Five of the Best is a weekly series about the bits of games we overlook. I’m talking about hands, maps, cats, startup screens – things we ignore at the time but can recall years later because, it turns out, they’re integral to our memory of the game. Now is the time to celebrate them!
It works like this. Various Eurogamer writers will share their memories in the article and then you – probably outraged we didn’t include the thing you’re thinking of – can share the thing you’re thinking of in the comments below. We’ve had some great discussions in our other Five of the Best pieces. So come on, what are you waiting for? On we go!
I barely notice save points these days. They’ve been cleaned away. There’s a polite interruption at the beginning of the game to say the little logo you’re seeing means the game is saving, then off you go, never to really give it a second thought again. If you fail at some part of the game, you reload nearby. How handy, how streamlined.
But not all games do it this way. Some make a feature of saving, knowing just how precious progress is. So here’s to memorable save points – here are five of the best.
When I think of Ico I think of the wind and the cold light – of being up high and exposed on some rocky outcrop on a chilly day in early Spring. I love days like this – the brightness and clarity, the watery volumes of light, but they aren’t cozy. Outside there’s no refuge. Gloves and a scarf mate!
The game’s equally brisk, as my nan would have said. You’re in a run-down castle perched on the edge of the world. There are ghosts and evil forces, but everything else is neglected. Long drops. Heavy stone. The cold of long absence!
So how do you save? Beautifully, you save using the same device you’re probably sitting on while you play. You save on a sofa, albeit a ghostly sofa that only you can see. Still, a soft, familiar, domestic item dropped into this strange, distant game. A lovely touch. And a warm one.
The Dark Souls bonfire is a brilliant idea. This world of danger that you cleanse one area at a time, and then there’s a save point you have to physically reach, you have to find it in the world and work out how to get back to it again in the future. But before you sit down and save, that choice: your health will be renewed, but all the enemies you’ve killed will return too. The bonfire poses a wonderfully tough quandary.
All of that’s great. And I think it’s brilliant how they slowly allow you purchase on this deadly, involuted world as your bonfire network grows. All of that I appreciate very much! But the thing I adore is that these are bonfires! The actual reality of the thing, a crackling, smoking, flickering bit of landscape to sit down and rest before, a thing in Lordran to call your own. Magic.
Survival horror games are about the management of resources as much as they are the shocks and scares, and Capcom’s exceptional template for the genre took that to an extreme. In classic Resident Evil, it’s not just the bullets that are scarce – in this world, even saves can be hard to come by, with the player unable to save progress unless they’re in possession of an ink ribbon which is then consumed by a typewriter. It’s absurd in the way that classic video games so often are, and it’s a vital part of Resident Evil’s fabric.
This probably should have found its way into our recent list of made-up words, but it belongs just as comfortably here. Before cross-platform play was really a thing, and a few years ahead of the Switch allowing us to go from the big screen to playing on the move, Hideo Kojima presented a similar concept with the PlayStation family of consoles for Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection. And Kojima being Kojima, he couldn’t do it without a dash of absurdity by giving the system the frankly horrific name of transfarring. It is, if you’re wondering, a portmanteau of the words transferring and sharing, and it makes almost zero sense – even if it’s a concept that’s more commonplace today.
Nintendo World Cup
I can’t remember what the worst team was in Nintendo World Cup, a game whose only really memorable element was that you could use super kicks to actually kill rival players. But there was a worst team, and they were hopeless. And yet I took them to the finals many times.
All of this despite being a truly talentless player. The secret was the save system, which used passcodes to return you to a previous state in the game. It was a series of numbers – I want to say five or six. And you could game it. You couldn’t just type in random numbers, but if you got a team to the finals – a good team – you could then experiment, changing a number here and there and seeing what it got you.
I love save systems like this. Loads of games used to have them. It was like seeing a breach in the wall and the code of the game showing through. Nintendo World Cup allowed me to win as the ultimate losers. And Wonder Boy 3! My friend and I found a secret code while trying to input what amounted to a cheat code in the save system. The cheat code took you to the end of the game with loads of gear and cash. Our secret code took us…sort of halfway. And it opened up some weird possibilities. Actually, screw it: if you have Wonder Boy 3 – even the remake, it still works! – type in WEST111111 on the save screen. That’s the secret code we found. The proper cheat code is WESTONE, which I gather was the name of the developer.