Enjoying My Training Wheels
As the gear ticks away, Ezio swings from the bar onto the edge of a rocky ledge, dives back off the cliff to the top of a post and instantly jumps to another post and further to another ledge. The gear ticks faster as Ezio runs up the wall and leaps to his right, falling to his death.
I know it's the wrong move as soon as I press the thumbstick over—or at least soon enough after that it feels simultaneous. But that doesn't matter now. Now I'm DE synched and waiting for the tomb to reload so that I can try again. It's curious how fluid Ezio moves sometimes. There are times when I have no need to look where I'm leaping. I can trust that there will be something to grab onto when I swing around that corner. I know that if I jump off that vista, there will be a pile of hay waiting to cushion my fall.
Sometimes I wish all the puzzles were that easy. It would certainly save me a lot of time waiting at loading screens, and the lives of countless virtual assassins, Persian princes, not to mention blue hedgehogs and Italian plumbers.
But it's the hedgehogs that get to me. No, it's not the shocked, sad face of Sonic as he throws his cartoon arms out and falls off the screen. It's that these slicker, action-based games seem built around that slick speed. The timed levers in Assassin's Creed call back to the timed levels of early platformers, urging you to complete the puzzle with the speed and grace of a master assassin, a semi-guided missile streaming unerringly toward Pieces of Eden just as Sonic blazed after Chaos Emeralds. Sure, they're training wheels, but sometimes I can almost feel the hand of the level designer, pushing me faster as we enjoy this freedom and space together.
But sometimes the fun of pushing forward—with the occasional jump—gets interrupted by a pit of spikes, or even just a blank wall. That's when the fun ends and the exploring begins.
Don't get me wrong. I love exploring games. I love wandering off the path in Bethesda titles and RPGs. I even like wandering off the one-way corridors of shooters, hoping to find a new weapon or some COG tags. I just happen to prefer exploring games where exploration has a sense of adventure and reward, and I happen to dislike exploring when it's a frustrating necessity. Maybe you'll find a secret area as you try to figure out what you did wrong. But you're really just wishing you could get back to the fun.
Many games hold your hand in an open space, helping you feel more like your avatar on the screen and less like a hapless victim of inconvenient camera angles. But then sometimes the game will pull away its hand, perhaps to show you that you can ride without training wheels after all.
Maybe, but I was enjoying those training wheels.
This wasn't the game I was playing. Just as I play games where I can strip naked and walk backwards while shooting up the place, except sometimes. Just as I play War for Cybertron as a futuristic jet plane blasting at Autobots, but now I'm stuck for an entire level, manning a turret bolted to the back of a giant slug. I'm flying around almost as easily as a plane or whatever half-tangible protagonist is in Flower. Now I'm stuck doing this.
I get that games need to mix it up a little every now and then. If the game got repetitive after hours of doing the same fun things, I might walk away and do chores or sleep or something. I might need to cleanse my gamer palate with something else before I came back to finish this level. Why not build in a bit of sorbet so the players can freshen up and keep enjoying those fun core mechanics?
But this isn't sorbet; this is being forced to finish your vegetables before you can have a second helping of the main course.
But dangit, I'm a big boy now. I can eat only steak if I want to. And I can keep my training wheels on as long as I like.