Tag - PS3

EA Sports Active 2 and Exergaming in general

EA Sports Active 2

EA Sports Active 2

I really wanted to write a scathing post about how I bought EA Sports Active 2 and that while conceptually the game is leaps and bounds ahead of the original, it just doesn’t work half the time. The thing is, when I did my weekly weigh in on Wii Fit Plus, I was down 4 pounds, finally hitting my BMI goal for the first time in the three years I’ve owned Wii Fit and only 1 pound away from my personal goal of weighing 160 pounds.

It’s kind of hard to write about something being a not so hot product when you see results from it anyway. Sure, a seemingly endless amount of yard work over the weekend coupled with my daily routine of lifting up my two 20 pound human weights every five seconds (my twin girls) and healthier eating choices helped reach this goal, but Active 2 gave me JUST the right amount of push to trim off those final few pounds.

I really like the idea of Exergaming, the gaming and exercising mash up that was introduced in the 80s but never really capitalized on until Nintendo blew minds with Wii Fit. While I’ve mainly stuck with just Wii Fit and Wii Fit Plus along with EA Active 1 and 2 (why bother with the others?) they still aren’t perfect as far as I’m concerned. EA Active 2 (which I’m playing on PS3 BTW) is pretty darn close to being perfect. On the first EA Active I was getting nothing out of using the tension band and decided to switch to weights. The trouble is that it’s impossible to do those exercises while holding a Wii remote AND weights, so what I’d do is the set of reps and then tell the game to skip the exercise and move onto the next one. I wasn’t getting any credit for my work with those exercises, but I knew I was doing them and at the time that’s what mattered.

EA Sport Active 2 goes completely hands free so I could finally use weights and get credit for my work. Well, in theory anyway. The fact is, the sensors that are included to attach to your body work like shit. They mostly get the job done, but I’d say I end up having to skip by 2 or 3 of the activities per session. It’s kind of bullshit when all you want the thing to do is work and keep track of those lost calories and give you credit for that work you’re doing. Nothing is worse than doing a painful squat and having to smack the sensor on your leg in order to jolt it to make the game think you’re doing the exercise. I’ve already been giving up and just went back to my ways of how I treated the first one on Wii, so if my exercises aren’t registering, I just roll on with the set and skip it. If I had paid the original 100 dollar asking price for this package, I would be completely furious. That said, I paid 25 for it new on Amazon a few weeks ago, so I can’t complain too much really.

Wii Fit on the other hand, which I did pay 90 dollars for upon release, doesn’t have all the cool features EA Active does, but I never had a time where I didn’t feel like it wasn’t working. Wii Fit always works. It always registers what you’re doing, and in a lot of cases shows you crazy accurate stats to allow you to see how in control of your body you are. Nintendo knows how to make the thing feel more like a game than just an interactive exercise DVD, which EA Active tends to feel like. I love how Wii Fit, especially Wii Fit Plus with its new Balance Board Games feels like something you can get good at. Sure, maybe the player can do a full set of reps for a particular exercise, but how well did that person do them? Wii Fit is great for making someone want to achieve more with their workout while Active is just fine with those sensors being jolted. It’s a bummer that Active 2 pretty much falls in line with that, but I didn’t expect it to. EA attempts to hide gaming like activities in the game by including stuff like mountain biking, but again, it’s not really something you get improve upon or get good at nor does it feel a thing like actual mountain biking.

There was a point in time, maybe close to two years ago, where I was mixing it up between the first EA Active or Wii Fit, and to cool down, Punch Out!! Wii. Punch Out got a lot of flack for being unplayable with the balance board, and I suppose if you went into it blind it would be. However when you know the fights well enough it’s actually quite fun and challenging and it’s a good way to keep your body going for a few more minutes while having some fun playing a game. What would be really cool is if there was a exergaming title that had the challenge of Punch Out!! Wii (I’m not saying a boxing game, but a full fledged game mode), the perfect control of Wii Fit, and the huge amount of depth and content offered in EA Active. Wii Fit Plus was pretty close, with its fun mini games (skateboarding was particularly awesome) but it still lacked the depth, flexibility of Active, and with EA Active 2 that depth is even further beyond what Plus offers. Including something like a 90 day work out program where all you need to do is attend on certain days is pretty cool, as opposed to Nintendo’s approach where you’re pretty much just dropped into a situation with no real guidance.

