Date archives for March, 2007

March 27th, 2007
Blog Entry

Five of the Best on DS: Podcast Episode 2

Yes, it’s the second episode of the James Newton Podcast (suggestions for snappier names welcomed)!, featuring five of the very best games released on the DS in the coming months. There’s some adult entertainment, juvenile fun and probably the best reason to leave the house this summer. To listen to the podcast, simply right-click and save this link, then pop it open with your chosen mp3 player.

In other news…

It appears I’ll have a little backtracking to do in the coming weeks, with Swedish magazine Game Reactor breaking the exclusive news on NiGHTS into Dreams for the Wii, and TRiPPY from claiming to have known about it for ages. Well nobody bothered to tell me! Nah, it’s fine – I had no credibility anyway, so losing it in favour of getting a new NiGHTS game is a sacrifice I’m perfectly willing to make. Bring on NiGHTS 2!

I’m listening to Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad? by Prince, from The Hits 1

March 24th, 2007
Blog Entry

Let the Professionals Do It

I did consider recording a special edition podcast about my experiences working the PlayStation 3 launch, but when a radio professional came down to conduct some interviews for BBC Radio York I thought I’d better let him do his job.

I’ve uploaded the segment so you can all have a listen to my contribution to the piece. Most of my comments were edited out, such as remarking how “midnight launches lend a social element to gaming that’s still sadly missing”. Personally I think my comments were a little more relevant than the clips used, my favourite being the pretty drunk guy who proclaims “I’m gonna be the top of the Internet gaming!”. If you listen out you can also hear my boss asking “what games did you want with that?”.

It was a piece for the breakfast show, so obviously it wasn’t all that in-depth, but I was a little disappointed that the angle of the piece was focused on two things:

  • The weather;
  • The price.

Granted it wasn’t exactly tropical outside, and £425 is a lot of money, but the overall impression I got was somewhat typical of most media’s portrayal of gaming and its community: bemusement. I edited out the breakfast presenter’s comments, as he bafflingly compares the PS3 to the equipment on Star Trek and moans about the price; pretty useless stuff.

The heart of the story should have been this: why were these people all so eager to get their hands on it? Why come out at midnight? What’s the most exciting thing about the PS3? Yes, the price is a factor and deserves mention, but it’s not the crux of the story, although perhaps to non-gamers it just makes these people seem strange, alien almost; if they can’t understand it, it’s just weird.

As always when dealing with mainstream media’s treatment of games, a little more research and understanding would have resulted in a better piece. Still, I am probably overanalysing this ever-so-slightly; it was just a segment for the local radio’s breakfast news.

There’ll be a new podcast from me up on Monday, looking at five awesome DS games to entertain you in the coming weeks and months. Subscribe to the RSS feed to stay informed!

   I’m listening to You Are My Evergreen by Feeder, from Yesterday Went Too Soon

March 22nd, 2007
Blog Entry

A Special Sega Musical Medley

Normally my music always lives in the Music page, but this is special, so it’s front page-worthy.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll notice I’ve been in a very Sega mood recently – Burning Rangers, NiGHTS, Shining Soul, Sonic and the Secret Rings and more have all been covered in some depth, and there’s still more to come. The simple fact is they’ve made the greatest games of all time and I love them.

I also love the music, so I arranged and performed a very special medley of some of the best music to have come out of Sega in the past twenty years or so. You’re getting five minutes of quality piano Sega music here, too – Shenmue, Skies of Arcadia, NiGHTS and OutRun all make appearances.

You can download the medley here.

With so much great Sega music to mine I fully intend to perform more medleys in the future, hopefully including tunes from Shining Force, Panzer Dragoon and maybe that one with the blue hedgehog in it!

Diaries are back!

Yep, I did a backup of my diaries before the site went down so now you can enjoy Landgraff United’s cup run, James’s adventures in Eville and the dusty diaries of Farmer James in Forget-Me-Not Valley. Just head over to the Diaries page and enjoy!

March 19th, 2007
Blog Entry

Carnival of Video Game Bloggers for March

Bringing you the very best of intelligent gaming articles, the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers unites game writers from all over the world in a rampant celebration of those who play games. Last month’s first edition was a huge success, and this month’s is even bigger. Well, let’s get on with the show!

I’ve also chosen today to launch the first episode of my podcast, which today looks at the Carnival and the European PlayStation 3 launch on Friday. Click to download here!

JC Barnett posted one of my favourite articles this month, an intelligent and insightful look into how video games are developed, and whether we can learn from other media. Do as the Hollywodians also contains my favourite kind of chart: flow chart. Top marks!

