While 'branding' of commercial products in entertainment media has only recently reached a high point of saturation, videogames have been recognized as a viable source for advertising for quite some time. One only needs to check the library for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to see games like Yo Noid and the 7-Up Dot game to see examples of games that have centered themselves on a corporate identity.

Given this, it is not surprising to see the concept of a game as an advertising venture resurrected. World Racing is a natural result of this kind of thinking. After all:

Well-established corporate entity (Mercedes Benz) + popular videogame genre (racing) = a license to print money and capture the minds of the videogaming generation.

…Or at least in theory.

The idea is that the player will engage in a series of worldwide races, with a twist: all of the cars in the game are Mercedes models. From modern commercial models to old-school racecars to wacky concept cars, Mercedes does their best to flesh out a full roster of machines. Unfortunately, the selection still winds up being sparse, as too many of the models are variations on previously-existing models, and the end result is a lineup that definitely lacks the variety of most other driving games.

The graphics of World Racing are fairly impressive, with the road and cars bearing excellent texturing, and each of the tracks boasts a good assortment of moving objects, such as planes, hang-gliders, UFOs, etc. The addition of a respectfully large draw-in distance means that the user can truly appreciate the massive size of each of the stages offered up by the game.

And the stages are very large, even for a racing game. At first, it seems that the game begins recycling the various stages far too early on, but it soon becomes apparent that there is almost no overlap between the different circuits, with each stage containing mile after mile of virtual blacktop and back roads. In fact, the size of the stages makes for the most compelling aspect of the game, as well as being indicative of the essentially frustrating nature of the game design.

Separated from the racing, it becomes a relaxing experience to drive aimlessly beyond the set boundaries of the racecourses, roaming aimlessly around the stages, taking in the graphical sights and exploring the detours. If the player wishes, the white button will transport the car right back onto the track. But the problem is that it's much more enjoyable to explore the stages randomly than it is to endure the tedium of the actual racing.

The racing aspect of the game fails on a multitude of levels. The most glaring is the lack of speed. It's not that the cars themselves are underpowered, as they perform as close as possible to their real-life specifications. What is wrong is that the game never conveys the sense of speed to the player. Even when the player is hurtling down the autobahn at 140 kms/hour in a top-of-the-line sedan, it still feels like going down to the market to pick up some milk.

And then there's the artificial intelligence (AI). When running the race, all the CPU-controlled cars stick to the 'perfect line,' taking every turn precisely and patiently sticking to their position. This means that the player must be absolutely perfect in using overtaking maneuvers and in their driving in general in order to have a chance to win the race. Miss one turn and it's likely that the player will be passed by at least CPU car, which can be incredibly frustrating in a situation where the CPU cars never miss a turn themselves.

Add onto this that each race can be up to 5 laps over a very long circuit, and the situation becomes one where the player isn't having any fun driving the car, can and will lose the race if they make a single mistake and has to spend a long period of time just to lose so that they can start over again. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the average player might have to spend half an hour or more in order to finish on top on a single track. It's no wonder that the player is quickly induced to ram through the barricades, whip through a deserted town, and turn the whole grind of an experience into a nice tour through the country.

Get off the road, and there's an initial rush from the experience of actually being able to tool around the landscape rather than being shunted right back onto the road. Along with the spacious stages, it makes the experience feel more like actually driving around than the usual claustrophobic spaces that we associate with videogames. This rush is quickly muted however, as the interactions with off-road objects leaves much to be desired. For instance, each course has quite a number of trees, people, buildings and other interesting objects scattered around. The trees, people and random objects are there in appearance only; the player can drive right through them with no repercussions. The buildings are surrounded with invisible walls, preventing the player from driving through them or interacting with them in any way. These behaviors quickly strip away the illusion of reality, harshly reminding the player that this is a simulation, and not a very compelling one at that.

