December 1, 2011 51 Comments
Despite what my naysayers would have you believe, I have absolutely nothing against retro games. The target of my scorn is old games. They’re not necessarily the same thing. The assertion that I’m against old looking games on principle is absurd. The last I checked, the #1 game on my list was Dead Pixels. And let’s not forget LaserCat spent months on top of the leaderboard.
I had a nice discussion with Kris Steele, the creator of VolChaos, and we both ultimately concluded that my mindset is the result of a generational thing. I’m 22 years old. I’m guessing that’s significantly younger than many of you reading this. And while I’m sure a lot of you will hike up your slacks, spit out your dentures and call me a whippersnapper whose opinion is invalidated because of my age, I’ll remind you that I am and always have been a serious gamer. So while I was raised in an era of Playstations, Dreamcasts, and Nintendo machines with increasingly silly names, I also have always looked to the past in my endless pursuit of the perfect game. During the fiasco with my anti-Sega tangent, someone told me, not an exact quote here but this is the gist of it, “Sonic the Hedgehog (the first one I presume) is the best game I’ve ever played. I first played it when I was 8 years old and I never have played anything better. Why would I want to spend $60 for new games when I’ve already played the best game I’ll ever play?”
When I read that, I thought to myself “I’m only 22 years old. I sure hope I haven’t already played the best game I will ever play in my entire life.” Don’t you think that would be kind of sad?
It’s not about how old the game is. It’s about the game itself. At my age, I can’t look back on games that were around before I was born and say “well, they were good for their time.” I don’t honestly know if that’s the truth. I do know that the games from my time aren’t really that good. I grew up with Spyro the Dragon, Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, and everyone’s favorite 64-bit era title, Goldeneye. Each and every one of those games fucking sucks today and if you disagree with that, I say this: go play them. Right now. And tell me they’re every bit as fun as they were back then. They’re not. Many of my childhood favorites just aren’t fun today. Some have aged better than others, but in general games really don’t stand the test of time. The games that are exceptions, those are true masterpieces. I first played Super Mario Bros. 3 in 2003 on the Gameboy Advance. It blew my mind that it was, more or less, a direct remake of a game from 1988. That’s a full year before I was born.
Likewise, I first played Sonic the Hedgehog on my Nintendo Gamecube in 2002, when it was released as Sonic Mega Collection. So I actually played Sonic before I played Mario 3. It wasn’t my first experience with Sonic as a franchise. I got Sonic Adventure when the Dreamcast launched and I fucking loved it. At the time at least. Years later I would play it again and realize it’s an absolutely abysmal game. I probably should have caught onto that over the years when I played such masterpieces as Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic Heroes, and Shadow the Hedgehog. In 2002 I was thirteen years old. I should have been right in the target demographic that Sega carefully tailored Sonic to appeal to. But I simply could not enjoy the original Sonic games. I’m not arguing they are terrible. They’re not. They’re just not spectacular games. Quite frankly, they’re kind of bland. Maybe they were good, but I don’t know that. Given what other games were doing at that period, stuff like Super Mario World or Wonder Boy III (one of the most awesome gems I found on the Wii’s Virtual Console), Sonic just seems so simplistic, sterile, and plain.
Maybe it is a generational thing. I can’t put myself in the mindset of you old farts who fondly remember getting your shit pushed in by Ghosts & Goblins or Battletoads. The uber-difficult games of the 8-bit era are something I just don’t understand the appeal of. It doesn’t necessarily mean I can’t find them fun. I would say Smash TV is kind of hard, but I did have fun with it. Or Mega Man. It was alright. I just don’t equate being fun with being difficult. Some do I guess. And that applies to modern games as well. Yea, most games these days are laughably easy, but every once in a while a game like Dark Souls comes around. When that came out two months ago, I remember everyone raving about how hard it was. And I was like, “who gives a shit how hard it is. Is it any fun?”
Hard games can be fun. Take Aban Hawkins. It was the second game I ever reviewed and it still holds up as one of the better punishment platformers I’ve played. Most of that had to do with the game having fairly decent play control. In a way, it demolishes the theory that I’m against retro punishers because it was in fact an 8-bit styled retro game. So were the Platformance games as well, and it’s not as if they had flawless control. Going into VolChaos, I knew it was a punisher. I knew it was retro-style. People assumed I would hate it because of one of those two reasons.
