Friday, December 10, 2010

Kirby's Epic Yarn vs. Alan Wake -- FIGHT!

I just finished playing Kirby's Epic Yarn, which is a weapons grade adorable side scrolling platformer, and started playing Alan Wakem which is supposed to be a game of psychological horror but the first bit has play like a Resident Evil-style shooter. The transition is pretty brutal.

Kirby games are beginner's and children's games. They're good games, even great games, but they're not designed to be hard. As a result, they're often very fun in a low pressure way. Indeed, they're reminders that you don't really need a lot of complexity to make a game fun. And Nintendo is, as always, the master of platformers. The game is short on complexity and difficulty, but long on creativity.

Alan Wake, at least the shooter parts, remind me of some of the cliches I dislike most about shooter games and why, increasingly, I avoid a game that's primarily a shooter. Especially horror shooters. The game has limited ammunition, making it possible your only recourse is to dodge wildly and hope your foes don't hack you down. It has enemies that spawn in the most inconvenient places, meaning the designers confuse "annoying" with "exciting". And then there's the flashlight. A modern flashlight can be expected to run a dozen hours or so. This one eeks out a minute, tops. This is one gaming cliche that needs to be stamped out of existence. I've played in games where the character's suit is nuclear powered by the flashlight lasts a few seconds. I understand the reason why they do it, but it has reached the point of an overused cliche and a crutch. When I'm playing a video game and I'm given a gimmicky flashlight, all I'm thinking about is how flashlights aren't even vaguely like that and how it'd be a nice change of pace to get one that works.

I've also just gotten to the point where I'm frustrated by "horror games" where the horror can be shot in the head. The game opens up with a quotation from Stephen King about how unanswered questions are the ones that stay with us the longest. Well, shooting doods with a gun doesn't really address that. Maybe the rest of the game does, I dunno, but I do know that I would really like to see a new kind of horror game, a stealth game and a platformer (both of them actually fairly obvious, if you think about it -- foes that you have to avoid either through athletics or sneakiness) or a role-playing game (also obvious, horror tabletop role-playing games being the third kind invented, after fantasy and sci-fi), anything that isn't just another shooter! In the end, almost all horror shooters are just an excuse to make a really hard shooter. (I've heard Alan Wake isn't particularly difficult, but that's certainly generally true about horror shooters.)

THIS IS THE FACE OF EVIL!Part of the reason I'm already unsure about this game is because Kirby's Epic Yarn was so totally the antithesis of Alan Wake. Rather than boring us with dialog that is already forced and acting that is already stilted, with a plot that makes a person grind their teeth at the cliches -- looking for the lost girlfriend, really? though I'm also aware most video games audiences are inured to plots of that pedestrian mediocrity though there are hints of one of video games' greater stupidities, saving the world, might also be in the offing -- Kirby's Epic Yarn is light, fast and enjoyable with a minimalistic control scheme that gets a person into the game immediately while creating clever levels that you enjoy playing and a beautiful art direction. Did I mention the cute? The game is so cute that your primarily "enemies" are so adorable it's hard to hurt them. When disarmed, easily done, their sole "attack" consists of flumphing towards Kirby, which knocks him back a little. You have to be a kitten crushing chicken rapist to want to hurt the Waddle Dees, pictured left. Kirby's Epic Yarn reminds us it's actually pretty easy to make a really fun game. It doesn't need a lot of gimmicks or a complex control scheme, just some solid art and music direction and some clever game design. Alan Wake reminds me that state-of-the-art game design refers to polygons per second, not creativity.

Maybe I'm being harsh on a game that I've played for forty minutes. And maybe it's nostalgia that makes me crown Kirby's Epic Yarn with such laurels. But going from a game that was immediately engaging and intuitive to play into yet another complex control schemed horror shooter stripped my gears pretty hard.

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