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the swinging package here is sewn up by three mechanics: the boost, the web zip, and the charge jump. in a modern design, the boost would inevitably be restrained by some kind of resource like a meter or a cooldown thanks to the idle nodding of designers seeing a chance to add an explicit limitation to the system. spider-man 2 doesn't need that; the boost's only mechanical restriction is that it can be used once per swing with no other catch. simply obtaining the speed that it comes with using it adds enough danger to traversal to avoid any need for an artificial check on its power. the web zip (once obtained) defrays this by opening up an escape hatch when you need to bail out. its ability to quickly change your angle and briefly cap your speed reins in runaway or unexpected swings. the charge jump overlays all of this with the ability to influence height out of the swing and weave in ground movement without losing momentum. it gives the player a variable amount of impulse based on how long it's been buffered, and it sits completely independent of the other moves, making it chargeable in the background while simultaneously swinging. these three beg not only multilayered decision-making, with fingers working independently to control different systems, but also robust split-second decision-making that keeps the player constantly juggling the three as the micropositioning constantly evolves.
that's primarily because the micropositioning (partially) controls where spidey's webs go, and it's nuanced to such an extent that you'll often have no idea what exactly it'll attach to or how you'll swing around its fulcrum. watch this quick speedrun of the pizza missions and you'll see even a world record holder overshoot objectives, muddle with awkward climbing angles, and get stuck inside a fire escape. this chaos persists even at lower speeds, so there's no point to holding yourself back; boost as often as you can and be prepared for disaster. the game's challenges accept this fact and run with it by featuring generously sized rings to run through without many "tricks" involved. in fact, most of the challenges would feel like filler if not for the volatility of the swinging system giving much-needed variety to what otherwise are checkpoints slapped inside city blocks. you're never expected to plan intricate routes through these because accepting inconsistency and learning to work around it is the core of the game's unique movement system. even simple additions to a challenge such as mandating wallrunning, loop-de-loops, or landing on the ground inside particular checkpoints wrinkle the necessary traversal in such a way that you'll remember one-off challenges days after you originally played them. these nuances are the crux of the game's appeal.
whether this sounds appealing to you in the long run depends on how much intrinsic enjoyment you can get out of this system without much structure surrounding it. its these challenges and the pizza missions providing most of your sustenance, and luckily they're available from mere minutes into the game. however, to further upgrade your base speed, expect to pay the piper by sleepwalking through ~4-5 hours of story-driven setpieces. it shockingly does little to play with your swinging chops and instead alternates extremely lax "get to the objective" segments with dull beat-em-up combat that rarely escalates beyond spamming the air combo and the contextual dodge. it luckily rarely veers into true frustration, but the fact that you have to engage with it all was a rather sore point to me. having to eat my veggies to enjoy my traversal dessert doesn't hit quite as hard when the dessert itself is a bit of an acquired taste, riddled with its own frustrations and inconsistencies. holistically the experience feels often more like something I enjoy dissecting in theory and less so in practice.
the similarities to gravity rush occurred to me while playing, as I outlined in my review of that game that it was also a bare-bones open world experience buoyed by its exciting traversal yet limited by rarely leaning into it outside of optional challenges. spider-man 2 is an even purer expression of that sentiment, with a washed-out, flat version of manhattan replacing the anachronistically rich hekseville and an even more wild and disorienting swinging system replacing the comparatively straight-forward gravity control. a game I see myself continuing to pop in to pick away at the remaining challenges, but not necessarily one that kept me enthralled.
didn't really talk much about the combat in my last few classic RE reviews because so much of it boils down to pressing aim and shooting until the zombie goes down; the main appeal is the resource consumption, where every shot counts and evading enemies is often preferable. on its face re3's combat focus seems to violate this core appeal, as the increase in enemy counts across the board comes with a corresponding increase in heavy weaponry. shotgun shells weren't even sparse in re2, and in re3 you might as well just use your shotgun as your daily driver given how lush the ammo haul is. between this, chokepoints with explosive barrels, the contextual dodge, the wealth of gunpowders, and the grace pushdowns you get if you've previously been bitten in a room, it really feels like jill is nigh invincible in most regular encounters. with the more claustrophobic corridor design and increased enemy limit in rooms, there are certainly more times that the game pushes you into one of these options instead of going for straight evasion, but at the same time the core conceit is still the same: click aim, click shoot. a lot of mechanics to defray what is still relatively rudimentary gameplay.
