SirTheory’s Treatise on Life

(opinions on just about anything)

A Look at the Handhelds

Within the past month I have had the pleasure of acquiring both a Nintendo DS and the Playstation Portable. After having spent nice amounts of time with each, I thought it would be worth writing up the definitive post on which handheld system is better and worth your hard earned cash.

The Nintendo DS (the Lite style pictured right) is distinctive due to its dual screen setup. The bottom screen is a touch screen that can be manipulated with a stylus. The regular DS, which has a lot of extra bulk that the Lite trims down on, is no longer offered by Nintendo. However, through the joys of acquiring things used, it is the regular (fondly refered to as the DS Phat for obvious reasons) that I am the proud owner of.

The upside to the DS could initially be confused as a gimmick: dual screens and a stylus. However, this has lead to some innovative games which makes great use of the touch screen and dual screen setup.

The other big draw to the DS is its game line-up. You have the stead-fast favorite franchise from Mario, including Mario Kart DS, Mario & Luigi Partners in Time, Super Mario Bros DS, among others. Then there are the popular education titles, such as Brain Age series, and the pet simulators ala Nintendogs. And the whole slew of movie tie-ins that Nintendo is so eager to accept. Of course, Mario is classy stuff accepted by everyone: novices and gamers alike. But those other titles (including many I haven’t even listed) are aimed squarely at the non-gamer. They have pushed the DS (and, incidentally, the Wii) into an area that few could predict that gaming could go: anyone and everyone.

Thankfully amid all the mediocrity there are some great games. The afore mentioned Mario Kart DS takes advantage of the DS’s WiFi ability and allows a user on a wireless network to play the game online with people around the world. There is Metroid Prime Hunters, considered one of the best FPS (First Person Shooters) on any handheld device. Then there is the whole slew of RPG (role-playing games). Arguably the best one is Puzzle Quest, which takes the simple idea of combining an RPG with the addicting game play of Bejewelled. It sounds like a weird set, but it works really well. While the game is available on both handhelds and some consoles, the stylus play of the DS is perfect for such a game and is the perfect replacement for using a mouse. (Even if you don’t own a DS, you must own this game in some way, shape, or form. I believe it is even available for the PC).  Then there are fun mini-game collections like Feel The Magic: XY/XX which make clever, extensive use of the touch screen. Or the handheld release of the first Resident Evil game, remixed slightly with some satisfying touch screen features. There are a lot of original releases on the DS which don’t appear on any other system. And the games which <i>do</i> appear elsewhere feel unique as they take advantage of the things the DS offers.

What the DS fails to excel at is with the graphics. While the graphics are rarely <i>bad</i>, and are even quite pretty, they can’t hold a candle to what the PSP can do. The PSP screen, which Sony deemed good enough to be worth making movies in the PSP format (officially called UMD, a Universal Media Disc), displays graphics on par with what you get from good PS2 games. Games like Ridge Racer (pictured on the screen on the left) have breath-taking graphics that are as good as what I’ve seen from Project Gotham Racing 2 on the xbox. The screen is smaller than a TV, but no less worthy. The graphics aren’t the only thing that makes the PSP a cool item.

Like the DS, the PSP has WiFi. Unlike the DS the PSP includes a web browser. A fully functioning web browser that works surprisingly briskly, only bogging down with certain information-intense websites. Despite the lack of a keyboard, text can be entered via a cellphone-esque setup. Slightly obnoxious, yet better than not being able to enter any text at all. While at home it is generally easier and more satisfying to just hop on a computer, the PSP would come in handy on the go if a wireless connection can be located. (Which, these days isn’t really all that tough.) The portability of the device makes it easier to take to, for example, a coffee shop or Barnes and Noble. Or to carry around campus to use in between classes.

The big downside to the PSP is in the game selection. While there are certainly good titles, and they look fantastic, the system as a whole lacks the innovation or creativity that the DS boasts. PSP games tend to feel like ports of their console brethren.  Or rehash series like the Burnout series and the Grand Theft Auto series. Of course, for someone like me who has never owned a PS2 or 3, this repetitiveness isn’t really noticed too much. Yet the PSP library, like its console brethern, seems to have a much lower ratio between the good games and the mediocre games than the DS does. The good games that are there, however, just look freakin’ fantastic.

The two systems are just totally different. Trying to say that one eclipses the other as a whole is kind of a futile exercise. Those who demand graphics that look like they’re on par with the consoles and who find the idea of playing Grand Theft Auto exciting will probably find more of interest in the PSP. Those who are more interested in innovative game play and creative vision (or education type games) and don’t care so much about the graphics will find the DS to be plenty satisfying.

