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Malik (3/6/06)  

A new update for XBox Live is out. I haven't tested it out yet, since there's not a game to play on the 360 (until tomorrow). It's supposed to make a first step towards some future Dashboard/Live things. I don't know what that's supposed to mean, but I hope it also has tackled some of the issues about games being deleted when a person starts their 360. It'd also be nice if there was a new feature to disable auto-load of any inserted game/movie, but I'm a little doubtful of that. 

Meanwhile, the Nintendo DS Lite is doing something I never really thought an existing Nintendo system could do; it's more than selling's creating launch system hype and frenzy that should not be happening on a system that has, in essence, been out for more than a year. I'm talking about being so wanted that it's going for hundreds more than the system is worth

If I get this right, the DS Lite is basically a smaller change in performance than the SP was to the original GBA. The Lite is basically the same size (it's only a tiny bit smaller), it offers more levels of illumination (but, seriously, the DS offered a great level to begin with), it has GBA cartridges sticking out some from the system, it looks more fragile, and it has all the same basic functionality. The SP, on the other hand, gave us illumination from nothing, a stronger design, the clamshell approach, and better battery issues (with the built in rechargeable batteries). There is nothing new with the DS Lite, yet it is going for far more of an increase in price than the SP ever brought about. 

This makes as much sense as if the slim PS2 would have been beyond reach except for hundreds of dollars extra. There is no new features, no new abilities, and so small of a loss of size that in reality, if you own a DS and are trying to obtain a Lite for even it's regular MSRP, you are an idiot. The only smart thing that could be said about this whole insanity is this; at least it shows that Nintendo is kicking the PSP's sorry (and useless) ass all over the place. Hell, the overpriced PSP is now cheaper than the overpriced and over hyped DS Lite. I guess I should give Nintendo some props on showing that they are still in this thing. 

Since there isn't much else to say today (afterall, tomorrow is going to end this slumbering winter feeling with some good new titles), just check out the previews of Stranglehold. This game should be nothing short of awesome, assuming it doesn't suffer from some sort of development issues. I mean, it's Chow Yun Fat in a sequel to one of the best movies ever (Hard Boiled), with John Woo along for the ride. What more could you ask for? Besides maybe a game of this...?


Malik (3/7/06)  

I love the show. Besides how there is so little to watch on TV, Family Guy still would stand out, even with good line-ups around it, as a gem of the TV world. It brings a great style of humor that you just can't find anywhere else. So few shows are willing to cross so many lines, and do so in such a well planned and non-crappy method. Hell, no other show would willingly point out the obsessive and inane abilities of the FCC like Family Guy has done...and that alone is worth bonus points. 

However, if there's any lesson that South Park, Futurama, and the Simpsons has taught us, it's that animated comedy shows don't belong in the gaming world. Yet, for some sick and money-hungry reasons, 2K is going to be publishing some Family Guy games. While there is almost no solid info on these games, besides the publisher and developer (High Voltage), I think I can give a nice and obvious preview right now. The games will all suck and serve as a black mark on the legacy of this show. They will be pointless, involve random fetching, and they will use some bad sense of urgency and action to try to convince us that this wonderful show deserves to be in more places than just on our TV and in our DVD collections. 

"One-of-a-kind action/adventure style game" you say? Well, I just have to ask a simple question. What action/adventure elements are there in a TV show that focuses on social commentaries and nostalgia about, mainly, the 1980's? Well? None. This is not a show that should be turned into a bad made from a TV show game. In fact, the only type of game that tends to be worse than the made from a movie video games are the made from the TV show games. There is nothing to work with, no genre that would serve it right, and nothing to gain from this, except for some money going into 2K's wallets from fans so hungry for anything Family Guy that they would degrade themselves for this game. Sigh... 

On other news of bad games, there's a demo for The Outfit on the XBox Live Marketplace. I have not spent the time to download it, but I've read enough about it to know what it's looking like. The comments seem to say that this demo is a lot like a really bad version of Mercenaries set in an earlier time point. Yippee...? I personally found Mercenaries to be a self-serving pile of crap. The game only served to show that if you want an open-ended GTA style game, it's best left to the experts at Rockstar North. Seriously, the thought of blowing up a shit ton of buildings and vehicles is a cool thought, but not when that's all the entire game is based on. If you half-ass it and put it in an earlier, non-fictional war, it still doesn't solve the basic issues of the game simply being a pile of crap. 

I was hoping to complete Grandia 3 before today. I wanted to have my game line-up empty for when I get Shadow Hearts 3 and Burnout Revenge (360). Sadly, I failed. Actually, I think it's best to pin this one on Game Arts and their unusual sense of difficulty. 

