Five things that can make any game better

There’s no shortage of different types of games, and I think it goes without saying that there’s no one recipe for how to put together a good game (much less a successful one!). Even on a personal, subjective level, I might have a general preference or tendency towards certain types of games – arcadey and action-focused games in my case – but there are always exceptions. Certain games manages to either overcome some inherent bias on my part, or just appeal in a different way, for totally different reasons.

There’s no real central thread connecting what makes different types of games compelling, and as such, it would be sort of inane to suggest there are rules that any and every type of game should follow. Now, having said all that, throughout my years of obsessing over big and small details in games, there are a couple of things I’ve found can increase my enjoyment of a game – any game. So without further ado, presented in no particular order: Five things that can make any game better:

1 – Riding motorcycles

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Fun with bikes in GRAND THEFT AUTOs 5 and 4

Motorbikes are just rad. Any game (racing or otherwise) that feature both cars and bikes make it abundantly clear that riding a bike is way more fun and cool than driving a car. They’re nimble, they’re fast (the cool ones anyway), and a lot of the time they allow you to perform all kinds of cool, dumb, fun, irresponsible and all-around glorious stunts. Even in games not centered around driving or vehicular action, but where the use of motorcycles is more incidental and/or limited, bikes are still neat.

Notable examples: GRAND THEFT AUTO series, HEADHUNTER, SHIN NEKKETSU KOUHA: KUNIO-TACHI NO BANKA

 

2 – Jumping across rooftops

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PRINCE OF PERSIA 2. Maybe the best introductory stage in a game ever?

Jumping across rooftops sums up about 80% of the appeal of ASSASSIN’S CREED. I mean, that’s what drew me to that first game personally, and has been a significant part of the enjoyment I’ve gotten out of the handful of sequels I’ve played since. It’s a pleasure that is somehow uniquely separate from the general joy of platforming – I’m not sure exactly why, but if I had to guess I’d say it might be that the thrill of leaping from building to building feels just a bit more relatable than more abstract platforming challenges.

Traversing rooftops is fun in and of itself, but what really takes things to the next level is when you get to fight enemies on said rooftops – and proceed to knock them off said rooftops. Knocking enemies off platforms or into pits is itself a simple, primal joy, and nowhere is that as fun as it is at the top of a sprawling cityscape.

Notable examples: PRINCE OF PERSIA 2: THE SHADOW & THE FLAME, ASSASSIN’S CREED series, CRACKDOWN, MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN

 

3 – Playing dress-up

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SUNSET OVERDRIVE had a pretty sizable selection of decent-looking fashions

Character customization is fun! And while I do enjoy games that give you absurd levels of control of the tiniest detail of your character’s body shape or facial features, ultimately I feel many games like that end up dropping the ball somewhat, for one of two reasons: for one, the characters often just look kind of ugly, but in addition, whatever personalisation you put into the physical appearance of the character is kind of moot when the custom outfit you dress them in kinda sucks too.

So boiling it down a little further, what I really like in games, and what I think is a welcome addition in any kind of game, is letting me:

  1. customize the appearance of my character to my liking
  2. without it looking like some half-baked hack job

It’s really the second part that’s the most important – the breadth of options in a character editor really makes no difference if none of the options look any good. On the flipside, just letting me pick between 4 colour schemes for my character can be great if they all look nice. Similarly, alternate costumes are always a welcome addition, and can easily be preferable to more in-depth customization – as long as they look nice and provide variety.

Case in point: Recent TEKKEN games got rid of the series’ traditional ‘P2’ alternate costumes in favour of a customization system – a sad trade in my eyes, as no custom outfit will ever look nearly as good as the proper, developer-created ones.

Notable examples: DRAGON’S DOGMA, VIRTUA FIGHTER 4: EVOLUTION, FIRE PRO WRESTLING series (countless wrestling games, really), fighting games with a Color Edit mode

 

4 – Scoring systems

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Don’t forget to angrily swear at your enemies as you kill them for a 10% Taunt Bonus!

50 CENT: BLOOD ON THE SAND is an amazing game. One of the many reasons it stands head and shoulders above games like GEARS OF WAR is its awesome use of scoring to make the combat truly engaging (in addition to just feeling pretty good). A well-designed scoring system can encourage fun and exciting play styles a player might not intuitively embrace, it can also add tons of depth and “replay value” (I put the latter in quotes because I’m not super thrilled with the implication that games can’t be worth replaying without systems explicitly providing that value – but I digress).

More specifically I suppose, it can encourage and reward mastery of a game by spelling out to the player how the game should be played, or at the very least show that there’s likely a lot to the skill of playing the game that the player has yet to discover. Although it certainly can be discouraging at times, I often find that being rewarded with a bronze medal (or worse) the first time I make it through a challenge does tend to also make me excited about the prospect of practicing and building up my skill so I can get a better rating.

Notable examples: JAMES BOND 007: NIGHTFIRE, 50 CENT: BLOOD ON THE SAND, BAYONETTA, URBAN REIGN, TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER series

 

5 – Wrestling moves

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The classic Jab-Jab-Elbow-Tombstone Piledriver-Leg Drop combo

Look, wrestling moves are just cool. Pro wrestling was massively popular in Japan in the 1970’s and 80’s, and as such was an important part of the pop culture potpourri that informed a lot of what we saw in Japanese video games in the 80’s in 90’s. There are countless examples of games from that era that more or less brazenly stole any and all kinds of pop culture iconography for their character designs, storylines, music, and more. Among it, a healthy representation of pro wrestling – whether or not it made sense in a game’s setting. Hell yeah!

Granted, there are countless Hulk Hogan pastiches in games about wrestling, street fighting, and whatever else – and I certainly have no issue with that – but what I really want to champion here is the deliberate and gratuitous use of pro wrestling moves in a decidedly non-wrestling context. Whether it’s a pile driver, a power bomb, a shining wizard, a moonsault, a german suplex or even a simple lariat – there simply is no video game action hero who couldn’t benefit from having a wrestling more or two in their repertoire.

Notable examples: RESIDENT EVIL series, DEAD RISING, DYNAMITE DEKA, HYBRID HEAVEN

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