Shifting Perceptions: Trophies & Achievements

I’ve recently earned my first ever platinum trophy in a Playstation game. Bearing in mind that I’ve been playing trophy-compatible Playstation games since the PS3 days, you might be wondering just why has it taken me so long. The short answer is that I simply didn’t care about trophies, no matter how much bragging I read about trophies (or Xbox Gamerscore) on the gaming forums I was once heavily into. I was finished with a game once I’d completed the story or gotten bored of messing about in a post-credits open world. My trophy count didn’t even factor into it. They were simply annoying little “ping!” sound effects that disturbed the game.

But it seems that I’ve finally succumbed to the pull of trophies…sort-of. I lost my platinum V-plates thanks to Spyro: Reignited Trilogy but it should be noted that the three games included in this remake package are EASY to plat’. Many of the requirements for unlocking trophies are insultingly easy and involve menial, non-skillful tasks. I achieved most of them by pure chance for example, including 97% trophy completion for Year of the Dragon, on my first run-through, without even looking at the trophy list. What I’m saying is that I don’t really class this very first platinum trophy as an “achievement”. Yes, there were a few fiddly trophies that took several attempts to snag but, overall, the difficulty level was nothing to write home about.

spyro-1

I completed the Reignited Trilogy last year but, on a whim, I decided that I fancied another run of the game before I got into another story-driven or open-world game. Knowing that I’d almost accidentally platinum-ed the game(s) the first time around, I thought it would do no harm to have something extra to do on my second visit. So it was that I decided to fill in those blanks and collect that first platinum trophy.

More importantly, this made me think about how my attitude toward trophies and achievements has mellowed over the years. Hence why this topic is going to be first in an ongoing “Shifting Perception” series; a series that aims to examine how many of my gaming opinions have altered over the years.

How I used to think

At the start of this post, I implied that I had traditionally been indifferent towards trophies and achievements but, while that is certainly true, I also used to be strongly against the concept. Y’see, I’m not a show-off or a braggart, and I’ve certainly never been interested in trying to beat other gamers when it comes to high scores or – in this case – an achievement tally. I’ve always been more interested in simply enjoying a game myself. I never understood why some people were so hardcore when it came to their virtual trophy cabinet or the size of their Gamerscore.

So, while others were embracing the concept, I was actively trying to avoid it. After all, it added nothing of value to my gaming experiences. I was more annoyed at how some PS3 games used to briefly stutter when a trophy notification was popping up!

It also didn’t help that I became aware of a particular breed of gamer during the PS3/Xbox 360 era: the species of gamer that put their achievements before the pure enjoyment of the hobby. These were the gamers who would intentionally buy crap games, childrens titles or movie tie-ins that came with easy trophy/achievement lists. A few hours “work” and they could max these games, boosting their platinum trophy collection or Gamerscore with little effort. I even frequently saw articles in gaming magazines and websites that promoted this sort of thing by listing off ten or twenty games that you could buy cheaply on the used market and quickly max out.

terminator-salvation-1
Terminator Salvation (PS3) – a notoriously easy Plat to achieve.

In my mind, it invalidated the entire trophy/achievement thing and made a mockery of it. Some games were incredibly difficult to achieve the platinum trophies or full achievement score on, requiring multiple play-throughs or genuine skill and persistence to get. With these games, maxing them out MEANT something. But what did those hard-earnt platinum trophies count for when Dave down the road had three, four or five times as many for beating a big stack of bargain-bin games designed for kids below the age of ten? At a surface level, you can only see the number of trophies attached to another gamer’s profile so, unless you dug deeper, you wouldn’t see that Dave’s trophy collection was just a superficial front.

I just didn’t get it, and this dark practice did nothing to make me want to join in.

How I’ve changed

Over the years, however, my attitude has changed somewhat. I have less gaming time on my hands these days so I tend to want to play less and get more out of what I do play. It’s why I’d rather play a handful of games and invest in the DLC, if it’s any good, rather than trying to rush through as many new releases as possible.

I suppose this is the main reason why I’m not so against the trophy and achievement systems anymore. After all, it’s something that helps you get more out of games before putting them on the shelf or trading them in. As long as I can maintain a nice balance and not end up becoming one of those sorts of gamers that I’ve just criticised, then it could be fun going forward.

It also takes me back to the days when I didn’t really have a disposable income and therefore had no choice but to replay games and squeeze every last drop of value from them. It’s a more humble and balanced approach in my opinion and beats the alternative of having shelves upon shelves loaded with more games than I’ll ever have the time in my life to play, let alone complete. Been there, done that.

Sometimes, we wonder how gamers in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s had the patience or skills to complete some of the most unforgiving, balls-hard games ever coded. The answer is that they weren’t spoilt or drowning in cash. They had a game and it had to last them so they had to get good at it. If trophies or achievements had existed back then, you can be sure that gamers would have wrung even more out of those old cartridges/tapes/floppy discs and maxed out those brutal games.

 

 

Street Fighter V: My Final Verdict (Super Ultra Turbo Dash Edition)

Almost two months ago, I decided to give Street Fighter V a second chance after ditching the pre-Arcade Edition version some time ago on the grounds that I just didn’t like what Capcom had done with it. I chronicled my thoughts, justifications and rants (mostly just me moaning, then…) in a dedicated post which you can read here, if you missed it. I signed off with an intelligent cheap “Meh” meme and these words…

…I still don’t really feel anything when I’m playing. It’s a solid game but that’s all. There’s a certain magic that I feel whenever I play Alpha 3 or Third Strike for example but not here. As with my first tour of Street Fighter V, I feel that there is a good game suffocating beneath all that F2P and online-biased structure.

But I carried on playing and thought I may as well share my final verdict now that I’ve played the expanded Arcade Edition.

And, well, it’s a good job that I’m feeling hungry because there’s a plate of humble pie in front of me.

Yes, that means I enjoyed SFV.

There – I’ve said it.

HP-1
[Image Source]
That doesn’t mean that the game is completely off the hook though. I still rank it below the other Street Fighter games (with the exception of the EX spin-offs), including Street Fighter IV, which in itself polarised opinion amongst the fanbase. To recap the things I didn’t and still don’t appreciate:

  • Being charged for everything, including simple colour swaps (seriously?)
  • The silly amount of in-game currencies, fortune tickets and all that BS; basically the smoke and mirrors that attempt (and fail) to disguise that SFV is an F2P game where you will simply end up paying real money for stuff.
  • The shift in focus to the online/tourney scene. Understandable but a definite thumbs-down from me.
  • The hack-job censorship applied to characters like Cammy and Mika…because we can’t scare the kiddies now, can we? Screw that shit.

And there’s a new one for the list that I hadn’t included before because I needed more time with the updated version of the game; the new characters. I’m assuming that Capcom has run out of ideas because the brand-new characters are just crap in my humble opinion. I’m not necessarily talking about their play style; more their look and inspiration. There’s ‘G’ who looks like lanky riff on Uncle Sam for starters. I thought it was a joke to begin with. At least his theme is cool.

Falke and Ed are just…whatever…more ‘tragic’ Shadaloo experiments. Abigail is Hugo on steroids and Zeku is Guy’s master from Street Fighter Alpha 2 but still not very interesting (why not just give us Guy?). His link to the Strider clan is a neat move on Capcom’s part but I still struggle to care about the guy (no pun intended). Then there is Necalli. Does anybody give a shit about this bloke or his story? I suppose somebody must…somewhere.

Finally, I really, really fucking hate Kage. Talk about lazy! I suppose his design is supposed to be ‘epic’ but really, it’s just yet another Evil Ryu with familiar moves. You know, I like Shoto characters, with Akuma being one of my go-to Street Fighter favourites, but I think I’ve had enough of all these new ones. Aside from the powered-up ‘Shin’ versions, there has also been various versions of Evil Ryu, a Super-Saiyan Akuma by the name of Oni, Violent Ken and now Kage. Just stop

Kage-1
Horns, fangs and a few more red flames…is this really the BEST you could do, Capcom? I worry for Street Fighter VI…

I’m undecided on Menat. She seems to have become popular enough but, eh…she’s just a new version of Rose, isn’t she?

The only new characters I’ve warmed to on any level are Laura and Kolin, though you could argue that the latter isn’t technically a new character since she was Gill’s assistant in SFIII, albeit non-playable.

ALL of that aside, I have enjoyed playing Street Fighter V. The Arcade mode has to take the lion’s share of the credit here because it finally allows me to do what I wanted to do in the first place – just have a few run-throughs with my favourite characters in the same format as Street Fighters of old. Prior to this mode’s addition, I was stuck playing Survival in the offline mode and while that was okay, it wasn’t really the same given the different rules. Arcade gives me – a non-online player – something to do and it has been an absolute godsend.

I enjoy getting good as my favourite characters and adjusting the CPU difficulty to suit but I know I’m not good enough to take it online. I’m just not that serious about fighting games anyway, and never have been. While the gameplay ‘feel’ is damn important, I’m more about the characters, design and art direction when it comes to fighting games. If all of that is spot-on, then I’ll get a lot out of a game.

