Welcome back to AVQ&A (Gameological edition), where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question comes from Gameological contributor Derrick Sanskrit: Anthony John Agnello and I were talking about Mario Kart 8 and how much we love the track Mount Wario, largely because it feels like one of the sprawling downhill slaloms from SSX 3. This, of course, got us to pining about SSX 3. So my question is this: Have you experienced a “gateway game” that made you want to play a different specific game?
Thanks to getting a free copy through Microsoft’s Games With Gold program, I’ve been playing a lot of Dark Souls for the last few days. It’s an interesting game. I’d say that I’m having some bizarre version of “fun” with it, but it’s just so darn mean to me. For example, after planning out and perfectly executing a strategy against one of the game’s early giant demon bosses, I ran across a nearby bridge and was instantly vaporized by a dragon’s fire breath. It was a little funny, and in retrospect I realize the game had given me a bit of a warning, but dying in such a horrible way makes me miss friendlier games that constantly reward the player even when they don’t do anything particularly special. I’m talking about games like Titanfall, where everyone can do awesome parkour wall-running moves, cool neck-snapping stealth kills, and thrilling jetpack leaps—and that’s ignoring the fact that even the worst Titanfall players will occasionally get a chance to drive a giant robot. I don’t think I would ever argue that Titanfall is a “better game” than Dark Souls, but sometimes it’s nice to be pampered by constant reassurances of how amazing I am at everything I do. Or maybe Dark Souls could just use more giant robots.
When the Wii was first released and sold out everywhere, my girlfriend at the time played it at a friend’s house and couldn’t stop gushing about Rayman Raving Rabbids. I’d heard generally good things about the game but hadn’t much hands-on time with it, so while I waited for the Wii to come back in stock, I readied the games I knew I’d need: The Legend Of Zelda: Twilight Princess and WarioWare: Smooth Moves. I enjoyed Rabbids, sure, but every minute of play was plagued by a voice in the back of my head saying “Wouldn’t we all be happier playing WarioWare right now?” Both games came out early in the Wii’s life, kicking off a glut of mini-game compilations on the system, but WarioWare: Smooth Moves knocked it out of the park in one go while Rabbids eventually filled out five entries across the Wii’s lifespan. Rabbids was goofy and playful, but the game was bogged down by an uninteresting story at odds with its irreverent mini-games and an end goal that required replaying the same dreary games again and again. WarioWare offered all the same laughs and inventive uses of motion control, but it was faster, brighter, and more audacious. Playing Rabbids felt like a paltry imitation, and I was constantly itching for the real thing.
To some degree I can’t help but think of StarCraft whenever I play another real-time strategy game, but no game gave me the itch to play it more than Halo Wars. The theocratic, technologically advanced alien races of the Covenant and parasitic hive mind of the Flood might be well-established parts of Halo’s universe, but as soon as I’m deploying an army of space marines and vehicles against them, they immediately transformed in my mind into Starcraft’s deeply religious, technologically-advanced Protoss and insectoid hive mind-driven Zerg, respectively. There was a lot I enjoyed about Halo Wars, not the least of which was how much better it looked than a game 10 years its senior. It probably would have kept my interest longer if I could have played as The Flood since its Starcraft equivalent, the disgusting Zerg, have always been my favorite. But since that wasn’t an option, I wound up getting my infesting fix by booting up my old Starcraft CDs.
This happens to me on occasion, typically when I start going down the rabbit hole of re-exploring old consoles and portables. My recent revisiting of the Game Boy Advance library actually got me replaying Ninja Five-O for the first time in ages. An early ’00s game by Konami, Ninja Five-O is the sort of simple action game that died alongside 2D arcade games in the mid-’90s. As such, it got me hankering for one of the last greats of that era: Elevator Action Returns. Both games feature law enforcement specialists using the most absurd counterterrorist methods out there. In Five-O, the plan is to send a ninja into a bank to stop gun-toting thieves with his grappling hook and throwing stars. (Surprisingly effective at rescuing hostages!) Elevator Action Returns has a trio of cops who look more or less like a Dokken tribute band and use guns and grenades, but they also have a habit of crushing dudes with elevators. The games have different cadences, but they share the absurd logic and thick art of a distinct period in game development that’s yet to come back around.
Microsoft’s Xbox One reboot of Killer Instinct turned out to be one of 2013’s best surprises. The original games weren’t exactly head and shoulders above the glut of Mortal Kombat clones that flooded arcades in the mid-’90s, and Double Helix, the studio tapped to revive the series, had yet to deliver anything worthwhile. That did not bode well. Miraculously, the final product was fast, fun, and accessible, thanks to an in-depth training mode. I sank many hours into it and even bought a second controller so I could brawl with my buddies. The problem is, I hadn’t placated my Street Fighter IV fascination in quite a while. Seeing as how the core tenets of that series are what Killer Instinct is based on—as are, frankly, all other 2D fighting games—I soon found myself wishing we were sparring with SF4’s more deliberate combat and lovable cast of colorful ethnic stereotypes. I’ve spent about 30 hours with Super Street Fighter IV since then and haven’t once thought about returning to Instinct.