360 version. Problem solved.

I should also mention that part of the skittishness about paying an extra $10 for a CE is partly the fault of Ninja Gaiden Sigma. I soooo should have just bought the regular version, but the excitement got the best of me.

You are a DVD retail buyer. What would you do?
While we’re on the subject of movies on discs, did you ever wonder just how many DVDs are released in a given week? Digital Bits has a weekly collection of what is out along with super handy images of movie covers. Wow. There are weeks where this list is three times larger.

It’s actually quite easy to pick out what will be the most popular, but look at all those smaller scale releases! It’s amazing. I would love to physically visit a shop that stocks every single DVD that has been released. That would be quite a trip.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Weddings and HD purchases

Thinking about how many DVDs I regret buying, I’m looking at the upcoming release list for both Blu-ray and HD-DVD with a super critical eye. I’m on the fence about Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. I loved Shaun, but not sure if I really need to own it. I haven’t seen Fuzz, so most likely will rent it from Netflix first.

Of course 300 is a definite buy. Even though the HD-DVD version has some extra interactive content, I have to go Blu-ray because of the audio. The Xbox 360 HD-DVD player does not support Dolby TrueHD (even with the HDMI on the Elite), but the PS3 does. For me, the best possible audio is more important than extra special features I’ll view only once.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within will most likely get purchased although I might wait for reviews on pic quality to pop up. The story wasn’t that great, but damn it should look and sound amazing on Blu-ray. I’m glad I waited on the special edition of The Wild Bunch since the Blu-ray version was finally announced last week. It comes out September 25th with all the content from the SE. Very excited.

Wedding Season
I went to my friend Pete’s wedding two weeks ago, but hadn’t gotten around to getting the pics off my camera till now. It was an awesome wedding and I got to see a lot of people I haven’t talked to in a while.

Tops on that list is the man of many talents Nate Denver.

There were also other shady characters floating around.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

E3 2007 Quick Takes (UPDATED Fri)

There’s tons of news on E3 out there so I’ll keep my observations brief and ordered by what I’m loving and not loving.

Loving

1. Xbox Live/PSN downloads – I can’t tell you how awesome it is watching the MGS 4 trailer right on my own HDTV. Meryl looks so damn cool. The Killzone 2 trailers is great too. PSN really needs some demos though. Both services delivering so far. Looking forward to tonight. UPDATE - After a strong start, the PSN store had three more items as of today/fri, the last day of the show. Very sad. The live content has been steady with a very long Too Human trailer being one of the highlights. Let's hope we'll see some updates this weekend and early next week.

2. Call of Duty 4 – I haven’t been this psyched for a Call of Duty game since the first one.
3. Slim PSP – I sold off my older PSP a month ago in anticipation of this. Not as radical a change as I might have liked, but I made back more than enough to cover the new slim since I pulled the trigger early. Being able to play PSP games on a TV is killer. Suddenly I’m extra excited about God of War and popping in old favorites like Lumines. The raised D-Pad is a welcome addition as well.
4. Rock Band – How awesome is this game looking? You get four games in one, a guitar that kicks the hell out of the guitar hero one (yes even the newer one), entire albums that will be available for download, and a wider variety of songs. I’ll still get GH III, but maybe I won’t be rushing out to do so.
5. Resident Evil 5, Soul Calibur IV and Halo Wars – 2008 games have been very low profile at this E3 (MGS4 doesn’t count since it was previously 2007), so it was very nice to see how impressive RE 5, SC IV and Halo Wars could potentially be.

Not loving
1. Halo 3 – I can’t believe how mediocre this is looking so far. I’m positive it will still be a great game, but the excitement level is at an all-time low.
2. The pre-E3 press conferences – No really big news or surprises other than the new Mario Kart and Killzone 2 redeeming itself. The logical side of me knows that there are tons of hot games for this fall, so the usual teases of “future” games would be counter-productive.
3. PS3 holiday outlook – With MGS 4 delayed till 2008, the only games to look forward to are the new Ratchet, Uncharted, and possibly Heavenly Sword. Will any of those rock my world the way MGS 4 would have? Where the hell is Tekken 6? Is that 2008 now too? Boo!
4. Wii 2008 – Mario, Metroid, Smash Bros, and Wii Fit are sure to be enough for this holiday, but I’m getting more worried about the 2008 picture. Mari Kart looks super rad and…well, what else will fill the void? Maybe Tokyo Game Show will shed some more light.
5. MGS 4 trailer – Mind you, I loved it overall, especially how much Meryl was in it. When comparing it to past E3 MGS trailers though, it kind of comes up short.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

