Thursday, August 21, 2008
This is not how to get me to buy your game
Drunk on the possibilities of the summer of downloadable games, last night I downloaded the demo for Bionic Commando Rearmed. I'm not sure if I ever played the original Bionic Commando, and if I did it was probably on an emulator. Suffice it to say that this franchise is not one that holds a special place in my heart. The demo was going to have to convince me, on its own, whether Rearmed was worth a purchase.
It did not do so.
The demo does a few things well. The tutorial is right there to teach you the basics of the grappling arm. And I really enjoyed holding a conversation with another character through a system that resembled Metal Gear Solid's codec, in which he made fun of me for playing the demo instead of the full game. That's a nice touch.
Problem is, there were maybe five minutes of playing time in the demo. You clear about two screens' worth of enemies before encountering a boss, who tells you he won't fight you unless you buy the game. This time, it was less funny. I hadn't had nearly enough time to get comfortable with the grappling arm, let alone begin to explore its possibilities. Then I can't even get thrown the bone of a boss fight? Weak. I can't even imagine why this thing was 347 megabytes.
Compare this to the PixelJunk Eden demo. It contained the entire first garden, which by my estimate took a solid hour to hour-and-a-half to complete. That was plenty of time to be introduced to the game. I was able to get a full idea of its mechanics, and be seduced by its strange rhythms. I learned the elation of collecting spectra, and the crushing disappointment of missing a jump and plummeting to the garden floor.
More important, Eden allowed me to accomplish something. It set up the goal of clearing the first garden, and then let me do so. Only after I'd associated the warm feeling of victory with the game did it dangle the prospect of even more accomplishments as an incentive to purchase the whole game. A cliffhanger in a demo can be tantalizing, but if it's too abrupt -- if it's unearned -- then the demo fails in its mission to entice me to play more. Guess which of the two games I'm considering plunking down the dollars for?
Even when a demo works, as PixelJunk Eden's does, it's hard not to long for the heyday of shareware. When you downloaded the free version of Wolfenstein or Doom, you got an entire game. I must have played through "Knee-Deep in the Dead" dozens of times. It gave you several levels, numerous enemies, networked play, and all the weapons save the BFG. And it was free!
Did I ever buy the other two episodes? Of course not. Maybe that's why you don't see shareware these days.