I Hate Optional Mini-games

I can’t stand ’em. I have no problem with mini-games per se; it is specifically optional mini-games that get my goat. You know what I mean, the kind that you can skip without hurting the game but if you play all the way through are guaranteed some sort of reward. Like the shooting gallery game in Resident Evil 4. Or the, uh, shooting gallery game in Dead Space. The Shenmue series is one of my favorites of all time, but it is a serious offender in this category; though the games include required mini-games (which I have no quarrel with), they are also chalk full of optional challenges that don’t need to be completed to finish the game.

These mini-games follow a pattern. The challenge must carry some sort of reward, otherwise it’s just a way to waste time. You know that when Isaac in Dead Space interrupts his attempts to get off the alien-infested ship so he can partake in a little zero-G air ball, it’s because he wants to get some big reward at the end. Even worse are the games that rate you behind the scenes; it’s like, you finish the game, and the screen says “Congratulations on finishing the game. However, you failed to find all of the furry bunnies. Your rank is E-.” I hate that. It’s bullshit. If they wanted me to find all the bunnies then then should have made that part of the required conditions for winning. Look, I am sorry that I failed to carry out all of the books in the goddamned library without dropping any of them three days in a row, Master, but could you please give me your special advice that you promised anyway so I can get on with the freaking story?

Here’s the problem with optional challenges: they are very rarely ever the same level of quality as the rest of the game. When development teams responsible for these games see their deadline approaching, the optional mini-games always take a back-seat to the rest of the content because, hey, it’s optional. Required games, on the other hand, get played by the team a lot more because they are required for progression, and as a natural consequence they end up being a lot more fun. Carrying books out of a library? LAME. Catching leaves from the tree outside the library between your fingers. AWESOME. That’s how it always works–optional content always loses out to the required content when time is short and push comes to shove.

Now the real deal-breaker, at least for me, is that optional challenges are not really optional. I want to beat the game, and that means BEATING THE GAME. I mean all of it! I got stuck for about three months on the original Shenmue because I refused to progress in the game until I had achieved first place in the forklift race mini-game. You know what, that mini-game sucks! If you so much as brush a wall with your forklift your velocity instantly goes to zero and you have immediately lost. I played that stupid thing about one hundred times, to the point at which I was able to get second place every single time, and yet I never, not even once, came in first. Finally a friend beat it and discovered that the great reward for such a difficult challenge is a miniature forklift item that says “first place,” at which point I gave up and just played the rest of the game out. The shooting game in Dead Space was probably intended to be a fun diversion, maybe a way to give out an achievement or something, but I spent an entire hour beating that stupid thing. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t ultimately rewarding, and it didn’t “break up the game play” in a good way. It was a challenge that I decided to complete, and when it was done I swore one last time and moved on with nothing to show for it but a new power node.

So, to bring this rant to a close. Developers: make your goddamn mini games required for progression. If you do that and your game is no longer fun, it means the mini games suck. Fix them or cut them. Just, whatever you do, don’t make them optional.

14 thoughts on “I Hate Optional Mini-games

  1. I honestly didn’t get the point of that in Dead Space.

    You’re supposed to be finding a way off the ship with your bits intact and then all of a sudden (quite late in the game too), they’re throwing in shooting gallery games and Zero G basketball at you. WHY?! What’s that got to do with the story if you’re going to be that serious with the content?

    The shooting game was also on a damaged ship that was about to explode. It made no sense for Issac to do it. But I did it…because it was on the linear exit path and I wanted the achievement. You’re basically given a forced biased option to take part too. Sure, you don’t have to…but you’ll get a much needed Power Node if you do.

    Wow, thanks. I don’t mind that the ship will explode now!

    I think the worst offender (for me anyway) is Condemned because it rewards you with essential parts of the story. It’s not fun looking for these stupid pieces of metal and dead birds, just so you can learn a plot point that should have been in the game in the first place.

  2. I thought the shooting gallery was kind of an odd change of pace…but I had a little fun with it even if it was easy.

    Zero-G ball though…seriously? The game controls are supposed to be slightly sluggish to give you that claustrophobic feeling, yet they throw in this stupid game that requires you to quickly aim, hop around, find a tiny ball after you’re done hopping, and throw it in the baskets. You should NOT include a minigame that requires phinesse in a game in which the controls are meant to feel anything but.

    And I still spent an hour to complete it so I could get my power node/achievement. I was especially annoyed that most of the rewards were just medkits anyways, of which I was overstocked on.

    The shooting gallery was a fun diversion (albeit, out of place) that took no more than 10-15 minutes to complete, Zero-G Ball is just…annoying. It’s not fun. It feels like mindless work.

  3. Why do you play the minigames when you do not enjoy them? That is exactly why they are optional, so you can skip them if you do not like them.

    Go and play World of Warcraft and complete ALL achievement it has. Which is roughly a thousand or so. I kid you not. If you do that, you have a serious completionist disorder.

    Nobody forces you to play a minigame. Just don’t. End of story. I do not like football. Do you see me running around playing football because I have to “beat it”? No.

