Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The PlayStation Vita: Revisted

Upon its release, the PlayStation Vita was a big talking point around the industry. Sadly, it focused on the system's woes when it came to its lack of commercial success and a consistent lineup of games. This unfortunate turn of events has gone to plague the Vita for its entire life. It is remarkable that the Vita is only three years old and the system is already considered dead. Apart from niche Japanese games published by Atlus, NIS America or Aksys Games, and cross-buy indie titles, Sony and third-parties abandoned the handheld by the end of 2014 at the latest.

The Vita's life has been tragic to say the least, but I am not here to rub salt in wound. Since I recently picked it up for myself, I am here to give an honest opinion to those that may be seriously considering buying the system in the near or distant future.

First and foremost, the PlayStation Vita is a well-designed handheld, which is impressive since it is Sony's second stab at a handheld. Originally, I thought the button placement was too close together. After an extensive amount of time with the Vita over the past month, everything feels responsive and fits well in my hands. I only had a problem with the system's d-pad, which is incredibly flimsy due to Sony's decision to meld it to one plastic plate rather than making them separate buttons.

With front and rear touch screens, cameras, and motion controls on top of the traditional button layout, the Vita is filled to the brim with technology. Maybe a little too much technology. Although I fall under the belief Sony packed far too many things into the Vita, it comes down to how the software uses said technology that determines if it's all warranted. Considering Tearaway is the only Vita game out of the 14 I own that properly uses everything in the system, the touch and motion controls mostly come off as gimmicks instead of essential features.

While the Vita may not have be as powerful as the PS3 in the graphics department, the system's OLED screen, found in all original units but not in the Slim redesign, is wonderful to look at. The high screen resolution makes hand-drawn 2D art pop off the screen. It's like watching a painting in motion. Games that lean towards realism in their graphics, such as Uncharted and Killzone, don't fair as well since the Vita can't pump out realistic polygons and textures like its console brethren.

Apart from the Vita's well-documented lacking library, the system suffers from a major problem when it comes to storage. In order to save or download games, you need a memory card for the Vita. Rather than use a universal memory card like a micro SD, Sony decided to force Vita owners to buy their own proprietary cards for outrageous prices. You can find four or eight gigabyte cards for something more reasonable, but you'll run out of room quick if you start downloading PSP and PS1 games to your system. Due to Sony intentionally shortchanging consumers on memory, you might have to fork over another 50 to 100 dollars on top of the price of the Vita to get enough memory to be comfortable with.

For the 100 dollars I spent on a used PlayStation Vita, it was well worth it. I now own 14 great titles I cannot get on any other system, can experience all the PSP games that I missed out on like Valkyria Chronicles II and Patapon, and have a chance to play all my PS1 classics and cross-buy games on the go. For those that are unable to get the Vita for the same price, I suggest you do some research and determine if there enough games, features and applications to warrant spending 200 dollars or more to buy one for yourself.

Overall, the Vita is a great portable system that is superior all other handhelds on the market when it comes to power and beauty. Unless you're a hardcore gamer or own the consoles needed to unlock the system's full potential, the Vita doesn't have the library or the features to be worth spending upwards of 200 dollars on.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Silver Bit & Imprint

Over the past few months, I have posted a few links for articles which I have written for a publication that isn't Silver Bit. That publication is Imprint, the University of Waterloo's student-run newspaper. I have been volunteering there for just over a year now as a proofreader and now am slowly expanding to take on a greater role as a writer.

With another commitment on the table, I sadly can't dedicate my time equally among everything I do. Before you think it is an excuse not to write on Silver Bit, I am just letting everybody know that there is another place to read articles from yours truly. You can check them out on my archives page. There isn't much there now, but I promise there's a lot more coming.

At the moment, I am Imprint's friendly neighbourhood movie reviewer, but have also dabbled in writing blogs. If you are on UW's campus for whatever reason this coming frosh week, I have a fun little article that I am looking forward to see people's reaction to. Hint: it is unlike anything I have ever written. Hope that's enough of a teaser to get you to pick up a copy.

I've loved every moment I have spent volunteering at Imprint this past year and hope for many more great years to come. Since I am getting more involved, I want to share my published work, along with the wonderful content created by the whole Imprint team, with all you that read Silver Bit.

So take some time to read through a few articles, make comments, share the ones you like with others and maybe make your imprint by getting involved yourself.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bit by Bit: July 2015

I did promise back in March to be better at announcing hiatuses for Silver Bit, but I honestly didn't plan this at all.  After the craziness that was E3 2015, I didn't have much drive to write Best Games of E3 article because of the lack of playable demos on the show floor this year.  On top of E3 fatigue, I tried to write an article on collector's editions, but it didn't pan out.

