The 'Shroom:Issue LXIX/Critic Corner
Crocodile Dippy (talk) I'm feeling so spent. You start to realise how much the holidays suck when you're a hard-working man in a customer service role at one of Australia's largest shopping centres. The worst isn't even over yet, and I had to sort out all this shit on top of it! Aren't I just such an amazing person to care so much for your entertainment that I'm willing to put myself through hell and back to keep this sub-team up to scratch? You don't have to say it; I know you all love me! Well except for you, Abdul.
Anyway, marioboy14 (talk) has been fired from Marioverse Reviews for not sending his section in for the past four months. So now we have plenty of openings for Mario game reviews! Everyone flock to that as soon as you can, it's kind of awkward that we have two Non-Marioverse Reviews sections but no Mario ones. Aside from my guest section for this month, but that's not going to happen very often!
OK so not much happening, aside from Raven Effect (talk) resigning from his Virtual Console Reviews position, regrettably. He'll probably return sometime in the future, and we'll all welcome him with open arms when that day comes… or else!
And with that, I'm just really happy to have spent this year working with a superb staff. I love my colleagues here, I love my writers, and I love all the readers that validate and give purpose to everything we do here. Thank you all so much for the great year here, and enjoy the holidays! Now, back to work for me… goodie!
Critic Corner Section of the Month
And so, the winner of last month's Critic Corner Section of the Month was… YoshiMonsta (talk), for his Entertainment Section! Give a round of applause, especially since he was unfortunately unable to write for this month. Don't worry, mate, clearly everyone is eagerly awaiting your return! Runners-up were myself… for both places. Thanks blokes, I'll be sure not to snipe you quite so viciously in our Team Fortress 2 game later.
1) Entertainment Section – 11 votes (%45.83)
2) Crocodile Style Reviews – 6 (%25)
3) Dippy's Matilda – 4 (%16.67)
Dippy places his critical sticker on Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
Raven farms a cult classic with Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom.
Dippy fights for his liberties in Assassin's Creed III.
MCD greets the end of the world with loads of SKIING.
Dippy observes the deeper complexity behind game mechanics.
|Paper Mario: Sticker Star|
My disdain for recent Mario games is well-documented in this community – in fact, I've been called stupid and told to leave the website because of it – but a fact that most people tend to gloss over is that I've always had a strong fondness of the Mario RPGs. Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi have both shown more interest in exploring the unique world of the Mario series beyond largely unconnected levels with specific world themes repeated over each same-y release enough times to drive Phil Connors insane, and the quirkiness and lovability of the writing and characters has always put them high on my favourite games of their respective consoles lists.
Paper Mario in particular holds a special place in my heart for being the very first video game I ever played that engaged me as something beyond simple recreation akin to throwing rocks at your classmates, which put me on the agonising path towards becoming the snooty games are art hipster you see before you today. I hate seeing nostalgia factored into games criticism, but Paper Mario probably remains the only game I am unable to say anything nasty about on the count of it being so important to my childhood. Well aside from the combat just being kind of shit, but shut up, it's the only thing that drowns out the memories of all those kids pointing and laughing at me!
And so here I am with Sticker Star in hand hoping to once again relive that moment of puppy love delight I first felt when I played the first entry into the series. Of course that'd be already be impossible as is without the bloody 3D carving boot-shaped dents into my eye balls, as the game is a bit of a dull experience. Not a bad one, mind, certainly more enthralling than most of Mario's outings lately, but not quite capturing the beauty and charming essence of the series quite like the last three have. I think the problem is how safe it is, there's a very distinct lack of ambition in the design with only five largely generic worlds to explore, all of which contain almost nothing but enemies airlifted from previous platforming releases including that goddamned vomiting venus fly trap that could only be considered amusing to people who enjoy John Waters films.
