Merry holidays and all that nonsense from me, the Ominous Voice. It’s that time of year when all the people of the world collectively pause for a moment to remember…that they need to buy freakin’ presents. Yeah, it’s time to get down with commercialism and buy Grandma that new Tassimo system she’ll never figure out how to use. And why not impress your relatives with a gift card, the gesture that is the plastic equivalent of a wooden arrow sign with the phrase “FIND GIFT HERE” scrawled on the surface? But hey, the season of gift-giving ain’t all bad: Can you just imagine how many videogame systems there are going to be under that tree? And games; you can only wonder how many happy pre-teens there will be unwrapping their brand-new copies of Just Dance 4 so they can suffer from that Bieber Fever for another few months. Isn’t there a vaccine for that yet? I think it’s called “taking a metronome to the forehead.”
But this ain’t about the holidays or bowl cuts that supposedly sing. This is my column, and I tell you what the hell’s wrong with videogames, past, present, future, and any other time you think you deserve to know about. So what’s my beef this month? I’ll tell ya: keys. Yeah, that’s right. Damn keys! What the hell is up with so many damn keys in videogames? Is the entertainment industry slowly being enveloped by some bat-guano crazy locksmith mogul? Is he prancing around in his penthouse office, caroling on about how there should be more keys and more locked doors in every game, and that a game without such provisions is the work of Satan? I don’t know, but clearly, a keymaker’s influence is strong amongst the many units of our beloved pastime.
Though prevalent in RPGs, unlockables appear in pretty much every genre out there. But we gotta start somewhere, so let’s talk about doors. There are too many locked doors. The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Super Mario RPG, Dragon Warrior…all these classics have impenetrable doors that require something to unlock them. In The Legend of Zelda, you have to wander around in each dungeon labyrinth to locate those keys, which usually appear after defeating all the enemies in a particular room. Leave it to Ganon to entrust keys to bats and freakin’ glowing snakes. Those keys would be just as well-guarded by one of those ridiculous barking alarm systems. The sequel tried to make the keys harder to get by hiding them behind Iron Knuckles, one of the most loathed videogame creatures ever to roam the pixelated plains. (Alternatively, you can simply fly through keyholes as a fairy.) Super Mario RPG’s even more generous: You tend to stumble across every key you need just by pretty much moving forward through the game.
Dragon Warrior is far more pesky: There are locked doors in many of the towns, but keys are only sold in one of them. Surprisingly, that one particular town doesn’t lock any of its doors. It’s a nuisance; I shouldn’t have to walk all the way across a continent just to buy a key to open a door. Where the hell is a steed in that game? That would get me there faster. Or, better yet, start a damn franchise, you key-grinder moron! ‘The hell’s wrong with you? And why does every key I buy from him theoretically open ANY door? Does their society run on one skeleton key? What kind of messed-up security system do they have? How many more questions can I ask in a row? Anyway, Metroid’s a little different, opting to use different types of projectiles as “keys,” not allowing you to open certain doors until you gain the right ability. Same concept, though.
(How’m’I s’posed’t gi’tin thar?)
Having to locate specific keys in a game is just the developer’s way of telling us that their game was too short and a hide-and-seek quest just adds to the overall value. Spent too much time on eyebrow physics, ya goofs? How about just making more places to go? It’s not that hard to tack on an extra room with…I don’t know, maybe a samba-inducing serpent or a feline lumberjack, something interesting to see. I can understand doors slamming shut behind me as I walk into a room with much peril. That’s showmanship right there. Plus it prevents me from getting out without defeating whatever nasty beast is inside, thus fulfilling a hero’s duty. But doors that are just locked? That’s a pain in my backside.
But then we get into other stuff that’s locked, like chests, for example. That’s just downright irritating. Who wants to waste their keys on opening chests, only to discover all you get is a flaming turd in a brown bag? What pathetic use of my time. And the chest is usually in a far-too-well-hidden spot to begin with, so it’s not even worth the trek in general. What else is locked…well, how about those silly Match-3 games that are so popular in the casual PC gamer circuit? So many of them actually lock up pieces on the playing board, forcing you to unlock them by match similar tiles, just like you’d be doing anyway. Just another way of saying “we ran out of ideas, so we’re just going to do what every other Match-3 game does…even more so.”
Maybe I’m just being silly. Maybe locked doors, chests, and all that are perfectly valid entities in the videogame universe. But then I think that they’re meant to be irritants sometimes! That’s why some games have “Thief” as a character class: so you don’t have to waste your time hunting down every damn key on the planet, instead just picking the damn lock and stealing the platinum scepter of Uranusburg. But then they make the Thief class not as good at, well, anything else! So you’re stuck with a decision: be only semi-skilled as a fighter and surpass the many keyholes of your world, or be an almighty godly warrior but have to buy keys. Heck, why aren’t they just using their weapons to crack through locked stuff? I’m sure a treasure chest can only take so much pounding with Thor’s hammer. Game developers are sadistic, y’know that?
Oh, the hell with it. Merry freakin’ holidays.