June 25th, 2009
Kirby’s Dream Land 2
There’s honestly very little to say about Kirby’s Dream Land 2. All you need to know is that it’s a black and white skinned Kirby title using the same template as Kirby’s Adventure. Because of this Kirby’s Dream Land 2 feels more like a sequel to the polished NES classic than the Game Boy original, and manages to individualize itself well by introducing three peripheral characters. Those characters – Rick the Hamster, Kine the Ocean Sunfish and Coo the Owl – cut in and out of the adventure and work as appropriate substitutes for a number of consumable abilities absent from Kirby’s Adventure. Since your animal friends layer on top of whatever ability Kirby has on hand they do add another tier of complexity to the title. Team this with a series of hidden rainbow pieces in each level (which open up an alternative ending) and despite it’s loftier hardware, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is expanded enough to form a more than competent sequel to Kirby’s Adventure which, considering the polish of Kirby’s Adventure, says a lot. Other familiar tropes of the series are kept in tact such as the wonderfully characterized introductions preluding each world and mix of familiar characters.
The one thing that Dream Land 2 lacks (colour) can be compensated for on the Super Gameboy. Like Pokemon and Donkey Kong, whacking Kirby’s Dream Land 2 into your Super Game Boy will give the game a unique colour scheme different from the default swatches. Supposedly there’s some added spiff elsewhere too, not a bad deal if you prefer playing it on a TV. I played it on both.
Lastly, it’s nice to see Nintendo fix the disparity between the boxart graphic and in-game designs with this title. Kirby’s Dream Land 2 in this regard matches the game wonderfully, instead of appearing like an attempt at realistic abstract.
Half-Life 2: Episode One
If Half-life 2 were put to VHS, then Episode One would be the extended long-play. In a nutshell it’s more of the same gameplay from Half-life 2‘s later half, delivered in a remixed fashion with greater emphasis on set pieces and Alyx who now accompanies you throughout the 5-6 hour experience.
One might think that her part as a co-operative buddy might work in as another gimmick to colour the vanilla base of the series – in the same way that vehicles, ant lion bait and the gravity gun operated in Half-life 2 – unfortunately her presence surprisingly affects the core gameplay very little. You don’t need to babysit her much at all. She rarely dies, always follows you and can hold her own in a gun fight.
So what exactly is it that makes Episode One all that great? As discussed previously, the framework requires some sort of gimmick to make itself interesting, so what is it this time? Well…there isn’t really any prominent tricks, per see. What Valve deliver is a greater emphasis on improved moment-to-moment confrontations, teamed with a remix of some old mechanics from Half-life 2. Fundamentally the game offers very little new material, yet it’s approach to general gameplay is greatly overhauled. In Half-life 2, the game gave you an instrument (antlion bait, vehicle, gravity gun) and then pushes you out into a landscape largely composed of filler – it’s like you have to make your own fun. In Episode One, the wide lose-yourself-in-them landscapes are replaced with tighter quarters which is mostly dominated with more interesting segments of gameplay. Filler is now the glue between the action sequences rather than the other way around. Examples of these sequences may include a scenario where the lights go out while you need to survive an onslaught on zombies, where Alyx covers you as a sniper while you barge on ahead, where you see the gravity gun to grab falling debris there’s even a similar set piece to the cascade resonance from the original Half-life. Compare this to walking/driving around for extended periods of time to stumble upon an enemy camp, shoot a handful of Combines, zombies or Combine zombies and then continue walking around in the middle of nowhere. It’s easy to see in which game the fun lies?
This new found emphasis on moment-to-moment gameplay also serves to break down the chapterized feel of the game. In Half-life 2, each chapter sported a gimmick and stuck in the player’s mind as a series of compartments which the game organized as such. In Episode One, that structure shifts to a more scattered approach, relating to individual moments more so than instruments. This makes the title, although short, feel more endearing and continuous. Unlike Half-life 2 I have a difficult time ordering the events of the game. Valve have in this sense changed to way we consume the game.
Overall though, it can be seen that Episode One should be evaluated on the moment-to-moment action. While it does provide an assortment of interesting sequences which maintain a high enough pace, Episode One flounders in the end with a lame squad shifting exercise and a shortsighted boss battle. Furthermore there’s nothing much in Episode One that wasn’t in Half-life 2, which is disappointing. The best part is ultimately the re-evaluated approach, by spreading emphasis between gimmicks and confrontations, this gives Valve greater design leverage. Episode One does a good job at capitalizing on this, but not enough so to overcome what I believe to be Valve’s persistence to make these games realistic to the point of uninteresting. It’s a more accomplished and organised title, no doubt, but it’s a game in transition.