Date archives for February, 2008

February 18th, 2008
Blog Entry

Carnival of Video Game Bloggers, March 2008 - official budget airline of the CarnivalHello, and welcome to the special homecoming edition of the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers! It’s been wandering around for the past few months, searching for its identity like an RPG hero, but now I’m back at the wheel for the next two issues, and the quality of entries is just as high as when I left, which is great!

I’d like to thank Phil at Sodaware for his hard work keeping the Carnival going in my absence, and thanks to everyone else for submitting such great articles!

Now I’ve settled into my groove it’s time to check my mailbox and see what entries have arrived this month.


What the..? There are banners and balloons everywhere, and lots of people in hats clutching gifts. One of the banners reads “Happy 1st Birthday Carnival!“.

Of course, I’d completely forgotten! The first issue of the Carnival was a year ago! And you threw this surprise party for the Carnival in my house… actually, how did you get in? Never mind, it looks like you guys brought enough articles for everyone to enjoy!

Let’s see… this one looks good. It’s a very sophisticated looking box, and the tag reads “A Gaming Technology Blog”. Ah, it’s from Fadzli, and it’s just what I was after – the “GeForce 8800 Ultra | 8800 GTX” article! I’ve been interested in a new graphics card for a while, so this will come in handy. Thanks!Mrs Boots would certainly agree

This one feels like a pot or vase or something, but it’s a little strange, like it’s filled with liquid. It says “happy birthday Carnival, from K Peney at Write the Game”. What a great surprise! I can’t wait to get into this one… it’s “Enough With the Realistic Water Already”! Water effects are easy to rave about – those in Sonic R were great ten years ago! – but not everybody’s so enthusiastic!

Next up is a big rattling box from Sagar, full of expensive-sounding equipment. It simply says “How to Homebrew Wii Games: 73 Tips, Tutorials and Resources”, at Virtual Hosting. Well, that’s great! Thanks, I’ll pop that up there, though I should say I am against modifying consoles. Still, the Flash tutorials are useful!

Well, look who just walked in! It’s Karl Ljungberg from Charlie Brown in the World of Games! At least that explains the fancy dress. Oh, and you brought a present too! Ahh, I think I know what this is… it’s “Wolfenstein 3D”! “Yep, it’s a simple review of the classic Wolfenstein 3D”, says Karl. Many thanks indeed! You know, Wolfenstein was one of the very first games I ever played, and I remember firing the gatling gun one shot at a time. Good times.

Wow, this room is getting full… if everybody’s here, I think now would be a good time to ask any of you guys if you’d like to host a future edition of the Carnival of Video Game Bloggers. That goes for all you guys who just came to read and enjoy the party too! I can’t guarantee presents, but I can assure you that you’ll have fun and receive links and new readers, hopefully enough to take your blog to the next level of popularity. The next available edition is on April the 21st, so if you’re interested please leave a comment!

Okay, everyone’s too busy eating cake to listen any more, so let’s see what other presents we have here. This one looks good… ah, I recognise this handwriting; it has to be Jigsaw hc from Jigsaw hc’s Rants and Reviews! Always good to see some familiar faces! This time it’s his “Free Month of Gamefly”, which if you’re a regular Carnival attendee will prick your ears up I’m sure.

Well, after you guys I think I can spy a few more presents on the pile, but this Money Blue Book has caught my eye. The inscription reads “Halo 3 – Is the Video Game Industry Getting Bigger Than the Movie Industry?, happy birthday from Raymond”. Many thanks Raymond for such an interesting present!

Wow, looks like this next one is in its own custom paper – it says “WHdb” all over. Ahh, it’s the “Top 25 Linux Games for 2008” I asked for. Thanks, Neelakantha!

I’ve never believed in the word “modesty”, so here I am about to gatecrash my own surprise party with a couple of articles of my own. First of all is my recent post “My Strange Love (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sony)”, which is all about my recent purchase of, shock horror, a PlayStation Portable! There’s a perfectly good reason behind it though, but I guess you’ll just have to read the article to find out!

The next article for your delectation is over at another website I’ve just started writing for, Nintendo Life. You may notice it’s slightly more professional-looking than this one, and I guess it represents a tentative step into “real” games writing, rather than my Animal Crossing diaries. Anyway, you can check out my two reviews, one about Endless Ocean and the other on the lovely Doshin the Giant.Cake

Well, back to the pile! There’s a very slim box here that’s about the right size for a PSP game, so I’ll dive right into that one. It is a PSP game! Oh, but it’s a Final Fantasy game. R.O. has given me “Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core for PSP” from R.O.’s World Reloaded, and wanted to let you guys know “Japan Man has sexy Japanese idols, romantic advice, video game reviews, and Bleach Info. All of the video clips and pictures are new and my advice is timeless. Come check out my site, subscribe to my feed, stumble me, and comment!” Thanks, R.O.!

I’ve actually played two Final Fantasy games in the past two weeks, which is two more than in the rest of my life. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles is much better than when I played it with Jim once years ago, but Final Fantasy Tactics on PSP lasted about twenty seconds:

You forget yourself! You are in the presence of the princess!

