Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing, and I’m surprised at the amount of anxiety this game’s sound design is able to conjure up when I’m venturing below ground. Hearing the growls in my headphones without being able to see where they’re coming from puts me on edge, and being surprised by a monster I didn’t know was there consistently makes me panic and fight sub-optimally. There’s a sense of dread from getting lost in the winding passageways of a cave while running low on rations, or climbing up from the underground only to realize that you were down there too long, and now you’ll have to sprint for shelter in the middle of the night. I find it remarkable how the emergent play provides such a vivid horror experience, especially with Minecraft’s complete lack of violence and how lo-fi and abstracted the designs for the monsters are.
Speaking of abstraction, the environments of the game strike me as having a natural beauty despite the deliberate unreality of it all. I try to alter the landscape as little as possible, feeling that the results of the world-generating algorithm have an aesthetic that would be difficult to reproduce if I were to reshape the terrain myself. I’m hesitant to flatten areas and construct cobblestone roads; content to place a trail of torches to mark my path through a forest instead of simply chopping it down. Even my structures, the safehouses whose beacons dot the horizon, are based around this aesthetic: My castles are always built atop a stone surface whenever I find one poking up through the dirt and the foundation sets the shape for the whole building. By making each project unique—as I assess the site and figure out what it wants to be—making progress never feels like work.
This week, I celebrated the 30th anniversary of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! by talking about why I think the game holds up better than pretty much any of its contemporaries. It comes down to the simplicity and purity of its puzzle-like boxing matches, something Unexpected Dave broke down in the comments:
It’s often been said that Punch Out!! looks like a fighting game but is actually a rhythm or puzzle game in disguise. If you approach the game like a straight-up arcade brawler, you can probably get through Piston Honda, but you’ll get slaughtered in the second tier. That’s when you really have to learn how to respond to your opponents’ tells and know exactly when and how to counterattack.
But the brilliance of the game is that it never loses the “illusion” of being a fighting game. It seldom feels like a purely mechanical exercise, like a game of Simon, and that’s all down to the character and personality of the opponents. It’s a shame that Nintendo relied on racial stereotypes to imbue that personality, though. (And the Wii version really doubles down on them.)
Elsewhere, M_squared remembered how the game turned into a playground sensation:
I love this game. As a kid, it was always one that we talked about on the playground, sharing methods and things that worked on the opponents. This was a game that really brought people together. You could sit with people watching you and yelling “He’s charging! Punch now! Now! You did it too late!” or you could talk about it away from the game, “How do you beat King Hippo??” and things like that. It always brought out the liars, though. “I beat Mike Tyson with one punch!”, “I swear King Hippo got up, and I had to knock him down again!”
But overall it’s timeless because of the precise controls and the easy beginning. If it was really tough at the outset, it wouldn’t have caught on as much. But getting past Glass Joe is simple enough for just about anyone to do it but also gets you just hooked that you want to continue. Then as the difficulty ramps up, it doesn’t feel like cheating but like you’re earning your victories (and defeats).
Also this week, William Hughes wrapped up his four-part attempt to learn a thing or two about Madden and football. Unfortunately, he ultimately fell into despair and sought to destroy the game from the inside. Thundawg did some commiserating down in the comments and poetically summed up the whole endeavor:
This is a perfect encapsulation of Madden. Few games come close to the all-consuming rage that burns deep within after a loss. Madden might be the worst, as William noted, since you can do everything right and still ultimately lose. This game is not a quest for the virtual Super Bowl to win an oddly polygonal Lombardi Trophy. No, that is merely a byproduct. Madden is a journey into one’s own mind. It is the video game equivalent of Heart Of Darkness masquerading behind Tom Brady’s steely stare. The game will test the limits of your mental fortitude, push you to the edge of sanity. It will, inevitably, break you, leaving you to pick up the pieces of your shattered mind and shattered controller.
But through that, I believe William got closer to sports fan nirvana than he thinks. Will Madden teach you to be a ra-ra sports fan? No. But the discipline, patience, and resolve that playing sports requires and teaches? Certainly. The utter destruction you wreaked upon the Seahawks organization is a manifestation of what every fan felt when Pete Carroll opted to pass, not run, the ball in Super Bowl XLIX. It is not just the helpless roller coaster but viscerally feeling the depths of defeat and the supreme elation of victory. That collective emotion lies at the core of fandom.
That’ll do it for this week, Gameologerinos. As always, thank you for reading and commenting. We’ll see you all next week!