Sunday, 25 October 2015

Cosplay - MCM Comic Con London 2015

With thanks to everyone who kindly posed for a picture. Some excellent cosplay at MCM Comic Con London 2015. 

Full review and my experience meeting Nathan Drake himself, Mr Nolan North coming very soon! 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Rock Band 4 - Review

Rock Band is back. 

Anyone who loved the original must of let out an Ian Gillan-esque falsetto shriek when the announcement was made that the title would be returning in all its plastic glory. 

Will it reignite our inner rock star with A Whole Lotta Love, or will it be the terrible comeback album that serves to sully the glorious past?

Upon unboxing I immediately grabbed the guitar and memories of the finger bending cords I would religiously play whilst doing my chosen anthem justice came flooding back. 

The accomplishment felt upon completing Iron Maiden’s “Run For The Hills” at 100% are akin to pulling off a lengthy Street Fighter combo, but this time with virtual rock gods as our M Bison.

Now you can’t review Rock Band 4 without mentioning the trump card it has on its competitors - the “band” itself. By adding drums and a microphone to the kit, it makes the game a much more fun social experience.

The collective peripherals set it apart and as much as I have dreams of guitar solo stardom (I’m not bashing Guitar Hero here, I hope to pick that up too) It doesn’t compare to working in unison with the missus channeling Keith Moon on drums - albeit somewhat more aggressively - with myself taking control of the axe upfront.  Like a Cockney White Stripes if you will. 

Rope in willing friends and your living room quickly transforms into Wembley Arena, becoming so immersed within the game that you find yourself demanding only blue M&M’s and wearing sunglasses indoors. 

But what has Rock Band added to this new incarnation? How have they harnessed the powerful cutting edge next-gen technologies and used them to their full potential?

...well to be frank, they haven’t.

The one new addition to the gameplay is guitar freestyle solos. At predetermined moments during the song all notes disappear from your screen and the highway is yours to shred away. It’s at this point you lift up the fret and give it your best Slash impersonation, with the output realistically sounding as though you’d know what you’re doing if ever clutching the real thing. 

The feeling of having full "artistic freedom" is a refreshing addition, although everything else in Rock Band 4 feels somewhat stripped back. 

The create a character menu has only two body shape options and just a handful of face types. There’s no online co-op or versus mode at launch and no sign of any keyboards this time around. A backwards step in some eyes but to me this is quite favourable. 

There's less chaff to bog down the core gameplay which is just as good - if not better - than it has ever been. You still have the amazing soundtrack of tunes you’ll recognise alongside ear worms that'll slowly make their way to your favourites on Spotify. 

You can also export almost all (I hear Harmonix are working on getting all) previously purchased songs over to Rock Band 4, extending the already impressive track list. Surely it’s affirmative that the songs should take precedent over character options in a music game anyway? 

What does remain the same is the intuitive and sturdy instruments by Mad Catz. The hardware missed any call for an unnecessary make over - but hey, if it’s not broke why fix it?

The tour mode is the arch of the game with your band starting on the bottom run of the music industry ladder. You pay your dues with small gigs initially - building up to longer set-lists & a better wage, whilst making decisions on transport, stylists, managers, sponsorship deals etc…

The game has it’s tongue firmly in it’s cheek with tidbits of fun comedic scenes between the gameplay. Your decisions throughout provide a variation of outcomes and bonuses, which makes a second and third play through a necessity.

In summary Rock Band 4 has the number in the title for a reason - it’s a sequel. Not a reinvention of the brand or a reboot but a sequel fair and true. Harmonix know the genre well and haven't tampered with a winning formula too much. They've taken out the dead weight (sorry keyboards) & have kept it about the music and its USP: the band and multiple user capabilities - to which it does extremely well.

So should you buy it?

I’m going to avoiding the generic out-of-ten or percentage route.  Quite simply: do you buy it full price, wait for a price drop or leave it all together? 

On this occasion I’m inclined to say pick it up now and if budget allows definitely go all out for the full band in a box. 

However the more affordable option of the game and guitar pack will equally keep you strumming happily for many hours. 

Monday, 12 October 2015

Gaming For Grown Ups:

As I browsed through the many retail stalls at EGX, I started to become fatigued. As usual the majority were flogging the same old generic wears.

Poorly printed Street Fighter tees? Check. Foam Minecraft swords? Check. Super Mario character plushes and novelty plumber hats? Check. Check.

The stallholders had obviously all been to the same cash-and-carry-for-nerds & bought a job lot of identical stock. I wondered how any of them made a profit given that 80% were selling the same old tired goods.

It dawned on me just how hard it is to buy good quality, well designed video game merchandise.

But after an hour or so of disinterested wandering I stumbled upon Gametee’s stall. 

I was initially drawn in by their beautiful monochrome prints inspired by video game characters. The bold black and white imagery immediately jumped out amongst the sea of generic cut and paste art hung from their competitors stalls.

I loved the prints, there was something pleasantly grown-up and mature about them.

I also immediately fell in love with Gametee's sweatshirts. Bold iconic logos and premium print graphics on high quality fabrics. I liked that they were not glaring obviously video game related but if you know - then you know.

It’s the sort of thing a fellow nerd would spot walking down the Street. You make eye-contact, they look at your shirt, smile and nod knowingly in approval, then you both continue about your day.

They were like nothing like I’d seen before. "Luxury for videogamers" and it was, so naturally I picked up two. 

Loki my dog also approved. 

Talking to the friendly staff manning the stall, I learned the business is British and an 100% artist owned company. 

You could tell from the way they passionately spoke about their designs that they weren’t just there to peddle any old toot to gamers for profit. They had seen a gap in the market for high quality, original products and used Kick-Starter to achieve their goal.

