I'm a gamer from the 90s who was raised on games with cute characters in them, both the genuine, heart-warming kind and the cynically designed ones.
But despite me mostly being a Nintendo fanboy it was probably the holy trinity Final fantasy VII, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil that truly got me into gaming.
Now I play anything as I'm open to anything.
Favourite game of all time? probably a toss up between Mass Effect 2, Persona 4, Metroid Prime, Killer7 or Resident Evil 4.
You canít help but think of the perceived value of games while playing a platformer. While Donkey Kong Country Returns didnít suffer so much when it came to sales the genre is often relegated down to something that isnít worth anyoneís time unless itís half the price as most other retail games, if internet chatter is anything to go by.
Playing DKCR has made me have a look at the gameplay that a platformer has that has given it this reputation as nothing but a budget genre.
First off Iíll give some impressions of DKCR. One of the most important elements that make up a great platform game is level design and Retro Studios really did something special in that area. Levels take Donkey Kongís abilities and expect you to use them to extreme measures to complete a level, especially in the latter sections of the game where you think it canít get any harder yet it thinks up more devious obstacles for you to try and conquer. The hidden bonus levels also require perfect traversal that will mostly have you shouting at the TV. But even on easier levels hidden collectables are craftily hidden. Scouring the environments can be tricky in itself.
The other element that makes a great platform game is character control. I donít find it immensely satisfying it DKCR if Iím honest. I understand you play as a large Ape but that weighty, clunky-ness made it more frustrating than it needed to be sometimes. Maybe after playing the likes of Ms. ĎSplosion Man, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Meat Boy I became accustomed to tighter character control, so DKCRís heavier and less accurate movements were an occasional annoyance.
I also felt the higher bounce off the heads of enemies required an odd timing which Iím nolt sure I ever comfortably got the hang of and caused some deaths where that mechanic was needed to get past certain sections of the game.
I only have one final thing to say before I move on to the gameís, and genre as a wholeís value and itís that Donkey Kong Country Returns doesnít have that Nintendo magic which I believe that new Super Mario Bros. Wii does have. That probably means nothing to anyone who isnít a fan of Nintendoís work, it may even mean nothing to someone who is, but itís a hard thing to articulate. It just lacks that joy that seems to resonate through the screen that most first party Nintendo games; perhaps it lacks something in the animation, art design or whatever, some little quirk.
Itís not a big deal, as itís still a great game and one I think Iím being overly down on. Perhaps because the last Donkey Kong game I played was Jungle Beat and that game is such a great example of fun, quirky and excellent design. It also looked nicer in my opinion.
So we get to the point of discussion that is value, the worth of the platformer. This is purely coincidence but while I write this Iím listening to David Jaffe talk to Jim Sterling about how Rayman: Origins is one of his favourite games of 2011 yet he doesnít think itís worth $60 (among many other things). This attitude is confounding me quite a bit. Now Iíve not played Rayman yet, Iím a little behind, but I hope to. But from my understanding from others this game contains a decent amount of content; it terms of play time and secrets to unlock so why is Rayman as de-valued as Jaffeís own God of War?
I feel I should point out Iím not having a go at Jaffe, I happen to like him a lot but what he was saying recently ties to what I want to talk about here.
While playing DKCR and knowing I was going to write this blog I did try and think of why the platform genreís gameplay is worth less than most other genres. I donít want to compare them to say the FPS or any other shooter as they do tend to have a multiplayer portion to them that give them hundreds of hourís worth of gameplay, but I do want to compare them to a single player campaign in one of these games. I also want to look at the character action game.
By the end of the game, and reminiscing about other platformers I canít think of a reason to why this genre has little value. They are more challenging than the average game and often make you sit at the edge of youíre seat while you try and traverse one of many, many levels and also require complete mastery of controlling your character. Learning the arc of your jumps, dealing with inertia and how each enemy responds.
There is so much to think about, just as much as God of War or Bayonetta, just as much depth in design; just as much intensity as a shoot out in Call of Duty.
Maybe indie games have ruined it lately, what with making excellent downloadable platformers for £10/$15 or less: Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, Ms. ĎSplosion Man again and many others. And as great as all these games are, I adore each one; they are all based around just a few mechanics, but executed brilliantly. A full retail game, however, like NSMBW, has so much more content. And not just more levels, but more mechanics. Just think of the suits and power ups in all the Mario games that make each level a totally new experience. Super Mario Galaxy even manages to mix up the very same level to something new by altering some mechanics.
This just hasnít really been seen in the downloadable yet looking at them it seems like you can get the same experience from a full retail game. In a sense you can, but relegating the platformer to just small scale games doesnít do the genre the justice it deserves, or let it reach its potential.
So, to me, the platformer has just as much worth as other genres. But maybe the question we should be asking is Ďare the full retail games as a whole worth £40/$60?í
I just hate to see a certain genre singled out when other genres arenít as complex and worthy as people assume, as it seems to me at least.
Anyway, Donkey Kong Country Returns. While not the best platformer on the market itís still better, cleverer and more fun than anyone who hasnít played it thinks it is.