Posted by Ben at 14:56
In "huh" news, Sega is bringing former WiiU exclusive Sonic Lost World to Steam on November 2nd.

It's going to be 60fps and has what's listed as "HD Resolution Support. No idea if that means more than the WiiU's 720p, you'd hope so, Sonic Lost World was certainly a pretty (and colourful) game, so the inevitable 4K screenshots should be pretty impressive.

The specs are pretty low, we're talking a dual-core processor for the minimum. even the recommended are pretty low

Processor: Intel Core i5 @ 2.66 GHz / AMD Phenom II X4 @ 3.0 GHz
Memory: 3 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460 (1GB) / ATI Radeon HD 5850 (1GB)

As for the game, well I was given it by a friend who couldn't bear to play it any longer, and I got so far and haven't returned because I straight up hated a few of the levels. Don't let that put you off though, it's £20 for the type of game you don't often see on Steam. I've got to admit, even I'm slightly intrigued by it
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Posted by James at 14:37
After just 18 weeks on sale in Japan, sales for Nintendo’s Splatoon – a new IP on the Wii U – have overtaken those of its own Mario Kart 8 at the same point in the two games' lifecycles.

As of September 27, 2015, sales for boxed copies of Splatoon now stand at 682,000 units, with Mario Kart 8 at 678,000 units. This stands in stark contrast to the two Wii U games’ launches, where Mario Kart 8 shifted 326,000 units in the week ending June 1 2014, compared with Splatoon's 145,000 during the week ending May 31 2015.

How did lifetime sales for a brand new IP in an unestablished genre eventually trend ahead of a game in one of the biggest and most established franchises on console – a situation many of us, even Nintendo, didn’t foresee?

While Mario Kart 8 was off to a much faster start, shifting 125% more copies than Splatoon in its launch week – Splatoon also managed a strong Japanese launch given its roots in the unproven third person shooter genre and similar-sized marketing budget – the difference is that Mario Kart 8’s sales tailed off at a greater rate.

Indeed, Mario Kart 8 shifted a greater number of copies at first, including 73,000 during its second week compared with 69,000 copies for Splatoon. But Nintendo's new IP sold a greater number of units than Mario Kart in every following week -- the 185,000 unit lead Mario Kart 8 held over Splatoon diminished within four months.

The absolute sales difference between the two games during weeks 3-18 of their respective retail cycles was as high as 16,000 copies (in week 4), and as low as 6,100 units (week 9). In 14 of the 18 weeks Splatoon shifted over 10,000 more copies at retail than Mario Kart 8.

A closer examination of the relative difference between sales of the two games shows us how Mario Kart 8’s lifetime sales lead diminished so quickly. Splatoon shifted over twice as many units as Mario Kart 8 managed during the tail-end of the 18-week period (weeks 14-18). This difference peaked last week where Splatoon sold two-and-a-half times (250%) more copies than Mario Kart 8.

It’s this consistent, relative difference over the last six weeks – where Mario Kart 8 sales never recover from a sub-10,000 unit slump – which saw Splatoon overtake Mario Kart 8 by the end of week 18. The game continues to sell in the region of 20,000 units every week, and it’ll likely continue to do so in week 19 when Media Create releases new figures for the week ending October 4 2015.

If both Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 had large opening weeks given their respective platform’s small install base (Wii U is currently trending behind Wii, and far behind 3DS in Japan), why did Mario Kart 8’s sales decline so quickly when Splatoon’s didn’t?

One reason is that Mario Kart 8 just isn’t different enough for Nintendo to have been able to differentiate it to the mass market, especially so when the Wii U install base remained relatively small at the time in Japan. The Nintendo 3DS is the most popular dedicated videogames platform in the region by a long shot, and Nintendo had already released Mario Kart 7 on that system at the end of 2011.

While the Wii U’s Mario Kart is a vastly more advanced game, it’s difficult to communicate that across to the unconverted in order to create perceived value, so it’s likely that Mario Kart 8 reached a near-sales saturation given the Wii U install base over those first 18 weeks on sale.

