Category Archives: Video Games

#10: Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid Was Inspired by Cronenberg’s Scanners

I just watched David Cronenberg’s classic 1981 sci-fi thriller Scanners for the first time the other day, and I noticed a whole slew of undeniable parallels between it and Hideo Kojima’s 1998 sci-fi action game, Metal Gear SolidI’ve never seen anyone else make these connections, so I believe I’m bringing you something that’s never been discussed or discovered before.

This essay will feature heavy spoilers for both Scanners and Metal Gear Solid, so if you haven’t seen the film or played the game, I highly recommend you do both before reading this. They’re both phenomenal works in their mediums that are best experienced without knowing the plots going in.

First, let’s break down the plot of Scanners.

Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Cameron Vale, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by a man named Dr. Paul Ruth, who founded a biochemicals and weapons company called ConSec. Ruth mentors Vale in how to use and control strange abilities he’s always had but never understood, discovers his abilities are very powerful, and sends him on a mission to infiltrate light-haired terrorist antagonist Darryl Revok’s renegade army and take out Revok himself. You see, both Vale and Revok are powerful psychics called scanners, Revok’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful psychics, and Vale is told that he’s the only one who can stop Revok. Vale is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and after mastering his abilities comes to fit the “quiet badass” role to a tee.

These psychic abilities allow the scanner to light people on fire and control their motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: the wielder is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around them, and they can’t stop their brains from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and can drive them crazy. Vale is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and Revok was institutionalized because of his, eventually drilling a hole into his own forehead in an attempt to relieve the pressure caused in his head by all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.

Along the way, Vale goes undercover and stealthily infiltrates the ConSec biochemicals and weapons company’s facility, and by hacking into a computer and thus finding a classified cache of information, he discovers Revok’s true plan and that he and Revok, as well as Revok’s army of psychics, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were fetuses, specifically through the use of a drug that was administered to their mothers which was intended to sedate pregnant women and ease pregnancy pains and sickness. Revok’s plan is to continue to inject unwitting pregnant women with this drug to create a whole society of powerful scanners and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world so that scanners will never be abused and neglected by society the way he and Vale were. Dr. Ruth originally started this plan with the intention of creating a scanner utopia, where people with psychic powers would make the world a better place. This program is called RIPE. Revok has been slowly taking over ConSec from the inside over time, and somewhere along the way he has Dr. Ruth killed, with the goal of completely taking over the company for himself to take RIPE in his own ideological direction.

During Vale and Revok’s climactic confrontation, Revok then reveals that he and Vale are brothers and the most powerful of these artificially-created psychics, because their mother was the first woman this experimental drug was used on while she was pregnant and too much of the drug was administered. Revok also reveals that Dr. Ruth is their father, that he’s the one who administered the drug to their mother, and that Revok hated him for creating the two of them as freaks of nature, abandoning them, and leaving them to suffer in a world that doesn’t understand them with painful abilities they themselves didn’t understand.

However, Vale accuses Revok of becoming just like their father Dr. Ruth in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Vale denounces both Revok and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very psychic abilities that made them into what they are. Vale overcomes Revok by leaving his own body and overtaking Revok’s body with his own voice and personality. Here, the film ends.

Now we’ll break down the relevant plot points of Metal Gear Solid, pointing out the identical ones and the differences between similar ones where Kojima took the basic idea and changed the details of it to fit his own narrative.

Quiet, dark-haired, loner protagonist Solid Snake, who claims to have no family, no past, no interests, and no lovers, is captured and taken into custody by government agents led by a man named Roy Campbell, Solid Snake’s commanding officer from his second mission. A man named Big Boss, founder of both a US elite special forces unit called FOXHOUND and a radical military nation called Outer Heaven (the latter of which he founded covertly and unbeknownst to the US government), Solid Snake’s former commanding officer who sent him on his first field mission against Outer Heaven itself (because Big Boss was the head of FOXHOUND, and the US government assigned FOXHOUND to stop Outer Heaven’s uprising, so Big Boss sent a rookie to do the job hoping he’d fail, but he didn’t), and whom Snake killed during his second mission which Campbell headed, was also his father and mentor who helped him to hone his incredible natural combat instincts and abilities. This time around, Campbell sends Solid Snake on a mission to infiltrate the Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility which light-haired terrorist antagonist Liquid Snake has taken control of along with his renegade army and FOXHOUND itself, which Liquid Snake has also taken command of, and take out Liquid Snake at the head of it all. You see, both Solid and Liquid Snake are super-soldiers who share the same code name, Liquid Snake’s renegade army is made up of fellow, less powerful super-soldiers, and Solid Snake is told that he’s the only one who can stop Liquid. Solid Snake is cold, calculating, and unempathetic, and fits the “quiet badass” role to a tee.

Among the ranks of Liquid Snake’s FOXHOUND is a psychic soldier called Psycho Mantis. His psychic abilities allows him to light things on fire and and control people’s motor functions, but they come with a serious detriment: he is completely helpless against the rush of mental feedback coming from the people around him, and he can’t stop his brain from reading people’s minds. The onslaught of thought-noise causes extreme anguish and drives him crazy, and as a boy he lashes out and lights his village on fire with his psychic abilities, killing his father whom he hated because his thoughts were consumed with bitterness and blame for his mother’s death in childbirth. Mantis is a loner and social outcast because of his abilities, and he wears a gas mask because it protects his head against all the forceful thought-noise coming from other people.

Along the way, Solid Snake stealthily infiltrates the Alaskan facility and rescues a scientist and master hacker who, by hacking into a computer and finding a classified cache of information from weapons company Armstech, discovers Liquid Snake’s true plan, which is to use a giant, walking battle tank called Metal Gear REX to launch a stealth nuclear missile at any target on Earth. It’s also revealed that Solid and Liquid Snake, as well as Liquid Snake’s army of super-soldiers, all got their abilities from in-utero experimentation while they were embryos and fetuses, specifically through the use of genetic modification aimed at removing weak genes and replacing them with genes connected with superior combat instincts and abilities. This program was called Les Enfants Terribles. Liquid Snake’s complete plan is to continue creating more of these genetically modified super-soldiers to create a whole society of them and lead that society of superior beings to take over the world, controlling the military-industrial complex and creating a never-ending war society where super-soldiers will always have value and won’t be abandoned and neglected by society the way veterans are after the military is finished making use of them. This was Big Boss’s plan for the Outer Heaven military nation before it was stopped by Solid Snake. Liquid Snake is turning this Alaskan nuclear weapons disposal facility into a new Outer Heaven to be the helm and centerpiece around which this new war society will revolve, and he wants to surpass Big Boss by succeeding with the Outer Heaven idea where Big Boss himself failed.

