Saturday, March 24, 2012

Limbo (PC - OnLive)

Time Played: 30min (OnLive Demo)

What Happened:
Hahaha, I don't even know WHAT just happened. I've known about Limbo for the last year or so, and was always sort of vaguely on my "I'll play this at some point" list. Today I went to OnLive to see if I could play any of the IGF games still, and I saw that I could play this for free and thought it was as good a time as any. So yeah, Limbo is clearly known for its macabre, creepy imagery - so I was expecting something creepy. In fact, I had put it off largely because I wasn't really sure what to expect and I thought it might even be a little scary (note: I'm the biggest wuss on the planet).

So, here I am in this quiet, creepy world that exists just to kill me. At the very beginning, I was trying really hard not to die, since I didn't know what would happen and it seemed scary - but then I walked into my first bear trap (I was trying to move it and I'm very clumsy with a keyboard). The death definitely made me jump (because it's startling when a bear trap slams shut on you), but I also didn't care because I found out there is no real consequence to death in Limbo.

Soon, eveything about Limbo just seemed really weird. I was just watching brutal death after brutal death. It wasn't scary or tense, it was just sort of gross. Is that what this game is about? I managed to die every single time there was an obstacle because I'm so terrible at games (also in my defense, I think most of the deaths are supposed to be unavoidable the first time?), but at some point because I wasn't feeling particularly emotionally engaged, I started to find my own incompetence pretty amusing. I was already moving in this direction (amusement) when OnLive dramatically altered my experience and I got my first spectator (in the end I had 3). Now people could see how often I was dying, which was pretty embarrassing - and consequently made the experience a lot funnier. (I even got a cheer for my 3rd or 4th death on the same obstacle).

In short, what the heck is this game? Is it supposed to feel serious, tense, or hilarious? Or just.. gross? Also I learned that OnLive's spectator system can dramatically alter how a player experiences a game.  

What I Liked: 

Puzzles. Some of the puzzles were neat, and required a bit of thinking. I wish I hadn't seen someone already solve the first spider - it might have taken me longer to figure it out. I particularly liked it when I was required to climb up into the trees, since it was a change of pace.

Art. Yes, everyone talks about this game for the art, and it's because it's cool. :) Now as for the mood...

What I Didn't Like: 

Build Up. I think the build up at the very start of the game seemed a little too slow. The first puzzle could have happened a bit sooner. The main actions are familiar to all platformers, so I didn't really need a lot of time to get accustomed to them, or figure out what I could do.

Deaths. The animations themselves were so over the top that they just seemed comical. Again, perhaps this was the intention - and if it was, I'm not really into that sort of thing. 

Mood? As I said above, the mood was unclear to me. The art says one thing to me: this is serious and creepy - but I didn't feel any of that while I was playing (aside for maybe the first 1-2min). For me, it all comes down to the fact that your death means nothing (and the death animations being a little goofy). I just couldn't care about dying. Oh yeah, also there's a whole section where you hop around after being bound up by a spider... how is that anything besides hilarious? 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?: 
I think I'm done, thanks. :) It didn't really feel like anything 'special' to me - just a puzzle platformer with neat art. Maybe if I could see it later in the game when the puzzles are more challenging, I might be interested... but the weird mood makes me inclined to think that the direction on this game was a little wishy washy, and that it really wouldn't be worth my money or time to see what else was in store. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii)

Time Played: 20min

What Happened:

I love the original Rhythm Heaven on DS so I was pretty excited when I found out they were making a new one for the Wii. In particular, my friends were passing around a link to "The Wrestler" which was hilarious so I couldn't wait to see what other cool mini games were in the new version. (Note: there are a surprising number of fan versions of the wrestler on YouTube.)

The Wii version is pretty much the same as the DS version as far as I can tell so far. You start the game and get a brief introduction by some characters who give you a rhythm test (maybe later I'm supposed to take it again to see if I've improved?) and then you go straight to a menu which leads to the mini games. You unlock games one at a time in columns - four unique games, and then a "remix" which is a sequence made up of clips of each of the 4 games. The mini games themselves are, as implied by the title, all rhythm based. Each takes you through a (skippable) tutorial, and then you tap your way through a 2-3 min "song." There are four possible outcomes for each game: it will either tell you to retry, give you an embarrassing "ok..." (with sweat drops and everything), give you a medal, or give you a "perfect." You always at least need to get an ok before unlocking the next game.

