Galaxy out – Back to the roots (not THE roots)

June 25, 2010

Just recently, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released, the sequel to one of the critically best-received video game-titles ever. And just as its predecessor, SMG2 is as fantastic. Well, almost. Some mean-minded people called SMG2 a “mission disc for SMG1”, complaining about its similar nature. But while it´s true that all the basics are the same, almost each and every mission of SMG2 offers a new challenge that hadn´t been seen before. But I have to admit: A hypothetical Super Mario Galaxy 3 would probably bore me.

Imagination at its extreme

Two 3D-Mario-games, both of the highest quality that can be met in this industry. But nearing SMG2´s end, I couldn´t help but think that a lot of those galaxies featured a very similar style, be it the gameplay or simply the visual premise. Not only that, but SMG1´s ending was by far superior to SMG2´s. Here, you just keep playing and playing, and suddenly it´s all over. Whereas in SMG1, the game really pushed a a whole firework into the player´s face, celebrating the finale of that grand piece of gaming. Still, SMG2 managed to build on SMG1´s strengths, such as not to overuse items. And it certainly one-upped the difficulty to please “hardcore”-gamers. Two fantastic games. But now it´s time for something new. Or should I say: Something old again.

Let me assure you that I know that most gamers consider SMG to be the “new” entry in Mario-evolution that they wanted to happen to the Zelda-series as well. I, however, think differently. And I already wrote an article on that. SMG isn´t new at all. It took the nature of 2D-Mario´s gameplay and perfectly mixed it into 3D-Mario´s basics; thus resulting in the linear, short and fun missions we all know by now. But that´s neither new, nor is it the only option for the Mario-franchise.

Exploring Isla Delfina - Fun without direction

It could be argued that Mario 64´s focus on adventure and exploration wasn´t very Mario-esque, but that´s far in the past. Now, I like that style. I loved Mario 64 when it came out, and, while featuring some reeeally annoying missions, I also loved Mario Sunshine. I loved it because it offered me such big places to explore, jump around, climb upon and find out secrets just about everywhere. Isla Delfino was a super fun place to run around. In both this game and Mario 64, missions weren´t always as clear as in the Galaxy-games. Sure, you were always given a certain objective, but you could also stray away from the original path and explore the level – only to find out that there´s another star to get. It´s this non-linear structure that made 3D-Marios so much fun back then. I very well remember the times when I started Mario 64 or Mario Sunshine only to run around the island or castle. The same can´t be said about Galaxy 1 and 2, where both hubs are completely devoid of secrets.

So, after having greatly enjoyed two of the best Mario-games, it´d be nice to see something new, something fresh: A return to 3D-Mario´s roots. Give me one big, open world to explore. Considering that a new home console-Mario might see its release on the next Nintendo-system, with all the extra power Nintendo could even attempt to create a completely seamless world, without any “levels”. We got the extreme of 2D. Now show us the extreme of 3D, Nintendo.

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Gaming now and Gaming then – A Story of Despair

December 21, 2009

Never before did I feel as disconnected from the industry I love as I do right now.

When I take a look at what kind of games people choose as their “game of the year“, I can only think of how ridiculous that choice is. Don´t get that wrong, different people have different opinions and that is okay. But it is the whole combination, the whole package that makes it that unbearable for someone like me. Be it goty-votes, hype for certain games or reactions of the media press…it makes me feel disconnected.

When I was in the prime of my gaming life, gaming was about colorful, varied gaming experiences. There were great games from every kind of genre in every kind of visual style. The gaming industry I remember featured a combination of Turok, James Bond, Pokemon, Zelda, V-Rally, Secret of Mana, Resident Evil and so on. When I take a look at the kind of games that were hyped this year and are about to receive their goty-awards, all I see are “cool”, so-called mature, super-linear, cinematic games. You have different settings, but all you do in these games is shoot enemies, all happening in realistic looking visuals. Basically, the emphasis seems to stray away from gameplay farther and farther. Gameplay doesn´t matter anymore. A game has to look great, have a “cool” story and characters that give off snarky comments all the time. But it totally doesn´t matter if the gameplay is on the level of some kind of mini game. I just finished Modern Warfare 2 on its highest difficulty setting, and the game is a joke. Google “Moorhuhnjagd” and you know what Modern Warfare 2 felt like.

A lot of modern, self-proclaimed hardcore-gamers praise games like Modern Warfare 2 for their cinematic approach. They don´t, however, realize that they´re not even playing a game anymore, or at least veer away from what originally was a game at full speed.

If you followed this blog you´d know that I have this vision of a complex, big open-world adventure-game. In my vision that game is and will be a Zelda-title. But tonight I thought about which titles on the HD-systems actually offer such kind of games. You know, these HD-systems for the so hardcore gamers, these mature people. And when I finished thinking I got my answer: None. Neither Bioshock, Assasins Creed, Uncharted 2, Killzone, Halo, Gears of War, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 5 or GTA4 are such games. They´re all super linear games, some offering more, some less optional stuff that, in the end, doesn´t matter anyway. To make this clear: THERE IS NO BIG ACTION-ADVENTURE GAME ON THE HD-SYSTEMS!

It may be just me, but there was a time when action-adventures, my favorite genre for many obvious reasons, was the most popular and saw a lot of entries. It wasn´t just Zelda, but games like Eternal Darkness, Starfox Adventures, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, Beyond Good and Evil, and many others. None of these games lived through its visuals or its story. These games were great because of their atmosphere and the highly interactive gameplay. How great it felt in Eternal Darkness being able to cut aim at whatever part of the enemy´s body. How great it was to fly to whatever planet you liked to in Starfox Adventures. Not to mention all the possibilities in past Zelda-games. This kind of video game has vanished. The death of  interactive video games is accompanied by the jubilation of blinded gamers.

And that may be the reason why I feel so lost in this time of the history of video games. It is no longer the game that counts, it´s the wrapping that decides over success. And unlike many other times, it´s not just some magazine, professional´s website or publisher that´s at fault. It´s the so-called gamer himself that welcomes this new age of video gaming. In a world where a game like Bayonetta is hyped and gets perfect scores, I just don´t know what to think anymore. If you disagree with me about all that, then it´s maybe for the best if you never read any of my reviews for FlyingFisch. In the world of video games, it is the gamers´ biggest sin that they ignored WiiSports Resort. And while the masses rejoice over linear, movie-like experiences, I wait for Zelda Wii, and only Zelda Wii. Because no other game even tries to go for the golden nugget called “interactivity” anymore.