Karin-1
Recently, I have been playing as Karin which has been fun. [Image Source]
With that said, I know I’m in a minority so I DO understand that I’m not Capcom’s priority or target audience anymore. My refusal to go online, for example, would probably render a lot of my complaints irrelevant in the eyes of many and I get that – I truly do. Nonetheless, I’m still a paying customer and long-time veteran supporter of the Street Fighter franchise so i’m going to give my opinion, no matter what it’s worth.

In summary, I’m not in love with Street Fighter V, but I have found myself losing more time to the game than I’d expected. I like how the game plays and the aesthetics are pleasing enough to my eyes. The game is now back in ‘rotation’ on my gaming playlist and that’s not something I could have imagined myself saying earlier in the year when the box was sitting, forgotten, on my shelf.

Moral of the story: don’t rule out giving games a second chance.

Nintendo Switch Lite thoughts

Nintendo have surprised everybody nobody at all by releasing a ‘Lite’ version of their Switch console. The Switch Lite is billed as a “compact, lightweight addition to the Nintendo Switch family, with integrated controls.” They also say that it is “dedicated to handheld play.”

In normal speak, this means a portable-only version of the Switch with joycons that can’t be removed and no TV output. So why would you even want to give a shit? Surely going backwards is a bad idea? Well, that’s what many said about the 2DS and look at how successful that was for Nintendo. In fairness however, the USP for the 3DS (it’s 3D effect) was increasingly under-utilised by developers and had always been divisive given how it gave some gamers negative side effects while others felt that 3D didn’t add much to the games so left it switched off anyway. In short, the 2DS had less to lose.

The Switch Lite however, loses some of the major selling points of the standard Switch (which will still be available to buy). You won’t be able to hook it up to a television for example so no more switching (hur, hur…get it? I’ll get my coat…) between the big and small screens. You also won’t be able to detach the controls for multiplayer. As far as I’m aware, both of these features have been a success with the Switch, unlike the 3DS’ 3D effect which wasn’t such a major loss when the 2DS hit stores. What’s more, an updated model of the standard Switch has apparently been released that improves battery life by upwards of 50% (depending on how you use the thing). This is a bit of a kick in the teeth for the Switch Lite before it has even been released.

Switch-7
[Source]
So, er…why would you bother with the Lite? Well, it’s cheaper for starters. About $100 cheaper in North America. It’s also looking to be bang on £100 cheaper here in the UK too. That makes no sense when you consider exchange rates and values of currency but we’ll just ignore that. Obviously, you could pick up a used Switch unit bundled with games and accessories for the same price (or cheaper) than a brand-new equivalent so there is that to consider but not everybody wants to go for used hardware that other people’s kids have had their grubby mitts all over. Also, the Lite is meant to be more comfortable to hold and there is that added assurance of durability with integrated controllers that can’t be worn out or damaged by constantly removing/replacing them.

All of that said, I would buy a Switch Lite. “Why?” I don’t hear you asking. Because:

  1. I’ve never owned a regular Switch so this wouldn’t be a downgrade
  2. I have no room beneath/next to my TV for more consoles or docks. When you’ve been gaming for many years and like to keep older machines and games, you tend to run short on space pretty quickly. I have no more connections TO the TV left anyway…
  3. I’m not likely to bother with local multi-player as I’m more or less a solo gamer these days
  4. £200 for a brand-new example of a current-gen system appeals to me.

Now that that’s out in the open, I feel that I have to address my previous posts on the Switch because when the console was much younger, I made a series of posts about why I – as a Wii-U owner – wasn’t interested in upgrading to the (then) new Nintendo hardware. If you missed these three posts then here are some quick links to them:

One of my major gripes was to do with feeling shafted as a Wii-U adopter/supporter. After all, I’d bought into the weird console which turned out to be a massive flop that could have tanked Nintendo. I’d put money into buying the top-spec variant of the machine and multiple games. Then it was killed off fairly quickly for reasons that I completely understand and agree with. What I was more aggrieved by was the arrival of the ports – specifically upgraded ports of Wii-U games. These were games that I had already purchased and spent money buying the DLC for and now they were being re-released as “new” titles for a new audience who possibly didn’t realise that, for gamers like me, they were a “been there, done that” deal.

The second sting in the tail was that it reduced my desire to buy into the Switch when the best games were just rehashes. Again, I can understand why Nintendo did this because games like Mario Kart 8 and Pokken Tournament were fantastic games that deserved to sell more copies but their success had been restricted by the Wii-U’s limited appeal and tiny ownership. But the Switch also played host to a bunch of third-party ports of games that were available at a budget price on the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One, but were selling for £40 on the Switch. More old games that were of no interest to a cross-platform gamer such as myself.

Thankfully, we are now out of that period and the Switch has since come into it’s own as a worthy platform in its own right. I can now honestly say that there is enough exclusive or original stuff available to make the Switch a viable purchase for me. Obviously, I haven’t kept up fully with the releases so there will be things that I have yet to discover but off the top of my head, these are a few games that sell the system to me. Note: I’m not including the obvious Marios and Zeldas etc. because those go without saying!

SNK Heroines Tag Team Frenzy

Switch-1Yes, the game was widely received as fanservice rather than a “serious” fighting game but even so, I still want to play this since I am a big SNK fan. Also, the game wasn’t granted a physical release on the PS4 and since I am loathe to download full games from PSN (due to HDD space, uncompetitive pricing and my crappy internet speed), the Switch retail copy is something I’d like to pick up.

 

 

 

Blade Strangers

Switch-2Another fighting game that didn’t get a physical release on the PS4 and one that I was looking forward to for a long time. It has all the elements that appeal to me: 2D-style presentation, Kinu Nishimura art and characters from the 3DS’ Code of Princess. Again, I would prefer to have this on the Switch for the same reasons as SNK Heroines. Previously, it frustrated me deeply that games like this were denied disc releases on the PS4 (because I didn’t own a Switch!) but the cheaper entry point of the Lite changes all that up (or should I say ‘Switches’ it all up? No? Oh…).

 

Smash Bros. Ultimate

Switch-3I’ve been ploughing hours into the Smash Bros. series ever since Melee on the Gamecube and I’ve yet to be disappointed by any of the entries in the series. The Wii-U game was one of the best things on the console and so the Ultimate follow-up for the Switch looked mighty appealing, especially given that it really does live up to its title with all of those characters. I can’t say I’ve ever really been into the online or super-competitive sides of the game but I’m confident that I would be able to extract more than enough single-player entertainment from the game to make the purchase worthwhile.

 

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Switch-4I’ve fell out with Fire Emblem in the not-too-distant past. Awakening on the 3DS was a fantastic game that finally achieved the unthinkable and dragged the series into a more mainstream light. However, I did not enjoy Fates (a.k.a Camilla’s Breasts: The Game) at all. From how impossible the special edition (with the all-in-one cartridge) was to get here in the UK, to how I felt like I was playing a waifu simulator with an inferior visual design to what had gone before, I sacked the game off pretty early on. Three Houses is getting a good reception however and so it would the perfect chance to give FE another shot.

 

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3

Switch-5I’ve always enjoyed these games, regardless of what the critics say. I already have the Asian-English variants on the PS4 and Vita but this is an updated edition that I could take advantage of with the Switch’s region-free nature. Nintendo not region-locking the Switch was a shocker in itself but even more shocking is their relaxed policy towards censorship compared to Sony who have decided to clamp down on it. This means that the Switch is the best place to play Xtreme 3 and that’s not something I ever imagined me saying when the console first launched.

 

Ultra Street Fighter II

Switch-6Granted, I wasn’t kind to this game when I wrote those original Switch articles. I said that it was an old game that Capcom had simply tarted up and added two new characters to before releasing it at full-price. I don’t support that kind of thing and never will. But I really enjoyed the original HD Remix (which Ultra is an upgraded version of) and if I could buy a used copy of this on the cheap then I certainly would. To be honest, it would be worth it just to play it on a handheld, wherever I am sitting because the OG HD Remix is sat on my PS3’s HDD.

 

So there you have it…I’ve more or less been converted to the idea of buying a Switch. I agree with all of the criticism that the Lite has received but at the end of the day, I think decisions like this have to be made on an individual basis. If, for example, I needed that TV Output or was looking to play a lot of local multiplayer then the Lite wouldn’t even be on my radar. However, it ticks a lot of my boxes and I think that £199.99 price point is quite attractive, especially now that I know I’d have more than enough games to get stuck into and make the purchase worthwhile.

Watch this space.

(Not so) Special Edition

One of E3 2019’s biggest stories was the new footage of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Expo-goers seemed to love what they saw and much frenzied fanboy whooping and cheering ensued. Hitting the videogame news outlets a little more quietly was the information on several special/collector’s editions that will be available when the game releases in 2020. The most premium of these editions will include a statue of Cloud astride his Hardy-Daytona motorcycle and be available exclusively available at Square’s online store. It’s also going to be very expensive. If you want the details then I suggest you check out Strange Girl Gaming’s blog since that’s where I learnt about it.

