I Am Going to Beat Games 2013: January Edition
So I will try to keep the intro on this brief. Two things you should know about me; first, I fucking love video games; second, I hardly ever finish things. When the new year came around and I reflected back on my life, I decided to make a change. I was going to finish things, so why not start with video games. Some of my favorite games of all time I have never finished. Games like Super Mario Bros. 2, Final Fantasy 6; hell, I have never even contiguously completed Ocarina of Time. As a person who hopes to one day make games for a living, I felt like this horrible trend needed to end.
Originally I wasn't going to write anything, but as I kept thinking about it, and about my past tendency to give up on this kind of stuff, I decided to make this public and permanent. If I chicken out of this again, I want my failure to forever be out there. I won't be able to live with myself otherwise, so I told myself “I Am Going to Beat Games”...2013...January Edition. I am going to give the title, date beaten, some context on what I mean by 'beaten', and then my thoughts on each game. Here we go.
Binary Domain - 1/1/2013 - Completed campaign on Survivor difficulty.
So there are two parts to this game. There are the parts that are are legitimately amazing, and then there are those parts that are ironically amazing. Visually impressive robot designs, blowing those robots to pieces, some really intricate boss battles; all of these are amazing. Weird interactions with your squad-mates, French robot, Big Bo; those are amazing. All of this fit into a high octane 8 hour campaign that blew away my expectations. I know the game did horribly in the west, but hopefully the sales in Japan were good enough to warrant a sequel. It would be a shame if this universe didn't continue, the highs of this game are just too high.
The game does of course have its problems. The shooting controls were far too jittery. Even after an hour of trying to adjust the sensitivity of my mouse (both on a hardware level, and in game) I ended up just playing with a controller, and still wasn't completely satisfied. Despite a number of fantastic boss fights, one in particular seemed unjustly difficult and gave me cause to instantly hate a character I was just introduced to. The story can also get a bit too campy at times as well. Besides the poor aiming, all of these gripes are relatively minor and don't do much to diminish what I think is a great overall package.
Dishonored - 1/3/2013 - Non lethal playthrough completed.
Dishonored had a huge amount of potential. A lot of that potential was based solely on the fact that it was a new IP; I didn't know what to expect, so I set my expectations high. I am glad to say that most of that potential was fulfilled within the debut title of what will hopefully become a franchise.
The world of Dishonored felt like an interesting place to explore. The subtle fusion of anachronistic scifi and fantastical magic proved to be an absorbing combination. I am not sure if I am saying this because Bethesda published the title, but both the content of, and the way the lore of the game is presented to the player reminded me of The Elder Scrolls series.
People playing Dishonored do not need to know about the anatomy or mystical elements of that game's version of a whale in order to truly appreciate the world or the gameplay. Just as knowing about the Khajiit's creation myth isn't crucial to enjoying Skyrim (It involves cat-gods). However, the experiences are richer and more fulfilling when you do dig deeper. I just wish the actual narrative of the game lived up to the potential of the world.
On the gameplay side of things, my non-lethal playthrough wasn't as fun as I would have hoped. Although I enjoyed most of special ways you can eliminate story targets, I feel like the moment to moment stealth gameplay would have been more fun if I just chose to kill dudes. Other recent games have handled non-lethal-stealth in a much more engaging matter.
The stealth sections of the Batman Arkham games were a blast to play and proved that not-killing people can be exciting. Takedowns can be much more creative when you are not just stabbing guys in the neck. Deus Ex: Human Revolution included flashy takedown animations and engaging dialogue-centric avenues that made a non-lethal playthrough really enjoyable.
By contrast, the nonlethal option in Dishonored is a bore. You either have the option of shooting them with a dart and hiding the body, or choking them out and hiding the body. I guess you could avoid them altogether, but that option seemed even less appealing to me than giving them a sneak-hug and being done with it.
The gameplay of Dishonored is saved by the magic abilities. Chief among these is the blink ability. Blink makes this game. Moving around the game's levels with blink is intuitive and exhilarating. The blink reticule is genius in the way it provides you with the information you need before using the power. Dishonored also finds a solution for the energy problem I had in Deus Ex Human Revolution.
