After playing nothing but Zack & Wiki in anger for a fortnight (putting aside a few hours of Burnout Paradise and RR6 with the Rodents), it was a nice change to be forced to play something different, courtesy of another trip away for work. This time, I went prepared: I took all four DS games that remained on The List: Metroid Prime: First Hunt, The Rub Rabbits, Electroplankton, and The Phantom Hourglass.
I’d acquired the preview-demo-ish Metroid Prime: First Hunt as a freebie when I’d bought Zookeeper and the (rather excellent) Project Rub (that’s Feel The Magic XX/XY to you US readers… who am I kidding, I’ve seen the Google Analytics drill for this blog – there’s one US visitor. Who visited once. And lives in Alaska). Normally, I’d be happy, but perturbed by scoring freebie games (The List is long enough thankyouverymuch; see 7 Blades for another example), but I figured that MP:FH was only a demo, so it wouldn’t be on The List for long.
And then I played it.
Now, I’ve played a bit of the Metroid Prime series: the original game was great (notwithstanding the stupidly difficult final three bosses), but Metroid Prime 2: Echoes rubbed me the wrong way (and remains one of a precious few games that I’ve ever sold). But first impressions of the DS version of the franchise left the following impressions, listed in chronological order:
- Wow, those graphics are pretty tasty for such a meagre machine; and…
- This plays like shit.
I really didn’t get on with the default control scheme at all; it felt gluggy and dissociative and unpleasant. And, having done my research and deciding that Completion of this title was to top all three scoreboards and unlock the included bonus movie, my scores barely rated a mention. I put the MP:FH cart away, fuming that the “freebie” would have a higher psychological cost than I’d bargained for.
Fast forward two years, and I’ve had a shit day at the office. I decide to fire up MP:FH… and something’s changed. I’m at One with the default controls, ripping through the demo levels and easily topping the tables, continuing to play for ages after viewing the nice bonus movie. So that’s another game off The List, my third this calendar month.
And so I returned to The Rub Rabbits. A disappointing sequel to Project Rub (that’s Feel The Magic XX/XY to you US readers… who am I kiddi – oh wait, I’ve already done that bit), Rabbits is plagued by a couple of completely shittily unfair mini-games. Those who have played it know the ones I mean – Roshambo (a rock/paper/scissors game that offers a one-in-twentyseven chance of actually completing it in Memories mode) and Stampede (whose internal timing logic is inexplicable). In fact, Memories mode is generally a pain in the arse, essentially requiring you to get through Normal, Hard & Hell difficulties without failure for each of the mini-games. At the start of the week, six (of thirty-eight) mini-games were outstanding; by the end of the week, I’d ploughed through Poke (inexplicably untouched), Wish (a test of nerves), Lovebomber and Disc (a war of attrition), and managed to guess my way through the randomness of Roshambo (which led to one of those celebratory exaltations that scare the neighbours). Unfortunately, that leaves the final little snippet required to cross the game off The List: Stampede.
Stampede consists of two stages: the Easy stage, where you simply tap the oncoming bulls whilst avoiding gentlemen(!), and the Hard stage, where you have to tap hearts placed on the screen within a fixed amount of time. And when the hearts form the shape of a larger heart, that time limit seems unfeasibly small. In fact, I think I’ve only ever managed to successfully clear that stage about a dozen times (in a squillion attempts)… no big deal on Normal or Hard, where a failure simply takes one of your three “lives”, but it was a major stumbling block on Hell, in which you had a single attempt to clear two such hearts. After many many many concerted efforts, I managed to squeeze past the Hell challenge – but clearing Memories mode, of course, requires you to successfully clear the heart-of-hearts six time in one game, with no room for failure.
And, quite frankly, that’s too fucking hard.
I’ve nailed everything else in The Rub Rabbits, and even spent a few hours grinding 99,999 points to unlock additional costumes et al; but getting even one – let alone six – of those hearts was nigh-on impossible. Obviously I’ve managed two-in-a-row once (well, thrice actually), and that clearly demonstrates that it’s doable… but still, this task feels out of reach.
I enlisted the help of the (now ex-) SO, who had managed to act as my wing-man during my EDF 2017 assault. I figured that two styli would be able to click twice as many hearts as one, making the job that much easier. Alas, I soon discovered that the DS is not a multi-touch device; if two styli touch at the same time, one will go unrecognised. The plan was shot down; I’d have to either pull six sterling performances in a row from out of nowhere, or…
I have to admit, I’ve got a bit of a flexible attitude towards cheating a game. Exploiting dodgy AI or poor programming is always fair game, but in this case I was contemplating getting a CycloDS to utilise its real-time save function, bludgeoning my way through the Stampede. And, in my own mind, I was comfortable with that – after all, I was still performing the task, wasn’t I?
But then I thought I’d try one of the many DS emulators out there. I’ve already ripped my own DS games & saves for use with my R4 cart (using the quite fantastic NDS_BACKUP utility with my old Passcard3/Slot 2 M3 combo… sadly, Rudolph’s NDS_BACKUP site seems to be AWOL at the moment), so I fired up iDeaS on my PC to discover that it only managed to play The Rub Rabbits at about 14 fps. Given the frame-locked nature of the game, this made it really easy – if time consuming – to push through Stampede, completing Memories mode (with 20,000 bonus points and an extra unlockable costume) and finishing the game.
Except it doesn’t feel right. Even though I’ve got a nice save file which I could dump back to my Rub Rabbits ROM, there’s an icky taste in my mouth. I can’t, in good faith, cross that bastard game off The List.
Since then, I’ve gone back to the ROM and have continued to explore Stampede. Looking for that oh-so-obvious thing I’ve overlooked that’s impeding my progress. Nothing’s forthcoming, but I’ve successfully beaten the heart-of-hearts twice more. Out of a squillion attempts.
Furthering a week where I seemed to be tackling games I’m not especially fond of, I decided to fire up Astropop again. Two achievements outstanding, one of which is the notoriously difficult 9-minutes-in-Survival-Mode challenge. I managed 6 minutes. Hmmmm. A dozen restarts later and I’ve just broken through the 7-minute barrier, but it seems terribly variable – some attempts barely make the 5-minute mark. So it looks like I’ll need to bribe Lady Luck into being my co-pilot. Again.
I wonder if she’s any good at The Rub Rabbits.