Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Vita PlayStation Plus titles going out in style

December's gems on Playstation Plus for Vita owners are Iconoclasts and Papers Please. Two excellent titles, both solo efforts from Joakim Sandberg and Lucas Pope, they show how far individual passion and creativity can go.

That's a big step up on recent efforts, which have felt heavily like filler content, as we count down until the March 2019 elimination of Vita and PS3 from the PS+ service. Oddly enough, I have both of these in my PSN shopping cart, but hadn't gone for either as I had a strange feeling this might happen.

Of course, this could be way to keep Vita only-owners to keep paying for PS+ for a few months longer while they polish off these games. Since I have a PS4 now, I guess that's plenty of reason for me to keep going, but Vita owners who moved to Switch or Xbox are going to be mighty pissed when they need to pay monthly to access old games, with no new content.

Review: I am the Hero

Everyone needs to play a good beat 'em up up once in a while, and here's Ratalaika delivering a punchy port of I am the Hero, the well-rated Steam brawler from Crazyant. Reduced to single player on the Vita, you wade into battle on the mean streets of somewhere, with only your fists and feet to deal in revenge for, maybe, some stolen chemicals from a hospital? I guess the plot isn't the strong point here.

Set at an oblique angle, rather than the flat levels of classic  brawlers like Double Dragon and Renegade, you're still on a flat plane, limited to left and right movement as modest waves of thugs from the rougher edges of the city line up for a kicking. Using directions and buttons, you have around 16 moves at your disposal, and stringing them together into devastating combos is great fun.

At your disposal are a range of kicks, punches, charges, mighty leaps and some special EX-Skills plus critical attacks, but there are no weapons to pick up. Instead, your main aim is to build up massive combos, ideally done by lining up three or more enemies in a row and pummeling them all at once. In the air you have ludicrous skills and can juggle enemies across the sky or bounce them into the scenery to great effect.

By the way of extras, there's challenge modes to overcome, and a smattering of hidden secrets to round out the trophies. For the expert pugilists out there, the game starts in Standard mode, and you unlock Hard and Critical difficulties.

Contender, Ready

I am the Hero looks good, with reflections off the wet roads in the opening levels, plenty of bright neon lights to illuminate the darkness. It doesn't take itself too seriously either, the hoodlums know they're in a daft game and pull silly faces, they have stupid cartoon weapons and animate well. However, compared to other versions it feels slightly jerky.

Across the levels there's the odd bit of street furniture to interact with or dodge, but not really enough to keep up the mad tone of the game, and the bystanders are a missed opportunity for some encouraging banter or vicious verbals.

Complete a level and you can learn a new skill or choose another character to play as (you can swap them out during fights). In standard mode you can pretty much wade through most levels, with the odd soda can or pizza helping replenish your health.

The game definitely isn't quite as smooth as the original, and with five or more characters on-screen feels rather choppy. Enemy attacks vary from dumb to all over the place, which might suit the tone of the game, but fighting purists probably won't like the big boxer character endlessly pummeling at thin air rather than coming to attack.

Also, your attacks can be way past an enemy and still hit them, which doesn't feel in the spirit of the game. The ability to corral enemies into a corner and wipe them out in one go feels cheap too. Still, with plenty of variety and imagination (of the bad 70/80s cop series variety) going into the enemies, the game doesn't get boring.

There's also some neat touches, like if you keep dying on the tricky lift level, which is easy to do, eventually it will let you survive the long fall to keep on with the battle. That, some new touches like the bomber drones and exploding chemical frogs, plus a curiosity to see what comes next should keep you going to the end. Yes, this is a pretty short game, but still worth having a crack at.

Score: 7/10
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Price: £7.99 (PSN), currently £6.39 for PS+ subs
Developer/publisher Crazyant/Ratalaika
File size 213MB
Progress: 5th Round

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Sony patents new memory card, only $49 per GB!

Kidding about the price! But Sony has form for screwing over fans every chance it gets. It also continues to keep teasing new technology that would only make sense in a portable or hybrid capacity.

Update: Or not, its actually for the Toio gadget thing that Sony only sells in Japan. Quite why the patent only came to light now is part of the random madness of the Internet.

The PS4 doesn't need memory cards or cartridges, I have a 2TB external drive that attests to that. However, the PS5 might need a way to send lots of data between the main console and an on-the-go device, without resorting to slow mobile cloud speeds, until 5G is everywhere in about 2024.

As found by Dutch site Techtastic, a recently published document on the South Korean patent board, the patent shows various images (PDF) with what looks suspiciously like a proprietary port (doesn't seem like a USB C) to prevent people connecting them to PCs and hacking the data. Hey, it wouldn't be Sony if they screwed this up somehow!