Mayhaps a bowed knee would less offend.

I couldn’t tell if it was ironic or not, and I didn’t want to play the rest of the game to find out.

You know, sometimes I open the best-looking presents right away, but this time I’ve left it until the end. It looks like a sort of boxing-glove shape, but what use would only one glove be? Let’s rip it open and see what’s inside… “Top 10 Characters from the Punch-Out Series” from Old-Wizard at Wow, you must have spent ages making this! I just hope that fat bald-headed pig isn’t number one, or else!

Last up, but certainly not least, is this rather squishy-feeling present with the tag “love, Alvaro Fernandez”. Regular Carnival attendees will recognise Alvaro as one of the web’s leading lights on truly intelligent gaming, with plenty of revealing research into the beneficial aspects of video games on the brain. You can tell I’m a fan, so let’s see what present Alvaro brought… “Are Schools (Cognitively) Nutritive for Children’s Complex Thinking?”, saying “Why videogames may be, in fact, a great complement to schools…”

Mixed in amongst all the beautiful cards was a pretty high amount of junk mail this month, unfortunately. I thought the name “Carnival of Video Game Bloggers” was fairly self-explanatory, but I’m guessing not! So it’s thanks but no thanks to the following submitters, whose content wasn’t suitable: John Crenshaw, Carole G. McKay, Rob Moshe, Robert Phillips and a second article from Raymond.

Next time, I'd like one of these please

Well, that was a wonderful surprise, and thanks to everybody who came, whether you brought a present or your best wishes. The next Carnival of Video Game Bloggers will be right back here on Monday, March the 17th, so make sure you get those submissions in before Friday, March the 14th! Use the Blog Carnival Submissions form to get that article on my desk, and remember: anything game-related is fair game for the Carnival! Also, don’t forget you can host a future issue, so drop me a comment or an email if you’re interested!

Now, we’ve all got some serious reading to do, so scram!

February 11th, 2008
Blog Entry

My Strange Love (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sony)

Many years ago, when I was but a young naive boy in a world of moral black and white, I swore a lifelong allegiance to Sega. I would never touch a Nintendo controller or go within fifty yards of anyone who owned a Sony console. Here in the present day I own more Nintendo machines than Sega by four to six, and I’m fine with that, because I’m fending off the evil power of Sony with their lowbrow games and inept marketing (apart from the PS2 sat by my telly).

Well, until the other day.

My Weakness

Now, my willpower isn’t the best. Years ago I tried to quit games for Lent, and got caught playing Breakout at half-twelve on Ash Wednesday. With that in mind, I stood absolutely no chance when I saw the words “Phantasy Star Portable” in this month’s GamesTM.

I’ve wanted a new handheld Phantasy Star game ever since the Gamecube version let you link to a GameBoy Advance. “Aha,” I thought, “now I can train my FOmar on the go!” but sadly the best I could do was play a NiGHTS minigame and raise an army of Tails Chao. With no signs of Sega taking up my idea for Shining Soul III or PSO DS, there’s only one platform to buy to take Phantasy Star with me wherever I go.

And Sony Makes FourIMG_0919-small

For all its critics, the PSP is a very impressive machine. Yes it’s huge and slightly ergonomically flawed, but it’s extremely versatile as a media machine, although I suppose today most mobile phones offer similar options, though without the huge screen.

It doesn’t have a huge number of games I’d love to play, but I’ve already borrowed OutRun 2006: Coast to Coast, Street Fighter Alpha 3 Max, Tomb Raider Legend and Sonic Rivals 2. The first two have to go back as they don’t support my 4GB card (darn!) but Sonic Rivals 2 is absolutely awesome. Its main flaw is having way too many character stories, but the action is phenomenal, a fast and exhilarating mix of reactions and racing. The levels are huge and fluid, with almost no stopping from one end to the other, and very few of the big drops that plague the Sonic Rush games. The second Act of every level is even a side-on beat ’em up against your rival, and although it’s hardly Smash Bros. it’s still a refreshing change for a Sonic game and much better than Sonic Battle.

Taking up most of my time so far has been Monster Hunter Freedom, which like Shining Soul before it is an online RPG without the online bits. Yes you can meet up locally for quests, but I’m the only person I know who owns a PSP, despite the fact I work in a games shop. It’s a little like PSO in its combat, with combo attacks and some similar items, and exactly the same “wow!” reaction when you see the rare items in the intro. I hope it’ll tide me over until Phantasy Star Portable (can’t really shorten that to PSP!).

A Long Wait

Some people have pointed out it’s a slightly unusual move to buy a console in order to play one game that won’t be released until much later in the year, and they’re absolutely right. I don’t even know much about the game in question, other than it’s based on Phantasy Star Universe, which I played briefly and very much enjoyed. I don’t even know if it’s got online play, but if it does that’s one more reason to get back online properly (that and Smash Bros. Brawl). The simple, pure allure of being able to play Phantasy Star wherever I go is enough.

I don’t know if the PSP will become my number one portable console, although as I only play Animal Crossing on DS these days it stands a pretty good chance. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to collect seven Special Mushrooms and then finally beat Shadow. Games are great.

