Why I Love Celeste

Humble Beginnings, Humble Endings

My Introduction to Indie and Thanks to Matt Thorson

Sorry for the hiatus.  I had an unfortunate episode with something, but now I am back and hopefully that doesn’t happen again.

The origins for me loving Celeste go all the way back to when I was young and indie games were a super niche thing.  My family didn’t have a lot of money, so games were a special occasion.  However, I began to wander the internets for more games that I could get for free and stumbled upon indie games.  The ones that really stuck to me were a group of developers that seemed to be connected.  A lot of them proved to be so in a website that, unfortunately, no longer operates today: the eo community.  Then from there my interest in indie skyrocketed.

One game I obsessed over was released a couple months before I got into all of it: Jumper 2.  I was tired of the glitchy platformers that inhabited many indie websites, but when I found Jumper I was so excited because platformer games were the thing back then.  The graphics were great and the game wasn’t glitchy.  The main character is a failed experiment named Ogmo, who looks like a red block with legs.  Ogmo is adorable and I love him so much. I bet I can find sketches of him in the margins of old school notebooks if I somehow have not thrown them away yet.

And that was it.  I was sucked into the world of indie games.  I made levels in the editor all the time.  I wasn’t super good at platformers, but I think I managed to make it an okay distance through the game while not being pro.  I have followed Matt Thorson’s career ever since.  I even got my friends to play Jumper: Redux on LAN.   I’ve seen how Thorson grew over time in their designs and it has been an incredible journey.

And then Celeste was released and it took me a long while to play that one.  I was bogged down in everything in life.   Eventually Celeste was being given for free on Epic Games Store.  It brought a renewal of attention, so I decided I would finally play it.  I am immensely grateful for this game.

Why I Love Celeste

Celeste is not an easy game, and it is not a hard game either.  In fact, I don’t know what to say about difficulty in Celeste.  For me, the difficulty curve is the prime example of well done difficulty curves.  And yet, I can say that it was not easy.  

Good video game design usually involves teaching the player without having them read blocks of texts or having them look at a video.  But I would like to propose the idea that Celeste takes good design one step further than pretty much any other game I’ve ever played so far.  The game is humble.  This is not because the game is modest in content or gameplay or anything.  The movement designed in the game is insanely well done.  No, this game is humble because it feels more like a teacher and it feels more like a human, than any game that attempted psychological strategies (or even tricks in the case of some horror games) that I’ve ever played.

Celeste already does the established good designs with good level layouts and quick respawn with little consequence.  Through the game’s story and mood, the game helps you with one more thing that so few games do: it wants you to improve and it makes that clear.  I’ve recently finished Dark Souls 1, and while the game has many good designs in it, the whole attitude and system it has encourages a strong culture of gatekeeping, which is a definite no-no.  There’s always the “You’re Not Good Enough, Scrub” attitude.  I said that it encourages, not creates.  While the culture definitely surrounds it, and I found friends whom I didn’t expect to be enveloped in it too, it does not create it.  Because of the universal struggle in the game, there have been good experiences with other players as well.  But I just can’t say that the culture of the game is good.  It unfortunately, just isn’t.  It wasn’t a good experience, but I’ll talk more about Dark Souls in its own “Why I Love.”  (So at least I still love it.)

Celeste successfully brings difficulty without that kind of attitude.  It shows its tough side with extra objectives and B-Sides to stages for those who want to push themselves to breaking limits, but it does all this with the note saying “You can do it,” or “If you want to.”  I don’t feel like this aspect is “weak” in any way.  In fact, I think it shows that it knows the player, or rather I should say, the person.  

The best professionals and inspirational people in my life are always the humble ones.  The ones that made it through without becoming hardened.  The ones that chose to stay soft so that they can truly uplift.  It is never the easier choice.  These are the kinds of people that when they teach, they teach with heart because they still choose to remember what it was like to struggle not only with the limited skill set of someone just beginning, but also the limited knowledge as well.  

The honor of their prestige is based on being able to share their experiences rather than boast about how others cannot get them.  I think this is what Celeste embodies, in both story and gameplay.  This is why I love Celeste.  The game is no slouch.  It will push you, but in a way that allows oneself to commit to learning and becoming better.  It teaches the player to push themselves more than the game pushes them.  That’s what I’m all about, I’m sure you know.  It is something that I hope that schools one day better integrate into their systems.  It is the optimistic hope that humans can be like that to help each other, because let’s face it, life is not easy alone.  