What I Liked:

Simple Yet Challenging. I know, right? It even says that on the box... It's true though. I struggle quite a bit in trying to figure out exactly why I find these games fun, but I think it comes down to the fact that they're super simple to understand, but I still take quite a bit of practice to get a perfect. It's never "too easy" or "too hard," at least for me. (Also they are hilarious, see next.)

Humor & Charm. I love crazy over the top stuff (example: Beyblade). These mini games are ridiculous in the best possible way. Kick soccer balls away to not ruin the weasels date? Catch tiny peas on a fork which are being flicked at you at a high velocity from so far away you can't even see the person? Be a monkey that lives inside of a wrist watch and tells the time by high-fiving other monkeys? I <3 this sort of stuff.

The Little Things. I think a lot of lessons can be learned from this game in terms of great, clear, fun ways to give positive and negative feedback to the player. Positive feedback is wonderful, and negative feedback, while still making you feel your miss, is usually hilarious - so I'm usually laughing instead of getting frustrated. For example, in "Monkey Tambourine," (side note, out of the 8 games so far, there have been monkeys in 3 of them) there is a small monkey who plays a rhythm and you repeat it. If you're slightly off, he grits his teeth as though he's totally embarrassed for you. If you miss completely, a frog lands on his head for an empty beat. If you succeed, his eyes get wide, and a spray of flowers appears above his head. Goofy, simple things that make this game feel good.

What I Didn't Like:

Platform! So clearly it's a Nintendo game, but I can't think of any particular reason besides that that this is only on the Wii. (Yes, yes, I know how it works - I just mean conceptually.) For the majority of the game you only press the "A" button, and in a couple of games it's a combination of A and B. It's super simple and the graphics are all 2D, so I can't imagine it would be expensive to port. In particular, an iOS version could work really well.

Wiimote. Since it does only require A and B button pressing and it is on the Wii, I did notice that "A" really isn't that great for fast tapping. In the one game I've played so far the required speed, I found that I actually needed to turn the Wiimote sideways to succeed. I needed that pressure on the bottom of the controller that you can't really get from holding a Wiimote the standard way. It's a big, deep, chunky button, so I had some issues there.

Hand-Holding? It couldn't very well be a modern Japanese game without a bit of over-explanation, right? For the most part, the constant explanation hasn't bothered me. In general, things are cutely written so I don't mind - but every once In awhile, they 'reassure' me just a little too much, which rubs me the wrong way.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

I'm totally there. I fully intend to play through to see the rest of the mini-games. That's the fun in this game: seeing what wacky ideas they've come up with, so clearly I have to play to the end.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ico (PS3)

Time Played: 80min
What Happened:

So I really didn't play very many games before getting into the games industry - but Shadow of the Colossus was one that I played through during my 3 month span of joblessness before VV. Overall, I found the experience incredibly frustrating: I felt terrible for killing creatures that weren't doing anything other than minding their own business, it was hard to figure out how to kill them anyway, swimming in that game is the worst thing ever (falling off of the flying colossus into the water for the 8th time was the first time I ever said the "F-word" in front of my mom), and I know from experience that 'bringing someone back from the dead' is never a good goal. 

But! I stuck with it - because everyone told me to, and I wanted to know what was going to happen. Also, the world was really interesting. I remember it in much the same way that I remember Ocarina of Time, as a series of places - and when I found out about Ico, I thought I might be able to experience another interesting place. Oh yeah also I kept hearing everyone talk about how revolutionary it was, etc. :) I'd had it in mind to give it a try for the last 5 years or so, but finally it fell into my lap with the HD re-release. Suddenly I had no excuse not to try it!

I played it for 80min or so a couple of weeks ago (I've been slow about writing again...). In case anyone doesn't know for some reason (maybe you're games-ignorant like me), in Ico, you play as a young boy who has been locked in a castle (you find out at some point it's because he has horns) - you break out of your chains after some mysterious earth-rumbling and find this girl who doesn't speak your language, who is constantly under threat of being pulled into the ground by shadow-creatures. If she gets pulled in, it's game over. You need to figure out how to escape while keeping her at your side. There's stuff she can't do that you can: climbing ropes, fighting shadow creatures; and stuff she can do that you can't: opening magic doors. You can call her to you, grab her hand to guide her (<--- important bit), and pull her up onto ledges. 


