It's been a little more than a week actually, since I got mine two or three days after launch, but who's counting?
I've spent most of the last few days with this thing in my hands, rotating between four different games and I've come to a series of conclusions. The first of which can be summed up in the form of a question: Why does the power cord fit into the device upside down but won't charge that way? That drove me nuts on the first night. If you pick one up and find that it's not taking a charge, make sure the logo is pointing up.
Also, why is the camera only 4x3? And complete shit?
Anyway, on to the games, of which I picked up four.
1) Super Stardust Delta. This is the game I have to admit I've spent the most time with. If you don't know anything about it, imagine if Asteroids and Geometry Wars had a 3D baby. You got it. My only complaint about this one is that it's cheap, and if you've played Geometry Wars you know exactly what I mean, and like Geometry Wars, it has officially gotten old for me. It looks fantastic, and is exactly what I thought I wanted to play when I bought my Vita to break it in, but now I feel I can safely delete it and move on.
2) Uncharted: Golden Abyss. To be honest I've spent the least amount of time with this one. I've never played an Uncharted game before, and it does make a good first impression. Good cutscenes, the combat seems to flow smoothly... The platforming is a little stiff though if you use the button controls. Also, I don't like it's insistence on using every form of input the Vita offers. Save something for the second date, fellas. Overall, the presentation was solid and I will definitely take the time to finish it eventually. Right now, though, it's just not what I want to be playing at the moment. More on that later.
3) Lumines: Of the four games, this was the only one I picked up at the store. The reason was because I made the mistake of going to the "good" Gamestop. The one where the people are always nice and helpful and they will go out of their way to see that you get what you need. As opposed to the one closest to me, which is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Long story short, I felt bad about not leaving with a game. Lumines is Lumines. Plain and simple. For what it is, it's a great little game and probably the smoothest experience I had on my Vita in terms of gameplay and presentation. Not worth the price I paid for it, but it will be played again.
4) Blazblue: Whatever-It-Was Extended Something-or-Rather Flashing-Colors-You-Lose: For as much as I love fighting games, I suck at fighting games. If ever there was a reminder of that, there's Blazblue. It's a merciless assault on my late-twenties lagging reflexes, but a very pretty one. Thorough too. Tons of modes to play, online play, tutorials, story modes, the whole works. Still, I didn't play it all that much, and the reason was mostly because I just didn't want to take the time to learn it and get better.
Which brings me to my dilemma: I haven't found what I was, personally, looking for. I think I want a solid RPG. I had a PSP 1000 way back when they were new and I never really used it. Seriously, my biggest accomplishment on that thing was I watched the entire series of Fullmetal Alchemist on it. I don't want my Vita to go the same way, and I've found myself staring wistfully at the list of PSP games on the PSN store, wondering what I may have missed since I set my PSP aside instead of doing what I guess I should be doing, refreshing the screen over and over again until I can get Gravity Rush.
The fact of the matter is that there are a lot more PSP titles that I'd love to get than Vita at the moment, but I feel like it would be a waste. Persona has caught my eye, if that tells you anything. Seriously though, I know an RPG or a tactics game might not be the best way to showcase new hardware, but... well I dunno. I'm not having as much fun with the new stuff as I hoped I would is all.
(I looked to see if this game had been reviewed on Destructoid before, but I didnt see anything. If I missed something and someone out there has tackled this one before, I apologize.)
I enjoy card games. I played Magic: The Gathering back in high school and rediscovered it recently. For the life of me, I can't imagine why there isn't a mobile version of the game, or any of the other popular ones for that matter. One alternative I did discover, though, is Shadow Era, collectible card game that exists entirely online and is meant to be played as such. (a launch of a physical card game is currently pending)
Being uniquely seated in a medium with little competition, I was curious to see how a new player in the card game, um, game, would stack up to it's competitors.
Shadow Era is simple enough to understand, and very easy to delve into. There are versions available for iOS devices, Android, Mac & PC, as well as a browser-based version build on Unity architecture, all of which are free to access and are all unified. Which means that, thankfully, your account, decks, and rankings can be accessed from any device, anywhere.
