How Mike Bithell’s Volume has made me play my PS Vita more

Fourteen days into 2016 and reckon I’ve already played my PS Vita more this year than I did for much of last year.

I put that down to two things: a) Going on holiday, so my Vita was a nice portable way to replay some of my favourites like Gravity Rush and TxK and b) I bought Mike Bithell’s (@mikeBithell on Twitter) Volume, which came out on the Vita on January 6. I’ve played my PS Vita more because of Volume.

I can’t express enough joy at what a great game Volume is, not only because of its addictive qualities but that it’s also one of PlayStation’s Cross-play buys, which means if you buy it on PS Vita you automatically get to download it for free on the PS4 (and vice versa).

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_17_37The premis of Volume is simple enough: You take the role of burglar Tom who uncovers a plot involving a military coup and device called the Volume. Using the Volume to simulate high-profile heists, Tom must guide his avatar around industrial environments, avoiding patrolling guards, sentry turrets and dogs while collecting gems. The simulations are broadcast to the internet using the Volume, eventually leading to a stand-off between Tom and the evil Gisborne, who has taken over control of England.

Grab+3840x2160+Friday+May+29+2015+16_25_33Volume is very Metal Gear Solid-esque, with an isometric third-person, top-down perspective, in that stealth and creeping around to avoid detection is to the fore. Get spotted by a patrolling guards (each has a vision cone indicating its field of vision), you have to re-start the level. Each level short – some take less than a minute to complete – but they’re so addictive that you’ll find yourself saying “Just one more. Just one more”.

Bithell is a British indie developer who also make the cutesy game Thomas was Alone, which I like a lot, and Volume has all the trademarks of another hit for Bithell and his team. I initially purchased it for my Vita – and being able to play it on my PS4 for no cost is an added bonus – and if I had any gripe it was the size of the text on the PS Vita version: It’s just too small for my ageing eyes.

So, I tweeted that to Bithell, and guess what? He got back to me shortly after, admitting the text was a little small and he would look at fixing things in a patch. In a simple thing like replying to my tweet, Bithell has proven to me that he’s a developer who cares about his fans and those that pay for his games. That’s something I admire in a developer. Thank, you, Mike.

I’m hoping that 2016 is the year that I play my PS Vita more. It’s a fantastic handheld console but I feel disappointed that Sony have pretty much abandoned it by not supporting it like it should have with first party titles, and left any game development up to third parties.

That said, maybe that’s not a bad thing: Sony is clearly focused on the PS4 and PlayStation VR so perhaps doesn’t want to develop for the Vita half-heartedly. It’s sad, though, that the company hasn’t shown the console more love.

Putting Volume aside (briefly), there are some pretty nice games coming out this year. Games I’m looking forward to include Uncharted 4, Deus Ex Mankind Divided, Horizon Zero Dawn, Firewatch, Hitman, Quantum Break, Dishonoured 2, Crackdown 3, Mass Effect Andromeda and Unrave.

Sure, some have already been delayed already and I suspect many some of them won’t make 2016 but it’s a pretty great line up already, don’t you think? It’s a great time to be a video gamer.

What are you looking forward to this year?


Tearaway preview: where paper replaces sack cloth

2013-11-08-135040Tearaway, the new game from Little Big Planet creator Media Molecule, is a game that made me smile.

My biggest smile came as Iota, the cutesy lead character in PS Vita game Tearaway that has a head that looks like an envelope (you can also play as a female character called Aoti, if you want), was riding on the back of a pig – that I was controlling – as it ran riot through the game’s brightly coloured world, a world made entirely out of paper and cardboard.

At the end of the piggy rampage, the pig spotted a female pig and the pair trotted off to a barn, a giant question mark hanging over Iota’s head. Tearaway is a game that will make you smile till your face hurts. Earlier, I’d had to make the pig cuter for its owner, attaching a false moustache to his piggy lips (do pigs have lips?)  I took all the photos in this write-up using my Vita’s image capture function but in hindsight, I wish I’d taken a screenshot of the pig.

Tearaway is a game where your face – yes, the face of the player – plays a starring role, captured by the Vita’s front-facing camera and pasted on the game world’s sun (there’s a photo here where you can see my ugly mug staring out), elevating you to the lofty heights of a god that the world’s inhabitants revere. You’re referred through out the game as “You”.

It’s a game where you use your fingers (and the rear touch pad) to punch through things to move obstacles, pull open ribbons on presents and beat drum skin-laden bounce pads that propel the game’s star, Iota to higher levels. It’s a game where you’ll use your fingertips to open presents and trap doors.

2013-11-08-135000Tearaway is a delight of a game that takes the magic developer Media Molecule crafted into Little Big Planet and plasters it liberally in a world with dancing apple cores made out of paper open and close when you approach, squirrels throw acorns at each other and paper plants unfurl their leaves when you walk through them.  It’s magical.

Iota is a messenger sent to safe the world from an unknown evil and as Iota explores, the world comes to live.  When he stands on a bounce pad (it looks like a drum skill), tapping on the Vita’s rear touch pad, propels him into the air, landing on platforms above. Bridges made out of green paper unfurl as he approaches them, carnival music blaring in the background. Paper plants pop up as he walks by, and concentric circles radiate from his feet as he walks through a stream, made out of paper.

