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So my brother picked up a copy of Assassin’s Creed: Unity on day one, because of course he did. And he asked me to play through it from start to finish, because of course he did. And I played it for no more than an hour the night of release before getting bored and frustrated and going to bed, because of course I did.
Okay, I know that’s not exactly fair to the game. I’ll give it another swing somewhere down the line, because I want to give it -- and the series at large -- a chance. But Unity hasn’t made that easy for me so far. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid some of the now-infamous glitches so far (barring getting glued to a chair for a few seconds during a chase), but so far it’s been kind of scattershot. By which I mean pretty scattershot. And, you know, not great.
The game starts with some guy using a lightning sword (huh?), and then cuts to Arno as a kid so players can putz around, and then cuts again to him as a hyper-smug Aladdin wannabe who walks around with a sword in broad daylight and can naturally do the standard parkour because…uh…is he already an assassin? Or is he just that good already? Well, whatever. I guess it’ll be explained. But what’s happened so far hasn’t clicked for me. I can say it’s not as aggressively awful as Watch Dogs, but the tradeoff is that it’s aggressively boring.
Weirdly, Unity made me think back to The Wind Waker. You start off as a sleepyhead hero in a lobster shirt, but you’re given an objective -- get a present from Grandma -- to advance the plot. You have all the time you need to do that, but until then you’re free to explore Outset Island. You can jump on rocks to get Rupees, chat it up with locals who’ll chat back (and teach you gameplay mechanics, like crawling and carrying pots), swordfight with Orca, and just plain enjoy the sights. Humble beginnings, for sure, but stronger because of it.
Compare that to Unity. You’re playing as some guy in red and white who’s suddenly tasked with chasing some other guy while there’s a big fight happening all around you. So you follow that guy and beat him, but you get stabbed by cutscene’s end. Then you flash forward to kid Arno, and you have to follow some girl and steal an apple (so a guard who I swear wasn’t there before can spot you and teach you some of the stealth mechanics). Then you get another cutscene where Arno’s dad is found dead, which would be a bit more impactful if we’d spent more than three minutes with the guy. Just a bit, though.
And then you’re adult Arno (who looks eerily similar to Jake Gyllenhaal for some reason) and have to escape from some smithy brutes. And then you have to go follow a carriage. And then you have to sneak into a manor or whatever because there’s a letter that has to be delivered right now. And then those same brutes catch up to you somehow -- setting aside the fact that they had to sneak in too, albeit through an open door -- and they fight you. And then I lament having to go through a combat sequence in an AC game while hot off the heels of Bayonetta 2. And then you escape again. And then you have to sneak into a ball.
Don’t worry. It’s about 5% more riveting than I make it out to be.
What really gets to me about Unity is that despite popping up on these spiffy new consoles, I don’t feel like the game is even trying to sell itself. Okay, sure, I’ll concede that virtua-France looks good, with all the awe-inspiring architecture and attention to detail you’d hope for, but it all rings hollow. Unless there’s a mission to be dished out, you can’t have any meaningful interaction with NPCs other than bumping into them. In all fairness you can watch them interact with each other -- a couple being lovey-dovey, for instance -- but you’re an observer and nothing more. You’re invisible to the world before you even put on the hood.
I understand that adding in Zelda-style interactions for everything and everybody would be impossible. And on top of that, I understand that games -- AC or otherwise -- are all about creating illusions, and giving the feeling of depth without actually providing it. But the illusion in Unity wore thin from the get-go. It’s a feeling I share with AC3; I broke off from following some dude to chase after a thief who stole an apple, and followed him into an alley. But when I finally made my approach, the thief stopped cold, dropped the apple, and went straight back to walking aimlessly -- just like the hundreds of NPCs lining the streets.
I just don’t get it. I can’t get a handle on the design philosophy here. Okay, I’ll give the franchise the benefit of the doubt and assume that I’m just the square peg getting mashed into its round hole. But even so, am I being crazy here? Am I really so wrong to wonder what the appeal for this franchise is? Am I really, considering how much dissent there is and how many comments express concern at best? I have issues just with that philosophy; it feels like for all the effort put into rendering these worlds, it’s all for naught because the core of the game is largely “go here and kill this guy”. And if Unity’s start is anything to go by, you could charitably add “follow this guy” or “avoid those guys”.
