Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sony: Leftovers Await

Remember when I said Sony was remarkably incapable of learning from its past mistakes? Here's Exhibit A.

If you're in a TL;DR mood, I'll just say that Sony is harnessing the power of the Playstation 4 to give you games you already played two years ago. And their reasoning for this is rich. Just listen to Sony press flack Andrew "All the charm of Doctor" House:

"I hesitate to say this because I know committed gamers may roll their eyes about it..."

Oh yes, definitely!

"...but there's an opportunity with some of the remastering or re-imagining from PS3 franchises that will potentially find an audience that hasn't played them in the previous generation because they skipped that generation."

Charade you are, House-proud town mouse! Do you have any idea why those gamers skipped the Playstation 3 and went straight to the Nintendo Wii in the last console cycle? I mean, aside from the PS3's mammoth price tag and Sony's maddening arrogance. Lapsed gamers gave up on the hobby because the software for the Playstation 3 (and in all fairness, the Xbox 360 too) drove them away. With only a few exceptions, software for these two consoles was too punishing, too complicated, too grim, and too humorless. There was no room for players who just wanted to grab a controller, have a ball for fifteen minutes, and walk away with a goofy grin on their faces.

You could accommodate those players by squeezing a few fun, approachable titles into a library bulging with military shooters, impenetrable role-playing games, and violent bloodbaths. Instead, you're telling disenfranchised gamers that they were wrong, and that you'll help them see the error of their ways by giving them the same experiences until they reluctantly choke them down. It's an attitude I remember all too well from my childhood...

Image from
"Come on, honey! You'll like The Last of Us if you give it a chance! Don't make this hard for both of us... just take a bite. If you don't eat it, I'll just put it in the fridge and serve it to you for breakfast tomorrow."

"Eat your vegetables" has a quaint charm coming from the mother of two picky eaters, but that statement is not so endearing from a leader in electronic entertainment. It's not our responsibility to fall in line and grudgingly accept the games Sony chooses to make. It's Sony's responsibility to entertain its customers... all of them. The ones who aren't entertained will find their kicks elsewhere; either from the more casual-friendly Wii U or the growing mobile games market.

Later in the Joystiq interview, House praises rival entertainment giant Disney and expresses the hope that Sony can follow in its footsteps, introducing its franchises to future audiences "over time." The fabled Disney vault, where the company's films are retired for seven years at a time, builds anticipation and makes fans eager to re-acquaint themselves with nearly a hundred years of animated classics. 

This is the part of Disney's strategy that Sony fails to understand. It doesn't give its properties time to mature, or their fans a chance to miss them. The Last of Us originally debuted on the Playstation 3 last year. The remastered edition for the Playstation 4 is coming in a couple of days. The gap between releases of indie favorite Flower is larger, but not significantly, with the PS3 game making its debut in 2009 and the PS4 version arriving four years later. There are never pangs of nostalgia for these games, because they're always available on something.

Sony is currently dominating this console cycle, but serving up leftovers from the past generation won't help them keep that lead. Dismissing the concerns of lapsed gamers isn't doing them any favors, either.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Supersize Mii: Getting StreetPasses Without Hitting the Street

I've been talking a lot about the Playstation Vita lately. How 'bout we switch gears and discuss its competitor, the 3DS, in this update?

Nintendo's latest portable may not tear up the highway the way the Vita does, but it has its own charms, including a social gaming app that's way more entertaining than Sony's. While near lets you find other Vita owners in the general area (if any) and trade "game goods" with them (provided you actually have the same games they do...), Nintendo's StreetPass Mii Plaza encourages you to gather a small army of players, who can then be used as power-ups in specially designed games. You can also trade puzzle pieces with fellow 3DS owners, letting you build exciting 3D dioramas of Nintendo's most popular titles. (And Dillon's Rolling Western.)

