15. Grand Theft Auto series
Start with Zelda, then add dozens of
independent agents hanging around, each doing their own thing. You
can affect them, and they can affect you.
Published by Take Two
Developed by Rockstar North
Platform: Playstation 2, Windows, Xbox,
My favorite thing to do when playing
these is to forget about the plot, find a hack somewhere, and run
fares. So I like Crazy Taxi, so sue me. But there's far more
to do here than just that. There's so much to do in a GTA
city that the storyline seems uninteresting by comparison.
Ocarina of Time was a
breakthrough in many ways, and direct sequel Majora's Mask
succeeded admirably in making the player feel like a participant in a
world in which things were happening whether he was directly
involved in them or not. But after that, what? While Wind Waker
went towards bigness, secret hunting and navigation challenges,
and Twilight Princess went towards being Ocarina of Time
DX, it feels like the true evolution of the ideas from the first
two 3D Zeldas came not from Japan, but from Scotland.
Basically, the Grand Theft Auto
games feel like urban Zelda, with full realization of what
that implies. It means a multitude of actors all with their own
behavior and movement. It means realistic traffic, as either
obstacle to be overcome or opportunity to be taken advantage of. It
means traffic patterns they obey even if you don't have to. It means
all this going on while you have your own missions to accomplish,
with the two intersecting in completely unplanned ways. It means
just-for-fun subgames that take advantage of the patterns. It means,
in brief, something that looks like applied chaos theory.
Chaos theory. That's the branch of
math that describes systems that look random but are in fact built
off of many interacting, non-random systems, producing behavior so
complex that it looks random to us. Of course GTA does
contain random elements so the comparison isn't precisely apt. But
it seems quite suggestive of it to these eyes. It's really a
tremendous shame much of the media has latched onto the series as an
example of all that's depraved in gaming since the series provides so
many awesome ideas... but then, it can't be said the developers
haven't invited the controversy.
The GTA games work as standard
open world games, sure, with rooftops, warehouses, side roads and
coastline to explore, and in the Zelda style there are rewards
scattered around for this kind of searching. But there are other, more
profound, types of exploration here too. Exploring the answers to
questions like, how much property damage could I do here within a
To get back to the general theme of the
rest of the series, while the games lock off portions of the city
until the player has advanced somewhat in the game's story, the games
are generally exhilarating in how open they are. There are
refreshingly few artificial barriers to the player's wanderlust
within the city. None of this collecting of High Jump Boots and
Varia Suits here, nossir.
GameFAQs (GTA III)
Speed Demos Archive (GTA III)
16. The Goonies II
Coming out shortly after Metroid,
and containing both side-scrolling "action" scenes and
first-person "adventure" scenes that, in fact, play like
adventure games. The mixture provides for an odd, yet undeniably
Developed by Konami
Platform: Famicom, NES
Some of the characters in the adventure
scenes don't like it when you use the "hit" command on them
and refuse to help you any more, but at least one must be hit five
times before he gives up his treasure. How would one find this out
without a strategy guide? I have no idea. Also noteworthy, the game
contains no bosses, but one doesn't generally notice this during
play. Combat is thus de-emphasized, making for a game that offers
unusually pure exploration.
The Goonies II was a
semi-popular game from the early days of the NES, but what ever
happened to "The Goonies I?" It was released only
in Japan and on U.S. Playchoice arcade machines. I've played through
all of the original The Goonies and can say it is an
unreasonably difficult game. The sequel tones down the difficulty
considerably, adds kinda out-of-place "adventure scenes,"
and is structured as an open world game, instead of as a bunch of
One of the interesting things about it
is that the player gets a map right from the start, but it's split
into two halves, "front" and "back." I've played
through this game several times by now, and while I can understand in
principle how the front and back maps are supposed to fit together,
I've still yet to ever make use of that information in any real way.
It doesn't help that the game contains "warp zones" that
can send the player clear across the map regardless of how the rooms
might connect spatially. One of the items the player might find, the
Detectors, exist only to point out on the map the location of the
Goonies the player is trying to save, but the player will probably
find them just as well by searching everywhere they can.
The strangest feature of the game has
to be the "adventure scenes," which are like mini adventure
games contained within each of the doors. The adventure scenes don't
really work that well, they just produce a lot of make-work and
arbitrary stuff for the player to do or else get screwed. Sometimes
a door only appears if you hit the wall in the center, or the floor
or ceiling, so the player ends up hitting the walls in every room.
Sometimes a door (or floor or ceiling hole) only appears if the wall
is hit with the hammer, so that ends up being done too. Also, doors
sometimes are on the back wall of a room, "behind" the
player, so the player must also try to move backward from many rooms
in case he misses a door that way. The effect is less that of
solving a puzzle and more of a list of things to try in each and
every adventure room or else risk missing the essential passage
needed to move on.
The relation between the Action and
Adventure scenes is a little more coupled than they may seem at
first. Most of the major powerups, like jumping shoes and
slingshots, are found in Adventure scenes, but can only be obtained
with keys. Keys are usually found in Action scenes, dropped by
defeated enemies. I can't help but think that must make the game
torture for speedrunners, being so beholden to keys dropped randomly
by random monsters.
There are a number of fairly inventive
obstacles in the game, far more inventive generally than other games
at the time. The forest region uses background animation to produce
gushing torrents of water that can harm the player and knock him off
platforms, and the effect is rather striking for a NES game of the
time. The suspension bridge is only one small area of the game, but
it has unique graphics and even a special enemy that appears there
that doesn't do any damage, but eats one of the player's weapons!
Midway through the player even finds a wet-suit and is able to swim
in underwater areas.
The object of the game is to rescue six
Goonies, then go and rescue Annie the Artistic License Mermaid. The
door she's hidden behind is awesome: a unique, gigantic steel
portal that implies through its very imposingness "open me to
win the game."
One very strange thing about the game
gets back to what I was talking about earlier about significant
voids. There are a number of rooms in the game that can only be
found by bombing specific places, or pressing "up" in
unmarked places to enter a hidden door. Usually they contain Konami
Man who offers a health refill, or an extra life. Once contains a
helpful optional item. None of them are required to find to win the
The thing is, there are no explicit
clues to finding any of these rooms, but sometimes there are implicit
clues, like an enclosed bit of an area with nothing inside, or a
moving platform that leads by a waterfall that doesn't seem to go
anywhere. They are probably hidden a little too well, since players
who had never played the original Goonies (most people in the
U.S.) would never think about finding doors with bombs, and making
doors invisible just feels like cheating on the game's behalf.
Still, think about the reaction of the
player the unlikely event he does happen upon one randomly. Wouldn't
that seem like the most awesome thing in the world? The key to
hiding them is to do it in a place where he would ordinarily do the
thing that would make it appear anyway, so it appears by accident.
Once he's found one, he'll be on the lookout for other significant
places later. But if the player is given no clue they exist, then
the game basically requires a strategy guide to finish. Which is, in
case you must be reminded, a bad thing.
Hardcore Gaming 101