Steam Backlog: Neon Beats

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Aug 28, 2019

Filed under: Game Reviews 69 comments

Here we have yet another musical platformer that I shouldn’t have bought but couldn’t help myself. This didn’t work out the last time I tried it. I’m sure it will fail the next time I try it. Evidently I can’t learn from my mistakes.

In the past I’ve said that I’m rubbish at 2D platformers. That’s basically true, but I don’t think that’s what keeps me from enjoying the genre. I’m rubbish at fighting games, but I still enjoy mashing the buttons and listening to the absurd sounds the combatants make when they pummel each other. Also, the cutscenes are usually… really something. I’m not so hot at driving games, but I can still enjoy them on the lower difficulty settings.

For the record, you control the square thing. The small square thing. The one in the middle of the screen.
For the record, you control the square thing. The small square thing. The one in the middle of the screen.

No, this problem goes deeper than being “good” at something.

INT: Home Office – Night

(Load BLEEPS and BLOOPS punctuate a steady electronic beat as Shamus plays a 2D platformer. His face is expressionless, or perhaps looking ever so slightly bored. Despite this, his head bobs very slightly in time to the music as his hands work the controller. Eventually he misses a jump and dies.)

Shamus: (Deadpan.) Shit.

(He sits up straight and tries again. This time he manages to complete a long series of complicated jumps. These lead into a difficult series of vertically ascending wall jumps. He reaches the end of the level, completely nailing the entire sequence. He blinks and looks down at his controller in surprise.)

Shamus: Wow. I seem to be getting pretty good at these.

(Beat.)

Shamus: And yet, I still don’t care. Why am I not enjoying this?

(Suddenly, DOKTOR SCIENTIST bursts through the door. His long grey hair is frazzled and unkempt. He’s wearing a lab coat and carrying a clipboard.)

Doktor Scientist: (Hammy German accent.) Vell, zere is a zimple und logikal explanazion for zeez phenomenon!

Shamus: First off, that German accent is terrible. Second, isn’t that trope like 60 years out of date by this point? Other countries do have scientists you know.

Scientist: (Rolls eyes.) Fine. No accent.

Shamus: And is that a clipboard? Who uses clipboards these days? Isn’t this conversation supposedly set in the modern day? You’re completely wrecking my suspension of disbelief.

(Dr. Scientist throws down his clipboard and smooths out his hair.)

Scientist: (Exasperated.) Why do you have to make everything so BORING? (Deep sigh.) The point is, there’s a simple explanation for why you’re not experiencing pleasure during this exercise.

Shamus: You mean aside from the fact that you’re interrupting me?

Scientist: Yes, completely unrelated to that. See, the sensation of pleasure you experience when playing games is actually the release of dopamine within the brain. Dopamine acts as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. It’s associated with pleasure, but it’s also key in building memories and mastering tasks. The “pleasure” you’re looking for is actually just a chemical in your brain.

Shamus: Okay, but why am I not having fun?

Scientist: Evidently your brain isn’t releasing dopamine related to this particular task.

Shamus: Yes, buy WHY?

Scientist: This task is very much related to spatial processing and timing. Maybe your brain favors more social interactions like-

Shamus: I’ll stop you right there, because social interactions are not my thing. See, I like shooting dudes in games. I like driving around, flying stuff, doing melee combos. All of that involves timing and spatial processing to some degree.

Scientist: So?

Shamus: So why do I enjoy all those other things, but NOT 2D platforming? Why do all the other tasks give me dopamine and not platforming?

Scientist: That’s like asking “why do people like different things?” I’m just a humble neuroscientist. I can’t answer those kinds of questions. Maybe you should ask a philosopher.

(Suddenly, PHILLIPE PHILOSOPHER dashes into the room!)

Phillipe: (Hammy French accent.) You need my help, no?

Shamus: Fuck off.

I don't know why an abstract world of pure geometry gives off dust particles when you jump, but it's good for giving a sense of physicality to the environment.
I don't know why an abstract world of pure geometry gives off dust particles when you jump, but it's good for giving a sense of physicality to the environment.

Games have a lot of different ways of tickling our brains. In particular, a lot of mechanics-focused stuff seems to be focused on working with left-brain activities: Timing challenges. Pattern recognition. Reflex tests. Memory challenges. Execution testsEven if you remember it, can you reliably execute this 5-button combo?. Spatial awareness. Logic puzzles. Exercises in logistics and planning. Rhythm-based challenges.

And those are just the raw mechanical systems. On top of that you have stuff like story, characters, tone, themes, music, visuals, and all the other artsy stuff to keep the right hemisphere of your brain interested.

