AfterGalaxyCrackdown

Something I neglected to mention last week was that I’d managed to ignore my previously steely resolve regarding the purchasing of perhaps (retail therapeutically) unnecessary games in purchasing After Burner Climax when it was on sale on XBLA recently. Post-blogging last Sunday night, I sat down and played it for the first time… and bugger me if it wasn’t a barrel of fun. Lots of things flying about at breakneck speed, Achievements popping left and right, and an extras system that frequently unlocked ways to make the game more explodey and… easy.

Yes, ABC is one of a select group of games that seems intent on making it significantly easier for the gamer the more they play… and it’s not just a matter of practise making perfect. The EX options steadily add options that make the task at hand (at worst, a fifteen minute run through a dozen stages) a doddle: auto-fire, increased lock-on capabilities, decreased damage rates. So, after a handful of runs though the game, all the EX options are unlocked, the Achievements on offer are cleaned up, and I’m ready to knock ABC off The List almost as quickly as it appeared on it…

…until I dug around the Score Attack section of the game. More specifically, the Medals awarded for various events in Score Attack mode. The Score Attack mode which, in the interests of fairness, doesn’t allow any of the EX options to be enabled when blasting through the game. And – to be quite honest – I’m fucking rubbish at After Burner. My aiming reticule zips across the screen with no semblance of control, my fighter plane is rolling almost constantly, and the enemy appear to just hang out in the distance, giggling at my inept piloting.

And those Score Attack medals… they mock me. My OCD is terrified of them now, and I have that bitter taste of disappointment in my mouth that I usually get when I make a rash purchase that lingers, goading me.

In short: another game on The List that will take ages to cross off, even with all the GamerSmarties acquired.

Crackdown 2 also got a bit of a hammering this week, with a little elbow grease yielding decent progress. I was pottering along at a comfortable rate of an Achievement-a-day, which was nice; a few clever exploits coughed up all the Renegade Agility Orbs, and then I started on a few races, a few Renegade Driving Orbs. But on Friday, I went chasing one particular Orb; scooting around canyons, in all manner of vehicles, frustration rose… and then something snapped. The experience was, quite tangibly, not fun. I turned off the 360, and fired up the Wii…

…for a return to Super Mario Galaxy 2. I was already well into the Green Star Challenge, which I was lock-stepping with my Luigi playthrough – finishing a level with Luigi unlocks a staff ghost, just the kind of content I love. And in the last couple of days I have absolutely caned SMG2; the Luigi playthrough is complete, all the Green Stars have been obtained, and the Grandmaster Galaxy opened up as a result.

Now, Star 241 – The Ultimate Test – wasn’t too difficult; sure, a lot of lives were lost exploring the worlds contained therein, but that was just practise, really. Star 242 – The Perfect Run – was a return to the same worlds… but in a one-hit, no checkpoint, daredevil format. And I don’t mind admitting that I attempted that level upwards of 150 times – lots of little mistakes ending promising runs – before finally managing what was, indeed, The Perfect Run.

And, just like that, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was off The List.

Somewhere along the line, the ability to display the Death Count on the SMG2 save file is unlocked; when I saved after acquiring that 242nd Star, the Death Count read 1257. That’s a lot of deaths… but a hell of a lot of fun. Not once during this weekend’s onslaught did the game feel like a chore, or an impossible challenge; I was always aware of what was required of me, and all the mistakes were my own. Compare and contrast to Crackdown 2, where I constantly feel like I have to exploit the game to garner any progress from it; compare also to Uncharted, which I fired up to celebrate SMG2‘s passing… and quickly switched off again.

That’s the thing about Great Games, isn’t it; they may not be the prettiest, but they’re always upstaging their shinier cousins.

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