Thursday, July 06, 2017

Game Diary: Quite the Achievement!

Hello everyone! I realise there has been a dearth of content for quite a while though.  Hopefully this post will be just the start of a flurry of activity on the site, as I have a lot of things to write about. To begin with I want to let you know what I've been up to over the last month or so, and why both the blog and YouTube channel will benefit. So, somewhere around the end of May I noticed that my Xbox Live Gamerscore was about 12,000 points shy of 100,000, which is currently the highest VIP tier called Overlord. Those who are in the Xbox Rewards program who manage to reach this level get and increase in the amount of reward points they get back on purchases, which gets converted to cash every so often.  I decided that I would make it my goal to try and reach the 100,000 points, and also go back to quite a few games that I had only partially completed in the past.

So far I've managed to finish Far Cry 3 on the 360 as well as Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition and Assassin's Creed: Blag Flag.  These aren't the easiest achievements to get but they aren't too bad.  I'm not trying earn every achievement in every game either, as that's not my idea of fun. I did finish most of the side content in these three games though.  As well as these games there were also a number of Telltale games that I hadn't played yet - Tales from the Borderlands, The Walking Dead Seasons 2 and 3, as well as the Michonne mini series.  These are all an easy 1000 points just for getting to the end, and I had been meaning to get around to them eventually anyway.  In addition to all this I have also signed up for Xbox Game Pass and have been playing quite a few shorter games such as the Sega and Capcom retro collections for games like Streets of Rage, Final Fight and Dungeons & Dragons.  I personally think the Game Pass is excellent because I never would have spent money on games like these when there are so many AAA titles just waiting to be picked up instead, yet I would still like to play them.

Just lately I have moved on to playing Watch Dogs and have gone back to Forza Horizon 3 where I still have a lot left to do.  The same is true for quite a few of the older Forza titles as well - there’s so much content in those games that I’m never finished by the time the next one comes out.  Although I have already played Watch Dogs on the PS4, that was several years ago now and I did enjoy it. Watch Dogs was one of the Games with Gold in June so I haven't had to pay anything for it - in fact I took a bunch of older PS4 games that have since been in either Games with Gold or PS Plus to CeX and got £27 in trade in value, which I used to get Ghost Recon: Wildlands.  I haven't really played much of it yet though.

Looking to the future, I’ll be moving onto trying to polish off Mad Max and Mafia III.  I have tons of other open world games to get to – Assassin's Creed Liberation HD, Unity and Syndicate, Saints Row IV Reelected, Sunset Overdrive, Re:Core – tons!!! Right now I still need to earn just under 5000 Gamerscore to reach 100,000, so I've still got quite a bit of gaming to go.  Of course, as a result of this very Xbox centric time my PS4 and Switch are getting a little bit neglected.  I'll make up for that after I'm done though, especially as I really want to spend more time with Wipeout Omega Collection and dive in to Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age which is out very soon.  Even the 3DS is getting some love right now with the awesome looking Ever Oasis, a full on remake of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Metroid: Return of Samus!

Anyway, as I've been playing through these games I've also been capturing quite a bit of footage from them, and I do intend to write reviews and create videos for them as well.  I've been putting it off for a while because I wanted to write this very article that you're reading now, so now I've got this out of the way I shall start knocking out those reviews.  I'm also in the middle of PS2 Tuesdays Season 4 as well, so I do have to spend some of my time playing and reviewing some PS2 classics.  Speaking of which, the next one of those will be The Red Star, a great and overlooked arcade style shooting and fighting hybrid. Once I've got that made and uploaded I shall then try and find a spare hour or so to write the Sleeping Dogs review, and so on with the other games.  You should see quite a bit of productivity if I manage to stick to the plan!  If you have any recommendations of Xbox One or Xbox 360 games that I could play through then be sure to leave a comment. I have recently picked up copies of Bionic Commando (the 3D one), Wet and Kane & Lynch: Dead Men for £1 each - are any of them worth trying? What about the Lost Planet trilogy? I've been thinking of getting those too as they are so cheap.  Any advice would be appreciated!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Split Second | Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites

Welcome to the second edition of Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites! Today I'm going to shift things up a gear by taking a look at an overlooked arcade racer by the name of Split Second.  The game was developed by the Brighton based team Black Rock Studios, who had previously released the much loved ATV game, Pure (though that one was made by a different team).  Black Rock Studios were known as Climax Racing in their previous incarnation, before Disney Interactive acquired them. It was Disney that published both Pure and Split Second, before shutting down the studio shortly afterwards. The game was released in May of 2010, just one week before rival racing game Blur was released.  This fact means that neither game performed as well as it might have done unfortunately.  I'm going to cover Blur at another time, as I think both games deserve their own episode.

The premise of Split Second is that at an undisclosed time in the near future, a reality TV series has taken the world by storm where contestants race around a condemned city that is rigged with all manner of explosive devices and traps. As you build up a power meter by drifting around corners, drafting behind opponents, narrowly missing danger and by exceuting big jumps, you can execute what the game calls "Power Plays", that let you trigger these devices around the track in an attempt to wreck your rivals.  They could be racing near a gas station for example, so you can detonate the entire place, or there might be a crane by the track that you can set swinging dangerously into the path of the race.  These examples are both fairly mild, level one Power Plays though.  By banking enough power so that your meter fills up into the red zone, you can release level two Power Plays that have the potential to completely reshape the path of a race.  See that control tower by the side of the airport track? Not any more you don't, it's just been vaporised, forcing everying down a different path for the rest of the race!  While these Power Plays do have the potential to feel a little gimmicky once the novelty has worn off, and the campaign can start to feel just a bit repetitive during the later stages, for the most part they add a lot of excitement to the game and are just dynamic enough to remain interesting. So that's the basic set up, but how does the rest of the game fare? Let's break it down in more depth shall we?

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Almost all of the events take place either at midday or at sunset with just a few set a night, so there's a lot of bright sunlight flooding the screen.  It reminds me of a Michael Bay film back before he started making nothing but crap, such as Bad Boys or The Rock.  I love the way that the game has been designed with almost no HUD at all - your speed, power meter, and lap counter are all cleverly place on a readout situated on the back of the car itself.  This lack of screen clutter allows you to focus on the race and soak in the impressive explosions that are constantly popping off.  For the most part the game performs adequately but there is the occasional frame rate dip when something major is happening such as an entire building collapsing on 4 or 5 cars at the same time.  It doens't really effect the game play too adversely but it is there so I have dock a point for that I'm afraid.  Other than that though, Split Second looks very nice indeed and still holds up pretty well today.

Sound: 9 out of 10
The sound design in Split Second is absolutely glorious, from the way the explosions totally envelop you and the shrapnel flying mere inches away from your car cuts through the air, to the dynamic music.  Special mention has to go to the music in this game, in particular the tune that plays during the Elite Races that cap every "episode" of the show.  It sounds incredibly cinematic, and as you claw your way up the field into the top three (which is the requirement to proceed) another layer of instrumentation is added with more bass coming in and some very funky guitar work.  It really helps build the tension and excitement in these events, which after all are supposed to be the highlight of each episode of the fictional show.  There is not much voice over work in the game, but what's there is very well done as well, with an announcer telling you what's coming up in today's episode and also giving you a sneak peak of the next one.  Great stuff all round!

Wiping out five rivals with an exploding power plant is actually quite satisfying - who knew?

Game Mechanics: 9 out of 10
I've already described how the basic races function in the intro, but there's a bit more to Split Second than that.  The main campaign mode is broken down into 12 episodes, which represent an entire season of the show.  Each episode has 6 events within it, with four being unlocked initially.  The 5th event is always a bonus event which is unlocked by wrecking a certain number of opponents within that chapter.  Normally you will have wrecked enough cars by that point to unlock it, but occasionally you may have to replay an event or two to get enough wrecks.  Event six is always the Elite Race, and is unlocked by earn a certain amount of points in earlier races.  These don't have to be from within the same episode though so say you get to the end of episode 12 and you are a little short of points to be able to take on the Elite Race (which probably will happen) - simple, just go back to a previous episode and find an event that you didn't do as well in as you could have done.  Perform better and earn some more points towards your goal.  Every event in the game has the potential to award your 50 points if you manage to get first place, then 40 for second, 30 for third, etc. While progress was fairly rapid in the first half of the campaign, by the end of it I was having to go back to earlier races for more points.

