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Opinion: Simplicity Is King

Long live Donkey Kong.

I had this blog all planned out in my head. I was going to write about the Wii U and my mounting excitement about its arrival, and the way that this crested when it arrived at my desk today. It’s actually sitting just to the left of me, in its box and just waiting to be plugged in.

My colleagues even worked out which of our monitors had an HDMI input in case we wanted to bust it out and give it a quick go. I very nearly connected it up and loaded Nintendo Land for the first time to bring you some quick thoughts on just how the console is.

There’ll certainly be a lot of that in the coming days, and I’ll be writing some broad opinions on the console just as soon as I can.

However, for now I want to spend a moment talking about something else.

Pft, who uses the hammer?
You see the last few weeks have been fairly full-on at work; it turns out you can’t bust out hugely complex systems over the course of an afternoon. Well our worryingly intelligent iPhone programmer can, but I can’t.

The stress that work has caused has been alleviated by a new distraction we have in the office, an arcade machine. It has a pretty wide selections of games on it but there’s one that’s got me completely hooked: Donkey Kong.

No-one else is really interested in playing the game for some reason, they’ve got Chase HQ and Street Fighter II to keep them occupied.

I’ve toyed about with the other games on there, and even spent a reasonable period playing the Mega Drive version of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, but it’s only Donkey Kong that keeps pulling me back and I can’t help but ask why?

Realistically it seems to come down to one key factor: simplicity. The game is ridiculously simple in terms of gameplay mechanics; move left, move right and jump. There’s the hammer too if jumping’s too good for you but I just stick to those three core concepts. Whilst platformers have grown over the thirty-one years since Donkey Kong was first released, most of the truly great ones still have those three concepts at their core and have tried to maintain that simplicity.

That’s not to say that modern, complex games aren’t as good as something from 1981; I love the depth that games like Assassin’s Creed can provide or the mayhem that can spread out from a single gunshot in Grand Theft Auto.

I certainly wouldn’t want those games to vanish off the face of the planet or roll the clock back, but it just seems harder for a big complex game to sink its hooks into you in the same way.

Look at the success of simple games on mobile platforms. The brilliant simplicity of games like Canabalt or Temple Run contributes to the “just one more go” mindset far more than any huge, complex world does. I’ve lost hours promising myself that I’ll have just one more go at Angry Birds or the arcade mode in New Star Soccer, and although Halo or Arkham City can have this effect on me it’s rarely as pronounced.

If you simply must know something about the Wii U then I can tell you that the GamePad is surprisingly light and comfortable to hold, and the the gloss finish on the main console looks very nice. And yes, tonight I’ll go home and unbox my Wii U, hook it up to my TV and enter into the next generation of gaming, but for now I’m going to sit here and marvel at how Jumpman’s barrel based plight can keep me coming back time after time, hour after hour.

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  1. Youles
    Since: Feb 2011

    Nice article. I love old arcade machines – I think the most enjoyable part of this years’ EuroGamer Expo was when I discovered the retro arcade, it was brilliant!
    I’d have to say the 2 most a simple (and addictive) games I’ve played this gen are Sound Shapes’ Death Mode and Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes. I don’t think I can remember any game that has had the “just one more go” syndrome more than Sound Shapes’ Death Mode – perhaps the pull of earning trophies helped though. M&M’s combat concept is one of the simplest (and most clever) I’ve ever seen, which makes me love the game even more – it annoys me that I didn’t think of something like that!!
    Oh, and nothing will keep me hooked like good old Tetris.

    Comment posted on 29/11/2012 at 16:41.
    • LTG Davey
      Since: Aug 2008

      Hehe, the retro arcade is awesome right?! When my Mrs caught sight of it we must have spent a good hour or two in there playing Super Mario Bros 3 and Sonic 2.
      New games are great but, in terms of raw gameplay, retro will always win :-)

      Comment posted on 29/11/2012 at 16:56.
      • LTG Davey
        Since: Aug 2008

        P.s. enjoy the WiiU Kris. Hopefully mine arrives tomorrow or its going to be a long wait til Monday!

        Comment posted on 29/11/2012 at 16:58.
      • Youles
        Since: Feb 2011

        Yeah it was awesome – SFII, Sensible Soccer and loads more! Even the controllers and old TVs were great to see. McProley and I had a few goes on SFII, but just watched in awe at most of the others.
        Online multiplayer has made gaming less social in some ways too, gone are the days of local Bomberman and Golden Eye multiplayer.

        Comment posted on 29/11/2012 at 17:01.
  2. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    I’m trying to finish Skyrim atm. It is ridiculous the amount of quests, sidequest, skills and items there are in the game. It could have done with some serious editing to make it more streamlined and simple – does anyone bother cooking stuff?

    Comment posted on 29/11/2012 at 16:48.
  3. xdarkmagician
    Since: May 2009

    The best part of the good ol’ days of cabinet gaming were the kill screens. You really felt like you won when you reached a kill screen. Imagine if developers today still used kill screens, instead of prestige-ing in CoD, you just died at lvl 50 and had to start over.
    I also have spent ALOT of time on DK and IMO the reason DK is so addicting is the randomized barrels, you take the simple concept but throw in the unpredictability of the barrels, it’s like playing the lottery and always having 5 out of the 6 numbers right- you think this is going to be soo easy, and then BAM, you lost and you think, I just need to try it one more time…

    Comment posted on 29/11/2012 at 16:51.
  4. bunimomike
    Since: Jul 2009

    I never really enjoyed the older style arcade games until I had multiplayer and co-op to enjoy. Donkey Kong (and so many games of the era) were score based. Competing with the leader-board or yourself. Both things I cannot really be bothered with but that it’s the precise reason why you come back for more; why a game can have its hooks in you so easily. It’s to do with you wanting to get that bit farther; that bit higher on the leader-board.

    From Tetris to Pacman to Donkey Kong and other cult classics on god-knows-how-many formats – I cannot stick with them longer than a level or two and crave so much more. The games that have their hooks in you are positively dead to me!

    Enjoy the Wii U, fella. :-)

    Comment posted on 29/11/2012 at 16:54.
  5. Dom El
    Since: Mar 2012

    The arcade machines of the past provided us with the foundation of our beloved hobby – and generally achieved this with simplistic, instinctual gameplay. It’s an interesting question if gaming had leapt into existence with the more complex games that we enjoy today such as Skyrim and Assassin’s Creed whether it would have actually caught on in the same way.

    I can’t quantify the number of hours that games like Tetris, Pacman and Space Invaders sucked up when I was a kid, and which even now are capable of totally absorbing me. It’s great that with PSN/XBLA/ios titles some of that spirit still exists in modern gaming, and indeed such games can have as much relevance and enjoyment as more complex titles.

    Looking forward to your Wii U coverage – I pick mine up in six hours!

    Comment posted on 30/11/2012 at 01:55.

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