Black Friday 2019 Aftermath

I am weighted down by all the games I bought during Black Friday sales this year. Black Friday deals were interesting this season. Last year I bought ten games, seven of which I was targeting from an original list of 17. This year I bought 21 games, only five of which I was specifically targeting from an original list of 16 games. So my targeted success rate has gone down slightly but my rate of total acquisitions has increased considerably. I definitely don’t need to buy any more games until Black Friday next year, but we all know that’s probably not what’s going to happen.

In many ways this was a much better Black Friday than last year’s as far as total deals available and the quality of them. But there were also some really terrible occurrences. Specifically GameStop and Rakuten really disappointed me. It seems that for some larger game distributors the term capitalism has become synonymous with the term nationalism. Here’s the deal: consumers have rights. Consumers have a right to privacy for one. American consumers specifically also have rights such as the freedom to live and work where they choose. They do not have the right to force businesses to change the way they conduct business, but they do have the right to be treated the same as any other American consumer regardless of their location when making an order. Both GameStop and Rakuten have decided that this is not the case and this cost me games I wanted to buy at the prices I wanted to buy them at.

gamestop badApparently GameStop has just recently changed their website and have now region locked it to be inaccessible by anyone outside the United States where their own country doesn’t have a branch, which are just a few places in Europe. Literally two days before Black Friday I was able to access GameStop’s website from here in Taiwan. The day of Black Friday I was no longer able to do this. I tried from multiple desktops and my phone to no avail. Then I looked it up on Reddit and found that countless other people around the world were having the same problem.

Rakuten, a Japanese company, was the only place during Black Friday that I found selling both Link’s Awakening and Luigi’s Mansion 3 at my desired $40 price point. This required you to purchase both games at the same time and use their 20% off Black Friday discount code. I was happy to do so. Rakuten’s US site doesn’t accept foreign credit/debit cards. No problem. I’m an American born citizen with a bank account from an American banking institution. Rakuten doesn’t ship outside the US. No problem. I’m an American born citizen with an American shipping address. And not a P.O. Box mind you. I have an actual home address I have things shipped to in the US. This is literally where I ship 100% of my Black Friday purchases. I made the purchase, it showed up on my bank statement, and then less than an hour later my order was cancelled. Long story short, they cancelled my order because I had made the purchase from an IP address outside the US. It didn’t matter that I’m an American. It didn’t matter that I paid with an American banking institution in USD. It didn’t matter that I was shipping to an American home address. All that mattered to them, and Gamestop, was that I wasn’t standing in the United States when trying to make my purchase.

black-friday-failThese sorts of location based limitations are a problem. They go against the rights of consumers, they ignore the fact that the world is now a global market, and they personally infringe upon my rights as an American. I was not demanding special treatment in my attempt to make purchases from these two businesses. I wasn’t using foreign currency or a foreign banking institution. I wasn’t shipping outside the US. Nothing I was attempting to do was illegal or an inconvenience to either company. I simply wasn’t in the US at the time of purchasing. Now I happen to live outside the US for work, but that’s not their business. What if I was traveling? What if I was seeking medical treatment outside the US for whatever reason? It doesn’t actually matter. My business is my business and I should be able to purchase American goods and services with American money to be shipped to American addresses from anywhere in the world.

Some sellers are great about this sort of thing. Amazon, for instance, doesn’t give a shit where I’m located when I make a purchase. They will even ship stuff to me in Taiwan and let me use my Taiwanese bank card to buy it. I don’t ship to Taiwan because of shipping costs, but the fact that I can shows why Jeff Bezos is as rich as he is. He puts profit before prejudice, like any good business owner should. Ultimately I was not able to get Link’s Awakening or Luigi’s Mansion 3 because I couldn’t find it at the appropriate price point anywhere else. And had they have told me why my order was cancelled before their sale ended, I would have had someone else repurchase the items for me from an American IP address. Which leads me to another big issue that consumers need to stop putting up with.

take my money futuramaBecause of my location, I have had a number of issues with online purchases over the years. Now as I said, I don’t believe that I as a consumer have a right to inconvenience or change the way American businesses conduct normal operations. But I do believe I as an American citizen have the right to the same treatment as any other American consumer and that when a company fails to deliver that they should be held responsible for fixing the issue at no additional cost to me. I buy a great many items, usually games or gaming related hardware, during sales at discounted rates. One of the most ridiculous practices among many different online sellers is that when they screw up an order, for whatever reason, the consumer is forced to lose out on the original purchase price. Here is an example. It’s Black Friday and you buy a game on sale. The site accepts the order and then later cancels it. You contact them to find out why the order was cancelled. You get a response after the discounted price period has ended. They admit that the order cancellation was a mistake and tell you how to complete the order successfully with a second try. They refuse to let you repurchase the product at the discounted price because the sale has ended. Why is it my problem that the sale period has ended when the seller has already admitted fault in writing? In that situation, the seller needs to reissue me the purchase at the discounted price manually. I don’t care how their system is coded. I made a legal purchase and they cancelled my order by mistake. They should honor that purchase price. Not try to cheat me into paying more for an item I originally purchased during their imposed discount period. That’s completely unacceptable. Honestly I will probably never consider buying an item from Rakuten ever again because of this experience.

best buyOn the positive side, I have to really commend Best Buy for their performance this Black Friday season. They provided free shipping on all purchases regardless of dollar amount and delivered fast. I made a purchase on the Sunday before Black Friday and it was delivered by the Wednesday before Black Friday. That’s phenomenal service. It begs the question why are people even letting Amazon charge a premium subscription fee for Amazon Prime memberships just to get fast shipping? And why are we putting up with a $25 – $35 minimum purchase amount to get free shipping, that’s not fast, when not a Prime subscriber? Best Buy has shown that it can be done fast and efficiently for free, at least in the holiday season if not year round. Consumers are being strong-armed into throwing away money when we clearly don’t have to be.

As far as game purchasing in general, I was impressed by a number of deals but also found that a lot of games I was targeting were just a little inflated this year. I consider myself fairly good, due to experience, at judging the market value of a game. I don’t believe in the modern line that games are art and thus can’t be evaluated accurately for cost. I do agree that games are art. But I also believe that games are a digital entertainment product that can be sold an unlimited number of times, produced for a massive consumer base, and exist within a comparative market. Yes I can put a price on your art. No that price is not based on what a developer, publisher, or even distributor wants that price to be. It’s based on comparative value of products and market trends. When I say a game is worth $20, it’s because I’ve done the research by checking out what the game offers, how much content it has, what it sold for at release, how old it currently is, and what it has been sold for in the past, as just a few of the many specific factors that should be taken into account when determining appropriate Black Friday price points. The prices I choose aren’t just pulled out of thin air. They’re based on a tried and true system of long term market analysis. Now I don’t consider this an exact science, but I do consider it a working system with established rules that can be observed with accuracy more than 80% of the time. So when I see games being priced above my estimations, I consider them to be failures on the part of sellers to adhere to the rules of the system out of greed. And let’s be clear, companies get away with being greedy all the time. That doesn’t change the fact that they’re overcharging for a product within an established pricing system.

shadow-of-the-tomb-raider-artI consider my estimations fair. I consider estimating within $5 of the final sale price during Black Friday to be an acceptable level of accuracy but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m willing to pay up to $5 more than my declared price point for every game. Some games I will depending on the situation. For instance, I paid $24 for Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Definitive Edition. I deemed the appropriate price point to be $20. The game is more than a year old and Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Anniversary Edition was sold the Black Friday after it released on PS4 at $20. I chose to pay the extra $4 here because I played the first game, Tomb Raider (2013) for “free” via PS Plus. So between three games, at least two of which I enjoyed quite a lot and presumably will the third, I paid a total of $44 to play including all the DLC for the second and third game of the series. I can live with those numbers. From my targeted list this year, there were eleven games that were overpriced for Black Friday pricing standards, five of which were within the $5 estimation range, four of which I still paid for even though they were in fact overpriced by up to $5. There were also games that came in under what I estimated them to be. I bought quite a few of these.

ps plus black fridayOne thing that made me really unhappy is the increasing price of PS Plus (12 month subscription). In the PS3 era, PS Plus was both a considerably better service and considerably cheaper. I remember buying it on sale for $35 and getting a $5 credit for PSN. Now it’s “on sale” at $45, the service offers way less in terms of actual rewards/returns, and the sale price keeps going up. Last year I paid $40. I don’t like this trend. Especially now that we’re not getting PS3 or Vita games and the number of PS4 games is limited to just two a month. XBOX Live Gold was maligned for years because of the low quality offerings and now it has been the superior option for about two straight years in a majority of cases.

