29 August 2016

Oh boy, it’s been a while since I’ve written something here. This summer was quite eventful at work, and then I also had to take some vacation time during which I watched Summer Games Done Quick and then went away in the woods, so I kinda left my blog behind. And anyway, I didn’t find anything interesting to talk about, and the few things that happened in the gaming world had already been covered in greater and better detail that I ever could, so.

I had started ordering parts for a new PC, which I’m now writing this article on. While that was going on, my then-current PC’s graphic card messed up, and my procrastinating reflexes slowed the whole process. Anyway, long story short, I barely played on a PC during the summer. Instead I dusted off my various consoles and played on that.

Summer platforming and summer reruns

First off: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. That started off well, and then quickly went to hell. Honestly, it’s probably my biggest disappointment this year, as I always placed great confidence in Retro Studios’ development skills. And, well, what a mess. Everything in that game feels off, with the one exception being the soundtrack, although even then I wonder if it’s just my nostalgia speaking, as so many of its themes are just remixes of songs from previous Donkey Kong Country titles.

Tropical Freeze makes the cardinal sin of having slippery controls in a game that requires precision platforming. Everything has inertia and weight, as if they just dumped a realistic physics middleware in the middle of it and then just went off to the pub. The game looks good, sure, but so much of that is spent on backgrounds that fight for your attention while you should really be focusing on the platforms in the foreground. In the end, it looks like a tech demo that had some gameplay hastily thrown on top of it. Oh, and the underwater levels are a nightmare to navigate through because the aforementioned inertia follows you there.

Now, I’m not saying that it’s shit. It’s still decent, although that isn’t very good by the standards set by Retro’s previous titles. Also, since playing Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, I have very specific criteria about what should go in a 2D platformer, and Tropical Freeze doesn’t have that. So, basically what I’m saying is that its biggest flaw is that it’s not Rayman Legends.

Speaking of the limbless wonder, I found out that Rayman: Revolution, the enhanced port of Rayman 2 for PS2, is available on PS3. The emulation appears near perfect, with any kind of framerate drop also being present in the original version. As for the PS2 port’s new features, well, all of them actively detract from the overall experience, so if you should really play it on a PC, a N64 or, better yet, a Dreamcast.

I had played some of Rayman 2 back on the N64 back during my childhood, although I never managed to get very far as I didn’t own a controller pack and therefore couldn’t save my game. Playing Revolution on the PS3, I was fascinated by how little of the game I remembered, and how well it still held up even by today’s standards. Okay, the camera is a bit wonky, especially during combat encounters, but flying in the sanctuary of rock and lava feels better than that damn rocket barrel in Tropical Freeze despite similar control schemes. It’s to the point where most of the game’s problems can be explained away by it being one of the first 3D platformers. I mean, they were discovering and learning how to do it while they were doing it, and they still managed to ship one of the best games of all time. Seriously, give it a shot.

I also managed to recover my GameCube, although I had to order a new memory card and therefore had lost all my saves. That wasn’t really a problem, since I just wanted to start some new games with Metroid Prime and its sequel, along with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. I even tried some Super Mario Sunshine for about 30 minutes before getting bored and not touching it. Overall it’s been some great fun, lying on my couch with a controller in hand, revisiting all these excellent titles which all have something interesting to give, even today. In fact I’m probably going to setup an actual streaming PC and do some Twitch sessions of old GameCube games at one point.

About that title

So the title of this article is a pretty heavy-handed reference to one particular game. Well, I was coming up to that. You see, two weeks ago I discovered that Okami was on sale on the PlayStation Store. Well, Okami HD, it’s enhanced PS3 port, was. I always wanted to try it out, so try it out I did, and oh boy it’s one of my favorite games I played this year.

Going in I didn’t really know what to expect. All I kept hearing about Okami was that it was “the best Zelda game that isn’t Zelda”. And turns out it’s only partially accurate? Well, not even that much. It definitely belongs in that catch-all “action adventure” genre that Zelda is also found in, but that doesn’t say a lot. I’m pretty sure Zelda was the main inspiration during its design, but in the end it stands fairly apart from its spiritual predecessor.

For the uneducated, Okami is a melting pot of Japanese myths and folklore, dressed up in a cel-shaded rendering scheme that looks like ink wash paintings, and built on mechanics that are, for the most part, fairly unique and interesting. Most of the gameplay is centered around the “Celestial Brush”, which allows casting spells by drawing on a canvas. This is used for combat, navigation, and puzzle solving, and honestly, the tech feels right, with very few quirks encountered during gameplay. Skills are initially obtained at a very fast pace, which helps keep things flowing nicely, although that pace slows down near the end, so there’s that. Additionally, combat is exclusively performed in small, instanced areas, which turns any non-boss encounter into a combo-building brawl.

As for the plot itself, well, it did manage to keep me on my toes. Most of the story is focused on the variety of compelling characters you encounter over the course of your adventure, and there always seems to be something bigger going on than you first thought. I finished the game in four sittings, so there’s an addictive quality to it.

So why did I say it didn’t really feel like Zelda? Well, there’s an overworld, and there’s dungeons with bosses, and there’s generally an ability in that dungeon that you use for the boss, but it’s not really that cut-and-dried, and overall I didn’t really feel I was playing Zelda but with different characters and painting replacing the items. It’s hard to explain in words, really. I guess what I can say is that it stands proudly as its own special cultural piece. Although, to be fair, it could probably easily get turned into a full-fledged Zelda game by just changing the story. Well, I say “easily”… you get the point.

There’s one I disliked about it, however: how the game seems to take a lot of time to explain things that should already be obvious. For example, early on in the game, you get at a roadblock. Your friendly exposition fairy tells you you need to go elsewhere. So you go there, and you get a power that is pretty evidently related to the previous obstacle. So by then you’re like “oh yeah I can go there and do the thing!” and then said fairy tells you to… go there and do the thing. And this keeps happening over and over again. An important plot point is heavily suggested at for a long period of time and then confirmed like they didn’t think you’d get the message. It really feels like they play tested the game with idiots. idiots.

But that’s just a minor nitpick that I noticed because everything else is so good. All in all, it’s fun, varied and huge. It took me 20 hours to blast through the main quest, and there’s plenty of things I left behind. There’s even a “new game+” feature! It definitely is a great game and I’m glad I got to play it. It gave me a lot of things to think about, so expect more on related subjects in the future.

And now that I got a new PC, I can finally play all these games I had to skip! Right now I’m focusing on The Witcher 3 and DOOM, with more things coming in the pipeline. I’ll keep you posted!

See y’all!