Wednesday, May 25, 2011

3Ds - Dead or Alive: Dimensions Review

I remember playing Mortal Kombat II on the Game Gear. Far from being the meaty, “realistic” arcade fighter my mother refused to buy me, this pocket sized version had the spirit, but not the heart. The realistic sprites had been reduced to cartoonish caricatures, the buckets of blood had seen their budget reduced to mere droplets, and the deep, heavy bass had been reduced to generic bleeps and bloops. This is a fact that I was more than willing to accept, because after all, how could a portable with two buttons ever hope to capture the glory of the mighty arcade cabinet across the street from my school? So I accepted the slighted controls, the reduction in fidelity, and the notion that while they would never reach their arcade counterparts, they were at least competent enough to enjoy, and –just-unintelligible enough for my mother to accept.

Man, if I were a child of today, that wouldn’t have worked at all.

Dead or Alive: Dimensions
For: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Tecmo / Team Ninja
Price: $39.99
Release: 5/24/2011 (North America)

We’re in the middle of a fighting game boom, but arguably, that movement was already heralded by the arrival of the PSP five years ago. Far from aspiring to be a glorified portable Super Nintendo like many of the handhelds before it, developers saw it as a chance to offer up portable games with the same level of quality as a handheld, and for the most part, they all succeeded. The idea of what a portable fighter should be has been redefined since then, and although everything from Street Fighter to SoulCalibur has been faithfully reproduced in portable form, Dead or Alive has suspiciously never made the cut. Perhaps they were just waiting for the right technology, or perhaps creator Itagaki’s departure (who stated console type games have no place on portables), but no matter the reason, Dead or Alive: Dimensions is here, it’s handheld, and in typical Team Ninja fashion, is a showcase for just how capable the new 3DS hardware is at delivering an experience that (for the most part) matches it’s console counterpart.

Moments after booting the game up, you’re thrown right into the game’s Chronicle mode, and it’s exactly as it sounds, a retelling of the entire DOA saga that also serves as a tutorial mode. This is great for players new to the series, as it literally teaches the ins and outs of the fighting system in easy to understand portions between cutscenes. What it doesn’t do however, is make the conspiracy-laden drivel that is the DOA storyline any easier to understand. Ninjas are fighting corporate entities, Kung-Fu prodigies are at odds with capoiera practicing assassins, and the whole ordeal is just more enjoyable if you simply marvel at the 3D action scenes and soak in the brief fights punctuating it until its conclusion. Just one question, Team Ninja: Why the stop motion cutscenes with 3D models ala 2010’s Bayonetta? While I can understand maybe a lack of budget (or time) contributed to this, at least the latter game disguised the stylistic choice with a “film reel”look. Here it happens suddenly, randomly, and without warning. Newsflash: It was strange watching a full motion fight turn into a pantomime in its latter stages back in 2010, it still is now.

When you’re in control of the action however, are where the game really shows it’s teeth. DOA’s fast paced rock-paper-scissors gameplay has been translated fully intact to the 3DS, and it’s well-designed circle pad (or D-pad, depending on your preference) is a perfect fit with the game’s traditional 4 button setup. The common failing of most portable fighters is the explicit precision needed to pull off some of the more complex moves on a small controller, and its a problem not present here, as DOA has always been more about the moves thrown and keeping your opponent guessing than performing them. Taking a page from the SSF4: 3D handbook, the bottom screen plays host to a helpful movelist that changes dynamically with each button pressed, or if you’re more of an advanced player, you can set it to list attack properties and frame data(!!!). The counterbalance to this ease of offense is the counter system, and it’s back to the more intuitive (in my opinion) system of DOA3, eliminating the (unnecessary) kick hold for the better. Since it works with only three levels of attack this time around (high,mid,low), your reaction time while under attack can be much snappier, but of course, the same applies to your opponents.

