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In between jetting off to chilly climes, going through the Champions Online archetype rotation, popping into Anarchy Online for it's halloween activities and hitting up Rift now I'm starting to approach end game, I've been playing bits and pieces of other games.

3DS

First up is Zelda: Four Swords, DSiware released for the 3DS and free to all with a 3DS, DSi or DSi XL as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations. It's a limited time release and will be vanishing mid-february.

4 swords logo

It's primarily meant to be played multiplayer with up to 4 people playing differently coloured Links, workign together to complete each area of the game. It can be played singleplayer as well, with two Links both controlled by you. This is a little tricky at first: you can switch between them with the R shoulder button and you can set one to follow behind the other, or stand around wherever you left it. The trick is to get the hang of issuing these orders and swapping between them smoothly and quickly. Each Link can hold only the 1 special item beside a sword, and using the right item (and thus the right link) for a particular part becomes critical. In addition, each Link is measured on how many coins it collects, damage it inflicts etc. These all give a score at the end of each area. (Beyond that, I've not yet discovered a use for coins beyond a fee to raise you á la Fairy if you die.)

The emulation for the 3DS is basic. It's not 3D and doesn't suspend properly either, as it was directly ported from the original 2002 DSi version. It's got a tutorial area that explains how the game works and what items can do, which is helpful. Some of the items are funny, like the magnet and many of them are ye olde staples from almost any Zelda game you care to name. It held my attention for a while but ultimately as there's no real story or point to any of it beyond progressing through areas because they're there, I got bored.


PC

Bunch of Heroes is an indie-ish PC game available on Steam. It's very simple: pick a character, team upw ith a friend or two, pewpew enemies and complete objectives in each area. The graphics are cartoony, it's filled with ridiculous puns and there's action to be had all round.

Bunch of Heroes logo

As a co-operative game, it's something of a twin-stick shooter but in an Alien Swarm style more than anything else, mechanically-speaking. WASD to move, mouse to aim and fire. The primary enemy here is zombies (inifinite numbers thereof), you have limited ammunition though there are crates to bust for drops. Nothing groundbreaking here and in fact I got fairly bored of it after the first area.


Android

For the daily commute, I have been at the mobile gaming again on my Android. Minecraft Pocket was finally released for all Android platforms (an iOS version is out now as well) after it's Xperia Play exclusive offer finished and I picked it up as my first paid app.

Minecraft Pocket logo


It's a very pared down version of Minecraft (now officially released) - Minecraft classic essentially. it's purely creative mode with no monsters, health, equipment or resource gathering. You simply select what blocks you want to build with, run around the world you create and build things. The size of the world is also very much reduced, though you have forest, water, mountains, trees and so on.

You can multiplay over wifi or bluetooth, with one phone hosting a server that others can join. As a note, by default your map will be a publically available server unless you turn that off! I've not given the multiplayer part a go as yet.

It runs my HTC Sensation somewhat hot, I have to say, and the graphics start to glitch after a while though that is rectified by pausing the game, switching back to the home screens, then hopping back into the game. It's quite the battery drain as well. I also don't like the D-Pad controls too much, though as these things go they're fairly good. I haven't yet fully adapted to the complete loss of tactile feedback from a capacitive touchscreen when using controls that used to be physically pushed (moreso for the analogue controllers of the later consoles).

Overall I've found it to be fun now and then for building something silly but it really ought to have a flight mode enabled so that it can be a pure building simulator, given all the other aspects of Minecraft's gameplay are gone (adventuring, circuitry, combat etc).


Next up:

I've been playing more of the Alchemy games on my 'droid and I'll be giving those a go-over soon.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
At the end of July, Nintendo decided to try and stimulate the slow-moving 3DS market by introducing a hefty price cut to bring the console out of the range of second-hand XBox 360s and PS3. This was accompanied by many executives taking voluntary salary cuts, and promises of a loyalty reward scheme for those customers who had already bought a 3DS at its initial retail price. (A news article can be found on Videogamer.com.)


As of the 1st of September 2011, UK Nintendo 3DS owners that had previously registered with the eShop were entered into the Nintendo Ambassador scheme.

Ambassador Program Logo

If you had bought a 3DS before the big price cut, you're rewarded by being given free copies of various NES and GB/GBA game releases through the Virtual Console. Naturally as soon as I got wind of this scheme (it was sent as a streetpass notification to my 3DS some time in early august) I visited the eShop to sign up.

20 free games over the course of September and October as compensation? Yes please!

