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3:39 AM on 07.23.2011

Deathsmiles (iOS) Review

It's been over a year since Cave first hit the app store with their port of Espgaluda II and it still blows my mind that A. I can play Cave games on my iPhone and B. they actually work. As the premier developer of old-school "bullet hell" style shooters, they've somehow managed to cram one of the most difficult, precise genres of gaming into the casual-friendly touch screen confines of the iDevices and I love them for it.

With this month's release of Deathsmiles, Cave has honed their iOS skills to the point where I would almost call this the definitive version of the game. Almost. Let's take a closer look, shall we?

Deathsmiles (iOS)
Developer: Cave
Publisher: Cave
Released: July 7, 2011
MSRP: $11.99

Deathsmiles is a horizontal scrolling shooter set in the strange land of Gilverado; an alternate world of sorts where "lost children" are whisked away after escaping death. If you're actually interested in the story the game provides a rather lengthy history section to read on your own time, although virtually nothing is explained in-game. That's OK since we're here to shoot stuff. Be forewarned though, there is plenty of Japanese "weirdness" for lack of a better term. Whether you find flying magical teenage girls and bizarre bosses (see header image) to be awesome or off-putting may effect your perception of the game.

To mix things up gameplay-wise, Deathsmiles sandwiches you between enemies from both sides, making you switch directions while you weave between bullets. This works flawlessly using traditional controls but I was very concerned how it would translate to the touchscreen. Between switching directions and your three shot types, Deathsmiles requires a few more virtual buttons than your average shooter. I found that with a little finger acrobatics and an adjustment to the button layout I was able to play comfortably, but be prepared to be a little more frustrated with the controls than other games in the genre. They still work about as well as possible and the game is still a blast to play, it just takes more time to adjust.

Deathsmiles' offers two modes to choose from. Arcade mode is pretty much a straight port of the original, so the big new edition here is the iPhone mode. If you're at all concerned about the game's hefty price tag, this is where you get your money's worth. You play as new girl Tiara and collect items and gold to make her stronger. All her acquired items and stats are retained after every playthrough, giving it a light RPG kind of feel. With the exception of the final boss, the actual levels are identical to Arcade mode, but the added incentive of collecting new items adds the extra replay value you don't often find in shooters.

I mentioned earlier that I would almost call this the definitive version of the game. Aside from the new iPhone mode, there's plenty of customization for controls, auto-bomb and shot settings, screen size etc. that just makes this release feel complete. We even finally get selectable difficulty on the Final and Extra stages, something I thought was oddly absent in the original. The only thing missing is the bullet-eating Mega Black Label mode and as good as they are, the touchscreen controls cannot equal a good stick or pad. There's also the aforementioned price. $11.99 plus in-game paid items is a lot to ask for in the current app store market. While I think there's plenty of content to merit the cost and the paid items are non-essential, it definitely takes the game out of "impulse buy" range and makes it a tougher sell to newcomers. Despite those shortcomings, Deathsmiles is still one of the best shooter experiences available for your iPhone/Pad/Touch. It's a must have for fans of the genre and if you're at all interested, at least give the Lite version a try.   read

3:48 PM on 04.27.2011

So Just What Is This "Trouble Witches Neo" on Xbox Live Arcade?

Trouble Witches Neo is out on XBLA today and I feel it is my civic duty to discuss it with the Destructoid Community. The game is an old school scrolling shooter similar to games by Cave or the Touhou games. If that means nothing to you, essentially cute anime girls fly around shooting magic bullets at each other, masking the fact that the game itself is SOUL CRUSHINGLY HARD.

Another interesting part of the story is the game is apparently a revamped version of an arcade game made by a "doujin" or independent Japanese developer. How in the world it made it out as a full international XBLA release is beyond me, but I say give us more!

So even if you're not really into the super cute anime aesthetic, if you ARE into hard, old-school gaming it might be worth checking out. Take a look at the trailer and see what you think.

[embed]199788:38005[/embed]   read

5:28 PM on 12.06.2010

Mushihimesama Bug Panic Review

I was kinda hoping Destructoid would review this game since I have been indoctrinated in the Cult of Cave and like to see the word get out on their games as much as possible. No review thus far (hey, can't cover 'em all) so I figured I'd take a swing at it. And while I've pretty much already given Cave my ATM pin, credit card and social security numbers at this point, I will try and be as objective as possible. Here it goes...

