The 8 Ball 02.11.14: Top 8 Insane Games
Welcome all to another installment of The 8 Ball where the topic for this week is top insane games. My own definition of an insane game probably differs from most other peoples. I tend to look at the story a bit closer, rather than just graphics. If I just went that route, this list would likely be populated by nothing but bullet hell games. A few games on my list do have some odd gameplay mechanics, but I tried to focus on particular elements that I personally found nutty. It’s a shame Guillermo del Toro’s game “inSANE” never got made, or else it probably would have been required for this list. Let’s begin:
After playing and beating Hotline Miami at least twice (unlocking the secret ending as well), I still have no idea what is going on in the game. I understand the basic plot framework of the characters receiving mysterious phone calls to kill random people. However, even if you see the secret ending, you still have no clue who the “50 Blessings” are, or what their motives include. Aside from that though, the blood spray and violence in the game is fairly wacky, and the music helps to invoke an unsettling atmosphere as you kill hundreds of people as you play.
This is my supreme oddball choice for this list, but hear me out. Most of Angelica Weaver is played for straight, you’re the titular detective who has a supernatural intuition and can somehow astral project herself from modern Chicago to late 1800’s London (on the same street, no less). However, once you beat the game, the game the weirdness truly reaches the next level. Spoiler Warning (highlight text to read) The ending of the game has you stopping the killer, which is to be expected. The twist comes when you discover that Angelica is actually dead, and has been a ghost the entire time you’ve played. Her brother is the one who is actually alive, and was who you were playing with. They don’t mention this really at all, and it comes out of nowhere. If you read my spoilers part, you’ll see why I picked this game to be on my list.
This spot was a tossup between either Asura’s Wrath (which looks crazy), and Bayonetta, which eventually won out. The reason Asura didn’t win is because I haven’t played it yet, but I have played Bayonetta….I’m just not sure if I beat it or not. That’s kind of how off the rails the story gets. It’s a Platinum game, the first of two on this list, and just goes for being unhinged at all times. Sonic the Hedgehog’s rings come out of the evil angels you kill, which you use to spend at a store where the shopkeeper (Rodin) occasionally asks in the RE4 “Whatdya buyin!?” The game is chalked full of hidden jokes about other games, and I can only hope Bayonetta 2 is like that as well. Also, Hideki Kamiya might actually be certifiable, in the best way possible. Then again, arguing with idiots on the internet every day would make anyone go crazy, right Teewashy?
I don’t think Hell Yeah is the most perfect game around, it can get kind of monotonous real quick. The reason is because the game is assaulting you almost nonstop with its wackiness and everything surrounding it. The basic gameplay is fine, it’s a platformer (with some clunky controls), and you have directional aiming with the right thumb stick. However, every time you face a boss, you are required to do a mini-game in order to vanquish them. These cause things like a truck to run over them, a big item to drop, or even the Earth to explode. They then get sent to your demon island where you can force them to work for you. The game actually has too much zany stuff which can overwhelm you, but for the time you can keep up, it’s an enjoyable ride.
The gameplay of Katamari is actually kind of sane when you break it down. You simply roll around a giant ball that can pick up objects which add to the mass and size of the ball, which lets you pick up larger objects, rinse & repeat. However the general story of Katamari Damacy (and subsequent sequels) goes further and further crazy. The first one involving your father getting wasted the previous night and destroying all the stars in a blackout. The second game involves the King’s backstory as a boxer and street punk. The third has him breaking the universe with a mighty tennis serve. And the fourth (main) game involved RoboKing going berserk. It’s a truly odd series, that I hope can keep up someday on next gen consoles.
While Omikron was Quantic Dream’s first game, Indigo Prophecy (Fahrenheit in Europe) is where they kind of hit upon their formula (for good and for bad), and got the studio noticed by people. The gameplay was kind of a mishmash of Resident Evil, God of War, and Ape Escape, but it largely worked. You controlled a character with the left analog stick, using the right stick to do actions, or investigate things. Instead of a health bar, there was a sanity meter, and the more weird stuff that went on, the lower it got, leading to a game over if fully empty. The story is pretty wild though, with different clans trying to kidnap the Indigo child, one of which is made of computer AI. The story barely makes sense, and that is pushing it, but it’s a good game to check out, and see where Cage’s origins came from for his later games.
