My iOS 7 Review

I’ve been using iOS 7 on some device since the original developer release during WWDC and I’ve been impressed with how it has shaped up. So, with no hesitation, I recommend you go and update as soon as you can.

It will take a little time to get used to, but I think that the progress Apple has made with the changes, in almost every case, are a good step forward for the platform. The look might seem radically different, but close enough to iOS 6 as to not make it disorienting.

Just go and update as soon as you can. I’m not going to waste any more keystrokes on this.

Review | iPad mini

I think it is finally time for me to write up my iPad mini review.

iPad Review Image

The iPad mini is 100% an iPad and I feel takes the place of a complementary computing device for those who already have a primary computing device that fits their needs. It does not replace the original iPad but will serve a different role for many.

Now that I have the 10,000 foot paragraph out the way, let’s dig in.

The iPad mini is an iPad

Quite simply, the iPad mini is the exact iPad I was waiting for from Apple … minus one thing (the screen, obviously, but more on that in a bit). It is 100% an iPad and if you would look at the specs between the iPad 2 and iPad mini you would be hard pressed to find a difference …

… besides the dimensions and weight.

Of course, that’s kind of the whole point, right? The iPad mini is implausibly smaller and lighter than the iPad 2, the former lightest iPad. The entire product also just FEELS better. I don’t own an iPhone 5, but the iPad mini feels, construction-wise, at least as good if not better than my iPhone 4S. It feels solid even though it is so light. It feels sturdy even though it is so thin. The unibody structure must make the difference, but it is still pretty remarkable.

Inside it sports an Apple A5 processor, the same one (with the corresponding die shrink) found in the slightly-updated iPad 2 which was released quietly along with the 3rd generation iPad earlier this year. It provides a similar experience to the iPad 2 and 3rd generation iPad (which had the A5X), but in a much smaller package.

The screen looks like an updated iPhone 3GS screen. It is brighter, has better colors, but is not a Retina display. Normally, it doesn’t bother me, but when looking at text you can see the edges which are just not there with a Retina display (as on the 3rd and 4th generation iPads). This is the one glaring weakness of the iPad mini but if you are not a person who noticed the Retina display … you are not going to see a difference.

I think that the screen is going to be the most impressive improvement for the future. I have to believe that Apple is already counting down the days when they will put a Retina display that is laminated to the glass on the iPad mini. The lamination process for the iPhone 4 and newer really makes a difference, but I’m sure that scaling that process up to a screen the size of an iPad mini is going to be difficult. That screen will be remarkable, but it is still a ways off (I would think).

There really isn’t much more to say. There are small tweaks to make the overall package that much better, but the iPad mini is as much an iPad as the original iPad.

How I Use the iPad mini

I think the more interesting part is how people are using the new device.

I owned an original iPad and used it pretty extensively, but really didn’t carry it with me very often. I used it a lot at home as the “couch computer” and also to have next to me at a desk for reading manuals of any sort. The Retina display definitely helps in this regard, but that is for the larger iPad.

The iPad mini is now my fully-mobile-personal-computer. It sits inside of a little sleeve and gets carried along on client trips, to my day job … wherever I might be going. That alone changes how I use it.

I’ve been able to offload almost all social networking usage onto the iPad mini, mostly Twitter and Facebook. I also do quite a bit of the reading I used to do on the iPhone on the iPad mini … just because I have it with me. I would probably do even more if the iPad mini had a Retina display.

I also use it to write up blog posts in the WordPress app. It works pretty well. I tend to add in any pictures and do any small edits on my Mac before I post, but most of the words (including these) are written on the iPad. I also tend to write longer-form stuff in iA Writer as well. iCloud syncing is awesome and works really well. I tend to then move anything worth keeping out of iCloud and into a more permanent archive on the Mac when it is complete, but the writing happens there.

I also do some sysadmin stuff from the iPad mini as well. Prompt is a wonderful app from Panic which just allows me to connect to my VPS and do any updates or make sure everything is running without needing to run and grab the full computer. I could make configuration changes and maybe even do some small editing if I had a keyboard, but it frees me to from needing to head down to my office to track down a larger computer to handle those minor emergencies that crop up every now-and-then.

With cellular access, it becomes even more freeing. I can sync, check, refresh, and … just use the iPad no matter where I am. It is quite freeing.

Needless to say, I spend a lot of time on the iPad mini, a lot more than the original iPad. It is my main mobile computer now and the Mac now stays tied to the desk. That is also really nice.

The End

Quite simply, the iPad mini is the best piece of Apple hardware I’ve ever owned. The screen is definitely a step down from the full-sized iPad, but the better weight, size, and “fit and finish” of the iPad mini outweigh that downside of a worse display.

However, it IS smaller, and I feel that the original-sized iPad is still a better replacement for a laptop or desktop while the iPad mini can fit into someone’s life who is already used to working with multiple machines. The iPad mini is more a companion device, but even then, it is still a complete iPad so it can do everything that the larger iPad can do.

