Every now and then I like to reflect on my poor life choices, specifically in respect to how I waste my time. There are certain time wasters that excel above the rest.
And though these bits of digital entertainment seek to enslave our brains and our wallets, we often feel compelled to celebrate them. Why is that? Do we suffer from some sort of game play Stockholm Syndrome? Are we that desperate to fill the gaping void in our meaningless existences?
Or maybe the games are just, y’know, fun.
Here are two of the games that have captured my interest recently.
Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Lacking access to the consoles that had games which defined the term ‘Metroidvania,’ I never really played this sort of game growing up. The closest I can think of off the top of my head is maybe JAZZ JACKRABBIT, though that moved from level to level rather than having one big sprawling map.
I recently discovered that I rather like this sort of idea. Gaining upgrades to unlock previously inaccessible portions of the map takes what might otherwise be a bloated game and gives a sense of excitement. Well, it’s true I will have to walk back to the beginning if the game, but there is a ton that I can unlock that was not so long ago out of reach!
When it comes to SHADOW COMPLEX, they pair these upgrades with a story that ties it all together. It will not necessarily win any awards for excellence in narration, as it is a bit generic, but the story is serviceable. It gives you a reason that you ought to be finding the Next Cool Upgrade in respect to the plot, rather than just relying on the fact that it allows access to the next area.
The characters are interesting as well, with the protagonist just vocal enough during the game to remind you he exists without stepping into obnoxious territory. His sparse commentary gives you the sense that everything he is doing here has an effect on him. Again, he and the supporting characters are a touch on the generic side, but do not rely too heavily on weary tropes. I really like how the enemy soldiers will carry on conversations about what their bosses are doing, and what effect they hope (or fear) it might have on the world at large. On the one hand, it is a bit of a cliche to have the bad guys standing around talking about their Master Plans in the presence of the hero. On the other, it allows a bit of exposition (without stating anything too plainly) while the player is still moving forward with the goal.
Although I have not yet finished the game, I believe that I will, because it is kind of a blast, and because I have not yet found one hundred percent of the collectibles. (Don’t look at me that way. My life is not complete until I have the pocket capacity to carry 60 grenades on my person at all times.)
PHOENIX WRIGHT: JUSTICE FOR ALL
If you’ve never played a Phoenix Wright game, then you have done yourself a disservice. Fortunately, the franchise seems to be surviving the various gaming generations (they pass so fast these days) with ports and updates for various devices.
I believe that the original, PHOENIX WRIGHT: ACE ATTORNEY came out for GameBoy Advance, and while I did have that device for a short time, I never played it until years later, on my iPod touch. Now I have three of the games on my iPad (and a fourth has recently released) and I’m having a great time with it.
The gist of the game is that you, Phoenix Wright, attorney extraordi-lucky, take on the cases of those deemed un-defendable by other lawyers. These people, typically, are accused of murder, and you must prove them innocent.
In order to appreciate this game, you have to understand that it is a so-called ‘visual novel.’ Events in the game progress as the writers predetermined it, unless you make enough mistakes that there is a temporary game over. Basically, I mean, the player has technically no influence on the outcome: there is one ending, one way to beat each case. That might be off-putting to some.
The reason to play is that the journey is way more important than the destination. The writers and artists at Capcom have a great sense for developing interesting, vivid, colorful characters. (And I do mean colorful…) Phoenix Wright, as our gateway to this peculiar world, serves as an effective straightman to the sometimes bizarre behaviors of the other characters, without so much self-awareness that it kills your immersion.
The cases you are expected to make occasionally fall prey to ‘adventure game logic.’ It can be difficult to suss out just what the developers intend for you to do. Your choice might seem logical at the time, and when proven false can be frustrating, but at least it always makes sense in retrospect why you were supposed to go the other way.
If you do not mind that the game essentially railroads you to the end (unless you just screw up that badly), it’s a fantastic and hilarious trip along the way.
(I might also mention another game from Capcom in a similar vein: GHOST TRICK: PHANTOM DETECTIVE. I had a great time working through the mystery of the main character’s murder, and even did not see the big twist coming until it was almost upon me.)
So, there you have it. A couple of games that have proven themselves fair distractions from what I ought to be doing.
Tell me, dear reader, what games have distracted you of late?