Beyond Good and Evil – “Beyond Genres and Conventions”

Videogames are a means in constant evolution; with every passing year, new conventions emerge, design philosophies shift, and tiresome old mechanics are refreshed with new ideas and conceptualizations. Sometimes, time flows by with such ease that we forget that things are in constant rearrangement, and how videogame paradigms are always being reshaped. Michel Ancel (creator of “Rayman”) seems to be one of those designers that is acutely aware of the ongoing changes in videogame history and “Beyond Good and Evil” is a proof of that. At glance, it seems like a typical Mario-esque 3D platform experience, with a cast of endearing and expressive characters, most of them with the expected animalistic characterization that is so common in the genre. It also proposes a fable-like, surrealistic world with sci-fi traits, bringing it closer to a “Jak and Dexter” or “Ratchet and Clank” aesthetic, filled with wide, open environments, adorned with gorgeous lighting and neon color palettes in tones of green and purple. But if all this builds up to a consistent and nostalgic platforming mood, the game avoids the simplistic characterization by throwing a lot of seemingly out-of-place elements. From the start, there’s the narrative, a tale of political and sociological concerns, about war and media manipulation, encapsulated with pure B-movie sci-fi madness codes, as pod monsters, evil empires and menacing, disgusting looking aliens. Though the plot has nothing to do with the presumptuous title (a reference to one of Nietzche’s darkest essays on the relativity of morale and philosophic reasoning), it oozes style and substance, with likable, humorous characters that actually make you laugh and a series of interesting twists. The game-world also deviates from what you’ve come to expect from the genre, as it is open enough to be mistaken with a small sand-box game. Also, a lot of game activities and mini-games are spread out throughout the scenarios, copying effectively the model laid out by GTA (albeit in a smaller scale). The gameplay itself, also makes some odd turns into the genre. Jumping for instance, is very rare; stealth portions on the other hand, are very common. Environmental puzzles abound, most of them easy enough to be enjoyable, but still warranting some thought. Combat is nice, simple and as straightforward as platformers go, though made all the more frenetic thanks to the accompanying score, a merger of frantic electronic beats and classical orchestrations, fit enough for any action-packed movie.

By merging a lot of different twists proposed by modern currents of videogames, Michel Ancel ends up creating an interesting mix of of flavors, a gaming buffet if you will. Neither of “Beyond Good and Evil’s” elements are particularly fleshed out or especially deep, but they’re all perfectly implemented and work in unison to create a coherent, pleasant gaming pastiche. At times it can seem a bit over simplistic, and it hurts the pace of the game that at times, it forces you to try every little game-mechanic through a series of manichaeist design choices (one thing is to have mini-games, the other is to force you into playing them). Apart from those minor flaws, I still can’t quite puzzle why the game didn’t do well in sales. It’s not as if it’s hugely pretentious or mature (like “Killer 7”), or infantile looking for the adolescent demographic (as “Ôkami”). Maybe people thought it was a mere kids game, but it’s much more than that. “Beyond Good and Evil” is like a Pixar animation: a charming story for all the family, with a cast of gorgeous characters, framed in a lovable aesthetic, and above all, an unwavering fun-ride all the way till the end. What more can one ask?

Overall: 3/5

  1. Nice text, again congratulations!

    Of all the references you stated, you somehow forgot to mention The Legend of Zelda (namely Wind Waker) as the most consistent and exact models for Beyond Good & Evil’s gameplay: the amplitude of the spaces, the moderate exploration, real-time action combat, as well as the suppression of real platforming elements on account of keeping the adventure game experience fluid and intact – not to mention many other more resources that inspired Ancel’s game.

    Metal Gear, for one, has become the reference among espionage games: Kojima’s sneaking and peeking mechanics sure made its way into the game as well. Even Metal Gear Solid 2 made very good use of photography at a certain stage, in a very similar snapping system that recognized the contents of photos – though that innovation, in itself, doesn’t quite belong to Kojima’s game.

    – MEMO TO MYSELF: remember to make a post on the history of the games where taking pictures is (used as) a decisive constituent of their gameplay. –

    Of course, there are also abounding references to other French game designs such as Little Big Adventure, where human, animal, human-animal, alien and bionic characters interact in a technologically advanced environment. It’s one of the good sides of BG&E, the fact that it preserves the scent of (good) French videogaming.

    The rest you pretty much covered in your text, and very prettily I must say!!!

    • ruicraveirinha
    • September 26th, 2008

    Thanks for the references. I didn’t get Zelda, but hey, haven’t played one in a couple of years. The suppression of platforming actually reminded me of “Primal”, which shared the same jump system – which made you automatically jump just by approaching a chasm or wall, without the need for a press of a button. Also, in terms of the buddy puzzle mechanic, “Primal” seems to have made some way into BG&E (even if there are dozens of games prior with that same logic).
    As to “Metal Gear”, sure, no stealth mechanic passes without referencing Kojima’s work,as it has become a standard in the industry. Though I feel that Ancel distances himself from MGS by providing a very simple mechanic and avoiding Kojima’s awkward POV angles.
    LBA is a game I never got to play, sadly.

    Anyways, thanks for covering all the stuff I didn’t know. That’s why I like your input, you always have something to say about the influences that stand behind every game. You are the great Videogame guru.
    Big hug!

  2. A small note: Primal being another game that implemented that automatic jump solution used in the 3D episodes of The Legend of Zelda. Cooperation between characters is also a very interesting subject but too complex to discuss here: so many games including that feature nowadays! And so many good ones…!

    Again great work! Hugz!

  3. good and discarded

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