Before save games and cheat codes gamers had to buckle down and commit to memory such legendary gaming secrets as the button presses of the Konami Code, or learn of the secret warp pipes in Super Mario from accidental discovery through exploration or from friends similarly equipped with the appropriate console and game.
Skills were honed and callouses formed and back-bones made – mostly with a humpty back and fertility issues from being hunched for long period before the radiation emitter of the family cathode tube ‘screen.
Twenty years into the future and gamers part of the generation known as Highest Rate Of Teen Pregnancies Since Records Began are growing straight backed and bristling with undue achievements and superfluous trinkets from games designed specifically so they have little to no possible way of losing; regenerating health and auto-save means if a handy piece of bullet shielding backdrop doesn’t leap instantly to your aid the second you need a quiet place to re-grow some legs your JFK-style dirt nap will be little more than a chance to watch the loading screen anew and perhaps hurl some racial epitaphs on Xbox Live.
The Nintendo Wii was dogged throughout its life for being the very antithesis of this handy-holding gaming with the Wii, a console that many believe was the result of a pact between Nintendo and the home entertainment industry in an effort to get Nintendo back to the top of the console charts and the world upgrading their widescreen, big-assed and perfectly functional televisions for an exact replica in wall hanging, two inch wide flavour.
And though we’re never likely to see the narwhal leaping through the undergrowth of Amazonia in our lifetimes the latest Nintendo console may well be the Joker in the pack of cards no-one was even aware the Big N was holding behind their back.
Launch title ZombieU is survival horror old-skool style, in that you have no continues in the traditional sense, only one life, and pausing to check if you have the three legged kitty to rub against the Humvee that opens the witches nose on the clock tower that’ll let you touch the Gelf to get to level 4 leaves you as vulnerable as a man with enlarged gonads in a room of epileptic can-can dancers, the action and shuffling Death by Nom continuing as you play Hunt The Use-Once Maguffin in the inventory screen.
Death puts you back in the game as another character, the chance to be Sam Becket and put right what went wrong first go ‘round. Ultimately it proves to be its own undoing, a deus ex machine that undermines the whole ‘death means DEATH!’ thing purported throughout its build-up and seen as one of the key new things in the make things dead market, but in a way that makes more sense than only giving you just the one go at getting it right.
And with this game comes a subtle – albeit cynical feeling – recognition by a major company of the handy-hold nature of games that gamers have been lashing back against since their first experience at gaming online harvested an instant death-by-bastard head-shot and thorough tea bagging off a twelve year old.
The Wii showed developers that you can get away with almost anything as long as you put it in a game where losing very nearly isn’t an option, and after FPS’s decided that the red sticker saying ‘18’on their covers wasn’t anything to do with blowing peoples arse-holes into Tuesday and was in fact a wholesale admission that building a game for those who liked and understood a particular genre and its rules was for chumps, so now anyone old enough to get that box past the security gate at the front of the shop without being subjected to the inquisition of a seventeen year old hipster on till would be rewarded with visuals so pretty and bright that any distraction by way of difficulty or needing to do more than get to the next save spot to safely see the credits was quickly removed.
Dumbing down has become de rigour, and the ability to load up a brand new game and stroll to the end with barely a need for that second weapon slot speaks of a market eager to appeal to as many as possible with every product it makes, to cash-in on the time-strapped casual gamer or skill seeking seventy-something eager to escape the living hell their nursing home has become until the nurse brings the purple pills.
The internet has been rumbling for some time with developers threatening to release titles where you have to actually worry about ammo, where an enemy bullet spells Game Over not Ginseng, and where the achievement is in finally putting down a blood soaked broken pad to watch the credits roll to the soundtrack of your heavy breathing at the end of an intense campaign that had you fearing death at every blind corner and constantly checking your inventory before engaging an enemy in battle, not for having just loaded and sat through the very first opening cinematic in the damn game – I’m looking at you, Prince Of Persia…
And with neither Virtual Reality of holograms being close enough on the horizon to be a viable area for developers to exploit with their next slew of releases, it seems they’re starting to take steps to putting the ‘game’ part back into ‘gaming’…
Shuffling, undead, foot-dragging baby-steps.
- Game Over for Nintendo Power (wired.com)
- US Thieves Steal $2M Worth Of Wii Consoles From Nintendo Distribution Site (mynintendonews.com)