Playing With My Weiner

Gaming at the mercy of miniature daschunds.

Club Nintendo For The Rest Of Us! October 2, 2008

Filed under: DS,Wii — Gwyddia @ 11:18 pm
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Praise Ceiling Cat!


Only 14,000 points!

Only 14,000 points! Really.

Club Nintendo, the long-standing, much-vaunted Japanese Nintendo fan club, is finally coming to the rest of the world.  Fans will be able to earn points through product registration and surveys and will be able to turn these points in for fabulous prizes!  Look for Club Nintendo coming to a country near you this holiday season!


Nintendo Finally Admits to New DS Design

Filed under: DS,Hardware,Rumors — Gwyddia @ 9:39 am
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I can't do that, Dave.

I can't do that, Dave.



As per The Register’s Hardware section (thanks, Araan!), Nintendo has finally set us up the bomb.


The Nintendo DSi will launch in Japan on November 1st.  Contrary to popular rumor, the DSi still only has one touchscreen.  It will also sport a 3 Megapixel digital camera, an SD card slot, very slightly larger screens (3.25″ v. 3″), and improved audio.  It will also be a tad slimmer due to the removal of the GBA slot.


All in all, this is a nice update, but if you already have a smartphone, probably nothing to write home about. I’ll withhold final judgment until i can hear the “improved audio” for myself.


The Nintendo DSi will cost ¥18,900/USD $179 when it is released next month in Japan.  No word yet on when Europe or North America will see it on their shores.


Review: Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen September 22, 2008

Filed under: 4 weiners,DS,Games,Reviews,Square Enix — Gwyddia @ 7:46 am
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I was fairly excited about this release.  I tore the box open this week, ready and willing to relive hours upon hours of my wasted youth.  I squeed with delight as the Dragon Quest theme began playing in all its tinny regal splendor.  And then the game began.


Let me say, first and foremost, that I did enjoy playing Dragon Quest IV.  Arte Piazza, the art directors from Dragon Quest VII, took the lead on this remake, and it shows. The refresh on the art is welcome, but not intrusive or overdone.  Akira Toriyama’s monster design is still charming and bright, including the bosses. The sound is a near-perfect translation of the original and still rings true after fifteen years.  The problem is that most of the mechanics are also still the same after fifteen years, and they don’t quite stand the test of time.


JRPGs are known for slow-paced combat, and DQ is the grandaddy of them all.  Twelve year-old me had no problem with this, probably because I didn’t know anything else.  DQIV is turn-based, and forces you to go through several menus to choose exactly what everyone wants to do, every time. Unlike the recent re-release of Final Fantasy IV, there is no Auto-Attack option.  This means is that early fights can take forever as you whittle down slime after slime.

OMG, 176 damage!

OMG, 176 damage!


Inventory is suboptimal.  When I didn’t know that only being able to hold eight items per person (plus one overflow bag) was an arbitrary difficulty modifier, it didn’t bother me. Today, trying to stock up on Medicinal Herbs that don’t stack and cannot be used except by the player who is holding them is nearly unforgiveable. This is particularly true in the early stages, when those herbs are your lifeline, and its a long way back to the save point.


Ah, yes, saving. Another “fun” DQ innovation. In DQ, you save by “confessing” at a church. That’s it. No save points in dungeons, no way to port out and port back in, nothing. This means that if you trudged all the way out to some Light forsaken tower and spent two hours grinding through it just to die on the final boss, you are out of luck. Do it all again. This time with feeling. And mana regeneration? Forget it, until you can obtain items that will do restore your juice. So make those spells last. They’re the only ones you’ve got.

Slime after slime.

Slime after slime.


Finally, level grinding. I’m a 4-year WoW player, so level grinding is nothing new to me. That being said, years of playing WoW and Final Fantasy games have conditioned me to expect that if I play through a game normally, entering dungeons and facing bosses in sequence as I meet them, I stand at least a fair chance of prevailing. Not so in DQ. Most of the time, if you try to take on a challenge as soon as you encounter it, you’re going to die. End of story. Expect to wander around aimlessly looking for fights for at least an extra level, better two, beyond the level you are when you first encounter The Next Big Thing. Oh well, at least you make lots of gold, right? Wrong. Forget being able to get the latest and greatest gear available from each new town, at least at first. DQ is stingy with the money, and dungeons drops are rare. Be prepared to wander.


I knew all of this going into the game, though. I knew that there were things that were going to bug the heck out of me because I’ve come to expect more from my RPGs since 1992. That’s why I still enjoyed DQIV so much.


The storyline is still fairly epic, even by today’s standards. The characters have life, and feeling, and the localization teams have done their best to make each Chapter feel like it takes place in a completely different part of the game world. Even if this does lead to some horribly funny Japanese-to-Russianesque-to-Rusjapenglish in Chapter 2, it gives you the feeling that you are a large world with varied ethnicities and real danger.


