Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Importance of X (or A, as the case may be.)

Over the course of the summer I played the following action/platform games on PS3 all within a short span of time.

God of War 3 (completed regular difficulty)
Heavenly Sword (completed regular difficulty)
Ratchet and Clank:Tools of Destruction
Devil May Cry 4 (completed regular difficulty)
Ninja Gaiden 2 (completed once, can't recall which difficulty)

I like all of these games, and for different reasons. Ninja Gaiden 2, Devil May Cry, and Bayonetta are a different kind of gameplay from God of War and Heavenly Sword, and Ratchet & Clank is yet another kind of gameplay. The thing that I noticed the most from playing all of these games in the same timespan is that you can't jump in Heavenly Sword, and that Bayonetta and God of War use two different buttons to get into the item menus. The problem with the item menu didn't take too long, but the other thing really got me noticing how ubiquitous the use of the X button to jump with is (or A, if you're playing on XBox/XBox 360.)

I think that I only own a few games that have a jump mechanic where it's mapped somewhere strange. On the first Devil May Cry, they mapped the jump button to triangle which I never got used to. I was so glad that they fixed it in Devil May Cry 2 that I overlooked a lot of the game's other flaws. I wonder if they changed it for the HD remake? On the game "de Blob" for the Wii, they mapped jumping to swinging the Wiimote. In one case, it was workable but I had to think about it a lot. In the other case, I didn't have to think about it that much but it was largely inaccurate for me. I think Onechanbara for Wii has the jump button mapped someplace strange also, but you don't jump in that game enough for it to matter.

In general, I found it nice for the games that I listed at the beginning here that I didn't have to think about jumping. It kept me engaged in the game and not perpetually having to run back and check the controls in the menu. I presume that the same sort of thing happens with FPS games, where people have a certain expectation of a control layout and it's nice not to have to think about it so they can just play the game. With fighting games, I'm used to having to adapt a little for each character, so it's not so bad with different games having different button layouts but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a preference.

In the event that there isn't a standard, ubiquitous layout, I have to say that I really appreciate the times where there are visual cues or on-screen reminders available, especially for context-specific controls or buttons that see only occasional use. God of War does that fairly often, and I have to say that it's nice to jump back into a game after not having played it for a while and be able to open up a treasure chest right when I walk up to it and not worry that I'm about to accidentally use a magic attack on it by mistake. I just started playing Arkham Asylum in the last week and like the little touches like seeing (R1) right next to the little reticle that shows you what ledge you can grapple up to, or the little reminders in the corner about how to use the explosive gel once you equip it.

I have complained about bad controls before, so before I launch into a tirade about those I would just refer people back to my old post about Suda51 and Killer7.

Familiar controls (or at least intuitive controls) can help make a good game great, and in a lesser game can keep a help player interested long enough to care whether they finish or not.