This is best shown by the effect Mario Kart 8 had on Wii U sales in its launch week – Nintendo’s home console only shifted 19,000 units, less than what 3DS even managed (24,000 units) to shift despite having no big releases that week. It’s this cannibalisation between Nintendo’s two different platforms, both in hardware and software with similar IP, which is leading Nintendo to rethink its strategy for its next video games platform, code named NX. You can read more about Nintendo's core strategy in detail over here.

By comparison, Nintendo managed to retain Splatoon’s sales performance. There are two likely reasons why Splatoon’s long tail of sales have been more sustainable.

Firstly, Splatoon is fresh; it’s a big new IP from Nintendo in a genre they have never attempted before (the online-focused multiplayer shooter), but with their own unique twist added (players paint the map with their weapon in order to capture the most turf). Nintendo’s slant on the genre is also one that is also incredibly easy to understand and therefore communicate to players in marketing, so there’s broad appeal to consumers right down to the game’s distinctive and confident art direction.

This also helped Nintendo avoid any issues with Splatoon being cannibalised by games on its other platform, the 3DS. Splatoon isn’t a close substitute to anything right now – the expanded audience can’t stick with “Splatoon 3DS” and be done with it, and core players aren’t going to go into Splatoon with any negative preconceptions like some did with 2K Games’ Evolve, another multiplayer new IP which launched this year but failed to retain its players (Splatoon has even outsold Evolve worldwide).

More importantly, in a new approach for Nintendo Splatoon is operated like a service, with regular content updates that regularly unlock over time – initially off the disc and now through online updates – based on player metrics and feedback. This is augmented by server-based map and mode rotations, timely social media updates that tie into the game and its world, and fortnightly events called Splatfests.

While this was a conscious design decision in the interest of keeping a healthy player-base (see how 2K Games’ Evolve has fared by comparison), it’s likely to have had a knock-on effect on sales, as new content keeps people playing and discussing the game on social media. Nintendo itself has handled the game’s presence on social media well, with regular, fun updates across Twitter, which has a seemingly strong presence in Japan compared with other social networks.

The impact this has on sales best demonstrated by the game’s major update (version 2.00), which launched in tandem with a new marketing campaign in early August. In week 11 when the update landed, Splatoon sales rose by 26% week-on-week, to 36,000 units from 28,000 units.

In the same point of the game’s lifespan, Mario Kart 8 did not receive a large bump from the week prior, though both games did receive a sales boost in week 12, which would have been due to the long Obon festival weekend in mid-August the week prior; Mario Kart 8 sales rose 35% to 28,000 units, while Splatoon retained its sales bump, shifting 41,000 units, a 16% rise on the previous sales boost from the update and new marketing push. Since then, Splatoon’s sales have hovered at around 20,000 units every week.

Last but not least, Splatoon has been growing the Wii U install base in Japan, as indicated by sales of Mario Kart 8 also seeing a short-lived bump back to around 10,000 units following Splatoon’s launch. While it isn’t going to save the system this late into its lifespan, the hardware sales bump is on track to amounting to at least a 100,000 units across the entire year.

With Splatoon’s worldwide sales approaching 2 million units, Nintendo has managed to release a big hitter by Wii U standards in a year which saw two tent-pole releases slip to 2016. With Super Mario Maker out the gate, the remaining first party Wii U games releasing this year aren't really massmarket material, and Amiibo seem to have sold to Nintendo's biggest and most invested fans rather than the expanded audience. Splatoon is quite the standout success.

It’ll be interesting to see how Splatoon continues to perform in Japan in the long run. For now, Splatoon gives us confidence in Nintendo's ability to run a game as a service, both from a creative standpoint and a business one, and puts the company in good standing to tackle future endeavors of this ilk.

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Posted by Ben at 02:34
Not as you mighexpect some sort of remastering of Shin Megami Tensei 4, Final is a new game set in the world of Shin Megami Tensei 4.

It's maybe easy to look at this cynically, a chance for Atlus to reuse assets and mechanics, but I'm not sure Shin Megami Tensei fans are hugely bothered about that sort of thing.

Shin Megami Tensei 4 Final us heading to Japanese 3ds' in February next year. Who knows about a EU release, this late in to the 3ds' life there's certainly some doubt
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The Grandia Weekly
Episode 28
Oct 06
Posted by Ben at 01:39

It's maybe a sad state of affairs that this isn't the worst episode of Grandia Weekly that we've all politely say through, but I think it was necessary.

