Monday, October 30, 2006

Suda 51's Contact mini-review

Suda 51 and Grasshopper's Contact was easily one of the most anticipated title of 2006. From the moment the game boots you will find that this isn't just any RPG. Faced with an old school computer keyboard of the first three function key, which is used to begin the game, all harks back to the good old 8-bit computing days. Then it begins. You tap the Professor, who finds your DS communicating device pretty impressive. He also asks a series of questions - personal questions mind you. Then we meet Terry.

I will explain the gameplay mechanism first. Contact does not allow you to directly control Terry. In fact the game revolves around three characters - Terry, the mysterious Professor and you, the player. While you can control Terry to a certain extent, the Professor mainly communicates with you. Put it simply, if there ever was a god, you are one - although you will taking your orders from the Professor. This is why the game is called Contact.

Battles are simplified. In order to command Terry to attack, you only need to toggle the 'A' button once. Terry will then attack the nearest NPC. The only control you have over Terry is to move him around, thus avoiding damage from enemies, or to toggle the battle mode off and run away. Special attacks exists in the form of touchscreen decals but this is limited. The game does allows extreme freedom in who Terry can attack, including friendly NPCs. In time if Terry attacked enough friendly NPCs, they will finally wise up and gang up on Terry. Stats are in real time. For example, anytime Terry gets hit, his defence level goes up.

A couple of unique gameplay mechanism exists in Contact, including one that almost mimics that of killer7's (it was developed by the same team after all). As Terry progress through, costumes can be unlocked (found) which gives Terry new abilities (jobs in RPG lingo). Basically certain weapons or abilities can only be toggled when Terry dons a costume. Want to cook? Then Terry has to adorn an chef costume. This is similar to killer7 where the main character has to 'morph' into another character in order to gain certain skills.

The graphics, while utilising 2D sprites to provide a pseudo-3D isometric view, is equally as unique. In order to separate the world in which the Professor and Terry are from, the developers went for two unique looks, one for the Professor's world (his spaceship) and another for Terry's. The Professor's section (top screen) has a look that is similar to the Mother series - isometric sprites, clean lines, simple geometry etc much like early SNES titles. Terry's world on the other hand, while still simply enough, is more like watching a moving surrealistic environment.

Contact, like killer7 is a brilliant but flawed game. At times, it is as brilliant as Mother 3 - which was fantastic (in the 30 minutes I tried to play with an FAQ translation until I grew fedup with having to switch on my PC just to play a GBA game - I will wait for the rumoured Mother DS compilation), and at times you feel like throwing your DS against the wall due to the frustration with the game's lack of direction. You can easily get stuck as objectives are rarely given, and those that come through from the Professor are often vague and cryptic. Having said that Contact is an experience. This is very much a game you could easily hate as much as I love!


Buy now Play-Asia or Amazon UK

Saturday, October 28, 2006

MTB BIke Ride: Eastbourne to the Long Man of Wilmington (and back again) via South Downs Way

We went down to Eastbourne today for a bike ride today. As usual we got up late!

After making sure we are packed, We took to train from Brighton station and reached Eastbourne at 12.30pm. Once there we had to navigate our way out of centre Eastbourne and get onto the foot of the South Downs. We cycled from the station to the official starting point (or finishing end depending on your point of view) of the national trail South Downs Way (the trail is apparently almost unchanged from those used thousands of years ago by Stone Age men). There is another trail for walkers from the promenade through Beachy Head, but it is used mainly by walkers.

The trail begins at the foot near Paradise Plantation (next to the Royal Eastbourne Golf Club). Getting there is tricky and we wasted plenty of time getting lost. The easiest way (but not the shortest) is taking Meads Road. This will connect to Beachy Head Road. You would need to turn left into Carlisle Road, heading straight before turning left into Link Road. It is roughly 1 1/2 mile from the station. Anyway we immediately started our ascent up the hill. It was fucking windy. I won't go into extreme details on where to turn and stuff (get an OS map!), but you will have to cross A259, where the SDW goes through the Eastbourne Downs Golf Club. About 1 1/2 hours after we left Eastbourne Station we descended on the rocky bridleway into the medieval village of Jevington, just east of Friston Forest.