FFVII-1st-1

But I’m not here to talk about this particular special edition specifically. This pricey collector’s piece is simply the inspiration that I’ve needed so that I might collate my thoughts on special editions in general and put my opinion out there. You see, in the past, I would have been all over a product like the FFVII 1st Class Edition and making sure that I slapped that pre-order down before it was too late. Times have changed however because the 2019 version of me doesn’t lust after collector’s editions anymore.

In fact, I think the majority of them are just garbage. There; I’ve said it.

The market for special editions wasn’t always this way of course but you have to cast your mind back to a time when special editions were the exception rather than the rule. Younger readers amongst you might not remember but most games prior to the PS3/360 generation only shipped as standard copies. Special editions were unusual and the ‘special’ in the designation actually meant something. They were actually limited (today’s “limited” editions have pretty big print runs in comparison), difficult to find and came with bonus items that actually had some thought and money put into them.

There were two examples that immediately sprang to mind when I first started thinking about the evolution of special editions and how the older examples were simply much better. The first was The Last Ninja 2 on the Commodore 64. Here, the special set came with a real shuriken (imagine that being permitted now!) and a wearable ninja mask/hood. The other was the Ecco the Dolphin boxset for Sega’s Mega Drive. Manufactured in tiny quantities, proceeds from the sale went towards a real dolphin in the London Aquarium that had been named ‘Ecco’ as part of the tie-up.

LastNinja2-CE
[Source: ebay]
But somewhere along the line, publishers realised that they could charge a small premium on top of the standard RRP of a game by placing the regular game case within a flimsy card outer sleeve and including a non-comprehensive artbook and sometimes a soundtrack CD (again, non-comprehensive and usually more of a sampler CD). JRPG’s were the first genre to frequently receive this treatment in the PS2 era and while nobody can deny the appeal of some nice extras, the problem for me was that if you enjoyed the art of the game THAT much, then there would usually be a ‘complete’ artbook available to buy from Japan which included ALL of the concept art. Likewise, a complete version of the soundtrack would be available in a standalone CD set.

The trend wasn’t so bad when confined solely to JRPG’s though. After all, JRPG players are more likely to be collectors in general so a pretty boxset that offered a little more than the usual retail release was a welcome option. But then the concept spread to pretty much every other genre and by the time of the PS3/360 era, seemingly every game had a special/collector’s/limited edition. Steelbook editions became a widespread trend as did packing games into oversized boxes with massive figurines or statues. Some games had multiple special edition variants exclusive to different retailers and then came the ‘Day One’ editions of games which usually included a voucher with some free DLC on it (did you feel ‘special’ buying those ones?). I seem to remember one of the Call of Duty games going a step further and shipping with a ‘Day Zero’ special edition.

Ar Tonelico 2 SE
The JRPG side of the PS2’s library regularly featured boxsets like this Ar Tonelico II special edition of mine that I recently sold.

The reasoning for all of this was actually quite simple. Videogame publishers were losing money thanks to the a) the pre-owned market b) retailers slashing prices within a week or two of a game’s release in order to be ultra-competitive with their rivals and c) the ignorant, entitled consumer expectation that they should receive incredible gaming experiences and pay nothing for them. Eliminating manuals, reaping extra revenue through DLC and selling season passes were methods employed to recoup some of the profits they were losing. Exploiting the materialistic magpie in us was another.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, the contents of the special editions would cost more to produce in the first place so the publishers wouldn’t make that much money on them.” It’s a fair point until you consider that a great chunk of these collector’s editions were packed with cheap tat that really wouldn’t have cost that much to manufacture. Outer boxes were flimsy for example. Many steelbooks were produced from cheap tin, as evidenced by how many older ones are rusty or corroded at this point in time. And the bundled statues were cheap, low quality efforts that paled in comparison to dedicated releases from specialised figurine/toy outfits, trading on their eye-catching size rather than finish.

And as I touched on earlier, the vast majority of these so-called premium variants were not as limited as many believed. Some were still readily available from major retailers months after release with heavily discounted price tags to encourage buyers to take these hunks of plasticky shit off the hands of stores. The Duke Nukem Forever ‘Balls of Steel’ edition for example was far cheaper than the RRP of the standard game in no time at all. I too got burnt when I bought the special set for Driver San Francisco, only to discover that the bundled Dodge Challenger model was nowhere near as good as I’d expected. Worse still, it launched for around £60 before tanking to the £20 territory.

DriverSF-1
Looked impressive but rapidly lost all value. [Source: Youtube]
Whichever way you choose to analyse the market for special editions, there is only one truth as far as I am concerned. That truth is that publishers saturated the market with this crap and forged a paradox where something ‘special’ isn’t actually ‘special’ anymore. Take billionaires for example: we see them as extraordinary people with masses of cash that lead the kind of lives we can only fantasise about (unless you, valued reader, are a billionaire too in which case I feel a little honoured by your presence on my blog!) but if everybody was suddenly to become a billionaire then none of us would be extraordinary. In fact, we all be extremely average and ordinary. Boring, even. It’s a similar thing that has happened to special editions.

To put it another way, you EXPECT there to be a some form of limited/special/collector’s/ultimate/Day One/Day Zero/steelbook/exclusive (delete as applicable…) variant of any new release these days. There’s no surprise anymore; no value. We all could have safely bet next month’s paycheck on Square unveiling a lavish special edition for the Final Fantasy VII Remake but the odds on such a bet would have been incredibly low because we’d all win that wager.

I very rarely show interest in special editions anymore. Partly because of what I’ve discussed so far in this post but there are other reasons too. Storage space is one. These big boxsets take up a lot of room and when you are buying a lot of special editions, that space is eaten up rather quickly. They also cost a lot of money and investing both space and money into piles of cardboard and plastic that is often never used or displayed (just stored in boxes, cupboards or attics for the sake of ‘having’ it) is not something I see much logic in doing. For me it is just straight-up materialism and I am personally attempting to move away from materialistic personal values. I want a more minimalist, rooted approach to life where I own a few things but not excessive amounts of products that don’t enhance my life.

You might be wondering if there was a specific tipping point or collector’s edition that broke the camel’s back and you’d be correct in asking that question. For me, it was the Soulcalibur VI collector’s edition on the PS4. I was hyped for this game and pleased to say that the end product surpassed all expectations I had – SCVI is fantastic. Unfortunately, that hype led to me pre-ordering the collector’s edition which I consider to be one of my biggest wastes of money.

The big draw was the large Sophitia figure that takes up most of the box. Sophie is my favourite character in the series and so I was enticed by the prospect of owning a decent model of the Greek warrioress. Unfortunately, the actual figure felt cheap and unimpressive once I had her in my hands (I’m sure the real thing – if Sophitia wasn’t just polygons and code – would be less disappointing!). If I’m being generous, it was extremely average and not something I was happy with.

Sophitia-1
Looks good from a distance and in pictures but up close, I wasn’t impressed. [Source]
To add salt to the wound, I then discovered that we’d been utterly shafted here in Europe by Bandai Namco. Our soundtrack was a download voucher rather than physical as in the North American version of the collector’s edition. Also, we didn’t receive the artbook or steel case. The Euro version of the SCVI CE felt like a cheap, watered-down imitation of the American counterpart. Worse still, the pre-order price for this (incomplete) edition was £130. At the time of writing this article, that translates to $163.41 which is an utter joke when you consider that the US equivalent launched for $149.99…for MORE extras.

Right now, the Euro version of the CE is still available from Amazon for just under £80. So…it’s still in stock and cheaper than it was when idiots like me pre-ordered the fucking thing. Thus proving my earlier observations that CE’s are over-priced, undesirable and nowhere near as exclusive as made out.

All I had to show for my purchase in the end was the game and bundled season pass (which has proved to be great in fairness). I struggled to sell the figure, soundtrack voucher and box on ebay for more than £25 so had to take a massive loss on the chin and learn a valuable lesson. I won’t be buying any more special editions in a hurry, that’s for sure.

What is your opinion on special editions? I’d love to read your comments/thoughts on the subject.

My E3 2019 thoughts

e319-2I’m fairly confident that the internet doesn’t need any more opinion on this year’s E3 but look here for a moment: I need to put out some quick ‘n dirty content to stop this blog from completely flat-lining. If it hasn’t already, that is (I’ll let you guys be the judge of that). On a positive side, I don’t plan on boring you with in-depth E3 2019 analysis or any attempt at “complete” coverage. What this is going to be is my thoughts in quick-fire format.

But quickly, before I get into that, I’ll just give my brief thoughts on the event overall. Personally speaking, E3 hasn’t made me feel moist for some time now. A lot of what is big in gaming at the moment doesn’t really appeal to me. Nor does the push for more power and better graphics because I’m satisfied with what we have now when it comes to the aesthetics. Lastly, I have so many games still lingering in my “to play” pile that I don’t really need anything else so unless a game strikes me as “essential”, I won’t add it to my wishlist.

