More Zojirushis

As if one wasn't bad enough, my enjoyment of my black (well, grey-black) Zojirushi mug got me to order another for my girlfriend. And my daughter. And I even ordered one for my mom and had it gifted to her across the province. I would have ordered one for my dad but the black ones were all out of stock.  One thing I find interesting is that the white one seems to have an extra coat or two of finish - it has an auto-like metallic paint and what appears to be clear coat on top of that. The pink and black ones do not.
The rest of them are probably out of stock at this point too. No doubt Amazon.ca can thank Giant Bomb for singlehandedly empying their Zojirushi stock. 

  

Amusingly, the pink model (350ml instead of 500ml) has a smaller opening inside, making it perfect for my daughter. You know, whenever she can drink properly from something like this (she's 14 months old). 

I also ordered a Zojirushi rice cooker as well, as I currently just have a cheap on/off model that burns a thin crust on the bottom of a batch of white rice and cooks brown rice incorrectly. I've also gotten hooked on steel cut oats, and having a device that can automatically have proper oatmeal ready in the mornings sounds too good to be true, as the 30-40 minute stovetop method is completely out of the question except on weekends. And again, Amazon.ca is now completely out of stock, with only an overpriced seller left hawking them.
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Got my Zojirushi


It's weird how much certain things from Giant Bomb stick in my head.

But when you're in the market for a travel mug it's twice as bad, because they're on the brain anyway and it doesn't take much for a mention of Zojirushi to follow you around everywhere. It also doesn't help that the vast majority of mugs available at retail (be it large store or small coffee shop) are utter garbage. The one I've got now isn't bad, really, but the finish is starting to flake and it looks hideous.

It also bleeds heat like crazy, which is something common across most mugs, even if they're double-walled stainless steel and even if the top seals okay.

 Oddly enough, the half liter Zojirushi mugs are (or were) cheaper on Amazon.ca than they were on Amazon.com, which almost never happens. And it was an easy buy, as $20 is about what I'd pay for a decent looking Starbucks mug, or even something from Costco or a housewares store or whatever. And I was up for trying something new. 

I'm not entirely sold on the flip-top, but it's functional enough. Unfortunately, it looks like it would be a bitch to clean if you ever left the mug at work and had coffee with cream get up inside the lid, as it's full of dips and valleys and folds and stuff.

 The benefit of all that is that it keeps shit hot. I poured boiling water in it immediately after taking it out of the box (the instructions and box are all in Japanese, which is fine because it's a travel mug and doesn't require anything other than common sense). Four hours later, I popped the top and poured it into a mug, because I had a feeling it would still be goddamn hot. 

It was steaming and not significantly cooler than when it was poured boiling out of my kettle. 

So the good, I guess, is that it doesn't let much heat out - the outside of the mug also remains cool to the touch, which is something none of my previous mugs could pull off. Pour hot coffee in them and you had to use the handle to hang onto it as the steel would hot enough to brand your palms. The downside is that I'm going to have to remember to leave the lid off once in a while so that it can actually cool down to a drinkable temperature, as the deceptively cool exterior means that it would be really easy to burn your mouth.

I guess that's why the instructions have a drawing of a crazy little dude burning the hell out of his mouth with scalding liquid.

 

(edit - I have no idea why my paragraph breaks are so huge)

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Nier - Not nearly as bad as reviews would suggest


EB Games offered up Nier in early December for $10 - an unpublicized and nearly unknown sale, oddly enough. The first location I went to was full of employees full of blank stares who typed the game into their system (initially insisting it was spelled NEIR) only to be confronted with a $30 price tag. 
 
So I went to the location closer to my apartment where I know the manager, and he got the same $30 total. Turned out all he had to do was ring the copy through and it got knocked down to $10. So ultimately my distaste of EB Games employees was renewed, as well as the baffling decision to have a sale and not announce it anywhere but an obscure source online who distributes it across Canada. 
 
Anyway, the game. 
 
It opens in a terrible, terrible way - a rather bland looking snowed in urban environment with a guy and his daughter. After some intolerably long cutscenes where very little happens, you're thrust into button mashy (really mashing buttons - X and X alone) combat against rip-offs of Ico's enemies, over and over and over again for a good five or ten minutes until a boss creature/shadow/whatever plops down and you lay into him until his lifebar disappears. 
 
Then you are transported years into the future and end up in a generic fantasy looking town as the titular character (well, the manual never really says and I named him Ash because I like Evil Dead and he looks almost dead) and his infected daughter. I'm about halfway through the game, so I've managed to nab all of the scrolls needed to restore her...though I don't know if the game will actually turn out that way somehow. 
 
