Monday, 29 December 2008

Season's greetings

As the year draws to a close, I'd like to thank all the people who have stopped by over the course of the last six months. The blog is just a hobby, but the support I've received has been phenomenal. It's great to know people enjoy the blog and share my passion for gaming.

I'm taking a wee break, but I'll be back in early January with more games related goodness.

So thanks again, folks. I hope you all have an enjoyable and peaceful new year, and I look forward to sharing my gaming experiences with you in 2009.


Friday, 26 December 2008

Toro comes to Everybody's Golf

Although there is no sign of Everybody’s Putter Golf with Toro making its way to Europe yet, Toro the cat has appeared on the Euro store this week as a playable character in the full version of Everybody’s Golf: World Tour on PS3.

The download is free and is a welcome addition to the sizeable roster of playable characters, which already includes Kratos from the God of War series.

The Japanese cat is a little short on power, but he’s an ideal character for younger gamers to play with and let’s face it, everyone loves Toro.

Full credit to Clap Hanz for continuing to support their fantastic game on PS3. Let’s hope the new year brings more in the way of downloadable content for their cute and highly playable golf title.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Everybody's Putter Golf with Toro - PS3

Although I enjoy sports games, I never have the time to play through an entire season. NHL 09, MLB 08: The Show and Madden 09 are prime examples. However, I love the Everybody's Golf series, especially the PS3 version World Tour and the latest PSP version. They are perfect to dip in and out of and are extremely addictive.

So I was delighted to find that Everybody's Putter Golf with Toro has been released on the Japanese and Hong Kong PlayStation stores.

Toro the cat is Sony's mascot in the far east, and along with Jasmine from the EG series, he stars in this simple nine-hole putting game.

There are two control methods. The first is the traditional click bar, which has always been used in the Everybody's Golf series. The second makes use of the Sixaxis' motion-sensor. Holding the pad like a club, you have to mimic a real golf swing. It's tricky at first, as it's very easy to be over eager and put too much power behind your shot, but practice makes perfect.

The game's options are a little on the sparse side, but as the game costs less than a fiver, what's on offer is more than adequate.

Single Play is just you against the nine holes, Multi-Play lets two people go head to head, Versus Jasmine pits you against the Everybody's Golf favourite, while Practice gives you unlimited attempts to perfect your approach to the nine holes.

While the holes are pretty straightforward, they are well designed, with the last couple being particularly fiendish. Both feature traps which can see you dropping multiple shots.

The game also has full trophy support, with ten cups to collect. I've only grabbed a handful so far, and they've been dished out for getting holes in one and achieving a high ranking.

I would be very surprised if this made its way to the west, as Toro isn't exactly well known over here. However, if you are thinking of picking this up, get it from the Hong Kong store, as everything is in full English.

I also hope that Sony and Clap Hanz keep adding to this solid base. There's plenty of scope to create all manner of weird and wonderful mini-golf courses, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

No More Heroes - Wii

The man behind No More Heroes, Suda 51, is known to gamers across the world as the guy who brought us the fantastic Killer 7 videogame in 2005.

Earlier this year, the Japanese legend turned his attention to the Wii and brought us one of the finest platform exclusives of the year.

Set in the town of Santa Destroy, you are Travis Touchdown, an Otaku with an unhealthy obsession with trading cards, action figures, anime, and pro-wrestling.

After winning a beam katana from an internet auction site and meeting the beautiful Sylvia Christel, an agent for the United Assassin's Association, you become embroiled in a quest to become the number one assassin in town.

Problem is, there are 10 others ranked above you. So you set out to slice and dice your way to the very top of the city's assassin's league, meeting all sorts of strange and disturbed characters along the way.

However, to get access to the other assassins, you have to pay money - a lot of money - so you'll have to do a bit of work on the side to raise the necessary funds.

Luckily for Travis, there are plenty of jobs needing done around town, everything from collecting coconuts and litter collecting to mowing people's lawns. While these activities could get boring, each mission only takes a matter of minutes, so they never feel like a chore.

The Wii's unique controller has been used to great effect and the battles are great fun. Tilting the Wiimote makes you perform either a high or low attack, while finishing moves are completed by flicking the controller in one of four directions. It works well and is extremely satisfying.

