Sunday, June 21, 2009

Indiana Jones and the Waggle Staff of Kings

So I just finished Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings. Apparently the Staff of Kings is Moses' staff from the Bible. I don't remember it ever being referred to as the staff of kings, but I guess I'm not a big archaelogist buff. This game started off incredibly fun. At first I was thinking all the Wii motion controls made a lot of sense and fit the game really well. You put your Wii-mote at the screen to fire the gun when you're in shooting gallery mode, you put up your dukes with nunchuck and Wii-mote in hand and do jabs, uppercuts, and hooks by doing the appropriate motion. You even fly a plane by holding the Wii-mote like you would an airplane joystick. As is always the case with Wii games (at least the ones I've played so far), it starts off making sense, but then the more you do it, the more you realize just how imprecise it is and just how frustratingly stupid waggle controls are in the heat of combat. At one point I'm surrounded by 8 nazis and was constantly just running around throwing things at them and fighting like a pansy because everytime I tried to stand and fight using my fists or the objects I was throwing at them, Indiana Jones would stand there uselessly while Eric Heine was shaking the circuit boards out of his controllers. Not fun. Another part of the game had the opposite problem, where the controls were too sensitive - the plane. I crashed into more walls because of overcompensating turns than anything else. Not fun. The last motion control problem was when the controls just plain didn't make any sense. The very very very final part of the game has you driving a motorcycle, but instead of driving it Mario Kart style with the Wii-mote sideways and you turn it to turn, you have to hold the Wii-mote AND the nunchuck as if they were one handlebar. How did that ever make sense to anyone? Half the time the bike wasn't turning because I guess I wasn't holding the controllers correctly and the other half was overturning just like the plane. Not fun.

Okay, so enough of my rant. Most of those complaints are from the final level, so if you bought the game and stopped playing right when Indy gets on a zeppelin, I think the game would still be fun. They clearly rushed the last level with no test time or just had very rookie designers and programmers working on them. At least that's how it felt to me.

Okay really. I'll stop complaining now. What's fun about the game is every other level; the exploration, shooting, and level design are all really good. The voice acting is good. It wasn't Harrison, but it was a very good sound-a-like. The music was very Indiana Jonesish. The two reasons I bought the game were co-op mode and the inclusion of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (including voiceovers!). Co-op mode is Indiana and his dad essentially playing a varied amount of mini-games working together with a completely different story than the main story. I haven't beat it yet, but I enjoyed what there was so far. I only started playing through Fate of Atlantis to see what it was like on the Wii (I've beaten it countless times as a child). The version I owned as a kid didn't have voiceovers, so I do look forward to playing through that at some point.

So if you take my advice and stop playing the main story when Indiana jumps onto a zeppelin, then I'd say this game earns 4 fedoras. If you hate yourself enough (or if you're like me and just have to complete things) then it earns 12 poisoned dates. What do those numbers mean? Absolutely nothing. If you remember my original purpose for starting this blog, then you'll remember I hate review numbers because they're meaningless. If you played Uncharted, Prince of Persia (the newer set, not the original), or any game that involves ledge climbing around ancient ruins with (in my opinion) combats that really mar the whole experience and liked them, then you'll like this. If you want a good Indiana Jones experience, this game will fit that well. If you want a really great Indiana Jones experience, get Lego Indiana Jones.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Motion/voice controlled gaming

Ever since the Wii was announced, there's been a trend of motion control technologies released.  Two of these were just announced at this year's E3 and the technology isn't finished, so I'll try not to judge them on how glitchy they may look.  My big concern with this trend is that a lot of games do not work with motion controls.  At least not without losing precision or feeling gimmicky.  Project Natal specifically has this video of a family very happily playing a bunch of really dumb looking mini-games together.  Let's assume for a second that anything shown in that video is possible (a big assumption in my opinion), sure that's great for like a 10 minute gameplay session with a bunch of people, but I don't see how that entertainment would last at all or be any fun when I'm playing a game by myself.

You've got a racing game where three people sit there and watch one person play for a very very rare moment of "Now I get to play!"  If I were that dad, I'd tell my daughter to go to the pit stop every lap just so I could get to play.  You've got a Godzilla game that looks like a glorified EyeToy game, which had the same problem of no games for it besides lame mini-games.  You've got a game show game where the motion is hitting the buzzer.  Didn't they sell that game only with an actual buzzer so you can't complain about it not registering your hand movement in time?

Maybe I'm just jaded because of the Wii's waggle-rificly inaccurate motion controls and constant stream of shovelware mini-games.  Speaking of the Wii, they've released some new technology to make their motion sensing more accurate.  If that works then that helps one problem, but developers still have the problem of slapping in motion controls in games just because.  Like Wario Land: Shake It!, which would have been a fantastic old-school platforming game save for the fact that every half a minute or so you'd have to violently shake your controller to get money out of bags or get enemies out of their armor.  This completely broke me out of the enjoyment I was having playing the game every time I had to do it.  That's not the goal in my opinion.

Some games did manage to do the motion controls incredibly well without feeling gimmicky.  Mostly because it wasn't shaking or waggling the controller to do things.  It was pointing the controller like a gun to fire my in-game gun at people or making a motion like I was tossing a garrote around someone's neck to choke them (violent I know, but it is a game based on the Godfather).

So I guess my problem is two-fold.  I really don't trust Project Natal for most games because I think it's important to have the feel of something in your hands while playing a game.  Imagine playing Rock Band with no instruments.  Air Rock Band Hero.  Closets around the world would love that because they wouldn't have to hold so many plastic peripherals, but the controls would have to be so dumbed down to feel at all accurate, which would just ruin the experience.

The other problem I have is that for most games, I play at home to relax sitting on the couch.  I can't do that if you're making me stand up and punch the air or run in place to get across the land of Azeroth or some such thing.  If I had to run around as much as I make my virtual counterparts run around in games, I'd be the world's fittest marathon runner in existence.  I don't see that being fun.

On the other hand, I do see Project Natal being great for workout games or line dancing or something related.  My biggest complaint about working out is that it's mind-numbingly boring.  I'm sitting there doing a repetitive motion staring at nothing, trying to get my mind wandering so it can be happy, but at the same time trying not to lose count of how many sit ups or push ups I've done.  If I could be running on a treadmill while my TV is in front of me displaying a hiking trail I'm "running" on, that would be awesome!  Or having a virtual personal trainer.  Or even if I just had a simple progress bar above a virtual me that counted my reps for me and kept track of my stats so I could level up (ie turn working out into an RPG) then I'd buy that no questions asked.

So I'm wary of the future.  If developers just cram in motion controls everywhere just to try and make a quick buck with "casual gamers", then I fear for the future of gaming.  If developers are smart and use motion controls as a clever tool for more interactive gaming that makes sense and isn't a lot of work for the player, then I'm all for it.