I've been playing games since I was four years old, starting with a few levels of Super Mario World at my preschool. I soon acquired an N64, and have since enjoyed the GameCube, Playstation 2, GBA, Wii, Nintendo DS, PS3, iPhone, and the 3DS. I also have aspirations toward entering the games industry, by entering the Digipen Institute of Technology.
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Physic puzzles, the dominant force in games on the iOS market, and a genre I've remained enamored with. On a whim, I bought several iPhone games in the past week, and have been playing through each of them, including Contre Jour, a suprise-suprise, physics puzzler.
The design of Contre Jour is meant to be simplistic and evocative, with a monochromatic color scheme and limitedly mobile objects populating the game space. The name of the game: get an eyeball through a portal, and collect three sparkles per level on the way.
Before the comparison is made, I have to say that, despite reminding me of Cut the Rope, Contre Jour has an entirely different feeling associated to it. The graphics and gameplay are almost reminiscent of World of Goo, everything being somewhat elastic and sludgelike. But, still, they bear some similarities, and so the comparison can be made.
And at the end of the day, they both have strengths over each other.
Contre Jour enjoys a deliberatly darker style than Cut the Rope, meant to evoke a more chilled or at least mellowed feeling than its cartoon-esque counterpart. However, this leads to the issue of elements blending together, making it harder to immediately differentiate or recall that certain objects may not be as harmless as others at first glance.
Cut the Rope, on the other hand, holds a great advantage by using such vibrant visuals, as it allows for easier identification of game elements with a single glance. For instance, OmNom is surrounded by a small box or other object, usually radically different in tone or texture than the rest of the background, allowing the player to see him quickly and easily.
Even the candy, meant to fall into OmNom's gob, is a swirl of red and gold, and holds a sheen other objects and the background do not possess, drawing your eye when it appears on screen. Even the three stars per level rotate and shine, whereas the sparkles in Contre Jour... they're just there. The draw the eye by being the only thing besides the portal that has a color.
Though perhaps not the best choice to make the portal and the sparkles the same color.
Degree of Player Input
Cut the Rope is, in all seriousness, actually rather limited in terms of how much the player can do to the enviroment compared to Contre Jour. In Cut the Rope, your interactions can usually only be relegated to causing objects to react in very specific fashions: you cut a rope, the candy falls. You pop a bubble, whatever's in it stops rising. You press the Whoopie-cushion, there's a chance you can get the candy moving with some kind of momentum.
Contre Jour allows you to modify the landscape, platforms being somewhat malleable and movable. You can make ramps, inclined planes, curves, in the hopes that these shapes will allow for easier movement of your Eyeball.
Yet oddly enough, the limitations presented by Cut the Rope give the player much more in the way of choice. The objects interact very easily, and the ways you can move the candy is almost innumerable. Through one means or another, you can find a way to get the candy moving to any area of the screen. And this makes for a harder game. The solution isn't always obvious, but the range of the player's input helps to simplify the process.
Contre Jour's additional input more often than not gets in the way. An accidental brush of the thumb could make your previously stable platform into a ramp, leading downwards to a game over.
Less can sometimes be more, and in this case, Cut the Rope proves it.
GAME DESIGN LESSON TIME, KIDS!
If you're making a game that works on the idea that each set of levels becomes progressively more difficult, should it not follow that each level is individually more difficult than the last as well?
Just a thought.
Contre Jour is a fine game. Despite my grievances, its soundtrack and evocative art direction are enough to justify checking it out. I just prefer Cut the Rope, from a design perspective.
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Fighting games have never been my thing. Memorization and the execution of the physical movements required to waltz is something I have can have trouble with, and as such, keeping the knowledge of which sequence of arbitrary button presses will beat the opponent before they complete their sequence of arbitrary button presses in my brain long enough to use it is…
It's a bit akin to teaching a feral cat to enjoy a bath. It's possible, but the ensuing trial will almost definitely A) be a waste of time for all involved, and B) require several trips to the hospital afterwards.
On the other hand, the half brother of fighting games, the brawler, is something I've been able to get much more into, something easily speculated by my love of Double Dragon and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game. The structure is a bit looser in brawlers, and while combos can be a part of using more powerful moves, they rarely go past two or three button presses.