Other modes include an Arcade mode that forgoes the usual structure for a number of bite sized “circuits” that can be played with any character, a perfect choice for a portable game. While you inexplicably can’t change the number of rounds, difficulty, or even damage dealt, each circuit offers up a different challenge, and a different boss fight at their conclusion. Survival mode is just as you’d expect, a gauntlet until you run out of life, and the new Tag Challenge mode offers the full on 2v2 tag experience, albeit one with a CPU controlled ally that performs better than expected (and tags in/out on cue), but isn’t truly a replacement for a human. Fortunately, the online mode is there to whet your appetite, and though it’s only limited to 1v1 battles, the connection holds up well via wi-fi, with only a hint of lag here and there. A ton (literally) of unlockable figurines are the centerpiece for a trio of modes where you can pose, photograph, and StreetPass battle them, but it’s a novelty at best, being unlikely to hold anyone’s attention for long.

----------------------------------The 3D Effect ------------------------------------------

Switching the game on, it’s almost impossible to ignore just how well done the 3D effect is. Hands and feet pop out of the screen, projectiles whiz dangerously close, and the camera somehow has a knack for playing up the added depth at every turn, highlighting players in the middle of combos and making the crash through a church window into the street below look that much more intense. However, it isn’t all paradise. Though it displays some of the best visuals on the 3DS thus far, the framerate has trouble holding with the slider up. While the fights themselves mimic Super Street Fighter 4 3D’s 30fps standard with the 3D turned on, intros and victory poses dip way below that, creating an odd visual disconnect that’s actually a bit distracting from the otherwise superb 3D presentation. Cutscenes in the game’s chronicle mode suffer this too, with dips marring the otherwise cool 3D action occurring on screen. All of this is remedied by turning the slider down, which locks the game’s visuals at a solid 60fps that looks too smooth to be true. Most people won’t mind, but visual sticklers will be at odds between having a smooth presentation or a “cool” one. At least it’s a decision you can make for yourself.

Far from a full fledged sequel but not quite a Dead or Alive 4: Turbo either, Dead or Alive:Dimensions may be the best entry the fighting series has seen yet. It features every character the franchise has ever seen, brings to the forefront an improved story mode that ties all of it together, and features a refined version of DOA4’s “ultimate” fighting engine. Best of all, it manages to do this on a portable system of all things, helping usher in the 3D era with a Team Ninja level of polish. It may not be the deepest experience you’ll have, but it’s one perfect for the system, and the sheer number of unlockables (in typical DOA fashion) ensure that if you are a fan of fighters, despite its flaws, there’s very little to hate here. Much like its predecessors, what we have here is a fast, flashy, yet accessible fighter that shows off the breakthrough hardware of the moment. After all, it’s what the Dead or Alive series is known for. Not a bad reputation to have, if you ask me.

Rating: 8.0

Oh, and I managed to go the whole review without the words “3D” and “boobs” in the same sentence.

..That didn’t count.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Seriously, Nintendo?

Now, I'm all for padding out the sales numbers and all, it makes for good quarterlies and impressive press releases, but really, what's the point of this? The $19.99 price tag doesn't do much to soften the blow of the ludicrous, either.

It's not like they didn't already default their way to the title of one of the best selling games of all time simply by including one for FREE with each Wii sold, or anything.

I mean, I'm all for Nintendo finally giving games like Twilight Princess a sorely needed price drop (5 years in the making?) while they work to release a real "next-gen" console not being held back by its own gimmicks, but isn't there a subtle admission of failure being made when you try to sell me a free pack in game? The one that started the irreversible trend of effortless minigame-games that became a staple of your console's (mostly) shovelware library?

For the same price as a legit (yet criminally undersold) game like Madworld, even?

Y'know, part of the reason "hardcore" software failed on the Wii was due to the fact that it had to compete with the casual offerings at the same price, and the new audience Nintendo spawned couldn't tell the difference in quality, but went with the fluff because it seemed much safer from a new buyer's prospective. Way to exemplify why you scared off your core audience with this console, Nintendo.

..and why you're replacing it so soon.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Block Breaker Bird?

Angry Birds is inescapable!

