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PlayStation Vita Product Review

14 May

PSVita PVPR

By Samuel Peace

The seven year long wait is over as the next evolution in handheld gaming has arrived. The successor to Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) has finally been released overseas following a Christmas release in its native country Japan. Dubbed the PlayStation Vita (Latin & Italian for ‘life’) it provides gamers with everything they love about a home console, but combines it with the benefits of a handheld device. Fans and industry professionals alike have been longing for a new power house which can replicate experiences which were only possible on a TV. While Nintendo dominate this market, they have failed to capitalize on it by focusing all their efforts on innovative gimmicks rather than technical progression. The Vita has seized this opportunity to give people an alternative, which for all the tech geeks out there is a joy to behold.

Boasting a 5-inch multi-touch OLED screen capable of showing 16 million colours, a 2GHz Quad Core ARM Cortex-A9 MPCore CPU, 512 MB RAM, 128 MB VRAM, and a Quad-Core SGX543MP4+ for graphics, it is a beast of a machine. For those of you unacquainted with technical specs it just means you pretty much have the power of the PlayStation 3 but in your pocket. Following on from the impressive insides we also have a great range of external components. These include dual analogue sticks (a first for any handheld device), a unique rear multi-touch pad, a front and rear camera, six-axis motion sensing (three-axis gyroscope and three-axis accelerometer), three-axis electronic compass, and the usual array of buttons. This provides consumers with not only a home console quality experience, but also new and exciting ways to play. Developers will also enjoy coming up with ideas using all of the unique features.

Considering the punch this device is packing, you would expect it to be the size of a brick or an Xbox 360’s power box. To my surprise however, it is a sleek and stylish gadget which wouldn’t look out of place in James Bond’s arsenal. The shape is similar to that of its predecessor the PSP (not the flop that was the PSP GO). Its dimensions are also quite similar as the Vita has a width of 182mm (170mm on the original PSP 1000 model), a height of 83.5mm (previously 74mm) and a depth of 18.6mm (from 23mm). The increase in the width and height helps to offer a better cinematic experience similar to that of consoles; this will ensure that your 16:9 widescreen display needs are catered for. Despite the slight expansion, the Vita weighs pretty much the same as the original PSP 1000 model; in fact it’s slightly lighter. While the PSP weighed 280grams, the Wi-Fi only Vita comes in at 260grams, but the 3G/WI-FI model is 279grams.

Because of the similarities in shape, size and weight, this handheld marvel feels reminiscent of its fore-bearer. It also shares the same shiny black finish which gives amateur detectives the chance to play ‘who violated my Vita?’ The analogue sticks are a nice change as they resemble the PS3’s but on a smaller scale. These improve over the single flat circular nub/pad that the PSP and 3DS have as they feel more precise and easier to manoeuvre. My only worry is that because the Vita doesn’t have handle grips (like a PS3 controller) and because the analogue sticks are smaller and have a slippery convex design, it could be quite difficult/uncomfortable keeping grip of it (or keeping your thumbs on the sticks) during long periods of play (or when you have a sweaty hands). This might not be an issue for everyone however, and handhelds are designed more for on-the-go play than marathon sessions.

For many people one of the main attractions of the Vita was the enhanced graphics, so I am pleased to say that the OLED screen is beautifully vibrant and particularly dazzles when you play games as stunning as the Uncharted series. The stereo speakers and headphone support complements the visuals while other standard gizmos such as the touch screen, cameras, buttons and sensors all perform as well as they should. The rear touch pad on the other hand is a much more prominent and unusual feature. It is still too early to tell how useful it will be in enhancing the numerous Vita experiences, but already we are seeing it used in different ways. Most are gimmicky or are just used in mini games while the odd one or two work quite well at offering a new way to play (such as touch shooting in Fifa).

