It doesn’t need to be hard. It doesn’t need to be clever. It doesn’t need to be funny. It doesn’t need to cover everything. Just do one.
What’s a game? What’s a game? Erm, Tomodachi Life. That’s a game.
What’s that? It’s not really a game, is it? It’s like a lot of little boxes you press your stylus on.
The appeal is, you can make people in it. You don’t just make an avatar. You make people with distinct personalities. They’ll form their own friendships and maybe start dating. That’s about it, really. The rest of it is dressing them up, feeding them and watching them go trough the same animations day after day.
You can give them toys, which will trigger the same animations over and over again. You can try to write them songs, though you can’t edit anything about the melodies or syllables or animations. You can play with them, which is boring. You can do very little else.
Then why, why, why have I played this much of it?
I don’t know. I’m mentally ill. I think I warm to things that have an illusion of personality to them. I wonder how two little NPCs will get along, and if they’ll get married, and how ugly their children will be, and if I’ll ever get any fucking StreetPass for this fucking game. It’s an ongoing, ridiculously shallow drama that slightly develops over different days. I’m ashamed to say I even get a little bit happy when an NPC based on someone I like is happy with something I’ve done for them.
Tomodachi Life isn’t a game I want to recommend. I might even think a little less of you if you go around recommending it to 3DS owners (people who would be better off buying about 30 other games (especially A Link Between Worlds), but I’ve played too much of this to suggest there’s nothing in it. It’s a far more unique game than the constant Animal Crossing comparisons give it credit for, and I don’t think I’m even part of the demographic that will get the most out of the game. It’s for gossipers. People who are excited by speculating whether or not people they know would be compatible. I don’t have any interest in that. Or at least, I don’t think I do. I can’t deny how much I’ve played Tomodachi Life.
You know what’s sickening? “Skateboarding is a fad”. Skateboarding is a “fad”, but cricket is a “sport”. That’s why we get loads middle aged mens’ shitty interests get celebrated all the time in this industry, but the fact that Activision totally fucked things up with stupid gimmicks and Tony Hawk knows fuck all about videogames (seriously, they’re consulting this guy about which formats to develop for) means publishers are nervous about doing anything with a skateboard in it. And that’s awful.
Let’s ignore how cool skateboarding may or may not be, and focus on how fucking great it is for videogame design. Unlike most other sports, skateboarding isn’t strictly defined. It’s what happens when someone goes on a skateboard *somewhere*. It isn’t necessarily about tricks or speed or famous men or anything. For ages, everybody thought skateboarding was basically just dancing with a toy, and then Rodney Mullen came out from 5 years of practicing in a barn to show us all how amazing cities were. It’s something that can develop within diverse constraints. It’s something that allows people to reconsider what they have to work with, and create ways to utilise it. Any environment becomes more interesting when reconsidered for its potential in a different context, and that’s what skateboarding is about - Thinking about what’s ahead of you and what can be done with it.
I think skateboarding should be added to every game. In games where you travel long distances over areas that are designed to compliment a set of defined mechanics (though that’s becoming less common, now the west’s so fucking enamoured with QTEs and scripted sequences, but never mind), it’s fun to think what cool skateboarding moves you could do there. It’s also a really great way to celebrate level design. Think of the poor bastards who had to model huge cities for games like Driver: San Francisco and Need for Speed: Most Wanted, where the only thing of interest was the roads. Wouldn’t it be great if we could spend some time discovering the potential of all those pavements and plazas and rooftops? Appreciating all of that effort?
There’s no one way to do a skateboarding game. There’s not a thing that it has to be. It doesn’t even really need to have a skateboard in it. I think it can be argued that Sonic the Hedgehog and Scram Kitty are kind of skateboarding games, too. All those curvy levels offering different approaches and spectacular high-flying moments. Thinking about skateboarding is a good way to make racing games and platformers more interesting. Make people want to replay your game. Linearity can be fine, if you give players enough gratifying, fun options within that.
You don’t have to get skateboarding right. Go Vacation certainly doesn’t get skateboarding right, but the inclusion of skateboards in its city area made the whole place much more fun to explore. You were allowed to connect combos on suspended rails and ride up the sides of huge buildings. Free roaming would have been much more boring without it.
I think I’m rambling now, and this is turning into a terrible update. But, AH GOD! SKATEBOARDING GAMES! Don’t stop making them!
What the fuck is “Scram Kitty and His Buddy on Rails”? I think that’s the question. I’ll try to describe it, though.
Scram Kitty is a top-down shooter with complex maze-style level design. You navigate by clinging to the walls, and jumping between surfaces. You always aim away from the wall, so the angle and curvature of each surface is important for attacking enemies. You have to carry out at least one goal per level, but completing additional goals will unlock levels faster.
