Isaac Unbound

So here I am. Again. Judas in Sheol (that’s Hell), all his stats maxed, more than half a dozen hearts, enough followers to make Jesus blush. And here I go, dead in four rooms due to sheer, dumb luck. This time I’m killed by a floating eyeball leech, one that explodes. This was a statistically unlikely occurrence: the room had four Knights with Isaac’s face on the back, too, and a betting man would have put it to one of them to kill me.

Dead, killed by some strange monster in a horrible basement, there’s only one thing left for me to do: restart and try again. That is the nature of the genre.

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The Saboteur: What’s With All the Tits?

I love a good boob as much as most (I even love a bad boob if it’s got character), but there are other things in the world that I can love as well. For example, avocados are nice. Let us also not forget the pleasure one gets from a game of badminton. All these are things that can get a rise out of me. However, if I were to ready myself for a tasty avocado treat and it was just an avocado — I’m talking just an avocado — I wouldn’t be upset (I don’t think) by its lack of cleavage. Indeed, it might make me suspicious if it did. “Where’d this avocado get these boobs?” I’d ask.

What I’m trying to say is I was just playing the game The Saboteur on my PS3.

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Space Giraffe: The Final Frontier

What is the defining feature of Super Mario Brothers? Not in the boring terms of cultural cachet, but in the actually interesting terms of game design? What is it that sets SMB apart? We talk and wave our hands about, and mumble words of “gameplay” and “level design”, but what is the core, the glue, the absolute center around which they revolve? Does such a center even exist?

I propose that it does, and that it has a real name: Clear Visual Language.

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Welcome to Erf: X-COM: UFO Defense

Michael Campagnaro and I sat down to play an hour of X-COM: UFO Defense, the 1994 alien invasion cult classic for PC. The point of it was to kick off a Let’s Try to Understand series with a game that neither of us had played and know little about, but that has many devoted fans. Because X-COM is a unique brand of strategy and because it was designed 18 years ago, it seemed like a good choice. We strapped on our tinfoil hats and settled into our commander’s chairs in an attempt to fumble our way through saving the world, reconvening one hour later to talk out the trauma of intergalactic warfare as conducted by total newcomers.

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Impressionable: Warlock: Master of the Arcane: Semicolon

I’d argue that strategy games appeal to a lot of people for one pretty simple reason: they allow their audience to play god in a way that other genres don’t. Ino-Co Plus, developers of the forthcoming (impenetrably named) Warlock: Master of the Arcane get this. They know that the person sitting at their computer, ordering tiny little armies to wage war and tiny little builders to construct settlements is attempting to exert control over some part of their lives, that their careful forethought and desire for virtual conquest stems from the need to own something, no matter how intangible that something may be.

That, or I just have the pessimistic view that everyone in the world is a megalomaniac.

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The Word of God Hand

Put simply, God Hand is the reason I stopped liking videogames. But that doesn’t even come close to reaching my editor’s Demanded Word Count™!

*ahem*

A Big Thing with videogames these days is difficulty. Difficulty is an especially poorly explored topic, because most videogame critics and designers+ suck at videogames++, and ESPECIALLY at videogames that have Actual Difficulty. Actual Difficulty is a unique beast; it doesn’t rely on memorization, or on setting you back far from where you were+++. It relies on intricate patterns, robust interactions, and strong knowledge of the underlying system mechanics. Actual Difficulty arises solely from strong design, constant testing, and the type of genius that only years of experience can create.

God Hand has more Actual Difficulty in the first level than most designers can fit into their entire game, and all of it comes from constantly varied scenarios that require a mastery of the absurdly robust combat engine Clover Studios birthed.

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So You’re Going to Die in Tokyo: Devil Survivor

The Shin Megami Tensei series is unique in that it combines the common tropes of Young Adult literature with something only video games are capable of: it places the player in a situation and asks them what they want to do. Some of the series’ games tend strongly towards the mundane (Persona) while others go off the deep end (Nocturne), but they all feature regular people in insane realities.

Devil Survivor, though, manages to blend the tropes of YA post-apocalyptic literature and the Megami Tensei series’ twisted view of the mundane.  You embody a normal high school kid, and the game tells you demons are real, the city of Tokyo is locked down, and you’re going to die tomorrow. It tells you that and watches how you react.

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