Review: DAGi Capacitive Stylus (iPad)

Steve Jobs once said that if you need to use a stylus on one of their iDevices, Apple had failed. However that hasn’t stopped consumers from wanting to use something other than their fingers and equally had little effect on the companies who make them. Considering the amount of drawing applications and the potential for the iPad to become a serious artistic tool, finding a good stylus among the many iPad accessories is essential. Most are fat with a rubber tip and resemble a swollen pencil but DAGi have made a thinner alternative that also offers a remarkable amount of precision.

Using the stylus for drawing works surprisingly well because of the clever design. DAGi replaces a rubber tip with a clear plastic disc that has a red dot in the centre. When held correctly, the red dot is the exact spot of contact between stylus and screen. It’s almost as if you’re painting with a laser sight. It must be said though because of the shape of the tip, there is a certain sweet spot for using the stylus. Drawing still feels natural and you won’t be holding the touchscreen pen at any obscure angles but it’s worth mentioning if you’re fussy about such things.

The Apps I used as a test for the pen were Brushes, Adobe Ideas and Facebook. The first two were to see how semi-professional art applications work with the stylus and they do so very well. If you’re going for detail and don’t want to keep zooming in to 400% or more, having fundamentally a red dot to follow makes everything a lot easier. As for Facebook, that was used to see how well the stylus handles as a navigational tool for people with portly digits. Again, it came up trumps, scrolling through screens and entering text wasn’t a problem at all.

Despite Jobs’ condemnation of iPad styluses, the DAGi Capacitive Stylus is a great accessory for anyone who wishes to sketch or draw precisely. I would argue that using one doesn’t mean Apple has failed but rather that DAGi have succeeded.

Review: Expedition Case for Nintendo 3DS

I was contacted by the good people of Gamingzap about whether I wouldn’t mind reviewing one of their products. They specialise in accessories with one of the latest being an officially licensed 3DS case, which I was asked to take a look at. My first reaction was “How am I going to review a case? Surely all they need to do is protect the device, look good and be easy to use.” But right there is three good topics for discussion so without further ado, here are my thoughts:

Protection
Gamingzap’s case feels like a tough cookie. The outer shell has a firm bottom but flexible padded top with both parts providing adequate protection for your 200 quid handheld. Dropping the case with your 3DS inside won’t result in anything more serious than being called butter fingers by your mates. Inside is lined with a material soft to the touch with a flap that allows for DS and 3DS games to be stored in elasticated pockets. Continuous mistreatment by jamming more carts in than is recommended – which is six – will in time stretch out the pockets so best not do anything silly like that eh? Similar to the game pockets are two holders for styluses if ever you misplace the one that comes with the 3DS. If like me you’re anal about how your prized gadgets are stored, this case won’t let you down when it comes to its security.

Appearance
Fashion conscious gamers may get a kick out of the retro stylings of the case as its top looks like it could be straight out of Star Fox. Angular shapes and a simple two colour scheme makes the appearance of the case fit with its content and audience. The inside is black which is said to go with everything so, if colour really does bother you, the case is future-proofed so to speak for the obligatory wave of coloured 3DSs Nintendo will surely release in the future.

Ease of use
A zip wraps around three quarters of the curved case and needless to say, it worked fine with no jamming or catching even after the most vigorous of testing. It feels odd to praise a zip but if like me you’ve ever bought a hooded top from the fashion equivalent of poundland (you know the shop…) then you’d know how important a good zip is! The previously mentioned elasticated pockets hold the carts snuggly in place but if for some reason they ever did squirm free, the pockets are angled in such a way that your precious games won’t fall out but simply jingle about inside.

As cases go, Gamingzap’s offering does the job. For around thirteen pound you’ll get something that cushions your 3DS from falls and houses more games than are worth having out of the launch line up leaving room for your favourite DS games too. A nice little case indeed.

Home is where the cash is

Despite middling review scores and criticisms for having a short single player mode, THQ’s Homefront has been very successful shipping 2.4 million units which equates to 1 million sold to the consumer since its release two weeks ago. To put that in perspective, some games don’t even sell or ship point four of a million within years so Homefront‘s sales are indeed something to shout about.

And shout THQ have because it was the mediocre Metacritic score which left the publisher a fifth less valuable after its stocks fell 20% when the game first shipped. Contrasting that, Homefront actually sold 375,000 copies in the US on day one, the same time as shareholders were receiving the bad news about their stock. But it’s apparent how the mainstream gamer, to whom the shooter clearly appeals to, cares little about an aggregate score with the rampant marketing for Homefront clearly paying off.

When a game that started off having reviews which praised its gameplay then was hit with a wall of critics displeased at the performance but crediting the multiplayer, all kinds of theories involving dirty dealing begin to surface. But I’m not going there, that just leads into a depressing cul-de-sac and instead am interested in how it managed to sell a further 600+ thousand units after the consensus claims the game is good but not great and how such an achievement is a slap in the face to Strauss Zelnick of Take-Two. He said: “Making good games just isn’t good enough. I believe good is the new bad. … Games need to be great,” adding the importance of sites like Metacritic who have the power to effect game sales.

