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volume 1, issue 29

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Pad Happy:
Out of Control

By Nick Ferguson

 

For those of you who have taken to turning your nose up at anything 2D, I beg you to think again. It was absolutely delightful to play a game and not have to wonder about camera mess-ups, looking up and down, baddies that might be hiding just out of sight, and all the other wonderful things that go hand-in-hand with 3D adventuring. Returning to a land of pixel-perfect jumps, suitably predictable bad guys and relaxing left-right, up-down scrolling gameplay was a most refreshing experience. In fact, it felt like a gaming holiday! Not to mention the fact that the range and invention that you’ll find among the superior 2D platformers and shoot-em ups far outweighs the range of today’s 3D equivalents – there are valuable lessons to be learned from the classics of the past. So you were impressed with some of Quake’s gravity-bending environments? Pah – Strider was doing all that years ago. Similarly, the thrilling level in Jedi Knight, where you were trapped on board a crashing Corvette and the whole ship was being turned upside down, can be linked back to the opening of Super Metroid!

The game mechanics of the average shooter and fighter have become increasingly complex. Too often, a barrage of spectacular power-ups are used to mask the inherent lack of substance (a criticism that can also be leveled at many of Capcom’s later beat-em ups). The player is often confronted with complex options screens, multiple arrays of power-ups and too many choices. The gameplay is not clean – it’s messy and ill-conceived. Playing the excellent PlayStation emu title R-Types, I was struck initially by the first game’s comparative simplicity, but also (as in the best games, such as the Zelda series and Metal Gear Solid) how every type and line of enemy, each stage, and every power-up item forces the player to reassess their playing strategy. Even though I must have plugged the local coin-op with enough lunch money to buy my own cabinet, R-Type still manages to surprise and delight me - eleven years on.

Now, I’m not one of those dull old crones who harps on about how "games were better in the old days". They weren’t, but they sure were different. I have to make space for an hour or two before I let myself play Zelda – otherwise I won’t have the time to do anything worthwhile (like an entire dungeon) in one go. A similar criticism can be applied to Turok 2, or DMA’s Body Harvest, which necessitate a mind-boggling hour to an hour-and-a-half between saving your game. What the hell were they thinking? The atmosphere of so many titles these days (Silent Hill, Resident Evil series, Metal Gear) is weakened considerably if you try and play these games for stretches of less than an hour or more at a time. The joy of the Genesis games I’ve been playing this weekend is that I can pick one up, play it for 20 minutes, try something else, do something else, and come back to it later. There’s also a lot less to keep in my mind – I’ve found that Zelda 64 requires me to do a helluva lot of memorizing and trying to remember what I did where – not a bad thing in itself, but it sure would have been nice to be able to make some log or something in the game. Imagine if a semi-automatic "Link’s Diary" was kept by the game, noting down the hints and tips of interest, but not core to beating the game – wouldn’t that have been a helpful addition? Alright, so I can get pen and paper out, Ultima-style, to note details down, but if I have to do that why not get straight to it and bring out a 100-sided die while we’re at it? Grrr.

Maybe I’m getting old and decrepit (at 22? God help us all!) but I don’t think so; one other thing all these games are showing me is just how much better a gamer I am now. I remember taking hours to complete missions in Desert Strike, and struggling with the "caverns" section of Another World, but they’re much easier than I remember. I can now appreciate how much "baggage" I bring with me to every game I play; it’s a bit like how mastering Quake with the mouse means you’re capable of playing pretty much every other FPS with minimum hassle (except Thief – for some reason I find myself struggling with the many keys). Playing Abe’s Exoddus I can’t help but trace the basics of the game back through Flashback and Another World to Prince of Persia.

I find myself wondering what so many games must seem like to people that never played the earlier games, who have no concept of gaming ‘pedigree’? I wonder what it must be like to be 11 years old right now and never have owned anything other than a PlayStation? What do games say to these kids? Maybe they’re just like I was - looking forward to the next development, rather than trying to trace a line back through history like I do now. Or maybe by tracing that line back we can get some idea of where we’re heading (it sure as hell ain’t MPEG-2 quality FMV) with the awesome next generation of hardware. If Sony really can produce what they say they will with the PlayStation 2, gaming looks like it might be in for a quantum leap (when I read the announcement, I was sooo glad I decided on a career in this industry). For once, that might not be hype.

I used to scoff at notions that "gameplay" was better in older games. Now I’m not so sure. It seems that before we had awesome graphics and near-limitless storage capacity, games had to be playable because there wasn’t any other reason to play them. I’ve always enjoyed new games, but this weekend they just seemed so complicated. A few times I decided I’d get back to Zelda on my N64, but then opted for another shot at Strider instead. Maybe I’m just having a temporary love affair with the games of my past, but my experience this weekend has been one of the most interesting in my gaming career. Maybe you should try it, too.

- Before he discovered loonygames, Nick Ferguson was happy with the 8-bit games of his youth. Who needs this newfangled ‘Emotion Engine’ nonsense, anyway?

 

Credits: Pad Happy logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 1999 Nick Ferguson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it, or you'll get some real force feedback.