Wednesday, 23 May 2012

I love this book: Ready Player One

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Spoiler free..

 This book does not only have an amazing cover but also a genius context. It revolves around a boy (I forgot his name D:) and he lives in this twisted future where due to global warming the worlds in a crappy situation. Everyone is now living most their lives in an online mmo styled game. This game named Oasis appropriately takes control of everything, kids go to school in it, people care more about their Oasis appearence than real life, people just literally live in the Oasis. Now the creator of the Oasis, upon his death sets all his wealth of billion millions on the line as he leaves a message, setting a treasure hunt for clues across the land. The first person to obtain 3 keys by solving clues and beating the many challenges will recieve the treasure. Now the persona in this book tries to finally set a good life for him by taking part in the hunt for the treasure but on his way has the journey of a life time. Now whilst thats interesting enough, don't forget the persona also has his real life and the events that happen in that parallel to the Oasis hunt, are just breath taking.

Being a fan of retro video games and adventure stories, this book really gave me a surprise. Its the alternative reality which is really interesting, I was amazed at every step where I got to learn about the world through small bits in between the narrative. Also the geeky video game side of me was damn pleased, I was nailing video game references at each step and it was just a fun time. If your like me when you see this cover, hear its about an adventure and inspired from an Atari 5200 game where the winner of a treasure hunt gets a real prize, if your like me, you will immediately say "Waterworld, fireworld, earthworld". Remember those games? This book could not be less inspired by them.

"Its as if Indiana Jones had a movie in World of Warcraft with a more interesting story"

One more thing I want to mention is the massive amount of 90's and 80's references. The game uses its premise to seriously set a foundation of references from those old decades. It does this by making the creator of the Oasis a big 80-90's fan and so the treasure hunt can many-a-times use the creators love of the old decades into the treasure hunt. This premise is so well done and was a great idea, I was born in the 90's and even then I adored all the references. Whilst I didn't get all of the movie and TV ones from the older ages, I still liked them and ended up googling some to see how true the book actually was to them. Yes, the book goes a bit beyond references and I will not spoil it so read for yourself :).

The books really intriguing to read as a technology fan because it has things which make us ponder about future technology, example there are gloves and suits you can buy which you use to control your Oasis avatar with. The way the gloves work, the way the suit works and how the technology is so advanced in the world, that a laptop found in a dumpster is strong enough to run Oasis interests me. Being a technology geek I laughed really hard at some moments where over 10Ghz of CPU was looked upon as 'weak'. Further on the technology side and what we can do with greater technology in terms of video games is really shown in some creative ideas which I will not spoil as they are big plot points. I am sure you will be waiting for some of the things in this book to be made in real life.

In conclusion, this is one of my favourite books ever. Right up there with the Harry Potters, Stephen Kings, Darren Shans and whatnot. Its a brilliant little gem which I hope many people read, if your a gamer, retro fan, big tv guy, technology buff, even a simple adventure fan. Do not miss out, this is one adventure you should log into.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

What I played this week

Sly 2 : PS3

This weeks been a weird one, with exams and revision I either end up playing a game accidentally whilst trying to avoid revision, or I play an iPhone game in the library. Sly 2 is what I've really played properly this week, with the HD collection its looking surprisingly good. The thing I always remembered about the Sly games is the mission layout. The way each mission begins with the geeky thief Bentley describing a plan on a projector with scribbles, telling the whole heist and every persons job in it is very funny entertainment. It all comes around in the end because when you finally do the main heist you will remember Bentley's powerpoint-ish presentation and you will have fun with that your doing because you will know where every little piece is going into your master project. Also playing with the three thieves Sly, Murray and Bentley kept the game feeling fresh, especially now when I'm on my second play through which I don't always do for most games.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Retro Friday: Mortal Kombat Movie

MORTAL KOMBAT! *Screams* now that we have that out of the way, lets talk about one of my favourite franchises of all time. Mortal Kombat was a brilliant little game, I remember being 5 and one day there was a game that my mum gave me to make up for me being really ill. I popped the game in and the blood, gore, kick-ass fighting had me addicted. Even though my dad hated the game, I always played Mortal Kombat, stuck to it through good times and bad. Speaking of bad times with MK lets talk about the MK movie.