Another image shows a hole behind the upper cap, likely so it can tied to a keychain or strap for portability. Otherwise your guess is as good as mine, as Sony struggles to find a valid reason for gamers to upgrade from the top-selling PS4 to whatever comes next. But since its called a "game cartridge", Sony won't need them unless it has something smaller than PS5 Blu-ray titles in mind. Also, this could act as a way to keep retail stores sweet for the next generation as physical disc sales continue to fall.

If I had to guess, that touchscreen controller or a dedicated remote play device has a slot for this card/cartridge. Players buy the PS5 game and a mini-version (without 4K textures etc) of the data is copied to the cartridge, plus save data is stored automatically. Then if they want to go portable, off they trot on their HD device.

I am the Hero punches the trailer

I'm reviewing this right now, but check out the trailer ahead of this week's PSN launch for I am the Hero. So far, the game is a punchy little number with lots of fun characters to pummel, an impressive line up of moves, and plenty of oversize bosses to take down.

Presented in a unique oblique perspective, it looks distinctive while remaining true to the pixel punchers of old like Renegade. It also daubs the screen with neon colours to light up the seedy bars, subways, dingy depots and other shitholes our anti-hero has to scrap his way though. Full review soon.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Root Letter getting the movie treatment

Visual novel series Root Letter is getting the Hollywood treatment, as was teased recently and confirmed in the image below. Popular among western Vita owners, thanks to PQube/Rice Digital, the tales of loss and love in as series of letters create a slow and soulful series of adventures. The original has sold over 400K units worldwide with a very long tail, likely over 500K by now, most on Vita. 

But, that's pretty much all we know, there's nothing up on IMDB yet and the partnership between Kadokawa Games and Akatsuki (an LA production company) still has wet ink on it. This looks like Akatsuki's first signed venture, so as with all things Hollywood, who knows if it gets made. 

Top Vita games for 2019!

I was planning to write a "Vita in 2019" piece, but @KeyBladeGamer has crafted this video together of the best games coming out next year, and that pretty much does the job perfectly. From the likes of Code Realize to Catherine (Japan only alas) and Pixel Noir, Hardcore to Seraphim, there's still a small barrel full of delights to come for Vita loyalists.

As for a Sony portable future, we can only hope PS5 in 2020 comes with some type of Remote Player device as standard to play in the hybrid era. I'm guessing not a huge percentage of users play their Switch undocked in the west, but it still has to be something Sony is aware of, and Microsoft also has its own plans for cloud and remote gaming.

As for the Vita, prices will go up as scarcity increases and it becomes a collector's item. But I hope we all realise development is at the very tail end, and it will take labour-of-love type efforts to get more new games. Even so, the Mega Drive and Dreamcast are still ticking along, so who knows what might pop up.

When Vita is finally officially retired by Sony, I do hope they show off their lab-grown successor devices that never made it to retail, just to see what could have been.

Japan's PlayStation Awards broadcast in English

Over the coming weekend if you want to see a barrel of PS4 worship, and perhaps five seconds of a Vita game getting a mention, check out Sony Japan's PlayStation Awards. Doubtless there will be lots of politeness about the top sellers and no mention of PS4 being caned by the Switch in Japan.

Given a Vita game has been a rare sight in the Japanese charts this year, not sure what there is to celebrate although the likes Va-11 Hall-a and Reverie got a lot of media coverage in Japan and likely sales on PSN, so here's hoping for a spot of kudos in the indie section.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Dragonfly Chronicles tells its tale on the Vita

Marco Ayala's Dragonfly Chronicles is a surprise December release for the Vita, a retro-arcade title with platform and shooter elements, it looks pretty primitive, but if it plays okay, then we can look past that at this stage of the Vita's life.

Launched in the summer on PC, it got no reviews, suggesting this is a very under the radar release. here's the game's bio. Dragonfly Chronicles is a 2D Action-Adventure game full of challenge and fun for single player. Play as Mark West in his path to find what happened to his father and what is The Dragonfly conspiring, make your way through each level, use powerfull skills to destroy deadly enemies and creatures, find different items to reveal more data, play in super fast levels as you escape from exploding facilities and enjoy awesome comic-book cinematic cutscenes!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Vita edges along in a Japan dominated by Switch and Pokemon

Good news, Vita sales were flat last week in Japan at almost 1,800, even edging up a few on the previous week. Bad news, Switch sales went stratospheric, leaping 4X to over 200,000, in other words a 100 times what the Vita sold and 88% of the total market. Pokemon Let's Go had something to do with that selling over 650K units.

