Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ

Previous: FORCE

In the early 2000’s, Sega’s plan was to deliver cheaper and more effective arcade hardware for the Japanese market, which of few would see worldwide releases. NAOMI 2 was given the emphasize over the Hikaru, which was phased out in 2002. NAOMI 2 would last to 2008, with Atomiswave, a Sammy developed NAOMI derivative, running by its side. Around the same time in 2001 Sega developed the Triforce with Nintendo and Namco, based on Nintendo’s GameCube. Two years later, Sega would release Chihiro to the arcades, based on Microsoft’s Xbox. All these arcade machines ran different games that Sega was directly involved and developed, like NAOMI 2’s Virtua Fighter 4 series, Triforce running AM2 developed F-Zero AX, Atomiswave running many fishing and fighting games Sega was part developer and publisher, and Chihiro most known for OutRun 2 and House of the Dead III due to their Xbox ports. Later in the 2000’s, Sega’s arcade hardware would be more or less completely home media derivative, based on normal PC architecture, making some of the modern games running on a modified Windows. However, there was no Virtual-On, on any of these systems.

With Virtual-On FORCE generally receiving lukewarm acceptance from the overall audience, regarding Oratorio Tangram the superior game, Hitmaker would develop a console-only sequel for the PlayStation 2; Virtual-On MARZ.

Continue reading “Virtual-On Retrospective: MARZ”

Review of the Month; HORIPAD3 Mini

Let’s not beat around the bush, the standard SONY PlayStation 3 controller is pretty bad, and I’m not talking just about the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons. I’m talking about the lack of build quality, the lack of sturdiness and the fact that it comes with a USB cord too short to use it in daily play from your couch when in needs to be charged.

I’ve gone through a number of official PS3 controllers with varying success. The last one that broke on me simply stopped recognizing R2 and Triangle buttons, and the plastic began to warp and come apart. I still don’t know where in my apartment the controller flew, because I got sick of it and flung it across the room. I still find bits and pieces of it. I assume it was partly atomised by the impact.

As such, I’ve been looking for some replacement controllers. Having good experience with HORI through the years since the original PlayStation third-party controllers. That’s brand loyalty to you. HORI overall is a company that does decent work with their products, going for lower price with good value. They’re not a premium brand by any means, but their products tend to be better than most other third-party products.

It's pretty nifty
It’s pretty nifty controller with a 250cm cord. Long enough to enjoy gaming from your couch just fine

HORIPAD3 Mini is the current replacement for my main PS3 controller. While its outer appearance looks slightly gaudy with the transparent look and crystal pattern in the handles, it’s shaped nicely to fit your hands. This being a Mini controller, people with larger hands might fond this uncomfortable to hold.

Generic silhouette does resemble the first party controller
Generic silhouette does resemble the first party controller…. somewhat

D-Pad and Sticks

Some of the elements in Mini controller over the standard one. First, the D-Pad is better. It’s a concave in shape, and your thumb sits nicely in there. Originally I was hesitant if this was a good move from their part, but the simple fact that it’s a connected plus shape that rocks back and forth nicely gives it an accurate feeling all around. However, it shares the same hard plastic as the sticks, and while its texturing is different, it can be a bit harsh on your thumb. The sticks are firmer than on standard pad, and while trying them as-is feels weird, during gameplay the resistance they offer is surprisingly comfortable. Personally, I’ve found my movement becoming more accurate with these. However, the hard plastic is harsh on your thumb and it doesn’t help that the directional arrows moulded on the sticks’ surface will make you feel tender. On a plus side, they add a bit more control and the ever slight addition of physical indication to which direction you are pushing the stick to.


Due to the smaller size, the face buttons have been slimmed down in diameter and are sitting in a smaller cluster, but they are higher. There is more resistance in them, but only just enough. They feel sturdier than the standard controller’s and their surface is rounder. They lack the colour coding, but overall feel just as good.

The Start and Select buttons are the same shape, and due to any kind of colouring in the letters on the plastic, you’ll just have to remember which one is which. The extra round button is for Turbo, and works pretty much like any other Turbo function with two modes. One for turbo fire when the button is pressed down, and an autofire. You can determine the rate with the switch between Start and Select buttons.  The Home button lacks the PlayStation logo, and like many others, HORI has chosen to add letters PS for it. It’s the weakest visual element and feels lazy.

A green light flashes as the Turbo is being repeated. I have no idea where that screw came from, it’s not part of the controller. One could possibly throw 360 Stick add-on to make the surface feel nicer, but I haven’t tested this myself
Nothing much going on the back
Nothing much going on here

The shoulder buttons are better. L2 and R2 are raised higher up and retain slight trigger shape, but don’t slip down. The only hard corners found in the controller are in the label indentation and that 90-degree part between shoulder buttons where the wire comes out. The screw distribution is nice and you don’t notice them without testing.


IMG_4378The seams are superior to the standard controller and  it give a much nicer feel

One of the main issues I can see people having with this controller is that the handles are sharper than the standard controller’s. This is where the main bulk from the standard controller comes from, and in Mini they are more curved, far more rounded down. It fits smaller hands better and overall is more ergonomic as opposed to more blockier design of the standard SONY controller.

The seam around the controller is smaller than with the standard one, meaning you’ll accumulate less dead skin in there. However, due to the hard plastic used in the controller’s buttons, you may find more dead skin on the stick’s arrows and in the label indentation in the back due to its hard corners.


The controller has no Bluetooth and lacks rumble, but this is a controller that costs a solid 20€. I won’t cry for either one. The removal of battery pack also means the controller weight considerably less than the standard one. Kudos to HORI for using traditional PCB in Mini, as the standard PS3 controllers use a Strip PCB, which is far more prone to break down. The plastic is sturdy, but doesn’t feel quite right for a controller. It’s not the same kind of plastic HORI has used previously with their translucent controllers. It would have been preferable to use similar black plastic they used in their Fighting Commander 3 PRO. The plastic becomes slightly sticky in feeling after your hands have started to sweat a bit, but on the plus side the plastic doesn’t have any surface paint or texturing to polish off, unlike with the standard controller.

