Gaming News and Notes

Over the last three weeks, starting right before the Thanksgiving break, I have been on a torrid (for me) gaming rampage. I think I have logged more hours on my PS3 (and even a few on the oft forgotten PSP – Ghost of Sparta) than I did in total January through October.

I have to say it has been fun. Almost like a kid in a candy store. Gaming nirvana if you please. I have found this latest zone has helped me decompress and even get in some quality time with the kids. These days I don’t question how long this ride will last; I just keep on plugging, enjoying it until I put down the controllers.

Crazy Taxi
After pickup up my PS3 Slim for Father’s Day, I flipped Crazy Taxi on eBay. Not because I no longer enjoyed the game; I consider it one of the ultimate pick and play titles. It is just a damn good arcade gaming experience, which blends the perfect elements of short bursts of gaming excitement and the pursuit of high scores.

Besides, the PS3 Slim more or less forced my hand, since it is not PS2 backwards compatible. Of course in my back pocket I knew Crazy Taxi would be headed towards the PSN.

The PSN edition seems to be the same game, minus the licenses (Levi’s, KFC, music, etc), with slightly harder controls compared to the PS2 and Dreamcast versions. Crazy Taxi is still a fun arcade experience; one that the boys enjoy playing with dad. As an added bonus, the PSN version also provides the pleasure (or frustration – take your pick) of pursuing Trophies.

Shame on me for not playing this one more over the past year. FIFA 10 is a fantastic sports game, and the virtual pro feature being balls out fun. In my dotage, I have a hard time pulling off decent skill moves, so my pro still seems a little stiff and rough around the edges. As a striker, I am all offense, with almost no defensive skills. I think my rating is currently 72 and climbing.

Rumor has it Santa is bringing me FIFA 11 ($29.99 during one of the Thanksgiving deals), so I figured I better maximize my FIFA 10 experience before Christmas so I will not feel so guilty when I trade in or eBay FIFA 10. And maximize I have; in fact I have probably spent more time with FIFA 10 than any other game in this article. Fun and highly addicting!

Gran Turismo 5
After waiting an eternity (at least it seemed that way), we finally have a proper Gran Turismo on the PS3. I picked up the Gran Turismo 5 Collector’s Edition – I love the series, even if it is not the best pure “racing” experience around.

After starting off with one of the 25+ versions (or whatever) of a Toyota Corolla, I have been slowly making my way through the game. Due to so many other games in my rotation (or call it my gaming backlog) I have not started the long slow GT grind. I have picked up my B and A licenses, and while I could keep on trying to progress, I have been working on locking up all B and A license Gold trophies, which seems damn near impossible for some.  I actually find this pursuit more relaxing than frustrating; I get in a zone and keep plugging away, slowly decreasing my times until I strike Gold.

The only GT game that I managed to “complete” at 100% was the first release – Gran Turismo for the PSOne.  It has been a long time since those days!  I doubt I have that much spare time to really go after that mark with GT5; however I am sure I will maximize my value (gaming dollar).

I think the game has already been patched 3 times, so the developers did end up rushing the game, which is a bit of a surprise considering the long delay. Over ambitious? Probably.  At least the developers are supporting the game and trying to make things right by the fans.

Sports Champions
My family has discovered the joy of playing Bocce. At least we are enjoying Sports Champions version of Bocce, and we are having a blast learning the rules and associated skills.  My mother is giving my oldest son a Bocce set for the backyard. I love it when videogames cross pollinate real life!

I think my kids’ favorite is volley ball, closely followed by disc golf. My favorites are archery and disc golf, and I also find gladiator duel an interesting diversion. Ping pong is the favorite of my 3.11 year old, but I find it damn near impossible.

On a side note, I need to get two more Move controllers for some serious volley ball and archery dual Move head-to-head action. What would that investment be? Almost $325? I have already “invested” $100 camera + Move controller, $50 second move controller, $35 Navigation controller, $30 Move charge station. Ouch. Archery is a blast with two controllers, so I can only imagine how much fun it would be to have a two-player archery duel with 4 Move controllers!

On more side note. The Navigation controller seems poorly supported. I think the only Move game I have that takes advantage of it is Heavy Rain. Need to come back to Heavy Rain in a future article.

