Friday, April 30

Brick Wall

So having played about 30 matches of Super Street Fighter IV online last night I can present to you some broad observations:
  • The netcode for SSFIV is a massive jump forward from Street Fighter IV
  • The player community from Australia is respectable in both quantity and skill level
  • Some characters have been drastically improved in terms of power and priority, while others have been balanced out to the point of redundancy
  • My skill level is drastically lower than the majority of my competitors

Across all of my matches I can happily report that I never endured anything reminiscent of lag. In two matches, there was a slight stutter when both players performed their first movements, something like a small screen tear. After this instance, connection recovered in both of these matches and a fair (albeit one-sided match) continued.

In each match I faced off against an Australian opponent. The majority of my opponents played as Ryu and Deejay (?), however popular deviations from the main character included Juri, Dudley and Blanka. While I admit I exhibited similar behaviour at first, choosing Ryu for my first fight, by the end of my session I had fought with Gouken, Dudley, Blanka, Sagat, E Honda, M Bison and Adon.

I had the most fun with Gouken, his new Ultra was predictable but doesn't leave you anywhere near as vulnerable as Shin Shoryuken. Dudley keeps it classy with a formidable array of dashes and fakes. He will take quite some time to master, and one of my opponents that used him made a mockery of my Blanka. Honda, and Bison have received no noticable changes. I won't be using Blanka and Honda's new Ultra Moves as they require either double 360s or the wierd angle double charge movements. Adon was a pleasant surprise. Sure I expected the Muay Thai fighter to be quick and agile, but my strategy with Adon revolved around counter hits. The arcs of his anti-air moves are about 65-80 degrees, so very sharp and vertical. I only tested his first Ultra, and I missed on each of my three attempts. It is an expansion move, and if executed within close proximity to your enemy, you will jump straight over them. Sagat has been on the other hand, has been castrated. I know there were complaints he was slightly overpowered but they've taken all the mongrel out of him. It was so hard to see one of the stalwarts of my online arsenal left so powerless, so impotent.

So far tonight, I'm still having no trouble finding local, lag-free matches and I sure hope it stays that way. If this isn't the best online 2D fighter, I don't know what is. Scratch that, I'm having a hard time believing that any fighter could top Street Fighter IV in any of its various faculties.


Wednesday, April 28

Kid VS Candy Store

This has been a hard couple of days. New console, new games, no time.

My professional life has been thrust to the forefront, if only for a little while. I guess it deserves as much.

This change in focus is about to come to an abrupt an end tomorrow, as the chosen one arrives. That's right, Super Street Fighter IV will be safe in arms at approximately 4:43pm on Thursday, 29th April. Relationships will suffer. Bonds will be broken. Days, weeks, possibly months will blur into a passage of time ruled by 35 World Warriors. 

After writng selection criteria I've rewarded myself with short bursts of Street Fighter IV on the PC. Honing my skills for my inevitable return to the online arena. The PC version looks pretty respectable on a mid level PC, and provided you have a gamepad, the experience is just as exhilarating as its console counterparts. I'm sure you may be thinking that I am engaging in Street Fighter overkill, but you sirs/dears must not have been embroiled in the heat of urban warfare.

I was trying to explain to my beloved Carly what the fuss is all about. She seems unconvinced. She prefers her fighters to be more forgiving, to allow for a little more button mashing. Your Tekkens, your Virtua Fighters. Now I don't for a minute think that a button masher could match the greatest Tekken player, but for someone like me, who knows a few combos, can play competently with a few (read: no more than 3) characters, button mashing can be used to defeat me regularly. That last admission was a little embarrasing. I'm hurting. However what I would argue is that it is much easier to attain victories mashing random buttons in Tekken and Virtua Fighter than it is in Street Fighter. Sure you can shower your opponents in hadoukens, but there are quite a few people I know who are unable to regularly work quarter circles (Sorry Sweetie), let alone double quarter cricles. Then you try and show someone (Sorry Carls) how to perform charge moves and they leap about the screen uncontrollably. Boot up Tekken, and she dances about the screen performing parries, spamming throws and puts that 20 plus years of gaming (normally in my favour) to shame.  

