Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Max and the Magic Marker (demo)

Max and the Magic Marker is a puzzle platformer that allows items to be drawn into the scene to solve puzzles much like in Drawn to Life or Crayola: Colorful Journey. As you might imagine, the art-style and music tend toward the lighthearted and storybook feel. Puzzles usually require a line or two from Max's giant magic marker, manipulated via the WiiMote pointer control, to overcome. Max may accomplish light platforming tasks when controlled by the Nunchuk analog stick.

Max and the Magic Marker screenshot

Prior interest: medium

Recently there have been a stream of games that come out on PC and Mac in addition to WiiWare. Partially the trend reflects the natural affinity between the Wii's pointer control and a computer's mouse interface. But another reason is the introduction of game engines, notably Unity, which target multiple platforms, are low cost, and easy to use. As a result, it isn't uncommon these days to find a PC demo for a WiiWare game. Such is the case for Max and the Magic Marker, which I tried out several months ago. The game impressed me with it's music ("balkan hiphop" performed by a Danish band named Analogik), colorful art style and imaginative puzzles. It was a good experience and left me wanting more.

Odds of purchase: low

Somewhere along the way, the demo code was altered to remove the most interesting puzzle types and what remains is a sort of tutorial level that retains the game's style. Sadly, the PC demo was also changed though it does seem to have a few more levels. In any case, the demo no longer stimulates interest in the full game for me. Trailers and screenshots still appeal to me, but the demo adds very little since the good bits of the game play have been taken away. It's frustrating that adding a demo for the Wii actually took a step backward and reduced my interest in the game. This is not the way to do it.

Frobot (demo)

Frobot is essentially an update of the Wii Play Tanks! game with puzzles and a funky fresh vibe. It involves a story centered around the afro-wearing, disco-dancing, ladies' ... robot attempting to rescue his 5 girlfriends who are hidden behind a variety of traps and robotic guards. The game plays up its '70s art and music style crossed with futuristic death robots to maximum effect. Whatever it is the developer was trying to do, they went all out to do it.

Frobot screenshot

Prior interest: none

I really hate the style of Frobot, so assuming I'd heard of it before the demo announcement, I'd probably not have investigated far enough to discover that it's gameplay style is based on Tanks!, which I really enjoy. I get that it's supposed to be funny and there's nothing wrong with making humorous games, but I really don't like disco. Some people might and they might be attracted to the game, but I'm not.

Odds of purchase: none

For me the demo was sort of a mess. I couldn't follow the story that was exposed via off-putting, slangy dialog between Frobot and his girlfriends. The tutorial introduced a variety of weapons in a competent manner, but immediately they are removed (with more awful dialog) so the rest of the demo is played with just the main gun and mines. Sure it was cool to play with the advanced toys, but it felt like a waste to learn how to use an item that I'd never get to try again. When playing the first level, I did enjoy the puzzles but (probably because I started ignoring dialog) I didn't really know what the goal was. By the second level, I did grasp the goal, but I got stuck on a puzzle and after wandering all over and trying everything I knew how to do (several times), I gave up. When I tried to quit, the Wii locked up and I had to pull the power plug. Not a good impression.

I did find a demo for PC (and Mac), which were somewhat different than the WiiWare version. They retained some of the problems, such as the pointless weapons tutorial, but included more intuitive, yet still clever, puzzles. I wish the developer had just streamlined that version rather than doing something new for the Wii demo.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

lilt line (demo)

The "lilt" in lilt line refers to music—specifically dubstep, a genre with which I was not previously familiar. The "line" refers to the geometric figure you guide through a narrowing and widening path using the Wiimote tilt control. Occasionally, there is a fence (played in this game by a vertical swath of mismatched color) corresponding to a musical beat which must be cleared by a button press or you will lose points. Running into the side of the path or pressing a button outside of a fence region will also cost points and when you lose all your points the game ends. That's pretty much the entire specification document for the game.

lilt line screen

Prior interest: none

The WiiWare demo program has reached the point where new games are released simultaneously with demos, which allows games to be tried out at the same moment they are being promoted. Clearly, Nintendo and WiiWare publishers have found the demo program to be a success. Gaijin games, the creator of the Bit.Trip series and publisher of lilt line, certainly have. Considering the type of game and the publisher, I probably would have looked twice at this particular game, but it sure helps to have the demo to try out since as with Bit.Trip: Beat, "a screenshot just doesn't do it justice."

