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A Third Handheld Competitor, You Say? Madness!

<Note: If you enjoy this blog and wish to read more of my writing, please visit my new web site: www.zestfulcontemplation.com, for my most recent work and other fun stuff, including the first of my iPhone game reviews hinted at in this very article. Thank you.>

I am fully aware that in most hardcore gaming circles, announcing that you believe a phone can be a truly capable gaming device will get you roughly the same type of odd stare as if you announced that you thought the box containing the pizza was just as tasty as the round pepperoni-covered treat within.

Here I stand before you, however, ready to face your odd stares (yes, I can feel them through the Internet – I’m special that way) and announce that I think a phone can be a capable gaming device.

In fact, I’m going to do one better.

I think that the iPhone can provide a satisfying gaming experience on par with or better than the PSP or the DS.

There, I said it. Now let me explain.

The key to this madness lies in understanding that all of these various devices have their strengths and weaknesses.

The PSP is a powerful little bugger. It’s essentially a PS2 in a much smaller container that you can hold in your hands. Its software catalog is a bit lacking and it doesn’t provide you with many experiences you can’t get elsewhere, but it does have some nifty titles and a lot of power in a portable form.

The DS has a much larger selection of titles and an interface that provides for experiences that can’t be had elsewhere, giving you a reason to play even if you don’t travel often. On the downside, it’s lacking in power and most games available for it don’t do much to show off the true potential of its innovative interface.

I fully believe that the iPhone carves out its own little niche in the gaming world that makes it just as viable a competitor as either of these two other systems. It may not provide the depth of gameplay or keep you hooked for as long as its rivals, but that’s why it works – it does something different and it does it well.

Perhaps its greatest asset is simply the fact that, unlike the other portable consoles, you’ll likely have your iPhone with you wherever you go. This makes it maybe even the ultimate portable gaming platform, as it provides a fully capable gaming experience wherever you happen to be without you even having to remember to lug around a separate gadget.

It should be noted that this is less true of the iPod Touch, of course, which is just as capable of a gaming machine, but lacks some of the natural convenience of its phone counterpart.

Why the iPhone works so well as a gaming device is simply that the whole experience revolves around its portability and its constant connection to the Internet.

Most of the games might be more simple than what you’d find elsewhere, but they work fantastically for small, pick-up-and-play chunks, which is exactly what you want on a phone. They’re also much cheaper on the whole (you’ll almost never pay more than $10 for a game, and most are $5 or less) so the simplicity is far more acceptable. If you dig around, it’s more than possible to find a game for under $10 that gives more gameplay value than something you would have bought for $30 on the DS or $40 on the PSP.

Additionally, since the iPhone is connected to the Internet at all times, whether that be through a Wi-Fi connection or the cell phone data network, it facilitates the ultimate in impulse buying (especially when you combine its ever-present net connection with cheap game prices). Simply browse the App Store and download a new game – from just about anywhere – right onto your phone and immediately begin playing it. It’s incredible how addicting this becomes, especially when there’s so much good stuff to play.

Interestingly, both the PSP and DS are putting forth efforts in the area of instant purchase, downloadable impulse buys, but neither comes anywhere close to what’s already available on the iPhone. The PSP Go will bring the ability to download full games to the platform, but their larger file sizes, the higher price of the device, and the lack of much interesting to play all hold it back. The DSi now has a download service of its own, but let’s not mince words here – it sucks. Nintendo has a lot of work to do here.

I’m not arguing that the iPhone is a perfect platform. No gaming device is. Like any successful platform such as the DS, Wii, or PS2, the iPhone has its fair share of crap cluttering the App Store. The fact that there’s no easy way to find the best stuff in the store right now is a shortcoming indeed, as most of my gaming finds are discovered with the help of external sites. Also, like its innovative gaming peers the DS and Wii, many titles try to cram experiences or control types that just aren’t suited for its lack of buttons and the titles that truly take advantage of the platform are somewhat rare.

Still, the iPhone’s focus on control via only touch screen and motion sensors is far from a detriment. Even I was skeptical at first, but the lack of options forces developers to be creative and, when approached correctly, can make for some innovative and fun experiences literally not possible on any other platform. Sure, there’s plenty of titles that resort to a virtual D-Pad (not all of which are bad, mind you), but there are others which use multi-touch, creative touch screen controls, tilt controls, or some of these combined, to make titles that wouldn’t work anywhere else.

Of course, the most important part of any gaming platform is its library of games. No matter how much I try to convince you that the iPhone should be taken seriously, none of it is going to mean anything until I can prove that its great features and convenience are also backed up by things you’d actually want to play.

