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I respect the history behind Duck Hunt. How the earlier projector-based versions of the game reflects some of Nintendo's first experiments with releasing interactive electronic games and selling that to consumers. The inherently videogamey qualities, like music and animation, lend the game so much charm. That said, it's basically something you'd try on Wii Play for five minutes and never think of again your entire life.
Duck Hunt has three game modes. Game A features one duck at a time, and you can fire three shots before they fly away. B features two ducks at a time. This is all pretty easy. The ducks are pretty large and fly in straight lines until they bounce off the side of the screen. There's no end until you mess up too many shots, and if you're decent at lightgun games, it could be well over half an hour before you see a Game Over. The Zapper is a nice gun that carries much of the visual style of the early NES stuff, and there's a satisfying heft to each pull of the trigger, though I'm thinking of opening mine up and spraying some WD40 on the 35-year-old internal spring mechanism that reverberates with each shot.
Game C is both more interesting, and less interesting. The cartoon Duck Hunt Duo are gone, and it doesn't carry as much charm, but the gameplay's a tad more interesting. This is clay pigeon shooting. A beep is sounded, and two targets are flung through the air. You have three shots to hit both of them, and they become harder to hit the longer you wait. I find they're easiest to hit at the peak of their arc through the air, steadying themselves for a second. It's easily the biggest challenge in the game, and I frequently found myself using the Zapper's sights to line up my third shot, but it's still a little too simplistic to compete with 90s lightgun action. I went through 18 rounds of Game C without really trying. It's more of an endurance test than a test of skill. Play long enough, and you naturally start trying stupid trick shots, firing from the hip and spinning around before taking your shot. I suppose this game could serve as good practice for someone who hopes to become incredibly cool.
There's reasons to like Duck Hunt. It can work particularly well if you're taking turns with another player. The iconography is definitely likeable, and they did a great job of fleshing that all out in Super Smash Bros for Wii U. I like the ducks, I like the dog, I like that I can pretend that they're just playing along with me and nobody's actually getting killed. It's just too static and plain too really hold your attention for long. Even alongside the bulk of the early NES library, it's disappointingly simple. Any of Time Crisis 2's minigames hold more depth and excitement.
It's natural for NES-owning lightgun fans to want a Zapper and Duck Hunt. They're a crucial part of the genre's history. Just don't expect too much from it if you actually go through with it, though. I'm still trying to distract myself from the fact I spent £40 on a boxed copy.
There's been this notion around the Sonic games that if Sega just stopped making stupid decisions, it'd be perfect and we'd all have a great time. You know, I don't buy that. Maybe I'm just a little sick of Sonic.
Despite everything else, the old Mega Drive games are still fairly precious to me, and I have some affection for a half dozen other Sonic titles, but I wasn't as bowled over with Mania as most seemed to be. There wasn't a lot of truly new stuff in it. I just don't know how fertile this formula is. If running around rollercoaster tracks and jumping when necessary is all that captivating, or if it can really be taken to interesting new places without a radical shake-up.
Don't get me wrong, Superstars is pretty crap. They've been understandably keen to promote the physics they've pulled from Sonic Mania, but that doesn't save the poor collision models, the rotten level design or the dogshit mechanics. Even if Sonic runs up hills properly now, it doesn't prevent the game from being tedious as all get out. It just doesn't seem to have been designed with much insight. Sonic Team have included a Fantasy Zone level in here, solely because they didn't get the joke when they saw Mania's Mean Bean Machine boss. I struggle to recall any moments where I had fun. Mostly, I remember the shock when I saw they thought to bring back the bouncy floor from Sonic CD's Wacky Workbench.
Oh, and everybody's already talked about it, but those bosses are truly appalling. I couldn't bring myself to replay a single level, knowing one of those were at the end of it.
There's pockets of positivity in the project. Basically all aesthetic. The character models are generally pretty nice, but their limited animation makes them look like they were extracted from a better game and dumped onto a Steam community page. Sonic Mania/Shredder's Revenge boy, Tee Lopes, has composed a few typically great tracks, and they stand out alarmingly in among the synthesised dredge from Sonic Team. The 2D animation sequences are nice too, as is typical of all the post-Mania stuff, and like those, they're let down by lacklustre music.