Here we took a breather, before getting lost again. We cycled about 1/2 mile north of Jevington Road looking for the SDW marker, before common sense prevailed, allowing me to check a compas. We double back and finally found the marker just 50 yards away from where we came entered Jevington! To save you time, the road is called Church Lane and is 200 yards long, passing St Andrew's Church parish before connecting back on the SDW. 1/2 hour later we finally arrived at the famous chalk figure Long Man of Wilmington (you will have to divert out of the SDW). Supposedly censored by insecure Victorian-Christians, the Long Man is apparently the depection of an Anglo-Saxon pagan god. At 227 feet tall, the carving is the largest human representation in Europe, and second in the world. You won't be able to see the Long Man as you will be above it though. In order to see it properly you will have to cycle straight on the SDW, passing the reservoir, then turning right onto the Wealdway and heading back east.

We continued west on the SDW for about a mile, but because it was late (about 4pm) and we didn't want to head to Alfriston due to the requirment to take the dangerous A259 to Seaford (there wasn't any time left), we decided to head back towards Eastbourne under the increasingly super windy and darkening conditions. We finally reached Eastbourne at 5.30pm, after riding a total of 14.5 miles off-road and 6 miles on road (2 miles in Brighton).

The start:

A demonstration of the almost murderous wind condition at Eastbourne Downs Golf Club.


Evil looking sheeps:

The fantastic views of the valley near Windover Hill:

Above the Wilmington Giant:

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Happy slappers targeting cyclists

I received an e-mail from Jennifer about an incident that happened to one of her colleague. There is a craze now where teenagers would gather on the kerb by the road and lash out at cyclists. The cyclist in question was punched in the head so hard that apparently a chunk of her helmet broke off. This happened on the A270, which I use frequently whenever I am in Brighton if I want to head to the South Downs.

Reading the e-mail reminded me because about a month ago when we were cycling back from Ditchling Beacon late at night, a group of three or four youths were eyeing us. Fortunately we knew a lot about chav these days. We picked up speed and cycled to the middle of the road (dangerous - but the road was deserted) and avoided them. False alarm maybe but you can't be sure these days.

I am guessing that this is a new turn for happy slapping. As if we already have enough trouble from motorists from the right side, now we have to worry about being assaulted by murderous youths from the left side!

Anyway, another reason why I hate using cycle lanes. They are too narrow, share the same lane as buses and illegal cab drivers, and with this new craze, takes you closer to idiots.

Gyakuten Saiban 2 DS / Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All review

I finally got hold of the DS remake to goofy lawyer adventure Gyakuten Saiban 2 (forthwith known as GS2 in this review)! And let me tell you, so far I am having a blast! Sweet sweet Maya, it is finally great to have you back! I was so excited I actually considered yelling "Objection" and "Take that" while playing the game on the Tube.

Out of respect to the initial concerns voiced by fans, I can confirm that the translation is great. Okay, I have only been through the first two cases, but so far I have only encountered the rare and frankly pretty minor grammatical mistakes. I have seen more mistakes in dedicated Western releases, so kudos to Capcom Japan for getting it (mostly) right. The same standard of humour found in the first DS remake is repeated here - retailored to suit English speaking cultures.

It is a pity the game, unlike GS1 DS, would not feature a bonus fifth case (although I can't confirm since I am still on case 2). Even then the first two GS2 cases are much longer than their equalvalent cases in the first game - hence my happy mood. Some may find the new soundtrack to be initially disorientating (which I did) but you will soon get the hang of it. It suits the 'darker' themes.