During Solid Snake and Liquid Snake’s climactic confrontation, Liquid then reveals that he and Solid are twin brothers, as well as the most powerful of these artificially-created super-soldiers because they were the first of these super-soldiers to be made. This was done by taking cells from Big Boss, known as the greatest soldier to ever live, and creating eight clones from his DNA, then killing six of the octuplets in-utero so the remaining two would become even stronger. This effectively makes Big Boss their father. Liquid Snake also reveals that he hates Big Boss for being responsible for creating the two of them as freaks of nature and supposedly giving Liquid Snake all the recessive genes, which he thinks makes him weaker and inferior to Solid Snake, who supposedly got all the dominant genes.

However, Solid Snake accuses Liquid Snake of becoming just like their father Big Boss in his own selfishness and his lack of empathy for human life. Solid Snake denounces both Liquid Snake and their father, and the brothers have a duel to the death using the very super-soldier abilities that made them into what they are. Solid Snake overcomes Liquid Snake, killing him, and after a tense escape, the game ends. In the sequel, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Liquid Snake’s forearm has been removed from his body and reattached to Metal Gear Solid‘s secondary villain Revolver Ocelot, who lost his forearm during the events of that game. Liquid Snake overtakes Revolver Ocelot’s body with his own voice and personality, and he becomes a new “Liquid Ocelot” hybrid villain.

As you can see, the vast majority of Metal Gear Solid‘s main plot points are lifted directly from Scanners. Kojima also lifted ideas from a slew of other Western films, so I’m not insinuating that all of Metal Gear Solid was copied from Scanners or that this film was the only source of inspiration for the game, but I’m familiar with no other single work that has a greater number of direct plot points used in the game than this film. The uber-passionate film buff and fan of Western cinema that Kojima is, he’s known to take elements from many Western films and mix them all up into wholly new creations, and virtually all of his creative work follows this modus operandi. Although Hideo Kojima himself has never cited Scanners as an influence, as Terry Wolfe’s book The Kojima Code points out, there are many clear connections between Kojima’s work and Western films that Kojima himself has never officially stated as influences, but which are too coincidental to likely be mere coincidence. Sometimes, even without official confirmation, so many obvious connections can be made between two works that the inspiration can be safely assumed.

#9: Fact – Twilight Princess Is One of the Worst Zelda Games Ever Made

With the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD, everybody’s once again talking about this horrendous piece of shit of a Zelda title, bringing back to the surface all the pent-up rage I have against it and forcing me to compile my thoughts on it in one place after I’ve already ranted on it in numerous places around the internet, perhaps as much for my own therapeutic release as for the hope of waking others up to its true nature as a completely mediocre game with very few redeeming qualities. I’ve wanted to write this essay for a long time, but I’ve been putting it off because I knew it was going to be a lot of work. But here we are: my longest and most all-out essay yet.

Today I’m going to share my very unpopular view on Twilight Princess being by far the worst Zelda game I’ve ever personally played, and certainly one of the worst Zelda games ever made officially by Nintendo in general. However, due to my critique focusing on the basic principles of effective writing and game design, I am presenting this view as fact on the virtue of the game breaking so many of these basic principles. This review is going to spoil major plot details in Twilight Princess, so turn back now if you want to remain spoiler-free on the game.

I should probably start off by explaining what my history is with the series to prove that my opinion is valid as a general fan of the series as a whole so nobody can try to say “maybe Zelda games just aren’t for you.” I have played and finished the original The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, The Wind Waker, and Twilight Princess. I started Link’s Awakening many years ago only to find myself stuck at one point without knowing where to go or what to do next and gave up on it. Although I’m not much of a handheld gamer as it is, so make of that what you will.

My favorite Zelda game of all time is Majora’s Mask for many reasons (my favorite soundtrack, core concept, gameplay and design, sidequests, and story in the whole series), but the primary one is that it had the balls to break the traditional Zelda mold and do something incredibly fresh and original with the series at a pivotal point, directly after the series’ riskiest and most successful (financially and critically) game yet, Ocarina of TimeMajora saw a new director at the series’ helm, Eiji Aonuma, and where this man could have played it safe and rehashed the same tired old Zelda formula that had been working and selling millions of copies since the ’80’s, Aonuma boldly took the series in its most experimental direction ever, even to this day, by making a game that dropped staple characters Zelda and Ganon from the story altogether (with only one quick mention of Zelda herself to set up a particular gameplay feature with the Song of Time), took the darkest and most emotional tone of any Zelda game ever made (which holds true even today), packed in more sidequests and bonus items to find than any Zelda game ever made (again, still true today), and made a much deeper, more nonlinear gameplay experience than any other Zelda game ever made (you guessed it – still true today) that can be experienced differently each time you return to play it depending on when you choose to do what. Not only is The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask my favorite Zelda game of all time, it’s also one of my all-time favorite video games altogether, and the only Zelda game that stands within those ranks.

majoras-mask-3d-2

Each core game in the series up to Twilight Princess innovated in some major way. The Legend of Zelda was the first adventure game of its kind and size; Zelda II: The Adventure of Link experimented with sidescrolling action segments and an experience-based level-up system; A Link to the Past brought us a dual-sided world, where we could explore the same places in two very different realities; Ocarina of Time brought the series into 3D for the first time and gave us the brilliant Z-targeting, which has influenced 3D action games since, and many Zelda fans and gamers in general consider Ocarina to be one of the greatest games ever made; Majora’s Mask gave us clever ways to manipulate time, NPC’s with their own set schedules, and full character transformations with legitimate ramifications on the gameplay, along with a completely original story devoid of the typical “Zelda, Ganon, Triforce” trappings of the core console series prior; The Wind Waker, even unfinished and imperfect as it was, brought us a completely open world on the open sea and revolved all of its design and gameplay around that idea, and completely reinvented the aesthetic of the series with a beautiful, eye-popping (and controversial) art style that still holds up well to this day.

Then we get to Twilight Princess, a game that not only doesn’t innovate in any way whatsoever (although it tried to and failed miserably by introducing great ideas that go to waste with awful implementation), but in fact takes numerous steps back in the quality of both its writing and its basic game design compared to previous entries. The game mostly attempts to imitate Ocarina‘s more “realistic” (for its N64-circa-1998 time frame anyway) aesthetic and allow the player to control an older, more “adult” version of Link for only the second time in series history at that point, again in imitation of Ocarina.

The reason for this was because Nintendo showcased the Gamecube’s graphical capabilities with a tech demo themed around The Legend of Zelda (titled The Legend of Zelda 128) at an event in 2000 called Nintendo Space World. The demo was a video showcasing Ganondorf and Link having a sword fight in a dark setting with realistic graphics (again, for the time), and everybody totally lost it with excitement, thinking that it must be what the next Zelda game would look like. Nintendo clarified that this wasn’t the case and that it was a simple tech demo, but people believed what they wanted regardless of Nintendo’s assurance to the contrary, and rumors persisted that the next Zelda game would be dark and realistic like the tech demo was.

