Rhythm Thief Wasn’t Finished

Ever since I first played the Parappa the Rapper demo on a Playstation Underground disc, I’ve loved rhythm games. When I saw shots of Rhythm Thief & The Emperor’s Treasure last year, I couldn’t help but look forward to it.

Well I finally got my hands on the game, and it has some very obvious flaws.

The game certainly has some good points. The music is quite nice, and some of the games really are quite fun. The game’s animated sequences are pretty amazing. After watching them, I’m starting to think that 3D animated movies (non-CG) might work pretty well Unfortunately the game has quite a few problems, some of which I’m surprised let stay into the release.

Let’s start with the core of the game: the music mini-games. The controls are quite inconsistent. Some of the mini-games use buttons, which work exactly as you’d expect. In some games (such as one in which you kick a soccer ball) using the touchscreen can really detract from the experience since it’s no where near as precise as buttons. There is just no good mechanical feedback on the touchscreen to know how close you are to touching and registering a tap. There is one dance mini-game where the controls work well, but they don’t do anything buttons couldn’t do just as well. This doesn’t have to be the case. Both Theatrhythm and Elite Beat Agents have show how well a touch screen can work for a rhythm game.

Still worse the controls are inconsistent. In some mini-games tapping the screen at the wrong time counts as a miss. In every game, missing are penalized very strongly. It’s trivial to go from getting an A to a D in the game. It’s like 1 step forward 10 steps back.

But in other mini-games, there is no penalty at all to using the screen at the wrong time. That means in some (such as cooking) just holding the pen on the screen and sliding it back and forth will get you an easy A. It has nothing to do with the scene in the game; but since it’s only checking that your pen is down and/or moving at the right moments it’s an easy win. This takes all the challenge out of some games.

Of course there are the requisite motion controls, which are amazingly slow, insensitive, and wildly break immersion. I know the 3DS can do much better, it’s pathetic.

While I enjoy the anime style visuals, the game has some graphical problems as well. There is a level where you are running across a rooftop to escape perusers, but you can’t enjoy the scene at all. Between the fast movement, low resolution, repeating texture, and occasional object flying into the screen it’s hard to get any detail out of the scenery.

The outlines are the characters are generally too this, and just shimmer. The cooking mini-game suffers from this terribly. In a static scene, there shouldn’t be any problems. But the white chef robes combined with ultra-thin lines for detail on the uniforms means they look out-of-focus. I tried turning off the 3D effect to see if that made things any better, but it didn’t make a difference. It’s very distracting.

Earlier I said that the animated scenes are beautiful, and they really are. Of course, they are videos, which means they are pre-rendered and the depth can not be adjusted. So when animating these scenes, they naturally chose to maximize the depth. If you don’t find having the 3D slider on all the way comfortable, too bad.

3D is poorly handled in general. During minor dialogue in the middle of some games, a static 2D drawing of a character will show on the top screen. This drawing is at zero-depth (screen plane), making it easy to see in front of the rest of the action. On the other hand, the end-of-level screen is designed to look like it’s popping out of the screen. Between the small letters and the fact they are near the edges of the screen, this makes the information very difficult to focus on, breaking any immersion.

But the dialog can keep you from getting immersed anyway. The game takes place in France, and takes every opportunity to make hit you over the head with generic French stuff. The main character’s dog is named Fondue. The people you talk to one the street drop little bits of French that would be in a 1st grader’s travel guide. I found this disingenuous, but the real problem is that it’s occasionally spelled wrong. “‘Toot suite”? Really?  It’s tout, and there isn’t supposed to be an apostrophe in front of it.

The voice acting is generally acceptable, but it’s not good. That’s just as well since the subtitles don’t always match the readings. The character will say “Baby.”, but the text will say “Childish.” That’s the entire sentence in that instance, and it was wrong.

If this takes place during battle, it’s often spoken by those 2D character drawings I mentioned. They (roughly) lip-sync with the dialog, except for the few times they’re off by about 1/2 second. The animation matches the dialog well, and that’s the expensive part. But a quick scene where a character talks by cycling between mouth-open and mouth-closed frames? It can be way off.