The Street Fighter series, in its various installments have always been amongst my favourite games, fighting or otherwise.Street Fighter IV (at the moment) is the most effective distillation of all of the characters, mechanics and refinements introduced over the years and various installments. With SSFIV approaching, all the videogame critics of the world have promised that the best is mere hours away. 

Will you be joining me on day one? ARE YOU INDESTRUCTIBLE!!!!!

Monday, April 26

Mama said "Knock you out!"

"How you like me now?" My new (and fourth) Xbox360 asks me from my entertainment unit.

I don't know why it is there exactly. I have some ideas as to why, but at the moment they are struggling to qualify as genuine reasons:
  • The quality software offered via the Playstation Network is of frustratingly low quantity when compared to the Xbox Live Arcade: Perfect Dark, Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, Soul Calibur (the original and the best), Pacman: Championship Edition, Trials HD and the list goes on. Try and name 5 decent games on the PSN which are not available on XBLA. Let's make that challenge harder: each of those 5 games must be available on the Australian Playstation Store. Too hard.
  • I've read rumors of both Crazy Taxi and Jet Set Radio being released on XBLA (OMGWTFBBQ!!!)
  • I hate exclusives: Halo 3, Gears of War, Dead Rising 2: Zero Case, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Mass Effect 2.
  • Motion control: While I am not really interested in Natal or Move, Natal appears to be the more original and potentially innovative option. Playstation Move at the moment is nothing more than code for black Wiimote. 
  • Games on Demand: While buying games from the comfort of your own home sounds appealing, the pricing system is a little too whacky for my money. Bioshock is $49.95 as is Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. If you were to visit your favourite, local brick and mortar store you could find each game for a substantially lower price or buy them in a 2 pack for $59.95 RRP.
  • Custom Soundtracks: Sony, please take note. On the 360 you can play your own music while playing any game, on or offline. Just Cause 2 would be all the more epic with a J Dilla album to accompany my scenic heli flights.  
Perhaps most importantly (and I did touch on this briefly already), I do not intend to continue missing out on some truly brilliant games because of some misguided sense of loyalty. I will complete the Gears of War trilogy and I will love it! With the 360 (and I know this is a stretch), I will also be able to report to you on a greater breadth of gaming experiences.

One thing for sure is, when I re-downloaded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade (1989) I felt joy.

Does anybody own both consoles? I don't really count the Wii. I haven't really had any experiences of note on the Wii, mind you I had purchased mine shortly after the launch when Australia was still in the midst of a baffling "shortage," of the motion-control based console. It's a Gamecube with a silly controller.

Friday, April 23


I'm feeling a little down in the dumps today and as a result, feel that I should explore the concepts and representations of failure in some of my favourite videogames.

The first example that springs to mind is International Track and Field for the PSone. Never had I heard the word "Foul," pronounced so sternly, so coldly. So memorable was this proclomation of failure that for years Matt, Reuben and I would at times spend hours exclaiming the brutal call as we played through each Mini-Olympics. I heard it more than they could ever dream to, as I lacked not only sufficient co-ordination to press the action (usually jump or throw) button in time, but also my ability to mash buttons was also well below par and I needed those few extra seconds between success and failure to acrue more momentum than I was entitled to. I still play the game today (thanks to a perfect emulation available via the Playstation Store), however my skills have failed to increase. If anything, they have receded.

Other classic aural indications of failure include the Metal Gear Solid series. Just in case you forgot the name of the protagonist, Otacon, Colonel Campbell, Rose and Major Zero would remind you in rather dramatic fashion. Sometimes the uncerimonius circumstances that led to my demise made the rhythmic chanting of Snake/Raiden seem a tad unncessary. For example, when you did a cartwheel off the catwalk, off of the Big Shell facility in Metal Gear Solid 2. Sometimes the melodrama inspired a few laughs but more often than not, the inconsistency would leave you confused and frustrated. Think about it. A highly trained operative is unable  to jump between a gap in a catwalk, but he can do a cartwheel. So this highly trained operative, with millions of dollars of tax-payers' money funding his training, was never shown how to leap at all, let alone properly. If his drill sergeant had only taught him that while a cartwheel is acrobatic and graceful, jumping is the preferable method for traversing sizable gaps.

