Time has been rather short lately, meaning I can’t always write at length about my current gaming obsessions. With that in mind I decided to write some quick impressions on a couple of titles I’m playing recently. So, here goes:
Street Fighter IV (PC), by Capcom
I’ve never been a fan of fighting games.
Well… That’s not entirely true. I enjoyed them until a friend of mine utterly destroyed my aspirations with a blunt instrument called Killer Instinct, back in the 16-bit days. If you weren’t born at the time, or simply wishing you weren’t, you may recall the furor over this Rare title. A fighting game with a complex combination hierarchy, stunning graphics and blood was by no means a novelty, but this Super Nintendo port of an arcade original was certainly one of a kind; a final hurrah! against years of Sega advertising that it did what “Nintendidn’t“. It made the likes of Mortal Kombat and Primal Rage seem amateurish by comparison.
He was a natural. In about ten minutes of Super Mario 64 I unraveled more of the levels than he did in two hours. I left the first village in Secret of Mana with a character way above level 15, showing much more determination than him. Yet, he was unstoppable with Killer Instinct. As if it wasn’t enough to win while playing regularly, he could play with the gamepad turned upside down, in reverse, even upside down and reversed while behind his back. I never saw anything like that. Many an afternoon was wasted on his house trying to beat his 40+ combo strings with a C-C-Combo Breaker!, but it was pointless. I would never muster the will to memorize those combinations.
I went adrift in the genre for a long time, dabbling on both past and future – Street Fighter II, Fatal Fury, Darkstalkers – but every time I played a fighting game I remembered my repeated defeats at his hands. It was not until someone introduced me to Guilty Gear that I found some of my passion back, but I never got around to milking all I could out of Arc System‘s series.
It’s strange, then, that I’ve been playing Street Fighter IV. My internet connection is lousy, meaning I’m being kept away from online bouts. My computer is fast becoming obsolete, meaning some of the visual options and filters are somewhat off-limits. I’ve found myself finishing the game on Normal and losing on Very Easy. It’s a strange game. Capcom managed to refine and redefine what we would expect from a game in the series, carrying enough design sensibilities to appeal to both newcomer and hardcore. It’s gloriously ridiculous throughout, from the first time you see El Fuerte screaming “Super Dynamic Cooking Time” to the final battle with
Dr. Manhattan Seth, fresh out of a secret base that would fit right into Freedom Force. You have characters all serious in dialogue and adopting an incredibly relaxed, even childlike demeanour in introduction and ending movies. You have death threats, conspiracies and magical powers running loose while the incorporeal announcer speaks in a professional, albeit slightly enthusiastic tone, to an audience. And then you have stuff like Rufus.
It’s certainly the best Street Fighter has looked and played in years, unless you are a fan who misses the kind of structural complexity Street Figther Alpha 3 had. This will be good or bad depending on your expectations of the series. Personally, I find it helps the game become much more spontaneous and less technical, although there are still dozens of moves and combos to learn if you feel like it.
It’s not winning me over like Guilty Gear did in the past but this is still a damn fine return to form. Especially when you consider how starved the Western market is for class fighting games on the PC.
Trine (PC), by Frozenbyte
A Thief, a Wizard and a Fighter walk into a dungeon…
Trine is not an RPG, although it shares gaming DNA with standard role-playing archetypes – the strong Fighter who can dish out enormous damage, the nimble Rogue who can go to out-of-reach places, and the Wizard who dabbles in the arcane to astounding effect – and mechanics – experience points can improve basic character abilities. There’s also a hint of The Lost Vikings, with each character having a distinct ability, although I wouldn’t be far off by pointing out similarities with an old title by Shiny Entertainment, Wild 9.
The high point of Trine, other than lovely graphics, comes from the Blizzard and Shiny comparisons. At any minute you can swap between the characters to advance through the game. The Knight’s brute force is good for combat and his shield can block attacks, while the Thief has a grapple hook from which she can swing about (think Metroid) and a bow that performs ranged attacks. The Wizard almost steals the show, though, since you can “draw” shapes which become solid – basically, clicking and dragging the mouse to create blocks which can be used to reach places or activate buttons or planks, even – and move certain objects in the background (again, by mouse).
This would be standard platform fare – and to a point it is – although the physics engine under the hood helps it shine. Certain obstacles can be approached in a number of ways, from stacking blocks for a character to jump to prevent rotating planks from gaining momentum by placing blocks underneath them. Others involve careful switching of characters in precise moments – have the Wizard rotate the platform, switch to the Knight and block fireballs to get safe passage, then immediately swing the Thief over acidic pits. It’s a fun piece of gaming all around.
On a tangent, I think this is the kind of platforming 2D Castlevanias should aspire to. Enough of the soul-collecting or item-equipping for book accountants, bring back solid platforming design that demands investment from the player rather than grinding.
Wii Sports (Wii), by Nintendo
So I bought a Masturbatron 3000.
Just kidding – although that might be a great name for a Wii peripheral. Maybe not. Calling first dibs, though!
Wii Sports is, at best, a tech demo showcasing the Wii’s capabilities and how social gaming can come back into our living rooms. At worst, it’s nothing short of a letdown because you know someone is going to expand these minigames much better along the way. Nintendo have already released Wii Sports Resort, a superior collection of minigames that do exactly that, and Punch-Out! is a lot more robust and pretty dang sweet.
I’ve played quick sessions of each game, with Baseball being so far the least enjoyable, if only because its mechanics seem elusive – I seem to hit the ball whether I’m adopting the stance of a real baseball player or if I just wave the Wiimote up and down. So far, Bowling seems perfect – a virtual sport where my beer belly doesn’t get in the way and actually allows me to role-play. Maybe if I put a cap on and start throwing snide remarks at the (imaginary, for now) competition.
I may seem a bit negative here but that’s only because Wii Sports could have been a bit smoother and offer a wider range of sports, or even different segments within each sport (there are some but they feel terribly light). But if there is one thing the game has in spades, it’s the appeal. I’ve recently talked about how my parents gradually gave up on gaming after the ZX Spectrum, but the other day I was with such a ^____^ grin when my mother started playing Wii Sports. She enjoyed it far more than I ever expected. Jumping, laughing, actually playing.
Maybe it’s the beginning of a new friendship with videogames.
Only time will tell.