While playing After Burner Climax last night, it hit me. How long has it been since most games were like this? Ten years? Fifteen years? Twenty years? Games used to be entirely based around a single gameplay mechanic. Shooting things, overtaking things, jumping on things… technical limitations demanded it. But the key was in doing that one thing well – and that just doesn't happen any more.
Ironically, Call of Duty's multiplayer does stick to that one thing – and look how successful that is. It simply gives you a brilliant shooting system and lets you have fun with it. Indeed, tinkering with it in Modern Warfare 2 has arguably over-complicated the game and made it less enduring.
But other games seem to want to give us everything. A sandbox world, RPG elements... Even a game that sets out to let you do like Just Cause 2 feels it has to tack on a ropy story and disappointing delivery of missions. And ninjas. Unexplained ninjas. And then there's the stealth section that has to be in every game, because people love stealth. It was even in The Wind Waker. You can't say it made the game better.
Above: Isn't this cool enough? Let's add disappearing ninjas
And then there are racing games that all need to have hundreds of cars, hundreds of layers of decal edits and a whole array of driver aids to pacify people who want to hold accelerate all the time. If that's what they want to do, let them do it - they'll enjoy the crash animations that this generation offers. Sheesh.
So what's the obsession with variety? There just seems to be this fear in the industry at the moment of being too one-note. To use a musical comparison here, you can either have one instrument play all the notes at once and fail to deliver any kind of lasting melody, or you can just play an unforgettable power chord. If After Burner Climax were a sound, it would be the last note of a rock concert.
Above: After Burner Climax does one thing, turned up to 11
Thankfully, there are a few great examples of modern games that do one thing without appearing to be 'too retro'. Trials HD may feel like a bit of a curio alongside the more conventional games on XBLA with its devastatingly simple go/stop control system, but it had the entire GR office in a choke hold for weeks. Ragdoll bails and impressive lighting effects keep it contemporary, but the basic gameplay could have been achieved on a NES.
Geometry Wars and its sequel are universally acclaimed for their brilliance – but the whole game is based around a square, 2D grid. Super Stardust HD is similar, and while it has loads of game modes, they're all based around the basic idea of moving your ship around what amounts to a flat playing arena without getting blown up.
Above: Super Stardust HD is extremely underrated and often dismissed
Then there's Portal, which we declared the perfect videogame – that's built entirely around a single gaming mechanic. Did anyone complain about that?
Why don't we have more games like this? And why are all but one of the examples above consigned to XBLA and PSN? A great videogame is a great videogame, no matter how it's packaged. Gamers won't feel short-changed if the concept is good enough.
I want to see some full-price games that are so fantastically programmed, their longevity and appeal goes beyond the quantity of their parts.
23 Apr, 2010