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Mini-Games: A Torrid Affair


It was an unusually warm spring day as my brother, grandfather and I packed into a Champaign-colored Buick setting out on a road trip down to Florida to spend a week of spring break with family. Being nine, I had little interest in the scenery, instead focusing my attention on the Game Boy clutched in-hand as I continued playing through Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I had quested to every corner of the map, searching in whatever direction I sincerely believed would get me to the next progressive step. However, that was before my attention would become diverted for the entirety of that drive, altering my gaming perception in a very lasting way.

The Trendy Game, a relatively simplistic game that was more timing than anything else, most likely deserves the brunt of the blame for what would become my addiction. 10 rupees and I could win items the likes of which I could only dream about. In my youthful mind, it almost felt like cheating, except in the best way possible since the game was allowing it. How could I lose?

Becoming completely derailed from questing any further and I spent the entirety of the drive down to Florida with my eyes firmly affixed to my Game Boy. When we stopped for the night to sleep, the final moments before dozing off saw me exiting the Trendy Game house so I could save and head back in when I woke up, ready to play again after resuming my save. It didn’t matter if we stopped to eat, I would save and go right back to it. Even my batteries dying saw me groping for spares, right up to taking them out of other devices I’d brought along on the drive.

The thrill of nabbing new items or even more rupees had a dissonantly addictive draw for me. It didn’t matter if I’d won them a hundred times already, I wanted more. Magic powder, bombs and rupees were just a few of the things that caused me to refine my timing to a well-honed skill. Eventually, the batteries on my Game Boy ran out and as we arrived in Florida, I put the handheld aside. Yet, the damage had been done – the Trendy Game acted as a gateway drug for mini-games – and to this day, I still haven’t finished Link’s Awakening.

For a bit, it seemed like the desire had subsided. Games came and went and I had little issue sitting down, playing through a game in its entirety without being derailed and moving on to the next subsequent title after a visit to Best Buy and a small dent in my allowance savings. This, of course, was before Final Fantasy VII hit store shelves.

Having never played a Final Fantasy game prior, it seemed natural for me to check the game out. My friends had been talking about it, every gaming magazine seemed to love it for one reason or another, so it seemed all too natural for me to tip my toe in and see what the fuss was about. It was like dumping a junkie into a fully-stocked meth lab.

Certainly enough, the plot had everything American gamers had known and loved about Final Fantasy games since the original. And while I won’t disparage that, enjoying the narrative in my own particular way, I once again found myself forsaking plotline for obtuse poignancy. After all, to simply say that there was a veritably cornucopia of mini-games doesn’t quite do justice to either the words ‘veritably’ or ‘cornucopia’. All things aside, there was a Scrooge McDuck amount of mini-games for me to enjoy the hell out of and that’s exactly what I did.

For a game that could easily bleed away days worth of time, I happily exchanged my summer vacation sleeping hours for another crack at any of the mini-games Final Fantasy VII happily proffered. Defending Fort Condor was my first introduction to tower defense, which is still a save on my PS-X memory card to this day simply for the effect of my desire to occasionally replay the experience. The gym squats at the Wall Market additionally had a desired effect of getting me to see how many I could do before time was up – an act that almost caused me to destroy my only Playstation controller at the time from trying to press the buttons too hard and fast. Once I arrived at the Golden Saucer though, all bets of me getting to the final duel with Sephiroth were undisputedly off.

A Disney World level of entertainment was what spelled out my extended stay at the Golden Saucer. Sephiroth and the rest of Midgar could wait, I had Chocobo races to win, Speed Square to play and couldn’t sink enough time into getting the utmost fun out of Wonder Square.

Regardless though, it wasn’t so much a conscious decision to avoid the story that was laid out before me, so much an urge to relish in the little games within the overarching world that my character and party inhabited. To me, it felt as though I had been seated at a buffet without a time limit and was going to get my fill.

Eventually though, I moved on towards the end of game. The final battle with Sephiroth came and went without much fanfare in my mind. Yet, I consistently loaded saves from various mini-games, just to go back and give them another go – even to this day.

Then Mario Party released and it seemed like Nintendo had set out to make a game just for me.

I was immediately and hopeless hooked. In an age when other kids were playing Goldeneye and Star Fox 64, I would bring my copies of Mario Party and its sequel over to friend’s homes, complete with four controllers. Evenings would fade into weekends as the only break between the mini-games was a rolling of digital dice and moving on a board game styled playing area. It didn’t matter who ultimately won or lost, it was just all about playing the next little game. Free-for-all, 2 vs. 2, or 3 vs. 1, each game had its own personality that brought a distinct flavor of genuine fun to the overall experience.

I developed a taste for games I enjoyed and would half-heartedly venture into the ones I didn’t. But whether I was playing them alone or had coaxed a friend or two into joining me, I always felt a tinge of excitement at the uncertainty of what the next game would be – and that was more than enough to continue pulling me back in for more with each successive game.

Even as additional iterations of the game released, numbering ever higher, I would find myself glancing at them when looking at other newer titles. Picking up Mario Party 2 saw me buy the sequel. Before I knew it, I had brought home Mario Party 4 and 5, even playing them on my Wii to this day. Unfortunately though, I built up a resistance to Mario and his endless need to always have another party. The game stopped being fun after 6 and despite giving each consecutive game a shot, they just didn’t offer the same high anymore.

