Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Final Fantasy IV DS first impressions

Based on a short playtime (well, watching Jennifer play - I will wait for the weekend trip to Scotland first):

Cecil: Not liking his voice so far. Apparently the voice actor Yuri Lowenthal voiced Seraph from Digital Devil Saga series (and the main protagonists in Nocturne), all of which I enjoyed. I hope for an improvement when he becomes a Paladin.

Kain: So far the best with a gruff and dark voice that matches the new Batman look. According to the ever unreliable Wikipedia, Liam O'Brien is "usually cast in some of the most unusual roles, as such he tends to play characters that show signs of insanity or are complete evil geniuses".

Rosa: An elegant voice, though a bit too Americanised for the setting. I rather enjoyed Karen Strassman's performance in Odin Sphere as the Valkyrie Gwendolyn, but for some reason it isn't right here.

(Young) Rydia: No idea who the voice actress is, but nothing wrong with it. She sounds like a naive kid, which is exactly what she is when she first joins the party. We will see if her voice changes as she matures.

The new translation is an improvement over Final Fantasy IV Advance and the other English versions. The language has been spruced and cleaned up too. You will be glad to know that touch screen controls is optional and you can stick with superior face button controls. I will write more once I get a chance to play it this weekend and get the hang of it.

Oh and Namingway is now called Mappingway but changed his name to Livingway at Kaipo...

You can order the North American version of Final Fantasy IV DS here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Nokia E66 multimedia review

The Nokia E66 is a pretty standard Nokia Series 60 E-series phone in that its multimedia performance is well, pretty standard. While not as developed as their equivalent N-series phones, the E66 is equipped with an extensive set of multimedia functions at least for a device primarily aimed at providing enterprise solutions.

Out of the box the E66 supports both Mass Storage and MTP protocol when connected via USB. This allows you to easily drag and drop your audio and video files easily. As far as I know there are no folder limitations on where you can install your files to. Personally I recommend using MediaMonkey to manage your musical archive as it seems to handle album art transfer properly. An external speaker exists on the back which is sufficient enough to playback audio without too much hiss. I would suggest using a headphone instead. Unfortunately, Nokia has decided to equip the E66 with a 2.5mm headphone socket. Why does Nokia still insists on forcing 2.5mm ports on their enterprise devices is beyond me..., but let us see what it can do first.

RealPlayer is included as the E66's default video player. It has one of the worst UI systems ever designed by mankind. Up/down controls tracking and left/right controls volume - opposite of what people would expect! But at least it works well when it comes to playing videos, and is well integrated with the system. Clicking on a video stream on BBC News for example would launch the player. You will also be given a choice of saving the video stream onto the device to playback later. Videos can also be played full screen taking advantage of the 2.4" LCD screen. You can access your video files through the now rather outdated Gallery application or through RealPlayer itself. Supported codecs includes 3GP, MP4, H.264, RealVideo and Flash videos. DivX isn't supported but you can download the freeware DivX Player or commercial software CorePlayer for that.

Flash video playbacks plays surprisingly well with the built-in web browser. It is as simple as visiting YouTube (the proper site) and clicking on a video. Video files are streamed with a resolution of 176x144 and you can't save it, but these are mainly restrictions placed by YouTube. Other than that it had no problem playing the videos smoothly. While it isn't the best video player available on the E66, the fact that it plays MP4 files (320x240, 400kbps, 25fps) I encoded for my PSP well is sufficient. Anything higher and it would start stuttering. Personally I would rather watch higher-resolution videos on the PSP, but as it stands the E66 is a very capable portable video player. You won't want to watch three hours epics on it, but a Futurama episode or two won't hurt.

