After reading Jim Sterling's review of Deadpool and watching Rev3's video review, I've noticed a trend that I assume would continue if I keep reading more reviews. "The action won't blow anyone away, but it gets the job done." What does that even mean? Videogames are supposed to be entertainment, right? When I hear "gets the job done" all I can assume is that "it isn't broke, but it's also pretty boring." Being mechanically stable shouldn't be good quality. It shouldn't even be a quality. If the first thought that comes to mind when playing a game to review is "It isn't broken." that's a good sign that you've lowered your standards to a degree I hope I'll never achieve.
What amazes me even more is that Deadpool got a seven out of ten from Jim Sterling. Come on, man. You've played Ninja Gaiden. You've played Devil May Cry. You know what a good hack and slash feels like, and plays like. The designers of Deadpool clearly weren't trying too hard. They went for the passing grade and we all know it. And yeah, a seventy percent is the passing grade, but Destructoid doesn't think of five out of ten games as "failures" so clearly something needs changing.†
Do Not however assume that I want the score changed. That's what entitled idiots want. Besides, nobody cared about this game anyway.
What I do want is for videogame critics to stop rewarding mediocrity and thinking that being stable is good enough for a seven. Jim, if you bought an Alien toy with one finger broken off, would you think "Well, it's mostly here. I guess a four out of ten would be a good rating." ?(lets pretend you review toys) I don't think you would. I think you would feel pretty appalled that someone would charge full price for a broken product. Shouldn't we feel the same way with games? There is no reason that Deadpool couldn't play like Devil May Cry. They just didn't care. They didn't want to make a good game, just a game.
(By the way, for anyone planning on telling me that "It's about the writing, man!" I haven't seen a ton of this game, but from what I've seen and heard, the writing isn't good enough to bump a score up two points.)
WayForward is a giant, sugary, hot mess of flamboyantly colorful cartoons with half of their mascots looking like they should be on cereal boxes. I imagine the creative minds behind most of their games lying on their tummy tums, next to their race car beds, with a crayon in one hand and a Power Ranger figure in the other. Itís obvious that the men and women of WayForward, want to make games that they, themselves would have wanted when they were ten years old. Their childlike giddiness is the most contagious, psychological illnesses this world has ever, and hopefully will ever know.
Their most notable, and most critically acclaimed attraction in their rainbow marshmallow theme park is Mighty Switch Force, released on the 3DS eshop. In this game, you play as a policewoman, who must use the power of poorly implemented game mechanics to put adorable, blonde haired crooks behind bars. The story is as much as you could (or should) hope from a WayForward game. Itís a cute plot for a cute game.
The poorly implemented game mechanic mentioned in the last paragraph is the ability to switch blocks from hollow to solid and vice versa. This mechanic is conceptually perfect. Itís vague enough for a level designer to have a field day of fun, inventive ideas with it. Itís so perfect it makes me jealous that I didnít think of it first. Thank God, Satan, and everything in between that this game doesnít have a level editor, for if it did, any and all goals I hope to to achieve would be immediately forgotten because that's all I would ever do.
The goal of each level is to find and ďcollectĒ five women who have escaped from prison. Doing so requires you to solve brain numbingly simple, mini-puzzles. These puzzles are tied loosely together by wide open rooms, with a tracking device on the bottom screen pointing you in the right direction. Roughly eighty percent of said puzzles consist of leading a bomb enemy to a breakable block and then shooting the enemy, which then explodes and destroys the block. Sometimes there are cannons which you can shoot them out of, to add variety to the levels. This variety is entirely superficial, however. Itís the same puzzle done in a slightly different way each time. Since Itís obvious what you have to do, it shouldnít even be called a puzzle, itís just a thing that you do.
There are times, during these ďpuzzles,Ē where you stand in one spot, just waiting for the enemy to walk to where you want it to, and then pressing the switch button. Itís unclear to me at times why this game is even a sidescroller when they could have just remade most of these segments for the iphone by removing the character and having you tap the screen for switching the blocks. It would have complemented the puzzle designs a lot better and would have made the game a lot faster. Imagine, if you would, Cut the Rope, remade for home consoles, in which you have you manually control a character, and have it walk up a flight of stairs to cut the rope. The candy would then fall onto another rope at the bottom of the stairs, which you would have to walk down again, cut the rope, and have the candy fall into the dragons mouth. Was that boring to read? I hope so! Now you understand whatís wrong with these puzzles.
The other, entirely different, puzzle in this game is leading a giant turtle enemy into a trap, which opens a door. If this sounds exactly like the bomb puzzle mentioned in the last paragraph, thatís because it is. The only difference is that instead of destroying a block, youíre killing a big blue turtle. This superficial variation between puzzles is meant to make you feel like youíre doing more than you really are. It might as well be considered a form of psychological manipulation.