My Aquarium
Did I really buy this one? Just for the hell of it I downloaded My Aquarium. It is a great concept, with extremely poor execution. The graphics are not acceptable; in fact I was not even sure this was an HD title, but from what I have read, My Aquarium is in fact presented in HD … just without the normal eye popping graphical glory. It really is a damn shame that this virtual screensaver does not look nicer, and to make matters worse, the interface is unbelievable clunky, complete with unresponsive controls.

If a “game” begged for updated graphics with Move support, this is the one. To the good, Trophy whores will find a few almost freebies on offer; apparently you can cheat to get them quickly, however I am earning my Trophies the old fashion way. It will probably be a year before all the fish unlock, giving me a cheap Gold Trophy.

I dismissed this one out of hand when it was previously released, however I did pick it up on sale for $0.99. It is OK at best … I mean it is Uno. I have played a few games online, but I disappointed that a couple of disconnects in the “lobby” counted as game discounts. That or someone figured out a way to hack a couple of wins against me; I am not enough of a junkie at this game to try to follow my statistics to see why the game thinks I have abandon a couple of gaming sessions.

I think you have to really love Uno in order to pick this one up. Not bad for $0.99, but not worth a whole lot more than a single ducket. Then again, this could be a nice diversion if someone wants to get their wife into videogames.

Hustle Kings!
Plus continues to deliver interesting content and discounts. I picked up Hustle Kings! a couple of weeks ago when it was discounted to just under $6. I have only played a few times, but the game seems to offer a really nice pool experience. The bar locations have great aesthetics – music, presentation, and graphics.

I’ll comment more on this one in the future. I picked it up mainly because I suck at pool in real life, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that playing a virtual game will actually help me in real life. To a certain degree it already has, at least when it comes to adding some backspin on pocket shots. In real life I would scratch, following the ball into the pocket, but I am getting the hang of how to avoid this mistake. Hope it carries over!

Hustle Kings! also supports the Move. I am not sure how it compares to playing with a DS controller because I have only used the Move. The game appears to do a good job of supporting the Move, however I have to admit that my poor old fingers and hand gets a little cramped trying to line up fine precession shots. As I said, more on this one later.

Did I just do that? Good grief; that is a lot of gaming playing!

Happy Sunday!


Gran Turismo 5? What to play while waiting?

I know that this is somewhat older news, but I figured I would touch on GT5 for a minute after reading the Nürburgring news at the Official-ish PS Blog.

Nürburgring is definitely a favorite among GT fans, and I’m excited to share with you that Gran Turismo 5 will feature its three courses: the Grand Prix course, the Nordschleife, and the Nürburgring 24 Hours course.

Who doesn’t want to do some GT style racing at Nürburgring? The problem is more along the lines of who is waiting for GT5? I guess most of the PS3 user base, but good grief, what a wait. GT5 better be something special or I have a feeling that it will get killed in the mass market gaming site reviews.

Some good news for simulation style racing fans is that GT5 should have a nice damage model since a NASCAR license is included. Then again, it’s the GT series we are talking about, so I have my doubts. I am sure I will jump in like I always do … I just think the GT series has lost some luster.

GT1 was ahead of its time. GT2 was a great sequel; more of the same, only better. GT3 was a nice PS2 graphical upgrade over its PlayStation counter parts; however it was really nothing special. I enjoyed GT4 and spent countless hours with it, including a boatload of playing time in my PS3. In my opinion, GT4 is the best game in the GT series. Too bad my youngest son cracked the game disk. GT HD Concept? What was the point? It was just a throw away demo to let us know that GT5 was in the works. I have gotten almost no value from Gran Turismo 5 Prologue; I cannot think of the last time I have given it a go. Maybe I will in the next few weeks just to remind myself why it goes unplayed.

More than anything else, I would like to see a GT/Daytona Prototype type game similar to Le Mans 24 Hours – great sense of speed, extremely long races (seriously, you could go 24 real life hours), and a grid of 18-24 cars (do not remember the specific number). I bet that is too much to ask, and is something better left for PC simulation racing. If it could be done on the Dreamcast and PS2 … well, it would seem like some publisher would be able to pick up a license on the cheap.