The interesting aspect of where World Racing fails is in its adherence to simulation and when and where that applies. For instance, creating these massive stages with various circuits is definitely a piece of simulation that is enjoyable for the player, allowing for a greater sense of freedom and exploration than you usually get in videogames. On the other hand, the game is a bit too concerned with simulation in terms of the actual driving. Actual racing is quite a lot of maintaining concentration, being patient and not taking outrageous risks. But that's not what the audience has grown to expect in a racing game, and perhaps for good reasons. After all, lots of reality is not that exciting. Most of the exhilaration from racing comes from the visceral feelings of actually being in the car and exerting your body to perform at high levels. In the current state of videogames, this level of immersion is not possible, yet it seems like World Racing is relying on the player deriving exhilaration from something that's not really accessible.

Aside from the racing, there are also serious issues with the front-end and design of the game. The menu system is particularly obtuse, forcing the user to constantly switch menus and traverse directories in order to find out if things have been unlocked, or even to advance to the next race. The game also attempts to offer the user a more varied experience than simply winning through placing, as each driver is ranked on a number of skills, including fair play and discipline. Unfortunately, what this adds up to is being as exactly like the CPU racers as possible. Master overtaking maneuvers, keep on the road, don't hit other cars and place well. While this is interesting in theory, it makes for a particularly restrictive way to experience racing high-performance automobiles.

It's a pity that World Racing wound up like it did, because there's certainly some interesting concepts in this game that could make the current genre a little bit more varied. But for every target that it hits, it misses 5 more. A videogame has to walk a fine line between simulation and distancing itself from reality, and it is in this crucial area where World Racing makes its missteps. It's an intriguing and ultimately fatally flawed entry in an already clogged genre, and a warning to other companies who would use games as a commercial vehicle: please be sure you can make a decent game, or it's worse than no advertising at all. This game is rated 3.5 out of 10.

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The Final Fantasy series has developed as one of the most popular and stylized franchises in videogames. Beloved by millions, the Final Fantasy games have managed to develop an almost baroque formalism in terms of both mechanics and narrative. There have been many milestones in the history of the series, but none that have been so momentous and yet nearly forgotten as the first two entries. Recently Square oversaw a graphical and structural retooling of the first 2 Final Fantasy games, allowing modern gamers to experience these games in a new form, either as an act of nostalgia or a belated discovery of the roots of the series.

In Final Fantasy Origins, both the original games have been improved from their NES counterparts and it may come as a surprise as to how these improvements are implemented. First of all, both the graphics and the sound have been updated so that they appear and sound like the SNES Final Fantasies, which is pretty much a good thing, as the original style of both the music and the graphics has been retained, but the additional fidelity makes the games much more pleasing, both visually and aurally.

The surprising aspect is not only the addition of a few full-motion video cutscenes, but additional cutscenes done in the 'original' graphic style. These 'retro' cutscenes are similar to the special editions of the Star Wars movies that were released a while back, not only because they add new content, but because they add content intended to make the original games more consistent with the games that would follow them. For instance, when the bridge is built from the original town in Final Fantasy, there is a 'humorous' cutscene that has been added to depict soldiers from the castle hurriedly building the bridge. The scene fits into the whimsical humor that is a trademark of the Final Fantasy series, but it also is quite different from the minimalist narrative ethos that typified the first Final Fantasy.

The end result is one that is pleasant graphically, but disturbing as a more complete experience. By changing the actual structure of the game and adding cutscenes, one could argue that Square is attempting to ease the brutal minimalism of the earlier games for a modern audience. Certainly those who played through the originals remember the tedium that the play mechanics often led to, and these new sequences could serve to somewhat soften the blow. But doing so seems to be a bit of a lost cause, as even with the new additions the games are still very basic compared to today's titles. In a situation where changing the games arguably does not significantly alter the experience of the game from a tedium standpoint, it becomes less of an issue of comfort and more an issue of revisionism.

