Out with the old…

2016-17 has seen an increasing number of ‘retro’ boxes released or announced; Atari’s mysterious machine, NES/SNES Classic and SEGA’s new Megadrive/Genesis. What this draws attention to – among other things – is how far the industry has travelled in a relatively short space of time. With this thought in mind, it has become apparent that much of our lexicon has become outdated. Similar to plastic guitar periphals, motion controls and Bubsy the Bobcat, certain words and phrases used everyday in gaming forums (literal and figurative) are archaic and in need of updating. 

Adventure – Once confined to 90’s PCs, ‘adventure’ games (inclusive of point and click) have enjoyed a recent resurgence. Grim Fandango along with several other Lucasarts titles have been pointed, clicked and dragged into the 21st Century. Obtuse gameplay with one linear yet baffling pathway usually defined these games – requiring the player to put together the random assortment of paraphernalia to trigger the next part of the adventure in question. The term ‘adventure’ encompasses more than these though. The spiritual successor to these games are surely the Telltale Games series which apes the point and click mechanic albeit with more choice over the story elements. Perhaps these games are more greatly defined by their slow-burning, intricate stories and the term ‘adventure’ is in lieu of saying so. Yet the label ‘adventure’ is not always indicative of this as exemplified by Sonic Adventure (cheap shot I know – love it really!). So what is an adventure game? What should we call games like Discworld, Minecraft Story Mode or Life is Strange? ‘Walking simulator’ doesn’t seem to cut it…

Arcade – This is a place we went to in our youths to pay money to play games. It is not – I repeat, not – a genre. A common tag line of certain games is it boasts ‘arcade’ style gameplay. Highly doubtful as the last game I played like this – Fast Racing RMX – didn’t create the urge to ram 50p into my Switch or make a rude username to appear in the lap time records. Perhaps this though is the spirit of the term: chasing high scores. Playing through bite size chunks of gameplay and repeating until one refined the experience. Should then, the term be ‘high-score-a-thon’? ‘Arcade’ covers too much to encompass all it consumes at present; racing, fighters, sports…the list goes on. 

dlc – The worst offender on the list. I’m not going to talk about horse armour but just think how silly this sounds. My PS4, Xbox One and Switch are crammed with fully fledged retail games which were downloaded. Fallout 4, Destiny and Mario Kart 8 all sit shackled to my consoles yet free from the constraints of physical media – safe in the knowledge they can never be traded in. They are all downloaded content. So why is an expansion referred to as ‘dlc’? Why have we not got a more elegant name for a term which – in addition – has got some quite negative connotations? Then there’s cloud based games like PlayStation Now which has games advertised with ‘all dlc included’ yet you never download the game or the additional material. Think about it. 

Indie – Taking root in the now defunct Xbox Live Arcade era and blossoming through last gen and now, smaller games (or downloadable content…) seem to be tagged with the term ‘indie’. This happens in music too. ‘Indie’ is an abbreviation of ‘independent’ meaning the band – or game – is being created sans a record label or publisher. An accurate example of an ‘indie’ game would be Thomas was Alone or Super Meat Boy. However, larger studios have got in on the act challenging the notion that all games must be £45 upon entry. These include Child of Light or Journey. They are not independent, rather the opposite. What they have in common with many ‘indies’ is the smaller game size. 

