We have now reached the next generation of gaming with the release of the Xbox One and the PS4, giving titles a new level of realism that has never been seen before. Accompany this with a nation of gradually-reduced attention spans and instant gratification junkies, and the most plausible outcome is an orgy of high octane, shoot ‘em up, beat ‘em up, blow ‘em up titles where the most sophisticated piece of plot-twisting dialogue borders upon “Where’s my wife!?”
It’s in times like these when we should give credence to that old saying that less is more. You don’t need constant explosions, collateral damage and protagonists who look like a gigantic bicep to make a game great; sometimes it’s the simple games themselves that hold our attention and are the most memorable – whether it be in visual style, gameplay, narrative or thematics.
The best trick that these titles pull off is their ability to make players forget how simple they are; to have them be so absorbed in the game that upon completion they look back and think to themselves “I can’t believe I’ve spend a day playing a game with two buttons”.
From mainstream titles to indie classics, here’s 8 games that prove less is more.
8. Castle Crashers
Castle crashers is the lovechild of Newgrounds masters Tom Fulp and Dan Paladin.
The 2D beat ‘em up arcade game can be played up to four players both online and locally, and follows four stumpy knights (Red Knight, Blue Knight, Orange Knight and Green Knight) as they travel across the land to defeat an evil wizard and save four kidnapped princesses.
The game incorporates simplistic RPG conventions such as weapon upgrades, a skill tree, individualised magical abilities and unlockable characters. Completing the game with each character will in turn unlock a new playable enemy character who will unlock a new character, and so on. The map is surprisingly large with new enemies inhabiting each region, varying from demons and bears, to skeletons and moving paintings.
Created in the classic 80’s side-scrolling fashion (think Golden Axe or Double Dragon), Castle Crashers is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy arcade hit with plenty of unlockable content and copious amounts of toilet humour.
7. Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Now this is one of the more surreal entries; developed by Young Horses, Dadliest Catch is a sequel to the 2010 freeware game produced by students of DePaul University.
Octodad’s narrative and gameplay follows a very basic premise; don’t get caught. The story follows an octopus who, tired of his life as a mollusc, impersonates a man to start a life with the woman he has fallen in love with.
Octodad must interact with the world without letting slip that he is in fact an octopus. His wife, kids (don’t ask) and any other humans in the vicinity will start to clock on to his true identity if your actions become too suspicious too, and this is where the challenging aspect of the game comes into play. Intense.
Players can control two sets of tentacles in order to navigate each level, which are Octodad’s arms and legs respectively. The direction of his flailing limbs is determined by the use of both directional sticks, the outcome of which is nothing short of hilarious. This is primarily where the game derives its humour from, as Octodad trying to perform extremely mundane tasks whilst navigating through breakable objects creates a slapstick element that complements the overall silliness of the game.
If you really want to get the most out of this game invite some friends over, as up to four players can take part, each controlling a single limb, adding to the difficulty whilst creating quite the spectacle. You will get a lot of time and a lot of laughs out of this moderately priced PlayStation network title.
It’s hard to believe that a game that was released as part of a bundle package could be received so positively, especially when part of that bundle included Half-Life 2. However, Valve’s first-person platform-puzzler became such a success that a second game was commissioned and voiced by non-other than the witty genius Stephen Merchant.
Portal follows Chell, a guinea pig testing the capabilities of the Aperture Science portal gun in a series of experimental rooms. The portal gun has very simple capabilities, in which it can fire a blue and orange portal – the combination of which are intrinsically tied and can be used as an entrance or exit and any direction – enter the blue, exit the orange… the rest is up to you – so, walking through a portal against a wall could have you dropping through a portal placed on the ceiling for example.
The only other character in Portal is GLaDOS, an artificial intelligence who guides you through the puzzles of each level, before turning a tad insane and ordering you to incinerate yourself. This simple game not only presents an increasingly intelligent and challenging set of puzzles, a humorous robotic voiceover character but also a dark hidden backstory of which a former test subject has scrawled cryptic messages in hideaways hinting towards GLaDOS’s true nature and her lies of a prized cake you may or may not actually get your hands on.
You’ll definitely have a hard time finding a more engaging and challenging puzzle game than portal. R.I.P Companion Cube.
5. Super Meat Boy
Another surreal protagonist makes the list with Super Meat Boy – a boy literally made from meat. As Meat Boy, the player’s goal is to rescue his girlfriend Bandage Girl from the evil Dr Fetus (we’re not even joking). SMB is a traditional classic platform game where precise movements, clever use of momentum and perfect timing are key to navigate each levels fatal traps.
With over 300 levels and unlockable “Dark World” chapters of each, Super Meat boy will have you clocking a great number of hours. And as the levels increase in difficulty, they demand higher concentration and patience as they deliver a perfect blend of infuriating rage and untold bliss when finally conquering a challenging level.
Anyone who believes Flappy Bird is a difficult game doesn’t know what they’re saying. Perhaps the most satisfying moment however is after finishing a level, you get to watch on with sadistic glee as all your attempts at the level are replayed at once, and hundreds of Meat Boys fling themselves into the grinders.
With hundreds of challenging levels to choose from and a handful of playable characters to unlock, Super Meat Boy truly has a lot to offer players for a game that’s only controls are run and jump.
