Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Metroid: Other M changed the way I think about games

I'll start out by saying this: I love Metroid: Other M. I find it to be not only the best Metroid game alongside the first Prime and Super, but easily one of this generation's best videogames. However, not many would agree with me on my opinion towards MOM; in fact, I'd probably have a hard time finding anyone who did agree with me. Now, this doesn't really bother me on a personal level, as we all have different opinions when it comes to videogames; however, the fact that MOM was so poorly received by both critics and fans, has caused me to think differently about the current state of videogames.

For one, I fail to understand exactly what people look for in videogames. MOM executed many unique ideas in its formula, such as a very cinematic camera as well as simple-to-control combat. In my opinion, these were brilliant ideas that were so well executed that practically all action games should incorporate them into their design, for the overall experience of MOM benefited from the cinematic design and easy-to-control combat, which provided for a very smooth performance overall. IMO, these ideas were pushing the action genre forward. Regardless of whether others agree with my opinion in this case or not, Nintendo/Team Ninja tried to bring something unique into the genre, and yet it was still scoffed at. And yet other action games which barely try anything new and stick to the same old formula such Darksiders, God of War, or even Nintendo's own Zelda series are praised. Why is change constantly scoffed at, while tradition is constantly praised despite being the same stuff we've been playing for years? This same situation has occurred with another game I find to be spectacular: Final Fantasy XIII.

Bottom-Line: I used to believe that innovation and change were elements encouraged and praised in game design, but no longer. In this age when videogames are less of an art-form and more of a business; change is something the consumer fears to place their faith (and $60 dollars) in, and developers are afraid to even attempt in their game design.

Which leads to my next point: the power of the consumer. I understand that videogames are a business, and that profit is something that needs to be made for a game developer to continue on, but developers should not allow for the consumer to practically dictate what the game should be like. MOM has many elements of the traditional Metroid formula, but also has a ton of new elements that Metroid games have never has before: cinematics, deeper story-telling, spoken dialogue, etc. Nintendo decided to move away from what had been done before in past Metroids and moved on to new territory. The result was rampant fan backlash. Before, I would think that Nintendo would simply stand by their ideas and continue down the path of their choice, but now (based on interviews with Reggie Fils-Aime) it seems Nintendo is going to take note of the fans criticisms and actually change the design. This situation has occurred with FFXIII as well, and the results can be seen in FFXIII-2. Whether the sequel benefits or not has yet to be seen, but the fact that Square has consistently pointed out that they are changing the formula due to consumer criticism shows that they are absolutely willing to change their ideas for the consumer. As far as other games go, aside from niche titles, it would seem developers never want to even be put in this situation, and as a result, this generations has seen the absolute least amount of gameplay innovation since console videogaming began. This lack of innovation is masked by gimmicks such as motion controllers, cameras, and DLC. MOM had a lot of innovation while not resorting to using any gimmicks; it just has pure, excellent game design. Technology may have made games prettier and allowed us to play games online, but the games we're playing, aside from a select few, are the same we played on the PS2, XBOX, and Gamecube. Innovation is present in this generation, whether it's little touches like in Bayonetta, or complete revamps like MOM and FFXIII. Still, it's pretty disappointing when looking back at the ideas presented in the SNES, PS1, and N64 days.

Bottom-Line: Consumers are making many developers their bitch. Change and innovation are huge risks in this generation's game market, and consumers apparently don't want innovation or change, so it's a no-brainer that trying something new in this game market is a stupid decision for developers. Instead, the best option is to take advantage of the consumer and produce gimmicks and paid extras to get extra income in order to make even more sequels in shorter amounts of time. Money, Money, Money.

Next point is pretty much my own outlook: I don't know what makes a game good. In the past there have been times when I didn't find a game to be my cup of tea, but critics and fans alike loved it. I was always fine with this. However, as I play more and more games this generation, I'm finding that there are many more games getting high scores and being deemed "revolutionary" that I find just poor, and, of course, the reverse situation, as with MOM. Two games that fall into the former situation are God of War 3 and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow; two games that nobody can convince me are revolutionary or better than average fair in videogames. I've been told that my standards are simply too high, which is entirely possible; or perhaps I'm a niche gamer, or a hypocrite of some kind. I don't know, but I still don't get what makes a great game great in this day and age. In the past, it was all about the gameplay experience, but now, it's all about the tech. MOM is developed with and old-school quality in a modern coat of paint, and that's what makes it so great. It's a game that doesn't look at modern tech as a way to just make a game prettier, or increase the gameplay length with DLC, or use a gimmick to attract new players; it uses tech as a way to enhance the gameplay experience of a Metroid game beyond any past iteration.

Bottom-Line: What made a game great in the past was the experience a gamer got out of it. Just look at the opening sequence of Super Metroid. But now, it seems a game's quality is how a game developer manipulates the tech given to them, or, as it is commonly stated, just how much percent a developer "gets of a system." To that I say: who freakin' cares!?! It doesn't matter how much power a developer gets out of a system if the game is bad. In my opinion, it's always a matter of execution, not power. MOM has the best execution of any game I've played this gen, but clearly it matters not since the game has no online scoreboards or expansive DLC.