If last week's episode was heavy on story, and it was, then this week is the grind. Leaving it this late in to the game to try to get everyone's magic up to a decent level was maybe a mistake, and it certainly makes for slow progress in an enemy heavy area.

The Luzet Mountains are not an inspiring place. It's a very brown place with lots of combat and not a lot of variety. It's not a bad area as such, but after the heights (not a pun) of Alent it's just a bit of a trudge. Anyway, we've reached the J-Base, and we're only a few episodes from the end

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Umihara Kawase
Oct 05
Posted by James at 07:04

The mid-‘90s were an exciting transitional period for videogames. The shift to CD-based storage and a controller built around true 3D games paved out many new directions for the medium, famed series often reinventing themselves in the process.

Amidst all the change, something else was progressing at a notable rate and defining many games for what they are today: Videogame physics. Take Super Mario 64’s exquisite control, which captured all the little nuances found across its environments and Mario’s movements. Or Wipeout’s floaty anti-gravity handling, and Wave Race 64, whose jet skis wobbled and bounced convincingly off the waves.

It was all about contributing toward the feel of a game rather than merely simulating real life. Giles Goddard, who once worked at Nintendo EAD, said the following about how it all worked:
“The physics in Mario 64 are quite realistic in some ways, but there’s a lot of stuff that went in to give a twist so you could defy the laws of physics for gameplay’s sake. Wave Race and 1080 did the same thing – based on very fundamentally good physics, but you have bits on top that you plug in so you can do things you can’t actually do. That’s where the excitement comes from.
As the Super Nintendo approached its twilight years, there was another game which applied physics to similar results: Umihara Kawase. Its elastic physics gave it a distinct flavour, helping it stand out on a system packed with other side-scrolling platformers. Jump forward nearly two decades and its creators are back at the helm with a revival, Sayonara Umihara Kawase.

Fancy physics are taken for granted these days, but those aforementioned games continue to stand out for a reason: They used physics for gameplay’s sake. Like those games’ physics, Sayonara Umihara Kawase’s have a timeless quality. They aren’t just there to simulate reality, instead they fundamentally define what it’s about and how it feels to play.

Kawase, you see, has a fishing line, which can be grappled onto nearly any part of the environment. Once it’s been hooked onto something, it can then be extended and retracted, transforming a simple fishing tool into a novel and flexible means of getting about.

While the main objective – find an exit door – is a simple one, how you get there boils down to your understanding and mastery of that fishing line and the elasticated physics they entail. This may sound like hard work, but the game encourages both experimentation and discovery, which in turn makes familiarising yourself with its core mechanic feel quite natural and logical.

Indeed, you’ll certainly want to experiment with that fishing line. It casts itself on the press of a button, until – *click* – the pleasingly tactile noise of hook-meets-wall fills your ears. A dangling Kawase ensues, her fishing line now loosely swaying back and forth, wrapping itself around any obstructing scenery.

Once its teeth have sunk into something, the fishing line is a finicky thing. Controlling it – and by extension, your own movement – is now just a matter of retracting and extending your line. Simple enough, then, but it’s tension you’re manipulating, which opens up a surprising amount of organic possibilities to how you can swing about, gain momentum, and reach new places.

Even the smallest variation in tension can make the biggest difference to your momentum and movement. Most importantly, though, you’ll feel those differences. Like Super Mario 64, the underlying physics are fundamentally solid – thus giving you logical feedback – but they also have a more playful bounce on top which makes them a joy to play with.

Clever level design ensures the game offers plenty to discover beyond what you see on the screen. Umihara Kawase’s creator, Kiyoshi Sakai, has designed stages which strike a good balance between asking a little from you and a lot. The ‘regular’ path through the game’s branching map doesn’t require more than basic use of your fishing line, but the secret exits and hidden Randoseru pickups are placed in devious locations that require out-of-the-box thinking.

It’ll encourage you to pull off things with your fishing line that you never knew you could do before, which can then be re-applied in previous stages for a better clear time. A good example of this in action is a level that hides its goal door beyond a lengthy spike pit, with no surrounding walls to hook your fishing line to. The solution was quite logical: Grappling onto the floor by the spike pit and retracing your steps builds up tension, which then lets you gain running momentum once you retract your fishing line, increasing your jumping distance.

