Monday, December 31, 2018

Hello 2019, where the Vita still rocks!

Welcome to 2019, effectively the last stand of the Vita against a world that has moved on several hardware generations over the eight years of its life. Yes, news and releases have slowed down in 2018, to a trickle next year, but the Vita is still firmly clutched by many gamers.

They all have their reasons, but I preferred the Vita (and PSP before it) as my primary games device because it was always there at a seconds notice, wherever I was in the world on whatever mode of transport. No endless firmware or multi-gig game updates, and the battery (even of my launch day model) and power management still laughs in the face of smartphones and the Nintendo Switch.

Then there's the huge library, from launch games that still look good today, to a still-growing roster of indies that can scratch any gaming itch. Yes, I now have a Switch, PS4 and X1 in the family, but it will take them some time to erase all the fond memories of Sony's portables.

Since I own many digitally, I can cycle through the library and replay them (having forgotten how fun they were first time around), while snapping up physicals that will see me through the inevitable delistings and closure of the Vita store in the coming years.

But ultimately, the Vita community is small enough to be a valued part of and something to care about, unlike the juggernauts of bigger or more modern consoles. It became my little corner of the Internet and I thank everyone who's visited or got in touch from gamers, developers, publishers, would-be coders and artists over the eight years I've been posting.

I hope I've helped keep the Vita flame flickering - see you in 2019!

P.S. I know the names of a few titles yet to be announced, and there's plenty of good stuff on the way!

Vita end of year sales spike to 4K in Japan

Rushing to the end of year in Japan, Sony celebrated the launch of Square's Dragon Quest Builders 2 with some 58K unit sales of PS4 hardware last week according to Media Create data. The PS Vita, with no new major releases in months still managed a decent 3,939 despite no support whatsoever, and will likely perk up further in the last week of 2018.

That will probably be the final "good" week for sales, as it drops off the radar of most Japanese publishers and retailers. Media Create still tracks the couple of hundred Xbox One sales but I don't think I'll keep going with this chart once it falls below 2K regularly, what's done is done!

Japan's otome fans will likely be flooded with easy ports and updates as other releases dry up, but beyond a few gems like  KonoSuba RPG: God's Blessing, Catherine Full Body and possibly Romancing Saga 3, pickings look pretty slim out east.

Friday, December 21, 2018

YouTube borked on Vita, and a kinda-fix

As has been widely noted, Google has updated the mobile version of its YouTube site, and it no longer works for Vita owners, giving us the "Could not find the application" error. A shame, as the way pages worked on the Vita was very good for skipping adverts, and I had a long list of bookmarks for favourite songs and channels that I could play while working or relaxing.

If you have a shortcut, the fastest fix is to change it to forcing the site to use desktop mode. Press the X on the blue bar to get rid of the annoying "We've redirected you..." message to free up some screen space.

Even with that, the desktop site has can often be rather unhelpful with stuck-in-advert loops, reverting to the mobile site at random and other quirks. However, you can still play videos, through a semi-random fix.
Wait for an advert to play, then press back on the browser menu, press play again and your video should start. You might even get through a number of different videos before you end up in an advert loop again, depending on the channel you're watching. 
That works for me mostly, your mileage may vary!

Looking at the YouTube update and engineering blog, there's no specific post about recent changes, and naturally no one to ask for a fix. Sony haven't updated the browser (Silk 3.2 according to a browsercheck, but really a Webkit-based version of NetFront) in many years. But NetFront is the Switch's choice of browser, so there must be reasonably modern updates for it, maybe there's some hope.

What we're really begging for is Sony to open up the Vita to allow third-party apps or an open source browser on there, but of course Sony won't do that! Then again, Sony finally updated a bit of the Vita store app for the first time in forever, so perhaps miracles do happen...

