Notes on three titles on my list that I hoped I would adore but where there just weren't any sparks.

Super Metroid (yeah, I know)

I wanted to love it: It has a horror-ish atmosphere that's unique for the era. It's got a woman in the lead. It's a prestigious franchise from Nintendo I've never gotten into. I own the GBA cart of Metroid but have never beaten it. I hit a wall at the Kraid fight and got caught in one of those situations where I had come so far on a famously difficult title without help that I thought it'd be a shame to break the streak but never got past the part where I was genuinely stuck. By most accounts, the Super Nintendo incarnation was superior, so I thought it'd yield a more successful experience.

But: I don't find fun at all the "shoot every single tile of every surface" gimmick upon which Metroid relies for the player to discover new gear. It's maddening and tiresome, and while that misstep wasn't uncommon in the NES era, I would have expected an SNES title, particularly one as well-regarded as Super Metroid, to have moved past it. Though I almost quit when a spate of the dreaded wall jumping reared its head, my true breaking point came when I was getting to areas where I was clearly expected to have the grapple beam and didn't, and trying cleverly to cheat my way through areas that required it, as you might be able to pull off in comparable situations in Symphony of the Night, *almost* worked but frustratingly failed just before success. That meant that to proceed I had to revisit every square inch of explored space, which at that point was considerable. I've realized that Castlevania gives me pretty much all the exploration and recursive unlocking I want out of Metroid and that Samus and I, unfortunately, are never going to get along.

(Image credit.)


I wanted to love it: That aesthetic! Palm trees and island fun! Sunny days and bright palettes! We need more tropical RPGs, if you ask me. Add the celestial theme, and that's just a winning combination. Plus, I really like the idea of a Zelda-ish title themed on all-American kid stuff: baseballs & bats, slingshots, yo-yos. A much-overlooked attempt at Zelda by a U.S. studio? Maybe we have a hidden gem on our hands!

But: Well, they tried to copy Zelda's gameplay, but they sure didn't have Zelda's talent. They took the drawbacks of death in the first Zelda - you start from the beginning of the dungeon with three hearts - but are extremely stingy with life refills and make enemy formations hard-hitting and aggressive, meaning that you have to replay and replay and replay every area until you get things perfect to survive. Exploration has been near-completely removed: progression through the alternating Zelda II-style overworld map screens and the Legend of Zelda-ish dungeons is almost entirely linear. This makes for a distinctly more level-like experience than its Japanese counterpart, and in a title with better combat, that might have been an interesting twist, but not here - it just means you're just trapped replaying the same succession of frustrations. (You don't even have any way of getting extra items to help you out: there are no shops, just a couple standardized pickups per dungeon, and your loadout resets to zero between areas.) The finishing touch was that they artificially boosted the difficulty even further with mean tricks - blind jumps offscreen where the wrong random choice of path will make you lose a life, etc. What a failure of gameplay in the face of charming visual style.

ETA: Good gravy, I forgot: StarTropics has this control quirk where there's a marked delay when you try to move in a new direction. You'll first turn to face that direction, then wait a beat, and only then will you actually start moving, providing you've continued to hold down the control pad. The devs did this to allow you to negotiate some pixel-perfect single-square-island jumping puzzles - so that you can turn in a direction without moving in that direction, see - but it makes the very act of movement rather unmanageable in an action title. It's a moment of lag, but that moment did make the difference between success and failure in many a boss battle attempt.


I wanted to love it: It was the follow-up title from No Code to Stories Untold, a horror title revolving about finding one's way around outdated technology that contained a startlingly insightful dissection of empathy in video games in its second segment. I genuinely thought it was one of last generation's best titles, so of course I'm up for this.

But: Stories Untold largely sat you at a series of workstations; while you might have to shift your line of sight from machine to machine from time to time, not much movement on the part of the player was required. Here, No Code went hog-wild with freedom of movement: the game is set on a space station in zero gravity, and you're a little A.I. sphere that can jet anywhere, including outside on spacewalks. It is extremely hard, at least for me, to get your bearings in this environment. There's this winding series of passageways you have to negotiate to find your way from one particular pod to its neighbor that I don't think it was meant to be a maze, but which took me 15 minutes to navigate regardless. I should have been in the next room instantaneously.

There's also a tension between investigating your environment thoroughly - given that, you know, a game named Observation might require you to be observant - and my tendency to get hellatiously lost if I stray off course. There's a point where you're tasked with accessing a panel on the outside of ship during a spacewalk but are suggested a sidequest. Remembering that the game previously skipped me ahead before I had investigated to my satisfaction previously, I ignored the instructions to the panel and did the sidequest first, then went back to the pod where the panel was supposedly located, convinced I could find it myself (the pod was numbered and everything). I got lost for an hour. I still could not find the goddamn hatch controls - even having located the numbered pod; even with video guides. I suppose it's to the game's credit that I started getting motion-sick only at the end of this imbroglio, but sick I got. I eventually had to give up and am presently hoping that when I reload I'll be put back before the spacewalk, so I can follow those directions. Given Observation's pedigree, I do want to stick with it, but we are, let us say, going through a rough patch currently.

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