The reasoning for that was probably because the game has eschewed a lot of its RPG roots for a stronger platforming focus, which I remember putting me off Super Paper Mario as well since it less resembled a nicely brewed RPG platformer fusion and more a platformer with RPG elements. Although the only RPG elements left in Sticker Star are the turn-based battles, which absolutely baffles me; of all the things you could keep in-tact from previous titles, you keep the most boring part of them? Action commands are still there, of course, but having to take turns slapping each other in the fibres is only mildly more invigorating than watching ice melt on Orcadas. The battles do roll by quickly, but given the pacing of the platforming segments it just constantly breaks the flow, like jogging through a park only to stop every five seconds to fend off rabid Chihuahuas.
You've probably noticed I haven't mentioned anything about the story yet, and that's because there is none. Bowser steals a wish-fulfilling crown, Peach gets kidnapped yet again, and Mario now has to save her, it's the standard shit with less of the Paper Mario personality. Just like Super Paper Mario, the game eschews partners boasting rich personalities and unique takes on pre-established social conventions of the different species in the series for a single Navi-esque companion that does little more than belittle Mario and grants him the ability to “paperise”, who the hell comes up with these names? Paperisation allows Mario to manipulate the very fabric of paper time and space by placing loose stripes of paper he's found onto designated areas of the map, essentially making it like the Celestial Brush from Okami but with the only puzzle being “find oddly specifically shaped key to insert into oddly specifically shaped keyhole”, so it's all sort of a waste.
The most significant addition of any real merit is the sticker feature which forms the very core of the game, as if you couldn't tell from the bloody subtitle. It's almost ludicrous how much focus is put on these little things; absolutely everything revolves around them, from the combat to the puzzles to the side-quests to the diplomatic treaties. In opposed to most role-playing games having a metre measuring your special skills that would need to be restored using items or by sleeping with warlocks at the local inn, Sticker Star cuts out the middle man by only allowing you to attack by using the collectible stickers which seems a bit gamebreaking to me. Not that I'm necessarily against a streamlined approach, but you're never likely to run out of stickers due to them being more common in the Mushroom Kingdom than crownies are in Melbourne cricket stadiums, and the fact that HP upgrades are stupidly easy to find basically makes Mario the overall-wearing Odin.
Not that there's any real reason to get into common enemy fights, since as said before they just break the flow of the platforming, and even then you don't earn any experience for the fights so it's all just a waste of stickers. You do get coins for it, but all they can be spent on is a shallow roulette that doesn't really cost all that much to use, or more pillocking stickers! Bloody buggery, Intelligent Systems, what is with you and these things? Did you all collect stickers when you were kids, or does the adhesive just remind you a little bit of cum? There's also random knick-knacks hidden across the world that can be turned into special stickers that can be used to speed along the combat process considerably, but many of them are also necessary for solving puzzles meaning that if you used it up you have to backtrack all the way through an earlier level in order to find the item again, like a forgetful businessman constantly forgetting to bring his pants to work.
And those special stickers are also pivotal to winning boss fights that are all stupidly powerful, with specific stickers being able to make bosses more vulnerable to basic attacks and thus easier to defeat, which isn't a bad way to make turn-based combat more engaging. That is if the solutions make sense half the time, which they most certainly do not. Some are fairly straight-forward like using a hook to pull a giant fish out of the water, but the quirky nature of the game places many of the strategies firmly in adventure game logic wherein using a giant sponge to deflect poison back at a giant poison squid is considered a more beneficial strategy than, say, throwing some fucking scissors at it because it's just paper. At one point you're expected to figure out on your own that the giant cactus monster boss is weak to a baseball bat; who the fuck spawned this logic, Syd Barret?
But get past the entire glimmer and polish of the whole thing, when you get right down to it Sticker Star is just kind of lifeless. The writing is still really nice and it has its fun moments, but outside that the game has very little personality or identity to speak of, and the excessively linear, non-explorative nature of the platformer-style progression sort of shoots replayability in the leg. Anyone who likes platformers probably won't have patience for the turn-based combat that heeds little reward, and anyone who likes Japanese RPGs won't appreciate the lack of story, gameplay or character depth, so throw this one into the “only for hardcore Nintendo fanboys” pile. Sticker Star isn't the worst the Mario series has to offer, but you could get the same degree of satisfaction by skimming through your dad's stamp collection, at least those might have giant robots and tits in them.
