Video Game Pacing

This week I've enjoyed watching the coverage of E3 on G4.  I'm definitely a geek at heart and I love to consume all the new games, TV, movies, books and music coming out with a few exceptions.  This being said, there is a few things I hate about video games, something that turns me into a 10 year old boy who screams and wants to throw his controller.  I say this as an almost 30 year old man.

First of all... pacing.  This is something that a game like Uncharted 2 did - amazingly.  There wasn't a moment where I felt I was just pressing buttons and trying to get passed a level.  I was constantly - in the game.  It was difficult at times but not out of the ordinary (for the game) difficult.  I've heard some games are really a great challenge... Like Demon's Soul and Ninja Gaiden.  These games I completely avoid, for as much as I play video games, I'm not the greatest button masher... it took me a long time to finally get the quick time events down in games like God of War...

There are times however, that the pacing of a game just totally and completely pisses me off.  As in just now.  I was enjoying an otherwise AMAZING game - Super Mario Galaxy 2 when I get into this one challenge.  A single level (out of 120).  The goal of the level is to collect 10,000 points through coins.  To get those coins you have to jump on the heads of these blubbery little guys who spit rocks at you.  If you don't jump on them, you don't get the coins.

If you somehow manage to make a combo jump, one guy after another, your points double.  Sounds easy enough - except - if you get hit, you have to go through an entire real time animation of you falling, making noises and slowly getting up.  Also when you jump and then land, it takes a second for you to actually move.  My roommate commented that he moved like a tank.

On top of this, you got 120 seconds.  You only get 100 points per jump, plus if you collect the coin they leave behind, you get another 100... so in fact you have to jump on 50 guys in 120 seconds - as long as you pick up their coin.  All this maybe doesn't make sense but the bottom line is - it's insanely difficult.

Not impossible and if I take a break and come back to it in a day or two, it'll probably be easier... but, it has taken probably 20-25 lives to get to the point at which I still can't do it.

Now, in other levels, I breeze through them.  They are creative, mind twisting, hilarious and fun.  Sometimes, they are difficult and I'll die a few times and sometimes I'll die just until I figure out the secret.

There is no secret in this level.  It's just pure jump and twist.  Of course, the perspective is constantly switching and when you think you're going to land in one spot you land in another just in time for  a rock to the head, throwing you back.  Here you are struggling and yelling at the screen to just GET UP!  Of course, you don't get up immediately, you sort of sit there for a second.  Time goes by.

So in a game where I discover all new worlds, defy gravity, explore some of the most ingenious platforming I've ever played, sometimes where I've gasped out loud... there is this stupid out of place level that has halted the pacing of the game.  I've been traveling 60 miles an hour and now I'm in a traffic jam.

Some gamers love a great challenge.  I don't mind it too much but if it's a challenge, make the whole game a challenge or at least balance it out so that there is an even mix.  AND... don't add so many variables to die in one level.  Especially when that is completely out of the ordinary for the rest of the game.

In this level, you can die by: rock, accidentally hitting them on the side, falling off the edge, not going fast enough, hitting a bubble, going the wrong way, getting hit by a rock while trying to make a combo... and if just one or two variables hits you - if you mess up - you might as well give up because you won't be able to finish the level in time... all that wasted real time animation of you falling back and whining.

It's out of place.



Imagine going to a friends house and walking at a certain pace and then suddenly 1000 people are crowded in a single square block.  It takes you a half an hour to get through.  And then you walk the rest of the way with no interference... would you want to take that same journey again, if you knew that 1000 people stood in your way from an otherwise pleasant trip?  

Don't you hate it when a television show completely misses the mark, say a particular episode about tattoos in LOST?  Although, it worked for me, a lot of people complain about the last season of the Sopranos because it takes half of the season to wander through a Vito storyline.

It's like - if this were typical or expeced, I'd be down... but in entertainment, I want what I have been promised.  If I'm promised surprises, slow pacing, upper cuts and sideswipes, bring it on.  If I'm promised a CSI button up bow at the end - and I choose to watch the show because of that... don't give me David Lynch... if I want David Lynch, I'll take it elsewhere... I watch CSI (Or whatever show I'm watching) because I want and expect a certain experience.

This goes for movies.  

This was one of my biggest complaints with Shaun of the Dead.  It began as one movie and then just got bored with itself and changed its tone.  It came off false to me.  I like consistency... or at least a thematic throughline.  You can mess with structure, blend genres and be experimental... but have a reason too.

I see no reason that a level as complicated as this should exist in a perfectly fun and inventive game.  To me, it shows a laziness and lack of detailed attention to pacing, difficulty and ingenuity.  And maybe this goes for the rest of Nintendo's new line up... Zelda looks the same, GoldenEye, Icarus - all old and worn stories.  Give me something new... and by god - it's 2010!  What's up with that crappy graphics!?

But, all in all, Galaxy 2 is pretty cool.