Playtesting Karma

Our original game for this term was a standard Diablo-style hack ‘n’ slash, but with a karma system that was implemented in a similar manner to the duel-color system of Ikaruga. The main character could switch between being black and white and would receive benefits and detriments against enemies of corresponding and opposing colors, again like Ikaruga, but applied to a Diablo-style game.

We set about playtesting this simple concept. We had the main character as a circle in our demo and all the enemies were squares of varying size. The player could click their way around a large flat map that had random enemies spawning at random points. We were, at this point, just testing the core click-to-attack and change karma alignment.

WHAT THEY LIKED

The players we tested this with (being my brother and a couple of his friends) liked the idea at first. They enjoyed clicking to attack things and got into the groove of meandering around the board killing things.  Enemies came in waves from random locations. Each wave was made of one solid color of enemy, so the players only had to switch karma every now and then and continue attacking.

They enjoyed the simple two button interface (left click to move/attack, right click to switch karma).

Some of them said that they would like more to be in the game world, but understood that we were just testing the mechanics at this point.

WHAT THEY DIDN’T LIKE

After a good couple rounds of feedback, we adjusted the demo to generate enemies of random color instead of waves of enemies of a solid color. The demo was now throwing black and white enemies randomly at all times.

Players grew frustrated as they continued to have to rapidly switch back and forth between karmas, which interrupted their hack ‘n’ slash enjoyment they had before.

WHAT THEY SUGGESTED

They suggested sticking with the waves of enemies, or at the very least having a ‘less random’ dispersement of enemy coloration. Otherwise, they thought the concept was pretty solid.

Review ~ God of War : Ghost of Sparta

Game Name

God of War : Ghost of Sparta

Game Platform

PSP

Game Overview

Kratos has recently become the God of War, but is still haunted by visions, this time of a prophetic nature instead of horrific memories. He follows these visions on a trail that lead him to discover the god’s manipulations of his life and that his brother, taken from him as a child, is still alive, trapped in the realm of death. Kratos embarks on another epic journey to free his sibling and kill everything that gets in his way.

What Did This Game Do That Was Different From Its Predecessors?

The previous PSP God of War, Chains of Olympus, had a very disjointed series of events, and felt more like a set of happenstances than a big overarching story. Ghost of Sparta has a nice, smooth, tale that incorporates all elements in the game. Nothing that happens feels like it’s disconnected from the bigger picture. Chains of Olympus also had a hodge-podge of different types of items that all required different controls, making using any given thing a bit of a hassle as you had to remember how to first. Ghost of Sparta has a nice, consolidated control set with items that work well within in it. The overall experience of Ghost of Sparta is much smoother, more polished, and more enjoyable than that of its predecessor.

Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

Most of the God of War games have Kratos going in a straight line on a killing spree without much growth on his part as a character. Ghost of Sparta actually has our godly anti-hero develop, with him realizing over the course of the game that he has become that which sought so much to destroy, the God of War. The game also delves a bit into his past, providing some explanation for what drove him as a Spartan warrior before he became Aries’ minion in the previous game. All this adds a lot of depth to Kratos’ character, making him a more complex character than previously seen.

Least Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

The difficulty does not seem consistent. I would constantly mow down everything in my path, but when I came to a boss or in later cases mini-bosses I would suddenly find myself dying numerous times until I became accustomed enough to the boss’ attack patterns to get hit few enough times while still dealing enough damage to defeat it. Most of the console GoW titles have a scale of enemy difficulty, with peons not requiring any skill, the next level up requiring a little, and so on and so forth up to the gigantic bosses, a nice learning curve. Ghost of Sparta doesn’t have much of that.

How would you change the game to make it better?

I would adjust the curve of enemies needing strategy to defeat, making the boss encounter less of a death fest and making the player actually need a bit of strategy to overcome the non-boss enemies.

