I’ve been playing two games recently.
1. The first of the two is Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii. I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. It’s visually imaginative. Each of the levels (at least so far) does a good job of asking you to master a slightly different skill in order to reach the goal, which is probably the single signature characteristic of a great platformer. And yet, it’s not a great platformer. Even I, a person not in love with platform games, as I’ve mentioned more than once, am able to recognize that Kirby’s Epic Yarn isn’t really on a level with Little Big Planet (or its sequel, which is supposed to be even better.) And yet I’m enjoying Kirby more than LBP. I’ll come back to this in a minute.
It has good replay value, or at least I should say that it’s designed to have good replay value. The game’s mechanics can perhaps be best described as a cross between the LEGO games—in that your character never really dies, injuries merely cost you a bit of the currency equivalent that you collect as you progress through a level—and Little Big Planet—in that levels are designed around clever ways of interacting with your environment, often inspired by fabric and material textures, and in that there are treasures hidden in each of the levels that unlock rewards within the game. I love the LEGO games, and I love collecting stickers in LBP. I’ve played most of the levels in my LEGO games and LBP several times. I’ve played exactly one level in Kirby a second time.
Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary. Kirby isn’t a great game, but I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. It is, perhaps, custom designed for a lousy platformer like me. I usually give up on platform games when I hit a point where I just can’t move forward anymore and my short attention span kicks in. I may never play the last third of the story levels on LBP, but I’ve played the first several levels again and again. When I finish Kirby, I may never play it again, but it keeps me moving forward, and enjoying myself while I do.
Also, I picked up a component video cable for the Wii, so the game just looks good. Not 1080p good (my TV is only 720p anyway), but I’m getting the full 420p that the Wii is capable of. Superficial maybe, but everything is slightly sharper and feels slightly brighter. It helps.
2. The other game I’ve been playing is Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune for the PS3. I’m a little bit more than halfway through the game—almost but not quite to chapter 6.
I almost gave up on Uncharted in chapter 4. After playing what had been a pretty interesting story-and-puzzle-based game which had me do a little bit of shooting, suddenly I crash land on an island where I have to kill wave after wave of “pirates.” Or rather, where I was killed again and again by pirates. I imagine that this was actually the point where a number of players say, “Finally. I was wondering when this was going to become a real game,” but for me what had been a rather fun game suddenly turned deeply un-fun. I’m not big on first-person shooters (I know—not big on platformers, not big on first-person shooters, why exactly do I play console games? But that’s another column), and after Red Dead Redemption‘s auto-aim mechanic (which is nice), I was finding it damn hard to even get a good hit before the guy rushing at me with a shotgun put me down. Repeatedly.
And, you know, it’s kind of not cool to play as a white super-adventurer who has to kill wave after wave of pirates. That’s modern Somali pirates. As in, they’re all black. You play a white guy killing all the black people who are rushing at you, guns blazing. It may be Indiana Jones/pulp-wannabe syndrome, but it’s worth pointing out and criticizing, at least that far. Indiscriminate slaughter as a basic game mechanic is one of the reasons I don’t love first-person shooters, but that slaughter is racialized in Uncharted, and that’s a choice that could have been made differently.
Clearly I made it past chapter 4, and I’ve even picked up a certain bit of momentum. But the story—which is good—feels a lot less important to the game than it was at the beginning. I’m given to understand that it picks up again, which I’m looking forward to. In chapter 3 you discover a WWII Nazi U-Boat stuck in a waterfall in the middle of the Amazon River. It’s every bit as cool as it sounds.
And in nearly every conceivable way, Uncharted is a better game than Kirby’s Epic Yarn. But I can’t tell you that I’m not having more fun playing Kirby. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
3. And finally, a resolution. I’ve done some work in this column I’m proud of, but I think I’ve gotten a bit caught up in trying to make grand self-contained statements about a different game in each column lately, and it’s led to some dry spells. I can’t possibly play a game each week, and I think I’m going to get back to using this space as a (hopefully) smart, observant log of whatever game(s) I happen to be playing. If I’m playing a dumb game and enjoying it, I’ll say so, dammit. And I’ll try to mix in more ambitious columns where I can. But not at the expense of getting something posted (just about) every week.
Comments? Ideas? Celebrations? Criticisms? Have at it.
Gavin Craig is co-editor of The Idler. You can follow him on Twitter at @craiggav.