One day whilst flipping through channels I landed on a very generic looking movie with an asian guy fighting. Being the little kid I was I kept watching and after a few minutes, especially after seeing Sub Zero I realised that it was a freaking MK movie! I loved this movie. It is actually still holding up as one of the best video game movies of all time, which isn't much thanks to Hollywood and its sh*tty takes at our beloved games.

The MK movie came out at the peak of the franchise as Ultimate MK had just come out and everyone was in the craze, or should I say Kraze. The movie had a lot of casting choices, it actually considered Johnny Depp, Tom Kruise and John-Klaud Van Damme (okay I'll stop with the 'K's) for the role of Johnny Cage but actually ended up choosing an unknown actor I don't even want to Google. This movie was also wanted to cast Cameron Diaz for Sonya but she ended up breaking a wrist in martial arts training. Hell, Steven Speilberg was also gonna do a cameo in the movie but had to back out due to some issues. So a lot of weird casting stuff went down for this movie, in the end though this was still a well casted movie, I bet Van Damme wishes he didn't put down this movie to do the Street Fighter movie. Its that cheesy type of acting which worked well for a laugh back then and works well now for some 90's nostalgia fans unlike Van Damme in Street Fighter, okay I'll just focus on MK for now.

The plot of the film is typical MK elder gods nonsense which everyone just nods to because we know what follows the plot, some badass fighting. Scorpion, Sub-zero, Liu Kang, Kano, Sonya, Johnny Cage, Raiden, Shan Tsung and even freaking Goro. This movie had the full on cast and it performed well. I freaking loved this movie as a kid and even like it now due to its cheesy nostalgic value. Its good action if you like MK, don't expect professional Bret Lee action and you'l be satisfied.
The only problem I have with this film is with its age rating, a 13 age rating for MK does no justice. MK needs an 18 rating and that could have made this film so good, especially due to some annoying characters I would have loved to see getting decapitated (fatality). 

The film had success and well, that spawned it a sequel which is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. So never mind the sequel just be happy that in 1995 a movie on Mortal Kombat debuted at #1 in the world on the movie charts. This is a film I actually still recommend for fans of the game and fans of old 90's nostalgia, just keep you expectations low and you will enjoy .... MORTAL KOMBAT!

God dammit I can't get the catchy techno theme out of my head

Friday, 13 April 2012

Retro Fridays: Castlevania

Castlevania, a word that brings so many nostalgic memories, love filled times of whipping horror icons. This is a 'Retro Friday' on the NES classic Castlevania, a game whom launched a whole franchise, which has in some sense fallen from grace from its sprite days.

Castlevania first showed up on the NES in 1987 and for its time, it was the pinnacle of 2D action adventure. Good enough to stand toe to toe with other classics like Megaman, Contra and Metroid, Castlevania was unstoppable. The game centres around character Simon Belmont who must stop Dracula by invading his castle with nothing but a whip (watch out Indiana Jones, you got competition).

Its similar to a horror movie in which the character would be scared and careful whilst going through each corridor in this wretched castle. This horror movie feel is complimented by the graphics, the gothic art of the castle, all the use of the horror iconic enemies (Frankenstein, mummies) and the music. Music is a key element of Castlevania, its one of the only soundtracks I listen to in my own time. This completes the horror movie feel and adds an extra eerie-ness to the game. If I ever had to make a comparison, I would compare this to Bram Stokers Dracula with a mix of every Hammer horror film from the classic era of horror. 

