I'm currently looking for paid writing gigs, so if you might want anything written shoot me a message (craighats at hotmail dot com).
In case the contents of this blog don't make it obvious enough, I have something of an affinity for slightly "offbeat" titles, so if there's something out there that few others cover, there's a fair chance I'm at least somewhat up on it.
If there's any sort of (reasonable) inquiry you'd like me to address, please don't hesitate to be in touch.
Below are a handful of recaps and other links (oldest listed first by section), in case you're interested - asterisks mark promoted articles.
For a time I was in shameless, self-serving denial over this simple, stunningly obvious fact. I feebly resisted every guttural impulse I had, quaffed deeply the golden mead of the good, decent people - truly and honestly I considered myself one among their number. No more. I shout, full-throated for all to hear, that I am a heartless, soulless monstrosity who will never know love or compassion, to either give or receive it. I am an abomination, a freakish, abhorrent specimen of humanity (to use the term loosely). At least, however, it can be said that the curtain has finally been drawn, the lies and illusions at long last dispelled. I have, at the end of all things, come to terms with my true nature, painful as it is. In short:
I really don’t like LocoRoco very much.
Yes, you read right – I, one of the most outspoken advocates of “quirky” games on the site (and possibly the planet), has stated, unequivocally, that he just plain doesn’t think very highly of one of the erstwhile symbols of the very subset that he’s constantly harping about, ever louder, even as nobody in their right mind bothers to listen.
“…so what’s the big deal?” you’re likely asking. “All of us like certain types of games in general, but nobody is going to love every single title that falls under a particular perceived banner.” This is very true, and something that I’m very well aware of. You must understand, though, that this is my (very) personal version of the Black Sox scandal, Nixon’s resignation, Milli Vanilli’s lip-synching – a brazen, crippling affront to most everything I thought I believed in – nay, represented – in gaming. Perhaps even more to the point, this tragic revelation represents the burning of one of the few, feeble bridges that exist between myself and the rest of the gaming community.
LocoRoco, alongside Ico, Katamari Damacy and a handful of other such titles, is one of the relatively few games with a “niche” pedigree that has arguably found some degree of acceptance among the general gaming population – both the critics and the unwashed masses have been and still are nearly unanimous in their praise of it. Even in the few cases where the impression left is negative, most of the time the tone of the writer is best described as apologetic, lamenting any number of things which “prevent the game from reaching its full potential,” or some similar sentiment. If I could honestly count myself among even this not-so-vocal minority, I wouldn’t be writing this now.
But I don’t even regard the game THAT highly.
The few of you who have read some of my recent postings are likely scratching your heads at this point – “Just a few days ago,” you’re asking, “weren’t you saying how much you were looking forward toLocoRoco 2? Didn’t you even give it a mention in The Obscurer Tribune at some point?” No, your eyes do not fail you – that was indeed me. Moreover, I meant every word I said – or thought I did. I had, after all, played through the first LocoRoco a little ways back, decided that it was “my kind of game,” and once the sequel was announced (and getting the same kind of reception) I decided to fork out the meager twenty dollars (especially considering that, like its predecessor, it had rated a full-price release in Japan) to acquire it as well – I even reserved it in advance.
Then I played it.
I imagine that most people who have played LocoRoco 2 were markedly reminded of the first game, as it’s very similar to the original in most respects – my experience with it was no exception in this regard, but for some reason my thought process developed…differently than it normally would via such a nostalgic sequel. I couldn’t begin to guess exactly what it was that did it – I can only, in retrospect, liken it to the single crashing wave that finally causes the dam to burst – but one of my usually-active mental cylinders suddenly misfired, in nothing short of spectacular fashion. You see, the cheery, self-satisfied filter which my impressions of the first game had heretofore passed through, for whatever reason, was simply no longer functioning – almost every single memory of LocoRoco that its sequel brought to my mind was an unsanitized, befouled, unpleasant one. Thoroughly unpleasant.
Suddenly I could remember every last miserable detail, as clearly as I’d ever recalled anything; I experienced anew how painfully slowly the little buggers seemed to roll along in the absence of some device or other to shoot them along a (tediously long) pre-determined path. Relived how annoying it was to have to constantly redirect them whenever they started hopping off on their own after nothing in particular. How nine out of ten times I’d be unable to reclaim a stolen bit of myself from a roving Moja thanks to the irritating and inaccurate jumping mechanic…which is likely what had gotten me into trouble with said Moja in the first place. How “success” at the game beyond getting from point A to point B ended up being nothing more than rote trial and error – once you figured out (after the fact) that a particular path was one-way, and led you straight forward (and away from a bonus room or two), you’d make sure to take the other path first next time…if you remembered the layout, or could be bothered to repeat stages in the name of such a frustrating, cheap exercise in “replay value” in the first place (and don’t get me started on the unlockables).
