We have to go deeper: 15 original, playable games inside other games

After all, the people in the games need something to play, too.

By Anthony John Agnello, Steve Heisler, Derrick Sanskrit, John Teti, Drew Toal, and Adam Volk • August 9, 2012

1. Caravan, Fallout: New Vegas

Plenty of video games contain mini-games or side quests, but some of these diversions are so elaborate—in terms of their rules, novelty, or production value—that they could practically stand on their own. Take Caravan, the card game created for Fallout: New Vegas. Drawing from their own decks, each player builds up three stacks of cards—called “caravans”—until they’re valuable enough to “sell.” One nifty thing about Caravan is that it combines elements of traditional card games with collectible card games like Magic. You can play it with a standard 52-card deck, but you’re better served by customizing the deck, loading it with the cards that fit your strategy—the cards don’t even have to come from the same deck. It’s a nice fit for the world of New Vegas, where you’re not liable to find a pristine deck of cards, but you do pick up the stray deuce or joker in travels. And Caravan works perfectly well in real life, too.

2. Rapunzel, Catherine

Most of the games-within-games on this list are markedly different from the mothership that contains them. The arcade game Rapunzel, though—found in the bar where much of Catherine’s story takes place—is practically a clone of its parent. The main game in Catherine has players shove building blocks around in an effort to climb a tower. So does Rapunzel, just with fairy-tale trappings (rather than the dadaist nightmare tableau of the main quest). The major difference is that Catherine limits the player’s time, while Rapunzel lets you take as much time as you want, instead limiting the number of moves you can make. This one change in the rules gives Rapunzel a surprisingly distinct feel, shifting the emphasis to precise strategy rather than quick thinking.

3-6. Duality, Let’s Get Ready To Bumble, Go Go Space Monkey, and They Crawled From Uranus; Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Let’s face it: The average citizen of San Andreas has a fairly high probability of being run over, shot, stabbed, beaten, or, in some cases, crushed to death by a machine-gun-wielding gangster in a jetpack. All of which may explain the four arcade cabinets located throughout the city. At first glance, they might seem like mindless, coin-guzzling diversions, yet scratch beneath their 16-bit veneer and you’ll find a subtle commentary on life and death in San Andreas. In the game Duality, for instance, you control a 2D spaceship that must shoot and collect a series of asteroids and power-ups. The catch is that the points you earn are either “black” or “white” depending on the objects you choose to collect or destroy—which, like a Seinfeldian black and white cookie, may just be a powerful symbol of urban race relations. The game Let’s Get Ready to Bumble might seem a little less obvious, as you take on the role of a lone bumblebee who collects flowers and avoids deadly thorn bushes. A simple arcade apiary, or a stinging polemic on the drug trade? Then, of course, there’s Go Go Space Monkey, a fast-paced side-scroller in which a space-bound simian battles waves of alien bananas—a thinly veiled tableau of devolved urban insanity. Finally, there’s the aptly named They Crawled From Uranus, in which you take on the role of lone starfighter battling waves of warships swirling out of the blackened…ahem…void. Yes, in the cap-or-be-capped world of San Andreas, even the games you play are ripe with symbolism. Either that or they’re just a really good way to avoid death for a few minutes.

7. Geometry Wars, Project Gotham Racing 2

Exploring the garage in the second Project Gotham revealed a simple “retro” arcade game that would almost come to outshine the racing series that spawned it. Geometry Wars took elements from Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV, gussied them up in a neon party dress, and brought the action to outer space. A refined standalone version of the game, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, was a launch title for Xbox Live Arcade, and reintroduced the twin-stick shooter as a genre, paving the way for the likes of Everyday Shooter, Super Stardust HD, and Squid Yes! Not So Octopus.

8. Pure Wite Lover Bizorre Jerry, No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

Travis Touchdown is the definitive man-child, shirking responsibility so that he can attend to his impressive collection of trading cards, Gundam models, lightsabers, and wrestling magazines. So, of course, when the top-ranked assassin in the world needs some R&R at his fabulous motel room, he likes to pop in the shoot-’em-up based on his favorite cartoon: Pure White Lover Bizarre Jelly 5. Most surprising, perhaps, is that this game is one of the few elements of No More Heroes devoid of any sexual innuendo. Well, except the menu refers to the game as “BJ 5.” And then there’s the anime intro movie unlocked when you win, which is…you know what, never mind.

