Friday, December 31, 2010

The Curmudgeonly Gamer Presents The 10 Best/Worst of 2010...

It is traditional, at year's end, for bloggers, journalists, and late night talk show hosts, alike, present what they believe to be the best or worst of the year behind them.  Often, we forget just how boring these lists can be, so I've decided that, instead of presenting the 10 Best and 10 Worst of 2010, I shall simply combine them into one list to rule them all.

I likely will not meet with everyone's approval, but that's not my aim - these are clearly just my observations and opinions - and oh, what opinions they are.  So, without further ado, I give you...

The 10 Best/Worst in Gaming of 2010:

10.) BEST: 3-D Dot Games Heroes

3-D Dot Game Heroes for the PS3 really took me by surprise, this year.  My expectations for the game were, unsurprisingly, low (my motto is "Guilt, until proven decent"), and when I got into playing the game, I instantly fell in love with it.

The gameplay hearkens back to the days of Zelda Long-Since Past, invoking the very best of The Legend of Zelda and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, presenting a slow-paced, traditional style of overhead world map and dungeon adventuring with a twist: you can purchase and upgrade swords to your liking.  This can result in any number of hilarious effects, including giant baseball bats, and creates swords that literally fill up the entire screen and kill everything in sight (this is the game's biggest claim to fame).  There is actually little else to differentiate 3-D Dot Game Heroes from the Zelda overhead-style games other than these swords, though, which can be somewhat tiresome after the novelty has worn off.  

As far as graphics are concerned, however, there is nothing new to see here...except the amazing detail with which the PS3 can display water effects.  Water and the reflections cast in water have always been the challenge for game consoles, and this game provides a much appreciated break from the norm.  The surfaces are reflective and brilliant, and do their best to ensnare unwary passersby to a watery grave.

The music is relatively good, I suppose, though like every game in this genre can become taxing when heard on a loop.  Most of us have fond memories of the Zelda theme songs by Koji Kondo, and could easily whistle them in our sleep - few of us would like to listen to them for hours at a time.  With 3-D Dot Game Heroes, the music goes from "Tolerable" to "Buzz Saw in the Amazon" in a matter of minutes due to the fact that it's either non-existant or at full blast, regardless of the volume setting.  

Overall, this game was one of the best games for PS3 in 2010 because it reminded people what good gaming used to be like before better graphics and shorter attention spans led us down the primrose path to cookie-cutter games with little thought or effort put into them.

9.)  WORST: Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light

Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light was likely one of the most depressing Square-Enix releases in recent memory.  The game was touted as a return to the classic style of gaming that made the first Final Fantasy so popular - a straightforward and simple JRPG, with four heroes on a quest to save a world from darkness.  At this prospect, I was wicked excited...a game that finally could restore my faith in Square-Enix's ability to reinvent the Final Fantasy series in a way that stays true to its roots without turning it into a 3D space opera.

God, was I ever wrong.

There are very few games that I am willing to sell as soon as I play them; this is one of those games.  The straightforward aspect of this game really speaks more to the linear nature of the gameplay which all but forces the characters to go to specific places and complete specific (easy) tasks, all while collecting crappy ass "gems" from the monsters they beat to use as accessories to upgrade their "Crowns."

There is not a unique thing about this game; every "innovation" is just a poor imitation (read: "ripoff") of another game's idea:

The "Crown" system is FF: T4HoL's answer to a job system.  Similar in every way to the Dress Sphere from Final Fantasy X-2, this system takes a stab at allowing each character to play in the classic roles of Warrior, Thief, White Mage, etc.  The only difference from the Dress Sphere, however, is that you must use gems collected from hours of pointless enemy grinding to level up each individual Crown...for each individual character.  Basically, all of the level grinding you do is spent casting attempting to get these upgrades so that you can insert better abilities into your customizable list of abilities.  It's basically like a Materia system, with all of its drawbacks and hangups, without the same level of tedium it took to level up those glowing stones.

The graphics are nothing special, basically importing the same technology used in the Final Fantasy III Nintendo DS release from 2006.  There's nothing really impressive about it, as the characters have the awkwardly shaped bodies with a ridiculous gait that barely gets you where you want to go.  The backgrounds and world in which the game is set are also nothing special, being little more than poor renderings aimed to clearly display what type of land they "are."  While Matrix's remake of FF III was fantastic because it brought the game to the U.S. for the first time in nearly twenty years, this game's graphics are an inexcusable lapse in modernization.

