The Geek Refuge

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Weekly Idol Recap


This week on Idol, the theme was Greatest Love Songs, with guest host Andrea Bocelli. I'll just cut to the chase here: Kellie sucked once again, and paid for it dearly. Yep, it appears that not enough rednecks "picked Pickler" this week, so she got the boot. It was only fair, to be honest; she has really been doing poorly the past few weeks. The performance of the night must be divided between Elliott and Chris, because they were both awesome. Which brings me to my "Final Three Prediction":

Katherine McPhee
Elliott Yamin
Chris Daughtry

From there, either Katherine or Elliott will be eliminated, but I'm not sure which. If Chris continues to sing like he has lately, then I think he has it in the bag. We'll see how honed my psychic abilities are soon!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

---==Kingdom of Paradise==---


Kingdom of Paradise. Ever hear of this game? Me either, until someone praised it on an internet forum that I frequent. I was jonesing for some portable RPG action, so I decided to give it a try. When I went to purchase the game, I was struck by how ugly the box art was. Granted, snazzy covers do not a great game make; by the same token, a God-awful cheesy front cover does not always mean that the game inside sucks. On the contrary, there just might be a gem inside that crappy-looking game case you pass by every time you visit the local game store. Thus was the case with our game of interest today, Kingdom of Paradise.

The theme of the game is derived from Eastern mythology, and although it is not very accurate historically, the story is rather interesting. In the land of Ouka, there are five clans: the Seiryu and Suzaku (who comprise the Righteous group), the Byakko and Genbu (who make the Ruthless group), and the Kirin, who choose to eschew these labels. The Kirin lords have decided to steal each clan's sacred sword, so that they might control the entire land. Our hero, Shinbu, will try to unite the Righteous and Ruthless against the Kirin.

The concept of blending martial arts action with an RPG sounds intriguing, and in practice, it turns out to be just that. You collect Kenpu tiles, which are basically pieces of a scroll that give you an attack move. You place these tiles into a pre-ordained order onto a Bugei Scroll, and it is in this way that you begin to build your Bruce Lee resume of butt-kicking. While most of the scrolls confine you to the order of tiles that they dictate, there are five freestyle scrolls that allow you to design your own attack combinations. It is here that the fun begins. When you obtain your first freestyle scroll, it only allows you to place two tiles in it; depending on which ones you choose though, those two can be far more powerful than any of the other scrolls you have. (Try this combination: Kirin Form 10, then Genbu Form 21. If you have these two tiles linked together, you can do decent damage to your opponents, then dart away out of the carnage without taking much damage yourself. It’s like buttah.)

There are no Final Fantasy-like CG scenes in the game, as most cut scenes use the in-game graphics. This is actually quite nice, since it helps to preserve the continuity of the story. Voice-overs are used for the majority of the game, and I think the voices are pretty on-point. No weird quasi-retarded Dragonball Z stuff here (Thank the good Lord).

The combat is where I really fell in love with this title. Enemies appear out of nowhere, sometimes 8-10 at a time, and I always looked forward to the next fight. Imagine, if you will, the following cornucopia of gaming elements: Dynasty Warriors hacking-and-slashing, upgradeable magic with great effects, constant leveling of your scrolls, magic, skills, and stats, and loot collection from every foe you slay. This jumble of gaming utopia works incredibly well together. The best part of that there are plenty of battles to fight, so you will have an abundance of opportunities to experiment with scroll combos, upgrade your skills, and satiate your rampant blood thirst. (What, is that just me? It can’t be, judging from the sales of games like GTA!)

Is there a downside to this game? Sure, every game has at least one pitfall. Here, I would have to say that KoP's weakness is it's difficulty. Once you upgrade your freestyle scrolls enough, and discover a really good combo, battle loses some of it's challenge. And then, at other times, boss battles are ridiculously tough. But again, once you nail down your strategy, it becomes somewhat of a cake walk. Not that it ever loses it's appeal. but still it can get a tad monotonous at times. At least those easy battles are still thirty-six craploads worth of fun!

But, at the end of the day, it is the little things about Kingdom of Paradise that really hooked me. The menus are intuitive and good-looking, and you can save at any time you want. When you are watching a cut scene, you can skip to the next line of the conversation with a click, without skipping the entire scene. The scenes themselves are short and to the point, so you aren’t looking at another Xenosaga snoozer here. Another great point in the game is the scenery; the vibrant colors and multi-layered environments are a feast for the eyes.

