Difficulty, Obfuscation, and Galactus

I played three new games over the weekend on the Very Easy difficulty. I lost all three of them.

NBA 2K12 is a very good game, I think. I’m not actually sure. I picked up NBA 2K12 off the recommendation of a lot of people who like basketball, and based on the fact that it was a deep history mode with huge games from back when I watched basketball, when guys like Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, John Stockton, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson played. I picked it up on the strength of the trailer with Project Lionheart’s “They Come Back” with all of these historical players, smooth animation, and incredible presentation. I picked it up despite the fact that I haven’t played an NBA game since Live 96 for the Sega Genesis and I haven’t watched a full basketball game since Michael Jordan drained a three-pointer over Byron Russell to win the NBA Finals. Since then, apparently he either owns or runs a team. So you can see that I’ve been gone for a while.

I lost a game by almost 40 points to the Golden State Warriors, and I was surprised to find out that the Golden State Warriors still existed. It was on Very Easy, 12-minute quarters, and I was playing as the Chicago Bulls, who are ranked quite highly. Either the game is bad or I am bad, and I’m not so full of myself that I think it’s the former. But I do have complaints, and fortunately I have this here soapbox.

NBA 2K12 does a lot of things well, but one of the things it does best is obfuscation. I don’t mind losing a game that much, but I do mind losing a game and not knowing how. I come into the NBA at a disadvantage since I don’t play much basketball, but I do want a few things to happen when I am playing a game. When I am on offense, I have a few plays I can call, with names like “Rose Get Open,” “Booker Low Post,” etc. that are obviously designed to do exactly what they are saying. That’s great, but I don’t know what those plays are doing, and I haven’t figured out a way for the game to tell me that while I’m playing a game. Madden NFL does something good here, where you can pull up the play art showing where everyone is going. I’d like this to be in all sports games for people like me, people who are interested in a game that they don’t necessarily know by heart.

One other thing that Madden does that I wish this game did — and as a huge fan of NFL 2K5 I understand how weird that is to say — is that I don’t have to actively control someone in Madden, but I do in NBA. On defense in Madden, I can select the middle linebacker, but without my input he will do middle linebacker-esque stuff, and I can take over when the ball is in the air and try to swat it down or lay a hit on the receiver or whatnot. That works. In NBA 2K12, if you have a player selected, he will do absolutely nothing on his own, meaning you have to control every movement. This is problematic when you don’t know how to defend someone on the perimeter.

I’m not asking for games to be easier, except maybe I am on the Very Easy difficulty. I am asking for games to be clearer.

I then played Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and I don’t have as much to say here. Obfuscation is present in the command list, but mostly in that I don’t know what moves do. Deadpool’s Level 3 Super looks pretty funny, but I have no idea what it is because the game doesn’t tell me what it does. All I did was stroll forward in training mode. I’m not saying I need a super guide to everything provided free of charge, but I would like to know if a move is used as a counter or dodges fireballs or suplexes bears or whatever.

The final boss is complete bullshit, but that’s to be expected in fighting games for some reason.

The last game played was Top Spin 4, the 2K sports tennis game for the Playstation 3. I lost a three set match as Rafael Nadal to Andy Roddick, which is fine, except it was on Very Easy and I lost the first set 3-0 despite having played all of the basic tutorials. TS4 is bizarre to play, and here’s why.

Over the course of 25 years of playing games, from getting my 8-bit Nintendo at the age of 5 through today, where I play 8-bit Nintendo games on Virtual Console, I have been taught one all-encompassing thing about playing games. Buttons Do Stuff. Pressing buttons makes things happen. That’s a given, right? Not in Top Spin 4! No, in Top Spin 4 releasing buttons makes things happen.

To return a shot, you hold down a button for some time in advance of when you want to hit the ball, and then you release the button some time in advance of when you want to hit the ball. The game’s “helpful” hint system said something like “before you are halfway through your swing” you should release the button. Releasing too early OR too late means your shot is bad, meaning you will almost certainly hit out of bounds if you are trying to do anything more complicated than make contact.

Letting go of buttons sometime before you want to have a thing happen isn’t a complicated yet deep control system, it’s bad controls. When I hit a button, I expect something to happen. This game doesn’t do that, and it wants precise timing without telling you when that timing should be. It’s a surprisingly unhelpful control system with terrible communication to the player.

I don’t have time for obfuscation, which is why Top Spin 4 is being returned to Amazon, and I can use the credit from it and another game or two to get Guild Wars 2. It’s not from a paycheck, I can do that!

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