Doctor Scientist: Actually, the left / right brain thing isn’t nearly that straightforward and you’re grossly oversimplifying the complex-

Nope! We’re done with that bit. Moving on…

The point is that games have a lot of different ways of stimulating our brains. I have no idea why jumping around in 2D doesn’t do anything for me. It’s very similar to a lot of other gameplay concepts. Like, on a fundamental level, it’s not that different from shooting. Both activities are about planning, timing, pattern recognition, and execution. But no matter how much I play 2D platformers or how hard I work to master them, they never give me the same pleasure as obliterating Combine with physics objects in Half-Life 2 or acing a fight in Batman: Arkham City. My right brain loves all the colors and music, but my left brain just isn’t into it.

I wonder if the IP holder of PONG could claim this character is infringing?
I wonder if the IP holder of PONG could claim this character is infringing?

I wouldn’t make a big deal about this except it feels really strange to master a task in a videogame and not get any satisfaction out of it. I feel like a junkie trying to get high on a placebo. The rush just isn’t there.

I guess this is what gaming feels like to non-gamers. They play, they do a thing, and there’s no reward. They shrug and say, “I don’t see what the big deal is with video games.”

To make this even weirder: I enjoyed the hell out of OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood. That’s a 2D downhill skateboarding game. That game is basically a platformer except you’re on wheels and always moving right, instead of being on foot. What’s the deal? If someone put Mario on roller skates would I suddenly enjoy Super Mario Bros? But wouldn’t that just turn it into an auto-scroller level? I hate those stages more than the others!

To make this even weirder still: I enjoy platforming in games like Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed. Isn’t that mostly the same deal in 3D? But then I don’t enjoy Super Mario GalaxyEh. I actually DO enjoy it, but I enjoy it for the exploration and inventive scenery, not the hopping around.. What’s the deal, here? What are you looking for, brain?

I don’t know. It’s not a big deal. It’s not like there’s a shortage of games to play these days. I’m not upset that I can’t enjoy these games, I’m just really curious as to why.

Given my ignorance of the genre, I can’t really tell you if Neon Beats is worth a try. It’s got all the typical 2D platformer mechanics like insta-death hazards, wall-jumping, moving platforms, dashing, and the like. I can’t tell you how it stands up against classics like Super Meat Boy or Spelunky. I like the music and the minimalist visuals, and the rest is a mystery to me. I like the burst of colors when you jump off of walls and the little flutter of tiny particles to give this abstract world a bit of heft. Even the menu music makes me smile.

I’m pretty sure you could get me to buy Super Deluxe Stab Yourself in the Hand With a Pencil 3D if it was colorful and had the right kind of music. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I guess this is better than being addicted to lootboxes.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Even if you remember it, can you reliably execute this 5-button combo?

[2] Eh. I actually DO enjoy it, but I enjoy it for the exploration and inventive scenery, not the hopping around.



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69 thoughts on “Steam Backlog: Neon Beats

  1. Asdasd says:

    I have a theory that there’s something unique to individual players that makes certain kinds of play meaningful. It’s more than just gameplay that satisfies our stimulatory needs and preferences, it goes further, makes us (if only subconsciously) understand something more about ourselves or the world, helps us sift through all our knowledge and experiences and put some of it into order. Some kinds of games are compulsive, and others are compelling.

    Of course even if you accept this theory, it doesn’t get you any closer to understanding how your preferences are formed.

    1. I have a suspicion that it’s related to the sensation of movement and how that interacts with the controls. I have kind of a similar thing where I really like some types of games and really hate others. I don’t like first-person games even though I’m not generally any worse at them than other types of games. And I detest 2D side-scrollers, Both types of games feel really constrained and artificial to me movement-wise.

  2. Daimbert says:

    Maybe you should ask a philosopher.

    You rang?

    I’m rubbish at fighting games, but I still enjoy mashing the buttons and listening to the absurd sounds the combatants make when they pummel each other. Also, the cutscenes are usually… really something.

    Not sure if you’ve ever played them, but the Persona Arena fighting games actually have GOOD cutscenes. In the first one, there’s one that’s many minutes long that’s just wonderfully done emotionally.

    Shamus: Wow. I seem to be getting pretty good at these.

    (Beat.)

    Shamus: And yet, I still don’t care. Why am I not enjoying this?

    This is probably more behavioural psychology than philosophy (Dan Ariely does this and has a blog talking about stuff like this here: http://danariely.com/resources/the-blog/ . Take his stuff with a grain of salt, however, as he often makes the standard psychological mistake of overgeneralizing and ignoring the individual and the individual circumstances). But there are a few reasons why it might not work for you.

    First, if you take the other genres that you’re bad at but still enjoy, it’s usually for some other reason that you like them and you tolerate the mechanisms to get to that. For fighting games, you explicitly state it, but for driving games, it might well be just the idea of competing against other “cars” and beating them, which you don’t get in a 2-D platformer. This would fit in with why you like those other games, since I know for certain that you liked Assassin’s Creed because of how you could jump around and climb things in the city. While you like the music in those 2-D platformers, you don’t get a new or wonderfully revamped part of that experience when you complete a level, and so don’t really feel that you get anything out of it, and so get no sense of accomplishment.

