When it comes to video game innovation, people mostly talk about graphics or ingenious gameplay mechanics or the ability to make characters with supernaturally perfect bodies. But we expect innovation in those areas, while other, less flashy, less important parts of the gaming experience go years without seeing a single impressive or, hell, even noticeable change.
Luckily, some game developers out there took the time to do something different with those areas -- areas that are too often an afterthought and typically seem as if they came pre-fabricated out of a box and were glued on at the last second. For instance ...
#4. Sunset Overdrive Made Dying Fun With Entertaining Respawn Animations
With its inauthentic punk rock, in-your-face attitude, Sunset Overdrive is the Avril Lavigne of video games. It's like your grandma doing "cool" hip hop hand gestures while telling you how she don't love them hoes. But it has two great things going for it: 1) the gameplay, which is a ridiculous but well-implemented mix of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Ratchet And Clank, and 2) its respawn animations.
Avril herself is just a series of poorly configured ones and zeroes.
In most games, you're thrown back into the action, without flair, without a big to-do. In seconds you go from death to picking up where you left off before you were gutted by a giant Nazi pig monster. In Sunset Overdrive, failing to survive -- the most basic goal of most games -- is rewarded with one of nearly 20 exceedingly silly respawn animations, nearly all of which are pop culture references.
You die and return by popping out of the ground in Bill and Ted's phone booth:
Or via Portal gun:
Or by crawling out of a TV like in The Ring:
The respawn is almost never a place where game developers see a need to do something different. That's understandable, too. In most cases, it's probably best to get the players back into the action as quickly as possible. In a game like Hotline Miami, where dying a trillion times per level is part of the experience, a fancy respawn would only make things more frustrating. Long gaps between death and rebirth throw off a player's rhythm, getting them out of "the zone." But Sunset Overdrive isn't a game where you have to develop a rhythm. You jump around and grind on stuff and you kill, leaving plenty of room to wedge in a little shot of entertaining innovation.
And besides -- I really don't think I have to explain why dying and coming back in a Back To The Future-esque time machine sports car is amazing, do I?
#3. Bayonetta Turned Loading Screens Into Combo Practice Dojos
For a while, the closest load screens ever came to being interesting was when someone decided to slap on some random production art stills instead of a black screen with a spinning disc in the bottom corner. Then came Resident Evil, which masked its loads with the suspenseful opening of a door, adding a hint of dread to what in less capable hands could have been more nothing.
After Resident Evil used the blank canvas of the loading screen to keep the player engaged, no one really tried to follow it up. More production art, and then maybe bite-sized nuggets of game lore. At the very best, the load screen gave tips on how to play the game: gentle reminders of features you may not be using, the benefits of certain collectible items -- really basic stuff you completely ignored or were too busy hitting "skip" to read the first time around.
And then came Bayonetta. Bayonetta's loading screens actually attempted to have a function, a real purpose that kept players engaged, even while the console was booting up the next chunk of the game. Rather than giving you time to pick your nose or reach for another fistful of chips, Bayonetta let players practice combos in a kind of virtual dojo during the loading screens between chapters.
Third-person action games rely on combos or button-mashing, and for some outdated reason the player is always required to learn on the job, while playing the main story. In a fighting game, players can practice their moves in a mode separate from the main game. It's a stress-free environment that allows the player to learn the moves at their own pace. All Bayonetta did was take that same idea and apply it to that usually useless space where the player would normally fill time by listening to the game disc rotate and contemplating the fragility of his own mortality.
**tsk-tsk-tsk ... MrrMrr**
Resident Evil and Bayonetta have one thing in common other than innovative uses of loading screens: Hideki Kamiya, a game designer who worked on the original Resident Evil, was the director of Resident Evil 2 and the Bayonetta series, and is the only man alive who gives a shit about loading screens ... or it could be because the game industry is filled with dickhead corporations that actually prevent their innovation.