Overall, the HORIPAD3 Mini is a competent replacement that also works on PC, at least on Windows 7. The lack of Bluetooth connection will be a breaking point to some, rumble less so. It has become my main controller simply because it does its job well enough. The sticks being hard plastic and not all that nice to your thumb is the worst design point in the controller, but even that can be lived with at this price point.

As a reference, the games played with this controller in order to test this were Dragon’s Crown (D-Pad was selected for movement), Drakengard 3, Gundam Vs. Extreme and Money Idol Exchanger.

Game industry has a habit of dropping support, it seems

The video game industry is fond of pushing devices and addons to the customer that they don’t really want. There are numerous borderline cases, but overall when a device is pushed to the customer, it often fails. Overall, only a handful of addon devices have become highly popular and hit through the market barrier. Some even managed to become a sort of cultural icon. Nintendo Zapper, for example, is an example of an addon that was not only desired but also sought after outside the hardcore gamers. ROB was rather popular for first for novelty reasons, but Nintendo dropped the support for it. There are exactly two games ROB supports, and neither of them are good. However, it is a great thing Nintendo didn’t continue to push ROB further. This was the NES era after all, Nintendo had very little room to mess with the customers at this point.

Just by looking SEGA’s and Nintendo’s success with addons, to some extent with their consoles, we can see that even the most successful addons seem to die out either due to lack of software or lack of overall support. SEGA promoted Mega Drive’s CD and 32X addons quite a lot, and while 32X was the Kinect of its time, both addons failed. The games for either weren’t all too good and in too small amounts to warrant a purchase. Then you got the Saturn, a console that was put on sale too soon, leaving little software at launch and was dropped outright soon after in favour of the Dreamcast. Saturn in itself was rather badly designed console, having two separate CPUs which were hard to utilise. Games it had were not all too great either, even if there are numerous gems on the system. Then again, so does pretty much any other system.

It’s worth noting that SEGA continued the Master System support in form of the Power Base Converter, a move that a lot of Master System owners liked. That meant that adding the Power Base Converter you could free space from the living room. There were some issues, like a handful of games not working properly, but overall it was a good addon. It had a very specific customer group, but it also allowed people with the Converter to collect Master System games despite not owning the original system.

That is also exactly why all the current consoles, from Steam to PlayStation 4, have extremely interesting competition going on; they’re competing against games from the whole history of the industry. I would dread the idea of competing with giants like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Castlevania III.

Nintendo had less direct console addons like SEGA, a decision that many regard a good move. Whether or not the Super Nintendo CD addon would have become a success would have depended on the games the system. However, the Super Scope was all sort of awful, even if it was pushed as the successor to the Zapper. Nintendo dropped its support just like that, and only very few games supported it. Interestingly, I remember the Hunt for Red October having a special stage that supported it. Then you have games that could have supported it, like Wild Guns, but opted for a better control scheme because the Super Scope is a shit product. I have one, bought it from sale years back.

GameBoy saw few well remembered addons, but we all know that both GameBoy Camera and Printer were released, and then effectively dropped. In about a year, the GameBoy Camera saw huge price drops. If my American friend is correct, some places sold new units for five damn dollars.

Nintendo also seemed to love the idea of connectivity between their handheld and home console systems, but only few games ever supported this. The Nintendo 64 has two games that come to people’s mind, one being sum of the Pokémon games and Perfect Dark. It’s a nice idea and could work, but goddamn this thing saw no support. You also need to remember that often the connectivity kept accessing some of the content from either portable or home console game, and this then kept the developers from including any significant connectivity. Pokémon was the only one that truly benefitted of this, but that’s simply because Pokémon Stadium games were built for the connectivity from the ground up.

It’s a similar tale with the GameBoy Advance and GameCube. I’m sure some people enjoyed playing Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles or Four Swords, but everybody I’ve known personally testify these games destroying friendships. Well, seriously speaking the connectivity with GBA and GC was plagued with the exact same causes the GB and N64 connectivity was, and ultimately Nintendo seems to have dropped pushing this with the Wii and WiiU, par Pokémon.

N64DD is another addon Nintendo just dropped. The 64DD effectively mirrored the fates of 32X and SEGA-CD, but Nintendo handled the games, the device, marketing and the whole deal so badly that pretty much all games that weren’t at the very end of the development cycle were dropped dead, or in Nintendo’s case, moved to the GameCube. The 64DD original games weren’t all too good, so perhaps it was for the best Nintendo not to push this ill fated addon.

There’s few special addons that can named, but they were doomed from the start because they simply had no other use outside one mechanic; the e-Reader for the GBA, the Kongas and Microphones for the GC.

With Wii Nintendo seemed to realize how to play the game again properly. Well, not exactly. Nintendo came with the Wii Speak, an addon that was support about three games; Animal Crossing City Folk, The Conduit and Monster Hunter Tri. There is one or two more games that had Wii Speak support, but it would be a total waste of time to even Google it up.

SONY has their own little addons, like the Move controller. Move was SONY’s way to counter the Wiimote, much like how Microsoft kept pushing the Kinect until as of late.

The reason why I am concentrating with Nintendo in this post, outside the fact they had the most addons and stinkers like Virtual Boy, is that the upcoming Super Smash Bros for a console won’t support the Circle Pad Pro, but will support the upcoming N3DS Flanders’ C-Nub. I would call this as cold business calculation if it wasn’t such a stupid move. Nintendo is dropping their support on an addon they’ve been trying to push to customers, even thou they’ve themselves or any of the devs have shown very little support for it. Now that they would be able to show some sense and add the support, they’d rather see the base 3DS and its addons dead. While on surface it makes sense to support the new device more, this isn’t the case. The Flanders is not a new device. Its status is comparable to Wii Mini or AV Famicom than to SNES or GameCube. While the Slide Pad Pro was done mainly for the Monster Hunter series, it had potential. However, much like all addons, that potential has been largely wasted. I feel bad for anyone who has the Slide Pad Pro and was expecting further amount of support.

The issue game industry doesn’t seem to realize that once you’ve released an addon you’re largely promoting, and then you essentially drop its support, the customer loses its trust. It’s no wonder there is a group of people refusing to purchase any of the 3DS iterations. At least not until the machines’ region lock is removed in a way or another.

