Monthly Archives: September 2012

Genji: A Hidden Gem from the Dying Days of the PS2

It’s very rare that I’ll buy a game on the strength of the box art alone. Usually a game purchase will be the end result of a meticulous information-gathering process: hours spent sifting through reviews and hearing friends’ recommendations before deciding on a game to buy, usually followed by a wait of a few months until the game’s price falls to a reasonable level. With Genji though, it was different – I just wandered into Gamestation one lunchtime, saw it was cheap and had an interesting cover, and bought it.

I know, shocking isn’t it?

What might shock you even more is that I’d never even heard of the game before I snapped it up that afternoon: it was released in 2005 when I was living in Japan, and I was a bit out of touch with the games scene at the time. Still, my time in Nippon sparked an enduring love of all things Japanese, so when I saw this game was about the origins of the samurai era (it was subtitled Dawn of the Samurai for the US release), I just couldn’t resist.

Thankfully, it didn’t disappoint. For a start, it looks stunning – I think the best way to describe the visuals is sumptuous. There’s an astonishing amount of detail on the characters’ costumes, and the colourful backgrounds almost look like old oil paintings – it’s clear that the game was a labour of love for its creators. The graphics even stand up well today, which also shows just how much power games developers were able to pull out of the PS2 by its dying days. Compare this to one of the PS2’s early games, like Smuggler’s Run, and you’d be forgiven for thinking they were running on different consoles.

It’s a shame the level of content on offer isn’t quite up to the level of the visuals, as it’s a fairly short game (you could probably finish it in 6 hours). Having said that though, it’s thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, and there’s plenty of new weapons and armour to search out along the way, which makes things a bit more interesting. And considering I only paid a couple of pounds for the game, I reckon I got more than my money’s worth.

I wish I hadn’t played it right after Bayonetta though – in terms of combat mechanics, speed and longevity, Bayonetta is light years ahead of the fairly simple gameplay of Genji. Still, I loved Genji‘s samurai setting, and I surprised myself by how much I got into the story – it actually made me want to read the novel it’s based on, The Tales of Genji. Although perhaps an 11th century Japanese novel written in courtly language might be a tad hard-going…

I also spotted that a sequel to the game (Genji: Days of the Blade) has been released for the PS3 – another game to add to the long list of ‘games I’m going to buy when I eventually get a PS3’. Still seeing as the new cheap, super-slim version of the PS3 is due out imminently, that day might not be far off.

[Lucius swats another game from The Mantelpiece.]

Buy Genji (PS2) from Amazon.
Buy Genji: Days of the Blade (PS3) from Amazon.

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Filed under Backlog - The Mantelpiece of unfinished games, Reviews

Far Cry 2 is beautiful but dumb

I finished Far Cry 2 (buy on Amazon) the other day, and I have to say I was pretty disappointed. The designers took on some controversial subject matter by setting the game in an African civil war, and they really don’t do it the justice it deserves. But before I get onto that, let’s look at the positives.

For a start, this is a stunningly beautiful game. I’ll be looking at ‘wonder’ in the next instalment of ‘Why Do We Play Games?‘, and this is a prime candidate for a game that makes you go ‘wow’. The savannahs, jungles and deserts of Africa have been lovingly recreated, and the stunning visuals do a great job of really pulling you into the gameworld. One of the best aspects is the wildlife: you often find animals wandering across the road, and there’s something quite magical about driving down a deserted road late at night, only to turn a corner and startle a herd of zebra with your headlights, watching them scatter into safety of the undergrowth. The animation on the various beasts is absolutely superb – I found myself wandering after a goat for a good five minutes, just to see what it would do. It was fascinating to watch it forage among the undergrowth, occasionally letting out a plaintive bleat, and scampering away in fright if I got too close. It seems a very odd thing to admit to, but goat-watching was easily in my top five highlights of playing this game.

Still, goats aside, the landscape has such a beguiling beauty that I found myself happily roaming around with nothing on my agenda except sightseeing. I must have spent a good hour puttering along one of the rivers in a fanboat, just to admire the scenery and with no more motivation than a yearning to see what was around the next corner. The only thing that spoiled my sightseeing trip was that every now and then gangs of men would start shooting at me. For no apparent reason.

The graphics are really quite amazing, particularly the dynamic weather and day/night cycles.