Celeste is #9 on the ULTRA.  Thanks for reading.  Stay safe out there.  I hope that we all can stay humble, remember to stay soft, and remember that it is not a weakness to help others.


– Elise

Why I Love: Alan Wake

Two Sides

I love Alan Wake, for the same reason a lot of people found it mediocre.  Alan Wake is a third-person action (shooter?) game.  Alan Wake, a writer of a thriller series, goes on vacation to a lake house, only to be haunted by shadowed entities that remind him of his own works.  He can expose and destroy these entities by shining a flashlight at them.  That’s mostly all you need to know about it for what I want to talk about today.  

It is a good game.  It is very crisp, and it feels like playing an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Were it not for good game design it probably wouldn’t be on the ULTRA.  But what I really like about this game is that it is truly a simple game about fighting the darkness, both outside and within.  

I don’t feel like Alan Wake is that psychological, but it’s what defeating darkness within sometimes feels like.  It feels helpless and frustrating (not game design-wise, just for Mr. Wake).  It feels like we’re in an episode of a TV show we can’t get out of.  Ultimately, it’s a fight of light and darkness.  We can also mean that literally because of his flashlight.

I remember when my brother and I were so excited for Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, and we were watching the trailer.  In the trailer Raynor says, “Because the one thing I know; some things are just worth fighting for.”  And I remember my brother saying something about how that is so, so cheesy.  I love cheesy things, and over time I’ve learned why I love cheesy things like that line or the fight between light and darkness.  I love cheesy things because they’re the most real, and Alan Wake emphasizes that in an age where we’re supposed to be so unique in themes.

The struggle against ourselves and knowing what is light in our lives is real.  That’s a real thing.  Knowing what you fight for?  That’s real.  “I’m doing this because I love you”?  I need that.  I wonder if the reason we don’t like cheesy things sometimes is because they remind us of what is real.  This is why I love Alan Wake.  We’re just some random person fighting to find their way out of the darkness. 

Isn’t that what most of us want to do?  We want to be a light to those around us.  We want to truly find light and what is good in all the travails of life and use it to banish the darkness.  When it comes to those that we love, isn’t that what we want to do for them?  It’s cheesy, but it’s true, and Alan Wake embraces it.  That is one of the big reasons why I love the game.

Alan Wake is #116 on the ULTRA.  I hope that we can all endeavor to be a light in the darkness especially during these strange times.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.
– Elise

Why I Love: Team Fortress 2

Less is More is Less

I said I would talk about some of the design side of video games.  I have been sitting on this idea for almost two weeks, because the more I think about it the more I realize this is such a big chunk of something that I do not believe I have the skill capacity to do so.  I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but even more so, it’s just so much.  

But I said I would.  It’s going to be watered down, but I’m going to do it.

Clarity is something the developers choose on whether or not it is an important factor.  It is not something that is required, but in many cases it is helpful or important to the game.  Fast arcade style FPS games are a good example of good clarity.  You want the brain to be spending as little time as possible understanding what you’re shooting at.  Team Fortress 2 is an excellent example of one of the most common forms of clarity in design, silhouettes.

Team Fortress 2 consists of 9 classes, each with very different functions and important approaches one must consider to remove or run from.  They’re all men, and most of these men are of similar body type.  These characters move through bright terrains and shadowed caverns, which means things like contrast, in color and line, are not always up for consideration.  Let’s take a look at Breath of the Wild.  

Just looking at the trailer, you can see how contrast is used.  Shrines stick out like a sore thumb because of their bright contrast with the desaturated landscape, towers break from the silhouetted forms of the hills, and enemies bring your eyes to them with their many tangenting and crossing forms of line.  The simplicity of other colors, brings your attention through complexity.  Line, value, and color contrast are all done in Breath of the Wild.  But color and value are diminished in an environment that can have the lights be on and off like Team Fortress 2.

And that’s where the strong silhouette design comes into play.  One of the reasons personality is such a strong concept to push for in Team Fortress 2 is because it shows in their demeanor, and that gives a perfect idea/excuse to change silhouettes.  The squat stance of the Scout makes him stand out.  His running animation has his legs swing wildly compared to other characters, which makes him even more obvious.  This is especially important as the Scout will almost always be moving when you see him.  The Medic’s trenchcoat sways in a shape that is not common with other characters.  Small things allow for extra clarity: the Soldier’s poofy clothes, the Pyro’s smooth suit, the mountain that is the Heavy, etc.