After recently playing and reviewing this game, “Yeah, this game is nuts” was something I thought of. The first boss fight involves you parrying a huge sword, then throwing a 65 foot tall (at least) robot into the air and cutting him in half. Thanks Platinum Games. This game is more Kojima than he dared dream. There are ludicrous bosses, the Ayn Rand pastiche Senator springs to mind, the combat is beyond gory and silly, while the music only adds to everything going on. Almost all Platinum Games are screwball, but this is the most heightened because it is a part of a well-regarded franchise.
If anyone can actually answer this challenge, I will be impressed – In one succinct sentence describe the plot of Final Fantasy 8, only one conjunction allowed. I honestly don’t know how crazy this game does get, since I never was able to finish it. I got to around the third disk when you get Edea in your party, I think around the Great Salk Lake area. I realized something as I played it – I was on the 3rd disk of a 4 disk game, and I had no clue what was actually going on in the story. It was at that point when I shut the system off, put the disk back in the case, and never played it again, save for looking at the PC port on Steam. It’s probably not the most insane to a lot of people, but trying to read the wiki on the plot is almost incomprehensible. The only challenger is Kingdom Hearts, but that’s because Square has bolted so much side crap onto the series, it has become practically ruined at this point. At least with Final Fantasy 8 they were more efficient in churning out a nonsensical game.
Top 8 Insane Games
There are a lot of games that deal with the subject of insanity. It’s a familiar video game trope. When it’s not handled well, it seems cheap and pandering. When it is handled well, it results in some of the best stories and moods in video games. I tried to focus on games that had insanity as one of their main themes, as opposed to just using it as a character device. I also gave more weight to games with an insane main character, and disqualified The Joker because I love the Joker, especially when voiced by Mark Hamill, so Batman games would have taken up half the list. So here’s my list of other games that came to mind this week, even though I’m aware that there are far more of them than I can include here. So list your own favorites in the comments!
8: Clock Tower: The First Fear
While Clock Tower was officially a game about fear, some pretty messed up stuff happens, like parrots squawking murderous phrases and hands reaching through a mirror at Jennifer. And of course there’s Bobby the Scissorman. The neat thing about Clock Tower was that the playable character’s health meter was represented by her panic level, which created an interesting level of connection to the emotions of the protagonist in a 2D adventure game back in 1995.
7: Dead Space
The original Dead Space was a masterpiece of jump scares done right. But the undercurrent of hallucinations, grief, and guilt were even better handled in the original game. The mistake that Dead Space 3 made was to focus too heavily on the fact that Isaac was nuts. When his madness was more subtle, and partially induced by grief and terror, it worked a lot better. I chose to include Dead Space on this list instead of Bioshock because while Jack has been subjected to mind control imprinting, his mind doesn’t decay the way Isaac Clarke’s does. While the splicers are deranged lunatics, both Andrew Ryan and Jack are, for the most part, sane, and therefore didn’t make this list. Isaac Clarke, on the other hand, is never able to recover mentally or emotionally from his encounter with the Markers, or his trauma at the hands of the Necromorphs.
I didn’t realize the similarities between Outlast and Clock Tower before I made this list, but both games involve characters hiding under beds. Outlast has some of the best insane characters in video games, because they’re based on the real life MK Ultra experiments into reprogramming the human psyche. The Brothers and Richard Trager are especially well developed as characters, despite having limited dialogue and much less screen time than other video game bad guys. Because most of the antagonists in the game were human, Outlast couldn’t rely on generic “crazy” to make their characters work. The developers had to create distinct, deeply developed abnormal psychologies, which had to be presented and defined in short amounts of time. It’s an outstanding achievement in any game, but it’s especially impressive that this level of character development appears in a budget-strapped indie title.
5: Silent Hill 2
This list would not be complete without Silent Hill 2. Its plot and character development may seem overdone and silly by modern standards, but when it came out in 2001, its heavy use of symbolism and tone (and fog) was revolutionary in the survival horror genre, which was previously known for dialogue gems like “Hope this is not Chris’ blood.” The entire Silent Hill concept of a town that manifests based on the emotional damage of visitors is a pretty amazing one, but Silent Hill 2’s execution of that concept was a high water mark in the franchise. One could even say that all the great psychological horror that has been produced in video games since Silent Hill 2 owes a debt to this title. You also learn a lot about people by finding out their favorite Silent Hill 2 ending. Mine is the dog ending. Because it totally makes sense.
