Feature

Top 10 Fourth Wall Breaking Moments

by Elise Favis on Mar 26, 2016 at 11:58 AM

When games break the fourth wall, it allows for a deeper sense of interactivity that no other medium comes near to accomplishing. These moments can include acknowledging the presence of the player, self-aware mind tricks, and clever commentary on video game tropes. Games like Pony Island dabble into metafictional territory by being a video game inside a video game, and others like EarthBound reach out to the player on a personal level to help defeat a boss battle. Breaking the fourth wall is by no means a new concept, and several games have tackled it. This list aims to single out the more memorable moments that we believe are handled in a way that is skillful, and many times comical.

Honorable mentions: The Beginner’s Guide (the narrator speaks directly to the player, but not much of a “wall” is put up in the first place), the Tomb Raider II shower scene, and Jak 3.

Spoiler warning: If you haven’t played these titles, read at your own discretion. 

10. Conker’s Bad Fur Day — Alien Spoof Boss Battle

In a scene that spoofs the Alien film franchise, Conker goes head-to-head against a creature that resembles one of the iconic alien monsters from the movies. During the fight, however, everything suddenly freezes. Conker removes his spacesuit and exclaims that the “game’s locked up.” He then taps the screen, trying to get the attention of a software engineer. This turns into a chat between the two, where Conker asks for the background to be deleted and for a rack of weapons that he can choose from. It's a short but funny scene that shows just how self-aware Conker is.

9. The Stanley Parable — The Narrator's Video Game Prototypes

This 2013 indie game loves to mess with your head. The Narrator, an omnipresent character who tries to dictate your every move, is well aware that he is inside a video game. One of the game's many endings is achieved by disobeying every one of The Narrator's commands. He becomes irritated with you, pointing out that you have no respect or interest in this video game. So instead, he presents video game prototypes that he's working on, including a baby game where you press a button for hours to keep it from dying in a fire. If you don't have the patience of a saint and fail this, you are then sent into new areas that resemble games like Minecraft and Portal.

8. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge — Guybrush Phones LucasArts

In the joke-filled adventure game LeChuck’s Revenge, Guybrush Threepwood gives a call to the LucasArts development team in-game to complain about certain features. With the dialogue options, you can have him ask about the origin of the stump joke, or try to gain some guidance from the developer. This isn’t the first time a LucasArts adventure game breaks the fourth wall. Day of the Tentacle similarly featured a call between LucasArts and character Dr. Fred Edison about the game’s budget. These moments are entertaining and portray the developers' ability to laugh at themselves.

7. Undertale — The All-Knowing Flowey 

Undertale has plenty of amusing fourth wall breaks, with the majority happening in the presence of the crazed talking flower, Flowey. He is aware of all your decisions, even if you try to rectify bad ones. For example, if you kill Toriel then later decide to backtrack and undo her death, Flowey will know that you cheated when you later confront him. Another example is during the neutral ending while battling Flowey. He seemingly messes with your save files and crashes your game — though these are all narrative tricks.

6. Deadpool — High Moon, We Have A Problem

What would a Deadpool game be without the superhero breaking the fourth wall? This 2013 action game featured many fourth wall breaks, from Deadpool rearranging the game’s script himself, to contacting High Moon’s developers just to insult them personally or criticize the game’s design concepts. Deadpool knows well that he’s in a video game, and while these moments are funny, they become rehashed and overdone as the game progresses.

Up Next: An indie game's unique mechanics use Steam's interface to mess with the player, and more.

5. Batman: Arkham Asylum — Scarecrow’s Mind Trick

Scarecrow makes some fantastic appearances in Arkham Asylum, including the dream world boss fights that frequent the game. One of his best mind tricks, however, reaches out to mess with the player themselves. During a seemingly normal walk down the asylum’s corridors, your screen becomes distorted, then goes black, and finally returns you to the opening of the game. However, there’s some key differences — Joker’s taken the wheel in more ways than one. While a restrained Batman is brought into the asylum, Joker turns and points a gun to him, and a game over message appears, giving you the tip that you should’ve used the middle stick on the controller to dodge Joker’s bullets. Right. Well played, Rocksteady.

4. Pony Island — Sneaky Steam Messages

This year’s Pony Island is a video game inside a video game, taking place on a digital arcade machine from a bygone era. The game is created by the devil himself and thousands of souls are trapped inside, which you attempt to save by hacking into the game. There are plenty of bizarre moments, but one boss battle is among the weirdest and most clever. This boss attempts to make you look away by inserting a bunch of distractions on your screen, one of which includes fake steam messages that pop up on the lower righthand corner. It’s a twist that’s as unexpected as it is brilliant. 

3. EarthBound — Giygas Final Battle

EarthBound is one of Nintendo’s weirder SNES titles, and its quirkiness was ahead of its time, especially when it came to fourth wall breaks. Midway through the game you receive a call from Tony, who asks you, the player, for your name. Tony emphasizes that you should put your real name, and even calls a second time later to confirm it. Your name is used during the final boss battle against the Giygas, where the game calls upon you directly, requesting for you to pray that the battle be victorious. It’s a strange concept that hits you on a personal level.

2. Eternal Darkness — “This… can’t… be… happening!”

In Eternal Darkness, your sanity meter depletes whenever you’re spotted by monsters. The lower it goes, the more severe these effects become, which include a blue screen of death appearing, and a green volume bar going down on-screen as if it was your television’s sound being lowered manually. One of the best examples, though, is when the game asks if you want to delete all your save files when you try to save your progress. No matter what you answer, a fake prompt appears telling you your files have been deleted. These sanity effects are impressive and mind-bending, and there isn’t much out there like them — Nintendo did patent the sanity meter, after all.

1. Metal Gear Solid — Psycho Mantis Boss Fight

Metal Gear Solid’s most renowned boss fight is when you face off against Psycho Mantis. This psychic Foxhound unit member wears a gas mask to keep the unwanted thoughts of others from intruding his mind. During Snake’s boss fight against him, Psycho Mantis unleashes his powers that don’t only mess with Snake, but with the player too. He uses “telekinesis” to make your controller rumble on the ground, seemingly at his command. He even reads out your save files and boastfully comments on them. To win the boss fight, you have to switch your controller over to the second port in your PlayStation console so that Psycho Mantis' mind tricks can no longer affect you.