The gameplay is, much like the FF III remake, both awkward and uninspired.  The touch screen is used only as a last resort because sorting through the menus manually using the directional pad is tedious, at best.  Everything from movement around the screen to the flow of battle has an awkward and ungainly feel about it, which for some gamers (primarily children) doesn't present too much of an issue.  The controls aren't great; neither are they responsive, nor are they intuitive to use, feeling wholly unnatural.  

The music is basically a rearrangement of Nobuo Uematsu's genius scoring for FF III, with reduced sound quality and instrumentation.  Naoshi Mizuta has a few inspired moments of genius to his composition, but pales in comparison to Uematsu's talent for capturing a moment.

In reviewing this game, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that I am one of the lone detractors of this game and its so-called "old school" style.  Nearly every other reviewer sings this game the praises of a thousand angels in chorus, going on about how fantastically unique it is, and how refreshing it is to see the Final Fantasy series rebooted.  These people are likely either being paid to say these things or they're on a really good peyote trip.  If Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is the reboot for the Final Fantasy series, I think we can safely say that the future is bleak.

8.) BEST: Nintendo 3DS

The news of the upcoming release for Nintendo's latest handheld domination console certainly rates a spot on my Top Ten list, even if it won't see release until next year...maybe.  This console has so much promise, it's sick, with its ability to provide 3D images without the aid of glasses - a marvel of modern technology.  Did I mention that this effect is adjustable?  Gamers can adjust the "level" of 3D imagery in the game from "Full 3D" to "2D," which is massively revolutionary in and of itself.  Never before have players been able to turn off and on major features of a machine; generally, we've only been able to adjust the volume, brightness, or screen position.  This option allows the player to really take control of their 3D experience, and use it in ways that best suit their preferences.

The details about the 3DS are not held as closely to Nintendo's chest as are the details about the upcoming iPad 2 (now with greater absorbency), so I can only give a speculative review, but the prospect is very promising.  While the price tag seems a bit high, even by Japanese standards, it will likely come down by the time it hits Western shores.

There is a risk, however, with this product following in the footsteps of the woebegone, oft-reviled, and gladly forgotten Virtual Boy console, the failure of which led to the ousting of one of Nintendo's long time designers who later went on to create a failed handheld gaming device for Bandai.  It seems unlikely that this will be the case with the Nintendo 3DS, primarily because the games will be in full-color instead of monochromatic red LED lights.

The Nintendo 3DS will, I believe, be the "Next Generation" of gaming, all but assuring Nintendo's continued domination of the handheld gaming market.

7.) WORST: Final Fantasy XIII 
My hatred for this game has already been vented in an earlier post, but not in detail.  Let's give it a go:

While visually stunning, Square-Enix managed to deliver yet another recycled storyline with unlikable characters that are simply regurgitations of character from previous games, all of whom are introduced in haphazard ways that leave the player wondering, "Wait...who are these people, and why should I care about them?"

Meet Lightning - Square-Enix's female version of Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart.  Sullen, moody, and seemingly always bitter about the path her life has taken, Lightning goes out of her way to alienate the rest of the characters from her using her icy Bitch Ray.  Nothing gets in the way of her mission to...oh, who the hell cares???  Even S-E admitted that she was created to be the female version of these two characters, and they have managed to succeed, though without either the whimsy or likability of either of the originals.

The music is okay - again, not a Uematsu score (I'm a bit biased), but he's moved on to bigger, brighter, and more profitable pastures - making new music and playing concerts of his famous Final Fantasy hits.  Though well-orchestrated and certainly well played, the arrangements can, at times, be heavy handed.  This is a common mistake when it comes to blending video game genres (do you need a more Action feel, or an epic RPG feel?), and it's difficult to strike that delicate balance, so I have to give Masashi Hamauzu (of Final Fantasy X co-composer fame) credit for doing the best he could with a lackluster game.

The gameplay is, perhaps, one of the least successful elements of this game.  The story is told primarily through a series of tiresome and repetitive cut scenes which take up almost half of the initial run through the game.  The battle system is awkward, at best, attempting to blend the real-time fighting feel of Final Fantasy XII with a new approach to ATB battle gauge fighting.  The lead character runs around the battlefield like a chicken with her head cut off and runs into standing groups of enemies, which then launches into a fight sequence.  You can surprise these creatures by "sneaking up on them," but it rarely works, and isn't really that helpful.  The battle system could easily be the least successful element of the game, trumped only by the overly long summoning cut scenes during battles.  Each fight is ranked on the amount of time it takes to finish the battle (which is seemingly subjective, and doesn't really seem to make much real sense); the higher the ranking, the more likely you are to receive marginally better, but ultimately worthless item drops from the enemies.