It really wouldn’t be so much of a complaint if we saw them all pretty similar.  There are plenty of games where realism is the focus, and clarity may be a matter of combat awareness.  But having the characters just different enough so you can tell from their shape helps in such a hectic environment. 

This is just one of the many things that Team Fortress 2 does so well in visual design that makes it stand out as a class based shooter.  Unfortunately, a lot of this deteriorates when everyone is wearing hats and holding different guns, but in return they (the guns at least) provide a different gameplay variety.

There is more to just these that make Team Fortress 2 a great design though, and there is definitely more that I would encourage you to check out from their developer commentary in game.  I choose Team Fortress 2 as a model multiplayer game, not because other games are bad design, but because Team Fortress 2’s designs are the most clear cut and obvious to a normal player that has no experience in design.  It is sometimes difficult to find out the why behind game designs, but Team Fortress 2 does an amazing job at that.

These kinds of things are also the reasons why “feedback” from players in a competitive environment is oftentimes more dangerous than helpful.  The spectrum of skill that spans the players always looks different when you’re supposedly very skilled, because developers don’t design only for the very skilled, and to encompass all of that without creating two separate games is just terribly inconvenient.  Team Fortress 2 takes in a lot of those variables and makes things like level design, gameplay mechanics, and art design work together as best as possible and makes a fairly balanced game within all of that.  Too many times I read of players who want something changed without considering all sides of the equation, which is to say programming, art, and balance at high levels, low levels, and those in between.  

There are SO many things that Team Fortress 2 does well in art design that involve the other elements, but I love that the silhouettes work so well when all other elements are absent.  So please check out the developer stuff to learn about those other things if you have the time.  The game is free to play and is available on Steam.

Team Fortress 2 is #105 on the ULTRA.  And it’s still a fun game to play now.  I really wish I could speak more in a better descriptive manner, but I’m just a normal person who plays a lot of games.  I just have a desire to talk about games.  I hope I can point you in a direction that helps you appreciate games, as that seems to be the best I can do for now.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.

Why I Love: DOOM

Not Just a Nostalgia Thing

The classic game DOOM is an obvious icon in video game history.  The series still lives on today with the newest release of DOOM Eternal.  But all the way back in 1993, this little thing came into the house through a set of floppy disks and introduced my family to first person shooters.

I admit there are some games on the ULTRA that, although good, have not aged very well.  They are upheld by my emotional values and experiences or their historical achievements.  But DOOM is still a strong contender even today.  The most common things that do not age well are graphics and movement processes, and DOOM still conquers both.

I used to say graphics are the least important part of judging a game, but I realize that the point isn’t being given clearly when I say it like that.  What I mean is, the generation of graphics is the least important part of judging a game.  Bad graphics can make a game less appealing, but good quality graphics at the time make them stand out more.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the graphics have to be insanely amazing, but rather that the graphics have to be good at conveying what they mean, and DOOM successfully does that.  It’s entirely clear what you’re shooting at, whether demon, barrel, or just a wall.  Just two or three years before DOOM, there were games where some of the sprites, I really have to use my imagination to understand what they are.  I will write an article on the design aspect of that next.  I feel like it is a concept that I only recently learned as an artist and I want others to be able to learn about that from a game design perspective.

But moving on from that, the character movement of DOOM is one of the things that makes DOOM such an easy game to play as of 2021.  DOOM is one of the first, if not the first, to set off on the arcade style FPS.  The time it takes for your character to go from standing still to top speed is very short, and that top speed is no slouch.  Reloads are minimal and, in this case, non-existent.  The movement is contemporary.  So many games don’t age well because things like movement are outdated.  Characters walk super slow (or can’t even run), dialogue is sluggish, or doing random tasks take five times longer than they do now, regardless of load times.  DOOM is smooth like butter compared to most games of its time.  It even outpaced its predecessor Wolfenstein 3D.

If you open up DOOM today, it feels like some indie FPS game.  Few things about it have really felt out of place.  Okay, so maybe the movement is a little bit slippery, but arcade shooters are still like that today.  I think it’s important to learn video game history, and DOOM is a fun way to learn what it was really like back in the days when it took several floppies just for DOOM to run, and then you realize it was a shareware copy all along.  But it didn’t matter, because back then we had a ton of shareware and it was pretty much like free games for a kid.  

