Thursday, December 18, 2008

Super Crazy Guitar Maniac Deluxe 2

Those of you who know me know that I have a pretty strong compulsion to finish games, and the Kongregate badges only aggravate that compulsion. However, there are times when even I can resist this compulsion -- when I look at the game and decide that the ratio of effort to fun is simply too high for me to want to finish it. (Obvious examples, for instance, include Ring Pass Not and Papa's Pizzeria.) When I first tried Super Crazy Guitar Maniac Deluxe 2, I figured that it would fall into this category. It's not that I don't enjoy games of this type, but I'm just not very good at them, so I didn't think I would be able to finish it in any reasonable amount of time. So I made a fair amount of progress and put it aside without any intentions to finish. Well, a few months later, I decided to try it out again, picked up some more perfects, and, well, then I just had to finish it. So now I'm in possession of another impossible badge. Yay?

Anyway, SCGMD2 is a pretty typical rhythm game -- if you've played DDR, Guitar Hero, or something of that ilk, you'll find it pretty familiar. Notes come from the right side of the screen, and you have to press them when they reach the line at the left. The notes come in two forms: arrows, which are tapped (presumably by your right hand), and letters, which are held for a given duration (presumably by your left hand). There's no close in SCGMD2; either you get the note, or you don't. (The target area has a nonzero width, so there is some tolerance.) Getting many notes in a row increases your score multiplier, while missing a note decreases it. (Playing a wrong note doesn't decrease your multiplier, but does cost you points.) The interface is divided into two rows; up and right arrows appear on the top row, and down and left arrows appear on the bottom row, while the three different hold letters appear on the lines above, below, and between the rows. This allows for all of the keystrokes to be in a relatively compact space.

There's a total of eight amateur and ten pro songs, although some songs have both an amateur and a pro version, so there's actually only 14 different songs. Nearly all of the songs are instrumental -- in fact, there's only two songs with vocals (and, to be honest, the quality of the vocals ranges from mediocre to pretty awful, so I don't really mind their absence in the rest). They don't have the quality of songs you'd see in a Rock Band, being amateur music but most of them are pretty decent, although there are a couple of clunkers. There's kind of a large number of Nintendo remixes; while I like the music, of course, I can't help but feel that this is a little bit overdone -- overall, I found myself preferring the original tracks. The keying is generally pretty solid -- most of the time it feels well-matched to the music, although there are definitely times when it seems like the flow of the keys doesn't quite match the flow of the music. The songs range from about a minute to about two minutes, which is a good choice of lengths -- after all, there's nothing more frustrating than getting nearly all the way through a song and then screwing it up right near the end, and the short song lengths mean that no song is too tedious.

The graphics are pretty basic -- the interface is just arrows and letters, although you have a wide selection of guitars, which produce various effects when you hit a note. There's also a stickman playing at the bottom of the screen who gets more and more animated as you get better (when you're at the highest multiplier level, he's playing the guitar on fire), which is a cute little addition, if distracting. There's also an announcer who announces things like "You rock!" at opportune times, which I guess adds a bit to the game.

Now, for the one big problem, which I'm not sure whether to blame on the game or the Kongregate chat system. You see, when someone says something in the chat, it often causes the game (whatever it may be) to lag for a split second. For the vast majority of games, this doesn't matter, or is a minor inconvenience. In SCGMD2, it is death -- the lag is pretty much always enough to cause you to miss a keystroke (and if it's bad enough, it can even cause the arrows to bunch up downstream, which can confuse the heck out of you). You pretty much either have to mute the chat or play at some time like 3 am when no one is actually in chat. Even if you have the chat muted, the chat pane will occasionally update the list of people in the room and cause you to lag. It's really, really frustrating. It's my guess that there's plenty of blame to go around -- the Kongregate chat system doesn't always seem like the soundest, and I suspect it could probably be optimized, but I've played plenty of twitch-heavy games on Kongregate and this definitely seems to suffer the worst, so I wonder if there's not bad programming on both ends.

Overall, SCGMD2 is not an easy game. There are apparently people who find this kind of game a piece of cake, but I'm not one of them. (I do notice, however, that my performance varies substantially with the time of day -- there are definitely times when I'm better than others.) In order to get all the perfects, I had to put in a fair amount of practice; certainly less practice than I would have to if I were playing on a real guitar, which is slightly more complicated than four arrow keys and three letters, but definitely a nontrivial amount of time. Although, I suppose, if your goal is just to get the other badges, that can definitely be done in a more reasonable amount of time. Anyway, whether you like it really depends on how you feel about the genre. If you enjoy this kind of game, you'll find SCGMD2 a fine example of the genre; if you can't stand rhythm games, SCGMD2 isn't really the type of game that'll convert you. Still, I'd have to say I had fun despite the lag occasionally driving me crazy.

(A tip: If you're trying to get all perfects, you'll probably find Run 'n' Gun really, really annoying. For those sequences of left-right-left-right-etc., I kept trying to play them as eight notes and failing. I found that it's much easier to treat it as four pairs: in each pair, hit left-right in succession as quickly as you can, and aim to place the left on each beat. This allowed me to get through those segments much, much more reliably. Actually, the tolerance on the notes is such that you can actually hit left and right at the same time and still have them register, which is a lot easier on your hand, but it requires much more precision timing, so I would recommend the first method.)

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