With that in mind, keep an eye out for many more iPhone game reviews here in the future. I already have a number of them written and ready to go, and many more I want to write after that. I am anxious to prove to non-believers that we have a true contender on (or rather, in) our hands.

It may be different, it may be easy to dismiss as too “casual” or too simple, and it certainly isn’t perfect, but I’ve had more fun and spent more time gaming on my iPhone recently than my PSP and DS combined. Hopefully more people will see the light as I do someday.


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This Week in Gaming – 2-16-09

This Week in Gaming returns! Find out what to buy and (more importantly) what to avoid amongst next week’s releases. Entertaining and informative, both at the same time! Revolutionary!


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Best of 2008: Best Platforming Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Platforming Game

Contenders:

  • Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
  • LittleBigPlanet
  • LostWinds
  • Prince of Persia

nutsandboltsbox

The platforming genre is not as strong as it used to be, which is saddening for me as it has always been one of my personal favorites.  Still, even though there weren’t many entries this year, the ones that did come around delivered some pretty amazing gameplay.  So while we might be lacking in quantity, we certainly had quality this year.

Before anyone asks, yes, I think Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts belongs in the platformer genre.  Just because you’re platforming with cars and boats instead of the feet of a fuzzy bear doesn’t mean you’re not still platforming.  The methods have changed but the genre ha stayed the same.

Though it couldn’t quite compete with the big boys for the ultimate award, I would like to give a shout out to LostWinds here.  It proves what great things can be possible with downloadable games and remains easily one of the best things available on WiiWare.

Nuts and Bolts and LittleBigPlanet have some interesting parallels.  For one, they both have control issues that produce a few frustrating moments but manage to be incredibly fun despite this.  For two, they both emphasize creation of content by the user.

For the big prize, I had to give it to Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts.  It was a tough decision, but here’s my reasoning.  What made LittleBigPlanet fun for me was its environments, its creativity, and playing other people’s levels, not necessarily its gameplay.  In fact, the core mechanics of the game are some of its biggest drawbacks.  Imprecision is an unfortunately common accomplice during play.

As such, Nuts and Bolts does the core of what it sets out to do better.  Sure its control is plenty wonky, just like LittleBigPlanet’s, but that can usually be mitigated somewhat by altering your vehicle.  This integration of creation with gameplay is the other thing I really admire about it.  While it’s entirely optional to create your own levels in LittleBigPlanet, it’s absolutely necessary to create vehicles to succeed in Nuts and Bolts.  Making the creation aspects not only easy enough that anyone can use them but also vital to success is an ingenious move that is highly satisfying to the player.

So as much as I adore LittleBigPlanet, the prize goes to Banjo.

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Game of the Year Awards: Best Action Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Way the hell after 2008 is a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.

Best Action Game

Contenders:

  • Castle Crashers
  • God of War: Chains of Olympus
  • Grand Theft Auto IV
  • No More Heroes

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Talk about a hotly contested category.  Just about every game in existence could be slotted into this space without trying all that hard.  Still, when you break the categories down as much as I have in these awards there are relatively few true contenders for this title among the games that mattered to me this year.

God of War: Chains of Olympus was incredible, but nothing we haven’t seen before (plus the needlessly difficult ending seriously turned me off).  No More Heroes was brilliant in story and graphics, but the gameplay, as good as the majority of it was, spent too much time in its tacked-on and horribly done “open world” bits to compete for this award.  Castle Crashers was a good little blip of fun, but, while I enjoyed it, I didn’t find it as replayable and addicting as most seemed to.

No, as anticlimactic as it may be, the gold has to go to Grand Theft Auto IV.  As much as a part of me wants to see something else win because everyone under the sun is giving innumerable awards to GTA IV and it would be fun to be different, there’s a reason why GTA IV is hording the awards for itself this year.

GTA IV is essentially a reinvention of its franchise that is a lot different than what many were expecting (much like Prince of Persia).  With this in mind, I think GTA IV pulls off the change the best.  I won’t ramble on for hours about its obvious strengths (although I could), but in short: the graphics are amazing, the world is incredibly detailed, the story missions are actually fun this time, the story is worth caring about, it has a great cast of characters and great voice acting, it has its own damn Internet, etc.

This is the first GTA game I have actually gotten to the end of before getting really sick of it.  I didn’t even feel the need to screw around and pointlessly kill hapless passersby either, although I did sate that urge on occasion.  The main package was strong enough this time that it didn’t need all that pointless haphazard nonsense to succeed, although it was still mostly available if you wanted it.  Niko’s tale was emotionally gripping, enthralling, and fun, making it the best action game of 2008.

