Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Getting Your Money's Worth

Recently, I purchased The Maw for Xbox Live Arcade. The demo was quite charming, and I was eager to have a new game to play on the platformer-starved Xbox 360. From first glance, one could tell that The Maw had some exceptional production values, and the characters were endearing and attractive. Eagerly, I paid my 800 MS points ($10) and got to playing. Three hours later, I had beaten the game with 100% completion and all but one of the achievements.

Needless to say, I felt cheated.

I know the whole "games are expensive to make!" argument. I hear it every time someone complains of a game being too short, easy, etc. I could probably stomach such talk when it involves some forty-hour epic that enthralls you for hours each time you play. The Maw, sadly, is the exact opposite. Its paltry eight levels can be beaten with 100% completion in under three hours, and once you finish the game, there's no reason at all to go back. None of the stages are particularly clever in design, and there are no secrets, extra items, or anything of the sort to find. You literally see EVERYTHING on your first playthrough. Even the achievements (save one that requires you to play at four separate times in a day) can all be done in one sitting. Hardly worth the purchase price.

Even worse, developer Twisted Pixel has now announced that it will be selling three additional levels via Xbox Live for a hundred points each. This gives the impression that almost a third of the game was left behind to inflate the replay value of what would otherwise be a "play once and toss" affair. Such nickel-and-dime tactics really annoy me, and I won't b buying the levels, achievements included or not.

So what excuse is there now? The game is short, not particularly deep or involving, and a third of it was withheld to be sold separately. Should I just throw up my arms and say "what do you expect for $10?" No, I should be annoyed that the demo, which was so enticing and enjoyable, failed to show a game that was all flash and no substance. The latter, it would seem, comes for an extra price.

If a developer can't afford to release a game, perhaps it's best that nothing should be released at all. I don't want to be sold part of a game now and then have to buy the rest little by little. Why not just sell the whole thing for $15, like Castle Crashers (a much better value and game overall)? I really liked The Maw, and my anger mostly stems from being denied more of it for the price. Platformers are traditionally not as deep as most other genres, and a lack of length can outright kill one after the initial novelty has worn off.

Interviewed during the game's development, Mike Henry of Twisted Pixels commented on what distinguishes The Maw from other games. "The big thing we wanted to push with it was personality. So, I would say that even over and above the actual mechanics of the game and all that, we wanted to make sure it was a memorable experience for the players because they got attached to the characters, and they wanted to know more about the characters, and would be sad when the game was over because they don’t get to continue the adventure with the characters anymore."

He was right, in a sense. I did get attached to the characters and was sad when the game ended. Unfortunately, that was because the game was over by the time I really got to like them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


This past holiday season was spent playing - and beating - Infinite Undiscovery, a cookie-cutter JRPG that was fun, if you still like that sort of game. Since I've been playing them so long, I can still enjoy the clich├ęd and boring characters, random battles, tedious grinding, and stale plot. The Xbox 360 has received some choice selections over the past year or so, but lately I've found myself wondering just how much longer I can stand the genre.

Dragon Quest VIII
was a great game, filled with awesome visuals and a huge and interesting world. With that in mind, I dove head-first into Blue Dragon, and I still haven't been able to wash the taste from my mouth. The game itself wasn't that bad, but the achievement distribution was simply horrible. Now, I'm something of an achievement whore (check my gamercard on the right!), and I find them to be neat little ways to entice me to get as much out of a game as possible. That is, when they're done right. Some games, like the recently-beaten Assassin's Creed, had them well distributed, in ways that didn't force players too hard to find them but that weren't obtuse either. Blue Dragon threw all that completely out the window and offered achievements that were downright stupid. For example, you beat the game with your characters at around level 62, but the game has achievements for leveling up each character to level 99. Why? Why on Earth would I spend hours grinding over 30 more levels for a 15 point achievement, especially when it has no bearing on the game itself?

Eternal Sonata, another JRPG and one with perhaps the most obnoxious character designs I've ever seen (I hate you Beat, HATE YOU!), is just as guilty. There are music sheets to be collected, and some don't appear until your second playthrough. WTF? I have to play the whole game from scratch a second time just to get some dumb papers? Why?

Most recently, Infinite Undiscovery hit the stupid ball out of the park. An awesomee game with some bland character designs, it too has a multiple playthrough achievement, but even Eternal Sonata has to stand back and say "DAMN!" at just how stupid it is. Check this out: you have to play through the whole game THREE times to get a special boss in a dungeon that's half a dozen levels long with no save. And the achievement for beating her?

Worth a single point. Yep, 1 measly point.

There are other moronic grinding achievements as well, but this one just takes the cake. I beat the game and did maybe one or two more before quitting, and I'll never go back to finish up the achievements in any of these games. With Lost Odyssey sitting on my shelf, waiting for some playtime, I'm loathe to check its achievement list for fear of being assaulted with yet more stupidity.

It's now well known that Japan is about a decade behind the West in game design. Must it lag in achievement distribution too?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kickin' ASSassin's Creed

I bought this one a while ago pretty cheap, and it's been sitting on my shelf, mired in my Pile of Shame (more like Heap 'O Humiliation) for months. After finally beating Infinite Undiscovery, I decided to tackle it, and I must admit, this game is awesome. The combat is a little hit-or-miss (ha!), but the ambiance is spot-on, and the cities are simply gorgeous and alive. Seriously, I think Grand Theft Auto IV is the only other game I've seen that has been able to bring a major metropolis to life so truly realized. Everything is just stunning, and each of the three cities have a life of their own. There's also no end to the fun of tossing guards off of rooftops!

I'm almost done (just some flag achievements left to mop up), and I can say that I eagerly await the sequel. Ubi Soft has a habit of releasing some great-but-glitchy games, and Assassin's Creed is par for the course, but rest assured that I will definitely wet my blade with the blood of the guilty once more when the sequel finally comes out.

In other news, I recently started freelancing for The Next Level, an enthusiast site much like GotNext was, but much older and larger in size. Chris "bahn" Scantleberry enticed me to write again by dangling under my nose the sweet carrot that is Saints Row 2, as well as the latest Spyro game for the kiddies. Check out the review to see why you should definitely pick up Volition Inc.'s latest and greatest game.