Friday, 18 August 2017

Video Game Market - Doncaster Dome

It’s a long ol' drive from London to Doncaster but the promise of an entire hall stacked high with retro gaming goodies makes the 7-hour round trip worth it.
On arrival to Doncaster Dome last weekend, I marvelled at the notable queue patiently waiting to gain entry into the market. Observing that it wasn’t just 40-somethings like me attempting to buy back the games and consoles that defined my generation, but a queue made up of younger folk too, waiting excitedly to get their hands on pieces of gaming history. 
If your aim is to procure retro games from yester-year then you’re garenteed to find them at a good price here. Stall after stall offer jam-packed creates of games, ranging from the Atari VCS starting from £3 to SNES and Mega Drive classics for not much more. 
Both mint with manual or lovingly repackaged cart-only’s for a little less. 
In contrast serious collectors have a welcomed place at the Video Game Market too. 
I spotted some great rarities; a boxed Neo Geo with three games, the collectable Sony Bravia TV complete with built in PS2 and a stunning N64 Disk Drive which I was rather tempted by had I not already exceeded the spend limit I had set myself.

If merch is more your thing then you’re also catered for too; anime and manga toys make a minor appearance alongside video game related clothing and prints by talented artists. 
There’s also vinyl toys and figurines displayed amongst the pile-em-high boxes of 80’s/90’s pop-culture toys, board games and trinkets. 
Admittedly I did find the lack of private sellers this time around to be a bit of a loss to the market in comparison to my previous visit. 

There were a lot more for-profit traders this time around - although I completely understand the attraction for them to sell here. Whilst always present, sadly I felt the now obvious majority of professional resellers tainted the community feel that had made the previous incarnation of the Video Game Market special.  
There was something endearing about buying an item from a personal collection, with the seller safe in the knowledge that their once prized possession was going to a good home. 
Since changing hands the Video Game Market is soon to become a three-times-a-year occurrence, rather than it’s previous annual gathering which I fear will further corporatise it. 
I appreciate that retro gaming has become a lucrative market, but fear the new frequency of the event could effect its previous endearing assemble of the like-minded originally curated from a love of gaming, to being a soulless money-making enterprise. 
I also fear the quality and availability of stock suffering from it’s new regularity, making it no longer worth any significant commute unless you’re already local. 

I really hope I’m wrong!
Having said that, in it’s present state it’s still currently worth the trip if you’re thinking of attending. 
  • If you're looking for collectables, then arriving early is a must. You snooze, you lose!
  • Bring cash. Understandably few stalls accept card payments. One positive to this is that it helps you stick to a budget!
  • If you don't ask you don't get! Haggling politely knocked £10 off of a Dreamcast and Gamecube consoles I purchased from the same seller. I heard others haggle too. They can only say no, right!?
  • If you see something you really want, it's best not to umm and ahh. Chances are it'll be gone by the time you return and there's nothing worse than spotting that coveted item in the arms of another!
  • ...having said that, some stalls are extortionately overpriced. Namely the ones by the entrance taking advantage of the first footfall. Shop around if the items you're after aren't all that rare. 
  • If you have a prepared a shopping list, it's worth checking out what the items sell for on eBay to ensure you're getting a good deal. Most sellers are competitive, but its best to attend knowledgeable so you don't pay over the odds.  
  • And finally, take your time to soak up the atmosphere, make like-minded friends and nose around at least twice - you'll be surprised by how much you missed the first walk around!
It's not everyday you get to attend a market dedicate to the glue that binds us all together and for that I'm grateful. 
I just hope it remembers it's jeans and gamer tee roots and doesn't get too carried away in it's seemingly new found corporate suit and tie. 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

