I can’t be the only one who feels a twinge of guilt every time they open Steam. Playing a game on my laptop means having to search through a sea of grey for a handful of bright spots. I realize that’s true of a lot of things in life, but I don’t need to be reminded of the banality of my existence whenever I want to sink a few hours into Binding of Isaac.
I feel a perpetual sense of buyer’s remorse, the equivalent of waking up the night after a drunken Amazon shopping binge and having to ask myself, “When the hell did I buy Lugaru HD?” Because after years of Steam Sales and Weekend Specials and Crazy Uncle Gabe’s Low, Low Prices, I have amassed a library of videogames that I will never, ever play.
Plenty has already been said about how Steam deviously encourages a compulsion to collect games, which results in a backlog that does nothing but gather dust in the nebulous ether of digital distribution. But while some people may look to their bloated library with pride, I can’t suppress that aforementioned guilt whenever I have to scroll past the likes of Company of Heroes, Dragon Age: Origins, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. People poured their blood and sweat into those games. Untold hours of entertainment lay within those games. I spent money on those games!
So to honor the titles I’ll never touch, I’ve decided to spotlight ten indefinitely uninstalled games in my Steam library. Perhaps in the hopes that acknowledging their existence will relieve me of their haunting presence, or that the infinitely knowledgeable Destructoid commentariat will tell me what I’m missing out on and convince me to give one of these suckers a whirl. Whatever the reason, here’s my therapeutic look at the top ten games in my Steam library that will never feel my sweet embrace.
10. Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3
Tim Curry and tactically deployed armored bears are the peanut butter and chocolate of my fantasies. Combine that with fond memories of my basement-dwelling childhood spent devising military masterstrokes in the original Command and Conquer – I attacked bases from two sides! – and the third Red Alert entry in the classically campy RTS series becomes an irresistible siren song.
But I forgot one crucial fact: I am a Bay of Pigs disaster when it comes to real time strategy games. My chief plan of attack consists of spending hours churning out the equivalent of Russia’s populace in ground units and then sending my forces to overwhelm the opposition by dying meaningless deaths. As a result, countless ore mines go undepleted and I have to sate my Tim Curry lust with YouTube clips of Clue.
The dark period of videogame history during which studios tried to turn first person parkour into a legitimate mechanic will be regarded with the same bemused scorn currently reserved for the NHL’s glowing puck and Hollywood’s miserable attempt to turn Colin Farrell into an action star. Misguided street acrobat gimmicks aside, Brink is at least buoyed by a lively junkyard metropolis and an absurd amount of customization for characters with 30-second life spans.
But all of that is moot, because after dropping a measly few bucks on Brink I discovered the game lacks controller support. “But FPS’s are meant to be played with a mouse and keyboard!” rises the indignant cry of the noble PC gamer. And yes, they probably are, but when you’ve spent your entire life nursing from the teat of console shooters, trying to switch control schemes is like trying to learn how to drive stick. Telepathically. In a car full of angry bees.
It’s just a shame that Rage had to be so late to the post-apocalyptic party. Releasing after Fallout 3 and Borderlands means I have very little space in my heart for any more arid ruins of civilization. And you’re telling me that the most innovative contribution to first-person shooters that the creators of the genre can muster is a godforsaken boomerang? When they give this generation its Mecha Hitler, we’ll see if I’m willing to play through the hundredth game that thinks the world ends not with a bang, but with dune buggies.
I have no idea what Rochard is. A puzzle platformer? A run and gun in the Metal Slug vein? A silent foreign film about an impoverished Italian winemaker who must struggle to overcome the loss of his hands? My impression of the game is based entirely on its mystifyingly elegant title and its promotional artwork, which I always think is for Dustforce because of the protagonist’s unmistakable custodian vibe.
Incidentally, Dustforce is the only reason I own Rochard, as the two were lumped together in the underwhelming Humble Indie Bundle 6. That’s the indie grab bag that gave my library such other never-installed classics as Vessel, Space Pirates and Zombies, and Shatter. While those titles may one day engender enough interest for a playthrough, Rochard is the unquestionable complimentary flavor injector of the group, a curiosity to be marveled over but immediately buried in a drawer and forgotten about forever.
6. Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
My interest in team-based shooters is one of pure vanity. “Look at those Halo and Call of Duty troglodytes with their kindergartener free-for-all antics,” I scoff over my cup of chamomile tea and dog-eared copy of Zarathustra. “Thanks, but I prefer a thinking man’s FPS.”
Except in practice, the very notion of being relied upon to do anything more than spastically spray bullets sends me into a crippling panic. Even if Lead and Gold appeals to my natural love of anything Western and features a class that deals heavily in bear traps, it isn’t enough to get me over the fear that I might have to interact with people in a capacity more cooperative than calling them a homophobic slur.
A 2D beat ‘em up with a Saturday-morning-cartoon-by-way-of-Robert-Rodriguez aesthetic is the kind of stylized reimagining of a classic genre that gets my indie-loving heart throbbing. Yet as happy as I’d be to play a game whose very name conjures the delightful image of a shiv being buried in the kidney of an unsuspecting snitch, I’m hesitant to give Shank a try.
Brawlers have a reputation for getting boring after you’ve taken a lead pipe to the head of your 50th generic baddie, which usually happens around the fifteen-minute mark. As awesome as choking an oversized butcher with his own meat hook sounds, I fear Shank may match a masterpiece like Castle Crashers in terms of sheer personality, but not in depth. I’d rather not deal with all that blood-spattered disappointment.
4. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. gets a pass from my Armageddon exhaustion because it released right before the recent deluge of end-of-the-world games. It also gets points for going with a The Road-style collapse of humanity, which I’ve always found much more believable than any kind of Mad Max badlands imitation. Piece of advice: if you’re bracing for doomsday invest in windbreakers, not dog skull codpieces.