It would great if the addons these companies keep making would be optional, but after production and release they would continue to see further support. It’s a waste of resources and time from both the companies’ and customers’ part. It appears that the companies only care for short term revenue rather than keeping up with longer plan that would also allow heightened profits.

The next gen looks grim when it comes to games

The founder of the original Xbox project has some decent insight when it comes to Microsoft’s strange aims for the next generation. Seeing that Microsoft thinks that HDD, Blu-ray format and extremely draconian DRM that would not allow second-hand games is a bunch of good ideas, I have to wonder why they want to be in the console business at all.

Having a console that’s always online is a very, very stupid idea. Now all people are connected to the Internet even during these modern days, and this automatically shuts out a certain portion of the customers that might be willing to purchase your ‘box. The second is that I’m pretty sure this won’t stop a certain group of people from making their modifications to get surround the limitation. The same can be said of the second-hand games, a block that is completely unnecessary and stupid. This shows how much both hardware and software developers are afraid of the current market. They are not making enough profit on barely mediocre games that they need to force people to buy them new. If you want people to buy your games new rather than second hand, then make sacrifices; make them good again with smaller budget and drop the price of the game. God forbid people from making proper business decisions.

BD is a sensible solution. While the media has very little impact on the quality of the game itself (a lot of developers just want to have everything uncompressed on the disc rather than trying to fill it with content that isn’t DLC), thou it will give SONY some royalties. This is just one limitation less that developers have to think of, which is sad as best products, be it comics, films, music or games, have always been produced under a set of limitations.

But forced Kinect? Does Microsoft not realize that Kinect has been mismanaged and there are one or two games that use it to some successful extent. Forcing it on developers is a wrong way to limit the developers, but it can yield interesting and surprising results. Yet, seeing that all this time there only dance games have been utilising Kinect decently, I wouldn’t hold my breath. Nintendo always forces their own gimmicks on the developers to an extent, like the 3D screen, but most of the times what they do with the gimmick is pretty open. NES era allowed the developers to create and use their own controllers with the game if they so choose. This was successful move, and the Wii followed suit to a point with the port at Wii controller’s end. Both PS3 and X360 offer very little when it comes to controller variety, and very few games take advantage of these selected few. Arcade controllers are perhaps the most common secondary controller again in a long time, and those are exclusively used by the fighting game community.

There are also few reports that Microsoft is going to emphasize other services than games as is SONY. There’s a really damn good question why you would want to direct your customer to another service where you lose profits. Having a service of TV and films will give the customer and option to NOT use your intended service, which should be the games. I need to emphasize the should part, as it seems that both MS and SONY seem to think that doing an all encompassing multimedia force of extraordinary magnitude will sell like hotcakes. Just like in military, a unit that is made for too many tasks will usually fail. Same with game consoles. Make them be the centre of all your home media, and you’ll fail. None of the consoles I’ve used have been decent media players outside the original PlayStation. Even PS3, at one point the best option for a BD player, kinda sucks at it. There are better choices for all your playback needs, so having one mediocre machine doing it all is going backwards. Then if you own two or more consoles, you get more players and in the end you might end up owning around seven DVD players without a notice, and you only use one.

The current Xbox is not without its problems as well, as the original founder points out. All of these problems are because of poor design from the get-go. Anyone with a working view on design will instantly tell you that all current console GUIs are more or less horribly designed both in usability and in visuals. Useless and stupid warning messages are their smallest problem. The biggest problem with Xbox dashboards have always been that they have no real cohesion and are all over the place. Why do I need to navigate music and films on a damn games console?

I still do disagree with the notion that consoles are competing with tablet devices. However, seeing that most console games nowadays are nothing but computer games adjusted for consoles I can agree that games themselves are doing the competition because the markets have been mixed far too much for their own good. I’m seeing Duke Nukem Forever for 360 going for 8€, but I’m refusing to buy it because it’s a PC game. I do not want to play PC game on a console. There’s a reason why Command & Conquer games work better on PCs.

I was called by a salesclerk today about my Internet and other connection related stuff. He told me that they had a promotion for their customers, where they would be able to purchase a tablet computer for specially low price. Before he got his sales pitch at full force, I declined the offer. He naturally inquired why, and few of my friends began to gaze as I started listing things that are universally wrong with the tablet design from lack of tactile touch to gorilla arms. Besides, tablets are getting outdated faster than conventional laptops at this point. Size is not a problem either, as ultra-thing laptops are everywhere and most likely have longer battery life to boot.

It’s sad to think that companies have decided to get into the fight with every form of entertainment out there and losing in it, while specializing in games is left in the shadows. Without proper priorities from the game hardware and software companies these consoles will crash and burn, and the industry at large will die.

Sony’s next PlayStation will be… a home entertainment system?

Now this is just hilarious if true. Ever since consoles have been able to play music CDs, they’ve been a step closer to a home media centre. PS2 was a step closer to this with DVD playback, and the 360 and PS3 are nothing but home entertainment gadgets that also happen to play games. Funny thing is that PSX is a home entertainment system already, so SONY’s basically just taking an old mould that never took off and tries to rebrand it with new bells and whistles.

And you thought I was talking about the PSOne, weren't you?
And you thought I was talking about the PSOne, weren’t you?

For the sake of Southern Cross, if this is true then SONY’s in deep trouble. You don’t bring anything new to the table by changing the hardware, you make the difference with software.

SONY also seems to think that it’s 2008, when Facebook was the biggest hit on the Internet. Sharing in-game pictures and video among your friends adds nothing to the game or gameplay. The more SONY tries to implement these elements into the console, the further away they manage to put themselves in regards of what customers are seeking.

Why is it so hard to make a game console a damn game console? Taking away all this excess bloat of various kinds of media players and everything else that has no impact on the game part of a game console would mean that your console would be cheaper, which would also lead into more sales, which would lead into more revenue. Of course you need some good games to support the machine, in which SONY itself fails at.

Then the rumoured control methods. PlayStation Move and Kinect failed because both of them lacked good games that used them to their full extent, and because both SONY and MS missed what made the Wii a hit. Hint; it wasn’t the controls, it was games that used the controls. Making a game based around jumping like a monkey on LSD and waving your wand around like a mental patient never yielded good gameplay.

All of this is so stupid. I’m expecting the worst when SONY reveals PS4 information later this month. I wish they’d call it the PSXMk2 and the real revelation is that they continue to support the PS3 another five years.

Wii, the karaoke machine

I found myself wanting to play Wii this week. I haven’t managed to play any games properly for some time, and now I had this craving to play Wii games. There was some sort of an error some time ago with the Wii and all of my game saves were deleted. Nothing special was lost, but it does tick me off that I need to unlock everything in Brawl at some point. No, not that. I need to rebuild all the original stages again, as I’m going to import game saves from somewhere else to replace my old complete saves. Well, let’s just choose what we want to play…

…and then I remembered that my Wii is still packed for travel. My Wii is basically functioning as a karaoke machine nowadays elsewhere, so it’s far more practical to for me to keep it in its travel bag. Then again, I haven’t bought a new Wii game for some time and almost all of the games I have are already beaten in some form. Or rather were. Damn you, corrupted NAND.

Lady Psychologist still has my NSMBWii, now that I stop think to think about it…

I find it rather ironic that I have used my Wii to watch DVDs and listen to music for a period of time. I’ve never listened to any music on any other console or used any other console for movies. Now people do use their consoles for Netflix (where available) but I have separate machines for separate entertainment. I can’t play LaserDiscs on my XBOX. Now if they’d come up with a console (or PC) that would play LaserDiscs then I’d be A-OK with it. Hell, I’d probably do the first hardware pre-order in my life! Then again, I did built my PC for AV-entertainment combined with 5.1 Speaker system, so there’s very little point for me to actually even consider using consoles or anything else as a media player.

But the Wii. Using a separate software that’s been sold by Joysound, you access their servers and get karaoke songs streamed straight into your Wii via the magic of the Internet. Of course, you might need some modding magic going on before accomplishing this, but then you can start singing loads and loads of songs in the language of the far orient. The PS3 has the same service, you just need to download it and… it’s region locked completely. Now why the hell they’d region lock something like this? I’m assuming that using this service in this form really breaks few selected agreements and contracts with the a bunch of artists, at least if you’re out of the region the service is intended for.

Joysound Dive is really the definitive version, and I’m sad that I have no access to its services, and I’m not buying a Japanese PS3 for this

That actually again raises an interesting question; how hard would it be to actually out up a service like this? I’m presuming over my usual limits here, but I would assume that it should be completely possible to create a separate contract that would allow a karaoke service to use the songs’ modified versions across the globe for karaoke service? At the customer end it would seem like the optimal solution; the customer gets a karaoke service and both provider and the original song author get their share of the profits. Of course, the real world is messy and this kind of simple and effective service is rather difficult to realize due to the multilateral structure juggling between global agreements and song licensing. First you’d need a contract with SONY, then you’d need a separate contract for the songs used in service from whoever owns those songs, then you need to produce those songs’ karaoke version and obtain rights to those, unless your earlier contract dictates you to hold all rights to the karaoke versions. Then there’s the licensing issues if you’re to use video material from anything related to the song and so on… It’s a lot of hassle, but completely doable if anyone would ever wish to tackle it.

The thing is, while I do enjoy providing this kind of service to the people who mostly use the machine, I do feel somewhat uneasy whenever I boot it up even if I do need to pay for the ticket that actually allows to use the Joysound service. No, it’s not about modifying my Wii to this end, I modify my machines as I wish, but it’s rather this roundabout way of using a service via a disc that’s already region locked. I do understand the reasons behind region locking both machines and the media, and the same things mostly apply to this kind of services; they need to be kept in tight check and within limited region due to licensing and distribution. I do need to wonder how many laws I end up breaking in order to bring in a service that is otherwise unavailable in this particular region?

This just ends up bringing the penultimate question; why should Joysound, or any other company involved, care if I go into the grey region in order to give them money they would otherwise miss completely? A goodie two shoes I am not, but thenights when I’m playing Internet Scrabble does are making me think of questions like this. The last question really is, am I really doing anything wrong? This is the grey area at its best. It’s both a moral and legal question that we kind of know the answer for, and then again we don’t. It’s like with Youtube music; if you’re listening to songs that havebeen uploaded there, are you committing some sort of a crime?

I mean, it’s just a bunch of people paying for Japanese karaoke for Wii, the only way you can get close to the genuine experience. But sometimes this is not enough. While globalization has its ups and downs, standardizing various contracts for global services through the Interwebs is seriously one of the ups. There’s no reason in 2010’s to limit your digital service into one piece of continent or into one nation, unless there’s something that absolutely forces you to do so. Even for physical goods the mail system across the world has been developed to the point that if necessary, you can have a package from the other side of the world at your door steps within two days of the order.

Why the hell digital services are tied down so much again? Oh yeah, because of old contracts and views. Dammit, I’m sure somebody still wants the customers to have media players that would destroy your songs in order to enforce you to buy new ones. [Edit: There is stuff like that?] Yes, there were. The film studios wanted VCR’s to erase the VHS’ content so that you’d need to buy the film again after you’ve seen the film three times or so. Naturally, this went against a lot of things customers wanted, so it never came to be. Similar stuff popped up when CD and DVD appeared. With a strong enough laser they aimed to progressively destroy the data surface. I haven’t heard anything like this popping up with HD-DVD or BDs, but there were talks of digital erasers with mp3 files.

SONY wants to be the very best, like no one ever was

“We’ve never been first. We’ve never been cheapest. It’s about being the best,” Jack Tretton, president of Sony Computer Entertainment of America has said about Sony’s console practices.”

But dear SONY, you can’t be the best if you don’t have games. You can’t be the best if your console isn’t really a console. What you’re selling is a audiovisual multimedia system that happens to play games. Now you’re saying that you wish to push Nintendo, a company known for their games and nothing else, from the market? You don’t see anything wrong with this? Nintendo is pretty much the only company in the world that makes money on games, and everything else is a side project, and for the first time in thirty years found themselves on the red?

