Weekly Little Big Planet: it’s very good, Eve

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Take me to a place inside/That is so hard to reach

Looks like I just found my new favorite level.

In the community section of LBP2 there’s a bunch of categories that will lead you to new levels. One of those is “Cool Levels” and I tend to avoid going in there because it sounds so cheesy. I did so by mistake the other night and the first level I found knocked me out. It’s called Gusty Forest and it’s got this great floating dynamic where you have to grab onto a couch-cushion pastry thingy with your grabinators and then…well…jump out and trust the designer. It’s not a tough level, but it’s oddly satisfying nonetheless and I played it several times before I noticed that it was part of something called “The No-Floor Platformer” challenge. I’m still not clear on what that is exactly, but if it inspires a level like this, more power to it.

Gusty Forest works for me on every level. It’s relaxing and just challenging enough for the end of a long day. It has cool music that reminds me of the song “The Freshman” by a group called The Verve Pipe, a song I don’t particularly care for but which works well here and is a welcome departure from the usual canned music found on many of these levels. Finally, it ends with a boss battle that is a completely different style of game, and not only will I not complain about this, I hereby declare that I love it. Every level should aspire to be this well balanced.

Speaking of aspirations…

After the jump, an ape like me

My kid gave me one of those bulky audio cards that plays a song when you open it for Father’s Day this year. That is to say my wife bought my kid one of those bulky audio cards that plays a song when you open it for my kid to give me for Father’s Day this year. Give him a break. He’s six. He gets a buck a week for allowance. A card like that would wipe him out. Have you seen how much those cards cost?

Thankfully the audio card wasn’t some crappy old pop song. The last thing I need is a sentiment from my son that includes some awful Will Smith pap (although I can imagine an amusing circumstance wherein an executive at a greeting card company orders his minions to get the rights to all songs that have ‘dad’ derivations in the title and thereby produces cards with Jane’s Addiction and Everclear tracks in them by mistake…The Deadbeat Dads Collection). No. This card was a double-header of goodness in that it was a mash-up. It incorporated a favorite song from one of my favorite animated movies along with the voice of my son. So I got to hear a snippet of “I Wan’na Be Like You” from The Jungle Book mashed up with my son singing his own lyrics to the same tune.

It was a quick bit, coached by his mom, of course, but I loved it. He sang of a few things he wants to do like me. A couple I expected. One I did not:

“I want to play video games like you.”

That was weird.

My kid couldn’t care less about video games. He likes the games on his mom’s iPad plenty enough, but set him loose on a playdate at a friend’s house when the kids are playing Wii and he couldn’t be less interested. He just wants to jump in the pool. Or wrestle. Or both. So I found this addition to the card surprising. It wasn’t something his mom would have encouraged, either. There’s plenty about me she wants him to emulate that would come before liking to play video games. Believe me. She’s pleased as all get out that he would rather read a book than create a Mii. So I have no idea where that came from.

It’s possible he just sees video games as a job I do, since I write about them (however nominally) and any writing, even journal writing, looks like work to him. Thus he sees gaming as something he will get involved in, someday, out there in the future, the way I might have said I wanted to build houses since my dad, a teacher, did that as a job during most summers. Who knows? He’s six. Who can tell what’s going in the mind of such a creature.

He just had his last day of first grade. This coincided with a trip to the dentist. To celebrate these things we all went out for dinner and made a visit to a toy store (not in that order). Mom and Dad expected him to pick out a new Lego set or something like that. No such luck. He picked out his first set of Pokemon cards.

Oh good lord.

“This is on you,” my wife said, hardening her gaze.

He knows about Pokemon through two major influences:

1: His friends, who trade the cards here and there and have given him a few of them.
2: Me. Who played Pokemon White for a time while writing a game diary for this very site.

He loved watching me play that game. He didn’t want to play it, though. He just wanted to drape himself over me and suggest moves and ask about characters. His friends played with the cards all year. He smiled and nodded but his interest was never sparked. Until now. At the toy store on this day he saw the leader of my Pokemon White team and pointed and exclaimed, “Look Dad, Tepig!” I laughed with delight. I couldn’t help it. My wife looked at me with concern. Then he turned, pointed, and said happily, “Pikachu!” Pikachu is my favorite character to play in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. He’s never seen me play this game since I only play it at my buddy’s house, but whenever his friends break out their Pokemon cards I cry out, “Pikachuuuuuuu!” Yes, they have the good sense to be annoyed by this. “That’s not what he sounds like,” one particular friend of his always says, rolling his eyes, the word dork not uttered, but understood.

So now he has a bunch of the cards. At dinner on the night we got them for him, all he wanted to do was read the cards to us. Tell us the hit points and explain their attacks. He got very excited when he’d come across a Pokemon who had an attack he recognized from watching me play White.

I see it now, how much he’s like me. When a new game comes up at the weekly LAN party we call Shoot Club, I often like to watch others play it first. Especially if it’s a strategy game. This doesn’t mean I won’t eventually want to play it. I just like to watch it first. I don’t know that I learn anything from watching others play the game, now that I think about it. I say that’s why I’m doing it. Now that I think further, maybe that’s a reflex so as not to appear creepy. In reality, I just like to watch the others play the games, sometimes, instead of doing it myself. If we have an odd number of guys and it’s a head-to-head match, I’m always first to offer to sit out and watch. The assumption is that I do this because I don’t like strategy games (not true) because I’m so bad at them (true), but in actuality watching my buddies play them is enjoyable. I will always jump in if I’m needed to fulfill the needs of the LAN, but sometimes I just like to hang back.

I see my son doing a little of this. Playing casual games without hesitation and watching on the more challenging ones. Does this mean he’s afraid to try something difficult? Or does this mean he is a watcher and observer, like his father, and that eventually he’ll be willing to jump in when the group needs him? I hope it’s the latter. Going with what his Father’s Day card suggests, and figuring that I have some say in this matter, I choose the latter.

We will see. For now, well, my son wants to be like me. And that’s good enough. For me.

When he realizes this means he’ll suck at video games when he grows up, we’ll see whether it’s good enough for him.

Click here for the previous Weekly Little Big Planet

ADDENDUM: As I do the final edit of this column, I’m trying to deal with keeping the son I’m talking about above occupied. Usually this is not difficult. He’s got a great attention span, and loves to read, so I can generally get by with an hour’s work while he entertains himself. I’m up against a deadline right now, though, and so he has shifted to high-maintenance mode. Of course he has. So I brought him into my office so he could eat his lunch and read his book while being near me. This helped, until he finished said book. “You want to go and get another one?” I ask, hopefully. “Remember, we just checked out new ones from the library yesterday.” He’s already finished one of them, a graphic novel about Pokemons, oddly enough. “Nah,” he says. “I’d rather just watch you.”

“Watch me write?”

“Yeah,” he says, climbing into my lap at this very moment. “Because it’s about Pokemon.”