2D Platforming… MMOs

They’re springing up all of a sudden.
For a very long time there was just Maple Story, but Outspark are now bringing Wind Slayer into open beta, and La Tale Online has been around for a while, itself, but I’m not sure when that popped up.
It’s probably not a sudden explosion of 2D MMOs, as I’ve no doubt missed quite a few, but…

La Tale Online doesn’t look much like Maple Story – at the very least, character proportions are different, and it has a different selection of classes with no outright ‘healer’. Good for them; World of Warcraft has multiple classes to choose for healing, and it doesn’t cripple any of them. Not having played La Tale, I don’t know if it HAS healing abilities, or just makes everyone rely on items, though.
Wind Slayer, on the other hand, is something I have trouble differentiating from Maple Story from the screenshots. Backgrounds, characters, and even the map and chat windows look very reminiscent of Maple Story; the only big difference that tells me it’s not Maple Story is the ‘Spark Shop’ item-mall button.

I’m going to have to try both of these out sometime. When I have a bit of free time.

Miniview: World of Goo (PC)

I love:
…the story. It’s not comparable to many other games I’ve played, but only due to the format; told through the very occasional cutscene, but most frequently through signs dotted about the landscape, it’s… again, it’s writing-on-the-wall, or GlaDOS’ voice through the speakers. You do things, or not, and the game talks to you. That style just isn’t the same as Final Fantasy N, or Dragon Quest, so it can’t be compared. For all its probably more realistic as a way of showing a story, the world isn’t really sensible, even by game standards, and the game admits it. Hilarity ensues.
…the integration of puzzle and story. Or something like that. I mean, this game is more like Half-Life than Puzzle Quest; what you do is very obviously what’s happening in the world, like Half-Life and its non-cutscene cutscenes, and very unlike Puzzle Quest and its ‘I’m gonna fight you now! *BEJEWELLED*’ disconnect.

I like:
…the sign-painter. He, or she, accounts for the majority of the text in the game, mostly with amusing observations, but he also serves as a very good method of telling the player what they need to know, such as explaining some of the differences between the goo species.
…the many types of goo, above and beyond the common-or-garden grey-black goos from the original Tower of Goo game. There are balloonlike goos, goos that form attachments more readily, goos that act like water drops, combustible goos, reusable goos, exploding goos, somewhat-pointless goos, goos that stick at things, goos you can fling at stuff…

…tower-building. Completing levels with more goos collected than the requirement gives you goo to build a tower with, a la Tower of Goo.
…the music. Mostly. About half of it is arrangements of the same theme; that I dislike the original form of that theme, and yet love most of the arrangements, is probably testament to the composer’s skill.

I loathe:
…not finding out what the sign-painter was doing. Or about whatever the player is supposed to be. Granted, it probably wouldn’t be possible to answer those in any way, shape or form that isn’t disappointing, but it’s just a little jarring.
…not being able to use anything but the common-or-garden goo for building towers. Not being able to screw around with those types outside of the puzzles they appear in, at that.
…not being able to see other users’ clouds at the World of Goo Corporation building. I could in the demo, but is my tower really that tiny compared to all the others in existence?

The demo doesn’t really give the full game its due; whilst there are hints of how the game will continue, in the playable chapter of the demo, the game only really starts coming into its own in the second chapter and beyond. That said, the demo is a good introduction to the game’s mechanics; if you like what you see there, the game only gets better.
If, like me, you weren’t overly impressed with the demo, it can still turn out to be a great game. If you’re worried, though, see if you can’t find a friend with a copy themselves, and ask to play through the second chapter. Things really only kick off from there.

Miniview: For The Win Lite (Browser)

I love:
…that everything is a pop-culture reference, all mockingly. Every single figurine is a reference to something or other; in the Fantasy set alone, I’ve picked up Mr. T in a blue dress and his little poodle, a strawman, the head of the Disgruntled Postal Service Union, a witch allergic to water, and a foreigner from a distant land. That little group is fairly obvious, but it’s still a nice feeling working out what exactly is being mocked. It’s not just the figurines, though; the ‘sidekicks’, who throw mostly-useless advice at you, are also references; there’s Babi the Fairy and Old Timer, both from a famous series of games, and then there’s Penny the Safety Pin, from a certain word-processor. In the words of the ever-present Old Master… ‘Ah, she… she very… special. You take good care, give medicine daily three time, and make sure not to anger.’