Another nice touch occurs when Travis' mobile phone rings - you have to hold the Wiimote to your ear to hear the conversation, which is another neat touch.

The heart of the game is obviously taking on the other assassins, and it's here where the game really shines.

These missions are great fun and some of them are just plain weird. I don't want to spoil the experience for you if you have yet to play No More Heroes, but let's just say you'll be amazed at some of the characters you'll meet.

When not taking on the other assassins, you are free to travel around Santa Destroy at your leisure. Don't expect a bustling metropolis like Grand Theft Auto's Liberty City, there's not a lot of traffic or pedestrians about, due in part to the Wii's graphical limitations.

Still, it doesn't detract from the experience and it's still fun to drive your fantastic looking bike around the streets.

On your travels you come across T-shirts - usually hidden in bins - and there's a clothes shop where you can buy new gear like shirts, sunglasses, jeans and jackets. You can also upgrade your weapon if you have the funds in place.

After your shopping spree you can head back to your motel, where you can change into your new clothes. You can also watch videos, feed your cat, examine all the cards you've collected and save your game - by sitting on the toilet.

Although you can't freely wander around you motel room, at lot of detail has been included, and the shelves are crammed full of gundam-style robots, a Nintendo 64, and anime figurines.

Suda 51 has not only created a game which plays well, but it also looks and sounds fantastic. Along with the game's great looking main characters, No More Heroes is also peppered with fantastic retro visuals and sound effects.

Surprisingly this fusion of different styles works extremely well and it's fair to say that you'll probably never have seen anything like it before.

No More Heroes has been out in the UK since March and is one of the best Wii games on the market. You should be able to pick it up for a decent price these days, and it really is well worth taking a punt on.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The World Ends With You - DS

I was taking a look back at all the games I've played this year, and realised I hadn't written anything about this cracking DS game. It was released back in May, so I'm sure if you search around you'll get it for a decent price.

Taking control of a spiky-haired dude with a personality problem is nothing new in Japanese video games. Throw is an amnesia-driven storyline and you'd be forgiven in thinking The World Ends With You is just another run of the mill adventure.

However, this Square Enix game is anything but average and is actually one of the most refreshing games I've played in a long time.

Neku, the spiky-haired loner of the piece, wakes up in the middle of the fashionable Tokyo area of Shibuya. He has no idea how he got there and becomes even more confused when he receives a strange text message telling him that unless he plays 'The Game' during the course of the next seven days, he will face dire consequences.

It turns out that a group called the Reapers have roped Neku into their twisted game, and unless he complies with their requests, he will be erased... permanently.

Although the game is set in Shibuya, Neku and the other people embroiled in The Game - the Players - quickly learn they are actually in a ghostly alternate version of the trendy Tokyo district, and are invisible to the outside world.

Neku initially teams up with Shiki, a fashion-conscious teenager, and together they set out to complete their tasks and try and survive until the end of the week.

The first thing to strike you about The World Ends With You is its vibrant visuals and fantastic J-Pop soundtrack. Both elements bring the title to life, separating it from the usual bog standard RPG fare we're used to. The graphical style is also reminiscent of the classic Dreamcast title title, Jet Set Radio.

While the sights and sounds pull you into the game, it's the gameplay which proves to be the adventure's success story.

During battles you control both characters at the same time. Neku fights foes on the bottom screen, and you use swipes of the stylus to input his moves, while your partner fights on the top screen and the d-pad comes into play to input directional combos. This dual screen system is initially bewildering, however perseverance reaps rewards and it's extremely satisfying when everything clicks into place.

By defeating foes, you'll collect Pins - badges which have special powers. There are a jaw-dropping 300 varieties to be discovered, and deciding which set to use takes a bit of thought. It's a great system and only the truly committed will collect them all.

All the badges can be levelled up, and even when your DS is switched off, badges will still rise in experience. It becomes something of an obsession levelling up your favourites and soon you'll have a wide selection to choose between.

As the game is set in Shibuya - the fashion centre of Tokyo, where real life Japanese kids gather to show off their latest look - there are a multitude of clothing stores scattered about the game.

