By Video_Game_King 5 Comments
Was this in any Humble Bundle? Let me check...Looks like it was. Fine. So goes another game in the Humble Indie Bundle gauntlet. And boy, is this game humble. (It's technically indie, and I am unsure of its bundle-like nature.) It isn't like those haughty Lugarus and Eversions of the world, trying to come up with new ideas and everything. It sees the word "shoot" and focuses all of its energy on shooting. Well, almost all of its energy. The rest is focused toward missions and circuitous level design. Oh so humble.
I'd begin with the story, as usual, but the game's meek enough not to have any whatsoever. (OK, I'll stop now.) Remember what I said about the shooting? Well, that's what the core gameplay is all about: giving you things to shoot with, and various ways to shoot them. Want to populate the screen with trillions of bullets? You've got options. Want something else? Well, I didn't, since I was far too busy with the former, but from what I saw, yea, you got options there, too. Rockets to fire behind walls, power-up-eliminating electricity, a crappy shotgun whose use I could never comprehend, and several other things, probably. So yea, there's at least some element of strategy to Steel Storm. This is where I'd complain about the fact that you can't keep any of these weapons unless you finish a level, but in retrospect, it was actually a great motivation to play well. I mean, that's really the only punishment for death that the designers put in purposefully, so without any other motivations not to die, you get one rather serious one.
This is the part where I'd say it's easy to die, since there's a lot of crap on screen at once, but oddly enough, that only applies half the time, and not even in the way you'd think. More often than not, it's the insta-kill laser butthole turrets that kill you, not the drones firing a ton of bullets at you. Guess what I had more fun with? Obviously, the tiny ships coming at you. They're the ones filling the screen with bullets, allowing you to weave in and out of them on the fly while you respond with even more bullets. Imagine a scenario similar to the fairy dance joke from my Halo: Reach blog, only without the insulting overtone, and you have the best parts of Steel Storm in a nutshell. Well, almost. I hate to say it, but I had more fun shooting the various objects that weren't trying to kill me instead of the ones that were. Why would that be? Power-ups? Not that I remember. Points? Who cares about points? Get out of here with that shit. I'm pretty sure I just shot things up to see them explode frequently. That's liter-
No, wait, I thought of another reason: frustration. You see, up until now, I'm guessing you assumed this game is some type of Gradius-esque side scrolling shmup (unless you happened to look below the banner), when in reality, it's more like a Super Smash TV-esque arena shooter. With missions. This is where the game begins to unravel. Why won't you let me just shoot things, game? Why do you have to hide it all behind keycards and objectives and all this other stuff? I know it sounds like I'm making a big deal about it, but that's really what it does: separate you from the shooting. If you're playing well, then yes, shooting abounds and good times are had. Unfortunately, while the levels look good (what with the Borderlands-esque cel-shading and all), they're not distinctive enough to give you a clear sense of where you are or where you need to go, and with the lack of checkpoints besides the one at the absolute beginning, prepare to wander around aimlessly for a lot of the game.
But don't misunderstand me, Steel Storm developers. I can see what you were going for...kinda. The missions themselves aren't very fun, since they almost always boil down to "go here, blow this thing up, maybe". I'm talking more about getting through the levels as quickly as possible. It's pretty fun to learn the various shortcuts and exploits you can take through any given level. That probably explains why I have such a problem with the level design being repeated as much as it is near the end: there's nothing left for me to discover in these levels. Nothing at all left to discover over the various deaths necessary to learn the best route through a level, because that's the only way you're going to learn these maps. So ask yourself: is it worth learning the levels over various deaths so you can blast through a map in five minutes? Or is it even worth it to put up with the missions and confusing map design in general just so you can blow up more stuff than a carpet bombing?....No, you guys, I'm serious. Is any of it worth it at all?
- Here's a gun: shoot things. How do you screw that up? Simple: you don't.
- Instead, you hide it behind a mission structure and then screw that up.
- I am conflicted as to my opinion of explosions. On the one hand, they freeze up the game a bit; on the other hand, they're explosions.
