Mid-Week Mid-Boss v2.12

Hey yo. It’s the last day of November, and we’re in the full swing of holiday shopping season. And here I am and I haven’t gotten a damn thing. Maybe if I get them all online they’ll be here in time. I can always hope can’t I? I just hate dealing with the insanity that comes from shopping for the holidays.

This week’s column will be a little different than usual. I am going to forego the news this week (unless something earth shattering happens, like 3D Realms FINALLY comes out of denial and announces the demise of Duke Nukem Whenever), and in its place post a full blown Xbox 360 System Review. I’m going to cover everything from taking it out of the box and hooking it up, to getting set up with Xbox Live.

I think it’ll be fun. I’ll try to make it as fun as possible. Oh, and everything else will be the same, just no news. So I hope you enjoy!

Oh, also, I want to publically apologize for so emphatically dissing the Castlevania games on the N64. A reader has brought to my attention that while Castlevania 64 wasn’t a great game, Legacy of Darkness was actually a lot of fun. I can’t attest to that, but the guy is a smart sounding guy, so I’ll take his word on that. So if you have an N64, you can probably pick that game up for mad cheap, which will probably be a good buy. So ok, back to normal stuff now.

Oh, guess there WAS some pretty big news this week after all!

N-Gage is officially a failure
Nokia’s Vice President of Corporate Strategy has admitted that the big smelly pile of crap called the Nokia N-Gage is a total failure. In case you forgot, I predicted this would be the case before it went on sale. The VP says that they will no longer develop for the system, yet they will continue to sell them (likely so they don’t have to burn or bury the several million extra devices they have sitting around…ET anyone?) mainly in China and India. They may come back to the arena in 2007 though, when the screen sizes on phones will be more conducive to gaming.

Personally, they should have never even tried this. It was a stupid idea no matter how you look at it. They would have done better had they made games for their phones. Nokia = cell phone company, and they should be a cell phone company first. The N-Gage was never designed to be a cell phone. It was supposed to be a game system first, cell phone second, mp3 player third. And it sucked at all three. Remember Side Talkin’?. Yea, sure they made the QD, which was better, but it just was proof that they never thought it through to begin with. Either way, RIP N-Gage, may you burn in hell.
(Credit: Slashdot, VNUnet)

Well, I’ve been playing the Xbox 360, of course! Here’s the full review on the goodness, front to back:

The Packaging
The box is really nicely designed and attractive looking. When you first open it up, you see the console itself. Under that, separated by some cardboard, is everything else. Since I got the premium system, here’s what it came with, in addition to the console: 1 Wireless Controller (w/ Energizer batteries), 1 DVD Remote (w/ Energizer batteries), 1 Power Supply, 1 Power Cable, 1 set of AV Cables, 1 Headset, and 1 Ethernet cable. All of these were in nice Green or Orange bags. Yes, the Power Supply is big, but I can deal with that. I don’t want the 360 to catch fire, after all.

Plugging in everything is a snap if you have plugged in any console before. The cord from the power supply to the console was shorter than I would have liked, but it was no biggy. The ethernet cable was surprisingly long (12-15 feet?). And I’m glad that they included batteries, and Energizers at that, and not some cheap shit knockoff brand. Sony’s DVD kit comes with Sony batteries, but those are as good as generic to me.

The Controller
Once you have everything plugged in and batteries in your controller, you hold down the Xbox Guide Button (the big grey X globe) and VIOLA! Your console turns on! This is one of the greatest features in gaming, and it’s a wonder nobody has thought of it. I’m not THAT lazy, but it’s still a pain in the ass to have to get up and turn on a system first thing in the day when you’ve already got a game in.

Either way, one thing I didn’t realize was that there was clear tape holding the drive bay shut. I didn’t realize this until I tried opening it and it wouldn’t open. Oops.

Anyway, back to the controller. You may not believe me, but I feel that right now, at this very moment, the Xbox 360 controller is the best controller on the market. It’s smaller than the Controller S for the Xbox, and it just fits in your hands so well. It’s not heavy or anything. The triggers are more responsive, and you don’t have to pull them in as far either. The bumper buttons will take a bit to get used to but they are pretty slick so far. The thumbsticks and the D-pad are about the same as the Xbox. A, B, X, and Y seem to be positioned better and aren’t as hard. They feel better, but I will know for sure after a few hours of THAW. My brother had a problem with hitting the start button a lot (which was just to the left of X) but I haven’t had a problem. Overall, button positioning is MUCH better and the feel of the controller is excellent. Sony and Nintendo have their work cut out for them if they want to try to top this controller.

Oh, two nitpicks about the controller though. First off, it’s kind of complicated adding a new controller to the mix. First you hold in the Xbox Guide button to turn the 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) controller on, then you hit a connection button on the console, then you hit a connection button on the controller, and it should link them up. Not very intuitive, and I can’t help but think they could have come up with a better idea.

Speaking of better ideas, I haven’t been able to find a way to turn of a controller once it’s turn on, short of pulling the battery pack and replacing it. What’s up with that? Is there another way and I’m retarded? Or was it just an oversight? It DOES turn itself off after a while, but I’m not sure how long.

Xbox Live
The first thing you’ll want to do when you start the system up is either setting up a new Xbox Live account or transferring an existing account over. Since I have had no prior Live experience, I’ll go over setting up an account.

First off, it was relatively painless. Granted, there was a lot of data entry, which was kind of a pain from the controller. You have to enter your standard stuff you need to sign up for an email address or something. You do have to sign up for a Passport ID as part of it, but it was no big deal.

The interface is so slick and very easy to navigate. There are several pages, each with options. They are Xbox Live, Games, Media, and System. System is all about system settings, and not all that important unless you need to change to high-def.

The Xbox Live screen gives you access to your Messages, Friends list and the Xbox Live Marketplace. This is how you can download new avatars, skins, themes, demos, trailers, and Xbox Live Arcade games. Each of these is purchased with Microsoft Points, which can be purchased for $6.50 for 500 points. There are free downloads of demos and trailers, but full Arcade games usually cost about 400 to 800 points. There are a few classic arcade games on there, such as Joust, Gauntlet and Smash TV. The avatars typically run you 20 points each, but there are also avatar packs which cost 200 points (in the case of the Penny Arcade avatars, which I HAD to get…I love me some Fruit Fucker). There is all sorts of stuff to get here, and my only problem is that once you have your credit card info entered, it’s way too easy to buy points, so for those with a lack of willpower (like myself) stick with the prepaid point cards. It would be nice if you could get some free avatars or something when you own a game, but I don’t know how they’d really implement that since you can just rent games.

The games page features probably one of my favorite things about Xbox Live: Achievements and the Gamercard. See, every game has set goals you can reach in them, called Achievements, and Xbox Live keeps track of every goal you attain. Every Achievement gives you a certain amount of Gamerpoints. Harder goals net more points. As I’m writing this (early in the AM on Thanksgiving), I have gotten only 35 points, but they are almost all from Smash TV, with a few from Condemned. And the other cool thing is Gamercards. They’re a little card that shows you my information:

This shows my Gamertag (yay! I got FLeedawg!), my Rep (which starts at 3 stars for everybody), my Gamerpoints, my Zone (still don’t know REALLY what this means), and the last 5 games I played. If you have an Xbox.com account, you can click on my name and see my achievements. It’s all really cool to me. And apparently every game utilizes this, which is sweet. Oh, and as an added bonus, you if you have Xbox Live for the 360 also, you can go and compare your Achievements in games to mine.

Once I heard about it, one of the coolest features to me was the ability to stream media from a PC to the 360. That sounded so cool to me, because I didn’t want to have to rip all my CDs into the 360 YET AGAIN, and this way I could just keep them on my PC and stream them, using them in custom soundtracks.

All in all, the setup for this was pretty easy. You just run an install for Windows Media Connect (you need an up-to-date version of Windows XP), and it takes a little while, but once it’s finished, your Xbox will see that computer and can stream music from it. You’ll have to go into the settings and point it to your music folder though. Once you do that, you’re all set. So much easier than I expected it’d be.

