Malik (3/28/05)  

So, shortly after posting on Friday, I cracked out my PSP. I was just planning to play a little Ys while the battery charged, but I just wanted to get it over with...the whole decision of if PSP is teh pwnzor over DS, blah, blah. 

I mean the whole issue of which handheld is best is simply pointless. With these two systems it's like asking if the GCN is better than the PS2. Nintendo and Sony, despite both being hardware manufacturers and game developers/publishers, have never really been in too direct of competition. Nintendo has always had a more simplistic belief to their games, while Sony was more refined, but almost too refined. It's like how with a Nintendo system, there are never as many games, and the games are rarely all that good, but when a good game comes out, it is loved by all. With Sony, you have many good games in a really big library, but it's far rarer to find a game that's universally accepted. In other words, Nintendo has beloved games like Mario Kart and Smash Brothers while Sony has Twisted Metal and Tekken. TM and Tekken are good games, if you like them. Meanwhile, MK and Smash are just fun. 

For this type of reason, I never bought into this massive fight of PSP versus DS. They both attract completely different audiences. I'll get it out in the open; I like the PSP a hell of a lot more, right now, than I like the DS. However, that's for two reasons; Ape Escape (I love this series), and the PSP is new, so I haven't had time to become jaded to it, yet. In fact, give me a few months and I might feel the exact same about both systems (well, wait until I've finished GTA for the PSP). Or you could give me until the Winter and I'll possibly tell you all how the PSP sucks compared to the DS as I play Animal Crossing DS (but never fully admit to it) and Mario Kart DS, and maybe a little Metroid: Hunters. 

In fact, that's what it all comes down to; the games. Both systems have great controls, beautiful displays (PSP has better visuals, but like with the N64, Nintendo knows how to impress with less with the DS), some fun games, some bad games, some technical problems (dead pixels, etc...and yes, I have a few dead PSP pixels, but it's not really that fact, I can't see it except on the almost all black Ape Escape loading screens), the DS has smaller (memory-wise) games while the PSP has long loading times. The systems are comparable in value, and the systems are different in audience. 

So, enough of this. My impressions of the PSP have been quite favorable so far. While I have had a minor technical problem or the dead pixels (which are not noticeable on this screen except in a loading screen)...the system has wowed me. I still think Sony was being an ass to force the 32MB Memory Duo sticks on us, but that's their call. I still would have preferred the standard PSP (as sold in Japan) as opposed to the Value Package, and then using the left over money for a 512MB or a 1GB Memory Duo. I mean the 32MB holds 5 MP3s (at least how I encode them...I like quality over quantity) or zero movies. Seriously, I have no videos small enough to be tested on my PSP yet (I was planning to hit Best Buy for a memory stick yesterday, but in a move that really confused me, most non-grocery stores were closed on Easter, despite how many will be open on Christmas and Thanksgiving), so that feature is still nothing but a myth to me. 

As for the games, I've been more impressed than not. However, I think a major issue involving racing games exists. On one hand, the included demo UMD (comes with the PSP) shows an awesome demo of Ridge Racer that makes it look far better than the PS2 launch title from that series. In fact, the RR demo is nothing short of awe-inspiring eye-candy that makes me want to impulse-buy this game. On the other hand, I got NFSU: Rivals with my PSP...and this game looks like a cross between a GBA racer and a PS1 racer. It is fun, none-the-less, but it is not a PSP quality title. It is a little on the pathetic side in most fields (at least in the actual races). The only thing it has going for it is the EA Trax music soundtrack. The first portable game I've ever played with a good selection of music on it. I just think it's a shame that there's no option to use your memory stick MP3s as a custom sound-track. That would be sweet. 

I also got Untold Legends, which is another BG:DA style game. There's nothing new, but there's enough entertainment value to keep a BG:DA fan happy. I also got Spiderman 2 as part of the lame bundle I had to get to get my PSP, and have yet to play it. It just doesn't seem worth the time, yet. I've heard too many bad things to spend time on Spiderman 2 that I could have more fun wasting on... 

