Category Archives: Video Games

3rd-Party Wii Titles Get the Shaft Because…

It’s no secret that many popular third-party games (Call of Duty, sports games, fighting games, etc) don’t sell as well on Wii as their HD counterparts. Call of Duty, ever since World at War, has still managed to go on to sell 1 million copies or more.

It’s a wonder though, that they sell at all. Why? Let’s take a look at a recent trip to a local “large chain” game retail outlet (it’s pretty obvious who it is, exactly):


WTF? Spryro up front? It's available for EVERY plaform...and why is Zelda at the bottom?
Three Zelda boxes, at the bottom of the wall and out of view. "New Releases" indeed.


Notice the “New Releases” wall? This photo was taken yesterday, the eve of a little game called The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword launching in the US. Today, this store will launch the game with the wall looking this way- a game that has already garnered several perfect scores and a wealth of controversy. This is the game to get for that platform this holiday. In this picture, we can barely see two to three display copies of the title at the bottom-right of the wall.   Isn’t slightly odd that a Game of the Year contender is so lightly displayed?

Of course, by contrast, Skyrim, Uncharted 3, Batman: Arkham City, and Battlefield 3 are all over the walls of PS3 and 360, with little room for anything else (never mind the fact that posters for said game are also littering the store). When asked for a copy of the Wii version of Modern Warfare 3, the store employee first looked puzzled, then stared at the wall for a good two minutes.

Then, he looks up, and finds it in this shiny, out of the way spot:


Where is Modern Warfare 3? Shouldn't it be front and center?
Where is Modern Warfare 3? Shouldn't it be front and center?

Apparently you have to be seven feet tall as well as 17 years old to play MW3 on Wii :


Aha! There you are? Quite a bit different location than the front-center, eye-level PS3/360 walls...
Aha! There you are? Quite a bit different location than the front-center, eye-level PS3/360 walls...

Looking closer, here it finally is. It’s pointless to say that he knew nothing of whether or not this game worked with the Headbanger Headset that they had in-stock (which works perfectly with Black Ops and Conduit 2 on Wii).

It seems even stores are trying their best to tell you that Wii just isn’t a console for hardcore games (in this case, even GOTY nominees made by Nintendo themselves). If mature, serious games can’t even get retail space when it’s clearly available, then it’s no wonder that the average gamer that walks in these stores have no idea that they even exist for Wii.

But you have to wonder: why isn’t Nintendo PR taking care of this, and ensuring that third-parties do also since there are some 45 million potential customers in the US? Why bother making a Wii version if you’re not going to make the effort to ensure that it actually reaches the hands of the hardcore gamers owning these systems?

Do you think this is a good business practice for these stores, and is it a bad call for publishers to allow their games to be shoved out of view like this?

Who’s at fault here, the store manager for portraying a biased display, or the NOA reps that are supposed to do store visits to stop this sort of thing?


Imaginary Range Shows Promise on iPad

The most common tagline associated with any review of Square-Enix’s Imaginary Range is “50% comic, 50% game, 100% awesome.” Actually, it looks like all those reviews might be quoting the same early review and just running with the tagline. Whatever the case, it’s a very high bar to live up to, and while what I’ve seen is promising, it’s way too early to make any pronouncements.

I don’t know exactly how the time is divided up between the two, but Imaginary Range is indeed a combination of comic book storytelling and games. Specifically, Imaginary Range tells an ongoing story in the form of comic-style panels although these differ from traditional comics by incorporating occasional animations, zooms, and pans. There is never anything elaborate, but it does add a little cinematic touch to the proceedings. If you have ever seen the web original series Broken Saints, you will have an idea of what I’m talking about.

From time to time, Imaginary Range will also present mini-games which you must complete in order to move forward. They range from a missile-guiding game resembling Flight Control to simple hidden object searches. Some effort is made to integrate the games into the plot with varying success. For the most part, you probably won’t care. The games are well-done, and some of them are surprisingly addictive. After finishing the main storyline, you can unlock a mode which allows you to replay three of the mini-games to try to get higher scores. My favorite is a vertical shooter in which you must control a laser which can skewer a series of bombs heading toward the buttom of the screen, Space Invaders style, and then set the bombs off to destroy even more bombs. Playing the games also earns you coins which you can use to unlock concept art in the gallery.