Odds of purchase: low

Lilt line hits its notes just right: minimalistic graphics match the minimalistic gameplay which is offset by a rich soundtrack. The controls work well as long as you are able to find a button on the Wiimote that you can press without altering its orientation. Hitting a sidewall produces a jarring sound and causes the line to bounce back into the path in a similarly jarring manner. Missing a button press or adding an extra one causes the music to die down as if it were on the radio and you've just driven through a tunnel. Alternatively, hitting the beat causes a sudden flash of color in the background like the visual representation of a hi-hat hit as imagined by Walt Disney1. Scoring amounts to nothing more than losing points for each mistake and ending the game when you run out of the alloted points for a stage. Passing a stage sets the high score, which may be bested later, and opens up the next stage.

However, the minimalism extends a bit far to overcome the barrier of breaking out a credit card and buying the game. Compared to the Bit.Trip series or even ThruSpace, there just does not seem to be enough content to justify the full purchase price. Worse, this seems to be title for which a good demo will also be enough of a taste for many consumers as was the Bit.Trip: Beat demo. While the demo does end in the beginning of a stage, it didn't leave me wanting more2. It's also hard to shake the feeling that while the music was given plenty of love, the graphics and gameplay are minimal not for artistic reasons, but because they weren't seen as a particular priority. As an example, when the music shifts to a more expansive easy-going mode, the path ought to open up and become more forgiving and when the music becomes tighter and more aggressive, the path ought to get narrow and twisty. But the path never seems locked to the music and contains long stretches where nothing much happens. Not that lilt line doesn't show potential. Rather it fails to fulfill it's promise.

1 - See Fantasia.

2 - Except to replay the Bit.Trip: Beat demo.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fluidity (demo)

Nintendo's demo program has finally matured. Now that we have a flood of demos with a seemingly steady flow of demos for a few weeks, I think it's safe to say that on average demos result in better sales. Certainly, I've found that demos have gotten me interested in games that either I'd never heard of or never considered buying. Another factor, which I hope Nintendo considers, is the disappointment problem. In essence, a demo can eliminate the problem of buying a game sight unseen and discovering that, however good the game might be, it's not interesting to you.

Fluidity screenshot

Prior interest: high

Fluidity does interest me. It's a physics-based puzzle game (score: +1) that uses the Wiimote tilt sensor (+2) and features a crisp, storybook-style presentation (+3). You tilt the world (represented as a "magical illustrated encyclopedia, Aquaticus") to direct water through a maze of pipes, aquifers, caverns, ditches, ramps, etc. to find hidden Rainbow Drops. Each level has multiple paths, including some that require specific powers that are revealed throughout the game. (The demo opens a power that gathers your water drops together for a short time and then explodes them across the screen after a few seconds. Not really accurate physics, but fun.) I'm very nearly sold based on the description and screenshots alone.

Odds of purchase: high

To be honest, this demo didn't actually have much of an impact on me. I'm glad to have played it, but I was pretty much sold on Fluidity beforehand. Knowing for sure that the game is exactly the sort of game I love and that it'll be worth the money spent helps, I suppose. But the power of demos comes from introducing a game to someone who has never considered it for some reason. For me, Monster Hunter Tri was an ideal introduction to a genre that I would have avoided without the demo. I'd guess the Fluidity demo will sell a number of copies of the full game, but it will really make a difference to those people who have ignored physics puzzlers in the past. It seems to me that the "Lite" version of Angry Birds on the iPhone got people to try it out and essentially created a market for the game. It's good that Nintendo finally seems to be catching on.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Last edition of Kotaku's most-loved Wii games list

Well it had to happen. Stephen Totilo, who has collected the Nintendo Channel play data for every Wii game listed, has decided to stop after more than a year and a half. It's an impossibly labor-intensive task, but I for one am grateful to him for collecting it (and to Nintendo for making it public). It makes clear the case for the rich library of Wii games that are played and played (and played). Of the top 20 by cumulative time played per player, I have just 5 including new-on-the-list New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