In HR, when you used a basic ability like a takedown, you would drain an energy bar, however only your final energy bar would refill. This meant I would go through the game, not using any of my powers because I didn't want to waste energy bars in case I needed to perform a takedown at a moments notice. By refilling your energy bar a certain amount after every ability use, Dishonored skirts this issue. Blink uses the same amount of energy that is refilled. Dishonored knows that the player is going to want to blink around like a motherfucker, and it doesn't let that inhibit the player's willingness to explore the other powers. Brilliant.
Paper Mario: Sticker Star - 1/7/2013 - Story completed.
I got what I expected out of this game. I knew going in that partners and some of the RPG mechanics were gone. In their stead was the new sticker system. Overall it feels like a net loss, but Paper Mario: Sticker Star is still a good game, and I had a ton of fun with it.
So you don't level up in Sticker Star. If there is one game this month that made me question my own existence and placement in the grand cosmos, it was this game. Because you don't level up. Reading what I just wrote makes me think I'm angry, but I'm not angry. Honestly, I don't know what to feel. Every time I entered a battle in Sticker Star I found myself questioning my motivations as Mario, as a player....as a human being.
If Mario isn't slaughtering countless combatants in King Koopa's legion because he needs to, or better prepare him for the eventuality that he will need to, why is he? For the coins? For shinier stickers? Is Mario and addict? Am I and addict?
Have I as a player become so dependent on an experience counter that my prime and only motivation for playing RPGs is to level up? If I can feel this ambivalent over a set of arbitrary numbers, have I been doing this for the wrong reasons? Why am I doing this? Heavy stuff. So I just started avoiding a bunch of battles, no biggie.
The sticker system itself was alright; I just wish those 'thing' stickers didn't take up so much space. I didn't like having to stress about how many times I might need to jump on a goomba, or if I might need a special type of sticker to advance in the story every time I went into a level.
Whats left of the writing without a unique partner character following you around everywhere is still funny and clever. If you like jokes about Toads, this game was made for you. Honestly, the mileage they get out of Toad humor began to surprise me by the end of the game, and it is all pretty good stuff. If you want to know what a group of Toad scientists would do with a giant bowling ball, play this game.
The real standout feature of Sticker Star is its music. I was completely blown away by the quantity and quality of what they had to offer. I simply do not remember enjoying the music in previous entries in the series as much as I did in this latest incarnation. The music will also subtly change as you work your way through the levels as well. A couple of tracks of particular note are the mini boss music (which I put below), and the theme from the snow world (which I put above).
Crashmo - 1/14/2013 - All 100 main puzzles completed.
Crashmo's predecessor, Pushmo, was a great game, and one of the primary reasons why I still try to check the eShop at least once a week. Without a game like Pushmo, I am not sure if I would have taken Nintendo's venture into the digital space seriously. Crashmo is an alteration on the same theme of Pushmo and offers more puzzles with different rules.
I do remember many of Pushmo's puzzles being quite difficult, but I don't remember the difficulty spikes being quite as drastic as they are in Crashmo. I found myself taking over 2 hours on some puzzles, then solving following puzzles in a matter of minutes. These spikes didn't do much to sour my impression of the game, just seemed strange. There's not much more to say about Crashmo, great puzzles, good music, great game.
Rayman Origins 1/16/2013 - 100% completion.
This game was absolutely delightful. Rayman Origins is an aesthetic joy ride. Each of the separate areas was visually distinct and impressive. The same can be said for the music which can be jaunty, intense, or even eerie depending on the mood of the level. Really the best part of the game for me were the chest chasing levels.
What I really loved about these levels was how they really showed off the well designed jumping controls in Rayman. There are two types of jumps in the game. The first is a jump whose height is dependent on the amount of the time the jump button is held down, pretty standard stuff for a 2-D platformer. The second type of jump is a short jump that is activated by just tapping the jump button. This height of this jump is fixed. As long as the button press isn't held long enough to transition into the first type of jump, the height of the jump won't change.
