#875 Street Fighter IV

Posted: 17th October 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1009th played so far

Genre: Fighting
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2008
Developer: Dimps/Capcom
Publisher: Capcom

It feels right to finish the list of fighting games with a Street Fighter game. Not because I would say it’s my preferred series (in the end Smash Bros connects more with me) but because it really popularized the genre as we know it now, with the side-on 1 vs 1 combat. From what I understand, it changed the variety in arcades to almost exclusively feature fighting games, at least for some time (something I can confirm from our trip to Japan a few years ago). It was not the most controversial or the most advanced, but it’s the best known that, at some left, is a trend setter.

I’m playing the fourth numbered entry in the series – with all the remakes and different editions of the game I don’t know who many you’d say you’re really at now – with the fifth having had a slightly shorter wait when it was released about three years after the book’s second edition. I think the main question is still, how does the game hold up compared to its previous iterations?

Fighting

Peter has always been the fighting game fan. While, as I said, I enjoy the Super Smash Bros series, especially when I can focus in single player, the more serious games grab me less. Over the past decade I’ve certainly gone from button mashing to using some amount of strategy, but it hasn’t entirely connected for me. I certainly prefer the slightly slower, more deliberate gameplay of a game like Soul Calibur over the frantic, stun lock-seeming gameplay of, well, some Street Fighter games.

It’s probably why I had more fun with the various fighting/adventure games, with the likes of No More Heroes and God of War standing out more – similar focus on skill, but in a more controlled and streamlined setting. They’re not always the first that come to mind as a member of the genre, but they’re the ones I’m most likely to come back to soon. Beyond that, I’ll just watch other people play Tekken.

Our Thoughts

I wonder whether the constant Street Fighter remakes and revisions – what is the different between Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix exactly – hides any real differences between the numbered installment. There’s a roster update, but the storyline, as much as there’s any storyline here – is flimsy and pretty empty, without much going on. In the various iterations of previous games, combos have emerged as a big thing, with there being combo meters just to see which ones you can execute, and it feels like that’s all that Street Fighter IV revolved around to me as a casual player. Your positioning is very static, your fighting skills and standard moves don’t do much as you’re playing, and it felt like it was just about learning your combos, executing them and getting through that way before  your opponent does.

I’m sure it works different as an expert, but for me I didn’t see much in here to hold on to. I can’t quite get to grips with the gameplay and missing out on any real story content, the game feels clinical, missing the personality and charm that other games, in or outside the series brings – this is a far cry from BlazBlue‘s story mode.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Street Fighter IV feels hollow, made for competitive players who are not me while not having anything to draw me in to get me to be a part of that crowd. I get that the series is prbably big enough to afford it, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a game to get someone new to play these.

#1002 Super Mario Galaxy 2

Posted: 14th October 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1008th played so far

Genre: Platform
Platform: Wii
Year of Release: 2010
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo
Publisher: Nintendo

There are, of course, a lot of platform games on the list. And while there are many big names in the genre, I think it’s indisputable that Mario is the king of the genre. While the original Super Mario Bros. is primitive now, I remember how much of a marvel it was at the time, and Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are still pinnacles of the genre. After that Mario starred in many other genre games as well, RPGs and kart racing among the most notable.

But most notable for today is how in 1996 Nintendo released Super Mario 64. While there were some 3D platformers before, Super Mario 64 really made them work. There were some camera issues, but the game defined the movable camera as we still know it today, as mixed as it make work these days. The legacy is still there in Super Mario Odyssey, the most recent 3D Mario platformer, and I hope the spirit is there in the second entry in the Super Mario Galaxy series, the most recent one when the book’s second edition was released.

Platform

It feels like we’re closing off a big genre with platform games. While other bigger and older genres exist, action games are so fluid that they have no identity while there are various different shoot ’em up variants that don’t overlap beyond that you’re shooting things in them. On the other hand, there’s a difference between 2D and 3D platformers, but beyond that there’s a lot they have in common. There have been some experiments with how you jump – something the first didn’t always have and that Bionic Commando changed, but the core gameplay has stayed the same.

And that familiarity with the core has made the genre one where you can do a lot of experimentation, something that’s shown in the list as the early indie boom starts. Braid‘s strength is built on familiarity with the genre, which you can then extrapolate to experiment with further. Even now, there are a lot of experiments in the genre, and even some that aren’t classified as platformers but take after them, like Spelunky, use that DNA and develop it further. It’s never a genre I felt in love with, but it’s one of the first I played (Super Mario Bros. may, indeed, be the first video game I ever played) and I enjoy going back to it, alone or in co-op.

Our Thoughts

I’m glad I played Super Mario Galaxy before this, as Super Mario Galaxy 2 really feels like a sequel. It builds on a lot of the elements of its predecessor, while adding some of its own. The game is quite aware of that, which means that (thankfully) the explanations and tutorials are kept to a minimum. There is enough help if you need it, with some additional modes to help those who really struggle, but if you already know other games in the genre Super Mario Galaxy 2 really allows you to just jump in and get on with it.

All of that comes from a larger amount of gravity-bending puzzles, playing around with the different worlds and world shapes and letting you do a lot more of what the first game did. There is quite a bit of repetition in it – building on the concepts you already know and changing them up slightly – but the innovation is enough to keep you entertained. One of the big additions, the return of Yoshi, sits at the center of the game, with his house being the first area you visit and him being playable quite often. The controls are a bit weird – I suspect it’s mostly me struggling getting used to it, but it wasn’t as intuitive as the game seemed to assume it was.

Yoshi’s appearance also is part of the charms of the game. Your hub isn’t Princess Rosalind’s observatory, but is instead Starship Mario, shaped like Mario’s head and almost fully manned by the lumas, the star-shaped creatures that you encounter throughout the game. All sorts of smaller features start showing up as you unlock more features of the game, including a floating mushroom nearby with the Toad Brigade. It feels like the game adds that bit of personality to the world, stepping up a bit from the first game.

Final Thoughts

Even as it seems like the difficulty ramps up quicker than the first game – there are some devious worlds available a lot sooner than you’d expect – the charm does a lot to carry you through the game. There are so many different worlds to uncover and things to see that it feels like you won’t run out any time soon, and it genuinely holds up in a way few sequels that hew this closely do.

#946 Need For Speed: Shift

Posted: 11th October 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1007th played so far

Genre: Racing
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Slightly Mad Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts

The Need for Speed series is one that has been around for a long time now, with (from memory) its 1994 release with its 3D cards impressing us back in the day. It’s been a mainstay in the genre since then, with its street racing and police pursuits adding a lot of excitement compared to just going around a track.

For the list, I’ve only covered Need for Speed: Most Wanted so far, but a set of two games does feel like it’s suitable for a series of this size.

Racing

Together with platformers, it feels like racing games are a genre that has been around me forever. Our early PC games had a couple of them, I’ve got a family interest in the genre and it feels like something that developers could do well enough from quite early on. At the same time it’s a genre where the new improvements come easy – graphics upgrades, new cars, improving the controls as you go along, stuff like that. The controls, in particular, made a big difference for me, as the analog joystick inputs allow for more subtle steering as you play compared to the on or off keyboard input I’m used to.

Yet I think the only racing games I’ve sought out are the Mario Kart games. Learning a racing game’s intricacies always feels awkward, slightly unintuitive a lot of the time, and the repetition you need to get into to get through a lot of them never really feels like fun to me. And that’s as someone who doesn’t mind some grinding in RPGs. I appreciated that relatively recently, racing games have started to introduce progression where you don’t have to win, and I enjoyed a game like Dirt 2 a lot more because of it, but overall it feels like it’s a genre that’s still moving towards a place where I’ll enjoy getting into it (again).

Our Thoughts

It’s weird – while I associate this series with its police chases, emphasizing the illegality of the street races you were taking part in from the start, Need for Speed: Shift has you take part in legal street races, where the focus is on pure racing capability rather than pursuits and such. While it makes for a more straight forward race experience, it also removes what sets the series apart from other series.

It’s an odd choice, and considering that I started with a London race, it compared unfavourably to Project Gotham Racing 3. That game had a track set up that partially overlapped with the one in Need for Speed: Shift (after all, you have to drive past the Houses of Parliament if you’re racing through London), but it took me half a lap before I realized where I was in London and that it was Waterloo Bridge that I was driving past. It not only covers the few landmarks you go past with advertising billboards, it also avoids others (really, no trip to Trafalgar Square? I thought that was obvious) and invents a road down from Waterloo Bridge to the north bank that simply doesn’t exist. That felt even more egregious as I worked right there, walked past there every day, and know it doesn’t look like. Aside from that, the streets and bridges are wider than they are in real life, and it all felt like a bit of set dressing to make a track rather than using the constraints of the city to create a good track. I know that may not matter to anyone else, but after my experience with Project Gotham Racing, this tactic felt incredibly disappointing.