It’s a platformer at heart, with Iota/Aoti jumping and rolling about the game world but the fact that you have to use your fingers to manipulate the game world for your character to progress is just genius. There’s combat, but it’s basic, basic stuff where you roll into enemies (Iota/Aoti can turn into an orb) called scraps, knocking them senseless, then pick them up and toss them.

I could wax lyrical about Tearaway for much, much longer but I won’t. I’ll stop here but it’s been one of the most enjoyable handheld gaming experiences I’ve had in a long, long time.

It’s games like Tearaway that make it worth owning a PS Vita, a fantastic handheld console – with an amazing screen – that has been neglected for too long by Sony, but it seems that with this year’s Killzone Mercenary and now Tearaway,  Sony are actually giving the love back to its handheld. Tearaway creates the same kind of magic that LittleBigPlanet did and for my money, Media Molecule have another hit on its hand.

Right, enough waffling: I’m off to guide Iota on his next quest. I wonder what wonders will unfold before my eyes?

Tearaway is out on PS Vita on November 22.


Sorry about this: Oh, look it's my ugly mug staring back at me (and now, staring back at you).

Sorry about this: Oh, look it’s my ugly mug staring back at me (and now, staring back at you).

E3 2011: Sony’s PS Vita takes centre stage

For me, and perhaps many other people, the highlight of Sony’s press conference today was the PS Vita (the handheld formerly known as the NGP) and the games for it.

Sony announced that the WiFi version of the Vita would sell for US$250 and the 3G model would sell for US$299. New Zealand prices aren’t available yet, and expect them to be significantly higher if pricings for other hardware launches are anything to go by.

However, if Sony has it priced right and it’s comparable to Nintendo’s 3DS then we could have a handheld console war on our hands!

Sony’s Jack Tretton opened the conference talking about the recent PSN outage, apologising for the outage and saying it was a very humbling experience for the company. “We want to convince you why Playstation’s stronger than ever, but not just us telling you but you experiencing it yourself,” he said.

Nathan Drake’s triumphant return

A demo of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception started things, and it blew me away. Uncharted developer Naughty Dog says the game is raising the bar for PlayStation 3 games and it showed game hero Nathan Drake on what looks like a luxury liner as he makes his way to the bowels of the vessel. He takes two bad guys out from behind then punches out a patrolling guard.

Drake moves deeper into the ship. Now he’s in a lower deck but gets ambushed by baddies: there’s a fire fight. An explosion. “I gotta get outta here,” says Drake, as he tries to escape the ship. The ship starts listing from side to side, and Drake gets trapped under a metal object under water. He frees himself and is now swimming underwater. He’s out, climbing through a hatch, and seems safe but suddenly a huge torrent of water appears from behind him. The demo ends. The game is due out in November. “Amazing guys. We’re going to sell a few copies of that bad boy,” says Tretton.

Insomniac Games shows off Resistance 3 and Sony says PlayStation 2 games, Ico and Shadows of the Colossus, are being remastered in HD and coming out this year. So far, everything we know.

Then Sony throws in something I didn’t know about: a new PS branded 24-inch 3D display that sends two images simultaneously to two pairs of 3D glasses: each person sees a full-screen view on the same monitor rather than a split screen. I think I’ve got that right. It’ll come with a pair of 3D glasses, HDMI cable and Resistance 3 thrown in. It’s going to retail for US$499.

Other games announced include NBA2K12 for PlayStation Move, a new Sly Racoon game and Bioshock Infinite, which will have some form of PlayStation Move support. There will also be a Bioshock game appearing on the PS Vita.

Vita: apparently it means life

Now it’s time for information about the Vita. Sony’s Kaz Hirai says the PlayStation Portable was central to the evolution of the digital living room and Sony had high expectations for the PSP in the years to come but the PS Vita brought new ways to interact with “your world, your friends and your entertainment”. Hirai said Vita meant life and the front and rear cameras would provide Augmented Reality experiences and the Vita “blurs lines between entertainment and your real life”.

Games for the Vita – 80 are in development – include the poster game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and it looks like an Uncharted game on PS3 has been shrunk down and stuck into the handheld. You’ll be able to use a conventional control method to manipulate Drake around the game world or the Vita’s 5-inch OLED touch screen or the rear touch-sensitive pad to make Drake jump to ledges or take out enemies. Or probably a combination of both. I wonder, though, how much using your fingers will obscure your view while playing.

Other Vita games include Modnation Racers (where you’ll be able to rub the touch screens to build tracks or manipulate the environment), Wipeout 2048, Little Big Planet (you use the touch pads and tilt function) and Street Fighter vs Tekken, which features a playable Cole Mcgrath from Sucker Punch’s inFamous series.

That’s day one of E3 done: tomorrow it’s Nintendo’s turn to wow the gaming world with the expected showing of Project Cafe. I see that the press conference is at 4am, New Zealand time. I don’t know whether my body can take another full-on work day with a start that early but we’ll. I’ll take the laptop and see if the wireless signal reaches my bed – then I can watch it under the comfort of my duvet.