One difference always present in early Castlevania games is the fact that Simon is a bit of a crap fighter. He is no Megaman, no Samus, hell even Mario could kick Simon's as* if he wasn't careful. This is all due to his controls, he has a slow walk, he can only whip in one direction and when he jumps, you cannot control him in mid air. Also one more beautiful flaw to add to Simon is his reaction to attacks, when attacked he jumps backwards and you cannot control it. Many a times you will fall into pits and die, recoiling from a hit. Hell he can't even swim so every bit of water in the game should also be treated like a pit. Why is Simon a badas* video game character then? Why is he fun to control? Why is this game fun? It comes down to strategy. Konami nailed the strategy in this game, whilst games like Contra have shown fast paced action with its quick controls, Castlevania is a 2D action adventure game where slow thought out strategy helps more. When faced with enemies, your forced into thinking about their patterns and choosing how to attack them. This handicap on Simon works great with the carefully placed weapons in the game. Using the weapons such as daggers, crosses and holy water, you use strategy to attack enemies, you use strategy to go across areas and you use strategy on bosses. This slow thought-out action really builds the atmosphere in Castlevania and going back to the horror feel, slow though out action adds an eerie feel to the game, building atmosphere.

Castlevania music I recommend: Vampire Killer, Bloody Tears, Simon's Theme

Castlevania is filled with replay value, each series has hidden pork chops you can find in locations for health, the hearts which you use to attack can be found in candles which you can find and the location of special weapons can be memorised as you replay this gem. Each replay can be as fun as the first, this is a brilliant game and is one I sitll play today.

In the end, its a truly remarkable title, one which became the flagship series for Konami before Metal Gear and the polygon days. Castlevania is one I will always hold close in my heart, I recommend it to everyone. It can be found on Ebay, amazon, the wii virtual console and please don't think twice.. Just try it :)

Try out the other Retro Fridays:

Gameboy :

Gameboy Advance :

Friday, 23 March 2012

Retro Friday: The Gameboy Advance

The 21st century was not very kind to Nintendo, consoles such as the Playstation 2 and Xbox tried taking their thunder and to some extent took a lot. One thing Nintendo has still reigned king in however, are portable consoles and boy did the Gameboy Advance solidify that for Nintendo.

When a company released a portable back in the 90's - 2000's they always tried making a portable console which could replicate what the home consoles could do. This allowed heavy graphics and 3D environments on small displays but resulted in worse games as the gameplay almost felt like an afterthought. Most of the times the games just felt clunky and unnecessary on the devices, feeling crammed onto a smaller device. Whilst people at first ran to stores, buying their N-Gage's and looking at games like Tomb Raider on their portables, they soon noticed the crappy controls and realised that they could be playing a brilliant Tomb Raider game on their home consoles. This thought quickly travelled across people and took away any identity the other portables had, who remembers the flagship games on an N-Gage? Oh wait thats because most games on the N-Gage were either terrible or were poor ports of Playstation games. Nintendo had direction with the GBA they knew what type of games they wanted on the console and this helped them triumph. The GBA had its own identity seperate to the home consoles because it had its own unique games. Even though a lot of the time people looked at the GBA to get some nostalgic 2D sprite action, the GBA had its own library of games which oddly enough wouldn't have worked out on home consoles due to their intricate game design. Fit for short bursts, bright colours and satisfaction in minutes. The GBA has one of the best library of video games ever made. Also mentioning that the GBA was backwards compatible with the original Gameboy games only made the deal sweeter.

Going back to the point about direction, when the GBA launched, Nintendo wasn't messing around with its specs. The GBA boasted 32 bits, full colour with a battery life of over 14 hours, something I wish Nintendo would still do (3DS anyone). Nintendo knew what games they wanted on their systems, they knew that everything they had learnt from the NES and SNES era was to be translated into the GBA since the home consoles were not going to be using those games anymore. Nintendo knew that as Mario had to become 64 on their home console, their portable could still enjoy the 2D sprite fun of Super Mario World. This created a 'win win' situation because fans got both types of games and Nintendo was able to have more games to create. Everything learnt from the bit days was now coming back, Castlevania, Mario, Pokemon and so much more. This was the perfect time to be a fan of Nintendo, both the joys from the past and new ones from the future were present at once. Whenever games on the newly introduced 3D systems got too clunky all we had to do was turn the little beast on to play some Zelda!

Over time the GBA had an update to its hardware. People were tired of the lack of a front light, dark screen and overall clunky design. It was 2003 man and everyone was singing 'Seven Nation Army' while skateboarding down town. They didn't want a clunky piece of unattractive hardware sticking out their pockets. They complained and Nintendo listened, adapting to a laptop-like flip design, the Gameboy Advance SP was made.