No, I hate VolChaos because it controls like shit. Conceptually, I have nothing against it. In fact, I actually should like it. My favorite moments in platform games are ones that are filled with urgency and tension. VolChaos is a game that is designed specifically with those two things in mind. As a cowboy who looks absolutely nothing like Chuck Norris in the slightest way, you have to run for a goal while trying to stay well above an ever-rising ocean of lava. If you want, you can simply make a mad dash for the goal. If you want a supreme challenge, you can try to collect all the gems scattered throughout each stage. There’s also a handful of sentient fireballs and malicious flaming birds. By that I mean they’re on fire, not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. What birds do in the privacy of their own nest is nobody’s business but theirs.
I had a few problems with the game. The minor stuff includes the fact that there’s no countdown to when a level begins. In my opinion, it would make a huge difference. A 3-2-1-GO to open every stage would allow me to set myself. Since you’re basically racing against lava, having a countdown seems kind of necessary. I disagree with Kris that it would fuck up the pacing of the game. It doesn’t need to be a slow, Ben Stein-style countdown. Just something other than fading in with everything already moving, including the Cowprick. Yea, if you move the stick before the screen fades in, your dude will have already moved and likely roasted himself.
I also have to admit that I have no interest in getting a 100% completion in this game. Yes, doing so unlocks “expert” mode for each level. That likely would be worth some amount of gaming cred, but in order to do so I’m guessing I would have to devote weeks, maybe months, towards becoming a professional VolChaos player. I’m not really looking for a game that would require that big of a time investment, especially from the XBLIG marketplace. Besides, I’m guessing that being a professional VolChaos player wouldn’t pay all that well.
Of course, my biggest problem is with the overall control of the game. I found it to be just too loose and floaty. VolChaos is primarily about jumping from narrow ledge to narrow ledge. The tool you’re given to do that is a jump that feels out of synch with the overall movement physics of the game. When you jump, the Cowhole seems to build up more speed and momentum than he should. Since the ledges are often only the width of the character himself, this will usually lead to you overshooting your target and falling into the lava. There’s almost no way you can naturally jump and hit the platform. I spent the entire game doing what I call Joystick Jitterbug, leaping with the stick and then immediately having to pull it in the opposite direction to avoid overshooting. Then to make sure I don’t undershoot, I have to pull the stick forward again. The ensuing dance was the only way I could manage my way through the game. It also left a powdery residue on my controller that I could bag and sell in Oakland if I was the unscrupulous type.
I guess some people like this sort of control. Kris told me he had people congratulate him on the floatiness, and given the reaction to my Sega piece, I believe it. If his aim was to make an old-school platformer with extremely high difficulty and spotty play control, mission accomplished I suppose. For me, a platformer absolutely has to have good control. VolChaos is hard, no doubt about it, but why is it hard? It’s not the level design, or the lava. It’s the controls. They’re what killed me the most. Call me crazy, but when I’m failing at a game, I want it to be because I’m a fuck up. In VolChaos, my most common method of death was landing on a platform, trying to jump again, not jumping, and watching my guy walk off the ledge and into the lava. It took me about two hours to get the “normal” ending, almost all of which was spent fighting with my own controller. Well that’s not the mark of a great game. That’s just annoying.
But I’m sure people will disagree with me and say I’m just being a hater or a troll or whatever. As Kris pointed out to me, I’m the only person who’s said to him that VolChaos is no good and I’m not the type of person the game was intended for in the first place. And it’s true that people are tossing themselves off in glee over his game, which already has been called game of the month by those NeoGaf dudes that link in here every once in a while, and Twitter has lit up congratulating him on creating such a wonderfully frustrating game. I’m truly glad they all enjoyed it. I didn’t. For me, VolChaos is the worst volcano themed form of entertainment I’ve ever encountered. Yes, yes, I’ve seen Dante’s Peak. Yea, I saw that other flick with Tommy Lee Jones too. Okay, third worst ever.
No, I didn’t see that Tom Hanks volcano movie. No, I don’t want to see it either. Quite frankly, I would rather play through VolChaos again.
80 Microsoft Points think the Cowboy dude looks like he’s wearing lipstick. Fun Infused said the Cowboy was supposed to look like Chuck Norris. Chuck Norris does not wear lipstick. In fact, I think suggesting he does gives him the legal right to rip your arm off and beat you to death with it in the making of this review.