PSVita is a little more expensive than you thought

The PSVita now has an official UK price tag, set last week when Sony announced what us folk here in Blighty are expected to pay. And as with pretty much everything video game related, we’re getting screwed. You’ve seen the numbers by now, the Wifi only model has an RRP of £229.99 and the all singing all dancing Wifi plus 3G will set you back £279.99. Converting those figures into American dollars will only add insult to injury but needless to say, it ain’t pretty.

Much like the 3DS which may not have had an official UK RRP, the price was initially £229.99 and soon dropped once online retailers and supermarkets found ways of subsidising costs. I would like to think the PSVita will experience the same fury of price competition close to the February 22nd 2012 release date but Sony have made it quite clear in the past that they’re not budging when it comes to RRP. That’s fine, the PSVita is a beastly piece of kit with a gorgeous OLED screen and has oodles of potential to right the wrongs of the original PSP but one thing that’s not been at the forefront of press releases is how not all games can be saved directly onto the game card (via Kotaku). Some, like the poster boy for PSVita, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, requires a memory card to save progress. Proprietary memory cards that is meaning we’ll be paying overly inflated prices for standard hardware. Exactly how much isn’t known but if the Japanese figures are anything to go by, a 4GB card will cost ¥2,200 or £19 whereas a 32GB card is ¥9,500 or £78 (roughly).

To make the most out of your PSVita, it looks like a proprietary memory card is essential, a concept not seen in gaming since the last generation now that most systems and devices come packed with a hefty hard drive or indeed capabilities to save to humble SD cards. Will this hurt day one sales of the PSVita? Probably not. Those lucky enough to be early adopters will most likely find it to be an annoyance rather than a deterrent but it’s not all that welcoming to future consumers. When many are touting this to be the last generation of dedicated handheld devices, I would have thought the PSVita wouldn’t come with little surprises like this because the more people they can get on board, the better for Sony.

I want the PSVita to be a hit. I want it and the 3DS to re-ignite the glory days or handheld gaming but I’ve been slightly burned by picking up a 3DS so early and can’t quite get the bitter taste of the PSP – or its lack of attention from publishers – out of my mouth so am somewhat apprehensive about getting a PSVita. Who knows, come February I may have the cash for one. As long as these scratch cards deliver something…

UPDATE: It turns out that the choice whether or not to save directly to a PSVita game card or memory card has been left up to the publishers not Sony. The reason? Because saving to the memory card means that game can have post-launch DLC. But those which save directly onto the game card can only save in that way so from the get go we’re to have a minor fragmentation in software. Lets hope it stays minor too.

No lefty mode for Skyward Sword after all

For most things, I used my right hand but when the rise of shooters began on consoles around the late 90s, I became a southpaw gamer. The reason for such a turn of events was down to GoldenEye on the N64 and its control method. I chose to use the analog stick to aim while the C buttons controlled my movement and hence forth I was trapped in the world of the lefty. It was a weird place, not due to the company but rather the negativity that came with it. Like those who invert their controls, lefties who complained that a game had no southpaw support usually received an unhealthy amount of hate from the normos. And for a long old time, games that excluded left handed gamers from the control options were plentiful. Despite loving stealth action games, I never got into the Splinter Cell series for that very reason but I forced myself to relearn how to play games in order to play Gears of War and thankfully for my hobby, I’m no longer a lefty.

But southpaws had a leader, they had a character who kicked large amounts of butt all by slashing his sword with his left hand. He was Link and until his debut on the Wii, was a lefty. The percentage of Wii gamers however were not and since Twilight Princess had you waggling the Wii Remote to use the sword, it made more sense for Nintendo to make the new Link right handed. It didn’t matter too much because the precision was lacking in TP so gamers needed to do little more than shake their fists however, Link’s next adventure in Skyward Sword is different. It uses the Wii MotionPlus with added tracking for specific angled attacks. Originally, IGN reported that the game would have a lefty mode meaning not only would the player swap hands, so would Link but Kotaku has found out this isn’t the case.