The skewered bombs end up looking like martini olives for some reason...

Unfortunately, the story itself is a bit nonsensical. What’s included in the app is basically an introductory chapter, and as such things go it’s pretty substantive. We get a decent introduction to a set of characters, watch them fight off an alien force, and even get a flashback which seems to develop a relationship or some kind of background between two of the characters. It’s far too early for me to get a good idea of where the story is going, but the bigger problem is that what I can tease out about the story makes absolutely no sense. From what I can tell, there are two heroes fighting off an alien invasion of some sort. One of them is carrying a Tablet (yes, it’s capitalized as if it’s a proper name for a product) which can create anything imaginable as long as they draw imaginary energy from objects around them. That imaginary energy comes in the form of…well, random shapes and posters scattered around the pages of the comic. The whole system seems completely arbitrary and suspect. Hopefully we’ll get a fuller explanation in future chapters.

Imaginary Range also has a bad habit of having its characters speak in obtuse, vague language which merely leaves the reader confused. I have to wonder if Square-Enix is having localization problems since they have a history of shaky translations (e.g. Final Fantasy VII). Then again, a lot of the anime I watch also tends to be deliberately obtuse, often to the detriment of our understanding and for no particular reason other than to make us feel smart if we actually can figure out what’s going on. As it is right now, I’m willing to wait for more details, but I have definitely been left feeling rather unmoved so far.

At least the art work is excellent. Character designs are attractive and distinctive, and the action is conveyed clearly (although sometimes you will want to zoom out on the page so that you can see the flow of panels properly). This is also crucial for some of the gameplay since the hidden object puzzles depend heavily on being able to distinguish between what you can interact with and what is merely a background object.

Imaginary Range’s biggest flaw has to do with the implementation of its gallery. I don’t mind the idea of unlockable concept art, but I find it hugely problemmatic when the unlocking mechanism is entirely luck based. As I mentioned before, playing the mini-games earns you coins which are used to unlock gallery art. However, you don’t use the coins to buy unlocked pictures outright. Instead, coins are used to buy scratch-off cards (the type you see in a lottery) which you then scratch off using your finger. Uncover 3 icons under the 9 circles and you unlock a gallery. However, whether or not there are actually 3 icons there to uncover is entirely random, and I spent a lot of time buying cards and scratching them off before I finally got one which unlocked a gallery. It gets tedious after a while, and for the life of me I can’t understand why Square-Enix chose to implement their unlockable gallery this way.


Take a look at the number of coins I have in the upper right hand corner...
...compared to how much I had when I finally uncovered three moogle icons. And that was for just one piece of artwork.


Of course, I can’t get too annoyed with Imaginary Range’s foibles considering that it’s currently free in the iTunes App Store. I’m sure Square-Enix is using this release as a teaser for paid content to be released in the future. It’s worked on me to the extent that I would be interested enough to buy the next installment, assuming it has a reasonable price. However, Imaginary Range still has a lot to prove before I’m convinced that it’s truly “awesome.” If the story doesn’t get any better and the gallery continues to be unlocked by scratch-off lottery cards, I’ll have to declare it “good” but not “great.”

Sony Needs to Fire their PR Department #62

So suppose your online gaming network was hacked, leaving gamers unable to go online to play anything. Suppose the perpetrator of this crime got away with player information including potentially credit card numbers. How long would it take you to alert the public about this attack? A few hours? A day?

For Sony, it was a week. A week in which all the meanwhile they posted meaningless updates stating that they were “re-building our system to further strengthen our network infrastructure” and other such vague nonsense.

Sony was not haxX0rz the way Shadow Fox was speculating, but they were recently hacked anyway. And their reaction to the incident was the worst possible.

Companies are sometimes targeted by hackers. Sometimes the hackers succeed. There isn’t really that much shame in being successfully hacked. It’s impossible to make any system 100% safe. But trying to pretend nothing is going on while hackers have a whole week to spread and sell vital user information is not only incompetent but dangerous.

Here We Go

Nintendo has announced they will launch a new console in 2012 and the speculation is already running wild. So why not? I’ll jot down a few thoughts.