The 20 most-loved Wii game

But I am doubly grateful for bits of data Mr. Totilo tossed into the post such as the total playing time for Metroid Prime Trilogy as of December 12—31:30. Since Metroid Prime 3: Corruption alone is worth at least 20 hours you would expect the Trilogy to show more like 60 hours by this point. Since the game has been discontinued, no flood of new players are watering down the playing time. I submit the problem is that many of the copies that were sold are in the hands of collectors who have already finished the series and only have limited playtime with the Trilogy disk.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cave Story (demo)

Cave Story has itself an incredible story: it started as a side project by a single Japanese developer who calls himself Pixel and released it as freeware. Then a two man team working under the moniker Aeon Genesis translated the game into English. Finally, a small developer/publisher, Nicalis picked up the game, updated the graphics and music, and released it on WiiWare.

Cave Story screenshot

But the game has essentially remained the same underneath each new coat of paint. Loosely speaking, it is a platform adventure with some of the trappings of a shmup. As you kill enemies, they drop power-ups that can be collected to boost health, upgrade the current weapon and later obtain missiles. Different weapons are better able to take out specific enemies and solve different platforming puzzles. Cave Story tells a simple, touching tale about a village of rabbit-like creatures called Mimigas who are being targeted by an evil "Doctor" for some terrible purpose. It's also a stiff challenge—especially the boss fights.

Prior interest: high

Cave Story's original graphics, sound, story, and gameplay are topnotch for a commercial product much less a free, hobby release. And it isn't like a lot of really good "indy" games that take some sort of unusual element and riff on it until it no longer seems unique or even interesting. Rather it grabs a bunch of established elements and mixes them in unique and interesting ways that would be impossible with a large team. Finally, Pixel seems to have gone over his work hundreds of times until each bit is perfectly placed. I'm excited that all that work will finally pay off.

Original graphics

Odds of purchase: high

Cave Story's demo covers all the bases. The updated assets look and sound great on a big screen with a decent stereo. You can also try the original sound, graphics or both which are not so much a step down as different. It's easy to see how Pixel used technology limitations to his advantage much as a good artist can create something special with crayons in the place of a full paint set. What can't be seen trailers is the port's wonderful control schemes. Cave Story can be overwhelming using the keyboard. On my PC I'm stuck on Monster X in part because I can't seem to control my jumps and fire my weapon at the same time without getting confused. In the demo, you can test out using the NES-style Wiimote, Classic Controller, and, delightfully, the GameCube controller. If you're like me, you will find the experience improved in all aspects and well worth the added costs.

Anatomy of a system seller

It's a truism in the technology world that software sells hardware. Besides Apple, the exception that proves the rule, I don't know of any counter examples. Now not all software sells hardware on it's own and those that do are called killer apps or system sellers. Recently Monster Hunter Freedom 3 became a system seller for the PSP in Japan. Here are the top five games by unit sales:

Media Create Sales: November 29, 2010 - December 5, 2010

01. / 00. [PSP] Monster Hunter Freedom 3 (Capcom) {01/12/10} - 1.950.717 / NEW
02. / 00. [PS3] Tales of Graces F (Bandai Namco) {02/12/10} - 215.187 / NEW
03. / 03. [WII] Mario Sports Mix (Nintendo) {25/11/10} - 59.007 / 143.991 (-31%)
04. / 00. [NDS] Mario Vs. Donkey Kong: Miniland Mayhem (Nintendo) {02/12/10} - 57.474 / NEW
05. / 01. [PS3] Gran Turismo 5 (SCE) {25/11/10} - 55.682 / 486.389 (-87%)