The story is sort of secondary, as it's not particularly interesting. The characters, on the other hand, are. The main character and Grimoire Weiss have some nice exchanges that are both written well and well acted. There's a female character that pops up that's not too bad either, although I think it's due more to them leaving her past a bit of a mystery. 
 
Nier plays out like a cheap God of War clone, more or less, but takes place in an open world divided into zones and collectables (both 'hidden' via twinkling markers and by scavenging animal corpses) so it feels like a weird blend of action game and single-player MMORPG. It's also graphically kind of barren, but still manages a weird sort of charm. Combat is handled by attacking or dodging and you eventually unlock magic spells that let you shoot out magic missles (used occasionally in the game as a dual-stick shooter, which is both awkward and awesome) or fire magic lances or what have you. 
 
A lot of townspeople offer you sidequests, which are all collectathons (get me 10 muttons from killing sheep!) or courier missions, be it items or messages. One neat (and annoying) twist on the courier mission is that some of the items you have to carry are fragile - so no rolling to dodge enemy attacks on route, no getting hit by enemies, and don't jump around like a jackrabbit. Fail to do any of those things and you're heading back to grab a new item to cart off to the recipient. 
 
The weird thing is that despite the generic nature of the game, I'm quite enjoying it. The fishing is typical JRPG bad, but is still kind of fun once you get the hang of it. The graphics have a certain charm. The voice acting is mostly restricted to the main characters, but it's pretty fantastic so far. The combat is serviceable and not particularly difficult. The boss battles are pretty epic in scope and have all been quite fun and a nice change of pace from whacking normal enemies. 
 
And the music. Dear god, the music. It's almost bizarrely unfitting, because it's of a level of quality unlike Nier itself. The majority of the songs have vocals (some with too much vocal focus, like the Aerie music that becomes grating), and most of it works extremely well. I think the music is what plays the largest part in making the game less of a slog than it actually is. 
 
And who knows, maybe the second half is better than the first. I'm just not looking forward to the required three playthroughs in order to experience the entire 'story.'
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P3 PSP, or, Please Atlus have more of my money


I got Persona 3 shortly after launch due to a bit of trading with the brilliant Mr Supina, as the game was exceedingly hard to find in my area. I played up until the arrival of Fuuka and stopped shortly thereafter thanks to her character and voice and other games at the time. 
 
I preordered and picked up Persona 3 FES on launch, too, because I did enjoy what I had played of the original game and wanted/needed an excuse to pick it up again. Why not get the definitive version? So I did, and I played maybe 8 hours of it before getting distracted by something else. I've since tried to play it again, but unfortunately that playthrough happened after I had finished Persona 4, which made the inability to control my party members intolerable. 
 
Now we've got the PSP version of Persona 3 coming out, and sure enough, I've preordered that as well (not for the silly hat, just because I want the game). Again, I figure that having a fresh copy with new material (and wonderfully streamlined non-Tartarus stuff, which sounds nice) will give me an incentive to play through it again. I want to finish it, I know it's a good game but something just keeps me from it. 
 
If my previous purchases are any indication, of course, I probably won't finish it. But having a portable version that I can just pick up and play whenever is appealing, as is being able to experience the game with a slight twist by playing a female character. Then again, since I haven't even finished it once maybe I should stick with a male protagonist, but the chances of me finishing it twice are even more slim.
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New setup pics


In preparation of the upcoming baby I've been spending more time gaming (because I know my time for that will disappear in two month) and spending time rearranging my already small apartment so we can fit stuff in. One thing that had to shift was my computer desk, to make room for additional shelves to house diapers and bottles and other assorted odds and ends. 
 
So while the main wall in the living room is now more cluttered than it was before, it allowed me to do some good things - one, my PC is now close enough to the TV to connect a permanent HDMI cable for big-screen viewing, whether we're talking iTunes rentals or proper Youtube (not the Wii or PS3 approximations) or games. I also have a wireless receiver so I can use my 360 controllers and wheel, making gaming on the couch with my PC functionally identical to the 360. 
 
Needless to say, I won't be buying any more PC/360 multiplatform games on the 360 unless they have issues on the PC. 


My messy living room - TV, my PC, and my girlfriend's (newish) HDTV/PC.    
   The only issue with the location of everything is that there's nowhere to put my rear speakers for proper surround. Not that big a deal, though, given that living in an apartment means the volume is always low. It might also be part of the reason why the speaker's amp is still working after 10 years of use where most people's have failed. And I'm glad - I love the speakers. 