As I said, it was a great year of buying games as far as volume is concerned. Here’s everything I managed to pick up this year. The ones from my original targeted list are marked with a star.

too-many-games-too-little-time big

  1. Yooka-Laylee: The Impossible Lair (PS4)
  2. Yakuza 0 (PS4)
  3. Yakuza Kiwami 2 – Steelbook Edition (PS4)*
  4. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life – Essence of Art Edition (PS4)
  5. NieR: Automata – Game of the YoRHa Edition (PS4)
  6. Kingdom Come Deliverance – Royal Edition (PS4)
  7. We Happy Few – Deluxe Edition (PS4)
  8. Anthem: Legion of Dawn Edition (PS4)
  9. Man of Medan (PS4)
  10. Devil May Cry V – Deluxe Edition (PS4)*
  11. Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Definitive Edition (PS4)*
  12. Collection of Mana (NS)
  13. Just Dance 2020 (NS)*
  14. Castlevania Arcade Collection (NS)
  15. The Banner Saga Trilogy (NS)*
  16. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (NS)
  17. Contra Rogue Corps (NS)
  18. Thumper (NS)
  19. Lichtspeer (NS)
  20. ReCore – Definitive Edition (PC)
  21. SuperHot (PC)

In addition to this fairly solid haul of games, I also managed to get a few other items at discounted prices.

  1. Elgato Stream Deck (15 Keys)
  2. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
  3. Nintendo Switch 80 Cartridge Carrying Case
  4. 12-Month PS Plus Subscription

I’m really glad that I was able to get an Elgato Stream Deck. As I said in my Black Friday lead up post, this was probably the most important buy for me. I loved the Stream Deck when I got to demo it a while back and I’ve been waiting for the price to go down on one for quite some time now. I actually missed out on a sale some months back because Amazon sold out before I got home from work to place the order.

Elgato_Stream_DeckIn general, I have to say that with all its problems, some of which were quite serious and disheartening, this was a much better Black Friday than last year. Specifically because of the number of releases from this year that went down quite a ways in price. Just looking at The Game Awards’ GOTY nominees, literally four of them were on sale with two of them being more than 50% off and the other two just under 50% off depending on where you were shopping. While not all their games were discounted, even the Switch had some fairly respectable discount offerings this year.  I picked up eight switch games compared to last year’s three. Even Pokémon Sword & Shield could be found at a discount. And the truth is that even with all the stuff I did buy I managed to stay under my maximum budget for Black Friday by quite a bit. It was truly a good Black Friday year.

 

How did Black Friday shopping go for you this year?  Let me know in the comments.

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PS5 – The Waiting Game

A few weeks ago, the PS5 was officially announced. I can’t say I was particularly surprised, but I will say that I didn’t personally want that announcement to come so soon. And based on the responses from many I’ve seen on social media, I was not alone in that opinion. The PS5 was of course bound to happen and I’m glad that it will. But the truth is that it feels very early. This probably comes from the fact that console generations seem to be getting shorter while the leaps in performance from generation to generation seem to be getting smaller, from a purely practical use standpoint. Numerically we’re seeing large leaps into 4K and even 8K performance, but most people don’t really see a difference, most people still don’t own 4K televisions, and the way games are played still hasn’t really changed much since the PS3. And if we disregard online aspects and DLC, then really games haven’t changed all that much on PlayStation since the PS2.

Graphics have gotten better, loading times have gotten faster, and more buttons have been added. But the general concepts in most games remain mostly unchanged. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I like the consistency of PlayStation consoles and games. I like that it’s called PS5 rather than some weird confusing name that’s not really grounded in obvious logic. And I like that the controller hasn’t changed much since the PS3. I’m also really happy to hear that PS4 controllers will be directly compatible with the PS5, saving me a ton of money. But my point is that the PS5 feels early. I think the fact that the console industry has also shifted to half console releases like the PS4 Pro also plays a large role in my feelings about this “rush” into the next generation.

The Force UnleashedTo be fair, the PS5 is releasing seven years after the PS4. The PS4 released seven years after the PS3. The PS3 released only six years after the PS2. So in general Sony has stayed consistent. In fact they’ve stayed more consistent than Microsoft with XBOX and at least as consistent as Nintendo. So it makes perfect sense that they’re releasing the PS5 next year. But again, the PS4 Pro, which I personally don’t own, seems to throw things off. But I actually think it’s even more than that. When I got my PS3, two things had happened that were undebatable for myself and really most users. The first was that there were basically no more games available on the PS2 that I wanted to play and couldn’t also get on the PS3. The second was that games no longer looked and played well on the PS2. The last game I played on the PS2 was Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (2008). This was two years after the PS3 had already released. It was not the last game made for the PS2. But it was the first game I played on the PS2 that was also available on the PS3 that looked really bad. This is when I knew it was time to upgrade. The PS2 just couldn’t live up to the standard of the games being released anymore. So after I completed that last game I boxed the PS2 and never used it again. I still have it sitting in the same box.

My transition to the PS4 was similar to that of the PS3. The last game I played on the PS3 was Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014). It released 1 year after the PS4. This game was the first game I played on the PS3 that just didn’t perform well due to purely hardware based limitations. It froze, sputtered, deleted my save file, and just generally looked bad by comparison to the PS4 version. I knew long before I finished the game that it was time to upgrade to the next PlayStation console. This is how I have always moved from console generation to console generation. I use a console until it’s no longer viable for an acceptable gaming experience. That’s when it’s time to upgrade. To upgrade purely because something is new is nonsensical and wasteful. To refuse to upgrade for the sake of nostalgia is equally nonsensical. There’s a time and a place to upgrade to the next generation console. The issue with the PS5, in my opinion, is that 2020 just isn’t that time.

Dragon Age InquisitionI already said that there were two conditions required for me to upgrade to a next generation console: games available exclusively and performance. In my opinion, the PS4 is nowhere near dead performance wise. I’m still using a PS4 regular and I’m very happy with the performance. My games run fine. They look good. The controls don’t lag. The loading times aren’t bad. It’s still a very viable machine for gaming. And this is even more true for PS4 Pro owners. The PS4 Pro launched in 2016. That means if you bought one as your first PS4 then this generation has only lasted four years for you when the PS5 drops. That’s not long enough for a console generation. Even Nintendo does a minimum of five years per a home console generation. And supposedly the PS4 Pro kicks the crap out of the basic PS4 performance wise. That means pretty much no one normal is unhappy with the current performance of their PlayStation console if they bought a PS4 Pro, because as I said I’m using the basic PS4 and it still runs games great. So that second condition simply hasn’t come into play yet and I doubt it will within the next year based on the games I’ve seen announced to release within the next year. That means games will be the deciding factor for the PS5 at launch.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxWe are arguably in the golden age of gaming when it comes to high quality options. I won’t argue that games are the best they’ve ever been in the more than two decades that I’ve been gaming. But I will absolutely argue that there are more games worth taking the time to play today than there have ever been before. And with all these remakes of older games, that list is growing exponentially on the PS4. My backlog has never been longer than it is this generation. There are so many games on my PS4 I still need to play. And I’m not talking about junk titles or unknown indies. I’m talking popular, well received and reviewed AAA titles. And that’s not even counting my PC backlog, which I don’t even really want to get into. I’m so backlogged this gen. I still haven’t even played Final Fantasy XV, Dark Souls III, or Horizon: Zero Dawn. I don’t even own Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, or Devil May Cry V yet. These are just a few of the titles I will absolutely be playing on the PS4 before I even consider buying a PS5. And there are still games coming to the PS4 this year that I will absolutely be playing before I upgrade. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Shenmue III, and possibly Death Stranding if it’s not the garbage I think it will be. Plus there’s a list of titles coming out for PS4 next year that are must plays like Nioh II, The Last of Us Part II, and Cyberpunk 2077. There’s simply no practical reason for me to upgrade from my PS4 next year.

Jedi Fallen Order WallpaperNow it’s very likely that some of the unreleased games I mentioned will also be available on the PS5. And with the backwards compatibility announced, all of them will absolutely be playable on the PS5. We don’t know how the backwards compatibility will work yet, but we do know that the option will be there. Personally I’m hoping my entire digital PS4 library will be available to play on PS5 for nothing more than the price of a PS Plus subscription. Anything more than that and Sony is basically telling me not buy a PS5 for no less than three years, and that’s an extremely generous estimation of how long it’s going to take me to clear my current PS4 backlog without including not yet purchased and/or released PS4 titles. But the backwards compatibility is a double edged sword for Sony. On one hand, not losing out on my PS4 library motivates me to be comfortable upgrading sooner. But on the other hand, knowing that I won’t lose any of my PS4 games when I do upgrade motivates me to purchase them on PS4 and play them there until the system simply won’t run anymore because I know I won’t lose any of them when I do finally upgrade to PS5. If anything that security blanket is a reason to just wait for the inevitable PS5 Pro. Because maybe by that time I’ll actually be done with my PS4 backlog, the price of the PS5 will have dropped, and the PS5 will already have a large library of released games that have dropped in price. So it doesn’t make any sense for me to upgrade to PS5 at launch or even in the first year. And this is all without even considering my Switch and PC backlogs to tide me over. Even if I didn’t have another PS4 game I wanted to play, I still could wait out the PS5  Pro without getting bored. I haven’t even played The Witcher 3, Doom, or Middle Earth: Shadow of War yet (all games I own on PC). And Pokémon Sword and Shield have already been preordered on Switch, so that’s gonna take some time as well.

