Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Run (from) Forest, Run!

Well, it's after Christmas. Let's see how the Playstation Classic is doing so far!

image from Wikipedia
Whoopsie. This is shaping up to be the biggest flop Sony released since... the last micro console it released. Maybe that should be telling them something. Namely, they shouldn't be rushing a product to market, quality be damned, for the sake of some easy nostalgia money. Hackers are doing their very best to turn this sow's ear into a porcine purse, but Sony could have saved us all a lot of time by getting the PS Classic right in the first place.

Anyway. While not over-stuffing myself with holiday treats, I've been playing Ori and the Blind Forest, but the game's just not clicking with me. I don't like the title character, who looks like a half-baked experiment lifted from the quickly forgotten Lilo and Stitch television series. (You didn't know there was a TV series? My point exactly.) I don't like his sidekick, which doubles as an exposition dispenser and a clumsy method of attack. I sure as hell don't like the gameplay, which impedes your progress until you find the dozens of thinly veiled keys that grant you access to later areas.

I realize that I just described an entire sub-genre of games. That's the problem, though... we've been playing Metrovanias since Castlevania: Symphony of the Night pioneered that style of gameplay over twenty years ago, and it's gotten to be painfully old hat. I'm no longer excited by the prospect of gradually revealing a map while strengthening my hero... I've seen it all before, in countless games by both big name publishers and indie developers. 

That joy of discovery is gone, replaced by annoyance when there's a door that blocks my path or a ledge that's an inch too high to reach. Let me guess, I need a crystal and a double jump, right? Of course I do. Could you save me a lot of aggravation and just give them to me now? Of course you can't. I have to get lost for an hour in this Gordian knot you call a level until the power ups I need finally reveal themselves. Yaaaaay.

The only Metrovania in recent memory that rises above the monotony of the genre and makes you want to find all the items hidden in the nooks and crannies is Tom Happ's Axiom Verge. It seems at first blush to follow the Metroid template extremely closely... you've got a gun, you climb up tall shafts filled with platforms, you blast the mindless creatures crawling over (and under) said platforms for health boosts. 

The gameplay is very familiar... and yet it isn't, since Trace gets weapons and abilities at a brisk pace, and they're often quite different from what you've seen in similar games. Enemies can be glitched with a reality-warping beam, altering their behavior, and the tired double jump has been forsaken, replaced with a remote controlled droid and the ability to phase through walls. You haven't seen this stuff before, which makes Axiom Verge compelling while other games in its genre have gone ripe with stagnation.

You know, games like Ori and the Blind Forest. From the overly long, occasionally interactive prologue to the retread gameplay, Ori just leaves me with a severe case of "who gives a damn." Yes, it looks better than Axiom Verge, but all that lush woodland scenery makes the action less precise. If there's a jump you can't make in Axiom Verge, you'll know it right away from the clean pixel art. Ori's levels are still navigable... they're just not as readable, and if I can be blunt, there's little reason to explore them when you've seen it all before in a dozen other games.

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