One second you'll be flying through a long and simple dungeon. You'll be blasting away countless enemies without a care in the world. If an enemy is preparing a massive spell or ability, you simply need to go a little out of your way and cancel their attack with a well timed special ability. Then you simply clean up the remains and move on. It'll be the real bosses who you'll need to formulate better strategies for. 

However, you'll then come across a rare instance, like the next to final room of the game, in which the normal enemies are nothing short of broken. There you will face battles with a group of foes who are immune to everything short of magic, and then one of them will use a special spell immunity ability. Care to guess what that means? It should be obvious. However, it gets worse when the Excise Omega (rhymes with "teh broken") joins in. This enemy will be able to automatically cancel any of your attacks whenever it chooses with an ability that's even named so you know how broken he is...the "auto-cancel". 

So, after you battle through this fight with him, and his insane speed (he can attack up to four times in the span that it takes your party to act once) and his massive damaging abilities, you will not have long to feel a sense of satisfaction before he strikes again. All the while, you are given no place to heal yourself, and the last healing point was about an hour behind you. You do have a non-healing save point, but that's only useful if you are healthy enough to keep fighting. In other words, it's like Game Arts just wanted to show that, no matter how nice they may seem when they develop a great game, they are perfectly fine in being asses to the people who pay for their games. It's like them saying "don't get on our bad side". 

Also, since I do know I'm about 2 rooms from the final boss, I would like to say that those who complained about the plot going to crap once you get to the second disk are full of crap. It's not the best story in the world, by any means, but this game is definitely a step above the overly-loved Kingdom Hearts and FFX plots. In fact, I'm happy to say that this game is almost 100% emo-free, has great character development, great interpersonal interactions, and is a lot of fun to play. The only downside of this entire game, so far (and I am about 99% done) is the sick and unusual difficulty twists that occur whenever Excise Omega or Excise Psi (Omega's cousin from earlier in the second disk) enter the picture and hand your ass to you like they were bosses...instead of being overly-used and improperly placed normal enemies. 

Anyway, I should be finishing Grandia 3 tonight, and assuming Burnout Revenge or Shadow Hearts 3 have street dates (as opposed to ship dates) of today, then I'll have some impressions of them tomorrow. 


Malik (3/8/06)  

Both of the new Naruto games should be in stores about now. I'm talking about the GCN and GBA games. On one hand, the GCN game is a double-edged sword. It's the worst of the GCN Naruto games, with the smallest cast of playable characters (around 10 total) and has support for two players. Meanwhile, the later GCN games have far more characters, and can also be played in four player battles that are reminiscent of some weird offspring of Smash Bros. and Tekken. It's definitely a great party type game. However, as for the game that is now in American's not that good. 

Sadly, the double edge of this blade is that if it doesn't sell well, then it means that the better GCN Naruto games are far less likely to see our shores. So, if you want to look at it this way, if you want to see Naruto 3 (awesome game) in a year or two, you may have to take one for the team. However, considering $50 is a tall sacrifice, this is a tricky proposition. 

As for the GBA Naruto's not exactly a great game. In fact, it's about as typical of a side-scrolling action title as one could hope (or not hope) to find. It's average in almost all regards. Considering how lame it is, it makes one wonder why the Naruto RPGs were ported for American GBAs. They are actually a good deal of fun. At least what I played with no understanding of the text made them look really fun. Plus, since they follow the plot of the series almost exactly, they are a good game, English or not. 

I didn't get either Shadow Hearts 3 or Burnout Revenge last night. I hate how street dates used to be on Tuesdays, but with how so many retailers break street dates if they get an early shipment, we now have this weird limbo of dates. The 7th of March is the release date of both games, but it's also now the ship date for many stores so that gamers don't get the game early. Sigh...I miss the good old days. Back when games were so underground and geeky that a broken street date meant almost nothing to anyone, except a few gamers who played a game a few hours earlier. 

At least, with the delay in getting these games, I did have the time I needed to complete Grandia 3. While many opinions have been shared on this game, I'll throw out a few observations before I get an actual review posted. 