July 4th dilemma

The good news is I just picked up Ninja Gaiden Sigma. The bad news is I'm still neck deep in Odin Sphere. The pace of the two games are so different, it would be tough playing them alternately. Also, NG is the type of action game you really have to devote your full attention to. I might finish out the current character arc (The Pooka Prince) and come back to it after I finish Sigma. There is a story viewer in Odin Sphere I can use to refresh my memory.

In other Tecmo news, they just announced DOA Online for release in China. It's going to be more of a casual MMO type of deal and feature characters that are more cartoony. Bizarre.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Evangelion almost pulls me back in (spoiler free rant)

I’ve been selecting random DVDs from the shelf to check out how they looked upscaled on the PS3 and last night it happened to be Evangelion. This was the Platinum release with the slightly cleaner transfer and 5.1 audio mix. I just wanted to enjoy the opening theme music and random scenes, but I ended up watching all five episodes on the first disc. The pacing of these first shows is so stellar, it just grabs you instantly.

I’ve only watched the series through once back in the day on VHS. I skipped the first batch of DVDs and ended up picking up the first three Platinum volumes.

Now I’m stuck. Do I go pick up the other four platinum DVDs? For the same price, I could get the collected Platinum box and sell of the three volumes I already have. I also have to consider that a Blu-ray or HD-DVD release can’t be more than two years away and it’s not like I can’t wait till then.

But wait, it gets more complicated!

So say I start re-watching the entire series. There is the matter of the post series Evangelion movies that sought to clarify and give some better resolution to the whole affair. The movies were considered “still confusing”, “terrible” or “not that bad” depending on who you asked. I never watched them for a variety of reasons like bad transfer quality, fan reaction, and mainly because I had moved on at that time.

Most of this info is old hat and you can read up at length on the series here.

And still it doesn’t end there.

A brand new four movie re-telling called Rebuild of Evangelion is set to be released later this year. Geez…I think its for the best I go back into Evangelion hibernation and re-emerge when the Rebuild movies are all out on Blu-ray.

Monday, June 18, 2007

#1 Pac-Man CE player (UPDATED!)

Not #1 worldwide, but at least on my friends list I am. It probably has changed since last night, but I was at #231 overall (score was 285K+). I’m not sure how many people are playing it, but the lowest ranked person on my list is #40,000. Feels pretty sweet to be #231 out of at least 40,000+ players.

Big credit has to go to my man Erik Harte who reveled a crucial portion of his strategy (he was formerly tops on my list at 270K+) that filled in some holes in my route. At this point I feel I’m reaching the max of what I can do with the game. There are a few more tricks I want to try that may get me over the 300K mark, but burn out is starting to set in.

UPDATE: Last night I hit 310K+. I wish xbox.com would let you check your scores and not just basic live info. At the time I hit that mark, I was ranked #131 in the world. After checking 1 hour later, I was at #140. Oh well, still in the top #200. I felt like I would take a break for a bit, but this morning in the office everyone was buzzing about challenging my score. It's got me amped again to keep getting better. Still, I feel I'm close to my max ability in the game. We'll see.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Super PlayStation 2 Haul

Finished off Command & Conquer 3 this weekend. Final verdict: I liked it. Wasn’t wild about it, but it was worth playing through.

Within the past week, I picked up more PS2 games in a concentrated span than I can remember. It started with EB’s clearance sale where I got Final Fantasy XII Limited Edition for $29.99 (marked down from the $39 sticker you see on it). Then came Odin Sphere in the mail from Amazon. I’ve talked about those two before so up to this point, no surprises.

I own Karaoke Revolution 1 and KR Party which actually come in handy when folks come over. The most recent American Idol version has, in my opinion, the best song selection yet in the series. Normally stores only carry the package that comes with the mic, but I managed to find a regular “game only” copy so I snagged it.

