Sunday, 8 January 2012

PS Access Vita Rooms

Saturday 26th November - PlayStation Access Vita Rooms

On Saturday 26th I excitedly attended an exclusive preview event for Sony's new handheld console the PlayStation Vita which is due out 22nd February 2012.

I arrived in London to find the Old Burberry Building transformed into a giant PlayStation Access advertisement. All the windows and doors had been covered with PlayStations trademark blue background and the PlayStation symbols, creating a sense of mystery as to what awaited us behind those bright blue doors.

Inside was a the biggest gamers chill-out room I have even seen. Comfy seating, plenty of PS Vita's for all to share, awesome tunes coming from the DJ and free food and drinks for everyone.

We walked around for a few minutes to have a look at what games they had provided for the day. The last time we got our hands on with the PS Vita was at EuroGamer back in September where they provided 5 or 6 games with only the chance to play one game picked at random. This time it was different though, we were let loose with a full set of 26 games. Which begged the question - what game do I try first with all this choice?

We decided to make our way around the room clockwise to make sure we didn't miss any games, so we started with an odd little game called Frobisher Says and it was a good game to start with as it makes great use of the Vita's unique controls.

Frobisher Says

As soon as I saw Frobisher Says the first thought that popped into my head was "this looks just like Wario Ware on the Nintendo DS" and I was right...But that isn't a bad thing.

Frobisher Says is a great title that you can easily pick up and play. Its fast paced, frantic and fun with each level lasting only 10 seconds. The idea of the game is to get through as many of the strange mini games as you can without failing. With only 50 mini games being thrown at you randomly it can get repetitive but its perfect for playing for short amounts of time - its certainly a good game for keeping you entertained on the bus or in the car. Where it fails in repetitiveness it makes up for it in its craziness and cute graphics.

Next to this we found Super Stardust Delta. Being placed next to Frobisher Says only enhanced its beauty.

Super Stardust Delta

Super Stardust Delta was instantly familiar having played Super Stardust HD on the PS3. The gameplay was the same as the PS3 version but playing it on the Vita just felt right. The graphics were crisp, clean and made the game a pleasure to play. This will be one of the games that I will be sure to purchase.
We then moved on to the next booth which had Rayman OriginsSuper Monkey Ball and Little Deviants.

Little Deviants

Little Deviants was another game like Frobisher Says but it had longer levels, better graphics and used the Vita controls in a more fluid way.

 This game is very well suited to children with its brightly coloured characters and short fun levels, but adults will also enjoy this for a short time to pick up and play from time to time.
The game incorporates all of the PS Vitas functions, especially the use of the touch screen on the back of the Vita.

Some of my favourite functions using the controls for this game are using the back screen to push deviants towards you to push them out of the windows, pushing the front and back screen at the same time to squish objects and using the augmented reality to shoot deviants in a game where you can move the Vita around the

 room where the deviants could be attacking you, even from behind, I had great fun moving around the room shooting in different directions and breaking objects on screen that are actually in the room with you.
Rayman Origins and Super Monkey Ball both have the same feel as their original games.  Super Monkey Ball makes good use of the motion tilt control although I found it a little tricky while Rayman Origins uses the traditional approach of the buttons to play but it looks stunning.

Next in the line up of games was a game I was looking forward to playing - LittleBigPlanet Vita.

LittleBigPlanet Vita.

If there's one game I am looking forward to the most on the Vita its LittleBigPlanet.

I was greeted with LittleBigPlanet's familiar level select screen from LBP 1 &2 on the PS3. There was only a couple of levels to try out but each one had something good to offer. The different levels showed off more of what the Vita can do using both the touch screens along-side the other controls. One of my favourite levels was a racing level that had been created. The unique feature of this level was that you had to turn the Vita 90 degrees to a portrait position and you race other cars up the screen and collected points by destroying other cars.

Having seen what the creative community can do with LBP on the PS3 I am excited to see what people will come up with when it comes to creating new Vita inspired levels.

The last set of games in the booth sections of the room were Sound ShapesGravity RushEscape Plan and ModNation Racers : Road Trip.