Before my PS3 died, I was getting some quality time with Ferrari Challenge. I know it is not a great game, but it provides me with a decent simulation experience and a decent racing challenge.

Over the last couple of days I spent some time with F1 Championship Edition. The Turkish GP inspired me, so I ran some Time Trail hot laps at Istanbul, and then Montreal in anticipation of next week’s Canadian GP. This game is great fun for me running hot laps.  It is hard for me that this 2007 release is still the only US F1 release. What a waste of a great license.


The Times interviews Kazuo Hirai about all things PlayStation.

I found this interview from The Times via N4G. There is nothing really new revealed, but I thought it was interesting that Sony is sticking with the 10-year plan thing.

In retrospect, do you wish you had packed less into the PS3?

Had we done less, I think we’d have gotten into a situation where, especially with the way technology ramps up, it would have been very difficult for us to embark on a 10-year life cycle with this particular console.

I think that because of all the things we were able to pack into the platform – Blu-ray’s a great example – we were able to make sure we could take advantage of some of the great services we are offering.

Those things aren’t possible if we didn’t put that kind of power into the platform.

This plan may have worked with the PlayStation and PS2, but I have my doubts that this dubious plan can hold up for the PS3.


Spinning the numbers. EA revenue by gaming platform.

Another day, another game of spin the numbers. This time MCV (via N4G) shows us that the PS3 outperforms Xbox 360 for EA.

Wii revenues lead the charge at $161m, up from $109m in the same quarter last year. Next up was PC, which courtesy of The Sims 3, bought in a considerable $124m.

Next in line was PS3 with total revenues of $121m, markedly higher than Xbox 360, which generated $73m for EA. The PSP was also a surprise victor over DS with revenues of $38m compared to DS’ $28m.

I guess you could say that is interesting, but it is funny that the lead was not Wii outshines other consoles, or maybe the PC kicks Sony and MS in the nuts.

Like a lot of articles I reference, be sure to check out the comments.  Sometimes (and this is the case with this article) the comments are better than the article.  Well … maybe more entertaining.


Is there honor in third place?

I ran across this article via N4G and thought it was a bit ridiculous. The author is claiming that the PS3 is really not doing that bad. Huh?

In their lifetimes, the Gamecube sold 21.74 million units, and the original Xbox 24 million. With the PS3 at 23 million, that means that it has sold the same amount as the Gamecube and Xbox in about half the time.

Ooh! Ooh! I know the answer to this one. Dreamcast! I am sure Sony never saw the day coming where their shiny new Blu-ray of wonder would get compared to the Gamecube. Good grief. There are silver linings and then there are dark clouds of mumbo-jumbo.

Lastly, there’s the issue of cost. Sony lose money on every PS3 sold. In 2006 when the PS3 launched, Sony were losing approximately $250 on every PS3 sold. But now with Blu-Ray development costs dropping (as well as Sony taking a few features out of the console), the development costs are (as of January last year) about $450. 80 GB PS3s currently cost about $400, which means that Sony is now only losing $50 per PS3. The development costs of Blu-Ray will continue to drop, which means eventually Sony will start making money off of the PS3. Until then, though, they still have sales from the PS2, PSP, and other electronics (such as TVs and standalone Blu-Ray players) to help recover their losses.

But mom! I am only a little pregnant. Something like that. The author can spin the numbers any which way they darn well please, but the simple fact of the matter is that Sony has had it handed to them the last few years.

How is this current generation going to play out? Will a $50 price cut [you know we all want to see $100, but predictably Sony will do the wrong thing] actually salvage things for Sony? Will Sony attempt to keep the PS3 on a 10 year cycle similar to the PSX and PS2? Will Sony abandon the PS3 in hopes of competing with Microsoft by simultaneously launching the next PlayStation with the next Xbox?

There are lots of questions to ponder, but no real answers right now. Maybe I will start a rumor or two later. Until then, happy Sunday!


Racing games radar update.

Thanks to Ferrari Challenge, and the blazing summer heat, my racing jones is back on in full force. I have spent a little time with Ferrari Challenge over the last couple of days, and I have to say that this is one of the best $18 purchases I can remember making. With that said, it is time to start window shopping for some upcoming racing game purchases …

SuperCar Challenge
First up on the list has to be the upcoming sequel to Ferrari Challenge. These videos from UK chequeredpad look fantastic.

With no confirmed US release, I suppose this one will just go to the back burner. Hopefully a US publisher will pick this one up because it looks balls out fun.

F1 2010
I would like an updated F1 game. Nothing confirmed; these screens from The SixAxis will have to do.

It looks like there is an upcoming F1 2009 release for the Wii and the PSP; at least in the UK. I am not sure why Codemasters chose handhelds and the Wii for F1, but I suppose they know their market segments that they are trying to reach.

Need for Speed: SHIFT
Is the NFS series really going to get a reboot? Will the series return to its roots from the early days? By early days, I mean 3DO (remember that one?) and the first PSX release? Last week PlayStation Life posted a brief E3 hands on impression of the upcoming game.

Despite how different it is from past NFS title, fans of the series will definitely appreciate the advances that SM Studios and EA are bringing to the racing genre. The game will have an extensive customization feature that will cover everything from the car body to the tires, and has a dynamic reward system that keeps track of, for example, how many cars the play passes, how many vehicles they take out, and how good their driving performance was. The demo was a lot of fun, and we can’t wait to see how the final product turns out.

I still do not have a firm grip on how the game balances simulation and arcade aspects of the game. For racing titles, I lean much more in the simulation direction, but fun factor is a must. This one merits close tracking on the radar.

End notes and wish list …
What else? Of course the PSP release of Gran Turismo and big bother Gran Turismo 5 for the PS3. On my wish list, I would like to seen an updated IRL game, or at least a game that comes close to simulating stock and open wheel cars in the mode of the now classic Andretti Racing for the PSX. I would also love a Le Mans type racing game; an updated 24 Hours of Le Mans would be lovely. I am sure there are others, but we have just taken the checkered flag, so all for now.


Eye Candy Retro Style

I have a huge catalog of Original PlayStation (PSX) and PlayStation 2 (PS2) games just sitting around in my entertainment center, various bookshelves, boxes and bins. I know; this sort of sucks as a waste of perfectly good (and not so good) games. I have written before that at one point in time I was pretty much addicted to videogames – buying the game, holding it, owning it, preordering it, playing it for a few minutes. Getting a new game was akin to crack.

Over the years I have broken this habit; sort of. The addiction is partly what drove me from reviewing games, and not getting new material every week also contributes to not having anything new to say, but I digress. Writing about the latest, greatest videogame releases became more of a core than a welcome distraction.

At any rate, I do a much better job of selling some games if I figure I just do not enjoy them or will never get around to completing the game. I try to time selling sports games on eBay so I can get $25-30 in preparations for the next release. At other times, I have a hard time letting go. Seeing the Gran Turismo 4 (GT4) game case, knowing that the disc is destroyed (see previous blog entry – “Life without a PS3?”), I think about tracking down a replacement copy. I know that I will never finish it; the only GT series game that I have completed 100% is the first release for the PSX. Still, to me, GT4 is the best release in the series, even if the graphics do not compare to the PlayStation 3 (PS3) eye candy in Gran Turismo 5 Prologue, which finally brings me to the point of this column.

I was poking around looking for some information on older PSX games; need to make some decisions on which games to sell and which ones to keep a while longer. I came across this article about upcoming PSOne (I still like PSX) games for the PlayStation Store.

Medal of Honor
Spyro: Year of the Dragon
Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage!
Street Fighter Alpha 2
Street Fighter Alpha 3
Wipeout XL

I still have Wipeout XL (and the original Wipeout). Fun games that I never really got into, but never sold because I know they are “classics” that I will eventually came back to one of these days. I never got into the Spyro games; I am sure I purchased them, but that is a different story. I own Medal of Honor, but never got around to playing it. Several times I thought about selling it, but I always thought I should hang onto it for a while longer. I use to play the heck out of the Street Fighter Alpha series, but was never very good. I think I still own one of these games, but will have to look to see. I do still have the Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter game, which I have held onto just because. Seriously, no real reason other than the Marvel characters in the Street Fighter engine was pretty cool.