The gameplay of both titles is typical of their era, with the games centering on a party of characters traversing an overworld between cities and other points of interest, battling monsters along the way. These battles are done in a completely turn-based system, with no sense of urgency imparted to the experience. Driven by a menu-based system, these games are lacking many of the later bells and whistles that have made modern RPGs a more complex and sometimes less frustrating experience.

Both games represent important origin points for not only the modern Final Fantasies, but modern role-playing games (RPGs) in general. But rather than being variations on a single theme, both games have decidedly different aspects that helped define the games that were to follow. Indeed, the first two Final Fantasies are in many ways more different than they are alike, and this is part of why Final Fantasy Origins is such a compelling package.

Final Fantasy I, like its precursor Dragon Warrior, is heavily indebted to the Western table-top RPG Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). Characters have 'classes' that define what skills they are best at, as well as numbers that serve as abstractions of varying 'abilities' in categories like 'strength' and 'intelligence'. In order to gain more power, characters achieve 'levels' that are granted after collecting enough 'experience', derived entirely in Final Fantasy I from killing roving bands of monsters. Final Fantasy I boils down to calculations infused with a small amount of randomness in order to determine the results of encounters, which make up the vast majority of the time spent with the game.

The minimalism of the non-mechanical sections of Final Fantasy I is arguably its defining feature. The design of Final Fantasy I is practically transparent. Go to this town, get this item for this person, and continue doing so until the characters are powerful enough to save the world. There's very little extraneous narrative detail, and literally no motivation provided for the characters. This contrasts very starkly with today's emotionally charged RPGs and makes for a tough experience for those not familiar with the origins of the genre. In order to enjoy Final Fantasy I, one must either be fairly nostalgic or be resigned to enjoying the details of the piece, as the revisiting of the classic artwork and music is very well done.

Final Fantasy II is the title that is most intriguing to Americans, as it's never appeared in an official version on this side of the Pacific. In addition to the novelty of having never been released here, the game is an incredible one in terms of its differences from both Final Fantasy I and the Final Fantasies that followed it. Final Fantasy II represents a significant evolution for the form of the RPG, both in terms of successful innovations and in design that was left by the wayside.

Perhaps the most interesting aspects of Final Fantasy II are the design decisions that never really caught on. The most obvious would be the class system, or rather the complete lack of a class system. Unlike nearly every other Final Fantasy, there are no 'classes' or 'jobs' for the characters to specialize in. Instead, attributes and skills go up as the characters engage in those activities. For example, you get better at magic bycasting magic. You gain hit points bygetting hit. This allows the player to pick a path for each of their characters as well as decide how specialized each of them is going to be. This system would later be utilized by standout RPG titles such as Shadowrun and the Elder Scrolls series.

While Final Fantasy I concentrates almost entirely on the mechanics of the game, Final Fantasy II represents the first time that the Final Fantasy series contains significant narrative content. In stark contrast to Final Fantasy I, the game presents the player with a fairly detailed backstory, not only giving the characters names, but motivations for their actions. These motivations are ones that would become staples in Final Fantasies to come, in particular the themes of war, rebellion and the scattering of friends across great distances.

The other notable aspect of how Final Fantasy II treats the narrative is particularly intriguing. This aspect is the addition of a memorization system, where the player can select several different words or phrases that the characters can 'memorize'. Once memorized, these world or phrases can be 'said' to Non-Player Characters (NPCs) in order to trigger additional dialogue or events. Although interaction with NPCs is essentially an illusion of actual interactivity, this design allows the illusion a greater sense of depth and thus a greater sense of realism to the game. Although many of the NPCs remain endlessly repeating their one line, the player now has the option of poking and prodding the more important NPCs for pertinent information, or even just backstory. It's a remarkably effective feature, and it's a real mystery as to why it was not implemented in later titles in the series.

It is because Final Fantasy II is so unique that makes Final Fantasy Origins worthwhile. Although the remake of the original Final Fantasy is lovingly done and a historical treat, the game itself does not hold up very well when placed next to contemporary RPGs. Final Fantasy II, on the other hand, makes a case for itself as one of the great 8-bit RPGs and certainly one of the more notable RPGs in terms of innovative design. By itself, it practically justifies the existence of Origins.