With that said, let me jump into those quick-fire thoughts on some stuff I saw…

Blair Witch Project

This one came out of nowhere and despite what I’ve just said about not being interested in hyper-realism, I was very impressed by the trailer. Blair Witch Project looks creepy as fuck and I would certainly be interested in experiencing the final product.

A new Xbox console

A new Xbox is coming next year and promises to be uber-powerful. At first I was like, “really? already?”. Then I checked the dates and was horrified to see that the Xbox One was released in 2013! Where has that time gone? The XBO and PS4 still feel new to me but I guess Project Scarlett will arrive at the end of its predecessor’s 6-7 year lifespan which is consistent with previous console life cycles. One thing I WILL say however is that I’m positive that the Xbox One, PS4 and their beefed-up X/Pro versions were touted as hardware that would last longer at retail and thus save consumers from having to keep buying new consoles. Perhaps I’m mis-remembering though. In any case, I’m really not interested in more raw power so I couldn’t care less about a new Xbox and the inevitable PS5 that will surely be announced in due course.

Marvel’s Avengers

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Just…no. This is like some sort of bootleg Avengers thing. Black Widow looks like a guy in drag. [Source]
So there’s an Avengers game which isn’t surprising given the current popularity of Marvel’s superhero franchises and the Avengers movies. Ironically though, this game doesn’t look to be linked to the MCU despite looking eerily similar. The gameplay looks okay but nothing outstanding. And can somebody tell me why Black Widow looks like a man? One to try when it’s in the bargain bins methinks.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

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I know she’s just a bunch of polygons and code but damn, Aeris is cute. Aeris’ eyes > Tifa’s boobs. Tell me I’m wrong.

The first part has finally been confirmed for 2020. Honest opinion: it looks better than it did before but I’m still not sold on the action-based gameplay. Also, I think they shrank Tifa’s boobs a little bit. Because progressiveness and all that boring jazz.

Link’s Awakening

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How awesome does this look? Genuine Switch envy right here, folks.

One thing that E3 2019 proved to me was that the Switch is now a very appealling console with lots of great exclusives on the horizon. The super-charming remake of the Gameboy’s Link’s Awakening is one such game. I had great fun playing the ‘DX’ version on my Gameboy Colour back in the 90’s so I would be down for this.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

I should be hyped for this because Fire Emblem WAS one of my favourite series’. Times have changed though and now all I see is the waifu content and anime tropes so I find it hard to want to be a part of the FE fanbase these days. What I need to do is try some of the other games that came after Fates (the games that killed my interest in FE) and see if my cynicism can be put to rest.

No More Heroes III

A Switch-seller for me that WILL be awesome by default. I don’t even need to see any more footage or gameplay to confirm this theory.

Panzer Dragoon

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I didn’t ever expect this to happen. Any chance of Saga next, Sega? [Source]
I loved Panzer Dragoon on the Sega Saturn so a remake was both surprising and welcome. I don’t necessarily condone excessive remakes over original games but nobody can deny that 3D games on the Saturn haven’t aged well. And that’s a shame when Panzer Dragoon has such beautiful world design so this is one instance where I will grant a free pass to a remake.

More Resident Evil ports…

This time it’s 5 and 6 to the Switch. My opinion on these? Just stop already. Enough with the ports of older Resident Evil games.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3

I missed the first two games back in the PS2 era because I was busy playing other stuff but by all accounts, the Ultimate Alliance games were solid action efforts and I know that fans have been shouting for a third one for some time. Also receives bonus plus points from me for NOT being influenced by the MCU.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2

It’s happening. I still haven’t finished the original though due to getting sidetracked by random exploration so I need to get that sorted at some point. I sequel that is set to follow the same formula took me by surprise but I’m not complaining.

Mai and Kula in Dead or Alive 6

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It must be her winning smile… [Source: knowyourmeme.com]
No, I still haven’t bought into DOA6 but I liked these two character reveals. Kula has long been one of my favourite characters in KOF and so I’m looking forward to seeing her fighting style and breezy personality in DOA-vision. Mai was no real surprise having already successfully integrated herself in DOA5 but I’m a sucker for Ms. Shiranui’s charms (you can read that how you like).

Those are my brief thoughts on things shown at E3 2019. I’m sure I’ve missed lots of trailers and announcements but you’ll never find me watching the live streams of videogame events or sinking my time into those mammoth recap videos on Youtube. There’s actual gaming to be done you know.

Let me know what you thought and whether you agree or disagree with any of my verdicts.

Review – Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects [Playstation 2]

mnem1Release Date: 2005   |   Developer: Nihilistic Software   |   Publisher: EA Games   |   Also On: Xbox, Gamecube, PSP, Nintendo DS

Gather ye round, little ones and listen to this old man’s tale. Once upon a time there was a fantastic wonderland known as 90’s Gaming. It was a time of great change, innovation and colourful arcade games that made everybody go deaf and blind such were the booming audio and bright visuals. Today, we live in a second gaming wonderland with access to all of the old goodies plus huge, immersive experiences that previous generations of gamers could only fantasise about. But in between these two ages there was a dark age. It was a time when everything had to be moody, brown and uber-violent to pander to the teenage boys locked in bedrooms with closed curtains and crusted, very soiled socks hidden beneath beds. Games had to be brutal and gangsta and feature women with enormous breasts and blank, “sexy” expressions. Because reasons.

And games that had no reason to get serious were affected too. If – like me – you were a massive fan of the magnificence that was Marvel Vs Capcom 2 then you could have been forgiven for feeling the hype when EA announced Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. After all, it was a 3D Marvel fighting game backed by the might of EA. It was going to be huge! Holy shit! And it was huge…a huge fucking disappointment that has been lost to the mists of time. Nobody talks about it and very few remember it. here’s why…

Devoid of imagination

For some reason, I had always assumed that Marvel Nemesis was a 3D fighting game but no, I’m an idiot. It’s a 3D action game where you move about arenas/stages defeating enemies in a beat ‘em up fashion. The game’s story mode opens with The Thing walking along a bridge when aliens suddenly attack New York City. Your job in this first stage of the game is to defeat all the enemies on the bridge, punch through some blockades and that’s it. The next stage demands that you defeat all enemies on the streets. The third stage is back to the bridge again with the task of (guess what?) defeating all enemies. Okay, there’s a time limit this time but it isn’t anything taxing. Then it’s back to the streets again to…you get the idea. These opening stages with The Thing really show you what Marvel Nemesis is about. All of the stages in the game are essentially identical. Some have time limits or other conditions including handicapped health but the underlying requirement is always to beat all enemies or destroy a certain number of objects. The level descriptions sometimes almost attempt to disguise this mundane exercise but others can’t be bothered and simply state “Spiderman must defeat all enemies!” or “Daredevil must defeat all enemies!”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this set-up because – as you may be eager to point out – even the classics such as Final Fight have the same paper-thin game structure. The PS2 has its own collection of competent 3D beat ’em ups such as Urban Reign and Beatdown: Fists of Vengeance so the formula could still work back in the mid-00’s. It has to be interesting to play though and aesthetically appealing on some level. Marvel Nemesis could only dream of being these things.

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Spiderman vs some bloke that nobody cares about. With added brown for that gritty effect.

There’s very little challenge for example with most of these ‘missions’ finished in a matter of minutes. Honestly, I felt like I was looking at loading and saving screens more than I was playing the game. Some of the missions are just plain embarrassing too such as the one where Wolverine must “navigate the traps in the Avengers mansion and defeat all enemies”. This translates to bypassing one set of security lasers then clearing a single room of enemies. Big mansion, huh? The character bios in the manual make mention of the ‘New Avengers’ so why the hell is the Avengers mansion even here? Anybody who reads Marvel comics knows that the mansion was destroyed before the New Avengers were formed. Obviously I’m nitpicking on a dangerously nerdy level here but that’s what happens when you play Marvel Nemesis; you get so bloody bored that your brain exits stage left and goes for a wander.

The graphics do a supreme job of reflecting your mood when playing this game. Everything is dark, muddy and desperately dull in a game world that barely manages to look much better than a PS1 title. The music is similarly complementary in that beautifully forgettable ‘stock music’ fashion. The soundtrack isn’t criminal but you won’t remember it thirty seconds after shutting the game off. I’ll let you decide whether that’s a positive thing or a big fat neg.

You’d expect the controls to be rotten as well wouldn’t you? Well you’re wrong! Shockingly, the controls are actually functional here; one analogue stick controls movement while the other offers generous manipulation of a reasonably compliant camera. You have buttons for attacking, blocking, grabbing/throwing and jumping so there’s very little to get wrong. Holding R1 while attacking allows for some more powerful moves (such as Storm’s lightning or Daredevil’s club) while doing the same with L1 allows for bigger jumps or some characters i.e. Human Torch and Spiderman to fly or swing.

Complimenting the controls is like trying to apply a tiny plaster to a massive, gaping wound that is gushing blood from a main artery however.