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February 3, 2008 Posted by | Video Games | , , , , | Leave a comment

I bought an xbox.

So I was bored last week and started searching for used xbox systems on ebay. I like my Gamecube, but rather felt like every time I went to the game store to check out used Gamecube titles there was never anything there… or if there was, it was costing $25 and up used. I had just sold my Gameboy Advance SP, with games, on ebay so had some paypal money to use up. (Paypal money is kind of like play money if you don’t have your bank account hooked up to it.) So it was either buy another CD I would listen to a few times, place on my obligatory top10 list and then forget about, or try something new. Like an xbox system, why not?

So I bid on some over the span of about two days. It was wildly frustrating business, as some were sold as lots, complete with a truckload of games. I would think I was sure to win a great one, only to get sniped at the last second. Eventually I stopped aiming for a system that came with a number of good games. Or any games. I figured that game lots without the system were going for pretty good prices, so I’d just snag one of those and it would all equal out to be about the same.

Well, I won one… I paid for it… and after a week of waiting, it arrived yesterday. The seller, despite not listing any games in the description, was very kind and threw a couple in for me.  However, that didn’t stop me from speeding out to the mall and stopping by the video game stores to pick some titles up.

I am blown away at how much cheaper good, used xbox games  are compared to used games on Gamecube. For the Gamecube it isn’t uncommon to spend $15 on a used game. They can be found for less, but they’re usually not as good. Whereas for the xbox I went in and found 6 decent-to-great games and the total bill was $21. Two of them are games that frequently make Best-of-the-xbox lists (Project Gotham Racing 2 and Jet Set Radio Future). Two were games I simply wanted to try because they were games I wanted to play years ago (Enter the Matrix and Max Payne). I also got XIII (as in the Roman numerals for 13), which kind of reminded me of Killer7 for the Gamecube, so I picked it up hoping it had better controls (which totally killed Killer7).

One of the best games I had for our Macintosh computer was the original Unreal Tournament. It was awesome. Nothing beats the sheer awesomeness of being dumped on a map while battling other people in an every-man-for-himself  free-for-all. The amount of weapons was awesome, and they felt and looked right. It was like Halo, only before Halo’s time and without the online ability. So when I saw Unreal Championship and read that it was the xbox spin off of the Tournament, I had to pick it up.

Unfortunately, and probably unsurprisingly, Unreal Championship, while in many ways being very similar to Unreal Tournament, lacks the key features that made the Tournament ace. The maps are bland and weapons aren’t as varied or as satisfying to use. Still, since I don’t have a way to play Unreal Tournament I’ll probably log a number of hours on the Championship. Unless I end up deciding to dump $20+ on Halo or Halo 2.

Then again, considering how I can get quite a few quality xbox games for under $5 I might just say screw Halo. Hear that capitalist America? SCREW HALO.

September 14, 2007 Posted by | Video Games | 2 Comments

Goldeneye: Rogue Agent (Gamecube)

Strange is the 007 game that doesn’t actually feature James Bond. Yet EA Games somehow managed to throw this together, complete with a shiny little “007 Presents” sticker. Really, I’ve only ever seen two Bond movies, so I can’t say I’m too upset over the lack of James in Rogue Agent. In fact, compared with the other 007 game I have, Rogue Agent is better off without the presence of Bond. Instead what we have is an agent kicked out of service and who has nothing to lose. He treks through a variety of environments and tries to kick a lot of you-know-what.

His success, of course, depends entirely on how well you do. And your ability to succeed depends on whether you enjoy shooting a lot of dudes. And whether or not you get bored with it. Because boredom is a very real possibility. On the other hand, if all you’re looking for is a straightforward first-person shooter, G:RA will throw some serious challenges your direction.

One thing I like in a game is a lack of ambiguity on where to go. Mucking around a map while not entirely sure if I’m going the right direction just irks me.  In this way Goldeneye: Rogue Agent is pretty ace. There is only one way to go. Because in Goldeneye it isn’t the going that matters, but the surviving. In order to reach the end of any given level, surviving is quite important.

In order to survive you need to have several skills: A) be good at taking crowds of bad guys out and B) understand the fine art of patience. For as many rooms that you can enter with guns a-blazing, there are an equal amount of rooms where doing so will leave you dead or awkwardly crippled. That is because, as redundant as it seems to get, the bad guys can be quite a pain to take out.