Ape Escape. What can I say? I love this series. It's insanely fun on the PSX, it's insanely fun on the PS2, and it's still insanely fun on the PSP...just a little more annoying to control (thanks to the lack of a second analogue stick). Also, the PSP analogue stick is rather poorly designed for this style of game. At least it only adds to the learning curve and doesn't actually ruin the game...but it makes narrow ledges over bottomless pits into a nightmare. However, beyond this time required to learn the PSP's controls, this is by far my favorite PSP launch title. Also, it will probably be my second favorite (first? GTA) when the year comes to an end. It's fun and easy to pick up, it requires very little time to start playing, and the logic behind capturing the monkeys is so varied that you'll always be thinking. 

Anyway, the PSP is a good addition, so far, to my game line-up. It hasn't been the failure that the Nintendo fanboys promised...of course it also wasn't the be-all end-all that the Sony fanboys hyped. The battery lasts for a good amount of time (I played NFS for about 4 hours straight on Friday night and had about 45% left on my battery...the system will tell you how much remains). The wireless adapter can be turned off and the screen can be dimmed to conserve battery power. You can put the system in sleep mode, and then wake it up to pick up what you left off exactly as you left it, with no re-load time, and with no noticeable power drain. 

When it's all said and done, the PSP does far better than the pessimistic previews claimed, and pretty close to what the optimistic previews promised.  There are some flaws, like in the massive number of PSPs with dead pixels, but it does live up to the hype.  However, like with the DS, it will not matter unless both handhelds crank out the quality least the PSP is off to a good start.


Malik (3/29/05)  

Yesterday I talked about some good stuff. I mean I have the shiny and pretty PSP in my hands, and it is definitely not a let down. In fact, not trying to sound like a fanboy, but this is the best LAUNCH (not best system, handheld, blah, blah) I've seen for a system. The system is not in as bad of a supply deficit as the PS2, XBox, or GCN, the games that are available may be mostly sports but they are good games and there is variety, and the technical problems have been kept down to mainly just some dead pixels (and as the owner of three of these pixels, let me say it is not noticeable unless you try to find them...yes, it is a defect, but a minor's not like the dead lines or pixels the GB had at launch way back at the end of the 80's). So, with such good news yesterday... 

I'll start by saying how I opened my mail yesterday and...who could it be? It's Mr. Pants! He was just sitting in my mail, waiting for me. This game has lived up to the one expectation I definitely had for this game; it is insane. Very insane. Katamari Damacy is very sane compared to Mr. Pants. The game starts with Mr. Pants humming an occasional note to his theme song. He won't hum all of them...just one ever couple of seconds...and then he shouts that everyone needs to join him for the next verse?! This is definitely refreshing...the insanity, that is. There is nothing like a good level of insanity in a puzzle style game. 

Sadly, that's where the game stops being good. You have a puzzle mode in which you have blocks that are made up of smaller squares (think Tetris pieces, but not limited to being only 4 squares in size). You have to take these squares to make 2x3 (or larger) squares or rectangles of a given color. Then the pieces will vanish. It's a good puzzle idea. It's a little new, and a little nostalgia for those who miss those type of thinking exercises from elementary school. However, in the puzzle mode (which is the most interesting mode), you have a limited number of pieces, and you don't know what pieces are coming up later in the round until you're almost ready to use them. This means you have to know the layout of all the pieces before you start the puzzle. In other words, you have to know the solution (or be one hell of a lucky guesser) before you start a puzzle. When you reach high level puzzles, you will NOT finish any on your first attempt since you won't know how many pieces of what size and color await you. 

...sigh...and I had such high hopes for a game with a name as insane as "It's Mr. Pants"... 

Also, I played some Ys for the PS2. I also think I've finished Ys. I don't mean I beat the game, but rather that the game beat me with a few really intrusive problems. Luckily, I've played enough where I think a fair review is easy to do (it's not a long game, and I was nearing the end). Anyway, I just need to get some visuals from the game, for said review, and then I can trade this biz-natch in for something fun (like a PSP game). 

Anyway, I'll cover it in my review, but since that may take a few days, here's a warning to those who think they'd like Ys. You might be able to get over these problems, but I just couldn't; 

First off, you are playing a Zelda inspired adventure game (as in, the engine is ala Zelda), with the ability for your character to jump. A lot like BG:DA. Also, like with BG:DA, there are some really bad jumping puzzles. Well, the puzzles aren't bad, but the accuracy of your jumps and the detection of the jump button are far from good. I spent about an hour on a jumping puzzle that, on any other adventure style game, would have been finished in about a minute (on the first try)...I won't even say how many attempts go into an hour. 

