What's Old is New Again

Today a discussion of two games that have been around for a long time, and are still more interesting to play than most of the new games. I suppose it’s possible that my current state of mind makes me more inclined to stick with the familiar. I think it’s more likely that these games are just better.

First, Resident Evil 4 again. For some reason I just can’t stop playing this game. This time it’s on the Wii, and this version of the game combines what was best about the previous two releases into a single package of enjoyable zombie slaughter. Now that I’m in the habit of buying this game once a year, I wonder what they’ll do next year to make me buy it again? Maybe an Xbox 360 port with multiplayer?

So, here is what to like about the Wii version:

1. 16x9 progressive scan graphics without the mushy jaggy PS2 “looks-like- ass” filter. This is a slight upgrade from what was on the ‘Cube and what was on the PS2.

2. Same great zombie head exploding gameplay.

3. Same great pacing.

The Wii controls are hit and miss. I find the nunchuck to be a poor substitute for the left analog stick on a regular controller. It is tiring to hold it in place and push the stick around to move. Also, the gun aiming mechanic in this game is wierd. You use the pointer to aim the gun, but the pointer cannot actually move the camera. So really you have to use the Wiimote and the stick on the nunchuck to aim. This works OK when the zombies are on the other side of the map and you are sniping them. It doesn’t work so well if they get too close. In fact, the best way to use the new control scheme is to just hold the gun target near the middle of the screen and aim with the nunchuck stick. But if you are doing that, you might as well just be using a Gamecube controller.

Happily, if you want you can do just that. I plugged in my Wavebird and unplugged the nunchuck from the Wiimote and the game instantly switched the controls back into the classic GameCube configuration. I might spend one more session trying to acclimate to the new way, but I’m pretty sure I like the old way better.

No matter which control scheme you pick, RE4 on the Wii is still better than every single shooter that has been released for the Xbox or the 360 in the last three years. This will continue to be true until Halo 3 comes out.

The second game takes us from the world of bloody zombies to the world of adorable and cuddly pets that also engage in fierce turn-based combat. Four or five years ago, I had a fellow parent tell me that the Pokémon games were really some of the best RPGs out there. At the time my eyes glazed over and I sort of stepped away slowly. I was only dimly aware of Pokémon as some kind of card collecting game.

So I was surprised to get an IM from Pete a couple of weeks ago that went something like:

Pete: You know, this Pokémon game is just like a JPRG, only not annoying. psu: Huh. Maybe I’ll try it.

In the end, I got Pearl and he got Diamond and he and my other buddy were right. Pokémon has distilled the three basic activities that appear in any RPG into a single streamlined game and stripped it of all the pretentious extras that RPGs usually try to layer on top of the gameplay. There are no heroes with amnesia, no worlds to save, no intricate yet juvenile narrative, no cut scenes, and no whiny NPCs who you would rather just kill. Instead, you do three things:

1. Go there and fight that.

2. Collect those.

3. Increase R.

I’m about 10 hours into the game and I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface. I can see myself playing this game in 20 minute snippets and one or two hour extended sittings for the rest of the year. Plus, there is the online battle angle and the integration with the upcoming Wii title. If they made a World of Pokémon MMO, I could probably not buy another RPG for the rest of my life. Hmm, perhaps that’s over the top.

Anyway, if all the sucky new games are getting you down, here are two alternatives. One is actually old, the other is only old by association with a long-standing franchise. But that’s close enough for me. Older games are always better.