Thursday, January 1, 2009

Thanks and farewell for now

My faithful subscribers may have noticed the rate of posting slow to a trickle recently. I've been dithering about it, but have now decided to let atypicalgamer sleep for a while. I don’t feel able to devote as much attention to the gaming world as I need to make the blog what I wanted it to be.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone who's supported me the last six months or so, to anyone who's read the posts or left comments or found anything useful here; and thanks especially to anyone who's bought the book that started the blog. The book is still out there, but for the time being at least, atypicalgamer won’t be updated. Any comments, questions or feedback, as always you can get in touch via my profile page.

Happy gaming, happy 2009.

the atypicalgamer

Monday, November 24, 2008

Holiday buying guide: PlayStation Portable

Holiday buying guide: PlayStation Portable

This is the final installment of atypicalgamer's weekly buying guides; previous posts cover the DS, Wii, Xbox 360 and PS3. Note that while I've tried to be objective, these posts ultimately represent my own personal opinions. Links take you to Amazon.co.uk, although it's worth pricing against other online retailers such as HMV.com and Play.com.
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Sony's first real handheld games machine was always going to be an event, and the PlayStation Portable did not disappoint. Arriving in the West in 2005, it was a stunning piece of hardware, less a handheld gaming device and more a sort of minicomputer, with a price to match. It was soon overtaken in sales by the DS, however, despite offering numerous extra functions.

It has just one screen, but a superb, sharply defined screen – as you’d expect for a machine built as much for watching movies and slideshows as for playing games; the buttons and controls fade out discreetly around it. Originally rather heavily built for a pocket gadget, the third and latest version is much more streamlined.

Should you buy it?

If you want a do-everything gadget (music, photos, video, games), then the PSP is a decent choice. It's an excellent way to watch films on the move, either via store-bought UMD disc, or ripped to a memory stick from your computer, while games look and sound just as wonderful. If that's not enough, then there are numerous attachments you can buy, to convert it to a phone, a GPS system, and even a Sky TV. Despite coming in a number of colours, it’s not huge on child-appeal and that goes for its games, too, although there are now plenty of original PlayStation games to download. It’s a favourite of the hacker community, who have managed to get it do all do all sorts of things it wasn’t designed for.

Summary of pros and cons

+ Games look and sound fantastic

+ PlayStation Store, accessible from the PSP or PS3 or PC (not Mac), where you can download demos and old favourite games from the PlayStation era.

+ Watch movies and other video in astonishing clarity

+ Store and use photos and music files

+ Wireless online play both ad hoc and via the Internet, plus web browsing

+ Remote play - if you’ve a PS3 you can view the media stored on it remotely

- Not so many original games on disc as some other formats

- Hassle of converting your own DVDs to watch on it

- So many functions can seem overwhelming; but you don’t need to use them all

Ten games to buy

1. Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

2. God of War: Chains of Olympus

3.Lumines

4. LocoRoco

5. Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core

6. FIFA 09

7. Burnout Legends

8. Tekken: Dark Resurrection

9.Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters

10. Patapon

Other stuff to consider

Some bundles come with more accessories than others, so check before forking out what you’re buying already. And of course there's a number of official functional add-ons, which you can check out at Sony's site). But you might want some of the following, always checking they're for the right model of PSP.

Hard acrylic case

Additional Memory Stick Duo - it doesn't have to be Sony branded, but check it's compatible with a PSP

AV cable if you want to plug it into your TV


© Kate Berens, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Holiday buying guide: Nintendo DS

Holiday buying guide: Nintendo DS

This is the fourth of atypicalgamer’s weekly buying guides, covering so far the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360. Next time it's the PSP. Note that while I’ve tried to be objective, these posts ultimately represent my own personal opinions. Links take you to Amazon.co.uk, although it’s worth pricing against other online retailers such as HMV.com and Play.com.

The original DS, launched in November 2004, entered a market that Nintendo already owned with its various incarnations of the Game Boy. But it managed to overtake even that with a revolutionary double-screened machine accessible to anyone. According to Satoru Iwata, President of Nintendo, games had become too difficult for the average person to be able to – or even want to – play. The DS was meant to change all that, mainly through the so-called Touch! Generations games like Brain Training and Sudoku Master. The chunky plastic model was replaced a year later by the current model, the DS Lite, to be superseded next year by the DSi. Its enduring appeal to the younger generation is demonstrated by the fact it comes in a rainbow of colours.