Like Final Fantasy Anthology and Chronicles, Final Fantasy Origins offers a look at two older 16-bit RPGs, with a twist, as Origins is actually a collection of two 8-bit RPGs revamped to look and sound 16-bit. The fact that the games still play at an 8-bit level is hardly a condemnation of the quality of Origins, but it does remain inescapable that the experience of playing Origins cannot s be so easily separated from the NES as the graphics and music were. However, even as retro as the experience is, the view back towards the origins of the RPG genre is a worthwhile one, especially considering the unearthed gem that is Final Fantasy II. This game is rated 6 out of 10.

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The Worms series of games have made a number of appearances on both PCs and consoles, generally relying on a recognizable style of gameplay. This style consists of a multi-screen 2D world where hyperactive worms calculate angle and velocity to arc high explosives onto other worms. This should sound familiar to anybody who played the great old PC game Scorched Earth or any number of other countless variations on this theme. Worms games have made a name for themselves with high-production values and a cheeky sense of humor, two things that we see in Team 17's new title, Worms Blast. What we don't see is the same old turn-based artillery game. There are hints of it still remaining, but Worms Blast is otherwise a different beast…er, worm.

Yes, what we have here is another example of a license being used to promote a game that is significantly different than what we normally expect. Worms Blast is designed around the game taking place on a single screen, with the player controlling a small animal in a boat at the bottom of the screen. The gameplay is one that should be familiar to fans of puzzle games, as it's basically the same as Bust-A-Move and its clones. For the inexperienced puzzle gamer, this consists of a situation where the player is attempting to fire colored units into a larger structure of colored units hanging above the player. Using their sense of spatial geometry, the player attempts to have their colored projectile strike a group of like-colored units, causing those units to fall, as well as any other units that relied on the displaced units for connection to the larger structure.

What Worms Blast adds to that formula is taking the aiming, force of projectile, moving and armament concepts from the previous Worms titles. The controls for both aiming and moving the character are mapped to the GameCube's D-pad, with left and right controlling the movement of the character and up and down controlling where the character is aiming. This takes a little while to get used to, especially considering the small size of the D-pad and the fact that it's impossible to adjust your position and your shot at the same time. In addition, the player can provide a varying amount of power to their shot by pressing the A button for an appropriate amount of time before releasing it. This can make a serious difference in what happens because Team 17 has retained the Worms physics system. Rather than traveling in straight lines, the projectiles describe parabolas related to both the power and the aiming of the shot.

In many games of this nature, the player is stuck to a single point at the bottom of the screen. In some, the player is allowed some amount of lateral motion. Worms Blast not only has lateral motion, but lateral motion on a liquid surface, meaning that the player must not only account for the momentum of the character but for objects hitting the water and disturbing the surface of the water and thus the aim of any ensuing shot. Another major addition to the basic formula is the variety of special weapons and items that are available to the player. Taking a page from the other Worms titles, characters can collect crates to gain special weapons and items with various and sundry effects. Many of these are great examples of Worms-style humor, with giant sea monsters rising from the deep to consume your opponents, along with classic Worms weapons like dynamite and the shotgun.

The main modes of the game consist of a Puzzle mode, a Tournament mode and a head-to-head mode, either against the computer or against another human. The Puzzle mode is the meat of the single-player experience, with the player given the choice of varying paths, each offering up different single-screen challenges. The Tournament mode is basically a high-score competition between the player, the computer and whoever else might play the game, testing how well you can do given certain goals. Head-to-head is most similar to both Bust-A-Move and the other Worms games, with both characters trying to clear their screen, as well as lob a couple choice projectiles over to the other half of the screen.