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Review: Super Life of Pixel

Life of Pixel was one of my favourite PS Mini games, dragging us back through the history of gaming. Super Life of Pixel is a major update that adds a bunch of features, notably the reward of trophies for all those daring pixel-perfect leaps, off-screen jumps into the unknown and risking death to explore the new secret areas.

Starting back at the dawn of consumer home computer gaming with the ZX-81, there are eight levels per computery world, with our hero the green cube Pixel leaping merrily around each level collecting diamonds, secret fruit and other goodies. Come the BBC Micro levels, he can double jump and there are more skills to learn along the way with vehicles to ride in another of the game's major updates.

Sound, colour and art style all pay homage to the machines of the time, with Speccy colour clash, bold BBC colour and gorgeous SID like tones from the C64, all the way up to the relatively modern hi-res visuals of the SNES and Amiga. There's also lots of nods to the hit games of the times, a must see for any true retro gamer.

The gameplay itself is pretty simple with well-timed leaps the order of the day, dodging the batty or robot enemies, and finding the trigger switches that play an increasingly important role in the later levels. Blue pixel relatives pop up from time to time with some sage advice, if there's some new move or way to explore.

With spikes popping up on floors and ceilings, gravity reversal and teleport points, there's a lot going on as you advance through time. Each new world brings back fond memories of gaming past, and the harsh challenges they put up.

After the first few sets of levels, the rest open up, so if one set of flick-screen puzzles proves really tough, perhaps because of the lasers, the barrel-chucking bosses etc, you can go and play levels from another era. Which is a relief, as some of the later levels are big and daunting affairs, and with only two lives per level, you can soon get fed up with one particular tricky mission.

Adding to the trickery are bubbles to float in, bombs to break up walls, jetpacks for space rides and more little joyous nostalgic moments for gamers of a certain age. If you want an extra challenge, online leaderboards show off the best times for each level.

Its impossible not to like Super Life of Pixel, such a charming adventure through time and games past, with a solid challenge. With such rich history to pick from, there will always be room for more and you might moan about not seeing a nod to your favourites. Yet, while you'll die hundreds of times getting there, its all good fun.

Score: 8/10
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Price: £9.49 (PSN, Cross Play on PS4)
Developer/publisher: Super Icon/White Moon Dreams
File size 699MB
Progress: Up to date

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Sometimes You bringing sci-fi adventure Planet RIX-13 to Vita

Sometimes You is bringing 9 Eyes' pixel adventure Planet RIX-13 to the Vita soon, based on a recent trophy listing and a spot of digging. The short, less than an hour - if you follow a guide - adventure looks like a dash of fun and is well rated on Steam from its original 2017 launch.

Update, the game is now live on PSN, priced £3.99 on the UK store.

Asdivine Hearts 2 trailer pops up

Kemco continues to pump classics RPGs out of its production line, and there's nothing wrong with that if you like endless turn-based battle and character-lite fun. Asdivine Hearts 2 offers a fresh adventure with new team-based system, old friends and new, and some very pretty pixel characters.

Picking up two years after the events of their first adventure in Asdivine Hearts, Zack and friends find themselves off on another quest, but this time to save the parallel world of Archelio,  in danger of being frozen in ice.

PS Vita Roundup's 8th Birthday, and the Vita's 7th

In a random world doing random things, I started my blog 8 years ago this month, coincidentally a year before Sony launched the Vita console in Japan, which celebrates its 7th birthday this week - not that you'd notice, Sony Japan didn't bother! Way back then, it was only hinted at as the "PSP2", then it became "NGP", before the whole "Vita" thing happened.

Based on the success of the original PSP, I had high hopes and big dreams of playing top-brand games wherever I wanted to play them. As we all know, reality bit a few years in, despite many impressive efforts at Sony and beyond.

Still the Vita has still been a great ride in gaming and writing for me. The focus on smaller games mean I got to know individual developers and publishers, who were more accessible than the first-party teams. Even today, awesome titles and ports appear, and 2019 will see my Vita party on alongside my Switch and new PS4, with many of those devs and pubs already moved on.