Virtual Console Reviews
Raven Effect (talk) (edited by Bop1996 (talk))
Last month I reviewed the Platformer title DoReMi Fantasy: Milon no Dokidoki Daibouken and the month before that I reviewed the historical simulator/real time strategy game Nobunaga’s Ambition. In an effort to continue to review games with genres that have nothing to do with each other, this month I will be reviewing the cult "hit" Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom, released by Hudson Soft in 1988 for the NES (it was also released earlier on some computers). Princess Tomato is different from most games on the virtual console because it is actually a text-based adventure game, which is a turn-off for many people more interested in killing things. If you are one of these people and you know already that you have no interest in a text adventure game just stop reading right now because there is no point in reading this review.
Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom stars the legendary hero Sir Cucumber in his quest to save Princess Tomato from the sinister Minister Pumpkin, who has stolen the Turnip Emblem from King Broccoli and kidnapped Princess Tomato. Minister Pumpkin plans to force her to marry his son Pumpkin Jr. Sir Cucumber is different from most NES era heroes because instead of being a one-man army and challenging the entire Pumpkin army (called farmies in the game) by himself, Sir Cucumber, along with his sidekick Percy Persimmon, tends to stay in the back ground and avoid direct confrontation with the farmies (that’s not to say he won’t throw down and play a mean game of rock paper scissors when necessary). Instead Sir Cucumber and Percy conspire with other resistance members to learn information as to where Princess Tomato is. However, not every part of the game revolves around the Princess. Some quests involve things like rescuing the Peanut mayor’s daughter from a giant three headed banana (it’s just as hilarious as it sounds) or rescuing a group of vegetables from a farmer. Now that we've covered the plot let’s move on to the controls.
The gameplay consists mainly of the following 14 actions:
- Move: This allows you to move to the next screen (duh).
- Look: This allows you to uncover certain hidden areas as well as some objects in rooms.
- Check: This allows you to find items, uncover secret areas, and check objects that you found by using look.
- Talk: This allows you to talk to people. Some say useful things and some don’t (it’s pretty self-explanatory).
- Take: This allows you to take certain items you find (however you can’t take things like tables which I think is bullshit but whatever).
- Use: This allows you to use items.
- Give: This allows you to give certain people items.
- Buy: This allows you to buy items from stores (duh).
- Hit: This allows you to hit both people and things (sometimes it reveals hidden stuff and other times it just provokes a hilarious reaction from Percy).
- Fight: This rarely used option allows you to fight enemies using the traditional combat system Rock Paper Scissors.
- Praise: This allows you to compliment people, which is used a few times to solve puzzles.
- Dump: Allows you to get rid of items.
- Item: Allows you to check your items.
- Percy: Only available after you find Percy. This option lets you talk to Percy, who sometimes says useful things but not always.
The way you activate these options is by moving the D-Pad on them and clicking B. The combat system works differently for rock paper scissors; up and down represent rock, left represents scissors, and right represents paper. And after making your move if you happen to win the round you still have to look the same way as the enemy which basically means if you want to move left you press left on the D-Pad and so on. Now that I've discussed the controls I’m going to move on to the graphics.
The Graphics are quite basic with few animated images (although there are at least two, one being some birds and the other being the recurring character Octoberry.) But the graphics being basic and simple should be expected considering the fact that this is a text adventure game from the NES. Now that I’m done talking about the graphics you might be wondering whether the sound is any good. (this is my way of lazily transitioning to the sound section by the way)
Each level has a different song and most of the songs are short and somewhat pleasant to listen to, although they do get annoying after a short period of time and I have at times muted my TV because I was tired of listening to it. However it is important to note that the reason the sound is so simple is because this is pretty much a port of an old computer game. With that out of the way let’s talk about the difficulty.
