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Voltech avatar 2:05 PM on 06.20.2012  (server time)
ďThis is a Kidís Game, Right?Ē

Iím resigned to being late to the party. By the time I get into something big -- new cell phones, Facebook, using email in general -- people have already moved on to something bigger and newer. Youíd think that a guy who plays video games like a Cocoa Puffs addict would be well-off in that department, but thatís not the case.

This past Sunday, I played a Ratchet and Clank game for the first time. Itís not like I never heard of the series, but when it started out I didnít have a PS2 (and the same problem would repeat itself thanks to the leap from PS2 to PS3). Still, Iíd heard some good things about the series. As far as I know, the games have gotten consistently good reviews -- there may be, what, one or two thatís gotten below a 9? Thereís been a lot of praise for the franchise assorted weapons over the years. And the fact that the duo will -- in the worst case scenario -- be referenced in Playstation All-Stars means that Sony wants to give one of their major players a bit of recognition. A part of me still canít divorce the gun-toting Ratchet from, say, the gun-toting Jak, but I know there are plenty of differences.

Anyway, back to Sunday. My brother downloaded the game in good faith, hoping for a new multiplayer game to play with our buddy (if only to escape another round of Super Smash Bros. Brawl with said buddy). ďRatchet and Clank: All 4 One finished downloading,Ē he said to me before playing some Virtua Fighter. ďThatís a good game, right?Ē Why he was asking me about a game heíd not only downloaded blindly, but also finished downloading, is beyond me. But I gave him and the game my blessing -- mostly because Iíd forgotten what reviews had said.

And you know what? All three of us not only had our expectations met, but exceeded. It was a simple, satisfying experience, but offered its fair share of challenge. It not only tested our trigger fingers, but our ability to work togetherÖexcept when it came to collecting bolts, in which case we very nearly came to blows. And the whole game had a charm and character to it that I canít help but appreciate -- cartoonish yet stylish visuals, some surprisingly cool backgrounds, and something that I never thought Iíd see in a game again: COLORS! Thereís no doubt in my mind that the three of us will give the game another whirl when we get together again (we still have about five guns to unlock, after all). But still, thereís a question that my brother asked while we were playing that stuck with me.

ďThis is a kidís game, right?Ē

Not knowing the canon, I couldnít give him a straight answer. I mean, I know minor details -- Ratchetís a Lombax and the last of his kind, Qwark is a superhero (or something) whoís content with stealing the credit of the real heroes, Clank isÖa robot -- but the tone and themes of the narrative are lost on me. Yeah, I could check a wiki or something for more plot details, but thereís a difference between what happens online and experiencing all the nuances yourself. In spite of that, Iíve read that the series enters some deep territory in one way or anotherÖand the GUNS GUNS GUNS aspect is arguably not 100% child-friendly. But that aside, I have to wonder:

Even if it IS a kidís game, does it really matter?

Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One is fun. Simple as that. Fun little story, fun characters, fun gameplay, fun world. If other games in the franchise have a similar or superior style, then I can see why itís been so successful (and want to kick myself in the bolts for going so long without playing any of the games). Is it cartoony? Well, yeah, but I think thatís the point. Making your game realistic offers new opportunities, but limits plenty of others; you put a vise on what you can do with suspension of disbelief, tone, and of course style. Ratchet wouldnít work anywhere else. Well, except for Playstation All-Stars. Or Jak and Daxter. Or Sly Cooper. Or Playstation Heroes. Or -- look, my point is that there are things Ratchet and Clank can do with its Saturday-morning presentation that others canít (or wonít) do. It leads me to believe that just because something looks or even IS childish doesnít mean that itís to its detriment.

Need more proof? How about LittleBigPlanet 2?

I LOVE that game -- and its predecessor as well. I love the charm. I love the style. I love how itís so chill and laid-back. I love the comical-yet-pleasant story. I love how the music is often so catchy, and often so whimsical (Get it Together! is pure happiness contained in three minutesí time). I love the simple but satisfying gameplay. I love Sackpeople, especially my hobo-looking Sackboy with beady eyes, no shirt, and a Nordic beanie. I love seeing what other people created. I love that I can try -- maybe not succeed, but try -- to make my own functional mech with rocket-punch action. I love how, at any time, you can stop what youíre doing, stand in place, take control of your Sackpersonís arms, and play air guitar with wild windmills and your tongue hanging out.

A lot of people, including me, have raised a stink about all the violence and stylistic homogenization of video games, especially in light of this yearís E3. Thatís certainly an issue, and by the looks of things not a problem weíre going to move past anytime soon. But as the Eternal Optimist, even when things are looking their grayest and shootiest, I can feel all my fears and worries melting away every time I think about LittleBigPlanet. Is that a kidís game, too? Ostensibly. The cute and cuddly critters and world certainly make a strong argument. And it certainly feels like lighter and softer than its current-gen contemporaries. Doubtless it wouldnít take much work to turn it into a storybook or a Saturday morning cartoon.

