Monday, November 19, 2007

Trials and tribulations...

Last night I checked out a few XBLA trial version games. I needed to chill out for a bit after my hockey game and didn't want to risk getting caught up in another marathon Half-life 2 session.

It was a mixed bag of results. In a couple of instances I was pretty pleased with the initial experience, which I define as the first few minutes of gameplay after launching the game on default settings -- ideally reached by just mashing the "A" (or "X" for PS3) button a bunch of times.

The good 'uns:

  • Word Puzzle. This one benefited strongly from very straightforward gameplay -- it's basically a wordfinder game. If you're familiar with this kind of game (and like word games more generally) the core gameplay is accessible and fun. The major source of confusion was in the selection model: Two letters appear as highlighted -- your cursor and the first letter of the next word to search for. This leads to confusion over which letter is actually in focus and ready to be acted on. The left stick cursor control control was also a little "loose" which made it difficult to select letters accurately with any kind of speed.
  • Switchball. A very fun puzzler with a great learn-as-you-play tutorial. It also benefits from simple core mechanics (mostly just the left stick) and did a nice job of layering on gameplay elements with brief text hints. I did get stuck for a while at one point (could've used a hint) but managed to blow through the demo content quite quickly. Too quickly, actually, because I didn't feel like I had seen enough content to know if this was a keeper or not.
On the other hand, a couple of developers didn't pay enough attention to what the user's initial experience might be like if they'd never played the game before.

The not-so-good 'uns:
  • Screwjumper. I knew there was going to be a problem when I tried my usual "hammer the "A" button until the game starts and wound up landing on the upsell screen instead of in a game. Nope -- not gonna buy it before I try it out first. It just felt like a dirty trick (hoping I would mistakenly purchase it by mistake). The default controls were unusable (inverted in weird ways with no attempt to help me correct them) and I was constantly interrupted by huge walls of text hints/help which were annoying and promptly ignored. I died constantly without really figuring out the point of the game.
  • Shrek-n-Roll. I jumped into a default game... and failed to figure out how to play the game. The clock kept ticking down and the only thing I could do was raise or lower Shrek who was on some kind of see-saw. Mashing the buttons did nothing. Tick-tock-tick-tock. My right thumb accidentally brushed the right stick and Shrek's girlfriend then started to move. C'mon, people, casual games don't require the right stick by default. If you want players to use it (and you shouldn't force them to for the most part) you need to teach it. Think Katamari Damacy -- you can't even start the game without using both thumbsticks. Although it was infuriating at first -- I thought my controller was broken and switched it out 3 times because the "start" button didn't seem to launch the game -- the game designers made sure I knew that this game was different and required both sticks.
I also updated the right column to reflect these notes.

Also, Assassin's Creed should arrive today or tomorrow. And Blue Dragon just shipped to me from Gamefly. Ideally one of my buddies will hook me up with Mass Effect, too. November is going to be a busy month.

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