- Spoiler: show
01/07: Bleed [Switch]
Bleed has the plot to No More Heroes: A rambunctious young person sets out to ascend the pantheon of herodom by murdering the lowest ranked hero and working her way up. The plot doesn't really matter--the player character and her actions humorously have nothing to do with the introductory cutscene--because Bleed is all about its tightened mechanics: A twin-stick shooter/platformer that sees me navigating small environments filled with dozens of weak enemies, interrupted occasionally by stronger mid-bosses, and culminating in an epic showdown with one of the Heroes. When Wryn kills the hero, she takes his rank and moves on to the next one. The ability to jump multiple times in a row and activate Bullet Time adds additional layers to the platforming challenges; it never quite approaches Bullet Hell, but that's still the nearest approximation of what to expect. Bleed is over in a blinking, but its length isn't really the point. It's a fun concept which handles well, and its worth is found in playing and replaying its campaign in a variety of styles and difficulties.
01/07: Bleed 2 [Switch]
Bleed 2 picks up where the original left off. Wryn is now the most beloved hero of planet Earth, but her lazy life of playing videogames and being adored is interrupted by an alien invasion. Teaming up with an unlikely ally, she sets out to save the day and prove her worth once again. Bleed 2 immediately feels better to play than its predecessor, which was already a taut and refined videogame. Wryn's model is slightly smaller and better animated, feeling more nimble and responsive. The same basic game design is brought over largely unchanged--levels are still navigated by multi-jumping over obstacles and bullet timing through furious waves of enemy attacks--but with one significant difference: Wryn is now equipped with a blade with which she can reflect specially colored projectiles. This small addition is transformative; combat feel more intricate and desperate, success at navigating a particularly harrowing fight feels more rewarding. Bleed 2 feels easier than its predecessor, but maybe it just feels smoother (the sequence of events are not truncated into nebulously connected levels this time around). Like the first, it is very short and its worth is found in mastering its systems in varying playstyles and successive difficulties.
03/07: Infinite Minigolf [Switch]
The trappings of minigolf should be fertile ground for videogame design: Familiar and easy-to-understand rules (hit a ball into a hole in as few strokes as possible) meet unorthodox course design where strategy and skill converge to reveal the best player. But setting minigolf in a simulated videogame environment confers advantages, as the course may ignore certain rules that govern physical minigolf courses--developer Zen Studios seems to specialize in this philosophy, as they also produce the Pinball FX series that creates a myriad of digital pinball tables which would be impossible to create out of plastic and metal.
Enter Infinite Minigolf, which combines vibrant animation and competent digital minigolf mechanics with a course creating tool that nominally offers an "infinite" amount of minigolf generated by the community. Like most videogames of this style, the quality of created courses will vary wildly, leaning heavily towards the "mediocre" side of things. There's a Quickplay option to quickly jump into a randomly selected course, or I may peruse a portal to find community-recognized gems. There are also Tournaments of developer-created courses when there is no internet access (an inevitability when playing with the Switch).
The strangest choice Infinite Minigolf makes is upending the familiar rules of golf. Every course is considered a Par 5 no matter how large or intricate it is, and I lose points from out of ten thousand total for every stroke past a Hole In One. This means I can score a Par but earn only half the points available on a course, but these totals may be bolstered by collecting gems and by earning small bonuses from rebounds and skillful use of stage powerups. The result is strange situations where a Double Bogey may be worth more than a Par, or an Eagle may be worth than a Hole In One, depending my ability to engage with the point totaling system. A Hole-In-One is usually
the best way to win, but not always.
The title is hyperbolic and a required internet access to use most of its features makes Infinite Minigolf a better prospect on other platforms, but there's life to be found here if you're willing to use the portal to find it.
04/07: Crash Bandicoot [Switch]
We take the trappings of 3D platforming for granted now, but back in the mid-90s it was a frontier that had yet to be tamed. It would take Super Mario 64 to solidify abstract concepts like giving me control of the POV (forever redefining it as a "camera"), constantly changing the function of the joystick based on the camera's position. The result was videogames like the first iteration of Tomb Raider, with its awkward tank controls, and Mario's first real counterpart from Sony, Crash Bandicoot.
I appreciate what Naughty Dog was going for with the first Crash Bandicoot. Super Mario 64 was an evolution of side-scrolling platforming concepts, reimagining movement from the bilateral of two-dimensional side-scrollers into omnilateral three-dimensional platforming. Crash Bandicoot, in contrast, was "merely" a step ahead, reimagining bilateral movement in three dimensions as not just from left to right, but also from back to front and from front to back. The camera is fixed, beyond my control, but different environments require varied directions of bilateral movement.
When this works, it's an interesting and welcome twist to the well-trod 3D platforming genre. But it doesn't always work, descending several parts of Crash Bandicoot into a grating quagmire of repeated death. Often the camera is positioned in such a way that it's difficult to land accurately; Crash's body sometimes obscures the way forward, which can make minute platforms even more difficult to land on, and when invulnerable enemies and crumbling platforms are added into the mix, it simply becomes unbearable to play. Other levels introduce Varied camera angles that can make judging relative distance and angle more difficult than it should be; several times I was stonewalled by sequences where a 45 degree angle did not appear as it really was, causing me to repeatedly jump straight into a pit.
One thing Crash Bandicoot does share with its contemporaries is it's a collectathon, but I've never played one that so strenuously prevents me from collecting things. Crash earns a giant glowing diamond if he can smash every box in a level, but most of the boxes are unreachable until he returns with a magic gem earned in a later level. These gems are obtained by doing a flawless, deathless run of some of the most difficult levels late in the videogame. As just clearing these levels allowing deaths was a frustrating chore, I feel little impulse to attempt a 100% completion of this first title in the N. Sane Trilogy.
I liked the ideas in Crash Bandicoot, particularly its alternate interpretation of what a 3D Platformer could be before the genre had solidified, but the final result is a chore with finicky platforming and frustrating level design born almost entirely from awkward camera angles. I've long been on the "extra lives almost always add nothing useful" trip, and Crash Bandicoot has served to remind me that this has been true since at least the 16-bit era. I'm knee-deep in Crash 2 already, and I'm enjoying it a lot more as it has fewer dire platforming sequences (so far) and its collectibles are far less demanding.