Archive for the ‘Gaming’ category

The greatest game console of all time?

February 7, 2008

few days ago, blogger Don Reisinger made the bold declaration that the Super Nintendo was the greatest video game system of all time. The SNES was indeed a great console with lots of great games, but it’s still a leap to call it the greatest system ever made. In an industry that’s over 30 years old, that’s seen dozens upon dozens of home video game systems, simply calling out Nintendo’s second console as the best ever seems simplistic.

To a certain extent, though, Don is right. The Super Nintendo could be considered the greatest console of all time. It presented a huge leap in technology from the NES, and its superlative selection of great games make it a system I’d be proud to keep next to my TV to this day. Some of my fondest young gaming memories revolve around the SNES and the countless hours I spent in front of it. Many of my favorite games are SNES titles, and they’re still great to play today (thank you, Virtual Console, since my original SNES is long gone).  

The Super Nintendo isn’t the only choice, though. It might not even be the best choice for best console. The SNES took a huge leap forward from the NES, but it went in the same direction as the NES took from the Atari. It did everything the NES did, and it did a far better job of it, but it didn’t really offer much else. A look at some of the greatest games of the system offer enough proof of that: Super Mario World, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mega Man X, and Final Fantasy VI were all sequels. They’re all fantastic games, but they owe everything to the original NES games: Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, and Final Fantasy. 

Several other consoles could also be called the greatest gaming system. They all offer a great advancement from the previous generation, they all feature massive libraries of great games, and they all have a shot at beating the Super Nintendo for the superlative title. 

Nintendo Entertainment System:  Brought gaming back from the brink  

The NES helped start it all, and pulled North America back from the brink after the console gaming crash. The home video game system market almost died in 1983 and 1984, when the field became flooded with everything from Atari to Colecovision to Intellivision to Vectrex to the Bally Astrocade. There were practically more systems on the market than decent games to play with them, and people weren’t biting. The Nintendo Entertainment System helped revitalize the industry when it came out in the U.S. in late 1985.  Of course, Nintendo’s first home system wasn’t great simply because what it did to the market. The 8-bit console found dozens of great games, from franchise firsts like Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda, to great third-party titles like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy, to classic sports games like Super Tecmo Bowl, Super Dodgeball, and Blades of Steel. The millions of grown-up gamers who helped make the game industry so successful owe much of their childhood memories to time spent on Nintendo’s 8-bit console.  

The case against: The NES’ games haven’t aged very well. While SNES titles like Final Fantasy VI, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are still a blast to play, the original Final Fantasy,, Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda can’t readily compare. They score big on the nostalgia factor, but the SNES offers broader, deeper, prettier games that feature all the best parts of the NES titles without the ugliness or simplicity. It doesn’t help that for every great game on the NES, there were easily 10 horrible pieces of shovelware pushed out.  

Great games: Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Super Dodgeball, Duck Hunt, StarTropics, Ducktales, Final Fantasy  

Sony PlayStation: Gaming made for grown-ups

If you had an NES in your childhood living room, you probably had a PlayStation in your college dorm room. While the NES helped make home video games popular again, the PlayStation helped legitimize the industry as a form of entertainment for adults, as well as kids. Titles like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7, and Metal Gear Solid tied great graphics with surprisingly mature and deep storytelling to present gaming experiences that adults could proudly play.  

The PlayStation really gave developers the opportunity to actually show gamers the story, not just tell them. The system’s combination of optical storage and 3D graphics let games use rendered cut scenes, voice acting, and even video footage to tell their stories. Previous systems like the SNES and NES offered dramatic storytelling at times (like the excellent Final Fantasy 7), and systems like the Phillips CD-i and Sega Saturn used optical discs to pack movies and sound into games, but the PlayStation was the first system to really take advantage of both to inject much-needed maturity into an industry that was still seen as primarily for young children.  

The case against: Like the NES, the PlayStation suffered from a deluge of shovelware that outnumbered its decent games. Like the SNES, most of the great games on the PlayStation were retreads and sequels of older systems’ games. Many of the games, like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy 7, took their series in some great new directions, but they still didn’t offer much new besides prettier graphics and deeper stories.  

