Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Stop Slapping Me, Nintendo! (Metaphorically Speaking)

A popular rebuttal to any criticism toward Nintendo is that they "March to the beat of their own drum." When Nintendo states that they will not support online play so that they can keep local co-op a priority, and that they will not allow the 'Binding of Issac' on 3DS because of its content, and that when they finally release 'Earthbound' on Virtual Console they omit it from the Wii's VC, gamers who've learned better than to expect anything good for the consumer or modern from Nintendo simply shrug their shoulders and get to mentioning that metaphorical drum again.
But what I can't understand is how Nintendo, the company who are self-entitled paragons of family-entertainment, and who allegedly are all about keeping entertainment and social values present in videogames, can get away with making so many of us, gamers and prospective consumers, feel like total shit all of the time.
My Grandma is Dead, and My Friends Don't Play Videogames Neither
Nintendo's focus on keeping local co-op a standard in videogames is one I'm all about. Playing a game with a group of friends is always a terrific time, and anytime I reflect on those moments it was always a Nintendo title that we were playing, whether Mario Party, Super Smash Bros, or Goldeneye.
Thing is though, those reflections are from more than a decade ago, and while they're still warm and inspire me to recreate them it's a borderline impossibility at this point. As a mid-twenties guy with mid-twenties friends, we're all at the point in our lives where we're either finishing up the last and hardest years of college, working full-time jobs, or have simply grown out of videogames. And yes, my grandma is dead, and even if she wasn't I don't think she could be bothered learning what a videogame is now anymore than when she was alive. Let alone me being interested in playing a videogame with her.
Nintendo's aversion to online in favor of its traditionalist values is not as damaging as it is for a game to ignore local play for online; it's worse.While I recognize that I'm not a kid, and that it is children who are the ones most able to put local gaming to good use, I can't help but think of that reality as a gigantic middle finger. Kid's aren't the ones opening their wallets for these games; I, and fellow persons of working age, are. No matter that videogames once were a hobby deemed exclusive to children that is simply not the case anymore; adults play videogames and they aren't being chastised about it any longer (well, in terms of social-etiquette at least). And as it's adults who are the ones paying for these games the thought of crippling one's actual buyer's product-satisfaction for that of a conservative ideal of the past is not only ridiculous but self-destructive as well. Adults live complicated and stressful lives, and most of the time having anyone over the house is pretty much a chore anyway. Playing online serves the need of not only protecting your genuine consumer's interests but allowing them the space that they clearly want. If this generation has proved anything it's that online-gaming is a beloved addition, if not an endeared standard.
While it be nice to get the best of both worlds, a game retaining both local and online co-op, for whatever reason that's something far too rare anymore. But facing subjection of either one or the other, online holds 100% the more reasonable and satisfying inclusion. But Nintendo instead chooses to remind me how much it sucks being an adult.

Stop Acting Like My Dad, Nintendo: You're Just an Entertainment Provider
This one doesn't even need explanation, but for the short-minded here's two examples of why banning products for the sake of image is total bullshit.
James Joyce's Ulysses was widely banned for its controversial content (toilet humor and sex): it is now one of the most favored and well-regarded pieces of literature of all time.
Cannibal Corpse, the film, was banned for being extremely realistic looking: it is now of the most sought-after horror films for its honest conveyor of true terror and instigator of sincere emotion.
And on and on and on. And even when the banned product turns out to be a real stinker, the only thing that matters here is that the product does not represent anything about the person viewing it. Looking back at any historical time of severe censorship, the modern consensus widely goes, "Well this censored item isn't so bad," or that "It's a very intriguing piece."
No matter that violent or criminal images may inspire someone to commit a crime or doubt their ideology, there is no blame to be placed on the product: individuals are responsible for themselves and what they allow influence themselves.
And in the case of children, which is what Nintendo's banning of Binding of Issac is clearly motivated from--- did they forget how their own handhelds work? It has Parental Lock on it, which means that no matter how crushing Issac is towards the Christian religion (which it absolutely is not, at all, in any way, shape or form) it doesn't matter because the product is only available to those with access to it. Parent's are responsible for monitoring their kids: not Nintendo, a faceless provider of electronic entertainment.