So naturally, I decided to play Code of Princess, the 3DS exclusive brawler. Now, somewhere along the grapevine, I heard this game was supposed to be a spiritual successor to Guardian Heroes. Further along the the grapevine revealed this was a Sega Saturn game, and further still showed it was considered very good.
Wikipedi- I mean, the grapevine thus exited, and my purchase secured, Code of Princess arrived to me at a rare spot of free time, and thinking that between Resident Evil: Revelations and Penny Arcade Adventures 3, I may be able to squeeze in my latest acquisition.
I only played Code of Princess over that weekend, and I only played it for about 7 hours, start to finish.
Code of Princess concerns itself with four primary characters, each of whom uses an RPG inspired fighting style. We have Solange de Luxia, wielder of Deluxcaliber, a sword about three feet taller than she is. In combat, she drags the sword behind her when running, and brings it up for powerful attacks, often flinging them into the air and wailing on them Devil May Cry-style.
In addition, we have Ali Baba, a thief who uses ninja techniques such as smoke bombs and quick strikes, Lady Zozo, a necromancer who fights with black magic, and Allegro, and elvish bard that fights with area affect music attacks. Each character is fully voiced, and often speak in a very self aware manner, sometimes even talking about common RPG tropes.
Ali Baba: "Look, it's nothing personal, it's just, you're a bard. And by the way, yeah, it is personal."
Each of the four characters feel distinct, and I enjoyed playing with each of them. The attacks are easily made, with the move list at the bottom of the screen if you need it. Along with this, during the game, you switch between three 2 dimensional planes of play, much like Little Big Planet. This allows you to sneak up on enemies, or even strafe around them, to get into a better position. Overall, the combat is fast, fluid, and most of all, fair. There will never be an attack you can't avoid or a move you made that has a one hundred percent chance of working. It's all in the skill you cultivate, and to defeat the final boss, you'll need that skill.
Speaking of, all the enemies are distinct and easy to recognize, and there is usually at least one enemy that only appears in your current area. The boss fights are particularly interesting, with each boss colorful and characterized enough for you to enjoy their company, but just evil enough you feel justified in destroying them. The first major boss you face, and overdramatic ninja master, was a highlight of the game for me, as he continues to make appearances, even after being defeated.
Finally, there's an absurd amount of extra content. Extra quests, co operative/competitive multiplayer, even unlockable characters as you fill certain requirements. One favorite of mine was Sister Hel, a mace wielding, sadistic battle nun, but literally every character in the game (except maybe the bosses) are available to play as, even NPCs and enemies.
There are only a few major complaints I can make. A) the level up system can be a bit grating, where even if you play with only one character, after awhile, you'll need to grind with them to proceed. Which isn't an issue, but when you have 50+ characters you can play with, it can be a bit stale to continue grinding and grinding away.
B) Even though there is a lot of extra content, much of it is similar. Nothing so difficult as a New Game Plus or a Second Quest is given, just hours of extra missions in locations you've been before. However, seeing as it is extra content, I can live with it not being too extravagant.
However, at the end of the day, Code of Princess is an excellent game. The minor issues don't distract from an overall painfully delightful experience. And it is painful.
I haven't swore that much at a game in a long time.
Before we go any further, I should make a note that I love Pokemon. I adore everything about the series, from the awfully written cartoon to the directors cut versions of the game they insist on releasing (though Black/White 2 may change that :)).
In fact, I adore it so much that I watch the movies with friends on Skype. On that note, I've been into the series since it came out back in 1995, and hope to FINALLY get Black/White soon, after playing with a friend's copy. So on that note, I'd like to make a little look back on the last three iterations, looking at what they did to shake it up each time, and which changes really made the big differences.
So, we start with Pokemon: Ruby version. This was the first game I PERSONALLY owned, though I had played and beaten previous versions that my cousins owned. Good times.
This was the first main iteration of the franchise to have double battles, as well as the first one to introduce individual abilities of each Pokemon, that granted advantages over types or improved certain move types. This added a greater sense of strategy to the game, and the addition of double battles, though not as well implemented as they would be in Emerald, were an interesting curio throughout the game.
