May 12th, 2014
Over the Christmas break, I burned through Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the PS2. It was the first time I’d ever played Mega Man, and now I’m a big fan of the series. A lot has been said about the original NES games, so I’m just going to focus on a few key observations.
Since the platforming gameplay is fairly static, most of the trials (think trial and error) that the player makes are in the robot master battles. That is, testing to see whether a certain beam will take off more damage, whether a new tactic will help you dodge a certain move, etc. This is why the pre-boss checkpoints introduced in Mega Man 3 are so great: they remove the redundant repetition that occurs when the player is learning how to beat a boss. So there’s no need to repeat half the level when you’ve already done it once.
The robot masters get wackier and more obtuse much earlier than I thought they would. And as such, it becomes hard to figure out the their weaknesses, which means more hypothesis testing and trial and error. Since there’s only a handful of beams, though, the player can find out which attacks work best relatively quickly. Like the clues in crosswords, you want the answer to seem intuitive without being too obvious. Usually the combinations make sense, but sometimes they’re a bit less elegant (Plant Man is takes more damage from a Blizzard Attack than a Flame Blast?!).
The original series isn’t as difficult as internet folklore would have you believe. The extra beams and abilities (Rush Coil, Rush Jet, etc.) allow players to scale the game’s difficulty, so there’s plenty of wiggle room.
Besides the inclusion of Proto Man in Mega Man 3, which mixed up the progression structure a bit, the elaborate stories of the later games don’t really complimented the gameplay a great deal. They just pad out the opening introduction.
The warp pads that teleport Mega Man out from the individuals rooms and into the robot masters selection room in Wily’s castle should require that the player press down to exit. Several times I accidentally left the rooms before I could pick up the health pellet.
In Mega Man 4, the final few bosses and levels in Wily’s castle are quite short and easy, throwing the difficulty curve out of whack. It’s nice that they added more content, with the second phase of Wily’s castle, but it could have been better placed.
The charge shot in Mega Man 4 contributed a great deal to the series. The mechanic allows the player to suspend gameplay over multiple areas, allowing them to remain more consistently engaged in the game.
As a kid, I imagine that I would have played a very pure game of Mega Man, focusing on my dexterity and reflex levels. As an adult, I move some of the stress onto my knowledge skills. So I’ll look for patterns or internalise timings.
After beating a level, you’re given two options, “continue” and “level select”. The “continue” option always confused me as instead of allowing you to continue you’re game, you’re put back in the same level that you just completed. It should be relabelled as “retry level”.
Although the series ran out of fresh ideas around Mega Man 4, the later games still had some glimmers of innovation here and there. Gravity Man’s stage in Mega Man 5 is a great example. I think of it as a precursor to VVVVVV.
In Mega Man 5, many of the enemies die after taking a hit from a fully-charged beam, so it’s easy to defeat enemies as soon as they come into view. Since the enemies have no way to counter, the mechanic is overpowered. Some simple dodging or reflecting moves could have gone a long way to making the enemies more effective.
In Mega Man 5 and 6, tank reserves are suspended across game overs, so it’s possible to stock up supplies for the final boss battle. These games are also way too generous with the distribution of tanks. What was once a reward became a right. Find a spot at the start of a level where there’s a free energy tank and go crazy.
May 6th, 2014
A number of readers have requested that I do a write up on my personal opinion on Wario Land 4. So this post is going to be just that, a bit of an indulgence. But before I out what I think of the game, I want to explain why I’m sometimes reluctant to discuss subjective in my writing.
On the subjective
All my ideas for writing come from my gut. I play a game, feel something, and want to make sense of that feeling. So I take notes and let the ideas stir around in my subconscious for a while, waiting for the eventual click to happen. Sometimes it comes straight away, other times I need to gather more evidence from the game, and every now and then it doesn’t come at all and I’ll try and fill in the pieces by talking to others or doing research. Once the insight hits, I’ll start drafting, which brings some of the implications out and forces me to expand on the details, if I haven’t already. Editing then tightens up the argument, and I’ll be left with a nice summative piece that explains how it is that I came to have that original feeling.
It’s through this process of putting in the hard work to make sense of your opinions that you realise that what you’ve unearthed is far bigger than yourself. In other words, I don’t feel that knowing what I think is half as interesting as having the means to understand what you think.
Of course, opinions are helpful and I have no problems using them in my writing. It’s just that it’s important to keep our ideas grounded for the sake of clarity. I like to think that someone who totally disagrees with my ideas should be able to read one of my posts and understand how it is that I came to form my opinion.
Here’s what I think of Wario Land 4:
- Fiery Cavern is the best level in the game. If that wasn’t obvious enough. It’s in a totally different league to the other levels.
- Hotel Horror is the worst level in the game. My original piece on Hotel Horror was scathing, but when I looked closer at the pathways through the hotel, I realised that it fit in with the “optional challenges” theme running through Topaz passage. So it was nice to have something to say about this level in the end.
- Writing about Wario Land 4 has changed the way I see game ideas and level variation. Base level challenges that don’t develop and don’t play an important function in the game (for example, a break from several difficult challenges) annoy me like crazy. This is why I don’t think much of Hotel Horror and Toy Block Tower. At least Palmtree Paradise has a functional purpose, to introduce the player to the jewel pieces, keyzer, and folded level design.
