Sunday, December 14, 2008

(Re)Discovering the Joy


When the shape of this holiday season's videogame release schedule began to come into focus a few months ago, I promised myself that I wasn't going to obsessively get every single game. For one thing, my wallet simply couldn't handle the vast flood of games coming out. More importantly though, I was trying to keep from rushing from game to game. I wanted to take my time and not feel pressured to play every game the instant it's out.

To some degree, I succeeded. I didn't get Gears of War 2. I decided to hold off on Fable 2. I asked for Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider Underworld for Christmas. At the time, I didn't have a PS3 (by the way, I have a PS3 now!) so I wasn't factoring in those games. I also wasn't really paying attention to my Wii, so I ignored any games that were out or coming out for it.

I ended up getting Rock Band 2, Too Human, Silent Hill Homecoming, Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead, Mirror's Edge, and Dead Space. I also played Sam and Max Season One on the Wii. The first three were a bit spaced out over time, but the last four hit within days of each other. I played pretty much non-stop, and Fallout 3 took up a massive number of hours in particular. A couple weeks ago I finished slogging through Dead Space and was feeling pretty burned out on videogames in general. Except for Dead Space, I loved all of those games. But the tsunami of new releases still left me tired and not particularly inclined to pick up a controller any time soon.

After several days of binging on The Office and generally forgetting that my Xbox 360 played games, I began eyeing my stack of unplayed games. The chance to catch up on those older games and the fact that they weren't the latest hot thing appealed to me greatly. After narrowing my choices down to Super Mario Galaxy, Final Fantasy XII, and restarting Wind Waker, I held an epic Twitter and IRC chat election in which Mario emerged victorious.

I'm so glad he did, too.

Back in the summer when I bought the game, I played the first few levels then got distracted by other games and didn't touch it again. Now, I'm playing through with a vengeance. I'm 40 stars in and just rescued Luigi from the haunted mansion. The exuberantly bright colors are a relief after the next-gen browns and greys of Fallout 3 and Silent Hill. Problably more than many gamers, I need a story to really motivate me to play most games. Galaxy's plot, while threadbare, has just enough meat on its bones to keep me motivated to play its levels repeatedly to get all the stars. Princess Rosalina is a pleasingly mysterious figure who I'm curious to learn more about. So far I'm frankly stunned at the amount of creativity that has gone into each of the levels. Not once have I encountered a galaxy or planet and thought that it was just a rehash of a previous one. I feel like every pixel of the game is made to bring joy into its players' lives.

While getting reaquainted with my Wii, I also saw that I had some spare Wii points available. After poking around the WiiWare selection, I decided to finally give World of Goo a try. Michael Abbott's posts in October really piqued my interest and convinced me to get the Wii version. The first time I played it was when my sister and brother in law were over visiting. I was once again stunned at how amazing and purely FUN the game was. I love the music and desperately wish there was a soundtrack available. The art is unique to any game I've played before and solving the puzzles is incredibly satisfying to me.

Since my sister was over, we brought out the extra controller and played cooperatively together, with her husband providing backup. Playing local co-op in games isn't something I'm used to. Since I didn't grow up with consoles, I'm used to either playing by myself or hopping online to play something cooperatively. Playing together with my sister, working out the puzzles together, grabbing a goo ball when the other drops it, and arguing over the best course of action has made the game far more fun than it ever would have been if I had just tried it myself. Some of the more difficult puzzles were made much more bearable by the presence of another person to share the frustration. It's a new experience for me. Even when playing Rock Band with friends and family, I didn't feel the same sense of shared enthusiasm for doing well together. After they left I played a few more levels by myself, but it just wasn't the same. Now I only play when they're over. For me, it's simply the way the game is supposed to be played.

These games have been great palate cleansers after the flood of high profile games. They've reminded me that I still primarily play games for fun and brought the joy of picking up the controller back. The added baggage of deep, complicated stories, hyper-competitive multiplayer, and furthering the graphics race has been stripped away to a simple set of rules that are used in a multitude of unique and creative ways. It's nice to get back to basics.

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