Generally, a game is judged by its graphics, storyline, gameplay, or overall value, all of which are legitimate criteria for judging a game. Sometimes, however, one of the best ways to judge a game is not what you can do to entertain yourself, but how much you can entertain yourself while doing what is essentially nothing that moves the game forward. That doesn’t include intended diversions such as seeking easter eggs, hunting down glitches, or losing yourself in a side game or minigame. I mean nothing.
Some of the best examples of this phenomena are the various 3D platformers that Mario has starred in, games where almost every action taken has the potential for fun. Take Super Mario Sunshine, for instance. In that game, I have wasted hours upon hours running around Delfino Plaza. I wasn’t chasing down coins. I wasn’t trying to find my way into a hidden level or help one of the lady Piantas gather fruit. I was simply running around and abusing my superpowered water pack to its fullest extent. While many may not like the game, and for valid reasons, it still gives me a rush to suddenly shoot several stories into the air or run at breakneck speeds with a jet of water spurting from my back. When Nintendo created the game, they did something right- they made the mechanics of the game intrinsically entertaining to experience, even without an objective or challenge.
This concept is taken even further in the Super Mario Galaxy games, where the game’s entertainment value is immense, even down to its physics engine. When I had first heard that Mario was heading into space, I, being the fool I was back then, was unimpressed. After only a short time with the game, I realized that I had been dead wrong. The joy that I derived from the game came not just from its colorful graphics, its sweeping orchestral music, or its fantastic level design. Instead, I would often load a level in order to get to the tiniest planetoid I could and fool around with gravity. There is an almost infinite joy to be gained from watching Mario as he loops around a tiny planetoid or in between a small cluster, letting gravity guide his path. Gravity manipulation became a near addiction, in fact. I would spend eleven minutes on a short, two-minute level just because I got distracted by the game’s physics. Moments like these are, in a way, a thing of pure beauty when placed alongside intense, objective-driven video game moments- short reprieves from the strife and struggle of focused and objective-based playing, trading them in for a few peaceful minutes of pure, carefree fun.
Another way in which this concept may manifest itself does not necessarily increase enjoyment of a game, but instead helps to bring depth and believability to a game’s world. Take 2011’s Capcom adventure game Ghost Trick for an example. The game is separated by chapters, within which you travel to various locations through phone lines. In most cases, your destination is clear, and it’s possible to go through the game without straying from the path. However, doing so causes you to miss out on a fair amount of depth to the game’s world.
Instead of simply going from point A to point B at every given time, you have the option to (with a few story-based exceptions) revisit any area that you have been to. Sometimes, it’s a disappointment, and nothing new, or even nothing at all will be happening, but it’s enough to make the world seem like it’s alive. On occasion, though, you’ll notice a change between chapters- a character could be missing or somebody could have arrived at the location. In most cases, these events turn out to be foreshadowing future events within the game; it’s quite brilliant once you’ve realized what the developers did when you’re looking back.
Another aspect of game design that promotes stopping and enjoying a game may be found in both Sakura Samurai, the recent 3DS eShop game, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword- dynamic music. In Sakura Samurai, the world map has a serene theme that gains instruments and depth while you are travelling to a destination. Just last night, I found myself running back and forth around the world map simply to listen to the music. I needed the exercise, anyway.
Within Skyward Sword, the shopping destination known as the Bazaar has a theme that changes whenever you walk between shops. The song might become deeper and more focused on percussion near the Scrap Shop, or lighter and focused upon wind instruments near the Item Check. Other features in the Bazaar include Rupin, the overly enthusiastic proprietor of the gear shop- at least when you’re visiting. I can’t count the number of times that I have entered his corner of the Bazaar for the sole purpose of watching him slouch and sadly trod back to the middle of his shop after I left. It’s little details such as these that make a world seem more vibrant and provide boundless amounts of entertainment to somebody such as me.
These works are only a few choice examples within the vast array of games that make it enjoyable to slow down and take a look around at the world. Next time you’re playing a game, just let the fate of the world wait for a minute. It’s not going anywhere. Instead, take some time to relax and explore, taking in the world and it’s features. Who knows? You might find out something new.