Review ~ Donkey Kong Country Returns

Game Name

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Game Platform

Wii

Game Overview

An evil tribe of Tikis has emerged from the volcano atop the island, descending down into the jungles, hypnotizing all of the Kongs’ animal friends, and using them to steal all the bananas on the island. Now Donkey and Diddy set off on an epic adventure to reclaim their banana hoard and defeat the evil tikis before they can wreak more mischief upon the land!

What Did This Game Do That Was Different From Its Predecessors?

Instead of the common tag team mechanic, where players can switch between Donkey or Diddy, using their abilities individually, this game has Diddy ride on Donkey’s back, providing him with enhancements to his existing abilities and some new ones as well. Players can also choose to co-op controlling Donkey and Diddy with separate players at the same time. The game also introduces some natural extensions to existing mechanics, like clingable walls and ceilings to go along with clingable vines.

Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

I love the nostalgia factor of the game. Playing this game is like I’m 11 again, getting my first video game system and popping Donkey Kong Country into the Super Nintendo. It elicits those feeling of pure delight and giddiness, allowing me to play the game without thinking about how it was programmed or what thought went into the level design, which is something I find harder and harder to do these days.

Least Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

In co-op mode, pressing the grab button automatically puts Diddy on Donkey’s back, meaning the second player has to wait until a convenient time to dismount and be able to play again. This gets a bit frustrating when you are trying to do different things and someone needs to pick up a barrel or grab a vine.

How would you change the game to make it better?

Add a Diddy only mode. There are modes where you can play as Donkey and Diddy, and modes where you can play as just Donkey, but there is no easy way to play with just Diddy, short of starting a co-op game and killing off the first player.

My top 5 Favorite Games ~ An Objective View

In no particular order, my top 5 favorite games are Super Metroid, Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G, Final Fantasy Tactics, Donkey Kong Country 2, and Kirby Super Star.

Super Metroid

  • What I liked : I liked the atmosphere of the game. Several things contributed to this. Parallax scrolling caves, jungles, and whatnot combined with weather effects like rain, fog, and steam really went a long way towards selling the locals of the game. The music was also very atmospheric, going a long way towards setting the tone of the world. All this combined with the level design and placement of scripted fights and events led to a very intense, very atmospheric title.
  • What I didn’t like : Due to the exploratory and general non-linear narrative and game progression, if you left the game for any considerable length of time and then came back to it to play, there was a fairly good chance of being completely lost and not really knowing how to get back into the flow of the game’s progression.

Monster Hunter Portable 2nd G

  • What I liked : I like the skill based nature of the game. You can’t really ‘power-level’ in this game, as all the best weapons and armor won’t save you if you just aren’t good at fighting. Fortunately, the game is lain out in such a way that if you progress through the quests in the given order, you will become better at the game. The sheer amount of unique and interesting content layered on top of the rather simplistic concept of take giant weapons and fight giant monster is also just plain awesome.
  • What I didn’t like : In the original Monster Hunter, and even Monster Hunter 2, the difficulty curve was much smoother and straighter, and it was pretty much guaranteed that by the time you had mastered fighting any given monster you were of an adequate skill level to face the next monster in the progression. Because of the sheer amount of content in 2nd G, however, the difficulty curve has become more of a hyperbole, starting out gentle and then sky-rocketing. It’s easy to get lost in the amount of monsters and equipment that become available at each level in the progression.

Final Fantasy Tactics

  • What I liked : The world of the game was very intricate and plotted out. Every character had a story. Every soldier had a unique name. Every map had historical records and anecdotes and hidden treasures. Everything in the game, from the world’s history to the daily lives of the squires in your opponent’s troops has at least a bit of story if not several paragraphs. All this combined with the ink-pen art style and the game-play, which was glorified chess on steroids, made this title awesome.
  • What I didn’t like : because of the sheer amount of statistics and tactical data present at all times in every battle, it is very hard to play this game casually. It is possible to set units on a sort of “auto-pilot”, but then many fights become somewhat per-determined based on unit stats and abilities, save for the randomness of the die roll on exactly how much damage any given attack will actually do.