And a smaller user base has built a tight community of Vita lovers, gathered round the light of their OLED (or LCD) screens, championing a device that Sony long-since abandoned. Even seven years after the hardware first hit, it remains a fun little platform for coders to work on, and I hope Sony keeps farming those dev kits out to attract new coders for the PS4 and PlayStation 5. 

So, happy birthday to this blog and the Vita, and thanks to everyone who's been along for the ride and enjoyed the splurts of news and opinion that I've rattled off (over 7,100 posts, 300 games, 180 reviews, 2,600 trophies and 4,250 Twitter friends).

Plans for 2019 include publishing reviews of the games I never got round to writing, interviews with developers from what we can now call "back in the day" and a James Bond mission into the heart of Sony to find out what the "Vita 2" 2015/16 prototype was like! I guess I also need to start collecting Vita hardware before it starts hitting silly prices.
And the Vita's seventh anniversary, launched in Japan on the 17th December 2012
Thanks again, and have a great Christmas/New Year on VitaIsland!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Review: Scintillatron 4096

Few things in gaming are more beautiful than a Vita OLED alive with exploding particles and pixels, and Scintillatron 4096 crams them in larges numbers onto the small screen. With a fiendish score mechanic to keep us playing, this is right up there with TxK and Son of Scoregasm when it comes to laying out a joyous shooting experience, not bad at all for kFunction's first release.

The object of this twin-stick shooter is simple, each level has two colours of sub-atomic particle targets. Take them out in colour order with speed and accuracy, and your score will be awesome. Make a mistake or mistime a shot and your multiplier resets, while random blasting won't get you very high up the online score chart at all.

Peering down the game's well-like aperture, the action takes place on a flat plane, with your tiny vessel charging around trying to get the right angle to take the next shot. Initially, you'll try to get close to each target for an easy kill, but as the level gets busier, that becomes tougher.

Each wave is short, and the subsequent levels throw in extra challenges like hunting or sniping drones, and if you spend too long struggling for those last hits, things get even nastier. Managing the main challenge while dodging the obstacles creates a near perfect risk-and-reward challenge.  Do you take a long shot to knock out the last yellow and risk blowing your multiplier, or do you duck and dive through the carnage to get closer for a safer shot.

That's compounded by some colour objects sitting more or less on top of each other, and you have to move around to encourage them to separate or get an attractor or repeller power-up to send them in different directions, all while under fire or pressure to finish that level.

Such is the focus on the action, it was only looking at the screenshots on this page that I realised the lives and wave number were in the bottom right and the remaining time of your power-ups is bottom left, you'd never have time to look at those in the heat of battle.

The Greatest Trick the Devil Ever Pulled

Whatever the result, one of the greatest tricks that Scintillatron 4096 pulls is that between-level and end-of-game score screens take on great personal significance, as you look to see where you can improve or how you did particularly well (or badly) in a category and how you compare to the online score tables.

With tables for highest score, level, number of combos and so on, there are various ways to play the game, and lots of little tricks to pick-up, like collecting power-ups in between levels or herding enemies into a corner and picking up the three-way shooter.  Power ups give you more firepower, which can be good or bad depending on your needs. They can freeze the enemies in place or provide extra lives and a range of other tricks.

Scintillatron's start screen and trance music easily make for a great screensaver. I wish there was a way to view that without the text and scores over them. Even better if you could play your own music - the Vita always lacked that feature in the music player app. Any chance of a patch for that?

As with any game this focused, there's a few things I think are missing. A sniper zoom option for really close enemies would be cool, perhaps limited to one use per level. Also, since the aim is for perfection, how about an undo power-up if you happen to cock one shot up?

Powerups could also do with some colour differentiation to keep your focus on the action and not squinting for help in the corners of a level. And, would it be too much to ask for an endless or passive mode? And, yes the Vita lacks the PS4's two player mode, but that doesn't feel like a great loss.

