Thursday, May 26, 2011

Megabits' Pick of Minigames To Love & Hate

A minigame can add a bit of challenge to an otherwise routine game task. It can provide a much needed break from a lengthy mission. If it’s ingenious enough, it can actually be the best bit of the game. Alternatively, it can be a piece of joyless padding thrown in by developers to get the playtime up, or worse still a frustrating obstacle to progress.

Below you’ll find a few of our favourites and a few of the ones we hated. For the sake of immediacy we’ve restricted ourselves to the current generation (that’s right, no Blitzball here), but we’d love to hear your opinions on the best and worst minigames of all time...

Minigames we love:

Dead Space/ Zero G Basketball
Unlike Dead Space’s other minigame, Asteroids, Zero G basketball doesn’t really serve the plot. Also unlike Asteroids, Zero G basketball isn’t a frustrating roadblock to game progress. It almost feels like they put it in as an apology! Making use of the stasis/kinesis module and the magnetic boots, Zero G Basketball is a gentle, mildly challenging diversion that allows you to explore some of the game’s mechanics in far less hair raising environment that the main game. It’s particularly nice to see how well implemented they are without simultaneously twitching and gibbering in abject terror.

Fallout 3/Lockpicking
A triumph of simplicity and perfectly pitched feedback. At first glance there’s not much to see in Fallout 3’s lockpicking: an almost immobile visual and some slow paced thumb twiddling. The reason why it’s stand out is because it’s a thoroughly tactile component of the game-it’s all about the gradually escalating pulse from your controller to your thumbs and the gently clicks and rattles from the speaker. Games so rarely aspire to offer more than eye candy that we have to applaud one that uses a skillset that can be applied while blindfolded.

Ooh, aren’t we controversial? Having to play pipes is just about the only complaint most people can raise about Bioshock, but we at Megabits bucked the trend and actually enjoyed it. The combination of simple gameplay set against a timer made it challenging without being frustrating, and the duration of the minigame was short enough to prevent it from disrupting the flow of the main game. Even the design logic, that you’re essentially routing Rapture’s wonderfluid, Adam, to a genetically engineered turret controller, made a certain amount of sense. Frankly, we can’t understand all the hate.

Call of Duty: Black Ops/ Zork
There wasn’t much to like in CoDBlops. Meathead characters, a predictable plot twist, atrocious dialogue and a few historical inaccuracies all combined to add another brick to the pockets of a slowly drowning franchise. Again, we’re aware that we might be out of step here, but really, what did CoDBlops offer that could compare with CoD 2? Well, there was one thing...tap LT and RT repeatedly on the menu screen and you’ll suddenly find yourself breaking free of the chair. A cursory exploration of the room will bring you to an old computer upon which you can play the classic text based adventure, Zork. Those of you who know your Rigel’s Revenge from your Quest for the Golden Eggcup will be aware of the high esteem in which Zork is held, and the fun doesn’t stop there, as there’s also a top down shooter to be found on the same machine.

Red Dead Redemption/Horseshoes
There doesn’t initially seem to be much depth to playing Horseshoes. It’s quite difficult to master, but once you have got the hang of it, there’s nowhere further to go. But amidst the betrayals, manhunts and widespread slaughter of the old west, you’ll slowly come to appreciate the quiet simplicity of the game, the gentle thud and clink of the horseshoes, and the calm moments they provide.

Minigames we hate:

Brutal Legend/ The Death Rack
From the basic turret-wielding of your everyday FPS through to the carefully constructed gunship missions found in Call of Duty or Medal of Honour, the chance to become one with the machine and rain fiery death upon your foes is an integral part of modern gaming. Sadly, the attempt to similarly up your firepower in Brutal Legend falls a tad short. The controls are slow moving, the camera angles are unhelpful, there’s very little feedback and almost no connection between the feedback and the onscreen action. It feels like the part of the game they handed over to the work experience kid.

Mass Effect 1 &2
Maybe we’re being mean, but we’re having a combo entry for all the minigames in both Mass Effect titles. They range from the uninspired (matching pairs) to the clumsy (shape-matching bits of scrolling text) to the outright dull (Probe away, Captain). As a whole, Mass Effect is a slick and involving franchise, but there’s not a minigame in it that we’d choose to play in favour of, say, spending another three hours in a Mass Effect lift.

Left 4 Dead 2/Whack a Mole
The love that Megabits has for Valve in general and Left 4 Dead in particular, is as endless as a Mass Effect conversation tree. Sadly, our feelings don’t extend to the whack-a-mole minigame included in Left 4 Dead 2’s Dark Carnival level. It’s a nice way to make use of the game’s addition of melee weapons, but where zombie-thumping seems to have some genuine physicality to it, the wafts and swipes you make at the Whack-a-Mole’s bouncing Moustachios seem almost intangible. The only way you can tell that you’re making progress is to watch the score counter, and you’ll soon find that randomly hammering the trigger is as effective as any sort of timed and aimed shot. If you must have the achievement, cheat and use a machine gun.

Fable 3/Blacksmithing
Green, blue, green, blue, green, green, blue, green, blue, blue, blue...etc. It’s like Guitar Hero but without the music. It’s like playing Simple Simon at an age when playing such kids games should earn you a mandatory CRB check. It’s pointless, joyless and the button pushing bears no relation to the activity you’re simulating. Of course, you can spend rare and hard earned Guild Seals to upgrade the minigame. Do you know what that gets you? Green, blue, green, blue, blue, yellow, green, yellow.

Fallout 3/Hacking
Fallout 3’s terminal hacking combines an irritating trial-and-error premise with an eye-straining layout that manages to stop you dead in your tracks for lengthy periods of time whilst relying on a mix of luck and skill that can penalise even the most careful players. Add to that the way it makes your eyes swim as you try to make sense of the screen and you’ve got a recipe for both tedium and migraines.