And that leads me onto what is probably my biggest bugbear with Far Cry 2 – the fact that everyone, everywhere is trying to kill you all of the time. Considering that you’re meant to be an independent mercenary, it doesn’t really make sense that both sides on the civil war want to kill you on sight, particularly as you might be pulling a job for them. Surely it would make more sense to have a system like the GTA games, where rival factions can offer you missions, and as your standing improves with one side over the other, they stop shooting at you when you enter their territory. And that’s another thing that doesn’t make sense – there aren’t any territories. You’d expect that there would be a front line separating the two warring factions, but instead there’s just a tiny ceasefire zone in the centre, and outside this everyone shoots you all of the time. There’s no real way to tell the two sides apart either, and nor is there any need to, since they all just want to have a pop at you. I can only imagine that your character is wearing an incredibly racist T-shirt that inflames the sensibilities of anyone who views it.

In practice this all out war against you makes for frustration, as getting anywhere becomes a tedious episode of driving along a road for a few hundred metres until you reach a checkpoint, then bombarding it mercilessly from a distance to ensure everyone is good and dead, before repeating the same thing 3 or 4 times until you reach the start of your mission. This gets very dull after a while. Granted, there are bus stops that allow you to fast-travel between certain locations, but often these stops are miles away from where you want to go, and the general hostility towards you really discourages any exploration of the open world environment.

Not that there’s really a helluva lot to do in this open world (apart from sightseeing of course). Initially there seem to be plenty of side missions to take on, but it quickly becomes apparent that they’re all identical, simply involving travelling to a certain location and either killing some bloke or blowing something up. Rewards are either diamonds (the game’s currency) or an increase in your ‘reputation’, which means people are more likely to run away when they see you, and THEN begin shooting. Diamonds quickly become needless, as you’ll gather more than enough during the course of the main game to afford all of the weapons you require, and once I obtained the ‘good’ sniper rifle and the ‘good’ machine gun, there was no need to buy anything else. I also quickly realised that hunting for the hundreds of diamond-containing briefcases scattered across the gameworld was a complete waste of time.

Fire can spread quickly and dangerously, leading to impressive conflagrations.

The one mission type that varied slightly from the template was one in which you had to destroy a convoy: this involves purchasing some IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and then secreting them on a road before waiting for the convoy to come past. Initially it was great to discover some variation in the gameplay, but then it turns out there are eight of these missions and they’re all EXACTLY THE SAME.

Thankfully, you’re given a bit of creativity in how you approach each of the main story missions, even if they all follow the same template. This is where the use of fire really comes into its own, as you can use petrol bombs to ignite the surrounding grasslands and herd the enemy into your line of sight. Special mention has to go to the realistic depiction of fire as it creeps along the ground, igniting bushes and vehicles in its wake – the designers obviously spent a long time getting this right, and it pays off. However, apart from the creative use of fire, your options are few – just piling into an enemy camp with guns blazing is a surefire way to get killed very rapidly, and I quickly realised that the only real way to complete each mission successfully was to adopt the tactic of slowly picking off the enemy at range with the sniper rifle, which works in every single case.

One thing that elevates the game above its peers is the sound effects, particularly the explosions. A well-placed grenade will ignite a jeep with a satisfying ‘WUMPFF’, and the resulting shockwave will scatter debris over an impressive area, causing trees and bushes caught in its path to sway and buck dangerously. This little detail really adds to the experience, particularly when spreading fire starts igniting barrels and vehicles left, right and centre, leaving you flailing helplessly in a worrying maelstrom of destruction.

But whereas the sound effects are generally very impressive, the speech leaves a lot to be desired. I hesitate to say the voice acting is dreadful in this game, because I’ve heard a lot worse (I’m looking at you, House of the Dead 2), but it does sound like most of the actors phoned in their performances, and it’s painfully clear that many of them didn’t take time to read the script properly before launching headlong into it. Quite often the actor will mash together two sentences with nary a pause for breath, as if full stops are going out of fashion: it makes you wonder whether they were paid a flat fee rather than an hourly rate. The actor who plays ‘The Jackal’ is the worst offender of the lot: the EDGE review described his odd delivery as a “peculiarly hurried monotone”, which I think is pretty apt, although I’d throw in “unintelligible” as well (come back Bane, all is forgiven). In fact, most of the speech is pretty muffled and difficult to make out: all of the characters sound like they’re speaking to you from the other side of a cupboard door. I turned off the subtitles before I started the game, as I much prefer playing games without them, but within 15 minutes I found myself reluctantly turning them back on again, as despite some patient twiddling with the sound levels on my TV I just couldn’t work out what anyone was saying.