What I’m less eager about is the equally realistic approach to gameplay. Guns that jam, a hunger system, the inability to withstand more than a few bullets? Hey, I get it. Being shot would be a total bummer. I don’t need a videogame that pits players against whatever the hell this meaty ray of sunshine is to try and teach me real world lessons. I’m all up for a challenge, but the reason we don’t have to constantly feed the characters we play is the same reason they never show people going to the bathroom in movies.
Amnesia showed major developers that they had learned all the wrong lessons from Resident Evil 4. The plucky Lovecraftian indie reminded us all that survivor horror games aren't about jump scares or quick time events, but rather the unshakable dread that a creature of unfathomable terror is always seconds away from wearing your skin as a lovely Sunday.
Though while I’ll admit that all those reaction videos of people emotionally breaking down more than I did at the end of Silver Linings Playbook sell me on Amnesia’s horror chops, I’ve always thought the game looked like a glorified simulator of that scene in every slasher flick where our teenage hero believes they’ll escape harm by knocking a bunch of furniture over in the path of 200 lbs of lumbering chainsaw-wielding hillbilly cannibal. That, and I kind of spoiled myself by looking up a screenshot of the game’s chief monster. Things are a lot less scary when you realize you spend the entire time being stalked by Oogie Boogie.
2. Greed Corp
I wish I was the kind of person who could play Settlers of Catan without quitting halfway through having the rules explained to me. Unfortunately, any board game that doesn’t strictly adhere to dice-based tile movement or involve an overly complicated Rube Goldberg contraption designed to catch mice is out of my league. Greed Corp may have caught my interest by offering a challenging strategy game doubling as a critique on unchecked capitalism, but I’ll never make it past the game’s tutorial.
Besides, I’ve always found something depressing about playing titles specifically designed for multiplayer by myself. And when the alternative is actually being friends with the kind of person who knows how to play Greed Corp, I’m not sure I want that either.
1. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
There was a very dark period of my life where I played Lemonade Tycoon every day for two weeks straight. I once stayed up until 5AM during a marathon session of Game Dev Story. Do you remember RollerCoaster Tycoon? Because I remember. I remember watching loan collectors circle like buzzards as I tried to keep Dr. Moosington’s Funporium Park afloat by courting the fickle needs of a never-ending parade of greedy little monsters.
The business simulator is my heroin, a genre that preys upon my self-destructive compulsion toward turning arbitrary numbers into better numbers. For this reason, a discounted Recettear was at once impossible to pass up and impossible to play. Cutesy item shop economics and a heaping helping of RPG elements are the ingredients for a sim speedball, and the moment I start this game is the moment I disappear down the rabbit hole forever.
Okay you beautiful, opinionated angels: tell me which of the games currently languishing in Steam purgatory deserves a better shake. Or perhaps you have your own shameful list of uninstalled titles you’ll never play? Share ‘em in the comments, and let’s all try to calculate how much money could have been better spent on charity.
Being a Nintendo fan is a unique brand of insanity. As an owner of a Nintendo system through every generation of consoles, I’m someone who has been playing the same video games over and over again for the last 24 years. I've essentially been buying updated versions of Pokémon Red ever since I was 10, and I don’t know if it’s just some form of arrested development that makes me believe they’ve changed the Legend of Zelda formula in a meaningful enough way to justify shelling out money for Skyward Sword. But there’s no denying there’s some sort of mental deficiency at play whenever I’m excited to see they’ve given Mario a new flying rodent costume.
Though I don’t think anything exemplifies my issues as a Nintendo fan quite like my anticipation for the upcoming Wii U. As a (debatably) fully functioning adult with a (relatively) sound, rational mind, I should be regarding Nintendo’s new console about as seriously as people regard Carly Rae Jepsen as a musician. I mean, you all saw the same E3 I did, right? A useless touch screen add on that makes the Kinect look like the Monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey? The only noteworthy launch title an overdue sequel to an eight-year-old game about micromanaging sentient plants? A social media system that is some combination of Twitter and the scrawled penises and racial epithets usually found in bathroom stalls? The Wii U isn’t a next-gen console, it’s Nintendo recreating the money burning scene from The Dark Knight.
And yet, despite everything indicating a colossal waste of a future paycheck, I know beyond a doubt I’ll have one sitting in my apartment one day.
I may not be elbowing the throat of some spoiled kid’s grandma to nab a box on release day, but I know somewhere down the line it’ll be sitting there in a Gamestop window, refurbished and significantly slashed in price. And like an alcoholic returning to his sweet boozey mistress, I won’t be able to help myself. I will buy a Wii U, its corresponding iteration of Smash Bros., and whatever steering wheel and inevitable Touch Screen Plus peripherals are needed to make the console semi-functional. Because if there’s one thing every Nintendo system since the Gamecube has taught me, it’s that I will happily fork over cash to wade through the company’s endlessly yawning shit swamp in search of the few gems they produce.
Take the DS, for instance. Touch screens have now become the norm in handheld gaming, but at the time Nintendo was introducing the usurper to the Gameboy line it seemed like they were touting technology that had been used by ATMs for years as revolutionary.The use of dual screens and touch controls really only appealed to Shigeru Miyamoto’s whimsical sense of childlike wonder, while everybody else just wanted games that didn’t try to awkwardly shoehorn them in. And confidence wasn’t exactly instilled by the DS’s starting lineup, which boasted repurposed Nintendo 64 games and a dog simulator that proved a hypo-allergenic alternative for people who could never know the love of a real pet.
Fortunately, as the DS winds its eight-year life to a close, we can now say with certainty that Nintendo’s grand experiment... wasn’t a totally unmitigated crash-and-burn failure? Look, the DS may very well go down as the last great handheld system, but a near decade later and poorly implemented touch controls are still screwing up the likes of Kid Icarus. And out of its bottomless wealth of cheap movie tie-ins and Bratz dress-up games, you’d be hard pressed to find a top 25 of titles that used the DS’s features to their full potential. Only a handful managed to take advantage of the touch screen to create something uniquely satisfying, while the vast majority used it for seemingly no other reason than to serve as evidence in a future class action lawsuit for inducing early onset arthritis. I look forward to my day in court, Geometry Wars: Galaxies.