If Project Cafe (as Nintendo is calling it) really is more powerful than the Xbox 360 and the PS3, that’s great and is probably more power than we need. Videophiles claim that some cutting edge games are revealing the age of current gen consoles. I honestly don’t see it. Well, I do if I look really closely and pay attention, but at this point what holds my attention is the gameplay and story. I know a certain segment will never be satisfied with any amount of power, but Project Cafe will be plenty for me. And it really should be plenty for any other developer as long as it’s easy to work with (and Nintendo now has a history of making their hardware much easier to develop for than Sony).

If the new console is launched on time in 2012, the Wii will have had a six year run. Not bad at all. That is, it’s not bad if the launch of Project Cafe signals the end of the Wii. I personally think the Wii will last for another few years after that, especially if Nintendo continues to support it. Project Cafe sounds like it’s aimed at the core gamers market and might not hold much interest to your grandma. If the Wii can exist (and even thrive) alongside the PS3 and Xbox 360, than it can continue on alongside Project Cafe. I expect 2012 will see the launch of  more Wii Sports or Wii Party titles to keep casual gamers interested.

Internet posters are freaking out over reports that the Project Cafe controller will incorporate a six inch touch screen. I can’t determine the truth of that rumor any better than IGN can, but I’m not worried about its usability. If Nintendo knows one thing, it is how to design ergonomic, easily picked up user interfaces. The N64 controller has been their clunkiest controller to date, and even that wasn’t so terrible. When Nintendo makes stupid decisions, it is in going with designs that work perfectly for their own games but which do not work so well for games that third party developers might want to make. If a six inch tablet screen is too clunky, I am confident that Nintendo won’t use it. Although I can’t help noting that a TV console with a tablet controller would make a very good web browser.

I will also predict right now that Project Cafe will use global Friend Codes similar to the 3DS. And I’m ok with that. The problem with Friend Codes has never been the codes themselves but the requirement that players must exchange a new code for every online game they want to play. If Nintendo adds in a lobby system, they will have everything they need. But please for the love of Miyamoto, if you decide to incorporate Achievements give players some actual rewards for them!

None of this is preventing IGN editors from offering their opinions and declaring their disinterest before even seeing a prototype in action. Some things never change.

The Old Xbox vs GameCube Graphics War

Wow, it’s amazing how far 8 years will change, yet be exactly the same…

For those not in the know, this very thread got me many more contacts in the industry, and several forum members from dozens of other websites have come to know me based on what you see below.

Of course, time will show that this thread has shown its age, as I’ve confused pixel shaders and vertex shaders constantly, though still making the same valid point.

People tend to use performance, or better yet- perceived performance to justify their purchase of a product.  The onslaught of negativity towards Wii on-whole in and out of the industry today is proof that this type of bias will never truly end.

After a good-old dive into the world of archived web images, I came across the infamous post itself that garnered several hundred posts and scores of fanboy hate on both ends of the spectrum.

The point of this message board post?  To disrupt and expose the “safe-haven” that is popular opinion, and shed light that it may not be as safe as people would think.

In the end, the only thing that mattered were the games- and it’s clear that Resident Evil 4 alone proved that GameCube was no slouch when it came to top-of-the-line graphics, as well as mature content.  GameCube (nor Xbox) were ever completely realized last generation because PS2 was the market leader, and unanimously project lead on any major project that spanned more than one console.  Direct to Xbox or GCN titles stayed few and far between, and it took a complete teardown and release of official whitepapers of each console several years later to prove that my theory was really close- both consoles were really identical in prowess, and many minor features were better on the graphics side than the other in too many places to count.

Below is the original post in its archived glory- feel free to discuss…

NOTE: images were resourced, and original statement(s) changed to reflect recent news on the subject at hand…

Hello all, this is your not-so-friendly neighborhood Shadow Fox.

In my time in these forums, I can’t help but notice this general observation that Xbox is the most powerful console of the next-gen systems, and some even say it’s 3-times more powerful (which I most certainly have yet to see in a game).

My big gripe is (yes, this is a rant), that almost everyone thinks this, or “knows” this, yet they haven’t a clue how they got this “information”. Who told you Xbox was most powerful? Did they prove it? How? The reason why I say this is because every person I’ve personally met or chatted with on the boards believes Xbox is more powerful because of one of two reasons:

1). The numbers in the specsheets appear higher for Xbox than GameCube, so that must mean it’s better.

2). Microsoft, or [insert magazine or website here] said so.

NOT ONCE have I actually talked to someone believing this propaganda that actually found out the Xbox was more powerful thru a proper benchmark test, or by matching up individual components of the machines to see how they fare against each other in their respective operations. Usually I end up talking to some guy that works at EB or something and ask them what they think, and they say the same thing- they heard it from somewhere else, or saw it on a website that knows next to nothing about the tech of these consoles.

Best-looking console game to-date? Damn skippy. 15 million polygons per second, anyone?

So who’s to say what is most powerful?

Personally I’m quite sure Xbox and GameCube are VERY identical in terms of polygon performance and effects, after looking at the facts on each system’s abilities, though I’m led to believe that Xbox might not be as powerful as everyone thinks graphicswise, especially since Microsoft avoided posting REALWORLD PERFORMANCE NUMBERS (the polygon performance you get in an actual game, not a demo test). Nintendo posted a very generous realworld number of 6-12 million polys/sec, which was surpassed in one of its own launch games at 15mps (StarWars Rogue Leader, which is still currently the most polygons displayed in a game to-date).

So, Microsoft states Xbox can push 120+million odd polys/sec with no effects as RAW polygons, and Nintendo eventually posted that GameCube’s theoretical maximum was 90 million polys/sec with effects (1 texture, 1 infinite hardware light). Microsoft’s numbers appear a cool 30 million polys/sec higher than Nintendo’s, but why do current games barely push over 10mps on this “all powerful” Xbox, and 5 games have already matched 15mps on GameCube (originally started by the Rogue Leader launch game)??

For one, Microsoft’s numbers are indeed inflated. The Xbox’s fillrate is nowhere NEAR 4 Gtexels/sec (more like 250-750 Mtexels, according to developers). Xbox’s system bandwidth isn’t a true 6.4GB/sec, considering any info from the CPU to the GPU and vice-versa is bottlenecked at 1.02GB/sec; one-third of GCN’s overall system bandwidth in realtime. Xbox’s GPU also requires 16MB of the 64MB DDR just to cull a Z-buffer (which is embedded on the GCN GPU at no cost to system memory), and also GCN’s internal GPU bandwidth is more than twice that of Xbox’s (25GB/sec compared to 10GB/sec). Also, Xbox claims to have more effects than GameCube, and better texturing ability in its GPU, when the XGPU can only do 4 texture layers per pass, and only 4 infinite hardware lights per pass (8 local lights can be done, also). GCN, on the other hand, boasts 8 texture layers per pass, and 8 infinite hardware lights and local lights per pass, all realtime.

What this means is that while Xbox relies on vertex shaders and pixel shaders (which BTW are absent from GCN hardware) to do realtime bumpmapping, the same effect is done in hardware on GameCube via it’s texture layers. Xbox also must deal with texture layers per bumpmapped surface per scene, though.

Also this whole processor thing is quite twisted considering Xbox and GameCube are two TOTALLY DIFFERENT architecures (32/64-bit hybrid, PowerPC native compared to 32-bit Wintel). GameCube, having this architecture, has a significantly shorter data pipeline than Xbox’s PIII setup (4-7 stages versus up to 14), meaning it can process information more than twice as fast per clock cycle. In fact, this GCN CPU (a PowerPC 750e IBM chip) is often compared to be as fast as a 700mhz machine at 400mhz. So GCN could be 849mhz compared to Xbox’s 733mhz machine performancewise.

Not ONCE do you hear this fact stated by Microsoft’s PR, nor do you see anything listed that Xbox can be “beat in” on their official specs (no realworld poly count, no realworld fillrate, no listing of simulataneous texture layers/hardware lights per pass, no mentioning that pixel/vertex shaders only do bumpmapping and skinning commonly done on all games now)…

One of GameCube's best water displays with water refraction/reflection maps
One of Xbox's best water displays without water refraction/reflection maps

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love my Xbox, but there’s no way we’re EVER going to see more than 30 million poly/sec games in this console’s lifespan, and neither will GameCube. Dead or Alive 3, a game Tecmo said “was impossible on any system other than Xbox” due to the amount of polygons onscreen, is a 9-10mps game, tops. The character models (which were also claimed to be an impossibility elsewhere) consisted of 9,000 polygons each- the same amount of polygons in characters in StarFox Adventures, Eternal Darkness, and even in Luigi’s Mansion (end boss). Resident Evil 0, however, boasts the highest polygonal “low-end” model to-date- a whopping 25,000 poly character. Now why is this possible (even against prerendered backgrounds) on a “less techincal” console? Why isn’t Xbox smothering GCN to death with games that are impossible to be done on any other console?

