Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sharin no Kuni Vita update from the Kickstarter project

Kickstarter (remember them) project Sharin no Kuni: The Girl Among the Sunflowers is still coming to the Vita, and the developers (via a third party) are still trying to squeeze a physical release out for backers. Here's the latest from an update. The revamp of the 10-year old visual novel is complete and the final push is on.

About the status of the Vita version development

Recently, the number of comments from backers who pledged for the Vita version and are worried about the possibility of the version itself not existing has been increasing, due to the fact that the production deadline for the platform has passed. We want to deeply apologize for the lack of communication and for not answering our backer’s questions properly, which has understandably caused much dissatisfaction and raised your concerns.

First, we want to assure everyone that there are currently no plans of changing or removing any of the rewards we initially offered in the campaign. As we said in the update titled "Project Progress Update #11: Explanation Of Development Status And Revised Schedule", we re-evaluated the development schedule to give utmost priority to the Vita version the moment we knew about the deadline. As a result, right now the development of the Vita version has finished and we will proceed with the subsequent steps.

However, although the development of the Vita port itself has indeed finished, the manufacturing and publishing process has been consigned to an external company, and right now we cannot unilaterally disclose the progress of this process due to contract confidentiality terms.

At the very least, right now we can assure you that you will receive your Vita rewards, despite the production deadline having passed. We're currently still working on the manufacturing.

Right now we're in talks with this company, and after they finish we will let everyone know about the current status in an update as soon as possible.

Review: Access Denied

Hello, a 3D game on the Vita! Although as a puzzle game, Access Denied is hardly stretching the hardware. A series of 36 locked-box puzzles face the player, spinning each mystery device around with the triggers to get a better look at the complex designs of each physical puzzle.

Some have buttons or sliders, others have their own controls, number pads or sigils and hidden clues, often requiring some zooming in or out (triangle and square) to find the key details to solve the puzzle. Each one comes out of a mysterious lift on a desk that has various tools scattered around it, along with a clock showing the actual time.

Judging by the constant dripping, its either raining or there's a leak somewhere, and is that a storm rumbling in the background? While that helps create an atmosphere, there's no explanation or background as to why we're doing all this.

Most of the puzzles are pretty straightforward after some tentative stabs at what each one does. Understanding what you need to do can take a few minutes and sometimes the controls aren't particularly intuitive, adding an extra layer of angst. The further you go, there are puzzles on multiple faces of the object, some of which you need to constantly move between to work out a solution.

Beyond that, there's not a huge amount to say about the game, all we have is a no-nonsense puzzler that's nicely dressed up, but with none of the speed challenge of Squares or the quirkiness of Open Me! There's no different solutions or different ways to play, but I'd say you might just about get your money's worth.

Score: 7/10
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Price: £3.99 (PSN)
File size: 156MB
Developer/Publisher Stately Snail/Ratalaika
Progress: Platinum

Monday, February 25, 2019

Kenka Bancho 2nd Rumble trailer

Spike has dropped the intro character video for Kenka Bancho 2nd Rumble, as the girl has to put the boys in their place with another bout of match-making visual novel fun. No idea what the difference between this and the first game is, but fans in Japan only have until mid-March to wait.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Devious Dungeon 2 announced for Vita

Keeping the Vita's 7th birthday celebrations rattling along, Ratalaika Games dropped news that it has just started porting Devious Dungeon 2 to the Vita. Coming soon, the original was a fun dose of knightly platforming. Hopefully the sequel has added a touch more depth and new features. Reviews of the mobile version suggest that's the case so can't wait to explore this in the spring.

Happy 7th Birthday Vita, how to survive the coming apocalypse

So, the Vita made it seven years old in the US and Europe, and still hasn't been officially killed off, yet. Seven years with no true updates to a mobile chipset is proof of the engineering prowess of Sony's wizards, and the company's complete inability to market it.

But, mostly this year, thanks goes to the small band of developers and publishers that keep the release list ticking over! So much love and respect.

