IGC on Gaming: April 19, 2017

Clarification on Back When it was Gooditus

The NES Classic, Virtual Console, Mario All-Stars, Modern Warfare Remastered, etc. are not examples of Back When it was Gooditus. While there are no doubt nostalgia-loving types who will swear that those represent “when games were good”, there’s no public perception that those franchises are on the decline. They’re quick cash-ins, not apologies for waning quality or whimpering reminders of a time where they were relevant.

A re-release of a game like Resident Evil 4, so soon after #5 or #6 hit, serves as sobering reminder that the series was once good and isn’t anymore, reinforcing the perception that the best days are behind them and thus future installments are likely to be mediocre as well. When that is the case, that’s Back When it was Gooditus.

Hell, you can’t even call this a cash-in since Nintendo pulled the plug long before they stopped making money on it. It should have been shaped like a penis because it was a dick move.

Despite the fact that such a perception benefits nobody, some games actually market based around the concept of “gaming was better way back when.” Take Yooka-Laylee, a game that raised funds on Kickstarter and was marketed under the guise that gamers would believe that 3D platformers were better during the N64 era. And it worked! It set crowd-funding records and had the type of buzz most games could only dream of. Then it released and, while almost nobody is calling it a bad game, it seems to have underwhelmed most people. Of course it did. It’s based on recreating the feel of games from twenty-years-ago. Twenty! It’s okay to reminisce about the good ‘ole days, but actually going back to them almost always disappoints. Gaming has come a long ways.

Why do your Shovel Knights or your Steamworlds, games that try to invoke that bygone era, rise above that? Because it’s more about using nostalgia as a framework for something newer and fresher. Shovel Knight has no lives system, a darker tone, and works as an emotional narrative, something 2D platform games of the 80s or early 90s simply didn’t aim for. Yooka-Laylee seems to make the same mistake so many modern attempts at stoking that nostalgic fire do: copy the gameplay instead of paying tribute to the essence.

I Don’t Get Nostalgic

A few years ago, I got Shadow of the Colossus HD on PS3 for Christmas. Oh, and Ico was included. I never liked Ico to begin with. Baffling to me that gamers all agree that escort missions suck and NPCs with bad AI suck, but a game based around escorting an NPC with bad AI through a series of overly long and complex puzzles while fighting the spongiest busy-work enemies ever is somehow considered a masterpiece.

Ico is the Japanese word for “boredom.”

But hey, Shadow of the Colossus! One of my all-time favorites!

And then I played it.

“Christ, I remember being frustrated with the horse. I don’t remember wanting to kill and eat it.”

“Christ, did the bosses always shake this much when you were holding onto them?”

“What the fuck was the point of making the world so big when there’s almost nothing to do besides shoot lizards?”

I didn’t really enjoy any aspect of that play-through. Yet it was the exact same game I played six years earlier. Did it change? No. Had I? Not really. So what was the problem? The simple fact that I had already gotten everything I could out of it. The sense of wonder and discovery that drove me forward in 2005 could never hope to be re-created. I already knew what came next. There was nothing left to see. There was nothing new to explore. In 2005, upon entering the lair of every Colossus, I would be downright awestruck as the giants started to move, wondering how on Earth I would be expected to slay them. The second time around? I knew what they looked like, I knew how they moved, I knew what their weaknesses were.

Everything I hated about my 2011 play-through of Shadow of the Colossus was there in 2005. But, those faults were drowned out by the scope and scale and the sense of discovery. Without that freshness, the flaws stood out that much more and nothing could distract from them. I wish I had never replayed Shadow of the Colossus. It could never have hoped to be for me what it had been in 2005. Maybe it was unfair to expect it to be.

“You know that game we cancelled? Let’s just uncancel it and fix nothing about it that got it cancelled in the first place. What could go wrong?” My worst game of 2016 winner, The Last Guardian.