What are you going to prepare against Nintendo? Better hardware? PSP, PS3 and PSVita didn’t fare so well with their superior hardware. Funny how SONY saw more success when their hardware was not the best on the market. SONY, what you need is games, not hardware. At least Nintendo has games that people wish to buy. Hell, even my 360 library is bigger than my PS3, and I’ve been favouring the the latter more!

Now the linked article is pretty bad. It’s written by someone who clearly has higher regard on SONY than on other companies. The Dreamcast didn’t fail because it didn’t have a DVD player, it failed because SEGA didn’t know what they were doing with the Saturn. All problems that the Dreamcast had can be traced back to the Saturn, even the lack of games. Releasing console first has nothing to do with this, as you can see if you look back at the video game history. It doesn’t matter if you’re first there as long as you deliver. You just need to deliver quality and quantity in equal amounts.

See SONY, your fetish of having insanely high-end hardware (for consoles) will be you downfall, just like 3D was Nintendo’s. The PS3 sucked every penny SONY had made with the PSOne and PS2, and continues to lose money. SONY’s video game department has been on the red for a long time, and the company manages to stand with every other electronics sale they make. What they don’t understand that the people who truly appreciate hardware are with the computer crowd. What if SONY would start making computers dedicated for home media? And I do mean actual computers rather than consoles.

Actually, rather than reading me being astonished by SONY’s inability to recognize their weaknesses, go read The Ten Tear Decline of Sony. It’s an excellent read that I recommend even to those who don’t care about the industry, as it gives some insight to other industries in the sidelines as well.

I’m not happy to see SONY in this situation. They make good hardware, but far too excessive and something that we don’t really need.

Review; Double Dragon: NEON

WayForward, I apologise for doubting your skill to treat us a good Double Dragon game. Still, I believe most of you can understand my initial stand. Double Dragon was a big part of my own childhood to the extent that it was probably the first game I ever played on an Atari 520ST. Having a completely new game of Double Dragon doesn’t just have games to stand up against, but immense amount of nostalgia as well.  Now that’s out of the way, let’s move to the review proper.

Double Dragon is a well established franchise that has been dead for some time now. I say dead because it really never got a completely new game since the 90’s and the GameBoy Advance game was just another remake, thou its tweaked fighting mechanics makes it one of the best DD gamesout there. The franchise has good games, and games that should just be forgottenaltogether. Just like that horrible cartoon that I never saw for better or worse. I kinda liked the movie, thou it had nothing to do with the games and was only good for the same reason ascertain Korean cartoons; a reason to chug down whiskeywith certain apple lemonade to forget what you’ve just seen. Granted, I really liked how the film began with the village burned down, but everything just went downwards from there. Not enough down to get things up thou.

So yeah, there’s twenty five years of history behind Double Dragon series, so WayForward had a pressure on their neck. It’s far too early to see whether or not DD NEON has sold enough to warrant a sequel, but the other fans I’ve already talked to have found this game extremely enjoyable on many levels.

Making this game asks for something special. It’s not enough to take the core template and shove it into a new code. You need to watch at the core idea, the spirit of the game if you will, and recreate it with care. If you go too far from the idea and try to implement something that’s not true to the original core, then you’ll lose something vital and bury that under everything else. DD NEON walks on a very finely sharpened edge, and does slightly waver to the other side of the two.

Double Dragon NEON starts in the way it’s always supposed to; Marian getting punched in the baby maker and taken away. From now on it’s Billy’s and Jimmy’ job to save her from whoever snatched her. The first impression is very good, and the pace game kicks in is very good. I originally showed high concerns on the pace of the game, but I can now say that they were completely unnecessary. The gameplay speed is pretty spot-on. Because of the more lax speed it runs on everything can be observed with haste. However, because none of the moves are canceleable like in fighting games, the player needs to take care when to attack and when to avoid attacks. Some of the enemy attacks can’t be distracted, so it’s not uncommon to find yourself getting knocked back in the middle of your combo. Then again, all attacks are indicated pretty clearly and there’s quite a lot of time to react to them, if you pay enough attention. The pace as a whole might not seem fast, but actually it’s rather hectic in its own lax way.

In your use there’s the normal punch, kick and jump buttons. Grabbing has now itsown buttons, as does ducking/evading, Special Moves and Running. This is where DD NEON falters the most; there’s just too many damn buttons for this kind of simple game. Running could be accomplished with double tapping forward, and grabbing should have been combined with the punch button. Y’know, the traditional way of doing things. Special moves could’ve been done with both punch and kick at the same time. I guess ducking/evading is the only one that is needed… no, not really. Evading can be combined with he jump button; pressing jump and any side at the same time would make the character evade. You’d lose the ability to duck, but that wouldn’t change the game at all. Then there’s the High Five function in the Right Stick. Yes, you can high five in bro-cop mode and that’s awesome. Press all three together near your bro, with combination of directions and hey presto, you have a three button system that has an immense amount of use. Actually, we need to discuss how many buttons are needed in a game at a later date.

Combining the pace and the buttons creates pretty damn satisfying experience. While the enemies are reused, they’re always in something different. There’s Elite Williams, who wear commando gear whereas normal Williams are just your normal 80’s street punks. There’s multiple colour variations of Linda, who’s smoking hot in this game. I mean, her new look knocks socks off. There are also female ninjas, and few different types of Abobos. They never really get old, because there’s always something new in them. Punching these bad guys is immensely satisfying as you practically feel the weight of your attacks being delivered. However, there’s certain levels of floatiness in the jumps and the controls are rather rigid. They’re not really tight because you can’t cancel the attacks as previously mentioned. Having evasion canceling your attacks would’ve been a welcome addition, but it works well without that as well.

Special moves are a nice addition, and the way they’re integrated works with the core of the gameplay without messing with it. There’s two kind of skills; Stances and So.. Sosetsu… Moves. You gain Mixtapes from enemies, from where you gain levels. Every move can be levelled up to level ten, and every move has its own theme in the selection window. After all, the player learns them from Mixtapes. And yes, they looks like actual tapes (C-cassettes to be exact), and that’s just pretty damn nifty.