So yeah, DOOM is still an amazing, relevant game, even though it’s super old.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
They also just updated the multiplayer in September last year.  Definitely still relevant.  DOOM still holds its place at #133 on the ULTRA.  …oh man, I am not going to get anywhere near the top at this rate.  Although I want to say, “Keep up the pace, Elise,” I also don’t want to write articles that are not as fun to talk about, so I am cherry picking a little more as we make our way to the top.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you next time~

What Makes an ULTRA Game?

What are the determinant factors that trend on the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis?  

I believe there are two main factors.  Is the game entertaining?  Games are entertainment after all.  Does the game provide a good gameplay loop?  How does it handle design and difficulty curve?  Does it provide more artificial difficulty or natural difficulty?  How is the game feel?  Is it just fun to play?  Is it just…fun?

Games that have a greater focus on entertainment are things like DOOM, Dungeon Siege, Megaman 2, Star Fox 64, and Super Mario Bros.  The stories are not really a huuuge part of the game. The story is a platform for the action to take place.  There’s nothing wrong with a game that focuses just on the fun!  You don’t need to be a tea-sipping fancypants to know good games.

The other factor is whether or not it is inspirational.  Do they have good stories and characters?  Is the world built and designed well?  How well is the player’s emotion directed?  What innovations are there?  These are games like Final Fantasy VI, What Remains of Edith Finch, Baldur’s Gate, Genshin Impact’s character arc quests, and Psychonauts.  Characters don’t need to be super deep.  They can just be fun, have great synergies, or present the world in a way that makes you think about life.  Stories don’t need to be entirely plothole clean.  You gotta use your imagination too!  

I am a little biased because I tend to lean towards more story-telling, world-building, inspirational games.  That’s just who I am, but all gamers are different!  And that’s okay!  There’s also a third mini-factor that I also recognize: the history and context of the game.  What did the developers have to go through to make this?  What was development culture like?  How have they approached this game in the franchise as compared to the past?  What artifacts and history lie beyond the game?  Game history is important.  I love art history, and I think video game history is just as important.

Something that I’ve noticed as we get near the top of the ULTRA is that the games start to converge on both ideas of entertainment and inspiration.  The top ones are usually brilliant at being both.  These are things like Dishonored 2, Celeste, Bioshock, Guild Wars 2, Starcraft, and Hollow Knight.  

I think video games can be such an inspiration and entertaining thing at the same time.  I feel the same for films.  Artistic vision backed up with great cinematography makes amazing films.

I just wanted to let you have a little more insight into the way that video games are seen in my mind.  Although I’d like to believe I have a lot of insight on video games, as it has been a focus and study of my life, this list is definitely not going to be 100% solid for other people.  That’s why we like different games. 

What are some foci that represent what you like in a game?  
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time! 

– Elise

Why I Love: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

Ready to Work

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness is where Blizzard Entertainment really started to shine.  They began to show the strong character of the studio.  Every song, animation, and voice line has so much personality.  You were fully prepared to delve into the world.

Blizzard has made games with quite a bit of personality like Blackthorne and more so with The Lost Vikings, but Warcraft II just exploded.  Real-time strategy games were on the rise and Blizzard Entertainment was leading the charge.  The flow would be helped with games like Command & Conquer and Age of Empires, but both of those games settled on a grittier, hard world.  Blizzard leaves enough soft world building to give a sense of wonder.

I think one of the things that really attracted me to Warcraft was how fast the battles took place:  the flying of arrows and axes, the galloping of knights, and cannonballs being fired from ships.  It was all so intense.  I think it may be annoying to some, but the constant clanging of swords when the units are fighting each other is super pleasing to me.  I just imagine them smacking each other with all their might.  It reminds me of playing with toys and making them go to war with each other.  Some toys had special abilities. Some toys were tanks that would just break through the lines.  I guess Warcraft was kind of what I imagined all that to be.

I messed around with the level editor and made some pretty crude levels.  I was pretty young so it’s not like I was making anything fancy, but again, it was one of those situations where I could set up certain situations and have them go at each other.  It was a dream come true.  

Most of the units in either faction were pretty similar which likely helped with balancing issues, but I loved how into the fantasy setting the voice-overs were.  They really felt like two different factions, when stat-wise they were mostly the same.  I think what I love most about Warcraft II is the fact that they fully committed to this fantasy war game.  