Yes, that's a squid bandito. Try not to
think too hard about it.
Gathering puzzle pieces scratches that "gotta catch 'em all" itch in a way few games can, but after you've had your 3DS for a while, fresh pieces start to dry up. You won't find them from other players, and you certainly won't get them from that stupid pink bird which takes your Play Coins and hands you the same edge of Mario's shoulder it gave you three times already. (I bet that bird would taste pretty good barbecued.)

Fortunately, there's an easy way to open the floodgates and turn a drought of puzzle pieces into a deluge. You can cook up your own StreetPass relay with a little time and a few affordable ingredients. Here's what you'll need:

One wireless router
One ethernet cable (which should be included with the router)
DD-WRT software
Moderate skill with computers

The router is no big deal, really. They pop up occasionally at garage sales and thrift stores, and if you're wily, you should be able to snap one up for ten dollars or less. I personally bought a Linksys E2000 from a neighbor when they were clearing away the clutter in their house. They wanted three dollars for it, but they took two bucks, a quarter, a Greek drachma, and a paperclip. Like I said, they're cheap if you know where to look.

Wait, don't they make vegetable shortening...?
There's one important thing to keep in mind, though. You can't buy just any old router, because many don't have the juice to run the DD-WRT software you'll need to install on it. In simple terms, DD-WRT is a flavor of the Linux operating system that turns an ordinary wireless router into a powerhouse. The limitations originally set by the manufacturer are shattered, greatly expanding the scope of the device. A StreetPass relay is just one of the handy, dandy uses for a router flashed with DD-WRT... you can also use it as a wireless adapter for an older Xbox 360, instead of the obscenely priced official model.

Here's a list of routers that can be DD-written. Bookmark this list on your smartphone and take it with you while you're shopping, so you're not stuck with an antiquated model. Once you've found the right router, take it home and install DD-WRT using the instructions provided in the list. This is how you'd hack the E2000, the model I've got, but you must use the instructions provided for your own router model! Follow the directions precisely, and after fifteen minutes, your once meek dime store doodad will be ready to roar!

With your router hacked, here's what you do next. Plug the router into a spare power outlet. Next, connect an ethernet cable into one of the ethernet ports on the back of the router, and plug the other end into your computer. Start your internet browser, and type in this address:

Press Enter. You'll be taken to the DD-WRT configuration menu. 

Click the Wireless tab, then type "attwifi" in the Wireless Network Name (SSID) text box.

Now, click the Wireless Security tab. There's a Security Mode dropdown box. Switch the setting to Disabled.

Next, click the Setup tab, then the MAC Address Clone tab underneath it. 

Next to Clone Wireless MAC, enter these numbers:

4E : 53 : 50 : 4F : 4F : 40

Click Apply Settings. Now close the window, unplug the router from your computer, and connect it to your internet source. For me, that's the Netgear 7550 router supplied by Frontier, my internet service provider.

Okay, now turn on your Nintendo 3DS. You should get an alert that the Nintendo Zone is available. Close the shell and wait until the green light on the hinge of your system flashes and glows. Open the 3DS and enter StreetPass Mii Plaza as usual. You should get the full complement of six visitors, most with lots of puzzle pieces. You can also use them with Find Mii, or any of the StreetPass games you've purchased.

Miis! Glorious, puzzle-holding Miis!!
From here, you just unplug your hacked router from the wall and plug it back in eight hours later for a half-dozen more Miis. However, you can go for the gusto and get a LOT more Miis by reconnecting the router to your computer and changing the last digit of the Wireless MAC address. (0 through 9, and A through F are all valid entries.) Click Apply Settings as usual, then reconnect the router to your internet source. 

It's a lengthy process, but it will get you up to ninety-six puzzle pieces in the span of a couple hours, a heckuva lot more than you'd get from the local McDonald's. You'll also get a lot more variety. Your router will find 3DS owners from Japan, South Korea, Germany, Italy, and bring them straight to you, all for what you would have spent on a Big Mac and fries. That heart attack will have to wait... you've got puzzle panels to finish!