128

However, a year later at Nintendo Space World 2001, The Wind Waker was revealed to be the new project, with a highly stylized, cartoony, cel-shaded art style; quite a stark contrast to the dark realism of the previous year’s tech demo. The gaming world was outraged and offended by this drastic shift in art style. How dare Nintendo keep its word that the tech demo was indeed merely a tech demo and not a sign of things to come from its beloved series?! How dare they take a risky, artistic, original approach to the visuals of their game instead of doing what would be easy and just making an updated version of an old game’s art style?! How dare they make the game THEY want to make instead of selling out to fan demand?! Waker released to widespread critical acclaim, but there were still many whiny Zelda fans who resist change no matter how good it might be, didn’t buy the game, and continued to pester Nintendo to make a “dark, realistic” Zelda game. This eventually spread to the gaming media as well, and before long everyone was once again clamoring for the next game in the series to be “dark and realistic.”

the-legend-of-zelda-wind-waker-hd-wallpapers

Nintendo finally caved in to popular demand and the game we got was Twilight Princess, a game with virtually no identity of its own, a game that was clearly not the labor of love OcarinaMajora, Waker, and all the 2D games before them had been, a game that solely existed to try and quell the massive and widespread crying for a “dark and realistic” entry in the franchise and finally get those whiners off Nintendo’s back. The lack of passion put into the game shows as I will detail at great length ahead, and although we ended up with a completely mediocre game at best, it still released to ridiculous critical acclaim and a swath of perfect 10/10 scores from professional review sources and claims of it being the best Zelda game ever. And, just as every core series game since Majora, Eiji Aonuma directed TP as well. I was actually furious when I played the game, because before I bought it I read the reviews and saw it getting universal praise. I thought, “Oh man, this is gonna be great!” and I went out in excitement and bought it. And the whole experience could only be described as incredibly boring, tedious, and frustrating. I couldn’t believe the vast majority of professional reviews failed to mention any of the serious things wrong with this game, and many of the few who did mention the problems STILL gave the game a perfect fucking score. How does that work? They found flaws in a game and still called it perfect. It’s as if they were all blinded so completely by their orgasmic Zelda fanboy euphoria that they couldn’t look at the game objectively and see it for what it was. So what is it about this game that’s so terrible? Where did Mr. Aonuma go wrong? Strap in, because there’s a lot to say about all that’s wrong with this game.

TP begins with a highly promising premise, giving us a very different Link from the kind of character these games always start us with. Instead of being a nobody without many friends or much family, we’re introduced to a Link who’s a respected and beloved member of his community, Ordon Village. All the little kids want to be him, all the adults appreciate him, and he’s even got a love interest. For the first time in Zelda history, Link is given a fleshed-out personality and history, turning him from the sort of “insert yourself here” player avatar we’re usually given in the series, into a legitimate, established character of his own. For once I was excited to be Link. I felt proud and heroic. Unfortunately, somewhere around a quarter or a third of the way through the game, Link loses all sense of established personality and individuality. When Midna comes into the picture, after his initial hesitation to trust her, he just starts doing everything she tells him to without question and becomes her yes-man. I personally didn’t trust Midna from the moment I met her, but it didn’t take long for Link to just start assuming she must be on the side of good and doing everything she says. She’s obviously mischievous and we know virtually nothing about her or who she is. For all we know she could be playing us for a long con and making us do things that would ultimately screw over either Link or the world, but he just goes along with it. He makes some heroic decisions and performs heroic deeds all of his own accord before she comes in, like saving the kids in Kakariko, but after Midna comes in he just starts mindlessly doing her bidding and never makes any decisions on his own the whole rest of the game. He loses all the interesting and unique characterization he had in the beginning of the game and becomes Midna’s puppet. That’s terrible writing and inconsistent characterization. Link had great potential to be an interesting character of his own for the first time in the series and they waste it by chucking it all out the window as soon as Midna shows up. To make matters worse, the clear distrust the game is trying to build between Midna and the audience never pays off and she ends up being completely trustworthy anyway. She’s clearly untrustworthy, Link trusts her almost right away like an idiot, we don’t, and all of that is for nothing in the end. They could have made her character and her presence in the game far more interesting than it was, and it was another case of wasted potential, just like Link.

midna

Speaking of saving the kids in Kakariko, that event happens around a quarter of the way through the game, and immediately after you save them they all tell you that you should take them home. But you can’t. The game never lets you. And it makes no sense. They keep telling you how bad they want to go home and you’re like “okay then fucking let me take you home what the fuck” and you just can’t. So you continue on your way. And what’s your big reward for finishing the game? A big congratulatory, thankful fanfare like all the previous 3D Zelda titles to make you feel like you really saved the world and to make you feel like a hero? Nope. Your big reward for beating the game is finally seeing those fucking kids go home. This should have been resolved ages ago and I’ve long since moved on from it and stopped giving a shit, and that’s my big closing credits scene. Thanks. Just kick me in the nuts while you’re at it.

Although since past games had a large cast of funny, interesting, and memorable characters, their big closing fanfare scenes felt warm and joyous and exciting and really made you reminisce on your journey and everyone you encountered along the way. It reminds you that all these people have you to thank for their lives. Yet Twilight Princess‘s cast is so bland and forgettable that I’m not even sure a fanfare would have been satisfying regardless. None of the characters in this game are funny, interesting, or memorable except for Midna and Zant, and Zant is memorable for all the wrong reasons (which I’ll get to in a minute). I didn’t care about anyone I was saving. Nobody charmed me. They were all just so bland. So I guess a fanfare wouldn’t have been much better anyway, but it certainly would have helped me feel SOME sense of accomplishment after torturing myself through the experience that was this game.

The story is also full of plot holes. There’s this big, emotional scene where Zelda gives her life to save Midna, and at the end of the game Zelda comes back out of nowhere, with no explanation whatsoever, and nobody asks any questions or bats an eye. They just accept it. …What the fuck? This is completely inexcusable. They didn’t even try to make it make sense, it just happens and you’re supposed to just go with it. Zelda had no business being in the game for any reason, and her only role in the entire story is to create a plot hole that didn’t need to exist if they had just left her out of the story altogether. But since TP is a game made solely to give Zelda fans what they think they want, it just gives them the most predictable, tired bullshit it can and chucks known characters in for no other reason than “well it’s Zelda right? so i guess we need to have Zelda in there cuz that’s what the fans want right?” Shameful. And then you’ve got the bizarre nightmare sequences with dark Links that never get explained or justified whatsoever, like they’re just there to be “dark” and “unsettling” and have no place in the story at all. I’ve seen fans try to justify these plot holes through their own conjecture and guesses, but the plain fact is that the game itself never explains these problems and leaves gaping holes in the plot. That is broken, terrible writing. Even if you can find a way to justify it through your own conjecture, the fact that the game itself never explains it means it’s poorly written.

