Saturday, September 16, 2017

It's All Downhill from Here

First on the menu, a guy named Arian Kordi has created an oekaki site called Closedverse, which mimics the style and some of the functionality of Miiverse. You can't post screenshots directly from your 3DS, but there's more flexibility overall, with users posting video clips and full color drawings along with the usual black and white sketches. I don't have an account on the site yet, but I have a feeling that it's going to become my methadone once my withdrawal from Miiverse kicks in after November 8th.

Now that we're done with the appetizer, it's time for the main course! After hearing all the praise heaped onto SSX 3, I decided to pick up a copy of this popular snowboarding title for myself. All that hype is not without merit... the game looks gorgeous in spite of its age, with rolling hills spilling out into the distance and tiny specks of light sparkling on nearby mounds of snow. It also doesn't take itself too seriously, which is refreshing in this increasingly grim era of gaming. There's just one problem, though...

I am completely terrible at SSX 3. I couldn't even say that I'm all thumbs, because that suggests some degree of skill, however little. I am no thumbs at this game. It's like I'm playing SSX with my tongue. I can't even explain why I'm doing so poorly, because I've had previous experience with the Tony Hawk series. I'm hardly a tournament caliber THPS player, but I've got a grasp of the basics and can string together a few combos.

Problem is, SSX 3 isn't Tony Hawk. The techniques that worked in Tony Hawk don't always work here, and the ones that do have been reassigned to different button combinations. The board press serves a similar function to Tony Hawk's manual, adding to the multiplier of a combo while keeping it active. However, instead of tapping up-down or down-up on the D-pad, you briefly hold up or down on the right thumbstick. I mean, hey, you might as well use every input on the gamepad, right?

It's complicated. Seriously.
(image from YouTube)
Tricks are also counter-intuitive... instead of the fire and forget approach of Tony Hawk, you've got to hold buttons down briefly to make the trick count. You can "pre-wind" moves while you're on the ground, making them activate faster... but, uh, why is that even necessary? All these little changes leave you with an experience that seems familiar, yet really isn't once you get past the superficial similarities. It's like learning to ride a bike, then being expected to go a few miles on a unicycle.

Then there's the whole issue of downward momentum. With Tony Hawk, you're almost always moving, but you've got control of exactly where you'll go next. SSX gives you one direction, down, and while you can alter your course to some degree, you can't head back up the mountain if you've missed a rail, or a hidden item, or that all-important ramp which will let you tack a few extra tricks onto your combo. There's little room for error, and the punishment for making a mistake can be so severe that you'll have to restart a race or a heat to have any hope of victory. As the kind of gamer who hates being forced to repeat a mission over and over until it's done just right, that doesn't sit well with me.

I suppose all of this wouldn't be so frustrating if SSX 3 had been forgettable. I could play it, decide that it wasn't for me, and move on with my life. The problem is that I'm pretty sure it's as good as everyone says, but it's also as dense and impenetrable as a lead wall. I love SSX, but it doesn't love me.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

One Step Beyond

"I don't remember much, buddy, and you're no looker!"

Er, pardon my absence. While I've been gone, I've been thinking about a few things... like how well the original Xbox has aged in the sixteen years since its release. Most of the games spread across multiple formats looked best on the 'box, and its exclusives looked amazing, regardless of their other faults. Let's take a look at a couple of those games, shall we?

This is Tao Feng, developed by Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias. I never got a feel for the flow of this game, but it's hard to deny the quality of the graphics. The characters ripple with muscles and move gracefully through a variety of interactive playfields which offer more than just pretty scenery. Throw an opponent into a wooden pallet and it shatters; drop them to the ground and the floor is left broken from the impact. You could find the same collateral damage in the cult classic Phantom Dust, with players tearing the environment apart while lobbing beams and explosives at each other. It helps bring the player into the action when they're put in a tangible location, rather than a well decorated box.

The Xbox was Microsoft's first game console, giving its games a pioneering spirit that was rare on systems from more experienced competitors. There was a lot of fresh IP, and a lot of experimental ideas... the kind that were just as likely to stumble as soar. Crimson Skies was one of the titles that worked, a flight combat sim set in a fantasy world inspired by the 1930s. I never made it very far in this one, but I liked what I saw, and I'm eager to come back to it. I may even want to give its seafaring counterpart Blood Wake another chance, even though I don't recall enjoying that one nearly as much.

Xbox games are still pretty cheap, and there's plenty of titles I either haven't played in a while or haven't tried at all. I have a feeling I'm going to love catching up with this machine after all these years.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Break-Up

I've made a horrible mistake. About the Wii U, I mean. Have you ever been in a relationship which you're extremely desperate to make work? Everybody tells you that your partner is bad news, and maybe you know that too, deep down inside, but you ignore your gut instincts and keep trying to jam that square peg into a round hole. "Things will change!," you shout, hoping to convince yourself more than your friends. "You don't know them the way I do! We can be happy together if I put in some effort, I just know it!"

Then comes the turning point; that chance encounter which breaks the spell of delusion and makes you realize that the object of your affections wasn't worth the effort. That moment came for me when I turned on my Wii U for the first time in several months. I hated all the waiting... waiting for the system to boot, waiting for games to start, waiting to switch to the Wii mode. I hated the gamepad, which felt less like a controller and more like an anchor tied around my wrist. I hated Splatoon's infuriating last boss DJ Octavius, who took all the happy memories I had of the game, tossed them into a dumpster, and set them on fire. I hated that Nintendo had the temerity to sell us a three hundred dollar console which on its best day could perform at the level of the twelve year old Xbox 360. (Now you're playing with power... minimal power!)

The only conclusion I could come to from this experience was that the Wii U was a steaming turd, pushed out of the colon of a game company which let the success of the Wii and DS go to its head. Most gamers were smart enough to recognize this pile of hubris for what it was and walked around it. As for me... well, I'll be cleaning bits of Wii U from the bottom of my shoes for a few years. My sincere apologies to anyone who I convinced to follow in my footsteps. Also, try an old toothbrush soaked in soapy water... it works wonders.