The game's difficulty fluctuates from really easy to fairly hard at different points in the levels. And while most puzzles are easy to solve some of them seem to be completely reliant on trial and error gameplay such as the fact that nowhere in the game does it tell you that you need to exchange your gold coins for regular coins until you try to buy something also every little bag filled with money is only contains gold and since you only use gold in one area it kind of makes gold pointless since you use coins everywhere else. Some puzzles are annoying because they seem to require you to do things in a certain order and I swear that twice on the final level I couldn’t get the game to let me advance because I did one thing out of order. And sometimes the game doesn’t let you do what seems to make sense such as when I was in the resistance base one guy said he wanted grape juice which I had so I figured that I needed to give him Grape juice to advance only to find out that I didn’t need to give it to him at that time. Also the game gives you a limited inventory which is common in games but it also gives you items you don’t use but it’s almost impossible to know beforehand what items you will and won’t use which makes the limited inventory unfair imo. With that out of the way let’s move on to the best part of the game.
This game is hilarious beyond belief and every level has at least one hilarious moment such as when the game references the fact that the Hudson bee often means a bonus in Hudson games, hitting the owner of the book store and having him yell “I KNOW NOSSING”, and the fact that King Broccoli has two daughters one is a tomato and the other is a human named Lisa. Also at one point when I was extremely pissed off the game managed to make me laugh by calling me a pervert when I looked into the shower of a female orange (it makes sense in context). And I think the humor makes up for any flaws the game really has because no matter what I was always entertained.
I like this game. Sure, it might not be great, but it’s fun and entertaining. However, I understand that this game is the ultimate niche market game. I mean, how many people really want a text adventure game for the NES (fun fact the way I discovered this game was by sending it to my friend Jacob as a joke)? And because this game is for such a niche market I have a hard time recommending it because I know that most won’t be able to get past its slow pace, its large amounts of backtracking, and all the reading. But for those who think they can I recommend this game full on if you have 500 wii points that you are looking to spend because for all its flaws this game is still entertaining and hilarious and a worthy addition to anyone’s virtual console library. Final score: 7.5/10
Crocodile Style Reviews
|Assassin's Creed III|
|Platform(s)||PlayStation 3, XBox 360, Wii U, Microsoft Windows|
|Genres||Platform, stealth, sandbox|
Being this community's resident alpha male critic, a statement I'm sure will come across as self-congratulatory to any heathens who deny my greatness, I have very little shame in anything I've ever done. I can, for instance, say without regret that when I was younger, dumber, and less ruggedly charming, I used to watch Lucky Star, or that I once drank dishwashing liquid and hiccupped bubbles for the next few weeks. But when I say something in these reviews that comes back to bite me in the ass later on, I can't help feeling a little ridiculous. Point in case, implying at the end of my Dishonored review last month that Assassin's Creed III would blow it out of the water as far as sandbox stealth-assassination games went, and with the revelation that only one of us has done any improvement since Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the egg on my face is now rotten enough to put Sam I Am out of business.
The first problem was an inevitability with Assassin's Creed III continuing the same bloody storyline as the last four games, a story whose welcome has been so overstayed it needs a fucking escort to the nearest retirement home. Desmond and his cronies are now attempting to enter a magical door containing whatever it is that's supposed to sort out all of their problems, except they need a key to get past it – for fuck's sake, Ones Who Came Before, how many bloody artefacts do you want him to collect before you'll let him save the world? – forcing Desmond to yet again relive the memories of an ancestor.
This time he takes on the role of Haytham Kenway, a British Templar who comes out to the new world to fuck up some native shit except no you actually play as his illegitimate native son Connor after two hours of faffing about, who decides to take vengeance against the Templars for burning down his village, a plot point I might've cared about more if Connor wasn't such a bland tosser. His circuits seem to malfunction all the time in the heat of the moment, so he responds to every scenario with emotionless pleasantries or blistering fury at the slightest inconvenience, especially concerning his cunt daddy and surrogate black daddy. Jesus Christ, mate, at least Ezio played a buggering lute after his family carked it.
