Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wolverine - Thoughts

Did you ever want to know what it would be like if Wolverine was a coward? Well have I got good news for you! LJN's aptly titled Wolverine is a platformer that discourages fighting, punishing the player with terrible combat if they dare engage their enemies. It's best for Logan to run away with his tail tucked between his legs, finishing every level by clumsily leaping over all foes and obstacles. The game is actually somewhat entertaining when you're forced to play this way, though the awful design makes it more funny than fun.

Despite being known as one of the most dangerous of the X-Men, LJN neuters Wolverine by reducing his attack range to a scant few pixels in front of his face. Our eponymous hero can unsheathe his claws for some extra range but it comes at the cost of health, and considering how often he'll collide with enemies in an attempt to pummel them, it's easier just to skip combat altogether. Oh, and there's also one little teeny tiny itsy bitsy caveat: you possess no invulnerability frames at all, so any mistakes on your part will be trumpeted by "BWEWEWEWEW" as your health evaporates faster than dew in the desert at high noon.

As abysmal as Wolverine seems, it's still beatable. There's some atrocious traps and pitfalls awaiting you (the blind jumps and insta-death in the "Trial by Fire" level are absolute shlock), but the game rewards memorization similar to Battletoads or Werewolf: The Last Warrior. By the end of it I was sitting on a fresh cache of lives, having mapped efficient routes for each level in my head. It's not particularly fun for those that abhor trail and error, but as someone that grew up on these types of games this task was right up my alley. True, the game frequently irked me, but the path to its mastery was brief so I harbor no real ill will towards it.

Wolverine is a game that treads a thin line between player engagement and monotony. The fact that it makes combat so deplorable is kind of intriguing, especially considering the bizarre i-frame preclusion (they had to have playtested it and known it was a terrible idea, right?). Without extra continues sprinkled throughout the game I would've soured on the experience much faster, but for what it is, it's certainly far from the worst of LJN's library. Wolverine is a messy platformer that demands that you take advantage of its poor design, and I'm always down for that so long as it's viable (and doesn't cost me a dozen hours).

... And this doesn't really fit anywhere, but I wanted to mention that when you fill up the "BERZERKER" bar, Wolverine begins to flash and attack entirely at random—isn't that just so awful it's amazing?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Mighty No. 9 - Thoughts

It's difficult finding the words to describe my feelings on Keiji Inafune's Mega Man successor, Mighty No. 9. As a backer of the game and longtime fan of the blue bomber, my expectations for it were sky high with Inti Creates onboard. Gradually that excitement fizzled out as the project was repeatedly delayed, each video of the ongoing alpha builds doing nothing to rouse me. Receiving a lukewarm reception at launch, I didn't quite know what to expect from Rock's estranged cousin, and even after finishing it... I still don't know what to say. If I had to lead with something, it's that Mighty No. 9 is a troubled game.

... That's not to say it's a terrible game. Embittered fans (and foes) of a franchise are often too eager to resort to hyperbole as a means of entertainment, chomping at the bit to watch a game crash and burn. Keiji Inafune also did himself no favors when he boldly attempted to grow the Mighty No. 9 franchise before the game was even released, his business strategy coming across as unchecked arrogance. Comcept having to port the game to ten separate SKUs and implement a plethora of promised features outright crippled development, and the longer the game stayed in development the worse it seemed to age. Stacking these factors together meant the game was ripe for verbal lashings when it was released, with plenty of people gleefully denouncing the folly of both Kickstarter and Inafune alike.

But here's the kicker: Mighty No. 9 is most definitely a Mega Man game at heart. Those that peer at the older titles with rose-tinted glasses may not see the comparison, but the Mega Man franchise has always had its fair share of issues. From the hilariously incremental differences between the NES games to the baffling design decisions that plagued the PlayStation titles, the 2D series has ranged from "pretty good" to "grossly mediocre" (and in X7's case, "an affront to platformers everywhere"). This isn't to excuse Mighty No. 9's problems but rather to illustrate that Comcept's debut is more or less what I would expect from a (non-NESlike) Mega Man game made nowadays, flaws and all.

Of the many problems Mighty No. 9 has, nothing stands out more than its bland visuals. The game looks like a PSP title, complete with stretched textures and pitiful character models. The character art is fine in and of itself, it's just that the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I would've loved for the game to adopt a sprite-based artstyle—especially since Inti Creates is so damn good at it—but luckily after an hour with the game you quickly become numb to the cavalcade of flat, lifeless polygons before you. The only part where I thought to myself "hey this looks alright" was the anteroom before Countershade; every level frankly fails to impress.

The gameplay holds up quite well in comparison. The main mechanic that separates Beck from his inspiration is that he can dash into weakened enemies to absorb them, gaining a temporary boost to one of his stats. It gives the Mighty No. 9 a closer feel to the X series with its focus on dexterity and speed, the pace at which you can clear certain sections of a level being surprisingly satisfying (provided your frame rate remains stable). Level design is alright too—I've seen many lambaste the game for it's terrible stages, but outside of Countershade and Call's missions there's a decent heaping of traps, enemies, and environmental hazards to keep an eye out for. Certain sections in the game are sadly too demanding for a Normal playthrough (crumbling towers in Pyro's stage, the turbines in Dyna's stage, spike sections in each of the penultimate levels), but barring that the game is surprisingly fair and fun.

There's a couple of other things I would also like to remark on—like how I think it's really cool that bosses help you out after you defeat them, and that the final boss is atrociously designed—but my thoughts are so disorganized that I'm trying to hit all the important bits before the end of this entry. I don't think it's a bad game, but I also don't think it's a game that people unaccustomed to Mega Man will enjoy. A legion of tiny issues lie in wait beneath its unremarkable exterior, but there's nothing in there that I would deem game breaking or unforgivable; I lean less "it's boringly mediocre" and more "this game seems to be designed by amateurs". In a way, it's almost more fun to take Mighty No. 9 apart piece by piece and analyze it rather than play it, pointing out where it works best and where it trips and falls flat on its face.

Mighty No. 9's greatest sin is that its sloppiness appears unbefitting of its pedigree. I specifically state appears because the game is actually an oddly balanced blend of both Mega Man (1) and Mega Man X6. There's a promising blueprint here—insofar as it's worthy of its legacy—but the game is spread so thin between all its different modes (four difficulties, two characters, co-op, speedrun, challenge missions) that corners were bound to get cut. If more time was spent refining the core gameplay for a single platform I reckon a lot more people would've been pleased with the outcome of this project—as it stands now it's uh...

... something, I guess.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hook - Thoughts

Hook is a brief yet pleasant title that's all about following lines. If that sounds really simple to you, it's because... well, it is. Despite being labeled as a puzzler, Hook feels more like the skeleton of a puzzle game, requiring only a rudimentary grasp on its mechanics to reach the end. Your first task in the puzzle genre—which step do I take first?—is the only question that the game asks of you, every mechanic introduced serving to obfuscate the answer. It's a fun diversion for the maze-minded, but don't expect your brain heat up while playing it.

If there was one thing that could greatly increase it's longevity, it would be to implement a "least moves" objective for each problem. Introducing something as simple as "complete the puzzle in X number of black button clicks" would at least force the player to look at all options on the table, instead of chipping away at the tangled latticework piecemeal. It might not seem like much, but since the game can be safely completed in under an hour I kinda wish there was just a tiny bit more to do.

Screenshots belie its complexity; Hook is very approachable and aesthetically pleasing title that I gladly devoted two brief afternoons to. While I still wish there was more lurking beneath its surface, every game I play can't be Fire 'n Ice—what's here is nice, especially when you take the price tag into account.