After I wrote my initial post about the Nintendo Party I attended (here), Marisa pointed the party organizers to my blog and they were sorry that I hadn’t enjoyed the games I played. To apologize, they sent me two more games to try: Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass.
I was very very surprised.
In the meantime, my husband used his Gamefly membership to get me Planet Puzzle League, a discontinued DS game. So, with the initial game Brain Age 2, I now have FOUR games to go with my Nintendo DS Lite.
You might wonder how I have fared with these.
By far, I have spent the most amount of time with Brain Age 2 and Planet Puzzle League. I am down to a “brain age” of 25, and I have played BA2 enough times to have “unlocked” all the different activities and I’ve gotten about a third of the way through the “Intermediate” sudoku puzzles (40% of all the available sudokus, according to the game.) Planet Puzzle League has caused me to almost miss my train stop, but only once.
Brain Age 2 lets you have a “stamp” on each date on the calendar that you train your brain. This is a method that works with me, and though I don’t feel beholden to the game (there are plenty of days I’ve ignored it) I have still picked it up over 20 times since getting it. That is way more than I have played the other games. It is quick if you want quick, I have gotten better at poking the piano keys, and I’m pretty good at the game where they give you a clock face that is not in its usual orientation and maybe also seen from behind (imagine clear clock innards so you can see the hands, the hour ticks, and one number). And I have
discovered I like sudoku to the point of looking for a sudoku DS game every time I walk into a Target or a Walmart or other store that sells games. I haven’t found one in a store yet, however, and Gamefly is being annoying (they won’t let me get an account separate from my husband), so I may just have to order one on Amazon.com.
Planet Puzzle League has several different (yet similar) games, involving little colored squares that march slowly up the screen. When a row of squares gets high enough, you can manipulate the squares by exchanging the places of two squares horizontally. You can exchange the places of any pair of adjacent squares, but if 3 or more squares of the same color wind up touching each other in a vertical or horizontal line, those squares disappear and the squares that were above them “settle” downward into their vacated spaces. If you are quick enough, you can sometimes slip a square into the empty space after one square disappears but before an upper square settles. You get more points for making more squares disappear at once, and for “cascades” in which settling squares wind up in rows or columns that can disappear, causing more squares to settle.
PPL is enough like Tetris or Bejeweled to keep me very occupied for a half-hour or more at a time. Of course, I really think Nintendo and PopCap should get together and make a deal…Even though I have already bought and downloaded some PopCap games, I would be very likely to buy them again (especially as a multi-game package) for the DS. In particular, Bookworm Adventures Deluxe and Bejeweled. Maybe Peggle.
Of course, I really really want there to be a Boggle game for DS. A GOOD one. There is one that you can buy through Amazon.com that has several games packaged with it, and the reviews on Amazon.com are TERRIBLE! They say the dictionary for the Boggle game is too limited and the Boggle game itself is buggy! That is two killers, right there. I need there to be a good dictionary and smooth gameplay. I don’t need sound. I don’t need fancy graphics, just “good enough” graphics, big dictionary, no bugs. Is that really so much to ask for?
The game I have spent the next most amount of time with (several hours, cumulatively) is Professor Layton and the Curious Village. This is a puzzle game with plot. Literally a puzzle game. Will Shortz should have had this game when he was 12 years old! Well, maybe 10. Professor Layton and his sidekick (his “apprentice,” a boy of indeterminate age but definitely hasn’t had his voice change yet) travel to the village of St. Mystere, where everyone they meet hands them a puzzle to solve and where strange things are going on. The puzzles range from trick questions to the “move one matchstick” or “find the shortest path” or “draw without lifting your pencil” types of puzzles. The trick questions can be pretty easy, especially since if you are playing this game you start expecting there to be a trick, and if you expect a trick and are good at literal interpretation (this is easy for a physics teacher), there is hardly any difficulty at all.
Unfortunately, I am not that interested in these puzzles. They are a little too easy. The plot of the game does not draw me in, nor do the characters. I remember playing Planetfall from Infocom back in 1989…I LOVED my in-game sidekick robot Floyd! And I could relate to the character I was playing as, in the game, because I was thrust into the role. In PL&tCV you are not playing as the professor and you are not playing as the apprentice, but you are supposed to keep them happy by finding them furniture for their hotel room…yeah. Why didn’t their hotel room come with furniture to begin with? This is in addition to solving individual puzzles and the overarching puzzle of the game. The game encourages you to poke all over each scene to find “hint coins” which are a different sort of currency from the “picarats” you earn for solving puzzles. Plus, some puzzles will give you a scrap of a painting or a “gizmo” (or furniture) in addition to picarats once you solve them.
I feel that this game is trying too hard. Maybe somebody thought the idea of a puzzle game was too simple, so they put the plot around it. And that was still too simple, so they added the hint coins and the picarats. And once they started adding elements, it was hard to stop, and cooler heads in game development prevailed too late to prevent the furniture, gizmos, and painting scraps from being added. Or maybe there used to be even MORE stuff and some was deleted! Anyway, I’ll play PL&tCV again if I am desperate for entertainment…maybe the next time I am on an airplane or train.
The game I have played the least is The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. I played until I got stuck in the temple that sucks all your life out of you and you die. That isn’t very far into the game.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is an adventure game in which you play a little elf dressed in green with a little glowing butterfly for a sidekick. You can pick up things and throw them until you get a sword, and then you can hit things with your sword. If I had never watched my husband playing a Zelda game on the Wii, I would never have guessed that once you get the sword you should spend a lot of time hitting stuff, like barrels and tufts of grass. Why? Money pops out of some barrels and some tufts of grass when you mow them with your sword! (Is that why my husband mows the lawn? I thought it was because I told him I wasn’t going to mow…) You need money to buy things like bombs or health potion.
The characters in TLoZ:PH are very cartoon-ish and exaggerated, and even less realistic than in PL&tCV. There are maps, some of which you can “write on,” and you have to figure out puzzles like in Myst: what is the correct sequence of levers to pull to make something happen, for example. Plus you have to kill things with your sword. As in PL&tCV, you also have to go around and talk to people to get information which will eventually help you accomplish your goal of rescuing princess Zelda.
Unfortunately, I am not particularly inspired to continue playing TLoZ:PH, though I don’t rule it out entirely. I did try the temple puzzle several times and failed, and my next best guess of what to do is go mow a lot more lawns to earn enough money to buy healing potion in the port town and see if I can glug enough of that to be able to stay alive in the life-sucking temple. I’m really not into lawn-mowing. Well, we’ll see.
Aside from the necessity of mowing lawns, it seems to me that too many plots focus on rescuing princesses, and not enough princesses have fun adventures. Zelda tries to have an adventure, and is brave, but still winds up needing rescuing. I took enough Women’s Studies courses as an undergraduate to see the inherent sexism in this, which maybe Nintendo should think about as it tries to get more women playing DS. Plus, I put my name into the game, when it was asked for at the beginning, and the game uses male pronouns for my character which sounds funny with my name. I don’t see why you can’t designate yourself as a girl as long as you are also getting your name into the game.
I feel a little bad for disliking the free games I was sent, so I started thinking about the kinds of games I like and how to design a game for me (and people like me). Fist, what games do I like? Well, I like casual games like solitaire, Bejeweled, Planet Puzzle League, tetris, and sudoku. I like word games like Scrabble, Boggle, and Bookworm Adventures Deluxe. I like some console games, like Dance Dance Revolution and Katamari Damacy. I liked Myst and several of its sequels. And I really liked several of the old Infocom text-adventure games, like the Zork series, Planetfall, Stationfall, and that one I never got very far in, because it was hard…um…it took place in a university…there was an evil custodian…Oh well, if you know it, I’m sure you will tell me.
Hmm. So, casual games, word games, DDR, and adventure/puzzle games. No swordfighting. No gender-bias. No puppies (sorry, little sister). Stamps for accomplishment are a good enough reward. … I’m not feeling like I’m getting anywhere with this train of thought.
Honestly, I am not a game designer and have no desire to be one. I like a lot of games, just not the ones Nintendo thinks I ought to like. I do think casual games and word games could be good “female-friendly” directions for Nintendo to go with this. Happily, I can rely on my husband to keep his finger on the pulse of electronic gaming, and if a game comes out that he thinks I would like, I will certainly hear about it. You will probably be able to read about it too, at his site Positively Gaming. In the meantime, Nintendo, are you listening? Do you have any cash for paying consultants? I could consult for you and tell you if a game is any good for people like me, before you try to market it. Call me.