Great games: Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Silent Hill, Tekken 3, Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears  

Microsoft Xbox 360: Putting it all online Though it’s horribly premature to consider any competitor in the current console war the “best game system ever,” the Xbox 360 still deserves some consideration. Microsoft’s second game system has done the best job so far of connecting a home console to the Internet and bringing the entire experience together with ease and (relative) stability. After a successful test run on the original Xbox, Xbox Live has bloomed into a full-featured online service. Xbox Live Arcade offers a surprisingly large library of fun, downloadable games, from classic titles (like the aforementioned PlayStation game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) to esoteric board games (like Catan and Carcassonne).  

While online competition was once the sole purveyance of PCs, the Xbox 360 and the for-pay Xbox Live Gold service has made everything from casual death matches to sports tournaments easy to set up and execute. Previous systems, like the Sega Dreamcast, the PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox, laid the groundwork for online console play, but the Xbox 360 managed to execute it the most successfully. Voice and text chat both in and out of games, easy communication between friends enjoying different games, and a buddy list you can view and edit over the Web make the system one of the easiest to take online. Of course, the other two consoles have made available both downloadable games and multiplayer, but they don’t do it quite as well. The Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console lets gamers enjoy some of the best games from the NES, SNES, and other classic systems, and the PlayStation Network offers both new games and classic PlayStation titles for download. Unfortunately, the Wii’s multiplayer component feels incomplete and awkward, and the PS3’s library isn’t as large and its interface isn’t nearly as friendly as it could have been. The Xbox 360 simply manages to hit its mark and, like the NES and the PlayStation, take gaming forward.  

The case against: The Xbox 360 has been plagued by quality control issues since it came out, and the red ring of death has caused a great deal of bitterness. The system itself has some great games, but it doesn’t offer many truly remarkable exclusive titles; with a few exceptions, the Xbox 360’s best games are either PC ports or cross-platform titles that are also on the PS3. In certain ways, the Xbox 360 is little more than a PC in a shiny console wrapper.  

Great games: Mass Effect, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Gears of War, Puzzle Quest, Catan, Carcassonne, Alien Hominid HD  

The final verdict:  Depends on what you mean by “greatest”  

Gaming is so subjective that there is no single “greatest” system ever. It might sound like a cop-out, but it really depends on what standards you’re using and what generation you grew up in. I loved the SNES, and would personally call it the greatest system of all time. However, the NES and PlayStation could both easily be called the best, based on the standards they set and the advances they presented to gaming. Even the Xbox 360 could be called the best, if you consider how much it’s done in terms of connecting console gamers to each other and making new games and content accessible.

In the end, it depends. My heart says SNES, my head says NES, and my hands say PlayStation (because nobody ever got Nintendo Thumb from the Dual Shock controller). Some of my best gaming memories were from the Super Nintendo, but I still have to give credit where credit is due.

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Mobile Power Station Loves The Sun

January 24, 2008

Imagine a solar powered handheld, and then take a look at the Mobile Power Station. Imagine no more, as this portable gaming machine does not need any batteries, drawing all its power from the sun in order to play retro games found on the NES, Gameboy and Gameboy Color eras in addition to multimedia playback capability. These ROMs must first be transferred over to an SD card before they are playable, but that’s another can of worms. I like the ability of the Mobile Power Station to charge other USB-based devices thanks to a USB-out connector, making this one handy travel tool.

It would be interesting to see future iterations, if any, support GBA games as I would like to run Boktai on it. The Mobile Power Station is a wee bit cheaper than the DS though at $123. Tough call if you ask me.

Wii Could Top 100 Million by 2012

January 24, 2008

If you thought the Nintendo Wii’s success was somehow a fluke and would only be short lived, think again. According to one analyst, we’ve only just seen the beginning of Nintendo’s reign at the top.

 

If you haven’t been able to find a Nintendo Wii don’t feel too bad. Millions of people are in the same boat as you, as is evident by the fact that many retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy simply can’t keep the item in stock. However, if you were hoping that the popularity would die down enough for you to actually find one, it appears you may have to wait for a little while longer as according to one analyst, the Wii will continue to be a hot item.

 

So hot, in fact, that according to Nomura Securities analyst Yuta Sakurai, there will be 100 million Nintendo Wii consoles in homes across the world by 2012. Explaining his belief to the Telegraph, Sakurai said “around 80% of Wii consoles are in family living rooms. The company has managed to embed the system in people’s lifestyles.”

