Friday, February 3, 2012

SC On Stonekeep: Bones of the Ancestors (Wiiware)

More like Defiling the Ancestors.

Even considering that this is a Wiiware game, it should not be inferior in almost every way to its predecessor.  I don't think it's unreasonable to ask that a game released in 2012 be better in some way to the game it's based off which was released about 17 years ago.

17 years!  And not only did you not improve anything, you made it WORSE!  Everything--controls, gameplay, graphics (debatable), story, design, the list goes on--is a step down.  No wonder this shit only costs 500 Wii Points; it's a goddamn trap!

 I am fully aware of how this sounds so far.

I'm not just pissed, I'm fanboy pissed.  

I played the original Stonekeep when I was a kid, a game that came in a big tombstone-shaped box and had what were, at the time, pretty solid FMVs (albeit with really obvious green screens), but the dungeon-crawling, atmosphere, and allies fought with along the way progressed the story and game well enough to become a game that's memorable to a decent amount of people nearly two decades after its release.

I would know.  I saw one of their rage-filled, 1-out-of-10 reviews as I was looking up images for this blog post.

Then this game came along from the same publisher (Interplay) as well as Alpine Studios, who proudly boast on their website that they're working on new PS2 and GameCube titles and list their newest release as a Windows 98-compatible Bible trivia game, and licensed by Bear Naked Productions Games, the same people who brought you Dance Sensation for the Wii.

This is it.  The lowest of low standards.  Trying to visit the sites for Alpine or BNP brings up webpages I swear I made on Geocities in the late-90s.

 I really liked wolves.  And using every color possible.

But wait, we haven't gotten to the game yet!  For those who need a refresher, this is the intro to the original Stonekeep:

Oh, that robed figure that saved the protagonist?
Never explained who that is.

Compare that to the WiiWare game's ungodly epic... uh... wall of text.  This is word-for-word what it said:

You have entered Stonekeep, the home of your ancestors.  You are now in the dungeons.

An evil force has entered the keep and driven out most of the former residents.
Only a true descendent of the clans can solve the mystery of Stonekeep and give the restless souls of the dead peace at last.

To survive your journey you must pick an ally to guide your path.
Choose a door to pick your ally and begin your quest.

Everybody got that?  Now here's what's wrong with this. 

#1. What dungeon?  The only thing close to a dungeon in Stonekeep from the first game was the sewer.  Unless you're talking about the various places BELOW Stonekeep, which, you know, aren't Stonekeep. 

#2.  How did we get to the dungeon?  Did we just waltz through the other parts of Stonekeep before this point?

#3. What evil force?  Is it the Shadow King from the first game Khull Khuum? (Spoiler: ha, no)

#4. "Driven out most of the former residents?"  That sounds about as threatening as a cranky 70-year old landlord.  This evil force can't get rid of and/or kill everyone/anyone?

#5. What clans? 

#6.  Souls of the dead?  I thought the resident were "driven out."  This becomes even more unclear later on.

#7. Pick an ally?  Why just one?  In the original Stonekeep up to three other people could tag along.  This becomes even more appalling later on.

#8. This plot is go generic and nondescript that I can summarize it in two sentences without leaving out any major details: Evil is attacking your home.  Find a random person to help you do something about it.

So now it's time to actually play the game and, instead of taking the role of a particular character like Drake in the original, Bones of the Ancestors offers two generic-looking character models with their only significant differences being name and gender.  One is named Marcus, the other is named Sheena.  Which one do you think I picked?

What were you expecting, a Gears of War reference?

Now the journey begins with standing in a room with three doors, each leading to a different ally.  Before I could even do this, though, I was instantly baffled by the design of the game itself.  For one, the interface is horrible.  The bottom quarter of the screen is blocked by a massive gray slab with a huge compass wedged in the middle, which is useless thanks to the map function.  On either side are a red and blue canteen-like thing which are supposed to display health and mana.  Had I not accidentally looked down by tilting the Wiimote and nunchuk forward (...) I wouldn't have known my character had a sword in her hand.

Even worse were the controls.  It's strange to say this about a game released so many years after the Wii launched, but this is easily the worst-controlling Wii game I've ever played (yes, worse than Escape from Bug Island), largely because it's awful on both possible fronts.  Not only is the responsiveness of the controls sluggish or at times nonexistent, but the control scheme itself is like something thought up by a seven-year old.  Or a bunch of forty-year old men who are trying way too hard to seem edgy.

Want examples?  Oh don't worry, there are plenty of bullets left in this magazine.

 Hold on, this is way too good for this game.

That's better.

The simple act of moving is a chore, with every turn feeling less like a person walking down a hallway and more like driving an 18-wheeler through a slalom course.  Oh, quick turns aren't like that, though.  Quick turns are in fact so quick that there is no animation for them; your character goes from facing one direction to another in a single frame.

But let's say you want to attack something.  Good for you!  You might try doing the obvious thing and swing the Wiimote to absolutely no effect, as well as hitting every button to no avail (except for discovering jumping and the map).  What you have to do is hold A, swing the Wiimote up, then release A while bringing it down, or doing the same thing from side to side.  This causes an attack that's delayed by almost half-a-second and, sometimes, will glitch on the upswing and not complete its animation, resulting in no attack at all and likely getting you hit by whatever is attacking you.

