Saturday, 15 February 2014

Valentine's Day Love'em and Hate'em Double Whammy

  Happy Valentine’s Day Everybody!  Who’s up for a double whammy of love'em and hate'em articles? 

Chibi Robo III

  Well, the event horizon is crossed.  I’m officially unwillingly to soldier on.  Chibi Robo: Photo Finder ties all of its progression to its camera mechanic, which is outright torture.  Strictly speaking, matching the outline to the object in the lens up to 70% is a pass, while the game teases and challenges players to reach for 100%. 

  The trouble is that it is February; I’m stuck indoors while it is quite cold out.  Bothering with the 3DS during the cold is counterintuitive, and the camera is pretty low quality anyway.  Far too many of the pictures become NostalJunk puzzle pieces, for reasons that elude me (probably camera failure, since Telly conjectures that lighting is the problem).  Replacing the spent frames is painful, and consequently the amount of grinding needed to advance is off-balance and very intimidating.

  But let’s not pretend that all of the problems can be laid at the feet of Old Man Winter.  I confess, I feel kind of fish-out-of-water over here.  Chibi-Robo’s claim to fame, making monumental adventures out of mundane domestic scenery, is strongly compromised by the world inside the game.  Having “unlocked” the next gallery, I’ve found the world expand in frustratingly small ways.  New toys introduce themselves to Chibi, complete with more chores to do, that are truly mundane and boring chores, and no new vistas to explore. 

  I mean to say that Chibi-Robo: Photo Finder is everything that I feared a game about being a domestic robot would be about, boring and cramped.  I say this with a voice filled with dread.  It feels like work, boring, thankless, unpaid work!  The balance in Chibi Robo: Park Patrol was dead on perfect.  Sure that game made you work, but it promised you a chance to rebuild the whole park however you wanted, offered vehicles to drive, enemies to fight off, and friends whose stories you could advance.  There was good stuff in Park Patrol, but I can’t find it in Photo Finder

  Add to this statement that Photo Finder ties what advancement there is to the camera, and well, I’m not sure I can interest myself in going on!

  Eh.  Too bad, they can’t all be brilliant games.  And I’m out $10, but it could easily be worse.  I still remember when I bought that awful Dokupon Kingdom for $40!  Ew!

  Since the following article is pretty summarily finished, and finished short, I thought that I would collect a few rambling thoughts from of late.

  As of the Nintendo Direct recently (Feb 13th), Steel Diver Sub Wars has been available as one of Nintendo’s first experiments with “free to play.”  No sooner did the game go live that comments sections across the Internet lit up with memes, such as “I wish I could purchase the Blue Marine…” or “I wish I could do a barrel roll…”  One may mistake this to mean that Steel Diver is a new Star Fox, and I couldn’t really fault them for the idea.

  Steel Diver inhabits something of its own universe, and welcome cameo appearances aside, seems to have its own cast.  Where the submarine simulator really feels like Star Fox is the, well, feel of it.  It is fully natural to put the Sub into full ahead, and proper voice acting tells you now in Full Ahead, reinforcing the idea that you are actually in a submarine movie rather than a space fighter.  There are no faces, except for a handful, such as the tutorial leader, who leads you through the paces of learning to navigate the sub.  It is tempting to forget that you have other speeds, including dead stop, which is critical to remaining hidden.  Piloting in Steel Diver is its own challenge, with its own needs and skill requirements. 

  Weapons in Steel Diver are much more limited fare.  The A button controls the full ahead torpedo, complete with zoom lens to aside targeting.  The X button fires homing torpedoes, but I haven’t yet figured its function… there is no lock on cursor, so… not like Star Fox I guess.

  Navigation is strongly linked to the stereoscopic 3D; I bet you could figure it out with the slider turned to the off position, but you would miss out on critical information.  Similarly, if players are wondering about their position relative to themselves, they can get a still 3D object view of the submarine by pressing Start.  This pauses the game and allows the player to spin the sub around on the display, revealing critical data like proximity to the water line and sea floor. 

  It is very much like Star Fox, in that collisions are common.  Sub crew voices from unseen sub crewmen report whenever the player blunders into collisions, reinforcing the submarine movie feel strongly, and there are no collisions where players could go through objects like in Star Fox.

  As I said above, the stereoscopy greatly enhances the experience.  Pressing Y will ping the radar, lighting up both on the radar and on the main screen targets, objectives, rings to navigate through, box pickups, and many other Starfox-like objects.  I only found the stereoscopy become a problem once, when I passed through a speed ring.  The periphery of the screen blurred greatly, adding a sense of speed, though naturally enough the center of the forward display was clear, and thus it drew the eye comfortably enough. 

  Steel Diver’s main act is submarine combat, which is slow and plodding.  Subs are expected to slowly advance toward each other, using tools like the periscope or “mask” to hide their approach.  Frequent use of radar is also a necessity, but can give away the player sub’s position in a critical second! 

  Sub combat has enormous nuance, and it is so much the focus that Steel Diver lists multiplayer online above single player!  Nintendo wants you to know that this is meant to be played with friends, and they’ve removed just about every objection one could have.  Chatting with friends has been stylized into its own setting-appropriate work out by the use of Morse code.  Players communicate with friends by means of only one button, and the software is very good at distinguishing dots and dashes.  Well, okay, two buttons if you need to put spaces between words.  Whoneedsdat?  At the time of this writing, the biggest mystery is cryptography, as I haven’t found any options to prevent codes from being intercepted; there is a real potential for such code transmissions to become part of the fun, as players device their own codes to try and communicate with local friends against online enemies.  My one fear then becomes – can modern gamers used to having everything done for us see the value in simple Morse code transmissions specially coded by friends?  Only time can tell that answer.

  The greatest thing missing is the capacity for memes.  Don’t get me wrong, “Dive!”, “Surface!”, and “Up Periscope!” are all memes I remember from times long, long ago myself.  But Nintendo has set its sights on creating a fun game, rather than a string of Internet chatter that recalls a fun game.  Steel Diver reflects this in its slow pacing very well; the game is methodical and pedantic until players reach a moment of elation in victory, or self cursing in the knowledge they’ve been made!

  Also at the time of this writing, Steel Diver: Sub Wars does not have a Miiverse community (nor any means by players to make their own, Nintendo! L)  I expect this to be changed shortly, because the game is great silly fun that can be more fun socially.  If any of you out there are wondering about Steel Diver: SW, give it a look see, as it’s free.  Purchasing the full version requires $10 on the eShop.  I don’t think this qualifies as a “free to play” game, but it certainly is much more respectful of gamers, and much more deserving of being loved in its own right.

  Some final house keeping.  NintendoLife reports that Steel Diver's team includes Giles Goddard, a Briton and one of the first western coders to break into Nintendo's halls.  This includes being involved in development of the Super FX chip, making his involvement with Star Fox pretty solidly fundamental.  As for whether or not Steel Diver is Star Fox, well, I'm out of money after that Chibi-Robo thing.  Sorry, I won't be able to continue digging!  It undeniably feels like Star Fox, and one should "Be careful! It's a trap!"  Yeah, General Ahkbar says it better...

I don't mind calling Steel Diver a "StarFox-like" game, in the same way we already talk about "Rogue-likes" and "Metroidvanias."  Nintendo has its own classification for Steel Driver, calling it a "contemplative FPS." This description is accurate, and is sure to lead to recess bullyings with the cool kids.  But there is something I like in the juxtiposition of such ideas.  Slow paced, reflexive, high tension, high risk-reward, and so on.  I can't hide how thoroughly I'm contemplating this...

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