That was pretty much my last experience trying to recreate the magic with a game I had previously loved. I had done it in 2008 with Banjo-Kazooie’s Xbox 360 re-release, and then again in 2010 with Perfect Dark on XBLA. Even with HD upgrades and online play for Perfect Dark, the thrill was gone. Memories are a bitch to compete against. Memories of games are always a little brighter, always a little more happy, always a lot more refined and sharper, than reality is. I got Banjo-Kazooie on my 9th birthday, before experiencing work or relationships or anguish or pressure of any kind. Of course my memory of it is going to be as rosy as an alcoholic’s nose. My life was easier back then. I didn’t have other things on my mind. More important things. If you’re an adult playing games today with bills and drama hanging over you, of course you’ll be thinking “didn’t games used to make me happier?”

Actually, they didn’t. You were happier before you had to worry about stuff. It’s not the games that got bad. It’s you that got older. Games are better than ever. If you don’t believe me, the next time you’re completely stress-free, sit down with a quality game that you’ve never played before. I bet you anything it grabs a little of that old-timey game-induced happiness you used to feel and don’t anymore. It’s not the games. It’s you.

Mailbag

@mocliamtoh wants to know “Are there any genres you would describe as distinctly or inherently indie?

Inherently? No. Distinctly? No. Crafting games are generally associated with indies, but I’m not so sure they define the community. If any genre does, I would say it’s the 2D platformer. It makes sense when you think about it. Most indie developers grew up in the NES/SNES/Genesis era, when platformers ruled the day. They probably began to dream of making their own game around that time, and logically that game would be based on what was the meal-ticket of that era. Indie 2D platformer might be over-saturated, but people need to realize that they’re not just games. They’re dreams being realized. That’s why they’re the surest bet for quality on the scene.

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My Ten Favorite Games Ever – Part 2

Continuing from Part 1, these are my personal ten favorite games ever.  Not the best games ever made, or even games I want to play again.  But the ten games I had the most fun playing the first time I played them.

Shadow of the Colossus

Age I was: 16

Last attempt at playing it: last year when it was re-released on PlayStation 3.  Shadow is one of the rare games that I’ve finished twice.  But there won’t be a third time.

Would I ever play it again: No

Between you and me, I never really liked Ico all that much.  Despite the massive amount of praise it got from pretty much everyone, I hated the combat and I detest escort missions in general.  A game that is all escorting, all the time was like being forced to listen to someone take a nail file to Gilbert Gottfried’s teeth.  So while the artwork was nice (I guess) and the puzzle design was alright (if you’re into that sort of thing), it did nothing for me.  As a result, Shadow of the Colossus was nowhere on my radar.  I had no faith in it.  Thought it would be a piece of shit.  And then I played the demo from the official PlayStation Magazine.  And I had to have it.  Like, right then.

There has never been anything quite like Shadow of the Colossus.  What made it work is how alone you feel in the world you’re in.  With no secondary enemies, treasures to find, caves to explore, fetch-quests, menus, and so on, and so on, everything is focused on intense, rewarding gameplay.  The storyline isn’t exactly deep, but you’re given just enough snippets of what’s going on to be curious exactly what you’re doing and why.  Despite the open-worldness of it, it felt like a dark ride at an amusement park.  You’re pushed from one goal to the next, feeling the exact emotion the developers want you to feel.  Fear from a lake monster.  Apprehension from a twenty-story tall behemoth.  Thrills as you soar through the air on a flying giant.  Even a true sense of loss when your horse seemingly dies.  Then again, I’m not sure they were trying to provoke “how the FUCK did it survive and limp all the way back here?” when it shows up during the final cut scene, which is what I was like.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Shadow of the Colossus is a one-and-done experience.  Yea, there’s a lot of hidden content, like lizards and fruits that increase your abilities.  And yea, they’re special weapons you get for beating the bosses a second time.  But the best parts about Shadow of the Colossus can only be experienced one time.  Those moments when you encounter a boss for the first time, or gaze in awe at a new area of the land to explore.  Once you’ve done that, there’s no turning back the clock.  Not even an HD upgrade of the game made playing through it a totally worthwhile use of my time last year.  I loved Shadow of the Colossus, but I can’t get anymore out of it.