So, while we can, let's celebrate many people's first exposure to an OLED screen and a battery that still soldiers on, making other devices look rather feeble. Who needs HD when 960 by 544 pixels is good enough. My launch model is still going strong with vivid colour and hours of play! And for that I'm truly grateful, along with unique imagination-busting experiences like Tearaway.

Bonus point in you know where the "7" comes from! (not a Vita game) 
This is also the last official birthday as Sony Japan has moved the execution closer, but is still only saying "soon" for an end to production. Oddly enough, that piece of news caused way more stories than this birthday.

The big questions Sony needs to answer:

Once the candles on the cake are blown out, the hangover really is the end for the Vita. A sturdy piece of hardware with eight years of punching way above its modest weight. Soon newly made Vita hardware, consoles, memory cards and accessories will get scarce.

Prices will only go up, and people are already wondering how to protect and manage their digital game collection, wondering about those cloud saves, and what will happen to PSN games, trophies and the Vita's useful apps.

I emailed Sony PlayStation PR for some specific information on post-Vita memory card availability, PSN lifespan, system buying options, support and so on - but never heard back. I asked Sony support to sort out the EU store "Latest "updates on the Vita to benefit the hard working developers still bringing games - and never heard back. In other words, don't expect any help from them.

While third-parties can provide batteries, spare analog sticks and other components, since Sony won't talk I guess the answer is to buy what you can now? If you're not sure, here's the current state of affairs.

The hard(ware) questions

Vita production ends in 2019, Sony won't be going back on that one. In some small part of a giant Chinese Sony factory, the last units are rolling off the production line, and there will be no more. All of these are headed to the Asian market, so if you want a new Vita import from Japan or use eBay or another service to snaffle a new unit.

We already know that game card production in the west ceases soon, and will continue in limited numbers for Japan for a while. Hopefully slack production means the odd limited physical release will continue through the likes of EastAsiaSoft, but those limited runs and lack of physical releases mean the future is largely through digital sales via PSN.

When it comes to memory cards, the prices have never really fallen, and limited supply will keep them high. Sony shows no sign of cutting the prices or releasing an official SD card adapter to widen the options.  The sooner you can snap up a backup card or two the better.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Kemco's Bonds of the Skies float down to Vita

Harking back to 2013 on iOS and Android, and more recently on 3DS, Kemco is doling out another dollop of RPG fun for Vita and PS4 owners soon. A trophy listing for Bonds of the Skies suggests it won't be long until we're romping through the usual batch of pixelly forests, dungeons and villages on more happy quests to find missing gods and save the world.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Catherine Full Body half-heartedly hits the Japanese chart

Selling 9,200 copies, Catherine Full Body is probably the last Vita game to make a major dent in the Media Create chart in Japan, landing at No. 13. That's pretty far behind the 51K sold by the PS4 version at No. 2, a sad but predictable end.

However, if niche publishers want to the give the Vita a punt, Golden Corda Octave proves there's still plenty of life in it - selling 4,500 physical copies at No. 17 and probably a lot more on PSN to make visual novels still worthwhile - as it was with the end of the PSP's life.

With the news that production will end "soon" in Japan, unit sales rise a little to 1,767 for last week, and might head up a little more, but these are pretty much the last twitches of positive movement. What's for sure is if you want a Vita or a spare unit, get it now as prices will shoot up.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Daggerhood stabs a Vita trailer in the back

Out this week on PSN, Woblyware's Daggerhood is a pixelly thief at the top of his game, presumably until we take control, as he soon ends up being thrown into the forsaken caverns for his crimes.

Filled with the desire for freedom and revenge, Daggerhood is after some royal treasure, with the clever game mechanic of a magic dagger that he can throw and reclaim by teleporting to its current position to get past traps, obstacles and other dangers.

Spread over 100 levels, this looks a bit more active than previous effort Devious Dungeon and perhaps as challenging as League of Evil.

