Super Mario Galaxy 2 blasts off in 5 weeks!

6 05 2010

Super Mario Galaxy was a massive hit. We’re talking Quinine in Equatorial countries popular – it was that huge. And now they’re releasing a sequel – makes sense, right? That said, Nintendo have been slightly funny about their bread-and-butter Mario platform titles in recent years, having not released a direct sequel since Super Mario 64 back in 1996 (or depending on how you look at it, Super Mario World in 1991, which was followed by Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, a sequel by name but entirely different in style and gameplay) and it is with baited moustaches that we await this year’s proper sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2.

The 3D Super Mario platform efforts have all been wonderful in their own right, with 64, Sunshine and the original Galaxy all being massive commercial and critical successes, so Miyamoto and friends really have their work cut out. As it happens only releasing one title per generation of console seems like an excellent way to punctuate the series, allowing the gameplay to largely remain tinker-free (with the addition of some neat touches and added extras to bulk things up) but each new iteration to seem fresh and beautiful on a more powerful and capable nth-generation console. Sunshine was a great game in its own right, but if we’re being honest who wasn’t happy that they basically took the mechanics of 64, spruced up the textures and gave us a new world to have a crack at? Moreover, not only do they have their first same-console direct contest within the series for 14 years to contend with, it’s also following the hugely successful New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the game that reminded us all how wonderful the old days were in a way that was entirely genuine, without a hint of irony, fad or rose-tinted glasses. How do we think they’ll do?

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Halo: Reach BETA is going for silver

6 05 2010

My cousin was being incredibly smug a few days ago. He’s been playing Halo: Reach BETA pretty much non-stop since it launched, and was laughing that I couldn’t play it because I haven’t gotten around to renewing my Xbox Live Gold membership yet. Well guess what – Silver members are going to get their turn! Admittedly, it’s only for a very small window, but between the 14th and 17th of May everyone gets to have a go at the most talked about Xbox 360 BETA title so far. Not so smug now, Gold members!

Thanks to for the tip-off!

Breaking News: Project Needlemouse Becomes Sonic 4

4 02 2010

Or, Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode I, to give it its full title.

The action picks up after the story of Sonic & Knuckles (which was in itself, the second ‘episode’ to Sonic 3) and these episodes are going to be downloadable content from WiiWare, XBOX Live Arcade and PSN. In terms of gameplay, Sonic is, as we’ve all been hoping and praying, going back to his 2D roots – in a similar style to the hugely successful ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ titles from Nintendo, it’s going to be 2D side-scrolling, built with slick 3D visuals. Gamespot have another teaser trailer (featured below) that contains just a couple of snippets of the gameplay and visual style that if you blink, you’ll miss them, but then isn’t that what Sonic is all about?

There are already a few grumbles around the web about the episodic format, but honestly right now I don’t think that’s a bad thing, so long as they get the gameplay right. If they essentially present a modern interpretation of Sonic 2 for the Mega Drive, they can churn it out in as many episodes as they like – if we love the first one, then we’ll want more. It might seem a little gimmicky to have episodes rather than individual titles sold in stores, but if Sonic 4: Episode 1 is as good as it could be, I’d rather be sure that Sonic Team were tied down to creating X number of follow-up titles in glorious 2D, without being tempted to re-hash or overhaul it – let’s face it, that’s what got the Sonic franchise into trouble in the first place. If they get back on track (and I have a feeling they will) an incentive to stay old-school by promising episodic follow-ups might be just what Sonic needs to stay on the straight and narrow (2D) path.

Thanks to Gamespot for the teaser. You can also find little snippets of info (and countdown to when the next snippet will be released) at the official Sonic 4 site.

It’s Not As Simple As Blue Hedgehog Vs Red Plumber Anymore… (XBOX 360 Vs PS3)

1 02 2010

I want a new console. I’ve been holding off getting an XBOX 360 or PS3 for reasons outlined below, but I have the blessing of my other half, we’ve cleared a space by the TV, and now I’ve got to choose – the trouble is, I don’t know how to anymore. In days of yore, gamers chose their consoles primarily on what games were exclusive to the format, above all other reasons. Sure, there will always be those who would tell you they chose a Mega Drive over a SNES because of the faster on-screen draw, or vice versa because of the depth of colour and pseudo-3D shading, but really, it came down to what you wanted to play, not how you wanted to play it. 