Getting to a million units sold is pretty much the definition of a blockbuster in Japan. The latest Tales of Graces game might make the cut sometime in the next few months, but Monster Hunter Freedom 3 has very nearly doubled the number in less than a week. Even for a hit series like Monster Hunter (in Japan) it's an impressive start. What's more impressive is the hardware sales chart:

|System | This Week | Last Week | Last Year | YTD | Last YTD | LTD |
| PSP | 325.528 | 77.364 | 42.648 | 2.291.127 | 1.909.470 | 16.034.215 |
| NDS | 78.526 | 56.457 | 111.532 | 2.313.272 | 3.331.138 | 31.592.352 |
| WII | 56.095 | 41.267 | 46.673 | 1.286.265 | 1.312.870 | 10.891.464 |
| PS3 | 41.760 | 68.840 | 46.558 | 1.354.075 | 1.284.059 | 5.855.442 |
| 360 | 3.497 | 4.329 | 3.685 | 194.399 | 341.943 | 1.404.071 |
| PS2 | 1.440 | 1.332 | 2.057 | 76.593 | 195.156 | 21.686.770 |

Unlike the rest of the world, Japan has bought a fair number of PSPs in part because of exclusive series such as Monster Hunter. Nintendo's DS handheld still has outsold the Sony handheld by nearly 2 to 1, but it would be fair to say the PSP is a success in Japan. It's also interesting that DS sales are starting to fade, in part because of the imminent release of the 3DS. But the story for this particular week is the huge sales of the PSP. There can be no other explanation for selling 248,164 more systems this week compared to last except that roughly 12% of the people buying Monster Hunter Freedom 3 bought a PSP at the same time.

Since this is the third Monster Hunter title on the PSP and that a special version of the hardware was released in concert with the game, the audience for PSP titles probably hasn't expanded much, but there is no denying that Monster Hunter sells systems (in Japan).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Metroid Prime Trilogy: Introductions

Recently I picked up a used copy of the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Not having played any of the titles, I was excited to try them out. In fact, I played through the introductory (tutorial) sequences of each game one after another. Here's what I thought.


Metroid Prime Trilogy Screenshot

At the time of release, Metroid Prime was considered a bit of a risk as it wasn't clear how the traditional 2D platforming adventure would translate to a first-person perspective. Clearly, Retro Studios and Nintendo decided to script the first sequence in a way that would gently introduce the game to Metroid veterans. For one thing, it introduces controls and game mechanics in a straightforward (but also exciting) way. So you start by shooting locks, scanning things, transforming into a morph ball, shooting injured Space Pirates navigating mostly linear maps, and so on. In typical Metroid fashion, the introduction feels lonely: a sensation that will intensify as the game progresses.

It also borrowed almost directly the opening scenario from Super Metroid. Samus Aran walks though a research vessel slowly uncovering a mysterious plot to exploit Metroids once again. Upon reaching the center of the ship, you are confronted with a boss battle that triggers the ship's self destruct mechanism. Then you have a few minutes to fight your way back to your own ship and escape. Perhaps it's because I'm playing the Trilogy version—this game looks and controls exceptionally well. From the first screen to the chaos of the escape, everything pulls you into the action. By the time you land on Tallon IV the urge to get out there and explore turns out to be overwhelming. In terms of creating and controlling the mood, Metroid Prime exceeds the efforts of any game I've ever played and all but the best movies I've seen.


Metroid Prime Trilogy Screenshot

Echoes does not worry too much about getting the player up to speed on the controls. After the first Prime, players should have a pretty good feel for what they need to do. Instead, players are thrust into the action right from the start. Unlike the first title, which begins with a fairly relaxed atmosphere and gradually adds a sense of danger, the second game begins with an ominous feeling and becomes more menacing from there. For one thing, Samus' ship has crashed so there's no leaving Aether until it's fixed. A bit later your path is blocked by a shear cliff that prevents your return to the relative safety of the ship for some time. Then in place of dead and dying Space Pirates, who are somewhat comic figures in the series, you find Galactic Federation troopers: first lifeless bodies and then reanimated walking dead. Finally, just before the usual lose-all-abilities-to-gain-them-back-later sequence, Samus must enter another one-way gate to the major theme/game mechanic of Echoes: Dark Aether.

Later the atmosphere becomes a bit lighter with the introduction of a new ally: the Luminoth. Even so, the overall feel is far more of a horror game than other Metroid games. (Though through the right lens all of the games seem to have some element of horror embedded in them.) It's not just the more psychologically impactful enemies, such as possessed human corpses or a "Dark" version of Samus herself—it's also the constant need to enter the nightmare dimension of Dark Aether which wears away health and is home to the most dangerous and terrifying enemies. Even the Space Pirates, who have been possessed by the demonic Ing, are more threatening in this mode.