Following in the successful footsteps of Espgaluda II and Dodonpachi Resurrection, Mushihimesama Bug Panic is Cave's first game developed specifically for the iPhone. The game raised a few eyebrows when it was first announced as initial screens and trailers showed it was quite different from the tried-and-true scrolling shooter formula the company is known for. How does Cave fare working outside of their comfort zone? Well after spending some time with MBP (as I will now call it) I have confirmed I should never doubt Cave's ability to make a fun game.

Mushihimesama Bug Panic (iPhone)
Developer: Cave
Release date: November 5, 2010
MSRP: $4.99

MBP is a sequel/side story of sorts set in the in the Musihimesama ("Bug Princess") universe. You play as the titular Bug Princess, Reco, as she tries to get to the bottom of why the bugs in her forest are freaking out... and by "get to the bottom of" I mean "throw a lot of bombs and blow a lot of stuff up". There are two primary game modes: Adventure is where the story progresses in set stages on a series of maps while Score Trials tosses you into arena-style survival matches.

At it's core, MBP is a twin-stick shooter. Moving is handled with with a virtual stick on the left and aiming/firing is done on the right. Where it differs, however, is your weapon of choice. Rather than offering the usual pistol/machine gun/shotgun, etc. weapons and streaming out waves of endless bullets, Reco is armed solely with her "Burst Seed" bombs. It's a satisfying system; aim with the right stick, lock on up to three targets, release to throw. Holding the bomb longer will charge and and make them stronger. For bonus satisfaction, defeated enemies also explode, damaging other foes and potentially setting off a chain reaction that will have you racking up massive points.

Balancing out your firepower is the fact that you are completely vulnerable while charging, and unlike the aforementioned streaming bullets of other twin-stick shooters, you really have no stopping power until the bombs explode. So you have to constantly be on your toes, switching between offense and defense. It's incredibly fun and balanced in the way that makes Cave games so addicting.

And make no mistake, this IS a Cave game. Even though MBP is not as soul-crushingly difficult as some of their other games, THERE WILL BE BULLETS. Lots of them. Normal folks who don't like hurting themselves will find the game to be a good challenge, and for Cave veterans there's an extra unlockable Hard mode that ups the ante considerably. I think Cave has done a good job catering to both groups in their other iPhone ports and this game is no expection.

Of course there are a few issues. First off, the controls. Like any other two-stick shooter on the iPhone, I did find my own fingers getting in the way of the action at times. MBP tries to address this by offering three control stick options and overall the sprites for you and your enemies are pretty small, giving you some room to breathe. So it's probably about as good as it can be on iPhone, which is to say "good" but not "real controller" good.

Another issue that stood out is the rather bland level designs. They're made up of flat, plain tilesets, and just look disappointing if you've seen the lovely, dense, hand drawn backgrounds from other Cave titles. I don't need this game to be Zelda, but the levels are really just area-to-area backdrops for the action. The meat of the game is the combat so that's acceptable, but it leaves the action a little bit repetitive and the light exploration elements that ARE in place a little boring. Just seems like a missed opportunity.

I feel like there's so much more I could say about this game. There's a surprising amount of extras, including a collection sidequest, a History section to catch you up on the other Mushihimesama games, and a jigsaw puzzle(?!) that to be honest I don't fully understand. Clearly I have rambled on longer than anyone should for a $5 iPhone game, so I will just recommend you go ahead and play it already. There is a free trial version available, so if you haven't jumped on the Cave bandwagon yet now is as good a time as any.

I'm not a big fan of numerical scores on reviews, but meh why not, I will give Mushihimesama Bug Panic a 9 out of 10. Go buy it!   read

12:19 AM on 07.01.2010

Ten Dollar Tally: June 2010 Edition

Ten Dollar Tally is a monthly series where I recap how much gaming I managed to buy on a $10 budget and whether or not I feel I got my money's worth. The rules are simple: buy $10 worth of games every month, the games must cost SOMETHING so no freebies, and I have to get at least two games or this cblog would become very boring.

The month of June netted me 4 games, including my occasional dip into the world of Xbox Live Indie Games. Somehow I managed to get something that did NOT involve an Avatar mini-game. Here's the full recap:

Monster Mayhem
Chillingo, iPhone
Price: $1.99

What it is:
Monster Mayhem is a castle defense game where you fight off waves of cartoon monsters using your standard monster/zombie slaying arsenal. Simply tap or swipe the screen where you want to attack, earn gold to spend in the upgrade shop, and try and hold out until each round ends.