4: Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem
You must have known this game was going to be on this list. I love this game. The insanity effects messed with me so hard. Yes, there were gameplay issues, but the way the story connected so many different types of characters, most of which met very bad ends, was incredible. It was also the first game I’d ever played that built the concept of insanity right into the play experience, and the game messed with the player in some seriously twisted ways. The insanity effect that made it seem like your video cable had come unplugged while you listen to your character die is still my favorite, thanks to its subtle, twisted cruelty.
3: American McGee’s Alice
So many other entertainment properties have borrowed from American McGee’s Alice. It’s a surprisingly influential game, and at one point, it was controversial as well: gaming insiders resented it, fans loved it. In fairness, there was nothing great about the gameplay, but the story and character designs were phenomenal, and the idea of the protagonist being a traumatized mental patient who only believes she’s Alice as a pretence to totally mess up beloved childhood characters hit a collective nerve. Games about madness love Alice in Wonderland, a concept that continues in the next entry on this list…
2: Far Cry 3
While I maintain that Far Cry 3 is more about drug culture, cultural appropriation, and the marginalization of indigenous cultures by both the drug trade and the military industrial complex, one can’t deny that most of the characters are pretty bugnuts. I didn’t fall in love with Vaas the same way most people did, because I felt extremely sorry for him for most of the game. The subtle hints at what caused his sanity to go bye bye were tragic reminders of some things I saw among marginalized minority communities growing up, including a guy I dated. Yes, Vaas reminded me of an ex-boyfriend. Yikes. Because I felt like I knew Vaas, I couldn’t maintain the distance to really be entertained by him. That, however, is a testament to Michael Mando absolutely nailing the character. Meanwhile, other characters like Dennis and Hoyt are no less crazy, and there’s no disputing Dr Earnhardt is out of his mind. There’s also the amazing dual ending of the game, which creates context and very real consequence for Jason Brody’s descent into violent delusion throughout the game. Far Cry’s moral for me was that despite all our technological advances, human beings are still, at our cores, pretty primitive.
This is possibly a surprising choice for number 1, but I picked it for two reasons. Firstly, every element of Psychonauts involves the brain, from mental health to emotional baggage to censors and mental cobwebs. But then there are the phobias, manias, and other crazy things that just make it fun! The second reason is that Psychonauts is the only game I could think of that explores mental illness as a main theme without stigmatizing it. Because every single character is somehow crazy… and yet somehow lovable… it doesn’t pigeonhole people with emotional challenges into “crazy axe murderer” territory. It’s a wonderfully creative title that doesn’t resort to brutal violence to hold players, and while much of the platforming drove me absolutely nuts, as an artistic achievement that deals with the insane, you can’t do better than Psychonauts.
There are plenty of other insane games out there that I didn’t brush upon. Feel free to include your own picks, but here were a few honorary choices: Eternal Darkness, Mr. Mosquito, Condemned 2Cook, Serve, Delicious, Driver San Francisco, Dyad, Tokyo Jungle, Octodad, and Cargo: The Quest for Gravity.
A few people asked (including one troll), why I don’t respond to specific comments. Two reasons: 1. It would make this section of the column moot, and 2. Most of the time it would only lead to further arguing and bickering, which I feel is kind of pointless. Conversations and debates are good, but constant trolling is annoying.
Anyway, let’s begin with some of last week’s comments: Yeah, SMW is generally a “better” game. The only big problem is that once you have a feather or two, that game is a joke. You can literally fly over 95% of the levels, if you get good at it. As far as Zelda goes, I judge them in the “Time to Sword” metric. The longer it takes Link to get his sword, the worse the game will be. Not all the time, per se, but most of it. It takes you 5 seconds in the original game, 3 minutes in LTTP, 4 minutes in Ocarina. These are all pretty short times. Meanwhile, it can take you over a half hour in Twilight Princess, especially trying to stop that charging goat. No thanks. I never played Baseball Stars, the first baseball game I got into was Ken Griffey for the SNES. Casual games like Zuma can be a good outlet for being sick. So is hate-playing Assassin’s Creed 1 when you’re in pain.