Continuing from Part 1, we look back at the many years videolamer was in a tragic, medically induced coma in an attempt to prevent rabies from spreading to the brain in this, Part 2 of Some of the Dumb Games we missed series.
The Starship Damrey
I fondly remember the Guild series of games on Nintendo 3DS as polished but fun little experiments but by far my favourite is The Starship Damrey. The 3DS had a few genuinely haunting horror games, my heart still can’t take Dementium: The Ward, but The Starship Damrey perfectly created a sense of unease, despite there not really being too much in the way of threat. Of course the game kicks off with you waking from cryo-sleep and of course you have amnesia and then for most of the rest of the game you explore the titular Starship via a remote operated vehicle. Pulling together the threads of what happened on the ship via some point-n-click puzzles is compelling and there are a few bumps in the night on the way. I loved it enough to look up how to get the proper ending.
Complaints about the game at the time were that it was short and didn’t really give you much of a clue as to how you play it. For me, The Starship Damrey was a perfect palate cleanser in between longer games, a shot of old school point and click adventure that didn’t demand weeks of your time and perfectly stayed its welcome without shoehorning in a hundred different modes, weekly challenges, do it backwards mode, etc.. It’s the game equivalent of a sci-fi pulp fiction you pick up for a long plane or train journey. Like a good sci-fi pulp, it’s also a pleasure to return to every few years too.
Pikmin 2 (Nintendo Wii)
Having not really owned a GameCube when it was a new console, I was probably one of the few people excited for the New Play Control! title rereleases, when, in my memory, everyone was complaining about Nintendo cashing in on ports, etc.. Turns out I was even more excited than my local game stockist who not only didn’t have any when it launched but was content to tell me that it was an old game. In any case, I managed to get hold of a copy thanks to an evil mega corporation that was interested in selling me the game and I did play it. Did I enjoy it? Tough to say. I find the death of every pikmin heart rending and soul crushing, and the particular glee in which enemies squash, swallow, impale and trample them is incredibly disconcerting to me. Many pikmin lives were lost on my watch. I won’t be party to the slaughter any more. My Pikmin career ends here.
As if there wasn’t enough of a stigma around being a gamer, the StreetPass games and features really helped to make you feel like part of a secret society of shame. After a day carrying around a 3DS in sleep mode, you’d be able to check how many dirty gamers you’d happened to walk past that day. Was it that shady looking granny on the bus? The bored barista? The woman in the red dress? Cult signification and parasocial interaction aside, there was something special about the StreetPass feature and the suite of games that used StreetPasses as some “live your life to earn” in-game currency. Puzzle Quest and StreetPass Quest were by far the best, and there were some real hits and misses with the eleven additional games. Slot Car Rivals was probably the worst, the difficulty of the basic game being the fundamental challenge. Ultimate Angler had waaay too much depth to it and kudos to anyone who earned all the achievements in Mii Force.
In addition to these specific StreetPass games, a number of other games had some cool StreetPass features. The appearance of zombies you’d StreetPassed in Resident Evil Revelations genuinely gave us an excuse to keep plowing through the raid mode and, arguably, made that the best version of that game. Pokemon X & Pokemon Y provided a steady stream of useful items and StreetSmash in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS was a surprisingly fun distraction. Alas, if you’d never StreePassed at the height of the popularity of the 3DS, you missed out on this novel and fun way of experiencing games and StreetPassing whilst out and about in Japan was a true highlight. Doubt we’ll see anything like it again.
In my head I maintain what I call my pantheon of games. I have never written down a top ten list, or quantified how many games belong in the pantheon, but I have a rough idea in my head of the dozen or so games I have enjoyed so much that I remember them as my best gaming experiences years later. As I get older and have less time, fewer games feel like they reach the heights of Shenmue or Final Fantasy VII, but Bloodborne definitely belongs in that category.
Demon’s Souls awakened the world to FromSoft’s ability to make compelling games, and Dark Souls is an excellent refinement of Demon’s Souls’ formula. By making the challenging, engaging combat of those games faster and more aggressive, Bloodborne, while not necessarily better than its predecessors, is more fun. Where Demon’s and Dark can be plodding and deliberate, Bloodborne is brash and quick. The change in setting, from medieval castles and ancient ruins to a corrupted Victorian city and Lovecraftian horror was also welcome after 3 games (Dark Souls 3 followed Bloodborne by a year) and a handful of expansions set against more traditional RPG backdrops.
The Longest Journey is one of my favorite point and click adventure games, and, having been released in 1999 (2000 in the US) is considered one of the last great entries from the genre’s golden age. Dreamfall came out in 2006 and is a directly controlled adventure game in the same universe but with different characters and locations. Then nothing, for a long time, even though the games both end on cliffhangers. Funcom released Ragnar Tornquist’s MMORPG The Secret World in 2012 and then he promptly left the company to start his own studio. Upon founding Red Thread Games in 2012, Tornquist set about acquiring a license on Dreamfall from his former employer, receiving a grant from the Norwegian Film Institute to launch production on a sequel, and launching a Kickstarter to finance the rest of development.
The game was released in 2014 to mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it. I think the world the series created is very interesting and by the time Chapters ends, most of the questions left unanswered in the previous games have been resolved. The plot is a little convoluted and suffers a bit from “illusion of choice” issues since you make several choices as a player, but generally end up in the same place, but frankly who cares. The series has an interesting world and characters and does a good job of making us feel like we are on a consequential adventure. As the series progressed, it became clear that April Ryan’s story in The Longest Journey served as something of a prologue to the main events of Dreamfall, but I would take another The Longest Journey to finish up April’s story; unfortunately no one seems interested in making it. So that might be all for our heroes in this series, but Red Thread is still active, though not all of their output is as compelling as I found these games, as we will see next time in the 2017-2021 roundup series.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
A few of the writers on this site are huge fans of Baldur’s Gate. I played the game, but well after it was released and it did not have the impact on me that it had on some others. [Play 2, not the original -Ed.] By the time Dragon Age: Origins came out, I had played Mass Effect and gotten really excited about a series with more classic RPG elements and setting. Origins had its issues, but I thoroughly enjoyed the game, and Awakenings was a worthy follow-up that added to the lore and world building. Then Dragon Age 2 was panned on release and a subject of ridicule among fans of the first, so I never bothered playing it. A handful of browser and mobile games followed that I completely ignored.
Dragon Age: Inquisition was supposed to be a return to form, finally another big game that would continue Bioware’s legacy of classic RPGs. Then I hated it. When the game was released, the memetic advice “Leave the Hinterlands” was meant to assuage the disappointment a lot of us felt. The game is organized around a number of large areas each with quests to complete and enemies to fight. The Hinterlands is the first of these, but the gameplay is mostly crappy fetch quests or grindy fighting and the area isn’t that interesting. Unfortunately, leaving the Hinterlands doesn’t help because all of the areas are that. I am hardly an expert but Inquisition seems to have borrowed quest design from MMOs or Ubisoft and the game really suffers for it. Bafflingly, the game reviewed well, even garnering a number of Game of the Year awards. I haven’t decided whether to be more upset about people having bad taste or reviews rewarding games for being boring open worlds, but this game offers plenty for me to be angry about.