Friday, August 11, 2006

How do you like your games? Over-easy or hard-boiled?

The thing that bugs me about game reviews today is the subjective view on game difficulty. When is a game too easy, and when is it too difficult?

Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting for Xbox Live Arcade got a lot of flack recently because the difficulty of the single player mode at three stars is just too hard---according to some people on forums and on reviews. Some people think the A.I. plays cheesily (relying on instant throws and no-charge moves). I took to task recently and played SF II HF single player a bit more.

Yes, it is true that the A.I. in that game is hard. But I don't think it's unfair. For one thing I am of the firm belief that A.I. just can't be as smart as people can. A.I. just can't predict people that well. So I think that, to some extent, game A.I. has to cheat. Why? Because it just can't be as good as people can.

If you're playing SFII HF and you think the A.I. is cheating on you or reading your moves, think for a second of how you're playing. I found out through a bit more of play time with the game that the A.I. is very keen on countering jump attacks. The best way to fight A.I. in SFII is to stay on the ground. The A.I. doesn't seem to react that well to you if you stay grounded. If you're using one of the 'uppercut brothers', stay on the ground and pull off a series of fireballs and dragon punches, or straight high kicks. A straight jump up and high kick can also confuse the A.I. pretty well.

It doesn't make the A.I. any easier, but playing in a different way will clearly show you that the A.I. isn't cheating. It still is pretty dumb. Combined with a bit of strategic play, SFII HF single player is not impossible. Use the training mode to practice special moves. Try to recall how to properly execute a combo. And remember, you can't air block in this version of SFII HF.

Another game that got a lot of negative press lately is Ninety Nine Nights. Right now I'm playing the game, and I can see why some people could 'hate' this game. It's feels very old school, similar to games like Golden Axe or Streets of Rage, except that it has hundreds of bad guys on screen at once. Some argue that the gameplay is repetitive. To an extent it is, but isn't that the very nature of ground based melee combat? Ever watched a medieval age war film? The fighting doesn't go beyond the loud grunts and swings and clanks of sword and steel. The repetitiveness is the point of N3; to enjoy it, you have to methodically find a way to reduce the enemies numbers quickly and without getting yourself killed. That's where good choice of combos comes in....also, proper positioning is on the battlefield is key. The game isn't that simple; it only seems simple if you overanalyze the fact that combos take only a few clicks of two buttons. Once you're in the carnage of a big battle, you'll be thankful that controlling the game is that easy. A few nicks here and there from the pawn soldiers in the game can make all the difference in the world once faced with a difficult boss character.

Oh, and the boss fights are nice. They're very tough. When I started out with N3, I balked at the idea that I had a BLOCK button in the game.

Later on, with the boss fights, the BLOCK button became my new best friend :)

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