There are also a few more modes besides the standard races that I've already described.  There is also an Elimination mode much like those seen in other games, except with the added complication of the Power Plays, and a time trial mode called Detonator where you are given a fixed car for the event.  So far, so standard.  Things get more interesting after this though with the addition of some modes that are unique to Split Second.  First up we have Air Attack.  In this, a fully armed and operational attack helicopter will be firing rockets at you, denoted by red targets on the track surface.  You have to avoid taking a direct hit or suffering too much splash damage which will eventually cause your car to explode.  Get wiped out three times and your race is over.  As you clear more and more waves without losing a life, you will build up a score multiplier, and if you don't take any damage at all whilst still maintaining a decent speed you will earn a perfect wave bonus - this is the secret to earning a high score.  Later on in the campaign there is also the addition of an Air Revenge mode, where the attack helicopter returns.  This time, by building up your power play meter, you can then send the missiles back at the helicopter and eventually take it down.  Level one power plays just take one pip off the helicopters health bar, whereas saving up a full meter and releasing a level two power play takes off four pips, so ultimately it's faster to wait until your meter is full.

Finally, for the main game at least, there is Survival mode.  In this, giant big rig trucks are constantly doing laps around the track, all the while dropping red and blue explosive barrels.  The blue barrels will damage you, and the red barrels will wreck you instantly.  You don't have a fixed amount of lives, in this mode you can be wrecked many times.  Instead, you are up against a tight time limit which is increased by passing the trucks.  As you keep passing trucks unscathed, once again you build up a score multiplier.  There are also other cars on the track that are there to get in your way. The first time you play this mode it takes place in a storm drain of the type featured in the famous chase sequence from Terminator 2, which is really awesome!

So that's the structure of the game, but how does it actually play? Really well! The handling feels spot on, with each car having a different weight and drift style to it (new cars are earned by meeting certain point thresholds, by the way).  The drifting feels really good, with you really able to throw the cars around the corners with extreme precision after just a few goes to get a feel for it.  The rumble in this game is also very well implemented, adding to the immersion immensely. It's not something I would normal notice or comment on unless it is truly exceptional, as it is in this game. With Split Second, Black Rock have crafted an arcade racer that rivals the true great of the genre such as Ridge Racer, Sega Rally, and Burnout - it's a tragedy that it isn't as well known as it deserves to be.  Those who do know of it do love it for the most part, though.

This is the Survival mode - watch out for those barrels or say bye bye to your chassis!
Innovation & Cleverness: 7 out of 10
I'm going to give Split Second a fairly high score here (at least, higher than I usually give) because the combination of triggered explosions with the TV show format is quite unique, especially to the racing genre.  The closest thing I can think of is MotorStorm Apocalypse but that came along quite a long time afterwards and you don't actually have any control over the destruction in that game.  It isn't nearly as dynamic either.  Nope, there isn't really anything else quite like Split Second out there.  We may well have received a sequel, but Disney in their infinite wisdom pulled the plug on Black Rock, and the team went their separate ways.  Some of them continued to work on racing games alongside veterans from Bizarre Creations, Eden Studios and Codemasters, to form the Forza Horizon developers Playground Games.  Others moved on to making mobile games at companies like Shortround Games.  So luckily, it wasn't truly game over for most of these guys!

Value & Replayability: 7 out of 10
The main campaign mode in Split Second is actually fairly short, lasting roughly 10-12 hours.  You can add on a bit more if you are a completionist and want to try and get first place in every single event.  Also, it may be just because I was trying to play through the whole game in a fairly short space of time, but I was starting to tire of the power play mechanic just a little bit by the end of the whole thing.  I love the Air Attack mode though, so it's a shame that it's totally replaced by the Air Revenge mode about half way through the campaign and never comes back.

As usual in these reviews, I am basing this score on what the game would cost you today, and not what it was originally selling for. So, you should be able to find a copy of Split Second for a fiver or less fairly easily, which is a very good price for the amount of fun on offer. I did hop online to see if anyone was still playing the multiplayer mode, and was surprised to get into a full lobby on my first try.  This was just in the race mode though - the other modes were pretty empty.

Finally, there are some DLC packs available which add a couple of new modes, some extra tracks and cars into the game.  I thought these tracks were really good, so it's a shame they are only in the free play mode and not incorpated into an extra episode or two of the campaign. There was potential for them to do a "Christmas Special" or something and give the DLC a bit more structure.  As it is I can't really see myself playing them that much.