It seems like Unity is the straw that broke the camel’s back, but if you ask me that camel was already a shambling corpse. I mean, didn’t AC3 pretty much flay everyone’s expectations and become a black spot on a franchise noted for issues notable since AC1? I know there’s some kind of blind faith in the franchise that keeps the zombie camel trucking along, but at this stage in its life can we at large keep pardoning it? Should we? If Ubisoft is content with doling out stories of varying quality and gameplay with long-noted faults, why is it that a bug-riddled, microtransaction-pushing, embargo-abusing game is some perceived “last straw” for a franchise that saw fit to push three incrementally-changed editions of a sequel?
And so I have to ask: do we need Assassin’s Creed anymore? Because the way things are now, I say no.
I want to like this franchise. I really do. I like history, like my father before me -- and the idea of exploring fully-realized worlds leaves me chomping at the bit. But that’s the clincher; I want fully-realized worlds, not just facsimiles of them. Maybe that’s why I like the Zelda games; they’re exponentially smaller, sure, but even the decade-and-a-half-old, single-town Majora’s Mask managed to infuse a level of character into its world that you’d never expect, or even ask for.
The impending doom affected them, and they in turn affected you, while you --the hero -- went on to affect both by resolving the conflict. There was weight to be had there, even if you spent a day talking with the apologetic Anju, or a night with the postman. (Don’t think too hard about the sexual implications of that line; I know I didn’t.)
But as much as I praise Zelda, I recognize that modern games -- AC well among them -- have the potential to go WAY farther. You get to be a part of history, conceptually speaking; you get to experience life in that world, learning and understanding what it was like to be in colonial America, or revolutionary France, or whatever comes our way next. And I don’t mean having an assassin forcibly inserted into the midnight ride of Paul Revere, or being there for the signing of the Declaration of Independence; I mean making them a part of the setting. An active participant, rather than an observer.
It’s to the point where I find myself thinking, “Hey, maybe we don’t need Assassins, or Templars, or Animus, or Abstergo, or any of that. Just have the setting and be done with it.” I’m not even joking. Historical fiction is an established, viable genre, and it has been for years. It’s true that the games would lose their overarching plot and connective tissue, but sometimes I wonder if that’s really such a bad thing. Do you need assassins and ancient rivalries and conspiracy plots in history, which has more than enough exciting clashes in its own right? I say no. Cool stuff has happened in the past; you don’t need lords of stabbing and future VR to embellish what’s already interesting. If you did, then we’d all be hailing 47 Ronin as a cinematic masterpiece…which it is certainly not.
I’ll concede that (ideally) the appeal of Assassin’s Creed is the ability to chart out and execute the assassination plots of your design. I’ll also concede that combat and murder aren’t immediate failure-states in games -- because if I didn’t, I’d have to hate Bayonetta 2. And of course, I don’t have a clear-cut answer on how I’d handle conflict in a hypothetical, hyper-historical AC game of my own. I have ideas, but they’d probably only appeal to S-tier nerds (“Press X to Improve Your Social Standing”). So if you like that -- and the franchise in general -- then you’re not wrong for it. There is merit to the franchise.
That all said, I thought that the appeal of Black Flag was its ability to turn you into a pure pirate, and minimized the franchise’s conventions (the assassin storyline well among them) for the sake of making you a scourge of the seas. Likewise, I thought that Black Flag was one of the best-received games yet, if only because it eased the sting of AC3 while also being NOT about Ezio again. So what does it say about the franchise when one of the most well-received of the franchise is also one of the biggest departures from the franchise? And where do you go from there when you can’t rely on naval adventures without playing fast and loose with geography?
Maybe the guys at Penny Arcade had it right. Maybe this franchise is rudderless.
