Nano? Sure, why not..

Apple are somewhat of a curiosity in the tech world. Only six people actually use their computers, yet whenever they release a new product the entire world takes notice. The fact is that Macs are the utter embodiment of style in computing. They encompass droolingly good looks with fantastic build quality. Indeed, I love Apple design so much that I bought an iMac keyboard for this computer to replace the cheap hunk of melted-down tupperware containers Packard Bell shipped with it. Apple products have come to symbolise style in the tech world.

So here we go with yet another iteration of the iPod nano. First of all, I would like to be anything but the first person to point out that Apple’s design team have been getting lazy with the iPod line, as this looks exactly the same as the old one. None of that whatever-the-hell-they-did with that nano that suddenly became short and fat. As far as I can tell, they’ve shoehorned in some new features, but the only ones I’ve heard about seem pretty redundant;

  • Built in voice recorder – You can tell that somebody at Apple has finally cracked over whatever was preventing them from putting one of these in in the first place. Which was nothing.
  • FM RadioYou can tell that somebody at Apple has finally cracked over whatever was preventing them from putting one of these in in the first place. Which was nothing.
  • A built in speaker – Why, Apple? Why must you do this to us? We do not need another gadget which enables dopy teenagers to play their f*ck-awful  rap music through a hideous tinny speaker.
  • And the piéce de resistance, A video camera. – This seems to me to be completely redundant. Anybody who is anybody these days has a mobile phone, and it’s damned hard these days to find a phone that doesn’t have a video camera built into it*. So why does the average Joe need two video recorders on their person at all times? I was thinking that maybe you could take it somewhere you wouldn’t want to take your phone in case of damage or something, but this is again a moot point when you consider that this costs as much as, if not considerably more than any mobile which isn’t a new release.

It’s pretty clear that both the microphone and speaker features stem from the video camera – as a microphone for recording sound and a speaker for playing back video without headphones. Why it even needs a microphone is a mystery to me, because every video I’ve ever shot on any of these compact integrated cameras has always had an identical people background of people talking indecipherably rising to a laugh when somebody has been kicked in the groin/fallen over/fallen over onto their groin.

I hear the FM radio has a neat feature where you can rewind up to 15 minutes – a bit like Sky+ – but remember just how crap these tiny radios are and that any interference that you encounter will doubtless be on the recording too.

Don’t see this as a review of the latest nano, because it ain’t. I don’t have one and I don’t intend to get one. But I think I speak for most people when I say that there really isn’t much more Apple can do with an MP3 player. I mean, look at the iPod touch. It was essentially an iPhone without the phone, making it a little strange to use if you’re used to your phone being the centre of your computing away from home, especially when you realise you can’t actually phone anyone. In short, there’s only so much you can do to a product before it becomes a completely different product altogether, and I think Apple seem to have lost the plot a little. Maybe they should just concentrate on making the iPod a really good music player instead of a more average jack of all trades.

-James

*Although it is possible, bearing in mind you can buy a mobile for £8 these days.
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TMSD Reviews 2 – Black Knight, Black Knight, I need no Black Knight..

Well, here’s a surprise. You buy any game these days and you expect it to have at least the bare bones of functionality, unless, of course, you know it’s going to be bad, in which case you don’t buy the game. Well, here’s one that truly surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have, thinking about it more deeply.

Sonic and the Black Knight.

I mean, Wow, this one is bad.

Despite the fact it has had some pretty positive reviews over the last few months, I refuse to believe that this game even can exist. I mean, Sonic the Hedgehog is a well-known, popular figurehead of gaming who has stood the test of time. So what the hell do Sega think they’re up to with things like this? I mean, Sonic the Hedgehog in the Arthurian Legends with a SWORD? It doesn’t even SOUND good on paper! But oh God, it gets worse than that. Let’s dive in.

To start with, Sonic is summoned into the legend of King Arthur by Merlina, who wants to defend the land from.. well, I think it’s supposed to be King Arthur gone evil, but he looks more like a crappy rejected design for Sauron more than anything else. What he does is ride around on a flying horse striking terror into the hearts of all the innocent little green people – yes, the story has just lost all credibility. When I say it’s based on the Arthurian Legends.. Sega took the oppurtunity to try and make it a stupid as they possibly could. I mean seriously, this bears no resemblance to the original legends at all. It’s the same as Sonic and the Secret Rings which is a somewhat skewed adaptation of  the Arabian Nights, the only difference being that SatSR was actually good, where as Black Knight falls flat on it’s face story-wise. Of course, Merlina summons Sonic for.. no real reason, to defeat evil King Arthur. Why she chose to summon a friggin’ hedgehog with no battle skills whatsoever is beyond me. Why, if the land needed protection so badly, didn’t she summon, oh I don’t know, A KNIGHT? I don’t know, it makes no sense to me either.