"My favourite portable console to date"

This design was perfect, the GBA SP fits into your pocket perfectly, had a front lit screen giving a fine view on whatever your playing, fit well into your hands and had easy button accessibility. This was it, the Gameboy craze was back in black with the SP and carried till the DS. This console has perfect design, you really need to play it in order to feel how perfect it is.

Since I keep mentioning the series every time I look at retro games, Next week we will look at the NES & SNES days of Castlevania!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Retro Friday: Gameboy

Nintendo Gameboy.jpg
The Gameboy, a word holding nostalgic power for over a hundred million people. One of the most beloved pieces of electronic entertainment with a library of over a thousand brilliant games is one you are probably familiary with. If not, A brief history lesson is due so lets go back in the past to the glory days of 1989.

Imagine its the late 1980's and portable gaming consoles come out with one game installed into them. That game is the only game you can play and cartridges for those portable machines don't exist. Your stuck, your bored of the same dull game, not offering 8bit graphics like the impressive NES. Suddenly Nintendo shows a new console with 8Bit graphics, games like Mario, Pacman, Tetris and you do not need to buy different portable machines per game. This was a dream come true. The Gameboy blew up the portable gaming market with a thunderstorm. Most Gameboys being packaged with a copy of Tetris literally made children chew their finger nails off. Even adults on the train rides to work could not resist the strategic block twister Tetris was. Soon everyone started packing a Gameboy into their life, it was like the packed lunch you would take to primary school only difference being, this was one package everyone wanted a bite off.


Although now people look at new devices and ask for all sorts of features, in 1989 that D pad and 6 buttons were all you needed. Look at the PS Vita that just came out in 2012, it has a directional pad, 6 buttons, two analogue sticks, touch screen, back touch pad and a motion sensor. Seriously people these days don't know how much they are getting in their devices compared to a couple decades back. Now the Gameboys controls do not hold it back, as the game designing legend miyamoto once explained "all you need are two simple things happening at once and you will have a challenge" the Gameboys games were some of the most engrossing adventures which could make you miss your bus stop if you weren't careful.

The GB at this point with its "hip" nickname had racked millions of sales breaking Nintendo's early predictions and had become the most demanded portable ever. Every new addition to the Gameboy family such as the Gameboy Colour were all welcome and were embraced by the same amount of popularity. Easily eliminating competition. Kids around the globe were dreaming the next new game which could have been announced for the system. The GB opened up a massive well of portable revenue and companies saw that, soon SEGA and ATARI were on Nintendo's back with their own portable consoles. Whilst the other companies had created stronger machines in hopes of taking down the GB, there was one reason why this portable beat all the rest... Metroid, Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Doctor Mario, Donkey Kong, Excite Bike and finally Pokemon. The GB's library of games was far superior to anyone else's out there and none could argue otherwise.

My personal childhood love was Pokemon, it is still one of my favourite games ever made and is not only loved by me because Pokemon Red/Blue are considered one of the highest selling RPG's of all time. They brought something special to the GB which other systems had hit upon but not fully started, the sociability. The Pokemon games made the link cable for the GB a must have as they allowed people to trade Pokemon, kids without the cable were unable to obtain all 150 Pokemon and so everyone I knew had already dragged their parents to the store to get one. The Pokemon slogan should have been, Gotta Catch Em' All? £14.99 please! All jokes aside, the cable was a great idea and was one of the better two player ideas of the 1990's, making boring classes and train rides a blast. Games like these really help in breaking the 'basement dweller' stereo type on gamers and so more power to Pokemon for that.

By the end of the 20th century, Nintendo had reigned supreme with the GB. A true masterpiece in video gaming history. People who had grown up with the system now were older, desired more than those 8Bit blocks from Nintendo. Even the 'Bit' era was now over on the home consoles as all the companies were now raging with their polygon machines, leaving nothing for the sprite lovers. But as the 21st century dawned and gamers started parting with their Gameboy memories did Nintendo bring out the next step, the next invention which would bring us all back to our first loves.. The Gameboy Advance.