Each store sells a different brand of clothing, and deciding what to buy isn't as easy as it sounds. Each area is colour coded, indicating what fashions are hot. So wearing something that is deemed fashionable in some areas might not go down too well in others.

This can affect your stats when fighting, so it's always best to kit yourself out in what's in fashion in a particular area.

Add to this heady mix of styles the ability to dine in various restaurants - which again affects your stats - and you are left with an incredibly deep game, with a bewildering array of gameplay options.

This title is one of the best games I've ever played on the DS and games as good as this are few and far between. Any gamer who wants a thoroughly entertaining title packed with content should grab this as soon as they can.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Lostwinds - Wii

Nintendo's Wiiware channel has thrown a couple of gems our way since it launched back in May, but so far nothing has come close to competing with the wonderful Lostwinds.

Lostwinds was one of the first batch of titles released on Nintendo's download service and incredibly, it was created in just three months by British company Frontier Developments.

Taking control of a young boy named Toku, you are handed the task of saving the island of Mistralis from the evil creature Balasar, who is threatening to cover the peaceful land in darkness.

Along with your wind spirit companion Enril, you'll explore this beautiful landscape and try and recover Enril's powers to finally rid Mistralis of this evil threat.

The control method has been wonderfully implemented and is both simple and innovative. Controlling Toku is standard stuff - left or right with the nunchuk moves Toku in that direction. However the real innovation lies with the Wiimote.

This controls Enril, and by drawing shapes on screen, gusts of wind are created, which are used to aid Toku on his quest. If a ledge is too high to negotiate, simply create a gust of wind underneath the little fella and he'll be blown upwards.

The wind also comes in useful for a variety of of other tasks, such as blowing away enemies and creating slipstreams to carry Toku to previously unreachable heights.

Along with being a way to help Toku on his travels, the wind is also useful for problem solving. For example, if you path is blocked by a tangle of wooden thorns, you can draw a line of wind between a lighted torch and the thorns, which burns them away, leaving your path clear.

You can also draw water from streams and waterfalls to sprinkle seeds, which grow into full-sized plants and help you reach new areas.

As you can see from the screenshots, LostWinds looks absolutely gorgeous. The art design is incredible - lush, green rolling hills give way to spectacular underground caves in the blink of an eye.

The local village is inhabited by a cast of wonderful and charming characters, while the background's 3D effect gives the whole world a real sense of depth. You can't help wishing you could go deeper into the scenery and explore more of the beautiful landscape.

The game is also packed with brilliant little touches which bring the whole world to life.

As you sweep the Wiimote across the screen, grass rustles, flowers sway and bend, cherry blossom falls gently to the ground, water splashes, windmills turn and villagers cry out in alarm. And leave Toku alone for too long, and he'll curl up into a little ball and fall asleep. It's utterly charming.

Along with the wonderful gameplay and stunning visuals, the music and sound effects throughout are superb, and give the game a unique and spellbinding atmosphere.

The whole adventure can be polished off in around four hours. While that might seem a little on the short side, for 1000 Wii Points, I'm not complaining. It doesn't outstay its welcome and leaves the player eager for more.

Let's hope Frontier are in the process of creating part two.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Aquanaut's Holiday: Update - PS3

Well after around 20 hours, I finally completed the main storyline in Aquanaut's Holiday on PS3. I'm glad to report that even after the credits roll, you can continue playing. Just as well, because I've only unlocked 14/50 trophies so far and my Aqua Library still has gaps in it.

It remains one of the most relaxing games I have ever played and some of the sights are unforgettable. Dozens of Manta Rays sweeping over a sunken Inca temple, huge whales rising from the deep, massive clouds of silvery sardines moving as one, piles of dinosaur bones lying in dark forgotten corners, secret passageways, shipwrecks resting on the sea bed and a huge mountain of treasure are just some of the things you'll see when you're exploring the ocean. You'll even encounter an extra terrestrial visitor.

There have been some moments of confusion due to the substantial amount of Japanese text, although when in doubt, I always headed for my home base to speak with my two colleagues. Even if that doesn't move the story on, kicking back and exploring this massive ocean at your leisure usually triggers an event.

