Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “platinum games”

Nier: Automata for PS4 and PC

I don’t even know where to start with this one. I never played the original Nier, although I’m aware of its cult following. I approached Nier: Automata more as a fan of Platinum Games than anything, but it’s the storytelling and fascinating themes of the game’s director, Yoko Taro, that ultimately lingers in my mind.

Nier: Automata is a sequel to the original game, but it’s set thousands of years later and the connections are slight. I didn’t feel like my enjoyment was in any way impacted by the fact that I had not played the original. Thousands of years into Earth’s future, the last vestiges of humanity have fled the Earth after an alien invasion, and now live on the moon. The aliens do not fight directly, but instead send machine lifeforms to do their dirty work. Project YorHa is an organisation of androids that fight the Machine menace on behalf of humanity. Androids 2B and 9S are sent to the surface to take down a massive machine, but soon they discover some machines acting strangely, as if they have emotions, thoughts and complex feelings and that the conflict between the androids and the machines may not be as clear cut as first thought.

It’s difficult to talk too much about Nier: Automata’s plot without spoiling what makes it so special. It does all the fundamentals right; likeable characters, clear motivations and satisfying resolution, but it also explores some pretty heady and intense ideas. The machines resemble toys more than anything else, rounded and generally harmless looking, and it is through these that Nier: Automata explores some complex philosophical themes. The nature of humanity is the core theme of this game and Nier: Automata explores this from a lot of different angles. Storylines which would just be too dark to touch with humans become explorable with machines and some of the true horror seen in Nier: Automata isn’t readily apparent. This is a story which sticks around, thought provoking and, at times, desperately moving.

The indie scene is stronger, but AAA games rarely use unique qualities of the medium in interesting storytelling ways. Examples such as BioShock and the Spec Ops: The Line are few and far between, but Nier: Automata is fascinating. I had heard beforehand that the game required multiple playthroughs to get the whole story and I was not really up for it in terms of the time investment. Actually, Nier: Automata’s multiple playthroughs are more like chapters of a larger story and it takes three to see everything. Nier: Automata is very aware of itself as a videogame, but not in an irritating, masturbatory fashion that some post-modern experiences can be. Things get weirder the longer they go on, with the first playthrough is told in a relatively straightforward fashion. It all crescendos into an audacious and hugely moving finale that simply could not have been pulled off in any other medium.

The story was my favourite part of Nier: Automata, but the core mechanics are certainly very solid as well. It’s an action-RPG, but there’s significant gameplay variety. As android 2B you’ll be hacking and slashing your way through a variety of enemies. With two weapons available at a time and a variety of ranged attacks, there are lots of options. You can also heavily customise your character using ‘plug-in chips’, some of which give passive and straightforward buffs to health or attack strength, but some are more interesting, such as introducing a counter attack. You have a limited number of slots, which can be upgraded, with elements of your UI taking up slots. You can uninstall things like the health bar or text pop ups to make room for more interesting things. The game is full of clever little things like this, even if the actual upgrade menu is cumbersome and awkward. The core combat is really fun and never fails to look stylish as hell, but it doesn’t land as one of the better Platinum combat systems. I felt myself missing the heft and variety of Bayonetta, with the combat is Nier: Automata sometimes feeling a big floaty and lacking in impact. I kept waiting for a new layer of complexity to fold into the combat and it never really does. Instead, the game introduces a clever new mechanic, which I won’t spoil, which is a lot of fun but exists almost parallel to the core melee combat rather than as an additional layer. Again, I never had a bad time slicing and dicing hordes of machines, but it would have been nice if there was a bit more to it.

Nier: Automata takes place in an open world, but I’d be hesitant to call it an ‘open world game.’ The world is quite small, and feels more like a series of connected zones rather than a coherent setting. That’s fine! After Zelda and Horizon I can’t claim to have been denied vast worlds to explore, but there is an awful lot of unnecessarily running back and forth. I don’t think a huge amount would have been lost for turning this into a more linear game. There are a range of side quests; some are pretty straightforward, but some are genuinely wonderful and contain some of the most devastating stories in the game.

