Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tearaway, and the Praise for Bad Game Design

When I write about games, I like to do so with my own personal evaluation. While I've read reviews prior to games that I later talked about myself, I always keep it in mind to keep my own thoughts and feelings separate from those I've read. The journalists that I admire are the ones who write without objectivism; and their neglect to be persuaded by other journalists is something I admire.
That said, and what is the reason for this blog, is that I can't help but compare my thoughts about Tearaway to that of other journalists. Or rather, I have no idea how my thoughts towards Tearaway are so seemingly alone. The summary, before I expand below, is that I have absolutely no idea how Tearaway earned such high marks because the game that I played sported one of the most frustrating and unrewarding game designs around, one that I've spotted in some other relatively recent titles also (Thomas Was Alone, and Rain), and that, if it was me writing a review, I'd have given this game something alike 'Below Average.'
And so what is this flaw? It is the flaw of utterly meaningless game-content.

What appears to have captured so many reviewers opinion, from IGN (9.3/10), Gamespot (8/10), Gametrailers (8.7/10), etc, is the 'charm' of Tearaway. Being a game whose world is entirely built out of applicable paper-craft, it's certainly interesting to discover how roaming streams of water can be constructed with cornflower-blue construction-paper rolling open, or even just seeing paper-built elk and squirrels can be cutely intoxicating. And there's a lot of joviality within the brief adventure as well; there's a portion of the game where you ride a pig, and seeing your character's utterly joyous expression while doing so can warm even the most cynical of hearts.
But 'charm' isn't anything more than art-direction. Tearaway is a very pleasant game to look at, yes, but that doesn't say anything about whether or not the actual game is any good. I still think of Auto-Modellista as one of the most gorgeous racing games, but that doesn't make it a good racing game (it's not). How about Resident Evil 6, a stunning game by appearance, praised greatly in previews for just that, and then ended up a lukewarm let-down. Do I even need to bring up Final Fantasy 13 here?
What is so ridiculous to me is that there's nothing 'new' about a game with great art-direction amounting to a weak videogame, and yet Tearaway is the title that somehow confounded even the most experienced of game-journalists and ended up seeing gold (in terms of reviews) because of that--- but it doesn't deserve it.
What I mean by 'meaningless game-content' is that what models the progression of the game portion of Tearaway is a series of new abilities or interactive obstacles that expand the game content, and then are never used again (or not built upon). At it's core Tearaway is a platformer, and sure there's a fair bit of jumping around, except Tearaway not only doesn't need to be tied to such one-shot thinking, but also that it tells the gamer that they won't be doing such basic activity either, except that's really all there is to do. No matter how much Tearaway expertly and creatively makes use of the Vita's touch and gyro capabilities (and I say that with genuine admiration; there is no 'gimmick' in Tearaway), there never develops any consideration that the gamer has indeed used those features and now understands them better and can therefore undertake more involved and rewarding obstacles. Tearaway sprays these radical and exciting gameplay-innovations throughout its adventure, but none of them are developed in any way meaningful towards the gamer who is actually using them. Ideas that are presented brilliantly, but then never actually used beyond that presentation.
Tearaway is a 'sampler' of interesting gameplay ideas, but that's exactly why the game doesn't deserve the radiant praise it has been delivered. This is no mini-game collection alike Little Deviants; this is a linear adventure that develops towards a climactic and satisfying ending. Videogames are unique in the way they deliver their conclusion because, as the gamer nears the conclusion of a title, it is there that everything learned, experimented with, and understood is then delivered in a challenging, thorough way that tests the knowledge and ability of the gamer so far, halting them even, and then culminating with a rewarding finale. I don't mean 'challenging' as in brutal or absurd, but only that it recognizes what has modeled and been revealed gameplay-wise throughout, and displays these experiences through unique obstacles that test the gamer to creatively recognize the abilities available to them so far. Tearaway doesn't do this, and for a game that has limitless potential in not only the amount of interesting gameplay experienced throughout, but also the wild and ever-changing world that comprises it, this leaves nothing more than a very simple, and perhaps shallow, feeling that it's over--- and that's it. A game you played until it ended, because despite how unique and buoyant the journey was there never came a portion where the game actually recognized that you have both played and mastered any of its several obstacles. The gamers role in Tearaway is as a viewer, and there's really nothing more anti-thetical to gameplay than making the player feel like they've no part in it. It's through testing them, challenging them, that the gamer becomes immersed and excited about playing the game; without that, there's really no reason for the product to be a videogame.
For all the praise delivered upon Tearaway for its charm, I would agree with that only if Tearaway wasn't a videogame. As it is, Tearaway would probably have made for an excellent Pixar film rife with adorableness and exciting action-sequences, but as far as a videogames go Tearaway is an example of how best to alienate the gamer from the game, and to create an experience that not only neglects the person experiencing it, but also doesn't really seem to care if they're there at all.

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