Sunday Thoughts: 7/12/08

There’s a line in Alex Garland’s The Beach, page 75, first edition:  “Light-years above our bin-liner beds and the steady rush of the surf,” says the writer, “all these things happened.”  It’s odd out of context, but he’s referring to the concept of infinity, and how given the notion that space is infinite it’s certain that somewhere, out there, there’s another version of our planet that has one minor thing different, and there are limitless alternatives.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of playing through Ninja Gaiden 2, the sequel to the deliciously hardcore Xbox and PS3 title set in neo-feudal Japan.  The main star is nimble, agile and capable of severing 100 limbs in 30 seconds flat.  The 60fps graphics engine is probably the finest ever to power a 3D beat-em-up, and the controls are honed to perfection.  As I was playing through it I was glad I wasn’t reviewing it, because then I’d need to look for flaws and imperfections.  

In reality, if there were any, they were nicely hidden, but it got me thinking – if a game exists like this, created with such attention to detail, then surely, given the notion of infinity, there must all exist something similar, but not quite as good.  Perhaps Team Ninja on Planet 232 out there could only manage 30fps, or the main protagonist was a woman dressed in green,  not a man dressed in black.

And then this morning I booted, for the first time, Konami’s HellBoy: Science of Evil.  Evil doesn’t even begin to detail the horrors of this game, which, to all intents and purposes, plays exactly like Ninja Gaiden 2, except it’s shit.  X is still quick attack, Y is strong attack, A is jump.  You have melee weapons and long range attacks, and it’s a third person adventure.  So far, so similar.

I’m well aware not every development team has the resources of Team Ninja, but Hellboy manages to chug along at 30fps, offer repetitive (ad nauseum) level design and constant droves of enemies, all the while sticking to gaming mechanics best left behind on the ZX Spectrum.  Clear all enemies to open the next section.  Destroy the gravestone to stop more enemies coming out.  Honestly, it’s like a slower, less skillful version of Gauntlet.

The version of Hellboy on Planet 232 is probably riding high at 99% on whatever version of Metacritic they have over there in the Bizarro Galaxy but I found the pain far too much to continue slogging through – the only pleasure was the ping of the Achievement Unlocked after finally hunting down the Witch that had been perpetually out of range for the last hour or so.  All the while I was wishing I was back in Ryu Hayabusa’s jika-tabi fighting enemies that actually cared.

So, whilst Garland was more concerned about the location of a palm tree, in the world of videogaming the alternatives really can be considerably more polar.  Bizarrely, though, they always seem to cost the same amount of money.