Although a lot of July didn't work out as planned, I am hoping to update Silver Bit on a regular basis in August.  Fingers crossed.

Game of the Month
Two games took up most of my time this past month. The first is Radiant Historia, a turned-based RPG that has you bouncing between two parallel timelines in order to save the world from desertification.  I bought the game two years ago and spent a few hours with it before putting it down until recently.  I always enjoyed the gameplay and premise of Radiant Historia, but it's story and timeline-weaving quests are what will keep you gripping your DS or 3DS for hours on end.  In all seriousness, I play Radiant Historia a good hour or two at a time.  Sadly, I hit a grind wall around chapter four that has caused me to put the game down for the time being.

The second game and July's Game of the Month is Tearaway for the PlayStation Vita.  While I planned on waiting until Tearaway Unfolded for PS4 to dive into Media Molecule's critical darling, my curiosity got the best of me especially considering I found the game for 10 dollars new.  As cool as it would be to experience the beautiful paper craft visuals on a big HDTV, I am so happy that I experienced Tearaway on its system of origin.

Out of all the games on the Vita, Tearaway is the system's killer app.  Unlike other titles, such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss or Killzone: Mercenary, where the use of motion and touch controls feels tacked on, Tearaway uses every feature built into the Vita in an intuitive way.  Seeing your fingers pop out of the back touch screen to dispatch enemies or watching your face play a role as the ever-present sun are just magical.  My descriptions don't do Tearaway justice; it is a game that you have to experience for yourself in order to understand how special it is.

Video of the Month
On July 12th, 2015, the video game industry lost a visionary in Satoru Iwata.  Since the tragic news broke, many lovely tributes for Iwata-san have been made.  All these tributes are amazing, but I can't showcase them all here.  I choose to highlight Screwattack's tribute video because it does a wonderful job at blending Iwata's greatest quotes and the video clips that highlight his quirky personality.

Thank you, Satoru Iwata.  You will be deeply missed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Rest in Peace, Satoru Iwata

Death in the video game industry is a subject only thought of in relation to the violent content of the medium and its possible influence on us as human beings.  Nobody thinks about it in relation to the men and women that give their lives to this industry through game development, corporate management or game journalism.  Being fans and followers of video games as a whole, we sometimes bestow these people with imaginary invincibility when in reality, they are merely mortal.  They live and, unfortunately, they die.

Late July 12th, news broke that Satoru Iwata, now former President of Nintendo, passed away July 11th at the age of 55 due to a bile duct growth.

When I opened up Facebook to find the news plastered in the centre of my News Feed, I couldn't believe it.  I went into denial as I scoured the Internet for more evidence than a couple Facebook posts.  Once I confirmed Mr. Iwata's death, the shock sunk in.  Nintendo and other news sources have reported on Iwata's multiple bouts with illness over the past two years, which caused him to miss the last two E3s.  None of the reports mentioned that it was this severe; making the news even more tragic.

Among all the grief and sadness, I feel the best way to honour Mr. Iwata's memory is to share what made him such a great leader and lovable personality not only at Nintendo, but in the industry as a whole.

While not as prolific as legendary Nintendo designers like Shigeru Miyamoto, Eiji Aonuma or Masahiro Sakurai, Satoru Iwata was responsible for the creation of Kirby and fostering classics, such as Earthbound and Super Smash Bros., during his tenure as a programmer and later President of HAL Laboratory.  Upon Hiroshi Yamauchi's retirement in 2002, Iwata was named the fourth President of Nintendo.  As president, he would go onto lead the company through the launches of the Gamecube, DS, Wii, 3DS and Wii U. 

In his early years as president, it was hard to get a read on Iwata's personality since gamers would only hear from him in the occasional interview or appearance at E3 or Tokyo Game Show.  As the years went on and technology evolved, Iwata stepped out as one of the corporate faces of Nintendo along with Reggie Fils-Aime and Shigeru Miyamoto.  The Iwata Asks and the Nintendo Direct gave Nintendo fans into a closer look at the president's quirky personality.  From intensely staring down a banana to his "Directly to you" slogan and hand gesture, Iwata was never afraid to put himself in wacky and possibly embarrassing situations in order to entertain.  His signature quirkiness is the main reason fans love him so much. 

On the corporate side, Iwata was a fighter and an incredible leader.  He managed Nintendo through some of its most difficult times as a company.  Facing immense pressure from stockholders, the media and the consumer, Iwata always stood his ground and kept Nintendo's future in mind before making drastic decisions.  Despite low sales for Nintendo during the Gamecube and horrible launch sales for the 3DS and Wii U, Iwata avoided making shortsighted immediate gains and developed long-term plans to ensure success for the future.  Under Iwata's direction, the DS and Wii both saw unbelievable success and the 3DS has consistently outperformed the other systems on the market over the past couple years.

