Side Story

The 11 little things all action games should have

Every game contains a lesson. Some small, others large. One title might open your eyes to how a game’s economy can be interwoven into its combat, while playing a classic bout of DOOM could shed some light on how your game can truly excel at enemy-design.

These are all mechanical insights, playing into the game’s core. Oftentimes though there are far smaller lessons to be garnered that seem to be overlooked in favour of their bigger and more bombastic elements. So for once… let’s focus on the small; the mundane. Options and inspirations that don’t get enough attention, but should.

Before we start, a small disclaimer: this list won’t include elements that might work for some games and not for others. Mechanics that work in Resident Evil 4, might not fit a more stylistic game like Silent Hill 4, same as how the ‘bonfire’ system works well in Dark Souls but would be an ill fit for a more linear title like Wanted: Dead. With that out of the way, on to the first of eleven little tips.

1. In-depth ways of skipping cutscenes

Pressing a button to skip cutscenes seems like a no-brainer, yet there are even better ways. Over the years games like Fire Emblem and Nioh have pushed the envelope in how to handle this simple feature to increase replayability. 

Fire Emblem on the Gameboy Advance has three dedicated skip buttons during cutscenes. Pressing A forwards the current text, tapping B skips the current scene and pushing Start just skips everything, putting you straight into the next gameplay segment.

Meanwhile Nioh automates it by having an option in its menu called “Skip watched cutscenes automatically: Yes/No”. A minor addition, but worth a lot in a game whose goal is the constant replaying of stages in search for better loot and exciting combat. 

Despite these innovations, we still see big budget action-games like God of War: Ragnarok ship with unskippable cutscenes or titles like Lost Judgment slow us down with unskippable conversations. Adding some of the aforementioned options would make replaying titles like Yakuza Zero, Kingdom Hearts and Lightning Returns far more enjoyable and less time consuming.

2. Encounter select and training

Some days you just want to refight a favourite boss like Slave Knight Gael from Dark Souls 3.  Unless you’ve got an USB-stick with a save game though, you only get the one fight. This makes things worse if you want to practise, forcing yourself to die before killing him.

Other times it’s even harder, like wanting to relive the infamous Staircase encounter from Ninja Gaiden II. Better keep a save-file specifically for that one part of the game, and even then you still need to do three fights and a miniboss before you can play the fight you want.

Uncharted 4 changes this with “Encounter select”. Originally introduced in The Last of Us as a deeper way of reliving specific story-beats, Uncharted 4 – of all games – has a mode where you can select every fight and boss-fight in the game and replay it at will. It, as a result, also automatically skips any non-combat sections like platforming or cutscenes; it’s pure action.

Pairing this mode with a potential training mode as seen in games like Sifu, and it could allow for players to not just replay favourite moments, but also practise more freely against fights that currently give them a hard time before tackling higher difficulties or challenge runs.

While there might be some issues to contend with like how to handle upgrades, some titles have already offered solutions for this. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2’s “Chapter Challenge Mode” saw you replay chapters with a pre-determined loadout, while Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty has specific side missions where you can refight most bosses at your own whim. Even then some balancing issues might arise, such as having abilities bosses aren’t tailored around, like fighting Ninja Gaiden’s Murai boss with a counter-attack. That said, this could also be solved by our third point…

3. Disable abilities freely

Remember in Nioh how the Spear had an unlockable move named “Spear Stance Change” that saw your ki-pulse suddenly become a melee attack? Upon buying that move, there was no going back, and many players wished they’d never gotten that move, despite how handy it was.

Metal Gear Rising led the pack by allowing players to disable moves that they’d bought, and even this should go further. Being able to disable health-upgrades or even bonus perks offered by costumes would be a great addition. The first God of War has some fantastical costumes to toy around with, but most of them come with bonus-modifiers we don’t want to use. Let us disable it! It would also minimise the necessity for multiple save files, allowing us to do No-Upgrade Runs on a completed save game by simply disabling all current options.

4. Encounter Creation, Randomizers and WADs

Dante’s Inferno’s Trials of St. Lucia expansion allowed players to build their own encounters and share them online. This style of user-generated content has kept some titles, like the original DOOM, alive for multiple decades. Yet more often than not we see titles simply stick to their pre-ordained missions, with no option for us to craft our own. Be it maps, or simply freely design a custom fight for our own masochistic desires. Want to fight the final boss three times at once? A game should offer this option.

Obviously a feature like this comes with the caveat that the offered downloadable content can’t just be a few levels anymore or challenge maps, as users can now create those themselves; forcing developers to up their ante. Nothing wrong with that!

5. Modifiers

For many players the credits is where the game ends, yet for some – and let’s be frank, that’s mostly those reading this website – it is where the game begins and starts to grow, replay upon replay. Yet after many playthroughs and challenge runs, any game’s opposition can run dry.

This is where modifiers come in, little methods of changing up your game and controlling the difficulty even further. We’ve seen them as Pro Codes in Kingdom Hearts, Skulls in the Halo and as Modifiers in Sifu, or simply the Boxmode in Panzer Dragoon Orta – where we can customise the game to our heart’s content, even changing it into a boss-rush mode if we want to.

These little options, like allowing us to play the game at double-speed, remove blocking or disable stat-increases upon levelling just to name a few, can change a game’s lifespan indefinitely and turn them into games that will challenge you for the rest of your life.