- I’m a bit concerned about the variation and game ideas in the earlier Wario Land games. I played Wario Land 3 and Shake Dimension last year, so I can talk about these games. Generally speaking I can say that Wario Land 3 is a hodge-podge of unrelated puzzle and platforming challenges and the hub-based level design only gives each level’s four routes a handful of arrangements each, so the overall structure makes it difficult for more sophisticated game ideas to emerge. Shake Dimension‘s levels do have their own gameplay concepts, but they meander and lose their focus.
- I remember when I first saw Wario’s sprite. I thought he looked ugly compared to the more cartoony depictions in prior titles. I still haven’t really made sense of this. I just kind of ignored his sprite as I was analysing the game.
- I like how the puzzles are organised in Wario Land 4. In prior games, you had many simple puzzles break up the platforming. In Wario Land 4, with the GBA making the change for action gameplay, the puzzles are segregated into their own areas and many of them are focused on teaching the nuances of the main mechanics. In this way, the puzzle rooms support the action gameplay nicely.
- I first played Wario Land 4 on the plane to Shanghai. At one point, I had finished almost all the levels, but couldn’t find all of the keyzers and jewel pieces in some of them. I can understand that some people felt that some of these elements were too difficult to find and that they don’t like having to play the levels again to find them, but that’s too bad for them. As we know, the game does a good job of introducing the player to the locks and keys through the Hall of Heiroglyphs and Palmtree Paradise. And if you look at the maps for all the levels, it’s clear that the collectables aren’t that hard to find if you keep your eyes open and do a little exploring. Furthermore, the jewel piece chests are positioned equal ways through each level so that the player should have a sense for where they can find them.
- I dig how the narrative kind of sits in the background. It’s really appropriate for this game because, as I explained in the book, Wario doesn’t care about the Golden Diva and the whole back story of the Golden Pyramid. He just wants the treasure. So the player’s put in a similar position to Wario and is likely to respond to the events in the game in the same way. Equally, there’s enough backdrop given for those who are interested in digging deeper.
- The bosses are all, of course, fantastic. Cractus is my favourite. It was a real puzzle analysing all his different phases and looking for patterns in his design.
- I didn’t even notice that Yurei could pick up coins or take the keyzer until I played through the level a few times. I think I might have written the draft without mentioning it.
- I’m not a Wario nut, but I am very fond of the series, though. Wario Land 4 is my favourite game out of the lot, but it’s not my “favourite game of all time” or anything like that.
There you have it, my opinions of Wario Land 4. I told you it wouldn’t be terribly exciting, but I hope it adds a bit of context to the book. I’m always happy to answer any questions that you might have about the game or series, so if I haven’t addressed something you were hoping I’d cover, then feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll get to it.
May 2nd, 2014
You can find part #1 here.
Fire Emblem Awakening
- Fire Emblem with the edges rounded off. Yusuke Kozaki’s character designs, an expressive localisation, and a streamlining of systems and interface give the game a humanity which is grounded by the core mechanical additions of strategic alignment of units and unit groupings. These two new mechanics are an elegant way of increasing the game’s strategic breadth while anchoring the characters. There’s certainly an aura to Fire Emblem Awakening.
- In saying these things, I’m highly skeptical of Fire Emblem‘s strategy gameplay. After I completed Game Design Companion, I played a number of SRPGs (Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, Jean d’arc, and Tactics Ogre: Let us Cling Together) and took extensive notes on the genre. At some point in the future, I’d like to write up a complete investigation.
Resident Evil Revelations
- Survival horror operates on the fine balance between resources and threat. In the earlier Resident Evil games, the player had few munitions and limited control over the camera, so even a small group of zombies were dangerous. In Resident Evil 4, the player’s artillery and control over the camera increased, but so did the number of threats. Revelations is a combination of both kinds of horror. Resources are scant, the player can control the camera (although their view, of course, is still restricted—perhaps even more so by the 3DS’s lower resolution forcing a closer perspective), and, in an unexpected twist, the enemies convulse sporadically, making them difficult to hit. From sparse groups, to mobs, to one-on-one encounters.
- My initial reaction was that the combat isn’t very fair, but I probably need more time and research to think this one out. I’m putting my thoughts on hold until The Evil Within comes out.
- The lack of enemy hit-stun is concerning.
- The first person mode is interesting in that it harkens back to the earlier versions of Resident Evil 4.
Final Fantasy: Theatrhythm
- An easier version of Elite Beat Agents with the notes coming in from left to right as oppose to appearing anywhere on the screen.
- Using the bottom screen to respond to notes on the top screen lacks the directness of simply touching the notes as they appear.
- Unlike Theatrhythm, actions in HarmoKnight are more direct because you’re pressing buttons to interact within the game world, as opposed to trying to match up your stylus movements with actions occurring on another screen.
- The cutscenes in this game are so attractive to look at.
- The meaty tutorial is front-loaded at the start of the demo, instead of presented in context when the player needs it. This puts a huge strain on the demo’s pacing and leaves the player with a list of things to remember that they have no conceptual understanding of. Worse still, when the player is later given the opportunity to play around with the game’s systems, the tutorial is nowhere to be found. A simple button on the touch screen would have been suffice. Because of the lack of tutorial, I found it hard to appreciate this game.
- This game is very Matsuno in style, and I’m a big fan, but it’s going to be a pass from me this time.
- The menus are a gorgeous mess. Key information should be prioritised. Everything else should be tucked away.
Project X Zone
Wow. How much time you got? This game is a complete mess . I’m not even going to bother writing about it.