Actually most of the story-based stuff bored me to tears. OK yeah, it's properly researched, it avoids being jingoistic to appeal to the American dipshit demographic, the mistreatment of the natives is displayed fairly balanced on both factions of the conflict, blah blah blah, but none of that really matters to me if you're not doing something interesting with that research, namely carving my initials into unsuspecting bludger's spinal cords. The choice of setting probably didn't help matters much, since while heated anti-imperialist political conflict over who had the stupider hairstyles is intriguing enough in its own right, it doesn't really translate to sneaky rooftop-dwelling assassin very well, never mind the architecture just isn't as interesting as beautiful Venice or majestic Constantinople.
But yeah, gameplay. If you've glimpsed an Assassin's Creed game for even a fraction of a second then you can guess exactly what you're not in for in this game since by this point assassinations are no longer core to the series. With the gradual addition of more and more trivial micromanaging bullshit throughout all the previous titles slowly engulfing the actual assassinations, it really shouldn't have come as any surprise to me that Assassin's Creed III has decided to throw the blade into the river and take up accounting instead.
Connor has a homestead in which he can enlist random tradies to set up shop there and gradually create a bustling economy, crafting stuff that has no better use but to be sold to strangers by caravan, from which the proceeds can then be spent on ship upgrades to complete naval objectives in order to open up more trade routes to get even more money. But none of this has any relevance to bloodily stabbing people in the throats, so what the hell is the point if all this effort is invested solely into making more money for myself? Or is Connor the reason antitrust laws exist?
Not that there isn't room in my heart for Economics Creed, just not when the game is still called Assassin's Creed because then you're just talking crap, like calling Sim City “Godzilla Rampage City” instead. Or labelling Coca Cola “Pepsi”. And that's not to say the parkour and assassinations aren't still there, but they're kind of token; the vast majority of story missions are strictly linear with no room for improvisation in case you slip on a gutter and face-plant on a box of small children, forcing you to restart the mission from scratch because Ubisoft will not allow such butchering of their oh-so perfect story! Usually not even that, more often the missions are once-off mini-games that have absolutely no business being in an Assassin's Creed game, such as firing cannonballs or patriots at oncoming redcoats. It's nice to see you trying to mix things up, Ubisoft, but you should probably get their priorities straight, otherwise you're just spreading yourselves thin with crap no one cares about.
Speaking of which, the game has significantly improved combat from the gooey mess designed for nervous turtle people that it was in previous games, although that is because it's a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum now, just with a tomahawk instead of a bat-tomahawk. But 'Screed III isn't getting off the hook for this either since the sheer volume with which you're forced into combat could shame a Glasgow pub, probably on the count of there being more guards than a Vietnamese rice field. It kind of defeats the purpose of free-spiritedly running along the rooftops when you could end up with an entire conga line of guards after you on the count of one roof-dwelling hobo happening to spot a single thread on your laundry basket of a costume.
Maybe that's why the frontiers exist in this game, with endless rows of trees and rock formations forming suspiciously convenient freerunning paths, but while I won't say there isn't a certain amount of charm in pretending to be the American Tarzan, gracing the treetops overlooking the thick-headed redcoats as they enjoy the taste of dirt below, Connor is anything but graceful in the trees. In a swift freerunning segment it would help if there was a clear indication which trees and hills could be climbed and which couldn't, as the forests are so dense and the lighting so awful that half my “sweet tricks” just result in Connor becoming “one” with the land.