As for the plot going to crap in the second disk (about half way through the game); this is complete BS. It's amazing how this plot is called crap, yet it simply does a lot of things that FF games have done, but with a far less emo of environments. So, if I get it right, this average plot (most RPG plots float around the average range in today's games) is bad, but the same general plot concepts are great if emo Tidus cries for his daddy a few times. Well, if that's the case, and if you are sick of FF games being dubbed the best of the best, then I have good news for a lot of my fellow geeks; this plot is perfect for you. Almost emo-free! No goth characters (Vincent from FFVII, Lulu from FFX), no emo sensations (Tidus and Yuna from FFX, Amarant from FFIX), no guys who look and act like girls (Tidus, Sephiroth), and no constant reminders that (read this part in a emo-friendly voice) "the world is full of pain and suffering...darkness encases my hollow soul". None of that shit, and the same general feelings of adventure and a need to save the world from certain doom with great character interactions along the way. Sweet. 

As for the game's length...who the f#@% keeps saying this game is short. I call any RPG over 30 hours to be a good size. Once 30 hours are hit, then it's up to the games plot to make a game feel short or long. Well, this game ran me around for about 40-45 hours, and I enjoyed every f@#%ing minute of it. If this is too short for you, then I have a friendly suggestion; Go f@^& yourself. Also, a reminder, that FF6 (SNES) cost about $65-$70 and ran around this same time span and was never called short. Phantasy Star 4 was $99 and ran for this same time span, and like with FF6, it was considered epic. I don't mean to pull a "back in my day..." deal here, but anyone who calls about 40 hours too short is in definite need of an ass kicking by reality. Plus, when we had FF6 clocking in at being this "short", we only had one or two great RPGs in a 6 month span of time...which meant we went longer, with less, and were happy. I would say I'm being too nostalgic, but rather I'm really saying why I see no reason to complain. 

As for the complaints about the difficulty being skewed...these are fair. I pwned the final boss! I kicked his ass each and every way possible and hardly wasted an item in the process. It only required a little strategy. However, the last room of normal battles in the game consisted of me dying (I never had my full party die any before or after this point in the game) a few times. Strategy was worthless. The only thing that could save me were the massive single-shot damaging items I obtained earlier from enemies in the same dungeon. The enemies in this game can either be really easy (too much so), or just about as frustrating as humanly possible. This game doesn't do things any other way. 

Anyway, it's nice to put Grandia 3 behind me in time for SH3. I will probably have some opinions and thoughts posted on SH3 tomorrow. 


Malik (3/9/06)  

Battlefield 2: Euro Pack is finally getting released...again. They originally seemed to delay this pack for a good main reason. Battlefield 2 1.2 was about the buggiest excuse for an update that could ever pass for being official. Well, it's coming back, but since I haven't played for a while, I'm probably out of things with BF2. However, I haven't heard a thing about 1.2 being fixed. I just hope EA did that first important step before they re-launched the Euro Pack. 

Also, I won't even get into my thoughts on the new maps (from the screen shots I've seen). I won't say how they look like the same exact buildings and textures, just in new locations. I won't say how $10 is pretty steep for something that modders would give us for free. I won't say that this looks like just a great tactic from EA to raise a little more money from an aging title without actually giving a full expansion (like the ultra-sweet Special Forces). I won't say anything about this... 

I did finally get Shadow Hearts 3 and Burnout Revenge (360) last night. First off, about SH3...this is not a game that's meant to be played right after Grandia 3. Compared to SH2, this is looking, so far, like a good new game in the franchise. While the voice acting can get annoying (someone obviously didn't take the coat hangers out of the voice actors least that's how it sounds from their stiff and inflexible performances so far), it's the game play that really feels lackluster. You move so slowly, so stiffly, and so unyieldingly. It's like trying to move a character in the old 8-bit FF games. This is not the finely toned game play we should be seeing from SH3. 

Beyond that, the game is mostly as it should be. It's definitely a new game in the SH world. The setting is nicely dark, yet grounded in reality (which is part of the charm of the SH/Koudelka games). The ideas of blending occult and real world settings is always amazing (and is still so, even without Yuri being the protagonist). In other words, if you're a fan of either/both of the past SH games, this is a must buy. It's as grounded in the franchises trademarked game play as a Dragon Quest sequel will be. 

However, since I only was able to get in about an hour of SH3, I'll keep most of my thoughts on this game limited until I actual experience more. In fact, I still haven't really started the real game (I'm on what feels like an introductory quest filled with tutorials). I should have some better opinions and thoughts tomorrow. 

Just like how SH3 seems to have some good and bad of the old games, Burnout Revenge is the same. On one hand, the visuals are freakin' awesome. That is assuming you play on an HD display. Otherwise, this is not a good update in terms of visuals compared to Burnout Revenge for the XBox (but then again, wasn't Revenge one of the best looking XBox titles?). However, in HD you get that wonderful widescreen to see more of the potential shortcuts, and you get a little extra lift to the smile that crosses your face when you cause an extra brutal accident. 

