Ape Escape (PS1) – Review

Another classic PS1 game to play on my PlayStation 5. Oh how time flies. I have a lot of history with this game. I remember picking it up for PS1 when it came out back in May 1999 from my local Toy’s R Us. It was the first game to explicitly require you to use a DualShock controller. So not only did I have to buy this game, I had to get a controller with it just to play it. That’s a big ask for a kid with limited funds, but I was already sold on the possibilities this new controller could provid.

You have to see how crazy this scene is in motion, building move around, wobbling like they’re made of jelly.

What’s interesting about these times is that a full three years prior, Sega released their Saturn 3D controller to use with Nights into Dreams. That was a controller with one analogue stick, along with the traditional D-Pad, that would give you smoother control over the way your character would fly through the environments. Instead of a digital interface, like a keyboard, you got the smooth motion that only an analogue stick could provide. Sony just went to the next level and added another stick, forever changing the game. The history of console gaming has to give it up for the efforts of Sony and these developers for making it a requirement to play this game, it’s just sucks that the first person shooters of the time didn’t get the memo.

This is what I respect out of this game. I have to give it up for the fact that they were the first to go all in on this new standard of control. It’s a little harder to praise the rest of the game though. The new PS Plus subscription service allows you to play some of these old games on PS5, I’ve already played a few of the other PS1 classic games, but this title really highlights a main issue I have with these games. For context, the PS1 has some really weird graphical issues when you play them, polygons seem to be made out of Jell-O and textures warp left and right all the time. The texture warping doesn’t really bother me that much, it’s what 3D games on a PS1 look like, so I can overlook that (even though modern emulators have solved this problem). My main issue with the 3D games on PS1, and especially this one, is the way the PS1 handles vertex points. If you don’t know, a 3D object is made up of polygons, each triangle polygon is composed of three vertex points. The PS1 can only do integer translation of these vertex points, which means the hardware itself didn’t have support for floating point calculations. So what does that get us in the 3D games that came out? It means that vertices constantly snap as they move, it’s not gradual and can honestly be visually annoying and can cause headaches. I feel like this problem is exacerbated by the fact that we’re now playing these games at higher resolutions on 4K screens, the problem is just amplified to an insane degree. Modern emulators can solve these issues, but that feature is currently not supported on the emulator the PS5 uses at this time.

Ape Escape is almost hilarious to play today. As you go through a few stages, you start to realize just how small these levels are. You can catch all the monkeys and get the collectable coin(s) in about 5-10 minutes. The draw distance in the game is insanely short as well, with parts of the level fading into the skybox at about 50 feet from the character.

I ran through the whole game and got the platinum in this one as well, but I did use my trusty rewind feature. I would run up to monkeys and if they got away after a bad catch attempt, I would just rewind it and try again.

I wouldn’t say this is a great game in today’s landscape, especially considering the evolutionary leaps in controls and gameplay since this titles release. Even compared to Mario 64, which came out 3 years prior, the controls are no match to what Nintendo were already doing. The controls in this game are a little bit of a gimmick, the right stick is used to give directionality to your attacks, which makes the camera controls default to the left and right of the D-Pad. This feels horrible and actually made me change the controllers button mapping on the console level to swap the R2 and L2 for the left and right D-Pad. There wasn’t way to make this change in the game which was frustrating.

a cinematic scene without the draw fog.

Another one of those classic PS1 games that I am glad I went through and got the platinum but couldn’t see myself ever playing this again, perhaps in another 23 years or so. It feels like watching an old movie today, you have to understand the cultural context to when it was released to really appreciate it, and I appreciate this game for what it’s done. It really needed some quality of life improvements like better controls and the ability to map buttons differently. It would have also benefited heavily from modding the game to allow for floating point calculations, I really had a hard time towards the end of the game with the way the motion of the polygons were translating, it was honestly giving me a headache. I also did play this on a 77″ TV, which made the actual jumps between frames turn into inches of my screen. If you play this on a 13″ CRT monitor using VGA cables, I’m pretty positive those issues aren’t as noticeable.

The draw distance is funny.

Final Score – 6.8

Play it just to see and feel a little bit of the history of video games and to help understand where the industry evolved from. This is a landmark title that is a little rough around the edges by today’s standards. The story is basic as fuck, the graphics are hilarious, and the controls are frustrating until you adjust them on a console level, and then they’re just a bit better. It will be really interesting to see what the sequel did for the series though, so perhaps I’ll try that at some point. One more thing though, the main character Spike, sucks. I beat the game and can’t remember him having any sort of personality or even saying anything. I’m sure he must have, but this is not a mascot for Sony by any stretch of the imagination.

Big boss battle!
What until you see this in motion. The vertex points are popping all over.

Yakuza 6 – A Photo Journey Into the Past

YAKUZA 6: The Song of Life Tenkaichi St. Just a couple of jokers.

Sitting next to my PS5 are copies of Yakuza: Like a Dragon and Lost Judgment. I’m trying to figure out which one I’ll play next and came across some of these photos from my playthrough of Yakuza 6. I don’t think I really have anything to offer other than my complete love for this series. I played through the whole series in order and my Boo watched along with me. The Yakuza soap opera story really grabbed our attention and we were completely hooked in the tale of Kazuma Kiryu.

What a lovely spot for a… date?
I mean, did you really expect the shark to win?
Just try and rank me!
Who would have thought that Takeshi Kitano would star in a video game.
The baby looks pretty decent, usually they’re modeled poorly.
A little slice of life.
These chat rooms were just the best.
The Yamato battleship.
Don’t look at me for answers to this.
Just the best posters.
Yea, I let him fall to his death.

That’s basically all I wanted to share. I love all the games in the Yakuza franchise and these were just a few of the memories I had and wanted to share.

