dorchadas: (Kirby Walk)
For a game that seems mostly forgotten and whose legacy only survives through cameos in the Kirby games, I got a big response to Adventures of Lolo when I posted a screenshot of a level on Facebook. I never played it as a child, but I looked at the images in Nintendo Power published as part of the Counselor's Corner and thought it sounded like a lot of fun. And like so many other games I saw in Nintendo Power, I stuck it in the back of my mind, carried it through the years, and waited until I got a chance to play it. It's worth it.

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dorchadas: (Kirby sweatdrop)
Capsule review: The beginning half an hour of Antichamber was one of the best puzzle games I have ever played, and then I got the first gun and it all went to shit.

Okay, that's a bit harsh. Maybe more like, "and it turned into Portal but not as good."

For background, Antichamber is kind of like Portal except with more non-Euclidean geometry and being inside an Escher painting. Making three lefts is not always the equivalent of making a right. Backtracking down a corridor does not always take you back to your starting point. You can fall down for a thousand meters and climb one flight of steps and arrive back at the floor where you fell from. That kind of thing. None of that was a problem, and indeed, it was actually really great. One of my favorite RPG scenarios ever is Night Floors by Dennis Detwiller, which has as its setting a house with similar properties, and based on the videos I saw of the game before I played it, I kept calling Antichamber "Night Floors: the Game." And that's not an inaccurate assessment, though Antichamber has fewer insane people in it.

In the beginning, you're just dumped into the world of Antichamber with no explanation and no understanding of what to do, and you have to learn how the world works as you go along. There are a lot of puzzles with incredibly simple solutions that require lateral or out-of-the-box thinking, helped along by signs with aphorisms like "The choice doesn't matter if the outcome is the same" or "Life is full of ups and downs" or "Raw persistence may be the only option other than giving up entirely." All of the signs have some relation to the puzzle they appear near, though it might not be the most obvious relation and may require some thought. Then, after passing through several trials and twisting your brain around itself, you find the first of the guns that let you manipulate the blocks you've seen here and there.

The problem with this is that now that you can move blocks around, block puzzles show up. That's bad enough, but the real problem is that there are multiple kinds of guns, each of which can manipulate blocks in different ways, and you need each gun to get the next color of gun. That's the classic Metroidvania formula, and usually I love Metroidvania games, but I don't think it works here.

The reason the first part of the game is so great is because you know that every single puzzle is solvable. You can bang your head against the wall for a while, but if you can't progress you know that it's just because you're approaching it the wrong way, or you're concentrating too much on the surface of the problem without looking at it from multiple angles, or because you haven't thought of some trick that's necessary to progress. You can go everywhere--you just need to think about it the right way.

But once you get the gun, you realize that's not actually true, and that some problems simply can't be solved without the advanced abilities of the later guns. The whole game becomes limited and a lot of it is just a tedious exercise in moving blocks from place to place. Sure, you still can't approach everything straight on, but more often it's just a question of where to move the blocks and how to get them through the fields that prevent you from transporting them with your gun than in interacting with the strangeness of the world.

The entrance room--the antechamber, if you will--does deserve some praise, though. When you start the game, you're in a black room with white lines, and several walls are blank. As you play the game, one wall fills in with the various pictures you find throughout the game, and the other wall is a map. Rooms that you have found all the exits from are distinguished from rooms that still have secrets, dead ends and exits to other areas of the map are marked, and you can teleport back to the entrance room at any time. It makes leaping around to go to different areas or resetting puzzles that you've screwed up much easier than any other Metroidvania or puzzle game I've played before, and while Antichamber's particular conceits make this an easier mechanic to integrate here than it would be in, say, Metroid, it'd be nice if they could find a way. One of the most aggravating and time-consuming parts of any Metroidvania is the running all over the place trying to find the place you need to use your newfound powers at.

It took me around five hours to beat, so half an hour of fantastic and the rest of an adequate puzzle game that honestly wasn't terrible, but the brillance of the opening made it look worse than it might be. I bought it at 75% off, and at that price it's certainly worth it. At the very least, play until you get the first gun, and if you find it tedious and boring, set it aside. You've finished the best part.
dorchadas: (Grue)
Yeah, I'm mostly late to the party when it comes to video gaming.

I just beat Limbo literally seconds ago, after playing it over the last two days. As people told me, it's not that long at all--my time played on Steam is three hours, and that includes some time I had it alt-tabbed while I was doing something else at the time. The actual time necessary to beat the game is maybe 2/3rds of that, since I spent a lot of time dead, dying, or respawning.

That's my major complaint about the game--it is entirely based on trial and error. The developers even call it a "trial and death" game, which as good a capsule summary as I've ever seen. Typically there's no warning at all for when your next horrific death will occur, and you have to run over unstable ground and pull unknown switches and jump into pits without knowing what's below in the knowledge that at least Limbo has an extensive checkpoint system and you'll never be further back than one puzzle. Despite being occasionally annoyed with the next sudden death out of nowhere, there was only one section that I was annoyed at the place where I respawned, and it was just because there was a particular puzzle I didn't like.

I guess in that aspect, it's a lot like Super Meat Boy. The levels in Limbo are longer, but the distance between each individual checkpoint is about the same as the distance covered in a single Super Meat Boy level. On the other hand, Super Meat Boy demands a lot more on-point precision than Limbo does. The number of puzzles where you have to get everything right to the fraction of a second is very low and all of them are concentrated in the second half of the game. Usually, the pace is pretty leisurely, and I was lulled into a false sense of what the game was actually going to be about while I wandered through a shadowed forest until I stepped on a bear trap and my poor pre-teen shadow boy was mutilated to death. That clued me in to how the game worked real quick.

Speaking of the forest, Limbo is gorgeous:

That's one of my pictures. The one a couple paragraphs above is from the Internet, and if you like those a Google search will turn up plenty more. The entire game is cast in light and shadow, with most of the background in soft focus, leading to a kind of odd dreamlike feel. Which is just as well, because when you think too hard about it, you realize that you're getting a pre-teen shadow boy killed in dozens of hideous ways over the course of the game. The name of the game kind of implies the plot--your character died, and woke up in Limbo and now has to get out, or at least get somewhere else--but there's no dialogue and nothing is ever explained. There are a few hints that one can discover through the other characters in the game, if they can be called characters when they show up briefly and never say anything, and the setting. The first half is a forest, there's a brief primitive village in the middle, and the second half is more of an industrial/factory setting with spinning gears and levers and electricity.

I liked the first half a lot more than the second half. I think the art style complimented the forest setting a lot more than the factory, since soft focus and hazy background details fit better when you're surrounded by trees that are filtering out some of the light than when you see neon signs or unknown structures in the distance. The first half, with the pools and half-abandoned villages and shadowy figures barely seen and the giant spider, is far more sinister to me than the lonely factory. Even though I know it's all metaphorical, I still run into the same problem I run into with dungeons in RPGs, where I wonder who built this thing and why it's full of so many traps that anyone who actually lived there would die half a dozen times on the way to the bathroom in the morning. The main reason I didn't like the factory as much is just the loneliness, though. Shadowy half-seen figures are more interesting than spinning blades and falling crates. It wasn't enough to actively made the game bad, because the basic gameplay doesn't change. You're just dodging electric floors instead of thrown spears.

If the trial-and-error gameplay doesn't bother you, Limbo is a great puzzle platformer. Definitely recommended.

I'm still alive!

2007-Oct-31, Wednesday 19:55
dorchadas: (Enter the Samurai)

WTF is he talking about? )


dorchadas: (Default)

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