Speaking of characters who had no business being in this game, we have Ganon(dorf). Zant was being built up to be the first interesting, original, and legitimately terrifying villain in the series since Majora‘s Skull Kid. Good villain writing builds up tension between a villain and the audience/hero, having the villain show up from time to time to thwart the hero and be very intimidating and terrifying. It makes the audience/hero simultaneously frightened and exhilarated to face him, to take him down in the climax of the story. He’s so scary and badass and yet that makes you want to see him fall that much more. You want that epic battle to go down, you want to face this terrifying force and conquer it. Zant is mysterious, cool, and very scary, and the whole game through we’re led to believe he’s going to be the most badass villain the series has ever seen. And then, in the final act of the game, all of that potential, all of that tension the game had spent building up between Zant and the audience/hero is thrown out the window. Zant is revealed to be a complete spaz (which flies in the face of all his previous appearances all throughout the game up to that point and makes no sense for his character whatsoever), a total idiot, a joke, only for the game to pull the “GANON WAS THE REAL VILLAIN ALL ALONG AREN’T YOU SURPRISED” fucking tired-out gimmick the series has done before. It spends so much time building up the tension for Zant and making the audience hate him and excited to bring him down for good, only to pull the rug out from under you at the last minute and swap him out for the most tiresome villain of the series. It’s like being teased for hours by a lover and you can’t wait for them to let you finally climax, and then right when you think they’re going to push you over the edge and give you the orgasm of your life, they punch you in the groin and run out the door making silly faces and crazy sounds and you’re left feeling hurt, confused, frustrated, and unsatisfied. Then an ex-lover of yours that you never wanted to look at or think about again comes in to finish you off. Twilight Princess‘s climax is the most bewildering ruined orgasm imaginable. Your lover who seemed so smooth and sexy all this time turns into a fucking sadistic circus clown right before you cum and your bitter ex comes in to finish up. That’s the Zant/Ganon switch of this game in a nutshell. This is HORRID writing. Just like Zelda, it feels as if they just threw Ganon into the game as an afterthought because “hey it’s Zelda so i guess we have to have Ganon right? it’s what the fans want right?” Again, just like Zelda’s nonsensical appearance in this game, it’s fucking shameful. And then, to add even WORSE insult to injury, the final fight against Ganon in the field turns out to be one of the easiest boss fights in the entire game. I’m talking LAUGHABLY easy. Your final epic hurrah, your final bit of gameplay in this game, is a boss “fight” that’s so easy it’s pathetic. They brought back Ganon and replaced (and ruined) a legitimately great villain with him, only to end the game in the most disappointing way I could have never imagined. It’s so bad it’s sadistic. Remember the lover analogy and imagine that when your ex walks in after you’re left hurt and bewildered, she gives you the most lazy, passionless, limp handjob/fingering you’ve ever experienced. That’s the final fight against Ganon in TP. Ganon did not need to be in this game and it would have been a much better game had Zant been carried through as the badass he was supposed to be right up to the end. Instead they pathetically had to pull the same switcheroo ALttP already used and ruin the awesome potential of a great new villain. I fucking hate it. Majora already proved a Zelda game could have a great story and villain without bringing back the same old tropes, and it’s widely beloved FOR that boldness. TP takes several steps backward in its writing quality compared to its predecessors.

zant

Since Ganon has just given us a segue bridging the writing problems of TP with its game design problems, let’s dive into those design issues further. In nearly every way the game’s design philosophy works against itself and serves to continuously frustrate and disappoint players at every opportunity.

The first design choice I’ll mention since it’s unrelated to gameplay is the visual design. Remember in the early years of the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation of gaming there became a trend to make everything look “gritty and realistic and dark” by coloring everything in earth tones and adding a weird, washed-out glow to everything? Uncharted even set out specifically to rise against this trend and made a conscious choice to be as colorful as nature and the world actually are, going so far as to include an unlockable filter called “Next Gen” to make fun of how shitty it looks. That’s exactly what Twilight Princess looks like to a T. It has that exact same washed-out, glowy, earth tone-heavy “next gen,” “gritty and realistic” look. Even the greens in this game aren’t vibrant, from Link’s tunic to the grass itself. It all has that same lack of color saturation. We went from Wind Waker‘s inspired, timeless visuals to this trash, all because people bitched so much about wanting it “gritty and realistic.” This is not how Nintendo wanted Zelda to look, and the artistically perceptive will notice and feel a clear lack of passion and soul in the game’s art direction. Everything about it is just so bland to look at. Character designs (except for Midna and Zant who once again stand out) are completely bland and boring, nobody has any kind of aesthetic presence or memorability to them. They didn’t make the game look this way because they were inspired or they felt moved to do so, they made it look this way because they caved in to pressure from demanding fans. Well, they got exactly what they asked for and it looks like shit.

large

Moving on to the actual game design itself, the first problem is its long, painful tutorial at the very beginning. If it doesn’t put you to sleep, you’ve got incredible power of will, because I had to fight to stay awake and push through it myself. It’s horrifically slow and unnecessarily long. Ocarina of Time, a game that came out seven years prior and was the first game to introduce players to playing Zelda in 3D, handled tutorials better than this game, making them completely optional by allowing you to either skip mandatory tutorial dialogue, or relegating tutorial dialogue to optional signs or NPC’s you can read or speak with if you choose. So why is it that the FOURTH 3D Zelda game EIGHT years later is spending MORE time on tutorials and FORCING you to sit through them? This is HORRID game design. And what’s sad is that, despite some critics complaining about the awful, mandatory opening tutorial bullshit, Nintendo went ahead and made it even LONGER and WORSE and STILL MANDATORY with Skyward Sword. What the fuck? Why are they regressing their game design instead of progressing it? Why are they devolving instead of evolving? It’s completely inexcusable and makes repeat playthroughs of this game even more painful than the first. Zelda players already know how to play a 3D Zelda game, and new players who had never played a 3D Zelda before had no problem picking up and understanding how to play Ocarina when it came out. Why would you do this? It doesn’t benefit longtime fans OR new players in any way and only serves to hurt the player’s experience.

Then you’ve got the new gimmick of the wolf form, which the game is so proud of that it plasters it on the front cover of the game and dedicates space on the back cover to point out. This form is completely worthless and adds nothing beneficial at all to the game’s experience. You smell a scent here…dig a hole there…fight a couple enemies…and that’s literally all there is to this form. It does nothing even remotely innovative or fun, and if it didn’t run so fast and wasn’t mandatory to transform in certain areas in order to progress, I contest that nobody would even use it. Even Majora, six years prior, utilized a transforming Link far better than this piece of shit game did. In that game you had three different transformations which each offered unique skills that were actually fun to use and added to the game’s experience, gave the player a ton of extra dialogue to discover by talking to all the NPC’s in each form, and even gave players completely different instruments to play around with just for fun. TP‘s wolf form by comparison is a lazy, pathetic attempt at a transformation gimmick and adds nothing positive to the player’s experience. And remember, the wolf form is the game’s big selling point, which they were so proud of that they dedicated half the cover art to it. It’s a testament to a game’s horrible quality when a gimmick so boring, useless, and lazily implemented is proudly emblazoned on the cover of your game and is the game’s main selling point.

