I don't know what I was thinking in September 2003.
Actually I do — at least so far as I know I played a GameCube game called "P.N. 03" and didn't like it. I paid full price for it and I was fully disappointed. In early 2004, I used the game as an example of a dropped ball and did so again last week in Multiplayer, where I called it a "mediocre experience" that I once thought worthy of nothing more than a 5 out of 10 (see "Multiplayer: Taking The 10-Point Challenge").
In that piece, I made it clear that I don't review games anymore. One of the reasons is because I don't want to be forced to give a score. I'm not sure I can apply ones that will stand the test of time.
Matthew Williamson, editor of The Gamer's Quarter magazine, wasn't sure about my scoring ability either, it seems. I mentioned in my piece that I still didn't agree with the scores I first proposed in 2004. He posted a reply: "Please tell me that 'P.N. 03' is one that you don't agree with where you put ... please? It's at least a 6 and more like a 7 from your scale." Actually, I remembered that game as a 5. Still.
I like Matt's magazine. And I like him. He made me play "Silent Hill 2" and made sure I played it all the way through, an experience I recommend for any serious gamer interested in the emotional potential of this stuff we play. Unfortunately, his asking me to reconsider "P.N. 03" was like when my mom used to ask me to reconsider eating the scallops she cooked me. In my cooking-review scale, scallops will never get more than a 5.
"P.N. 03" just wasn't fun when I played it back in 2003. The game's shapely heroine, Vanessa Z. Schneider, looked like Lara Croft in a sci-fi body suit. But she moved, as Edge magazine noted, like a Buick. She nodded her head and rocked her hip to the game's techno soundtrack with the kind of attitude Sonic used to sport when he tapped his foot while you left his games idle. But she didn't move with verve. Best played, she had to be steered slowly. Her game was from Capcom, but it wasn't all blistering action like "Devil May Cry." It was a hunt-and-peck shooter, a game about cover before "Gears of War" made shooting from cover cool. And it was so drab — painted in black, white, gray and brown — that it made "Gears" look like a rainbow.
What looked like a 3-D action game like "DMC" had Schneider entering room after similar-looking room, shooting down two robots. Sometimes six. She carried no gun. Instead, a tap of the A button made her extend her arm and zap an energy bullet from her palm. Evading enemy bullets wasn't a graceful process: Tapping a shoulder button slid her one step — and one step only — straight to the side. A second tap made her do a cartwheel in the same direction. She turned slowly, not like a graceful dancer. Her movement was about going straight forward, straight right and straight left. Going in those directions, though, she animated like a ballerina with pirouettes and quick-footed dance steps. She was a beautiful stiff.
The entire game seemed to be lacking. Where were the colors? The variety of enemies? The character movement at anything other than 90-degree angles? Where was the fun? I liked the stark aesthetic. The game ran fine. I just didn't see anything there. But Matthew wanted me to retry my scallops.
On Friday, I went to a game store and asked for "P.N. 03." The clerk was confused. He thought I wanted some sort of piano game. Clearly "P.N. 03" isn't a game he gets asked about a lot. The store had a used copy for $5. I took it.
And on Friday evening, after getting lost in the "Super Paper Mario" Pit of 100 Trials (see "Multiplayer: Dropped In The Pit Of 100 Trials"), I think I finally got it. I relearned the controls. With fresh eyes, Schneider's limited movement was part of a simple-but-solid set of rules. I was supposed to move her like she was a piece in a puzzle game — a puzzle game with robots shooting at me. I tackled each level accordingly, punching out a shot, then a dodge, timing the moves with precision. I figured out that the movement of the enemy robots was just as limited as Vanessa Schneider's. Just as I came to peace with her narrow skills, I learned to successfully wage war on the robots. Instead of trying to scramble from a volley, I learned just when to make a quick side step. I learned that every time a certain robot made a certain move I could tap the duck button just once and not be shot by the enemy right in front of me. I could make Schneider dance through bullets, and I didn't need any Matrix slow-mo to do it. I had fun. I didn't want to stop playing.
What happened to me? Did I miss the point back in 2003? Did my tastes change? I'm sure that the massive expansion of my gaming library has made me a little less desperate that every game I get be a $50 experience. Otherwise, I don't know. Every creative form has work that wasn't appreciated when it first came out but gained respect over time. Maybe "P.N. 03" is one of those. All I know for sure, Matthew Williamson, is that "P.N. 03" isn't perfect, but it's also not a 5. It could be a 6. It could even be a 7. It sure isn't a scallop.
To read a Gamer's Quarter article on "P.N. 03" and its creator, check out the free online magazine's eighth issue at GamersQuarter.com.