One area where Nier: Automata really shines is sheer gameplay variety. There are semi-regular shoot-em-up sections in your mech suit, as well as shifts to a 2D platforming perspective. The bullet hell genre, where much of the challenge is focused on simply dodging increasingly dense waves of attacks, is a really interesting influence on Nier: Automata, and pervades all elements of the combat. I haven’t really encountered 3D bullet hell before. I still think it works best from a top down perspective, but it’s still interesting and speaks to Nier: Automata’s ambition to be a genre polymath.

Nier: Automata is a fascinating experience and a testament to the fact that interesting things can be done within AAA game development. It’s a game which waits to reveal its true cleverness and ambition, but the dawning sense of awe at what this game attempts to do was truly special. This is my first Yoko Taro game, but after Nier: Automata I don’t intend it to be my last.

 

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Bayonetta 2 for Wii U

Bayonetta is a rather unlikely Nintendo franchise isn’t it? After Nintendo funded the development of a sequel to the critically acclaimed but poorly selling original, there was much upset about this game’s Wii U exclusivity. Fears that Bayonetta may have been dialled down for Nintendo’s more child friendly image were misplaced; Bayonetta 2 is just as insane and fun as the first one.

Bayonetta and Jeanne are battling a bunch of angels while Christmas shopping when one of Bayonetta’s trusty summons turns on her seeking to drag her to Inferno. Jeanne pushes Bayonetta out of the way and is taken to hell in her place. Bayonetta is desperate to rescue her friend and the only other surviving Umbra Witch, so travels to the European city of Noatun, in the shadow of the mountain Fimbulventr, which is supposedly the nexus of the three realms; the human, Paradiso and Inferno.

I actually found that I liked Bayonetta’s plot more than I thought I did. The whole thing was bonkers obviously, but actually quite entertaining bonkers. There was an internal consistency which held up quite nicely, so I was actually really pleased to see these characters again. The actual story of Bayonetta 2 doesn’t really work, with the only successful element being an interesting re-evaluation of the plot of the original as new light is shed on the past. The long cutscenes would be a problem therefore if it wasn’t for one thing; Bayonetta herself. Bayonetta is a divisive character and I can completely understand why people may be turned off by her, but I think she’s brilliant. Of course she’s a sexualised figure, but unlike the mute and passive vessels for male sexuality seen in many games, such as the Dead or Alive franchise, Bayonetta is sexy for Bayonetta. She is in complete control the entire time, revelling in her sexuality and showing not one ounce of shame or humility as she cavorts about the place. In a society which often seeks to crush independent female sexuality, telling women that they should repress their desires unless it’s for the benefit of a man, Bayonetta is a boldly independent figure.

If you were hoping for something radically different from the original, you’ll be out of luck. The combat is pretty much the same, with the light/heavy attack combo system which worked with such beautiful simplicity last time. The witch time mechanic is back and works as well as ever, with the constant risk/reward of whether to dodge to save yourself or dodge to activate those precious seconds of free attack being the core of the Bayonetta experience. A nice addition is the ‘Umbra Climax’, which can be chosen when magic is full as an alternative to the returning ‘Torture Attacks’ from the last game. These let Bayonetta briefly unleash an unstoppable combo of wicked weave hair attacks and never stopped being unbelievably fun. Another great addition is the ability to strap weapons to Bayonetta’s legs instead of her standard guns; I opted for a play style of rapid twin blades in her hands with flamethrowers attached to her legs. Yep, this is definitely a Bayonetta game.

The whole experience is as dazzlingly insane as the first one, with an almost unrelenting stream of madness barely letting up throughout the game. It’s slightly shorter, but that’s probably a good thing since the whole experience has been cranked up so thoroughly. There are slightly more open areas too and a little more traversal stuff, which is welcome because unlike many games like this the traversal mechanics are actually really fun. It’s quite a lot easier, at least on normal difficulty, with a much more generous approach to the scattering of witches’ graves, which makes exploring the environments more tantalising than the original. The addition of Nintendo costumes is lovely, and they’re slightly more than simply skin changes. For example, if dressed as Princess Peach Bayonetta will summon Bowser’s first rather than her hair. It’s already been spoiled everywhere but I won’t do so here, I’ll just say to wear the Star Fox costume on Chapter 16, the final level; trust me. With a new co-op mode, as well as the bundling of a port of the original Bayonetta for the Wii U, Bayonetta 2 is a hell of a package.