Trophies are up with a Platinum and a smattering of gold. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Awesome Pea shoots over to the Vita in March

I'm getting kind of nostalgic about and used to the green-screen Game Boy effect, thanks to the likes of Super Life of Pixel and others. Now, here comes Awesome Pea, a Steam platformer from Pigeon Dev, headed to consoles thanks to the efforts of the delightful Sometimes You. Packing in plenty of challenge (and frogs), it looks like another great dose of classic fun.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Review Mixups by POWGI

I love word games. On TV I'm a sofa Countdown king, in the back of papers, anything to keep my mind ticking over during downtime or travel. Would I play this on the PS4? Unlikely, but on the Vita Mixups is a fun and friendly distraction.

The mechanics are universal and simple, each theme has six pages of clues and letters, where you need to make three words or phrases related to the theme. With 120 themes there's plenty to be exploring, with trophies scattered around some of the harder selections.

From what I gather the themes are petty much universal, i.e., the baseball theme isn't going to stump non-Yanks with "designated hitter" and English monarchs won't throw any of the totally obscure or short-lived ones for non anglophiles. Astrology shouldn't require divine inspiration while others will test both spelling and memory - other sections take a little liberty with the language, like the pirate talk, to provide an extra chuckle.

Instead, I can breeze past the first couple of pages, and then get stumped when I'm suddenly convinced "Womble" should be a part of the human anatomy, or trying to figure out a pointy object that isn't fork or a bird that's not a puffin, even though the letters are there. There's a non-gameplay element of having fun trying to guess what words will come up, and I was quite often surprised (no porcupine - seriously?)

A little lateral thinking can help, but generally I plodded away despite there being three or four suitable but incorrect answers on a page. It would be cool if you could note down your wrong answers somewhere, so when you come back to a page later, you don't make the same mistake twice, but that might cramp the otherwise clear and simple UI.

With a tinkly happy tune in the background and some basic sound effects, this won't task the Vita's battery much. Just as well, as the hours flew by while trying to make up palindromes or think of desperately tenuous colour names, camel is a shade, right?

When truly stuck a hint option is available, showing the first letter of a word, but that'd be cheating, right? If you like word games, this is great fun, if you want to improve your (or the family's) vocabulary, it also provide a useful tool. POWGI and Lightwood have a great little puzzle niche going here with the likes of Pic-A-Pix Color among a growing roster, and in the twilight of the Vita's release schedule, all are welcome.

Score: 7/10
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Price: £6.49 (PSN)
Developer/publisher: POWGI/Lightwood
File size 270MB
Progress: Where's "Penguin" dammit!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Moves and shaking at PlayStation HQ

A couple of news bits usually best left for the financial pages, but they do have some impact on Sony's future for PlayStation, so I'll dig into them here.

Firstly, Sony just announced its first ever share buyback program. This common corporate tool (in all senses) is used when companies are making a "bit too much" money. They buy back their own shares to boost the stock price in the short term, so investors can sell their holdings for a bit of a lift, and perhaps buy more as they sniff out future buybacks in a cyclic feeding frenzy.

This is straight of the lazy MBA playbook. And, while Sony shareholders have had a bit of a battering over the decade, the last three years have been very rewarding, so there's no real need.

That near $1 billion is useful money. It could - and in Sony's case definitely should - be invested in PlayStation 5 features, like a Vita compatible remote player (just saying) and in adding to the hardware power of future products. Also, future game development, not just AAA titles but funding for smaller studios, encouraging indies and so on.

Okay, so the money covers all of Sony, including Xperia phones (still not selling well), cameras (a dying market) and TV screens (no profit), but since PS4 has made Sony most of its revenue in recent years, it would seem only fair to reinvest it in that future.

Even if that's not acceptable, while Sony's debt is way down from the dark days, given the uncertain nature of the console biz, minimizing it might also be a better use of the money! Note, any exec who says having debt is a good thing is a brain-dead idiot! I have proof.

