It’s June, which means it’s time for another round-up of what everybody in the studio’s been in the past month. Which is May, and this has slipped a bit. And so:
I’ve been playing Speedball II on my iPhone [App Store link], and golf with my Dad. Both were massive exercises in nostalgia – both games I played a lot as a teenager – and both seriously competitive…
Speedball II is a nice conversion but feels like a disappointment – although I’ve only played the single player mode so far and all my memories of it are from the 2-player mode. The design and the layout don’t quite work – you don’t get quite enough warning before you get tackled and it’s strange and interesting that you can purchase game currency by making an in-app payment: very logical in terms of the business model for apps but I took strongly against it – I think because it offended my teenage Amiga-owning self somehow.
As for golf, well: it’s a game that gets a terrifically bad press but it’s just a fantastic game. The feedback system is baked into the level design in a very beautiful way. Plus, you get to go outside and walk around, but you can be quite unfit or quite young, or quite old. I’ve been playing it with my Dad my whole life – and the game’s structure is sufficiently well worked out that we’ve been enjoying genuinely competitive games with one another that whole time (the old swine managed to pull back a 2-hole deficit to square the match on the last). There is a huge amount in golf that’s very important to me as a game designer.
I’m lucky enough to have a tiny commute – four stops on the tube – so the genre I play most is ‘puzzle games you can play for five minutes that make you forget you are being elbowed in the face’. Spirits fulfils those criteria perfectly.
The graphics and gameplay are sweet and dreamy – like an out-take from Princess Mononoke – and the pace is gentle. You usher restless forest spirits to their final resting place, transforming some into leaf ladders or tunnel borers to save the rest, and creating breezes to lift little ghosts upwards through arrangements of tangled roots. It’s just challenging enough to keep you playing, and is a lovely place to spend some time away from the Central Line.
It was raining last Sunday, so I dug out the SNES and started playing F-Zero again. Hugely nostalgic (Death Wind II, anybody?), and still really playable. The circuit design and the way the vehicles corner is everything. What could be more satisfying than dipping off the power, leaning into a corner with a shoulder button, just clipping the apex (getting nicely electrocuted in the process), and then powering quickly back up to the full speed of 478 KPH?
It’s got an interesting scoring system. You compete in series of five grands prix, but no points are awarded; the objective is merely to complete each race in the top three. Fail to finish in the top three and you lose a life, lose all your lives and you have to start all over again from the first race. This can give odd/annoying results. You can come 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 4th and lose, but come 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 3rd and win. It feels as though the scoring’s based on a platformer, in that it’s not how well you play, it’s just about limping to the finish. Still, it does mean you can’t win without being at least reasonably consistent, even on the more difficult tracks.
I can’t work out which is more lurid: the all-fluorescent colour scheme or the soundtrack – but either are sufficient to make my wife leave the room.
The best bit of the whole experience was connecting the RF cable to the TV via the RF switcher. Yeah, that’s right: I don’t have to unplug the SNES when I want to watch a VHS, I’ve got a switch.
I went down to Herne Bay last weekend, and was amazed by the Telly-Go-Round. It’s a… well, it’s not totally clear what it is. It’s a thing, a big oblong thing, and it sits by the end of the pier. You put in a coin – any coin – to make a roulette-style wheel spins around; then a little ball bounces around the wheel, and settles eventually on the name of a character from children’s television. There’s a quick flare of music, and a part of the contraption rotates to reveal, briefly, a dancing model of that character.
It’s entirely bemusing, and obviously entirely luck-based, but it’s
also really great, because:
- It doesn’t care what type of coin you put in – a pound, a penny, an Australian five cent piece, it all works. So people (especially children) who want to try over and over again can give it twenty goes for 20p if they’re so minded. (Plus the money goes to charity, so you can fool yourself that you’re being benevolent).
- If you time your coins right – and I didn’t realise this until I saw a small practiced girl playing – then you can keep more than one character dancing at a time, and get eight or ten of the windows open.
- There’s a JACKPOT on the wheel – and if you get the jackpot, every single character turns around and dances, music plays, a tiny model merry-go-round spins on top, and a train crammed with more characters drives out from the back. The jackpot delights and rewards everyone around, not just the player who put in the coin – but that player still gets to feel a bit special and responsible for the triumph.
Robokill, as the name suggests, is a game about a robot that kills other robots with an ever growing array of weaponry. The player takes a birds eye view of the game space, moves from room-to-room and is met with a new challenge (which always involves things to shoot) in each room. The challenges include different types of robots, mines, boxes and the risk of falling of the edge to your doom.
The game rewards players for killing things by giving them currency which can be spent in the shop on guns, rocket launchers, shields and more guns. The increasing level of difficulty from room-to-room kept me hooked for a while, and I became a cropper a few times by falling of the edge in one of the rooms. I also like the fact that you can choose your route through the rooms on each level, rather than it being dictated to you.
The controls take 4 or 5 plays to get really used to, and there is the occasional frustration that comes from blocking your view of the game that is inherent with touch screen game controls on such a small screen (would like to try the game on the iPad). However, once you do get comfortable, they are responsive and you can get much satisfaction blasting the advancing enemy into Robodust.
The other massive frustration is that I am stuck. I have cleared 24 rooms in Level 4, and need a key to progress. But I can’t find the damn key… anywhere. I have been back through each room twice, which is incredibly dull because now there is nothing to shoot, and there is definitely no key. A brief sortie on Google has revealed that another player has encountered a similar problem. The feedback seems to suggest that this is either just a bug, and if you re-start the level it will correct itself, or that it is a little test planted by the developers (keys can be used to open doors and treasure chests and perhaps the developers have put in less keys on the level than the total of chests and doors combined) and if you have used your keys too early you will need to re-start the level.
Either way, I can’t be arsed.
The first or second proper computer game I remember having – as opposed to lots of shareware odds and ends – was Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia. It turns out to have been both a formative experience and constant companion in my gaming life ever since. And it’s a big reason I’m fond of running-and-jumping games.
As running-and-jumping games go, Outland [XBLA/PSN download] is cracking. The running and jumping mechanics alone are really good: just weighty enough, really physical, satisfying to hit a flow state in. They’re coupled to a lovely, expansive, explore-em-up, similar to Shadow Complex, Symphony of the Night, Super Metroid, and that whole church of games (which I adore). The artwork’s cracking, too, mainly created from silhouette with hints of colour – predominantly blue, red, gold, and green – leaking through. It’s very beautiful.
On top of the Metroidvania trappings, it then adds a massive helping of danmaku influence: glorious, hellish, beautiful bullet patterns, and a colour-swapping mechanic lifted almost directly from Ikaruga – only this time, not only does your colour affect your ability to damage enemies and resist bullets… it also affects the platforms you can use and parts of the environment you can interact with.
And so you dart from platform to platform, toggling colour in air as you leap from red surface to blue, fighting off enemies, and hammering the colour-swap button as you splash through fountains of red and blue bullets. It’s incredibly satisfying when all the systems are firing at once – which usually comes in the boss fights, which combine platforming, combat, and bullet-hell in tightly confined spaces.
Physicsy, bullety, running and jumping: it’s a perfectly videogamey videogame.