Category Archives: Wii

What Fresh Hell, Part 1

You Might As Well Live

It’s that time of year again. A time when the holiday bustle descends upon us, when life is fraught with frantic urgency and a spirit of uneasy goodwill that saps every joule of energy from your body as you desperately attempt to avoid making eye contact with everyone you meet, especially that creepy fuck manning the Salvation Army kettle outside Target. It’s a time of giving, a time of going jowls-deep into debt, a time for pretending to like people you normally wouldn’t consider to be worth the pink end of a doberman, and of course, a time for the year-end list.

It seems like everyone loves year-end lists; the best of, the worst of, and everything in between gets a paragraph of smarmy commentary as a way to fill a slot during a season in which most writers would rather throttle their cares with four fingers of Maker’s Mark than come up with anything genuinely worth writing. And after looking at the games that were released over the course of the last twelve months, I’ll not be the first to cast any self-righteous AA chips in anyone’s direction.

Originally, we here at TGS (and by we I mean me) vowed to rise above the petty critiques and slavish fanboy stroke-fests that populate the legitimate media at this time of the year, but when we realized that it was also the end of a decade, it was too much for us to resist. And yes, we realize that the next decade doesn’t truly start until 2011, but in addition to our affected manner of referring to ourselves in the second-person plural, we’re also a bit impatient.

So behold part one of the first official This Game Sucks year/decade-end list of Stuff What Be Not Goode.

CALL OF JUAREZ: BOUND IN BLOOD (360, 2009)

At this point it’s hard for me to determine what’s dumber; the premise and the writing in this game, or me, for buying the damn thing. Twice.

Take three voice actors who’ve fashioned careers out of impersonating the likes of Ian McShane, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bill Clinton, cram their yammering pudding holes with dialog written in misguided earnest by the fifteenth runner-up in the latest Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, populate the game with the most reprehensible characters you’re likely to ever see in interactive media, and you’ve got the foundation for CALL OF JUAREZ: BOUND IN BLOOD.

If I want to watch assholes acting like assholes, I’ll do it for free the next time I drive, or open a newspaper, or play a game on Xbox Live. While I acknowledge that there are people who get off on this kind of storytelling, I am most certainly not one of them; the notion of the flawed protagonist, or the “anti-hero,” appeals to me about as much as does the notion of intentionally ingesting a cockroach on my next visit to Taco Bell. No doubt we’ve all eaten things that we’d rather not know about, but to do so explicitly because it’s disgusting, because it’s flawed, is the hallmark of burgeoning psychosis.  Playing CALL OF JUAREZ: BOUND BY BLOOD might make for a good fraternity hazing, but in terms of storytelling it’s like finding half a Periplaneta americana in your Cheesy Gordita Crunch; in fiction, as in dining, intent is everything.

Sure, the game looks good, and the cover mechanic is unique and worth exploring in future releases, but to place the player in the boots of a Confederate deserter (whose desertion was incited not by the immorality of his cause, but solely by his own personal interests), demands a justification that the writers simply do not address. Additionally, wresting control from the player at multiple sections to unnecessarily show nothing more than an NPC’s progress, or an inconsequential cutscene, only further undermines the game’s maddening presentation.

And by the way, there’s already a word for the concept of the “anti-hero.” It’s called a “villain.”

THE CONDUIT (WII, 2009)

How can you go wrong with a first-person shooter that charges you with the defense of Washington D.C. against an alien horde and elements of a shadow government bent on the destruction of all that is righteous and pure and vital to the survival of the rebellion? Simple: Put it on the Wii, and let the shit fall where it may.

It’s not that developer High Voltage did a bad job, or phoned the game in. THE CONDUIT plays as though a lot of care went into its development; from the highly customizable controls to the specular sheen that adorns most metallic surfaces to the detailed textures on the walls and floors, it’s a game that would deserve a spot on anyone’s shelf, if it weren’t hamstrung right out of the box by the very system for which it was developed.

THE CONDUIT would have been a decent enough game in 2002, but today both the ragged-ass resolution and the carpal-tunnel-inducing control schemes bring it to a rubber-wailing halt just short of mediocrity. It’s almost 2010 — try finding a standard-definition TV on a store shelf, and keep the results of your search in mind when putting together a game for Reggie’s pretty white contraption. Ideally, graphics shouldn’t matter as much as they do, but when you’ve milked a console for every drop of eyeball nectar and your game still looks as though it was fingerpainted by a six-year-old using mashed up Froot Loops and a carton of strawberry Quik, something’s awry in hardwareville.

While most people will forgive dodgy visuals if compensated in equal measure with choice gameplay, THE CONDUIT offers neither, and much of that is the fault of the Wii Remote. Keep in mind that in all first-person shooters for the Wii, the player must aim and look using a device for which the primary design philosophy was “don’t intimidate the grandmothers.” Might as well use a slipper and a tube of Ben-Gay to navigate your way around the game.

While it’s far from perfect, the brand of conscientious diligence that went into THE CONDUIT suggests that High Voltage is ready to discard their Crayolas and graduate to the world of watercolor. All they need is a better canvas.

Look for part two next week, as the merciless festivities fall upon us swiftly and without respite.

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Okami (Wii)

A few weeks ago I wrote about the Wii, and noted that two of the system’s best games — Resident Evil 4 and Okami — were cursed with an overeager implementation of Wii Remote function. I guess I was only half wrong; while Resident Evil 4 will never earn a complete play-through on my Wii (I’m not shaking anything in order to run, thank you very much), Okami has been getting buckets of overtime lately, and it turns out that its control is only half cursed.