Punch Out Wii

I had told myself a few years ago I was out of the exergaming thing until there was a product worth looking at. I thought that product would be EA Active 2, and while it’s a solid improvement over the first, it’s still not exactly what I was hoping for. That said, the now cheap price point makes it worth looking into, but I’m glad I didn’t day one it like I had actually thought about doing. I doubt Nintendo will ever knock it out of the park like I’d like them too, so I get the feeling exergaming is pretty much where it will remain until the end of time. With stuff like the Zumba games taking off, it means my ideal exergaming title is even further out of reach. The fact of the matter is that this stuff is aimed mostly at middle aged women, and no offense to them, but they probably don’t mind the more Exercise DVD approach that these games offer. Considering that, there is no reason for publishers to think they need to push the actual game mechanics further than just having a sensor recognize a movement, and that’s the real bummer here.

So I’ll continue to play EA Active 2 for the foreseeable future, but I’m not sure when I’ll bite on the next exergaming title. There is still lots of work to be done with this genre, though I doubt anyone will ever truly push the genre past the point it could be.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Review

Castlevania Lords of Shadow

Castlevania Lords of Shadow

Considering how much complaining I’ve done in the past about Konami bringing back the barbarians, I felt that I should take some time out and reflect on Lords of Shadow, the recently released Castlevania game in which the barbarians have been… uhh… broughten.

Lords is the very definition of an ambitious game. This classically designed single player experience borrows from many different genres and introduces so many new mechanics and ideas that the first few hours leave the player confused and frustrated. The God of War inspired combat feels natural enough at first, but it isn’t before long where the player will discover that pounding the attack buttons will get them nowhere. Once players finally get a feel for that, they’re asked to conquer Shadow of the Colosuss inspired Titan battles, which once again introduce a new set of rules. Factor in the increasingly complex battle mechanics (the game slowly introduces different magic types, new items, and plenty of useful combats and gadgets) and Uncharted style platforming and players will find themselves in over their heads. Let us not forget the many different puzzles also sprinkled throughout the game to break up the fighting and the jumping (each of which can be bypassed by the player if they chose, though the player will miss out on valuable experience points for skipping them).

Thankfully the long length of the game (which is impressive for a single player campaign these days) allows the player enough time to adjust to everything the game tries to teach them in those first few levels. By the mid point most players that haven’t given up will be one with the deep combat system and they’ll be experts at dodging, making use of well timed blocks, balancing between dark and light magic, and have no problem spamming monsters with holy water and fairies. The game demands a lot from the player, but patient and persistent players will be rewarded with a really well thought out combat system.

Outside of the extremely steep learning curve, Lords of Shadows suffers from some of the typical issues of other 3D games. Sometimes platforming is tricky leading to many unintentional deaths (makes me respect the nearly perfect platforming in a game like Mario Galaxy even more), and while I mostly appreciate the fixed camera (I hate dealing with a camera these days. Seriously, mapping a camera to the second stick is lazy game design these days) it occasionally has a few moments where it’s not placed well. Some other technical issues, like the inconsistent frame rate, are blemishes on what would be a stunning game in the graphics department (and don’t get me wrong, some scenes look fabulous).

The pacing picks up around half way through the game as well, though I’m not so sure if it’s that the pacing became better or that was the moment where the game clicked with me and I found myself enjoying it more. Having gone back to previous stages to find items I missed, I found I actually enjoyed the stages more the second time around now that I knew what I was doing. Regardless, once players find their way into the castle, the game comes into its own and has its fair share of unique stage design and incredible boss battles.