OK so yeah, the game still has its moments, just not in the story. It seems a bit stupid to me that I have to go out of my way to find the fun because the game is too busy showing off its fancy new clothes to entertain me. Connor's story is utterly tedious and drawn out but it also doesn't seem to have much relevance to the overarching plot, Connor only learning of the key at the very end of the game, so kind of a sore finish all things considered. I hate to say it, but I actually found Desmond's missions more enthralling than Connor's, linear as they may be, as they seemed to be the only parts of the game that understood exactly why people play Assassin's Creed in the first place. Then the ending completely shits on you in the most slimy and illness-inducing way possible, offering absolutely no closure and leaving an opening for yet another fucking sequel. 2012 has not been a good year for series endings, that's for damn sure.
To bring things to a close, I can only go so long without indulging in the delicious gooey centre of the pavlova that was the core stealth/parkour/assassinations routine without dozing off, but even if it was just that I would've called it out on being stagnant and out of ideas. It's a catch-22, really; once you're at the point where you can no longer improve on what the central appeal of your game is, and you can only attach more and more frilly tassels to the handlebars that only make it look even more old and rusted, you've hit a brick-wall from which there is no salvation from the critical noose. Probably best to end this series right here and now before we're stuck arguing with Templars over what Obamacare will do to their new hospital taxation scheme.
Should Have Been
"I don't want to buy this game..."
"wonderfully straight beaches!"
Hey, everyone, welcome to this festive edition of Should Have
made this bi-monthly sooner Been! You may remember what happened last time. If you don't, those random tidbits aren't going to be any assistance at all out of context, so you're out of luck. I don't know if you guys saw but the world ended yesterday. It was pretty cool, I'd give it an 8.8, there should have been more explosions, and everything looks the same, no graphics updates or anything. And the story? Don't get me started.
Speaking of terrible stories, I have one today. It's known as "Waluigi's Canadian Kerfuffle!". I'll also tell you what should have been in (the Wii version of) Mario
guy1 and Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games!
What should have been in this game?
If that bacon-wrapped story wasn't enough, I'm going to be doing what I'm supposed to be doing to! So, up until recently, I thought this game with the annoyingly long title was fairly fun, yet, when I went back and played it again a few days ago, I found it quite boring. But enough of that for now, let's get going:
I know skiing's, like, one of the main Winter Olympic sports, but I really felt there were too many skiing events in this game. There was the Downhill, the Giant Slalom, the Individual and Team Ski Jumping, the Moguls and the Ski Cross. Starting off with the Downhill, it was okay. The skiing controls weren't hard to get the hang of. The Giant Slalom was effectively a harder version, and I didn't enjoy it much. I don't think it needed to be in the game, honestly. Then, there were the Individual and Team Ski Jumping - this is a fairly minor complaint, but, in Olympic events, the Individual and Team are classed as separate events, yet, for Dream Events, they're grouped under one event. I think it's pretty inconsistent, and just one way should have been used (in my opinion, the Dream Event way). Either way, I think the Ski Jump should have been harder, or at least you'd have the choice between easy and hard times to play against.
The Moguls...I really didn't enjoy this one. It felt really boring and pointless to me. The Ski Cross was okay, I guess. By the time I got to it I was really sick of skiing events. So anyway, back to my original point, I felt there were too many skiing events in this game. Personally, I'd remove Giant Slalom and Moguls, and combine Individual and Team Ski Jump, which would leave us with the Downhill, Ski Jump and the Ski Cross. Also, if you jump, you get the chance to wave the Wii Remote around to do some totally RADICAL tricks! Unfortunately this is ruined when the game asks you to draw some weird shapes with the remote, and it doesn't recognize the shapes well. In my opinon, they should have just left out the shape-drawing stuff, and left it as borderline enjoyable Wii Remote-waving.
Next up were the Snowboarding events. I felt the number of them was okay, but I thought the controls for the snowboarding were pretty bad - it was hard to control your snowboard, and too hard to recover if you went in the snow or screwed up otherwise. I think the controls should have been improved. I didn't really care much for the Halfpipe. I think it could have possibly been replaced by an Individual snowboard course, like the Downhill or Giant Slalom.
