Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Okamiden (DS)

Play Time: ~20min

History with the Franchise:

Everyone told me I would like Okami, so I tried it. I think I lasted for an hour before collapsing of boredom. I know, harsh... it just really didn't grab me. I didn't even find the graphics particularly enchanting because they had been talked up so much beforehand. It was slow and felt tedious.

What Happened:
This is going to be a short journal, since I barely played any of the game at all! I wasn't planning on doing a write up until I had given it some more time, but I'm really pessimistic that I ever will give it more time, and that in itself is a valuable observation, so I want to capture it.

So yeah, even though I disliked Okami, and every review explains that this is basically the same exact game (although, some say, a little worse?) I was hopelessly sold by the adorable characters. I'm so simple-minded.

I watched the intro sequence, and got into the first few gameplay tutorials before I quit for fear of my battery dying. I have not picked it up since (this was... a month ago).

What I Liked:
Cute! There's an adorable puppy! Look at it!!

What I Didn't Like:
Slow! The dialogue felt tedious and drawn out, and 10min in nothing had happened and I was bored and tired of the game. Yes, I know that this is unfair --- but I think it's really important to understand that first impressions are vital! I forget which speaker said it at GDC this year (maybe Richard Dansky) but as a game designer, you are only guarenteed one thing: that the player will start the game. From there, the player can do anything he wants - including quitting. There are so many games to play and there's so little time, that if you don't hook me fast, I'm going to find something more interesting.

That's all I wanted to capture on this one. ;) Maybe it'll get another shot someday when I'm bored at an airport.

Animal Crossing: City Folk (Wii)

Play Time ~20min

What Happened:
So I really wasn't planning on writing about this one until I played it a little bit more, since I don't think 20min is thaaat fair to judge a game on - but that's something that I've noticed about myself - if the first 10min doesn't get me, I'm probably not going to keep playing.

I've been hearing people talk about Animal Crossing on and off for awhile - usually it's like "oh yeah, my wife really loved that game. You like, own a house and decorate it and stuff". I didn't play for very long, so I'm not sure yet if there's more to it than that.. but that definitely does seem to be a key element of it: make money, buy things. ;) Also, maybe make friends with villagers? I'm not sure yet.

What I Liked:

Cute! Everything is cute! The villagers are cute! The way they talk is cute! Even the bully character! My house is adorable! I can choose from a lot of different adorable patterns for my wallpaper or clothes! I like this!

Opening sequence! I really enjoyed how the opening sequence was handled - you're on a bus chatting with a chatty guy, and he gets information out of you like your name and if your a girl or boy, and the name of the town. He's so charming and the dialogue is fun. I thought it was clever.

Dialogue & Characters. For the most part, everyone I've spoken to in the village is really fun. They have strong character, they say over the top things (and we've established that I like over the top).

What I Didn't Like:
It didn't grab me! I know, even after all of the positives above... I can say that this game did not captivate me and make me want to come back for more. I didn't get a good sense of what I was going to be doing from the first 20min - so all of the preconceived notions I have from people talking about the game are still there.. and they are (perhaps unfairly) keeping me from picking it up again. Something should have grabbed me by now.

My character! I will never like triangle noses! It's particularly annoying since everything else in the whole game is so adorable that my character is ugly and boring. Boring!!

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

As stated above, it's not too likely that I'm going to pick this one up again. That being said, as I was typing this I felt an increasing sense of guilt for dismissing it so readily... so maybe I will pick it up again to give it more of a chance.

Toy Story 3 (XBox)

What Happened:
This is another case of "I saw some youtube videos at work for this game and was intrigued". In this particular case, I saw the first level of Woody riding the horse on rails - which is a mechanic Issam and I have been discussing for a game concept we're working on - so I went "oh! I should see how they handled it" :) To my surprise, I found a whole lot more in this game than I was expecting - particularly out of an animated film license. This is a really cool game for a lot of different reasons.

What I Liked:

Opening sequence! Or rather, I guess most of the whole opening level. The level starts with a cinematic where Woody sees a speeding train and realizes that the orphans that are on it are in danger (handled with a really nice abrupt cut directly to the screaming orphans). For the first part of the level you ride your horse essentially on rails in terms of forward direction - you can move him left or right and jump - this sort of setup allowed for really awesome cinematic events: rock bridges crumbling, Doctor Porkchop harassing you. It's a neat format.

Visuals. Overall, (at least as far as all gameplay is concerned) the visuals are really great. I think they responded to the expectations set by the film well and hit a really high bar for all visuals. Animation was really beautiful as well - Woody moved like Woody. Jessie's victory dance when you complete a mission in particular makes me smile every time I see it.