However, the load times, which were my single worst complaint of the XBox version are still here. In fact, with how the new generation of consoles are supposed to look better, sound better, be faster, stronger, and more capable, why are the load times actually twice as long as on the XBox version. The XBox version carried an approximate 11 second (I timed this many times) load when you selected to restart a race. First off, it should not take as long to restart a race as it would take to load a whole new race (it should still be in the system's memory, right?). Secondly, 11 seconds was ridiculous. Or it seemed to be until I saw the 360 version clocking around 20-25 second load times. 

Look at it this way, if you have a Burning Lap event (one lap, a goal of around 1:15-1:45 seconds depending on the event, one hella fast car that's prone to accidents, and the only way to get a perfect score is to not crash once), and you end up crashing early on (say after 20 seconds in the event), then you will have to restart if you want to go for the gold. Well, after you restart the race for the first time, you will have wasted a total of around 40-50 seconds loading while you've only raced for 20 seconds. If you crash again (and these Burning Laps can be brutally hard), and then again, you may have wasted around 1:20 loading for a race that takes a whole 1:15 to complete. That's not right. The only bright side is that the HD visuals will give you better clarity as to what you racing into, so you will have a slightly better chance of seeing danger coming and thus you can avoid a crash or two just off of the enhanced visibility. 

At least the game does offer a few things to counteract the lameness of loading. Supposedly the Crash events are better (I haven't done any...yet). There are ten new Crash Junctions, and the lame start meter (the Hot Shots Golf swing inspired starting meter) is supposedly gone. Also, I've read that reloading a Crash event will not require a complete reload of the event (why couldn't they apply this to all events?). Considering a Crash event can literally last for only 10 seconds, that definitely good news. It's just too bad that these improvements couldn't be applied to more events. 

However, the ultimate saving grace of this version of BR is online. Holy shit, online is f@#%ing amazing! I normally hate playing games online. There are too many dicks, too many bad match-ups (like every game seems to have one pro who makes the game unbalanced and un-fun for the normal players), and too many technical issues (like how RR6 will have severe lag is Media Connect is running on your 360 and PC). Well, while I'm not sure if more race types exist than Road Rage, I can tell you that a game of Road Rage online is fan-f@#$ing-tastic! 

The game play, online, is so smooth. I didn't see an instance of lag. The players I met were awesome (although they got pissed at me...more on that...). The events were hella fun. Basically, it comes down to one team trying to run away to the finish line (10-20 miles away) through heavy traffic and normal game rules, while another team (with infinite boost) is trying to takedown (cause a crash with an opponent) the runners. It's simple. If a running car is taken down by any means other than the other team (friendly fire, crashed into a wall, hit an oncoming NPC car, etc), then they will respawn and continue their escape. However, if the other team takes them down, then they are a ghost of sorts who can only interact with the other player cars and walls (computer controlled NPC cars are intangible). The race ends either when one runner escapes, or when all of the runners have been taken down (there's also a time, but it will never run out in these games). 

Best of all, the game will help you remember, for all time (in other words, after you log off and then log in again), who you have been taken down by. You will have rivalries. You will also have people who hate you and want revenge. It is the ultimate step in incorporating online game play with that same vibe you get when you're friend sitting next to you in the same room f#$@s with you. You will know who to go after. 

Speaking of which, I am proud to say that I'm not going after anyone (in other words, the only guy who took me down in any of the three four-round games I played was targeted and my revenge was swift and brutal...hehehe). However, I have some people pissed off at me. A lot of people. On one hand, I was the points leader every game I played. On the other hand, I hurt people...a lot. One race, I felt so good when I took down all three of the people on the other team in one swift motion. I don't say this to brag (although I think it's awesome that I was the dominator in an online game), but rather to say how cool it is that there are around 8 people out there in Live-land who, if I ever see online in Burnout again, will remember me. The game will remind them. The game, in fact, tells you prior to each round of a race who is after you for revenge, and who you need to get revenge on. It's like having a grudge on an MMO for a dude who PKed you, but it's on a racing game and everyone can have a microphone to taunt each other. 

While the normal game of Burnout Revenge feels a bit lacking, so far, considering the massive delay between it's release on the XBox and PS2 versus the 360 release, the online more than makes up for it. This is the single best game I've ever seen for online competition. If you are the type who has a competitive streak, and if you like racing, this online experience may own you soul better than any WoW addict can get hooked on raids. I don't really like online competitions, especially on racing games, and I cannot stop thinking that people out there want some revenge on me...and I want to rub it in their faces that I took them down (at least) once, and I'd more than willing to do it again...hehehe!!! 