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Best of 2008: Best Fighting Game

Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards

Just in time for 2008 to be a thing of the past, it’s Zestful Contemplation’s Best of 2008 Awards.  I’m not pretending to make my awards comprehensive or unbiased or any of that other pretentious crap.  The fact that these awards reflect my own personal experiences, tastes, and dislikes is exactly the point.  I haven’t played every game that came out this year and I’m not going to consider a boatload of titles I never played.  But I did play a huge number of games this year, and these choices reflect my personal tastes and thoughts about the games I spent time with in 2008.
Best Fighting Game

Contenders:

  • Soulcalibur IV
  • Super Smash Bros Brawl

sc4box

For a category that supposedly doesn’t see much in the way of contention these days, the fighting game genre sure turned out some pretty big hits this year.  Heck, despite every molecule of my brain being confused by the very prospect, apparently Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe isn’t actually soul-crushingly terrible.  Go figure.

There were two entries this year that rather blew me away for their own reasons.  It was damn near a double K.O.  But in the end, Soulcalibur’s spirit burned brightest.

Despite being a giant Nintendo nut, I never really got into the past couple of Smash Bros games.  I was pleasantly surprised this time around when, for whatever reason, Brawl really hooked me.  It was quite addicting.

Still, there’s no topping Soulcalibur for me when it comes to the ultimate fighting experience.  Amazing graphics, a great character creator, Star Wars guest characters who were out of place but still fun, and that classic mix of simple controls, deep gameplay, and stylish moves put this one over the top.  It’s a formula that hasn’t changed much since its inception, but that’s because it doesn’t need to.

Despite lackluster single player modes (something unfortunately common to fighting games and one area where Brawl was decidedly superior), there’s enough here to keep Calibur fans busy until the Soul begins yearning for the next installment.

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Sad Wii

So I recently got a new HDTV which I am rather proud of.  I will refrain from blathering on about how awesome I think it is unless I can think of a legitimately good reason to do so beyond how awesome I think it is.  In other words, an actual topic revolving around HDTVs.

Why do I bring it up, then?

Whilst playing around with my shiny new toy, I eventually found my way back to my Wii and turned it on again (after a huff and a puff to blow off all of the dust).  I made sure the video and the audio were working, played a little bit of LostWinds to see what the picture would be like (fuzzy and decidedly low-res through the lame composite cables, but still much more colorful and vibrant than on my SDTV, for the record), and did a little memory management while I was at it.

Then I decided to check the calendar.  It had been three-and-a-half months since I had last turned on my Wii.

calendar

Three-and-a-half months.  Since I had even so much as bothered to turn it on.  And that was for a quickie hour of Mario Kart.

I’ve been a Nintendo fan since as long as I can remember.  I’ve stuck up for the Wii many times when others do not and will continue to do so.  Part of me wants to blame some of this on myself to deflect the problem away from my beloved Big N.

I was busy.  I didn’t have time to play as much with this busy semester of college.  I could have played a couple of games, like de Blob or Wario Land: Shake it!, but I was low on money and never got around to renting them like I wanted to.  I was busy playing other games.

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Wait, hold it.  Now I done gone and discovered the truth.

I was busy playing games.  Here’s the sad truth: Yeah, I might have missed out on a couple of relatively smalltime games because of the extenuating circumstances listed above.  But the bigger problem is that Nintendo didn’t give me jack shit to play, because my beleaguered wallet will tell you that if they had, I sure as hell would have bought it.

Instead, Nintendo busied itself releasing a couple of half-assed efforts that by all rights don’t even deserve to do well among their coveted casual market.  Rock Band and Guitar Hero are casual enough as it is and Wii Music’s childish remote waggling should be embarrassed to be anywhere near the same genre as those two classics.

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And as for Animal Crossing?  Don’t get me started on how angry I am at Nintendo for taking this long to release the same game for a third time.  It’s inexcusably lazy and a crushing blow to fans like me who were waiting anxiously for fun new changes to the addictive fuzzy animal life simulator thing.

I’ve forgiven Nintendo for some pretty egregious violations of lazy sequel syndrome before.  After all, if the fortieth iteration of the same formula ain’t broke, well… don’t fix it, right?

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I’m beginning to wonder.

The bottom line is, I still cherish my memories of Nintendo and continue to hold them in high regard, which makes it all the more painful that they have seen fit to totally ignore just about everyone this holiday season.

New buyers still can’t find Wiis in stores.  Hardcore gamers have nothing to play.   Casual gamers have only a couple of crap titles to play.

Who could possibly be happy with the Wii this season?