Why I bought it:
It's so pretty.... the same exact thing happened with Knights Onrush, also by Chillingo oddly enough. I did not learn my lesson.

Was it worth it?
I'll be blunt, I did not enjoy this game for long. It looks great and has a bit of a Plants vs. Zombies vibe (right down to the "monster handbook") but the inherent flaw with this and many other castle defense games is they just get BORING. In Knights Onrush you had a couple of different weapons but ultimately it was a lot of tedious flicking. MM doesn't go much beyond just tedious tapping. You've got your standard handgun, shotgun, SMG thing going on but besides power/rate of fire there's not a lot different about them. In the interest of full disclosure, I did not unlock the final weapon, maybe it's some amazing monster killing BFG the likes of which I have never experienced, but to be honest after the first few levels I didn't really care.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Capcom, iPhone
Price: $4.99

What it is:
I'm very happy I can share this little known indie title with.... eh lame joke nevermind, it's yet another port of the original DS game (which, according to wikipedia, was a remake of the original GBA version) that you should all know by now involves solving murder mysteries - Capcom style.

Why I bought it:
I actually have never played any Phoenix Wright games, from what I understood they were good but had zero replay value once you were done and I had a tough time justifying the cost of the original. $4.99 on the iPhone, however, is a different story.

So was it worth it?
I'm not going to recap a game that has been around for years and reviewed to death, but I will offer a bit of my personal impressions having never played it myself. For one, the game is very Capcom, which really isn't a good or bad thing per se, I just have no other adjectives that fittingly describe it. The graphics, the goofy humor, the Street Fighter style yelling.... if you've been gaming for awhile, especially through the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, you should know exactly what that means. The game itself is very enjoyable and rewarding and well suited for iPhone, even if its occasionally a bit arbitrary. If you haven't played it before, now is the time to try it.

Princess Fury
Mo-Star, iPhone
Price: $1.99

What it is:
An arena-style hack and slash game with a very simple upgrade system and AI partners to help you as you smash through hordes of enemies. A few different objective types like capture the crystal and (grrrrr) escort missions try and mix things up a bit.

Why I bought it:
At first glance the game looks like Castle Crashers if it had originally been developed by Gamevil for the iPhone which, to me, could be a good thing. As a man who enjoys a quick hack and slash romp every now and then (I'll pick up a Dynasty Warriors game every 2-3 years and I'm not ashamed to admit it) I went ahead with the purchase.

So was it worth it?
Well... things started out exactly as advertised. The combat was simple but fun, and your AI partners absorb enough damage to stay somewhat useful. I particularly enjoyed the satisfying punch to the special moves, a few are punctuated by a "mode 7" kind of zoom where you can see pixels and all as you dash through a dozen or so evil knights. Good times right? Well, the problem is when they try to mix things up and add variety. The capturing crystals missions were fine because they still boiled down to conquering hordes of bad guys. My biggest problem was the arguably most dreaded mission type in all of video games: the Escort Missions.

I am not the first person to say this and I will not be the last but people who make games, take note: DO NOT MAKE AN ESCORT MISSION. In order for them to work, your AI has to be perfect (it won't be) and even then they are rarely fun. I was enjoying this game up to the first escort mission and it just about ruined it for me. To use the word "intelligence", artificial or otherwise, would be an insult to AI everywhere, including the cannon fodder in my (beloved?) Dynasty Warriors games. It makes the escort missions nearly impossible. I was only able to clear them on shear luck as the character I was escorting just happened to make it to the lower half of the screen and avoid much of the action. And it's not about the challenge; I do enjoy challenge (see my profile) but only when I am fighting against odds that can be overcome with my own skill. Bad game design, however, I do not enjoy.

Halfbrick, Xbox Live Indie Games, also available on PSN
Price: 80 MS Points ($1)

What it is:
A puzzle/action game, the goal is to collect gems but as you do a dangerous "echo" version of yourself appears on the path you just walked. Strategy and quick reflexes are required as more echoes crowd the level. Also I have to mention this - in a stroke of genius (?), the main protagonist is a girl in a wide brimmed sun hat viewed from top down so virtually no character animation is required. Take that Mickey Mouse and your 4 fingers!