Overall: 9 out of 10
If you haven't played Split Second already and you still have your PS3 or Xbox 360 then you should definitely acquire a copy and play through the campaign, it's a ton of fun.  The game may also be available through the PS Now service, though I'm not sure about that.  Hopefully one day it will also be made backwards compatible on the Xbox One, though I doubt that will happen as Disney don't seem terribly interested in the game industry these days.  Nevertheless, for a short time they were putting out some solid titles with the help of developers like Black Rock and Avalanche. Perhaps we will get a spiritual successor to Split Second one day, in the meantime we still have the original, which I think holds up fantastically well today.  That's all I have for this time - next time I will probably be playing Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, so see you then! In the meantime, take care!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Darksiders | Last Gen Regen: Forgotten Favourites

Welcome to the first article in a new, semi regular series entitled Last Gen Regen. There were tons of games released for the last generation of consoles that didn't perform as well as I think think they deserved, either crtically or financially, and I think they deserve a bit more love. Titles that fall under this category include Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the de Blob games and Binary Domain, just for starters. The reason that I'm not committing to a regular schedule is that most of these games take quite a while to complete, so I will just be releasing them as and when they are ready. This series also serves as an excuse to replay some of my favourite titles, so I will be savouring my time with them!

We begin with Darksiders - which was developed by Vigil Entertainment in the year 2010 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.  This team was assembled by legendary comic book artist Joe Madureira, whose unique art style is stamped all over the game.  While beloved by the majority of those who have played the game, there are still tons of people who have never given it a second glance.  With a remastered version on the horizon, and copies of the original version selling for just a few quid, now is the perfect time for you to pick it up for yourself if you have yet to do so. Now it's time for me to spend roughly ten minutes explaining why.

Plot and Character: 8 out of 10
The action of Darksiders revolves around the four horsemen of the apocalypse, or more specifically, War.  As the game begins, War is standing in the streets of what looks like New York city, doing battle with demons.  As you progress further into the prologue, angels will arrive on the scene as well.  Rather than the classical winged creatures that you're familiar with, angels in the Darksiders series make use of technology such as jet packs and guns.  Their halo is also a part of the armour that they wear. War is on earth because he believes the seventh seal has been broken and the riders have been called, but he was deceived by a powerful demon called The Destroyer and his minions.  After falling in battle against Straga, one of the Destroyer's lieutenants, War finds himself in front of the Charred Council, entities which act as the balance keepers between the forces of Heaven and Hell.  Displeased with Wars actions on Earth, they strip him of most of his power, before permitting him to set off on a quest for revenge against The Destroyer.  As a condition of his release, War is tethered to The Watcher, brilliantly voiced by Mark Hamill.  From there, it's up to you to restore War to his former glory, slaughter your way through The Destroyer's forces, and set things right.

While I am more than aware that there are plenty of people out there who hate fantasy nonsense like this, I absolutely love this kind of thing. While the game takes itself a bit too seriously sometimes and comes across as cheesy, for the most part it is really cool, and metal as fuck! War himself is built like a brick shithouse, with huge chunky limbs and a giant sword that you can do some serious damage with. So while it's definitely not for everyone, I really enjoyed the premise of Darksiders and the ride that it took me on during its 20 or so hour long campaign. Of course the game play had a lot to do with that as well, but I will get there all in due course!

Graphics: 8 out of 10
The chunky, American Football player proportions of War also apply to a lof of the other characters in Darksiders, from the Angels like Abaddon, to side characters like Ulthane, who belongs to a race called The Makers.  These guys heavily resemble the Norse gods like Thor, and wield mighty hammers like him as well.  While there were a few instances where the was some screen tearing and a drop in frame rate, for the most part Darksiders ran really smoothly and the environments look really nice. At one point the mixture of hack and slash combat and puzzle solving is punctured by a rather lengthy flying sequence on the back of a Pegasus, which is just one of many visually spectacular parts.  The huge golems that guard the various areas of the map are also impressive, and a sight to behold as they lumber away, shaking both the screen and your gamepad.

While there aren't that many in the game, the horsey bits in Darksiders are good fun.
Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The audible portion of the presentation is equally as solid as the visual component, with some great noises while you're in combat and when you make use of your abilities. The music is well composed, but not particularly memorable after some time away from the game. It certainly doesn't measure up to the epic soundtrack of Darksiders II that was composed by Assassin's Creed veteran Jesper Kyd, but that is a matter for another time. The voice work in the game is generally well done again, though the dialogue that these guys have to read is incredibly melodramatic and can come across as a tad on the cheesy side at times. Still, it suits the subject matter.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
Darksiders plays out like a mash up of God of War and one of the 3D Legend of Zelda games, and that is no bad thing, believe me!  As your basic abilities are doled out during the opening hours of the game, you will find yourself locked inside various combat challenges where you have to kill a certain number of demons within a strict time limit and while using a certain ability or weapon.  Just as was starting to tire of this, roughly nine of so challenges in, they stop, never to return throughout the rest of the adventure.  The majority of the game is spent exploring huge dungeons, solving relatively mild puzzles, hacking up demons (and the occaisional angel) and obtaining new equipment or powers that allow access to further sections of the overworld.  While the world of Darksiders is fairly extensive and interconnected, with few noticeable load times, it is still fairly linear for the most part, with just a brief quest towards the end of the campaign giving you free reign to travel back to the various zones in any order you choose.