The major problem with Worms Blast is that the gameplay makes it hard for it to be a very satisfying experience. In other games that utilize the same basic gameplay as Worms Blast, projectiles are fired from a single spot, without varied power behind the shot. By adding both lateral movement and shot power, there are two more variables that the player must account for while also attempting to judge angle of shot and which target would be more strategic. Add in the additional complexity of weapon selection, momentum-based movement, arcing shots and time-based penalties, and what should be a fast-paced flow of action becomes an agonizingly choppy experience that's far too frustrating and stressful.

Worms Blast is frustrating not because the goals presented to the player are difficult, but because the tools that the game gives to the player are difficult to utilize. This becomes even more frustrating because almost all of the challenges in Worms Blast are time-based. There is little more annoying than seeing exactly how something should be done, yet being unable to do it while trying to keep an eye on a counter that seems hell-bent for leather. The game does manage to minimize some of the frustration by having almost no loading times and giving you the option to restart at any time, but this is a small consolation when you have to restart consistently and constantly in order to complete a single screen.

The reason that this problem is so acute is that the marriage of gameplay styles is almost inherently incompatible. Puzzle games are inevitably real-time, reaction-based games. The Worms titles are turn-based, although with the option of adding a kind of stopwatch. Even with the timer, Worms titles rely more on a more strategic, plotting style of thinking, something that's incredibly hard to do when there're multiple things happening on-screen that cry out for the player's instant reactions. In the case of gameplay, the license does far more harm than good to the title.

Like the PC Worms titles, Worms Blast is best enjoyed as a multi-player experience. The addition of another human player makes the flow of the game easier to deal with, and removes most of the frustration and stress of the single-player modes. While it is slightly disappointing that there are no 3 or 4-player options, there is plenty of fun to be had going head-to-head with another human. Unfortunately, most puzzle games are already better with multiple-players. If you're going to be grabbing a game to play against your buddy, it's probably better to pick up a title that you'll have fun playing by yourself.

Aside from the gameplay, Worms Blast is actually quite an appealing game. The aesthetics of this title are fairly high quality, which is probably to be expected when you are dealing with an established license like the Worms universe and an experienced developer like Team 17. The graphics are done in pleasing, cartoon-style 2D. This style works very well for both depicting the action and complementing the gameplay mechanics. It makes sense to have anvils dropping from the top of the screen when everything involved looks like a particularly slick Warner Bros. cartoon. The art and music in this game is highly complementary and consistent in reinforcing the overall-style of the game. The only sour note is that rather than the hundreds of hilarious voice samples that are typically available on PC titles, each character only has a single voice, with some of them being particularly annoying. Thankfully, there isn't a whole lot of talking over the course of the game, and some of the more eccentric characters are quite entertaining.

As is probably expected, Worms Blast has a very basic narrative framing. In fact, there isn't even any framing. The player has no idea why a bunch of worms and other small animals are floating around in boats, shooting weapons at coloredthings. There's not even an entry in the manual spelling out a basic premise for the game. The characters are just out there to keep from getting dumped in the drink and to blow up other small animals at the same time. And this is probably how it should be. Puzzle games like Worms Blast do not need exposition to justify either their existence or how the game plays out.

The one glaring error in Worms Blast is the overly complicated and sluggish (or, uh, worm-ish) gameplay. Unfortunately, for a puzzle game, overcomplicated gameplay means that the title can be no more than mediocre, regardless of how polished the rest of the game is. There is plenty of quality in this title, as we've come to expect from Team 17, but unfortunately, the mixing of Worms-style blasting with Bust-A-Move-style puzzling winds up providing a muddled, mediocre experience. Hopefully, failed offerings like this one will convince developers that it's best to stick with a franchise's strengths, rather than attempting to shoe-horn a concept into a license purely under the logic that a recognized name will lend more to the game than a well-developed premise. This game is rated 5.5 out of 10.