Kiblitzing cannot be held responsible for any damage done to your router, computer, or your relationship when your significant other finds out you're spending hours collecting virtual people on your game system.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wednesday Night Vita-thon

I promised a set of Vita game reviews, and I delivered! Here now are eleven titles that are either currently in my collection, or were thanks to Playstation Plus.

Street Fighter X Tekken

It's just like the console versions! In other words, it's a shallow*, button-mashy fighting game with characters that have no business existing together. The only thing it loses in the transition from console to handheld is Capcom's greed... all the extra characters that were dangled in front of the player are finally liberated from the twenty dollar surcharge, and you can even get a handful of alternate costumes by entering a code tucked into the case. Admittedly, the control is a bit wonky (touchscreen buttons are no substitute for the real thing, and you can forget doing anything with Sony's accursed touch panel), but the graphics have lost very little of their charm, with the same vivid colors and characters that love to ham it up for the camera. Look, you were going to buy the extra fighters anyway... you might as well get them to go and save a little cash in the process. B+

* A reader took issue with my calling this game shallow. Admittedly, there are tons of crazy combos you can perform if you're willing to learn them. However, it's been my experience that chain combos work pretty well too, and you can assign them to a single tap of the touchscreen if you'd like. There's depth if you're willing to dig for it, but you're not required to take advantage of it.

Frobisher Says

If nothing else, Frobisher Says is a fascinating look at how an established style of gameplay can change when run through the filter of another culture. Put simply, this is Wario Ware, but British. Frobisher, an apparent refugee from a Pringles can, makes random demands, and you'll satisfy his whims with the Vita's various input devices. You'll squish "toppers" by pinching them with the front and back touchscreens, capture an alien bluebird lazily drifting through your house, and smile at bikini babes laying on a conveyor belt. The mini-games rarely work as well as the ones in Wario Ware, but they're illustrated by some of Britain's finest underground cartoonists, making the experience a little more palatable. Also, using the player's face as input is something I've never seen done in any video game ever, so Frobisher (petulant wanker that he is) gets points for that, too. C


It's a video game! No, it's a living work of art! No, it's an interactive entertainment experience! I don't know what the hell it is, but it sure looks purty! Anyway, Flower casts you as the wind, collecting petals from flowers scattered throughout the countryside. As you gather petals, the hills and valleys come to life, with the grass changing from dull grey to vibrant green. Once you're full of potpourri, a portal appears in the middle of the playfield, taking you to the next stage. The control is a little weird on the Vita (you have two options, and neither of them involve the analog thumbsticks), but the game is nevertheless a quiet, relaxing change of pace from the usual bloodstained fare on Playstation game systems. B


For years, the best tube shooter around was Typhoon 2001, designed for home computers by German programmer Thorsten Kuphaldt. However, it just lost that crown to TxK, the latest release by indie game legend Jeff Minter. As the title suggests, TxK is as close to Minter's earlier Tempest games as possible without prompting a lawsuit from Atari. The Flippers have been redrawn, Spikers are now flowers with deadly stems, and there's a new soundtrack (even better than the original, stunningly!), but beyond all that, this is the same game you loved on the Jaguar and Saturn. The controls are damn near perfect, with a slight bit of inertia that reproduces the feel of the old arcade game's spinner, and the crisp, candy-colored visuals are a wonder to behold on the Vita's OLED screen. Unfortunately, the game collapses under the weight of Jeff Minter's indulgences by the 35th stage, but you can always quit before the confounding level designs and the unending assault of cow heads take their toll on you. B+

Playstation All-Stars

A Smash Bros. knock-off with Sony's cast of incongruent characters seems like the worst idea ever, but somehow, they made it work. It helps that all the heroes are faithfully represented, with attacks you'll recognize from their own games. Nathan Drake kicks exploding barrels and fires his gun from behind concrete bunkers, Ratchet and Clank have an arsenal of wacky weapons, and the Fat Princess still has her subjects do all her dirty work for her, giving All-Stars a much-needed air of authenticity. It also doesn't hurt that the game is so well made, with incredible graphics (now this is console quality!), tons of weapons scattered throughout each battlefield, and arenas that start out as a tribute to one Playstation game... before being interrupted by another. The lack of health bars takes some adjustment- the only attacks that count are super moves, which are instantly fatal- but it does give All-Stars a frantic, cat and mouse feel that other fighting games lack. B

