Monday, May 16

PSN is Online

PSN is back up in North America, and Sony is offering a "Customer Appreciation Program" for the downtime. To summarize:

- Users will be able to choose 2 of 5 games for the PS3 to download and keep forever. There will be a 30-day period for these games to be downloaded free of charge after the PSN Store relaunches. The games are Little Big Planet, Infamous, Dead Nation, Super Stardust HD, and Wipeout HD + Fury.

- PSP owners will be able to select 2 of 4 games, which are Little Big Planet (PSP), ModNation Racers (PSP), Pursuit Force, and Killzone Liberation. 30-day period applies here as well.

- There will be "On Us" rental movies for one weekend when the video service is available. Available titles have not been announced yet.

- Sony is giving 30 free days of PlayStation Plus membership to non-subscribers, and 60-days to subscribers.

- Just so you don't forget about it, Sony announced 100 free virtual items in PlayStation Home. Nice try, Sony.

While I'm disappointed that they were hit so hard by the hackers, I can't say that I am mad at Sony (though I wasn't ever). They should have been more well-prepared, but it seems that they have learned their lesson and are doing a great deal to make it right with their customers. The hackers are the ones who we should be mad at, as they caused a major inconvenience to the tens of millions of PSN users. 
Anyway, I think Sony has handled the restoration of PSN well so far, and offering the welcome back packages is a good way to win back or keep customer loyalty. I'll be picking up Infamous and Wipeout HD, as I own LBP already (which I would highly recommend).

The details of the "Customer Appreciation Program" can be found here.

Monday, March 14

Pokemon Black Impressions

I picked up Pokemon Black on release date (March 6th) and have beaten 8 gyms so far. At this point I have a good impression of what they have changed in the basic gameplay and in general how the game is. If you are considering getting it, you probably know generally what you will be getting, as the Pokemon games have relied on the same formula since the beginning of the series. That being said, it's a good formula that produces quality games.

One of the best things that they have done is make TMs multi-use. You can use them as many times as you want, but they don't restore the PP of the move they are replacing (so you can't have a Pokemon re-learn a move to replenish the PP). It's a lot easier to get type diversity this way, because you aren't worried about using a valuable TM.

Team Plasma, as far as villains go, are the best villains yet. Sure, Team Rocket is classic, but Team Plasma introduces a concept that had not yet been addressed: Are Pokemon essentially slaves, or do they benefit from their relationship with humans? Not that it really matters, but the idea of the enemy leader creating a "utopia" where Pokemon are free is an interesting part of the story.

Something that needs to be addressed is the new Pokemon. There are 155 new ones, although many are legendary Pokemon, some of which will not be available except through special events. The main story contains only new Pokemon, which forces you to learn their names and hopefully get attached to some of them. The starters are all good options, though it is a little disappointing to see the 3rd Fire/Fighting starter in a row. The Water starter, Oshawott, becomes an excellent option when you realize the limited number of water Pokemon available, especially because there are even fewer good ones. One of the fossils is a tough Water/Rock type, which is worth getting if you don't start with Oshawott. I started with Tepig and he becomes very strong as well.

Obviously there are the cliche Pokemon, like Pidove (a.k.a. Pidgey, Starly) and Patrat (a crappy normal type that you can catch early on. Pidove's final evolution, Unfezant, is a pretty solid Pokemon, making it a decent Pokemon to catch early. Lillipup is also worth catching early, as it has good HP and Attack stats. Also interesting is that you get an elemental monkey (Pansear, Pansage, or Panpour) of the type that your starter is strong against (Fire if you picked Water, Grass if you picked Fire, or Water if you picked Grass). Mainly they are used for the first gym, where there are three gym leaders that will use an elemental monkey that is strong against your starter. All in all, I think the 5th generation of Pokemon was well-done as a whole.

If you have liked Pokemon games in the past, you will probably like this generation. If you don't like Pokemon games, this generation likely won't change your mind. I have enjoyed playing through Pokemon Black so far, and hope you can enjoy this generation of Pokemon games too.