Admittedly, I have a lot of nostalgia for this iteration. But beyond gameplay additions, there was something added that made the series SIGNIFICANTLY more interesting. The addition of Pokemon that would only appear in certain areas, directly portraying their environment. Ex: Torkoal, a volcano tortoise, only appearing in magma rich areas. Cacnea, barrel cactus, only appears in sandstorm heavy areas. Wailmer, appears most often off the shore of a city near the ocean. Corsola, ONLY APPEARS UNDERWATER, USING THE DIVE HM. I LOVED THIS ADDITION. Pokemon being designed around areas, rather than the vice versa.
Along with that, the Pokemon Contests were an interesting look at using Pokemon attacks and attributes for things OTHER than battles. The Safari Zone in this game offered the most diverse cast of Pokemon since the Red/Blue/Yellow. The legendaries were also pretty interesting, Latias and Latios being two of my favorite Pokemon. The Elite Four were also AWESOME, using Pokemon types not normally used. The champion specialized in STEEL types, of all things.
Emerald version added plenty of extra content, adding opening animations before battle (a feature present in the second generation, but curiously missing from Ruby/Sapphire), the ability to face previous gyms after beating the game, previous generations of Pokemon being added to the Hoenn regions areas, the BATTLE FRONTIER. It was amazing.
So yeah, I LOVED the third generation. All told, including Pokemon Coleseum (another game I loved) and Pokemon XD Gale of Darkness (a game I was pretty mellow about) I put about 600+ hours into that generation. As such, I was gearing up for generation 4, ready to see what interesting new features and ideas they'd put into this game, adding layers of intrigue.
Ok, maybe I was hoping for too much, but from what I remember, I was SEVERELY disinterested in Pokemon Diamond after I'd beaten it. There were a plethora of reasons, some bigger than others. I found the new Pokemon to be rather tacky additions in some cases, and most of the 'upgraded' features were often just taken from previous iterations and given a new coat of paint.
The Poke Tech was just a new version of the PokeNav, but a BILLION times more annoying because you have to use the touch screen to cycle through the features it offers. The Day/Night feature was expanded, but only affected MAYBE which Pokemon are around in the tall grass.
Along with that, the new Pokemon were less interesting, often covering old ground. There were some of note, the starters being particularly unusual, and Spiritomb and Drifloon being a creepily awesome idea. Otherwise though, I felt like they were a bit less carefully designed than before. Rather than whole areas containing certain Pokemon types, they were just scattered about. A particular design flaw was only 2 fire type Pokemon available in the game, one of them being the starter. End game content was more varied, but otherwise wasn't terribly interesting.
On the other hand, PLATINUM was what Diamond/Pearl should've been. Bigger ideas were added, the Distortion World being a particular favorite of mine. A Battle Frontier was added,
along with a HUGE emphasis on alternate forms for certain legendaries. Several previous 'big 3' legendary groups (First and Third generation) were added, and the Wi Fi features were greatly improved.
Still though, I was wary about Black and White, to the point where I didn't pick them up until I recently decided to purchase a copy. But with what time I had with it, I FELL IN LOVE. This was what new Pokemon generations should be all about. 150 new Pokemon. Emphasis on new battle systems (Triple AND Rotation this time around). Battle and Overworld were given a greater sense of cinematic design. The Musicals were more engaging than the Contests of previous iterations, and were faster paced and required more input from the player to win. And this time around, different versions spouted different AREAS for each. And out of all the Battle Towers I've seen, the BATTLE SUBWAY WAS THE BEST OF THEM ALL.
I'm looking forward to REALLY sinking my teeth into Black version soon, and may even pick up White Version 2. On that note, thank you for your time, I hope my rant will cause you to think about your own experiences with Pokemon.
Huh. So, yeah, e3 happened. And, probably more than any other previous year, there was a definite hype deficiency when it came to the the first parties, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. Admittedly, some were less disastrous in this respect in others, Nintendo taking home the gold on this one, unveiling of some seriously impressive WiiU software (I mean, seriously, we're actually getting Pikmin 3! PIK FRIK MIN 3! And as tech demo ish as ZombiU was, it showed some great potential for the Wii U as a console overall. Ooh, Ooh, and did you see The Last of Us trailer? Really cool stuff.
