EGX Rezzed- My Highlights

Screenshot by Flickr User: Alien: Isolation
Screenshot by Flickr User: Alien: Isolation

So over the weekend EGX Rezzed was held at the NEC in Birmingham and i was lucky enough to be able to get myself down to it on the Friday. For those who are unaware of what Rezzed is the way i describe it is like a more indie based Eurogamer, although this year for the first time they did showcase some more ‘Mainstream’ console games, I thought as a little summary of the event i’d talk about a few games that impressed me, and just my general impressions of the event.
The first game that i got to see in action was Hotline Miami 2, a game which is very hard to describe, in it’s most basic form it is a retro shooter which sees you going into buildings and flushing out the bad guys, and by flushing out i mean killing. There were a couple of things that made this game stand out a lot for me, firstly how simple the game was, it’s nice to know that the days of basic gaming aren’t over, there is nothing complicated here, just move around and attack, that’s all there really is to it. The next thing that i liked was the games ‘vibe’ they really have nailed the retro feel and the music matches this, i really did feel like i could have been in an arcade from 25 years ago, and that’s a good thing! The last thing that stood out to me was the unforgiving nature of the game, one shot and you’re dead, although this can be a bit frustrating it’s part of the games charm, and it means that when you do clear a zone it feels very satisfying. After the show when i got home i actually downloaded the first Hotline Miami and i can say that it also has all these qualities, if you’re looking for some old school, fun gaming this may well be a good shout.

Video from Youtube User: DevolverDigital

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Why Are Multiplayer Games So Forgettable?

Image from Flickr User: BagoGames

Why is it so difficult for a multiplayer game to hold the attention of the gaming populace? Many of us who’ve been gaming for a few years can list plenty of single-player games that left an impact one way or another, but despite the apparent popularity of multiplayer games (shooters in particular) not many ever seem to make that same list. It can’t be that mulitplayer games aren’t as fun as their single-player counterparts, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing the ever-growing push towards multiplayer and social components in games that’s been taking place over the last several years. No, the reason must lie in one of the fundamental differences between single and multiplayer games; that difference being one of goals. One wants to provide a memorable experience, while the other wants to provide a lasting experience. They sound similar, but it’s a trick; they couldn’t any more different.

Single-player game has a singular goal: to provide you with an experience that you’ll remember. They’re journeys we undertake that are filled with story reveals, memorable characters, or gameplay that captivates the mind, keeping hold even long-after we’ve stopped playing. They’re finite and intentionally so. They don’t care that you’ll stop playing after reaching the end, that’s one of the goals of the design: to end and give the journey that much more impact. We’re always left wanting more, which keeps us enthusiastic about them even years later.

Multiplayer games on the other hand want to keep us playing. It’s not difficult for a well-made multiplayer game to keep its players engaged, just look at Call of Duty . And while we may wind up logging more time into these types of games than any single-player offering, the nature of their construction often inhibits their ability to leave a lasting impression. Really it comes down to the fact that each match is short and self-contained. It’s a great structure for getting players into the action and providing opportunity for improvement and intensity inspired by victories and defeats, but not so much for leaving a lasting impression. Breaking the experience down into self-contained matches makes it difficult to take the experience as whole, reducing it all down to unrelated flash-in-the-pan moments which in turn get watered-down from sheer volume. We’ve all pulled-off a great many things we thought were incredible in multiplayer, we’ve all also had absolutely horrendous and rage-inducing matches that at the time we were certain would live forever in infamy. After so many games and matches though, all that gets left is the impressions of each, nothing more. It’s all a symptom of the multiplayer design. It achieves its goal of keeping players playing, but at the cost of losing any sort of specific impact.

It’s likely that this won’t always be the case though. Now that we’re seeing cooperative play gaining popularity and stories being woven into otherwise detached multiplayer, perhaps multiplayer games will eventually leave the same sort of impact that only single-player experiences can provide. (A man can dream right?)

Have you seen this contrast between single and multiplayer experiences over the course of your own tenure as a gamer? Is there anything you would change about multiplayer games to make them more memorable?