Head over to the nearest Apple Store and pick one up for yourself.

Review | Mass Effect 3

Back in late 2007 Bioware released the original Mass Effect as the first of a three-game trilogy set in a fictional universe not all that different from our own.

Well, besides the fact that we were a minority race amongst many in the Milky Way galaxy and used Mass Relays to travel the huge distances.

Mass Effect 3 is the third (obivously) and final (by their estimation) game in this trilogy about a soldier named Shepherd and the galaxy’s battle against the mechanical menaces known as the Reapers.

However, you probably already know that. Let’s get into one of my Patent-Pending Short Reviews.

Mass Effect 3

Keep in mind, I played through under Role Playing and with a new game (as I did on the previous two games). Also, THERE ARE SPOILERS BELOW.

  • graphics look amazing — definitely the best-looking game of the three
  • controls seems a little bit better than the previous two games
  • weapons loadout is a good compromise between the endless boredom of Mass Effect and the seemingly inconsequential Mass Effect 2 way of handling your weapons
  • music is effective if sometimes a little bit too hidden — you are not going to be getting any catchy tunes out of this game, but that isn’t the point.
  • more than once I would sit quietly for five minutes or more and weigh a decision that had to be made — you’ll know them when you see them, and depending on how you playd the prior games you might be able to make different ones, but I’ve never just sat there and weighed a decision in a game like that
  • there are a TON of cameos from the earlier games, have fun trying to see them all
  • there are times when it really feels like this might be the end, where people are panicking and things are just falling apart, and then there are times when you forget that all civilized life is getting destroyed — a little jarring
  • the story is fairly linear with plenty of side quests to try and take care of
  • the main areas are VERY varied, which is great — aliens worlds seem to feel more alien this time
  • I never liked Udina
  • it is amazing how entire cultures can ignore your warnings and then when it finally happens, they ask you for favors — I mean, really
  • resources are minimized and are not as important as in the past, the focus is solely on the decisions that need to be made and the story
  • while not my favorite game of the three (that would now be Mass Effect 2 … much like Empire Strikes Back), it is a very good and fitting end to the trilogy

If you liked the first two games you are going to like Mass Effect 3, and even if you didn’t you would probably still like the game a lot if you enjoy good storytelling with good gameplay tacked on.

I did not play the multiplayer because … well … Mass Effect is a single player game.

The Ending — HERE BE SPOILERS

Honestly, I liked it. I’m purposefully not going to read much of what other people are saying about the ending because, to me, the ultimate choice at the very end is perfectly fitting for what Bioware had been doing from the very beginning. The focus was on the choice to be made and what kind of “Shepherd” you wanted to be.

I chose to destroy the Reapers because that is what I was there to do. I might go back and replay all three of the games in order to try and fix a lot of the poor decisions that needed to be made, but even then, I am satisfied with the ending.

When given all three of the choices (control, destroy, or merge) it reflects on the universe that Bioware created as a whole. It started as a cut-and-dry organics vs synthetics romp through the first game and then began to blur a little bit with the second while Mass Effect 3 has you able to bring the Geth to your side to fight with you.

I’ll just stop while I’m behind.

Verdict

I would recommend it to almost anyone, but it is a MUST PLAY for any fans of the first two. Ideally, you would play the first two games and then come into the last installment with all of the baggage.

Review | The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Released in November 2011, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is already viewed as one of the best Zelda games, one of the bet Wii games, and an exquisite close to the Wii’s life as Nintendo’s primary home console.

This isn’t going to be a long review, but I’ll break it up into categories mainly so that I can keep my own thoughts in order. At the end, I’ll give it some sort of score … I’m not exactly sure how I’ll handle that yet.

Skyward Sword

 

Presentation

This is a Zelda game, so you’re not going to see anything that new here. You do have an overlay of the Wii Remote on the side of your screen so that you know what is mapped to what, but you can turn it on-or-off to varying degrees, which is quite nice. It does obscure a good amount of your screen, so after you get used to the control scheme a little more, you might want to turn it off.

One thing Skyward Sword has is a lot of cut scenes of varying length. It can be a short cut scene such as falling off of an island or a longer one that is used to really flesh out some of the story. Nothing, that I know of, is pre rendered but they are there and it is an integral part of what makes the game feel a tad more epic than some in the past.

Of course, it also means that some of your time is used watching cut scenes.

Controls

This is really where Skyward Sword differentiates itself from Zelda games of the past. The Wii Motion Plus is required and is used to great effect to challenge you to use few sword strokes to take out differing opponents. There is an encouragement to not just “waggle” the Remote around like in Twilight Princess or smashing buttons in the past. You’ll want to be deliberate with your slashes and thrusts in order to make sure you are not wasting energy.

