PS+ On PS4: We’re Not Getting What We Paid For

PS+ On PS4: We’re Not Getting What We Paid For

PlayStation Plus, when it first debuted, was an interesting and ultimately appealing concept; pay out a monthly fee to enjoy discounts, free exclusive content and “free” games that were yours to keep as long as your subscription was paid up. It was a premium but optional service for hardcore gamers that were looking for ways to optimize their PS3 experience. Unfortunately, with the move to the PlayStation 4, PS+ became something else. It still had all the perks of its PS3 incarnation, but it was now also “Xbox Live,” in that it was a required subscription for PS4 owners that wanted to play online. Multiplayer remained free on the PS3, but, with the move to a mandatory online charge on the PS4, Sony ostensibly justified the move as requiring more money from players to improve and fortify the next generation online multiplayer experience.

Destiny
Destiny

The problem here is, if you’re going to start adding fees to your consumers, you have to justify it in some tangible way. This past holiday season made every PS4 online gamer wonder exactly where their money went, and they were completely justified in that asking that question. Over Christmas, both the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live suffered DDOS attacks from a group called Lizard Squad. Xbox Live was never completely taken out, and it recovered from the attack very quickly. PSN was down for days. Both services charge the same amount for allowing users to play online.

To be fair, when a DDOS attack occurs on the scale of what PSN and XBL endured, there’s little that can be done to smoothly ignore the thing and carry on with business as usual. However, the strengths of the companies really came to fore with this Christmas outage. Microsoft has had far more years in the network side of things than Sony, and while they weren’t immune to the attack, they managed to get their operations up and running far faster.

Sony, in the meantime, has offered an extension to existing PS+ subscriptions, as well as a 10% discount as a token of apology to those who were locked out during the one time of the year when most people can—and look forward to—sitting down for long marathon play sessions. It’s a good gesture on Sony’s part, but it doesn’t address the central problem. When multiplayer on the PS3 was free, people were far more forgiving of access problems. After all, “You get what you pay for,” and if you weren’t paying for online multiplayer, you couldn’t expect it to be as robust and reliable as a paid service like Xbox Live. Now, however, at least on the PS4, it IS a paid service, and despite paying the same amount as Xbox Live subscribers, PS4 gamers are not experiencing the same dependable service. In fact, very little seems to have changed in terms of the quality of the network experience from when it was free, so what, exactly are PS4 subscribers paying for?

Call of Duty Ghosts
Call of Duty Ghosts

If Sony is going to charge its customers for a premium online experience, then that obviously defines a contract between the consumer and the business. Providing nothing in exchange for money is not how the market works. If Sony can’t actually provide a better quality multiplayer experience on the PS4, then they should allow PS+ to retain its optional status as a premium discount/rental service. If they’re going to continue to insist that the money is required for a better online experience, then they are beholden to customers to actually PROVIDE that better experience. Christmas is the biggest time of the year in the West for the giving of gifts, and there were a lot of new PS4 owners that wanted to give their new machine a spin, perhaps try Call of Duty or Destiny on a next-gen machine. They paid their money to access online play… and promptly couldn’t get what they’d just paid for. No one is expecting a perfect system, but Microsoft treated their Xbox Live subscribers like paying customers and returned service to them as quickly as possible. PS4 owners got treated like they were PS3 owners; experiencing less than ideal quality which is acceptable for a free service. Except they’re required to pay for substandard treatment now. In 2015, Sony has to show its new and old consumers that paying for online access is actually worth it. The end of 2014 puts a massive mountain of doubt on that proposition.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle (PS3) Review

