Where a story needs to give its characters the abilities to accomplish their goals, a videogame needs to directly translate those skills into mechanics players use to overcome every obstacle in their way. Both mediums use tools that challenge characters, one of the most powerful of which is creating a rival that fiercely stands in opposition to their primary mission. In 2009, Rocksteady Studios fully translated one of pop culture’s greatest characters into a videogame and pitted him against his equally well-established foil. By locking Batman and The Joker inside Gotham’s mental-clinic-turned-prison, Batman: Arkham Asylum brilliantly explores one of culture’s greatest rivalries over one long night.Continue reading “Psychoanalyzing Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Multiple Personalities”
Devil May Cry may be revered for merging fighting game’s pugilist science with brawler’s crowd management, but it was driven by its arcade-inspired scoring system. Dedicated fans can easily spend dozens of hours honing their skills against the game’s difficult enemies and massive bosses, all to improve their final scores. With DMC3, Hideaki Itsuno expanded the single player fighting game’s combat and worked in replayable missions. When that amazing foundation jumped to the PS3 and Xbox360 for the fourth release, Itsuno could further distill the series down into an arcade experience and offer new characters for those chasing that high score high. Let’s look at how it succeeds.
On Characterizing Potential
Devil May Cry 3’s first fight between the twins Dante and Vergil is set at the highest point of a large tower jabbing from the Earth, lit by the full moon. The differences between the brothers’ fighting styles are as striking as their fashion senses, the hot-headed Dante in his red trench coat unleashing his Rebellion sword and dual pistols a contrast to the cool-as-ice Vergil in his blue jacket and air slicing katana, Yamato. The two rivals clash swords and exchange gunfire, taking advantage of any opening in the other’s defense to chop ‘em down. And then they flaunt their success with a cool taunt, unconcerned by the time it takes to mock their opponent. Every second of this brawl is intense and fast, and, by product of the game’s design, requires the player to fully realize the personalities of the sons of the legendary demon warrior Sparda.
Even after the snow had melted on the harsh planet E.D.N. III, Thermal Energy is such a scarce commodity that the scattered human factions are still locked in a brutal war for its reserves, a conflict that further leaves them vulnerable to attacks from the insectroid race of Akrids native to the land. Of course, when a load of T-Eng is being transported by train, a worm-like beast attacks that is so massive, it dwarfs the four people that are forced to fight it back, even with the racks of weapons littered about. As it takes out the rear cars and any player left behind, the only thing that can counter its immense size is the cumulative strength of those standing against it, all focusing their fire into its mouth and tender insides. And when the worm finally falls, the group makes off with the spoils. With its in-mission economy, Lost Planet 2 portrays an ecological system reminiscent of Frank Herbert’s Dune, showing that, on E.D.N., every second is a fight to survive. It’s a metaphor ripped from the history books of every life form that’s ever lived.
Lights Down, Curtain’s Up
Bayonetta’s prologue starts conservatively, with a nun clad in white quietly praying over a grave. It primes the world’s Victorian aesthetics with a puritanical morality up front that wouldn’t fool anyone who had seen even the box art. That a flock of angels descend from heaven and cut off her clothes to reveal the scantily-clad Umbran Witch underneath who lithely dances around shooting them in the head is perhaps the proper way to open the show.
On my third infiltration into Ground Zeroes’ Camp Omega, I found an electrical panel that allowed me to cut the power to the surrounding facility, disabling all the lights and the several security cameras so I could quietly rescue the prisoner at its belly. It was the latest in dozens of exploitable gameplay options built into Omega that proved it was a dynamic, multi-faceted place that enabled and rewarded a variety of playstyles. The first game powered by the Fox Engine, GZ introduces players to the new levels of agency offered in the second part of the Metal Gear Solid V saga, The Phantom Pain; ideas that evolve the classic Metal Gear design. Continue reading “The Disembodied Soul of Ground Zeroes”
Asura’s Wrath contains one of the most brilliant player-directed narrative sequences in videogames; a fist fight. The two brawlers dance about the screen, one trying desperately to explain his actions to the other among a flurry of attacks. To evade them, the player must nail the timing for the increasingly frequent on-screen button prompts as any mistake is punished with a fist to the face, interrupting the dialogue and completely ending the conversation.
The Japanese ad for The Saint’s Flow Energy Drink shows Pierce, the hip and youthful face of the Third Street Saints brand division, being mercilessly beaten on a basketball court by armed punks. The situation looks bleak, until an anthropomorphized purple can of Saints Flow descends from heaven and gives him the strength to throw off his attackers, unleash a savage volley of fists, kicks and a clothesline before shooting a Ryu-style fireball from his hands and closing out the performance by atomic dunking a basketball that appeared out of nowhere to a shower of neon stars. The Third Streets Saint’s lifestyle has been canned and is ready to be swallowed.
The history of the game once known as Metal Gear Solid: Rising is fascinating. When Kojima Productions Raiden-focused MGS spinoff ran into development troubles, it was passed along to Platinum Games to apply their over the top character action specialties. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance fuses both development house’s sensibilities into a whole that only offers hints at their respective strengths while highlighting the deficiencies of each and the inherent problems that result when you bring them together.
At its heart, Revengeance is absolutely Platinum’s brand of character action all the way from the quick and violent combat to the diverse moveset. But in trying to grant control of the super agile post-MGS4 lightning god as he fights against the Desperados PMC and its band of ‘Winds of Destruction’ cyborgs, the game has had to make some choices that have hurt itself in the long run.
Mega Man 9 fixed Mega Man by distilling the Blue Bomber’s staid gameplay to its essentials: moving and shooting. By striving to limit itself to the restrictions of twenty year old hardware, Inti Creates game highlights how bogged down with its own design the series core gameplay had become over its evolution. What they made is a long lost NES game.
The story immediately sets the tone in sprites full of personality. Having again been defeated by our blue hero, Dr. Wily swears off his evil ways. But its not long before the residents of Monsteropolis are in danger from a collection on renegade robots again. But its Wily that steps up to protect the city, claiming innocence and insisting the robots were created by the good-natured Dr. Light. To clear his name, Mega Man heads out.