Why I bought it:
The concept is vaguely reminiscent of other time/clone manipulation puzzle games but sort of it's own unique twist. It's also made by Halfbrick, the makers of Age of Zombies aka 1 of only 2 good PSP minis, and the upcoming Raskulls. I was actually surprised to see this in Indie Games given the games pedigree.

So was it worth it?
In theory the "echo" hook sounds cool, in practice it ends up being a little bit different than I expected. I came in thinking, maybe hoping, this would be a slow, calculated thinking man's game, where each move is mapped out and then you gleefully watch your character dart between a few choice echoes. What I got was something a bit closer to.... Pac-man. To be fair the game's description does say "Pac-man meets Braid", but I was probably just blinded by the Braid shout-out. Needless to say, the action does gets pretty frantic and there's even a Pac-man power-pellet-esque power up that lets you temporarily destroy echoes, so it's a fair comparison.

There is some strategy involved as you can try not to backtrack over areas you've already covered but I found this goes out the window after 4 or 5 echoes are on screen. The main problem I had is the echoes will appear and follow your exact steps, then turn around and go back and forth over your path for a period of time. It makes it nearly impossible to keep track of each echo after a few are on screen. I would have preferred they just follow my path then disappear after a set distance or something so I would know they were only going EXACTLY the way I went.

But even if the strategy element isn't as important as I hoped, the game is fun, in a similar way that Pac-man is fun. Your character moves super fast, much faster than the echoes, allowing for some pretty epic last minute dodging and darting through traffic, and some of the power ups are pretty cool and satisfying. The artwork and presentation are better than 99% of what you're going to find from XBL Indie Games at large, again I am surprised to see this game even in there at all. Overall it's a fun game with a fairly unique concept at a low price, so if any of that sounds good to you I say go for it.

The Tally - 6 out of $10
Despite two duds I made it on the plus side primarily on the strength of Phoenix Wright, which I am still enjoying and trying to finish. So not a bad haul but there's room for improvement. Check back next month and see what new games I've managed to round up.   read

1:48 AM on 06.15.2010

The Great Escape: Pursuing the Dream

I'm sure everyone feels this way at some point, but I have to say I'm not happy with my day job. I don't want to bore everyone with the details of what I do so I've prepared a video game related metaphor: Let's say I'm a level 57 Paladin (ret specced) and in my party I have two level 21 Warriors and a level 27 Mage. Sure, I can deal out more damage than they can, but I'm the ONLY one that can heal. So rather than fight, I am left babysitting everyone, spending all my time keeping them alive.... in short I am stuck doing something that I'm not even that great at simply because I am the ONLY one that can do it.

I've been OK with this for years since, hey, it pays the bills right? And I do have a desk job, it's not like I'm doing hard labor or anything. But as circumstances are changing in my life and I am getting older (I'll be 30 this year) I feel my career is at a bit of crossroads. I'm at a point where I'm able to look back a little and ask "what happened?" and the natural follow up "is this what I want to do with my life?"

So when I saw this topic come up, I didn't immediately think in terms of escapism; I related it to something I've been thinking about for awhile: video games as a more literal escape.

When I was a kid, there was two primary things I did for fun: I drew pictures and I played video games. I was pretty good at both, and when someone said, "hey kid, what do you want to be when you grow up?" I would either say an "artist" or "video game designer", then they would laugh and say something like "ohoho really?" and a good time would be had by all. As I reached high school I realized I am not talented enough to make it as a professional artist and "video game designer" may as well have been "astronaut" or "circus performer" circa 1994. Those were the kind of jobs that sounded cool but just were not practical, the odds were just too stacked against you to succeed.

Fast forward to somewhere around the present and I am now in my aforementioned situation. I've made my choices, and while I have no regrets, I'm starting to feel antsy. Although I rarely draw anymore I am still a very creative person, and I have learned to translate my skills to Photoshop and Illustrator. And I'm still a gamer, a gamer with 25 years of playing a wide variety of games, both good and bad. I have a close friend with a similar passion for gaming; and in his spare time he's been teaching himself some programming. It was only natural that we would start talking about making our own games.

I feel like we are living in a special time for gaming. Now more than ever, the tools and, perhaps more importantly, the means to distribute games are readily available. Just about anyone with a little know-how and time can throw their hat in the ring. The games aren't always pretty or even well, good, but they can be strange, funny, heart-breaking, at the very least interesting... especially in contrast to the increasingly stale sequels that are bogging down the mainstream industry. Then I read stories about guys in their spare time, guys like us, making a game, getting it up in the app store or even XBLA/PSN, and having enough financial success to pursue that as their career. Suddenly, that little boy in me that wanted to make games is tugging on my sleeve. Maybe this is my chance to escape, get out of my current situation and do something I WANT to do for a change.

