videogames

Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King

It’s fascinating to play these games as an adult and also with the benefit of a rewind button. If I can take you back to the early 90s when these games were released, the way games had longevity was through difficult. When arcade games were difficult, it was a financial transaction. You pump in quarters to keep playing. But when home console games were difficult, it’s so that parents wouldn’t feel ripped off while game developers inflicted sadistic gameplay on kids. If you were a tenacious child, then coming home after school every day to see if you could get past the “Cave of Wonders” or “I Can’t Wait to Be King” was how games worked. You would get destroyed again and again with only a limited numbers of lives and continues and checkpoints. The underlying message for kids (if these games have a message): be perfect or die.

Playing them as an adult, it speaks volumes that even with a rewind button to speed things along, these games are still punishingly difficult. Some if it is because of poor design like weak object detection (like getting hit when you weren’t touched by an enemy) or platforming that doesn’t reach the gold standard set by the Mario games. But ultimately, with Aladdin and The Lion King, you have two pretty typical games of the era: they were tie-ins, they were brutally difficult, and, credit where it’s due, they’re beautifully animated for their era. Carrying that Disney license ensured that the games didn’t look bad even if their gameplay felt designed to upset and anger children.

That’s the weirdest thing about the way these games play. As an adult, I would never want my kid to play a game like this. It’s fine for me with the nostalgia and the rewind button and all that. But there’s really nothing rewarding happening here. Sure, the Mario games have their level of difficulty, but what’s always made the Mario games stand apart is that they feel, on some level, fair. Even as a kid, you know that if you missed the jump or got struck by an enemy, it was kind of on you. And especially once you reach Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, the games offer ways to be more forgiving without completely nerfing the experience.

Aladdin and especially The Lion King really hate the player. They almost feel like a cruel joke played on every child who loved the movies and then gets introduced to some of the most punishing levels the designers were able to concoct. And again, I get the business decision: Parents are the ones paying for these games and a game that can be beaten in a weekend makes for unhappy parents. But look at the puzzling element added to The Lion King and tell me that’s a game for a child. I’m a grown-ass man and I was repeatedly checking YouTube to figure out how to advance (I had less of a problem with that on Aladdin, although the boss fights still gave me trouble).

The Disney Classic Games collection is a funny little nostalgia box that really leans hard into “nostalgia” because any realistic recollection of these games has to acknowledge their unforgiving difficulty. With the rewind button frequently in use (although it can cause the game to glitch something awful by basically losing control of your character), the games are manageable, but they’d probably only be considered “fun” by masochists.

Sunday, January 12th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Talk about starting the gaming year off with a disappointment. I got stuck on an early boss, switched over to Zelda, and then came back to this one and still got whomped. I read strategy guides and I read about difficulty, and this just the kind of game I don’t like playing. I was hoping for a return to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night with some better graphics, but it oddly has less charm than the PlayStation classic and feels more cumbersome. It always feels like I’m playing off-brand SOTN even though it’s from the same creator.

I guess I could really grind it out on this boss battle and see if the game eases up, but how much time do I have to invest to beat this one guy? Also, it’s not like I’m getting any closer to beating him. He knocks me out pretty quickly, and part of the appeal of these Metroidvania games is that they unfold with exploration. I’ve now hit a wall and rather than dump more time trying to make the best of Bloodstained, I’m moving on to something else. Bummer.

Friday, January 10th, 2020 videogames No Comments

The Legend of Zelda

I did not have a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) growing up. The first console we ever got in my house was a Super Nintendo, which we loved very much (thanks, Mom!). But that didn’t stop me from playing NES games over at friends’ houses. However, one game I never really got to play was The Legend of Zelda, which makes sense. While the Super Mario Bros. games allow for multiple players or you can switch off lives and levels, Zelda is a big, expansive game of trial-and-error. It’s a game the begs you to get lost in it, to dig out some graph paper, and to record the location of every secret treasure. It’s a game that demands you get together with your friends who are also playing it and figure out the location of the secret rooms and how to get into various dungeons. Before social networking became a thing, the social element of Zelda was essential (it was either that or pick up a strategy guide).

As a kid, I can imagine that playing The Legend of Zelda was a blast, but I am now an adult. The game is part of the NES Classics lineup on Nintendo Switch, so I decided to finally play through it. However, since my free time is more finite and all my friends aren’t playing a game from 1986, I decided to take a couple shortcuts. First up, I happily used an online strategy guide to help direct me in making my way around Hyrule. Second, and what I’m sure others will declare as blasphemous, I made use of the rewind feature when enemies started raining a beatdown on me. I regret nothing. I wanted to play the game, but I also realized that there was no way in 2019 for me to play it as originally intended unless I forsook other responsibilities like “spending time with my wife” and “my job.”

And having beaten the game (or at least the first quest; I don’t really see the point of completing the second quest), it’s no surprise why the game is a classic. I actually felt a little sad that I didn’t get to play this game when it came out because I can easily see getting lost in making maps and talking about how to beat dungeons with friends. That’s the communal aspect of video games that’s kind of lost right now and has kind of wandered over to “solving” TV shows like Lost and Westworld. Now the community of video games is who can you beat and how badly you can beat them rather than a small group of young friends coming together to get to the end of a quest. As an adult, I’m no longer the target audience for a 34-year-old video game, if that game has any large audience at all. But I’m grateful for the experience of having played it, shortcuts and all.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 videogames No Comments

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice

Anime was a mistake. So was playing this game until the end.

It’s really my fault, though. I’m not the same person as I was when I started playing these games over a decade ago, and the writing just isn’t as strong. Capcom has tried to add in new gameplay wrinkles while keeping the same charm, but the series has become overloaded on characters and relied too heavily on Apollo Justice, who doesn’t seem to have much of a personality, or at least not a personality that makes him significantly different from Phoenix Wright. Plus the series has never really figured out how to iron out the kinks in its logic leaps, so what you’ve got is kind of an overwrought visual novel that has failed to evolve as a game.