Height map bumpmapping as well as DOT3 bumpmapping on every object
Bumpmapping Microsoft didn't want you to know about that's done just as well on Nintendo's system without "vertex shaders".

I’ve constantly emailed Microsoft about this, and I’ve recieved no response other than “thank you for your interest in our product” with a link back to that wretched Nintendo only commented that it’s specs listed are realworld figures, and are reconfirmed.

EDIT: Rare was contacted, and confirmed that StarFox Adventures does indeed display massive amounts of bumpmaps, and realtime reflection/refraction effects by directly manipulating GCN hardware. When asked about one of the largest areas in the game (Krazoa Palace) regarding fillrate and polygonal display, Rare actually stated this was one of the easier levels to get running on the GCN.

EDIT 2: Nintendo of America was contacted, and they simply replied “Maybe, maybe not…but isn’t it the GAMES that matter”??

People say water in games like Bloodwake and Morrowind can’t be done elsewhere. I point to StarFox Adventures, and even Super Mario Sunshine. People say games like Halo have loads of bumpmapping. I point to Rogue Leader, Eternal Darkness, and Resident Evil’s character models and doors. I’ve even heard the gripe about individual blades of grass rendered on Xbox games. I once again point to StarFox Adventures, Mario Sunshine, and even the recent Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Some Xbox fanboys I’ve run across have even been sore enough to say Xbox has faster loadtimes. I then point to Luigi’s Mansion and Metroid Prime, which are impossible on Xbox because they HAVE NO LOADTIMES (the game is constantly streamed from the GameCube disc in burst packets). Simply put, there’s not one effect Xbox can do that GCN can’t, while this can go the other way since Xbox lacks half of GCN’s hardware lights and texture layers onboard.

While I’m sure Xbox is technically capable of more alone (simply because it has an HDD for potentially larger games; which I’ve yet to see), I’ll have to give the nod to GameCube looking at the facts- which are the games that Xbox has only matched with Rallisport Challenge so far.

Either way, neither console can be proven more powerful than the other unless benchmarked properly, since the machines are so totally different from each other.

A word to the wise: no matter how large those numbers look on specsheets, if you don’t know what the hell they mean they should be taken with a grain of salt.

End Rant.

Sony Takes On Too Much Again

Now that the PSP is limping its way off the battlefield, Sony is pushing two new handheld devices. One is the NGP (which I’ll talk about in a later post) and the other is the Sony Ericsson Xperia.

In particular, they are making a push for the Xperia PLAY, basically a PSP Go with cell phone capabilities. The marketing push includes a series of ads featuring Flight of the Conchords actress and occasional Daily Show correspondent Kristen Schaal. Here’s one:

As soon as I saw this, alarms started sounding in my head. Sony’s problem has always been that they try to make their products into jack of all trades, and it never quite works. The PSP Go already failed because of its terrible price point. How much is the Xperia PLAY going to cost?

And who is the target audience supposed to be? The kind of person who uses their cell phone to play games is just looking to kill a few minutes waiting in the lobby or sitting on a train. They are perfectly content with simple games such as World of Goo or Angry Birds. Games requiring the kind of high dexterity afforded by a control stick and buttons are probably not in high demand among this group.

Then I saw this other ad and started worrying about something else entirely.

Is it just me or are the graphics in that game really crude? Maybe an FPS wasn’t the best demonstration for this ad. If this is what I can expect from online play on the Xperia PLAY, I would frankly rather stick with the Wii.

You will also note that the other Kristen is playing ome kind of phone with a touch screen. The ad is apparently trying to take a shot at either the iPhone or at other Android devices with a touch screen only. And while it’s true that playing with actual buttons instead of a touch screen is an infinitely better experience, cell phone users just don’t care about that. If they’re playing against each other at all, it’s probably Scrabble. People who do care about that sort of thing probably also want better graphics than are evident in that ad.

Apple has proven that it is possible to make highly versatile mobile devices, but they did that by making sure their device was really good at one particular function first before expanding out with new iterations and software updates. The Xperia PLAY has all the makings of another Sony boondoggle. There’s a reason why Nintendo has openly stated that they consider Apple to be a much bigger competitor in the handheld market than Sony.

