Games I'm Currently Playing: The Thanksgiving Edition
System: PlayStation 2
There's something very dangerous about a game that is just enjoyable enough to spur you on to finish it and just not quite compelling enough to make the experience joyful. And that's what Okami was, which resulted in me believing that Okami is, after playing all the way through it, a good game. But that's about the highest compliment I can pay it. It's not a bad game by any stretch, but calling it anything more than "good" is unjustified. And I actually think the thing that makes Okami weak, really, is that is really just feels lazy.
It's weird calling a game that is so packed to the teeth "lazy." I mean, lazy would seem to imply that someone made a game with a lot of potential that wasn't realized. Yet strangely, I interpret the makers of Okami as being lazy because it is so tightly packed. It's like someone said, "Okay, take as many things as we can think of and cram it into this game. No need for creativity. Just put in things that are fun from other games." So the game ends up feeling like a hodgepodge of so many other games we've played. I firmly believe it's more work to know what to keep out in order to maintain the game's integrity than it is to try and put as much as possible into the game, especially for a game in Okami's genre. Okami is not a Sandbox game like Grand Theft Auto so it shouldn't try to be packed like one. As a result, by the 15th or so hour into the game, I completely forgot how beautiful it looked and forgot what any of the game's themes were. At first, I was amazed by the backgrounds, the art style, etc. But at some point deep into the game, the environments ceased to interest me and none of the character designs registered in my mind anymore. That should never happen with a game as pretty as Okami.
And I mentioned in my first impressions of Okami: the anachronistic characters and dialogue really affected my enjoyment of the game. Hearing one of the main character, Issun, utter a line like, "Let's lay the smackdown on them," was jarring. And hearing him continually making references to a bosomy female character's "2 bouncy friends" just seemed so out of place. Again, it's a shame, because one thing that impressed me a lot about the game was how much Japanese mythology was referenced in the game. I read a FAQ online discussing how the majority of the characters and events in the game mirrored a lot of Japanese mythology, and I think that fact gets lost by the anachronism. Of course, the wealth of mythology referenced may only seem impressive because I am personally unfamiliar with Japanese mythology. It could very well be the Japanese version of God of War, as God of War certainly is very loosely based on Greek mythology, drawing from multiple areas of the Greek mythological canon (I'm still personally waiting to see if there is an evil two-headed tree in God of War II named Baucis and Philemon). Thus, perhaps to the Japanese gamers, there really isn't anything that special about that aspect of Okami either.
And yes, though you don't need to do everything, you end up coming really close through the natural course of the game once you reach the end anyhow. In my game, before the point of no return, I had fed about 85% of all the animals, found about 75% of the Stray Beads, and obtained all but one treasure. It's just too tempting to go back and find the rest, which really is a big mistake for an adult gamer with no time. This game would have been a joy for me had I still been in high school or college. But at this age, it's hard to spend that much time on one game. Even knowing that, I collected everything except for catching the entire variety of fish you can catch (admittedly, for the last few Beads and animals I couldn't find on my own, I gave up and used a FAQ). And I actually don't have any sense of accomplishment from collecting it all, either. In fact, I feel worse off for being compelled to do it all (since I am a completist), thus extending my total play time for the game by a considerable number of hours.
So in the end, Okami just couldn't ever get to the point where I could quite understand what it was trying to be. Was it trying to be a 3-D platformer? A "Zelda-esque" clone? A sandbox game? An artistic game? I could never tell. It's a very solidly made game: beautiful, above average controls, good story, and no obvious glitches or bugs in sight. But its insistence on putting so much into the game and making it so long (yet so easy) really took a lot of the punch out of the game. So again, all I can do is repeat my earlier assessment: the game is good. But that's all it'll ever be to me.
Name: Shadow of the Colossus
System: PlayStation 2
If I had to describe the game in one sentence, it would be this: "Shadow of the Colossus is the story of one man's journey to bring his one true love back to life by fighting, over and over again, the camera."
Between Okami and Shadow of the Colossus, I've had my fill of bad camera angles affecting my game. I mean, while we are only entering the third generation of 3-D console gaming, there really shouldn't ever be any excuses anymore for having your screen filled by a giant close-up of the texture from a wall, which seemed to happen more often than it should have while playing Shadow of the Colossus. And many of the times I ended up falling off of a Colossus, trying to jump from place to place, was due to awkward camera angles and the inability to properly judge distance. It really ended up testing a lot of my patience.
Also, between Shadow of the Colossus and Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, I've had my fill of controlling horses. Will someone please assure me that the horse controls in Twilight Princess is better? Please? If I have to watch my horse in that game stop from a full gallop because a scary, thin tree (that could have been easily avoided) got in its way, I may be one of the only people to throw their Wiimote at the TV on purpose.
Okay, now that I've gotten the complaints out of the way, I must do a 180. Because these two mechanical problems are pretty much the only complaints I have about the game. I picked up Shadow of the Colossus very late in its existence mainly because of how much people had been lauding it, particularly during the infamous "Gaming isn't art" debate with Roger Ebert. And, after completing the game, I really do feel better off having played it.
It deserves most of its praise. The game, for me, falls under the same category as Silent Hill 2. In regards to Silent Hill 2, that game would easily be one of my top 10 all time favorite video games. That's how highly I think of that game. But even I would be a fool to pretend the controls and camera in Silent Hill 2 aren't terrible. In fact, they were downright awful. But they couldn't even come close to ruining the game for me.