I’m not so cold as to say that Unity should be the last AC game ever. I agree with the common opinion: Ubisoft needs to stop with these yearly releases -- and yikesy mikesy, this year has two of them -- and spend time figuring out how to take the franchise to the next level. From what I can gather, Unity isn’t it; if anything, it’s a symbol of non-progression. It tells me that Ubisoft isn’t just content with staying in a rut, but letting the cement pool around its neck. That’s not a good place to be in, especially when the same company once implied that new hardware would promote innovation.
But I have to go back and ask the same question as before: do we need Assassin’s Creed anymore? Think about it: a lot of the mechanics it paved the way for, like stealth and parkour, have been co-opted by other games. Its combat can’t compete with games that have a stronger emphasis on it (the Arkham series) and/or style in spades (insert any given Platinum title here).
If you’re looking for a meaningful story with meaningful characters, you can get that from a handful of BioWare titles, at a bare minimum. Any given triple-A release is downright guaranteed to have big setpiece moments, and that cinematic appeal so often spoken so highly of. And if you’re hungry for innovation -- as we all are -- then, well, you can look virtually anywhere else. Anywhere.
The nicest thing I can say about Unity is that it looks good. And that it lets me visit Paris. And that I get to meet Napoleon at some point, I guess. But if I can replicate two of those three (maybe all three, ostensibly) just by cracking open a book or running a Google search, then maybe -- just maybe -- something has gone wrong.
Now then. Let’s see how Far Cry 4 turns out.
So everyone here knows what “serendipity” means, right?
Pared down to basics, you can think of it as a synonym for “coincidence”. In my case, though? It tends to mean that somebody beat me to the punch in making posts that steal my thunder so thoroughly that saying even a single word would make me look like a copycat -- that, or some sycophant. I know, I know, it’s probably not as bad as I’m making it out to be; still, I absolutely hate it when I match up with someone. I just have to be the premiere pretty little snowflake.
I want to put out as much content as I can, but sometimes it feels like I’m fighting against time itself. How much can I really talk about a game if its relevance falls to the wayside? I mean, I’ve wanted to toss up a post on The Last of Us here for a while, but does anyone care for something well over a year old? Alternatively, if I tossed out a post on something semi-recent like The Evil Within, what is it that would set it apart from someone who did another post on it -- and much earlier than I did? I’d be redundant, arguably. And I don’t want to be in that situation, so I try to consider my moves as carefully as possible. Think before you act, so to speak.
But this time my brother thought for me. One night he said, “You should do a series called ‘Why Do People Love Monster Hunter?’.” So I figured, why not?
Part of the reason why I do posts is to get feedback from others. I want knowledge, and ideas, and experiences, and opinions however I can get them. That’s going to help me in the long run, no doubt. After all, I’m just one person; I’ve had a finite number of run-ins with games, and there are HUGE gaps in my knowledge of titles past and present. So I need to learn more, and evolve more as a result.
I need perspectives -- the ability to understand others’ lines of reasoning. I mean, it’s one thing to say “People like Call of Duty”, but at this stage that’s not enough. Not for me. I can learn plenty from playing the game for myself and drawing my own conclusions (at the cost of suffering through the game, natch), but I need more than that. I need to ask questions as to why people like Call of Duty, or any given game, as a guideline of how to proceed. And who knows? Maybe if I ask others to explain why they like what they do, they’ll be able to better intuit the strengths and weaknesses of the games they digest. Maybe they’ll gain even more than I do.
But let’s not talk about CoD. Let’s talk about Monster Hunter -- as per my brother’s dear wishes.
Full disclosure: I’ve only played Monster Hunter for myself three times in my life. The first was a demo my brother grabbed on my presumably-melted PSP. The second was the release of Tri on the Wii. The third, and most recent, was the Ultimate version on the Wii U. As you can guess, it’s my brother who’s gotten the most mileage out of the franchise so far, to the point where (prior to the release of Mario Kart 8) it was the one Wii U game you could count on him to consistently play without complaint. He’s an ex-WoW player, after all, and as I type this I can hear him playing Final Fantasy 14; MMOs are right up his alley, for a number of reasons. But let’s assume the worst of him -- for the moment -- and say he’s just in it to get new pants.
