Mario & Luigi Partners in Time

I missed this game when it first came out. Actually, I missed the first two Mario & Luigi games when they first came about. I eventually picked up a used copy of Superstar Saga, but by the time I’d finished with that, Partners in Time was hard to come by and Bowser’s Inside Story was coming soon. Plus, the word of mouth of on Partners In Time was that is wasn’t very good. So I passed it by, letting it be a hole on the series while I busied myself with the wealth of other games available on the 3DS. As the years went by, the game’s reputation was cemented as the bad one. When the game came to the WiiU Virtual Console, I picked it up to be a completionist, but I didn’t have high hopes. I have never been happier to be wrong. I don’t know that I like this game more than Superstar Saga, but Partners in Time is an excellent evolution the series.

The big change to Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was to add Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, making the pair a foursome. To be completely honest, it doesn’t quite work. It adds a layer of complexity, but the control in M&L was already complex enough. Now, special attacks require tracking four different characters, each represented by a button, rather than just two. It is hard to do. Adding two more buttons to combat made, for me at least, some of the attack items all but useless. That being said, the game doesn’t require the player to master all of its tools. All you have to do is find one or two that work for you and exploit them. It does work when the game forces the two pairs of brothers to split up. Those too infrequent bits are great, with the babies on the top screen and the regular bros on the bottom, moving them in tandem trying to solve puzzles. It is the absolute peak of the what this series offers. The only problems I had were likely caused by playing it on the WiiU rather than on a real DS.

The game also lacks a truly memorable villain, something that Bowser’s Inside Story and Superstar Saga have. In the first game there was Fawful, with his nonsense metaphors and showboating. In the third, we got the humorous take on Bowser. Partners in Time has … personality free evil mushrooms. There really isn’t anything to them, they are just a vague evil. That is one reason that Partners In Time is frequently considered lesser than other games in the series. But while that flaw is there, there are still a lot of great moments among the other characters. You get a lot of fun with a pair of Toadsworths as they attempt to keep the Baby Peach happy. There are a few, but impactful, scenes with Bowser and Baby Bowser. Then there is Kylie Koopa, who shows up throughout the game as some sort of Koopa Lois Lane. She is a delight. Not quite on the level of Fawful, but she is a character that should have had more staying power in the series.

The other “problem” the game supposedly has is that it doesn’t really take advantage of its time travel premise. That is true, I guess. It really doesn’t do a lot with the time travel. Essentially, the current day Mushroom Kingdom, really just Peach’s Castle, is the hub for a game that takes place almost entirely in the past. Nothing you do as a player in the past really affects anything in the future, it is just another place to go to have adventures. It is a missed opportunity, but I don’t see the point in faulting the game for not doing something it never tried to do. It wanted the big bros running around with the babies, it really wasn’t interested in the mechanics of time travel.

The story has a lot of great moments that I don’t want to spoil, but one worth noting is near the end, when the brothers reach a Star Gate. The gate won’t let them pass because, it says, that Luigi isn’t pure enough. So there is a quest to prove his purity, at the end of which the Gate admits that he was just messing with Luigi and the brothers in general. It is pretty great.

Nintendo recently announced that they are putting out a remake of Bowser’s Inside Story, following up on the remake of Superstar Saga and skipping over Partners In Time. I get it, because BiS is the better remembered game and that is one that will sell more copies, but it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Partners in Time is a great game and with the kind of small tweaks and improvements that would come with a remake would go a long way to helping other people realize how good the game is.

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Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros

I haven’t managed to get my Wii or Gamecube set up to play Super Mario Sunshine, but I did find time to run through New Super Mario Bros. Playing New Super Mario Bros after recently beating the original 2D Mario games is kind of a strange experience. It makes it clear just how much of a backwards looking title it is. It feels like an amalgamation of Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, but with some regressions to the original Super Mario Bros thrown in. It has a smattering of new ideas, but it seems largely to be an exercise in stoking nostalgia.

