Publisher: Buena Vista Games
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: November 9, 2006
Sega's Rez is one of those rare games that has detractors just as eager to comment on the game as its slavish supporters. Much of the noise has to do with the once-high eBay prices the game fetched before getting a direct-market reprint earlier this year. Most of the forum hissy-fits are focused on the usual argument pegged on games with inventive presentation. Was Rez a case of style over substance?
My answer to that question would only serve to place another meaningless vote in the "substance" column. I say meaningless because I sympathize with the fact that Rez was a strange enough beast to keep certain people away. I also see it as simplistic enough to be accessible to anyone willing to deal with abstraction in the post-16-bit era.
Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the man behind Rez — better known for his work after leaving Sega, on Lumines and Meteos — didn't create Every Extend Extra. But the game wouldn't have existed without his seminal creation, which triggered a small movement in freeware development, mostly in Japan. There are countless shooters that take less-than-subtle graphical cues from Rez — but you'll notice that I used the term seminal to describe the game's current status. Many of these new games, made with zero budget and no requests for compensation, have taken the gameplay into increasingly abstract conceptual territory. And really, as much as I love Rez, it can be boiled down to Panzer Dragoon with synaesthesia thrown in for good measure (or shock value, depending on your opinion as to how much flashy lights and rhythmic pulsations really add to a game). Every Extend Extra is probably the most abstract example of a game with strong connections to Rez that still has enough gameplay meat to be a recognizably good title.
Apparently, it was good enough for Mizuguchi himself to snap up the rights to the game and create his own remixed version as a full retail title for his moderately successful stylish little pet console, the PSP. For a homebrew developer, having a game recognized by a professional developer in this way is an impossible dream realized. But for everybody except the beaming man who made Every Extend, we're wondering: Should we spend money on this?
Honestly, after playing the game, I'm not entirely sure how to solve this dilemma. I'm definitely a fan of Every Extend Extra and a great deal of related games from the post-Rez shooter scene, and I'm very happy to see one of them playable on a retail console, but Every Extend is still free, and always will be. There needs to be something special that separates this game from a full retail release and something that should have been a five-dollar microtransaction for Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. I'm not really sure it does. I'll admit that, had I not received a review copy of the game, I would have picked up a copy with my own money anyway, but that has more to do with enjoying the original and hoping to see more releases of this type than with being completely satisfied with the final product.
I was hoping Mizuguchi would have taken the core gameplay many different directions with a fully-funded opportunity like this. The original game is included, so ample room for innovation was there, and left unrealized. There's only one new mode over the original — the other two are simply level- and boss-selections for the main game — and the additions are mostly superficial.
For those of you who haven't played Every Extend, I'll spare you any admonitions to stop reading this review and download the game immediately; after all, you might be viewing this on your PSP! The game is part puzzler and, although the term is used very loosely here, part shooter. You don't really shoot anything, per se; rather, you blow up your avatar. This is a good thing, unlike in most games, although the title does come to an end after you run out of lives.
The goal is to chain explosions together, taking as many enemies with you as possible, for the sake of producing ever-increasing numbers of bonus icons, which, when collected, add to the stockpile of potential suicides. This, and the vector-inspired, simplistic abstract graphics, make for something of a strange experience when contrasted with modern fare, but really, this is a continuation of the sort of inspired innovation forced upon creators by the limitations of hardware in the late '70s and most of the '80s. The difference now is that, while the graphics are simple, they are clear and hard-edged, unlike something like, say, Battlezone, which was nigh-indecipherable. But other than the look, this is a game that could have been conceived in a very similar gameplay form 20 years ago. So is it relevant now?
My vote goes for "mostly." Initially, I found the concept to be somewhat abhorrent, even though I was very much hyped for the game before getting my grubby mitts on the thing. Once I hit a rhythm, though, I was stuck. But, considering the price tag, I'm not sure if this game has enough features to guarantee being worth it as a standalone purchase. In this age of Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, simple, high-concept games are losing relevance as standard retail items. This is something I'm against, to an extent; after all, the little guys should be able to penetrate the retail sphere in any medium! But when logic kicks in, it makes a great deal of sense. When I buy a Xeroxed mini-comic, I expect to pay a dollar or two, not the three or four I drop on a glossy, full-color book from a big publisher. When I buy a local band's CD-R, I expect to pay eight dollars or less, while retail releases can crawl up to about 12 bucks before I start feeling a little miffed. So, a game like this, which could have been thrown together by a couple of dedicated staffers, made even easier by the fact that they had the source material of a fully-developed freeware game on which to base their product, shouldn't cost more than 10 dollars.
Look at Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. That game has a similar history, what with a (mostly) free original version (it was an unlockable in Project Gotham Racing), which happens to be included with the new game. It's got gorgeous abstract graphics and a similarly infectious pumping techno soundtrack (I hate this stuff normally, but hearing the same tracks over and over in a shooter is usually enough to get my nodding my head to the 808 beats), and it runs 800 points on XBLA, with online leaderboards, to boot. I hate to say it, but Geometry Wars is a much better value.
It's refreshing to play Every Extend Extra because it doesn't rely on a convoluted storyline, talking heads, and so on, and I want more of this sort of thing, but blowing yourself up and making chains isn't enough to stand on its own. Even the new boss fights, which flaunt wildly imaginative designs, don't make up for the lacking experience. This isn't releasing Pac-Man as a standalone title, but it's damn close. There are worse games to buy on this console — many, many, much, much worse games — but maybe next time, Mizuguchi could put a wild new idea into the public's eye on a download service.
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