I tried to make that as simple as possible, but Scram Kitty is a mad mix of different mechanics and influences. It’s Future Cop: LAPD meets N+ meets Bangai-O meets Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater meets Super Mario Galaxy meets Sonic the Hedgehog meets Kuru Kuru Kururin meets meets meets meets meets. The elements are old, but the blend is strikingly unique.
It’s a game with a steep learning curve, and your first couple of hours will mainly consist of trying to figure out how to play the thing. Not only do you have to get your head around the concept, but you’ll need to learn the nuances of each power-up, enemy and level gimmick, as well as the subtle and complex physics. This is a gamer’s game. Mechanics and learning through experimentation take precedence over all else.
And that’s one of the most surprising things. At a first glance, you’d be justified for thinking this was a cartoon mascot game. Scram Kitty is a cartoon cat, and you go about saving cartoon cats from cartoon mice, but that has very little bearing on the style and atmosphere of the game. This is a game about making it through narrow corridors filled with bullets. Scram Kitty himself only appears in a supporting role, giving you tips on the TV. He’s little more than a mascot for the game. If this was given an abstract foreign-sounding title, it would clash with your expectations far less, but I guess there’s a persuasive character designer at Dakko Dakko.
Then there’s the reason that this isn’t a review - As much as I like Scram Kitty and want to talk about it, I don’t really expect to complete it. There aren’t a lot of levels in the game, but unlocking some of the later ones will require you to complete an increasing number of challenges on the previous ones. Challenges that ask you to take out a hidden enemy are tricky, but entirely doable. Challenges that ask you to race from one side of a level to another, and then a few other places under a strict time limit, require you to learn a level inside-out, figuring out the best angles to jump from and precisely which short cuts are the quickest. These are the kinds of challenges that I find the most daunting. That said, learning levels and really paying attention to what works is one of the most compelling aspects of Scram Kitty.
This is a special Wii U exclusive that will definitely appeal to fans of old skill-based games where victories are earned, and never handed over. If that sounds like you, you really should put some time into this. If I ever put in enough time to complete the thing, I’ll follow this up with a proper review.
I’m going to write some things about some of the games I’ve been playing recently, but didn’t review. They’re all Nintendo games, because I’m not interested in anybody else’s games right now, and I want to earn enough points for the Super Mario 3D World soundtrack.
NES Remix 2 (Wii U)
This is a better game than the first one by default, because it bases its challenges on better games. NES Remix 1 had levels based on Ice Climbers and Wrecking Crew and stuff, and I didn’t want to play them, though there was an odd charm to some of the challenges. NR2 has a bit more fun with its challenges too, with more ambitious Remix stages that can be clever, cute or silly. There’s also a couple of little bonuses, including a mirrored version of Super Mario Bros. Sitting down to play NES games for a while is a nice time, and these games offer a new reason to do that. If you were interested in the first, but didn’t pick it up because of the price, consider this one.
Dr Luigi (Wii U)
This is an oddity. An overpriced end-result of people going mad about this whole “Year Of Luigi” half-joke, half-concerted-effort-to-make-the-most-out-of-a-second-tier-character. It’s not exactly what you’d be quite justified for assuming it is though, as it offers a new mode that surprisingly mixes up the core gameplay much more than you’d think it would. Dr Mario is a game that you can play very methodically, saving up colours to pay off later in big combos and stuff, but Dr Luigi’s new mode gives you pieces to play with that are twice as big. The Luigi part is down to the L-shape of each block, but that means you have to consider the vertical and horizontal position of each block in a way that you wouldn’t have to in with the traditional rules. It’s not massively different, but it does make show that there was an idea to this game, besides reskinning a NES puzzle game to fit in with a fad, and charging too much for it.
Kirby’s Adventure Wii (Wii)
Found this at a relatively affordable price (relative to the daft online prices, anyway) and picked it up, despite the imminent 3DS sequel. It’s a really well done Kirby game, but there’s not much more to say about it. Levels are nice and varied, everything is presented really nicely and clearly, and there’s a decent number of side-objectives for more ambitious players. It’s a great introduction to the series, and a great first platformer for young players. The oddest thing is how much this somewhat overlooked game has in common with the hyped-up Kirby Triple Deluxe. Both games look, and seem to operate almost identically. Adventure Wii even has the same Mega abilities that seems to be advertised as a new feature in Triple Deluxe. I’ll find out if there’s much of a difference between the games very soon, other than the second-hand prices.
Kirby Air Ride (Gamecube)
Another pricey Kirby game I got a fairly good deal on. This is a weird racing game. It’s focused on a one-button input, and a lot of external variants to add depth. That’s pretty much what Sakurai does - he polishes a simple core structure and covers it in flashy nonsense. This feels a lot like the more recent Smash Bros games or Kid Icarus: Uprising. You can unlock a variety of wildly diverse vehicles that allow you to win races in different ways. Courses generally feature a lot of optional routes, passive enemy characters with copyable abilities and gimmicks that be ignored or exploited, depending on how you want to play. The whole game seems to be tailored towards multiplayer. The game’s full of unlockables, but the game doesn’t really care too much if you come in first in a race. It rewards you for playing the game a lot, and trying different things. There’s a couple of extra modes that are about as fleshed out as the core Air Ride mode. They’re messy and odd, but they’re focused on making competitive multiplayer an exciting thing to come back to. If you’ve got people to play this with, this might make an odd little highlight to your Gamecube collection.