The only problem with these older games, that I may or may not get around to playing one day, is that the graphics really do suck on my HDTV. Funny; I have become a graphics whore. Every time I attempt to cull my collection, I think about which games were fun (at the time of the PSX) and which ones have gameplay that would hold up well today. This pretty much rules out sports games, but you cannot get more than fifty cents for many of the older games, unless they have some collectable value (i.e. Tecmo Super Bowl). I would actually play some of these games if I could get my PS3 and PSP to do a decent job with Remote Play. Maybe one day.

I have been having a good time with my two oldest sons playing Midway Arcade Treasures 3; mainly Rush 2049 and Hydro Thunder. Back in the day this collection averaged a metacritic score of 67.

It goes without saying that the graphics are certainly better than any of the PSX offerings, but nowhere near the level of PS3 arcade racers. In this case, it all comes down to gameplay and that all important fun factor quality. It is fun “re-discovering” some of these older titles with my boys. They could care less about the graphics (they are use to the Wii and their Nintendo DS); I think they are actually OK with enjoying a game for the pure pleasure of playing something new.

So maybe there is still some life in that old collection of mine, and along the way maybe I can educate my kids in the finer arts of PlayStation and arcade style gaming classics. If my kids learn to value fun factor and gameplay over eye candy, I win.


Life without a PS3?

Any longtime readers of this humble site have realized for a while that I lost my gaming jones. As the NFL draft was approaching I decided it was high time to get in some Madden. Imagine my surprise when I could not insert the disc. After a while I realized that my youngest son decided he wanted to play a game, so he tried to help himself. To the tune of loading up the PS3 with three discs!

I have no idea how he accomplished this feat, but none the less, three discs were in the PS3. Dragon Tales (original PSX – this must have been what he wanted to play), Crazy Taxi (PS2), and Gran Turismo 4 (PS2). What to do? I was awfully pissed off, so I went outside so as not to take out my frustrations on my family.

The lovely and talented Mrs. Calvert decided to appraise the situation, and tweezers in hand, she removed Gran Turismo 4. Of course it was broken and completely ruined. I guess that is one game that I have an excuse not to complete at 100%. That was all she could do.

After I calmed down, I came back inside and attempted to get the other disc out. At the time I had no idea that my son jammed in three games! Good grief. After numerous attempts to eject, turning the system on and off, Crazy Taxi finally emerged (I have no idea if this one still works; lots of scratches). Finally, my son’s prize emerged – and of course as luck would have it, Dragon Tales still worked.

The PS3 did not survive the forced gameplay process. Results were mixed. Often when inserting a disc, it makes a horrible noise, and does not recognize the disc. After several attempts 5-10, a disc will finally be show in the XMB, and will actually play. Last weekend I did get in a couple of games of Madden, and a few older PS2 arcade type collections (kids love the Midway collection with Rush 2049).

Earlier in the week, the new Star Trek Season 1 collection arrived, and seemed to work OK, after the above process of multiple disc inserts, turning the system on/off, etc.

I realized that the PS3 was on its last leg; something in the blu-ray insert, load, read mechanism is badly jacked up (you know you like these technical descriptions). Last night the system decided it would not play any blu-ray movies would not work, and they sure as hell would not eject. After 10 minutes, the PS3 finally gave me back 300. Thanks.

So now I have to decide if I want to attempt my own repairs, taking about the PS3, and disassembling the blu-ray drive in order to clean the lens and maybe see if I can align the mechanism that moves disc in/out of the device. Or I can send in the PS3 for repairs.

At any rate, after a long sabbatical from the PS3, now that I am starting to feel the jones again, I have to prepare for life without a PS3. I do not really want to spend $150 on repairs, and I sure as hell do not want to buy a new PS3.


High Cotton

I have not had a whole heck of a lot of time for gaming lately, but I still get by. Hopefully I will get to pay a little something in the next couple of days. If not, I should have plenty of time (20 hours to be precise) to play GBA games. I am flying out to Frankfurt, Germany this Sunday, and back home on Friday December 3rd. Plane trips suck, especially these long Europe trips – they drag on and on and on and … well, you get the picture. Thankfully my GBA and iPod are there to get me through the experience. Too bad the new Final Fantasy I and II GBA title is not going to be out in time to help me with this trip.