Stephen Totilo of Kotaku and outed lefty didn’t feel the lack of a left handed mode made a huge difference to the game but if Nintendo want to go that little bit further in making players believed they’re assuming the role of Link, it wouldn’t have been much bother to simply swap hands depending on how your personally play Skyward Sword.

After all, it’s also been revealed that this new Zelda game was never meant to have motion controls, going back to using good old buttons instead (reports Siliconera). This I would have liked after not being a huge fan of waggle gaming (to clarify, I like the Wii and Nintendo games but don’t always appreciate shaking the remote or nunchuck when a button would be easier). After finishing Twilight Princess, producer Eiji Aonuma got to work on Skyward Sword with Hideomaro Fujibayashi directing. It was Fujibayashi who said to use Wii MotionPlus  but Aonuma wasn’t convinced until Wii Sports Resort was released and its mini games had similarities to some of Zelda‘s mechanics (like archery). Aonuma was satisfied but while this was going on, poor Ryuji Kobayashi was busy finishing Skyward Sword‘s combat using buttons. That was soon scrapped and replaced with what we have today, a full Wii MotionPlus experience. It’s a bit of a shame since I’ve been getting used to battling in Zelda with ease on the 3DS in Four Swords and Ocarina of Time and it would have been interesting to see if Skyward Sword would have played the same if it lacked motion support. Would you of had to fight enemies using specific strikes of the sword or was that added purely because of the added precision of Wii MotionPlus? And would removing that meant we’d get ‘just another’ Zelda game? Honestly, I don’t think I’d have minded if we did.

Battlefield, dull? You’re just not playing the right bits…

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I haven’t been one of the lucky few who have got their hands on an almost complete version of Battlefield 3 but have read a number of posts from those who have over the weekend. So how’s it looking as a usurper to the Call of Duty thrown? Well opinions will always be divided on which is the better game but B3 to me has lost foothold in their climb to the top by having what a lot of people are calling a dull single player campaign.

But how can this be when the multiplayer looks and plays so very promising? As did the gameplay videos EA have touted in various trade shows and conferences this year. Kotaku asked executive producer Patrick Bach the same thing and was told

“To be honest, a big part of what single-player in Battlefield is is a tutorial for multiplayer, quickly adding “It’s not a training mission, it’s not a shooting range—it’s an emotional roller-coaster at the same time as it shows you all the bits and pieces of the game. It’s a great introduction for the multiplayer. Because when you go into multiplayer for the first time, it’s very dry, it’s very ‘Here I am, with my gun, what do I do?’ While single-player brings you more on a journey.”

The Call of Duty franchise is equally guilty of this and despite the added narrative and Easter eggs in Black Ops, it felt the most like a free-flowing shooting gallery. However, according to the previews, so does Battlefield 3 only it sounds as if there’s even less personality to it. But does that even matter? The vast majority of gamers who will buy either of thins year’s big military shooters won’t touch the single player component and dive head first into multiplayer. They don’t need or want a tutorial for online play and will most probably find both games to be the most fun they’ve had since the previous title so a weak campaign isn’t really a big deal. Plus Battlefield has always been a multiplayer-focused game and it was the Bad Company series that introduced a grand storyline to follow. Personally I fall into the minority with shooters as I tend not to play a lot online preferring to fight on my own. So a good campaign is more important to me and it sounds as if, once again, I’m going to be a little disappointed.

That’s fine, these games aren’t made for me, they’re made for the millions of competitive multiplayer fans charging across Xbox Live, PSN and PCs every day. I had hoped that the direction which EA appeared to be taking the series in was to be an all-encompassing FPS, combining a Bad Company campaign with traditional Battlefield online battles but the latest buzz from The Guardian paper is that Bad Company may make a comeback after all. I also hoped that all the trash talking from Jeff Brown towards Activision would actually mean something and EA would release a game superior to Modern Warfare 3 in every way. I get the impression that in reality we’ll be getting something that fall short in all the same ways Call of Duty does.

