Duolingo: A Daily Way to Practice Your Japanese

Many Japanese video game, anime and manga enthusiasts have probably considered learning the native language of their favourite entertainment at some point… but it’s a daunting prospect.

The fact you have to learn two new phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) plus a whole swathe of pictograms (kanji) that represent various concepts or parts of speech means that it’s not a simple case of just jumping in and learning new words for things. You have to learn a completely new way of reading and writing, too.

The potential rewards are great, though, since learning Japanese allows you to access a whole host of entertainment that doesn’t get localised. And with the region-free nature of most modern computer and gaming systems coupled with international Internet shopping, importing games, DVDs, Blu-Rays and manga is trivially easy today.

So where do you start? Well, there are all sorts of ways you can tackle this challenge, but the new iOS and Android-based Japanese course from free language learning organisation Duolingo is as good a place as any to get your studies underway.

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PS2 Essentials: Radio Helicopter

One of the most charming things about D3 Publisher’s Simple Series is its straightforward naming convention, which brings to mind the good old days of Atari 2600 games called imaginative things like “Combat”, “Golf” and “Dodge ‘Em”.

As such, with a game called The Helicopter — or the even more literal Radio Helicopter, as it was known in Europe — you pretty much know what you’re getting into before you start.

What you might not know, however, is that this simplistic-sounding, low-budget game is actually a ton of fun.

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Why Gal*Gun VR Needs a PSVR Version

We’ve known that Gal*Gun VR has been in development for a while, but Inti Creates surprised everyone yesterday with a sudden worldwide release… but only on Steam, for Vive and Oculus devices.

While the Windows PC market certainly has a lot of early adopters of virtual reality devices, it’s hard to deny that Sony’s VR solution, PlayStation VR, has proved to be a considerably more practical and affordable means for people to get involved with this new medium.

Which is why it’s so surprising that, according to Inti Creates, there is no PlayStation 4/PSVR version currently in development. This seems like a big mistake.

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Shmup Essentials: Psyvariar

Shoot ’em ups, being one of the oldest genres of gaming there is, have been a pretty constant presence in every major generation of gaming hardware.

The early years of the 21st century were no exception, offering us a wide variety of top-notch shoot ’em ups of all types, including bullet hell, traditional side-scrollers, vertical scrollers and full 3D efforts.

Psyvariar by Success Corporation, a company today primarily known for its Cotton series and puzzle game Zoo Keeper, is a particularly solid example with some interesting mechanics, and a game that remains eminently playable today.

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Puzzler Essentials: Baku Baku Animal

Today’s puzzle game of choice is one that there is, unfortunately, no real easy way to get hold of legally any more, but it holds extremely fond memories for me regardless.

The game in question is Sega’s Baku Baku Animal, which I first came into contact with back in 1997 when I was doing my Year 10 work experience at PC Zone magazine in London. This was an era when Sega was just starting to experiment with PC ports of its popular arcade games, with varying results.

Baku Baku Animal was one of this initial batch and, like the CD-ROM version of Puzzle Bobble (featuring full Redbook audio!), which had also come into the office around the same time, managed to bring much of the office to a standstill for quite a while, even dragging the most hardcore Quake-heads away from their daily deathmatches for a while.

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Stormblood: This Ain’t No Action RPG

Today we’re going to take a closer look at Final Fantasy XIV’s combat mechanics, and how they’ve been refined between the original release of A Realm Reborn and Stormblood.

For those who’ve never played a massively multiplayer online RPG before, Final Fantasy XIV’s mechanics may require a bit of an adjustment, as they’re rather different from the various systems the series has used in the past. But for those familiar with other popular MMOs such as World of Warcraft, the game will quickly become second-nature — with a few important distinctions from the conventions of the genre.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Final Fantasy XIV’s mechanics is that, although clearly inspired by the way a popular Western title has done things, there’s a strong feeling of “Japaneseness” to them that gives the game a very strong sense of its own identity, making it a unique experience even to MMO veterans.

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PS2 Essentials: Demolition Girl/The Daibijin

One of the most interesting phenomena of the early PlayStation eras was D3 Publisher’s “Simple Series”, a range of low-budget — and budget-priced — titles produced by a wide variety of external developers.

The series began on PS1 with some pretty straightforward interpretations of concepts such as mahjong, tennis or racing, but over time gradually expanded to take in role-playing games, dating sims and even enhanced ports of arcade games.

By the time the PlayStation 2 rolled around and the Simple 2000 subseries launched — so named because each game cost 2,000 yen (a little under £14 today) in its native Japan — the range had become a great place to find fascinating (but often flawed) games that, by virtue of their low budgets, could afford to be a bit experimental. Essentially, they fulfilled the function that the digital-only indie scene does today, only you had to buy them on disc because digital games weren’t yet a thing on consoles.

And so it was that we found ourselves face to face (or, well, face to ankle) with Tamsoft’s The Daibijin (The Gigantic Beauty), localised for Europe as Demolition Girl.

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Oh, Japan!