The Adventures of A New PC Owner - A History

So I've been playing PC games for over ten years. Well, when I say playing PC games, it's usually only one game that occupies me at any one time, and I had no concept of the rich technicalities of the platform. My first PC love was SimCity 2000, a true classic in my mind. This was followed by a game I still rank among my top five games of all-time; Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. Now because I was such a PC dumbass, I never explored the multiplayer aspect of the game, but still played that damn game for at least 250 hours. My next love was The Sims, another greatly addictive experience. Next up was the original Splinter Cell. Ubisoft aren't known for being a PC heavy developer (in recent times they've become a villanous figure for the PC community thanks to their DRM bullocks), but Splinter Cell was a great experience on the PC. Next was another game I still hold up as one of the greatest games I've ever played, the truly transcendent Half-Life 2, my first experience of first person shooters the way they were "supposed" to be played. Another landmark experience followed with my immersion into the world of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I game I still regard as my favourite of all-time. Of course being a PC-tard, I never dabbled into the wonderfully strange world of the mod community.
 
A completely different landmark moment occured in 2007 with the purchase of my third laptop, a Dell XPS designed very much for playing high end games. For a few months, I played Oblivion on my laptop and loved it. Then two instances broke my heart and dashed my appreciation of the PC as a platform. First, there was the complete headache that was trying to get The Witcher to run properly on my PC. Again, not a tech expert, so had no clue that this game was problematic even for people who were savvy. The second was a game that three years later is still a benchmark for PC graphics; Crysis. I honestly thought that this behemoth of a game would work fine on my laptop, bought it and was very quickly crushed to find out I had to choose between stellar graphics moving at seconds per frame, or a silky smooth running game that would have been deemed ugly in 2001. I was so disillutioned that I turned my back on the PC and in late 2007 I bought my Xbox 360, my first current gen console. I did play some PC games during my so called PC "dark age", including old favourites like Roller Coaster Tycoon, an update of an old favourite The Sims 2, and engaging new experiences like Torchlight.
 
So fast forward to the past few months. It's been a really shitty year for me and making bad financial decisions. I bought a PS3 back in early summer, despite having 360 games I'd yet to play (Condemned 2, Red Faction Guerrilla, Arkham Asylum etc.). Not long after, despite having so many games I haven't played, I started to contemplate building a strong gaming PC. You can date my fascination with the PC back to late 2009, when I played Dragon Age: Origins on the console and loved the hell out of it, but still felt annoyed by people raving about the superior PC version. I was sort of fascinated by the buzz surrounding StarCraft II, but the straw that broke the camel's back was Civilization 5. I played a little of Civ 4 on my father's PC and in recent months have been completely addicted to Civ Rev on my DS, and so really wanted to play a ton of Civ 5. And so, after negotiating with my mother, Dell and myself, I eventually bit the bullet.
 
I now have a high-end powerful PC, with 8GB of RAM, an nVidia GeForce GTX 460 graphics card, an i7 Intel processor and 1TB of harddisk space (laptop had 160GB, now I have 1TB. That's a lot more bytes). I've been messing around a lot with PC stuff for the past week or so, and have decided that I want to chronicle my PC adventures in blog form. So join me in my strange journey of wonder and mystery as I try to work out exactly how everything works, just how much power I have at my fingertips, and whether I can really become "that PC guy". Will this leviathan eat me up, chew me out and send me running back to my consoles, or will I start abandoning my gamepads in favour of my new romance?
 
My first act has already occured. I started a thread in the PC forum asking for general advice and recommendations for programs and games people consider essential to the PC experience. I got a lot of good feedback to work with, and I'm starting to feel really good about the future me and my PC will share. Always good to have the GB community helping me with my complete fucking technological ineptitude.
 
Next time on The Adventures of a New PC Owner - The Joys and Terrors of Steam

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The Dream Arcade

So you've won the lottery! It's a though we've all had I'm sure. You go and get your stonking great cheque, and wonder what's the first thing I'm gonna do with my new found millions. Well I decided yesterday that what I would do is set aside a substantial portion of it to developing and maintaining my dream video game arcade. It wouldn't matter to me if it ran at a loss; just the fact that me and my fellow game enthusiasts would have the perfect place to hang out and play great arcade games would be enough for me. 
 
So then I got thinking. What machines would I include in my dream video game arcade? I decided to limit myself to 12 to start off with. That doesn't mean 12 machines, just 12 varieties of games. I also decided that I didn't need to limit myself to games that came out in arcades; some games I would want in my dream arcade even though they're not proper arcade games, and if need be I would create a version myself with my millions. 
 
So here is my list, and I do hope to read all of yours as well. 
 
Fighting Games Corner: 
Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution 
Super Street Fighter II Turbo 
Tekken 3
 
Shoot-em-up Corner: 
Geometry Wars 
Ikaruga 
Rez 
 
The Classics: 
Galaga 
Pac-Man Championship Edition 
 
Pinball Wizards: 
F14-Tomcat (apparently, at least according to Jeff, the greatest pinball game ever made)
Space Cadet 3D (I'm no pinball expert, but I played this game a ton as a kid, and would love to see an actual machine made for it) 
 
The Ultimate Arcade Driving Experience: 
Burnout Paradise (rows of machines with headsets to allow for chat; multiplayer challenges enabled) 
 
Rhythm Heaven: 
Rock Band

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Absolutely

I adore using XBLA. I have like 40 games in total for it. It's great because I can be playing a game like Fallout 3 for a substantial amount of time, and when I want to play something different for a while, I just play an Arcade game. It means I can have a single disc in my 360 for weeks at a time.

I'm also a big fan of Steam, and one of the principle reasons for me wanting to get a PS3 at some point is for downloadable games like WipeOut HD, Warhawk, Shatter, Trine and the PixelJunk games.

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A Not So Dramatic Turnaround?

It's been fascinating to witness how swiftly things can change in the games industry. Gamescom has proved to be more significant than I would have predicted earlier in the year. Gamescom may well mark a turning point. This is the time for Sony's "feel good moment". The one biggest complaint the console has received since that moment at E3 2006 was that it was too expensive. Sony, a stubborn company by nature, stuck firm with this for a long time, even when the world began to collapse all around them. 
 
But now they have made the move that everyone wanted them to make. The PS3 Slim is arriving early next month, and all PS3 models have been cut significantly in price. Rejoice! 
 