With most RTS games game theory is a thing so this is not specific to Warcraft, but I want to point out that this is where that really started building in my mind.  The idea that there are so many different variables and situations that makes each battle feel unique and fought for are what really make RTS games something I love.  I think the esports scene for RTS games are the most interesting because of how mentally intense it is with commanding an army and determining strategies mid-battle, especially in something as fast paced as Warcraft or Starcraft.

Maybe I’m just super biased.  Haha!  But these are the things that makes Warcraft appealing to me.  Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness sits at number 130 as of writing this.  I need to write more frequently or else I’m going to keep getting pushed down this list.  I’ll see you next time on the ULTRA!

Why I Love: Mega Man 2

Mega Struggle

…Why do I love Mega Man 2?  I looked back on this as it is number 130 on my loose list.  If you look at Mega Man 2, it has a lot of unnaturally rising difficulties.  Sometimes, you can’t even call it rising difficulty because it’s just straight up hard from the very beginning.  A few things are not very respectful of your time either.  I mean, I am very grateful for the E-cans and codes, because in Mega Man 1 you had neither of them.  If you died trying to figure out a level or a boss, you are also expending your time.  Now Elise, you mean you got experience right?  Yes, but we get literally nothing but that, and it’s difficult to find the game respectful of your time when it throws all that out the window because you had to try and figure out something that wants specific solutions.  Or glitchy ones.

So why do I even like this game?  Your top tier platformer gamers will be fine, but I would say the average gamer would have a hard time with game, this series even. So why do we like this kind of game that punishes us so severely for trying to figure out a design the developers do not explain?  Isn’t it partly the responsibility of the designer to make sure cheap shots like this don’t happen?  

Why do we like being punished so much!?  It’s not that we like being punished.  It is that we like climbing something rather difficult.  Although I personally DO enjoy the struggle of climbing a mountain, sometimes it is difficult to see that in game design.  The difficulty of designing a game like Mega Man 2 is that you are risking the retention of your player.  There are moments in this game where you may drop on one-hit kill spikes because you do not have insanely fast reaction times that are not normal for a human being.  UNLESS.  Unless you die to find out first.  Which again, is you spending your time to pay for something that blindsided you.

I guess we want the fight.  We want the fight of knowing that the designer is against us.  It is those games that have enough design in them to not push us over the edge.  Or games where the punishment is the sole deliberation of the designers in games like I Wanna Be the Guy.  They make it pretty obvious in that game that it is being unfair on purpose because that’s the point.  That game is a game where designs don’t matter as much.  The game will blindside you at almost every turn and in the end, the skill is some platforming, but it is mostly you remembering where the enemy will come from.

But Mega Man 2 is still on my top list.  I mean, this is the tops list.  It is some people’s favorite game ever.  Maybe it’s the exception that this game is old.  OR MAYBE.  Maybe it is mercy.

I mean, graphics act a little smoother.  The soundtrack is even better than the last one.  Lot’s of things are great.  But I think it is the added level of mercy in the game that makes it even better.  The game doesn’t reconcile with you by making the game easier than the last one.  It is still brutal, but there are always moments of mercy.  A tiny bit of health here.  A tiny bit of ammo there.  E-cans that fill your life to full can be used in times of desperation.

Climbing up a mountain without food or supplies is incredibly difficult, but so is climbing the mountain with supplies.  The difference is one is survival and feels unfair, and the other is a challenge.  That is what makes Mega Man so fun.  That is what makes Dark Souls so fun.  They crush us, give us some water, and then send us out to be crushed again.  Because of the bits of mercy here and there, it still feels like a game.  It still feels like a challenge, and just like a challenge, when we overcome it we look back and say, “Wow.  I made it.  I really did it,” and not, “Ugh, I’m finally done with that. Let’s get out of here.”

Ironically, the artificial difficulty in these games is balanced by the complete opposite of what these games feel like: sanctuary.  And I guess that’s why I love Mega Man 2 so much.  Also the soundtrack.  Listen to that thing if you can.  I love it.  I mean, play the game if you can as well.  The collection is available on Steam.  

This is the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis, and this was Mega Man 2 at number 130.  I’ll see you next time!

Why I Love: The Stanley Parable

You Read This Article

Okay, how do I say this?  I guess I could just say it like this: The Stanley Parable is a first person adventure game, and I very, VERY, highly suggest you play it before you read this article.


