WiiWare Double Shot: Mega Man 9 and World of Goo
WiiWare, on the whole, has had a habit of not impressing me. The only game I purchased from it was Dr. Mario Online Rx, which is as much an updated Virtual Console title as anything. I was pretty much prepared to write off WiiWare as useless when, right in a row, two games were released that not only changed my mind, but made me optimistic for the future.
Mega Man 9
(Capcom, 1000 Wii Points)
Capcom, it has to be said, made the best NES games that weren’t made by Nintendo themselves. The adorable little guy in his blue jam-jams and bicycle helmet was as recognizable (and only slightly less popular) than Mario or Link ever were. And, like Mario and Link, Mega Man discovered a formula that worked, and stuck with it. For a while, anyway. As gaming moved on and platformers evolved, Mega Man suffered a severe crisis of identity from which I didn’t think he’d ever recover.
But Capcom resurrected our cute little friend and made a serious effort to rediscover his roots. It was a risky move. After all, if you are going to create a new installment in the style of the series’ most classic adventures, aren’t you just setting yourself up for being brushed off as very-much-like-but-not-nearly-as-good-as?
Part of the reason Mega Man 9 succeeds, I think, is that the punch is never pulled. For something like this to work, Capcom really had to invest itself in the decision. The 8-bit graphics, the NES-style soundtrack, the back-to-basics plotless plot. Any of those would have served to endear it to an older gamer, but it’s the combination of the three that lends it an ironically unique identity. And the game doesn’t stop there…it includes a (thankfully optional) “Legacy Mode,” which simulates the flicker and slowdown of limited hardware. And they bothered to design a brilliantly dated piece of inaccurate cover art, despite the fact that the game will not be released in a box.
Flourishes like this make it clear that Mega Man 9 is not just a collection of old sprites tossed into a blender; it’s a product that intentionally sets up its own limitations, and then adheres to them consistently. It’s not trying to show off and it’s not trying to impress anybody; it’s taking everything that was great about the 8-bit era and making the courageous promise to gamers that it’s still great today.
There’s a level of bonus comedy to be found in this approach, as it would be impossible for Capcom to serve us a convincingly NES-era plot without it coming across as something of an irony. And yet, wisely, they only let the comedy bleed through quietly. Never does the game point at itself and say, “Look how contrived this is! We’re humorously self-aware! Ho ho ho!” Nope. They give us the familiar storyline (Dr. Wily’s robots are running amok!), a necessarily predictable twist (Dr. Light has been framed!) and leave it at that. We are chuckling on our end, and we know Capcom is chuckling on theirs. The game, like the best comedians, plays it straight.
But is the game good? Well, the only definite answer to that is this one: if you liked classic Mega Man, you will love it. If you didn’t…Capcom didn’t bother to account for you. Which is fine, and not something I hold against the game. Mega Man 9 makes no concessions to the gamer. Like the great games of old, this is a not a dialogue with fans, it’s a monologue from the developer.
All of the abilities Mega Man has learned through the years (such as his sliding move or his charged-up Mega Buster) have been stripped away in favor of restoring the difficulty of the first two titles in the series.
And those were hard. Got me? Those were hard games. Keep that in mind. Mega Man is still cute and the evil robots are still visually unintimidating, but if you’ve grown used to plentiful powerups, checkpoints and quick saves, you are going to be dead in the water. I’ve been playing the game off and on for almost a week now and I’ve managed to topple only three of the eight robot masters. I’ve battled through most—but not all—of the remaining stages and I have yet to discover a single special-weapon weakness.
And yet I battle on. I shout profanities. I berate myself. But, most importantly, I don’t resort to online guides…and neither should you. This is the 8-bit era, remember. Capcom asked us to travel back in time with them. If you decide to take them up on their offer, leave those walkthroughs behind, because you didn’t have those back then. All you had was a weekend with friends, potato chips, and a lot of soda, and you played and you played and you played until you discovered an enemy weakness for yourself. And how sweet it was.
Have I sold you on how difficult it is? Good, because now I’d like to slightly unsell you. A few of the reviews I’ve seen have tried to scare people off by harping on the difficulty. (By comparison, I intend to prepare—not frighten—you.) What they don’t mention is that the game does actually take into account the fact that not everybody wants to pull their hair out after they step on insta-kill spikes for the 40th time.
Mega Man 9 allows the player to purchase additional lives, energy tanks, and other helpful, life-saving bonuses by trading in any screws they’ve collected in the game. Screws appear when you defeat an enemy. Which means that, yes, you can tough out the game simply by playing it, accumulating screws, and running off to the shop for enough items to give you the edge. No, this isn’t strictly in the spirit of Mega Man. But I’m happy it’s there, because it allows more casual gamers to enjoy it as well. I have yet to use the shop. I won’t be using the shop. It’s optional and I like to test my own mettle, thank you very much. But any reviewer who complains about the challenge is also complaining about his own lack of perseverance. If he can’t be bothered to fight a few enemies to get the screws, then I’m not sure why he is playing this game in the first place.