As far as I can tell, there are 35 Sonobuoys to discover, each one unlocking a new area of ocean. The fact you are free to travel from one side of the ocean to the other with just a small amount of on the fly loading is quite an achievement.

I'm now on the last side-mission and after that there is still plenty to do. I've found all the singing fish, but only completed one of their song patterns to the full. That leaves 19 still to go. However, even when this is done and my library is complete, I'll still go back to Aquanaut's Holiday just to enjoy the sights and sounds. The addition of a camera is fantastic and I'll continue to take new pics as I explore the depths.

All we need now is a full English version to appear. Rumours are circulating that the Asian version is in English, but we'll have to wait and see. With word that National Geographic are releasing Afrika/Hakuna Matata in the US, maybe there's hope Aquanaut's Holiday will also enjoy a Western release. Let's hope so.

All the pictures in this thread were taken by myself. Enjoy.

Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon - Wii

A quick read through this blog, and you'll know that I hold Sega and Chun Soft's masterpiece Shiren the Wanderer in the highest regard. I'm currently having a lot of fun with the wandering samurai's second DS outing - I was killed by a giant gerbil late last night - and the title retains everything that made the original so appealing, while adding a few neat touches.

I've never been one to sit and play one game at a time, though, partly because part of my job involves reviewing the latest game releases, and partly because I'm an impatient bugger, too eager to play the latest thing.

So when not playing Shiren 2, I've sunk around 10 hours or so into Square Enix's latest title Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon on Wii. And although it shares many similarities to Shiren and other Roguelikes, this Final Fantasy spin-off is much more forgiving.

It's not an new series either. Our yellow feathered chum made two Mystery Dungeon appearances on the PS1 and has also headlined many other games, including the recent DS game Chocobo Tales.

The biggest difference between Chocobo's Dungeon and more established Roguelikes is that when you die, you keep your level and any items you had equipped. The only thing you’ll lose is unequipped items and money you’ve picked up on your travels.

Although some might scoff at such a change to the core Roguelike mechanic, the game is all the better for it, making it more accessible to those who were put off by Shiren's crippling difficulty. And although Chocobo's Dungeon is presented in a colourful fantasy wrapping, it still packs quite a punch.

The game centres around Chocobo and his treasure hunting friend Cid, who are magically transported to the town of Lostime, a place where the residents are losing their memories every time the town’s bell tolls. So it’s up to Chocobo to enter the dungeons of the residents’ minds and recover their lost memories.

All the staples of a good old-fashioned Roguelike are intact, including monster houses, devious traps, and cursed items. And just like in Shiren, you will die in many amusing ways. You'll also have to keep an eye on your hunger level, but luckily you can buy Gysahl Greens to fill you up.

Another nice addition is Chocobo's ability to change jobs. As you progress through the story, new job classes become available. I've just unlocked the Dragoon class, and I also have access to White Mage, Black Mage and Knight. Upon entering a dungeon, you have the chance to choose which job to use to tackle the dungeon. Each job can be levelled up, granting you access to bigger and better abilities and magic.

Square-Enix have also included a smattering of special dungeons to keep players on their toes and these are a definite highlight. Some take all your items away and reduce you back to lvl 1, while others give Chocobo one hit point to get through the dungeon. These are a nice diversion from the regular dungeon crawls.

While not plundering the depths of people’s minds and exploring locations such as the Mines, Chocobo is free to run around the town of Lostime. The town is the hub of the whole game, and from here there is plenty to keep you occupied.

You can upgrade your equipment and fuse items together to create powerful objects at the blacksmiths. For example, a copper item could rust, especially when fighting enemies with salt water attacks. However, if you fuse your Copper Talons with a set of Gold Talons, you end up with Copper Talons that will never rust. Each item can also be levelled up by paying the blacksmith money.

There is a storage facility in town, where you can keep your items and there is also a bank, where you can save all your hard-earned cash. The fun doesn't stop there either. You can go fishing, plant flowers, play a decent card battle game online and get your hands on other items, all from wandering about the town.

