No matter where you look in the gaming world today, there’ll always be a new Call of Duty, FIFA or Super Mario Kart Party jumping up and down in your face, begging for your money, despite not offering anything new besides shiny graphics and a couple more locations. Developers seem to have forgotten what it means to step outside the box and create something brand new and for good reason – we‘re so used to the same games with a slight twist that very often, we look upon innovative games with disgust. However, since 2000, a fair few games have stood unique and proud while we snatch them off the shelves and so, in no particular order, I look at the 15 best innovative games of the century.
Why is it so great? It presented physics in a brand new light, proving that what you learnt in school can actually be used in interesting ways. Each room presents you with a seemingly impossible escape route but with your Portal Gun and revised understanding of both momentum and gravity, almost anything is possible. You can instantly travel across rooms by stepping through one portal and appearing in the other, whether that be on the ceiling or through the wall, you’re free to escape the prison-like walls of Aperture Science however you wish. Not only is the gameplay unique and interesting, but the story of you, the female lab-rat, is told with both the scenery and the dark humour of GLaDOS – an AI who bends the world around you, both helping and hindering as you traverse the maze world. Portal came out of the blue (after marching through the orange), but luckily for Valve, numerous fans purchased the game and almost instantly begged for more, creating a gem in the gaming world.
Why is it so great? On the subject of twisting the world to suit your needs, Echochrome takes this to a brand new level, allowing players to manoeuvre a pre-existing path in order to create a brand new one. What you can see is what really exists – reality depends entirely on perspective and so one small nudge of the camera could make holes disappear or place a new path underneath a large drop, allowing your character to stay alive as they make their way to the goal. The game is presented in such a simplistic way that anyone can pick it up and learn, yet the majority will become stumped at some point early on. With no story, it’s a mind-boggler that you can turn on at any point, even for a few minutes at a time, though no doubt you’ll lose yourself as determination to get that one level higher takes over. It’s definitely one of the most unique and addictive puzzlers I have seen in a long time and having a three-dimensional world act as though it only has two dimensions is enough to test the best of you.
Mirror’s Edge (2008)
Why is it so great? As both platformers and first-person games were popular around this time (and still are), EA decided that rather than creating two different games, they would mix both genres – ending with a completely unique idea. Sure, it has its faults such as a weak plot and limited playing time, but the idea is portrayed almost flawlessly. With no HUD or text around the edge of your screen, it feels more realistic and although your hands and feet are visible for a large amount of time, the world seems incredibly vast and colourful as it takes up the whole television. Faith doesn’t talk during the levels, meaning that the sounds you do hear are very atmospheric and you become immersed almost immediately. As well as being entertaining and different to most other games you’ve played, it’s one of the most perfect candidates for 3D gaming (if only it waited for a few years!)
Why is it so great? More of a display than a game, Flower was an early showing of just what the PS3 is capable of and it looked incredible. The premise is simple, you twist and turn the controller to guide a petal across fields and mountains, hitting other flowers as you go. Each time you do this, a musical note is played and so not only do you complete your objective, but you create your own songs too. It’s a short game and perfect when you want to de-stress, there are no enemies, no difficult challenges, just your own adventure. On top of this, the story is told without any words at all, no voice-acting, no text, just a gradual change of scenery each level. It manages to speak to every single player and causes you to think about society and humans in a way that you may not have before (unless you’re a hippie). Flower definitely touches a heartstring or two and stays addictive as it does so, making it a successful game – in my eyes at least.
Little Big Planet (2008)
Why is it so great? Little Big Planet is an incredibly short game, but its main focus isn’t on the base game at all, the main selling-point for this game (and the rest in the series) is the user created levels. Many games are similar in that the players can create small levels, though LBP steps it up a notch and the building side of it is so in-depth and expansive that, with a little bit of learning, you could create a whole series on the same level as the developers themselves. If you imagine something then odds are, it can be done, no matter how extreme or ‘out-there’ you may think it is. The game is set on building your imagination and making your dreams a reality, all with a little help from Sackboy. Hundreds of materials and devices are at your fingertips, letting you create anything from a house to a trampoline that launches you into space. Everything in game has a cute feel to it – even the enemies that are trying to stab you to death. That and Stephen Fry guides you through. Could it get much better?
Katamari Damacy (2004)
Why is it so great? Put simply, you get to roll up the world. It started out as a very simple school project which made sure that it was easy for anyone to pick up and play. Whether it’s your little sibling or nan, anyone can plug in and play with little to no confusion. It’s not your typical game though, it’s completely out of this world and feels like it was created by a child who’s eaten one-too-many sweets. This craziness is exactly what we as gamers need every now and then and it’s a wonderful feeling when your ball of items is big enough to roll up houses or even the king himself. Then, in order to display your success to the virtual world, your Katamari is turned into a star and you slowly rebuild the sky. How can anyone argue that this doesn’t sound innovative?
Why is it so great? The whole world is your oyster, whether you want to build a death trap or family home, all you need to do is hunt for the materials and create it. Anything you see can be hacked at until it breaks, picked up and put to a completely new use. The projects (and even brand new games) that have been created by the community so far range from simple to ridiculously confusing (or maybe I’m just not the most clever gamer around). Sure, there are hundreds of giant genitals floating around between users, but fortunately they all get approached with a hiss and bang after a while. There’s no story – just the objective to survive and create at your own will and it has an extra unique edge by looking as though it’s 30 years old. So this one isn’t completely innovative, as other games are incredibly similar, but something special must have made this sell as well as it does and as stupid as the concept sounds, it’s ridiculously hard to stop playing.
Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
Why is it so great? The idea of this game is very similar to every other Mario game in 3D – run around, stomp some enemies, collect some coins and get to the goal at the end of the level. However, generic doesn’t always sell, no matter how popular it was in the past and so Nintendo changed something up a bit. Instead of being on a flat, never-ending land, you walk around tiny spherical worlds and can even launch yourself through the skies to another planet. As you can now run around a whole mound of rock (or whatever the material is) within a matter of minutes, gravity comes heavily into play, making sure you stay with your feet firmly on the ground, even if you’re upside-down on the screen. It sounds fairly obvious and not at all special, but when you’re playing, it seems like a brand-new, complex idea. The game itself isn’t innovative, but it made this list due to that one feature that makes it feel that bit more magical. Who knew a focus on gravity could change a game completely?
Fahrenheit (a.k.a Indigo Prophecy) (2005)
Why is it so great? Fahrenheit isn’t described as a game by the developers, but rather an interactive movie and this description fits like a glove. Rather than having people to murder (though this could be argued) and an repetitive objective, you control numerous players through their individual stories which cross cleverly at the end. The game itself has multiple problems, such as a storyline that dissolves into the quite simply insane right through to difficult controls, but the idea is what makes this a success. Not only do you have to do little missions to either help or hinder your character, but you can set aside a little time to do more mundane tasks, such as eating or washing your clothes, all of which have a small effect on the rest of the game. It adds more realism to the game and makes you wonder about your own life and others around you, seeing things from different angles to what you usually would.
Animal Crossing (2001)
Why is it so great? Animal Crossing is one of those games that everyone has played, or at least heard a lot about and although it’s not the most innovative game on this list, it’s interesting. You live among animals in a small town and have no goal whatsoever, you just have to live your life. People move in and out of your town, events are celebrated by everyone and you feel a real part of your virtual community. It’s the first ever real time simulator (hence why it’s a part of this list) and the world went crazy over it. You can spend your time gardening, earning money to pay off your house or just focus on socialisation – Animal Crossing is another one of those games that are played to relax and became a nice link between casual and hardcore gamers. Just beware of the bees, they have a nasty habit of ruining your day.
The Sims (2000)
Why is it so great? Did you really expect to see a list about the best innovative games of this century that didn’t include The Sims? Of course not, it refuses to leave anyone alone, whether you love it or hate it. But what about it isn’t unique? After the success of controlling your own cities, EA allows players to stick their noses in individual houses and play god there too. You have to feed, bathe and care for your family (or not, as most people end up brutally murdering everyone in the house) and you have to decide everything for your dependent minions. It allows you to escape the real world for a virtual one, in which you can embrace your maternal side or wreck havoc with no consequences. The only objectives are your own and so it’s a never-ending game to be taken at your own pace. Although odds are that a fire will be involved. Always.
Why is it so great? At face-value, this game just looks like all the other typical platformers from years ago – a character goes on a quest to save the princess and must traverse various puzzles along the way. However, the use of time causes Braid to take one giant leap outside of the box. Depending on what level you’re on, rewinding time has different uses, sometimes it’ll be done so you can use your future self to help you progress and other times it’s used simply to stop enemies in their tracks. You’re required to plan a little before running out into the world and at times it can be extremely confusing. Not only that, but the story is told by completing jigsaw puzzles, which is inventive in itself, as before, jigsaws were just an annoying way of wasting your time, only resulting in the same image you’ve been staring at for the past few hours on the box. However, Braid made some use out of them and they piece together a truly unique game.
Why is it so great? Following the success that Flower brought thatgamecompany, they sat down, laughed about all the current games and managed to come up with something completely out of the ordinary. Again. The whole game is about your adventure towards the mountain in the background, though there’s never anyone telling you to go there, in fact, there’s no dialogue at all. If you want to search around the desert for forgotten ruins or glide around the caverns then it’s completely up to you. It’s your Journey and it can be taken any way you like. Along the way, you may meet other people online, though you have no sense of who they are and no way of asking them, if you choose to walk with them and travel together, then by the end of the game, you’ll feel as though you’ve made a true friend, though you know nothing about them. The character isn’t even described to you, they’re yours to create – for example, mine was a young girl travelling to find out more about her past, whereas Robin’s was an adventurous man who decided to go travelling for fun. It’s incredibly emotional and it’s up to you to decide why. Once again, it’s a very thought-provoking game and one of the best this year.
I Am Alive (2012)
Why is it so great? This survival-horror is unlike any before it. Sure, the idea of a ruined city due to natural disasters isn’t new to the gaming world, and the idea of survival is as old as gaming itself. However, the combat is completely unique. It’s not all about shooting the bad guys, but rather about saving your precious ammunition and rather negotiations and intimidation. For example, not everyone you meet along the way is bad, and some require your help, but you have to decide whether they’re really worth your resources or not. When you do meet an enemy, you can scare them off by waving your empty gun in their face – as long as they don’t know it’s empty of course. It’s survival in a much more realistic sense and because of such, becomes a lot more frightening.
Donkey Konga (2003)
Why is it so great? Donkey Konga was the first rhythm game to have you play with an instrument. Gone were the days of pressing buttons in time with the music and you could now bash the hell out some cheap bongos and clap along, creating a disturbance to the rest of your family, yet hours of entertainment for you. Around 30 songs are available to play, along with different difficulty levels – right up to memorising the song and getting no hints at all. However, all of the songs were cover versions, which didn’t sit well with all the fans and may explain why games such as Guitar Hero took off a lot better. After a stressful day at work, nothing is more satisfying than bashing your fists down onto some exotic drums that never seem to break. Still a classic, even now.