January 5, 2017

Game log 12/16

Only two games played this month. My head was elsewhere.

Continuing with “Humble Indie Bundle 9,” purchased 9/23/13. Six games remain.

Mark of the Ninja (2012): Klei Entertainment (Vancouver, BC) [13 hrs]

As I’ve said before, game genres are defined in dumb ways. Here we have an example of the “stealth” genre, which basically means any game where you hide a lot. Could be a 2D game, could be a 3D game, could be based on puzzles, could be based on story, could be based on fighting, doesn’t matter. It’s one of those “genres” defined by its attitudinal emphasis, like “horror” — which nonetheless get listed in uneasy parallel alongside genres like “1st-person shooter” and “graphic adventure.” (Could there be a “stealth 1st-person shooter”? Sure; there are plenty. Mix and match.)

I actually wish there were more attitudinal genres in circulation — like “anger” games, and “power fantasy” games. If Steam tagged such things I would be grateful for the guidance. They do sometimes indicate “exploration” games, which is my cup of tea. I would also seek out “fantasy of clarity and order” games. I guess that’s most games.

Anyway, according to the Steam tag system, Mark of the Ninja is a Stealth • Platformer • Ninja • Indie • 2D • Action • Singleplayer • Side Scroller • Adventure. It seems like “Stealth” (or, I guess, “Ninja”) was the conscious intention, and the rest of that stuff is just what fell into place reflexively. Basically, an animated ninja hangs from ceilings, hides behind things, and quietly impales people when they walk by — or doesn’t: your call. (I didn’t like seeing people get impaled so I tried to keep it to a minimum.)

The basic mechanical ideas are compelling — throw darts to break light fixtures and darken rooms so that you can move around unseen; make noises to distract patrolling guards, then get behind them and duck under floor gratings before they turn around, etc. etc. — but the level design is pretty monotonous. Most of the pleasures that the system has to offer have been used up by the fourth or fifth level. Then there are eight more levels.

“Give me experiences, not systems!” I shout yet again. A system is always a means to an end. Seems like these designers worked hard on the means and then just threw an end together. I suspect that pressure to make the game long enough to sell for $14.99 was also a factor in making it feel so drawn out. (Even at 10-20 hours it’s still considered a “short” game.) As a latecomer who only spent about $0.70, I personally would have been much happier with a dense, satisfying 4-hour version. Plenty of time to see all the goodies and do each trick a couple times.

Also, this is a game by the same people who made Shank, and it has some of the same hollow-shell ComicCon feel to it; the commitment to being kickass grotesquely outpaces the commitment to the characters and the story. These are artists fundamentally driven by a compulsion to be derivative. This too is a greater sin over 13 hours than it would have been over 4.

Eets Munchies (2014): Klei Entertainment (Vancouver, BC) [played for 1 hr]

This is exactly what it looks like: yet another cutesy-poo iteration on the old Incredible Machine and Lemmings ideas from 25 years ago, with fake Django Reinhardt to hammer home the point that this is a classy joint and a good time is being had by all.

It comes from the same studio as the last game; I imagine they threw it into the bundle as a way of advertising it… FOR YOU SEE this is actually an iPad game, and the bundle only included a computer version. If I really liked it and wanted it on my iPad where it belongs, I’d have to buy it like anyone else. Sure, you can play it on a computer — my one hour is proof of that — but it’s like eating bread with a spoon. I already addressed all this when I got Splot in an earlier Humble Bundle, which was the same thing.

At the time of purchase this was just a “beta” but within a year the full game had been released. It’s also a remake of a game from 2006; presumably these guys saw the success of Cut the Rope in 2010 and thought, “hey, we made that game already! But ours wasn’t as big a success, I guess because it wasn’t as slick-looking. Okay, let’s do it again but slick-looking.” But of course you can’t retroactively be the ones to strike gold. Cut the Rope is still the big winner, not this thing.

Cut the Rope is also more elegant and satisfying in every way. The puzzles I solved in this, the first 50 or so, weren’t that hot. If this looks like fun to you, check out competing best-seller Cut the Rope!

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