What I Liked: 

Place: Like Shadow of the Colossus (which I played first), I really liked the world itself. In general, I've always loved that sense of 'forgotten places' - gigantic, grandiose, crumbling structures that were clearly intended for greatness. Couple that with the sheer size and complexity of this deserted structure, and your imagination can't help but run wild.  

Animation: Something else that was carried over to SOC later, every animation oozes character. Thinking about it, maybe it's only remarkable because these characters are 'unusual' leads for games, and it's rare to have a protagonist trudge around like a little boy... but whichever way, I really enjoy it. I think a good deal of emotion comes across in their gestures.

Show, Don't Tell. Along the same line of thought, this is a game that succeeds in conveying your major goals and basic controls without any real explanation or dialogue. I guess maybe there's some... but I don't really recall much of it from when I played 2 weeks ago. You get an idea of who you are, what you need to do, and you learn how to do it through trial and error. Your goals are simple and clear because you don't really have any other choices. You need to go forward because there is no where else to go. You need to keep Yorda safe, because it's game over without her (although I guess conceptually, I don't really get 'why' - but it's not important). 

Hand-Holding. Not in the way most game-writing means it! :) Yes, as every person who has ever talked about this game will tell you, something pretty magical happens when you grab Yorda's hand for the first time. In animation, they talk about the idea that if you can have characters physically interact with each other, they will instantly become more real to the viewer. To some extent, it's the idea of grounding them in physical reality; they have give when they touch something else, they are made of a solid material. But more than that, I think it's because physical interaction between 2 people is always emotionally charged - we don't generally touch without it meaning something in terms of relationships (showing trust, love, anger, etc).


What I Didn't Like: 

Some little things. In the 80min that I played, I definitely experienced a lot of little frustrations when trying to learn some of the smaller details of gameplay. There is some information that I simply wasn't picking up through trial and error.. and given my general lack of patience, they might have stopped me from playing had I not already been predisposed to give this game a fighting chance. For example, I knew that I could pull Yorda onto a ledge from when the bridge collapsed - but in the instance where I needed to do it to progress, the distance was so great I never thought to try it. The first time Yorda uses her magic to open a door, I tried to lead her towards it to do some magic, but nothing happened - so I spent the next 10min trying alternate solutions until consulting a walkthrough (my reaction: I TRIED THAT.) In short, it was just a lot of small details that weren't 'perfect,' so I got stuck a bunch.  

How Do I Feel About Continuing?: 

I intend to go back and play some more, but I'm not feeling particularly compelled to finish the game. I want to see more of the world, but I don't expect very much of an explanation about what's going on, or why Yorda's getting sucked into black holes, or why I was locked up for having horns. Maybe those things will get explained, but based on previous experiences with Japanese media, I assume they won't be. I guess so far my I've felt just a little too much frustration, as opposed to a sense of wonder or sense of satisfaction for figuring things out... but as I said before, I'm predisposed to give this game a little more of a fighting chance, so I will really try to give it more time.  

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Beat Sneak Bandit (iOS)

Time Played: 80min

What Happened:

I saw the teaser trailer for this game awhile back, and it caught my interest! I love music/rhythm games, and the art and presentation for this game are really fantastic. This game is $2.99 - but since it's up for an IGF, you can generally assume it's worth it. ...Also since when was $3 expensive for a cool game?! 

Gameplay is really fun! You can only move the bandit by tapping in time to the music. Tapping moves him forward only (so a true "single button input" game), although you do turn around when you contact a wall or guard. There are objects to avoid, such as searchlights, and guards will catch you if you are in their line of sight, and later a vacuum that moves towards you when you are on their level. Everything in the level moves to the beat, guards walking, horizontal and vertical doors opening and closing, searchlights turning on and off, etc. 

To beat a level, you only have to collect the clock with the flag on it, but you can also try to collect the 3 additional clocks that are in each level (as soon as I got the hang of the game, I found myself repeating every level until I had collected them all). If you collect the one with the flag, the level ends, so save it for last! The whole game is about figuring out what order to do things in, which for me meant tons of trial and error (which is cool since the game doesn't punish you in any way for making mistakes - you just start the level over). 

