Backlog: Goodbye, THQ
And so another developer closes its doors, a woeful byproduct of an industry in desperate flux. THQ wasn't the only development conglomerate that closed within the past year (IGN has a depressing list of companies shuttered in 2012), but it was unique in having been a fairly sizable publisher as well. For those still in the dark, The Verge has a fantastic compilation thread of the bankruptcy news from the first announcement to the final pouring out of malt liquor for those who are now (largely) unemployed. Our staff also extends our sincerest hopes that those looking for work find gainful employment very soon.
And on a personal level, I extend a deep thank you to the talent who made so many wonderful games for so many years under the THQ logo.
Now, onto this week's article! Spencer has the flu, Tyler is odd and I...well, I used my PlayStation 3 for gaming (that's a rare thing). -- Aaron Thayer
Stomach flu kicked my ass when the deadline for this approached, and yet I still hammered something out for each of our dozen adoring fans. That's love, right there. You're welcome.
Space Marine found its way back onto my hard drive, out of some vague hope that I get to play some co-op. While said co-op hasn't materialized, I've enjoyed picking it up again - it's a strong title that feels very solid -- especially the multiplayer -- and it’s probably (to me) the most glaring absence from our 2011 GOTYs. (And in reference to this week's introduction: Long live THQ.)
Super Hexagon released on Android, discounted to $1 in celebration, so I grabbed a copy for sporadic play. No mincing of words here: I hate it. It's like The Game from Star Trek TNG, if it were instead meant to inspire nausea and discord I feel dizzy and ill every time I play it, and it's so goddamned hard and I can't make any headway on it and seriously fuck this stupid hexagon game, it's a piece of shit.
I'd stop playing, but, in all honesty, it's really, really good; also, the music.
I remembered the existence of two free-to-play online-only mech games, and went about reinstalling them both. Hawken, the first of the two, has done nothing but mature since I had the chance to try it with Nick at PAX 2012. The "Mechwarrior meets Counter-Strike" metaphor would be overplayed if it wasn't so apt; it's definitely a first-person shooter, but with enough clumsiness and pacing added in to give it a distinctive "piloted robot" flavor. I dropped a little currency to unlock a mech (sooner than in-game points would allow) and kit it out in CGA-style cyan-and-magenta colors (my signature in multiplayer games, when available). Add me in-game if you like (pilot call sign Oz_K), I wouldn't mind getting taken down a peg.
The other mech title, Mechwarrior Online, has also matured significantly since I last picked it up. However, its major selling point is also the reason I probably won't be playing too much of it - it's a simulator through and through. This may smack of hypocrisy, coming from a man who swears by the genre as one of his favorites. The truth is, though, that I am not necessarily good at all the games I like (see: any strategy title ever), and while I make a pretty decent dogfighter in flight/space sims, driving 20+ ton robots around in real time doesn't seem to be my forte. That, or my impatience really shines through in what is largely a battle of artillery. I'll certainly pick it up from time to time, and I don't regret buying a founder's package, but I don't think it's going to take up a lot of my time.
Finally, regarding the Auxiliary Living Room Project, the refuse has been cleared away, and actual setup will be proceeding as soon as I'm not knocked on my ass from this bug (probably by my next weekend). My housemate has contributed a platinum Gamecube and an Atari 2600 to the cause, and other friends have offered a Genesis, SNES, and a larger SDTV. Collection and arrangement of furnishings to follow.
I am what you might consider a lukewarm or fairweather fan of the cult classic of the Oddworld series. I remember in 1997 seeing commercials for Abe's Oddysee. The CG looked incredible and between those and the ads for Final Fantasy VII PlayStation appeared to be capable of feats I'd never before seen in videogames. I wouldn't actually get a PlayStation for another year yet I remained excited to finally try out Oddworld. When I finally got around to it I was pretty disappointed.