DSi, modest (21.5") monitor, my bargain bin accessories (G15, G5) and $500 PC.

$500 got you a surprising amount of PC last April. 

Best PC purchase I've ever made - and the longest lasting one, by far. 

A rack would be nice, but cooling isn't a huge issue. And yes, I know that's an HD-DVD player. 

$30 well spent, letting me use an HD cable box, HD-DVD player, PS3, 360, PC, and camcorder on a TV with only two HDMI inputs. 

Piggybacked Revo to replace my old laptop with a dead videocard.
I'm looking forward to getting a larger place at some point as well as some more appropriate furniture, but that'll have to wait until the job market picks up and the initial baby costs stop. I also need a new mattress, and $800 takes a big chunk out of my (already little) gaming budget. 
 
What's surprised me the most is how easy it is to keep costs down, by buying older games, sale games, midrange PC parts on sale, and seemingly small things like cables have been solved by Monoprice, which is a godsend given how many HDMI and other cables I've needed to set everything up properly. I also have a small NAS on the other side of the apartment sporting 2TB for backing up both PCs, as I've lost data before and it's by far my biggest worry (especially with the forthcoming rush of baby photos/videos). 
 
But yeah, a bigger place would solve most of the clutter issues. Still, it's functional, and cozy.
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Dragon Age on the PC is a world of difference


I picked up Dragon Age: Origins on the PS3 shortly after it released, thanks to a bizarre (but welcome) EA sale here in Canada that put the game at $40, down $30 from the original retail price. While I'm sure everyone who bought it immediately at release was pissed beyond believe, I was a bit happier. 
 
And I loved the game. I'm still working my way through my second playthrough as an evil mage, and none of the supposed issues really bothered me. 
 
Then my cousin gifted me a copy of the PC version on Steam last week.  
 
Grappled

 
Holy shit. 
 
I don't have a cutting edge PC by any stretch of the imagination, but at the same token I suppose it couldn't be called pathetically slow (X2-7750, 4GB memory, Radeon 4830). Miraculously, it runs Dragon Age at 1920x1080 with everything but AA maxed and pulls over 30fps, which is plenty smooth for the kind of game it is. It's also smoother than the 360 version and (far) smoother than the PS3 version. It looks about ten times better than both, too, which is sort of mind boggling. The load times are far quicker, too, and the save times are MASSIVELY better. The PS3 version takes up to 20 seconds to save, although to its credit at least it pops you back into the game to move around while it finishes the same (with an even further reduced framerate).
 
And then come the interface tweaks. The game can be played like the console version, in a way, but I love the ability to pull back to an Infinity-engine style camera, pause with the spacebar, and issue orders that way. Yes, the command wheel is functional enough and probably the only way you could dig through to so many commands without having a keyboard. But after playing the PC version it goes from functional to clunky as hell. Issuing simple orders, like instructing your entire party to attack a single enemy, requires a few buttons presses on the console version and some arbitrary swooshing of the stick. On the PC version you just click and drag over your party and then right-click on the enemy. 
 
It's no wonder they decided to cut the difficulty on the console versions, as it's a lot harder (or just more awkward) to micromanage your party, and I'd be the first to admit that most of the time I just ran my main guy around instructing him to bash in the nearest enemy skull, and to hell with the rest of my party. If they helped, great, if they died, I'd just mop up the rest. 
 
It also brings to light a bizarre thing I noticed with the console versions - the teeth texture is awfully low res, causing anyone talking to look like they've had their teeth melded together or that they're wearing a mouthguard. It still looks a bit odd on the PC, but it's one of the textures that benefits the most. You can also tell that Morrigans 'beads' are actually a texture, though I'm still not sure if that's supposed to mean they're a tattoo rather than a lazy attempt to make it look like a necklace without rendering polygons. 
 
My only complaint with the PC version is that it's integrated horribly with Steam. Steam achievements would be nice, and the method of linking your EA account to your DLC is a pain in the ass. It was a pain in the ass on the PS3 too, to be fair (and you had to enter two codes instead of one), but at least the PS3 copy never bitched about me not being signed in and locking my DLC out because of it.
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The horror of the iPhone (MMO)RPG

There's a lot of great stuff in the iPhone/iPod Touch App Store, don't get me wrong. There's also a lot of crap. And until Apple does something to solve the process of wading through garbage to find gems, it's going to be painful for us all.

