Archive for the ‘PS3’ Category
This week we are joined by Chip Cella (@CaptinChaos) to discuss listener William’s topic: What makes a successful console launch? It all ends up being more stories of console launches and discussions on killer apps, but we do manage to cover most mainstream consoles.
This week Fred is joined by 42 Level One host Andy (@damien14273) and Video Game Outsiders own Matt (@MattoMcFly) to remenisce on the Playstation 3 including the launch, early titles, and myriad of ups and downs that Sony struggled with on its third console.
Normally I wouldn’t see myself even taking a second glance at a title like this. Thanks to the re-invention of shovelware on the Wii and subsequent titles of its ilk, it’s not a good day to be a 3D rendition of a classic game. Couple that with Chip’s lackluster impressions of the multiplayer – which were spot on – and I did not go into Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures with high expectations. To my surprise this title is a rock solid 3D platformer that can almost serve as a pseudo Kameo 2, borrowing most of its gameplay elements from that title, but there just isn’t enough here to justify even the budget price associated with it.
Pac-Man has never done well as a platformer. Whether it’s with the 16-bit era titles in the Pac-Land series or really anything Namco has done with him other than re-creating the original game, there just doesn’t seem to be anything there to differentiate these games from all the rest, until now. Pac-Man’s world has changed quite a bit. He’s back in high school (and apparently appropriate age despite being older than I am), the four ghosts that plagued him in the original arcade title are now his friends, and he loves to wear different hats that grant him special powers. None of this begins to define a worthwhile game until you start playing the initial levels and using early hats like the frost beam or the iguana that have grounded but useful applications. Then you realize the level design compliments these powers well and a bit of Mario nostalgia sneaks in. Pac-Man retains the eating ghosts mechanic and can even use a “scare” power to turn them blue and devour them old school style. Before you know it you’re having a blast traversing the game’s six worlds, all borrowed from video game tropes of old, and you don’t want to stop playing.
That’s the hook, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures does a fantastic job of keeping what works in classic games and borrowing different aspects of contemporary platforms into balance. Levels don’t feel too long or too short and all challenges you face are either easy to recognize or recycled from a game in the past. Perhaps it puts the game into a niche category of lifelong gamers in their 30s that can remember the past and present alike, but I feel confident this game is just as properly suited for younger audiences that enjoy the likes of New Super Mario Bros. and Skylanders. What these classic adult gamers will quickly note that younger gamers may not is that the game just delivers too little all of the time. I loved some of the late boss battles, but there are only like five in the game so you aren’t experiencing them much. Additionally Pac-Man has multiple hearts of life to assist him completing his task, but if he has a hat on he will lose that instead of taking damage. Since each boss requires a special hat to overcome, all you really have to do is pick up another hat as fast as you can to have infinite life. The same goes for collecting extra lives, something I feel the developers were well aware was an effortless task due to an achievement for having more than 50 lives. I accidentally unlocked that one. Each world only has a handful of levels along with a couple of bonus levels, which results in no more than 45 minutes of dedication to complete and an overall completion time just over 4 hours. There’s also a push to have you complete each level twice, but the reward is completely pointless. It just feels like a game where developers did just enough to consider it complete.
That doesn’t mean that this title lacks polish, just that the overall content is lazy. I never had any issues with glitches, errors, pop-ins, or defects, the game ran smooth as silk and looked quite good in the process. Load times were hardly noticed and all cutscenes could be skipped with ease. I mention this because too few budget titles these days – and even high caliber titles like Arham Origins – don’t seem to be getting the coat of polish that major boxed releases deserve. While Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures offers a more scant amount of content, it is at least properly tweaked and well programmed. Unfortunately any hardcore gamer that picks this up will breeze through it in a weekend (if not a day) and be left with little else to do. Well, I guess there’s multiplayer. What the Pac-Man universe definitely didn’t need is a 3rd person perspective of the original game where you play as the ghosts and screw each other over to avoid being eaten. It’s a stupid premise from the very onset and doesn’t work out all that well when you put it into practice. Most of the time standing still or getting lucky is the way to win and I don’t think players both young and old prefer a multiplayer mode like that (and even if they do there are plenty of free options). So for the record, this is not a game to be played in multiplayer.
I must say I am pleasantly surprised with Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures and found it an enjoyable campaign for the weekend. In fact, had it shared the nearly triple length that Kameo, a game that utilized most of the puzzle platform and elemental powers this game does, I would be giving it a much higher score. Even adding different difficulties or alternative versions of the original levels would do, anything to extend the gameplay I was enjoying. It doesn’t, though, and by the time your 4 hours are up, possibly a couple more hours for achievement/trophy farming, this game can be discarded. If you can rent it or find it on the cheap under $20, platformer fans may want to consider jumping at the opportunity, but as for the rest of the gaming audience it just doesn’t deliver enough to justify taking notice.
Final Score: 2 out of 5
View our review policy and meaning of scores here.
This game was provided for review from the publisher on the Xbox 360 platform. It was completed by the reviewer in approximately 4 hours, with an additional 2 hours given to single player replays and an hour with multiplayer both online and offline. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, and PC for an MSRP of $39.99.
