Sunday, May 1, 2016

One Hit Wonders

A title of dubious merit typically bestowed upon musicians, "one hit wonder" simply means an artist who only created one widely renown piece of art.  In the context of this blog post though, I'd like to take the term a bit further and use it to refer to video games in which they do one aspect of the medium extremely well while simultaneously producing mediocre results in every other regard.  Let's look at three examples, shall we?

GALAK-Z is a 2D side-scrolling rogue-like that borrows heavily from 1980s anime space operas such as "Gundam," "Space Battleship Yamato," and "Robotec" ("Macross," if you want to get technical).  Sadly, it does very little to elevate itself above those franchises in terms of storytelling or visual design.  Even the procedurally generated levels lack variety due to there only being two possible tile sets.  The controls, while responsive, can feel counter intuitive to the uninitiated.  The progression system is a bit overly harsh at times too.  Where this game does excel is in the A.I. department.  Supposedly the developer farmed out the artificial intelligence design to an academic institution.  If so I hope to see more of their "scholastic" work in the future because this is one of the best examples I can think of when it comes to computer-versus-player experiences.  Not only does this game boast stealth done right, the A.I. controlled enemies have superb pathfinding and a wide variety of tactics depending on the unit type and situation.

I'm just going to come out and say it, Star Wars: Battlefront is a bad game.  I know it has fans, but the truth is the pre-order and DLC shenanigans were exploitative.  There's no single player component, and the multiplayer was limited to just four maps at launch.  The gameplay wasn't particularly true to the fiction either, with blasters that are far too accurate and hero characters that just sort of give up and eventually blink out of existence rather than expiring in some kind of dramatic fashion.  The one bright spot in this overpriced piece of schmuck bait is the graphics.  It looks really pretty with all those photo-realistic textures.  Every detail matches the original trilogy perfectly (so much so, you could probably fool some out-of-touch "Star Wars" fan into thinking that the screenshots are old set photos).    

Last up is Minecraft.  Programmed in Java, this has to be one of the least optimized top-sellers in the history of video games (at least until XCOM 2 came out).  Crudely animated mobs, pixelated textures and blocky environments are par for the course - ditto for the sound design.  There's not much of a story either.  What this game does have going for it is interactivity.  Practically everything can be manipulated, molded or reworked by the player in a variety of interesting ways.  The world that the player inhabits is also endless and varied thanks to a terrain generation system that has a wide variety of biodomes.  When it comes to open-world sandboxes, Minecraft is the biggest both in terms of breadth and scope.

"Vanilla Ice."  "MC Hammer."  "C+C Music Factory."  These are just a few examples of one hit wonders in the music industry.  I'm sure there are some who would disagree with my opinions on pop music in the 1990s.  I have no doubt that the same is also true for the choices I made regarding video games.  To any would-be critics though, I say this; just because a video game only does one thing well doesn't mean it's a bad game.  After all, even a song by a one hit wonder ca still be a good song.

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