Posts by Tag / GAME: Effie (4)

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In-Effie-ctive Surfing

One of my all-time favorite video game gadgets is the jetboard from Jak II. Apart from just being really cool, it made navigating the open world of Haven City much more interesting - it was faster than walking, capable of a variety of tricks and maneuvers, and got brief speed boosts from successful execution of certain tricks. This meant that even just going from one mission to another could be engaging as you practiced stringing tricks together along the way to maintain the top speed boost for as long as possible. This then paid off in the missions that required skilled use of the jetboard.

Effie is a recent 3D platformer by a small team that explicitly takes inspiration from genre classics including Jak & Daxter. It includes a “surfing” ability that’s superficially very reminiscent of the jetboard, as it involves taking your shield (which normally stays collapsed on your back), expanding it, and using it as a hoverboard.

But that’s where the similarities end. Surfing allows you to move faster, but it’s not really any more engaging than walking. You can’t do any tricks, and the only speed boosts are at fixed points in the environment spaced such that you’re not likely to be able to maintain max speed if you’re taking a direct route to your destination. You’re mostly still just holding forward, not practicing anything or getting rewarded for mastery of anything. Even the character’s body movements are bizarrely stiff while surfing, like there wasn’t time or budget to animate it properly (the rest of the game is much better animated).

It’s certainly possible the designers wanted to do more with surfing, but in the end it feels like it mostly exists to justify how wide open the game’s Red Plains of Oblena is - which in turn seems to be so wide open in order to justify the presence of surfing. The Plains’ points of interest are quite spread out and take a while to get between, which is improved by surfing but still not interesting, and this is also the only place you can surf. You can’t do it in the main levels, and the only goal that actually requires it is a fairly easy and dull ring course that’s one of the Plains’ points of interest.

It makes me really curious what the conversations were like during development. I can easily imagine grand plans for both surfing and the open area that there just wasn’t time or money to fulfill, and it would be difficult to remove either late in development (taking out the Plains would require restructuring the game, as it currently bridges all the linear levels, and taking out surfing would make the Plains incredibly obnoxious to traverse), resulting in the unfortunate half-baked state they ended up in. But who knows whether that’s what happened.

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Indirect Boss Fights in Platformers

I’ve been thinking about boss fights in platformers. Mostly because I just played Effie, a 3D platformer whose boss fights… kinda aren’t boss fights.

In Effie, you play as young warrior Galand cursed by evil witch Melira. Melira is the villain for the whole game and shows up for a boss fight at the end of every chapter. But you never fight her directly.

Instead, she hovers menacingly nearby while you deal with waves of normal enemies that she’s apparently summoning and/or traverse a hazardous platforming course. Melira’s only direct contribution to the fight is a telegraphed area-of-effect attack you need to avoid periodically. She does get a health bar, though - sometimes you deplete it just by defeating her summoned minions, other times by reaching and activating levers that trigger hazards she just happens to be in range of - and once her health bar is empty you win and (except in the final fight) she retreats. (The most perplexing encounter has you damage her by pouring wine on her and then when she’s had enough she escapes by diving into the vat of wine.)

So, okay. Is this a boss fight? It’s narratively framed as one. It’s a climactic chapter-capping encounter with the game’s antagonist in which she tries to kill you and you fight back until there is a clear winner and loser. And it’s also mechanically framed as one, challenging you to use your accumulated combat and platforming skills in a high-pressure gauntlet. The only thing I can point to that makes it not a boss fight is that you never really fight the boss - the encounter still serves every other purpose of boss fights I can think of.

But I think the fact that she doesn’t engage you directly undercuts her as a villain. She’s much less threatening if all she can throw at you is an easily-avoidable area attack and things you’ve defeated many times before. She’s much less impressive if you can compel her to retreat just by defeating a bunch of other enemies or if she repeatedly positions herself exactly where she needs to be in order to be vulnerable to triggerable hazards.

It’s normal for bosses in platformers to test you on combat and platforming skills that you’ve learned and practiced earlier, and thus in a sense not actually provide anything new and unique. Especially if the boss is supposed to be much more powerful than you and it would be silly to let you attack them directly. But I think it’s a lot more satisfying if the game finds a way to frame the conflict as a direct battle, even if you can’t use brute force.

I find myself thinking, for example, of Klaww, a boss in Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Klaww is gigantic and you can’t just, like, walk up and punch him. So the fight is mechanically a series of platforming challenges in which you avoid Klaww’s thrown boulders and navigate platforms suspended over lava to reach him, where you don’t damage him directly so much as cause him to stumble and drop a boulder on his own head. It’s not especially cathartic because Klaww himself hadn’t been built up as an emotionally-significant antagonist - he’s just a gate you have to get through to proceed to the next area. But he still scared me the first time I played and the fight is clearly framed as you outmaneuvering a much stronger foe. I wish fighting Melira in Effie had felt that way.

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