Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 10/14/13 to 10/18/13. Below is a special feature discussing some of the most emotionally evocative games of this generation.
NYCC 2013: The Nintendo Center (10/14)
My time with Sonic Lost World was a ball tap to my shame after a small child blazed through the very Galaxy-esque first level before I struggled after two deaths during my own playthrough. To be fair, I jumped in the last of the four playable levels, the casino themed Frozen Factory which was arguably the most difficult of the four.
Sonic games have never been done quite well in 3D. The added dimension lends too many opportunities for slow down which is a kill joy to the trail blazing Sonic experience. It's the very reason why Sonic has always worked better as a side scroller.
Lost World left that unsatisfying impression on me. His baseline speed wasn’t nearly as fast as I would have liked, and even his spin dash lent an underwhelming push. My playthrough was plagued with ping-pong table bumpers, rolling slot wheels, and giant poker chips that posed a real challenge, but all with little speedy reward.
I take partial responsibility jumping in the final playable stage as my first time hands on with Sonic Lost World. However my brief time with this 3D Sonic game hasn't reinvigorated my trust in the added dimension.
Donkey Kong Country Returns was my third favorite platformer for Wii, only next to the Galaxy entries. So you can imagine my cautious curiosity before getting hands on with Tropical Freeze. Has Retro caught lightening in the bottle again much like Galaxy 2 did after the original? Or does Tropical Freeze strike the numbing nerve that has been abused by the incessant sequels that have populated this generation. Of course I can't answer that question with only 7 short minutes with a stage, but unfortunately my impressions fall in the later.
My Tropical Freeze playthrough felt largely identical to Wii's Returns. Relentless hazards striking from left, right and center, barrel launches hiding collectable secrets, and a layered control scheme separating the rookies from the veteran. I ran through as Diddy along with my uncooperative partner in crime, Donkey. Unlike my session, two players should work well together just they have in Returns. Whoever controls the lighter primate play through the level autonomously or hop on DK’s back to augment his airtime.
Without getting a chance to control the added Dixy Kong or any of the levels outside of traditional platforming, I haven’t had the chance to see much of anything that has supposedly changed in this next gen sequel. But that doesn’t take away from impressions that Tropical Freeze is very similar to Returns.
I've been locked in an emotional roller coaster with New Super Mario 3D World since its debut at E3 2013. As the title and the first game play video suggested, it’s a console spin off of the fantastic 2011 3DS game, much like the other New Super Mario games that have jumped from the DS titles. Earlier this month, Nintendo released an exciting look with unusually manic game play, many of which was very reminiscent of Mario Galaxy (Galaxy influences were in abundance at this year's comic con).
With the multiple 3D World kiosks, I got a chance to play through two levels, which gave me a more confident impression on the general pacing of the game. These stages are short, like handheld short. The first playthrough jumped straight to boss level (it wasn't my decision this time). Me, along with three other eager Mario characters, made a mad dash to the Cat Suit power ups before confronting the boss himself. It becomes apparent that the encounter was built around the idea of the Cat Suit's capabilities. Plate balancing goofy looking eels sprouted from beneath creating platforms that offer vantage points to whittle down the boss's health. The Cat Suit's wall scaling abilities allows you to scurry up the elongated necks of these sprouting eels, and though I wasn't able to figure out how to pull it off, I can easily imagine the suit's dive would be a convenient offensive maneuver directly towards the boss's face.
The second runthrough was more of a passive endeavor. It was a painfully straight forward level that would have been more appropriate in the middle of a larger level than a standalone stage. The four of us hopped on what looked like an orange Yoshi ancestor. After that, we were off. Racing down a waterfall, I never felt as if I was in control of the steering, and I was never sure that I was making the dragon jump or I just managed to time it right when someone else did. The sequence didn't feel collaborative at all, as I eventually stood there holding the controller with one hand. Before I was completely pulled out of the experience, it was over; the end signified by that iconic black Browser flag pole.