9. Tin Pin Slammer, The World Ends With You

In the Shibuya of The World Ends With You, there are few things that can manage to snaps the game’s heroes out of their emo malaise. Name-brand clothes do the trick, as does ramen, but they really get a charge out of fashionable little pins. It’s just like being a junior high punk all over again! These pins are Neku’s only source of power, and when he’s not using them to slay noise and reapers, Neku’s pins are good for a friendly game of Tin Pin Slammer, a sort of pogs-meets-Pokémon tabletop action game. Some loyal fan of The World Ends With You have established real-life games of Tin Pin Slammer, though we’ve yet to see any of their pins transform into sledgehammers.

10. Triple Triad/Tetra Master, Final Fantasy VIII and IX

Triple Triad seems like the worst sort of cynicism at first blush. When Final Fantasy VIII came out in 1999, collectible card games were getting a second wind as Pokémon replaced Magic in kids’ hearts, and Square could smell the money. What could have just been a cash grab ended up as one of the more enjoyable and coherent parts of the game itself. Each of the 110 cards—picturing a character or monster—has four numbers on it (indicating strength) and is placed on a 3-by-3 grid where the cards “battle” each other. It’s like the kids’ card game War, but in multiple directions, with crazy lightning gods and just the right balance between simple rules and complex strategy. It’s still easy to find a pickup game online, so you don’t have to play FF8 at all to enjoy it. Square mustered up a sequel to Triple Triad in Final Fantasy IX, but Tetra Master upsets the balance of Triad balance with more complicated rules. Compounding the misstep, FF9 forces you to play Tetra Master, rather than just offering the option as in FF8.

11. Pazaak, Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic

Cool people in Star Wars are card players. The swashbuckling Han Solo actually won his ship, the Millennium Falcon, from shifty trader Lando Calrissian. Solo’s game, Sabacc, has absurdly complex rules, according to lore. Since Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic aims to make players feel cool without forcing them to dive into Sabacc According To Hoyle, it made more sense for the developers at BioWare to come up with a simpler card game. Thus the blackjack derivation called Pazaak was born. The goal in Pazaak is to get as close to 20 as possible without going over, and the first player to win three hands in a two-player match wins the whole shebang. As with Caravan in Fallout: New Vegas, the player’s own deck personalizes Pazaak. You can find and buy cards in the game and play them once per turn, either adding or subtracting to get closer to 20 points. There are Pazaak players all over the game’s planets. Sabacc must draw all the cool guys though, because the Pazaak players you meet tend to be a bunch of goons.

12. Fortune’s Tower, Keystone, and Spinnerbox; Fable II

Everything in Fable II can probably be characterized as a game within a game—timing the pendulum swings while blacksmithing is downright hypnotic—but the three designated “pub games” are a bit more fully fleshed out. (So much so that they got their own separate release as an Xbox Live Arcade download.) Fortune’s Tower is a kind of simpleton’s solitaire, where the player constructs a two-dimensional card pyramid from the top down. Keystone is probably the most complex of the three pub games. It’s a combination of roulette, craps and Jenga, where money is placed on various betting areas. Winning is determined by throws of the dice, rather than a wheel. Spinnerbox is nothing more than a Fable II-style slot machine. Cash rules everything around Peter Molyneux’s capitalist fairy tale land of Albion, so the potential to lose your slum rent or piss away your fruit-stand protection money with some barstool gambling makes a lot of sense in the world. At least you’re not spending it on a golden-hearted prostitute or a terrible tribal tattoo.

13. Blitzball, Final Fantasy X

The main character of Final Fantasy X is fair-haired young Tidus, and we learn two things about him right off the bat: He enjoys wearing half-shirts and long overalls, and he was a Blitzball celebrity in his homeland. Blitzball is sort of like water polo, but entirely underwater, and in his strange new land, Tidus gets another opportunity to be a star. You don’t have to play Blitzball to finish the game, but you can win prizes, so there’s a bit of an incentive to get a feel for the game—when to pass, when to block, and how best to use special moves to score. Plus, as you travel the world, you occasionally run into strangers who can be recruited for your team, some of whom can quickly turn the tide. Amid the monsters and evil demigods of Final Fantasy X, if you’re looking for a less intense way to kill time in-game, Blitzball’s always there for you.