I played through the whole first section of levels, a couple of the bonus levels, and started the second section recently.

What I Liked: 

Gameplay! This game is very simple and quick to learn, but each level is still interesting and fun. Really it's all about the level design - each level still felt fresh to me, even though they are all constructed from a small number of pieces. 

Concept! The backstory is cute (all of the clocks have been stolen), you have a best friend that's a frog, and both your friend and the main baddie call you up with tips when you're in the level. Because everything is moving to the beat, and the house was constructed by a clock-obsessed man, the fact that you can only move to the beat makes sense for the world. 

Music! Since you require the beat to move, it's very helpful that the music is something that you want to listen to. Although it's very simple, it is upbeat and engaging. Also, since the music correlates with what's happening in the level, no 2 levels sound the same. 

Presentation! Everything is just presented so nicely. The title screen is simple, but catches your interest. The level select screen is visually cool, and even the Game Center icon has been stylized to fit with the game. It is a cohesive whole, and no detail has been overlooked.  

Art! You can see it for yourself! :) The art is fun, and different from mainstream game visuals. There's a surprising amount of detail in the art and animation of the backgrounds, which is great to look at, but also helps you play by reinforcing the beat. 

What I Didn't Like:

Sometimes I accidentally hit the button for playing the level again instead of moving to the next level. The 'next' button should be bigger and more to the right. 

Oh, also, when you get called on the phone, there's a sort of disc-scratch sound effect that plays while the dialogue appears. This can get a little annoying - it's just a bit too fast, so it's a little grating.

That's all! 2 tiny complaints. :) 

How Do I Feel About Continuing?: 

It's really fun and I'll probably pick it back up again. That being said, I feel like I've pretty much gotten the gist of what is has to offer, so when faced with the choice of playing it more, or trying something new, I've usually been playing something new. I totally feel as though I've gotten the value for my money, and this is a really cool game. Probably if I play a string of bad games, I will come back to this one to cheer me back up. :) 

Spy Mouse (iOS)

Time Played: 20min

What Happened:

I actually started this writeup back on Feb 15, so hopefully I can remember everything I was going to say. I didn't play it for very long, but I have my initial impressions to report. I picked up Spy Mouse since I've seen the name floating around for awhile, and it seems to have been doing very well in the app store. At the moment I can't remember if it was free or 99 cents... 

In the game, you draw a path on screen for the mouse to follow. Your goal is simple, collect the cheese and get to the exit, while staying out of the line of sight of cats. As I recall, the cats move in short bursts, so even if you are spotted, it's sometimes possible to outrun them anyway. I made it to the first boss fight (some images are below), where you lead a Robotnik-cat to an oil slick. He also moves in short bursts, so it's mostly a game of timing when you enter/exit mouse holes so that you don't get caught, but also so that he still sees you and continues charging. 

What I Liked:

Presentation. Overall there are a lot of little nice touches that makes this a well put-together game. The title screen looks like some love was put into it, the graphics are fun and good-looking, and the title screen/intro is very cute and adds personality. 

Concept. The idea of a casual stealth game is cool, and cats and mice are something that everyone can relate to. It's also fun that the cats seem to be chasing you out of love (or maybe it's just because I picked this up around Valentine's Day??). They found a good way to give this style of gameplay mass appeal. 

Boss Level. Right before you face Robotnik-cat, you find his 'hideout' (I guess?) by following a cat down a sewer tunnel. You collect things along the way, keeping out of her sight. It's very easy, but I thought this idea was really funny, and I enjoyed it - even though it was so easy, it sort of made me feel like a badass. ;) 

What I Didn't Like:

Boring. I know I only played 20min, and I keep pointing out the mass appeal of this game, so it totally makes sense to me that this game was so easy... but in the end I definitely found it boring, and I'm not particularly interested in giving it a 2nd chance. I think the only point where I really felt like I was having fun was when I was following that cat down the hallway - other than that, I just wasn't feeling it.

How Do I Feel About Continuing:

No thanks. Like I said, despite the visual polish and cute concepts in this game, I just never really felt the fun in any of it. It felt like I was simply completing a task, without being particularly challenged or interested.