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle (PS3) Review

Have you ever been deep into a Japanese manga or anime and a fighting game suddenly broke out? Probably not, but there’s really no better way to describe this game outside of its spot-on title; in a word, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure All Star Battle truly is BIZARRE. For those readers not familiar with the Japanese comic book series –a medium known as manga in Japan—written and illustrated by Hirohiko Araki, the one-on-one battles of JoJo focus on the comically dark and overly-twisted misadventures of the Joestar family and their allies over multiple generations as they overcome a rogue’s gallery of villains that are just as zany and long-lived. Players will want to work their way through the Story Mode in order to unlock playable characters, secret missions and other rewards, but even after they’ve exhausted the game’s narrative they can continue the mayhem in several other modes, such as Arcade, Campaign, Versus and Online.

jojoinsert1

Gamers old enough to remember Street Fighter II‘s heyday in the 90s likely remember when novelty fighters like JoJo were a dime-a-dozen; nearly every publisher in the game industry and their grandmother had a fighting game out, and this was especially true for games based on Japanese manga and anime. Nowadays however, only a select number of fighting games have managed to survive, so it’s encouraging to see that niche titles like JoJo are seeing release in the West, thanks in large part to the increased adoption of digitally-distributed games via online platforms such as the PlayStation Network. It’s also an especially rare treat to see this sub-genre of fighting game pulled off so masterfully by CyberConnect2 studio, as the world and characters of appear to literally leap off Araki’s pages and spring to life in all their violently ridiculous, macho-beef-cake-meets-bishōnen (beautiful-boy) schlock that the manga and anime are known for. (F.Y.I. There’s also transgenderism in abundance, so leave your notions of what normal fighting games are like at the door.) From a visual and audio standpoint, everything is retained, from Araki’s sketch-line work to the ham-fisted anime voice acting of the TV show. Even the music evokes the same trademark mix of weighty, orchestral tunes, hip late-70s style rock, heavy metal and 90s-inspired Japanese jazz. Anyone with even a passing appreciation for JoJo or anime in general could literally spend hours watching and listening to this game with enjoyment. However, there’s also a fighting game here, and while it isn’t terrible, it’s not incredibly deep either.

Contrary to the game’s presentation, the controls in JoJo feel very bare bones. Players have three attack buttons (Weak, Mid and Strong), an axis button that allows them to dodge into the background or foreground, a button that summons their “Stand” (a spiritual manifestation of their psychic energy) to their side as a secondary character and allowing for an additional set of attacks), and special attacks or cancels that can be enacted by pressing two or all three attack buttons in concert when their Special Attack gauge is filled. Aside from the dodging ability and the Stands, it all seems very Super Street Fighter IV, at least on paper. However, character movement by comparison to that game feels incredibly sluggish, and the move sets as a whole are so limited that players will likely find themselves spamming the same key attacks over and over until they win. In an apparent nod to SNK’s King of Fighters franchise, the Story Mode mixes things up a bit by giving the player and or his opponent buffs and or weaknesses that affect gameplay for the duration of the match. Confident players can choose to accept the challenge as is, or before the match begins purchase up to three player buffs from a merchant to help even the odds. But none of it really enriches the experience, it only makes the tougher fights and cheesier opponents feel more surmountable.

jojoinsert2

It’s likely that fans of JoJo and CyberConnect2’s other games will be able to overlook the simplistic fight mechanics in exchange for the near-embarrassing overdose of Japanese fan service that the game offers. Every fighting arena and the environmental gimmicks that occur within them are spilling over with visual references to the series that fans are bound to appreciate, and just about every menu screen, sub-option, mini-game and line of dialogue is punctuated by outrageous Japanese voice acting, all translated into English via subtitles. While there are 32 playable characters to choose from in total, the countless cameos by other principal and minor characters are hilarious, and you’d be hard pressed not to burst out laughing at character names like “Robert E O Speedwagon”, “Esidisi”, and Hol Horse” or fight taunts such as “How deep can I go? BALLS DEEP!” (actual baseballs are involved if you must know) on first sight. That said, if you’re not a fan, you probably won’t be able to give the game a pass as easily, as the story and relationships between the characters are bound to confuse. In fact, of all the manga/anime-inspired games this reviewer has played, JoJo is one of the laziest when it comes to catching up newcomers on actual story events, choosing to summarize the most bizarre and important moments via pages of text in-between fights, without even a single illustration to accompany them. This results in the newcomer not only feeling confused or indifferent to the story and characters, but also make the fights themselves seem pointless, as none of the actual story points play out on the screen like they do in CyberConnect2’s other anime titles, such as the Naruto games.

