Sunday, April 10, 2011

Games People Play--MOON DIVER

So I remember distinctly the last time I wrote one of these I was less than kind to the game I was reviewing. In my defence, they frankly should have fucking well known better than to unleash a piece of shit on the world like King of Fighters XII. I suspect that the utter revolt that was unleashed on that game has made it difficult for the sequel (which is alleged to be much better--we'll see guys, we'll see.) to find a release date.

I mention this, partly because it's been awhile since I did one of these (mostly because I didn't want to resurrect the series just to complain again, this time about the aggressively mediocre Blazblue: Continuum Shift) and also to prepare you: This will not be a favourable review, and you either know what the means, or you will come to know as we go.

I am a big fan of the game Strider, in fact, I mentioned it here comparatively recently. The character, the games themselves (for the most part) were and are some of my favourites and I consider it, along with Shinobi III, one of the exemplars of the action platformer.

This was, I should add, a form that had pretty much died out with the advent of 3D. The platformer changed with the times and became stuff like the newer Ninja Gaiden or Devil May Cry (not always successfully--I personally find nothing makes precision jumping more of an un-fun pain in the ass than a third dimension) 2D platformers of the kind I enjoy and were pretty much a curio, for awhile.

As of late, though, a tier for games that hearken back to the games of yesterday with today's production values have found a nice on the big consoles download services, and good thing, as this spares them from being ghettoized on the DS.

And so, we find ourselves here. Moon Diver is an exemplar of this budget 2D niche. It has a fantastic pedigree--it's made by Square-Enix, one of the folks who worked on the original Strider game worked on this one and it had the look of a Strider game, only it also has a bit of Castle Crashers, the Capcom D & D arcade games, and and a few other things, and it was designed to be a four-player game so . . .it all looked good.

The question, then, is where did it go so terribly wrong? Everything in Moon Diver should work--the control allows a lot of attack and movement options, you have four different characters all with different strengths and weaknesses, you have melee attacks and magic attacks to take on bad guys, you have several huge stages with lots of enemies, plenty of power to do amazing graphical things, but none of it works. Let's look in detail at each of them.

The controls are far too floaty and awkward. When you have to hold L1 or whatever to crouch, you have officially over-thought your control scheme. I wish I could convince game designers, now that 2-3 control sticks or pads, and 18 buttons are now the norm, it doesn't mean you have to use every single one of them in every single game. Nevertheless, there's far too much shit to keep track of for a game which should really be focusing more on its core action. Everything feels awkward and fussy and counter-intuitive. Just assigning your 4 magic slots before a stage is an exercise in frustration.

The four characters, while in some sense distinct (they're certainly wearing different colour scabby, chitinous armour) . . .aren't, really. They're generally about the same, with only slight differences in how easy or hard it is to grind them into a character that will last more than a few stages. Plus, they all look the same in that "ripped from the rejected pile of Final Fantasy character designs" by which I mean they look pretty damn ugly. There's no personality, no cool factor . . .nothing.

The focus on magic attacks means your melee attacks are pretty much only vehicles to grind up your magic points so you can level up enough to do those more often as even at maximum power, your melee attacks don't do that much. Plus, you have to find all the different magics around the stages and while there are a LOT of them, they're little more than just slightly more powerful versions of the stock spells, which means there's not a good deal of reward for all that searching.

The huge stages with lots of enemies. Oh dear, this was perhaps the most disappointing. We have, conceivably, the processing power to make pretty much anything happen on screen. Moon Diver decided the best way to use that power was to make stages that ran the gamut from "burnt out city" to "city that is actually still on fire." Seriously, these are the most boring as fuck stages I have ever seen, and they're populated by enemies that look precisely as generic as your character does, which makes playing through them a little difficult, because of one other creative decision.

That being that the action is ZOOMED OUT TO APPARENTLY TWO FUCKING STATES AWAY. What the . . .you know, zooming in and out was a cool dramatic trick back in the 1990s--SNK made great use of it in a few of their fighting games and even Strider 2 did great with it 12 years ago. It was a way to get more of the stage into view back when we were limited by the dimensions of standard-sized monitors, but now, with widescreen HDTV being the new standard, why the hell was this necessary? It only plays up the problems with the game even more than was already apparent (why would I want to see more of a such a boring game?) by really foreground how poorly thought out the whole mess is.

I won't even go into the plot--it's bog-standard stuff, full of the kind of dartboard religious symbolism that's supposed to be shocking but just generally seems to be trying far too hard and none of it makes any sense so fuck it for a game of checkers anyway.

In short, this could not be less worth $15 if the game came with a $15 voucher to cover the money you spent on it. For people who don't love Strider they will find nothing other than misshapen half-assery, people like me who love Strider will find even more disappointing stuff here because the people behind it should damn well have known better and yet this thing plays like someone heard someone describe Strider once about ten years ago.

God, what a benighted fucking waste of time this was. If you need a $15 game to download, might I suggest the utterly splendid Hard Corps: Uprising, which actually has a DLC character you can get who makes the game play very much like a Strider game leagues better than this bullshit.

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