    You could argue that you should get a sense of accomplishment just from getting better, but this likely doesn’t motivate you as much as the other things do. On top of that, the sense of frustration when you die might well trump that; if you die too often trying to get there, you might get more of a sense of “Finally got past that stupid level/jump” than a real feeling of accomplishment. On top of that, there might be a subconscious feeling that these sorts of games aren’t heavily skill-based, and so beating it isn’t much of an accomplishment. 2-D platformers tended to appear in children’s games, after all, and so few people brag about how good they are at doing jumping. Thus. that might reduce it again to more of a mechanism to endure rather than something to try to master, and so mastering it doesn’t in and of itself make you feel a sense of accomplishment.

    This would ring true for me since it’s rare in games that I get a sense of accomplishment from mastering the mechanics. I pretty much ALWAYS play games for something other than them and only tolerate them to get to what I’m really interested in. And most of the time that’s story … yes, even for fighting games, whether the story in-game or the story I can make up myself while playing it. So feeling accomplishment from getting better at a game is pretty foreign to me, and so I can easily guess that in some cases you don’t get that either for the same reasons.

    1. Lino says:

      That’s an interesting point of view. What’s funny to me is how I always say that good story is very important to me, yet my favourite games of all time have next to no story at all (well, they do have a story, but you need to look for it). I also like to say I like games with deep mechanics that are reactive to the player, yet I’ve never managed to get into games like Crusader Kings (even though I like RTSs) or more systematic games like Minecraft.
      Using Shamus’s analogy, I guess I’m just a more left-brained individual who just needs the occasional bright lights in order to stimulate that pesky right side of the brain.
      Which is weird, because I’ve always thought gaming has the potential to be a very powerful medium, and I usually go out of my way to look for more though-provoking media (especially when it comes to books)…

      Maybe you should ask a philosopher.

      You rang?

      Also, I’d be very disappointed if you wrote your entire comment without using a hammy, stereotypical French accent (the fact that you didn’t say “Hon, hon, hon!” even once is particularly disconcerting)!

      1. Daimbert says:

        I’m analytic, not continental. The proper accent here would be English [grin].

        1. Lino says:

          The proper accent here would be English

          Well, then, that’s even MORE of a reason to do a French accent! It means the awfulness would be genuine!

          1. Nimrandir says:

            I’m not going to lie: after reading Daimbert’s comment, I will now imagine all future comments from them as read by Lurch from the Addams Family.

          2. Horus de Bleu says:

            I zsink that uu should ‘ave used ze accent anyway, for is not it more funnier like ziss? It is – ‘ow you say – une rigole bonne, nes’t pas? Hon hon hon, pourqoui pas to not do eet, mes amis?

            (Aplologies to any french-speaking readers for the violence done to the french language.)

            1. Lino says:

              See? Now THAT’s more like it!

        2. RFS-81 says:

          You could do an Austrian accent to honor your ancestors in the Vienna Circle!

          Bonus points if you can work in a Schwarzenegger quote!

          1. Daimbert says:

            Fine …

            Daimbert: You rang?

            Vienna Circle Philosopher: I hobe zat vu are blanning on restricding yourzelf to zat vich ve can Hopzerffe directly. In zis caze, zough, zere zeems to pe little to sbeak apout Hembirically. Cerdainly, ve can Hopzerffe zee kames Schamus blays, und berhaps effen haffe access to zome of his Hemozional conneczions, put ve can’t directly Hopzerffe zis nepulous “zenze of zatisfaczion” or zee reazons for it. Zo I am forced to conclude zat all ve haffe are zee inbuts — zee kames he blays — und zee Houtbuts vich are kames he blays for longer beriods of time und zee ones he doesn’t. Zo zee gueszion of vy he doesn’t like 2-D blatformers zeems to pe Hirreleffant if it can’t pe proken dovn into zoze direct broperdies, vich are zee brecize broperdies zat he claims aren’t zettling zee matter. Zo, Hultimately, it’s ein Hirreleffant gueszion.

            Modern Cognitive Scientist: Couldn’t you always just crack his head open and look at the neurons to figure that out?

            VCP: Excellent itea! Do vu zink he’d let us?

            Daimbert: No.

            MCS: So what do you think of our ideas?

            Daimbert: Well, I’m not a logical positivist and am a Cartesian Dualist, so my initial reaction has to be that they’re terrible.

            VCP: Vell, zen, I von’t pe pack!

            MCS: Wait … if you’re a Cartesian Dualist, then doesn’t that mean that you SHOULD have used the French accent?

            (The German translation came from here: https://www.dcode.fr/german-accent . I tried to use their American to British translator for the long sentence here but it came out exactly the same …)

            1. RFS-81 says:

              Haha, nice! I vill pookmark der vepsite!

