Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Avoid the Void Before Christ

Jet packs aren't as good as grappling hooks. I'm pretty sure every game I've played with a grappling hook was at least decent, and I think once you make the grappling hook your main mechanic there's a good chance your game will be great. Jet pack games should be just as good, but I'm starting to think the ability to easily float is an unsatisfying mechanic and encourages sloppy design. I think it may be why Dark Void Zero is such a disappointment. Or maybe it's because it's made by white people.

Oh, but I kid! White people can make awesome 2D games -- VVVVVV came out a week ago and it's already GOTY! But Backbone and all their offshoots (one of which developed Dark Void Zero) don't make awesome 2D games. They make disappointments. Which is a shame, because big publishers keep giving them jobs, and because I keep accidentally buying their games because I can't keep track of all their studios, and because I can't trust other people's impressions when it comes to modern 2D games. A lot of fans are just sprite art fetishists, y'know? They'll praise anything as long as it controls halfway decent and the developers make it obvious enough that hey, they really love Nintendo too. This is why I've heard more about Dark Void Zero's intro, where you blow into the DSi's mic to "clean" an NES cartridge's contacts, than I have about the actual game. Easier to judge whether the game hits all the right nostalgia notes than whether it's actually good.

And Dark Void Zero does get most of the surface bits right. It looks and sounds close enough to an NES game -- though the music is mixed far too low, which is a shame because it seems pretty good -- and handles like one, too. But it's a frustrating game. Not due to its challenge -- I beat it in under an hour on one credit on the default difficulty -- but cuz it's pretty inconsistent. The feel is off. It's pretty "30+ year old white folks trying to make an old fashioned Japanese action game". It's a jet pack game where you spend a good chunk of your time traversing tight horizontal corridors on foot. It's a jet pack game that frequently strips you of your jet pack and forces weaker weapons upon you, employing the ever popular and modern "strip the hero of all the powers he's earned" multiple times per stage. Your first glance at the game map may lead to expectations of an open ended, exploration heavy affair, like Metroid, but in reality it's a linear keyhunt that relies on lots of backtracking to create the illusion of an open ended, exploration heavy game, like all those modern games that claim to be inspired by Metroid. It's got an odd pace, feeling simultaneously rushed and padded. It does a poor job of giving audio and visual feedback -- there's very slight flickering when you get hit, making it hard to tell when you're taking damage. And the sound of shots that damage an enemy and shots that don't are identical, which sure made the boss fights tiring until I realized it was actually the worst style of boss fight: the kind where you have to sit around and wait for him to expose his weak point before you can do any damage! And there are collision detection issues, as I'd often be shooting a dude and it sure did look like he should have been hit but he totally wasn't. And the game crashed on me when I tried to read the manual, so I didn't know you could save until after I beat it and saw CONTINUE on the title screen. And the Jimmy Fallon cameos totally blow the "long lost NES game" vibe they were going for.

And everybody hates a critic. Even me! I am being too mean. It is playable. It is close to being worth buying. But there are an awful lotta great NES games for the same price on Virtual Console. Why buy a sham when you can get the real deal? And if you only have a DSi buy Boxlife. Or Trajectile. Or any of those Art Style games. They're pretty neat.

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