Only On PSN

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Today’s the day that Sony will begin releasing PS2 games onto PSN. It’s part of an initiative designed to trump the competition called Only On PSN which, as the name suggests, will feature games only available on PlayStation devices. Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade is a close comparison or a least used to be with it’s once fully exclusive experiences but along with brand new games, Only On PSN will host classic PS2 titles that Sony consider rare. Odin Sphere, GrimGrimoire, Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, God Hand and Ring of Red will kick things off on a campaign that hasn’t had much marketing behind it. You would have though the arrival of PS2 games over PSN is worthy of celebration.

Well actually it’s not all that great. These PS2 games won’t have any additional features at all. They’ll be exactly the same as they were on the older system. Which means someone somewhere as figured out how to get last-gen games working on a PS3. A once standard feature for all consoles that was removed from the PS3 to cut cost and drive the potential for profits. If you own any of these games and don’t have a launch system you may have been a little bummed about not being able to play them without setting up your PS2 again. For those gamers, Only On PSN means just that. In order to ever play them again, it can only be on PSN for a price.

Re-selling software isn’t anything new, just look at Nintendo and the huge push for HD versions of classics mainly found on the PS3. I always thought it was because of the inability to emulate PS2 games and maybe it was until now but instead of selling the games over PSN, in a perfect world we’d be getting the emulator instead, awakening the forgotten game libraries. But this isn’t a perfect world, it’s a business.

Looking on the flip side, if you don’t own any of those games, hunting them down over eBay etc can be a nuisance, especially if the seller does consider them rare. Another big factor is how there could well be younger gamers who never owned a PS2 or were so young their collection w as fairly limited. With that in mind, the ability to hop on a digital distribution service and pick up a classic can also be seen as a welcome feature.

Right now, Only On PSN is just for America but Europe will be getting something similar in the near future.

3DS gets a price drop already?

If I can afford it, I tend to be one of the early adopters of hardware, eager to dabble in the latest gaming tech. I know it’s an expensive habit but if I save all my pennies long enough in advance of a system launch, then a new system I shall have. After all, no company drops the price of a new piece of hardware for a fair amount of time right? Well, that used to be the case until the struggling sales of 3DS has forced Nintendo to cut around a third off the RRP less than five months after its release on August 12th (via Eurogamer).

As you can imagine, day-one buyers will probably be a little pissed at the news. I know I am. Not because I don’t think the 3DS was worth the £200 I paid but because if I were a patient man, I could have saved myself a few quid. Nintendo have acknowledged the potential upset they’ve caused with the announcement saying:

“We are aware this may cause you, the loyal fans who supported Nintendo 3DS from the beginning, to lose trust in us, and this is not our intention in any way.”

And before out of pocket supporters claimed death to Nintendo, the humbled company revealed something called The Ambassador program. Anyone who buys a 3DS before the price drop will get ten exclusive GameBoy Advance games via the Virtual Console for free. The full list hasn’t been revealed just yet but so far Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Metroid Fusion, WarioWare and Mario vs. Donkey Kong are all confirmed. But the apologetic gifts don’t stop there, Ambassadors will also be given ten free NES games like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Jr. and The Legend of Zelda.

Now I know the prospect of having cold hard cash is always better than being given a bunch of old games but all that have been announced so far are some of Nintendo’s best. It certainly makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing knowing that 20 classic titles will be winging their way to me in the next couple of months without costing me any extra. Well, other than about a third of the price of a 3DS that is.

Crysis averted

When the first Crysis game was released, I didn’t have a hope in hell of playing it. My PC would have probably struggled with Minesweep let alone such a graphically intensive shooter. So the announcement that Crysis 2 was on its way to consoles pleased me to no end. I mean, the hallowed Crytek engine was coming to my platform of choice, what could be better? And earlier this year it did just that, playing brilliantly on my Xbox 360 and looking rather splendid in the process. Aside from the occasional moronic AI and frustrating glitches, I, the console gamer, was happy however some hardcore fans of the first game weren’t so chipper. A supposed dumbing down took place in order for it to run on consoles plus a shift in story and gameplay didn’t help matters. Worst of all for the die-hard crowd was the lack of Direct X 11 and 10 support opting to go with DX9 instead.