As with the Wii, Nintendo supplemented these titles for new gamers with some old-timer favourites like Super Mario 64 DS; the handheld’s success now means that it gets its own version of many big name games from other publishers too. This doesn’t mean they’re the same (or the same quality) as the PS3 or Xbox 360 version; it’s a good idea to check before buying. Finally, it offers multiplayer gaming, especially easy for short-range “ad hoc” connections.

Should you buy it?

The current DS Lite still plays Game Boy Advance cartridges, but that will be done away with for the DSi, which will have two cameras and an SD slot instead. But if you want multimedia on the go from your handheld, you’re better off with an iPhone or a PSP (see the next post in this series). If you’re simply after the brain training and the games, you won’t be disappointed with a DS.

Summary of pros and cons

+ Suitable for any age group, including inexperienced older and younger gamers

+ Plenty of games to choose from, in most genres

+ Can play Game Boy Advance (GBA) games as well as those specifically for the DS

+ Easy to carry, the clamshell design means it’s protected from inadvertent damage when not in use.

+ Built in WiFi for multiplayer gaming.

- It’s a games machine; if you are looking for an iPod or cameraphone, you won’t get it here

- So many games that it can be hard to find the good amidst the dross

Ten games to buy

1. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

2. Mario Kart DS

3. Animal Crossing: Wild World

4. Super Mario 64 DS

5. Elite Beat Agents

6. FIFA 09

7. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Justice For All

8. Nintendogs

9. Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolution

10. Dr Kawashima's Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain?

Other stuff to consider

There’s nothing essential, but you might want to buy a carrying case, a spare stylus and some game cases for those tiny cartridges.


© Kate Berens, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holiday buying guide: Xbox 360

Holiday buying guide: Xbox 360

This is the third of atypicalgamer’s weekly buying guides. Future posts will cover the DS and PSP; see previous posts for the Wii and PS3. Note that while I’ve tried to be objective, these posts ultimately represent my own personal opinions. Links take you to Amazon.co.uk, although it’s worth pricing against other online retailers such as HMV.com and Play.com.

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The Xbox 360is now the oldest of the current generation of consoles. As the first “next-gen” machine, offering High Definition gaming, and cheaper than the PS3 was projected to be, it sold out instantly on launch in November 2005, a full year ahead of the PS3 and Wii, its success bolstered by the Xbox Live online gaming service. This PR dream was only tainted by the so-called Red Ring of Death: a serious fault that caused early models of the machine to conk out with their normally friendly green lights turning red, leading Microsoft to issue an apology and extended warranty in 2007. Recent models use different components.

While it’s not a sexy, gleaming piece of equipment to look at, its sturdy, matt white exterior (black in the Elite version) means you don’t need to worry about dirty fingermarks, while the wireless controller is equally substantial looking. And of all the consoles of its generation, it has the most games and can also play many titles originally designed for its forebear, the Xbox.

Should you buy it?

At the moment it’s the cheapest console available, even with a 60Gigabyte hard drive; there’s a pricier Elite model with twice the space. An Arcade version comes without the hard drive, but the disadvantage of this is not worth the cost saving. Unlike the PS3, it doesn’t have a Blu-ray drive, Microsoft choosing instead to back the doomed Toshiba HD-DVD format with an add-on drive. It does have the benefit of an excellent online gaming service, on the other hand.