But is it Castlevania? There are conflicting reports that this game was never supposed to be a Castlevania game (a teaser from 2008 suggests it was originally called “Lords of Shadow” but Konami employees have stated that was a test, so we won’t know for sure), but the fact of the matter is that if it’s titled Castlevania, then it’s Castlevania. And really, was Symphony of the Night a Castlevania game? Not really, but that didn’t stop it from being one of the highlights in the series and changing the direction of the series forever. From my perspective, someone that has grown up with and owns nearly every single game in the series, I would undoubtedly say this is a Castlevania game. It has enough Castlevania elements in there to warrant it being part of the series. It’s just sort of the Batman Begins of the series, taking 25 years of history and essentially flushing it down the toilet. As a fan, I have zero problem with that. The timeline is a tangled mess only rivaled by that of the Zelda series, so it’s about time for a fresh start.

Speaking of the story, Lords of Shadow easily has the best plot of the entire series. Sure, it has plenty of poorly written moments (please name me games that don’t) but as a whole it works well. Between each stage Patrick Stewart, as his character Zobek, gives us some understanding as to what Gabriel is doing and how he might be feeling. These pages can sometimes add to the plot development, but you can practically see Patrict Stewart rolling his eyes while reading some of this stuff. Outside of the normal cut scenes and the narrated segments, the game has tons of optional details about the world for the player to uncover. Every monster and character Gabriel meets get an entry into the player’s journal, and their are scrolls littered throughout the game that offer both hints and insight into the overall lore. There is some really cool stuff in here, particularly where the developers put their own unique spin on classic Castlevania staples (I seriously loved the history of the castle they share here and there).

I could probably write another five or so paragraphs on this game but I should probably wrap this up before it gets too long winded. Just know that despite suffering some technical issues and having a rough learning curve that Lords of Shadow absolutely delivers a grand adventure. It’s the sort of 3D Castlevania adventure I’ve wanted to play since Castlevania 64, and as someone that has grown slightly tired of the Metroidvania line of recent Castlevania games I’m glad to see the franchise manage to go back to its roots and also reinvent itself at the same time.

Also, count me in for the (hopefully) inevitable Lords of Shadow 2, where developers MercurySteam can perfect what they implemented here, and also bring the series into what appears to be their daring new direction for the franchise.

Overheard on the Smorg – Best Buy ripping people off?

“That’s what happens when you don’t know how to do things. You pay the price, in this case, $30. Grandma better start learning or keep on paying. That’s just how the world is. I don’t see a problem in this. They’re offering a service for a fee. You might think the service is trivial, but to people who don’t know how to do it or even know what a “firmware update” is, it’s worth paying for. Hell, I’m sure there are plenty of people taking in their PCs into shops to get Windows updates and getting charged for it. I don’t see why they are a whore daddy, they’re just offering a service to a specific segment of the market. It doesn’t mean you have to pay for it.”

-Russell Casse Best Buy charging money to update PS3 firmware

Turns out Best Buy is selling 120 GB PS3 Slims for $329.98. Why does it cost 30 dollars extra? Because Best Buy is updating the console to the latest firmware for the customer. Sure, it’s a complete rip off, but I agree with Russell in this case because people just don’t know how to do certain things. I almost feel like for Best Buy to make such an offer in the first place that they must have gotten requests to do firmware updates in the past. I can’t see them just coming up with this for the sake of making a quick buck.

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Video Preview of Hulu Plus (Preview) on PS3

After work I downloaded the Hulu Plus Preview version for the PS3 and gave it a spin. I had read some less than stellar reports about it’s performance on other sites and decided to see for myself. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the video played nice and smooth in HD. So I grabbed my FlipCamHD, propped it up on an ottoman with a few books and ran through the app a bit.

The video is a little bit washed out because I’m shooting a bright screen in low light, but you’ll get the general idea of how this thing loads and how the framerate is on playback. It should be noted that my PS3 is hardwired to a gigabit network and I have Comcast Internet. I’ll post a speedtest after the jump.