Are you happy with your marketing and successor choices now Sony? Sobbing over the concept models that might have made Vita 2 a competitor and kept you in the game rather than letting Nintendo steal all your cake?

Even more good news, a Vita game sneaked into the chart, down at 20 admittedly, but VN Twilight Line is the first game for Sony portable to visit the chart in a good few weeks. 

PSO2 vs Persona 3 and 4 Mashup, cause why not?

Yep, Sega has pillaged every other series for cross over content, from the recent Monster Hunter efforts to just about every other series that's big in Japan. The new one seems a fairly low-key effort with a Persona Labyrinth, some character art of characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 with characters, costumes, accessories and mats.

More pics here (JP).

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kenka Bancho Otome 2nd Rumble trailer

Bobble-headed brawling is the latest feature among the character introductions in Spike Chunsoft's Kenka Bancho Otome 2nd Rumble, perhaps one of the last major published titles hitting the Vita in Japan. If you're a fan, the official site has Twitter banners and icons and more to play with, following the theme of the original Girl Beats Boys tale from the popular manga.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Trailer for Kemco's RPG de jour, Marenian Tavern Story: Patty and the Hungry God

Cooking games are popular, RPGs are popular, you can almost see the jackpot signs lighting up behind the eyes of Kemco's big boss as he cranks up the production line another notch. That might be the cynical approach, but hey, this trailer for Marenian Tavern Story: Patty and the Hungry God, actually looks like it has some soul to it.

Update: Despite it mentioning Vita on the Video title, it might not be, so don't get even slightly excited just yet!

Running the bar in an RPG world you need to keep the kitchen stocked and the customers happy, which makes for a neat mix. As you rake in the profits, you can improve the hostelry to attract bigger and better-paying customers. If we ignore the cookie-cutter characters, I think this could be rather fun, in a grindy kind of way.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Sony ditching E3 in 2019, new plans afoot?

While Sony yells about the mega sales of the PS4, now past 86 million units in five years, it still had the corporate sneakiness to bury the fact it won't be at E3 next year. Rather than just be honest about this news, it was buried in the report, causing the usual fuss. Sony could have made the statement clear and in bold, and there would be about 10% of the drama being shown.

But why the low-key effort and why won't it be there? Given that PlayStation 5 is lurking in a lab somewhere, it sounds to me like Sony had a long-standing plan for PlayStation 5 that has since been derailed by the hybrid success of the Switch and Microsoft’s new focus on cloud “any-device” gaming.

The portable factor? 

Likely, I suspect Sony is revising its next-gen plan to include mobile, any-device or play-anywhere gaming as part of the package, instead of the PS4/Vita Remote Play combo that didn’t take off when Sony cancelled its portable. It needs to be part of launch because if you make it an extra like PSVR, then only a tiny fraction of the users will adopt it.

Will this be a touchscreen controller as in the one Sony patented recently with a larger screen? Will it require a complete re-engineering of PlayStation Network to link multiple devices and services? Either way it sounds like Sony has had to delay PS5, which is the only reason it wouldn't want to be toe-to-toe with Microsoft at the world's biggest game show next year.

Microsoft can use the time to flog Xbox One X2 and Nintendo a more portable Switch next year. Sony will be in no hurry to launch PS5 having trounced Xbox this gen, and since they canned Vita 2, all their resources can be focused on the one product, no matter how many parts there are to it.

Of course, there are plenty of other events Sony can show a PS5 at, in Japan, Europe, or it can host its own global press event at a time exactly of its choosing. That might be next year, more likely 2020, but any later and it risks losing fans to other devices.

Me, I got my PS4 last week and have a five-year catch up to get on with, so I don't really care.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

13 Sentinels unlucky for Vita owners in Japan

Atlus has announced Aegis Rim: 13 Sentinels won't come out for the Vita in Japan. The game has had its 2018 release date officially shuffled to "TBA", extending the endless delays on this game, and formats changed to PS4 only. As translated from the Japanese announcement below.

[Before change]
Scheduled release date: 2018
Compatible models: PlayStation ® 4, PlayStation ® Vita

[After change]
Expected release date: to be determined
Compatible models: PlayStation ® 4

Even if it had released on Vita in Japan, the chances of Atlus bringing the handheld version west were probably pretty remote given the latest shift in release date.

Good job I just picked up a PS4 I guess, but this news can't really come as a surprise as Vita sales drift ever lower and developers look to squeeze modern gaming concepts and tech into a very old platform.

