Hori’s been a long time on the third-party controller market. Usually they are of pretty high quality, offering relatively cheap price for a solid, no-nonsense controller that serves just fine. I’ve covered quite a few Hori product on this blog, and I have to say that I do have a slight personal bias for their products due to my good experiences with them. Hell, I still use my Rockman.EXE GBA softcase that was designed for the Game Boy Advance, because it’s so well made. Currently it houses my European 3DS.
This time we’re going back to one of Hori’s earlier third-party controllers, the Famicom Mini Commander. It seems like Hori has been doing smaller alternatives since the start. This controller also seems to be relatively obscure, and is the miniature version of the more well-known Hori Famicom Commander. For a more comprehensive review, we’re also going to open the controller to see what it has eaten.
What is a man to do if you want physical copies of games, but games are incredibly, stupidly high in price? Find cheaper alternatives or better deals. One consists of digital copies and reproductions, whereas the other takes time and impeccable timing when it comes to auctions and spotting those deals. Sometimes, reproductions can be a way to go, especially for titles that have no physical release or homebrew. Or when you can get one for a laughable price compared to what the real deal goes for.
During one of mid-night browsing sessions on eBay I noticed that a Chinese seller had Battle Mania in “perfect” condition for some 20€. Fully knowing that it would be a Chinese reproduction I decided to give it a go. While we could raise a discussion whether or not reproduction carts of twenty years old games that are not available anywhere any more counts as piracy, I’ll just slide the question aside for now and mention I already got the US version of the game.
So, does the item do any justice to the real deal? The comparison point I’ll be using is any other Japanese release of Mega Drive games I’ve got, mainly the excellent Devil Crash MD and an interesting SF Golf RPG game Battle Golfer Yui. Let’s get on with the show!
The first thing we see here is that the case doesn’t really follow the Japanese style box because it has the rack hanger on the top. Second is that the plastic used on the box is cheap, as expected, but it could be much worse. It’s shiny, sturdy, but also very prone to warping under slig
ht heat. My copy has bulked out a bit, probably during injection phase. While it locks close just fine, it does look a bit strange on the shelf. The wrap is also extremely glossy and lacks the texturing a real Mega Drive case would have. The glossiness throws glares a bit too much and does feel cheaper. However it’s not exactly terrible, just cheap.
The cover slip is very thin, good quality paper. It’s a good substitute to the one used on actual Mega Drive games, but the print quality doesn’t stand up to the task. This is understandable, as in order to have these prints, the seller must’ve first scanned the original piece. The only place you can see scan generation deterioration is on the text. The text is slightly blurry and soft, mostly because necessarily sharpening was not applied, thou in cases like this I would’ve re-typed the text in order to ensure that it would come out in better quality. The first impressions on the case is overall good for a Chinese reproduction.
The cartridge, however, is pretty terrible.
This sort of generic cheap plastic is common with cheap productions. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see it used, but here we are. The plastic itself has a slight hue of grey to it and the parts don’t fit exactly perfectly to each other. Again, this is due to the material being that much cheaper and living during and after injection moulding. The label on the back you see there had to be peeled off through heat treating and suffers from the same scan degradation as the slip. This is disappointing overall. The cartridge really should’ve been the place where the effort should’ve been put into.
The scan degradation is most apparent on the cover label. While it looks decent on the first sight, the label is tacky and of low quality. The paper used here is thick and glossy photopaper, which doesn’t want to bend right and has really low quality scan on it. The real Mega Drive cartridges have very thin matte label on them with very high print quality on them (most of the time) and this comes off as a terribly lazy way to waste this kind of paper. It doesn’t help that the label’s too damn long.
So, the label was so long that it went far over the usual region where Mega Drive labels reside. Seeing Mega Drive games mostly used a standardised cartridge, this is a weird fault I can’t fathom. I had to cut out the extension out, and you can see both of the labels slowly peeling off. The thing with Mega Drive carts is that they have screw under that back label, and to open a cart you either have to peel off the label or cut holes.
The show doesn’t stop here, a complete package should come with a manual.
This is pretty damn terrible. Both print and scan qualities are low and the paper used is the same glossy photopaper as the label. It doesn’t sit well in the case and the ink hasn’t set on the surface. You can see scuff marks on the bottom, where the case’s tabs took ink out. The manual is overall terrible and not worth the paper its printed on, so I won’t be taking it out for any sort of photos. The contents are there, just in a very low quality.