Over the weekend, I visited the eShop to claim the first half of my games: the NES Virtual Console releases. The 10 games released so far are as follows:
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
  • Metroid
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Wrecking Crew
  • Ice Climbers
  • Mario and Yoshi
  • Donkey Kong JR.
  • NES Open Tournament Golf
  • Balloon Fight
I've had a quick test play with most of the titles so far. They're faithful reproductions of the orignal games without much in the way of added functionality (Circle pad is enabled and that's pretty much yer lot): clunky controls, beepy sounds and all.

On the one hand it means you do get the full classic retrogaming experience, and the games will suspend properly, but on the other it means that games without save files still don't have them. Metroid uses a password system for example, and whilst the 3DS does have an inbuilt notepad for scribbling down bits and pieces it gets clunky to do this. I'd have preferred it if they'd added a proper save system as well, personally.


The nitty gritty

The way it works is as follows: connecting to the eShop before the end of August meant that your 3DS had been flagged as an Ambassador machine and your account noted for Ambassadorship. As of September 1st, the flagged accounts connecting to the eShop will be able to view and download the Ambassador Certificate, that also allows Ambassador program streetpass notifications. The 10 NES games are registered as having already been 'bought' by that account and so you "re-download" them to the SD card that came with the console. The games aren't too heavy and so they download and install quickly, appearing as unwrapped gifts on the Home menu.

No word as yet on the release dates of the GB/GBA games half; even the titles in the release are not fully known yet. So far Nintendo has listed Super Mario Advance 3: Yoshi's Island, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Metroid Fusion, Mario vs. Donkey Kong and WarioWare, Inc. They have been promised for release later in the year.


What's next?

Given that we've just had 10 new games landing, however, I don't think there's a huge rush to get the remaining 10. I'm certainly rusty enough at the NES games I did play (which wasn't many - I'm a SNES generation gamer) not to remember much and I envision plenty of hours of gaming ahead of me.

3DS and Ambassador titles
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
So what am I playing?

Mostly, I've been playing lots of games for a short while each: grazing, one could say. A mixture of being busy with other things, low attention span at present and drifting from game to game.


On the PC

Aside from the various contents of the Humble Indie Bundle, my PC gaming focus has been scattered with the usual Minecraft making an appearance here and there, particularly when I'm semi-distracted and thinking about/watching other things (mostly I'm invading others' servers to poke around their creations).

For a bit of destressing and distraction, I was playing a bit of Zen Bound 2. It's an indie 'puzzler' game that's meant to be something calm and relaxing to play. I say puzzle game in the loosest sense: you have a wood carving of something that has beads of paint on nails sticking out at various points. Attached to it is a rope which you wind around it (by spinning and rotating the carving with your mouse) that splashes paint where it touches the surfaces, and also triggers the paint blobs. You complete a level by covering a carving in at least 95% paint. It's a weird little game that doesn't hold my attention for too long but for a change of pace it's very nifty. Out now on Steam.

Zen Bound 2


On the other end of the spectrum is the action-packed and fast-paced Diablo-clone dungeon crawler RPG known as Torchlight: it has a cutesy graphics scheme, game play and music almost entirely ripped off from Diablo II but overall is quite polished if somewhat easy. There's a mod to allow multiplayer but it's quite buggy, sadly. Where Diablo II is hardcore, Torchlight is much more casual gamer friendly. Where Diablo II has 7 classes, Torchlight has 3. Where Diablo II has hired mercenaries, Torchlight has pet wolves/lynxes that can nip off to sell your junk whilst you continue to bash through a dungeon. It's a nifty little game but it's nothing groundbreaking. A native multiplayer option would increase its interest and longevity enormously.


Torchlight Logo



Finally, I seemed to have acquired a copy of Breath of Death VII through Steam and after ignoring it for a while decided to fire it up on a whim, not having read anything about it. Immediately I was entertained at it's faux-8bit (with bits of up to 16bit!) graphics, the tropes and stereotypes that are at once both gleefully hammed up and spun on their heads and the incongruously modern music. The gameplay is classic RPG with convenience added, like being able to run without having to collect a magic item, being able to pick a fight whenever instead of running round in circles on the world map waiting for a random encounter, MP regain being a function of how few turns it takes to kill stuff and leveling up giving you an option to pick one of two extra sets of stat bonuses. The dialogue is brilliant and every moment (so far) has been a giant tongue-in-cheek parody of every 8 and 16bit RPG I've ever played. Absolute gold and well well worth the price on Steam.
 
