Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Game Diary - What Ninten Does

I heard some GameStop managers had a theory about the NES Classic and why it was so hard to find, last year - because Nintendo legitimately didn't care if we bought one.  They cared that we wanted one enough to get our butts into a GameStop, Goombas and Master Swords dancing in our heads and... when we couldn't find the NES Classic, well, here's a sexy new 3DS we can kinda' relive those treasured memories with!  Here's a Switch!

And, y'know, I could see that workin'.  Six weeks or so ago, I procured a SNES Classic for myself.  I spent an evening or three reliving what is, to me, my defining childhood gaming experience - staying up 'till all hours playing Super Mario World.  My older brother, a horrifying amount of junk food and the smooth jams of P.M. Dawn were not included, but the bleary feeling of a brain and body that expected sleep five hours ago, the sparkling music, the utter charm of the game was some seriously intoxicating nostalgia.

I will almost never play the SNES Classic, but I love it and I loved what little time I spent with it, and I'm quite sure that experience (I really like the UI, by the way) - being reminded of my gaming origin story, being reminded of the feeling of playing Mario World as a kid - played a part in me slipping, stumbling across the room and crashing into a Switch.

The real reason a bought a Switch is actually very close to the reason I bought Overwatch.  Nobody had recently died, this time, but my depression had flared up to a deafening, crushing roar, and the feeling was kind of "well, before I die I should probably play Mario Odyssey."

Eight hundred bucks, for really not much.

  • A Nintendo Switch console.
  • A copy of Super Mario Odyssey.
  • A copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
  • A 128GB memory card (shoulda' waited and got like a 500GB one). 
  • A $50 Nintendo network card that they didn't actually activate at the store, because fuck you, David.  
When I think of all the money I saved by not buying a two thousand dollar overcoat, it stings less, but this is still almost a grand invested in the ability to currently play two games.  And these are two games in franchises that I have literally not enjoyed since the early 90s.  As far as I'm concerned, the last truly great Zelda game was Link to the Past, and while I acknowledge their contribution to 3D gaming, I never had any fun with Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, Mario Galaxy...

They were like old friends who'd grown so different from the people I'd known before that we couldn't hold a conversation any more.  It was always so... sad to rediscover, over and over, that I couldn't hang out with that friend any more.  

Like a Final Fantasy game, I kept trying over and over to enjoy these names that I treasured so much in my childhood, but was always disappointed over the years.  I have no idea why I thought anything would be different, this time.  This is like someone sticking their hand in boiling water because, they insist, it's possible that this time it won't scald their skin off.  

I have no idea what the fuck I was thinking.  I was clearly suffering some short-term temporary insanity, but I looked at the pot and said "yeah, this time I'll be fine," and shot my hand into boiling water. 

People will work hard to insist that the purchases they've made are not, in fact, idiotic, despite any evidence to the contrary.  Like they'll overpay for a shitty car but try to insist that it was actually a really good purchase decision.  There's a term for it - I wanna' say "confirmation bias," but I don't think that's it.  I don't know if that's had an impact on my perception of my experience with my Switch, so far, and I have complaints. About the games. 

The fact that the... button in the (PlayStation) "circle button" position is the "enter" button and the button in the "x button" position is the "escape" or "back" button throw me off constantly, and continues throwing me off when I turn on my PS4 and keep on backing out of things I want to enter.  It's frustrating, and deeply Japanese. 

The fact that Mario's plot remains Peach screaming "Marioooo!" and Bowser going "bwa-ha-ha-ha!" bothers me a bit, but what bothers me more is that western-produced platformers like Sly Cooper, inFamous and Ratchet & Clank have been outperforming this in terms of narrative presentation for over ten years.  Mario feels almost like an indie by comparison.  It insists you should explore its explosively colorful worlds because because, but I was actually able to get in to Mario Odyssey - which is kind of a spiritual sequel to Galaxy, which I hated - by remembering how much I love Ratchet & Clank.  

Just explore.  Just bounce around.  Ooh there's a thing in there - how can I get to that thing?  

Bwa-ha!  I got the thing!  I'm so clever!  Oooh, there's a thing over there...

That was my in.  That was the key to enjoying it, for me, and I defeated Bowser inside of a week.  After you beat Bowser, you may have barely collected one-fifth of the game's power moons (Odyssey's stars), but before you can jet off and return to previously-explored worlds (and unlock new ones!), you have to clear the area you find yourself in - and its challenges were exponentially harder than what had come before - so I shoved off to further explore Zelda...

But I really enjoyed Odyssey.  I'm shocked by how much I enjoyed Odyssey.  I'm shocked by how much content there was, and while I find it a bit... lazy that instead of doing a very great deal with Mario's core abilities, the game switches up its mechanics in every world via the enemies you can possess by throwing your hat on their heads (you can run around as a Goomba, fly around as a Bullet bill - there are countless enemies to possess and thus mechanics to exploit), it's also very fun.  

It's very cute.  It's very creative and it doesn't feel, ever, for a moment, cynical.  Its animations are lovely.  When you fight Bowser, he's got this huge top hat with robo-arms coming out the sides, with a boxing glove at the end of each robo-arm.  And he throws this hat at you, so you throw your hat at it (your only attack) and stun it.  Then you pop it on your head and the robo-arms cock like two shotguns, ready for action.  Bowser's eyes pop wide and he holds out his hands like "nooo!" in fear as you pop his giant top hat on your head, and you come for him.  

It's so charming.  Every world is so charming.  Lazy as I may find the way the game permits itself an ever-expanding roster of mechanics, it works and it ensures it's really, really hard to get bored with it. The nonexistent narrative may pale in comparison to Western efforts from two generations ago, but the amount of content in this game is ridiculous.  This is a single-player platformer that a player could likely invest hundreds of hours in.  I can imagine the dedication and time a player would require to 100% Odyssey, but I can't imagine that I'll ever have it.  

There are complaints - the fact that certain moves can't be accomplished when using the Switch in handheld mode, or when using the included Dogface controller thing, or when using a pro controller, that are actually required to get certain Power Moons - is ridiculous.  I'm trucking along, playing your game, and I have to stop, detach the controllers, set up the screen on the kickstand, do this one fucking move and collect my Moon.  

That's fucking bullshit.  But that and other complaints feel small when compared to the volume and generally-consistent quality of what Odyssey offers.  It's very, very generous and of a general very high quality.  

I'm amazed I enjoy it so much.  Oh, and Bowser's Kingdom is visually orgasmic.  

The fact that it is so beautiful - and it can be very, very beautiful - Zelda too can be very, very beautiful...

...brings to mind the promises Sony made about the Vita, prior to its launch.  It was supposed to be an almost-PS3 in your hands (a very sexy proposition), but a few exceptions aside, it merely ended up being one of the best indie game libraries in the world - and the number of indies that have been announced for Switch played a big part in the platform's appeal, to me.  

How well the Switch runs Mario and Zelda, the fact that DOOM and Wolfenstein II and Skyrim are coming... that all brings to mind that promise of the Vita.  The platform we wanted the Vita to be.  

And I'll be the first to tell you, friend, the little fucking "Joycons" on the Switch?  They fucking suck.  They suck so bad.  They're awkward and tiny and poorly laid out, deeply uncomfortable and I would pay a thousand dollars to anyone who can effectively cut a Dualshock 4 down the middle and smack the halves onto the sides of the Switch's screen. 

 But this boiling water doesn't hurt.  I'm kinda' loving it.  

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