The Case for Hardcore

Kid Icarus Pit With A SwordIf I had never before touched a game and then been given Kid Icarus: Uprising to play, I am not sure what I would have made of it.

I am certain I would have enjoyed it though. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that the fast paced action, balanced gameplay and plethora of features would have kept me entertained for hours even if I knew little to nothing about gaming. However, when it comes to the second by second gameplay – things like the stories, settings and characters, I am not so sure that I would have understood.

The reason for this is that Kid Icarus is essentially a highly self-conscious game. As such, it is almost always commenting on various aspects of itself as a game; whether it be Pit talking about how he wishes he had a strategy guide to help him understand the various weapons and their uses (each having 8 different ways of attacking an enemy) or Magnus commenting on how odd it was that when Pit jumps into water he doesn’t put on a pair of swimming trunks first. I found that these added greatly to my experience of the game, either because they made me chuckle or (more regularly) because they helped to break down the fourth wall between me and the game in a way that not even the truly astounding 3D visuals could.

However, had this been one of the first games I had ever played and was trying to get into gaming through, these would have gone straight over my head and the game would not have been nearly as fun an experience, simply because I would have been that much more distanced from the slightly insane action happening on the screen.

Fancy Pants

Obviously a very serious game.

Oddly enough, this would have completely passed me by if I had not gotten my hands on a completely unrelated game at about the same time this week that did something very similar. This game was Fancy Pants World 3. Yes, I know, I am sure you can already tell from the title this is not the most serious of games, however it does have many, many good moments in it. In fact, there was one moment in this game that dragged me out of my in-game-happy-stupor and caused me to think. This part in particular is when the various enemies in the game all climb together to form a pyramid out of their bodies simply because the player’s control scheme prevents them from beating the enemies when they are all crushed together in that way.

It was at that moment I noticed something. It wasn’t just Kid Icarus that was relying on those playing it to have a decent history and working knowledge of video games, but several other video games besides.

Where is this leading?

Well, ultimately, with inside jokes going beyond the odd insertion of a companion cube into Fable as a cool little Easter egg, and actually impacting the plot line, characters and even the gameplay itself, it leaves it increasingly hard for newer gamers to get into gaming as the whole concept of gaming becomes more clique-like.

Or so you could suppose.

Truly, while I have heard this from various quarters, I personally do not view it as any kind of problem that needs to be dealt with. Actually, it pleases me that the games industry would do this, because while it does happen, it is becoming increasingly rare.

I see this as relating to a problem involving core and hardcore gamers.

M Rating

Mature or immature? That's the real question.

So often core gamers are seen as those gamers really into the so-called “hardcore” games, you know, the ones rated M (or 18 in the UK) which involve as much gore, violence and profanity as possible. And I am not saying these are necessarily bad elements to games, despite my dislike for them, as you can get fun experiences out of games like this. What I am saying is that these games are not hardcore, that this label that has been placed on them is a misnomer, that they are played by such a huge demographic and appreciated to their utmost by that demograph that those who play them should not be classed as core gamers by default just for playing these games because these games are not made for the utmost hardcore of gamers.

Rather, games like Kid Icarus are.

A core gaming experience to me is much more one that relies on the person playing it having played a variety of games before and having been exposed to a decent swathe of gamer culture.

Further, I accept that this is only my personal take on the core vs casual battle to vie for games developers attention and resources at the moment. The reason I am writing this column is because I see this battle as important, especially as it has gone relatively unnoticed.

So, why is it important?

Well, as the next generation of consoles rolls around, with rumours about the PlayStation Orbis and Xbox 720 rif. With speculation about the WiiU occurring left, right and centre, there are two markets we can be sure that Nintendo at least will be aiming at, and most likely Sony and Microsoft too. Firstly casual gamers, the people who saw the Wii gain incredible sales figures and that are now pushing PS3 and Xbox 360 sales despite the consoles approaching the ends of their natural life span. The other is the so-called hardcore gamers. In fact, one of the reasons behind Nintendo having a more traditionally shaped controller for the WiiU (if you ignore the screen) is to allow the more core games to come to the console.

The problem here is that if the hardcore market these companies are aiming at is in fact just a different form of the casual market then the true core of gamers risks losing the chance of getting games like Kid Icarus: Uprising in the future.

Portal 2 Drowning

Throwing yourself in like this may not lead to the most enjoyable experience however.

While casual games may be fun in the short term, very few games are as immersive (and so enjoyable) as those truly core gaming experiences, even if you have to throw yourself into the gaming culture to truly experience them to their full.

There are many games out there now that cater to people unused to gaming, the real problem could be us losing the few gems that remain for the experienced gamers out there.