Secondly, to help your jumping, you have a special move called something along the lines of the Dash Jump. It is a rather basic move that involves tapping a direction and then hitting attack followed by jump. It's so basic, you can even hit attack and jump at the same time, and it will usually count. However, the other part is not so nice...when I say tap a direction and then hit buttons, I mean you tap a direction and stop. Wait a whole half of a second. Now you can hit attack (followed by jump). You will need this move to find a lot of secret items, etc. However, more times than not, you will find yourself walking off a cliff, rather than using the special long jump you get with this move. Then you have to repeat getting up to said cliff-top. Then you will fail the jump again. However, you'll find that you have no problem with this move, until you actually need it. 

Third, and worst, is the difficulty. When you start a dungeon, if you find the monsters give you a nice level of challenge (they aren't easy, but they don't just flat-out kill you either), you need to leave the dungeon and level up. If you have a moderate level of challenge from the normal enemies, it means the boss will mutilate you. The boss with beat you senseless and then make love to your corpse...and then consider killing you again. Yes, the bosses are this lop-sided. It's like each boss you face was actually meant, challenge-wise, for the next dungeon. So, to progress in the game, you will have to fight a ton of normal enemies to get insanely high in levels, dash through a dungeon without a fear as the monsters deal 1 damage (the minimum) with each hit, and then you will get a rather challenging, but possible, boss fight. You will waste so much time much time...gone... 

Lastly, if you face a boss that you weren't prepared for, and then you die, you will at least be given the option to either reload your game (losing all stuff you've gained since you saved) or to fight the boss again (a do-over). You will get as many do-overs as it takes for you to realize that you are not ready for this fight, even though you took no damage in the dungeon leading to it. So, you will ultimately have to reload...but, to make you feel worse about this choice, you will know that most of your healing items are not usable during a boss battle. This is because of how you can only access your menu (with your healing items) when you are not in a boss fight. However, you can bind a single healing item type (which you can carry 9 of each item type) to a single item use button (triangle). Sadly, if you didn't know you were entering a boss fight, you may have a big stack of antidotes on that button, or maybe a single remaining weak healing item (since you have a ton of strong ones that were saved for this fight, but it's too late to equip). 

Anyway, I just can't take it. This crap is just not fun. Nostalgia has a price, and it should have been $40. Instead the price for this nostalgia is $40 and all my past notions of how fun it was to play a Ys game and see the exploits of Dogi and Adol. Blah. 

At least I'll get a real adventure RPG fix in a couple weeks with Jade I have the PSP until then (and after, but you know what I mean). 


Malik (3/30/05)  

One minute Nintendo is back to sounding like they have some good plans and the backwards compatibility of the Revolution, the wireless connection, the ideas of trying to bring back old gamers who've given up their old hobbies. Then, Nintendo (via Mr. Iwata) has to say something a little more...ummm...unsettling. Check out Gamespot to see what I mean. 

While Iwata has some good ideas of making games simpler for newbs to get into gaming, this is a double-edged sword. If you make things too simplistic, then the "hardcore" gamers will have less incentive to get involved. For example, if the "user-interface" (we call them controllers) is made simplistic enough to make newbs excited about gaming, then it would imply a control-scheme too simple to handle most modern style games. I mean, could you image playing Smash with an 8-bit NES controller? I think not. If you eliminate the complexity, you will only give the dedicated geeks more reason to abandon Nintendo. Also, the idea of the touch-screen (which is only a rumor, right now) for the Revolution controls is hopefully just a rumor. This would not only add complexity, but it would just be a bad idea in way too many ways to name. 

If one panders to newbs and gamers who quit playing back in the 8-bit days, not only could it remove a guaranteed audience of the current generation of gamers, but it is also a risky gamble. Who says the old-school gamers and the non-geeks don't play games for a reason beyond that controllers are too complex? Maybe these people just don't like games. Maybe they don't like modern games, and not modern controllers. Maybe they just don't have time for games. If you bet on them being your target audience, you are, quite literally, making a product with no solid audience...only a speculation of an audience. That would be like making a $250,000 car aimed at the people who like the $10,000 car range...people who don't buy expensive cars usually don't do it because the wrong types of vehicles are in the expensive price range...they just don't want a pricey car. Just like how many non-gamers may not be gamers simply because they don't want to be gamers. 

