Monday, May 16, 2011

The Lost Vikings (SNES)

Time Played: 2 hours

What Happened:

It felt like this game came up a lot in conversation during the last few months, so I wanted to play it to really understand what everyone was talking about.

If you're like me, and didn't play it when it came out in 1995, the game works like this: you control 3 different vikings. You can only control one at a time, and must get all 3 of them through various traversal puzzles (stuff like finding keys, avoiding enemies, hitting switches, getting over pits). They all possess different abilities - they have multiple abilities, but at a simplified level, one can block, one can jump, and one can fight. If any of them dies, you fail the level. You can restart the level at any time because it is possible to get stuck.

What I Liked:
Mechanics. And of course this is the reason that people remember and bring up the game. The idea of controlling 3 characters and using them cooperatively is really cool, and hasn't used in a lot of other games. I like it because you build a different connection with each character - in one level I think the shield guy is the best and most useful, and I'm extra fond of him, then in the next it's all about the jumping guy. ;) I think because there are 3 you feel as though you are working with them, as opposed to 'being' one of them, and I think that this is a near paradigm. The levels were well designed to make you use all of them, and value all 3 of them.

Music. The music was energetic, which is something I always appreciate - especially in puzzle games. I particularly liked the spaceship level music.

Environments. I thought the overall levels were cool. Levels progressed through themes - for example the first few were on a spaceship, and so art was reused across those levels, the next few were jungle levels, and then caves. I liked the visuals and was excited to see what was coming up next.

What I Didn't Like:
No narrative. Not that this is really a problem, I just suspect that this is why I haven't picked the game back up, and what makes me think of it as a 'rainy day' game. Nothing is really calling out to me - I feel that I have seen the basics of what this game has to offer, and continued gameplay will offer more of the same.

Communication. This is a game from 1995, so I'm not going to be super harsh - but there were a few times that I got stuck just because things were not communicated well. For example, in one of the spaceship levels, a piece of artwork is meant to be viewed as a foreground element that you walk behind, but I read it as a wall, and got completely stuck in the level until Issam pointed it out. There's also on where you ride in bubbles - but when I first saw the bubbles it was completely inconceivable that I would be able to ride in one of them. :) I think this has much more to do with it being 16 years old.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I had fun and I'm interested in picking it up again. That being said, it's a puzzle game, so there's no overall story which is drawing me back in to it, which I think is why I haven't picked it up in the month since I first played it. I would personally classify this as another rainy day game - fun if I want to kill some time, but it's certainly not calling to me from the shelf.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (360)

Play time: ~1 hour

What Happened:
So I played the 1st 15min twice because the power went off the first time I was playing it. :) I like Journey to the West type stuff (mainly Dragonball), and I like the concept of games where you help a partner AI character survive (Ico) so I've definitely been interested in this game for awhile.

I played it for about an hour on Sunday. The story is that you're.. some guy (who sort of has a NY accent that you don't notice for awhile) who was imprisoned on a ship for some reason gets busted out when this girl destroys the ship. While escaping you find out about these devices that kill people when they disobey the rules (one of the workers on the ships talks to you to tell you he can't talk to him, and the computer kills him). After the ship goes down, you wake up to find that the girl has attached one to your head, so now you must obey her and keep her alive. She wants you to take her to a colony to the West (hence the title).

Gameplay is mostly traversing terrain - the ship is breaking apart, so I need to jump from here to here before it falls off, or there's a robot with a laser over there, so I need to go take it out before it kills us. It's broken up by occasional sections where you have to fight many robots at once (like most action/RPGs), which is something I never like so I'll talk more about that below. :)

What I Liked:

Concept. I love the idea of working together with another character. I also really enjoy the mystery in this game - you don't really know what's going on. Why is NY city rubble? Who is this woman and what can she do? Who are you and why were you locked up in that ship? This is the sort of thing that actually might keep me playing.

ANIMATION. The animation on the main character is amazing. I have fun just making him run around. There are some handling issues though (see below), but I really enjoy the animation in this game more than any game I've seen in awhile.

