Vita's media will cost a lot of dollas

By Mike on 5:38 pm

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Sony never met a proprietary format it didn't like. Beta, Minidisc, Bluray, Memory Stick. Joining it is the PS Vita Memory card. Like all other Sony formats, it's incompatible with other devices, completely unnecessary, and as we learned this week, very expensive.

Sony announced four size formats for the new PS Vita Memory Card. It will range from 4gb to 32gb and be priced between $30 up to a whopping $120 for the 32gb model. By comparison, commonly used SD cards in the same sizes range from $6 to $70. Sony's own failed Memory Stick Pro Duo cards retail at $95 for 32gb. This makes Sony's Vita cards the most expensive flash storage cards around.

Contains gold, platinum, and unobtanium... which is my theory for the high price

Like the PSP before it, the Vita has no built in storage. As PC World correctly points out, this bumps the true cost of the Vita to at least $320 with tax factored in. That's even before you buy any games or accessories. In other words, Sony is repeating the same mistakes it made with the PSP.

With companies trying to push downloadable games over retail copies, I find the high markup on storage puzzling. It made sense when there were no alternatives, but the iPhone and Android have changed the game. It's certainly not going to convince people to drop retail.

Source: PC World

Images courtesy of PC World and Meme Generator

Sonic Generations Review

By Mike on 9:09 pm

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We've said it time and time again. You got your hopes up only to have your dreams dashed. This time I can say it with confidence. The Hedgehog is back. In fact, Sonic Generations is easily the best Sonic game in 15 years.

As a long time Sonic fan, I don't make the above claim lightly. I was a huge fanboy back in the Genesis heyday. I mastered every game of the main series, played every other at least once. I religiously watched Sonic SatAM, and collected all the Archie Sonic comics. I loved the blue blur. To seem him fall so low in the 3D era pains me. It's like watching a piece of your childhood die. 

Saga is trying hard to turn their struggling mascot around. We've seen three major releases in the last year. Each one has improved upon the other. Generations finally manages to capture the spirit of the Genesis games, while at the same time perfecting them for the modern era.

Story & Gameplay

Thankfully, Generations keeps it simple for once. No bad dialogue, no weird ineterspecies romance. The story is kept light. Sonic's friends are captured by a time beast and thrown into the White World. This acts as the level select screen. There's no unnecessary over-world, which is refreshing. The story has plenty of nods and in jokes for fans. It even mocks the ludicrous stories and bizarre characters the 3D era is known for.

The game is structured like a classic Sonic game. There are nine zones with two acts each. Each zone is taken from the nine games released in the main series, from Sonic 1 up to Sonic Colours.

The zones are split into a Classic Sonic act and a Modern Sonic act. Seeing the chubby Sonic of yesterday puts a smile on any fan's face. Seeing him race through modernized versions of Green Hill Zone and Chemical Plant managed to put a huge grin on mine. Everything is just perfect with these classic levels. The focus on speed, speed, speed is gone. Instead, we return to good old fashioned platforming. That's really what the original series was all about. Physics are as close to the original Genesis games as you can get. You do tend to loose momentum in rolls quicker. The jumping is spot on though, a big improvement over Sonic 4.

Green Hill Zone looks great in the 21st Century

Compared to the original Green Hill Zone in 1991
After that first act, you move on to 3D Sonic. I actually enjoyed playing these levels just as much as the classics. Building on what they learned in Unleashed and Colours, Sega has perfected Sonic in the third dimension. There's a lot of great speed but a lot of good platforming. You get the feeling of a blistering pace, but without the cheap deaths that went along with previous games. One difference over the past is a boost gauge, which allows for temporary bursts of speed. You fill up the gauge by collecting rings, and doing mid air "tricks".

Both classic and modern levels are just a blast to play. The difficulty feels just right. It gets harder as the game progresses, without overwhelming the player. There's no sense of cheap traps here. Except maybe in Chaos City. Why Sega would want to revisit that rotting disaster known as Sonic 2006 is beyond me.

The game can be completed in a few hours. Some reviewers have complained about the length. I think they forget how short the original games were. Though Sega is not completely cheap here. Each zone has several challenge levels for both classic and modern Sonic. Completing these will more than double the game time. Plus, you get to unlock lots of goodies by finishing them.

Graphics & Sound

Sonic Generations is a gorgeous game. Sega has really taken attention to detail seriously. They're good at making their games pretty. The levels are crisp and colourful, which is nice in today's shades of grey games. The recreations of the Genesis levels in 3D are stunning and true to the classic design. Levels have been carefully designed to add challenge and excellent platforming.

