Sly Cooper: A Retrospective

Sly Cooper: A Retrospective

When you think of platformers, you immediately think of the tidal wave of titles to hit living rooms in the eighties and nineties, when red hats and blue blurs ruled the tubed TVs in the afternoon. Traditionally sidescrolling in an attempt to fit the most expansive game into the time’s storage, graphical, and technical limitations. They emphasized difficulty to draw out their length and relied on split-second timing to complete. In retro-revivalist games, we see many of the same characteristics, with only improved graphics–even when choosing the 8-bit style. There is the punishing difficulty of Super Meat Boy, the graphics and gameplay of Braid, and the (relative) brevity of Thomas Was Alone.

This is not where my nostalgia trip takes me.

I’ll admit something–I never played console sidescrollers outside of when I visited my cousins. No NES or SNES, no Sega, nada. The only ones I played at all were the Super Mario Land games for the Gameboy, and odd kid-friendly licensed titles–also for Nintendo handhelds. And I sucked at them. I never finished any of these. A year or two ago, I watched someone play through the first one in this series and was shocked at how short it was. I remember my struggles to get past the second world as a six-year-old and couldn’t believe how short it was.

My trip back down memory lane takes me to early 3-D platformers like Super Mario 64 and the Spyro series. I only played these casually, watching my mom and sister play them more than I ever did myself. The PS2 era ones are where I remember spending all of my time.

See one of my best friends in middle school–and the only one who lived only a creek and some woods away–had a PS2 and a plethora of games. I would spend entire weekends and snowed-in weeks at her house, treating her family like my own. When we weren’t playing hide and seek or truth or dare, we were camped out in front of her television. Here I was introduced to one of my favorite games series on the planet–Sly Cooper. I was transfixed from the start.

Here was the first time I remember ever truly noticing the environment puzzle element of platformers. One of the first levels I ever played involved making your way through an entire library while inside a barrel. The guards couldn’t see you if you stayed still, but the barrel wouldn’t jump with you, so you had to plan your path carefully. In the first game you could only take one hit unless you had a power-up, so fighting enemies was next to impossible, emphasizing the stealth.

Not going to lie, I was probably an awful friend. After a certain point, all I wanted to do was play this game. After the second one came out and introduced missions and more health, I became even more obsessed. Finally in the eighth grade I got my own PS2 and both of the games that were out and played them feverishly. These games were worth the nerves I got turning on in my room at night in the dead of winter when it was never light out at home after school.

The third one came out while I was in high school and extremely sick. But that didn’t stop me from playing until well past sunrise in a steroid-induced frenzy. I would even go down and eat breakfast with parents before even going to bed for the night (morning?).

After playing these games so many times over that I could predict the levels better than a senior citizen can predict bowel movements, I started looking for any games that had the same stealth and parkour elements. Obviously I picked up the first Assassin’s Creed when I got a PS3 and was partially satiated. It turned out that gameplay not the only thing that drew me in.

See this game’s cast of character is full of archetypes, but somehow makes them lovable, letting the games’ events naturally bring out character development emotion you would never expect. You have your snarky, rule-breaking ring-leader, you have you thick-head but loyal muscle, and your practical and cautious brain. You even get your sassy and strong female. You get comic villains presented in the style of antagonists to Adam West’s Batman. There were twists and injuries and tests of faith you would never expect in this genre at the time, and you would never know it if you hadn’t played it yourself.

Needless to say, I started a countdown the moment a fourth game was announced. I didn’t care that it was being made by a new company–I just wanted it. Considering the third game left the ending open–not a cliffhanger, but definite room for elaboration–I was ready to see where these characters were. It even gave me the opportunity to meet the ancestors who had invented all of the game’s mechanics, the ones who started it all. Well, besides the developers, writers, artists…but you know what I mean.

The story was great; the main gameplay was great; all was great. This game just missed the balance a little. Here the minigames present in the series from before were suddenly much more prevalent. Where before there were a few missions in each world based in minigames (hacking, tower defense, racing), there was still more platforming, brawling, and sneaking than anything else. I feel like the new developers wanted to put their own stamp on the game by doing this but seeing this as the only way to create new mechanics. Not to sound like a stickler for lore in this kind of game, Sly’s move set is tied to the Thievius Racoonus, meaning he already knew all he was going to know. This meant having to put more emphasis on Murray’s smashing and driving, and Bentley’s remote control cars and hacking skills if they were to make anything that wasn’t iterative.

I know the review of this game were mixed, and I can understand why, but not for the reason above. This game was a passion project. Sanzuru was the developer who put out the HD collection for the PS3 and and were given permission to keep working with the IP. Personally, it made me excited to have someone who felt as strongly about the continuation of the series as I did to be the ones developing it, and this heightened my view of what the game would be. But instead of expecting a certain quality, I expected a certain game. What I wanted was iteration. I wanted back that feeling of being a teenager who spent months out of school at a time but could fly from building to building and walk across tightropes no matter the state my body was in. I wanted the heart-in-throat feeling when the sneaking sound effect starts when walking behind an enemy to pickpocket him. I wanted to hear the voiceovers during the graphic-novel-style cutscenes. While I got all of these things, it made the new parts feel like a hurdle I had to jump to get back to the real game.

Have any of you ever had this happen with a franchise? Either your nostalgia glasses make it impossible to enjoy new games? Maybe a new one never came out or is stuck in production hell? Let me know. Commiserate with me.