That might be a too harsh assessment. There are some new and interesting ideas. The Giant and Mini mushrooms are good ideas, even if one is mostly pointless and the other is an over-used secret generator. I also had some fun with the turtle shell power up even though it is as dangerous as it is helpful. And while it doesn’t feel like it is breaking new ground, it also isn’t directly copying any of the previous games in the series. It takes from all over the series. The world map feels very Mario 3, the gameplay feels more like Super Mario World. The secrets in the level, with 3 hidden coins to find while poking around mostly linear levels, feels a lot like Yoshi’s Island. While Nintendo put “New” in the title, it is clearly a backwards looking game.

That kind of makes sense. New Super Mario Bros was the first new 2D Mario game in more than a decade. If you don’t count Yoshi’s Island, it had been around fifteen years since the last time Mario had featured in a 2D platformer. With Super Mario 64, the series left the sidescroller behind. And even then, there had only been that game and Sunshine since the SNES. After getting roughly seven Mario games in roughly ten years, from after Yoshi’s Island to New Super Mario Bros it was ten years with two. New Super Mario Bros was the start of a renaissance of Mario games, the first in a line when they started coming much more often.

I don’t think New Super Mario Bros holds up too well compared to other Mario games. It was successful because it was being compared to no Mario games, which it is clearly much better than. However, it lacks the spark that most of the other games have. Each of the original run of Mario games felt like an event. It was something new and different and exciting. NSMB feels like a reminder of that feeling. It feels like all old Mario games and somehow none of them. It is creating something new, because no Mario game looked or played like, but doing everything it can to feel like something old.

It also feels like Nintendo was stretching muscles they hadn’t used in a long time. It is occasionally rough, with some weak levels and too many secrets hidden behind mini-mushroom pipes, but you can almost feel the development team learning how to make this sort of game as they go. Which is why I think each subsequent New Super Mario Bros game is better than this one. This was a proof of concept, and Nintendo learned that both they could still make this sort of game and that this sort of game will sell.

For all that this game lacks the spark of the games that made Mario Mario, it is still a very good game. I did speed through it in about six or seven hours over two days. It is a lot of fun. Not gold standard, best game of all time fun, but solid fun. That is something that the Mario series has never failed to deliver. Even if this game was junk, the fact that it seems to have been the impetuous for the ongoing Mario renaissance more than makes it worthwhile.

2nd Quest: The Phantom Hourglass

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The Legend of Zelda games on the DS are probably the most divisive in the series. Both The Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks share the same conflicting control scheme. They also tried to recreate the look of the console Zeldas on a handheld that wasn’t quite powerful enough to do it right. The cel-shaded look from Wind Waker returns here, and it mostly works despite the DS being a terrible system for 3D graphics. It looks slightly worse than Ocarina of Time did. With the DS Zelda games, Nintendo could have taken the easy route and just made what was essentially A Link to the Past on a handheld and everyone would have loved it. They did that with A Link Between Worlds. They went for something else entirely. I can’t say it completely worked out, but it was a noble experiment.

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The most divisive part of The Phantom Hourglass is the stylus controls. In what seems a desperate, and completely unnecessary, attempt by Nintendo to prove the usefulness of their touchscreen enabled DS very few actions in Phantom Hourglass use button presses, nearly everything is done with the stylus. Despite the fact that the controls are very different from the rest of the series or really any other game, playing Phantom Hourglass soon feels natural. There are times when the controls are awkward, mostly when the game is pulling mechanics straight in from previous Zelda games, but for the most part they are excellent. Many actions are streamlined, like picking up and throwing pots and rocks. It takes just two taps of the stylus to execute. Drawing paths for the boomerang or bombchus and aiming the bow are likewise very natural. The combat, however, suffers greatly. Swinging the sword boils down to imprecise flailing. Luckily, most enemies are designed to be taken down with such flailing, making it only a slight problem. The requisite bout of batting an energy ball back and forth with a boss is awful, though. It is all but impossible to be precise. I can understand how the controls are a love them or hate them prospect; they are far different from what players are used to, but I have to say they impressed me with how well they work.