Beyond that, though, the game was pretty fun. It made a lot of sense to use the trial lap to set the difficulty, even as I needed to learn the control, and having to go through your first race to get money to buy your first car is just as nice – giving you a bonus on how well you do, giving you an advantage in what to buy, but you earn it regardless.

Final Thoughts

While I’m sure there are a lot of people who are happy to see a more accurate racing game, there are several others that have done the same. The things that make the series interesting – street racing rather than doing controlled laps, while avoiding the police and dealing with those obstacles – have been washed away here in favour of sanitized tracks and it’s hard not to see that as a step backwards. As thing stand at this point, this is a halfway house between different styles, and to get the real Need for Speed experience, you’re probably better off going for Most Wanted.

#664 Nintendogs

Posted: 8th October 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1006th played so far

Genre: Simulation
Platform: Nintendo DS
Year of Release: 2005
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Publisher: Nintendo

I’ve skipped really dealing with these sorts of ‘pet simulations’, with Eyepet being the other main item on the list (that isn’t a life simulation where you’re influencing humans). Where Eyepet was just as impressive because of the technology of the camera behind it, here we have a game that really is just a pet game that you can carry everywhere with you.

Simulation

More than any other genre, simulation is just a grab bag of games that emulate some sort of real (or not so real) activity. We’ve covered flight simulators as a genre a few days ago and will be covering management and life simulations later, which leaves us with even more of a grab bag. We’ve got a hacking simulation, a photography safari simulation and a sub marine simulator just to name a few. Action games are similarly vague, but here it really sounds like there’s no link at all.

With that said, I did enjoy all of them for different reasons, and there’s something about the purity of focus that these games have. They know what they’re doing and they focus on making that work.

Our Thoughts

While, of course, I know that the dogs in this game aren’t real, when you see them run up to you on your DS screen they are incredibly convincing. I started with a husky – a happy and fluffy boy – and it’s a lot of fun seeing him run around, play with his toys and being excited about his food. The game obviously has compromises elsewhere – taking your dog for a walk requires you to set out a route after which he’ll walk along a scrolling background, but you share his excited when he discovers something new… and isn’t too grumpy at going the wrong way. You’re dealing with a number of stats, but it’s not something you always want to worry about.

There was one element that got to me while playing though, and it’s why I didn’t end up playing as much as I could. The game relies heavily on voice commands. You need to talk to your puppy, teach it its name and some commands. The voice recognition isn’t entirely great, but I managed to make it work with some tips from the internet. It made playing it more awkward, though. While it’s fine to play in a quiet environment, I usually find these games to be best while having some quiet TV on in the background – an episode of Midsomer Murder for example – and having to shout at my DS is off putting both to watching the TV show and those watching with me.

Final Thoughts

While Nintendogs is awkward to play – I can’t see myself taking it with me on a commute as I like to imagine myself doing with these portable games – ignoring the voice input it makes for a nice little simulation to raise a dog with. It’s adorable and surprisingly realistic and, to be fair, I had to deal with a lot less shedding. It’s a nice enough game.

#716 Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops

Posted: 5th October 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1005th played so far

Genre: Stealth/Action
Platform: PSP
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Kojima Productions
Publisher: Konami

I don’t think there’s a better series to look at for stealth gaming than the Metal Gear Solid series. Obviously Metal Gear Solid V wasn’t out when the list was made. It seems to have been, in part, an example of Kojima’s scope and movie inspiration in its storytelling, but clearly with Konami’s compromises in there as well. It felt right, then, to leave the final entry I had to play in the series as my final stealth game.

It does feel like it’s going to be awkward to play this on the PSP, as it won’t give us the time for the lengthy, drawn out conversations that are one of the things that define the Metal Gear Solid series in my head, but I hope that this means we’ll actually get to play the game itself more.

Stealth

For some reason, stealth games just didn’t end up agreeing with me. In theory, for some of them, there’s a neat puzzle elements – how do I get through this area avoiding guards and other threats, take out lights or other systems and reach your goal. To make it more than a puzzle, there tend to be more complicated systems that raise complexity. It’s neat, but somehow it always ends up as a big mess of bad fighting for me. It might be a lack of patience as well as insight in how the system works. When it works, though, and you can learn the paths through, it’s incredibly satisfying and fun.

