Weekly Little Big Planet: timing is everything

, | Features

A quick bit of advice. If you’re interested in playing a neat little Halloween-themed community level and you decide to give this week’s featured level, Halloween [Silhouette Platformer], a spin, crank down the volume on your television and put on some music of your own. Something moody, or something that has a creepy edge to it. Throw on Howard Shore’s History of Violence score, or Michael Nyman’s score for Gattaca. Heck, switch on just about anything by Clint Mansell. Just don’t listen to the music this designer has included. It is wretched, and he doesn’t care how many people tell him that. “No, I won’t change the music,” he says in his description text. “I like my level the way it is. Deal with it.”

While that statement does qualify him for the Douche of the Week Award, it’s also decent advice. The level is worth playing because it stands out as a silhouette platformer (a term I did not know before playing it). So many level designers are trying so hard to make their levels so very creepy and scary and Halloweeny, but they wind up with levels full of screaming that just feel generic. The visual style of this week’s level grabbed me immediately, evoking that feeling I get when I pull the Halloween bins out of the garage and my wife and kid start planting the decorations on the lawn. So…I found a way to “deal with it”…and you should too.

Now then, when it comes to being evocative…

After the jump, I think we’ll be okay now

I was exposed to at least two things this week that had the word paranormal affixed to them. One was a movie, and one was a pinball table. I’m going to cut to the chase here…go with the pinball table.

The Paranormal table for Pinball FX 2 has finally come to the Xbox 360, after having been exclusively on the PS3 for what seemed like forever. I never played it there, because my PS3 is just too moody. My Xbox may not be as pretty, but I know I can rely on its network and that is absolutely vital when it comes to playing pinball. You have to have access to your friends’ scores as you play the game. That’s just the way it is. If you cannot get a constant update on which friend you’ve just beaten, which friend has beaten you, and which friend is obviously trying to beat you on a particular table, how can you honestly say you’re living a full life?

When Tom posted last week that the Paranormal table was going to be available for free from October 26th until November 2nd, I got pretty excited. I was going to have to see the 2011 American supernatural horror found-footage origin-story prequel movie with the name of this table in its title over the weekend, and getting the table seemed a nice follow-up to that. Plus, Paranormal features the Loch Ness Monster, which is also the name of my favorite childhood rollercoaster. How could I resist?

Man I love this table. I can see why Tom lists it among his favorites in that post I linked up there. It has just the right combination of creepiness and cheese, although I’m not sure too many people will agree with me on the first of those descriptions. The music, like the music in this week’s featured level, isn’t nearly atmospheric enough for my taste. Unlike that level, however, the music for the Paranormal table isn’t downright objectionable. It just doesn’t add all that much, and it should. However, other elements of the sound design make up for this, as I found after I downloaded the table and just let it sit there while I worked on my computer across the room. Out of nowhere I heard a woman’s whispering voice ask, “Are you there?” I nearly jumped out of my chair. I realized fairly quickly the voice was coming from my television, but there was a split-second there when I had no idea what the fuck was going on, and this little sliver of time has stayed with me in playing the table. Every time I hear her voice I feel a little chill because of that.

The table has many joys beyond atmosphere, however. I really love the way it plays, and I’m loving learning how it plays. So far I find it’s not as generous with the multi-balls as my current favorite table, Secrets of the Deep, is. When I say ‘generous’ there, incidentally, I mean that I suck at getting multi-balls on the Paranormal table; while the cube mechanic is indeed beautiful in a Giger kind of way, how it works is largely inscrutable to me at this point. In the untold number of times I’ve played the table I’ve unlocked a multi-ball phase two times. Two. I am, however, getting really good at exploring/exploiting the haunted house at the top of the table, which is all a matter of timing. I have no real-world experience with playing pinball to speak of, so discovering things like the importance of timing, often through failure, is a gratifying process.

I didn’t really get what Tom was saying about the table lacking colors until I went off and played a couple other tables after letting Paranormal dominate an entire evening. I messed around with some of the Marvel tables for a bit, and when I returned to Paranormal I thought something was wrong with my Xbox for a minute, like it wasn’t allowing the table to fully load. At first glance the thing looked like it had been fashioned out of concrete. It was kind of a turn-off going back to it. Until I launched the first ball, at which point I wondered if I would ever be able to get myself to return to the Wolverine table. My score is horrifically low on that table, so you’d think I’d be motivated to work on it, but the idea of going back to Wolverine when Paranormal is just a few clicks away seems absurd. What is the deal with that Wolverine table? Why is it so stunted? It feels like I’m playing pinball on my iPhone when I play that thing. Ugh.

Paranormal still has plenty to teach me. In addition to solving the mysteries of the multi-ball cube, I have yet to figure out what the hell is going on with either the Jersey Devil or the Chupacabra. I’m totally in the dark on both of those. I keep meaning to try a play-through during which I really concentrate on the text directions for those and other elements and not worry about scoring at all, but every time I try that I end up doing the opposite. I suppose that would be my one complaint about FX 2. Most of the time I have no idea what’s going on or what I’m supposed be doing on those little side quests or missions or tasks. Whatever they’re called. I’m no good at reading the text while keeping track of the ball and I refuse to go hunting online for hints. As a result, the simplest things allude me. For instance, it took me forever to figure out which vampire you’re supposed to hunt in the mini-game in the Blade table, and that couldn’t be more obvious. I think what I need is one of those rally racing co-driver guys to sit beside me and call out the directions. This would also help me avoid the temptation to look at the other announcements that drop down, the ones about breaking top scores and SuperScores. I can’t count how many balls I’ve lost because I was surprised at the message, “Beat So-and-So’s SuperScore!” and forgot that the understood word at the beginning of the message is not “you” and it is not an announcement but a taunt. I only want to know when I actually beat my friend’s score. Knowing how much I have to go, in particular when that number is in the hundreds of millions, is a distraction I do not need. Especially considering the fact that on the Paranormal table it obscures the top left flipper, which throws off my timing for getting in the haunted house.

I do love the scoring in Pinball FX, though. Maybe this is a part of real pinball–again, I’m ignorant of that world–and thus no big deal to most folks who play, but I just find the fact that every time I play I can score millions of points to be so amusing. It tickles me to look at my score after three balls and see 22 million points. Million! I know. Dumb. But still. Million! How cool is that!

Paranormal is available for free for a few more days. Get it. But if you figure out what the Jersey Devil and Chupacabra are all about, keep it to yourself. The table will teach me in its own time, and that’s good enough for me.

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