Except perhaps not. Sony has definitely generated positive buzz around the brand going into a competitive holiday season that is rapidly running out of games to sell, but the metamorphosis is not complete. They took a dramatic step forward, but continue to take steps back. 
 
Figures show clearly that Europe is, in terms of total number of systems sold, one of the strongest markets for Sony. Around 30-40% of PS3's sold worldwide ended up in European homes. Compared that number to their true market competitor, the Xbox 360. Only 10% of 360's sold worldwide were sold in Europe. For years one of Sony's biggest strongholds has been in Europe. Ever since the Xbox arrived and took America by storm, Nintendo and Sony could still argue greater sales in Europe and Japan. 
 
And now Sony has undermined their position in the territory drastically. Yes, their video market is coming to European territories, but at a huge cost. More specifically, Europe will pay 299 euros for a system Americans will pay 299 dollars for, and in current exchange figures, 299 dollars converted to euros is 220. And in the UK, the price will be £249, even more expensive when compared to the USA. 
 
Now Euro gamers have paid the price for a long time, but this is one of the most offensive. The cost of Rock Band equipment could be justified because of the complications of the hardware. General game sales are higher here in the UK partly due to VAT and taxes, meaning we can have a National Health Service, many great universities and such. But for a console that you want people to start feeling good about, it's a dramatic slap in the face. It's no more expensive for Sony to produce hardware for European territories then it is for NTSC territories, and it's that cut in production costs which led to this price cut. That's what makes this so baffling.
 
There are certainly other issues. Opinions on the aesthetic merits of the PS3 Slim are somewhat divided, but I'm sure many people will appreciate the smaller size. But then there's the matter of the features provided with the system. There is still not cross voice chat, and there is no PS2 backwards compatibility. 
 
I've been pondering this back compatibility issue recently. Now I'm someone who truly would appreciate backwards compatibility, because the only PS2 in my house belongs to my sister who may well take it away back to university at any point. But I now own my own games for it, and they would be useless if she reclaimed her PS2. A backward compatible PS3 would be extremely tempting. But I'm an exception. Over 100 million people, the populations of France and Spain combined, have bought PS2's. Nearly ten years since its release, Sony are still selling copies. 
 
So why is backwards compatibility such an issue for people. The issue is that Sony gave us b/c with the first PS3 model and then took it away in order to sell PS2's. Now in terms of marketing errors, this is a major one. You don't give people something and then take it away. People have long memories. That decision took a massive toll on the brand, and if Sony really wanted this to be their feel good moment, they should have included it. Rumours are circling about software emulation based backwards compatibility that Sony could introduce in the near future. I think they absolutely must by next year's Gamescom. That will nearly be the tenth anniversary of the PS2. That is a very long product cycle. Let it go. Give the people what they want. 
 
I don't mean this to sound like too much of a downer. It's just been fascinating to see people gushing over a brand that is still not where they need to be yet. The diehard fans want backwards compatibility, and the European fans want a lower price. I think the casual audience is by far the sector who benefit most from the price drop, and I'm sure Sony is happy with that. But that approach is a little at odds with their E3 presentation, where the games and the diehards were the focus. That image of the monolithic impenetrable black goliath of a system may be dissipating gradually, and the new trim system is the biggest step in the right direction the brand has made yet. But let's not be too quick to jump on the bandwagon, not with a Gran Turismo 5 date still ever elusive, Tekken 6 arriving on the 360 this autumn and Killzone 2 failing to set the world on fire. 
 
Now to be fair, the other brands are also not exactly thriving at the moment. The Xbox 360 is still having its identity crisis, and rumours of a price increase in the UK are also baffling. And Nintendo continue to out-stubborn Sony when it comes to price drops. But the sad fact is that the Wii and 360 had their times in the sun during a stable and happy economy. Sony's system may now be coming into its prime, but the timing couldn't have been worse. 2009 could well by Sony's year, but does that matter? This year has seen terrible lows across the board, and the number of games being pushed back to 2010 is doing nothing to help that cause. 
 
The best thing to take away is that Sony is positioning their system to be very strong in 2010. God of War III is already dated for 2010, and unless a miracle occurs, GT5 will also be 2010. The two biggest system sellers coming in the same year. And who knows, by 2010 the economy might be on the upswing. But for all the positives for the brand, they need to take advantage of this opportunity and improve the features list with cross voice chat and backwards compatibility. This strategy could well cement the PS3 as the most successful system for the remainder of the console cycle. Whatever emerges from this, it will surely be fascinating to witness.

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Update + an editorial on Xbox Games on Demand

So once again I've neglected this blog a little bit, and want to get it back on track with some recent goings on.
 
First off, I took a break from playing Tales of Vesperia today. I've played it quite a bit recently, and am at the 28 hour mark, and I still love that game - the story has evolved in some really interesting ways in the past couple of days - but wanted to take a time out. So instead I've been playing more Rocket Riot, which I really like because it's much more forgiving than other dual-joystick shooters, is charming, pretty funny and looks good, and have been trying some demos.  
 
First demo I tried was Fight Night Round 4, which felt weird to me. I went through the tutorial, but found the demo fights a little tricky. I think I did four fights, and won all of them by decision, but kept getting hit with counter punches and nearly getting knocked down. At the same time, the demo did kind of make me want to play the game.  
 
Then I tried UFC Undisputed, and that demo did make me want to play that game. The tutorial was pretty long, and wasn't voiced like the FNR4 demo and so I got bored and just went into a fight. Playing as Chuck I knocked Shogun out three times, all in the first round. The game is very visceral and satisfying, and for someone who has often admired MMA from and distance and is interested in the concept, but found actually watching the fights to be insufferable, I was surprised at how much I liked the demo.
 
Then I tried Tiger Woods 10, and didn't like it. I guess I just don't like golf. Swinging felt alright, but I just didn't care. 
 
I've still been sinking more time into The Sims 2 than is probably healthy for someone who attempts to maintain a facade of being a "serious" gamer. That game still has a strange addictive appeal. I can play that game for three hour stretches, which is more than I can even do with a great game likes Tales. Sometimes I feel a little dirty about it, but frankly it's a fun game and I like it. And playing Sims 2 is much better than playing Sims 3 because my sister bought all the expansions for 2 and so that game is pretty deep and interesting, which I've heard on good authority that Sims 3 feels a little stripped bare. 
 
