Bury the Shovelware: Myst

Ports are tricky. Indeed, the DS's big brother gets a lot of flak for hosting PS2 ports with tacked-on waggle. Yet, if the original game is good and a reasonable amount of bonus content is added, we generally give the game a pass.

But things get even trickier when discussing the retro-port. I touched on this at the end of the Petz Dogz Fashion post, but it's worth restating: would you pay full retail price for an exact copy of your favorite retro game? As the Super Mario Advance series proved: yes, you will. Apparently, identical or near-identical copies of older games at standard market prices can still sell extremely well. It'll be interesting to see how successful the Chrono Trigger port will be (my prediction: very). It'd be especially nice if we could determine how many of those purchasing the game have never played it before (my second prediction: not very many). Information such as this would allow us to determine what effect -- if any -- retro-ports have on the current state of gaming.

Examining Myst for the DS has been on my queue for quite some time. The reason for the delay was simply because I was unsure if it was fair to put it under the spotlight since I never played the original. But upon deliberating the sentiments above, I realized the DS port of the 1993 graphic adventure would be the perfect opportunity to put the question to a litmus test.

00:00:02 - Midway is involved in this? Huh ... they really dig the minimal-effort port (not that I'm complaining).

00:00:14 - I select "new game" and BAM. The game has started. There's no name entry, no cut scene intro, not even a "Player Start!" You tap "new game," and your wish is immediately granted. This is way old-school. Even New Super Mario Bros. had a brief introductory cut-scene in which the princess is kidnapped. This isn't a terrible thing. Many games start with long intros that slow the momentum to a stupefying level until you're screaming at the game "JUST LET ME PLAY ALREADY."

00:00:31 - As I've never played the game before, it takes some getting used to. Just moving around is proving to be a bit tricky.

00:01:02 - I find a note that's pretty tough to read. "Enter the number of " ... uhh ... Marber Surjenes? Marble Sunjones? ... " on this island into the " ... smager? Smager? What's a smager?! Oh, there's a magnifying glass option that makes it much easier to read. I guess intro levels and tutorials point these things out, but I probably could have just as well read the instruction booklet. Pfft, men! Anyway, Myst has yet to make any huge mistakes, but also yet to provide any bait in which to reel the player in.

00:02:59 - Maneuvering is trickier than it might look. The DS's touch screen is absolutely wonderful for replicating the mouse of a computer. In many instances, it's much better since writing with a pen or pencil is more precise and quicker than using a mouse. Yet there is one advantage of the cursor: context-sensitive icons. As I said, I never played the original Myst. However, I am familiar with the LucasArts point-and-click adventure games. Most of the games had a decent way of navigating your character. When holding the mouse near the edge of the screen, the cursor would change into an arrow pointing in the direction of the movement. This seemingly small touch really helped with spatial orientation and thus gave a decent sense of immersion to the player. With the lack of a cursor on the DS, I'm left tapping frantically at the sides, hoping that I can go that way. Even if I can, I'm still slightly confused as to where my current spot relates to where I came from, a factor which is compounded by the use of a first-person perspective. It seems nit-picky, but it's really befuddling (Sorry ... I like to use that word whenever possible).

00:12:42 - Don't be deceived by the amount of time that has passed. It's not because I've lost myself in gaming bliss; it's because I don't know what the hell I'm doing. The game's not awful. I'm just trying to get more done so I can make a sound judgment.

00:15:21 - The masterminds behind Lost once mentioned Myst as an inspiration to the series. Damon Lindelof noted that "what made [Myst] so compelling was also what made it so challenging. No one told you what the rules were. You just had to walk around and explore these environments and gradually a story was told. And Lost is the same way." This is a very accurate analysis. I have no clue what I'm doing. Perhaps with a bit more time and patience, I'd be experiencing some success. This isn't necessarily a detriment. When playing the original Legend of Zelda for the first time, you could wander around for hours before you found the first dungeon. It's just a matter of preference: some like to be told where to go, others like to find their own way.

00:17:43 - I'm just wasting time. That's a wrap.

To be honest, I'm not totally digging this. It's not bad ... it's just not for me. Retro games can be classic in their own right. Plenty of younger gamers are discovering the joys of titles originally released many years -- even decades -- before they were born. Those titles stand the test of time and are likely to be enjoyed by future generations in much the same way that classical music is still heard and appreciated today. But many of our nostalgia-inducing retro heart-warmers provide something that is definitionally impossible to recreate on the first play: familiarity. For the veteran gamer, breezing through a few levels of Super Mario World is as much about enjoying the sweetest 2D platforming engine of all time as it is about being reminded of simpler days.

As I noted above, the cursor issue makes it difficult to judge all versions of Myst. Within reason, it's not fair to pass judgment on a title unless you're experiencing it the way the original developers had intended. Thus, I would probably say that Myst for the DS is best experienced by those who have played through it before and have an idea of what they're doing. It's almost strictly comfort-gaming. There's nothing wrong with that, so I'd be hard-pressed to label this and other similar products as shovelware. To each his own (unless his own is Deal or No Deal).

In gaming, the term shovelware refers to any game in which time and effort were eschewed in favor of turning a quick profit. Bury the Shovelware takes a closer look at these titles, typically those that inhabit the lower end of metascores. It attempts to: 1) find out where and how the developer went wrong 2) identify common traits present in most shovelware 3) measure how long the game can be suffered.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.