To conclude, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle is a novelty fighting game that has been lovingly crafted for fans of the series alone. If you’re not a fan but your interest is strong enough that you’re willing to do some additional research to get up to speed on the story, and you have an equally enthusiastic friend to play multiplayer with, then the game’s $50 CAD price tag might be well worth the investment. But if not, save your money. All the fan-service in the world amounts to very little in the end if you’re not already among the converted.

 

 

Summon Your Inner Demon With Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Summon Your Inner Demon With Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

ATLUS may take the award for most wonderful surprise of the week by announcing last minute that the PS2 classic Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne will be available on the PlayStation Network today.

The company teased a new title on PlayStation 3 yesterday via Reddit, which was later confirmed (through an ESRB rating) to be the third main-entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series.

Nocturne was originally released in Japan way back in February of 2003. A year later a western release was announced, which included the updated Japanese version (allowing players to recruit the famous Devil May Cry protagonist Dante).

Those new to the SMT universe may want to try out a less intimidating title in the franchise as Nocturne is considered to be one of the hardest JRPG’s out there, mostly due to its increasingly difficult battles and high encounter rate. Unlike Shin Megami Tensei IV (the newest entry in the series) players are unable to save anywhere, making every move you make that much more crucial.

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne releases later today exclusively on the PlayStation 3. For more on SMT, check out our review of Shin Megami Tensei IV.

 

Sony Drops Support for PS1/PSP Games Recently Made Available on Vita

Sony Drops Support for PS1/PSP Games Recently Made Available on Vita

Earlier this week after the Playstation Network Store went under maintenance, North American Vita owners were surprised when they found out that they could then purchase almost every PSP and PS1 game unavailable to them.

Now the support for these titles seem to be dropped.

Multiple sources have confirmed that the same titles that have been locked out of the North American Vita PSN store  such as Metal Gear Solid, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro The Dragon have been locked again.

It is unclear why Sony suddenly allowed these games to be downloaded, and then stopped it a few days later.

The idea that it was a mistake caused by the maintenance seems likely, seeing as though Sony remained silent after the titles were available. It is also still unclear why Sony won’t allow these titles to be purchased.

Before this, a group of gamers on Neogaf found a way to bypass this by downloading the games from a PlayStation3 to a Playstation Vita, and tested out which games actually work this way.

Customers who purchased and downloaded any of the titles to their Vita will still continue to be able to play them, but everyone else seems to be out of luck.

Ironically Shuhei Yoshida, the President of Worldwide Studios for Sony Computer Entertainment didn’t seem to mind customers obtaining these games.

Playstation Network Offline Tomorrow Afternoon

Playstation Network Offline Tomorrow Afternoon

For all you PS3 owners, there’s a public service announcement on the PlayStation Forums that the PlayStation Network will be undergoing maintenance between the hours of 12:15 pm to 6:15 pm Eastern, or 9:15 am to 3:15 pm Pacific. Naturally, this also means services like the PlayStation Store will be offline during this time. And yes, this pretty much means that people that can somehow play multi-player games during the afternoon on a weekday are out of luck. UNLESS, that is, you’ve been playing regularly on the PSN over the last few days.

Sony has already confirmed that recent, regular players will remain unaffected. Per the announcement:

If you’ve signed onto PSN over the past few days, you’ll still be able to play online and access apps during this period, but you may receive a maintenance notification when attempting to access the PlayStation Store, PlayStation Home, and Account Management as these services will be unavailable. Be sure to sign in now if you wish to access the Network during this maintenance window.