My experience with MH was…not quite as pleasant. I started up a file in the Wii U game to try and see what the noise was all about. See the world, explore the systems, check out those monsters -- the standard stuff. Unfortunately, I didn’t get nearly as far as I wanted to -- or very far at all -- because in the tutorial section I went out and killed some baby dinosaurs instead of the parent. Then I figured I was some horrible monster taking advantage of innocent creatures and haven’t played the game since. The fact that (according to testimonies) you actually harvest the tears of monsters by beating on them doesn’t exactly leave me at ease.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Emotional trauma aside (i.e. the confirmation that I’m not the pure-hearted maiden I strive to be), I actually get the premise of MH -- and in a lot of ways, support it. I didn’t even have to play for an hour to feel the affect; it felt as if the game practically demanded me to get in touch with nature, even if it started me off in some bustling town. Okay, it’s true that plenty of games will have you go to the usual suite of “forest level, snow level, lava level”, but with MH I could feel the prospect of exploring these areas and interacting with the world on a level I haven’t gotten in a while. Barring Pikmin 3, but that’s a topic for another day.
Obviously, that’s a good thing; some of the strongest stories out there (games or otherwise) are those that can flesh out their worlds. They remember that the settings are characters in their own right -- and proceed to characterize them as best they can. I’d think that games like WoW accomplish that as well, but I can still appreciate MH’s ability to make me leave my world behind in place of its own. Untamed wilds. Frontiers aplenty. Traversing sprawling landscapes on my own two (virtual) feet. Being a part of something bigger than yourself. What’s not to love?
My guess with the franchise is that the people in it are heavily dependent on the materials gained from monsters to live their daily lives. It makes sense, really; if this is a world that takes us back to the past (or some facsimile of it), then it’s likely a society heavily dependent on natural resources on every level -- food, obviously, but clothing, shelter, craftsmanship, and more. The societal implications are staggering, and lends to a scope that’s ripe for telling plenty of potent stories.
Or maybe it really is just about getting some new pants.
I have issues with such narrow-minded thinking; it’s as if the game implies that the only thing that matters is getting loot and killing monsters -- and pushes you head-first into the hamster wheel. On the other hand, maybe that’s not so bad. It lends itself to a sense of ownership over a story…or to be more precise, it lets you make your story. It’s your adventure, allowing you to someday tell your stories of triumph as you crush down towering beasts. Or, heaven forbid, you can learn firsthand what it’s like to get ground into paste under a dragon’s heel. Either way, there’s potential there; you can have a new adventure and a new experience each time you play.
But that’s all based on my conjecture. Like I said, I don’t have a lot of experience with MH -- and given that I’m the self-proclaimed “Eternal Optimist”, I’ve probably painted the rosiest view possible of the franchise. How does it play? How’s the combat? Does it deliver on the scale, and the potential? Is there a point to making dragons cry, and unsuspecting fauna into orphans?
Uh…I’m gonna go ahead and say “probably”.
I suppose that’s where you all come in, then. What do you think of MH? If there are any diehard fans or experts reading this, what sort of nuances keep you coming back for more? Why is it, like, one of Capcom’s only breadwinners right now? And is it rightfully so? Go ahead and weigh in. Give me all your love, as the song goes.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that song was vaguely sexual. Just vaguely, though.
Whatever the case, feel free to give suggestions on what other games I can do these quick little posts on. I wouldn’t mind thinking critically -- however briefly -- on games I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. Plus, I’d like to try something different for once. Maybe find something new and different that works in terms of tossing out content. Could this be a thing? We’ll see.
In the meantime, please accept this collection of JoJo rush sounds.
Heh ha. Next you’re going to say “Man, they sure can talk fast.”
Have you ever woken up one morning and thought to yourself, “Wow! I’ve been a fan of this ongoing franchise for the majority of my life! Spectacular!” Yeah. That was me not too long ago. I can’t say I hate the feeling.
So, Smash 4, huh? You know, it’s funny; if I remember right, the original Smash was pretty much a low-budget, throw-it-out-there title with little in the way of expectations. Fast-forward to the present, and not only is it THE most high-profile release for the Wii U, but it’s also the one game that could convince people to even buy Wii Us. Even though The Wonderful 101 has long since made a strong case for the console, but whatever. I’m not salty at all.
