The Angry Gamer 09.16.04 – Simple Yet Effective

I know I’ve spoken about this before; how games of yore focused on a simple gameplay mechanic, yet were addictive beyond compare. There’s not many games these days that can claim that, and it’s a damn shame…some of the simplest ideas turn out to be phenomenal games.

Consider the much-loved puzzle game, Tetris, as an example. Creator Alexey Pajitnov came up with the idea after playing Pentominos, a wooden puzzle game where you had to fit a series of shapes into a box. Just like the name “Pentominos” came from the Greek term penta (meaning “five”), Pajitnov used the Greek term tetra (meaning “four”) as the basis for his game’s name, Tetris. The main problem was that the “box” would fill up too quickly, so he devised a system where once a line was full, that line would disappear. The rest is history, and the Tetris legacy of games remains one of the most popular puzzle titles of all time. And look at how simple the gameplay is! Rotate a piece, then drop it! But it works.

This isn’t limited to just puzzle games. What about something like Pac-Man, where you just had to avoid ghosts and clear out dots? Or Space Invaders…just shoot everything on the screen. Or the recent Space Channel 5 series…at its core, it’s nothing more than a game of “Simon Says”!

Games get more and more complex these days, and it’s often just a result of developers cramming in more useless drivel just to make a game seem more deep than it actually is. RPGs are generally exempt from this rule, as the whole point of an RPG is to be complex, but even they cross the line at times. Take Xenosaga, for example. Yes, I loved the game, but holy f*cking pretentious. Monolith Studios went way overboard with the complex philosophy, leaving most players with a single question at the the game’s end. Not “what happened to this character,” or “when will such-and-such event take place”…the question was simply “What the FUCK?!” That’s not to say that the ending sucked, which it did not…but many plot threads were left unresolved and others were just downright confusing.

I understand that not all games, and not even a majority, can use simple gameplay to get by. Today’s casual consumers are too picky for that; if it’s not ultra-violent or loaded with sex, then they’re not going to want it, complex or simple gameplay nonwithstanding. Luckily, we are seeing a bit of a comeback of the simple games. There’s the ever-popular anthology series, but we’ve also got the bestselling EyeToy games, which are about as simple as it gets. The same could also be said for the Mario Party games, which are nothing but board games loaded with simple minigames. Let’s hope they keep comin’!