There it stood, all of it, smack dab in front of me anew – and this time, I was able to see it for what it was – or, more accurately, how I would have perceived it already, had it been a “normal” game. All of the nagging doubts I’d stubbornly ignored on my trip through the first LocoRoco, hungry and frothing for redemption, were now screaming in unison at the top of their lungs – and this time I hung on their every word. The “simple and sweet” presentation began to rot before my eyes, to come off more as “sugary yet bland,” and “artsy for the sake of being artsy” – the “relaxing” lack of challenge could no longer pass before my corrupted eyes as anything other than a feeble means to disguise how inadequate the clumsy (sorry, “innovative”) controls would be for anything remotely taxing. Even what could have easily been marked as “improvements” over the original rubbed me the wrong way – the swimming sections were fine, and controlled better than the rest of the game, but only served to remind me of how frustrated I was with the far-more-frequent exploits on land. The wider-ranging level layouts and minigame varieties, particularly the shmup section, should have been instant hits with me, but the shooter sideshow in particular ended up being one of my most hated encounters in the entire game, as it comprised nothing more than an endless loop of a single stage, which increased only marginally in challenge each round and could be played infinitely by anyone with a modicum of experience in the genre (I, no great shmupper by any means, ended up purposely killing myself seven or eight rounds in to make it end – to rub salt in the wound, my reward for that lengthy play was a single common item). This leads nicely into the MuiMui House, undeniably more interesting to tinker with than the Loco House from the first game – after awhile, though, I found myself wondering why I was spending so much time watching AI characters race each other in hopes of winning an item for the house based on a lucky bet. Suddenly it hit me – “Good God,” I thought. “I’m grinding. Not only that, I’m freakin’ Patapon Grinding – I’m going through that same stupid level or that same stupid minigame again and again in hopes of getting that one lousy stone or leaf I need to build the next room. It’s the hunting grounds and that blasted singing tree, all over again.”
At least some of what I’m criticizing here might sound relatively nitpicky (or just plain cranky), and I don’t blame you for thinking that way – every gamer, after all, has titles that he’s willing to give the benefit of the doubt, warts and all. Heck, while we’re on the subject of grinding, allow me to once again invoke my oft-cited RPG favorite, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne – to have any hope of getting through that game you’ve unquestionably got to be willing to spend some idle time leveling, but since I enjoy the process of gaining access to new demons and techniques while it’s happening, I can easily disregard what is objectively a flaw - overrule it, as it were, in the name of other aspects of the game that I enjoy. I imagine that this is how many players experience LocoRoco – despite its many technical weaknesses, its fans can still enjoy it because it’s “a joyous experience,” or “oozes innocent, plucky charm,” or “gives you an irresistibly warm feeling inside.” To be perfectly clear, I have no problem with this at all – subjectivity in one’s judgment of a game is not only unavoidable to a certain extent, but keeps things interesting within the community. I’ve always enjoyed seeing how two people can make perfectly legitimate arguments both for and against the same title, and I would never want to see such behavior disappear. That said, whatever it is (Joy? Empathy? Human decency?) that allows people to enjoy LocoRoco for what it is (and isn’t), my inner gamer, for whatever reason, just plain never bought into it. And now, after my experience with the sequel, my outer gamer isn’t smiling and nodding either. I’m knowingly missing out on something that most of the rest of humanity (in the gaming sector, anyway) has latched onto with gusto, and honestly have little to no motivation to search further for it – it’s not healthy, it’s not rational, but, tragically enough, apparently it’s who I am.
Despite my tone so far, let it be known that I’m not claiming to have seen absolutely nothing of merit in LocoRoco or its sequel, or am attempting to put them in among the worst games ever made – far from it (if I’d considered them to be THAT bad, there’s no way I would have taken this long to put down these feelings…or bothered to buy the second one, for that matter). That said, I simply cannot deny what I felt on my second LocoRoco excursion – namely, abject disappointment in the game, as well as myself. After all, despite the multitudinous misgivings I had with both titles, I stuck with each of them through to the end credits (though I never even considered going back for any unobtained trinkets), grumbling all the way – in the end, however, these senseless masochistic exercises led me to perhaps the bitterest truth of all. At the conclusion of the ordeal, I came to realize why I was even playing these games at all – despite how many times I told myself otherwise, I obviously wasn’t doing it because I was having fun. I was playing LocoRoco because I perceived it as the sort of game that someone like me SHOULD be playing – in otherwords, the dumbest, laziest, most inexcusable reason to pick up a controller that mankind has ever devised. To put it even more painfully, it’s the sort of “motivation” that niche gamers like myself frequently, even unconsciously, attach to the “sheep” of the gaming mainstream, who we just know are only getting in line for the next Halo or Madden because their friends will make fun of them if they don’t play it. Except in my case I don’t even have any friends to impress – it’s hard to be more pathetic than that.
All being said and done, though, at least all grievances have been aired, and I’m starting to be a bit more honest with myself about just what kind of gamer I am. Well…mostly. I’m afraid I’m not out of the woods yet – while you may recall the complaints I made about LocoRoco’s sibling Patapon earlier in this writeup, the fact remains that I also named it a “runner-up” in my list of Top Games of Last Year. Moreover, Patapon 2 is approaching fast, and while I have fewer bad memories offhand of Pata than I do of Loco, it could very well be that the former’s “filter” simply hasn’t been shut down yet, and history could very well be on course to repeat itself. Will this new sequel affect me in the same malevolent manner as LocoRoco 2 did, or will enough improvements (superficial or otherwise) have been made to allow me a flighty foray into the embrace of guilt-free “benefit of the doubt” gaming once again? Moreover, after enduring the arduous ordeal that you’ve just read, will I even allow myself to take that sort of chance again, even if all I really have to lose is another measly 20 bucks?
After all, I can’t otherwise sink much lower on this front than I already have - I’ve openly hated the unhateable, resisted the most irresistible, completely abandoned any sense of decorum, and betrayed everything I once stood for. Moreover, and perhaps most gratingly of all, for all its infuriating faults, LocoRoco has done what no other game had been able to do – reveal my true nature as one to be most pitied and reviled amongst mankind. My heart is stone, my soul is empty, and my future (including, but not limited to, the Comments section of this post) is wrought with unbearable suffering – even so, if you can believe it, my only regret is that I didn’t give in to the dark side sooner.