For those you who appreciate a more visual representation of failure, I would strongly recommend that you play through Resident Evil 4. If you were to allow anything other than the standard ganado to get too close to Leon's tender flesh, the end result was usually decapitation. For those of you who don't know me too well, I am a bit squeamish. I fought tooth and nail to keep Leon's head remaining on his shoulders. In the campaign I kept my head on pretty well (Ha!) but when I started playing Mercenaries mode things took a turn for the worse. In Mercenaries mode players defended against an almost endless onslaught of ganados until the time limit elapsed or you died. Further to that, as time progressed the variety of enemies encountered, and their levels of aggression and lethality increased dramatically. Let's just say that I was able to defend my cranium in about 10% of my Mercenaries playthroughs. The abundance of chainsaw-wielding villagers  in this mode invariably led to my head being taken well before it's prime. Failing quick-time events also led to gruesome consequences, and many a time I felt my stomach rumble for all the wrong reasons.

What's your favourite reminder of failure?

Wednesday, April 21


No this post is not about Heavy Rain. I have no interest in eating red herrings.

I'm starting to play through Just Cause 2 and my feelings on it are mixed. The action is loud, ridiculous even. There are explosions a plenty as you tear across Panau in your vehicle of choice (any helicopter will do). It does suffer a little from Uncharted syndrome however, as even the lowest ranked enemies can hit you 2 miles away with a pistol. The graphics for the environment and vehicles are spectacular, the people not so much. As a matter of fact, the quality of animation observed in enemy soldiers is sub-par but when you consider the sheer amount of enemy soldiers, vehicles and structures on screen it is forgivable.

JC2 is probably sounding pretty good to you, as it should. There are two things about this game that really tear me apart though.

One of my favourite games on the Playstation 2 (and Xbox) was Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction. Mercenaries was another sandbox action game where you could drive, fly and run almost anywhere causing vast amounts of destruction, capturing high-value targets and cozying up to the three military factions that vied for control of North Korea. The mood of the game (despite the ridiculous nature of the action) often felt dark, as though the soul of this turmoil-stricken country was being torn apart by invaders of various nationalities. I used to play this game with a group of friends. I would rarely share the controller but we all watched in awe as buildings fell and enemies tumbled to the ground in a blaze of bullets. Years later, the sequel was released and I was dying to get the disc in my PS3. I can not describe how much this game hurt me. It failed to improve on the original in any way and in many areas the level of quality receded. The quiet, not entirely silent cast that I loved in the original had turned into a pack of purile vultures; itching to get revenge on the Venezuelan militant who shot them (depending on you played as) "in the ass." While playing Just Cause 2 I can't help but think this is the game that Mercenaries 2 should have been. Sigh.

Aspects of the sound design in this game are downright awful. I know that some, like the voice acting is supposed to be bad. You know, the "so bad it's good," variety. It doesn't make me laugh though, it almost offends me. You need look (or rather hear) no further than Reaper leader: Bolo Santosi's painfully stereotypical accent to understand what I mean. The score is also nothing short of corny. I know that it is supposed to suit the chaotic nature of the game but it really takes me out of the action sometimes.

Don't get me wrong. I am loving Just Cause 2 and it's unique brand of lol worthy gameplay. I can't recommend this game strongly enough as I've done so much in my time on Panau, however I feel as though I have barely scratched the surface. This presents a problem which I am more than happy to suffer, as I need to invest more time in JC2 while Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition, Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes from Liberty City and Midnight Club: Los Angeles begin to gather dust on the shelf.

What games are you playing at the moment? While I do enjoy multiplayer titles, there is nothing I enjoy more than an absorbing single-player experience and Just Cause 2 is definitely providing that for now.

Dutch note: Thanks to Mum and Dad for Just Cause 2. The gift of game keeps on giving in the Damen house!

Monday, April 19

Point and Click

Once every couple of months, a mate stays at my place and we stay up to ridiculous hours playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 online. We both lack a sufficient level of skill to make an impact on any match we play in, but the experience is enjoyable nonetheless. I thought that this time around we could perhaps try an alternative FPS which I, in all honesty believe is a superior multiplayer experience. I am speaking of course about Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

I was wrong of course, change doesn't work for everyone and there are several reasons why.

