7/10/13: “Humble Weekly Sale: Two Tribes”: 3 games for $3. I bought for EDGE, which I played for a couple hours shortly thereafter. The other two I had not played until now.
• EDGE (2008–11): Mobigame (Paris, France) / Two Tribes (Amersfoort, Netherlands) [9 hrs]
• Toki Tori (2001/2008–10): Two Tribes (Amersfoort, Netherlands) [20 hrs]
EDGE is a genial “op-art cosmos” headspace, the sort of thing that was particularly prevalent in games in the 80s (EDGE bills itself as “retro”) but, like all true psychedelia, is actually timeless. The point of this kind of space is just to be in it, so it’s fitting that this is as much a ride as a game. For me it’s one of the primary colors of fantasy: wandering around the playground of the geometric infinite, watching inscrutable cubic doodads doing their thing. EDGE isn’t uniformly rewarding, but it delivers that fantasy with great care and polish, so I’m content. I treasure my inner Marble Madness and am grateful to have it serviced. (I approve of the music, too.)
Toki Tori is an archetypal “puzzle platformer.” Despite how it may appear, it gets genuinely very difficult. It’s a remake of a design from the old days of tight resource constraints, and it retains some of the invigorating leanness of that era. The player understands that all the cutesy-poo is just a front for something essentially stern and unbending. In fact the trickiness comes off as all the more diabolical, dressed up in sheep’s clothing as it is. This genre tends toward pointless padding, but Toki Tori is admirably unrepetitive. Many of the solutions have that desirable quality of “hiding in plain sight.” What separates Toki Tori from a truly first-rate puzzle game like Stephen’s Sausage Roll is principally that the layouts have not always been sufficiently streamlined, which means that in the most complex puzzles there are a lot of pointless false paths. I ended up peeking at the first steps of online solutions many times, just as a way of reducing the number of variables.
• RUSH (2010): Two Tribes (Amersfoort, Netherlands)
RUSH combines all the elements of the above two games — cosmic cubes and a batch of pure puzzles — but it’s not as satisfying as either of them. Puzzle games are like spas: the whole point is to put you in a certain state of mind, so all the little superficial stuff matters. RUSH bugged me in seemingly unimportant ways, and yet what else is there? The system for testing solutions doesn’t have the VCR-style controls I intuitively wanted; it isn’t as easy to deal with the 3D structures as it ought to be; the sparkly commotion in the background is off-putting; the music is lame; it takes too long to watch the solutions play out; et cetera. Too bad, because the puzzles themselves are fine. Well, maybe.
8/27/13: “Humble Origin Bundle”: 10 games for $4.95. Big-budget mainstream ones, too. I had not played any of them until now.
• Dead Space (2008): EA Redwood Shores (Redwood City, CA) [played for 1 hr]
• Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box (2008–09): Criterion Games (Guildford, Surrey, UK) [played for 3.5 hrs]
Dead Space is, like so many other games, Alien. As I’ve said before, I only sort of understand this phenomenon. Why does it have to be Alien again and again? Why this claustrophobia above all others? In this instance, the horrible-monsters-haunting-the-creaky-derelict-industrial-spaceship happen to be gooey stretchy incoherent mutations, in the style of The Thing, which I personally find a little too truly repellent to enjoy as “horror.” Nonetheless I still wanted to try Dead Space. It’s regarded as “big-budget popcorn action done right,” and I’m attracted to the idea of just about anything being done right. As soon as it started I could immediately tell this was going to be some grade-A blockbuster junk food. But having played the whole first level and had abominations of flesh BLAAAGH!!! jump out of the darkness at me repeatedly (and having then gunned them into gross heaps of spurting goreflesh), I recognized that what I was experiencing was not really any form of pleasure — pride, maybe (“look at me, coping with this!”), but not pleasure — so I stopped. As usual in these situations I kind of wish there were a way to explore the world and play out the story, just without all the BLAAAGH. But there ain’t.
Burnout Paradise is a dreamlike driving game in which a full-scale realistic city contains no humans, only cars, and all wanton destruction is magically set right once it’s out of sight, so crash and smash what you will. I’ve never gravitated to driving games but to my surprise this one charmed me. Perhaps I’ll even return to it from time to time. I’ve always liked the spaces in games above all and this game seems to concur; there are nominally races and stuff to do, if you choose, but at heart it’s just a free-range playground. Everything about the experience is subordinated to the expansive, meticulously imagined fake American city itself, which rolls by with splendid geographic fullness. Jumping your car off cliffs to try to smash through billboards and land on bridges turns out to feel like a natural way of reveling in the landscape. Yee-haw!