I really can’t say enough good things about this game. It is fun and enjoyable, deep but yet not overly complicated, and designed just as an RPG should be for a portable system. I think you can grab a used copy for around $25, and it is more than worth it. I highly recommend this game to any action fans, RPG fans, and martial arts fans. Good times. Come to think of it, I think I’ll go play it now…..tremble before me, puny Kirin lords, for your death is upon you!

9.5 out of 10

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Handheld Wars: DS vs. PSP

So, when it comes to the newest and best in handheld gaming technology, your have two options: Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP. They are both very different in many ways, and many gamers are unsure which one to go with. Luckily, I have both, so maybe I can shed some light on your portable gaming quandaries! Thus begins another recurring segment for TGR: "The Handheld Wars". This feature will focus on the portable gaming market, and will aim to keep you updated on what is new, what is to come, and where you should spend your cash. It seems only logical to begin with the systems themselves, and so we have today's post: DS vs. PSP.



I bought my Electric Blue NDS back in December, taking advantage of Target's online ad misprint. For $99, it was a steal! I also grabbed Super Mario 64 DS and Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow. I bought my PSP two weeks ago from Best Buy; my purchase included the core system, a replacement plan, an accessory kit, Daxter, and The Family Guy: Seasons 1 & 2 UMD.

To start, let's talk aesthetics. Sony wins this category hands down. The DS simply does not look good, as it is bulky and uninteresting. The PSP, however, is sleek and impressive to look at; the 4.3" HD Widescreen takes up much of the front of the system. The PSP just oozes next-gen hotness. None of my friends at work seemed impressed by their first look at my DS; the PSP was admired by many. So, superficially, Sony wins. But, with the soon-to-come release of the DS Lite, the PSP may have a fight on their hands in this category.....

Next, we should consider ergonomics. The DS, in my opinion, loses here again. The bulkiness is problematic, and for me and my big hands, using the stylus on the touch screen is cumbersome at best. Also, the Power button is in a terrible place, as I have confused it with the Start button a few times, and powered off the system mid-game. I just like the PSP' setup better. Granted, the PSP's design mirrors the PS2 controller to a large degree, and I am very familiar with the dual shock setup. It was an easy crossover for me. Even saying that though, the PSP just feels better. I like it much more. Heavier, but easier to use.

When we talk about graphics, Nintendo must cringe, as they simply cannot compete with Sony in this category. However, Nintendo did not design the PSP to be a graphical juggernaut; rather, they focused on gameplay and innovation. They succeed in that aspect, but we'll talk about that later. Nintendo's leaders do not feel that graphics matter, but I must disagree. Although it may be entirely shallow, how a game looks matters to consumers. That is why we all ooooh and aaaah over next-gen screenshots and videos, right? I'll go ahead and say it: the PSP looks amazing! I can't get over how beautiful everything is, from the games to the menus, to the PSP interface itself. Impressive, to say the least. The graphics, compared to the PS2, are quite nice. Imagine, if you will, a graphical PS1.9; that is where the PSP falls. Almost as good as the PS2, but not quite. However, graphics that good on a handheld system can be breathtaking at times. You must see it to fully understand. All the internet videos in the world don't do it justice!

Enough Sony-touting, let us see what Nintendo DID do right. Innovation is the key concept when you look at the DS. With the dual screens, and one of them being a touch screen, Nintendo has positioned themselves to introduce many new and different kinds of gaming. In fact, they have already done this to a degree. The newest Metroid title is a FPS, where you use the touch screen to aim, and double-tap to shoot. Castlevania uses the stylus to draw symbols that vanquish bosses once they are weakened. Warioware: Touched! uses the stylus to perform a slew of mini-games. I think the touch screen has yet to see any real innovation, but what has been done thus far is nice. Sony's PSP is falling behind in the creativity section: it's more of a conglomeration of other portable devices and a home console. However, this is also it's strong point. On that note.....

The DS is limited in it's capabilities outside of gaming. So far, that is all you can do with it. The PSP, however, is far more diverse. It's basically a gaming system, internet browser, MP3 player, and video/DVD player all rolled into one. Sony has always shot more for the all-inclusive media center ideology, while Nintendo seems determined to not branch out from gaming. Focus is always nice, but I wonder if Nintendo is missing out on a large market this way.

Two more categories to consider: games and price. The games category is hard to judge, because it depends do heavily on what you like personally. Nintendo has some good games, but nothing I can't live without. They do, however, have many more original games than the PSP does. The PSP has quite a few console ports, which can be good or bad, depending on who is playing. I like the idea of console games on-the-go, and don't care too much for the currently available DS games. I am, however, thrilled to hear that a new Zelda game is in the works for the DS. It looks really interesting. Anyway, for me, the PSP game library is far more interesting. I think everyone can agree that the PSP repertoire has grown by leaps and bounds lately. And if you'll take a glance at a list of upcoming PSP titles, you'll see some games to really be excited about. Power Stone Collection and Monster Hunter Freedom are two gems that will surely rock.

Finally, let's talk about price. DS: $129.99. PSP: $199.99. $70 difference, and I think it is worth it. 70 bucks gets you an MP3 player, a movie player, and an internet browser. The games for the PSP cost more (most of the time), but I like them better, so I don't mind.

To summarize, I think the PSP is a far superior handheld. For my personal tastes, it is almost perfect. Plus, Sony releases periodic firmware upgrades that improve upon the system's capabilities. The upcoming 2.7 upgrade includes Flash capabilities (online arcade games, anyone?), RSS channel functionality for saving internet audio to your memory stick, and support for the AAC audio format. In case you are unaware, that is the iTunes (Apple) format, so that should make you iPod owners happy. I bought both systems, and I love the PSP much more than the DS. Not that the DS isn't good, mind you; on the contrary, it is quite good. But, for me, it cannot compare to Sony's portable beast.

Winner: Sony PSP.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

PS2 Price Drop!


Well, it happened again. Starting today, April 20th, the Playstation 2 has dropped in price to $129.99. This does, of course, include both the old fat style, as well as the new slim PS2. While it can't beat the $99.99 price tag of the Nintendo Gamecube, this might bring a few more non-PS2 owners into the Playstation fold. All 13 of them left in the world.

Seriously, this is a pretty good deal. The slim PS2 comes with the system, all the cords, and a controller. The network adapter is alreayd built-in to the slim version. The PS2 sports the largest game library of any of the current gen systems, as well as the fact that it is a DVD player. I can't think of a reason not to get one, unless you aren't a gamer, in which case you shouldn't be reading this blog anyway, right?

Weekly Idol Recap

I am, as you may have guessed, a huge American Idol fan. Don't hate me. So, I thought it would be cool to have a weekly recap on the Idol results. Hence, the Weekly Idol Recap has been born. (Clever name, right?)






This week, the theme was "America's Songbook", which is nothing more than a nostalgic term that means "Old songs that were popular a long time ago". The past few weeks of Idol have been incredibly disappointing and boring; this week was a complete turnaround! All but one of the contestants did very well.

Rod Stewart was this week's guest, and I suddenly remembered why I don't give a crap about Rod Stewart. On Wednesday, he sang "The Way You Look Tonight", and I thought I was going to fall asleep. It was so boring. Why is this guy famous? The crowd went wild for him, but I suspect that the applause was due only to the fact that he is Rod Stewart, not because he sounded good. He didn't, and his little dancing bit made me want to eat my own face. Anyway, on to the contestants.

Chris sang "What A Wonderful World". It was nice to hear him sing softly; heck, it was nice to hear him sing at all. This marked a departure from his usual yelling/growling/angsting (is that a word?), as he was reserved and quiet. It was really, really good.

Paris sang "Foolish Things"; while I didn't know the song, it was a jazzy tune that fit her perfectly. It reminded me a lot of her original tryout. She sang it extremely well, and I enjoyed it. I did find it a tad distracting that she was dressed like Hillary Clinton, though. :/

My fellow Alabamian Taylor Hicks sang "You Send Me". I'll let Simon Cowell tell you how it went: "It started, and I thought 'Ok, lame cabaret'. And then, (snaps fingers) magic." I agree fully. It started slow, but towards the end, it got AWESOME. Good stuff.

Elliott Yamin sang a soft version of "It Had To be You". While he sounded good, as he always does, I found the performance to be a tad boring. He didn't add any touch of his own to it. Still good though.

