Each week, Five of the Best gives a little love to the overlooked features in games. The sort of features you don’t notice when you’re playing because you’re too busy, those poor things.
But they’re there, in your memory, and as soon as someone says something like, “These are the best maps in games,” you will remember them and have to tell everyone all about them.
By “someone” I mean me, of course. I am going to say, “These are five of the best somethings” and so inspire you to remember. You’re even allowed to disagree. No, really! So let’s get on with it. Here are five of the best…
Hats! It’s quite a broad term. I’d let you have helmets if you argued it. And what I especially like about helmets is how they ruin cutscenes. Cue an emotional moment between two characters, where one of them, you see by the expression on their face, is very concerned. But what the other character is feeling, you have no idea, because where their face should be there’s a bobbing helmet instead, a muffled voice coming from within. Are they happy, are they sad? “Mmmpf ummmf mmpf pmmf ummmf.” Cracks me up every time.
Oddjob – GoldenEye 007
Oddjob is known for two reasons. One, he wears a bowler hat with razer blade edges which he throws at James Bond. Two, he’s an effing cheat!
Playing as Oddjob in GoldenEye 007 was cheating. I’m not making this up. The developers of the game came out and confirmed it last year.
It’s cheating because, as we all suspected, Oddjob is smaller than all the other characters – even with a hat on – and this screws up the game’s auto-aim. The naughty developers knew this and decided to leave it in anyway, and in doing so, ensured Oddjob was enshrined in gaming legend. We all had a friend who played Oddjob, we all know what it was like.
So funnily enough, Oddjob’s gaming notoriety has nothing to do with his hat. In fact, you couldn’t actually use it as a weapon in the game. Not until 2002, and James Bond 007: Nightfire, did the hat become a weapon you could throw and catch, a bit like Thor’s hammer.
Cappy – Mario Odyssey
Here’s a question: is Mario’s hat the most famous hat in the world?
To think, Shigeru Miyamoto only put it on Mario, who was called Jumpman at the time, because hair was hard to draw with a couple of pixels, and it would need animating. Funny how a time-and-energy saving decision created an icon, isn’t it?
Then, in Mario 64, the hat crept into gameplay. There was the Wing Cap, which made you fly, and you could lose your hat and take more damage from enemies. I guess by that time Miyamoto was ready to do hair.
Switch game Mario Odyssey took it a step further. Like Geppeto to Pinocchio, it gave Mario’s hat life. And a name: Cappy.
Cappy had a story and was equal partners with Mario, not just an accessory to be used – although you could use him, obviously, to throw at things, to jump on and, best of all, to possess enemies with.
The Helmet of Justice – Knightmare
The Helmet of Justice worked just like an upturned bucket in Skyrim: when you put it on, you couldn’t see a damn thing. And not seeing was the whole point of children’s ’80s and ’90s TV show Knightmare.
Each week, a team of hopeful children, who never really talked much, nominated one person to wear the Helmet of Justice and venture into a virtual fantasy world, and verbally direct them afar. They had to be their eyes and help them navigate eroding floors, enemies and puzzles, but all it took was one tiny misstep and whoops, goodbye, you’re dead. And many teams died. I don’t remember seeing any get to the end of the adventure and succeed.
I loved it. It didn’t matter to me it was a bit slow and a bit boring because it totally sold me on the idea you could go to a virtual fantasy world. They are places I have been trying to go to ever since.
It was terribly exciting to a child of the time – me. Well, it was a bit slow and a bit boring, but it sold me totally on the idea I could one day go to a virtual world. It sold me on the promise of virtual reality before Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey was born.
Ellie Gibson wrote a wonderful piece all about Knightmare several years ago and it is well worth a read.
Team Fortress 2
Ah, Team Fortress 2 hats. Where do I begin. At first glance merely decorative items, TF2’s hats go beyond to impact the gameplay itself. They’re a symbol of community support, the centre of an entire economy. They are hats of significance.
Hats were absent for the first years of TF2’s life, but from 2009 onwards they’ve underpinned the game’s social hierarchy. New players are marked by notorious freebie the Ghastly – or Ghostly – Gibus, while veterans acquire Unusual hats with fancy particle effects. As Unusuals denote a serious amount of time (or money) spent on TF2, teammates will often help these players over others – whether it’s fair or not. As a Medic main, I’ll admit an Unusual-wearing teammate is far more likely to receive my attention than someone who looks like a beginner. It’s just logical.
So, how can you buy your way into this club? On the Steam marketplace, of course – where an entire economy still revolves around Unusuals. A market which suffered a catastrophic crash earlier this year when a glitch flooded the market. It was a glorious day of socialism for TF2 underlings – not so much for serious traders.
But beyond the socioeconomics, TF2 hats are beloved by the community for their silliness. As Valve has eased off and finally shelved TF2 development in favour of Half-Life: Alyx, the community has picked up the slack, with the Community Workshop producing hundreds of designs eventually used in-game. Seems like the future of TF2, as ever, is hats.
I love the Hotline Miami art, Jacket with his rooster mask on, holding a weapon, surrounded by neon pink. I love it because it’s unusual, and it’s unusual because of the mask.
Hotline Miami is a game about masks, friendly animal masks. They give the game a personality, a surreal edge. They talk to you, for christsake. They’re the voices that make you murder.
Masks are also how the game gives you power-ups. Put ‘Jake’ the cobra mask on and throwing weapons will now kill enemies. Pop ‘Carl’ the locust mask on and you’ll start each level with a drill. Thanks Carl! How quaint. Friendly animals with brutal associations: lovely juxtaposition, and it makes for wonderful artwork too.