Those titles that did figure out how to build a game around the DS, however, are unquestionable classics. See, it’s not entirely a sense of self-loathing and resignation that always brings me back to Nintendo. For all they’ve gotten wrong these past few years, the things they get right are the sort of brilliant games that bring you back to the days you spent inseparable from the end of an NES controller. When you weren’t such a jaded, cynical twentysomething, and you didn’t write angry blog posts about how the Zapper was an overblown and ultimately useless piece of hardware.
I’m talking about The World Ends With You, one of the few modern day JRPGs I managed to beat, because the fast paced swipe-and-tap battle system kept me from quitting out of sheer boredom. Elite Beat Agents and its Japense precursor Ouendan, which are still my all time favorite rhythm games and managed to save me a bundle on fake plastic instruments. And, of course, Kirby Canvas Curse, with which I spent more time playing with rainbows than an adult heterosexual male probably should.
And then there were those games that, while mostly shunting the touch controls off to the side, proved Nintendo’s other great strength. That is, as I said, convincing people to buy the same games they’ve played hundreds of times. I honestly can’t tell you what New Super Mario Bros. does differently than Super Mario Bros. 3 did in 1988, but that almost isn’t even the point. Nintendo has distilled the most standard genres – platforming, adventure, roleplaying – into their purest forms. Playing Spirit Tracks or Phantom Hourglass isn’t so much about experiencing something new as it is about getting a fix. The tried and true formula of dungeon crawling, light puzzle solving, and bosses with giant glowing weak points prone to boomerang shots are scientifically proven to hit all the right pleasure sensors. All the developers have to do is slap on a fresh layer of paint and they’ve got a best seller on their hands.
The Wii is an even greater example of this “diamond in the rough” phenomenon because motion control technology is gaming’s greatest monster. In fact, the entire console is an amalgam of short comings and inadequacies, and while I relate to that on a deeply personal level, it does not make for an enjoyable home entertainment system.
While Sony and Microsoft were busying exploring ways to deepen players’ online experiences, Nintendo clung to it archaic Friend Code system that was like the alt newsgroups of online multiplayer. Its library was a veritable breeding ground for low-res cash ins of more popular games that replaced everything fun with segments where you got to realistically turn a doorknob. And Reggie Fils-Aime should publicly shamed for any part he played in convincing the industry that the future of video games resided in virtual bowling.
The Wii’s legacy will forever be that of the puppy every family was excited to get for Christmas, only to be dropped back on to the steps of the SPCA two weeks later when they grew bored of it.
But its gimmicky trappings didn’t stop the system from releasing some seriously essential games. Waggle controls may never have transcended in quite the same way that the DS’s touch screen did, but the Mario Galaxy games are still the closest 3D platforming has come to perfection. Niche titles like Little King’s Story and Zack & Wiki provided the kind of cutesy all-ages fun that’s become rare now that developers are chasing graphic engines that most realistically render Lara Croft getting impaled on a rusty pipe. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Punch-Out!! were nostalgia-soaked security blankets.
And, again, it was Kirby that really figured the system out. Epic Yarn provided one of the rare motion controlled games that didn’t make players want to rend their Wiimote asunder. Why the pink blob has become the company’s chief innovator is beyond me, but it probably has something to do with having no established formula from which the slightest deviation would send fan boys into a frothy rage.
But none of that matters. There will be a Legend of Zelda game for this system, and I am going to buy it. There will be a Smash Bros. game, and I will buy that. I don’t know what they have in store for Kirby, but it’s going to be revelatory. And I’ve already got my heart dead set on whatever insanity is going on in Project P-100.
So why am I excited for the Wii U? Shut the hell up, that’s why.
It’s Father’s Day today, which means it’s time to give the paternal figure in your life a call, send him a card, or patch over years of festering resentment for failing to live up to his expectations with a gift card to Lowes. To help celebrate the most important men in our lives, I thought I’d take a look at a few video games that are just as much about making your father proud as they are about saving the world.
Sure, this is essentially the same list that has been compiled by video game websites around Father's Day for years, but did those other lists include Norman from Pokemon Emerald? Probably not, so put off talking to your dad for a few more minutes and enjoy!
Bioshock – Andrew Ryan/Frank Fontaine
Father to: Jack
Fathers/Sleeper Assassin Relationship: Like an art deco My Two Dads, Bioshock’s silent protagonist is torn between two terrible fathers at war with one another. There’s his biological pop Andrew Ryan who, while entitling him to the keys to a pretty swanky collapsing utopia, murdered Jack’s exotic dancer mom in cold blood. Then there’s criminal mastermind Frank Fontaine, who bought Jack as an embryo from said exotic dancer, but only to raise him as an artificially-aged killer trained to obey an innocuously polite trigger phrase.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Disappointed Dads. While Andrew Ryan is able to use his illegitimate son to get brained by a golf club on his own terms – and even manages to impart some fatherly advice on his way out – no healthy parent-child relationship ends with a brainwashed assassination. Nor does it end with a consciously planned one, as Jack also puts down an ADAM-jacked Frank Fontaine in a Feat of Strength that would put even Frank Costanza to shame. But, hey, in a game that’s all about killing Big Daddies, what’s two more to the pile?
Fallout 3 – James
Father to: The Lone Wanderer
Father/Wasteland Messiah Relationship: Now who wouldn’t want Liam Neeson as their dad? In addition to being known to punch wolves in the face and foil Batman, the man once took down the entire Albanian mafia just to rescue his daughter from sex traffickers. James doesn’t initially appear to be a badass in the usual Neeson mold, ditching Vault 101 and his kid just to focus on a science project. But he eventually proves his chops when, in a typical display of Neeson heroics, he locks himself and the colonel of the totalitarian Enclave in a chamber of lethal radiation just to buy his child enough time to escape their clutches.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Either. Since Fallout 3 is all about moral choice, you can validate everything Daddy Neeson sacrificed by successfully activating the water purification system he was working on. Or you can be a huge jerk and use your father’s work to spread a genetically engineered virus and eradicate all life outside the Wasteland’s vaults. Granted, James dies before he can witness your decision, so any resulting guilt or approval is provided solely by the game’s poorly spliced together ending.