Speaking of how things look, this game is pretty damn gorgeous. I’m not talking about the graphics, as they’re pretty standard forwhat we’re excepting for modern downloadable titles. What I’m talking about is the design of the world. It’s so over the top 80’s that it makes me laugh. Every enemy has a good flavour of anarchetypical goon in there, and then some. The final boss Skullmageddon is nothing short of Chinese Skeletor, and that’s just awesome as hell. I’m not going to lie; I was still sceptical of this game until I saw a YouTube: video of the final battle and the end credits. The neon colours, the landscapes, everything just clicks properly and works. It’s a cohesive world, of which like we really don’t see much any more. It’s also a damn fun world.

While the game is a parody in many ways, especially when it comes to the tropes of the genre, its really earnest in how it does it all and embraces everything. It’s honest and extremely awesome. It’s honestly awesome. There’s no way around it. There’s some few design choices they could’ve done in the visual department, like the player energy bars; they could have mirrored them to have an even HUD, and the 2nd player bar shouldn’t be there during single player game. Without it you could relocate the flashing PRESS START higher up. There’s also a missed chance to have 1ups as arcade tokens/coins that are inserted in a small animation next to player energy meter. There’s truckloads of references and jokes thrown all around, and…. Well, if I was the bad guy, I WOULD complain in the loudspeaker if the good guys were destroying my helluva expensive plasma TVs on my damn space station.

Yes, this game has a space station level. It’s the second unique area you enter, and it’s pretty damn awesome as well.

I understand if people are complaining because of the selected style, but rather than just wanting yet another serious DD game, this is a welcome change. We need more colourful games midst all these green/brown/grey games we’ve had for some time now. It all complements its parody-like nature very well, even if the game isn’t a parody at all. It’s all rather meta in a weird way, and I hate using the word meta.

I also have to condemn the Game Over screen for being awesome. Just wait ’til you see it.

But what about the sound design?Sounds works very well, voices are awesome and spot on, especially with Skullmageddon (who also sings you the end credits song) and the music is just 11/10. No really, the soundtrack is spot on with everything else in the game. It complements the stages, the designs, and the core. I was so afraid to hear the Double Dragon theme getting a bad version, but we get three different versions of it and they’re all from pretty damn awesome to fuck yeah awesome. Then few songs (no, actual songs) that are so 80’s that I thought I started regressing back into my childhood while hammering a pot stand in the metalworkshop earlier today. You can imagine how my co-workers looked at me when I started laughing like a maniac by myself while having a gas torch next to me and a red hot steel in my right hand and an anvil hammer in my left. For some reason they stayed away from me for the whole day. Their loss, because the soundtrack is just… awesome. You can pick it up from bandcamp for the price you wish, but for this kind of work I’m willing to give some money to the composer.

The version I played was on the 360 because PSN didn’t have it yet and I couldn’t wait enough. Also, I’ve got more controllers in the 360 whereas I just have one proper PS3 controller (and one arcade and the six button one) and I really want to do the High Fives. I’ve yet to see any difference between the platforms.

So, is the game any good?

Yeah, it’s good. I can see why a lot of people really wouldn’t like it, as everything previously said can also be used against the game. It’s Double Dragon alright, and it doesn’t need to be anything more. If it was anything more than it already is, they might as well make a completely different game with different set of ideas and core. NEON is a love letter to the 80’s and to the Double Dragon franchise a whole. It’s well worth the price, especially in this day and age where you pay 60 bucks for a five hour game. NEON is a good change of pace from pretty much every game that has been recently released, and anyone even with slightest of interest on the game should download the demo and give it a go. I doubt you’ll be left emotionless.

Still, there’s things that will bug anyone. For one, you can’t use an arcade controller with it properly. This is an arcade game at its heart, so it shouldn’t be a no-brainer to add support to the controller. You can even remap every button, except the High Five one as its tied to the Right stick. Honestly, the controls are the biggest gripe, but how they work, but they are designed to use majority of the buttons on a controller pad. The controls should’ve been designed with a simpler approach. WayForward always has things like this that hold their games back from being truly amazing. They’re little things, but God lives in he details. It’s not about fine tuning the game, but rather giving attention to certain aspects and not overlooking simplicity. It’s a very Americanized game, if you will. This kind of take on any franchise is welcome breeze, but only once in a while. I wish the next game will be more down to earth and would draw from the original concept art rather than taking its own spin on the whole deal.

Still, because of games like this WayForward happens to be my favourite developer at the moment. They make original games quite a lot, and they all meet the minimum quality quota. Then we have games like Bloodrayne Betrayal and this, which stem from existing franchise, but with a new twist or two while still keeping the heart of the original.

This is one of those games that I’d love to play with my brothers. We haven’t played games together since we were… damn, almost fifteen years ago. Still, I’d believe they’d enjoy this game as well.

Review; Skullgirls

Skullgirls was released some weeks back all around world, but Europeans had to wait ’til the 2nd for a PSN release for reasons unknown. I blame the French, German and all other countries that refuse to learn any other language other than their own. Eager to play this game on a proper pad (meaning anything else than your stock 360 one) I had to wait for this piece of entertainment to hit the local marketplace. While I admit it’s a bit redundant to make a new review of Skullgirls when the whole Internet seems to be full of them, I feel that I am a little obligated to throw my word into the fray, mostly because this game has interested me since Day 1. While I haven’t been in the fighting game scene for a long time, I still feel obligated to try out new entries to the genre as they pop out. While I have no intentions of ever getting into the fray again due to the distasteful attitudes and behaviour vast majority of the people in the scene have, I’m willing to throw myself into the fray in spirit of good sportsmanship if you’re interested. Just give me a hoot and I’ll see what we can fix up.

Keep in mind that I’m mainly using the HORI Fighting Commander 3 Pro while playing this game, but I will do a comparison how the game plays between the two. We all know that this game was built arcade sticks in mind, so I can say it from the get go that you might want to invest into a proper arcade stick that has a six button layout the least.

