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ShadeOfLight avatar 3:33 PM on 01.26.2011  (server time)
The Sanctuary Fortress effect: How one part can lift a game

Some games are instantly amazing, from the very first moment you enter their respective worlds. Others...may need a little help. And actually, you can give it that bit of help yourself. There's only one thing you need to do: find your Sanctuary Fortress.
That may sound a bit cryptic, so join me now, as I explain the Sanctuary Fortress effect and tell you how it can improve your perception of a game.

To explain this more effectively, let us first look at my own experiences. To do that, we fire up the DeLorean and travel back to Fall 2009, when Metroid Prime Trilogy was released.

I bought this (bloody awesome) collection because I loved both Prime 1 and 3. The control scheme in the latter was amazing and the original would surely benefit from it. I had never played Metroid Prime 2: Echoes before, which made the deal even sweeter. I had passed up on Echoes a few years prior, because reviews had informed me that it was 'more of the same', but somehow not quite as good as the first.

When I started playing it myself...I was unimpressed. I had some problems with the game, but the most important was that the areas I could explore were just not that interesting. In the original Prime, the first area you explored was called the Chozo Ruins. After that, you also went to the Magmoor Caverns filled with lava and to the iceworld, Phendrana Drifts. All them sound pretty interesting, and they certainly were. In Corruption, you went to the planet Elysia, which housed Sky Town, an entire city floating in the air. Are you feeling it? I was.

And then I played Echoes, and I could go and explore...the Agon Wastes.
...really? The wastes? How is that in any way something I would like to see? There's nothing there to even explore, as implied by the freaking title. Okay then, better luck next time. So next up was, Torvus Bog. Again, not really that impressive, it was sort of swamp...ish. I didn't even know what a 'bog' was, but according to "wet, spongy ground with soil composed mainly of decayed vegetable matter". Not that spectacular, right? Nope, not really. So again, there really was nothing interesting or special to explore here.
By then, I was almost ready to give up on the game. I figured I would beat it once and just leave it be afterwards.

And that's when this happened:

That, my friends, is the Sanctuary Fortress. It was the most visually interesting area in the game, the music was good, and had some nice challenging enemies. Not only did it instantly become my favorite part of Echoes, it became one of my favorite parts in the entire Trilogy, rivaling Phendrana and Sky Town.
I'll go one step further, I liked it enough that it pretty much saved the game by itself. No longer is Echoes simply 'the crappy one', it can now stand safely between the other two. I instantly became much more positive of this game, and I even noticed that throughout the rest of it. I started appreciating the details of the other areas much more, now that I knew how cool the details in the Fortress were. I noticed the hidden beauties of the Bog and even the Wastes seemed less...waste-y.

And that is what I would like to dub 'the Sanctuary Fortress effect'. It's when one part (any part) of the game is so good, that it lifts all the rest of the game to new heights. Heights it wouldn't have been able to reach otherwise. It doesn't mean that you considered the game bad before that part, though. It could be that a really good game gets even better because of specific parts.
Have you ever replayed a specific game simply because "then I'll get to experience [part X] again"?
That's the Sanctuary Fortress effect.

I'll give you another example. Psychonauts.

Now, Psychonauts is an interesting case. Because all of the levels are so completely different, there really is something for everyone. I think that every level is the Fortress for at least some people out there. However, the Milkman chapter (above) is often mentioned, and that's a good choice of you ask me. The Escher-esque design of the level, the entire conspiracy theory, and off course, the hilarious sewage workers/grieving widows/gardeners who are in no way government agents.

Okay, final one. Mirror's Edge.

Need I say more?
Not only was that part absolutely awesome in itself (it's even better when you actually experience it for yourself, by the way), it made me appreciate the rest of the game and its core concept much more. Every single jump from that point onwards seemed even better than they had before. A (even more) positive stance is very powerful.

This is really what I'm trying to convey, that many games have one or two parts that are simply amazing and lift the entire game to new heights. It doesn't even have to be a level, actually. It could also be a graphical style, a specific character, an interesting gameplay element, or maybe the music is simply so good that it lifts the entire game.

So when you're playing a game that is simply not that good or is somewhat disappointing, here's a tip. Have an open mind, take everything in by itself in separate parts and try to find the truly outstanding one, the part that is able to improve the entire game. In fact, even when the game is great already, find that part and be prepared to enjoy it even more. When you have nothing to do during the weekend or vacation, scan your mind for something like that and replay the game that it belongs to. Even (especially) if it's just to experience that specific part again.

In short, find the Sanctuary Fortress whenever you can.

(and finally, tell me of your own experiences with the Sanctuary Fortress effect in the comments!)

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