Well, I am an optimistic person but I am also realistic. I understand that the success stories I've heard usually involve A. making a good game and B. at LEAST a little bit of luck, both of which are not easy to come by. In the few attempts at creating a game that we've made over the past year or two, we've learned how much hard work and time it takes to even finish a game; hard work and time that we may not always have available. But that doesn't mean I want to give up, if anything I am more determined than ever to make a game worth playing. Even if we don't succeed and my life goes on in normal fashion (as it most likely will), well at least I'll enjoy doing a little of something I've always wanted to do. Maybe pursuing that dream, having that little bit of hope, is an escape in itself.   read

1:02 AM on 06.01.2010

Ten Dollar Tally: How Much is $10 Worth These Days

I buy my fair share of games throughout the year and in most cases I think I do a pretty good job of managing my dollars/trade-ins to comfortably afford the titles I want. What gets me in trouble sometimes though are the smaller, cheaper, generally downloadable games like XBLA or iPhone that are much easier to buy on an impulse and nip away at my cash flow. This has left me not only with less cash but also a pile of mediocre games that I will probably never play again. Wanting to reign in my spending just a bit, I got to thinking it would be interesting to limit myself to just $10 a month, pay more attention to what I buy, and see just how much game I can get for my money.

The rules are simple: buy $10 worth of games every month based on what I actually paid (so if the games are on sale, the sale price counts against the budget), the games must cost SOMETHING so no free apps, and I have to get at least two games or this cblog would become very boring.

With that I present my Ten Dollar Tally (sorry that's the best title I got), a rundown on how I spent my $10 and whether or not I feel I got my money's worth.

Doodle Jump
Lima Sky, iPhone
Price: 99

What it is:
If you buy games on iPhone you probably have at least heard of Doodle Jump if you don't already own it, so I'm a little late to the game on this one. It's a basic vertical platformer where you jump..... vertically..... onto platforms.... that's pretty much the point. Your "Doodler" is set to auto-jump while you move left and right with tilt controls, occasionally shooting at enemies and nabbing power-ups to propel you higher.

Why I bought it:
I keep seeing it everywhere and I finally got around to checking it out myself. When I saw some outrageous quotes on the game's app store page like it's "to the iPhone what Super Mario Bros. was to the NES" I had to play it if only to see how much hyperbole was in that statement.

So was it worth it?
Doodle Jump could be in the conversation for the Mario of iPhone in terms of popularity and as a gateway into the platform but as a game Mario it is not. But thats ok because what it IS is a fun diversion. The controls are tight, the simple desire to try and climb just a little higher can be addicting at times, and the hand drawn art style gives the game character. Still, you have to call it a "diversion" since the concept at the end of the day is very basic and will probably only hold your attention for a few minutes at a time. But hey, for 99 cents you're probably not asking for more than that, right?

Ninjatown Trees of Doom!
Venan Entertainment, iPhone
Price: 99 (normally $1.99)

What it is:
Another vertical platforming game (in this case without actual platforms) featuring the adorable Ninjatown characters from designer toy.... designer.... Shawnimals. Instead of jumping on platforms you climb and bounce between two trees, tapping away to switch sides and holding down to climb straight up. Power-ups like super hero capes and uh, moustaches, help you fly higher up the trees.

Why I bought it:
I remember seeing some Shawnimals characters somewhere in the stream of time (possibly the Ninjatown DS game, or maybe shopping in Portland) and thinking they looked pretty cool. I love minimalist cartoon designs and the Ninjatown characters just BARELY meet the requirements of visually representing ninjas. Also, it was on sale.

So was it worth it?
It looks great but not all is perfect in Ninjatown. I had one gripe with the controls: there's basically two ways to jump across the trees, at a high angle and a low angle, and the general feel of how to accomplish each is not very intuitive and takes some getting used to. It seems like it would have made more sense for your ninja to jump to the exact spot you touch, up to the maximum limit he can jump. For most of the game it doesn't really hurt you but it does make things more difficult as you get higher up and the obstacles require more precision jumping. I also probably would not have enjoyed the game as much if I didn't really like the aforementioned art style since the game is so basic, but that's part of the experience right?

