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.

No comments: