Sunday, February 7, 2010

Hard, Man (Alien 3 and All-Pro Basketball)

I read, the other day, a post on some games website that hypothesized that, as a reaction against the Wii, we are entering a new era of valuing difficulty in video games. The argument was, it seemed to me, complete nonsense. Alien 3 is basically why.

See, in Alien 3 you have the following - you control Ripley, crawling around in dungeons trying to rescue prisoners. You have a time limit to do so, and three lives. However, there is nothing resembling a map to the prisoners. Thus it is basically impossible to do any given level on the first try. Only when you die are the locations of the prisoners uncovered in an excessively long sequence of watching their guts explode. And there are no continues. So the game is designed to force you to fail repeatedly in pursuit of success. And start from the beginning each time.

Which would be inexcusable if it were a good game, but it's not. It's a clunky, awkward side-scroller with pathetic enemy AI. The Aliens, which in the movies are horrible lurking terrors, are here the very definition of stupid, running back and forth over the same track of land with nothing resembling a predatory instinct, and a pesky habit of dying after being shot five times. If these things invade Earth, we are all going to be FINE. Trust me.

Oh yeah - and the game is fucking backwards controlled. The jump and shoot buttons are reversed from EVERY OTHER NINTENDO GAME EVER.

All-Pro Basketball, where you can play as such cleverly named teams as the Los Angeles Breakers and the New York Slicks, takes a different approach towards badness. It's a confusing, fast-paced sloppy mess of unplayability. The game's biggest problem is the sudden pause when you cross the half-court line at which point the perspective flips and you end up moving in the opposite direction. But the sloppy, unpredictable passing, chaotic use of the screen, and general crappiness doesn't help.

And let's be clear. Both of these games are hard. Really, really hard. But theirs is not a difficulty that ends up belonging to some sort of being a satisfying challenge. They're just bitchy and frustrating. Compare this to VVVVVV, a non-Nintendo game I've been playing off and on for a few days now. VVVVVV is bracingly, cruelly hard. And yet it is easy to pick up and play. It does what you expect. And when you die, you feel consistently as though it's your own damn fault, not the game's for setting you up for failure.

Here endeth the lesson.

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