Despite the confirmation by British Courts that importers like us are apparently in cahoots with 'criminals', you really should import this. Hell, since this title is a 'Best Price' budget title (it is a remake of a GBA game after all), you can get this on the cheap. Play-Asia has this for £16. Sixteen bloody quid for a legit new factory sealed game with Japanese/English option - that you can play now, or the £30 jack-up price that our good retailers will attempt to con UK consumers 4-5 months from now? You decide.

Now Capcom, start working on that GS3 translation!


Buy now from Play-Asia or Amazon UK


With this, Contact, Seiken Densetsu: Children of Mana and Final Fantasy III, I believe it is finally time to switch off my mobile, pull the telly plug and kiss goodbye my social life for the whole month of November!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Sony Europe screws European gamers

Thanks a lot Sony Europe. Just when we thought you couldn't sink any lower...

Many of us get our games from Lik-Sang, and none are for your expensive and bloated PSP platform, and yet today, I along with many customers have suffered because of your lawsuit! European gamers are constantly being ripped off. This is why many of us import, get it? We take into account the savings (sometimes up to 50%) and the fact that we get to play new games - earlier too. More money saved, more games bought. Your parent company's revenue remains protected!

The fact that portable games are region-free makes it even sweeter. So how can you complain that region-free games are not meant to be exported? Protecting us European customers? Stop the bullshiting! You are the main cause of exploding laptops, remember? If you want to protect us then march down to Tottenham Court Road and close down those shops who overcharges on dodgy exploding products.

Of course there is still Play-Asia and other import companies but I am sure SCEE will be using this victory to shut them down. I am already having difficulties off-loading used import games on eBay and CEX (which, to be fair, seems to be stemming from NoE). The days when we need to pay smack down 30 to 50 quid for games, that are released many months later than our friends in North America, are back. Lik-Sang wasn't selling pirated games or even mod-chips!
Furthermore, Sony have failed to disclose to the London High Court that not only the world wide gaming community in more than 100 countries relied on Lik-Sang for their gaming needs, but also Sony Europe's very own top directors repeatedly got their Sony PSP hard or software imports in nicely packed Lik-Sang parcels with free Lik-Sang Mugs or Lik-Sang Badge Holders, starting just two days after Japan's official release, as early as 14th of December 2004 (more than nine months earlier than the legal action). The list of PSP related Sony Europe orders reads like the who's who of the videogames industry, and includes Ray Maguire (Managing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Alan Duncan (UK Marketing Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Chris Sorrell (Creative Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd), Rob Parkin (Development Director, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited), just to name a few.
See? Even Sony European directors are fans of Lik-Sang. I suspect that this lawsuit was borned by the marketing department and retailers looking to protect their revenue.

In other news, £425 can buy me 200 pints of lager at the pub!

Source: Eurogamer

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Waiting for Contact

The next few weeks will be great as far as DS gamers are concerned: Contact, Seiken Densetsu: Children of Mana, Gyakuten Saiban 2, Final Fantasy III, Elite Beat Agents, Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, Touch Detective and Magical Starsign. As usual none of these will be released in Europe anytime soon so the only way to play early is to import. Cheaper and you get a better box to boot!

Grasshopper's Contact was just released in North America is one of the most eargerly RPG game of this year (for me anyway). The game features visual styles similar to the pixelated Mother series (on the top screen) and an almost water coloured sprites on the bottom screen (similar to Golden Sun). What else would you expect from the developers of killer7.

I am actually considering deferring on getting the Wii until much later on account of the many A+ games the DS platform would be getting in the next few months!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

MTB Review: Specialized Air Tool Mini frame pump

We wouldn't be able to do the South Downs Way today due to the fucking rain. Hopefully next week. But here is a bike related post - a Specialized Air Tool Mini frame pump which I just bought from Raymant's. I was there looking at Specialized's 2007 Stuntjumper bikes but I couldn't afford one just yet!