I keep meaning to spend more time with my DS. I got Age of Empires: Mythologies and Professor Layton for my birthday last month and really want to play both, but I just haven't gotten around to it. I also bought Sid Meier's Civilisation IV and all its expansions through Steam for £25, which is a damn good deal for what is apparently a damn good game. It's been a while since I've played some PC games on my laptop (Sims 2 is installed on main computer, as is Age of Empires II and Morrowind), and fully expect to greatly enjoy Civ 4. 
 
In the past week there has been plenty of talk about new features coming to Xbox Live on August 11th with the new update. I won't go into depth about every aspect, except to say that user ratings are a good thing and premium avatar content is a bad thing. But the main thing that I've been mulling over is the Games on Demand service. I have been onboard with digital distribution for a good long time. I've been way into iTunes and Amazon MP3 for a while, and have recently become more invested in Xbox Live Arcade and Steam. I love having so many games instantly, because it means I can keep Tales of Vesperia, Fallout 3 or Oblivion in my disc drive for a while, and when I want to play something different I'll just pull up a Live game. 
 
But bringing full box release 360 games to Xbox Live offers an interesting new frontier for game distribution. Steam has been selling full-length games for a long time, and Burnout Paradise came to PSN last year, so they are certainly not the first, but you could well argue that this is the most major transition from boxed to digital distribution in a long time, perhaps ever. 
 
There will be questions, such as how big the downloads will be for those still rocking 20GB hard drives (not a problem for my 120GB, but still), bandwidth issues and other questions. And then there's the matter of are people really ready for this? I'm an exception in being so invested in digital distribution, but others are still not on board. There is still something satisfying about having a solid product, one you know you can count on, or at least until the 360 stratches up the disc. 
 
My biggest problem with the whole issue is not the concerns about the actual distribution, but rather the list of games that will be on offer for 1,600 points. Most of them are early 360 games, some of them launch games, and some are difficult to find now. But you might question why anyone would want to find them. Meet the Robinsons, the Need for Speed games and Tomb Raider: Legend are all games I would be surprised if anyone downloaded and enjoyed. And then there's the question of Mass Effect and Oblivion. Both are fantastic games, but I really think that they are best served as disc based games. I've kept Oblivion in my disc drive for a month at a time, so having it digitally does nothing for me. 
 
Assassin's Creed is a game I liked quite a bit originally, but have no interest in playing it again. Fight Night Round 3 has been made completely redundant by Round 4, Perfect Dark and Prey were fine for the era they were released, but almost certainly won't hold up so well now, and three of the best games coming - Burnout Paradise and the two Viva Pinata games - are all games I own and don't like enough to buy again. My Viva Pinata game disc is a little busted so that's the only one I would consider buying online. 
 
I feel like the list is very random and scattered, and am wondering what direction they will take this feature in. I've said it before, but I don't want to digitally download any game that has a story. With a story based game you want to play it a lot in a short amount of time without dilution, and so are perhaps best served with the physical product. However, games that you can drop in and out off without consequence of losing grasp on the story would be perfectly served by digital distribution. I still play Super Turbo HD Remix from time to time rather than Street Fighter IV because I can play it anytime on demand; if you're telling me I could have Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter on my hard drive to play at anytime, I would be on board, and would definitely buy Virtua Fighter 5 again to have it at all times. 
 
So when it comes to this new service, I hope that Microsoft realise what the appeal of having a game on demand really is. Less Mass Effect, Oblivion and Assassin's Creed. More fighting games, racing games and sports games. I would buy Fight Night Round 4 on demand in a heartbeat, same with UFC Undisputed, and I would be stoked to have a Madden game on my hard drive to play whenever. I still think I want a disc version of Forza 3, but would love to have DiRT or Pure or PGR4 on demand. 
 
I wonder how long it will take for a game to come to on demand. Will we come to a point where new games are released simultaneously in store and on demand, or will there still be a lag? Will Resident Evil 5 be hitting the Games on Demand service next year, or Mass Effect 2 in two years, or Fallout 3, or any number of games? Will Microsoft realise the potential of having casual and non-story based games available on demand? Just how much of an effort will they make to get people interested in digital distribution? How many people are really interested in having full-length games on their hard drives? 
 
There are plenty of questions that need answering in time, but personally the ideal way I see this rolling out is that all games comes to on demand three months after in-store release, since that is around the time you can find games for much lower prices. I would never pay full-price for a digital release, and if I have to wait more than a year, I'll just get impatient and buy it boxed style and be pissed about it. And the games I will buy through this service is, as I've said, games without stories that I feel like I would want to jump into whenever and enjoy. But that's just me.

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Just Add Noise - an editorial on video games and music

Now I think it's worth saying this right off the bat; I'm a musician first and a gamer second. I would without question say that for seven months of the year (i.e. not during NFL season), they are my greatest abiding passions, the fuel for my existence. My love of video games significantly predates my love of music; the music I listened to during my N64 era was terrible pop music and Pokemon soundtracks. But then my music appreciation blossomed, and then last year my video game appreciation also grew significantly beyond the realm of game enthusiast to game fanatic.

So naturally, you would expect my two greatest passions to overlap. And you'd be right. There isn't much that I enjoy more than listening to a great album and playing a great video game. However, I don't connect them together like some people do. Jeff will often tell of his days playing Lode Runner and listening to Van Halen, and Brad has mentioned his unbreakable connection between Green Day's Dookie and F-Zero for the SNES. For me, though, I'm all about variety in my music. I can't listen to the same album twice in one day; hell it's hard enough for me to listen to the same song twice in one day. Regardless, as I said before, playing video games and listening to music is one of my life's greatest pleasures.

But there is a balancing act involved. What games are enhanced by listening to music? What particular kinds of music can encourage a better performance in games? At what point are you diluting your experience of the game via the music, or vice versa?

I remember Jeff remarking on the Bombcast quite a few months ago that he liked Star Wars: The Force Unleashed much more when he listened to Ice Cube and played the game. This is very telling to me. It's telling both of the joy produced by combining two wonderful things, and the issues it can cause. Now I'm not game journalist and so it doesn't matter for me, but I've had my opinions altered through music. At first I thought Civilisation Revolution was a good game, but through playing the game with music, it suddenly became a really great game. Same applies the other way; I find I can appreciate bands I normally wouldn't be too fond of, like Story of the Year, Alexisonfire, Hot Water Music and As Cities Burn by listening to them while playing Virtua Fighter or Forza.

