Let's hunt for treasure!
Loads of games have secrets in them. But few games are cheeky enough to put one slap bang on the very first screen of the game. Whether hidden in plain sight or cunningly tucked away, countless gamers will have happily marched off on their quest, totally oblivious to the secret awesomeness they're leaving behind.
I'm not even counting secrets 'in the first area' here. I've restricted the criteria to things you have to do to get a secret on the very first screen. Yes, it's a harsh world. But it's even harsher when you realise how many times you've walked right past this load of awesome stuff. Observe...
Resident Evil Code: Veronica (Dreamcast, 2000)
At the beginning of Capcom's 3D zombie classic, Claire Redfield is imprisoned in a cell. So as soon as the door is opened and the game begins, it makes sense that the very last thing you would want to do is turn around and walk straight back into your prison. But then you'd be missing out on a free health item, the iconic Green Herb.
Chance of finding it first time: 72.321%. The whole point of Resident Evil games is finding items by scouring the environment. So most Resi players would check the cell. But then the camera does only tilt down to reveal the herb if you walk all the way inside. OK, I didn't find it first time. Happy now?
Rayman Legends (Multi, 2013)
Good ol' Rayman. Did you know there's a secret right there when you take control? There's a great big hole in the tree, big enough to walk through, only it's cunningly concealed with a thin frond of ferny foliage.
Chance of finding it first time: 90%. Very few people miss the massive hole or neglect to have a little look-see to find out what lies beyond (it's a Teensie in a cage). That one out of ten people, I'm sad to say, is me. I didn't see it.
Abe's Oddysee (PlayStation, 1997)
Plenty of Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus levels contain secrets on their first screen. But the first screen in the first game? What madness is this?! Turns out if you crouch down behind that barrel, you can enter a secret area where you'll find more Mudokons to save.
Chances of finding it first time: 5%. You might just think it would be funny to crouch behind it like Abe's hiding from everyone. But it's unlikely. For example, I didn't do it.
Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes (multi, 2014)
Did you know you can technically see a major secret in the very first screen of Ground Zeroes? I don't mean some secret room in the distance or anything like that. I mean one of the secret FOX patches. It's there on Snake himself, stuck between his bag and his back. Yes, you can see a few pixels of it. No, you'd never guess what it was.
Chance of finding it first time: 0%. You would have to start the game, scour every inch of Snake's character model before you did anything else, see something lodged there (impossible), then suppose the only way to dislodge it would be to roll around on the grass. Over and over again. No way, Jose. I didn't do... oh, actually I personally haven't played it yet.
Bio Menace (MS-DOS, 1993)
Little-known platform-actioner Bio Menace gives you a load of grenades and a gun (but sadly no sun cream--looks like the guy could use some) if you just bother to check your own crashed plane on the first screen of the game. But that does involve pushing 'left' when convention demands you immediately run right. Not sure I can get behind that kind of thinking.
Chance of finding it first time: 60% The plane isn't on fire, so why not just check it? I didn't do it, though. Because I've never played it. Aha!
CJ's Elephant Antics (Spectrum version, 1990)
GR's Dave Houghton reckons I'm trying to get CJ's Elephant Antics into as many GamesRadar articles as possible, but that's not strictly true. I mean, I didn't even mention it once in my How to make retro games look incredible on your HDTV article earlier this week. But it's a fine example because there are 2x10 bombs to collect on the left of the first screen, which disappear if you don't walk over to them immediately. Useful stuff.
Chance of finding it first time: 10%. Because even though they're there on the screen just a little way away, they're flickering, you're flickering, and there are those damn frogs jumping around everywhere. Oh, and Spectrum's colour 'issues' mean everything takes a bit of studying to work out what you're supposed to be seeing. Basically brilliant, then. But in the naivety of my youth, I didn't see them.
Doom 2 (MS-DOS, 1994)
Subverting the 'push left instead of right' idea used in platformers, Doom 2 rewards you for running left instead of setting off into the 3D game world. Very clever. So if the first thing you do is strafe left, you'll find a chainsaw around the corner. Outstanding!
Chance of finding it first time: 1%. It's Doom freakin' 2. The sequel to Doom. And all its double-barreled shotgun-shaped goodness lies right there ahead of you. So why would anyone immediately have a look to see if there's anything interesting in the wall to the left? I would say 'STOP GETTING GAMES WRONG', but then I would have had a chainsaw already. And I didn't. Are you sensing a theme yet?
Limbo (Multi, 2010)
The first screen not only holds a secret, it's also ready to give you an Avatar Award (on 360, natch) and an Achievement. Again, just walk left. The game will point out you've gone the 'wrong way' by giving you an achievement called exactly that. Could have been a LOT worse. Could have been a spider waiting there. That's how I would've done it. Walked left? BOOM! Spider death. That would have learned 'em.
Chance of finding it first time: 35%. If you know to always check to the left, then sure. If you did, then you're very clever and should have a biscuit. But even though I've known about 'running left' for bonuses since 1991, I didn't find it. Dagnabbit...
Predator (NES, 1987)
I really like this one. There's a gun hanging from the tree right at the start of the game, which is yours for the level if you actually spot it and make the simple jump up to reach it. But it's so perfectly hidden in plain sight, most gamers will probably mistake it for part of the HUD.
Chance of finding it first time: 40%. It is right there on the screen, unobscured and within easy reach. But then again, the game is (points to the right) that-a-way...
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation, 1997)
You start Symphony of the Night just before the end of its predecessor, Rondo of Blood, setting the scene for the game proper. When the new game finally starts, you leap across the rising drawbridge and through the gates of the castle as the doors close, sealing you inside as you take control again. UNLESS you use the 'slide' move immediately to the left, in which case you can get through the doors before they close. You're outside the castle and can get on the roof. But you're not meant to be there and it's all broken. And you can't ever get back inside. D'oh.
Chance of finding it first time: 2%. It's unlikely anyone would dash left, but the door is closing, not closed, and you have already been able to use the dash move in the preceding segment. So in theory, a quick-witted gamer could do it. But obviously that's not me. Cos I didn't.
Tomb Raider III (PlayStation/PC, 1998)
Remember the slope at the start of Tomb Raider III? The one that killed you with its spikes halfway down? Bet you didn't know you could have had a shotgun in your inventory before you even stepped onto it! The very first screen is pointing at the 'secret' route that lets you go onto the green area you can jump to, then jump back across the slope and youll land on a platform just under the leaves. Happiness, thy name is shotgun.
Chance of finding it first time: 2%. There are two methods of finding it, but the first thing most people pushed was 'forwards', immediately starting the unstoppable slide. Plus that texture obscuring the platform means you'd never see the shotgun or the platform unless you were combing every inch of the level. No surprises here: I didn't.
Streets of Rage II (Mega Drive/Genesis, 1992)
And finally, the inspiration for this feature. Did you know about the 1Up hidden behind the bin on the first screen? Me neither, until I played it in two-player recently with arcade sticks, pressed all the buttons in turn to see what was assigned to what, then heard the extra life chime. Daft, really. Now I know it's there, I realise you can even see it when the camera scrolls on, thanks to the parallax. Tsk.
Chance of finding it first time: 5%. If you've played the original Streets of Rage, then it's possible you might check behind things with the punch button. But basically, you'll be wanting to head right and play the best game on Mega Drive.
Got any more?
Ironically, despite the running theme of me not finding stuff, I did happen upon Jon the Programmer's Squinky Tennis on Game Gear, by holding down Start while turning on Micro Machines for some unknown reason. But I didn't have a link cable so that was the end of that. Great success! So... got any more first-screen secrets I missed? Let everyone know in the comments.