Basically, that's it for major developers working on the Vita in Japan, so indies, ports and retro releases are the future, but probably not for long. No worry though, most of us have years worth of backlogs, and most Vita games still look good enough that I'll be happy going through my library from launch day Uncharted to more recent releases all over again.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Vita sales slide into the night in Japan

Media Create's latest figures show the Vita's sales matching trend with last year but reduced to just under 2,000 sales for the last couple of weeks. The million yen (£6,785) question is will it pick up at all over the seasonal selling period, or is it doomed to float quietly to the bottom. Consider the Switch sold over 54K this week while the PS4 managed 16K, slow clap for Sony's product and marketing teams.

No games in the Media Create chart and it looks there might never be again at this rate. Atelier of the New Earth Nelke and the Legendary Alchemists  from Gust is out next real hope, out on 13 December.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Microsoft's cloud gaming effort suggests a Vita-ish future

Hmm, this is twice I've written about Microsoft recently. First for their icky concepts for smartphone controllers. Now, over the weekend, the company held a big show that was mostly about Game Pass, its cloud streaming game service that's pretty-much device agnostic. As if MS is fast moving away from the "Most Powerful Console in the World" as those endless adverts insist.

Update: Kotaku seems to be agreeing with me!

Like many other powerful things, X1 sales aren't amazing. Will there be an Xbox Two? Of course, it won't go the way of selling Windows upgrades, Nokia phones, Windows Mobile, Zune music players etc. But it might not be the expensive hyper-box fans would hope for. Will there be AAA console-exclusives? yes, but the time and cost of these projects is unsustainable expect for a few keystone projects.

Instead, Game Pass is now globally available on iOS and Android, with more devices to come. But, console games, on a phone? Even with a crappy controller bolted on to it? You can see where this is going, right? More games on Game Pass and PS Now, more platforms? All you need is a good device to play them on. So why not an Xbox-branded game device that does the job perfectly?

The Cloud is Where its At

Where MS has found success in recent years to take up the slack from all the failed hardware is in cloud and services. That's where its gaming future seems to lie. Game Pass at $10 a month for a bunch of games you can play on any device sounds pretty cool, like PlayStation Now, but with a wider spread. And with so many services, why not one box that plays them all? even suggests that the service could arrive on Switch or PS5, which would earn major subscription bucks and put a host of games on new platforms. That's assuming the platform holders agree, and Sony rarely plays nicely with others, until the fans pick up their pitchforks.

With PS Now worth just under $150 million a quarter, and many companies preferring to tout their service income rather than hardware sales (even Apple is going this way), your gaming future could be cast in this Netflix-like light. And services in isolation are bad, just ask Microsoft!

But most controller-based games need a few buttons and nothing has come close to the Vita. Sales of those mobile controllers are tiny. So, if all the big names in gaming want an anywhere, any-platform, any-service, gaming-device, surely a 5G Android Vita spiritual successor, would work best, casting to HD TVs and encouraging multiplayer.

Just a thought!

Battle Princess Madelyn launch trailer, 2019 for Vita

Handpicked Games and CBit's Battle Princess Madelyn retro platformer is hitting the major formats this year, a little later than planned. but it is still coming for the Vita and Wii U, just a little later - into 2019. Still can't wait to get my hands on it, but this might be one I pick up on the Switch for time-sensitivity and the higher res detail.

Will still get on Vita for the trophies, but likely not that many as a I usually get stuck a few levels into these types of Ghosts n Goblins games, and hammer away at the that level from time to time, until I get bored or somehow make it through.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The circle is now complete, PS Vita meet PS4

I'm not the earliest of adopters of regular consoles. I only got an XBox 360 when the Jasper non-RROD model came out. My PS3 was one of the cheap skinny models with dust-trap styling, and now I have a PlayStation 4 slim model to stretch my gaming life out a few more years. 

Mainly it'll take over alongside my Switch as the release list for Vita games dries up. Thanks to PS+ and Cross Play, I already have a long list of titles to enjoy. I can enjoy all the visual effects as they were designed, and not have to squint at tiny text on the Vita screens. But I guess most of you know this already with your own PS4 experiences. 

And, of course, I can go PS4-ing on the go. Early signs of strong Remote Play are good, with a blast of Resogun working fine around the home. Based on others' experience, pretty sure I know what to do if problems do start. And, I look to forward to trying long-distance play.  