My favorite Chapter is still 3, the tale of Mara and Nara, the dancer and the fortuneteller.  As a kid, these ladies inspired me even more than warrior princess Alena.  That part hasn’t changed a bit.  Fighting with clubs and daggers is de rigeur, but using fans, claws and cards as weapons is a blast.  Grinding through the merchant quest still sucks, though.


The city of Townsville.

The city of Townsville.

I also have to give credit where credit is due.  What little new stuff there is here really works. The DS two-screen approach offers a lot of screen real estate for this game.  This is invaluable in dungeons because it lets you get a better sense of where you are going, and cuts down on the random lost roaming of the original.  The towns look lovely, almost on par with Dragon Quest VII. There is an online Chance Encounter mode that allows you to expand your own town through Nintendo WiFi play.  If you have other nostalgia-starved friends who pick this title up, you’ll enjoy sharing your own little piece of Heaven with them.


All in all, I think Arte Piazza did a good job updating this classic for the modern era. I hope this brings a new generation of proto-geeks to DQ, and to the appreciation of substance over style (I’m looking at you, Final Fantasy X-2). I’m looking forward to the ports of Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride and Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Reverie, the second and third titles in the so-called “Zenithia trilogy”. Most Americans (including me) have never had the chance to play DQV and VI. DQV was released in Japan in July, so hopefully the U.S. release isn’t far behind. Maybe they’ll even evolve out some of the rough parts this time.


For being an epic RPG that, despite its many flaws, is still playable and enjoyable fifteen years after its original release, I am giving Dragon Quest IV: Chapters of the Chosen 4 weiners out of 5.


REVIEW: Sims 2: Apartment Pets for DS September 2, 2008

Filed under: 2 weiners,DS,Penny Arcade,Reviews,Sims — Gwyddia @ 9:10 pm
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As a gamer who can vacillate between WoW PvP ganking and scritching a Nintendog between the ears in mere seconds, I thought that giving a “fair and balanced” review of a Sims Pets game was going to be tough.  Not so much.  I guess I require my pixellated pooches to actually be more than blurry pixels with mediocre control schemes.


I’m getting ahead of myself.  First, the “plot”.  After the ever-so-detailed character creation experience (featuring both genders and no less than five top and bottom clothing options), you are plopped down in a teeny tiny Sim apartment with an nearly invisible Sim parrot.  If you can get your stylus to touch the parrot just right, it will give you a Sims-type pop up window which will allow you to play a DDR-style minigame with the bird.  Not a bad minigame, moves a bit fast, but it’s a rhythm game, and who doesn’t love those?


Wander around your new space for a bit and you’ll get an e-mail on your PDA (*cough iPhone*) from your Uncle Bill, who owns the apartment and the pet spa below it.  He says he’s off doing research somewhere and thanks you for looking after the place.  In case you have an itch for interior design, Uncle Bill has an “arrangement” with the landlord that gives you carte blanche to paint, paper, and generally tear the place up as you see fit.


This isn’t your mother’s Sims game, though.  No sooner do you begin looking at swatches then the doorbell rings, and your friendly building maintenance guy hands you a puppy.  Why?  Because he found it, of course.  Now you have to care for it.  

Unfortunately, it is the pet care phase that makes this game less a member of the Sims family and more a subpar Nintendogs clone or wannabe Imagine: Veterinarian.  Pets can have a number of negative states, including such technical states as “stinky” or “dirty”.  Your job is to “diagnose” and “treat” these states through washing, perfuming, etc.  


The big problem here is the controls.  For example. it is very difficult to “treat” Stinky when you have to both target his hotspots using the stylus and “spray” him with the same hand (using the right shoulder button).  In addition, there are not one, but two timing mechanisms in play during your task: a standard clock timer and the pet’s “annoyance meter”, which will invariably cause Stinky to run away for a few seconds during the middle of any treatment.  Good luck getting the percentage of treatment needed to “cure” Stinky when you can’t even make him sit still.


And that’s just the pets that are dumped on your doorstep.  You also run a Pet Spa downstairs, which is how you earn money to pamper your pooches and make Uncle Bill’s pad plush.  You get an e-mail when a customer arrives and, if you can force the impossible pathfinding to allow you to take the elevator down, you may even get to diagnose and treat these customers’ pets!  Joy!  Meanwhile, your own motive scores (fatigue, hygiene, etc.) continue to erode over time, as do the scores of each and every pet in your personal menagerie.


Finally, the game doesn’t look great, even for a DS title.  Nintendogs, which was a DS Lite launch title, presents cuter pooches, and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise shows what the littlest console can do with textures in a sim game.  Next to those guys, The Sims 2: Apartment Pets looks like a GBA title at best, or at least the parts you can see – the camera only moves up, down, left and right – no swiveling whatsoever.  

Looks like I’ll have to go back to having my gnome rogue farm up pets in Azeroth and Outland.  I’m giving The Sims 2: Apartment Pets – 2 Weiners out of 5.