The repetitive nature of the game makes it feel like one big tutorial level. A tutorial is meant to let the player understand and get accustomed to the game mechanics before they are required to use these mechanics in interesting, difficult levels. That is what the majority of the game was like. I will admit that this game did eventually pick up and use these mechanics to create some fast paced, exciting levels. This didnít happen, however, until level twelve out of twenty one. That means that over half the game is used for tutorial levels. They were easily some of the best tutorials in any game I've ever played. They were so good, in fact, that it almost felt like I was playing a real game a couple of times.
After the forty five minute tutorial, the game decides to do a complete one eighty and starts focusing its levels on quick, moment by moment level design. Itís fun, exciting, and organic. These levels require a skill in both platforming and the switch ability, which was exactly what I was hoping for, from the second I started the game. Itís a mystery to me why it took so long for the game to get good. Forty five minutes might not sound like a long time, but on a game that takes about an hour and a half to beat, it becomes a long forty five minutes.
Then, after finally seeing what could be done with the switch mechanic, the next level starts off with a stack of breakable blocks that requires, not one, but several bombs to destroy. Itís as if the game finally worked up the courage to go swimming, dipped itís foot in the water, and then got scared and ran back to play with its one and only toy. This segment actually made me a little bit sad. I sort of wish that I had stopped playing after the twelfth level (the good one) so that Iíd at least be left with a positive, upbeat, hope that the rest of the levels were as good. I played them. They werenít.
Of course, the gameplay wasnít exactly my soul reason for buying the game. While the gameplay in WayForward games are okay, the cartoony style is what makes me want to play them. Mighty Switch Force doesnít really do this very well either. Even though it is a very bright, colorful game, the art direction lacks character and just looks very unenthusiastic. When I look at this game, all I think of is ďwell, thatís a game.Ē
Was that the only level I liked in the game? Of course not. The majority of the game, however, is bland, repetitive, forgettable garbage. After beating the game for the first time and unlocking the gun which, essentially solves the puzzles for you, and the levels are stripped down to their core, the feeling of emptiness makes me sick to my stomach. The best word to describe this game is "empty." The game is just empty.
Mighty Switch Force is one of the saddest games I've ever played. That is to say it makes me sad to play it. All motivation to experience, create, or learn anything is lost when I play this game. Whatís so upsetting is the obvious care and hard work that was put into this game. They were really, really trying, and it shows. Unfortunately, the lack of excitement ruins any good aspects about it. Everything is so smooth, with nothing being entirely wrong, but nothing being very good either.
Mighty Switch Force is as about as fun as drinking vitamin water through a wooden straw.
Game feel is, undoubtedly, the most important element of game design. It creates the general framework for the type of experience that the game is trying to present and is almost entirely visceral, making it the most difficult element to accomplish as well. Game feel is, however, nothing without game design that compliments it. You wouldn't want a pretentious, artsy game on Psn to feel like a Gears of War game, and vice versa.
If thereís one thing that Muramasa: the Demon Blade does incredibly well, that is game feel. Every swing of your sword replicates the feeling of being an elegant, yet deadly, samurai perfectly. This is due to the elegant and intuitive controls, which make translating your thoughts to the game second nature after five minutes of play time. Itís easy to understand how this was accomplished, since the entire combat system is played with just one button and the analogue stick. Theoretically, it could be played on an Atari 2600 controller. However, like I said earlier, game feel is nothing without complementary game design to go along with it.
The difficulty in designing a game such as this is making every attack meaningful. In the heat of battle, you should constantly be thinking about every move you make, for any slip could mean the end. That isn't to say that any wrong move should end in death, but the attack that I use should have a noticeable effect on how a fight plays out. If you canít tell by watching somebody play a game, whether heís been playing it for ten hours or ten minutes, your game needs some tweaking. This is a common problem in Muramasa: the Demon Blade. Some attacks have a slightly longer reach, while others might do slightly more damage, but in the end, theyíre all the same.
Some might argue that most fighting games are like this. Every attack in a good fighting game is ever so slightly different from one another, and in every situation, there is an attack that is best suited for it. The faster you can think of said attack, the better you are at the game, which is how it is in Muramasa, meaning that you can get better at the game after a while. (youíd hardly notice by watching someone) The difference, however, is that in fighting games, there is a reason to get better, which is being able to play more fun and exciting matches with more sad, pathetic people.
There are, however, no sad, pathetic people to play against in Muramasa: the Demon Blade, only soulless enemies that are only as complex as the game allows. (which isn't very) Because of this, thereís nothing to encourage you to experiment with the depth of Muramasaís battle system. Itís like if Street Fighter had no versus mode, and all you had was the tournament. Youíd get only as good as the tournament required, finish it, and then forget that the game ever existed, only an hour later.