Ever since it’s 2009 debut, it seems impossible to not have heard of the gaggle of irascible, wingless (perhaps that’s why they’re so angry?) fowl and the pigs who can’t get enough of stealing their eggs. Their popularity isn’t confined to the phone either, with plush and animated versions of them popping up , and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a movie at some point. They’re mainstream in a good way, and even though we’ve yet to see the LEGO stamp of approval on that notion, fan and master LEGO Ambassador Chiukeung has gotten the hard part out of the way and brought them to life.

If you suddenly feel like you want one as much as I do, head on over to his Facebook where there are more pictures of his handiwork on display. It’s really impressive, also a case for LEGO to get on this. Hopefully sooner rather than later!

Seriously though. I want one. Either this or a NERF version so I can literally slingshot them at random passerby.

Either is fine.:)

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Tangible Excitement.

Estacado's back, baby.
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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Social Notworking.

Thank You, Destructoid.

Two weeks in, outages, fan reactions and emotions torn asunder, the PSN is still down, even though the initial promise was to have the service up and running just before the two week mark hit on May 3rd, 2011.
We are nearing the third week, and despite promises to the contrary, the PSN is still down.

Of course, it’s easy to point the finger and blame outside elements, but the fact of the matter is that Sony being unprepared to an attack of such magnitude was not only irresponsible, but it put the company’s fans and consumers at risk. How does one run a multi-million dollar network 70 million or so users deep and not even have a basic firewall to protect against malicious users? How do you not inform your consumers that their personal information may be at stake for two days until you’ve completely pulled the plug and started a chain of fear and bad PR that will sit with you forever? HOW do you admit that you are just as vulnerable as your consumers when you’ve stood as a sentinel for your various online practices for years?

It’s a terrible situation, and one that has cost the company so much that I’m sure execs are envisioning ritual suicide in their minds while thinking about their figures at the end of this quarter, most of all Activision for losing out on that glorious Black Ops server time.

Most consumers are just lamenting the fact that they can’t play online, but the ripple effect is far greater. players who purchased the new Mortal Kombat, despite the game being rife with offline content, can’t hone their skills online against other players or redeem their bonus content. Lucky players invited to the inFamous 2 beta have been cut off, and Sucker Punch is losing out on valuable data that would aid their development. Owners of the online-only DC Universe Online have no adventures to embark upon.

We have just passed the month of the shooter in April. Because it is arguably the most popular genre indulged in online play, this means recent releases like Bulletstorm, Crysis 2, Killzone 3, Homefront, Portal 2, and the unlucky faithful who purchased SOCOM 4 have all been left out to dry. Unlike the others in the aformentioned list, They’re the ones suffering the worst, being left to read middling to poor reviews for their game, and having nothing more than a mediocre single player with no online to justify their $60-$150 investment. Even smaller, bite sized games available now for download like Moon Diver andOutland aren’t receiving the audience they should.

Part of the compensation has been said to be free gifts in the form of two as unannounced PSP/PSN titles, and a 30 day subscription to Playstation Plus, but in my opinion, those are frivolities that won’t gain our trust back. A free game will only remind us of the potential identity theft that may have toppled the PS Store’s database, and the minimal benefits of Playstation Plus for a trial period will likely deter more potential subscribers than it would’ve gained due to the ambiguity surrounding the subscription’s benefits. Free gifts of questionable value aren't the way to go. They're cute, but they aren't reassuring, like a stuffed animal presented as an apology for cheating.

I think if Sony wants to mend this, they need to let us in. Business practices and the delayed dissemination of information aside, we as consumers and gamers need to know what Sony plans to do to make their network secure. We need assurance that our information is secure. We need to know that our games will be fully functional. Most of all, we need to know that it won’t happen again. CEO Howard Stringer wrote a somewhat heartfelt apology to the users two days ago for this extended debacle with the promise to restore as soon as possible. While I consider that a step in the right direction, I truly hope they keep the PSN down as long as it needs to be. An extended delay is better than rushing to the finish.

Sources, reading material if you’re interested:"target"_blank"

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