As the year draws to a close and I consider how my videogame experience has been this past year, I realised that to my surprise, I have in fact reviewed well more than 52 games this year. Most of the time, those reviews have been elsewhere – usually on Twitter, where I spat a single line piece of disdain or joy regarding the game. While I still want to go in depth on some videogames, here’s a little wrap-up of three videogames I played this year where I just didn’t find that much worth saying.
Thing is, for all that I like videogames, and all that I like talking about videogames, I routinely hit skill walls. Oh, there are times I hit an interest wall and stop playing a game, or even stop struggling to get a game to be playable, but there’s still a whole family of videogames I’m just not very good at. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth talking about…
… but it does mean what I can say is going to be limited.
They Bleed Pixels
They Bleed Pixels is an adorable combo platformer where you play an orphaned schoolgirl dealing with her feelings of isolation and nightmares, possibly invasive thoughts, thoughts of harm and the presence of Nyarlathotep. Not really kidding.
As a game, They Bleed Pixels is one of the recent indie wave, and by ‘recent’ I mean it came out in 2012, placing it squarely on the post-Braid period of videogame releases. It feels to me a bit like a NES game – but please bear in mind that when I say that, I say that as a person who has never consciously handled a NES game controller. I think there’s something to be said for ludic literacy. If you grew up playing with NES and SNES controllers you have a very different expectation of the behaviour of a PC keyboard that’s trying to copy one.
Nonetheless, the game you get out of this experience is a fast-paced game which has the lovely tryptich of runny-jumpy-stabby, with a nice flowing momentum-based movement system for the first part, checkpoints that you can personally place based on how skilled you are for the second, and a combo system for the third. The game part of this game was beyond me; I sat and watched friends play it, then tried to play it myself. Routinely this game smacked me down. This is something wonderful videogames can do that other media can’t do, gatekeepering its content behind a level of engagement and ability.
The thing that kept striking me as I was watching They Bleed Pixels in play, though, was how cute it was. Oh, there’s a deliberately unnerving design to most of the enemies – some are shambling shapes, shapes that seem to be flowing from the levels’ walls and floors, and only differentiated by the creepy way they gush with blood. Despite that, though, They Bleed Pixels has this really lovely, almost sweet aesthetic for the little girl protagonist.
I can’t say for sure how the game ends – but I can say that it seemed to me that she seemed happier being a monster who could defend herself than she ever was as an orphan who was told to let others defend her. If I had nightmares like that, I’d happily be a bit of a monster if it let me choose for myself.
The skill gap between me and my friends has never been more evident than with Bleed. I couldn’t finish the first level of Bleed, a deliberately anarchic, fast-paced action-based shooter templated around run-and-gun mouse-and-platform movement reminiscent of older games like Abuse. I wanted to – god knows I tried, since I found its mix of high quality fast-scrolling and smooth designs and precision aiming really lovely alongside its chunky, big-pixel, needlessly-ridiculous enemy construction. Some videogames might feel a need to explain why the Giant Blob’s castle is full of cats that barf up deadly hairballs, but not a game like Bleed.
Bleed is a game that really stands alongside Hotline Miami as a purely ludic experience. Oh there’s a story, but the story is tissue thin and deliberately mocks the ideas of deeper motivation. The protagonist of Bleed is out to become the greatest hero in the world, by killing all the other greatest heroes in the world who have since become decadent and complacent. What follows is a classical videogame romp that owes a lot in its level design to mid-SNES classics like Megaman X, but in difficulty owe a lot to recent frustration-based games like… well, Hotline Miami and Super Meat Boy. Bleed is a game of game, a game experience where the #1 thing it wants you to experience is the its game systems, and it wants those systems to be things you feel. Lots of this game is emergent, which can make for nearly-impossible situations that require split-second reactions. Memorisation can’t really push through the game – and some of the boss kills seem to rely on an almost preternatural understanding of your own hitbox.
I was really impressed with Bleed when I saw someone finish it. Then I sat down to try and play it again myself. I was faced with a simple choice: I could dedicate tens of hours of my life to becoming better at this one game, or I could admit that I wasn’t, and move on to other projects.
Come to think of it it’s a bit weird that these three games have all been played and beaten by the same person.
Eryi’s Action is a videogame, but it’s a videogame in the vein of modern indie Youtube fodder like I Wanna Be The Guy. I don’t want to begrudge people how they have fun, but the people who like and play those games are slightly more alien to me than talking spaghetti. There’s a sort of paranoia that these games want to induce, and heavy reiteration demands – by definition – almost-perfect execution without literally no reward. These games are tuned to be hard purely because hardness is, itself, a mark of something to be proud of.
Being proud of beating a game like this strikes me as being proud of pounding a nail through your hand with a wood block. It is an achievement, it’s certainly not something I’d think a person could do, and you’ve shown you have endurance and stamina to pull it off, but it just looks like an exercise that was boring at best and painful at worst. I managed to reach the fourth level of Eryi’s Action before I realised I didn’t give a flying fuck and stopped playing the game.
This isn’t to say the game is bad as trap games go! It’s definitely full of plenty of surprising things that kill you, an inconsistent and random world of unreliable and invisible forces, and some of its ‘puzzles’ are almost what I guess I’d consider clever! It might be a bit pedestrian and slow for real afficionados of the genre, though, because the game is slow in a lot of its responses. If you die, it can be quite a few seconds before you’re back at the point where you died. Normally, that’s expected, but in Eryi’s Action, that can be dozens of times per obstacle, and you’ll often not even realise what the ‘right’ thing to do to solve it is. Did you have the wrong idea, or did you execute the right idea poorly?
Also, the sprites are very large and the field of view is a bit small. If you like games like I Wanna Be The Guy for spectacle, a number of Eryi’s Action levels are going to feel a bit cramped by comparison, and less full of forced humour.
Still, the game is cheap and it’s definitely doing what it promises to do. If you’re the sort who can laugh at this kind of shaggy-dog story, go for it.
Buy them if:
- You want a platform game with a girl central character
- You want to beat a game I couldn’t beat
- You want to rub my face in the fact I’m bad at games
Avoid it if:
- You’re a fumble-fingered homonculus who doesn’t have infinite patience
- You heard me.
As a random note, I almost put the video clip for the Maroon 5 song ‘Misery’ up at the top of this post. Then I realised that the song itself is pretty awful and I don’t want to see Adam Levine groping a woman’s hips even if she does headbutt him and kick him in the junk.