Donkey Kong Country 2

  • What I liked : Donkey Kong Country 2 takes everything that made Donkey Kong Country 1 awesome, and does it better. The levels have tighter design. The atmosphere and theme of the game awesome (haunted pirates permeate everything while not being overwhelming in their prevalence). The game-play mechanics are tighter and more fluid. The controls have been tweaked. There are new and improved versions of animal buddies. More power-ups. More types of barrels. More enemy archetypes. Everything in the game improves upon its predecessor, which was pretty good in the first place. The game is just awesome.
  • What I didn’t like : While the game improves on everything present in its predecessor, it doesn’t actually re-use all of the content. Some of the animal buddies, for instance, were replaced by new animals that serve a similar function. It would have been nice to actually see improved versions of the all of the DKC1 buddies. Similarly, Donkey Kong himself is not actually playable in this title, or its sequel, which is a bit disappointing, as we never got a chance to see how Rare would have tweaked his gameplay and design before they were sold to Microsoft.

Kirby Super Star

  • What I liked : This game takes Kirby’s fun core gameplay and applies it to 9 (count them) different games within. None of these games is really long enough to be considered a full title, but in the context of a compilation game, each is able to explore and tool around with whatever variation of the Kirby theme they were dealing with and make it tight, contained, and fun. The overall experience is really rather enjoyable.
  • What I didn’t like : While all of the individual games are really fun, I would have liked to see a few of them as stand-alone, full length Kirby titles. The gameplay variations of Milky Way Wishes in particular would have been nice to see in a full length game.

Review ~ Castlevania : Aria of Sorrow

Castlevania : Aria of Sorrow

Game Platform

GBA

Game Overview

The year is 2035 and Soma Cruz is about to witness the first solar eclipse of the 21st century when he suddenly blacks out — only to awaken inside a mysterious castle. As Soma, you must navigate the castle’s labyrinths while confronting perilous monsters at every turn. But beware, you must escape before the evil consumes you! – Gamefaqs.com

What Did This Game Do That Was Different From Its Predecessors?

The Castlevania games usually supply your hero with a healthy choice of sub-weapons to accompany the usual whip. This game allows a choice of weapons, RPG-style, which only a few titles have done before. It also forgoes sub-weapons for the ability to absorb and equip the souls of the beasts of the castle for various augmented abilities, unique attacks, etc.

Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

While most Castlevanias are set in the past and document one of the various battles against Dracula, this title is set after his final defeat, and has a story about various powers and people attempting to inherit or escape from his legacy. The new gameplay elements are also very fun, as most enemies do not automatically reward you with their souls upon defeat, being somewhat of a random drop, adding that optional “Gotta Catch Them All!” aspect to an already fun game for more enjoyment. The different story and new gameplay elements felt like a breath of fresh air after the umpteenth “Dracula has awakened. Go kill him.” game that came before it.

Least Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

The clock-tower is still full of annoying enemies that are hard to hit and have the ability to paralyze you. In addition, it makes full use of the gears and cogs theme to have a bunch of platforms and whatnot that actively move around and try to throw you into walls and pits of spikes while you attempt platforming puzzles in addition to avoiding the aforementioned enemies. I realize that the locale is somewhat of a tradition to the series, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

How would you change the game to make it better?

While most of the special abilities that are required to progress further into the castle are automatic and mapped to a button on the controller, some are not, and must first be equipped. I would make this more clear, as a couple of times I did full circuits of all explored areas looking for a path I’d missed before going through my catalog of souls to see if any granted a special ability that might be of use in getting somewhere new.

Review ~ Metroid : Other M

Metroid Other M

Game Platform

Wii

Game Overview

This action adventure exploration game features a new take on the classic side-scrolling Metroid formula while throwing in a little bit of the Metroid Prime feel by having the ability to switch into a first person mode. The game takes place on an abandoned research vessel full of biological weapons and deadly enemies for Samus to overcome.

What Did This Game Do That Was Different From Its Predecessors?