Shit, looking back at my trophies, this is the only Yakuza game that I got the platinum trophy in. Mostly because they tend to be insanely time consuming and this one wasn’t for some reason. I also completed the game in January of 2019, so it’s been a hot minute.

Watch Dogs Legion – Review (PS5)

Oh boy, this is some type of game. It was the weirdest experience I’ve had while playing one of these large open-world style games. I have to just start with what made this game so odd, screw the rest.

So you don’t get a main protagonist to control, instead you have to go around London to recruit people into your group, called DedSec. These recruits can be any NPC you see walking the streets of London, does that sound interesting to you? Because it wasn’t for me. I’ll get back to that though because I still need to get to what’s so fucking odd about this game and the way it was designed. You can unlock, very easily mind you, a little robot that you can control to infiltrate any base in the game. This little spider-bot robot can be upgraded to go invisible for a short period of time and can stun enemies, while also being used for hacking and stuff like that. That’s the setup.

Clean up your streets London!

Another hacking skill you can do is to hack construction drones with the tap of a button. Their stations are littered across the city, so all you have to do is walk near one, scan it and call a drone to your location. You then hack that drone and bring it down to the street level so you can hop on. You jump onto those drones, control them, fly over whichever mission you have, and drop down your spider drone. Your human character is just floating 50 meters in the air while you’re controlling a robot as you complete your objective. Once that’s done, back out of the drone, leaving it since it doesn’t matter, and you’re immediately in control of your character. You then fly out of the danger zone of the mission and the mission is done.

That sounds like a great setup and a cool mechanic, and it really is the first few times you use it. You quickly discover that it’s an easy, quick, and effective way to complete 90% of the missions in the game. I would start a new mission, fast travel as close to it as I could, find a construction drone to hop onto, fly to my mission, use the spider bot and bounce. You start to just get the sense that you broke the game design and that you’re cheating. It ends up getting super boring to keep doing this. I get that you’re in control of how you experience the missions and you can just sneak in with your character, kill people left and right, but that’s just a huge fucking hassle.

I think that’s what it is with game design and me as a player. If I’m given the option to have this amount of power over the game, I’ll use it. This setup is just too powerful. The second the game gets a little boring or you don’t care about the mission, or you’re just rushed for time, you’ll resort back to what makes the game easy. There is nothing to then stop you or slow you down from abusing this system to complete the game. It’s a freedom, why restrict you? When you think about it this way you start to understand why games may limit your abilities, or only allow these at certain times or towards the late game. I had this ability just a few hours into the game mind you. That is a serious design issue in my mind. Have missions where the spider-bots can’t enter a building because they have some sort of security preventing it, forcing me to change up my tactics, but that’s not in this game.

Play dress up or down.

The Citizens of London

My main issue with the story is the use of NPCs as the main protagonist in this game. It sounds like a cool concept but it leaves a lot to be desired. You just don’t give a shit about any of them to be honest. You may prefer one for a skill they have, a vehicle they have easy access to, or something similar, but that’s about it. You don’t care about their story or background, why they joined DedSec or anything like that. And yes I skipped recapping the story or how it all works because this is the third game in the series and you should already be caught up and I don’t care.

Instead, they should of had a group of characters, like in an Oceans 11 movie or something, all of them unique and with their special abilities. Just have their designs all locked in with great voice acting for each character and a unique backstory and abilities. I would have been 100 times more invested in the story if I felt like the rest of the team were actual characters with depth! Not this bullshit of disposable agents that you don’t give a shit about. It’s a shockingly bad design decision. A cool concept to have in a meeting and when creating a design doc, but it should have stopped there, at least for this iteration of it.

A true moment of tension, a rarity.

That’s all okay in the end I suppose, care less about the story and try to enjoy more of the gameplay. Does that work out for you? It kind of worked out for me. I started this game up and played it for a day or two a couple months ago, got distracted by something shinny and only just got back to it on a lark. I even got the fucking platinum trophy in it I’m so insane (not bragging).

The one thing I liked about the story is this moment when I had to chase down this bad guy that fucked over my team. He took off in his car and wouldn’t you know, I was on my dumb construction drone. I stuck with it and pretty soon he was out of sight while I slowly floated after his engine exhaust. I figured the mission would fail, I would be sent back to a checkpoint and I’d try it over again in a car this time. Instead, to my surprise, he got away and the story kept going. I had to do a mission to resolve this new branching story arch, it felt surprisingly organic and kind of impressed me. Now, to be honest, I have no idea if this was an actual branching story path or I was going to fail that mission no matter what, I hope it was a branching path because that is pretty cool. And if that’s the case I want more of that, I want a harder game that accepts your failure and gives you alternate ways to achieve success.

Just flying my construction drone, as you do.

So yea, I plowed through the story, which is really just forgettable. A lot of video games, in my eyes, just fucking suck at telling a good story that grabs your attention. It’s like we’re still coming out of the silent film era and learning how to use voice and audio in our movies. After that I stuck around to get trophies, which I wasn’t sure I was going to do. Luckily I had some nice podcasts and long-form YouTube videos to listen to in the background. I checked out PowerPyx for their guide and just went in the order they recommended. Sometimes it’s just therapeutic to go around checking boxes and cleaning up a game like this.

So I played the game on PS5 and it offers you two different graphical options to select from. You get a performance and quality mode, only one of which is actually playable. You would have to be a complete psycho to choose the quality mode in this game. It runs at 30fps and it’s just not where it’s at, it gives me a headache to watch the camera sweep around at such a low framerate. It really makes me wonder how I used to feel good about 30fps games on last gen consoles, perhaps they better optimized the way the image was rendered to smooth out some of the stuttery look of 30fps by using motion blur and stuff like that. You do get some nice ray traced reflections and everything, which are impressive but not worth it in the least. I would love to see them go for a 40fps quality mode with raytracing like Ratchet and Clank did, now that could be something usable, especially with a 120hz TV.