My Seinfield Season 1-3 DVDs arrived a couple of days ago. Man, my wife and I love this show. I know it is on all over the place, but there is nothing like getting to watch something when you actually have time to watch that something. I probably have too many DVDs, but these are absolutely worth owning.

I hope everyone that celebrates turkey day had a great Thanksgiving! What a wonderful day we had at the Calvert household. We had the meal catered in – turkey, dressing, sweat potato casserole, and some great BlackStone chardonnay (1999) for starters. Plenty of other good stuff including champagne to go with pumpkin and chocolate chess pies. All in all, a very good meal – too bad the football pretty much sucked. Even if you are a Colts fan – Payton was awesome – the game sucked. The Dallas game really sucked. Oh well, maybe Texas will play well today and I hope that Georgia beats the living snot out of the bumble bees tomorrow.

The holiday season kicked off, but we stayed home. Tonya and I did our shopping via the internet. You have to love Amazon – you can get pretty much anything you need to pickup for Christmas presents. EBGames online had some pretty solid deals – the same ones they were advertising in-store. It is pretty unusual for stores to honor sale prices online, and even with the sales tax added, I saved a good deal. Joshua has been asking for Kirby Air Ride since forever, but I have not wanted to spend $50 on it because I have read such poor reviews. I got it on the cheap this morning, along with the newest Midway Arcade Treasures – hey I had to get me something! Arcade Treasures for $9.99 was a major bargain.

The Frankfurt trip will suck the life out of me, so do not be surprised if the content is fairly sparse this week.


Gran Turismo 4 Slips into Obscurity

Another email update from EBGames, and another Gran Turismo 4 delay. This time we learn that GT4 will not even hit store shelves in time for Christmas.

We are writing to let you know that we have changed the projected ship date for Gran Turismo 4 to 2/5/2005.

How disappointing.

I know there are hundreds of thousands (dare I say a couple of million) of casual fans will still buy the game and will not care about the delay, but one really has to wonder “what is the point?” At this point, why not scrap the game altogether and wait for the PS3 (or whatever it will be called) and use GT4 as a launch title? Who am I kidding? There is too much money to be had for Sony, but surely they are disappointed that they missed the Christmas window.

I am seriously disappointed that Sony cannot get their act together on this one and get the damn thing released already.


Random Stuffs

I have not had a whole lot of time to write of late, so I figured I would start the week off with a little bit of everything. Funny that I put this together Monday and it is now mid-week. So it goes, and so I go, and so will you soon I suppose (with apologies to Billy Joel).

2004 Election Musings
I continue to be amazed at all the fall-out (err, crap) from the recent election. Conspiracies on all sides. Bush cooked the electronic voting machines to give him a +5% margin, while Kerry cooked the exit pools to discourage Republicans from voting. It is really just short of astonishing that people have this much time on their hands.

I could go on forever, but I will spare everyone the grief and horror. I do find it funny that CNN kept stating that this “election is too important for us to rush to judgment” after several networks finally declared Bush the victor. I also thought it was funny that the Kerry camp was not going to concede the election because “we believe there are still some votes out there.” WTF were they going to do? Shake the election tree? Freaking ridiculous.

UGA vs. Auburn – Comes Down to Campbell
Not that it matters much because it is easier to say after the fact, but I predicted to my step father that UGA would put a hurting on Kentucky, 56-10. The actual score was 62-17, which really does not matter since the Auburn games looms large this weekend.

Speaking of which, no prediction yet but it comes down to one simple fact. If Jason Campbell plays well then Auburn wins, if not, then the Georgia ends Auburn’s dreams of a Championship season.

Football Manager 2005
While I wait for my copy to arrive from GamePlay (hopefully today) I have been reading the sigames forum to pass some time, and to be entertained. It is always eye opening to read what different gamers complain about.

The known bugs list is pretty long and worth reading. Some of these issues are very minor, while others are more significant. Luckily sigames is know for quality support via patches. And then there is the MLS …

The list of MLS issues from this MLS issues thread is nothing short of eye-opening (now transferred here). If the MLS is really this cooked, then I will be one disappointed gamer. I just hope that sigames decides to address some of these problems in a patch, and not wait until FM2006.