14. Lost Viking, StarCraft II: Wings Of Liberty

Real-time strategy is an intellectually challenging genre, which is what makes Lost Viking such a perfect palate cleanser in Blizzard’s StarCraft II. A winking reference to the Super NES Lost Vikings series (also developed by Blizzard), Viking’s visuals are richer than the pixelated old-school arcade images on the load screen, but it still feels like a game that would hungrily eat your quarters. Since there is no way to pay for extra lives, victory in this shoot-em-up, versus the Zerg, Protoss, and a ludicrous Transformer-like final boss, comes only with the determination to play over and over again until you’ve mastered the patterns of the units blitzing past you and trying to blow your poor Viking out of the sky.

15. QUB3D, Grand Theft Auto IV

Hewing to the series’ usual cynicism, the arcade game QUB3D in Grand Theft Auto IV is billed on its title screen as “The Puzzle Game You’ve Played Before.” Indeed, the game does smell strongly of colorful-blocks-dropping-from-the-sky puzzle games like Tetris, Dr. Mario, and especially Puyo Puyo. In QUB3D, the blocks sort of roll down the screen rather than falling, a distinction with only a mild difference. QUB3D demonstrates that when a game grows as massive as Grand Theft Auto IV, developers can find room for their pet projects in the niches. Because while it may not be the most inventive thing (by its own admission), it’s not unpolished—clearly, some care went into refining its look and ruleset. Someone on the Rockstar team had an itch to make a puzzle game, and Grand Theft Auto provided the unlikely venue where they could scratch it.

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374 Responses to “We have to go deeper: 15 original, playable games inside other games”

  1. NFET says:

    I was already to complain about Chao Garden not being on the list when I realized you guys meant games that the characters play in universe, not just any game inside of another game. Still, if you ever make an inventory that’s Side Games Better Than the Main Game, that should be #1.

    • Merve says:

      Speaking of side games bundled with a main game, I’m pretty sure my dad played more of the Pong clone in Commander Keen IV than the actual game.

      • jessec829 says:

        My brother and I used to play some game in which you could play Pong during the load times. Half the time we just ended up playing Pong and forgot about the actual game.

      • Baramos x says:

         I enjoyed Car Bomb (the Battleship clone) in Sam & Max Hit the Road so much that probably half the time spent on it was just playing that. I liked it so much that  the next time I played Battleship (which is a dreary, boring game in my opinion, mostly entertaining to young kids), I insisted we make some of the cluster bombs to liven things up (or at least make it go faster so we could quit playing Battleship). It did indeed!

  2. Ghostfucker says:

    I got pretty good at pazaak and caravan. Too bad that there was nothing worthwhile to spend my money on by the time I got good at it.

    By the way, does anyone have a link to a torrent of KOTOR2 with the newly released mod that fixes everything, already installed? I own the original game, but I’m way too lazy to get it working on windows 7 and then figure out how to get the mod to work properly…

  3. NFET says:

    Also, Tin Pin Slammer is my purpose!! I will become the greatest slammer that ever lived!

    (I kind of love Another Day)

    • caspiancomic says:

       Another Day might be better than the entire main story of TWEWY, if only because Neku seems aware of and kind of embarrassed by his latent grumpy lonersism. It’s also really cool seeing all the game’s main characters interacting with one another- normally it’s just Neku and his partner du jour, but seeing, for example, Shiki and Joshua argue over which colour Ranger everyone has to be is pretty amusing.

  4. havoklegend says:

    Sure it’s not original games, but Animal Crossing’s little consoles were the best.

  5. BarbleBapkins says:

    In one of the Timesplitters games, you can play a couple of versions of arcade/Atari games, including a variation of Snake with up to four players and the ability to move in any direction as opposed to being locked onto a grid. It was actually really fun, in a chaotic sort of way.

  6. Ladyfingers says:

    No Astro Chicken?

    • sam area says:

      Astro Chicken was the one I immediately thought about.  I remember it being a pain, with chickens simply plummeting to the ground, but necessary to rescue the Two Guys from Andromeda.

    • I was also disappointed not to see Astro Chicken here, as well as Ms. Astro Chicken. 

    • George_Liquor says:

      Oh God, Astro Chicken. Being forced to play it while Chicken Reel bleeped out of the PC speaker over & over again was some sick, Zimbardo-esque psychological torture.