I will give the designers credit for at least trying to add an extra layer of difficulty by having your swords break. By using your sword to deflect projectiles, you avoid getting hit, but you also wear down your sword over time and eventually break it. After about forty five seconds, the sword will be back to normal. Until then, you have to use one of your other three swords that you carry with you. Admittedly, this is actually a very cool idea.
Iím going to assume that youíre smart enough to figure out that the word ďtryingĒ is italic for a reason, and just explain whatís wrong with this mechanic. Like I said, in the last paragraph, it takes about forty five seconds for your sword to become usable again after it breaks, and you hold three, usable swords at all times. Since itís almost impossible to break a sword in under ten seconds, and every enemy on screen falls over for three seconds after you change your sword, the longest you will ever remain without any usable swords is, roughly, five seconds. That is, of course, if you break every sword as quickly as physically possible.
Fortunately, the poorly executed and forgettable combat is only half of the game. The rest of the game consists of walking from left to right on a giant anime wall scroll that tries too hard to replicate Metroid, and reading the hammy, and sometimes even grammatically incorrect, excuse for dialogue. This is because fighting is divided into sections, that happen about every other ďroom.Ē Once every fifteen, or so, empty rooms, youíll come across a village, which is littered with mindless npcs that you can talk to. They might read you a poem, tell you about their personal life, or, if youíre playing as the girl, awkwardly hit on you. Itís like all the special kids got to go on a field trip.
The mindless npcs aren't the only source of poorly written dialogue though, because this game has a plot: a forgettable, shoehorned in plot, with lines such as ďI wonder where am I.Ē When the story isnít crashing a semi into the English language, its telling a story that Einstein couldn't even understand. This is because it constantly uses terms and refers to people, without giving you a clue what they mean or who they are. This literary garbage is accompanied by Japanese voice acting that, if you donít speak the language, is just a collection of noise.
Fortunately, a sea of mediocrity is still home to a couple of pearls. This gameís pearl is itís art direction. Every screen of the game is filled with several layers of beautiful foreground and background elements that give the game a sense of depth, despite being entirely two dimensional. Many of the background elements like to play with perspective in fun and interesting ways. Some levels roll, as if you were traversing through the center of a very small planet, while others have the background move, like it was being viewed through the bottom of a glass of water. Because most of the game is very down to Earth, these surreal moments are even more stunning, by comparison.
Unfortunately, the poetic visuals present a new problem. Because the game is restricted to only two dimensions, it can be difficult, at times, to know when the visuals end and the level begins. You might try to jump on a branch, that turns out to be a background element, or you might jump around on the bottom of a horizontal section, looking for the one rock that you can stand on. These problems are very rare, but when they do turn up, any immersion that you might have built up will be gone. It creates a sense of distance from the character you play as, and the environments that your character is in.
The confusing visuals aren't the only thing that gave me that sense of distance, however. It also came after noticing that you never interact with the environments at all. Because of this, you donít always feel like you belong in these environment. Youíre not part of the painting, but a refrigerator magnet, holding it up. This was especially apparent after realizing that, no matter where the light is coming from, your characterís shadow always stays directly below him/her. I know, itís a petty complaint, but Iím a petty person, and this is a petty game, so it fits.
The visuals are obviously an important part of what makes this game what it is, and the designers knew it. This is why the game is structured similarly to a Metroid game, with many branching paths, made entirely of linking rooms. Many of these rooms donít have any enemies or items in them, and only exist to look pretty. The game flaunts itís sexy art direction like a slutty high school girl, and thereís nothing wrong with that.
What is wrong, however, is using the classic Metroid structure, without understanding what makes it good. Metroid was designed that way to encourage exploration, and the feeling of mystery. Anyone whoís ever played a Metroid game knows that they tend to be a lot bigger than they look at first glance. This is because it was designed to feel like it could go on forever, and have an infinite number of items in it. Muramasa, doesn't do any of this. It always tells you how many exits a room has and if it has an item in it or not. By telling the player that there is an item in a room, you ruin the feeling of discovery that obtained by letting them figure it out on their own. Instead, finding the item feels more like a chore. Something that you do as quickly as possible, so you can mark it off of your imaginary checklist.
Overall, there was nothing terrible about Muramasa: the Demon Blade. Well, except for the writing, but you can skip about ninety percent of it, so I like to pretend it doesn't exist. Everything else, however, is alright, with some mistakes here and there. Whatís so upsetting about it, is how good it could have been. With a little bit of polish, it could have been a great action game, with a story that wasn't written and translated by Homer Simpson.
Muramasa: the Demon Blade is the worst parts of your favorite anime.