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Sometimes it can be hard to say what makes an action game good. One concept that has recently come under scrutiny for its possible application in the field of action-based videogames is that of 'flow'. Flow is a term describing one's state of heightened awareness and abilities while engaged in an activity, to the point where time appears to dilate. This idea has been explored in the context of both athletics and music, and it seems logical that it would apply to games. Most game players are aware of this state, which is sometimes referred to as 'being in the zone'. Time varies in either direction, with the player experiencing the game at a 'slower' pace, and feeling like they have played only for a couple minutes when in reality, hours have passed. Flow is a crucial element of enjoying a good action game. And does anything say 'action' better than 'extreme sports'?

As the stable of extreme sports becomes larger and more popular, it seems natural that videogames would follow suit. Indeed, each year we see more and more of these titles being produced, filling out the various niches of the real-world sport. One fairly well established genre of these games is the jet ski racing game, which usually offers a mix of MTV attitude with Wipeout-style racing action. Sony has had success in this area with its Jet Moto series, and Jet X20 is widely regarded as the spiritual successor to that franchise.

The overall design of Jet X20 is largely good. Rather than utilizing the smaller, lap-oriented tracks that are generally seen in racing titles, Jet X20 offers up gigantic courses with many possible routes. The scale and complexity of these tracks are second to none on the videogame jet ski racing circuit and add excellent depth to the game, considering that there are an incredible number of ways to complete each track.

Like most games that center on alternative sports, Jet X20 relies on co-opting the feel of the modern extreme sports movement. Emphasis is put on making sure that the characters are brash and 'wacky', which means that they're all essentially empty stereotypes. Some attempt is made to give these hollow archetypes personality by having them shout personal insults during the race. This attempt is marred by the phrases themselves being forced and witless, much like the rest of the 'Xtreme!' content in Jet X20. However, the graphics are noticeably clean and well done, including better-than-average textures than are usually seen on the PlayStation 2.

The controls are fairly simple, with a button for acceleration and a button for boost. The left analog stick providing control over direction, and the right controls the pitch and yaw of your craft. The major difference that Jet X20 offers is that when the watercraft is in the air, the controls change, allowing the players to pull various tricks. Combinations of pressed shoulder buttons and the square button engage the character in a series of acrobatic and often amusing antics that must be completed before the watercraft comes in contact either with the water or worse, dry land.

Jet X20 shares many elements with other racing games, but has several deviations of varying importance. One aspect that is noticeably different from the norm is the gate system—although there are gates that the character can pass through, to do so is not mandatory. Rather, the gates are entirely voluntary, but they do provide the character with more power for their boost function, to allow the craft to travel faster for a short period of time. An interesting addition is the solidity of the gate markers—even a slight touch of the pylons while going through the gate will cause your craft to go out of control, and hitting them dead on is as bad as hitting a wall.

The most important gameplay aspect of Jet X20 is that while there are options to play with only tricks or only racing in a single race, the meat of the game is contained within the World Tour, where tricking and racing are combined. At the end of each race, the characters are ranked both in terms of how they finished and how many points were earned by pulling tricks. A certain amount of points (equal for both racing and tricking) are rewarded for achieving a certain ranking, and then the two pools of points are combined to generate the standings. This dichotomy of gameplay is mandatory – it is not possible to do well in the World Tour when either tricking or racing is ignored. This creates a situation where two different skill sets are being utilized during each race. We are then faced with a number of questions: How is the racing implemented? How is the tricking implemented? Are the two implementations well integrated, providing a cohesive and enjoyable experience?

It is here where we should come back to flow. In order for a game to generate flow, it seems that certain attributes are crucial. The game must be simple enough for the commands and rules to become unconsciously internalized by the player. The game must also offer near-constant input and output, with minimal breaks in the action. There are other attributes that are important, to be sure, but these two are especially prominent and are important in analyzing Jet X20.