PS4 Superhot VR Review

Hands up (in bullet time please!) if you remember Stranglehold or Enter the Matrix on PS3 and Xbox 360? 
Both of these games promised visions of playing within an action movie, with abilities to bend time to your advantage, using athleticism to enhance gameplay with your character becoming its very own weapon. Not to mention the ability to shoot people in the face in really cool ways! 
To some extent this niche genre was successful but the bullet time bubble quickly burst and the love affair with slo-mo gun ballet wavered …well, until now...
Superhot was originally released to high acclaim back in 2016 on the PC and Xbox 360 after a very successful Kickstarter campaign. This was a new type of FPS with a new aesthetic and gaming mechanic that differentiated it from it’s predecessors.
Now a year in the developers at Superhot have brought the indie darling over to the PlayStation VR, finally giving good reason to dust off Sony's virtual reality headset of wonder.
The game at its core is closer to a good old fashioned light gun game than a FPS, like a duck shot at the funfair - but with bright red menacing agents replacing yellow painted waterfowl as the target. 
The clean white, minimal Scandi-style ascetic which makes up the games backdrop adds to it’s ascetically pleasing no-nonsense gameplay. Although don’t let the clean lines fool you, the semiautomatic wielding enemy will happily attack in a no-holds-barred onslaught given half the chance.
Which leads to it’s USP of how to actually stop the enemy. Accomplished by the player physically moving left or right to avoid shots fired. The main game mechanic is so beautifully simple but amazingly well executed that it elevates it beyond a simple shooter to an interactive, immersive environmental puzzle with some physical effort required - but not enough to be off-putting. 
Time is in motion when you move; so only when moving your head, arms or firing a bullet. Presented in front of you can be four or more bad guys in various states of menace and this is when you need the foresight to plan your counter-attack. 
All items visible can be interacted with; be it an ashtray, throwing star or a gun. Remaining still bides you time to quickly distinguish between whats trying to kill you and what you can use to fight back. 
Do you grab the ashtray with one hand and use it to shield yourself against a bullet that’s about to leave the chamber of the gun that’s been drawn towards you? Or instead contemplate the merits of reaching for a gun sat illustriously on the table? Remembering at all-times that each little movement progresses time forward with the enemies trigger being squeezed slowly, an attack always imminent. 
Instead you perhaps opt into using the ashtray to disarm the gunman? Throwing it towards him in hope your aim is true and that he’ll drop his weapon ready for you to grab mid-air (which is a kick-ass, smile inducing all-powerful moment if executed correctly, I can tell you!) 
Using his gun to then shoot the other assailants who were moving ever closer forward with every passing moment of your previous assault, all whilst continuing to contemplate further the cause and effect of your actions.
Superhot - as with most titles on the VR - is a game that you must experience first hand to fully appreciate its genius. Simply reading articles or watching trailers on YouTube can never do it justice. 
The exciting, revisited but technologically advanced slo-mo action genre can only be fully appreciated when you're in control ...and you're bending time for yourself. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Japanese Vs Western Game Box Art

Whilst admiring the striking box art of the just-announced Japanese Super Famicom Mini, I reminisced that both as a child and now as a collector, that I’ve often paid over the RRP for imports based on the far more alluring manga art-style box art of Japanese variations of games over the arguably dull illustrations of their Western counterparts. 

It’s fascinating exploring the differences between the attention grabbing, intricately designed box art aimed for the Japanese market against the same game’s artwork for our European shelves. 

So why is there a difference? Often the reasoning is due to the targeting of a completely different audience. 
But are game consumers worldwide so different after all? I find this rationale somewhat questionable given that most western gamers agree the sunnier, loud and vividly painted disposition of the Japanese is favoured by even the more reserved amoungst us. 
Gaming in an escapist outlet for most and whilst we arguably maybe more subdued in our day-to-day lives, when we lose our inhibitions it tends to be due to our passionate hobbies. 

A box which stands out for me is Street Fighter 2. As a youngster, I remember being far more excited and intrigued by the Japanese artwork. 
Ryu the main protagonist is held centre stage along with the other brightly animated world warriors playing the strong supporting cast around him. 
The artwork alone does well at depicting the game, suggesting the ability of commanding an array of interesting characters in this globetrotting battle. 
In contrast its UK counterpart tells us nothing of the gameplay and paints the rather desolate image of a back street brawler over the worldwide Battle Royale that Street Fighter is. 
And what’s happened to the poster boy of the franchise? Knocked out and shifted stage-left perhaps alluding that this random karate kid would be no more than a first level character offered to merely learn the controls. 

One of my favourite examples is Super Ghouls and Ghosts. The Japanese artwork enthusiastically displays through vivid colour and design the range of enemies you will encounter in the game. 
From the little treasure chest dwelling imps to the intimidating bosses who will chew and spit you out leaving you in your boxers! 
For the UK, who is that being displayed as the hero if the story?! Just a generic knight as found in the bumper book of bad character design. 
Never mind the fact he’s wielding a sword which never actually appears in the game. In fact all weaponry is projectile with your default weapon being a lance. 
Even the shield depicted is wrong! It’s almost as though the lucrative Western market was a rushed afterthought. 