It was then that I found the next superlative mini-game experience in the form of WarioWare. While the mini-games weren’t as long as those found in titles I’d played previously, they did live up to the name – short, challenging and seemingly endless. Sometimes silly, occasionally embarrassing but always fun, WarioWare offered an almost Zen-like mini-gaming experience. Regardless of playing alone or with others, it seemed like there was no short supply to the wacky nirvana.

I snatched up both the Wii version and keep the DS title, Touched!, with me wherever I go. Whenever I have a few minutes to kill or am stuck commuting long distances for my day job, I still relish in taking the time out to spend a few minutes playing mini-games that vary from petting a dog to picking a nose. But it’s the complete and utter disregard for any sort of seriousness I suppose that I’ve enjoyed the most – especially in the hustle and bustle of a day in a business world that regularly demands such a solemn demeanor – WarioWare acts as a small island paradise amidst turbulent, shark-infested seas.

Still, this shouldn’t discount mini-games encapsulated in larger, more ornate game worlds.

Take for instance the now perennial hit Bioshock. While the game was replete with some of the best first person shooter and RPG elements, allowing you to mould and change your character as you see fit amidst a rich, deep story – I found no greater thrill than hacking everything in sight. In fact, I would usually divert myself away from just about any objective at hand to do just that.

It could, of course, be argued that I wasn’t so much hung up on my desire to hack things as suffered an innate desire to play Pipe Dream, there was little left to turn over to my use by the time I completed the game initially. Although, I still have the urge to go back and play through Bioshock again whenever I get the particular itch to do so, other games have since come along that appease my desire for small achievements.

Progressing onwards into Fallout 3, along with the many bits of DLC to come after, I found myself enthralled in the post-apocalyptic Wastelands surrounding Washington D.C. Again, the narrative, characters and setting all created an ideal world that any player would be happy to explore, shape or simply destroy. And yes, again I found myself thrilled with the little things.

Despite being engrossed in everything Fallout 3 had to offer, I still couldn’t repress my grin when I was picking a lock or hacking a computer. Small potatoes, I know. But, what it boiled down to, as far as I believe, was a desire to relish each and every small accomplishment that the game would afford me.

Happening upon a locked box, I would grit my teeth and bite my lower lip as I slowly turned the thumbsticks as if I was hunched over a box fiddling with a lock pick in reality. Rotating them slowly, I would anxiously watch the onscreen indications – waiting with baited breath and wondering whether my lock pick would break or if I’d be presented with a satisfying click as the box opened. Besides picking locks, hacking, which many would consider filler on the level with driveled minutia offered me a compelling, enjoyable challenge.

Realistically, it was merely selecting the right password on the screen, and not as if I was doing any real work, so to speak. But the act of guessing, feeling out and finally selecting the right answer before being granted access to the faux-computer system garnered a satisfied smile each time I pulled it off. And conversely, angrily reloading a save when I failed. So, despite being a game embedded into the greater realm of the Fallout universe, I nevertheless discerned a great deal of fun, real or perceived, from the mini-games despite being eclipsed by an overall larger game in a succinctly bigger world.

My most recent addiction has been the simple act of mining in Mass Effect 2. Now, the game has been available for quite a bit of time, a sequel has not only been announced, but a release date set for next year. As I’ve stated previously, the oddity at being obsessed with such a minor component of, albeit, a massive game seems trivial, but my endless enjoyment of it hasn’t been bested yet to progress onwards with the engaging story.

Admittedly, for all the unrequited love I have for the original Mass Effect as well as its sequel, I’ve found myself going back to the mining, similar to my constant need to explore planets in the predecessor title. Simply enough, one scans a planet to determine where the most of a particular raw material are, launches a probe into the vicinity, acquires minerals and repeats. I can’t ever seem to acquire or use enough probes to make me want to move on with the rest of the story, which I have a feeling is pretty good, if I ever get to it.

All the same, perhaps in my love for mini-games, be they great, good or simply mediocre, there is an appreciation for the little things, which in the face of ever-realistic graphics, sprawling worlds and more players crammed into an environment, that admiration of detail is all the more important. Looking back on that road trip, sitting in the car, breathing stale air conditioning and intent on winning everything I could, as often as I could in the Trendy Game, I was imbued with a sense to stop and smell the proverbial roses for a moment, anchoring myself against the torrential push to beat a game and move on. Either way, I can only imagine what the next addiction will be.
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About AndrewG009one of us since 1:33 PM on 07.28.2009

"I kind of miss the days when games were judged on their game-playing merit alone. I'm a little concerned about how far we (the game industry) are into the licensed four-page-ad marketing blitz era these days, which may be a natural evolution of the industry. But I'm always worried when we put more emphasis on glitz and production values than on the game. That's a trend that looks good for a while until you realize there's no game industry any more. If we don't have gameplay, we can't really compete with other forms of entertainment because we can't do graphics as good as the movie industry and we can't make sounds as well as the recording industry. All we can do that's special to us is be interactive. So we have to hang on to that and make sure we do a good job." - Sid Meier

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