The 3rd Birthday: More Fun Than It Is Good?

Desperately struggling to balance his positive opinion of Square Enix's Nier against the game's catalogue of flaws, Cannata concluded that the title is "more fun than it is good". It's a simplistic, almost ambiguous phrase, but ever since the comment's inception it has maintained traction on the podcast as a way to describe those games that don't always get everything right, but still provide a fulfilling and entertaining experience. It's the type of game that the industry is trying desperately to kill.

I've been spending some time with Square Enix's Parasite Eve spin-off recently, The 3rd Birthday. Sammy's been playing it for review and we've been bouncing thoughts off each other as we progress through the game's convoluted, uneven campaign. The 3rd Birthday is more fun than it is good. The voice acting, pacing and repetition are regrettable, but the core mechanics are solid and genuinely enjoyable. A third-person shooter, The 3rd Birthday adapts well to the limitations of the PSP's control scheme and introduces some interesting ideas that are fresh and unique. And yet, it's clearly not a very well put together game. It's tragically flawed, and the epitome of what an industry exec would flout as a "mid-tier" release.

Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski thinks the mid-tier title is dying. He told an audience at the Games Developers Conference last month that the "middle class game is dead", explaining that those games which fall between triple-A blockbusters and indie darlings struggle to maintain a position in the current gaming climate. Bleszinski compared video games to movies, in which summer blockbusters like Transformers and Battlefield: LA fare favourably next to their indie counterparts, but those films that sit in the middle get overlooked.

I don't necessarily disagree with Cliff Bleszinski. The man is clearly very intelligent when it comes to matters within the industry, and it becomes more and more obvious that every game needs to be a blockbuster in order to carve out an audience. Even then success is not guaranteed. I just don't think that's an acceptable position for the industry to be in.

Last year I played Singularity and was blown away by inventiveness, polish and ability to tell a captivating story. Despite being very derivative of Bioshock's structure, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game. But how many readers actually played the game? If this story is read by around one-thousand people, I'm going to assuming little more than three or four of you are dangling your arm desperately in the air. Those three of you get it — Singularity was not the best game on PlayStation 3 last year, but it was still a captivating experience.  And yet the market decided that, for whatever reason, the game was not good enough to make back its investment. It probably went on to sell fewer than 500k copies across PlayStation 3, XBOX 360 and PC.

The thing is: I do get it. Given the choice between Singularity or Call Of Duty: Black Ops at the same price, the decision is a no-brainer. Both boast excellent campaigns, but the latter also includes long-standing co-op and multiplayer modes that all your friends are playing. In addition, Call Of Duty: Black Ops is the game you're seeing promoted all over the television, magazines and Internet. Singularity, meanwhile, cuts a lonely figure on your local retailer's discounted aisle.

Ironically, I think I enjoyed Singularity just as much as I did Call Of Duty: Black Ops — and that's factoring in the latter's bells and whistles. Black Ops probably cost three, possibly four times as much money to develop. It's infinitely more polished and better paced than Singularity. But it doesn't have the same soul that Singularity does. Black Ops is a game made for a mainstream audience, where Singularity is a game that tries to be something of its own accord.

For me that's the crux of the mid-tier game, and exactly what needs supporting. These "more fun than they are good" releases typically toe the line between mainstream fulfillment and fresh, interesting ideas. They are not a left-field indie release like Braid, that throws the rule-book aside in favour of new ideas and innovative mechanics. They are grounded in familiarity, but nearly always bring something unique and engaging to the table. In essence, the mid-tier game is nearly always freed from the shackles of pleasing a mainstream audience.

When I look at my pre-order list, it is stacked with the type of games that Cliff Bleszinski believes is dying. Spicy Horse's Alice: Madness Returns. Grasshopper's Shadow Of The Damned. SEGA's Virtua Tennis 4. Sony's Twisted Metal. I expect all four titles to struggle at retail, and probably average at around 6 or 7 on Metacritic. But I anticipate these games will all bring fresh ideas and loving mechanics to the table. They're the kind of games that I'll fall in love with and champion for the rest of the year in spite of their flaws and commercial failures.

I never want to see this tier of games disappear because otherwise I know that variety will go along with it. If you look at the selection of upcoming blockbuster titles, only L.A. Noire and The Last Guardian look to have the grace of a new idea. Undoubtedly, Battlefield 3 and Uncharted 3 will be stunning releases — but they'll also be familiar releases. We need the middle-tier of games to offer variety. But more than that, we need to support these games when they appeal to us.

It’s rumoured that “Twiggy” has spent the past several months touring with avant-garde dance troupe Cirque Du Soleil. The anonymous PushSquare columnist is still on the run from the British monarchy on account of treason. “Twiggy” was last sighted eating an Asda branded ham and cheese sandwich in Grimsby.