Wednesday, March 2

NBA Jam (iOS) Review

 I was immediately excited upon hearing about the possibility of NBA Jam coming to the iPhone. When EA made it official, I began to wait when it went live on the app store. The game did not disappoint, delivering the trademark fast-paced action of the NBA Jam series. While the iPhone version doesn’t stack up to the home console versions, it’s a very good portable game and still a lot of fun to play.

I’m not a fan of virtual joysticks and d-pads common in iPhone games, but the controls work pretty well in NBA Jam with a relatively low amount of slipping. The 3-button controls translate better to iPhone than those of simulation basketball games, which are oversimplified to work on the platform. Sometimes I will accidentally pass or shoot when trying to use the turbo button, but the buttons are well laid out on the screen, and are positioned in a way that feels quite natural and comfortable. The other control layout is the gesture controls, which uses a virtual joystick and slide-based controls. However, I didn't find this to be very different, because you can slide to the actions from the turbo button to make flashy passes or attempt a crazy dunk.

The game modes consist of single game and classic campaign. Single game speaks for itself, but classic campaign is where you will spend most of your time. You choose a team to play as, and then play current teams in groups of five, with each group followed by a classic team (such as Stockton and Malone). It’s a solid campaign mode that will allow you to unlock some classic players. Mostly, it provides a nice structure that is way better than just playing a bunch of single games.

The in-game challenges that allow you to unlock new players (from legends like Larry Bird to mascots like Rufus the Bobcat) provide a nice purpose to playing games. Some of them involve beating classic campaign with certain teams, or classic campaign with a team from each division, which is a nice way to get you to keep playing. Others involve accomplishing certain goals within a game, such as grabbing 10 rebounds in a game (unlocks David Robinson) or winning a game without shoving (unlocks Mark Price). Obviously there are some challenges that are much easier than others, but it provides a nice alternative to buying classic players (which isn’t terribly expensive). The game handles in-game purchases well, giving players the option to unlock them by playing the game or paying for them.

The game is $5, which is expensive compared to many apps, but I think it’s a very good game that is well worth the money if you are looking for something to play on iPhone or iPod Touch. With simple, intuitive controls and the classic gameplay you love, one might say that EA Mobile is on fire!

