Wednesday, July 21, 2010

buried treasure Vol.1

EDIT: This article was a much larger undertaking than I'd anticipated. I was planning on doing at least 5, but ran out of my self-allotted space quickly. I like to keep these things short and digestable. From now on, this series will be called "buried treasure" and designated with volume numbers. This is volume 1, the next will be volume 2, etc.

Ok, so I've established now that most things that people like, I don't. There are, however, tons and tons of things out there that I like and few other people (a)liked or (b) heard of. I want to write a few of them down, with a little bit of text explaining what it is, why I like it in spite of popular opinion (or attention), and why you should go out and get it. I'll probably do more of these, but for this article I just want to focus on videogames. I'll try to keep away from the well-known standby cult-hit favorites, though they will undoubtedly be included at least a little. I know I'm not the only guy to claim to be "the only guy". Also, I'll try to avoid using this topic to bash other games that I think suck. This blog page needs balance, you know.

(1) The NeverHood / SkullMonkeys (PC / Playstation, respectively)
This was a series of two games: the first a point-and-click puzzle game of epic difficulty, the other a side-scrolling platformer of......... epic difficulty. They used claymation for all characters and settings, and starred a silent protagonist named Klaymen, along with some funny supporting characters. (Stop vid at 2:55. Unless you like awesome)

Ha! Boom, baby! It's true. They don't make them this way anymore. I touched on this in my poorly-written 80s movies topic. CGI will never have the personality that a practical effects movie has, period. Today, nobody would put in the dreadful amount of work necessary to make a claymation game. Coraline, which came out recently has been one of claymation movies since Nightmare Before Christmas. The Neverhood was made when CG technology simply didn't exist (or at least wasn't practical. We're talking AOL era), so people had to get creative. Clay and primative .mpg (or whatever) technology to the rescue! This game had clever dialogue, balls-hard puzzles, and a satisfying ending. I honestly think this game has more charm than the famed go-to champ of funny games, Psychonauts. OK I can't declare that formally, but it's close. Walking around and interacting with various objects (like the flytrap) is enough to make you laugh. This game is probably abandonware now, which means downloading it is technically illegal, but nobody (including the developer) cares anymore. Definitely give it a spin. Skullmonkeys can be puchased cheap on eBay if you have a PSone.

(2) Lifeline (PS2)
OK this one is definitely obscure. In fact, the people that played it really didn't like it. The Neverhood is one of those games that has gained a little bit of fame for being awesome, but this one isn't so lucky. Objectively, yes I can actually say it's probably bad. And I like it. As stated when I talked about FFX, one of the things I love most about videogames are story and character. This game really got me interested with its core mechanic. You control the game with the PS2 headset. The story goes like this: you are a guest in the world's first (ready?) space hotel. That's right, space hotel. An incident happens with monsters and everybody's dead except a maid named Rio and a few supporting characters. Your character, just called "Operator" is locked in the security room, where you have access to all of the security cameras and door locks, etc. You talk directly to Rio, and guide her so that she can let you out, and she and you can escape. The voice control hits and misses, missing especially with combat. It gets interesting where it finds creative ways to use the voice controls though. You have to do things like convince Rio to go into a dark room she's scared of, converse with her in one scene, and cheer her up after she decides to stop listening to you.

Again, I know this game isn't great, but as a gamer-nerd-geek I liked it. Games with good character development and connection to the player really make me glad to be a gamer, and for what it's worth, this game does that pretty well. It's the Buffy syndrome: Once I decide I've liked it, flaws from then on are much easier to tolerate. Things like holding hands in Ico, and conversations in Heavy Rain make you care about characters, and this game at least has that. The main character is well-acted and developed,  and if you're willing to excuse the obvious flaws in controlling via headset (Rio can only understand so many words, and you'll often use a word like "couch" over and over before you realize you needed to say "sofa"), you'll enjoy it. Not a must-have, but if you're like me and you love games that do clever experimentations, you'll like it. If you play it on a PS3, you'll still need a USB headset.

(3) Fatal Frame 2 (PS2)
This is another relatively well-known "game nobody played" that people pride themselves on knowing about. You don't need to know anything about the other games in the series. You play as one of two teenage japanese twins who have a habit of only speaking in whispers. They stumble upon a haunted village where ghosts are really pissed off. You have to fight them off using a camera and take pictures of them. Gameplay-wise, it's nothing truly special. You run around the village looking for keys, finding upgrades and fighting.Where it really shines, however, is how scary it is. It does atmosphere so incredibly well, with creepy music and noises coming from everywhere. Once you get immersed, every "tap" noise and every shadow created by your flashlight makes you panic. Seriously, look!

That video has the game in FPS mode, which you can't unluck until you beat it. It is the best approximation I found, however, of how scary the game can be just when you walk around. All the other videos are "Let's Play"s with some guy or girl doing a voiceover, and all of them are screencaps and not direct feed. This is a definite try if you like scary.

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