Enemy design is yet another lackluster element to this game.  Though beautifully drawn and very clearly well-thought out, the enemies fail to inspire any real enthusiasm to beat them.  Most of the time, the player worries more about beating the crap out of something as quickly as possible to attain the best drop without paying much attention to the creatures themselves.

Another failure is the leveling system, the Crystarium.  Reminiscent of Final Fantasy X's Sphere Grid, the character spend certain amounts of Crystarium Points to obtain boosts to MP, HP, and various other attributes.  It's no small surprise that gaining these points in the initial ten chapters is both tedious and not worth the effort, but hey...I'm a curmudgeon (hence the name of this blog).

In addition, both Square-Enix and Sony have faced class action lawsuits over "freezing glitches" that damage and physically destroy the PS3 in the process of playing.  Of course, both party blames the other for faulty hardware; neither have offered to fix the problem.  

Once again, I am the lone detractor in a sea of worshipers.  All other reviewers have praised all of the "developments" that I've just bashed, almost to the point of idolatry.  What really bugs me about these reviews, both by bloggers and game-oriented publications, is the clearly defined line between what the industry thinks constitutes greatness and what the consumers think constitutes greatness.  I've been following video games for most of my life, and reading reviews that sing the praises of each new game that comes out seemingly without ever playing them.  I am generally the game hater of my group of gaming friends, but what really gets my goat is how quick these reviewers are to praise the corporations that allow them to preview and review their games.  Unless I've missed the mark, most of these reviews are based entirely upon talking points generated by the companies who make the games, and not from any real-life interaction with the game or the consumers who have to buy this crap.

Overall, Final Fantasy XIII has earned its place in infamy on my Worst list because of its all-too-linear gameplay, its sad sack storyline, and its entirely uninspired characters and controls.  My advice is to skip this one altogether, unless you're just a collector, like me.

6.) BEST/WORST: Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Limited Edition

When Nintendo announced plans to release their 25th Anniversary Super Mario All-Stars Limited Edition for Wii in early November, people went crazy, both here and in Japan.  For those of us who are old enough to remember it from the first time around, Super Mario All-Stars is a re-port of a classic SNES game released in 1993 that compiled the first three Super Mario Bros. games all onto one cartridge, along with the Japanese sequel to the original game that never got released in the U.S.  On both shores, this was great, because it allowed the Japanese to play Super Mario Bros. 2, the American sequel that was released in Japan as Super Mario USA.  

This release is both a Best and a Worst for one very simple reason: it is a straight re-port of the original game (Best), but it doesn't in any way live up to the hype from Nintendo of "enhanced graphics" (which are the same from the original - Worst).  Additionally, it does not come with Super Mario World, unlike the link I provided above.  SMBA-S had a fantastic second release that included the first Mario game for the SNES, making it a surprisingly fantastic value - five games on one cartridge.

What the 25th Anniversary Limited Edition has that makes up for the lack of new content and better graphics is a host of collectables, including a book with original art from the series and history about the games, and a short CD packed with music from the various Mario games.  At an MSRP of $29.99 (+tax), this game really does hit the mark on both nostalgia and value, though seeing better graphics, sound, and gameplay control would have been a great improvement, or at least the inclusion of a few of the newer games.

5.) WORST: Final Fantasy XIV
Maybe it's just me and my hatred for all things MMORPG, but this game just sucked, and for once, I'm not the only person in the world who thinks as much.  When Square-Enix announced that Final Fantasy XIV was going to be yet another MMORPG, I immediately knew that this was going to be crap.  Nearly every reviewer who got a chance to play this game panned it without exception.

The MMORPG genre just isn't my bag; I have to be honest and say that I have no intention of playing this game, nor have I played Final Fantasy XI - the thought of playing a game with other people just doesn't interest me.  This game, however, is special in that it has received nearly every criticism possible, from its lack of innovation to its limiting quest restrictions, and not one reviewer recommended the game in its current form.  One went so far as to call it "a step backward in the genre," which is how I've felt about most of Square-Enix's releases, this year.