If you hadn’t logged in for a while and were planning to play hookey tomorrow afternoon, you should probably take precautions now and log in. The FFXIV addicted will likely remain unaffected as they haven’t logged out since August anyway.

Okabu (PS3) Review

Okabu (PS3) Review

 

In 2008, small-house developers HandCircus released Rolado, a LocoRoco-looking but generally original action puzzle game that was, at the time, a rarity. It was a legitimate iOS game, the first of many, and well ahead of the pack. This year, HandCircus is treading new ground, though mostly new grounds for them. Okabu, a 3D puzzle adventure, is part of PSN’s push for more exclusive titles, and looking to celebrated iOS creators for that new content is a sound idea. HandCircus’ colourful panache filters through on the console upstep, though the wispy world of Okabu is a bit of a breeze.

You (being either you alone or you and a couch bud) are cloud whales Kumulo and Nimbe, a rarely-seen magical species whose known kindness is adored by the quirky Yorubo, the inhabitanrs of this happy world. Unfortunately, not all is clean, clear skies, as the mechanically-obsessed and sludge-spewing Doza are looking to conquer more land through force and homing missiles. Strong environmental undertones consummate the overall theme, sure, but never really pushing it beyond “pollution is bad” and “recycling is good” means younglings would fare better skimming a DVD box set of Captain Planet.

While the colour palette may squeal back to LocoRoco and Katamari, the game’s heart is more akin to the Lego games of recent history. The worlds, four in total, are divided into levels, each filled with puzzle-masked tasks that require you to move about the landscape while partnering with cloud-riding characters, each offering specific abilities. Some riders give you the ability to hookline objects, while others let you control certain machinery, though all can manipulate the world in some way. Without them, the clouds can absorb water and oil. The puzzle genre has taken certain stretches and liberties over the years, and it feels a little misleading to suggest anything about this adventure is challenging to the mind. There’s no strain when an arrow remains pointing to your destination and all solutions are a routine from the last. Those addicted to challenge can hunt down the cleverly-hidden eggs throughout, and do their best to beat a surprisingly demanding time trial.

While the “puzzles” are fairly clean-cut, the physics can be murky at times. Scratch that up to a first-time attempt at a 3D title, sure, but chaos consciously reigns on too many occasions. Objects, boxes and spheres – oy, spheres – can have a mind of their own, and while their destination and purpose can be a bit forgiving, the commute can prove to be the true grievance. All the flotsam is stubborn to move but bounce away as if they’re helium loaded. Getting close to enemies is a pain too. There are many ways to deal with the missile-barfing Doza, but you’ll go out of your way to choose the one with the most range. The Doza have an affinity for heat-seeking missiles, spittle out like a broken pipe, and while you can’t die and there’s no health to lose, getting hit knocks you out and your rider off your back, forcing you to float back to the last re-spawn tree to pick up your companion again.

The most admirable thing HandCircus has immigrated over to the PS3 is their colourful, storybook art direction, which comes out even better in 3D than it did in the 2D Rolando. Much like the Lego games, the camera is on a fixed path, following you from a distance against an expanding wall which gives it all, especially with the palette, a pop-up panache. The first half of the game steadies at a contemporary cartoon-mindedness, but when you enter the forest and the night shadow blankets the tinkering tribes Okabu finds visual harmony, even if it doesn’t always show. The music is nice, and has the high-quality energy of any world-music guest on Later…with Jools Holland, but with such limited tracks it can at times overstay its welcome with repetition.

I can’t imagine anyone but a fairly young gamer will enjoy Okabu to its fullest. It’s rarely challenging, and the smiling, colourful world, as nice as it looks, may make older gamers feel like they’re being talked down to. The easy-going pace, and even the calamity of its floaty physics, is something of a virtual toybox. Regardless of age, it’s best suited for two, but regardless of even that this cloud is too thin to feel completely engaged with.