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Aamaazing: The Little Touches

I love challenging games that embrace a survival mindset. The feeling of tension created by having to make sure that you're playing the game to the best of your ability adds a sense of drama and excitement that, to me, forms the core of the experience. The additional challenge imposed by the implmented limitations of the particular game style, be they limited time, limited resources, risky combat choices, etc. increases the sense of achievement and accomplishment one feels by overcoming those challenges.

Most games have some sort of survival requirement - some set of obstacles that the player is required to overcome (which may or may not include a time limit). However, the difference hews from the source of tension - with more survival oriented games, the tension is a constant presence, and often reinforced by the game and level design. Misleading corrridors, vague clues indicating how to progress, multiple enemies requiring you to risk combat or use scarce resources (e.g., bullets) - the player is constantly forced to evaluate how best to approach a situation, lest the game become essentially unwinnable.

You can "complete" this game. You cannot win this game.

Demon's Souls is a great example. It forces the player to constantly learn not only from their missteps, but the missteps of other players (via messages and bloodstains - unless you're playing offline, in which case, you are missing out). There is an overriding sense of tension in that each and every enemy may be your end, not to mention the considerable environmental hazards (traps, poison swamps, etc.). Each and every step your avatar takes brings them closer to another encounter that will test them and you, and by doing so will force you to consider exactly what the best path would be. Fantastic.

These kinds of games specifically force the player to develop their skills, through their tight restrictions (time limits, limited resources, or similar mechanics). They often create extremely frustrating experiences due to the generally strict challenges imposed. However, due to the increased level of difficulty, the sense of reward is similarly increased when one overcomes these obstacles. Beating a boss in Demon`s Souls is typically an extremely frustrating experience, yet the feeling of finally beating one (through refinement of technique, proper item selection, and developing a successful strategy) is hard to match.

And yet, the game I found Aamaazing looks nothing like this on the surface.

This game.

Scurge: The Hive was a GBA title ported to the DS early on. As I understand it, it was originally developed for the GBA, but its design made it a perfect fit for the DS. The hallmark of this title for me was the infection mechanic - early on in the game, you are infected with "The Scurge" - a nasty virus, which is then ever-present in your system. Your infection level is indicated by a percentage at the top of the screen - if the infection reaches its critical level (100%, natch), it quickly starts reducing your health, killing you. Only through the use of decontamination stations scattered around the complex (which double as saving points) can you reduce the infection to a 1% basal level (which then starts climbing again).

Ignore these numbers, and your number's up. PUN!

This was an interesting change in a survival game - you don't have to ration ammo or health so much as your time. You cannot be overly cautious in your explorations, and you need to be quick to overcome the various environmental puzzles (which typically consist of moving objects to reach higher objects). These challenges forced an impetus to continually refine your skills - you had to be mindful at all times of how far away the decontamination stages were, what level your infection was at, how many enemies you have to deal with (and what their relative strengths and weaknesses were) AND what you had to do to progress. It's a lot of information to process, and if you failed to do so, you died.

I was also impressed that the infection mechanic was kept during boss battles. I'm sure the temptation was there to halt the spread, but it keeps climbing as you fight. This makes the battles tense, yet also constrains the boss battles to a reasonable length - there's not a lot of waiting for the boss to leave themselves open after one attack, instead it's a constant flurry of attacking while dodging. It keeps these encounters dramatic and exhilarating - and from overstaying their welcome.

In addition, the release of Scurge on the DS highlighted the handy aspect of the Dual Screen in these types of time-sensitive games - having the map prominently displayed throughout. The GBA version (as I understand it - I never had that version) would require one to continually open the map to check where one had to go, which would be quite frustrating due to the need to constantly check where you were and how far one was from the decon station. It was a great application that helps to keep the infection mechanic from becoming too frustrating.

I`d say the infection possibility is quite high.

I know other games have used time-sensitive mechanics, usually changing the ending one receives if you faffed around too much - Simon's Quest has a (ridiculous) time frame that changes the endings, Splatterhouse 3 has time-based narrative changes, Dead Rising games have time-sensitive missions that affect the story. However, the reason that Scurge: The Hive really sticks in my mind was that unlike many other games, the time rationing is immediate - if you faff about, you die. If you take too long figuring out an environmental puzzle (instead of decontaminating), you die. If you fail to use your wepons effectively, strengthening your enemies because you didn`t manage your time effectively, you die. But if you manage to get a handle on managing your infection, your arsenal, and your map, you will succeed long enough to make it to the next section.

This simple mechanic made a rather mediocre exploration shooter (Explooter? Yeah, I'm gonna run with that) into a game that was memorable in its well-crafted coupling of its infection mechanic with good level design and a well-integrated enemy strength/weakness system. While it wasn`t the greatest game ever produced, it was certainly engaging, and the time pressure it put the player under made every action meaningful. You couldn�t simply sit and turtle through tough sections, or apply brute force trial-and-error to environmental puzzles; you had to be effective and efficient at all times.

Nothing can possibly go wrong here.

Amazement should never be reserved strictly for those overwhelming or inherently notable situations � sometimes the most amazing things are when you find how well certain pieces fit together, be they notes in a song or spices in a flavourful dish. The infection mechanism in Scurge: The Hive is amazing in this quieter manner � it doesn`t force the player to sit up and take notice of spectacle or set-piece. Instead, it simply sits in the forefront of the game`s design concept providing that extra bit of inspiration that makes the game memorable. Aamaazingly, it works.
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About Gnarlythotepone of us since 6:36 PM on 02.17.2011

I'm a male Caucasian, who enjoys playing games of most genres. I typically purchase a single console for each generation, but refuse to get caught up in console wars (although I`ll happily provide the details for my choice, if asked, but hardly expect anyone to switch or care).

Favorite games: typically adventure style - I`ve always loved Sierra games and SCUMM adventures. For modern games I tend to skew towards ones that I find interesting and especially those intersecting with other interests (e.g., I enjoyed Wet, due to my skewed film preferences).
In general, I also tend to enjoy games that at least try to do something a bit differently, or at least with a little humour.

Last game(s) played to completion:
Ace Attorney - Justice for All
Costume Quest
Scott Pilgrim VTWTG
Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue
Red Johnson's Chronicles

Games I've played in the last month(ish):
Room 215: Hotel Dusk
Shadows of the Damned
MGS: Peace Walker
The Warriors (PSP)
Costume Quest
Demon's Souls
Scott Pilgrim VTWTG
Tactics Ogre: LUCT
Patapon 2
Ace Attorney - Justice for All

Systems Owned (* = currently):
Apple IIe
PC* (various)
SNES* (bought after PS)
Nintendo DS Lite*
GBA (broken :( )*
PSN ID:Bionic_6


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