Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Lazy replay value

gaming 3 min read

A common criterion for evaluating videogames is that of "replay value", or general longevity/"lastability". 
Disturbingly, however, there's a trend of developers being really lazy when it comes to extending the playing 
life of a game. Most commonly, this added value takes the form of simply repeating the entire game from the start.
The cube is my current games machine, so I'll cite examples from my current cube games collection, including many 
big-name titles.
  • Metroid Prime: Play through the entire game again on "Hard Mode" (available after completing the game once), to unlock the third gallery of development artwork.
  • Metroid Prime: Scan every creature in the game, and collect every pick-up, to unlock a very brief additional sequence during the end cinematic, and also to cause Samus to be shown with her helmet removed.
  • Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: If playing through the game a second time after completing it, you'll be wearing a different costume, have the Deluxe Picto Box from the start, and find treasure chests have been moved to different locations in the sea.
  • Mario Sunshine: Getting all 120 shines (of which several are gained from Red Coin Challenge versions of previously-completed "Secret" stages) rewards you with an additional picture after the end cinematic.
  • Mario Sunshine: The shirt. You know the one I mean.
  • Eternal Darkness: Complete the entire game three times, using each of the three alignments, and obtain the "best" ending.
  • Sonic Mega Collection: Unlock additional games by playing the always-available games for many hours each.
  • Ikaruga: Unlock additional modes by playing for various numbers of hours.
  • Resident Evil: Costumes.

Doesn't it all seem a bit lazy? I can't really fault Sonic Mega Collection, since it's a compilation of pre-existing 
games, and thus offers little room for more ingenious extras-unlocking mechanisms, nor can I particularly fault 
Ikaruga given its heritage.

There's certainly an argument which says that the game is the game, and anything at all extra is a bonus; I can see 
that point of view, certainly. Nevertheless, there are a few cases listed above (and no doubt more) where either the 
particular "extra" is so trivial as to scarcely be worth the effort and repetition of a full replay, or where the 
extra seems so integral to the game that requiring multiple completions seems rather a cop-out. For example:
  • Metroid Prime: Every other gallery is available via various levels of achievement in the game. Surely it would have made more sense to offer the third gallery after, say, having visited every room in the game? A few images surely can't justify playing through the entire thing again. Yes, I know Metroid Prime is a thing of beauty and that playing it is always bliss, but the point remains.
  • Mario Sunshine: A single image as a reward for getting all 120 shines? Including all the Red Coin Challenges, and the bloody pachinko-machine special stage?! It's enough to make you eat your WaveBird!
  • Eternal Darkness: Defeating all three Ancients is surely the core point of the game, and given its very linear nature (no matter how enjoyable the quest certainly is), it seems lazy to require three complete replays. God knows they had enough development time to come up with something slightly more subtle and story-specific.
  • Zelda. Sigh. I love Zelda games, and would probably rate Ocarina of Time as my favourite game of all, er, time. Wind Waker is beautiful, and is most definitely a classic, but let's face it: it's too bloody short. It offers much less actual quality play-time than Ocarina or Majora, particularly if you remove all the needless and rather artificial prolonging factors, such as sea voyages and the concept of having to find eight Triforce charts, then find enough money to pay about 400 rupess each to have them "deciphered", then actually find all the shards themselves. Or indeed having to fight all the previous bosses in "flashbacks" before getting to Ganondorf. It smacks of being unfinished, dismissively padded-out, and lacking polish. The section where you retrieve a pearl from Jabun particularly makes you realise this; surely there must have originally been another dungeon and boss on GreatFish Isle? I do recall hearing that several dungeons were removed due to time constaints. Letting you play the game through again in your pyjamas doesn't compensate. Nor do the figurines.
Now, I'm well aware of the pressures of release schedules, quarterly profits, competing platforms and so forth. I just 
don't care particularly much. If you offer an extra, make it a genuine extra, which shows thought and development 
time. Many of the games above offer some great extras (Metroid Prime's original NES Metroid, to name but one), but there 
<em>is</em> a general trend towards lazy additions which artificially inflate the much-vaunted "potential hours of gameplay" 

You need only look as far as TimeSplitters 2, Super Monkey Ball, Super Smash Bros Melee or a host of others to see that 
you really can make a game genuinely last months or years - or at least add a genuinely-valuable extra or two which 
significantly increases the length of time the game stays in the console. The last thing we want is to arrive at a situation 
where there are a set of "standard extras", which add very little to the experience but which you're paying money for 
without any choice - much like DVD extras are increasingly becoming nowadays (cinematic trailer, teaser trailer, cast list 
and filmography, link to official site - all readily available on the net if you want them).

Developers, you have plenty of examples of genuinely innovative and valuable "extras" to aspire to. Just don't be lazy!