I’m drowning in clichés. Everywhere I look, there’s another one; newspapers seem to be stuffed full of even more of them than usual, almost all of them related to the economy. Yesterday, I heard the freshly coined phrase ‘staycation’ (verbal shorthand for somebody who holidays at home rather than abroad) no less than three times. The term ‘credit crunch’ has been uttered so many times even journalists are sick of using it, and have taken to endlessly typing ‘these troubled times’ instead.
Of course, video games are just as bad, with ideas and themes liberally borrowed and repeated ad nauseam. So with this in mind, I’ve compiled a list of ten of my least favourite video game clichés – and yes, I know the subject itself is something of a journalistic cliché these days, so I’ve at least tried to come up with some vaguely original ones. Well, mostly I hope. I’ve also liberally sprinkled this entire column with as many over-used, meaningless turns of phrase as I can think of – so a free packet of Mintolas if you can spot them all…
1. The princess in peril The most obvious cliché of them all really, since it’s been a video game objective since the dawn of time. Donkey Kong was probably the earliest back in 1981, or at least it’s the earliest example I can think of. Despite Nintendo’s insistence on repeatedly using the hapless royal stereotype – Zelda and Peach have spent most of their lives staring dolefully out of high towers – there doesn’t appear to be a real-life instance of a kidnapped princess anywhere in the annals of history (according to Google, anyway).
2. The post-apocalyptic landscape While I love a well-crafted sci-fi dystopia, I’m getting more than a little tired of the over-used post-apocalyptic landscape. Whatever the cause – nuclear holocaust, ecological disaster or some other catastrophe – the results are the same: grey, colourless landscapes full of dust, miserable skies and knackered buildings. Maybe it’s distant memories of horrible British summers spent on an east coast beach with the wind howling through my bones, but I’m beginning to find the relentlessly monochrome palette of most current-gen games thoroughly depressing.
3. The ice world / fire world / water world I’m probably showing my age with this one, but themed worlds were one of the most irritatingly over-familiar features in any platform game of the eighties or nineties. Every one of them (or so it seemed), from JuJu Densetsu (aka Toki goes Apespit) to Super Mario would have a series of levels based on the four classical elements. A decade or so ago, any console owner knew that an Ice world would inevitably feature slippery platforms, while a fire stage would contain lava that killed at the slightest touch. The water world was arguably the worst of the lot, since swimming inevitably required the endless, rhythmic tapping of the jump button.
4. The amnesiac A mainstay of the RPG genre, this lazy plot device is in desperate need of retirement. While games like Bioshock have used an amnesia-suffering central character to admittedly brilliant effect, most games use it as a cheap way of forcing the player to explore an environment the protagonist should otherwise be familiar with.
5. The Giger-inspired landscape This one’s fairly self-explanatory – along with the visual stylings of James Cameron and Ridley Scott, the Swiss artist HR Giger has done more to influence the look of video games than any other living artist, to the extent that any alien in any given game will look grey, insect-like and eyeless.
6. The wisecracking neckless jock I blame James Cameron for this one. Clearly influenced by the towel-snapping, locker room witticisms of the space marines in Aliens, video game designers appear to think that every space-based video game has to feature at least one muscle-bound dolt with the IQ of a traffic cone.
7. The final level boss rematch …where you’re forced to fight all the bosses from previous levels one more time, for God’s sake.
8. The lever Now I think about it, I honestly don’t think I’ve ever pulled a real, physical lever in my life – after all, they’re commonly found in railway signal boxes, Victorian warehouses or on the wall next to an electric chair – places I very rarely frequent. And yet video games are full of them – levers to open doors, levers to complete a level, levers to operate lifts. Far too many levers – can’t we have a few dimmer switches instead?
9. The ‘kinky’ female character Another cliché from the adolescence of gaming, the ‘kinky’ female character’s natural habitat was the rough-and-tumble world of the Nineties scrolling beat-em-up. Renegade, Final Fight, Gang Wars, Double Dragon and Bad Dudes Vs Dragon Ninja all featured scantily clad ladies with bondage-related weapons: whips, chains, furry handcuffs and other sundry items from Ann Summers.
While the kinky female appears to have passed into history with the scrolling fighting games she frequented, her echoes can still be found in the gravity-defying strumpets of Soul Calibur IV, as well as the tarty ladies of Bullet Witch and Onechanbara: Bikini Zombie Slayers.
10. The detachable driving/swimming/puzzle section …where developers decide to insert a disposable and mostly pointless sub-game into an otherwise classic experience – witness the irritating mess that was the driving/fry the Krill section in Gears Of War, the thoroughly forgettable Pipemania puzzle sequences in Bioshock or the horrible ‘safe-cracking’ bits in last year’s Prince Of Persia.
Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.