Thursday, October 28

Sports Games: Arcade vs. Simulation

Today I’m going to take a look at a variety of sports games, in order to determine which sports are better suited for arcade-style video games, and which sports are better as simulation-style video games. Let’s start with my history with sports games.
I’ve been a sports fan pretty much my whole life, but only started playing sports games in 2005. Well, I’d played some before, but Tecmo Super Bowl was pretty much the only one I liked. I would say that sports games are a favorite genre of mine, but it really does depend on the sport and the game. So, without further ado, let’s jump in!
Baseball is a game very much about the details. Each pitcher has a different delivery, different pitches, etc. Right away this points towards simulation games. However, I will say that arcade-style baseball games can be good. Mario Superstar Baseball, for example, was a very fun game that was quite simple to play. There were essentially 3 pitches, plus star pitches. The star pitches and hits were unique and added to the game, and the adventure mode was actually pretty interesting. You had to beat it with different teams to unlock characters. That never felt like a chore, either. The system of choosing teams in multiplayer was pretty good, as you got to pick your captain and then go through and pick your team. Overall, it was a good game.
I still prefer sim-style baseball games. MVP Baseball 05, in my opinion, is the best one ever. Yes, better than more recent games like the 2K series, and MLB the Show. Anyway, these sim-style games had different attributes for each player in so many different areas, it made each player different, which is realistic. The feeling of running a baseball franchise is great in season modes (or Dynasty Mode in MVP). Something arcade-style baseball games don’t deliver is the intricacies of managing a roster through the season and beyond. Ultimately, simulation-style baseball games are better (in my opinion).
I’ll start of by saying this: I like both styles of basketball games. Now, my first experience with arcade-style basketball games was NBA Street (not NBA Jam, sorry guys), but NBA Street is freakin’ great! While sim basketball games have player chemistry, roster management, and more realistic gameplay, I find them to be somewhat slow-paced and not that interesting at times. I do think that NBA Live 10 (the last entry in the long-running series from EA) really stands out as a fantastic sim game that captures the flow and atmosphere of basketball effectively. One of my biggest complaints about sim basketball games in the past was that offense seemed very unrealistic. In NBA Live 10, EA made plays easy to run, and introduced the pick ‘n roll control (which added a nice two-man game to my offense). But there is something especially fun about playing NBA Street or NBA Jam with friends. Sim games do offer much deeper and often more rewarding single-player experiences (especially drafting a team), but the fast-paced multiplayer embodied by the NBA Jam series proves to be better.
NBA Street, however, concentrates on exciting, fast-paced gameplay. Ridiculous goaltending? I love it! Knocking people over with crossovers? Yes, please! Turbo meters and Game breaker shots that take away points from your opponent? Hell yes! While defense is relatively simple in NBA Street (standing in front of the hoop with your big man and blocking shots, mostly), it’s not terribly hard to score. There are a lot of crossover and dunk combinations, plus you have the Gamebreaker shot when you get enough turbo points. In more traditional video game terms, NBA Street (the original) had 6 worlds (divisions) with a boss at the end. You could take players from other teams, make your own player, and get ridiculous made-up players when you beat the final boss. I did like the “campaign” mode in NBA Street V3 better, because there were many different game types, such as Points Challenge, Dunks Only, Old School scoring, etc. And because you could only have 5 players on your team, it really made you think before adding someone to your roster.
In terms of basketball games, I’ll take arcade-style for the multiplayer.
I admit it. I’m a fan of the Madden games. Lately, however, I feel that EA Sports has not lived up to the franchise’s history. But let me explain what I find so interesting about them. First off, I’m a big football fan, so I want to play as my favorite NFL team. I also like the strategy during the game. I find calling plays to be very interesting, because I get to run a team exactly how I see fit. But even more fun is the Franchise Mode, which has fantasy draft. I love being able to draft a team exactly how I like it, building a team from the ground up how I see fit. Madden games re-create the football experience amazingly.
However, I did also like games such as Blitz 2000. The over-the-top style and fast paced gameplay made for a very exciting game. Jumping on offensive players after the game is just funny. The more recent Blitz games, however, are just… bad. They aren’t really arcade-style or simulation. They are over-the-top in the wrong way (steroids, excessive swearing, guys in prison). The blatant rip-offs of real NFL players are funny though. For example: Pacrat James, CB, leads the league in arrests, should give his MVP trophies to his lawyers. Yeah, its Pacman Jones for sure.
Football games? Good both ways.
As a golfer in real life, my opinion could be a bit biased here. Let’s start off with arcade-style golf games. What exactly are these? Mario Golf, Pangya Golf, Hot Shots Golf, etc. Those are more like simplified golf games. But the concept is the same, basically. Hit a button at the right time to set your power, and then again to aim. However, with the release of Tiger Woods 2010, one of my favorite Wii games, these “arcade-style” golf games are completely outclassed. The swing meter is so imprecise and boring when compared to the WiiMotion Plus captured swing, which is more accurate and a great deal more immersive. It feels a lot like golfing. Granted, golf clubs are a lot heavier than a WiiMote, but still… you get the idea. TW10 has a deep single-player mode with PGA Tour career and Tour Challenges. The Online is fantastic, with the single-day tournaments, multi-day tournaments, and ability to compete against the pros in real-time. Oh, the Forecast Channel real-time weather is a nice option, too. The new Precision putting system is more accurate and way more realistic.
I do enjoy a good hockey game. Ice Hockey? Classic. But one of my favorite hockey games is NHL Hitz 2002. Sure, the newer games are more realistic, look better, and are probably deeper, especially with GM mode coming in NHL 10. But NHL Hitz was over-the-top and awesome, delivering fast-paced, exciting hockey action. How do you play defense, you ask? Well, I mostly just check my opponents. The fights are fun and occur more than you think, the controls are good, and with 3 players (plus a goalie) on each side, and the rink is open for some ridiculous stuff to happen. The game benefits so much from being fast-paced. And playing with 2 friends, all on the same team? Simply epic.
The other hockey game I love is NHL Slapshot (you probably knew that from previous blog entries). Being able to use the small hockey stick peripheral provides a level of immersion similar to Tiger Woods on the Wii, though it does not deliver the accuracy of WiiMotion Plus. The season and career modes are fairly deep and keep you entertained in single-player. I do think the game is a mix of arcade and sim style, but it strikes a happy medium.
Overall, I think hockey games are better over-the-top and fast-paced. Arcade-style wins here.

