10 blissfully strange videogames
We take a look at ten games that aren't afraid to challenge conventional design, and instead revel in the surreal...
In an age where most game developers are constantly striving to attain ever more believable levels of realism, there's a subset of titles that eschew such goals in favour of downright weirdness. These games don't concern themselves with such trifling matters as the decent translation, plots that make sense, or characters that fit all the right design archetypes that we've come to expect from movies and games. Often you're left scratching your head, wondering what you just witnessed, yet anxious to see more.
These are titles that fly in the face of convention, and are often the purest form of a creator's expression. It as if all the ideas for the game were spewed, unedited, onto a blank canvas, with little editing and a bare, naked presentation. Sometimes this makes for great games, and sometimes they're far from greatness. Most titles are decidedly polarising, delighting some and enraging others, and many become good arguments for the whole 'games are art' debate.
We thought we'd take a look at ten of the strangest titles to grace the gaming world, titles that have their own oddly unique style, theme or characters. However, we do have to draw the line somewhere, and aside from one title, we're going to include only western releases this time, as including all strange Japan-exclusive titles could cause the list to expand out of control and, in some situations, enter the realm of taste we really don't want to explore right now.
So, here are our top 10 strange video games, starting with a US president who isn't afraid to get hands on with International policy...
10. Metal Wolf Chaos
Hailing from Dark Souls developer, From Software, Metal Wolf Chaos is the only Japanese title not to get an official western release featured here, but we had to include it as it features full English voice acting, ridiculous combat, and is just simply, mad as cheese.
The premise of the game sees the player take control of the 47th US President, Michael Wilson, as he does battle against his arch enemy, Vice President Richard Hawk, who leads a coup to take over the United States. The thing is, this battle isn't done in the Senate, or via any political debates, but is instead done with enough ammo to put a sizeable crater in the very country they're both fighting over.
Wilson's preferred method of doing battle with Hawk and his army of zealots is to man a huge, anime-style robot called Metal Wolf. This robot is the epitome of the right to bear arms as it's bristling with weapons and allows the President to personally uphold American justice, and exercise extreme diplomatic relations via high-calibre democracy. You can just hear the screams of “Muriica! F**k yeah!” as you fire up the game and step into those mechanical boots.
Given popular opinion of America's international relations and policies at the moment, it's certainly quite an apt inclusion here, but at the same time it's just so odd, with such a crazy, and nonsensical plot, and is one of those titles you just have to wonder how it came to be. It's also surprisingly entertaining.
9. Revolution X
Imagine, if you will, that you're an ultra-powerful dictator with a massive army at your disposal, and the desire to take over the world, enforcing your views upon humanity. What do you do? Do you invade potentially strategic and fairly weak countries to build up your empire before taking on the big boys? Do you attack opposing nations' trade routes and cut off their essential supplies, or do you kidnap a wide-mouthed rock band? If you chose the latter option, then Revolution X is for you.
Yes, the bizarre plot and method in which Midway shoe-horned in Aerosmith is that the world is under the tyrannical grip of evil dictator, Mistress Helga, who heads the New Order Nation (NON). The cult has banned all forms of entertainment, and has kidnapped Aerosmith during their latest gig. As a rather peeved youth, its your job to rescue the band and defeat Helga.
Very similar to the likes of the Terminator 2 shooter, the game mixes graphics and digitised characters with on-rails shooting, all punctuated by Aerosmith music, voice samples, and the occasional cameo appearance. In all, it makes little sense, and is just an excuse to listen to Aerosmith and kill lots and lots of bad guys with guns and flaming audio CD missiles, and that's fine by us. Remember, music is the weapon.
8. I have No mouth And I Must Scream
Based on the Harlan Ellison book of the same name, I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is not only very odd, but also one of the most depressing games you're likely to play.
After a powerful AI called AM eradicates mankind by starting an apocalyptic war, the last five survivors are abducted by the computer and tortured for 109 years. Eventually, AM comes up with a new game for the five to play. Each has to solve their own specific tasks, which prey upon their character flaws. If they can overcome these flaws, they'll redeem mankind in the eyes of AM, and possibly rescue the hidden human survivors in cryosleep on the Moon.
I Have No Mouth is a point-and-click adventure with some very bleak environments and strange situations. Puzzles are often bizarre, the whole style of the game is truly odd, and if things don't go your way, the characters can be turned into strange, mouthless slugs. Add to that some very questionable main characters, with very dark pasts, and you've got a strange adventure indeed.