StarFox – James McCloud
Father to: Fox McCloud
Father/Fox Relationship: Despite putting as much effort into naming his kid as people put into naming their goldfish, the elder shades-sporting McCloud had a close relationship with his equally ace offspring. The Arwing pilot and founder of the Star Fox Team heavily influenced his son’s career path, and the two would have torn up the Lylat System like some kind of cosmic Sanford and Son if James hadn’t been tragically shot down by the nefarious monkey scientist Andross first.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad? Proud Papa. Though, either James influenced his son a little too much or the Cornerian Army is severely lacking in a half-decent grief counselor. Despite being killed before the events of the first Star Fox game, James has appeared throughout the series as a product of his son’s war-addled psyche. In Star Fox 64, Fox hallucinates his father leading the way out of Andross’s self-destructing base, and in Star Fox Command James shows up to help the team without anybody ever acknowledging that he’s there piloting a military-grade starfighter from beyond the grave. Fox constantly seeking encouragement from his dead dad would be worrisome, but this is a game where the primary antagonist is a giant sentient chimp face, so all bets are off.
Pokémon Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald – Norman
Father to: Player’s character
Father/Trainer Relationship: In a series that’s notorious for absentee fathers, Norman is the rare exception... sort of. While he is the only dad of a Pokémon trainer we ever get to meet, his job as Petalburg City’s Normal-type Gym Leader means he’s away from home more often than not. So he’s as emotionally distant as any other father in the franchise, and as only the fifth Gym Leader the player faces, he’s kind of small potatoes to boot.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Proud Papa. Considering it took Pokémon fifteen years to address the ethicality of forcing animals to fight for our amusement, the game’s limited moral spectrum doesn’t allow Norman to be anything other than overbearingly supportive. But no dad is immune to the sting of getting beat by their kid for the first time, and I can’t imagine the number of late night beers in the garage it takes to get over the fact that your ten year old is better at your profession than you are. I’m just surprised Norman doesn’t threaten disownment if the player dares to use a Fighting-type Pokémon against him.
God of War – Zeus
Father to: Kratos
God/Son Relationship: You know how the story goes. Dad has son. Dad is too busy being Olympian god to raise son. Son is tricked into murdering his wife and child and starts down a long, winding path of vengeance that ends in him claiming the throne as an Olympian god just like his dad. And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon...
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Disappointed Dad. Zeus must have not been a fan of theater, because all he had to do was take a look at any Greek tragedy to know that trying to prevent a prophecy is usually the surefire way to fulfill that prophecy. Zeus kills Kratos to keep his son from offing him like he did his own dad, Cronos, but in doing so inadvertently ensures the complete destruction of Olympus and his own demise. Maybe if he hadn’t been too busy banging broads as a swan to notice the small nation’s worth of gods, titans, and mythical creatures his son had already slaughtered, he would have realized that killing Kratos would only make him angry. Remember to always take an interest in your children’s hobbies.
Mega Man series – Dr. Light
Father to: Mega Man
Scientist/Boy Robot Relationship: Dr. Light is like Geppetto, Dr. Frankenstein, and Santa Claus all rolled up into one. He initially created Mega Man to serve as his robot assistant in the year 20XX, when it apparently became socially acceptable to build servile automatons that look like eight-year-old boys. Dr. Light then used his mechanical “son” to combat his rival Dr. Wily’s evil robot army. Some may question the child-rearing abilities of a dad who sends their kid to single-handedly defeat a legion of homicidal machines, but when most people describe their children as “special,” they don’t usually mean he has a laser cannon for an arm.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Proud Papa. Dr. Light has plenty of reasons to be proud of his precious Blue Bomber, considering he’s been saving the world from total robot annihilation for the past 25 years. And it’s a good thing he has, because the only thing Mega Man has accomplished lately has been getting left out of Marvel vs Capcom 3 and having both his upcoming games cancelled. At least he still has an Archie comic to his name, otherwise Dr. Light might start offering all his equipment upgrades to Roll.
Final Fantasy X – Jecht
Father to: Tidus
Sin Monster/Imaginary Son Relationship: Ahh, Jecht. For a JRPG, there’s something so quintessentially American about Tidus’s washed-up drunk of a father. Like the middle-aged All American who never went pro, Jecht spends the days past his prime taking the frustration over his withered dreams out on his son. He (accurately) nicknames Tidus “crybaby,” and instills him with the kind of barely suppressed inferiority complex that results in a teenager getting his ears pierced and wearing denim overalls in public.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Disappointed Dad. Sure, there’s a last minute stab at resolution after Tidus and his friends defeat Jecht when he transforms into a Sin-infused demigod sporting an Axel Rose bandana, and the two do get to bond over their mutual nonexistence in the game’s closing cutscene. But I don’t think any of the latest studies suggest that years of emotional abuse and constant belittlement at the hands of an alcoholic father can be worked out with a single bro five. Plus, unless you’re one of those psychotic completionists who actually mastered the arcane rules of Blitzball, Tidus never did become a star player like his old man.
Katamari Damacy – King of All Cosmos
Father to: Prince of All Cosmos
King/Prince Relationship: The King of All Cosmos is that cool dad you were jealous of your friend having as a kid. You know, the one who let your friend stay up late watching blurry Cinemax movies and was lousy with keeping the liquor cabinet locked. But then your friend secretly hated him because he was actually a neglectful alcoholic, and your friend was always the one who had to put him under a cold show after he came home blackout drunk every night. Kind of like that, only as a tall as a planet and wearing a codpiece.
Proud Papa or Disappointed Dad?Neither. To be capable of disappointment or pride the King would first need to acknowledge his diminutively-sized son as anything more than a punching bag. Not that anyone can really blame him for ignoring his son, seeing as how the Prince is one of countless other equally goofy looking star children. But still, you’d think rolling up entire Japanese communities to repopulate the cosmos with stars would earn a slap on the back or a firm handshake or something. That the only way to get the Prince noticed is by making a katamari big enough to roll up the King is as fitting a metaphor for father/child relationships as you can get.