Our Thoughts

I wondered how well a stealth game on the PSP game would work and… well, perhaps Portable Ops suffers in part from its existence on a handheld. The controls are awkward and, in a game where positioning and getting a good view of your environment really matters, the lack of a look thumbstick is quite frustrating. It makes it difficult to get a feeling for the area around you and to get the information you need to be stealthy. I just never felt like I really got a feeling for what’s going on in the area and where I should be going. It felt clear even in the first stealth section – while I assumed it’d be easier, I ended up just triggering some violence and running to the end. It doesn’t help that as far as I can see, there are no alternative routes, so you’re just forced down this single funnel.

Similarly, firefights are difficult. You get dropped out of first person view when you get hit, which means you have to re-aim in third person. That’s really hard to do as you get no crosshair or other feedback, so you’re just firing randomly. That felt difficult as well.

It does feel like the game innovates in other ways. The squad system is one that I believe in more recent games, but here it’s quite neat to have multiple options to play to arise from that, although I don’t think I really got to experience that. At least the monologues are shorter and less self indulgent, which meant I at least got the core of the gameplay, rather than having to deal with the story and gameplay diversions I see too often in the series.

Final Thoughts

One of the things I’ve learned through the past decade is that that controls are the main thing that matters in keeping a game playable. There’s a lot you can forgive, but if you can’t play the game (and that isn’t the focus of the game), it gets incredibly frustrating and something I’ll skip sooner.

With that said, the game doesn’t quite feel like Metal Gear Solid anyway. Part of this is how different the game’s storytelling feels from the rest of the series, but it also comes down to the series just not adapting to the PSP as well as it probably needs to.

1004th played so far

Genre: Flight Simulator
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Gaijin Entertainment
Publisher: 505 Games/Gaijin Entertainment

Unlike other genres, there was no planning around the final flight simulator. IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey is a sequel to IL-2 Sturmovik, which I played ‘only’ four years ago, which helped contain it, but beyond that this is just the game that was left after having to do a bit of digging to get a copy.

The original dog fighter was quite decent to play, but had a lot going on that I needed to learn. Eight years of development may have smoothed that a bit, but it could have also made the simulation stronger. We’ll have to see where they ended up going with this.

Flight Simulator

I’ve mentioned before that, since we couldn’t afford an up to date computer when I was growing up, I experienced more modern games through borrowed game guides from the library, a genre of book that was quite appealing at the time. One of the ones that fascinated me was Microsoft Space Simulator, an attempt at a realistic simulation of space flight modeled on that of Flight Simulator. I never ended up playing it – my interest taken by other games when I got a machine that was good enough – but the idea of traveling to space and visiting all these wonderful sights I was obsessed with really appealed to me.

I’ve had my space adventures in other games, but the appeal of flight simulators for me comes from the same source. Seeing a world and flying around it is what appeals to me, similar to how I find Train Simulator relaxing, and the dog fighting parts of some other games do less for me. It’s not something I’ve sought out since, but as one of the simulations, the joy for me is in experiencing the system, rather than any major challenges added on top.

Our Thoughts

I guess it’s a bit of a shame then that we finish the genre with a dog fighting game. That’s not to say the game isn’t good at what it does – it looks quite nice as you fly around the British coast in a WW2 plane, but in the end a lot of it involves chasing other planes and shooting them down. They are, of course, mostly smaller targets, which always makes it that bit harder to defeat, and as always it helped that I had other planes with me to help take care of this.

With that said, it feels like Birds of Prey adds a fair bit to the genre as well. Your squad mates have enough personality to add a bit more to the experience, so there’s something there, but your goals have a bit more complications as well. Some are just flying from point to point, taking out the enemies where you do, but you also get to bomb a number of ships – which is harder to figure out than it should be, as the instructions on how they work aren’t always as clear. A nice little improvement is that rather than having to fly back every time when you finish the mission, the game allows you to skip that and just move to the next goal instead.

Final Thoughts

IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey does exactly what you expect for a dog fighting game. You fly around, shoot planes, get to do a bit of bombing and a chance to feel there’s more you can do, and there’s a bit of banter as well. The flavour doesn’t add much to it for me, but in the end it’s fine for what it is – good if you enjoy it or if you want to play a good example of the genre.