So while I don't love Shadow of the Colossus nearly as much as I love Silent Hill 2, I have to say that I came away with great respect for the game despite its shortcomings. Few games are as beautiful. And what makes it even more impressive is that its beauty doesn't come from high-resolution graphics or colorful environments or fancy graphic filters. No, Shadow of the Colossus is more like a painting. It's very deliberate and its look is definitely used to drive home its themes. I love looking at screenshots of the game because, from one picture, so much is conveyed. For example, just from one of my favorite screenshots, shown below (click on it to get a full sized version), you get a good impression of the game's themes of scale (the Colossus you fight and the land you can explore are both huge), desolation (there is definitely a sense of isolation), and determination (your character, that little guy on the horse, is supposed to kill that giant thing in the sky).
Also, the plot is amazingly full yet minimalist at the same time. Not much story is provided, but it gives you just enough that you can easily derive a wealth of information anyhow. And the fact that they still hold back a ton of knowledge leaves the game open to so much interpretation. It’s almost David Lynch worthy (I’m thinking Mulholland Drive here). The game doesn't spoon feed you anything. And I'm referring to the story and the gameplay itself. No sprites telling pointing everything out to you, no NPCs to give you clues, and no convenient signs to read. There are power ups you can find in the game, for example, that you are never told about. You, like the protagonist, really are almost entirely clueless about this new world you've entered. I played the entire game completely oblivious to them.
The artistic aspect of Shadow of the Colossus is truly admirable, and it being used as the paragon of art in video games is justified. So while the controls are dubious at best and the camera is really inconsistent and bugs and glitches do exist, it is largely overshadowed (no pun intended) by how well the game presents to you its vision. A game like Okami will probably be forgotten years from now, but Shadow of the Colossus has the potential to be the kind of game remembered for a long, long time.
Name: Lumines II
System: PlayStation Portable
It's always fun to find out you suck at a game. For any fighting game fans out there, it's probably a familiar feeling: you are the ruler of the roost. At your local arcade, no one can touch you in Street Fighter. And then these guys come from out of town and proceed to beat you down like you've never been beaten down before. Suddenly, you realize you have so much to learn. (As an aside to fighting game fans, this is actually what happened to me and my group of classic Street Fighter II playing friends... and the guy who came into my arcade and beat us down was none other than Tomo Ohira.)
Well, this is exactly what happened with Lumines II. I thought I was decent at the game after playing the first one. I could last very long and get a decently (I thought) high score. But they added "Mission Modes" to Lumines II, and the mission that was the catalyst for me finding out where I really stood was to clear at least 170 squares in 3 minutes. I couldn't even come close. So I went online to see if I can find any strategies on beating this mission. And what I saw shocked me. Someone cleared not just 170 squares but 186 squares... in only 1 minute!!! I watched it on YouTube. I watched it and my heart sank.
This spurred me on to really try and learn how to play the game properly. And I've been improving little by little. I think you may have remembered me mentioning a while ago that, on my vacation out to the East Coast, I became obsessed with the original Lumines. I've come to the realization that what I thought was an obsession was nothing. No, my Lumines obsession has now reached Tetris level. Tetris, you must understand, would easily make my top 3 games of all time. So when I say my Lumines obsession has reached Tetris levels, that's not something to be taken lightly.
So what does it mean to have reached Tetris level? Easy: while writing code at work, while talking to other people, while watching Laker games on TV, and even while writing this blog post, I have visions of Lumines blocks falling in my head. I am trying to optimize how to place pieces almost 24/7 now. While I sleep, Lumines blocks dance in my subconscious. It's probably unhealthy... maybe it’s a chemical imbalance or something. I should probably go see a doctor about it when I get the time.
Is there anything about Lumines II that makes it better than Lumines? No. Some nice new modes and options, but it is the same game. I'm talking exactly the same game. Does that make Lumines II not worthy of a purchase? Not remotely. But keep in mind that I’m the guy who keeps buying every new version of Tetris that Nintendo churns out because I'm such a Tetris junkie. Overall, Lumines II is better than the original just because of few extra featuresand extra modes. It’s missing a few of the best skins from the first game, sure, but that’s not a problem.
I dunno what it is about Puzzle games but, for lack of a better way to put it, I am their bitch. I have to give Tetsuya Mizuguchi credit: both Meteos and Lumines start off largely uninterestingly. But the more you play and the more you learn, you slowly figure out how to properly play these games. And then everything changes. And they become super addictive. Both games are very strong, though there is probably still a debate out there on which is better. And to give you an idea of just how strong Lumines is to me now, I have to declare it better than Meteos. Remember, I'm still a Nintendo fanboy so I want to believe that Meteos on the DS is better than Lumines on the PSP. But there's no debate anymore: Lumines is a better Puzzle Game. This is largely due to Lumines being a far purer and more straight-forward puzzle game. There really are only 2 or 3 rules to the game. It really is like Tetris after its been completely pimped out.
Name: Guitar Hero II
System: PlayStation 2
Stage: Heavy Play
I am actually going to refrain from commenting on this game for now, as I plan to talk in length about this game in a future blog post. So if you really want to know what my impressions of this game are, you'll just have to wait. Sorry.
So that's my Thanksgiving vacation. Also getting some minor play has been Elite Beat Agents for the Nintendo DS (but that will also be discussed in a future blog post) and Capcom Classics Collection 2 (if you love Capcom games, you owe yourself to buy this and play Capcom Quiz and Dragons). I did not get my hands on a Wii, so I am unable to write any impressions on that. I will try to rectify that situation this weekend, so wish me luck. Hope your Thanksgiving vacation was as engaging gaming-wise as mine was. And thanks for reading!