Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Oneechanbara movie, aka "Chanbara Beauty"

I bought a copy of this film from HMV online on DVD for £2.99 with free shipping, that's cheaper than a bus into town and back.

I was thinking to mayself: "these games are terrible! Terrible! The film is probably also going to be terrible, but I'm sure it will at least be enjoyably brainless and hilariously bad. Surely it cannot be worse than the games which are terrible!"

The jury is still out.

See, I think it's just plain bad.

The woman they have playing Aya (the girl in a cowboy hat and bikini) is all of three things:

* A bad actress who always looks terrified when swinging a sword. She's supposed to be the moody silent type, and a master with a sword, but she always looks like she is thinking "eek! I'm holding a sword! I hope no-one gets hurt!"

* Cannot swordfight. I think she trained for swordfighting via 10 minutes with a wiimote. She does not move in a way that is fulfilling to watch - she just flails hopelessly.

* Isn't that nice to look at (not when compared to the women playing Reiko and Saki, or how Aya looks in the games) and she's supposed to be the "beauty".

So, er, that fails.

And, well, there's just not enough action really, or rather there is but it's not generally very exciting. Zombies move so slowly and clumsily, you see. One of them doesn't - rather than lumbering, she has a weapon and seems competent with it - but that scene became a dramatic plot scene, which made it a bit clunky. I thought that in a lot of scenes that the zombies seemed to be waiting around for people to stop talking.

To me, the CGI looked worse than in the actual Oneechanbara games, by which I mean the first few PS2 budget games that are made with no money at all.

In the end the fighting goes all Dragon Ball Z style which is a bit boring.... and goes on for ages. :/

The games give people a sexy lady to watch as she swordfights and there is nothing but action, so much that it gets repetitive. Very repetitive! This film kind of does the exact opposite. So, they are both bad, but in different ways!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Bayonetta (Xbox 360 version) video game review


Hahahahahaha. I can't start this post off by saying anything else.

This... this is a game written (i.e. the story) and directed by the same man who directed the Devil May Cry games, it has similar gameplay, but is even more spectacular to look at.

The protagonist is a witch by the name of Bayonetta, a strangely proportioned woman (extremely long legs!), in squared glasses and skintight black catsuit, who speaks in a very posh RP/London English accent with an air of seduction and schoolmistress about her. She offers much titilation through her manner, her poses, her curves, the way whe moves, the way her costume sometimes becomes living hair and then moulds itself around her again... and the way she is untouchable and a complete badass at fighting. I cannot deny that this game is erotic. In fact, it may be the most erotic game I have ever played, and I feel a little ashamed because it's so loaded with obvious ploys that I know I have willingly put my brain on a shelf, walked into a trap and then been extremely happy to be there. But... it's just great. I can't help but like Bayonetta. She shoots things with high kicks with guns in her shoes, and pole-dances monstrous "angels" to death.

The story... the story is one of those great stories where people in Japan have read about hundreds of years of religious tension and Christianity and then feel free to act like it's all a nice bit of fiction they can add to. So you have the main character who is a witch, she fights off "angels" and travels to a place in Europe that's closest to "Paradiso" - it begins with a V but is definitely not Vatican. I think this game could really annoy some Catholics.

On top of the plot, you have a lot of hilarious and outrageously over the top and funny cutscenes. I mean, a lot of the time my eyes were out on stalks and I had a stupid grin on my face just down to how cool Bayonetta is, and I just laughed out loud really often.

The gameplay is mainly dodging and jumping and hacking and slashing. The combinations of buttons make up different moves and combos, and equipping different combinations of types of weapons creates new selections of moves and combos, so there is a lot of variety in the gameplay. There are big boss fights, and not only that, sometimes something you thought was a boss early in the game will come back as "just another monster" later on, you get the feeling that Bayonetta is so amazing and always becoming more awesome that eventually what you thought were boss fights mean little; they just become another routine thing to fight.

There are also some game diversions. The game contains various references to SEGA games, as it is published by SEGA. They talk about Eggman, Bayonetta collects halos that happen to look like Sonic rings. This also adds special gameplay styles as there's a motorbike racing segment (like Hang-On) which features remixed Outrun music, and her "fantasy zone" (?) which plays like Space Harrier. I also noticed that Enzo's car in the end scene is yellow so it looks like Crazy Taxi. Haha! I thought these little touches were very cute. :)

I only played the game on "Easy (Automatic)" mode because I don't normally play DMC style games, and it was indeed fairly easy. I finished the game this morning with just over 10 hours on the clock (I think it stops for cutscenes). Then I went back to attempt "normal mode", and with all the extras and items from my completed game, but after 8 more hours I have only done the prologue and 4 chapters! I'm so bad at these games! XD (Actually I found some tough bonus "Alfheim" challenges and they took up a lot of time...)