Ragnarok Odyssey

Ever wonder what happened to GameArts? They're still around, but they're no longer bringing their A-game. Ragnarok Odyssey is a portable spin-off of an online RPG that's hugely popular in its native South Korea. However, its horizons are severely narrowed by the limitations of the Vita, with areas broken into bite-sized chunks. The fighting system has promise- strong attacks launch enemies into the air or outward like a bullet- and the scenery is just this shy of beautiful, but the action gets repetitive quickly... to say nothing of frustrating when you're surrounded by hungry bears. It's not the best the Vita has to offer, but Ragnarok Odyssey might get you by in a pinch if you've got a Monster Hunter jones and are willing to take advantage of the game's rich customization features. C

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

The Sly Cooper series went dormant for a few years, forsaken for the grimdark (and frankly, depressingly reflective of the game industry as a whole) InFamous. Sony would probably have been content to let the stealthy raccoon sleep, but a small developer called Sanzaru Games had other ideas. They started work on their own sequel to Sly Cooper, and got the greenlight to finish it after showing the demo to Sony's top brass.

Thieves in Time compares favorably to the Sly Cooper games designed by Sucker Punch, with the same bright cartoony artwork, tight control, and quality voice acting. However, it also has something that probably should have been left in the past... cheesy stereotypes. The first stage is called "Turning Japanese," if that tells you anything. A later stage has an angry rapping black bear, which should tell you a lot more. I know, I shouldn't expect nuanced characterizations from a cartoon with a controller stapled to it, but the creators of the game can do better than this. B


How's this for a concept? You're a papercraft kid with a envelope for a head, and it's your mission to deliver a message to the guy holding the Vita... which would also be you, of course. You make frequent cameo appearances in the sun of Tearaway's world, smiling down upon its citizens as the hero struggles to reach you. On his journey to the center of your mind, little iota rides pigs, befriends a hungry monster, hunts for presents, and runs along glue-covered walls, stopping only to battle the cuboid Scraps that have invaded this strange construction paper world. Creativity runs rampant in Tearaway, and you'll interact with the game in a number of novel ways. Can't quite reach that platform in the distance? Use the touch panel to poke your finger through the Vita and drag it to iota! Your sidekick looking a little shabby after a fight with some Scraps? Fix him up by cutting shapes out of paper and sticking them on him! Found a scarecrow who's lost his voice? Give him yours! Tearaway never seems to run out of clever ideas, making it the most refreshingly original game since the glory days of the Dreamcast. A

Mortal Kombat

Speaking of the Dreamcast, Mortal Kombat follows its example of taking a great game, porting it to perfection, and adding exclusive features. Aside from shabby graphics (if you have to sacrifice this much to make the game run at sixty frames per second, maybe thirty frames isn't so bad...), Mortal Kombat is every bit as good as its console counterparts. It's even better in some respects, because you don't have to pay for the bonus characters and costumes, and because there's a new challenge ladder which lets Scorpion perform a fatality on a teddy bear. Did I mention one of those new characters is Kratos from God of War? Between Mortal Kombat, Playstation All-Stars, and Soul Calibur, he's been in more crossovers before 9 AM than most video game heroes will be in their entire lives. Anyway! Great game. Kind of ugly, but highly recommended anyway. A-

Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational

A wise man once called golf "a good walk spoiled." In this case, it's more like a perfectly good Vita pounded into powder. There's plenty here that will send less stable gamers (me) flying into a rage, so if you have anger management issues, for the love of Chi Chi Rodriguez don't buy it!