Malik (3/10/06)  

At a time when funding for scientific research is at an all time low (I know this personally from my day job, which is funded entirely through government scientific research grants) and it's becoming a major hurdle for well established labs to contend with in order to not shut their doors, do we need this? Do we need Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, and Joe Lieberman to waste precious health related money and time into studying the harmful effects of media (that's read "violent games") on the average American (read "children")? 

For one thing, this is the first step. The first step towards finding a reason to ban/restrict games. This is the first step towards censorship. This is the first step towards Clinton and Lieberman attaining their goal of no one in America being able to enjoy a little downtime. Yippee! 

Also, do we actually need this type of study when there are a couple of longstanding truths. First off, no solid research has shown a negative link between game playing and children's behavior issues. There have been some studies that have shown it, but these studies have been flawed, with too little of a sampling size and with too many external factors ("when we watch 100 children who love games, but just happens that most come from violent homes, they tend to be more violent"). However, there have been some great studies into the effects of video games, which have been not fully conclusive, but built around a better scientific method; 

Did you know that it's been observed that med students and young doctors who were raised on games and play more video games on average tend to be better surgeons? It's true. The reason is actually rather simple and intuitive; many modern operating techniques (endoscopy, non-invasive procedures, and brain surgery in particular) are focused more about manipulations of robotics, and the use of a joystick or two is required. Of course, the doctors who have played more games are better at the finger dexterity needed to properly use these devices. 

It's also been observed that video games can serve educational purposes WHEN used in conjunction with proper/established educational techniques. In other words, an educational game can help improve a student's abilities when it's used on top of standard class work. 

Also, the use of computers, which most children are more likely to get through playing games than any other source, is an important thing for one as an adult. Considering how most current jobs required some computer use/knowledge, it only makes sense that exposing children to computers (in moderation) will help them becomes more familiar with them for their future. 

I just wish some new technology would come along. A new thing that is highly entertaining and is more controversial than games, and that way the leaders of the American government can get a different bug up their asses. I'm sick of, after 20 years, seeing my favorite pastime (games) still being the main target for their aggressions. Better yet, why don't they look into the more important factors of violent children. "Yes, little Billy did play a lot of GTA before shooting up that mall...however, he also had no supervision from his parents and he suffered from severe psychosis." 

Speaking of insanity, I've played some more Shadow Hearts 3. The game is becoming more entertaining as I get used to the controls and learn to accept that you main character will not walk in a logical path, so just let him go where he wants to go. It's another one of those old style of 3D RPGs in which pressing up on the analogue stick actually leads your character in more of a diagonal direction to give the false illusion of 3D movement. In other words, think of how you move in FFVII versus how you move in a more modern game like Grandia 3. 

However, the rest of the game is showing it's value. Of course, having the same combat engine as the previous SH games is a definite bonus (since I loved both of them). The combat system, the menu system, the quirky sense of humor, the fun to use fusions (like summons on FFX, but cooler), the two gay dress makers (they return from SH2, but this time they haven't mentioned male erotica or doll dresses...yet...), the great world map's all here again. 

The only real downside, so far, is the lack of an interesting villain. When SH1 began, we were treated to Roger Bacon (I'll keep things spoiler free...for those who still NEED to play SH1...), one of the most frightening villains in an RPG (if you haven't played SH1, but you've seen Cowboy Bebop, think of a more fleshed out and f#@$ed up Pierrot Le Fou), terrorizing a young woman on a train when a demon enters the room to do battle with this madman. In SH2, you are treated to Nicolai's struggle for world destroying power and the destruction of a rustic European village. Meanwhile, in SH3, you start as a detective who is looking for a guy who jumped bail. Then, you are introduced to a portal that can make random monsters. You eventually will learn the guy who hired you to track down the bail jumper is...a guy with a past. Seriously, there is nothing in there that stands out from the start as "OMG! That's an evil bad guy!!!111!!!". In fact, after you lose track of the guy with a past, you literally have three or so weeks to kill, so your party goes to the Grand Canyon. There is no sense of urgency, so sense of of a dilemma to solve, so sense of action, and no sense of this being anything more than that this game is not going to make you feel rushed. When you're dealing with a slower paced game, like an RPG, a little pseudo-action can go a long way. 

Anyway, despite having, so far, a weak plot and a lack of motivation to get any task done in the game, SH3 is definitely a gem among RPGs. It's just too bad that it's release falls between Grandia 3 (which get's more fanfare just by being Square Enix published) and Oblivion (do I need to say anything?), so it's bound to be more of a sleeper title. 


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