Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Even I have a limit.

After I finished No More Heroes 2:Desperate Struggle on its easy "Sweet" mode, I thought that I would give Suda51's American debut, Killer7, another try.   I had heard so much about it before I played it, and had agonized over purchasing it several times but had passed over it in favor of more action-friendly titles like Devil Kings, Sengoku Basara, and Ghost Squad.  Once I finally purchased it, I played about as far as the first puzzle and stopped.  My kids clamored for me to put Pikmin back in the Game Cube so that they could watch it.  It's more soothing and pastoral than Killer7.  Killer7's visuals, although mostly flat-shaded polygons reminiscent of Star Fox for Super Nintendo and the old I,Robot arcade game from 1983, still have some appeal since they were done with so much style.  The sound design is good, and the story is wacky enough that even Twin Peaks and Lost fans need to actively pay attention.  Sadly, it's not enough.

I had been reminded before that bad controls can ruin a game.  I wasn't that excited about Resident Evil 2 at the time that it came out, because the loading screen between rooms and the tank controls were a big turnoff, especially with having to fend off zombies.  Even though RE2 had made big improvements over the first game, it wasn't enough for me to want to play it because during the few instances where combat was required, I felt totally ineffective.  Since one of the two characters you play as in RE2 is a cop, you would think that feeling ineffective would be a bad thing.  The designers played it off by saying that the control scheme increased the player's fear, making something that was only slightly scary somewhat scarier.  For me, that wasn't it.  It was feeling like I wasn't really controlling the character that kept my immersion level in the game pretty low.  I liked the story and the characters, and I even played the Resident Evil light shooter game Dead Aim, since you could actually aim at your targets in a useful way.  When Resident Evil 4 came out, I thought that most of the problems that I had with the controls had been fixed.  When I tried to show RE4 to my buddies, however, they viewed the game in the context of first-person shooters and were annoyed that you couldn't strafe or even shoot while moving.  I was too excited about an over-the-shoulder camera to care at that point.  The Wii version of RE4 did me one better by allowing direct aiming with the Wiimote. (Awesome!)  So, I was immersed in the game sufficiently.

Now, let's go back to Killer7.  Moving the character in that game is mapped to what normally would be the action buttons for a Gamecube game, A and B.  A to go forward, B to turn around.  Any feeling of directly controlling the character with the... , controller, goes away.  You only use the analog stick to aim while shooting, or to pick a direction to walk when there is more than one way to go. Like Resident Evil, you can only shoot when stationary, and you to have to use the R trigger to ready your weapon (which is oddly similar to RE4). Add to this that most enemies are invisible until 'scanned' with the L button, and it starts getting a little silly.  So, the controls are wacky to me, and I'm never really 'in' the game.  The other disconcerting thing is that the other members of the Killer7, the group that your character is part of, have unique abilities, and you have to run back to a save room to switch when you need to use that ability, and it's another thing that takes you out of the game.  In the majority of games, you have a main character that the player identifies with for most of the game.  I don't really mind the occasional side mission with another character - The Onimusha series and the Ratchet & Clank series both seem to do this well - but seven feels like too many and potentially distracting.  If you could start with anybody from the very beginning so each individual gamer had somebody they could identify with, maybe it would be better, but it's hard to say since I haven't played though enough of the game to really get the big picture on how the 7 different personalities all fit together.

I really like what Suda51's Grasshopper Manufacture team did with the two No More Heroes games, and I know that he worked alongside some of Capcom's people before.  I would have liked Killer7 better if it had used the same game engine as RE4, even if only so that I could move the character a little more directly.  As it turns out, Suda51 and the Resident Evil team are working together on a new game that should be out pretty soon - Shadows of the Damned. (If you're afraid of Electronic Arts or depictions of demons or sidekicks that are actually weapons that have double entendre-laden names, don't follow the link.) As usual, it will be a while before I play it but the trailers are promising to have horror, action, and Suda51's trademark wackiness.

I also got to see a Nintendo 3DS handheld in person (finally) and was unimpressed with the 3-D.  Yes, it's 3-D, but as usual all of the visual cues for depth are coming from the edges of objects and not the surfaces of objects, so we see them as layers like a pop-up book.  I did like that Super Street Fighter IV did not try to make anything closer than the plane of the screen, though. (Maybe it's where I had the slider set.)  I also like that it had enough horsepower to match SSFIV's painting-influenced visuals.  I don't really like playing fighting games on a handheld, though.  Usually there aren't enough buttons, but that is not an issue now.  Now the only issue is that I didn't like the D-pad that much and the circle pad seemed to only be helpful for fireballs but not dragon punches.  If I had chosen a character with 'charge' style special moves like Guile, it might have been easier.  Even so, I would rather have a more fighting-game-specific controller in my hands.  My current faves are the Nubytech/UDON controllers - I have a Ryu one for PS2 and an Akuma one for XBox.  So, as usual, it seems to be all about the controller.  I hope that the 3DS controls work better for their first party titles like Pilotwings Resort and The Legend of Zelda:Ocarina of Time. I would expect them to, as they are more suited to those kinds of games than they are suited to Street Fighter.  I'm sure I'll eventually deal with it, but if it's too wacky and unintuitive to control I can't be bothered.  After all, as much as I like these games, I do have a limit.

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