The music player is a bog standard player similar to the one that is installed on N-series phones. It can play back MP3, WMA (including DRM WMA), AAC and AAC+ files with cover art support. Tracks are sorted through ID tag and on-the-go playlists are supported. Music playback is pretty darn good for a phone without any dedicated audio chipset (that I know of). Listening through a Sennheiser CX300 via a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor, I found tracks (192kbps WMA) played do be detailed with good frequency range, though I did bass to be lacking. Overall I found the sound quality to be no where near as good as the A818 or the AIC33 enabled 5310 XpressMusic phone, but acceptable for none-critical listening. Jennifer also used the E66 for a couple of days when she had to send her 5310 for repairs and her opinion was that the sound quality was 'pretty awful' when compared to the 5310. A customisable five-band equaliser is available and you can save as many settings as you want.

A FM Radio application is also available for those bored with their collection but requires a headset (any, not necessarily the bundled one) to be plugged in to work as an antenna. Audio and video podcasts can be organised and downloaded via a separate dedicated application. Flash Player Lite 3.0 is also included for those seeking to play back SWF files. A link to Nokia's Music Store is included for those seeking to purchase DRM'ed compressed music, something I will advice people to avoid until Nokia's Comes With Music is launched. The E66 is not N-Gage compatible as it does not require the necessary hardware, but I wouldn't recommend playing games on mobiles anyway. Just buy a PSP and DS and be done with.

Nokia has also equipped the E66 with a 3.2 Megapixel camera with auto-focus. Images taken are better than expected, but seems over processed with plenty of bloom. Rather annoyingly the camera shutter is located too close to the middle of the E66 making it difficult to press. Bizarrely pressing down the camera shutter doesn't start the camera application either. The UI of the camera viewfinder isn't as intuitive as I hoped, being far too slow and cumbersome. Geo tagging is possible but requires you to download and install the beta version of Location Tagger first. Videos are recorded in MP4 and supports a maximum resolution of QVGA at a stuttering frame rate of 15fps (around 400kbps). Recorded video quality is ok'ish.

The following images are unedited pictures taken with the E66. I've resized them due to Blogger limitation but they remained untouched as far as contrast, saturation etc. goes. As you can see, macro performance is very impressive for a cheapo camera. Overall pictures taken outdoors are not horrible, but the colour reproductions are quite bad. The cheap optics and small sensor does play its part regardless of how high the megapixel count is. You do need to play a lot with the exposure setting and white balance to try to eke as much as possible out of the camera. Personally I won't bother to use it except during extreme situations. It isn't rubbish, but it is no where near the imaging capability of their modern N-series counterparts let alone dedicated digital cameras, even budget ones.

Overall the E66 is an above average, not amazing, multimedia device. The lack of DSP does hinders its performance some what, but unless you are truly concerned about audio quality it doesn't really affect its position as a backup player - something I would position the device as if I was a customer. By all means keep your PSP or Archos for video playback (both of which offer TV-out via optional accessories) and Walkman for audio, but the E66 works extremely well for those single-device days. Just make sure to invest in a 2.5mm to 3.5mm adaptor first or stereo bluetooth headset.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Kubrick Metal Gear 20th Anniversary by Medicom

Medicom's Kubrick figures are an extremely popular and collectable character block figures. These figures are similar to trading art figures, but their Lego-like constructions (though figures are bigger, more flexible and are made up of more tools) set them apart from other conventional figures like the Final Fantasy III figures or Medicom's own 7 inch Metal Gear Ultra Detail Figures. The 20th Metal Gear anniversary line of Kubrick figures were released late last year, and like the one released in 2001, I totally forgot about it. It looks like I would be paying through my nose for these when I saw it in Dooyobi (a store that specialize in importing rare Japanese goodies) on a recent trip to Brighton and in a moment of impulse madness I went in and came out 15 minutes later with seven figures in a 'loud' bag.

The figures themselves are of exceptional quality, but I do not have other Kubrick figures to compare with (truth be told I dont really care about BearBricks collections). The paint job could have been better, but I am not complaining considering the costs of these things. The accessories provided are unfortunately fragile and flimsy that I've decided to display the figures without them. Get them all if you consider yourself a fan of the series. Enjoy the pictures.