Based on my impressions, it’s safe to say that New Super Mario 3D World will be stuffed with bite sized stages. And while Nintendo's trailer showed off some truly exciting gameplay, my biggest concern is that the fun will be over far too soon.
In a convention with dense crowds,
… long lines, and limited playtime, NY Comic Con won’t be the ideal place – along with any other crowded convention – to get a firm grasp on demoed games. Some games like Rayman Legends (tried it at last year’s event) demo better than others. Unfortunately this year’s hands-on left me with underwhelming impressions. As I remain conscious of this, I’m willing to give each of these games another try once they all release later this year and early 2014.
My Next Gen Holiday Crushed (10/15)
Okay. That might be a bit if an over-reaction, but Ubisoft’s shocking announcement of Watch Dog’s delay to 2014 was painful.
Watch Dogs defined next gen for me since its show stealing debut at E3 2012. The level of visual fidelity seamlessly moving from cutscenes to gameplay, the dynamism of interactivity of a near future simulated Chicago, it was clear at last year’s show that this wasn’t a product of current gen hardware, but one from the future of gaming (and high end PCs of course).
No title had me more excited for what the next generation would bring. Even though it has been announced to virtually every home console, it’s new IP status separated it from other cross gen titles like Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, and Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag.
My Xbox One’s launch was set: Call of Duty: Ghosts upgrade from the 360 version right alongside Watch Dogs, Battlefield 4 down the line and Dead Rising 3 (the only native next gen title I’m interested in) if it’s received well.
And while it pains me that such an iconic title has been shoved months into next year, I always use this as a reassurance: there are plenty of other games to play. New Super Mario 3D World, though didn’t impress me with my hands on at this year’s NYCC, will have a better chance finding a spot this holiday. In addition, either Battlefield 4 or Dead Rising 3 will fill in the obligatory second title next gen slot.
But I can’t help be feel that neither of these games will fill the Watch Dog sized hole in my anticipated holiday.
Watch Dogs' Delay & Ubisoft's Under-performing Sales (10/16)
As a consumer, I withheld some skepticism towards Ubisoft’s CFO Alain Martinez’s remarks on his explanation on Splinter Cell: Blacklist’s and Rayman Origins’ lower than expected sales, and CEO Yves Guillemot’s reasoning behind Watch Dogs’ delay.
As evidenced by Square Enix’s disappointment over Sleeping Dogs, Hitman Absolution, and especially Tomb Raider’s sales figures, big name publishers are setting high bar expectations for their titles. That thought immediately rushed to my consciousness after reading the publisher’s missed expectations with Rayman and Blacklist. Martinez followed up with the statement claiming that approaching next gen shrunk its chances of commercial success.
Splinter Cell Blacklist was one of the top selling games in August, despite my assumptions that it wouldn’t perform as well being that the Splinter Cell franchise is mainly popular among the hardcore community, while other franchises like Saints Row (whose popularity has The Third to thank) is more widely accepted as evidenced by Saints Row IV being only second to Madden 25 as the top selling game in August.
And while it's hard to easily say that Splinter Cell isn't as widely recognized by the general crowd, I’d be more confident to state that this was the very reason for Rayman Legends’ underwhelming sales figures. 2D platformers are hard pressed to compete with other titles with higher production values when it comes to consumer appeal. Analysts have stated that the over software sales in August were impressive despite just months prior to a new console generation. And though this can be counted as an exception, let’s not forget GTA V’s historical sales (a current gen only title) in its first three days. So I’m not so certain that preceding next gen is the only reasoning to missed expectations when looking at franchise popularity and high bar forecasts.
We may butch and bicker over game delays, but we must always remember that such incidents aren’t decided upon lightly by publishers unless they’re absolutely necessary. That’s what concerns me about Watch Dogs’ delay. Nearly a month before release -- a time when it should have gone gold -- Ubisoft only then decides not only to push it till next year, but next fiscal year setting it back roughly half a year from now.
That smells trouble.