Normally we solely talk retro on this blog but with the upcoming PS4 I just can’t help but get everyone acquainted with the story of Killzone. While I’ve been a hardcore fan since the second game (I played the original but didn’t much care for it), most people managed to skip the series due to its long development delays, similar aesthetic to other shooters of the time, and much better marketed titles from both Sony internal (Resistance 2) and competitor Microsoft (Gears of War 2). It really is a shame because Killzone 2 is quite distinct from other shooters of the generation, but I will get into that later in the article. The focus of this is to get you caught up with the story and elements of each game in the series, so that you can jump into the latest iteration, Shadow Fall, at the PS4 launch without having to worry about everything that came before it. Given that Killzone covers three console generations now (PS2-PS4) and almost 10 years, it’s got quite a lineage for a series with three main titles and two portable side stories. Unlike most game franchises, the Killzone series stays mostly progressive with story and each new iteration directly follows its predecessor in the timelineso Shadow Fall takes place at the tail end of the current franchise. I have each game listed below along with a story synopsis and notable gameplay elements and updates to each in the order they take place in the Killzone universe. Without further ado, I give you the Killzone story so far:
It all starts in the distant future where nuclear fallout has all but obliterated Earth and space exploration and colonization has become a lucrative business. Of these colonizing companies is the Helghan Corporation, which reminds me of the ethical compass of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation from Aliens and the dress code of the Third Reich. The conflict first begins with Helghan discovering Alpha Centauri, a system with two planets: Vekta, an Earth-like planet rife for colonization, and a decayed shell of a planet, Helghan, both named after connections to the company. Conflict breaks out as rivals begin to notice the value of Alpha Centauri, necessitating the formation of armies – the Helghast Army of Helghan and the United Colonial Army (UCA) of the United Colonial Nations (UCN) – and leading to the historical First Extrasolar War. War breaks out when the UCN embargo Helghan from sole colonization of Vekta, which they ignore, and thus get invaded by the UCA. In the end the UCA emerge victorious and colonize Vekta, banishing the Helghast to Helghan. With this dichotomy in place, the UCN create an extraordinary military force known as the Interplanetary Strategic Alliance (ISA, think Colonial Marines) to protect Vekta should the Helghast decide to retaliate. Instead of fighting back, Helghan colonizes the harsh industrial planet named after the company and eventually members of the Helghast are born with the ability to breathe the atmosphere of both brutal Helghan air and traditional oxygen. An aggressive leader with all the traits of Adolph Hitler and from the bloodline that can breathe both atmospheres named Scholar Vasari uses a staged assassination attempt and charm to rise above the ranks and take leadership of Helghan, declaring a new world order known as the Helghan Empire. As you can probably tell, this is no longer just a corporate mantra but now an entire people. After preparing a sizable army, Vasari calls for a blitz assault of the ISA on Vekta and starts the Second Extrasolar War.
And that’s just the story before you begin playing. Killzone tells the story of ISA Captain Jan Templar as he fights off the oncoming Helghast forces invading Vekta. After fighting in the outskirts of the main ISA headquarters, Templar is forced to fall back into the base only to find it overrun by Helghast forces. Eventually he will fend off the troops long enough to evacuate alongside fellow soldier Marshal Lugar, who saves his life. During the evacuation another lone solider named Ricardo Velasquez (remember him, he comes back again) assists a platoon from escaping large Helghast resistance, requesting the assistance of Templar and Lugar. It is at this time the two leaders also discover and set out to find traitor General Stuart Adams, a Helghan spy that lowered the alert system and defenses long enough for the Helghast forces to invade. As the game continues you take out strategic points across the various armies and interact with several spies, counter-operatives, and even an unnecessary side plot with another army. In the end, Adams and his troops are subdued, the main station of Vekta is destroyed, and both Templar and Lugar escape.
Relevance: Killzone had great graphics for the PS2 and the HD remake on the PS3 is also no exception. Unfortunately for developer Guerilla, the gameplay kinda sucked, the movement and shooting was complicated and clunky, aside from enemies the environment was sparse, and it just wasn’t that fun to play. It did, however, set up a pretty rock solid storyline and although the main campaign story was recycled and predictable, I will go on record saying I rather enjoyed the overall plot that has nothing to do with actually playing the game. I hate to admit it, but you should probably skip this one, it requires more patience than one really needs to offer an experience like this. Like all HD remakes, the PS3 version may look a lot better, but the gameplay remains mostly identical.
From there the series has two side tangents, both on portable consoles.
As a serviceable third-person shooter for the Playstation Portable (PSP), Killzone Liberation takes place two months after Killzone. You once again control Templar as he seeks out multiple hostages taken by new Helghast leaders General Armin Metrac and right hand Colonial Cobar, both assigned by Vasari to capture key targets in the war on Vekta. As you progress through the game the writing on the wall steers to the Helghast upping tech to attack the ISA and both Lugar and Velaszquez (now known as “Rico” for short) make cameos. At the end of the 4th mission, the final one on the UMD, you discover that upon the defeat of Metrac, Vasari now plans to use nuclear weapons against the ISA and that there is a traitor in Templar’s midst. A fifth mission available as downloadable content epilogues the game with Rico Velasquez being wrongly accused as the traitor and it is discovered that it was instead another solider you worked with throughout most of the game (although he was forgettable).