There is no denying that the Nintendo Wii has become integrated in people’s lives. Everyone from hardcore gamers to soccer moms to grandparents seems to have a Wii in their home. In fact, recently the first Wii café opened in the Netherlands. When I heard about this a small part of me died, but it is still a testament to the growing popularity of the Nintendo Wii.

 

It is also interesting to note that the Nintendo Wii is predicted to top 100 million in 2012, which according to the ancient Mayan people is the same year the world is supposed to end. Coincidence? Only time will tell.

 

Price cut rumors for Xbox 360 and PS3 – Wii already cheap enough

January 24, 2008

There have been some unsubstantiated, yet insistent rumours of price cuts for both the Playstation 3, and Xbox 360 over the past week. Whether any of them are true or not, it poses the question of how the pricing strategy of all three major consoles is affecting sales.

There’s been talk of price cuts for the PS3 this week, which are rumoured to be announced on January 28th. Most of these were in Internet forums, so can be taken with a pinch of salt. It would make sense however, for Sony to try and increase the momentum for PS3 by cutting the price to a more affordable level.

If the white PS3, which up to now has been a Japanese exclusive, does indeed get released in the US, and Europe, then a price cut to coincide with that would seem entirely feasible, or even likely.

 

We also know that the price of manufacturing each Playstation 3 has dropped substantially, almost being cut in half from $800 at launch, to nearer $400 now. Although that means the rumoured retail price cut to $299 would still see Sony losing money on each console sold, it certainly makes it more of a possibility.

The Xbox 360 has also been the subject of price cut rumours, this time from an “unnamed source”, which depending on your point of view either means an industry insider who is leaking sensitive information, or just some nut who wants to spread unfounded rumours, and has realised a great way to do it.

The unnamed tipster is claiming that Microsoft are planning on a $49 price cut to coincide with the release of GTA IV. Again, that does make perfect sense, as there are literally millions of GTA fans who will want to jump generation in order to play the next instalment of their favourite franchise.

 

As for the Wii, well no rumours there, but why would there be when demand is still outstripping supply by a fair margin. In fact, Nintendo could probably push the recommended retail price up a bit and still sell more than they can manufacture.

At the moment, these price cuts are mere rumours, and until Sony or Microsoft confirm them, I’d take them with a huge pinch of salt. You can, however, guarantee that both consoles will see a price drop at some point during 2008. It’s more a case of when, not if.

 

 

Microsoft repairs Xbox 360 five times, refuses to replace it

January 24, 2008

This has got to be a record.  A certain Xbox 360 owner has had his Xbox 360 repaired five times by Microsoft and it is still not working properly.  The company is supposed to replace any Xbox 360 after the fourth repair attempt but that did not happen.  This is the story of “Greg” and his attempts to get his Xbox 360 repaired.

 

After the fifth repair which occurred on January 2nd, the unit lasted for 11 days and has been out of service for a total of 12 weeks.  He would like a refurbished unit, new unit or just a plain refund but Microsoft is happy enough keeping him in the repair cycle.

He says that his family can’t play video games or watch DVDs.  What’s worse is that he purchased the HD-DVD add-on and “dozens” of HD-DVD titles as well as some Live content, all of which is now useless to him.

 

While the HD-DVD titles and Live content is now worthless, it’s a little hard to believe that his family doesn’t have a cheap $35 DVD player lying around, somewhere.  If not, it won’t break the bank to buy a DVD player to fill the interim.

 

 

 

 

The Consumerist has a timeline of events which goes like this,

1. He bought an Xbox 360 and an extended warranty in early 2007.

2. It was defective, so he called 800-4-MY-XBOX and arranged to have it repaired.

3. Three weeks later the console was returned in working order.

4. It broke down again.

5. Repeat steps 2 & 3.

6. He bought the HD DVD player add-on and began buying HD DVD movies.

7. It broke down a third time.

8. Repeat steps 2 & 3.

9. On November 28th 2007 it broke down a fourth time.

10. “Paul” at Microsoft says, “that since this is my fourth broken xbox that a supervisor needs to talk to me so that I can get a new console instead of another refurbished one. Paul promised a callback between 5-8pm on the 29th. He recorded my new phone number and address.”

