Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Space Channel 5 (PS2)

Time Played: 1 hour

What Happened:

I've been visiting a couple of local used games stores lately, which sell a lot of older games. It's cool because there really are a ton of games that I missed, and now I get the opportunity to check them out. For example, I got my hands on the PS2 port of this game for about $4, and I'd always wanted to try it.

Basically it's a call and answer music/rhythm game. You get a sequence of inputs to a rhythm and you repeat them back. This one follows a space reporter (who rescues people and carries a laser gun) and focuses on dance. In each level, there is a situation where people are being held hostage by aliens, and you go through a series of sequences where you dance and shoot to save them. Each level seems to feature some sort of rival entertainer (another reporter, a pirate radio personality) that you dance off against, as well as a giant monster boss which requires you to alternate between your 'shooting things' and 'saving things' buttons.

What I Liked:

Over the Top! I'm a big fan of games that celebrate the fact that they are games by being wacky and over the top. The entire premise for this show is ridiculous, and I love it. Is she a reporter, or a crime fighting vigilante? What in the world does dancing have to do with beating aliens? Why do the rescued hostages feel compelled to dance along behind her once you've saved them? How can she walk in those shoes? Who cares? It's super fun.

Dance Choreography. It's primarily a dancing game, and I think the dancing is really well done. It too, is over the top - particularly her 'good' or 'bad' walk from sequence to sequence (in fact, the walk is so funny when you do fail that I don't feel all that bad about doing poorly). Despite some minor foot sliding (and a weird bug where Ulala lost contact with the ground for a whole sequence) the animation looks great.

Structure. I think there is a good mix of types of sequences - there are sections where enemies/hostages pop up and you have to aim & shoot at them to a rhythm, sections that are purely dance, and sections that are purely shooting. The shooting sections are particularly cool, since you get a different dramatic camera shot for each hit. I think the game has a nice mix, so you don't quite feel like you're always doing the same thing, even though you really only have 6 different actions.

Characters. All that same stuff about being over the top can be said about the characters. They're all totally crazy looking and seem to show up for no reason. It's pure joy.

Gameplay! I dunno, music/rhythm is fun! I like when there's a particularly challenging rhythm to repeat and I nail it.

What I Didn't Like:

Timing. This game is totally unforgiving in terms of your input window. I noticed this when I picked up Parappa again maybe 2-3 years ago: there are a lot of time where you could swear you were doing it correctly, but getting negative feedback. This could also just be a product of the game being an older title.

Repetitive? I didn't get sick of it yet, but I also get the feeling I've seen all this game really has to offer in terms of gameplay. Maybe that's just fine though. :) I'll have to play it some more and see if I feel like it gets old - because I hadn't really felt that yet.

Failing. Failing sucks because you have to replay the entire level. I only failed once, but I think if I had failed twice I probably would have quit playing. I think the joy in this game is seeing what's coming up next, so repeating a section lost a lot of the magic.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Overall I think it was fun and I want to check it out some more!

Bit.Trip Series (WiiWare)

I had demoed Bit.Trip Runner at GDC this year and really enjoyed it. It was actually one of the few games where I didn't feel self conscious just picking it up and playing it (more on that below), and so I've been following news about the games. I read at IndieGames.com that there were free demos up for some of the games, so I thought it was a good opportunity to check more of them out. There are more games in the Bit.Trip series, but I only had the opportunity to play Core, Void and Runner.

Bit.Trip Core (2nd in series)
Time Played: ~5min

I'll start with Core since I liked it the least. Honestly, I'm not really sure if I actually figured out what I was supposed to be doing. You control a dark circle, which you can move around the screen as you wish, and white and black dots appear in from the side of the screen (I think they appear to the beat). You can absorb them by moving on top of them. I figured out through sound that absorbing dark spots was good (it made me bigger), and absorbing white was bad (it made a bad sound, and instantly made me small).

This game seemed to have the least to do with the music, and I didn't enjoy the music itself as much. There are points where absorbing a white spot is unavoidable...which I guess is just a standard part of progression (like, you finished this section), but I didn't get a lot of positive feedback, so I never really knew if I was doing it correctly.

Bit.Trip Void (3rd in series)
Time Played: ~10min

This game has a lot of similarity to something like Guitar Hero - there is a plus in the center of the screen, and you hold down a direction on the D pad and tap a button to 'strum' it. This causes a solid line to shoot out from that direction, which catches the pixels which are flying around the screen. As all the other games, this is a music game - you are catching the pixels to the ryhthm of the music.

I think I would have enjoyed Void a lot more if I had found the music to be more compelling. Also, it took me a little bit of time to figure out what to do. But yeah, mainly the music is what would have made this a great game.. as is usually the case with music/rhythm.

Bit.Trip Runner (4th in series)
Time Played 20-30min

Runner is definitely my favorite of the three games - it's also the most polished, and most recent of the 3. Your character runs automatically across a level which scrolls from right to left. You have 3 basic mechanics: jump, slide and kick, and you simply react to what is coming. To time your moves correctly, they all must be triggered in time with the music (funny: I was totally working on a Bollywood game which was the same idea. If I had finished it, it would have been a clone without my even realizing.)

You collect white orbs which bring the game 'to the next level' - the music kicks in another level, and your character eventually grows a rainbow trail. I did well in the first few levels, so it wasn't until the 4th or so that I figured out the game loops until you successfully collect enough of these orbs in succession (so, your goal is actually to reach a certain power level, as opposed to just surviving a linear level). If you hit a hazard, you jump backwards in the level, and your power level is back to one.

I really enjoy this game for a lot of reasons. Primarily, the music makes this game. It starts off pleasant enough, but when you reach the 3rd power level it really kicks in, and it sounds awesome and you feel like a badass. The visuals are simple and very neat. When I looked for images for this writeup I was excited to see that there are other themes to levels than what I saw in the first couple. The timing is unforgiving - you have a very narrow margin of error - but I think that it's just at that sweet spot between being challenging and fun.

As I mentioned above, this is a game that I felt very comfortable picking up and playing - it's extremely easy to figure out what to do. I think it is inviting - I'm not 100% sure if I could convince my mom to try it... but I was happy because I was not intimidated at all. (That being said, players that are rhythmically challenged might feel the exact opposite). The mechanics were introduced individually, one level at a time (although that made the ramp in difficulty seem a little off in the very beginning - the 3rd level was a lot easier than the 2nd level -- but I don't think it matters too much since the point was really just that you got the mechanic.)

This game actually has been calling to me since I played it on Sunday. :) I really want to pick it up again, simply because the mechanics are so fun. (I think the pull for me might be similar to Geometry Wars - which I also need to write about at some point).

***UPDATE** SO I just bought the full version of Bit.Trip Runner and I was completely wrong about progression. :) Apparently all you actually have to do is survive the level to progress to the next one. The gold and levels are all just bonuses. If you make a mistake, you get teleported back to the beginning of the level. After 45min of playing, I'm thinking the penalty is too high, and gets extremely frustrating during longer levels. I think I'll still keep playing it though.

I'm curious to play Fate & Flux, which came after Runner.