Relevance: This game was much more gameplay than story, an interesting juxtaposition from the original. I recommend checking it out if you wish – it is compatible with Vita – but going into it with the open mind that it was a dated attempt to utilize Sony’s portable and did it better than most. It will be a lot of work for a storyline I just summed up in a paragraph and requires a piece of paid DLC to fully appreciate. Granted, I give props to Guerilla, who did develop this iteration.
The only jump in development/release dates comes next with the recent Vita release Killzone Mercenary.
It’s kind of a throw away plot that has little to do with the universe. Oh well, here we go. You control mercenary Arran Danner (what is with Guerilla’s names?), a former UCA soldier turned merc that works for whoever has the highest paycheck. During an extraction mission of an ISA diplomat, things go wrong and you end up protecting a little boy as you unfold a plot to use biological warfare on Vekta. You discover that the ISA forces have a way to wipe out the entire Helghast army on Vekta in one fell swoop, but the ethical reality of genocide is too much for this mercenary to bear. He joins forces with the Helghast, eliminating the weapon and extracting the boy, all while keeping their identities safe. At the end it is discovered that Vasari did, in fact, acquire a nuclear weapon in the midst of this conflict.
Relevance: Almost none. The story is throw away, the concepts already revealed in the release of Killzone 2 and it seems this was developer Guerilla’s alternative team showing off their talents at creating an FPS experience on the Vita without damaging the Killzone cannon. While I must admit it adds almost nothing to story or cannon, it is one of the best and most fun games on Sony’s handheld, so just go into it to have fun instead of revealing plot.
Now back to the console trilogy.
After the war on Vekta begins to take a back seat, a full blown invasion of home world Helghan takes shape with the ISA forces hoping that the elimination of leader Vasari will essentially “cut the head” off the army and discontinue the attack of Helghast forces. You now take control of Tomas “Sev” Sevchenko, a special forces operative, as they begin the invasion on Helghan. During an assault on the anti-air measures of the capital city Pyrrhus, Sev discovers that the Helghast have been able to harness the natural Helghan (planet, not army) resource of Petrusite, allowing for arc towers that can basically zap and destroy any solider or armament against them. As they attempt to take out the Tharsis Refinery on the outskirts, Colonel Radac (your nemesis for the game) kidnaps key members of Sev’s group. It’s not all bad news, Sev does discover the details behind Red Dust, the nuclear weapon, and manages to steal the launch codes before breaking out and escaping with his team. Everyone extracts to the New Sun, an invasion ship of the fleet that assaulted Helghan. Radac predictably finds his way on board, kills a key member of Sev’s team (playing the game reveals more background on character Garza) and steals back the codes, however the dying member Garza manages to crash the invaded New Sun into the Tharsis Refinery and ruin most of the arc tower plans. The game wraps with Sev and Rico invading the Helghan capital to capture Vasari, but being somewhat delayed by the triggering of Red Dust on the city. The two continue into the capital, fight a ridiculous boss battle with Radac in the process, and the gloomy words of Vasari convince Sev to kill the Helghast leader instead of taking him into custody. As the sun sets over Pyrrhus a massive Helghan fleet is revealed and ready to take out the ISA.
Relevance: Killzone 2 is a hell of an experience. Relatively long compared to other first-person shooters, roughly 12 hours, and with an enemy AI and “killbox” level design that forces you to play hyper aggressive, it’s unlike most games of its times. Couple that with gorgeous graphics, cool weapons, and a cover system not unlike that in Gears of War and there’s little reason to give this one a try. It was somewhat forgotten with an early 2009 release that put it outside the holiday season, immediately following Resistance 2, and in direct competition with Resident Evil 5 (not to mention Gears of War 2 just went up against Resistance 2 at the end of 2008). Of the games released on the Playstation 3 platform, I still consider Killzone 2 one of the top 5 games to try on the console despite it’s ridiculous final boss battle.
Opening immediately following its predecessor, the goal is now to get Sev, Rico, and the rest of the ISA forces off Helghan and out of the eye of the storm that is retaliation. Next in command of the Helghan forces is Admiral Orlock, a man not unlike Vasari in his ability to use rhetoric and propaganda to get his way from the Helghan senate. Not in his court is Jorhan Stahl, head of Stahl Arms Corporation and responsible for the largest number of military resources on Helghan. It is clear that these two men don’t get along and there may be some competition for the “throne” of leadership. Sev and Rico attempt an extraction and some botched plans and assaults later the two are marooned and separated on Helghan, lasting more than 6 months on the run. In the meantime, the senate grows weary of Orlock’s leadership and the suggestion is made that Stahl take leadership. While it doesn’t happen, Stahl withholds prototype weapons from the Helghan army and decides to use his own private forces to hunt down the lone soldiers in direct competition to Orlock, who has been hunting them for half a year. In the meantime, Sev makes his way to the Helghan jungle (an interesting level), speaks with Vekta leadership, and a cease-fire is negotiated to extract the soldiers. Stahls men find Sev and capture him, resulting in Rico and a few of his men saving him (this is now par for the course).
During the escape, Sev and Rico discover a plot to eliminate all of Earth’s forces from Stahl, using a prototype weapon. As a result they go about infiltrating and destroying Stahl’s forces before attacking the man himself. This entire conflict takes place in space, specifically in the Helghan orbit, and involves some interesting space combat, physics, and an eventual push to Stahl himself. After a brief battle, Sev drops a massive Petrusite nuclear bomb on Stahl’s cruiser to eliminate any chance he will be a threat, resulting in a nuclear fallout that wipes most of Helghan. After some reflecting on killing millions of people all at once, Sev and Rico return to Vekta and a post-credits scene shows two Helghast soldiers investigating an escape pod on Helghan and stating, “Welcome home sir,” implying that Stahl may very well be alive.
