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A Simple Comparison, a Complicated Question

February 19, 2016

Dear Reader,

I’ve been playing a lot and working a lot, which hasn’t left me the time – or, perhaps, more honestly – the urge to write a lot.  That said, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had some ideas to write about, though.

One of those gnawing thoughts was how similar and yet how different two of the games I’ve recently finished – Dex and Ori and the Blind Forest – were.

Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed both games.  They both scratched an itch I’ve had recently – a game that was both puzzle and strategy, a side-scroller that required some manual skill rather than just pure intellect, and a game that provided a story that was enjoyable.  Both Dex and Ori checked off all three boxes.  But while I enjoyed both, Ori was just so much better than Dex.  It really got me thinking as to why.

Dex Gameplay.jpg

Image courtesy of en.dreadlocks.cz/games/dex/

Dex is a cyber-punk film-noir-style mystery in a William-Gibson-meets-Raymond-Chandler style.  Yes, that’s a mouthful, but it’s accurate.  The story was well-written and the gameplay was well-developed.  Most of the boards provided problems for which there were multiple solutions, whether it be to fight, sneak, hack, or talk your way out of problems.  It played very much like a Shadowrun game set to a platformer, and it kept my attention throughout.

Ori gameplay.jpg

Image courtesy of oriblindforest.com

Ori and the Blind Forest, on the other hand, is a fantasy color-infused adventure in a Walt-Disney-meets-Rachel-Carson style.  The story is much simpler, but in its simplicity it communicates its message more powerfully.  The gameplay, too, is a bit smoother, more movement-based than puzzle-based, though there are plenty of puzzle elements to the game.

Both games also have a progression system; in Dex, you earn skill points and can purchase cyberware and weapons to improve your character.  In Ori, you find life and mana nodes (similar to Zelda) and get skill points to improve aspects of your character.

So with two so similar games, both of which I enjoyed, why would I rank them so distantly?  Because in the end, I would only give Dex a 6 or 7, but I’d give Ori a 10.  A perfect 10.

Those are a rare find these days, having spent so much time now playing games that I can almost always think of another game that did some aspect of this or that “better.”  It’s not that I want to be an old curmudgeon, mind you; it’s just that I notice the small weaknesses while playing games because I’ve been doing it so long.

In the end, I think the greatest difference is simply the production value.  I don’t want to admit to being so greatly affected by superficiality – the window dressing or “fluff” of a game – but I can’t help but think that the amazing music and graphics of Ori, as you can see in comparison above, really impacted my enjoyment.  Does that make me shallow?

I’m really not sure the answer to that question.  Perhaps this issue brings to light a legitimate dichotomy in how we value things: at what point is a focus on the polish – music, setting, and/or graphics quality, all of which I would argue are not REQUIRED for creating meaningful atmosphere but can help or hurt it – at what point is that focus an act of artistic appreciation, and at what point is it just superficiality?  Is there really a difference other than a positive and negative connotation?

What are your thoughts, dear reader?

Sincerely,

Stubborn (and dabbling)

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