Summary of pros & cons

+ High-definition games look fabulous

+ New, high-spec games come out on Xbox 360

+ Superb online gaming service

+ Xbox Live Marketplace offers dozens of retro and new games to download to the hard drive

+ Excellent value with current price drops

+ Loads of games including backward compatibility with Xbox, though you can’t necessarily transfer save files (check the Xbox site)

+ Works as media centre with a Windows XP computer

+ Watch DVDs

- Controller eats batteries

- Can be noisy in operation

- Adaptor needed for wireless Internet connection


Ten games to buy

1. BioShock

2. Grand Theft Auto IV

3. Halo 3

4. Half-Life 2: The Orange Box

5. Guitar Hero II (with controller)

6. Fallout 3

7. FIFA 09

8. Dead Space

9. Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga

10. Race Driver: GRID


Other stuff to consider

At least one extra controller

Either rechargebable batteries or a Quick Charge Kit

Xbox Live membership for online play

Wireless Bridge if you want a wireless connection


© Kate Berens, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Holiday buying guide: PlayStation 3

Holiday buying guide: PlayStation 3

This is the second of atypicalgamer’s weekly buying guides; the first was for the Wii. Future posts will cover the Xbox 360, DS and PSP. Note that while I’ve tried to be objective, these posts ultimately represent my own personal opinions. Links take you to Amazon.co.uk, although it’s worth pricing against other online retailers such as HMV.com and Play.com.

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The PlayStation 3 is aimed at sophisticated gamers and movie-watchers; it couldn’t look any more different from the Wii. This successor to Sony’s industry-changing PlayStation and PlayStation 2 was announced with no little fanfare in 2005, but ultimately limped into the market in November 2006 (March 2007 in Europe), long after the Xbox 360 had cornered the “next-generation” market. At first, its only vocal fans were film buffs delighted with the PS3’s Blu-ray disc-playing function; but since then its reputation has been creeping upwards, with help from significant price cuts. But Sony plays the long game and is, albeit slowly, delivering all the features that were promised in 2005, making the PS3 genuinely a multimedia, Internet-connected giant in the living room.

It’s a product of its forebears in terms of design, especially its controllers, which have not strayed far from the iconic, user-friendly PlayStation design. They’ve recently got force feedback (look for the DualShock 3 rather than the Sixaxis), and contain motion-sensors, although these are rarely central to the gameplay as they are for the Wii.

Should you buy it?

This glossy black creature begs to be shown off, its elegance extending from the on-off button to the startup sound and the menu screens (rather less prosaically called the XMB or cross-media bar). It doesn’t look kid-friendly in the slightest, although there are plenty of family games to download. However, the PS2, nine years on, has many times more games available and remains ridiculously popular and good value. You can download some older games originally designed for the PS as well as newer, simpler (and cheaper games) than you can buy in the Blu-ray disc format. The PS3 also offers online gaming and has all the functions you’d expect to go with it, including messaging and voice chat.

Several versions of the console have been produced, but at present there’s just an older 40Gigabyte version (that’s the hard disc size) and the newer, standard 80G version. You’ll need this hard drive not just for downloading game content, storing photos, digital music files or movies, but because games frequently partly install there to facilitate quicker loading.

Summary of pros and cons

+ Games look fantastic in high definition

+ Newest, highest-spec games come out on PS3

+ Watching Blu-ray discs and DVDs, accompanied by Dolby Digital sound

+ Wireless controllers are recharged simply by plugging in to the console

+ Standard USB sockets allow you to attach separate hard drives and other peripherals

+ Built-in WiFi makes it simple to download system updates, demos and the like. You can also use the console for web browsing, which should become easier once a keyboard is released

+ PlayStation Store is a treasure trove of downloadable content, including entire previously disc-based games

+ Store and access photos, videos, music

+ Relatively future-proof

- Limited backward compatibility with PS2 and PS games included in early versions of the console; any PS3 bought in the past year doesn’t offer this

- Not as many games available as for the Xbox 360, let alone the PS2. But these days nearly all major titles come out on all consoles

- Games are often slightly more expensive than those for other consoles

Ten games to buy

1. Little Big Planet

2. Grand Theft Auto IV

3. Bioshock

4. Dead Space

5. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune

6. Race Driver: GRID

7. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

8. FIFA 09

9. SingStar

10. Sid Meier's Civilization: Revolution

Other stuff to consider

At least one extra controller

If you’re planning to move stuff between the PS3 and your computer, or back up what youv’e downloaded, you’ll want a portable hard drive

HDMI cable if you have an HD television

A Blu-ray remote control can be handy for watching lots of films, though the game controller is adequate.

In the UK, the PlayTV add-on allows you to watch and record Freeview digital TV through your PS3.


© Kate Berens, 2008