I like:
…low interactivity, in this case. FTW Lite is only barely more interactive than the likes of Progress Quest; you pick whether you press a green or a red button, three times every three hours. You set up duplicate figurines to (automatically) fight other figurines set up to fight. FTW Lite, like many browser-based games, isn’t meant to be played for hours. It’s just something you return to every three hours and see what you manage to pick up, and unlike Kingdom of Loathing it can’t eat up half an hour with extra turns.
…the art. Some of it’s great – mostly the sidekick graphics – and much more of it simply decent. Figurine images probably count more as part of all the mockery that takes place, though; this is just a note on the general quality of the work.

I loathe:
…needing to pay – in-game currency, not real currency, happily – to unlock additional sets of figurines as collectable from the vending machine. Okay, so it’s probably yet more meta-mockery of the ‘collector’ gig, and I appreciate it as such, but… when you get, at most, 10 Stars for an ultra-rare figurine, and new sets cost 300 or 500 Stars, it takes a while to get there, and you can only pick up figurines from three sets, initially.

As you can guess from the ‘Lite’ in the name, this isn’t the full game, which hasn’t been completed yet. I don’t know what that’s going to be like, if and/or when it materialises; possibly a bit more interactive, but probably not to the degree of interactivity Kingdom of Loathing or Neopets have.
I’ve been playing a lot of browser-based games like this recently; Kingdom of Loathing, Billy vs Snakeman, and Ikariam. FTW Lite is hands-down the least time-consuming, and currently the most amusing.
Surprisingly entertaining for something with very low interactivity. I guess it taps into whatever part of my mind that GINORMO SWORD did.

For the Win Lite | Let’s play figurine-collecting game

Miniview: Left 4 Dead (PC)

I love:
…the aural cues for specific zombies. As far as my limited experience goes, it’s relatively easy to tell what direction, say, a Witch is lying, but difficult to tell exactly how far away said Witch is, as the music certainly pierces walls, and the sound effects might. Given that about half the time your field of vision is extremely limited, listening to the aural cues is essential. If you don’t get disoriented playing mute, why have sound in the first place?
…limited vision, come to think of it. Too many games nowadays take the cheap route with darkness that is easily defeatable by fiddling with monitor brightness, with the result of most games being easy to see in no matter whether or not I’m carrying a torch, as I keep brightness on my monitors high by default. L4D doesn’t do that; the flashlight is necessary most of the time you’re inside buildings. Additionally, there are reasons not to use the flashlight. One, at least.
…the writing on the walls. I just love that kind of stuff. There are many more ways of telling stories than having people talk at you in cutscenes. Just look at L4D, Portal, Dead Space, and Uplink.

I like:
…that they let you carry multiple pieces of gear – pistol(s), non-default additional weapon, first aid kit, painkillers and an explosive – but limit you to one of each. That is, you can’t tote a shotgun and a hunting rifle at the same time. Fairly realistic, or moreso than any game that lets you carry and choose from umpteen weapons at once, but that’s the way things seem to be going nowadays, I think?
…pistols and a hunting rifle. I just favoured them over the other available weapons. Non-autofire weapons mean I’m likely not to shoot teammates that much. I need to learn to use molotovs at some point, though.
…achievements. Well, I like them in general, and L4D has a large collection of them. Some are sensible – achievements for completing the campaigns, an achievement for completing anything with everyone alive. Some are a bit silly, like the requirement for the Genocidest achievement.

I hate:
…how my mouse kept freezing every ten or twenty seconds. I use an optical mouse and I usually don’t need a mousemat, even for Half-Life 2, but for some odd reason Left 4 Dead just hates that. I don’t know whether it’s the mouse or the lack of a mousemat, but next time I play, I’ll find out. Either way, finding yourself unable to turn whilst anything is running at your backside is not fun.
…the lack of a manual? It’s an odd thing I have against Steam/Valve games. The one occasion they have a ‘user manual’ available directly from Steam’s game list, it’s for Team Fortress 2. Have you read that thing? It’s not helpful. I know L4D is mostly the standard Steam-FPS controlset, but… nowhere thus far has L4D outright explained the controls, and for half of my recent game I had to stay away from Witches as I didn’t know how to turn off the frigging flashlight. For someone like me who only goes into FPS territory on a fluke, for the most part, it’s a rather high barrier to entry when a manual is not easily available.