When Games Get Personal

Image by Flickr user Susan
Image by Flickr user Susan

I’ve been intermittently playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out for a little over six months. Say what you will about such time sucks, but I’ve been having a pretty good time in my ten minutes here and there with a beloved cast of characters that I know well and enjoy. During a recent “quest,” one of the characters inquired about the town’s lack of fresh vegetables. In response, I had to go to the local yokel’s farm and plant some sort of crop. Considering that available crops included moonshine, triffids, and “tomacco” (tomatoes + tobacco…gross), I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be planting something normal. The quest item that popped up was a surely questionable hybrid of potatoes and tomatoes that was blatantly labeled “GMO.” If you’ve followed any news at all over the past decade, hopefully this isn’t an unfamiliar acronym, but it stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and it’s a hot-button issue affecting food production worldwide. For me, it’s become a very touchy subject and one that’s affected my own grocery shopping habits. All I can say is that the more I learn about it, the bigger I want our backyard garden to become. So when that GMO crop showed up in the game, I paused, and number of disparate thoughts went through my mind.

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Unforgettable: The Appearance of the Flood

Screenshot by Flickr User: commorancy
Screenshot by Flickr User: commorancy

Not so long ago, in a room possibly far away and possibly not so much, depending on where you live, I mentally face-palmed myself.  Because I had just realized that I had somehow managed to forget a particular moment in my gaming history where I just said to myself, “Wow, now that was one of the best video game moments ever.”  Ever.  And with such a statement being an undeniable cue that I should write an Unforgettable post about it, I did.  See?  It’s below.  And the unforgettable moment I am talking about this time is…when the Flood first appear in “Halo”.

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Yoshi Needs New Ideas, Not Sequels

(Image by Flickr User: walknboston)

Yoshi has been my Nintendo character of choice for a long time. Be it Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, or Mario Party, Yoshi is my dinosaur. I know I’m not the only Yoshi fan out there, why else would Nintendo treat his inclusion in games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 and New Super Mario Bros Wii U like such a big deal otherwise? Despite that popularity, Yoshi has had few successful games of his own though, the only ones I can think of being Yoshi’s Island (I love this one so much!) and Yoshi’s Story (it’s not Yoshi’s Island, but still great!).  Both of these had their own visual styles, their own music and their own gameplay, and we love them for it. Yoshi’s other recent games though…not so much. They try, they really do, but that’s actually the problem. They each attempt to build on the Yoshi’s Island formula, but since that formula was as close to platforming perfection as a game can get, all their additions and changes manage to do is mess it all up. My case and point: Yoshi’s New Island.

I was really excited for this when it was first announced. “Finally” I thought, “Maybe Yoshi’s Island will get the sequel it deserves!” After picking up last week though, I found myself disappointed yet again. It comes closer to being a good sequel than any of it’s predecessors, but still falls way short. It doesn’t over-complicate the game like Yoshi’s Touch & Go or Yoshi’s Island DS did, but simplifies it instead, and I mean that in every sense of the game.

To start, the levels are short and simple, and incredibly easy to clear. Now Yoshi’s Island wasn’t known for it’s difficulty, but it still out its players to the test. Getting all the Flowers, Red Coins, and Timer Stars was a matter of skill, and made finishing a level particularly satisfying (especially if you did it without resorting to the items). In Yoshi’s New Island though, completing the level is a simple matter, to the where I’d racked up over 100 extra lives by the time I got to World 3! It’s still difficult to finish with all the flowers and coins, but not because the took skill to aquire. Instead they’re just hidden all over the place, making finding them a chore and critically slowing down the game from what should be an energetic and lively pace, to a relative snail’s crawl. To top it off, the fun of the end-level goal ring has been completely drained. Since the levels are already too easy to allow for the old items and extra lives are given out like candy, they didn’t bother to include the end-level bonus games (since they’d been rendered pointless), instead we get “Egg Tokens” which I haven’t found a purpose for other than collecting. This simplification also applies to the castles and bosses, as both never put up much of an effort to prevent Yoshi from progressing. Put it all together and what you get are ultimately bland levels completely devoid of everything that once made them fun adventures.

The gamplay follows a similar pattern. All the elements are there, the enemy-swallowing, the egg-throwing, the transformations, and the Baby Mario-obnoxiousness, but it all feels…off. This first one might be a personal preference thing, but Yoshi’s throw, it’s just…slow. I constantly found myself having to sit and wait to throw my eggs, and only from solid ground. It just take too much time to do any of the fancy fast-paced egg-slinging that made the original game such a blast! Then there’s the transformations: they’re only done in special rooms and consist almost entirely of tilting the 3DS one way or another. Instead of the fun little breaks from the normal gameplay that they used to be, they now feel like tacked-on excuses to make use of the 3DS tilt functionality. The segments are playable, but the total reliance on the tilting often makes for frustrating control issues that hinder progress through a level. As for the new mechanics, or should I say mechanic of the giant eggs, it’s novel but doesn’t add anything. The giant eggs are always in self-contained areas and are either used to clear obstructions/gather massive amounts of coins to level up, or to allow Yoshi to go underwater for a time (I believe we already had something for that…). They have potential to be cool additions to the gameplay, but I have yet to seem them realize it.

