Friday, 21 December 2012

Supercharged and indestructible; the joy of the power up

Let me start by saying that I freakin’ love power ups. As a platform gamer at heart, the opportunity to beef up my character with a stronger attack, quicker movements, or momentary invincibility always brings a smile to my face.

Between Crash Bandicoot’s Aku Aku masks, Sonic’s invincibility boxes and Talmit’s wing-and-clone-floating-vortex-of-death combo (btw, if you’ve never played Talmit’s Adventure, I hope that last example will convince you that you should) my childhood was full of moments where I could unleash my fury on unsuspecting minions, even though most of the time I could generally make my way through the level without such upgrades.

What could be more fun than being possessed by an ancient spirit you found in a box?
And there is what I believe a power up should be; unnecessary fun. You should be perfectly capable of progressing without the use of any upgrades. Power ups should reward you for finding them by allowing you to let loose and go crazy, making the game slightly less difficult and slightly more fun.

Naturally the king of the power ups is Mario; whether it was fire flowers, capes or stars most people first encountered power ups through this series. Not to mention that if asked to name a power up from a game, most people will respond with be “super mushroom”. What was important about Mario's power ups is that they felt like an optional advantage; you can complete the sun level in Super Mario 3 on your own, but using the P-wing will always be more fun.

I'm not sure what Copernicus would think of this game, but I 'm pretty sure he'd hate this guy
Yet for a series with such strong roots in power ups, installments such as Super Mario Galaxy disappointed me. Consider the Bee costume and the Spring costume; these power ups change the mechanics of the game in order to allow you to complete the task at hand. There is nothing ‘upgradey’ about them, they are a necessary obstacle, and they introduce a new way of controlling your character in order to overcome a challenge. These are not power ups; they are cleverly disguised vehicle sections.

Super Mario Galaxy's Bee costume
Often modern power ups will take this form; more and more games use power ups as a way to integrate new game mechanics into the world they have created, and that is fine, but I do miss the fun that comes from the traditional power up. Luckily though, whenever I worry about the future of power ups I just remember the New Super Mario Bros Wii Penguin costume, because no power up will ever beat its pointlessly daft, slidey fun. Also... 3D Land's Boomerang Flowers are a just a bunch brilliance in a can. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New Year Party Games of 2012

Well it's that time of year where I, Jak Marshall, put my reputation on the line once more and recommend some games for y'all to be playing with your mates over the holidays. I think I did a good job of it last year so check out that shit first if you didn't do so last year. In fact I will go out and say that I did very well and all the evidence says so. My analysis is to a decent standard and my opinions are pretty okay sometimes! 

I still maintain that New Year's Eve is a time for staying in and not going out. Who you choose to see out the end of this year with is pretty crucial but  there are three (almost) distinct choices. Family (The Wii has done wonders for family room gaming), friends (as always) and lovers (I mean sersiously, who doesn't play takesy-turnies through Sonic and Knuckles with their special one? Sky Sanctuary is so romantic!). I'm going to make it my mission to pick a game that would entertain any of those three main types of company.    

Don't forget Granny!
By my own hazy definition of what a New Year's game should be, I can already eliminate the online multiplayer heavy games such as Halo 4 and Call of Duty. In my humble opinion, offline multiplayer at home with company trumps many distant souls shooting virtual bullets and real insults. I have no major problems with the online gaming community at all as you all well know, but it is also true that online gaming can happen all year round, whilst having friends and family in your house is something that is sadly a rarity for a great proportion of us. Also, you are likely to be playing with people who don't have a complete mastery of FPS skills. Same logic applies to FIFA.

Although Granny's sniper skills will knock your socks off.

So if offline gaming is key I would also require that such a game be fun for a mixed skill group. This is where ZombiU shines. It has asymmetric multiplayer (as does the new New Super Mario Bros game) in that not every player has the same objective and/or the same means by which to achieve them. In ZombiU's 'King of Zombies' mode, even a complete gaming noob can join in and it is most certainly the case that a less skilled gamer friend can compete and have fun without being completely muscled out skill-wise. The only drawbacks I can see are that someone has to own a Wii U and be willing to subject it to a party environment. I personally think that the Wii U is a worthy purchase and more than suitable for a party so if you have the gear you can stop reading this article now and take that as your New Year game recommendation from me. If you're not adopting the new console just yet (reasonable) then please read on.

Granny is unsure. Granny reads on

I'm going to go back to 7th Gen for inspiration and say that Rayman Origins is still the game to be playing outright if you haven't finished that with your mates yet. If you haven't played it all the way through on co-op or haven't got sick of hitting each other's characters in the face whilst chasing those pesky red challenge chests then just go play the fuck out of that. It's still one of the greatest party games ever made. If you want an alternative co-op challenge that still stacks up then you can't go too far wrong with Castle Crashers for Xbox Live Arcade. It's newcomer friendly. Also, why not earn that achievement in Portal 2 for helping a mate get through it? Surely that's worth an evening with one special friend or lover?

But I still haven't finished. PS3's Sony All-Stars Battle Royale has very recently come out and at first glance it appears to tick all the boxes. It has offline multiplayer, a very low entry barrier and a strong sense of party atmosphere built in. It's being released on a console that someone is likely to own and be comfortable bringing along to a party (despite the fact the console weighs more than all of Neptune's moons combined) and it's got bags of nostalgia factor going for it even without Crash or Spyro in the character roster. My problem with it is that it appears to hold up more strongly as a two player fighter such as Tekken than it does as a four player brawler and you can see that the game design is heavily influenced by the standard beat 'em up formula. The risk-based AP fighting system is a really neat idea. The game is full of neat ideas but I'm still not yet convinced that the game is super awesome yet so can't with all honesty stake my reputation on it.

It'd be like recommending a calendar based novel having only read until Easter. Only time will tell.

I will say this though. It's definitely worth playing and getting the practice hours in as it will take over a living room near you this New Year whether you like it or not so for that reason alone, start getting good at it! But here's the cop out Super Smash Brothers Melee is a rich man's version of Sony All-Stars and if I'm going to recommend a four player brawler for this holiday season I can't really say fairer than SSBM. If you haven't got really into this game yet then you should do so although I would recommend that groups of players start toying with handicaps to level the playing field somewhat as it is an incredibly easy game to be muscled out of. Enjoy the holidays!

P.S. By the way. SSBM is my choice, cop-out or no