More patient players will enjoy this rock-solid simulation, which looks gorgeous and moves at a fairly brisk clip. After you've lined up your shot, hitting the ball is as simple as two well-timed button presses. Why there's no option to flick the touchscreen to hit the ball (an option available on the DS for nearly a decade) is anyone's guess. In fact, there's a lot of guesswork involved here, which only adds to the frustration when your obnoxiously chatty caddy won't stop talking. The game's got a built-in instruction manual... make sure you use it. B

Little Deviants

Heh heh... this thing. Like Tearaway and Frobisher Says, Little Deviants was designed to take full advantage of the Vita's input-centric hardware. However, while those were games, this is more of a tech demo with profoundly grating spherical characters that fell out the backside of a focus group. You know, like these dorks.

Anyway, you'll have to finish lame mini-games to build a space ship and send these reject Madballs back to their home planet (and if we're all exceedingly lucky, they'll meet the same fate as Poochie in transit). One game has you stick a finger underneath the Vita to make bumps in the landscape, sending a rolling rodent to a door at the end of each stage. Another game has you poking at robots that appear in the windows of an apartment. You have to use both the touchscreen and the touch panel for this exercise in futility, because... well, because they had to find some way to justify its existence. The touch panel, I mean, not the game. They certainly weren't up to that challenge.

Little Deviants has been popping up at K-Marts all over the country for five bucks, but don't take the bait. If you have anything else in your Vita collection, anything at all, you will never play it. D-

Friday, July 4, 2014

Drawn on the Fourth of July

Happy Independence Day, folks! I thought I'd share a few sketches I did on Miiverse, since many of them will vanish from Nintendo's social network after the E3 community is retired on the 7th. I'll offer brief descriptions of what inspired each drawing, just so you're not lost.

The presenters at this year's E3 had a funny habit of toying with the expectations of more dedicated gamers. Someone at Sony thought it would be cute to mention the Japanese exclusive Vib-Ribbon, released for the Vectrex Playstation at the turn of the century, before quickly changing the subject to the latest Mortal Kombat. I'm sure MK X will be terrific, if the last game in the series is any indication, but tossing out a reference to a sleeper hit without any news of an American release is just mean.

Not to be outdone, Nintendo of America president and Dick York stunt double Reginald Fils-Aime responded to demands for a US release of Mother 3 by roasting gamers alive with a fire flower. (Well, it was a Robot Chicken sketch, but still.) I'm not sure why this is such an unreasonable request. The Wii U's got support for Game Boy Advance games! The game's already been translated to English by its fans! Stop dragging your feet and make with the goods!

I posted this drawing to express my frustration with the games shown at Sony and Microsoft's press events. With a few rare exceptions, they were exclusively presented in 3D... dark, dreary, and disgusting. Can we give the zombie slaying a rest?

Luckily, Nintendo heeded my call, and injected plenty of color into a show that was in desperate need of it. In fact, color is the whole point of Splatoon, a third-person shooter where you blast both opponents and your surroundings with ink. The stars of Splatoon have just been introduced, and they're already generating a ton of fan art, both on Miiverse and the general internet.

This image was prompted by a brief fascination with the PS Vita release Tearaway, along with a growing disinterest in the work of Shigeru Miyamoto. Maybe he's getting old, or maybe his creativity is actively being suppressed by Nintendo. Either way, it just doesn't seem like he's firing on all cylinders. 

Double entendres, in my Nintendo game? It's more likely than you think! The game is not nearly as scandalous as its subtitle would suggest, starring cosmic whales jousting with each other in the inky void of space. Nevertheless, it's hard to believe Nintendo let Breakfall get away with that name on its consoles. 

In case you missed it, Dutch electronics firm Philips is suing Nintendo over some dubious motion control patents. Philips also made two subpar game consoles, the Magnavox Odyssey2 and the CD-i, making me wonder if they're planning a comeback...

Finally, here's a drawing I call Handheld over Stormy Waters. This got a warm reception on Miiverse, with 215 yeahs and fifteen comments. I'm a little amazed it wasn't removed from the service due to the reference to a competing system, but I guess Nintendo doesn't care as long as it's an unflattering reference.

Speaking of the Vita, I'll be reviewing its games, uh, soon-ish. When I get around to it. Honest. Stay tuned!