In the golden days before companies realized they could just charge us more money for extra content, unlockables were the best way to squeeze a little bit of replayability out of a game. Whether it was extra characters, secret endings, or ridiculously overpowered weapons, unlockable content rewarded the most skilled and dedicated of gamers. And yet while many of us may now decry a company like Capcom for putting a price tag on something we used to be able to have by just playing their product, I think we’ve lost sight of one very important thing – unlockables are a colossal waste of time.
Now, that’s not to say all unlockables are terrible. I can tell you that the combination of Goldeneye’s Big Head and Paintball modes were responsible for at least half of my happy childhood memories. But a good video game unlockable is entirely dependent on the amount of time and effort it requires to obtain. A video game could have a weapon that turns every enemy into Emma Stone declaring her undying love for me, but if I had to dedicate a month of my life to get it, it’s not worth it.
Yes, you might say that unlockables are beside the point, and what matters for most gamers is simply the fun of overcoming an extra challenge. But I submit to you that the people who use that logic are the same kind of people who think building model ships in glass bottles is a worthwhile pursuit, therefore their opinion doesn’t really matter. So while we all may decry modern gaming’s embrace of DLC, I present the following unlockables as evidence that even though something costs a blood boiling amount of Microsoft moonbucks, it’s something you might not have even missed having in the first place. Here are ten of the most useless, difficult, and time consuming video game unlockables.
10. Pokémon Heart Gold and Soul Silver - Friendship Room
The Pokémon series is no stranger to inane, completely frivolous side quests. Ever since the days of Ruby and Sapphire, Contests and Musicals have forced players to doll up their Pokémon in humiliating outfits and make them strut around on stage in what we can only hope is the closest the world ever gets to a Toddlers & Tiaras game. But while the rewards for completing these useless diversions have always been scant, there is no unlockable as infuriatingly pointless as Heart Gold and Soul Silver’s Friendship Room.
The Friendship Room is unlocked through the Pokéathlon, which is just a collection of minigames that take advantage of the DS’s touch screen. Players can only access the Friendship Room after they beat the first place record of every event, a feat that is in and of itself an act of sad desperation. The Pokéathlon includes so much screen tapping it’s about as fun as an involuntary muscle spasm, and beating the records will inevitably include playing the absurdly difficult “Pennant Capture” so many times you’ll want to hurl your DS directly into Satoshi Tajiri’s face.
Worst of all, the Friendship Room has absolutely nothing to do with friendship. Within its hallowed halls are four statues, one of the player’s character and three of their top Pokeathletes. They’re a shining, permanent testament to the loneliness and isolation of your average Pokémon trainer, whose only “friends” are the pets they make fight to the near death on a daily basis.
9. Dead Rising - Mega Man Outfit
Perhaps more impressive than Dead Rising’s unlockable Mega Man outfit allowing players to live out their secret fantasy of dressing up as a Blue Bomber spin on the Tron Guy is that it turns killing zombies into an absolute chore. Screwing up one of gaming's simplest equations (zombies + things to murder zombies with = money in the bank) takes a pretty concentrated effort, but Dead Rising pulls it off by affixing a big ol' dead zombie price tag to its most sought after unlockable.
The entire outfit is unlocked in three separate pieces. Players can acquire the boots by getting the game’s “true” ending and the tights are unlocked by defeating ten of the “Psychopath” human survivors that serve as bosses. The outfit’s pičce de résistance, however, sorely abuses the whole point of Dead Rising. To unlock the Mega Buster, players have to get the “Zombie Genocider” achievement by splattering the brains of 53,594 undead.
To put that into perspective, I grew up in a town with a population of 2,248 people. I would have to murder my entire hometown nearly 24 times over if I wanted a sweet laser cannon for my arm. I know zombie movies have drilled into our heads that the walking dead are no longer our loved ones, but goddamn, that’s pretty coldblooded for a cosplay.
Moral qualms aside, the real crime is the monotony of it all. Resourceful players have discovered the best way to unlock the Mega Buster is to drive around Willamette Parkview Mall’s zombie clogged maintenance tunnels for two and a half hours, crushing as many shambling flesh eaters beneath your wheels as you can. When players have to find a tedious workaround to unlock a game’s coolest secret feature, you’re doing it wrong.
Though, the fact that I just used the word “tedious” to describe plowing through hordes of the undead in a 4-door deathmobile may be symptomatic of a much, much larger issue with our society.
8. Diablo II: Lord of Destruction - Magically Inscribe Your Name Onto a Weapon
In Diablo II and its redundant expansion pack Lord of Destruction (Really? Lord of Destruction? You already fought Satan in the original, going after his brother Baal is like settling for the ugly best friend) players can acquire all sorts of ridiculous weapons and armor. Balrog Blades, Ghost Wands, Kraken Shells, Succubus Skulls – pretty much every part of a mythical creature’s anatomy can be fashioned into a fancy hat for you to wear.
But there’s something about wearing a dead Kraken that’s just so... impersonal, y’know?
Luckily, there’s a way to make any item in the game truly feel like your own, and all it takes is defeating the game’s deadliest necromancer. By overcoming the incredibly difficult optional boss Nihlathak – who can not only teleport and endlessly spawn bum rushing gangs of minions, but can wipe intrepid adventures out in a single hit with his pretty gruesome Corpse Explosion ability – players earn the glorious opportunity to add their name to the front of any item of their choosing.
And... that’s it. Doing this doesn't grant any stat bonuses or make the item more powerful, it just inflicts the imagination of a basement dwelling fourteen-year-old on the game’s world. The all-powerful Doombringer sword becomes Th3Wanginat0rs Doombringer sword. It’s the gothic fantasy equivalent of your mom writing your name on the back of your underwear.