On similarly smart grounds, TherapyDoc writes on a topic we probably all think about: addiction. Parts of “Paying attention while under the influence: Internet & Spider Solitaire Addictions” sound very familiar to me – when playing games I can only communicate with eyeblinks.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed!

With World of Warcraft still claiming the time of so many around the world, Praveen from My Simple Trading System alerts us to a shocking unseen aspect of WoW: Video Game Sweat Shops.

Kristoffer Belau looks back on some hard times in his life, and specifically the 5 most difficult games ever, including a few surprises – no Ikaruga? Perhaps he’s just got awesome reactions.

Next up is that warmongering Akusai with a call to arms to all responsible game players out there: Our World is in Peril. There is a very real evil out there, and Akusai is joining the charge against it.

Our next entrant is Gazz from My Opinion on Stuff – at the time of writing the website seems to be down for me, but I’ll post the link and hopefully it’ll work a little later.

I thought I’d take a leaf out of our next two bloggers’ books and submit multiple articles myself this month. The first is Truly Underrated Games: Shining Soul II, examining one of my favourite action RPGs. The second is Sega’s DS Surprise: Best-Case Scenario, outlining my hopes for Sega’s “totally surprising” announcement for Nintendo DS this year.

Make a blogger’s day – leave a nice comment on their article!

Last month I wrote this in the style of an awards show, and by far the most popular award was the Inaugural Jordan Bieber Award for Most Articles Submitted, won by Jordan Bieber. He was a worthy winner, and this time around sought to retain his crown by submitting this crop of articles:

Nintendo Finds Archives From Mid-90’s, Announces Surprise VC Lineup

The Real Purpose of the New Everyone Votes Wii Channel Revealed!

Gamecube Still the Champ for Zelda Nuts

Nintendo Nitpicker: Wii’s 3 incompatible controllers

Wii Wiish List: The Super Mario Channel

El Legendo de Smelda: Macarena of Time

It was a great effort with six very varied Nintendo articles looking at fangames, “Wiishes” and hidden agendas. However, sadly his crown has slipped from its perch and onto the head of a new champion!

Save $5 a Month on – Review

Three Reasons I Hate Crackdown

Contest: Win Uno, Robotron, and a Month Subscription to GameznFlix

GRAW 2 Demos Reviewed

Gears of War Multiplayer Map Pack Mini Review

My Full Xbox Live Friends List Dilemma

Tetris Evolved Coming

Heavy Weapon Review

With a mighty and unbeaten eight articles submitted, it gives me great pleasure to hand over the second Jordan Bieber Award for Most Articles Submitted to Jigsaw HC! I even made you a special image you can use on your site to indicate you won the most prestigious award in the world. Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone who submitted articles – we’ve got a whopping twenty-two posts here, easily beating last month’s pretty impressive total. For a fledgling carnival I think things are really taking off!

Next month’s carnival will be hosted by my brother Phil Newton over at Sodaware:: Adventures in Shareware. It’s another open-mic session so keep on sending all your articles and thoughts in from the Carnival homepage.

Just a quick note – if your comments or trackbacks aren’t appearing that’s because my spam intake has gone through the roof. I checked in on the carnival this morning to find almost 600 spam comments waiting for moderation! There could have been a few genuine comments in there, so I apologise if it doesn’t show.

I hope you enjoy this month’s carnival, and be sure to leave a comment on someone’s work – they’re sure to appreciate it!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the RSS feed to be kept in touch with regular updates!

Place a trackback or make a post about this carnival to share your readers with other bloggers, and receive traffic in return!

March 17th, 2007
Blog Entry

Why NiGHTS 2 is not coming

Edit: 3rd April 2007

Oops! I guess I was wrong this time – now I see why I don’t try to keep up with video game news on here! I’ve closed comments because there’s nowt more that can be said, really – I got it wrong, but the upshot is that there is a brand new NiGHTS game coming out and it’s coming soon. Rejoice!

Even if this is your first time on the Internet and you arrived here after typing random words into Google, it’s certain you will have found a rumour or some form of “evidence” relating to a NiGHTS sequel on Wii.

I don’t normally comment on rumour but when it applies to my favourite game of all time I feel I should say something. That something is this: NiGHTS 2 is not coming out. Not on Wii, not on DS, not even on the Dreamcast 2. It’s simple.

The case for the prosecution.

The biggest argument in favour of NiGHTS 2 coming to the Wii is the cancelled development of “Air NiGHTS” (sometimes “Aero NiGHTS”). Upgrades were planned for the Saturn’s analogue pad, one of which was to be a tilt sensor, and Sonic Team toyed with it for a while to control NiGHTS. Development also apparently began on a Dreamcast Air NiGHTS, but that fell through too.