#292 The Dig

Posted: 29th September 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1003rd played so far

Genre: Adventure
Platform: PC
Year of Release: 1995
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

While I missed out playing some minor titles – Labyrinth and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – I have played all the really known Lucasarts adventure games once I’ve played today’s game. I haven’t quite finished all of them, but the blog has both had me hold back from playing them until they fit into the rotation and encouraged me to play through their various games.

Out of them, it feels like The Dig is seen as one of the lesser games in the LucasArts adventure canon. While it has a notable set of people behind it – part of the game was written by Orson Scott Card while the core idea was by Steven Spielberg – the production sounds like it was messy enough to the point where the game had to compromise and we didn’t get the best it could be. For me, one of the results of that is that it’s a shorter game, which means I might finish it sooner, but there’s still some love for having a more serious sci-fi story in an adventure game, rather than the comedic tales that the studio was known for.

Adventure

Adventure games are probably my first video game genre love. I was playing platformers earlier and got quite addicted to some puzzle games too, but the narrative pull of an adventure game and its ability to tell a story really appealed to me – I sought them out when I could. In particular, I remember a library book coming with a demo disc that had the Monkey Island demo – which you can’t win by following the walkthrough of the main game. We did figure out eventually though – a real family effort if I remember right.

With that said, I do have to address one failing of the book when it comes to point and click adventures. While it covers almost the entire LucasArts library, it only has a single Sierra entry, and that’s the fairly middle of the road Gabriel Knight II – not a game I’d expect to see as the pinnacle of the studio, but more an example of an FMV adventure as they appeared in the mid-1990s. And while they may not all have been great, it’s hard to argue against King’s Quest being one of the main originators of the genre as we know it now, or that Quest for Glory is an early example of mixing genres that even now is loved.

And, as I went through in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, action/adventures are their own genre. It is often used not to describe a game that provides you the interactive storytelling that comes with most adventures, but rather one where the secondary genre is combined with some amount of exploration and storytelling beyond the basic that come with most genres. It’s a pretty vague standard and term, though, that I still find tricky to distinguish.

Our Thoughts

Any issues with the game’s development aside, I do feel this game succeeds quite well at telling its story. During a space mission, you end up on an alien world removed from any contact with Earth. It’s abandoned and mostly lifeless. You focus both on getting home and figuring out what’s going on in the world – the two mysteries are, of course, related. The game is filled with a lot of detail of the race that used to live there, not all of which is required to finish the game, but all of which is interesting. There are plenty of smaller touches that give you more information on what’s going on and it’s a world that feels that bit more real because of it.

Although the cast is limited – for the most part you’re exploring on your own and in touch remotely with Maggie, a linguistics expert and reporter. The German archaeologist Ludger shows up for the first part, as a sarcastic counterpart, but sadly he comes and goes and loses some of its snarky contributions.

One of the nicer parts of the game’s structures is that the puzzles stay quite focused and often local. While you might move a few items further, the solutions to a lot of other things stay local: you need to fix something that’s right there, with the tools you find there. While it doesn’t always hold up, there are plenty of shortcuts you unlock so the frustration gets less. Your choices also often seem restricted enough that you don’t have to worry too much about what you need to do, again helping the puzzles stay manageable.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think I’d describe The Dig as the best LucasArts adventure. When it comes to more serious stories in an amazing world, Loom feels unbeatable, while it feels hard to draw a comparison to the – often larger – comedic games. It does still create an interesting world to explore that continued to be rewarding throughout and if you like the genre, this is a game worth following up on – even if not the best LucasArts game, in the genre as a whole it is still really good.

1002nd played so far

Genre: Pinball
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 2006
Developer: Farsight Studios
Publisher: Crave Entertainment/Play It

Unlike my edutainment games, I got my pinball games spread out quite well, with Pinball Dreams coming in fairly early and Flipnic fitting pretty neatly between that game and today. I’m pretty sure it’s also the only genre I’ve played in order, which explains why Gottlieb Pinball Classics is today’s game – wrapping up another small genre as we move towards the end.

While Pinball Dreams looked and felt quite dated, Flipnic‘s use of the set up really made it feel like a game you’re progressing through rather than just a basic pinball machine, making use of all the options a game offers. As Gottlieb imitates existing tables, I’ll need to see how this holds up.