Control issues aside, once you do get a feel for it and start flying through the trees at a good pace the game is fun and as always, trying to top your high score can be addicting. It's worth noting too the sound and music is top notch, the moustache theme in particular is spot on. Overall It was definitely worth the 99 cents, but at full price for a game this simple I would recommend shopping around first before buying it. I feel bad suggesting $1.99 might be too much to pay for a game with such high production values but so goes the life in the app store....

Sword and Poker II
GAIA CO., iPhone
Price: $1.99 (normally $3.99)

What it is:
Another game I'm getting in late on as I missed playing the original, Sword and Poker II takes a page from Puzzle Quest and mashes together a puzzle game with an RPG. The difference is Sword and Poker II replaces the Bejeweled part with a unique game loosely based on -you guessed it- poker.

Why I bought it:
I LOVED the original Puzzle Quest and how it mashed together two completely unrelated genres and made it work. I'm also just a big fan if both puzzle games and RPGs in general so the game caught my attention.

So was it worth it?
iPhone games that will keep you going for hours and hours are sadly pretty rare, but Sword and Poker II is one of those games. The poker-based battle system is creative and fun and there are plenty of weapons, items and abilities to collect. I appreciated how well the RPG elements translated to a deck of cards; for example your Heal ability is based on how many hearts your holding in your hand. It shows the developers put a lot of thought into how to integrate two normally unrelated forms of gameplay.

Where the game does get a bit frustrating is the fact that, like real Poker, much of what happens is still left up to the luck of the draw. Your special abilities and equipment do give you a measure of control, but I was still left feeling helpless at times, waiting for that one card that could mean the difference between ending the battle in 1 turn or grinding it out for 3 rounds. Also, if you do lose, you have to redo the ENTIRE floor full of enemies, so getting pummeled on a bad hand can be particularly painful as you have to go back and fight waves of enemies you already defeated.

On a more superficial note, the character art as a whole has a nice style to it but the overall layout of things such as the menus feels a bit amateurish (I HATE Comic Sans and it is EVERYWHERE in this game). This isn't uncommon for an iPhone game but it does feel strange since the gameplay is so polished. Despite those complaints however, Sword and Poker II is a deep, addicting game. I'm glad I got it on sale, but even at $3.99 it's a steal.

Dinosaur Slayer
Project Soul, iPhone
Price: 99

What it is:
A "bowman" style game that looks vaguely like Patapon. Defend your castle by manually aiming and firing a giant bow at dinosaurs while collecting gold and purchasing upgrades like multiple arrows and magic attacks.

Why I bought it:
To quote myself two sentences ago "manually aiming and firing a giant bow at dinosaurs", if that doesn't sound cool I don't know what does.

So was it worth it?
Dinosaur Slayer seemed like a can't miss proposition for me but I guess their aim was a bit off on this one. I love the aiming and shooting of the bow and the upgrades like the paralysis arrows sound good on paper. In practice, however, the gameplay falls a bit flat.

One of the things I enjoy about bowman-style games is how good accuracy is either a requirement or at least well rewarded but other than the boss fights (which were actually quite epic and required hitting specific weak points), I found myself just flinging as many arrows as possible as the waves of dinosaurs kept on coming. Once you upgrade to firing multiple arrows at once, aiming devolves into just shooting "high" or "low", turning the joy of making a great shot into a finger-fatiguing grind fest. And as far as the upgrade go, I found most to be fairly useless, the recharge times on the special arrows made them highly impractical and the magic attacks hardly made a scratch on many of the dinosaurs unless I sank a great deal of resources into them. These problems don't fully manifest themselves until later levels, so I did enjoy my initial experience with the game, but after clearing the first couple of bosses my interest quickly faded. If the game sounds interesting there is a lite version available, and it is only 99 cents, but there are probably better ways to spend your game time.

Monsters (Probably) Stole My Princess
Mediatonic, PSP mini
Price: $4.99

What it is:
I must have been in the mood for moving up this month because this is yet ANOTHER vertical platformer, in this case you climb up the stage and take out a giant monster. But what makes this game unique is that it's not about getting from Point A to Point B but moreso racking up a good score. This is accomplished by landing on as many platforms in a row as possible, building up your combo meter, and then finishing off the boss.

Why I bought it:
When I heard the concept of the game I was pretty much sold. I think one of the great things about smaller titles like this is the developers are more inclined to test out new ideas and the new take on an ancient genre sounded like good times to me. Plus I heard the game was funny and that's always a bonus.