If you feel a bit under powered to tackle new dungeons, you can replay any dungeon you've cleared by visiting the local church. You can also get any items that have been cursed on your travels blessed here.

It's a cracking game and hats off to Square Enix for releasing this in the UK. With no word on Shiren 2 on DS or Shiren 3 on Wii getting western releases, this will certainly keep Roguelike fans happy.

For RPG lovers looking for a new challenge, or dungeon crawling novices, Chocobo’s Dungeon is well worth checking out.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Taiko no Tatsujin - Wii (Taiko Drum Master)

I posted a few months ago about the delights of Taiko Drum Master on DS. I still play it regularly and it remains fun, even when you've managed to complete all the songs.

The fact the series has never come to the West is a real pity. So when you see the latest version on Wii, you can't help feel disappointed that it will probably never come out here.

This version looks closer to the magnificent arcade game, and if the Wii was region free, this beauty would be top of my Christmas list. I mean, just look at it. Forget about Rock Band and Guitar Hero, this is what I want to be playing.

Come on, Namco. Release this over here. You know it makes sense.

Check out this Japanese guy showing off his stick skills. Awesome!

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Shiren the Wanderer 2 - DS: More discoveries

Since yesterday I've put another three hours or so into our hardy samurai's adventure, so I though I'd post some more of my findings.

One of the big differences this time is that there only seems to be one village. Every time you clear a dungeon you come back to the starting village with all your items and money.

In town, many of the features will be familiar to Shiren players. You can upgrade weapons at the blacksmiths, visit the store to buy new items and equipment and you can also store all your valuables, safe from the dangers of the dungeons.

Shiren and Koppa at the village inn

However, there are a couple of new features in town. The first is a bank, which is an incredibly useful addition. Now you can save up for the more expensive items. The storekeeper is currently selling a sword for 15,000 gitans and it has an attack of 20 - very nice.

The second new feature is the arena. Here, you can beef yourself up before heading into the dungeon. The time you can spend here is limited, but when you first go in you can get to lvl 4/5 before the clock runs down. After your initial visit, it costs money to enter. The amount increases every time by 200 gitans, but it's definitely worth the cash

There are plenty of new items to be found when in the dungeon. Along with the warp scroll I mentioned before, there is also the wonderful Resurrection Scroll. If you are carrying this in your inventory, you'll be brought back to life on the same spot you died. I've only found one so far, so I assume they are quite rare.

Shiren reads a powerful scroll

Another interesting new feature is that if you equip a similar type of sword and shield, you receive a boost to your stats. I equipped a wooden club and a wooden shield on my travels. Along with getting the usual defensive boost from the shield, it also increased my attack from 2 to 5.

Some enemies will now turn into a trap when killed, which can be a pain, especially if you've killed them in a narrow corridor.

I've also noticed a lot of armbands lying around. However, be warned, armbands can now break, so enjoy them while they last. In the original Shiren on DS, I found a Happy Armband which granted you the ability to level up as you walked. Now, though, even if you have a fantastic armband, it will break, so you can no longer rely on them to see you through the whole game.

Pekeji - the fat one - returns

The most interesting one I've found so far is the No Hunger Armband. As you would expect, when wearing this little beauty, your hunger bar will not drop - very useful if you're out of rice balls.

Best item I've found so far is a Demon Shield. This has a defensive base stat of 14 and looks the business. It has a suitably ugly face, complete with red, lolling tongue!

Absolutely loving this, and although identifying items in Japanese is almost impossible, I've found a rough guide which translates a lot of the items. At least now I can tell the difference between a Herb of Confusion and a Medicinal Herb!

Also, take a look at the cover art. Absolutely brilliant, and a thousand times better than the western release of Shiren 1 on DS. All we need now is for Sega to translate Shiren 2 into English and release it over here soon.

There's also no word of a European release of Shiren 3 on Wii. It's been out in Japan for some time, but I doubt it will ever come out here. Rising Star games have been doing a sterling job releasing Japanese games in the West...I wonder if they would consider picking up Shiren on Wii... I can only hope.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Shiren the Wanderer 2 - DS

This morning, Shiren the Wanderer 2 on DS (Fushigi no Dungeon: Fuurai no Shiren DS 2 - Sabaku no Majou) dropped through my letterbox from Japan and I've put around an hour into it, so time for a few first impressions.

