We Need Better Games

In The Gaming Community, Video Games on March 23, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I had a slow migration into micro-transactions, digital content distribution and Live Arcade titles.  It began with simple demos, which encouraged me to upgrade to a gold account so I could get them without delay; after they upgraded the dashboard, I found that the Live Marketplace had quite a bit to offer: not just demos of full releases, but “smaller” games released as “arcade” titles along with a well-realized “Indie” market.

It was around this time that Live Arcade began to be taken much more seriously, being treated more frequently as an alternative platform where mainstream developers could release more experimental titles, testing the waters without the huge financial risks of retail distribution.  So instead of seeing simplistic niche titles, we instead saw acclaimed titles like Tomb Raider and the Guardian of Light that branched significantly from their predecessor’s formula, and the 2011 reboot of the franchise can likely be attributed in part to its great success; likewise, Dead Rising‘s Case Zero and Case West generated a ton of buzz for Dead Rising 2 while providing solid experiences at a fraction of the full game’s price.

So I dig Live Arcade.  It’s a happenin’ place for small and large companies alike.  But it still needs better games.

For each of the above-titles, innumerable ironically retro side-scrolling shooters were released, seeing once celebrated companies go from releasing quirky fun like ‘Splosion Man to third-grade dribble like Comic Jumper.  And it’s not like the concept of the latter was even that bad; it’s just that, as far as gameplay is concerned, I’d already seen everything it had to offer.  Sidescrolling shooters from over a decade ago did everything it’s doing and more; and more contemporary titles were more well-written and funnier to boot.

Then there’s some weird infatuation with the “tower defense” genre.  For the uninitiated, tower defense is where you place “towers” with varying offensive and defensive capabilities in a pattern that maximizes your ability to prevent waves of enemies from getting past.  Sometimes you choose the placement of the towers, which adds some “strategy” in that you have to maximize the length of your tower maze, while some games have static emplacements and focus more on micromanaging your resources and upgrades.

Let me jump out and say this.  It’s boring.  You might get a similar experience by knowing that, once every ten minutes, you had to move your mouse to prevent your screen saver from popping up.  And yet, this genre sees semi-frequent release in digital distribution platforms up to and including Live Arcade.  Clogging up the tubes, if you will.

Alternatively, you have the seizure-inducing retro arcade game, such as Geometry Wars and the new Pac Man.  I suppose these appeal to someone, with the screen shuddering and spewing colors like an epileptic holding a rainbow palette.  But do we need so many?  Who are these titles helping?

Instead, we need more games like Beyond Good and Evil HD.  It’s a re-release, we all must realize.  You might even own the game already.  I do.  But you must absolutely, utterly and with no uncertainty, purchase this game.  Buy it now.  Buy it, because we can read between the lines, and we know that this is the secret testing of the waters of the Beyond Good and Evil franchise, itself with its sequel hanging in development for years, likely owing to the lack of success the original title had.  But we need a franchise like Beyond Good and Evil.

And why do we need it?  I wish I could say it was just to keep the quality of Live Arcade titles running high.

If you’ve never played it, or never heard of it, you might wonder what the big deal is about.  You might’ve even read some people criticizing it for being over-hyped crap that no one bought the first time around for a reason.  When you’re playing it on Live Arcade — because you bought it like I told you to — you are going to be greeted by some lightly antiquated gameplay and graphics that, while sharp, certainly aren’t built on Unreal technology.  The camera controls are wonky, and the combat might seem less refined to contemporary titles.

Of course it’s less refined.  It is a re-release of an eight year old game at this point.

But when you’re let loose on the world, a world that you’re told is under siege, a world that’s dying, you’re given a camera and the directive to photograph as many native species as you can find, so at least some record exists of them.  You do this as you traverse the game’s plot about trust, governments, friends, war and autonomy.  And the vehicle for all of this is Jade, a strong, inclusive female protagonist that just happens to be one of the best characters in all of gaming, with a powerful supporting cast of equally well-defined characters that each contribute meaningfully to the plot.

So, if you’ve ever asked yourself why games can’t have better plots, fewer one-dimensional characters, better supporting casts, or multiple complex themes explored through sympathetic vehicles…well, that’s why you need to buy this game, and that’s why we need this franchise.

  1. I feel as though half your article is really just build-up to advertise BG&E. Not that this is terrible, but I’d surmise that the use of the sequel’s screenshots may mislead the less savvy reader into how good the HD version actually looks.

    Concerning your title, we need better games- as opposed to what? Not that I disagree with the sentiment, rather I would like to be clearer on the impetus for it. Is this a rail against the content of the Live Marketplace specifically, or the industry in general? I would reason there are certainly a share of good games regardless, though perhaps not many which are provocative or deep.

    Of course, Bioshock Infinite isn’t out yet.

    That said, concerning BG&EHD (yay abbreviations!), I’m still early on in revisiting this classic, but I certainly feel it holds up well. The combat was never deep, but neither is it necessarily so in the Zelda titles from which it takes a few nods. It is certainly fluid and that works fine for me. The graphics honestly still look quite nice, owing in part to the style- the only thing that really looks off are some of the human mouths, particularly that newscaster at the beginning of the game.

    I would certainly second that the Live marketplace (and its ilk) have brought us some good things. Some required a bit of coaxing for me to check out, such as the aforementioned Lara Croft game. I wasn’t sufficiently motivated until SquareEnix provided a patch with Raziel and Kain, along with a thrilling story using stock audio. Suffice to say, it was just enough motivation to overcome the barrier and download the game, which was quite fun regardless of the avatars. If they do a follow-up, I may download it more swiftly due to my enjoyment of the first.

  2. It is, more or less. It’s a good series and I am being truthful, if paranoid, when I say that I believe the sequel lives or dies on the arcade rerelease. Might not be true. But I think it does deserve a shot.

    As for the “what” to which we need better games “than”: yes. I think there are too many lousy titles shoveled out on arcade, that do nothing more than tug on some nostalgia for sidescrollers or seizure-based shooters. Some are very very good, but many are not.

    We also need better non-arcade titles, because gaming’s probably gotten as far as it’s going to get as far as graphics are concerned; I’m loathe to see the industry move towards the further distractions of motion-based gaming and 3D graphics. Not when, as a narrative form, it’s still very much in its infancy, and there aren’t a whole ton of “good” characters. Cool ones, yes, but living, breathing, believable characters with motivations that fuel the plot, rather than the other way around….not so much.

    As an interactive medium, I know it’s difficult to present this without forcing gamers to watch a movie; but this is where Beyond Good and Evil had some nice tricks with, say, the photography thing, because it used that interactivity to invest you in the game, plot and world.

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