Well, usually I don’t play this kind of game. I’m bad enough with horror as it is; I prefer my shambling monstrosities to… you know… shamble, rather than leap on me as soon as I’ve spotted them.
Somehow, though, L4D isn’t as frightening as the normal horror games I play; the Ch’zo Mythos games, for example. This is probably due to me playing with one other living person – horror isn’t as horrifying when you know there’s someone else around, helping and… honestly, being better than you in almost every respect other than protecting other characters and avoiding getting hurt.
The only thing that at times prevented this game from being enjoyable was my problems with my mouse. When it wasn’t playing up, L4D was really quite fun. I get the feeling the game would be much worse for my pulse in single-player, honestly.
If you have people to play with, by all means, go for it.

Miniview: Flower Sun and Rain (DS)

I love:
…suddenly hearing Gershwin. A light instrumental elevator-music-sounding Gershwin piece, but still… Gershwin. I have a bit of a soft spot for a lot of his compositions, as I’ve sung quite a few of them, and to hear it in a game like this, along with a lot of other good music, was totally unexpected.
…the main character… and Christine, and everyone else. It’s a mixture of realism and strange behaviour that tends to turn up more in magical girl anime than anywhere else, and altogether it’s rather appealing. Think… I don’t know. Killer7 and the sentai team. There’s something in the characters here like that… and it’s not really a surprise, as the same person is behind both games.

I like:
…the voices. They’re not voice acting for the lines; rather, like Animal Crossing’s speech and Simlish, it’s all remixed babble like a vocal Rorschach inkblot. I hear Spanish, personally. The DS doesn’t usually do proper voices well, beyond short clips; full voice acting tends to produce tinny voices only. Flower Sun and Rain somehow got around this, and its babble sounds positively human.
…the puzzles. I’m not far, but it looks like a lot of them are going to be ‘find the right number’ puzzles, and… well. Whilst the result of a puzzle might be a number, the puzzle itself could be anything; paging through a tourist magazine to find camera settings, for instance. It’s not just a dry conversion of a book of puzzles, and it’s nice to see real puzzles that can’t simply be solved by exhausting all possible arrangements of numbers.

I hate:
…the controls. Well, I dislike them, at any rate. Though you have the option of controlling the main character with either the d-pad or the touch screen, both tend to lead you to veer off to the side on certain screens. It’s just slightly inaccurate, but that’s enough to be annoying, as it could probably have easily been fixed. There’s only been one screen where it was very noticeable, however; since most rooms are much smaller than the path outside the hotel, I don’t think it’ll be too bothersome. I still don’t think games should be steered from the bottom screen if the main game isn’t on there, personally; it’s like steering a RC toy if not.

Ah, adventure games. The DS lends itself well to these, with Another Code: Two Memories and Hotel Dusk: Room 215. Another Code was nothing special, utilising the DS’ capabilities as gimmicks rather than building a strong story, but Hotel Dusk, another game taking place in a hotel, was very enjoyable. Flower Sun and Rain looks set more to follow Hotel Dusk than Another Code, with the makings of a complex, and absorbing, story on top of strong puzzles and truly challenging content.
Still, all praise to GameFAQs for when I inevitably get stuck, hm?

Miniview: Sea Monsters – A Preshistoric Adventure (DS)

I love:
…that someone put effort into trying to make this an educational game, even though it’s not something I’d play for long. Though the aim is not motivation for me, there are challenges of which some, I assume, might be difficult. I had a headache when I was playing this, and didn’t feel like trying to eat 15 predators when I couldn’t yet steer properly.