7. Disgaea series - Land of Carnage
Look, you know what you’re getting into when you buy a Disgaea game. The 9,999 level cap and 100-floor randomly generated Item World dungeons are the closest you can get to a warning label informing you that hours of your life are going to be consumed by a black hole of overzealous anime clichés. Your average Disgaea player is not only going to be completely unfazed by any massive time sink the game throws their way, they’re going to consider it a bonus.
But even by the game’s stringent commitment standards, the method for unlocking the Land of Carnage demands a little too much. Introduced in Disgaea 2, the Land of Carnage is basically New Game+ on steroids. Or, in more user friendly terms, New Game+ gone Super Saiyan. In addition to unlocking three bonus characters and being the only place players can acquire the game’s strongest weapons, the Land of Carnage includes an alternate version of every single stage of the regular game that multiplies enemy levels by 2100% and slaps an extra 200 on for funsies.
Actually getting to the Land of Carnage, however, requires wandering the Item World for 40 years. Players have to collect treasure maps from 16 different pirate enemies, all of which have a chance of spawning during the first three turns of every stage. While there are ways to increase the rate that pirates appear, there's no way of controlling which type shows up. Which means you could have 15 maps, but spend forever waiting for a ship full of ninjas that may never come. The way it tests player's faith would be poetic if it weren't all in the name of unlocking a green penguin to fight at your side.
6. Kingdom Hearts - Secret Endings
Any number of games could be held accountable for the offense of having a secret ending, as it’s difficult to take a narrative seriously when you can miss out on how it’s supposed to end. It’s like if The Great Gatsby stopped before its final chapters because you didn’t collect all of Doctor T.J. Ecklber’s crystal keys.
But even in a medium that includes conclusions featuring corgis and Little Sister harems, the Kingdom Hearts games stand firmly as the worst of the bunch for both the sheer triviality of their endings and the long, terrible task of unlocking them. In the first Kingdom Hearts, one of the requirements is finding all 99 of the Dalmatians hidden throughout the game. Players will spend so much time scouring every corner of the world for puppies that they’ll wish they could just turn them straight over to Cruella de Vil so she can skin them into some sweet new armor.
Kingdom Hearts II is even worse, demanding players complete everything in Jiminy’s Journal, a lengthy collection of tedious objectives that’s less “fun” and more “atonement for every mortal sin you’ve ever committed.” This includes finishing the Poster Duty minigame in 30 seconds, which requires no less than a graduate degree in astrophysics.
The rewards for the players who actually see through every one of the game’s back breaking demands to the end are cut scenes that you could have not only just spent five seconds looking upon YouTube, but that are as chock full of vague, foreboding images as a David Lynch film. They have the production values of one of those awful fan made AMVs, and offer little in the way of conclusion because they were meant to serve as trailers for sequels that weren’t even made yet.
5. Dead Space 2 - "Hand" Cannon
I’ll be upfront with you: the only reason Dead Space 2’s “Hand Cannon” is on this list is pure jealousy. The weapon – which allows players to play through the game like a seven year old with an overactive imagination, decimating enemies with a giant foam finger that makes Isaac Clarke go “Bang! Bang! Pew! Pew!” with each shot – is mind blowingly awesome despite its uselessness.
But the price for greatness is steep. The weapon is a reward for completing the game on its hardcore difficulty setting, and the only way I’d ever be able to do that is by isolating myself and training in a cave for six months. Dead Space 2’s hardcore difficulty limits players to only three saves throughout the entire game and forces them to start over from those saves anytime they die. This means players need to parcel their saves through the twelve hour playtime while dealing with the ratcheted up tension and danger of a game that’s already like the chestburster scene in Alien repeated ad nauseam.
The “Hand Cannon” is unquestionably awesome, but not so much when its price of admission is repeatedly watching Isaac get every orifice in his body violated by all manner of alien claws.
4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 - Rosalina
Super Mario Galaxy 2 represents not only the pinnacle of platforming innovation, but 25 years of honing Mario games into punishing digital nightmares designed to make children cry and reduce adults to crying children. Despite the friendly Italian stereotype façade, Mario games can be brutal in their later stages, and the second half of Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the cartoon equivalent of a Saw movie.
See, once players actually go through and collect each of the game’s 120 Power Stars, they unlock another set of 120 Green Stars, which are hidden throughout each level and are only distinguishable by a distinct green glow and twinkling sound. This is particularly helpful in a game with a color palette as schizophrenic as a painting in a mental hospital art class and where every single object makes a goddamn twinkling sound because it’s fucking space. And after acquiring each of the hidden Green Stars, players unlock the Grandmaster Galaxy, a gauntlet of difficult levels that require the hand-eye coordination of a licensed fighter pilot.
Upon completing that – which will take most players blowing through their lives like a teenage pop star – players will unlock Rosalina, a sort of cosmic Princess Peach. She appears on Mario’s spaceship and just sort of… stands there. When you talk to her, she tells you how thankful she is for you saving the galaxy, but she never quite shows you just how thankful she is. I remember the days when all you had to do to get blue balled by a Mario game princess was jump over Bowser’s head and hit a button.
3. World of Warcraft - What A Long, Strange Trip It's Been
Life for a WoW addict is difficult enough. The King of MMO’s is designed like heroin through an IV drip, where the game’s greatest rewards are directly proportional to the amount of time you put into playing. Raid schedules and rep grinding manage to turn slaying Lich Kings and godlike dragons into about as much fun as punching the clock.
Which is why “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” is the achievement equivalent of Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s not enough that a player dedicates their everyday lives to Azeroth, they’ve got to work holidays, too. The achievement requires players to get every one of the World Event achievements, which are WoW’s non denominational equivalents of real life holidays. Want to spend time with the family for Christmas? You better make sure you threw snowflakes on a blood elf warlock first. Got a special date planned for Valentine’s Day? Of course you don’t, so commemorate your loneliness by making a lovely charm bracelet for the Regent Lord of Quel’Thalas. At least the game reserves dragging an NPC orphan into the middle of a PVP battlefield for one of its made-up holidays.