WUMPFF!!!

Another disppointing aspect is your ‘buddies’: when I heard that your colleagues could die permanently within the gameworld, I initially thought it would be something like Fire Emblem, where you’d build up a rapport with the characters, gradually uncovering more and more of their story, which would ultimately make their passing more tragic, and emphasise the horror of war. What you’re actually presented with are lifeless, cardboard cut-out characters who have little to no impact on your game experience: it’s telling that I felt more remorse after accidentally running over a zebra than when I accidentally ran over one of my ‘buddies’.

However, the fundamental problem with the game is that it’s essentially a linear and ultimately pointless experience: a bit like watching a nihilistic, 25-hour-long war film. You’re presented with the option of undertaking missions for either side, but the game forces you to take on all of the missions for both sides anyway, so the ‘choice’ is inherently pointless; in the end you’re just funnelled down a relentlessly linear path towards the same endgame, regardless of anything you’ve done in the previous 25 hours. What’s even more frustrating is that the missions you’re presented with almost all involve doing hateful things for hateful people. I found myself thinking: “Actually, I really don’t want to blow up the water supply for this already impoverished and war-torn country,” but the game gives you no option other than to carry out the mission. Your ‘buddies’ – other mercenaries – might give you the option to ‘subvert’ the mission in some way, but usually it’s just for their own personal gain and still involves destroying medical supplies or defoliating a forest or some other such horrible act. We know that being a bad guy can be fun from other games like GTA or Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but the essential difference is that GTA veils itself with a black humour that distances it from reality, and Star Wars does a similar trick through the prism of science fantasy, which makes the ‘badness’ of your character more acceptable. Far Cry 2 creates a realistic depiction of a realistic African country and then commands you to carry out atrocities. This is not fun.

The game makes a ham-fisted attempt to redeem itself at the end, essentially saying “hey, look, EVERYONE in this conflict is bad, and they should all be killed”, which really doesn’t justify the previous tens of hours of gameplay. Couple this with the fact that civilians are pointedly not included in the game, and it feels like the designers are simply ducking the issues. The game developers might justify the structure by saying that they forced your character to partake in awful, amoral activites to show that people like this exist, and that ultimately war itself is pointless and amoral, but they seem to have forgotten they’re making a video game. You can get away with portraying this kind of thing in a film, which is an essentially passive medium, but video games place you in complete control of your character’s actions within the game, and by forcing your character to be a complete b**stard against your own wishes, the game designers are not only taking away your autonomy but removing the pleasure of playing too.

It’s a shame: I was really hoping for an intelligent and respectful insight into the complex reality and morality of war, but this isn’t it. Sadly, games like Far Cry 2 just serve as a reminder that most video games have a long way to go when it comes to telling a decent story.

[Another game flung from The Mantelpiece by Lucius Merriweather.]

By Far Cry 2 from Amazon.

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Filed under Backlog - The Mantelpiece of unfinished games, Reviews

The Brilliance of Bayonetta

I finally finished Bayonetta last week, just days before the announcement that the sequel is not only in development but that it’s exclusive to Wii U. Who’d have thunk it? Glad to see Nintendo have rightly but their might behind Bayonetta, although it still seems odd: a bit like finding out that Disney are producing Death Proof 2. Anyway, I’m looking forward immensely to the sequel, but I can’t imagine how Platinum can top the original, which is without doubt the most ridiculously over-the-top and insane game I’ve ever played.

Many video games tend to peak early on and then peter out a little towards the end, but Bayonetta keeps layering on the craziness and innovation right up to the game’s explosive finale, and even beyond that. The premise is outlandish enough – you play a witch who has stiletto boots with guns for heels and clothes made of her own hair. Oh, and she can form her hair into giant fists and heels to attack enemies, as well as conjuring up enormous hair beasts like tarantulas. And she looks a bit like Sarah Palin. And that’s just for starters.

“Fly me to the moon…” That song has been stick in my head for weeks.