Excite Truck (Wii)
And another odd racing game. This was a Wii launch title with a lot working against it, which has driven down second-hand prices, meaning this is a total fucking must-have now. Excite Truck isn’t a traditional racing game. Racing isn’t so much about coming in first as it is about earning points. You earn points by driving like a madman. Rush through a forest, jump over a lake, or knock your opponent off a cliff, and you’ll earn big points for it. You’ll get rewarded with more points for coming in first, but I’ve managed to set high scores without finishing in the top three. This is a big, dumb arcadey game without a ounce of simulation in it. There’s rings to jump through, power-ups that morph the environment, and you can steer in midair. There’s not many games like this now, and far fewer that are anywhere near as good. Steering is tilt controlled, but it actually works pretty well here, letting you lean back into jumps and drift effortlessly. The most divisive element of the game is how much of the game is hidden away until you achieve S-ranks on every track. You’ll likely have to repeat races over and over until you’re lucky enough to make a perfect run on them. This is a refreshingly silly and energetic game though, and one you’ll be able to get for about a fiver without much hassle. You should get this.
Metroid Fusion (Gameboy Advance via Wii U)
Playing Super Metroid on the Wii U last year was a big deal to me. I loved it. This doesn’t really hold up in comparison, and lot of that is down to how it’s been modernised. I’m always banging on about lonely atmospheres and disorienting environments in games, as if they’re a good thing, because I’m a fucking weirdo. I think they’re central to what makes Metroid so good though. You’re supposed to be banging against walls, trying to figure out what to make of ancient ruins made by alien bird men. Metroid Fusion plops you in a space station with cordoned off rooms, and a computer telling you where to go. It’s not about finding out where to go, but rather, just going there. Metroid Fusion relies on the strength of its shallow, repetitive combat, instead of its gadgets and strange locations. It’s less of an issue than I’m making it out to be, but it’s what makes this game far less engaging and memorable than Super Metroid. That’s the problem that runs throughout the game, but by its closing hours, Metroid Fusion turns into a mess of cluttered hallways and ridiculous bosses. And the bosses look shit. This is still worth playing, and one of the more interesting Gameboy Advance exclusives, but don’t try telling me this is on par with Super Metroid.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
I’ve never been wild about Donkey Kong Country, but they’re good games, and I’m happy to play them. That’s about as excited as I can get about Tropical Freeze. It’s a lovely looking game with a lot of variety in its levels, and some really clever moments, but I’m just not all that into it. I’m not sure if I can totally pinpoint what it is, but I can try. I don’t have a problem with the game’s difficulty, but I’m not sure I really get much enjoyment out of the levels that are designed with so few options to try. Mario levels are linear, but they’re wide open, and you can approach things in a lot of different ways. DKC’s levels pretty much require you to play levels in very specific ways. There’s not many ways to successfully play these levels. I’m not sure if that’s the problem I have with the game, though, since I could say the same about Super Meat Boy, and I loved pretty much every minute of that. I don’t know if I even have that much of a problem with it. I like the game. I wanted to buy it less than a year after I bought Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D. I enjoy playing it. I just don’t have much attachment to it, and I don’t get excited about the idea of playing it. This is all very subjective, and unhelpful, but luckily, I’ve formatted this as an update instead of a review, so I don’t feel any obligation to tell you whether or not you should buy this. Fuck it. Wii U releases have been so slow since Christmas that if there was any chance of you picking this up, you’ve probably already done it. Why would I want to review this now?
Recently, I’ve been starting a lot of things and not finishing them. Luckily, I’ve been on a couple of things where I’ve been able to rely on other people to finish the work. Specifically, the two podcasts that had me on last year.
Sonic’s Ring had me on, and I talked about Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, and surprisingly, Taiko no Tatsujin. Also TV and comics and other stuff that Phil and Kev know more about than I do. Here’s a link-
Midnight Resistance had me on to help sort out a big topic - The quality of each main Zelda game. Joe and Scott from Bit Socket were on it with me and Andi, and we discussed how good each Zelda game was, and where it placed on the list of the best Zelda games. Maybe the most important thing I’ve been a part of. You can hear it here-
About a year ago, I spent a night playing previously unplayed Megadrive games at random, off my Everdrive-MD, and I wrote about little details while I was playing. It was a blog post that got a little more attention than I’m typically used to, and a few people suggested I was interesting because I wrote it. I think people assumed I was a person who was breaking into new formats and doing stuff that nobody had done. Not someone who writes reviews of games they’re excited about, and then nothing else for ages. I think it was the perceived originality of that post that made people excited about it. So I’m doing another one, to either ride on the success of a format or ruin my ill-gained credibility.