I’ve been intrigued by the retro game compilation Taito Legends 2 since its limited GameStop only release a few weeks back. It’s loaded with some great titles I’ve played before, but the true joy is trying out the more obscure ones and hoping to find some gems. It’s only $20, so grabbed one on Sunday. Having an absolute blast so far. With Xbox Live Arcade/VC/PSN retro games selling anywhere from $4 - $10 a pop, it really feels like the deal of the century to get so many quality games. There are a good number of titles that look almost as good as Neo Geo games, or at worst, far better than what the Genesis or Super NES was capable of. Violence Fight and the three Final Fight clones fall into this category.


I’ve been especially haunted by the music in Rastan Saga II. It’s like a synth-heavy version of the Conan movie soundtrack interspersed with bizarre female voices. It changes what would normally be a mundane, albeit incredibly difficult, sidescrolling hack & slash into a psychadellic descent into barbarian hell. The hell part is very apt because the game is very terrible, but I can't stop trying to beat it (Above pic taken from this source). Elevator Action II/Elevator Action Returns was previously only available as a high-priced import Saturn game and it’s totally worth $20 by itself.

Speaking of Xbox Live Arcade, I can’t stop thinking about Pac-Man Championship Edition. I downloaded the free trial and was ready to purchase when the $10 price scared me away. Well, that was four days ago and not a minute goes by where I don’t wish I was playing it. Looks like I’ll have to pay up. I know a lot of my friends are playing so I can’t wait to see what their scores are. I still hold the top spot for Galaga scores in my group, but have been severely outpaced on the Geometry Wars rankings.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Elite, HD-DVD, and C&C 3

There are times when I think I absolutely hate Command & Conquer 3, but then I go right back and play it obsessively. The game has to be doing something right I guess.

I polished off the GDI campaign on medium over the Memorial Day weekend getting both the campaign achievement and the one for finishing on medium with all the bonus objectives. I quickly started into the Nod campaign and I’m about 5 missions in. I was really hoping the Nod forces would be more fun, but so far there are only a few units I like. The commando is cooler than the GDI one, the fanatics are fun, and I like the dudes who can hang glide into areas.

After spending way too many hours getting all the bonus objectives for GDI (which only amounted to 25 more points) I decided to just beat the Nod campaign sans bonuses. The way the game is structured, you can always return to earlier missions so I can always go back and get them if I felt the need.

I did take a break from C&C since I got Ouendan 2 in the mail. I finished everything in the normal mode and started into hard. Great stuff, but so far some of the songs aren’t really sticking.

I finally got a chance to try out the 360 Elite and HD-DVD attachment on my home 1080p TV. Right away I could see a difference in appearance of the menu blades. Game and movie trailers also looked sharper although it depended greatly on the material. The only game I tried for a bit was C&C 3 and it did look a touch sharper. I’ll have to play more to know for sure. King Kong looks really good. I’m not sure if a new firmware improves this, but the menus and load times are much slower than watching Blu-ray movies on the PS3.

I’ve been mildly tempted to go out and pick up one or two HD-DVD discs, but that would be silly. I’m not sure I would ever own a HD-DVD player of my own. There’s been buzz recently with Toshiba lowering the price on their entry level player to $299. Combine that with offers of 2-7 free discs or other discounts like Amazon’s recent sale at $243 and you have lots of people on the fence jumping in. The only problem for me is that the entry level players are only 1080i. Ha, I can hear the chorus of 1080p is overrated already. Shut it. It matters to me and that’s all that counts in this vote.

What would have to happen for me to commit to TWO formats? Well:

1. HD-DVD would still have to be going strong holiday 2008
2. A good, stand alone HD-DVD players with 1080p drop below $200, $149 is the magic number
3. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy HD-DVD box set is released well before the Blu-ray. This would also have to be the brand new HD extras packed version Peter Jackson has been talking about and not another “milk the early adopter” release
4. The library of available Blu-ray titles is not satisfying enough by holiday 2008

Even so, I really hope one format is close to dead by early 2008. I thought HD-DVD was near dead, but these price cuts have really done a number on that perception. Even so, this news just came out regarding how much better the two Pirate movies on Blu-ray outsold the two Matrix collections.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Home audio about to blow up

The two previous Pirates movies are out on Blu-ray this week to coincide with the third theatrical release. All the reviews I’ve read about the Blu-ray discs are glowing. Top-notch video, audio quality AND tons of bonus features. Couple that with the release of Curse of the Golden Flower next week and 300 in July and you have one happy PS3 owner. Of course Ninja Gaiden Sigma will make me happiest, but we’re just talking movies right now.