The Game Boy Vs Game Gear is an excellent case in point – on paper, the SEGA offering trounces Nintendo’s handheld, with a full colour screen, greater depth to its audio, and even the ability to play full Master System titles on it using a nifty adapter (to put that into a little context, imagine being able to play Uncharted 2: Among Thieves on your PSP, by doing nothing more than connecting to a disk drive big enough to take the PS3 media). If you’d asked a humble Game Boy to play a NES title it would have had a heart attack at the prospect of it, and that’s without getting onto the obvious colour issues. But the Game Boy won out in the end, and it did it with style and aplomb, outliving the Game Gear by maybe a full decade, in spite of being the older and inferior device. So what tipped the tables for the bleeping black and yellow-screened wonder? I’d go so far as to say it was two titles that won the battle for the Game Boy hands down (and that’s not to say that, on balance, all things considered, that it won by two titles – I mean that these are two titles that SEGA simply couldn’t compete with): Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Columns had the edge in terms of visuals, but Tetris was more fiendishly addictive, without the added complication of having to match up colours

SEGA simply had no answer for Link's Awakening, the biggest action-RPG of the era, which featured on the smallest, most underpowered format, the Game Boy

So where does that leave us in the modern, next generation era? I’m going to discount the Wii completely, and not because I’m one of those Wii-bashing unserious-gaming-hating fools (I love my Wii, the warm blue glowing smile and the insane waggling of white plastic) but for two reasons: because of the completely different format of gaming it offers (as well as the fact it’s not a direct comparison in terms of performance, graphics and variety of content), and because you can’t decide between XBOX 360 and PS3 by choice of titles. Nintendo are still the only company you  can plump for if you want some fairly specific gaming. If you want Mario, you have to go Nintendo. If you want Zelda, you have to go Nintendo. Hell, if you want Wii Fit, you have to go Nintendo, and that’s fine by me, at least I know where we all stand. 

I know there are millions of you out there who already have an XBOX 360 or PS3, and I’m sure you all have your reasons (or both consoles) but for me, I’ve been holding out as long as possible. Why? Because while I like to think that Sony and Microsoft are established enough in the gaming market to never wither and die, I remember the spectacular fall of SEGA, and know a few Dreamcast owners who are still bitter over the whole thing. We all know the market is big enough for three competing consoles (and let’s be fair, the only two that are really competing are XBOX 360 and PS3, the Wii is in a different contest all on its own) but somebody needs to tell the electronics giants that there is enough of the absolutely bloody massive pie for everyone to get nice and fat without trying to stove the other’s head in with their rather hefty coin-purses. So as much as I didn’t want to see a fight to the death, I was fully expecting one between the XBOX 360 and PS3, and the first crucial blow was struck by Sony, when they triumphed in the high definition war (Blu Ray Vs HD DVD) more than two years ago. Microsoft had plunged support and money into Toshiba’s HD DVD format, but when all but one of the major movie studios joined forces with Sony and Blu Ray, HD DVD was sunk, and I feared for the XBOX 360, which was to feature an add-on HD DVD player, as opposed to the PS3’s in-built Blu Ray player. 

PS3: "I have a Blu Ray player as standard, but I'm damn expensive and have the aesthetic appeal of a hearse."

As it transpired, though, this wasn’t the critical strike that I (and many others) thought it was going to be. Microsoft took the hit from their giant coffers, and almost by way of an apology to their legions of fans, started slashing the price of the XBOX 360 unit not long afterwards. The PS3 was always a little more expensive, sure, but when an XBOX 360 started creeping under the price of a Wii (the cheap and cheerful joker of the console world) you could see that Microsoft were serious about keeping their console alive, to the point we’re at now, where buying an XBOX 360 (approx £130)  and an external Blu Ray drive, or even standalone Blu Ray player, can come in cheaper than a PS3 with Blu Ray player built in (approx £250, and inexplicably, the new ‘slim’ PS3 doesn’t appear to have driven down the price of the old, large PS3 for those who just want one regardless of how monstrously ugly it is, as happened with the advent of the PSOne and PS2 slim in years gone by). 

XBOX 360: "I'm cheaper and prettier, but I've been known to run a bit warm, melt a hole in your TV cabinet and then never ever work again."

So aside from a big hit from Sony with regards the future of high definition, and a large bite from Microsoft in terms of cost, this great war has turned out to be mostly tit-for-tat, and for those of us who were expecting an eventual victor, we could be waiting a long time. It would appear that the age old tactic of dealing with Godzilla (don’t waste time, money and human life by trying to fight it – wait for some other giant mutant creature to come along so they can kill each other) isn’t going to work here. Godzilla and Mothra haven’t kissed and made up, but they have been fighting so long and so pointlessly that their claws are blunt, their teeth are missing, and neither is strong enough to damage the other. If you want some of that action, go watch Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, it’s awesome and hilarious in equal measure, and does exactly what it says on the tin. 