Anyway, I’m stalling for time because I haven’t had my dinner yet. It’s already late and setting everything up is taking a bit of time. Hang on.
Tea’s done. Laptop’s reset with the Elgato in. Connections to Twitter are off. About to start. It’s already pretty late. Urgh.
Don’t worry. It’s fixed.
FIRST GAME - Ghost Hunter (Megadrive)
Developed by SENCHI TECHNOLOGY, or Jumbo. I don’t know. Their logo’s weird. The title screen’s some big Chinese (?) writing with “GHOST HUNTER” written in much shitter letters below it. I begin.
Fucking no idea.
I’m a wee guy, walking left and right, shooting at balls above me. I think this is a rip-off of a proper game, but I don’t think I’ve played it. A ball bounces into me. I inflate and die. There must be a trick to this. Nope. I definitely can’t jump, and I seemingly can’t avoid these balls. Maybe that’s what I get for playing a game that seems as though it came from a multicart. The Elgato’s giving me problems, cutting out the audio on the TV, so I’m going to keep it unplugged unless I see something I really have to screenshot. Next game.
SECOND GAME - Kujaku Ou (Master System)
I bet you don’t know how to say that! Well my Everdrive doesn’t know how to run it. Oh yeah. The Master System games don’t work while the 32X is plugged in. I’ve buried too much time into setting this up to fiddle about with that now. Let’s go for a 32X game.
THIRD GAME - WWF RAW (32X)
This is taking ages to load. I’m a little nervous, since 32X seem to be a little more stringent about region than Megadrive ones do. Oh well, it went fine. We’ve got a really dreadful intro. I think the WWF logo’s supposed to look like it’s spinning, but it looks like it’s nodding. I’ll see if I can link to a YouTube video of it before I publish this.
The game supports up to 4 players. I wonder which group of 4 people were the last to play WWF RAW on the 32X? Modes are ONE-ON-ONE, TAG TEAM, BEDLAM, SURVIVOR SERIES, ROYAL RUMBLE and RAW ENDURANCE MATCH. Not knowing anything, BEDLAM sounds the most fun. That last one sounds horrible. BEDLAM it is.
ONE FALL? BRAWL? TOURNAMENT? BRAWL.
DIFFICULTY 1? DIFFICULTY 2? This game has too many options. I’m skipping through the menus. I get to pick wrestlers from one of the worst character selection screens I’ve seen. You can only see one option at a time, and you don’t know who you can play is until you’ve scrolled through everyone. I’ve heard of some of them. I’m sure I haven’t heard of Bam Bam Bigelow before, and I think he’s got the daftest name, so I’ll pick him. I get to pick someone else too. Erm. BAM BAM BIGELOW! An electronic parp tells me off for trying to pick two of the same guy. Erm. 123 Kid? Computer chooses Shawn Michaels and someone I missed because I was typing and this character selection screen’s horrible. Start game. Finally.
There’s four guys in a ring, and I’m Big Bam Bigelow. I have to hit the computer. What does 123 Kid look like? I’m not supposed to be hitting him. I potter about slowly for a minute until Shawn Michaels (I think?) does this weird move I can’t quite describe. He jumps into a sort of sideways crucifix and then he stays at that height in the air for two seconds, “spinning” (his sprite flips horizontally and back), and then he kicks someone. I punch him three times and he falls flat on his arse. I win!
The victory screen is awful. BIG BAM BIGELOW and 123 KID’s photos scroll from left to right while a digitised voice repeats “BAM BAM! BAM BAM! BAM BAM!” Aye. Worth checking out. Next game.
FOURTH GAME - Liberty or Death (Megadrive)
I’m expecting to hate this. I don’t know what I should expect, but I am expecting something along the lines of a Midway game.
Oh. It’s a strategy game about colonial America fighting off the British. I can pick George Washington or Thomas Gage. I’ve never heard of Gage, and I’m all pro-independence, but for now, I’m British. Gage.
Oh. I think it’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms set in America. I’m skipping through menus to get to the game, but I think menus are the game. A bit slow for tonight. Let’s look for something that sounds like a daft platformer or something.
FIFTH GAME - Space Turtleship (Megadrive)
A Korean game. Did Korea make games in the nineties? The title screen shows an actual ship, so I get nervous this might be another boring war game. A computer monitor shows up. “AD 2020”. Haha. This game is mental already. I was typing, and a vertical scrolling shmup came up, and something crashed into me before I had a chance to pause. It’s like Xevious, but the bombs are fucking massive and the music is aggressively frantic from the word go. Pressing C switches from a handy spread shot to a useless one-gun-in-front-two-guns-to-the-side set up. I don’t this is going to be an astoundingly well designed game. Most of the enemies are flying ships. Some are gourds. Some are gilla monster things. Some are giant metal faces with wings for ears. Have you downloaded the ROM yet? Maybe you should. I’m dreadful at it though. Goodbye, Space Turtleship.
