Fail in February

Did you attempt a Four in February? I did. And you know how they say: "three outta four ain't bad?" Well, one out of four certainly is, and they don't have a saying about it because everyone just understands it as truth. Let's start with the positive news:

Gone Home

Fail in February

The shortest game on my list, and the only one I completed within the allotted time. "What an accomplishment" you all cheer, "O, let us schedule a parade in your honor." Well, I can understand the sentiment, and I appreciate it, I really do. But I simply cannot abide traffic delays, so let's channel that energy elsewhere.

I didn't have particularly high expectations for this one. I've never been too fond of adventure games as a genre. I spend enough time in the real world looking for arbitrary-seeming objects that turn out to be crucial to progress (curse your utter necessity, keys). I also tend to be very wary of hype, and this game got no small dose. It sat unplayed in my Steam library for nearly two months, while even non-gamer friends of mine told me how great it was. I was like "psh, maybe" And then I made this face :-/

I should've listened to them sooner. Or not, otherwise I might be rocking a 0/4 record. Either way, I tore through this game in a single evening and absolutely loved it. My fears about the gameplay were unfounded. It turns out that clicking on objects isn't boring if you are given a reason to care about those objects. I played it alone in the dark with my headphones on, which helped sell the game's excellent horror-movie atmosphere. Each little piece of the puzzle felt thoughtfully crafted, and even narratively inconsequential objects added excellently to the overall feeling of the house. It's an era I have much fondness for, since me and Samantha would be contemporaries. I can't praise the design highly enough for capturing my nostalgia so acutely.

Now one complaint I'd heard a few times about this game boils down to "sure, it's a pretty good story... for a video game." The implication being that if this story was presented in a novel or a film, audiences would be bored by it, or find it otherwise lacking. I had this on my mind when I started, but the more I played, the less merit that argument seemed to hold. For starters, there's no reason to judge this game based on a hypothetical media adaptation that's never going to happen. But also, as Marshall McLuhan wrote, the medium is the message. The purpose of the game is the things you do in it. Perhaps a story of an adolescent girl and her first love is a boring one that's been told too many times, but it's certainly never been told exactly this way, with these details. And I've certainly never experienced a novel or film the way I experienced this game. The way the game uses its unique atmosphere to facilitate exploring is simply excellent; the creepiness has as much to do with the flickering lights and secret passageways as it does the voyeurism of prying into (admittedly, poorly concealed) personal documents.

If you are even somewhat interested in this kind of exploration and story-focused gaming, then definitely give this a try. Don't hesitate. Don't be like me. I see you making that face :-/

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

Fail in February

Zelda is my favorite series I've ever not played.

Wow, that was awkwardly phrased. Let's try again: I've never finished a Zelda game. And thus evaporates my last meagre scrap of "cred." Now, when I was a poco pequeño I watched my upstairs neighbor play the bulk of A Link to the Past. I was always fascinated by his seemingly endless supply of games; the newest systems; the coolest peripherals, he had them all. Of the probably-hundreds of games I watched him play, none of them grabbed me like A Link to the Past. It was sublime. The game felt massive, with an epic story and characters, the look of a saturday morning cartoon, and a level of polish that I'd never seen before. For ages this was my golden standard; a "perfect" game that I'd barely even touched.

Years later I've still not beaten A Link to the Past, nor any Zelda game. I missed the hype for Ocarina of Time, having chosen a PlayStation over a Nintendo 64 at the time. I also never owned a GameCube, nor a Wii. But my habit of watching other people play these games persisted. My junior year, a college roommate spent a vacation immersed in Wind Waker, and I resumed my childhood position on the far side of the couch, watching her progress with more than a passing interest.

When the Wii U Wind Waker HD edition came out, something clicked. For years I'd been on a ride-along with these games. It was time to get in the driver's seat. And wow! What have I been waiting for?

For starters: a solid chunk of time. Although I was immediately drawn into this incredibly gorgeous game and its fun, intuitive gameplay, I was unprepared for the scale of the open world, or the number of fun and inessential sidequests I'd take on. In the first month I owned my Wii U I made it through Dragon Roost Island, Forest Haven, and the Tower of the Gods, at which point I... got some more games and put this on the back burner. Why? Because that's what I do way too often.

