Musings of a Gamer XVII
1. Tell me XL Lies
Baseless speculation they called it. It was early June and Nintendo were having none of Nikkei's reports that a larger 3DS would arrive later this summer. Not a month removed from their vigorous denial, Nintendo were confirming that the 3DS XL is in fact very real and will be with us later this month, to follow in August in North America. It is a portable of Game Gear proportions, with upper and lower screens 90% the size of the current model and managing to look 90% more Fisher Price tablet. It's always great to have a larger screen, but I can’t comprehend the reasoning and timing of this upgrade. I could understand the thinking behind the DSi XL, offering a new variation and a sales spike towards the end of the hardware's life, but why come out with a 3DS XL so early on, while it continues to thrive at retail?
The 3DS XL does not sufficiently address the battery issues that make any trip without an AC adapter ill-advised, offering a relatively meagre increase of battery life from 3-5 hours to 3.5-6.5 hours. It also fails to introduce the much desired second analogue stick. One could argue that the extra nub is superfluous and that developers should design their games to fit the hardware as is, but that line of reasoning became far less convincing once Nintendo announced that the XL will have its very own Circle Pad Pro, effectively admitting that the base model is still lacking and potentially turning their portable into something that will not fit into even the most spacious of pockets.
2. Tennis Balls & Barrel Rolls
Looking to quench my thirst for nostalgia, I recently revisited a pair of games that have been gathering dust since my return to the UK two and a half years ago: Wii Sports and Burnout Paradise. I have many great memories of Wii Sports, mostly involving drinks, house parties and fun injuries. I almost called in sick to work the day after first receiving the console and game back in 2007, due to a throbbing elbow and other assorted Wii-pains, but it was a price I was willing to pay in my quest for avatar sport dominance. Five years on, and tennis and golf are still the highest order of user-friendly time wasters, even if the controls are terribly inaccurate without the aid of the Wii-plus. Despite its simplicity and family friendly design, Wii Sports was a defining moment in the current generation and remains my favourite game on Nintendo’s white box.
I couldn’t give a flying fuck about cars, yet there is something about Burnout Paradise that even a motor-sceptic like me just cannot resist. Everything about it is so well executed and presented, from the simple controls to the incorporation of custom playlists. Hoping to recreate 2009 last Sunday, I reassembled the custom tunes that were once my soundtrack to barrel rolls and pile-ups and let rip. It was an effortless return, as I had no problems recalling the best spots for combo-stacking stunts and the shortcuts worth taking when gunning for first place. I quickly gave into my destructive impulses, wrecking everything in sight, though I was ashamed to learn that there are still a dozen breakable barriers out there, un-smashed - I'll deal with them soon enough. I’m not usually one for re-treads, but I hope that this year's Need for Speed: Most Wanted is a decent facsimile of Burnout Paradise, affording me the opportunity to recapture some of the joys of playing through Criterion’s masterpiece for the first time.
3. Gravity Rush
There is a lot to like about Gravity Rush, most notably the central mechanic that sees you shifting gravity, running up the sides of sky scrapers and plummeting upwards towards the ground (gravity is pretty confusing). Once the initial disorientation has passed, you soon find yourself moving effortlessly from one side of the beautifully designed city to the next, manipulating gravity to travel in the most efficient way possible. Gravity Rush is at its best when it allows you to explore the different parts of its striking metropolis with no objectives other than picking up collectible gems and experimenting with Kat’s powers.
However, things become far less interesting when structure interrupts the free-roaming. The story of superhero with amnesia isn't up to much, outstaying its welcome and repeatedly making the mistake of dumping you outside of the city and into far less charming settings. Dialogue is banal and the challenges that litter the city unimaginative, offering little impetus to abandon your exploration and gem hunting. Combat, which is thrust upon you in each mission but is fortunately absent from your city strolls, is imprecise and hugely frustrating.
While it may be one of the better titles available for the Vita, Gravity Rush falls short of being a console seller. It proved a pleasant distraction for a dozen hours with its charming style and memorable gameplay mechanic but had it not been on the Vita, I'm not sure I'd have given it the time of day.
4. How do you Like Your Endings?
The PS3 version of the Mass Effect 3 Endings DLC is not yet available here in the UK. With the rest of the world getting it last week, I had envisioned seven days of spoiler avoidance during which time I hoped to recall whether I’d chosen the red or blue pill at the close of my intergalactic adventure. It soon dawned on me that the new endings did not include any playable sections, so I might as well just watch it on YouTube. I also had no desire whatsoever to play through those last two hours again, which is an unfortunate requirement of the new finales. I liked the closing act of Mass Effect 3 – suitably bleak and exhausting – but it was not an experience I savoured repeating.
After about thirty seconds of deliberation, I went to YouTube and watched all three endings: destruction, control and synthesis, otherwise known as the red one, the blue one and the one where everyone has green eyes. They all came with a few nice touches, some extra details here and there, but unless you are a huge fan of stills and voice overs there isn't much to get excited about. I was relatively satisfied with my ending the first time around and feel that these additional scenes are just a tad unnecessary and unworthy of all that fuss. My feelings aside, these additions are perhaps what were needed to put Shepard to rest and placate the super fans, at least until Mass Effect 4: Rebirth comes out next year.