11. Nobody calls.

12. Greg calls Microsoft and talks to a woman who says Paul must have been from a different country, “perhaps Canada she thought,” and they do things differently there. She says her supervisor says no deal on the new Xbox. Greg discovers that his account has no record of his conversation with Paul or his new contact info. She says someone will call him back.

13. Nobody calls him back.

14. Greg calls again and speaks to “Kim,” who says a supervisor tried to call but Greg’s phone number was disconnected. There’s no record of his call from the day before or his new contact info.

15. “Eventually” someone named “Jessica” contacts him and arranges for the fourth repair. He receives his Xbox 360 in working order “a few days before Christmas.”

16. On January 2nd, it breaks down for the fifth time.

Certainly at this point it is cheaper for Microsoft to just replace the console than to keep attempting a “repair.”  It’s also not clear what series of Xbox 360 this was but clearly whatever “repairs” that have been done, have not worked.  Do the right thing, Microsoft, just replace it.  If the company continues to refuse there’s always the law.

 

Free games to play on your iPhone

January 22, 2008

Not all games have been optimized for the iPhone equally. In fact, I found quite a few clunkers that seemed to exist only to take your cash, advertise dubious services, or bombard you with cut-rate graphics. Shudder. These five games, added just this month, test your strategy and timing while offering above-average graphics. 

501 Darts

A two-player strategy game that pits you against your cutthroat iPhone. The goal is to roll down your points from 400 to zero by lobbing darts where it counts–in the highest point zones possible. Tap the red button once to set your horizon and once again to choose the vertical axis. Then watch the arrows fly. The game is fun, but lacks settings to change the game style, pause or save a game, or even reduce the points if you want a shorter game.

 501 Darts is free, supported by a banner ad that doesn’t obstruct the graphics, though it certainly won’t beautify them either.

The same publisher, Ion Games, brings you Golf Driving Range, which uses similar horizontal and vertical bars tirelessly vacillating between extremes to set the direction and strength with which you hit. It behooves players to also pay attention to wind direction and the course schematic while planning their shots. The iPhone’s timing eluded me for the first two games, but as I started getting the hang of how to plan my taps, frustration melted into personal challenge.

You can always tell Sudoku sovereigns by their intense, withdrawn stare. Addicts of the Japanese puzzle game can solve a daily conundrum for free, and ad-free, with Radworkz Daily Puzzles. Insert a digit into the appropriate square by tapping the square once and selecting from the number wheel.

Sometimes the simplest game is the most satisfying. Connect4 touch is one of those. The iPhone-generation’s high-tech take on the classic two-player game again matches wits with your Apple’s AI to see which player can line up four colored circles first. This one is ad-supported, but once you click the “play” bar below the ad, the game is nuisance-free.

A new day, a new puzzle–that’s iFreecell’s philosophy. Each day, tiles of three designs are shuffled into a 64-square grid. Your job is to remove the tiles by clicking the designs–but those social tiles only disappear when they have a companion. Use your noggin to click away the adjacent or stacked tiles without leaving any singletons behind.

Incoming: Military-grade carrying case for the PSP

August 25, 2007

Over the years, we’ve gotten letters from soldiers stationed in Iraq, and they’ve talked about how hard the place is on electronics gear–and I’m not talking bullets and bombs, but just the raw elements (dust, sand, and so on…). Well, I just noticed this item on PSP Fan Boy: a $100 military-style PSP case from TAD Gear that claims to be military-grade.

A note on the site about the PSP Pod reads:

“This is a very special, limited custom run of nylon accessory pouches. These PSP Pods were produced at the request of some our associates and customers deployed overseas. The Sony PSP has become a common sight in many a soldiers’ kit these days. The PSP has become ideal for personal entertainment for many while in transit or stuck at barracks. This is built with MILSPEC construction and materials thru-out. There is no sturdier, better built, and versatile storage pouch for the PSP available anywhere. TAD Gear is not a video game store, but we clearly see the merits of the PSP as a personal electronic device and wanted to offer this very special case to carry yours. Due [to] the high cost of production it is highly unlikely we will produce these again.”

A hundred bucks is a lot to spend on a case, but it looks pretty sweet, and I suspect a few civilian commuters might pick one up for that rough train or bus ride between the ‘burbs and the big city.