The Jim Ryan Show

 Next up is Jim Ryan appointed as the new Sony Interactive Entertainment president and CEO from April. The usual corporate bullshit from the demoted John Kodera, likely weeping into his payoff at the humiliation, says:
"Jim has extensive knowledge around the game business and industry, as well as deep understanding of the PlayStation culture and strengths. I am confident that he will lead us to greater success as CEO of SIE. I will continue to support Jim by contributing to further strengthening user engagement, and to the overall growth of the PlayStation business."
I'm trying to think where Jim Ryan expressed an actual opinion rather than just toeing the company line or sounded less than a Sony automaton (one PlayStation Pets family anecdote does not a human make). He does indeed know his stuff, but he's been at Sony for 25 years and damn well should! The problem is where do the new ideas come from if he's firmly singing from company song sheet?

Sony's board and senior leads are all pretty much the old-boys PlayStation club, and you can bet that the institutional level antipathy to cross-platform play, their aversion to retro gaming and backward compatibility, and death to anything portable will continue.

Vita performed poorly as we know, and as corporate souls first and foremost, they never talk about or look to see what went wrong and where can we do better (like Nintendo did going from the calamitous Wii U to Switch!) With that sort of work ethic, it doesn't sound good for any future Sony portable hardware.

I'd love Sony to prove me wrong, but whereas Nintendo and Microsoft are throwing ideas around to see what sticks, Sony feels very stuck-in-its-ways to me.

More Golden Corda Octave girly fun for Japan

Japan's Vita release list is looking not-quite-as-bare as in the west, but things are definitely sluggish. Next up is another Golden Corda Octave outing in the latest romance otome effort from Ruby Party. The games had a great run on the PSP over that handheld's life, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is a HD update, also coming to Switch.

Monday, February 11, 2019

GhoulBoy looms as a EastAsiaSoft physical release

After getting a digital release last year, GhoulBoy is making the leap to a physical copy with a limited release from EastAsiaSoft. With excellent chiptune music and old-style screen effects, it offers classic platform romp packed with puzzles and challenges.

Pre-orders go live on the 14th and the game is limited to 1,000 copies each on Vita and PS4.

Update: Annoyingly, the PSN release is US-only on 5 March, with no plans for a European release. They could have mentioned that before the pre-orders went up for the physical release.

Ghoulboy 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.

Review Heroes Trials

Somewhere, there's a happy medium between adventures and RPGs with too much plot and those that let you race through with little consideration for the NPCs in the world. Blizzard's Diablo series is probably the perfect exponent, but going a little too far toward the later is Heroes Trials.

Off  Zoel and Elia go adventuring, more or less within the first 30 seconds, wading into a simple 3D land to prove themselves worthy. After some initial chat, the other characters around the game are pretty much pointless. Instead our two heroes, swap around to use their magical or sword attacks, depending on the enemy. They roam around a sparse landscape, on the lookout for treasure and health among the shrubs.

Fighting is the only way to advance, using their various strengths of sword or magical attack to defeat the blobby-looking demons. There are a steady stream of monsters to whack, although it is good to see you can avoid a lot of unnecessary combat. The two set off to complete a series of trials to see who will become guardian of their kingdom. But, in reality, you cast a few spells, lob a few bombs, and visit a few stores, with some rare useful treasures to pick up along the way.

Clocking Off From Adventuring

The game is played against the clock, so you won't want to waste any time, but the developer's big claim that "An adventure like no other. Two heroes, two ways of playing against the clock." doesn't ring true as they stumble around to master the Tower of Akron.

There's no tactics to the combat, blocking with a shield is rarely needed. There's no sense of achievement (apart from a quick and easy Platinum) and all you really have to do is follow the map to the next "quest."

Heroes Trials feels like Japanese developer Shinyuden's first game development effort - it is certainly their only game listed on Stream. Sure, everyone has to start somewhere, but I know there are more valuable and rewarding games out there that could be ported.

