Waypoints: Anticipation's Antidotes

Adam LaMosca | 5 Aug 2008 17:00
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I haven't been doing much gaming in recent weeks. Most evenings find me reviewing my game shelf and then turning to the internet, a good book, or even yard work to wrap up the day. I've been in a midsummer slump, and it's not just due to a scarcity of new releases.

Truth be told, the real source of my gaming malaise is the weight of post-E3, pre-fall release anticipation. I've found it difficult to get excited about gaming when the year's biggest releases are weeks or even months away. Last week, though, I found a perfect remedy for my lack of enthusiasm: PixelJunk Eden and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.

I didn't know what to expect from PixelJunk Eden, the new PlayStation Store release from Q Games, but the demo had me hooked after just five minutes. Swinging on a silken strand through the game's lush two-dimensional landscape was exhilarating, and collecting pollen to grow strange and beautiful floral shapes had me captivated. I was spellbound.

Bizarre Creations' Geometry Wars: RE 2, on the other had, was a known quantity. Or so I thought. I spent plenty of time with the initial Xbox Live Arcade Geometry Wars release back in 2005, and I certainly expected to see screens full of enemies and trance-inducing explosions of color. But here again I was surprised. The underlying action was more addictive than I remembered, and the new version's additional game modes, enemies, and achievements conspired to draw me in completely. I spent three hours on my first evening with Retro Evolved 2, and its was the most fun I'd had with a game in weeks.

Eden and Retro Evolved 2 didn't merely entertain. Like any great game, they reminded my why I love the medium, and reinvigorated my desire to play. That's a lot to ask for a couple of downloadable console titles whose combined price was under $20. But they succeeded beautifully, in part because I approached them unburdened by the expectations that higher-budget titles create.

In terms of what we look for from games, entertainment is the lowest common denominator. We expect, at very least, enjoyable experiences that allow us to momentarily escape from the real world. Games like Eden and Retro Evolved 2 accomplish this task beautifully by bringing pure play to the forefront of the experience. Both games are essentially plotless. They rely on evocative, simple presentation coupled with smartly tuned gameplay. They're wonderfully expressive, but highly abstract.

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