The Witcher 3Obviously I can’t speak for everyone but I don’t know anyone who isn’t backlogged. And I don’t know any realistic people who think the PS4/PS4 Pro runs like shit at this point. So it just doesn’t seem practical to launch the PS5 in 2020. The PS4 has a gigantic market share that’s still technically growing. And it’s a strong, stable base of players, most of which are very happy with their PS4. So happy that I don’t think they want a new console anytime soon. So I just don’t see the PS5 launching successfully next year. For the first time in my life as a gamer, we are in a prime waiting position to upgrade. As I’ve clearly shown, there is no reason to rush to the PS5 as a PS4 owner. Maybe XB1 owners will finally come over to Sony with the PS5 but PS4 owners simply don’t have to pick one up any time soon. I’m sure plenty of people will buy one at launch just to say they did, but in practical terms it’s unnecessary. There has never been as many games worth taking the time to play at the end of a generation as there is today. And the current generation hardware has never been so strong in comparison to the next generation hardware as it is today either. The practicality of buying a PS5 in 2020 as a PS4 owner simply isn’t there. So I will be playing the waiting game and I can wait a long time. The only way Sony will get me to buy a PS5 any time soon is to guarantee me that all my PS4 games will work on PS5 at no extra cost to me and release some amazing exclusives that aren’t also available on the PS4 and able to run adequately on it. I just don’t see them delivering all that in 2020.

Will you be picking up a PS5 near launch? If so, why? Let me know in the comments.

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State of Play Episode 3

Last week, we saw the third episode of PlayStation’s State of Play series. I thought I’d review it since it’s become a bit of a habit to do so. While not the most exciting gaming presentation we’ve seen this month, it certainly had its moments. So let’s get right into it.

The interesting thing about State of Play, is that Sony does time better than Nintendo. Nintendo’s most recent Direct was just under 40 minutes. They showed a lot but in a lot of ways the presentation sort of dragged on. I feel this way about most Directs. They cover a lot but there’s also a lot of fat that makes the presentation feel longer than it needs to be. I’m fine with this and actually love the way Nintendo does Directs for the most part, but it is something to acknowledge. The best way I can describe it is that when I get to the end of a Nintendo Direct I’m usually ready for it to be over. I wouldn’t say that about State of Play.

nintendo direct 9-4The third State of Play was about 20 minutes. By the end of it I was shocked that it was already over. It’s so streamlined with almost no fat to trim at all. And it gets right to the point. There’s no speaker introduction or speech about the happenings on at Sony. It’s just right into the games, which I personally really appreciate since I’m always busy when trying to watch them. The presentation opened with a new game. It was indie but it was effective. You instantly know why you’re there and what to expect. And in that 20 minutes they showed quite a bit.

My one peeve, which both Sony and Nintendo have become guilty of, is that they keep using these presentations to plug merch and hardware. They brought up Death Stranding, but in true Death Stranding style, didn’t actually say anything about the game. They just used the time to announce and advertise a Death Stranding themed PS4 Pro bundle. That’s not the kind of content that should be featured in these sorts of presentations. Just stick to games and gameplay content focused announcements and showings. But again, the presentation was so short that it didn’t really detract too much with that wasted time anyway.

death strandingNow let’s talk about the specific announcements that were made during State of Play Episode 3, in no particular order.

The Last of Us Part II

The Last of Us Part II got another trailer with more story details and a huge reveal of Joel making his way back into the game. This was definitely expected but it’s important that this news was finally confirmed. Also we were given a hard release date of February 21st, 2020. That’s not far off at all. I really need to take the time to play The Last of Us Part I DLC. The game looks great and it’s certainly going to be a GOTY contender for next year.

PlayStation Plus Free Games for October: The Last of Us Remastered & MLB The Show 19 

The free games for October were announced during the presentation. I don’t necessarily like time being wasted for that, unless it was the day the games were going live, but they clearly did it this way because it tied into The Last of Us Part II news. Honestly I get why they did The Last of Us Remastered but I don’t like the decision. Because it’s not even the first time they’ve given The Last of Us on PS Plus. We definitely got it before. Not for a long time, but I’m sure it was a freebie previously. I don’t have a problem with MLB The Show 19 being given, but it’s kind of cheesy to give out a sports game when we know the annual sequel is about to drop soon anyway. Both games are extremely low effort freebies hidden behind AAA veneer. I won’t be playing either of them because I already beat one of them and have no interest in the other.

ps plus 10-2019The Story of Modern Warfare

I don’t buy COD. I’ve never bought COD. I never will buy COD. But I do appreciate that since Advanced Warfare back in 2014, the franchise has made it a point of trying to make single player campaigns that matter. They’ve taken the time to invest in quality actors like Kevin Spacey and Kit Harrington over the last several years and they really do care about not being seen as the PVP shooter with garbage writing now. And I will say that the story trailer they showed during the State of Play was quite intriguing. And that’s not the first time I’ve said that since Advanced Warfare. So while I won’t be buying this latest Modern Warfare, I do commend Activision for finally taking single player seriously.

Humanity

The State of Play started with this crazy looking indie puzzle game that reminded me of games like The Last Guy. It looks weird and very Japanese and I’m totally interested. For an indie price and a good demo, I’ll definitely be picking this one up. And the fact that Sony decided to start the presentation with that instead of one of the heavy hitters shown in this State of Play is really cool.

Introducing the Limited Edition Death Stranding PS4 Pro Bundle

As I said, this sort of thing really annoys me and it’s not even the first time Sony has done it in only three State of Play episodes. Taking time just to plug yet another PS4 bundle rather than talk about the actual game is annoying. And honestly the PS4 doesn’t even look that good. It’s the controller that comes with the bundle that’s much more interesting. If they’d sell that separately they’d probably sell a lot more units than bundling a PS4 Pro this late in the gen.

death stranding ps4 bundleMediEvil PS4 Demo

I’ve been excited about this MediEvil remake since the first announcement. In Nintendo style, they dropped the demo during the State of Play and included a special bonus item for playing it. Conceptually, that’s really cool. But honestly that demo is trash. It was so short and uneventful that they might as well have just given me the special helmet just for downloading it. I completed the demo in just 26 minutes and more than half of that was reading books and watching cutscenes. There wasn’t even a boss fight in the game. I tried it before the demo at Gamescom and was already sold and I do appreciate getting the special item for playing the demo, but from a gameplay standpoint it was pretty much a complete waste of time.

Civilization VI Comes to PS4 November 22

Taking another page from Nintendo, they’ve ported Civilization VI to the PS4. I don’t really care since I don’t play Civ and the game came out three years ago, but I guess I appreciate the fact that games are getting ported to more platforms. I guess the port looked fine for Civ.

Arise: A Simple Story

This indie game looks beautiful. It’s seems to be a fantasy journey with a foundation of dark themes and puzzle based gameplay. The art style is beautiful yet subtle. And the protagonist is an older guy that’s past his prime, which is something I always like in storytelling.

Wattam

I love Katamari Damacy. I still remember when I got the first one for PS2 from a GameStop near my childhood home. And I only discovered it because Toonami did a review of it back when they used to do game features. So when I heard that a new game was coming from the creator of Katamari I was excited. But Wattam looks really weird. It wasn’t as clear as Katamari is at a glance. I didn’t really understand the gameplay after watching the trailer. But Katamari is weird so there’s no reason I shouldn’t give Wattam a chance. I hope they release a demo so I can make an informed buying decision.

L.A. Noire: The VR Case Files for PS VR

I don’t really care about L.A. Noire, which is funny because I’m from LA and I’ve often complained about the lack of games set there outside of GTA, if you count Los Santos. But L.A. Noire has never seemed interesting to me. Making it a VR game with special cases is a good idea, but I’m certainly not buying it. And I do take issue with the fact that it’s already on PS4 so people are being asked to repurchase it for a VR version.

la noire psvrAfter The Fall on PS VR 

Another VR FPS game. But this one has four player co-op so that’s nice. The game doesn’t look bad. I just don’t care about it because I’m not a fan of the genre and I don’t have a VR headset.

After-The-FallGorn on PS VR

Gorn is an interesting look battle game. It seems a bit more the type of game I’d want to play in VR. I think a lot more can be done with PSVR and I’m glad we’re finally seeing some more innovative stuff like Iron Man and this.

Stardust Odyssey Announced for PS VR

It’s hard to say at this point what I think of Stardust Odyssey. It looks like a space VR game in the style of No Man’s Sky leaning a little towards Starlink: Battle for Atlas. But the trailer showed during the State of Play, like the NMS pre-release trailers, makes the game look more impressive than it probably is.