A key piece to this movie happiness is the impending release of the new line of receivers from Onkyo. The most affordable is the SR605 which is among the first to decode ALL of the new HD audio formats. MSRP is $599, but most sites list it for $499. I’ve seen some early deals that offered pre-orders at $399 although I can’t find them anymore. Since the PC purchase has been pushed well back to sometime next year, this receiver purchase is a no-brainer. Thank goodness I didn’t bite too early on the earlier Onkyo.

Making equally big noise is the Matrix Trilogy on HD-DVD. I really, really want the original in HD, but I can wait for Blu-ray, whenever that will be. It’s a real shame that the Animatrix is still the same old DVD version. A crime really.

The biggest Blu-ray release for me this year is definitely going to be Blade Runner: The Essentail 25th Anniversary Edition. The flyer included in the Matrix box set teases the HD-DVD version, but the Blu-ray one is supposed to come out on the same day. Blade Runner was the title that made me adopt the original DVD format so quickly and it’s still in my top five movies of all time. The wait for this is going to be painful.

Another Blu-ray surprise is that the PS3 version of Stranglehold will also include the HD version of Hard Boiled. At first I thought this premium extra would raise the price of the $59 game to somewhere around $79-89, but it's only ten bucks more, $69! Wow. I will take the HD version of a movie over achievements every time.


Some new screens surfaced from the recent Square/Enix event in Japan. There were tons of interesting news and photos, but again, this particular pic from the Final Fantasy I remake on PSP has me psyched. I mean, the sprites are just soooo colorful and gorgeous. I really hope to see some more movies of this in action to either completely sell me on it or potentially frighten me away for good with crappy animation.

One last RTS note and we’ll be done with that business for a while. I greatly disliked Age of Empires III and naturally had no interest in the first expansion. The second expansion, The Asian Dynasties, is another story. I can’t ignore a game with my peoples in it. At least I think Japan is in it. It’s out this Fall, which means I probably won’t play it until next year when a new PC (or Mac?!) comes into play to prepare for StarCraft II.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

StarCraft II revealed = PC/Mac purchase to follow

So yeah, all that hemming and hawing about whether to give up on PC gaming is at a clear and decisive end. Whenever StarCraft II is about to hit stores is when I buy a new PC. Or perhaps a new Mac? I played the original StarCraft and Diablo II on Macs so that combo does give me the warm fuzzies. I'll cross that bridge when I come to it, but I can't tell you how psyched I am (as are millions of other SC fans across the globe).

I was almost dreading logging on this morning. If the next StarCraft was a MMO, I don’t know what would have happened. It’s probably going to become a reality eventually, but at least there is one last hurrah like Warcraft III to go back and play.

Now the long wait for release date info begins. With previous Blizzard games, the release of the title can be upwards of 2+ years after the initial announcement. Knowing the stakes involved to make sure SC II is well balanced for multiplayer, that wait could potentially be even longer.

I’m just hoping SC II has been in the cooker for so long that it’s pretty much done and public/closed beta testing will start soon. Is an early 2008 release or (gasp) December 2007 bow an impossible dream?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Alternative RTS action

I’ve pretty much decided to wait until later this year for a PC and at that time get the cheapest of the new Direct X10 cards available. I'll just survive with my office laptop if/when disaster strikes my home PC. My hope is that by the Fall, such a rig can be had for the magical $1000 or less mark. My fingers are crossed very hard.