Breath of Death VII



On the 3DS

I have to admit that in my 'ooh shiny new toy!' phase of Droid ownership, my poor 3DS has taken a back seat. Aside from regular maintenance of my Streetpass Plaza and Pokedex, I've had a bit of a play with Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation, one of the first Dragon Quest games released outside of Japan. As I got past the pompously orchestral opening theme it brought back that warm 'n' fuzzy retrogame feeling as it harked back to the 16bit RPGs of yore. None of this was a surprise, however, given it was originally released for the SNES back in 1995 and re-released for the (regular) DS in May 2011. It's a classic Japanese RPG and so far has been quite fun to play.


Dragon Quest VI



On the Android

My Snes9x EX revival continues almost unabated, hampered only by the slight awkwardness of the sensitive touch controls. I'm slowly getting the hang of it but it's taking time as I'm used to lightly resting my thumbs on the controllers as default with button pressing being the application of a bit of force. I'm avoiding twitcher games for the moment for this reason.


To the future!

I'm eying up the potential expansion of Minecraft for the 'Droid. Currently it's only for the Sony Xperia Play phones which is a huge shame as there's plenty of Android phones out there that have the power to pull it off and it's all because of this exclusivity deal that the rest of us have to wait. No word on an iOS version as yet.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
Another weekend, another round of games being played with.

3DS gaming

On the 3DS, I've completed Ghost Recon as far as I can without doing the Multiplayer maps, mostly because I don't know anyone else who has the game. I quite enjoyed it, because I do like turn-based tactical squad games. For some reason it made me miss playing Vandal Hearts on my PSX. I might have to dig it out again and see if I can persuade the now-ailing and cantankerous console + TV combo to work in order to play it. Either that or figure out why my PS emulators don't work.

Cover of Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars

Overall, I enjoyed Ghost Recon a lot, though it did take me a little while to get into. The very beginning throws you in at the end of the game (literally) which was confusing and irritating because I didn't have a clue what was going on, what the two characters I had could do etc and as I was about to get my arse handed to me, it faded to black and the game proper began. The game proper is the complete opposite, slowly introducing you to the various gameplay concepts and abilities of the team, who are also slowly introduced. It's an excellent game for stop-start play because of its turn-based nature and the 3D isn't absolutely critical to the game, so in a bumpy tube train scenario there's no issues judging any distances. Some of the scenarios are utter sods, with random surprise spawns that will turn a convincing win to a crushing defeat if you happen to have the wrong unit in the wrong place at the wrong time. There's also a couple of maps where the instructions are surprisingly poor and I had no clue wtf was meant until I'd stumbled through by trial and error. Still, if everything had been completely obvious it would have been a bit dull...


Onwards and upwards into the next game. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was a bit of a no-brainer, given it's the first killer game for the system (and hopefully one that will spark more interest, with sales having slowed considerably). This one was a bit of an effort to get hold of. Two hours going from place to place in the Square Mile only to find no copies left anywhere until the HMV at Moorgate made for a frustrating afternoon...
Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D cover

So far, so good. I played the original on my N64 but after I completed it once I didn't go back to it, and that was more years ago than I care to remember so I'm pretty rusty about the whole thing. It's got plenty of rave reviews and I can see why: the graphics are very nifty indeed, the 3D aspect makes negotiating jumping and distances much easier without having to wiggle the camera, the 3DS gyro being used to move the camera is a smart move and they've toned down Navi's interruptions (thank the gods, she was a PITA). I'm also told that the dungeons are the revamped Master Quest versions rather than the original. Given I recall next to nothing about the original, I doubt this will bother me much. Master Quest version dungeons are supposed to be less annoying and more challenging anyway. Unlike Ghost Recon, it is not a stop-start and bumpy-transport friendly game, so progress is very slow. I do like it, although I have to be heretical and admit my preferred Zelda game is A Link to the Past (Zelda 3 on the SNES).

I'll do a review of it once I'm near the end. Currently I'm pottering around getting into all sorts of places I'm probably not meant to until later. Haven't even done Death Mountain yet...


PC gaming

With the Steam Summer Camp on I've been looking over the activities and games now and then, although this year I've been extremely slack compared to last year because my attention has been elsewhere. One game I was given in the Summer camp sale is Sanctum, an excellent little indie Tower Defence game with bold graphics and a nifty soundtrack. I've not mucked about with it too much yet (a multiplayer game with a friend for the Summer Camp Achivement that evolved into a full-on go at the Mine level) but it's definitely something I'll be going back to when I have some time.