*Please note that while I am aware there is more to Modern Warfare 2 than Team Deathmatch, the majority (read: all) of my playtime is spent playing this mode. Conversely, I frequently play all the different modes in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and encouraged my friend to do so as well*

When you play on a round on, round off basis, the amount of time spent as a spectator presumably affects your enjoyment of a game. Standard MW2 Team Deathmatch games take a maximum of 10 minutes and can be shorter depending on the skill level of your fellow players (especially if someone sets off a tactical nuke). A match of BC2 can take exponentially longer depending on the game type, skill level of players and the map. Understandably, after watching me listlessly defend M-COM stations for the better part of an hour, Dave wanted to go back to MW2.

Team Deathmatch in MW2 is team based game ostensibly in name only. Very rarely would you see a team (knowingly) flank oponents, defend choke points and provide general assistance. Every player in a MW2 Team Deathmatch game is a maverick, slaying opponents with the singular, selfish objective of raising their ranks and unlocking equipment. Last night I watched as a teammate shot a player to the point where the "Last Stand," perk was activated and then I opened fire to steal his kill. Seconds (and about 5 deaths) later, I was victim to the same self-serving behaviour. When you play MW2, you are one of many rabid jackals scrounging desperately for your next feed.

BC2's various modes demand that you work in concert with your teammates. There will be mavericks on your team, however if you want to achieve a decent score you'll endeavour to save them from themselves as well as provide support to your squad and team at large. In the Rush and Conquest modes you can mark enemy soldiers and vehicles for your team to attack, you can ride shotgun with your squad and repair vehicles during heated conflicts. You can also abandon hunting opponents to defend flags and M COM stations, you can heal and revive friendlies. BC2 is the rare FPS that provides so many meaningful alternatives to killing. Even in Squad Deathmatch, defeat will be the only outcome if you allow a friendly combatant to wander off unescorted. You are rewarded for acting selflessly, even more so if you manage to kill some enemy combatants in the process.

Play Area
MW2's largest maps would struggle to be anywhere near as expansive as even a mid-sized map in BC2. With that said however, the maps in MW2 are expertly constructed and allow for conflict to play out dynamically, especially due to the movement of spawn points in accordance with your team's advances.

In BC2, you are able to spawn at bases and on your squad members. As a result, players can have greater control over the effectiveness of their lives. The ability to take to the skies, in addition to the highly destructible environments make for (in my opinion) more varied and exciting battles and empowers players to use a variety of strategies to attain victory. The level of freedom afforded to players is almost paralyzing at times, as you struggle to decide how to get to your objective, the route, who to bring along or accompany and how best to use the environment to your advantage.

There are many other reasons Dave preferred MW2, such as the Killcam: an ingenious invention which allows you to observe the skill (or luck) of the enemy combatant who killed you. There are also reasons why he didn't take to BC2, such as the beautiful, but distracting graphics and his inability to feel safe behind walls that can disappear in the blink of an eye. Bottom line is, MW2 is a better game to share a controller over. The conflict is more consistent and less time-consuming. There is also less to divert your attention from the ultimate objective of the game. If I was playing solo on a Friday night however, 9 out of 10 times I am going with BC2.

What's multiplayer shooters are guys playing at the moment? Anyting I should try out?

Friday, April 16

Unwelcome Flavour

I do like difficult games. I even try to love them.

Megaman 9 was a brutally difficult game. I haven't yet completed it and so far have only managed to complete one level (take that Plug Man!). As with all Megaman games that attended the old-school: enemies attack in patterns and deliver sizeable amounts of damage; there are pitfalls aplenty with jump distances that just (just) shyed away from being unfair; boss battles also follow predictable patterns but victory is never a sure thing. Imagine my delight when Capcom announced that Megaman 10 would have an Easy mode. This happiness was temporary however, as I learned that Capcom does not know the difference between a helping hand and flat-out giving you the prize.

Easy Mode in Megaman 10 is like having a red carpet rolled out all the way to each level's boss battle. Floating platforms cover nearly all of the difficult jumps, enemies deliver miniscule amounts of damage and boss characters readily await you to shower them with lasers. The amount of challenge it offers you is nothing short of an insult. Probably the worst thing about this mode is that it makes the level of challenge presented in the Normal mode appear almost insurmountable.