however, the devs went out of their way to keep the routing intact. the addition of nemesis as a mr. X replacement so thoroughly trumps its predecessor that it feels a bit shocking they didn't get it this right the first time. mr. X was a effectively an ammo conversion spot; this lumbering beast you could pump full of cheaper ammo to get drops of the nicer stuff. nemesis completely flips this on its head by offering a real challenge between all of his different mutations, with attacks such as full-screen lunges, tentacle whips, and a rocket launcher. tackling him requires a much stronger focus on positioning and dodge acumen than mr. X (or even many other early RE bosses), and fittingly in return for choosing to fight you get parts for specialized weapons. granted, actually mastering the dodge in these fights plays up the issues with its seemingly random outcomes and directions, but at the same time tanking hits or controlling his speed with the freeze grenades gives much-needed leeway in what is probably the hardest boss up to this point in the series. unfortunately, killing him in optional encounters doesn't seem to influence rank at all, and I never got a sense that these optional kills help make his later obligatory fights easier, but his presence still gives the benefit of influencing your ammo route. killing nemesis isn't cheap, so if you're interested in his weapons, the regular fights that are so easily trivialized by the bounty of grenades you receive becomes moments for you to tighten your belt and conserve ammo.
small variations to the campaign are also more prevalent in this entry, from randomized enemy layouts and different item locations to subtle route-dependent event trigger alterations. the least interesting of these are timed binary choices that are occasionally given to you during cutscenes, which generally are nothing more than knowledge checks, especially when you can get a free nemesis kill out of it like in the restaurant or on the bell tower. occasionally these actually affect routing, as on the bridge prior to the dead factory, but more often than not the difference seemed either negligible or not a real tradeoff. the rest of these do affect routing in meaningful ways, from things as minor as changing a room from hunters to brain suckers to major changes such as the magnum and the grenade launcher getting swapped in the stars office. this plus the plentiful ammo fosters a nice "go with the flow" atmosphere where reloading a save and getting thrown into different circumstances is often a worse choice than just limping along through mistakes. on the flip-side, the actual effects of this feels like it would be most relevant between many separate runs, so I really haven't played around with really planning a route for this one as much as I would have liked. it already took me a year to play through this short game lol, hopefully next year once I'm done teaching I'll come back to this one.
with that in mind, the real thing that elevated this for me over re2 was the area design. re3 sticks with general design thrust of the first two -- bigger early areas, smaller later areas -- but it moves away from interconnected inner loops and major-key gating of the mansion or the police station in favor of something more akin to spokes coming out from a wheel, where each spoke has its own little setpiece and order of exploration feels more loose. the best example of this is easily downtown, which implements an item collection challenge similar to chess plugs or medals puzzles from previous games (get supplies to fix a cable car). each primary location in this section is a building, whether a sub station or a press office, all connected via alleys and streets with interactables strewn along the way. does a good job both corralling the player into fighting enemies in narrow spaces as well as providing many separated nodes with their own little sparks of action and intrigue. not really as genius as the mansion's taut, intertwined room layout, but it's cool to see them try something a little different. the later game devolves into mini-puzzle areas on par with the guardhouse (or even smaller in the case of the park or the hospital), but these are a significantly improvement over the undercooked sewer from re2. the puzzles themselves are pretty fun too; I like spatial puzzles more than riddles, and they lean into that more here with stuff like the water purification check near the end of the game.
the lynchpin of pikmin 1 discourse is the time limit; intensely upsetting for some and the core of the game's appeal to others. this 30 day time limit serves a dual function: it not only provides a rigid skill barrier for players to overcome in order to reach an acceptable ending, but it also enhances the fear of the unknown. pikmin 1 explicitly highlights olimar's journey as one of necessity, where his survival is never guaranteed or even feasible. he has absolutely no understanding of the planet he's landed on (though his observations form valuable foreknowledge for later series protagonists), and thus every interaction he has with the unfamiliar flora and fauna must be taken with care. the time limit synergizes with this to create a looming, uncertain objective. without a layout of the planet to observe and plan around, every single miniscule decision becomes weighed against hundreds of similiarly small decisions down the line based on their efficiency. this creates an anxious drive to further improve and strategize, with the tension of olimar's life on the line ever growing the more you commit to your actions. while this system is static and not particularly interactive from a mechanical standpoint, and pikmin 3 would toy with its implications on routing via the fruit juice system, pikmin 1's implementation remains finely tuned to maximize the fear of unfettered exploration.
it may surprise you, then, that hey pikmin expertly turns this immersive friction on its head. from the moment it begins, one can sense that this olimar is older, less naive, and more familiar with the eccentricities of faraway planets. when he crash-lands on yet another planet, there is little in the way of suspense or anxiety. immediately there is a new objective put in front of him: 30,000 sparklium needed as fuel to escape. to the casual player, this might seem like an ordinary challenge, one that scarcely can capture the emotional resonance of the original pikmin. many have struggled to stay with this game because of it. I know I fell prey to this way of thinking myself.