As fast and as beautiful as the game is, modern consoles can't keep up. Sega took the unfortunate step of trading fluid motion for beauty. Sonic has to be played at a high frame rate to create smooth motion. In traditional games, this was 60 frames per second. The PS3 and Xbox 360 can only manage half that. It creates a fair bit of lag and motion blur. This takes a lot away from the Sonic experience.

Sonic Generations is a beautiful game best played at the PC's fast frame rate
 The best platform to play Sonic Generations on is the PC. The game still has a locked frame rate, unfortunately. However, it will run at a full 60 frames per second on Windows. This is how the game should be played, provided you have a powerful enough system. In my case, I'm running an AMD Phenom II X3 at 3.0ghz, Radeon HD 5770 1gb, and 4gb of RAM. This is enough to run the game at full speed without breaking the bank.

The game has no major technical issues. There's the occasionally frame rate hiccup but glitches are at a minimum. Thankfully, Sega learned from the disastrous Sonic the Hedgehog 2006.

Aside from looking good, the game sounds amazing as well. Even in it's darkest days, music has always been the Sonic series' strong suit. We're not getting anything new here. Instead, Sega has recreated and reinterpreted classic tunes with help from their original composers. The new versions of the old Genesis tracks really stand out for classic Sonic fans. Listen for your self. As you play, you can unlock the original tracks for a blast from the past. Even as a Sonic fan since the beginning, I still prefer the new versions.


Sonic Generations is the best console game in the series since Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Period. Sega has made a lot of mistakes with their flagship series. This is the game that finally gets it right. Classic Sonic plays like classic Sonic should. Modern Sonic is fast and fun. Both modes balance each other perfectly.

That said, the game isn't perfect. It has a few pitfalls. Later levels return us to a few cheap deaths, and the frame rate is too low on consoles. Some have complained that the game is short too. While that's true, it's no shorter than the Genesis classics.

Sonic Generations is a pure and unabashed lip service to fans who started with the series' roots. It's a fantastic game that really shows what Sonic should be, and what he can be. No stupid stories, no nonsensical friends. Just pure speed and smart platforming.

Score: 8.5 out of 10

What Works
-Classic Sonic plays like classic Sonic
-Colourful graphics and reinterpretations of classic levels
-Re-imagined music will make Sonic fans smile
-Modern Sonic gameplay finally perfected
-Lots of stuff to unlock, with missions that add variety

What doesn't work
-Cheap pit deaths in later levels
-Low frame rate on consoles

Nintendo 3DS Review

By Mike on 4:01 pm

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It's been a rough year for Nintendo. Stocks have plummeted, executives are taking pay cuts, and Mario has gone back into plumbing. At the centre of the storm is the 3DS. The little system is stirring up a hornets nest. Is it really as bad as gamers say? Is it too expensive and gimmicky? You bet! It's all those things and more, packed into a worthy successor to the DS dynasty.

What's in the box

The 3DS currently retails at a more reasonable $169.99, a reduction of $80 off the original launch price. The box contains the usual goodies. The system itself, a charger and dock, thick manual, warranty cards. It also comes with a few surprises. The 3DS comes with generous a 2gb SD card to get you downloading. Are you listening Sony? It also ships with a small deck of AR cards for the built in augmented reality games. Conspicuously missing is Nintendo's usual Wii style pack-in game cartridge. Given the high price the system originally commanded, I would think that would be a given.

The box includes manuals, AR cards, charger dock, 3DS, and charger (not pictured)

The system itself resembles the older DS Lite and DSi. It's about the same size and weight. Numerous improvements have been made over it's older brothers. The 3DS now contains an analogue nub, which makes true 3D games more playable. The shoulder buttons have also been raised a bit, to give them a better feel in your hands. Something that simple is a huge improvement.

Analogue nub, better buttons, fingerprinty piano black finish.

Your eyes bleed 3D

The real star of the show is the glasses-free 3D display. Until now, most consumer 3D screens have required the use of glasses. Instead the 3DS uses something called a parallax barrier. Tiny slats are used to display a different image for each eye. This gives the illusion of depth.

The display is just gorgeous. It features a wide screen aspect ratio for the first time. The 800x240 display gives a similar resolution to the PSP. The 3D mode works very well, though it's somewhat underutilized. A lot of games are still using pop-up book graphics. Experiments will depth will come.

You get the gist of it. Games look good. No 3D for you on 2D camera though.
 3D will take some getting used to for some people. About 10% of the general population won't notice the effect. Others may get headaches from it. Nintendo provides a slider to adjust the intensity of the 3D effect, so you can tune it to something more comfortable.

It may be a gimmick but the 3D display is where the 3DS really shines. Ocarina of Time has never looked better. 