For most of the game the difficulty level is pitched just about right, with combat keeping you on your toes but never becoming frustrating.  You may die once or twice, but the penalty is very benign, with you just going back brief way to the nearest checkpoint. There is one dungeon close the finale that I did find really frustrating to beat, though - or rather, one puzzle within it that involved warping boxes through portals in order to raise and lower huge chandelier style platforms. I got quite annoyed by that one, but it's not even close to being as annoying as the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time, ultimately.

As you hack apart your enemies, souls will fly out of them and these can be drawn into you.  They can also be found inside chests that are liberally scattered around world, and in inanimate objects like cars, dustbins, and street lights.  These souls act your main currency in the game, and can be used to unlock new abilties and weapons, or power up those that you already have.  Speaking of weaponry, War mainly wields a huge sword, though you do also get access to a sythe, pistols, and a deadly disc launching thing.  You won't have enough souls to level everything up, so it's best to focus on whichever suits your particular play style and focus on them.  You can also find Zelda style upgrades to your health bar and rage meter hidden away all over the place, which will often be inaccessible the first time you find them.  You know what that means - come back later when you have the right ability.

This is Ulthane, one of the Makers - you will learn much more about these guys in Darksiders II.
Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Ultimately, it's the solid game play combined with the setting that makes Darksiders such a great game, in my opinion. It's not particularly innovative, being an amalgam of several different genres, but that doesn't really matter to me. Zelda style puzzling and exploration will always be fun, and brutal hack and slash combat adds that extra spice to make it interesting.  Layer on the truly fantastic character designs and fleshed out game world, and you have something rather special on your hands.

Value and Replability: 7 out of 10
You will probably only want to play through Darksiders the one time, or maybe twice after enough time has passed by.  But that play through will last somewhere around the 25 hour range, even more if you try and hunt down every single health upgrade and the best armour in the game, which is scattered across the lands. I never felt that the game was dragging on at all, which is something that very few games get right.  The original release will probably only set you back a fiver or less, which is a real bargain.  I am not sure how much THQ Nordic is going to be asking for the HD remaster - I would guess somewhere around th £30 mark.  That's still not bad considering how much quality gameplay is on offer.  UPDATE: Since writing this article I have learned that the price of the HD remaster will be £15, which is an absolute bargain!

Overall: 8 out of 10
Xbox 360 and PS3 owners were not short of quality games to play, but there weren't many experiences that compared to the Zelda games (Okami being a notable exception). Darksiders takes the blueprint that Nintendo established, adds in a liberal dose of visceral combat, and makes the whole thing much more dark, gothic, and cool.  If the game somehow passed you by the first time it was released, then either pick up a nice and cheap copy and play it on your older system, or grab the upcoming "Warmastered" version.

Darksiders II will most definitely be getting its time in the sun at some point in the future as well, but I haven't played all the way through it yet.  Before then though, now that Lost Odyssey can be enjoyed on the Xbox One through the magic of backwards playability, I think it's time to revisit it.  It will take a while for me to finish it though, as it's absolutely massive.  To tide us over, I will try and find something a little shorter to talk about next.  I was thinking a racing game would make a nice change of pace, but which one? There's Blur from Bizarre Creations, or Split Second from Black Rock Studios.  Let me know in the comments if you have a preference, and in the meantime, take care!

Friday, October 07, 2016

Game Diary: Autumn Update

It's been quite some time since I last had an update, or any type of post at all for that matter, so I thought I would bring you up to speed with what's been going on lately and my plans for both this blog and the YouTube channel.

Those of you who are subscribed on YouTube will be aware that the second season of Covertape Chaos ended a little while ago.  I am taking a well-earned break from making those for a while; though I am still really busy creating other content.  I recently started taking a look at some of the games in my Steam collection - so far I have videos for Ember, Chronology and Glorkian Warrior.  These initial glances will become full reviews just as soon as I have had time to complete each of them!