  3. Kai Durbin says:

    I’m pretty sure you could get me to buy Super Deluxe Stab Yourself in the Hand With a Pencil 3D if it was colorful and had the right kind of music.

    Reminds me of this.

    1. Lino says:

      That was….. an experience……..
      You know, I wanted to be productive today. I had a plan and everything. NOW I have to binge-watch this guy’s stuff, and I probably won’t accomplish anything. So yeah, I hope you’re happy :D

      1. D-Frame says:

        Same here. This is awesome!

  4. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    At the risk of vastly oversimplifying the intricate and complex clockwork that is your mind, it sounds to me like you get your joy from competing against enemies, but not from competing against environments.

    Which sounds like something that Heir Doktor came really close to saying. I suppose that a completely fictional and transactional social interaction is still a social interaction of sorts.

    Luckily, I’m neither a doctor, scientist, or philosopher, so I can be safely dismissed.

    With that being said, a significant portion of my golden gaming years was happily spent with side-scrolling platformers and I find that I just don’t get that same fix from them anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m an adult now that I need a more “grown up” experience via story, characters, etc. Humans are weird. Particularly the brain part.

    1. Syal says:

      Was going to say the same thing. On my end, a platformer without enemies is pure annoyance. I want to directly overcome a challenge, not just skillfully avoid it. Give me a Koopa over a spike any day. Even a Hammer Brother. You know the last time I managed to jump on a Hammer Brother and not a hammer? But it’s theoretically possible and that’s good enough.

      Not entirely sure how that correlates to driving games, but I’d guess the constantly changing environments are the key. Have you tried a platforming autoscroller of any kind? They might be more interesting than the platformers with static rooms.

    2. PeteTimesSix says:

      I think its mostly about player agency. In Assassins Creed you might have to climb a building but (mostly) you get to pick which side you climb, how fast, and if you first tick off every guard within a five mile radius to make the trip more exciting. In Snowboarding Down Some Mountain While A Yeti Throws Flaming Chainsaws At You you might have to keep your distance from the yeti and gravity forces you to always head at least somewhat in the downward direction, but you get to decide which cliffs to ramp off of and wherever you want to try for the Rainbow Deluxe Superstar. In Dri8er, your spidercar might be stuck on a predefined racetrack but unless you’re aiming for a record time you can take turns at any ratio of reasonable speed to paint scrapped off by wall-grinding you’d like. In Terraria there’s jumping challenges a plenty but you were the one to decide to go down that cave and not bring any rope. Half-life 2 is as linear as it gets but it’s still not going to stop you from going through half the game using a single brick as a weapon if you really want to.

      Contrast this to Platform3r: You Only Hop Thrice, where there’s always that one path that the developer clearly intended you to take, and take it you shall with this exact specific sentence of button presses. If the devs were feeling nice they might let you take a breather on a platform in the middle or leave in an alternate path they found during playtesting and decided not to patch out, but you’re never coming up with your own approach, you’re just trying to figure out what the devs intended for you to do.

      (I don’t know why I wrote that the way I did. Brains are weird and so is mine.) I wonder what opinion Shamus has on puzzle games?

      TLDR: Platformers tend to be more about performing some preset perfect sequence of moves rather than solving a problem with a combination of skills, ingenuity and on-the-fly improvisation.

      1. Nimrandir says:

        Your assessment of most platformers isn’t wrong, but Shamus is an admitted fan of the Prince of Persia series, which (at least in my experience) doesn’t allow for much freedom of approach. Perhaps the illusion of freedom created by the environment is the secret sauce in that case?

        Also, I’d typically grant the ability to perform a well-executed series of jumps or maneuvers in a platformer the title of ‘skill,’ but I’m confident you didn’t mean that bit in a pejorative sense.

      2. Higher_Peanut says:

        Snowboarding Down Some Mountain While A Yeti Throws Flaming Chainsaws At You sounds like someone tried to make an extreme reboot of Ski-free. I would also totally play it.

        1. Lino says:

          I actually googled it, and was very disappointed that it didn’t exist!

          1. PeteTimesSix says:

            I am glad that I could provide you with that greatest of all treasures which is Hope, sir.

            (Honestly I now also kind of wish that a racing game about a retired detective who is a drider who drives a car that is also a spider was a real thing. Hmm.)

  5. John says:

    Shamus: Wow. I seem to be getting pretty good at these.

    (Beat.)

    Shamus: And yet, I still don’t care. Why am I not enjoying this?