It’s not like this kind of thing is unprecedented.  It’s about this time in all Nintendo’s console life spans where things start to dramatically fall apart, releases slow, and the console dies a slow, painful death into obsolescence until Nintendo releases a successor in a couple of years.

n64

I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to all of that this time around.  And it still might not.  Nintendo still has time to save my beloved Wii.  They have made comments indicating that they are at least trying to make us think they’ve seen the error of their ways.  I’ll believe it when I see it, but I can hope.

The Wii is a console that, despite what just about everyone seems to be saying these days, I still think has great potential.  I would like to see it stick around for a long time to come and avoid Nintendo’s usual pathetically short console lifespan.  Some imitation of the DS or, even better, the PS2 would be a welcome change.

But boy oh boy does Nintendo have a lot of work to do.  Every passing day with nothing new to play leaves the poor little Wii further and further back in the minds of gamers everywhere.

Come on, Nintendo.  Over three months of abandonment from a Nintendo nut?

That’s just sad.

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The Mystery of Sonic

How is Sonic even a factor in today’s game market anymore?

The furry blue bastard hasn’t had a good game in at least nine years, and that’s if you consider Sonic Adventure good, which is a slightly tenuous proposition.

sonic_adventure

But Sega keeps churning out the games like gunked-up, fugly clockwork anyway, which can only mean one thing: they’re still selling.

For the love of God, why?

Are old Sega fanboys that attached to their beloved hedgehog that they’ll buy anything with him in it without so much as a second thought?  Is it pure nostalgia and nothing else that keeps this wearied character going?

Somehow I doubt that particular explanation.  Most Sonic fans from back in the day are now older, grown up, and more particular about their game purchasing.  Age tends to give people the discretion necessary to tell a good buy from a complete clunker.  I’d like to think that it’s a pretty safe bet that most of these people, as much as they may hope and yearn for a new Sonic adventure to come along and fill them with that same sense of wonder and enjoyment as the Genesis games did when they were younger, are still smart enough not to buy the trash that Sega is now slapping Sonic’s whored-out name on.

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I mean, I’m a Sonic fan, but I’ve been actively avoiding his recent games, not buying them.

So who is buying these games and keeping the character going?

Unless I’m missing a major demographic, that only leaves younger folks; new Sonic fans; the uninitiated.  And again, I am forced to ask: why?

Why would younger gamers have any interest in this character?  He hasn’t been in a game really worth playing since some of them have been born, for heaven’s sake.  Marketing blitzes can do a lot to make up for poor quality, but you’d think the little furry dude’s bad reputation would start spreading around after a while.

Besides, don’t kids these days have been things to than cling to shiny, colorful mascots from the early 1990s?

bubsy_front

Like buy more Mario games?  Or blow people to meaty little bits in Gears of War?  Or anything in between?

The world has moved on, for better or worse, from the way it was at the height of Sonic’s popularity.  Yet Sega, and the mysterious customers who are somehow keeping his crap raft afloat, have not.

Poor Sega has fallen quite a long way from their glory days as well, just like their beleaguered mascot.   There’s quite a similarity when you really think about it.  The details of the company’s fall are a topic for another rant, but suffice it to say that I miss the days when I could count on Sega’s products to be cool, innovative and, you know, worth playing.

sonic-classic

Sadly, that’s not the case anymore.  Sonic Team, along with the rest of Sega, seem to have completely lost the ability to make a decent game.

So what is this strange phenomenon that is keeping Sonic alive?  Where is this money coming from?  Who is providing it?  What can we do to stop them and finally make Sonic go away?  Isn’t it about time we put the spiky rodent out of his damn misery?

screamingsonic

When you really think about it, it’s a little strange that Sonic has remained as important as he has for this length of time.  Compare his track record to Mario’s.  Sonic has been in a scant few games in his career that were truly memorable, just about all of which were Genesis-era.  Mario’s track record isn’t made of solid gold or anything, but I think it’s safe to say he’s got a good deal more quality to his name than the furry rodent does.

Yet both characters continue to live on long after most of their colorful mascot ilk have died off and become ancient relics of a time gone by, when there was no third dimension, when analog was a word only audio professionals cared about, and when the glorious CD glimmering on the horizon was going to revolutionize the world.

Obviously there’s something about Sonic that still appeals to somebody.

I just can’t for the life of me figure out what or for whom.

I guess it’s just part of the little blue guy’s mystery.  Maybe one of these days, if they don’t first suffocate him under a grimy pillow stuffed with terrible products, Sega will finally do right by the little guy.

A fan can dream, can’t he?

supersonic

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