Mega-Publisher Eidos, one of the largest and most powerful companies in videogames today, has taken notice of a small but growing fanbase here in America. The people targeted? Gamers who crave something fresh. Rather than be sated solely with the next by-the-numbers FPS or 3D adventure title, they're looking for those rare, rough-edged fringe projects so full of creativity that they don't fit cleanly into any one genre. Sadly, games like these are usually labeled as "too risky" and killed in the womb by American ultra-conservative market strategy. Consequently, something that doesn't already have a proven fanbase won't make it to shelves nine times out of ten. In Japan, where games are a bigger part of everyday entertainment, there's a real demand for this type of diversity, and it gets met. To try and satisfy the same hunger for choice on this side of the water, Eidos has created a brand-new sublabel appropriately called "Fresh Games". The people behind this offshoot plan to take some of the "out-there" titles from our neighbors overseas and treat us to a bit of the exotic flavor so sadly lacking here at home. Mister Mosquito, one of the two launch games from Fresh, fits the bill to a "T."
The game is basically played from a pests perspective, which amounts to a lot of parasitism and blood sucking. As the common summertime mosquito, its your mission to pierce, drain and harass every member of the unfortunate household you invade. While not as zippy and agile like you'd expect a flying insect to be, the bug in question handles more like an airplane, and buzzes around the giant-sized household on a mission. The standard flight controls are in effect (pushing up moves you down, pushing down moves you up) with the addition of a zooming attack button. Basically what this does is allow Mister Mosquito to rocket towards a vulnerable area of tender, exposed flesh at lightning speed. After touching down, you stab your quarry with his proboscis and spin the right analog stick in circles to siphon blood, trying not to alert the host to your presence.
If you've read this far and you're not quite sure what to make of all this, let me assure you that Im completely serious and this is a real game. It may be quizzically strange or even mind-bendingly odd, but in my eyes the game is a hit since being a winged syringe is a heck of a lot of fun. The level of originality here is through the roof based on the premise alone, and its sheer gaming pleasure to lay hands on something so openly weird.
After firing up the game, I found that it was quite easy to get inside the head of Mister Mosquito and become totally immersed in his primeval quest for survival. Stalking the unwitting family members gave me a sick sense of satisfaction and more enjoyment than I care to admit. Imagining myself as this lower life form in the struggle to avoid slapping hands and torrents of bug spray, it was a very compelling and humorous experience that made me think about all of the mosquitoes I've sent into the next life. While Mister Mosquito didn't saddle me with guilt for crushing their little thieving exoskeletons or choking them with citronella candles, it was a unique way to spend my game time off the beaten path and see things through their multifaceted eyes.
Besides the unusual hero of the game, a lot of the titles charm comes from flying around the oversized environments and enjoying life from a much smaller perspective. There's just something very fascinating about being reduced to a tiny fraction of your normal size and being dwarfed by everyday objects. Freedom in the house is limited since you only have access to one room at a time, but its still a kick to zip around the bathtub, living room or kitchen while the residents go about their daily business blissfully unaware of your intentions. You can also interact with a few things like remote controls or lightswitches to annoy or distract the family, which is a nice touch.
Mister Mosquito is a fun, irreverent, light-hearted experience that is hard for me to find fault with. It's a great idea, and is different enough in its approach to stand out from nearly every other game on shelves today. If you ask me, we need more games like this that aren't afraid to fly in the face of convention and take some risks. However, in all fairness, the game is marred by a few rough edges and trouble spots.
The most noticeable thing is that the graphics are very simple and basic. Mister Mosquito achieves little bit less than most of the PlayStation 2's launch titles, so don't expect to be blown away by eye-melting visuals. Also, the discs estimated playtime is short, and replay value is low. Most people will be able to finish the game in a day or two, and the unlockable second quest isn't different enough from the first one. Players can try for faster completion times in order to open up different mosquito colors, but that's not really a big motivator in my eyes. You'll enjoy every minute of the game, but it doesn't last very long.
From a meta perspective, the way the game implements bloodsucking is ergonomically unfriendly. Spinning the dualshock stick around and around while drinking the red stuff seemed to be inspired by one of the carpal-tunnel inducing mini-games from Mario Party. Not the best idea, in my opinion. After a few sessions, my hand hurt and I got tired of manipulating the stick, especially towards the end when you might have to replay the tough final missions a few times.
While the gripes I just mentioned are legitimate, but they're really not that big a deal compared with how much positive energy the game brings to the table. Minor stuff, to be sure. That said, the games biggest flaw is undoubtedly its price point. With the Fresh Games philosophy of bringing the edgier and more bizarre titles to these shores, it seems to me that they'd want to make them as accessible and low-risk as possible. Since Mister Mosquito is basically a short and simple special interest disc, the strongest appeal will be to gamers looking for quirky anomalies (like me). It doesn't make sense that they would hamstring potential sales by sending it to shelves at the same price point as mass-appeal mega-blockbusters like Final Fantasy X or Metal Gear Solid 2.
Will Joe Average Gamer risk his hard-earned cash on a game that's essentially an entertaining gimmick, or would he go for the sure thing with more substance? Its not hard to figure out the answer. Perhaps if the price tag was lower, more folks would be willing to experiment a little. Also, I hate to say it, but cheaper games carry lower expectations. If Mister Mosquito was put out at, say, $25-$30, I'd guess that most folks would be happy with a day or twos worth of enjoyment and overlook the lack of polish. At $50, the bar of expectation is raised significantly and you've got to compete with the major companies content. While Mister Mosquito is a complete gem as far as I'm concerned, the price tag-to-substance ratio is going to work against it. Of those who do buy it, I wouldn't be surprised if some of them felt shortchanged by paying regular price for the games abbreviated length and depth.
Mister Mosquito is a fun, cool, and extremely offbeat addition to my library, but quite frankly its overpriced. I'm glad to support it because I'm a big believer in game diversity and Japanese weirdness, but despite my willingness to plunk down the cash, Fresh Games really needs to sit and re-examine their pricing strategy. I may be way off the mark, but I think that a lot of gamers out there would be more receptive to this cultural oddity if it didn't suck your wallet dry.
Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.
Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway