The Backlog: Spring is Sprung Edition
Spring officially began earlier this week. Hooray! In theory, there should be less rain in the perennially rainy northwest soon, it should start to warm up a bit, and it's staying light out past 7 pm at night. These are all awesome things. Not awesome? Living north of a place that refers to itself as "the grass seed capital of the world." Anecdotally, many people who come from less-allergy-tastic places to our University of Oregon or Oregon State for college often wind up getting ridiculous hay fever because all that grass seed makes the Willamette Valley one of the worst places in the U.S. for allergies.
Guess who has two thumbs and allergies? THIS GUY! Ah well. That's what medicine is for. Well, medicine and games. BACKLOG!
At the moment I'm watching a replay of the second practice session of the first Formula 1 grand prix weekend of the year, from the Australian Grand Prix. To get into the spirit I've been playing F1 2010 and, much like last week, taking my time in my third full season in the game. I've gone from Ferrari to McLaren, another of the most successful teams in grand prix racing history, and while last time I was busy making up for poor qualifying, in my most recent race I was instead working on continual perfection. Rampaging through the field is one thing; having to go out and set fast lap after fast lap without making any mistakes is another, different challenge. Hitting your marks lap after lap, its a very zen sort of thing. I was doing the same in Forza 3 for a bit, too, trying to lap faster and faster around Tsukuba Circuit. I've been watching way too much Video Option.
Next, it's professional wrestling. Yes, seriously — I got stuck into the demo of WWE All Stars the other day, and it's surprisingly good. The selling point is that it's wrestling done as you remember it; less technical than most of the other WWE games that have come out recently, and packed full of high-flying moves. The art style and aesthetic is just as *ahem* pumped-up and over the top, with the wrestlers both old and new looking almost cartoonish, perfect for this type of a game. The controls are pretty simple but the demo did one thing very, very badly — it doesn't explain that the "counter-move" button is also the button for block. If you didn't know, blocking is kind of important in fighting games. Small issue aside, it was fun — sure, it's no Super Street Fighter IV, but I can see cracking a couple brews and enjoying this in multiplayer.
And did I mention the wrestling roster? I doubt many outside of hardcore wrestling marks will care about the current roster, but if you're a kid of the '80s and can't get behind seeing Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior (who's in the demo) and freaking Macho Man Randy Savage in a wrestling game then I don't know what to say.
Lastly, I assure you I'm still playing more old games for the Retrospective Overload. We'll have another story up this week and I'm trying to play enough of another oft-requested classic to write about it soon, too.
I think I've hit some sort of quarter-life crisis in the last few months. Between making some huge changes in how I live my life and reevaluating my core values, I'd say 2011 has already been a pretty significant year for me. What's most surprising to me, however, is how my taste in games has changed even more dramatically than it did last year.
I've got all kinds of new, top-tier games waiting for me to dig into, like the unabashed and exhilarating Bulletstorm and the arrestingly charming LittleBigPlanet 2, but neither one has managed to hold my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. Instead I've been digging deep into the classics by means of the Wii's Virtual Console.
Nostalgia is a force to be reckoned with, and it's played no small part in convincing me to download copies of some of my childhood favorites. But if there's one thing I've learned this week, it's that so many of those Nintendo mainstays are classics for a very good reason. Sure, Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past come as close to mastering their genres as any games before or since, but so many other games from the 16-bit era stand strong decades after they were released. Donkey Kong Country is still a beautiful and brilliant platformer that manages to still hold its own in a post-SNES landscape, and Super Castlevania IV is one of the best-designed and most highly polished platformers ever made — but when's the last time anyone mentioned either one of them?
I don't want to come off as regressive or resistant to change, but if there's one thing I've observed from this last couple years in gaming, it's that there's a major dearth of inspiration in the games industry. It's sucking the fun out of gaming, and it's only getting worse. Even this year's best releases, such as Dead Space 2, bring so few new ideas to the table that you can count them on one hand.
Are these games fun? Sure. They're enjoyable, and in some cases they're designed to fire at just the right pace to keep things engaging. But I haven't played a game with genuine soul in far too long, and I'm starting to fear those days have passed.
Nick is right. This industry, the one we love, is boring. It's technologically brilliant, but if it were a guy at a party it'd be the person who responds with curt sentences like "Oh, uh-huh" or "Ah, gotcha" — that guy. We all hate him, because he doesn't listen and he doesn't seem to care.
Regardless, I've been playing nothing but Pokémon White since last week. I've already put over 40 hours into it, and I'm close to beating the Unova region's Elite Four. I've done this in every other fucking pocket monsters game, and I'm doing it again. Why? Well, Nick's also right about nostalgia.
There's something deep inside of our primate brains (don't argue with me about evolution) that lends our species well to repetition. From infancy we build positive, trusting relationships with something, someone or somewhere — fond memories coalescing with our natural inclinations — and forever after, we seem to gravitate toward those things that please us (this explains the Japanese game industry right now so, so well -Ed.). It could be the color red, the clicking of a keyboard or even the smell of cinnamon. Our tastes, preferences, choices and acts of favoritism are guided by our base desires and experiences. And though taste/nostalgia is much more complicated than my explanation, the point is that I still like these stupid collect-a-thon games because they bring me a deep sense of remembering my childhood via their repetitive nature.
Have I, and gamers as a whole, gone wrong to pay to play only what we know, just because we're intellectually lazy? Do we support the lack of ingenuity in the industry? Or maybe we just consume without another thought because there's nothing we can really do to influence the development teams and conglomerate publishers.
In any case, for the last 12 years I've tried on seven different occasions (Red, Yellow, Gold, Ruby, Pearl, HeartGold, White) to be the very best, like no one ever was. I think I've succeeded 50% of the time.
Usually I just get bored.