Instead of being purely side-scrolling or purely first person, this game is third-person 3-D open world, with a dynamic camera that at times goes full side-scrolling or full first person.

Instead of ammo and health ups dropping off enemies, the game employs a system for the player to personally recharge their health and ammo under various circumstances.

This game includes dynamic auto-aiming, command dodging, and command kills similar to God of War’s to ease exploration and combat in the third-person 3-D world.

Instead of upgrades, equipment, and weapons being rewards for exploration or defeating bosses, the game grants you the ability to use them in scripted events as you progress through the story.

Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

The game features a number of aesthetic and not necessarily needed moves that add to the cool factor of the game. While facing multiple enemies, the game dynamically poses Samus as she turns to fire at each in turn. The game also features a way to perform dynamic dodges instead of simply strafing, and to perform cinematic finishing moves on enemies as an optional, more awesome way of defeating them. These three features add to the player’s sense of empowerment during play.

Least Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

The game provides no rewarding reason for defeating enemies other than the ability to move on to the next area where you will be once again forced to kill everything in the room in order to move on. Due to the manner in which you acquire power-ups and refill your health and ammo, there really isn’t any reward for killing bosses, let alone the normal enemies in the game.

How would you change the game to make it better?

I would change the health and ammo refill system, having enemies drop health and ammo refills instead of allowing the player to just manually refill when they feel like it. This gives players an actual reason to battle the numerous enemies in the game.

I’d also take about a third of the power-ups and upgrades gained throughout the game and make them rewards for boss battles and some of the mini-boss battles, thus giving rewards and a sense of achievement after winning an epic battle.

Review ~ DK Jungle Climber

Donkey Kong : Jungle Climber

Game Platform

NDS

Game Overview

In Jungle Climber, you control Donkey Kong with only the Left and Right shoulder buttons, each controlling which hand he is grabbing with, and gameplay centers around swinging from pegboards, vines, and various other things, swinging yourself to great heights by swinging around and releasing your grip, or climbing rapidly in any given direction by alternating L and R at the correct time.

What Did This Game Do That Was Different From Its Predecessors?

While only improving on the systems and gameplay concepts introduced in its immediate predecessor, Donkey Kong : King of Swing, gameplay differs from the earlier Donkey Kong Country platformers in the series. In the early DKC games, play was focused on action platforming, going from left to right and completing the stage via jumping, defeating enemies, and throwing various items to various effect. In King of Swing and Jungle Climber, play progresses from bottom to top, swinging from pegs, avoiding obstacles, and defeating the occasional enemy via an interaction with the environment rather than directly attacking them.

Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

The game has the nostalgic look and feel of the Donkey Kong Country games from the Super Nintendo era while still providing a new and unique gameplay experience. The new gameplay kernel completely changes everything about the platformer paradigm; how you progress through the level, how you defeat enemies, how you interact with items and power-ups, the works. King of Swing introduced the core gameplay and some things to do with it, Jungle Climber tweaked the controls to make them more user friendly and then just went to town with what kinds of puzzles and mechanics you could do with it. Because of this, Jungle Climber presents a really polished and fun game that still manages to feel like a Donkey Kong Country title while it’s at it.

Least Favorite Part about the Game (and why)

The game has the occasional minigame that you are required to play at least once to progress through the levels, and multiple times if you want the “100%” mark on your save file. These minigames are not, for the most part, all that fun, being mildly amusing at first and then just kind of annoying as you attempt to do them at harder difficulties for that 100%. Currently, when they pop up in the middle of a level, they only serve to interrupt the flow of the game.

How would you change the game to make it better?

I would either severely limit or remove the minigames scattered about the levels completely. Even if they are left in the game, separate them from the single-player adventure mode.

Welcome to.

So, assuming I’ve set this up correctly, I have a blog. And not just any blog, but a blog of my own, on my own webspace. Weird.

Anyway, as the days go by I’ll fill this blog with game reviews, articles, and ruminations on the industry at large.

Enjoy.