Until the Credits Roll…

In January, on my quest to finish more games in 2018, I played through Metroid: Samus Returns on the 3DS and I Am Setsuna on the Nintendo Switch. While they are both throwbacks to the 1990s, the games are not similar. Metroid: Samus Returns is a side-scrolling action-platformer with deep puzzling and exploration. It is technically a re-imagining of the Game Boy’s Metroid II: Return of Samus, but it’s really more of a spiritual successor to the SNES classic, Super Metroid. I Am Setsuna is a top-down turn-based RPG, reminiscent of Square’s SNES era games, with a heavy nod to Chrono Trigger. Despite their incompatible play-styles, in my determination to play them both to the end, I found a deeper understanding of the roadblocks and challenges that games in general are designed to offer. At their best, games force us to struggle, maybe learn, and then reward us with a feeling of accomplishment when we overcome a tough obstacle. At their worst, they provide a sense of frustration that gives way to boredom, ultimately leading to giving up, or simply forgetting to continue. What follows is an examination of why I finish so few games. And I suspect it might not just be me.

I’m going to highlight three characteristics that help us see a game through to its end. First, a game has to give us a sense of progress, whether that’s through a narrative story arc or a series of challenging levels, it’s all the same. We have to be working toward something. Second, a game has to maintain a sense of novelty. I think the downfall of many modern, sprawling open-world games is that we drown in repetitive tasks. At some point, those icons on the word map, whether it’s in Assassins’ Creed, Horizon, or Far Cry, they start to look like chores and do not inspire me to continue playing. It’s a tightrope that developers have to walk, balancing a perceived demand for bigger, longer experiences against the finite list of ‘things to do’ in any given game. And third, a game has to keep a balanced level of challenge. A drastic change in difficulty, whether it’s a punishing difficulty spike or an over-powered character making everything a walk in the park, they both detract from the experience and make me start thinking of other games I’d rather be playing. Continue reading “Until the Credits Roll…”

NieR: Automata— Unanimously Divisive

NieR: Automata is going to have a long tail. The release schedule in 2017 was a chain reaction of hit titles exploding on the scene; RE7, Persona 5, Zelda, Mario, Horizon, Cuphead, etc…  Players will be sorting through the rubble of overlooked and passed over titles for some time, and NieR: Automata will be on many a backlog list. It was well received, garnering an 88 on Metacritic. It sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. It is a success by any metric. It was developed by industry powerhouse Platinum Games, published by Square Enix, yet it somehow maintains the quirky cache of an indie title that those ‘in the know’ wink and nod about, across darkened corners of the internet. When a player dares to lament, “I don’t get it,” the Enlightened form a cryptic smile and whisper: “Keep playing, you will.” Yes, NieR: Automata is going have a long tail, and it will prove to be a divisive title, as those who have the patience to discover its beauty argue against those who do not see a reason to keep digging. And neither group will be wrong. Continue reading “NieR: Automata— Unanimously Divisive”

Finish Him

Last week, Mike Ybarra, the Vice President of Gaming at Microsoft, tweeted, “Very few, far less than 50%, actually finish games they play. Why don’t you finish games you buy/get? (Finish = beating last boss, etc.).” It’s not a new question in the community, but it’s one I’ve been asking myself lately. I finished some games in 2017; a few full experiences like RE7 and a 100% completion of NieR: Automata, and shorter games like Night in the Woods and Doki Doki Literature Club, are just some examples. But I have a much longer list of games I sampled in the past year, and promised to come back to. Not to mention a few games that I purchased with every intention of playing but have yet to even boot up. While 2017 left the gaming community with a particularly large embarrassment of riches, the backlog phenomenon is not unique to this year. Continue reading “Finish Him”

5 Ways Super Mario Odyssey is a Souls-Like

Dark Souls, along with its predecessor, Demons’ Souls, has ascended to the lofty height of being genre defining. From Software has produced excellent sequels to Dark Souls, and with Bloodborne, they retooled their own formula into what is sure to be another lasting franchise. There have been decent attempts at imitation like Lords of the Fallen and The Surge. Nioh draws comparisons. The upcoming Code Vein, from Dark Souls’ own publisher Bandai Namco, is banking on its similarities, marketing them. Souls-like, as a genre term, is now as deeply planted in the gaming zeitgeist as Metroidvania or Roguelike.

