Bi-Weekly Update: Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Secret Agent, Dark City

What I’ve been Playing: Ori and the Will of the Wisps

I played the precursor to this game, Ori and the Silent Forest, nearly seven years ago (good grief, really?). It was a beautiful game, not just in terms of graphics and gameplay, but also in a story that, while simple, tugged at your heartstrings early and often. I may have cried. I don’t remember. (I do and I did).

I make it a point never to buy a game that’s not on sale, though–which has the unintended result of me rarely buying a game when I’m first interested in it, and sometimes no longer being interested in it when I buy it. I didn’t buy Will of the Wisps until two years ago, and never touched the game until two weeks ago.

I played it on “Easy”, and I’m pretty sure I played the original Ori on “Normal,” because I remember Ori and the Blind Forest being a lot harder than Will of the Wisps was. It’s not to say it wasn’t hard–that section with running away from the sand worm was enraging–but it wasn’t as demanding, which is good for a casual gamer like myself.

There’s a lot more variety in the environments, and a few new tricks in the gameplay (not a lot–the original moveset was solid and there wasn’t much reason to change it.) One new element is the “refuge” you’re responsible for, where you can spend points to build extra rooms or add flowers. A lot of games seem to have this “base upgrade” mechanic. I like it, but I wonder what the logic is. A reward system of sorts, like getting new paint jobs for your car in a racing game?

The story is less compelling. Ori’s friendship with the baby owl is sweet, but the owl spends most of the game lost or unconscious. The owl’s grief over his crippled wing is touching, but again, not developed. The villain looks appropriately creepy, but I’d taken it for an owl skeleton re-animated by the Rot, and was disappointed to instead get a “the other owls didn’t like me because I’m different” origin story. Much less interesting than the villain of “Ori and the Blind Forest,” whose motives turned out to be very similar to your own in some ways. The idea of rot giving way to new life and vice-versa is true enough, but not very emotionally engaging.

One thing, certainly–the ending brings the game full circle in an excellent way. I very much hope they don’t do an Ori 3–not because the games aren’t fun and pretty, but because the story ended in a perfect place, and anything further would feel tacked-on.

What I’m (Also) Playing: Secret Agent

So when I was little, my parents, instead of listening to me and my three brothers whine and complain about getting new video games, got us a CD labeled “Game Empire”, which contained 250 different video games. No descriptions, no images, just a title and a genre. You just picked a title that looked interesting and hoped for the best. It’s probably why I have so little commitment for sticking with a game now; if “Captain Cosmic” didn’t “grab” you, you could just scroll down to the next interesting-looking title and try that. Some games were really compelling, like the original “Duke Nukem,” and “Xargon.” Others, like “Save the Pizzas” and “Dragon Quest” (no, not that one) were duds.

It was all this.

“Secret Agent” was one of our favorites, and returning to it after 20 years, I’m… not really sure why. The platforming is straightforward and the controls are good, but the environments are horrific, blocking jumps in the worst possible spaces, trapping you in locales so that you need to restart the level, all against backgrounds that sometimes make objectives, hazards, or even your character blend in. It’s like a course in bad game design.

Level-select screen

But that’s kind of the thing, of course, Secret Agent was made in the days before there really was a lot of concrete “game design” (though even Nintendo knew enough to make Mario stand out against his background.) A lot of it was just nerds in their basement putting together pixels, and it’s part of that that still gave Secret Agent a lot of charm for me. As, of course, did finally finishing the game–like everything else on the “Game Empire” CD, it was shareware, where you had to send away 30$ to get the other two episodes. But as I said, I make it a point of buying games only when they’re on sale, so instead I picked up all three for 50 cents when they were on sale from GOG last week.

What I’m Watching: Dark City

I watched several years ago, but revisited it recently. It’s easy to make comparisons to The Matrix–and indeed the beginning feels remarkably similar to Neo getting the phone at his work–but apparently the movies were under development at the same time, so it’s hard to claim one copied the other. What it is, definitely, is an amazing film, even without any scenes where characters dodge bullets and shoot up an entire lobby.

Dark City, I think, is more compelling if you view it more as one of the noir films it’s plainly emulating. It starts even the same, with an innocent (?) man accused of murder, having to live on the run while trying to clear his name. It’s bizarre, dreamlike, taking various noir conventions like everything happening at night and turning them into plot devices. It’s a city where everyone seems crazy except the man himself. I’d love, I think, a Dark City series that only very gradually revealed the truth about the Strangers, that just sort of let you keep wondering if the main character was mad. (Which apparently, they’re working on such a series, so that’ll be cool.)

Like it’d be totally plausible to view these strange men who keep showing up as some sort of organized crime group, until gradually you started to realize they were much more than that.

It’s certainly good as a sci-fi movie too, but viewing it as one makes you irritated with a lot of the incillary characters in the movie, who seem unimportant to the larger sci-fi world–one of many reasons why the original opening of Dr. Schreber explaining the whole thing is a terrible way to start off.

It feels odd to call it an underrated gem, as it’s constantly brought up as a great movie in rating lists and articles of movies that didn’t deserve to bomb. It also feels wrong to call it a cult classic, as there’s something universally compelling about it, not merely something unique and quirky. It is a fascinating movie (and a weird one), that I wish more people knew about, albeit people not offended by light horror and slight nudity.

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