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The other common complaint with Phantom Hourglass is about the Temple of the Ocean King. This is a dungeon that the player must go through multiple times throughout the game, each time going a few floors deeper than the time before. It is a decent idea of the surface, but the execution completely ruins the idea. Other than the chests you open, the dungeon resets each time, so you have to solve each puzzle again. Also, the dungeon is timed. So not only do you have to redo the dungeon, you have to redo it quickly. That’s not all; it is also a stealth dungeon, full of enemies called Phantoms, giant ghostly knights that the player can’t hurt. So you have to repeatedly, quickly sneak through this same dungeon more than a half dozen times. It was a poor design decision. And since it forms the backbone of the game, it really hampers the proceedings.

The biggest flaw, though, is the overworld. Returning to the look and world of Wind Waker was great, but the barely interactive sailing on the world map is the worst. I understand that space on the DS cart is limited and maybe they couldn’t do a big overworld, but knowing that the map was a necessary compromise needed to get that ugly low-poly 3D look, doesn’t help sell it. This is a Zelda game where exploring is a chore that I spent most of my time trying to avoid. That is as far away from the normal Zelda experience possible.

ph2Luckily the dungeons are all really good. When the game gets out if its own way and just lets the player play, it is a damn fine game. The available tools are limited, but the game comes up with multiple ways to use most of them. The grappling hook is really great in this regard. You can use it like the hookshot, but you can also use it to make tightropes across pits and like a slingshot to shoot the Link across some holes. It is the standout tool of the game. Most of the dungeons have some really great puzzles. They are not confined to one room, some of the better puzzles continue across several floors. They are truly satisfying.

The Phantom Hourglass is a flawed game. Most of the problems with the game could be fairly easily fixed. Taking out the repeating part of the Temple of the Ocean King mostly solves that problem and just giving the player direct control of the world map would make it less annoying. Still, despite those problems, The Phantom Hourglass is a largely enjoyable game. I find how experimental it is laudable, but that doesn’t really make it necessarily a good game. It is a divisive entry in the series with good reason. I liked The Phantom Hourglass, but I don’t see myself coming back to it any time soon.

Surviving Another Week in Tokyo

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It is rare that a game improves on all of the faults of its predecessor and still doesn’t feel like an appreciably better game.  Devil Survivor 2 manages to achieve this feat.  Nearly all the problems I had with the first Devil Survivor are eliminated or lessened, but I didn’t really like DS2 any more than I liked DS1.  I did like DS1; it was often frustrating but the core gameplay was solid and the story was decent enough.  Devil Survivor 2 doesn’t greatly shake things up, it merely sands down all the little problems that held back the first game, without introducing new problems to replace them and still manages to not really be an improvement.

One of the problems I had with DS1 was that I constantly felt lost.  I couldn’t easily judge if I was spending my limited time effectively.  The game takes place over a week and the clock moves with each scene you trigger, so you have decide which story paths to follow.  This same system is in place in Devil Survivor 2, but the game does a better job of communicating your progress and the relative importance of each scene.  Maybe that was because I was quicker to turn to a walkthrough when I was struggling, but DS2 does make some changes to make things easier.  There are fewer time dependent missions that could result in the loss of a character.  Plus, the game now has a system to tell the player how they stand with the rest of the cast.  It is similar to Persona’s S-Links, but much less integral to the game until the end.  The extra scenes are mostly just get to know the other characters and build a relationship with them.  It just makes things easier.

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Another way the first game made me feel lost was with its lack of a compendium.  You could buy and fuse all the demons you wanted to, but once you fused it, it was gone forever.  So if you managed to fuse a demon with a great combination of skills, or even one skill that you wanted to move to another demon, you only had once chance to do it.  Devil Survivor 2 adds a compendium, but it barely fixes the problem, since it is so expensive that you can hardly use it.  On replays the cost can come down, but by then it isn’t as needed.  Still, its very existence is an improvement.

