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Fluidity

Full Review

Fluidity CoverThanks to the indie uprising, we have a heightened visibility for games that might have gone unnoticed just five years ago. A garage developer's labor of love can now share front page headlines with the AAA behemoths of the industry. Many fine media outlets even make a special effort to cover these smaller productions. Indie games have become the punk rockers of the industry, offering a lean alternative to overproduced AAA formulas, often with rebellious verve and spunk that resonates with us ninety-nine percenters (and at a price we ninety-nine percenters can afford).

But even in this new era, where the little guys yield as many pageviews as their big budget competition, an indie game needs to have some innovative hook or bombastic message in order to rise to the top. I can think of no other reason why Fluidity, a brilliant puzzle platformer with Metroidvania elements, has gone largely unnoticed. (Except that the game is marooned on Wii's invisible WiiWare digital distribution service, that is.)

It makes sense, though, doesn't it? So many indie darlings that went big had some kind of divergent aura about them. Limbo and Braid made their names with artsy themes and visuals that you just don't see in big money productions. The cheery brutality of Super Meat Boy, Magicka, and Castle Crashers upgraded them from mere mechanical joys to acclaimed game experiences. Fluidity, on the other hand, lifts its style and mood from airline safety manuals, of all things.

de Blob [Video]

First Hour Review

de Blob CoverTim Schafer is funding a game through Kickstarter. That still blows my mind. It's been clear for some time that the existing publisher-developer model isn't ideal, and that the industry would move away from it in time, but I don't think anybody expected consumer-funding to hit the relative mainstream so soon. Of course, Schafer is one of the industry's few big names, and he specializes in an inexpensive, fan-favorite style that has been MIA for years. With that in mind, it's too early to say that the floodgates of fan-funding have been flung open. But maybe we can say that the publishers' dam has a nice new fracture in it.

THQ provides a great example of how a publisher's mismanagement can ruin a developer. Blue Tongue Entertainment was an Australian outfit that developed De Blob for Wii in 2008. The game had a modest budget and a modest advertising campaign; it was a modest success, selling just under a million copies on a console tailor-made for its target audience and lacking in competition at the time. Apparently the dollar signs blinded THQ to circumstances, and it funded a multiplatform sequel that, across four systems, didn't even meet half of the original's numbers. THQ is paying the price for such decisions, but Blue Tongue Entertainment felt the brunt of the blowback when the studio was dissolved and staff was cut.

So my De Blob first hour review and the blockbuster sales it will surely generate come far too late to save Blue Tongue Entertainment from THQ's misguided decisions. Better late than never, I suppose.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Full Review

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword CoverThe lasting impression from my recent introduction to the original Legend of Zelda was its unstructured progression. With only a ghost of a narrative driving the action and few barriers to limit wanderlust, the course of my trip through Hyrule was almost entirely up to me. Having played Ocarina of Time before any other Zelda game, I was surprised to see just how hands-off the original was.

In contrast, last month's Skyward Sword may be the most linear Zelda experience yet. The newest quest sees Link flying from one compact landmass to the next with hardly any room for side trips. The vast sky of islands is sparser than Wind Waker's nearly endless ocean, and even the surface world below is but three masses of land separated by impenetrable mountain ranges and deserts and forests. This is a Zelda where the path to the next waypoint is often the only path.

Every game in the series since the eighties original has trended towards structure and direction as story progression and ability acquisition gained a greater share of the Zelda spirit. Aesthetic similarities and recurring tropes aside, The Legend of Zelda and Skyward Sword could be mistaken for two wholly separate franchises. For better or worse, Skyward Sword feels like the end state of a slow evolution that Nintendo has been cooking for twenty-five years.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

First Hour Review

Prince of Persia Forgotten Sands CoverHollywood and video games have never had a healthy relationship. Ever since the Super Mario Bros movie ruined millions of childhoods, video game franchises of all kinds have received blasphemous silver screen adaptations. The latest mainstream abuse of a video game license comes from Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. I'm not one to praise the narrative of most games, but I really enjoyed the bittersweet fable of the Prince and Farah that the 2002 hit presented. I've heard less favorable things about the movie, and I don't think I want to see how it ended up.

The existence of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is the result of one of the strangest cross-media cycles I've ever seen. The Forgotten Sands, a sequel to the Sands of Time video game, was released alongside the Sands of Time movie, an unrelated adaptation of the Sands of Time video game. Even stranger, Sands of Time already has a pair of sequels (Warrior Within, and The Two Thrones), but Forgotten Sands apparently precedes them. Even strangerer, the Wii version of Forgotten Sands is actually an alternate tale to the version of the game available for PS3, 360, and PC!

I'm still trying to wrap my head around all that. The plotline of the Sands Trilogy was already mind-bending enough with all the time travel going on, but now Hollywood's gone and made everything worse! Oh well. I guess the more pressing topic at hand is just how forgettable Forgotten Sands is on the Wii.

Disney Epic Mickey

First Hour Review

Disney Epic Mickey CoverMickey Mouse was never a big part of my early life. I guess that's to be expected: my grandfather remembers seeing Mickey Mouse cartoons when he was young, and a kids' cartoon character can only stay relevant for so long. I've never been into the whole corruption-of-childhood-icons thing, either. It always sort of struck me as puerile and cheap, like finding a genitalia-spacecraft dogfight penciled into the margins of a social studies textbook.

So when I first saw the Game Informer cover art for a dark take on Disney called Epic Mickey, I scoffed. I'd never imagined such a thing would exist, and I couldn't fathom it being worth a damn. I let out an unapproving sigh as I skimmed over the concept art in the magazine, featuring mechanical perversions of classic Disney characters. The designs themselves didn't bother me beyond their tired post-apocalyptic, steampunk styles, but the concept itself seemed like something a goth 7th grader might come up with after being dragged to Disney World by his family.

As it turns out, all of that imagery was just pre-production concept, used in the magazine to create as much hype as the shock value could muster. The final product has a safer appearance, one that most would say is more "tame." I think it's just less gimmicky. Further details would catch my interest as well, including the use of forgotten Disney properties to create an off-kilter gameworld (rather than just a dark one) and the moral freedom system that's supervised by a guy who excels at that sort of thing.

It's been a strange hype cycle, but Epic Mickey has finally arrived. For the first time, I'm actually anticipating a Mickey Mouse property. Is my newfound interest warranted, or should I have left it in the trash with that issue of Game Informer?

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