This is something I’ve been wanting to put into words for ages now, numerous reasons. Having favourite games doesn’t really mean much, if you don’t recognise what it is about those games you love so much. Seeing those qualities in other games, and how well they’re done, can really start to open your eyes to what matters to you in a game, be it game feel, music, art direction, atmosphere, whatever. And when all of those things you like come together in a clever, seamless and amazing way, that’s where those experiences matter. And that’s where the 3 games on my list come in for me.
If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know I only got to play Metroid Prime this year. But so much of it just screamed deliberate and thoughtful design, that it became an instant classic for me. Anyone that has spoken to me about video games will know that I absolutely hate open ended video game design that isn’t justified through the setting (looking at you, Fallout 3). But Metroid Prime is all about feeling as helpless as Samus is. Going through the environment at your pace and speed, while not feeling restricted and led down a rigid path. If you look too hard, yes, the game is actually very linear. But it’s disguised so well in this free world, where you’re still the one who is making their own way through this alien world.
I feel that part of it is the art direction for each little zone in the world, with a lava section, a snowy cavern, ancient ruins, and a jungle where you can basically feel the humidity through your TV. This was a Gamecube game, and realistically, doesn’t look much better on the Wii. But when the style and atmosphere is done this well, where you can even forget you’re playing a game… well, it doesn’t even matter, does it?
I know this is a controversial choice, with people either adoring this game as I do, or absolutely hating the motion and game feel of it. For me, this is a game where the sum of the parts adds up to something much, much greater. I’m going to work my way from the bottom up, through all the reasons I love this game.
The music just works so damned well. Solar Fields makes some crazy, aural experiences, and having each level have their own ambiance track, an ‘adrenaline’ track which plays during action sequences, and a puzzle track, that plays while your’e figuring out how to climb a certain object, or room. “Kate” is hands down my favourite track from the game.
Level design and setting, two things that are surprisingly hard to get to mesh this well in a game. The game takes full advantage of the style of the setting, with pure, flat colours making up the visuals of the city. Because of this straight forward, almost bland style, everything you need to find in the game contrasts very well. Runners vision will turn objects you can use to progress bright red, taking from the red-on-white motif of the whole game. Things you can climb are also visually ‘noisy’, contrasting against the bland, often white walls in the game.
And lastly, my favourite thing about this game- the movement. The way you interact with the world around you, with such an amazing sense of weight and momentum on every step, the harsh slap when you jump a bit too far onto the pipe on the wall across a 3 meter gap. If there’s one way to make me absolutely love a game, it’s to make the traversal of the game world a character in it’s own right. I still get goosebumps thinking about certain jumps and climbs in the city.
Where do I even start with this game? Everybody has that one game that they loved when they were younger, where it almost affected their entire world view. Then, you go back and play that game, and it just hasn’t held up. The controls are clunky, the graphics are terrible, and you have no idea where to even go. Jet Set Radio Future is not that game. I was so surprised when I played a bit a few weeks ago, to find that the game almost feels like it could have been released today.
Sticking with the cel-shaded look from the Dreamcast original meant that Future specifically avoided relying on realistic textures and worlds to look great. And it does! The whole game looks like it’s been ripped out of an anime (see the real life anime Air Gear, it even has the same composer), with a sometimes dizzying sense of movement and colour. You can even see in the screenshot above, how the roads have sharp edges in them, to make up for the lower polygon count of the original Xbox. Still looks good!
I know I talk about music in video games a lot, and this game is the reason for it. There is no way to describe the whole soundtrack with one sentence, other than maybe “perfect for JSRF”. Hideki Naganuma did a lot of the music here, with some tracks being remixes from the original Dreamcast game. The closest I can describe his style, is perhaps electro-funk with a lot of samples.
The setting and style of this game also stuck with me for so long. The streetpunk aesthetic of the GGs, your protagonist ‘Rudie’ gang, to their run down, hangout called the garage, all of it speaks anti-establishment, yet the loose story gives it purpose. These guys aren’t just rebels, they’re trying to keep the soul of the street alive. You graffiti the streets of Tokyo-to to stop the big baddie, gangster-businessman Rokkaku Goji, turning the place into a grey and spiritually crushed husk of it’s former self. I mean, the story isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s enough to justify the entire game existing. Who needs an excuse to grind on a rollercoaster track set on top of the skyscraper district? To dismantle bombs with your spray paint in a fortified residential district?
And then, just like Mirror’s Edge, the thing that sold me on JSRF is the traversal system. While it doesn’t make sense in our world to grind up light poles and power lines, in JSRF it doesn’t matter. Grind on whatever you want. Have fun, you’ll learn on your own what you can and can’t do, where you can and can’t go. The game is never fighting against you when you want to do something. If you mess up a combo, the worst you get is a muted error sound, and a few seconds to try and start a new one. You’re also in direct control of every little movement too. Games like Assassin’s Creed will just take forward + climb, and it’ll figure out how to climb the wall for you. JSRF just… is. You need to do something finicky, you just do it. It’s so hard to explain just how direct the control system is in JSRF. Maybe I’ll do a live stream…
So those are my absolute favourite games, what about yours? Or maybe you agree with me! Or disagree! However you feel, let me know in the comments!
And, just like Mirror’s Edge