We lovingly celebrate some of our favourite ‘gamey’ video games, where crazy stuff happens, or zany characters appear, that could only occur in the medium of video games.
By Thomas Quillfeldt; additional thanks to Brian Edwards, Sean Bell, Ryan Hamann and Ashton Herrmann
We love video games. You (hopefully) love video games. What follows is a list of video games that are definitely video games — as Dr. Seuss might write, ‘gamey games for gameful gaming.’ This listicle was not compiled from a cynical or negative standpoint. We adore the titles mentioned below, and this a gleeful celebration of them and this glorious medium, created with a wink and a smile.
What is a video gamey-ass video game? Several things might qualify such a label: where a game world serves as an engine of chaotic fun, enabling situations that could only happen in a video game.
Then there’s the story angle: many titles and series have characters and plot lines that are so outlandish that you can’t imagine them ever turning up in books, films, TV shows, etc.
For some, older video games running at tiny pixel resolutions seem positively prehistoric compared to the photorealistic modern 3D worlds we enjoy now.
Finally, there are game mechanics and esoteric features that are mostly impenetrable to non-gamers — think loot, upgrades, multiple currencies, and mind-bogglingly complex overlapping systems.
Just Cause 2
The third-person open-world action shooter hyperreal physics sandbox video game
At the end of Rico Rodriguez’s tether
Ryan Hamann, podcaster with Cane and Rinse: “Just Cause 2 is a masterpiece of emergent storytelling. I don't know how the game developers [Avalanche Studios] do it, but every time I boot the game up, I walk away with an incredible story about something I saw or experienced. There's the grappling hook that enables you to tether objects together, and the game's outright refusal to say ‘no’ regardless of how stupid my ideas are.”
“There was one particularly memorable afternoon in which a friend and I traveled to an in-game airport and stood at the edge of a runway. As planes were taking off we would tether them to the air control tower. We were trying to get them to orbit the tower like a reverse mobile, but most of them just crashed into the sea. Still, I've never seen another game let me do anything like that.”
Here’s a plane tethered to a statue:
The online-only multiplayer first-person shooter video game
A summary of Destiny 2’s pitch to new players:
“Do you guys like loot?! Play Destiny 2 and get EXP for doing missions (up to 3 player co-op), quests, strikes (up to 3 player co-op; earn Vanguard Tokens to level up your faction level), raids (6 player co-op, except the 3 player mini-raid, which you can only play on certain weeks depending on where the story cycle is up to), nightfall strikes, public events, milestones, patrols, and multiplayer matches (6 vs 6 including Clash, Control, Supremacy, Countdown, Survival, or Gambit modes); earn Engrams (e.g. Etched, Decoherent, Encrypted, Legendary, Luminous, Ephemeral, Encoded, Bright, Illuminated, Steadfast, Exotic, Fated [Isochronal], and more) to increase your Power level; and turn Engrams and items you’ve earned (but don’t need) into currencies (Glimmer, Legendary Shards [now known as Enhancement Cores], and Bright Dust) to spend on more Engrams and items, as well as bounties (which reward you with more Engrams and currency), shaders, armour mods, and infusing your low-level gear. 😃"
tl;dr — shoot aliens, get rewarded with stuff, and watch numbers go up.
Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space (aka Season Two)
The comedic, episodic point-and-click puzzle adventure video game
No one expects the Mexican intermission
(Imagine a time before Clementine and Lee melted our cold, undead hearts…)
Early in the second season of Telltale’s zany run of Sam & Max games, our titular heroes learn about a shadowy cabal — known as T.H.E.M. — from the local inconvenience store owner-turned-conspiracy nut, Bosco. During a later episode, the shopkeeper disappears; and, in the course of investigating, Sam & Max are abducted by a UFO that turns out to be the homebase of T.H.E.M. — The Temporal Headquarters of Enlightened Mariachis.
You see, a mariachi named Pedro has collected two additional versions of himself from various points of his own lifetime, and the trio travel time and space performing at people’s birthdays in order to collect souls to pay for their spaceship, and…
Look, it’s better explained by the song embedded below, the lyrics of which include: “Mariachi, Ai, ey, ey, ey! / I come back from the future and pick up young versions of me / In our spaceship, ai, ey, ey, ey / We set course through the time stream, and fill gringos' birthdays with glee!”