Stardust-Odyssey-psvrUltimately I didn’t find this State of Play that impressive but I once again will commend Sony for using these presentations to show indie games that most of the public otherwise wouldn’t be aware of. And doing the release demos during the presentation thing was a great way to directly connect the audience with the content. And not just the content shown. By announcing the MediEvil trailer, I ended up going into the demos section of the PSN store and discovered a number of other demos I didn’t know even existed. Like Code Vein and Contra Rogue Corps. So this State of Play was even able to connect me with other games on PSN that weren’t shown. That’s the absolute best a company could hope for with these sorts of endeavors. There was some blatant fat that could be trimmed from what was already a short presentation. But if they did these more often then I’d be less irritated by the unnecessary hardware plugs and junk announcements. I do hope we continue to see this concept grow for Sony.

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Choose Your Weapon

This is kind of a weird post. It’s honestly more stream of consciousness than me making any particular point or argument. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently so I wanted to write about it.

There are so many types of controllers for games these days. When I was a kid, there were very few options for controlling your games. You were pretty much stuck with the controller based on the platform you were playing on. Or a keyboard/mouse when playing on PC. There were a few specialty options like joysticks for flight simulators and racing wheels. And there were some third party controller redesigns, but really these didn’t change the controllers. Just the size and grips on them. For the most part you used a certain controller for a certain type of game or in the case of certain games like fighters, you could play them at home with a controller or at an arcade with the traditional stick and buttons layout. In general though, pretty much everyone moved Mario the same way at any given time.

crash n sane

Today controllers are no longer platform or even generation specific. Between adapters, third party full redesigns, first party specialty designs, and custom made control mechanisms, people can play games with whatever they want now. And by whatever they want I mean there are people who literally play games with bananas. I remember the first time I used an emulator on my PC. I played a Nintendo game on a PC with a PlayStation controller. The whole thing seemed like blasphemy. Now I can play Crash Bandicoot on the Nintendo Switch with a DualShock 4 designed to look like an XBOX 360 controller, completely blending if not all out destroying the lines between platform, generation, and originally intended gameplay design. It’s a beautiful thing. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this level of customization isn’t ruining the experience of at least some games.

When Cuphead was first announced, I really wanted to play it but it was an XB1 exclusive so I was fairly certain that I was never going to get to play it. Then later they ported it to PC. Now you can even get it on Switch. I got it on PC, but I probably would have gone for the Switch version if I had known that was going to be a thing. As a person who doesn’t own an XB1, I opted to try out Cuphead with a PS4 DS4 controller. This was easy for me to do because I have an adapter that allows me to connect my DS4 or Wii U Pro controller to my PC or Switch to use with any game I want. I don’t have any particular rationale for why I chose the DS4 over the Wii U Pro Controller for Cuphead. It was just the controller that was hooked up when I started the game. And I was absolutely not going to play a fast paced run and gun platformer with a keyboard and mouse. Some people can do that. Sadly I am not one of those people.

Cuphead

I connected with Cuphead fairly quickly. It’s a beautiful game with fairly accessible mechanics and difficult but seemingly balanced challenges. I easily cleared the tutorial and even managed to do the jump dash on the first try. I liked it and wanted to beat it. But I struggled so much while playing it. I started with The Root Pack as my first boss. This was very difficult for me. More difficult than a first boss in a game should be. But one of the most widely talked about aspects of the game was its difficulty. So I, like any seasoned Dark Souls player who can’t find any summoning symbols, decided that it was my lacking skills and that I just had to get gud. It took me several tries but I did finally manage to defeat The Root Pack. Then I faced Ribby and Croaks. I couldn’t beat them. I tried and I tried and I tried but I could not bring them down. I continued to blame my own lacking skills, but as an experienced gamer I eventually felt like maybe it just wasn’t balanced properly. Sadly my pride got the best of me and I stopped playing rather than allowing myself to play on easy mode. I said I’d return to the game eventually but never really did.

Recently I received a free XB1 controller. I had wanted one for PC gaming for a long time, because many games on Steam, and PC in general, are optimized for XB1 controllers rather than PS4 or Nintendo ones. But seeing as how I had multiple controllers that I could use with PC games, it seemed like a waste of money to go buy an XB1 controller I didn’t actually need. Ironically I ended up having to spend $40 to get a charge pack and wireless dongle to properly use the XB1 controller the way I wanted to, so really I didn’t save any money. But that’s beside the point. In order to test my new controller, I started up Cuphead. This wasn’t because I had a desire to return to the game, but really just because it’s one of the only games on my PC that doesn’t require me to login to a launcher to use, since I bought it from the Microsoft Store and keep it saved in my start menu to motivate me to play it.

Current Gen

I loaded up the game and challenged Ribby and Croaks again. I lost a few rounds but I quickly became aware of how close I was to defeating them. Was it this new controller or had my skills improved with no practice over the last several months? Ultimately I defeated them and went on to quickly defeat a number of other levels before getting stuck again. But now I knew for certain that I was good enough to play Cuphead. Why had my skills improved so much so unexpectedly? It had to be the controller. But why would/should that be the case?

I love the DS4 controller. I prefer it to the XB1 controller any day of the week. I like symmetrical joysticks. I like symbols instead of letters on the main buttons. And though I almost never use it for the games I play, I appreciate having the touchpad. I also liked the DS3 over the XBOX 360 controller. I don’t think it’s a better controller. I just think it feels better to me. I also really like the Wii U Pro controller. It’s the main reason I bought my adapter in the first place. So I can use it on my Switch instead of paying $70 for a Switch Pro controller.

8bitdo

My preference for the DS4 and Wii U Pro is why I invested in adapters instead of just buying an XB1 controller originally. I knew the XB1 controller would be easier from a technology standpoint to use for PC gaming. But I don’t prefer the controller. Yet I have to admit that based on my limited amount of data, I’m noticeably better at Cuphead with an XB1 controller over a DS4. I’ve had similar experiences before. Last year I got The Crew 2 for PC. I first tried to play it with a Wii U Pro controller and it was absolute garbage. Absolutely horrendous experience even though that same controller is great for Mario Kart. Then I tried it with a DS4 and it was great. I also remember trying Hyper Light Drifter for the first time with a keyboard and mouse. It was so bad that I quit the game before even reaching the first boss and never wanted to play it again. This was before I had my adapter for PC. Later I got the game for PS4 through PS Plus and decided to try it again, now with a DS4. That game is amazing with a DS4.

It’s odd to me that the controller matters so much for some games. Especially in 2019 where there are so many varying controller options. You can even get a PS4 controller that’s built to the shape of an XB1 controller. So the fact that games seem to feel wrong when using certain controllers should be considered problematic within the current trend of customized controller options for literally any game. There are definitely some limiting factors to consider. Latency caused by adapters can be an issue. It’s not something I often feel like I’m experiencing but there are definitely times where I do. Button customization is also still not widespread enough within software itself. I often still find games that either don’t have button customization, or the PC version of the game’s button customization isn’t functioning properly with a controller. It could also be the adapter causing the game to not to properly allow the button customization to work I guess. But in my experience, the controller you play a game with can make a huge difference in how that game feels and plays.

Onyx Hori

If the specific controller used matters when playing a game is it intentional or just a coincidence? I now genuinely believe that Cuphead was made to be played with an XB1 controller. And this makes sense because it was originally released as an XB1 exclusive. But now you can play it on PC or Switch. Is this OK? Is it acceptable for developers to create games to be played with a specific controller and then release those games to other platforms where that controller isn’t a viable option? Of course it’s legal. And obviously publishers will do it because it’s more profitable than a single platform release. But if a studio makes a game to be played with a specific controller, are we not as gamers lowering the caliber of our gameplay experience by using the “incorrect” controller?

Like I said, I don’t really have a conclusive final thought or argument with this post. Just some ideas I was thinking about controllers and the controller ecosystem we have today. I know that I will almost exclusively use my XB1 controller for PC gaming, when not using a keyboard/mouse, from here on out. But at the same time I still favor the DS4 and will continue to do the bulk of my gaming on PS4. What are your thoughts on controllers? Have you had an experience where you tried out two different controllers for the same game and noticed that one seemed superior for that particular game?

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Taipei Game Show 2019

Once again, I had the pleasure of attending Taipei Game Show this year. It’s one of my favorite shows because of how hands on it is. It’s also one of the better game conventions that’s both completely open to the public and extremely affordable, with a single day ticket price of just $10. I will say though that the ticket price is up 50% from last year so while it’s not high, that increase in price percentage wise is worrying for the future of the show. I will qualify that statement by saying Taipei Game Show is one of the best shows for high quality free swag that’s open to the public. Every year I get a fairly good haul of stuff I probably don’t need and this year was no different.

