Position Of Power

After my last adventure I was sure that would be the last of it. I had gone through a hell of an ordeal and risked life and limb so many times that I lost count in all the excitement. I met and lost countless people, and faced trials and tribulations that no one else can even begin to imagine. However, I approached the new adventure before me with a great deal less hesitance. After all, think of all the things I learnt last time, as well as how much more powerful I’ve become as a result. I have new abilities and so many items that anything I fight this time should be a breeze. At least, that’s what I thought as I set foot in this strange land, right before I was inexplicably knocked out cold for several hours. When I woke up, I found that I not only had a pretty powerful headache, but that all my abilities, power-ups and items were gone.

“Fuck this”, I thought. “Someone else can save the world today.”

I sometimes find myself approaching sequels with a great deal of hesitance. Not because I’m one of those annoying elitists who feel that sequels should never exist, but because, for the most part, no matter how good the sequel may be, they’ll always run into a stumbling block right from the outset: newcomers. Judging by how often sequels tend to outsell the original, it’s apparently too much effort to expect people to play the original before diving in, and instead of telling the kids with the armbands to get out of the deep end of the pool, some developers seem all too keen to encourage them. I guess you have to if you need the game to sell, but I wouldn’t skip A New Hope and start the trilogy at Empire Strikes Back and act put out that it wasn’t accommodating me. Most games will readily do this by forcing the beginning of every sequel to act as an extended tutorial, but some games do something I consider far worse and, in some instances, unforgivable: completely stripping you of everything you gained in the last game and sticking you back at square one.

One man who doesn't need the 'Bad Ass' upgrade...

Maybe the developers didn’t originally expect to make a sequel, or maybe it’s been shipped off to a different company in the vain pursuit of money, or maybe everyone recently suffered brain trauma after an office-wide freak accident, but rather than make a game that keeps all the abilities your character gained and build upon them, it’s apparently far more simple and accessible to throw all the character development out of the window and start anew every time, no matter how little it fits. I don’t mean games like Nathan Drake’s incredibly lucky adventures in genocide, sans lesson learning (aka, the Uncharted series), or typically many third or first person shooters, as they simply give you a set of base abilities and find increasingly ludicrous reasons to take away most of your weapons between each level (or cut-scene, if it’s feeling particularly evil that day). I mean games that all serve to fit part of a greater story, and throw all of your toys out of the pram between each instalment.

I mean games like the Metroid series. Each title essentially serves as a different part of the canon, but there are three games in particular that not only take the piss, but put it in a bowl, serve it back to you and call it soup. The first offender is probably the lightest; you start the opening section with enough abilities to reach the boss, but then the game decides that your fun ends there with an explosion that is simultaneously weak enough not to injure Samus Aran in any significant way, but strong enough to completely destroy parts of her suit and disable half of the abilities you’ve just spent the last half an hour growing accustomed to. Instead of calling someone and getting her suit fixed or, better yet, refunded for faulty manufacture, she then decides to fly straight to the planet she’s just seen her nemesis land on. If it wasn’t for the fact that she just so happens to coincidentally come across all of her power-ups and then some whilst exploring the planet, that would have ended up being the most ill advised plan since the Nazis decided to take on Russia wearing summer clothes.

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes is worse still. Samus crash lands on a distant planet to investigate missing Galactic Federation troopers, which turns out to be a stroke of bad luck when they’re all dead and there’s an evil version of the famous bounty hunter casually strolling into a portal. Rather than take in her surroundings or call for backup, she decides to jump through the portal without a second thought, whereupon she is immediately ambushed by strange creatures that somehow manage to steal all of her important weapons and abilities she’d gained from the previous game.

Hope you enjoy slowly recovering your abilities by taking on progressively more irritating boss battles, because that’s what you’re going to spend more than half of the goddamn game trying to do.  Considering how many ideas the game employs with the light and dark mechanic, getting rid of most of your abilities at the start is just a dick move. It doesn’t make me feel more powerful when I can finally surpass an obstacle, it makes me irritated that it shouldn’t even have been an obstacle in the first place. It doesn’t give the player power, it just reminds them how much they were neutered in the first place.

The absolute worst offender in the series – and indeed, in all of my years of gaming – undoubtedly lies with Metroid: Other M. Team Ninja didn’t so much take the reins of the series from Nintendo as much as it yanked them off, took a baseball bat to the legs and sent it back to Nintendo to be put down. Taking place immediately after Super Metroid, by this point you’d expect Samus to lose her powers after tripping up on a particularly tricky flight of stairs, but even that was too classy for Team Ninja. You see, after Samus goes to investigate the latest macguffin, she comes across a squad of soldiers led by her old commanding officer, who appears reluctant to let our heroine tag along, and not least because she’s voiced by someone who appears to have taken a shovel to the back of her head. The only way he’ll let her help them out is if… (okay, you need to take a deep breath for this one. Trust me. Breath taken? Ready?) …she deactivates all of her suit’s abilities until he personally gives her the okay to use any of them.