While ‘eureka’ moments like this come frequently, there are rare moments where the level design falls wide off the mark, with setups that require irritatingly exact movements or even fishing hook placement.

Making minute alterations after every failure is an almost textbook example of trial-and-error difficulty at its worst, where you’re defeated for reasons you can’t foresee as you continually try to match a very precise series of inputs in order in hope you’ll get it exactly right on the next attempt. Luckily moments like this are few and far between, but they do stand in stark contrast to the rest of the game given how its controls and physics offer a great degree of flexibility.

What then, Agatsuma Entertainment's efforts to bring the game to PC? We’re essentially looking at the PS Vita version of the game, on PC, but with all the bells and whistles you might expect from a Steam platform release, like trading cards, support for the ‘xinput’ controller API (Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers will “just work”) and Steam cloud and leaderboards support. It’s got the ten extra stages, too, that (very welcome) quick restart button, and one rebalanced boss which gives you more flexibility in how you approach it.

Studio Saizensen have also continued to add polish to the visuals, which are locked at a rock-solid 60 frames per second – vital in a game like this where you’ll be making a lot of quick inputs. In addition to the richer lighting and improved character models seen in the PS Vita version, enhanced reflection effects have also been worked into some of the environment’s shinier objects. The specular highlights from the original 3DS release are still absent, but overall we have gained far more than we have lost.

That being said, there is one visual oddity – the resolution seems to be locked to 540p, and the in-game 3D visuals, much like on Vita, render at lower than that (something in the ballpark of 400p). While on Vita this was likely done to keep the game running at a rock-solid 60fps, its implementation on PC is puzzling. It bears mentioning that we are looking at a game which is primarily based on assets made for the Nintendo 3DS and its 800 x 240 resolution display – scaling them up to even higher resolutions would expose low-poly geometry and blurry textures. Still, on the PC this seems more like an oversight than a conscious design decision, so make of it what you will.

Semantics aside, Sayonara Umihara Kawase is a great example of how cleverly implemented and finely tuned physics can transform an old genre and define a game. It's a joy to play and master, a game where discovering the depth beneath its core mechanic lends expression to the acrobatic moves you pull off. Like its ancestor, Umihara Kawase, this is timeless, and it's great to see it land on a platform whose software library remains relevant for years to come.
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How Good Does
Typoman Look
Oct 04
Posted by Ben at 17:11

To be fair to the WiiU, over its life there's been a few games that could have fitted in this feature (Mario, Captain Toad, Mario Kart), that said, I'm not sure how many more times it will get a mention.

However, before the WiiU gets usurped by whatever the NX is, it's going to have Typoman, which looks fantastic and inventive

The concept is traditional platformer, except you shift letters to alter and create words that in turn change the level. It can be simple things like turning a switch on, as you can see in the gif below.

The aesthetics of Typoman are likely to bring comparisons to Limbo, which I guess are fair, so it's probably for the best that Typoman has its own identity, or seemingly at least

There's no release date set in stone, but it's supposedly this year. We'll keep an ear out and let you know when there is one. Until then, the trailer is below
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Jotun First Play
Gameplay Video
Oct 01
Posted by Ben at 02:14

We bigged up Jotun earlier this week, and I've now managed to spend a bit of time with the game.

I did a bit of live streaming, I played through the first world and then kept saying I was going to stop as I cleared out half of the 2nd, but so far Jotun seems pretty good

I want to stress the 'live streaming' part. Uploading directly to youtube has its advantages, but a fair few disadvantages. The quality isn't amazing, it's 720p and also compressed by youtube. I'm going to do another video when I'm further in to act as a review companion piece. There's also a bit of an issue of the sound levels, and not knowing if the video had started streaming (it hadn't), so bear with that stuff as it does get better.

Jotun itself is an odd beast. It looks amazing, but it's very slow. Huge areas that it takes a while for a tiny person to run through. There's also not a lot of enemies, you aren't being bombarded. I think that as much of as its looks are what's going to mark it out.