Players dedicated and/or sad enough to actually spend an entire year working toward the achievement are rewarded with Reins of the Violet Proto-Drake, which is different from the other dime a dozen dragon mounts in that it’s... purple.
Final Fantasy is another series that has mastered the art of the time consuming side quest. The fact that they’re responsible for people using time that could have been spent with their friends and family to breed chocobos is surely a crime on par with all those kids of WoW addicts that Blizzard killed.
Final Fantasy XII’s Wyrmhero Blade, though, is the crown jewel of hollow victories. The only way to unlock Final Fantasy XII’s second most-powerful weapon is to defeat two of the game’s superbosses. One of these is Yiazmat, a dragon that, according to the game’s lore, killed God. Forget for a second the religious quandaries this raises and instead consider the facts. Yiazmat has over 50 million HP. He is not only one of the most powerful enemies in the game, he’s one of the most difficult in the entire series. Taking over two hours to beat, Yiazmat is second only to that FFXI boss that nearly killed a whole bunch of players from exhaustion. It’s only after players have defeated him that they’ve truly beaten the FFXII.
Or, in other words, the Wyrmhero Blade is only unlocked after you have absolutely no use for it.
What does the game expect you to do with it? Show it off to people at parties? Take revenge on that asshole dinosaur that chased you out of the Dalmasca desert? I know the game has to give you something for slaying the God killer, but a sword? Give me a spaceship or giant badass wings or a Square Enix representative personally presenting me with a commemorative plaque. The only way the Wyrmhero Blade would actually be worth anywhere near the amount of effort it takes to acquire it was if it was somehow able to bring Ares back to life.
When I was a little upper middle class hell spawn, I had a natural inclination toward anything that cost large sums of my parents’ money. I had learned that a person’s love was directly proportional to the amount of money they were willing to spend on someone, which is why I was a sucker for every passing fad I could force my parents to get their hands on. Furbies, Crazy Bones, Pogs. You name it, I had it stuffed in the back of a closet somewhere collecting dust. As a burgeoning nerd though, no money sink was greater than my obsession with video games. I was an avid Nintendo loyalist, owning both a Nintendo 64 and a Game Boy and spending the majority of my formative years playing both. Naturally, I was a Nintendo Power subscriber, and every month I would comb through the magazine with the same kind of solemn reverence an old man reads the Wall Street Journal.
I don’t know if it was because of my subscription to Nintendo Power or because some marketing research firm had been following my obsessive toy buying habits, but one day I received a mysterious VHS in the mail. This video tape offered an exclusive preview of a video game phenomenon that was about to sweep the nation. I had never even heard of what the video was promoting before, but after watching it once, then twice, then approximately a hundred times after, I realized I had just been let in on the ground floor of the hottest gaming craze of my young life.
That VHS was A Sneak Peek at Pokémon, and it is a master class on turning little kids into cash spewing drones.
If you weren’t one of the fortunate few to receive a copy of this thing when it was sent out like some sort of strategically deployed bioweapon, you can check out the first part here and the second here. It’s basically a fifteen-minute -ong commercial for Pokémon, but it’s so much more than that. This is not just some 30-second spot pushing a hot new toy during Saturday morning cartoons. This is a propaganda film. It’s not selling Pokémon the video game, it’s selling Pokémon the lifestyle.
Sure, if you watch it now it’s a painfully obvious ploy to move toys. But consider watching this thing as an unsuspecting child. It literally opens with some kid telling you what you’re about to witness is a cultural phenomenon that’s about to take America by the balls. It’s not just a TV show, it’s not just a Game Boy game, it’s “loads of other cool things.” I was 10. I fucking loved cool things. At that point in my existence, cool things were the only things I’m capable of defining myself by. I was hooked in the first 15 seconds, but then it kicked in with clips of this kid flying with ghosts and fire birds set to some ‘80s power ballad with lyrics like “You’ve got the power right in your hands,” and “A world of magic at your command.” Whatever this video was promising, it was no less than complete dominion over an army of badass monsters. I had no clue what a Pokémon was, but at that point I wanted every last one of them.
The video introduces the game’s core concept through a mix of clips from the cartoon and live-action actors who we can only imagine thought were going to be doing something much better with their lives. We’re told by his “Aunt Hillary” that the star of the TV show is Ash, a firebrand of a 10 year old who dreams of becoming a Pokémon master. And, of course, the only way to become a Pokémon master is to catch all the Pokémon.
First off, no it isn’t. To become a Pokémon master, you have to beat the Elite Four. Nobody is going to think you’re a Pokémon master just because you’ve got Mr. Mime. Second, how did this even get through the FCC? I know the “gotta catch ‘em all” catchphrase has been made fun of to death in that South Park Chinpokomon episode and CollegeHumor video, but seriously consider it for a moment. They won’t let cigarette companies run ads on television, but apparently it was legal in the ‘90s to allow companies to send promotional videos that exist in the moral gray area between advertising and brainwashing directly into children’s homes. In practice, that’s one step above a guy luring kids into his unmarked van with candy.
The most galling thing about this commercial is just how transparent it is. It just straight up tells you to buy everything. The most telling moment comes when we’re introduced to the Team Rocket boss, who we’re told by the veritable Woodward and Bernstein duo of Ash’s cousins “wants to steal Pikachu away from Ash to fulfill their ... diabolical plan for total domination.” How that’s supposed to work isn’t exactly clear, but what’s important is the fact that this menacing shadowy figure informs the viewer in no uncertain terms that unless they give their life entirely over to Pokémon, he’s going to completely destroy that adorable yellow mouse the video just showed a few seconds ago. The same one you see Ash lay his life on the line to save. Whatever a Pikachu is, it’s so important that a massive criminal organization will do everything in its power to have it, and a 10-year-old boy will risk death just to keep it out of harm’s way.
I just imagine there having been a group of Nintendo execs anxiously wringing their hands during a meeting with some ad agency going, “How do we make kids want this thing?” before some smooth Don Draper type proclaims “Make them? No, we tell them.” And then he bangs a secretary and my family loses a quarter of their income feeding my crippling Pokémon addiction.