In case that doesn’t materialize, I looked over the RTS landscape for consoles and (gasp) handhelds. The outlook is pretty darn good actually. The big headliner is of course Halo Wars, but that is probably not coming out till holiday 2008. In the near term, Tom Clancy’s End War sounds promising and Universe at War could be good too. There are rumblings that a port of Warhammer: Mark of Chaos will be announced for the 360 soon. Even less reliable are grumblings that Relic is preparing a RTS for consoles. Whether that’s a new IP or a port of Company of Heroes or the Dawn of War series, I would be a happy camper either way.

On the less traditional RTS front, we have Grim Grimoire for the PS2. If you can believe it, GG is a side-scrolling 2D RTS. Wild. Though not scheduled for US release yet, Shining Wind for the PS2 is also lurking having just come out in Japan this week. Then there is FFXII Revenant Wings and Heroes of Mana both for the DS.

So whatever happens, my RTS cravings should get satisfied.

The power of demos
I downloaded Area 51 Black Site the other night and was completely taken by surprise. I had heard relatively good things about the last FPS Area 51 game, but could not have cared less during that period. Having played through the fairly short demo level of Black Site, I can safely say that a purchase of the full game is highly likely. Correction, a purchase “was” highly likely until the release date of Halo 3 was announced a few days ago. A scant two weeks after Area 51 hits stores. If money is tight that month, it will be no contest. Sorry Area 51...again!

The other demo I checked out was Forza 2. Admittedly, I’m not the core target for this game. I like racing games, but favor the arcade-style affairs. I was definitely impressed with the smooth car handling, and I really like the visual brake assist arrows. Even so, the graphics whore in me just could not get past the visuals. I haven’t played with the Gran Turismo HD demo since it was released, but I have been downloading the time trial and car highlight videos from the Japanese PSN store. There is just no comparison. Forza looks like a shiny, too brightly lit “game” and GT HD looks like real life. I mean really, really looks like real life. Stunning is not an understatement.

A demo that I do constantly boot up is Ninja Gaiden Sigma. It’s great that you have access to multiple weapons and difficulty to help hone your skills till the game comes out. Perfect use of a demo to keep your fans happy I'd say.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Weekend gaming report

I have some mixed feelings after playing Command & Conquer 360 over the weekend. On one hand, I was having a great old time and got right back into the RTS groove. Using the control pad works just fine and playing the game on my couch with big TV + surround sound is fantastic.

The biggest annoyance so far is how easy it is to mess up the bonus objectives. They can even pop up after it’s too late to do anything. I save quite often, but usually don’t keep more than five or six during a mission. Now I have to keep like a dozen just to make sure I don’t have to replay huge chunks of it. I’m maybe half-way through the GDI missions on Medium difficulty and I’m not sure if my enjoyment level will sustain me for all three campaigns. I’m really hoping the NOD campaign is more fun than the GDI.

The week’s releases
I stumbled across Etrian Odyssey for the first time last week and it’s kind of intriguing. From what I’ve read, it sounds a lot like Wizardry with a heavy dose of map making and anime art. There are no formal reviews yet, which makes me nervous because the last quirky Atlus game I almost bought was Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja. Everything pre-release about Izuna like the art and the wacky premise screamed “must purchase!”. Then the reviews hit and it turned out it didn’t have much of a story or characters after all. Worst of all, it was an unforgivingly difficult bitch of a dungeon crawler.

I’ll skip on Etrian unless someone tells me different. Especially since Oendan 2 comes out in Japan this week and I have that bad boy pre-ordered. Woohoo!

PC conundrum round 3
I priced a few more PCs online and I just hate the configurations. Especially since there were a lot of renewed rumblings over ATI’s upcoming Direct X10 cards. I’m definitely going to wait and see what their low-end card will cost in PCs from Dell and HP. Until then, I have to use my home rig sparingly.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Life could be so simple and cheaper… (UPDATED!)

…if I could only let go of PC gaming. I bought my previous PC a week after viewing the demo of Half-Life 2 at E3 2003 and believing their promise of release later that year. It still ran near perfect when it did ship in September 2004, but there were games released at the time that I already could not run at the maximum setting.

The last game I tried to play was the expansion to Dawn of War and it was an extremely painful process. I gave up gaming on my PC altogether after that, which was a shame since RTS games are my fav on the platform and I could only guess at the goodness that was Company of Heroes, the second Dawn of War expansion, and C&C 3 (well not so much the last one because of the 360 version).

