Top Ten 'WTF Were they Thinking?' Games
From the quirky to the downright illogical (even by videogame logic standards), Louise Yang runs down her ten biggest "WTF" handheld experiences...
There are times during my life where I am happily playing a game when a strange tingling sensation hits me. I don't usually know when the sensation begins. All I know is when the feeling reaches climax, a thought pops into my head, "WTF were they thinking?" Sometimes the feeling is a good one, but other times it's followed by a feeling of betrayal, like when someone tells you to fetch a crystal for the good of mankind and when you finally bring it back, they just take it from you and use it for their own greedy ways. Listed below are ten games off the top of my head that left me with a WTF feeling.
Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! / Elite Beat Agents
Like any other Asian, I like musical rhythm games in every shape and form from DDR to Guitaroo Man. When someone mentioned a Japanese rhythm game on the DS, I was excited despite not knowing an ounce of Japanese. When I first started playing the game, all I understood from the story was that there were Japanese men in school uniforms who would cheer for people when they were down. An extreme form of motivational speaker, if you must.
The story panels were pretty self explanatory. One guy was sad because he wanted to be the best ramen maker in town, but couldn't be. Some policemen were having trouble shooting down a giant mouse. Some artist was having trouble making a scuplture. Who you gonna call? Japanese Cheerleading Men! That was when the WTF moment struck: there's no explanation about why tapping circles in a musical sequence helps these people -- it just does. I don't know what the game designers were smoking when they thought of this game, but they should keep on smoking it and make more games like this.
Every Extend Extra
While I like the music in Lumines because it matches the visuals of the game, I could never get into the zone of lining the tiles up like some people could. The only equivalent I could relate to was zoning out when playing Rez. Lumines is a game that synchronized its audio to how people played got rid of blocks and Rez is a game that synchronized its audio to what players shot at on the screen. Tetsua Mizuguchi, who not surprisingly worked on both Rez and Lumines, combined these two games to give us Every Extend Extra. The game could be described as a shoot-em-up, except there's no shooting. The player controls a ship whose only form of offense is to self destruct. If there are objects within the ship's radius of explosion, those objects will also explode and make their own radius of explosion and so-on forming a chain reaction. All this is done with a pulsing musical score to accompany it, giving players a great example of what synesthesia feels like.
While the concept of making a shmup with synchronized music sounds obvious now that it's been done, I don't know how Q Entertainment came up with this. My only guess is that there were hallucinogenic drugs involved. Either that or many days of no sleep until someone in the studio jumped up from their desk and exclaimed, "Let's let people zone out while exploding stuff!"
With the success of quirky games like Katamari Damacy, I had no doubts that other companies were soon to follow in its footsteps. I wasn't disappointed when I found out about LocoRoco. On the surface, the game sounds simple: Get from point A to point B without dying. While the concept is a simple one, what makes this game stand out is the execution. Instead of the player controlling a character, the player must control the environment -- tilting it this way and that to get the character, a roundish creature, to roll in the desired direction. The controls remind me of Super Monkey Ball, but in 2D.
Anyone who has seen the box art can tell you that the visuals are um...strange. Characters range from round blobbish things to black spider-like things that have taken a bit of flack from people who are a bit too sensitive about things being politically correct. The music and sounds in this game match the visuals perfectly. Not only is the music whimsical and goofy, but it changes as your band of Loco Roco grow. It wasn't the smiley round characters, but the music and nonsensical speech in LocoRoco that made me think, "WTF?" How can something so seemingly simple be so strange and engaging?
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A game should never have so many loading screens, especially for loading character portraits during a dialog. You'd think you were downloading desktop wallpaper from Australia on a 14.4 baud modem at the amount of time it takes a simple graphic to load. I don't know how a developer can release something like this. I thought my PSP was dying because there were such long pauses between trivial things. Seriously. WTF?
I got this game, eager to relive one of the joys from my childhood: fitting blocks into tight spaces. Tetris DS does promise that, but I was crestfallen to see the changes of the DS version. First, WTF happened to the original Tetris music? As much as I like Super Mario Brothers (the sidescroller on the top screen is nice, I must admit) I don't want to play Tetris to Super Mario Bros. music. I want the original Tetris music, thank you very much.
The second thing I'm angry about is this crap with infinite spin. While Tetris has had the feature of letting a player spin a piece into place at the last minute in previous iterations, the DS version lets the player spin that piece forever. Say goodbye to high scores in marathon mode because they now mean nothing. There were times in this game where I was able to pop a piece out of its hole and move it completely to the other side of the screen thanks to infinite spin. Good jobs in ruining one of my favorite games from my childhood, developers.