Anyway, on to the game itself. A match is played between two players and each is dealt a hand of seven cards from their own custom-built decks. The players discard cards to build resources, which are spent each round to put various cards in play. The play field is divided into two sections, labeled "allies" and "items" where each respective type of card is put into play. Allies are various creatures, each with it's own attack power and health and may or may not offer some special abilities. Items are cards with lasting effects, such as allowing players to draw additional cards, protections or status ailments.
Every player also brings to the table a Hero card, which sits to the left of the playing field, Hero cards cannot attack on their own, have more health, and each brings its own special abilities to the game that can be activated once every three to five turns.
The object of the game is simple: Drop your opponent's hero to zero. Attack it with heroes, sling spells, however you want. Just get it done before he does the same to you.
The deck-building screen is pretty easy to use, but limits the number of decks you can have at one time to one per hero. Personally, I would have liked to create a few different variants.
Additional cards can be bought two ways, gold and shadow crystals. Gold is earned through playing and winning matches, and can be used to buy and sell individual cards. Full decks and booster packs are purchased through shadow crystals, which are in turn purchased with real money. These are comparitively cheap, coming in at about one dollar for a booster pack and two dollars for a deck. The amount of gold earned through playing the game is so minuscule, however, purchasing your cards outright is a much simpler option.
Twenty more matches before I can buy a new rare card! (I leave it to you to decide if that's a problem for you or not.)
Visuals and Sound
There really isn't any sound to speak of. Just a continuous, looping music track. If you mute the game, you will miss out on nothing, I promise.
Visually though the game is rather impressive. The cards are rendered in 3d and the camera moves dynamically around the table as the game progresses. By table, I just mean a static background, but it's a nice background. Some customization options there would be nice, but it's a small gripe.
Despite some slight antialiasing on the cards themselves, the card art is one of the highlights of the game. The names on the other hand, can sometimes just be silly. No matter how good the game looks, playing cards with names like Bad Santa, Boris Skullcrusher or What Big Teeth does leave the game feeling a little amateurish at times.
When you create a Shadow Era account, you are asked to pick your first hero card and are given a starting deck. The single-player side of the game is surprisingly limited. You are presented with a map and a small selection of enemies to choose from. Also, you can choose "Custom AI" and as you might have guessed, create a custom opponent to play against.
Multiplayer challenges, however, is the meat and potatoes of Shadow Era, and it features a full ranking system and leader board. In addition, if you play the game on an iPhone or iPad, game center allows you to track your rank against your friends, although it doesn't feature any Achievements, and seems to rank you by your accumulated gold rather than a win/loss record.
Shadow Era's own ranking system, though, is more robust, although not by much. You can search by username, create a match, or quick match. However, there are at current no ways to keep a friends list or organize private tournaments.
Getting into a game is one thing, playing it is another. When everything is fine, the gameplay is smooth and rewarding, but it's plagued by frequent bugs and disconnects. Players drop out of matches frequently, leaving you staring at your screen and waiting for the game to realize it. Plus, context buttons don't always display when they should. To be fair, however, this can usually be remedied by simply putting a card down and picking it back up again.
Despite all of its flaws, it's still a solid game. It's a smooth, simple, addictive distraction you can access anywhere. It's not going to replace your usual Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh game nights anytime soon, but if you need something to tide you over between them, or if you can't justify spending the money on physical booster packs, or if you're looking for a gateway game into the card game scene, Shadow Era is a sure bet that will keep you going for hours on end.
If you give this game a try, look me up! My player name is Sparky the Great. Hey, it's better than most people on there. Less offensive, too. To be honest, I don't think they police that kind of thing at all.
So I opened up my first blog post yesterday on the weekly topic, and didn't really get a chance to say hello. Oh well, hi. Nice to meet you.
So, I'm kind of in a peculiar position. It's that time of year again. The post-Christmas Christmas that is normally referred to as tax time. That time of year when whatever higher power you believe in drops a handful of money in your lap, loosens your chains a little bit and says "go have a little fun."