All in all I’m impressed with the quality of the video and the speed in which it loaded. $10 a month for current TV series is pretty reasonable too. If more networks join the service I’m going to see if I can keep Comcast internet and dump their TV package!

Thoughts on the big three from E3

Another year, another E3 I didn’t get to attend. It’s okay though, because the conferences are my favorite part of the show, and I get to watch them online for free anyway. The biggest take away from this year is that the industry still doesn’t “get it.” Once again we’re being treated to nothing but shooter after shooter, and in a lame attempt to grab the expanded market, we’re shown absolutely insulting “casual” games.

Most eyes were on Microsoft this year since they’ve spent the last year telling us how great Natal, now known as Kinect, would be. It would usher in a new era of gaming much like the Wii and soon we would all be believers in Microsoft’s vision. Well in that year it seems all Microsoft has managed to come up with are a bunch of Wii-too titles including Sports, Kart racing, Dancing, and Fitness. Some games admittedly looked better than others, but nothing on display here is a game changer outside of maybe Dance Central, the latest rhythm game from Harmonix. Of the 15 launch titles, 4 of those launch titles will be Fitness games. Talk about overkill.

While some of these games could end up being fun regardless of looking like uninspired mini-game fests, will the public be willing to shell out the rumored 150 dollars for the device? That’s only part of the problem too. Microsoft wants the expanded audience, an audience they don’t currently have, meaning they need people to buy Xbox hardware in addition to Kinect. I imagine we’re going to be looking at something double the price of a Wii in the end. The people that haven’t bought a Wii yet will most likely pass on Kinect and an Xbox. For the people that already have a Wii, why update to Kinect? What is the incentive? Even if Dance Central turns out great, I get the feeling it doesn’t stand a chance against Ubi Soft’s Just Dance 2.

This is only part of Microsoft’s problem right now. They front loaded their show with “hardcore” games, kicking things off with Call of Duty Black Ops, and then going into the usual suspects like Halo, and Gears of War. The issue with these sequels is that this is the third time gamers have been through this territory with those franchises during this console generation. Sure, there are plenty of people excited for these games, but those people are already an established fan base. Do these games excite anyone else? Personally speaking, I have no interest in those games. In fact, if I saw one more third or FPS shooter during a press conference I was going to scream. So as someone that isn’t interested in the same old shooting games, and a little too savvy to fall for second rate Wii clones, what did Microsoft offer a person like me during that conference? Not much.

Sony on the other hand, while having a stronger conference, still suffered from similar issues that Microsoft did. I’m positive Move is a better controller than the Wiimote in the grand scheme of things, but what are they doing that’s different? It’s almost embarrassing that this is Sony’s second attempt at motion control in one console generation. Does anyone remember the Six Axis, or have we already forgotten that every controller packed in with a PS3 has motion control? Considering that barely any games use motion control for the PS3 these days, I’d say yes. So if developers aren’t using something that is already built into the device, why would they want to use Move?

That said, it seems developers are using Move for the time being. Third party games are going to incorporate it into titles like Resident Evil 5, SOCCOM, and Dead Space. So in that area, Move already has the advantage over Kinect in that the tech will at least be used in some of the more core games. But what about the games made for Move? Again, we’re essentially just seeing Wii Sports clones. Where is the innovation? Why should we upgrade and/or buy a PS3 for Move? We haven’t even talked about price yet. Sony made it sound tempting at first announcing a price of 50 dollars for a single Move controller, but that’s without the EyeToy and the Subcontroller. A Move bundle, which includes a game, the Eye and Move controller is 99 dollars. The catch? It doesn’t come with a subcontroller which sells for an additional 30 dollars. Sony’s answer? You can hold your dual shock in your free hand and it’ll do the same thing. Who wants to do that? So once again, I ask the same questions I had when it comes to Microsoft. Who is going to buy this over a Wii? Who is going to upgrade from their Wii to a PS3 for Move? Where’s the innovation? I guess Sony felt their innovation would be in the 3D space, which ironically was swept up by Nintendo’s 3DS.