Listen to those jazzy tunes

Let’s start with the first impressions. Skullgirls’ film noir style both in visual and audio department is a nice change after loads and loads of Street Fighter clones and the likes of Guilty Gear. There’s a personal preference working here with me, as I am partial for film noir in general, so the whole deal just tastes sweeter than it might actually be.

After the initial screens with nice dieselpunk-ish strokes you might actually start paying attention to the music, unless you were like me and jumped straight into the fray. Michiru Yamane worked on Skullgirls’ music, and the guy is known working on such small games series like Castlevania and Suikoden. Brenton Kossak and Blaine McGurty were also working on the tracks, and the music is well balanced to suit its intended purpose. New Meridian stands in my mind for some reason, thou I do recommend listening to the music and noting all the little things the fighting will bury underneath. I’d recommend putting a good sound system on while playing this game, or pair of good headphones to catch all that base.
However, the music is a double-edged sword. While I may enjoy this jazz club music even on my leisure time, there are loads of people who will think these tracks as nothing more than elevator music. They aren’t as striking as Guilty Gear’s or have the nostalgic value of Street Fighter II’s, but even at their worst they do their job. It really just depends whether or not you actually like this kind of music or not. There’s also this that there might be just a little too much synth in there. I’m all for good synth any time anywhere, but somehow few of these tracks could’ve used real instruments there. For example, New Meridian up there sounds good, but I believe it could sound even better.

I have to give high credit to the voice actors. They do their jobs very well, and you can hear them enjoying and putting themselves into the role. If fighting games have an English language, it usually sounds awful, like a third grade dubjob. Here, the voices are just right and nothing less. I can’t say about the Japanese voices, and I don’t care if they ever get those. I know that the ending song has both English and Japanese version, and Japanese version just sounds wrong.

One thing that bugged the hell out of me in Street Fighter X Tekken was how mudded the soundworld was. The hits didn’t sound right, the music was way too loud and over the top even for a crossover game. Somehow CAPCOM dropped the ball with this one, thou most of their fighting games have had a solid soundwork behind them. Skullgirls excels here very well, every hit giving a satisfying result. None of the sounds are too over the other, discounting the Blockbuster moves’ soundeffect. There’s just something that clicks in the right place. The developers did their homework, and the soundworld is as it should be; invisible unless paid attention, but still pleasant and giving feedback.

So, let’s jump to the meat of the game at this point; the fighting. Damn, I forgot that this was a fighting game for a second. Was I thinking of some action game…?

The launch trailer actually showcases pretty well what the game is like

A lot of comparison has been drawn between CAPCOM’s VS series and Skullgirls in general. I would draw more attention towards the Darkstalkers series both in gameplay and spirit, but with a small dose of 3rd Strike Street Fighter III. The speed of gameplay is not reall fast, but it’s not slow either. It’s a balanced so that speedy character do feel more speedy with complete control. It’s a delicate balance, that quite few fighting games manage to do any more, as they either speed up the gameplay per character, or just speed up the animations and/or halve the priority windows.

As the game is your standard 6-button fighter, you have your Weak to Medium to Hard attacks. Any four face button controller really sucks with this, and the game does allocate both Hard attack to R1 and R2 automatically. I’d like to give this game a spin with a Saturn controller. HORI’s FC3P controller does a good job with this game, even if is rather tricky to press Light Kick and Medium Punch at the same. With an AC stick you have no problems with this. I really recommend an AC stick for this, or at least any six face button controller. On 360 the D-Pad just kills any joy might have, but then again I’m not used to using shitty D-pads in general… like Sony’s.

The characters control very well. There’s no notable lag between the inputs, and the timing needed to pull of the special moves are intuitive and easy to pull off. Not much to say here other than the controls are tight, responsive and well executed. A big plus just for this. Funny trivia; because of my Guilty Gear background I often start to push the buttons in hope for a BURST, just to be remindend that Skullgirls is more traditional and back to the basics. Most of the cast have four moves and three Blockbusters ie. Super moves, which combined with the six normal attacks actually open a nice selection of attacks to string together. Most of the combos are pre-determined chain combos alá Darkstalkers or gatling combos from Guilty Gear, but there are some surprises to be had. Not all moves are apparent at first, as the game does not include a movelist. I’m actually hoping that the wouldn’t have announced that they’d be adding one in the upcoming update, because this way it forces the player to experiment a lot more. That, or go to the Internet and look up the best combos and all that, but nobody would do it, right?

There’s nice lack of projectiles in Skullgirls. Most of the ranged attacks are either closing in rushes, or fixed to certain points. This makes the players to fight more in close range, and allows grapplers to have more leeway in their options. This combined with double jumps, superjumps and airdashes adds more depth to the game. It should be noted that not all characters have same properties, thus making all characters a little bit more extra special. Comparison could be drawn to Morrigan’s forward dash in Darkstalkers, where she is propelled diagonally upwards, and the only other characters sharing this trait is Jedah.

I noted how traditional Skullgirls feel, and this is perhaps it’s low point in regards of gameplay; It offers no new tricks. It doesn’t separate itself from the best of 90’s fighting games, but this is also a very good thing. See, Skullgirls manages to keep high quality up there. It has nice balance between all the eight playable characters, and at the moment none of the characters feel like another. I’m expecting solid tier lists somewhere end of this month, but at the moment there seems to be some confusion in the scene who belong to top tier or not. To a person who isn’t into competitive scene this shouldn’t matter. Hell, I was in the scene and I didn’t care about tiers and did pretty well for some time.

As mentioned, the roster in Skullgirls is balanced. It’s a limited roster of eight, and it has been already announced that there will be DLC characters in the future. Because of this sole reason I personally regard this game incomplete. You’ve got all the archetypes that your basic fighting game has. Props for making Double one of the grosses döppelganger characters in some time. She’s the fetishtic fighting game devs’ endboss, as she uses the other characters’ attacks as her own. There’s nothing else much to say about the cast without going in-depth with each of them. They’re imaginative, well designed and executed characters that are fun to play.

And oh boy, let’s talk about the design world in this game.

