Top 12 Gameplay Ideas Worth Salvaging From Lesser Titles

I will admit that I can be severely harsh or even controversial in some of my reviews, but I never try to come off as insensitive or mean spirited. My goal is to give insightful overviews to the products I decide to look at, though just like with any review; they will have a subjective approach to them. Admittedly, I should remember more often the proverb “if you cannot say anything nice, then do not say anything at all”. This is what I will try to do for this article, thanks to Casper’s challenge. He asked me to find gameplay ideas I admire, but discovered within games I find mediocre or downright bad. I can only hope I am not burning too many bridges with my opinions.

However, before we get to the list, I want to clarify a couple of aspects to it:

  1. I am not always sure if an unique idea got started in the mentioned games or expanded further in better projects. These are just the titles where I found them in. If you have seen these concepts been used in something you can call good, please let me know! I would love to see these ideas flourish.
  2. These are games I dislike or find mediocre. If you like any of these titles, think of this as me saying: “Yes, there is something I do appreciate about them”.
  3. These ideas have to affect how you play the game, such as mechanics, structure or anything else that will change up the gameplay. This is an interactive media after all, not a movie!

#12 Dismembered body parts (NeverDead)

While panned by critics, I have a soft spot for this entry due to its insane setup. I cannot defend it from being anything more than mediocre, but this is definitely a title I believe would even make Suda proud from its style alone. In this apocalyptic future, you play as an immortal and perverted warrior, who does not lose health upon being attacked, but body parts. This idea has so many potentials showcased in this game alone, like making fights more inconvenient by loosing one arm or throwing your head around for solving puzzles.

It is a cool concept that adds to the gameplay in multiple ways, especially the combat! Swings from the opponent will cause clear effects and there are many possible ways to fight creatively. I think my favourite part, is how you can throw your arm and shoot within a fiends guts if they eat it. While a sequel probably will never happen due to how bad NeverDead bombed, I would love for anyone to pick up this idea again or even expand upon the original with a reimagining. Platinum?

#11 Ancestry playthroughs (Phantasy Star 3: Generations of Doom)

To get this out of the way: I do like how you can fight alongside your kids in Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride and how their playstyles are affected by your chosen partner. However, Phantasy Star 3: Generations of Doom goes even further with this concept and makes you play through three generations of heroes, with the second and third being affected by their forefathers’ actions. Giving them unique powers and pathways that can alter their endings significantly, add to make this truly an RPG with choices on how you want to take on these adventures. In other words: true role-playing!

Unfortunately, while I do think Phantasy Star 2 is a much worse entry, this third instalment is tedious to play through, due to your walking speed being incredibly slow and fights dragging on with requirements for good strategies being replaced with tons of grinding. In a fast-paced RPG focused on making the journey progressively exciting and interesting, this idea could add plenty of replay value and a clear form of role-playing! RPGs are traditionally long adventures, but there are no reasons for them to be tiresome experiences.

#10 Switching coloured platforms (Outland)

Now who remembers this title? Oultand is an intriguing game on its own, being a metroidvania with a focus on switching between two colours for attacking enemies and activating platforms. I love this mechanic, and while a similar concept has been seen in Ikaruga for example, throwing in platforming into the mix is a fascinating twist on it! Sadly, it is not before the last part of the game that this idea gets to become fleshed out. Until then, we have a standard platformer at best, with minimal exploration. Quite the underwhelming playthrough, to say the least.

I believe a lot of the problems stem from unclear design choices, by making the levels too linear for exploration. However, maybe it would have been better to change the entire structure to a completely linear setup and make the game focused on testing your platforming skills? There was an attempt at making this metroidvania fast-paced, but due to upgrades being locked away in a semi-linear setup, it felt confused as to what it wished to be. Imagine mixing this idea with the incredible platforming of Celeste or Slime-san, and it would be a phenomenal title that would challenge every ability you had and make your hands cramp in the best way possible.

#9 Scanning your way through (Scanner Sombre)

I had high hopes for this project to deliver something. Even with its linear structure and despite it being a walking simulator, scanning the area around you in order to see what lies ahead is a brilliant idea for an exploration game where you try to find your way out. I admire the colours used to see every corner and how far or close you are to any structure, with your map becoming bigger the more you scan. However, Scanner Sombre had no idea on how to use this concept well.