Sound Shapes was a game that I instantly liked. As soon as I picked it up I said "This is LocoRoco but without the cute characters and bright colourful colours" and whilst I love Locoroco this felt like a grown-up version which had all of LocoRoco's gameplay but with added soft soothing sounds which play as you land, roll and jump from objects which makes it a perfect chill-out game.

Gravity Rush's biggest feature in this beautiful cell-shaded game is the players ability to manipulate gravity in order to navigate the games open world making you see everything from a different perspective.

I was curious about Escape Plan when I stumbled upon it whilst I was looking around when I first got to the Vita Rooms - it was a game that I had never heard nor had I seen any screen shots of it. It certainly stood out from the crowd with its beautiful black and white graphics. After spending a few minutes playing around with it I found that I had to use the front screen to move objects away from me and swipe it to move either of the characters and then back screen was used for pushing objects towards me. Each room has a puzzle that you need to solve in order to try to escape the building that you are in. The movement of the characters and objects was very satisfying, the larger character took longer to move and needed smaller swipes while lighter objects moved with ease. Overall It is a beautiful game and another definite purchase for me.

ModNation Racers : Road Trip is another title coming from the PS3 to the PS Vita, once again game play is very much the same. There will be 500,000 tracks available from release thanks to the PS3 ModNation community creating tracks in the original game. If your looking for a Mario Kart type game on the Vita then this is the one to get and I'm sure there will be some exciting things coming to the create mode using the Vita's different control system very soon.

After we finished our play through of the games at the booths we decided to chill out in the lounge area for a while, enjoying the complementary hot dogs, burgers and drinks, chatting to fellow gamers and finding out what they thought of the Vita. The general response was that they had never played anything like it, the unique controls gave gaming a new edge and everyone was very impressed with how the back touch screen had been incorporated into the different games.

The games provided around the comfy sofa area of the room were Hustle Kings, Everybody's Golf 6, Ridge Racer, Top Darts and F1 2011. All of these games played just as well as their PS3 versions but my favourite out of them had to be Everybody's Golf 6.

We then moved along to another area where they were showing off Wipeout 2048, Touch My Katamari, FIFA Football, Michael Jackson : The Experience, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, Resistance : Burning Skies and Virtua Tennis 4.

Touch My Katamari from the Katamari series is another one of my favourite games that I played on the Vita. The game play remains the same and the characters are still as crazy as ever but something about having a Katamari game on the Vita just felt right. It works very well as a handheld game as you can usually complete a level within 5 to 10 minutes and it makes it an essential pick up and play game to get on its release.

Me at the Vita Rooms playing Virtua Tennis 4

The last two games we came to was Uncharted : Golden Abyss and Reality Fighters. Both were fantastic games.

Uncharted's main man Nathan Drake

Uncharted : Golden Abyss is said to be set before the events of Uncharted : Drakes Fortune on the PS3. Golden Abyss makes full use of all of the Vita's controls from motion sense sniping with the rifle to touch screen interaction when jumping and swinging across the beautiful looking landscapes, although you can play the game with the traditional controls if thats more your thing. I got the chance to play through one level during my time with the game and it looked stunning - just as all Uncharted games do. I was worried at first that with so much detail and precise controls it would be difficult to play but using both the analogue sticks made it just as easy to control as it is with a Dualshock 3 on the PS3.

Reality Fighters is the best use of augmented reality that I have seen demonstrated on the PS Vita, not only can you take a photo of yourself and put yourself into the game but you can also use the environment around you to hold your fights in in the craziest beat 'em up around! It was interesting to see the characters moving off screen as you had to move the Vita around to follow them. The fighting itself was just as fluid as playing on Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and playing on the pre-loaded levels looked just as good.

After spending 7 hours at the event we decided to call it a night and used to train journey home to decide what games I will be definitely be buying once I have a PS Vita of my own.
The games I decided that I must have after playing them are :
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • Rayman Origins
  • Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3
  • Escape Plan
  • Everybody's Golf 6
  • Touch My Katamari
  • Uncharted : Golden Abyss
  • Reality Fighters
I guess I had better start saving up then !