When Nintendo announced the Wii controller, everyone assumed NiGHTS was a perfect fit. But why? It implies to me that a NiGHTS sequel was impractical or impossible before this pad came along, which is ridiculous – the Saturn’s analogue pad was developed for NiGHTS in mind, as was the tilt sensor for Air NiGHTS. It’s just wishful thinking on most people’s part, but the simple fact is that a NiGHTS sequel could have appeared on any console before the Wii, regardless of its controller.

The latest speculation comes from the Official Nintendo Magazine, who printed this image as their teaser for next month’s issue:

The caption reads: “World Exclusive! Step back in time as a classic game makes a long overdue return! Only in next month’s Official Nintendo Magazine!”

The case for the defence.

So instantly the NiGHTS rumour mill goes into overload because if you transpose a picture of NiGHTS onto it, it amazingly looks like NiGHTS! Wow! That’s the evidence. Let’s bear three things in mind here:

1. It doesn’t specify a sequel – it’s not necessarily NiGHTS 2.
2. It doesn’t mention a console – it’s not necessarily on Wii.
3. NiGHTS fans are among the most gullible in the world.

Yuji Naka always stated that he didn’t want to make a sequel to NiGHTS, but seeing as he left Sonic Team to form Prope last year it now has absolutely nothing to do with him. If Sega and Sonic Team want to make a NiGHTS sequel, they can just go ahead and do it. But will they?

When NiGHTS was released in 1996, it was the most revolutionary title on the Saturn, got some of the highest review scores and was critically acclaimed across the board. Unfortunately it sold quite poorly, and with Sega going for high-sales bankers these days instead of the more artistic output they released on their own machines I doubt they’d actually take that much of a risk on it.

Until I hold a legitimate, Sega-produced copy of NiGHTS 2 I’ll do my best to ignore the rumours, no matter how compelling.

Want to know more about NiGHTS? Read my in-depth article here!

I’m listening to Send One Your Love [Vocal Version] by Stevie Wonder, from Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants Disc 2.

March 7th, 2007
Blog Entry

Truly Underrated Games: Burning Rangers

Sonic Team’s 1998 3D firefighting game Burning Rangers often plays second-fiddle to their masterpiece NiGHTS into Dreams in terms of press coverage of the Saturn’s contribution to the world of gaming. However, it is still a game of considerable quality and innovation.

One of the great things about the Sonic Team games of the period was that their originality came right from the core; each game had a central premise which sought to do something different. I’m not going to go into whether Sonic Team still have these original concepts in them, but there can be no doubt they did in the Saturn’s time.

Strong Foundations

How refreshing – a game where you save people instead of killing them! This concept remains fresh to this day – the closest we really get now is stealth games where stunning/avoiding people is encouraged, but to have a game where the emphasis is on helping people is quite different.

For a game to have such a completely different ethos and attitude towards (admittedly virtual) life is highly refreshing – you are rewarded for saving a certain number of people in a level by increased scores, but the real rewards are emotional; characters you save send you email afterwards (via the in-game system; not real email, unfortunately) to express their thanks and update you with news on their lives. This sort of in-game communication brings an extra dimension to the game and allows character development without cutscenes or dialogue. In a way it’s more realistic this way, because they are directly addressing you, the player, not your character. Sonic Team sort of adapted the format for their Chao Daycare system in Sonic Adventure, whereby your Chao would send you real emails to tell you how they’re getting on. More games need this feature.

Depth Perceptions

There’s somewhere in the region of 100 characters to rescue, but only four levels.

“How is that possible?”

Well, it’s very simple – the levels change every time you play. Whereas NiGHTS had the amazing music-remix feature, Burning Rangers actually remixes the level designs every time, placing new corridors, rooms and survivors for each new play. It really is a very advanced system. If you complete a level and missed a number of survivors, or one of the “special” characters – Yuji Naka, Naoto Ohshima and artist Ami Shibata are all in there – you can write down the code displayed at the end and play again. Saving characters multiple times results in more email and, sometimes, more goodies – some characters give you extra options like the sound test, Ami Shibata gives you art and others give you codes to play as extra characters. Burning Rangers has replay value in spades. Sonic Team later reused this system for Phantasy Star Online Episode I and II.

No Sound of Music

There is no music in the levels, only sound effects and voices. This is because the game uses a voice navigation system to guide the player around levels, as well as update them about what other members of the team are doing. The other characters converse with each other over this system too, which often reveals a little about their relationships without interrupting the gameflow. Why should gameplay have to stop for character development?