Before I make a random, but sensical, subject's a crazy one. I saw on Gamespot that John Carmack is making a cell phone game of Doom. "But Doom wouldn't work on a cell phone?". True. But apparently a RPG of Doom would. I won't even say anything else. The world is a crazy place. 

Anyway, I tried to get a new memory card for my PSP last night. I came to the conclusion that people who use digital cameras, and other electronics, that use the Memory Duo format must really hate the PSP. You cannot find memory cards anywhere. I also came to the conclusion that Sony and SanDisk (the two main manufacturers of Memory Duo cards) must be raking in the cash, just from Memory Duo sales since the PSP was released. These cards are not available anywhere. I mean physical and online stores...unless you want to go with something small. However, since the PSP does the whole multimedia thing, why would someone go out and buy a 64MB or smaller card to replace the teh lamzor 32MB that comes with the PSP. 

I am now the proud owner of an email saying my memory card is on backorder. It's like when the PS2 came out, and the memory cards did not come out in any numbers close to what the number of PS2s were. However, this time, I can't even rely on a ghetto MadCatz card to get me through (plus, who'd want a third-party, not counting SanDisk, card anyway when these cost so much) until the cards start arriving.

However, in the meantime, I am taking as much advantage of my 32MB card as possible. I've played around with some MPEG-4 converters (still haven't picked a favorite...they all do good, and they all have flaws) and also a DVD Decoder program, to see what can and what can't fit on the 32MB, and to see how the final videos come across on the PSP. Personally, I find the Yatta video (as found on ebaumsworld) as the best test file for these conversions. It's small, it's funny, and it has some video issues that help to test the PSP's screen abilities.

Anyway, I'm trying to get things together for the Ys review. It's been slow going, since I can't stop playing Ape Escape. I hopefully will at least get some images from the game tonight, and then I can sell this game off. It's not that it's a really bad game, but it's an annoying one that just ruin the game for me. I also would like to review some PSP titles, but I need to find a way to get screen shots that don't look like crap. It would be cool if someone made a program, that could be installed via memory card, to capture screen shots of PSP games. It probably wouldn't be hard, and it would make my life a lot easier.


Malik (3/31/05)  

It's hard to really be up to date with my posts when Ape Escape has claimed my will to do anything...besides play more Ape Escape. While many people talk about how Lumines is the best PSP launch game, or how Ridge Racer and Wipeout are the most technically advanced, or how Untold Legends is the best bet since it's the most unique of the launch titles, it amazes me how no one has even mentioned Ape Escape. It's almost like this game was never released in the US and I just imported the title. It's like people are afraid to like a game with slightly lower quality of visuals (yet still not as bad as the race visuals for NFS:UR). It's like people are afraid of playing a game that requires some thinking while not being officially titles a puzzle game. 

I can't say I'm surprised. I saw how Ape Escape 2 (PS2) went from about $50 at release to disappearing from shelves (not from being sold out, but from being pushed to the back, away from the eyes of shoppers) with a $10 price tag in less time than it took for Beyond Good and Evil to do the same trick. This is an awesome game that will never, it seems, catch on in the US. I think the main reason is quite simple; the game requires some quick reflexes, stealthy moves, a lot of strategy (at times), and a unique perspective that can solve puzzles on the fly without the help of specially shaped blocks. This makes the game ideal for older players (I would've hated the challenge of this series when I was younger since it does tax the mind a good deal...especially Ape Escape 2). However, the visuals and the concept are just insanely simple and cutesy. You are out to stop a bunch of monkeys who have special helmets to give them higher levels of intelligence and brightly colored pants that tell you what these monkeys specialize in. It's the type of thing that most gamers who would enjoy the challenge and puzzle aspects would find very annoying and as a major turn-off. 

It's always a shame when such a brilliantly executed series or title (BG&E is another perfect example of a game like this) just goes right under the radar. This escape from notice is why I was incredibly surprised to not only see Ape Escape was a PSP launch title, but that it would come out at all in the US. In fact, the only factor that's probably pushing any sales of this game is that as a launch title, there's so little competition (less than 20 games) that it can't just hide under all the other titles as shoppers browse the PSP section. 

Anyway, I don't know if I'll ever get around to a review of this game...I know I should...but I, for now, have to say this game is hella sweet. It needs to be owned by all PSP players who enjoy challenging puzzles that don't just use colored blocks. This is the type of game that fits puzzle gamers who want something a little more free-form and free-thinking. Plus, there are mini-games of SSX-style snowboarding, boxing, ping-pong, and racing, which can all be played solo as they are unlocked in 1 player mode, or multiplayer from the start. 