Next, I have been planning a new series that will take a look at some of the more overlooked games of the prior generation for quite some time, and I am nearly ready to post the first episode and article.  That one will take a look at Darksiders, the Zelda style action adventure from Vigil Entertainment.  Other episodes in the series will cover Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, de Blob 2, Lost Odyssey, Blue Dragon, Blur, Split Second and more besides.  I am not going to commit to a regular schedule for these because I want to take my time playing or replaying each game, so new episodes will appear sporadically.  The Darksiders episode will be up next Tuesday though.

Also coming soon will be another pickups video.  Over the last few months I have acquired a nice pile of games, both brand new and older, so it's about time I went through them all with you.  Then after that I will be bringing back PS2 Tuesday for another season.  So far I know that Shadow Hearts will definitely be part of it - I am currently in the back half of the game and just need to crack on and finish it.  I don't think I will bother going for the good ending this time, I have done so twice before already and it's not canon anyway - the sequel disregards everything that happens in it!  I also have quite a few other PS2 titles that I would like to be part of season 4: Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 2, Lumines Plus, Motorstorm: Artic Edge and much more besides. Hopefully I can get the ball rolling on the new season by the start of November, but don't hold me to that!

Sprinkled in and around all of these will be other stuff like the odd episode of RetroGrade when I feel the need to play some of the classics, and maybe the occasional review of a new game as well.  Silly season is well upon us already, with games like Forza Horizon 3, X-COM 2, Mafia 3, Gears of War 4 and Dragon Quest Builders either out already or just around the corner.  That's just for starters as well.  2016 is set to be remembered as another great one in the annals of video gaming!  Covertape Chaos will also be back, but not until 2017. You can rest assured that I am 100% committed to getting through all 64 Power Packs though!

Thanks for letting me witter on for a bit and listening to my plans for this rather modest blog and RMGB TV, its YouTube spin off.  I'll see you again next Tuesday for that Darksiders article - in the meantime take care!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Game Diary: A Mini Update

It's been a few weeks since I last posted an update, so I just wanted to pop on and bring you all up to date with what's going on with the blog and RMGB TV.  Firstly, the second season of Covertape Chaos is now in full swing, with the third episode dropping today!  A new one will be going live every fortnight, up until we get to episode 24, when it will go on another break.  The tapes I've played for this season so far have been a lot of fun, with some really smart games like Hacker II and Terror of the Deep to enjoy.

I've also recently been doing a few mini unboxing videos, because have had an offer where you can buy 10 random unboxed DVD's of a given certificate for £10.  I've got some decent (and not so decent) movies this way, and now I'm in the process of watching some of them.  I have on occaision posted some film reviews here on the blog in the past, but I didn't want to overdo it as it is a gaming site first and foremost, after all.  Maybe I will wait until I have watched around half a dozen movies and then do one big post with mini reviews of each.  I have a few more unboxings coming up, for the Zbox Gamer Edition and a Mystery Zbox that was given away free as part of an offer Zavvi were doing.  If they ever turn up, that is.  Then there's my pick ups video - I have quite a large pile of games that I've acquired since Christmas, so I would like to show you all what I've got.  This might go up next Tuesday.

Next up, I played and completed Quantum Break in its entirety, and do intend to review it very soon.  That might not be up this week - we'll see how things go.  I am also playing through the back half of The Division, attempting to get to level 30 and to the end game content.  I have really enjoyed The Division - it's quite surprising how much fun it has been, actually. In the handheld arena, I am about 10 hours in to Bravely Second: End Layer on the 3DS and I am loving it.  I loved the original game as well, for the most part - until the notorious stretch of repetitive gameplay towards the end of the story.  Apparently Square Enix have rectified this for the sequel, so I am looking forward to gradually making my way through the game.

