Friday, 13 October 2017

Landed in Monster World

Gosh, this gaming life is really going slow at the moment, isn't it? A lot of that's to do with busy-ness in home life and work life here, but I've also been completely sucked into Fallout 4. I've been doing my usual wander around doing side-quests for a while now, and now I'm fully on the main quest trying to finish it. I actually have no idea how long the main quest is (I don't really feel like I have a definite aim yet), so I've no idea if it'll be next week or next year...hopefully not next year. EndWar's going to be quite a time investment, so I don't really want to get into that until Fallout's out of the way. There are a couple of things that I've been doing on the side, though, so I'll get those out of the way here. First up is a new version of one of my favourite games of all time, Wonderboy 3: The Dragon's Trap. It was originally out on the Master System, and I remember playing it to death at school and afterwards through emulation. It was the encapsulation for me of everything that was right about 8-bit gaming - bright graphics, bouncy music (that I still catch myself humming 25 years later...eek!) and tight gameplay in spades. It is one of my most rose-tinted games, so when I saw they were remaking it, I was struck with both excitement and trepidation. I nervously watched all of the promo vids through development, and gnashed my teeth as it appeared on console first and I had to wait for the PC version, and when it finally came out I immediately grabbed it. It's one of the first games I've bought full price in many, many a year. And...? It's beautiful. It's clearly made by people with a deep love of the original, and most importantly, it actually is the original game at heart. They've put a gorgeous HD skin over the top, but with the touch of a button you can flick that away and see the original game running underneath. Everything's mapped 1-to-1 with just better graphics and smoother animation. This means that the most elusive thing - that most important 'feel' of the game - is exactly right. It's spot on because it is the same game. I can't stress how brilliant that is. If they'd done anything else with it, it just wouldn't have been the same game, but the developers' absolute respect and faith in the original game has produced something truly beautiful. It's a joy to look at and a joy to play (I did mention that this was my rose-tinted game, didn't I?). The only one change to the game play they've made is to remove the Charm Point system. In the original game, Charm Points were random drops from monsters and you needed to have a certain number of them in order to purchase certain equipment items. It was a huge and sometimes tedious grind to get them, so I can see why they removed them, but it did add a certain something to the characterization of the different monsters you play through the bonus Charm Points they'd receive - Lizard Man was an ugly mug who none of the shopkeepers particularly liked, while Lion Man was a suave so-and-so who could talk people into parting with their most precious goods. In the end, I didn't really miss them, but I did feel a slight pang of angst when I first noticed they were gone. So, that's the graphics and the game play, what about the music? Yes, they have painstakingly recorded new music with live musicians, beautiful rearrangements of the classic tunes...but I'm afraid they just left me cold. I was quite surprised that while I could happily accept the new graphics, the music to me was absolutely sacrosanct. I'm not normally that into the music in games, but these tunes were so deeply ingrained in me that it just felt completely wrong without them. Luckily, you can switch the music just as easily as you can switch the graphics, so I had my perfect version running with the original tunes and beautiful new graphics. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. My only slight concern was that it was much easier than I remembered! I seemed to whizz through it in no time at all...maybe it's all the practice I've had over the years.

Next up was a game I didn't enjoy anywhere near as much. A PSN game called Landit Bandit. As regular readers will probably have gathered, I don't really like floaty controls. This is a game that's completely built around floaty controls. There's some back story about you crashing on a desert island and building some kind of pedicopter that you use for ferrying passengers around islands, so you have a standard directional thumbstick and a button for power/lift. There are other controls that come into the game depending on the passengers you're carrying, but essentially you're juggling your direction and the judicious amount of thrust you're applying to gently fly about and land in the various environments. Thrust is exactly the game this reminded me of (or Gravitar, if you weren't a BBC fan). It's a very similar concept, but in 3D. The problem is that while with Thrust you always felt that you knew exactly how powerful your engines were, and you could precisely control your ship once you'd mastered it, with Landit Bandit you never feel that 1-to-1 connection between button press and result, so you never feel in absolute control. Unfortunately, that just completely ruined the game for me. If the controls had just been a little bit tighter, I could have really got into this - I absolutely loved Thrust - but as it was, it was just a purely frustrating experience. And it wasn't just the transition to 3D that did this - the worst levels (and the ones that I finally quit the game on) were the ones where it was transplanted to 2D in a series of precise caverns. That just highlighted even more the awkwardness and imprecision of this version's controls. It's such a fundamental thing for this kind of game, but it just felt wrong.

In some ways, these two games are quite good bedfellows - both harking back to earlier games, but while one precisely reproduced the handling and feel of the original, the other drifted too far away and lost sight of its inspiration. The result is one fantastic game that I love, and one forgettable game that I'm never going to play through.

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