Relevance: Killzone 3 was a bit gimmicky. It had 3D, jetpacks, and plenty of crazy weapons on its side, but in the end it just wasn’t as strong as its predecessor. Still, it was quite enjoyable and many liked the new lighter feel of your fighter and his ability to act a bit more like a Call of Duty soldier (which I felt was a step back). Multiplayer continued to thrive and with long battles, massive maps, and rotating objectives, still stands strong today as an exclusive multiplayer shooter.
And that’s the story at this point. With the preview coverage I’ve seen on Killzone Shadow Fall up to this point I think it’s safe to assume that much like the other iterations, it will be a visual masterpiece with the jury still out on gameplay. Here’s hoping it plays as good as it looks.
This week Fred welcomes listener Yuri (@JamesFortengard) and fellow podcaster Isaiah (@i_say_uh) from the Party Chat to discuss the console generation that officially comes to an end on 11/15/2013. They discuss innovations, trends, and passing fads of the longest generation ever in history that awarded gamers with some of the most dynamic experiences to date.
Most HD remakes require a certain degree of love for the original game, especially when you consider a brunt of them just increase the resolution on lower quality assets. In the case of NES classic DuckTales, this doesn’t really apply. It was a stunning game that had few flaws when placed up against other titles of its time. There was much work to do bringing it into modern times and if you are going to do this type of upgrade while still retaining sprites, WayForward is probably the best equipped for the job. The visual result is spectacular, justifying the somewhat melodramatic title of Remastered in a mere screenshot. Unfortunately it seems the team was so focused on keeping the aesthetics intact that they spent little time on gameplay. As a result DuckTales Remastered is a title that will tug at your nostalgic heartstrings before crushing them under the minor, but significant, tweaks of this modernization.
If you aren’t familiar with WayForward’s previous works, they have grown a reputation for bringing back the past with hand drawn sprites integrated into contemporary gameplay. It is an astronomical cost in both work and resources, but I have been impressed with everything they have provided before (Contra 4, A Boy and His Blob, and Bloodrayne Betrayal to name a few). Not only that, but this developer has also shown striking success with licensed products as well, Batman: Brave and the Bold and Aliens: Infestation are must plays, so I felt that with Capcom and Disney at its back this was a match made in heaven. Upon starting up the game it looks like all the time and money sure paid off. It’s like the cartoon came to life, with solid animation that looks like it leaped off the cells of an animator’s sketchpad. Environments are bright and beautiful, re-creating the worlds from the NES counterpart to perfectly adjust for “nostalgia goggles” (ie: what your mind remembers of a game versus what it really looks like today). Touched up with all of the original voice actors and not a flat performance in the bunch, I can’t imagine how this title could ever demo poorly, especially if your previewers aren’t playing. In terms of visual and audio appeal, WayForward knocked it out of the park.
Then comes the gameplay, which is where the whole project falls apart. The technical complication with such gorgeous sprites is that collision detection cannot be properly determined and therefore hit boxes are utilized. WayForward has always struggled with this on big screen console games, although the portable outings, whether by the benefit of low resolution or smaller screens, don’t seem to suffer the same fate. When you couple that with the dexterity and precision that DuckTales requires, it can get quite frustrating when Scrooge falls right through a massive boss, receives damage, and puts him right in the pattern to get hit again. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if you hadn’t just played a 20-30 minute level for the forth time, which in contrast had almost none of the challenge these boss encounters or late dexterity tests do, and had to skip through dozens of annoying cutscenes along the way. Furthermore Scrooge’s jumps and pogos seem a little off, feeling floaty and imprecise when compared to the much older version. I know many of you readers may scoff at this statement, claiming Scrooge seems to control perfectly with no awkwardness to his movement at all. If you’re comparing it to today’s games, sure, but when you play the NES version and this version back to back, the pixel-counting detail we used to commit to games simply doesn’t hold up in Remastered. I heard of pogo issues from other reviewers, but I must admit that I didn’t have any problems. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t perform like an ideal update 90 percent of the time, but in this particular case the devil is in the details.
Put it all together and you have a game that looks, sounds, and presents itself as the best gift a retro gamer could receive, but after a few hours you’re left hurt and heartbroken. This truly proves that the best graphics and sound in the world cannot hide the fact that if a game doesn’t play right, it just isn’t enjoyable. Normally I side with WayForward’s titles, appreciating the full presentation despite the weak collision and amped difficulty, but in the case of DuckTales Remastered I just cannot ignore the flaws. It’s not difficult in the way old games were meant to be – you would replay frustrating obstacles in an attempt to perfect your run – this whole high risk high reward at a mere boss battle or new area isn’t difficulty, it’s developer trickery. Still, there is an audience for this game and assuming you can commit to hours of working your way through the levels and overcoming the annoying gameplay tweaks it can be one rewarding accomplishment. Perhaps I don’t have the time or patience to learn a game inside and out, not for difficulty but rather for flaws, in order to see that coveted game ending. As a retro gamer my heart tells me I wanted a remake like this – and I can’t stress enough that if WayForward working with Capcom couldn’t pull it off, there aren’t many other options – but now that I’ve tasted the finished product I’m feeling that perhaps the gems of the past should remain that way.