It really boils down to your personal taste, but a sports games can be great both ways.

Tuesday, October 5

Civilization V: Review

With a franchise as revered and successful as Civilization, each release will evidently have very high expectations to live up to. After showing off all the new features and changes in the latest addition to the series, Firaxis had to make a fantastic game to live up to the desires of their fans. My impressions so far are that they have produced an incredible strategy game that manages to make changes to improve the gameplay while sticking close to what makes the series so great.
The new interface is very sleek and well-designed. Notifications and tasks queue up above the Next Turn button in an easy to see manner, and events with specific locations (barbarian camps discovered, unit promotions, etc.) allow you to click on the icon to be taken to the location of the event. This makes each turn very manageable, allowing you to progress through tasks you need to perform before ending your turn easily.
The interface also showcases some of the changes to the game. Your strategic resources, such as iron and horses, are displayed along the top of the screen, along with your culture, happiness, and gold. The amount of gold you have is much more important in Civilization 5, as it is used to purchase new tiles, units and buildings. While cities will expand naturally and still produce units and buildings, you will want to use gold to get new cities up and running, or build a large army in a short amount of time. Making gold a much more useful resource is an important change that makes improving your economy vital to your developing civilization.
Culture as a resource is a much more controversial change. While the policy trees and culture is a big change from the traditional choice of governments (such as the 5 different types of policies in Civilization 4), I think that change is a unique and interesting way of approaching government. Early game decisions continue to heavily influence your civilization in the late game, especially if you invest in the Piety tree (preventing you from adopting policies in the Rationalism tree). You have to balance immediate returns with long-term benefits of your policies, adding a new layer of strategy to the game.
While some have complained that the animated leaders of AI civilizations are secretive about their feelings, I have found that you can get a good sense for who is friendly towards you and who hates your guts. The removal of religions makes diplomacy more straightforward, as you don’t have civilizations that absolutely hate you for no reason other than the fact that you have, “Fallen under the sway of a heathen religion.” City states are a nice addition to the diplomatic world, as you can befriend some quickly by destroying barbarian camps or getting resources for them (among other quests). You have to think twice before going after city states, as your military actions can have widespread consequences (other civilizations tend to look down on your warmongering). The ability to wage war through other civilizations or city states is a surprising new feature, but donating units to a war against one of your rivals is a sneaky way to weaken or destroy your enemies.
The combat is much more strategic now that you can’t stack your units. Protecting your ranged units as they bombard cities is very important, and having a good variety of troops for different situations is even more useful. City defenses allow you (and other civilizations) to protect cities without garrisons of military units. Making placement of units far more important prevents you from rushing in with a huge stack of units to wipe out your opponents (and them from doing the same).
The game feels a little slow, but after a short time with the game it begins to feel normal. Firaxis has delivered a fantastic addition to the series, making important changes to improve the game while staying true to what makes the series so great. It is worth picking up for anyone who enjoys turn based strategy games, but it likely won’t change your opinion if you don’t enjoy them in the first place.