There is one fun addition to the game though, in the form of Super Yoshi. Super Yoshi have our dinosaur moving fast, traversing tricky terrain and always finish with Yoshi going full Superman on us and flying at incredible speed through enemy and obstacle alike! They’re exceptionally fun segments that, while few and far-between, area always a joy to come across!

Last but not least, there’s the music and art style. I actually like the art style to be honest. The pastel painting aesthetic is a nice happy medium between the classic Yoshi’s Island cartoon look we all know and love, and the need for new games to look…well new. It allows the visuals to retain some 3D aspects without totally doing away with stylized Yoshi game look. I wish I could say the same for the music though, which I can sum up in one word: bland. It’s completely devoid of the life and joy that made the music of the original so memorable and delightful. I can’t say it’s bad though, because I honestly don’t remember any of it. It literally leaves so little of an impression, that it might as well not be there. I suppose they could have been trying to compliment the calmer tone of the pastel art style in the same way the distinct and memorable themes of Yoshi’s Island complimented it’s loud and cartoony style, but there had to be a better way to do it than making the music calm to the point of non-existence. In short, the game really does look nice, but just sounds so bland!

Now my love for the original Yoshi’s Island may have colored my impressions of the game, but in my defense the name “Yoshi’s New Island” very much invites that comparison. The total under-performance of this game has convinced me of something that I didn’t expect to ever think though: it’s convinced me that we need to move on from Yoshi’s Island. Yoshi doesn’t need more sequels to old games, he needs fresh ideas he can thrive in. He needs a game that’s as different from Yoshi’s New Island as Yoshi’s Story was to Yoshi’s Island. If he doesn’t get that soon, then maybe we’ve seen the last game that will star our favorite green dinosaur.

What are your thought on the more recent Yoshi games? What’s your favorite game that includes the saddle-wearing reptile?


The Pixelated Trend

Image by Flickr user amlusch
Image by Flickr user amlusch

When I started playing video games, it was the era of “early 8-bit” (Atari) and “8-bit” (NES) graphics both astounding (Super Mario Bros. 3) and terrible (Home Run). That “video game look” pervaded pop culture until “pixel” was as common a word in our lexicon as “game.” And we loved our sprites no matter how bad the games were. But we also shouted with glee at the dawning of the 16- and 32-bit eras. How had we lived before without such dramatic and joyful color?! Enter the 64-bit era, high definition, and photorealism, and you’ve got yourself a 30-year span of graphics evolution.

So why are many game developers going back in time with their graphics? You’ve seen them, any number of “retro-style” games  mostly on Steam and handheld/mobile devices, such as VVVVVV, Tiny Death Star, and Lone Survivor. They aren’t bad games; in fact, they are some of the most currently successful games available. They aren’t cheap knockoffs, but have been crafted with (occasionally tongue-in-cheek) care and with a definite eye towards fun and replaybility. And many have that distinctive 8-but look — characters and environments all rendered in tiny, colorful squares. Visible pixels define the landscapes, and they look so much better than the blocky blobs we dealt with in the likes of Pitfall! and Dig Dug.

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Resonance: Dark Creature Pursuit

Screenshot by Flickr User: PSMANIA
Screenshot by Flickr User: PSMANIA

Video from Youtube User: Soniman001

One game I recently had the pleasure of playing was “Rayman Legends”, a wonderful game that contains some of the best video game music I have ever heard.  But, as I believe I have said before (and if I hadn’t, now you know), a song has to be more than just good to resonate with me.  There are songs that are just nice to listen to, and there are songs that do so much more.  There are songs that make me feel emotions, like fear or joy or sadness.  And there was only one song, in this game filled with great music, that really did that, and it is “Dark Creature Pursuit”.

This song plays in several areas where you are chased by hoards of these vicious, little monsters.  These things are nasty, and the way they snarl and try their darnedest to clamber up over ledges to try and get at you, you just know they are ravenous…for your blood.  They are scary enough on their own, and it doesn’t help that there are some pretty stressful sequences of being chased by these horrible beasties, sometimes for fairly long stretches of time, too, but it is the music that sends this already frightening experience over the top. Continue reading Resonance: Dark Creature Pursuit