Another distinctive string to their bow was the video game inspired scented candles. Now between me & you I’ve never previously shared the missus’ enthusiasm for "Caribbean Sunset" or "Moon Dust" scented wax that she often dots about various nooks and crannies of the house. 

But I had an immediate change of heart on discovering Gametee's Koopa Beaches and Hyrulian Forest offerings.

A hypocrite? Maybe…but the gaming novelty was enough to draw me into giving them a whiff and when I did I was immediately converted. 

Unfortunately the Hyrulian Forest tri-flame candle wasn’t available at the expo otherwise I would have snapped it up. Imagine playing A Link To The Past whilst the scent of Hyrual fills the living room? Interactive gaming at it's finest and one for the shopping list I think.

I walked away pleased I'd discovered Gametee and happier still with my new purchases. 

Gametee proves that video game merch doesn’t have to be boring or clichéd. It can be original, high quality, quirky and perhaps most of all can be cool.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Play Margate. Retro Gaming Expo: Review

It’s August. I’m sat in traffic on the A13. The sun’s beating down and I need a wee. This can only mean one thing - a road trip to the seaside.

But this wasn't the usual bucket and spade affair, oh no. Me and my long suffering fiancée were going to spend one of the hottest days of the year hidden within the four walls of the iconic Winter Gardens at Play Margate 2015.

I’ve wanted to attend a retro gaming expo for a few years but they always seem to be held out of London. The thought of travelling and having to lug any pickups back with me on the train really put me off. Fortunately now I have a new car and the world - well the UK - is my retro gaming oyster.

As we’d never attended before we made our way to the expo with an open mind not really knowing what to expect.

Would this seaside event be no more than a couple of old Nintendo Entertainment Systems set up in a corner? Maybe a few people huddled around a Street Fighter cabinet like back in the day at my local chippy?

Luckily on arrival we were immediately put at ease. Greeted by a bustling hall filled with every retro console imaginable alongside a varied demographic of attendees.

There were the original gamers; 30+ Dads explaining to their confused offspring why the control pad of the Atari Jaguar has so many buttons, with the roles reversing over in the dedicated Minecraft section with children enthusiastically explaining the merits of the game to their adults companions.

We walked into a room and spotted two oversized Gameboys linked together playing Tetris, a projected game of Pong and stalls selling boxes upon boxes of retro games, works of pixel art and collectables.


My favourite stall by far was hosted by “The Retro Hunter” (@TheRetroHunter) Not only did he have more games than you could shake a Wii remote at, his passion for retro was apparent. He talked about his items with knowledge and refreshing enthusiasm.

There's nothing worse than being served by disinterested staff who haven't a clue about the items they're selling.

I was once asked if I wanted a season pass for the DC beat 'em up Injustice: Gods Among Us because " had the Hulk in it." Despite him hurting my nerdy feelings, I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that The Hulk is in fact a Marvel character and not DC.

The Retro Hunter was spreading the gospel of gaming and was sharing the good news in the form of Master System and Megadrive games (both Jap and UK), SNES, N64 and Gameboy.

Everything you could ever want as a retro collector was there, including a copy of Alex Kidd for the missus and a Sega Saturn console for me.

I was really chuffed with my find as I never owned the Saturn the first time around.

As a student back when it was launched I didn’t have much disposable income, so had to make the tough decision between the Saturn and the all new PlayStation.

I don’t regret my decision at all as I adored my PlayStation but it was cool to finally own both consoles - even if it is twenty years later!

After chatting to talented pixel artists and spending yet more money expanding my Nintendo Amiibo collection, we made our way to the lower floor of the building.

The large and very beautiful lower hall of Winter Gardens had many areas of gaming delight; a playable history of Mario Kart from the first SNES instalment up to the more recent Mario Kart Wii.

Seeing how far it has come since ’92 puts into perspective how big the jump between consoles were. Something that has somewhat slowed down for the last few generations in my opinion.

A long table hosted many XBox 360’s all running Street Fighter 4 waiting for attendees to challenge their friends. More interactive titles like Guitar hero and DJ hero (a personal favourite of mine) were also set up and I think almost every one had at least one go - how can you not pick up the guitar and channel your inner Hendrix?

I’ve missed the series and can’t wait to pick up the new one.

Everywhere you looked there was another system from our past; Neo Geo AES, PC Engine, Amiga ST & Dreamcast to name a few, all waiting for someone to press start and enjoy.

Play Margate was a fully interactive museum, with the stars of the show not being mollycoddled behind glass just to be stared at. Theses game machines were created to be played and entertain, and even after 30+ years they were still managing it with ease.

The pleasant bombardment of sounds from all the old arcade machines brought back memories of being 11 or 12 in a holiday camp off the Norfolk broads, where I'd beg my grandparents for a few quid to change into shiny 10 pence pieces and spend the day enjoying games that my home consoles could never comprehend processing.

Donkey Kong, Karate Champ, 1942 plus many more cabinets and pinball tables were all on free play so no need to worry about a 10p stash this time. That alone was well worth the affordable £12.50 admission price.

As our day drew to a close I took one last look around the hall and felt quite emotional on remembering that I started playing video games when it wasn’t as cool or sociality acceptable as it is nowadays. Being more of an in-your-bedroom-with-the-curtains-shut hobby.

Seeing so many people who all have a genuine love for video games, enjoying them publicly together within such a beautiful venue got me right in the feels. I'll definitely be back.

Do you have a favourite retro game? Any particular title than has stayed with you through the years? Mine is “Rockstar Ate My Hamster” on the Spectrum.