Strider. Once again on the Japanese box art we’re met with the classic hero positioned front and centre. With enemies either side waiting to pounce on the ninja master with that looming hand of death creeping in from above. 
Much more emotive and alluring and fully representative of the action game that Strider is.
The UK version shows a cartooned Gary Barlow in a leotard.
Even Kirby is an angry ball of pink here, where as in Japan…
Can you think of any box art which majorly differs depending on it’s region? 
Do you have any favourites? I’d love to hear them!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

The Exclusivity of The SNES Mini

Approximately 48 hours ago the much anticipated SNES Mini announcement from the Granddaddy of gaming, Nintendo, sent pandemonium accross the web with everyone wanting to get their hands on the miniature replica of the iconic 90's console.

The NES Mini sold out immediately, so it was surely only a matter of time until the release of the miniature replica of its successor? 

With no announcement imminent, people took matters into their own hands, creating mock-up box art of the would-be classic console. Speculation was rife as to which of the many SNES classic software titles would feature, with forums and fanboys predicting when we would perhaps finally be able to plug these fully functioning mini boxes of gaming nostalgia into our modern day scart-less TV's.
I don’t think I was alone in feeling disappointment when E3 came and went without any mention of it’s release. Not even a whiff of a “coming soon” dangling carrot. 

But in recent times we have become accustomed to Nintendo sharing news of their franchise via it’s self produced Nintendo Direct presentations, engaging with the consumer directly rather than the days of old; dependent on third party exhibitions or traditional media to spread the word of it’s press release. Nintendo now share their updates on upcoming releases online, on their own terms and time constrains. So when they finally announced the little £79 SNES console, we’d crash websites and sell out of stock worldwide trying to get our hands on the allusive pre-order.  

Nintendo had announced after the success of the NES Classic, more units of the SNES Classic would be available to meet demand. Despite this, preorders were snapped up within minutes of it's announcement. 

Exclusivity in consumerism is not a new concept. For us, shall we say more mature gamers, it's an old friend that has been with us since the import days when we (or, as in my case, loving parents) would pay over the odds for us to be one of the first in possession of the new big Japanese import game. The import market was huge back in the days of the SNES and it would be far too dishonest of me to pretend that being the only kid on the block in possession of that sought-after title that wasn't even released in the UK, did not feel rather great. 

Similarly, the retro collecting market is another area of limited availability and desire for exclusivity. Perhaps many collect for nostalgic purposes, but it also breeds ground for those of us who want to have that limited edition or rare item that perhaps alluded us the first time around. 

Creating product uncertainty can motive our urgency to buy, and we do so in order to safeguard any possible future regret we'd feel should we not act quickly enough to secure the limited item. It's not just in gaming, we see it in everyday life; limited edition cars, art and even burgers!

We want something that not everyone else has got, so we get it during the small window of opportunity whilst we can, before someone else does and before it's gone - possibly forever. It creates desirability, feeds our competitiveness and perhaps shallowly, once acquired even gives a feeling of superiority over our like-minded peers. 

So despite Nintendo's promise of meeting demand, perhaps it's limited run is a conscious strategy on Nintendo's part, given that they'll be well aware of the desirability of exclusivity. 

Keeping products in scarcity is a clever marketing tool, it creates a buying frenzy among consumers and it's great self PR. #SNESClassic was the No.1 trending topic on Twitter on Monday evening and "Nintendo sell out retro console preorders" makes multi-site headlines across the web. 

Would it have courted as much publicity should the console still be readily available? I very much doubt it. 

I hope Nintendo have a second and third wave of preorders if needed. Everybody deserves the chance to replay the defining console of the 16 bit era, but being lucky enough to have secured a SNES Classic preorder on Monday night, safe in the knowledge that come it's September release it won't be readily available up and down the High Street, nor online at it's original RRP...

...Well, that feels kinda good, doesn't it!?

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

EGX 2016

Another year, another EGX and upon leaving Birmingham's NEC to start the two-and-a-half hours drive back home, what resonated with me most wasn't what games I had played - although I loved every minute of my second PSVR experience - but thoughts turned to what was not there.

