Friday, October 31, 2008

LittleBigPlanet - Game of the Year

LittleBigPlanet has absorbed most of my week. It’s the best thing to happen to platforming games since Super Mario Bros. Seriously, it’s that good.

The game is utterly refreshing. The art style is cute yet cool. The graphics are gorgeous. The gameplay is constantly interesting; challenging but never infuriating.

I’ve spent most of my week playing co-op as we’ve had a stream of visitors. First, my dad played co-op with me. By the way, this is the first time I’ve played a videogame with my dad in years. It’s certainly the most time we’ve spent playing games together and I can tell you he enjoyed it, as every time we lost all our lives on a level I’d ask “Do you want to quit?” and he’d say “No, let’s try again.”

My friend Bryce, a serious PS3 gamer, picked up where my dad and I ran out of time. We’ve gone through so many of the story levels that I’m sure I must be almost finished.

Normally I’d be sad to finish the story mode of a game I’m having so much fun with, but it’s okay in this case because there’s so much additional content. I could lose days playing user-created levels. There’s a certain “You never know what you’re going to get” feeling that keeps me trying level after level. This, however, is also a concern. I don’t have the patience for challenging and sometimes flawed levels that I encounter. There are some common issues in these, which I point out because I’m thinking about them as I create my own level; it wouldn’t be fair to be so judgmental of home-made creations.

User levels obviously aren’t tested in the same way that the developers test their story levels. In some cases I’ve found myself deadlocked. For instance, in a Batman inspired level called “Sackman Begins,” Bryce and I got stuck when a swinging bat-symbol vine broke. We didn’t start the level over though, we just moved on to another. 

As a whole, it seems that many users haven’t mastered the ability to reset things when errors occur, or methods for planning alternate paths when the planned path fails. Similarly, checkpoints don’t seem to be popular in user-created levels. In other instances, it’s practically impossible to figure out what you need to do next, as clarity is an issue. But my only real complaint about the game that comes out of this is that it’s hard to tell the creator specifically what went wrong (like “I got stuck when the batman vine broke and couldn’t continue”); instead you rely on tags like “needs work,” “creative,” or beautiful.”

Earlier in the week I also suffered through a lot of lag while playing LPB. This was particularly frustrating because I wasn’t always playing online, I would just get stuck while the game was downloading or uploading high scores. Fortunately, this hasn’t been happening lately. There was a patch that may have fixed the bug, but it may also be that additional servers have been added to compensate for the game’s popularity. It’s really hard for me to criticize the creators for not expecting the game to be so popular that servers were strained.

LPB is so popular that I’ve even received a Twitter request from LBPlanet; apparently organizing all of the LBP players in the world. I hope this game becomes an absolute phenomenon, complete with appearances on morning talk shows.

LBP hasn’t quite grabbed the attention of my fiancĂ©, but she’s remarked that it is really cute and cool to look at. With a little luck, maybe she’ll give the game a whirl. Even if she doesn’t, I am having ridiculous fun playing it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Giving up on Twilight Princess

About a year ago a friend of mine lent me a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. She just asked for it back, forcing me to admit that I never got very far in the game. I told her I never really ended up having time to play it, which is true, but I also have to admit that the game never grabbed me.

I first put it in my Wii during a family Christmas gathering; my brothers wanted to see it. I plodded my way through voiceless text only to finally be allowed to prove I could ride a horse. I then got to talk to more towns-people, catch a fish for a cat, and finally got to go off to a cave where I had to fetch someone or something.

I imagine that a big moment was right around the corner; some event or even a puzzle that would draw me in for the rest of the game. Sadly, it just didn’t happen. For me, the bottom line was that Twilight Princess felt like a much slower version of every other Zelda I’ve played. I was sure I knew what would happen every step of the way. I kept thinking “Next they will teach me to use the ____.” There’s a Zelda formula. Granted, it’s a great formula. And granted, I didn’t make it far enough to see all of the places where the formula presumably got turned on its head. But it’s a formula that I know all too well.

Honestly, Twilight Princess also felt even more restrictive and linear than other Zelda games I’ve played. Certainly the original Zelda throws you in without much instruction, but the immediate action and exploration keeps things going. Twilight Princess made me perform a series of fetch quests before I could do anything interesting, and each one had to be done in a certain order.

What’s funny is that I enjoyed the Phantom Hourglass a lot this year. It also felt fairly narrow – never really letting me go too far off path. Still, I find that I am excited about more top-down Zelda games. So while I want to say that I am excited for games that are like Zelda, but aren’t exactly Zelda, I don’t know that this is true. So maybe I just didn’t give Twilight Princess enough time, or maybe I just didn’t get it at the right moment.

While I can’t figure out exactly what went wrong for me this time around, I am sure I’ll still want to give the next round a shot. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I finally beat PixelJunk Monsters

Yesterday I finally beat PixelJunk Monsters. It wasn’t easy, let me tell ya. Completing seven levels perfectly, a requirement to advance to the final stages, was particularly difficult.

