Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Metroidvania Mishaps

After completely missing the boat when it came out, I picked up Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which the internet has apparently decided is the best in the series, if what every conversation about Castlevania anyone has ever had is any indication. I'm more for the GBA installments myself, "Aria of Sorrow" being my personal favourite of the bunch. To my surprise, I discovered that all of the GBA games are just Konami cashing in on Symphony of the Night's structure and mechanics over and over again.

With the exception that the newer games are actually good. It was pretty obvious this concept of the open world dungeon crawl needed a few things wrinkled out.

Firstly, was it really necessary to have that irritating effect where Alucard has like four transparent versions of himself doing everything he does as soon as he does it? I could understand having something like that later in the game to show that he's all powerful now and shit, but why when he's wearing just a Cloth Tunic and using a rusty spoon as a weapon? It makes the main character look like an ugly, blurry mess whenever he moves in any direction or does anything. Later you get a semi-transparent cape, which just makes it twice as eye-searing to play. Later installments only include a sort of shadowy duplicate effect if you're performing a specific technique, like a high-speed dash. Having it around even while standing perfectly still is almost as stupid as not having Boss Doors.

See, in a game like this(and literally in the later games in this series), before a boss fight you see a special glowy door, usually with an evil monster face on it or something.

This way, the game gives you a warning: Here be a tougher foe than you're used to. Now I have time to prepare, to find a save point, to replenish my health and maybe level-grind a bit more before tackling on whatever beast of Greek lore waits beyond.

Symphony of the Night doesn't have boss-doors. You're going through the level, minding your own business, probably just looking for a damn save point already because you're almost dead OH LOOK TWO BOSSES AT THE SAME TIME. As soon as you enter a room with a boss in it(which I remind you the game gives you absolutely zero warning for), the entrances are sealed off until it dies, or you have to start at the last save-point that you couldn't find because the game didn't give you a map yet. Which you were looking for because there's no access to health-restoring items besides Save Points yet.

And they make you fight two bosses at the same time.

Let me stress that I like the two-on-one boss fights you see in games. And I also appreciate throwbacks to old games in boss fights(these two are from Super Castlevania IV). But why are both of those traditions the FIRST encounter here? You can't even find your dick at this point in the game, and it's throwing this kind of shit at you. The very next boss battle is your obligatory, super-hard-to-kill "Dark Link" doppleganger boss fight. Again, something that they should have saved for the third act is something you have to slog through in the first half-hour. Every other boss fight I've been through after this has been some small, easy, non-threatening creature with maybe 3 sprites and poses no serious threat. No, guys, you're supposed to put that stuff at the START of the game! Build up to the crazy, two-on-one reference boss battle, don't open with your A-material!

Oh, and "Gaibon" and "Slogra" up there did this thing where they cornered me, and I couldn't jump out without making contact with them, which hurts me and pushes me back, into the other beast, which hurts me again, and I lose total control over my character when this happens and the game doesn't give you a small window of invincibility to at least get your bearings. You know, like EVERY OTHER GAME EVER MADE, HOLY SHIT SYMPHONY OF THE NIGHT BLOWS


Let me tell you also, about Metroid Prime 2: Echoes. Like Castlevania games, Metroid is usually about open-world dungeon exploration. Branching paths, closed passage-ways, getting new items that will get you new goodies in old places you couldn't go to before, etc.  Like Castlevania, you tackle one area at a time, and you don't always get everything on your first go, but you make a note to come back later once you have the Double-Jump or other fictional technology.

Echoes, however, decides that instead of having fun, you should have to do 2 entire dungeons all at once, at the same time, that are the same maps but with different visual themes(light and dark worlds), and have to go back and forth through one or two portals that connect the two places, often having to make long, boring, pointless treks through dull scenery and annoying enemies over and over again. Then you get lost, because Jesus, how did they not see this coming when they were making this shit? This is stupid and all, but not as stupid as the boss "Quadraxis".

Looks fun doesn't it? Well after 6 months of just trying to finish the damn level he comes packaged with(seriously, fuck this game), I found out something involving this guy that Nintendo and Retro Studios probably didn't want you to know.

He's impossible to beat.

No, I mean literally. There is no function or strategy to defeat him. The only one on record is completely worthless, and none of the other tools at your disposal will even hurt the guy's feelings. I even checked GameFAQS to make sure. You're supposed to do this thing where, after his head starts floating around, you turn into a ball and climb up his legs on a material specifically made to let you climb up in Ball-Form. Then you do this thing where you launch yourself onto the floating head, set off a small charge in its robo-brain, and you're golden.

Except you're not ever going to do that. The floaty head thing moves around the stage faster than you can get onto one of the legs to launch yourself off. And it knows when you're trying to do that, so it gets out of the way before you can. And then it shoots you when you climb up again to give it another go, so you have to climb up again. And because this is taking place in the Dark World, your health slowly drains the whole time. And there's no health restoring items anywhere.

And even if you somehow accidentally get close enough, the camera makes it impossible to tell where you're going to land. Not that it would help anyway, because there are only two outcomes:

a.) You launch yourself toward the head, and miss.


b.) You BOUNCE OFF the fucking thing.

I looked for this fight on youtube to see what I was doing wrong, and apparently I wasn't. The only reason the player I saw succeeded is because the animation for both your character in ball-form and Quadraxis had this weird, laggy, mid-air thing where I guess he blew Miyamoto to make the game work the way it was supposed to or something? He was doing exactly the same thing I was doing, only his looked like the game was trying to kill itself for a second and then suddenly he was winning. Even making sure it wasn't video lag or something, there just doesn't seem to be any real indicator for why it worked for him and not for me.

I remember when losing in games was my fault. When it was me trying to get an advantage by maybe fighting more enemies than I knew I could reasonably handle, or trying a risky jump in Super Mario Bros. I tried to bend the rules, and I'd get punished. Here I am obeying the rules, the only set of guidelines that can secure victory in this situation, and the game still sends me to the Game Over screen.

I'm sorry, but this goes well beyond player error. Anyone can miss a landing or not have the right reflexes. When I charge in without planning ahead or leveling up or whatever, that's my fault. When I perform the necessary actions demanded of me, by the game, and the game still doesn't follow through, my hands are clean. It takes a special kind of failure to make a game that punishes the audience for doing EXACTLY WHAT IT WANTS THEM TO.

At the very least, it's comforting to know this bullshit didn't start with Left 4 Dead.



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