Ray Tracing Comparisons – Quality vs Performance

Quality mode also pushes out the shadows on the right. Check out the ghosting of the building reflection on the top of the car.
The RT reflections extend past the screen-space ones typically used, while also reflecting the robot perfectly.
Reflections on the buildings windows are actually accurate with RT on.
RT really does ground the scene and make it feel more realistic.
While not the best looking water, RT on does add to the realism.

In the end, I guess I’m happy that I played this game and bought it at a discount instead of full price. Watch Dogs 2 still stands out in my head as the best game in the series. I remember having fun playing that game and actually liking some of the characters in it, which is something one should care about (hint hint.

Final Score – 6.2

It’s a game that filled up some time, I had some fun with it. It’s not great. It shows that the series needs a serious redesign to stay relevant and to captivate a whole new audience. They really need to start fresh and not be so bleak with the look. Invest in characters, story, mission design, weapons, all that open world good shit that other games do better. I would have loved if they took the way the story in GTA5 wrapped around the three main characters, where they were all unique and living in the world, but just added a few more. Steal from the best. Give me that style of character progress and backstory but in the world of DedSec and Watch Dogs.

You’re welcome Ubisoft, I’d love to work on a game with you.

Doom Eternal – Review

Doom Eternal is a shooter ass shooter. It has one of the smoothest sensations of locomotion in a video game that I’ve felt in a long time. You effortlessly run around your environment ripping and tearing and blowing Hellspawn to bits. It’s a great feeling shooter that should satisfy just about everyone’s craving to rip and tear.

I played it on the PS5 and the controls feel great, it’s easy to move around and melt enemies with your weapons. Granted, the game doesn’t really have to deal with a lot of micro aiming at a distance. Most weapons have a wide spread to them so you just need to aim in the general direction to get a hit. Even the long range precision rifle attachment to the machine gun has a snap-to feature to negate any slowdown in combat. That is all by design though, slowing down will get you killed. You want to keep moving through your environment as you launch rockets or use your double barrel shotguns hook attachment to pull yourself in for a quick blast to the face.

Where the controls let you down, at least on console, is when you need to switch your weapons. You have a very limited supply of ammo for most weapons, this can be upgraded slightly. This forces you to rotate through the weapons you have as their ammo is depleted. Specific enemies require you to use a special weapon, like the basic shotguns alt-fire that shoots a grenade projectile into a demons mouth to cause it to explode. What bothered me was how this slowed down combat when I had to use the R1 wheel to select a new weapon. You do get good at it and can usually do it pretty fast, but those times when you accidentally select the wrong weapon and have to try it all over again really suck. Tapping R1 will let you switch to your last weapon but that’s only good if your last weapon happens to be the one you’re trying to use. You almost want another hot swap, perhaps if the L1 button swapped between two weapons as well. It also gets a little cumbersome because most weapons have multiple alternate fire modes that need to be switched by pressing the Up on the directional pad. None of this is complicated or hard to do, it just interrupts the flow of combat in a way I don’t think they intended. Perhaps this is the game where using a mouse and keyboard would really help, or just release some flappy paddles for the back of the dual sense controller.

The premise for this sequel is cool at first. You’re in a space station above earth and have to teleport to different places to take on your missions. The issue I had with the missions is that I prefer more of the industrial design of the first game, compared to the generally more organic feeling of these levels. The map does a really good job of showing you where all the secrets for the levels are if you’re trying to collect everything, which is great. The only tip I’ll give you is that you can hold off on getting everything until the end of the level since you unlock a fast travel system right before ending the level. If you try to get all the collectibles as you go from room to room, you have to constantly open the map to see if there is a hidden item nearby. This really starts to kill the pacing of the game and it’s a little counterintuitive to the soul of the game. A game all about speed and chaining moves together but you have to stop yourself from going to the next room so you can pause, open the map, analyze it, perhaps go and get a collectible, and finally move on to the next room and repeat.

You have to appreciate a good map in a video game.

I ended up playing through the first DLC of the game, The Ancient Ones, which I did enjoy. I’m not always a fan of playing DLC because it’s usually just more of the same, which is the case for this game. The only thing that started to annoy me was how long some of the enemy encounters became. You enter a room that is clearly an arena, enemies start spawning in and you’re just locked in there clearing out wave after wave of enemies. The gameplay is fun, the combat is a blast, it just gets a little monotonous is all. I do recognize that this is probably a little unfair of me to judge the main game and the DLC together. Normally, you’d get to play the main game and a few months later pick up the first DLC pack and jump back in that way. Doing it one after another just became too much and I got worn out by the endless combat encounters. It sort of felt like they were padding out the play time by having each encounter last two or more waves than the base game.

For some reason the story of this game didn’t really stick out to me like the way the first Doom (2016) did. It seems like there were a lot more story elements intertwined with the gameplay, but it felt a little confusing at times. I didn’t care about reading everything I picked up like I did the old game, so maybe some of that is on me. I actually think a part of this has to do with the way stories are told in the medium. This is not a movie where you’re sitting there and locked in on the story for two hours straight. You get a minute of story and exposition, go off to play a level, perhaps take a break and finish it the next day, then get another minute of story. You’re expected to keep all this in mind when it’s all wrapping up in the end. I just find it a huge disconnect with certain games sometimes. It could have been the headspace I was when playing this as well. At least I can always just watch a story recap video on YouTube to figure what I missed.

These marauders were really fun to fight.

A great addition to this game are the enemy marauders. You have to time your attacks to actually do damage to them, adding another level to the combat in this game. It’s a really smart direction for the game design to move towards. I think it would have been really interesting to see the each pack of DLC add one more character with a similar system, making fights even more of a puzzle of how you go between enemies and hit their weaknesses. Timing attacks to stagger the enemy so you can damage them definitely feels like a Dark Souls influence and I’m all for it.