At its best, it's a halfhearted retread. It's attempting to mine nostalgia from a source that's been tapped out relentlessly for decades. Bold, youthful confidence used to be Sega's whole thing. They'd speed into new potential anywhere they saw it, and all their most beloved projects carried a sense of boundless energy. Now, they're sitting in the paddling pool, trying to make Samba de Amigo a thing again, and too scared to do a Yakuza game without Kazuma Kiryu.
I wasn't even excited for this, and I'm still bitterly disappointed. They've really fucked this one up, and if you bought it on launch day, you might have paid £55 for it. I can't recall the last time I've been this upset with a new game, and I'm in the middle of playing Flashback 2 right now.
GOTY 2018 - NUMBER ELEVEN
Hey everyone! How’s your fucking JANUARY going? Remember when I used to put these out in the run-up to Christmas? Well, I’ve been quite busy over the last while, and I’m sorry to say that GOTY has taken a back seat for the last month or so. Please don’t think that means I don’t take this stuff seriously though. Maybe work doesn’t begin in earnest on GOTY content until the last quarter of a year, but every time I play a game that I think might be a contender, I’m considering its place on the list, jotting down notes and sometimes even recording footage. Occasionally, I’ll have to abandon work on a post because of a surprise late release or something, and that happened in 2018 too, but fuck it, consider this an extra. It gives me an opportunity to address the lateness of this year’s list, but I also think this is one of the more interesting and obscure contenders for the list, and I wasn’t happy about the idea of cutting it.
The Missing was a bit of a surprise this year, coming from Hidetaka Suehiro’s new studio, White Owls, who had recently closed their Kickstarter campaign for an open-world supernatural mystery adventure game, seemingly targeted at Deadly Premonition’s die hard fanbase. It didn’t seem reasonable to expect anything of note to come from the team until that game was finished, but weeks later The Missing launched on all formats, and it’s really quite good.
You see, the driving force behind Deadly Premonition (at least for me) was figuring out whether or not the developers knew what they were doing. Whether it was just a shite survival horror game propped up by its influences and ambition, or if it was a sincere attempt to make something unique, compelling and impactful. And though I was massively satisfied by its closing hours (I still stand by it as one of my favourite ending sequences in a game), and it definitely made me like Swery, it didn’t completely give away whether he was a genius or just a lucky hack. The Missing reassures me that he’s someone worth taking an interest in.
The Missing can be easily overlooked as a grim Limbo clone. Another dark, surreal walk through some tired imagery and obtuse puzzles. The game is largely a subversion of this trope, though. This subgenre of adventure platformers have become synonymous with grizzly deaths. Limbo, Flashback, Another World, even Tomb Raider are all well known for how bleak and gruesome their Game Over screens are. The Missing decides the story should go on beyond that. As your character, J.J., is torn apart, burned or stabbed, losing limbs, their story continues. You can’t die on the Island of Memories. You just go on, dragging your body through a series of increasingly absurd puzzles.
Swery’s distinctively Osakan balance of eccentricity and down-to-earth charm comes through in the game’s increasingly absurd puzzles and sense of humour. I don’t really want to spoil the locations you’ll be taken to throughout the adventure, but it’s worth telling you that the game loses interest in grim, cold, dark environments after a wee while, and it’s very much in step with the kind of weirdness fans would hope for from a new Swery game.
This isn’t to say that The Missing is a joke game though. There’s a sincere attempt to express something positive about complicated social issues here, and those who have completed The Missing will know what I’m talking about. I don’t know how competently Swery delivers his message of support, but it’s something I can appreciate, and it’s encouraging to see him deliver a positive message while tackling controversial subject matter.
The Missing isn’t a terribly slick game, but it’s a really interesting little title. Controls can be frustrating, presentation can be clumsy and puzzles can be occasionally obtuse and tedious, but that’s something you accept when you play a Swery game. The pay-off is something that shows great respect to its influences while resulting in something peculiar and uniquely fulfilling. If you’re into weird little games, The Missing’s something I’d like to recommend for you.