Next Week we will look into the GBA and my personal favourite portable console of all time. the GameBoy Advance SP.

If you want a Gameboy, check em' out on Ebay as they are quite cheap and still offer a great time. However, be warned, you will need to buy some rechargeable batteries for these battery sucking beasts.

Controversy is present here as the Microvision is technically the first interchangeable cartridge system but it was not well designed and supported, meeting its death only two years after launch. It was only the Gameboy which made the portable market what it is and so that is why I am considering it as the first main portable interchangeable gaming machine.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Rayman Origins Review

Sonic and Mario need to watch out because Rayman is back!

Lets begin with the first thing you notice when you open the game, the graphics. Rayman boasts hand drawn graphics with a very unique art style which is the best I have ever seen in a platformer. Without hesitation I can call Rayman the best looking platformer I have ever played and many times it will make you freeze, staring at the screen. The vibrant colours feel as if they are coming out of your tv, especially on the later levels with the fast paced chases will you marvel at the colour palettes used in the game. 

The amount of creativity in RO will overwhelm you, as you play this beauty prepare to see weird things such as giant toothpaste packets which shoot fire at stoves to cook thunderstorms, can't visualise that? I couldn't either till I saw it and used it in the game to progress. What I truly love about RO is how diverse each world is, everytime you enter a new world in RO you will feel a massive difference from the previous world as everything in the environment drastically changes. This change is not only pleasant to the eyes but is also a pleasure to play as each world has different types of plat-forming challenges, example, in the grassy world you will come across a lot of hillside jumps, water slides avoiding spikes but in the gourmand world you will be jumping on cheese, avoiding flaming toothpaste and jumping on top of sausages to avoid the deathly forks. Yes the change is extremely polar opposite.

A game is nothing without its controls and that's fortunate for RO as its controls hold much fluidity. Similar to the general plat-former you will be running and jumping but thats not it. In RO you will gain new powers as you traverse the worlds, the powers will make the game feel fresh as you will not be getting bored of doing the same thing over and over again. Other than the platforming levels RO almost boasts 2D shooting and flying levels which are  Not many paltformers can make an enjoyable 2-4 player experience without becoming too chaotic and headache inducing, however don't be worried as RO runs well with 4 players playing together and can surely conjure some laughter. One gripe and my only gripe with RO is the lack of online multiplayer as the game is fully offline and I believe that it is one area where Ubisoft could have lost potential.

The music is very important for a game, from Skyrim's orchestral soundtrack which pits you into a fantasy world to Mario's upbeat music which you will be humming years down the line, a gamer will always appreciate the music in the game. RO not only has some of the weirdest music I have ever heard in a game but it also has some of the most funny, catchy and cute music I have ever heard. The soundtrack knows how to put a smile on your face, the ukulele is nicely played, the random singing in a made up language never gets old and the chef's singing in the gourmand levels will be the newest melody you will be singing in the shower.

RO is roughly 6-7 hours long if you rush through it and although it may seem short, trust me, this is a game which will encourage you to do all the extra challenges, speed trophies and what nots. Where games like Uncharted 3 and Sonic generations could not grab my attention into doing their 'extras' for trophies, I'm sure ill be going back to RO soon. With extra challenges, levels which you unlock through collecting all the little plectoons and speed trophies, you can easily spend around 15+ hours in RO.

After playing Rayman Origins and completing it, I was in the middle of writing this review. However due to a couple complications I was unable to write this review for a week in which time I completed both Super Mario Bros 3 and Sonic generations. After completing them when I came back to the review for Rayman, I realised how amazing this game is, it has the diversity in controls sonic would die for and the graphics mario would salivate over. Rayman Origins is head and shoulders with its competition and in some cases is even better than the platformers out there, I'm speaking of you Sonic. This is a masterpiece in game design, art style and fun factor. I recommend it to everyone out there form 6 year old kids to 60 year old crack addicts, ofcourse don't put a kid and a crack addict in the same room. I give Rayman Origins a 9.5 out of 10.