In truth, though, sometimes I don't want my experiences diluted. There are certain albums that I refuse to listen to while doing anything else, or at least anything as potentially taxing as playing a video game, because I don't want to be distracted from the music. Thrice's Vheissu, Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun, Vladimir Ashenazy playing Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto with Andre Previn and the London Symphony Orchestra. This music is so special to me that I cannot in any way taint my experience of listening to them.

The same applies to video games. Some games are very well suited to some music, genres like fighting games, shooters, sims, strategy games and RPG's. Actually now that I think about it, I actually listed most genres of popular games there. I guess it depends on how good the game is, and how much atmosphere and the in-game sound effects play a part in the game's style. Games like Dead Space and BioShock need to be appreciated without dilution, and Half-Life 2 is another game that I feel I woundn't enjoy with my headphones on. Mass Effect is another, and Condemned, and Assassin's Creed.

However, some games are perfectly suited. I tend to think that most kinds of music are somewhat of a hindrance to your performance, because they force you to redirect and split your focus, unless the music is just background noise. To that end, low intensity games tend to be the best suited for the task. I've found that when, say for example I'm playing a JRPG and I need to grind a few levels to beat a boss, listening to an album makes the whole experience much smoother. I've already mentioned Civ Rev; this relatively low intensity turn-based strategy game does require focus, but gives you plenty of time to breathe and appreciate the music you're listening to. I also found Forza to be an excellent game for this task; there are plenty of times where you need to sink a fair bit of time into beating one difficult race, and music does help you not lose your mind when you keep oversteering and crashing into the wall, which inevitably happens once you get into Forza's harder challenges.

And then there's games like arcade games, basic games that provide plenty of challenge but don't sap too much attention. My Xbox Live Arcade has grown substantially recently, and many of my favourite games in that collection are games that I'd probably never play without music. N+ is a good game, but it is made great with music, and the same applies to Rocket Riot and Zuma. Same applies to Ticket to Ride and UNO; neither really provide enough entertainment to stand against games like Braid, Ikaruga or Rez, but with music, suddenly the appeal is much greater. Both games are great for providing a distraction while listening to music.

And then we come to the biggies. Anyone who knows anything about my taste in games knows that my favourite game of all-time is The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I still think that, even today, in 2009, this three-year old game is the best game in the world. That's very much an opinion, but one I hold dearly. The fact that the game offers 150 hours of interesting and unique gameplay makes it very special, and unlike any other game I've played. And yet, music manages to make an amazing game even better. Let's face it; there are moments in Oblivion that can be a little dull. Dungeon raiding after you've sunk 75 hours into the game and raided more similar dungeons than you'd care to count can be tedious, as can closing all the Oblivion gates. But immediately, with one press of a button, the relative tedium of these exercised evaporates. With music, these tasks stop being dull, and actually become enjoyable.

Now that I'm talking about Oblivion, I started this thing making the point that I don't have a connection between games and albums that some people do. There is however one exception. In recent years, I have developed a great fondness for The Mars Volta, and in my opinion their greatest album is Frances the Mute. And somehow, during the course of my gaming endeavours, I have established a connection between listening to Frances the Mute and doing the Mehrunes Razor quest in Oblivion. I think I've only done this three times, but that was enough. The album is almost perfect length in terms of how long it takes to beat the quest, and it's the perfect blend of intensity and great musicianship without being overpowering. Partly because of this connection, the Mehrunes Razor quest is probably one of my favourites in the entire game.

Sometimes I find this connection between games and music a little jarring. As someone who is a great appreciator of both, I'd like to think that one would be enough stimulation and enjoyment without the other. But this need for multiple forms of stimulation is hugely indicative of the ADD multi-tasking thrill-a-minute lightspeed world we live in, especially we young people. For us, sometimes just rocking along to Metallica's Black Album isn't enough, and sometimes playing Street Fighter doesn't provide the amount of thrill we need. So what better way to get a great rush in the comfort of your own home than to play Call of Duty and listen to loud fast music.

And this brings me to another point. On the handful of video game forums I occasionally frequent, whenever a thread along the lines of people talking about their favourite music comes up, metal always seems to be the winner in most cases. In fact, I've seen threads relating to people's top ten favourite albums, and some people's lists consisted of nothing but metal. Now I can appreciate the connection between video games and metal - the counter-culture social outcast image, coupled with the need for loudness, aggression and stimulation - but as someone who is not a great appreciator of metal, and someone who demands variety in the music they listen to, this always baffles me, and sometimes even disgusts me.

But who am I to cast judgement on people's musical tastes? No one. I just find it fascinating, especially since I love the thrill of listening to a low intensity album while playing a high intensity game. Getting my ass whooped at Street Fighter is an easier pill to swallow when listening to Beethoven Piano Sonatas. And conversely, listening to Underoath makes playing The Sims 2 a completely different experience.

So now I throw this issue over to you, the Giant Bomb community. How do you feel about the issue? What albums or types of music do you like to listen to while playing video games? Do you have a strong connection between a specific album and a specific game? What is your view on the matter of gamers being into metal? What are your favourite games to play while listening to music? Do you like video game soundtracks? And most importantly, which would you say is more important to you; music or video games?

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A Tale of Three JRPG's (Tales of Vesperia first impressions)

Just a quick check-in on some stuff. I do hope to get this blog up and running regularly, and in the next couple of days I hope to finish writing a new lengthy editorial feature. Should be up here before Wednesday.

I'm really liking Tales of Vesperia. As someone who isn't so deeply absorbed in the strange world of anime, I feel like I can appreciate it from a distance. To come straight to the point, the game looks fantastic. The characters are well designed, but the real star of the show here is the game world. Every setting in the game is wonderfully realised, detailed and lush. Shame then that the monster design is a little generic, but that's a small complaint in the scheme of things.

I keep thinking back to my time with Eternal Sonata, the best JRPG I've played in my life so far, and Tales of Vesperia matches up in some interesting ways. I don't feel like the story in Tales is as engaging; it feels a tad rushed, and merely an exercise to move you from point A to point B. This is subject to change, of course. I will say though that the dialogue is better in Tales, and the game handles humour much more successfully. Neither game is particularly keen on subtlety though, and as beautifully designed and details as the characters are, most of them seem to be stock JRPG characters interchangeable with any number of other characters that have graced the worlds of Final Fantasy or previous Tales games.