    I’m jealous. I played Guacamelee this year. Guacamelee is a platformer-brawler hybrid, though thankfully you almost never have to do both those things at the same time. The platforming in Guacamelee was maddening, especially in the back half of the game where you have, oh, maybe half a dozen special abilities (wall grab, wall run, double jump, invincibility roll, air-dash, the ability to turn into a chicken, the ability to switch back and forth between the World of the Living and the World of the Dead, etc.) and expects you to use them all in long, complicated sequences where a single mistake will send you plummeting to your . . . well, not your doom. It’s not that bad. You’ll just have to start over from the beginning of the sequence and try again and again until you finally blunder your way through. The reason I’m jealous is that no matter how many of these sequences I completed I never once felt like I was getting good at the game. I always felt like I was just, well, blundering my way through.

    Funnily enough, it was ultimately the brawling rather than the platforming that did me in. There was a locked-room fight with one really tough enemy and waves of lesser annoyance enemies that I just couldn’t figure out how to beat.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      I usually love Metroidvanias, but I really didn’t care for Guacamelee. I like the art style a lot, but a major problem with the game is the choice of controls. They’re deliberately obtuse in order to make platforming way more complicated than it needs to be.

      This isn’t really that much of a problem if you’re merely going through all the story beats, but if you try to do even a little exploration (which is pretty much the entire point of Metroidvanias), looking for sidequests or hidden items, you’re bound to be frustrated.

      1. Lino says:

        I remember loving the art style and the humour, but at times I atruggled with the controls. I don’t know if I have the right to complain since I played it with a keyboard (like I do with all platformers), but I should note that platformers are one of my favourite genres, and many of them play great on keyboard. So it probably really was the game that was at fault…

        1. John says:

          My experience of platforming in Gaucamelee is that it’s a lot like doing combos in fighting games. You’re doing a very specific sequence of inputs involving the left analogue stick and multiple buttons and doing it with very precise timing. I love fighting games (much more than I love platforming) but I am not good at combos. The thing about fighting games is that I can (to a certain extent) compensate for my inability to do complex combos in other ways (i.e., spacing, defense, etc.). You can’t compensate for poor platforming skills in other ways when you’re playing a platformer, unfortunately.

        2. Dreadjaws says:

          I played with a controller and was struggling all the time too. I think it’s perfectly fine to blame the game.

  6. Joshua says:

    Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I get this sensation of “Eh, don’t care. Not getting any fun out of this.” I can see hundreds of games available on Steam or the Switch and only find a few of them interesting.

    Of course, it also happens with other media like movie, tv, and music.

    1. Lino says:

      I have the same problem, but I attribute it to not having the drive to play games anymore. In my case, it’s mainly due to me working on a computer all day, and not wanting to spend my free sitting at a computer again. This is probably why I’ve mostly been watching people play and reading about games. The only games I’ve spent a relatively long time with lately was Brawl Stars which is a mobile game (although it’s so good that it doesn’t actually feel like a mobile game).

    2. Daimbert says:

      As we get older, we might fall into a bit of a “Been there, done that” kind of attitude: things aren’t new or different enough to really engage us anymore compared to the things that are similar that we’ve already experienced. It’s not usually a problem for me personally — I’m just a smidge younger than Shamus — but I do know that some of my disappointment with Persona-style RPGs is because I always compare them to those games — particularly Persona 3 and later — and find them wanting.

      I wonder if you find things that have a different or unique aspect more interesting, or if you find the ones that are more like the things you liked most more interesting.

      1. Joshua says:

        “I wonder if you find things that have a different or unique aspect more interesting, or if you find the ones that are more like the things you liked most more interesting.”

        Probably the former, although there’s no guarantee. I wish I knew! There is certainly that attitude with a lot of media of having seen most of it before, so it’s hard to engage with a lot of stuff when it all seems so Deja Vu. I’m in my 40s as well, so I think we’re all in the same boat.

        1. Daimbert says:

          I tend to like things that are more familiar, but have run into a few cases where games have been similar to other games which only got me thinking about how much I’d rather go back and play that old game instead of the game that I was currently playing. Cross Edge got me thinking about Record of Agarest War, for example. So poor implementations of better games can hurt by the comparison, but decent ones work pretty well. As another example, I picked up Blue Reflection as a Persona-like game and only started really liking it at the end when it actually felt like a Persona game.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      Some of how this whole situation works is from nostalgia, some from “been there, done that” as pointed out below, but also, most of everything is trash. There’s always been many bad things for every one successful thing, but you don’t remember all the old bad things, so the percentages get screwed up for your subconscious. Then it seems like the old days were better.

      1. Chad Miller says:

        There’s also the very real effect of lowering barriers to entry for new games.

        Before, that mostly-trash was largely stuff you’d never hear of. It was filtered out, either deliberately (through stuff like Nintendo’s standards) or indirectly (it’s a lot easier to get something on Steam today than it was to get something on a store shelf decades ago)

      2. Joshua says:

        We’ll, as owner of the Switch we have the Nintendo Online, and I can play a number of original NES games. I must admit, I’m not fond of most of them. I’d feel ripped off if I had paid $5 for many of them, and yet they originally sold for $20-$30.*

        Yeah, there were $40 games back then too, but it doesn’t seem like the online service is releasing many of the premium ones.

