Developer Spotlight: Cing Part 3
This is Part 3 of my series on now-defunct game developer Cing known for making Hotel Dusk and Trace Memory. If you want to get caught up, make sure you read part 1 and part 2!
I don't own Cing's 4th, 5th and 6th games so I can only give so much information on them. I passively gave my drive-by impressions on their 5th game, Another Code: R in part one of this series, so I'm skipping that one. I've never played it, so I can't give it a proper review. I'll lay into what information and insight I can provide....
Monster Rancher DS (2005, Cing/Tecmo Nintendo DS)
Cing's 4th game, is their first of two collaborations with a pre-merger Tecmo and their first game to not be a part of the adventure game genre. It doesn't have their personal touch to it, at least from what I see. This was a work-for-hire project. Everyone's gotta keep the lights on, and I won't rag on them for it.
I'm not a big Monster Rancher fan -- I don't own any of them-- but I'm told that this one was a simplistic, back-to-basics approach for the series the majorly back peddled from advancements the Monster Rancher games. I do not own Monster Rancher DS, but I have played it for about an hour and thought it was fine. The reviews were pretty mediocre, though.
Little King's Story (2009 Cing/Town Factory/Rising Star Games/Xseed Games/Marvelous Entertainment Wii)
I have even less to say about the 6th game Cing worked on. Little King's Story is a simulation/strategy game of some notoriety, so much like Monster Rancher DS, it's different from their house style. But the extent of their involvement is muddled. Many hands worked on Little King's Story. Cing was one of two game development companies for the original Wii release (along with Town Factory). I don't believe any of Cing's lead game designers directed the project from a creative standpoint. So the extent of their involvement is... hazy. Later releases have different developers and publishers listed in the game's credits further complicating who did what.
Beyond all that, the sound was subcontracted to a few different parties. The development of Little King's Story was a massive collaboration. That's all I can really say. Never played it.
Let's move on to a game of theirs that I DID play... it's not very good.
Again (2009, Cing/Tecmo Nintendo DS)
Cing's 8th game -- Again (marketed as "Again: Interactive Crime Novel" and originally released in Japan as "Again: FBI Chōshinri Sōsakan") -- was a late, late, LATE 2009 release. It was their second and final collaboration with Tecmo and sadly, their last game to be released in North America. Now that we're going back to making adventure games for the DS, maybe we're heading towards the right direction? No, not really. I would have liked another Hotel Dusk, but what we get is more like a Glass Rose. That’s not a compliment, I’m trying to say they regressed.
Again is about an FBI agent, Jonathan Weaver -- nicknamed "J" -- who investigates the crimes of the serial killer Providence. "Providence", called so because he leaves Eye of Providence cutouts from at the crime scenes of his victims as a calling card. 19 years ago, he was active, then he vanished and coincidentally enough, J is the sole survivor of this killing spree. Now, in the present, crimes that match his M.O. have started up “again” and J has to solve the case. Thankfully, J has psychic powers ("Past Vision/Vision Flash") which he can use to solve puzzles!!!! J begins his parapsychological investigation at Hotel Miranda.
Before we get into the story or the game, the first observation that teenage-me made about Again is that the art isn't appealing. Certainly not the way Cing games had been in the recent past. Here, all the characters look like photos of real people were scanned in a copy machine and color corrected. I'm pretty sure that's exactly what happened. It looks more uncanny than artistic. Again's font looks an awful lot like Hotel Dusk and you play the game in the book stance like in Hotel Dusk. Room 215 was the suite at the center of Hotel Dusk's mystery and Again starts off J's investigation in room 315. Everyone has their style, but Cing appears to be retreading themselves here. All it does is remind me that I could be playing Hotel Dusk instead!
Again's story, characters and script don't feel as polished as Trace Memory's or Hotel Dusk nor do the game environments feel crafted. Part of what made Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk work for me was how well the dialogue was written. It struck that difficult balance of being natural but not sounding simplistic. You can't help but wonder if this game being published by Tecmo hurt the overall quality. And I don't mean to harp on Tecmo! They made some excellent action games in their time (Ninja Gaiden and Tecmo Bowl) but I didn't see writing as one of their strong suits. The most dialogue based Tecmo gamse that I can think of up to that point are Monster Rancher and Tecmo's Deception, the later of which featured a not-so-hot localization. I don't understand why Again had to be made for Tecmo. Was there a contractual obligation? Was no one else willing to publish it?
Pondering the situation, the absence of Nintendo's hand is noted. Nintendo was HEAVILY involved in re-shaping the scripts for Trace Memory and Hotel Dusk in order to make them click. The dialogue in Again is simply.... simple to the point of being simplistic. J’s interactions with his partner are totally pedestrian and their exchanges occasional border on caveman levels of verbosity. I'm talking like, Home-Improvement- Grunting-Noises level of vocabulary and articulation.
The characters aren't sharp. They have no personality. In contrast with Ashley or Kyle, J is a cardboard cutout lead. He's the most boring lead character they've had since that reporter guy from Glass Rose. All you have driving you through the game is the mystery which is on the level of CBS crime show storytelling.
So, the main gimmick of Again is to use J's Past Vision/Vision Flash to compare a crime scene in the present to one from the past. J uses his SUPERNATURAL POWERS to SOLVE CRIME and his cohorts don't react with amazement, or wonder or horror to any of this! There's no acceptance or anything. I don't think they have a reaction! It's simply "that thing that he does". I could excuse this in an action game where the story doesn't matter a whole hell of a lot, but in a story/character based game that is supposed to be an interactive book.
The quote unquote gameplay essentially boils to being those Find-What's-Wrong-With-This-Picture puzzles from Highlights Magazine. In the 19 years that are supposed to take place between the Past and Present images of the crime scene... very little changes! You pick out one or two things that are wrong and then you move on with the plot. It's so under-thought! And it's a massive pity because we know by now that Cing is better than this!
I don't want to give too much away, but I will tell you right here that the ending of is one of the most laughable things I've ever seen in my life.
Again sold horribly and was panned all around. You'll get no protests from me. I can't recommend Again unless you have a compulsion to play every single Cing game. It's not very good. In the time you spend playing it start to finish, you could do 2 runs of Trace Memory or Hotel Dusk instead. The title is like the set-up to a bad joke. "I never want to play that game... again." "I never want to think of that game ever...again."
Stay tuned for Part 4 wherein I talk about Cing's final game: Last Window: The Secret of Cape West, Chase (a spiritual successor to their work) and my final thoughts on the company.