If I ever deserved a trophy, it would be for beating this game.

Amazingly, I actually just learned that trophies are coming next week. As is typical, the developers weren’t able to add retroactive trophies. Fortunately, they aren’t going to make me replay these hard levels perfectly all over again – to get the trophies a series of unique tasks, like “beat this level without leveling up any towers” will be given. It’s a great compromise, likely to make playing it worthwhile and interesting.

Overall, the art and overall “feel” of the game are truly fantastic. My criticism, aside from the punishing demands for perfection, is that the waves of enemies seemed to require such a precise plan that it didn’t feel like I was strategizing on the fly. For example, you might suddenly be required to have unlocked a particular tower type in wave 14 and be unable to do so. I ended up playing each new level with the idea that I was just performing reconnaissance; I’d expect to lose and do better with what I’d learned. This felt more like memorization than strategy, but despite this aspect, I still had a blast with the game. I may even get the expansion.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Little Longer 'til LittleBigPlanet

The fine folks at Gamestop left me a computerized message this past Friday to tell me that LittleBigPlanet has been delayed a week. I'm so excited about this game - it's the only title I have preordered this fall. It's going to be hard to wait, but I'm sure that given the potential controversy, it will be worth it in the end.

Oh, and thank you, Gamestop, for the heads-up; it's awkward to cry in your store.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Klonoa Wii-make

The original Klonoa, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, is getting a Wii-make! This screenshot compares PS1 version with the new Wii version. The Wii has seen it’s fair share of lousy ports, and at this point my Wii is starting to gather dust, but this re-vamped version of Klonoa is reason enough to have hope for Wii in 2009.  

WipEout HD

If ever a game might induce motion sickness, WipEout HD is the one.

I still remember the first time I saw a WipEout game.  I was at my local video store looking for Genesis games to rent. WipEout for PS1 was on display at a kiosk. It was a breathtaking game; blistering fast and 3-dimensional.

Of course, by today’s standards you could engage in a lengthy debate over whether the original WipEout even looks 3-D.  It’s certainly no longer capable of eliciting gasps.

WipEout HD revitalizes and realizes the promise of the series. It’s not going to win any awards for social commentary, but the sense of speed is overwhelming. It’s a highly detailed game that flows perfectly at 60 fps. As you hover slightly above the ground and fly down spiraling tracks, you can almost feel yourself being pushed back in your chair.

The game increases sharply in difficulty, setting high expectations that led me to re-race tracks over and over. Honestly, I’m not sure if I can finish this game, but I’m completely addicted to it.

I’ll post more about it as I make it further.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Linger in Shadows

I downloaded Linger in Shadows on PS3 on a whim. There are no reviews out there (at least at the time), which makes sense - this isn't a game, so why review it as if it were?

 Linger in Shadows is a "demo;" it's designed to experiment with and push the boundaries of videogames. It's more of an interactive cutscene than a game at all. The experience of Linger in Shadows essentially involves watching a narrative segment, throughout which you can interact with key objects and characters by tilting the controller, shaking the controller, or hitting a button. You can also move the film forwards and backwards, going back over the events. The narrative had me twisting my controller to rotate a floating tree, dog, and geometrical shapes. With a scene paused, you can also search the surrounding area for secrets. Linger in Shadows will actually prompt you to do all of this, as there's a certain amount you must do in order to move on to the next segment. It's not necessarily a puzzle though; the demo uses icons to tell you what you should be doing, when you should be doing it. I managed to complete 66% of the demo on my first run through, and subsequently got to 100% completion on my second run through, simply by being a little more thorough.

Linger in Shadows' narrative didn’t add up for me, but I did enjoy the experience. I wish it felt a little more like a Chinese puzzle box, offering layer after layer of new information, sending you down a virtual rabbit hole. However, for three bucks it really doesn’t disappoint.

I particularly appreciate that Linger in Shadows introduced me to the demoscene; it’s exciting to learn about a new “underground” culture. The fact that this exists on a gaming console seems potentially contrary to the idea of being underground, but it’s pretty cool that Sony’s machine hosts it.

Ultimately, I did find myself thinking about new gaming possibilities. For instance, quick-time events are pretty common these days, but they stick to a pretty simple formula; press the button displayed on the screen when it’s displayed. If you fail, you die or start over. My hope is that in God of War 3, Kratos will no longer use this old formula, but instead react in real time. Perhaps when you twist your controller during a movie, you’ll be able to dodge an enemy’s attack, or perhaps you’ll be able to rewind instead of simply starting over. Metal Gear Solid already introduced some similar elements as well; I hope these are all signs of innovation to come.

Action Button

Hi! I've just created this blog as a space where I can talk about videogames I'm playing. I have a separate blog,, where I blog about art projects and exhibitions, but I thought it would be nice to have a space where I can talk about my love for (and obsession with) videogames.

The title of this blog, Action Button, comes for the ubiquitous "Action Button" found in contemporary games. It's the button that does a little bit of everything - push it to open a door, pick up an object, flip a switch, etc., etc.