Another JRPG that's on my mind at the moment is Lost Odyssey. Now Lost Odyssey was a game that did certain things really well, and as a Final Fantasy-like experience, it was well done. That game did have unique and interesting characters, and a much grittier more down to earth art design. It also had some subtlety, a rare thing in this particular genre. But the pacing was downright bad, the story was pretty poor, it had random battle encounters, which in a game released in 2008 is pretty unacceptable, there was nothing engaging about the combat, and there was too much JRPG grind. I never finished Lost Odyssey, but ironically probably spent more time playing it than I did Eternal Sonata, because it's a much longer game. But Eternal Sonata sacrificed longevity for pacing and fluidity in a really cool way, and Lost Odyssey doesn't so much feel expansive as it does dragged out.

So in thinking of three of the biggest JRPG releases on the Xbox 360 in the past couple of years, one key aspect of each comes to mind; they both are from different schools of JRPG combat. Lost Odyssey's combat was textbook, specifically the "How to Be Final Fantasy" textbook. It was turn-based, slow, strategic and sluggish, but tried to implement a real-time aspect as well. Eternal Sonata's combat was turn-based but in real-time, meaning you had to input your commands quickly and move on to the next player. There was still strategy involved, but it was much more immediate. However when talking about immediacy, Tales of Vesperia is the champ. Tales' combat is completely real-time, and you only control one dude, while others perform their own attack patterns and moves. Strategy is all but thrown out the window, but it does make combat more exciting.

It's fascinating to consider how different the combat in all three of these games is, and to consider what effect the choice has. Lost Odyssey's slow paced methodical combat is the polar opposite to Tales' speed-of-light battles. I feel that Tales of Vesperia's combat suffers in big boss situations, because although they are longer than standard battles, they are still whirlwinds, with little to no strategy involved. Lost Odyssey on the other hand had some excellent boss battles, but paid a massive price. Regular fights against random monsters were painfully drawn out, and whereas Tales of Vesperia fights, counting load screens and victory screens, probably average between 30 seconds and 1 minute, Lost Odyssey's standard battles could take up to 5 minutes, which just destroyed the game's pacing. I think in the scheme of things, the lack of urgency in Lost Odyssey hurt the game more than the brevity of Tales.

So then we come to the middle ground; Eternal Sonata. I think this is the winner in terms of combat mechanics. The blending of turn-based and real-time elements really helped fights feel dynamic and interesting, and while you breeze through low level monsters in a couple of minutes, there were some chunky boss fights that were much more challenging. I also loved how Eternal Sonata changed up the combat as it progressed; you unlocked new levels for your party when you reached certain stages in the game, and they unlocked new abilities and gameplay styles, such as being able to sacrifice length of turns for more attack power. It really helped bring the game to life.

I really hope the immediacy of Tales of Vesperia doesn't do too much to prevent me from enjoying the game, because there are so many cool things about it that I'd hate for one small thing like that to ruin it. I'm not sure how to measure expectations, but I waited nine months to play this game (delayed in Europe), so they were always going to be high. And I'm not helping by comparing it to Eternal Sonata, which is one of my all-time favourite games. But as I said, initial impressions are very good.

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No Quarters Needed: an editorial on the modern arcade

Rows and rows of pristine machines, clean, smelling of warm candy. Brightly lit, this place practically sings with the strange chimings of these arcane machines. They all wash together and create a beautiful song. This is a romantic place; stepping inside, you feel as if you're being greated by your closest friends. The memories are exquisite; endless summer days of carefree idling, saving up your pocket money for that fateful day, and wondering through the place in a magical daze. The variety is astonishing; a Super Street Fighter II Turbo machine in perfect condition, Galaga, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, Pac-Man, all the classics. And the new classics; Geometry Wars, Ikaruga, Alien Hominid, The Dishwasher. Each offers their own world of possibilities.

In my mind, this is my arcade. In reality, I turn on my Xbox 360, from the comfort of my sofa, and select a menu option to get to my arcade.

As Paul Walker would say, a lot has changed, bro. In this modern era, this so called seventh generation of video games, the complete shift of the medium from arcades to consoles is almost complete. Even the most stalwart pillar of the arcade experience is dying on its feet. Yes, arcades in Japan are starting to suffer. Sure, the current economic situation, the recession, the war economy etc., isn't helping, but it would take something monumental to kill arcades in Japan.

In Europe and America, they are all but resigned to the history books. British seaside towns may still offer the occasional Tekken machine, but most places one might expect to find video games is full of gambling machines, coin-op slots, poker and the rest. In the USA it's much the same; the malls, movie theatres and piers that used to be havens for bright eyed young video game fans are no longer what they used to be. Chicago may be the only city in the country with a thriving arcade scene.

As someone who has played video games almost their entire life, I can't help but feel sad about this. Ok, I'll admit that I'm too young to have actually played Super Turbo, and I'm fairly certain I've never been near a Space Invaders machine. But I still have sweet memories; I remember holiday camps that had entertainment centres, offering pool, darts, air hockey, and yes, shooting games. And then there was my sports and fitness centre, which featured a Killer Instinct machine. This technology was baffling to my eight-year-old self, not familiar with the workings of fighting games, although looking back that might be more down to Killer Instinct than it was to me.

But as sad as I feel about the decline of coin-op gaming, I can't help but feel that the alternative is much more comfortable. As someone whose a not a hugely social person, the idea of having a whole online arcade at my fingertips is very exciting. I love my arcade; I love the variety, the quality, and the fact that I don't have to go fumbling for a disc to play the original Soulcalibur, or Bionic Commando. Fallout 3 can live in my game tray for a full month, but I can still take a break to play some UNO or Age of Booty.

You also have to admire what systems like Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network and Steam have done for gaming; allowing creative minds like Jonathan Blow a simpler but clear and wide ranging base to distribute their smaller scale games. You don't have to print thousands of discs to be taken seriously as a game developer. This is a wonderful progression for the medium, and the fact that we have a greater variety of games on offer than our young selves would ever have thought possible is absolutely marvellous. And the fact that you pay a flat fee for games is probably a good thing as well; you're not punished for playing a game obsessively, and pumping coins is no longer necessary.

So what the arcade has become is, certainly in my opinion, something brilliant. But there's still something missing. My arcade is a good thing, but it can still make me feel a little empty. I still have that romantic image of the traditional arcade, but that quickly dissolves when I actually get there, and have that escapism breaking moment of pouring over menus to find a game I want to play. For some reason, the fact that this is called an arcade sticks in my throat a little. This is no arcade; this is a list.

But what's the alternative? Am I an isolated case, or do people still want the authentic arcade experience at home? Is it even possible to replicate the magic of the arcade?