As we have seen from other action titles, such as Ikaruga, it is possible for a game to have multiple gameplay mechanics and still be able to generate flow. Jet X20 does manage to maintain a fairly high level of action – the levels are long and the narrative framing is minimal, making almost all the waiting involve loading times. Where Jet X20 falls short is in providing a single, consistent experience. The way racing and tricking are implemented, it is impossible to concentrate on both at the same time. Rather, you must either sacrifice competing against the other racers in order to pull off tricks or give up trick points in order to maintain the lead. While this could be seen as tactical, it winds up feeling schizophrenic, preventing the player from achieving a satisfactory state of flow and making the game an overly pedestrian experience.

Aside from the problem of integrating the gameplay, an additional issue is that neither system is implemented very well. The trick system, although offering multiple trick options, is based entirely on pulling off tricks before the craft ceases to be airborne. There is no linking of the tricks, and tricking becomes more of a matter of judgment than dexterity. The racing, although fairly pleasing on a control level, fails because of the massiveness of the stages as well as what seems to be a certain amount of catch-up programming. Since the levels are so huge, you can be neck-and-neck with the entire rest of the field yet never see them, due to the number of splits in the path, and with every character choosing a different direction. The artificial intelligence also seems to always be set up so that the only real competitive section of the race is the homestretch, which does mean that you can concentrate on tricking rather than racing for the majority of the time, but this is the wrong way to go about correcting the flaw created by the non-complementary gameplay.

One other major disappointment regarding the gameplay of Jet X20 is how the medium of water affects the game. Unlike other major jet ski titles, the water is a bit player, with only occasional nods to its unique nature. There might be a wave here or a waterfall there, but it never really feels like the player must learn how the water affects the craft. The game takes a situation where the water should be an adversary and turns it into an environmental footnote.

With an action game like Jet X20, success is going to be based on the gameplay. By having an ill-matched concept at the core of the gameplay, this game sabotages itself. Regardless of the sheen of the graphics, running that river just isn't the same without the flow. This game is rated 5 out of 10.

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The rise of Nintendo can be directly tied to games that commanded the imagination of the player. Those games can also be directly tied to the man who designed most of them, Shigeru Miyamoto. Hired out of Nintendo's planning department to become the company's first dedicated game designer, Miyamoto produced a string of hits for every home console produced by Nintendo. Therefore, it should not come as a shock that Mr. Miyamoto designed one of the launch titles for the GameCube. Pikmin is notable in comparison with Miyamoto's other recent work because it is a high-profile game with no prior history as a franchise.

One mistake people make when they see that a game is accessible to kids is assuming that that means that the game is devoid of sophistication, either in story or in gameplay. Nintendo has especially fallen prey to this view because of the cartoon-like nature of many of their franchise games. This seems to be specious logic at best—there is nothing preventing a game with cartoon-like graphics from telling a complex and intriguing story, and certainly nothing standing in the way of having great gameplay without having mature themes. Pikmin may look cute and cartoon-y, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a game with gameplay as engaging.

In my last article, talking about Metal Gear Solid, I claimed that there were three basic elements to a game: gameplay, story and presentation of the narrative. I would like to amend that to add the element of aesthetics—more specifically, the artwork contained within the ensemble production of the game. By this I mean the art, the animation, the writing, the music and other related areas. Pikmin does not have a particularly complex story, and the way it is presented is typical for videogames—insertion of text screens and brief cutscenes at appropriate times, always intended to give the player some basic motivation and background, nothing more. Pikmin concentrates primarily on its gameplay and aesthetics elements.

Graphically, Pikmin is notable for very simplistic, cartoon-like characters. Obviously, one can only do so much with carrots, but what about the main character? By making Olimar a simple character, Miyamoto has managed to tie into the human ability to imprint themselves upon iconic characters. This theory, explored by Scott McCloud in his groundbreaking "Understanding Comics," explains that the simpler a character is, the easier it is for any person to put himself in the place of that character. McCloud posits that since we can identify minute details in other objects while retaining only a vague idea of what we look like, we more easily identify with characters with correspondingly basic features.