Nintendo made a strong point when they stated that no one wanted to use glasses for 3D. As someone that already wears glasses on a daily basis, the idea of wearing glasses over top of my glasses is nauseating. How much dorkier do these people want me to look? I felt like a tool while seeing Avatar wearing those things, and they gave me a headache and dimmed the colors thanks to the tint in the lenses. So it’s interesting that the first device to do 3D right is on a tiny portable console. It makes sense though, because where else can you experiment with those sorts of ideas cheaply and cost effectively? While I haven’t actually seen a 3DS myself, apparently the image looks fantastic. Nintendo did an amazing thing by getting the device into people’s hands the moment the show was over so that they would be able to understand the product. Just like when they originally got the Wii remote into people’s hands, it worked. It’s pretty amazing that Microsoft held a big glitzy show the night before their conference to hype of Kinect, going more for spectacle over function, and then in knowing they just disappointed the enthusiastic press in attendance, decided to butter them up by giving them a free Xbox Slim just for being there. What did that get them? Nothing as far as I can tell.

To say Nintendo stole the show this E3 would be an understatement. They captured the imaginations of everyone in attendance as well as those of us at home with the promise of 3DS. The features sounded great, the Kid Icarus reveal was shocking, and the list of developers and games that Iwata casually flipped through was astounding. That doesn’t even include the things that were reveal post conference, like new versions of Mario Kart, and remakes of classics like Ocarina of Time and Star Fox 64. And that’s just on the DS side of things.

While this E3 has shown us that third parties have essentially bailed out on Wii, minus a handful of great exclusives Nintendo showed at their conference, Nintendo itself is still committed to the console. People probably don’t realize this, but Donkey Kong Country Returns was probably one of the secret most important games of the show. Last year Nintendo proved that big budget 2D platformers can still be sold for full price and become huge hits with New Super Mario Brothers Wii. Being that Donkey Kong Country was the game that single handedly tipped the scales in Nintendo’s favor during the 16-bit wars, this is not a game people can ignore. With Zelda being delayed until next year, it’ll be the second year in a row where Nintendo will push an important 2D platformer as their main holiday title. I don’t expect it to New SMBW numbers, but I’m going to imagine it’ll be one of the biggest games of the year. Donkey Kong Country has the same nostalgic appeal of Mario Brothers, and it has the strength to appeal to new gamers that weren’t around during the time where DK reclaimed his spot as one of gaming finest icons.

Donkey Kong is backed by an interesting new take on Kirby with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, another 2D game that Nintendo will back with their all during the holiday season. On top of this, there is a new take on Metroid, Goldeneye (which I personally don’t care about, but I’m shocked at the number of people that are) and NBA Jam. Then there was Warren Spector promoting and demoing Disney Epic Mickey, an interesting 3D adventure game developed for the ground up for Wii. Unlike something like say, Kingdom Hearts, Epic Mickey handles the source material with the kind of respect you don’t often see in a Disney game. For the extended audience, there is Wii Party and Mario Sports Mix, two games that don’t look half as insulting as something like say, Motion Sports. These are the types of games that will keep expanded audience Wii owners loyal to their machine. These games probably don’t appeal to the people that will be lining up for Call of Duty and Gears of War 3, but there’s no denying the variety on Wii this year. If there is one thing that was impressive with the Wii line up, it’s how colorful everything was compared to most other games shown.

One thing I noticed this year was the lack of lifestyle trailers during Nintendo’s conference. The lifestyle trailers, in which you usually see people playing Wii games more than the actual game, served the purpose of making people understand the Wii console. Now that we’re four years into the game, it appears that Nintendo doesn’t have to rely on these trailers in order to teach people how their software works. Unlike Microsoft and Sony, which featured a number of lifestyle trailers, and numerous situations of people acting like goof balls on the stage. We haven’t seen performances this bad since Nintendo showed Wii Music two years ago. So in a sense, Nintendo is no longer insulting the audience by beating them over the head with the “this is how you play our games” commercials.

