Saturday, August 4, 2007

Picross DS

Picross DS came out this week. For those who don't know, Picross is a pretty old number puzzle. Games Magazine has it fairly often as "Paint By Number." Nintendo's been making Picross games for a long time, on pretty much every system they've had, going back at least as far as the original GameBoy. To give a brief description that won't make any sense if you haven't actually played the game, thus negating the NEED to describe it: you have a square grid (in this game, but it doesn't HAVE to be) that's bordered on the top and left edges with numbers. The numbers tell you the clusters of filled in squares in the grid along the line the number is on. That's it, really. It's a pretty fun logic game.

Previous games from Nintendo have had Mario themes for the most part, and it's surprising that this one doesn't. I haven't gotten through many puzzles, yet, I don't think, but they've been almost entirely things like animals and letters and such. No complaints, I'm in for the journey, not the destination, to be completely cliche.

There's a handful of modes to play in: Picross, Daily Picross, and online multiplayer. Picross is just the basic game. It has two modes, as well, Easy/Normal (two modes, but basically the same), and Free. Easy and Normal modes give you a time limit of 60 minutes to finish a puzzle. If you make an error in filling in a block, it adds to your time. Too many errors and you're done. Free doesn't do this. It's more like doing it on paper. You can plan out what you think you want to do, and then do it or not. Daily Picross is kind of like the daily training mode in Brain Age. It has a bunch of minigames, but I only have two unlocked so far. The first one times how long it takes you to do a series of fairly simple puzzles, adding time for errors, much like Normal mode. The other one is similar, but doesn't allow you to lay Xes for known empty spots. It tracks your time and gives you a couple basic statistics, nothing major.

The graphics and sound are nothing to really write home about, but they do the job. The graphics are nice without being overly flashy. The sound gives you feedback on what you're doing and some basic music for distraction. Nothing too special, but not bad. The controls are simple, but what's really needed? You can play with the stylus with optional use of the face buttons or the d-pad and face buttons. I use the stylus, myself, but it's entirely choice, of course.

The online play mode gives you a pair of puzzles to solve playing against someone else. Whoever finishes both first wins, nothing major. There's also the ability to download new puzzle packs, but none are currently up for the US (Japan has something like 20 and Europe has 2).

Overall, I like the game. It does what it sets out to do, and does it well. There's the possibility of more puzzles in the future, which is certainly nice. So yeah, I can't complain at all.

Other new purchases
Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo Tales (DS)
Overlord (360)
Forza Racing 2 (360)
Bomberman Live (360 Arcade)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

XBox 360

It's been awhile since my last post. No real reason, just haven't posted.

A couple months ago, I was thinking of finally taking the plunge and getting an XBox 360. Shortly thereafter I heard about the upcoming XBox 360 Elite, which sported a 120 GB hard drive, HDMI out, and a black case and accessories. Same hardware otherwise - apparently, the 65 nm process CPUs weren't ready in time for the Elite shipment. Anyway, I decided to wait it out till it was released. Come April 29, it hit stores. I didn't bother to get up and get one and the following Tuesday I stopped by Best Buy and they had one on the shelf so I got it. It's a lot better than I was expecting. The 360 in general, not specifically the Elite. The Elite has the ability to upconvert DVDs over HDMI, which I wasn't aware of when I got it, but it saves me getting an upconverting DVD player which I had wanted, so that was a nice surprise.

XBox Live is significantly improved over the original XBox. It's pretty much omnipresent while the system is on. DVDs, arcade games, single player, whatever, it's on and running. Friends can message you regardless of what you're doing, and it just pops a little bubble up telling you about it. Hitting the home button opens a blade that lets you check messages, online friends, and such.

Live Arcade is also greatly improved over the original XBox which wasn't much more than some ports of old games. The 360 Arcade is largely original content. There's some old classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade and Contra, as well as some online puzzle games like Bejeweled, and even some real world stuff like Catan and UNO. Still, a lot of the original games are very well-made and fun to play. Most have online multiplayer, which is mostly lag-free. The Live community is still full of 12 year olds who think swearing is the funniest thing on the planet, but there's also some fun people, especially on the more social games like UNO.

The games look very, very nice, from what I've seen (Crackdown and Gears of War) - certainly improved over last generation's best, and anything I've seen on the Wii. I'm sure they'll only get better as time goes on.

I guess my overall feeling on the console are that it's definitely an evolution of the last generation, but nothing really revolutionary, although I think XBox Live is what Playstation Network will strive to be (not so much Wii's online capabilities). It doesn't do anything really new, but does old stuff well, and is certainly more powerful. I can't complain about the system in the least as long as it continues to work.