Final Score: 2 out of 5 Please see our review policy for how games are scored and what each score means.
DuckTales Remastered was played via a review copy provided by Capcom and was tested on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms. I played for approximately seven hours and was unable to complete the game at this time. A majority of the game was played on medium, however this was adjusted to both easy and hard to assist in determining differences in difficulty.
Originally hitting arcades back in 1993, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom was quite the oddity. It prominently featured gameplay similar to that of its other brawler brethren, specifically the combat system of Final Fight mixed with the license quality of titles like The Simpsons, but also with the added benefit of being part of the complex D&D story. Not only was the game addictive but mild RPG elements, power-ups, and branching paths that had you etching a unique campaign were almost unheard of in arcades. Unfortunately this gameplay style and a long branching campaign required two important things: time and money. It probably costs somewhere between $5-$10 in quarters to conquer the first game, and probably twice that to take on the sequel Shadow Over Mystara and at least an hour of your time. As it stood, I never completed this game as a child, either due to lack of time or money, and I always wondered how fun it would be to have this title at home. Well finally Capcom has decided to bring this classic arcade duo in digital format and finally give free rein to a pair of arcade games that are among my favorite of all time.
As for the games themselves, they haven’t changed much. You get unlimited credits, all of the gameplay straight from the arcade, and both games in one. Not only that, but Capcom has integrated a sort of save system that remembers each level as you complete it. This is a great benefit over the arcade version because it’s hard to find 1-2 hours (or more depending on how much playing you want to do) without interruption, so now you can quit anytime and pick up at the beginning of the level you left off. Additionally the controls are left untouched, the four face buttons of whatever platform you choose relates directly to the original 4-buttons of the arcade and I was pleased to see my fight stick gave the game that true arcade feel. A front end menu system not unlike the ones recently seen in Darkstalkers Resurrection provides a collection of all the loot that can be collected in a checklist format, plenty of challenges to activate as you play, a mostly useless leveling system based on completion of the overall collection, and unlockable art and content. It all bundles the collection into a nice package for those that enjoyed it in the past.
Not only did Capcom bring both games together, but it has plenty of additional options to tweak the gameplay to your liking. Whether you prefer the world of smooth, slick modern visuals or want to try to capture that old school arcade feel the options are there for you. Display resolutions are available in traditional 4:3 boxed versions, a widescreen perspective, a stretched mode for full screen, and even three arcade views including a zoomed out over-the-shoulder view of the original 4-player dual cabinet. I don’t know why anyone would want to view the game that way, but now you can at the press of a button. You can also toggle scanlines, make the graphics smooth or sharp, and even have a modern type bezel art that shows you how close you are to completing challenges. With online capabilities you now have drop-in drop-out co-op play for up to four people, which can be as open or limited as you choose. Some of the aforementioned unlocked bonus content is the ability to have mods in the game such as regenerating health or unbreakable equipment, which can make the game more amusing when trying to do a speed run or assisting someone else. There are even passive options like seeing stats on your friends, leaderboards, and even the ability to make spell and equipment selections on the gamepad in the WiiU version. While I honestly think the visual options are the only true necessary extra, I was pleased to see that although an inexpensive HD re-release, this wasn’t thrown together.
To this day I still love Capcom’s Dungeons & Dragons games to the point that I dropped around $50 to import the Japan-only Saturn port of this collection long ago. Now it’s fully localized and available without any sacrifice to the gameplay and at a much lower price. If you are a fan of arcade games, the D&D universe, or brawlers you definitely need to check out one of the most impressive sprite-based arcade titles to ever release. Now I may actually get to explore all of the various alternate routes and branching paths thanks to an unlimited amount of credits and time. Despite the fact that Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara does little more than bring back the two arcade titles to home consoles, the games themselves justify the purchase even if they were nothing more than direct ports of the original. Thank you Capcom, now my collection of favorite license-based brawler titles is nearly complete.
This title is available for $15 starting today on PSN and Steam, with the XBLA version going live tomorrow. No information was given on the upcoming WiiU digital release. A review copy of this title was provided with the main campaign of both games totaling about two and a half hours. We played approximately six hours of gameplay for this review including online and offline co-op and several replays of the campaigns.
While it has celebrated decades of success in Japan, the Shin Megami Tensei series didn’t even come to America until Persona on the original Playstation. It wasn’t rebranded with the classic Shin Megami Tensei prefix until the release and mainstream love for Persona 3 and I can see why. If you read back to my Persona 1 & 2 review you will see that while I dug the direction it was going, I had major issues with both games that made the 50+ hour slogs through the campaigns less than enjoyable. All of these issues are addressed in Persona 3 without letting go of the core that got gamers interested in the first place. If you are a fan of JRPGs or have never played an epic dungeon-crawling quest, you should seriously consider giving Persona 3 a play because its modern setting, streamlined battle system, and socially integrated plotline will keep you playing for tens (if not hundreds) of hours.