Upgrades made this mechanic worthless, the linearity destroyed all wonders, and there was nothing interesting to discover. This journey basically went from being fascinating, to one of the most lacklustre experiences I have ever endured. If this single device could have been brought back for an exploration game with no upgrades included, think of how much more effective the adventure would be. Throw in RNG dungeons and expand the underground world with more pathways to take, and I believe Scanner Sombre’s idea could be used for something magnificent.  

#8 Deciphering a lost language (Heaven’s Vault)

This is probably among the controversial entries on this list, and I can see why through its beautiful main concept! Finding old scriptures on ancient artefacts, inside old books or within hidden ruins, was always exciting discoveries that would lead to you trying to decipher this forgotten language. I loved every single aspect of this part, as it tested your logical thinking constantly. That being said, this was a tedious title to play through. The slow speed of the protagonist, drawn out sailing, restricted exploration, and the plot of a lost civilisation getting sidetracked for annoying characters and dialogues, are just some of the reasons for why I would call this a bad game.

Everything outside of its main aspect felt forced and tiresome. Which is a shame when the idea of finding the right translations to old writings, is fantastic for point-and-clicks. Heaven’s Vault was on the right track, just not strong enough to reach the finish line. Pacing issues and a terrible story were always what made me take multiple breaks and seek out other forms of entertainment, which baffles me! The studio behind this project also made some of my favourite games ever; Sorcery! 1-4, 80 Days, and Pendragon. Hopefully, the team will keep reusing this idea for better titles. If not, someone definitely needs to.

#7 Evolving a genre (Evoland)

Evolving might be a stretch, as Evoland simply feels like a bland parody with nothing to show for it. The concept introduced here, is that you expand its RPG genre by opening treasure chests scattered around the world where each add in new elements to the game. These can be an overworld map, cutscenes, turn-based combat, shops, and so on. It is an interesting idea for playing through the evolution of a genre, but by being so short and limited in its structure, this title has nothing worthwhile to offer.

The journey you are taken on here is basically going through the motions with minor aspects to its genre included. Because of this, it is easy to ask “why am I not playing anything else?” as you could actually then get a fulfilling experience. Although, this is an idea I believe could be improved upon if the game got more time to evolve. Why not explore each sub-genre more thoroughly with more creativity included instead of giving the player the bare minimum? At least, Evoland is not as big of a convoluted mess as its sequel.

#6 Mortality (The Immortal)

I swear that this game was made by a killer DM, as every single corner here can end your life with ease! Monsters devouring you from below, invisible creatures attacking you, failing to do a puzzle correctly, and even descending a ladder from the hole’s wrong angle, are just some examples of how quickly you can bit the dust within this dungeon. I am surprised that you even have a health bar for whenever you are fighting against one other creature, which almost feels like mercy at this point. However, I also love how this setup showcases that you are just a mortal being.

Having to be careful with every step and using all of your abilities as a wizard with a sword in hand to overcome obstacles in your way, sounds exhilarating! Combat with simple dodge and hit mechanics, using spells to further your progress, and take your time to carefully solve puzzles, could add to make this into a tense dungeon crawler. Being blindsided is never okay, but if this title hinted on the dangers lurking around while still keeping you on your toes, it would make this into a rewarding playthrough. Even difficult games need to make sure that their challenges are good ones, which The Immortal definitely did not.

#5 Being a chaotic kitty (Catlateral Damage)

Another title I have a soft spot for. The idea introduced in this game, is simply that you are a cat who can do nothing more than jump, push, swipe, and grab objects. Your goal is to cause as much mayhem as possible, because your owners need to learn a lesson for not treating you purfectly! I adore this setup. Having a minimal moveset and simply cause chaos by pushing everything down to the ground or destroy any object in your way, made Catlateral Damage fun to play. Unfortunately, it got old quickly due to shallow level designs and a presentation I cannot say is flattering. 

However, this is probably one of the few games on this list that I would simply ask for a sequel to. More imaginative set pieces, better challenges, nicer visuals, and additional cats, could easily give this inviting idea a stronger foothold! There is something about working with good limitations and a cute concept, but there needs to be creativity and evolution throughout the campaign in order to become memorable. Catlateral Damage 2 needs to happen, but hopefully the upcoming Remeowstered version will already show more potentials to this setup!

