I’ve been gaming for a long time. This is obvious to anyone who has perused the rest of my site (the Gaming Diary and Museum both give clues to this). I’ve played a lot of games. Hundreds. Thousands, in fact. It would be naïve to assume that, having played so many games, gaming ideas are only ever used once, and so each game is an entirely unique experience.
This is, of course, not true.
Some things come up all the time in games. Obviously, most games have a scoring system. Most have a number of lives (which, traditionally, seems to be three, for no well-explained reason). Many have a system of levels, each following on from the last. These, however, are generally what makes a game a game. I don’t mind those sorts of things.
Clearly, many games are sequels to other games. Of course these titles will share ideas. And, there are many games about the same subject, such as football simulations or World War II first person shooters. Again, I don’t take issue with these.
Furthermore, it seems that many games like to include the same sorts of levels as other games. For example, most platformers have a “grassy level”, an “ice level”, a “sand level”, a “lava level”, and so on. In fact, this set of themes also often applies to arcade driving games too. Once again, for the most part, I don’t have a problem with this.
There is a set of game features, level mechanics, or map constructions which really should be taken out and shot. They all almost never work. They’re rubbish, dull, lazy and (often) completely out of place. They are, of course, Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Clichés.
Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Cliché #1
Top of the list is what I once termed the SuckySuck™ bit. It’s very simple to explain: take all of the bosses you’ve beaten in the game already, and make you fight them all again at the end of the game. One after another.
OK, so I can understand that the end battle in a game is supposed to be the hardest. I mean, you’d be disappointed if you got to the last room in the castle, only to find an old man who takes one sword swipe to kill and you win, wouldn’t you? (You know, like the end boss in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Almost). But why not make some really fantastic new boss to defeat instead?
It just stinks of laziness. Games that this happens in include Astro Boy (GBA), Viewtiful Joe 1 and 2 (GC/PS2), Sonic Advance 2 (GBA), Feel The Magic XX/XY (DS) and Metroid Zero Mission (GBA.
Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Cliché #2
Remember Sokoban? Perhaps you know it in one of it’s other guises, as it’s one of those games (like Tetris) that games programmers seem to cut their teeth writing so there are millions of clones out there. It’s a puzzle game, where you have a sort of maze, and in it are crate and places to put crates. You push (or sometimes, pull) the crates into the spaces where the crates go. Things are made harder by the fact walls and other crates get in your way. It’s a very nice game and I like it quite a lot.
What I do not like, though, is when games companies decide to shoe-horn Sokoban into games that were working quite happily without them.
Why put a puzzle game into (say) a platform game? For example, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon for the GBA is a platformer. You whip things, you find power-ups that let you access more areas of the map, and you defeat big bosses. That is what Castlevania games of recent years are all about. So why then, did Konami decide to give you a power-up that lets you move crates? What the hell kind of power-up is that? And lo! Crate puzzles!
Konami also broke another game with this Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Cliché. Lost in Blue, a sort of sequel/re-imagining of an old Game Boy game called Stranded Kids puts you (a boy) and a girl on a seemingly deserted island. You explore, forage for food, make tools, fire and weapons. You hunt, cook and search for a way off the island. For much of the game, this is what you do. It’s like Advanced Ray Mears Simulator or something. Lovely. Pretty original, and certainly difficult. Until one day, when you find a cave. In the cave, is some sort of ruined temple, which you must make your way through. Unfortunately, each room has a locked door leading to the next. So how do you unlock the doors? By solving crate puzzles! Hurrah!
Perhaps worse than either of these games is the case of Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon (assorted consoles). Broken Sword 1 and 2 were ‘traditional’ point-and-click adventure games, like Monkey Island or Kings Quest. Although all in 3D, and different in that you have direct control over your character (rather than just pointing where you want them to go), the third game in the series was pretty much in the same vein. With just one major problem. Can you guess what?
For some reason, the entire game was peppered with totally pointless crate puzzles. “Oh look! A high wall! How can I possibly get over there… Wait! Some crates!”. “Hmm, I need something to weigh this button down. What’s that over there? Some crates!”. And so on.
Even Tomb Raider: Legend, praised for breaking the rubbish grid-based levels and tank controls still has crate puzzles – something which turned me away from the series long ago. At least Crystal Dynamics had the guts to turn them into giant stone heads and stuff.
Irritating and Unnecessary Gaming Cliché #3
You spent ages trying to defeat a boss. You’d finally figured out his patterns, when you can strike, when you need to jump and dodge. Perhaps you’ve fluked a few hits in. Whatever: you’ve been struggling all day to kill him, and finally, you get one last attack in and his energy bar drops to zero. He collapses. Or explodes. Or gets sucked into some abyss. Hurrah!
And then, somehow, he morphs onto a giant tank and kills you.
If a boss has an energy bar, then surely the fact that it has been depleated means that he is, in fact, dead? Excuses of “He’s Dracula! You can’t really kill him!”, or “But he was just a puppet of Dark Evil X from Outer Space, and now you must defeat the real boss!” don’t wash, I’m afraid. I killed him, he’s dead. The End.
A better way would be to have the next boss appear, shout “Mhuhuhuhuhahahah!” and fly away to the next level or something. To simply rise again for the sole purpose of prolonging the fight is, once again, laziness on the part of games companies.
The other thing they could do, is have him morph before the energy bar is empty. Even if that means it gets refilled again upon the change. It’s more acceptable that way – he recovered from injury, not came back from the dead.
Games which use this annoyance include Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga (GBA) some of the games in the Phantasy Star series, and most of the Sonic the Hedgehog games.