The basic setup in Persona 3 is that you are a male (you have a female option as well in P3: FES and P3 Portable) second year high school student (think Junior in US terms) in Japan that has just transferred to a new school. As a student to a private academy, there are some differences to the public system: the only day off is Sunday, you wear a uniform, and students live in unisex dorms. Due to overcrowding, your character moves into an available dorm that is temporarily coed. It turns out that all of this dorm’s students have one thing in common: they are able to summon beings from within them named “personas”. These personas are capable of both physical and magical powers and are an extension of the individual controlling them. You also learn that each night at midnight an alternative realm known as “the dark hour” takes over the world and certain beings are allowed to roam freely while the rest of us reside in coffin-like structures, removed from this realm. Naturally persona users are one of the beings that can roam as are evil beings known as “shadows” that take on different forms. The goal of the shadows is to end the world and the persona users are rallied to prevent this. Wouldn’t you know, the main tower/source of evil is none other than the school, which transforms into a tall castle called Tartarus at night. Quite the setup, isn’t it?
Sure, it’s a lot to take in, but the pacing of the game moves at a gradual but consistent rate that gets you caught up within the first five hours. During this time you will become acquainted with yourself, your peers, the town, school, and the basic battle system. Right off the bat this introduction is a massive improvement from the originals that just threw you into the mix to figure it out. Along the way the battle system ramps up, requiring you to know how to counter enemies – you can potentially harm yourself, strengthen a foe, or just plain waste a turn with the wrong type of attack. This was a huge oversight in the original games because the logic for what works with and against a creature isn’t obvious and the original games didn’t provide any reference guide to learn from. Now instead of mentioning a discovered weakness mid-battle that you need to memorize, the game will analyze characters for you and remember what you learn from them. Additionally your character is the rare single entity that can control multiple personas, each with unique attributes, attacks, and requirements. This is where Persona 3 seems to combine both Final Fantasy and Pokemon for an addicting battle mechanic that makes the hours you will spend in dungeons fighting the same enemies actually fun instead of menial. My biggest gripe of the previous two games was the endless random battles that would spring up every three steps or so and drag the pace of the game to a halt. In this title the battles are instead seen and the amount of time you spend in Tartarus is completely up to you (save for the occasional story mission), so that problem is gone altogether. As for the pace, the game is broken into an entire school year – the date, day of the week, and moon cycle are constantly displayed. It doesn’t seem to matter at first, but by the middle of the campaign you will be acutely aware of exactly what the date is and what it means. As I write this it still impresses me how I went from knowing almost nothing about Persona and came out a seasoned veteran.
On top of all that you have a life to manage. Not only is this a nightly slog through more than 250 total floors of enemies, but you are a high school student that has to manage schoolwork, social circles, jobs, and even dating. If you are told to meet a professor after school on a certain date, it’s up to you to remember that and show up. The same goes for swim team practice, making friends with an old couple that runs a bookstore, and picking up a hand-crafted weapon. If you are dating a girl and do something as innocent as hanging out with another there can be consequences. All of your social links give strength to your personas, making grinding much less necessary. By the way, did you do well on those final semester exams? There are also side missions doled out by Elizabeth, an employee of the Velvet Room, which assists you in creating and managing your personas. It sounds daunting, and it will be at first, but like everything else Persona 3 develops at a pace completely under the control of the player so your progress is natural. This is why some people get to the end in 40 hours, some get to the end in 80 hours, and others get to 200 hours, because the amount of playtime, side missions, and pace are up to you. This game is as limited or robust as you make it, but you should probably plan a minimum 60 hours to even get through the main story.
While there’s a lot to enjoy with Persona 3, don’t forget that it is a classic RPG underneath it all and will have some of the tropes that come with that fact. You will spend hours grinding to that certain level or get that persona boosted up so that you can complete a quest or overcome a brutal boss. Saving in the game can be a tricky circumstance – although you are free to save almost anywhere in the game, backtracking through floors in Tartarus can be a pain. On the other hand you might encounter a random lucky enemy that takes you out instantly and lose 30 floors of progress because you got cocky. Boss battles can be a frustrating endeavor when you get a puzzle boss or seemingly overpowered boss with one fatal weakness, but the game always gives you an opportunity to save (and you’d better take it) before any such encounter. Despite the focus on social relationships, once they are maxed out the character ceases to be of much value to you and there’s no way to establish a stronger relationship than close friends. If you max out someone who is in love with you, feel free to start working on another person the next morning. I also don’t like the all or nothing mentality of this series – doing one or two side quests usually doesn’t do anything unless you remain consistent and complete all of the side quests. I must also warn about the end of the game (don’t worry, no spoilers) where you will be forced to make a decision and there are drastic differences to the game depending on what you do. In fact, the “true” ending can only be achieved with one of these options, so I highly recommend you save before any major choices.
By the time you reach the end of Persona 3 you will have an intimate relationship with the game, something I rarely experience. In order to get there, though, the journey is long, sometimes tough, and time consuming. Depending on your gaming habits, you may want to consider picking up the portable version (Persona 3 Portable) on PSP, available digitally, and compatible with the Vita. Otherwise the definitive version of this game (Persona 3 FES) can be found digitally on PSN for the PS3 or in tangible disc form on the PS2. Regardless of how you obtain it, this is a new spin on the classic JRPG formula and I can safely say that I am of the converted. I rather despised most of my experiences in the first two games, but now I’m an avid fan that can’t wait to experience Persona 4. If you need something new or want to see the potential of this genre, then Persona 3 is a great way to break the ice.
