Wii Games, Bust-A-Move, and Partiality

2 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?

James 2

James 2 came to mind when I went game shopping, of all places. I recently proceeded to go on a Wii shopping spree. Yes, the original Wii; apparently, everyone considers all of the games for this revolutionary system “shovelware” without a second thought. Everything in the gaming world, of course, ends up in a GameStop at some point or another, and like any good consumer I figured that their massive price drops on any and all Wii products deserve exploitation. Specifically by me!

So, I purchased many, many more Wii games than I ever thought I would buy just by virtue of cheap prices. And when I say “cheap”, I’m talking anywhere from the ten dollar range to the laughable ninety-nine cents (Samba De Amigo, how far you’ve fallen since I met you). Heck, I didn’t imagine that I would pick up Sega Bass Fishing anytime soon, but at a reasonable price, I’ll take arcade-style high-octane fishing action any day. Not that anyone  could go wrong with a Sega sports game, really, but you never know (this one’s developed by cavia, developer of NieR, RIP).

Sega Bass Fishing

If you ever told me I would enjoy fishing in any way, real or digital, I’d think you were insane. But here we are.

The end result, then, is a pile of white DVD cases clogging up my book shelf. Many forgotten gems and wonderful little diversions lay within this massive software library, and the hits outpace the misses by a fair mile, methinks. All seem long forgotten and abandoned by the public at large, given massive discounts due to the influx of new hardware. Somebody, somewhere needs to craft a video game library before we lose all this rich history to the vicissitudes of history, seriously. I can’t just keep picking up abandoned video game children!

Of course, in this process you also obtain many updates of classics to fit within the Wii’s unique control advantage/problem (depending on your game), and Bust-A-Move Bash! fits like a glove onto the Wii. For those who forget when puzzle games existed as a viable genre (and not just classified as “casual” due to PopCap’s dominance), Bust-A-Move (known as Puzzle Bobble in Asian regions, as per it being derivative of Taito’s Bubble Bobble) represented one of its greats. Taito created a match-three game which required skill and accuracy, in addition to the ability of pattern recognition. In every such game, a pattern of bubbles appear on the top of the screen. You, the player, must launch bubbles from the bottom of the screen, indicated by the small pointer arrow, to the top. Matching three or more bubbles of the same color together will make that pattern of bubbles disappear. If this sounds similar to many other games in the genre, hey, you’re right!

But Bust-A-Move complicates the relationship between the bubbles, in that bubbles attached below the ones you just broke will fall together. Theoretically, then, you could clear the board with one good bubble placement, thereby racking up a huge combo (points, as ever, remain the measure of progress). Furthermore, bubbles tend to stick, so shooting the bubbles straight to similarly colored ones isn’t always the best strategy. Rather, you can bounce bubbles off the walls in a feat of minor video game geometry, placing the bubbles in the perfect position to eliminate a string or set up a huge combo. Other pieces, like bombs and powerups that clear a particular bubble color, also add to the complexity. Lastly, the board continues to scroll downward as time progresses, and the game will end if it reaches the bottom of the board. All of these elements combine to create an intense strategic and fast-paced experience. Personally, I tend to focus fully on the game to the point of complete relaxation and single-minded concentration to complete the puzzles. The more you play, the more sense it makes, I assure you.

Bust-a-Move Puzzle Bobble Bash

This makes much more sense in motion.

The Wii controller actually adds to the game. In most iterations, Bust-A-Move required a digital control of the arrow; this, in effect, meant that banking shots off the wall was a bit of a crap shoot at times. Unless you developed a good feel for the physics, the variable stage size would inevitably throw off your aim. Here, the Wii controller remains supreme with unparalleled accuracy at shooting in the exact right place. That isn’t to say you won’t need to bounc the bubbles, but the ease of use makes the process much more intuitive overall. Actually, it breaks the game a little bit, as the puzzles don’t seem designed for the new control options, but it remains as fun as before.

These kinds of games, the descendants of Tetris, take the genre into strange territories yet still retain the essence of quick thinking and fast action. Unfortunately, this Wii version of Bust-A-Move (Bash!) does not provide us with a proper multiplayer mode as in every other iteration of the game. In fact, that’s what many people want in a Bust-A-Move game, as the multiplayer (originally designed for arcades, of course) feels impeccably balanced for competitive play. Instead, we get a bizarre 8-played cooperative mode which forces everyone, in a mad frenzy, to clear as many bubble patterns as possible to win. I am not an octopus, nor do I keep eight different Wii peripherals on hand (did you know it supported eight people? Me neither!), but it turned into a disappointment for many fans. Considering the game came out in 2007 with a $40 price tag, you can imagine that this did not excite the Bust-A-Move audience.

This explains the incredibly negative critical reception, in any event (although some games in the series as of late received far worse ratings). I understanding that critics tend to base their ratings on a familiar game’s sequel on its features, additions, and improvements, rightfully so. But in the process, they obscure the quality of the core mechanics with numbers, and these numbers further reinforce a confirmation bias that a game’s “just for kids” or “just Wii shovelware”. I wished more people played puzzle games, really, but they just upped and disappeared. The Japanese certainly don’t consider them “casual”, so why should we?

A lot of the Wii library exists in this strange middle ground between common perception and actual quality. Much of it depends on what you want out of a game. Do you want something mechanically satisfying, yet short? The Wii provides plenty of these games. Do you want a long, experiential type narrative game in the Western style? I’ll be hard pressed to find a single one. This might explain a lot – video games on the Wii didn’t “advance the art-form/medium”! So there you go: the narrative of the “art” continues even in what we consume.

Now all these Wii games will go to waste, and a lot of obscure, and possibly decent or even great titles get lost by the wayside to the deference of our preconceived notions. What a business it is. That doesn’t mean we need to follow the whims of “gamer culture”, whatever that is. We, as followers of Christ, obtain the freedom to choose for ourselves what we consume in our consumer culture, if anything at all. We don’t need to generalize and unite under a common hatred of things; we need to look at all the diversity in the world, and marvel at what God and the people created in God’s image produce. Partiality will only produce a lack of knowledge and a willful ignorance.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.