A quick rundown of recent gaming.
Super Paper Mario (Wii)
I was excited to get started on this, but my interest quickly waned. I don’t think its mix of platforming with RPG lite, puzzling and adventuring is very successful. It can be a joy to discover stuff, but so much of it is just gimmicky. I felt like the platforming structure encouraged me to run along, enjoying that Mario inertia, but the game’s structure always punished that. You were better off stopping in every screen to first flip to 3D to see if there’s something hidden, and the pointing the remote on the screen, stopping the action and searchlighting the whole screen to… see if there’s something hidden. I don’t know. It’s just needlessly complicated, I think. I had plenty of fun – it’s written very well and often looks delicious – but it just feels like it wasn’t quite all it could have been with a tighter design.
Elite Beat Agents (DS)
A blast of musical mayhem. The DS’s weak audio capabilities bother and some of the European version’s songs aren’t quite up to scratch. Regardless, it’s a laugh, enhanced immeasurably by the absurd storyline, but ultimately ends up too shallow. Great game to pass along your friends. I know I am a happier person because of experiencing Elite Beat Agents!
NHL 08 (Xbox 360)
I know very little about ice hockey and have not played the earlier NHL games, but a good time was had on this year’s instalment. I can’t play it on my own – it’s just not exciting, as with many sports games, but that’s just me – but with friends or online it’s a whole different story. The gameplay is tight, with EA’s signature analogue controls implemented very well here. It may be because I suck, but scoring is difficult, which I think is a good thing. All of my games have been 1-0, 1-1 or 2-1. The animation sports considerable weight, with the skating feeling very real. Some of the tackling isn’t quite so solid and there can be awkward clipping, especially when the guys pile up on a goal. Otherwise the presentation is rock solid, with smooth framerates, sharp textures and excellent detail all around. Something I think I’m going to dig out whenever there’s someone to play against.
The Darkness (PlayStation 3)
The gameplay reminds me of the original Deus Ex. You wander around the game world, free to go where you please, and it’s very story-driven. The action is much more straightforward, though, and the same kind of choice and branching is not present. The graphics are alright, the action is solid enough, but what really shines here is the storytelling. Starbreeze has really focused on how to tell their basic vengeance story as well as they can and it just works, right from the get-go. Even the loading screens are used better than in any game I can think of, to keep the story flying. The other thing The Darkness does right is establish a sense of place. The New York feels real enough. There’s an insane amount of gritty detail evident, and it all adds up to a coherent world.