Only a couple of problems I encountered though. Well, one problem, and one gripe. First off, you can’t map a network drive and expect that to work. See, my music is all stored on one machine which is different than my main machine. This is so I can play music off it without impacting performance on my main machine. Well, the media machine is Windows 2000. So any music I want to play will have to be on my XP machine, which kind of sucks, but isn’t all that big a deal. (Oh, while I’m at it, the music visualizer is TOTALLY badass).

The gripe I have is that I can’t figure out how to make it play video files. Supposedly it can play WMV and other files, but I don’t see how to get it to play them. If anybody has any info on that I’d appreciate it. Oh, something that doesn’t involve cracking open the Xbox. :P

All in all, the Xbox 360 is a really slick system. You can tell they put A LOT of thought into some things, while there are a couple of small things (no off button on the controller) that make you wonder what they were thinking. The level of involvement they require out of developers is admirable. The Gamertags and Achievements add even more fun for collectors like me to get a little bit more out of Xbox Live. But we’ll have to see whether or not the games keep coming in. But I think they will. It’s too early to declare a winner though.

System Issues
And before anyone asks, yes, I’ve heard of the issues that people are having. The biggest issue I have heard of is the power supply overheating and causing the system to shut down. This is supposedly resolved by not keeping the power supply flat on the ground.

One thing that I’ve heard causes problems is laying the system horizontally. Supposedly, it’s better for it to be vertically. Does anyone have any official information on which is better? I guess official information doesn’t matter, because Sony wanted everyone to keep their PS2s vertical, which ended up causing them to break faster AND scratch discs. So for now, I’m keeping my Xbox 360 horizontal. Besides, one person I heard of broke his by it tipping over. I could see my cat knocking it over or something, which would SUCK.

Oh, and for the record, I haven’t had ANY problems with mine so far. No glitches, no bugs, nothing. Well, the Right Bumper button on the controller that came with the Xbox doesn’t always work, but that’s now my controller 2, and it’s not a huge deal. I’m still hoping Microsoft will replace it though.

Again, no Aquarian Age. I keep putting it off intentionally until I have enough good time to devote, which should hopefully be in a week or two. But I’ve got something even better for you.

Ghost in the Shell
Can you believe I’ve never seen this before? I know, it’s a shocker. It’s one of the best known anime movies in America.

The story is about a cyborg known as Major Kusanagi who works for the government in Section 9. Their group is ordered to track down a hacker known as the Puppetmaster, who has been hacking into the “ghosts” (basically souls) of cyborgs and reprogramming them to do his dirty work. But not all is as it seems, especially when they find out that the Puppetmaster isn’t at all what they expected him to be.

I can’t really say more about the plot without spoiling it. But needless to say, it’s really good. And the animation is just as crisp and clear as any anime that came out today. It’s definitely aged better than most shows that were released a decade ago were. The audio is good on all ends as well, as the voice acting was well done and the music is superb.

Overall, I was very surprised with how much I enjoyed this. I’m not big on anime movies because they never seem to make the plot truly interesting, but this one really went full force on the plot, gave you all the answers, AND had plenty of character development. So I think I can say that this is my favorite anime movie ever.

Overall: A

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
Well, since I saw GITS, it’s only appropriate that I watch the sequel as well.

Based an indeterminate amount of time after the original, though not too long, the story focuses on mostly machine Batou who is partnered with mostly human Togusa. A series of sexbots have started killing their owners, and the company that makes them doesn’t really know why. So it’s up to Section 9 to save the day once again.

Really, compared to the original, the sequel is pretty much crap. First off, the story is much more convoluted and pretentious. There was a long stretch where I was literally having problems keeping my eyes open. They could have cut a good 20 minutes out of it and made it more interesting.

In addition, the standard animation was top notch, but they added in a bunch of totally pointless CGI that did nothing but detract from the series overall. It was good CGI, don’t get me wrong, it was just out of place and didn’t further the plot in any way.

