Pilotwings 64 presents a new, fun way to fly!

Flying games may not be the strong suit of the Nintendo 64 platform, but sometimes a game comes along that shows just what a system can do. Pilotwings 64 delivers incredible sensations of flight, with nonviolent objectives that reward the player with a job well done, and some of the most relaxing gameplay you’ll ever find in a console game. While many may find simply flying a selection of contraptions around different environments a tad tedious, those who seek enlightend peace in a game should take to the skies — leave the blood and guts to the Turok: Rage Wars gamers.

A 64-bit update of the SNES game, PilotWings 64 is a mission-based flight game with a decidedly lighthearted approach, tons of gameplay, and an unparalleled sense of freedom. Players select from six different characters, each of which have distinct personalities and flying styles: Some are more maneuverable, some are more stable, and so forth. As you progress through the game, flying over extensive, detailed environments, a variety of airborne vehicles become available — including a stress-free, go-anywhere free flight option — and the challenges get more difficult. The best feature of PilotWings 64, however, has to be the incredible sensation of flight it imparts. Once you have the Bird Man option, this game is sensational.

PilotWings 64 tempts players with four completely different islands to explore. Graphics are crisp and colorful; everywhere you look, there’s something going on: working waterwheels on the farm, recreational hang-gliders circling a tower, a motorboat speeding out to sea, even a Space shuttle taking off (really!). This is just the tip of the iceberg. The actual time of day changes too, so you can be flying around against a breathtaking orange sunset one time, then hurtling through the spray of a fountain in the dead of night the next.

The game proper hinges on controlling the various contraptions (initially a hang glider, rocket pack, gyrocopter, and birdman suit) on your way to completing certain nonviolent mission objectives. Only the gyrocopter involves shooting of any kind: With the others, the tasks are peaceful activities, focusing on skillful control and precision flight rather than destruction. Early objectives are fairly easily completed. In fact, they’re very easily completed. But the point is to not simply to do what you’re asked, but to do it well, earning a gold medal for each undertaking. So while you may clear a certain task, you’ll want to go back to it and try to get it spot-on perfect for the highest score. Each vehicle is radically different: With the powerless hang-glider, your main concern is maintaining a gentle guiding touch on the controlling bar, while the rocket pack forces you to constantly alter the angle of the jets and vary the amount of thrust to fly with the required precision.

As you progress through to later missions, things get much tougher, with accuracy or time limitations upping the ante quite a bit. Success, though, is rewarded with bonus games becoming available: shooting yourself out of a cannon, parachuting, and operating a mad jumper contraption are all possibilities. Perhaps the only turn-off — and I mention this only as a trivial side note — is that not everyone will find the slow pace of the game to their liking. But not every flight game needs to involve blowing stuff up, and PilotWings 64 is such pure brilliance that it would be a crime not to give it a try. When you are done with Pilotwings, you can try this new game Clash Royale and its tricks. Thank me later.

Disney’s Dinosaur – Beware Of Disney’s Terrible Lizards

The dinosaurs, terrible lizards that they were, ruled the Earth unchallenged for millions of years. The mucky-muck scientists out there are quick to offer up crackpot theories as to what offed the beasts — asteroids, disease, climactic changes, alien invasion — but all these unsupported notions fail to hit the mark. What really killed the dinosaurs was junky graphics and frustration, the kind that’s created because someone thought it be a good idea to stock a children’s game with challenges only slightly less daunting than trying to spear a fly with a chopstick.

Disney’s Dinosaur brings prehistory to the Sega Dreamcast, and does it quite competently. The game takes its plot from the Disney animated film of the same name, and uses a top-down view and third-person perspective. What is old becomes new again, as players control the Iguanodon Aladar, the Lemur Zini and the Pteranodon Flia separately or in tandem with one another.

Mission-based play loosely follows Dinosaur’s plot. The heroic beasts must escape their now-wrecked paradise and make their way to a new home that can only be found after copious amounts of platform jumping, puzzle-solving, fruit collection and dinosaur killing. Here, Disney builds its skeleton from the bones of all that’s come before; each stage has multiple mission objectives that need to be completed before our heroes can proceed to the next stage, and all three characters must be employed to solve the puzzles. Though players are afforded a modicum of freedom of movement within an environment, Dinosaur often restricts the order in which tasks can be challenged — and the single-mindedly linear play saps the game of some its luster.