XBLIG equivalent: Ha, right.  One game did try to recreate the whole “fight giant-sized enemies” schtick, Ogre’s Phantasm Sword Quest.  But that wasn’t even trying to be like Shadow of the Colossus.  It’s not an XBLIG, but the closest any game has come to reminding me of it was PlayStation Network hit Journey.  It wasn’t about the slaying of giants or the minimalistic presentation.  It was about the emotional focus.  A game that gives you the illusion of having freedom, but in reality pushes you from point A to point B while evoking specifically targeted reactions in the player.   Lots of games try to do that, but few are smart enough to keep it simple and aim for very specific nerves.

Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II

Age I was: 13 and 16

Last attempt at playing it: I’ve only played them once.

Would I ever play it again: No.  Well, define “again” since every single spinoff and sequel feels like the same fucking game, only increasingly less coherent.

I can’t really defend my love of Kingdom Hearts.  The story was absurd, the camera was unworkable, the characters as they originally stood all had the complexity of a straw, and it was fucking awesome.  It’s a real shame what has become of this series.  It reminds me of what happened to the Matrix series between the original flick and the two sequels, where the creators fell in love just a little bit too much with their own top-heavy mythology.  When it was just about Sora and Riku being separated from their home and their friend and being in a strange world surrounded by cartoon characters, I liked it.  Pitiful me totally melted when I saw a moogle.  “Oh gee, there’s a moogle, in this game that has Donald Duck and Goofy!  Tee hee!”  But as the sequels and spinoffs started adding evil organizations and Nobodys and all the stuff you see is real but maybe it’s not or maybe it’s a dream or maybe you’re remembering it wrong or you know what fuck it.  I wish I had played the original and then had myself hypnotized to get physically ill if I was ever tempted to play another game in the series.

Maybe I’m being hypocritical.  My inner anti-critic is saying “It’s Disney and it’s Square!  Come on, Cathy!  Of course it’s going to sound like raving insane fan-fiction!  Nothing at Disneyland makes sense either, but the rides are still fun!”  I chose to pair Shadow of the Colossus with Kingdom Hearts here because both feel like rides.  They give an artificial sense of being bigger than they really are, when they’re really drawing your attention to very specific things on a linear path that you have almost no control over.  Yet, it never feels like a fan service (see Smash Bros) or pretentious (see Epic Mickey) and remains charming.  At least the two main games do.  All the spinoffs can get in line to kiss my ass.

But let’s not kid ourselves: Even with all the options to change-up combat, with various combos and formations, the limited variety of enemies and ultra-repetitive nature of fights gets old quickly.  Both Kingdom Hearts and its sequel over-stayed their welcome by a good five to ten hours each.  Yes, too much of a good thing can and does happen.  I’m also increasingly uninterested in a possible third proper sequel.  That’s thanks in no small part to several spinoffs with titles that sound like badly translated Japanese.  358/2 Days?  Birth by Sleep??  Dream Drop Distance???  You made these incomprehensible pieces of shit instead  of #3 why?

XBLIG equivalent: Again, I really didn’t think this part out too much.  Seemed like a good idea when I came up with this feature.  Nothing really compares to it on XBLIG, so I’ll just end right here.  But, if you do want to try to make something like this yourself, remember to focus players attentions on very little while making them think there’s a lot more going on then there is.  It sounds absurd, but that’s exactly what Shadow of the Colossus and Kingdom Hearts both did, and did very well.

Continue to Part III: Cowboys and GoldenEye playing Aliens.

And yes I cheated: I’m counting Kingdom Hearts I & II as one game.  Just wait until the next chapter.  I do that twice!  So really this the top 13 games.  Why not?

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