And again, like the above argument, the banning of titles for that of adult, complex, or R-rated content is a total "F' You!" to their adult consumers, the people that these adult-rated titles are exclusively available to anyway. And if this generation has proved anything, it's that mature and complicated themes are greatly admired and sought for in modern videogames: Nintendo choosing to not only neglect but censor such content--- I mean, is any further explanation needed?

Nintendo Doesn't Have to Imitate, but That Doesn't Make Them Less Dickish
I'm always a little bit shocked at the comment sections on gaming websites. Whether it's a Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo article there erupts somewhere in the comments this rash, idiotic war-repertoire of corporation-fanboys who seemingly believe with all their heart that these multi-billion-dollar companies genuinely care about them and their preferential entertainment habits.
They don't. They only care that somewhere in your spending habits a chunk is going towards their products, and that is the full extent of their interest in you.
But it's nice to pretend they care about the consumer, and while these companies really don't the various policies and interactions they make towards the consumer can go a long way in at least kindling that delusional belief that your Playstation has a face and gives you high-fives when you unlock more trophies. Sometimes it's really not that great a meeting-ground, such as Microsoft's lackluster Games With Gold in comparison to that of Playstation Plus, but othertimes it's one hell of a response in the form of Microsoft fully accepting consumer responses to the original policies of the Xbox One and their nixing most every policy that consumers disagreed with.
But Nintendo really hasn't done anything to interact with their consumers, and the rabid devotion that Nintendo fans exhibit is an appreciation thoroughly void of reasoning. With region-locking on all of their modern systems despite constant criticism, shoddy online implementation, and constant moves of consumer-betraying nature as in the form of excluding Earthbound from the Wii VC in hopes it will inspire Wii owners to buy a Wii U (which is not going to happen when your dickishness is blatantly obvious, Nintendo), whatever it is that Nintendo fans are injecting themselves with to retain their loyalty is something I suspect they get from a sketchy guy beneath a bridge, because if they're not hallucinating then they're being plain foolish.
Videogames are a disgustingly costly affair, and being suspect to consumer demands the only way for videogames to go is towards greater and greater cost with more expensive systems, standards, and just about everything. All of this is marking a bottle-neck effect, and for every gamer lost to another system there is a very real negative applied to the losing companies. Sony and Microsoft recognize that they need to work with their customers and to offer what they can to retain them, and while it's a business ploy I still don't hear anyone complaining about receiving free games. And while getting things free isn't necessarily expected from Nintendo, what I really want to know is what the heck Nintendo has done for a single one of their customers ever? Far as I remember that's a flat nothing, and in this market where companies are willing to work with their customers and strive to maintain healthy relations between one-another, Nintendo's absence indicates not their own independence and self-worth, but their utter ridiculous and out-of-date view of their market.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Splatterhouse (PS3/360) - Review: Objectively Mediocre, but Really It's Pretty Awesome

Splatterhouse, which released in 2010 for the PS3/360, arrived beside some critically negative press. As a game with lengthy load times, repeated animations and sounds, various technical glitches, and a lackluster ending that does not conclude anything the player has done, Splatterhouse genuinely earned it's Metacritic score of 59/100, and is, objectively speaking, a truly mediocre title.
But that doesn't take into account the fact that Splatterhouse is simply solid entertainment, and is a straight delight to actually play. Most refreshing about Splatterhouse is that it isn't trying to be anything other than its core content: it's a game based on gore, and never loses sight that gameplay involving gore is what is most important here. Furthermore, for all of those things Splatterhouse gets wrong it makes up for with well-crafted upgrades and unlockables that expand the overall content in meaningful ways.
Splatterhouse would have benefited by some additional efforts in technical polish and animation/voice variety, but for what it is Splatterhouse is still a lot of fun.