And lastly, we come to the reason it was released in the states to begin with: Dreamworks. Why is it that big Hollywood studios are allowed to get their dirty claws on anime I don’t know. It’s worse when they f*ck it like they did with this one. First off, they didn’t bother to dub it. Not a huge deal, because I’m sure they would have only gotten big name people, and they obviously wanted to spend as little money as possible on this (hence the lack of a dub altogether). And what they call “subs” is laughable at best. What we get is the same as you get on a close caption on a TV. Not only do they think we can’t understand English, but they think we’re deaf as well. Not only that, but there were times when they wouldn’t even sub what was being said. And they NEVER subbed any text (unless it was read out loud).

So add all this together (poor story, overuse of CGI, and Dreamworks f*cking it all up) and you have a recipe for poop. It’s worse than the original in every way, it’s boring, and the most interesting character in the original only has a cameo in this one. I recommend you skip it entirely.

Overall: D

This week, Blockbuster sent me the sequel to a movie I rented a few weeks back.

The Devil’s Rejects
This movie is very odd because it’s a sequel and makes reference to the movie before it, but is so completely different in every way. Kind of like Aliens to Alien. In a way.

It’s set some time after the events of House of 1000 Corpses, but they don’t really say how long. All we know is that the Fireflys live somewhere else entirely, Captain Spaulding lives in a different town, and Otis has a nasty beard. They’re all sleeping, going about their business when a cop, the brother of the sheriff killed in the last movie, comes to take the Firefly clan down. Otis, Baby and Spaulding get away, cause more problems, get caught, etc.

A lot of people talk about how the movie makes the bad guys (the Fireflys) seem good, or at least make the audience have sympathy for them. I think it’s more about good people going off the deep end and turning the tables on the villains. Besides, they’re the only interesting characters, so if people hated them, they wouldn’t enjoy the movie.

Either way, the movie is better than 1000 Corpses. Zombie did away with his annoying shitty directing and actually did a decent job directing. Sadly, the story wasn’t as great, and there seemed to be too much focus on being over the top rather than making a good movie. There were at least 6 female characters that bared their breasts in the movie (and some more than that) and they were either old or dead. The best looking actress (Baby, of course) showed only her butt, unfortunately. Some of the gore was great, but there was too little of it.

The movie just didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. Was it supposed to horrify you or make you laugh? I just don’t know if Zombie is cut out to be a writer. His directing can still use some work too. Just because you direct some music videos doesn’t mean you’re good at directing movies. Fred Durst directs his videos, and I pray to God that he never directs a movie.

So all in all, this was better than the first, but it was also completely different. But then again, it didn’t feel like a Texas Chainsaw Horror type ripoff either.

I heard some sad news this week. CBS apparently has no faith in Threshold and are canning it, and won’t even finish the season out. Fuck you CBS! You can’t possibly tell me that shitty shows like Close to Home and Criminal Minds are getting better ratings. I’m sure there’s SOMETHING political going on here. Bah.

Lost this week was great, just as I expected. We get the first glimpse into the past of a Tail section survivor. It’s too bad it was Ana Lucia. Let’s look at the character development here. So she’s a bitch wearing a badge. She is a dumbass and gets shot by a guy. She is even more of a bitch and pisses off her mom, who is the captain, and gives her exactly what she wants: to be back on the streets. So her FIRST ASSIGNMENT back, she pulls a gun on a guy. Nothing bad happens from it. So then, she intentionally lets the guy who shot her go so she can murder him later. I’m assuming that they will show us the repercussions of that event at a later date. Personally, I wish they’d just kill her off because either way you shake it, she’s an annoying bitch, and that’s apparently the only role Michelle Rodriguez can play.

Fatal Frame III review of mine. One of my favorite reviews I can think of. A great game too.

Half Life 2 by Tom N. One of the greats FPS titles ever hits the Xbox. It’s a shame they didn’t include the multiplayer aspect of the game that made it an awesome 1-2 punch.

Karaoke Revolution Party by Mark. I’m not a big fan of Karaoke, but I love parties. Especially if they involve womens and beer. Woo hoo, bring it on!

Lucard discusses some sort of razor. Wonder if it’s like the Razor’s Edge, only the coolest finishing move of all time?!

That’s it for this week. Time to get back to some racing in Project Gotham Racing 3. Next week, I think I may start reviewing Xbox Live arcade games or something. Who knows. It’ll certainly be more “normal” though. So I guess I’ll seeya then. Enjoy!