Fucking… what?!

That’s not giving players an entry level to the mechanics and making way for newcomers, that’s insultingly patronising, and it helps destroy the perception of Samus’ character entirely. She’s supposed to be the most dangerous threat to the Space Pirates in the Galaxy, not a whiny, self-narrating brain damage victim! She’s saved you all from Metroids countless times, but she can’t help you out and prevent your men from dying until she deactivates any ability that’d help save the day until you’re comfortable with it?

As soon as Samus complied with his demands rather than shooting a missile up his arse to assist him in his grand task of fucking himself, I put the game down and never touched it again. Had I seen that cut-scene when I previewed it, I’d never have wasted my money on what amounts to nothing more than an expensive and insulting paperweight. Rest assured, I hope that commanding officer dies.

It could just be something about the sci-fi setting, as I even found myself getting frustrated with Mass Effect 2. Considering how much of your character and their actions were taken over from the first in the series, I couldn’t help but find myself more than a little disappointed when I was able to look at my Shepard’s stats and found that none of them had transferred into the sequel. Gone was my smooth talking, shotgun specialising sentinel powerhouse Shepard, and instead was a guy I felt like I hardly knew any more.  All those points I’d put into being able to charm or intimidate people instead became a one-sided affair, depending on whether Shepard was a Paragon or Renegade. My biotic abilities were no more powerful than the day Shepard became a Spectre. Seeing as they managed to carry over so much from one game to another, it feels like a petty squabble as much as it does a legitimate grievance; I can still shape my Shepard the way I want him to be, but would I have spent so much time carefully debating what stat to upgrade next had I known it wouldn’t matter when the sequel landed?

Am I just over-thinking all of this? Am I demanding too much of the industry to expect them to build on their characters and their powers, rather than just resetting them for each new instalment?  To force designers to think of some new obstacles for the characters to overcome, rather than find more contrived reasons to face the same ones in a different landscape? Maybe I’m just making a huge fuss over nothing. I guess we’ll find out next time, when I somehow lose my ability to write and have to spend half the article slowly regaining my ability to put words in a coherent order.  I bet you can’t wait.

Last five articles by Edward



  1. Chris Chris says:

    Excellent Article Ed and points well raised. I think one of your best this year. Good work dude!

  2. Richie rich says:

    Altair! You have been bad so I shall take away your ability to jump.


    Good article Eddie!

  3. Ric Ric says:

    Loved it! Brilliant article and some great lines. Good work Ed! :D

  4. Leon says:

    While I’ve thought about this before, I can’t really see a better way to do it.

    It is annoying that Samus allllways loses her abilities (and yeah, I too hated Other M’s way of doing it), but then Metroid is all about collecting power ups and such, which is what I enjoy about it. If Samus had all of her abilities from previous games… there would be little to do unless she kept getting bigger and bigger powerups until she could walk through walls and fly or something… Or else resort to locking off everywhere with keys instead, to keep the Metroid way of exploration.

    As for Mass Effect, I didn’t really feel that my Shepard lost anything between the games (and I played them one straight after the other). All the story choices and such carried over, all except a few abilities. Again, though – it would suck if you had everything unlocked from the start.

    I think I just enjoy levelling up and such too much to want to start a game with a maxed out character. Kingdom Hearts 2 would have been no fun with a level 100 Sora with the Ultima Weapon :P And imagine how many weapons Megaman would have by now if he kept them between each game!

  5. Edward Edward says:

    Well, the point I was making was that in Prime 2, you spend half the game trying to get back powerups you already had and mastered in the first game, instead of keeping those abilities and adding more items that would have made the dynamic between light and dark even more compelling (instead of “Hey, just stand here for 5 minutes to heal, great flow, right guys?!”) . Prime 3 justifies it as you losing most of Prime 2′s weapons as they’re useless outside that world, and does actually spend most of the game giving you new updates instead of asking you to get most of them back, and the game had a much better flow and showed what they could have done with 2 and Other M, rather than forcing you to get most of them back half the game and stifling creativity.

    As for Mass Effect, it’s not so much that I wanted a maxed out character, it’s that NONE of the stats that I spent ages agonising over made any difference at all. Like, it at least levelled me up a few times for my previous save, but I probably spent more time agonising over how my characters levelled up than I did some of the major decisions, and I might as well put my stats in whatever I wanted and come out with the same result.

    I don’t think I necessarily want a maxed out character, I just would like consistency that makes sense, rather than characters having a brief moment of brain damage that disadvantages me for the rest of the game. Like, even if they just handwaved it after each one with an explanation that makes sense, rather than “Oop, I tripped over and lost everything” or just having no weapons and no explanation for such.

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