however, after a mere few worlds, the genius of this requirement becomes apparent. the necessary sparklium to leave the planet is vast, and the rate at which you obtain it seems slight in comparison. the old fear began setting in, just as potent and all-consuming as before. even without an explicit time limit, hey pikmin weaves the claustrophobia of pikmin 1 by fostering a profound sense of ennui. this is a game shrouded in decay, obsessed with teasing out the ending drops of lust for adventure; exhaustively interrogating olimar's exploitation of each world he encounters. its minimalist level design and mechanics follow suit. I quickly found the further in I dug that these elements combine together to make every second spent fruitlessly in the game's world to be wasted time. every empty corridor without much sparklium or moment of inelegant routing through a level reintroduced that telltale anxiety, the feeling that I might have let more precious seconds slip through my hands. in these times I felt like olimar, synapses blown from an overexposure to new, meaningless experiences while desiring only to escape the planet.
beyond my personal feelings, the game's use of its sparklium as a ludonarrative device becomes essential for routing as well, as there is a vital interplay between treasure collection and overall "speedrunning" through the critical path. while the game features a significant amount of treasure, secret stages, and other collectables, the heady brew of boredom concocted by its featureless environments and slow progression are obviously intended to ensure that no player would be able to stomach actually taking a completionist route through the game (it wouldn't make sense for olimar to want to spend more time on the planet). therefore, the player is met with a choice at every fork in their road. will they spend valuable time searching for more treasure in each level and risk spending unnecessary time playing the game when easier treasure exists later on, or will they beeline towards the exit, expecting that it will be more time efficient to gather treasure in a later level? while this may sound similar to how pikmin 1 lays out many of its interactables such as destroyable gates and bridges that may be unnecessary in the long run, hey pikmin makes a major refinement to this formula. pikmin 1's time limit is cloying and artificial; it forces the player to consider their time spent playing as wasted through the mechanic. hey pikmin manages to instill the feeling of wasted time through its own design; a much more organic solution. this wouldn't be possible if the developers didn't center the game around this simultaneously rich yet hollow sensation of weariness. its lack of design speaks volumes. this unique manipulation of the player's expectations on platformer design spoke to me; I felt a wave of relief that brought me to the verge of tears when I finally reached my sparklium goal a mere two stages before the game was set to finish, saving myself from further time spent backtracking through old levels for treasure.
hey pikmin further breaks down the series' valorization of far-flung exploration by providing a new perspective on the relationship between olimar and the pikmin. other games in the series establish olimar as a paternal figure to the pikmin, as he guides their reproduction through the onion. while the onion is briefly featured in hey pikmin, olimar's primary method of gathering pikmin to his cause is now pulling them out of marked spots in the environment. these spots often replenish when your pikmin stock gets too low, creating an uneasy sense of worthlessness to maintaining a full pack of pikmin. furthermore, pikmin procured in each level are simply discarded after the fact, with olimar extracting more and more pikmin from the environment in each level. indeed, this game goes furthest in suggesting that olimar's direction of the otherwise-sentient pikmin violates their personhood and sense of worth.
there are two main aspects to this. the first is another ludonarrative trick that the series has had up its sleeve since the first entry. this is an incredibly subtle touch by the developers, so it may not be obvious to some, but by making the pikmin AI horrifically stupid, it actually conveys the idea that the pikmin themselves are stupid. hey pikmin goes out of its way to show that olimar takes the pikmin into situations outside of their natural environment they are highly ill-equipped for cognitively, such as moving platforms, small differences in elevation, and areas near tiny enemies. this recklessness on the part of olimar juxtaposed with his inability to emote and lack of character comes off as a recharacterization of him as perhaps sociopathic. hey pikmin approaches this idea from another direction as well; in what seems like a homage to the strong anti-capitalist themes of pikmin 2, olimar uses the pikmin cast aside at the end of each level as a task force for resource extraction in other parts of the planet. this small between-level management minigame reeks of colonial exploitation, casting a new shadow at olimar's "activities" on each planet he visits. while pikmin 2 analyzed the economic implications of resource extraction from the untainted wilderness, hey pikmin instead centers those desperate workers forced into servitude at the fringes of empire.
vastly overlooked by the majority of the gaming public thanks to its late release in the life of the 3ds and seeming low-budget status, hey pikmin is a crowning aesthetic achievement that none should miss. it brilliantly unravels the myths behind pikmin as a series while simultaneously building upon the ideas of its forebears. pass it by only if you want to miss a shocking portrait of the listlessness and apathetic abuse at the heart of exploration. a forward step for the medium; sleep paralysis in video game form.