Friday, July 18, 2008

To unlock or not to unlock...

I finally started playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl recently, and I have to say it’s an awesome game. The more I play it, the less chaotic it is and the slicker and more productive my fighting skills become. Problem is: I don’t want to be better at this game.

That seems like a strange thing to say when dealing with a game, especially a game I just admitted to liking a lot. Fact is, Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a multi-player game and this is the main reason I bought it. I want to play this game with (‘up to’) three of my friends, not alone. As most of these friends don’t have a Wii with SSBB on it, I simply don’t want to train myself to such a point where competing is not fun anymore for those involved.

Why not stop playing alone then? Like with many games in the beat-‘m-up genre, a large part of the game’s attraction is unlocking hidden characters to play with. That’s not just the completist in me. These characters aren’t just cosmetic rewards. They all have their own unique and often exuberant fighting styles. So, I want Sonic, Solid Snake, Falco, Lucario. I need Ganondorf, Luigi, Mr. Game & Watch and Captain Falco.

Problem is: to unlock them I need to spend hours and hours on single-player content. Here’s what I need to do to unlock Jigglypuff, taken from an unlock guide on gamefaqs:

  1. Play 350 Brawls
  2. Complete SSE and then clear Events 1-20
  3. Complete SSE and then Find Jigglypuff in the Swamp stage (He is in a Red Door, just enter them all)

Admittedly, this character is one of the hardest to get access too, and there’s nothing wrong with rewarding perseverance and skill at all. The best/most dedicated players should get some kudos from the game. It’s all part of the whole challenge/reward curve of proper game design.

This completely logical reward system does however interfere with the casual gaming approach I’d like to take with this particular title. The either/or situation is a recurring one I find myself in with fighting games. Novice and expert players simply don’t mix well in this genre like they do in, say, Guitar Hero or Mario Kart.

Unlockable features, especially playable characters, remain tricky game design decisions in this industry. If you don’t want to or cannot invest the time and energy to unlock them, you are missing out on content you’ve already paid for.

I guess it’s back to single-player again for me. I might get better in SSBB than I (or my friends) would like. But who doesn’t want to fight with one’s own R.O.B..

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