While I do love the music, the discordant sound effects and retro speech synthesis seriously grate. I know why the voice sounds a bit like Gauntlet, but its one more distraction I don't need in the middle of a tough level. At least you can turn the speech volume down.

Also, I see the same scores on levels rather too often, if I get 58,600 on level one, one more time!!! So, perhaps either an extra speed or accuracy factor on the score calculator would be good to shake things up.

In reasonably short bursts, Scintillatron is a fun demonic challenge, and hopefully plenty of Vita owners will get their names on those online high score charts.

Score: 8/10
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Price: £7.99 (PSN)
Developer/publisher: kFunction
File size 257MB
Progress: Top of the combo scores (for now)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

BitDungeon + the latest Red Art Physical Release

Arriving on January 25th and limited to 2,000 copies, pixel dungeon rogue-like BitDungeon+ from Dolores Entertainment is another indie charmer getting a well-deserved boxed release. Trapped in a prison cell, you explore randomized dungeons and hack and slash your way through dangerous bosses.

The difficultly increases as you become stronger and stronger. Build your character how you want with deadly passive abilities. Just like the classic quarter crunchers of old, if you die you lose everything and start all over. Can you make it to the end and save the day?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Vita sales perk up to around 2.5K in Japan

It is very hard to get excited about any jump in Vita sales these days. but the old dog managed 2,484 in last week's Media Create figures as the holiday season sales start in earnest. That's just a tad lower than the Switch at 280,000, taking 75% of the whole Japanese hardware market, helped by the arrival of Super Smash Bros.

For reference, the Switch also passed the Vita's lifetime sales last week. It took less than two years to outsell the Vita in Japan, an impressive achievement for Nintendo and a sad indictment on how poorly Sony handled its second and last handheld.

SSB sold 1.2 million copies, showing just how much Japan loves their Switches, with 8 of the top 10 games for the hybrid. No Vita games in the chart, but Atelier of the New Earth is out this week across all formats, so might not even make the smallest of dents.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Some Eve Rebirth Terror glossy pics

Japanese sites are full of glowing imagery from El Dia's Eve Rebirth Terror, here's a few of the more interesting shots. Check out the rest for yourself, plus the list of characters and crew. The sequel to Eve Burst Error, it very likely won't come west, so enjoy and wonder what all the fuss is about!

The game launches in Japan at the end of April, and continues the story after the original game, a year on with the failing Amagi private detectives struggling to find cases to make ends meet. As people start going missing again, there's mysteries to solve as this VN adventure picks up the pace.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Review Va-11 Hall-a

When the world is going to hell, head to a bar. That sounds like good advice to me, and while the bar (well, pub) I have in mind for the upcoming Brexit nightmare is in a secluded beach cove with great views, needs must. So, the people of the dystopian nightmare that is Glitch City head to Va-11 Hall-a (Valhalla) to ease the pain and unload some of their woes on the local bar tender.

There's techno-terrorism, idol worship, business worries, personal dramas, pretty much anything you'd find working a real bar, just without the mopping up. The aim of the game is to get the drinks right, from a mix of five ingredients, with optional ice, ageing, mixing or blending.

Get that right and you earn hefty tips to help pay the bills, decorate the flat that passes for your home and buy some trinkets to keep you sane. Arcade games provide a small distraction, but you really need to focus on the orders, and not skip text in case you miss something.  Make enough mistakes and its game over, back to that last save point.

While Valhalla is classed as a visual novel, its actually pretty light on plot and there's no real choices to make. You just need to keep an eye on what your customers are ordering, ignoring the fact they might be a brain-in-a-jar, some mil-spec nut job or just a hack out for gossip. Approach in the right frame of mind and getting the drinks flowing is as pleasurable as the real thing, with the Vita touchscreen used to select the ingredients in the correct quantities.