Games like Bayonetta have shown that an Easy setting need not necessarily mean a pushover, rather an ordinate decline in difficulty. I didn't die often, however I always felt as though I was being challenged. Further to that I felt the desire to try my luck on the higher settings after building up the strength and arsenal of my Umbran heroine. I didn't go on to finish the game in Normal difficulty but I do believe that I would be capable of doing so.

What games have you played that were either too easy or almost unfairly difficult? One of the hardest games for my money is Mortal Kombat 3. When I played it, I almost felt as though the AI opponents were cheating.

Wednesday, April 14

Boy, I hate phonies

So I'm reading Catcher in the Rye and playing Midnight Club: Los Angeles and the two works of fiction are interesting juxtapositions. I have found that Catcher in the Rye's protagonist Holden Caulfield and I have something in common: we hate phonies. MCLA is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's exterior will repulse you and effectively hides it's brilliance.

MCLA masquerades as a soulless street racer akin to the Need for Speed for series. Yes the story and dialogue is dated and forgettable, the characters rely strongly on offensive stereotypes and the soundtrack features Kanye West. Further to that, the usual Rockstar (Developer of Grand Theft Auto) sense of humour is completely absent from MCLA, the satirical nature of their previous efforts lays buried under the unbearable weight of in-game advertising.

The action however, is where the soul is in MCLA. The sensation of speed is genuine and heart-starting. The traffic patterns and AI opponents will torment you, stealing victory from your clutches metres from the finish line. I can not stress how difficult this game is. In my last race this evening I was nearly reduced to tears as my computer controlled opponent bullied me into a head on collision which cost me 8 minutes of my life. Often you will hear your competition yell at you through your T Mobile sponsored Sidekick that "One mistake is all it takes son!" And they're right, it is freaking painfully, brutally difficult and I am apparently playing through the "Easy," races.

I just wish that MCLA would be honest with me. Drop the purposeless narrative. Drop the inordinate use of the words dog, son and player (pronounced: play-a). Remove the in-game advertising. I would have been happy to launch races from a menu instead of waiting for my homies to hit me up with some missions on my Sidekick eh dogz?

I don't think I'll have the patience to complete Midnight Club: Los Angeles and regrettably, I don't believe I will play for long enough to build an online-worthy ride. What you need to know however is that the racing action is solid and while the presentation may be lacking you may find a lot here that you will like.    

Monday, April 12

Where to now?

Firstly an apology to readers expecting a Friday post. I spent some time with my family this weekend and ran into some connectivity issues.

I didn't get much gaming in this weekend, however I have made a resolution: No more will I purchase games that I have previously owned. Why? I was perusing sale stock and had both Far Cry 2 and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion in my hand. At $25 each both games looked like a steal, but then I thought about it a little more. I had owned Far Cry 2 three times. Twice on the PS3 and once on 360. Good game? Yes. Classic? By no means. Oblivion I had also owned 3 times in its various incarnations. Twice on 360, the standard edition and the GOTY edition.  Once on the PS3. To be fair, my PS3 copy was stolen (THIEVES!!!). Is Oblivion a good game? Definitely. Is it a classic? You bet your sweet bippy. I have however finished the main game twice and completed the brilliant Shivering Isles expansion, I'm done with it.

Before I continue, the resolution above does not extend to Super Street Fighter IV. It has just enough new content to qualify as a separate release. Now that we've all lowered our pitchforks I will carry on.

So, where to now? Well on the weekend I picked up Dark Void and Midnight Club: Los Angeles for next to nothing. Both games enjoyed (I use the word lightly) mixed reviews and will allow for me to live life outside of the "Blockbuster," category for a little while. I have high hopes for MCLA but after playing the Dark Void demo a few months ago I think I may be in for some pain.

Are there any games that you've bought several hundred times? I bought Devil May Cry 2 & 3 three times each. If you count digital releases I have purchased Marvel Vs Capcom 2 on three different consoles. If you then start to consider retail retro collections such as Sonic Mega Collection Plus then I would have owned Sonic 2 on 6 consoles: Mega Drive, PS2, PSP (twice), Xbox, Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PS3. Street Fighter II? 7 consoles! It is crazy how many times I have paid for the same games!