So much to do! Usually, I totally hate games with the format of "walk around the town, find villagers that need your help, do quests and get money" (which reminds me I still need to post about Animal Crossing) and I sighed a big sigh when I started playing this mode of the game and saw what it was all about - but for some reason, this time it really works for me. The whole hour I played it, I never felt bored or that I was having to do something tedious (except when I couldn't figure out how to paint the house.. see below). I think it's because of a few things: 1) the world is interesting, and you constantly feel as though you are discovering things (like caves and passages and what manage to feel like 'secret areas'). 2) There's always something to do - in addition to discovering, here's a race, there's a mission, you find an army man on top of the roof and there's a minigame about throwing them up in the air and controlling where they land. All of it manages to be fun and exciting, and it's really fascinating.

What I Didn't Like:

What? There are other modes? I played this game for a whole hour, and it wasn't until I quit that I figured out there were other modes that I could go into. I'm hoping that as you play you unlock them... and it actually tells you? Otherwise I think that's very confusing.

UI. A funny thing to pick on, but for all the awesome visuals, the UI seemed pretty tacked on. Also the text was sooooo small, and almost impossible for me to read on my standard def TV. There was no reason for it to be small!

Painting menu? This one's probably my fault for being oblivious, but my instructions for the building painting mission were to 'walk up to a house' to paint it. I finally figured out after 10min that if you stand in a specific area around the front door, you get an option to go into the painting menu. I think this target area could have been much bigger to help unobservant people like me. ;)

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I will definitely be looking at this game more because of what I said above - for some reason, they really nailed (at least for me) the idea of wandering around a town and helping out and having it be really fun. I want to study this more, and see what I can learn from it. Also - it's just fun, so I sort of just want to play it for that reason too. ;)

ilomilo (XBLA)

Play Time: 2 hours

What Happened:
I've been so slow to post about this game! I think I've been putting it off since it's sort of hard to explain in writing. Like most people, I saw the trailers for this game awhile ago and was totally charmed... but then I forgot about it for awhile... Haha. Someone reminded me about it recently, so I checked it out last week.

Game breakdown: This is a puzzle game where you switch between two characters and the goal is to get them to each other. You primarily solve puzzles by manipulating blocks, which you can pick up one at a time. As you progress you encounter more types of blocks - the primary sort are just solid, and used for building bridges for either the character you're controlling, or the second character (so that when you switch back to him, he will have a bridge). Other types of blocks are ones which extend horizontally or vertically, blocks which fly, and blocks which have a vent in them which you fall through, causing gravity to reverse. Gravity is constantly shifting in the game... which feels hard to explain so here's a trailer :)

I played for a good two hours, which is a lot for me! I progressed to the third section of levels (I didn't complete all of the individual puzzles though - just the minimum required to get me to the next set). At this point, the increasingly difficult puzzles coupled with the monotonously cheerful music started to drive me crazy, so I put it down and haven't picked it up since.

What I Liked:

Concept. Love it! This is a really neat idea for a puzzle game!

Ease of use. As complex as the puzzles are to solve, it's very very easy to pick up and play this game in terms of the control scheme. Basically you have 2 buttons - switch characters and pick up & drop boxes.

Visuals. To a point! Overall, I totally love the style of this game - everything is playful and alive (even the blocks move when you step on them). It oozes charm. I was a little disappointed as a moved from world to world however, that there wasn't a little more variety -- but then maybe my main complaint here has more to do with the music? See below. The animations were really wonderful as well - they fit the world very nicely, and it was cool to see such simplified characters pulled off so well.

Limited Collectibles. I liked that there were always 3 little characters hidden in each level which you could try and collect. I particularly enjoyed the sound they made when you found them.

Sound design. Overall, I really enjoyed the sound effects. They were lively and cute and fit well with the world.

What I Didn't Like:

Music. At first I thought it was cute, but the more I played, the more it started to grate on my nerves. I also felt that it made all of the levels feel very similar - even when the puzzles themselves were very different, the music made me feel as though I was having the same experience over and over again.

Small collectibles. I liked the 3 character collectibles, but I didn't care for all of the other junk in the levels. I guess it was intended to sort of entice you in a certain direction, or give completionists something to complete - which maybe works really well for the sort of person that likes solving puzzles for the sake of solving puzzles (not me) ;)

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Honestly, I don't think it's going to happen. As I said in regards to Professor Layton, I don't really enjoy solving puzzles just for the sake of solving puzzles. It was good for a 2 hour experience, but that's all.