I don’t want to spoil the craziness that follows, but I have to mention there’s a fantastic tribute to Space Harrier on one of the later levels that put a grin on my face a mile wide – it even has a remix of the original Space Harrier theme tune. And the final level just has to be seen to be believed – just when you think the game couldn’t get any more outlandish, it punches outlandish in the face and dances the can-can across its prostrate body. You just have to play it yourself, words really can’t do it justice. Oh, and it also has the greatest end credits sequence since MadWorld – I don’t want to spoil it, but I’ll just say that ALL games should end like that.

It’s refreshing to come across a video game that just manages to get so much right on so many levels, from the super slick presentation to the astonishly fluid combat. The fighting system is incredibly simple to pick up, allowing you to do incredibly flashy moves with just a few simple button presses, but at the same time it has immense depth if you want to delve into it. What’s really impressive is the precision of it all – no matter how busy the screen gets with enemies attacking from all sides, you always feel in complete control, and everything runs super smoothly. It’s like the the Ferrari of game design.

Eat hair fist, cherub-faced monster!

It’s not entirely perfect – you could perhaps argue that some of the cut scenes are a bit long, and the plot, for all its fun, doesn’t make a helluva lot of sense – but these are minor niggles in an otherwise sumptuously brilliant game. If you haven’t played it, get it now. And if you have played it, tell me about your favourite bit in the comments, I want to talk excitedly about how good the ending was.

[As penned in breathless excitement by Lucius Merriweather.]

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Filed under Backlog - The Mantelpiece of unfinished games, Reviews

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris is a great film if only because it’s an accurate commentary on an aspect of the human condition – the nostalgic and often skewed view of the past.  Owen Wilson plays an aspiring novellist who romanticises a 1920’s Paris and everything surrounding it, from the writers to the artists and philanthropists, all of which he uses as inspiration to write his first great novel.  It is a great story because we all do it, we are all guilty of romanticising the great aspects of the good old days while washing over the bad parts.  I do it with films, I do it with music and most of all I do it with video games when deep down inside I know that Contra is nothing more than the great big stupid hulking action games that we see today that was both a product of both the technology and popular culture of the time.  But I still hold it, and others like it, on a pedestal that modern action games just could never ever reach.

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Filed under Pulp, The Cellar (a place for old games)

Why Do We Play Games? Part 3: Story

When was the last time a film made you cry? Even this embittered blogger can admit to a few tear-inducing moments in his film-watching past, the ending to Casablanca being one. Now when was the last time a video game made you cry? I’m guessing quite a few of you will answer ‘never’, and I for one can’t recall any times when I’ve broken down into helpless tears in front of my Xbox. I’ll admit I’ve come close a few times though: the ending to the 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia certainly brought a lump to my throat, and the BioShock 2 DLC Minerva’s Den had a denouement that packed an emotional punch (see this article for my thoughts on both).

Games have a reputation in the mainstream media for being violent and one-dimensional, and there are certainly enough violent, one-dimensional games out there to see where people can get this impression, but that’s by no means the whole story. Games are growing up. Partly that’s the result of designers pandering to an ageing gamer population – people like me who’ve been playing games since the 8-bit days and now want something a bit more mature – but it’s also down to advances in technology that allow more realistic graphics and speech. The realistic characters of today’s games are light years from the cartoon characters of the cartridge days, and realistic characters need realistic stories to go with them.

Back in the Golden Age of gaming, if you’d told your friends that you were going to buy a new NES game because of the story, they’d probably have backed away from you slowly while shaking their heads and twirling their fingers around their ears. Games used to be all about the challenge rather than the plot, which for the most part was almost incidental to the action. There were exceptions of course – throughout the eighties, text adventures ploughed a lonely, story-driven furrow from which emerged the seed of point and click adventure games, and perhaps these could be regarded as the most ‘pure’ story-led games around. But for most games, a couple of pages of scrolling text at the beginning and end was just about as much story as you were likely to get, and even that was prone to have spelling errors as a result of being translated from Japanese. Nowadays though, the story of the game is perhaps just as important as the challenge it provides, and when talking to a friend about a game, I’m more likely to ask “What did you think of the ending?” than “What was your high score?” In fact, I may even buy a game on the strength of its story alone.

The importance of the story to modern games can be seen in the way that big name writers such as Alex Garland (Enslaved) are getting involved in writing video game plots, and also in the way that famous actors like Liam Neeson (Fallout 3) are being drafted in to add life to the characters. A common complaint of video game writers is that they’re often brought in too late to make a meaningful difference to the game in progress, but I’ve no doubt that this will change in the future – I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that games didn’t have writers at all. Times they are a changing, and story is increasingly being placed at the forefront of designers’ and buyers’ minds alike, but this change is a slow process.

The story for Spec Ops: The Line raises some difficult questions.

Take Spec Ops: The Line for example. Here’s an example of a recent first-person shooter that overtly sold itself on its story – a reimagining of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – rather than its gameplay mechanics and graphics. In fact, the lead designer actually described the multiplayer element of the game as “tacked-on bullshit” that was added by the publisher against his wishes: he believed it would have been better as an entirely single-player experience to better emphasise the storytelling. Spec Ops shows that not only are designers becoming more interested in storytelling, but also that they’re struggling against the inertia of what the industry perceives should constitute a video game. However, the fact that such an ambitious, story-driven game got made in the first place shows that there’s a desire for change.

The games industry is in an odd position right now when it comes to storytelling. We’ve moved on from the basic plots of early games, but there seems to be a general confusion about the best way forward. Many games stick to the tried and tested method of cut scenes, which neatly divide the ‘game’ from the ‘story’. However, there’s something fundamentally unsatisfying about simply forcing players to passively sit through a video of characters spouting plot points. On the one hand, the quality of acting in cut scenes has generally got a lot better over the years as designers have poured more thought and money into them, but on the other hand, it seems almost lazy to simply copy the principles of film-making across to video games, which at their core are interactive experiences that share little in common with movies. Games like Half-Life have attempted to bridge the gap somewhat by leaving players in control of their character while non-player characters deliver their plot exposition, but even this seems a poor compromise. It’s a tricky problem to solve though – how do you tell a story while leaving the player in control?

The cut scenes with Alyx in Half-Life 2 were a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go.

Perhaps a better approach is to allow the player to piece together the story for themselves, to dip into the plot as much as they like or ignore it completely. Fallout 3 is an excellent showcase for how this can be achieved, as it allows players the freedom to wander the gameland as they please and discover information and stories as they go. The collectible audio tapes in BioShock are another example, as they give the player an opportunity to seek out more details about the world they’re exploring. These approaches seem much more suited than cut scenes to the medium of video games, as they emphasise discovery rather than passive consumption, but even so, it still feels like we’re in an awkward in-between stage. If the eighties and nineties were gaming’s childhood, we’re now in gaming’s adolescence, searching around for meaning and direction: learning how to tell a good story is just another one of those growing pains.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why we play games over, for example, reading a book or watching a film is that games allow us to influence their outcome. Rather than simply consuming the story, the player feels like they’re driving the story, that their actions are having an impact on the world they’re inhabiting, even if this is an illusion. The ability to say “I made that happen” is one of the most powerful attractions of video games. But balancing this freedom against telling a story is one of the most difficult challenges for developers.

This concept of player choice has exploded over the past decade, to the point where ‘linear’ is almost a dirty word among gamers. Even so, the choices we’re given are often disappointingly binary: “kill him or don’t kill him”, “take the treasure or save the girl”. Plot choices like these come across as insultingly simplistic, but this is partly due to the limitations of current computer technology, as excellently argued in this recent opinion article, “The limits of videogame interaction“. Until we can have a realistic conversation with a video game character in which we have complete freedom about what to say and how to say it, we’re always going to be confined to disappointing options like “kill him or don’t kill him”.

So perhaps in the future the whole concept of plots in video games will melt away, and instead we’ll be left to forge our own story, shaping the world we inhabit by our deeds and misdeeds. Perhaps the moment a video game makes you cry won’t be a scripted plotline, but rather it will be the time you realize you’ve accidentally (or deliberately) unleashed a heart-rending tragedy on your own gameworld, destroying the people you care about. The secret to a good story is caring about the characters who populate it, and right now video game characters are by and large little more than cardboard cut-outs. When we get to the point where we can have realistic conversations with those characters, where we begin to properly empathise with those characters, maybe that will be the time that the video game story comes into its own.

I hope you’re enjoying the series so far: I’d love to hear your own thoughts on how storytelling in games can be improved, or examples of when it’s at its best or worst. Next time I’ll be taking a closer look at gameworlds and trying to pin down that elusive but essential component of video games: wonder.

