Saturday, December 23

A Howling Good Time

Last night, I got together at Vin's place for the yearly Christmas party with the Quest gang. It was a simple affair with good, solid food (KFC, Christmas Ham and really good Tapa from Andrew's Lola) that was made incredibly entertaining by the company. Dean and Nikki of course had us laughing to tears with their amazing stories about their... interesting relatives. Meanwhile, Jamie and fiancee Iyay made it even after getting lost... on EDSA (That's a neat trick).

After the anecdotes and fables, the group eventually settled on a rip-roaring game of Werewolf; that kind of whodunit-mystery group game that can only be entertaining and fun with the right people- and in this case, it was pretty awesome what with Dino "IT'S DEAN!!!" Yu and Iyay the Hysterical Woman giving voluminous performances in stereo (they were seated on opposite sides of the room). Just good, clean, LOUD fun.

It's that kind of party that you just remember for years to come. Next year again, Quest Gang. Seeya then! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 22

"Holy 180 Degrees, Batman!"

Akira goes multi-platform in 2007.

As I've previously posted (a lot), my prime reason for wanting a PS3 is the uber-fighting game Virtua Fighter 5, which you can only get on Sony's next-gen black monolith. Well, that was then. This is now. Sega announced yesterday that their flagship fighting game will be coming to the Xbox360 in late Summer 2007.

Hordes of Sony loyalists no doubt went ballistic on the news that another 'exclusive' game has slipped out of the cracks to Microsoft's console.(previous defectors include Assassin's Creed and Grand Theft Auto IV). It was inevitable though- with the PS3 being woefully undersupplied to the populace, any videogame publisher would be out of their minds to ignore the potentially lucrative and large installed base of Xbox360s.

It remains to be seen just how good a port the Xbox360 version of VF5 will be- obviously, it will look great, if not arcade perfect, and it will have all 17 characters, all the moves and the customization options from the arcade version. Some articles have mentioned that the 360 version will be based on an upcoming 'Version C' of VF5 (the PS3 version is based on the current Version B). With the 360 having comparable graphics to the PS3, I have no doubt that the game will look great- I just hope it comes with all the trimmings.

I'll probably STILL get a PS3, since I HATE waiting and at the earliest VF5 360 will arrive in late July or August... the PS3 game arrives February. In any case, I'm happy with this bit of news. More Virtua Fighter makes the world a better place. Heh.
Mines Closed

Yesterday was our last day of work at The Salt Mines for the year.

True to form, we were busy to our eyeballs to the last minute, but the day ended with the crew heading off south to a mates' posh home to celebrate a second phase to our Christmas party. LOTS of good food, drink and good company... and it all ended with me screaming out Bohemian Rhapsody at the every end. What a way to end the year.

Salt production continues in January. For now, it's time to rest, vegetate and enjoy a time of pause. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 20

Blood, Bikinis and Babes

Sexy girls in bikinis against the Undead. Best. Idea. Ever.

Even though I just got my brand, spankin' new copy of Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops, I'm not playing it. That's cause I got another game soon after that made me forget about the Further Adventures of Big Boss. I mean, how can Naked Snake compare against Half-naked Babes slashing Zombies to smithereens?

Oneechanbara Vortex for the Xbox360 is from the infamous publisher D3 of Japan, a videogame company known for their 'Simple' series of games- fan service-heavy videogame titles that pretty much always star scantily-clad anime girls in various activities (from wrestling to mahjong to water sports). The title is a combination of the words 'Oneechan', which means 'Sister', and 'Chanbara', or 'Swordplay'. So it could conceivably be titled "Sisters with Swords" if ever this title makes it across the pond to the US market.
Oneechanbara Vortex is an epic tale of drama, betrayal, sisterly love and... okay, it's actually all about sexy underaged and under-dressed girls slashing zombies and various evil creatures apart with samurai swords. While it may sound pretty hokey to some (I find it... interesting), the game has been popular enough to see multiple sequels. Vortex is actually the third in the series, and the first on a next-gen console.

