I got a Playstation Vita. Here’s what I think about it…

The Hardware:

The Vita feels very natural in the hands, comfortable to hold, feels like a well-manufactured product. It’s not too heavy, the buttons feel good and responsive, and the two analog joysticks work great. It doesn’t disappear into the hands like a regular PS3 dualshock controller, but that’s not a big complaint given that we’ve got a really big beautiful screen in the middle of it. I know I’ll be echoing a lot of other online reviews when I say this, but you really have to see the screen in person to fully appreciate it. The picture is big and sharp, the colors are bright. It really pops. You see this thing in action, you want to see more, you want to hold it, to play with it. It’s really a well-designed little gadget.

Setup:

So let’s get this out of the way. Setting it up is a moderate pain. Kind of a Sony thing already, and I got the 3G model, so add AT&T into that mix. First, the Vita requires a day one firmware update. Fine. But a firmware update that actively prevents you from following the quick start guide that ships with the device? It produces a loop of error messages that can only be bypassed by doing things in a different order. Embarrassing. Then there’s the fact that, apparently, I can’t have my iPad 3G plan and my Vita 3G plan use the same email address. What?

I eventually got all that settled, and it’s working fine now, but this sort of stupid crap can really sour the new buyer’s experience, especially for someone who may have less experience with Sony and AT&T’s crap.

User Interface:

However! Once you do get it going, the new UI is actually pretty slick. Unlike the PS3’s XMB, the Vita uses icons that evoke bubbles, and sheets that you flip through like pages in a book using the touch screen. It’s very intuitive and fun to navigate. “Welcome Park” places itself front and center, bouncing up and down when you first start up, leading you to a collection of minigames that introduce several of the features of the vita, (touchscreen, camera, microphone, rear touchscreen, etc.) Nothing too meaty there, but it gets the job done. More substantive is “Near” which I think may only be on the 3G versions. It’s sort of a GPS-enabled social-networky sort of thing. It’s a little inscrutable without much in the way of tutorial, but it seems like it could be fun and I look forward to playing around with it a bit more.

Games:

Before I get into the specific games, I think it’s telling that I ended up getting way more games more quickly than I expected. Originally, I planned to just buy Uncharted and Super Stardust Delta, but the more I held it in my hands, I just wanted to try more and more. Not from feeling that either of those games was lacking, but just a feeling of “Whoa, cool! What else can it do?” Now, onto the games I got.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

This shows right away why the Vita’s dual analog sticks set it apart from other portables. An action game like Uncharted really demands it, and this is something that your iPhone or 3DS just can’t do. The game looks beautiful, almost on par with the first Uncharted on the PS3. I’m not that far into the game yet, but the action plays really well. I have to say the script isn’t quite up to the same standard I’ve come to expect from previous Uncharted games. That doesn’t make it bad, exactly, just ordinary. Still, this seems to me like one of the best games to really show off the system.

Super Stardust Delta

If you’ve tried the original Super Stardust on the PS3, then you pretty much know what to expect here, but it scales perfectly to the smaller screen and controls like a dream. Basically it’s a twin-stick arcade shooter, where you move around a planet with the left stick and fire in any direction with the right stick. You’re taking out asteroids and aliens and things get frenetic really quickly. No story really, but lots of fun.

Lumines: Electronic Symphony

I never played any of the other versions of Lumines, but I gather the basic game is the same. It’s a vaguely Tetris-y puzzle game with up-tempo electronic music and trance-inducing visuals. I don’t feel like I have a lot else to say about it except that every portable needs a solid puzzler and this’ll do just fine.

Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack

“Nothing moves the blob!” Well, except for you, of course. This is another sequel to a PSN game, but it it’s beautiful and fun and funny and cheap. You control a blob, and in revenge for all the experiments that have been performed on you, you are going to eat the world! Well, absorb it and add its mass to your own, anyway. It’s a challenging platformer with a delightfully funny aesthetic. Loved it. It’s not long, but it’s the first vita game I’ve beaten and it was definitely worth it.

Rayman Origins

This is a port of the game that’s already been on other consoles, but I almost feel like I like it better here. I tried the demo on the PS3 but it didn’t grab me for whatever reason. However, on the Vita, the bright colors and the short portable-friendly levels make it a great fit.

PSP Games:

One of the very nice things about the Vita for me is that it is backwards compatible with PSP games. (As long as they are purchased through the PSN, anyway. The UMD’s don’t work.) However, because I never had a PSP, now I have access to that library of games, and there are some good ones! These are the three I’ve picked up so far. (Since they’re not new, I’ll be brief)

Half-Minute Hero

Another perfect fit for a portable. Imagine a Super Nintento Final Fantasy spit into a blender and shredded into dozens of frantic thirty-second chunks! Now add in shooter bits, RTS bits, and all sorts of other stuff. It sounds crazy and it is, but fun too.

Corpse Party

Speaking of the SNES aesthetic, who would have thought you could make an ACTUALLY SCARY horror RPG with it? I wouldn’t have, but here you go.

Patapon 2

Rhythm Game + RPG + Hyper-cuteness = Patapon 2. Better play it with headphones or anyone else in the room will try to murder you. http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2008/03/03

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Movie Review: Brüno

bruno Did I laugh?

Yes… A lot.

Did I cringe?

Yes… A lot.

Were they often at the same time?

Yes… Nearly always.

There’s no question that Sacha Baron Cohen (AKA Ali G, Borat, and Bruno) is not for everybody. He’s made his career not so much by amusing the public as by amusing himself at the public’s expense.

He specializes in acting outrageous in front of unsuspecting passers-by and videotaping their reactions. Sometimes he manages to catch people in the act of behaving very badly, or displaying bigotry or bias. Sometimes he just gets people who are very rationally reacting to someone who is, to all appearances, a complete lunatic.

If you saw Borat, you pretty much know what to expect here, though of course, there is much more of a focus on gay jokes, nudity and attempting to evoke homophobia in the unsuspecting participants. (Which, more’s the pity, is usually not super-hard to do.)

That said, the lengths to which he’s willing to go to make his jokes are really astounding, and occasionally terrifying, but I almost always had a nervous smile on my face and plenty of uncomfortable laughter, which I’m certain, is exactly what Cohen was going for.

P.S. An anecdote…

While seeing this movie, I had an experience that was truly surreal, almost worthy of one of Cohen’s own skits. A few minutes before the movie started, a very proper-looking, 40-something woman walked in with four children in tow: All boys, in the 8-10 years old range.

If my understated review has not already made it clear, this movie is probably the least-appropriate movie for children that is possible short of actual hard-core pornography. Perhaps even less appropriate than that.

The most likely backstory to this, of course, is that the boys had misled their guardian (probably the mother of one of them) into taking them to a movie she knew nothing about. Frankly, I hope that’s the case, because frankly, the possibility that there is a woman out there who could knowingly bring four 9-year-olds to this movie scares the hell out of me.

So the question in my mind was not IF they would walk out, but WHEN?

And the crazy thing is that the first half-hour, (which contains a LOT of nudity, a LOT of simulated gay sex, and a LOT of what could charitably called “mature situations”), was not what drove them out. No, they stayed through all of that, but then, the nudity and sex calm down a bit and Bruno attempts to start bringing about peace in the middle-east by getting an Israeli and a Palestinian to agree that hummus is healthy.

And THAT’S when they left.

I don’t even know what to make of that.

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Movie Review: Moon

moon-poster

Today when I discovered that Moon was playing at my local independant movie theater, I was really excited. I’d read a bit about this low-key non-explodey science fiction film but since it hasn’t gotten a huge release so far, I thought I might just have to wait for DVD. Yet it just so happens that it is now playing in North Carolina, so yay for me!

If you are like me, and a big fan of space in general, then Moon is worth seeing just for the awesome lunar setting and the 2001-meets-Grease Monkey aesthetic. Ultimately though, the moon itself is really just a backdrop for a character-focused scenario that is thoroughly-explored, if not quite totally original.

I won’t spoil anything here, (and in fact, if you want to be completely pure, you shouldn’t even watch the trailer), but if you’re even moderately familiar with sci-fi tropes, you’ll guess the “mystery” almost immediately.

To his credit, so does our hero.

Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a blue-collar astronaut on the last two-weeks of a 3-year contract. He’s been manning a mining station on the far side of the moon, harvesting helium-3 for shipment back home. It’s been a long three years, and he is more than ready to get back to his wife and the daughter he has never even met. Alas, poor Sam, he’s got science fiction to deal with first.

The movie is less concerned with keeping “the answer” a secret than with exploring all of the implications of it, and while I might have liked a plot that I couldn’t guess five-minutes in, I did appreciate the depth and the emotion the film brought to mapping out all the details.

There are little nit-picks. For example, whenever Sam is inside the lunar base, the film makes no attempt whatsoever to simulate lunar gravity. (The first shot is of him running on a treadmill.) While I could certainly understand the practical reasons for this, it did bug me.

On the whole though, it was a very nice change of pace from the frenetic pace and big explosions of most scifi movies these days, and I can solidly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for thoughtful, character-based science fiction, or for that matter, anyone who just wants to ooh and ahh at all the shots on the lunar surface.

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