Sunday, March 28, 2010
High Hopes for Game Room
Wanna come over and play Asteroids?
The reactions I've seen to Game Room have been pretty divided. A lot of people just don't see the appeal of using a powerful modern console to play ugly, thirty-year-old games. And I can understand this, especially if you're not old enough to remember these games in their heyday. It can be hard, after playing visually stunning games like God of War III, to see beyond the simple graphics and one-button gameplay of Outlaw and understand that this is what once passed for thrilling multiplayer competition.
For me, the appeal of Game Room is clear. But then, I grew up with the Atari 2600 and with smoky, neon-lit arcades in which you couldn't hear yourself think over the noise of all the machines. What wonderful times those were.
People say that games today are better. In many cases, that's true. But I also think that games today are different in a crucial way. Most games today are story-driven, and most of those games establish a difficulty that makes it possible for just about anyone to complete that story and have a satisfying experience. That's all well and good, and I adore many games that fit this description. But I think there remains something to be said for games that are pure, unforgiving tests of skill, just you vs. the machine, where your only goal is to earn as high a score as possible. The appeal of this philosophy lives on in newer games like Geometry Wars and Pac-Man: Championship Edition, but the best early examples of this are timeless. Asteroids Deluxe, probably my favorite Game Room launch title, is a game that remains a thoroughly captivating test of skill. Most games in the Game Room launch may not hold up quite so well, but I've sunk over 45 minutes into Asteroids Deluxe, with much of that time spent trying to surpass a friend on the leaderboards. (Game Room encourages this by having banners above each machine that display the name and score of the highest-ranked person on your friends' leaderboard.) When I finally did it, the result was a sense of accomplishment of the sort the mostly relatively easy games of today seldom deliver. The faithfully recreated cabinet, so detailed that I can read the fine text on the front as I'm playing (selecting Cabinet view in the Graphics options) is icing on the cake.
There are definitely some serious, frustrating bugs and performance issues in Game Room that need to be ironed out. And it's disappointing that, while the cabinets for the Atari arcade games have the authentic artwork, the Konami ones are utterly featureless. But in addition to Asteroids Deluxe, I find Centipede and Gravitar to be so pure and simple that they're as compelling to me today as they ever were, and I've even been introduced to Shao-lin's Road, a fun game I'd somehow never heard of before that's a follow-up to Yie Ar Kung-Fu, an arcade cIassic I once loved. And the versatility of the Challenge feature means I can test my skills against those of my friends in ways that were never possible in the good old days, when all I could hope for was to enter my initials on a machine's high score screen. Now I can get creative, establishing challenges that start at any point in a game, based on score or survival. It's awesome, when it's working properly.
I look forward to more games like these, old favorites that have stood the test of time as well as cIassics I've never played before, hitting Game Room. With my own arcade, I can finally fulfill my childhood dream of being like Ricky on "Silver Spoons."
We all had that dream, right?