About games and gaming thereof!

Super Grind Boy

Yeah, I know it’s not Saturday. But I’m making a post anyway.

See, I have a lot of things I want to write about on this blog. But a lot of them I haven’t gotten around to writing, because sometimes I can’t think of 600+ words to write about those topics, sometimes these topics sort of retread stuff I’ve already discussed, and since I’ve so far only been posting once a week, I simply don’t have enough posts to cover all those topics.

So from now on I’m going to be posting more often than once a week. I don’t think I’m going to pick another day to set in stone as a “posting day,” but generally you can expect Saturday’s post to be your usual weekly text wall, and any other day of the week I may post a rant, an anecdote, a podcast video, or whatever I may or may not feel like posting at the time.

So anyway, I know I already talked about Super Meat Boy, but I’ve been playing it today for that whole potato sack business, and there’s something specific that I want to gripe about: the warp zones.

Each world has a few warp zones you can find within the levels, and each warp zone has three levels and two bandages (bandages are your standard collectible item for this game). You get three lives for each level. Once you beat the first one, you get sent to the next one and get three lives again, etc. And if you lose all three lives on one level, you get kicked back out onto the world map and have to start the whole process again. And the kicker: if you got a bandage in one of the levels, you have to beat the entire warp zone to keep it.

I only had one bandage left to grab in order to have completed all 100% of World Two. The bandage I needed was in the first level of a warp zone. Let’s look at it.

So I have to get from the bottom of the level to the top (where Bandage Girl is), and it’s hard to see, but the bandage I need to grab is floating at the very, very top of the picture. Each block on that white wall disappears a second or two after I touch it, and so I have to touch a few blocks on the wall, jump off, and then land on top of a block below one of the ones that just disappeared, and then jump across to the other side.

I have to do that three times, and believe me, it is harder than it sounds. Especially since you have to play as Meat Boy in the warp zones, and he controls like a bar of soap. This is by far the hardest level in the warp zone.

Next level:

You can only see two of the three rooms in this level. It’s sort of the same concept as last time; touch a white block, wait for it to disappear, jump down to the next room, repeat until you get to Bandage Girl. Oh, and those brightly colored blocks are being shot out from those red and white stripy blocks, and if you touch one of them you die.

It probably sounds harder than the first level, but it’s easier, since gravity is on your side this time.

And finally,

You can’t really capture this level in an image, since it’s vertically very long and narrow (hardy har har). Those bright blocks are constantly being shot toward the center of the level (where I’m standing in the shot) and you start out at the bottom. You have to wall-jump up to the top, then jump back down to the middle of the other side where Bandage Girl is. The hard part is when you’re on the left side, because acceleration picks up very quickly as you’re falling down and it’s hard to land right there in the middle.

Anyway, so after I got the bandage (which took me quite a few tries, mind) I had to get through the other two levels without dying more than three times in a row so that I could keep it. And of course, that didn’t happen the first time. Or the second time. Or the third.

In this day and age, there is absolutely no fucking excuse for not having reasonable checkpoints. Since the regular levels don’t have a lives system implemented, this shows that they went out of their way to make the warp zone levels more obnoxious and punishing. Why? Why the hell would you do that? It just turns the experience into a grind through the same few levels.

Today I’m going to introduce a new segment that I’ll be using whenever I feel like it. It’s called One Might Say, or OMS for short. It’s a Q&A style list of rebuttals that someone might say, followed by my hypothetical reply to their hypothetical response.

One Might Say: The warp zone levels were designed to feel retro, so that’s obviously why they added the lives system to them.

I Would Reply: Yeah, I get that. It was easy enough to extrapolate that from the blocky graphics and MIDI sounds and tunes. But was it really necessary to add a lives system after all that? I’m alright with making things retro until the retro gets in the way of the fun. A lot of old game tropes died out for a good reason.

OMS: The lives system is there to make the game harder so that once you do beat it you’ll have a greater sense of accomplishment. That’s what old school gaming was all about, you noob.

IWR: There’s nothing wrong with challenge. I’m fine with challenge. I’m not complaining about these levels being challenging. I’m complaining about the punishment for failure being obnoxious and needless. It deliberately wastes the player’s time, and it adds nothing to the experience, since all it’s making me do is replay levels I’ve already beaten several times before. Beating the final level of Super Meat Boy gave me a sense of accomplishment. Getting the last bandage in World 2 didn’t make me feel accomplished, it made me feel relieved because I wouldn’t have to play any of those stupid levels anymore. Speaking of which…

OMS: You don’t have to beat the warp zone levels to beat the game. They’re optional. If you don’t like them, don’t play them!

IWR: Okay, this bothers me for two reasons. First of all, the entire game is “optional” when you get right down to it. “Beating the game” doesn’t actually mean anything in the long run. If a level is optional, all that really means is that you can put it off until later. Just because it’s non-linear doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to criticize it for bad design. Second of all, it’s not like I’m just saying these levels are completely bad. If I ranted about every game that was bad, I’d never have time to talk about anything good. The reason this is particularly upsetting to me is because my frustration and irritation has been caused entirely by one bad design choice. If they simply cut out the lives system and let me try as many times as I want for each level, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

OMS: You should just be thankful that they reset your lives to 3 after each level.

IWR: Fuck off.

…Wow, I ended up with over 1200 words. I guess the reason I’m posting this now rather than this Saturday is because I’ve already ranted about crappy checkpoint mechanics before, and I figure people would want to hear about something else when they come for my weekly post.

Besides, Portal 2 is coming out in a few hours, and I need to keep my mind off of it so my hands don’t start trembling again.

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One response

  1. Tesh

    I’ve argued before that “challenge” is about execution and “punishment” is about what happens if you fail. They are different and discrete knobs to tweak in game design, but far too many players and devs conflate the two, thinking that steep punishment mechanics are what “challenge” consists of.

    They are imbeciles, but they are legion.

    Challenge is all well and good (for some players, anyway), but punishing mechanics are one of the quickest ways to suck the fun out of a game, and out of a challenge, incidentally, as this incident shows. If you’ve mastered one of the “bonus” screens, you shouldn’t be asked to demonstrate that mastery again and again to get to a new challenge. That’s just awful game design.

    To be fair, some players like games that punish them, but I consider that to be a mental imbalance. Challenging games can be great. Punishing games are dysfunctional.

    May 16, 2011 at 1:28 PM

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