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Complexity

I remember when the Playstation 1 was first released.  It was a different age – retailers were successful, the Australian Cricket team were on top, and video games up to that point were largely simple affairs without the inherent complexities associated with the third dimension (I actually know someone who refuses to play anything that has a third dimension).  But it was also an era where, honestly, console video games hadn’t changed a whole lot.  So imagine the explosion of people’s minds when, BOOM, out comes a system from Sony of all companies, with no-holds barred 3D capability, fantastic sound and, wait.  What is that?  Is that the controller?

You see there was something about the Playstation controller that screamed, well, advanced technology.  You know when you walk through the alien ship in 2006’s Prey and see that weird alien language all over the place that you JUST CAN’T READ?  Well that’s a bit how picking up the Playstation controller for the first time felt.  I can remember walking up to a kiosk set up in a store with demos for Battle Arena Toshinden and Destruction Derby and being actually confused with gaming for the first time.  X, O TRIANGLE, SQUARE?  What does that mean?  L1?  I’m not sure what you’re asking me to do.  Wait, hang on, so I need to go into the screen?  What is this madness?

Sure I got used to it, but I can remember looking at the controller and thinking how on Earth I would ever remember button combinations that weren’t A B X and Y.  And looking at a cheat code guide for a Playstation 1 game just seemed to be absolute gibberish.  Similarly when developers started utilising dual stick controls for first person shooters, it took me a solid few weeks of walking into walls and making my character stare at either the roof or the floor before I felt comfortable with this new fan-dangled way of controlling my video games.

So you know what, I totally dig that people new to videogames find them just so damned complicated.

I just finished playing through Splinter Cell HD on the PS3 and what a nostalgic romp through a complicated and non-sensical global conflict it was.  It was also a relatively primitive despite being less than a decade since I first played it.  At the time it was somewhat of a technical marvel on each platform it hit.  Sure it was at its best on the XBOX and PC, but even the PS2 and Gamecube versions were pushing the boundaries of what had been done on those systems to date.  Luckily what sat underneath all of that prettiness was a solid game.  On its surface Splinter Cell a stealth action game, THE stealth action game for some people.  But if I were to distill the game into its core components, it really is  just a puzzle game where you’re establishing the most efficient path through each level by managing a series of metrics, albeit with some pretty innovative and cool gameplay mechanics to boot.  Essentially you’re trying to solve the equation for X by minimising sight, light and sound.  That’s the game at its absolute most simple.  And despite being rather formulaic, and almost rote in the way in which you begin to approach each scenario once you’ve been playing it for a while, it really is still to this day a solid stealth game.

I’m telling the truth, this looked AWESOME at the time

But for me what it represents is something more than just a game that was pretty, had some innovative mechanics and happened to be pretty popular.   It represents a shift in what video games as a medium were expecting from their players.  Players really were expected to understand the intricacies of how the game was working on the back end in order to make the most of the experience.  How will the AI react to any given action?  How will the game’s dynamic lighting react if I shoot the light out?   What tools will the game allow me to use here?  Splinter Cell wasn’t just expecting you to play the game, it was expecting to know it inside and out.  And with that came a layer of complexity that went beyond a player having to grapple with superficial adversity of your on screen adversity or level design or even a difficult control scheme.  Rather it was a complexity that can in some instances only ever be overcome by dedication and a prerequisite level of experience in how video games expect you to think in order to solve the problems they present you with.    And with the barrier to entry never higher, you almost need to be super spy Sam Fisher to unlock the secrets of how to play a modern video game.

[Age of discovery-ed by Sir Gaulian]

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Filed under Opinions and Hearsay, The Cellar (a place for old games)

Wii U: A Day One Purchase?

My finger is hovering over the pre-order button for Wii U. For the first time since the GameCube, I’m actually considering buying a console on the day it comes out.

I think what clinched it was the announcement of Bayonetta 2 as a Wii U exclusive: where Platinum Games goes I will follow. As you’re no doubt aware, both Sir Gaulian and I are more than a little fond of this left-field Japanese developer, and if they’ve put their faith in Wii U, then I will follow suit. Also, Platinum’s Project P-100 (newly christened The Wonderful 101) looks amazing, sort of like the sequel to Little King’s Story that should have been, so these two games are already a cast-iron reason to buy into Nintendo’s latest little wonder.

The Wonderful 101 (aka Project P-100) looks bloody ace. But when can I buy it?