Sanctum Game cover

I've played a bit of Minecraft and Left 4 Dead 2 here and there, and next up is giving Terraria a go, a game several of my friends have been sucked into, though I'm not sure how into it I'll get given I've gone off the 2D platform genre over the years, even if it is a 2D minecraft-meets-mario.


MMO Gaming

It's the 10th aniversary of the launch of Anarchy Online at the moment and as I was given a 14 day free account reup on my main paid account, I've been checking it out and catching up with friends and orgmates who'd also got the free reactivation for a bit of a reunion. I have to confess that I miss the game and the people I played with. I hope the project to rework all the professions and the new player experience picks up the pace so that it can all be released with the new graphics engine and breathe some new life into it. I know Game Director Means has only a small development team so its taking a long time but the game desperately needs the rebirth and population boost. Sadly it's FUncom and they don't want to market it which is such a shame because it offers a variety of experiences that no other MMO out there does. There's a reason it's lasted 10 years when other newer games have folded after 2. The population dropped below critical mass for me some time ago once virtually all of my friends and orgmates had migrated to other games or other hobbies entirely, one by one over time. It's even quieter now (aside from all the temporary reactivations for the birthday shennanigeans). At some point I'll do a full write up of the game.

Anarchy Online cover

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some Desert Nomads to kill...
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
From the earliest days of the Nintendo Game Boy, I've been a fan of handheld gaming. Travelling around London is an endurance test for children and commuters alike and the entertainment offered much needed respite and interaction. Sneaking it into school in my bag and using the old linkup cable to duel others at breaktime used to be a favourite past-time of mine and to my credit I was only ever caught once.

My best friend pursuaded her parents to buy her a Sega Game Gear when they were released and after my initial jealousy was overtaken by curiosity, I was satisfied to find it's games were mostly lacklustre and battery life was horrible. An Atari Lynx was the pride and joy of one of the boys in my class but it was heavy and clunky, with over-hyped games to boot. I didn't budge from my position when the new wave of slimmer, coloured case Game Boys hit and even the Game Boy Colour didn't impress me enough to begin the long negotiations with my parents to acquire one. Besides which, by then I was a total SNES head and eagerly awaiting further news of the Super CD. I could live with the ol' classic handheld when out and about.

The Game Boy Advance was the first to budge me from my trench, translucent casing and all. Handheld SNES - win! By then, Nintendo was in full handheld refinement swing and was releasing a new model every other year; limited editions, different shapes, different colours, smaller, bigger, backlit, frontlit, folding and so on (most notable of which was the popular Game Boy Advance SP) finally culminating in the Game Boy Micro. A business model they've kept up to this day. My cynical side kept me using that old GBA unit for years until after Sony had entered the console market and Sega bowed out. By this time, the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP were here.

I really rather liked the DS with it's touchscreen and dual screen capability because I could instantly see all sorts of uses for it to provide a different gaming experience. The PSP continued along the upping power and graphics stakes whilst Nintendo took a step to the left. I was gifted with a blue DS chunky not long before the DS Lite was released and was happy about it because in my opinion, the DS lite looked like it was some plastic thing found at the bottom of a cereal box (or would be if they hadn't banned cereal box toys as being a health and saferty hazard) and couldn't play my GBA games.

That ol' blue brick served me well through the DS Lite, the DSi and the DSi XL years until finally the next step was taken and Nintendo announced the 3DS.

3-D handheld gaming sounded to me like a total gimmick. 3-D vid cards needed glasses and the prototype 3D TVs demanded you sit pretty still in order to see the effects. I was moderately intrigued but most of the hype passed me by. That is, until I got the chance to test one out shortly before christmas 2010: I was hooked. The displays were clear, the stylus was a lot less crappy than the original DS stylus and above all the 3D effects were very robust. My only major complaint was the introduction of region locking, in my opinion a real downer but not enough to put me off the handheld entirely.

I eagerly awaited it's official release in April and I remember that hot and sunny friday well as I took an extended lunchbreak to snap up the last Aqua unit in the square mile. If I'm out of the house, it comes with me; London being packed full of people, I'm almost guaranteed a Streetpass hit once I hit the tube. Think I'm up to 74 Miis I've met by Streetpass wireless, mostly on my commute. It's such a daft thing, but it's funny to see what people have come up with (the best one I've collected is a scarily accurate Admiral Ackbar), to trade puzzle pieces and to take part in the incredibly silly castle adventure. That sort of thing isn't normally my style but for some reason I've found it compelling...
The 3D camera is fun. Low resolution but some of the images I've got have captured the depth of a scene extremely well. The wireless setup is mostly easy to use if a bit short range, and the Opera-based web browser is quite alright though nothing to write home about.