Britney Dance Beat
Not surprisingly, I did not have high hopes for this game. I approached it with a morbid sense of curiosity, wondering, "Just how bad could it be?" The answer is, "Not so bad, but it's not good either." Taking a cue from games like DDR and Parappa the Rapper, Britney Dance Beat has the player hitting the A and B buttons and the arrow keys at specific times which are designated by a circular swinging bar. What's my motivation, you ask? Well, K-fed, you're an aspiring dancer whose life-long dream is to become the teen queen's backup dancer, so you'd better impress her with your smooth moves.
While the gameplay isn't horrid, the only reason anyone would buy this is because they're a Britney fan. I'm sure the developers have thought of this, so it puzzles me to see that the game doesn't really deliver anything to the fans. The on-screen Britney is blurry and hardly recognizable, which is somewhat excusable since it is a GBA game afterall. But then, what about the music? Instead of actual songs, players are treated to MIDI renditions of the songs with an occasional chorus or two. There's also two player feature, but good luck finding someone else who not only actually owns the game, but will admit that they do. So let's see...a blurry Britney, no actual songs and the game is too embarassing to admit to playing. Why would anyone play this game?
New Super Mario Bros.
All I ever wanted was a new Super Mario Brothers game to come out on the DS, so I was ecstatic to find out about well, the New Super Mario Brothers. I don't know how they could have ruined something so simple, but New Super Mario Brothers just wasn't as fun as the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES. Maybe I'm wearing nostalgia tinted glasses, but there's a certain charm that's missing in NSMB. Part of it is the fact that the game is too easy. Every boss can be beaten in basically the same way and the levels don't offer much of a challenge.
What I also don't understand is what they're going to do about a sequel. Will they call it New Super Mario Bros. 2? Would this game become Old Super Mario Bros. and the next one will be New Super Mario Bros.? New New Super Mario Bros.? Super New Super Mario Bros.? I hope whoever named this game thought the name through to the point of sequels. I also hope the guy who named this game isn't the same guy who said, "Hey! Let's make a new Super Mario Bros game, but make it super easy! It's ok if people get bored though. We'll make it up by adding minigames!"
WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame
Warioware also left me with the same head-scratching WTF feeling that Rhythm Tengoku did. The minigames, oh wait, excuse me, microgames in Warioware last only a few seconds long. Microgames are fired at the player in rapid succession, which is perfect with someone with an attention span that rivals a goldfish. Some microgames look like screens from NES games like Metroid, while others look good enough to be on the PS1. The visuals actually don't matter because games flash by so quickly, there's hardly time to process what you're looking at before you have to decide when to press a button.
While some microgames come from NES games, there are still a decent amount that had me wondering, "Who the heck thinks these things up?" The microgames range from picking your nose, jumping over a goomba, brushing your teeth, and holding an umbrella in the rain. I'm still amazed that someone made brushing your teeth fun.
Maybe it's the whole not understanding Japanese thing, but this game leaves me with a WTF feeling everytime I play it, but it's a good WTF feeling. Rhythm Tengoku is made up of many, many minigames grouped by rounds as well as a "boss round" that has a combination of previous mini-games played. The mini-games, while not as quick as Wario Ware Touched, include things like using a fork to stab some virus, being a clapping lion, plucking hairs off an onion, changing dogs into kids, setting off fireworks, and bouncing bunnies off of turtles and whales. Most of the games require the player to press the button at specific times, usually cued by the music.
The magic of Rhythm Tengoku is that you don't need any knowledge of Japanese. The games are so straightforward that anyone who has a sense of rhythm should be able to figure out what to do on their first or second try. Something about the simplicity of the graphics, which looks like something someone would draw in MS Paint, and the catchiness of the songs makes this game truly addictive in a "Why the hell can't I stop playing this and why is it so fun?" kind of puzzling way.
Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
I'm a big fan of this game, but one blaring thing mars the experience for me: the law system. I know the purpose of the laws is to add an extra level of difficulty in the game, but the arbitrary nature of the laws make them a big pain. I admit that I there were several times where I started over a fight or avoided a fight on a specific date just because I didn't want to deal with the law of the day. What makes the law system even worse is that while my characters could be put in jail for breaking a law, it seemed like the AI's characters' most severe punishment for breaking a law was just a warning.
Some of the laws were so random that I wouldn't be surprised if I came upon a day where the judge decreed: "No pants today!"
Well there you have it, ten games that made me scratch my head and wonder, "WTF were they thinking?" My hope is that with the success of these current "good WTF" games, companies are more willing to stray off the beaten path and take a chance with a game idea that may seem strange at the time but might catch on later be the next Katamari Damacy.