September 27, 2012 3 Comments
I once said Portal had ruined an entire generation, at least creatively. I was only half-serious when I said that. At the end of the day, I’ll still insist that Portal was worth all the lame test chamber settings, cake jokes, and sarcastic AI antagonists that indie gaming has used in lieu of creativity. But I’m not sure the same could be said about Super Meat Boy. Look, I kind of liked it. I wouldn’t give it a glowing recommendation or anything (at least not without a full psychological screening first), but I appreciated the fast-paced, devil-may-care attitude of it. Plus it’s one of the only punishers that made failure rewarding, by showing replays of all the little Meat Boys you sent to Hell while trying to clear the gaps filled with buzzsaws. When you finally beat a tough level and got to see all the dozens of ways you die play out, it was awesome. It was something other than a counter telling you how big a fuck-up you are, and I was grateful for that.
Now I know that not every punisher is trying to be a clone of Super Meat Boy. That would be ignorant to believe. But the connection between some games and SMB is undeniable. Take today’s game, Face-Plant Adventures, for example. It’s a character-themed punisher where you have to take an Audrey II like carnivorous plant across various stages where you have to jump over spikes. It’s pretty much all spikes, all the time in Face-Plant Adventures. I’m not sure I fully grasp the logic of why spikes are so dangerous. I mean, are they sharp on all ends, or just the pointy tip? Try thinking of a sword here. Now if you jump anus-first onto the blade of a sword, you’re going to be in for a world of pain. However, if lean the sword up against something and put some rails on it, it would make a slide safe enough for a children’s playground. Well, it would have to be a big sword. Like Cloud Strife’s.
Wow, off topic. Okay, so my point was that you can see Super Meat Boy influences all over Face-Plant Adventures. The character is acrobatic, with an emphasis on wall jumping. The game is designed around dying. A lot. When you die, you make a gooshy splat. There are stages where everything is obscured in darkness and you are in control of a silhouette, navigating around the silhouettes of spikes. Clearly there are SMB fans on Face-Plant’s team. But those elements that it borrows from, like most games that do this, ultimately feel muted. Less than the standards they’re aping set. Your character isn’t as nimble, as quick, and the controls aren’t as responsive. None of these aspects are bad, mind you. I felt the play control was mostly adequate, with only some aspects below acceptable. But again, a standard has already been set, and when you fail to live up to that standard, you’re not going to have a successful product. Let’s say that everyone’s first car they had was a Ferrari. And then someone comes along and offers you a Toyota Camry. The Camry isn’t a bad car, but you’ve already got a Ferrari. And you’ve already had something that is so much better than Face-Plant Adventure, at least in terms of how it plays.
To Face-Plant’s credit, it’s not just a by-the-numbers Super Meat Boy rip-off. I almost wish it had been. One thing I did love about Super Meat Boy was the level design. It was designed around harrowing jumps, near-misses, and “I can’t believe I did that!” moments. Face-Plant has those, but not as much. Instead, the game’s pace slows down to a crawl when you have to solve button puzzles. They’re not mind benders or anything. Really, some of them feel kind of like busy work. And some of the early levels of the game are sprawling, overly long, and dull in their design, with a big over-reliance on backtracking. The effort to be different is appreciated. I just feel in this case like one of those parents whose kid decides the best way to be different is to get a shooting star tattooed on their cheek.
I hated Face-Plant Adventures early on. It does not hook you in quickly. And I apparently wasn’t alone in that. The game has online leaderboards that track the time you take to complete the stage. The first stage had sixty names on it, including mine. For the second stage, it drops off to forty. Forty! One-third of the players had such a good time playing the first stage that they didn’t bother to finish the second. It doesn’t help that the first two stages, the ones that should be getting you excited, are so boring, and many of the elements of the game haven’t even been included in them yet. You can’t double jump. You can’t glide. And they’re too long as well. It would be like going to a Metallica concert and having to sit through Swan Lake as the opening act.
But, BUT, it does get better. The stages actually get shorter as you go on, which completely eliminated the “oh God, please just be over with” feeling of the game. And there are some really fun levels, like one that centers around grinding on rails. It was unexpected, but it was also a blast! It almost made me forget about some of the nit-picky problems, like how sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a spike and a non-spike. Or how sometimes there’s a piece of flat-looking terrain on a cliff’s edge that counts as a spike for some reason. The graphics are good in a first-gen PlayStation 2D game kind of way, but sometimes Face-Plant Adventures puts more thought into being pretty than it does being playable.
By time I beat Face-Plant, I had gone from hating the game, to kind of enjoying it, and then back to hating it. There’s one final boss fight that is hugely annoying, both in the layout of the level you fight him on, the AI of the boss (the only character you “fight” in the game), and the collision detection of it. It flushed any remaining joy I felt out the window and I was just happy the game was over. I then spent the next few hours having an internal debate with myself over whether or not it would go on the Leaderboard. In its favor, Face-Plant Adventures has some genuinely wonderful moments, and does sometimes stand on its own, out of the shadow of Super Meat Boy. And against it? Most of the levels are boring, it’s too slow-paced (by the way, a game that challenges people to do speed-runs absolutely needs to have faster resets than Face-Plant does), the graphics obscure too much, and the last boss is so annoying that only eight people have ever bothered to finish it, on any difficulty setting. So ultimately, Face-Plant becomes the “close but no cigar” standard for XBLIGs. Almost worth it, but not quite. The “if you’re better than this, you’re on the Board” game. You know that poor schmuck who is the last cut of Spring Training? That’s Face-Plant Adventure. Has talent, but not good enough to ride the bench of the Houston Astros.
80 Microsoft Points made it a whole review without making a Little Shop of Horrors joke in the making of this review. Which is weird, because when I asked my mom what I should be when I grow up, do you know what she said?
♫You’ll be a critic!
You’ll have a knack for causing things pain!
You’ll be a critic!
People will pay you to be inhumane!♫