Of course, the second touch screen from the DS remains. Sadly, it is not wide screen but they did up the resolution to 480x320.

Bad battery

The downside with the fancy screens and souped up graphics is battery life. In a word, it's pitiful.  Expect to get just three to five hours of gameplay depending on the brightness. It does have a fairly large battery, so why is power consumption so high? I've tracked it down to a couple of potential sources. The processors in the 3DS use an older, less efficient design. New mobiles use smaller transistors, which use less power. It's an easy fix that will be included with an inevitable redesign. The 3D screen also consumes a lot of energy. The paralax display requires a brighter backlight. Battery life can be extended by using lower brightness settings, or turning 3D off.

Pop-up Pics, grainier than a Saskatchewan wheat field

The 3DS features three VGA cameras. The front facing camera is unchanged from the DSi. It can take photos of the user and plaster them on Miis and other in-game avatars. Don't expect to be using your 3DS to do any Skype video chats.

The two rear facing cameras are where the fun is. At least if you find grainy, eye hurting photography to be fun. As one would expect, the 3DS can take 3D pictures. The quality is questionable at best. The pictures come out quite blurry and have noticeable gain, even in decent lighting conditions. Nintendo has obviously packed the lowest quality mobile cameras they could find into this thing. Even the cheapest cell phones have 2.0 megapixel cameras in them, and have for some time. By comparison, the 3DS's cameras are 0.3 megapixel.

The 3D effect ranges from okay to quite poor. It all depends on what you're shooting and the angle you shoot at. I've had some that have come out quite well. Others make my eyes want to bleed. It works best with medium shots. Closeups produce a disorientating effect that makes my brain hurt, while wide shots produce nothing noticeable. On the plus side, you can edit your photos to adjust the intensity of the 3D effect. Fine tuning what each eye sees can make better looking photos. Overall, the 3D photos do look better on the device than 2D photos taken with the same camera do.

The rest of the photo app is pretty basic. It allows you to "graffiti" your pictures. Basically, you can draw on them, and that's pretty much it. Obviously it's meant to be easy to use for children. I didn't expect Photoshop Express, so I can't dock points for simplicity. I just wish the pictures it took weren't so awful.

Note: I'd show you how bad the pictures are but the SD card doesn't want to cooperate with either of my computers. I'll post them when I fix it.

Hardware odds and ends

For online connectivity, the 3DS has 802.11G Wi-Fi. It's a major improvement from the DS's painfully slow 802.11b connection. Also, like the iPod Touch, it features an accelerometer and gyroscope for basic motion control, and a microphone for audio recording. All of these work well, though most are not yet integrated into games.

I like the hardware a lot. It feels like the most grown up member of Nintendo's portables. Nintendo finally has something that can rival Sony's portable in the hardware department. Mostly everything works well. Unfortunately, that's only half the story.

System Software

Software can make or break a game system, and the 3DS's just isn't very good. That's not to say it's bad. It just hasn't had time to mature. Still, it remains the number one problem with the system. It feels like Nintendo rushed the launch without really thinking things through.While none of the launch titles were particularly bad, they weren't particularly good either.  Fortunately, things are starting to change for the better.

The system software is the most immediate change you'll see. It's also the most radical. The OS on the DS was the next best thing to useless. Nintendo has borrowed a few pages from Sony, the Wii, and Apple this time around. Apps and games are laid out in a grid on the touch screen. The top screen shows the app's title in fabulous 3D. We get a white, neat theme that has become a trademark of Nintendo since the Wii came out. It's a huge leap ahead of the hideous and utilitarian desktop on the DS.

The 3DS system software is a vast improvement, and more Wii-like than the DS
 Not only is the interface prettier, it's more functional. Nintendo has been kind enough to include some apps to get you started. Some are new, some are a carryover from the DSi.

The reality you're about to see may contain artificial ingredients

To get us started, Nintendo has added a couple of augmented reality (AR) games. AR uses the cameras to blend digital imagery with a real world backdrop. As I mentioned earlier, the system comes with a small deck of cards that can be used with AR GAMES. Only one card is useful, the rest just make Nintendo characters appear on your rug. The actual games are basic shooting and bowling. It's a bit gimmicky but then again, this is Nintendo we're talking about.

Speaking of gimmicky, Face Raiders, the other AR game, is one of the most bizarre I've played. It used the front facing camera to take a picture of your face. Then it slaps your image on malevolent floating balls that attack by... kissing you. This one uses the accelerometer to and cameras. Your goal is to shoot the balls, with little balls, before they get you. Once you defeat the boss mug, that's one level down. Take pictures of your friends, so you can slap them with your balls too. Face Breakers may be stupid and weird, but it's the most entertaining of the two built in games.

