Sunday, April 19, 2009

AAA looks at: Capcom Classics Collection 1 (part 1)

In the effort to look at as many arcade games as possible I have to consider the multitude of arcade game compilations that have been released over the years. Sure not all of them feature perfect emulation but generally they're good enough at serving their purpose.

With that in mind I'm currently going through Capcom Classics Collection volume 1 for the Playstation 2. With over 20 games at less than $20(or even $10 these days) it's a pretty decent value.

Ghosts & Goblins series - I might as well get this out of the way. I think the G&G games are poorly designed. Some people complain that arcade games are designed to be extremely difficult solely to take all of the gamer's money in the process. I don't agree with this but going through the two G&G games I have to wonder about that. 

The story is simple enough: The valiant knight Sir Arthur (in his underwear) is hanging out with the Princess(in a not at all compromising position) and devils steal her away, thus prompting him to throw on his armor and save her and the day. The gameplay is also simple enough. You move from left to right tossing javelins(or one of a number other weapons) at enemies while dodging them & their attacks, climbing ladders, jumping from platform to platform(whether they're moving or falling, per the platformer tradition) and engage in a bossfight at the end. For those not in the know G&G games are also notorious for making the player play through the game twice(the second time usually with some special weapon) in order to reach the final encounter and actually complete the game.

I don't particularly see the big deal with having to play through a game twice(provided the length of the game is reasonable enough). Many arcade games are known to have two or even more loops. These can be good for players who have already mastered the first loop and are looking for a greater challenge as well as the chance to attain a higher score. Even the idea of the second loop having an exclusive final encounter doesn't really bother me as games like Dodonpachi frequently include an ultimate boss.  I apologize for the diversion.

Anyway Ghosts & Goblins titles are also known for their difficulty. Though Sir Arthur can take two hits before dying(the first hit knocks off his armor) it's still very easy to die, many times, over the course of a single stage, maybe get a few game overs as well, actually make that several game overs, and well you get the idea. Thing is though is that while most difficult games still have some semblance of fairness to them(Robotron 2084 makes it very easy to get extra lives) G&G just kind of ignores that.

The mechanics to both games are incredibly sound. In fact I was amazed at all of the things that didn't kill me. Capcom really nailed character interaction right down to the pixel and the only things that will take you out are direct hits. Though the arcade G&G games are still poorly designed I can't fault them for the mechanics, they're extremely impressive.

The problem is however the game throws together so many elements that will lead to deaths. There's no real onslaught of enemy fire to dodge or hundreds of bad guys filling the screen at any time overwhelming the player. It's more like when you're running along you may or may not suddenly run or jump into something that'll kill you. Or maybe things just don't seem to align properly and before you know it you're dead. It's the little things that don't add up in G&G that kill. I'll cite an example in Ghouls & Ghosts: In the first section of stage 2 Arthur has to dodge turtles that bound across the screen(at varying heights) while at the same time killing or running away from the ones that come out of their shells to spit projectiles. For what should be a fairly simple area to understand there's still an element of randomness due to how the creatures spawn and the way they move across the screen. They're easy to dodge but it's still possible to get crammed into a bad situation. It's hard to explain but usually when the player is killed or about to be killed they realize what they did wrong to put them into that situation. At times I believe when I got killed in the G&G titles it was because I was unlucky. 

Even more inexcusable is the very next section of that stage. Arthur has to cross sandpits(with the requisite sandlions waiting to chew them out and the pits themselves which are instant death if he falls in) via a series of shoddy-looking bridges. As expected these bridges will break but unfortunately the problem here is two-fold. There's no indicator of which parts of the bridge will break and you're not given a warning or even a second's worth of time to respond. The bridge will collapse, you'll fall, and you're either beaten up by the sandlion or drowning in the sandpit. How does one get pass this bridge then? Trial & Error. 

This to me is the aspect that destroys the G&G games. A videogame that emphasizes that the player will have to die or take damage to figure out the solution to any obstacle to me is simply not good game design. Even if one can get past the randomness that pervades the series I wonder how anyone can think it's a good idea to create situations where the player doesn't know what'll happen. Sure when someone sees a poorly built bridge in a game they expect it'll fall apart when they attempt to cross it. But to not know when the bridge will come apart or be given enough time to respond accordingly I can't imagine why a section like this was designed for except to get gamers to spend more money.

Final Fight - Next to Double Dragon many consider this game to be one of the forefathers of the beatemup genre. As an early effort Capcom has done a rather exceptional job with this game but like most of their early titles I have multiple issues with the game.

To start with the biggest issue in Final Fight is the sloppy mechanics. Mechanics not only considers if something should hit but in a beatemup it should also consider what it'll do to the player if it connects. The sloppiness comes from the fact that the damage varies all too wildly. A punch from one guy might do a tiny fraction of damage while a punch from another guy(a single punch mind you) will take off a third of the player's life. This other guy isn't a boss either(where it would make some sense), it was from a minor thug(unless I missed something and the guys with the heavy jackets that block are supposed to hit that hard). Another mechanics-related issue is the damaging area of a foe's attack. The first boss for example as a punch that can hit you even if you're standing by his shoulder when he pulls it off. I'm well aware that games tend to make allowances for things that aren't 100% sensible but even with arcade games the rule should always side with the player and not the game itself. If it doesn't look like something should hit then it won't, that's how it's supposed to work. 

Another troublesome aspect is the enemy's lack of telegraphing. Telegraphing is essentially a warning that the enemy in a game is going to make a move. These are always subtle as enemies typically don't have a large range of animations so you can't see them wind up for a punch. You will however notice them pausing for a second or loss, maybe taking on a more aggressive state, or moving around in a suspicious manner(like backing away). This is done because the average human needs enough time to react to something unexpected(if you've ever taken a driving course and somebody tosses a pen at you with and without warning you get the general idea). While Final Fight does this sometimes it doesn't do it all the time. While it's expected in a beatemup that if someone is walking towards you they're going to throw a punch you're hardly ever in a situation where you can read the enemy's movements without contending with other surrounding foes. There has also been times when enemies completely ignore their telegraphing and simply attack as soon as they come on-screen(like the ninjas who slide). Over time Capcom would improve on these aspects(and as a result produce some of the best beatemups ever like Cadillacs & Dinosaurs and Aliens Vs Predator). 

I do believe however that Final Fight is the first beatemup to introduce the standard "special attack that hits everyone surrounding you at the cost of a little health" move. I believe that without the creation of this move the beatemup genre would died out well before its time(as there really isn't anything good about getting surrounded by two guys and punched to death with no way to respond). In the end however Capcom as well as other developers have went on to create better beatemups.

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