The worst offender would be the RPG section of the app store - it's an embarassment.

I'm not sure if Mafia Wars was the first game of its type on Myspace, or if it just aped something that came out years earlier as a MUD of some sort, but it's a simple, almost entirely text-based MMORPG where you complete jobs that take endurance points (they regenerate slowly in real time) to earn experience and money. You use that to buy better equipment, join up with other mobsters, and do it over and over again while periodically attacking other mobsters. Why? Who knows, but it's there.

That's fine and all, but the genre has exploded more than tower defense games, and I'd argue that it's worse because games in the vein of Mafia Wars are boring as shit. Plus, each and every one of them offers tiers of points for real cash ($10 to $50) that are used to buy henchmen to help you attack others with greater power. Christ.

A quick peek at the Top Free tab in the RPG section returns these:

iMob (25 points)
iMobsters (60 points)
Epic Pet Wars
Racing Live
Epic Pet Wars (10 points)
Mafia Wars (20 points)
Kingdoms Live
Vampire
Vampires Live
Mafia Wars
iMobsters
Undead LIVE!
Girl Wars
Mafia LIVE!
Famous
Agency Wars
Race Wars
iVampires

There are five other games on the list that aren't Mafia Wars clones (none in the top ten) - all the ones I've listed above are the same fucking game with different window dressing.

It's depressing. And what's more depressing is that the Top Paid section looks very similar, only with the larger paid point packs for these BBS-lite MMORPGs. I know the iPhone is starved for a good RPG, but this doesn't strike me as the solution.

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Black Currant Buzz Review


I'm not sure what drinks are going to be on this week's podcast so this might be a completely preemptive review.

I felt a bit odd sending a drink to the Giant Bomb crew without having tried it myself, so I'm sampling one at the moment, possibly at exactly the same time Ryan is pouring out the second for Jeff and Vinny and a reluctant Brad.

Black currants aren't a terribly popular fruit here in North America - they're much bigger in Europe, where the berries grow well in cold temperatures and make decent jams and jellies, and I think they're also used for syrup. If I recall my agricultural history their disuse here resulted from a ban over the currant plants carrying fungus or something of that nature. Maybe it was a pest or disease, I'm not quite sure.

They are grown now, however, and here in BC there are a few dozen tonnes produced every year. It's not much compared to the more popular berries (like blueberries), but still more than ten years ago.

If no one has had currants before, they're very much like wild blueberries - a little more tart than the commercial varieties and a more complex flavour. In many ways they taste like Saskatoon berries, which, coincidentally, is also another flavour of Beaver Buzz. Arguably the best flavour of Buzz, for that matter.

Anyway, to this Black Currant Energy.

It pours with no fizz and lacks much of the carbonation of the more popular energy drinks. It's a very, very dark purple colour and almost looks black unless you hold it up to the light. It also smells suspiciously like grape Mr. Freezies.

Kind of tastes like them, too. You can tell it's sugar and not corn syrup, and the currants (or fake currant flavouring, although I think it's the real stuff) give it a nice tangy edge. I kind of wish for more carbonation and less sugar, but it's not bad. I don't think I could drink an entire one, however...the colour is just a tiny bit too frightening.

Actually, I'm not getting any energy drink aftertaste, which is nice. Maybe that's the nicest think I can say about it.

The Saskatoon Berry one is better. The Green Tea? It's been ages since I've had one, but I remember it tasting like canned iced tea with a bit of an edge to it. If anything will get Brad in the game it's that one. And oddly enough, the only other energy drink I've seen with a black currant flavour is Bomba, which they taste tested on last week's podcast.

edit - after letting the dregs of my glass warm slowly up to room temperature I'm going to have to revise my description of the smell. It smells like a homemade red wine that hasn't quite aged long enough in the bottle - sweet and tangy but just a bit too green. I'm going to guess this thing mixes well with alcohol, too, although  I don't want to try that myself.
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Ultimate Sega Genesis Mini-reviews

There are games in Sonic's Ultimate Genesis Collection that I've never played before. All of them surprised me - some in a good way, most not so much. I'll even ignore the horrible, horrible title of the compilation itself.

Beyond Oasis

I played long enough to get the achievement, which isn't very long in terms of time (maybe 15 minutes) but long enough to assess the game. It's like someone took Zelda and Aladdin and Streets of Rage and put them in a blender. The game plays out suspiciously like Zelda, has a vague arabian theme and a main dude who wears Aladdin-esque baggy pants, and the combat is more beat-em-up than the Zelda-like poke enemies until they die. It's weird.