I’m also intrigued by the new WiiPad controller (even if the name sounds like a bladder-control device). The way Ubisoft have incorporated it into the gameplay for ZombiU looks intriguing, as it forces you to look away from the TV screen to access your inventory, thus heightening the tension by giving the zombies a chance to sneak up on you. Asymmetrical multiplayer also sounds intriguing – I’d love to see it implemented in a game like Dungeon Keeper (or even Overlord), where one player positions traps and demons using the WiiPad and the others play adventurers battling their way into the dungeon. If the Wii era is anything to go by though, it’s likely to be up to Nintendo to lead the charge in terms of showing developers how to use the controller in innovative ways, and there’s the danger that third party companies will just throw out lazy Xbox/PS3 conversions and mini-game collections. Still, Ubisoft seem to be leading the innovation charge with ZombiU, so hopefully that’s a good sign for the future.

Zombie hunting in an apocalyptic London? Sign me up please.

The initial UK launch line-up is less inspiring:

  • New Super Mario Bros. U
  • Nintendo Land
  • Mass Effect 3 Special Edition
  • FIFA 13
  • Rayman Legends
  • ZombiU.
  • Trine 2 Director’s Cut
  • Nano Assault Neo
  • Toki Tori 2

ZombiU seems like a must-buy right about now, but the other games are hardly setting my world alight. Even New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t really grab me that much – after the brilliance of the two Galaxy games and Super Mario 3D Land, another ‘old school’ Mario game isn’t what I was hoping for. Still, it does look quite good fun in multiplayer.

A quick look  at the other games scheduled up to March is equally average:

  • Aliens: Colonial Marines
  • Assassin’s Creed III
  • Batman: Arkham City Armoured Edition
  • Darksiders 2
  • Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power Of Two
  • Game & Wario
  • Game Party Champions
  • Just Dance 4
  • Lego City: Undercover
  • Madden NFL 13
  • Marvel Avengers Battle Fo Earth
  • Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate
  • NBA 2K13
  • Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge
  • Rabbids Land
  • Rise Of The Guardians: The Video Game
  • Runner 2: Future Legend Of Rhythm Alien
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited
  • Sing Party
  • Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed
  • Sports Connection
  • Tank! Tank! Tank!
  • Tekken Tag Tournament 2 Wii U Edition
  • Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper
  • Your Shape: Fitness Evolved 2012

Not a lot to get my teeth into there, and a notable lack of Pikmin 3, Bayonetta 2 and The Wonderful 101, which raises the question as to when these three are likely to appear. The appearance of Assassin’s Creed III also raises the question about cross-platform titles: what reason is there to buy this game on the Wii U as opposed to the Xbox or PS3? It’ll be interesting to see how they incorporate the WiiPad controller to differentiate the Wii U release and perhaps give gamers an incentive to buy that particular version, but will it be enough to tear the hardcore away from their Achievements and Trophies? Which also leads to the question of whether Nintendo are planning an Achievement-point equivalent for the Wii U – most of the gamers I know are pretty addicted to their ‘chieves, so it would make sense for Nintendo to jump on this particular bandwagon.

‘New’ Super Mario Bros. always makes me think about that old cartoon The ‘Real’ Ghostbusters. Who were The Fake Ghostbusters?

Then there’s the backwards compatibility issue: Nintendo’s European president announced that “most” Wii games would be backwards compatible – i.e. some won’t work. This is a bit of a blow for me, as for various reasons I’m currently Wii-less, and I was hoping to play all my old games on my new Wii U. Still, I suppose I could always borrow a friend’s Wii to play the ones that don’t work – most of their Wii consoles are just gathering dust in a cupboard anyway.

I guess that’s the sad truth about the Wii – after an initial burst of excitement from hardcore gamers like me, most gamers went back to their Xboxes and Playstations as a result of the uninspiring avalanche of me-too Wii games, interpersed with the occasional spark of brilliance from Nintendo. I was guilty of this for a while too, but about a year ago I headed back to the Wii and I’ve had great fun discovering a whole raft of brilliant first- and third-party games that are exclusive to the system, and I’ve never doubted the big N since. From the software point of view, it looks like Wii U may get off to a slow start, but if it’s anything like its predecessor, it will leave behind a legacy of unique gameplay experiences that simply can’t be found anywhere else.

But do I buy it on day one, especially now I know it’s going to be £300 (yowch) for the Premium version? Decisions, decisions…

[As penned in excitement and agitation by Lucius Merriweather.]

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