My new PC plan was airtight - sit back till Crysis ships. By then, Vista will be better, there should actually be DX10 cards readily available, and I’ll reap the obligatory CPU gains. That plan got shot to hell in recent weeks. MY PC is experiencing a start-up problem that not even re-installing XP will fix. It doesn’t happen all the time, but ultimate death can’t be too far behind. I started scanning current deals and Sunday circulars and the outlook was bleak. To get something that could stand a chance of running Crysis at this point in time is damn expensive. Minium 2K, but really it would be more, much more. That is simply out of the question. I’ve got 120k miles on my car so that would take priority.

Do I even need to play PC games anyway? I haven't gamed on my PC for almost two years. I can play a dozen games like Crysis on the 360 and PS3 as well as RTS on the 360 and the DS (Heroes of Mana looks really good and it’s only a matter of time before we see more RTS action on the Dual Screen...I know I'm really reaching here).

If I settled for a graphics card that was just good enough to unleash the fancy Vista features, I could still run a number of games I missed out on (Company of Heroes, Titan Quest, etc) and only spend $600-900 tops.
And then a scarier thought cropped up – If I can let go of PC gaming, why not get a Mac? Those new MacBooks are pretty nice and I can still run XP at least. Then again, all the software and RAM upgrades I want would cost more on a Mac driving up the costs back closer to mid-level PC gaming rig.

I have no clue what to do at this point. Just have to wait and ride this PC till the wheels fall off.


UPDATE
I decided to dig through some older PC games to see what I might still actually play if I were to get a new rig soon. First game cases I flipped through were StarCraft and Diablo II plus their expansions. I know I would re-install either at a moments notice if the mood struck me. Ooh what do we have here…Myth I, II and III. I had always meant to go back to these (hmmm maybe not III). They were darn hard if I recall correctly and I never finished any of them. It was tough to stop my grenadiers from blowing up my own troops. I wonder if the games hold up though?

What else do we have here, ah Rise of Nations. I think this could still be good. Next. Oh man totally forgot about Rome Total War. I remember being into it for a few days and then wanted to restart because I had messed up so bad. I’m sure this could be fun still too.

Ha, well if it isn’t Emperor Battle for Dune. I doubt this would be that great. It got mixed reviews back in the day. I remember Sean playing it and marveling at the hilarious live action clips. Maybe it is worth looking at again.

Hmm Age of Mythology. I already tried to go back to this one after Dawn of War. It didn’t have enough personality to make me overlook how tediously old school it is.

Looks like stores are finally getting in copies of C&C for the 360 (none I checked had them yesterday). We’ll have to see if it helps me in this decision.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Go Warriors!

I moved to the Bay Area around 1998/99 and up to that point followed the Knicks. That was primarily because of Patrick Ewing and the team of that era. John Starks, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and later on Allen Houston, Larry Johnson and good old Charlie Ward. But it was really Ewing that I liked and my Knick love had waned greatly since his retirement.

Since they were on local TV more often than not, I started casually watching the Warriors. Ticket prices weren’t as outrageous as other teams so I started going to a few games too. The arena was usually half to 2/3 full (depending on the opponent) and most nights the biggest excitement was getting a free Taco Bell Chalupa if the Warriors scored over 100.

Fast forward to the 2001 season when…IT happened. I can’t remember which game it was now, but after hitting a wide open three pointer, I jumped up and proclaimed Bobby Sura to be a great addition to the Warriors. You heard me, Bob Sura. It was at that moment that I realized I had become a true desperate, rose-colored glasses wearing Warriors fan. There was no turning back.

Fast forward again to last night. The Warriors make history and advance to the 2nd round. It’s almost too crazy to believe. This whole season has been such a wild roller coaster ride. There were a lot of great games in last year’s playoffs, but maaaan…it is so much more exciting when your team is in there and playing tremendous ball. Go Warriors!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Already looking to the future

I’m about 10 hours into Oblivion and so far…meh. I’m going to give it more time of course, but titles I’m insanely excited for are just around the corner. This weekend will be all about the Ninja Gaiden Sigma demo. I’m sure it won’t be a very long, but I’m fine playing whatever is there over and over again.

