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The Top 7... Games that make us feel like geniuses

5) Tomb Raider

Make no mistake. Tomb Raider is a mainstream phenomenon not because of the series' gameplay, but because of its female protagonist – to the masses that embraced Lara Croft as a new cultural icon in the late '90s, the games were just another convenient method for staring at her polygonal behind. Who cared what she was actually doing? That's a shame, because "what she was actually doing" is far cleverer than the eventual nude codes, swimsuit spreads and braindead Angelina Jolie movies would have people believe.

Lara solves puzzles. Her exotic surroundings are merely puzzles in three-dimensional disguise, and her famously flexible body is designed more as a universal tool for solving those puzzles than as a sex symbol. Running, jumping, climbing, diving, hanging, rolling, backflipping… these are fast and exciting moves, yes, but in Tomb Raider, they're also slow and deliberate methods for overcoming complex obstacles. The action-fused replacement for point-and-click inventory management.

See, in some ways, you were playing an old-school adventure game the whole time! And with all that strategic thinking, you don't have to feel so guilty about all that perverted leering.


4) BioShock

We don't feel like geniuses when playing BioShock. Deep down, the game is just another shooter with some mild RPG elements, and your trigger reflexes are put to a much greater test than your mental skills. Even the pipe-hacking "puzzles" are more like casual clickfests you'd expect to find pre-loaded on a Windows PC, right next to Minesweeper.

No, we feel like geniuses when discussing BioShock. While the core mechanics may be relatively basic and familiar, the narrative – as well as the ideas that the narrative confronts – are anything but. What other game could claim inspiration from sources as diverse as Doom and Atlas Shrugged? What other game could prompt arguments about postmodernism, capitalism and utopianism in the same breath as conversations about machine guns and health kits? What other game encourages us to write phrases like "subverts the genre" instead of "for fans of the genre"? What other game has a guide to the theory of Ayn Rand's Objectivism listed right next to a guide for bosses on GameFAQs?

BioShock is that rare interactive experience you can imagine being assigned on college campuses someday… and not only for courses in game design.


3) Pokémon

The Pokémon series is designed to be simplistic enough on the surface that even a small child could play it successfully. To the uninitiated, it appears to be nothing more than the most basic of turned-based RPGs. Pick your starter Pokémon, catch the first few Pokémon you encounter, give them four basic attacks, and grind your way to 8 gym badges and win the league championship through sheer brute force. But that's only the surface. Delve deeper, and you'll find a world of complex mathematics and strategy so deep it makes chess look like Hungry Hungry Hippos.


Above: Ever wondered how a Poke Ball works, exactly? Or you could just throw it and mash the buttons  

The sheer amount of data you need to memorize to battle competitively is staggering – there are 649 Pokémon, with 17 elemental types and 272 possible type combinations, 25 stat-determining Natures, over 500 moves… and the list doesn't stop there. The possibilities for training each Pokémon are practically endless, not to mention that each Pokémon needs to complement its team of six effectively. You need to be able to react to anything your opponent can throw at you too, which means you need to know every Pokémon's strengths and weaknesses, not just your own. Not only that, but so much of what it takes to train a Pokémon to its full potential is hidden within game mechanics that aren't directly visible within the game, like EVs and IVs. Secret knowledge makes us feel smugly superior, especially when it means a decisive victory.

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67 comments

  • inSovietRussiaDatesRecallBrettElston - January 31, 2011 10:30 p.m.

    no gabriel knight charlie?
  • ventanger - January 31, 2011 10:34 p.m.

    Hm. "Adventure puzzle games" like Sam & Max, Hugo's House of Whatever, and yes, even Gabriel Knight are less about testing your own intellectual aptitude and more about adapting your train of thought to what's the most likely outcome schemed up by the designer of the game. Whereas say, Portal presents you with a defined set of rules and a challenge to overcome by using those rules, Adventure puzzle games rarely really set up a concrete foundation with which to solve your predicament. n' shit.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - January 31, 2011 10:34 p.m.