There have only been variations of a few scenarios shown of Watch Dogs since the year plus it’s been announced. I myself saw a demo at NYCC which was rather underwhelming with a generic stealth mixed with shootout mission that was introduced by only passing mentionings of the dynamic hacking you can use on the city. Having not seen much else in between should have hinted that there might have been a problem, and with such a procrastinated decision, now we know.
While under the shadow of a new generation of consoles, we’ve seen some examples that current gen software sales can still sustain a high mark. Simply blaming new hardware doesn't justify low sales numbers; it's rather one of many reasons why two of Ubisoft’s latest games underperformed. As for Watch Dogs, while we wish they caught the issues sooner, with a several month delay, it better damn well justify the wait.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature
The Emotional Spectrum
of Video Games: A Brief Look
Originally reported on October 18th 2013
WARNING: Spoilers for Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, GTA V, and Red Dead Redemption
Jenova Chen, the zen master of the video game industry, stated that games are too stressful, oversimplifying the challenge and high score grind that was see in some games today. This attitude may have been true a generation ago, however for years now, we’ve seen a much wider spectrum of emotional draw from the medium. Not all are pleasant like Chen philosophically adheres to, but many are no less evocative.
We have games like Journey that present what I call a “therapeutic escape to a perfectly imaginative other-world”, a calming stress treatment that serves its own purpose. However we human beings are masochists, locking ourselves in dark rooms to endure Outlast, or jumping on a rollercoaster to self-inflict the feeling of falling to our deaths without actually falling.
Heavy Rain attempts to be an emotional headcase, but what it excels at is empathy. Trying to be a good father when getting a chance to have your son home after a divorce, sifting your way through a crowded mall with a heavy sense of guilt not quite remembering what your son wore or where he is, understanding the desperation of another parent before you take his life to save the life of your own child, Heavy Rain had a multitude of moments that connected you with Ethan Mars.
The Walking Dead draws heavy inspiration from Heavy Rain, but it becomes a master stroke of igniting the father among us (slight Fable reference). From the very first moment you commit a violent act in front of Clementine and see the look of shock through those big brown innocent eyes, you were driven to protect her from the inevitable ills of this decaying world. One of the briefest moments that made me grip my controller the hardest was when Clementine darted through the dog door inside the house not knowing if it was safe or not. The shot was perfectly delivered, preying on the relationship built from the moment you found her alone in Episode 1.
The Last of Us’ 20 year old rotting era was steaming with desperation. Every human kill felt significant, every resource was valuable, and every Clicker and Runner avoided lifted an immense weight off of your shoulders. And despite what Ellie’s immunity meant to the world, as a daughter figure, I couldn’t find myself to apologize for all the lives I took to save her.
Brothers was an artistic amalgamation for a better part of the game, both visually and thematically. But its emotional significance dropped when your older brother, your other half was fatally wounded. The deliberately dragging sequence of having to bury your own brother, the feeling of needing someone to hug perfectly satisfied by the griffin, feeling the gaping hole that the older brother once filled as you had to control one brother after having had controlled both simultaneously for the entire game, was masterfully evocative.
Rockstar is responsible for two of my most unpleasant emotional reactions to video games. GTA V’s torture scene was properly uncomfortable, yanking the freedom that I’ve grown so accustomed to from years in the franchise and locking me into inflicting intimate pain on an individual. And I’d like to not think that I’m the only person who eyes watered in utter shock after John Marston was decimated with bullets, watching him stagger with a futile effort to cling to life before he fell dead in front of his barn.
And though I never played Gone Home, I heard more than enough of the pungent nostalgia it emitted, both for adolescents of the 90’s and for everyone else who’s experienced first love as a teenager; for many, Gone Home was a recreation of one of the most significant moments in the most conflicting developmental stages of our lives.
Video games don’t have to be a stress-less escape. One of the strongest justification of violent video games reigns true here, they’re a safe space to experience unpleasant emotions. One of my undergraduate psychology professors said, “We often forget most of the moments we laugh, but never forget the moments we cry.”