I never thought I would say this but this is the sexiest bicycle frame pump ever made. For your money Specialized made sure that the barrel and shaft is made of nice matte aluminium. Very shiny!

The locking head is compatible with Presta or Schraeder valve, though sadly it doesn't feature Specialized's own SwitchHitter head (which allows for different valves without converting the head).

The other great thing about Specialized's Air Tool series is the handle bar unscrews to reveal a small compartment for storing flat tire patches. It is essentially a gimmick but at least they had the decensy to include a small patch of sandpaper and one glueless patch (though the packaging did imply "patches" so technically Specialized owes me at least one more patch).

Mounted on the bike. As you can see it is very small. Again - very sexy.

As you would expect from an emergency pump, and a small one at that, the pump isn't able to push as much air in as a foot pump (or a normal sized Air Tool) though it works very well -much better than my old Beto anyway. Air still leaks through the valve but a harder push usually solves the problem. But who cares? When you need to hit the trail, you need a small and light frame pump. And this works (fairly) well and is sexy as hell!

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Eastbourne to Brighton

With winter fast approaching, we hope to be able to finally tackle at least one epic ride (24-36 miles) through the South Downs Way this weekend or the next (ideally suited close to my birthday), depending on the weather. I have three proposed end, all suitably nearby Brighton. It all hinges on how well we do, how fast we can manage, how much time is wasted taking pointless pictures for this blog, how reliable is Southern to Eastbourne, the start of the trail, my lack of map reading skill, and more importantly, whether we can stubbornly crawl out of bed (the reason how last weekend's short ride was due to that!). See, I am already making excuses! Devil's Dyke is pushing it, but I do think Ditchling Beacon is a reasonable target if we make an effort.

Map above by Ordnance Survey, scale: 10km to grid box

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Vatican's cartoon tribute to dead Pope

Why bother? There is already one (probably funnier), which they attempted to ban.

MTB Review: Camelbak Classic hydration backpack

I bought a Camelbak Classic from Blacks the other day. I have been thinking about getting a hydration backpack for months but finally decided that with longer and harder bike trails ahead for me, the 750ml bottle won't be enough. It's pretty good actually.

The Classic has a 2 litres water reservoir in an easy to acces compartment.

Just fill the Omega reservoir up and screw the lock shut. Then slip it into the backpack enclosure.

To drink, just bite the valve and sip. Replacement valves are available.

As a bonus the Classic (and most other Camelbak models) comes with reflector details on the back and an external zip pocket. The pocket is large enough to dump an average size mobile phone and other essentials such as keys and puncture kit.

Here is Jennifer modeling for me during the Friston Forest bike trail. I love the low profile design of the Classic. She liked it so much she practically stole it from me for much of the ride.

With 2 litres of water the Classic should be sufficient for 2-3 hours of bike trail. If you are planning on enduro or epic consider getting a 3 litres Camelbak Mule or Mayhem instead. The bag and water reservoir seems sturdy enough and I know of Camelbak backpacks owners who has theirs for 2-3 years and never had a problem with it. A good investment I hope.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

MTB Bike Ride: Seven Sisters and Friston Forest

We went cycling at Friston Forest yesterday. The forest contains numerous opportunities to tackle large climbs (50-100 meter of death defying steepness). We took the train to Seaford and arrived at about 2pm. We didn't have much light left (we should have started in the morning) hence the decision to only do a loop of Friston Forest.

For anyone thinking of getting down to Friston Forest, head down to the promenade from Seaford station and cycle eastwards, then turn left into Cliff Grons (National Cycle Network 2). Cycle straight up onto Corsica Road, before turning left into Southdown Road. Next, turn into Chyngton Road/Chyngton Way and cycle up to until the end of the road (about 1/2 mile). There is a golf course on the right. Turn left into Chyngton Lane, a rough byway, until you reach the narrow A259. Continue eastwards on the A259. Take care as the A259 is very fast downhill road and is extremely busy due to be the only connecting main road from Eastbourne to Brighton in this section of Seaford. You will eventually reach the single lane Exceat Bridge, where you can enjoy a lovely view of Cuckmere River. Continue down the road until you reach a tourist information centre. Seven Sisters Country Park is opposite the road, but this isn't where you want to go (there isn’t a bridleway there). Turn left into National Cycle Network 2 and cycle onwards until you see a sign into Westdean, a small village on the south west corner of Friston Forest. There you can chose whichever route you want to. Friston Forest is also populated with waymarkers for technical singletrack riders.

