Games can be exciting experiences. They frequently are, in fact. That's good, because it makes games fun, and fun is great. But, as technology has allowed games to become more and more exciting, and gamers' skills have developed ever greater capacity for handling increased excitement, then - much like dance music's BPM arms-race in the '00s - some games have gone full-tilt to outdo each other in the intensity stakes.
This is no bad thing, of course. Some of the most unique and satisfying video game experiences come from mastering skills and challenges that you'd never encounter in real-life. It gives the brain an extra-special workout above and beyond the normal humdrum. This stuff can, however, take a serious toll on the eyes. You see some games are so fast, so intense, so demanding, that the simple, genetically hardwired act of cleansing ones eyeballs with their attached lids can lead to disaster. Read on, and I will detail some of those games.
Burnout 3: Takedown
Burnout has always been fast. It hit its murderous peak though, with Burnout 3: Takedown. With a new emphasis on the dangers of heavy traffic - not to mention an attitude to speed similar to that time they decided nuclear bombs needed an additional payload of broken glass and cheesegraters in order to be completely effective (totally happened, look it up) - Burnout 3 is less a racing game, more an exercise in threading a rocket-powered needle through an infinitely long KerPlunk stack.
You dont play it with a focus on the immediate and oncoming area around your car. You play it squinting into the horizon, desperately trying to glean any possible navigational information you can from those ill-defined pixels in the distance, all the while wishing you could see inside your consoles GPU for a hint at what hasnt even been rendered yet. Pro-tip: Whatever that pixel is, it will kill you. Dont worry too much about its true, solid form. Youll discover that soon enough, when it becomes a permanent part of your engine-block in around a seconds time.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions
Theres a steady but inevitable escalation to a game of Geometry Wars. It always starts out innocently enough. A few bobbling enemies here and there, a few shots fired to clean them up, and very little heavy lifting. In fact you barely even need to move. Before long though, working your way through the packed-out grid feels like being attacked by a swarm of angry wasps, each spawning five more wasps per second, until all is wasps and rage, as far as the eye can seen. Which isnt far, because your eyes are covered in wasps. And if you close them to avoid being stung, youll definitely be killed by wasps.
Eventually, the only free space on screen is the spot your ship physically inhabits at any given time, and yet moving is mandatory to staying alive. Effectively, you now have to navigate through gaps that dont yet exist, working under the assumption that - thanks to the miracle of gunfire they will by the time you get to them. Also, those gaps will definitely fill with wasps if you dont get there quick enough. In the utterly stellar Geometry Wars 3, the effect is exacerbated by the fact that due to the games Mario Galaxy-style, 3D arenas - you have to keep track of both the visible grid around yourself and the movements of enemies whove shuffled off to the opposite hemisphere. All the visual information. You must have all of it. All the time. Forever. Or else wasps.
Funny story. You know that notoriously crap werehog gameplay that stinks up Sonic Unleashed? While everyone complains that the wretched stuff gets in the way of the fast, into-the-screen platforming they actually wanted, in truth it exists precisely because of that very same, blast-processed malarkey.
You see, so nonsensically fast had Sonic games become by 2008 that however long those speed levels were built to be, it was scientifically impossible to make the complete game last more than nine seconds. Physics just wouldnt allow it. They even got Stephen Hawking in to help, but to no avail. So we got an artificial, obnoxiously designed braking system in the form of the werehog. Thats why its there. Seriously, I'm not even joking. Creating enough stupid-fast Sonic to fill out a whole game, in 2008 fidelity, just wasnt feasible. I mean yes, Sega could have slowed down the gameplay to resemble something like an actual platformer rather than a vomit-inducing, long-form QTE designed for the worlds ADHD-suffering Olympic sprinters, but wheres the fun in that? Ill tell you where the fun is. No werehog. Thats where.
Jeff Minters games are traditionally typified by three key elements. Firstly, theyre damn good. Secondly, they proudly sport an aesthetic akin to the result of scooping out a ravers brain with a blunt potato peeler, hurling it hard against a wall covered in Technicolor graffiti from a slingshot made of Global Hypercolor t-shirts and then spraying the whole tableau with a gallon of concentrated 1994. Thirdly, their pressure-hose delivery of weaponised graphics confounds the merry hell out of all but the most mentally strong player.