The first thing you'll notice is that this is much more story driven than the last game. The graphics have been polished up, and Shiren, the backgrounds and the monsters all have more detail.

The game starts with Shiren and his trusty sidekick Koppa wandering across the desert, when, crippled by fatigue, Shiren collapses. He is then found by guards and taken to a fortress in the sands, where he and Koppa are chained in a cell.

A princess then appears through a secret entrance, unlocks their shackles and flees.

Shiren is in the cells on the 6th floor and has to get to the first floor to escape. Without any items in his inventory, this series of dungeons involves a chasing pack of guards. Diagonal movement and careful avoidance of traps is key to getting out.

This serves as a brief tutorial about movement and, if you're careful, you'll escape from the fortress easily.

Then it's on to a nearby village, where Shiren meets up with his fat old chum from the first game - Pekeji. Yes, he's back and it doesn't take long for this troublesome character to convince Shiren that within the desert fortress, there is treasure to be found.

So off they set in the dead of night, and within a few paces of setting foot in the place, Pekeji falls down a pit. So Shiren and Koppa head off to find him.

Within the first dungeon, a few things become apparent. First is that underneath Shiren's health bar, there is a hunger bar. This is very useful, as before, you had to go into the menu screen to see how hungry Shiren was.

Also, along with creatures such as old favourites Mamels, there are new creatures, including a hog, who, after levelling up, killed me in one hit! It's good to see some things don't change.

Going back in the dungeon for a second time I found a scroll I didn't recognise. I read the scroll and was warped out of the dungeon and landed back in the village with all my items.

I haven't had a proper look around the village yet, but if there are storehouses, these scrolls could become incredibly useful for escaping from dungeons and storing valuable items.

So far, so good, but I'll post back on how my adventure is going.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Chulip - PS2

After I rediscovered Chibi-Robo a few months ago, I decided to do a bit of digging about and find out more about Skip Ltd, the team that created this classic Gamecube title. I already knew about their involvement in Gamecube title Giftpia, but my knowledge after that was limited.

As far as I can tell, Skip are a spin-off of Japanese developer Lovedelic, who created three games during there brief existence - Moon (PS1), UFO: A Day in the Life (PS1) and L.O.L.: Lack of Love (Dreamcast). So far, I've had no joy in tracking any of these titles down, but I'm hopeful that Moon and UFO will eventually appear on the Japanese PSN store at some point in the future.

Another spin off from Lovedelic was Punchline. They created Chulip on PS2 and, although I couldn't track down an American copy (it was never released in the UK) I managed to locate a Japanese copy and I've been playing through it over the last few nights.

The aim of the game is to kiss the girl of your dreams. However, she isn't going to let that happen until you raise your reputation about town. How are you going to achieve this? By kissing all of the town's residents, of course!

Now, you can't just wander up to a random stranger and plant a smacker on their lips...well, you can, but you'll get a slap for your trouble. To get people to pucker up you have to fulfil certain requirements. This means helping people and running errands etc.

In a strange way it reminds me of classic ZX Spectrum titles Pyjamarama and Everyone's a Wally, as you have to have certain objects and items in your inventory for events to unfold.

Obviously the language barrier is throwing a few problems my way, but I'm loathe to use a walkthrough as I don't want to spoil the overall experience. So if anyone knows where I can get a US copy, please let me know.

Although Chulip was never going to win any awards for is looks, I personally think they're great. The isometric viewpoint and the art design are perfectly suited to the quirky gameplay. The town's residents are full of character and they have the same garbled voice style that was used in Chibi-Robo. You'll also come across some very strange creations, too - your first kiss is from an onion!

The mood of the game is set by the game's brilliant musical score. Chibi-Robo, Giftpia and Chulip all have wonderful music, so I can't wait to hear more from the Lovedelic camp.

While there's no chance of Chulip appearing over here on PS2, I would love to see Nintendo pick this up and release it on Wii. With Chibi-Robo about to be re-released on Wii, there's no excuse.

edit: I've managed to order a US version, which should be here by next week.