It's also kind of crap. Movement is wonky and the main character's animation is terrible. He doesn't walk - he saunters. He crabwalks when you hold the jump button, which looks ridiculous. His legs are obviously not attached to the rest of his body (in an Abuse sort of way) which is just plain creepy. And finally, as a Zelda rip-off it falls short. Now that I have the achievement do I want to play more? No thanks.

Decap-Attack

This one was in the previous collection, I think, but I didn't have any urge to play it because it looked stupid.

It is stupid.

You play a mummy with no head, but wait! Your head is in your chest and you can pop it out to attack dudes. You can also pick up a fake head that launches when you attack whether you  want it to or not. You can also jump, and tapping the jump button while falling causes you to flutter your feet like Luigi and float down. Why? I have no idea. Jumping after building up momentum causes you to jump higher, which you'll need to reach higher platforms.

Unfortunately, as weird as the main guy is, the levels are terrible. They're ugly, boring, and are terribly designed. Pillars you can walk behind look the same as impassable walls. Some ledges blend in with the background. Statues sometimes pop enemies out, which get an auto hit on your. Health is hard to come by. Potions are useless.

Next.

Kid Chameleon

Also in the last collection. Also skipped it before. Also played it now only because of an achievement. Like Decap-Attack, the levels are terrible and uninspired. Unlike Decap-Attack, the main character is boring as hell. This game sucks.

Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle (or is that IN the Enchanted Castle?)

Yuck. Okay, I got 1000 yen. I never have to play it again. THANK GOD.

E-SWAT

Generic shooter. And I mean generic. You walk around, jump, shoot bad guys who look like you, only palette swapped, and move around some really ugly levels. Also, whoever designed the second level is a dick - it's terrible. Did all these companies hire the same asshole to design levels for all of these Sega games? The levels suck. Anyway, after the second level you get a big suit of armor that looks kind of ridiculous, but nothing else really changes except your bullets get bigger and more numerous. I don't know if anything magical happens later on because I'm never going to play any more.

Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine

Dr. Robotnik is an asshole - I swear he cheats when I play against him. Barring that, I absolutely hate falling block puzzle games. The only thing I hate more are competitive falling block puzzle games, because they mix two horrible things (puzzle games and frustration) and combine them into one black hole of gaming.

Also, I hate Columns. Maybe it was cool in its day. Maybe. Either way, it sucks now.

Golden Axe(s)

I've played these before and I don't really like playing them gain (damn achivements). They're some of the most generic brawlers I've ever played and the controls aren't even  all that satisfying. About the only memorable thing they have going for them are the stupid gnomes that run around begging to be beaten for magic potions and the lame digitized screams of the fallen enemies.

With all three Streets of Rage games in the collection, I see no reason why I will ever touch Golden Axe again. And I'm mystified as to their popularity, especially in the light of the recent Golden Axe release on the PS3 and 360. Yes, it's terrible, but what did people expect? The old games were terrible too.

Fatal Labyrinth

Okay, I'm weird, I liked this one. It's basically just Rogue with prettier graphics. There's not much to it, but there's also not much like this on consoles either. Too easy,  though - I never came close to dying and there are far too many weapons lying around the dungeons.

Bonanza Brothers

This one is terrible but I loved smashing cops behind doors. You can game the achievement by doing so. Also, the graphical style is amusing...it's like Leisure Suit Larry meets Spy vs. Spy.

Phantasy Star/Phantasy Star II/Phantasy Star III

Time is a cruel mistress.


Most of the other stuff is pretty damn awesome, though. All the Sonics, the Eccos, the Streets of Rages (except the first, which is ridiculously slow), Phantasy Star IV, Ristar, etc.

Well, except for Gain Ground. Ugh.

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Fuck you, Puzzle Quest

Excerpt from the iTunes App store for Puzzle Quest Chapter 1:

"The Battle of Gruulkar is the first chapter in the trilogy of the Puzzle Quest Challenge of the Warlords for iPhone and iPod Touch. Each chapter offers you the unique ability to store characters, spells and high scores, allowing you to carry your characters forward to Chapters 2 and 3, coming soon to the App Store."

Puzzle Quest on iPhone? Awesome. Puzzle Quest on iPhone split into three $10 chunks to take advantage of consumers?

Fuck you, Transgaming.

Rolando is ten bucks. Sim City is ten bucks. Puzzle Quest should be ten bucks.

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