Possibly the biggest annoyance on the gameplay side of playing Devil Survivor were missions with NPCs, because those NPCs were completely suicidal.  They would either charge into enemies or simply fail to even attempt to escape, resulting in game overs for the player no matter what they did.  Devil Survivor 2 has much fewer escort missions, fewer NPCs and the NPCs it does have tend to be sturdier and smarter.  Really, just eliminating most of those sorts of battles is a big improvement.

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With all of these improvement, then why isn’t the game anymore fun?  The biggest reason is that the story is stupendously inconsistent.  Sometimes you see a scene about people starving, a couple hours or later you are having a feast to celebrate a victory.  One scene talks about how powerful and dangerous some sealed demons are, in another a party member beats one of those demons into submission with a laptop.  The story in DS1 wasn’t any great shakes either, keeping most of the cast hidden for the first couple of days and making it hard to get a read on anybody other than Atsuro and Yuzu.  I don’t remember the tone being that all over the place though.  The tonal inconsistency of Devil Survivor 2 really kills the game.

I tend to be harsher on games in the Shin Megami Tensei mega series that I am of other games because the bar has been set so high.  It is the difference between Sonic Generations and New Super Mario Bros 2.  I would call NSMB2 the better game, but it feels worse because every other Mario game is better.  Sonic Generations, though, it the best game in its series in a decade or so, so the fault with it are easier to dismiss.  That is how I feel about the Devil Survivor games.  They aren’t as good as many of the other SMT games, but they are still better than most of the other games available.

SMT Devil Survivor, with no “witty” title

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor is a game that, on paper at least, I should really enjoy.  I like strategy RPGs, I like Shin Megami Tensei and its rock/paper/scissors-esque battle system, and I like games with branching paths and different endings.  However, despite being made up almost entirely of things I like, Devil Survivor ended up being much more frustrating than fun.

It took me a while to figure out just why that is. It wasn’t because it is difficult.  I’ve played harder games than Devil Survivor, and though it was far from easy, Devil Survivor was far from too hard.  Actually, the difficulty is just about right.  It wasn’t the at times off putting character designs and characters.  Yeah, Yuzu’s boobs are weird and she’s kind of annoying, but for the most part the story stuff is pretty good.  After beating the game (taking Amane’s route out of necessity rather than choice) and thinking on it for a while I’ve realized what the problem it.  Devil Survivor needs a map.

I don’t mean an explorable map, like DQ VIII and nearly every other classic RPG.  That is not part of the game for a reason; it simply does not fit with what the game is doing.  I don’t necessarily mean a true map.  I just want some way of navigating the various game systems. I want a map of map of each character’s progress, some way of charting my progress towards the various endings.  Chrono Trigger had multiple endings, but its endings are dependent on big obvious things.  It is never hard to tell what ending you are going to get.  I don’t mind making tough decisions with real impact in games like this, I just want to know that I’m making such a decision.  With Devil Survivor, I really never knew where I stood.  I decided early on which ending I wanted to get: Atsuro’s.  I kissed his ass for four or so days in the game, only to get to Day 7 and realize that somehow I failed to unlock his ending.  I only had Amane’s and Yuzu’s endings to choose from. It was frustrating, and that frustration could have easily been avoided with a touch of transparency on the game’s part letting me know how about my progress.

It is not just in the story mechanics that need a map.  Even though Devil Survivor has the SMT series’ usual collection of demons, it lack the usual compendium.  The player can’t catalog and buy back old demons.  That makes the fusing process a constant move forward.  It doesn’t make it impossible to repeat specific builds, it doesn’t really even make it harder to do so, it merely makes it a longer more tedious process to do so.  Also, you can’t just look through a list for the demons with the right attributes for a tough battle, you have to get lucky with the auction house or fusing.  Just as with the story, Devil Survivor’s party building mechanics drops the player into the wilderness with no way to find their way around.  And for me at least, that is a big problem.

I love maps.  I doubt I would have enjoyed Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time without them.  I loved drawing maps in the Etrian Odyssey series.  Those are literal maps, sure, but the concept is the same.  I like to see where I have been and plan out where I am going.  Radiant Historia uses a timeline so the player knows where and when they are in the game’s time traveling, reality switching story.  Throughout almost all of Devil Survivor, I felt lost and I hated it. Which is sad, because otherwise it is a really good game.