So, if you took the cartridge apart, what’s in the inside? Good question.
A reproduction on a chip and it runs about the same as the real thing. It looks very cost-effective build. It has no weight to it and while it looks cheap, it… it really is. However, this is what I discussed previously about reproductions. It’s much cheaper to put a ROM on a chip rather than replicate the original pieces. Saves time, money and space. Of course, in order for the contacts to have something to stand on, you need to have something to it. This Chinese reproduction opted for a very interesting but sturdy plastic to add area to the PCB. It doesn’t exactly fit into a proper Mega Drive cart, but with some creative knife use it fits in just fine. Interestingly, the chip is so low that it interfered with the real cartridge and a slot had to be cut for it. However, the game sits well in a real console, regardless the cartridge its in.
The reproduction plays Battle Mania just as you’d expect. Outside the casing the ROM sits in, during gameplay there’s nothing that would make it stand out from the real thing. While that’s great, the fact that the thing its wrapped in is bit of a letdown does make me question whether or not I wasted 20€ for a review. It does look decent when it’s sitting on the shelf, and after changing to a proper cartridge it doesn’t feel as cheap. In the end, that’s what you get. The price does seem on the point in the end. With a tenner more the quality could be upped considerably, both in print and plastic, but more work should be on the computer to ensure the scans and their prints would stand up to much more intricate tests.
These reviews are rarely well thought out. Well, this time I had a complete idea what to review, but the mail never delivered the item in time, so I’ll have to move the planned review to a later date and think up whatever I have at hand. The thing is, the poll I had on Twitter some time ago resulted in most people wanting me to review something video game related, and I’ll be sticking to that result to a larger extent. No more knife or sharpener reviews, unless something tight comes by. However, I’d still like steer away from the usual review-a-game model. Peculiarities are where it’s at, at least for me. Controllers, system designs, cartridge reviews and so on probably will be the more mainstay element. You’ll see more or less normal game reviews anyway by the end of the year with Top 5 entries.
All that said, I did mention I’d review PlayStation 4’s Dual Shock 4 some months ago. Think this as future proofing to have a point of comparison for the upcoming third-party controller review. I’m always looking for alternative controllers that are as good as the first-party controllers in their own way. Horipad 3 Mini is a good example what tickles my fancy when it comes to more budget price controllers. However, what personally bothered me was the question whether or not the review does justice to the controller if the reader has no idea what’s the take on the base controller. Controllers also have the problem of preference. The original Xbox controller may be huge, bulky piece designed for American hands. That’s not a jab at it, it’s just stating the fact. The Japanese tend to have smaller hands, Europeans tend to sit somewhere in the middle. While the second iteration of Xbox’s controller was met with applauds, there were those who preferred the original one. If we had something called Objectively best controller, we’d have no use for anything else. However, controllers are just like pasta sauce; there’s at least one flavour that’ll be to your liking.
The version I’ll be using for this review is the DS4 model New Model. Outside two points, it’s design is the exact same as Old Model.
Let’s cut the chase; the DS4 is the best PlayStation controller SONY has produced to date. It’s not perfect, but this controller shows that breaking your mould you’ve had for a decade usually works for the better. The thing with design is that it evolves along accumulated data and production technology. The DS4 is a proof of this in itself.
So let’s give the usual bits and spots what’s on the face of the controller. You’ve got the usual action buttons, them being more or less SONY standard in a positive sense, a pretty good D-Pad on the left, two concave sticks that are a step-up from the previous controllers (thou seemingly extremely prone to quick wear and tear), Share taking Select’s place and Options being’s stuck in Start’s place. This big slate in the middle of the controller, just above the PS button and speakers, works as a touchpad and a large button that rocks back and forth.
The D-Pad is SONY’s best to date. While it is their usual schtick, it is extremely responsive and hits all the extremes just fine. The concave section in the middle let’s your thumb know where to sit just about right. There’s very little resistance when rocking the D-Pad around, but there is just enough to give that good kind of tactile feedback from the rubber domes. However, this being usual SONY, the D-pad will hurt your thumb on the long run. It’s just hard enough with ever so slightly too sharp corners. However, this is partially a necessity in order to make the D-Pad flat while keeping the SONY look and not resorting on anything that could remind either Nintendo’s or SEGA’s pads.