As I mentioned before, Oneechanbara stars two super-powered zombie-fighting sisters. Aya is the elder sister whose chosen attire for battling evil undead is a bikini, cowboy hat and feather boa. Saki is a jailbait little urchin who wears the ubiquitous school uniform. Both have their own signature styles; Aya can switch between using one or two swords, while Saki seems to favor a quickdraw-one hit, one kill technique. Early into the adventure when the battle against the zombies gets underway, Saki gets kidnapped by some Agents (like, from The Matrix Agents). She's rescued (or at least, aided in escape) by Anna, a female officer in the Zombie Protection Force (who do NOT protect zombies at all). Anna and Saki soon meet up again with Aya, and all three girls join up to fight the menace behind the zombie plague. Thereafter, Anna becomes a playable character and she's quite cool- instead of swords, she comes with guns and lays waste to her enemies from afar... she can make it literally rain with bullets.

All three girls can lay waste to throngs of zombies with their attacks, causing blood to spray in all direction in ridiculous splashes of red stuff. The blood isn't just for show though- it actually affects gameplay. The more Aya and Saki slash, the more blood gets stuck on their swords. If a meter on the side fills up totally with red, their swords become sticky and will then get stuck into the next zombie or enemy they hit- causing them to be vulnerable to attack as they try to wrench their weapons free. A quick press of a button will shake off the blood, so you have to make sure you keep an eye on it at all times. In Anna's case, she just needs to reload her guns whenever they run dry (she has unlimited ammo).

Killing enemies yields yellow orbs which you collect for points (like a bloody version of Kingdom Hearts) that you can use to upgrade your character's skills. This opens up more attacks and combos which make dispatching the undead a lot easier and flashier. Along the way, you also need to collect items like healing crystals, holy fragments which keep Aya and Saki's dark sides under control, and other helpful knick-knacks.

The game comes with a Story Mode, a Free Play Mode (which lets you play stages of the Story Mode you've already finished again and again), Survival Mode and DressesUp Mode. The last one lets you outfit your character with various pieces of clothing- different hats or hairstyles, tops, bottoms, arm accessories and footwear- that you unlock as you play. Horny players will be glad to know that the girls start off just in their undies from the get-go... so that means you actually have to work to get them dressed. What a concept. Hehe. Of course, you can save your costume configurations (or lack of) to use in the other modes.

Even with all the gratuitous gore and fan service, if Oneechanbara Vortex was a crap game, it wouldn't fly. But interestingly enough, it's quite a playable and enjoyable game- I mean, chopping up crowds of gibbering undead is such great stress relief! The whole thing has this offbeat feel like one of those cool live-action Japanese chick-action flicks ( You know... those with the incestuous innuendo and intense glares), which is quite appealing. The story is told mostly through text-screens, but there are several very nicely-done CG cutscenes which are quite slick and cool to watch. The graphics are hi-res and easy on the eyes, with good animation (but not great though) and no slowdown even in scenes with large numbers of enemies onscreen. The controls are pretty responsive and easy, though the camera can get testy in some closed-off areas... this is the trade-off for having a player-controllable camera for appreciating the game's eye candy.

Even so, while I like the game a lot, I can't really recommend it for everyone. For one thing, it's a Japanese import and thus the english is very limited to the main menus. It's not impenetrable though... most of the kanji is in story text which are pretty much unnecessary to the basic enjoyment of the game... you can pretty much understand what's going on anyway even if a detail or two is missed in the meantime.

There ARE some rumors that Oneechanbara Vortex may make it Stateside eventually... no details yet though. For now, this title is only for the Xbox360 owner who loves fan service a lot and can afford the costly import. In that case, this game is a rare gem. It's no Dead Rising in terms of detail and gameplay depth, but darn... I'd rather stare at someone slashing zombies for hours on end, I'd rather it be a hot, scantily-clad babe than some sweaty, hairy guy. Hoho!

Oneechanbara Vortex is now available for the Xbox 360. Check your local import game shop or online game website if you're interested in this bloody fun slasher.