Having no presence from Nintendo was a massive void in the middle of the NEC hall. Not a sniff of Zelda, no line up of DS's and not a single sighting of the most famous face in gaming walking around with man, woman and child stopping Mario for a selfie made the event feel somewhat empty.

Another previous big draw missing from the line up was Microsoft's Xbox. In previous years having the two big boys of the console world showcasing their wares next to one another was a big part of the day for me.

The iconic blue lights from PlayStation vs the green hue from the Xbox stand had the feel of two combatants flexing their muscles in the ring with only a walkway to separate them. With the crowds of keen gamers queuing to play the upcoming titles being the company's life bars - the battle of the consoles commenced.

This year was different. Whenever it is due to the dominance of Sony since the launch of PS4 and the hype surrounding the PSVR, or simply down to the lack of interest of EGX from Microsoft, it had become a one fighter show… but in Sony's defense, it's show was a pretty impressive.

Battle Zone was my first point of call once the doors flung open for us early bird ticket holders. Having been so amazed by my first play at EGX last year (and it spurring me on to start this blog), I felt I had to go back for a second look before it’s official release.

I was pleasantly surprised just how far this latest build had come. The game play was still the slick Tron-esque tank vs tank I had remembered from 12 months earlier, but supped up to now include new enemies straddling the landscape, backed by phenomenal graphics easily worthy of an AAA launch title, making it a must for day one pick up alongside your PSVR.

Next I was lucky enough to #BeTheBatman.

If you have been following PSVR’s promotional content, you might’ve already of seen the Batman experience videos online alongside the euphoric grins slapped upon the demo players' faces and concluded that the experience looks pretty damn amazing - then you’d be right! Although no adjective really conveys how it feels when you first place the headset on, grab the move controllers and open your eyes in Gotham for the first time yourself.

The detailed Gotham City that Rocksteady games brought to our TV's is now brought to life in a fully immersive environment for you to interact with; beautifully dark and forbidding streets lay beneath you as you stand atop Gotham City Police Station. Turning left you see the the Batsignal illuminated in the nights sky, and to the right a scarily realistic waiting helicopter. Behind you an intimidating gothic clock ticks away.

I won't say more as the Batman experience is best enjoyed without spoilers and with fresh eyes - as tempting as it is to recount my experience, which left me leaving the pod slack jawed and somewhat superhero-ish!

It wasn't all VR for the PlayStation fans, there are still many upcoming titles that will ensure our TV’s are not left redundant.

The new Gran Turismo Sport looked beautiful, as well as Gravity Rush 2 and Horizon Zero Dawn drawing excitement from the crowds.

However, the top of the pile for me was the sublime “Little Nightmares” title. A Quentin-Blake-come-Emily-Strange art style featuring puzzle and stealth gameplay which refreshingly avoids the big guns and testosterone heroes we have come to associate gaming with, reiterating that there is always a place for this niche and inquisitive style.

Did I enjoy EGX this year?… yes, but as much as I love PlayStation it did feel more of a Sony roadshow featuring other third party developers.

As a consumer, sadly that's not why I enjoy attending EGX each year. I want to see ALL the medium has to offer at a gaming exhibition. Whilst cool indie games and retro cabs were still available, alongside a plethora of stalls flogging gaming related merchandise and collectables, with Cosplayers’ commitment unwavering, I sadly felt that there was still a huge piece of the puzzle missing with the arena failing to play host to Nintendo or Xbox this year.

With companies own impressive social media outreach, is there really still a need for an annual exhibition? Are gaming giants happy with their own ability to showcase their wears from their own highly followed platforms and roadshows that they are no long dependent on this perhaps dated and expensive third-party way of promotion?

Sadly for me, something at EGX was missing this year and I sincerely hope they can get it back.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Ready Player One.

As the world rekindles it’s love affair for 80’s nerd culture with likely thanks to the compelling new Netflix Original “Stranger Things” - a love letter to an era of electronic music, Dungeon’s and Dragons and our favourite childhood films and TV shows. I thought it would be a topical opportunity to recommend a novel of a very similar vain; Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

I’m no longer a big reader sadly, with a busy life and other ways to entertain, finding the time to sit down with a good book is often challenging, although this wasn’t always the case! In school I would devour every “Choose Your Own Adventure” or “Fighting Fantasy Book” available to me in the school library. I was the kid with a set of dice and a scruffy piece of paper (I wouldn’t use the back of the book, as it would ruin it.) with stats and life points jotted down to keep pace with the fantasy life I lead during break times.

With a pending holiday, I knew I needed a book to keep me occupied poolside. I could have taken my PS Vita, but screen glare and the possibility of SPF smeared on it's OLED screen would likely prove the mother of all first world problems. After having a browse in the graphic novel and sci-fi section of Waterstones - a novel task in itself that I found surprisingly therapeutic - I settled upon purchasing a copy of Cline's “Ready Player One”

Ready Player One is set in a future where the earth has been ravaged by wars and where extreme poverty exists. The outlet for the population is the “Oasis”, a colossal virtual universe comprising of thousands of worlds made not just by the original programmers but by the very users themselves. A little like Minecraft, users share the same space to create worlds and interact whilst using agile serves that prevent lag or error messages.

The story begins with the death of the architect of the Oasis, James Halliday, a genius who I envision a part-Steve-Jobs-part-Willy-Wonka character. James' love for all things 80’s including; music, film, TV, board and video games sets the story in motion by offering a metaphorical golden ticket: Keys to the Oasis kingdom and all his wealth to whomever can solve the in-game riddles.

This offer results in protagonists being drawn into the world that is full of hidden clues using every trick in the video game book to test players worth to find James’ Easter Egg. Winning not only entitles the successor to James’ fortunes but entitles them ownership of the Oasis and the protector of this MMORPG.

Whilst it’s hard to divulge further without giving too much of the story away, if you were a child growing up in the 80’s and have fond memories of the popular culture that moulded the decade, or enjoyed books written by the legendary Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone then you will not be disappointed by Ready Player One’s many nod’s to the period.

And if you must wait for the film, then that’s currently in production too. With likeable characters, genuine surprises and a world that’s asking to be brought to life on the silver screen, it’s a relief to know this brilliantly engaging piece of sci-fi fiction is in the safe hand of iconic 80’s movie director Mr Steven Spielberg and is due for release in 2018.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Review: Overwatch

If you’re anything like me you may feel the online FPS gaming genre has become somewhat stale.

I truly believe you only enjoy them if your favourite colour on the Dulux colour chart is between milky latte and David Dickinson and of course, have the minimum of 300 hours spare to plough into the game to attain the weapons required to kill anyone who even looks in your general direction.

Alas, I don’t have this luxury and prefer games to be fairer and less predictable. So I gave up playing them a few years back and never looked back.

The hype for Overwatch had been building for ages, drip feeding new characters and locations to a ravenous fan base whom had followed the progress since it's announcement.

No one was more surprised than me when I first caught sight of the trailer. Colourful characters, great dialogue and the sense of humour that had been missing from similar titles.

It was a welcomed slap of colour, explosions and fun so setting aside my unfavoured stance of the genre, I picked up a copy.

Initially - and even as a seasoned gamer - I was overwhelmed at the prospect of having 21 characters to learn; each with different weapons, speed of movement and special attacks to master but after committing to a few hours of facing AI opponents it easily became second nature.

Overwatch is unlike other FPS'ers where you stand nil chance of competing unless you level up your guns obtaining a godlike status and it's weaponry perks, which often require hours upon hours of online play.

In contrast, Overwatch is more comparable to the Street Fighter or Smash Bros series, whereby you select a character with their own individual move set that you simply learn in order to get better.

Whenever you’re a level one or one hundred, players rely solely on the same abilities and weapons. The reason you win is based on how good you are at that moment, not by how many hours are on your gameplay clock.

Add to this amazing level design, a flawless online experience and a well executed sound board that enables you to distinguish between each combatants’ footsteps.

A perhaps more favourable award for hours of play is learning to differentiate between opponents before they even make it to your screen.

My only concern was the lack of a single player mode. There's no story to play through and I’d worried that these sublimely designed characters would have no anecdote or backstory to make them three dimensional, being emotionless legs with guns.

Thankfully this has already been taken care of in the form animated shorts, web comics and an upcoming graphic novel that between them give insight to the protagonists.

 As you can probably tell I’m loving Overwatch. With each match I’m learning more about the massive roster, level layouts and strategies and perhaps most importantly I'm having fun playing online again.

How do you feel about the FPS genre? What are your thoughts on Overwatch?