Monthly Archives: December 2013

Experiments on Children in the Name of Star Wars

Hazy childhood nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. Some of us 30 somethings forget that Star Wars was a fun family film and not actually the dark, gritty and emotional masterpiece we all remember it as. When Episodes I, II and III were released they were heavily criticised by those of us that felt that the playful child-friendly tone of the films was some kind of shameful cash-in to pack as many into the cinema as possible … and they were right, but we were the same people that owned Darth Vader lunchboxes, Yoda tamagotchis and X Wing Micro Machines so let’s not be too judgemental.

Attack of the Clones

One of the most horrible scenes ever endured by cinema-goers

So while I think that Attack of the Clones is one of the most stomach-churning films of all time I don’t feel that the other two are that bad. Sure, midichlorians were a misstep but was Jar Jar Binks really that bad when the original trilogy finished with an army of teddy bears? Great modern actors like Natalie Portman and Ewan Macgregor may have looked like amnesiac children at a Nativity but one of the most loved characters in the originals basically just nods, delivers 2 lines and is then flung into a giant pit because his jetpack is hit by a stick.

I am too close to it all but wait, there is another. As well as having the pleasure of my collected wisdom my infant son will be the valuable test subject in my Star Wars Experiment. As he gets older I will show him the films in chronological order instead of order of release and see what he thinks. I might even throw in The Battle Of Endor for added colour. Obviously I will insulate him from any subjective opinion to make a fair experiment but this could be a true test of taste. According to the research I have done (not even a single search on Google) nothing like this has ever been attempted and I am dizzy with anticipation. As a blank slate he will be the fairest indicator of quality of one of the most dividing series in film history.

I will share the results in 10 years or so and if he states that he wants to be Han Solo then you can be safe in the knowledge that our youthful recollections are not just dreams but fact. If not then my wife’s son will spend the subsequent 10 years in carbonite!

They got away with calling it the Wii!

Today I have been thinking about the Wii. The rather excellent Player One Podcast had a Wii retrospective (wii-trospective) last week and listed their top games on the system. The general consensus seemed to be that they struggled to find just 5 great games and that even with 100 million units sold it was not a great gaming machine. I would disagree.

What made the Wii special was that it’s strengths and weaknesses were often the same thing. Accessibility was confused with simplicity and shelves were stocked with cheaply made casual games cashing in on motion control. The Wii had virtually invented the concept of a casual game and a casual gamer but in courting a brand new audience it invited sneers from gamers who considered themselves above a console that seemed to just about waggling a controller. When hardcore titles like Sin & Punishment 2, Punch Out or The Last Story came out, the console had either been boxed up in the attic or was in Wii bowling Groundhog Day hell.

So when it came to trying to pick a personal top 5 I was happy to discover that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. Many games failed to make this list including Super Paper Mario, Metroid: Other M, Metroid 3, Wii Sports, Muramasa, Dead Space: Extraction, The Legend Of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Zak & Wiki and Mario Kart Wii. These are all games that I consider to be Wii must-buys and they still didn’t make the hall of fame. For me, the 5 that are not only the best Wii titles but great games on any platform are:

Super Mario Galaxy

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Hydroventure (Fluidity in the US)

No More Heroes

Agree?

Tales from the Bargain Bin: Dark Void

The Y button has never been my favourite. Since earning disdain as the melee button in Bad Company (I could never get to it in time) it has steadily earned a modicum of respect as a reliable but unglamorous workhorse that lets me switch weapons or look at something interesting but it has never truly excited me. Well all that has changed as in Dark Void Fun starts with a Y. One press of the little yellow underdog triggers a powerful jetpack that instantly launches the hero into the direction he is facing at full speed. His arms and legs flail about as he adjusts to the sudden acceleration and the sudden change in movement looks and feels incredible. It’s easy to miscalculate as a slightly wrong angle can send him head first into a brick wall but it adds dangerous thrills and slapstick head trauma to an already impressive manoeuvre.

https://i0.wp.com/static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Technology/Pix/pictures/2010/1/19/1263913872636/Dark-Void-001.jpgThis is my favourite part of the game which is telling in itself. When one take-off animation is the high point you can probably guess that the rest is fairly medicore and that is what we have here. The rest of the game is a fairly generic cover shooter although the jetpack enables a novel vertical aspect that means you can boost up to higher platforms and drag enemies off ledges leg first. The story involves a WW2 pilot and his inevitably kidnapped lady sidekick who are drawn into an alternate world (the void in question) while travelling through the Bermuda Triangle. He encounters other lost humans that either worship or fight an alien race that seems to be indigenous to the world they have found themselves in. Sadly it stops at being a great premise and the idea that all those mysteriously missing people have been taken into an alternate would could have been a lot more fun. Glenn Miller DLC would have been incredible.

We all know that a great main character can really hold a game together but, again, Dark Void stops at the ideas level as after some initial mild surprise the protagonist gets to the business of laser-blasting baddies with very little adjustment. In fact I can’t even remember his name although I am pretty sure it’s only one syllable like Brad or Will or something, clearly one syllable is one too many.

It sounds like I am down on the game and in a lot of respects it fails to meet it’s potential but it does have one very strong thing going for it and that is the simple joy of movement. It seems like a trivial thing but that heart-stopping blast into the sky really is worth digging this game out of the bargain bin. Subsequent controls can be a little fiddly but being able to immediately stop in mid-air, hover, shoot up a few enemies behind cover and then jet off into the sky is truly exhilarating. It seems a shame that there are so many titles like Dark Void that are ignored when they are not only perfectly fun games in their own right, but are also a solid stepping stone to a potentially accomplished sequel. I am pretty sure nobody is going to pick this licence up which is a real shame and it will have to sit alongside Project Eden, Stubbs the Zombie and Herdy Gerdy as a flawed implementation of great ideas.