Five of the Best is a quite-new weekly series celebrating the incidental details in games we don’t celebrate enough. Things like maps – everyone loves maps. They’re the kind of things we can’t do without, the kind of things which give games so much flavour and charm.
It’s also designed to promote discussion because, let’s face it, it’s all subjective, what someone thinks is best. I have different ideas to you and, um, most people, apparently, and that’s OK! I think. I hope. So join in. We’ve had some lovely discussions so far and you’ve reminded me of so many things. It’s Friday after all, what else are you going to do – work?!
You can find all the previous Five of the Bests in a handy archive.
Crowds! Little cardboard people going wild in the stands. A load of Flat Stanleys on a day out. What would sports games be without them? No one would cheer your goal, your victory, your triumph. It would be joyless, like Ikea. (Donlan says I’m wrong about this.)
It isn’t only sports games though. Imagine a Grand Theft Auto without crowds, a city without people. What fun would that be? They are the toys we can’t play with in real life. They are the game’s reactions to our actions, and they make games feel alive.
Here are Five of the Best.
Street Fighter 2
That man with the stick, on Chun-Li’s Street Fighter 2 level, what’s he mouthing? It looks like “pup pup pup”. What? What’s he talking about? Is he doing a machine gun sound? And what’s the guy next to him doing with the chicken? Unless… Oh I know what it is: they’re a band. Obviously. Pup-pup is singing and his mate is playing the chicken. The other chicken, the one in the cage, is their Bez, flapping along.
Such a curious scene. Why, for instance, is no one helping the man on the bike who keeps riding backwards and forwards, so obviously lost? And why has a mum taken her daughter along to a street fight? Jurassic Park came out that year – why don’t they go see that?
They’re like Renaissance paintings, the stages in Street Fighter 2, filled with meaning. Have you spotted the girl from The Grudge in the background of Blanka’s stage, for instance?
I was going to put International Superstar Soccer because I loved it more than FIFA, although FIFA had the two-handed shove so it’s a close call. But International Superstar Soccer’s crowds don’t seem to be enjoying themselves. Look – look at the video below. It’s Brazil going 1-0 up against arch rivals Argentina. But look at the crowd – no one cares! The Brazilian goalscorer slides on his knees towards the stands, triumphant, and only a couple of people throw their hands up to celebrate. It’s outrageous!
FIFA ’94, the original FIFA, has a carnival in the stands by comparison. Look at them! Pinks, oranges, blues, yellows – it’s like a tropical menagerie in there. People are getting up and down, throwing their arms (not literally), waving flags – they’re having a whale of a time. Although, to be fair, there is a man with his arms crossed. Maybe it’s Graham Taylor.
The Wonderful 101
Making the crowd your weapon: what a wonderful idea – what a wonderful game. You’re a superhero and you have to save civilians, and as you do, turboing around like Dash from The Incredibles, they flock to your cause, following behind like a little supporting troupe. Or a big supporting troupe. It’s why the camera is so zoomed out, because when the numbers increase a lot, and when they scurry all over you into a living sculpture – of a giant fist or sword or whatever you command – you can become the size of a building.
Shame Wonderful 101 only found a relatively small Wii U audience, really. It’s one of Platinum’s best games. I hope the whiff of a Switch re-release materialises into something more solid.
Cast your mind back to 2006, to Jade Raymond on the stage in Barcelona, at Microsoft’s X06 event, and to our first real glimpse of Assassin’s Creed. Didn’t it look good? Altair barrelling along dusty roads on his horse towards a towering Jerusalem. It knocked my socks off. How next-gen it looked.
But do you know what made it really next-gen? Here’s how Jade Raymond put it: “What you’re gonna see now, as we turn the corner, is one of the main focuses the team has had, and it’s a promise of next-gen games, really. It’s crowd.”
Crowds were next-gen! Crowds you could shove and barge through. Crowds you could use to hide. All demonstrated, to the audience’s amusement, by Altair bullying a peasant.
Crowds would go on to define Assassin’s Creed as a series, of course, and Ubisoft tried to work it into other series as well. Remember what Splinter Cell: Conviction looked like when it was first announced (before all the delays)? Sam Fisher in his civvies, hiding in crowds…
Remember how it looked on PlayStation 3? (Norman Soth deserves more than 70 YouTube subscribers for this.)
Guitar Hero 2
Guitar Hero 2 might be one of my favourite games of all time. I used to run home from work to play it. I literally ran! Like a kid. And when my flatmates were out, I’d get one foot up on the sofa, guitar on my thigh, fretboard angled to the ceiling, and I would shred like Slash or Buckethead (I’ll come back to him).
It was all about pleasing the crowd, in the game or around you, in the room. The campaign took you through playing gigs in dingy digs, to great stadiums with special effects. Mess up and the crowd booed and sneered, and the game would make that awful clunking noise, interrupting and ruining the music – much to the annoyance of any real people watching! But hit your notes and the song would play beautifully.
Speaking of hitting notes: how many of you nailed Jordan, the Buckethead (told you I’d return to him) track?