But yeah, there was definitely a lack of excitement for most of the supposedly biggest names in the industry. If anyone, Ubisoft, a third party developer, really stole the show with Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed 3, and Rayman Legends. Very quickly, this year's E3 got it's biggest trending topics and hopeful thoughts from the software being shown off, not the hardware. And why should this be so significant?
Let me back up a bit.
Back in 1995, the first Electronic Entertainment Expo began with the only the biggest contenders showing off their newest stuff, with a particular emphasis on the newly devised Playstation and Sega Saturn. Along with that, the Ultra 64 (prototype name for the Nintendo 64) was also announced. E3 began as a hype fest for the new hardware that the big 3 publishers at the time wanted to show off, and for close to a decade after, that was the most common trend, with the N64 being unveiled in '96, the Dreamcast in '99, Playstation 2 in 2000, and so on.
The software, while given its own level of advertisement, was secondary to the first party publishers' newest devices, and while this is FINE when every company is trying to out hype the others' money maker, a definite reduction in excitement for hardware has emerged from this generation of video game consoles.
Multiple causes for this pessimism regarding new hardware can be pointed to, (consoles are too expensive, there is a chance of it breaking down, maybe a lack of supporting software), but, the conclusion, after years of seeing new hardware teased, hyped, and released, is this: New hardware sucks.
To the eveygamer, new hardware doesn't mean innovative new games that must be experienced or impressive changes from the previous iterations of the hardware. It means expensive hunks of plastic that most likely won't have nearly enough interesting games to be worth buying. This has led to the not untrue assumption that when a new console or new peripheral (Kinect, PS Move) is released, these and maybe even more issue won't make it worth our time and money.
Now, this is a feeling, not a fact. A widely accepted feeling, that the releases of the 3DS, PS Vita, Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii can arguably back up. But still, not a fact. However, after reading post after post about how much the Wii U will fail, a console that actually looks to be a rather impressive piece of tech in its own right, it's undeniable that, either from experience or a general consensus, consumers are sick of hardware.
I don't believe I can change people's opinions on whether the Wii U will be worth our, well, attention, nor do I really want to. Everyone will determine what the Wii U is by their own standards, so I look to Nintendo, and by extension Sony and Microsoft when I say this: please, please try harder to meet those standards.
Keep producing consoles, keep producing hardware, keep producing whatever, that's fine, it's what you do. But E3 2012 should be on a long list of indications that people are tired of seeing hardware without support, hearing possibilities of games instead of promises, and being shown the fabulous and amazing things the hardware COULD do, instead of plenty of games showing what the hardware will do.
Start devoting as much time as possible to marketing and producing new games, and plenty of them. Make games, consoles shall sell. Because at the end of the long, exhausting, expense ridden, online distributing, peripheral producing console cycle, consoles will be sold because of software, not hardware. Speaking as a consumer, the day that becomes the accepted ideology is a glorious day indeed.
Time for some self indulgence, as I've been far too serious as of late. And because I'm the only one that reads this blog, self indulgence is all good.
I've owned a 3DS for close to five months now, and so far I've only bought one retail game for it, that being Super Mario 3D Land. And it is the only game I've seen on the 3DS thus far that could be considered a must own (although Resident Evil: Revelations looks rather intriguing). Initially, this isn't exactly an odd thing. Mario almost always guarantees a high level of quality in his games, and I've always loved the mustachioed plumber's various adventures. That may be incongruous with what follows, but I felt that the latest escapade to the Mushroom Kingdom did not nearly live up to my expectations.
No. No, this is not a review. This is going to look at how the game was made, and why I feel it was rather disappointing in the long run. This whole bit, this is going to be an analysis about part of the history of Mario, the expectations that come following each game, and how that applies to Super Mario 3D Land.