I find it interesting that in the four years since the Wii has been out, we’ve continually watched Microsoft and Sony try to play catch up. This year we’ve seen that their biggest issue is that they simply don’t get it. They don’t understand how to balance the entire framework of their library, latching onto shooters as their Triple A titles, and crapping out lazy me too ideas in a sad attempt to grab a market they obviously don’t understand. It isn’t just them however, as third parties that have developed me too games for Wii have also taken a beating and as a result abandoned the Wii long ago. What they don’t understand is that the expanded audience isn’t stupid, they simply have different taste.

Uncharted 2 is about as cool as you’d expect


I have been wanting to write about Uncharted 2: Among Thieves since I finished it well over a month ago. The thing that sucks about putting stuff off like writing thoughts on a game that you finished a while back is that you start to forget certain aspects about it. I’m always against typing up some sort of review coming hot off a game because many times you lose perspective. With a game like Uncharted, it’s easy to get lost in all the glitz and glam since the game plays out like an incredible roller coaster ride. What isn’t there to like about an intense hour long train ride sequence, you know?

So here I am, attempting to write about Uncharted 2 yet again. I haven’t touched the game since I finished it, which sucks because I wanted to at least try out some of the online stuff, and I do have every intention of playing it again on a harder difficulty setting. Unfortunately it’s been so long since I played the game that the whole experience kind of feels like a blur now. I know I loved it, and I know I can’t wait to play through it again, so I guess that is the biggest stamp of approval I can give the game.

If I were to sit here and type up a normal review of the game, it would literally echo what I wrote about the first game. Uncharted is fantastic, Naughtydog has some of the most capable writers, animators and designers of any company out there. The tech in this game is impressive as heck, and the fact that Nate’s character model looks light years better than his old one still sort of blows my mind. So much has already been said about Uncharted 2 elsewhere that I feel like I don’t really have anything new to bring to the table, so why not complain about some of it? I don’t really see anyone complaining about anything from it, because there honestly isn’t much.

While I never mentioned it in my critique of the original game, I kind of hate how the artifact finding works. I always try to look everywhere and find all of the hidden artifacts, but I generally come up short. It bothers me that they’re a one time affair, meaning if you miss it, you’re not going back and getting it. Imagine playing through New Super Mario Brothers and not being able to go back and collect the Star Coins after having finished a level. It would drive someone like me absolutely bonkers. Maybe there is some sort of work around that I don’t know about, but I don’t believe there is. If anyone would like to shed some light on this for me, please feel free to do so.

Another thing that sort of drove me nuts about the game is when you attempt to “sequence” break certain events and die instantly. It happened very rarely, and the two times off the top of my head are towards the end of the game. One scene had forced me to fight a bunch of thugs and I supposed I was terrible at the scene because I kept dying. So I decided “I’m just going to head over to this ladder over here and see if I can maybe skip by this.” and the result was an insta-kill. Another sequence has you running through the back alleys of a city while a tank is hunting you down. This sequence was fun for a few minutes, but because I wasn’t following the rules of the way things were supposed to play out, I would be killed instantly. For all the options Uncharted’s combat offers, it is a shame that the way the game is actually played can’t truly be altered or broken, or wasn’t design well enough to keep those options from even becoming a thought in the first place. I supposed that is just one of the flaws of building a truly cinematic game experience.

So those are my few little gripes. Other than that, Uncharted 2 is easily one of the best games on Playstation 3 and one of the few titles this generation that will go down as true classic. However, given some time to reflect on it, I might like the more balanced original game just a tiny bit more. Sure there aren’t as many insane set pieces, but I just sort of like the overall more focused structure and puzzles of the original more. Another play through of Uncharted 2 will probably be what sways me either way. Needless to say, they’re both incredible.