Speaking of how fast the wolf form is, for some reason you’re given a horse in this game, but it’s slower and more cumbersome to use than your wolf form. WHY? Why would they do this? Not only is Epona slower than your wolf form, but to call her you have to hunt down a very specific kind of plant to use as a horse call, then wait for her to come, then mount her, THEN start moving. Why would you do this when you can just turn into your wolf form at any given time and move faster doing it anyway? It’s completely fucking pointless and another perfect example of the game’s broken design working against itself. If the horse had been made easier to call upon and faster, the wolf form really WOULD have been utterly useless, because the only thing it’s good for is running fast across the massive overworld when the problem could have been solved much more gracefully by making the horse legitimately useful and faster-moving.

And speaking of the massive overworld, this game sports the biggest overworld of any Zelda game to date, yet also the most sparse. Even in Ocarina you had a much smaller overworld with many more things to find and hunt and collect in a space-to-secrets ratio. TP has FEWER things to do and find in the overworld, spread out across a MUCH bigger area. Why the fuck would you do this? Why would you make a massive overworld with barely anything to do in it in a series that was literally conceptualized around the idea of the fun of exploration? So many times I found myself running all over the overworld looking for something, ANYTHING, hidden to stumble across and almost never found anything. Good game design rewards a player for going off the beaten path to explore. Twilight Princess kicks you in the jewels for it. Especially since whenever you DO find something, it’s almost always rupees, which is another problem entirely.

This game has a serious money problem: there is WAY too much money to find everywhere and not nearly enough use for it. Unfortunately, TP adds a potentially useful new feature that doubles back on itself and ends up only being frustrating because it’s not implemented well. This feature is that whenever you find a chest full of rupees and can’t carry them because your wallet is full (which it nearly always is because there’s never any need to spend the money you have), Link will put the rupees back and leave the chest closed for you to come back to later when you do need them or have room for them: a helpful idea. But this becomes a serious problem in both the overworld and in dungeons for different but similar reasons. In the overworld, let’s say you spend a bunch of time wandering around exploring and looking for things to find. This takes a long time as it is because, as mentioned, the overworld is obnoxiously huge and depressingly empty, so you could spend fifteen minutes wandering around hoping to actually find something until you finally do. So you go for it, but it’s rupees you can’t carry, so Link puts them back. Then let’s say you happen across that part of the overworld again twenty hours later in the game and see a chest in the distance, but you’ve forgotten you already checked that chest. You go back out of your way to check it again, only to find rupees you can’t carry yet again, and you’ve just doubly wasted your time. In dungeons, where unopened chests are marked on the map and the layout is often purposely confusing in order to be challenging, you’ll find rupee chests you can’t use and put the rupees back. But the map still treats these chests as if you’ve never opened them. So as you wander around the dungeon looking at the map for reference, trying to find chests with keys you haven’t found yet as you’re trying to make progress, you often end up accidentally arriving back at chests you’ve already checked and closed again because the game doesn’t indicate the difference between checked chests and unchecked ones. So once again you end up doubly wasting your time. This is even more problematic if you only play the game for an hour or two at a time and don’t play it every day, as most adults do, so the chests you’ve already checked don’t stay in your memory as well. If you don’t want to choke on your own tongue in frustrated rage after the twentieth time going out of your way for a chest you already checked and didn’t remember (not the same chest twenty times of course, but that scenario happening twenty times), you have to mark down on your own sheet of paper which chests you’ve already checked that were rupees you couldn’t carry. This is what I’m talking about when I say a potentially useful feature ends up doubling back on itself and being worse than it would have been if you kept the formula the same as previous games, where you just lose the rupees you find that you can’t carry. If they had offered some way in-game to mark previously checked chests that have been re-closed, the feature would be pretty useful, although it would still be frustrating going out of your way to get to a chest only to discover it’s almost always rupees you can’t carry, but marking those chests differently on your map from unchecked chests would have at least eliminated half of the problem. Yet another example of great potential gone to waste through stupid design decisions.

rupee-link

(Image is from Twilight Princess HD, which is why it at least doesn’t look like total shit.)

Since I mentioned the dungeons, I want to point out that TP‘s dungeons are incredibly well designed and fun to play through. However, they become tiresome before too long due to the entire game being one long dungeon crawl. There are so many dungeons in this game and not nearly enough side content to balance it out. The game just expects you to slog through one dungeon after another after another and gives you very little to do outside of that. This is yet another example of the game’s design working against itself. You have great dungeons, but you tarnish their fun by giving the player almost nothing else to do when they want a break from constant dungeon crawling. I found myself bored to death of the game halfway through and only forced myself to continue to suffer through it because I thought, “Everyone’s raving about this game…so it’s got to get good SOMEtime, right? It has to get better…I can’t quit now. I’ll keep trucking. I have to see what all the fuss is about.” And it never changes or gets better; it’s just an endless string of dungeons. The pacing is exhausting and there’s no balance.

TP would have achieved much better balance if it had more sidequests, but there are only a pathetic few, and the biggest three are all flat-out broken in their design.

First is the shop-growing sidequest with the creepy, unnaturally mature-mannered baby-looking kid. This is a whole-game-spanning sidequest which you can only advance to each progressive stage by accomplishing other things first. Of these few sidequests, I actually had the most fun with this one. I enjoyed helping a fellow character chase and develop his dream. However, you can’t complete it until near the end of the game, and by the time you get the reward for finishing the quest, it’s practically useless. The reward in question is the “magic armor,” which isn’t magic at all; it eats your rupees in order to work. And to get it in the first place takes an utter shit-ton of rupees (really the only thing in the entire game that you’ll be using your rupees for, unless you skip this sidequest in which case there really is virtually no use for rupees in this game whatsoever), so you have to go broke in order to get it, and then it requires a ton of rupees to make any decent use of it. Broken. Again the game kicks you where it counts for putting so much time, money, and effort into something.

The second and third sidequests of the Big Three are the bug collecting quest and the poe hunting quest. The bugs are easier to find at night, and the poes ONLY show up at night, yet this game bafflingly gives you no way to change the time of day as you could in all previous 3D Zelda titles, which all had quests revolving around the time of day as well. You literally have to stand around and wait for nearly ten minutes for the cycle to change before you can continue your hunt. Now…why the fuck would you make two of the game’s biggest and longest sidequests revolve around the time of day and NOT OFFER THE PLAYER CONTROL OVER THE TIME OF DAY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 3D ZELDA HISTORY? What kind of horrendous design is this? Why would you strip such a useful, staple feature of past games from your new game but still necessitate that feature? This is inarguably broken game design at its finest and most unforgiveable. And the cherry on top of this shit sundae? The rewards for the bug quest are bigger wallets to carry even MORE rupees you don’t need, and the ultimate reward for the poe quest, which is the longest and more broken quest of them all, is MORE RUPEES YOU DON’T NEED. …I give up.