It’s a G-g-g-ghost!

While my relationship with the traditional, PC style adventure game genre is contentious at best, there have been a sizably number of adventure games that don’t quite fit that mold, but that do definitely scratch an itch for me. Most of them are for the DS. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective may be the best of the lot.

Ghost Trick is very obviously made by the same people behind the Ace Attorney series. They share a dark yet whacky tone, flitting seamlessly from slapstick to grimness. While Ghost Trick is about people being murdered and trying to unravel a conspiracy that has ended the life of numerous people, the characters spend a lot of time joking around. It can be jarring at first, but after a few minutes the tone becomes easier to read. It is certainly helped by some of the best writing in the video game industry.

Most adventure games lose me because I’m never quite sure of my goals. Oftentimes being able to sole a problem requires knowing well in advance that problem exists. Ghost Trick’s unique play systems avoid this problem. While the sorts of puzzles the player faces are largely the same, Ghost Trick presents players with a focused, limited set of options and leaves the player to solve it from there. It is probably easier, but it doesn’t necessarily feel easier. It does a great job of making the player feel like they’ve passed a humongous, difficult trial, whether they have or not.

The closest thing to a problem I can point to is something entirely subjective. I do not like the cast of Ghost Trick as much as the cast of Ace Attorney. I only bring it up because many of the characters have direct analogs. Sissel is not much different from Phoenix, Lynne is much like Maya, etc. It really isn’t a problem, just one way that I liked another, similar game better.

Ghost Trick is a great game. Plain and simple. This is the kind of game that made the DS the best video game system. It is a mostly unique, wonderful experience. Play it.

Laaayyytooonnn!!!

Professor Layton has ruined me for adventure games. I know that Layton’s games aren’t quite classic adventure games, but the differences are why I love Layton and why I am indifferent to most of the genre.

In most adventure games, the developers have to go to extreme lengths to incorporate the puzzles into the game world. The games are intricately designed to give the player the tools needed to solve their problems and to make sure that each of those tools has a believable reason to be there. In the end, I find that it generally hamstrings both the puzzles and the stories the puzzles are propping up. The story is forced into situations that allow the player to solve puzzles and the puzzles are forced to fit into the general milieu. No puzzles involving ray guns, because ray guns don’t make sense. The story needs you to go in this storage closet because you have to have a screwdriver later. It may only be a problem to me, but the delicate blending of story and puzzle usually leaves both unsatisfying.

The Professor Layton series gets around this problem by flatly ignoring it. You solve puzzles because that is what the game is about. Brainteasers and the like. The story of is there because it is the most entertaining method of delivering those puzzles. The good Professor’s cases are always charming, at least somewhat due to his world’s fascination with puzzles. Instead of building the puzzles into the story, though the fourth game has done this a couple of times by the halfway point, Layton merely has characters offer them to the player as challenges. Sure, this crazy old bat has the information you need, but she’ll only give it to you if you solve her puzzle. What the puzzle is doesn’t matter at all to the story. The stories in Layton games are always charming pieces of fluff. They occasionally hit a strong, moving character moment, but rarely is there anything exceptional.

But the puzzles are invariably better than those I’ve encountered in actual adventure games. Solving a Layton puzzle is so satisfying. The game presented you with a challenge and you overcame it. In regular adventure games, when I finally stumble upon the solution, my reaction is usually vague anger. It is either so ridiculously circuitous a solution that I hate the game for thinking it up or stupidly easy, but frustratingly obtuse. Either way it is no fun.

I’ve played enough Layton games now that I know I can never go back to the old games. I’m sure I’ll try them out occasionally, because I can never leave well enough alone. I’m sure adventure game purists will scoff at my missing the point for hating adventure games for what makes them great. The only thing I’m not sure of is my continued access to future Layton games. I can only hope that unlike every other game I like, Professor Layton has been financially successful here in the states and they keep being made. But that is just me being grouchy and pessimistic. At least the Layton movie is being released here next month. I’ll have to buy that.