Marvel Nemesis shouts about having fully destructible environments but this really boils down to having arenas littered with projectiles such as cars, furniture and oil drums. As suspiciously numerous and carelessly abandoned as these drums are, they swiftly become your best friend in the whole wide world because most tight spots and boss battles can be negotiated by simply spamming drums and throwing them for big explosions – a tactic that remains effective no matter how far you get into the game. Stand in the wrong place when an enemy is throwing a drum though and you can instantly lose over half of your energy in one massive blast when getting caught in a chain reaction of exploding drums and cars. Well, you gotta take the rough with the smooth. Swings and roundabouts and all that.

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Surely this cannot be visually appealing to anybody?

I said that the game is really easy but there are ways for your ass to be handed to you in no time at all, the aforementioned random explosions for example. Like all poor 3D beat ‘em ups though, you can also get caught between multiple enemies and trapped in a loop of hits that will leave your character with hardly any health. Boss fights too swing from pathetically easy to being extremely cheap. The boss battle against Storm for example saw me getting hit by a bolt of lightning before I had the chance to move then stuck in a cycle of follow-up hits, leaving me with no energy and open to a finishing move in seconds. After many copy/paste starts to the battle, I finally won by jumping around and…throwing oil drums…sigh. The only way to overcome some of these battles is to fight fire with fire and be cheap by abusing oil drums or ranged attacks. Other times I have witnessed boss battles end instantly thanks to the opponent graciously walking themselves off the edge of the stage and to a ring-out defeat.

With the gameplay confirmed as tedius, poorly designed and possessed of stupid difficulty spikes and a severe lack of fun, what about the playable characters? You need to remember that Marvel Nemesis was released in the mid-2000’s so the roster is a good reflection of the pre-MCU era of Marvel cinema and who was popular as a result. There’s Spiderman (complete with Tobey Maguire era costume), Daredevil, Elektra, Iron Man, Wolverine, Storm and Magneto to name a handful. There really isn’t much more to say but I can’t avoid discussing Elektra.

For some reason, Elektra is the only character to have been given a visual revamp by EA and her new outfit looks like a bra/thong set from a racy lingerie catalogue with the red trousers from the crappy Jennifer Garner Elektra film thrown in for good measure. Oh and a spiked gothic choker. She looks nothing like Elektra should other than being garbed in red and her model is just plain fugly. All of her attacks seem to be accompanied by sexual moans and groans and even sans super-powers Elektra can still rip parking meters out of the ground and smack enemies about with them. Who needs the Thing?

Worse still however are the ‘Imperfects’, the foes of the game. The Imperfects are humans modified with extraterrestrial technology by the game’s alien villain so that they can do battle with Marvel’s finest and capture them for their powers (it’s a really crap storyline) but EA’s villains receive no injection of originality and appear to ape the powers of existing Marvel characters. Can you guess what sort of superpowers the likes of Solara, Fault Zone and Johnny Ohm (good grief!) have at their disposal? Asking these characters to stand next to Marvel characters is like you or me going back in time to when Arnold Shwarzenegger was still on the body building circuit and being asked to compete on-stage next to him. It would be a competitive massacre and the same applies here in Marvel Nemesis. I think I can say that Stan Lee didn’t lose sleep over being beaten to creating Johnny Ohm.

Conclusions

In hindsight, this game had all the ingredients of a disaster but we were naïve and could not have known that Marvel Vs Capcom 2 would remain the definitive use of the Marvel license until Capcom came riding in to save us in 2011 with MvC3. Likewise, it’s only now that we can look back on EA’s mid-2000’s output and realise just how many shoddy movie tie-ins, licensed trollop and relentless yearly updates their logo ended up being slapped on. If I had paid £40 for Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects then I would have been absolutely devastated. Thankfully, I chose other games back in 2005. Aside from functional controls and the almost perverse desire to go back in time and experience shit games, I can’t come up with any other legitimate reasons to recommend Rise of the Imperfects. If anything, it shows just how far Marvel has come and you can’t imagine that precious money-printing license being permitted to associate with garbage like this game in the same way that films like the 2003 Hulk or Jennifer Garner Elektra would never happen in 2019.

Summary

The controls work at least

Repetitive, non-imaginative gameplay

Miserable visuals and forgettable music

Original characters are unispired and uninteresting

Random cheap deaths and chaotic gameplay

 

 

Why Dead or Alive 5 was great

It seems like a long time ago now that Dead or Alive 6 was first announced but guess what? It’s finally here. At the time of writing this however, I still haven’t picked the game up nor had the time to watch any footage of it in action so I’m still sceptical about Tecmo’s promise to tone down the titillation and how this will affect the series. That and Sony’s recent shift towards tighter censorship for games appearing on Playstation platforms. Don’t misunderstand me though: I have no doubt that DOA6 is a superb fighting game (and one that I WILL eventually buy) but for me, the silly sexualisation and appealing female characters are a traditional part of the series.

And I enjoy it so shoot me if you disagree.

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Obviously there are pros AND cons to adjusting Dead or Alive‘s DNA. Tecmo clearly want DOA to be taken as seriously as the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter at a competitive, e-sport/tournament level, an ambition that can only go so far when many of the characters’ outfits in the outgoing DOA5 are banned from being selected. Also, as much as I personally approve of skimpy alternate outfits and being able to play around with breast physics in the options menu, these aspects no doubt restrict DOA‘s audience to the faithful core of loyalists, doing nothing to change the outside opinion that DOA is “just a game for pervs” (a real-life quote from somebody I know).

With all of this in mind, I thought it would be timely to take a quick look back at Dead or Alive 5 and why it was so good. After all, if 6 does decide to be a bit too serious then it’s comforting to know that we can always break out our copies of DOA5: Last Round.

The Guest Characters

These days, guest fighters from rival games (or even completely unrelated genres) are a standard feature in fighting games but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they always fit right in and compliment the roster (Noctis and Negan in Tekken 7 for example). DOA5 quietly got it so right though. The four Virtua Fighter guests feel right at home and retain their familiar moves whilst also seamlessly slotting into DOA‘s fighting system. It has proven to be one of my favourite fighting game crossovers of all-time, even if CPU Jacky and Sarah sometimes seem suspiciously difficult to beat.

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Even better was the signing of SNK’s Mai Shiranui. After all, who fits a Dead or Alive game better than a loosely-garbed female ninja with huge boobs? The best thing about this specific guest appearance however was that it seemed like the kind of thing that fans of fighting games would have been asking for in their dream scenarios. Mai looks fantastic in DOA5 and comes with her signature special moves from KOF while learning some new combos to help her ‘work’ in her new, 3D environment (KOF Maximum Impact doesn’t count as prior experience…). Happily, she was recently confirmed as part of DOA6‘s roster.

The New Characters

New characters in long-running fighting game franchises are always a tricky one. The developers must:

  1. Come up with a distinctive and unique fighting style that hasn’t been done before in the series.
  2. Design a visually-appealing character that isn’t too similar to existing characters

Get it wrong and you end up with clones or characters that are simply uninteresting to play as. With DOA5 I feel that they mostly succeeded with the new characters as far as the overall fanbase and reception was concerned. I wasn’t personally a fan of all of the new challengers but I’ll get to that in a second.

doa5-2

I really liked Mila for being a more rough ‘n ready fighter with an MMA-inspired style of fighting and slightly more realistic look that wasn’t all about the supermodel looks and massive boobs (although Tecmo ensured that she put up an ample fight with the latter). Then there was Rig who looked really bad-ass and brought Taekwondo to the series. The last of the new characters that I liked was Nyotengu who I just think has a really cool design and interesting fighting style.

The other new characters have all been successful for Team Ninja but aren’t personal favourites of mine. Phase 4 was a Kasumi clone that I couldn’t really get that excited about and Honoka was a typical archetypal schoolgirl with mountainous breasts and a fighting style that I didn’t really think that much of. Finally, there was Marie Rose who – despite being classed as 18 years-old – always struck me as uncomfortably young in appearance given the game’s inclusion of swimsuits and sexy attire. More importantly, I don’t care for her fighting style either.

On a commercial level however, all of these characters were a big success for Tecmo and Team Ninja. Honoka and Marie Rose for instance became immediate fan favourites and the cover stars of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 as a result.

The Cinematic Look

Before I played the OG version of DOA5, I have to admit that I was pretty apprehensive about the game’s big action movie approach with cinematic set pieces and dynamic, multi-layered stages. After all, being able to deal extra damage by booting an opponent over the edge of a rooftop or launching them into a piece of interactive stage scenery seemed to break the rules of fighting games to me. True, we have seen this sort of thing before but it looked like it was going to be more heavily-promoted this time and moved front-and-centre.

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Truth be told though, I actually ended up really enjoying it all. It gave DOA something unique and a little more interesting and definitely contributed to the excitement of the fights. A particular favourite of mine was one of the city stages where you can kick an opponent off a collapsing rooftop just as a fuel tanker crashes and triggers a massive explosion. Thankfully, you can turn this stuff off if you prefer to be a bit more traditional but on the whole, I don’t think it interferes too much at all anyway and it’s worth remembering that while you can suffer “cheap” damage, you can also win rounds yourself by taking advantage of a stage’s hazards.