The special items and weapons you get in this game are a further example of the game’s design working against itself and the player. There are so many very cool item concepts in this game that see virtually no use at all outside of the dungeons you find them within. It sets you up with excitement over your new find only to disappoint you as soon as you realize you’ll never need to use it again. “Oh man, I can use bombs underwater! How cool! …Oh…guess I’m never going to get to use that again…” “Oh shit, this spinner thing is awesome! I can’t wait to see what I can do with this! …Oh…well, guess I’m never using that again…” “Double claw shot?! WHAT?! THIS IS SO FUCKING COOL! Please tell me it’s not going to be useless outside of its dungeon…aaaand great…never using it again…fuck.” The game just can’t get anything right. Every time it has a good idea, it utterly squanders it with stupid implementation through bad design. So many great tools in this game are only used once, MAYBE twice if you’re lucky, outside of their respective dungeons. I can already hear the detractors crying foul and trying to say, “Yeah, well, Majora’s Mask is full of masks you only use once and never again! Hypocrite!” And I remind those people that the actual TOOLS in that game were all put to great use and were helpful in many situations across the entire span of the game, and that the non-transformative masks were all implemented very well for the purposes of both furthering one’s progress by leading the player to heart pieces and other gameplay-affecting rewards, but they also brought with their sidequests a ton of extra bits of story that added significantly to the living world in the game. Much of the game’s famed darkness and emotion comes from the mask sidequests. Thus, every one of those masks is more useful and adds more to Majora than all the tools of TP put together do for their game.

kafeianju

By all accountsThe Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a messy, sloppy game with absolutely atrocious writing and game design. It’s got a couple of solid aspects to it, such as its music and dungeon design, but everything else about it is an atrocious mess of disappointment and frustration. The entire game is nothing but a pandering, soulless piece of shitty fanservice with high production values, and a series of moments of potential greatness that only end in disappointment every time, from Link’s starting point as a legitimately interesting character, to Zant, to a boring and useless wolf form, to a gigantic but empty overworld, to rupees you can’t carry, to (broken) sidequests that pay off with horrible rewards, to great item concepts that are terribly implemented or are barely even made use of. It lacks an identity or soul of its own and merely tries to give fans another ALttP and Ocarina experience melded into one game with a forced and false “dark and gritty” tone.

It is an absolute journalistic crime that the game received such undeserved universal praise when it came out and is still widely considered to be a great game even today, and that nobody talks about all these horrendous problems that plague it. I contest that if TP didn’t have the franchise association, the name ZELDA plastered on the front, or any of the staple characters, replacing all these things with original names and characters in a new IP, it would have gone down in history as a mediocre game at best with a whole lot of huge flaws. But because it’s Zelda, and officially Nintendo-made at that, nobody can seem to see those gaping flaws or judge the game objectively. It is not merely my opinion that TP is a piece of shit, it’s a fact by the mere virtue that it manages to break so many basic rules of effective writing and game design and that it takes so many steps backward from all of its predecessors which did similar things with far better implementation.

Twilight Princess is the Zelda series’ Metal Gear Solid 4. It’s a total piece of shit with high production values and an enormous load of unforgivable writing and design issues that the creators clearly did not want to make and only did so to shut up bitter, demanding fans, but got an insane amount of praise merely on its name and associated series’ reputation alone. In both cases, both with Zelda and Metal Gear, if the game was a new IP and wasn’t part of its franchise, it would’ve been critically panned and forgotten. But because of their franchises, both games have a ton of dedicated fans who swear up and down that they’re great no matter how you break it down for them and prove to them on every conceivable level that it’s shit, and casual fans who don’t care enough to notice its problems and are pleased by anything with the franchise’s name on it.

I’ve been referring to Twilight Princess often throughout this article as “TP” for a reason. It’s not because it’s an abbreviation for the game’s title. It’s because using it to wipe your ass is just about the only thing it’s good for.

#7: Grain of Salt Vol. 5 – The Faltering Handheld

I wrote a five-part series of articles called “Grain of Salt” a few years ago on a website called NerdRepository.com. It used to be a mixed bag of gaming and film news and opinion editorials, but since then it’s made film news its primary focus and the gaming editorials have been removed. I want them to remain published somewhere on the internet, so I’ve reposted them here as blog entries for your reading pleasure. Originally published on March 17, 2011, this is Grain of Salt Volume 5: The Faltering Handheld.

 

Lee’s journal – February 14, 2012: Old DS Lite sitting on headboard. No game in its lately unloved slot. This DS is mocking me. I’ve felt its guilting stares. The screens are extensions of each other, and the bottom one is full of scratches, and when the screen is finally covered, all the games will look terrible. The accumulated filth of all my touching and tapping will build up about the touch screen, and all the games I didn’t play very much will look up and shout, “Play us!” And I’ll whisper, “No.”

As I grow older, I find myself caring less and less about handheld gaming systems. I play less frequently with the ones I own, and I feel no excitement or anticipation for those on the horizon. With the release of Nintendo’s 3DS and more recently, Sony’s Playstation Vita, my own apathy has surprised me. Just a few years ago I would’ve been stoked about some of these fancy new gaming devices, yet suddenly I just can’t bring myself to care. I figure there must be others out there who feel the same, and not necessarily just adults. What might the reason be for such an attitude change about handheld gaming when it used to be such a cultural phenomenon? The truth is, there could be several reasons handhelds are losing the hold they once had on our hands.

The first possible reason that comes to mind is the host of lackluster libraries the past few handhelds have boasted. The DSi has very few exclusive titles that take advantage of its added features, making the system more of a glorified iPod with gaming capabilities than a truly new game system. The 3DS debuted with a few lame new releases like Steel Diver, one solid title in Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracle, and a slew of games we’ve already bought and played before, the only difference being its fancy 3D technology. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I really don’t care to be bent over and boned from behind by game companies who think I want to buy yet ANOTHER release of Ocarina of Time or Street Fighter IV. A year has passed since release and the system still lacks a decent library of games, with only a small few great titles.

grain-of-salt-ps-vita-600x339

I was never very impressed with the original PSP in the first place, and while the Vita has some impressive launch titles like Uncharted: Golden Abyss, not to mention a new Killzone in the works (and I suppose some people may care about the special Vita incarnation of Call of Duty, too… but not yours truly), I’m still simply not excited. If the games DO end up being decent at launch and I still don’t care, then what else could be the problem?

While I can’t speak for people under 18, as an adult I find it increasingly difficult to find time to play my handhelds. When I was a kid being carted around on my parents’ errands and being driven everywhere, often to places I didn’t care to be (like get-togethers with their friends, or grandma’s house), I tended to have a lot of time sitting around being bored and wishing I was home playing video games. Handheld systems are perfect for kids because they’re not directly involved in a lot of the stuff they’re toted around for, and they don’t have to pay attention to anything when they’re in the car. Once I was old enough to drive and I got to go where I wanted to go and do what I wanted to do, I didn’t find myself with as much time being bored. Then, once I moved out, got my own place, and started working for a living, I had limited time for friends, family, or even myself, and when I do find some time to relax at home the last thing I want to do is sit around playing on a tiny screen.