Although death is horrible experience to all those involved, Satoru Iwata's love for the industry and quirky nature will live on through those he led at Nintendo, the many people fortunate enough to meet him in person over the years and the millions that eagerly watched every Nintendo Direct to see what crazy thing he would do next.  All I have to say to Mr. Iwata is thank you.  Thank you for making the company that I have loved since a child the best it could be for these past 12 years.  You will be deeply missed.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bit by Bit: E3 2015 Wrap-up

E3 is over for another year and I got to say: what a wonderful show.  While there some bumps along the way, E3 2015 was one of the best in a long time.  During this nearly week long expo, we saw incredible feats of game mastery, pipe dreams become reality and the next generation of gaming finally live up to all the hype.

Although there are some issues the video game industry still faces such as the ever-rising cost of AAA development or the instability of jobs, E3 2015 made us forget about all the negativity and focus on the fundamentals of this art form: fun, imagination and community.  All the silly Muppet skits, excessive gum flapping and surreal moments of celebrity interjection cannot compare to the excitement of the Nintendo World Championships, the tears brought on from the Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue III reveals, and the blood-pumping gameplay trailers for highly anticipated titles like Star Wars Battlefront, Kingdom Hearts III and The Last Guardian.  

E3 2015 was a show that will reverberate throughout the annals of video game history.  To wrap-up this great event, Silver Bit presents a special E3 2015 edition of Bit by Bit.

Winner of E3 2015
With all the stiff competition, I thought it would be a hard decision to pick the winner of E3 2015.  Nintendo blew things out of the park with their World Championships and constant Treehouse Live coverage only to falter in the most important area: the Digital Event.  Microsoft came out swinging with the announcement of Xbox One backwards compatibility and showing live demos for their biggest titles, but seemed to undermine their momentum by announcing a good number of their Xbox One "exclusives" for PC as well.  Both Bethesda and Ubisoft took a step back to let the games do the talking for them yet did little in terms of delivering truly shocking surprises.  At the end of the day, all these great performances could not stand up to the unstoppable force that is Sony.

Sony may not have delivered much in terms of bolstering their lineup for 2015, but they did make us forget about it with all the bombshells they dropped.  For a solid hour-and-a-half, Sony delivered a steady stream of the most exciting and enticing gameplay trailers and demos at the show.  Out of all the great games shown off at Sony's presser, there were three that took it from great to legendary: The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake and Shenmue III.  Sony literally made dreams come true by showing them off that fateful Monday night.  They also serviced both the old and the new by announcing three of the most wanted games in the past decade and showing off brand new IPs like Horizon: Zero Dawn, No Man's Sky and Dreams.

For the third year in a row, Sony showed that the PS4 is THE system to own this generation.  Even though Sony's lineup for 2015 is rather sparse, the incredible wave of good will coming off of their performance at E3 2015 along with some smart partnerships with Activision, EA and Warner Bros. might be enough to solidify the PS4s huge lead on the competition.

Surprise of E3 2015
There isn't much else to say about my pick for the Surprise of E3 2015.  In fact, arguments can be made for any of the big three surprises from the Sony press conference.  Personally, my pick is Shenmue III because it came out of nowhere.  With how much Sega has been suffering in recent years, never in my wildest dreams did I expect Shenmue III to get the funding needed for development.  To see Shenmue III caught me off-guard, which left me stunned and a little choked up.  The last surprise to affect me that much was the Kid Icarus: Uprising reveal back in 2010.

Trailer of E3 2015
Funny enough, this year's E3 wrap-up has turned into the Sony show.  In all honesty, there was great stuff from everybody at the show and I would love to highlight it all, but this wrap-up isn't the place for that.  I'm here to highlight the best from E3 2015 and the truth is Sony had the best stuff this year.

Out of everything Sony showed at E3, one title blew me away.  That game was Horizon: Zero Dawn.  Horizon is Guerrilla Games' brand new property that switches out the first-person shooting of Killzone for a third-person adventure game set in a pre-historic/post-apocalyptic mishmash.  Hearing the premise is compelling in of itself, but watching the game in motion is breathtaking.  Seeing the female lead move between stalking mechanical dinosaurs and hiding in bushes along with the fluid fight with the robot T-Rex gives the impression that there are many ways to tackle enemies.  Watching the trailer over again, Horizon looks like a next generation version of Monster Hunter with fluid combat and mechanical monsters to slay, which has me even more intrigued.