I am actually enjoying the game. When walking the streets it’s largely identical to a Layton game, and I’m eagerly awaiting the first 3DS entry. Rhythm Thief shows it could work really well. But I keep running into baffling little decisions that massively detract from the game. Just a few little bits of polish could have made such a big difference. As it is the game feels mediocre as a whole, but it could have easily been quite good.

I can’t play Uncharted 2, or why the PS3 experience is terrible

Wow, the Playstation experience is still terrible. I wanted something new to play so I went down to Best Buy to waste a gift card I had and bought a copy of Uncharted 2. Here’s my experience so far:

  1. Boot console, insert game (1 minute)
  2. Game starts, decides it needs to update. This game is a few years old, so this isn’t too unreasonable. The first problem is number of updates. It says there are nine updates. Great. Would a combo update be so hard? Uncharted 2 is only the 5th best selling game on the system, and one they heavily promoted and bundled.
  3. The PS3 download about fifteen updates. For some reason, many of the updates don’t increase the counter of how many updates are applied, even though the change the percentage of total updating done.
  4. Also, the downloads aren’t fast. Despite my 12mb connection, I know they’re not going anywhere near that fast.
  5. And I could start the DLC process, but for game updates can’t be downloaded in the background, because the dashboard obviously couldn’t function while a download was going on.
  6. Finish all updates (20-30 minutes), they installed, game booted.
  7. I want to install the DLC that comes with the game (since I bought the Game of the Year edition). That means opening the PSN.
  8. Nope! I need to update my PS3′s firmware. Hit download, it gets the file, reboots, and installs. (10 minutes).
  9. Sign into PSN. Now I have to agree to two new license agreements. Not one but two.
  10. Get in, go to the redeem codes screen.
  11. The code is case sensitive, so I have to switch the keyboard to upper-case mode. But when I do that, the numbers become symbols, so I have to switch it back to lower case to type in the numbers. This means lots of switching.
  12. The code comes in three sections (ex: DF8R-34KF-FJ83). Each section must be entered individually, and the PS3 doesn’t automatically move to the next field when you’ve entered the content for the first. (5 minutes)
  13. Done! It authorizes me, now I can download my DLC. There is only… 28 pieces.
  14. Luckily, the PS3 will download it all for me. Wait… no… I have to choose each piece of DLC individually and hit download. There is no button to download all. (10 minutes).
  15. Some of the downloads are hundreds of MB. So I choose “download in background” for those. How do you know that’s working? You don’t. Of the 28 pieces of DLC, there is no way to know which ones I have already downloaded, which are downloading, and which I haven’t triggered yet.
  16. So I exit that screen and go to the “Downloads” screen in the PSN. It shows all 38 downloads I have access to (due to previous purchases). Yet it does not show which are downloaded or downloading.
  17. So instead I went back to the dashboard, and found the download screen there. It does show the 6 files that are still downloading. It does not estimate how much longer it will be until it’s done with all the downloads. (5 minutes)
  18. So here I am, waiting for downloads to finish. My PS3 has only downloading one thing at a time, averaging maybe 600KB/s on my 1500KB/s line. Left to download? That’s not shown either. But I’m guessing it’s over 3 GB (again, some of that content is BIG). It ended up taking 1 hour. (60 minutes)
  19. Downloads are done, it’s time to go install the downloads. I have to do each one individually. On the plus side, only 6 or 7 need installing. On the minus side, one of the largest ones won’t install, and three downloads are corrupt. Which two? Who knows! The one that won’t install gives a cryptic error number, which isn’t defined anywhere. But Google searches suggest it means the download was corrupt. (15 minutes).
  20. Now I get to go back and re-download a ton of stuff, because there is no way to know what I installed successfully and what I missed. So instead, I’ll skip re-downloading most of it, and hope I don’t miss anything I care too much about. (15 minutes)

What a mess. The interface has been terrible, and provides no useful information. It’s nice to know how valuable Sony things my time is. To play this game, I’ve lost 2.5 hours of my life. That means I’m giving up on trying to play tonight, and will go to bed hating my PS3. Right now I like my XBox 360 better, and it’s dead from RROD.

You know, when I bought the game there was a used copy for $5 less, and it wouldn’t have included any of the DLC. Spending an extra $5 cost me more than 90 minutes of my time.