With secret characters to reveal, various endings and a range of highly-sexed characters, some the game comes right out of Waifu 101, which might disappoint, but if you suspend your critical faculties, Valhalla rolls right along. In the breaks between shifts, there's your own social media to catch up on the latest gossip and the odd spot of downtime to enjoy. Regular branching saves are recommended, because you don't know if drinking all 12 beers on offer will open up a new route or not?

The art is gritty and neon-laced in a non-too-subtle retro style, with characters fading in and out. You can add scanlines for further retro-isation, but they don't add much to the experience. Holding the atmosphere up is an excellent soundtrack (well worth getting on vinyl), and you can pick your favourites to play during your day at work.

Just like Papers, Please, Valhalla takes a monotonous task and makes it quirky fun thanks to the injection of some rambling plot that you only see a few strings of. With a sequel, N1rv Ann-a on the way in 2020 (but not for Vita apparently), its good to know the tale doesn't end here.

Beyond the game, Valhalla is also a miniature cultural phenomenon, with huge amounts of fan art out there, check out @Sukeban for lots of it and insights into the game. Not a game to play in a rush, channel your inner Woody from Cheers, Quark from DS9 or Mike from Only Fools and Horses, and you'll have a great time with the irregulars that show up.

Score: 8/10
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Price: £11.99 (PSN)
Developer/publisher: Sukeban/Wolfgame/Poppy Works
File size 293MB
Progress: End of the bottle

Friday, December 7, 2018

XSeed's London Detective Mysteria gets a launch announce trailer

Wow, packing an M rating for lots of mature themes, this sounds more of a handful than it first looked. Visual novel London Detective Mysteria from XSeed is out on the 18th for Vita owners to dive into the frivolities of Victorian London’s high society and the mysteries that lie hidden in London’s darkest corners.

Playing as the heiress of House Whiteley, players will name their own Lady Whiteley as they investigate mysteries of London and interact with personalities inspired by famous fictional characters including Detective Holmes, Jack the Ripper, and more. Take full control over the experience by adjusting text speed or even the individual speaking volumes of individual characters and their original Japanese voices. Players must choose their words carefully as they interact with other characters, as decisions made throughout the story will not only affect special rewards but will also shape whether Lady Whiteley finds love or something more sinister in the shadows of 19th century London.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Vita games keep on coming for 2019

The Vita still won't go quietly as a bunch of fresh announcements keep us happy campers busy in games. Ratalaika continues its porting onslaught on the Vita, teasing its first 18-rated title for the handheld. The only clue I can give is that its a pixel horror adventure. Go figure! And that's just one of half-a-dozen they have in the pipe.

UPDATE: Add another one to the list, Signature Edition will be making an announcement on Friday

UPDATE to the update: And that release is Darkest Dungeon Signature Edition, which I hope would come with all the new DLC and extra goodies. They include a Darkest Dungeon comic book, enamel pin badges, soundtrack CD and collector's art card. Pre-orders start next week, so ignore the "sold out" splashed over all the formats.

Not far behind we have EastAsiaSoft teasing three new Vita physical releases for 2019, two of which will be announced soon.

UPDATE: Two of those have been revealed as Super Destronaut DX (review), out in 2019 with extra content including new game modes, new BGM, extra trophies and other new features. Also going physical is I am the Hero (review) available next week. Time to update the list of mystery.

Helping things along is a fresh trophy listing from Las Vegas-based puzzle specialist Powgi with letter game One Word on the way to add to its growing roster of fun. The firm has a long list of apps and console titles that could yet make it to the Vita, joining Word Search and Word Soduku.

Over in Japan, we have  Eve Rebirth Terror, a visual novel sequel to Eve Burst Terror  from El Dia announced for 2019. Also on the way is Kadokawa's dungeon crawler, KonoSuba: God’s Blessing, showing that the mid-size and smaller Japanese publishers are still taking an interest, and will hopefully push for translations to boost overall sales.