I Feel So Old…

There was almost no gaming for me to report this week; only on Friday did I recover from perhaps a little too much Mario Galaxy the previous week, and start a completely new instance of Panzer Dragoon Orta. Two playthroughs have been completed, and I’m dropping into the groove of it again – figuring out Gene Bases, boss tactics, all the fun stuff.

And it’s not hard to become immersed in the world of Orta – it’s absolutely beautiful, with the original Xbox upscaling to widescreen component with ease. The sound, too, is delightful, and the gameplay’s tighter than a gnat’s chuff. I’m loving it (again) so far, and can’t wait to start cranking the difficulty and push my play into more defensive directions.

The other big reason for minimal gaming this week was AVCon… and, as with last year’s event, it’s left me feeling old again.

Last year saw me bullied via PictoChat by a bunch of youngsters; this year, my advancing years were highlighted in the Retro Gaming Panel. The younger members of the audience mercilessly mocked older games that actually were piquing my interest, and their constant stream of criticism and loud-mouthed buffoonery just made me feel sad. Apart from that, though, the panel itself was pretty good, covering a handful of consoles from the nineties (including the CD-32 & PC Engine), though the Jaguar section was a little soft – Cybermorph and Aliens vs Predator? No T2K or Zero 5?

The gaming side of AVCon is getting bigger and better – as well as the plethora of consoles set up for free play: current gen all evenly represented, with a smattering of older consoles (NES, SNES, Dreamcast, N64) for nostalgia, and a bunch of booths for music games (Donkey Konga – or one of its ilk – got a fair old hammering all weekend). The LAN setup was pretty big, too, though I saw the odd connection errors during Quake III(!) play. The Indie games room was a bit of a gem – they had a massive amount of space, and with the increasing popularity of gaming on the iPhone and XBLIG, there were a couple of really professional looking titles on display. Look out for inCline on the iPhone… it’s a one-touch game (like Canabalt) that feels absolutely wonderful. Should be in the App Store in a couple of weeks, they reckon.

Yes, I splurged on anime and manga again; but at least I indulged in sweet, sweet irony by making sure that Halo Legends was the first Blu-Ray I ever purchased. Didn’t attend either cosplay competition, but I did see an amazing Midna (from Zelda: Twilight Princess) wandering the halls.

And… that’s about my week. Next week: more Orta! More Crackdown 2! And, perhaps, the start of the only thing approaching a JRPG I have outstanding… Chrono Trigger

A New Era…

Last night I had cause to look something up on this blog – a quip I’d made at some stage – and happened to notice that it was nearly three months since I’d posted an entry here. That caught me a little by surprise, really; and now it’s time to make amends, and time to get back to writing. And I’ll open with a grandiose statement:

It’s a new era at The Moobaarn.

Indeed, it’s a new Moobaarn.

In the three months since my last post on this blog, I’ve moved house, bought my first new TV in over 15 years, and – gasp! – acquired a brand spanking new PS3. Luckily, those last two events were linked, thanks to Sony’s latest promotion; I’ve not assisted SCE’s ledger by actually purchasing one of their now-profitable bits of gaming hardware. And the out-of-box experience is great; it’s a lovely chunk of kit, and was set up with no real drama.

Turning the PS3 on yielded another story. It strikes me that the XMB at the core of the PS3’s interface is every bit as cumbersome as the original blade interface of the 360, and completely at odds with the ten-foot interface paradigms of the Wii and the NXE. I reckon the interface – like the DualShock controller, something I’ve never really got on with – was designed by engineers, for engineers; the organisation and design is very clean and regular (symmetrical, in the case of the DualShock), but it fails to compensate for the volume of information… it just doesn’t feel fit-for-purpose, lumbering under the load of the options forced upon it by the opportunities afforded by the hardware.

Anyway, enough bitching.

Having a big HD telly for the first time led me to crack out some of the more graphically impressive 360 titles; Bayonetta‘s arse looks spectacular, Prince of Persia a cel-shaded work of art, and Space Giraffe even crazier than I remember. I tried getting my eye back into the twin-stick-shooter genre with little success (Mutant Storm Reloaded and Geometry Wars Evolved^2 both rebuffing my advances), and there was even some Halo 3 multiplayer during a zombie-themed Double-XP weekend that netted a few new achievements. Yes, the acquisition of a HD TV certainly performed wonders for my flagging gaming mojo.

Prior to delivery of my new TV, though, I was stuck in my new Moobaarn with most of my possessions trapped away in a barely stable structure of boxes. Sure, my old TV had been setup, but the 360 and Wii were buried underneath scores of books and old videotapes that had (perhaps mistakenly) also made the move. Desperate to make some impact on The List, I dug out my original Xbox and started flicking through the pending titles there; Panzer Dragoon Orta got a bit of a bash, but surprisingly I spent a fair wodge of time playing TimeSplitters 2. Now, I’ve ranted at length at this game on various internet fora, especially targeting those that recommended that game to me; as the second console FPS I ever played, it was a woefully abysmal experience compared to Halo. In fact, the in-game stats indicated that I’d spent a scant six hours playing TS2, completing it on the easiest difficulty setting, before running away to play something that felt right. I really didn’t like it at all.

Those same in-game stats, however, indicated that I’d only “completed” 10% of the game on offer… and that just doesn’t sit well with my OCD. So I started churning through some of the Arcade and Challenge modes, determined to attain Gold Trophies in all events… and, lo and behold, I found myself actually enjoying the game! What a pleasant surprise. Anyway, the percentage had crept up to about 34% by the time the new telly arrived and the old Xbox was consigned to a disused part of the entertainment unit; I will return to play more TimeSplitters 2, though, you mark my words.

My sole PS3 purchase so far has been the original Uncharted, and… well, colour me unimpressed. Woolly controls, glaringly shiny teeth, and paint-by-numbers action has done little to warm me; it really does feel like a prettied-up Tomb Raider clone with an awful lack of precision. In its defence, I’m only about half-way through the game, but my favourite bits thus far have been the oft-maligned jetski sections. Sure, Uncharted 2 may have been the critic’s choice for 2009, but on the strength of its predecessor I’m not sure I’ll bother.

But the good thing about this experience is that I think I’m starting to crystallise what appeals to me as a gamer. Without wanting to sound patronising in any way, Uncharted conjures up the same feeling, the same approach and mood, as Gears of War did for me; not in the gameplay (though there’s certainly some similarities there too), but in the way it’s presented: linear progression with well-defined set-pieces. And, just as GoW irked me massively (co-op hijinks with friends notwithstanding), I think Uncharted is going to pan out the same way.

Ummmmm, what else have I been doing in the last couple of months? Well, I’ve knocked two Wii games – The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Super Paper Mario – off the list, the latter being a paniccy weekend completion of one of my aforementioned In Case Of Emergency games when I realised that I wasn’t getting my skills together to complete Wii Play. Yes, the best part of five grand dropped on a nice new HD telly, and I’ve spent most of my time playing Wii games. And that continues even now, with the local release of Super Mario Galaxy 2 last Thursday… a couple of days solid play has allowed me to gather 118 Power Stars, enough to access one of the finest levels of gaming I’ve ever encountered… but more on that later.

Next week? Crackdown 2… and I cannot fucking wait. Which makes me reflect on the fantastic world we live in; only a fortnight ago, I wandered into my preferred vendor of gaming goodness and slapped down pre-orders on Super Mario Galaxy 2, Crackdown 2, and Halo: Reach, and two of those are released within a week of each other. How awesome is that?