Sega's experimental high-tech Dreamcast tamagochi, Seaman, is not bizarre due to the idea of the title as such, but more so thanks to the execution. Many games have dabbled with raising digital pets, such as Nintendogs and even Sega's own Sonic Adventure with its Chao garden, but Seaman took the idea to the next level, and a very odd level it was.
Instead of a cute puppy, cat or even typically anime anthropomorphic animal, Sega decided to slap a human face onto a fish (of the game's producer, Yoot Saito), give it a rather touchy personality, add in voice commands and task players to make friends with its oddball creation. Oh, and they got Leonard Nimoy to lend his dulcet tones to the mix too.
The end result was a distinctly strange experience, as you have to form a bond with this human-headed fish thing (which grows inside and hatches from a Nautilus squid, killing it in a disturbing manner upon birth), with the eventual goal of keeping him alive so he could evolve and grow legs, before hopping out of the water and into the great big, wide world.
Interaction with Seaman was minimal by design, and aside from altering the tank temperature and picking him up, most interaction with Seaman was vocal, and by talking to him more and more, players could form a better bond with him. What's more, Seaman would need to be checked upon regularly, or he could die, and the game didn't provide exhaustive guidance, leaving players to learn the best way to care for Seaman by themselves. Leonard Nimoy did provide some help, though.
The game was notoriously difficult, due to some very iffy voice detection, but it still gained a cult following, and the bizarre fish man soon had plenty of best friends around the world, even if he could often be a total arse most of the time.
6. Typing Of The Dead
With so many games and movies filling us in on how to survive a zombie apocalypse, we're all familiar with the best ways to kill the undead. Head shots, fire, shotgun blasts and the good old double-tap. However, in Sega's Typing Of The Dead, that double-tap isn't a quick one two follow up shot, but instead it's more likely to be a double letter.
Basically, a modified version of The House Of The Dead 2, Typing Of The Dead is pretty much the same game, but sees guns replaced with backpack-mounted Dreamcasts with keyboard attachments. Think the Ghostbusters' proton packs, only with more syllables and less total protonic reversal.
So, instead of going to head shots and blasting holes in zombies in the usual manner, you do so by typing the worlds that appear onscreen with each enemy as fast as you can. Type correctly, and the enemy goes down, and if your typing skills aren't good enough, you'll take damage.
This is one of those genius, if totally crazy ideas that works fantastically well. Not only does it still boast the ultra-cheesy voice acting and schlock-horror gore, but it also actually improves your typing skills, all without the usual monotonous typing lessons that usually accompany such teaching aids.
5. Mr Mosquito
There's no shortage of cute, fluffy animal mascots in the gaming world. We've seen an explosion of them in the past couple of decades, with the likes of Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Conker, and more all luring in audiences with cute, cartoon looks and their own brand of attitude. However, some animal characters are not quite so cute or adorable. Mr Mosquito is one such example.
Definitely one of the strangest games you'll ever play, this title puts you in control of the titular, and hated blood-sucking bug, with the singular goal of snaffling as much blood from the poor Yamada family as possible.
Controlling Mr Mosquito in full 3D players have to fly around each room of the house, stealthily locating a sweet spot on their victim, before darting towards them, puncturing their skin and sucking up some blood. If you're careless, and irritate your mark too much, or you're detected, you could be squashed.
It's an odd premise for a video game, more so as in real life only female mosquitoes drink blood, and there's certainly an element of pervy stalker action going on, especially as the Yamada's daughter is often the target, even when she's in the bath, but it's actually a decent game and worth a try.
4. Katamari series
They say a rolling stone gather no moss, but that's certainly not the case for a rolling Katamari. Instead, these things gather anything and everything they roll over, growing bigger and bigger until nothing can stand in their way, even buildings.
The superbly weird Katamari series is a title that you wouldn't usually expect to see outside of Japan, so surreal is the idea and story behind the game, but it's quickly become a classic amongst gamers willing to give the quirky title a chance.
As the Prince, it's your job to simply roll your Katamari around various levels, picking up objects as you go, all by order of the King of All Cosmos, who's one of the most bizarre characters in all of gamingdom. Despite being a god, the King has a nasty (and blasé) habit of destroying the universe, leaving the Prince to clean up his mess, with plenty of eye-melting psychedelic cut scenes for good measure.
In each level, you're given a goal Katamari size you have to reach, and you do this by slowly rolling over objects, gradually increasing the radius of the ball. There's a time limit in most stages, though, so you have to hurry.
