Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Faster, Ratonhnhaké:ton, Kill, Kill!
John Teti was joined by Kotaku’s editor-in-chief Stephen Totilo at the head of the week when The Digest returned. While snacking on/avoiding pumpkin-themed Digestibles, they talked through their differing opinions on Assassin’s Creed III. One bone Hastapura picked with the game was its reliance on “go fetch this thing for me” quests:
I feel like this series comes up with the richest settings with vast potential: The Crusades? In a fully-fledged 3D world with freedom of movement? The Renaissance? Colonial America? Just mentioning these time periods conjures millions of tantalizing possibilities.
And then they plug in fetch quests, Forrest Gump-esque historical shoehorning, meaningless trinket collection, poopy combat, janky free-running…basically everything that can get in the way of enjoying the setting. There could be a really taut, complex stealth game in the first Assassin’s Creed, playing with racial and religious tension as well as the simple pleasure of a well-placed blade. But the designers seem to have it in their heads that the overarching science-fiction narrative is just bitchin’, and that the main appeal of 12th-century Jerusalem was the long, unskippable cutscenes. I think the second game and Brotherhood were admirable evocations of Renaissance Italy, but then the silliness was ramped up in equal measure to the graphics—look, it’s Da Vinci come to outfit you with a nifty new flying machine! Press X to summon a horde of assassins! Thrill to the endless series of menus!
Maybe my desire for a contemplative, ornate thriller set in the Middle Ages just isn’t marketable? Impossible!
Flat Foxy Mr. Mario
Speaking of trinket collecting, Steve Heisler hoarded as many virtual stickers as he could for his review of Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The new Paper Mario game finds Mario bashing his enemies with magical stickers, and magical stickers alone, hence the hoarding. While Steve praised the game, some readers felt it ranged too far from its series’ roots. RidleyFGJ argued that Paper Mario peaked early—with its second game:
Although I’m not even remotely as taken with Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door as a lot of people are (way too much damn talking), I’ll put forth the theory that Paper Mario effectively Star Fox-ed itself with that game. Nintendo happened upon the pinnacle of the formula so early on in the history of the franchise that copying it would seem entirely moot, and yet the games that followed often made controversial deviations from the established formula that have often been met with derision, and some of it justified, at that.
Shell On Earth
Ryan Smith reviewed the endlessly customizable LittleBigPlanet Karting. As with many karting games, Karting uses a generous power-up system to help stragglers catch up and make races skew closer than they might otherwise be. This sparked a discussion of the design in Mario Kart 64—the second Mario Kart game—where HobbesMkii made a point for its superiority (in certain settings) over race games based purely on skill:
I’ve been playing a lot of Mario Kart 64 (which I personally suck at) against a friend (who has owned it since it came out and therefore tends to own me at it), and I disagree with the idea that the weapons are unbalanced.
I think it’s sort of the perfect together game that everyone can agree upon because everyone will have fun, and enough play-throughs will guarantee that everyone was a winner at least once. My buddy clearly dominates me in most matches, but there are times when luck plays to my hand enough that I can pull into the lead in maybe one out of five races.
Mario Kart’s innate “unfair” power-up distribution, where players in first place are saddled with bananas and single red shells while players in last get the lightning bolt and the blue shell, regularly forces players to adapt in ways that plain old racers or multiplayer shooters don’t.
It really seems to me that the problem you’ve got is less that the game punishes skill than that it automatically imposes a handicap on players who would otherwise dominate the playing field (and their friends). I think that’s because Mario Kart was really designed to be played with three other people sitting in a room with you, having fun. It’s a form of skill welfare, if you will. It actually strikes me as a brilliant approach to competitive game design.
Toyz II Men
In our weekly roundup of new releases, Steve Heisler noted the upcoming Lego The Lord Of The Rings game. Turning to the realm of physical Lego toys, Spacemonkey Mafia observed that things are so much better for kids these days, dagnabbit:
I’m still fascinated that the toys this generation’s kids are playing with are effectively a perfected version of the toys my generation played with when I was a kid.