You can go grab it here, where it is, as of this article, at $15 USD base price.  You’ll want to play it multiple times.  There is also a demo available on the page, if you want to do that.

———————————————————————


So, this game is one of those games that really reaches out as to what a video game can be like.  It does this without trying too hard.  There are games that want to have such a unique idea that they find one, but then they keep pushing it to the point where it is not really a good game.  Or they keep trying to shove new ideas in until the game is a mess.  It’s okay to have a lot of cool ideas in your game, but don’t force it.  It has to fit.

The Stanley Parable does not do that.  This is a game where you play as a man named Stanley.  Stanley works in an office, and one day his computer screen does not show its usual display and so Stanley must look for his higher ups to find out what’s going on.

However, what makes this game unique is that there is a narrator telling you what to do.  Now obviously you are Stanley, and you as the player are free to do what you wish.  That disjointed collaboration between you and the narrator is what makes this game so special.  Let me emphasize this as well: this does not just make it unique, it makes it fun as well.

A lot of games trying to be unique tend to leave behind the fact that games are meant to be fun or perhaps inspiring in some way, whether that is artistically or philosophically.  The experience that is played on in skits by comedy groups becomes something you get to play!  You decide whether or not you want to follow the narrative.  It also really helps that the narrator’s voice actor is absolutely wonderful.

This game sits at number 131 of the Ultra Loosely Thought Ranked Analysis.  

I mean, that’s it really.  This whole game revolves around this interaction with the narrator and I cannot say much more.  If the silliness of this premise is not intriguing, then maybe this isn’t the game for you.  However, as a game and experience I think it is something most people should play to see what it’s all about.  Play the demo at least.  It’s not my choice to make.  I’m just saying things.  It’s up to you.  In a way, we’re already playing the game right now, because I am telling you what to do, and you don’t have to do it.  For once in a video game, you don’t have to do what it says.


So…  what do you choose?

Why I Love: Metroid

Vania Begins

I would say I really started playing video games with the SNES and early PC games like DOOM.  I never really got into what Metroid was until Metroid Prime, and even more so with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.  It wasn’t until after that I actually went back and played Metroid on the NES.  During that time I took a step back to play other NES games as well and, I have to say, I missed a lot of good stuff.

Before Metroidvania games became more commonplace as it is today, I didn’t…play any.  I played Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, but only for like ten minutes.  So that doesn’t count.  Metroid and Castlevania are the main ancestors of the genre, and that is why we are here today.  I wanted to know what this genre was really about.  And it is about a guided open world. 

Metroid is a game with a large, 2D world to traverse.  You play as Samus Aran, the bounty hunter, who is sent by the Galactic Federation to stop evil people from creating a bioweapon using metroids, those jellyfish looking things you see in relation to the series.  The main thing about exploring the planet Zebes is that you cannot explore all of it at once.  There are always limitations, some ability, some knowledge, or some event that prevents you from exploring everything, and that is the biggest thing about metroidvanias that make them the genre they are.

Different items like suits or weapons open new places where you’re allowed to go, and they also open new locations in old spots.  In a sense, every time you get something new, you unlock content for what’s ahead, as well as everything you’ve done in the past as well.  I think that is one of the big appeals for the genre.  Your character’s growth is shown by what you’re allowed to explore.  You genuinely feel stronger and better.  This isn’t because it’s the only thing placed in front of you either.  It’s not like, “Hey, with this ice pick, you can now climb ice walls,” and then they place an ice wall like, in the next room.  It is more like getting an ice pick and recognizing the fact I can go all the back to the beginning because it’s one huge level.  All those ice walls I saw before are now applicable.  (Ice Pick is not an item in the game.)

This means there are only so many things you can do before you’re forced to move on or to discover the next thing for advancing the story.  This is the genius thing about metroidvania games, and in this case Metroid.  You do have a choice to do what you want, but the game can still guide you to progression.  If you feel too weak, you’re not going to go grind.  You are going to go and explore.  The replacement of redundant grinding with exploration is what makes metroidvania games so satisfying.  If you are those of the adventurous nature and would do this regardless of your character’s strength, then your exploring will be rewarded!  So there is a good funneling of gameplay loops for either situation. 

This does create an issue of backtracking, and each game and gamer has their own way of handling that.  It’s a matter of shortcuts, transports, or fast traveling.  Sometimes it’s up to you to decide when to go backtrack as well.