Ultimately, the game will likely do well, though I don't see the purpose of paying $50 upfront and $12.99 a month after the first 30 days.  It just doesn't seem fiscally responsible, nor does it seem worth either the time or the money.

4.) BEST: LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4

I've already done an entire post dedicated to this game, so I'll just link you there, now:

3.) WORST: Michael Jackson: The Experience
I will be honest and say that I have not played this game; I will go further and say that I have no intention to do so, after the demos I've seen.  First and foremost, I think these dancing games are kind of awful, from the start - worse is that Michael Jackson: The Experience goes out of its way to capitalize on the deceased performer's name, going so far as to use a poorly rendered image of him in the process.

You, too, can learn how to do dumbed down versions of the dances done by Michael Jackson's former back-up dancers, including Beat It and Thriller.  The goal of this game (apparently) is to match Michael Jackson's steps step-for-step.  To help you understand what to do, he is flanked by two dreadlocked shadows on either side.

The biggest problem, for me, is how distasteful this game is in terms of its unabashed attempt to make money by playing off the Michael Jackson post-death popularity that swept the nation.  It's honestly kind of sickening.

2.) BEST: Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies
This game is by far one of the best releases Square-Enix has seen in the past five years in terms of new games.  Both a throwback to the classic Dragon Quest style and a new venture forward into the 21st century, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies is easily the game I've spent most of my year playing since its release in early July, and most likely will occupy my game card slot until mid-February when my #1 entry finally makes its way into the American market for the first time (legally) ever.

There are not enough good things to say about this game, honestly.  Everything about this game really speaks to the part of me that resonates with a desire to play great video games, even into my thirties (next year).  Koichi Sugiyama delivers yet another fantastic and moving score (his ninth main installment in twenty-one years), and he never fails to deliver a wonderful product.  The gameplay is both easy to grasp and fun to master, without seeming tedious or monotonous, making it a fantastic choice for adults and kids, alike.  A MUCH appreciated easing of the ability to steal and win items from monsters was incorporated into this game, greatly reducing the amount of time spent grinding for that rare Alchemy ingredient (one of my few qualms with Dragon Quest VIII).  The introduction of the DQVC, a feature that allows gamers to access rare and drastically reduced items by way of a daily download, really does make the game worth playing for a completion freak like myself.  Most importantly, the lack of random battles really does save a lot of time and pointless grinding when it comes to finishing one's Bestiary; I love having the ability to hunt for the enemy I'm seeking, find it, and knock the crap out of it.

There are, however, a few things I should mention that aren't so great about the game:

It is sad that, after so many total failures on behalf of Square-Enix, that Nintendo had to pick up the slack to get this game released in the U.S.  After their last commercial success with Dragon Quest VIII, you would think they could read the writing on the American and European walls - Western gamers love Dragon Quest, and can't get enough of it.  It is, however, Square-Enix's loss.  It's sad to see such a once great company fall into the rut they can't seem to shake off; good for Nintendo for correctly reading the consumer tea leaves.

The main storyline is also considerably shorter and more linear than any of the previous Dragon Quest installments in the main series.  Gone are the days of freely roaming complex and increasingly dangerous world maps in search of whatever you're supposed to do, next; this game tells you where to go, how to get there, and what you need to do once you arrive.  I was saddened to see a departure from the fantastic world map view from Dragon Quest VIII, with the first-person perspective in all its glory, but understand that it's just not feasible on the Nintendo DS platform to make a world that lush, details, and intricate without having a larger amount of space on the disc.

My last issue with this game is the fact that players are limited to having only one save file for the game.  I'm assuming this has something to do with the amount of space on the cartridge that was taken up by the game itself, but this is the first installment in the main series to restrict gamers to the one file, which frankly kind of sucks.  I always enjoy going back and starting from scratch, while also having the ability to go back to my more completed game.

Those three issues aside, I highly suggest that you take a look at this fantastic game.

1.) BEST: Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
Three years after announcing their intention to bring Dragon Quests IV, V, and VI to the U.S. newly remade for the Nintendo DS, Square-Enix (by way of Nintendo, once again) has finally come through on their promise to release the never-before-seen (legally) Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation on Valentine's Day, 2011 (February 14th).  

I can't express my excitement enough that this game is finally coming out, and must say that it made quite the fantastic Christmas/Birthday surprise for me.  Stay tuned in 2011 for my review once I've had a few days (or weeks) to dive into it, and see what the Curmudgeonly Gamer has to say about this beloved title.


