GerbilMechs 101: Smash-face

03Aug2004 (Monthenor): Attention! I am on vacation next week, for the annual summer trip-like thing. I will be missing from this Saturday (07Aug) until the following Sunday (15Aug). Naturally, this means no comics next week, and perhaps even the week after. It depends on how tired I am. But believe me when I say that I will totally eat White Castle while I'm away. Count on it.

Darkened Skye: This game has quite a few positive points in its favor. The most obvious one is its sense of humor. This is a game about Skittles, which could have been one of the most horrible marketing tie-in games since Mountain Dew XTreem Genital Piercing 64. Worse, it's a fairly generic platformer with little sparkly things to collect, some of which are Skittles. But the characters all know they're in a generic platformer about Skittles. The lead character, Skye, keeps up a steady stream of wisecrack that was batting over .500 by the time I finished. Her "wisecracking" partner, the gargoyle Draak, was quite a bit less humorous but was still pretty decent. Things like the description of the Magic Potion ("Makes you all magicky and junk."), Skye's comment on the short fishing portion ("It's an action/adventure!! ...No, it's just a fishing simulator."), or their disdain for the pathetic attempts at platformer puzzling ("Oh no! Not...BACKWARDS WRITING!!") are almost worth the price of admission. I'm a sucker for self-referential humor.

Where Darkened Skye falls down hard is in the implementation. This game was developed for both PC and GameCube, and where most games simply port the console version to PC, this game appears to have ported the PC version to GameCube. The entire time I was playing, I noticed how I seemed to be playing a PC game with mittens on. I shall elaborate:

1. You can save anywhere at any time - This feature is usually left out of console games in favor of "save points", because console developers were all raised on the SNES and PS1 and they hate us.

2. There are numerous wall/floor glitches - Something that, until this point, I'd really only seen in PC shooters. I know I've been fortunate to never experience glitching or save corruption in my console games, but it surprised me how easily Skye would fall through a floor or get knocked through a wall into the ether.

3. The aiming is designed for a mouse/keyboard - This game is clearly designed for the mouse/keyboard of a PC and not the stubby joysticks of the GameCube. Very early in the game you get access to your first Magic Missle, and that's where combat takes a nosedive. Your melee staff attack becomes nearly useless, as the levels are from here out populated with archers and spellcasters. These enemies share several annoying qualities: they take many shots to kill; their shots will push you off ledges while yours simply splash ineffectively against them; they have about 95% accuracy; and if you can see them, they will see you, no matter how far away they are or which way they are facing. There were numerous instances when I would see my crosshair turn colors, notice an archer waaaay off in the distance, barely rendered and not facing me, and then suddenly get a face full of arrow.

Why does your crosshair turn colors? Well, I guess it's what the developers put in to help "autoaim" on the GameCube. The important thing to remember while playing Darkened Skye, the single most vital tidbit to survival, is that you do not shoot where the crosshair is! I mean, you do, but you will not hit many enemies that way. You can have your crosshair right between their eyes, but if it does not "lock on" and turn colors then you're going to hit air. The key is to put the crosshair near the enemy and wait until the game decides to lock on. When you're getting buzzed by three fire-breathing dragons at once, you can imagine the problems this causes.

All these problems combined to make this a dreary game to plod through. I was ready to type up that this game would fill many an hour with gameplay, but then I noticed that I had only actually been playing for about four hours. Given how far I was in the game, that was about on track for a total play time near Jak and Daxter or Rachet and Clank. It just felt much longer. This game was a drag to play, with huge empty levels and long pitched battles against miles-distant archers. The hell of it is, I can see the genius at work here. The humor and premise (Skittles??) were great. The puzzles that did exist were very solvable, but not the same cliche platformer stuff that every other game does. The Sky-Pirates' Camp was a shining example of what this game could have been. Here you jump between flying carpets, dragons, skyships, and rainbow-colored pillows in an airy void. It was awesome platforming, and the level has a noticeable lack of which I mean none at all. I think if I could just turn off all the archers I would love this game a lot more. As it is, I can't bring myself to slog all the way to the end.