The best thing about gaming events in Taiwan is the large number of playable demos. I’ve been to company specific events like PlayStation Gaming Festival Taipei and neutral events like Taipei Game Show over the last few years and consistently events in Taiwan always focus on having playable demos open to the public rather than just footage and demos only available for VIP invited visitors. This is the main reason I keep going back every year.

sega booth

In general, I’d say this was a weaker show than last year’s. At last year’s show, the bulk of games on display to try were unreleased titles or games that were very new. At this year’s show there was plenty of new stuff that hadn’t been released yet, but there were also a lot of demos for stuff that was already out.  Even some stuff that I’d already beaten. Take the Ubisoft booth for instance. They had Just Dance 2019 on their main stage, which is fine because they always have that year’s Just Dance running with people dancing because it makes for a good show. But their other offerings were lacking. They of course had The Division 2 Beta and that’s exactly what should have been there. That was the main portion of their booth. But the only other games they had on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and Trials Rising. That means of the five games they had on display three of them had already been released last year. And I personally own all three of them so unless you wanted to wait in line for over an hour to try The Division 2, which I didn’t having already played the alpha, I just tried Trials Rising, which I’ll discuss in detail in my demos review section of this post.

It wasn’t just Ubisoft that was featuring a lot of already released stuff though. Bandai Namco always has a large booth, and this year was no different. But the only game I tried from them was God Eater 3. The main focus of their booth was Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, which makes sense because it literally came out this month. But they were featuring demos for Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun!, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and a bunch of Gundam stuff that’s focused on the Asia market that I’ve never heard of, as per usual. The only game that they had that was truly special for a show was One Piece World Seeker, which I didn’t even get to try because I didn’t realize they had it until the show was closing for the day. They did no special promotion for it. No large display, which they had for two or three other games, including Ace Combat 7, no posters, no special One Piece swag. They just had it set up on a few screens and you had to notice it on your own, which sadly I didn’t.

bandai booth

As usual, there was no XBOX presence there. Other than PC gaming, which is a big thing at the show every year, Microsoft has no showings at Taipei Game Show. You can buy some PS4 and Switch games at the show every year, but not a single XB1 game could be found. Speaking of which, they had physical copies of Kingdom Hearts III available which is awesome because the game launched in Taiwan the day I attended, which shows just how on top of their game SONY really was for the show.

The thing I found most disappointing about the show this year was the limited Nintendo presence. They didn’t take the time to show up in person like PlayStation does every year. You only get glances of the Switch through third party developers/publishers like Ubisoft and Bandai Namco. But an actual Nintendo booth and store would have been so much better. PlayStation had their own official booth and store, selling new physical games and merch, like they do every year. You could even buy Death Stranding t-shirts this year, though they didn’t have any new footage or gameplay for the game being shown, because of course they didn’t. In a way PlayStation is uncontested just about every year at Taipei Game Show because they put in the investment to make a spectacular booth and feature a huge number of playable demos including PSVR offerings. Most of the demos I played at the show this year, as is true every year, were at the PlayStation booth. And really I don’t think it should be that way. It simply is because enough other companies don’t care enough to participate, which is sad to say the least.

playstation booth

On the PC side of things, it was kind of disappointing because though most of the big Asian players attended such as Nvidia, HyperX, Gigabyte, Cooler Master, ASUS ROG, MSI, and even ThermalTake, they all focused on parts rather than games. They were selling parts in their booths, which is fine, but really that was the main focus of their booths. Showing off and selling products that could be used for gaming rather than focusing on actual gaming. And while this makes perfect sense from a business perspective, as these are hardware companies, it really detracts from the spirit of the show. They could do a lot more to feature more playable demos for new and yet to be released games and make that the focus of their booths while showing off their hardware. In my opinion, this would be the more appropriate way to do things. Of all the PC booths I saw, only ASUS ROG had a demo for an unreleased game. They had a small section where you could try out the PC version of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as evidenced by a single mid-sized poster on the far side of their booth. In comparison, PlayStation had a giant statue of one of the game’s bosses and a small Japanese hut shaped structure where you could try out the game complete with Japanese style stools/backless chairs. This was the only PlayStation demo I experienced that did not require you to stand. The point is that PlayStation put in that much investment to display a game that isn’t even exclusive to their platform, meanwhile these PC companies were doing the bare minimum to talk about actual games.

cm booth

On the swag front, I’m always really impressed most by the mobile app companies and indie studios. It shows just how much money mobile apps make in Asia, because their swag is on a whole other level compared to companies like PlayStation and Nvidia. The swag for the PlayStation booth was game specific. Meaning you got different stuff for trying different games, with most games having no special items at all. Every PlayStation demo gave you red envelopes with a 7 day free trial for PlayStation plus. This is very standard for Taipei Game Show as it always happens right before Chinese New Year, so the envelopes are culturally specific to Asia. Over the years I’ve gotten red envelopes from numerous brands. This year only PlayStation had them. But certain games also gave you special items for trying them. Dead or Alive 6 gave a lanyard and collectors pin. A VR game called Focus on You gave a full sized couch pillow. But most of the time you just got the envelopes. And remember that this is after waiting forever in those long PlayStation lines. Meanwhile some random mobile app company gave me a fairly large stuffed cow, which I named Mr. Moo Cow, for trying three apps over the course of maybe 10 minutes. I will clarify that trying the three apps gave me the chance to draw a prize and that’s what I won, but they had lots of great prizes and plenty of those cows to give away.

An indie PC game studio that I’ve never heard of gave me a full length mousepad of very good quality. Again I drew this, but the same logic applies. SEGA gave out blue lanyards. Nvidia made me travel to five different locations around their booth as well as one at another booth they were partnered with for the chance to draw a prize, which ultimately got me a Monster energy drink and some stickers. Of all the larger companies at the show, I’d have to say the best single swag item was from Bandai Namco. It was a Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! themed neck pillow. But it required you to try five different games they had on display, all of which had their own separate lines. Sadly I didn’t have time to complete this. I even offered to pay for the pillow because I really wanted one and they refused to let me buy it. Overall I was very happy with my swag haul, but my point is the larger companies in the industry really could stand to step their game up.

swag tgs 2019

I will say though that Ubisoft impressed me this year by thinking more outside the box with their swag. Last year they had a system where you tried any game, of which they had several compared to this year, and you got a prize draw. You went to the claims table and they had you play a Just Dance themed prize machine like the one in Just Dance 2018 and you won a random prize, of which they had a large variety of prizes you could win. I got an Assassin’s Creed Origins t-shirt, a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle t-shirt, and a Rabbid Mario hat. It was a really nice system because most of the prizes were really good and the system was entirely random so you didn’t have to wait to try a game you didn’t necessarily want to try to get the swag you wanted. It did however mean that you could get swag you absolutely didn’t want or repeat prizes. They also had a special For Honor keychain which was only available to those who waited in line to try that specific game, which I of course did. This year they didn’t have general swag. You only got a 5% coupon to the Taiwan UPLAY online store. But their game specific swag for The Division 2 was very creative. You got a “Tommy the Teddy Bear” backpack charm which consists of a teddy bear with a bowtie and a The Division 2 keychain. But the really cool part is that it comes with an in game activation code that will give your character in the game the teddy bear charm for their backpack as well. That’s cool swag. It makes a direct connection between the live event and the game. It’s limited edition, which players really care about for some reason, and it motivates people to buy the game. And it was still cheaper to make than the neck pillows or Mr. Moo Cow while being just as valuable to the gamers at the show. Kudos to Ubisoft.

tommy the teddy

Now let’s talk about what’s really important at game shows: the playable demos. I had the privilege to play seven AAA/large studio demos for games that weren’t yet released at my time of playing (I’m counting Kingdom Hearts III because it wasn’t available in the US for another four days) as well as a few indie titles. Sadly, the three indie titles I recall playing, one on PSVR and two on PC, weren’t anything special so I won’t take the time to go over them in this already long blog post. So let’s just talk about the big stuff. Please note that at Taipei Game Show demos only last 10 – 15 minutes due to the sheer number of people waiting to play. They simply can’t let people play for as long as I would have liked to, and that makes sense. So be aware that my assessment of these demos should be taken with a grain of salt because I didn’t have time to change any settings or get super comfortable with the controls. Also note that the demos in Taipei Game Show are mapped for Asian players, which is different from standard button maps in the West. For instance, on a DualShock 4 controller O is the confirm button in Asia, while X is the confirm button in the West. These sorts of things do really make a difference. I remember going to Taipei Game Show back in 2016 and trying Attack on Titan for the first time and absolutely hating it because of the button map and my inability to read the directions, since they’re always in Chinese or Japanese at Taipei Game Show. Then when I got to try the game at home with an American button map and English directions I absolutely loved the game.

