Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gaming at 30,000 Feet

I recently took a long flight with the fine folks at Air New Zealand. Surprisingly, they were nice enough to give each of us coach class plebes our very own seat-back monitors on which to watch movies, check the weather, and (you guessed it) play video games.

The gaming library was less than spectacular, but it was a welcome diversion that helped quell my outrage at the fact that first class passengers not only got fully reclining seats with their own ottomans, but were also exempt from the “seat upright, tray table up” rule during landing and takeoff. In any case, I would like to bring you my highly analytical impressions of selections from the Air New Zealand gaming catalogue.

The Controller

Before I loaded anything up, I examined the input device. Since it also doubled as a TV remote, it was shaped like a Wii Remote. On the left side was a directional pad and on the right were four face buttons that shared the configuration and colors of the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo. Much to my surprise, there were even left and right shoulder buttons. Take that, Wii Remote. I familiarized myself with my new-found tool and jumped into my first game.


Hanah summarized this game concisely as “Space Invaders, but crappier.” With a slow frame rate to match its slow rate of fire, Invasion left much to be desired. Although I was initially pumped upon hearing the title screen’s 1990s-era generic rock music, my enthusiasm waned as I realized that the remainder of the game would be played against the monotonous beeping of my single laser attack. Apparently, there was a power-up system that could modify my ship’s gun, but the game’s jerky movement and my sleep deprivation compelled me to press on. Hopefully those aliens weren’t invading anywhere important.


I turned to an old classic in hopes that a Tetris-induced trance would distract me from the multiple crying babies on board. Initially, I was disappointed to find out that, despite apparently having the official Tetris license, the game was lacking the traditional Tetris music. At least the headphones were complementary. Despite its musical deficiencies, Tetris proved to be a competent port with a smooth frame rate and responsive controls. It had a variety of options pertaining to difficulty, handicap, and interface elements. By default, the block shadow and previews of the next three drops were turned on. I turned them off (because that’s how I roll) and cruised through a few levels like a boss.

Magma Roll

All I can say about this game is that it nearly froze my console. Because of my dedication to the medium, artistic criticism, and to you, dear reader, I risked hours of screenless boredom by trying to load it twice, but to no avail. I couldn’t help but thinking I was missing something awesome as I moved on to my next selection.


I was surprised to find another officially licensed game, so I booted it up to see what passes for quality standards these days over at Atari. Much to my pleasure, I found a serviceable game of Breakout that compensated for its unstable frame rate and squirrelly controls with a variety of power-ups. Multiple paddles, magnetic paddles, and multiple balls as well as a variety of block configurations made for a fresh, yet pleasantly nostalgic experience. Of course, at this point they had turned off all the lights in the cabin, so my impressions could be influenced by sensory deprivation.

Cave Crunch

The last game I was able to fully explore was also the one with the longest load time. The title screen depicted a cartoonish caveman bludgeoning a dinosaur while running away from what seemed to be some kind of sabre-tooth tiger. After docking it points for such blatant historical inaccuracy, I started a new game and was greeted by a familiar sight. Don’t tell the folks at Namco, but Cave Crunch is a Pac-Man knock-off with faux-Flintsones aesthetics. My four dinosaur nemeses seemed quite a bit dumber than Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde, and I made sure to do my part to speed along their extinction with my powered up clubbing action. However, I must give Cave Crunch credit for iterating on the risk/reward dynamic of collecting extra items in the maze. In some levels, I had the option to grab pterodactyl eggs from the middle of the maze for bonus points. Doing so would cause the owner of those eggs to target me from above with rocks until I cleared the level. This added to the frantic nature of the game and ensured I didn’t camp out in the safe corners.

Thus concludes my review. Hopefully it was useful for you people who have the misfortune of owning something like a Nintendo DS or an iPad; seriously, you’re missing out on a whole world of gaming out there. Perhaps if enough people read this, I can start that competitive Cave Crunch league I’ve been wanted to create.

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