A neat control scheme allows a player to move and control Zini, Aladar and Flia separately from one another, and move Zini and Aladar, or all three characters, in tandem with one another. As one would expect, each character has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, to be used strategically during play. Aladar can use his brute force to topple logs, shove boulders and smash stuff; Zini can use his agility to leap onto platforms, and employ that wonderful primate’s paw to pick up rocks to hurl at enemies; and Flia can soar over obstacles and pick up objects in her beak. A given mission may require Flia to light the way for her compatriots, Aladar to clear the path with many headbutts and tailswipes and Zini to collect those hard-to-reach goodies. This is not to say that the characters can’t be employed in creative ways; Flia makes an excellent dive-bomber, for instance, and excels at swooping around foes’ flanks for sneak attacks. Zini’s rock-tossing comes in handy when Aladar’s up-close-and-personal attacks make him easy pickings for multiple foes. Another new game that is popular today is Disney Magic Kingdoms. You should try that game out.

The graphics, while not terrible, certainly border on the slightly embarassing. Each level holds a decent amount of finery, such as bubbling lava pits and swirling sandstorms, but clearly, the play’s the thing here. The thing is, though, that Dinosaur is clearly a feel-good child’s game that’s unbalanced by a few unforgiving moments. One level requires Flia to snatch a lit torch and then race through a fierce sandstorm to light a series of fires to guide her friends to safety. On the first leg of her task, Flia must streak along, following dinosaur tracks that are being obliterated by a fierce wind. If she doesn’t fly fast enough, the tracks will disappear and she’ll have to start from the beginning. If she strays too far from the tracks (even though her objectives are clearly marked) she’s forced to start anew. If she missteps in any way… well, it’s back to square one. Once this arduous task is completed, Zini and Aladar must follow the beacons to the end. The beacons, though, only point the way; the now-destroyed tracks must be followed, and the game is quite unforgiving on this point. Deviate a few centimeters from the path and it’s destination: Frustrationville.

This, more than anything else, slays Disney’s Dinosaur. Minor pokes can be taken at Dinosaur’s oddly finicky controls, which make crossing narrow platforms more challenging than it should be, and weak AI enemies who forget about their foes once they’ve disappeared from sight — but these pale when stacked up against the game’s extinction-level paradox: It’s the most non-kid-friendly piece of work ever issued by Disney.

Driving Emotion Type-S – What do we think of Square’s efforts?

Squaresoft continues to elude us in the consistency department. You can’t fault it — it’s produced some of the most beautiful and moving adventures in console history, but its other efforts, such as Chocobo Racing and Ehrgeiz, haven’t done much for us at all. Square’s entry into the realistic racing genre, Driving Emotion Type-S continues this trend. The graphics are fine, the options plentiful and the details lovingly polished, but the core gameplay — the part where you’re in a car racing against other cars — doesn’t do much to advance the genre at all.

One look and you’ll know that this game is running on a next-gen console, yet the visuals are lacking in the vitality department, not to mention more aliased (“jaggie”) than we’d expect from a developer of such high esteem and lauded aesthetics. We’re not about to discount a game because of its anti-aliasing (or lack thereof), but at times you get the feeling that someone’s messing with the V hold. This game doesn’t look muddy, but it’s a little mild.

The actual cars are modeled nicely enough, with gratuitous lighting and reflection effects. But while they’re suitably 3D, they hardly look real. Level designs are a mixed bag: The actual layout of the courses are fine and there’s plenty of stuff to look at, but they’re curiously devoid of character. Good course designs demand good handling, which is where this game hits a rough patch.

The single biggest problem with the game is the lack of control. Handling manages to be both maddeningly touchy and frustratingly unresponsive at the same time — rarely do players feel like the vehicles they’re controlling are actually rooted to the ground. It’s sort of like trying to move a mattress — you can get it from one room to the next, but you never really have a good grip on the thing. If you take your hands off the wheel, vehicles will nudge themselves from the left to the right, and then back again. Sure, there are some pretty complex physics going on here (one of Square’s big selling points for this game), but how about the fun? Racing game is sure a fun genre, but the adventure type RTS Pokemon Go is on another level especially now that that you can get free hack for Pokemon Go to get unlimited Pokecoins that is a premium currency that is available at the iOS and Android store.

Otherwise, it’s racing as usual — the usual sprawling selection of sporty cars (including such exotic racers as the Mitsubishi FTO, Nissan Skyline and TVR Griffith) and the usual modes (training, arcade, Vs., career.) The enemy AI doesn’t seem to be particularly scrupulous — while we human players can always pawn off pettiness as an excuse, it doesn’t play as particularly convincing when the other racers bump you off course simply because they’re trying to force their way back to the “proper” rail.

