July 21, 2009

Unlocking the LEGO box

I’ve been playing quite a lot of Batman LEGO these last days, finishing the main adventure for both heroes and villains, and reaching something like 80% of completion. But, in the last days, some design decisions have become quite prominent to me, some in good, some in bad.

First, the good: deadly is deadly.
In the LEGO Batman universe, hazards are pretty consistent either for your characters or for the enemies. Which means that radioactive stuff or fumes kills them as much as it kills you, and glacial fumes freeze you and them as well. It’s pretty much a detail, but it made a boss fight far easier for me through a stroke of luck: in the level against Catwoman and the penguin, Catwoman is only a sidekick. You can not beat her with your fists: she will run away from you when hurt, and come back later. And believe me, she can be a pain.
But, as I was exploring the area, one of my hits sent her flying in a patch of radioactive goo. And before my eyes, she dissolved… No more sidekick for the penguin ! Needless to say, the fight went pretty much downhill for him after that (not that he was really winning before that event…)

I like when games have the same set of rules for you and for your enemies. You do not feel arbitrarily limited in your interaction with the world, you do not feel that everything is stacked against you.
Also, I find it helps with the suspension of disbelief: the gameworld is logical.

After that, my beef is with the unlocking system. No, not so much the system (having to use multiple characters abilities to reach a hidden brick that unlocks something, that’s something the Explorer and Achiever in me do like) than the unlocks themselves.

Let’s start with the ridiculous: the multipliers bonus.
In the game, you collect studs, which are used as a currency to buy just about everything: additional characters and vehicles, data, and upgrades (once they have been unlocked through hidden bricks in each level). Some of these upgrades are multipliers: x2, x4, up to x10. The first one costs 1 000 000, the last one 5 000 000.
My first (logical) thought was “Each one will replace the lesser one” or “only one may be active at a time”. A simple calculation showed me that buying them in order would cost me, not 15 000 000 studs, but 4 041 666. Better than buying the 5x directly.
You can imagine my surprise when, buyin the x4, I see the x2 on my screen changing to a x8. Long story short, I reached a ludicrous x640 modifier, making all my studs needs moot (but not my stud’s… nevermind).

This, I did not like. Why? Because up to now, I had choices to make whenever I bought something. I did not have enough money, so every time, I had to ask myself what I wanted to buy. That was my story. Now… Not so much… I just had a laundry list of things to buy, and the limiting factor was to unlock them…
To their defense, it is possible to disable these. I did, but not before going on a destruction spree due the power rush it gave me. Kind of like when Tabula Rasa offered a +2000% XP bonus some weeks before closing down. I gained 7 levels in one evening, then was left with a sour taste in my mouth, having outleveled content I wanted to enjoy.
Power rush is a dangerous thing for the weak-minded... I never said I was perfect !

My next gripe is with suit upgrades.
Most, if not all of them, are Nice-to-Haves: more targets with a batarang, swifter construction and so on. Not gamebreaking, but reducing the time needed for some actions that can be considered “less fun”, thus improving the fun proportion. I’m cool with that.
But then, why is their use limited to the free mode ?! If I take the time to redo a level to unlock an upgrade I’m interested in, why must I be punished by not being able to use it during the story mode, thus enabling me to enjoy the story more?

There was also a bit of cutscene power upgrade, where villains tend to have their abilities upgraded when you’re against them (Catwoman makes huge jump, moth man can glide much longer), but it’s more nitpicking than griping. It’s a minor detail than doesn’t really break the suspension of disbelief.

So, in short, I prefer to see games:
-> Where the rules are the same for the player characters and for the non-player characters.
-> Where upgrades do not suddenly break the game, making everything trivial, or redundant
-> Where, if I take the time to achieve something, I’m awarded the achievement’s result for the rest of the game

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