Musing of a Gamer II


1. Sonic Generations

Here we go again. Is this another opportunity for the SEGA faithful to have their hopes dashed, or is it the next step towards a true return to form following on from the last two solid Sonic titles (4 Episode 1 and Colours)? Only time will tell. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, Generations features a collection of levels from its past, starring both classic and modern Sonic and presented in 2D and 3D. The optimist inside tells me that by returning to its roots SEGA are putting themselves in a great position to recapture former glory and that they haven’t forgotten what made Sonic great in the first place. The pessimist is quick to recall werehogs, bestial relations and Sonic's current and deserved standing as a second class citizen. 

The first gameplay trailer was released this week, which along with the excellent choice of music (Kele - Tenderoni) caused me to become entirely irrational and over-hyped. To calm myself down I quickly read the Sonic Unleashed entry on Wikipedia. Sometimes it’s hard being a Sonic fan.

2. The Next Generation

E3 2011 is widely rumoured to feature an announcement from Nintendo regarding their next console, expected to see a late 2012 release. The Wii 2 as it has been labelled is expected to be a high definition console with some developers having already received development kits. News reports also suggest that it will be more powerful than the PS3 and 360, which should be a given if it is to mark the beginning of the eighth generation, that the controller will feature a touch screen and it will support motion controls - good news for Wii owners hoping for backward compatibility. Hopefully Nintendo will make a commitment to online gaming and this time around the power of their new machine will match their excellence in innovation.

Citing industry sources Kotaku has since reported that Microsoft and Sony are targeting 2014 for their next generation consoles. That would result in a life-cycle for the 360 and PS3 of nine and eight years respectively, which I think is great news. It would seem that the old cycle of a new console every five years is now redundant, meaning consumers get more from their consoles and developers can continue to get the most out of development kits that they have become very familiar with.

This proposed staggered start to the next generation will suit my wallet just fine. I can see Nintendo as a 2013 purchase, PS4 in 2014 and the new Microsoft console at some point in 2016, or the first time I wander into a game shop drunk, which is how I bought my first 360!

3. Portal 2 & Metacritic

Portal 2 has caused a bit of a critical storm. It has consistently received some of the highest scores of the year thus far from print and online publications, but has been the subject of significant consumer backlash via user reviews on Metacritic – the aggregate score website. Although the user reviews have levelled-out since, the first day or two of release saw an overwhelming number of negative comments, largely for the PC version. Fans were venting their anger regarding its perceived status as a console port, which includes in-game references to not turning off the console while saving. Across all platforms, the huge volume of day one DLC left a sour taste with many gamers already concerned about a game with a relatively short run-time commanding a full retail price.

I have yet to play Portal 2, though I have heard from people whose opinion I value that it is very good, but I was a little surprised by how quickly people jumped to Valve’s defence online. Valve, Portal 2 developer, seems to enjoy a unique relationship with its fans, who seem extremely loyal. This is great, but I think it is foolish to dismiss off-hand concerns regarding ports and in particular day one DLC, which remains a thorny issue with many.

Portal 2 aside, I am wary of the importance placed on Metacritic scores by the game industry. While I can certainly see its benefits for the consumer, it concerns me that publishers put so much stock in Metacritic, at times referring to their games as an arbitrary percentage - either predicting its performance in the market or using it to justify its success or failure.  Who decides which websites and publications should be tapped for scores, and for those that don’t follow a numerical scoring system, such as 1UP, who is to say what percentage an A- equates to? It also forces reviewing sites to rely upon the old numerical scoring format if they wish to feature on Metacritic, a system which I’m not a huge fan of.




4. Who wants 100 GameCubes?

Yahoo! auction Japan recently featured a lot of 100 GameCubes, all of which were untested, sold for the princely sum of ¥10,500 (£77/$128). This sale gathered some momentum online, being reported on a number of Japan-centric gaming sites. With the rumours of the Wii 2 doing the rounds it was perfect timing for jokes along the lines of “Who wants 50 Wii 2s?”

These kinds of lots aren’t as uncommon in Japan as you may think. Piles of console or peripheral dead-stock can often be found in bigger retro gaming stores. I remember buying 2 sets of Sega Saturn Virtual On twin sticks in Akihabara for less than the cost of a bottle of Coke, and the shop in question never seemed to run out of these massive controllers!

5. Incomplete Games

Two games have got my goat over the last week or two; Dragon Age II and NBA 2K11. Two very different games, but they both have one thing in common – their lack of finish. DA2 received its first console patch this week, which solved a number of nuisance bugs and glitches yet completely ignored several other issues, including two glitched trophies/achievements which have made 100% completion unattainable for many gamers. I understand that trophies are not a core part of the game, but they are a required feature for all PS3 releases and I know many gamers, myself included, see them as an important part of any gaming package. In this way DA2 was released as incomplete, and remains so. It is part of a worrying trend of releasing  games that aren’t yet fit for release, with the attitude of - let’s get it out there and fix, or in this case not fix, it later.

How is this acceptable? How would you feel reading the latest bestseller, only to turn to page 57 to find a paragraph missing, or watch a movie with a scene that makes absolutely no sense (David Lynch films aside!). But don’t fear, the author/director is aware of the problem and will fix it in the coming months! Bollocks.

Moving onto NBA 2K11, I have found that if I download the latest patch, something that is unavoidable if connected to the net, it renders the game unplayable, freezing without fail before reaching the main menu. 2K have said that they are finished patching this game, which means that this problem, which a Google search will show is quite common, will remain unattended.

6. PSPgo - We Barely Knew Ye

Sony has confirmed that they are ending production of the PSP go, at least in the EU. After only eighteen months on the market, the plug is being pulled on an expensive and embarrassing mistake – one that it seemed everyone but Sony saw coming from a mile away. Even in Japan, where the PSP still reigns supreme and portable gaming is a cultural phenomenon, the Go fared spectacularly badly. But then what do you expect when you release an upgrade that doesn’t support the existing physical library of games and offered nothing new, a sleeker design aside, yet was significantly more expensive than its superior predecessor.

I first played the PSP go back in 2009 at Tokyo Game Show, and even then a month before release, it seemed like the writing was already on the wall. Sony had back-tracked on its goodwill program which would have allowed the existing PSP user-base to trade in their UMDs for their digital counterparts, and there were already rumblings that retailers were reluctant to stock it.

The PSPgo never got off the ground and, despite being one of the smartest looking gaming devices on the market, it looks like we have seen the last of the lilliputian Go.

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