So, what's all of this lead to? For me, it leads to a concerned future for videogames. This gen had shown me that videogames are becoming a business run by those only interested in money and scared of risks (i.e. innovation). Of course, innovation is still out there, but there are very few success stories when bringing up such innovative games. And game developers are paying more attention to each other now than ever before, shown by the many gimmicks being made for games and the continuing popularity of DLC and expansions (see the three different versions of Street Fighter IV). There are still several games coming in the future that I am looking forward to, Asura's Wrath being my most anticipated. However, will innovative games continue to be made, or will the gaming market become saturated with sequel after sequel repeating the same formula in order to please the dedicated fans; never changing, never evolving? This is the bleak future my amazing experience with Metroid: Other M has created for me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

El Shaddai Review

Gameplay (6/10): El Shaddai's gameplay is a mix of good ideas on a by-the-books foundation. The gameplay is split up between combat and platforming. The platforming is the standard platforming gameplay one would find in the classic SNES/Genesis platformers that weren't Mario or Sonic; by which I mean: the platforming provides no surprises or innovation. Combat, on other hand, provides something slightly innovative: timing-based combos. Sure, Bayonetta and other 3D action games have implemented timing-based combos before, but El Shaddai's battle system completely revolves around this gameplay system. At first, the timing-based combos feel innovative and satisfying, but once you've discovered all of the combos the games three weapons can do, combat begins to feel repetitive. The repetitiveness of combat becomes even more noticeable once you've fought against all of the games enemy types, of which there are only four. Boss battles mix up the gameplay slightly, but not enough that one's tactics need to change too much from normal battles. El Shaddai's combat and platforming never truly ask any more out of the player aside from the basic bread-and-butter tactics it teaches you in the beginning tutorials, and that's where the disappointment lies: El Shaddai never asks more than a skill level slightly higher than button-mashing, so even though you could perform high count combos and air combos, no score system (until post game at least), hidden goodies, or new paths provide you any incentive to try harder.

Graphics (7/10): El Shaddai's most head-turning trait is its graphics. However, what needs to be noticed is that the graphics in this game that are amazing are those within the backgrounds of the stages, and nothing else. The character models, enemies, bosses, platforms, and usable/destructable objects are all either standard fair or disappointing in graphic design. However, while the backgrounds are simply set pieces we cannot interact with, there is no denying their impact within the game. They are beautiful, and the developers should definitely be credited for putting such imagination on display. However, it's disappointing how the player doesn't interact with the backgrounds much, and they become something simply to look at rather than interact with. Also, unfortunately, the impact of the settings are either too brief or overstay their welcome; for example, the stage set in a futuristic environment is perhaps the game's most impressive, however, the player's stay in this area is very brief, which is disappointing. The graphical techniques used within El Shaddai definitely deserve credit for their beauty, but their execution is rather disappointing.

Music (8/10): El Shaddai's soundtrack is very impressive in it's execution, and is very enjoyable as a result. Angelic and beautiful at one moment, while haunting and intense in another moment; it all works very well, and some tracks deserve a listen outside of the game itself. The only problem with the soundtrack comes from the fact that because the story provides little impact, so too does the soundtrack in specific parts of the game. In the best soundtracks, people can listen to a piece and know exactly when in the game the particular piece played and what the piece symbolizes; this is not the case with El Shaddai.

Story (5/10): El Shaddai has a story, but it's nothing special other than being a story based in Christian mythology, something not seen much in stories in videogames. The story's execution is very disappointing, as the game never develops a personality for Enoch, nor does it create an atmosphere that makes you care for the characters. As the story plays out, it's hard to sympathize with the characters or really care about where the story is going. The foundation of the story was good, but because the developers really tried to develop a serious story, it's really noticeable how hard the story falls on its face. If the developers had opted to go a route similar to Metroid or Outland where the story elements were very minimal and the player can fill in the blanks themselves, the story may have actually been more interesting.

Replay Value (5/10): Other than two more difficulty levels, a score system (with online rankings), and a few side items to find in the game's stages, there really isn't much incentive to play El Shaddai more than once, mainly because the extras involve the gameplay, which is quite repetitive.

Satisfaction (5/10): El Shaddai is an action game that gets a par for the course. It's background graphics are impressive, but don't provide much impact. When all is said and done, El Shaddai is a very forgettable game. Enoch is a very forgettable protagonist, the story is boring and forgettable, and there are no impactful moments of gameplay within the game either. It's a game worth playing if you're interested in beautiful art, and seeing how well such art can be integrated into a videogame, but that's about it.

Overall Score - (6.5/10): El Shaddai isn't a bad game in any way, nor is it a game that excels in any way. It's true that El Shaddai's backgrounds are very impressive, but it is simply the art style that gives the graphics their impact, not the graphics execution itself. Gameplay-wise, El Shaddai had some decent ideas, but didn't expand upon them with content. In the past, one may have been able to get away with some critical acclaim for the amount of content El Shaddai provides, but not now. Hopefully, the team behind El Shaddai will take their experience from El Shaddai and put it towards a more complex and content-rich package, because it would be a shame for a team as talented as this to fall into obscurity.