Kellie Pickler sang "Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered", and man did it suck. She was off-key, it was boring, and she even forgot a few words. She even said herself "I butchered it!". Yes you did, Kellie. Yes you did.

Next up was Ace Young, who sang "That's All". Simon called it charming, I call it "meh". It wasn't bad or anything, just not captivating. It's one of those performances where you wonder what else is on TV. He had his nappy locks greased back into a ponytail, and I cleverly dubbed him "Guido Young". No one laughed but me. Oh well.

Last came Katharine McPhee. I don't know the song she sang, but it was a low-key jazzy number that fit her vocal style well. She was very classy and poised, and I really liked it. She has a great voice.

Wednesday night was results night, and as usual, Ryan split the contestants into two groups. One group consisted of Kellie, Elliott, and Katherine; the other was Chris, Paris, and Ace. Taylor was left sitting alone, and Ryan asked him to pick which group he was thought was the bottom 3, and to go stand beside them. After an expected commercian break, Taylor did a psyche-out by walking to Chris' group, and then going to stand by Katherine's group. His judgement was sound in the end, because Katherine, Elliott, and Kellie were all safe. (How in the Seven Hells was Kellie safe? Methinks there are some no-ear-having, crazy-phone-dialing rednecks in her hometown.....) That left Chris, Ace, and Paris on the stage as the bottom 3. Almost immediately, Ryan let Paris know that she was safe.

And then there were two.

Ace and Chris stood alone, and I was hoping to God that Ace would get the boot. I hate him. Not since Clay Aiken has such a weiner stood on the Idol stage. Long hair, quivering hands, teary eyes, and poo-nanny song choices make this guy the object of my loathing. Anyhoo, Ryan waits the appropriate tension-mounting 4-5 seconds, and then drops the most beautiful bomb ever dropped. "Ace".......and then my exultations filled the apartment. Arms towards the sky, I thanked the good Lord for his grace and love, as Ace's head hung low. It was glorious! I only wish that Ace could have been here in my home; I would have shaved his head as a symbol of shame and humiliation. Then, I would have taken his shorn locks and woven them into my jock strap, as I taunted him saying "Ace, my balls are in your hair! Nuts on your scalp, Ace! Sack on your skull!"

I can dream, can't I?

Next week's theme will be "Greatest Love Songs of All Time", with the special guest being Andrew Bocelli. Should be halfway decent. We'll see!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

---==Daxter==---

Review-time! For our first review here at TGR, I decided to tackle Daxter for the PSP. Why, you may ask, does this title deserve to be the object of our maiden reviewing voyage? Well, there is no good reason, really. I have just been playing it, and I thought it would be as good a place to start as any. Hence, our reviewing begins.....



Daxter made his portable debut in March of this year, and I recently got my hands on a copy of it. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

I bought my PS2 about a week ago, and bought Daxter along with it. I'd heard many great things about the title, including the fact that Gamespot and IGN gave it a 9.1 and 9.0, respectively. Of course, my interest was piqued. As I popped the game into the UMD slot, I was wondering how my very first PSP gaming experience would be. Would I be disappointed?

Whenever you pop a UMD into the slot while at the PSP Home menu, and navigate to the UMD button, the screen will change to reflect what game is inserted. (I love that feature, by the way.) Daxter's furry head pops up, larger than life, and highly detailed. All the fur was distinct, and I was impressed. I clicked the button to begin, and the fun began....

After making a save file, I started a new game. I was treated to a semi-interesting intro video, which was full of the typical Jak & Daxter slapstick comedy. The end of the video set our story up, and then I jumped into the actual gameplay. The story is as follows (prepare to be amazed): You're an exterminator. (I warned you, didn't I? I'll wait while you recover from your dumbfounded amazement. Ready? Ok.) Yea, you read that right. You are a bug-killing, platform-jumping, precursor orb-collecting ottsel. An ottsel is, I am guessing, the bastard child of an otter and a weasel. Whatever. I guess the dominant gene is XY-sarcastic jerkism. ;)

Anyway, you are sent off to your first job, which is......killing bugs. You kill the bugs, jump across some gaps, climb some ladders, and collect some items. Sounds rather mundane, right? You're wrong.