Needless to say, the video worked. I eagerly tuned in when the anime premiered. I bought Pokémon Blue bright and early when it came out. I loaded up on enough Pokémon cards to fill two huge ass binders, despite not having the first clue about how to play the trading card game. I bought action figures and collectible Burger King gold plated cards. I nearly drove my mother to the verge of tears in my desperate, maddening search for a copy of Pokémon Snap the week it was released. All in all, with the amount of money I spent on Pokémon as a kid I could have probably made a sizable dent in my college loan payments already.
As effective as it was though, the video, and by extension the whole marketing blitzkrieg behind Pokémon, obscured the very thing that was responsible for it – the game. The fact that you played Pokémon almost seemed like an afterthought when compared to all the other ways you could feed the franchise money. After losing interest in Pokémon when all the hype died down, it took me years to rediscover the series as a solid, addicting, and above all else fun RPG. It took playing Emerald on my DS, removed from the “gotta catch ‘em all” fanaticism of my childhood, to genuinely enjoy the video game. A Sneak Peek at Pokémon was my introduction to the ceaseless money making machine that was the Pokémon franchise, and it took forcibly removing the series from its cold blooded claws to actually enjoy the game.
"Jazzy D. Funkington suffers no fools, and he sure as hell don't suffer no motherfucking dragons."
The year was 1977. Jimmy Carter was residing in the White House, disco was just beginning its terrible, glittery rein over the heart of the nation’s music scene, and international jewel thief Jazzy D. Funkington was falling through an interdimensional portal after a diamond heist gone awry. For reasons the scientists of the day could only classify as "some real Twilight Zone shit," the world's most prominent playboy/sticky-fingered filcher/Taekwondo expert found himself transported from the swanky streets outside a Paris museum to the cold, harsh woods of a land called Skyrim.
This is his story.
This man made the unfortunate mistake of wearing clothes that Jazzy needed.
Jazzy’s first night in Skyrim would have been considered a tumultuous one by the standards of any mortal man, but for Jazzy a near-execution interrupted by an attack from a mythological reptilian monster was simply business as usual. Uninterested in whatever rebellion threatened to tear the populace apart, Jazzy set out on the first step of his epic journey with only two goals in mind – to acquire riches and bitches. This was not only the title of his bestselling autobiography, but the two longstanding tenements of the Funkington family that were the reason Jazzy was the self-made man who had once made love to a trio of Swedish supermodels after he had swiped their ruby studded mink coats.
After hours spent hunting a wide assortment of Skyrim wildlife in search of the animal best suited for making love on in front of a fire place, Jazzy stumbled upon what one had to be generous to refer to as “civilization.” The town of Whiterun was certainly a town in the strictest sense of the word, but the lack of a respectable night club or an alley to shoot dice in did not bode well for his fortunes there. Nevertheless, Jazzy spent the evening hooking a brother up with the local tavern’s finest hooch, punching a woman in the face until she proclaimed her unyielding service to him, and being assigned dragon slaying duty by Carl Balgruuf, the town’s top turkey.
Jazzy, seen here testing a bear's carcass for form and comfort.
When informed that the “C” in Carl was actually a soft “J,” Jazzy calmly informed the Little Lord Fauntleroy-looking pimp, “The only soft J’s I deal with are the ones immediately preceded by a ‘B.’ Motherfucker, you Carl.”
While Jazzy’s heroic act was simply a front to allow him access to Carl’s highly ransackable castle, the man's single greatest flaw was his vanity. He could not turn down such a tempting feat of badassery. Surely if he were to defeat the draconian beast that threatened Whiterun, the town would erect a statue of his massive balls out of pure gold – which he could then steal and sell at a considerable profit. Already assured of his victory, Jazzy strode confidently into the night, a dispatch of Whiterun guards and Carl’s finest looking elf at his back.
It wasn’t long after reaching the besieged watchtower, the site of the dragon’s attack, that the terrible creature revealed itself. As it took off into the night sky, its wings spread out across the star streaked blackness like twin harbingers of doom, the guards unsheathed their weapons and readied for battle. The dark elf commanded the warriors to begin their assault, crying out for them to claim the dragon’s head.
“Be cool, elf honkey!”
The tremendous beast’s fearsome roar filled the frigid Skyrim air, but it was Jazzy’s words that quieted the rabble. He stepped forward, flexing his muscles hard enough to rip himself completely out of his woefully suede-free outfit. His clothes burst into tatters and scattered in the wind, abs chiseled out of concrete and several generations of racial injustice glistening in the moonlight. “You can’t just kill it. A dragon that fine you got to romance first.”
"Shh, girl, be cool. You about to get Jazzed."
What happened next was an act so indescribable that even a team of the Bards College’s greatest scholars writing every minute of every day for the next five hundred years could not even fathom to capture it in a song. Through the sheer power of his own funk, Jazzy overcame the raging monster using methods that had bedded an endless number of heiresses, air hostesses, foreign dignitaries, and skanks from around the block. The dragon thrashed wildly, but was no match for Jazzy’s soothing touch. It spat fire hot enough to melt the strongest Dwarven metal, but they were no match for the flames of Jazzy’s libido. It stared with eyes full of bloodthirst and malice into the very soul of the man who defied it, but its gaze was no match for Jazzy’s smoldering blue eyes.
Jazzy slayed the dragon not with force or magic or any other such destructive means. He felled the great menace with a power it could never hope to understand – the love of an upstanding black gentleman.
"Was it as good for you as it was for me? No, because there ain't nothing as good as being with me."
As the awestruck guards gathered around the corpse of the slain behemoth, murmurs passed between them about the reappearance of a legend.
“Dragonborn?” Jazzy asked. “More like dragon dead, which is what every one of them scaly motherfuckers are going to be if they step to me again, knowhaimsayin?”
Jazzy lifted his hand for the high five, but received no skin in return, as not a single warrior knew what he was saying.