Amy was a promising new release for 2012’s promising first quarter in which we were to be treated to several horror games. It was universally panned. Did it deserve to be so? Well, probably, but lots of games are praised for the very same things that Amy was slammed for.
IGN’s Colin Moriarty starts by calling it “a supremely muddled mess of controller-throwing frustration and piss-poor game design choices”. The poor game design choices? “Want to pick up that item on the ground? You better be positioned in a pixel-perfect fashion … How many times can a gamer possibly be expected to do the same few things over and over again? … Amy’s checkpoint system wouldn’t necessarily be so unforgiving if the game was even remotely playable, but since so much of the game requires insane amounts of trial and error — and a myriad of unfair deaths due to terrible controls both in and out of combat — this might be the most frustrating aspect of the entire experience … replaying the same 20-minute segment of a chapter a dozen times as you try to figure out what you’re actually doing wrong … gave up out of sheer anger and frustration”.
Nothing wrong with that, I dislike all of that stuff in gaming too. However, even lightly rephrased it is used often as praise.
“Remember when games used to be hard? … one of the most difficult, but fair, action titles this generation has ever seen. The twist … is that when you die — and you will die a lot — the game gets even harder. Oh, players can also invade your world at any time to try and kill you online. Scared? Good … Only real gamers need apply.”
That’s IGN on Demon’s Souls.
Insane amounts of trial and error, requiring pixel perfect precision?
“… a painfully difficult game that will truly push you to your limits as a gamer.”
“Your reward is getting to see a replay of all the times you died.”
“Never once do you believe the game is trying to cheat you, you quickly realise that if you timed that jump better, or hit this platform 2 pixels further left, then you will get through that section.”
“… a game made by sadists, for masochists.”
Yep, Super Meat Boy.
I’m not going to find positive examples for every item and I’m sure you’ve all seen it before and could probably find your own examples. The point is that praise for a game and condemnation for a game are sometimes only distinct by tone. If this merely reflected the differing opinions of critics & publications, it would actually be a good thing, but that isn’t what I think is going on here. I think it’s more a matter of a failure to be objective, or perhaps worse for a writer, laziness. The attitude of, “I can’t think of why I dislike this game, so let’s just blame it on trial-and-error gameplay”.
It’s a fashion thing.
Right now it’s very fashionable to like games which are very challenging, retro-styled, steampunk, and a little bit survival horror. Westerns have also been quite popular lately, better yet, other settings mixed with Westerns, like Fallout: New Vegas, Borderlands, Rage, et al. It’s fashionable to claim that games aren’t hard like they used to be when in a lot of cases, they’re harder because in the past games weren’t made as a reaction to games being too easy.
For that matter, have you noticed that most of the criticism of Dynasty Warriors can be applied as praise for Pokemon?
Amy ticks all the fashionable boxes. It’s hard, punishing, uses retro-style checkpoints, is survival horror, starts on a train, doesn’t hold your hand, is for real gamers, is like how survival horror games used to be, and of course the old stand-by, has zombies in it.
It’s design by committee and we asked for it.
“It seemed cool enough in premise, and indeed, Amy no doubt looks good on paper.” – Colin Moriarty
If Amy was even slightly more finished and a PC exclusive, it could have well became a cult favourite.