So today I quit playing a game. A single player game no less. I just gave up. Not because the game was too difficult to be conquered (though for honesty’s sake I had just died for the fourth time) and not because the potential for the game wasn’t good. I quit because I wasn’t getting what I wanted from the game in pursuit of something the game wasn’t delivering enough of.
Let me back up and explain.
The game in question was No More Heroes, an old (2007) game for the Wii that I borrowed from a friend because I had heard amazing things about it. To be specific, the amazing things were in this article here about the ending of the game (needless to say, spoiler alert.) And I wanted to see that ending in context. I wanted to play the game that could not only insert such a dark, truthful moment into a video game where such things aren’t generally done, but also in such a clever and powerful way (for clarity without spoilers, the information is revealed in a fast forward which breaks the 4th wall and references previous moments within the game).
I wanted to experience that moment as it was meant to be.
And when I started the game, I loved it. After a quick tutorial I was hacking and slashing with ease, enjoying the relatively simple combat. Sure it was a bit repetitive, and yeah the level design was very closed, but this was a game that had story. This was a game that had clever cut scenes. And the game play was fun enough that a little repetition wasn’t going to distract me from that.
Then I fought the first boss. And it was hard. But not in the way it was supposed to be. It wasn’t hard because I had to figure out a long string of moves with timings and combos. It wasn’t hard because it required me to think strategically or do complicated maneuvers. It was hard because the boss could only be hurt at certain arbitrary times. Not because he was blocking. Not because he was using a special move that only activates once every thirty seconds. Not because he was just too damn fast He just…couldn’t be hurt because he couldn’t be.
But I beat him. It took a hot minute and it was frustrating, but I beat him. This opened up the open world aspect of the game which, when you really look at things isn’t all that open world. Yes, the world is open, and you can drive around it, but you can’t interact with much. You can’t do much at all in it except go from set place to set place. But that wasn’t why I was playing this game. I was playing it for that ending. That awesome, unexpected, extremely well done ending. And I was going to get to it.
Which took me to the second boss. And his guns. And while the guns were frustrating, they weren’t the most frustrating part of the boss fight. No, that honor goes to the same frustrating part of the first boss. He couldn’t be hit except during certain times and all other times he was invincible because…reasons.
Again I beat him. It was close, but I did it. Back to the limited open world. Back to the grind for cash before entering the next narrow hallway stage into the next boss fight which…you guessed it. Boss couldn’t be hit except during certain times. Oh, but I left some parts out. See, video games get harder as they progress. What did this new boss have?
A ranged attack which was unblockable (which, 2007 wii controls meant I was getting stuck behind pillars and not dodging too many of those. Then there was a variation of that move at about 50% health where she would launch a barrage of them. Enough of them to kill you. Which I found out the hard way a couple times. And once you got her down to 25% she had another attack which if she hit you would instantly kill you.
I died. A lot. Strong words were spoken. At one point I had to turn the system off and walk away.
But! But. I was determined. I was going to get to that ending. I was going to see it in context. I was going to experience the anticipation and earn my way to victory. Research on the internet told me that she was the most difficult boss in the game (for some reason) and that there were no exploits, you just had to be calm, patient, and hack away at her until she died while not dying yourself. It was going to be hard but I could beat her.
And I did. After about ten more tries I did it. I beat her. I shouted victory. I did a little dance. Then returned back to the limited open world, back to grinding for money, so that I could go back to another limited level, cut through a new slew of similar but slightly different enemies, to get to another boss who once again couldn’t be hit except when the game decided and who had another pair of unblockable attacks which took away half your health and got him down to 1% health on my fourth try only to die when I got stuck on a piece of terrain I couldn’t see because of the camera..
That was it. That was the straw. Because I realized something fighting that boss.
I didn’t care about the game play. It was repetitive, uninspired, and other games did it better. I love a good hack and slash but this neither had enough enemies to make it interesting, nor was it refined enough to handle more than four enemies even if they had included more. I didn’t care about the boss fights, because I want a boss who can’t be hit because they won’t let me, not because the game won’t. The only thing I cared about was getting to the end to see the video I’d already seen in full context as opposed to just a clip on a website.
And I got what I wanted. I didn’t have to fight through uninspired gameplay to do it. I just had to go watch a youtube video and see the other cut scenes that led to the story I had wanted to see all along.
At the end of all of this, it may sound like I’m going to say No More Heroes is a bad game. But it’s not. I’ve played far worse. I’ve powered through a lot worse. People love this game and I’m not here to tell them not to enjoy it. But getting to be an older gamer, I realize now, if I want to play a game for a specific reason and the game is not enjoyable to me in other ways…it’s probably time to stop. Save myself the frustration, the anger, and the time. I got what I wanted, and I didn’t have to hack and slash to do it. I just needed YouTube.
And this isn’t the first time this has happened to me in a game.
Catherine is a story about a man who wakes up one morning to find he has cheated on his girlfriend, though he doesn’t remember picking up the girl. The descriptions I had heard of the game seemed to point to it being a game where you had to navigate the careful thread of unraveling A. Where this girl came from and who she was while you B. Tried to save a relationship that you had accidentally compromised. The game has six possible endings based on the choices you make throughout the game and if that was all this would be an amazing game. But instead you get gameplay like this.
If you don’t feel like watching the video, I’ll fill you in. That is a puzzle game right there. But what the hell, you might be thinking. Didn’t I just describe the game above as a relationship navigator? Yes! It was! With a puzzle game in between because…it needed to be a game apparently. I really don’t know the reason because every trailer I saw for that game didn’t include that aspect of gameplay.
But that’s not even the best example I have of the plot trumps game play experience. The final example, and I think the best is a little game called Battleblock Theater.
Battleblock theater isn’t a bad game. In fact, if you like platformer collection games much like Super Meat Boy, or just platformers in general then it’s good. Repetitive, challenging, but good. But compared to the cutscenes…it’s just ok. The cutscenes, however, are amazing! In fact, I’m watching them right now just because they’re so funny.
But I never beat that game. Never will. With limited time and so many other games to play and other things to do, the game play just isn’t enough to keep me interested when I can just get the cutscenes by themselves.
So what am I trying to say here? At the end of the day I’m the type of gamer who wants a good story. And a good story used to be enough to keep me powering through game play I wasn’t enjoying just so I could get that story. But as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve come to accept that…sometimes I just don’t care. I don’t need to finish it. Same as how I don’t need to finish a book if I’m not enjoying it after fifteen pages, or don’t need to finish a movie if I’m bored after the same amount of time. There are other ways to get the information I need and the enjoyment I seek. And if it means being a quitter…well, as a former smoker sometimes you know quitting isn’t the worst thing in the world.
But if you’ve found yourself in the same situation, I’m here to tell you that you’re allowed to quit the games we borrow, sample, or *gasp* purchase. That it’s YOURS to do with as you please, and if you’re playing through something complaining the whole time “gods I hate this game,” it might be time that you just accepted…if I hate this so much why am I playing it? If the answer is anything except “because I want to play it,” then it’s time to quit. And if you’re hating the game and still playing it, then you’re probably playing something in the Souls franchise.