This week Fred and Trees are talking about the Tomb Raider series and its busty protagonist Lara Croft that shadowed the video game as a pop culture icon in the late 1990s. We discuss development, creation, and production of both Core and recent Crystal Dynamics’ vision for Lara and her many adventures.
Video game consoles are one of the most interesting electronics items on the market for several reasons. Probably the most prolific is the fact that there are frequent hardware upgrades, which we call generations, that move home consoles forward. Because each new console is basically a piece of hardware frozen in time, the need to innovate and improve on future games demands that they be constantly updated. This works counter to movies or music, which see improvements from new hardware but don’t require the upgrade to enjoy the medium. Imagine if you could play Super Mario Bros. on the Wii but with drastically upgraded visuals or Dead Space on the original Playstation with the juxtaposed setback, this is exactly what we see when we watch Ghostbusters on VHS versus DVD versus Blu Ray. As a result new consoles come out all the time, typically in 5-8 year intervals, and usher in a more interactive experience – it’s important to note that the greatest difference between games and other media is that they are active, not passive experiences – and with it comes a new format for software.
Enter the concern of the consumer. It can be frustrating for both gamers and parents of gamers alike to purchase a new console, especially when it renders an entire collection on an older console useless. As retro gamers I’m sure we see the value in it, but for the majority there’s a want to move forward and never look back. Well, that is until there are enough new games to get me to migrate over. This is another slow start that prevents all but early adopters to purchase new hardware, which can then result in fewer sales. With fewer sales comes more canceled projects on new hardware, which then results in fewer sales of the hardware and the cycle continues until a console is considered dead in the water. Just look at the Virtual Boy, Jaguar, and possibly even the WiiU about this problem; developers have enough to worry about, they can’t also deal with poor penetration rate due to a false start console. One excellent solution to help usher in that awkward period between consoles is the concept of backwards compatibility, or a new console that can play a previous generation’s games.
Backwards compatibility started off as mostly an afterthought, typically triggered by a new console’s use of inexpensive available hardware for another component in a new console. For the most part this was sound boards – the Genesis used a Master System processor for sound as did the Playstation processor for PS2′s I/O port. That made it easy: either use a firmware initialization string or hardware bypass to force the sound chip to be used as the older hardware rather than its intended use. This isn’t always the case, though, and many consoles utilized such drastically new hardware or are so complicated in architecture that making a new console backwards compatible is impossible. All three main console manufacturers ran into this problem with the current generation and had to increase the cost of the machine to prevent lack of backwards compatibility from being an issue. In the case of Nintendo, extra components were installed to make Gamecube accessories and media possible, while the similar architecture of the Wii allowed it to become an overpowered Gamecube. Microsoft had an entire new hardware architecture and opted for software compatibility, which was terrible when it first launched and unnecessary when it was fully integrated. It still shocks me how many people don’t know the poor quality of many original Xbox titles on 360 and how many of the console’s best games are completely unplayable. Sony, fearful of what they saw with Microsoft and holding the largest console library of all time with the PS2, opted to just shove an entire PS2 motherboard into the PS3, making it the biggest console of all time (so far) and costing up to $600 at launch. This was the point at which both the industry and gamers found their limits and suddenly backwards compatibility may not have been all that important. At this point no one cares about backwards compatibility in modern consoles, it has been stripped from Wii and PS3 (which generated significant price drops), and the previous consoles are so cheap that they are worth re-purchasing if absolutely necessary.
It’s important to keep your eyes on the prize and prepare for the next generation of consoles, all of which will be available by this holiday season. Backwards compatibility is good, but rarely is it as good as the original and it will never be worth the expense. Before giving a used retailer your PS3 or 360 for a mere $50-$100 off your new expensive console, consider holding on to it just in case. Like a hard drive in a 360, you’ll surely find it saves you money in the long run. After all, isn’t it about time you joined this retro gaming revolution?
Okay, so here’s why you probably clicked on this article in the first place, the list of backwards compatible consoles. Below is not only the list, but an explanation as to how each console achieves it (mildly technical):
- ColecoVision: With an add-on, which provided the necessary chipsets to do so, the ColecoVision could become an Atari 2600, however there were almost no similarities in hardware (which explains the need for the add-on). This was legally allowed because Atari didn’t use proprietary hardware and thus it was like two manufacturers making the same specs on a PC. Unfortunately for Atari, this hit came twice as hard because the 5200 was not backwards compatible either. With the courts ruling in the favor of Coleco, they even created a clone system called the “Coleco Gemini” that was, chip for chip, an Atari 2600 and sold it in stores.
- Atari 7800: This was the first console to actually be backwards compatible and played both 7800 and 2600/VCS games, but not 5200. Atari fans were livid with the 5200′s lack of 2600 backwards compatibility, which made sense considering the 5200 contained updated versions of most of the 2600 library. The 7800 ran a SALLY 6502 processor, which could be slowed to 1.19 Mhz and thus operate like the stripped 6507 of the 2600, and then a television interface chip created graphics/sound while adapted chipsets allowed the 7800 to function with limits to the confines of the 2600. This would have been implemented sooner than the late release window of the 7800 had the console not been shelved for over two years after the video game crash.
Known Issues: Atari integrated a content lock-out chip that blocked adult 2600 games (Custer’s Revenge, etc).