4. The Walking Dead
Fans of AMC’s hit TV spectacular The Walking Dead will be accustomed to an action-packed, gun-toting zombie slaughter-fest show, but for anyone who hasn’t played Telltale’s episodic instalments may be surprised to learn that violence and zombie-killing is not a main ingredient to the game.
Instead it utilises the more powerful aspect of the show; drama. The creators of The Walking Dead TV show have admitted to the series not primarily being about zombies, but rather about the characters who have been thrown into this world with no warning, as well as how they will survive and interact with each other.
This is very much Telltale’s forte. Gameplay is reduced to conversations and quick time events, and honestly that’s what makes it such a good game. Every dialogue option is timed so players must be quick to say the right thing in any given situation, as one misspoken conversation can have disastrous consequences further down the line. Each episode remembers your previous actions and choices, and will punish or reward you for them later in the game, which is why everything is so deliciously dramatic. A lot of thought needs to be placed into each response otherwise your greatest ally could end up hating your guts and leaving you to fend for yourself.
Quick time events as a whole are not greatly received in gaming anymore – generally they are aspects of action games where the playable action takes a significant backseat to letting you essentially control a cutscene by flailing on a command for a few seconds. In The Walking Dead however, you spend so much time carefully picking your words that you don’t see the quick time events coming. Meaning that when they are upon you, you are frantically bashing those buttons out of surprise if nothing else, just to stay alive and save any number of people in peril.
The Walking Dead has done well for achieving so much out of so little, enough to garner a second series, which is also doing extremely well. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride like no other, and if you can complete the finale without getting choked up, then you might just be a zombie too.
3. Shadow Of The Colossus
We all from time to time like to dust off our ancient consoles and plunge back into gaming of the early 00’s. Whether its Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda, we all have our favourite classics we love to dive back into after a couple of years of stagnation.
Team Ico’s 2005 release of Shadow of the Colossus is such a game. Playing as Wander, a young man determined to resurrect the maiden Mono by evoking the power of an omnipotent power named Dormin who can return Mono’s spirit to her body, he enters a bargain with Dormin who agrees to resurrect Mono only if Wander can defeat the 16 Colossi littering the land.
Besides Dormin’s disembodied bellow during the games introduction, there is virtually no dialogue whatsoever and no other characters to interact with apart from the Colossi (but they’re not really the chatty type). Wander has a task to do so he gets on with it, no complaining, no whining and no faffing about – he’s the blank-slate character we all project ourselves onto the easiest.
Wander therefore traverses across a beautiful landscape to defeat each colossus in turn with nothing but a beam of light from his sword guiding him to each location. As an action/adventure, Shadow of the Colossus comes across almost like a puzzle game. There are no Colossi-killing tutorials or aid when taking down the behemoths, you watch, you learn, you clamber up top and stab your sword through their brains. Simple.
Variety is a key aspect in fantasy games without a doubt. But with modern titles having inventories full of weapons, armour, loot, potions, crafting materials and quest items weighing you down, it is a breath of fresh air to cut the ancillary elements for a change. And that’s exactly what Shadow of the Colossus does, it trims the fat and leaves the juicy meat of the game left for players to enjoy.
The best way to describe Limbo is beautiful, as a combination of black and white visuals and minimalist sounds create an eerie and macabre atmosphere.
The game is so simple yet offers complex puzzles, often with fatal consequences. The setting for Limbo is interpretational, but is commonly believed to be on the edge of Hell (i.e. Limbo, the plane between this life and the next). The protagonist is an unnamed boy who travels through dangerous environments to search for his sister who he has been separated from, with the only other humans in the game either attacking you, fleeing or already being dead.
The puzzles follow a pattern of trial and error, as often players will find themselves killed – usually in rather gruesome circumstances – before realising how to best the puzzle. Environments play a crucial role in solving puzzles as pretty much everything in the game can kill you, from bear traps, to giant spiders, to water, you’re pretty much a big bull’s-eye for the games murdering tendencies. Players therefore need to utilise there surroundings in order to prevent a fatality by climbing over, under and around hazards.
It’s easy to be sucked into Limbo whilst overlooking just how little there is in this game. The opening sequence consists of the boy opening his eyes, that’s it. No voiceovers, no tutorials, no helpful text popping up and telling you where to go, just a bleak dark world for you to trudge through unaided.
This is a game that really does make you analyse the situation and rewards you for doing so in its own way.
Most of you will have at least heard of, if not dared to play yourself, Slender.
Based on Slender Man, the world’s first urban legend spawned purely from the internet, Slender is a simple, single-levelled game in which you wake up in the middle of a forest at night and must collect 8 pages hidden within. Each page has drawings and writings relating to Slender Man and each is located in a different area of the map. As you collect the pages, Slender will begin to follow you around the map. He doesn’t walk, but instead teleports near you at randomised intervals, getting closer to the player the more pages he/she collects.
Players have no weapons to repel Slender Man, and must simply flee to escape him, armed only with a flashlight. To make things even more difficult, not only does your flashlight run out of battery life if you overuse it, but you also have a limited sprint bar that doesn’t regenerate, meaning you must ration it out across the entire game.
An unwritten rule of Slender is that headphones must be worn when playing, as this is what makes the game. You know a game is going to be terrifying when a cranked up pair of cans make the sounds of your own footsteps scary, let alone the high frequency crackle when Slender Man approaches.
Completing Slender will take you no more than 20 minutes, but the anxiety and stress of playing in the dark with a pair of loud headphones will give you an adrenaline rush like no other game can provide.