Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Batman is Actually a Huge Procrastinator...

I should probably be looking for the Joker right
about now, but I'm on a really big history kick.

In some ways, Batman: Arkham Asylum combines story and gameplay better than almost any game I've seen. Rather than come up with my own witty retort for why this is, I'll do the lazy thing and quote Dan Whitehead who'd already said it best:

"By placing the game in the realistically restricted confines of Arkham, and by having the unpredictable Joker as the antagonist, the story doesn't really have to stretch too much to accommodate the requirements of a videogame. Joker is playing with Batman, after all, and so it makes sense that he'll be opening up new areas only when you've performed specific tasks."

In some ways this is true. If you play the game straight through, you'll experience this seamless mix of story and gameplay. However, the game sort of dissuades you from playing this way with its host of collectibles and secrets.

I found myself scanning the room trying to solve the Riddler's challenges and find his hidden trophies, then thinking, "Wait a second. Shouldn't I be trying to rescue Commissioner Gordon?" If you're trying to take the story seriously, it doesn't make sense that Batman would be going off on all these archeological tangents.

At the same time, I'm not criticizing their existence either, because they're both fun in their own right, and help highlight the often brilliant level design as well as ensure that the player catch all the hidden details that go a long way towards fleshing out the game world.

But I find that these are two completely different ways of playing the game. Exploring is fun. The story is compelling. They're just at odds with one another, and I'm not sure what a designer could do to fix that. As a result, the way I'm trying to play is to ignore all the collectibles and respect the story and the sense of urgency that it conveys. Then once I've beaten the game, I'd like to go back and search for all the hidden goodies. That way I can put the plot on hold and think of it like an extra on a DVD where you get to appreciate all the details you didn't have time to catch the first time around.

Though my OCD does tend to make me want to scavenge every nook and cranny of each area when I enter it, but that's my problem. Not the game's. And I'm trying to fight it. Though I'm curious why I even care to find all these collectibles when I know I'll go back for them later anyway, as they break the illusion of being Batman hot on the Joker's trail. Is it due to year's worth of playing games where the plots are negligible, so I don't mind breaking them (Metroid certainly comes to mind here)? Is it because I dread the thought of having to retread old ground for something I've missed? I'm curious what other people's reactions have been to this and whether they notice or care that seeking out these extra challenges make no sense in the game's narrative. And how do you compromise these two divergent aspects of story and game? Perhaps only have the collectibles appear as a bonus mode post beating the game, so that they can't get in the way the first time through? Just a thought.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Okami Retrodotal

Okami’s unusual visuals are still beautiful years after its release

"It’s like someone read my mind for what would make a perfect video game, and then made it." So said a younger, longer-haired Jeffrey Matulef in the autumn of 2006. That’s how I felt when I first played Okami. Though I don’t know if the word "played" does it justice; more like when I absorbed, consumed, and experienced Okami.

The Legend of Zelda has always been my favorite long-running game franchise, so the idea of a Zelda clone by Hideki Kamiya (Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe) that looked as good as Okami did was enough to launch it straight to the top of my most anticipated games ever list. I knew it would look great, and I knew it would play great, but I wasn’t exactly holding my breath on it having an interesting story or well-written script. Much to my surprise, and eternal delight it did. The story was still your basic tale of good versus evil, albeit with a Princess Mononoke-esque environmental message about replenishing nature. But the characters were complex and interesting, with developer Clover side-stepping the disconnect I usually get with silent protagonists by making Ameterasu a wolf goddess. It was a fantastic way of explaining why she’s smarter than most, yet cannot communicate with people. There’s even glimpses of how she looks from other people’s perspectives where her ethereal decorative wounds are invisible.

So enamored was I with Okami that while I wanted nothing more than to continue playing it non-stop, I also didn’t want it to end. At the same time, I had less than two weeks to beat the game prior to the start of the Fall term, knowing once that happened, I’d have practically no time to game. As a result, I’d made a concerted effort to time it right so I’d beat it just as summer vacation would come to a close.

Read the rest of the article here, at

Ghostbusters Wii Review

My Review of Ghostbusters is up here, at Honestgamers. As you can tell, it was not my favorite game in the world. In case any of you are wondering how it stacks up to the 360/PS3 versions, I can say that I only played the first two hours of the 360 version, but liked it a lot better for reasons I'm somewhat ashamed to admit: the graphics. I liked the cartoonish character designs just fine in the Wii version, but beyond that, I liked the darker, more realistic look of the 360 version. The level design was also a bit more inventive, based on the little I played. At any rate, I think I covered most of the salient points of the Wii version in my review, so if you were curious about that particular version, go check it out (the review that is. Maybe not so much the game).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Cast a Mean Pod:

Eddie Inzauto, former features director at TGR (i.e. my old boss) has recently started up a podcast on his site, Gamernode. Last week he and Jason Finelli invited me on as their special guest to discuss the best game of 2009 so far (as well as what we're looking forward to the most later this year). Give it a listen.