Graphics – We got that sweet raytracing now!

Raytracing on and off.
Raytracing on and off.

So the thing that really got me to pick up this game on PS5 was the update they put out where you get a 60fps raytracing mode for free. That is honestly what drew me in. I wasn’t planning on getting this game, it wasn’t on my radar at all. I loved the first one but got a little sour on it when I saw the reviews and discourse around the title.

This games implementation of raytracing can be summed up in the two examples I provided above. You can clearly see the effects of raytracing on the bottom image, but it’s a little hard to really notice the improvement on the top one. Seeing raytracing running on this game, at a locked 60fps is pretty incredible. I honestly didn’t think these consoles could really pull this off with the amount of dedicated ray tracing cores they have. The levels don’t always show off this effect to the best of it’s ability, but that’s just fine with me. You don’t want every hallway to just be full of mirrors and shit, you want the effect to be used subtly and naturally to add to the realism. Look at the top image and see how it helps to ground your weapons in the world by creating more realistic lighting and reflections on the metals of your guns.

You looking at me?

Final Score – 8.2

If you haven’t already played this game you should definitely pick it up. It’s constantly on sale for 20 USD and with the added support for PS5 quick loading and raytracing, if you have the console it complements it perfectly. Just be wary of getting burned out on the combat and exploration. Have some fun and rip and tear as they say. I personally preferred the smaller, more intimate setting of the first Doom (2016) and it’s story.

My First Hard-Off – Fujisawa

If you don’t know, Hard-Off is a store in Japan that sells a bunch of used stuff. Usually of the “hard” variety if you can believe it. This can be video games, consoles, stereos, CD’s, fake guns, figures, musical instruments, etc. It’s just a ton of stuff that you can dig through. The reason I go to them are for their selection of retro games. As I show of more and more of the stores that I’ve visited I’ll have more photos to really show what’s available and talk about what you can expect to find in these stores compared to other places in Japan.

This first store I chose was in Fujisawa. I selected it because it wasn’t that far for me to travel and it seemed like it was a big store. It’s also about a 5 minute walk from the station to the store, which is a great asset considering the distance of a few of the other stores I’ve visited more recently. It’s a multi story building with an Off-House, Hobby-Off and then a Hard-Off on the top floor. Those other names are for clothes and hobby stuff, pretty easy to understand.

To be honest, I really didn’t take a lot of photos of the inside of this store, which is something I’ll fix on subsequent Hard-Off excursions. The photo above was pulled off of google maps but I felt like it needed to be shown. You can see a good selection of Famicom games in the image, loose carts in bags on hooks and boxed copies on the bottom. The store had a decent selection of Famicom, Super Famicom, N64, Playstation 1, 2, 3, & 4, and even some Saturn games and perhaps a random other console or two here and there. It’s a little hard to find Mega Drive games since those seem to be pretty rare outside of Akihabara.

Now, being my first store I got pretty excited and wanted to start collecting games right away. So I inevitably bought all of these games in the two images below. I never had a Super Nintendo or Super Famicom growing up, so I definitely wanted to get some of the classics for the console. I did, however, have a Nintendo 64 so I wanted to get a few of the games I loved for that console as well.

Super Famicom games I bought.

As you can tell from the images, I mostly bought boxed copies of the games and only picked up four loose carts. I do regret buying those loose carts now, I realized that I prefer to have a complete boxed copies of all my games. I love the fact that some of these games are 30 years old and are still in such good condition. It’s such a treasure to look at the box art and flip through the manual and see all the cool artwork inside. As I play these games I’ll definitely post pictures of the boxes and manuals so others can experience it as well.

N64 games I picked up.

As I visited this store I did not have a Super Famicom or N64 to play any of these titles, those consoles will come later and I’ll go into how that all works in another post.

Back to the store! Should you go visit this Hard-Off in your search for retro video games? I want to say yes and no. They do have a fairly ample selection of games and consoles available. They even had a decent, if not small money case of highly valuable games. One of the games I was looking for was Super Metroid on the Super Famicom, which they had in the money case. It was a little tattered looking and cost around 50 USD for a boxed copy, I’m pretty happy that I didn’t just buy the first copy I found and waited to see what other stores had to offer.

Look at that first image I posted and see if you can spot anything wrong with the layout of the store. This is something I only realized as I was going through all the games while in the store. A lot of the Super Famicom and Famicom games are on display right in front of a large floor to ceiling window. It’s really a shame at what they’re doing to a lot of these products. You can immediately see sun damage on a good portion of their stock. You can spot carts and boxes that have been sitting on the shelves for a long time because their colors are well faded. This doesn’t mean you can’t find a game in great condition, it’ll all probably just depend on how long they’ve been on the shelves for. The other systems, for the most part aren’t affected by any of this and still look in great shape.

All Hard-Off stores have a section they call junk. These products don’t come with a warranty and you take a risk in buying anything from here. They have blue bins full of old games that you can sort through. You’ll also find bins of AV cables, controllers and any other peripheral you can think of. The majority of these products will cost you about a dollar.

From the boxed games I bought, they ranged in price from under three dollars to about thirteen at the max. Way cheaper than the prices you’d find in Akihabara for sure, but perhaps with a few caveats that I’ll explore later on. For now, that’s one Hard-Off store down, let’s see which one we go to next! (Oh, and definitely more and more pictures of other stores.)

Shenmue – Review

When Shenmue came out on December 29, 1999, you bet I was ready to play it. Who didn’t see the trailer as a kid and say “I want to experience a F.R.E.E. game?!”. If you don’t know the history of all this. The Director of the game, Yu Suzuki, created a brand new genre that he called “Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment”. It basically meant that you were supposed to be playing a game so realistic that you’d basically think it’s a movie, and it has quicktime events.