Let's face it. Things die for a reason. It's called evolution - survival of the fittest. It's a good thing that you don't HAVE to ride your skateboard to the local arcade any time you wanna kick back and play some games. Home consoles made that possible, and by the generation of the Mega Drive/Genesis and SNES, it was becoming rather apparent that this was the future of gaming. The N64 and the PlayStation helped to cement it. The PlayStation 2 may have been one of the final nails in the arcade's coffin. But  in this new age of digital distribution, arcade is a buzz word again.

Maybe we should be expanding on the idea more. What Xbox Live is attach a holy name to something that is unfortunately just a list of games. Sure, you could argue that since they're on your hard drive at all times, it is something approaching an emulation, but it does nothing to evoke the old spirit of their namesake.

What I have in my mind is a digital arcade. Take something like HOME, or the online lobby system for Dead or Alive 4. All our Xbox Live personalities now have avatars, so why not drop the avatar into a simulacrum of a classic arcade, with the dazzling lights, the whirlwind of noise. Let us stroll through the rows of beautiful arcade machines, and when we've settled on a choice, let us sit down in front of said machine, and zoom into the machine screen, thus loading the game. We could take it even further. Rather than play a flat fee of Microsoft Points for our arcade purchases, let us put in 50 points everytime we want to play, and when we die, we've got to reach for another 50 points. That would be the arcade experience come to life in the digital age.

But as wonderful as that made sound on paper, is that what people want? The current gaming mindset is one of either being too young to know the real arcade experience, or being old and cynical enough to not care. So do these people really want to be dropped into a mock arcade every single time they just want to play Worms or Super Contra? Maybe not. Couldn't it be a menu option, or even a service? Much like Amazon will offer you their prime subscription, you could buy an addendum to your Gold subscription. They could call it the "Arcade subscription pack". Pay Microsoft a small flat fee, and your arcade becomes, well, an arcade.

But this would require work on Microsoft's part to build in, and they wouldn't even consider it if they thought people didn't want it. Do people aside me really care about the Arcade Dream? Is this just a tacked on offering people games, or even counterproductive? Considering how many technological advances in the medium we have made this generation with things like online distribution, and considering how much further we can go with the promise of OnLive and full motion sensing technology, is this just a step back in the evolution of the platform?

So if replicating the arcade experience online isn't the solution, then the only other option is to bring back the real arcade experience.

As I said, there's a reason why things die out, especially in business, and it's because people don't want them. But perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to give up on the Arcade Dream. Sure, maybe the days of endless rows of arcade machines are all but over, but think about this - why don't have game stores have their own arcades?

Game stores are frequented by such a wide range of people, from the most hardcore lovers of the art to the clueless mum buying shiny toys for their children. But there's a common tie; an interest, and in many cases love, of video games. Even in our current economic situation, gaming stores are still doing good business, evidence of the recession proof entertainment industries. So it wouldn't be financially impossible for game stores to build in their own mini-arcades. Hell, it might even encourage business, as more people come to hang out at the game store.

What I can imagine is a corner of the store with coin-op game machines, old and new, with the range of games people want. Sure, the classic arcade genres of shooters and fighting games are musts, but why not have modern platformers like Braid there? Or even Portal?

But why stop at game stores. Think of all the other places that could have small arcades. Think of fast food chains. On my high street every single third tier purveyor of greasy artery clogging food has a gambling machine inside, but none have Pac-Man machines. Waiting for your Big Mac meal? Long queue to get your order? Step up to the machines to pass the time. It's been a long time since I've seen a cinema with a games machine. Can anyone give me one good reason why? I mean fuck, I was sitting in a hospital waiting room a week ago, didn't have my DS with me, and all I could think was how much better this place would be if there was just one little Street Fighter Alpha machine in the corner.

My point is, games are everywhere now. The mainstream everyday consumer is now a much bigger slice of the pie. Game adverts are everywhere. So why aren't video games everywhere? Is it so difficult to get hold of arcade tech? Do businesses really not realise the business potential of a working Virtua Fighter machine? Or is this just me dreaming my little pipe dream, hoping for a world that doesn't exist? And the more I think about it, the more I realise that even if my local cinema had a Galaga machine, would that actually make me go to the movies more, especially when I can turn on my Xbox and have a world of games a handful of button presses away? Would I really actually go to GameStation to buy my games rather than just get them from Amazon for cheaper, just to check out the coin-ops they have on offer.

The death of the arcade is a depressing one, but maybe it shouldn't be. Think of arcades in terms of vinyl or VHS tapes; technology made redundant through new advances. I don't have a longing for any of these things. Sure, you may get a better quality sound from vinyl, but it's a hassle to buy and set up. And I've had a working VCR in my bedroom for five years and I've barely used it. And yet I still long for the arcade experience. I can't be the only one, can I?

Even if the actual Arcade Dream is just that - a dream - I still think my digital arcade dream holds water. I mean, why not? It's already called an arcade. Would it be so much work to make my arcade into, well, an arcade? I think it would bring some extra magic to the experience, a hark back to my childhood memories of Killer Instinct. And I truly believe that I'm not the only one.

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Digital Boobs: An essay on sexuality in games

This is the first of what I hope will be a regular series of essays relating to issues in video games. This was inspired by a recent thread discussing whether or not people think the beast sizes of female characters in video games should be changed.

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Humans; highly evolved beings, the masters of all we survey, capable of feats that were previously thought impossible. But let us not forget that we are still animals, and only relatively recently, from a scientific point of view, did we crawl out of the caves and create the world we know today. One of the most significant differences between humans and animals is that as we have evolved, we have had to rely less and less on survival instincts and have dedicated ourselves more and more to the realms of entertainment. And as ancient man threw dice and indulged in Mahjong and Backgammon, as the Greeks acted out great comedies, we, the modern generation, have our video games.

And as our forms of entertainment continue to evolve, so does the way we perceive them. And in the same way that incredibly profane scenes of sexual content were controversial in Ancient Athens, our most modern of entertainment faces the same controversy. Early games established the foundation - strippers in Duke Nukem, Mai Shiranui's pendulum breasts in Fatal Fury and King of Fighters, Lara Croft's sizeable cleavage - but now we have taken even further, with interactive sexual relationships in Fable and Mass Effect, Ivy's freakish breasts in Soul Calibur IV, and the ever so controversial Japanese game RapeLay.