Any game retail resolutions and mantras that you would like to share? How about not paying 1200MSP for the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus Package?

Wednesday, April 7

Don't Ever Change

That's the mantra Capcom seems to be chanting as they work on Lost Planet 2. Thanks to a competition run by Kotaku, I scored early access to the multiplayer demo and logged a few hours since Sunday.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the original Lost Planet's multiplayer offering. Released just a few months after the all-conquering Gears of War, LP offered a credible, less violent alternative to murdering your opponents with lancer chainsaws. Maps varied from claustraphobic (read: poorly designed) interior maps to expansive (f&%&ing brilliant), multi-tiered outdoor battlefields featuring abandoned snow fortresses and jungle palaces. In almost every match I made a mad dash for a VS suit (for those of you who don't know, a robot with big guns for arms) and shot at anything that moved. You had access to a grapple hook which could be used to traverse maps faster, or reel in to points of interest (like sniping positions, VS suits and data posts). There was a standard array of weapons, with some real stand-outs. The disc grenade which could be lodged into people or VS suits and you could actually pull massive guns from VS suits and have an Arnie (Schwarzeneger) moment if you really wanted. Below is footage from the original Lost Planet.

Three years on and Lost Planet 2 is nearly with us and from the looks of things, very little has changed. After a few matches, I noticed only two changes/improvements: the ability to repair damaged VS suits and turrets and the range of the melee hit has been reduced to the point of redundency. Movement is still very rigid and you can't use the grapple hook with the freedom you really desire. If you are more than about 10 steps away, you are out of range, plus you can't jump and grapple at the same time (my Spiderman fantasies died very quickly). The maximum amount of players is still 16 and that really isn't good enough when compared to the likes of Bad Company 2. Worst of all, the netcode does not appear to have improved at all. Matches with US players often meant that I could empty 2 clips into an opponent with no result. Following is footage from Lost Planet 2.

It's not all bad. You can still hang from ledges and snipe away, VS suits are still a ball to jump, hover and fly around in and there are new weapons to play around with. The new map featured in the demo is also quite interesting with multiple camping positions and spawn points. It is perhaps a little too large as I often found myself running around for what felt like minutes trying to find opponents (or even fellow team members). If you weren't sold on the original game's multiplayer, there would be very little to pull you away from Modern Warfare 2 or Bad Company 2.

Bottom line: If you were expecting some massive changes to how Lost Planet does it's business you will be disappointed. If you were wanting a fix of the same old stuff with a few minor changes (not necessarily improvements) then have your wallet at the ready.

The Lost Planet 2 multiplayer demo will be available to all PSN users and Xbox Live Gold subscribers on April 22nd. If you're interested, I would love to play a few matches with some of you based in Australia, South-East Asia and New Zealand.

Does anyone have access to the LP2 demo at the moment? Are you enjoying it? What's you favourite online shooter? Mine was the original Gears of War, nothing for my money matched its intensity.

Monday, April 5

In case you haven't played it: Half-Minute Hero Review (PSP)

Hope you all had a safe and productive Easter weekend. While I was intending to play a little bit more of Half-Minute Hero over the weekend, a recent bout of insomnia (funnily enough, not game related) afforded me enough time to play through the game and it's 6 (very) different modes.

Hero 30 is a piss-take of traditional RPG titles in terms of both narrative and gameplay. In each level, you start off with 30 seconds on the clock and traverse a small map and visit villages, explore caves and ultimately defeat the Evil Lord in their castle and break the spell of destruction cast over the world. You grind and loot with the clock ominously ticking down at the top of the screen. The action may at first appear simplistic, however you soon realise that through time, grind, quest and money management, Hero 30 has sufficient depth to keep you hooked in for hours of continuous play. Further to that, this mode has a lot of reply value as you can better your score and complete various side quests which can lead to better loot. You will find that each scenario takes about 5-8 minutes to complete with a total campaign length of about 5 hours.

