Tags: reviews


knytt stories

I'm in love with a little freeware platformer called Knytt Stories. Mechanics-wise it plays like any other platformer--get from point A to point B with lots of clever timed jumps--but what really sets it apart from the thousands of other platformers out there is its unusual art design. Your character, while smoothly animated, is only a few pixels tall, creating an immense sense of scale in the game's wide rectangular levels. She runs, hops, and climbs her way through a landscape of minimalist yet startlingly beautiful pastel-tone backgrounds, to the gentle hum and tinkle of a soothing ambient soundtrack. There are the usual timing puzzles and fancy jumps, some of them very tricky, but the real joy of this game is in its central concept: movement. There are no weapons, so you never have to stop to shoot or stomp anything--you just hold down the run button and go, leaping gracefully from platform to platform, like a gazelle. You don't even have to stop to save; simply press down as you run through a save point, and the game will not stop for as much as half a frame as you continue prancing merrily through the level. No matter which path you take through the game's vaguely nonlinear world, each moment from the starting house to the ending screen follows a gentle, consistent rhythm.

It's a far cry from the adrenaline-charged '80s and '90s console games that defined the genre, with their candy colors and roller-coaster thrills--even Sonic the Hedgehog forced you to slow down every two seconds to avoid spikes and pits--or the modern commercial games that shoot for immersiveness, with their epic soundtracks and meticulous attention to detail. Most games, especially American ones, focus on individual, modular challenges, and try to minimize the amount of time between them. But this one works them into a single continuous flow, arguably more enjoyable than the challenges themselves.

At last year's GDC, the lead designer for the most recent Zelda games spoke on how games can be tailored around single emotions: fear, anger, excitement, love. Nifflas, the designer of this one, has built a game around an emotion that no other game has ever managed to evoke in me: peace.
  • Current Music
    d fast - before our eyes (knytt stories ending)
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on the half-life 2 demo: a less geeky perspective

The Half-Life 2 demo isn't a game. It's an hour of raw terror. Quite often the only thing that stands between you and Dear God What The Fuck Is That is a slow-reloading pistol with no ammunition and the part of you that knows what it's like to be eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. It's not a "boo!" fear like Doom 3 or Resident Evil. It's not a "ooh, this is creepy" fear like Silent Hill. It's not even an "ack no more bullets run away" fear like the first Half-Life. All of those games are mere parodies of fear. A fun fear, a haha, wow, this is almost like the real thing fear. Not this one. Half-Life 2 is literally the stuff of nightmares. This game knows where you live, and it is watching you sleep.

It isn't, on the first playthrough at least, something you can easily stop for dinner or a can of Dew. It is, in unadulterated form, what every horror movie and ghost story can only try to imitate. For in literature and film there are third-person protagonists, for which you can dump the burden of responsibility--you can put down the book to stop and think, or look away from the screen at the worst moment, and things will still go exactly as planned. Not here. You have to be taught how to enjoy a Stephen King novel. You have to have a passing familiarity with the conventions of cinema to enjoy Hitchcock. But a five-year-old child could (and would all too well) understand the full complexity of thought and experience that comes from clambering down a fire escape, furiously loading your last two shells into your shotgun, your low health alarm screaming in your face, as a dozen freakish, many-clawed, impossibly agilethings come at you everywhere you look and everywhere you don't, their howls echoing louder and louder through the ruined city as they draw near, their bodies casting grim silhouettes across the moon as they clear rooftops in thousand-foot leaps. Or being trapped in a heavily furnished room with a tiny leaping headcrab, pushing cabinets and turning over tables to try to crush it against the wall before it grabs onto your head and fucks your face off. This is maybe the one game that, if I had kids, I would definitely not let them play. The MA+ rating on this game is not a joke--not for violence or nudity, but for Mature Themes.

Deeper still, there's an overarching feeling of intellectual dread--it's astounding how much story can be told through background art and one-phrase conversations. They say much, but raise many questions: Where the fuck am I? Why does it look like downtown Trenton? Why do none of the trains ever depart? Who is this face on the holographic television screen and what does he mean by "instinct is merely superstition"? What answers come only bring more questions.

I could write for hours about how the sublime character modelling, the intricately detailed (and fully interactive)environments, the masterful use of ambient sound, and the astoundingly innovative trigger scripting come together to create this experience, but that would belie its apparent simplicity. And truth be told, while I was playing the game, I wasn't really thinking about that. I was thinking SWEET FUCK WHAT THE HELL IS THAT RUN AWAY RUN AWAAAAAAAAY.

And that's what makes me confident that this might be the best $40 I'm ever going to spend.

why i like streets of rage 2 and 3 for sega genesis

It's Friday night, and you're going clubbing with your significant other--either a cute brunette in a fetching metallic red bra and miniskirt or a musclebound stud in tight jeans and a tighter white shirt, depending on your preferences. On each side of the street are all manner of fancy restaurants, clothes outlets, noodle shops--all open late, glowing in neon warmth. Even at this hour, the city is bustling with life--couples on dates, businessmen waiting for buses, buskers juggling knives and eating fire. You stop to watch a pack of swaggering teenagers play games in an arcade, the neat rows of cabinets flickering in the dark. Jazz wafts out of a small restaurant down the street, where a woman sitting on a piano croons a soft, familiar tune to a crowd of silhouettes. You stop at the restaurant and enjoy a delicious turkey dinner.

You arrive at the club, and are greeted by a wall of awesome noise. Bitchin' techno music blasts the dance floor, punctuated by lasers and strobes and disco balls. It is impossible to resist the urge to dance, and after sharing a cupcake and a couple shots of hard liquor you and your S.O. join the sea of bodies, grinding and shaking along with thousands of trenchcoat punks and mohawk girls.

You wake up the next morning to a brilliant red sunrise. A memorable night has been transformed into a beautiful morning. You go for a walk along the waterfront with your S.O., watching the jetskiiers and motorcyclists go by. A group of tall, gangly Indian men in variously covered running shorts jog past. One of the street punks you saw the night before lies on a bench, catatonic from a hangover. An obese man in a red baseball cap licks an ice cream cone to visible delight. In the distance, the sun is just beginning to peek over the skyline on the opposite shore. You and your S.O. stand by a quiet spot on the beach and hold one another and smile.

Now imagine that everyone in that clumsy, overwritten scene--the couples, the buisnessmen, the buskers, the jazz singer, the ravers, the bums, the motorcyclists, the jetskiiers, the joggers, the man with the ice cream cone, you, your S.O.--is doing mad crazy kung-fu.

Yes. Streets of Rage.
  • Current Music
    Yuzo Koshiro - Streets of Rage 2 (Stage 3)
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Rage of the Dragons: a tag-team fighting game loosely based on the Double Dragon franchise, in which each of the default teams are couples. Such a cute concept.

(Well, except for Kang and Mr. Jones. And they might be gay.)

Nice art, deep fighting, beautiful backgrounds, memorable characters. There's a morbid bandaged girl named Cassandra, who may or may not bear a vague resemblance to someone I know, and a loli-girl unsubtly named Annie Murakami, and an even less subtly named Alice Caroll. Unfortunately, you can't play as my livejournal icon. I was hoping he'd make a cameo appearance somewhere, since this is Double Dragon and all, but alas.

The AI is way too good at this game. Not that it's unfair--it's not--but goodness, the first guy you fight against should not be able to chain a tag counter, a First Impact autohit combo, and a super into 12-hit death! Learning curve? What learning curve? Sigh...maybe I just suck at this game...