Metroid Prime Trilogy Screenshot

After the much darker tone of Echoes, it's a bit refreshing to start Corruption (after a short dream sequence) in the comfort of Samus' ship. Once again the introduction doubles as tutorial for the controls because the game makes use of a number of Wiimote gestures to perform tasks such as pulling levers, pushing buttons and twisting knobs. Having landed on Galactic Federation Ship Olympus, the tutorial continues with instructions on aiming, movement and so on. There's no hurry to get where you're going so you can chat with military personal, scan random objects, and do a little target practice to take in the thoroughly modern voice acting, sound effects and graphics. Upon reaching your destination, the story is told through a series of non-interactive cut scenes complete with techno-babel and a surprise plot twist, which turns out to be Space Pirates boarding the Olympus. At that point, the pace of the game jumps into high speed as once again Samus must make an escape to her ship. Note that it is a cut scene that precipitates the change in tempo.

Coincidently, I played the first level of the original Halo on a friend's Xbox a while ago and while playing the start of Corruption, I couldn't help but be reminded of that game. The parts I've played after the introduction seem more like Metroid and less like Halo, but there's an undoubted commonality between the two. It's as if Retro Studios decided that Metroid on the Wii needed to be the console's Halo franchise. Only, for some reason, it removed the one thing the Metoid Prime series had previously shared with the Halo series: multiplayer.

I'll be back in a while with fuller looks at these three classic titles.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ThruSpace (demo)

ThruSpace is an action-puzzle game in the vein of Tetris, or rather it's often overlooked successor, Welltris. The object is to guide 3D polyominoes (called keydrons by the game) through gaps in walls that block the hallway the pieces are being propelled through. Keydrons may be flipped, twisted, turned and shifted in all directions and the gaps are designed to require all of these manipulations to pass the walls. According to the promotional information, the game features three different modes of play and you can earn higher scores by collecting crystals within gaps, performing tricks (covering all squares of a gap with the keydron's shadow) and accelerating toward the corridor more quickly. These scores are tallied on a global leaderboard.

ThruSpace screenshot

Prior interest: low

That screenshot pretty much tells the story. WiiWare has a surplus of interesting and stylish puzzlers including, of course, Tetris, Dr. Mario and the Art Style series. Because of it's size limitation, the service has plenty of graphically simple puzzle games. It's just a lot easier to squeeze this sort of game into a handful of blocks1 than, say, an RPG. In order to stand out from the crowd, a game needs to do something unique. Groovin' Blocks incorporates music into the structure of gameplay, for instance. ThruSpace has... well it has a demo now. Honestly, I wouldn't have taken a second look at it otherwise.

Odds of purchase: low

So the demo turns out to be a tutorial followed by a small taste of the timed mode with two keydrons. In my first run-through I used the NES-style Wiimote controls, which don't fit into the brain very well. With any 3D world, it's hard to map the freedom of movement to any human understandable control scheme. Generally controls (both in real life applications and games) reduce the freedom of movement to some manageable amount. You don't, for instance, directly control every twist and turn of a 3D platforming character. Rather you control movement direction on a horizontal surface and have a jump (or similar) button to give your character a short vertical acceleration. It turns out controlling all possible movements (pitch, yaw, roll, and translations along the three axes) requires 12 distinct inputs. ThruSpace only allows acceleration in the direction of travel and not decceleration, so it requires just 11 inputs. But the Wiimote only has 10 inputs (including + and -, but not the power or Wii Menu buttons). So the control scheme simplifies the rotational movements to one direction, which means if you over-rotate you need to cycle through the other attitudes.

With the Nunchuk (and Classic Controller), all six rotations are possible and the buttons are mapped slightly better than with the Wiimote alone. Even so, as I explained when discussing And Yet It Moves, some of the rotation buttons are mapped the wrong way around from how I'm most comfortable. Unfortunately, the game does not allow rearranging the controls so I'm stuck doing a lot of trial and error to get the keydron lined up just so.