6. Graphical options

On PC most games ship with in-depth graphical options, allowing players to customise what they want to prioritise. Console games tend to not have these options however, until Nioh introduced its option “cinematic mode” and “action mode”, with the latter promising a stable 60fps at the cost of resolution and some other graphical features – in a sense emulating the graphical options of a PC game. 

Oftentimes, especially upon replaying and going for mastery, the beautiful particle effects and high resolution aren’t as important anymore as let’s say quick load times and high refresh rates. While obviously costing development time and cost, for action games it feels like a worthwhile addition.

7. Costumes and custom colours

Sadly having been relegated to DLC after the 7th generation of consoles hit the market, unlockable costumes are a great extrinsic reward in a game. They change up your character just enough to make replays fresh and give yourself a bit of personality.

It doesn’t have to stop there either. Ninja Blade had a menu where you could give your character a wholly unique colour scheme, a great fit for action-games. Nobody wants their reward for beating Master Ninja difficulty to be a simple recolor, leave those creations to us.

8. All-weapons start 

Ever wanted to play the entirety of Ninja Gaiden Black with the Kitetsu, to really get to know the weapon? Or dive into Bloodborne with the Beast Claws from the get go? Well… you can’t, and that’s a shame. Ninja Gaiden II already started to offer this upon replays, giving players the option to start either completely fresh or start with all weapons already unlocked. Other games, like Silent Hill 4, eventually spawns every available weapon in the first room, allowing players to pick and choose their methods of ghost-slaying.

Just by offering this through such a room or a menu, could go a long way into pushing players to toy around with more weapon options. It doesn’t have to be available from the outset, it being an unlockable feature would more than suffice.

9. Skippable minigames

Minigames are everywhere these days, be them short and cute and optional ones in Yakuza to the wide plethora of those on offer in Bayonetta 3. Yet they are rarely skippable. Either through a button press or the aforementioned ‘yes/no’ that Nioh offers for cutscenes can also be applicable here. 

Maybe you just want to replay a specific stage since it has a few cool fights but you don’t want to sit through controlling a Kajiu and doing a rock-paper-scissors minigame, followed by a gimmicky platforming section every time you replay it for a higher rank. These should always be skippable, and preferably also not be tied into the ranking system if there is any, as we saw in The Wonderful 101

10. Version select

Updates happen. Oftentimes they’re for our benefit i.e. stability or added content. Other times patches can wholly change a game. At worst, it can see content drastically changed. For example how the difficulty for The Ancient Gods Part 1 expansion pack for Doom Eternal was lowered after specific fans cried foul. Or how the first Dark Souls made its core game a lot easier with a slew of changes brought by patch 1.05. Whether those are good changes or not is frankly besides the point, there should be a method of going back that doesn’t involve de-installing the game and disabling your internet-connection. 

A simple version-select from the menu would be more than fine. We’ve seen this before, especially in Street Fighter, which allowed players to use any version of their character as they had been released in the past (to a degree).

11. Rebindable controls

It seems simple, but once you get into the details it becomes more complicated. Changing X to A is fine, but what about button combinations like LT+X. Do those change then to LT+A? Other times there’s a button with multiple uses, and you want one to stay and the other to remain. Or you want an inverted camera but not an inverted shooting aim. They are little features that’s present in nearly every game, but there’s always one missing. 

Famous Last words

And there you have it. While there are obviously other things to keep in mind, like more difficulty-modes and remix modes or randomizers, these are more large-scale inclusions that also aren’t a fit for some titles. 

As a bonus, users in Stinger’s circle were asked what they felt was essential for action-games. These went from wanting varying jump heights, a no-nonsense camera to just the presence of ninjas in the game. Others were more in depth, feeling a high-risk high-reward defensive option elevated encounters, while others asked for more variations in enemy composition. Lastly, a fan favourite desired transparent rules for how enemies stagger, noting that most of the experimentation comes from those consistent rules and that they are the little elements that make classics like the original Resident Evil 4… tick.

It’s no mystery that this genre has us always coming back for more, but with the above changes, it could also be made more pleasant to do so. Until next time!

鑒 reflection style 鑒

In this short section I reflect on the article from my own viewpoints as a gamer and lover of the genre instead of a critic.

Look, I know. I get it. Nine months and the first article on the site is a short and snacky top-11 list that most publications churn out in a week. I should be ashamed, and I am. Stinger Magazine had always been at the forefront of my thoughts, but over the last two years the main page has been neglected by me in favour of the active forum and my desire to launch a freelance career as an illustrator. This has been quite a success, and I’m proud and happy about it every day. 

It has, as a result, led to me not having the time or energy to finish articles or do proper research on the ones I am writing. The amount of half-written articles I have lying around is staggering and honestly embarrassing. From an outline for the entire Halo franchise, Wanted: Dead, Resident Evil 4, Death by Degrees, Warrior Within, Killer is Dead, Sifu, Bayonetta to articles on level-design and pacing – I want to write them all but it just isn’t a current priority for me and I’m sorry to say it probably won’t be for a long time going forward.

Usually this is the part where people say the site is going down and it’s been nice and see you all in the next life, but I’ll still write articles, I’ll still be on the forums and on Twitter and in the trenches on Gamefaqs and Reddit. It’ll just be slower and I hope you can enjoy what is here, and whichever little article is added once a year (because that is the tempo we’re slowly reaching here…). I thank you for your support, your time, and your criticism wherever it may be. Thanks for sticking around and I hope to see you all for the next piece! 

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