        1. Daimbert says:

          I’ve bought a number of those “retro” consoles, and to my surprise I found that for at least some games the graphics really did bug me, when that’s not normally the case. It was most prominent for Burger Time and Asteroids. However, I found that it wasn’t an issue for River Raid and Missile Command for some reason. Maybe a combination of the graphics being relatively better and the games themselves treating them as simple backgrounds and distracting you with other things enough that I didn’t notice.

          My disappointment with the C64 console was that it didn’t have most of the games that I actually LIKED on that system. But I still liked Summer Games.

  7. GargamelLenoir says:

    I was hoping that the Grognard would pop in with her own theories, but then again I’m a sucker for crossover episodes.

  8. Steve C says:

    I feel this way with Baldur’s Gate and similar games. I should love them. They should be my favorite type of game. If I had never played Baldur’s Gate and someone asked me to describe the features of my dream game, I would describe Baldur’s Gate. Even now I look at Pillars of Eternity and think that must be amazing game. I’ve never tried it because all my experience tells me I would not enjoy it for some reason I do not understand. It is weird.

    1. tmtvl says:

      PoE 1 isn’t a wildly impressive game, but PoE 2 is worth every second of playtime. Of course, YMMV.

  9. Ninety-Three says:

    A bit of writing critique: The whole Doctor Scientist diversion here is pointless. The Doktor’s silliness makes it feel like a joke, but the Shamus character’s half of the script keeps deescalating and you abandon the bit before getting to a punchline. As your own dialogue points out, it gives us no insight into the phenomenon you’re trying to describe and even the one piece of information it delivers (“I like the spatial-processing/reflex-tests tasks in e.g. Batman”) ends up repeated once you return to the normal article. I feel that nothing would be lost if you cut the whole section.

    1. John says:

      It amused me. If it also amused Shamus–or, heck, even if it didn’t–I consider it non-pointless.

      1. Lino says:

        I also found it very fun.

    2. Nimrandir says:

      I’m no expert on comedy or anything, but I’d have said the punchline is the bit where the scientist tries to break back in and is cut off by Shamus.

  10. Zeddy says:

    I have this same issue, except I used to enjoy platformers and no longer do so.

    The way I see it, it’s that straight 2D platformers like this don’t engage the strategic bit of your brain. When shooting guys in Half-Life it’s far more involved than mere twitch reactions. You take cover, you pick your guns, try to lure the bad guys to line up or group up for an explosion, it’s all a lot more complicated even if it’s not necessarily harder.

    Put simply, it’s just not complex enough, like going back to Ludo after playing more advanced board games.

    Even in Prince of Persia you still have to look around and figure out which maneuvers to take where in Mario Galaxy it’s most of the time a lot more straightforward and boiling down to timing again.

  11. Geebs says:

    This Doktor guy didn’t keep glancing at your left hand, by any chance? Because if he did, you should consider running away as quickly as possible.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      I understood that reference.

  12. Matthew Downie says:

    I attended an interesting talk (by Chris Bateman I think) that attempted to list all the various things people get out of games, so we could see which games would appeal to which types of player. Here are my lecture notes that you can try to make sense of if you want:

    “Victory (Struggle -> frustration -> success)
    Acquisition (Collecting 100% of things. Overcoming boredom to achieve satisfaction.)
    Problem-solving (Confusion -> Progress)

    Luck (Triumph without effort, and if you lose you don’t blame yourself.)
    Thrill-seeking (High stakes, permadeth, gambling…)
    Curiosity (Wonder, awe, meeting the next boss, spotting hidden objects…)
    Narrative (Japanese RPGs, etc.)

    Horror (Popular with about 50% of people. Can be effective on a surprisingly low budge.)
    Social Bonding (Amusement, Schadenfreude, playing Mario Kart with friends…)
    Agency (Western RPGs, etc. Some find agency confusing and stressful.)

    Aesthetics (Arty/Indie games)”

    None of this is sufficient to explain to me why someone would like a skateboarding platformer, but not a running and jumping platformer.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Aesthetics (Arty/Indie games)

      That doesn’t make much sense, every single game has some kind of aesthetics and there’s no accounting for tastes. I really like the look, sound, and feel of Chrono Trigger. Not very much an artsy-fartsy indie title, but still beautiful in a way that, say, Gone Home isn’t.

      1. Syal says:

        I mean Shamus has made several posts about buying games just because they’re heavily neon, including this one. Something like Return of the Obra Dinn is somewhere around 90% aesthetics. It’s definitely something people show up for independently.

  13. Hal says:

    So, does this game have a story? Or is it simply, “Enjoy the platforming and music?”