But for me to come back to a game immediately after completing it is a rarity. I just like this game so much! I think I would genuinely give this game a 10 out of 10. It's just packed with so much fun.

Ace Attorney Apollo Justice (Nintendo DS) video game review

This is the fourth Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban) game, and since the 5th one came out recently (the Miles Edgeworth game), I thought I would hurry up and play this one before tackling that!

This was the first one that doesn't have Phoenix Wright as the titular protagonist, so that is something that I know puts a lot of people off. Perhaps it put me off? I can't say. I just know I only play a new game when I feel like playing that kind of game. I really like these games, they are about the only visual novel style games that have really become mainstream in English, and the stories are usually good mysteries to play through, and the characters funny and memorable. But, I have to be in the right mood to play them.

So, Apollo Justice was a really really good game.

Apollo's special gimmick in court is... a bit ridiculous really, and staring at people to look at their sweaty armpits is not my idea of good fun, but those moments are thankfully rather few.

There was really only one investigation I could consider weak in the whole game, but it was still a lot more fun than most of the stories in the second game. All of the stories seemed logical, maybe even more than in previous games where you know what is going on and you know what you need to say but are not sure what evidence to present in the given situation.

In the end, everything tied together really well. The story is really tight, loose ends are tied up well. The only thing I had a problem with at the end was that one character's back-story didn't really fit together and seemed artificially included at the end to making a happy ending. Still, overall it was really really good.

I don't think I'll start up the Miles Edgeworth game just yet; I may well start up one of the remake Pokemon Gold/Silver games as soon as the end of next week.

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom (Xbox 360) video game review

It's a long time since I first heard of the Winterbottom game, but "The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom" came out on Xbox Live Arcade at the end of February 2010.

I played a little, then decided to buy a copy of my own and played through to the end.

Take a look at the external links above if you want to see some screenshots.

It's a collaborate-with-yourself puzzle/2D platformer with time manipulation elements, wrapped up in 1920s silent-film style graphics and a story about stealing pies. I like the style and the comedic simplicity of the story makes it charming.

Think Cursor*10, The Company Of Myself, and Braid (minus the annoying self-serving story) combined together... and you'll be almost there.

It's part action game and part puzzle game, but neither is compromised. Unlike the games I mentioned, your copies are not just ghosts - you can change what they do by hitting your copies to propel them, or get them to propel you by having them repeatedly strike thin air, then walking into them. There are also time trial and minimum-copies-made trials in the bonus levels, for those most interested in the action aspect, and those most interested in the puzzle aspect.

Overall, for a commercial game it is a bit short, but the levels have been well crafted. Maybe it could have done with a level editor and some way to share levels via Xbox Live Arcade.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Earth Hour

8:30pm tomorrow, turn off all your electric. :)

Info: http://earthhour.wwf.org.uk/

I'm going to!

Well, it's about time my fridge had a bit of a defrost. :P

(I'm not going to take the batteries out of my fire alarm or clock or watch though, since I have no other way of finding out when the hour is over, so it's not like I will be completely free from the use of electric...)

I am undecided as to whether or not to sit in the dark, or actually try and produce some light. I think I left my dynamo-powered torch in my parents' house (which is kind of electric anyway, it's just me generating it) so I'd have to think about burning something instead, which isn't a good idea either...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Heavy Rain (PS3) video game review

I played and completed Heavy Rain last night. What a turbulent ride that was!

I was looking forward to this game for a very long time, since I heard about it after playing Fahrenheit last year, in fact.

It's a thriller interactive movie, about hunting for a serial killer who drowns children in rainwater. Pretty bleak subject material! Also, I guess it's pretty strange as something to ask for as a birthday present but that's what I requested and received from my boyfriend. Collector's Edition, yay! :)

I started it up, played through bit by bit until I came to two scenes which were really intense... at that point I decided to stop and play something more relaxing, and continued with the "more relaxing" games for about a fortnight before getting back to the game and finishing the rest in one run last night.

Gameplay is similar to Fahrenheit - most are in third person and you can walk and explore scenes and interact with in-game characters, switching between controllable characters as fits the story, with action sequences played out using on-screen instructions.

