Monday, January 28, 2008

Getting the b-ball rolling.

Last Tuesday saw the release of Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, an absurd, mock-heroic send-up of Japanese role-playing games starring former NBA superstar Charles Barkley in the role of postcyberpocalyptic world savior. It was developed by four members of the Gaming World Forums going by the collective name "Tales of Game's Studios," (incorrect punctuation intended) and if it isn't clear yet, you should not be taking this game seriously.

The first, unfinished version of Gaiden was released nearly a year ago, and was developed with RPGMaker, the favorite game development tool for high-school kids with too much time on their hands. At the time, I thought it would never be completed - part of the joke was how often these games spiraled out of control as their creators piled more and more ideas and ambition into a project they would never finish. Also, RPGMaker kind of sucks, and no matter how much work you put into subverting its limitations, you're probably going to end up with a game that's still a chore to play. This was the case with the first demo, which wasn't really fun to play, despite having such a fantastic premise. I forgot about the game, figuring it was nothing more than an elaborate joke, but every once in a while I would think back and ask "what if?"

When I saw that the game had been finished, I nearly spewed a mouthful of Mrs. T's Pierogies all over the computer screen. Not only was the game finished, but it had been rebuilt from the ground up using Game Maker - rebuilt from the ground up to not suck. The battle system is now a fun little riff on Paper Mario's schtick, and the dialogue, which was easily the best thing about the demo, maintains its tone of hilarious bathos through the full game.

Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden is one of the most entertaining games I've played in a long time, independently developed or not. It's also free and readily available to download from the Tales of Game's Studios homepage. It requires Windows, but I imagine most computers made in the past ten years should be able to run it just fine.