Share and Option buttons are clicky, but they are unsatisfactory in use. For whatever reason, you have to put blind faith and visual input whether or not you’ve pushed the button down enough. The travel is not far, but the fact that the buttons are shallow and somewhat awkwardly placed. This placing is of course due to the plate, that functions both as a touchpad or general go-to button, opening menus and such. In New Model, there is a slit on top of the plate that allows light to come through that doesn’t exist in the Old Model.
The plate wraps to the top of the controller. The shoulder buttons are always a mixed bag when it comes to controllers, and it seems they always change the most in trying to find something new or hitting the sweet spot of current trends. SONY dropped the angular design on them, and rounded the L1 and R1 buttons with ever so slight convex middle to set your fingers in the middle of them. The slight texture is similar to the previous controllers, but not as pronounced. A good feeling overall. L2 and R2 are triggers similar to DS3, except this time they don’t suck. Their elongated form with a curve doesn’t make your finger slip off so easily this time around, and the spring gives them a rather comfortable resistance on its long travel distance. The light bar is actually pretty bad and far too large, and in dimmer rooms it will colour surfaces and even reflect from the playscreen. It would have been better to do away with it completely, but SONY’s using it for some camera stuff based on Move Controllers’ tech. I would’ve preferred a larger USB slot here, it feels that I see more broken micro-USB leads and sockets than it should be normal.
The angular design of the back of the controller doesn’t interfere with the player’s hands and fits hands rather comfortably. The handles are well-shaped to be grasped and held, so there’s nothing special to mention about them. However, the curve under the L2 and R2 buttons has a harsh angle to meet up with the buttons when they’re pressed down, and these can chafe against your fingers depending how you hold the controller. It would seem you’re supposed to have fingers on all shoulder buttons at all times to prevent the chafing. The area reserved in the back for fingers just isn’t large enough, or the harsh corner should have been changed to something else. The trigger’s underside also will collect some dead skin and other oddities to them due to the open edge.
Might as well talk about the controller’s two halves as well. The top is sleek, semi-matte plastic that will polish fast as you continue using the controller. It’s not the best choice, and makes the controller feel just a bit too cheap for its price point. However, the second half, that wraps to the front at the ends of the handles, has this every so slight texturing to it. The feeling of this texture does not intrude and is even pleasant to the touch. The texture is actually slightly raised flat circles.
Overall, as I’ve mentioned few times around, the DS4 is the best controller SONY has put out in their mainline consoles. It’s not without its own flaws, but this has been a definitive improvement. Whatever they decide to do in the future, I hope they continue to improve on DS4’s design, thou the next step might be for the worse without changing controller paradigm. I doubt SONY will do anything like that, they’ve always been following trends rather than making them. The New Model also works on PCs via a cable, something the first one didn’t do.
What else could I say? The DS4 is a fine base controller that serves its intended use.
To preface this review, I do have a bias for Schwarzesmarken as a fan of Muv-Luv overall. However, because of this bias I’ve decided to approach this series from the point of view that it is a singular entity without any ties to pre-existing franchises. This decision also stems from the fact Schwarzesmarken was marketed with that title alone without any naming connections to Muv-Luv. Within the fiction there is no pretence about the connection, and one can only guess why this decision was ultimately applied. Whatever the case may be, the show still needs to stand on its own and deliver a solid show for a positive review.
To expand upon the series needing to stand on its own, this review could compare Schwarzesmarken to the Light Novels and the Visual Novel, and to Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. This wouldn’t allow the work to present itself as it is. A comparison between different versions of Schwarzesmarken is worthy of its own post altogether.
A television series is a different beast to literal works. Total Eclipse is a lot of people’s first experience with the franchise and Schwarzesmarken served the same role to some extent. Because of this, in this review, I won’t hold against the staff for the changes that were made during the adaptation. Whatever is on the screen and how it is conveyed to the viewer are the only things that matters, supplemental and source materials be damned.
This’ll be more or less in-line with the Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and Muv-Luv posts I’ve done. Expect a general outline of the whole series with commentary running along with it. Not the best way to make a review, but never thought I’d go over this episode-by-episode basis. Expect loads of terrible jokes to boot. If you want a short tl;dr version, you can slip straight to the end paragraphs.
