new challenger

I make games. I also play them. I talk about both activities here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

RotK - GIRPN: Acronym Edition

I'm almost reluctant to resurrect this series. I kind of feel like making games threatens to render me ineligible to comment on my personal play preferences, which is a stark departure from my previous feeling. But, at the end of the day, I wouldn't be fulfilling the premise of this blog without talking about the playing side of this whole games thing. So, here we go:

Bangai-O Spirits
Developer: Treasure
Publisher: D3

Bangai-O spirits bills itself as a shooter I think, but it's much more of a puzzle game. Sure, you navigate a giant robot - giant, despite it's relatively small on-screen presence - and you definitely dodge bullets, while throwing out a megaton of your own. The robot itself has 4 weapon slots: two "normal" infinite weapon slots, and two "super" weapon slots that exhaust, and require power-ups to refill. There are a handful of different weapons you can equip in these slots, and some of them, when paired, combine to form complimentary abilities. Each "stage" is broken down into individual "challenges," each with their own unique combination of enemies and objectives, and a big bulk of the strategy in the game is figuring out the right combination of weapons to bring into the fight. Some challenges seem to be solvable using a variety of weapons, but others seem to require a very specific combination. In this way, the game has a very puzzle-like feel. Oh yeah, and you die a lot; there is no real way to figure out which weapons to bring to many fights until you arrive upon a situation in which you can't prevail; this game is definitely for masochists, but it's also pretty good fun. Plus it's by Treasure; every time you don't buy one of their games, a kitten dies.

Soul Bubbles
Developer: Mekensleep
Pulisher: Eidos

I had a design I was working on a while ago involving bubbles that never went anywhere, so this game kind of holds a special place in my heart. I don't even know where I heard of it, and it's only available at Toys "R" Us, so it's not exactly the easiest-to-find. In Soul Bubbles, you take the role of a custodian of souls; you place these souls in a bubble, and move them from one place on a map to another, collecting various trinkets along the way. Occasionally, you'll have to divide your big bubble up into smaller bubbles to fit through tight passageways, and sometimes creatures will come onto screen that you have to jab with the stylus. That's pretty much it.

Yes, I suppose this is a bit of an oversimplification, but really, the game isn't that deep. It's certainly not as deep or complex as Mekensleep's Creative Director Oliver Dejade recently suggested. That doesn't mean I'm not enjoying Soul Bubbles. In fact, I quite like it. But sometimes people get a little caught up in their own hype. What kind of hype am I talking about? this kind of hype, which appears every time you turn on the game:

So yeah. Check Soul Bubbles out, if you get the chance.

Developer: Number None
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Those of you who follow the blog will know that I've been waiting for this game for a while. It might surprise some of you to know, then, that I just recently bothered to fire up the 360 and download the thing.

Turns out, Braid is a pretty good game. Braid is a side-scrolling platformer with a focus on collecting. It's really good looking, and surprisingly challenging. It does a so-so job of teaching you about itself. In some instances, it is meticulous in showing you how to walk, and jump. When it comes to solving its core puzzles, however - collecting puzzle pieces - Braid is shockingly bad at teaching. Going through the first level, I collected the majority of the puzzle pieces, but was somewhat puzzled as to how to get the last remaining ones. They were placed in a way that really led me to believe that I simply didn't possess the "power-ups" required to collect them. In truth, I guess this isn't so much a problem with Braid as it is a problem with the library of game information that I bring to Braid, but it had an effect on the way I approached the game nonetheless. It turns out that I was able to collect all of the pieces on the first level using the skills that my character already possessed; Frustratingly, I discovered this through a series of happy accidents, but it almost felt like chance. I could imagine a lot of players simply walking away from the game in frustration.

Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 (Demo)
Developer: CyberConnect2
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games

Let me first say that when I pay Naruto, I don't feel like I'm playing a game with any spiritual connection to a traditional 3d fighting game. I don't even feel a similarity to fringe 3d fighting games like Power Stone or Smash Bros. Now, don't mistake this for a compliment; it's simply an assertion. Those looking for me to give the game a compliment, look here: Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2 is freakin' awesome. It's a fighting game alright; there are combos, normals, throws, specials and supers, launchers, juggles, and even more nuanced fighting game features like helpers, meter management, and okizeme. But CyberConnect2 has managed to assemble these familiar pieces together in a really unique and interesting way. And surprisingly, I'm in control of my character most of the time! When you watch a lot of the promotional material, like that I've linked to in previous posts, one could get the impression that this game has a lot of moments of non-interactivity. Yes, the supers (called Ultimate Chakras) are long, but I found them to be surprisingly infrequent, and not at all obtrusive. Most importantly, the game makes me want to hang around and learn its ins and outs. I don't know anything about the license upon which this game is based - and I don't really care to learn about it, either. This game (okay, technically it's a demo, but that just means the final game has even more to love) is really fun. This obviously goes without saying, but I give this game my highest recommendation!

Monster Madness: Grave Danger (Demo)
Developer: Psyonix Studios
Publisher: SouthPeak Games

This game is another one that I was rooting for. I have a great fondness for the action/hack-and-slash genre, and I hope to get a shot as designing one someday. But I may never get my chance if games like Monster Madness aren't more successful. Unfortunately, Monster Madness is probably best described as Hunter: The Reckoning with a great sense of style injected into it, and all the fun taken out of it. It's obvious that the creators of this game have a very strong artistic sense. The characters and world in the game, while somewhat cliche, look interesting and exciting. But when it comes to actually pushing buttons, the game kind of falls apart. The attacks in the game feel really slushy, and there's an overwhelming feeling of disconnectedness between the player and the character on screen. Like Hunter, this game is probably a lot more entertaining when played with friends. Unlike Hunter, and a more successful example of the genre like Diablo, Monster Madness isn't at all entertaining when played solo. And honestly, I feel really bad saying this, but I was really disappointed with this game. Usually, I'll buy a game that I support philosophically, even if I don't necessarily love the game in practice; I'll probably be doing this with Monster Madness. I don't see this as rewarding bad behavior; the guys making this game are working hard to deliver an experience, and I feel like I've been in their shoes before. Sometimes I miss being in an situation to work on a game like this, one where I really get a strong sense of passion and personal pride in the artistic side of the game.

I'm playing a few other things at the moment, but none so much that I'd be willing to share my thoughts on them. I almost left Monster Madness out, because I really don't want to go down the road of bashing games right now, but maybe there's someone out there who hadn't heard of the game that might give it a chance, despite (or even due to) my harsh words.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Quick question.

Humanity has an obsession with greatness. I'm told that Americans in particular seem particularly occupied with determining the best of something (quite frankly, I've yet to meet the culture that doesn't have the same tendency, so, yeah). Just recently, Michael Phelps was anointed as the greatest Olympian ever. With regard to entertainment, it's widely considered that Hollywood makes the best movies in the world, and Citizen Kane is considered to be Hollywood's greatest movie. However, it's just as commonly argued that Bicycle Thieves holds the title for the world's greatest movie. James Joyce's Ulysses and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita are oft cited as the greatest novels ever written. In the world of television, the debate over greatest series ever rages admirably, with the most recent contender being The Wire, hot on the heels of The Sopranos garnering the same praise during its recent run.

What about videogames? Well, we have Super Mario Bros. And...that's about it. Sure, occasionally you'll hear someone mention that Ocarina of Time has the highest Gamerankings score, or they'll cite a Famitsu survey whereby crazed, deranged souls vote Final Fantasy X to unnaturally great heights. Sometimes the non-enthusiast American press, in an effort to appeal to domestic audiences, will shower praise on Will Wright's The Sims (mostly, it seems, because of its phenomenal sales). But generally speaking, Super Mario Bros. stands alone as videogaming's undisputed champion.

That disappoints me.

It's not that I disagree - if anyone asked me what I considered to be the greatest videogame ever, Super Mario Bros. would be my response (actually, I would say Super Mario Bros. 3; it is functionally superior to the original Super Mario Bros. in almost every way). It's just that, well, Super Mario Bros., within the scope of videogaming, is a really old game. It was released just eight years after the first mainstream home console - the Atari 2600 - hit the scene. Does it freak anyone else out that in the two-plus decades since its release, the gaming industry has not surpassed one of its most primordial offerings?

I told you it was a quick question.

Thanks for reading.