Shmups, in theory, should be fantastic when you have a hangover. The mechanics are simple enough for even your sorry, booze-boiled brain to comprehend, and the constant focus on the sheer, unbridled killing of easily-explodable baddoes should provide more than enough emotional compensation and ego massage for the weak, wretched, baby-like physical state you find yourself in. Shoot a hundred aliens, become a real man once more!
Above: Believe it or not, this is a really relaxing, zen game. Just cover your ears during the boot-up. That Spectrum screech could kill a man on a hangover
But there’s a problem. Shmups get hard. They get hard fast. And not only that, they do so in a way that involves so much sensory overload that if a hungover person were to play a shmup, and were to play that shmup while wearing a stethoscope, and were put that stethoscope to their chest while playing and listen really hard, deep beneath the breath and heartbeat they would hear the sound of their own soul weeping.
Praise whatever belief system gets you through the day with a clean conscience then, that we have Leave Home. Not only is a gorgeous, throbbing, neon pastel eye-massage, it actually notices when you’re playing like crap and gets easier! You’ll need to crack out the skills if you want high scores, but if you’re hungover, you won't. Plus, Leave Home is an endlessly replayable six-minute run rather than an hour-long shooting epic, meaning that it’s an ideal match for your woefully inadequate attention span, Result!
Crackdown/Crackdown 2 (Xbox 360)
What’s this? A violent action game, on a list of games that are safe to play with a brain full of booze-havoc and a body full of vomit and regret? What fresh madness is this? But the Crackdown games you see, are different. Where most heavy action games require a sharp focus, tight reactions and perpetual concentration, getting the most fun out of Crackdown requires the exact opposite.
There is a good reason no-one pays any attention to the main campaign (well, two if you count the fact that it’s a bit too vague to care about). Wandering off willy-nilly to collect orbs, power up your Agent, and then collect more, previously unreachable orbs is far more fun. And also, it’s as addictive Peggle-flavoured Pringles. And so it’s also ideal when you’re hungover.
Once you’ve levelled up a bit, you’ll find yourself soaring gracefully over the city with the greatest of ease. Up there, high above the bustle and violence of the streets, things are peaceful, and the simple joys of your Agent's gentle, arcing movements can be enjoyed without stress or interruption. Orb collecting is also an activity positively designed for a short attention span. Spot shiny thing. Jump over to shiny thing via a short burst of fun adventure playground action. Collect shiny thing. Repeat.
Above: Agents stand together, proud, steadfast, and drunk
Shiny thing too hard to get? Look! There’s another shiny thing! And another! And another! And another! And look down there! Stuff to smash! Things to blow up! No consequences! If you get attacked by bad guys, Crackdown’s insanely generous auto-lock-on makes cleaning them up as easy as jumping around while holding down both triggers. And in Crackdown 2, you can mindlessly pop zombies by the hundreds, for minutes at a time. Simple, peaceful fun, constant progression, and the therapeutic empowerment of a city full of easy-to-kill bad guys. Crackdown is a perfect way of dealing with a suicide Saturday.
Prince of Persia 2008 (Xbox 360, PS3)
However much it fails as a proper, hardcore Prince of Persia game (a lot), Ubisoft’s 2008 ‘reinvention’ of the series does serve another purpose spectacularly. By the criteria I set out at the beginning of this feature, it may well be the ultimate hangover game.
Above: The bleary eyes of a drunkard if ever there were any
First up, it’s a stunningly gorgeous game. Its bright, airy, natural environments are rendered with the kind of bounteous ethereal splendour usually reserved for the hookers they have in Heaven. It’s littered with gorgeous, lilting sounds and shimmering spot effects, and the Assassin’s-Creed-inspired, over-the-shoulder bastardisation of PoP’s gameplay has a gentle, rhythmic ebb and flow as you leap, swing and flip past plank, pole and hole. And best (though usually worst) of all, the damn thing plays itself!
Step one: Push the stick forward and hold it there. Step two: Jab the A button at random intervals. It doesn’t really matter when. Whenever you remember will do. Step three: Complete game with a ratio of around fourteen Achievements a minute. Look! Look at all the cool things you’re making the Prince do, despite the fact that your brain is currently a toilet and you can hardly see the screen through your own tears! Feel! Feel how effortlessly all of your mad skills are translating into triumphant acrobatic excess, by virtue of the game requesting not a hint of basic motor control or cognitive response!
Above: See her as your designated driver
Did you, by some minor miracle requiring the attention of the very Pope himself, manage to actually fall down that hole despite the game’s five minute input windows for a successfully-timed jump? It doesn’t matter! You’re not actually dead! Just keep jabbing A all the way down, keep jabbing it as Elika pulls you back up, and then just damn well keep on jabbing it as she puts you down and you’ll be over that gap in no time! Close your eyes for a while. Rest your old peepers if you like. It won’t matter what else you do, just as long as you keep jabbing A.
Prince of Persia, you might provide very little in terms of long-term gameplay excitement or satisfying learning curve, but goddamn it, the drunks of the world salute you.
Any games you think we've missed? Is there any other game on any format that you use as your personal comfort blanket when the booze demons give you a kicking? And will you be trying any of these this weekend? Let me know in the comments, or through our swirling social portals on Facebook and Twitter.
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