There are things to commend the game for: catchy music, appropriate sound, functional visuals, responsive controls (modulus rotational confusion), plenty of modes (apparently), interesting choices (to go for tricks, crystals or time, etc.), arcade-style accessibility and challenge, and all around high production values. But I feel the game falls short of its potential in many ways. More interesting visuals and better control configuration would have been welcome as I've already alluded. It seems like the tilt controls and/or pointer would have been useful and intuitive (see And Yet It Moves). But the game as presented by the demo lacks inspiration. Maybe the full game has it, but if so the demo fails to show us through a tedious tutorial and truncated timed mode.

Doing some research on this style of puzzle, I discovered Blockout, which was released in 1989. It's also very similar to ThruSpace in that the focus is on manipulating polyominoes in a 3D space. Unlike ThruSpace's racecourse analogy, Blockout works like a box filling exercise. Even so, I felt a sense of urgency in the earlier game. Perhaps the difference comes from the relative lack of consequences for sub-optimal play in ThruSpace—if you can make it through a gap, there's usually enough of time to play the next gap perfectly no matter how poorly you set yourself up. It makes me wonder how the demo would have come off if the game had a multiplayer race mode.

1 - ThruSpace almost seems like a metaphor for the WiiWare service itself. Apply clever transformations to get an object through a confined location.

Jett Rocket (demo)

Jett Rocket is a 3D platformer that seems inspired by Super Mario Galaxy. The hero, imaginatively named Jett Rocket, must protect the planet (Yoroppa) from an environmental terrorist organization (the Power Plant Posse) or something. He's equipped with a jet pack and rides jet skis, parachutes, and snow boards. But let's be honest, the real hook is that Shin’en has managed to cram what looks like a full retail game into a mere 40Mb, a fraction of a DVD's capacity. That and the low WiiWare price pulled the title from certain obscurity of discount bins in terms of publicity.

Jett Rocket screenshot

Prior interest: low

Everything I saw about the game before I tried the demo was taken from the first world which is a tropical atoll that looks very much like the Beach Bowl Planet from Super Mario Galaxy. It's hard to shake the idea that Jett Rocket is a poor-man's Mario and the game was designed to fit into the space between major releases from Nintendo. If so, the release schedule coming a month after Super Mario Galaxy 2 could hardly have been worse. Every time I saw a trailer or screen shot of the game, I could not help but think it was an attempt to ride the coattails of Mario.

Odds of purchase: low

On the surface, this demo seems like a great idea: a hidden gem given a chance to shine even in the shadow of a massively well-reviewed series. But I feel like the demo fails along the same lines as the publicity campaign—it does nothing to distinguish itself from Mario. Only one level from World 1 is playable in the demo and it's a very basic climb-to-the-top-of-a-mountain style level. While there are objects (solar cells) to collect and achievements to pursue, it's not a very challenging experience.

It's a shame too since the developers clearly put a lot of work into making the game look, sound and play just right. Flying with a jet pack feels intuitive and satisfying as does the motion-controlled attacks. Technically, the game literally gleams with a vast array of graphic effects: heat shimmer off the jet pack, highly reflective metal surfaces, leaves softly blowing in the sea breeze, water spray, and so on. Music and sound add to the bouncy and lighthearted mood of the game. All in all, there's no reason this shouldn't be high on my wish list. If only another level or two had been added to show off varied locations and gameplay, maybe the demo would have sold me.

Friday, December 3, 2010


BIT.TRIP FATE, like BIT.TRIP BEAT last year, really needs to be played in order to be appreciated. In fact, the entire BIT.TRIP series bends the conventions of gameplay too often to be fully grasped with a trailer or screenshots. For this iteration, the base concept arises from shmups with an on-rails twist1. Commander Video may move back and forth along a single path with the analog stick and shoot in all directions with the Wiimote pointer. It's an inversion of the standard side-scrolling shooter forward firing/free-ranging movement. It also shares a very similar art and music style with the rest of the series.

Prior interest: high

The BIT.TRIP represents everything right about WiiWare. Limitations in download size actually push developers to think about how to make a great game that doesn't lean on cut scenes to keep players engaged. Reaching back to classic arcade genres, sprucing them up with stylish music and graphics, and throwing in a curve ball has been the not-so-secret formula to Gaijin Game's success. And since shmups are under-represented in my library, I was really looking forward to this installment.