The main differences in gameplay are that you can press L2 to look into the mind of the person you're controlling and select different thoughts, and that the game uses motion controls (sixaxis) for some actions. In most games I've played on PS3 that use sixaxis, they have felt more of a hinderance than anything else, but they do work quite well in Heavy Rain.

The game promised many branches throughout the story, as it was said that your main protagonists can die depending on the choices you make. I have only played through the game once, but I did happen to see some very different outcomes of scenes depending on what I did (then I reloaded the game), and some people have told me they got really different endings, so that's quite cool.

The graphics in this game are really amazing, and that's not normally something I would praise a game for right from the start, but this is so good that I have to mention it. The faces of characters are especially detailed and expressive, I thought. The face of one shopkeeper in particular stands out in my mind. He had incredibly dark eyes and his performance was genuinely moving. There's also a "Making of" casting video included as an unlockable extra to the game, and it's obvious that many of the characters really do look a lot like the actors that played them (but altered accordingly).

Aside from the characters, the art direction in this game was really good, I thought. It's not often that you think of art direction in a game, but there it was; settings for each scenario that push you into one emotion or another, and another unlockable bonus is concept artwork which is really good artwork in its own right, realistic... perhaps even hyper realistic mundane scenes. Seems strange, but that's the only way I can think of describing them.

The atmosphere was really well set up in each scene, I know it must have been difficult to get this just right because it is a game and the game uses techniques normally employed in film. That is, the player can decide what to do in most scenes that are not cut-scenes, which means they can dawdle, they can move artificially slowly or goofily, so it must have been difficult to capture atmosphere, and yet it succeeded. I was completely drawn in.

Even moments where the game had me (the player) flustered and I couldn't decide what to do, so I made my character pace around the room. Even those moments looked right for the scene. It was just really well made.

The story.... I found compelling, but at the end I had a lot of things I wanted to discuss with other people who had played the game! Are they plot holes or would they be revealed if I played different branches through the game? I cannot say yet. But it's been fun just talking to people about their experiences, their choices, and what they made of various bits and pieces in the game, and characters.

So, overall I was very satisfied with Heavy Rain.

It managed to surpass not only my expectations from playing the studio's previous game, but my general expectations of acting and expression from CGI characters and of the use of film techniques to create emotion and atmosphere in video games.

Although I have access to the DLC chapter of this game, I have not downloaded it yet. I was busy this evening! :)

Very Very Minor Gripe: There was a pre-launch fun little augmented reality game (ARG) to play via the web using Twitter and Facebook and special little websites they'd set up, it was called the "4 Days Challenge". That's all good and well, and it was a nice marketing gesture to give us that ARG game, but the initial "prize" for getting it right was a trailer which managed to spoil me in knowing the start of a scene (one of the scenes which made me put down the game for a fortnight, in fact). That was pretty bad, I thought. Also, I managed to stupidly sign up for the 4 Days Challenge website with my language set as Spanish and couldn't log in again to change it, so they kept sending me emails I had to run through a translator! Lastly, I only got the prize for the event this morning via email, which I thought was quite late. It's an XMB theme for the PS3 dashboard. It's all free so I shouldn't really complain, haha!

Ada Lovelace Day

I've spent all day trying to think of a single woman to nominate in celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, but I couldn't think of one. Celebrating women in science and technology, one that's inspired me into working in technology, hmm.

I went off to an event and spent half the evening talking to a woman who seemed to know everything about everything. We talked about women working with science, tecnology and mathematics, of encryption, passport technology and identity theft, atomic science, relationships and conformity, youth and reliance on technology, of societies and hardship, wicker baskets and autocad, archaeology and history... wow, what a knowledgeable person! *_*

At first I didn't want to go to the event at all, because I thought it sounded a bit too gimmicky, and... there is always the threat of the type of feminism that's about dominance rather than equality. Especially these days where equality is the norm, you get people saying all sorts of foolish old-fashioned things, you know? But, it turned out to be a fascinating and inspirational event after all.

I still have no idea who to nominate.

When it comes to science or technology, it's easier to recognise a method, a product, a service as being something that's a breakthrough... not so easy to recognise individuals. Do I nominate Ada Lovelace herself as the inventor of programming, since that's what I do every working day of my life? How about Marie Curie? Or those women who did vital intelligence work in World War II?