Pinball

While the genre is small, pinball games feel like they have always been a part of my gaming life. The collection of floppies that we had with our first PC contained a number of of pinball games I don’t remember the names of, but that were clearly part of a set – the same graphics and gameplay, just with different boards, as an early example of simple sequels – as well as the Pinball Construction Set that similarly showed how you could create more games out of the same building blocks.

The list’s various pinball games really pushed home what more you can do with specifically designed stages and while in the end you’re emulating a physical game, the best games do give you that same feeling of playing a machine while you couldn’t, realistically, have that machine in real life.

Our Thoughts

While Flipnic did its best to use pinball mechanics to deliver a game that feels like a video game, adding elements that wouldn’t work on a real table, Gottlieb Pinball Classics instead focuses on emulating old, famous pinball tables by Gottlieb. Assuming the tables are accurate – and considering the nature of the game, I would assume that they are – you really get to play a properly preserved version of them. The game readily acknowledges that, taking the time to explain the tables and giving you some hints on the strategy on how to take the tables on. That even leads to the game setting goals based on you knowing all of this, based on real life experience.

But that also is its downside. While in other games, I enjoyed just playing and felt like I was making progress, putting a score goal on it – one that’s higher than I tend to get – really felt frustrating as I clearly didn’t have the skills to get that far. Normally at least you feel you’re making some progress, but here I was hampered by skill and bad luck – when the ball gets to certain spots on the table, outside my control, I just lose it. I feel like it’s working against me not because I got it wrong but because the game decided not to let me through – sending it down specific routes behind the flippers you can’t reach.

Again, this is a case where the goals in an arcade – spend money – is different from the experience at home, where you want to have fun playing, and the tables would be designed differently around it. While emulating the tables makes sense for what you’re doing, for some game modes you need to collect tokens to play more tables, which you get by reaching these goals. Luckily there are codes to cheat your way to them, but it feels like putting these behind an unlock just forces you to engage further with these frustrating tables and works against the conversation aspect of letting you play the different tables. And while there were some really entertaining tables here, there are some that didn’t feel worth the effort after I reached them.

Final Thoughts

I feel like the different goals of this game are at odds. The score challenges feel too much up to luck to me, not giving a new player the confidence boost you need to get through these initial levels. At the same time, forcing you to reach these to unlock them means that you want to provide an accurate simulation that also makes it hard to reach these unlocks. It’s hard to see anything of the tables beyond the first few and I don’t understand why you’d want to do such a thing. Just let me play the game!

#73 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Posted: 23rd September 2021 by Jeroen in Games
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1001th played so far

Genre: Interactive Fiction
Platform: Various
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Infocom
Publisher: Infocom

So this is weird. If there had not been a second edition of the book, I would be done now – instead I’m going into overtime. I’m playing the final double digit game – it was the last game remaining for it and is one of those weirdly eccentric entries that deserves it. And sticking with our milestone + 1 rule, Infocom feels a bit like its own indie of the day – independent with its own niche – even if it was really a big publisher of its day. And since it’s part-designed by Douglas Adams, this is also another version of the story that we’ve seen told before in radio, book, TV and movie form.

I’ve been looking forward to this one.

Interactive Fiction

Partially due to my own edits, the interactive fiction bag has been a bit of a mix of games. What you get, to a greater or lesser extent, is the focus on and experimentation with storytelling, at times combined with puzzle solving. That’s abundantly clear in the exploration of A Mind Forever Voyaging and the oddities of Thirty Flights of Loving, but I feel that it’s also a genre that has exploded in the decade after the book’s publishing. While they’ve been referred to with the deriding term ‘walking simulator’, there have been a lot of games that took gameplay elements and moved them to focusing on their story, with a differing amount of other interactions. In fact, as I write this I finished What Remains of Edith Finch a day ago and its structure of voice overs while you play simple mini games is an evolution of what started with Infocom’s experiments with narrative.

While I wouldn’t have said this a decade ago, it feels like this is the purest expression of video games as art – a system that tells a story and creates an emotional response in part through the way you interact with it, as an active participant rather than a passive observer. It shows the power of the medium, and it’s been the smaller indie developers that really pushed it. It’s a small fraction of the list, but it also contains the games that had the biggest impact on my thoughts of what a game is.