Its Secret is Sincerity

The game I’ve been playing for the last 2 weeks, Solatorobo, is a late gem for the slowly fading DS. I’m just having some trouble articulating why I like it so much. In many ways, it is exactly the kind of game I don’t tend to like. It is very shallow. All fights play out basically the same, with in the way of difficulty or design. At the same time, it goes out of its way to hold the players hand. Everything gets a tutorial or an explanation from the characters. The game doesn’t allow, let alone expect, the players to figure out anything on their own. This ties into the last big problem, that the game is terribly talky. Characters won’t shut up. The players every action prompt more dialogue from somebody. Despite these problems, and more, I still really like the game, though. Somehow, a piece of quality shines through the crap that might have drowned this game.


One area is shines is in the graphics. This is a fine looking DS game, especially for one with 3D graphics. It honestly gives Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light a run for best on the system. The sound is likewise excellent. There are still some problems, though. For all that there is a beautiful world to explore, the game denies the player that exploration. The areas available to venture into are usually cramped walkways, sewers and caves and the like. It tantalizes with beauty, but hides it.

As I said before, Solatorobo is quite shallow. All fighting generally boils down to dodging the opponent’s one attack, running behind it, picking it up and throwing it. Ad naseum. There are some flying areas, both sort of explore-y spots and races, but neither of those adds much. Playing the game becomes somewhat rote after a very short period.

If I have all these complaint about the game, how can I saw I like it so much? I think it comes down to the games attitude. This is a bright, optimistic game. Its outlook is more like Skies of Arcadia than Final Fantasy 7. Sure, many of the elements that make up the game world are perfectly designed to appeal to me. I love airships and floating continents. And the fighting robots look like they came straight out of Miyazaki. Much work has clearly gone into the world on which this game takes place. It feels less like the usual checkpoints of places to go in a game, here is a snow town and there a tropical island, and more a cohesive world. There is a history and sense of place that most games miss.

However, that alone would not be enough to buoy a lackluster game. Somehow, Solatorobo is more than the sum of its parts. It is talky, but the story is much better than the usual fare. It is not great by any means, but its tone is so different, so optimistic and bright, that it distinguishes itself. Many times, I sit grinding my teeth every time a game interrupts my play to let some douche-y characters jabber on. (I’m looking at you every Tales game ever!) In Solatorobo, the dialogue, while rarely essential, is usually worth hearing. The picking up mechanic has some life to it, though it is too simple to really power a whole game, but combat is infrequent enough that it is rarely a problem. The game is relaxing. It is a stress free, frustration free romp through a colorful world. Solatorobo is not a great game. It is not a game that will go down as one of its systems best or something essential. What it is is an easy, cheerful diversion. It has its problems, but it is hard to hold those problems against a game that so firmly has its heart in the right place.

Tap, Tap, Tapping away!

Still playing my DS all the time? Damn straight. After I positively devoured Kirby Mass Attack, I expected to get to jump right into the second of the three DS games I am anticipating this fall, Solatorobo. Unfortunately, for some reason Amazon did not ship the game until Thursday, though it was released on Tuesday. No big deal, but I don’t pay for Amazon Prime to get my pre-ordered games a week after they come out. (Actually, I don’t pay for Amazon Prime at all, but that is beside the point) During the interminable wait, I had to play something, so I broke out Elebits: The Adventures of Kai and Zero, a game I picked up out of a bargain bin, probably during one of GameStop’s “Buy 2, Get 1 Free” sales.

I am enjoying it much more than I expected. There is no escaping the fact that this is primarily a kid’s game, what with the childish graphics — by which I do not mean 2D, but that the sprites are large, simple and big headed — and complete lack of difficulty, but there is enough substance under the candy coated exterior to keep me playing. Elebits is a rather clever mix of Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda tied around an annoying central mechanic. I cannot fathom why the game is built around tapping the DS’s bottom screen constantly, over and over and over. In order to power special skills and various contraptions around the game world, the player must collect charge. This is done by tapping on little creatures, the titular Elebits, which pop out from under rocks and out of trees. It isn’t hard, but it is tedious. It is like a Zelda game that is half collecting Rupees that try to run away from you. This stupidity drags the first hour or two of the game to an anti-fun halt.