    Seriously, your articles have always been great, this one is more whiny than 4chan’s /r9k/ while having less sense than /b/.

  4. In my opinion those mini-games should be unlockables for completing the game. In that case you can play these games without them killing the entire atmosphere the main game tries to establish. For example I only played that RE4 shooting gallery game once for five minutes, and never even thought about checking it out again. The only thing that came to my mind was “why should I play this simple lame game when there is a better game waiting for me when I go out the door”.
    Also the prizes for the challenges contributed absolutely nothing to the game. If you atleast got some costumes or new weapons, but no – we get bottle caps…

  5. K – you know how your boss calls you on the weekend and asks if you can come in? You don’t have to, but if you do you’ll get paid overtime. You really don’t want to work this Saturday, but with those extra few overtime hours on your next paycheck, you’ll finally be able to pick up that new speaker chair you wanted?

    It’s kind of like that. Only even crappy minigames are more fun than work. The minigame sucks, but if I finish it then it will hopefully in some way enhance the rest of my gaming experience. For some people, getting everything in the game is just another part of the fun.

  6. I don’t always agree with your points, but I am right with you on this, 100%.

    I find that mini-games usually ruin the atmosphere of the game, first and foremost. When making a game, I feel the developers should work to make everything essential, as you always want your players to interact with your entire work, and not just what you consider to be the meat of the game.

    As someone who wants to deal with only the relevant parts of the game (by and large…some RPGs will get me doing a mini-game if it’s REALLY fun), I usually try something I see once and then walk away from it if it isn’t directly relevant to the plot.

    That’s probably why I am rarely ever a completionist. And probably also why I hate ranking systems so much…they usually take such things into account, and I have no love for those very things. Going for a 10 star in Silent Hill 3? I can dig that. Why? All the mandatory requirements are based on skill and actions completely relevant to the main game. No random sidequest bullshit. That irks me so very much.

    Great write, sir.

  7. @UltimateCarl: If you think the forklift race in Shenmue is more fun than work, you got the wrong job. 😛

    I don’t mind optional minigames as long as they can be accessed from the main menu or some other place at any time. The shooting range in Dead Space sucked because if you wanted to get the Trophy and the node, you had to do it right then and there or never. I got stuck for two hours because it was so difficult with the Sixaxis.

  8. Rocco – Unfortunately I haven’t played Shenmue (yet), but I meant MOST of the time. 😛

    Also, were the PS3 controls for Dead Space that bad? I hear a lot of people complain about how hard the shooting gallery and space basketball minigames were, but I didn’t have any trouble on the 360, and I’m terrible at any FPS not on PC. I did the entire basketball thing in one sitting and didn’t lose one round, and I only failed the last section of the shooting gallery once. *Shrug*

  9. I have the same disease that makes me want to beat every single point of the game, but I think some games are better left as optional. For example, making photos of hidden ghosts in Project Zero. I think this provides different levels of beating the game. They may be people that only wants beating the main story, and those who likes the game enough to beating it twice can still find new things the second time.

    Sometimes the mini-games or alternate quests are so dull, wanting to beat them all is like a obsesion. Specially in RPG’s.

    Actually I don’t like when you are forced to play a minigame in order to continue, breaking the pace and the style of the game. Though I have only seen this in the Final Fantasy series, not in Survival horror.

  10. You want to talk punishing optional mini-games? Kingdom Hearts 2. Of course like Chris I “had to beat the game”, which means completeing Jiminy Cricket’s notebook in order to get the secret ending. Let me tell you, that shit was like a second job. Not only did I have to come in first in every single mini-game in the thing, of which there were several both optional and required, but you also have to collect every single enemy-dropped item in the game, multiple times!!!!

  11. I have mixed feelings about minigames, and it really does depend on the theme of the main game itself, it’s flow, and the quality of mini-game.

    My usual policy is to do what I can (or find interesting) on the first playthrough without getting too bogged down. I generally never look up FAQs/walkthroughs on the first play. After beating it once, I look up everything and complete them if they have worth-while rewards.

  12. I don’t have much problems with optional mini-games. I’m one of those gamers that don’t need to do everything there is in a game. When the credits roll in, it is beaten. If there are mini-games I like, I do them – if they are bad, I skip em. Actually, I think bad mandatory mini-games are worse than optional ones… because you have to suffer trough them. Them being mandatory doesn’t always garantee that they will be fun, though the likeliness is higher.

  13. K brought up a good point.

    And now I have to wonder if the internet has finally destroyed your sanity because you think it’s a bad thing that optional mini-games are optional. If you want to submit yourself to mini-games that’s your own fault, stop whining about something you don’t have to play.

    I’m far more annoyed by games that force you to play mini games specifically for that reason- THEY FORCE YOU. It’s so much more irritating to have the game interrupted by some stupid mini-game that uses different controls than having the option there for you to check it out for yourself. Leave the damn things optional! You don’t have to play them.

    @ tesseracht:

    I know what you mean, and it doesn’t really reward you in the end. While you get the “secret movie” for filling out that notebook, it’s much easier to simply beat the game on hard mode to see it that way.

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