Firstly, lets praise 505 for taking the step and localizing an entirely unknown title and intellectual property. Of course, being that the game itself is unlikely to outsell any of the DS' triple A titles that encourage activities such as reading recipe books, giving up smoking or equestrian pursuits, it truly is a magnanimous act that 505 have taken on in gracing the west with such a beautifully effective time killer.
Pic Pic is not a really a game, but rather a set of logic puzzles or excersises in problem solving. Where Pic Pic differs from tabloid Sudoku or broadsheet Kakuro, is in its resolution. Here, the creators have finally tapped one of the fundamental differences between pen and paper and the handheld console as time wasting mediums: smudged and smeared biro columns are satisfactory; beautifully crafted pieces of pixel art are satisfying.
Each of the 1200 puzzles, split equally across the modes 'Maze Paint' (trace a single line A to B), 'Drawing' (draw lines jagged right angles between corresponding numbers) and 'Magipic' (reason out the number of touching coloured tiles via minesweeper empiricism), result in a simply titled but beautifully formed, colour image. Only in beginning to dent the wealth of puzzling Pic Pic offers can you appreciate just how much love, effort and time has been pumped into each flat panel masterpiece.
Excitement (in the loosest sense of the word) is built around the Rolf Harris ethic, and each connected line or reasoned 3x3 square fizzes with his eager Australasian rhetoric. Watching a set of cutlery or woman walking a dog slowly materialise on the top screen satiates the constant ringing "can you guess what it is yet?", and you, as player, slowly change from audience; observing the household brushes lash paint onto a 15ft canvas, to author; taking responsibility to change early mistakes as the outback scrub-land capture becomes clearer to the eye of the holder.
The music is repetitive, but easily muted with a deft flick of the volume dial. The presentation is dull in its functionality, but does allow for easy scrollbar viewing of all completed works. The labyrinthine trial and error progress of "Maze Paint" can feel like laborious trial and error at times, but is to be expected given the source.
Pic Pic is an example of a game where certain aspects outweigh the sum of its parts. Put simply, Pic Pic is essential.
It speaks volumes that a game with as streamlined and simple a concept as Guitar Hero takes well over a year to write about. As a series, Guitar Hero is a number of things: an excersise in Carpal Tunnel, an audio irritant, and one of the most potentially rewarding gaming experiences ever committed to disc.
It feels as if there is little point talking about a virtual trial with such superlatives, but since a momentous Expert FC (Full Combo) of Franz Ferdinand's 'Take Me Out' back in 2006, Guitar Hero has become synonymous with all encompassing video game addiction.
Guitar Hero was fun but flawed; for a newcomer to enter and be presented without any sort of practice mode outside of continuous trial and error was a massive design oversight, and the engine's unintuitive hammer ons and pull offs made Bark at the Moon and Cowboys from Hell near unplayable for any sub-deity. Guitar Hero 2 followed, refined to bleeding point tackling almost every fan issue, but now, with a change of development team, the verdict is still out, well over a year after its release, on whether or not Legends of Rock is worth a punt.
Neversoft, handpicked to take on the mantle of Harmonix the defectors, were forced to write from scratch an engine and game that were by and large, perfect. The result, is a larger timing window of strumming error, unnecesary mid-chug triplets and trills in unsure note charts, lashings of new 3 note chords, disgustingly cheap 'boss' battles and the stiffest drumming animation this side of that Gondry video where Meg White smashes out her signature 4/4 in Lego.
From a visual standpoint, the streak counter is a nice addition. The textual blast that flashes each 100 note milestone above the note highway is little more than a distraction, and the occasional 60fps frame stutter which befells occasional star-power activation is intolerable for something which relies so much on unblinking, silken concentration. Barring the lollypop stick and pva articulation of desperate dan behind the cans, everything looks nice.
The tracklist is pretty hit and miss, but the same can be said for the entirety of the genre. For every person baying for more of Slayer's thrash metal, there's an equal in a mirrored living room with fingers crossed for Pat Benetar DLC.
The achievements are unfair and broken. Reports online of a huge chunk of badges being unlockable by entering a simple button code cheapened the lofty goal of championing twenty songs on expert without missing a note, and the pain of scoring 750,000 points on a song twice in a row with no onomatopoeic 'blick-glock', just goes to show blatant, sloppy programming. On the reverse, Gamerscore leaping out of the blue midsong smacks of flakey playtesting, and the numbing request of beating the game on all difficulties rather then a stackable system of achievement (which wouldn't come until GH: Aerosmith) showed that Neversoft bit off more than they could chew taking on a franchise owned by a publisher who demands a yearly update. Legends of Rock is solid start and a good mortar mix for foundations, but sadly a shakey fall from the lofty heights of the pitch-perfect prequel. It is still the poster boy for addiction as two solid days of five star grinding Raining Blood can attest, it just feels as if it will take the Tony Hawk stalwarts a little time before fully understanding why the series itself became an overnight runaway success.
Neversoft would always struggle, especially in competition head-to-head with their own practiced predecessors, and although painful to peg a series that usually incites such amore as waivering, GH3 is at best, solidly average. A passable continuation for the hardcore with its ramped difficulty charge, an entertaining stumbling block for the new and a let down for Harmonix; a tear in the eye of the great innovators (read plagiarists) of the rhythm action rebirth.
In motion, Katamari is like an watching a jar of sweets tipped down a hill. To the passer-by, these sweets seem to march and pulse in time with the ever inventive, thumping J-Pop soundtrack, while an infinitely adhesive Gene Wilder styled Everlasting Gobstopper mows down a land coloured in sherbert, ignoring the rigid body physics of animal, vegetable and mineral.
It doesn't make any sense; though it's the game's awareness of its own cultural malaise which allows its success. It never professes to offer any depth beyond rolling things up to please a screen filling deity, famed for dismissing syntax and sense in his endless quests for better intergalactic husks. The linear task is a refreshing revert to gamer's lost suspension of belief in mainstream video games - I am rolling because I am told to roll - and it's a testament to the strength of Katamari's central concept that not only does it demand repeated plays, but its naturally repetitive nature is seldom boring.
Backstory and driving plot become superfluous because of the strength of Namco Bandai's focus and concept. Draped over the central mechanic's back is a tool bag dripping originality, stitched with beautifully quirky presentation, and sealed with blisteringly tight execution.
The item collection, while creating added longevity and encouraging compulsive play-throughs, does begin to grate towards its conclusion. Technically the game chugs and wheezes far more than should be expected or could have been anticipated, and the pricing structure of the downloadable content (which sits on the disc ready to be unlocked through exorbitantly priced 384kb ransom notes by Namco Bandai and Microsoft's burgeoning pockets) is a real kick in the teeth, but Beautiful Katamari delivers its entire experience with such an amiable, neon smile that it's hard to stay cross. Like an idiot puppy that eats your lino but then tips his lopsided mongrel ear in faux-apology, Katamari reserves enough cute power to win over all but the stoniest heart.