Thursday, 11 June 2015

Memory Review 2: Pilotwings Resort

Memory reviews: A series of highly subjective weekly reviews of games I no longer own, arranged in the order in which I played them, starting with the most recent. These reviews are likely to be shorter than previous reviews, especially later ones and hopefully will capture the points, good and bad, that stood out and stuck with me about the games in question. 
For a more detailed description of this idea, click here.
Previous review: Paper Mario Sticker Star.

Pilotwings Resort was a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS, and together with Steel Diver and Nintendogs and Cats made up Nintendo's first party offerings. It's likely that part of the reasoning behind this was that a game about flight would be well suited to showing off the consoles 3D technology, see "You think in such three dimensional terms" below.
There are three basic vehicle types as well as a flying squirrel type of thing unlocked later on. Advanced versions of each are unlocked as the game goes on. Here we come to the first memory hurdle, how do these different vehicles control? Ummm. The most honest answer I can give is that they control as you would expect them to. The plane moves at speed and maintains its altitude, so the focus is on navigation and turns. The glider requires currents to stay up, I think, so the focus there is on maintaining altitude and covering ground quickly so as not to miss out on high up targets. The jet pack also focuses on altitude and is the slowest of the three, there may have been a fuel mechanic for this one as well as a penalty for hitting the ground too hard. The fact that the exact mechanisms of the game are somewhat unclear in my mind after only a few years says a lot about the functional if forgettable nature of Pilotwings Resort. In addition, the game has some lifespan issues which will be discussed later on. 
Part of the challenge of trying to write a review of Pilotwings Resort from memory is trying to distinguish elements from this game from parts of Wii Sports Resort (an excellent game which I may cover later in this series). Let me explain. Pilotwings Resort is divided into two sections: mission mode and exploration mode. In exploration mode you can use all three vehicles to explore the same tropical islands you explored by plane in Wii Sports Resort in search of secrets and information points. While the text for these points is entertaining and the main island has a number of secret caves and passageways which are a challenge both to find and to navigate, the fact is most players have likely done this before.
This leaves most of the job of justifying the game to the mission mode. Sadly there is a limited number of short missions to play. This is not necessarily a problem in every game; a small number of missions can provide lots of entertainment and replay value either through high score challenges or by introducing some sort of variability to each replay (as in the recent trend of rogue-like games1). Pilotwings Resort falls flat in both these areas. The missions are unchanging, during each replay you fly through the same targets positioned in the same positions, so multiple attempts quickly get repetitive. The game includes a scoring system in which you are scored out of three stars based on your performance. Even on paper, this is obviously a broad and imprecise system. There's no feedback or indications as to why some attempts get two stars rather than three. The witchcraft that determines whether your landing was good is particularly nebulous.
In a game with more courses, a cryptic scoring system would be less of an issue. In such a game, once you've taken off as much time, corrected as many mistakes as you can and tried as many alternate routes as you feel inclined to you can move on and repeat the process in a different level. But because it has only a few courses Resort insists you fixate on getting ill-defined perfect scores in unchanging missions in an already overfamiliar environment if you want to get more than an afternoon out of it. To conclude, personally I found that Pilotwings didn't have enough content to justify the price I paid for it, which may have contributed to the 3DS' initial failure to take off. 


You think in such three dimensional terms

Personally, I'm not interested in 3D films or games. Especially in the case of films I find that the brain can roughly determine from 2D images how close or far away something is from things like size and shadows and so on, so a 3D effect adds little. For me, the most impressive (read actually noticeable) 3D effect in Avatar was the robot dog that kicks the floating ball into the audience before the film started. When you have 3D foreground elements that touch the frame it shatters the illusion of depth, at least for me anyway. A plane/glider/rocketman in the foreground, that does not come into contact with any larger objects (all things going well) exploring an open space is a good fit for showing off the 3D effect.

1: This represents the only time when this blog will attempt to comment on recent trends in videogames. I am sorry for any distress and confusion this has caused.

And now we're proud to present a statement from celebritii Miister X about the game that a hard working intern acquired for us.
"I believe I made it clear in my last message not to call this agency again unless you're interested in entering into another financial arrangement with Miister X or one of my other clients. You're phone number will now been blocked. Uh. Johnathon, how do hang up, wait no I have"

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Memory Review 1: Paper Mario Sticker Star

