Console Buying

Earlier I babbled at length about the three major consoles. Well, the result predicted in that piece has come to pass. I have come out of the other side of the Christmas season with a new GameCube and a new slim line PS2. GameCube

You will recall that I came into this thinking that the Nintendo box would be the stronger of the two. This was mostly based on my experience with the GameBoy Advance, which is an excellent little box with a lot of excellent little games. In my mind, the latent GameCube was like a big GBA but with prettier graphics allowing the creation of even bigger, more immersive versions of all the great GBA games. But, this isn’t really how it turned out.

There are two problems with the actual GameCube that make me like it less than I thought I would.

The Controller Sucks

While it fits the hands well, the GameCube controller, to me, feels sloppy and imprecise. It’s hard to make the sticks go where you want, and the camera stick feels different than the main control stick, which is disturbing. It’s not clear to me that the oddball placement of the face buttons achieves any real purpose. Finally, the two stage triggers are morally disordered. They have neither the easy accessibility of the PS2 shoulder buttons nor the long smooth travel of the Xbox triggers. Overall, the Xbox controller S and the PS2 controller are both much nicer to use.

Expensive Games

It seems to take forever for the Nintendo titles to get cheap. It is just recently the case that titles that have been around forever, like Zelda and Mario Sunshine are starting to hit the bargain bins. This cuts down on the number of titles I’ve tried.

So far I’ve played mainly Zelda and_ Mario Golf_ on this machine. I also tried out Tales of Symphonia (because it was free). Let us not speak of that game again.

Mario Golf is wacky and fun. Zelda is not the transcendent experience that I was expecting. The game design, plot, graphics, music and gameplay are all for the most part excellent. However, I found some of the controls, and especially the camera, a bit sloppy. The game has a hybrid camera system that both sticks to the main character and allows you to spin the camera around using the second stick on the controller. Unfortunately, the free camera is so loose that it’s useless and the non-free camera is sort of stupid, often ending up behind your head or in some wall somewhere so you can’t see anything. This, combined with the controller problems make me slightly less enthusiastic about this game than I think I should be. Luckily, I just found the Explosive Fruit, and I think all is forgiven.

Playstation 2

I like this box more than I thought I would. In particular, I love the controller. While the shoulder buttons are weak compared to the great triggers on the Xbox, the overall layout of the controller is just perfect for my hands. It’s easy to reach all the buttons and the sticks all at the same time without stretching my hands much on the controller. The controller is neither too large nor too small. Finally, I seem to be able to play the longest on this controller before needing to rest my hands.

The games on the PS2 all come in at or above expectations. Disgaea is a fun strategy and battle game with twisted penguins that say “Dude!” a lot. Katarmari Damacy is so good my wife plays it. Ico is beautiful to look at, but I’ve been too distracted by other things to really get started.

The surprise is Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando. I picked it up cheap with low expectations because I had given up on all the other third person shooter/action games I ever tried. R&C is different. The controls are tight and well tuned. It’s easy to jump, flip, shoot, and hit stuff. Perhaps most importantly, the camera and targeting system mostly help you shoot and destroy enemies rather than getting in your way. This makes the combat fun, even when it gets a bit hard. I wish Zelda controlled this well. The game has a fast pace, levels that are not too long, its always easy to keep track of what you are supposed to be doing. The only major flaw is the psychotic save point system, but the pacing of the game mostly makes up for that.

So, overall, except for a bit of role reversal, I think the material consoles lived up to their latent expectations. I still play too much Halo 2.