SIXTH GAME - Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (Megadrive)
Remember the TV series? It was on when I was really young, and I think it was about a boy sitting in a classroom for about an hour at a time. I’m hoping the game is more exciting. It’s a platformer. There’s an Arab chucking knives at me, and I don’t have an option to shoot him, so I can’t do any famous bits. He’s got a pal. They’re chucking knives at me like their lives depended on it. I can’t move. I jump back every time they chuck a knife at me, and now I’m sinking into the left-hand side of the screen. Luckily, they followed me off the screen, so I could jump past them. Things are looking up, guys! The level’s really boring. All repeating tiles and no obvious platforms. I can jump onto rooftops, and there’s no baddies up here. Seems pretty cheap, but it’s working. I walk to the right enough for the level to change. Now I’m in a temple, and my jacket and hat turned pink.
I was going to quit, but the designers decided to keep the players interested by making things much worse in unpredictable ways. Good job, guys!
The strategy of “avoid everything, but nothing happens, but you still win” seems to be working fine in the temple. Not much is going on. Oh, there’s an elephant. Just doddering about. Not an enemy. I go all the way to the end of the massive room, and nothing happens. Oh fuck. Is this a puzzle? Off.
SECOND GAME AGAIN - Kujako Ou (Master System)
It’s safe enough to take the 32X out now, right? I’m running out of 32X games I haven’t played, sadly. Game starts. Lightning hits an old Japanese house. Anime guy pops up. Title screen. NEW GAME. Lots of anime heads and Japanese text. Skip skip skip. Game starts, and it’s a Shinobi thing, but I shoot blue stuff out my hands. Samurai enemies. Weird spinning gingerbread men enemies. You get to climb staircases, Castlevania-style (in the sense that it doesn’t work half the time). It’s pretty dry, and unambitious, but given the quality of most Master System games, I’m surprised I haven’t heard of this before. Anyway. There’s far too much unreadable text in this, so I’m moving on.
SEVENTH GAME - Dynamite Headdy (Master System)
"Oh, yeah. Like you haven’t played Dynamite Headdy, you liar!" Not the Master System version. I want to see how it holds up. Answer- Not badly, actually. Levels are colourful, and retain the same basic shape of the Megadrive version. There’s quick scrolling and stuff. None of the impressive graphical techniques or digitised speech of the original, but it works. I’d say this could be a decent budget alternative to the Megadrive version, but I’m sure this probably goes for about eighty quid now. Anyway. I’m not learning anything. Let’s move on.
EIGHTH GAME - 3 Ninjas Kick Back (Megadrive)
Psygnosis? Really? Come on, guys. You can do better than this.
Character selection. TUM-TUM to the grave.
Nice Amiga-ey music, at least. Tum-Tum really seems to being hit by falling rocks. He yells “YEAH!” every time it happens. Don’t worry, mate. I’m playing. I’m not going to avoid any of them.
There’s some pretty nice stuff in this, actually. Decent controls, nice enough graphics, swinging vines made of balls to hang onto. Now, an old man is punching me, a fat young boy. I’m slicing him with daggers. Honestly, kids, nobody raised an eyebrow at this stuff in the nineties.
So yeah, this actually seems alright, and I’m actually recommending 3 Ninjas Kick Back on the Megadrive, if you’ve run out of games to play on the console. I’ve got a couple more in me before I call it a night.
NINTH GAME - Fun ‘N’ Games (Megadrive)
This sounds like fun! Well. It sounds like games, at least.
I’ve got four to pick from. PAINT, GAMES, MUSIC or STYLE. Well, Games are games, so let’s pick that.
Mouse Maze or Space Lazer. If Mouse Maze is Pac-Man and Space Lazer is Space Invaders, I’m not playing this.
…I was only half-right…
Space Lazer is some first-person flight sim guff, only you can’t fly about. You rotate, shooting green blobs. They’re not green blobs because of technical limitations. They’re well-shaded, animated green blobs. They’re green blobs, because that’s what the creator saw. I shoot them all. A boss pops up. It’s a snake with a storm trooper helmet? Fucking. I don’t know. Let’s get the last one done and go to bed.
TENTH GAME - Ex-Mutants (Megadrive)
If they’re Ex-Mutants, what are they now? Characters in a game by MALIBU INTERACTIVE!
There’s a nice static image of a landscape, and some nonsense about cyborg scientists or something. Predictably, the characters look like X-Men fanart. I can pick 6-foot-4 average Ackroyd, or 5-foot-5 fast Shannon. Fast is better than average, surely?