There is no denying that we live in a sexual society. Over generations people have tried to repress our baser instincts - the Puritans, America's fathers, are a great example, as our the Victorians and the modern Catholic Church - but none can stop sexual themes making their way into mainstream entertainment. And the reason sex in entertainment exists is because people gravitate towards it. Marilyn Monroe, one of cinema's greatest icons, is certainly not well known for her acting talent. Modern equivalents like Megan Fox and Scarlett Johanssen, and music stars like Britney Spears, Katy Perry and the Pussycat Dolls, can be seen as carrying the torch.

So we perhaps we shouldn't be so shocked about sexuality in video games. Nobody blinks at sex scenes in films any more, and very few games feature full frontal nudity, in the same way most movies don't. But still people consider this to be an especially controversial issue, especially in regards to how the characters are proportioned. And there is the key difference between movies and video games; to make a non-animated movie, you need real people to fill the roles. Video games, animated movies and graphic art give us as humans free reign to develop characters as we pleased, and consequently, many female characters in video games do have larger than average breasts.

So allow me to dissect some of the issues I indetify as key in the fabric of this issue.

First off, most female video game characters are tough. Think of Lady Shepard in Mass Effect, Chun-Li from Street Fighter, and countless others. These are not ladies you want to mess with. And now look at real female fighters. Gina Carano. Cyborg. Laila Ali. All three probably have larger than average breasts. It's not a coincidence; when you're built like a fighter, you are proportioned in different ways to the common person, and so larger than average breasts are a common trait. That being said, this still doesn't clear up the issue. Is it taken too far? yes. Is Ivy disguisting? Personally I think so. Is it unrealistic that petit Asian characters like Tifa Lockhart, Kasumi, Pai Chan, Taki and others still have well formed boobs? Probably.

So that brings me to my other issue; the perception that this is an issue that is exclusive to female video game characters. When was the last time we had a male video game character who wasn't ultra muscular? Fighting game characters especially are huge, Chris Redfield from Resident Evil 5 seems to have biceps larger than his head, and have you ever taken your character's shift off in Oblivion? You could be the dweebiest character possible, skilled in mercantile, speechcraft and knitting, but you've still got a six-pack.

Let us not forget that video games are still about hyper-reality, so it's not ridiculous in that sense for men to have freakish muscles and women to have large breasts. In the same way that the Greek plays were full of sex and violence, video games are the same way. They're a pantomime, a circus even. They are not something to be taken especially seriously, with some significant exceptions, but this is a question about the industry at large. Think of the things you can do in video games; explore galaxies, jump dozens of feet in the air while shooting a gun, experience the aftermath of the nuclear apocalypse, and carry swords larger than the character's body. In the scheme of things, is breast size really the most egregious bending of reality in video games?

With all that being said, there is one key question that we all face, as individuals and as a society; do we want this? Some will always answer no. People will always want realistic games rather than hyper realistic games, but from my experience, they are the minority. Sexuality continues to thrive in all forms of entertainment. Think of all the people who only went to see the new Transformers films to leer at Megan Fox. Think of men who like the Pussycat Dolls, despite the fact that they have disgraced humanity and provided some of the worst music in the history of civilisation.

And then there's the issues of the cultural barrier. This forum is mostly Americans and Europeans, and a lot of the issues we are discussing here originate in Japanese character design, with some exceptions such as Lara Croft. That doesn't make our opinion invalid, and we can say what we want from Western designed games, but if the Japanese audience still wants big boobs, and they obviously do, then that makes this issue even more complicated. Japanese game makers obviously went one massive step too far with RapeLay, and I don't think anyone can really defend that game. But Japanese culture has a long, occasionally ugly, established sexual history and identity, and modern Japan is a very sexual society, moreso even than the west. So if we as Westerners want to continue to embrace Japanese culture in the same way that the Japanese have embraced Western culture, we need to acknowledge that sexual hyper realism has and will always be a part of Japanese culture and society. I believe this is partly the consequence of not being a particularly religious country; Japan does have national religion - Shinto and Buddhism - but neither is anywhere near as dogmatic and strict as Christiany, Catholicism, Judaism and Islam.

So now it is time for me to conclude this investigation. I have to announce my own wholly subjective opinion on the matter. I am a young man, I am quite a sexual person, I'm an atheist, I'm in no way a prudish person, I'm a great admirer of Japanese culture, and as far as I'm concerned, sexuality and breast size in video games is no more a controversial matter or stinging point than male muscularity. In fact, some of my favourite games (Fable, Mass Effect, Soulcalibur IV etc) have sexual elements. That's certainly not the only thing I like about them, but I loved being able to seduce a partner in Fable 2, and getting to see my female Shepard character get it on with the pretty blue skinned lady in Mass Effect was pretty awesome. And I have made some fairly slutty Soulcalibur characters in Create-a-Soul.

But my argument throughout this is that this shouldn't be a contentious issue for anyone. There is no moral high ground here. You can not like boobs in video games as a personal matter, but I don't think arguments of sexism, discrimination and objectivication hold a lot of water. I think it is part of being a young medium of entertainment. There was a time when sexual themes in movies and music were greatly frowned upon. Nowadays rap songs with significant allusions to sexual activity consistently chart very highly, and movies with a sexy lead actress or a saucy sex scene do well at the box office. It all comes down to the old truism; sex sells.

The way we perceive video games is changing, which is the be expected for a young medium, but the way we humans perceive entertainment has hardly changed at all from the times of ancient Greeks. Some will always detest controversial elements and condemn those responsible for them, and there will always be people that embrace it and derive great thrills from things that people consider taboo. But they are the extremes; in the middle is the average person. Some people consider video game fans, and nerds in general, to be more sexually repressed and/or more childishly fascinated by sex than others, but I find this to be a fallacy and a great generalisation. We video game fans are no different to anyone else, and almost everyone likes sex.

My final point, and arguably the most important, stems back to the issue of video games as art. Yes, video games can be artistic and make you think. But some of the deepest most artistic pieces ever created have sexual themes. But my major point is that games are entertainment. In fact they are more than that. They are play things, hobbies, distractions. Very few people play video games for any other reason than to have a good time. So why do we still take issues like this so seriously? The fact that I've written this essay means I'm just as guilty as anyone. You can look at games on a deep level - it isn't impossible to do so - but let us never foget throughout all of this what games really are. They are games. Let's keep it that way.