I don’t know why I would be. Smash Bros. 4, y’all!
It’s safe to say that Nintendo’s got a lot riding on the game, and thankfully, they couldn’t have bet on a better title. If the reaction and love for the 3DS version is anything to go by, we’re looking at a fourth batch of lightning in a bottle.
But I think it goes further than that. In fact, I’d say that Smash 4 is one of this generation’s most important releases yet -- if not one of gaming’s most important releases, period.
Why? Well, here’s a hint. And by “hint” I mean “blatant answer”:
For those who don’t know (and why wouldn’t you, unless you actively avoid good things?), Kamen Rider Wizard tells the tale of Haruto, a man fighting to protect the people from the Phantoms -- magical monsters out to wreak havoc and spread despair. I mean that quite literally; see, the Phantoms are born when a Gate -- a normal human who awakens to magic potential -- reach their lowest emotional points. The human dies, and in his/her place emerges a Phantom (even though said Phantom can assume that human form at will…and yes, they DO exploit the hell out of that ability).
The trick is that if a Gate doesn’t fall prey to despair, they become a wizard. As such, it’s up to Haruto -- as “the ring-bearing wizard” -- to preserve, and in a lot of cases restore, the hope of people in need of a helping hand. And so begin his donut-eating, monster-kicking, henshin-filled adventures with his partner Koyomi and the allies he meets along the way -- a mayonnaise-loving archaeologist well among them -- as he pledges himself to others as, ultimately, “the final hope”.
It’s that kind of show. But if nothing else there’s a reason why he’s got a hand for a belt buckle. Why it sings? Not so much.
What I find baffling -- and a little distressing -- is that for one reason or another, a lot of people absolutely HATE Wizard. And unless I secretly have terrible taste, I don’t see the reason for the hate. Like, people realize that the story is pretty much one giant allegory for suicide prevention, right? So you can’t exactly say it’s not complex. Given that the Phantoms are pretty much trolls and miscreants that thrive on finding out your personal information and using it to harass you, I’d say there’s something eerily relevant about the theming there, especially nowadays.
Haruto’s development isn’t so much about him becoming a better person, but about him losing control of the situation he once had a handle on -- and the desperation that guides his actions from then on. He may start out as a Cool Guy, but it’s hard to be cool when you start getting your shit kicked in on a regular basis and your little lady friend is constantly minutes away from death. And on the action front? This is a character that does his best God Hand impression and kicks a Phantom into the sun. Also, not to spoil anything, but one of the baddies is literally a serial killer -- as in, a serial killer who arguably killed less people after he turned into a monster.
I guess I see a little bit of Wizard in Nintendo. Right now, it seems like the Big N’s got a thankless job right now, and takes plenty of heat just for being around. In all fairness, some of that heat is understandable. Nintendo’s in a bad spot, but some of that comes from their missteps, assumptions, and inflexibility. There are things that they can do, and should have done long before this point (get more third party support, revive established franchises, and FOR GOD’s SAKE, PROMOTE YOUR WARES!). They’re not exactly the innocent victims here. Much like Wizard, it’s far from perfect -- but to its credit, at least the Big N doesn’t have a second Rider who’s only there as a jobber.
That all said, if there’s any company -- and console, by extension -- I’d stay loyal to in this eighth generation, it’s Nintendo. It feels like they’ve got gamers’ interests at heart. Or to be more precise, it feels like they’re one of the only ones out to make genuine, quality games -- a far cry from others trying to sell us on “experiences” that are memorable for all the wrong reasons. This past E3 proved that for all its missteps, Nintendo hasn’t quite lost its handle on what (and who) matters most. I’d sooner count on that than promises -- and delusions -- of grandeur.
Speaking personally, Nintendo’s becoming one of my heroes of the game industry -- to the point where I’m about ready to shout “Nintendo, hallelujah!”