So how does a confused, indecisive gamer (who already owns the get-out clause, the Wii) come to any conclusions? After all, this is an important decision for more than just gaming reasons – a new console is about the fourth most expensive thing you can buy, after a house, a car and a great big flat-screen TV, and I don’t want to be left out of pocket and disappointed six months down the line. You go back to the tried and tested method – I’m going to pick my console for the games I want to play, dammit. That’s the way it’s always worked, and I’m not going to let the fact that titles are syndicated across both the XBOX 360 and PS3 stop me. When you really think, and I mean really, the only games that matter at all in the exclusivity arguement are Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the PS3, and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for the XBOX 360. Both are exclusives, both look and play incredibly, they’re immersive, cinematic, and offer truly epic, 30+ hours play time that you don’t often get anymore. They kind of cancel each other out, don’t they? There are of course other titles that are exclusive, Little Big Planet Vs Viva Pinata springs to mind, but I’m really not bothered either way, and can get them both for handhelds (in fact, I do already have Viva Pinata for DS – I don’t need to see it in 1080p on my big screen to enjoy it, and I’m sure the same applies for Little Big Planet).

So that doesn’t really leave me any the wiser, either, but I do have one ace up my sleeve, one trick card to play that may just help me make this decision after all. There has been one game, or more specifically, one series of games that has kept me buying consoles throughout the years, and it may just help me swing the decision once more. I bought a SNES for one, I bought a Playstation (and turned down an N64, Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time) for three of them, a PS2 for two of them, and now, Final Fantasy might just help me choose again, but not in the way is used to. I was trying my hardest not to get excited about Final Fantasy XIII for a couple of big reasons: firstly, Final Fantasy XII annoys me immensely, in the same way VIII did on the Playstation (lots of build-up, amazing presentation, a tad lacking in substance) and I’m scared XIII could go the same way. But if I thought that way every time, I wouldn’t have played IX after VIII disappointed me so much, and I would have missed an absolute storybook fantasy gem, that almost sits up there on the same pedestal as VI and VII – high praise indeed. Secondly, and this really is a big reason, the price of the PS3 is still, in my opinion, ridiculous, and given that it’s shown absolutely no signs of shifting over the three or so years the console has existed, then I’m never expecting it to drop into a sensible bracket.

This is where Square-Enix rode to my rescue! The very exclusivity of Final Fantasy to Sony was the only thing that was tying me to craving a PS3, if I’m honest. I don’t like the look of them, I feel like the controller hasn’t moved on since 1996, and I object to paying that much for the privilege of feeling a bit let down by something that’s supposed to make me feel amazing. Imagine my delight to learn that Final Fantasy XIII is coming to the XBOX 360! Now, I have no reason to cling to bankrupting myself for one title, when I can get every other game I want, plus the one game I need (and I couldn’t stress need enough to you, Final Fantasy titles are my life-blood, they are evidence of all that is great when gaming and storytelling come together) on a sensibly priced, quite attractive console! So thank you, Square-Enix, I know I’ve not been your biggest advocate since you ceased being just Squaresoft, but I promise that with this one act (that has no doubt made you and Microsoft a truck-load of money, I know you didn’t do it solely for my benefit) you’ve put right every ill you’ve caused me over the past ten years, and I’ll never, ever doubt you again!

So here’s the title that (now I know I can have it without re-mortgaging my house for a PS3) is making me so excited and glad to be a gamer again:

FFXIII, UK Release Date: 9/3/2010

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I’ve Seen The Future, and It’s 2D

16 09 2009

Power is king in this day and age. Our processors must be faster, our graphics cards must have more memory, and our consoles are about to become self aware. The quest for higher frame rates, more polygons on screen, and the most spectacular explosions is all-consuming in the gaming world. Why is it, then, that I get such a warm fuzzy feeling inside from 2D games?