Sony teh Haxxorz?


In light of the new developments and failures that completely expose Playstation 3’s copy protection, many wonder how long it will take to affect software sales a-la PSP (which has seen Dreamcast proportions of failure in terms of software sales).

It appears that PS3 is even following the same path as PSP’s updates- within weeks they are bypassed with Sony playing catchup and blocking accounts and systems. This is similar to what’s happening with Wii homebrew, but with far less consequences than all the bricking and NAND corruption Nintendo is notorious for.

Most media outlets outright refuse to have the word “hack” or “homebrew” even mentioned on their sites, much less the inpact on the industry.

So what do you think-is PS3 doomed to repeat the same cycle as the PSP scene? Can they find a way to combat new threats effectively? Why or why not?

A Shadow Fox Review: Heavy Rain

A Shadow Fox Review: Heavy Rain + The Taxidermist
Platform: Playstation 3 + Playstation Network
Genre: Action/Adventure, Interactive Drama
Released: February 2010
Reviewed: October 2010

The Origami Killer is...

What defines a video game is a concept constantly challenged by new ideas and technology. Shenmue popularized in 1999 what would eventually be known as the Quick Time Event (or QTE), which provided players with a playable cutscene with more dynamic consequences, unlike the static nature of games like Dragon’s Lair in the 1980’s (regardless of the programming ideals being basically the same). To- date, several popular games have made use of QTE’s, God of War being the most recent. Has there ever been a game that consisted of nothing but QTE’s?  To my knowledge, none in the post-2D graphics age with the exception of Heavy Rain. This game by European studio Quantic Dream takes what we once knew about the QTE and turned it on its side, providing a very rich and compelling thriller whose quality could arguably rival that of the box office. Never before has a game presented itself so professionally. Ideally, this is what a CSI game really should be like (pay attention, Telltale games).

Story in this game is the forefront and driving force of the game. Four individuals (a divorced father Ethan Mars, a retired cop-gone-private eye Scott Shelby played by Sam Douglas, journalist Madison Paige, and FBI agent Norman Jayden) all share playable experiences and eventually weave a web of connection together as they all solve the case of the Origami Killer- a serial murderer who collects his victims and drowns them in rainwater which declares the title of the game. All the characters outside of Norman Jayden have reasons to solve the case that are personal and are explained during the play-through, and this review will omit said topics to avoid possible spoilers. In any case, the game plays itself out as a race against time to find and stop the killer before they succeed. The story progresses as choices are made, and they alter other opportunities or choices later in the game minutely. If a character say, dies in the game- they aren’t coming back, and the ending of the game will be different based on that “error”. There are a total of 17 different endings and 3-4 different climaxes to the story based upon choices made in the game, ultimately increasing the replay value of a single-player, linear story. The plot is very well done, and there are several details even the keen eye will miss until they are touched on again towards the end of the game, proving expert direction of scenes and game design.

Heavy Rain plays like Tomb Raider + Shenmue (moving + QTE’s). Players guide the playable character’s direction with the left analog stick, and initiate movement with R1. This takes some getting used to coming from an FPS, platformer, or any other game not Tomb Raider 1, so take note of this before starting. Players move about an environment to find objects of interest, which are highlighted by context-sensitive buttons when nigh. The player can also initiate thoughts of the character being played by holding R2 and then pressing an appropriate button in the resulting menu for hints, or general feelings about the situation at hand. This “thought menu” can be displayed while moving, which is useful, but cannot be done during QTE’s. Context sensitive areas can be initiated by the button required or with sweeps or flicks of the right analog stick and when input, other contextual buttons will be requested, or the game will cut to a QTE, where buttons must be pressed in a certain order to continue the game. If you fail a QTE, you will either have to complete the QTE again, or in more serious QTE’s (like fights) QTE results are permanent.  So if you fail the QTE, consequences (lost friends, lost fights, or lost life) are saved and you are stuck with said result for the remainder of your play-through (unless you reload the game otherwise).

This attention to context sensitive action really works well in Heavy Rain- commands are demanded quickly so interaction is mandatory, yet engaging, but not too demanding as to turn off players. Chapters are re-playable in the main menu, and it is tempting to reload them just to play them again, and not just for seeing a different outcome in the story, but often just to perfect the way you”played” the QTE- which is something only rivaled by God of War and parts of RE4/5. These actions are spread out well, and only in the beginning of the game are some of the events likely result in one or two ways. The context menu in this game really sets the gameplay apart instead of turning the game into a rolling FMV interrupted by control input.