If it was playable on the show floor, Horizon would easily nab the number one spot on my Top Games of E3 2015 list.  Unfortunately, all Sony brought to E3 was this awe-inspiring trailer that has me craving for more.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

E3 2015: Square Enix Press Conference Impressions

Along with Bethesda, Square Enix is one of the new kids on the press conference block.  They used to have press conferences at E3, but it has been a long while since their last conference.  With Square Enix's big presence at both the Microsoft and Sony press conferences, did they save enough for their very own press conference?

Square Enix did save enough to fill their 90 minute conference, but the great number of titles shown didn't translate into an interesting presentation.  In actuality, it was a boring show that saw a lot more gum flapping than gameplay footage.  At certain points throughout the conference, I closed my eyes and just listened to the corporate jargon the presenters were throwing around.  The show must have been putting the translator to sleep since he had some problems keeping up with the presenters at times.

For all the great titles that Square Enix had to offer this year, it was frustrating to see time wasted rehashing the exact same trailers for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy VII and World of Final Fantasy that were shown at other press conferences or worthless "behind-the-scenes" trailers that could've been replaced by actual gameplay footage.  Don't have two random animators from Disney tell us about a Tangled world in Kingdom Hearts III, show it as part of the gameplay trailer.

Speaking of Kingdom Heart III, the gameplay trailer was the best thing on this show.  It hinted at the story, showed off the combat system and highlighted some dramatic special moves including the use of Disney theme park attractions as weapons.  Aside from Kingdom Hearts III, the Just Cause 3, Hitman and Star Ocean trailers were the only other standouts from this show.  Everything else just felt like white noise; even the Deus Ex; Mankind Divided trailer which Square Enix was hyping weeks before the conference.

As their first press conference in God knows when, Square Enix performed far worse than anybody could of predicted with their large lineup of games.  At its best, the conference was passable.  At its worst, the conference was like an uncoordinated powerpoint presentation.  Square Enix may need a phoenix down after this dull show.

Grade:  D

E3 2015: Nintendo Digital Event Impresions

In recent years, Nintendo has pulled back from the traditional E3 presence.  Instead of the tried-and-true press conference and booth combination, Nintendo has opted to provided a constant stream of content from the Nintendo World Championships to the daily Treehouse Live stream.  The crown jewel of Nintendo's week is their Digital Event, a special one hour video that highlights their biggest titles for the upcoming year.  With the Wii U Legend of Zelda skipping the show, could Nintendo announce some titles to fill that void this holiday season?

Nintendo didn't have one single answer to that question as they went for a sheer numbers approach.  Starting with Super Mario Maker, there will be eight titles across Wii U and 3DS, including Star Fox Zero, Xenoblade Chronicles X and Yoshi's Woolly World, releasing this Fall.  While there may not be a single title that will move tons 3DS and Wii U units, this is one of the most robust lineups Nintendo has had for the holidays in a long time.

Looking at the Digital Event as a whole, its content was good, but the video was completely underwhelming and disjointed.  Nintendo tried so hard to be charming and wacky with the puppet skits, but it came off as embarrassing awkward.  Also the announcement of certain games felt out of place.

Although I am not as upset about the Metroid Prime 3DS games as others, the way Nintendo just unceremoniously dumped it on us was a little insulting, especially for longtime fans.  Federation Force and Blast Ball are two refreshing new takes on the franchise that I look forward to seeing more of, but these titles shouldn't have been the only Metroid announcement of the show.  Plus the huge focus on Super Mario Maker and Mario's 30th Anniversary was a little lackluster considering the Nintendo World Championships did such an incredible job promoting that game.  I will admit, revealing that the Mario transitions were actually the Amiibo support for Super Mario Maker was awesome.

While Nintendo's Digital Event felt lackluster as a whole, there were some titles that really impressed me.  Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes looks to be the Four Swords sequel/co-op Zelda I've been craving for a long time.  The ability to play core Zelda dungeons with others both on and offline is great.  The proper return of Mario Tennis with Ultra Smash for Wii U was exciting to see.  If Nintendo adds in robust online multiplayer to the game, it could be up there with Mario Kart, Smash Bros. and Splatoon as another great multiplayer game for Wii U.  Last but not least, Level 5's Yo-Kai Watch was impressive as it had a great amount of charm and some unique RPG elements that looks to appeal to all ages.

The easiest way to describe Nintendo's Digital Event is a mixed bag.  All the games showed off looked to be a lot of fun and it gave perfect picture of Nintendo's holiday lineup, which looks to be their best in a long time.  The show just didn't have the cohesion or a big punch to keep fans from felling a little disappointed.  Plus where on Earth is Retro Studios!?

Grade:  C+