The online multiplayer first-person shooter video game
The good guys and the bad guys have fun shooting each other because: Hey!
Ashton Herrmann, podcaster – MEKAcast: “Because the game rose from the ashes of Titan, Blizzard's cancelled MMO, there’s a sense that the world of Overwatch is a lot bigger than the little we see in the game. Worldbuilding is almost entirely visual outside of random dialogue that will spring up between two or more heroes (if they happen to be on the same team) and external media: animated shorts, comics, short stories, etc.
“There is an established narrative and a sense of conflict in that we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, but the gameplay itself feels almost entirely disconnected from the narrative. The conflict isn't good versus evil in-game; it's just blue team versus red team. Heroes and villains will sometimes make remarks about working together against their better judgement, but the game's narrative neither progresses nor regresses during actual gameplay (in that way, it’s similar to many MOBAs).
“I've played with people who have spent thousands of hours playing Overwatch and have next to no understanding about the game's lore or story — they just understand the characters from a gameplay perspective.”
“In this way, there's dissonance between the narratives that happen as you're playing and the grander narrative that Blizzard is telling. Every once in a while, they’ll release a narrative-heavy PVE game mode that gives us some background to the cast of characters, and limits players to one of several canonical choices. Last year's Archives event, for example, had players undergoing a black ops-style mission using a four person team of Moira, McCree, Reaper, and Genji (the ‘Blackwatch’ team, pictured aboe). But, again, we only ever get to really learn about backstory; Overwatch's grander narrative never really progresses.
tl;dr: “Good guys and bad guys are fighting against or alongside each other with absolutely no bearing on the game's lore.
Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
The third-person action hack-and-slash cyborg ninja video game
PlatinumGames gonna PlatinumGames
The street-brawling, side-scrolling, beat-em-up video game
Middle-aged Travis Bickle squares up to a ripped Freddie Mercury on the US SNES cover
Special shout out to the Final Fight clone with the greatest video game pun name: Grievous Bodily 'ARM, published on the Acorn Archimedes.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
The alternative history Nazi-hunting first-person shooter video game
Actual marketing slogan: "Make America Nazi-Free Again"
THE FOLLOWING CLIP IS **NSFW** BUT — MORE IMPORTANTLY — SPOILERS!
For those of you not in a position to play the video above (which should run from 13:03 minutes)... Near the end of the game, a cutscene depicts protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz’s partner Anya, heavily pregnant with his twins, sliding across a room whilst hurling grenades into a pack of Nazi soldiers and a fire breathing Panzerhund. As the giant robot dog starts to breathe fire, setting Anya’s jacket on fire, she knocks Blazkowicz to safety.
The grenades explode showering everything with blood, shortly followed by Anya ripping off her flaming jacket to reveal her bared breasts and pregnant tummy. Blood-soaked and topless, she reaches for two machine guns in order to finish off the Panzerhund.
Everything released on the Atari 2600
Drivey, shootey, explorey, dodgy, jumpy, punchy video games
1.19 Mhz’s worth of 8-bit power!
The Kingdom Hearts series
The Disney-Final Fantasy crossover action role-playing game video games
It’s so convoluted, you couldn’t make up that someone made this up
[No spoilers for Kingdom Hearts III]
In Kingdom Hearts, our teenage hero becomes a refugee from his chill island home after an invasion by some evil thingy-ma-jigs. He's given a sword, and teams up with some beloved Disney™️ characters to do good. The do-gooders do good across various iconic places from Disney™️ movies (and some Final Fantasy™️ characters show up), and defeat the big baddie before she captures seven maidens who can unlock a big door that leads to a nice, centrally-located, floaty-woaty place. But, that big baddie isn't the XL big baddie, whom they also defeat, and thereafter succeed in sealing the aforementioned big door.
Our aforementioned hero and his do-gooding team then go to a fortress controlled by baddies who don't exist (but actually do). A girl with powers puts the team to sleep to make them remember stuff whilst also forgetting other stuff. Our hero's mate from back home protects him whilst he sleeps, and has to capture his non-existent (but actually existent) alter-ego in order to make our hero wake up.