And this is just the start of this game’s problems. The controls are awful, and I mean awful. Cast your mind back to Secret Rings and remember the thing of tilting the Wii remote to move Sonic left or right on a pre-determined track of a fixed width. This worked okay. Not fantastically, but okay. Now fast forward to the Wii version of Sonic Unleased. I really think they’d nailed 3D Sonic controls with this one. There was a fantastic sense of speed, the levels just let you run and run and the whole time you felt as if you were in control. The levels flowed and kept the pace. The problem with Black Knight is that it tries too hard to give a sense of speed. It tries to combine the controls of Secret Rings and Unleased to form.. Well, this.  Basically you run on a predetermined path like in Secret Rings, but instead of tilting the Wii remote to move left and right, you use the analogue stick, which really doesn’t work. Why? The controls are too damn sensitive! You move left and he whips to the left side. You let go and he springs back to the centre. You move right and in a flash he’s graunching against the stonework. There is just no middle ground. And another problem? He accelerates at utter random. Now, in SatSR the acceleration was automatic, but it was steady and under control. In Black Knight Sonic simply moves forward slowly, slowly, slowl-OHMYGODWTFTOOSODDINGFAST. And while again, this sounds okay – it is, after all, a Sonic game, where speed is the game’s raison d’etre – It just doesn’t work in practice.

In practice what happens is that literally, every two or three seconds of running is brought to a sudden and jarring halt as you hit a group of enemies that actually appear from nowhere without warning. It’s a huge pity as some stages, such as Titanic Plain, have real potential for an Unleased-style system where you can just run and run and run. I could go so far as to say this utterly ruins most of the gameplay, but no. There’s far worse things to be addressed. Like the sword controls. Now, again, this sounds good on paper. Sonic can swing his sword at anything he can run at and use another move which creates some kind of sheild in front of him. How? I don’t know. The swordfighting sounds like a decent system, where you can move the Wii remote in different ways to perform different moves and combo attacks, but it succumbs to the same deadly ebola as the Werehog stges in Unleashed where instead of pulling off a series of calculated moves you quite literally end up flailing your arms wildly until everything around you is dead.

And still there’s more. As far as I got into the game there are parts in sub-missions – and even main missions – where you have to stop, do that thing where you press the however many buttons in order before the timer runs out, and then you actually have to give the little green townspeople some of your rings. Why? Again, I don’t know, it’s not really explained. And then we come to probably the main problem with this game. The stages and the game’s environments are dull, uninspired and completely un-immersive. As far as I got there was a generic forest, a generic castle and then a generic plain. There was no thought for any real originality in any of these levels.. and it shows. It’s not only the design of the levels that is dull, but the layout also falls flat as it follows the same generic formula of run, run, enemies, run, corner, stop, enemies with nothing really exciting to break up the monotony.

Although it’s already clear this game is an absolute train wreck, what really nails the coffin for me is the voice acting. And I’m not saying it’s bad, oh no. It’s worse than that. It is absolutely honest-to-God the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard in my entire life. While I’ve always thought voice actors in the Sonic franchise have been more than a little dodgy, this just takes the cake. And the worst part is I can’t even figure out why. I don’t think they’ve changed the voice actors, so why do they suddenly sound so bad? I think it’s probably more to do with the dialogue than anything, which is worse than Sonic Underground. I am not kidding. Even a crappy Saturday-morning cartoon beats this into the dirt and this thing cost me £25, as opposed to my DVD of Sonic Underground which cost me 99p. Even Tails sounds even worse than normal, and this is just as I was starting to get used to his hideous voice. I mean, he sounded okay in Unleashed, so what the hell happened? I don’t know, and I don’t really want to know.

So yes, there is an utter myriad of flaws in Sonic and the Black Knight. It’s so bad that it’s the only Sonic game – and probably the first game – that I’ve ever taken back to the shop for a refund out of sheer poor quality. I mean, damn.

Perhaps this is a bad sign for the Sonic franchise. After Unleased, which I thought was pretty good, we’re being presented with the likes of this, showing that Sonic Team simply hasn’t learnt its lesson. So am I still a Sonic fan? Of course, just of the older games, that’s all, and not absolute heaps of the likes of this, and I think I speak for a large majority of the Sonic fan community when I say that.

Project Needlemouse had better be damned good, Sega. You owe it to us.

-James