Oh. This looks bad. I walk forward a little, and a big, barely animated robot points for me to move further forward. There’s weird mole monsters, and all the floors look like spikes, but they’re not spikes. It plays like they made a sequel to the Wayne’s World game, but lost the license halfway through development. Shannon says something when you throw balls at the moles. “Laura Dern?” I don’t know, but I’m taking it as a sign.
I’m Dern with this game.
Tearaway is a really lovely game. You know that. You can see that in everything that surrounds the game. The aesthetics, the gameplay ideas and the love that the game generates are all lovely. The Tearaway buzz has become quite noisy and ineloquent though, so it’s hard for people to be able to tell really what the game is, or whether they’ll enjoy it. That’s what I’m trying to address here.
Tearaway isn’t necessarily a system shifter - with a game like this, it depends what your tastes are - but there’s one key thing that would have peaked my interest as soon as it was mentioned - It feels quite a lot like Half-Life 2.
Just bear with me, please.
To me, Half-Life 2 was never an FPS. It was a journey. A slice of this guy’s life. It wasn’t about the enemies or the weapons (to a point) but the environments and where you were taken. Everything was connected and it provided a convincing setting, but it also broke the game up into distinct sections with their own ideas and identity. Tearaway’s like that. It’s not like a 3D platformer. It’s not about making jumps and attacking enemies, but exploring this world and being surprised by all the cool stuff you’ll be asked to do within it.
Tearaway’s a very deliberate showcase for what the Vita can do. It uses the touch screen, the back panel, both cameras and motion controls, and none of these uses are subtle. They often interrupt the basic gameplay. But it never feels like a gimmick, and that’s odd. You look forward to the moments where you’ll have to use one of these things. It’s never too specific about what it wants you to do. You just play around, and the game’s happy with that. You might be asked to take a photograph to give something a new texture, but the game doesn’t ask you to photograph anything specific. You can photograph whatever you want, and the game will use that. It’s cute and it’s fun and it can be funny, if you like. Tearaway doesn’t mind. It’s your game, and you’re allowed to do whatever you want with it.
A lot of my doubt about Tearaway was that it was a Media Molecule game. I think everyone likes LittleBigPlanet, at least a little bit, but it was a flawed game, and a little obnoxious. It was themed around the concept of creativity, but it didn’t incorporate that into the gameplay in any satisfying way. Its most creative puzzles had you browsing menus for something to paste into a level, and you didn’t really care once you did. It wasn’t your thing. It was the twee asset of your limited selection. When you put something into Tearaway, it really is yours.
LittleBigPlanet wasn’t a very good platformer either. It was simultaneously slidey and stiff. The controls never felt right, and getting through levels was often a little too demanding for the game you were working with. You’d often encounter bad collision detection, and your victories sometimes felt undeserved. None of this can be said of Tearaway, which through all of the fun and exciting new ideas, has a good foundation in a great platformer. Controls work well, and it’s fun to utilise your abilities throughout the adventure. LittleBigPlanet felt like it had to be forgiving to be playable. Tearaway’s forgiving because it’s just a nice game that’s always nice to you.
I should also talk about how nice this game is. It’s really nice. Some things are nice paper animals. Some things are animated like something out of The Magic Roundabout. Some things are abstract platforms that are grounded in a relatable sense of reality by looking like a vinyl record something else that’s nice. You’re excited to see each new area, not only because it’s a new bit of game to play, but because it’s full of nice things that you like.
One of the nicest things about Tearaway is its pacing. It does what the best paced games (note that I am talking specifically about Half-Life 2 and Resident Evil 4 whenever I use this phrase) do. It surprises you with what it’s doing and when it’s doing it. When the game opens, you’re impressed with what you’re able to do, and satisfied that those are the abilities you’ll have to play the whole game with. Without wanting to spoil anything, Tearaway gives you new things to look forward to throughout, and no idea ever outstays its welcome or introduces an off-tone level of difficulty. You never expect anything before it happens. It’s what makes the game so exciting, and what gives it such a sense of vitality. Games are supposed to be fun, and many really good games do a great job of focusing on other things, but if it’s not fun, it’s not as good as it could be.
Tearaway is short. People like to point that out. People life to make a issue of it. I don’t know if it is much of an issue, really. Tearaway’s a dense game that’s full of things to do. There’s hidden unlockables and a percentage that indicates how much of the game you’ve done. It’ll only get to around 50% by the end of a casual playthrough. It’s nice that they’ve offered more content within the game for those who really want it, but I didn’t. For me, Tearaway was about jumping through these lovely wee levels and making my mark on it. The game was letting me play it honestly. Making my own stupid decisions and playing through the stupid consequences. I didn’t want to go back, strictly adhering to the set of objectives required to get the full 100% completion status. I didn’t want to pretend to be someone else in those levels. I don’t know if anyone will understand that, but Tearaway did. It understood what I wanted from it, and it was happy to give me that. What I got out of it was everything I was willing to get from it.