In case you were worried, this won't mean the end of PS Vita Roundup, which easily has a good year of official life left in it before we hit the crazy world of hyper-indie and legacy backlogs. And my PS3 is far from done, I have quite a few games still to finish and a modest backlog on that too. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

NIS America waves bye to the Vita with trio of physical releases

NIS America will grace its homeland at least, no word of an EU release, with a trio of Vita physical releases as a final farewell to Sony's handeheld. Penny Punching Princess (review), The Lost Child (trailer) and The Longest 5 Minutes (review) will neatly slot into any collector's shelves as a nice bookend from one the Vita and PSP's staunchest supporters.

Landing on March 19, that's perhaps a key date as physical release production wraps up and we're left with the Sony-can't-be-arsed-to-update-it PSN store and a dwindling supply of Vita hardware.

Still, thanks to NIS America for their support, from the fun of the Criminal Girls and, of course, bringing us the mighty Danganronpa games. Plus the deeper PSP titles like Aedis Eclipse and Disgaea. Which I'm sure will all be getting HD updates for the Switch.

Note: these are selling out fast on the NIS America store.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Retro-platformer Ghoulboy swings at the Vita

He's got a (fake) viking helmet and a big sword, among a range of other weapons. Wrap Ghoulboy in an unashamedly retro skin, with excellent chiptune music and old-screen effects, and we have a classic platform romp headed to the Vita packed with puzzles and challenges. Dolores Entertainment is bringing the Serkan Bakar-coded original to consoles soon.

The Steam version launched last year and has mostly positive reviews. Ghoulboy is combines action-RPG with hack 'n' slash fun. It brings back the look and feel of the very best classic retro platformers from the 90's, introducing refreshed and engaging gameplay mechanics. Digital and physical releases are promised.

Monday, November 5, 2018

New Konosuba RPG shows Vita party isn't quite over in Japan

It has been a while, but a new Vita game has actually been announced (ignoring the endless stream of romance VNs). The drought is broken thanks to Entergram with a new KonoSuba RPG: God's Blessing announced for Japan. The short announce trailer shows off a dash of classic JRPG action, and a racing tune, hopefully lots more to come.

Update; The game has a release date for the end of March 2019, and a host of new fan-service in the bonus "goddess cultivation game" For more information if you'd care to hit auto-translate on the link, or just stare at the pretty pictures.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review: Fast Striker

Hot(ish) from the Dreamcast and NEO-GEO comes a fun and pacy shooter to warm up your arcade reflexes this winter. Fast Striker from NG:DEV.TEAM joins the Vita's rich list of arcade shmups including TxK, Velocity Ultra, Neon Chrome, DariusBurst and others with a rip-roaring 60fps blast spread over six stages, with four different ship/game modes.

At its default view, Fast Striker takes up a tiny window for crisp and clear original pixels in the middle of the Vita's screen. You can scale the view up to make things bigger but things appear less clean as you near full screen view, still playable though. In the background, raving dance anthems blast out as you dodge massive ships and endless volleys of fire.

Your Fast Striker ship is nimble enough to weave in and out of the action, but when you start firing your vessel slows down, so careful use of the fire button is required. When enemies die, they drop tokens, which will gravitate toward your ship if you stop firing, creating some fun risk/reward mechanics. Shields (circle) help keep your craft out of a tight spot, or you can use them to crash through a fleet of enemy ships. Extra lives and a smattering of continues can help you build up the knowledge and skills to make it deeper into the game.

Below the battle, tiled industrial or sci-fi city scenes help set a dark tone for the game, and help make the bold-coloured incoming fire more obvious. One quirk is lots of different-looking tokens appear, they can look like enemy fire at first, some consistency or border colour would be helpful here, but you soon learn.

The real focus of the game is to get the highest score possible through chains, bonuses, accuracy and so on. A shame the high scores aren't online to give you something to compare your efforts to! The different modes, Novice, Original, Maniac and Omake (new for the PlayStation version) have different scoring systems and up the volume of firepower, as best demonstrated by the game's official screenshot page.

Also worth remembering is that you shoot behind you with the square button to take out any lurkers. Among all the chaos keeping a good line through the bullets is key to your long term survival, most times it feels more like luck than design, but somehow you can squeeze through many impossibly tight situations.

Its annoying there's nothing in the digital manual about what all the extras are. What's a "tech bonus" and who is the blue robot you shoot for extra tokens? Some context would be really helpful, with perhaps a few hints about what the game's secrets are. Still, if you like repetitive shooting, Fast Striker provides a quick blast of action, but perhaps lacks the sophistication of recent games, and it still isn't Ikaruga!

Score: 7/10
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Price: £5.79 (PSN, Cross Buy)
Developer/publisher: NG:DEV.TEAM/EastAsiaSoft
File size 99MB
Progress: Many bullets dodged