I am not sure if this type of jump is standard in modern 2-D platformers. If it is, the only game that made me notice is Rayman. The game's levels, especially the chase levels and the livid dead stage, are designed fantastically around this two jump system. After about 10 minutes of my first chase level, the game had trained me to look at each jumpable gap in a binary way; either I needed to use the short jump, or I could use the long jump and correct my landing with the hover move.
Using the binary jump system was an amazing feeling on certain levels. The only feeling I can compare it to is when you enter a kind of flow while playing a playing a really difficult song in a rhythm game. This is the same feeling that I experience while playing Super Meat Boy.
There were things I didn't like as well. I felt that the shooting levels weren't nearly as strong as the platforming levels. They were also very inconsistent. Some of the levels were exciting, then a level would bore me, then a level would infuriate me. I also felt that the last world was noticeably lower in quality than the rest of the worlds. But still, I am excited for the sequel, I just have to buy a Wii U now.
Darksiders II 1/29/2013 - Completed the game on Apocolyptic mode
I was a pretty big fan of the first Darksiders. It filled a need that wasn't being fulfilled frequently enough by Nintendo. Darksiders did a great job of emulating Zelda in a way that didn't come off as shameful. After playing the game, I didn't feel like Darksiders was a replacement for Zelda. If anything, I had a greater appreciation of the Zelda franchise after seeing its mechanics in a different context. Despite all of that, I was disappointed by what I played in 2012.
Fortunately for me, in this case, because of this whole 'I Am Going to Beat Games' thing, combined with the fact that Darksiders II was still in my installed list on Steam, I decided to give the game a second shot. I really liked this game. In fact, for about 10 hours or so of this game, I was in love with it.
The beginning area of Darksiders II was boring. It wasn't so much that it was poorly put together, just that the dungeons felt so by-the-numbers. The game really shines once you get to the Land of the Dead, and more specifically, the City of the Dead dungeon. I felt like the combat in this area of the game really started to challenge me in engaging ways. Fights began to throw more complicated challenges at you than simply the 'dodge the big attack and stab it in the ass' tactic that seemed to pervade the game's early areas. The Land of the Dead certainly had its share of ass-stabbing, but the groups of enemies felt more varied and their tactics mixed in challenging ways.
The puzzles and the art were splendorous in the Land of the Dead as well. The new abilities that are introduced are used in some really clever and fun ways in the dungeons. Again, the City of the Dead dungeon was a clear standout in terms of puzzle design as well. The art was probably the biggest surprise for me. I did not expect something called the Land of the Dead to look so good. It strikes the right balance of dreary yet pleasing. The details in places like the statues and doors were fantastic. By the end of that section of the game, I was in love with the pale green color that seemed to pervade everything. The enemy designs were fantastic too. I have seen hundreds of skeleton designs in games, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on, the ones in Darksiders II were especially good.
I wish that the rest of the game past the Land of the Dead held up the same level of craft and quality. The final stages of the game seemed rush in comparison to the meticulous care that seemed to be put into Darksider II's middle chapter. An entirely new puzzle mechanic is introduced at one point that is only used for about 45 minutes in one area. The ending was especially disappointing considering we may never see another game in the series. I truly hope we do though, this IP deserves another chance, hopefully from a group of developers with as much potential as the guys and gals at Vigil had.
January is in the books
Well that was it for this month. I am happy to say I am feeling better about this little initiative of mine than I was at the start. February is promising to be even more packed. And it seems to me like my opinions on these games were a bit too uniformly glowing, so I think I will try to test myself with next month's crop.
So I really want to know what you guys think about all of this. Not just opinions about specific games, but about my mission in general. Have you guys tried something similar? Any advice? Also any comments or criticisms about my writing would be very welcome, this is really the first time I have tried something this big. Anyway, thanks for reading if you got through the whole thing, maybe I should be more brief, or maybe I should update this as I complete the games. Again, suggestions would be appreciated.