    • Asinus says:

      Glad I searched first, because i was coming down here to say the exact same thing. At the time, I think that SQ3 was the first time I saw something like this. Even though you could probably make a case that a lot of adventure games had “games within games” (e.g. video poker in Leisure Suit Larry 1), actually inventing a fun side scroller (which PCs were pretty bad at) arcade machine inside another game was pretty amazing to my young self. I saw it there and just went up to “PLAY GAME” as a lark because I thought the entirety of the joke was the game’s name. Good stuff. 

      Now I can’t remember, though, if the game was mandatory. Sierra tended to keep away from more twitchy game requirements (see the warning before for burger-making mini game in SQ4 even with the option to skip it), but do you need it for the decoder ring? I don’t remember where that comes from… 

      • George_Liquor says:

         I think you’re thinking of Ms. Astro Chicken from SQ4, which was a side-scroller. Astro Chicken in SQ3 was just a Lunar Lander ripoff, but you had to play it long enough to get the secret message from the Two Guys.

        • Asinus says:

          Damn it, I was pretty sure i was flipping those in my head, but couldn’t remember what the other one was. Now I remember bouncing that damn chicken off the landing platform. 

  7. Colonel says:

    The first and only page of my Blitzball playbook:

    1. Score one goal
    2. Get the ball
    3. Hide behind the goalpost
    4. Never play Blitzball again

    People always balk at the idea of dodging 200 lightning bolts to get Lulu’s  (a black mage) ultimate weapon but playing all that damn Blitzball for Wakka’s (a ball mage) is more time-consuming and annoying.

    • RidleyFGJ says:

      Man, did FFX have some insane requirements for the Ultimate Weapons or what? I still have a bit of PTSD from doing that butterfly minigame, and a better-than-perfect run on the chocobo race is no joke, either.

      • Destroy Him My Robots says:

         I thought Blitzball was ok. If you’re really looking for tediousness in FFX, catching monsters takes the cake. Fighting monsters you already fought 100 hours ago that don’t stand a chance against you is what New Game+ should’ve been for.

        Which brings me to the Final Fantasy that had New Game+, X-2. Sphere Break (that coin game) was excellent! I don’t remember the details, but it combined time pressure, math, and chaining.

      • Crimboween says:

        FFX… I didn’t mind Blitzball, and actually played an insane amount of Blitzball matches, levelling my whole team up to max and winning every game outright. 

        I haven’t touched it for years and years, but whenever I see my stats in that game, I see that I wasted 200+ hours of my life on a game I didn’t actually even enjoy very much. I ‘earned’ everyone’s Ultimate Weapons too, for some reason. Ahhh, the good old days with too much time on my hands and too few other hobbies.

        • Asinus says:

          There have been a lot of games I’ve been trying to catch up with from older systems I never owned. Thank god for cheat codes, game sharks, console commands, etc.! I think that’s one thing that console makers have decided to ignore– the time it can take to get through the games that a lot of us, who grew up with games and who still enjoy them, don’t have time for any more. 

          Though it is fun to read forums where someone asks for cheats and some nerds go ballistic on that person. One guy was looking for cheats for RAGE and said (in all caps) “I am deaf and have CP” and was looking for cheats because even the easiest mode was too hard for him but he really wanted to see the game. Instead of being helpful he was mocked for writing in all caps (which is probably just what his computer or specialized input device does by default) and just told him that the easy and normal modes were “super easy.” Of course, they probably don’t know what “CP” is… but still. 

          Oh, and don’t go to a PS3 forum and ask if there’s any way to turn off trophies or trophy notifications… that really gets people mad for some reason. 

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

             God help those who feel there’s a right way and a wrong way to have fun.  It seems too often the case that the biggest detriment to enjoying a hobby is all the other people who enjoy it as well.

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        I never did get Tidus’ ultimate weapon in X.  I would intermittently devote twenty minutes to the race, until I realized that chasing around balloons on a Chocobo made me feel like an asshole, even by the lenient standards of stuff you accept doing in a video game.
           Besides, what sort of capricious god entrusts one of their most powerful creations -possibly the salvation of mankind- to a Chocobo trainer with a petty competitive streak?
           “Sure, I’ll give you the means to save the world, just let me go and crank up the helium tank in back.”

        • RidleyFGJ says:

          ::manages to get enough balloons to get the time down to hundreths of a second::

          “Oh, this simply won’t do! You have to get better than zero seconds, and you won’t actually know if you are since it won’t be displayed on the screen in that manner!”