Also, the additional battle damage detail such as the dirt, realistic perspiration and the water-related wet effect were nice touches that made a battle seem just a touch more realistic after it was over and your character struck their win pose.

The DLC

Now this one is a double-edged sword. DOA5‘s DLC was certainly too expensive and far too vast, prompting many of us to reach the not-unreasonable conclusion that Tecmo were simply abusing the fans and the marketing force that is “sex sells” by releasing an endless stream of outfits that grew progressively more outrageous as time went on. The online store was (and still is) an utter mess with outfits difficult to find, certain packs not working unless you downloaded compatibility “catalogues” and DLC from previous versions of the game not working with the updated releases. Other outfits simply state that they are not available to purchase for no apparent reason and making people pay for DLC characters that were later included on the disc in Last Round felt a bit shitty.

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On the flipside, the constant stream of DLC did at least mean that there was always something to keep the playerbase playing. Very little of it was conceived prior to release so it was a good example of a developer constantly providing for owners of the game as the years passed. Obviously, the cynical motives behind the overall DLC strategy will be impossible for many to ignore and there’s no denying that the pricing and organisation are unforgiveable BUT if you can look past all of this, then DOA5 is a game that endured. You also need to remember that just because a DLC strategy rubs you up the wrong way, doesn’t mean that you are being forced to purchase any of it. I personally enjoyed the DLC and was only really aggrieved by my downloads from the base version’s collector’s edition not working with Last Round, causing me to piss about for ages downloading compatibility packs etc. Ultimately, I’m still playing the game today and a small part of that is because there are still a great many bits and bobs that I can still buy from the store.

Parting Thoughts

All of these reasons aside, Dead or Alive 5 was simply a great game. Many like to poke fun at the series and call it a “game for pervs” and there’s no denying that there is some truth in that viewpoint – let’s not embarass ouselves by spouting airs and graces. However, DOA has always been a fantastic fighting game in its own right. Fast and fluid with organic combos that are easy to learn for button-mashers and difficult to master for pros, DOA is a unique game. The hold system separates the amateurs from the learned and there are endless ways to link moves together.

Additionally, DOA5 (in any incarnation) looks utterly fantastic. The graphics and character models are impressive and the detail with regards to things like sweat and dirt only help to enhance this.

By the time DOA5 reached it’s Last Round incarnation, it was truly one of the great fighting games of the last generation. The roster was filled out and very comprehensive as far as the series’ legacy goes, the available DLC was enormous and there were some very nice special features available such as being able to customise the soundtrack with tunes from previous DOA entries. Add to that the collaborations with other videogames/anime for interesting DLC and the guest characters that I talked about earlier and it’s not difficult to see how DOA5 lasted for so long. Yes it has its flaws and the titillation will not be for everybody but it was a great game and always will be.

Atari Retro Handheld Review

Things that have aged well: The Jaguar E-Type, malt whiskeys, Anthea Turner.

Things that have NOT aged well: The UK’s post-apocalyptic road surfaces, casual racism, many, many Atari 2600 games.

Now you might be considering me a blasphemous fool if you worship the altar of Atari. You might even consider me an unqualified fool who “wasn’t there” when I drop a further bombshell and remind you that I was born in 1990 and so don’t have any first-hand experience of 2600 (or VCS) gaming to fall back on. Thing is though, despite starting my gaming journey with Sega’s Mega Drive, I’m not the sort of gamer to instantly dismiss older stuff from the 70’s/80’s based on it’s age. After all, without the flashy graphics and sophisticated technology that came later, games from this era had to rely on raw gameplay and that crack-like “just one more go” pull to get arcade goers to part with their coins and – subsequently – their folding paper money for home versions.

In short, I have big respect for the past and am always prepared to give something a go which is why I have been playing on this ‘Retro Handheld Console’ by Blaze featuring fifty Atari games. The problem is that the box craftily refers to the built-in titles as simply “Atari games” which might lead you into expecting the presence of some arcade classics. These are 2600 games though and without the benefit of rose-tinted vision, I struggled to muster up the enthusiasm to play many of these for an extended period of time. 2600 conversions were undoubtedly a big deal back in the day and the height of what a gamer could reasonably expect given the host hardware but in 2019, I have to say that most of what is on this handheld device is simply no fun to spend time with.

I will return to my gripes with the games in a moment. First though, I want to have a quick look at the device itself.

Atari1

I really like the design. The faux wood effect and grooved black plastic are a nice throwback to the 1977 original and if the Atari logo was to be removed, there would still be no doubt as to what this is. It’s such an iconic and nostalgic look. Furthermore, the red buttons are immediately reminiscent of the single red button featured on the famous 2600 joystick. Happily, the build quality on this thing does actually feel quite solid. It’s sturdy and the buttons don’t feel too cheap. The handheld takes four AAA batteries and comes with a standard headphone jack as well as an AV-Out port on the top edge.

My only criticisms of the hardware itself is the small screen (initially difficult to adjust to after years of huge, high quality smartphone and handheld console displays) and the fact that the sound isn’t that beefy through the headphones even with the volume wheel spun up to the max. I wanna hear those awesome Atari explosions damn it!

On the whole though, I was impressed with the overall finish and sturdiness of the handheld. As many retro gamers will be aware, a lot of these devices are hit-and-miss when it comes to construction quality and Blaze themselves have put their name to some poor efforts in the past. Not so here though – it’s a firm thumbs-up from me. I just wish that some kind of instructions came in the box because as it is, you are directed to an online site for the manual. The console doesn’t have built-in instructions for the games so some are pretty much impossible to fathom out without directions.

Let’s get back to those pesky games though and the first big issue: the lack of any third-party games. There’s none of Activision’s enduring classics present on the device for example and things get worse when you realise that a great many other essential games (third AND first party) don’t feature. Games such as Ms Pacman, Berzerk, Kaboom, Battlezone, Defender II and Jungle Hunt would have made this device a nice little pick-up-and-play distraction for example. Instead, the list of games is padded out with filler crap such as Fun With Numbers, 3D Tic-Tac-Toe, Video Checkers and a collection of hopelessly antiquated sports titles…the usual stuff that has been wasting space on Atari Flashback devices for years.

FwN-1
Isn’t it about time that this ‘game’ stopped appearing on Atari compilations and retro gadgets?

There are a few redundant and unenjoyable ports such as Tempest and also some extremely abstract role-playing games like Adventure and the Swordquest series – games that were fun back when you had no choice but to use your imagination while moving simplistic squares about but not so much in 2019. If you were there when these games were new however then you might be able to extract some nostalgia-fuelled enjoyment from them. Additionally, there are several games on the handheld that make no sense in the single-player environment such as Air-Sea Battle (ignore the second gun and play with yourself) and Pong. Playing Pong alone against the computer is a bleak experience that could well send you down a nihilistic route in life.

So are there any games worth buying the device for? Obviously there is an element of personal taste involved (as with anything in the field of entertainment) but these are the games – based on previous experience as well as with this device – that I will definitely be giving more attention to:

  • Asteroids
  • Gravitar
  • Crystal Castles
  • Millipede
  • Missile Command
  • Off The Wall
  • Radar Lock
  • Yar’s Revenge

Eight games out of fifty isn’t what I would consider a strong strike ratio however. Granted, I have eliminated the rest based on the fact that I personally have no nostalgia for the games or because I genuinely believe that they are creaky and no fun to play. If you grew up with the 2600/VCS then I would implore you to check out the full game list because this handheld may well speak to you a little more than it did to me. For younger gamers or Atari virgins however, I can’t recommend this product.

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Missile Command is a classic that plays well for a 2600 conversion but this device needed more games of this quality to qualify as an essential purchase.

You want to be playing the arcade versions of games like Tempest and seeing what the 2600 was really capable of by digging into the Activision support, not playing Pong by your lonesome or something like Video Chess. The problem is that far stronger compilations of games have been released across various consoles over the last fifteen years or so. Emulation is also a thing as is Activision Hits Remixed for the PSP.

I wanted to like this because the device itself is pretty cool and surprisingly well put together but it could have been so much better. If you can find one dirt cheap or you receive it as a gift (like I did) then sure but otherwise, it’s just another underwhelming retro device that doesn’t stand out for any reason.

Is there an SJW agenda in videogames?

For this discussion topic (more like a random brain-fart born of the sludge in my mind), I’m going to have to rewind a bit to last year (2018) since this was an idea I had back then but – for one reason or another – didn’t get around to writing about.  First of all, I have to admit that the title for this post might be a bit too sweeping and broad because I’m only really going to be talking about sexual imagery. I just didn’t how else to head it up.