Most of all, the 3D function itself works extremely well in my view; my eyes 'lock in' very easily to find the 3D and I can move the DS around without losing the 3D depth unless it's a sudden sharp jolt. It's certainly enough to deal with average bumping about on the bus, but not if it gets smacked by someone's elbow. I've used mine a ton so far and not had eyestrain issues, so I've no idea where the 'OMG MY EYES R BLEEDING!!1!' fuss came from.

The biggest downside is battery consumption. In sleep mode it's fine and will last ages even with the occasional infrared pulse for Streetpass. The annoyance is if it's suspended because a game is on pause, or it's connecting over wifi even if you're not actively using the wifi function. Other irritations include original DS games not suspending if you want to hop to the Home menu - you have to quit out, strong light glaring off the glassy screens and the aforementioned region locking. But aside from those, I less-than-three my 3DS easily as much as I did my original ol' Game Boy.


So, is that a 3DS?

As requested by Razz, a picture of a 3DS

I play on my commute, and over quiet lunchtimes in a shaded spot. I get asked now and then if the blue thing I'm playing with is a 3DS, usually followed up with a request to look at the 3D. On the release day as I was standing on the northbound Northern Line platform at Bank on my way home, I had no fewer than 3 people come over and ask me questions about it. I've succeeded in getting the 3D effect in action to work for everyone who's asked too. Yesterday, a young girl in a wheelchair squealed in delight when she saw me sitting on a bench playing with it, having instantly recognised what it was a mile off, and after I'd demonstrated it to her with Ghost Recon was begging her mother to buy her one. Heh, oops... It seems as if people are intrigued at what the 3D effect looks like, and often are surprised that they don't have to wear 3D glasses in order to see it. It amuses me at any rate.

And now I'm off home, hopefully collecting another Mii on the way...
achtungexplosiv: (Default)
At the moment, I'm not hardcore into any one thing. My general game usage is based around my 3DS while I'm out and about, which keeps me sane on my commutes and when I have a quiet lunch, and my home PC. On the 3DS I'm usually playing Ghost Recon; at home I'm often bouncing about on Minecraft. It's one of those lull periods I get where I'm not intensely focused on somthing in particular, and end up casually playing a few different games depending on the people I game with and their availability. Until recently I was up to my eyeballs in MMOs and I suppose could describe myself as 'between games' at the moment.


General MMO-flavoured notes

I've become an MMO gamer over the years, after initially being highly critical of a genre of game which, as I saw it, you had to re-buy the damn thing every month. The reasons for my change of tune are twofold:

Firstly, MMOs tend to be huge games with a lot of variety in scope, long character progression, plenty to see and do, a lot of freedom to explore, experiment and generally mess around with a wide variety of ways to play such as player vs game content, player vs player, combat, crafting, social activities etc. As living worlds that in theory are updated by their creators with new content and changes, this mitigated the 'subscription fee' niggle I had had.

Secondly, MMOs have communities; the people you play with in groupings of varying size and arrangement in order to accomplish things, so it's a social affair in which friendships can develop. It goes beyond in-game activities into forum participation, websites resource creation and the development of third-party tools that give rise to smartphone apps, wikis, theorycrafting with equipment listings and so on. The entire process can be very rewarding.

Both of those aspects appeal very strongly to me and I've had many years of good times with the genre. A quick overview of my time:

I started out with Eve Online in 2004 some time before the first big expansion, Exodus, was released. That's one hell of a baptism of fire, believe me. Internet spaceships appealed to my interests because I'm a sci-fi fan and I had a few friends that were playing it at the time. After some years and many adventures both good and bad, I burned out and decided to give it a break. I have returned to Eve off and on over the years and am currently subbed (just about) despite the CCP debacles of late.

After some time experimenting with other games, I found myself really getting into Anarchy Online which I had first come accross in 2006 shortly before the release of the Lost Eden expansion. I realise that this way round of playing those two games was arse-backwards to most others, but hey. Several more years of good and bad were spent here doing it all until I suffered a similar burnout and developed an extremely jaded view of FUncom (putting the FU in fun).

Some more random games later (most recently Rift, which I am still technically subbed to but no one I played with still plays and I'm bored on my own) I find myself adrift once more.

At a later point I'll do a more detailed write up of each game, including the various other games I played and didn't stick with for one reason or another.

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May 2012

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