red envelopes

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Of all the demos available, this was the one I was most excited to try. Obviously Kingdom Hearts III was more important overall, but that was set to release less than a week from the event so trying the demo for 10 minutes wasn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. Sekiro on the other hand is one of my top games for this year that won’t be out for some time. The only game I wanted to play more than Sekiro is Ghost of Tsushima, which sadly wasn’t available to play. Though they did have a giant poster and a guy dressed up like a samurai to promote the game and taunt my very soul. But thankfully I at least got to try the next great soulslike title.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a rough demo experience. Obviously the game is difficult, which it should be. But it’s also not the same gameplay as Dark Souls or Bloodborne, so you can’t just walk on with that past experience and expect things to just click right away. This is a completely different animal. For starters, the pace of the gameplay is much faster than even Bloodborne. You’re zip-lining around the level, dealing with long range attacks like rifles, and having to dodge the view of spotters stealthily hidden throughout the world. It’s as much about stealth as it is about combat performance. And you are not very powerful in the grand scheme of things. Basic samurai go down in a few swipes, or instantly with a stealth kill. But even the first tier armored samurai were quite the amount of effort/attacks to take down. And the first mini-boss was pretty much impossible for me to bring down in the 10 minutes I had. This is because he had four other enemies in the area with him, two of which couldn’t be stealth killed. The three of them together were just too difficult for the items I had. The long range attacks are severely lacking. At least what was available to me in the demo. I really hope to be able to get a bow and/or rifle in the full game. I really hated the button map in this demo. I hate to be one of those people that makes excuses like that for not being able to beat a game, but honestly if I can’t remap that game and that’s the final layout for the US version, I’m gonna have a terrible time. It did not work for me at all. It’s not that it’s drastically different from Bloodborne. It’s that what you’re doing in Bloodborne with the controls is vastly different and that makes all the difference in the effectiveness of the button layout.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gx

I want to be clear in saying that I don’t think it’s a bad game after playing the demo. I’m fairly certain I’ll be buying the Collector’s Edition day one. It’s very challenging, which is what it’s supposed to be. But there are definitely things I want to see changed in the final product from what I experienced in the demo. That’s of course assuming the conditions leading up to the point in the game the demo took place in are inevitable for the items, skills, and damage I was getting in the demo. It’s very possible that the experience I’ll have based on my preferred play style will net drastically different outcomes from what I got in the demo.

Dead or Alive 6

I’m a big Dead or Alive fan and have been since I bought the third installment on the original XBOX 18 years ago. I had played the earlier games causally in arcades but DOA3 is when I really fell in love with the franchise. It’s still in my top five fighting franchises and I play every game. Really I don’t expect things to be too different from game to game and I prefer it that way because the DOA formula is nearly perfect in my opinion. I just want some new fighters, new stages, and maybe some new special moves and I’m pretty much fine with it.

What I got from this demo is almost exactly what I wanted. The graphics are good. The roster includes all the characters I wanted, including Hyabusa, and the gameplay is much the same. There are some new specialty attacks, similar to what you get in the latest Soul Calibur, but by and large it’s the same buttery smooth, fast paced gameplay fans of the franchise are accustomed to. There was also a great selection of costumes for all the fighters. I’m very much looking forward to playing this game.

doa6

Devil May Cry 5

I’ve never beaten any of the DMC games, unless you count DmC: Devil May Cry (2013) by Ninja Theory. But I’ve always wanted to play them all. I’ve been very impressed by the things I’ve seen about DMC5 so I finally bought  1 – 4 remastered on PS4. The DMC5 demo delivered both what I wanted and expected. It’s fast paced, smooth, visually gruesome, and slightly comedic. I was very happy with the gameplay, though I do feel that I didn’t fully understand the robotic hand system they implemented. I thought it was a bit weird, but I also liked that you could completely destroy your hand and then have to fight with one arm. The different arm types were cool as well because it allowed you to create a more customized gameplay experience based on your preferences. The gameplay was fair. I’d recommend playing this one on hard if you’re a hardcore fan of the franchise or genre. I beat the boss in the demo with little fear of dying. But overall I was very happy with it and I’ll certainly be buying the game.

devil-may-cry-5

God Eater 3

God Eater is a franchise I’ve always been interested in but never had the time to really play. I actually own the first two games on PC, but I’ve never played either of them. I really like the genre because of games like Toukiden and Monster Hunter World. But when you have games like Monster Hunter World available the motivation to take the time to play anything else in the genre becomes sorely lacking. But I still wanted to try this demo.

Personally I struggled a lot with this demo. A large part of that comes from the fact that it wasn’t in English. I had such a hard time trying to figure out the weapons controls. I kept accidentally changing from the sword to the gun mode and then couldn’t get the gun to fire properly. The demo had me running around looking for monsters but very few were spawning in the level. I actually ran out of time before the real monster showed up so my whole demo experience was really lousy. I hope they release a public demo because I’d genuinely like to try it again with a full understanding of how the gameplay mechanics work before passing final judgement. That is to say the game is not at all intuitive.

god-eater-3

Kingdom Hearts III

I have waited more than a decade to play Kingdom Hearts III. I have watched as Square Enix dished out garbage handheld spin off title after garbage handheld spin off title. I have seen Sora travel to worlds that made up my childhood and fight alongside some of my favorite characters growing up. But in all these years I have never seen his story get a proper conclusion. It is my hope that I will finally get this in Kingdom Hearts III. No I did not need to play a demo for a game that will literally be released before this blog post is even published. But of course I took the time to wait in line and play it anyway.

The game dropped me directly into Toy Story world. I don’t know how far into the game that was/is, but it seemed like it was quite a ways in because I was really OP. I could combo through the air for what seemed like forever. I had magic attacks that were super powerful. It was definitely fun but it did not feel earned. The team up moves were amazing and quite beautiful. I also really liked that Buzz and Woody fought alongside me without me having to sacrifice Donald or Goofy from my team. The demo definitely did its job in making me excited to play the game. But I’m hoping they don’t just drop me in at that level of power from the start. The gameplay was very smooth overall, as is to be expected. And the AI for my team mates was very effective as well. I can’t comment on Donald’s healing AI/ability at this point because I didn’t take enough damage to require healing.

kingdom hearts 3

At the end of the day, I already preordered the game months ago so playing the demo didn’t matter much to me or have any impact on my decision to buy and play the game. But I am really looking forward to finally getting to play it. As I write this post, I’m preloading it onto my PS4.

Space Channel 5 PSVR

I didn’t actually know this game was in the works. Space Channel 5 was one of my favorite games from the Dreamcast. It’s one of the only games that I enjoyed with my sisters as a kid. Even my mom liked watching us play it. I’m a big music/rhythm game fan and SC5 was one of the best from that era. The blend of story, challenging gameplay, and sci-fi graphics made for a great music game experience. And it featured Michael Jackson. So I was both shocked and ecstatic to find out that a VR version of the game was in the pipeline and available to try.

I have to say that it worked very well gameplay wise. You really had to do the moves and keep to the rhythm. It was responsive, mostly fair in its judgement of your move accuracy, and quite fun. The demo didn’t have any of the more challenging dance battles because it was only the first level, but from what I experienced I think it could end up being a stellar overall gameplay experience. What I didn’t like was that they changed the level structure and presentation. In the original game you play as Ulala and travel through the stages dance battling aliens and rescuing people along the way. In this demo you played as Ulala’s trainee and the entire concept of traveling through the stage was removed. You just stayed in the same place the entire level and the aliens came to you, bringing their hostages along with them. This lazy way of doing the level really took away from the overall experience of the original game. And playing as a trainee was kind of a bummer. Especially since she never talked back to Ulala. I would have much preferred an entirely new story as the third installment of the franchise with this new system rather than change up the process of the original game in this manner. The gameplay is quite solid though so hopefully we’ll see something like that in the future whether it’s Space Channel 5 or a new IP altogether.

sapce channel 5

Trials Rising

I only tried this game because I played and liked the beta for Trials Fusion and didn’t want to play Starlink: Battle for Atlas or Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, both of which I already own. And I certainly wasn’t going to wait two hours to try The Division 2 beta. Especially after having already played the alpha. So I tried the one game that was completely new to me.

Trials Fusion is extremely hard. I’m so glad you can continue from the very plentiful and automatically applied checkpoints because wow is it difficult to get past the various obstacles in a given course. The ramps and angles are so unforgiving. Timing is everything and you rely on luck way too much. I crashed so many times trying to get through a single course that it got depressing. I don’t know who the target audience is for that game but it’s certainly not me.

trials rising

The only two demos that I didn’t get to play but really wanted to were One Piece World Seeker and Concrete Genie. Both of these were under marketed, as in not marketed at all, so I wasn’t even aware of them till the booths were already closing up for the day. This was probably my biggest complaint from the show this year. There simply wasn’t enough put into providing people with information. Usually there’s an information booth in every main intersection. This year there was nothing. No people walking around to ask for directions. No help desk inside the floor. You could get assistance about specific booths from booth employees, but for general help about the show you were on your own with nothing more than a printed map, which I had to go out of my way to find because they weren’t handing them out at the door like they always have in past years that I’ve attended. There should have been a list of playable demos made available online before the show started so you could plan what you wanted to try in advance.