I look at the Lord Of The Rings Lego sets and have the objective understanding that if they were available when I was a kid, I would stand mesmerized and rock still in front of the toy department shelves bearing a zealot’s vigilance. At least until such a time as my mom dragged me off to JoAnn Fabrics for an interminable half hour of trying to squeeze myself between bolts of cloth in a thin facsimile of entertainment.
Star Wars has a figure for the Death Star bathroom attendant and there are no less than 15 available versions of Optimus Prime. I guess Kung-Fu action grip is my generation’s legacy.
Also commenting on Lord Of The Rings, Fluka noticed that, especially with the Lego video games, current media are being adapted through an increasingly long chain of filters:
These somehow feel even weirder than the Star Wars and Indiana Jones ones. Those are just Movie → Lego → Game (two steps of removal from original property). These ones are Book → Movie → Lego → Game (three steps of removal from original property). We need some kind of postmodern version of an Erdos number to categorize properties by how far down the adaptation chain they’ve traveled.
Then Girard suggested:
Baudrillard’s precession of simulacra might do the trick.
For the second episode of The Digest, John was joined by an ascot-clad Evan Narcisse, a Kotaku contributor who you may remember from his appearances in The Seeds. Before they talked about Forza Horizon, a game where you drive cars fast, John scolded the Gameological cats for devastating the pumpkin mousse Digestible before taping began. Perhaps to send a passive-aggressive “hey, there are worse cats” message, Soupy used his sacred duties as Comment Cat to select these examples of the strange things cats eat from Fluka, George Liquor, and Citric respectively:
Woohoo, an entire thread about cats eating weird things! My childhood cat had three distinct culinary obsessions: hard boiled eggs, cheddar cheese, and (of all things) cantaloupe. God only knows why. Of my current cats, the boy cat will sit at a chair next to the dinner table, quietly staring and waiting for a moment when one of us turns away, so he can steal things. The girl cat loves beer bottle caps. I assumed this was because she can bat them around like a hockey puck, until I caught her licking one. In short, this video was relevant to my interests. (Wait, what’s this about a car game?)
My cat used to growl at hot things in his food dish. That’s how big a dick he was.
My cat loves those little rings that seal orange juice containers. She then chases them under the coffee table. As a side note, I love orange juice and drink a great deal of it. So one day when I moved the coffee table to clean under it, the entire space was filled with those rings.
Steve Heisler appreciated the showmanship of Thanatos, one of Secret Of Mana’s devious and over-the-top villains, and discussed his brutal appearance in an On The Level column. Released in 1993 on the Super NES, Mana could have been much more, as RTW explained:
It holds up very well, though if you know the history behind its development, the simplistic dialogue and pacing issues will stand out more. And the latter issue is easily forgiven considering a substantial chunk of the game was either cut or condensed—some accounts estimate as much as 40 percent of the game’s content was lost in the transition from CD to cartridge. Short version: Sony and Nintendo were working on a CD add-on for the SNES, but then Nintendo went back over the contract and said, “Uhhh, fuck this shit” and shacked up with Philips. Sony figured they still had a slice of fried gold on their hands and turned what they had into a standalone console—and thus was born the PlayStation. Secret of Mana was originally going to be for the SNES-CD, but by the time the Nintendo/Sony deal went to pot, they’d gotten too far into development to just throw it all away, so they modified it to fit on a cartridge, and a shitload of stuff got left on the cutting room floor in the process.
Elsewhere in the comments, Pagan Poet linked us to some of the game’s terrifying music:
It seems like every time I read one of these features, I try to sway the conversation into talk about the soundtrack, but my favorite part of this dungeon in Secret of Mana is the creepy, awesome, Indonesian gamelan-inspired music. And the even freakier gamelan-meets-death-metal boss theme when you battle Lich.
Pagan Poet’s chosen samples:
As a counterpoint, Kingdarella chose to remember a decidedly unfrightening track:
The Digest: The Illustrated Saga Continues
Stephen Totilo returned for The Digest’s conclusion to discuss The Unfinished Swan. Effigy Power recast John and the merry Kotaku fellows as characters from a familiar autumn tale (click for full size):
Aww, cheer up John! Assassin’s Creed can’t be that bad.
And with that, thanks again for reading and commenting. To our American readers: Have a happy Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you for part of next week! And to our non-American readers: We’ll see you for part of next week!