Wednesday, November 5, 2008

GIWEEEEEH~!

Seeing as this is my first time writing for the blog and I haven't really gotten my shit that well together, I figure the logical thing to do would be to write a whole bunch of crap about a game I like and calling it a blog entry, since that seems to be a bit of a recurring theme around here. So why not start off with an underappreciated gem from ye olden days of about ten years ago, with the sadly forgotten PS1 should-have-been classic Incredible Crisis?

The game's storyline can best be summed up as Murphy's law taken to its logical extreme: After an average Japanese family's eldest specifically asks her extended family to honour her birthday by coming home early, the father of the family suddenly has his lunchbreak calisthenics interrupted by a giant stone globe crashing through his office window and chasing him out of the building, before he's put on an ambulance and has to navigate a busy highway while strapped to a stretcher, give his femme fatale secretary a backrub and shoot down fighter jets with a massive anti-aircraft cannon, in that order. His son, on the other hand, has to deal with being shrunk down to the size of a thimble by a passing alien spacecraft, his wife gets caught up in a furry bank robbery and later has to pilot a fighter jet in order to take down a sentient, giant stuffed bear, and his teenaged daughter has to reunite an adorable baby UFO with its mothership after shopping for some cosmetics and avoiding the wrath of her teacher, who can apparently fling chalk at misbehaving students across the classroom so hard it knocks them out and causes permanent brain damage. Holy shit, that was a lot of words.

So the overarching goal of the game is to guide each member of the family through each increasingly bizarre scenario while making sure they don't stress out and die. Yes, the game measures how well you're doing by your character's stress level, and if you get too stressed you either get squashed by a huge spike-shaped trap or eaten by a praying mantis, or just die from a spontaneous brain aneurysm or something (Douglas Adams' Bureaucracy, anyone?). This probably ties in with the game's main character being an efficiency-obsessed salaryman who wouldn't think twice about working until his heart gives in, simply out of blind loyalty to his company, but in the context of the other player characters it seems a bit weird, since I can't imagine japanese housewives and schoolchildren having much to stress about in their day-to-day lives.

Gameplay is divided into short minigames, each taking anywhere between two or four minutes to beat, much like in any other minigame compilation like WarioWare or Raving Rabbids, with short cutscenes and info boxes in-between levels to clue you in on what's going on and what you're supposed to do, along the style of ”Mash the X button to make the elevator slow down, use the D-pad to dodge crap that's falling at you”. Yes, that's an actual minigame. The game throws these minigames at you two or three at a time, and when you're done it gives you grades and extra lives depending on how well you did, and then lets you save your progress and move on. Each character's scenario unfolds episodically, and you can go back and play any individual minigame again if you like. Nothing too special for the genre.

Now that we're about three or four paragraphs into talking about the game, it might seem a bit late to say this, but the reason I wanted to tell you about Incredible Crisis is that this game serves as a prime example of how much bad game design players, including yours truly, are willing to tolerate in a game when the atmosphere makes up for it. There's about twenty, maybe twenty five minigames in total, so players who know what they're doing can plow through the Story mode in an hour, maybe an hour and a half tops. There aren't any secrets to unlock, so the only tangible reason to replay a minigame is just to get a high grade...and let's be honest, who gives a shit about high scores anyway, especially when the game doesn't save them?

And even worse, out of the twenty-or-so minigames, at least four are shameless retreads of previous ones. In fact, the game makes you perform one minigame up to three times, with the exact same scenario: the family member who you're currently controlling is catapulted into a stranger's boat, who offers to give you a ride for free, and then your character decides that the logical thing to do is to pull the plug on his boat and flood the whole thing, just so that you get to fling water overboard and dodge falling debris until you get to shore. So if I've got this right, all three members of the family were big enough idiots to pull the plug on the boat they were on, miles away from shore, without thinking any worse of it? I'm no advocate of karma by any means, but if your entire family is stupid enough to instinctively pull the plug on a boat they happen to be sitting in, you pretty much deserve whatever cruel shit the world decides to throw at you. Yes, even giant teddy bears.

That's not to say the few minigames that aren't repeated don't suffer from problems of their own: One sequence that specifially springs to mind is one where you, taking control of the mother of the family, are abducted by the clan of furry bank robbers and forced to swap around the contents of your grocery bag to match the exact weight of a giant, golden piggy bank, so you can swap one for the other, Raiders of the Lost Ark-style. What ruined this particular minigame for me is the time limit imposed on you: You only have about three minutes to work out the contents of your bag so they weigh just enough, and if you don't make it, you get impaled on a bunch of spikes. Oh, and in case you didn't have a hard enough time, the timer gets sped up when you try it again. This got to the point where I had to pause the game and break out a calculator just to figure out what I had to do, which should already have set off some alarms in the game designers' heads – and really, who the hell wants to do maths in a party game?!

That wasn't quite enough to steer me away from the game though, as you can probably guess. With a game this uniquely japanese in every way, it's a small wonder this game ever made it to European shores in the first place. Think of it as the PS1 equivalent to Katamari Damacy. A little charm can go a long way in a game, and Incredible Crisis literally oozes bizarre, unique charm out of its every pore, with completely insane situations, offbeat animation and characters, little references to movies and television sprinkled everywhere, all of which just beg the player to keep playing to see what happens next. The soundtrack also contributes to the mood in that it doesn't actually sound like video game music at all – and it figures, since the soundtrack is composed and performed by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, and when's the last time you heard ska music in a video game anyway? I mean seriously, just listen to the song that plays over the intro and try telling me this won't be stuck in your head for hours.

As a party game, Incredible Crisis is best enjoyed at a party obviously, but not the competitive kind – just play through the story mode with your friends, passing the controller around with each minigame: every single one of them is instantly accessible, and you and your friends are likely to be chortling merrily through the whole experience, hell, you could even make a dumb drinking game out of it. Just don't expect to be able to do it again in a few weeks with the same people, as Incredible Crisis is best the first time you play it.

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