That meant Crysis 2 wasn’t the power hungry beast Crysis was and although looking gorgeous on places, it never truly tested GPUs. Crytek ceo, Cevat Yerli spoke with Gamasutra about the change and the upcoming patch saying: “Crysis 1’s intention was, if I were to play it three years later, it looks great. And it does, actually, it fulfilled that. But it made it difficult for entry-level players. So with Crysis 2, we took a different direction, and it backfired a little bit.” It’s unfortunate the a developer making a game more accessible in this way gets their wrists-slapped for doing so but the fans know what they want and it sounds as if they don’t want just any old gamer playing Crysis 2. The patch, coming in a couple of weeks, adds things like HDR motion blur, displacement and parallax occulsion mapping among other things which will no doubt make an already good looking game even more pretty but it really is just a peace offering of sorts to appease a certain crowd. Crytek will make no money by producing the patch as they don’t believe it’ll gin any more purchases. But ironically, the company are again trying to please everyone even though the original changes and omittance of DX11 were made in order to please everyone (my head hurts…)

“This is much more like a gift to the high-end community,” Yerli said. “And I think gamers will appreciate that. It lifts up Crysis 2 and gives a sneak peak of how PC gaming will evolve in the future, if you support a high-end preference.” It’s great that Crytek are tweaking the game so it can last a good few years but the annoyance apparently comes from PC fans wanting an upgrade over the console on release not months after. Which I can totally understand, Crysis 1 gained popularity by being intensive and why shouldn’t the sequel be too? One commenter on Gamasutra pointed out that the mainstream market wasn’t so happy with their rigs being pushed to the limit. He also pointed out a Steam survey which showed only 5% of users had a DX11 card with the majority using a DX10/11 one. That means only 5% would reap the benefits of high-end DX11 visuals and such a small number isn’t one a developer can economically focus all their attention on.

Not being a PC gamer I won’t fully appreciate the significance of the ‘degrade’ of Crysis 2 and subsequently its upgrade to DX11. But, as much as I enjoyed the game, it was the aforementioned questionable AI and bizarre glitches that spoilt Crysis 2, not the graphics.

Spencer kinects with Halo Anniversary

I have to admit, I loves me some Halo. Funnily enough, a game that puts a lot of emphasis on multiplayer is one that I happily play solo, buddying up for some fire fight action now and again but mostly I jump, shoot and squat all by myself. So you can imagine my excitement when Halo 4 was announced at E3. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t know it was coming so soon was wasn’t expecting it but was fully prepared for the remastered version of Master Chief’s first adventure, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

This November, Halo reaches its tenth birthday, hence the HD rerelease, and in that time the video game industry has changed dramatically thanks to the dominance of motion controls. The Wii arguably started it, Sony bettered it and Microsoft took away the controller all together, which is said to enhance certain games. You know, the whole ‘Better with Kinect’ tagline? With so many Kinect devices sold, it’s no wonder Microsoft are ramping up support and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is one of the first-party titles complete with Kinect integration. How? Right now, no-one really knows as the public only found out after Microsoft Games Studio head, Phil Spencer, gave an interview with Gamespot. Speaking about E3 as a whole, he said the companies aims this year was to talk of all the hardcore Kinect titles on the way. Games like Forza 4 and Ryse and “even games like Halo Anniversary.”

You can imagine the initial horror which springs to mind from the hardest of hardcore gamers. Controller-less Halo with hand-gestured shooting and Joy Ride-style Warthog driving. But in reality, it’s more probable that Kinect in Halo with be for things like grenade tossing or possibly melee attacks. And like Mass Effect 3 which also includes Kinect, you can guarantee the whole thing will be optional.

I’m all for developers finding interesting ways to introduce Kinect in traditional experiences. The way BioWare is doing it is exactly how motion-control should find their way into core games. But that’s still just the start. It’s when playing a game using both controller and Kinect feels seamless and not jarring, that’s what I want to see and fingers crossed, it’s what we will be seeing come next year’s E3 instead of the slightly awkward implementation in Ghost Recon this year. And does Halo, as a first person shooter, really need Kinect? Probably not. But I’m glad it’s being considered at least. Though if I find out waggling is being grotesquely forced into one of my favourite franchises, I’ll take it all back!