When you get down to what Shenmue is, it’s the seed in which not only a Shenmue sequel grow from, but a series of Yakuza games did as well. I haven’t played through Shenmue in a number of years, but I remembered so much of it. The launch of Shenmue meant a lot to me when it came out, from both a personal level and that of a gamer. It fostered a love for Japan and it’s culture as well as the types of games being developed there. They were attempting to push the medium of video games into scripted stories with “fully interactive” worlds to explore. It was on a completely different level from anything else being released, or that’s how it felt at the time.

Replaying this game on my PlayStation 5 and on a 4k OLED TV really brings everything into a sharp focus. You realize that there were severe limitations to the Dreamcast hardware at the time. Even though this is considered to be the most expensive game ever made at the time of release, it’s almost comical at the level of detail on display compared to any modern title released today. That doesn’t hinder my enjoyment of it, it’s just examining what it is in the social context of today.

The game really feels like the first arc in a modern game or story. Time moves in the game as it does in the real world, just at a slightly faster pace. I was able to complete the story in about two weeks of game time. If you stretch out the game and take too long to complete it you’ll be given a bad ending on April 15th. I finished the game with about four months to spare, so you have plenty of time to get every little collectible if you happen to have all the time in the world.

The story is just bare bones to be completely honest. You set out on a journey to find your fathers murderer, Lan Di. This is done by talking to people in town, investigating and trying to get more and more clues to where Lan Di is. Ryo will hit a roadblock here and there, eventually landing a job moving crates at the docks and finding passage on a ship. This is where the game ultimately ends and the next game picks up, simple as that really. Apparently, in Japan, they even took all the cutscenes in this game and made them into a movie that they played at certain theaters after the game came out. What a simpler time.

I’m not really knocking the game any for it’s brevity, I have so much love and fondness for this game that nothing can really spoil it for me. The simple fact that Ryo goes around asking people where sailors hang out is worth the price of admission. What surprised me in this playthrough was just the shear amount of downtime you have.

The story in this game cannot be rushed. You will be told to come back at 7PM to meet a character and have nothing to do for the whole afternoon. This is why you’re allowed to explore, shop, buy capsule toys, and visit the arcade. You’re meant to be enamored by the depth of the world to keep you occupied. I, however, have played this game before and have played the arcade games many times in the past. I only wanted to get enough capsule toys for the associated trophies. So I just ended up leaving the game sitting idle as I did other stuff non gaming related. When the time came I’d pick up the controller, make a save, and trigger the next cutscene.

Let’s now talk about work. Ryo will eventually head down to the docks and start working a forklift to make some extra cash and learn about the Mad Angels. You have to spend a few days going to work, starting with a race around the docks where you can earn little capsule toys for winning. You then get instructions on where to pick up boxes and where you need to drop them off. So you just drive around on your forklift until you get a lunch break where you can buy some more toys, work again and clock out at 5pm. Going back to this game and playing it now, this part of the game really felt like a bit of a slog. Compare that to playing this back when it launched on the Dreamcast, this part of the game was an opportunity for my brother and I to slow down the story and earn some money while buying all the toys, music tapes, and items in the store. The reality of it all, you come to find out, is that you don’t need any of that crap (besides 50 unique toys for the trophies).

When looking back at this game, the interesting aspect is the fighting mechanics. Shenmue was originally meant to be an offshoot of Virtua Fighter, but it doesn’t feel like it translated that well. I absolutely hated the combat in the game this time around. The controls in combat just felt so slow and unresponsive. You have no way to effectively counter or control your opponent. Instead you just try to do some sort of move and hope it lands. Sometimes you’ll win your fight the first round, sometimes you die and have to replay it, it all feels like luck whether you win or lose. You get to the point where you just want to try and cheese all the enemies by spamming some moves you think will land. I tried training in some of my downtime, but it just ends up feeling pointless after a while. You go into a parking lot and just do the same moves over and over, hitting the air. What’s the point? If you’re coming from some of the Yakuza or Judgment games and are expecting a fun arcady style beat ’em up, this is not that.

Final Score – 7.0 (biased opinion)

I have a soft spot for this game so it’s hard for me to recommend it to others that are coming in new. I’m not sure if I could honestly make that call. Part of what makes this game so special is knowing all the history behind it and knowing the state of video games when it was released. You see the seed of the Yakuza franchise here. You understand that people who worked on this game went on to create the Yakuza games. I would have loved if this title was remastered by the Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio like they did the first two Yakuza games. Until that time, this version allows a wider group of people to experience this classic and historical game, whether you have the same connection to it as I do is a different matter. I do find it hard to dismiss the historical context of this game and what it was attempting to accomplish at the time. My score would have been higher if I reviewed it when it originally came out, and I still feel like this score is a tad high for what it is, but it would hurt me too much to bump it down even further.

Mass Effect Legendary Edition (PS5) – Review

Having played the original Mass Effect on the XBox 360 when it came out, the second game on PC, and not having a solid memory of playing the third game on anything, I had to pick this collection up. This was a day one purchase and a series I truly enjoyed replaying.

This is my Shepard, there are many like her, but this one is mine.

Over the years I forgot most of the story of Mass Effect. I remembered bits about splitting up your team on a suicide mission, Mass Effect relays, sexual relationships, and scanning planets for hours on end. Having just completed the collection, I’m drawn to the relationship with Liara that my fem-Shep carried through all the games. How I spurned the advances from my other team members. How we took down the shadow broker and revived a Prothean all while saving the universe.

The games do need to be played back-to-back to get a true feeling for the brilliance of this series. If you pick up the Legendary Edition, make sure you have the time to commit to the whole series, the payoff is all the better for it. The amount of time needed to beat each ones goes up with each game. Depending on trophy hunting and completion ration, you’re looking at 15-30 hours per game.