Now that you know where this review will have its base stance on regarding the series, let’s start with the show.
You’re reviewing an alarm clock? I never had any set theme for these reviews, and nobody really cares for my game reviews. Thou it needs to be mentioned that next month’s review will most likely be Top 5 games of 2016. After all, this is a design blog of sorts at its heart, so taking a detour for something else on an occasion should do us some good.
Generally speaking, I don’t personally like IKEA products. Something about their construction and overall design puts me off, but here and there I can find a piece that overall pleases my needs in its simplicity. You’ve previously seen my wall of games that are held by simple IKEA shelves, but these are shelves that are not unique to them by large. They’re general shape and use shelves that any company could be putting out with different details. However, next to these I’ve found myself finding small fascination in their Klockis multi-clock product, that I’ve basically put into everyday use.
Klockis sadly comes from the Apple school of design, where a white box seems to be the top of the line product design. However, unlike with Apple, IKEA is selling Klockis at 4.99 dollaroos or your regional equivalent, which is perfectly fine price for this kind of product. Basically, it’s a combination of your everyday table clock, alarm clock, thermometer and timer.
The surface is mainly very lightly textured, just enough for it to have a grip on most surfaces and some grip for you to grab unto. The main faceplate is soft transparent plastic, which will get scratched through time but is also surprising resilient. Alarm clocks at this size should have a faceplate that can stand some serious beating, seeing some people tend to fling their wake-up machines across the room or just back them hard. It doesn’t exactly give the best feeling in your hands, but it’s far from feeling like a cheap piece due to its build.
The lights themselves are rather bright and clear, unlike in the photos due to the angles. In the dark they are very visible, but not enough to blind you in the middle of the night. However, the clock runs on two AAA batteries, which is a shame. While nothing new, aiming to run on one AA or two AA batteries would be preferable. Setting the clock up is through a Set and arrow buttons, making the manual just a waste of paper. Shouldn’t take a wizard to figure out how this thing is set up, which is pretty great.
Simplicity is what governs this product and why it has become my main alarm and table clock. It has taken numerous falls already and at least one wall flinging in my personal use, so the built quality is good enough. However, the bit that recognizes the side it stands on will gradually break down and stop recognizing what its current side is, making this another product that has built-in obsolescence. The gimmick that Klockis has going for it is also its failure on the long time, I’d wager.
It’s a good enough clock for everyday use and is travel friendly in its palm size dimensions, but against more specialised items it tends to lose. It lacks some elements like Snooze function, and if you’re one to use radio alarm clocks, it lacks that too. As a timer, it takes comparatively more time to set up the right time than with dedicated pieces, and I’ve ultimately turned back using my wrist watches timer. The thermometer takes temperature only inside, and I find it rather useless, overall speaking. It also doesn’t stand in a good enough angle to view from higher viewpoint, and even when the viewing angle is rather large, you may lose some information in more extreme angles.
Why are you reviewing a clock like this? First praising it and then telling that there are better alternatives? The reason for this is because in its core design this multi-clock is solid. The designer had a peculiar idea, or saw one to steal, and went with it. Simple things like the curves on the edges serve the flipping idea and the surface serves this very well. It’s one of those gadgets that seem like a nice idea at first, but doesn’t ever really lose that on the long run.
So, should you purchase this? If you lack a dedicated piece for all the four functions and would use them separate from your phone or something else, or need more alarm clocks to wake up like yours truly, then dropping that fiver might not be the worst of ideas. Klockis is an adequate piece that does its idea well. It’s biggest failing really is the re-use of blue.
I reviewed 8-bit Music Power earlier this year, a new software title for the Famicom. Now, Riki has produced another title named Kira Kira Star Night under Columbus Circle, and this time it’s an actual game rather than a music album in cartridge form.
Before we start the game up, let’s check whether or not the hardware we have in our hands is as terrible as last time. If you want to be spoiled, the answer is a surprising No.