Bayonetta 2 looks lovely, with a massive improvement in the environments which were a little bland in the original. The voice acting is generally good, but the faux-British accent of one of the new major characters took a lot of getting used to. The music is fantastic as well, with another fast-paced poppy remix of a classic song serving as the theme, this time ‘Moon River.’ I don’t know why this keeps working for the series, but it really does, managing to make the silly feel epic. The general design in this series is just so good.

With the original bundled as well, Bayonetta 2 is a no brainer for both fans of the original and newcomers. Let’s hope that Nintendo’s new most unlikely franchise has wings. I really hope we get a Bayonetta 3, but failing that, Bayonetta for Smash 4 DLC!bayonetta2

The Wonderful 101 for Wii U

I really only bought this game as an excuse to turn on my beloved Wii U, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this game gelled with me significantly more than I had expected. I had written it off as an inferior Pikmin, and it can look like it in gameplay videos, but in reality it actually plays more closely to Platinum Games’ own Bayonetta, which is most certainly not a bad thing.

The Wonderful 101 takes place in an Earth which has fought off several alien invasions by a civilisation known as the GEATHJERK. In response to these invasions, several defences have been enacted, such as the planet surrounding force field known as…er, Margarita. The most exciting defence are CENTINAL suits, masks which turn their wearers into superheroes. There are 100 members of the force known as The Wonderful Ones, flamboyant costumed superheroes who defend the Earth from GEATHJERK and their forces. The main protagonist is a teacher known as Will Wedgewood aka Wonder-Red, who heads up the team after GEATHJERK launch a third full scale invasion.

I didn’t expect to care a whit about the story, but it actually all hangs together quite well. I have a bit of a soft spot for Japanese games with ridiculous plots like these, with Wonderful 101 reminding me favourably of Japanese action games such as Bayonetta and Asura’s Wrath. It’s silly and funny, but manages to pack in some genuinely cool twists and decent character development along the way, alongside all the goofiness.

I’ve never played a game like The Wonderful 101 before. I suppose the best comparison is Pikmin crossed with Bayonetta. The player controls all 100 heroes at once, although you often have less and gather more throughout the level. Using the Wii U touch pad, the player draws different shapes to activate ‘Unite Morphs’, which turn the team into different weapons, such as a fist, a sword, a gun or a whip, as well as others. The player uses these abilities to fight their way through a series of levels, which are then split up into a dozen or so checkpoints. This is a game which can be incredibly frantic and chaotic, and at first it’s utterly overwhelming. After a couple of hours though, everything clicks and it all begins to just work. This is a game which plays so differently to any other that you can’t just relax into your tired patterns. The frantic pace probably has most in common with a Japanese brawler, something like Devil May Cry, but it genuinely isn’t quite like anything else out there.

The Wonderful 101 is not a short game, and there’s plenty to keep you going. Probably the best thing about this game is the sheer amount of variety. As you go, you’ll experience a whole bunch of different mechanics. Not all of them work; levels which require you to navigate on the Gamepad screen using the gyroscope to manipulate the camera are absolutely terrible, but if you don’t enjoy a particular mechanic you can be happy that it won’t last for long. This is a surprising game, always bringing out some new mechanic or concept to keep you on your toes. The boss battles are fantastic¸ with that glorious sense of scale that you only really get from Japan. The Wonderful 101 is never a game which holds back, unleashing everything at 100% craziness the entire time.

This is a decent looking game, but it won’t win any beauty contests. Where it does succeed is in conveying a sense of scale, but by and large the art style is functional rather than exciting in of itself. The voice acting is fantastic; okay, ridiculous, goofy and over the top, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The jock ‘bro’ voice for Wonder-Blue and the ridiculous French accent for ‘Wonder –Green’ are a couple of my favourites. The music is nice and exciting too, with the ‘theme song’ for the team in particular bringing a great ‘Saturday morning cartoon’ vibe to affairs.

It’s far from perfect, and is frequently irritating and frustrating, but I’ll forgive a lot in a game this unique and memorable. It’s not a masterpiece, but something which really shouldn’t be missed by any Wii U owner. It’s got a hell of a learning curve, but persevere and you’ll find something special here.2129213-169_wonderful101_nindirect_wiiu_ot_080913

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