As the main multi-touch screen on the Vita offers such precision, Sony has decided to do away with the XMB which is present on the PSP and PS3. It now offers a sleek and innovative user interface reminiscent of the iOS on the iPhone. Now the screen is filled with bubbles which all represent different apps for services and games. Many of these apps consist of your standard PS3/PSP services such as friends, messages, trophies and store etc, but there is a big push for online and social connectivity this time round. Some of the services on offer include Facebook, Twitter and Skype all of which help to keep you in touch with other people (though they have to be downloaded through the store). Sony has also incorporated its own social app called ‘Near’ which utilises its built in GPS. This is very similar to the 3DS’s StreetPass app which allows the system to connect to others who are nearby. I found it a bit confusing, but it’s nice to see how many people near me own Vitas. It also allows you to send and receive gifts from certain games and compares games/scores, which I guess is nice if not a little bit pointless.

PS3 PVPR

For physical games Sony have decided to ditch the PSP’s cute UMDs and have changed to small SD type cards akin to Nintendo’s DS and 3DS. One of the main things which irk me about the Vita is that the memory cards are so restrictive. The system no longer supports the PSP’s memory stick and memory stick duo. Instead it favours its own PS Vita Memory Card. The main problem is that it doesn’t allow for any other third party memory card or SD card. This means Sony can get away with charging outrageous prices for memory as players have no choice but to buy their cards. One example is the 32GB Vita card which costs £60 on Amazon. £60!? I could buy a couple of newly released games for that price. On the same site, there are third party 32GB cards for as little as £15. To make matters worse, only one account can be linked per memory card. While this made sense on the PSP at the time, technology has progressed far enough today to allow for multiple accounts on a multitude of gadgets.

There is no doubt plenty more to discover about the Vita as it begins to evolve and create an identity for itself. It has a plethora of great features most of which are making mostly the right noises. Competition is even tougher now as the rise of smart phones, which can host a variety of games for a small cost, calls into question the viability of a dedicated gaming handheld. However Sony has created a machine which can produce quality content not possible on any other handheld device – something which true gamers will want. There is still plenty of potential to unlock and with the PS4 on the horizon it will no doubt play a vital role in connecting with it. The Vita is exactly what the industry needs, but with any console success is only as good as its library of games, so we will have to wait and see if the Vita can deliver on that front.

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Wreck-It Ralph Film Review

14 May

WIR Poster

By Samuel Peace

It’s a rare occurrence when the film and game industry cross paths, one which usually doesn’t bode well for either side. Surely it would be easy to turn a game into a film? Just take the script, hire some good actors/actresses to play the characters, and use CGI for the environments and any other unrealistic feature. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that because games focus on what makes their entertainment so popular – the gameplay – thus leaving the story to play second fiddle (or sometimes no fiddle at all). While some games might make for good films (BioShock, Uncharted, Call of Duty: Modern Warfareetc), these have never come to pass. Instead producers chose more recognisable franchises some of which have little to no story at all (for example the recent Battleship movie based on the board game, or the infamous Super Mario Bros film in 1993 which was nothing like the games). Disaster after disaster has led to very few game to film adaptations as movie makers become less willing to put their reputation on the line. However, this has not deterred Walt Disney, which is famed around the world for its animated classics. They wanted to build bridges with the games industry, write them a love letter so to speak. So the concept of Wreck-It Ralph was born.

The idea for the motion picture actually goes all the way back to the late 1980s when arcade gaming was in its prime. However many redesigns saw it pushed further and further away from release until plans were finalised in the mid-2000s. During the production stages, director Rich Moore (best known for his directing roles in a number ofThe Simpsons and Futurama episodes), said in an interview with MCV that he didn’t want to base the movie around an existing character. He said: “There’s so much mythology and baggage attached to pre-existing titles that I feel someone would be disappointed.” He believed this was a reason why so many movies based on video game franchises typically failed. Instead his vision was to create a fake gaming icon so that he could have the ultimate freedom without the worry of tainting another gaming property.