Controls are very responsive with one glaring exception- The Butterfly chapter in the game has excruciatingly bad turn controls, making the character feel like the old Resident Evil tank walkers (or in this case, crawlers) of yore. Otherwise, looking around with the left stick is accurate, though pressing R1 to walk takes some getting used to after all these years since Tomb Raider 1. Inputting button presses and even holding multiple buttons all over the controller in some instances all work well, provided the aforementioned time to adjust to some awkward (and sometimes funny) context commands.

Heavy Rain is a single player game, but it doesn’t skimp on replay value. The game is home to some 17+ endings (more if you count the climax and other parts of endings modified), all dependent on how you play the game, who you befriend, who you fall in love with, and how you complete certain tasks and actually catch the Origami Killer. Each chapter can be replayed to see how the story would otherwise play out, and some of the trophy challenges are really grueling- don’t expect an easy Platinum Trophy here. Bonus features are unlocked along with trophies such as extra art, promotional videos and “making of” documentaries. From your first pretend sword fight with your children as an architect to a tragic childhood as a mystery man, Heavy Rain is full of different reactions to how the gamer plays. In addition is the Taxidermist DLC, which adds one more chapter to play prior to the events of Heavy Rain for the low price of $5 (unless you got the free unlock from certain pre-order deals).

Heavy Rain’s main attraction prior to release is its graphics. Awarded for the “Casting” demo seen two years ago, Quantic Dream has outdone themselves not only in the detail of the character models and environments in Heavy Rain, but also in HOW it was all made. Proprietary Vicon scanning tech loaded faces and expression animations into live models in Heavy Rain’s game engine, and 6,000+ shots for motion capture of ONE scene in the game proves the length the developers went to create the illusion of photorealistic people that also behaved and animated as extremely believable performances. Sam Douglas’ likeness in the game is uncanny in how realistic Scott Shelby looks and behaves in-game. HDR lighting in scenes, heavily populated scenes like crowded malls and subway stations look just like real-world counterparts, and details like rain dropping on cars and dripping from the edge of a characters’ face are phenomenal. PS3 has finally seen a game that isn’t made by Factor 5 that takes every advantage Cell and RSX have that created visual magic- one of the prettiest game you will see on the platform.

The original score for Heavy Rain is a triumph, rising greatly in the height of drama and life-or-death situations with perfect cues. From orchestrated pieces to Trance/House in a neon nightclub, the soundtrack traverses every genre possible situation the game itself does in spades. Thumping bass in action scenes and times of suspense, and decent voice acting bring the world and its characters to life.

Heavy Rain is a culmination of nearly four years of perfecting a craft that previously went unproven. Noir Crime Drama as a video game genre is an extremely high risk, and Quantic Dream went all out on this title and it shows. This is a sweeping novel that is only eclipsed by itself in graphics, plot, and excellent use of the mature themes that are rarely ever explored seriously in this industry. The game is a fresh, wild and emotional piece of art that has to be experienced by every person that considers themselves a gamer. Highly Recommended.

Shadow Fox bottomline: 9.5 out of 10

Scott Pilgrim vs the PVG Review

In some ways, Scott Pilgrim vs the World is the best video game movie made thus far. Then again, it’s really the only true video game movie ever made. Other movies merely borrow the plot of the video game they are based on. Scott Pilgrim vs the World adopts aspects of video games and manifests them literally in the world of its story. Meters pop up to indicate the status of the characters. Vanquished opponents explode in a shower of coins and award points to the victor. Various actions elicit sound effects reminiscent of video games (including some that are recognizably lifted straight out of The Legend of Zelda or Sonic the Hedgehog). Even the Universal globe at the beginning of the movie is rendered to look like an 8-bit graphic.

The movie also pays homage to its graphic novel roots. Black lines often divide up the screen, dividing it into multiple shots and angles much like the panels of a comic and sound effects are signified by onomatopoeia words (such as “thud,” “thwack,” and “krak”) popping out of the scene at appropriate times—an effect which will probably remind many people of the old Batman TV series with Adam West. The movie is also filled with other whimsical touches. A kiss is often preluded by a fade to black and a pink heart popping onto the screen. Curse words are censored out with a bleeping noise and a black box appearing over the speaker’s mouth (prompting one character to ask, “How are you doing that with your mouth?”).

For all I know, these are actually shots lifted out of the graphic novel the movie is based on. I haven’t read Scott Pilgrim, you see. And I’m happy to report that the movie entertains just fine without any knowledge of the source material. I’m told that the broad strokes of the plot are the same: Scott Pilgrim is a 22-year old pathetic shlub of a boy living in Toronto with his rather bad indy band. Currently he is dating hyperactive 17-year old Knives Chau, but it is clear that she represents a rebound relationship for him after a bad previous breakup. And then he meets Ramona Flowers who is the girl of his dreams (literally. She appears in his dreams before he meets her in real life). He manages to go out on some dates with her, but then he finds out that she has seven superpowered evil exes and that he must defeat them all before he can continue to date her. Although Scott Pilgrim seems vastly overmatched, his world obeys video game rules in which even the lowliest character can perform the “Fight” command and earn power ups throughout their journey. We are thus treated to, essentially, seven wildly creative boss fights rendered on the movie screen.

The central metaphor of the movie is not very subtle. The characters spell out how Ramona’s evil exes represent the previous baggage she brings to her new relationship, and in order to defeat them, Scott must learn the nature of her previous relationships and discover their weaknesses in order to ensure his own survival. Scott also has some previous relationships trying to sabotage his chances with Ramona, and in the end he must learn how to get in touch with his inner feelings (which are represented by flaming katanas) and move past his and Ramona’s dirty laundry. Despite the obviousness of the metaphor, it gets applied in a lot of fun and surprising ways throughout the movie.

I’m told that the movie hugely condenses the story of the graphic novel, cutting out several sub-plots and side characters in order to fit everything into a reasonable movie length. I didn’t really mind it. The central pacing problem of the movie is that it has to fit in seven major battles without becoming repetitive, and fortunately the fight choreographer is up to the task. Scott’s battle with the first evil ex-boyfriend is a straightforward beatdown, but each one after that involves twists on the formula (I particularly loved the battle with the vegan ex-boyfriend). Nonetheless, fitting that much action into the movie has the effect of giving it a rather frenetic pacing, and director Edgar Wright has elected to roll with it, often tossing away several hours in-story at a time with a simple camera cut (often to the confusion of Scott Pilgrim) and packing in as many sight gags as possible. This is a movie which is determined to do absolutely anything it can to keep you entertained, from hilarious send ups of indy band songs to the “expression” on Knives’ face when she realizes what’s going on. I don’t know what the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel was like, but the movie at its heart is a galloping comedy.

Nonetheless, even a movie like this needs to be anchored by well-developed characters, and this is where the time constraints of the movie hurt the most. All of the characters are essentially plot devices defined more by their relationships to the main couple than by their personalities. Michael Cera is fully capable of playing his typical role as an awkward boy looking for love, but he doesn’t get a chance to show much dramatic range otherwise. Ultimately, although he is winsome enough that we can root for him, he doesn’t quite connect with the audience as a real person. Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes for one cool hipster chick, and she very clearly enjoys herself during the fight scenes, but even so Ramona Flowers remains a cypher. It’s never clear exactly why she agrees to date Scott Pilgrim other than that he is nicer than all of her exes. Possibly the biggest success ends up being Ellen Wong as Knives Chau. The character could have been an irritating distraction whose purpose is to be gotten rid of so that the main couple can get together, but instead she remains relevant throughout the story. Although 25-year old Wong doesn’t quite look like a plausible teenager, she successfully channels Knives’ energy without becoming grating. In fact, her character makes a better emotional connection with Scott in some ways than Ramona does (which the movie acknowledges at one point).

Despite the brick-to-the-face nature of the story, there are some themes in Scott Pilgrim vs the World to consider. And compiling all the references to video games, comic books, or Canada would be a fun exercise that would probably reveal unexpected depths. Nonetheless, the movie really isn’t meant to be taken seriously (what does that say about video games, I wonder) and really has just one purpose: entertain us for a 112 minutes. And when you see the first evil ex-boyfriend summoning a harem of Bollywood hipster chicks, I think you’ll agree that the movie succeeds.