Giselle, London Coliseum

Friday night's London debut of the Mikhailovsky Ballet's take on Giselle, a favourite from the Romantic era, was such an enjoyable event that I had to blog about it despite the writing of West End (especially ballets) isn’t my speciality.

Choreographed by Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, revised by Nikita Dalgushin and music by Adolphe Adam, Mikhailovsky’s Giselle is a stylish revival to the classical ballet. The presentation of Giselle last night was based on the original 1841 Giselle from Ballet du Theatre, Paris and is apparently very faithful to the original production.

Giselle tells the story of how the young maiden Gisele fell in love with Albrecht, a prince in disguise as a peasant. When he was found out, she felled betrayed and commits suicide. However her love for him is strong that in death she protects him from her fellow army of vengeful wilis, vampric ghost breeds of betrayed brides whose sole mission is to suck the living out of men.

Act I started out merrily hosting a colourful display of costumes amid a back drop of a simple yet elegant set, a merit of the Mikhailovsky Ballet's reputation for high production value. The throng of ballerinas dance away to a showcase of virtuous and technical solos. The requirement of Giselle in the title role demands dramatic acting skills in Act I and here the ballerina did not disappoint.

The second Act began slowly as mourning sets it but slowly grew as the arrival of the wilis (with floating veils) take centre stage and the Count Albrecht is forced to dance and dance with only Gisele’s graceful intervention sparing his soul from the wrath of Myrthe Queen of the Wilis. Here both dancers displayed their technical skills with much elegance to the approval of the sold-out audience.

The Mikhailvosky Ballet is visiting the London Coliseum for the first time and will end with Triple Bill and Divertissements on Sunday.

Rant: Virgin Media and how they suck

As I post this via an expensive HSDPA mobile web connection, we have been disconncted from the internet for 10 days today. This despite never once missing payment.No attempt has yet been made by Virgin Media to reimbursh us the cost, or offer to send an engineer, or indeed do anything other than passing us from one helpdesk to another - all of whom are operarated by a bunch of cue-card reading monkeys - each coming up with as many stupid excuses as possible so to hang up on us. The least they can do is to apologise while explaining the reason for the delay in reconnecting us, and that they can't even bother to do. Instead all they can advise is to call back later. Fuck you Richard Branson you retarded space obsessed idiot.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Metal Gear 20th Anniversary Ultra Detail Figures by Medicom

Medicom’s 20th Anniversary Metal Gear Ultra Detail Figures is a collection of figures made of characters from the Metal Gear Solid universe. The figurines are quite small - only around seven inches in height but are pretty damn detailed, almost as detailed as my collection of 1/8 scale figures. Like their Kubrick’s BearBrick Metal Gear line (will post about this on another day), some of the joints can be moved or even removed. These aren’t like those cheapo action figures as the movements are still limited. For example Old Snake’s torso and arms can be turned to allow him to point his gun at a certain angle, and Raiden’s upper arm and elbow can be repositioned depending on how menacing you want him to display his katana. These allows a degree of flexibility but still gives the figures an almost similar to those more expensive fixed-pose PVC/Resin figures.

I have six of the figures, including Solid Snake’s stealth camouflaged version and Old Snake’s Octocamo suite version (both not pictured, still in storage). Unfortunately a liberal amount of blue tack is required to keep the figures from jumping down. All in all, these figures are a must have for fans of the Metal Gear franchise.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

E3 presser round-up

So what did we learn from the big three's E3 press conference?

- Still focusing on none-gaming.
- Animal Crossing Wii looks like DS version with voice chat and waggle.
- Back patting themselves is all they do these days, very early 1990s of them.
- Video games? What video games?

- Is trying to get some of that casual gaming moolah, will likely to fail.
- Did a great job crashing GAF with news of Final Fantasy XIII on 360.
- Still using proprietary HDD interface. 60GB? Very meh.

- Team ICO, where art thou?
- 256 player MAG by the developer of SOCOM is exciting news indeed.
- GOW III has been re-confirmed, again. Nothing new we didn't already know about...
- Resistance PSP sounds exciting but the developer doesn't. Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror was shit.

To be honest I didn't bother to watch a single video of the conference, bar the last couple of minutes of Sony's. Just text updates on Twitter and GAF. A disappointing E3 so far. Boo!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nokia E66 hands-on

Thanks to Nokia & Wom World for loaning me a Nokia E66. The E66 marks an overall an improvement over the E51 - at least on paper. But then again it costs around 50% more than the E51... So far the E66 seems like a very sophisticated piece of kit, yet a doodle to use (no activation nonsense to worry about - I was surfing within minutes of unpacking). Bizarrely while the E66's battery seems to be physically bigger than the E51's, it is rated 50mAh less. We will see how well these improvements translate into real world usage and whether it is worth ponying up an extra £100 for the privilege.

The real distinction between the two are the inclusion of GPS receiver (with A-GPS support) and a better camera, packaged in a different form factor. The extra RAM is nice, but I never had a problem with RAM usage with the E51 so I doubt I will be seeing any improvements in performance. The E66 is very similar to the new E71 apart from the different form factor and battery size. Both runs on the slightly outdated Series 60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 platform. It would be nice to have FP2, but as it is S60 3.1 is very stable and snappy.

Odin Sphere review

Odin Sphere has been out for quite some time, even in Europe where it was released a couple of months ago. Unfortunately with a monumental of things to do, including Persona 3 and other what-nots, I neglected the title which sat on the shelf unplayed and unloved. One can only go through so many epic RPG titles before feeling burnt out. Fortunately not playing it right away allowed the hype to dissolve. Developed by Vanillaware, the people behind the gorgeous Grim Grimoire, Odin Sphere is one of the last few RPG titles worth checking out on the ageing PS2. Sure we still have Persona 4 to look forward to, but that is if we ever get it released here...

The story of Odin Sphere involves two warring kingdoms, the Ragnanival led by the demon lord Odin, and the forest of fairies Ringford, home to the fairy race. In between a storming battleground holds host to the majority of battles. This very storming battleground was once the Kingdom of Valentine, which was decimated by an ancient artefact. It is now the home to Pookas, rabbit-like critters who were once humans now cursed to be forever cute. The tragic tale of war mimicking an ancient prophecy predicting darkness is told in chapters, based on a series of books read by a little girl called Alice in her library attic while accompanied by her cat.

Each of the five books tells the story of one of the five different protagonists. The stories told are connected, each presenting the player a different perspective and providing an overall story arc. The characters are: Gwendolyn, Valkyrie Princess of Ragnanival and daughter of demon lord Odin, whom she seeks his love; Cornelius, the Prince of Titania cursed to be a purple rabbit; Mercedes, the fairy Princess of Ringford and next in line to be Queen; Oswald, the shadow knight serving Ringford and renowned dragon slayer; and Velvet, the only Princess to survived destruction of kingdom of Valentine. Each book will take a couple of hours to complete. Completing a book will unlock another book and so on.

The gameplay is side scrolling based laced with action RPG combat - think of Viewtiful Joe mixed with Valkyrie Profile and you are close. Exploration and combat takes place on the same plane with no transition screen. The game has a user-adjustable difficulty that can be changed at will. The real time combat is accessible and can be quickly mastered after the first hour of the game. Defeated enemies will release Phozons that can be absorbed by holding down [R1] which is used to augment weaponry and give the character new Psypher skills (which is a fancy term for skills...). Exploration takes place on a 2D plane. At the end of each stage you will received an end of stage stat report as well as bonus loot. Exiting the stage will prop up the world map. Loading time is minimal, at least in the PAL version (I've read about long loading times on the NTSC version).

A power gauge appears on the top left of the screen that has to be refilled for the character to attack. This will automatically refill when the character rests (remain inactive) or by absorbing Phozons. Each characters have their own special skills. For example Gwendolyn can glide and attack, while Mercedes can fire five bolts at an enemy when her Psypher is charged. Items collected can be used in varying matters to improve your characters stats. Seeds can be used to harvest fruits at the expense of Phozons, and fruits can then be used to augment the player or for use in alchemy. Later on you can cook ingredients at restaurants which can be used to gain your character's maximum HP, negating a huge need for level-grinding. You can also purchase items.

Odin Sphere retains a very similar visual style to Grim Grimoire. It uses large and beautifully drawn sprites sparingly. Characters are deformed, though not as much as one would expect. The Japanese manga/anime style won't win any praise from detractors of the art style, but they work very nicely with the title. The amount of meticulous detail is amazing as highlighted by how lush and sophisticated each backgrounds are. Sprites are larger than usual giving characters greater freedom to express expression, and are wonderfully animated. You can easily notice how the character's hair flutters and their chest expands when breathing. It is almost like watching a fully coloured live shadow puppet performance. You do have to wonder how a small company like Vanillaware can create high resolution animated sprites when Konami can't with their Castlevania series...

Unfortunately the game suffers from repetitive level design. Palette swapping is common, which should be expected within any 2D games. Many stages are re-visited a couple of times throughout the game due to the way the unique story-telling structure works, and recycled backgrounds are not uncommon. Odin Sphere also suffers from slowdowns but is relatively isolated to very rare occasions particularly when there are a mob of foes on screen or certain boss fights. It would be interesting to see this game up scaled via the PS3 with anti-aliasing.

The score is provided by one Hitoshi Sakimoto, whom I am sure some of you will recognise as the person behind the epic soundtrack of Final Fantasy XII, Vagrant Story and Final Fantasy Tactics. While not his best work, the subtle but distinctive Sakimoto-tune suite the game very well. Like the American version, the European version features dual-language mode (Japanese and English). The English voice acting is of high standard (as high as video gaming allows it to, I mean) and I would recommend you play the game in English. Of course there is nothing wrong with falling back to the Japanese voice track is you prefer to. Not understanding Japanese I can't comment on its quality, so I won't pretend to understand any better. They do sound nice though.

Overall while I found the gameplay to be rather repetitive but I did find it fun and enjoyable while it last (majority at easy as I wanted to just breeze through). As for content Odin Sphere contains around 30-40 hours worth of play time in it which while less than the average epic RPG, still provides tremendous amount of value. Despite the accessible combat, casual gamers may be put off by its length, repetitive hack & slash gameplay (what game isn't?), difficulty and fairly mad inventory system. The plot is rather linear and having to play through a couple of times, even if they are of different perspective can get rather tedious. Fans of fast paced games (like me) will find themselves delighted though.

The European version is published by Square-Enix. It supports both 50 Hz and 60 Hz tellies.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

E3 predictions

The new under performing E3 is upon us. Yay. Here's my ten predictions on what we may see unveiled this year:

1. Nintendo under delivers the Wii's potential, again. Except Animal Crossing.
2. Final Fantasy VII re-make. Especially with the manner in which Square-Enix is remilking almost its entire back catalogue.
3. Team ICO's new game announced. See this blog fawn like a schoolboy having a crush.
4. Yet another Halo shooter announced. Yawn, but I am sure people will get excited.
5. New PS3 model. New lower price. New broken functionality.
6. More DS colours. Possible price cut. Gets ignored by parent company.
7. New... sorry scratch that. Same old Zelda game announced.
8. A massive franchise comes to the PSP. Gets ignored by clueless once-a-year gamers media.
9. Tid bits of God of War III released. Plot: Kratos is still pretty ticked off.
10. All things Sonic will continue sucking.

Check back next week to see how I progressed but I am 100% certain I got at least one correct.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4 (MGS4) Bluetooth headset review

Well here it is. Somehow I finally got my grubby hands on Konami's Metal Gear Solid 4 milk-it till death merchandise. Manufactured by a no-name company that nobody has ever heard off (Performance Designed Products) the official MGS4 Bluetooth headset design is based on Metal Gears Mk.II mecha. And no, you can't use it to Codec Meryl.

My first impression was that the headset is huge. Combined with the universal ear loop, this headset was designed for people who want to be noticed. The backside contains the earpiece which unlike most modern Bluetooth headsets, isn't an in-ear piece. Wearing the plastic headset proved to be both cumbersome although I wouldn't classify it as uncomfortable. It is also pretty heavy, for a headset. As far as aesthetics goes, I love the design but utterly dislike the rubbery ear loop and overall size and weight of the device. The Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: Tactical Espionage Action silkscreen seems tacky too, but is small enough not to be an eyesore.

Pairing it with my E51 is easy as it gets and I won't trouble you with procedures on how to do so. Inside the headset contains the latest Bluetooth specs, at 2.0. Operating the headset is easy enough. There are a total of three buttons on the headset, the power button and two volume buttons that doubles as a mute button. A cool multi-purpose LED strip adorns the side of the headset that changes colours depending on the status of the headset. A proprietary USB cable connects through the backside to charge it (the battery isn't replaceable). The headset (like every other generic headset) is compatible with the majority of Bluetooth enabled mobile phones as well as the PS3 for in-game voice chatting.

That Metal Gear design won't help it if it isn't backed up by a quality microphone and sound driver, and unfortunately none of Otacon's electronic expertise were used when designing this headset (apart from lifting the design of Metal Gear Mk. II). It isn't as hopeless as some has described but the quality isn't on par with say, the A2DP-enabled Sony headset I got some months ago (which is half the price of this). The microphone in particular is susceptible to picking up echos and ambient noise, which resulted in minor complaints from my recipient. I understand that this is no Jawbone, but at the very least it should have a variable microphone gain or one that performs well. But it is workable and isn't as rubbish as some have claimed. I am unable to test the rated 8 hour talk time (come on, I am not that sad).

All in all, I can't endorse the MGS4 Bluetooth headset except to the most hardened collector or fan, at least not at the current price (maybe at £20 as a niche product). I really do love the design but unfortunately its size, weight and more importantly performance relative to its price, leaves much to be desired. If Konami had contracted a more reputable manufacturer like Jabra (whom Sony bundled one of their Bluetooth model with Warhawk) rather than a company that makes sleeves for Wiimotes, then perhaps things may have turned out different. Right now the only thing I can highly recommend about Metal Gear Solid 4 is the game itself.

Perhaps a Subsistence version Konami? One with enough substance.

Play-Asia summer sale

This year's Play-Asia summer "Octopus" sale is pretty massive. 25% off ALL items in-stock. Because PSP, DS and PS3 games (and Dual Shock 3) are region-free make sure to head there and import at your leisure. EU consumers may feel bumped having been barred from importing PS3 and PSP items though...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Patapon 2 waging war on PSP

In addition to Loco Roco 2, a sequel to one of the most unique PSP games Patapon has been announced by this week's issue of Famitsu. Patapon 2 will be arriving in Japan this winter, and if Sony follows a similar pattern to the release of the first game, hopefully we will be seeing the sequel during the first half of next year. Both games will be developed by Pyramid Games, the developer of the first two titles. No release schedule for Loco Roco 2 yet, though Sony UK did confirm that it will be released this year. This at least will hopefully spur me on to finally finish the first game (half way there...)!

via GAF

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Candide, London Coliseum

Never has there been an opera that I attended, that was such a roller coaster ride. It provided everything, from a boisterous finale to downright boredom of which they were plenty. The two ladies next to me left during the intermission, and I myself was tempted to leg it. But a quick trip to a cafe (Cafe Nero I believe) next door provided me with a caffeine fix that allowed me to stay awake for the first 1/2 hour of the second act.

The revival of Candide is certainly a unique one. A massive 50s CRT set gracefully sits on stage stunningly in contrast to the Victorian era London Coliseum Theatre, where the play follows two seemingly undead love-ones Candide and Cunegonde in this limited West End run commissioned by the English National Opera. What was possibly an exciting story, soon unfolds itself into an intangible mess. The music were fine, based on the Leonard Bernstein score by the orchestra pit; but the stiffness of the casts and the lack of movement was excruciatingly painful to watch. It was a wonder that the Coliseum was packed (credit crunch my arse) as the soprano Marnie Breckenridge wailed to sets of powerful and witty lyrics, and nice as they are, you may as well be sitting at home with a CD player in hand.

At times the social and religious commentary provided enough humour to keep boredom at bay. Yes, we had Bush, Blair, Putin and all the oil monkeys that leech the world of any possible freedom. We even had a pre-dead Kennedy beamed in high-definition, and the American Dream ripped apart near the end - which I am all for. But what the show lack was subtlety. It was trying too hard, the lack of sophistication was unnerving. Even the highlight of the show: the old lady's story on how she lose one of her arse cheek, I found to be forceful. I did appreciate Candide's liberal use of his revolver, which jolted me a couple of times from slumber.

All in all, despite the great lyrics, wonderful singing and music - Robert Carsen's Candide is a wasted opportunity. A shame as I really did wanted to enjoy it.

Sony Walkman NWZ-S618 8GB for under £60

Argos is clearing out its Sony Walkman NWZ-S618 8GB digital audio player inventory for £59.99 in black, red or silver. The price is halved of the original RRP, making it a reasonable investment that should not put you off despite all these talk of credit crunch doom and all. It is very similar to the NWZ-A818 that I have, but is slightly thicker and does not come bundled with in-ear noise isolation earphones. Despite that the functionality is exactly the same (for most part) and it even comes with built-in FM radio that is missing from the A810 series, if you fancy that sort of thing. Although discontinued, the S618 provides the same high audio quality that made the A810 and A820 popular among audio enthusiasts. Oh, and despite Sony marketing the player as Walkman Photo, the S618 is capable of playing the same video files that the Walkman Video is capable of.

Go ahead, treat yourself and help reverse this so-called consumer slowdown.

Update: Oh well, Argos has increased the price to £79.99. Still cheap, but at that price you may as well get the A818 - unless FM radio is that important to you.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dexter season two starts on FX tonight

The adverts for Dexter season two on FX (starts today BTW) is starting to give me withdrawals symptoms. Season 3 can't arrive soon enough, but it is only a couple of months more so I will let it slide. Brits who hasn't caught season two should tune in to the UK premiere tonight at 10pm.

Season two begins with Dexter still mourning the loss of his brother, the only man capable of accepting him. With Doakes on his tail, Dexter is unable to quench his urges. He even have problems killing his victims when he has a chance. Even worse, Dexter's gruesome underwater crypt has been found by a group of treasure hunters. Dubbed the Bay Harbour Butcher, Dexter is finding himself closer to being revealed as the monster he truly is.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sony CKLNWA800 A818 leather case review

I picked this Sony A800 series leather carrying case (part no: CKLNWA800) up from the on-going John Lewis clearance. Actually I picked up two, but has since decided to keep the black version while returning the white version. This is because the black version, as friend of mine wisely pointed out, makes me "less like a tosser". Amen to that.

The case is made of high quality texture-less leather, and the inside is lined with soft microfiber material. It is attached to the aforementioned removable metal plated karabiner-styled keyring which allows one to attach the case to a belt loop giving easy access to the Walkman, as well as freeing up valuable pocket space. A vertical flip protects the screen and is held in place via magnet similar to Sena cases. A modern update to the Walkman logo adorns the front and the back is free of anything including ugly belt clips. The leather covers all the controls which does protect it from accidental depression (it does mean I can leave the hold button alone), but it does hinder the usage a little bit. This issue is primarily select/play button which is difficult to press because of the way the other four directional buttons on the leather case are raised. It works with practice but it does gets annoying early on.