By happenstance, we are also in the midst of the American launch of the Playstation Vita. Now, part of me wants one, while the other part can't seems to justify the price. I've watched every unboxing, read every review, and have come to terms with the fact that it's an overpriced, gimmicky, clunky hunk of junk that no moron on the planet could buy sober.
Then, I walked into a GameStop and saw one in person. I believe "ooh, shiny!" pretty much sums up my response. The demo game was Wipeout, which as you all know is just a flat out gorgeous game. I played with it a little, and while I did, all of those old gripes that had been nagging at me to ignore it just disappeared.
So I think I have a new perspective on it, and that still means there's a lot of it that I'm not impressed with. All of the social aspects of it, such as Near and Group Messaging and even the OS itself, I get a headache just thinking about it. I am actually a big fan of the Playstation and PSP operating system. I am. It's clean, elegant, simple. And no ads outside of the store. (you listening, Microsoft?)
It's not without it's problems, though. Of course all the updates, and the hassle of downloading something you've paid for, it's enough to drive you mad, but it's easy to get access to your content. If it doesn't need to be updated, of course.
The Vita's interface is all of that times infinity. However, if you strip all of that away, what you're left with is a game console. And when the games start, all of that seems to melt away. If the content maintains some level of quality, I'm thinking that might be enough for me. Once it's liberated from that horrid download queue, of course.
I mean, they'll release endless patches and general updates, right? It'll all get better in time. Plus, all of the extra social stuff, it's just excess for me really. I have a phone and an iPad for that.
What I want to ask you guys is this: Am I wrong? Is it worth it, really?
Picture it: Christmas. 1987-ish. I don't remember the exact year, but I think I was five years old. I come from something of a lower-middle class family, so Christmas was when most of the big purchases came about. There wasn't any snow on the ground, there never is in a South Carolina Christmas, and my parents and I had taken the morning to drive up to my Uncle's house.
I remember being somewhat upset. I can't recall what I might have gotten myself that year. Probably a My Pet Monster doll or some sweet Voltron toys, but we had left most of that behind at home to visit our relatives.
I stood at the door, beside my dad, as my uncle Rick opened the door in his pajamas. "Hey y'all," he said, smiling down at me, "Go see Heath's new game."
Heath was my cousin, five years older than me. He has cerebral palsy, and was often to be found being forced to put up with me when they would babysit me. I found him in his room, lying flat on the floor in front of a tiny little television, playing Super Mario Bros.
At that time in his life, he didn't get out much. He had spent most of his time in various surgeries on his legs, and my aunt and uncle hadn't entirely taken that into consideration. He had the NES of course, and the new television, but he also had a R.O.B and the power pad. Not the best choice for a kid who couldn't walk, I think.
Still, he did it. I stood on the blue side, running madly in place while he slapped a steady beat with his hands on the red side. Then, we played Duck Hunt. He won, of course. My five year-old self couldn't quite get that 'looking down the sight' thing down. We finished that first day of gaming off with a little Gyromite, minus R.O.B. We never did actually get that thing to work, but the whole thing had captured my imagination. I was hooked, and I immediately asked my parents for one of my own.
A kid asking for a new toy on Christmas day? Yeah, it went over about as well as you think it would. It was a while before I actually got one, but eventually I did. My uncle's thinly-veiled attempt at bragging pretty much changed my life. Also, it gave Heath and I something to do together. I mean, something that didn't involve getting me in trouble or locking me in a closet.
Gaming, for me in the early years was about connecting with people. I would play F-Zero with my dad in the years that followed, Mortal Kombat with my friends in my preteen years, Grand Theft Auto 3 with my brother in my teen years, and Halo with my coworkers in my early twenties.
These days I spend more time playing single-player RPGs or quick-matching it whatever multiplayer game happens to catch my attention. Still, even that hasn't changed the old tradition of bonding through gaming for me. My love of gaming has introduced me to a lot of nerdy, awesome people through blogs and social networks and such, and on some level, it's something that nearly everyone has in common. Some of us dig deeper into the past-time than others, but there is some measure of common ground there.
You know what? Heath has a Playstation 3, let me go see what he's up to these days. Be right back!
*five minutes later*
Maybe I'm wrong about that common ground thing.