Lastly, I have several new series in the works for the YouTube Channel - the first episode of Advance Warning, which will be GBA reviews, has already been uploaded, and I have more on the way.  Besides that, I also want to start a series that highlights what I consider to be classics from the previous generation that everybody should play.  To that effect, I am about 8 hours into Darksiders on the Xbox 360.   Other games that will most likely be part of season one of this series include Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed II, Gears of War, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Enslaved: Journey to the West and Red Dead Redemption.  Not sure when the series will start yet - probably when I've got three episodes ready to go.  As for PS2 Tuesdays, that will be back as well although I don't know exactly when yet.  It's hard to find the time to play all of these different games!  Thanks for reading this mini update, and for sticking with the blog.  There will be another video next Tuesday, and hopefully another post fairly soon as well.  In the meantime, take care!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Advance Warning #1: Racing Gears Advance

Way back in the early days of my YouTube channel, I made a short lived series called Nintendo Night, where I would talk about some of my favourite games for the various Nintendo platforms.  Back then I was making my videos by shooting the screen with an iPhone 3GS, and basically making it up as I went along.  These videos are rather embarrassing to watch nowadays, so I have decided to remake some of them, starting with the one I did about a rather overlooked GBA title called Racing Gears Advance. I don't have a huge collection of GBA cartridges - around two dozen or so - but I am going to cover more games for the system later on so I have started this new series called Advance Warning.  With the help of my Retron 5, I will be able to bring you some nice clear footage of the games I'm covering.  So let's get on with taking another look at Racing Gears Advance!

I remember reading about this game in one of the magazines that I used to buy around the time of its release, and thinking it looked really cool from the screen shots.  I love top down racers like Championship Sprint, Micro Machines and Circuit Breakers, so one look at the little cars racing around nicely detailed tracks planted the game firmly on my radar and taking a bit of a gamble, I pre ordered a copy.  I remember it was fairly late in the life of the GBA, The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap had been released not too long before it, and my imported Japanese DS fat had recently turned up from Lik-Sang, so I ended up playing most of those two games on the superior screen of the DS compared to the dingy old screen on my GBA SP AGS-001 model that I owned at the time.  From the moment I put the game in and fired it up for the first time I was not disappointed - the game felt immediately responsive and intuitive to control with a nice little powerslide that could perform lifting off the acceleration button and then hammering back on to it as you turned into a corner.

The graphics are nice and bright, and compared to most games on the GBA, they are very nicely detailed indeed. Little things like the way the trees move in the breeze and the way your cars suspension reacts when going over cobblestones or a wooden bridge are great little touches that help to set Racing Gears Advance apart from the average crapware that was sadly so common on the system.  The tracks are pretty diverse in their nature, and consist of scenic rural areas like vineyards, treacherous snowy mountain tracks, shipyards, and even an active volcano!  Backing up the graphics is some very strong audio as well - particularly the music.  Again, music of this quality is fairly rare on the GBA, and the actual tunes remind me of SID music from the C64.  It is most definitely of a retro chiptune style, and even features some voice samples in tunes such as the catchy People Mover.  Sound effects are decent enough as well, but are a bit overshadowed by the music.  There's a variety of skidding effects, explosions and the like, which all add to the overall quality of the game.

So that's the presentation addressed, but let's now focus on the game play.  Initially, the game is a lot of fun indeed as you bomb around the circuits, building up money reserves from both pickups on the track itself and from winnings after placing in the races.  Each cup, of which there are five, consists of five races, so there's a very decent 25 tracks in total in the game.  At the end of a championship, the points are tallied and the final placing revealed.  If you come first, then you get to move on to the next championship, anything less and you will have to try again.  You are never actually faced with a game over screen, which is quite nice.  Before each race, you can take a look at the map, see roughly how difficult the track is, check surface type and the weather.  These last two things are important, because if you were go race on snow with your slicks equipped, or if you had dry tires on when it was raining, you would really struggle to control your car and also maintain a decent speed in the race.  So as you earn cash in the events, you should be buying new types of tire.  That's not all though, your car itself is also upgradeable - you can level up the engine, the turbo, the armour, the brakes and finally, the weapon cells.  As you progress through the different cups you will discover that it is absolutely necessary to upgrade your car in order to be competitive.

You can also take damage as well, which can get pretty expensive to fix.  Finally, there are many different weapons to buy in the game.  At first you just get access to nitrous and basic missiles, but with each new cup that's unlocked you will be allowed to buy more and more types of weapon.  Later types include mines that do a significant amount of damage to anyone unlucky to drive over them, and heat seeking missiles.  In addition to weaponry, each character has their own innate special ability as well.  One of them can steal cash by bumping into other cars, another one can mess up your steering temporarily, which can be infuriating.  That brings to my one major problem with the game.  By the time you get to around the third championship, the majority of the weapons will have been unlocked, and the computer AI starts acting like a complete bastard.  Within the first few seconds of a race it's quite likely that you will have been shot, spun out, run into level mines, and bashed into for good measure.  A decent race can easily be ruined by the overaggressive opponents, and it can become infuriating.  You can go back to previous championships, grind for money and gradually level your cars so that you can then easily win the current championship, so at least you won't get stuck, but this does make the game feel like a bit of a grind at times.

