Wednesday, October 10, 2012

NiGHTS is so weird

at 5:21 PM
Everyone here knows I've played a lot of games, and you'd be doing yourself and my ego a service by admitting it. Hm, inbox is pretty quiet. Is there anybody in there?


I know how abstract, bizarre, and Japanese things can get. Blaster Master is about a boy using a tank he found in his backyard to chase down a frog - see how mundane that sounds? That's a perfectly average video game premise. Pac-Man was being chased around a maze by ghosts, what the hell was happening there? You start puttin' plans under microscopes and nothin's gonna make sense. There are a lot of blanks, because the storytelling is indirect and expository narrative is minimal; our brains can pretty easily make sense of and/or ignore these bizarre setups. It may not be in the text of the game, but everyone knows that Super Mario Bros. is about an eight year military campaign against the Koopa Army throughout which Bowser sires the eight "Koopa Kids" who will go on to lead his forces in years to come. And don't even get me started on the Kirby games, a satire of the cop-on-the-edge-playing-by-his-own-rules filmic cliche.

There are also those games which are simply dedicated to symbolism, like El Shaddai and Shadows of the Damned, or function as extended metaphors, like Bit.Trip or Braid. Feeling like a bit of a broken record with those examples, so you can fill in your own if you're tired of them. You didn't think I was going to put effort into writing this, did you? There are also downright abstract games of the Rez-delineated nature. 

That's why I don't use the term 'weird' loosely. As a matter of fact I'm sure I do use the term 'weird' loosely, but I don't mean it. It's not a very descriptive word. It's like 'fucking [adj]', it only exists in my vocabulary as a placeholder for whatever word I really meant but couldn't come up with because my brain was dumb. My brain has certainly gotten dumber over the years, which is why this blog is full of so much inappropriate language. Once upon a time I knew how to write a paper.

Oddly this is one case where I'd say the American commercial is stranger than the Japanese - what the hell was Sega of America thinking with their hyper-aggressive marketing back in the day? It didn't help the Genesis beat the SNES, so...?

Yet no word but 'weird' really captures the effect that NiGHTS has. It's not because it's about an androgynous jester flying around physics-defying dream-worlds, it's because, what the hell is going on at any point in time. The game is full of unpredictable nuisances and unuintuitive gameplay mechanics that seem to come out of nowhere. The only scenario I can conceive for the game's development, short of Sonic Team having brain damage, which they do, is that some guy had a dream about a game, typed it out and put it through a free translation program into English and then back into Japanese, then gave it to someone he'd never met before and told them to make it happen. You can almost hear the game designer saying "wait, so the birds have baby heads... and if you smash them together with enemies it makes the music change?"

It feels like it was either cobbled together from unused mechanics from other games, or like it intended to expand much further on its own ideas but was never finished. The sparse level selection, the lack of intros or outros (for stages or for bosses), the unexplained scoring system (eventually you'll figure out that the game is about doing as many laps as possible), the division into two character campaigns which have no noticeable differences (they both turn into Nights as soon as the level starts), the words (Nightopia, Nightmaren, Mares), it's all just severely lacking in reason or justification. Everything in the game makes me say "WHAT?!" then "ugh, why?"

And that's without even touching on whatever the hell this is. Seriously, listen to it. I'm talking to you.

It's pretty fun though. Possibly the stupidest fucking game ever manufactured, but better than the typical Sonic Team output. Though it does revolve around their claim to fame, a camera that is far too close, obscuring what's coming next and forcing memorization. And also, everything is way too bouncy, it's fucking annoying.

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