…but as you can see, I couldn’t. Thanks to Hyperbole and a Half, “I x ALL the y!” seems to be a meme with some staying power.
I really did play all the games though. Here’s what I thought/am thinking of them:
Mighty Flip Champs
The most notable downside to this game is that it’s download-only, which means you can’t fling the cartridge across the room in a fit of rage when it pisses you off. And it will piss you off. And then you’ll keep playing it, in your heightened pissed-off state, because that’s the kind of game it is.
Mighty Flip Champs is a puzzle platformer, which is to say, you solve puzzles while running around on platforms. Your interaction with the game world is limited to running and climbing ladders — no jumping allowed. Each level is made up of a series of slides which you must flip through in order to navigate your way to the exit. The top screen shows the slide you’re on, and the bottom one shows the next slide in rotation. So that’s the game: you position yourself on the top screen so that your position on the bottom is advantageous — then you flip. You do this until you’ve collected all the cats and pigs in the level, then you find your fishman and give him a big sloppy kiss. Then it’s off to the next stage.
Now, I’m not going to be that guy who says puzzle games should never kill you. I enjoyed Adventures of Lolo, I enjoyed Lost Vikings, I enjoyed Oddworld. The enemies, traps and frequently hilarious deaths were huge parts of those games, and huge parts of the genre as a whole. I’m not seeing what the convention adds to Mighty Flip Champs, though. See, the most common cause of death is flipping into a solid wall, which kills you instantly. In theory this sad fate is easily avoided; you’re supposed to be keeping careful track of your position on the bottom screen even as you navigate the top. In practice, though, it’s not always that simple.
See, Mighty Flip Champs is a game built with blocks. Every interesting thing in the game comprises exactly one block, and there are no moving objects whatsoever. (At least, not in the first four worlds.) Your little purple hero girl, though, moves in pixels, which means at any given time she can be standing on multiple blocks, or in between blocks. Bits of her sprite overlap the surrounding blocks as well, so there’s a good deal of fuzziness between standing close enough to a black to overlap with it, but not so close that it will kill you when you flip.
The end result is: every time I die, it’s because it looked safe to flip, but really wasn’t. Time to replay the level, and do a better job judging the pixels next time!
Two solutions immediately spring to mind. One, how about not killing the player if she flips unsafely? Keep the hilarious animation and the endearing bzzrrt!! sound, sure. But instead of starting the level over, just flip back to the previous position, where the player was safe. Maybe penalize her by dropping a few seconds on the clock.
Or, number two, simply limit how far the heroine can walk. Instead of letting her stop on any pixel, limit her movement to half-block steps. That way the player is always absolutely confident of her positioning, and will never get a cheap flip-death unless she’s just not paying attention.
I’ll probably finish this game up over the weekend, but only because microwaving the cartridge is not an option. Maybe the whole DSiWare thing was for the best.
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair
This game continues to be addictive and fun. I spent the past few evenings doing some multiplayer, and yeah, that’s where the game really shines. Each level is pretty short, and you’re slapped with a 30-minute timer on top of it all, but there’s so much to do in each level that the expansiveness of the game really takes shape.
When I first started playing, my only goal was to get to the end of the level and kill the boss. This is fairly challenging in and of itself, since all five characters start out relatively weak. Approaching the game from this angle is a bit like playing an oldschool arcade-style Castlevania game; you fight and dodge monsters, navigate platforms and traps, and have an epic face-off against a screen-sized monster. Playing the six stages through, just like this, once with each character would have been worth the $15 right there.
However, then you can unravel the stages. There are lots of switches to flip, moving parts to play with, and treasure boxes to find. Most stages have multiple routes, so simply replaying a level and going in a different direction is interesting enough. Figuring out what goes where, especially with multiple people all working in different areas, gives you something to do in each stage once you’re strong enough to topple the monsters with ease.
Then, once your powers are godlike and the routes are all planned, you can go full hog on speed runs and score challenges. You can download replays from the leaderboards to watch twinked-out players absolutely demolish a full-clear of any level, which is every bit as entertaining as watching TAS videos or Let’s Plays on YouTube. Stat-grinding and route-planning will give hardcore competitive types something to talk about for years to come.
And on the subject of stat-grinding, well, it hasn’t really bothered me. I’ve been playing as Charlotte, who increases her power by catching magic spells in her purple demonic book. This translates into a lot of me standing in a room watching a monster cast the same spell over and over again until I get lucky. Which, as veteran readers know, is my big reason for being disappointed with many modern Castlevania titles.
But Harmony of Despair’s is different, and I can think of two reasons why. First, your grinding has immediate benefits… at least, it does for Charlotte. Every spell she captures increases her overall power level, even if you never use the spell itself. So I can spend an hour catching fireballs and see a consistent, steady increase in my damage output. This makes for a much more satisfying grind than, say, Dawn of Sorrow where you were pretty much just filling a book.
And second? I can take my Charlotte online. When my homies Lys and Kef sign on for our next night of Dracula-killing fun, I’ll have cool new spells to show them. And they’ll have cool new stuff to show me, too. I’m not playing as Soma, but Lys is, so I get to experience the novelty of Soma simply by watching him. Evil vacuum cleaner? Ooookay!
Shantae: Risky’s Revenge
I end up defining a lot of games by the worst thing I can think to say about them. The worst thing I can think to say about Risky’s Revenge is this: the game very obviously puts its best foot forward. The early areas of the game are the most visually stunning and mechanically interesting. Each subsequent area is less and less so, until the final “level” is just a mostly-empty and mostly-boring straight shot.
The whole game is fun, and the whole game is pretty, but the whole game is not Tangle Woods. If we get a Shantae 3 in 2018, they could do a lot worse than to just make a whole game based on the parallax-jumping idea used in Tangle Woods.
As is often the case with sequels, you can look at areas in the game where they knew they had a good idea, but had to do it better. In discovering how to make a good idea more fun to play with, you make a better overall game. Just about every aspect of the Shantae formula has gotten this treatment. Example: it’s a good idea to be able to buy expensive power-ups from shops, but it’s boring to kill monsters or game the gambling parlor to afford everything. Solution: instead of money, require hidden items from the world to buy your power-ups. Now the solution to wanting that expensive new fireball isn’t “go kill fifty scarecrows”, but rather “try and find your next Magic Jam”.
Another example: having overpowered magic items is fun, but will break the game if there’s no limiting factor, so Shantae limits the amount she can carry. Of course, the player is almost never in a position to run back to town to restock on magic items, if he even remembers to experiment with them in the first place. Solution: tie the magic items to a meter instead. You still can’t run around with your triple P-Ball activated forever, because your bar will eventually run out. But it’s much easier to have it and remember to use it, since you only have to buy it once. And if you run out, restocking it is as easy as finding a pick-up; no need to run back to town.
The game is short. I finished it in five hours and change, although I didn’t do so with 100% item completion. I think short is better for a game like this, though; five hours my first time means… hmm… seven for a full clear. Then one or two hours per speed run, for the rest of infinity. If a game can be beaten in one sitting I am far more likely to just pick it up for something to do. I didn’t become a Super Metroid guru because I enjoyed all 35 hours of its stunning narrative, you see.
There are always more games to play, of course. I think the only major release I’m still waiting on this year is Rock Band 3, then it’ll be a matter of falling back on the nickels and dimes I never had a chance to finish. I’m still working my way through two Tomb Raider games, over here, to say nothing of Etrian Odyssey.
Is it any wonder I’m struggling to get any blogging done?