Our aforementioned hero does indeed wake up and has more do-gooding to do in various iconic Disney™️ locations, trying to counteract a shadowy non-existent organisation (that actually exists) whom his aforementioned alter-ego is a member of; also, the original big baddie’s servant stirs up some shit. Our hero and company reunite with a really famous Disney™️ character, and meet the leader of the non-existent organisation (that actually exists) who is also one of the incarnations of an even bigger XXL big baddie. The organisation's plan is revealed: they must create a new version of the aforementioned nice, centrally-located, floaty-woaty place by adding up the bits of baddies that our hero has slain. The aforementioned XL big baddie has a device that is supposed to do something, but it self-destructs and traps him. After fighting the alter-ego on the top of a non-existent castle (that actually exists), our hero and his aforementioned mate go to a bad floaty-woaty realm, but their other mate from the aforementioned chill island home sends them a letter that magically allows them to escape and reunite.
The aforementioned really famous Disney™️ character sends our aforementioned heroes a different letter about three tragic historical heroes, one of whom hid a really good sword in the heart of our aforementioned hero when he was a nipper. The aforementioned XL big baddie and the aforementioned alter-ego's defeat enabled the rise of the aforementioned even bigger XXL big baddie, so our present-tense heroes have to take an exam and get a Master's degree in swordsmanship. As part of the exam, our heroes fall asleep and meet a younger, time-travelling version of the even bigger XXL big baddie, whose goal is to assemble incarnations of himself to fight the aforementioned maidens, and that conflict will recreate the aforementioned really good sword somehow.
The aforementioned XL big baddie (not the aforementioned even bigger XXL big baddie) implanted our aforementioned hero with some data whilst he was asleep, which might turn out to be handy later on. Our hero's aforementioned mate gets her aforementioned Master's degree; our hero sets off to get his mojo back; and an iconic Disney™️ sorcerer (the one with the eyebrows) assembles some good guys to fight the even bigger XXL big baddie’s assembled incarnations.
Kingdom Hearts III begins with some people trying to do some stuff; there’s good guys, bad guys, battles, etc.
The totally un-secretive secret agent first-person shooting film tie-in video game
Where the frame rate is so choppy that speedrunners have to look at the floor or walls to proceed at top speed
Shadows of the Damned
The ‘psychological action thriller’ third-person over-the-shoulder shooter video game
Demon hunter Garcia Hotspur travels to the underworld stop his girlfriend being repeatedly fridged; aka Suda51 and Shinji M have no fucks to give
(We ❤️) Bethesda games (+ mods)
The eminently moddable open-world role-playing video games
The Silly Adventures of Mr. Mochi — old video, still funny
James Pond II: Robocod
The pun-filled anthropomorphised collect-em-up 2D platformer video game
“Something fishy is afoot in the arctic…”
The set-up for 1991’s cross-platform platformer (which received a PlayStation 2 port!!?!) is that James Pond’s nemesis, Dr. Maybe (a pun worthy of this response), has taken over Santa’s workshop and is holding his worker penguins hostage.
The player takes control of the cheerful, titular fish outside a snowy castle — you can leap onto the roof, and, for points, collect a cake (400 points), a tap faucet (800p), a globe (10,000p), a beach ball (500p), and a mallet (300p).
Enter the building and you can collect a penguin (1000p), a wine glass (800p), a watering can (600p), and a hand mirror (500p). Make your way across the spikes (because of course there are spikes) to collect some lips (500p), a violin (8000p), an ice cream (1000p) and a snowman (2000p). Later, one must dodge the snakes, liquorice allsorts man, and four-fingered hands.
The reason that penguins are working for Santa and not elves? In the original UK version of the game, there was an early example of product placement, as biscuit company McVitie’s paid the developers to promote Penguin Biscuits.
The open-world skateboarding simulation video game
The game that went viral years after the fact, where bugs and glitches were elevated to an art form
The fantasy resource mining, town and army building real-time strategy video game
Where the lowliest members of a grand army get the best lines
There has seldom been anything as amusing as repeatedly clicking various units to hear their irate responses…
“Say hello to my little friend…”
And, if you were playing the shareware version of the game…
It would seem that the PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 console generation enjoyed some of the silliest, most knowing, gamey-ass games, including DmC: Devil May Cry, Lollipop Chainsaw, Saints Row: The Third, and everything (else) made by PlatinumGames…
Of course, we only covered a tiny fraction of all the brilliant examples of video gamey-ass video games. Feel free to let us know examples you would have included, or just say “hi!”: