If Gaming Could Be Defined In Three Words, I Would Say ‘Humble Indie Bundle’
There’s a lot going for gaming, nowadays, but people only seem to take it seriously because of its potential to make money. If you find an article in the news about gaming, it’s rarely going to be about the meaning of a title. Analysis is limited to the book trade, with an occasional foray into the film industry, or performing arts. There are a few notable exceptions to this rule, but generally, games are still treated with a condescending pat on the head, along with a comment on how well the kids play their Xboxstation Wii.
In one sense, I lament that. If I try to recommend a title to someone based on its story, more often than not I’ll get a stock response of ‘lol I just skip the cutscenes’. Fucking philistines.
In another sense, I’m glad that the level of mind-numbing ‘art for art’s sake’ is absent from gaming. I’m all for talking about a game’s storyline, plot or artistic value, but after completing a degree in English literature, I can quite happily say that some people are probably peddling their half-baked theories to make a living.
In a world where a good, thought-provoking idea is often overlooked for a safe, profitable idea, where does innovation in video gaming come from? More often than not, it comes from independent developers, be it in terms of storytelling, gameplay or otherwise. This doesn’t mean I turn my nose up at mainstream titles. Quite the opposite, in fact. For instance, I love the Gears of War series, as well as Mass Effect‘s trilogy (both of which also happen to be pretty damn awesome examples of the gaming medium on their own). I happen to believe that there’s room for a little experimentation in the genre. Is that not what Super Mario Land was when it was first released?
The current cream of the crop was recently selected to be part of the Humble Indie Bundle V (yes, there were four more previously, with other titles, and there will be more in the future). Of the list that was on offer, I had played six titles:
What do these titles have that mainstream titles are more often than not lacking? Why is this list a better example of gaming than, say, Call of Duty or FIFA?
In my opinion, it depends on your definition of the word ‘indie’. ‘Indie’ is a far-reaching and sometimes misleading word. For the purposes of my argument, an indie game is something that has no creative limitation and, crucially, no console limitation. In other words, these developers can do whatever the hell they like with their worlds, with little to no need of conforming to usual gaming norms. It’s quite obvious that these games aren’t made solely for profit. They’re made because the developers want to tell a story, or provide entertainment, in the best way they know how. They’re not limited by a need to appeal to as many people as possible.
It’s this innovation that keeps the industry fresh, and will eventually fuel the thinking power behind bigger and broader titles. These ideas aren’t even that profound. They’re just experiments in gaming that don’t result in carbon copies of a first-person shooter.
Need more convincing? Here are three of my favourites from the list.
Bastion’s premise is quite simple. A world event known as the Calamity has broken the world and torn it asunder, and it’s your job to find fragments of the world to create a device that will fix it again. The gameplay plays like a mix between Zelda and Diablo, and there is a smorgasbord of weapons, skills and upgrades to choose from. The gameplay alone is fluid, and the controls are tight. The game offers a New Game Plus mode for people to replay it over with all of their weapons, and there’s an easier setting for people who aren’t so skilled. The game’s real achievement, though, lies in its solid voice acting.
Whatever The Kid does, it’s likely that the narrator of the tale will elaborate on it with the kind of rustic humour you might find in a Firefly episode. The music is incredibly reminiscent of the sci-fi series, coincidentally. Hell, Bastion has an amazing soundtrack, but it is made much more atmospheric with Logan Cunningham’s whiskey-drenched voice. Crucially, he does not provide commentary on your progress. He provides an insight. He also never repeats himself. As Edge say in their review of Bastion: “It’s frightening to think how much the human voice has done to distance Bastion from the crowd.”
Braid is a case of Mario-meets-time travel, broadly. The object of the game is to solve puzzles in order to get jigsaw pieces, which are used to unlock the path to the final part of the game. As well as possessing some wonderfully intelligent puzzle designs, soothing music and pretty level design, the game explores the meaning of obsession, and it is only until after the ending do we realise just what the obsession is about.
The game comes into its own with its use of the game’s selling point. It’s much more than a case of ‘rewind time and avoid the enemy’. In one level, moving to the right of the screen moves time forward, whilst moving left rewinds time. Some objects are immune to time manipulation.
The ending is nothing short of a masterful use of the time-travel mechanic, by the way. Don’t spoil it for yourself until you’ve played it.
Super Meat Boy
Another trailer? Nah, let’s show you the reaction of someone playing on a hard level. Comedy gold.
Super Meat Boy is not a platformer for the faint-hearted, and is a game all about the gameplay.You have to save Super Meat Boy’s girlfriend, Bandage Girl, from Dr. Fetus. Yeah. It’s all the plot you need: the game is about fast-paced, tortuous deathtraps that you must navigate in order to reach Bandage Girl at the end of each level. If you can, and you know, don’t end up dying of a brain hemorrhage.
The game’s casual humour infects the game throughout, even at the point where you reach Bandage Girl and Dr. Fetus appears to kick her off screen, make her disappear in a cloud of smoke or turn into a bat and abduct her. The game’s crazy. Of course it’s crazy. You’re controlling a block of meat that bleeds everywhere. One of the most hilarious things about this game has to be the point where you finally complete a level after dying a hundred times. At the replay screen, every single playthrough is logged and then played at once alongside every other playthrough. Watching so many Meat Boy clones get grinded, crushed or eaten is somehow so very satisfying. I have no idea why.
The music is high-octane enough to get you pumped, but not enough so that it detracts from what is going on in the game. It’s a nice remix of the 8-bit music style, Amanaguchi style:
These titles are available on XBLA, Steam and on their websites.
Image Link: SuperMeatBoy.com