This game is a blast to play! I know the story is lackluster, to say the least. But the gameplay is excellent, by far the best in any platformer on the PSP. The controls are tight and responsive, the graphics are beautiful, and the humor is a tad played out, but still funny. While this game does not break any new barriers, it does do a great job of repackaging the old ones into one fun game. So far I have only encountered one boss, but he was fun and interesting to battle. You also get to some vehicle driving, which is a nice diversion. Granted, vehicles have become the standard for platformers now, but even still, driving these is a good time. I think it all comes down to the controls, to be honest. You always feel in control of your little protagonist, and that goes a long way to make an excellent game.

Another plus for this game is the ability to save at any time. While this should be present on every portable title, it isn't. The inclusion of it in this game really adds a lot. No one wants to play for 20 minutes, miss a jump, and then have to do it all over again. Ready At Dawn (the game developers) knew this, and took care of us gamers in the right way. I guess that sums up what is great about Daxter: everything a gamer wants is here. The controls, the graphics, the gameplay, the humor, the save feature.....all these things are what we are all missing when we play a game that doesn't have them. You know what I mean, right? You're playing a goodish game, but nagging at the corner of your mind is the fact that the game is just missing something. That's not going to happen to you in Daxter. All the good stuff is there, and you are sure to enjoy it.

Priced at $39.99 MSRP, the game might be a bit short for the price tag. While I was willing to drop that much for it, due to the fact that I had worked overtime and saved up money to buy a PSP and some related goodies, you may not be in that position. The price should drop in a few months, or at the least, you could snag it used for less. EBgames, Gamestop, Wherehouse.com, Gamefly.com, or even Wal-Mart might save you a few bucks. But, if you are a PSP owner and like platformers, you should give it a try.

I give this bad boy a 8/10.

Monday, April 17, 2006

PSone Emulator for PSP - leaked photos?

Well, as you may or may not know, Sony announced recently that some new features are on the way for the PSP. Among them is a PSone emulator, which will allow you to download and play (legally) many Playstation games on your PSP. Personally, I love this idea. There were some GREAT games on the PS1, and I would love to have them in a portable format. Additionally, some of the games are sure to be given the wi-fi multiplayer treatment, which will be awesome!

The concept is that there will be an interface accessible from the PSP, that will allow you to buy, download, and play the aforementioned games. The games will be downloaded onto your Memory Stick Pro Duo (time to ditch that packaged 32Mb model!), and are rumored to cost $15 apiece. A little on the steep side, but I'll pay that much for some PS1 games. Especially ones like Brave Fencer Musashi, FFVII, FFVIII, Parasite Eve 1 & 2, Legend of Legaia, etc. There are many great RPGs for that system that I would really enjoy having "on-the-go".

Here are the supposedly leaked screenshots. They look legit to me.....









I hope that first list is partial, because there are some real gems missing there. But the screenshot does look very authentic. Since I finally have my PSP (more on that later!), I can vouch that the screen does look just like that.

On the second shot, you can see individualized info on GT2. At the bottom is the price ($15), and around the middle, you can see the multiplayer options. Ad Hoc only supports 2 (weaksauce), but Infrastructure supports up to 6. Pretty cool.

Anyways, this is a very interesting turn of events. The Sony PSP struggled in the beginning of it's life cycle, but things are starting to look up for the handheld media giant. With the recent release of great games such as Daxter, Syphon Filter: The Dark Mirror, and the two Mega Mans (Powered Up and Maverick Hunter X), the PSP library is becoming more and more formidable. On the horizon are some juggernauts as well: Power Stone Collection, Tekken Resurrection, Valkyrie Profile, and Monster Hunter Freedom all look to be worthy additions to the PSP repertoire. Bundle all those titles along with new features like GPS, a video camera, and this whole PS1 emulation thing, and I'd say that it's time to jump on the PSP bandwagon. Plus, the new $199 price point helps a little too. ;)

¡Bienvenido!

My friends, a new day is dawning! Today, a place has been available to you. A place for you, and for people like you. A place where you can grab the latest gaming & tech news, a few laughs, and some trustworthy gaming reviews, all without the pretention and judgemental stares you receive everywhere else. (This is starting to sound strangely similar to a nerdy Cheers.....)

Welcome to The Geek Refuge! I am Ender, your guide through this geeky realm. I will be updating this blog much more often than my previous one, Ender's Blog. I also plan to stay more focused in my topic choices, and to offer weekly features. So, it's gonna be good guys.

Please forgive the incredibly gay template, by the way. I'll find a better one soon.

Thus begins a new era!