          ::proceeds to summon Yojimbo on the trainer::

    • Afghamistam says:

      The first and only page of my Blitzball playbook:

      1. Fuck this shit.
      2. Wonder idly if my progress through game is being stunted.
      3. Have all patience in game obliterated by 16 attempts to beat Yunalesca – the hardest part isn’t the fight, but the unskippable 10 minute cutscene.
      4. Stop playing FFX.

    • Matthew Miller says:

      Dodging the 200 was irritating as hell, but I got it done in a day. I shudder to think how many hours I logged in the Blitzball Underwater BioDome Arena or whatever. Still, I thought it actually was kind of fun to play once your players were decent.

  8. Kilzor says:

    If anyone was able to beat the later levels of Rapunzel (and pretty much all of the dark world levels) without getting help online, I sincerely want to shake your hand.  I honestly don’t know how people were able to figure some of them out/had the time.

    • duwease says:

      I beat the first 64 from working backwards from what (usually) was the only way to get to the top, but.. ugh, it was still too much effort.  I did maybe the first 2 dark world ones and gave up.

    • duwease says:

      Klungo Saves The World!  Nuts & Bolts doesn’t get enough love.. that game was fantastic *and* original.

  9. Citric says:

    The card game in Xenogears is better than actual Xenogears.

  10. fieldafar says:

    Even looking at this article’s header image makes me mad, that Rapunzel game was more frustrating than the game it appeared in itself.

  11. Merve says:

    I don’t know how, but I managed to play New Vegas avoiding Caravan entirely. I think it has something to do with my innate revulsion to gambling.

    Speaking of games that contain card games, I don’t know how many of you remember The Yukon Trail, but it contained a game called Yukon that was hell of a lot of fun to play. Considering my revulsion to gambling, that’s saying something. I remember spending hours trying to get good at it, but luck also played a huge role, and sometimes, I’d lose hundreds of dollars.

    The only other one that comes to mind right now is Mass Effect, which has Quasar. It’s basically a digital version of 21. The only reason it’s memorable is because you can get a Salarian arrested for attempted cheating.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       I did that, too, with Caravan. The game seemed too complicated to learn quickly, and I clearly didn’t have the cards to win, so I just sort of let it be.

    • War Is the H-Word says:

      Yeah, Mass Effect’s quasar was the first one I thought of. Unfortunately, other than for the helping/reporting the salarian cheat mission, it really had no purpose, as all it allows you to do is win money. Even without playing quasar, money accumulates extremely fast, and the levelling up of guns/armor/upgrades that are available to you is so quick that anything you spend money on is usually trumped by something you find in a crate during the following mission. I did enjoy the weapon upgrade system of ME1 and was sad that it got simplified in the sequels, but the money system seemed to be far too generous.

      • Merve says:

        That’s why I liked the ME3 system. You can find basic weapons and mods scattered throughout the game, but if you want to upgrade them, you need to shell out credits at the store.

  12. fieldafar says:

    I was about to mention Jetpac in Donkey Kong 64, but I realised it wasn’t an original game, as it was made for the ZX Spectrum. 

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      Rubber keys FTW!

    • Cheese says:

      Same with the original Donkey Kong in Donkey Kong 64. Whatever you had to unlock by playing that forever, I did.

      • The first time through you got a Golden Banana. The *second* time through got you the Nintendo Coin, which you needed to access the final boss.

        Which is where I drew the line and put that game down forever. I already did that crap once, don’t make me suffer through Mario’s inability to fall more than half his body height again.

        • GaryX says:


          Donkey Kong 64 is what turned me off from 100% games (it took until RDR for me to want to do that again). It took me for-fucking-ever to get those coins–which I had totally forgot where secretly required–and I played the entire game trying to collect every last damn thing only to get to the end of the game and realize, somehow, I had missed five bananas on the mushroom level as Chunky. I went back and searched all over for them. I bought a guide. I had my parents check online. I never fucking found them.

          Eleven year old me was so equally distraught and furious. Fuck you, Rare. Fuck. You.

        • Merve says:

          Any game that wants to you to complete two nearly-impossible retro mini-games in order to access the final boss deserves a swift kick in the nards.

        • themagnificentsluggo says:

          Dude, I’ve got that beat.

          I was having trouble finding this one last item, a coin or banana or something. I actually bought the guide and it literally wasn’t where it said it was.

