I am really excited for The Wonderful 101. I've been really excited for The Wonderful 101 for a while now.
It is, ostensibly, a balls to the wall action game. This is not a genre I've ever played a great deal of or been particularly interested in.
It was developed by Platinum Games. They are not a developer I'm madly in love with or have ever been particularly interested in. The only exposure I've had with them is the demo of Metal Gear Rising: Revengance. (Which I didn't really enjoy...but I'll get to that later)
So the question remains, why have I been so excited for The Wonderful 101? Is it because it heralds the end of the Wii U software drought? Possibly, but I think it's something more than that. Something within the game itself. Something which caught my eye from the very first trailer.
It's the Art Style you guys. I mean, you probably already guessed that from the title. Which, in reality, means that this whole intro has been totally pointless.
Now, I know that being excited for an action game purely because of the art style is kinda silly. Believe me, I know. What's more, it is impossible for me to justify spending $80 (Welcome to Australia Motherfuckers!) on a game whose gameplay I have zero interest in. But I just can't help myself. There is something about it's colourful comic book aesthetic that really excites me.
It's lucky, then, that Platinum Games decided to grace us all with an eshop demo. I quickly downloaded said demo. What was the worst that could happen? It could actually be an elaborate trap; the last step in a plan Nintendo put into action way back in 1889 when they first started making Hanafuda cards. Build up peoples trust with a series of successful consoles, and then BOOM! release an imprisoning torture device disguised as niche game demo and, if everything goes to plan, enslave the world.
I decided to take my chances.
You'll be happy to hear that, imprisoning torture notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed the demo. In fact I loved it! It was awesome!
So, it turns out that I AM interested in action games. What's more, I AM interested in Platinum Games as a developer. The question is, why has it taken me so long to realise this?
Like I said earlier, I've actually come into contact with a Platinum style action game before. It was the demo for Metal Gear Rising: Revengance. To be perfectly honest, I hated it. It felt needlessly complicated and I had absolutely no idea what was going on.
And I felt that way when I first started playing W101. There seemed to be a hundred different things going on at once and the game didn't seem particularly concerned that I had no idea what was happening.
I gave up on Revengance after a couple of minutes, but I kept playing W101. Purely because I loved the art. I wanted to see more of that wacky world. And you know what happened? I got better. I figured out how to do things. And I found the gameplay incredibly satisfying.
My point is that art styles aren't the most important thing ever. Ultimately, what ended up keeping me interested in W101 over the long haul was the gameplay. BUT I never would have discovered the fun to be had in it's gameplay; I never would have persisted; had it not had a really awesome art style.
But don't take my word for it. Let's look at some more examples of the impact of art styles. Examples that I will be writing. So, I mean, you are actually going to need to take my word for it, I guess.
*Pause for shit-storm*
Man-oh-man. The video game industry sure does love a controversy, doesn't it? It seems we can't go a week without a furious explosion. I'm sure you all heard about the Dragon's Crown clash. Berated by many for it's bare and buxom babes, the game caused quite the blow-up. It then went on to spark even more of a shit-storm when a Polygon reviewer gave it a 6.5, a score many saw as unfair.
Now. I'm not going to tell you what I think of Dragon's Crown's art style. I'd like to keep my kneecaps intact. But what's important is that, for some people, the voluptuous art style was enough to stop them from enjoying the game. For others, it was even enough to stop them from playing altogether.
Regardless of your opinion on the matter, it must be acknowledged that an art style can be an incredibly powerful influence on our feelings for a game.
Here's another example. A whole bunch of games were shown at this years Gamescom. There were two games that stood out to me in particular though. Rime and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture.
Rime was developed by Tequila Works, the makers of Deadlight. That game was, by all accounts, pretty balls. And yet I see Rime and I'm filled with boyish glee. As many people have said, it looks like Wind Waker and Ico had a baby. I could not possibly be more okay with this. I wanna play that game so much.
Everybody's Gone to the Rapture was developed by The Chinese Room, the makers of Dear Esther (oh man, let's just touch on every controversial game ever). I was pretty indifferent towards that game, and yet Everybody's Gone to the Rapture - which looks to be in a very similar vein - has my interest considerably piqued.
Basically, I have absolutely no reason to be as excited as I am for these two gamse, and yet they've both grabbed my attention and won't let go. Again, it's purely because they have super interesting art styles. Shelter is another good example of this. Even after watching the trailer, I have no idea what the game is about. But I want to play it just so I can look at it.
And now, for my last trick, I'm going to talk about Nintendo again. Everyone always says the New Super Mario Bros. games are basically the same. And who can blame them? They all look exactly the fucking same! But what about Zelda games? They are all (at least structurally) incredibly similar. So why do people not complain about the similarity of Zelda games as much?
You guessed it. SHART styles. ahahahaha. (I was going to use that one for the title, but I figured it was probably a little too much)
Compare the cartoonish simplicity of Wind Waker with the freakish and bizarre world of Twilight Princess. Now think about the impressionist styling's of Skyward Sword. Now think about the differences between the style of New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. 2. You can't. Because there aren't any.
Perhaps people wouldn't make unfavourable comparisons between the NSMB games if they showed the graphical variety seen in the Zelda games.
Anyway. In conclusion. I don't think a good art style is the be all and end all. Fun gameplay will, in most cases, trump art style. But I guess I didn't realise - until I played and enjoyed the demo for The Wonderful 101 - how pivotal an art style can be in wether or not I enjoy a game.
I'd love to hear wether anyone else experiences this phenomenon. How much do art styles matter to you? Do you think an art style can completely ruin a game? Do you get excited about games purely because of their art style? Would you be more excited to play the NSMB games if they changed up their art style more often?
If you like pretty video games as much as I do, you should check out this website. It showcases art from a whole bunch of awesome games. It's terrific!