Wednesday, December 30, 2009

You Must Run

Thinking of back to basics games, I noticed an interesting little flash game on Eurogamer's Best of 2009 Feature. Canabalt is an exceptionally simple game, all you do is hit the jump button as your character runs towards the right of the screen. I'm not sure I agree with Alec Meer about the genius of the game, but it is strangely compelling, and certainly an entertaining diversion for a few minutes.

I love the minimalism of the game's setting. What are you running from? Why is the city crumbling? What are the ominous mechanical walkers in the background and the transport ships that shake the screen as they fly past? The game doesn't explain any of it. All you have is the striking monochrome pixel art and the brilliant chiptune music to reinforce the urgency of your escape from whatever it is.

Also, let me know if you beat my score of 3.6km, a feat I doubt I will be able to repeat, as it involved me successfully jumping through about five or six building windows, when I usually can't even make one.

Edit: 09/01/2010, Managed to make it 7761m, although it was more luck than skill, as I only had about three window jumps in the entire run. I have replaced the previous image with my new high score.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Shadow Complex

A month or so ago I finished Chair's Unreal Engine powered Xbox Live Arcade title, Shadow Complex. The game is a 2D sidescrolling platform adventure game in the style of Metroid or Castlevania, or so everyone points out. Having skipped the NES/SNES era entirely (actually, I have never owned any Nintendo console), this doesn't mean much to me, in the same way Zelda references, which reviewers often make, don't mean anything to me, but the basic style of the game will be familiar to anyone who has been playing games for a while.

I'm not going to attempt to write up a proper review of it, you can look at one of the many positive reviews on Metacritic if you are interested in more in-depth detail.

What I really liked about the game is how traditional it is. The whole game, you run left and right, jump, climb ladders and shoot things. At times enemies appear in the foreground and background of the screen, but this doesn't really change the fact that the game is strictly two dimensional. Despite this, it is not simplistic, gradually upgrading your abilities to allow you to reach new areas and move around the game world in different ways. The game is not retro pastiche, and it doesn't have to rely on nostalgia for it to be enjoyable, it is simply the kind of game that developers used to make, made with modern technology, and I'm glad for it. I think sometimes modern games set out to be all things to all people, and sometimes they lose sight of some of the things that made games entertaining in the earlier years of the medium.

I wrote a post a while back about certain things I didn't like about digital distribution of console games, but Shadow Complex to me represents how the downloadable game can really succeed. The game looks good for an XBLA game, and is far from the throwaway entertainment offered by some downloadable titles, but it still wouldn't justify a boxed release at regular retail prices. They would have to add far more to the game in order to do so, and I think that would strip it of some of its charm.

I meant to write this post earlier in the week, as the game was reduced to 800 MSP as the Xbox Live Gold deal of the week for 21-27 December, but even at the regular 1200 MSP price I would certainly recommend the game.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stylish Hard Action

In 2001, when asked to explain what sort of game his upcoming Devil May Cry was, Hideki Kamiya described it as "stylish hard action", which is an awesome description, and one I still like to use to describe third person action games with a focus on spectacular combat.

Three such games, all due for release in the first two months of 2010, have caught my attention, and they are:

Bayonetta is the latest game from Hideki Kamiya, through his new studio Platinum Games, which was created from the ashes of Capcom's innovative side studio, Clover, and is a spiritual follow up to Devil May Cry. The game is already out in Japan, and import reviews have so far been positively glowing. However, whereas the original Devil May Cry succeeded because of it's over the top Japanese-ness (nonsensical story, over stylised hero, constant battle against odd, demonic enemies), the games industry has changed since 2001 and I almost feel that this is now one of the things that holds Bayonetta back for me. I'm not sure I want to play as some blatantly over-sexualised librarian fantasy as she dismembers cherubs to the sounds of a bizarre mix of j-pop and lounge jazz.

A demo for Bayonetta is up on Xbox Live already, I am downloading it as I type this post, but it still may be a while before I can give it a proper try. The game is due out in Europe on 8 January.