The one thing that attracts me personally in Skullgirls is the world design. Much like every good game out there, it starts with the world where the content is. In Skullgirls the content isn’t just the way the characters fight, but also where and when.
The film noir theme going on has been spiced up with a cartoony overtones that have anime influence over them. This cartoon approach translated very well to the character designs with overstylized proportions, simple strokes, bubbly and expressive curves. I have to say that a man’s pleasure to see this much fanservice, but it all goes as the part of the design. It’s part of the design world thou, and is downplayed quite a much. It doesn’t feel forced, like in Dead or Alive. Every character feels unique, even if their personalities isn’t in the vast ocean of fighters. Very few games actually managed to get right ‘the bizarre.’ Darkstalkers almost did it, and so did JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, thou the latter was based on an awesome comic series which was insanely bizarre to begin with.

The bizarre is only enforced, and elevated, by the animation which I’d be ready to call to be nearly on the same level as SF Third Strike. I’m hesitant to call it such because… well screw it, this game has such a high resolution and seamless sprites that I love it. I’ve been expecting SNK to bring me this kind if sprites for a long time now, but it took an indie developer to bring me high resolution sprites that are animated to great detail. Both SNK’s recent fighters and BlazBLue suffer from jagged edges, which I couldn’t notice in Skullgirls on my 42″ Bravia. Honestly, it looks like a well animated Saturday morning cartoon with a skulldaggery theme and I love it.

To quote “Sometimes you just need a good pair of tits

However, the amount of animation comes at a price, and the animation is what holds the basic gameplay speed back, much like in 3rd Strike. I do not see this as a bad thing thou, but it has to be noted. It’s not blazingly fast as Guilty Gear, but the it feels like. Because of the animation the gameplay is actually rather methodical and technical rather than frantic button mashing of MvC2. I’d use Soul Calibur series as an example, but that’s a slow button masher.

You can see that a lot of love and work has gone into the world and these characters. Filia is clearly created with a heavy heart in mind, Cerebella isn’t your typical grappler and does act that way, Peacock’s Steamboat Willy-esque design captures imagination right away, Parasoul is your classy lady with an agenda, Ms.Fortune is a catgirl in pieces, Painwheel and Double have born from the more sinister mind of human psyche while I can imagine rabid teenagers jacking off to a hot ninja nurse that is Valentine. This is a great cast. Whether or not it would’ve underminded the game’s design and feel if there was more characters is an open question, as more characters would’ve have added more value to the game if the balance had been maintained the same.

Speaking of the world, check the backgrounds that are going on in the game. There’s a lot of small easter eggs like Ryu in the alleyway of New Meridian. There’s also lot of characters with unique animations and designs that I’d love to see as complete and playable characters in the future. There’s too much potential in these characters to lose, but most likely we’ll get completely new characters, for better or worse. I can’t really tell if all stages are in 3D because, but some of them are and it hits like your eye pretty quick. They’ve mixed the stage’s overall so that the 3D isn’t that clear, but anyone can see it. At least it looks good, unlike some out-of-place 3D stages in Capcom VS SNK2 or the like. It would’ve been too much work to create handmade backgrounds for the stages, but it would’ve helped a lot, as some of them are rather lacking in imagination.
However, there’s a nice effect depending on the time in the stages. Stages that are set after the dusk throw a darkening colourscheme upon the characters, which gives a great contrast to the well lit stages. I can’t really recall another 2D fighter doing this, so big props for this detail. It looks great, and while adds nothing to the gameplay pleases the eye.

So, is Skullgirls worth your 15€?

I’d say that yes, yes it is. It’s not the largest fighting game on the market, but whatever it lacks in size is met with high amount of quality. It does it’s own thing and isn’t afraid of being different from others. We used to have loads of different fighting games side by side, and Skullgirls is a very welcome addition to the crowd. Sure, it doesn’t certainly appeal to everybody, and people who can’t stand anything that has it’s roots in the 90’s should try the trial and the scoff it off, but even these people have to accept that the game has that ‘something.’ At the very heart, Skullgirls is a blast from the past with well polished and simple back to the basics approach, which I appreciate greatly. Even the King of Fighters XIII felt a little too convoluted for its own good, but Skullgirls managed to keep things simple and clean without making things overly complicated.

I have to emphasize; Skullgirls has certain good quality to it that is not for everyone’s taste. This is why I strongly recommend testing out the trial version first.

What’s in the future for Skullgirls? Lots of DLC I’d presume, hopefully not too expensive. A two character packs around 4€ would be ideal in my mind, but analysts seem to disagree. Whatever mechanic updates they will make will most likely make the game more convoluted, a thing I do hope they will avoid as much as possible. I don’t want to face another disaster like SFxT. I have careful hopes for Skullgirls, and if the developers manage to keep the string tight and tidy from now on, Skullgirls just might rise above the middle it stands proudly on. It’s a good fighting game by all means, but if you don’t have much friends to play with (or want to play online,) Skullgirls offers few hours of entertainment only to be picked again when the first DLC and/or update comes.
If you’re like who just likes to spend in the Training mode for few hours and then blast through the Story and Arcade modes with newfound skill, you most likely want to get into this game. Just don’t become too good so that nobody wants to play against you any more

I love that when you get 18-hit combo, the counter announces BARELY LEGAL!

Guilty Gear getting old-new release

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus is getting an arcade release. ArcSys is saying that this may be not the final release, which actually makes me a bit hopeful.

This release seems to be an HD conversion similar how Arcana Hearts did it, with the side bars on the sides and all. Also, it’s a good call making a digital release on both PSN and XBLA, which most likely means that they’re testing waters if Guilty Gear still sells. They could release Accent Core just as a port and it would be good, but hinting that Accent Core might not be final release causes false wishes for Guilty Gear 3. And I do mean Guilty Gear 3 as a fighting game, not like the one we don’t really want to mention.

Well, yeah…

I’m pretty sure this release is because the falling sales ArcSys games are having. BlazBlue isn’t really selling as hot as they wished for, even after all the updates and whatnot. Guilty Gear is like a safebutton, as it’ll sell to the fanbase no matter what. We just have to hope that the conversion is not only good, but superb as well. Now I’m having more and more reasons to get a proper arcade stick for PS3.