Overall, it is very effective and works seamlessly. You will want to be cognizant of times when it isn’t registering correctly and calibrate the Wii Remote, but I probably had to do it an extra three or four times through the 40+ hours I played the game. I don’t consider that excessive.

You also use the Remote’s ability to register that you are twisting it for controlling both your swimming and flying, which can sometimes seem a little fiddly. That part took the most time and was the most frustrating. Otherwise, the controls are responsive and almost perfectly tailored for the Wii.

Graphics

Only Wind Waker could be considered more stylized than Skyward Sword. This game strikes an awesome balance between Twilight Princess and Wind Waker. Colorful and vibrant, but based on reality, it is a style direction that, to me, seems uniquely tailored for the Zelda universe. Extremely well done and makes for some breathtaking environments for you to explore.

Now, this is not the Playstation 3, so nothing is in HD and you will see lower-quality textures and a few spots where there is a slowdown in the frame rate, but we are talking about the Wii here. You didn’t buy a Wii for HD graphics (and I’m hoping the Wii U can really bring Nintendo into HD gaming), so I’m sorry if you are disappointed.

Overall, probably the most beautiful Wii game you will be able to buy, which is fitting because this might be the last Wii game you are ever going to buy.

Sound

You will finally find the first orchestrated song in the Zelda series in Skyward Sword. It’s the main “Sky Theme” (or whatever it is called) and it is good. The soundtrack is, of course, top-notch but also subdued at the same time. Some old standbys will be back, but there is a lot of new music in this game.

The sound effects are great as well, but there is nothing here to really talk about that hasn’t already been said about a Zelda game before. The new thing was the orchestrated piece, and while only used sparingly (compared to many other new games), it is a step in the right direction.

Once again, no voice acting, so stop griping about it. If you were expecting it, I really don’t know what to say to you.

Story and Gameplay

I mentioned above that this story feels more epic, and it does. I can’t really put my finger on exactly why, but I think it is all of the references to what is the “future” (or past Zelda games), and how this game tries as best it can to set up why things happen in the Zelda universe the way they do.

You interact with some unique characters along the way and get to know a few of them rather well (if you so choose). You explore the sky, heading down to the earth in only pre-defined areas but they are huge areas to explore.

You explore a vast forest, travel underground, get hounded by zombies, explore volcanoes, take to a sand sea (literally), and travel through time. Each area isn’t so much like Hyrule Field of the past where you just try to get to the next temple than a temple unto itself with unique puzzles and abilities you will need to master.

Many of the puzzles force you to use more than one of your items so you consistently come back to old items where in the past you might have just as well discarded them from your inventory to free up some space.

Overall, it is like The Legend of Zelda Plus. Everything you remember, plus some more goodness on top. I’m not really going to get more into the story because it would ruin some of it for people.

Intangibles

It’s Zelda. What more is there to say?

This is an origin story, and because of that, I like it even more. This isn’t Phantom Menace origin story, this is more Batman Begins.

Take that as you will.

Gripes

Can we finally get a fast text option for scrolling text, or an option to turn off help prompts from our companion (this time Fi). Most of the time it is okay, but sometimes you would rather just toss Fi out completely. One option would be for voice acting and then subtle subtitles for her help so that you could keep playing while she drones on about how to push a block.

The fast text is another one that should be reexamined. Text is slow, there is no doubt about it, and being able to either zip through it or skip sections completely would be greatly appreciated. The twentieth time I visit the Potion Lady is not the time to be telling me how to buy a potion.

The Trials, oh The Trials, could have used a little more variety. They are pretty much the same mission four times over just in different locals. Luckily, after the first, at least you know what you are doing, but some more variety there would have been nice.

There are some smaller gripes as well (and Phil could probably list many of his own), but they are really nothing. Also, nothing above really takes away from the game at all, but I needed to find something.

Conclusion

First off, just go and play it. I still hold that this is a most excellent game, and as always your-mileage-may-vary, but I think you still need to play it if only so that you can see what motion controls can really be like and what they can ad to the gameplay mechanics for a given game. I can only hope that the general gameplay mechanics will be copied in many other adventure games because I really think that they translate well, even with the rudimentary Wii hardware.

Go and play it. Try and enjoy it because I’m going to probably be raving about this game for a very, very long time (so you are going to have to bear with me). Where does Skyward Sword sit in the overall history of Zelda games? I can’t make a definitive statement on that yet, but the fact that my mind is “OK” with Skyward Sword being mentioned as the greatest Zelda game ever has me encouraged.

Ocarina of Time was the unquestioned best Zelda game ever for many people, including myself, and Skyward Sword, at the very least, approaches that game without hesitation. If you’ve enjoyed the 3D Zelda games at all, you owe it to yourself to at least play through it at some point in your life. I recommend it sooner rather than later.

Verdict

Play. Now.