As with the skiing, I felt there were too many Speed Skating events. There was the 500m, the 1000m/Short Track and Short Track Relay. The controls for the 500m were way too sensitive - moving the remote an inch counted as a swing for some reason - and, even with that, it was laughably easy, and same goes for the last two. The 1000m just adds tilting the remote to the side at the edges, and the Relay introduces doing whatever the hell you want with the remote to pass the baton. I feel, after so many similar events, the game becomes quite redundant. Either the 500m or 1000m should have been removed, I don't really care which.
However, I did enjoy some events of this game - the Bobsleigh events, Figure Skating and Ice Hockey were fun. I remember Curling being pretty boring too, but I haven't played that for a long time. Finally, overall, I feel all of the Dream Events were far superior to their normal counterparts (if they had them, that is). To combat this, they could have...made them better? I don't know. You try to complete that sentence.
Shy Guy or Espio would have been nice additions, or maybe even some of the Rivals. I thought the shopping was a great addition - the atmosphere was festive and enjoyable, it was fun to see things slowly being added to the town, and the shops were pretty cool. The music shop had some pretty nice remixes...when it came to the Mario songs, that is. A lot of the Sonic songs weren't remixed, or remixes from different games (for example, the Angel Island song was actually the version used in Super Smash Bros. Brawl). The songs were great anyway, but I think it was a bit lazy not to remix them.
Also, the Big Bullet Bill should totally have been replaced by a KING BILL.
Unfortunately, this game has no beta elements I can talk about. How sad. This is worsened by the fact that it's Christmas. No Beta elements in the December Should Have Been is like no turkey on a Christmas dinner - but there are many people in the world who won't be having turkey on December 25th. Well, actually, it's everyone, the world ends in December. Either way, bye! Have a great pre-Christmas apocalypse, and I'll hopefully see you in February! Maybe! Probably, but perhaps not! Yet still, most likely! However, I may not! But I will! Or will I?
Hey guys, happy holidays and welcome to another one of my matilda stories! I was thinking of maybe having a holiday-themed section this month, but aside from a religious debate I'd much rather not get into at this point, I didn't have many ideas for that specific theming. But Assassin's Creed III gave me an idea for a subject to bring up so I'm not coming into this completely empty-handed, although I'm certainly doing this empty-headed, so this month let's talk about Game Mechanics.
What are game mechanics? Simply put, they're the rules and functions on a technical level that define the way we interact with the game and its world on an experiential level. They lay out what actions a player can take to progress through the game, whether that be shooting, jumping, running, sorting out puzzles, or even just managing city finance, and they also establish the challenges and non-player actions in the game. They're the very essence of the medium which allows us to engage in and interact with the game events rather than simply be an audience to them, and thus it is essential game developers put a tremendous deal of care into how they build up their game mechanics, and how they reconcile them with all the other factors being put into play.
Most good games start with a core mechanic from which the rest of the experience is built on, with most design decisions being carefully crafted around that core to ensure there are no rough edges. In many Mario platformers, the core mechanic is jumping on platforms to progress through levels, so they include interesting level design to ensure you don't get bored jumping through each level, they include quirky enemies that complement the level design and encourage challenge, and a variety of power-ups to overcome those quirky enemies, all while still retaining and supporting that core 'jump on things' mechanic. While the argument is still there whether that rigid structure has halted innovation – an argument I'd very much back, but that's neither here nor there – it's still a good example of a game that is all about its central mechanic, eschewing what might otherwise feel tacky and forced in.
The goal of all developers is to ensure their game flows and allows for the maximum amount of player immersion, which means they have to be wary that what they're adding to their game fits in with everything else, otherwise they run the risk of breaking player immersion with features that really don't belong. This means thinking of every aspect of your game; you could have a mechanic or feature that's completely functional and fits in on a technical level, but might not support the overall tone or experience of the game you're making when in practice. The game Brutal Legend remains one of the most depressing examples of this, with two different perspectives going into the design decisions resulting in a game that was half hack and slash/half real-time strategy, which could work but was poorly designed and lacked focus. This essentially left the game with two core mechanics to work from, neither of which saw their full potential realised or complemented each other in even the slightest way. This sort of mess can easily result from a failure to understand your core mechanics and how to craft a good experience from that base.