The most serious problem when it comes to designing a sharpener for whatever kind of knife is that consumer are lazy bastards that would rather buy a new knife than learn to sharpen them. Thus, a design that would make sharpening a knife not only fast but an easy task while still giving at least a decently sharp blade has been the aim. The thing is, most traditional methods require learning sharpening a knife, the angles and whatnot. To be completely honest, I expect people to know how to sharpen a knife. However, I too am a lazy bastard and looking for any way to make things easier and faster while is something I tend to do.
Vulkanus sharpener seemed like what the doctor ordered. A sturdily built device that both sharpens and hones the blade in the same package without any stone changing. Seemed pretty decent, and further support came from various magazines and sites promoting it as their top choice sharpener. In my search for a comfortable and quick solution to battle my laziness I went and dropped 59€ for the Vulkanus in good hopes that the word on the street was valid.
The Vulkanus is a neat device in that it’s something you could call zero-force device. Sharpening overall doesn’t require strength, just skill and time. The whole idea of the sharpener is that the cross-shaped gate holds two pieces both sides of the blade and gives the right angle when you pull the blade from the gate. Back and forth motion is not be done in this device. You can see the flakes from the blades on its base. Indeed, the sharpening does eat into your blade, but you don’t need to do this often. Only dull blades with rounded edges really need to be sharpened in order to create a new blade, the rest are to be honed.
The way you sharpen with the Vulkanus is that you hold the blade towards the ground as imaged, then pull it from the gate. The blade’s own weight and motion will push the crossed sharpeners down the necessary amount. While I’ve seen some reports saying that you hold your hands too close to the knife while doing this, you don’t. The best place where to hold the sharpener is from one if its “horns.” Holding it from the base seemed awkward, but I can see it being bolted to the tabletop or using something to squeeze it in place, eliminating the need for holding it in place altogether.
Honing is done by holding the blade towards the sky, but as much as in the image. A more levelled position is enough. This changes the which part of the sharpener is in contact with the blade. Both sharpening and honing is quick, and I’ve noticed that you’ve honed enough when certain crunching resistance disappears. After that, just clean the blades with a cloth to remove all the excess metal waste and get using your newly sharpened knife.
You can also sharpen bread knives with their saw edge. You do this by pushing the blade towards one of the sides where it has been originally sharpened.
The sharpness it yields is, without a doubt, perfectly fit for household use. It’s designed to be used with Western blades, thus sharpening Japanese kitchen knifes should not be sharpened with the Vulkanus. You’d better get few good sets of Japanese whetstones with various grits and learn how to use them. I honestly would recommend that anyway.
As said, the sharpness is pretty good, serviceable even in forest knives I somewhat haphazardly collect here and there. It manages to give a generic, chromed pig steel faux Rambo knife from 1998 a pretty damn impressive and lasting sharpness too.
The problem with the Vulkanus is that it can oversharpen and end up making your blade jagged. I noticed this with one of my knives, where the Vulkanus didn’t cut the burr properly, but instead napped some of the material further down. Of course, this could be also because the blade’s metal and original blade geometry are different and don’t work with the Vulkanus, but I noticed something similar with a store-bought knife that retained its burr. To add to that, it just might be I kept honing the blades too long to the point that Vulkanus own capabilities just ran out.
That is most likely Vulkanus’ weakness; the blades don’t end up in the best possible condition, but I’m setting the bar stupidly high. Usually when I sharpen and hone by hand I aim for that mirror clean sheen. Vulkanus is designed for general kitchen use where that mirror surface doesn’t survive too long. Or in the forest, for the matter. As long as the blade is sharp enough that it cuts with no effort, it should be enough and in that Vulkanus does its job in a very commendable way.
Would I recommend the Vulkanus? If you’re not into learning ins and outs of blade sharpening and honing, want something quick and effective, Vulkanus is probably your safest bet, even when its pricepoint is a bit on the high side. It’s easy enough to use for everybody, and even one-handed people should be able to use it just fine. You’d need to be some sort of special snowflake with serious lack of eye-hand coordination not to be able to make your generic kitchen knife sharp with it. It just works as intended with good built quality.
That is something that you also need to consider when it comes to Vulkanus; the knife. Investing into a good, solid and long-lasting knife is something that will pay its back as you prepare dinner or otherwise use a knife somewhere. Going for the cheapest shit will only give you gray hair and headache, so I would recommend everybody to first check whether or not your knife is a no-brand chrome stick, or a good and proper knife.