Thursday, July 14, 2011

The evolution paradox

The truth is that I'm a bit of a retro geek. I still got my Super Nintendo and Dreamcast hooked up to the TV, most the "new" games I play are remakes of old classics or new entries in decade old series that gameplay wise are pretty close to being remakes. Yet I have largely had a positive reaction to new creative control inputs such as the DS touch screen and the Wii motion control. This might seem surprising given my more conservative tastes.

What is the explanation for this inconsistency? It might be explained by my Nintendo fanboy-ism, I have certainly been accused of this. But I would argue that the it has more to do with me simply being dissatisfied with direction video games has taken the past two generations. But still playing the same games over and over again gets old. These new control methods allows me to experience my favorite game series in a new way without having them evolve in the direction of shooters or introduce a competitive multiplayer mode.

Take a game like Skyward Sword or to a lesser degree Twilight Princess. The overall design of the Zelda series hasn't really changed since the N64. But the motion control allows the player to interact with this traditional series in an exciting new way without dramatically altering the key game design. Something that fits my tastes perfectly.

The X stands for extreme

Somehow I missed the whole SNES generation of Mega Man games. Luckily there is a fantastic Mega Man X collection for Gamecube. Thanks to it I have spent a few evenings with the first Mega Man X.

At first it really gives the impression of being an 'extreme' version of Mega Man but it quickly conforms to the standard Mega Man formula, even if it is more similar to the later games in the series with Mega Man's extensive abilities. The last two Mega Man games I played were MM9 and 10 which both went back to the very early Mega Man setup without the charge shot or the dash or the slide move. Which was probably because these supposed enhancements never in fact enhanced anything. The charge shot seems nice at first but you soon realize that the enemies health and the difficulty of the boss fight have been recalibrated to take your new stronger weapon in to account. So you are now almost forced in to always run around with a fully charged weapon, which gets annoying. It would have been better to simply leave it out. Also the dash move seems cool at first but ends up taking away from the slow methodical pace I have come to expect from Mega Man games, but then that was probably what Capcom wanted to to with the X series, create a more action filled platformer.

Something I did like however was the wall jump mechanism. Not only did it make the platforming more forgiving it also added a whole new way for Mega Man to interact with the levels. Since I have always felt instant death holes to be a bit cheap in games otherwise using a health bar. The wall jump also allows for the level design to move somewhat away from the very traditional sidescroller layout the series has previously used. So that was very much a welcome addition.

Aside from the way Mega Man controls the classic Robot Masters and the world renowned evil genius Dr. Wily are replaced by animal inspired robots which are now led by the much beefier Sigma. The original cast of bad guys felt like they were taken from a Saturday morning cartoon aimed at 8-year olds, this new cast feels like they comes from a cartoon marketed to 12-year olds. I personally did not like this change at all. The original cast of evil doers always felt charming and completely non-threatening, that really appealed to my tastes in cartoon characters. Gameplay wise figuring out which weapon to use against which boss also seemed to make a lot more sense when the bosses were simple Robots instead of animal robots, which element they were tied to made more sense.

Mega Man, both the character and the whole world surrounding him has always felt very 80's to me and the traditional action-platforming feels typical of the 8-bit hardware. I can see Capcom wanting to move away from this in order for their mascot character to stay relevant. The esthetics has been changed up to be more 'extreme', they even added an X to the title and the gameplay has become faster and more action focused. The problem with this is that I loved the old Mega Man and everything about him. This revamp is still enough like the original series for me to appreciate it and it is interesting to see a new take on the Mega Man formula but it is not what I would call an improvement.