Genre combinations are a fairly easy and highly effective way of innovating, but they can also be tricky affairs if done without care. Like the Brutal Legend example, or all the finance management objectives in Assassin's Creed III, haphazardly marrying two genres that can't just shallowly be slapped together without a second thought can be a disaster. But with care, it can be a highly effective way of creating a deeper, more engaging experience than if the game was only based around one genre; Batman: Arkham Asylum fluidly shifted between fist fighting action and ceiling-swinging stealth, while The Walking Dead has shown a very clever way to combine the simplicity of point-and-click adventure games with the tension of survival horror. I'm sure a great many gamers would scoff at the mere idea of an action shooter that's turn-based, but any fan of Valkyria Chronicles or the latest X-COM game will tell you exactly why that's a solid idea with the proper attention to detail. All of these ideas were designed carefully to ensure each feature and concept supported their respective core mechanics and didn't take away anything from the overall experience.
By no means am I asking developers to stick to short, simple games just because that's easy, certainly not. One of the best examples I can think of for a deep game with so many features going for it that rarely feels awkward is the first Deus Ex, a release best described as a first-person sandbox action role-playing stealth shooter game. Think about how the game outright encourages exploration and choosing the path that works best for you, and how it offers you a variety of weapons and espionage skills that you can upgrade to suit your playstyle. This allows you to just as adequately play an action shooter guy as you can a hacker, or a sneaky assassin, or even just a passive sneaky thief who wouldn't dare harm a fly, with all the enemies and even bosses balanced out in such a way that you can progress past them in any way you prefer, and even the well-implemented dialogue trees create the possibility of talking your way out of conflicts. Yes, there are a lot of mechanics in play here, many that at the time of its release might've seemed contradictory, but as they were all built with the utmost precision around the central concept of 'choose your playstyle', it all blended together to create an absolutely stunning, well-rounded journey. Barring the useless swimming skill, of course, but I'm sure we can conveniently push that one under the rug.
And of course it's supremely important to understand how your mechanics relate to and affect the story, characters, and setting of the game as well, less you create a disconnect between the events of the game and the player's experience. I mean, you can't have high-action kung-fu gameplay in a game about political debate... well I guess you can, if you're gearing for satire. That'd be pretty awesome, actually. Uh… but anyway, Team Ico are phenomenal at this blending of game mechanics and narrative, telling the love story of Ico through a well-implemented escort system and a desperate combat system that accentuated Ico's status as a confused, frightened child trying to do the best he can for the meek Yorda; or accentuating the mystery and tense nature of the world of Shadow of the Colossus through the massive but quiet overworld that allowed for active exploration and juxtaposed brilliantly with the actual boss fights. Metroid Prime also emphasises mystery and backstory intrigue in order to encourage exploration and scanning to understand more about the world you're stuck on, but more on that game another time.
I think I'm rambling at this point. To sum it all up, designing a game isn't as simple as adding what you think is cool or what you think might fit, but understanding fully what the core appeal of your game is and then carefully evaluating all of your decisions to ensure there are no noticeable loose bricks in the game. Don't just judge the mechanics on their own merit, analyse how they affect every other mechanic and feature – gameplay and story – in the game, ensure they all merge together seamlessly to create the most refined and immersive experience you can. Try using early tech demos to see what appeals most to the most amount of participants; you might be surprised to learn what engaged them the most. Don't be afraid to discard ideas or change your design pathway plans to suit that core appeal of your game, even if it's frustrating; you don't want to bore or frustrate the player with something that's unrefined or that would just be a slog to put up with, after all. I've been talking silly about things I don't know much about for too long now, so I'll stop here; thanks for reading, and enjoy your holidays. See you next month.