The first game is a little rough around the edges. The environments are really basic and there isn’t much depth to any aspect of the game besides the storytelling. While that sounds like a negative, it’s not a knock against the game. You’re already jumping into a massive trilogy, so feeling this first game out and seeing that it’ll be a relatively short and easy romp provides a good sense of motivation. There aren’t a lot of side missions to mess around with. Levels are pretty basic so you’re not going to get lost or frustrated. Just dig into the fantastic story and start learning about the lore of the universe. Spend some time getting to know all of the squadmates and engross yourself into the world.

I started the game thinking that I’d go renegade (dark side), as apposed to paragon (light side). From my first interaction I realized that I just can’t be a dick to people. I wanted to help everyone out, be the hero, get my girl, and save the day. So Paragon it was.

STNG reference?

The first game has one really major choice for your character to make, it has to do with the squad-mate you send to die. You get to chose between Ashley and Kaiden, needless to say the guy took the bullet for the team on this one. He was a good soldier and understood the risks involved and was wiling to make a sacrifice for the galaxy.

I’m not going to dive deep into the story in this review because that’s the whole point of the series. The story is the main driving force and the relationships you form with your crew are all the flavor your little ice cream shop needs to stay in business. The first game does start surprisingly well. The voice acting holds up, even though the character animations and graphics don’t. It would have been really nice to have seen this series get the Demon Souls treatment and brought into the current generation of graphics. As it is, it’s a nice lookback of the evolution of the series and how their engine evolved over the three games.

The guy is old.

The second game immediately feels tighter in the gameplay area. Combat is more strategic, you don’t have to just run around with a handgun shooting people in the head. The AI in the first game is pretty horrible, characters would just move left and right like big idiots, the second game bestows them with more of a brain and they’re now capable of using cover.

The biggest addition the second game makes is the introduction of the Illusive Man played by Martin Sheen. It’s a cool concept to have this perceived enemy, with crazy eyes and a room looking over a star that is controlling your characters actions and all that it implies. You get a mix of old and new crew along with DLC characters that are all included in this game.

Illusive Man.

The game world itself expands from the first, now worlds are more detailed and not as cookie-cutter like how the first game felt. The universe is a bit bigger and has more places to explore. You now get bespoke loyalty missions with each of your squadmates. These missions allow you to get some one-on-one time with your crew to help them out and learn more about them. They are each a great chance to play a cool mission while hanging out with your crew and making them happy.

This is the game that made planet scanning a thing. The thing is, and here is a tip for all you trophy hunters, you don’t need to scan that many planets. Just take it easy, every solar system does not need to get 100% scanned or drained of resources or anything like that. It’s a waist of time, trust me. It’s funny how scanning planets is a memory I clearly have from over a decade ago…

Choices.

The hacking in this game is also so much better than the first one, you don’t have to do that simple puzzle game anymore, now you get a few different options based on the type of device you’re getting into, and they’re a little more stimulating this time which is good.

Some highlights from this game are taking down the Shadow Broker, Jack’s storyline, and the final assault where the whole team comes together to do a mission. Nobody on my team died because I looked at a trophy guide and made sure I ticked all the boxes, but it’s just fun to finally have everyone you’ve met get involved in a big mission. It made the stakes feel even that much more important to the story, especially for the player.

Old Friends.

After taking down the second game, I was almost about to stop playing and mix it up a bit with another game. I am so glad I didn’t do that and just started up the next one. Now remember, I just got the platinum in two games in a row, even though they are much easier to get now than in the original trophy list, which was something I never even considered doing. So I had a few more hours invested in each game than someone else who just wants the story. I was immediately hooked in the story and just wanted to see it through the end. I loaded up my save character and got to work!

The best thing about this game is that you get to start with a bunch of level up points that you can spend on skills, and you start with a bit of money which makes everything a little easier.

Choices

Immediately you can tell this is a new game. It just felt even better to play than the second game. Movement felt fresh and you weren’t confined to the running stamina bar you had in the second game. Character models all look pretty good, the females in this game have bodies out of magazines, which is a look. The weirdest thing I found in all these games is the way Shepard walks, there is something about her gate. When you think about it you can figure out what is happening, I think they have one skeleton that they use for all their characters. That means that everyone will have the same basic proportions and the joints will be in the same places. To accommodate certain species and genders using one rig, something has to not look right, and it’s definitely female Shepard. As she saunters around the galaxy, looking like a cowboy or something. She has one of the oddest gaits of any character in a game. It’s not a huge deal, just an interesting artifact to uncover.

Another thing that shocked me was when I saw Ashley Williams. I guess being a Specter suits her well. She cleaned herself up, got a haircut and learned how to put on makeup. It’s pretty hilarious to see how her character evolved over the games. I wonder what happened in the meetings with the character artists as they were putting this game together.

Ashely, meet Ashley. She’ll be replacing you from now on.

The thing that blew me away with the third game was just how many different environments and art assets you see in your journey. You go from a mission on a crashed ship in the middle of an ocean where you dive down in a mech suit to the bottom searching for your goal to a densely populated city where you’re helping freedom fighters take back a city. It just adds to the world building and makes you feel more connected with an actual universe of people who are all counting on the success of your mission. Compare that to some of the previous games and it does feel like there is a bigger budget on this title.

This game adds a war assets feature where every good deed you do and every alley you recruit adds to a growing pool of assets. The more you get the better your outcome is in the end. Needless to say, you kind of want to get as many forces together as possible. Not just for the number or for the outcome it provides, but you want to stay in this world just a little bit longer. You want to get that flotilla together because you’ve been hearing about these people since the first game. You feel a need to make the rounds, to touch base with everyone you can and to join hands in stopping this genocide from happening.

Perhaps it’s because Liara is my girl and I stayed faithful to her throughout the series, but I did feel a connection to her. It’s a little sad that you can’t go full dating sim with her and that you only get a few scripted moments to have any real sort of connection. It would have been nice to get that a little more fleshed out, but that’s a criticism I have for a lot of games with this type of mechanic. In the end, they did do a good job with her relationship, so I’m not complaining too much.

If you have a problem with Jack dancing on the table, you tell her to stop.

Another great moment in this game is when you get to bring everyone to your apartment to have a party. It’s a great time to just have the whole crew together for a celebration, where characters can loosen up and get drunk. It was fun seeing everyone interact with each other, which doesn’t happen that often with the dynamics of ship life.

The funny thing about the ending is that I can’t say I was overly happy about the way it turned out. For those that want to know, you get to choose between three different outcomes for the universe, or go down a secret path were it’s basically game over and you fucked up. I don’t like how ambiguous the ending feels, no matter which one you choose. I got a little beacon of hope at the end, but I still would have liked just a bit more. It’s a little sad knowing that the new game, Andromeda, doesn’t really pick up on this character arc and they team decided to start so far away from this world and everything that was established in this trilogy.

My girl.

Final Score – 9.4

This was a fantastic series. Playing through this legendary edition made me really love Mass Effect all over again. Time had worn down my appreciation for the series. It left it as a memory of something that was good, but today probably wouldn’t hold up. I was wrong. These games do hold up, and they tell a science fiction story full of depth, heart, and intrigue. I finished the series and had the same feeling I got from finishing a good TV show or movie series in which you’re fully invested in the characters and world for an extended period of time. You just want to live in it a little longer and digest everything that just happened. The only thing left for me to do would be to play through again as a renegade asshole. Here’s hoping that a remake of this series, similar to Demon’s Souls on PS5 is in the works.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales – Review

Now this is the second game I jumped into on my PS5, right after finishing up Astro’s Playroom. I didn’t want to get into Demon’s Souls at first, since I figured it was going to take a good amount of time and commitment to get through it. So what’s more fun than a modern Spider-Man game to break in a console? I bought the full 70 USD version of the game that came with the remastered original, not because I thought it was a good deal or anything, I just want the best version of that original game for the next time I play through it. I do consider the price and the way they structured the upgrade to PS5 to be a bit anti-consumer, which is a topic we can get into later. A funny thing to note about this title and the PS5 is that I bought the PS5 version of the game, from my PS5, which I have to say it did download at a really fast speed and only took between 20-30 minutes for the whole bundle to download. What I noticed though, is that it also downloaded the PS4 version of the games onto my PS5. It’s a really odd thing for the system to do without even asking, this is not something people are looking for. If you have data caps on your internet you should be really pissed, and what’s the likelihood that someone downloading a PS5 version of a game onto their PS5 would also want the PS4 version at the same time? What are they thinking over there at Sony HQ? It’s dumb, fix it.

The Game

What struck me most about this game and the character of Miles Morales is the way he’s positioned in the pop culture of America between the games and movies. The previous game came out before Into the Spider Verse came out, and that game introduced his character into the game world, but now you have this larger game that is centered around this established character. The Spider Verse movie came out so strong that that version of Miles is who the character should be in the game, that’s the version we all love. So this character had a hard time being as good as that one and I don’t think he eclipsed the Miles from the movies performance and vibe. He’s a different person, a Miles from a different multi-verse and that’s okay in the end. You can unlock his suit from the movie and add modes that make him animate in the style of the film, which ends up looking really cool. Just don’t go in expecting that vibrant and alive world from the movie. It’s more of a realistic, grounded experience that feels constrained by the previous game.

In the game, you get a little bit of the musical flavor from the movie, a little bit of his style as a person, but it just doesn’t seem to have that insane and dramatic flair that the movie did so well at portraying. That hurt my impression of this game just the slightest as I played it, Miles would start dancing to a song and I’d just want the game to give me more of it and to pump it all up to 11. When you get past that point though, you find a game that has a story that grips you and carries you through the whole experience. It doesn’t drag it’s heels much, you learn about all the characters in his life through the story and missions. It becomes less about the city and more about the people in it. It becomes okay that it’s not Into the Spider Verse, it’s a continuation of a Spider-Man game and it’s going to lead into the next main title in the series.

If you’ve played the first Spider-Man game in this series, then you’ll know exactly what to expect in this one. It’s the 1.5 version on the way to the next full sequel. The combat is exciting, you get different powers than what Peter Parker uses, which makes it seem fresh. It’s just more of the same which isn’t that bad of a thing. Swinging around the city feels just as good as it did in the last game, the only major difference is that you do a lot less of it since you can basically fast travel around the map in the matter of seconds. That also helps in cutting down on the feeling of wasting time as you play this game. If you have a mission or side quest that you want to do on the other side of the city, just pull up your map and select the nearest fast travel point, you’ll be there in two seconds.

What makes this game feel next gen is the loading speed and the use of ray traced reflections present in the graphics mode of the game. On your first playthrough, I say don’t even start up the performance mode, keep it locked to 30 fps and see what ray tracing does to the world. If you switch back and forth to test them out, you really do notice the difference in performance and just how smooth the 60 fps is, but if you keep playing on 30 fps then it really does become less of an issue.

The reflections in the game add a lot to the way the world looks. Swing through a city street with buildings of glass on both sides and take in the added depth and believability on display. Plant yourself to the side of a building and see your character reflected perfectly on the glass. Walk up to the TV in your house and see the distorted image of your character on the curved tube of the TV. As a person into the graphical fidelity of games, this is something I couldn’t stop looking at in each new environment, we’re finally at a point where the horrible artifacting of screen-space reflections can be put to bed.

Some impressive detail. Remember when games used to have walls of fog to hide geometry?

