Song of the Deep


Song of the Deep is an interesting game – superficially, it has a lot in common with Aquaria. Visually, it has the same kind of environments – ruins, clockwork factories, caves and kelp forests – but to be fair those weren’t tremendously original to begin with and the visual style of Song of the Deep is somewhat different from that of Aquaria. On a gameplay level you have the same basic options – a way to grapple objects in the environment, a way to boost your speed, a way to light up dark areas and a way to shoot projectiles at your enemies. Again, nothing amazingly inventive on its own, but having played both Song of the Deep doesn’t ever feel like it’s mixing thing up with the core mechanics.

When you get down to the details is when the differences start to make themselves apparent though – Song of the deep casts a wider net than Aquaria, and has a less polished gameplay experience for it. Aquaria was always mostly about the exploration and to a lesser extent fighting enemies, but Song of the Deep wants to be about improvised physics-based mechanics, environment puzzles and chase sequences – sometimes this works, but frequently it becomes a frustrating experience where the controls aren’t quite what you want them to be and any failure is met with resetting to one of the sparse checkpoints. Physics frequently feel similarly awkward, with mechanically simple objects like doors and boxes being unwieldy and unintentionally difficult to pass.

There are not a lot of Metroidvania games with high production values and Song of the Sea is a competent game with strong presentation, but it often feels like its lacking something to make it great. The art is well-made, but lacks any distinct pieces giving the areas a sense of place. The idea of the map showing all pickups helps a lot, but it becomes a bit of a crutch and as such feels like a cheap solution. The movement and fighting is functional, but does not feel particularly satisfying and lacks any design depth.

It sets things up for a sequel and I do want to play it, but mostly for the game to get an opportunity to come into its own.

Posted on Aug 23/16 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »

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Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst


Mirror’s Edge makes me think about a lot of other games for various reasons. The original game from 2008, for one – it is clear they wanted to make more or less the same thing but do more of what worked (freerunning) but less of what didn’t work (fighting) without completely removing or restructuring anything. The biggest change is that it’s layered on top of a sandbox reminiscent of GTA IV’s mission structure, but functionally it’s not much of a difference since there’s little point in freely exploring and even though the pathfinder is not optimal it usually takes so long to find a different path that’s traversable that you’re less likely to experiment.

But the side missions draw other comparisons. Fundamentally it’s a first-person precision platformer with a really high skill ceiling – Dustforce and Super Meat Boy come to mind, as do the challenge levels in the last couple of Rayman games and countless other platformers. Like those games, the time windows offered by Mirror’s Edge are really tight and it can be high-frustration experience in learning the path you’re taking one obstacle at a time until you’ve memorized the entire route and can pull it off. In the beginning, it felt infuriating at times – Mirror’s Edge offers poor visibility of your options and gives you near no chance of succeeding in taking an obstacle well enough on your first attempt. It offers alternate paths and moves, but even when performing them making out which one is faster is anyone’s guess. Getting stuck in geometry or missing a jump that it looked you were about to make are common occurrences as it’s difficult to read just what’s going to happen when you press a button. Trying a new path in either challenges or regular missions will frequently lead to immediate death and loadtimes that aren’t abnormally long for a sandbox game, but incredibly disruptive for a high-frustration game.

Yet, I think about Gish – a game I’ve played from start to finish tens of times – and how long it took to get used to physics-driven movement and how smooth the movement felt once you had gotten the hang of it. I never quite got there with Mirror’s Edge, but I got some of the way and just moving around was a joy when I beat it. I thought about Uncharted 4, how Drake would extend his hand when he could jump to a ledge as to take away the guessing game, and how Mirror’s Edge refuses to hold your hand like that. It is sometimes difficult to tell when the challenge is intentional and when the developers bit off more than they could chew, but it is a game that thrives on giving the player challenges where beating them becomes its own reward. Again, much like the first Mirror’s Edge it’s a different beast from other games and the games industry is richer for it.

I also played through the Momodora and Shantae games over the last couple of weeks in a bid to cover gaps in my Metroidvania knowledge, they are different in interesting ways. Momodora – speaking specifically about Reverie Under the Moonlight since the earlier games feel too short to analyze – is a game that quickly establishes a form and then never strays much from it, honing it and providing alternatives along the way. Shantae, on the other hand – especially the Pirate’s Curse – feels more like a bag of tricks that lacks real depth in its core mechanics but constantly throws new mechanics and scenarios at the player. Both well worth the time needed to play them though.

Posted on Aug 15/16 by Saint and filed under Reflections | No Comments »