Characters. I like the character designs, and I'm pretty happy with their personalities, although they don't have very big personalities... basically the main character's personality is "angry" and the girl's is "scared" but I think there's been some really strong acting in there to support that.

Traversal. I think that my favorite things in a game is when you're in a big, beautiful, alien environment and you're exploring it in ways that you normally can't - and this game has that. I can't just jump into a tree, or leap through the air impossibly far. ;) I like that the main character is a monkey man, who can get anywhere, and it's really fun to feel like I'm exploring (even though the game is very linear, I'm constantly rounding the bend to something that seems new).

Environment. The environment is beautiful! Sure, it's just more rubble and wreckage like most games nowadays, but it's still done very well and I enjoy it. Because it is so cool looking it makes me that much more excited about exploring (obviously, that's the thing about exploring - finding cool looking things).

What I Didn't Like:

Handling. We always talk about games like this as animators, and now I'm finally playing one - the animation is fabulous in this game, but your super agile monkey man character does not handle very well! The most obvious example of this (and really thinking about it, maybe it's the only one and it's just made a HUGE impression since you see it so often) is that when you stop running, you get the "run_to_idle" transition animation, which you feel every time because it handles differently than you would expect.

Tedium. I'm so close to putting combat into the "What I Liked" section, except for the fact that it just felt like guys took a couple too many hits to take out. Particularly since you seem so powerful! I'm like, smashing the crap out of this machine, which is apparently beaten up and sort of ancient looking, and it's still taking me like, 10-12 hits to take him down. I really don't think that anything is added by making the enemies last longer than 1-2 hits - particularly since this game seems to primarily be about traversing. Example, there are 2 robots way off on the other side of this valley shooting at me. I need to have the girl cause a distraction, and then climb all of the way over there without getting shot. Getting there is where the challenge and fun live. I think some satisfaction is to be had from beating on them, but it just takes a little too long for them to explode.

Combat Cameras. This is almost really cool, but doesn't quite make it - they tried to make the combat really cinematic, so you get some dynamic camera cuts and cool angles when you fight - but then every time I stop fighting I'm completely disoriented.

Also on the note of Tedium. Sections where you have to fight like, 20 robots, 2-3 at a time. They're not particularly challenging to kill, so I'm really just then button mashing for awhile...

Animation Stretching. I think it's the result of level design - but you get some of those weird spots where the character has to jump a huge distance which the animation wasn't intended for, so the character has to travel a farther distance over the same length of time (since it's the same animation), so he goes super fast for just a second. It's a picky polish thing, but I noticed it. ;)

Where to Go? For the most part traversal paths are made apparent by a shimmering effect which runs over parts and pieces of things that can be used as handholds, but I think that this is sort of a weak solution to this problem. Also there are places where it's still not apparent where to go at all - like when you have to jump a distance that seems impossible.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I will definitely pick this game up again. Despite any of the shortcomings I mentioned, it's definitely intriguing enough that I want to see more. That being said, I would be very surprised if I actually finished this game - I sort of suspect that I'll get tired of it after one or two more hours. (I know... so pessimistic. I hope I'm wrong!!)

Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)

Time Played: 1 hour

What Happened:

I've had this game sitting on my shelf for awhile and had been meaning to get to it. I picked it up this week because it's being featured in the Collectables Relay Race rounds of our gaming Olympics at work which I'm helping to organize, and I needed to unlock some levels.

In the game, Kirby has been transformed into yarn by a wizard- which switches out his normal creature-eating ability for the ability to transform into different things like a parachute for floating, a car for dashing, and a weight for ground-pounding. You and a friend are searching for pieces of magical yarn which piece the world back together (unlocking new worlds). You also have an apartment, and find pieces of furniture in the levels to decorate with (a la Little Big Planet). Also at this point in the game I've been called on once to help decorate an empty apartment so that the building owner can get someone to move in.