#4 Creating Combos (Remember Me)

This forgettable title genuinely made me angry. Pretentious dialogues, an uninteresting world, dull gameplay styles, and a linear structure, made this into a game I never want to revisit. However, the only salvageable thing about its gameplay was parts of its combat. While it is a downright lie that you can create combos, you can alter their stats for making attacks deal more damage, regenerate your health, and more, which was an intriguing inclusion. This could make for strategic battles, similar to what skills can do in traditional RPGs!

Sadly, when the enemies are rather passive aggressive and easily defeated, the fights never benefited from this setup. Not to mention, instead of just being stat enhancements, why not make the attacks have interesting effects? Perhaps functionalities, like lightning attacks that can stun foes, crowd control or hidden moves that can be activated from clever combinations? There are endless amount of possibilities with this concept, but to stop with simple upgrades, was one of the many reasons for why Remember Me became utterly forgettable. No depth to anything in this title, just one idea that needs a better home.

#3 Dance Moves (Micheal Jackson’s Moonwalker)

This arcade game is nothing more than a simple scavenger hunt with good music, starring a controversial character to say the least. To put it bluntly, playing as this pop star is the only reason to even consider picking up this title, and I believe we all can agree that it is not a good selling point these days. Although, I love how most of Micheal Jackson’s dance moves can be replicated with in-game button combinations, such as spinning and moonwalking. It is incredible how much focus was given to this aspect of the game, even if most of these abilities are useless.

However, what if we made every single move useful? Turn the moonwalk into a dodge move for example, instead of one that can easily make you take cheap hits from enemies! If these abilities were remade for a 3D beat’em with hordes of fiends to take on through creative button inputs, this idea could really evolve. Think Devil May Cry with breakdancing or Bayonetta with tango, and I believe the combat could become visually cool and mechanically interesting. It is a minor concept to go by, but this is one that has been stuck with me for ages. When I dare to even say something positive about this bland game, I truly hope that it speaks volume for this idea.

#2 Putting on masks (Majora’s Mask)

Yes, I absolutely dislike Majora’s Mask. Even as a man with the Triforce tattooed on me, I find this surreal title completely tiresome and underwhelming to play through. The side quests are usually fetch quests, having the days pass only halts the playthrough, two of the four temples are dull, there is little mechanically entertaining to speak of, and saving requires you to reset so much of your progress, that it becomes obnoxious to even consider finishing this adventure. Granted, the 3DS version did fix some aspects of the original, but not enough to make it good in my eyes.

I cannot act like I even enjoy the masks within this game, as most of them have context sensitive uses. Luckily, there are some that alter the gameplay in neat ways. Causing explosions with the bomb mask, going invisible through the stone mask, and the three masks changing your abilities completely, add to give the already versatile hero, smart and varied ways to play that come with pros and cons! In a better structured game where all the masks had multiple uses or were the only items you could acquire, imagine what possibilities could be provide for world- and dungeon design!

#1 Using your console’s capabilities for solving puzzles (Another Code: Two Memories)

Launch titles are a great way to get introduced to a system’s strengths, and while not all have a lasting appeal, I always adored those who showcased more than the visual or audio capabilities of a device. The Nintendo DS is a favourite example of mine for how fascinating this could be. With two screens, one touchscreen, being able to close the system, and a microphone, this system had many interesting functionalities. There were certainly titles that took good use of the system’s capabilities for some good brain-teasing, like Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and the Professor Layton games, but not much more than with the touch screen. While I think Another Code: Two Memories is nothing worth your time, I cannot deny the insightful impact it left for what could be done on the DS.

Being clever in using all of the system’s functionalities to overcome puzzles with, was an exciting idea showcased well with this instalment. It is just a shame that Another Code is a series with forgettable characters, boring plots, and puzzles that are more about gimmicks than testing your logical thinking. I would love to see a title use every capability of a hardware’s unique features for overcoming puzzles with, but I do not believe we will ever see this concept again. These days where the strength and exclusive titles for a system count more than interesting ways to play, maybe the DS itself is simply a relic of a beautiful past never to be revisited. This is why I desperately want a good game with this concept; because then we will have an unique console that is more than just about its presentation. It is about how you play the games.

So Casper! You know good food! I love good food! Heck, there are even cookbooks based on different franchises, including those from video games! With this in mind, I want to hear your top meals from games that you would like to eat! They do not have to be real cuisines, but they should be possible to make (with some minor creative alterations if needed).

Published by Slionr

A guy who likes to talk about video games and loves tabletop gaming. You can always follow me on twitter: @GSlionr

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