Once you get past the graphics, or at least admire them only on occasion and not all the time, the story in the game becomes the leading force. You get to experience Miles becoming his own version of Spider-Man at a time when Peter is on vacation. The arc of the story is nice and tight, with not a lot of down time or long, drawn out sequences. The game does play it really safe, which is both good and bad. It’s good in that it makes the whole game fun to play and enjoyable to watch, the bad is that it ends up lacking an emotional punch. I felt like the game didn’t take that many chances, Miles never really got angry at anything or anyone, and the trauma in his life has already past well before this game started. While he does experience a traumatic experience in this title, I feel like it didn’t carry the emotional weight that it should have.

Saying that, it’s okay that it didn’t. It’s nice to have this type of experience, not everything has to be a Last of Us game. Kids are going to play this and get a real kick out of it. Hell, everyone who plays this game will get a real kick out of it. The swinging mechanics are just spot on, it’s so fun to swing around and launch off the top of a building, then do a few flips before skimming the ground as you swing back up.

Oh yea, my two cents is that the new Peter Parker face is way better than the original from the first game. When I saw that guy on screen for the first time I couldn’t believe they made Peter look like that, didn’t fit the character at all. The face swap makes his character so much better for it.

I did experience a few bugs with this game. It crashed on me once, which might be the result of not quitting the game when I’m turning off my PS5, I usually just put it into rest mode and resume on next bootup. That shouldn’t be an issue though, although it is early days for the console. I also had an issue of playing it on the performance mode and getting massive stutters constantly. I closed out the game and reloaded it and that seemed to have fixed the issue. So just a few little patches to both the game and the system should resolve those issue easily.

Final Score – 8.8

A great little game. An even better value at a discounted price. If you’re going for the platinum like I was, you have to play the game again on new game +. I switched it to the 60 fps and skipped as many cut scenes as possible and was able to beat it in about 3 hours. That will give you a bit of context on it’s length. I’m happy I played it, can’t wait for the next full sequel.

Two for the price of one?

PlayStation 5 Launch

It’s been a crazy few weeks for me. Moved to Japan during a crazy pandemic, had to be restricted and not able to leave my residence for 16 days, and finally got all my household items after being without them for three months. Here we are though, the cusp of a new console generation.

I went through a ridiculous process to get my Bestbuy preorder when sites started to just jump the gun and start releasing pre orders early. I was hoping for an Amazon one, but I’m a little glad I didn’t. So I was able to get a pre order and was going to ship it to my brother since I didn’t have an actual mailing address until just a week or two ago. I then found out that Bestbuy wouldn’t even let me change my mailing address since their website sucks so bad.

In spite of all that, I went to my local store on the launch day, which was a day in the future for me because of my location, and saw a huge preorder pickup line a couple hours before the store opened. I went home disappointed and started unpacking more of the house, resigned to wait for my mail to get to me, whenever that was.

Fifteen minutes before the store opened I decided to just go check it out since it’s only about a five minute walk away. As I rounded the corner and saw the line, it seemed a lot smaller than the one in the morning. Then I noticed that it was snaking around this time. I crept up to the back of the line and ended up just standing in the back of the line, about 100 people in front of me leading into the store. Within a few minutes of waiting a lady from the store came out and started handing out slips, she had counted the inventory and wanted to ensure that people in line could get a system and to help organize everything. She’d walk through the line and grab a small stack of slips out of her pocket, then dip back in and grab a few more, it was very misleading and a bit cheeky.

To my surprise, she made it to me and pulled out a fresh slip from her pocket and bestowed me with the ability to buy a console. Granted, I had already paid for my first console months ago when Bestbuy snatched the money from me. The preorder still said it hadn’t even shipped yet, just processing. My anxiety turned to excitement and then more anxiety. What if they only had the digital editions by the time I got in the store and could buy one? I definitely did not want one of those, although I was trying to convince myself that I could use an extra console in the bedroom. So I scanned the box of everyone coming out of the store, they all had the slots on the image, perhaps that was all the inventory they received. I was starting to feel better and better.

Once i was in the store, they’d only allow three people in at a time to keep social distancing, I was able to hand over my little piece of paper and pick up my PS5 from a stack of about 40 that they had left. I quickly got in line, there was no need to buy any accessories or games, and paid for my system. To my surprise they rang it up at 479.99 with no tax. It wasn’t that bad. I’m probably going to go all digital with this console since my internet it so good here, and I don’t have a data cap or anything like that to worry about.

It’s been a long road to get to this point.

I quickly walked home and unboxed the console and hooked it up to my 65” LG OLED in the living room. I have it standing up and kind of tucked behind my tv which I actually like a lot. I went through the setup process, decided not to transfer any saves or setting from my PS4 Pro, you can do it later so it’s all good, and just used the PlayStation app to scan the QR Code and sign in that way. Then I jumped to the store, saw that there were only a small handful of PS5 games available and that I could only preorder the games I wanted. I still had until the afternoon for them to be unlocked and played. I got the Spider-Man Miles Morales with the remaster of the first game and Demon’s Souls. They downloaded really fast, perhaps Sony has fixed their download speed issue that they’re known for. I was able to download both games in under an hour.

Tucked slightly behind my TV. I’ll probably move it further behind and I do some more cable management.

I then went and downloaded a few other games like Bugsnax and some PS4 games to test out. The interesting thing I found was that my PS4 games downloaded a lot slower than the PS5 titles. Not sure what was happening with that or if they upgraded their CDN for this generation.

So I then jumped right into Astros Playroom and got my hands on the new controller, it was an impressive showcase of what the controller can do, not necessarily of the console hardware. That can be left to other games like Demons Souls I suppose. I then bounced into Miles Morales and Demon’s Souls just to get a small taste.

All in all, a surprisingly good launch day for PS5 for me. I feel lucky to get one for myself and another for my brother. It’s really shitty that people are already trying to scalp systems on eBay. This has sort of revitalized my enthusiasm for playing games on my console, now I’m just looking forward to getting into the games and the system and truly seeing what this next generation of consoles are all about.