Despite these few problems though, Racing Gears Advance still stands out as one of the best third party games released for the GBA, yet it's one that I never ever hear anyone talking about.  When I checked the price for this review, I was surprised to find that there were copies available on for around £28.  That's not an insignificant amount by any means, but I was thinking it would be worth £50 at the absolute minimum.  If you get the opportunity, you really should check this game out, either through emulation or by spending a bit of a genuine copy.  Despite the frustrating game play in the latter stages on the championship mode it remains a lot of fun to play and is a title that I still return to frequently today.  I'll be back with another edition of Advance Warning in the not too distant future, as well as bringing all the other videos that I've been promising for a while.  In the meantime, take care!

Friday, March 04, 2016

Game Diary: Rapturous Retro

It's been a couple of weeks since my last video, so this weekend I will definitely try and put something together for all of you.  The next episode of the C64 review show is partially completed already, so that's the most likely candidate.  I am thinking that I may change the way I do my C64 reviews though, and just do one game per episode.  When I do four games with music interspersed throughout, that takes a lot of time to produce, and I have to say often at the end of a long week the enthusiasm just isn't there to spend most of my weekend making them.  By focusing on just one game I would be able to release episodes much more frequently and it would be more fun too.

I recently picked up a nifty little gadget that should also assist in my video making endeavours.  A few weekends ago, I received an email from the UK gadget supplier Funstock, where they were announcing that they had a whole bunch of stuff available at half price because they were refurbished.  Amongst the stuff on sale was a JXD S7800B, which is a powerful Android based tablet with physical controls.  After watching half a dozen or so reviews of it on YouTube, I was very impressed with what I saw.  This thing is powerful enough to emulate consoles all the way up to consoles like the N64, PS1 and Dreamcast!  The Dreamcast emulation isn't perfect but it is possible to get the majority of games running in at least a playable state, with a few graphical glitches here and there.  My eyes lit up at the prospect of playing Skies of Arcadia on the go and so I ordered one!

When it arrived, there was a bit of a problem - Funstock had neglected to check the product properly before sending it out and a few vital cables were missing, namely the charger and the USB data cable. Having heard bad things about the regular charger, I managed to find a USB version online and ordered that.  I do have everything I need now though and my JXD is now loaded up with emulators and games for the C64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, NES, SNES, N64, PS1, Game Gear, Master System, Megadrive, Neo Geo Pocket, Neo Geo MVS, MAME and of course the Dreamcast.  I've been getting used to it over the past week and enjoying a variety of games including Earthbound, Streets of Rage and of course Skies of Arcadia. My dream of playing my favourite RPG on a handheld system is a reality!  Of course if Sega ever do decide to release a legitimate port of the game on the 3DS, Vita or any future handheld I will buy it, but I think the chances of that happening are pretty slim unfortunately.

Anyway, because the JXD has HDMI out built in, I am thinking that I will use it to capture footage of all sorts of retro games.  The picture quality of the C64 games should be noticeably better this way, in theory.  I have heard that I may need to replace the version of Android that comes installed on the JXD with a more recent version though, because the one on the machine runs at 66hz and all the emulators and games run at 60hz.  This isn't a problem in normal usage, but it creates all sorts of issues when you plug the system into a TV - namely horrible input lag and a chugging frame rate.  It's a pain that I have to go through this process in the first place, but the effort of upgrading should be worth it in the long run.  If all goes well, I will then start to use the JXD to make capture the C64 games. During the week on my commutes I will continue to play various games until I get a good feel for one and can put together a review.

During my first attempt at creating content on YouTube, about 5 or 6 years ago, I made 5 or so videos under the title Nintendo Night. These are pretty poor quality efforts because they were made by pointing an iPhone 3GS at my TV - I didn't have a proper capture card at the time.  I'm thinking of resurrecting this series under the title of Nintendo Night Neo, and using the JXD to discover / capture the games.  I could also do something similar with the Sega machines of course!  Picking up the JXD S7800B has really reignited my passion for retro gaming, and for making YouTube videos about them.  I would be interested to hear any suggestions of games that you think I should check out for any of the systems that I listed above.  Keep an eye open for the C64 Review Show Episode 3 at some point over the next week, and in the meantime, take care!