May 8th sees the release of Command & Conquer for the 360. Long time readers know I loved Battle for Middle Earth on the 360 and this is supposed to control and run better.

Dropping May 22nd is Odin Sphere for the PS2. The game hits my old school 2D sprite-like (not sure if they are sprites or colored 3D objects) buttons in a major way. The art looks cool and the action seems really fun. I’ve basically seen enough that I’m getting this no matter what and abstaining from further info.

In terms of stuff already out, I’d like to pick up Super Paper Mario. I’ve also had a weird craving to get some use out of my PSP lately. Popped in Ultimate Ghosts ‘N Goblins the other day and forgot how much I liked it. I wasn’t even one-third of the way through before I stopped initially. Also need to play more than 10 minutes of Metal Gear Portable Ops. In other words, plenty to play without having to buy anything new.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mega Update

Lots of random bits here and there. Enjoy!


Valomilk
Saw these things featured on the Food Network and had to try it. I got some other folks in the office to go in with me since shipping costs made the chocolate goods a bit on the pricey side. They arrived just fine and were pretty good. Very rich. The marshmallow inside is super runny since it has extra vanilla in it. I can’t say that it was awesome, but it was interesting.

Rhythm is gonna get you!
Since I never seriously played the PS2 version, it’s been non-stop Guitar Hero II action for me on the 360. Even though I’m not familiar with a lot of the songs, it’s still great fun and many of the tunes just get stuck in my head. Even though I have some MS points just sitting around, there is no way I’m using any of them to buy new music tracks. Way, way overpriced. Actually, the majority of the content on marketplace is overpriced. I know there will be something worth purchasing later, but for now I’m hoping enough users are also saying no to outrageous content charges to make a difference. I haven’t even renewed my gold subscription which has been done since December.

Getting back to the musical theme, Play Asia had this awesome 20% off sale a few weeks ago so I was able to pick up Rhythm Heaven (Tengoku) for the GBA. This has been on my want list since forever and I was wishing it would get released here. A year later, there are no signs it will. It doesn’t matter now as I’m enjoying the hell out of the import. Rhythm Heaven is a music button tapping game from the WarioWare folks and even uses some of the same sound effects in spots. It’s super wacky, very challenging, and utterly addictive.

360 back compat
On a more topical matter, the latest Xbox 360 back compat list was released today. Tops for me are Panzer Dragoon Orta, Phantom Dust (from the Panzer Dragoon team), and JSRF. All games I never played more than 10 minutes due to various reasons and each are games I have been dying to get back to. Dead or Alive Ultimate and DOA 3 look great upconverted to 720p, so I’m excited to see whether there is a noticeable boost for these other games. The last of my Xbox games not back compat is finally getting smaller! I just need Silent Hill 2 and, um, blanking on the others, but it’s not that many anymore.

OBLIVION
Yes, I am finally, finally playing Oblivion on PS3. Haven’t gotten super far yet, but looking forward to exploring the world. I spent a lot of time reading up before even booting it up to make sure my class choices were as good as they could be. I usually choose pure melee tank characters, but decided to go with a character that uses mostly magic with some proficiency with blade weapons. Love the combo so far.

It did dawn on me that the only two games I own for the PS3 are games already available for the 360 (Oblivion) or will soon be (Virtua Fighter 5). I’ve also been wondering if I should get the 360 version of VF5, but it seems like that would strictly be an achievement points move. If the 360 version were to look identical to the PS3, I might consider trading up since I like my DOA4 hori stick vs. the PS3 hori arcade stick. It seems highly unlikely, although they could get close if Sega specifically supports the HDMI output on the elite models.

Final Fantasy PSP
As much as I was looking forward to FFIII for the DS, the old school nature of its gameplay made me think twice, not to mention the time sink RPGs represent. I happened across screens for the updated FF I & II (they are two separate releases!) and I have to say I’m tempted to get them. I really love the upgraded sprite graphics.

They appeal to me more than the aliased N64-like 3D visuals of III DS. Even so, $30 each for these remakes seems like highway robbery no matter how much extra work was put into them. You can get three Phantasy Star games on the Genesis collection for PSP for $30 ($20 or less if you get lucky).