There should be more love for Explodemon out there

I haven’t checked if the internet is a buzz since Explodemon came out, but Curve Studio’s brilliant little platformer deserves accolades and then some.

The game borrows inspiration from Megaman X as its primary influence, but you can see all sorts of tips of the hat to other Japanese platformers (including the hilarious Engrish dialogue from Explodemon), and is imbued with the kind of creative feeling we got from EU devs on the Amiga and Atari ST during the 80s and 90s. This makes perfect sense of course given Curve are based in the UK, and that passion from an era past is omnipresent throughout the production. The visuals look amazing running in 1080p, the soundtrack shines with its chip-tune inspired synth and it controls super-tight, which is essential for a platformer running on a 3D engine, even though it’s only operating on a 2D plane.

If you haven’t given Exlodemon a whirl, go for it – there’s a demo up on PSN and the price for the full version is very reasonable. It’s a great, original title with plenty of charm worthy of your time and moolah.

An ode to Valkyria Chronicles


I realise most current-gen gaming writing on here are for retro-themed games, but I had to break the rule. Valkyria Chronicles is such a good game it deserves it.

Why am I posting this now? After all, the game came out three years ago, but since I’m a bit slow, I’ve only just gotten around to finishing it, and while I know I get carried away with hyperbole at times, I want to mark it up as one of the greatest, if not *the* greatest, gaming experience of this generation.

I should probably justify this, because in many respects, it isn’t exactly ground-breaking given it’s an evolution of so many strat (J)RPGs that have accumulated over the years. But it’s a great mid-point behind pure strategy and some hands-on, meaning there’s a bit more flexibility if you’re a bit retarded when it comes to strat games (like me :P). Even though I relied on YouTube videos towards the end of the game owing to my rubbish skills, the game remained accessible to someone like me who has never been that good at turn-based strategy or RTS games. Thank you Sega 🙂

So, what else? The scenario’s an alternative-universe Europe during WW2, with all sorts of tips of the hat to actual history, and plenty of silliness to expand it further into the realms of atypically Japanese storytelling. Some found the fantastical nature of some of it rage-inducing, but I found it charming. But I like my anime, so that explains my weakness in this regard. The character interaction was strong, even though it could probably be criticised for playing to stereotypes.

Much of the game reminds me in spirit of the Sakura Taisen games, which I adored on the Saturn and Dreamcast, so I think this also adds to my love of the game. There’s also the handy option to play the game with the original Japanese dubbing, which was a welcomed and crowd-pleasing choice, even though the dubbing was actually really good for the game. In itself, such good localisation of the voicework is unusual given it’s a Sega title, but I’m probably still stuck in the 32-bit era where there were some dreadful dubs, and the DC wasn’t much better to be honest (thankfully, Skies of Arcadia didn’t have too many spoken lines!).

But beyond all these is the atmosphere of the game. I’ve waxed lyrical on this intangible feeling a game can have on the player in other places – I had the same feeling playing Mirror’s Edge and it’s EU-centric vibe reminiscent of EU development in the early 90s. Valkyria Chronicles stirs the kind of empathy and vibe I haven’t felt in a while – it was classical old-school Sega, with dashes of the original Sakura Taisen, Phantasy Star 2 and 4, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Skies of Arcadia.

It was also great to see a game using a military subject matter without dipping into vats of testosterone and inserting expletives all over the place. Yes there’s a place for all of that, I’m just saying it was nice that it didn’t feel it needed to go there. As such, it was a pleasant counter-point to the typical Western approach. It would also explain why the game never reached critical mass with its market, as it lacked the “action movie” factor that colours a lot of other successful games.

Technologically, the CANVAS engine is, in my irrational mind, the most impressive game engine, visually, of this generation. I’m aware there are some gorgeous and flexible engines out there at the moment, but what they achieved with this one was stunning. The frame-rate very rarely dips, it allows for stunning in-game visuals and cut-scenes, the animation is clean and there’s only the occasional bit of screen-tearing, one of my pet-hates of the current generation of gaming. The game deviated from shades of grey and gave amazingly colourful vistas despite its subject matter, but the engine was flexible enough to go with the shades of grey and dirt-brown when the situation called for it.

And critical to a game’s success, the ending brought closure, a feeling of accomplishment and felt incredibly satisfying.

So that’s my call – you’re welcome to disagree of course, but there it is. Now I have to work out which game to sink my teeth into next 🙂

PS3Jailbreak – is it necessary? Could it be something positive?

So the video game news outlets have been following the recent run of details regarding the PS3Jailbreak (and clone) devices on the tip of hitting the market. This poses some interesting questions.

First up is legitimacy. In the past, I’ve been an advocate for getting into the guts of your console and modding it – this could be for adding better a/v outputs, controlling the refresh rates (50hz/60hz), and breaking open region protection. Cue up the PS3 then – all the AV outputs I need, standard refresh rate, reasonably good media playback (with transcoding sorting out the rest, albeit a bit messy), easy backup of the whole system to an external device, out of the box 2.5″ HDD swapping and, most importantly, region-free.

Let’s go back to that last point – region-free.

So, most of the boxes are ticked, especially that last one – I’ve been actively importing my games since the Saturn era when I first got the internet at home and the gaming world opened its doors, and the fact that the PS3 is region-free by default and that the SATA drive can be expanded on demand? Perfect.

So for me personally, I have no need for modding my PS3. I mean, even in terms of the cost of gaming, this is easily the cheapest generation for gaming. With the competition introduced from the discount cycles from specialist and general retailers, readily available imports and favourable exchange rates, it is comparably very cheap to game this generation. Compare even brand new RRPs of $110 for a new PS3 blockbuster, and compare that to the early-mid 90s where the average cart would set you back $100. I can even list specifics – Sonic 3: $140; Super Street Fighter 2: $180; Virtua Racing: $200. Take into consideration inflation, and it’s pretty clear that prices in this generation are extremely favourable if you shop around.

So, given how open the PS3 is, is it necessary? Arguably no, it isn’t, and I base my opinion on the above.

To be honest though, it really isn’t surprising – the moment they took away Linux support out of the box, they raised the ire of their consumer base, but more importantly, they also raised the ire of the Linux community, who are notorious for making Linux available on any/all platforms (bless ’em!). I remember thinking that this decision would come back and bite them, and to be honest, I’m not surprised that this has come out of the woodwork post-Linux cancellation. In this regard, Sony have to take a bit of the blame for the knee-jerk reaction they had with removing Linux support. While I never used it, I liked what this symbolised about the PS3, and was disappointed to see it removed.

But so far this has all been negative – so why not look at this as an opportunity? The old mentality with regards to modding has been iron-fisted, and to stamp out change/challenges to the established order. Why not take this opportunity to make a pre-emptive strike against some of the issues users have raised with the PS3? Here’s a few to think about:

  • Re-introduce OtherOS support
  • Improve PSone emulation to add true high resolutions and nice filtering
  • Add PS2 emulation via software
  • Remove regioning for PSone and PS2 games, and for DVDs and BRDs
  • Add the option to install games to the HDD alla the XB360
  • Create homebrew licenses to allow groups to contribute to the PS3 legitimately
  • For the hell of it, make the system compatible with PSP games downloaded via PSN
  • Update the media playback functionality of the machine – MKV, subtitles (embedded or separate), better xvid/div support, etc
  • Introduce some interesting emulators – Neo Geo, CPS2 and CPS3 wouldn’t hurt for example, especially with some nice netcode

Sony pre-empted a lot of the reasons legitimate users traditionally modded their machines by introducing progressively better media playback, excellent backwards compatibility (well, at first), user-serviceable HDDs with out-of-the-box backup to any USB HDD, Linux support, 60hz performance and region-free gaming. Why not continue this attitude by making some progressive steps forward again?