That’s Tearaway’s greatest success. Your experience with a game is always unique. Tearaway brings that fact to the forefront. It’s accepting and encouraging of you, as a creator and a collaborator, offering you to contribute to its world full of personality with all of your own personality. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s exclusive to a console that not many young kids will get to play, as they would likely appreciate and benefit from the game the most, but it couldn’t really exist on any other format. Tearaway’s something you ought to play through. It doesn’t matter who you are, but who you are absolutely matters.
It would be nice, if in a world where business decisions are lead by what sells, people had a good reasons behind their purchases. That doesn’t really seem to be the case. The PlayStation 4 has become the fastest selling console of all time, and not because anyone was really all that eager to play any of the games coming out on it, but because it’s the new PlayStation and PlayStations are great. Even the Xbox One has sold dramatically well, despite its initial announcement sounding like the one thing long-time gamers wanted less than another ET game. So, unsurprisingly, publishers are rushing to get things made for the systems, and a lot of underwhelming releases have been announced.
Right now, the most exciting third-party games due for release on either console are optimised ports of games that have been in development for the PS3 and Xbox 360 for years. The investment in these new versions are coming at the expense of the original games’ development, but it seems to be a safe investment, due to a demanding install base of bored console owners. So we’ve got new, not much (if at all) better versions of Metal Gear Solid V, Watch Dogs, The Evil Within and Tomb Raider to look forward to. Yes, that Tomb Raider. The one that came out less than a year ago, and can be bought for less than fifteen quid. Now you can buy it for more than fifty quid. And, judging from the pre-order charts, quite a lot of people want to do that. Why? Because it’s a good game, and people want good games to play on their new consoles. Even if they could play them on their old consoles.
And now Sony fans are rabidly demanding that the development of Fumito Ueda’s The Last Guardian shifts to the PS4, because it’s probably going to be a good game, and the PS4 needs those. That’s despite the lengthy and intricate development it’s already had to focus on the PS3’s architecture, and how much time and money will have been utterly wasted if it was going to rehaul everything to look prettier on something else. I think this is an ill-informed demand, and many PS4 early-adopters’ purchases have been ill-informed.
I don’t think either console was really ready to be released yet. If they were, maybe they’d have some games on them? Maybe flagship titles like Ryse and Knack wouldn’t be utter pish? It seems that many of Sony and Microsoft’s recent decisions have been made because they’ll hurt their competition, and not because it’s what’s best for either system. The Xbox 360’s early launch, last generation, was rushed and came with a library of awful games and faulty hardware, but it really helped them get an undeserved hold on the market, and the PS3 struggled for years to catch up. That’s the advantage that both companies were eager to get this generation, and it seems to have come with all the same shite too.
But never mind me. I’m just someone who’s bitter because they can’t afford a PS4 yet. Someone that’s upset that, despite a list of stellar exclusives and bags of potential, the Wii U has been rewarded with sales that didn’t meet a third of its projected target, due to the attention diverted to two less deserving products. Someone who doesn’t share the mindset of the next-generation consumer. Never mind me. Let me drown in your marketing-lead decisions to bring you from disappointment to disappointment.
The best year in videogames has ended, and not much is happening right now. Here’s some of my concerns about games I’m planning to buy this year-
Tales of Symphonia Chronicles
I don’t really know much about this one, but I’ve pre-ordered the big box version, because Amazon fucked up and listed it for £40 for a little while. I was curious about it when it came out on the Gamecube and there’s some chance it’ll serve the purposes that Ni no Kuni did for me last year, but that’s pretty much all I really know about it before going in. Even if I hate it, I can probably sell it for a profit, so whatever.
I’ll play pretty much anything with a skateboard in it, and this looks pretty good. A good blend of the intricate controls of Skate and the combo-focus of THPS, in a simple 2D set-up. I’m pretty sure this will be very nice, but I don’t know if it’ll be all that big a deal. There’s every chance that I’ll forget about it a week after I get it.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Donkey Kong Country Returns is still new to me, and I didn’t think it really stood out amongst Nintendo’s platformers. I don’t really have any reason to get excited about this, other than the increasingly reliable “it’s Nintendo, it’ll probably be great” rule. Aye. It’ll probably be really good, but I hardly feel like it’s something I need.
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes
I’m really excited about MGS5, but I don’t know if I can really get so excited about Ground Zeroes, as it’s not specified how much is actually in this, or what parts of the trailers this release covers. As far as I know, Ground Zeroes is a package of all the bits of MGS5 I don’t really care as much about. I’m not really interested in how it’s following up Peace Walker’s stupid story or what some of my least favoured characters from that game are doing. I’m eager to see what Project Ogre has become, how dark they’ve made Big Boss in the game, and how it sets up the events of the first three Metal Gear games. I don’t think we’re getting that in this.
Kirby Triple Deluxe
No concerns. This looks fucking brilliant.