When I get time to myself I’d much rather be in front of on my big HDTV on my big-boy consoles playing my big-boy games with loud volume, being totally immersed aurally and visually in the experience as a means of escape from my busy adult life. I don’t want to sit around playing time-wasters like Rhythm Heaven or Pokemon anymore, I want to be involved in something epic like God of War, or Batman: Arkham City, something deep in gameplay and story with a scenario I care about. When I try to sit down with my handheld at home, it doesn’t take long for me to start to feel like I should be doing something more engrossing with my time, and that whatever I’m playing is more of a distraction than an experience.

Then again, some adults still do enjoy their distraction games. However, evolving cell phone technology has led the charge with distraction gaming for adults. Titles like Angry Birds and Words with Friends are easily accessible because they don’t require a special machine primarily meant for gaming, and they don’t embarrass folks who normally wouldn’t be caught dead playing the modern equivalent of a Game Boy because they think of such machines as children’s toys. Cell phone gaming has given adults a sophisticated, convenient replacement for the handheld systems they grew up with. Personally, I still choose to use an old Motorola brick of a phone (which doesn’t even have picture capabilities or a flip feature) because I love its reliability and simplicity, so while the world of modern cell phone gaming is largely lost on me, I have played some of the games on other people’s phones and can appreciate them. Yet for me, cell phone gaming didn’t replace handheld gaming. Handheld gaming simply became obsolete in my busy life and was replaced in times of relaxation by bigger, more impressive gaming.

Perhaps you have shared my recent apathy for handheld systems yourself, whether your reason is like my own busy adult life, your cell phone has replaced those handheld systems, or perhaps both reasons apply to you. Maybe it’s the largely uninteresting libraries of recent handhelds at fault. Then again, you may very well still be in love with your handheld systems and are enjoying your shiny new PS Vita, and if that’s the case, take this with a grain of salt. To each his own, and while I don’t foresee handheld gaming dying off altogether, I can finally say it’s dead to me. Rest in peace, dear old handhelds, and may you never come back as Stupid Zombies…wait…DAMN IT.

#5: Grain of Salt Vol. 3 – Learning Financial Stability from Video Games

I wrote a five-part series of articles called “Grain of Salt” a few years ago on a website called NerdRepository.com. It used to be a mixed bag of gaming and film news and opinion editorials, but since then it’s made film news its primary focus and the gaming editorials have been removed. I want them to remain published somewhere on the internet, so I’m going to repost them here as blog entries for your reading pleasure. Originally published on September 21, 2011, this is Grain of Salt Volume 3: Learning Financial Stability from Video Games.

 

If practice makes perfect and one plays video games with systems of economy at work within the gameplay, might one begin to learn the value of saving money? Or perhaps, does saving money in the real world make you better at video games with economic systems involved? Is it possible that both of these could be true? Today we’ll explore the possibility of a connection between playing certain video games and learning how to be smart (or smarter, at least) with one’s money.

The immediate irony that comes to mind here and needs to be addressed is the steep price of most video games. I’ve heard people often cry that video games are getting too expensive, but NES games were often roughly $50 a pop during the prime of the 8-bit era, the true beginning of serious home console gaming. Games have always had a high price mark, but I’m a firm believer in the concepts of self control and pre-purchase research, and such steep pricing can be seen as a double-edged sword. A smart consumer will employ these concepts of willpower and research before making lofty entertainment purchases, using a mixture of personal judgment, word of mouth, and industry reviews to choose games they’re quite sure will be quality experiences in order to avoid wasting one’s time and money. It teaches one to use his money wisely and to educate one’s self about the intended product before buying, as well as to limit one’s spending. Immediately, this renders moot the argument that with such steep pricing, the very purchase of video games is wasteful. “So much money thrown away on silly games,” I’ve heard from people who consider gaming to be a hobby without merit. “You’re rotting your brain! Save your money for something substantial!” Hardly… especially since one is forced to think carefully before even buying a video game thanks to their pricing. It’s somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Especially in a difficult economy, luxuries like games are not easy purchases to make, but it makes us think harder about what we buy, if we choose to buy at all.

When I was young and first started working, I was quite wasteful with my money. My parents forced me to put little by little into a savings account, but every little bit that I got to keep, I spent as soon as I got the check. I never got a big allowance growing up, and since I was finally in control of more money than I was used to, I took advantage of it and blew as much as I could on things like games and CD’s. I was forced to save, but it made me more rebellious and wasteful with the money I was allotted. Eventually I grew up and started being handed responsibility for my own cost of living, for which I wasn’t very prepared. The forced saving didn’t help much because as soon as I gained access to my savings, I dipped into it often and soon much of it was gone. I even needed help from my folks from time to time because I wasn’t financially responsible. I wasn’t learning my lesson, but that would change thanks to my frivolous spending.

Games have become more complicated as time has moved forward. With the increasing depth in single player adventures like Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, and Bioshock, money is sometimes difficult to come by and there are a lot of things to buy in the game’s world. From fun but useless bonuses like costume alterations to important necessities like extra health or new weapons, in the world of the modern adventure game, finances are becoming ever more important to keep an eye on. RPG’s have always used some sort of economy system to get necessary gear, but modern games are taking it to another level. In Assassin’s Creed 2 for example, the player often needs to choose whether to purchase something which will bring him more money (in this game’s case, things like renovations to a city or paintings to bring up the worth of your mansion), or something which will make his character stronger (the obvious, like armor and weapons). The game also assigns risk to certain forms of monetary gain, as pickpocketing raises your notoriety and makes the game more difficult, and many treasure chests are surrounded with armed guards. In Bioshock the player must choose whether to buy fun little add-ons or major upgrades using the limited, special form of currency called ADAM, which can greatly vary one’s chances in upcoming fights. Therefore, the very expensive games I was blowing all my money on were slowly teaching me how to be smarter with my money. Buying video games certainly wasn’t a waste of money, but I was buying too many of them with the limited funds I had. I needed to find a middle ground.

Over time, in games like the ones mentioned above, without thinking about it I began to set myself a financial limit that I wouldn’t allow myself to fall below, the amount of which varied depending on my general in-game income, and the general cost of in-game items, just in case I ran into anything important I might need to buy in a pinch, like if I got in over my head in a big boss fight and needed a better, expensive weapon or piece of armor. I was doing this on a subconscious level and it began to change the way I handled my money in the real world. I started to not allow myself to fall below a certain amount of money in my bank account in case of emergencies, only buying what I need, paying bills, and throwing in an occasional flippant purchase for recreation. I’m now in solid financial standing and quite independent with no debts, and the artificial limit I don’t allow myself to fall below actually increases over time, as I bring in more money than I generally spend. The way I gamed had transitioned to the way I lived, all without even thinking about it, and now that I’ve noticed the correlation it’s made a big improvement on my life.

As a nice topping to this sweet sundae, I’ve actually improved as a gamer because of this cycle of learning. While my gaming improved my finances, my finances have improved my gaming. Since I’m better with my money in the real world now, I’m also better with my money in games, and I never find myself stuck up a creek against a tough opponent because I always have money to fall back on if I need upgrades.

