Friday, January 18, 2008

Love-Hate Relationships

I need to tell you about a game I traded for recently that I kinda regret. In exchange for a copy of Trauma Center for the DS shipped to the east coast, I got a copy of Puzzle Quest.

Short Review: This is a stupid game.

Every time I try to come up with a positive description of this game what I come up with makes it sound even worse. It's technically an RPG where the combat mechanic is that ubiquitous web-based flash game that involves matching coloured gems. You know the one, Bejewelled or Bepuzzled or BeWTFAmIDoingStillPlayingThisGame, I can't remember the exact title off the top of my head. When you're not doing this, Puzzle Quest is every hack-n-slash RPG ever. There's a kingdom, multiple kingdoms, in fact, each with a perfectly good army that requires you to be their collective savior single-handed. All of the dialogue is full of alarmist language, but evidently the situation is not so dire that the merchants don't charge you an arm and a leg for the tools/armour/weapons that you need to spend time saving up your cash to buy in order to progress through the game. The story has been done before and the combat is exactly the same every time, save for an ability to change gem colour or to use "spells" that allow you to take extra turns.

It's like this game was genetically engineered to kill me through sleep deprivation. I've played this game past midnight on three work nights this week, and on public transit to and from work and on breaks. Two pints of tasty cider were the only things preventing me from doing it again yesterday.

It's really weird, because it's not like any other game addiction I've had before. Most addictions make me think about the game a lot and the game addiction du jour tends to dominate my conversations, as people unfortunate enough to talk to me in mid-fix discover. With Guitar Hero I couldn't shut up about it for weeks, same for a lot of other titles. With this one, I don't even think about it. I don't long to play it when I'm busy and I certainly don't have dreams anything like the fretboard from hell visions one gets when going to bed right after spending an hour losing guitar battles with Slash on Expert.

I just find myself instinctively reaching for the DS whenever I get a minute of free time, and it's honestly kind of creepy. I skimmed a GameFAQs....FAQ for this game and one of the first things it says is that this game hates you. After playing for a week, I agree completely. You can be dominating a Bejeweled combat against a monster when suddenly the random replacement gems that fall for your "opponent" create an auto-complete sequence that not only levels the playing field again but in fact causes you to suddenly lose through no action of your own. This will happen often enough that you will discover a real-life ability called Spike Rage that makes you want to snap your DS in half, throw it against a wall and go do something productive. It's not even that it's prohibitively hard, it's that it feels like the game decides that you shouldn't win a particular fight and there is nothing you can do at that point.

Maybe that's it. The ultra-sadistic gameplay mechanics result in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome where you start to love something that treats you so badly. Or at least find yourself subconsciously deciding to play it the second there's a hint of free time available, because every time you think about it with your conscious brain you're almost embarrassed to play it.

Regardless, that's the latest crisis. Back to your daily lives.

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