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.