One thing I noticed about a number of demos, both indie and AAA, was that many of them had intros that were way too long. If you tell me I only have 10 – 15 minutes to try out a game, less than a minute of that should be taken up by story introductions. I didn’t wait in line for an hour to get plot points. I just want to try the gameplay and see the graphics. Between that and loading times, so many games were just wasteful in their time management of that 10 – 15 minute span of time. A VR demo I tried from an indie studio had me sit through 10 minutes of introduction with Chinese subtitles and not enough volume before I got to fire a single bullet. This is not OK.

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My prize for competing.

I’ll end this post by sharing a rather interesting experience I had at the Ubisoft booth. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that I’m a big Just Dance player/fan. Though I’ve never formally competed, based on my online performance for the past two or three installments of the franchise, I genuinely believe and tell people that I’m in the top five players in Taiwan. At least on Nintendo platforms. While I was at the Ubisoft booth waiting in line, I mentioned to one of the employees that spoke English that I was a big fan of the franchise and that I was a top player in Taiwan. As they do every year, they had Just Dance, 2019 in this case, running on the stage. But this year they allowed anyone to walk up and play rather than limit it to invited guest players only like they usually do. I actually didn’t want to play because I had only played about three hours of Just Dance 2019 at this point, having just opened the game earlier in the week. This employee went and told the guy in charge of the Just Dance section of the booth that I claimed to be a top player. He, also being able to speak English, came and asked me if I’d play. I felt like I had to at this point otherwise it would look like I was lying about my skill level. After reaching the stage, they introduced me to the host and Ubisoft’s brand ambassador for Just Dance in Taiwan. The host seemed to be an active Just Dance player but he wasn’t actually playing at that time. The brand ambassador was introduced to me as the number one player in Taiwan. I chose to introduce myself by my Just Dance online name rather than my real name and to my surprise they both recognized my Nintendo Switch User ID from previous Just Dance versions. The brand ambassador was quite good. He had already mastered all the 2019 songs, which makes sense if you started playing it day one because it’s been out since October. I just got a late start because I usually close out the year with the previous version before starting the installment for the next year. I will say without argument that he was better than I was consistently. But of the four to five players playing, I was getting second place and the ambassador was not blowing me out of the water. At times I was even ahead of him but he was ultimately closing out each song in the lead. I actually really would have liked to play against him in some songs from 2018 because I do believe that I was at his level of play. Ultimately they interviewed me after I was done playing and featured my interview in this official Ubisoft Taipei Game Show video. See if you can figure out who I am.

So that’s it for another solid Taipei Game Show. Here’s looking forward to a great year of gaming and attending again next year.

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The End of E3?

Sony recently announced that there would not be a PlayStation presence at E3 in 2019. The reason hasn’t really been expressed yet other than some bullshit PR speak about looking for new options to connect with their fans, but many theories are of course swirling around the internets. Now I’ve been very critical of E3 for many years now, as has been shown on this very blog. I’m a 100% in support of Nintendo’s choice to do pre-recorded Directs. I love the fact that they do multiple a year because they produce them in advance for less money than the price of doing a single E3 presentation, which gives the public even more information about games (and pricing) in advance of release. I have many complaints about the E3 format, specifically the fact that it’s not open to the public. They did allow for some public passes to be sold at this year’s E3 and I did commend them for that in my E3 2018 post. But in general it’s still too little.

My main problem with E3 is that in 2018 it’s still a media focused shill operation. We don’t actually need established gaming media events in 2018. We have the technology for studios and publishers to convey information and demos directly to the public. The media no longer serves as the gateway between consumers and studios. I can directly tweet a studio a question or complaint about a game and get a response, and I have. In fact I tweeted and got a response from Ubisoft last month. Now in this specific case it wasn’t about the experience of playing a game but I did have a question about a game and got an answer directly from the publisher in a matter of hours. What do I need IGN for when I can talk to the developers or their direct representatives directly? We can have playable demos. Sadly these have become less common as technology has progressed, which makes no sense, but the point is I don’t need to watch some asshole I don’t like play a game I’m curious about to decide whether or not I want to buy it if the developer can let me try it myself from the comfort of my home, which they have been able to do since technically the PS2. Or before if we count demo discs. I don’t need to read some crappy paid review/long form ad to figure out if I should buy a game if I can just try it myself before buying it. That’s why betas are referred to as stealth demos now.

Tweet Ubisoft Big

The point is that we don’t actually need media focused gaming events anymore. The media are little more than shills for the gaming industry or political activists pretending to actually know anything about what gamers are really thinking. It makes way more sense to either have only gaming events that are open to the public to see and try new games or do away with such events altogether and have all publishers make their own Nintendo Direct style videos and release playable demos for download. I’m not saying E3 should be ended permanently. I’m saying what E3 currently is should be ended permanently. It’s an outdated concept. So if it’s for the right reasons, I’m all for Sony pulling out of E3 indefinitely.

At the same time, we don’t actually know if Sony pulled out of E3 for the right reasons. There are a number of theories floating around. Some of them, if correct, are completely valid and acceptable reasons for Sony to not attend E3 2019. Others, not so much.

 

nintendo direct e3 2018

If Sony has decided to quit E3 in order to revolutionize the way they present games to the public by making their own direct to consumer presentations, events, and demos, then I am all for it. I would love to see a PlayStation Direct. Even better if, like Nintendo, they do multiple a year. I would love it if PlayStation made prerecorded videos about upcoming titles and released demos to go with them. If that’s the future of PlayStation presenting information to consumers, bring it on. Even if it’s the same presentations they already do at E3 but as their own PlayStation focused event/stream, I’m fine with that. They have PlayStation Experience already, and that’s better than E3. It is open to the public to buy tickets. It does have playable demos for the public to try. If this is the future, cool. But I don’t necessarily believe either of these reasons are why PlayStation pulled out of E3. Let’s also not forget that they cancelled PSX 2018 as well.

Another theory going around, and I do believe this is the correct one, is that Sony doesn’t have any new big projects for the PS4 that haven’t already been announced so they didn’t want to spend the money, time, and effort to attend E3. This is a bullshit reason that is completely unacceptable. Let’s be clear about a few things. Assuming there are no other PS4 projects in the works that we haven’t already heard about, that in no way means that we don’t want/need more information, gameplay footage, and demos of projects we do already know about. I still don’t know what the hell Death Stranding is about. Or even what the gameplay actually is. I want more information about The Last of Us 2. I would quite literally consider masturbating to more footage of Ghost of Tsushima. And where’s gameplay footage of Nioh 2 while we’re at it? I don’t need them to announce a single new game.

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Ghost of Tsushima

There are plenty of games I already know about that I just want to see more information and footage of. That’s enough of a reason to go to E3. If that’s the reason they’re not going, it’s bullshit. I pay too much money for games, DLC, paid online subscriptions, and such for them to be pinching pennies. I overpay for the privilege to see E3 footage. That’s part of the deal. If they want to save money, I better damn well start seeing those savings translated to me, the consumer. If their cost of operation goes down, prices need to go down. Because profits sure as hell aren’t. And prices sure as hell haven’t. The excuse of “we don’t want to put the effort in to show you games we know you’re going to buy already” isn’t a valid one.

Even more worrisome is the theory that the PS5 will be announced soon and that all the aforementioned games and any other projects currently unannounced will be released for that console. Personally I don’t need a PS5 any time soon. I’m very happy with my PS4 hardware wise and I don’t even have a PS4 Pro. It plays my games fine and they look beautiful. If it still runs games smoothly, it’s all I need. So delaying everything to the PS5 doesn’t help me. Rushing out the PS5 doesn’t help me. Because I don’t want to buy a new machine to replace a machine that still works just fine. Now hopefully the PS4 will be like the PS2 where even though the next console is out, they continue to release games on the predecessor for like another decade because they still run acceptably. And let’s be honest, PS5 games will run way better on the PS4 than PS3 games ran on the PS2. So there’s not really any reason to force me to buy a new console. But even if we assume, all the new games will be on the PS5 and PS4, that’s no excuse to skip E3. They don’t get to slack off for a year and just ride the high while waiting for what their analysts believe is the best time to announce/release the next console. I’m a consumer today. I just bought multiple PS4 games in the last month. They haven’t stopped taking my money so they don’t get to stop doing their jobs. One of their jobs is relaying information about upcoming games to the consumers. So even if all the aforementioned games are being released for the PS5, if they’re going to be released on the PS4 as well, and they should be, then they need to be talking about them now. Not after they decide to announce the PS5. Especially if we’re talking about games that have already been announced to the public.

