07 September 2013

Control Issues: Offspring Fling!

So I bought Offspring Fling! which you should totally do as well, and the game is awesome. It's a platform puzzler that many people compare to the Kirby games, though I get more of a Lemmings-meets-Flicky synergy from it, but whatever it makes you think of, it'll always be good. You play a cuddly, floppy-eared... well, I think she looks like a Clefairy or possibly Wigglytuff... something that'll make an awesome plushie. Anyway, this loving mother has been separated from her children, and she has to explore a modular environment, gathering them up, and returning them to safety. The main twist is that, like real children, they're a terrible burden on their poor mother. You can't jump as high depending on how many of the little rascals you're holding over your head, and you can't fit through certain spaces with as few as one. This is where flinging comes in. Don't worry, your little bundles of joy are built like tanks wrapped in bubble wrap and goose down, and won't even yelp a little at being hurled at the walls, as long as you don't throw them into naturally-occurring pools of acid or in the path of ravenous lizard monsters. On top of that, the little guys can actually help you save them by activating switches, breaking brittle blocks, or even stunning those mean ol' lizard things. It's not exactly rocket science, but kudos to them for knowing to sit still and not step off the switch or the precarious ledge they may land on.

There's not that much to say about the game, but that's not a knock against it. It's very straightforward, very pick-up-and-play, and tends to use gameplay to teach you how its mechanics work. Most levels fit on one screen, giving you the chance to think ahead and strategize, and many exist entirely to teach you various gameplay mechanics, like how many babies you can hold over your head at once or how many of them can stand on narrow platforms (the answers being, respectively, a lot and hardly any). The graphics are bright and colorful, with lots of little details and nice animations. The music, while a tad repetitive, isn't annoying and fits the cutesy-but-not-cavity-inducing atmosphere. The puzzles are challenging, but not punishingly hard, overall extremely forgiving (one of the early levels practically forces you to mess up to teach you to restart a level if you get stuck).

My only honest gripe is in the nuts and bolts of the hardware support. Of course, I don't blame the developer for that; developing for the PC (as well as Mac and Linux) is tricky enough without all the hassle that comes with getting controllers to work. For however bad consoles get knocked for bad user interfaces, the PC side of the equation is the wild west by comparison.

Here's the thing: I don't like PC gaming. I don't hate it, I don't think PC gamers are elitist snobs or losers throwing away money or that consoles are better or any of that stupid nonsense. I simply don't like playing with a keyboard and mouse. It's just so unnatural to me and while stuff like Starcraft or most shooters work well with the keyboard and mouse, playing Offspring Fling! that way simply feels weird, downright wrong. Sadly, I didn't have that many great options at my disposal. I don't like dealing with drivers or most config programs, and even if you find a fairly user-friendly one, compatibility with a specific game is still a roll of the dice. I looked around for a few controllers like the Logitech F310 and some wired XBox360 controllers, but they were kinda pricey, the F310 got some real iffy reviews, and I don't care much for the design of the 360 controller (especially the D-Pad, which this game plays best with). I also looked at a retrofitted N64 controller that connected through USB, as well as an adapter cable that would let me use an original XBox controller I had lying around. That's when I remembered my Thrustmaster. It's this PS2/PC hybrid controller I got a few years ago for the first PC I ever bought (grew up in a Mac household). It looks almost exactly like a PS2 dual-shock except for some really nice triggers below the shoulder buttons. I wasn't sure it would work with my current version of Windows, which is 7, as I barely got it to work on XP. Still, I figured there was no risk in trying (unlike the others which would have meant dealing with returns in case they didn't work), and dug the guy out.

Time was not kind to the Thrustmaster. It apparently hated being stuffed in a bag with random cables for years and really let itself go. It still worked fine and dandy, but the rubber for its grips had some kind of chemical breakdown. It's sticky and so far has not come clean at all.

I persevered:

The moral of the story is: NEVER GIVE UP and the best solutions are always the simplest ones.

I may have to take the controller apart and run the casing through the dishwasher or, more likely, wrap the damn thing in athletic tape, so it'll look like a burn victim. In any case, it's all about the games.
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