          I ended up calling Nintendo for the first and last time in my life for help, and it turned out it was a GLITCH. I had to restart the game all over again just to get the damn thing.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          DK64 is really just a terrible game because of shit like that. Rare at the worst of their collect-a-thon phase. Banjo Kazooie was also shitty in terms of needing to collect music notes to unlock more levels. Only thing was to collect more music notes in a world, you had to first collect the ones that you already had. Fuck that shit. I always bring this up when people are nostalgiaing about BK or DK64 because I live to kill buzzes.

        • GaryX says:

          @themagnificentsluggo:disqus Fuck man. I think mine might have been a glitch too. Because I went to EVERY location that banana bunch was supposed to be at and couldn’t find shit. Dirty fuckers.

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus Yeah, for real. I liked those games just fine, but that collectathon shit was fucking weak. I’m so glad the Mario games never went too far down that rabbit hole (shit, they even scaled back on it with Sunshine and especially in the Galaxy games. Stuff became more linear. And better for it.).

      • jimboch02 says:

        Oh God.  I loved that game, but that part made me want to put my fist through a wall.  

    • Asinus says:

      Just reading “Jetpac” made me have to watch this again:

    • Colonel says:

      Fun fact about Jetpac:  The company that made it was an early form of Rare.

  13. jarviscockblocker says:

    Pong in the main menu of Commander Keen 4. Why it’s there, I have no idea.

    • Asinus says:

      Probably because John Carmack decided it would be funny to take 24 seconds and code a pong game. 

  14. Mercenary_Security_number_4 says:

    The rolling (instead of falling) part of QUB3D is a homage to Klax.

    Also, Caravan is awesome.  Someone had way too much time on their hands.  The game is surprisingly deep and can be quite suspenseful when played against a skillful enough opponent.

  15. caspiancomic says:

    I’ve always heard that Triple Triad was better than Tetra Master, but man do I love me some Tetra Master. I mean sure, the rules make almost no sense and have to be either deduced through hours of trial and error or drip fed from that shop owner in Dali, but I always found it really fun. Collecting all the cards was a pain in the ass, though. In a single playthrough I probably never collected more than a fifth of the cards, and for the most part the majority of my deck was the crap you pick up off the street without having to work for it.

    • PaganPoet says:

      I’ll admit, I’m one of those that disparages Tetra Master, but it’s just because I never understood it. Triple Triad is really easy to get the hang of, but Tetra Master is so obtuse.

      If it makes you feel any better FFIX as a whole is much better than FFVIII!

      • Asinus says:

        The only reason I’m considering playing it again (and maybe finishing it) is because I have VII and VIII for the PC and just played VII with an enhanced graphics driver that let me crank it to 1080p and it was gorgeous (especially the summons and chocobo races) and the same sort of thing exists for VIII, and I’d just like to see it. I think there are even texture packs for it, but that just seems like too much tweaking that could break the game with my luck.

        • PaganPoet says:

          Well, it’s still a good game, in spite of its flaws. I would still rank it on the lower end of the FF series, but I did enjoy it overall.

          In particular, I feel like the characters were more well thought-out than, say, FFVII, even if some of them were irritating. The plot near the end gets kind of silly, but I do think Edea/Adel/Ultimecia are some of the coolest designed villains in the series.

    • Asinus says:

      I love Tetra Master, I never though the rules were *that* hard to figure out, but most of all I love that goddamned mellow music. IX had some great music. I remember not liking the world map music at first– i think because it sounded like it was being played on musical bubbles, but now it’s on my zune.

    • Citric says:

      I’ve never got the Triple Triad love, but that’s possibly because really early on I got a couple of stupid, stupid rules that made it not fun. Random cards and one other one, it changed it from a fun game into essentially the luck of the draw.

      I do love Tetra Master though, the rules made sense to me.

      • Cornell_University says:

        I accidentally picked up Random and can’t seem to get rid of it.  solution?  Mod all of your cards below level 6. Now I can usually at least play to a draw each time, regardless of the hand I get.

  16. I’m still convinced that Putt Putt Goes to the Moon is the OG of this trick.

    • boardgameguy says:

       it’s been a long time since i’ve thought of putt putt goes to the moon

    • Putt Putt’s great, and I’ma let you finish, but Pajama Sam was the best Humongous Entertainment series of all time.

