Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Partial Game Analysis: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out

This partial game analysis isn’t necessarily trying to pinpoint and explain what actually makes Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out so much darn fun to play. The actual goal is to expose the core elements that seem to virtually eliminate player frustration. I’ve never once felt frustrated by this game even when I have to replay the same opponent multiple times because I keep getting KO’d.

This is the problem with many combat games: the enemies and, consequently, the game, become increasingly frustrating because the player is not able to instantly recognize enemy weaknesses and then counter attack accordingly. Instead of game difficulty being determined using different combinations of enemies (as well as environmental scenarios), the game becomes difficult (read: frustrating and un-fun) because the player has not been given a strategic foundation.

The player becomes lost.

Reducing the player and enemy interaction down to its core, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out gives the player the most important, and consequently, the most memorable elements of player and enemy interaction:

· Attack Tells

· Over-the-top/Exaggerated Anticipation Poses

· Over-the-top/Exaggerated Recovery Poses

In most combat games, an Attack Tell is integrated into the attack itself via an Anticipation Pose. MTPO takes Attack Tells another step further by sometimes using multiple Attack Tells in succession. For example:

  • Subtle Body Tell (eyebrow movement)==>VFX Tell (entire body flashes red)==>Connection Pose (actual collision between player and enemy)
Easy to counter attack, right? Sure. But as the player progresses, the game removes some of these Secondary Attack Tells and only gives the player one Attack Tell in the form of the Anticipation Pose. From the very beginning, the game gave the player a combination of obvious and subtle clues on how to defeat an opponent. Even as the game progresses and becomes more challenging, the player still has an idea (read: split-second visual recognition) when a specific attack will occur without necessarily having to remember a specific attack pattern. Although, pattern recognition is a big part of this game, but I digress.

The Anticipation Pose is the most obvious and important Attack Tell in the player and enemy interaction. If shown correctly, it allows the player to make split-second choices like blocking, dodging or counter attacking. Without an obvious Anticipation Pose, the player will be instantly clueless on how to attack an enemy.

The Recovery Pose’s main purpose should be to instantly tell the player the enemy is vulnerable and open to counter attack or at a certain point in its attack pattern. The Anticipation Pose is useless if the player doesn’t know when to attack. Furthermore, in MTPO, the player knows exactly when it’s safe to counter attack for one reason and one reason only: instant over-the-top and extremely exaggerated recovery poses. The Recovery Pose in MPTO is almost synonymous with the Connection Pose (the actual hit between the enemy and player). As a result of this caveat, the player can recognize enemy vulnerability instantly and counter attack accordingly. Sure, the recovery window for each attack becomes smaller and smaller as you progress through the game, but it’s expected the player has reached some kind of mastery at this point in the game.