PlayStation Access Vita Rooms are on their travels and their next stop is Manchester, stop by the Facebook page and the event page to register your interest to come along next time. See you there !

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Childhood gaming memories : Part 2

This instalment of 'Childhood Gaming Memories' focuses on one of my favourite consoles and its best game - the N64 and Goldeneye.

I was reading an article about the new Mario Kart 7 for the Nintendo 3DS and there was a Mario Kart fact that caught my eye - Mario Kart 64 is 15 years old - as is the N64 itself. When I read that I suddenly felt very old. I can still remember getting my N64 when I was 8. It was bundled with Goldeneye 007 and Super Mario 64.

The first game I tried was Goldeneye 007. I instantly fell in-love.

Goldeneye 007 was released in August 1997 and made gaming history. Even today the majority of gamers will agree that Goldeneye 007 is one of the best first person shooters of all time. Not only did the single player have a great story line with fantastic levels but the multiplayer split-screen was sensational.

The story-line is based on the 1995 film GoldenEye - the 17th film in the Bond series. 
Video games based on films are commonly known now for their simple game-play and easy trophies / achievements, but not this one. It didn't matter if you were making your way across the dam using stealth tactics, getting frustrated with Natalya as she ran off getting herself killed in the bunker or shooting the hat off the guard while he sat on the toilet as you were sneaking through the vents above him in Facility, there was some memorable moments in each level that made you want to play again and again.

The multiplayer feature is where the game really got its fans from. With split-screen you could have up to four players sat around the TV with six different game modes -
  • Normal (deathmatch)
  • Team (team deathmatch)
  • The living daylights (capture the flag)
  • The man with the golden gun (only one golden gun in the match which has 1 shot kills)
  • License to kill (bodycount)
  • You only live twice (last man standing).
But the game modes didn't have to stop there. If you completed the single player levels within a time limit on the right difficulty setting you could unlock different cheats.
Some of the best games of split-screen I had was when I was sat around with my older cousin and his friends coming up with new game modes, my favourite one we played was this :
  • Paintball hide and seek - the object of the game was to have the 'paintball mode' cheat on, then the person who was 'it' would have to hide - ofcourse this was hard with the other 3 players looking at the same screen as you so the person who was 'it' would have to look directly at the floor making it harder for the others to find you, then as you ran around you would have to shoot the floor leaving a trail of paintball markings which disappeared after a few minutes to help give a clue to the other players where to look. Some levels were fantastic for this game as there were a few walls which you could pass through and hide in a small hole - even better if the other players didn't know about this little trick!
I have tried Goldeneye 007 for the Wii and while it was a good game it just didn't have the same feel as the original as the levels feel very Call of Duty-like. I was really excited to try the multiplayer online for the first time but it just didn't live up to what it could have been, hopefully I will be trying out the new version soon - Goldeneye 007 Reloaded for the PS3.

If only there was an updated version of the original game for the current generation where nothing changes but the graphics and the addition of 4 player online mode... I can only hope....

EuroGamer 2011

We started the weekend by staying in our usual hotel.  The EuroGamer and train tickets lay neatly on the desk ready for Saturday morning. Our bags packed with essentials such as PlayStation magazines and sweets for the train journey.

I laid there awake for most of Friday night like an excited child waiting for Christmas morning, I was desperately trying to sleep as we had to be up for 6am but all I could think about was which games I wanted to see the most.

After finally falling asleep I was soon being woke by my iPhones alarm playing the Super Mario Bros theme. Just enough time for a shower, a quick stop at McDonalds to pick up breakfast and a hot chocolate and then off to the train station - the excitement was building rapidly!

We finally arrived at Earls Court and located our early entry queue. It wasn't long before we were greeted with Cyber Candys mascot The Candy Overlord who was giving out lollipops, it was certainly good advertising as it had us wanting to go and check out their store to see what they had to offer. I also saw a great variation of cosplay this year including some fantastic costumes from Zelda Twilight Princess, Star Wars, Mario, Portal 2, batman and many others!