I don’t think I’m THAT far off the mark, my biases aside. Just look at Smash 4. Just -- just look at it, will you? Sure, there’s an argument to be made that it’s just another Smash game, i.e. the Big N banking on another established name to turn a profit. And that’s true, in a lot of ways. On the other hand, it’s not as if we get a Smash game every year, or even every two years. Unless the rumors of “Smash Bros. 6” amount to anything, chances are high that we’ll have to sate ourselves with this new release for a good half-decade.
But even setting that aside -- and setting aside the fact that this praise is coming from someone who JUST proposed that games can be more than shallow entertainment -- I can’t help but feel like in this day and age, Smash 4 is something special. It should go without saying at this point, but I have to appreciate the abject refusal to abandon a decent color palette. Moreover, plenty of the screenshots on the main site haven’t just highlighted the updated graphics; they’ve highlighted what can be done with them. Time, and time, and time again Sakurai and company have offered up pictures of those faces, and their reaction to oft-insane goings-on.
I’m sincerely hoping that in the full game, you can take pictures just as delightful -- if only so my brother can have something to stock on the console besides pictures of Captain Falcon. (You’re better off not asking.)
But really, though? Smash 4 is like a digital ambassador of goodwill, offering up plenty to gamers of all kinds. Let us count the many ways.
1) The triumphant return of Mega Man to gaming. (FIGHTING TO SAVE THE WORLD!)
2) The good humor shown by the devs in virtually every trailer, highlighting the fun instead of trying to be “epic”. Well, barring the Reggie/Iwata fight.
3) The sheer amount of content right out of the box -- up to and including a cast that numbers roughly fifty strong. Those are some MAHVEL numbers right there.
4) Almost as if trying to take a dump all over Ubisoft, there are nine playable female characters -- eleven if you count the alternate versions of Villager and Robin (again, taking that steaming dump), and twelve if you assume that Jigglypuff is female. Thirteen, if you refuse to accept Marth.
5) A marriage of simple gameplay and complex nuances to please every audience without catering to or dumbing down for any of them -- accented, of course, by a slew of customizable options.
6) A genuine celebration of gaming’s history, bringing in faces old and new to honor our beloved medium -- so that even if it IS a product out for your money, it’s a product full of meaning. That shouldn’t be anything worth getting excited about, but in this day and age, it is.
7) The ability to generate excitement by its own merits (through improvements, additions, and tweaks to the formula) through a steady drip of unfiltered information, instead of cheap hype-mongering and resignation. No “You will buy this because it’s the next big thing” or “You will buy this because you will buy this” here.
8) Seriously, DID YOU LOOK AT IT? THE COLORS!
A lot of people here on Destructoid have been claiming “dibs” on certain characters, and I respect that. Speaking from experience, I refuse to touch anyone my brother mains, plays, or has played because “they have his stink on them”. Beyond that, there’s the principle; when you choose a main in a fighting game, or even someone you’re willing to add to your stable of fighters, you’re making a commitment. You’re forming a bond between you and your avatar -- someone who, however temporarily, harbors your soul.
The thing worth remembering, though, is that in a lot of cases you can’t choose someone exactly to your tastes -- that is, you can find someone who suits you in Street Fighter, but you can’t create your own world warrior (yet). You have to adapt to preset characters. Because of that, you end up seeing things their way. In their eyes. In ways you never would have thought of before. It goes beyond just being a boxer or a wrestler; whether you know it or not, you’re considering every last one of their nuances. You take away something from them, even beyond their strongest combos.
It’s the same with pretty much every character in Smash -- but for me, it’s with Palutena most of all. It’s one thing to be able to play as a female character -- and make no mistake, I’m thankful this new game has effectively quadrupled its representation -- but it takes more than just adding in ladies.
It’s about the quality of those ladies, as it is with any character. What gives them that spark? What kind of characters are they, in a fight and out of it? What can you take away from a character from a world so separate from yours? Games are capable of showing that, even without a dense narrative built into their code. And while I’ve seen plenty of titles fail to offer up anything, I’m pretty confident that Smash 4 will offer up everything I could need and more.