Note that I’m not advocating piracy or any of that nasty business – if I like a game I buy it, and the reason I mod my machines is because of those points I raised in the second paragraph.

Just my $0.02.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is genius, GOTY candidate


So, on Friday nights I check PSN to see what new stuff has come out, and low and behold, after much drooling over screenshots and trailers, Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Game is out. I downloaded the demo, Wifey and I fired through the first level, and I bought the full game immediately.

There is so much about this game that is just so right – beautiful spritework (thanks Paul Robertson, you’re my hero!!), amazing chiptune audio, fantastic old school gameplay with a few twists, local co-op, and all in 1080p, razor-sharp low-res style 2D gold. Then there’s all the fan service to the greats of years gone by, and probably heaps of other goodies I haven’t uncovered since we’ve only played through the first level…

I need to spend more time enjoying this game. You should as well. if you have a PS3, download it. If you have an XB360, hang in there, it shouldn’t be too far away. For those unawares, enjoy a trailer:

I really should do a special on Paul Robertson as well, the man is a certified superchamp.

Squeenix, why isn’t RayStorm HD available outside Japan on PS3?

RayStorm HD

I don’t quite understand why RayStorm HD isn’t available outside Japan on PS3. So I went and grabbed a pre-paid card and bought a copy through the Japanese store. Probably cost a lot more than it should when you consider the markup assigned to obtaining a Japanese PSN card, but I reckon it was worth it. Plus, I was able to get the Playstation port of Thunderforce V – I’ve played that to death on my Saturn and was always curious what the port was like, so it was a convenient arrangement.

Anywho, Square Enix’s idiosyncrasies aside, how’s the remake? Very nice indeed (as Yakumo over at Retro Core would say!). I haven’t put a stack of hours into it at this stage, just fitting in the occasional session when not hammering through Afterburner Climax or other gear on the PS3. The HD visuals look clean, uncluttered and the 16:9 playfield works really well – this last bit was my biggest concern going into it as breaking out the boundaries of a horizontal shooter already squeezed to a 4:3 aspect ration (rather than tate, or 3:4 ratio) to an even broader ratio may have messed up the balance RayStorm managed to achieve from back in the day.

While the decision to forego any crazy/fancy new effects may turn off the new breed who haven’t spent much time with the original FX-1B version or the Playstation “port” (though the FX-1B shares its hardware design with that of the Playstation, not unlike Namco’s System 11/12 or Capcom’s ZN-1/ZN-2 platforms, hence why I’ve put the word ‘port’ into quotations), I think it’s a very tasteful update to a solid game… though I still prefer the original Layer Section to its sequels (i.e. RayStorm, etc). So instead of having all sorts of filters, high polygon counts, motion blurring and so forth, we’re presented with slightly updated models and textures that reflect the exact same aesthetic as the original, only without jagged polygones or blurry textures. This is especially noteworthy with the low-poly waterfalls in level 3 🙂

And that’s pretty much it – there’s an arranged mode and some unlockables to keep things interesting, but probably the best feature introduced to take advantage of the current hardware platform are the leaderboards that not only post your high score (mine will be down the bottom if they register at all! 😉 ), but also allow you to save and upload your replays. This is excellent, since it allows rubbish shmup fans (like myself) to see how it really should be done 😉 Aside from this, it’s still RayStorm, so if you didn’t like it before, you probably won’t now unless your tastes in gaming have altered accordingly.

The only question left is – why the worldwide snub for PS3 gamers? Hopefully this’ll be rectified in time. The PS3 needs more Japanese shooters on it – I’d love some Otomedius on our machine, as well as the R-Type remake that came out a while ago, then there’s the Naomi ports (like Ikaruga and Triggerheart Exelica), and so on.

Still, we do have the Söldner-X games which are pretty awesome, but I wouldn’t mind sharing with XBLA if PSN can get a couple of those exclusives in return 😀