I could have picked any one of many Minter games for this entry, but Im going with Space Giraffe due to its legendarily bamboozling status as the early Xbox Live Arcade game that no-one in the world was prepared for. Playing a bit like cosmic tunnel-shooter Tempest 2000, by way of a Christmas tree smashed through a detuned TV screen, its rapid salvo of enemies, laser fire, and extraneous rainbow strobing is a Herculean feat to keep track of, even with your eyes open for 100% of the time. Blink, and youll die. Dont blink, and youll risk a brain haemorrhage. The choice is yours. It all depends on how dedicated you are to that high score, really.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U
Smash Bros. is a confusing game at the best of times. As brash, colourful, and anarchic as a riot in a clown prison, parsing whatever flavour of violent nonsense might be erupting around you is akin to trying to juggle your way out of a ball-pool.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U realises this, and has added a new mode to make things clearer. Sorry, typo. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U has nothing but contempt for your traumas, and has thrown in an eight-player mode to make you feel like a bumbling, drunk child. Forget concocting any sort of appropriate, tactical response. Just processing whatever the hell is going on requires the eyes of 10 spiders wired up to a network of government supercomputers.
Initially overlooked due to its original release on the Ouya (Whoya? Yeah), the PS4s 2D arena deathmatch is a barnstorming good time. It is, however, intense like train-surfing on half a kilo of Ritalin. In Japan. Because Bullet-trains. Imagine Smash Bros. emergent, four-player anarchy with faster, tighter control and three archery-loving opponents equipped with what amount to medieval railguns, set in levels which outright want to kill you in every way possible, forever.
You have to watch out for arrows, naturally, but you also have to gauge and predict the angle and trajectory of each shot as or ideally before it leaves your opponents bow. And you have to keep an eye on exactly where your own shots go, because if you run out, youll have to go collecting. And then there are the really fast feather arrows to contend with. And the ones that immediately spread insta-kill brambles around the already cramped arenas. And the fact that other players can kill you by dropping on top of your head, too. And that everyone can catch and steal each others ordnance, should they possess the reflexes of a time-travelling cat. A tense, drawn-out marathon Towerfall match is basically any that lasts longer than 20 seconds, and youll only really comprehend how it all went down once the slow-motion replay kicks in.
Batman: Arkham City
The Arkham series combat doesnt initially seem too intimidating to the senses. Punch, smack, crack, counter, occasionally dive just to look cool, then celebrate by doubling the directional versatility of some fools leg without even looking. Youre Batman. You dont dick around when it comes to staunch, corrective violence. Later though, youll discover that theres more to it than a bit of basic knee-knuckles-nuts.
When the combat heats up, Arkhams fighting model becomes more akin to a rhythm-action game, in which steady flow and constant awareness of whats coming up next are utterly vital. And in which certain notes come packing riot shields and stunsticks, requiring entirely different approaches. Fine, until you hit the excessive later stages of Arkham City, whose fights spurt forth an endless array of specially trained mooks, all intent on being the guy who finally takes down the Bat. What is it with Gotham goons, anyway? Why, despite decades of evidence to the contrary, do they all think that they will be one? Given their sheer numbers and stupidity, its like theyre pumped out of a goon-cloning production line, devoid of adequate education, like Imperial Stormtroopers. Sorry guys, this is not the throat-punch you are looking for.
We often talk about twitch gameplay, but the infuriatingly compulsive Super Hexagon represents the concept distilled down to its purest form. Simply, its gameplay is made entirely out of twitching. In-game, and very probably in that little vein near the corner of your eye, too. You control a tiny triangle, for some reason doomed to orbit the centre of some kind of abstract, geometric gravity-well. Imposing walls of instant death swirl in towards you, and your only available response is to duck left and right to navigate the endless, contorting maze. The only guarantees are that a) you will die, and b) youll have constant cardiac palpitations along the way. This game is fast
In a best-case scenario, each new threat will home in on you in around the time it takes the human eye to open and close about three times (try it, its not long). Mathematically, that means that if you blink even once, your chances of survival reduce by 33%. That gameplay loop repeats roughly every two seconds. Better get those Clockwork Orange-style eye-clamps at the ready.
There are my current favourite ways of achieving total eyeball dryness. But how about you? Any particularly intense challenges that leave you reaching for the eyebath? Let me know.
And while you're here, check out some of our related content. If that mention of Geometry Wars 3 has you intrigued (and it really, really should), check out my review. And if you're dead-set on inflicting as much face-pain on yourself as possible, think about reading our beginner's guide to speedrunning.