Compounding all of these problems is the sensation of speeding down asphalt — which is suspiciously absent. Recovering from a bad turn, or from getting turned around, is excruciatingly slow — and while we’re at it, so are the load times. This title came out when the PS2 launched in Japan; couldn’t something have been done about that?

Many attempts are made at infusing the game with a sense of life, though few actually count for much. Every time a car enters a tunnel, the headlights go on — even if it only lasts a few seconds. Safe racing this may be, but it’s not realistic, logical or even amusing. You can see the lights of the dashboard through the rear window, but this sort of detailing is hardly worth tacking onto a less than satisfying engine.

Then there’s the much-vaunted first-person cockpit view, replete with a poorly animated steering wheel gripped firmly by racing reds. It’s cluttered and claustrophobic, and shrinks the player’s field of vision. Stranger still, the screen gets darker — a stab at tinting, we suppose, but perhaps someone should have stepped back and taken a look at the bigger picture first.

The music is a mildly exciting series of caned guitar riffs, synth, sax sounds and beats, beats, beats — some of it’s fine, some of it’s really bad. Sound effects, while convincingly realistic, leave much to be desired by way of excitement or enthusiasm.

Still, it’s not all bad. The nocturnal races fare much better than their daytime counterparts, due in no small part to their resemblance to the foggy neon lights and fog softly rendered in Bouncer-vision. Detail freaks will find plenty of customization options, including an insanely deep color mixing palette and tons of wheels — but, as with any fine polish, it’s only as spectacular as the carriage underneath. Only the most driven of race fanatics need apply; the rest will likely find the whole experience cold from the start.

Personal Video Recorders – Take Control of Your TV Viewing

It’s hard to believe that the first real year of PVRs (personal video recorders) has seen its first casualty, ReplayTV. The ReplayTV PR spin is that it’s a new strategic direction, but they’ve left the direct-to-consumer market.

What’s a PVR? Only the most underrated consumer gadget of 2000. MP3 players have gotten the press, but MP3 players are an inferior technology compared to MiniDisc; meanwhile, PVRs have no equal and really change the way you experience a medium: television. (Sure, MP3 changes the way you experience music, but only when you pirate music, which appears to be — last we checked — illegal. And for all your MP3 boosters, new MiniDisc compression technology allows 320 minutes of music on a single MD. Good luck finding a 256 MB flash memory card to store 4 hours of comparable MP3 files…)

Goofier, friendlier and a bit more robust in terms of service.
PVRs are simply computers with a big hard drive sealed in an idiot-proof box, dressed to look like a VCR or some other home A/V component. TiVo’s PVR runs Linux, has a 14+ GB hard drive, and has a modem. What the PVR does is complex, yet elegantly presented to the user: it constantly stores incoming video as MPEG2 data to the hard drive. So you can watch TV and rewind it or pause it — it’s just buffered video. The TiVo’s modem calls up the TiVo servers to download program data, so you can tell your TiVo to record all episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or X-Files. You can play back a recorded show while the TiVo records another one. (Without two separate tuners, you cannot watch a “live” show and record another show simultaneously.)

And it’s a powerful device. Still hampered by storage space (60 hours at lowest, VCR-like resolution, is the max offering right now), the TiVo nonetheless has revolutionized TV watching in my house. We routinely start watching an 8PM show at 8:20, zipping thru the commercials (ahh, digital data); our TiVo has a remote IR beam that changes my cable box channels, so it faithfully records Scully and Doggett every Sunday. I got to watch every excruciating pitch in the Subway Series; never missing a moment when the pizza guy came — I just paused the broadcast! This is bad news for the major networks; expect that as these boxes become more commonplace, folks will have to be more creative about commercials. I fear banner ads being built into PVRs in the coming year, or some other “innovative” form of marketing. But time shifting and the ability to turn on the TV and have a list of shows recorded (Simpsons, X-Files, Star Trek are all routinely grabbed at strange, syndicated hours) really makes television your tool, and less of a network exec’s master plan. I like it that way.

TiVo and ReplayTV made their own boxes, and licensed the technology to Sony and Panasonic, respectively. TiVo is cheaper but charged a subscription (about $10 a month) for its electronic program guide; Replay TV was more expensive, but the service was free. By all accounts (including mine), the TiVo was a superior box — better UI, better show search capabilities (and TiVo is hackable, which means enterprising young turks can drop in an additional 80 GB drive for 100+ hours of television bliss). Apparently, sales figures must have borne this out, as ReplayTV has given up marketing its own brand of PVRs and has focused on licensing its technology. Panasonic will continue to market its ReplayTV product, the ShowStopper. Note to the Panasonic team: fire your documentation writers and scribe new manuals. The ShowStopper docs read like stereo instructions.