Our Thoughts

It feels almost inevitable than any interpretation of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy feels a bit like fan fiction, even if (as is the case here) Douglas Adams had a hand in it. For the video game, that means that the initial scenes are incredibly familiar – wake up, lie in front of a bulldozer, get teleported to a Vogon spaceship – are all there. Playing as Arthur Dent, though, means that your perspective on these is quite different. You know what instructions to follow, but Ford going off means you have to trust that what happens makes sense. While the initial beats of the story stay the same, they diverge at one point as you can dive into the memories of several of the known characters, seeing major scenes from their perspective and with their take on it. Aside from a nice way to get in the moments you almost expect to see, it feels like a really good way to enhance the storytelling in a way that you don’t get in a more passive work, especially not outside the books. It only covers a small amount of the story from other works, but it’s satisfying in what it does have.

It’s more difficult to say the same from the other side, when it comes to the puzzles the game has. There are a lot of options and blind alleys that leave you in trouble long after you made the initial decision. I soon switched to playing with a guide to avoid the pitfalls (and there are many, even with a guide I messed up the timing of a few events) and my enjoyment increased immensely as I could actually see the story beats, while using some save games to follow other paths. It’s neat once you do that, but it does feel like a flaw in the core game, albeit a flaw I expect from the era.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the video game, would work as well as just telling a story. The parts where you have to go around, take certain actions and react to the world work to tell of what you’re doing, and the many failure situations work to explore why you need to do them. On the other hand, it feels like the gameplay and puzzles are a bit too difficult to keep track of, and almost delight in their cruelty when you miss doing something. A guide and save games help, but if I didn’t have both to help me, it feels like it would have really tested my patience.

#776 Pac-Man Championship Edition

Posted: 20th September 2021 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , ,

1000th played so far

Genre: Maze
Platform: Xbox 360
Year of Release: 2007
Developer: Namco Bandai Games
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games

We’ve reached quadruple digits! We’re in a great group of landmarks for the list now, where this and the next one will feel monumental but we’ve got another twenty to go after that. To mark the occasion, it felt appropriate for me to look back and go back to Pac-Man and see what its modern interpretation of this game is like.

Maze

The maze genre, as listed in the book, is really to separate series that are connected only by superficially featuring mazes. One is the Pac-Man series, where you travel around a preset maze that you move around. It’s a good game, but perfected with the original in a case where I don’t think the later sequels work well – adding stuff subtracts from the end result.

On the other side there are the games like Boulder Dash, which has you dig through a maze to reach an endpoint or defeat enemies, focused around strategic puzzles rather than focusing on your reflexes. They are the more interesting ones where the puzzle elements add to the games feeling different. It makes sense to create new games and play with the formula.

With hindsight, we probably should have looked at combining these with other genres, but it’s where we’re at. It means that I get to stick a Pac-Man game in here, which feels deserved as a reference to the older games.

Our Thoughts

While this game looks like Pac-Man, once you get past needing to collect dots it starts playing fairly differently. First of all, there are several different mazes available that you play through. That’s not too offensive as the idea of playing through different mazes feels quite natural and it expands neatly to give you more of them as you go on. I’m sure the classic maze is in there as well, although I didn’t end up seeing it. You get several different graphic looks as well, which can apply to any maze – it goes a bit beyond changing colour, but you’re still just skinning the mazes without any gameplay differences.

It’s that gameplay difference that makes me feel this is the inferior game. Rather than clearing a maze, then moving to the next level, you clear a group of dots on the maze, after which a new set comes in (usually on the other side of the maze). You keep chasing new sets of dots while you try to hold out for as long as you can, based on the game mode. Every set of dots also adds a ghost to the ones chasing you, but because you’re following a single path they all tend to follow you in a long chain of ghosts. It becomes an inferior version of Snake where you have to manage your trail, but not quite a nicely. You get recurring power pellets to get rid of them, which means that they don’t become as much of a problem, and because all ghosts follow the same logic (rather than the differences of the original game) the single chain stays rather boring.

Final Thoughts

While Pac-Man Championship Edition‘s different mode of playing is interesting from its competitive element, I feel the infinite repetition removes the simplicity of Pac-Man‘s simple rules leading to complex situations.  Rather than working out your path and dealing with ghost situations, you’re just following the path each set of puzzles lays out, occasionally pausing to deal with the ghosts when they become too much. It misses the point of the game and gets boring sooner than a game like this should be.