Platformer – Sonic and Mario are different. You can almost see the design meeting SEGA had when establishing their mascot. Sonic is fast and Mario is slow in comparison. Mario is red with blue clothes so Sonic is blue with red clothes (sneakers). Mario is the anti-hero, the everyman thrust into danger to save the girl, whereas Sonic is bold with an attitude. It doesn’t matter who or what he’s saving he just does it – like a Nike advert. In fact, the original Sonic 1 instruction booklet translated the back story incorrectly. Japanese players thought the Green Hill Zone took place on Earth yet in the West we believed it to be the fictional world of Mobius. I digress. The thing they have in common, is jumping on platforms. Fast forward twenty years though and the worlds – whatever they are – they inhabit are hard pushed to be described as ‘platformers’. A term which has been coined to describe the 3D iterations of these games has been ‘collect-a-thon’. In Super Mario 64 you had to collect the stars to restore power to the castle which unlocked more doors so you could unlock more stars to find more doors which led to Bowser. In Banjo-Kazooie you found Jiggies which were the missing pieces in paintings which when complete allowed you to enter said world and find more Jiggies in order to…you get the idea. In 3D Sonic games you collect Sonic Emblems just because. Anyway, the platforming elements of these games have fallen by the wayside – especially in 3D Sonic which would be better classified as ‘rollercoaster’. 2D platformer sits fine but what do we call the 3D ones: adventure games? 

RPG – ‘Role Playing Game’ encompasses everything. When I picked up a Pong paddle, I was playing a role. When I play Virtua Tennis, I’m playing a role. To be more specific, the ‘role playing’ part is generally attributed to the development of skills and powers throughout the game. This is why many games are described as having ‘RPG elements’; open world stealth with RPG elements or sports simulation with RPG elements. So what then is an RPG if most games these days could be classified as having features of them? Skyrim: Elf simulation with RPG elements? The term has transitioned from a genre to a mechanic. What is it which defines a game with RPG mechanics – like Darksiders 2 – from a RPG like Final Fantasy 15? What is Zelda: Breath of the Wild? 
Which games-related terms would you like to see changed? What will we be describing, classifying and labelling games in 10 years time? Who decides them? Who watches the deciders? 

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Re-reviewing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

On March 3rd, many of my (non-dad) friends received their shiny new Switches and began the adventure of a lifetime exploring the vast, open expanse of Hyrule. Back over here, I eagerly popped in my disc into my tired, forgotten Wii U. 85 hours later, the game was ‘completed’ (all 4 divine beasts, Master Sword, all memories and Ganon defeated). The game went on eBay, giving me a net spend of £7 for a game I had basically had an affair with for 5 weeks. However fast forward to July and my shiny new Switch needed a game meatier than Fast Racing RMX (which is awesome btw). It was time to return to wake Link up again but could a second play through – so close to my 1st one – be as enjoyable?

After an hour of play, the first thing which stood out was just how hard the opening is. Enemies which I had got used to being one hit Master Sword fodder were giving me a real run for my money. I was REALLY missing my 3 wheel stamina capabilities from my Wii U save file too. Secondly, despite telling myself there was no visible difference in graphics between the two versions, I was wrong. It is worth noting there have been several patch updates in between my playthroughs so the Wii U may have got better but this is what I found. The frame rate and slow down is better on Switch. Busy areas like Kakariko Village and Kokiri Forest ran smoother although the Switch version does seem to have more pop in. The resolution too is visibly crisper on Nintendo’s newest console. Anyway, back to gameplay…

When playing the Wii U version it was a strange sensation. Any moment not playing the game, I was thinking about it. For 20 days in a row I sunk more than an hour an evening into it; as well as ridiculous amounts of time at weekends. Although not dragging me into it’s web of addictiveness this time, playing the game again (65 hours in) is a joy. Upon leaving the Great Plateau, disregarding any sense of direction, I jumped into the unknown – just like I had on Wii U. Despite spending 85 hours previously exploring Hyrule, I found myself finding new areas and secrets which had eluded me before. I was certain I’d spoken to every side quest NPC at the stables but I obviously missed some (a few actually). Obviously the main spine was of the game has remained familiar and has not yielded any surprises but like the best of its peers like Skyrim or the Witcher 3, the weirdest, world-building quests remain off the beaten path in the side quests. Who knew that the largest, most immersive fantasy world ever created was actually even bigger? If you think you’ve seen everything the game has to offer, I’d recommend gliding back in to dig a bit deeper. This is before we’ve even begun taking advantage of the first expansion releasing last week. Many years ago, I would play through Ocarina of Time annually – enjoying every minute. The biggest compliment I can pay this game is it feels the same way.