While Hero 30 has enough depth and replayability to make HMH a solid purchase, some of the other modes fail to make the grade. Evil Lord 30 which is aptly described in the game's menu as a Real Time Strategy game, lacks a sufficient level of difficulty to warrant repeat play-throughs. The game works on a simple rock-scissors-paper formula and can be bested in just over half an hour. While the Evil Lord and his bat princess have some amusing interactions with the evil denizens of the land, the narrative in Evil Lord 30 is like the gameplay, filler at best. A trough in difficulty and weak story also contribute to the failure of Princess 30, the dual stick shooter (PSP face buttons act as a second stick) mode. You play as a defiant young princess who travels outside her palace walls 30 seconds before curfew to find a cure for the curse which plagues her father, the king. A forgiving time recovery mechanic coupled with a very large shooting window makes  for a very dull adventure outside the castle gates which I completed in less than an hour. Knight 30 requires players to defend the sage in a variety of maze like dungeons while she casts a spell to ward off evil. Funnily enough the spell takes 30 seconds to cast. There are some interesting elements at play as you lay traps and move the sage to avoid or engage with a myriad of evil beasts. You can't kill enemies, but you can stagger and misdirect them and while it initially sounds daunting you will very rarely find yourself needing to repeat a level for any reason other than your own error (for example: throwing a bomb too close to the sage). Knight 30 serves as a competent narrative introduction to the greatest (legitimate) challenge in Half Minute Hero: Hero 300. I won't discuss Hero 300 for fear of spoiling the plot, but know that it is a great test of your time and budget management skills.

The final mode to play through is Hero 3. The margin for error in this mode is slim to nil. It is doable and thanks to YouTube I managed to sneak through. If you're not keen on throwing your PSP across the room though I would recommend that you attempt this only after a good night's sleep and a hearty, quest-friendly meal.

HMH's graphics are for the most part, 8-bit inspired sprites and maps with the occasional still frame anime storyboards. The sprites are cute and intentionally over-pixelated. The art direction is charming and consistent and while the visuals are not technically impressive, Half-Minute Hero is easy on the eyes. The sound effects are also inspired by the 8-bit era which I am more than happy with, but I can understand that for some it may be a bit grating. The score is fantastic however with plenty of keyboards and power chords. Grinding + speed metal = win.

7/10: Half-Minute Hero is a great example of  a portable game. It can be played in short bursts for the quick commute and it features enough charm and depth for sustained play. Hero 30 and 300 are the winners in this package. The time-attack RPG is a challenging new genre which I hope many developers choose to explore in lieu of 100 hour+ grind-fests.  The retro visuals and varied soundtrack work well in concert and I often played with a smile on my face. The real issue with HMH is the other modes really do feel like a chore to play through as they lack the sophistication present in the core experience of Hero 30 and 300 (and even the brutally difficult Hero 3).

Friday, April 2

Band on the Run

Normally a four day weekend would be an ideal time to play and finish some big name titles however Carls has managed to pry me away from the Playstation to visit family in Lennox Head.  Does this mean I will abstain from gaming for four days of sunning and err.... funning? No! This nerd will play on and even possibly become accustomed to natural light at the same time.

What are you playing over the Easter break? I'm planning to spend some time with Half-Minute Hero on the PSP. In Half-Minute Hero there are several game modes to choose from (only 3 are available from the outset , there are another 3 to unlock). Hero 30 pokes fun at many cliches of the RPG genre and manages to pack all the dramatic weight, grinding and looting from a standard title into 30 seconds! Add a fast-paced, LOL worthy, speed metal soundtrack and so far I think I have a winner in my hands (Portable gaming joke, I am on fire!!!). Evil Lord 30 is a tower defense game which is so far the weakest of the 3 initially available modes and Princess 30 is a competent dual stick (imagine the face buttons as a second stick) shooter. I am hoping to bring you updated impressions of Half-Minute Hero on Monday.

I'll be picking up Just Cause 2 this weekend. The demo was so incredibly ludicrous that investigation of the full game is required. My brother is already enjoying saddling up on top of passenger planes and grappling his way across Panau. From the 30 minutes I had with JC2 I firmly believe that this is the game that Mercenaries 2 should have been.

For those of you with PSPs, the Australian/PAL PSN Store is discounting some very notable PSP titles for the next 2 weeks. Little Big Planet, Gran Turismo, Tekken 6, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars have about 50% shaved off their price tags so be sure to take advantage.

No matter what you end up doing this weekend, please have a safe and Happy Easter. Can't have anything happening to my 5 strong reader base!