One defining quality of the Souls-like is a return to difficulty, often compared to the punishing lessons of NES classics like Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, and the more difficult levels of classic Mario games. So without further ado…

 

5 Ways Super Mario Odyssey is a Souls-Like:

  1. The Fashion- Every enemy in Dark Souls can end you with one or two hits. That’s just the way it is. Therefore, Souls players tend to care less about the statistics, and more about the fashion. Just Google Fashion Souls, you’ll see what I mean. In Mario Odyssey, literally every enemy can kill you in three hits, and the outfits offer no protection at all, so the player is encouraged to fashion their Mario in any style they desire.
  2. The Death Ring- Every time you die in Mario Odyssey, you lose 10 coins. Every time you die in Dark Souls, you lose all of your souls. But in both games, if you manage return to the spot you perished before dying again, you can recover what you had lost. The penalty might not be much in Mario Odyssey, but I often feel compelled to regain those coins anyway. It’s a Dark Souls thing.
  3. The Bowser Banners- After scaling a challenging platforming section in Mario Odyssey, the player is often rewarded with a Bowser Flag, that can be converted to a Mario flag, and then used as a fast travel point. Just like the liberally sprinkled bonfires in Dark Souls 2 and 3.
  4. That Level and That Boss- Here there be spoilers, but in Mario Odyssey, there is both a level and a boss that are directly lifted from Dark Souls. You’ll just have to trust me that you’ll know it when you see it.
  5. Mind Controlling Headwear- One of the more tragic tales in the original Dark Souls is that of Solaire of Astora. He only wanted to be so grossly incandescent as the sun. While he can, in fact, be saved, most players saw him mesmerized by the Sunlight Maggot, a loathsome parasite that fashioned itself into a crown and drove him insane. Sounds like the Sunlight Maggot might be Cappy’s cousin, or, at the very least, be from the Cap Kingdom?

 

Obviously, I’ve been having a bit of fun here. But they are all valid points as well. Either way, let me have it the comments. I look forward to your thoughts.

 

Welcome Home, Mario. We Missed You.

Super Mario Odyssey is only one week old and it already feels timeless. I was 21 years old when the Nintendo 64 launched with Super Mario 64. I spent months poring over every polygon, peering around every corner, plumbing every pipe. And then my gaming life moved on. The thought of Mario 64 never stopped giving me those warm, fuzzy feelings, but I also never thought about it too deeply. I didn’t play the 3DS remake. I never revisited it on an N64. It was a legendary game from my past and that was enough. I didn’t miss it. Or, I didn’t realize I missed it, until last week.

The very moment Odyssey began, a smile crept across my face. Little audio cues, Mario’s ‘voice,’ the ominous drums that accompany Bowser’s Airship, the coins’ iconic ding, they all dialed up the nostalgia. My muscle-memory kicked in as I pushed forward on the stick and saw Mario’s little legs start pumping. I reflexively timed his jumps, Hip, Hup, WA-HOO! Triple Jump: check. My grin grew wider. The first hours with this game were like a time-machine, giving me an admittedly rose-tinted window into a simpler time. It is a perfect follow-up to Mario 64. And, it turns out, I did miss Mario 64. I missed it a lot. Continue reading “Welcome Home, Mario. We Missed You.”

Birthday Pony

Bobby Crewe couldn’t sleep for several reasons. First of all, it was hot. It was late August, and a recent spate of fall-like weather had broken his mother’s dependence on air conditioning, so now, even with the night air returning to the muggy, stagnant qualities of summer in the Midwest, she had merely opened the windows and brought in a fan. “It’s too hot,” he had complained, even before the lights went out, but Mom moved as if she hadn’t heard him. She dimmed the light, hugged him until it was hard for him to breathe, then, as he laid back on his pillows, she pulled all of his blankets up over him. “It’s too hot!” he repeated, kicking the blankets back down. “You know everyone’s had a long day,” she said and brushed his hair across his already sweating brow, then leaned to kiss him on the forehead, whispering “Sweet dreams, little angel. I love you.” Then she got up and tip-toed out, leaving the door open just a crack. He heard her whisper something to his Dad. He couldn’t hear what over the whirr of the fan. But Bobby was sure it was about Jimmy. Continue reading “Birthday Pony”

IRL: Real World Lessons in Weird World Games

I was really committed to bonding with my friend Ren over the weekend. I’d been so focused on building my relationship with my new step-brother Jonas and trying to mend fences with Clarissa, that I felt I was neglecting my best friend. So as we arrived at the bonfire, I thought, I’m going to make this weekend all about Ren. But over the course of the next few hours, he really got on my nerves. Maybe we were growing apart, maybe we were never as close as I had been led to believe. Maybe it was just the sound of his voice. Whatever the reason, in spite of all my best intentions, I started behaving rather cruelly towards him. Again. I couldn’t help it.

Oxenfree, Night School Studio’s stellar 2016 release, continues to surprise me after several playthroughs. It’s a simple, stylish conversation simulator that places you in the role of Alex, a high-school girl coming off a pretty serious rough patch. Throughout the game, you have to navigate a small group of friends and frenemies, helping Alex pick up the pieces of the recent past while also dealing with the dangers of her current situation. Multiple possible outcomes and a brilliant narrative device (that I won’t spoil here) make repeated playthroughs feel like a natural extension of the game. And every time I step into Alex’s shoes, I find I learn a little bit about myself. Continue reading “IRL: Real World Lessons in Weird World Games”