The strongest portion of Splatterhouse is that the focus is 100% on gameplay. Game-pausing cinematics are few and far between, and story is told through dialogue and gramophones that do not interrupt the gameplay. Splatterhouse is interested only in keeping the player active, and while this may seem an obvious inclusion the amount of games that have ignored that this generation far out-number those that have heeded it.
Most important to understanding how Splatterhouse is successful is cutting out the idea of it being an Action game, because it's not. Splatterhouse is a Brawler that is about pound-for-pound carnage while painting everything and anything in blood and body parts. There are combos and a small requirement for strategy, but mostly Splatterhouse is all about punching demons into pulp while building up Necro (special-attack cost) and then unleashing either super-powered attacks or transforming into a super-powered hulk. The end result is always the same though: everyone but you (but sometimes you also) is shredded into bits, the floor is ankle-deep with blood, and you move on to kill some more.
It's simple, but it doesn't become repetitive. Splatterhouse works with very little; basic brawler mechanics, macabre art-direction, and a heavy-metal soundtrack. But with that minimalism Splatterhouse becomes a game that, while not innovative, maximizes upon its included elements and delivers a fluent, active title that has just the right incline of difficulty alongside an addictive upgrade system to keep you satisfied.
Also in Splatterhouse's favor is that despite its brevity in both complexity and length (campaign is about 5 hours on normal) the additional elements all expand upon the game in addictive and rewarding ways. Character upgrades, which include new combos, abilities, and stat boosters, all exemplify a growth in your character. While not all upgrades have a significant use-factor, once obtaining the upgrade you can still notice the overall enhancement, and your masochistic, murdering avatar becomes just a little bit more of a psychopathic hero. Because most upgrades are also very affordable via Blood (the in-game currency you amass by the bucket-load) they quickly become addictive in a "Collect 'Em All" style.
A relevant criticism to Splatterhouse is that the game's ending is downright terrible in that it doesn't wrap anything up. This is unfortunately true, but at the same time the story prior to its clumsy ending is one investing and enjoyable. Again, though, Splatterhouse keeps its grindhouse roots front-and-center, and while the story is well told it is also very simple, existing as an addition and not a priority. Without spoiling anything the story has two focus': a college couple and their relationship, and a mad scientist with apocalyptic pursuits. Surprisingly, by the end of Splatterhouse I was genuinely invested in the overall histories and motivations of both stories, and both of the games two collectibles (photographs of the girlfriend, and pages from the mad scientist's journal) addition to the stories with fully-voiced, well-written dialogues and memories. If the story is not your thing than the collectibles will be just that, but I think it's more fair to attribute that the team behind Splatterhouse recognized that having players collect things without there being any reason to beyond trophies/achievements was meaningless, and seeing that extra effort put out to expand the game in a divisive, significant manner is one deserving of kudos.
The unfortunate reality of Splatterhouse is that it released at a time that both journalists and gamers were fully enveloped in a new style of gaming antithetical to simple and solid entertainment as found in Splatterhouse. 2010 was a year of very involved, expensive, and emotive gaming experiences such as Red Dead Redemption, Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain, and Bioshock 2, and with the surging rise of valuing games as an "artistic expression," something that is still completely and totally undefined, something like Splatterhouse, a game that thrives on exploitative entertainment-values and is interested solely in gameplay, was a title that everybody viewed as a "backwards step," a videogame that was too much of a videogame.
It's really a shame, because in my eyes Splatterhouse delivers just about everything I could ever want from a videogame. Enjoyable, approachable gameplay with addictive qualities and yes, gory violence and fantastical creativity. While Splatterhouse is not necessarily a quality videogame because of the faults mentioned at the beginning of this review, that isn't to say that Splatterhouse isn't a fun videogame, which it thoroughly is. And, in my opinion, that's the most important thing in any videogame, and so despite its fault Splatterhouse is a title I'd wholly recommend to anyone looking for what it is that makes videogames, well, videogames: solid, enjoyable gameplay and a creative art-direction that inspires one's own imagination. You'll find just that here in Splatterhouse, and you won't be disappointed when you do.