I like:
…the definite similarities this game has with Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of Time (DC, PS2), and Aquanaut’s Holiday (PSX); Ecco being an action-adventure starring a dolphin, having you attacking sharks, alien monsters and various other things, and Aquanaut’s Holiday being a low-interactivity simulation of an ocean and a player-made reef, if you ever persisted playing that long. Imagine something with a few of the combat mechanics from Ecco and a slightly higher interactivity than Aquanaut’s Holiday… minus the reef.
…the air gauge. Usually I detest such things, as they tend to trigger my sense of claustrophobia… but the gauge in this game is much more forgiving than that in, say, any of the Ecco games, and there don’t seem to be any long twisty passages without regular air supplies, anyway. There is also a health gauge, and a stamina gauge, though that last one is somewhat unpredictable and its behaviour changes depending on what form you use. Speaking of which…
…that you can choose different forms, eventually. Unfortunately you need to pick up all of that form’s fossils beforehand. Different forms have different abilities – some are better in combat, or can access different portions of the map. There are only seven forms available and you start with one unlocked initially. Not really enough, but more than most games save that Animorphs release on the GBC offer you.

I hate:
…the lack of a decent aim. Sea Monsters has an aim similar to games like Animal Crossing; collection. In this case, the player is supposed to pick up fossils that unlock additional bonuses for the player or, eventually, additional forms the player can take, with different abilities, and information about various prehistoric ‘monsters’. There are a total of 90 fossils, and I imagine most of them only provide information. As someone not particularly interested in ‘dinosaurs’ any more, this isn’t a great motivation.
…the controls. I know it’s tough to create a good control scheme for full 3D movement – as opposed to 2D motion on the ground with jumping – but other, previous games have handled it better. Turning in any direction is handled by the touchscreen, and unfortunately is a bit oversensitive for any kind of precision. Happily the game lets you lock-on to targets for attacking, as without that you wouldn’t have any hope of hitting them accurately, but as this doesn’t apply to things like fossils, aligning yourself properly to snag those as you swim by can be an exercise in frustration. Prolonged play would probably get a player used to the game, but I think I’ve already given up.
…slowdown. The game visibly slows down whenever you swim in a large open area, close enough to see the sea bed and rock walls. There are also a few odd graphical glitches you get when looking at the sea bed from a distance – things that look like pink algae or seaweed or… something.
…the dumbed-down exploration-puzzles. Letting people choose which form to approach an obstacle with is all well and good, but directly announcing that the player needs a specific form – say, good with jumping – to proceed reduces it all to a memory problem. If I ever unlock the form that lets me jump, all I need to do is recall the spots where the game helpfully displays arrows showing I need to jump over something. I also need to remember where the game told me I was ‘too large’ to fit through something I never saw in the first place because I was busy reading the message, as I unlocked a smaller form before giving up in order to find painkillers. Being told what to do takes the fun out of trying to find out, and the triumph of solving something that initially didn’t seem like a puzzle at all.

Best played without a developing headache.
Beyond that, as far as edutainment goes, this game makes a decent effort. It’s definitely a game, and presents the player with some challenges, such that it is possible that an unskilled player may never uncover every piece of information the game has, rather than being something a player can ‘succeed’ at and have information thrown at them regardless of how badly they do. It’s not particularly fun, but like Aquanaut’s Holiday it’s good for killing five or ten minutes when you’ve nothing better to do, and nothing else playable in that short a time.
Plenty of flaws, but not as bad as it could be.

Miniview: Eversion (PC)

I love:
…what it does with platforming, and the different rules you have to learn just to get through each stage. Though superficially this game looks like any given Mario-type platformer, I’d class it as more of a puzzle-platformer, due to the thinking you have to do to get through each stage, but I don’t often see those with a strictly level-based structure.

I like:
…the music. Every single piece. Much like the pieces in Spelunky, the
music here just… fits, extremely well, the atmosphere I presume the
designer was aiming for when producing this game. Unlike Spelunky,
though, the music is a very important element of the game that tells the player when they can or cannot do something. Probably.
…the graphics. Nice pixel graphics. They’re used much like the music is, and I do love how they’re used… but I don’t really love the graphics.

I hate:
…not that much at all, really. For a game that requires precision jumps in places, the controls seem a little sensitive, but it’s not a great problem, and I seem to have infinite lives, so…