Proper gameplay loops should be fun or rewarding in all parts of the loop and I think Metroid does a wonderful job at that.  Being an awesome bounty hunter woman is definitely a plus as well.

Metroid is at number 132 on the ULTRA.  Things have shifted around the ULTRA since we last wrote anything.  That is my fault, because we haven’t…written much.  Thank you for reading this though!  We’ll see you next time!

Why I Love: Iji

Rise of Indie

I’m going to skip a bunch of games to talk about this game, and then we’ll head back up to where we were before.

I grew up playing indie games.  I remember playing Jumper and Jumper 2 by what is now Matt Makes Games.  I remember scouring the internet for Mario-clones and playing bullet hell games like rRootage and Tumiki fighters.  I remember being hyped for Jumper: Redux because it had multiplayer.  I was curious how big indie games were going to get.  Well, as we know now, they’re everywhere, but I really feel like there was that second surge of indies that, for me, started with An Untitled Story (also Matt Makes Games) and Iji.

Iji is a free, side-scrolling shooter made by Daniel Remar.  The protagonist Iji is a young woman on Earth where an alien invasion is taking place.  She is turned into a cyborg to give humanity a fighting chance against the aliens.  However, as you go through the game you learn more about the aliens.  You decide how to approach the invasion.  It’s up to you to bring peace or death.

Iji proved so many things to the indie world.  It proved there were great stories and lore in indie games.  It also showed a great system with the level up of skills that affects the way that you play through the game.  You can choose between two different weapon technologies (or really, both if you want).  There are exciting secrets that you can find if you were cheeky enough.  And, there is also a bit of a “choices matter” element to it as well.

I also love that it is kind of a balance between classic side-scrolling shooter and metroidvania.  Your choices for your skills can determine if you can reach specific places.  Hm.  I guess that is just like a normal game these days like Dishonored or something, but still.  It’s really well done.  I’ve never had problems with glitches.  It’s fun discovering different weapons and enemies.  The world felt very new because this deep world wasn’t as common in the indie world back then.

Let’s be honest, a lot of indie games back in the days didn’t have super amazing graphics.  I think that never having the most amazing computer until later in my life taught me that graphics don’t matter that much.  They are always icing on the cake, and a cake without icing can be very delicious.  Having the option of icing and what you can do with it has the potential of deliciousness though.  

Indie games and growing up with games on the SNES also taught me one more thing: how graphics can represent things.  These days graphics try to be real.  They try to literally be the thing that they are supposed to be, but back in the days you had to create a representation.  The graphics had to make you feel like it was the thing without completely looking like it.  And limited graphics really weeds out those who can’t do it.  Iji does whatever it needs to make it feel like what it needs to show.  I don’t need perfectly detailed Tasen aliens to know what they look like, because Daniel already got the feeling down and that is a beautiful thing.

Also, the music.  The music is amazing.  The entire soundtrack is so strong.  The very first sector’s song, Kinda Green, nails that perfect feeling of waking up in a changed world with changed abilities.  The beginning is soft, with a repeating background and a soft melody.  After two minutes, the music kicks it up with an electric guitar, but it’s still not too intense.  It’s still a slower melody.  The music feels just as apprehensive as Iji’s attempt to approach this new life, but she’s now on her feet and she knows she has to move on.  The soundtrack’s increasing intensity keeps up with Iji’s emotional ride as she has to go through the story and as you go through the game.

The sounds are all fantastic as well.  The different weapons and their crazy effects feel bright and new.  The small particles of debris and rockets flying around.  Every sound just brings more environment to what is now Earth under fire.  I also absolutely love the short lines Iji says as well.  It helps her feel alive, human, and malleable.

Iji is #55 on the ULTRA list.  There are a few indie games that are higher on the list, but Iji is such an amazing game I still recommend to anyone looking for something to play.  I am a very emotional person, and so stories and characters are always a strong point for me.  I also loved that the protagonist is a female who isn’t sexualized or has some sort of romance.  She just is.  

Iji is also very high on the list because I feel like it opened so many doors to understanding video games and that is very important to me.  It accomplished so much and did so much for me as a gamer and I can only show thanks for it.  Just like with films, I feel like the ones that help us become better people or better at understanding people tend to resonate the most with me, and Iji has done that.


If you want to play iji go to Remar’s site here!

We’ll see you next time on ULTRA!