I think overall, the women in science and technology who have helped me the most to get where I am today, and have inspired me further in technology, are probably the teachers I had at the various schools I attended, my maths teacher in college, the female lecturers, faculty and staff in the Comp Sci department at the University of Durham and (as it was) 3F Ltd, and all my colleagues at TechnoPhobia Ltd.

Oh what a cop out! :P

But I have to make this clear: most of the men working at all those places were great too! :D

Katamari Forever (PS3) videogame review

I really could play Katamari Forever.

Since I played the first one, Katamari Damacy has been one of my favourite games.

The first Katamari Damacy game is truly a masterpiece, in my eyes. Roll, roll, roll your clump of stuff round and pick up more and more things. Such a tactile game. Such a happy feeling. Such detail! Each level is crafted so that you start off small and scales up wonderfully, barely noticeably... you play it first of all to discover your landscape, then to figure out the best paths around the course so that you can end up with the biggest katamari possible. There were different goals on different levels.

The music was so good too. It would loop round to infinity - without a pause to restart tracks, and I couldn't get bored of it. It sang happy songs to you. Nonsensical songs about rolling things up and love and joy.

That first game had some magic which I think the later games could not capture. They possessed an almost maniacal attention to detail in creating memorable objects and worlds to roll around, arranging objects amusingly, and yet having level design that meant there was a distinct element of getting to grasp with the environment, learning your surroundings, figuring out what the best path through to success is.

In later games... the second game (We Love Katamari) was very good but didn't have the feeling of scaling up and felt a little too self-congratulory in places. Not only that, the first game feels eccentric but the second felt like it was trying to be weird and that just wasn't cool. The third game (Me & My Katamari) suffered from poor controls, levels that were just junk scattered willy-nilly leaving the game far too easy and levels far too short (I'd roll around with nothing left to roll up for the last few minutes) - plus, it was becoming for too into itself for comfort. The fourth game (Beautiful Katamari) is better than the PSP game, but is far, far, far too short and asks the player for too much downloadable content - plus its Xbox Live achievements system contains achievements for playing for 100 hours or something, which isn't an achievement, it's a waste of electricity. I wrote a little review of Beautiful Katamari in the past.

This new game is called "Katamari Tribute" in Japan. Perhaps that is a more descriptive title than Katamari Forever as this game is like a "Greatest Hits" of the older games. Various hand-picked levels from all of the previous games (including some that were paid-extra DLC) are in this game. There are also a few new levels, but not enough to really class the game as something new. It's on the PS3 so it's all in HD (in fact, it wil not let you play it on a standard definition screen, which was really annoying because it meant I had to buy a new monitor). You play the levels as before but with the ability to jump and with the inclusion of "broken hearts" which help you pick up lots more stuff. There is also a graphical filter on by default, which makes everything look like a chalk cartoon, which actually works really nicely. Later on you can unlock "drive mode" (the katamari moves faster and levels have shorter time limits), "classic mode" where appropriate (looks more like the older games and plays like them too).

It really is a game that I think serves as a good tribute. There's not much new content but I think they have chosen mainly good levels from the previous games and that to me is better than a slew of poor levels. The new gameplay modes do breathe new life into old levels as it sometimes encourages you to think up new strategies. The new graphical filters are mainly quite good looking. The music is mainly made up of remixes of old songs, and while it would have been nice for them to include the original versions of songs, these remixes are for the most part quite pleasant. Certainly there has been worse music in the 2nd to 4th Katamari games.

I do have some gripes with the game though.

The first is that the scoring system on the game seems quite harsh at first so even a seasoned katamari player like me got some not-excellent scores through my first playthrough. This is ok, it means you have to try harder and get better! What is not ok, however, is that the "King Of All Cosmos" and his robotic counterpart in this game use language in a way that seems far too abusive for what is otherwise a nice happy relaxing game. Even if you do reasonably well, they will insult and bully you. I just feel like... this game would be perfect for little children to play apart from that element. I would rather buy the Japanese version of the game and give it to them in a language they couldn't read than have them be abused in such a fashion.

In the past games... I used to really like the King Of All Cosmos, when I played the first and second games in Japanese. He spoke nonsense. Even though what he says is all in a language I am not fluent in, I could tell that a lot of his dialogue was often nonsense. And it sounded like someone messing round on a turntable, wiki wiki wah wah. When localised to English, his dialogue became proud and haughty as well as being random gibberish, and he would talk down to his son. I took a slight dislike to him, really. As time has gone on though, things have become steadily worse and in this game, he's just a jerk.

Maybe some people find that funny. I find it disharmonious to the rest of the game.

