While gameplay is certainly important to a lot of consumers out there, something must be said about the appeal of quirkiness. Whether it’s references to certain parts of the male anatomy or a ridiculous over the top premise, some games put a lot of effort into being downright bizarre, most of the time emphasizing this level of weird over solid gameplay. But how important is this strange identity to the enjoyment of a product? Is it really so appealing that it can push a merely decent game into the realms of greatness? The answer to that question is yes, sometimes.
For examples of this one need look no further then developer Goichi Suda, also known as Suda 51, and the guys at Twisted Pixel Games. Each has made a name for themselves by offering games that have eccentric senses of style and humor. While most games from either of these parties typically have reasonably well done game mechanics, the time spent actually playing the game is not what sticks with you. It’s the bizarre writing, kooky characters, or the shock of seeing something completely out of left field that becomes lodged deep in the pleasure centers of the brain.
Let’s look at Suda 51 first. If you analyze the games people think of when you mention his name, you’ll come up with various themes:
- A bizarre cast of characters that could fit into any B action movie
- A script full of “so bad it’s good” dialogue
- A nonsensical, though strangely intriguing plot
- Strange, non-conventional gameplay elements
- Various references to sex
- Excessive Violence
Killer 7, No More Heroes 1 & 2, and the recent release Shadows of the Damned all contain these elements. In Killer 7, you play as an assassin with split personally disorder trying to stop a terrorist bombing plot that is carried out by strange creatures with glowing weak points and you do so by running through buildings on-rails until you come across an enemy, at which point the game switches to a first-person shooter. Whew. See what I mean?Then there’s the two games in the No More Heroes series. You play as Travis Touchdown, a loser who buys a laser sword on the internet and decides he wants to be the world’s #1 assassin and hopes that once he gets there, he’ll be able to bang the hot chick who’s always guiding him along to his next target. He recharges the swords energy by shaking it up and down in a suggestive manner. Oh, and when you save, you take a dump. Are you still with me?
Well how about Shadows of the Damned, where you play as Garcia “F**king” Hotspur, a demon hunter who must enter hell to save his girlfriend along with his buddy, a talking skull who turns into a pistol referred to as “The Boner”. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol restores health and you are required to shoot goat heads to light up passageways. Don’t be alarmed if your brain starts to hurt upon reading that.
Each and every one of these games has a crazy sense of identity. Each is it’s own unique experience and each wouldn’t be anywhere near the game it is without all this quirk. Just imagine what Shadows of the Damned would be like if you stripped away the boner jokes, the one-liners, and the ridiculous set piece moments. You’d probably still have a decent third-person shooter, but without all of these elements surrounding it, you’d have a significantly less interesting experience.
On the other side of the spectrum is Twisted Pixel. Their games certainly have plenty of humor and bizarre elements, but they are much cleaner and less in your face. They provide a much more family friendly sense of weird, and it works just as well as the mature offerings of Suda’s projects.
If you take a look at projects from the Twisted Pixel team, you’ll come up with these elements:
- A simple story that anyone can understand
- Cartoony art direction
- Cleverly written dialogue
- Full motion video
If you look at the first downloadable game that Twisted Pixel released, The Maw, you’ll see that it only really contains the first two elements. There were certainly some funny moments, but it boiled down to a young alien boy helping his new friend The Maw to safety. It was a simple, charming adventure.
Then came ‘Splosion Man and recently Ms. ‘Splosion Man. Once again, we are given a simple premise. The goal is to escape from the evil scientists that created you. The twist was that you were basically a psychotic walking bomb. Instead of jumping, you self detonate, and if done near an unlikely scientist, they would burst into various meats. Like I said before, the quirk here is family friendly. The platforming and puzzles were elaborate, sometimes frustrating, but always satisfying. However, if you asked anyone who played the original ‘Splosion Man what the best moment was, I doubt he or she’d mention a single puzzle. It’s practically guaranteed they’ll say it was the ending. This live action brilliance came out of nowhere and had gamers rolling around hysterically. If you don’t believe me then see for yourself:
So what’s my point in all this? Well, I suppose it’s to make an argument for the bizarre. I’m not saying that every game trying to be strange works. There have been plenty of games that set out to be odd and fail miserably. If you want an example on how to do it poorly, look no further than here. But when done well, injecting some amount of bizarre into a game can enhance the experience and leave it lingering in someone’s mind. It’s certainly fun to run around as a space marine or a solider on the front lines, but it’s the game that takes the risk to be out of the ordinary that make you think “Wow, aren’t games awesome?”.What do you guys think?