The film world has a term called the ’20 Minute Rule’, which states that if nothing interesting happens in the first 20 minutes of a film, it’s not likely to get any better. This is mostly invoked by critics to justify giving up on something without having to sit through the whole thing. There are likely a few exceptions out there to this rule (They Live being one off the top of my head), but for the most part it’s pretty bang-on.
In the video game world we have Wolpaw’s Law, named for former Gamespot writer and current Valve employee Erik Wolpaw, which states that at a certain point a bad game has sealed its fate and nothing could change its score, therefore absolving the reviewer of having to finish it. As with any rule however, there are always exceptions, and here are a few games that didn’t start off that well but really turned it around at some point.
As I tend to do in the winter, I’ve been replaying the Mass Effect series. One of the things I love about it is that each time there’s something; a plot point, a wry comment from Garrus; that I experience for the first time. One thing that’s really hit home for me this time around is not only how well the last two games begin, but how poorly the first one does.
I distinctly remember playing through Mass Effect back in 2009 and genuinely wondering what the big deal was all about. It looked great and had an amazing concept, but after a mediocre mission it turned into a boring series of fetch quests on the Citadel. I was this close to shutting it down, but kept on because I figured that BioWare deserved the chance to impress me. Once I got through all that running around and compiled my team the game took off and never looked back, but man did those first couple of hours drag on.
Mario and Luigi: Dream Team
As you may know, I recently bought a 3DS. Being a fan of the Mario & Luigi/Paper Mario games, I made Mario & Luigi: Dream Team my inaugural purchase. As with other games in the series, this one is colorful, funny, and features creative turn-based combat. It also is chock full of tutorials and exposition for literally five hours. I get that there are a lot of systems and attacks which need to be learned, but it just goes on and on to the point that I really couldn’t blame someone for giving up on it early.
Without giving too much away, I would advise those curious about playing it to make it to the part where a familiar enemy appears. From then on, the game seems to decide that you are proficient enough to play the game yourself and lets you get into it. It’s definitely worth the effort as well, because Dream Team is right up there with the best in the M & L series.
There’s no question that Tim Schafer is a visionary when the topic of creativity and humor in video games is discussed. For all his, and his team at Double Fine’s, strengths in this area, his games have consistently struggled in areas of gameplay and pacing. Brutal Legend is an example of a game that was unique and amazing in every way except for its muddled ‘kinda RTS’ mechanics. Psychonauts, arguably his masterpiece, is also a flawed gem of sorts.
Most people point at the extreme difficulty of its last stages, but for me the biggest problem is its beginning. Psychonauts introduces you to an incredible world but meanders along until you finally get the hang of entering the minds of others. Make no mistake, once you figure it out and get into the game proper, it is an unforgettable experience. Up to that point, I mostly found it confusing and disorienting. Curiously, this game was partly written by Mr. Wolpaw himself…I wonder if he was partly responsible for the opening parts.
Assassin’s Creed II
Taking a page from Fallout 3‘s beginning, the tale of Ezio Auditore de Firenze begins with a birth…his. The game makes a half-hearted attempt to make it a kind of tutorial by giving button prompts, but it really doesn’t give you any insight into how to play the game. Oh, and the birth of Ezio is not even the opening scene; there’s like 45 minutes of Desmond stuff leading up to it. I only played Assassin’s Creed II recently and I actually quite enjoyed it.
That opening however is ridiculously boring and tedious, and it’s only due to a massive compulsion on my part to play it that I got through to the actual game. I started Brotherhood not long after finishing its predecessor, and it definitely hits the ground running in comparison which is a sign that maybe Ubisoft had learned a lesson. Then again, I’ve heard the last couple of releases have gone back to the well of extended introductions and unnecessary tutorials so perhaps not.
Before you freak out, let me say that Half-Life is one of my all-time favorite games and it is nothing short of revolutionary for blending storytelling and gameplay. It’s also shockingly still playable over 15 years after its initial 1998 release. One of its more iconic moments is its opening sequence, as you spend about 10 minutes traveling on a monorail through the Black Mesa facility and then wandering down the hallways towards the test chamber which sparks the worst first day of work ever. It was iconic…in 1998.
Going back to replay Half-Life however, the opening sequence is as boring as a dog’s ass. Once you get to the staff lounge and start encountering Vortigaunts about an hour and a half in, that’s when this game really hits its stride and is still every bit as fun as when I first played it. Then again, I quite enjoyed the ending sequence on Xen so maybe I’m a bit odd in my preferences.
There are certainly other games that take some time before getting their hooks into you. Feel free to share some of them in the comments below.