Once again, I must ask: why do we need mandatory mini games in RPG’s? Don’t get me wrong, sometimes this works. For example, lock-picking in Fallout 3 was done just right. I didn’t mind it at all – in fact, it added to the atmosphere of the game. Most minigames however are incredibly stupid. Especially the “decryption” game from the PC version of Mass Effect. To illustrate just how ridiculous it is I want to tell you a little story.
One day I’m sitting at my desk playing Mass Effect when suddenly, Ark materializes in my room. No, he doesn’t enter the room – he manifests. If your full name was pronounced Arkadius you wouldn’t just walk into rooms either, would you? No you would appear, manifest or coalesce into existence. Nothing else would do. One thing you have to know about Ark is that the man essentially has three modes of operation: shenanigans, “crazy scheme that might just work” and asleep. So unsurprisingly, the first words out of his mouth are “I just got the best idea ever”, followed by a description of a plan so intricate that it would require 3 weeks of preparation, cast of at least 20 extras and extended build of large scale props and a little person trained in martial arts dressed up as ninja. As he lays down the plan for me, I continue playing the game. Of course since this is the PC version of Mass Effect, I this the spinning wheel decryption mini game every time I open a crate or need to activate some item:
This thing pops up on my screen so often, that Ark eventually loses track of what he was saying and demands to know what the hell is it. He initially assumed that it was a loading screen, but no game released this century would require to load so often. Then he saw me moving the little arrow within the wheel, and just had to ask. So I explain to him that this is essentially how “lock picking” works in mass effect. You have to go through this silly exercise to open or activate just about everything in the game. Ark resolutely responds:
“So… To open crates you have to play… Frogger?”
Yep. That’s pretty much it. In the distant future, we will secure our valuables and computer systems with a circular version of Frogger. Ark proceeds to facepalm.jpg in real life, and we both die a little bit on the inside.
Yes, it’s that ridiculous! The Frogger decryption game has no redeeming qualities whatsoever:
- It’s silly
- It’s not even remotely challenging
- Has nothing to do with security or hacking
- Uses Frogger mechanic
- It is used everywhere
I complained about the Fallout 3 hacking game, but compared to Mass Effect’s Frogger it is a brilliant little distraction. Hell, I’ll take the annoying Oblivion lock picking over this. Of course you never have to play this game if you don’t want to. You can for example expend the omni-present, omni-gel to bypass it. The gel can be obtained by scrapping your inventory items, which you will be doing a a lot considering you can only carry 150 of them. Then again, Omni-Gel is also used to repair your Mako which tends to get damaged quite a lot when you jump of high cliffs (read: during normal day-to-day operation considering the topography of most of the in-game planets). So you will be tempted to conserve the gel, and Frogger it out most of the time.
Does it get worse than that? Of course it does. There is one point in the game that asks you to play “Simon Says” to activate large mining laser, and “Towers of Hanoi” to reset the memory of an AI system:
That last game is somewhat passable mainly because it is reminiscent of that Space Odyssey scene in which Hal experiences death by slow sliding out of circuit boards out of the wall. It is also the only puzzle based mini game that requires some thinking (ie. those players who do not have computer science degrees will likely have to discover the algorithm for the first time) rather than quick reflexes of memorization. Still, it has nothing to do with the task at hand.
So my verdict concerning mini-games in recent RPG’s:
Oblivion: Sigh… Skeleton key.
Fallout 3: Actually, I can’t complain (even though I did… At length)
Mass Effect: Waaaaat? I don’t even…
Get it through your skulls people. Mini games SUCK! If you have to do them go look at Fallout 3 and copy their methodology because they are almost doing it right. If you really want to make me happy though, use skill checks. It’s a fucking RPG! Characters have skills. Fucking use them!