Oddworld Inhabitants is capable of some fantastical world-building and design. The art of Oddworld remains compelling and unique. The gameplay of Oddworld however is remarkably less so. Abe's dualogy consisted of a series of frustrating trial-and-error puzzles. I'm not opposed to the idea of a high level of challenge in games but I feel the player should be benefiting in some way from each death, learning something new about the systems and mechanics of the game. It's a shame then that Abe's Oddysee was never presented in such a way. Nonetheless I managed to complete both of the PSOne era titles because of the excellent presentation values and storytelling.
In the next generation of consoles, Oddworld Inhabitants exclusively worked on Microsoft's Xbox. I was late to the Xbox party and left early when my special hipster edition decided to red-ring before it was cool. As a result I never played the launch title, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, and late release, Stranger's Wrath. Fortunately Stranger's Wrath was recently released on Vita in HD. While the gameplay has changed considerable from Abe's side-scrolling adventures, it brings with it a new series of frustrations.
Simply put, Stranger's Wrath is an exercise in great ideas with poor execution but, I'll readily admit this may be a case of an eight year-old game aging poorly. The game has something of an identity crisis. Clicking in the right stick will change perspective back and forth between first and third person, neither controls as well as other games that maintain a definitive viewpoint. Combat on higher difficulties quickly becomes a chore because guns can only be fired in first-person but the Stranger is far more agile in third, also each perspective has it's own melee moves. When not in combat, navigating the environment, especially when jumping between platforms, is a chore in either perspective.
The title's flaws exist not only on a mechanical level but a design one as well. The first two-thirds of the game takes a very formulaic approach: go to town, choose a bounty, fight through numerous enemies to a boss requiring little strategy, and return to town to claim said bounty. There are moments when this approach works quite well. In an open environment the different types of living ammo allow for different styles of play and the game has an ongoing risk/reward system for capturing enemies dead or alive. Sadly this style of gameplay eventually wears out it's welcome and is replaced by something worse. There is a point of no return in Stranger's Wrath that is telegraphed poorly and past which all your progress up until that point is essentially for naught as there are no more opportunities to spend cash on upgrades. It was a disappointing moment for a miser like myself who'd been saving most of his money.
Far and away the biggest disappointment in Stranger's Wrath is the general lack of any kind of development for either the setting or the characters. Oddworld is a series known for a very unique style and social satire, this title has none of that. Most of the game is spent amongst anthropomorphic chickens and combating generic goblin-esque enemies. The story spends most of it's time with a stoic bounty hunter and when the game chooses to provide him some sort of motivation it still provides little to no characterization.
It may seem as though I disliked Stranger's Wrath but I did derive some enjoyment from the experience. It's disappointing however with how much creativity the Oddworld games have, there has yet to be a title that delivers on that promise with equally enjoyable gameplay.
It's been a light week for me. The only game I've put any effort into is Ni no Kuni. At four-and-a-half hours into the sizable JRPG (reviews have estimated a 40-hour completion time) I've still only seen a modicum of what Level-5 and Studio Ghibli co-crafted.
Even so, the game is a revelation. Ni no Kuni is a lush world of exploration, a distillation of what made the 16-bit era of RPGs endearing. Playing this is like looking in on childhood summers long gone, an intentional flirtation with reminiscence. If Ni No Kuni came out in 1995 it still would have stood proudly among the best RPGs of the Super Nintendo and Genesis era.
Imagine spring green hills, golden autumn trees and open tan deserts. Those adjectives conjure up, for me, memories of sitting far too close to the television, engrossed in the adventures of Link and Princess Zelda, Ness and the Starmen, Crono et al., and so many others. I was raised on Japanese role-playing games, and they forever shaped my gaming "career" -- my tastes, preferences, critiques and the constant urge to explore the wonders of digital universes are the result of classic JRPG influence. In many ways, even on the surface, Ni no Kuni has indulged several childhood fantasies I thought lost, but were only long-dormant.
I respect what the developers did; the braveness in releasing a "dated" relic such as this in the modern, mobile age on a console in its twilight, to a more-or-less jaded audience. Ni no Kuni is why I play games, and if you've found yourself wanting for a classic RPG with heart, you should pick this one up.