Plus, as the scoring system is stricter, you are more likely to have to suffer their abuse as you start, which is just plain unwelcoming.

My second gripe is that it's not entirely made clear how to unlock other modes, so the game ends up feeling a bit more repetitive than it ought to (even though I'm replaying levels I have replayed many times before).

I think I did originally have more gripes, but I can't remember them right now. Hehe!

Overall, I really like this game as a tribute to Katamari. I'm satisfied with it. I did wait and buy it for roughly 1/3rd of the original asking price though!

I'll leave this post with links I found to (yay!) translated stuff about the first game, just for the sake of golden memories.


How to build a King Of All Cosmos Kite

Tornado Outbreak (Xbox 360) video game review

Well... this is a game in which you build big tornadoes and destroy cities. I bought it in the hope that it could be another take on Katamari style gaming, but overall I have to say this game just isn't that good.

Graphically it's very much like what you see from American TV cartoons these days. That's not so bad. Voice acting wasn't bad but all the same I wasn't fond of the way the main character spoke like a snarky American soldier though he's an alien. Maybe that's just me. I just find it to be a dispassionate and annoying style of speech. Still, it's what it's intended to be.

Gameplay: You start off as a little tornado, you run over stuff and build into a bigger tornado. Not so bad. Then you do these little gate-run sequences (called a Vortex Race), followed by a boss battle (Totem Battle).

The main portion of each mission is the level - where you grow your tornado and collect "fire fliers".

My issues with the main game:

1) Camera angles. It's either almost-overhead when you are a small tornado, and from directly behind when you are big. I don't know, maybe they don't want you to see what you're doing due to limitations with draw distances, but I always felt that I was being hindered by not really being able to see what I was running over. I also felt lost due to not being able to see enough to get a feeling from where I was in the overall landscape. I wished I could tilt the vertical camera axis just a little or somehow get a view from further away. Especially when in a hurry to return to base.

2) Certain objects on levels contain these little orange flames called Fire Fliers which you have to collect to complete the level. There are 100 but you only need to collect 50 and go back to base. Collecting of fire fliers makes the game's speed uneven and clunky. You press right trigger to suck them in and hold it as you run over more things containing fire fliers to keep up the combo. Keeping up the combo adds seconds to the game level timer. Problem is... they give you a minor speed boost (for a split second) then you get gradually slower and slower as you run out of their power. So if you try for big combos, it's really irritating as you constantly feel like you're running out and powerless to do any better, and when you are feeling against the time it seems counterintuitive to combo things to make you ever slower when you're in a hurry. It just made the game feel almost suffocating at times.

3) I didn't feel like the objects on each stage were done evenly. Objects that appeared like they would be quickly uprooted in a tornado stuck strong, beyond other objects that would remain on the ground until you were the next level in size. So you have to play and replay relying on memory rather than intuition.

The other portions of the game:

"Vortex races" seem familiar from somewhere - an old Sonic The Hedgehog game, maybe? I am not sure. They aren't really races, you pass through gates in front of you as you fly forwards, and I don't know, maybe it's just me but I found it almost impossible to get worse than a gold medal for each race. I had to force myself into a silver medal to get an Xbox achievement. These sequences were much less difficult than the rest of the game.

The boss battles themselves weren't so interesting, but the getting to each boss was the interesting part, usually using a new move to help you. The battles themselves are usually a case of [wait for the visual clue] [push a direction] [hammer a button] until done. I felt that they could have done with more variety.

Not a bad game as such, but overall I found it quite annoying and joyless to play. I only finished it because I felt I ought to, having started it.

Maybe if you have an 6 year old son that wants to play Call Of Duty you can give him this instead, since it's all kiddy-style war-glory soldier stories... I don't know who else could really truly appreciate this game.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Way Of The Samurai 3 - out in the UK, free artbook PDF

Way Of The Samurai 3 on PS3 is out here in the UK today.

I have enjoyed the previous Way Of The Samurai games for the ability to free roam and get involved with the game world, finding your way to what you consider to be the best conclusion to the events that unfold. I've had an import copy for a while (I got it as a Christmas present!), but I haven't actually started playing it yet.

If you would like the PDF of the artbook for Way Of The Samurai 3, sign up with Rising Star Games (the UK publisher for the game), and you can download it for free.

That's a 6MB PDF at low quality, or a whopping 240MB PDF at high quality.

There's also exclusive art and a guide. It's nice of them to give this away, I thought.