The bosses are enormous. One of them is like a cross between Gulpo from NiGHTS and Chaos 4 from Sonic Adventure. The last one is very much like Phantasy Star Online’s Dark Falz. It’s interesting to see how these ideas started out on the Saturn before Sonic Team were able to refine them in their Dreamcast games.

It’s clear to me that Burning Rangers actually occupies a very important place in Sonic Team’s history. I always thought it didn’t quite fit in with the rest of their products, probably partly because it came out too close to the Saturn’s death to make any difference, and also it shows signs of having been rushed – another few months would have tightened it up still further, and a Dreamcast sequel would have been absolutely perfect.

Cooperative gaming and communication is becoming more popular and plausible all the time – wouldn’t it be great to see a Burning Rangers 2 on Xbox 360, with players able to communicate as part of a team to rescue survivors, negotiate tricky corridors and escape unharmed? Leave your thoughts in a comment!

A Word from James:

The site’s different look is totally accidental – I ran a WordPress upgrade and deleted my old pages, so I’m afraid the Virtual Tour is lost in the sands of time! I hope to find a way to resurrect it soon, and the same goes for the Game Diaries. Sorry for this temporary loss of content!

March 3rd, 2007
Blog Entry

Sonic and the Secret Rings Impressions

Sonic’s Wii debut was built up by some to be his last chance; after the disappointment of his first next-gen appearance, there seems to be a lot riding on Sonic and the Secret Rings to start salvaging his reputation. How does it do?

At first the automatic acceleration feels very strange indeed. You can brake with 1 and jump with 2, but Sonic’s pretty determined to keep moving, which is absolutely great. Due to the fairly strict route the game keeps you on, most of your control is steering to avoid hazards, which means there’s much less falling off levels that’s blighted him since Sonic Adventure. In fact, there’s even automatic jumping in some points to make sure you get from A to B safely.

Removing some of the game’s interactivity might seem like a step backwards, but I don’t think Sonic’s ever really been about freedom of movement; in terms of controls, there should be as few obstacles as possible between him and top speed.

It doesn’t take long to get used to though, and really starts to make sense when the levels become more complicated – it moves so quickly that there’s simply no time to play it like a traditional 3D Sonic game, so it becomes a test of reactions and skills rather than manoeuvring Sonic into place. That said, there are a few times when backtracking to hit that last enemy becomes very tiring.

Sonic and the Secret Rings also does much to prove the Wii’s graphical power: the levels are vivid and densely constructed, with detailed models and textures throughout. It also moves incredibly quickly, even when it’s throwing around smoke, lighting, blur effects and an enormous draw distance.


The game’s level progression reminds me of Billy Hatcher for some reason: within each world (or Zone, I suppose) there are numerous challenges, ranging from races to ring collecting, and your prowess in each defines your progress. When you complete a mission, another one opens up, and by repeating this you open up other worlds.

The missions are very varied. So far my favourites are the “Hands Off!” challenges, where you have to finish with no rings, and the “Rampage” missions, where you defeat a set number of enemies, ranging from a single hard-to-reach robot to 40 resurrected thieves. They’re mostly shorter than the standard levels, and benefit from some very tight and clever design. Even though “don’t kill enemies!” sounds like a rubbish idea for a Sonic level, it gives the game a puzzle kind of element that gives the gameplay some needed expansion. In a game where the running is done for you, these levels let you slow down and use some fine skills to succeed.

Each mission cleared gives you experience points, a genuine first for a Sonic game. When you’ve got enough experience your stats will increase and you learn new skills – these can be anything from increased acceleration to longer homing attacks and Soul Gauge recovery. Returning to early levels let you show off your increased skills, both as a player and with these equipped skills, making it easier to achieve higher scores and unlock more goodies.

These goodies are contained in the game’s brilliantly-named “Special Book“, and can be anything from the history of Sonic to developer artwork, music, special ranks and more. These sequential revelations help to spur you on to discover more of the game.

Final thoughts

I was really excited about Sonic and the Secret Rings; although I didn’t subscribe to the belief it was his last roll of the dice, I did know it was an important game to Sonic fans and casual gamers, and for Sega to make probably their most risky Sonic game for some time was a brave move that could easily have backfired.

Sonic and the Secret Rings injects the thrill back into Sonic with levels that flow well and sections encourage high speeds. The new skill system makes challenging cleared levels worthwhile, and the Special Book and experience points are worthy rewards. With the exception of the difficulty of backtracking, the camera and controls both work seamlessly, feeling responsive and never intrusive.

Overall this is as close to the Sonic game I wanted as I think is realistic. Although a little more in the happiness department would have gone down well – more tunes instead of rap-rock, more blue skies and more colour – this is a superb and addictive Sonic game that is a massive amount of fun to play.

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