It’s no secret that attention spans have shrunk in recent years. With so much stimulation coming from all directions, keeping someone engaged for more than a few seconds can be difficult.
Knowing that, imagine the mountain developers must climb when making a new game. After all, they not only have to compete with Twitter, Facebook, Netflix and so on – they have to compete against other games. It’s possible that that for many, hooking someone before they even press start would be the Holy Grail found just beyond the static company logos but before the whole shebang gets going.
We’re talking about memorable cutscenes that took a bit off the top from a game’s story and gave a taste of what was to come. It was a little reward for firing up that cartridge, inserting that disc or just starting up a digital copy. In some cases, even a little gameplay could poke its way out from behind the title screen.
So join us as we wax nostalgic for some of the pre-title screen intros that sunk their hooks into us and never let go. That is if we still have your attention, after all.
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (N64)
“Ganbare SO Ganbare! Akiramenaide! Kuchibue fuki Saa Aruki-dasou yo GOING NOWWWW!”
The opening lines to the N64’s Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon’s theme song, sung by prominent anime and game music singer Hironobu Kageyama, caught my kid self off guard with its wackiness.
Prior to this underrated 3D Konami action platformer, I had never witnessed a game in North America that wasn’t afraid to start off in such a quirky Japanese way – it was made to be just like all of those delightfully-cheesy Japanese anime openings of the 80s and 90s. The music was happy, the singer kept adding random English phrases like “Take a Chance!” and I got a nice introduction to the four main characters of the game.
And thankfully there were English subtitles, so I could understand what the hell was being sung.
As I bobbed my head to the music, the Mystical Ninja himself – Goemon showed up on screen in his spiky blue-haired glory. The camera panned down to his pudgy ninja partner, the portly Ebisumaru, joyfully indulging himself with rice cakes.
The camera does a turn around the figure of the green-haired Yae – her rigid posture and her fixed, out-looking gaze indicated to me that she’d be one of the only serious and resolute characters in the game. This is followed up with a pick up in the beat of the music as the short robotic ninja Sasuke dashes across a Japanese feudal-style roof or two.
By far the most out-there part of this short intro are the sudden facial pop-ups of Goemon Impact – Goemon’s gigantic robot version of himself. I guarantee that anyone who watches this intro will chuckle at the random instances of Impact’s eternal ‘:D’ face.
For a game like Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, which is just a silly, humorous and extremely Japanese culture-heavy title, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate way to entice the viewer. After watching that glorious intro, I couldn’t wait to start the game.
The Fallout series (PC)
I don’t want to sound absolutely crazy but when it comes to the end times, I’m something of a connoisseur. Whether it’s the impending impact of a world-shattering comet or the persistent march of countless undead, there’s something about the inherent helplessness of man that just fascinates me.
Perhaps no other scenario, however, gets me going quite as much as a good ol’ nuclear holocaust. The idea that scientists in the ’40s created a weapon so powerful that the world still lives under the specter of nuclear war stands as testament to just how horrifyingly efficient man has become at killing man.
That being said, you can imagine how absolutely engrossed I became when I booted up the 1997 role-playing game Fallout for the very first time.
In the game’s introduction, actor Ron Perlman recounts the events of the 21st century. In this world, where wars in the 21st century are fought over resources like Uranium and Petroleum (sound familiar?), China invades Alaska, America forcefully annexes Canada and Europe becomes a complete and utter mess, fighting among each other for whatever resources they can scrounge up.
It all comes to a head in 2077, when “the destructive nature of man could sustain itself no longer” and “most the planet is reduced to cinders” in two hours by “an atomic spark struck by human hands that quickly raged out of control.”
With those bleak descriptions preceded by quirky animations juxtaposed with 1950s diddies like “Maybe” by the Ink Spots and “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” by Louis Armstrong, the player is brought up to speed with the crux of the story in one of the most memorable ways in gaming.
Such is the totality of nuclear war. The Fallout series’ intros set a bleak tone for an unforgiving nuclear wasteland. Man’s willingness to kill each other may have completely changed the world in Fallout, but one thing’s for certain… “War. War never changes.”