The plot revolves around the main character Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C Reilly). But instead of being a generic game plot (where the main character is a hero and has to save the world from the bad guy), Ralph is actually the bad guy from the start! He plays the main villain in a fictional arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr. which as you might have guessed has a hero called Fix-It Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer). The game pays homage to the original Donkey Kong, an arcade classic which saw Mario (known then as Jumpman) try to ascend a series of platforms in order to rescue a woman named Pauline from the grasps of the giant gorilla. Donkey Kong’s role was to stop Mario by rolling barrels down to try and knock him off. In Fix-It Felix Jr. Ralph stands atop a skyscraper and chucks debris down to try and knock off Felix whose aim is to fix all the broken windows while ascending the building.

Arcade WIR

The problem is Ralph is fed up of being the bad guy and not getting any recognition. He is finally pushed over the edge when Felix is given all the credit for the game’s success and has a party thrown for him (Ralph not invited) to celebrate the game’s 30th anniversary. When he crashes it, he is quite simply told that bad guys do not deserve recognition and he would need a medal to be a good guy and a winner. Determined to get a medal and prove his worth, Ralph decides to ‘game jump’ – which is to enter another arcade game via the hub where all the games connect (the power supply). His quest to find a medal is, as you would expect, not straight forward and there is plenty of entertainment right until the end.

The first half of Wreck-it Ralph is by far the best. With real life game cameos galore and an interesting plot, there really is something for everyone. One of the more memorable scenes (which was in the trailer) saw Ralph in a ‘bad guy’ support group which was attended by some of gaming’s most iconic villains such as Bowser (Super Mario games), Eggman (Sonic the Hedgehog games) and Clyde (Pac-Man games). There are so many other subtler references too which help bring the world to life. With all these famous faces it was important that the main fictional characters were made to feel authentic too so they wouldn’t be outshone. Both Ralph and Felix deliver on this part with mannerisms and abilities akin to the classic characters we all know and love. They are later joined by other fictional cast members including the fantastic Calhoun (Jane Lynch) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman).

Unfortunately the second half of the film falls into the stereotypical Disney ‘be yourself’ trap with predictable results. There are not many game cameos or references that have not already been seen either, as the story focuses more on the development of our main fictional heroes and villains. However, it’s the chemistry between them, which manages to save the film from drowning in mediocrity. Each persona is vastly different from one another and makes for some interesting combinations. While the plot contains some foreseeable twists and turns it still manages to round off nicely with a Mario Kart like race mixed with an alien invasion.

Despite some shortcomings, Wreck-It Ralph manages to capture the real essence of the classic arcade era. It has some truly wonderful references which will appeal to both young and old audiences. The main cast of fictional characters are the stars of the show however, and would not be out of place in the real world of gaming. Moore’s experience with The Simpsons is exhibited with a great range of humorous gags and along with the art style makes the film feel more like a Pixar production than a Disney studios film, which is for the best. While not perfect it is definitely the best film/game crossover ever made, and that alone is worth seeing.

Rating: 8/10

MCV Interview: http://www.mcvuk.com/news/read/interview-wreck-it-ralph-director-talks-bringing-games-to-film/0110639

Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with Oreo Review

18 Jan

CDMOREO120_460

Thick white creamy waves hitting a smooth brown sandy beach is not a way to describe the flavour of a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk with Oreo, but rather the vision of paradise it represents. In a time when new innovative chocolate is rare for us UK residents, it comes as a somewhat refreshing surprise when two great brands combine. The combination is of pure brilliance, the glorious soft warmth received from a piece of Dairy Milk married to the creamy crunch of an Oreo biscuit. It is probably easier to describe it as the best of milk and white chocolate mixed with the smooth texture of a Lindt bar and the crunch of a cookie. If you are looking for a great composition, you like your milk and/or your white chocolate and you want to taste heaven in its devilish form then this is for you.

-Sam Peace

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