When it was first released on the Playstation 2 in September of 2006, Okami earned not only its share of critical acclaim, but also a predictable amount of consumer indifference. After all; on the double-y chromosome prison planet of deathmatch, capture-the-flag, teabag-happy, adolescent ambulatory testosterone emitters, who has time for a sumi-e style, artistic action-adventure game in which you play as the Shinto sun goddess Amaterasu incarnated as a white wolf? Who’s going to dedicate thirty-to-forty hours of their lives to a game whose unifying design principle is not one of destruction, but of restoration and renewal? About 330,000 out of a worldwide base of over 140 million Playstation 2 owners, that’s who. (Gears of War, by comparison, has sold 4.7 million copies as of May 2008, with far fewer Xbox 360s installed worldwide.) So whaddaya know, it didn’t sell as well as Capcom had hoped, but it did okay enough to warrant a port to the Wii. Judged by that criteria alone it’s no better or worse than Ninjabread Man or Rebel Raiders.

Okami was developed by the now-defunct Clover Studio, purveyors of the unique-yet-frustrating Viewtiful Joe, its uniquer-yet-frustratinger sequel, and the quirky-yet-craptacular God Hand. Each of these games might accurately be classified as a beat-’em-up, although the Viewtifuls at least possess the distinct virtue of being, you know, good, while God Hand moseys into town and takes up permanent residence at Miss Kitty’s Lodge and Saloon of Everything Shit.

Okami is an amalgamation of all the good and bad from Clover’s previous titles, mostly the good, yet it managed to accomplish that most seemingly insurmountable of all gaming tasks these days; it got me to play my Wii. What’s more, it got me to enjoy a lengthy, fairly deep single-player game on the Wii, with near-flawless utilization of the Wii remote. Indeed, what is this thing called “hope?”

As noted before, most Wii titles desperately try to cram all their input gestures into the Wii Remote, and the result has been an entire library of games in most dire need of a telethon. (Almost a billion and a half dollars have been raised by MDA every Labor Day since 1966, and we can’t get Jerry Lewis anywhere near Dewy’s Advenure? The fuck is up with that?) Forcing the use of the Remote/Nunchuk in a game like Death Jr.: Root of Evil — which might have actually been playable, or God forbid, fun, with the Classic Controller — makes as much sense as it would if Jamba Juice forced their patrons to consume their smoothies with a fork; it might not be the best tool for the job, but since they’ve invested rather heavily in four-pronged polypropylene flatware, you don’t get a choice. Just grab your extra large Mango-a-go-go and your Peanut Buttter Moo’d and get the fork outta here.

The point at which a game has me shaking my controller like Team Chihuahua in the Iditarod is the point where I punt that shivering bitch across the yard and seek a less strenuous pastime, such as hummingbird wrangling or Red Savina tasting. Thankfully, in porting Okami to the Wii Ready at Dawn mostly eschewed the lascivious Remote fixation that keeps other developers sipping at the margarita of mediocrity with spastic, tequila-sloshing abandon, and instead opted for that most elusive nuance of Wii development; subtlety. Mostly.

Ssssausages!

While Okami’s controls are far from perfect, they provide the finest example of what the Wii might become in the hands of a developer concerned with simply making a good game, instead of consistently trying to find a way to justify a gratuitously simple input. Okami uses Remote gestures only for the many Celestial Brush techniques and combat; that’s it. While combat with the Remote is frequently imprecise and sometimes tedious, the Celesital Brush is the finest use of the Remote that I’ve yet seen in a Wii title — sure, it’s often as imprecise as the combat, and on many occasions requires repeatedly drawing the same symbol over again in order to produce the desired result, but if there’s a logical model to which other developers should aspire when designing the Remote-based input for their Wii project, Okami is it.

Some people don’t like to criticize that which is popular out of fear that they might be accused of being unsophisticated, or have their insecurities flayed and exposed to the world for the mass-consumption lemmings to point at and laugh and ridicule at their leisure. While this might not indicate the impending death of objective thought, it certainly sends it an FTD bouquet and inquires about its will.

That said, the Wii remote is poorly designed. I know it’s supposed to entice non-gamers into picking the damn thing up and bowling a few frames with their cronies as they knock back a few Milk of Magnesia cocktails and reminisce about V.E. Day, but frankly, I could give less than a hammered shit about non-gamers. In their fevered haste to invite other folks to the festivities, Nintendo has forgotten about those of us who’ve been here for years, streamers and party hats gripped faithfully at the ready as we’re elbowed to a musty corner of the rec center to make room for the New People With Money. Kind of like when you were a kid and your mother would whip out the good plates and order the fancy takeout because “company’s coming.”

Okami controls as though it were designed for the Wii Remote, but that doesn’t excuse the hardware’s failings; it needs to be completely reworked so that it more closely resembles the Nunchuk while retaining its motion-sensing capability — move the A button to the rear, similar to the C button on the Nunchuk, and group the remaining face buttons (+, -, 1, 2, Menu) in an accessible cluster right beneath the new analog stick so that your hand doesn’t cramp like a bastard after an hour of playing. (Oh, by the way, we’ve added an analog stick.) Give the thing a more hand-friendly shape, again, like the Nunchuk, and we’ll have something we can work with. For crying out loud, the layout of the basic TV remote is nearly sixty years old, and it’s not getting better with age. Why imitate it? To encourage the technologically inept to pick it up and play, of course.

Popularity is the new standard of quality, and though objectivity might not yet be dead, its carnations are wilting and the lawyers are warming up the probate. Nothing can be improved by appealing to the same mass of consumers who’ve turned the nine shitty mini-games in Wii Play into the system’s best-selling title. Nothing.

Hardware should exist to assist the software, not the other way around, and Okami is the perfect example of this principle at work; it was made better by its appearance on the Wii, but it is not defined by it. No doubt a must-buy for Wii owners who are tired of the same old party games and 20-year-old Nintendo retreads.

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