Playing as Peach in the other games opened my eyes to some new possibilities, no question. And while I don’t intend to drop her in the new game, I’m eager to see things from Palutena’s perspective. I haven’t played as a goddess since Okami, so I want to see -- and feel -- what it’s like to have that potential at my fingertips.
Even if there’s no dedicated story mode, I’d wager that I don’t need one. Her animations, move set, and general appearance can tell me plenty. I know enough about her from Kid Icarus (and even her announcement trailer) to think, “Yeah, this is a cool character.” She’s got style, airs, and elegance -- and even some sass -- that you don’t see all that often. Damned if I’m going to miss out on it now. And thus, I call the greatest of dibs…at least I would if someone hadn’t beaten me to the punch. So I’ll act on my contingency plan and call auxiliary dibs on Peach.
Neither of them have a shot at being mai waifu, though. My heart’s already taken.
A lot of people these days are sour over the state of games and the industry at large -- and I’m one of them. I know what games can be, but too often these days it feels like they’re refusing to even try to reach that potential because they -- and the minds behind them -- act as if they’ve got no more merit than the average bag of chips. But even before it hits store shelves, Smash 4 has proven that games can be more. They can offer more. You can have that simplicity, but you can offer up what matters most of all: a bond that goes beyond the limits of a simple disc.
It’s a game primed and ready to dispel all the cynicism and negativity swirling around us gamers -- the proof that there are games in the present and future worth believing in. It’s a willing bringer of hope, maybe even more than simple fun. And if that doesn’t make it a hero, then I don’t know what does.
And that’ll do it for now. So let’s end on a high note, shall we?
I can’t listen to that song without thinking of Christmas. Probably because Haruto saved Christmas for a bunch of orphans in one episode. It was the second greatest thing he did in the series, besides imagining himself in his Rider suit playing the piano while wearing a bow tie and top hat.
In summation, Kamen Rider -- much like Smash Bros. -- is too damn stronk. Because who else will push a secret Rider propagandist agenda, if not me?
Alternate post title: DURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRp.
All right, let’s be real here. I’m pretty sure that by this point, I’ve made no shortage of my opinions known. Some of them are easy to agree with, I hope. Others, not so much. But that’s to be expected. People are allowed to disagree with me, because they’re coming from different places. Different perspectives, experiences, and whatnot. That’s part of the reason why I do these posts -- because those differences in opinion mean something to me.
So I’ll do it once more. Let’s gab about video games for a second.
Obviously, they mean something to me. If you’re reading this, then chances are high that they mean something to you. And they mean something to a lot of other people, across no shortage of generations -- console or otherwise. It’s a young medium, sure, but it’s left its mark on peoples and cultures across the world. That ain’t bad for something that isn’t even as old as some grandparents.
The definition of a game has come into question plenty of times before, recently as well as years ago. There have been questions about whether or not it qualifies as art, whether or not it’s harmful to players, and even if it has hidden benefits (like making us better doctors, for one). There are a lot of unknowns, and even more opinions on the medium. That’s the way it should be, at least for now. Questions beget answers -- and with them, strides to try and conform to those answers.
Still, there’s one subject that’s been on my mind recently. I’m the kind of guy who can (and often does) see things as they should be, and not always as they are. That’s problematic at times, but the tradeoff is that I have ideas as well as ideals. And that extends to something as seemingly-unimportant as video games. I know what they have been in the past, and because of that, I know what they can be. And that’s what I want them to be, from here on.
Each generation should be better than the last. I hope we can agree on that, at least.
There’s a current of thought among some gamers that suggests that “games are here just for fun”. And in some ways, I agree with that. It’s a section of the entertainment industry, so that’s only natural. And besides, it’s not all that different from any other medium. We watch movies for fun. We read books for fun. Even something as simple as looking at a pretty picture can be fun. So if there are any outsiders looking in reading this, I’ll be the first to confirm that pressing buttons and spinning sticks is a lot more exciting than you’d expect.
But if you’ll let me speak personally (as if you have a choice), I think there’s something important to keep in mind. Yes, games are here to entertain us; the question that follows is HOW do they entertain us? In the past, games could largely only accomplish that through its mechanics -- gameplay, and the difficulty that followed, and the layouts of levels, and so on. But once you get a taste of what they can do, it’s hard to go back to just a black-and-white picture of the medium.