  14. Dreadjaws says:

    I will take this chance to do my monthly recommendation of SteamWorld Heist (which, despite what some of the screenshots might lead you to believe, it’s not a 2D platformer, and actually more like a 2D X-COM), which I’ll keep doing until you play it, you kick me out or either of us die.

    As for your plea, well, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Getting good at something is not going to make you enjoy it more. I’m sure if I practiced with sports games I could get really good at them, and I’d still be having the same level of fun I always have when I try to pick one up: zero.

    Sure, in many cases the actions you do are similar: move the stick or press the arrow keys and the character moves, press a button or key and the character does an action, but clearly visual feedback is a major component in what makes the brain release dopamine. It’s all about the result. If the brain likes what you see when doing a certain action then it’ll push you to do it again. You can see the difference even between two games in the same genre. Maybe you like shooting guys in FPSs, but if you happen to get a cheap one where enemies don’t react to being shot until they drop dead you’re bound to get bored of it really fast.

  15. cerapa says:

    How do you feel about other kinds of games with platformer elements? Looking at the levels of both this and the previous game you linked, they seem to be platformers where there’s only one correct path, so after you figure it out there’s literally nothing left to do but use your mechanical skills. Assassin’s Creed is the exact opposite, since you can pretty much climb anywhere, and Prince of Persia doesn’t give you an overview of the whole area (and kinda can’t, cause 3d), so you are exploring simultaneously while you are platforming. Perhaps you don’t enjoy them because you feel like you have no personal agency in how you solve the level?

    1. Nimrandir says:

      Sounds like it’s time for the obligatory reference to the Bartle test!

      1. Asdasd says:

        I got confused, and briefly wondered if you were objecting to an abstract rhythm platformer failing to feature two female characters having a conversation about something other than men.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          It’s okay, because I got confused and briefly wondered why an abstract rhythm platformer would contain a white sauce made from butter, flour, and milk.

          1. Ninety-Three says:

            For my part, I got confused and briefly wondered why an abstract rhythm platformer would need a system for exchanging two types of goods without currency.

            1. Syal says:

              I got confused and briefly wondered something.

              I could tell you what it was, but I would prefer not to.

  16. Christopher says:

    It’s usually pretty easy for me to figure out why I don’t like something. Say, first person perspectives, ’cause you’re moving a camera with arms hovering half a meter above ground, which feels pretty bad and limits my vision. Or realistic shooters where enemies fire back with accurate guns, ’cause taking unavoidable damage feels like like slogging through a bad time rather than dancing in the midst of danger, as you might with a dodge button, some more cartoony projectiles, some faster movement speed. Or a large variety of mobas, diablo-likes, RTSs and top-down tactics games, both because of the dragged-out, impersonal perspective, the inability to dodge and attack in real time but still moving somewhat directly, a cluttered visual aesthetic with tons of gaudy effects going on, the loot grind, etc etc. Most puzzle games, ’cause solving brain teasers in a void just isn’t interesting for me without any context for what I’m doing. Or games with overdone cinematic ambitions, where I feel like the commitment to being movielike gets in the way of the gamey stuff I enjoy about video games.

    I’ve been trying to sit here and think if there’s a kind of game I don’t enjoy and can’t explain why, and I’m kinda coming up short. The feeling of “This is okay, but eh” is one I mostly associate with mediocre games though. Like the original God of War, that’s my number one game for game that most made me feel completely OK, with very little going above or below that. Functional but unimpressive. If you didn’t bring up Mario Galaxy, that would’ve been my suspicion, that these indie steam platformers maybe aren’t the cream of the crop. I dunno. Who knows.

  17. RFS-81 says:

    Funny story, I didn’t really think of myself as a platformer person. I put off giving Hollow Knight a try because I read that there’s some pretty tough platforming on the road to the good ending. Well, turns out I had a blast when I got to the White Palace! I may have kind of cheesed a bit with the Hiveblood charm though…

    What I liked most was combining movement abilities in unexpected ways. Like, dashing is for wide gaps. Double-jumping is for going high. Wall jumping is for climbing up a wall. Simple, right? Now I need to jump from one platform to another but a buzzsaw is in the way. But I can hop down from the platform, dash over to the other side, use the second jump to come up again, then wall-jump up the side of the platform.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      To be fair, Metroidvanias, like Hollow Knight, are less about platforming and more about exploration. In a game like Super Mario Bros., when you’re trying to figure out a complicated jump, you know you already have all the tools at your disposal, and you most likely just have to try until you get good, and have a good handle on reflexes. On Hollow Knight when you find a place that’s not easy to get to first you have to consider you might not yet have all the necessary tools and you can continue exploring elsewhere, or you might need to do some light puzzle solving. You get to do more thinking and less working on reflexes, and your brain probably likes that more.

      1. RFS-81 says:

        The thing is, the White Palace is pretty much a pure platforming challenge. It’s very late in the game and you already have all the movement abilities, and it’s tougher than anything before or after.