Well, there we go, folks.  I managed to finish this post just before the deadline, and hope that you enjoyed my Top Ten for 2010 list.  Make sure to spread the word about this blog in the new year, and I look forward to seeing everyone on the other side!

Marcus J. Hopkins


The Console of the Future?

I will be the first to admit that I was the last person to jump on a few of the bandwagons in terms of video game advances over the past thirty years.  That is not to say that I didn't later hop on, but there are certain trends that I have missed entirely in their beginning phases, but later caught on to when the technology improved, the price came down, or there was a particular game I wanted to play.

This was the case with my decision to finally purchase a Playstation 3.

A number of reasons prevented me from purchasing this Next Gen system:

1.)  The Game Selection is Crap:

Unless you're a teenage/post-pubescent-but-living-in-the-past male, the PS3 has very little to offer you in the way of gaming titles.  The PS3 is really a boy's toy, designed almost primarily to take advantage of high-tech graphics capabilities which ultimately translates to a huge supply of beautifully rendered games in the following genres: Sports, First-Person Shooters, Fighting, Action, and War Simulation.  Other genres need not apply.  This is great for people who enjoy playing the same game over and over, again (Madden Pick-a-Year) or those who enjoy shooting people or beating them to a pulp for fun.

While this does create a vacuum for other genres to pick up the slack, we have yet to see more than a handful of worthy titles.  Square-Enix (as I've mentioned before) has seemingly moved away from producing quality JRPGs, and into producing beautifully rendered crap - action games that are designed to appeal to the demographic that enjoys the far superior PS3 offerings in the aforementioned genres.  It is worth noting that Square-Enix has been posting consistent losses over the past few years, and that each of these titles have gone basically unnoticed, except by the reviewers who can't help but collectively worship at the altar of Square.  Ironically, the most successful title of the year for Square-Enix has been Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, both in Japan in the U.S. - a title that was in no way "Next Gen," sporting graphics that most people deemed "Old School," gameplay that was basically antediluvian, and only barely took advantage of the Nintendo DS's touch-screen capabilities.  I guess that goes to show you that you should stick to what you know.

What finally convinced me to purchase the system was the creation of the Playstation Network, an online feature that allows gamers to purchase, download, and play new and classic titles, as well as movies in standard or high definition and store them on the PS3's internal memory.  This, for me, was the selling point - I could download and play the classic games that I already owned, but for one reason or another (a PS2 that sometimes doesn't work or scratched game discs), I was unable to play again.  Ironically, this was what convinced me to get the Wii, as well (the Virtual Console - the first of the online game downloading networks for the "Next Gens," after which all others will pale in comparison).  It is telling that, at the age of 29, I am more interested in playing games from the past than looking forward to the crap of the future.

2.)  The Cost was (and is) Prohibitive for the Entertainment Value Offered:

When the PS3 first debuted, it was one of the few affordable ways for consumers to get a Blu Ray player...and you got the next big thing in video gaming, as well.  At the time, this was a justifiable excuse for the ridiculous price tag that accompanied the technology.  Sony argued, at the time, that they were offering a superior product with superior technology (which was technically true - and, works for Apple).

The time has come where that excuse no longer passes scrutiny.

The PS3 was originally introduced at the E3 2005 Conference sporting 2 HDMI ports, three Ethernet ports, and six USB ports - when it was released, however, it came with one HDMI port, one Ethernet port, and four USB ports, ostensibly to lower costs.  That did not, however, seem to do the trick.  When the PS3 hit the U.S. market, the MSRP for the 20GB model was $499, with the 60GB model coming in at a modest $599.

While those initial prices have dropped (which the storage capacity has thankfully increased), they are still prohibitive when it comes to expanding their market reach.  Priced at just below $300, the PS3 still cannot outperform the Nintendo Wii in terms of global sales.  Though the Wii does not support high-quality graphics, it does manage to outsell both the PS3 and the (dreadful) XBOX 360.  Of the three consoles, the best graphics are clearly a tie between the latter two options, but the Wii supports the greatest variety of game genres at a much more competitive price, making it the obvious choice for parents looking to entertain their entire family.  The XBOX 360, more than the PS3, is really geared almost entirely to single males over the age of 14, and with rare exception, serves little other purpose than to work beautifully for six months, overheat, break, and have to be replaced, which makes it worth even less than the Wii, despite its superior graphics and sound quality.

