Not enough hardcore games on the Wii? Maybe, unless you consider shmups to be hardcore! Not only is the Virtual Console packed to the gills with them, but here comes Blast Works. A traditional shmup with an interesting hook: enemy ships, once killed, can attach to you, creating a giant ridiculous Katamari starship of death. Add to that a complete game editor, allowing you to design your own levels, enemies, ships and firing patterns - plus the ability to download other players' creations - and you've got uber hardcore. Original retail was $40; I found it for $20.
Ragdoll physics demos have been popular for some time, but none have the polish or gameplay quite like Pain. Appearing on PlayStation Network for $10 - and marked down to $5 during a special sale event - Pain lets you launch hapless abuse-addicts into a thriving downtown area. By controlling the character mid-flight, grabbing objects and lurching around on the ground after landing, the goal is to chain combos and run up a huge high score.
CONCEPT: Not much new for Blast Works, excepting an honorable attempt to combine everything into one package. Shoot-em-ups are a relatively stable breed; aside from theming and level layouts, you probably know what to expect. The sticky enemies of Blast Works make for an interesting tweak on the formula... but the included levels really offer nothing new or intriguing or even pretty-to-look-at. 5 points.
In contrast, Pain is almost nothing but theming. From the faux-metal theme song to the Spencers Gifts-level sexy characters, it's a ton of paint covering a very simple concept: chuck people off a catapult. Pain is a throwback, because although there are plenty of Achievement-style mini-goals, you're really doing nothing but tallying up a high score. It's repetitive like an old arcade game. 6 points.
GAMEPLAY: Although the Katamari aspect is amusing, it's still just a shmup. And if you're not onboard with that, Blast Works will die on the vine. The one big feature - the level editor - is a complete mess. It's impossible to use and the results are unrewarding. The game's subtitle is "Build, Trade, Destroy," which implies that user-created content is a major slice of the gameplay... but unfortunately there's nothing smooth or clean about how this all works. Trading designs with other players requires registration to a very skeevy, non-professional-looking website. I know the Wii has online issues, but surely something like this could be handled at the head end, not on some backalley URL. 3 points.
Most people will tell you that Pain is worth a couple plays and that's it. I'll say that once you get into it, it's quite a bit of fun. There are several remixed layouts of the main arena, and figuring out how to unlock them all is a challenge. A small pile of extra modes (and multiplayer games) help fill out the title, but only about half of the bonus games are worth playing... and none are as cathartic as the main mode.
Yes, Pain is shallow. But at least it's something relatively new and shallow, unlike poor Blast Works. 6 points. Since the expansion pack was not on sale I'm leaving it outside the scope of this competition. But as an aside, the play value of Pain is increased quite a bit by the Amusement Park add-on.
VALUE: Blast Works is overpriced at $20. I know it somehow ranks on the short list of everybody's overlooked awesome third-party Wii games, but it's downright awful. There's a reason some of these are overlooked. 4 points.
$5 for Pain is just about right. It feels like a fair price for the repetitive silliness that Pain offers. 7 points.
TIMELINESS: As I said, there is very little unique to Blast Works, and what the title does do looks and runs like crap anyway. Even though there's the potential for infinite user-created content, it all sucks. 3 points.
Pain has already received an expansion ($), PS3 Trophies (free), and a stupid assortment of extra player characters as $1 add-ons. So even though most gamers want to pigeonhole Pain as a tech demo, it has not been abandoned as such. 5 points, because the pricing scheme on the DLC is far too punishing.
FINAL: Blast Works scores 15, 24 for Pain. Pain advances!
The first round of the Cheapo Game Shootout is over! Now the seven winners head into round two, where we will determine the ultimate Cheapo Game for 2007-2008!