A lot of the frustration comes into play when you’ve worked long and hard to get through a level, only to hit a really tough room without the proper firepower. The only weapon that has unlimited firepower is your pistol. It is also the only weapon, in addition to your grenades, that you can keep without actually holding in your hand. Unlike other games which allows you to just keep on picking up weapons, in G:RA you basically can only keep what you can hold in your hands. Some of the weapons only require one hand, thus allowing you to carry two at once, others take two hands. So when you run out of ammo, and there are no other weapons around, you get limited to a single pistol.

Despite the fristration, there is something rather satisfying about passing a section with only a pistol when there is no way you should have a change in hell at succeeding. For example, I’ve taken out entire tanks with nothing but my trusty pistol. If I had had the rocket launcher it would have taken exactly two shots. With the pistol it took hundreds. To even have the slightest hope at taking down a take with a pistol you must have cover. This is another aspect of the above-mentioned patience. Without cover you’ll be a sitting duck for the canon balls that the tanks have a nasty habit of flinging at you every few seconds.

The enemy A.I. is hardly realistic, but certainly not horrible. The game cover points out that the “all-new E.V.I.I. AI means no two games are the same!” which is true from the point that the characters don’t move on a pre-programed track all the time, so there will be subtle nuances from game to game. Yet it isn’t so different that I would consider it a huge selling point.

The worst part of G:RA is how the difficulty doesn’t really seem to increase beyond new gadgets being utilized. If you can take out the bad guys in the first room, you can take out the same enemies in the last level. There are just more of them with nastier weapons. Or locations with things like the afore mentioned tanks. That increase is pretty much neutralized by the gadget that gives the game it’s name… the electronic and upgradeable Goldeneye.

You start off with the eye only being able to see through solid objects. Not all solid objects, but most normal obstacles. Then at certain points in the game your financier gives it upgrades which pretty much make you unstoppable for most normal opponents (though, unfortunately, the bosses are immune to the power of the eye.) The two big powers are the shield (which will protect you from the rocket launchers and canon balls, and smaller forms of firepower as well) and the energy field that kills. Nothing beats walking into a room, locating a person, and pressing the right button. They fly into the air like a rag doll, even though you didn’t lay a finger on them. Of course, none of this flows as free as water. At 100% you can use any of your four abilities. After the use, however, it will have used up a portion, or all, of you eye’s ability until it recharges. Recharging, especially if you are playing the hard level, can take a little while, so the patience comes back into play. It is much easier hiding only to emerge once in a while to pick off an enemy than to come out with guns firing.

In the end, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent is a very acceptable first person shooter. However, for those who are expecting and wanting something more in the traditional 007/Bond vein the game will definitely disappoint.

August 27, 2007 Posted by | Video Games | Leave a comment

Terry Scott Taylor – Imaginarium

Terry Scott Taylor has been around a long time. He started off in the Christian band he fronts, Daniel Amos. Then there is The Lost Dogs, an alternative country supergroup. Not to mention The Swirling Eddies. Plus, somehow, the man finds time to do his own solo material. He cranks out songs like there is no tomorrow.

And then there is Imaginarium. Taylor was approached by a new video game company to compose the music to accompany their video game. So he did it, writing quirky songs to fit the video game. They liked the results so much that whey the did a follow up video game, they got him to do the music again. All of the music, from both video games, has been squeezed onto two discs and released in one package for fans of both Taylor and the video games.

Ripped out of the context of a video game, the music sounds thin and sketchy. The guitars are all acoustic, played in a militant strum that makes the guitars sound more percussive than anything. Drums tap out a beat, but don’t really do anything worth listening to. Whistles and strings and horns and other assorted instruments then are what adds flavor to the tracks.

The big interest in this album is Terry Scott Taylor’s vocals. Here more than any other recording I have heard from him he explores the farthest reaches of what his voice can do. At various points he sounds like a less guttural Tom Waits. A lot of the album though paints Taylor as a Mike Patton singing Lewis Carroll’s popular poem, “Jabberwocky.” The poem is a nonsense poem, here are a few lines for an example: “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” It kind of reminds me of trying to read Chaucer in the Middle English. It almost makes sense, but not really.

There are actually a fair number of tracks that work fairly well in the context of an album. However, there is so much which is also, in the context of an album, quite skippable, that simply finding the really good tracks is a chore. I mean, there are over 30 tracks on each CD in the set. Over 70 songs spanning the two discs. Some of them are only seconds of sound, others are longer with more of a traditional song structure. Yet Imaginarium is an important album for sole reason that nothing else that a Christian artist has released really sounds like this. Sure, The Danielson Famile has done their own brand of weird and odd music, and so has Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies. But none of it sounds like this. For that reason this album stands alone.

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Music, Video Games | 3 Comments