5 Practical Game Mechanics That Should Be Standard In All Handheld Games - Oni no Tenshi Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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5 Practical Game Mechanics That Should Be Standard In All Handheld Games

When it comes to game frustrations, we all have them.  But when it comes to shoddy gameplay mechanics or outright lazy/outdated storytelling, there is quite a lot of room for improvement.  This is especially true when it comes to handheld games.  Many games that come out for handheld have this stigma, namely the fact that handhelds disproportionately tend to cater to children and, due to their relative inexpensive nature, also shoddy and simplistic gameplay mechanics.

To this, I say, what a crime in the name of gaming!

So I have a couple of suggestions for those who want to create an engaging, beautiful game, and a couple of "don'ts" for those who still don't have any idea that there is no logical reason to do these things in our enlightened times.

1) Save anywhere

There are many games that involve save points, all of them horrible.  From the clunky typewriters in Resident Evil to the glowing portals in pretty much every single JRPG EVER, I'd have to say that the idea of the "save point" is the bane of my existence.  To some extent, I'm kind of a neurotic saver.  Every time I change equipment-SAVE.  Every time I get some experience or level up by one-SAVE!  And if I beat boss or even mid-boss-FORTHELOVEOFGOD-SAVE!  This gets in the way of the development of the narrative and a smooth gameplay experience.  Plus there is the simple fact that WE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THESE DAYS.  From the auto-save function in many games, to the simple "go to the start menu and save" mechanic of most Zelda Titles (yes, even those that are on handheld), the options are there.  The simpler the save structure, the better.  In my opinion, an auto-save function (that can be turned off but still easily accessed from the start menu) is perfect.

Back in the 90's, perhaps the save-point was all that was possible, but come on, we're in THE FUTURE!  We can do so much better.

2) Low/non-existent loading times

I've been playing Mana Khemia for PSP these last few days, and the number one thing that keeps making me want to toss it on the ground is the fact that EVERY TIME I DO SOMETHING, I get at least 20 seconds-1 minute of LOADING SCREENS.  This is when I go out of a room, get into a battle, or simply trigger a cutscene.  It's HORRIBLE.  And my PSP makes this pathetic noise like it's being scratched by a persistent DJ.

The last thing I need is to spend half of my precious gaming time (which is scarce because I work full time, am a parent and I also have many friends as well as a hobby/business of selling my own jewelry), on FREAKING LOADING SCREENS.

Seriously, gaming companies, make games that FIT THE CAPACITY OF THE HANDHELD YOU ARE DEVELOPING FOR.  If it doesn't do it well on a handheld, most gamers won't be able to tolerate it for long enough to enjoy the game.  There are plenty of quality games that can go well without freezing up gameplay every time you press a button or perform an action.  And these are going to be the games that outperform any game that has "better graphics" but longer loading times time and time again.

3) streamlined well written story (not spoonfed but stop making things overly convoluted)

Yes, this is pretty much on par for comic books, but games are largely at fault for this kind of thing as well (*COUGH*FINALFANTASY*COUGH*).  Just throw in a couple of weird names, some nonsensical warring nations squabbling over whatever the THING THEY MUST! HAVE! du jour and and a couple of large guys in armor and a weaselly guy (who probably would be played well by Steve Buschemi only with a stupid blond mustache and some period clothes).  Then throw in COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY irrelevant side-stories that kind of just dead-end, and don't forget the dialogue that sends you in circles or contradicts itself.

What we need is a fairly simple idea for a story with a savvy yet interesting execution.  Playing a game should NOT include "man, STORY AGAIN?! *skip skip skip*" moments.

4) Emergency save/hybernation when battery is about to die

While the PSP has this built into the handheld, it sure would be nice if the software of the game itself could recognize when the battery life is low enough and just do an emergency save before the battery totally craps out. I don't know how many times my DS, GBA or GB has died on me when I'm in the middle of a TOTALLY UNABLE TO SAVE PLACE.  So even if they could do some kind of magical suspend thing when the battery starts keeling over, it would be immensely helpful in minimizing the gaming experience with a handheld.  I mean, while a console might not need to worry about this (barring a power outage), a handheld is generally guaranteed to need a charging from time to time, and if you're like me, sometimes that charge just isn't enough to make it through the whole day. 

So, please, either give us an option, or have it built into your software that we can either suspend or save when that little light turns red.

5) Minimize Grind

I don't think that I can say this enough. BUILDING GRIND INTO A GAME IS THE EPITOME OF LAZINESS.  We grind enough when we do busywork at school, do various daily grind type work at home or at our professions/jobs.  The last thing I want to do is spend 5 hours bonking blue slimes with a stick just to get a couple hundred EXP so that I can get to level 2 (woo hoo-I learned Don't Die So Easily! GO ME!).  In a handheld game, grind is the natural enemy of all things good in a game.  While, obviously, there should be challenges (and most games seem to think that fighting is the main way to "challenge" a gamer, go figure), the idea of having to spend hours trying to get down ONE measly corridor because you keep running into random battles is INFURIATING.  While games like Radiant Historia make it easier for you to bypass turn based fights while moving around in the field, it still requires you to fight a decent amount so that you can level up.

But the truth of the matter is that you can make plenty of games where you can have challenges and still feel like you're doing your hero-ly duty.  Both of the LOZ titles, Spirit Tracks and Phantom Hourglass (on DS), were great examples of this (although obviously, there were drawbacks there as well).  Obviously, there were plenty of monsters to battle, and you can choose whether or not to accept the heart pieces to add to your life for more of a challenge, but in the end, you could run around whacking monsters in a wholly satisfying way while exploring a world that you enjoy all without having to grind levels upon levels just so you can get to the next part of the game. 

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TEAMWORK ATTACK!

In conclusion, I think that we need to understand that while we do still have many limitations in the arena of gaming technology, there is also a lot to be said for the leaps and bounds in knowledge and application of our technological advancements.  Just because RPGS generally "have always done it that way" does not mean that it needs to continue in the vein without any changes whatsoever.  What made our gaming experiences in "the good old days" so amazing was not the wonky controls, the lack of save spots, the plot line that made you go "lol...wut?" or the merciless, soul-crushing grind.  It was the parts that shone through all that muck, like glints of gold in a muddy river.  It is up to us as game enthusiasts to point out those flecks of gaming genius and to refine them into a purer form.  We can build it better, faster, and cooler.

All we need is the proper tools and the willingness to leave the limitations of yesteryear behind (and yes, this goes for ports and remakes as well!)

Oh yes, I did indeed end on a warm and fuzzy note tonight.

So-what are your thoughts on the mad world of handheld games?

Do you agree that we could do with a little less of the above list?

And is there anything you would add to this that should be changed?

UNTIL NEXT TIME!

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