Homefront didn’t fall into the ‘great’ catagory nor does it have a high Metacritic ranking but still managed to reign in the cash for THQ and crash multiplayer servers which couldn’t cope with the hordes of gamers eager to play online. Maybe these gamers haven’t even touched the single player component, the part that lowers the game’s overall score, instead diving straight into the online squirmishes. If so, then Homefront is deserving of much higher praise. Or maybe it’s the aforementioned marketing that has been its saving grace seeing as you can’t watch TV without one of the high-octane adverts playing out before you. EEDAR analyst Jess Divnich told IGN how reviews aren’t the be all and end all of a game: “Review scores are simply a weight, not an absolute. The impact of review scores on video game title sales are determined by the potential size of the market, direct and retail promotional spend, competition at launch, overall level of interest in the title before release and more. This helps to explain why titles such as Demon’s Souls can achieve 90+ reviews, but produce lower revenues, and why a game such as Medal of Honor from Electronic Arts can get an aggregated review score in the 70’s and surpass nearly 5 million units in sales worldwide.”

Whatever the case, Homefont is selling well and a sequel is highly probable giving the opportunity to address the first game’s issues, potentially becoming a real contender to the might of Call of Duty.

Review: Full House Poker (XBLA)

In the interest of full disclosure, when I first started playing Full House Poker on XBLA, I had no idea how to actually play the often replicated card game. It was something I had always wanted to do but simply never got round to it. So when the code arrived I was a tad apprehensive as to how exactly I would review the game. Luckily my best friend loves Poker so together we took on the best of what this downloadable game had to throw at us and along the way, I got to learn the art of gambling with a pack of virtual playing cards. And now, I’m hooked. Read on to see my full review.

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A critics critic

On Wednesday, David Braben, who created Elite, spoke to Develop about the state of game reviews and suggested that the reviewers have their very own Metacritic values to determine who is the most reliable. Those that post their reviews near a game’s release and award them a score close to the average Metacritic (or similar) one could receive a prize for such a fine job. While I think this is an utterly flawed idea it was thought of with good intentions. Braden wants to rid consumers of lazy reviewers who barely play a game before coming up with a review score just to appease publishers or be the first read. He also praised the rest saying they do an excellent job with little recognition. I was with him up to that point until Braben gave his idea for a Metacritic of reviewers. The exact quote was :“The best reviewers give spot-on reviews pretty soon after a game is released. They do not wait to see what others say, but nevertheless consistently come very close to the final average score. There could be a prize for the best each year.”

Sadly, not everyone is privileged enough to receive a copy of a game before it’s released so having a system that potentially penalises reviewers for talking their time to get it right would eventually lead to more and more slapdash and unreliable reviews. Metacritic and sites like it, are only there as a reference tool and not necessarily balanced in favour of all games. One title could have 50 reviews pegged to it while another has 10 so averages can be unreliable too. Making reviewers chase down said average or at least pre-empt it and writing their posts to reflect the score would be incredibly damaging. And sometimes finding out what your peers think of a game is helpful to the review. For instance, if there is a particularly tricky part that was a souring experience, finding out it others suffered the same would indicate whether it was a case of bad game design or bad game playing skills.

Most importantly, a review is a personal opinion and, if written by a credible source, is not right or wrong. The way you know if a reviewer is credible should be based on other reviews they’ve written; do they agree with your own personal view of certain games? Does the final score match what was written about a game? In the past, some games have famously been slammed by a few reviewers in their copy yet are still awarded with a high mark. That is when ethics should be questioned.

Braben’s latest game, Kinectimals, had a varied response from reviewers which is something he found a little unfair because a some of them didn’t review the game for the target audience, children, but instead did so for a core gamer. This, I agree, is wrong. Games for kids should be reviewed from their perspective. However core gamers who are interested in such titles should have an outlet that tells them whether or not they’d enjoy it. But then doing away with a score altogether, ignoring an averaging system would do away with some of these issues because there wouldn’t be a low score, written for the benefit of core gamers, just explanatory text about the child-focused content. It’s one of the reasons I went from a numerical or alphabetical scoring system to stating whether a game is good or bad.

Marc Doyle, co-creator of Metacritic was asked by Eurogamer what he thought of Braben’s comments to which he said: “A critic’s review and his or her score is an opinion – it’s not right or wrong. We can judge the credibility of a critic based on the quality of his or her analysis, the depth of his or her experience in gaming, and a host of other criteria. We do exactly that when selecting critics at Metacritic. But once you’ve established that critics meet these basic threshold criteria, if they happen to deviate from the final Metascore (or average review score) on certain games, there’s no reason to deem those critics or their reviews of lower quality than those whose review scores more frequently match up with the final aggregated score. Penalizing a brilliant critic who happens to utilize the lower end of its publication’s scale more often than a middling critic who never gives lower than a 6/10 doesn’t make sense to me.” I’m glad he agrees with me, otherwise my score may have gone down…

Review: Dead Space (iPhone)

I had no idea Dead Space was heading to the iPhone nor did I ever think it would. I figured that an acute control method with stellar graphics and sound were integral to the experience and something unable to achieve on any Apple device. But here we are, a gameplay video sparking my interest and a few hours of horror later, I’ve finished Dead Space on the iPhone and the best way to describe it is “wow.”

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Review: ilomilo (XBLA)

UPDATE: This review has been updated with purchase information to coincide with ilomilo‘s launch today.

Now then, what can be said about ilomilo? Breaking it down to its purest form, the game is a puzzle-platformer of sorts with fantastic graphics. Expanding on such simplicities, ilomilo is a divine creation filled with the kind of quirky madness and creativity that is sorely missing on the Xbox 360 of late. I won’t hide my shameless admiration for this game nor will I cover the few flaws if does contain but in this review, I’ll do my best to explain just why I think ilomilo is a wonderful triumph.

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