Done correctly, a well-placed minigame can provide a breath of fresh air for a videogame that’s spent too much time sticking to a set formula. After all, even the most ardent Gears of War fan can appreciate a change of pace after perpetually chainsawing limbs from bodies for hours at a time. Hopefully. Ideally a minigame will be short and simple and not detract too heavily from the primary experience either in tone or difficulty. It’s just a brief respite so the blood on your space marine armor has a few seconds to dry.
Done poorly, minigames can range from wildly-difficult distractions that retroactively cause a player to hate a game they were otherwise enjoying, to such profound tonal shifts it feels like an intentional attempt to put to rest the “Are videogames art?” debate forever with a definitive, “Hell no.”
Here are six minigames more like the latter.
The first Dead Space is a master class in building tension and dread. The action largely revolves around slowly creeping through darkened, corroded corridors praying to God that no hideously-disfigured Necromorphs jump out and tear your squishy body asunder. When combat does occur, it largely consists of frantic backpedaling and desperate trigger pumping. It’s an intense experience where one misstep can lead to gruesome death sequences designed to jumpstart a vomit.
So when the game inexplicably turns into a poor man’s Galaga near the end, it comes across as particularly jarring. Not only is it zero fun to shoot asteroids out of the sky after hours of desperately grappling with undead corpses, it’s freaking difficult. Several frustrated players have quit at this point rather than bother with the inevitable headaches stemming from watching your new favorite game dissolve into gameplay that feels better left in the 80s.
The Red Faction games are famous for their incredible destruction mechanics. Depending on the game, players can blow holes through walls, reduce multi-storied buildings to rubble or even use a rocket launcher to tunnel deep into the Earth. Each game in the series puts the ability to reduce each level to rubble front and center. It’s a fascinating and unique twist on the traditional shooter that remains fun playthrough after playthrough.
That’s why it’s such an anticlimactic disappointment when, in the first Red Faction game—after hours of destroying any and every thing with godlike power—the only way to finish the game is by playing a puzzle. Not a fun, physics-based, make-a-ramp-by-blowing-apart-this-skyscraper kind of puzzle. It’s more like a guess-the-code, trial-and-error computer puzzle. After witnessing the destruction of Mars at your quivering hands, players conclude the game by staring at a computer monitor and clicking directional arrows in order to stop a nuclear bomb from going off. You’re actually thwarting the thing that made the game fun in the first place.
The Mass Effect series has always done a fantastic job with world-building. Bioware has managed to craft a galaxy and lore that is almost a worthy competitor to Star Wars. Consistently, the games have boasted taut, intense combat, meaningful character choices and a plot actually worth investing in. Mass Effect 2, in particular, remains a high-water mark for the series as many believe it to be the perfect balance of choice-driven story and engaging gunplay.
Of course, Mass Effect 2 also has planet scanning, because sometimes you just need more minerals. There are several instances in the game where everything grinds to a halt so players can engage in the most intensely boring activity since Atari’s E.T. There’s nothing more thrilling than making the savior of the galaxy stop to pick up space groceries on the way to combat the galaxy’s greatest threat in a millenia.
Mafia is a very Grand Theft Auto-like game that really doubles down on the story telling. The developers worked incredibly hard to authentically bring the 1930s to life. The cinematic is reminiscent of The Godfather in all the right ways, and the game really puts players in the classy dress shoes of a Mafia thug like few games before or since.
While most of the gameplay revolves around shooting and escaping from flat-footed coppers, the developers also thought it might be fun to put a full-on car race in the middle of their gangster game. On its surface, this wouldn’t seem like such a bad idea—the game does involve driving sequences after all—but the game’s slavish attention to detail meant the racecars handled exactly like cars. Exactly like 1930s cars, to be precise. The metal slugs are a bear to control and any sense of speed is negated by the sad technological limitations of vehicles built before the New Deal.
Final Fantasy VII has long been considered a classic of the JRPG genre. It’s often cited as one of the first—or only—games to make its players cry. Even twenty years later, VII still inspires such fanatical devotion that they’re remaking the classic game for the Playstation 4. The RPG mechanics were groundbreaking, and the story is still considered one of the best ever put to CD-ROM.
One moment clearly designed to cause young, impressionable kids to weep themselves to sleep at 3 AM on a school night was the death of Aeris. The massive game had to be released on two discs, and Aeris’s emotional demise concluded the first disc, forcing players into a moment of reflection as they swapped CDs. So how did the game top such a moment? How did they follow-up such a powerful, heart-wrenching scene?
Why, with a snowboarding minigame, obviously. Apparently the developers really wanted to make sure you knew Final Fantasy VII was a videogame first and foremost. Also, because hell yeah, bruh!
2005’s Fahrenheit—or Indigo Prophecy if you’re an American—largely plays like an interactive movie. Similar to recent releases by Telltale Games—such as their Walking Dead series—it’s more about how player choices impact the narrative than trying to no-scope undead space spiders. The violent story—about amnesia, cults and murder—is loaded with twists and surprising revelations at every possible turn. It’s a sordid and engrossing tale boasting multiple endings encouraging several playthroughs and offering countless opportunities to experience the story in a new light. (And if this sounds familiar, Heavy Rain fans, it’s because this is also a David Cage game.)
Developers weren’t sure they could keep gamers raised on endless iterations of Madden and two Halo adventures engaged without throwing them a more hands-on section. Why they chose to make it a hold-your-breath simulator, though, is beyond comprehension. Apparently, the main character is so terrified of the basement in the building where she works every day, that the mere thought of venturing into its depths causes her to hyperventilate and potentially pass out. Players are tasked with keeping her conscious while she goes to grab some files. Fun fact: if she passes out, nothing bad happens. The story—and players’ lives—continues on like normal, albeit with several precious minutes forever wasted.
Jordan Breeding is a current Paste intern who also writes for Cracked and the esteemed Twitter.