- Sega Genesis/Mega Drive: The Sega Genesis may have used a 68000 processor for its “blast processing” but it also used the Master System’s Z80 processor for its sound chip. Thanks to an add-on called the “Power Base Converter”, which plugged into the cartridge slot and gave the Genesis a Master System cart/card slot, the 68000 was deactivated and the Z80 took over. This made the Genesis literally turn into a Master System, which was one of the first to do so thanks to the previous console’s co-processor chip.
- Gameboy Color: While it may seem to be a no-brainer, the Gameboy Color actually has significantly more processing power, RAM, and palette as its predecessor. This is why you cannot play Gameboy Color games in a Gameboy, it just can’t keep up. On the other hand, the Gameboy Color was backwards compatible with Gameboy thanks to a few of its similarities. For starters the Sharp LR35902 processor was merely an adapted (possibly overclocked) version of the Gameboy’s Z80 processor, screen resolution and cartridges were the same, and RAM was merely three of the Gameboy’s RAM chips. As a result the machine could be locked off into “Gameboy” mode, much like the 7800 could do for 2600 games, and the four hues of green on the Gameboy were adapted into multiple color pre-sets that the user could choose from.
- Gameboy Advance: Like many other consoles, the Gameboy Advance used a Z80 coprocessor for its sound chip. This allowed the console to play both Gameboy and Gameboy Color games by simply making the co-processor function as the only processor. Pressing L and R buttons allowed you to toggle between the original resolution and a stretched version in the larger GBA resolution.
- Playstation 2: It’s hard to find good techinical data on the topic, but I’m fairly certain that the I/O port processor, or the device that reads the media and transfers it to the hardware, utilized the PS1′s R3051 33 Mhz processor. This meant that when it was reading a disc and detected it was a PS1 game, it could stop sending information to the PS2 and simply function as a PS1 instead. Having no true knowledge about how these consoles work beyond that, I can’t tell you for sure how it was able to control all other aspects of the system needed to play PS1 games, but that’s how it was able to do so.
Known Issues: Due to the console not having the true hardware configuration of the PS1, there is a short list of games incompatible with the PS2 depending on your console. Oddly enough, the slimline model was even incompatible with some PS2 games.
- Nintendo DS: Nintendo definitely wants to keep its legacy alive, and repurposing the chipsets of older consoles is an inexpensive way to innovate, but the DS was the first console not compatible with all previous consoles. While it does technically have all the hardware needed to play all previous portables, the DS only has a cartridge slot for the Gameboy Advance and the later DSi and DSi XL models have removed that slot completely. Still, for those that have a DS or DS Lite (preferred), you can run any GBA game you like on it.
- Xbox 360: Light years had passed, technologically speaking, between the original Xbox and the 360 even though ironically only four short years had passed in actual time. The 360 and its predecessor were both basically streamlined computers and their hardware configurations were so diverse that it would be impossible to have the 360 function like an Xbox. Microsoft’s solution was software emulation. With a scant 733 Mhz Pentium III in the Xbox and a beefy 3.2 Ghz multi-core PowerPC in the 360 the console was basically running an emulator when it plays Xbox games. As with most emulators, especially early on, the results are scattered with lots of odd effects. It’s not true backwards compatibility.
Known Issues: Plenty. It was such a headache that after only two major updates Microsoft discontinued support. A large number of games will work, although the setbacks can be as simple as ghosting in Halo 2 and as drastic as the crawling framerate of KOTOR.
- Playstation 3: Sony’s answer shows the extensive hubris they had in the wake of the Playstation 2: jack the price of the console up $150 and slam an actual PS2 into it. There’s no reason to have the PS2 hardware in the console except to play Playstation 2 games, which accounts for the massive size and equally massive price tag. It has some value, though, because these early models provide significant graphical upgrades over the PS2 and are the best way to play its games. Eventually the PS3 dropped the hardware, resulting in a $200 retail price drop for the console, and attempted software emulation that came with a whole new batch of issues. Nowadays, and since 2009, the PS3 has had no PS2 backwards compatibility whatsoever. If you’re looking today, any launch 60GB and 20GB model is fully backwards compatible with PS2 because it has a literal PS2 built in. Any 2008-June 2009 80GB models are software backwards compatible, which is best tested by popping a PS2 game into the console and seeing if it plays. The gunmetal grey Metal Gear Solid limited edition 80GB console is also software backwards compatible. All models of the PS3, including the slim models, support PS1 games. There are PS2 games available on the PSN, which are re-programmed to support the PS3 hardware.
Known Issues: Original 60GB and 20GB have no issues, they are essentially PS2s as well. Software emulation has a long list of unsupported games and issues just as the 360 does.
- Wii: The age old joke is that the Wii is two Gamecubes duct taped together in the box. While this is not true, there is some truth behind it. The Gamecube and Wii use an IBM PowerPC processor and ATI graphics architecture in the same configuration, which basically means the Wii is a mildly souped up version. As a result, the Wii can easily re-create the Gamecube library by literally adjusting the processor speeds. In 2012, Nintendo discontinued Gamecube backwards compatibility, which can be determined by searching the outside of the console for Gamecube controller ports.
Known Issues: For the most part, none. All backward compatible Wiis are also Gamecubes. There are some limited hardware issues when trying to play hardware-specific games or integrate accessories like the Gameboy Advance cable.