I think that Ratchet and Clank and LittleBigPlanet are kid-friendly, but -- again -- thatís to neither franchiseís detriment. In fact, I have to applaud them for it based on two points. One: with all the ultra-violence peddled by games these days, itís refreshing for the kids to have something not so murder-happy to play (and by extension, it offers a bit of relief for older players). Two: just because something is childish on the outside doesnít mean it has to be shallow and useless. Considering that this is one of the most popular things on the internetÖ

Öyet features scenes like this -- and all the interpretations therein -- then clearly you shouldnít underestimate a product because of its style. Or its percentage concentration of ponies.

Itís reached a point where I wonder just what it means to be a ďkidís game.Ē From the perspective of children of the eighties and nineties, itís easy to look down on games like the above two (and countless others, I suppose). But really, are we ones to judge? What makes the lot of us so mature that our own games arenít just ďkidís gamesĒ to another, older audience? Are games like Uncharted so deep that they demand an analysis from the most learned among us, and impenetrable for the kiddies? Are games like Darksiders so artistically dense that their nuances are lost on children? Are games like Gears of War so mature that they tackle important issues and ARENíT just machismo-laden fantasies? We could sit down and debate the merits of every game in the past thirty years, but at least one thing is certain: no matter how much you love and will defend Super Cool Game 2, there will always be someone whoíll look down on it as unrefined schlock, fair judgment or not.

Pretty much game has merit in one form or another. Every game at least tries to offer you something to latch onto, in terms of style, story, or good old gameplay. And even if a game has a kiddie veneer, Iíd say that as long as theyíre good, it doesnít matter. In fact, Iíd even argue itís time for them to have a resurgence, and earn the respect they deserve.

Or to put it another wayÖwith all the talk and posturing about making games more cinematic, why the fuck have so few tried to make their games like a Pixar movie?

Toy Story -- the third one in particular -- is a shining example. Itís about toys, the hallmark of childhood. Itís got imagination in spades, from the life of a toy (for better or worse) to the people that interact with them (again, for better or worse). There are bright colors and visuals for the kiddies, but thereís also a fair amount of depth, in terms of ideas and emotion, that even a seven-year old can appreciate. (Incidentally, the Pixar movies as a whole revel in the very true idea that children arenít as stupid as people make them out to be.) Beyond that, thereís plenty for older audiences to digest -- and at the same time, the childish nature of it brings them back to a simpler age, forcing them to think about ideas presented on multiple levels. To say nothing of the utter emotional wreckage one of the movies can do to you; I am legitimately afraid to watch Toy Story 3 again because I donít think my heart can handle the incinerator scene again. And I donít think I need to say a word about its ability to reduce men -- myself included -- to tears.

In spite of that -- in spite of spending no more than two and a half hours at a time with any given Pixar movie, if that -- I have fond memories of them. I can probably remember scenes and even lines from A Bugís Life more easily than I can moments from Gears of War 3 (and when I do, itís never anything flattering). Pixar movies are simultaneously mature and immature, branching out to adults and children alike -- and more importantly, forming a connection between the movie and the viewer. If games took their lessons to heart -- if games focused less on being summer-blockbuster thrill-rides and more on other genres -- then maybe weíd all be better off.

Games are a platform for artistic expression, but it seems like a lot of people these days are forgetting that. I know weíve still got games like Fez and Journey, but itís disheartening to think that major developers would rather throw their money behind a Call of Duty clone -- or barring that, just making their franchise more like Call of Duty. Why? Would it really be so hard to make a game thatís got more style? Wouldnít it raise more eyebrows and draw more interest to have a game that looks and feels and connects like a Pixar movie, rather than just give gamers the same old, same old? Wouldnít it be better to create a game that appeals to inlaid childish sensibilities to draw a response out of them, rather than just making bigger and grittier set-pieces?

Maybe thatís why I think Nintendo ďwonĒ E3. They may not have had an amazing showing, but you know what? I think that they succeeded merely by virtue of Pikmin 3. Nintendo gets games. Theyíll screw up as well, no question, but Skyward Sword has some genuinely emotional moments that I -- young, present-day, or future me -- canít ignore, and wouldnít be out of place in a Pixar movie. Iíve yet to forget the charm and whimsy and imagination present in Super Mario Galaxy. And clearly, their pals at Retro Studios can pick up the slack, at least if Donkey Kong Country Returns is anything to go by. I think that if thereís any company that can crack the Pixar Code (if they havenít already), itís Nintendo.

I play games to have fun. Donít we all? In that sense, gamers -- regardless of age -- arenít all that different from children. Our tastes arenít one hundred percent dissimilar; at our basest, we want something that wows us, entertains us, and leaves us with a smile on our faces. Being a ďkidís gameĒ is just one way to accomplish that. But it doesnít have to be, and shouldnít be considered a weakness or an unflattering label. It can be a gameís strength. It can let developers tap into their imaginations, and stimulate us no matter how old we are.

So to answer my brother: yes. Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One may very well be a kidís game. And thatís all I could ever ask for.

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