While I can recommend it whole-heartedly, I can’t award it a perfect score, because the game is a little too simplistic. I understand that that was intentional, and I respect that. Capcom pulled it off. But the fact is that the game, while a lot of fun and certainly as replayable as any of the classic games, doesn’t present any kind of world or scenario in which a player can really become immersed. It’s a small niggle, I suppose, and one that I’m sure won’t bother many people, but for me it’s just enough to knock it down to a (respectably solid) four stars.
World of Goo
(2D Boy, 1500 Wii Points)
So World of Goo is a great game. I just want to say that now. This is a five-star review, and I can’t even conceive of ranking it lower. Why am I telling you this up front? Because in spite of how great it is (and it is great), there are a few things that I feel it will be useful to approach critically. All of these things are large enough to warrant a stern mention, but none of them deserve a deduction of any serious points. So keep that in mind as you read…my criticisms are informational, not cautionary.
In World of Goo you have a simple task: get a certain number of gooballs (this game’s answer to lemmings) into a pipe. How will you do that? It’s up to you, really. The levels are constructed in such a way that multiple solutions are not only encouraged…they are usually rewarded. Your gooballs skitter around mindlessly, and you can use them to build structures that lead from one area of the level to another. At first you may only use black gooballs, which become a permanent part of the structure when you use them. If you have 30 gooballs and need to rescue 10, make sure you don’t use more than 20 in building that bridge over the acid. (Gravity, you will be pleased to discover for yourself, skips nimbly between being your best friend and being your primary antagonist. And most certainly back again.)
Before long you’ll be introduced to different types of gooballs…the reusable green ones, the dangly translucent ones, the flammable red ones and so on. Frequently you will have to learn how to use them by accidentally killing them. That’s okay. And that’s a lot of fun. (Building a wiggly, jiggly tower of goo is rewarding in its own way, but admit it…you still want to see that mother come toppling down.) But—miraculously—frustration does not set in! The challenge is there, but the anger is not.
How does World of Goo achieve this? Well, I don’t know, really. Some of it is certainly to do with the cute visuals, which are appealing but not distracting. Some of it is the brilliant soundtrack that makes every minute spent on a level—even if you’re just looking around, trying to establish a game plan—a delight. (The music in this game, I can’t stress enough, is incredibly good.) But, mainly, the reason frustration doesn’t set in is that you’re never at a loss for things to try. It’s good puzzle design, is what it is. You look at what you have in front of you and you brainstorm a handful of possible solutions off the bat. It’s not a matter of either having the right answer or no answer at all; it’s a matter of having several answers and having to figure out (often the hard way) which will work best.
When I first played the game I had a some friends over, and we spent hours passing the Wiimote back and forth, shouting advice and warnings at each other. We didn’t even realize until much later that there was the option to include a second player! As such that aspect of the game remains untested, but World of Goo is one of those games that it’s still fun to play without the controller in your hand, and there definitely aren’t many of those.
So what were my complaints? Well, I have a few. And I mention them because they should all be very easily fixable in later versions or sequels…which I hope they are.
First of all, there are buttons on the screen that invite you to retry the level, or open up the menu. That’s fine…but they’re placed so low on the screen that highlighting them scrolls the camera down, which is a distractingly sloppy aspect of an otherwise wonderfully-polished game. And since the game only requires one button on the entire Wiimote, can’t the menu and retry options be mapped onto one of the many unused buttons?
Also, there’s never an indicator of how many gooballs are “free” on the screen, which means you sometimes have to complete a level before you even know if you’ve succeeded. In Lemmings, for example, you know you need to save a certain number of the critters, and there is always a readout of how many of them remain. If you need to save 30 and there are only 25 on screen, you may quite reasonably decide to reset the level. World of Goo does not provide you with this information. Sometimes you can eyeball it; it’s easy to discern, at a glance, the discrepancy between the 10 gooballs you may need to save and the 5 that actually remain. But if the goal is 45 gooballs, can you, at a glance, tell the difference between having those 45 and having 43? Especially while they’re all mobile and climbing over each other? Of course not. We need a number.
And finally, the saddest complaint of all, is that the game only has five chapters. That’s okay…it’ll take you a while to play through and there is a tremendous amount of replay value, so never fret. But the bad news is this: when the game is released in the UK, it’ll have an additional sixth chapter. This disappoints me only because I want more World of Goo. I’m really hoping the additional chapter will be available as downloadable content for people who have already bought the game, but that may be wishful thinking. Why the US and PC releases are stuck with fewer chapters is beyond me, but it’s a testament to the strength of the game that I crave more of it.
As it stands, I cannot recommend World of Goo enough. It’s smart, it’s funny, it’s challenging, and despite my frequent allusions to Lemmings, it’s got an identity all its own. I can’t often recommend games in a general sense by saying “you won’t be disappointed,” because, inevitably, somebody will. I am making an exception for World of Goo:
You won’t be disappointed.