If you would prefer not to head into Friston Forest just yet you could continue upwards about 1 ½ miles where you can visit the small village of Alfriston. There you can make your way westward towards the South Downs Way, where a massive climb to Firle Beacon (705 feet) awaits you, 2 miles from Alfriston. If you bike eastwards (instead of heading towards Firle Beacon) onto the South Downs Way, you will be able to enjoy the view of the famous Long Man of Wilmington.

As I mentioned earlier due to the lack of time we decided to do a quick loop around Friston Forest where we headed east before turning north towards Jevington. Then we cycled westwards before crossing into a bridleway that took us into Lullington Heath National Nature Reserve. Due to the lack of an OS map (we really should just get one) we got a little bit lost until we met a couple who pointed us in the right direction (they got lost too earlier!). I also forgot that we had a compass! Friston Forest seems to be a place where getting lost is a little too easy due to the lack of proper markers on the national trail and bridleways, judging from another cyclist we met on the way home. He forgot his OS map and got lost in the forest too.

Anyway we continued west towards the small village of Litlington before cycling south on the same National Cycle Network 2 we took earlier back to Seaford.

What you need: OS Explorer 123 (Eastbourne and Beachy Head)

There is also a cycle hire nearby Seven Sisters Country Park.

Now for some pictures!

The view of Hawks Brow and Seaford Head from the promenade:

Cuckmere River:

Exceat Bridge:


A flat left towards Javington, or a climb right towards Friston? We went right:

The view downwards after a fucking hard climb:

Rocky bridleway into Litlington:


Sun setting over Seaford:

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Laughing out loud

Before I continue I would like to point out that I did not watch the match. I had zero intention of watching a footie game today, especially one that stared England, the most overrated national team in the world - made up by egotistical rich boys. But I like to piss people off. So here goes.

England (football) fans are morons. Well some of them are. Remember all these?

1. Get rid of Sven.
2. Becks has to go.
3. Make Terry captain.
4. 5-3-2
5. English manager!
6. Shrek is our savior!
7. etc.

Today many of these fans has changed their opinions into these:

1. Bring back Sven.
2. Bring back Becks.
3. Terry and Lampard are nothing without Makelele.
4. 4-4-2
5. Scolari! Hiddink! O'Neill! Please...!!!
6. Overated chav.
7. etc.

And the funny thing is, there were actually people who were expecting them to win.

Talking heads praising Scotland's defeat of France are even worse. They remind me a lot about raving England fans (and pundits who just can't shut it).

I was at WHSmith today and noticed that they are still selling special edition DVDs from when Germany lost to England 5-1 five years ago. What the hell is that? You win some, you lose some. But the difference is other team put the defeat behind them, reconstruct, throw out the really crappy, overrated and overpaid players, who earns more in three days than 99% of us earns in a year, and went on to the semi finals of the World Cup. England just like to dream about that one time when they hammered another team. Like that other country I suppose.

Fair result regardless...

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The most offensive game ever created

While the UK has yet to receive copies of Wario Ware Twisted! for GBA (and some), Nintendo of Europe has seen fit that 'action' game The Holy Bible would get a timely release this November, just in time for the seasonal Christmas shopping.

Hey, if you, as a parent has to decide whether to get Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories or The Holy Bible for your kids, you will be in for some tough decision making. Both contains extreme acts of violence but I can honestly say that The Holy Bible beats GTA, in terms of vile materials, hands down. Where is Jack Thompson when you really need him?