We Love Katamari (PS2)
Lest I make everyone groan (no really, I can hear you all) with yet another mention of my undying love of all things Katamari-related, I will mention this.
The first time I saw Katamari Damacy in action I was nonplussed. I was confused with all these mentions of the cosmos and the only thing I could remember was that this game had some wacky music. And did I mention the cosmos? It was brilliant and unlike anything I had ever seen.
Naturally, I bought the game and stole the PS2 from my brother’s room and played the game for days on end. The hilariously dysfunctional story line about recreating the constellations in the sky with a tiny prince with an egocentric king of a father… And the extras with a little girl (Michiru) whose dad was an astronaut had me rapt with attention. But of course, when the sequel came out, I squeed like a little kid straight out of nursery school.
This is where stuff gets wacky. I consider myself to be somewhat like an idiot savant when it comes to quirky Japanese culture – so I blew up when I saw the intro for We Love Katamari. The kaleidoscopic intro, pastel colored hearts, rainbows with dancing red(strawberry-colored) pandas and the big band music whooshing… It was (and still is) one of the most perfectly happy intros ever.
For those who were continuing with the series, it brought back all the recurring story lines that were mentioned in the first game but also helped you develop friendships with some unlikely characters. If you had a thing for the pandas, well – they brought you the pandas. (No really. “Save the pandas!”)
My experience with Katamari Damacy only helped to cement my obsession with We Love Katamari. It was an excellent mix of Japanese kitsch and whimsy with a smidge of je ne sais quoi thrown in for fun.
We Love Katamari‘s intro is like an inside joke. Totally befuddling on the outside, but if you’re in on it – it’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen and heard.
na na na na na na na na na na na na…
Final Fantasy IV (DS)
Final Fantasy IV holds a special little niche in my heart. Among games that were flashy, games that were quirky, games that were engrossing, and games that were superficial, FFIV‘s music and 16-bit presentation forever imprinted on me the feeling of exploring a new and exciting world.
With all the new games I see showing off their beautiful graphical capacities via vibrant and colorful environments, and the nitty-gritty grunge of metal mayhem in the cities of the future, I noticed that they have one thing that seems to be lacking.
What they lack is a sense of nostalgia.
I’m not saying its a necessary feeling, or that its a failing on the part of a game not to capitalize it, rather that some games have the opportunity to play our heartstrings like a spoony bard’s lute. And it feels like coming home.
I had played the GBA remake of FFIV when it first came out, relishing in a return to my childhood days of glory. However, my then-sixteen year old brain couldn’t reconcile the imagination I had as I child to the expectation I had as a teenager, who expected a much flashier show. I pushed those evil thoughts to a distant corner of my mind and paid it no mind, that is, until they made yet another remake of the game for the Nintendo DS.
Since I’m a sucker for Final Fantasy, I gave in and got it, even though I already had the game in two separate iterations. I saw the new graphical design they were using, and I admit I was a bit skeptical, mostly because I irrationally thought that Square-Enix was walking all over my childhood by changing my beloved 2D SNES game into a polygonal one with voice acting.
However, all doubts were dispelled when I turned on the game and saw that gleaming blue crystal, shedding its light silently.
The visuals were nothing short of beautiful, as I saw all my favorite characters brought to life in a stunning visual array of memorable scenes from the game. And they weren’t merely just made pretty by today’s gaming standards; they retained the same personality and flair that they had when I was imagining how they acted when I was a child. The mischievous mages Palom and Porom, the venerable monk Yang, nancy-boy Edward, and Kain the demi-devious Dragoon were all there, preserved not only in my own memory, but in a piece of next-generation hardware.
Even better was that the most memorable music scores accompanied each of these scenes, matching crescendos with each sword strike, causing me to remember what it was like to want to be a hero and save the world. I must have watched the intro five times before I even had the presence of mind to start a New Game.
My heart-strings weren’t merely played by nostalgia, they were snapped by them too. The intro made me love this rendition before I even had a chance to play it.