Also Google the weirdness that is a Sly Cooper movie. He has a goatee. That is all.

Stay tuned.

Did I Do That? Part 7

Did I Do That? Part 7

Is the combat system in Dragon Age: Origins bad, or am I just bad?

Rhetorical question in case that wasn’t clear.

Honestly I know I’m bad. Besides making sure all of my party members use the Cautious tactic, and making them all fight as Archers, I don’t know how to keep them alive. I finished playing through the sidequest of “The Urn of Sacred Ashes,” and, in a fit of pure frustration, played half of it on Casual mode. Worse—I still died repeatedly. I went in and read the descriptions for the different modes and found out what might be my problem. This is what I found:

  • Casual difficulty is best suited to players who are new to role-playing games or expect to play combat in real-time, rather than pausing often to plan tactics.

I’m used to the blurb for Casual, or Easy, modes basically saying it is meant for people who new to games in general. I went into this game feeling I was prepared for the genre, and that has turned out to be far from the truth. For all of this time, I have not really thought about how this game’s combat is not in real time. Out of habit, I even furiously right-click to attack even though it has zero effect. It is so unlike anything I have ever played before, and the game does not do much in terms of teaching you how to take advantage of the fighting style. I do not get how to utilize the Combat Tactics slots or any customization. I only trust my party members if I am the one controlling them. Otherwise they run off into battle and don’t bother to protect or heal themselves.

The fighting has so much to do with positioning, and that is not my forte. I don’t know if you would consider it an RTS-style of battle, but the fact is resembles it in any way might be my problem. I have played my fair share of turn-based strategy and real-time tower defense games but none from the RTS genre. At least now I understand why this game has a Pause option outside of pulling up one of the ten or so possible menus; you can dish out commands while paused, something I never thought to do until it popped up as advice on a load screen.

Sidenote: this game’s load screens are the most helpful I have ever encountered. Sometimes it is a bit of repetition about the same piece of lore, but often it mentions small tidbits that passed me by. For example, I either was never told or forgot (my money’s on forgot) that I could equip two different weapons for each character; it suggests one melee weapon and one ranged. I was practically rolling around on the ground in excitement for the space this cleared in my inventory. Another time I saw how I can adjust the game’s difficulty temporarily which–in case you couldn’t tell—has saved me quite a few times now.

But no matter the convenience, I hate the feeling playing on Easy. After each battle I beat this way, I go and create a new save file, hoping I will eventually go back and beat it on Normal for the sake of my conscience and my ego. Hence my desire for research and improvement considering how much more of this game I have left to go. I already picked up on obsessively saving through trial and error, but that is not working for how to be a good fighter.

Mainly, I need to look into:

  • Combat Tactics
  • Customizable styles
  • Automated Healing

I will look into this and let you know what I find tomorrow. Stay tuned.

P.S. I am participating in Blogging 101 and am psychic. I would love to rewrite a post I have already done stating what my blog is about, but, well, I’m lazy. You can find my already-existing post that fits the prompt here. I hope to meet lots of you through this!

Vidigameaphobia

Vidigameaphobia

When a child develops an irrational fear, the kneejerk response is the cliche, “It won’t bite.” Tell that to the floppy desk drive in my elementary school classroom.

I grew up when home computers and video games were starting to become a fixture in kids’ homes. I remember watching my mom put together the cabinet in the basement that housed our Packard Bell. Years later, my parents surprised my me and my sister with a N64 that we kept downstairs too. I would sit and watch my sister play Super Mario 64 for hours, but anytime I went downstairs to play it myself, and my heart sped up. That moment the screen went black before the game booted up freaked me out. When I fell off into that sky blue nothing of an early 3D platformer, my stomach would drop out. I was afraid something was going to jump out at me, startle me–something. I spent so much time afraid in anticipation though nothing usually happened. (We’ll ignore the time I set off a security alarm in a Nancy Drew game, hit the computer’s power button and ran out of the room.)

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I ever convinced my parents to let me have a console anywhere other than our basement or my room, but that secluded feeling made it so much worse. I think this is why for years the only games I really played with on handheld consoles. I’ve had every Nintendo handheld since the original and blew through enough batteries to power New York City after the zombie apocalypse. I was simulatneously excited and upset when I got the rechargeable Advance SP because it meant not having a weekly battery limit anymore but it being that much harder to take on family road trips.

But while I would play anything here, the size of the TV or the proximity of the computer monitor made me paranoid. I got to where I could play predictable games on my own. Puzzle games like Dr. Mario and Pokemon Puzzle League were go-to games as well as the twenty different kinds of solitaire that came with Windows 95. But no repetition, no dice.

I have trouble figuring out when all of this changed. Part of me thinks it hasn’t. Instead I haven’t been forced into the same kind of seclusion I was play as a kid. Instead of dank underground playrooms, I got to play in my own office area or in the living room of an apartment overrun with visitors. I still get nervous before booting a game on my PC up for the first time. One of my monitors is really a 32″ TV, and I don’t know how loud or crazy the game’s intro is going to be. I thought I was going to pass out from anxiety when playing Dragon Age for the first time. I may or may not have watched through fingers while waiting to see what it would be.

And see, this is the best way to do it. Out yourself as a scaredy cat after Halloween.

Do you have any ideas for things you’d like to hear me write about? Any odd sectors of the gaming community you want me to look into? Want to ask weirdly personal questions? Leave them in the comments!

Stay tuned.