So I’ll be frank. I think video games are for more than just “having fun”. Sure, they can do that, and quite well -- oh my God the wait for Smash Bros. 4 is unbearable -- but they can offer more. Think of it this way: why is reading a book fun? All you’re doing is sitting down and flipping through pages, right? It’s more like work than anything else to get through it. But what’s important is the content. The ideas. There’s stuff in there designed to engage you, and get you thinking in a way that a good piece of art should. As you’d expect.
Now, am I saying that every video game needs a compelling story to be good? No. It certainly wouldn’t hurt (and WOULD help matters, in a lot of cases), but it’s not a requirement. You don’t think about turning the pages of a book; you think about the content, and get engaged in it as you process its particulars. It’s the same thing with games. You don’t think about doing DPs or powerslides; you engage with the game because your input directly determines the output. If the mechanics are working as they should, then they can make a case for a game in the absence of some riveting tale.
That in mind, video games are trying -- however desperately -- to be more than just a chance to get high scores and top honors. (Well, some of them, at least.) The Tomb Raider reboot could have just dumped Lara Croft in the wilderness without a story to go by, but it did its best to give a reason to care about its leading heroine -- a narrative from start to finish. Given what’s come out before and after it, I’d say that games are trying to be more. Developers recognize that they can do more than just make arenas and stages.
But that’s the keyword. They can.
The medium’s taken some real strides, but it needs to take more. It needs to get out of this rut -- this perception that games are just murder simulators and power fantasies and whatnot. As others have argued, it can do that by taking on bigger themes. Bigger ideas. It can work those elements into the story and gameplay alike, with a decent level of subtlety or as overtly as reason will allow. If a game can, then it just becomes that much more engaging, and thus higher-quality. If it can’t, then it offers fleeting, surface-level thrills at best -- and sometimes not even that.
So on top of being an incredible racing game, Mario Kart 8 -- continuing the theoretical groundwork laid by Mario 3D World -- is arguably a story about the continuing industrialization of the Mushroom Kingdom, given a shot in the arm by Rosalina’s descent and subsequent offering of new technology; alternatively, it’s a metacommentary about the evolution of Nintendo and its struggle to evolve in (and even keep up with) an increasingly-mercantile industry.
And Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze can be enjoyed as either a top-notch platformer, or as the harrowing tale of a leader forced to bear the sins of his ancestors as he leads his family home, or as a means to take basic gameplay conventions and make statements on karmic retribution and rebirth. Xenoblade Chronicles might as well be renamed The Arms Race That Heads to its Not-Quite Logical Conclusion.
Those in-depth readings -- or reaching -- aren’t necessary to enjoy the games. But they do enhance them. And they -- the gameplay, above all else -- enhance us in kind. As it should.
So basically, I’d say that video games are for three different things, each one on different levels of thought. The first and shallowest is that they’re here to entertain us -- to give a chance to be someone else, and do something incredible. Fair enough. But after that, they’re here to engage us -- to draw us in with their myriad factors, and make us hang on every pixel. And last, they’re here to enrich us. Once we process the information, we come to our own conclusions, and walk away with something gained each time we set the pad down. That’s my theory, at least. And unreasonable as it may be, I hope that’s what games do from here on out.
But that’s just my opinion. And in the end, this is about you. So feel free to weigh in. Offer me some perspective -- and offer it for yourself in kind. Just give the best answer you can to the question at hand: what are video games for? What do you expect from them each time you sit down and play? Are they the best they can be right now? If so, why? If not, then why not? What should they do from here on out? What do you want most of all?
You know what’s next, right? Get those fingers nice and limber. Ready? Set…comment!
And that’s my cue to get out of here. I need to try and come up with some cockamamie theories about Pac-Man.
Oh GOD I NEED SOME WII U SMASH IN MY BODY RIGHT NOW. Palutena confirmed for sick goddess combos. (By which I mean my usual stable of sneaky survivalist tactics.)