Anyway, Streets of Rage 4 was announced last year much to the uncontained joy of old-school gamers and Sega fans the world over. Opinion was split on the visual style and whether or not the game looked like a worthy successor but I noticed that there was one specific aspect of the reveal trailer that received comments of a consistent theme…

SoR4-Blaze-gif
[gif: benfiquet.com]
That’s right. People seemed more satisfied with the fact that Blaze Fielding had retained her infamous, sexy look. Forget the game itself – fuck that triviality. All that matters is that Blaze is still rocking a highly impractical short skirt + boob tube combo. Let’s not forget those glorious “thicc” thighs and bouncy, poorly-harnessed breasts either. Twenty-four years may have passed since Streets of Rage 3 but Ms. Fielding is still a fox. The comments section on the Youtube video for the trailer was particularly interesting with many praising the retention and enhancing of Blaze’s original design rather than toning her sexuality down to appease the SJW brigade and their perceived attack on videogame design.

Capture

The above is just a tiny snapshot. There were twenty-seven replies alone in just this one stack for example. Disregarding the presumptuous and angry language used in many of the comments, there was a clear indication that there is a division of gamers that feel their hobby is under attack by SJW types and those with political-correctness on their mind(s). These are just the reactions to one game however. Across the internet, I have been reading exasperated comments from fans of all kinds of games who are subscribing to the idea that social do-gooders are working to remove the sexuality from female characters and leave a political imprint on escapist entertainment.

A few other examples that have fanned the flames of dissent in recent years:

  • Nintendo censoring cleavage and blurring out upskirt shots in Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (Wii-U)
  • Nintendo (again…) removing unlockable lingerie outfits from Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water (Wii-U)
  • Capcom fiddling camera angles in Street Fighter V to conceal Rainbow Mika’s taunting butt-smack intro
  • Nintendo (not picking on them – honest) de-sexualising Zero Suit Samus for Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
  • Sony’s recent decision to start applying stricter censorship to Playstation games in the future.

There are doubtless many more but you get the idea. Personally, I have a mixed opinion on these. Some I certainly don’t agree with, some I’m not bothered about (because there is little impact on the game itself) and others I’d be okay with if the developers didn’t apply ‘censors’ in such a crappy, bodge-job fashion. On the whole however, I am one hundred percent against such petty censorship that goes against the original designs and artwork. Thing is, if you complain about toned-down boobs or being unable to get a clear upskirt shot then you will likely be considered a pervert or sad, basement-dwelling nerd. It’s not about demanding gratuitous, seedy imagery however; it’s about being treated like a child and having somebody hold your hand, deciding what you should or shouldn’t be able to see. It’s about being told that sexuality is evil and immoral. It’s about having the artwork of others meddled with – a crime in itself.

But I’m not here to go too in-depth with my own views on the subject. I’m here to try and look at this rationally and ask the question: is there an SJW agenda in videogames?

I think that the answer isn’t entirely clear. It’s a “yes” and “no” kind of thing. I don’t believe that there is a conscious agenda aimed at sanitising everything but I DO think that wider, more encompassing feminist and moral causes have had a knock-on effect for the videogame industry. Nobody is specifically looking at Rainbow Mika and writing to Capcom in a offended frenzy, demanding that she put her mega bottom away for example. In this particular instance, Capcom USA decided to that it was necessary to tone down Mika’s bawdy behaviour in order to achieve the desired age rating for Street Fighter V and tap into as bigger a consumer base as possible. This is a knock-on effect of increasingly sensitive ratings boards who in turn want to ensure that they align themselves with society’s expectations of what is and isn’t “acceptable”.

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We could dig even further back and investigate the social and political shifts over the past few decades that have encouraged our definitions of acceptability to evolve. We could ask the (perfectly legitimate) question of whether or not social media and biased news outlets have warped the minds of millions during that time and directed people towards certain viewpoints. We could even wonder why harmless titillation must be heavily scrutinised in the USA but the right to own destructive military-grade firepower is deemed to be okay.

The point is, it’s a more complex issue than simply pointing the finger at “them” and raging about not being allowed to see boobies anymore. Yes, the SJW agendas have affected the videogame industry but in an indirect way. The fact is, most of what we feel we have “lost” would probably still be included if it weren’t for the trepidation of the publishers and the amount of money they have invested in a project…money that they may not see a return on should the likes of the ESRB, BBFC and PEGI decide to award a higher certificate and therefore restrict sales. Large companies are very keen to prevent problems from ever becoming problems. Commercially, this makes sense. Unfortunately, it’s not such a great time to be of an artistic mind as a result.

I wouldn’t say that we are being “oppressed” but we are certainly experiencing the fallout of high-profile sexual assault scandals here in the West and these massive stories have dramatically altered the landscape of our society and given more voices to feminists, SJW’s and those who are hunting out misogynistic behaviour. It’s no surprise that the entertainment industry suffers as a result, especially when the likes of Facebook and Twitter offer a platform for people to begin shouting and attracting negative attention for movies and videogames “guilty” of sexualising the female form for the benefit of men. Publishers don’t want their products demonised and their reputations tarnished and so less liberty tends to be allowed on game design.

I am certainly not an apologist but the videogame industry has gotten away with using the “sex sells” theory from the start so there is perhaps an argument to say that we had this coming. Nowhere was it more blatant than the mid-2000’s or PS2/Xbox/Gamecube era as it might be better known. This was a time when so many games and advertising campaigns were sexed-up to the max for the sake of it. These days, the PS4 and Xbox One are owned by a wide range of people but the PS2 was more synomonous with the stereotypical teenage boy and so it seemed that the way to increase sales was to include as many tits as possible, even when there was no logical reason to do so.

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Prince of Persia: Warrior Within went all dark, emo and gratuitous, much to the confusion of those who loved Sands of Time [image: gamesradar.com]
I am a man therefore I like boobs and bums. No point in sugar-coating it for the snowflakes out there. I do still retain my brain lobes however and I can recall so many instances of advertisements or actual game content that depicted idealistic, incredibly well-endowed women that didn’t really add anything to the games themselves. Some games were childish to the extreme (Big Mutha Truckers and BMX XXX for example) while others such as Tecmo’s Dead Or Alive Xtreme ditched subtlety altogether and turned their cast of female warriors into little more than sex dolls.

It’s amazing to consider that all of this was a mere decade ago and now here we are with small details being edited out or painted over. On one hand, it’s impossible to defend objectifying women, even if they are digital and fictional.

On the other, it’s important to remember that videogames are entertainment, fantasy and escapism from an increasingly professional, sterilised (and monstrously hypocritical) world and we should be careful how far we take this quest for “justice”. The road to hell is paved with good intentions as they say and I happen to believe that a world without the freedom of expression and artistic liberty is Hell. I am after all a massive believer in letting people get on with what they enjoy and simply opting out if it isn’t to their tastes. I rarely play games that lean towards the glorification of cold-blooded violence for example but I’d be the last one demanding that the industry “wake up” and start censoring everything I disagree with. Slap an appropriate age rating on the box and let us decide for ourselves what we wish to consume. We must take responsibility for our own actions and what we choose to view after all and on that note, responsible parenting also falls to us – not the companies putting out content that WE allow our offspring access to.

In conclusion, I cannot agree that the SJW hardcore are working to keep us down and pick apart our media with laser-precision targeting. What we are experiencing is the simple knock-on effect of what is going on in our society right now. However, I also urge restraint and implore people to have common-sense rather than pushing, pushing, pushing all the time. The snowball effect is a very real risk and genuine, worthy causes may very well end up neutering expression, art and harmless titillation. The next decade is going to be very interesting.

Review – Spyro Reignited Trilogy [Playstation 4]

spyro-2I’ve been gaming for a hell of a long time now and so you’d be forgiven for thinking that some of my viewpoints on modern gaming are somewhat cynical and the unfortunate victim(s) of rose-tinted vision. For example, I am about as interested in remakes and remasters as I am in that scene in Terminator Genisys where Emilia Clarke gets naked but the smart troll-ish 12-rated camera work denies you a glimpse of the goodness. Either I have no enthusiasm for retreading old ground in HD-o-Vision or I get all old-man grumpy and ignorantly presume that the developer will remix everything too much.

However, that has all changed very recently and my attitude towards a remake has softened a little. The game responsible for this shift is Spyro Reignited Trilogy, a full remastering of one of my favourite videogame series’ of all-time (pre-Enter The Dragonfly of course). Younger readers or newer gamers might not understand the big deal but I had the originals on release and still regularly play through all three most years. I adore these games and no amount of mowing down hookers in GTA (after purchasing their wares of course) has succeeded in dulling my enthusiasm for whimsical fantasy worlds and cutesy characters.

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The games look amazing now, all without any alterations to level layout or loss of the original charm [image: forgetoday.com]
As you might imagine then, I was gravely worried about what Activision and Toys For Bob might do to my childhood memories when Reignited was first announced but I needn’t have been concerned because the boys ‘n girls at ‘Bob did good and managed the near-impossible task of impressing this old-school gamer with a remake of all things. It isn’t all good news but the positives definitely outweigh the crappy stuff so I’ll talk about why this is such a great remake first and foremost.