Katamari Damacy – Take Two
I continue to be impressed with Katamari Damacy, which has to be a candidate for non-sports game of the year. Well, maybe GTA: San Andreas will win that, but Katamari Damacy is easily the most addictive and original game that I have played in years.

As I described a few nights ago, the concept is amazingly simple – you roll around your katamari (ball) to make it bigger and bigger. You play in different levels and roll over all manner of items in order to “stick” them to your ball to make it a certain size within a set amount of time. My description may sound stupid, but it is amazing fun.

I was trying to think of a game that contained the same sort of whacked out graphics and addictive sound track. From a graphics standpoint, I think Jumping Flash for the PlayStation may be a good starting point. If you ever played that game, then I think you have a decent idea of the approach Katamari Damacy’s developers took. As far as music goes, there is no comparison; all tunes are completely original, catchy, and full of fun.

I will try to do a more detailed write-up later this week, but suffice it to say that I am addicted to this game. If you want to try something completely different and cheap ($19.99)

All for now …


GTA: San Andreas

GTA: San Andreas – but of course everyone with a PS2 is going to be playing this one. Well everyone that is not completely put off by the whole gangster thing, the violence, the language, and well, the whole damn experience. I have to admit that GTA is not for everyone, but so far this one looks damn impressive.

In case it needs to be said, much like the previous games in the series, you do not want your youngsters around when this one is on. The violence and the language are pretty indicative of a mature rated game. Really; not for kids.

I have not put in enough time to state my opinion one way or another, but if you like the series, you should buy this one. So far the story is great, the characters are pretty cool (from concept to appearance to dialog), and the soundtrack is perfect. As much as GTA: Vice City said 80’s (Miami Vice) San Andreas is all about the gangster thing (from what I have read and from watching moves). It is pretty impressive so far.

If anything put you off about the previous two PS2 GTA games, then you will be even more put off by San Andreas. I am not sure what has changed – it really seems like more of the same, but in a larger world, with a much tighter story. Small things like controlling the camera with the right analog stick have been added, and I am sure there are others that I will uncover. My point (at this early juncture) is that the game is just as stylistic as ever (if not more so) – same engine, just a deeper story and a whole lot more to do. The development team goes all out to make the game feel authentic, and it does.

I’ll post more later as time permits. I assume it will be a long night of mayhem …


Champions of Norrath (PS2)

This may be old news, but Champions of Norrath: Realms of Everquest is now priced at all of $19.99, which is an absolute bargain if you are into “hack and slash” type games. I wrote about this one back in the day. It is developed by Snowblind Studios, which happens to be the great development shop that developed the excellent Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance.

Champions may not sport the ever popular Dungeons and Dragons license, but it has the plenty successful Everquest moniker. I you like games that are long on fun, fairly simple in terms of strategy (i.e. it is hack and slash), leveling up, and the like Champions is for you. The graphics are beautiful, the sound is solid, and the gameplay is about the best you can get for this type of game. In short, Champions of Norrath rules.

My oldest son calls this one “the father’s day game” for reasons that I should not have to explain. I have not played Champions in a few months, but recently picked it back up as father-son activity. Hey, hacking an orc is quality time, right?

We are just inside the last part of the first section of the game. In order not to give away spoilers I will not elaborate too much; there are a bunch of spiders and I am about to have the first really nasty boss battle for that scroll/map thingy. My son is playing the dark elf warrior (he loves those disease bolts); I went with the archer guy to try something a little different. Anyway, perfect father-son game for my six-year old. Thankfully the developers allow you to turn off the blood effects, but interesting enough, some of the animals bleed. Go figure.

In my solo game I am putting out fires in the temple in the middle of a desert. Not sure how far this is in the game, and I am not about to read a FAQ to find out. In this game I am currently a level 17 barbarian; I went for brute force.

On a final note, unlike other games in the hack and slash genera, you can customize your armor and weapons, which adds a lot of depth. As an example, different items can be added to armor for extra fire damage, or the same item will provide fire resistance if you add it to your armor (gloves, boots, shield, breastplate, etc).