It’s probably because I remember them the first time around, and at the risk of sounding really old, I long for that simpler time (I’m not that old, honest – I just started gaming early). I don’t always want my games to be massively multiplayer, to require peripherals costing more than the console itself, or to be so crushingly realistic that instead of just giving you a limp and slowing you down, a gunshot wound to the thigh causes you to bleed out in under three minutes, then have to wait an hour for the next round to start. Sure, if anyone asks, I’ll tell them that Fallout 3 was the best title released in the past couple of years, but if I’m honest I’ve probably gleaned far more enjoyment from New Super Mario Bros. and Yoshi’s Island on DS than I ever could from Fallout’s wasteland, in spite it being more than light years ahead in terms of, well, everything.

It brings joy to my heart and puts a spring in my step then, that on top of the fantastic looking A Boy and His Blob, we’re soon to be graced with the 2D games that we have all been waiting for – a new Mario, and a new Sonic, and I’m not sure which I’m most excited about! The Mario title (New Super Mario Bros. Wii, shown off at E3 last month) looks fantastic in that it’s essentially a ramped up version of the DS title (which was in itself a ramped up version of the old NES games). It looks slick, it looks pretty, it looks fun to play, and includes four-player-on-one-console action! Super Mario Galaxy 2 is due to be released at roughly the same time, and it’s going to cause some real internal conflict as to which I play more, as I already love both the ‘New’ and ‘Galaxy’ games immensely.

The Sonic title is a little more mysterious, however, with SEGA having only released a teaser promo video that doesn’t include any gameplay, or really, any concrete information at all. What it does allude to, though, is the important stuff: it’s Sonic, it’s 2D, it’s fast, and they’ve scrapped all their dreadful attempts at 3D and pseudo-3D in favour of an old school style. It’s also cleverly titled ‘Project Needlemouse’ (the SEGA codename for the original Sonic title in the days of pre-history) and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I have a sneaking suspicion that because they’re simplifying things and getting back to their roots this will just work in the way old Sonic titles used to (and new ones don’t). Deep down, I feel they’re going to absolutely nail this one.

A Boy and His Blob – The Most Adorable Game Ever?

8 09 2009

Yes, I think it genuinely might be.

I remember the original A Boy and His Blob when it was released in Europe in 1991, and it was a sweet concept then (pardon the pun). A young boy is joined by gelatinous blob named Blobert (or Blob, to his friends) and together they quest across Earth and Blobolonia to save Blob’s homeworld from the evil emperor. So far, so average, then. Move from left to right, jump, fight, collect things – hadn’t a short fat plumber done this already? The difference in A Boy and His Blob was the puzzle element, that genuinely relied on teamwork with Blob (yes, I did say ‘teamwork’) in order to pass through the game.

Blob, you see, has a taste for jellybeans (the ‘sweet’ pun becomes apparent) but by a strange twist, different flavours have some very different effects on him. Throw him a licorice flavoured bean, for example, and he’ll turn into a ladder, or a honey one, and he’ll turn into a hummingbird. All you have to do is give a little whistle, and he’ll transform back again. This makes for an extremely novel method of problem solving, really giving you a sense of connection and attachment to Blob, and you start to care for the little ball of fun more and more.

How happy was I, then, to see that A Boy and His Blob is coming to the Wii! And what’s more, they’ve made it even more adorable! Now on top of the original jellybean and whistle related shenanigans (of which there are so much more than the original – shields, rockets, even giant blobular mechanima robot combat suits aren’t beyond Blobert in the modern incarnation) you get the chance to give your pal a cuddle. This isn’t just a saccharine visual tag-on, though – Blobert’s mood changes depending on the situation you are in, and you need to treat him nicely in order to keep him in top transforming shape. The necessity of hugs aside though, this reimagining is a visual picture book feast, and you will find yourself giving Blob a cuddle when he’s already maxed out on happy, just because it looks so damn lovely, and we all need a cuddle from time to time.

Video courtesy of, UK release: November 6th, 2009.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories confirmed for Wii!

2 04 2009

For the past couple of months, rumours of a Wii remake of the original Silent Hill have been flying around. Ironic, then, that the article by Nintendo Power magazine confirming these rumours was published on April Fools’ Day. I didn’t believe it myself, especially after seeing Kojima’s ‘Metal Gear: Pensioner’ video, but some helpful souls have posted a few photos of the article – an interview with Silent Hill producer Tomm Hullett – by way of some proof.

Those of you fearing yet another rubbish remake can relax though, as it would seem the only thing that will be giving you sleepless nights will be the game itself. “This is a reimagining of the first Silent Hill, it’s not a remake or a port,” explains Hullet. “That’s an important distinction. It really feels like a new game.” Welcome words, I’m sure you’ll agree. Read the rest of this entry »