Anyway, the video is below and there'll be a review up within a week, and maybe a 2nd video too

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Posted by James at 11:44
As hackers begin to open up Sony’s handheld, we’re beginning to see more pieces of the system’s hardware puzzle fall into place. One of those pieces that has been largely unknown until now is the frequency of the system’s four ARM Cortex-A9 CPU cores, three of which are available to developers for use with games and apps.

Until now educated guesses begged its frequency at 800MHz – the same as the Apple A5 SoC in the iPhone 4s, which also uses ARM Cortex-A9. The larger third generation iPad, which launched in the same timeframe and has a very similar GPU to the PS Vita, had its ARM Cortex-A9 cores clocked at 1GHz.

With the PS Vita, Sony has actually come in a fair bit lower than many expected. In August, PS Vita homebrew developer Yifan revealed results of tests that peg the handheld’s CPU frequency at 333MHz by default when playing games. In addition to this, a dynamic scaling option is available to developers, allowing the CPU to run between a minimum of 44MHz and a maximum of 444MHz.

One could speculate that this maximum frequency is likely only be accessible to games which disable Wi-Fi – in an interview with Digital Foundry, Oddworld developers Just Add Water confirmed the existence of an alternative power mode which disables Wi-Fi in exchange for a higher GPU frequency. It's feasible that a similar rule applies to the CPU clock speed, though it's clear more information needs to be divulged on this 444MHz maximum CPU frequency limit.

If the discovered frequency range is correct, the limits in place would make an awful lot of sense. With a handheld dedicated games console, the CPU is going to be under load for long periods of time, so Sony had to choose a balanced CPU/GPU configuration to offer the best of both worlds: Sustained performance at its maximum speed of 444MHz, and acceptable battery life, all without the system becoming uncomfortably hot.

This is in stark contrast to the typical usage scenario of a smartphone, where tasks need to be completed as quickly as possible before the CPU can ‘rest’. As a result, sustained performance under load wasn’t high on the priority list of many OEMs in the smartphone space back in 2011, something that has arguably not changed today.

Which brings us to the here and now, where we can see how far things have come in the mobile space since Sony adopted what was best-in-class at the time. Apple is one of the few SoC vendors to release a balance CPU and GPU configuration capable of sustaining its performance over long periods of time under load.

Indeed, it recently refreshed its iPod Touch this year to include its Apple A8 SoC, clocking its Cyclone CPU cores to 1.1GHz instead of the 1.4GHz in last year's iPhone 6. What’s impressive is how this "iPod Touch 6" behaves under load. Despite its extremely thin profile, Ars Technica found that it can sustain its 1.1GHz frequency for at least 30 minutes, all while offering 7-8 times the single core performance of the 800MHz ARM Cortex-A9 in the iPod Touch 5, which would theoretically translate to around 14x the performance over the 333MHz Cortex-A9 in the PS Vita.

With Sony counting out a Vita follow-up for the time being, all eyes lie on Nintendo for a modern take on the dedicated handheld. And it seems like Nintendo is beginning to take CPU seriously too -- the four aging ARM11 cores in the New 3DS are clocked at 804MHz, a huge leap over the twin 266MHz ARM11 cores in the original 3DS. This again demonstrates the efficiency gains over the past four-five years even when older architecture is involved -- switching CPU architecture for New 3DS would likely break older games.
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Volgarr the Viking
Dreamcast Gameplay
Sep 29
Posted by Ben at 16:32

In less than ideal conditions we've taken a look at the (surprising) Dreamcast port of Volgarr the Viking. I did try to get it running through my capture kit, but alas, for whatever reason, it wasn't having any of it, so not great quality from my phone will have to do (video under the tab)

You can download a copy of the game from the HERE free of charge, and with the developers blessing, which is a pretty cool thing to do I think you'll agree

The game seems alright. Apart from being a bit blurry (not helped by having to capture on my phone), it's perfectly functional, although I'm really not very good at it

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Posted by Ben at 16:19
I think the release date of 30th October for WiiU horror game Project Zero Maiden of Black Water might be old news, but it's also been given a demo on the eshop

The Demo lands on the 30th too, just in time for Halloween, as you'd expect. Judging entirely on the trailer below, Project Zero Maiden of Black water looks to tread the same kind of ground as Ring, or Ringu just so you don't think I'm referring to the American version

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