I'm going to make a quick note on the NES era of Mario, pointing specifically to Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Bros 3. Now, on Super Mario Bros. It is Super Mario Bros. Gold standard for platformers for almost a decade. Moving on. As many long time gamers may know, SMB2 was not the same game that was produced in Japan, the American version being a re interpreted game with mechanics used in Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic. Despite this, the game was generally well received, with it's interesting mechanics and multiple playable characters, but it is not considered as notable as the next release in the series, SUPER MARIO BROS 3.
Yes, considered by many, myself included, to be one of greatest and most influential games of the NES era. Following that was SUPER MARIO WORLD, considered by myself at least to be the best 2d platformer ever made, although if inspected critically, it could be seen as a longer and more complex version of its predecessor. But, more on that later. Mario was flying high. Then Super Mario 64 happened.
No, Mario 64 is not a bad game. It set a standard for 3d games for some time, in many ways like its ancestor Super Mario Bros (see where I'm going with this?). It was soon followed by Super Mario Sunshine, which was generally well recieved, but this title didn't reach the same level of acclaim that it's succesor(s) did. Super Mario Galaxy, considered to be a benchmark classic for the 3d platforming genre, with its sequel Super Mario Galaxy 2 considered to be a much better, more complex game than its predecessor. In some ways making it comparable to its 16 bit counterpart, Super Mario World. Huh.
Yes, there is, in my opinion, a sort of pattern that can be derived from the Mario series, especially in terms of when a major console change occurs (Super Mario Bros - NES, Super Mario 64 - Nintendo 64, Super Mario 3D Land - 3DS, etc.). So, on 3D Land. While I do, in hindsight, think of it as a rather enjoyable experience, when compared to the epic, fantastic joy I was able to feel while playing Super Mario Galaxy, the comparison is rather jarring. But, hopefully, 3D Land will be remembered as the beginning of something bigger and greater, and as it stands, will be remembered as the gold standard for 3DS platformers until we receive its successor in the same vein of Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Bros 3 (so long as the above stretch of logic is correct, and not the babbling of a madman.)
Although if the logic listed above is correct, we've got a bit of an odd Mario game before we get there (here's to Super Mario Sunshine 2!)
Note: Written before E3 2012. Then again, New Super Mario Bros. is practically its own spin off a this point so maybe I'm still correct. Who knows?
It may be pretentious to state this, but the real time strategy genre is one of my least favorite type of video game. I often enjoy an intriguing narrative in my games, and barring that, a sense of playing a singular role, which is not usually congruous with how real time strategy is designed. Still, I've tried several games in the genre, and one that has often commanded my admiration is the Pikmin series. Both games in the series thus far have been funny, imaginative, and at times, mildly frightening. And perhaps the most interesting thing about the game could be the controls.
The Pikmin games were designed to be played on the GameCube, and as such needed to be simple enough to play with a controller, instead of the more traditional keyboard that the RTS genre had been home to. Along with that, the game had to be simple enough to work on a GameCube, not exactly the most powerful piece of hardware ever made. With these facts in mind, and the knowledge that some players (myself included) would be introduced to real time strategy by this game, it had to be designed with simplicity, while still allowing for a level of difficulty. And so, the game was designed with these limitations in mind, and produced a fantastic experience overall.
But one minor, almost superfluous mechanic in Pikmin has always disturbed and intrigued me to a great degree, a mechanic that tells a whole narrative about the game just through its existence. When you are not close to any pikmin, pressing A causes the main character, the commander of the pikmin, a generally not directly combative being, to punch forward. Let me state that again. The commander, the one being in the game that causes an instant game over if he dies, was deemed in need of an attack that requires him to be within close range of the enemy. The implications of this mechanic frightens me.
The attack on its own is not terribly unusual. When commanding a large group, it may even be expected that the leader could defend himself. But this attack is pathetic. It can barely do the same level of damage that a single red (standard attacking) pikmin can, but this control option is still in the game.
This says a few things about the game, stating that there could be a situation where all the player's pikmin were defeated, and the player would have no choice but to fight the enemy. No choice but to fight, with an attack that is almost useless compared to the army that was defeated by this enemy.
This implication is frightening, even if a situation similar to above rarely happens in the game. Just the IDEA of being on your last man, and him being as useless as the main character is, is genuinely frightening in its own way.