Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pac-Man's 30th Anniversary

You may have noticed that Google has a pretty awesome playable tribute to Pac-Man in its logo (it even has a two-player option if you push the "insert coin" button). This is because this week marks the 30th anniversary of what is arguably the most recognisable videogame of all time.

I'm not going to try and explain the impact Pac-Man had on gaming, that has probably been done better than I would be able to, and I'm actually too young to have played Pac-Man in the arcades. However, I spent a bit of time playing the game late last year (the XBLA version on the Namco Museum Collection), and it's remarkable how well the game still stands up. As I seem to state in a lot of these posts, I enjoy retro-gaming, but a lot of old games rely on nostalgia and a "so bad they're good" factor now. Pac-Man, on the other hand, remains a challenging, well designed game, where repeated play actually sees you improving as you develop better strategies to go with improved reflexes. For a game released in 1980, that is quite a feat.

Namco have stated that they plan to release a new version of the game this year to mark the 30th anniversary. Having already made all the usual mistakes in updating old classics (trying to add storylines, making it into a 3D platformer) many, many years ago, their last Pac-Man game, 2007's Championship Edition, took the game in new directions without compromising the core of the game, so it will be interesting to see what the new one will be like. Rumours currently suggest a four-player game where Pac-Men have to eat each other as well as ghosts and dots. The new game will most likely be revealed at E3 this year.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Wrath of War

After being diverted from it to play the campaign in Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising, I've recently gone back to playing Darksiders, as game I mentioned in my stylish hard action game round up a few months back.

I was reminded of a Penny Arcade comic about the game (I would also recommend reading the newspost attached to it), and specifically its relationship with Dante's Inferno, a game I also included in the SHA round up and was not bowled over by the demo of. Certainly, Darksiders includes elements easily recognisable from other games, but Dante's Inferno feels like a God of War clone, like it set out with only one goal in mind. Darksiders pulls from many sources and suffuses them with its own style, it certainly doesn't come across as a copy of any one thing. Visually and thematically, it actually reminds me more of Soul Reaver than any recent game, which is certainly no bad thing.

Mechanically, it's far from perfect. The graphics are not amazing; I think, resolution aside, they would have been matched by games on the previous generation of consoles (I'm thinking Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox and God of War on the PS2). The animation can be quite stiff and the combat is less fluid than Dante's Inferno or Bayonetta, with the combo system not seeming to have as much depth. It has a lot of charm, though. In this modern era of ruthlessly focus tested games and safe-bet sequels, Darksiders comes across as a the product of a developer who had an idea for an awesome game and just went ahead and tried to make it, which makes any shortcomings far easier to forgive.

I'm not very far in it, and it seems like quite an expansive game (sadly, for me, this is not necessarily a good thing), but so far I'm really enjoying it. I'm pleased to see that it was fairly well received critically, and I read that it sold quite well, too. I appreciate what Vigil have tried to do with the game, and I'm glad to see it has brought them success.