Of course, my silly need to finish games I’ve started reared its ugly head and instead of just quitting, I felt the need to complete the story. Thankfully, I was able to get it in under the wire for 2019, but now I can say I’m done with the Phoenix Wright games. They were fun while they lasted, but this series is out of juice, so unless Capcom does some sort of major revamp where they start telling better stories while bringing the gameplay out of 2005, I think this is the last one I’m gonna play. On to better games in 2020!

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 videogames No Comments

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I finished Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End tonight, and while I don’t want to say that it’s an overrated franchise, but all the games are the same! Some of the plot beats change, but the structure is pretty much identical, and the gameplay has never evolved. Like, it’s great that they came up with destructible environments, but it’s the same game over four installments–climbing and combat involving chest-high walls. It’s also hard to credit the game with strong storytelling when Nathan Drake is all personality. Judging by his actions, he’s the world’s worst treasure hunter. The idea behind Nathan Drake seems to be “What if Indiana Jones but he ruins every place he visits and kills 600 people?” At least Indiana Jones bumped off Nazis or Cultists–people who would do evil things even if Indiana Jones wasn’t around. Nathan Drake just kills other treasure hunters! He has no more right to the treasure than they do, but I guess they have to die. My hero.

Anyway, these games are fun for what they are (I can’t imagine being so hard up more that I’d play The Lost Legacy or Golden Abyss), but it’d be baffling to pay $60 for it. I paid $10 and thought that was a fair price. It would also be worth a rental if I had a GameFly subscription.

Image via Naughty Dog
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019 videogames No Comments

Titanfall 2

So I beat Titanfall 2 last night, and it’s a weird game. Not weird in the “Let me scour the deepest recesses of Steam for the most indie game I can find” way, but weird in how it’s ostensibly a AAA game that’s just a bizarre hodgepodge of ideas that kind of works and yet also feels like a demo for a more substantial game. It combines these desperate game mechanics like wall-running/platforming in first person (I’m not a fan, but I can see how some folks would enjoy it), mech battles, and one level that has you jump across time periods, and any one of these seems like it could be enough for its own game, and yet they’re combined into a relatively short experience (it took me 12 hours to beat it because I am bad at video games, and I learned I should never be a streamer because no one wants to watch me be bad at video games).

It’s not a bad game, although its depressing to see what passes as story in video games. Yes, the relationship between your character and your mech is nice, but the uniqueness is trampled upon by yet another scrappy resistance fights the evil aliens/government/corporation/etc. narrative. I could not tell you three things about the main character, and while I understand that he’s a bit of a blank slate so you can project onto him, aren’t we a little past that? If you’re going to give him a voice actor and his own name rather than a mute where you give them a name like in a 90s RPG, give me a real narrative and not just scrappy pilot partners up with giant robot to kill a bunch of people. That’s fine for what it is, but it doesn’t make for a particularly memorable experience.

titanfall-2

Image via EA

Friday, June 21st, 2019 videogames No Comments

Why I Don’t Like ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’

Before I begin, let me be clear: I don’t think The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a bad game. I can appreciate the care, effort, and most importantly, appeal it presents. But it also kind of clarified the kind of gamer I am and the kind of games I enjoy. I play games to unwind, and unwinding for me is not having to put a lot of thought into anything. It’s why I like building LEGO from the instruction manual. Here’s the manual, here are the steps, and it’s relaxing to just follow those steps and get a nice little set at the end.

Breath of the Wild is all about exploration and daunting challenges. It relishes in frustrating the player and then, for those willing to weather those frustrations, they’ll be rewarded. So if you fight through a lot of tough enemies, figure out how to get to the tower, fight even more enemies, survive the terrain, figure out how to climb to the tower, survive more enemies, and then finally climb the tower, you’ll be rewarded with climbing the tower. You set the goal, you choose the way to figure it out, and punishing as it may be along the way, you’re theoretically rewarded at the end.

For me, I just like more guidance in my games. I like knowing where to go next and a clear path to get there. I’m not opposed to challenge per say, but I do get frustrated with ridiculous levels of difficulty that require me to “work” at getting better (which is why I’ve never bothered to defeat the Valkyrie Queen in God of War). I don’t want to have to work to get good at a video game just like I don’t want to have to dump hours of my life figuring out how to climb a tower. I enjoy the simple pleasures of a game, and becoming invested in my character’s journey. But what Breath of the Wild is selling, I’m not buying. I can understand why it’s popular, but after spending time with the game, I can tell it’s not for me.

Friday, June 29th, 2018 criticism, videogames No Comments

Cuphead

So I’ve played a bit of Cuphead now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that while the game is indisputably gorgeous and a wakeup call to other developers to up their game when it comes to art style, the actual gameplay is too grueling to be enjoyable. There are some gamers who get off on punishingly difficult games, but I am now one of them. When I push my way through a boss fight or a level of Cuphead, I don’t feel like I figured something out or I improved enough to proceed. I tend to feel like I got away with something and that with just enough breaks, I was able to win. That’s not a particularly rewarding experience, and even playing with a friend, there’s not so much a sense of camaraderie as there is a grim determination where after a few tries you feel more exhaustion than exhilaration.

In summation, Cuphead is fine for some, but if you’re looking for a great game to play with friends, check out Overcooked.

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 videogames No Comments

Funny Photos

Yeah, this blog can do that.  It shouldn’t, but it can, AND IT WILL:

Art by Chris Furniss via Super Punch.

 Via Uberhumor via Brother.

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012 humor, videogames No Comments
 

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