So, I’ve been a PS2 owner for all of ten days or so, and what have I learned so far. Well, firstly it doesn’t look anywhere near as hideous on my widescreen TV as I expected. Even with no progressive scan it’s actually quite tolerable and I can’t say I’ve noticed particularly that I’m playing almost seven year old tech. That’s a good start; I expected to be wincing for at least a little while before the pattern recognition kicked in.
I started off by borrowing a couple of games, and ordering a handful too. They haven’t all turned up yet (I’m still waiting for We Love Katamari which is surprisingly difficult to get hold of), and I also have Okami in my sights but haven’t ordered it yet. There are after all limits to how many games one person can consume at once 😀I decided that this weekend I’d break with my usual convention and actually have the entire weekend off so I’m likely to get through a fair bit. Here’s my thoughts on a few of them.
Guitar Hero 2
What can I say about this game? I only got it yesterday, thanks to our island being isolated by fog almost all week, but it makes a very early impression, and that is best summed up in language suited to the subject matter - awesome!! I like rhythm action games generally, but this one takes the cake for me - the songs, the peripheral, the presentation, difficulty level and the ‘feel’ of it are all just perfect. It’s just such a ridiculously obvious idea when you think about it, the only thing that’s perhaps surprising about it is that it took until 2005 for someone to do it, after years of dance mats and marracas. I challenge anyone to pick up this game and not be grinning inanely by the third song - it’s a little tricky to get used to at first, but once you’ve got it, it’s compulsive and the difficulty level increases at just the right pace to make you feel like a rock god in your own living room. Yes, you know that you look like a total plonker, but it doesn’t matter. Little touches like activating ‘star power’ by tipping the guitar upwards (best done on a long high note of course) and getting points for using the ‘whammy bar’ to pitch bend long notes are genius. For anyone whose adolescent metric of style was The Lost Boys, this is heaven. I expected to like this, but I was surprised by just how good it was - I played it almost constantly for several hours last night and have gone from clueless to getting 4 stars on medium already. Clearly I am indeed ‘ready to rock’. 😀
At the other end of the spectrum, I was surprisingly disappointed by this one. A friend of mine swears by it, it received universally positive critical acclaim, but I just found myself swearing at it. I mean, the graphics are really nice - I get the whole light vs dark symbolism, the castle is very well realised, and as a first pseudo-implementation of HDR it looks pretty good. At its heart though, it’s an adventure game as far as I can tell; there’s a fixed route that you can’t proceed on until you figure out the thing the designer left there to challenge you. Now, I generally don’t like adventure games that much, because a rigid ‘insert peg A in hole B to proceed’ design often bores me, but I’m willing to play them if they have a good plot / story. Case in point is Psychonauts - that was a 3D platform adventure with a similar fixed route, but the writing of Tim Schaefer and some incredible voice acting really brought it to life. Ico - well, it’s atmospheric, but it’s also slow and very quiet. The characters rarely talk, and if they do it’s often not in the same language. It’s all very atmospheric and the symbolism is very interesting and strong, but actually playing it wasn’t that much fun for me. It was sort of like an art gallery - impressive, artistically pleasing, worth my respect but I’d rather be doing something more interesting, frankly. Really the last nail in the coffin was having to repeatedly fight off shadow creatures every 3rd screen. Semi-entertaining the first couple of times, but around the 5th or so time I had to fight off a bunch of them with a little stick, and keep having to repeatedly rescue that dumb girl who doesn’t even know how to run away properly, I was very bored and turned it off. Well, actually I gritted my teeth for a while and tried to like it - after all this was one of the most admired games on the PS2 - but in the end I had to give in and admit I wasn’t enjoying it at all. Being arty is fine, but the core of a game is ‘fun’ and I found that element sorely lacking in Ico, personally. Interestingly it doesn’t map well onto my taxonomy of favoured gameplay elements, so it seems I was accurate in recording what things interest me in a game. Puzzle solving in an atomospheric environment doing 3D platforming - nope, none of those were in my list.
Singstar (80’s and Legends)
Yes, you read that right. I bought this for my wife - yes, really, you can stop pointing now - because she likes singing and she fancied a go at it. In the interests of game research, I have also had a few games, although only in the presence of said wife - it’s not the sort of thing I’d tend to do at social gatherings. “Hey lads, fancy a bit of Singstar? Wow Steve, you read our minds, we’d much prefer to play that than Guitar Hero. Why don’t we do a Sonny and Cher number? Bagsie Cher!”. Not going to happen. There’s really only a couple of contexts in which regular blokes (rather than rock singers) can burst into song without calling into question their sexuality - football matches and karaoke bars. In the case of the former, it’s not really tuneful anyway and normally involves a fair number of insults / euphemisms / claims of tribal superiority which makes it all generally ok. In the case of the latter, you have to have had enough beer first and song picks have to be things like ‘Come on Eileen’ or ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ for maximum testosterone preservation. And never, ever pick anything by Erasure, the Communards, or any boy band ever created. Seriously, don’t - there’s no coming back from that. These are the rules by which we must live.
In any case, Marie does in fact like it (she much prefers it to Guitar Hero, which is just crazy talk), and I’ve discovered I’m not bad at Marvin Gaye numbers. Hmm.
I’m off to practice that War Pigs solo again. Rock on.