The Evil Within
Shinji Mikami’s new game. That’s pretty much the only reason I’m buying it. Mikami made Resident Evil, the Resi 1 remake and Resi 4, so I give him some credit when he says he’s going to “reinvent survival horror”, but I haven’t really seen much to make me think he’s going to be able to do it this time. There’s supposedly new mechanics that are intended to play around with your expectations, but everything I’ve seen and heard about makes it seem like they’ve just got a few spooky bits, heavily scripted in. This reliance on scripted sequences moving the atmosphere seems very unlike Mikami, but perhaps he’s gained too much reverence for the west after dealing with stubborn Japanese publishers for too long?
Mario Kart 8
Yeah, it looks great. I don’t know if I really need it though. I only got Mario Kart Wii a few months ago, and Mario Kart 7 still feels pretty new. I insist that every Mario Kart is better than the one that came before it (which means, the much maligned, Double Dash is 3 games better than the retro darling, Super Mario Kart) so I’m confident that this will be excellent, but I’m not terribly excited about it right now.
Super Smash Bros for Wii U/3DS
It doesn’t really feel like we’ve seen anything of this yet. Surely this game’s got something to offer beyond Brawl, other than HD visuals and a few new characters? I mean, we still haven’t found out what the 3DS/Wii U connectivity’s really about. We don’t really know anything about any single player content. Surely bringing on the staff from Go Vacation has changed things up a bit? I don’t know. It seems odd that this game is supposedly quite far on in development, but we’ve still seen so little of it, but maybe that just highlights how Nintendo’s PR has changed from the Wii days? Maybe it’s just evidence that this game won’t really be trying as hard as the previous games?
Those were all confirmed for release in 2014. Here’s some games that may come out in Europe in 2014, if we’re lucky.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Looks really great, this. Kojima doing dark psychological drama, and potentially only leaning on the old IP to make fans more heartbroken about what he’s doing with the characters. Full of potential, but I still have my doubts. Even though I loved them, I’ve had to overlook a lot of stupid stuff and audience pandering throughout most of the recent Metal Gear games, and with this being co-developed in America, there’s a possibility that contemporising the gameplay will come at the expense of losing much of Kojima’s abstract mechanical sensibilities.
In the eyes of fans, it would make more sense for Sega to localise this critically praised canonical sequel than the silly feudal spin-off, Ishin, but Sega may have little interest in bringing over a PS3 game that’s a couple of years old, instead of one of their biggest PS4 games. I don’t know. I do know that despite how clunky and weird a lot of the game may seem by the time of its hypothetical European release, I’ll be grinning through pretty much all of it.
The Last Guardian
We still haven’t seen any proper gameplay, and several key members of the development team have left the project. On paper, it’s ICO meets Shadow of the Colossus, and a total no-brainer, but if it’s so obviously good, why is it so hard to make it? There’s every chance that this is an overrated mess.
This one seems very unlikely, but with Yu Suzuki constantly pushing to get it released, and news stories still popping up every so often, it’d be downright cynical to suggest that it’s entirely impossible. But see if Shenmue III did come out? What would it even be, at this point? Suzuki has protectively held on to design documents detailing the locations and plot points Shemmue III would cover, for years, but we’ve got no idea what a wealthy benefactor would do with them to make this sell. We don’t know what kind of cuts would need to be made to make this a feasible project.
Daigasso Band Brothers P
Chances are, that unless you know me personally, you don’t know much about Jam With The Band on the DS. It was a superb localisation of the fantastic and incredibly ambitious, Daigasso Band Brothers DX, and it barely sold any copies over here. Now, they’ve added more to the formula. On top of the playing every instrument on a great number of songs, song writing, huge multiplayer, free DLC, stupid radio thing, and all the rest, they’ve got some kind of career mode, management simulation, new vocal abilities and even more stupid radio things. It seems very unlikely that this will come out in English, and because the 3DS is region locked, I might never get the chance to play it. That makes me quite upset.
Chibi-Robo! Photo Finder
Chibi-Robo is one of my favourite games on the Gamecube, but the series seems to have turned away from the reasons why I liked it so much. There doesn’t seem to be much focus on bittersweet relationships, or viewing familiar environments in unfamiliar ways anymore. It’s just a cute wee robot guy going about and doing stuff. And this isn’t even a proper game. It’s an AR game with a story. I don’t know if this will be very notable at all. Chances are, it’ll never come out here anyway, since you need to take photos of Japanese or American wall sockets in bits of it.
I’m calling this one more likely than Shenmue III, if only because it seems like there’s no chance that Valve wouldn’t be interested in making this. I have a lot of faith that Valve would be able to make a sequel that changes the game as much as Half-Life 2 did, but I don’t know if that’s a realistic expectation. I’ve dearly loved Team Fortress 2, Portal and Portal 2, and thoroughly enjoyed both Left 4 Dead games, but none of those titles were up against the incredible weight of Half-Life 3’s hype.
If I didn’t talk about it, I’m not planning to buy it.