Sometimes the most important thing about a game is a single design decision, just one sort of meta-idea underlying the whole elaborate structure – not the hero’s outfit or abilities or a boss fight or strong dialogue, but something preceding these things. If it works well, you don’t even notice it, you don’t even think about it. But if it doesn’t, it becomes all you can think about. It ruins the entire experience, which might be otherwise fantastic and enjoyable.
I’m sure you can guess which one Equinox is.
Let me give you an example we can all understand, first. Ninja Gaiden 2 is a really, really hard action game. You’re a ninja, and you have to kill demons and other ninjas, who are attempting in turn to kill you. It’s very fast, you take a lot of damage, it’s easy to get killed, and it’s blatantly cruel to the player. But what will really make you turn off the game is the camera. The camera is a deeply malevolent creature, constantly swinging about to obscure your view of the action, and by all appearances deliberately ensuring that every single enemy is behind you and off-camera. You can imagine how frustrating and enraging this can be, and how much foam might spray from one’s mouth as one roars obscenities and punches walls and, in general, scares the living shit out of one’s girlfriend, who is worried mostly about one’s blood pressure.
Now, a game with a good camera that keeps everything in view, pans out when necessary, and intelligently reacts to your movements? You don’t even notice. It just seems right.
Equinox is an isometric, two-dimensional game, a Zelda-clone dungeon crawler, and one that’s actually quite fun. I was surprised to find myself playing through the entire first dungeon and even beating the boss – a boss who, when he damages you, makes you restart the fight.
But fun as it is, the fact that it is rotated 45 degrees and everything operates on a diagonal – so that pressing up makes you go right-up, pressing right makes you go down-right, pressing left makes you go up-left, and pressing down makes you go down-left – makes the platforming unbelievably irritating. Because it is isometric and has no perspective, there is absolutely no way to tell where an object is – it could be suspended in midair closer to the screen, or it could be on the ground farther away. On top of that, when your character is jumping, you might lose track of where, exactly, he is – there is no way to mark your own location in mid-air. You will walk into spikes simply because you cannot tell at all where those spikes actually are.
It does make the game much more visually appealing and interesting, that’s for sure. But the aesthetic value quickly fades when you flee from ghosts and run into a spike that shouldn’t be there for the eighth time.