Graphically, the game looks simple enough on the Vita's small screen, I dread to think how bad the Cross Buy PS4 version looks on a larger display. There's a few effects thrown around, but literally nothing to get excited about.

On the plus side, if Shinyuden make enough money to work on their engine, add some complexity, depth and a bit of love to their games, then it is worth supporting if future efforts will have more to them. But this is the generic paracetamol of games with stock woods, icy and dungeon levels, few interesting enemies or attacks to learn and no love to feel for the heroes.

Score: 4/10
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Price: £4.99 (PSN)
Developer/publisher: Shinyuden/Ratalaika
File size 350MB
Progress: Bored in the sticks

Code Realize Wintertide Miracles and Mixups by Powgi head to Vita this week

Another three games out this week, showing the Vita bumbling along quite happily in 2019. They are led by Aksys and Idea Factory's late Code: Realize visual romantic novel.

Slightly less exciting is Alvastia Chronicles from Kemco, who continue to churn out the cookie-cutter RPGs. Their press release for the Limited Run physical of Fernz Gate was a whole three lines long, showing how much they care about marketing. Still, if you like 16-bit RPGs, there's plenty more where this came from.

Finally, we have word puzzler, Mixups by Powgi, which shouldn't be underestimated, given the pleasurable and addictive nature of the rest of the puzzle producer's output.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

God of War leads January's most downloaded in the US

I'd forgotten the PlayStation US blog even did these. So, purely for reference, here's what people are still downloading from their PSN store on the Vita. Pretty sure Stardew Valley is the latest release among them, otherwise I suppose it shows that quality always sells and Sony, Atlus and Konami are still picking up a few dollars here and there.


As Assassin's Creed 3 Liberation gets the makeover for PS4/X1 next month, I guess more "didn't-sell-very-well" games will be heading to Switch and other platforms to help bump up the publisher's revenue. That has me wondering when a P4G remaster will pop up as part of the Persona teasing going on? With plenty of people thinking about getting a Vita just to play P4G, that seems to be the main reason to pick one up in 2019.

1      God of War: Collection
2 Jak and Daxter Collection
3 Persona 4 Golden
4 Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
5 Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
6 Minecraft: PlayStation Vita Edition
7 Bastion
8 Jet Set Radio
9 Stardew Valley
10 Trillion: God of Destruction

Atelier Nelke charts for Vita in Japan

A PS Vita game in the Japanese charts? Yes, its true, but barely.

Nelke... Ateliers of the New World managed to squeak into No. 16 on the latest Media Create chart for Vita. It put up just over half the sales of the Switch version and less than a quarter of the PS4 editions, showing just how far things have fallen both for the Vita and the Atelier series.

6 [PS4] Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World - 18,679 (New)
11 [SW] Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World -  8,046 (New)
16 [Vita] Nelke & the Legendary Alchemists: Ateliers of the New World -  4,589 (New)

That's a far cry from the likes of Atelier Sophie that managed this type of solid performance, back in 2015.

2. Atelier Sophie PS4 30,750
3. Atelier Sophie Vita 25,800

Vita hardware sales were down a couple of hundred over recent weeks, I still think Sony is eeking out the last stocks, with production already done. I did ask Sony UK for some detail on what was happening with end of life hardware in Japan, but they never got back to me.

Looking forward and across to the other big publisher, Famitsu's latest scores are out, with decent ratings for the Vita's next couple of outings.

Catherine Full Body (PS4/PSV) – 9/8/8/8
Kiniro no Corda Octave (NSW/PSV) – 7/8/8/8

Friday, February 1, 2019

Eve Rebirth Terror character clips and cute art

A couple of slick-looking character trailers for Eve Rebirth Terror from El Dia, headed to Japanese Vita owners this April. The sequel to the remake of the Sega Saturn game, looks like a lot of effort is going into this one, with plenty of high quality art too hopefully helping to make a big impression on gamers as the endless light romance VNs fill up much of the release schedule.