Microsoft's Latest 180 – Kinect

In the time since we last spoke (around 2010 if memory serves me correct), I started to get more into listening to podcasts, some of which include “The Adam and Dr. Drew Show”, the “NGN n00bcast” (from my friends formerly of N00bAlert) and one of my new gotos, the “Married to the Games Podcast”. I’m really digging the latter podcast because the crew over go by the moniker, “Kids, wives and 9 to 5s” which really speaks to where I’m coming from as 30yr father of 3. But if you wanna learn more about then, head over to their site in link provided.

So I think they’ve all but admitted that they’re all PS3 guys and in their last podcast they brought up the most recent 180 by Microsoft on Xbox One features, in particular that now you can disconnect the Kinect from the console and it will still function (which they previously said was all but an impossibility). So their question, not being Xbox 360 guys was essentially:

“Doesn’t this most recent announcement make the Xbox faithful really ticked off? That you’re essentially gonna have to pay $100 more for something you don’t want anyway and now clearly don’t need.”

And as one of those 360 faithful I thought I’d respond.

A Little Background on Me
For those of you who are new readers or have forgotten, I am one of the Xbox 360 faithful. I wasn’t a day one adopter of the system but I got it early enough. I’m also an achievement whore which had me killing myself over Ninja Gaiden 2. I’m also one of the (apparent) few who is in a Family Plan and someone who uses their Kinect and someone who watches Cable TV on my xboxes by way of the cablecard and Ceton device.

I also have a background in Computer Science, I’m a web developer, Flash developer, Android developer… I worked as a QA tester at Bethesda Softworks and I did a lot of work as a video game journo with n00balert covering conventions like E3, PAX and New York Comic Con. Now I’m not saying that should or shouldn’t lend itself to my credibility but hopefully it at least shows I can see stuff in the game world from a couple different perspectives instead of just a straight up “fan”.

The Short Of It
If you’re looking for a TL:DR here it is – From everything Microsoft has collectively said or done in regards to the Xbox One up to this point, you probably already have an opinion on the system and I don’t think this latest 180 changes things that much. If you were already mad with Microsoft you’re probably a bit madder and if you weren’t mad you’ll probably let this latest gaffe slide too.

The Long of It
Whether it be the DRM, the Kinect, Indie Self Publishing or anything else Microsoft has done a 180 on – They’re really eroding the trust with their consumer. As a lover of their last system the new one has been eroded so much that imo it’s not offering much of a different experience than that of the PS4. I’m pretty sure that a Kinectless XBox SKU will come out as that (and the DRM) always seemed like software “switches” than anything hardware related anyway (i.e., they could easily or with 10 minutes worth of work) switch that stuff off as they choose. And let me add too that I like the Kinect, the new one looks even better and my wife and kids are looking forward to it. I think it was the right move to put it with every system so developers could “safely” develop for it but man oh man does Microsoft need to grow some balls.

All of these reversals just tell me that I don’t need with my money on a PS4 OR Xbox on day one. I’ll be content to lay back and see how they both pan out, and also whether or not I can get a PS4 + PSP bundle or Xbox + Titanfall bundle sometime after launch. But yeah, outside of nice enough games coming for both systems, I still have a huge backlog to get through on my current Xbox 360!

XBLA – Poker Smash Review (DEMO)

There was a time when I was really into Texas Fold’em. But then you have kids… You wakeup and have a wife – And suddenly your time isn’t quite your own anymore.

But a couple months ago when I saw something for a Xbox Live Arcade game called Poker Smash, those Hold’em juices started to flow again!

Very recently the game was finally released, and yesterday I downloaded the demo and took it for a spin.

What is Poker Smash?
It’s a puzzle game in the same vein of Tetris or Super Puzzle Fighter where your available blocks are the high playing cards, (10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace) with all the suits being represented (Spade, Club, Heart and Diamond). To clear the cards you have to make hands upwards from three of a kind. So three of a kind, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush, royal flush…Oh and the coveted five of a kind is represented too. The cards start at the bottom of the screen and scroll upwards, so if you don’t make some hands before the board reaches the top, it’s game over.

Poker Smash

First Impressions
The first thing about Poker Smash that you’ll like will most likely be the presentation. Graphics are very crisp, effects are awesome, and music is good too (even if a bit too country for my tastes).

Gameplay
I think what is most interesting about this game is how the gameplay is different than a lot of other puzzlers out there. I didn’t give it much thought going in, but when you start playing you’ll probably notice that it’s not that easy to make hands. I think the reason for this is because in most puzzle games you deal with only one dimension of the blocks – Like color. You match up enough of the same color, or you use a bomb of that same color and presto, lines are gone. Or in Tetris, you just have to fill the gaps and *poof* lines are gone.

Poker Smash Gameplay

In Poker Smash, you can always line up colors (since they are one indication of a card’s value) but that usually only yields three or four of a kinds. To get anywhere in the game, you have to start recognizing the “more complex” hands and that requires looking at suits and card combinations (like straights and full houses) which just don’t come as easily as matching colors. Plus, that also makes you have to look at 5 different kinds of blocks (10 -> A) where usually in these kinds of games you’re only dealing with 4 different types of blocks.

Poker Smash Multiplayer

“So Yay or Nay?”
Trust me, after playing Poker Smash for a minute or two, the scroll speed will increase and YOU WILL start to struggle to make your hands. Truthfully, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. On hand i feel that it’s cool that a puzzle game stretches your mind that much and that lines don’t come that easily. On another hand I wonder if I want to put that much effort into a XBLA game and if the juice will be worth the squeeze. Maybe the answer will come in the way of multiplayer and if you can manage to get some good games going.

Poker Smash Graphics

My thoughts are, the demo is AT LEAST worth checking out and even not being huge into puzzle games, I’m SERIOUSLY thinking about unlocking this one. I mean, it is really fun albeit a bit challenging. (#):)

XBLA – Zuma Deluxe

If you’ve seen ol’ KillSteelah on XBox Live lately, he’s playing one of two games.

The first of course is Guitar Hero III, which is still kicking my a$$ (still can’t get back Raining Blood on Expert but I have finished the rest). And the second one is my new obsession – Zuma Deluxe!

For the last couple of days, I’ve been really struggling on how to describe this game but surprisingly my wife just piped up and said, “It’s like Snood isn’t it?”

“Sure. But with CHARACTER!”
Zuma is a game where you’re an Aztec frog or something and you shoot colored balls, trying to match up 3 or more so they disappear. All the while, the long string of balls continues growing (whether you shoot or not) and if grows TOO big, you’re FINISHED. But if you manage to take out all the balls on the screen, you’re done with the stage. Pretty simple concept I’ll admit, especially since the whole shooting balls things has been around forever and most recently probably in Snood.

But what makes Zuma Deluxe different than Snood is that in addition to just shooting balls for the sake of making them go bye bye, you also try and get powerups to help you out (especially in the later more difficult stages). For example, there’s powerups to make the whole ball and chain go backwards and another to make a bunch of them blow up at once.

And for another thing, Zuma has that cool Aztec theme or whatever going for it. It’s not TOO over the top but it’s cool enough to where you hear the sound effects in your head long after you turn the game off. Add to that varying levels, added difficulty, and the fast reflexes you need to get through this game and you got something special!

AT LEAST Play the Demo
I got onto this game because one of my friends was always playing it so I gave it a whirl. Now YOU know somebody who’s playing it and even though this game didn’t exactly come out yesterday – If you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!