So was it worth it?:
Let's be honest, PSP minis as a whole are.... underwhelming.... but this game gives me a glimmer of hope that they could bring us some hidden gems. The gameplay is not only a great idea but it also controls tight and satisfying as you dance about the screen with double-jumps and wall kicks. And the game OOZES personality with a strong sense of humor. Much in the same way GLaDOS elevated Portal from a creative puzzle game to a necessary gaming experience, the Duke and his unapologetic Old-Spice-commercial swagger puts some heart into the already fantastic gameplay.

What keeps M(P)SMP from reaching real groundbreaking status is the game is SO short, you can probably clear the main story in less than 15 minutes. There is a Score Attack mode and there are medals and photos to collect, but only 5 levels of essentially the same thing only lasts so long. It almost makes the game feel like a long demo of a full size game I REALLY want to buy. But for what it is on it's own I loved the game, I feel meeting the Duke alone is worth the money, and I truly hope Mediatonic can develop this into a more fleshed out release.

And that's it for this month.... I apologize for the graphics as I'm traveling and only have my iPhone and an old laptop available at the moment. Check back next month as I clean up my act and cover a fresh batch of games.   read

9:23 AM on 09.25.2009

PSPGo and The Cautionary Tale of Gameboy Micro

As I was reading about Sony taking away yet another possible feature for the PSPGo, a brief memory flashed in my mind. Have I seen something like this before? It reminded me of another handheld from waaaay back in 2005 - the Gameboy Micro. I didn't remember too much about the Micro other than.... well probably not a lot of people remember too much about the Micro. So I sought out to educate myself and the more I looked into it the more parallels I found.

2005 puts us back in the Gamecube era, that strange anomaly in time when Nintendo was actually running last in the console race. But as they prepared for their "Revolution" Nintendo didn't have to be TOO worried as the Gameboy Advance ran unchallenged, dominating the handheld market (thanks Pikachu). The most recent model, the SP, continued to sell well even after the release of their new platform, the DS.

It was under those circumstances that Nintendo decided to take a gamble on a tiny, more "image-focused" handheld, a "hipper" gameboy if you will, which sounds like a great idea, right? Well...... Perhaps the biggest glaring problem with the Micro was it launched AFTER the DS. There were still games being developed for the GBA but Nintendo's attention was rightfully shifting in a new direction. There were further issues as well. In order to create the smaller form factor, Nintendo had to make some concessions, most notably dropping support for original Gameboy games. And all those cables and attachments like cameras and printers they had been nickel-and-diming everyone for over the years? Yeah..... none of those worked either. There was some talk about using it as a media player and what not but that would require more attachments and more money and those functions were better handled by the then just released PSP. OK fine, so you give some of those things up, you're still getting a tiny, sexy gameboy right? Well, that much was true. But there was one more obstacle standing in the Micro's way - price. When the Micro launched in Fall 2005 it was priced at $99, that was $20 more than the SP and only $30 less than the DS, both of which played GBA games.

Does any of that sound familiar? I probably don't have to connect all the dots for you, with the PSPGo Sony seems to be making many of the same mistakes Nintendo made with the Micro. They've taken away functionality for the sake of a sleeker, more appealing design while raising the price and justifying it by saying "It's targeting an early adopter, a tech enthusiast" i.e. someone who may be more "image-focused" than your average consumer. So does this mean the PSPGo will suffer the same fate?

The Gameboy Micro Allegory isn't perfect as there are a number of other factors to consider. In Sony's favor, they're not competing against the next generation of hardware. While the PSP is nearly 5 years old, it is still Sony's only handheld platform and they are devoting their entire marketing machine toward promoting it. Further, Sony's demographic tends to skew older and a bit more tech-savvy than your average nintendo consumer, people who may have more disposable income and put a higher value on the form factor and quality of the product, not just the bullet point feature list.

But even with those advantages, there's plenty of other ways Sony is shooting themselves in the foot. While they may not be competing against the next generation, their decision to change formats now has put them in competition with the CURRENT generation. A digital distribution only model may appeal to some new buyers but it essentially flips the bird to their most loyal customers, those who have amassed a collection of games and movies on UMDs and stayed faithful to the brand. Sony claims they can't do it because of legal reasons, and I actually believe them on that but it doesn't change the fact that their are alienating a group of people who otherwise would have been first in line to pick one up.

