I often talk about how I have Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain syndrome, but what does that mean really? I usually describe this as "having my motivation and interest in games powered almost purely by moment-to-moment gameplay." But what does that actually look like?
I think you can find the answer to this in the way Japanese companies develop games in comparison to other studios.
I have always been drawn more toward games from Japan. As a kid, it was because I was heavy on my interest in fantasy, so things like Redwall would influence me in picking up games like Final Fantasy, weirdly enough. That interest also probably came from Nintendo, as a few of my first games were Link's Awakening and Ocarina of Time.
As I got older my taste grew in scope, and I'd play anything that interested me, even if it didn't have an anime guy with a sword on the back of the cover. And as I grew older, so too did America's burgeoning game development scene. In that time period, of the early 90s into the 2010s, I'd argue that a lot of US studios were focused on that Goopy Goblin Gamer Brain goodness too. Naughty Dog gave us Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, games that really emphasized movement and mechanically interesting stuff, even if it wasn't always successful. Insomniac hit us with Spyro, and then Ratchet and Clank.
But by the seventh and especially the eighth generation of consoles, a shift began to occur. I blame Bioshock Infinite for this, even if doesn't fully make sense. All of a sudden a lot of major US game studios were obsessed with "video games being art." They showcased this obsession by trying to blur the line between video games and movies. Naughty Dog wasn't interested in making video games that feel like video games, but rather video games that feel like "experiences." Jak and Daxter got replaced by Uncharted, and then by The Last of Us. I can tolerate Uncharted and I loath The Last of Us. They're games that hinge on you caring about their characters and the story in order to play through them because you sure as hell weren't going to them for the gameplay.
Rockstar began to do the same thing. The arcade-y feeling games like San Andreas and Bully were cast away so that Rockstar could create the most "realistic" open worlds anyone had ever seen, even if it meant they'd have to crunch their team members for a billion dog years to pull it off.
But realism, in my humble opinion, sucks in video games.
Take, for example, Red Dead Redemption 2, a game I have tried and failed to play twice now. RDR2 feels like ass to play. Sorry, it just does. The movement is clunky. It takes 10 years to change direction. You have to wait a few moments to pick up speed. You get stuck on the smallest of ledges. Your horse will crash into a fence post without permission. RDR2 is great at simulating what it feels like to move around in real life, but I would hardly describe it as an "enjoyable" experience.
This might be someone's favorite type of game, and that's fine! I don't get it at all, but it's fine. That said, what I would argue is that most major Japanese developers have continued to focus on thinking about what makes a game "fun" over what's realistic, and that is what makes a game goopy. What makes it entertaining to me.
Does it make sense that Link can climb any surface in Breath of the Wild? No. Does it make sense that Leon can parry a chainsaw in Resident Evil 4? Not really. Does it make sense that Jack can cancel out of literally any animation to do a finisher in Stranger of Paradise? No, and it's fucking awesome.
These games aren't interested in what makes sense, as much as they are interested in what's cool or interesting or brings joy within the interaction between the player and the game. Even games by Fromsoft, which I generally dislike, are still incredibly mechanically interesting compared to what's considered a big-budget AAA release in the West.
You might be thinking, "but Mint, what about Kojima? He's a straight-up Westaboo! His games have cutscenes that are 10 hours long! Does he count?" Surprisingly enough, no! Kojima's games have lengthy cutscenes and exposition, but when you actually get to play the game after those cutscenes end, it's usually very snappy and systems-driven. Frankly, it feels like a lot of studios saw what Metal Gear Solid was doing and took all the wrong lessons from it - they got the "games as movies" bit but stopped there.
That said, there are more studios beyond the major US ones, or even outside of the US and Japan, obviously. And even then, I'd argue that Insomniac, Arkane, and Bethesda are still keeping that interest in mechanical enjoyment alive amongst major Western studios. I could say the same of Bungie, but the moment-to-moment gameplay there is somewhat hindered by the...well, everything else.
Anyways. I think it's cool when video games are designed as video games first and foremost, as opposed to an excuse to put Troy Baker in another voice-acting role. I think it's fine to let Arthur Morgan snap to cover in a way that feels good, even if doesn't make sense. Video games don't have to adhere to the standards and physics of the real world - and frankly, I'd argue they more often shouldn't.
I hope this rant makes sense! Let me know your own thoughts in the comments or on Cohost! Thanks for reading!