My overall feeling is that Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a totally authentic and – more importantly – sympathetic remake. Everything from the level layouts to the word-for-word script is as I remember it. The individuality between games has also been retained i.e. the designs of the treasure chests, the shapes of the gems and the extra life systems. Immediately, there is nothing on a basic level to offend the traditionalists who demand the most minimal of changes and this is nice because Toys For Bob could have easily decided to bring each game in line and go for a uniform approach. The only big alteration to the trilogy as a whole is that the sideways roll feature that was originally canned for the sequels has been carried over to Gateway to Glimmer and Year of the Dragon for the remakes. This is actually a welcome change because many fans bemoaned the way that Insomniac took the roll away back when these games were first released. Now though, you can showboat to your heart’s content while avoiding enemy attacks.

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One for the ‘Furries’ out there. Bianca looks a lot foxier this time which ironic since she’s a rabbit [image: Youtube.com]
Then there is the all-important music, originally composed by Stuart Copeland of The Police and adored by fans ever since. The soundtrack of the first game in particular is especially good since each level has a distinct sound influenced by the theme of its home (or ‘hub’) world but the same set of instruments used throughout results in a very cohesive OST. The mix in Reignited is extremely gentle and in all honesty, it didn’t need to be dramatic anyway; the original OST was fantastic as it was and in some respects was ahead of the games themselves and what the technology of the time allowed them to do visually and technically. So it sounds very similar to the original tracks but with a bit of added depth in places. There is an interesting ‘dynamic’ effect too which alters the tone of the music when underground or in tunnels/caves. Stand stationary for a few seconds and the tone will shift to a more ambient, trippy chilled-out zen-like sound that I really enjoyed. You can switch the dynamic mode off and also revert to the original soundtrack if you wish so everybody should be satisfied.

All of that important preservation work acknowledged, we come to the new stuff. Most obvious are the brand-new visuals which really are beautiful. The dragon worlds and Avalar now look utterly sumptuous with so much more detail than was possible before. Obviously we cannot say for certain but this is perhaps what Insomniac would have wanted their games to look like if the technology had been available at the time. On the Playstation, they had to make do with simple colour schemes and basic textures to simulate the real things and define a level’s identity. Not so in Reignited. Flat greens are now proper grass with long blades that sway in the breeze, water looks good enough to drink and the smudgy, minimalistic backdrops now have some detail. It really was a joy to take my time exploring the familiar while absorbing the new.

Some levels in the sequels look like they have been revamped more than others but that’s down to their original designs. After all, some (especially in Year of the Dragon) felt a little uninspired back in the day and a retread of previously-utilised themes.

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The revamp is dramatic yet respectful [image: silconera.com]
The dragons have all been given unique, detailed looks and personalities too which is a massive upgrade over the original designs. Some of these look a bit too comical and over-the-top to me but otherwise it is a nice injection of variety and individuality which wasn’t present before. As mentioned earlier, the dragons still retain their original speech so it’s a nice little compromise between old and new in my opinion. Overall on the graphics front, I felt that Reignited had an almost Pixar-esque quality to its aesthetics and all three games were just so enjoyable to play through for that reason alone, let alone any others.

Obviously the only issue with these remakes being so authentic and true to the originals was that I absolutely caned them and literally had to impose play time limits on myself in order to refrain from completing them too quickly! The original trilogy was released between 1998 and 2000 and I’ve been playing them on and off via my original PS1 discs or the digital versions from the Playstation Store ever since so I know all of the secrets and solutions. Handily, Toys For Bob did attempt to add a little extra longevity with ‘Skill Points’. Skill Points first appeared in Spyro 2 and rewarded the player with an extra life for completing bonus tasks such as flaming all of a specific object within a level or beating a boss while taking no damage.

Similar challenges await in Reignited but this time around, many of the ‘flame all of X object’ Skill Point requirements have been replaced by new targets for variety’s sake. These include burning hidden objects (some of which are genuinely difficult to find) in the first game, completing three perfect laps of the supercharge circuit in Spyro 2‘s Fracture Hills level and beating the course records for the skateboard parks in the third game. Each game features two pages worth of challenges and these are worth doing to unlock the concept artwork which I quite liked the look of. There are trophies too of course and I assume that the Reignited Trilogy will be a relatively easy platinum. I achieved around 80% trophy completion without trying for example.

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Speedways look awesome and provide a nice challenge as usual but the controls feel a little off to me [image: gamepressure.com]
So as a remake of a fan-favourite set of games, Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a resounding success that managed to make me feel rather moist in a sexy way. Perfection is an impossible destination to reach however and so I must now – regrettably – lower the tone and talk about some of the what I didn’t like as well as what nobody will like.

The first collection of criticisms will probably only be relevant to those of us who played the original games and it’s to do with controlling Spyro and some of the hit detection. To me, Spyro felt more difficult to control at charging speed with slower rotation and a less compliant turning circle as opposed to the super-sharp handling in the OG games. Flames don’t seem quite as wide-reaching as before (feels like you have to be just a touch closer to actually make contact) and – most frustratingly – the gliding felt “off”.

It’s difficult to describe properly but I noticed that many of the glides between platforms were now more strict. I wouldn’t have thought twice about these glides in the original games but now it’s almost as if they are only just possible and on the very edge of Spyro’s capability. It’s almost as if he loses altitude that much faster and it’s only really a big issue in the first game which wasn’t equipped with the hover ability that afforded Spyro a little extra reach in the sequels. I experienced many annoying deaths in this way but I will admit that a lot of this was probably down to my instinctive behaviour (learned from years of memory-mapping the originals) being challenged by the remakes. I’m not sure if newcomers or those who didn’t play their PS1 copies into oblivion over the last two decades will feel the same but I thought it was worth noting.

Flight in the ‘speedway’ levels also felt a bit weird and not as tight as before. There were many times when cornering or making a sharp turn that Spyro felt like he was drifting wide or ‘sliding’ in the air like a racecar would when drifting around a corner, causing me to miscalculate and miss a target. Again, it’s no disaster and just took a little getting used to but even so, I’m not sure that understeer and a loss of traction is possible in mid-air…

There are a few other niggles with fiddly controls in some of the third game’s many unique missions/mini-games, some of which used custom mechanics and viewpoints. Skateboarding is one of the biggest culprits with the occasional bizarre collision detection and the game failing to register some of the more complex tricks. The other example that immediately springs to mind are the hideous controls for the speedboat in Seashell Shore which seem to continuously change depending on which way the boat is facing.

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Excuse the language but fuck the controls of this boat. Seriously. [image: gamepressure.com]
The game has also fallen foul of the need to be a little more politically sensitive in order to achieve a family-friendly age rating to slap on the box cover. The enemies in Twilight Harbour no longer resemble guerrilla fighters for example and their machineguns have been exchanged for comical paint guns; their grenades for explosive barrels. Guns were also taken away from the enemies in Spyro 2‘s Scorch level and replaced with catapults. Lastly, the fairies and various female characters are a lot less busty and sexualised this time around, particularly noticeable in the third game’s Desert Ruins level where the Lara Croft-imitating character of ‘Tara’ no longer has the titantic breasts to match her inspiration.

These alterations are not really “negative” changes that should affect your feelings towards Reignited but they stood out to me personally as a staunch anti-Political Correctness kind of guy. Other little differences that I wasn’t so excited about were Hunter’s new voice actor and a tiny portion of the updated soundtrack for Year of the Dragon. A few tracks sound very different (not bad just less recognisable vs the majority of Reignited‘s mixes) and I feel that Bamboo Terrace – one of my favourites – loses something without the chilled chanting in the background.

These are trivial moans that won’t apply to everybody. The universal gripes that should unite all players are the glitches however. It’s worth mentioning that I was lucky and managed to complete all three games without any major issues but looking around online, many have complained about game-breaking problems that render levels impossible to complete amongst other horror stories. Personally, I encountered some dodgy collision detection and occasional (but dramatic) framerate drops as well as a glitch at Lost Fleet’s skateboard race where crossing the line didn’t trigger the next lap (I had to keep trying and eventually I overcame it).

The blame for all of these technical issues can be levelled squarely at Activision and their insistence that the game be on store shelves in time for Christmas, pushing Toys For Bob hard in the process. They had already intended for Reignited to be released in September 2018 before pushing the date back, don’t forget. It’s the same reason that Spyro 2 and 3 don’t even ship on the physical disc and have to be downloaded as a 20GB+ “update”. My internet is perfectly fine for regular web browsing but too slow for fat-ass downloads like this and so I had almost completed the first Spyro before the rest of it had finished downloading in the background (it took FOUR DAYS). Worse still, there are (at the time of writing) no patches or word on forthcoming fixes for the bugs in this game.

All of which is a massive shame because Spyro Reignited Trilogy did pretty much everything right for me and was the first game in a long time that I couldn’t pull myself away from. To have such a good thing slightly spoilt by bugs and a game disc that may as well be a download code on a piece of paper is like enjoying a particularly tasty sandwich only for a seagull to swoop down and snatch the last mouthful. Shame on Activision and their pushy policy but much kudos to Toys For Bob for reviving a much-loved series in such an accomplished manner.