If someone told me years ago that one of my favorite videogame moments in recent memory would happen in a Rockstar game, I would probably have laughed. And maybe pushed them into a mud puddle. I love Rockstar and think they make really amazing games, but I think of their games as ambitious, technically impressive experiences, not as games containing a large amount of emotionally powerful moments -- moments that deeply affect me and change the way I look at videogames.
But then, Rockstar released Red Dead Redemption.
The game is visually impressive and a technical marvel, sure, but there is a moment near the end of the game that completely blew me away the first time I experienced it. Not only is this moment shocking, it hits you in the gut with its emotional punch, and touches your heart with its surprising beauty.
It may just be my favorite videogame moment of this generation.
When you are playing a videogame, it is natural to want to attack and destroy your enemies. Be it with a master sword, a spread gun, a whip, or some other wicked form of weaponry, when you see an enemy in front of you, tapping the attack button is an instinctual reaction.
When a scary creature approaches you, taking it down with a final, finishing blow results in nothing other than a feeling of great satisfaction. Guilt never enters the equation. Why would you feel any kind of remorse for killing a monster?
At an emotional, surprisingly heartbreaking moment in role-playing game Final Fantasy Adventure for the original Game Boy, this very concept is turned on its snake-covered head. What happens when a particular monster means much more to you than the endless supply of other generic enemies? What if this monster has a life? A family? What is this monster is ... a friend?
Can you imagine playing a videogame that forced you to remember everything you once learned in grade school? What if The Legend of Zelda required you to know the order of all the periodic elements before brewing a red potion? What if Contra asked you to enter the first ten digits of pi to access the game’s many bases?
Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often, which, while interesting, is probably a good thing. Playing a videogame should be a challenge, but not a near-impossible chore. And no videogame -- I don’t care what videogame -- should make anyone dive back into the awkward memories of grade school.
Call it genius or call it insane, Little King’s Story -- the quirky, altogether fantastic little action-strategy game for the Wii -- actually features a moment just like this. The game contains a boss battle that requires the player to reach back into their years of Hypercolor shirts and yellow Sony Sports Walkmans to recall and utilize their knowledge of, of all things ... geography.
When you play a certain videogame series or genre, it is sometimes expected that you will encounter some form of memorable videogame moment. If you are playing a Metal Gear Solid game, for instance, you know one of the boss battles will blow you away. When you play a JRPG with a spiky-haired protagonist, you know one of the story twists will either touch your heart or leave you confused and bewildered.
But all of these moments are expected. It doesn’t make them any less memorable, but all the shock and surprise of encountering these moments is taken away when you know something is coming.
That’s what makes encountering a memorable moment in a seemingly random videogame all the more special. And this has never been more apparent for me than when playing Klonoa: Door to Phantomile on the original PlayStation. I went into that game expecting to play a colorful, fun platformer.
Summer is in full swing. And with summer comes a slew of blockbuster movies filled with ridiculous, over-the-top action sequences. Action sequences that impress with their combination of chaotic choreography and unbelievable stunt work.
And for fans of these action sequences (like me!), playing modern videogames is a real treat. With the advanced technology of today, it seems like every other videogame features a handful of completely out of control action set pieces that rival (if not surpass) every blockbuster in the movie theaters.
But this wasn’t always the case. As exhilarating and tense as the final escape from Zebes is in Super Metroid, having a character jump around a 16-bit world in a 2D space looks nothing like a real-life action movie. So, then, when did the switch happen? When did videogames go from looking like videogames, to looking and feeling like you were actually playing a summer blockbuster?
For me, it happened in the original Metal Gear Solid. When I first played the original PlayStation classic, there is one sequence during the climax of the game that blew me away, filled my body with adrenaline, and, for the first time ever, made me feel like I was actually playing an action summer blockbuster.
In a big-budget videogame, most of the memorable moments (alliteration!) occur during the game’s extended action sequences or over-the-top boss battles. And there is nothing wrong with that! I will always love my battles with the Hydra in God of War or my nuclear explosions in Call of Duty. These moments are what make big-budget games stand out!
But once in a while, it’s nice to be surprised by one of these triple-A titles. It’s nice to encounter a moment that is just as memorable, but in a much quieter, much more unique way.
A great example of a refreshingly unique moment like this comes in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the PlayStation 3. The game is not without its over-the-top moments -- in fact, it features some of the most impressive videogame set pieces of all time. But it’s during a surprisingly intelligent moment later in the game when Uncharted 2 transforms itself from non-stop action game to something much more significant.
At first glance, the Mario games exist in such a pleasant, colorful universe. Smiling clouds watch over the land with nothing but love in their soft, fluffy hearts; stars with bushy gray moustaches fly through space, laughing...
Have you ever played a videogame that you liked -- but didn’t love -- only to encounter a sequence that is so creative and well-designed it makes you wish the entire game contained more memorable moments like it?
When this happens, how do you react? Does it make you appreciate the game as a whole more for including such a great sequence ... or does it just point out the potential of what the entire game could have been?
For me, it’s a healthy mixture of both.
A really good example of this is in Grand Theft Auto IV. The most recent Grand Theft Auto is not terrible by any means (it is actually pretty good!), but the inclusion of one mission in particular manages to both elevate the game and slightly diminish the overall experience by comparison.
Family is a central part of anyone’s life. For better or worse, your family has a profound effect on you and changes your life in one way or another.
Because of the emotionally deep connection everyone has to family, videogame designers over the years have featured many in-game family relationships in their games to help the player relate to what is happening on-screen.
Whether these in-game family relationships exist in name alone (Mario & Luigi) or offer something much more complex and emotional (Mother 3), the power and impact of family in videogames cannot be ignored.
