Five of the Best is a weekly series celebrating the poor old parts of games we tend to overlook. Not the glitzy bits but the supporting cast. Things like crowds – whoever stops to think about a crowd? And how do you think that makes the crowd feel? But the games they’re in wouldn’t be the same without them, so let’s big them up a bit, shall we?
Also, I want your ideas! I want to know what you remember when you read the title of this week’s piece, the things that spring to mind. Don’t worry about what I think, no one ever does, but do jump in the comments below. We’ve had some lovely discussions and you’ve remembered loads of great details about games.You can find all the previous Five of the Bests in a handy archive.
So, on to today’s five. But how to summit up…?
You can’t have a world without mountains! It would be like Holland, you could just cycle everywhere. And what would the mountain goats do? No I don’t like it. A world without mountains would be weird.
They are the titans of the natural world. A reminder we still cannot completely conquer the planet. We try so hard and temporarily succeed, but ultimately we are a speck on the face of a colossus. It’s no surprise we love mountains. No surprise the worlds we make for each other are filled with them. Much easier to climb a mountain in a game, too – you can often do it in your underpants. I feel like I’ve written that before.
Annoyingly, though, mountains have become part of the open-world sales pitch. I bet there’s a handbook somewhere and Chapter One is ‘See that mountain over there?’ Oh I’d like to get hold of whichever rascal started that.
What, it was Elder Scrolls’ boss Todd Howard (according to Know Your Meme)? Yeah well what does he know about making mountains…
OK, Todd, you win this one. What a ridiculously cool name for a mountain – the Throat of the World. You see the mountain when you emerge from a cave at the beginning of the game, and it’s massive, dominating the horizon. Naturally, immediately, you want to go there. Todd Howard and pals knew you would. So it isn’t long before you have a quest to do exactly that.
But it takes ages, climbing it – it’s so big! And the higher you get, the worse the weather gets, wind howling, snow blizzarding. You can barely see in front of your face. What could possibly be up here? A monastery of course – it’s always a bloody monastery! A monastery where you learn ancient secrets about being dragon-born.
It’s not all the Throat of the World has in store for you. You’ll spend most of the rest of the campaign trying to learn dragon-words to break a magical barrier near the monastery in order to reach the proper top – and there’s an even bigger surprise waiting there. It’s one of my favourite parts of any game, actually. Well worth scaling for.
Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy
Don’t tell me you’ve never played Getting Over it, otherwise known as the most frustrating game in the world. It’s brilliant. Watch how your friends crumble. They’ll be all enthusiastic at the beginning but they’ll be a sweary wreck by the end.
The whole conceit is climbing a mountain. You’re a man in a cauldron with a sledgehammer – it’s a bit weird – which you control with your PC mouse, and as the hammer hooks on things and bashes surfaces, the man is propelled around.
Sounds easy, obviously it’s not. The sledgehammer is as clumsy as it is helpful and soon you’ll accidentally fudge up and find yourself falling. And the way the mountain is designed means that when you fall, you usually fall all the way. Which is very annoying. But then that’s what the game is all about, getting over it, both literally and figuratively.
The icing on the cake is a voiceover by the game’s maker, Bennett Foddy, who seems to pop up exactly when you’re about to scream. He rubs it in a little but he also goes on to talk philosophically about the nature of getting over something, which I found rather profound.
Celeste’s mountain is a proper gauntlet – a venue for you to stretch yourself and your idea of what is possible with a theoretically pretty restrained control scheme. But it’s also a mountain, right there as a single contiguous space on the menu, and right there at the centre of the plot as a thing to be climbed for the sake of it. This is perhaps one of the reasons why players have taken Celeste to heart so fearsomely: its story of friendship and the various challenges that come with being a thinking person on this earth are so wonderfully rooted in a world of campfires and rest spots and the quest for the summit. Celeste is beautiful and kind, and that mountain at the heart of it is a place of transformation.
A Short Hike
Will there be a better game this year? A more compact source of wonder and joy? Unlikely. And yet A Short Hike feels spacious as well as compact, a game that spirals upwards from the base of its mountain to its very top, a game that encourages you to think about the ascent and all the possible different ascents one mountain can have.
Come for the summit, then, but stay for the secret hot springs, the hidden caves, the beaches where the surf seems to eat away at the sand. Stay for the people you meet, the races you run, the treasure maps you follow and the shells you pick up. What a mountain. What a place. What a game.
Blam! Out of the cannon and up to the top of DK Mountain’s volcano you fly, the wind whooshing past the ears of you and your fellow racers. And then down, down, careening off the sides of the path while falling rocks blast to the ground around you.
DK Mountain is one of those brilliant Mario Kart tracks which doesn’t feel like a loop until you’re properly familiar with its layout, even though most of it can be seen from the air. It’s an adventure in a racetrack, a kind of Indiana Jones action sequence with rolling boulders and a rickety rope bridge with a perilous drop below. Simply put, it’s one of Nintendo’s finest courses and I would really like it as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC please. (Tom Phillips)