Branching stories are popular in games, but they sometimes don’t make a lot of sense when the game is taken as a whole. Different endings and different outcomes of a choice reflect different themes, but even if each plot thread is meant to stand on its own, they don’t. By virtue of being in the same game, one plot thread affects our perception and interpretation of the other, and sometimes this can make for inconsistent characters and themes.
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Fellow Moving Pixels writer G. Christopher Williams already has a solid claim to the title of “Flash Game Guru.” I can’t compete, but perhaps I can try to stake my claim to a similar title, mine involving Xbox indie games. I’ve written before about some of my favorite indie games on the LIVE Marketplace, so in an attempt to claim my own title, here are three more games from my ever-growing collection of Xbox indie games that I can’t get enough of.
Pixel hunting is considered the bane of adventure gaming. An object you need is only a few pixels in size and it’s hidden within the scenery, so you’re forced to point the mouse cursor at every object onscreen in order to see what you can interact with and what’s just part of the background. It’s the epitome of frustrating, unintuitive, trial-and-error gameplay, a cheap and artificial way of stretching out a game’s length. It’s a system so universally hated that even updates of old adventure titles find ways around pixel hunting: The downloadable special edition of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge includes a button that highlights all interactive objects on the screen, so players can quickly see what’s interactive and what’s not. There’s no need to hunt anything.
But is pixel hunting really that bad? Or is just poorly implemented in most cases? L.A. Noire argues for the latter point by including its own form of pixel hunting, one that fits so naturally within its world that the hunt becomes an integral part of the game and one of its major selling points.
From Dust easily fits into the category of “god game,” though ironically you don’t play as a godly being. You’re a supernatural being, certainly. More speifically, you’re The Breath that can control the elements in small quantities—but you’re far from godly, initially.
I make this claim based on how much of the challenge in From Dust stems from dealing with unintended consequences. You must constantly be aware of how your actions can set off a chain of events within the environment: You create a dirt bridge so some villagers can cross a ravine, then the vegetation grows across that bridge, then a volcano erupts, then the lava sets the vegetation on fire, and the fire burns all the way back to the village, and all the while, you’re watching those initial men and women run across the map on their way to create a new village.
Half-Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax is an effective parody of JRPGs. However, it’s also more than just a parody; it’s a full-fledged JRPG itself, one that falls into all the traps and tropes that it makes fun of and not in a clever wink-to-the-audience kind of way. The title says it all. “Super Mega Neo Climax” is obviously a joke at the expense of the often hyperbolic titles of Japanese shows, but at the same time being part of the title, this is how the game defines itself. It’s not just a parody, it is what it parodies; it’s quite literally a parody of itself.