Until the introduction of the Kinect and the Playstation Move in late 2010, the Wii also offered the only interactive gaming experience outside of cameras and headsets.  Unfortunately, I'm not yet convinced that either of these gaming experiences really warrant the price tag that accompanies them - and that price is for something that is, for all intents and purposes, an add-on.  We have seen dozen of examples of well-intentioned products meant to make gaming experiences more interactive that just didn't work out: NES Power Glove, NES R.O.B., NES Power Pad, Gameboy Camera, SNES Mouse, SNES Super Scope 6, Virtual Boy, and various other failures in interactive technology over the years have shown that players will be initially impressed with the novelty of these gimmicks, but unless there is sufficient content to support the gimmick, it will quickly fall to the wayside in the Isle of Misfit Toys.

The Wii is successful because the system is the gimmick; every game released for the Wii finds a new way to utilize the Wii Remote (which I just find kind of suggestive, even for me), allowing players to cast spells as Harry Potter, use it as a flashlight in Silent Hill, and turn it sideways for use as a classic controller for various other games - and that's before we even begin to get into the various accessories available for the controller, like the Wii Nunchuck (which comes standard with the system), the Classic Controller, and various other controllers into which you can place the wand to get Wii Wheels, Wii Crossbows, Wii Tennis Rackets, and Wii almost anything else you can imagine.  The possibilities with the Wii Remote are limited only by the imaginations of the geniuses at Nintendo.  The same cannot be said of the Playstation Move, for which I can't really find a real use; the Kinect, though promising in terms of technology, doesn't really impress me.  Watching people jump around like idiots is the reason I avoid DDR games in the mall; the last thing I want to do is have to do that shit at home while trying to relax and play a video game.

3.)  The Affordable Supporting Technologies Just Weren't Impressive Enough to Support the Cost

At the time of the PS3 release, the supporting technology that could take advantage of the machine's graphics capabilities still was not affordable enough to justify a $500 price tag, particularly since televisions that offered 1080p upscaling and resolution in 2007 ranged about $1500 for a 42-inch television, and the affordability of quality HDMI cables and connections was also unrealistically high.  That doesn't include the receivers, speakers, and cables that could take full advantage of the PS3's enhanced sound capabilities, either.  For those obsessed with this kind of technology (like my partner), the total cost after purchasing all of the requisite equipment needed to fully take advantage of the technology would end up costing somewhere around $3000 for a fully functional entertainment system.

This was, of course, only the cost for the most obsessive of gamers and technogeeks.  For those who just wanted the next best thing in gaming, they should have realized that the system was going to see massive improvement in just a few short years that would make the initial release basically worthless in terms of cost/benefits.  Today, the 160GB PS3 is roughly $300, which is great...except that it is no longer the only affordable Blu Ray player on the market.

While not the king of high quality electronics retail, Wal*Mart offers a Blu Ray player for the low price of $88.  While it doesn't play video games or have internet access, once could easily purchase a new Wii, a Blu Ray player, and get a Netflix Instant View account for less than the cost of the 160GB PS3, and still come out with a better value as the Wii has more and cheaper games for the platform, has internet access, and can entertain the whole family, all while being able to watch Blu Ray videos after you turn off the system.  It's not perfect, but it's still a better value.

Now that the PS3 is no longer the only Blu Ray game in town, it would behoove them to lower the price of their system to make way for a new option to arise...which leads me to my next sticking point.

4.)  Oh Where, Oh Where Has My PS2 Gone?

When the PS2 was released, the real value of the system laid not in its much improved graphics capabilities, but in the fact that you could continue to play your old Playstation games, as well.  Backwards compatibility is something that is greatly overlooked, these days, when the Big Three (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft) release their new systems, primarily because of the cost associated with continuing to produce and support outgoing technology.

With each consecutive system that is released, obviously old technology will have to fall to the wayside, and with certain consoles, this is of particular concern as it creates a situation in which continuing to produce the old technology is vastly ineffective in terms of cost, and requires at least a five-year transition period to wean consumers off of the old technology and introduce them to the new kid of the block.  This was the case with the transition from the NES to the SNES, which supported an entirely different type of game cartridge and a much different game engine that could not support playing the old cartridge in slot on the SNES.  The PS3, however, was not different enough of a format to justify the lack of backwards compatibility.

