I received the new Prince of Persia (POP) for the PS3 in the mail via gamefly. Shortly after I received deBlob in the mail. I've found these games to be surprisingly similar. Both games are filled with some good but mostly lackluster, uninspired, and/or unpolished design elements. Overall, deBlob is a better game than POP, which is sad considering all the big promises that were made and bold presentation of the PS3 game. I would cover each game in detail, but I tend to lose steam when writing at length on games that I don't like too much. I'm not looking to repair either of these games because the changes would be so great that I'd practically be making sequels.
The following is a bullet point essay on the simularities between POP and deBlob.
- Open Environments: Ubisoft did a lot of work creating environments in POP that are all connected in a seamless way. On foot (in gameplay), it's possible to move from one area to all the other areas on the map without encountering load screens or transitional cut scenes. While this is a wonderful technical achievement, the extremely strict and linear level design severely diminishes the interactive/dynamic potential of an open world.
- In deBlob, each level is very large and composed of many smaller linked areas in one seamless (loading less) state. One big difference between POP and deBlob is the maneuverable space in deBlob is open. You can jump, slide around walls, climb on top of buildings, and ride along suspended bullet trains. In deBlob, simply going over every element in the environment and touching it with deBlob in an engaging way to interact with the 3D space and transform the environement. So, the interactive yet smaller open world of deBlob trumps the strict "on rails" open world of POP.
- Simple Mechanics/Controls: One of the design features that was supposed to help make POP more accessible to a wide range of gamers is the simple controls. Like a simple music-rhythm game, when platforming each button is used in a specific situation that's telegraphed on the screen (the timing determined by the Prince's proximity to the upcoming level elements). Unfortunately the mechanics are not very dynamic in POP because of the strict level design. For the most part, you can only jump to the places the developers have designed for you to jump. There's little point trying to create your own path between point A and B.
- The mechanics in deBlob are about as simple and straight forward as in POP. Fortunately, the JUMP mechanic is more dynamic than POP's JUMP because of the freedom to move around in the 3D environments. In deBlob, you can move from point A to point B in a variety of ways. The smaller areas in each level tend to have a circular architecture that works to funnel players back into itself. So if you don't want to go about it one way, you'll probably find another way while only being held back by your own platforming abilities.
- Simple Combat: The combat in POP is simple and quite egregiously forgiving. I even tested the system by mashing the controller against my face. When I did glorious dual combos emerged between the Prince, Elica, and the enemy target. Sure the ring out design is a neat use of positioning. But this, all the different types of moves (dodges, attacks, magic/Elica, and grabs), the counter system, and the enemy special defenses where you must use a specific attack to break through do little to create gameplay that engages a core dynamic. Because the penalties for messing up, the timing, and the spacing is very forgiving, the combat system falls flat (little depth) despite all of the complexities and quickly becomes repetitive.
- The combat in deBlob is even simpler (less complex) than in POP and about as deep. All there is to it is locking on to the target and shaking the Wiimote to slam it. Players have to be careful as they smash about to avoid getting hit. If you get inked, the next hit will do you in. The enemies in deBlob are designed to create simple contrary motion and opportunities for natural counters. Moving around in a 3D space to dodge enemies on foot, on speed bikes, or in tanks that launch ink at you is engaging and dynamic enough to rival all the fancy yet shallow moves in POP.
- Transformation: In POP, aside from the occasional switch/puzzle, the main way to transform the game world is by bringing life back to the lands. This transformation is mostly cosmetic. Doing so doesn't have a large effect on the gameplay as far as platforming or combat potential. Healing the land spawns Light Seeds that are necessary for progression.
- In deBlob, players can transform the world by adding color to everything. In a similar way to POP, painting the game world brings life to it. Captives are freed, colored, and parade in the streets. Plants sprout colorful foliage. And with every paint job in every color, the music is embellished with improvisational, jazzy flares. Because adding color to the game world doesn't affect the platforming or combat gameplay, the transformation in deBlog is very similar to POP. However, painting the game world is much more engaging and customisable than restoring life to the lands in POP. To paint an object, the player must maneuver/platform into it. To reach some objects, players have to jump, climb, and wall slide over to them. In this way, what's colored and what's not is a direct result of player actions. In deBlob, the world is transformed by everything you do, not a switch you activate.
- Camera Issues: Both games have camera issues. In POP, the developers tried to exert too much control over the camera. Many times, the camera will swing around to create cool angles that unfortunately create a lot of ba3D and even obscure upcoming level/enemy elements.
- The camera in deBlob, on the other hand, is too free. In some ways, the camera system is very similar to the Monkey Ball or Katamari Damacy camera that's locked into positioned at the back ball/blob player avatar. Unfortunately, the camera doesn't always stay at behind you in deBlob. This can become quite an issue considering how the tall buildings and other 3D objects can obstruct the view. This can make it impossible to some small elements in advance. Overall, the 3D spaces and architecture is too cramped and cluttered which makes it too hard for the camera system to keep up.
- Story/Setting: POP has a generic story filled with magic, mystery, a corrupt king, and a boy-girl pair that are somewhat stuck with each other throughout the adventure. Though I enjoy the basic premise of the game and even the quips that the Prince utters every now and then, there's really not much to love or hate here.
- The story in deBlob is much more creative. The oppressive bad guys are literally sucking the color out of the world. As a sort of living paint ball, you and your allies of color liberators travel throughout the world leaving a rainbow of graffiti in your wake. Also, I much prefer the silent film like cutscenes of deBlob to the more Hollywood, voice acted scenes in deBlob. They definitely have a strong grasp on visual storytelling.
- Not enough variation or counterpoint: The final thing that I wanted to mention that both of these games have in common is that I didn't beat either of them. The reason I didn't beat them is because they became too repetitive. POP's platforming not only requires very little skill, but the large gaps between inputs create a small amount of static space. Break up the platforming with battles overwrought with action but not interaction, and you'll realize that you, the player, are not a very key part of the experience. What I mean by this is, in a lot of ways POP "plays" itself. Instead of using mechanics to do cool things, the game instead shows you cool things and asks you if you'd like to continue every couple of steps. Without a core dynamic in the design, the mechanics have no hope of being dynamic. Without dynamic interaction meaningful variation for the level/enemy elements can't be created. Without significant/meaningful variation the level designers have nothing to work with to construct interesting, fresh interactive experiences (gameplay).
- With deBlob, after a while, running around, collecting points, and extending the countdown so you can continue running around and collecting points gets old. At least the objectives in POP are pretty concrete; kill a guy or collect some Light Seeds. In deBlob, you do everything for points/time so you can unlock the next area so you can continue doing odd jobs for points/time. Though creating an open environment and giving players the option to select which challenges they want to take on is neat, it doesn't last forever.
Both of these games are the results of a lot of quality, hard work. Unfortunately, the gameplay wasn't crafted in as much careful detail as the graphics/style of either game. I assume both of these games will get sequels somewhere down the line. If they do, I wonder if the developers will fix anything or create products that are more of the same. If it's the latter, then I'm already tired of games that don't even exist yet.