Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Favorite Single-Player Games

In the wake of Craig's post about the apparently impending death of single-player games, I thought now might be a good time to take a stroll down memory lane and reflect on some of my old favorites from this soon-to-be-defunct format. I hardly ever buy new games, but when I do, it's mostly so I can spend some time by myself getting lost in the world of the game. I hardly ever play online and could care less about my games' capacity for social networktivity. Quite frankly, I think there are already too many various social networks all over the inter-tubes without video games adding to the fray.

This solipsistic aspect of my gaming habits is the reason I've always resisted the label of "gamer." When I think of true "gamers," I conjure up the image of people who play video games not just to exercise their fingers or stimulate their imaginations or strain their eyes, but to become part of a community where their every accomplishment is measured against those of their peers.

That's the audience EA and Frank Gibeau are after, for whom they'll be designing and marketing games. And I feel sad to be left out of that key demographic.

This must be what it feels like to turn 50, when you're no longer a part of the coveted age 18-49 demographic. When you know that most commercials are geared to a different age group than yours. I'd imagine it's freeing to know that advertisers are no longer looking into your soul, searching for ways to sell you stuff... but by the same token it must be lonely and confusing to no longer identify with all the hot new products out there to buy.

That's kind of how I feel about the current state of video games - but then again, I was never a video game marketer's key demographic. I don't buy too many new games because I was never a "25-hours-and you're out" kind of guy. If I enjoy playing a title through the first time, I will likely play it over and over again, familiarizing myself with the details: the controls, the music, the design, the story. I believe that if a game's worth playing, it's worth playing thoroughly, as is the case with my all-time favorite single-player games listed below.

Super Mario Galaxy - Wii

Although I only played a college roommate's copy of the original Super Mario Galaxy on another roommate's Wii, I had enough free time to stick with it and unlock Super LUIGI Galaxy by collecting all 120 stars. Throughout the whole experience, I was absolutely captivated by the bright colors, symphonic score, and lack of conventional gravity. I've never felt more heroic controlling a stocky Japanese/Italian dude in blue overalls.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - PS2

We've already advanced a full generation beyond the PS2, but I'm still in awe of the sheer size and scope of San Andreas. Not just the gigantic map - which encompasses all of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas - but also the wealth of mechanics incorporated into the gameplay (shooter, driver, RPG), the all-star cast, and the massive eight-volume soundtrack. Even since gaining 100% completion, I still have fun running around the sandbox causing havoc. If only there was a mod to make your character look like Batman...

Batman: Arkham Asylum - PS3

After getting my first taste of this game on a friend's system, I immediately bought a copy of my own, despite the fact that I don't even own a PS3. What's not to love about this game: voices from the 1990's Animated Series, updated yet faithful renditions of heroes and villains in the traditional Batman comic book design, customizable gameplay with upgradeable bat-gadgets galore, and an open-ended
story with the promise of a sequel.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - PS2

My love of this game was the one and ONLY reason I chose to sit through the utterly ridiculous film version (starring Golden Globe-nominated Jake Gyllenhaal). The game is sublime in its simplicity: get the Prince from Point A to Point B, using a combination of your wits, manual dexterity, and precise timing to navigate through a series of obstacles. There are some fighting sequences, although your options as far as moves and combos go are rather limited. The genius is in picture-perfect atmospheric game design - including the famed time-rewinding mechanic - that makes you feel at once in epic danger and magically empowered.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - N64

Leaving the best for last, we come to the absolute crowning achievement in the action-adventure genre. I still get chills when I hear Zelda's Lullaby or see young Link pull the Master Sword out of the stone for the first time. Miyamoto somehow gives his characters more personality with a few pixels and a limited stock of sound effects than I've seen from some real-life actors in feature films. And what genius to use the C-buttons to simulate an ocarina? I've played through this game more times than I can recall off the top of my head, and every time it happens to me all over again, like new.

If these are the kinds of games that the new craze of online connected games are forcing to the sidelines, then you can count me out of the current trend in gaming, thank you very much. I'll stick to my outdated systems and introspective personality, and spare my fragile psyche the trauma of getting pwnd at any kind of multiplayer by tweenage L337s who have logged more hours on their games than I could ever hope to. We single-players might be a dying breed, but at least we know what we like, and we know where to find it: at home, in front of our television sets.