It wasn't long before 10am was upon us and we were filing into the building. I was overcome with a rush of excitement - where to go first? Whats this over here? Do we play games or go buy T-shirts from Insert Coin first? Wow look at this! Hey look at that! OOoooooo ! We spent a lot of the day collecting free stuff from developers - mostly T-shirts, lanyards, posters, papercrafts, bags and even some personalised Battlefield 3 dogtags !

So, down to the games.

We started out at the PlayStation Vita booth. 
I was given Wipeout 2048 to play and a member of the team to talk me through how to navigate the Vita. It played beautifully. It had a nice weight to it, it was sleek and the graphics were top quality, it was just like playing Wipeout HD on the PS3. I was first invited to try it with the analogue controls which handled brilliantly. After the race was over I then tried a race using the Vitas motion controls, this was much trickier. It only needed slight movements to turn corners and I like that the touchscreen on the back on the console is the acceleration button, as your fingers tend to  touch the back anyway when you are holding it so it leaves and extra finger free for other buttons.

Next up we moved onto the Battlefield 3 booth. 
We jumped straight into a multiplayer match and it was everything I expected it to be. Once I had got used to the controls I set about trying the different class types. The map we were given was a subway and we started on the tracks, having to make our up the stairs where the other team was waiting for us. This was our only exit so I didn't get a chance to use many of the weapons apart from running and gunning with an assault rifle and grenades. Overall I enjoyed it, even if we did join the match half way through and my team lost!

We then decided to take a walk around and check out the other areas so we went along to the Retro Zone. I really enjoyed walking around seeing all the old classics but the one that excited me the most was seeing Goldeneye 007 on the N64. We watched some younger kids playing the multiplayer on it and it brought back some great memories of when we used to play it when I was younger. I am really looking forward to Goldeneye 007 : Reloaded coming out on the PS3 soon.

The Indie Games Arcade was quite busy so we just took a look at the games as we walked past, everything looked unique and there was some great ideas for game play and i'm looking forward to hopefully seeing some of these on the PSN store soon.

Whilst walking through Zone 3 we stumbled upon Ridge Racer : Unbounded which felt unlike the other Ridge Racer games I've played and more like a cross between Need for Speed and Burnout, which is a great improvement. The only problem I had with the game was when I was trying to drift around corners to build up my boost bar, sometimes it would work and other times it just wouldn't register and I ended up slamming the car into a wall on the corner.

I also caught a quick glimpse of Rayman Origins. This looked beautiful and although its a fairly simple 2D game it had a lot of variation of obstacles and style of navigation.

Something that I would have liked to have seen was Uncharted 3 in single player rather than the multiplayer that was demoed. It looked very nice but I was eager to see just how much they have done with the graphics as each game they release just gets better and better.

We headed back to the over 18s section and had a quick play on Saints Row 3. A few of the people on there were checking out the character customisation feature, making their male characters wear short skirts, gorilla heads, girly tops and using a big floppy purple adult toy called 'The Penetrator' that wriggled around as they used it to whack pedestrians to death. I heard one person describe it as "a funnier version on Grand Theft Auto - the way Grand Theft Auto used to be" which is partially true but I must admit Grand Theft Auto's realism and fantastic graphics are no match for Saints Row in my eyes.

The last 3 games were definitely some of the biggest and best.

First up - Batman : Arkham City.  Although a lot of the allocated time to play before you got kicked off to keep the queue moving was spent watching very nice looking cutscenes that couldn't be skipped, once you actually got the chance to swoop down from the roof top using Batmans cape it instantly felt right. The combat is very simple as it was in Arkham Asylum which helps move the game along, they make it slightly more challenging by giving you small groups to fight so you get a chance to evade attacks and counter them while getting your punches in at the same time.

Secondly we have Starhawk. This is one game that as a big Warhawk fan I am eagerly waiting for next year. While I would have loved to have played some multiplayer, the single player was epic and felt very much like Warhawk but with updated graphics, much more fluid movement and lots of attention to detail.  I hope Starhawk brings people together as much as Warhawk did, I have so many great memories and friendships from Warhawk, if we get the freedom to create our own minigames in this like we did with Warhawk (for example : Team Killer Anonymous) then its going to be an instant success.