Gameplay is simple - traverse through liner levels collecting gems and killing enemies if you should choose to. I'm not actually sure if you can die in the game... you lose your gems as a penalty when hit - but I'm not sure what happens if you're hit and have no gems. You can only be 'hurt' by enemies with weapons or entities in the level like lava - when it comes to normal minions, you can bump into them without suffering any damage.

What I Liked:

Presentation & Polish. Every little detail in the animation and visuals is just awesome in terms of polish. It really feels like a cohesive world, and small details totally make it. Stuff like the unique sequences for each new level when it is unlocked, the unique transformation sequences, etc - It's clear that a lot of love and attention went into this game's visuals.

Level Select. As opposed to just being a map, the level select in this game is presented in a similar format to the levels - you walk around and jump on things like in any level. To get back to your apartment you just walk right to left through the worlds. So far it's cute - I'm not sure if when I've unlocked more worlds it will become tedious?

Sound effects (but not music). The sound effects are extremely charming and help make the world feel complete.

Idea. Clearly, with the buzz that surrounded this game when it came out, the concept is pretty cool. It's a neat idea to play on the concept of a 2D sidescroller by making something that can only work in 2D (transforming yarn), and it works well with Kirby's traditional powers.

Transformation Sections. Almost every level features a section where Kirby does a unique transformation - for example, a tank, a firetruck or a UFO. They provide a change to the pacing and feel of the game, and usually feature a different mechanic - this provides a nice break, and adds a feeling of variety to the gameplay.

What I Didn't Like:

Music. I think this was a repeat of ilomilo for me musically. :) It started off cute and charming, but quickly got monotonous. It was just a little too low energy for me, and I started to feel like I was dragging just a little because of the music. As much as I dislike games which play up the tension to the point that you feel like you need to decompress after playing, I appreciate some level of tension in a game, and the music really worked against that. This also coupled with the overall lack of difficulty in the game (see below).

Pacing. This was also an issue in the cinematics (see below) but it felt that everything dragged just a little bit. Some levels felt like they took a bit of time before they really got going. I liked the level unlocking animations, but they drew out the amount of time that you weren't really playing. The apartment decorating sections (the required ones) felt unnecessary and drawn out (example: the one where you decorate an apartment so that the building owner can sell it). I think a fair amount of this can be chalked up to the fact that this game was targeted towards younger audiences - but usually Nintendo does a good job of making games pretty universal, so I don't know if that's it.

Cinematics. I find that this is true about most games which are translated from Japanese into English, but the narration in the cinematics feel like it takes FOREVER. This may be intentional to create that old-time storybook feel... but I found the cinematics to be excruciating.

Brutality. I'm not a huge fan of violence in any games, so you'd think Kirby would be right up my alley - but since the characters are all made of yarn, when you kill them they are seemingly ripped to shreds. Like, yarn floats off into space as though they were never alive... for some reason I found this sort of disturbing.

Minions. I don't know if I would have noticed if I hadn't read the Kotaku article pointing it out, but there is seemingly no reason to attack most of the bad guys in the game - they don't damage you. They knock down your gems if they're holding weapons, but if they're not, they're pretty much just collision. They also fall down pathetically when you come close to them, which makes it even more tragic to kill them. When I was UFO Kirby I'm pretty sure they were actually cowering as I flew overhead, which made me feel even worse when I realized I had to suck some up in order to build up a charge. Tragic.

Boss Fight. I've only done the one boss fight, but it seemed completely disconnected from the rest of the game. I don't even understand why I was fighting a boss... Also it was extremely easy, and a bit tedious.

Easy. There's not very much in the way of challenge in this game. I actually don't think there's anything wrong with easy games - but I think in order for an easy game to be successful it needs a little more going for it in terms of story, or uncovering new, fun game mechanics. This just felt lacking.

Apartment? I'm not really sure if I'd say it's a negative - just that it was something that didn't seem to fit with the rest of the game.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Meh. I don't feel that the overall experience has been compelling enough to keep my interest. Maybe if the story were more interesting, or if the gameplay was just a little more fun... but just the visuals aren't enough to keep me on board.