Oh yes, and I almost forgot. The wonderful Carnival of Video Game Bloggers is coming back home to the Collected Writings of James Newton on February the 19th, and I am currently welcoming all submissions concerned with games in all shapes and sizes! All you have to do is go to the submission page and leave your entry. I look forward to reading it!

February 5th, 2008
Blog Entry

NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams Impressions

I had to agree to a “no squeal” rule in order to play this morning, such is NiGHTS’ power over me. I think I’d broken that rule within about five seconds of hearing the distinctive musical cue on the Wii menu, and again on the “Sonic Team” ident. This post is pretty much just squeals put into proper words.

I was actually reluctant to start NiGHTS, partially paralysed by the threat of disappointment, but there’s only so many times you can read the manual – I even read the warranty, for goodness’ sakes. I guess I just wanted to savour the whole of it like I did with the original eleven years ago. I could even go into an in-depth review of every single part of it – like how the disc itself is artistically disappointing compared to the original’s sky of blue and silver stars – but I think only I would be interested in reading it!

Gateway to your DreamsNiGHTS logo

My first impression is something akin to meeting an old friend and seeing they’ve grown up to become something they were meant for. The FMV intro is wonderful, a fluid NiGHTS sweeping over mountains and water just like old times, and the scenes in what is presumably Twin Seeds are every bit as evocative and familiar, cute bubble cars and twilit bedrooms from the first game becoming more real but just as charming. Each character’s movie even follows the same format, with their fears transforming from people into mocking ghosts who drive them towards a welcoming light.

Into the game proper, then. The “Mindsight” system that uses the Wii Remote’s pointer to lure NiGHTS towards it simply isn’t accurate enough for the tight turns and Paraloops needed to succeed. If you ask me, it seems like a secondary method that wasn’t really intended to provide the same experience as the other stick-based controls. Using a Nunchuk is a strangely disconnected feeling, without the expected heightened sensation of flight due to its lightness. Using a Gamecube controller, despite its notched stick, just feels right, particularly with tricks accessed with the triggers.

nightswiiThe levels themselves are classic NiGHTS – if that’s not a huge overstatement after two original games in a dozen years – with names like Pure Valley, Aqua Garden and Delight City. The most significant difference is the introduction of “missions” to widen the structure of the levels, with only the first mission usually following anything like the traditional Chips-rings-Links format, and others asking you to save or slaughter Nightopians (apparently Paralooping them sends them to “a place of relaxation”…), achieve a certain Link or defeat the level’s Nightmaren boss.

Of the four bosses I’ve encountered so far, two play like NiGHTS originals Puffy and Gillwing, asking you to Touch Dash a rotund enemy through obstacles or Paraloop a scaly creature to damage it. Not that I mind of course – these are classic enemies reworked on a larger scale – particularly when they’re more engaging than the two truly new enemies I’ve encountered, Cerberus and Chamelon. The latter is particularly frustrating – you have to Paraloop the background to reveal his hiding place, then again to damage him, but it seems so far removed from an enjoyable boss encounter it just becomes an exercise in patience. Cerberus is better, asking you to dash a connecting cable to bash the dogs’ heads together, but it’s less than gold standard.

My Dream? Not Entirely…

Nightopians are much cuter now than before, but so far seem less developed. You can hatch their eggs in the Nightopia stages, but the real interaction happens in “My Dream“, a sort of Chao Garden where Nightopians and Nightmarens co-exist, though there seems so little to do there at the moment I’m left wondering what the point is. Supposedly it uses the Wii’s Weather Channel to adapt the climate, and it changes appearance depending on the ratio of good-to-evil, but I guess these are long-term revelations. I did hatch a family of Nightopians wearing balaclavas, which is possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

This is all coming out much more sensibly than it seems in my head. I’m trying to be rational about it rather than simply daubing “IT’S NEW NiGHTS!” everywhere, which is what I’ll be telling everyone at work tomorrow. The simple fact of the matter is I really, really like it. My major gripe with it is that there isn’t enough NiGHTS in the levels: the missions seem to detract from the core joy of flight, but they’re not flawed in themselves, perhaps just a little unsuited. Counteracting that is the sense that it’s a truly updated NiGHTS that uses technology to achieve things they couldn’t on the Saturn. Graphically it shows its lack of development time rather than the Wii’s relatively low power, but the art and design shine through, and there are still some beautiful moments – Lost Park switches from verdant greenery to broken desert at the flick of a switch, and the fishy Gillwing-like boss explodes into a cloud of brightly coloured balloons.overview2

Dreams Dreams

The very fact I can now play a second original NiGHTS is enough to send my heart churning, but I remarked to Hannah it gives me exactly the same feelings as the original did – wonder, warmth, hope; that sense you’re experiencing something special. It’s been a long twelve years, but NiGHTS has returned, and with all the excitement around it I can’t help but feel the journey has only just begun.

I’m listening to Dreams Dreams (NiGHTS) by Sonic Team, from Sonic Team Unplugged Live 2004.

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