It's actually hard to tell whether Dante's Inferno is the product of the new, positive EA, or the old, cynical EA. On the plus side, it's fresh IP (at least in gaming terms), developed by well-regarded studio Visceral Games (of Dead Space fame), and previews of it have commended the graphic style and combat mechanics, which are probably the two most important aspects of a Stylish Hard Action game. On the minus side, it's absolutely transparent in its desire to ape God of War (some canny EA exec no doubt realised there would be a gap in the Xbox 360 market created by God of War 3's PS3 exclusivity, which their multiplatform title could exploit), only with medieval Christian mythology rather than Greek, and it takes so many liberties with a well-known piece of literature that it comes across as wanting nothing more than to steal the title for some free name recognition. In addition, EA's marketers actually arranged a fake Christian group to stage a protest against the game outside E3 in order to drum up some publicity, which is pretty crass.

The demo for Dante's Inferno is due for release on Christmas eve, with the game itself, the last of these three to be released, coming out on 5 February, still a month in advance of elephant in the room, God of War 3.

With art direction from comic book artist Joe Madureira, Darksiders is the tale one of the Riders of the Apocalypse's quest for revenge against the celestial or infernal forces that have betrayed him. It's not going to win plaudits from the people who complain that the video game industry is still geared too much towards adolescent and post-adolescent males (neither is Bayonetta, though), but as I have explained before, there is a place for developed, complex characters, and there is a place for action heroes, and War looks like a pretty good action hero.

Every preview for the game I have read is keen to point out the similarities to Zelda rather than God of War, but having never played a Zelda game before, I have no idea what this is supposed to mean or why it should make me weak at the knees. Perhaps it has something to do with a more exploratory game experience rather than the more linear style of a regular third person action game. All I know is that Darksiders has characters with impossibly broad shoulders, huge enemies, guns, giant swords, and the ability to hit people with lamp-posts or throw cars at them. Which seems pretty cool to me.

As far as I know, there is no demo planned for Darksiders, and the only footage I've got of it, a trailer I downloaded from E3 this year, looked pretty shonky whenever it used in-engine footage. Coming from a studio with no real pedigree, Darksiders is the one of these three that I most want to like, but I fear it may be the worst as a game. Darksiders is out on the 8th of January 2010, the same day as Bayonetta's western release.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tony Hawk Takes You For a Ride

From when it was announced at E3 this year, I thought Tony Hawk: RIDE (why do the identifiers on the end of game titles now have to be capitalised as if they were acronyms even when they clearly aren't?) was a peripheral game too far. Following the monstrous sales of games like Guitar Hero and Wii Fit, selling your game with an expensive piece of plastic tat seemed like the new golden goose for video game publishers. While a title like Guitar Hero is playable with a regular gamepad, that's kind of missing the point, and most of the fun in the game is derived from the novelty controller. That's not to say, however, that a novelty controller is going to improve any videogame it is added to. The gamepad is popular for a reason; it's familiar, it's precise, and of course, it's usable while sitting on your couch.

It wasn't long after the game came out that I started to see write-ups which confirmed what I suspected the game would be like. I would highly recommend reading the two pieces of Penny Arcade commentary on the game here and here, but for those of you not bothered with following links, I think this pretty much sums it up:

" of this kind, by which I mean peripheral games, typically allow ordinary people to engage in a kind of assisted fantasy. This is a game that actually punctures the fantasy, one that reinforces and almost codifies the user's ineptitude. As a product strategy, it must certainly be called unique."

Earlier this week I read Eurogamer's review of the game, written by their casual / rubbish game expert, Ellie Gibson. I am often a little bit suspicious of Ms Gibson's reviews, as she has previously revealed herself to be incapable of learning how to play a game properly, and has even admitted she doesn't even like (conventional) videogames, but she can be very entertaining when let loose on a poorly conceived game and this review is one of those instances. Bonus points for the digs at Bobby Kotick and the ActiBlizz Hegemony that has replaced EA as the evil overlords of the games industry.

Experience the joys of skateboarding in your own home

It is interesting to note that because nobody wants to write "Exclusive first review! It's ass!", when RIDE first appeared on Metacritic, it had a score close to 90, and while it is normal for games' metascores to drift lower as more reviews come out, it is uncommon to see them drop from above 75 (green) to below 50 (red). As of publishing this post, RIDE has a metascore of 49. You can easily identify the first four reviews that were published; they're the first four on the list.