The word “gimmick” has a fairly negative connotation, with it often referring to an idea or device that is used primarily for marketing or publicity purposes but fails to actually augment or improve an experience in any meaningful way. Some prime examples of gimmicks in gaming include motion controls (the Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Move, and Xbox Kinect), toys-to-life games (Skylanders and Starlink), and even rhythm-based controllers (the DK Bongos, or the Rock Band guitar and drumset).
That said, many video games that feature odd and strange game design aren’t all necessarily gimmicks; furthermore, not all gimmicks are necessarily bad. In fact, many video games with game design choices that are considered gimmicks have even gone on to win awards – here are four award-winning games that feature awesome out-of-the-box game design.
Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand
Hideo Kojima has been known to push the boundaries of the interactive entertainment medium, with many of his titles like Metal Gear Solid, Death Stranding, and Snatcher all standing apart from their competitors through unique game design and immersive gameplay experiences. Out of Kojima’s back catalog, one of his most forgotten is the Gameboy Advance exclusive Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand.
What makes Boktai so unique is not in its gameplay – which is largely standard top-down action RPG fare – but in how the player powers up. Playing as Django, a vampire hunter, the player must power up the “Gun de Sol” by absorbing rays of sunlight. In order to do this, the player must take their video game cartridge outside, and absorb the sunlight via the game cart’s solar sensor.
By implementing this gimmick, the video game encourages the player to go outside more without breaking the immersion of the game’s world. Boktai received positive reviews when it was released, and was nominated for several game awards including NAVGTR’s Outstanding Original RPG, Innovation in Gameplay, and Innovation in Game Technology.
When it comes to gimmicky video game peripherals, Sony is perhaps the biggest experimenter / “offender” of all, depending on your perspective. From the PlayStation Eye to the PlayStation Portal, there have been tons of unusual hardware gimmicks released for the PlayStation line of systems. But perhaps one of the strangest and most forgotten peripherals is the PlayStation Wonderbook. Released fairly late into the PS3’s lifecycle, the Wonderbook was a peripheral for a peripheral, with the device only functioning when used in tandem with both the PlayStation Camera and a PS Move controller. And you’d be forgiven if you’ve never even heard of this device, as only four games were released for it before it was discontinued in about a year.
However, there was one game released that actually took excellent advantage of the Wonderbook and is also a great gaming experience: that game is Diggs Nightcrawler, a puzzle game that utilized the Wonderbook’s AR features to great effect. Diggs Nightcrawler stars a character of the same name, who traverses through a series of different puzzles that require the player to twist, turn, open, and close the various pages of the Wonderbook in creative ways that take full advantage of the unique technology.
While the Wonderbook itself may have been a largely unnecessary and gimmicky piece of technology, Diggs Nightcrawler made it feel worthwhile through its fun and creative game design, inventive puzzles, and impressive presentation.
Overall, Diggs Nightcrawler was widely enjoyed by those who played it and even received several award nominations, including the Annie Award for Best Animated Game.
Since its inception decades ago, gamers have debated whether virtual reality is truly the next step for gaming or simply another gimmick. While prior VR efforts such as the Virtual Boy proved to be the latter, more recent attempts have swayed millions of gamers towards VR actually providing something substantial.
Valve’s VR headset, the Index, added to the VR space by introducing a controller that sensed each individual finger of the player. To showcase this technology, Valve released Half-Life Alyx, which served as a prequel to the widely beloved Half-Life series. Apart from being a new installment into a long-running franchise, the biggest innovation that Alyx introduced was the player’s new weapon, the gravity glove. This weapon allowed the player to grab and control objects in inventive ways using their hand.
Alyx showcased Valve’s inventive new tech while also serving as an excellent experience in its own right. Many VR enthusiasts have cited Alyx as being the first true must-play AAA game for VR, and it’s easy to see why as the game feels truly innovative in its design, offering one of the most immersive and polished VR experiences yet.
Alyx won many game awards, including all three VR award categories from NAVGTR in the areas of Control Design, Direction, and Sound Mixing.
Dungeon crawlers are typically games that feature one to four players traversing a dark dungeon while fighting off monsters and collecting loot and power-ups along the way. There are tons of popular dungeon crawlers, including Diablo, Gauntlet, and The Binding of Isaac. Most of these games stick to a pretty consistent formula and rarely diverge much in terms of gameplay.
However, the indie title Crawl mixes things up quite a bit. Crawl is a couch co-op dungeon crawler where other players control the monsters; additionally, if another player kills you, they will become the new hero, and you in turn will become a monster. The game plays with common dungeon crawler elements but turns the experience into a fun couch co-op party game.
This unique twist on the established gaming genre manages to feel like more than just a gimmick, as it serves as an addicting multiplayer experience that feels fresh and unlike anything else.
Crawl won several game awards including A Maze Festival’s Best Local Multiplayer, Australian Game Developer Award’s Excellence in Art, and IndieDB’s Innovation Award.
Submit Your Game
As seen in these titles, video games that take advantage of their gimmicks can truly stand out from the crowd and achieve excellence. If you’ve developed a video game that you feel is award-worthy, then consider submitting it to NAVGTR. Check the submission period and nominate your game today.