Spells are even worse.  Each spell involves some combination of holding a D-pad button, aiming it up, down, or at the screen, and performing some kind of motion.  Some require aiming at the screen and doing a "rainbow" motion.  Others require aiming at the floor and making a clockwise circle.  Throwing objects require holding B and either slinging the Wiimote, making a lasso, or doing some other movements which register about 60% of the time.

And I'm rambling now so here's a picture to break up the monotony.

Guess why I chose this one?

But what about choosing an ally you say?  Well, you open one of three doors, walk up to them, and teleport to somewhere else entirely, which still looks like the same old generic dark dungeon.  The thing is, you're actually choosing an ally the moment you open a door, so if you can't see the small, crudely-drawn picture on the door showing which ally it is, you're stuck with whichever door you accidentally open first.

Then the game becomes outright insulting to my intelligence:

I know where the A button is, thanks.

After that the ally says you have to strike him/her five times before he/she can strike you once.  After getting hit about eight times I hit five non-consecutive slashes and completed the objective.  Wow, we've got a winner here folks!

I got what is supposed to be a Sharga as an ally.  I say "supposed to be" because it looks like someone took the Shargas from the original game, dressed them up like medieval Christmas elves, and made sure they were constantly stoned out of their minds.

Feels good man.

After apparently teleporting to a new dungeon (a new dungeon that looks remarkably like the last dungeon) my ally was missing.  That's because allies in this game, instead of following you, simply appear in certain areas and never leave them. Usually you'll have an ally, they'll follow you around a room and halfway down a hall, then disappear for awhile.  After entering another room they'll either walk out from around a corner up ahead or simply appear in front of you.  Make no mistake, these allies can die, but the enemies are typically so incompetent or so weak that the ally will mostly be killed by your accidentally hitting him/her/it.

Speaking of, the enemies in SK:BotA (I am not typing out all of that again) are shockingly stupid.  Most of them are skeletons that either have swords, swords and shields, or rocks/spears to throw.  The ones with melee weapons slowly walk up to you and attack at the rate of roughly one sword or axe swing every three seconds, leaving lots of time to attack even with the botchy control scheme.  If one enemy of a group is attacking you, the other one will either attempt to use magic, throw things or, if it's another melee monster, wander around wondering what it's supposed to do.  Hell, even the allies will do the latter at times.

This bad AI can lead to the enemies killing each other without your having to attack, especially in the case of magic users.  If they have a projectile magic attack, just stand so another enemy is in the way and not only will they happily block the spell with their bodies, but the casters will happily cast the spell over and over until their friend dies.

Just trying to stay thematically appropriate.

But not to worry, because if you do take damage there are healing potions and mana potions aplenty all over the map.  You can only carry about ten of each, and the game helpfully reminds you of this every damn time you step over one of them when your inventory is full.  It does the same thing for when you pass by a door you don't have a key for yet, so the game will almost constantly be treating you like this is not only the first game you have ever played, but that it's the first game you have ever played every second you spend playing it.

Oh, and by "inventory" I don't mean "collection of items you can use," I mean "items you have which the game uses and you have no control over."  Health and mana potions are used automatically when the bar/lantern/jug/thing runs out, and keys are used automatically when near the right door.  The player doesn't even have control over things like equipment, as the hammer and sword are used according to different Wiimote motions and magically change in the player's hand when switching. 

As if my intelligence hasn't already been insulted enough, I got one key which unlocked a door leading to a room with nothing but a treasure chest in it.  In the treasure chest was another key.  Did I get a Wiiware title or a bullshit point-and-click Flash game?

Even the act of saving the game is horrendous.  Save points are little circles on the floor that look like teleporters from a Looney Tunes cartoon.  You step on them, the game saves.  It's simple, but that's the problem.  It's actually too simple.  There are no multiple save slots, so you're running only one game at a time.  And if you accidentally hit a save point when you didn't want to, which is incredibly easy to do as they're sometimes in the middle of a narrow hallway, well...

What he said.

Maybe I should clarify a bit: things do technically change in this game.  The levels do technically look different and the enemies aren't technically all the same... technically.  However, they're all so dull, monotonous, and ultimately similar to each other that their appearance is virtually the only difference between all of them.  The second level has brick walls and the same pictures of ponies (what?) showing up, but that's just about the only thing separating it from the first level.  The dwarves look like dwarves and sometimes have different weapons, but they still attack in similar patterns to all the skeletons from earlier.  BotA is simply blandness piled on top of blandness.

But that's not what ultimately drove me over the edge.  No.  Take a look at this quote from Interplay's website about this game from some time ago:

"The new Stonekeep is expected for initial release during the third quarter of 2010 and is planned for electronic distribution through Nintendo's WiiWare™ service" news release

This game was delayed for over a year.

Over a year!




And not one person in that time said, "Guys?  How about
we fix the, um... everything?"

What in the hell did we--"we" meaning Wii users, Stonekeep fans, Interplay fans, dungeon crawler fans, humanity in general--do to deserve this?  This is the kind of game I wouldn't wish upon those guys in high school that tried (and failed) to stuff me in a garbage can.

And I'm aware that because it's 500 Wii points I could technically do a Five Dollar Gaming on it, but fuck that.  This is the kind of game that needs to be quarantined.

Close enough.