Since I’ve been taking a rare weekend off, I took the time to download the latest batch of XBLA demos to check out the latest slices of (hopefully) juicy bite-sized gameplay. The results were mixed.
I’d actually downloaded the demo for this a while ago, but at that stage I’d been pretty short of time, and on getting frustrated with a particular section I had tossed it aside and gone with the far more immediate Geometry Wars 2 instead. But, I came back to it, and when you’re in a more relaxed state and can take the time to ponder the game, it’s actually very good. An interesting platform-puzzler with a nice central idea (the manipulation of time), very solid game design, and a nice art style. Personally I’ve yet to appreciate the genius of the narrative, which seems a little overly self-indulgent to me right now, but people have been applauding it for where it ultimately culminates so I’ll just reserve judgement on that for now. We’ve bought it anyway; it’s certainly interesting enough to justify the purchase.
Mega Man 9
I’ve never actually played a Mega Man before, and 10 minutes with this convinced me I hadn’t been missing much. Quite why Capcom would choose, in 2008 with the full glories of modern technology at their fingertips, to replicate the graphics and sound (and I use that term in the broadest possible sense, ‘poorly modulated noise’ would be more accurate) of the NES with quite so much authenticity I don’t know. I really don’t see the point of creating a new product and making it look and sound like the emulation of an old one - surely if the gameplay is that good, smoothing off a few rough edges and making the sound not shred my eardrums would not be a heresy? Next, you discover that the difficulty level is such that it makes Ghosts and Goblins look like a cake walk. I didn’t even get to the end of the first level before grinding my teeth to powder. Maybe if you grew up with the NES and Mega Man (I didn’t, the NES was never officially released in the UK and I don’t remember even the later ports of MM being very popular), maybe you’ll find this nostalgia captivating. Although to be honest, my experience of going back to old games (such as through the Wii Virtual Console) has been profound disappointment and shattered memories; it’s generally best to just remember your old games as fantastic, rather than to re-experience them, IMO. However, many reviews have said MM9 is great, so I will have to assume that someone out there likes this game. I personally found it to be a stupidly hard, annoying platform game with some of the worst graphics and sound I’ve sat through in a long time, and about as entertaining as paying someone to randomly stick a fork in my leg. But I guess there are people who are into that kind of thing too.
Oh dear. The first thing I noticed is that it makes what I thought was a fundamental set of incredibly basic demo errors, which in themselves would make me toss it away. Firstly, although the full game allows you to choose from around 10 mechs, the demo only lets you use one. Assuming there are differences that would nuance the gameplay, any developer with half a brain would imbue the demo with 2 mechs to test at least, to allow the player to see what the kind of differences might be. Secondly, the demo is limited by time - you can play for no more than about a minute before you’re kicked out, making any kind of evaluation of the game almost impossible. If this was a quality game, hobbling the demo like this would be absolute stupidity on the part of the game developer. However from what I read, the game is a bit rubbish so perhaps not letting you see much of it in the demo is a blessing. What struck me most of all in the tiny slice of time I got to experience it was that they got the scale all wrong. If you’re going to make a game about robots, they have to be big robots. The smallest one should be as big as tall as a 2-storey house, minimum. Instead, they’ve taken the bizarre decision to make the robots only slightly taller than Bob Hope, meaning that it comes across as just a poor UT3 knock-off with robot skins. Inexplicable.
Duke Nukem 3D
Talking of nostalgia, this was fun to put on for about 10 minutes. Duke is of course basically Doom with a sense of humour, some more interesting weapons & environments, copious one-liners stolen from Evil Dead and They Live, and strippers. Certainly entertaining in short bursts, and it provoked fond memories of the deathmatch games we used to have in our youth (there were a number of hilarious pipe-bomb incidents in particular that resurfaced in my memory on seeing familiar parts of maps). But, the world has moved on - it best serves like an old family album, reminding you of the good times - so much of this kind of game relied on the technology (wow, we can look up and down, sort of!), it’s not really enough anymore to hold your interest for very long.
So, Braid is recommended, everything else only if you’re a masochist or have nothing better to do with your time and money 😀