What differentiates the PS3 from PS2 (apparently) is the difference between the drives (or engines) used to run the games.  Certain games, however, were still able to be played on the PS3...but the list was sparse.  PSX games could still be played, though, which was so far removed in terms of the release date of the software that it was ridiculous.  Don't get me wrong - I love the PSX and its games more than anyone, but really?  How hard would it have been to throw in an extra PS2 drive to phase out the old system, but still continue making the old discs, especially when the consumer's going to shell out $500 freakin' bucks for your new system.  They do say, now, that "some" PS2 games can be played on the PS3, but which that distinction is not made clear.  If this sounds like a gyp to you, you're right.  They could have made the system fully backwards compatible, just like they could have included all the extra ports...they chose not to because it 'seemed more cost effective, at the time.'  Boy, did they misread their tealeaves...

Hopefully, Sony will learn a valuable lesson and make the PS4 completely backwards compatible, particularly if it's going to use another disc-based format.  It seems unlikely, though, that any new system will do much more than capitalize upon the current obsession (aka - resurgence) of the 3D craze.  However, much like higher quality graphics and resolution, the supporting technologies just aren't there. The Nintendo 3DS has already met this criteria because it allows the player to adjust the "level" of 3D visualization, which basically means that games can be played in either 3D or 2D.  Nintendo has just issued a press release warning consumers that children under the age of six should not, under any circumstances, play games in 3D at any depth of perception due to the risk of permanent damage to their children's undeveloped eyesight.  This, to my way of thinking, is a no-brainer.  The world's fascination, however, with 3D and all the wonderful things it can('t) bring to the table will undoubtedly continue (for as long as it's fashionable), until the next big craze comes along.


What ultimately threw me over the fence in favor of purchasing my PS3, this September, was the availability of money.  I knew that, under no circumstances, was I ever going to purchase an XBOX 360 due to its predictably massive unpredictable failure, not to mention the paucity of game selection.  I knew, also, that I was growing tired of the family-friendly games that kept being released for the Wii, and that I was using it primarily (all right...solely) for its access to classic games from the 80s and 90s.  My decision to purchase a PS3 really came down to the fact that I had just received my student loan money, had paid for my classes, books, and rent, and had some extra cash to spare.  My partner actually had to convince me to purchase it from Amazon instead of from Wal*Mart, due to the price difference.  I actually made the Amazon purchase on my phone while still in Wal*Mart, which made the entire process even more ironic.

Since purchasing the PS3, I have to say that I'm surprisingly impressed, though not by the fantastic image quality, nor by the sound profile - instead, I am impressed by my ability to personalize my PS3 to suit the type of gamer that I tend to be: an old, disconnected and disgruntled fart who enjoys the games of yore rather than the Gods of War.  I am still exploring the possibilities of this system, honestly, and must report that I do use it more than any of my other consoles (including my Nintendo DSi, since Dragon Quest IX has gotten boring over the last six months).  It may not be Super Mario Bros. 2 or Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, but it is most definitely 3-D Dot Game Heroes (a much-overlooked game from the past year) and LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4.

All in all, while the PS3 may not be worth its $300 price tag, it is still a system that really delivers, despite its numerous flaws.

That's all for my birthday post.  I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas (or whatever the hell holiday you celebrate), and stay tuned for the Curmudgeonly Gamer's 2010 Year-End Wrap Up to be posted before the New Year.

Peace the F*** Out (PTFO)!

-Marcus J. Hopkins

PlayStation 3 160 GB Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies Nintendo DSi XL Red Bundle with Mario Kart PlayStation 2 Console Slim - Black Wii Hardware Bundle - Red Xbox 360 250GB Holiday Bundle Kinect Sensor with Kinect Adventures! PlayStation Move Starter Bundle Power Glove Accessory for the Nintendo NES Nintendo NES R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) Power Pad (Powerpad) Floor Mat Controller for Nintendo NES Game System Gameboy Camera In Red Super Nintendo Mouse Controller (SNES Mouse) SNS-016 Super Nintendo Super Scope Nintendo Virtual Boy - Video Game Console Wii Remote Plus - White Wii Nunchuk Controller - White Wii Classic Controller Pro - White Official Nintendo Wii Wheel Official Wii Zapper with Link's Crossbow Training Wii Tennis Racket Super Mario Bros. 2 Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Classic NES Series) 3D Dot Game Heroes LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4