Damn, it’s not a bad situation to be in, but I suddenly feel even more swamped than usual with gaming opportunities. Rock Band continues to be a bottomless well of fun, with its continuous drip-feed of new content and experience-driven gameplay, it just seems to get more enjoyable as time goes on as the song library expands, and you get to grips with the less known tracks. However, my birthday just passed and I received 3 new games, two for the Wii and one for the DS, both fairly neglected platforms of late.
Okami was a title I almost picked up during my brief stint with a PS2, but I’m glad I waited since the brush interface is more natural with the Wiimote I’m sure. Obviously the ‘watercolour and ink’ graphical style stands out, as does the influence of Japanese legends and Shinto religeon, so it has a lot of individuality about it, which is what drew me to it. Funnily enough when you play it, it actually feels very much like you’re playing a Zelda game. Superficially there’s the fact that you’re a wolf going through ‘darkened’ lands with a weird little sidekick which has much in common with Twilight Princess, but it’s more than that - the gameplay structure is also very similar, in that it’s basically an explore-em-up, with a character who discovers more about themselves and the legend they embody as they progress, adds new powers, fights the minions of evil, through a combination of open-air regions with relatively random encounters, peppered with ‘dungeons’ (in essence). Even the tutorial style and visual cues feel very similar, even though the implementation is somewhat different. I’d be willing to bet the lead designer played a lot of Zelda - this game is definitely cut from the same cloth, which is no bad thing and it is very enjoyable. In fact after Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and Phantom Hourglass I was feeling a little tired of Zelda, not in terms of the pure gameplay mechanics but just because I don’t really like repeating myself so much - so it’s quite nice to find a game that uses a similar, very solid gameplay style in a new context, without having to go find the boomerang / bow / hookshot all over again.
Boom Blox is definitely a Wii game. Incredibly simple to pick up, you chuck balls at stuff or grab things and yank them - you can’t really go wrong with that. My friend’s 5 year old son picked it up in about 10 seconds flat and loved it, and I’m finding it strangely addictive too. Theres a kind of visceral satisfaction in chucking balls at things to knock them over, evoking memories of coconut shys and the ‘knock over the pyramid of cans’ games at funfairs that every bloke secretly likes having a crack at even if we do pretend we’re only doing it to win stuffed toys for partners/children. The puzzling elements of it mean it stays interesting beyond this, as you calculate various trajectories that you could try to get the whole level done with one throw. Great stuff, and I’m rather gutted to hear that it’s been a bit disappointing at retail. Hopefully it’s just a slow-burner, because it deserves to do well, or the world has no taste.
Finally, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which a friend was kind enough to get on import for me because it’s still inexplicably absent here in the UK. Again, this is a game perfectly suited to its hardware, this is Brain Training for those who are more into lateral thinking than rattling off their times tables - in other words, right up my street, since my brain rarely likes to work in straight lines even when only moderately addled. It’s a weird fusion of Mensa test and Enid Blyton, so much so that I keep expecting to be awarded ‘lashings and lashings of ginger beer’ on the completion of a puzzle (“Rather!") - the only downside to this theme is the distinctly painful Dick van Dyke accent that the Professor’s nephew has (cor bloimey guv’naar) which is a bit like nails down a blackboard for anyone on the east side of the Atlantic, but luckily fairly rare once into the game - a reason to be cheerful that the DS carts don’t have much space for full voice acting ;). The puzzles themselves are varied and interesting, and the more difficult ones have certainly had me chewing my stylus so far - the best ones are those that you initially think are impossible, and after staring for a while at the seemingly impenetrable fortress of logic you suddenly realise one of the walls is made of papier maché. Priceless.
Given that I have a lot of work backed up and am heading out to Siggraph in less than 3 weeks, this perhaps isn’t the best time to have this number of distractions, but I’m not complaining 😀