A key part of the EyeMoustaches mission statement is "reviewing games that came out years ago", an admiral goal definitely not born out of reluctance to spend money on new games. However, as I've mentioned before, within weeks of starting this blog I ran into a serious problem: I could hardly remember some of the games I'd long since sold off, which would make writing a useful review quite challenging.
What's more, it's difficult to trust a reviewer with a small back catalogue. You might be thinking, "this Moustache thing is telling me how good Kid Icarus is, but I can't trust it. I need references, a track record, I need to know it can tell a good game from a bad game. That it didn't just like it because Palutena has a voice like melted cheese.... in a good way (this may not have been your exact wording)".
But where others might see a problem, I see the potential for a series of gimmick articles. I intend to write a number of weekly smaller reviews of these games, with the twist that they'll be arranged in the order of release, from the most recent onward. Each week, you the lucky reader will be taken on a thrilling journey into increasingly foggy memories! Watch with amazement as the flowery prose, coherent arguments and confident statements of facts become short descriptions, half forgotten opinions and hesitant statements of questionable accuracy! Truly exciting stuff!
In addition, to boost the readership, I had an intern/figment of my imagination get some contributions from Miiverse super star Miister X about the games on the list. It may appear as though not many of them relate to the game in question but hii's an artist, operating on another level, so perhaps the true meaning and relevance of his statements is hidden, waiting to be discovered by a greater mind than mine.
So without further adieu, I give the first review in the series: Paper Mario Sticker Star

Paper Mario Sticker Star

Super Paper Mario on the Wii was divisive because it mixed classic Mario with the RPG elements of the Paper Mario series. While I did miss the turn based combat of the previous games, the wit and style of the series lived on. The story, characters and companions carried me through the adjustment to the new combat scheme as well as some of the game's faults (for example: a dependence on backtracking, and the underused rotation mechanic). Sticker Star attempts a different mixture of those two game types and falls flat. It takes the story and minimal dialogue from traditional Mario games (Bowser, of all people, has kidnapped, who'd-have-guessed, Princess Peach) as well as the map structure of Super Mario Bros 3 and World and mixes these elements with the 3D environments, visual style and turn based combat of the Paper Mario series.
Removing the story and character elements takes with it the colourful dust jacket of Paper Mario, revealing the simplistic, functional hardback cover of exploration beneath. In this game your objectives are quite similar to those seen in previous games and as before you are accompanied by a companion who does the talking. However because of the reduced focus on writing these are the least interesting environments in the series. Whereas previous games were set backstage at wrestling matches, in abstract wastelands, nerd fortresses and toyboxs and tasked you with solving murder and stew pot mysteries in this game you explore the forests and rolling hills and forests that are standards of Mario games. Mario's companion, the floating-crown-person-lady, is another staple, specifically the straight-man/woman that Mario partners up with at the start of Paper Mario game who is quickly replaced with someone more interesting (dull companions were also a problem with Super Paper Mario, but as I recall in that game your alternate characters, particularly Bowser picked up the slack). In Sticker Star however, that initial companion accompanies you throughout the game. The crown gives Mario the power to peel off parts of the world and reposition them elsewhere but this ability is never used in an interesting way and does little but facilitate fetch quests.
All that being said, dialogue and setting isn't everything, and on first glance the game's combat appears to have gone back to the series' turn based roots. Closer inspection reveals, however, that slight changes have been made which, at the risk of sounding like everyone who has ever talked about games on the internet ever make everything worse. As mentioned earlier, Mario only has one companion throughout the whole game, so the extra layer of strategy provided by companions is gone, leaving the whole system resting on Mario's wafer then shoulders. In this game, all moves are tied to stickers bought and collected in the world. This change has its merits, different stickers take up more space in Mario's collection than others depending on their power, so some resource management is necessary. For instance, you need to stock up on hammers if you expect to encounter spiky enemies. The most powerful and visually interesting moves are sometimes used to solve puzzles in the environment such as blowing things away with a giant fan, which on paper (PAPER) is an interesting mechanic. In practice though, this means you rarely use these abilities in combat, out of fear that they will be needed to solve a puzzle later on in which case you would have to retreat and buy a new copy. To use the ever fertile toybox metaphor, it's like being given the keys to a toybox, but you can't tell which toys can actually be played with and which ones will be needed to knock over giant bowling pins later on.

As a result, most battles consist of using the staple moves on staple enemies in staple environments to further a staple Mario story filled with bland staple characters. Paper Mario Sticker Star is perhaps an odd game to start this memory review series with because it is not that I've forgotten details of the game over  time but that so little of it was interesting enough to stick(er) in my memory to begin with.


This game

And know the comment from Miister X

"As my client, Miister X made clear when he signed our deal with you, you may use his likeness for a fee, but he wants "nothing to do with your damn blog". He went on to say that he doesn't know what a sticker star is but that if you attempt to obtain another free opinion from him he will "shove a packet of match attack stickers so far down your throat that your intestines will look like a Man U fan's bedroom wall" Please don't call this number again unless you are in a position to make a cash offer. [Dictated but not read]"

Next review: Pilotwings Resort