When Four in February rolled around I decided "Yes! Time to finish that game." Well a lot of aimless sailing and two dungeons later, and you can guess what happened. When we last left our hero, he'd returned the power to vanquish evil to the Master Sword and now... something about the Tri-Force? More on this as events develop!

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Fail in February

Now let's chalk this one up to regular old failure. I just ran out of motivation. So much walking... at such a slow pace... I enjoy it, though! The combat feels great, the monsters look scary. I'm sure I'll come back to it. Moving right along...

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Fail in February

I didn't finish this game in time for the end of February due to some sudden family obligations. However, I did finish a few nights ago, and frankly I'm still reeling a bit.

There have been several excellent articles about this game on TAY already, but it was one internet-sibling-in-spirit in particular that inspired me to purchase it.

Brothers is the rather simple story of two boys on a journey, working together to find a mythic cure and heal their father. Playing this game almost feels like a relic from an alternate timeline; one where games moved away from the murder-centric mechanics that are so widely prevalent, and towards exploration, movement, and the telling of stories. Brothers is presented in a gorgeous, lush fairy-tale aesthetic (even with gimped settings on my sub-par PC), full of awe-inspiring vistas and simple-but-clever environmental storytelling, with a unique control scheme that really seems like it shouldn't work as well as it does.

A good example of why this game works so well is an early section where you meet a kind of mushroom-sporting troll at his cute mountain hut. He's weeping, but he never explains why (none of the characters speak any intelligible language). Instead we look around his home and notice two beds. Who's second bed is that, and where have they gone? The game trusts you to make this simple connection between the empty bed and the weeping troll. Without the overt explanation, I empathize much more strongly with this character. I wanted to find out more about his situation; I wanted to help him. There's nothing revolutionary about this on a macro level, but in the moment it felt like the kind of smart design choice games should be making more often. The game trusts you to tell the story of your own adventure, and figure out the rest by observation. Often the game will give you a bench to sit on, much like Ico, and I never missed an opportunity to share a quiet moment with the Brothers and reflect on my environment.

Now it's hard to talk about Brothers without discussing the ending, so big ol' SPOILERS here. Wow. I mean, wow. I'm man enough to admit that this one got me right in the feels. Now I have three sisters, one older and two younger, so I don't exactly share this specific kind of family dynamic with anyone. But damn it, I've got two eyes and a heart. As younger brother poured the water of life over his older brother, and slowly realized that he was not coming back, well, I bawled... The "everyone thinks someone's dead and we've given up hope but hold on they're alive" trope is an incredibly tired cliche, and I usually hate it, but when we saw older brother standing, hugging his younger brother my heart leapt with joy at the happy-but-trite resolution. And then the rug's pulled out again, revealing it was a vision of the little brother's final goodbye as his brother passed on. Now that's what I call storytelling. After a truly heartbreaking burial scene, little brother soars over the landscape on the back of the owl-cat he rescued earlier, surveying the grand scale of their accomplishment with the sun setting in the distance. I bawled again, though this time more from the poetic beauty of the moment than the feeling of loss. Finally, when little brother returns home and must swim, this is his lowest moment. Controlling him alone feels like he's half a person, a brilliant twist on the game's central mechanics. As little brother learns to do the things that his brother once did, we get the real heart of the game: growth through tragedy and loss, a theme present in the game's first minutes as the boys set out to heal their ailing father. In the final scene with the father and son at the two graves, I wept a third time. If you can get me to cry at a sad character death, that's well played, but not entirely unexpected. If you can get me to cry twice more at the repercussions of that death? That's something special. END SPOILERS.

So what have we learned?

We've learned I only finish short games. Gone Home was about 2 hours give-or-take, and Brothers I did in 4 and a half. Both my Dragon's Dogma and Wind Waker playthroughs are in the 35-hour range right now, and it would make sense to me that somewhere around there is where my focus wavers. It would also make sense that I hurt my chances of finishing any of these by switching back and forth instead of focusing on a single game. But that's just me. I'm flighty and impulsive when it comes to my gaming habits. You know what I occurred to me last night as I put on my pajamas? "Hey, I wanted to check out Starbound some more." So I did. For like 2 hours. When I was supposed to be sleeping. Why? BECAUSE I JUST GOTTA DO ME.

Fail in February

And hey, be sure to check out TAY Classic, and to brush up on your TAY skillz with the TAYtorial. Don't make that face...