I can already imagine the Wii version of the game. Use the WiiMote as a whip. Hear that Ubi? We are waiting!

Music Review: The Killers - Sam's Town

Okay, I finally had the chance to listen intently to The Killer's new album, after I ripped the album and dumped the tracks onto my portable player. There is nothing better than to listen to music while walking on the promenade with little to care for the world.

First thing first: Sam's Town is a huge departure compared to Hot Fuss. I seriously doubt many fans of Hot Fuss, particularly those who happened to love synth rock, will like this album. Gone are the (mainly) British influence that made up the bulk of the first album. In is Bruce Springsteen, Meatloaf, Queen, Radiohead and U2 (who are way past it BTW - flame me if you will).

It took a couple of seating to get used to it. To be honest some of the tracks has less than ideal intros and I was usually tempted to skip through the tracks quickly (such is my attitude) but after letting go of the 'next' button I relaxed and started to enjoy tracks after tracks with no intervention.

Sam's Town won't blow your mind like Hot Fuss. It depends. If you were expecting Hot Fuss 2 then you will be disappointed. But trust me, while the sound isn't Hot Fuss-esque - it is definitely The Killers. In fact after a couple of seating I was able to trace nods to their previous best selling album. Traces of synth rock is still evident.

Songs are evidently influenced by the late 80s rock scene. Brandon Flowers vocals are evidently influenced by the likes of David Bowie and at times Meatloaf, whom I was a huge fan of back in the early 90s.

While a good album, there are a couple of bad tracks. I would say I prefer the first half of the album (not counting the interlude which was a waste of time) more than the second. My favourite track: The Iron Maiden-esque (lite of course - nobody can touch Iron Maiden) fourth track Bling (Confession of a King) which has an almost unheard of opening soaring guitars (in indie at least), When You Were Young, For Reasons Unknown and Bones.

Like I mentioned earlier. Forget that you are expecting Hot Fuss 2 (though it is much more similar than you might think). And don't skip the tracks!

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Thursday, October 5, 2006

Received Crud Race Guard / Killer's Sam's Town

It is nice when a couple of things drop down your mailbox. Got a couple today. After last week's bike ride when my arse was peppered with much and with autumn approaching, I thought I would order a mudguard for my bike and I did - a Mr. Crud Race Guard from eBay. I will bolt it to my bike in the weekend and take it for a spin down the South Downs.

Also received my copy of The Killer's new LP - Sam's Town. I believe that the indie scene's bubble is about the burst (commercial speaking) with so many similar sounding albums out there. It is centainly very different from Hot Fuss (an album which I am a fan of). Sam's Town is grittier - more rock than the synth rock that was their debut full lenght. I will give a listen for the next couple of days before deciding whether to pen a review. But right now I would give my thumbs up to the new direction that the band is heading.

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Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Yours truly

My new Mii avatar:

And what I hope is a respectable version of Two Jags, clad in New Labour red:

I couldn't do a Tony Blair version as the Mii creator lacks Pinocchio's nose. Also attempts to replicate Dave Cameron failed because it doesn't allow generic creations of me-too avatars.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

MTB Bike Ride: Stanmer Park to Ditchling Beacon

We cycled up to Ditchling Beacon this afternoon. It was a miserable day, but we tried to take advantage of whatever that was available to us (it wasn't raining yet). Plus I didn't cycle for two weeks and the route presented to us some really tough climbs. The rain didn't even begin until when we finally reached the beacon an hour after we left Jenni's place. But lucky for us it was only drizzles. The gusting wind was terrible making the journey even tougher than usual. The Beacon was packed as usual with many people taking their leisurely Sunday walks/bike ride. We ended the ride with the need to scrub our bikes down from all the filth (cow poo and mud).

The view of the Weald from the Beacon:

Double rainbow seen just after a short burst of drizzle:

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