Anyway, speaking of reviews, I am working on the Ys review. It's taking some time due to a certain game I mentioned a few dozen times above. It's hard to play some Ys to get some screen shots when monkeys look so much more appealing. Anyway, I'm aiming for a Friday release of the review. We'll see if that holds up tomorrow, but that's my'll probably be more like Monday...sigh. For those who watch South Park, the PSP has done to me what it did to Kenny (without the dying and leading the Armies of Heaven thing). 


Malik (4/1/05)  

I was starting to feel a bit fed up with my little amount of PSP memory, and how my 1GB Memory Duo is on back-order. So, I did some browsing and came to three conclusions; Firstly, that there are no memory chips available for the PSP beyond the 256MB range. I don't mean there is very little...I mean you just cannot buy them (except at a price that would not be worth double the memory you'd get). The one I ordered from (one of the best prices for a 1GB SanDisk chip) is on b/o until who knows when. I'm probably one thousandth in line for their next shipment. So, while I wait, I could either buy a little chip to tide me over, and then feel like I blew the same amount of money I could blow on a game when my 1GB comes through, or I can bitch and moan...I'm good at wasting money, but I'm better at bitching (sorry, no Malik's Bitchings this week...consider this post my M's B for the week...the PSP is just too good to complain about and I was counting on complaining about it...sigh) and moaning. So, I opt for the bitching's too tight with the IRS asking for a big chunk of my paycheck this year.

Secondly, the companies out there who sell Memory Duo online are mainly full of crap. A good deal of them have jacked up their prices to take advantage of the PSP launch. However, more of them are just sold-out and have decided to lie their asses off about when one could expect more in. So many retailers have listed "ships in 1 or 2 days" on their sold out Duos for a week now. I am better they may ship that frequently, but if you signed up for one right now, you'll get it after the back-log of 1000 other people ahead of you clears out. At least one thing I like to see is that a couple of places have actually listed that their Duos will ship in "1 to 2 weeks". I can believe that.

Thirdly, Sony and SanDisk were not ready for the PSP release. I mean it's like the PS2 release all over again. There is no memory available. However, unlike with the PS2, we don't have the ghetto brands making memory, so we can't even settle for a MadKatz brand until the good stuff comes out. This would've been the ideal time for a company like SanDisk to have anticipated a larger demand and then to have made a majority of their yearly Memory Duo sales in one small space. This would have, financially, been a major success with how they could have ended one fiscal year and started the next (assuming they have the standard April 1st fiscal year start) with a major success. Oh well...they will still make out good, just like Sony, and we gamers who want a little bit of extra storage for our PSPs...well, it just teh suxor to be us.

To change subjects, I'm still working at the Ys review. It's almost done, except for some nice screen shots. I would say it should be up today, but things look sketchy since I have some prior commitments this evening and will therefore probably not get those screen shots taken care of until this weekend. Anyway, keep checking back and you (and I) might be pleasantly surprised.

Also, I decided to blow some more money last night. Like I said above, I'm good at doing that. I bought Wipeout Pure for the PSP in a fit of desire. I needed a good racing game that felt like it had real speed to it. I mean with NFS:UR you only feel like you're actually moving fast if you're using nitrous...which is infrequent. I still stand by my past thoughts that EA really needed to push the technology of NFS:UR beyond what a DS would be having. The game feels really good for a DS titles, but the PSP is just capable of a little more visually. So, that's why I got Wipeout. I've yet to play it (blame Ape Escape), but I should probably get in some good time with it this evening.

Also, on an interesting note; Square Enix is making a new RPG in Japan that sounds a lot more interesting than the stale direction that their flagship Dragon Quest and FF series have both taken. I'm talking about Code Age Commanders. There's a nice story about the basics of it at Gamespot. While I'm weary of this making it to the US, and while I'm weary of how Square Enix has been making games lately, the story should be an interesting one. It basically deals with a concept of a world that undergoes periodic total extinctions, and one is due quite soon. So the people of this world start to look for solutions, blah, blah. It sounds pretty interesting from the plot...too bad Square Enix can't make a fun game anymore and that it won't make it to the US anyways...prove me wrong, Square...prove me wrong.