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A Not So Quick Update - Oblivion, Rock Band, DS Love and more

So it's been a while since I've posted. To be honest, not a lot of new stuff's been going on that is worthy of posting. Also, I've been doing more stuff with my Twitter feed, which I guess takes away from blogging because I don't feel like writing things out twice. But I don't want to completely neglect this blog, so here's a quick update.

The skin for my kick drum broke last week, and since I've been without a drum kit for that time the closest thing I could get was spending some more time with Rock Band. I've kinda neglected the game for the past couple of months, for unknown reasons, but I still really like it. It's amazing how close to the actual experience playing drums in Rock Band actually is, and playing guitar is a lot of fun as well. I also enjoyed singing, until my mic broke. It's still not as much fun when playing alone, and I haven't got into any of the online stuff yet, but I'm digging it. And it's helping me forget about my poor broken drum.

My biggest gaming obsession recently, however, has been my return to the glorious world of Cyrodiil, and another playthrough of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. In my last update, when I was a few hours in, I said I was going to try and play the game in a completely different style to ways I've played previously. 75 hours later, and that has held true, to a certain extent. I've fast travelled less, spent more time investing in my magic skills rather than just tanking it with heavy armour and blades, and I decided that I was going to go the whole game without looting armour from dead bandits and marauders. The logic was that while it is perfectly fine to take the fallen shield and weapon from an enemy, no honourable warrior would strip a corpse naked in order to sell their armour. Of course, I make an exception if I find armour that's better than my current armour. It does make the experience a little different; I'm not downing feather potions at every opportunity, still don't own every house in the game and such.

Of course some things have stayed the same, such as my reliance on the skill of alchemy. I still did a fair bit of grinding in order to get my skill up and make better lethal poisons and useful potions. I'm also now master rank in a handful of skills - I got to 100 in alchemy first, then blade, then armoror, and I'm very close to 100 in block as well - and some other skills have been well developed, such as destruction, restoration, heavy armour and light armour. I actually started the game in just light armour, which I'd never done before, but not too long into the game I realised there was a reason I'd never played through relying on light armour - it sucks. So I switched back to the heavy stuff, but still trained up to expert level in light armour.

To be honest I could probably talk about the game for hours, but I won't. What I will say is that according to my last save I've played for 82 hours. I can't think of too many other games which can be so entertaining, engrossing and rewarding over that amount of time. But the most amazing thing about that, is that today I closed my first Oblivion Gate. It took 80 hours for me to even start the main quest. I'm also only halfway through the Thieves Guild quest, have only done a couple of Daedric Shrines, and haven't even touched the Dark Brotherhood or Knights of the Nine quests. I feel bad about neglecting the Dark Brotherhood, because it's probably the best questline in the game. But I guess having done it like 10 times that initial drama and thrill is gone. Regardless, the game is still amazing, and I've sunk a lot of time into it, and I'm still probably just over halfway.

According to my profile at Xbox.com, I have played a few other Xbox games since my last update, but mostly arcade stuff. I played a bit more Geometry Wars 2, and that game is still fantastic. Played some more Uno and Uno Rush, both of which are a lot of fun in completely different ways. I also played a little more FIFA 09, but I think I might be done with that game for a while. It was a blast, but I've played it a lot since I got it in January. A thought crossed my mind yesterday as to whether or not I'd get FIFA 10. It'll probably be worth a rent at least to see how they've upgraded it, but I've found that after spending a lot of time with one game, it takes a while before I can move on just for the sake of updated rosters. I played a ton of Madden 03, then virtually nothing of Madden 04, and then a ton of Madden 05. I guess I just have off-years. Maybe this year I should try and get into Madden 10, so I'll at least have one EA Sports game to enjoy annually.

So I guess the biggest difference between now and last month is that I've started spending a lot more time with my Nintendo DS. I bought it from my sister in November, and barely used it for the first few months. It even went to Egypt with me, and even despite having no other way of playing games, it didn't get used for the entire break. But that's all changed now. I think in the past month I've worn out the battery like 10 times, compared to just once in all previous months.

The DS games I've spent the most time with include Pokemon Pearl. I'm probably about or just over half way, and it's pretty damn cool. I didn't really get into Ruby/Sapphire, but loved the first two games in the series. Pearl is an improvement over the GBA iteration, but perhaps not enough of an upgrade. Sometimes I feel they tried too hard to move the game away from its roots. I couldn't count the number of Pokemon I found along my way that are just cheap new versions of old established Pokemon. Maybe this is just me being an old Poke nerd, waving my Poke stick at the new Pokemon and shouting at them to get off my lawn, but it's certainly not the game I remember. I'd also forgotten just how dumb all the stories in the Pokemon games are; this is perhaps the worst offender yet. That being said, the battle stuff is still fun, the upgrades they made to the contests are pretty cool, especially since they were perhaps my biggest problem with Ruby/Sapphire - they were ass in those games - and it's still just as rewarding to grind up from a useless Level 5 Magikarp to a kickass Level 40 Gyarados.

Other DS games I've played include Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure. My first impressions were phenomenal; the key gameplay mechanic, the story, the game universe and everything presented in the first hour or so of the game is mindblowing awesome. But it has sort of started to run out of steam. Once you get past the first few worlds, the game's charm starts to wear off a bit, and although the gameplay is still fun, the platforming gets a bit frustrating in the later levels. I still really like it, though, and want to play more. I've also been playing a fair bit of Mario Kart DS, which may be the best version of Mario Kart ever. It's not as feature complete as previous games, but it looks really good, plays really well, and does have quite a few cool features. I've won every cup, so I guess I'm pretty much done, but I may play a bit more for kicks. Mario Kart has always had a fundamental balance flaw, but this may be the most balanced version yet. They didn't rewrite the rule book, so it's still Mario Kart (you still gotta bring those blue sparks), but it's really cool to have a handheld version of the game with good graphics, solid controls and a nice variety of features.

I've still got a few DS games I bought when I got my DS, namely Phantom Hourglass, The World Ends With You, Final Fantasy IV and Harvest Moon DS, and I don't know when I'll get to any of them. I've also got Ninjatown on order from Amazon for the low price of £10, and I'd also like to check out Professor Layton and Chrono Trigger at some point. There's not much else right now, as the release schedule is a little thin. There's quite a few games I'd like to rent, like Halo Wars, Resident Evil 5, Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection and Colin McRae's Dirt, but few that I actually feel like laying down some money for. I'm stoked that Tales of Vesperia is finally coming out here in June, and look forward to playing that greatly, especially since it's been so long since I really got absorbed in a good JRPG.

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