Unrelated Thingies: The Quest for Curly’s Gold

1) It is unbelievably irritating being out of work and seeing national news networks proudly display banners about the tsunami’s “affect on the west coast”. I could understand if it was breaking news, but come on, guys — you had fourteen hours to polish that.

2) I think I’ve finally isolated the problem I have with Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. I mean, yes, it’s an ugly game, but I’ve liked uglier. Yes, it’s a hard game, but I’ve liked harder. The real problem is that it’s a Metroidvania, but it doesn’t gain anything by being a Metroidvania.

The appeal of the Metroidvania is that you’ve got a large, interwoven world that gradually opens up to the player as he collects more items and expands his character’s range of actions. Ideally, if you were to go back through the entire game world after finding a new tool in a Metroidvania, you should be able to find more stuff on each pass. By necessity, Metroidvanias require a lot of backtracking, but by… let’s say “renewing”… the world every so often, a lot of the tedium of backtracking is alleviated.

Circle doesn’t have that. Circle’s cast is structured as one big central hub with a lot of wings branching off of it. You head into a wing, beat the boss at the end, collect a tool, then head back to the hub and use your new tool to find a new wing, repeat ad nauseum. There’s never more than one direction to go at any given time, and the hub itself is boring and confusing to negotiate. Compare this to Super Metroid, where the areas are constantly twisting back in on themselves and the game is constantly sending you into old areas via new entrances. Compare this to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, where there are often three or four directions to go, and each new tool opens up paths all over the map. Circle is, at its core, a linear game, but it makes you do the legwork of a freeform one, without any of the benefits.

It gets worse. Take a look at the eight “tools” Nathan collects in order to expand his options:

  1. Running shoes. First item he collects, spends almost none of the game without it. (Thank god.) Allows Nathan to run, which gives a slight boost to jumps.
  2. Double jump. Series staple.
  3. Tackle. Allows Nathan to do a charge attack, which can destroy some blocks.
  4. Kick boots. Allows Nathan to wall kick.
  5. Heavy ring. Allows Nathan to push heavy blocks.
  6. Purification. Allows Nathan to clean polluted water, making it safe to walk in. (All water in the game starts out polluted.)
  7. Roc Wing. Allows Nathan to do a super jump infinitely; in other words, allows him to fly.
  8. Final key. Allows Nathan to unlock the door which leads to the final area of the game. (Nathan can reach this door relatively early in the game, but he needs to explore almost the whole castle and defeat every other boss to unlock it.)

Notice the pattern? Almost all of these have as their primary function “remove arbitrary barriers”. Only the Running Shoes, Double Jump, Kick Boots, and Roc’s Wing increase Nathan’s capabilities in what I would call an organic way. (And, in practice, the Kick Boots and Roc’s Wing are just used as arbitrary barrier removers as well.) There need not be a single cracked block, heavy box, or polluted body of water in the entire game except that the designers deliberately put them there to bar certain passages.

Circle would have been much better as a linear game that allowed you to revisit stages. Start Nathan off with the ability to run and double jump, remove the blocks, boxes, and water. Instead of sending Nathan back to the hub after every stage, send him to a node-based world map. While we’re at it, cut the levels and the equipment as well (they add nothing to this game, unlike something like Symphony or Aria of Sorrow), and hide the magic cards in the hidden areas where Life Ups and such used to be. Then the game would still be ugly and hard, but at least it would no longer actively resist attempts to have fun with it.

Did I just fix Circle of the Moon? I think I did.

3) The NFL lockout started yesterday. I don’t care about the NFL at all, but given that, I’m wondering what outcome I should be rooting for here. On the one hand, a lockout means no football to annoy me with. On the other hand, I have a sinking feeling that if the lockout ever gets close to actually stopping football season, the media would simply not shut up about it, even though it would be the middle of baseball season. ESPN used to interrupt baseball games to tell us that Brett Favre was maybe considering thinking about possibly not retiring, and NFL labor talks would be a million times worse in that department. (“A player and owner passed each other on a busy street and exchanged a slight nod! What does this mean for the NFL labor negotiations!? We’ll discuss for the next six hours. Also, MLB highlights or whatever.”)

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