It can play music and video, but so does my watch

Besides games, the 3DS has some old and new media capabilities. The photo app has been updated, and can now take 3D pictures. Aside from that, not much has changed from the DSi. You can still view albums and draw on photos. That's about it. The music app can both record and playback sounds. It also has a few neat filters that you can play around with. Even an 8-bit one to turn your favourite songs into chip tunes. Sadly, there's no equalizer. Music playback quality is pretty good tough. The only major flaw is the clunky album navigation system. Remember the old school nested folders from MP3 players from days of yore. They're baaaack.

The 3DS offers a brand new media feature on top of photos and music. It can now play videos, sort of. Nintendo Video automatically downloads videos of the week for you. All in 3D of course. It's like their own version of Youtube. The content on it is actually not bad. There's music videos, artistic and indie shorts, and stuff from CollegeHumor. Great, except for one big problem. You only have access to four videos at a given time. On top of that, once they're gone, they're gone. You can't go back and watch old videos. You're forced to live with what Nintendo picks for you. To make matters worse, you can't even load your own movies onto it. The only other option is Netflix. An app for that can be downloaded from the store. Since I don't have a subscription (and used up my free trial long ago), I couldn't test that feature.

Smiles at everyone she meets on the Street

Finally our last piece of new software: StreetPass. It's Nintnedo's attempt at adding social networking to the 3DS. Like the Wii, you can create a Mii, a cartoon avatar of yourself for online gaming. With StreetPass, your 3DS scans for other 3DS systems and logs their owner's Mii. You can visit other Miis in the Mii Plaza. There you can interact and play games with them. I'm not sure if I like this feature. It seems pretty limited, plus this system is for kids. I'm not sure I'd want it logging information about total strangers, or beaming out my info. Of course there are parental controls, but still. The whole thing just feels underdeveloped, like a lot of Nintendo's online gaming features. They still haven't caught up with the likes of Sony, Apple, and Microsoft in that department.

Games, glorious games. Where art thou?

Now finally, we get to the games. The 3DS had one of the most underwhelming launch lineups that I can recall. I think this is the biggest flaw with the system. The software for it feels rushed. The launch titles have one standout with the rest being pretty dull around the edges. At worst, many of the games feel overpriced.

While it's easy to dismiss Apple as the new kid on the gaming block, they did start a revolution. They priced their games dirt cheap. When the average full featured title for the iOS platform costs just $7, charging $40 for a similar experience becomes hard to justify. Nintendo hasn't really changed their pricing strategy since the Gameboy. Like Sony, they've failed to take advantage of their own app store to compensate, by making these titles impulse purchases.

The store is a bundle of random categories that change weekly. Cut the Rope is a pricey $5!!!

It seems Nintendo doesn't really know what to do with the 3DS. You'd think a company that makes games would know how to make games for their new flagship portable. Of the handful of blockbuster titles the 3DS does have, two are ports from the 90s. A few more are ports of DS games with slightly enhanced graphics and audio. While there are a few original games coming down the pipe, they're still few and far between.

The software experience on the 3DS isn't good. The system does have a lot of potential. Sadly, nobody wants to give it the time of day: not Nintendo, not third parties. They've already written it off as a failure. I think if Nintendo started taking better advantage of the eShop, and lowered the prices of the games, they could have something to compete with Apple and Sony. They just got to get people making good games for it first.


The 3DS is an excellent portable that suffers from a Napoleon complex. The hardware is fantastic, but it really comes up short in the software department. It could be so much more than a gimmick, because the games do look fantastic on it. I think the successor to the venerable DS deserves a lot better treatment.

If you've managed to get this far in my review, you're probably wondering whether you should buy it. If it was still at $250, that would be a definite no. However, I think Nintendo has finally hit a pricing sweet spot that could really challenge the Vita and iPod Touch. If you're a fan of Nintendo, or even just a few of their franchises, I'd say go for it. Otherwise, you may want to hold off until a redesign, or at least until the software situation gets sorted.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

What works:
-Gorgeous glasses-free high resolution 3D screen
-Analogue nub a big improvement over the DS
-Charging dock a neat feature
-3D camera and Augmented Reality are neat gimmicks
-Better quality stylus
-Improved connectivity and social networking
-Better buttons
-Feels like a more grown up DS
-New $169.99 price tag offers nice value

What doesn't work
-Battery life
-Poor image quality with camera
-Lack of standout games
-Price of some games
-Underdeveloped, cluttered, and overpriced eShop
-Bundled apps unimpressive
-Online gaming still a pain