Crazy, colourful and addictive in equal measure, the Katamari series is one odd title you really should take a look at, especially if you like rainbows, and singing animals.
3. Deadly Premonition
Deadly Premonition has quickly become one of the most polarising games ever released, and has more recently been re-released in Director's Cut form on PS3. Developed by Swery65, this X-Files meets Twin Peaks horror adventure is unique to say the least.
Players take on the role of Agent Francis York Morgan (call him York), an FBI agent sent to investigate a grizzly murder in the sleepy rural town of Greenvale. York is a criminal profiler who often likes to overtly talk to his invisible friend, Zach, much to the confusion of those around him.
During his investigation York has to find clues to numerous murders by exploring various town locations, which are often twisted and warped as he enters the area, leaving him to fight a range of freakish Ringu and Grudge-inspired ghouls and zombies while he looks for important clues.
As well as the various creepy foes that fill out the hellish locations, York also often comes up against the Raincoat Killer, an axe-wielding, supernatural murderer with a penchant for cat and mouse games.
Deadly Premonition blends together exploration, survival horror shooting, driving and a large open world filled with side quests. It's undoubtedly ropey when it comes to presentation, and the story, as mind blowing as the finale is, is just plain bonkers. It's also got some of the worst voice acting you're ever likely to hear. Still, despite its many shortcomings, and jarring presentation, many consider it a true piece of art.
Catherine is a puzzler like no other. Set against a backdrop of infidelity and morality, you play Vincent, an unlucky soul who cheats on his girlfriend, Katherine, with a curious girl called... Catherine.
The game focuses on your own moral choices as you make your social decisions, whiling away the hours in the Stray Sheep bar, before going home, often inebriated, to brave Vincent's crazy - and potentially lethal - nightmares.
These dreams see Vincent in a struggle to climb to the top of a constantly collapsing tower. He does this by moving blocks around to make stairways to higher levels, all the time avoiding other dreamers (in the form of sheep) and in boss encounters, some truly grotesque and freaky giant creatures that embody his deepest fears, such as commitment.
Catherine is another example of a love or hate game, and there's no middle ground here. The core puzzle game is deceptively simple, but quickly becomes very tricky, and when you're not dreaming the game is more of an interactive movie, with gameplay boiling down to dialogue choices and email responses determining which girl Vincent is going to stay with.
However, despite the simple premise, Catherine is one of those games that grabs you and doesn't let go. The trickier the puzzles get, the more determined you are to finally solve them, even if it takes days, and the fact that this is all set to a totally weird story (which gets stranger as the game unfolds), only serves to make it more appealing.
In truth, almost any game from Suda 51 could be perfectly at home in this list. The sugar-coated Lollipop Chainsaw, lewd and crude No More Heroes or Latin-infused hell ride Shadows Of The Damned all have their oddities and weirdness in spades, but it's Killer7 that gets the top spot here.
Killer7 hits the weird-o-meter is every conceivable way. First up, it's got perhaps the strangest central character ever in the form of Harman Smith. He's a wheelchair-bound assassin with seven split personalities that can manifest in the real world. Garcian Smith, Dan Smith, Con Smith, Kevin Smith, Mask De Smith, KAEDE Smith and Con Smith can all be summoned, each possessing their own weapons and abilities, as well as their own personalities.
Harman and his split personalities can also see and converse with ghosts, including ever-present informer, Iwazaru, a red suited gimp on a bungee cord. Yep, that's a gimp on a bungee cord, what's the problem?
The story is just as off the charts as the characters, and The Smith Syndicate, as they're known (as well as the Killer7) hunt Heaven Smiles. These are invisible, mutant suicide bombers that only the Smiths can see thanks to Garcian's enhanced vision. These 'Smiles' are controlled by Harman's arch nemesis and friend, Kun Lan.
The story itself revolves around fragile relations between the US and Japan, and delves deep into socio-political themes, as well as the story behind the Heaven Smiles and Harman Smith's history, and the truth behind his split personalities. It's such a complex and downright freaky tale that more than one playthrough is needed to fully understand the ins and outs, so much so that Capcom even released a companion book called Hand In Killer7 to elaborate on the events of the game.
The mixture of totally warped story, strange characters, some pretty disturbing scenes and a distinctive art style all make up a truly innovative game that manages to overcome its simplistic play mechanics and controls by sheer weirdness, and the need to experience the whole story.
Please, if you can, support our charity horror stories ebook, Den Of Eek!, raising money for Geeks Vs Cancer. Details here.