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Now I hope I’m wrong. I hope this isn’t a PS5 delay ploy. I hope we’re about to enter the age of PlayStation Directs. I’m fine with E3 ending altogether, because we know XBOX can’t carry that event on its own. And I have no love for some middle man company that makes its money by charging companies that actually make products for the “privilege” of showing those products off in a physical venue while selling tickets for profit in an age where a kid in Malaysia can download 4K HD porn on his phone. That doesn’t make any sense. And if all those hack journalists have to work just a little bit harder to write think pieces about how the world is being destroyed because edgelords are beating up feminists in Skyrim Cowboy Edition, I’m fine with that too. Hopefully this is the beginning of something great. An age of gaming transparency where consumers have direct access to publishers and developers, the likes of which we have never seen before. Most likely it’s not.

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Starlink: Battle for Atlas Editions Matter

A couple months ago, I published a review of my first hours playing Starlink: Battle for Atlas. While I stand by the views expressed in that review, it has come to my attention that it may have been misleading due to information that I was not aware of at the time of writing. So don’t consider this post a retraction of that review but rather a clarification of some specific points.

I praised Starlink and continue to do so. It’s a phenomenal game that I never put down feeling disappointed. But having done more research and now finished the game, my perspective has been altered, or more appropriately refined, slightly. Every play session I had, in the 30 hours it took me to complete the game, was enjoyable. Whenever I stopped playing, I was excited to play it again as soon as possible. While I was playing it, I always felt like there was a lot of content, albeit much of it was repetitive a la the No Man’s Sky formula. It definitely feels like a large amount of fulfilling content tied to a story I found interesting, until I reached the end, which was surprisingly abrupt, even though it was after almost 30 hours of play. While the gameplay can get repetitive due to the farming and planetary take over mechanics inherent to the game/genre, I still think it’s a great overall experience that appeals to players looking for games like No Man’s Sky with more direction. What I was not aware of though is how vastly different my gameplay experience was to that of other players. More specifically to players who don’t also have the Digital Deluxe version of the game.

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The review copy of Starlink I received wass the digital deluxe edition on Switch. When I first started the game, I was under the impression that most of the content I had access to was available to all players with the exception of StarFox related content for PS4 and XB1 players. What I learned after already playing 20 hours was that this was/is completely false. Apparently anyone who didn’t buy the digital deluxe edition is playing a completely different game than I did.

My version of the game gives me full, unadulterated access to 10 pilots, 6 ships, 15 weapons (not including the default Arwing lasers), and all the StarFox story content. All ships, including the Arwing, all weapons, and all pilots can be used interchangeably in real time for every single portion of the game. You can even play the StarFox missions without using StarFox. Every pilot, weapon, and ship has independent experience points and can be mastered through use. Each pilot has special abilities and attacks that are useful in specific situations. Each weapon and ship can be modded with four to five mods that drastically affect performance. You can have up to three saved loadouts that can be hot swapped in the menu screen whenever you want, including mid battle. I had full control of my gameplay experience. I could tailor my loadout(s) for each individual enemy to be perfectly suited to take them down.

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I needed a ridiculous amount of experience to max out everything, which I didn’t end up doing due to a lack of content, so I was never needlessly gaining XP. The RPG elements of the game were a critical part of my gameplay experience and added to the diversity and strategy of playing the game. For me, Starlink was a robust, multifaceted space fighter shooting game with RPG elements, a solid plot concerning several playable characters, and an arsenal of weapons at my disposal. I do think it was ultimately too short for the amount of pilots, ships, and weapons available though. But this wass not the game many people appear to be playing.

Something that needs to be noted about my version of Starlink is that the content is all seamless. When I was playing the game, I couldn’t tell what was vanilla content and what was deluxe edition content. There are no content walls. There are no purchase this to unlock this moments. There are no separate menus for DLC content. The story doesn’t break apart for each character. The cutscenes aren’t broken up between different characters. Everything in the game seems like it should be there and the game would suffer if any part was removed. Even StarFox content has been almost perfectly weaved into the rest of the game. Other than the differing art style, the characters appear in basically all the group cut scenes, as do all the other pilots. So I honestly can’t even imagine what this game would look like without all these pilots present. Yet this is apparently how the game is for everyone else.

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I had assumed that everyone had access to all the weapons and ships but that some of the pilots may be in the story but not playable without those specific toys. What I have come to learn is that actually nothing is available to vanilla physical edition players except the toys that came with their version. Even worse is the fact that the XB1 and PS4 physical starter packs come with less content than the Switch starter pack for the same price, due to the lack of StarFox.

The Switch physical starter pack comes with two pilots, two ships, and three weapons (not including the built in lasers on the Arwing that don’t take XP to get stronger). The XB1 and PS4 versions only come with one pilot, one ship, and three weapons, don’t have StarFox pilot or content, and don’t have a built in default weapon on the ship. All additional pilots, weapons, and ships have to be purchased separately for all versions. This is ridiculous. It’s literally all my fears for gaming brought to life. People have been making EA DLC jokes for years but this is the extreme version of that.

StarFox Starter Pack

Playing Starlink with only two pilots, three weapons, and one ship would be like paying $60 for Smash Bros and getting only two fighters, one map, and only hammers, hearts, and bombs as usable items with everything else being available as paid DLC. And these physical starter packs cost $75! That’s insane. Especially when you consider that for $60 you can get the vanilla digital edition and start with five ships, seven pilots, and 12 weapons. You are literally getting bent over by buying the physical edition. Expanding your arsenal of ships, pilots, and weapons is also considerably cheaper via DLC in digital form. You could probably buy a second digital deluxe edition of the game and have change left over with the amount of money you would spend buying all the content in physical form. For just $5 more than the physical starter pack you can get the digital deluxe edition and that’s without taking sales prices into account. As I write this, it’s currently $60 on the eshop.

I think this is a real problem. Not only for the game itself, but for the precedent it sets. This is more predatory than amiibo and that’s already bad to begin with. Not to mention the fact that this pricing scheme ruined the image of a perfectly good game that should have been in the running for Game of the Year. It definitely shouldn’t have won, but the digital deluxe edition would have been worthy of nomination if it was the standard edition.

Physical DLC

At first I didn’t understand why this game was being ignored. It was old news just a couple weeks after it released. I was having a blast playing it and I didn’t understand why no one else was even talking about it. Now I do. This is a phenomenal game that has everything I wanted from this genre, but the bulk of players are essentially playing a beta version of the game, and that sucks for the developers too. Their game was ruined by greed. And the gameplay experience is ruined for the players who don’t have all the content as well.

The difference in weapons, ships, and pilots is so severe that it’s honestly like playing a completely different game. For example, I have six ships. That means that in any battle I can have my ship blown up six times before it’s game over. I have never gotten a game over even though I played on hard. But if I only had one or two ships I would have been getting game overs constantly. I have 15 weapons to choose from with elemental properties, range properties, and ammo style properties. Some are rapid fire. Some are burst fire. Some are single fire. Some are short range. Some are long range. I have five different elemental types to choose from, all of which were required to solve certain puzzles along the way. I honestly can’t imagine playing the game without all these options. Elements matter. There are fire and ice type enemies. If you only have one fire weapon, one ice weapon, and nothing else, you are basically playing with one weapon against any fire or ice type enemy because using the enemy’s element powers them up.

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Of course people aren’t enjoying the game. They’re not getting to play the full game with the entire experience. Every character can max out each ship and weapon plus their skill tree. I’ve mastered some weapons with StarFox, no ships with anyone, and only managed to max out StarFox’s skill tree before finishing the game. But that’s because I played as all 10 pilots throughout the course of the game. Whenever I maxed out something with a specific pilot, I wouldn’t use it with that pilot anymore so that I never wasted any XP. If I was limited to only one pilot, one ship, and two weapons, I’d have  maxed out everything long before the end of the game and would have wasted tons of XP. It’s also important to note that every pilot has a skill that enhances all other pilots. That means that the more pilots you have the more benefits, which I did take advantage of with all 10 pilots, you get for the entire team.

I think this whole thing is a real shame and a scary look at the potential future of games distribution. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a great game. I encourage everyone to buy it. It’s lots of fun and 30 hours of content isn’t terrible by today’s standards. But please make sure you buy the digital deluxe edition, otherwise you’re not only not getting the full game experience. You’re getting flat out conned into spending more money than you need to for not even a quarter of the experience you get with the digital deluxe edition. It’s a shame this game was ruined this way. It’s a shame most people won’t play it because of this system. And most of all it’s a shame that Ubisoft felt like this was an acceptable practice. I hope they patch it so that everyone can at least get the minimum number of pilots, weapons, and ships that the base digital version offers. Otherwise this is just highway robbery.

Again, I don’t retract my original soft review of the game. Everything I said in it was accurate and I do stand behind the game for its graphics, story, and gameplay. But I now have to qualify it by saying that I was speaking specifically about the digital deluxe edition and that’s the only version I endorse people to buy.

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