Odds of purchase: medium

Unlike the BEAT demo, after finishing FATE I wasn't satisfied with the slice of gameplay. I enjoyed myself, wanted to play more (the demo ends just before the second boss), but my interest level still dropped. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that the first few minutes of FATE are much easier than BEAT. To compensate for the limited range of movement, enemies don't fill the screen with bullets (at least in the demo). It's a bit of a challenge to find the part of the path that will be safe in the next fraction of a second, but I rarely had an issue with planning. More commonly I found my thumb trying to push up or down rather than left or right when the path became more vertical. Eventually, I compensated, but it seems needlessly restrictive to railroad the player.

A deeper problem springs from the integration of the music and gameplay. Given the masterfully dovetailed sound and movement of BEAT, I'd hoped that the music would enhance the feel of playing the game. But even with the path restriction, there's no way to predict when the player will take down an enemy or pickup a power-up, so the rhythm of the music doesn't link up with the rhythm of the game in quite the same way. Not that I have any idea how such a thing could be done.

Still, this is a game that will reap the benefits of having a demo like few others. It's right at the top of my wishlist and I look forward seeing more of the series showcased in demo form.

1 - It's an bullet-hell, on-rails shooter so to speak.

And Yet It Moves (demo)

As they did last year, Nintendo has authorized the release of demos for new Wiiware games. Like last year, I'm looking at these demos as marketing tools not strictly as games. After all, it wouldn't be fair to rate full games on 20 or so minutes of play and they aren't being released for our amusement, but to sell us on the full product. Unlike last year, the demos don't automatically end with a trip to the Wii Shop Channel. Instead, you get to choose to replay the demo, go back to the Wii Menu or go buy the full game. It's a nice customer-friendly change that will not likely alter the sales totals.

And Yet It Moves takes the atmospheric, puzzle-platformer slot that was occupied by NyxQuest last year. The twist1 this time is that the entire world can be spun 360° around the hero. Other than rotating left and right (and possibly upside down), the game restricts the plater to moving left, right and jumping. In the first level an impassible tunnel becomes a deep well to fall into with a 90° rotation. It's a limited verb set that brings the platform genre to the absolute essentials much like Terry Cavanagh's VVVVVV. In fact, entire levels can be completed with the world rotation mechanic alone if you don't let the little man touch anything before reaching the exit point.

And Yet It Moves showcases a simple art style inspired by paper collage. The main character appears a crudely drawn paper puppet, though he is in fact expertly animated. Background, foreground and platform scenery has been clipped from much larger images of rocks, logs, flowers and so on. To match the minimal art, only occasional ambient sounds and light sound effects are played: there's essentially no music. In contrast to the simple presentation, the gameplay exhibits an intuitive and sophisticated physics system. You can feel the puppet's mass, velocity and acceleration as you fall to limb-shattering doom.

Prior interest: low

It turns out I'd already played the PC demo of this game and while I did enjoy the premise, it didn't work for me. For some reason, my brain wants to press exactly the opposite buttons than the game requires of me to rotate the world. It's a problem that I run into a lot—my Y-axis always needs inverting. I was ok in the first level, which could be managed mostly on foot, but the second level demanded almost constant acrobatic world rotation that my Pooh brain would not perform. I see now that there is an option to swap the meaning of the left and right arrows, but back then I didn't bother to find it. Needless to say, the game was dismissed long before it came out on the Wii.

Odds of purchase: medium

As with the truly excellent World of Goo demo, the Wii controls implemented for AYIM are a revelation. On the PC, rotation must conform to discrete 90° or 180° turns, but the WiiWare version allows a turn to end at any convenient angle. Facilitating the variable turns are four2 accurate analog control schemes: NES-style Wiimote, key-twisting Wiimote and Nunchuk, pointer-dragging Wiimote and Nunchuk, and Classic Controller. My favorite control is turning the Wiimote sideways which maps walking to the D-pad and world rotation to tilt controls. It's automatically more intuitive than any button-pressing scheme and puts the title back on my definitely/maybe list. This game is why demos exist.

1 - See what I did there?

2 - Well at least I assume they are all accurate and analog. I don't have Classic Controller to test.