Aside from indulging in The Walking Dead (more of which another day – it deserves a ranty monologue of it’s own) I’ve spent the last few weeks delving into the pile and rummaging through some trusty old favourites. Recent highlights included:
Half Minute Hero: A full JRPG where you have 30 seconds to level up, kill the baddy and save the world. It’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. Obviously it’s not really 30 seconds long as that would be stupid (or genius depending on how much you hate JRPGs). It’s kinda difficult to explain but it has a time extension mechanic and the clock is reset at the start of every world (of which there are loads, and each has multiple objectives). So the full thing is 30 seconds long and takes about 10 hours to complete. Get it? No? Good.
Anyhow, it’s funny, devilishly clever and an awesome reinvention of the JRPG. Plus you can get it on Steam now for about 3p, or if you’re feeling really flush you can also buy it on PSN.
Cave Story: This freeware charmer is the bastard lovechild of a bukkake melting pot party featuring Metroid, Zelda and Mega Man – oh how I love it’s magical charms! Created by one guy in his free time over a 5-year period (stick that one procrastinators!) and flawless at every turn throughout its 8 or so hour runtime, this “little game that could” raises more smiles than Annabel Chong (if you don’t know who Annabel Chong is then I recommend you ask your parents).
Sin and Punishment 1 + 2: These games are good. Like really good. Like so good you’ll actually find yourself repeating the same sections over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again, because you suck and it’s not the game’s fault you suck. Is it? To say Sin and Punishment is hard, is a bit like saying that Russia is “big”. You will die. Lots. But once you’ve managed to unjam the controller the TV screen you’ll find yourself going back over and over to master it’s brutal combination of shooter, platform and beat-em-up flavoured action.
Vanquish: “What’s Vanquish?” I hear you mumbling into your Pot Noddle… Vanquish is the game that Gears of War could have been. Had it been made in Japan. By people with a wacky sense of humour. Vanquish places less of an emphasis than GoW on “bro downs” and shots of granite-like slabs of chiselled man meat waddling, and more of an emphasis on crazy fun and over-the-top excitement. In a nutshell, Vanquish equals more jet thrusters, robots and LULZ; less swearing, fist-bumps and missing wives.
Super Mario Galaxy 2: It’s a toss-up between this and the original SMG for best 3D platformer ever. Writing about how good the SMG games are is pointless. You all know how good they are. If you don’t, you should be ashamed! Go whip yourself in an act of penance you philistines!
So when thinking about the awesome games I’d been playing, it dawned on me that these were all Japanese games. This would be the same Japanese dev scene that analysts and experts have been predicting the demise of over the past 15 or so years (admittedly none of the games above are particularly recent, the newer ones being 2-3 years old). I realised that I love Japanese games because of focus creativity over technical excellence, their willingness to embrace fun rather than hide from it behind a veneer of “maturity” and how unafraid they are of challenging with their difficulty. Games should be unashamedly fun and as difficult as they need to be; nothing worth savouring or enjoying ever came easily.
I for one am delighted by the newfound confidence the Japanese games industry has been showing over the past couple of years. GREE seem to be taking over the world, Platinum Games are kicking ass, Konami seem to be getting MGS and PES back on-track, Sony and Nintendo are leading the charge with some really interesting upcoming titles, and the homegrown indie scene seems to be finding its voice. Western games might be great showcases for technical excellence and (occasionally) interesting storytelling, but Japanese games often represent our industry’s soul.
If there’s one thing the industry could do with in this era of focus groups and data-driven game design, it’s games with a little more soul.