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Monday, October 27, 2008


A few weeks ago, Nintendo released a brilliant movement game on WiiWare: Art Style: Orbient. It's six dollars, it lasted me many hours, and I'm sure I'll pick it up again every now and then. But beyond the value, it's a great game. It's not like anything else I've played before. You play as a planet, and the only way to move is by either pulling or pushing yourself from other gravities in the vicinity. You try to get smaller planets into your orbit, you try to get yourself into the orbit of bigger planets, and you try to absorb planets your size so that you get bigger. It might sound confusing, but once you pick it up you understand it perfectly. It fits the ideal of movement games, as I see it: it gives me a new kind of existence to experience, one that entirely revolves around the concepts of orbit and gravity.

Something that I particularly admire about Orbient is its purity of vision. There are no elements tacked on. There's no story, there are no cutscenes, there are no minigames, there are no boss battles. This game is a 100% pure movement game. They got 50 challenging, creative and distinct levels in without ever losing focus or breaking their own rules. This is a game where you start playing as soon as you go in, and keep playing as long as you're there, without ever having your time wasted.

This is surprisingly rare. Possibly the most acclaimed game from last year was Portal, a puzzle game which thinks it's a science fiction comedy action movement game. I recently played that on Eli's computer. I did have fun with it. But it's not a very intellectually stimulating puzzle game, it's not a particularly intense action game, its controls are too focused on functionality for it to be a good movement game, and its science fiction story isn't exactly on the level of standard TV. I'll give it the comedy, though- it was funny. See, that's the problem with trying to do everything: you end up achieving very little.

(The way to make Portal work, I think, would be to de-emphasize puzzles so that the game becomes complex, and then to take away rigid structure and have gameplay pop up however it serves the comedy.)

It's common practice to give lots of little subordinate elements lots of attention, without paying any attention to primary content. So I come across metaludes (The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass) and action RPGs (Okami) which put lots of effort into repeating gameplay systems but very little into plot. (Naturally, I have not finished either game and don't plan to any time soon.) And I come across… well, hm. I really don't play many games these days, do I. Well, I'll probably run into something similar next time I play a big-budget game of some sort.

In the meantime, I'll be playing Nintendo's upcoming Art Style games on WiiWare. Art Style: Cubello was surprisingly addictive and engaging despite its extremely simple premise (shoot cubes, connect four cubes to eliminate them), many flaws (including frustrating endings and a very confusing way of organizing the levels), and repetitiveness. I would curse the game for making me lose after a ten-minute game, and then head right back for more. The gameplay has problems, but it's fun and pure. It doesn't waste my time with random nonsense. I'm sure I'll be going back to that game over and over, just like Orbient. So Art Style games are pretty much "buy on sight" for me now. And anything else -even unanimously praised games like Portal or Okami- I need to take caution with. Most gamists just don't know what they're doing.



I think you would enjoy the Xbox 360 arcade title Geometry War Retro Evolved. It is simply you versus thousands of little shapes trying to hit you. No story, no levels, just an ever increasing difficulty. The controls are great, the graphics are exciting.

The only issue is the difficulty does plateau at roughly 7 million points, however that is also my highscore, so it doesn't really matter.

I found the sequel to it to be annoying because it did lack the purity of the original game. They decided to pack in 6 different minigames instead of simply perfecting the original.


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