In a rather bizarre decision, the designers built the slot on the bottom of the case thus leaving the bottom of the Walkman exposed. Fortunately the case provides a snug fit and I have no fear of the Walkman accidentally sliding out. Still I personally would rather have small cut outs for both the WM-PORT and headphone socket, and have the Walkman slide from the top of the case. Regardless the case works as intended with the headphone socket facing upwards when hung from a belt.

Overall I am happy with the case. It adequately protects the A818 from everyday wear and tear, plus is doesn't weigh you down. The downside is it doubles the thickness of the Walkman and the previously mentioned button issue and the retail price is just too high at £25. Pick it up for less than half from the sales and it is definitely worth keeping.

Related post: Sony Walkman A818 8GB review

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Chrono Trigger DS

Very excited here (unless it is a port, in which case meh). If it is a new entry or a remake (similar to Final Fantasy III and IV DS), then that would be a great reason to dust down my DS - which has been neglected for far too long.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

You Suck: A Love Story review

You Suck: A Love Story is a direct sequel to Christopher Moore's Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story. As a recap (spoiler follows) of the first book, Jody a red-head woman living in San Francisco is turned into a vampire after being attacked by elderly vampire who was using her to quench his boredom. She seeks the aid of a C. Thomas Flood, a nineteen year old writer and immigrant to the city who works at the local supermarket supervising a night shift potheads dubbed the 'Animals'. A series of vampire related murders started popping up and attracts Tommy and Jody to the attention of authorities. Aiming to secure their human-vampire relationship, Jody and Tommy seeks to uncover the motif of the elder vampire with the help of The Emperor and his two dogs. The story ends with Jody saving the elder vampire from being killed by her human boyfriend Tommy.

The story of You Suck picks up immediately after the ending of Bloodsucking Fiends. Despite promising the police that she would move away after the events of Bloodsucking Fiends, she and the elder vampire has been turns into bronze statues at the behest of Tommy. Jody escapes and turns Tommy into a fellow vampire, whom is finding the experience rather uncomfortable. To make matters worse his fellow Animals, now penniless after spending half a million of dollars on a blue hooker smurf, has turned their backs on him. The police are also on their tail and the elder vampire still encased in his claustrophobic bronze statue is planning his revenge. New character Abby Normal (from A Dirty Job, which The Emperor and Jody also made cameo appearances) is drafted in as their new willing minion to help with their attempt to escape destruction and remain together in love.

To be honest I didn't find the sequel to be a particularly great read - at least not on par with Christopher Moore's standard. It isn't short, though due to the lack of intrinsic plot it was rather a quick book that can be completed in a couple of hours. It does provide many of the unanswered questions that were left hanging in Bloodsucking Fiends, but it isn't as funny nor was it as mesmerising. Elijah the 800 year old vampire came off as none-threatening and stupid; and the ending was spoiled by the liberal use of deus ex machina. The highlight of the book is definitely Abby Normal. Her character adds an extra dimension as a Starbucks addict Goth minion of her Lord Flood and her diary pages are pretty funny. Also returning are the two detectives, veterens to all things heinous fuckery most foul; and Steve the Japanese manga dude who is actually Chinese.

You Suck, like any of Christopher Moore's books comes recommended. But if you are expecting Moore's usual kinky banter and high quality wit you may find it slightly disappointing. Still, you should never fear for an accomplished writer like Moore. Even despite it being one of Moore's weakest entries, You Suck is still an enjoyable light read especially if you are a fan of absurdist fiction. Just don't expect it to be a classic like Lamb and do make sure to read Bloodsucking Fiends and perhaps A Dirty Job first.