One of my favorite new ways to describe certain pieces of media is to call them "The Pirates of the Carribean of XYZ." There is something magical about that movie - it is not groundbreaking in anyway, does not introduce any grandiose philosophical theme, but yet manages to entertain and not leave a greasy aftertaste of brain junk food.
In other words, I had a different fun experience watching it from watching a pure action film (say Bad Boys II ) or watching a "film" which was just Jessica Alba's boobs in disguise. Those were enjoyable for my natural masculine interest in violence and sex, but Pirates was enjoyable for the fun. Pirates didn't make me a wiser person, but since it tapped into the "fun" of an storytelling (even though, I reiterate, the story itself was nothing special) as opposed to an animal instinct kind, I got a different sensation out of it and felt that my time watching it was not wasted. Furthermore, unlike "deep" movies which I do quite enjoy, it did not leave a heavy emotional weight that made sleeping harder the night afterwards, which is something I really do not want on certain days.
This is the same with Ubisoft's Beyond Good & Evil, one of the few games I got to play over the past few months.
What is it exactly? My best description of the game's mechanics would be a simpler version of Zelda + Pokemon + Metal Gear. Feel-wise though, a tribute to Zelda would be the best description (I think both the facts that one of the special moves require charging the attack button and that the world is called Hillys are nods to the great adventure game series, not to mention you have to push boxes around). The dungeons are fun - nothing too complex - and occasionally involves Solid Snake - esque strategery to get through. The Pokemon aspect has to do with the main character Jade's profession - a reporter - since one of her side tasks is to photograph animals in Hillys.
I wish to stop for a minute and talk about Jade. Jade is now officially one of my favorite protagonists in the games I have played . This may be strange, since she is not larger-than-life at all: her lines are not extraordinarily witty, she is a decent fighter but no master ninja female assassin (who seem to be all the rage nowadays), and - the most important part - she is not meant to be sexy (okay, she is not flat, but she is not unhumanly endowed. Furthermore, she wears jeans ). Yes, even being heterosexual, I am actually glad that my Jade is not equipped with the standard video-game heaving bosoms of jigglitude that would put real women to shame. Ubisoft truly tried to sell the game because it is a good game, and not because it has a protagonist with a killer body. This normalness of Jade makes her more believable and much more appreciable as a character. Jade, the hero, could have been one of us.
Now, what about the game mechanics? Unlike many other games that falter from the kitchen-sink design principle though, this game manages to make the feel consistent in somewhat similar vein to Nethack. None of the minigames take too much of the action away, the different modes transition nicely into each other with good tempo. Basically, the best part of the design is that nothing felt like it was "stuffed" in deliberately, a good thing for many designers to learn. The whole photo-collecting thing is a cute sidequest that is always on, the races were very fun simple F-Zero deals (and one of the racetracks directly impact the flow of the game in a very interesting way), and the occasional boss battles were interesting puzzles in themselves in true Zelda fashion (of course, while you are solving the puzzle, you want to get the boss to sit still so you can take a photo of it, since the bosses count as animals you want to photograph).
To add to the fun, a really important part is the decoration. The graphics are beautiful and very soothing. Somewhat like a game of Seiklus, the act of playing is itself therapeutic. Furthermore, the music by Christophe Heral is among the best and most varied I've heard in any PC game soundtrack. Ubisoft pulled another great move in making the soundtrack available for free , and it is one of those rare soundtracks I think you do not need to have played the game to appreciate.
But that is all. No hottie, no incredible game mechanic, no especially interesting characters/backstories, and no especially captivating plot. Still, I looked forward to returning home from work and chalk up another hour every night. It being a fairly short game (10 hours?), I never got tired of the game at any point and just wanted to beat it, or thought of it as a waste of my time at any point, even if I were just sitting in my hovercraft at a corner of Hillys, seeing a flying manta ray fly by and enjoying the sunset (there is a day/night engine) as the charming but not attention-grabbing overworld music played, in true Zelda fashion.
Overall, Beyond Good & Evil was a work of love that performed admirably in all parts. No parts excelled, and there were little flaws (loading times, uninteresting characters, etc.) here and there, but that did not stop it from being the Pirates of the video games in its year - a highly enjoyable interactive experience.
P.S. Here is an excellent interview with the creator. You can see the love he put into the game here.
P.S. Real work is tough. =/ I might eventually port these articles somewhere else, but I will try to never give up. It might take months for each post, but so be it. For those of you who read this, I thank you sincerely for sharing the experiences with me.
(Pictures taken from the official site )