I would love to write more, but I am short on time. Think of this summary as the newer less frills version of what I would have written under the old banner. Norrath: Realms of Everquest is well worth the money and in my book is about as must play as it gets (for hack and slash fans).



Now Selling (Love Me Some eBay)

Every once in a while I have to PIMP my own junk on eBay. I need to fund my next round of purchases so I just threw up a few games that some readers may want to check out. After all, my eBay rating has “trust me” written all over it.

Jonathan’s list of eBay junk …

RentMark Davis Pro Bass Challenge (PS2) – OK, this one was an impulse purchase at the low-low-low release price of $9.99. I am not much of a fishing fan, so it pretty much just collected dust. I played it once or twice, but it obviously did not stand out. I say rent, but it is so damn cheap that you may as well purchase it if you like fishing games.

RentMVP Baseball 2004 (PS2) – I put down rental, but only because the left-handed hitting bug thing polarizes many simulation fans. I could live with it because every other aspect of the game was fun. And fun it what it is all about. Now that baseball season is almost behind us, it is time for me to cut bait and get what I can from this one.

BuyNeed for Speed: Underground (PS2) – great title, and well worth the $50 that it cost me last year. I got a ton of value out of this racing game that is a little more over the top than a simulation racer. The rubber-band style racing sucked, but was easily outweighed by the excellent gameplay, polished interface, superb graphics, and solid soundtrack. NFS:U may not be the first underground racing game, but it easily owns the field. Excellent replay value and tons of fun. I figure I can use the money to help pay for Underground 2.

More to come later because there are a ton of great titles on the way. Air Combat 5, Need For Speed: Underground 2, NCAA Basketball titles, the new GTA title, and of course GT4. Got to pay to play or I guess sell to pay in my case.


Thank You Namco (Katamari Damacy)

On a hunch I decided to pick up Katamari Damacy. I knew it would be a wacky Japanese game, but I figured I was up to the task since I am fan of other obscure goodness: Tale of the Sun, Aquanauts Holiday, and Motor Toon GrandPrix. Yes, add Katamari Damacy to the list.

What the hell am I talking about? Namco just published Katamari Damacy for the PS2 – only $19.99 for extreme goodness, lots of fun, and plenty of replay value.

The premise of the game is simple. You roll around your katamari and try to grow it to a specified size (within an allotted amount of time) by collecting all manner of objects. And when I say all manner, I really mean all manner starting off with fairly small mundane items such as candy, tacks, matchsticks, lipstick, crackers, and so on. Eventually as your katamari gets bigger, you can pick up bigger object. I have not made it far enough along yet, but you can pick up all manner of living things including people.

Sound crazy? Well it is, but it is unbelievably addictive and fun. The backdrop story is stupid – I will not go there. Your goal is to grow your katamari to a certain size within a specific amount of time. Simple? Yes and no, but it is a flashback to the glory days of gaming against the clock.

Making things more interesting is the simplistic controls, which are so freaking ingenious that the developers should be granted awards for innovation in simplicity. What is so great about the controls you ask? You just use the analog sticks to move around and about each level. No buttons to press, no rapid sequences to tap, no nothing except for wonderfully fun controls. OK, not entirely true. You have to use one shoulder button to look around and change your view, another to jump, and you have to press down on both sticks to rapidly turn. Still, that is it. Straight and to the point.

Everything about Katamari Damacy is simple, but deep and complex at the same time. The graphics are extremely stylistic, the much is catchy and perfect for the game, and the interface is perfect for the game (and silly little backdrop story). On the surface the gameplay is simple, but at the same time is very deep. You actually have to plan how you build your katamari; as your katamari gets bigger you can open up areas that you could not previously enter and you pickup items that you could not previous collect. You also have to avoid certain obstacles for fear the items coming off your katamari (thus making it smaller). It is all good clean wholesome family fun, and I am not coming anywhere near doing Katamari Damacy justice. You just have to give it a chance to see what I am talking about.

I will certainly write more later because I have a feeling that I am going to be playing the living crap out of this one. At this point I can say without reservation that Katamari Damacy is a sure fire purchase and an instant classic. If you want something a little different, if you like old school gaming, or if you want an easy pick up and play game, start rolling your katamari now.

Thank you Namco. Thank you!