And then there's the price... You could argue whether $249 is a fair price for what you're getting, and I'm sure to Sony it looks fine on a chart next to their expenses. But even if it was a fair price, the real issue is getting the public to believe that. After the Micro's fate was all but decided, Nintendo admitted they "failed to explain to consumers its unique value and they concluded that Micro is not worth the price they have to invest." Basically, they did not get the public to feel that paying that extra $20 to trade some functionality for a smaller sleeker device was worth it. Sony is asking consumers to believe that making an arguably bigger tradeoff and paying an extra $80 or 47%, only $50 less than the most powerful home console of this generation that is also a Bluray player, is a good decision. With that kind of logic, it is hard not to see Sony making a statement similar to Nintendo in the future.

I hate to be a naysayer in this situation, I really did have high hopes for the PSPGo when it was first announced. I used to own a PSP in its earliest days; I sold it when there weren't really any more games coming out that interested me. But now time has passed, the library of games has built itself up and the potential that the PSPGo had to be a lower cost "gateway" of sorts really appealed to me. But the decisions Sony has made since then have left me and many others disappointed.

In the end, the Gameboy Micro sold just under 2.5 million units, a drop in the bucket considering the SP alone sold 43 million and the DS is somewhere around 105 million and counting. How well the PSPGo does remains to be seen. Unlike the Micro, the PSPGo will probably always be remembered whether it suceeds or fails because its pioneering all digitial distribution. I would just rather have Sony learn from the mistakes of the past and make that a good memory.   read

12:16 PM on 09.18.2009

Digital vs. Disc: What I Want and What I Can't Have

So long story short, my copy of Beatles:Rock Band is now little more than a coaster due to a scratch my 360 put on the disc. OK fine, it's annoying but I will probably be able to have it replaced for little or no cost, not that big a deal right? Well the first thing that came to my mind when I realized this disc will never play again is, "wow I really wish I could just download the game again", like if I had accidently deleted an XBLA game or a game on my computer. I mean, isn't it ridiculous that my right to play this game is being challenged by the condition of a flimsy, delicate piece of plastic? If only it were that simple.

I have long been firmly on the side of digital distribution and doing away with physical media altogether, but the more I have read and heard other people's point of view and seen some of the moves the industry has made, I'm no longer so sure. Obviously, the game developers deserve to be compensated for making the game, and consumers deserve to get the game at a fair price. But with everyone trying to grab as big a piece of the pie as they can get, it's tough to see how this situation could come out win-win for everyone. Consider some of the pros and cons of a physical-media-free game industry:

Developers would most likely benefit the most from digital distribution. No disc, packaging or manual means reduced costs and cutting out the middle-man means higher profits and a stranglehold on the market. Possibly the biggest advantage is with no discs to trade in, they no longer have to worry about the used game market leeching off their sales. The only concern - and this is a big concern - is if they can get consumers on board as there are a number of pros and cons gamers must face as well.

As recent PSPGo backlash seems to indicate, the people who sell games are scared to death of this. With no discs to sell, retail stores that sell games lose a great deal of money and specialty stores cease to exist. The final nail in the coffin is the loss of the aforementioned used game trade that has Gamestop riding high. Even in a market where digital and hard copy co-exist, it's tough to see how they come out of this unscathed.

As for us, the consumers, our situation is more uncertain. Digital distribution gives us convenience of buying games whenever we want, no disc to lose or destroy (like my Beatles:Rock Band), and in THEORY, lower prices on games since there's no physical object to pay for. Sounds great, right? Well, so far game companies have NOT backed down on the prices, such as the new 360 On Demand games or again the upcoming PSPGo. If these models are successful, than any hope of downloadable games coming at a discount goes out the window. This also ties in with used game trade-ins. Used Games is another loaded topic in itself, but all I will say is I would be a lot more willing to give up trade-ins if the price of downloadable games was significantly lower. If not, it's one more piece of control you lose by going digital.

At the end of the day, we are in no danger of losing physical media in this or probably the next generation. For one, the technology isn't QUITE where it needs to be for mass acceptance; even the most robust console hard drives would have trouble handling an extensive library of full size 360 or PS3 games and yes, there are still many gamers not connected with XBL or PSN. It's a complicated issue, and I'm not going to pretend to have the answer, but what frustrates me is it COULD happen and it COULD be a great way to streamline the process. But for tonight, I will be looking up disc replacement plans instead of enjoying the game I payed for.   read

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