        I already knew I liked Metroidvanias. I didn’t expect to like this!

  18. Wiseman says:

    2D platformers aren’t stimulating enough for Shamus’ big brain. When you’re hopping around in Half-life, you have to think with a bigger sense of spacial and physics awareness than in 2D platformers while still likely thinking of your (Gordon’s) place on the immersive narrative. Human beings usually only use up to 10% of their brain because the rest of it is usually filled with fat from animal products. Shamus’ dietary constraints, coupled with his years of rigorous ascetic programming training, have allowed him to fill some of that extra space, which simple games cannot keep properly busy.

    It can also be that 2D simlulations are inherently less realistic than 3D ones, and it is therefore harder to immerse oneself into them depending on your capacity for such things.

  19. jumbalia says:

    I have the same thing with alot of 2d games. Major exceptions are Hollow Knight, Shadow Complex and Mark of the Ninja. All 3 have big levels with maps and skills that completely alter how you approach things or give you multiple directions of approach, even on repeat play throughs. Too many 2d games make you feel like you are following a digital version of a mouse’s maze.

  20. PPX14 says:

    Ugh I got Geometry Dash because I thought it looked fun. Could barely manage the Easy levels, not interested in learning how to do so without story or flashy 3D visuals driving me forward. It’s not cathartic it’s just annoying because the level of agency seems to be so low, even if it is only implied in other games. It’s purely managing to complete a linear task within the allowable tolerances. A Battlefield campaign might be ultralinear but it feels like more than memorising and executing a number of button presses. Rayman might be very similar but you have control over shooting your fist and finding secret areas.

  21. Forty-Bot says:

    Scientist: ist problem of papa und penis

  22. Maryam says:

    I feel clever and accomplished when I play Prince of Persia (Sands of Time, the only one I’ve played). Even if there is still generally only one platforming solution, I still figured it out AND executed the timing correctly to navigate it. I couldn’t get into Super Mario Galaxy because I felt obviously railroaded.

    In my previous experiences with Mario games (I skipped a few to get to SMG; Super Mario World was the one I’d played most recently), you had different options for getting through levels and defeating enemies. You could fly with the cape or tail, you could use a fire flower, you could save those items and switch between them as desired. In SMW, you could pick up a Yoshi (some with added powers) and bring him to other levels.

    In SMG, they introduced two new powerup suits: the bee suit and the spring suit. You needed both of those suits at various points to navigate the levels in predetermined fashion, so one would drop right before the section you needed to fly across or spring upwards into. Not to mention that while fire flowers were present (as well as I think an ice flower or something), the powerup only lasted for a short period of time after picking it up — again, only in those predetermined locations. You couldn’t hold onto it and use it as an alternate way to defeat enemies down the road.

    In order for me to enjoy a platformer, I guess what I need is agency or at least the illusion of such. I can’t get into 2D platformers where my only option is to walljump around some spikes in a contorted but clearly-planned fashion.

    Edit: I just remembered about the various gravity sections in SMG. If I’m recalling correctly, those were where I had the most fun playing the game because some felt like puzzles to figure out.

  23. Nimrandir says:

    I didn’t get a chance to post at the time thanks to work, but I wanted to give this a mention:

    Shamus: And is that a clipboard? Who uses clipboards these days? Isn’t this conversation supposedly set in the modern day? You’re completely wrecking my suspension of disbelief.

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was handed a clipboard earlier in the week, when I took my dog to the vet. Upon further reflection, I have to sign something on a clipboard pretty much any time I do something related to a medical doctor. Do I just live in a weird place, and everywhere else has gone to digital signatures for stuff like this?

    Now, Doktor Scientist is clearly a research scientist instead of a medical professional, and I can see where laboratory work probably pulls data directly from an electronic sensor of some sort and dumps results into processing software. However, I’d wager behavioral scientists still administer paper surveys (and consent forms) in some scenarios, so clipboards are still viable in that setting, yes?

  24. WWWebb says:

    I can’t say for platformers in general, but in this specific instance, I would assume Shamus is having a hard time projecting himself into a cube. The accomplishment in most platformers would be internally thought of as “wow, I can’t believe I made those jumps”. In this case, it sounds more like “wow, I can’t believe I successfully moved that cube around the screen through a series of obstacles”. You aren’t mentally inhabiting the “protagonist”, so you aren’t able to share in a cube’s success.

    When I successfully navigate a poorly designed multi-level tree menu in a software program, I don’t think “great job, Mr. Cursor, we nailed that font change”. I think “ugh, that was a chore”.

  25. Saimon says:

    What about the _real_ Prince of Persia though, the one from the 1989?
    It’s a 2D platformer, but it is different enough in how it handles gameplay to get segregated into it’s own subgenre of cinematic platformers.

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