I wouldn’t recommend going about this the way I did and accidentally finding a lesson through idiotic monetary abuse, but if you play your video games the right way, it’s possible you could learn a thing or two about how to live a smarter life.

Then again, I’m talking about learning lessons from a game centered around assassinations. You might just want to take this with a grain of salt.

#3: Grain of Salt Vol. 1 – Finding Multiplayer Gold in Single-Player Games

I wrote a five-part series of articles called “Grain of Salt” a few years ago on a website called NerdRepository.com. It used to be a mixed bag of gaming and film news and opinion editorials, but since then it’s made film news its primary focus and the gaming editorials have been removed. I want them to remain published somewhere on the internet, so I’m going to repost them here as blog entries for your reading pleasure. Originally published on August 30, 2011, this is Gain of Salt Volume 1: Finding Multiplayer Gold in Single-Player Games.

 

When I was growing up in the NES era, I played video games alone for the most part. I had a sister three years younger than me who was into Barbie and Mary Kate & Ashley movies. My parents were largely uninterested in gaming, though my dad occasionally enjoyed some Xevious, Tetris, or Super Mario Bros. I didn’t have many friends when I was young, and the few I did have lived rather far away, which made visits few and far between. Therefore, most of my gaming experiences were limited to single player games, or playing multiplayer games by myself.

Like many young boys growing up in the early 90’s, I was a big fan of shows like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This got me interested in martial arts and the idea of fighting for fun at a pretty young age, and I’d always fantasized about taking martial arts classes. Unfortunately our family couldn’t afford such things, so I lived out those fantasies with my action figures, beat-em-up games, and fighting games, such as the TMNT and Double Dragon series on the NES and that one-off TMNT Tournament Fighters title. I didn’t mind playing games by myself, but when I started getting more games like these that had a heavier focus on multiplayer I began to wish I had somebody to play them with. Beating the crap out of baddies just wasn’t as much fun by one’s lonesome.

The Gameboy was my next game system, but I didn’t get another one until the original Playstation. I missed the entire 16-bit era of gaming, which had a much higher focus on the multiplayer experience compared to the 8-bit era. Such great multiplayer titles as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Donkey Kong Country, Kirby Superstar, and Mario Kart had escaped me, and I envied my friends who played and talked about these games incessantly. Fast forward to today and I’ve since made up for my 16-bit shortcomings by purchasing an SNES, but at the time I had to get my fill from arcade cabinets, a limited luxury for a kid without much money. Games like Primal Rage and The Simpsons had me drooling, and more often than playing them I’d just watch with mouth agape and eyes aglow as other people played or as the cabinet ran through its demos.

Thanks to my experiences as a child I still tend to favor single player games over anything else, but my favorite multiplayer genre is still fighting games. Unfortunately, it seems the popularity of fighting games has died down since the explosion of multiplayer shooters was kicked off by Halo and perpetuated with games like Call of Duty, games in which I have little interest. These days it seems most of the time when you ask a guy what multiplayer games he’s into, the first titles he mentions are shooters.

So multiplayer gaming has largely left me behind with my niche preference for fighting games, made even worse by my preference for the PS3 over the Xbox 360, because most people who have one or the other chose the 360. Finding people who play fighting games and who play them on the PS3 is not an easy task for the everyday gamer, and I hope it’s not just me who has difficulty playing the games I’m used to on a different console’s controller. Switching from the PS3 pad to the 360 pad is like coming up too fast after deep-sea diving: the change is so quick and radical that it leaves you essentially crippled for a short time – the gaming bends, if you will.

My pool of friends consists of a fairly unusual bunch. Not the typical “my friends are soooo weird” fantasy of social nonconformity that lets you entertain the idea that your friends are so much more goofy and interesting than anyone else’s while they really just act as a vicarious outlet for you to pretend your life is exciting through their diverse and wacky personalities. I’m talking about a pool of friends that really don’t have much in common with one another, making it difficult to have large hangouts due to their lack of similar interests. Some of them like racing games, some like shooting games, some like RPG’s, some like PC games, and so on.

Being of college age has me wanting to bring groups of friends together for parties and hang-outs. In the glory days of fighting games, you could have an entire party revolve around them in home-made tournaments of sorts. Today, I’m hard-pressed to find any two friends who enjoy, and are good at, the same fighting game. My racing interests are limited to things like F-Zero and Mario Kart, my shooter interests don’t go far beyond Metroid Prime and Bioshock (which are more like first person adventures in exploration than first person shooters), and beat-em-ups aren’t as popular as they used to be despite such great releases as Scott Pilgrim vs The World and Castle Crashers.

Maybe I’m just a picky bastard, but how is a man with such limited interests as myself to throw a big gaming get-together with other such people with limited interests?

Along came a game called Limbo. It’s been out on the 360’s arcade for a good while, but was finally brought to the PlayStation Store around a month ago. It’s a dark, artsy, single player game with a grizzly film noir vibe and not much in the way of story. It’s a puzzle platformer with simple controls, and you are guaranteed to die a lot when playing it for the first time. It’s a short game, maybe 3-5 hours on your first run depending on how good you are at solving puzzles, and it’s even got secrets and extra content to find if you’re diligent enough. And, dare I say, all of these qualities make it a perfect multiplayer experience and an answer to my difficulty finding a solid common ground for gamers of various interests to come together and work through in tandem.

As a visually striking game, it keeps one’s interest just to see what will happen next. As a dark, creepy game, it makes jokes all the funnier when playing through it with friends. As a game loaded with guaranteed player deaths, it’s perfect for passing around the controller every time somebody dies, which can double as a drinking game (every time you die you drink, or every time anybody dies everyone drinks, either way is a good time) and makes for loads of laughs whenever someone does die in the game. There’s almost no story to get in the way of gameplay and slow things down, which is great for a fast-paced party experience. With simple controls, nobody ever has to bother fumbling around getting used to how the game plays, even while drinking. The estimated time of completion at 3-5 hours is an ideal length for parties; not too short and not too long. Best of all, playing the game with other people helps solve difficult puzzles quicker, as you have numerous minds trying to work through the puzzles rather than relying solely on your own problem solving skills.

I tried this experience myself, and it went over quite well. We didn’t have the idea to turn it into a drinking game at the time, so people gave up after roughly ¾ of the way through the game due to frustration, but I would be willing to bet people have more fun with it and get frustrated less easily when alcohol is involved. This single player game ended up being the unexpected answer to my search for a solid multiplayer experience with people of all sorts of diverse gaming interests, and I’m excited to find more games like this. Perhaps Splosion Man or Super Meat Boy can be my next endeavor. If any of you out there have the same trouble I do in trying to bring your various gamer friends together, perhaps this can be your solution as it was mine. Feel free to share your personal stories of similar experiences in the comment section.

It worked for me! It could work for you! But if it doesn’t and your drunken buddy puts a foot through your wall or a controller through your television… just take this with a grain of salt.