How Important Is Variety?
What kind of gameplay makes for long playing sessions? Perhaps your first thoughts go to grinding in an RPG? Or perhaps you're thinking of online ranked matches in your favorite shooter?
Raising in level or rank is definitely an easy way to lose track of time. But for me the one thing that stops me from putting the controller down is variety.
Don't get me wrong. I can spend hours playing my favorite fighter with close friends or against challengers online. However, once I've played every character on the roster I'm going to lose interest and take a break.
Now a game that keep my attention much longer is one that keeps changing how it is played. Final Fantasy VIII is a pretty good example. The bulk of the game has you facing off against monsters in random encounters. But there's so much more to be had. Hijacking trains, dressing up as guards, organizing musical performances, and playing card games are some of the things you'll find yourself doing throughout the game. These different events break the flow of the game and help it from becoming monotonous.
If we're talking about the original Dragon Quest for the Famicom(NES)... now that's something I can't put down fast enough. One of the greatest games of its time, but I honestly can't think of anything more boring. The exploration and NPC interaction in that game are top notch, but in order to get from town to town you have to overcome a good number of random encounters. What irks me is that the monsters in the next area are always significantly more powerful than the area before. There's just too much experience and gold grinding you need to do in the game. Even the English version of the game with its reduced difficulty has too much grinding for my tastes.
Seperate Play Styles
This game right here is one of my all time favorites. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle lets you play as six different characters. Out of the six characters there are three different playing styles. You start the game running at the speed of light as a blue hedgehog, but then find yourself gliding through the air as Knuckles in search of the Master Emerald. As you progress through the game you'll find upgrades for each character which only enhances the differences between them.
The greatest change in play style happens when you find a 'Chao key' in a level. Finishing a level with this item in hand transports you to the Chao Garden. There you'll find a couple eggs which you can hatch into your own Chao. You can take these little things to Chao School to teach them tricks or you can raise their stats so they can compete in races or karate matches. This was a very nice detour from the main game and is honestly where I spent the bulk of my play time.
Adding Synergy Between Differing Game Segments
Then we have this beautiful game right here. The original Digimon World for PlayStation. Raising monsters in this game is a major aspect of its main play style. By taking your Digimon to the gym you can raise what ever stats you choose. By raising certain stats and fulfilling other criteria you can make your Digimon digivolve into an even stronger monster.
Once you leave the gym and start to explore the Digiworld you will come across hostile Digimon that will want to fight you. If you did a good job raising your Digimon's stats then you'll have a plethora of combat options to choose from and be able to dish out lots of damage. But if you neglected your would-be-champion's studies then the only options you'll have in battle are 'Attack' and 'Run'. Though with enough points in Attack and Defense that may be all you need.
This game has a very expansive world to explore with a lot of odd events that only transpire during certain times of the day. Some events can only occur if you have a certain Digimon alongside you. If you don't have the right Digimon you'll have to wait until your current partner gets too old and turns itself back into an egg. Once the egg hatches you can go back to the gym and try out a new regimen in hopes of obtaining the right Digimon for what ever quest you want to go on next.
The gym training sessions and exploration sections do a good job at changing the game's pace as you switch between the two. The gym sessions make it so you can fight strong opponents and make it farther than before. Traveling through the wilds can net you new items or unlock things back at home base to make training your Digimon even easier. I have to say I really like balance of play styles in this game.
Designing Levels Around Varied Abilities
Balancing play styles can be pretty difficult. Especially when you have more than just two. A perfect example being Banjo Kazooie. At all points of time while playing this game you have access to two different characters. Banjo and Kazooie. These two characters intertwine their abilities together to give you a plethora of acrobatic skills to choose from. Banjo can climb up ladders or trees and make a jump for the closest platform. While still in the air you can have Kazooie flap her wings to give Banjo that extra bit of hover he needs to pass larger gaps.
I feel what really makes this game great is that you continually gain new tricks throughout the entire game. In a lot of games you might need a new item or attack to gain entry into an area, but Banjo Kazooie takes it much farther than that. Later levels are designed with your abilities in mind and you'll have to make use of them time and again to overcome many obstacles.
As you travel through various worlds to accomplish your goals you'll continually find yourself being thrown different tasks. You might need to navigate across a very, thin pipe meters upon meters in the air. There are times when you'll be transformed into a new creature and be tasked to face off a horde of enemies utilizing your new powers. Sometimes you'll even find yourself solving a word puzzle while fighting off a crab that swears he's a pirate.
The amount of random things you do in this game are ridiculously high.
Differing level designs, new themes, unique enemies, and interesting abilities offer a multitude of experiences to have. Games with gratuitous amounts of variety in mind are what keep me invested for long periods of time. For instance Super Mario 3D World looks like a game that heavily embraces changing up the play style.
The Captain Toad segments of 3D World seem like the biggest flow changers. When you're playing as Captain Toad you're unable to jump and have to tackle stages more like puzzles than obstacle courses.
Speaking of obstacle courses the 'mystery box' sections have a Wario Ware feel to them now. When you jump in one you'll have a short amount of time to perform some action, grab a green star, and move onto the next section. If you fail a part of the 'mystery box' challenge you'll have to start all over again from the top. These new play styles accompanied by the various power-ups and items in the game combine to make a very diverse experience. I can't wait to try it out!
What games have you played that are jam packed full of variety?
This article was originally posted on my gaming discussion website: Berathen Games