The rest of the game has been fun. Easy but enjoyable nonetheless. Despite not having actual dungeons, Elebits plays like a Zelda game. That is a huge compliment. The biggest difference is that instead of finding new tools and magical items, the player finds Omega Elebits. These Omegas function identically to Zelda’s tools, with each one having a unique puzzle-solving ability. The Fire Omega, for instance, can spew fire clearing away path-blocking brush and the Ice Omega can create ice platform to let the player cross rivers. To further add to the Pokemon-ness is the fact that the player can evolve most of the Omegas, provided you feed them enough charge, that is.

You will be constantly interrupted from your pleasantly easy Zelda-clone to poke at the little Elebits on the bottom screen. The emphasis on charging does lessen as the game goes on. Your collection tank gets bigger, evolved Omegas cost less to use and the game start providing you with more high charge creatures to capture. Still, front-loading tedium is never a way to hook players. I put Elebits down when Solatorobo arrived in the mail, but one I finish that, and probably Professor Layton 4, I will be back to take on the last third of Elebits.

Doctor, We have to Operate!

I’m seeing a trend in gaming of fewer and fewer games being released that I actually care about. The does not mean I don’t still play video games, though, because I totally do. Lately I’ve been playing Trauma Team, the latest and perhaps last entry in Atlus’s Trauma Center series. So far, I’ve cleared what feels like about half of the game. I like it. It is very “anime” in a not terribly good way, but it’s largely enjoyable

The Trauma Center games were part of that all too brief time period when the new control options provided by the DS and Wii resulted in a flood of new kinds of games and new takes on old kinds of games. The Trauma Center games were similar in some ways to the mini-game collections that have clogged up the Wii’s library, but filtered through old arcade sensibilities. You play as a doctor and each medical procedure is a simple action using the DS stylus or the Wii remote. The presentation of the small, bite-sized actions is what set Trauma Center apart, with numerous small parts connected in one large operation. It did a great job of approximating the feeling of actually operating. (I assume, since I’m no doctor.)

Despite some mechanical similarities to mini-game fests, Trauma Center played more like an old-school arcade game. The games emphasized playing for score and they were hard, brutally so in the way that quarter hungry from the 80’s were. It really gets that one more try mentality down. You always want to try the next operation or retry the last one for a better score.

Thinking about it now, it greatly resembles Guitar Hero. They both have non-traditional controls, prominent scoring and essential non-violent game play. Sadly, Guitar Hero was a phenomenon and Trauma Center barely a blip. Maybe that just proves that Rock stars are inherently cooler than Doctors are. Of course, even Guitar Hero seems to have run its course now. The all too brief days of non-violent games has already ended, if it ever existed. Now it is back to all violence all the time.

Trauma Team feels like the last gasp of the series. The previous games’ uber-difficulty has been neutered, hidden away in bonus difficulties safe from casual eyes. I can’t fault them for that, the earlier games bordered on sadistic. There are new diagnosis and forensics modes have no pressure and no score, playing like somewhat less charming Phoenix Wright cases. A worthy evolution of the hospital milieu or a betrayal of the arcade-ish roots? I side with the former but there is a certain case for the latter, slim though it is.

The story side has always been where the games shined or faltered. Trauma Team claims to turn the focus away from the sci-fi super viruses of previous games, but I’m not sure it fulfills this even in the time I’ve been playing. The cast includes a superhero doctor, ninja doctor and Vader-masked convict doctor, as well as an annoying robot buddy for the grizzled Dr. House stand-in. It doesn’t border on ridiculous, it choke slams ridiculous off a skyscraper. But I like it and I’m scared I won’t get to play any more games like this for a long time.