Monday, December 18

Snake in my Pocket

No, I'm not talking about anything lewd... I'm talking about the latest PSP blockbuster title, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Finally a true stealth-action strategy title, instead of the card battle-based Metal Gear Acid PSP games in the past, MGS PO is a true sequel to the last MGS adventure, MGS3: Snake Eater for the PS2. It's kind of odd that Konami would put such a high-profile game onto a handheld when it would no doubt have been a more complete game on a home console... but still, MGS PO has it's own flavor and gameplay elements which translate well to the handheld.

Set a couple of years after the events in MGS3, PO sees Naked Snake AKA Big Boss captured by some mysterious new faction looking for something called "The Legacy". Unfortunately, Snake doesn't know what the heck the Legacy is (and if he did, he probably still wouldn't talk anyway), so instead of waiting around for the next torture session, he breaks out of Dodge with the help of a fellow prisoner named Roy Campbell. It is soon revealed through communication with old friend Paramedic that Snake has been taken prisoner by the now-renegade Fox Unit, and is even suspected by the US of treason. Now on his own, our lone wolf decides that going solo isn't going to cut it this time. With Campbell in tow, he sets out to form his own army, prove his innocence, take down the Fox Unit and save the world from Nuclear Holocaust. Again. And you're going to do it on commutes, between meetings and during downtime on your PSP. Impossible? Not so.

What makes things a bit hard though from the get-go is the PSP itself. The limited controls/buttons available on the handheld makes for some changes in the way you control your Naked Snake. Movement is done via the analog nub (the joystick), while the d-pad controls the camera. Every button is used for Snake's arsenal of moves, from sneaking to crouching to hand-to-hand combat to shooting weapons. The learning curve is a bit steep, but a few hours of play should have you moving like a pro. Still, it can get pretty frustrating to walk into an area when it's impossible to see if an enemy is nearby or staring at the door you're coming through. The game gives you a bit of leeway to keep from being too deadly, so hopefully you won't be throwing your PSP into orbit after a few deaths.

As mentioned earlier, MGS PO requires you to recruit your own army, which basically entails that you sneak up to individual soldiers, knock them unconscious and drag them to your truck for... convincing. These new recruits can be tech specialists, spies, operatives or grunts, and you can send them off to do missions. Instead of the linear storyline of previous MGS games, PO is mission-based, with key elements of the plot appearing as you do certain missions. These jobs are often short bursts of action, which are perfect for short play sessions on the PSP. There are online multiplayer options and modes where you can pit your soldiers against those of other PSP owners, putting at stake your hard-won recruits should you lose.

Despite the control issues, MGS PO is a must-play for fans of this iconic videogame series. The production qualities are high, though the cinematics are done this time mostly with animated comic book panels, instead of the full-on cinematics from the console games. The story, of course, is complex but gripping, and will easily keep you playing to the bitter, bloody end. At the very least, this should tide us all over till the next REAL MGS game- Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots- finally comes out of hiding on the PS3.

Sunday, December 17

Out of the Box

Today I made a big step and gave away a part of The Sanctum. Specifically, my Xbox and a whole bunch of games. The original Microsoft black box had become redundant- I was no longer playing any of its games, and the two games that were indispensable to me on it- namely Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive Ultimate- are now playable on my new Xbox360 (thanks to an update for backwards compatibility). So it was with mixed feelings that I gave away the big ol' black box as a Christmas present to my nephews. On the bright side, they'll probably bring it to Canada when they leave next year, so at least part of The Sanctum will be going places.

I'll miss Ninja Gaiden (though I can get a new version on the PS3), Halo 1 and 2, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire... I never knew you, but I'll miss the possibility of playing you. Kakuto Chojin, Tao Feng and Stake... I won't miss you too much.

The original Xbox was a cool console. It was big and bulky and heavy, but I liked it. There were a lot of great games, but was just eclipsed into the background by it's younger brother. Still, there are tons of titles out there now available for it, so it's not like I gave my nephews a dead console (the Dreamcast is still in my cabinets, in storage). I hope they enjoy it for a long time to come.

Okay. I'm ready for my PS3 now. Heh.