Christmas of Exploration


I somehow had more time than expected during the holidays so in order to pass time I started going through the “Metroidvania” category over at TIGdb, some of the higher-ranked games I had played already but when it comes to action-exploration I like the genre enough to forgive a few shortcomings. For any reader of TIGSource, this post will likely be completely worthless (and maybe even slightly offensive), but I will give some thoughts of my experiences – bearing in mind that I started playing each game expecting a hybrid of Symphony of the Night and Super Metroid.

An Untitled Story was the first game I played, and the only one I didn’t complete myself. Part of this was because it is a very large game, but also because it is very challenging in a “I Wanna be the Guy” – way with lots of precision jumping and unforgiving placement of savepoints, and when there was no more abilities to be acquired (ie: nothing more to explore) I felt I had gotten the parts I considered interesting. For a game with so simple presentation it is remarkably atmospheric and it beautifully captures the feel of exploration where every small path you unravel can lead to a whole new and interesting area.

Lyle in Cube Sector is a lot more reminiscent of NES exploration games and while I personally thought this made the entire map feel like a rather messy collection of similar rooms instead of a few distinct areas like in Untitled Story, the game itself was all the more interesting. The game revolved around cubes littering the landscape and all upgrades affected Lyle’s interaction with these cubes in some way for a fresh take on the genre. Lyle in Cube Sector also delivers on the traditional points, having a well-balanced difficulty curve, interesting boss fights and an engaging variety of enemies. The only other gripe I had was the lack of savepoints around the map (especially towards the end), but this was just a minor annoyance.

Painajainen was a much shorter game than the previous two, and also a rather odd entry in the bunch as it didn’t have any platforming, enemies or death. Instead of new skills, you flew around the gameworld finding small critters to follow you and have some effect of your immediate environment. It was sort of broken at times and the idea didn’t seem fully realized, but the athmosphere was nice and the originality of the approach prompts some interesting ideas.

Ikachan is a game by Daisuke “Pixel” Amaya, and though not as long or good as his Magnum Opus Cave Story, it is audiovisually similar and has another interesting approach that I would think influenced Aquaria, if only by very little. It is very short, and it knows it is very short so it is kind of sparse and doesn’t really get started – although it is a skill of Pixel to have a good sense of the scale of his project and make sure what’s there is polished, instead of having a too complex story and half-finished assets for a small game.

Plasma Warrior was the last game I played, and it was a rather straightforward game without much exploration, short like the previous two. The jumping felt a bit wobbly, but other than that it had some decent action elements. The description coins it as a “simple Metroid-style platform game” which says it all, really.

My favourite thing about Metroidvania games is the ingenuity in the design of a growing character – the map is littered with paths that you can clearly see as closed off to you in the beginning, so everytime you get a new skill/item the world you have already visited re-opens with new areas. This in turn makes character evolution very tangible without the need to represent it with icons or numbers, and constantly hints of a much larger world than you first can see and promises that you will get there eventually. When games hinder this progress by having overly difficult challenges – be they reflex- or puzzle-based, having long parts with no progress or force you to replay large parts, I usually feel they’re drifting from the brilliance of this design, but on the other hand I can’t discourage people from experimenting with mixing genres. Maybe what I should do is look for other games with metroidvania elements instead of metroidvania games with other elements.

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Posted on Dec 28/08 by Saint and filed under Gaming culture, Reflections | No Comments »