Turrican vs. Metroid: A Complexity Issue
Author and Screenshots: Matthew D. Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout and Additional Screenshots: Buck Feris
Notes: All screenshots were taken directly from the referenced emulators.
After reading literally tons of videogame theory and thinking a lot about videogames (and games) in general, I have come to a few realizations about why I enjoy certain games a lot more than others. This realization sprang from hours of thinking about supposedly similar games and wondering, what is that quality about X that makes it better than Y?
It was in thinking about the Turrican series from Rainbow Arts for Commodore Amiga computers and the Metroid series from Nintendo for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) that I finally happened upon a principle of game making that really excited me. Since many people likely to read this article might also be developers, I thought I would share my findings in hopes that someone may use the principle to design better games.
Turrican and Metroid seem at first to be very similar. Both are platform games featuring robotic-like male/female avatars. Both games feature plenty of enemies to blast and fun "bosses" to battle. The graphics and sound in both series are excellent on their respective platforms [See footnote 1]. Neither game bores the player with long cut-scenes or irrelevant narratives like so many games today, and both require a sound knowledge of the gameworld's rules and good tactics to win.
The difference – and it is a huge one – concerns the power-ups. In Turrican, power-ups either recharge a player's energy or shields, or increase his firepower. If you collect enough "lasers," for instance, you can wipe out a whole slew of enemies with one shot. If you die, you lose some of this firepower and must re-collect the power-ups. Other power-ups give you a "bouncing ball" like fire; another one is "tri-shot" which splits your shots into three pieces. You can play Turrican without really paying much attention to the power-ups; they're nice, but generally not essential.
This factor is completely different in Metroid. In Metroid, there are two distinct types of power-ups: One works like Turrican's, i.e., you replenish your energy or restock your missile/supermissile/super bomb supply. The other type of power-up (of which I am most concerned with here) changes the way you play the game. For instance, getting the "ball" power-up near the beginning of the game makes a tremendous difference on gameplay; you can now access more areas and have to take into consideration the fact that you can "change into a ball" when contemplating strategies for each screen. Thus, this power-up makes a change at the fundamental game level—it gives you a new tool to navigate the gameworld. The ball power-up makes gameplay more complicated, but also more rewarding—now you have an amendment to the "basic rules" of the game that requires more strategic thinking.
Footnote 1: I don't really think the "appearance" matters much; good graphics are a strictly social convention anyway and are actually more visible if they "suck" than if they are "awesome." Anyway, in a truly excellent game, one doesn't have time to notice them anyway. Good graphics are more pleasing to on-lookers than players. This is why so many games interrupt the player to show off "awesome" graphics. “Blah,” I say.
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