And while I love many of these videogame family relationships, one in particular stands out as being one of my unquestionable favorites. It appears in Super Nintendo masterpiece Final Fantasy VI, and the way the relationship is revealed is still, to this day, one of the most emotional, beautiful, and surprisingly subtle videogame moments of all time.
One of the great things about videogames is how absurd they can be. Whether this absurdity is intentional (Noby Noby Boy) or unintentional (“All your base are belong to us!”) it’s always nice to see games that aren’t afraid to be ridiculous.
While movies and television have a stricter reliance on sticking to a somewhat cohesive narrative, videogames have the luxury of throwing normalcy out the window and offering something that can only be found in the world of gaming.
Even better, these absurd moments are even more wonderfully insane if they appear in a game that is otherwise fairly traditional.
A perfect example of this is in the semi-recent Xbox Live Arcade hit 'Splosion Man. The entire game (a classic platformer) is full of humorous moments, but an extended sequence at the end of the game is absolutely ludicrous and will go down in history as one of the oddest and most amazing videogame moments I have ever experienced.
How do videogames punish the player for doing something wrong?
The easy answer is they kill them. By performing a key jump or sword swing incorrectly, the game punishes the player by taking away one of their lives. But what about when the player does something morally wrong? Is there a punishment for that?
Some games ignore this “moral” judgment completely. Others -- like in modern videogames like Mass Effect -- employ a good and evil meter that will rise or deplete depending on the actions you perform in-game. If the player does something that the game deems “bad”, your good meter will go down and your evil meter will go up.
While this is quite effective, it can easily be remedied by just doing more good things. The overall lasting effect is not very permanent.
With The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening for the original Game Boy, however, doing one particular evil act in the game punishes the player with not only something permanent ... but something rather humiliating.
There is a terrifying sequence in George Orwell's classic novel 1984 that finds main character Winston Smith tied to a chair with a giant cage full of rats attached to his face. Rats are Winston’s worst fear and, through the book’s exquisite writing, the audience feels the troubled main character’s pain and terror.
Shifting mediums, a memorable scene in the film A Clockwork Orange shares a similar power of drawing its audience into a twisted, visceral world of nightmarish torture.
As powerful as these two sequences are, they don’t possess one key element to take their emotional resonance to the next level: audience interaction. The reader or viewer doesn’t have to do anything outside of reading the next word or waiting for the next frame of film to flicker by on the screen. The audience is a mere silent participant as the dark stories unfold before their eyes.
But with Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots for the PlayStation 3, one scene in particular not only elicits a pure, visceral feeling of pain and terror, it gives the player full control of what is happening on-screen.
It’s some incredibly powerful, truly revolutionary stuff.
We all know the way it works. You play through a level in a videogame, encounter an unexpectedly hard section, and your main character plummets into a bottomless pit ... or is singed by a giant dragon ... or is blown up by a nearby oil drum. Whatever the morbid descriptor, your character dies.
As unfortunate as this is, it doesn’t really matter in the long run. If you have another life, you can just try the level all over again. And in more recent games, you don’t even have to have another life -- you can just return to a close checkpoint and tackle the foreboding obstacles one more time!
This unrealistic take on life and death is nothing more than a videogame fantasy, but one that allows the player to fully enjoy the game and learn from their mistakes.
But one game changed this traditional depiction of videogame death forever. Fire Emblem on the Game Boy Advance (and originally as a Japan-only release on the NES!) didn’t offer players such a generous option when a character died. In fact, its main gameplay twist was downright tragic.
There is a large focus on choice in the videogames of today.
In games like Infamous and Fallout, for example, players are tasked with choosing between a good or evil path. It is an interesting mechanic that, unfortunately, leads to mixed results.
Sure, choosing between two paths makes the game more interesting and varied, but aside from a sometimes striking visual transformation of the main character and some new mission goals, the game’s overall sequence of events pretty much stays the same.
Back in 1992, though, classic adventure game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis offered players an in-game choice that was truly revolutionary for the time. It was an innovative addition that dramatically changed the way the rest of the game played, and challenged players to view traditional videogame narrative in a whole new way.
Those four words perfectly describe the basic plots of numerous videogames over the years. From the popular Mario series to even things like Ghosts 'n Goblins and Wizards & Warriors, a large majority of videogames, on their most simple terms, are about a hero embarking on a quest to rescue a kidnapped woman.
Take the Zelda series for another specific example. The original Legend of Zelda is one of the first games known for being about a hero (Link) saving a damsel (Zelda) in distress (kidnapped by Ganon).
With The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, though, everything about the Zelda series changed. It was in this GameCube iteration of the classic series that found Zelda as much more than a helpless princess in peril. Zelda was a real character with real emotions, a real storyline, and -- gasp! -- real dialogue.
But it wasn’t until the very end of the game when Zelda’s role in the revered series took on its most major, unexpected twist yet.
For everyone that is old enough to remember, the decision to buy either a Super Nintendo or a Sega Genesis was a major one.
Did you make the choice to buy the Super Nintendo -- a solid, classic console with some incredible games made by a reliable company? Or did you make the hip purchase of the Sega Genesis -- the arguably “cooler” of the two consoles, with games that were much more “extreme” and “hardcore” than anything offered on Nintendo’s little gray and purple machine?
Both systems were great, but it was rare to find a kid in the neighborhood that owned both -- a far cry from the multiple-console homes of today.
The SNES or the Genesis. For many gamers that fell in love with the original Nintendo, this would have been a ridiculously easy choice ... but with the 1991 release of Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis and a marketing campaign that can only be described as magnificently ludicrous, Nintendo’s loyal followers (including me!) began to question their preferred system of choice.