Thursday, August 21, 2008

This is not how to get me to buy your game

Above: By looking at this logo, you've pretty much had the entire experience of playing the demo.

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.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

whiner

Mitch Krpata said...

:(

daphaknee said...

they probably didnt bother with an extensive demo because almost everyone that is buying this game is buying it because its a remake of bionic commando and they already know whats going to be in the game

you play the demo and you realize, oh, this isnt a fucking digital eclipse shitfest of bionic commando IM GETTING THIS SHIT BECAUSE I LOVE BIONIC COMMANDO

Mark said...

I bought the game despite the demo; I think it actually does the game a disservice - IIRC, that's not even the entrance to the boss room in the actual game!

(And yes, I bought it because I love Bionic Commando; although due to the Game Boy versions rather than the Nintendo version I've never played)

Julian said...

I almost agree with this, and I definitely agree with the overall characterization of the difference between the BCR and Eden demos. However, one simple thing made the BCR demo effective on me: the challenge rooms. The demo comes with two challenge rooms, one moderately difficult, and one excruciatingly difficult. I spent probably 45 minutes just trying to clear that second challenge room, and now I'm going to buy the game. Maybe it was only that difficult for me because I'm a newcomer to the series (I never really got into it in the NES days for some reason). But in any case, it gave me that sense of accomplishment you talked about. I definitely agree that it's important for a demo to give you a good taste of the game and also let you feel like you accomplished something. The BCR demo managed to do that for me with the challenge rooms.

WorldMaker said...

It's somewhat longer than the demo to TMNT Arcade and much more of an interesting remake (entirely new soundtrack, new animations, new physics, new challenges, ...).

Plus there's a $60 retail full 3D Bionic Commando coming to stores soon (from the same developers) and I bet Grin expects the retail game to be a better introduction to new players of Bionic Commando than the XBLA fanboy remake of the NES original...

Mitch Krpata said...

Julian, fair point about the challenge rooms. In fact I didn't try them, knowing that such things are not usually up my alley. Probably unfair on my part, but then again this is just my unfiltered impressions of the demo.

Worldmaker, it is actually true that this demo has made me more interested in the 3D Bionic Commando -- which, granted, may not have been that much of a feat, since my prior interest was none. But I'm interested to see what they do with the grappling arm in 3D space.

Dan Bruno said...

Man, I hear you about using shareware as a full game. I played episode 4 of Commander Keen so much that I still have the music memorized.

Sicko said...

No sure if the demo sucks, but the game is awesome and only 10$. You're definately missing out.

James said...

even with the color-coding, the first three times I looked at that logo I read it as "Rear Med," which I assumed to be a proctology reference.