Last but not least we have game that I have been waiting for for what seems like forever - The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim. This epic game is being released 5 years after the immensely popular Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion. This amazing RPG  game is too big to go into any real detail, but if you have seen the demos recently released its like that but when you play it you see just how much work has gone into it. Every little detail that you notice looks fantastic. New gameplay that I noticed while playing was a horse and cart that I found, I talked to the driver and you can pay him to give you a lift to different areas for a small amount of gold, just climb into the back of the cart and let him fast track you to your destination. I approached a glistening river which looked stunning, I dived in with fingers crossed that it had been improved from Oblivions murky green fogginess in which you couldn't see very far in - I can happily say I was not disappointed. The crystal clear water was a pleasure to swim through, there was even fish swimming around that you could catch and eat which added to the realism. After playing with the dual wielding of the weapons I ended my time in Skyrim but exploring a castle. The whole building was just amazing, it actually felt like a real castle, the attention to detail was superb, the decorating in the castle was just perfect. If you compared it to a castle in Oblivion you would suddenly see Oblivions castles as a very bland building that had been very simply designed. In Skyrim you can easily get lost in a building of that size and complexity.  I cannot put into words just how great this looks and if I have around 500 hours on Oblivion I dread to think how much of my life Skyrim is going to take from me.

If there's one thing that really made the day for me more than the games it was getting my name down for an exclusive PlayStation Access members developer session with Naughty Dog for Uncharted 3 with Nathan Drake's voice actor Nolan North ! We watched a clip from Uncharted 3 and then there was a Q&A session and then after that Nolan North was kind enough to sign my Uncharted 3 PS3 skin and pose in a photo with me!

I shall always hold a grudge against that light in the background which made the picture a bit too dark!

If I had to choose one word to sum up my day at the EuroGamer Expo 2011 it would have to be - Geekgasam.

Roll on EuroGamer Expo 2012 ! 27th - 30th September !

Childhood gaming memories : Part 1

I have loved gaming for as long as I can remember. Most of my childhood memories are related to video games, my favourite ones always come from visiting family in the school holidays.

I'm not sure why I thought of this this-morning but it made me smile so I thought I would share it.

One Christmas me,  my mum and my dad were visiting family here in Wiltshire, as we did every Christmas. I'm not sure which year it was but I was around 6 or 7 years old. We had just got the new PGA Tour Golf for the SNES. Someone had decided to start a tournament after our Christmas dinner, so we split into 2 teams - Girls vs Boys. Me, my mum and my aunty verses my 2 cousins and my uncle. Usually golf would have been the last thing my mum and aunty would have played but when it comes to a bit of christmas competition they were really into it.

We played a few rounds, the guys used the correct method of selecting the appropriate club , adjusting the angle of the swing, calculating the wind speed against the direction of the swing and using their knowledge of golfing.

We aimed for the hole and smacked it as far as possible. Simple.

A while later and with much fun we finally caught up to the guys and overtook them - we were in the lead ! This was a great feeling , beating them at their own game. It became much more intense as we neared the last few courses in the game

One of the guys was carefully lining up their next shot, it was getting really serious, after all they couldn't let 2 women and a young girl beat them at golf! Much concentration was going into this shot.
The bar along the bottom of the screen was moving side to side waiting to be stopped on the red line for a perfect shot. In the background someone had opened the back door in the kitchen, fast footsteps could be heard above us, their big black dog - Cola came running down at the sound of the back door opening , she ran into the living room where we were all sat around the TV -anxiously waiting for him to take his turn. Cola runs past infront of us, sprinting towards the back door when disaster strikes! As she runs past the TV blacks out.....


We'll never know who would have won that game, as we were in the lead at the time I still say that we technically beat the boys but they say as the game wasn't finished no-one won... Strangely that they didn't want a rematch !

Maybe this christmas we will find a new game to beat them at.