    Gabriel Knight has some great puzzles, but nothing that surpasses the puzzles in every other point-and-click adventure game. I love Gabriel Knight more for the story, setting and characters.
  • juicenpancakes - January 31, 2011 10:35 p.m.

    I couldn't agree with #1 more. Portal made me feel like I was an idiot for the longest time, but then when I'd finally figure out the puzzle it was as satisfying as a moment I've had with games in the past few years. Then I could walk away happily feeling like a genius.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - January 31, 2011 10:35 p.m.

    Ooooh, what ventanger said. Very nicely put!
  • Roflcoptersmileyface - January 31, 2011 10:39 p.m.

    good article Charlie, you've made me seen pokemon in a different light :)
  • ricono - January 31, 2011 10:41 p.m.

    i totally agree with number 1, when i played portal it made me just feel like i was discovering all these cool ways to complete puzels instead of the game telling me how to manipulate the portals to do what i wanted it to do, even though in a way it was.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - January 31, 2011 10:41 p.m.

    @Roflcoptersmileyface Thank you, but the Pokemon entry was actually written by our resident Pokemon PhD, Carolyn Gudmundson.
  • Radagast107 - January 31, 2011 10:43 p.m.

    you know another game that takes FOREVER to beat because of its difficulty and length. Ecco the Dolphin. Some of those mazes are near impossible and after beating the game you feel like you have accomplished something great. But also after beating it you vow to never play the game again. At least that is what I did!
  • Phazon117 - January 31, 2011 10:48 p.m.

    YOU FORGOT ANGRY BIRDZ (because I know how much you don't care for that game :P)
  • pinoklin - January 31, 2011 10:51 p.m.

    amazing article, and by seeing that screenie i take it mashing the buttons to catch pokemon doesn't work right?. But really nice read good job Charlie.
  • talkraider - January 31, 2011 10:51 p.m.

    I love being smart
  • paganpoet - January 31, 2011 10:53 p.m.

    It was Alundra for me. That game has some of the most brutal RPG puzzles ever (the Ice Manor, anyone??), but, damn it, I did it. And I was only 14.
  • AnarchyZombie - January 31, 2011 10:56 p.m.

    The Dut' always makes me feel intelimagent because of all the wild plot twists.
  • MrPlasticTramp - January 31, 2011 11:01 p.m.

    No Monkey Islands? I've never felt smarter than when i realized i had to use the chicken to get across the rope ! I was quite young though when I first did it to be fair...
  • CaptainSalmon - January 31, 2011 11:03 p.m.

    I would have personally put Phoenix Wright up there instead of Prof. Layton; Layton always makes me feel insanely dumb when I can't solve a 40 picarats puzzle about a man and his three sons. The youngest son is 9. 10? 11?! F*ck this.
  • TURbo - January 31, 2011 11:04 p.m.

    Brett Elston has a lot of explaining on the Pokemons
  • DevilDoor - January 31, 2011 11:08 p.m.

    Thought there would be at least one entry with Sherlock Holmes.
  • IcelandMaelstrom - January 31, 2011 11:17 p.m.

    this one's a little out there definitely, but keeping in the theme of games that really make you think, but aren't strictly puzzle games my mind went immediately to demon's souls. demon's souls creates a very specific atmosphere for thought. there's one part memorization and hack/slash skill, which doesn't warrant anything special, but every obstacle is so brutal, and they"re all so varied, that there is far more strategic thought involved than twitch reflex (although it's a blend of both that makes me feel smart when i play it). it's just so clear about watching what your enemies are doing and knowing how to respond- and doing it quickly. it's like a really quick game of chess, only someone's screaming in your ear the whole time, and so you have to reach a zen in the game. anyways, it's a different kind of pick and all these ones definitely fit with the theme better, but were it a top 8 that would be my pick
  • BrochachoLovers - January 31, 2011 11:19 p.m.

    After playing Darksiders i felt mentally fatigued . And sadly have to agree with what Ventanger pointed out. ( your still a fruity rabbit )

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