This week, I take aim at an easy target: myself. I recently reviewed Sonic CD and was a bit underwhelmed. However, after re-reading the piece, I noticed that most of my criticisms of Sonic CD are equally applicable to Mirror’s Edge. Both games offer fast-paced platformer experiences and both fall victim to some of the same pitfalls brought on by such a combination. I’m on record for calling Mirror’s Edge tragically under appreciated, so I thought it might be a fun thought experiment to compare the two games in hopes of discovering why Mirror’s Edge sprints where Sonic stumbles. Will I be able to defend my own opinions from myself? Let’s find out.
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Platformers can offer a reliable breath of fresh air from the cornucopia of complex and dense games. The exhilaration of moving quickly through a level or mastering skilled jumps with ease is endlessly rewarding. More than this, I love the frequent transparency of platformers and the joy of a well taught lesson.Take Outland for example, an overlooked 2011 release from Housemarque. The game is aptly described as an Ikaruga platformer. The protagonist swaps between emitting a blue and red aura, dodging or absorbing colored bullets while platforming between stages. These distinct colors literally put the mechanics on artistic display, and after an hour of play, even the rate at which hearts drop from enemies becomes predictable. Like numerous adventure games before it, Outland also unlocks locations and abilities gradually to ease players into the world. Ubisoft Montpellier’s Rayman Origins also utilizes such a gradual teaching method with amazing finesse and offers an even better opportunity to explore the risks and rewards of gated learning.
It was a rough weekend for Bay Area football fans. It was an especially rough weekend for Kyle Williams, the San Francisco 49ers’ kick returner. His two unfortunate fumbles were crucial parts of the 49ers’ defeat and the end of their Super Bowl run. Now that the disappointment is starting to wear off, I find myself able to appreciate the disastrous sequence of events in an academic sense. There’s something exciting about a game in which the most carefully designed strategies can be dashed by unforeseen events. Football is a beautiful combination of meticulous planning and implementing those plans under pressure, a description that also apples to most video games.
The strategy game genre has long featured elements that mirror or model colonization, including many of its inhuman components. The Civilization franchise, for example, explores the process of colonization as players settle foreign lands, occupying territory forcibly from “barbarous” natives. Up until Civilization V, the series also included slavery. Perhaps Firaxis removed human bondage from the series to avoid discussing such a sensitive issue distastefully. Sid Meier’s Colonization does the same, which Trevor Owens of Play The Past rightly criticizes: “If someone wants to play a game where they replay the colonization of the Americas shouldn’t they have to think about the history of slavery as well?” (“Sid Meier’s Colonization: Is It Offensive Enough?”, Play The Past, 23 November 2010). Should we shy away from potentially intriguing and evocative historical systems?
Owens makes a compelling argument that Colonization should actually be more offensive. While I agree, this article is not about Colonization. Yet it is about slavery and what a particular game, a board game in fact, can teach us about the risks and rewards of modeling historical events in games.
I’m not yet finished with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and I make a point not to formally review anything that I haven’t finished, so consider this a critique. It’s a critique born of the unorthodox way that I’m playing the game, which is itself the reason that I haven’t finished it yet. For reasons I’m still unclear on, my wife Hanah has expressed interest in Skyward Sword, so we’re doing a quasi-cooperative playthrough. We hand the controller back and forth, I offer hints, and we generally try to stay at about the same level of progress on our respective saves. We make an odd couple: I’m a grizzled Zelda veteran whose played video games his whole life, while Hanah’s a relative novice to the series and more casual devotee to the medium. It’s an unorthodox way to play the game, one that’s driven me towards an unsettling realization: neither one of us is all that happy with the game. This raises the question: Who is Skyward Sword’s audience?