An interesting aspect of the graphical design is that anything that moves or that you can interact with is done in a very cartoon-y style, whereas everything else in the game is done with an eye for realism. The difference isn't enough to upset the presentation of the game, but it does serve well enough to give an extra bit of weight to the experience. The realistic backdrops create a sense of reality in the game, creating a very Miyamoto-esque world that is very similar to our own, but different in a number of magical ways.

The music for the game is largely non-intrusive and relaxing, with a different theme for each area that Olimar must explore. The sound is also very well done, with the monsters and the Pikmin themselves each making noises, in addition to the sounds triggered by finding your ship parts and attaching said parts to your ship. The music and sounds fit in very well with the artistic nature of the game and never feel particularly inappropriate (although never incredibly engaging either).

The Pikmin themselves are excellently animated anthropomorphic carrots. With their little eyes and squeaking cries, its easy to get attached to the little vegetable army that follows you around. By giving the Pikmin such a personality, and by making them utterly dependent on your every command, Miyamoto has created a situation where you dislike seeing Pikmin die not because it represents inefficient use of resources, but because you're empathizing with an oddly colored baby carrot. Many a time I had to hit reset after accidentally leading non-blue Pikmin into water, which results in the poor things squeaking helplessly and thrashing around before drowning. Another interesting moral tangent is that there are creatures that are neutral, never coming after your Pikmin. You are given the choice of whether to leave them alone or whether to kill them and harvest their bodies for resources. (Oddly enough, your Pikmin attack these creatures by default. Who knew those little guys are naturally bloodthirsty?)

The gameplay is an interesting combination of two of the more popular gameplay genres around. You got your real-time strategy in my puzzler! No, you got your puzzler in my real-time strategy! Ahem. What you get in Pikmin is a giant set of puzzles that must be solved using your various species of Pikmin, which you grow by bringing resources to the appropriate color Onion. The aspect of the gameplay most widely decried by critics and players alike is the time limit. Since Olimar only has 30 days to find the right number of parts for his ship, and each day lasts only 15 minutes, you have to move quickly to marshal your forces and multi-task like crazy in order to drag home parts before the day ends. It is understandable why this is not a popular game mechanic. It induces a feeling of stress upon the player, which is only made worse by the fact that the game world is so interesting, leaving one with a feeling of loss by being unable to fully explore each level as you race around finding parts and collecting resources to grow more Pikmin.

However, the time limit serves a very important function. Without it, the game would be completely devoid of challenge. The puzzles are tricky, but not stumpers, and the fights would be made incredibly easy with the mass of Pikmin one could generate given infinite time. Therefore, the only thing keeping the player on edge and consumed is the fact that time is always ticking away. It is a testament to the balance in the game design that the constant battle to create more Pikmin while solving puzzles and retrieving parts works as well as it does. Since the load/save system makes it easy to quickly load from the last save, I would suggest that players itching to explore the game world play a couple days in each level just for the purpose of wandering and exploring, then reverting to their latest save when they actually want to advance the game. Also given the fact that a single screw-up could ruin an entire day, the revert to last save option comes in incredibly handy.

The other main complaint surrounding Pikmin has been its length. Similar to what we see with many other new games, Pikmin is a game with great graphics and gameplay, but is not particularly long. There has been some speculation that this is due to desires in the video game industry to make games more appealing. Studies have shown that most people do not wind up finishing videogames. Designers have been theorizing that making games shorter will make games also more attractive to people who might otherwise be overwhelmed by the length of videogames.

Although Miyamoto attempted to increase the replay value of the title by adding a challenge mode, which essentially is a contest to see how many Pikmin you can grow, the title still suffers from its lack of length. Once you've played through Pikmin, and I'm sure the average gamer could do so in 20 hours, there might not be a lot of reasons to pick up the title again. However, Pikmin offers up such a unique and pleasurable experience that the length can only slightly detract from a game that is notable for efficient and balanced gameplay, as well as a consistent and compelling visual aesthetic. This game is rated 8.5 out of 10.

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