The two services have tons of cool features, as seen on this ReplayTV menu.
But the year ahead, surprisingly, looks quite bright for PVRs. Basic Moore’s Law stuff applies — more storage, better features and/or cheaper. Though TiVo is quite cheap now, if not for the subscription (you can pay a lifetime sub fee). I find it hard to believe that, given rebates, TiVo boxes aren’t being sold for under cost; stories of $99 TiVos abound, which is cheaper than the stand-alone hard drive from Quantum. Better hope that Moore’s dictum translates into more storage (60 hours is the minimum truly useful box, in my opinion) and greater reliability (there’s a fan in my TiVo, and I know why — it’s not a cool machine, and don’t get me started on its modem).

More interestingly is the competition coming into the space — Microsoft and their UltimateTV platform. Right now, UltimateTV will be offered in the next generation of DirecTV satellite systems, directly integrated into the set top box. (DirecTV owners can avail themselves of a similar solution today with TiVo, called DirecTiVo.) The benefit to this device is the tight integration with the set-top box — easier set up, and the ability to use two tuners so that you can watch (pause, and otherwise manipulate) one show, while recording another. Microsoft was supposed to ship this box before Christmas, but we should see it in January. Thompson and Sony are manufacturing boxes; Microsoft isn’t making the hardware. Good thing too — MS’s record with consumer electronics (remember the Microsoft phone?) isn’t so hot. Memo to J Allard: think different this time, not like a Microsoftie. So far, UltimateTV is just an extension of the DirecTV service, but don’t be surprised if a cable version pops up from the Microsoft TV group. (The Microsoft TV group?!?! WHAT Microsoft TV group?!)

And since TiVo and ReplayTV are also getting their chocolate in someone’s peanut butter, expect integration with some enterprising devices. I’d like to say that the set top box manufacturers will get on the ball and build some boxes with great functionality, but thats highly unlikely given their glacial speed and myopia. So, in addition to having superior picture quality, the DirecTV folks look like they have it over us terrestrial television proles in the coming year.

Will Sony’s TiVo unit, the Digital Network Recorder, talk to the PS2 next year?
But I will venture another prediction: X-Box will talk to UltimateTV, maybe not right away, but it will. And expect that the next generation of Sony TiVo (or other PVR) will connect to a PlayStation 2 — a system that plays DVDs, records digital video, plays games and has a data pipe. Hmm. Sounds suspciously like a PlayStation 3 spec, doesn’t it?

I predict that in the coming year, you’ll buy a PVR. If you like television, you’d be a fool not to.

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

While the jewel box bizarrely doesn’t list any extras, and most of the extras listed on the booklet inside are wrong, the disk contains a documentary and trailer. More importantly, though, the movie has some of the best commentary you’re likely to hear. Director Rob Cohen has consistently insightful, interesting and pointed things to say about the production of the movie and his experiences dealing with the people involved. It’s a shame all commentary isn’t as well thought out and interesting as this.

Released in theaters in 1993, director Rob Cohen’s Bruce Lee biopic, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story is a stunning film. Based off the biography written by Lee’s wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, the movie stays true to the spirit of the martial artist, moving smoothly between real and fictitious events in his life. Containing martial arts scenes more stunning than anything in an actual Bruce Lee movie, Dragon’s story of the man from childhood to his untimely death is an incredibly visual and entertaining legacy for one of the great legends of Hong Kong action movies.

The title role is played commendably by Jason Scott Lee, whose martial arts prowess is striking. He’s bigger built than Bruce Lee was, but the actor’s knack for the mannerisms and fighting style are impressive. The whole movie’s devotion to the style and flair of Lee is one of the things that makes it so entertaining, and the DVD transfer captures the great visual presence of the movie excellently.

The picture quality is good, if not as sharp as it could be, and the widescreen presentation is a necessity to really enjoying the film — it’s a very wide 2.35:1, and the cinematography makes good use of the space. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is exceptional, and the sound effects used during the fight scenes are at times incredibly over the top. This is a great movie, with plenty of extras to warrant the Collector’s Edition status — especially the director’s commentary, which is easily some of the best movie commentary you’re likely to hear.