Combining my two loves of Fire Emblem and obscure stuff from Japan is this twangy song. It's one of the few Fire Emblem songs on an album titled "Fire Emblem". The rest comes from games even I haven't heard of.
You know, I think I'm finally starting to sour on these theme blogs. After...let's see....far too many of them, I'm seeing a problem, at the very least with this one specifically: I end up saying the exact same thing about two very different games. Take, for example, this very blog. What am I gonna say about Harmful Park that I haven't already said about Steel Storm? Steady flow of enemies? Check. Good weapon variety (that I shamefully ignored)? Again, did it. I'm starting to question the overall purpose o-Wait, what's that? This game is a Gradius-esque side-scrolling shmup? Things have taken a turn for the better.
In fact, remember what I said about this being exactly like Steel Storm? What the hell was I thinking? This game's nothing like Steel Storm. For instance, it has a story. And not just some throw-away "since you won't shut up about it" story, either; this one has some type of effort put in. Not much effort, mind you. Like Zenki before it, Harmful Park has anime cutscenes with average (sometimes off-model) visual design,Speed Racer level animation, and Zenki level voice acting (did I mention in the last blog that Zenki has medicore voice work?), but unlike Zenki, there seems to be a point to it: humor. For instance, the beginning clearly establishes that you could be playing as an older women (by which I mean she's 30), but you end up playing as a pair of ten year old girls. Why, pray tell? Because girls are funnier than women, I take it. That's the type of design you get with Harmful Park: it doesn't have to make sense as long as it's funny.
It may sound like a train-wreck, but trust me on this: it brings everything in the game together, like the difficulty. If this were any other game, I'd simply praise it and move on. The game provides a steady flow of enemies for you to shoot; the enemy variety is decent; the bullet spread isn't too dense or too sparse, leaving something satisfying enough to navigate. I'm not complaining about any of this, but complaining about the fact that I can't really complain about any of this, as sickeningly meta as that is. So where does the humor come in, again? Well, it amplifies the frantic nature just teeming under the surface, of course. All that stuff I listed before is good enough on its own, but throw whale piracy on top of it all, and suddenly, you feel like a kid in a candy store, if said candy was capable of inflicting gunshot wounds.
Nowhere is this made clearer than in the oh so memorable boss battles. What makes them so memorable? What makes the rest of the game memorable: the humor. Each constitutes their own humorous little side story, like the king with a deadly gut or...whatever the hell this is. A lot of the time, simply trying to process what the hell is going on is more enjoyable than actually playing the game. Not to say that the game's leaving you hanging during all this, though. Somehow, it manages to balance something like watching a dragon inflate with dodging little death pellets so that you get the best of both worlds. Harmful Park is engaging you on two fronts at once, something I didn't even realize was poss-
I probably should have mentioned the mechanics at some point in this blog. Otherwise, I doubt you guys have much of a clue as to what I'm rambling on about. I know I could have left it at "shoot shoot love plot out of nowhere", but there's....OK, that's pretty much all there is to the game. Yet haven't I already made a case for why that's a good thing? The only other thing I could add is the weapon system which allows you to switch on the fly from homing jelly-beans to lobbing pies. (No, I didn't make any of that up.) Of course, why you would switch from one weapon to another is an entirely different issue I have yet to resolve. This isn't a Steel Storm problem, either, where one clearly reigns supreme; no one stands above the other, as each one is useful in its own right. Maybe that's the problem with the weapon system: every weapon is equally efficient at committing a war crime, so there's no need to switch from one to the other on a consistent basis. Man, what a weird way for Harmful Park to end up: getting the stuff everybody else does so right, but faltering a bit when it comes to its own addition to the genre. I imagine this would turn some people off a game like this, but you know me: if the gameplay's solid and the mood is crazy enough, I'll sing the praises of it endlessly, likely with a YouTube link to old SNES music.
- The game may look sickeningly cute, but just go with it. There's a point to be had.
- Did I mention that you can shoot at my naked body? Go on. You know you want to.
- Oh, and something about the weapon system working if you want it to or whatever.