    • Asinus says:

      Space Quest 3 came out in 1989, so it edges out Putt Putt by a couple years. I am curious when a puzzle or other in game action crosses the line to “game within a game.” I mean, SQ3 has an arcade machine, so that one is obvious. Leisure Suit Larry in Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987) has video poker machines, but are there other, earlier ones that would count? Back when each byte was extremely precious, it would have been frivolous to dedicate any space to something non-essential or even to add extra sprites when the crypt key or whatever could have been achieved with the regular game mechanics. I don’t know though. There’s probably some obsessive online group where some nerds argue ONLY about this concept. 

    • trilobiter says:

       Oh, Putt Putt.  How many hours of my life did you take?  And why does a car need a space helmet?

  17. Swadian Knight says:

    The sad thing about Caravan is that maybe one in every thousand New Vegas players puts the effort into learning how to play it, and you can tell it is a deep, strategic game that probably took a lot of time and effort to create and perfect. And yet most people won’t play it.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      I didn’t play it. I always just want to get to questin’. I’ll figure it out on one of my playthroughs i’m sure. But holy shit do I love New Vegas. Like the only game where I am not actually  embarrassed by the writing.

      • Swadian Knight says:

        The pacing of caravan is radically different from the main game, and I think that and the unfamiliarity of the game are really off-putting unless you really want to get into it. 

        And yeah, New Vegas is one of the most cohesive WRPGs I’ve ever seen, and the writing is really top-notch – there’s a dramatic range to it that’s really hard to come across these days where everything is so monothematic. 

        Have you played it with the New Vegas Uncut series of mods? It expands on a bunch of ideas that were meant to be in the final game but got cut due to time and budget constraints, and some of it’s pretty great at making a brilliant game even better.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

          I’m running a totally vanilla install right now. It has all the DLC and stuff, so maybe it doesn’t count as vanilla. I’m probably going to innstall the one that fixes a bunch of bugs and stuff and the one that one of the devs made that makes hardcore mode more hardcore. I’ll check out the Uncut mods now though. 

        • Swadian Knight says:

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus Be sure to check out the New Vegas Nexus sometime! Playing this game with mods brings it a lot closer to the level of polish it deserved.

  18. blue vodka lemonade says:

    The Nancy Drew adventure game series is full of odd minigames, some of which are original and some of which are based on ancient Mayan/Egyptian/whatever games. You usually only have to win a given minigame once in the course of the main game, though a few are fun enough that I still load up the full game to play them.

    I’m categorically Not Good at card games, though, so then I make my mother play for me.

    • GaryX says:

      Can’t wait to see if SHix (Sherlock Holmes 6) brings anything to the table. Maybe a card playing dog minigame.

  19. Mananarama says:

    Arcomage from the Might and Magic series was so fun I used to log into old save games to play it.

  20. PPPfive says:

    Pure Wite Lover Bizorre Jerry – What’s this all about? Seems too elaborate to be a simple mistake

  21. Captain Internet says:

    These are nothing, nothing, compared to God Hand’s Chihuahua races.

    Having said that I did play an absurd amount of Triple Triad back in the day, despite hating the soundtrack with a passion.

  22. Wearedevo says:

    Great topic, but missed a lot of good examples, and as usual is way too console-heavy.

    How about the games you could play on the PDA in System Shock 2? (including a mini-RPG!)

    Edit: Made the same mistake as NFET, but I think that topic is more interesting!

    • Critcho says:

      The System Shock games definitely should be on here, they were ‘in universe’ and everything. The Wing Commander piss take in the first one was fun, and the mini roguelike RPG in SS2 is brilliant.

  23. jackthompson says:

    No Space Quest III / Astrochicken? SHAME.

  24. jackthompson says:

    No Space Quest III / Astrochicken? SHAME.

  25. Effigy_Power says:

    No mention that “Day of the Tentacle” had “Maniac Mansion” inside it?
    It did, didn’t it?

    • Xtracurlyfries says:

      I think so, yes. But I never played it. I was too busy trying to figure out how to get that thing to the past when it needed to go to the future first but only if I combined with that other oh no my brain just leaked out my ears.

    • Mike Mariano says:

      This was my first thought, too.  When I played Day of the Tentacle for the first time, the emulation of Maniac Mansion didn’t work so when you started up Weird Ed’s computer, it faded to black, then faded back into his bedroom.  Lame!

    • GaryX says:

      Yeah, but Maniac Mansion wasn’t original to the game. It was its own game.

    • NFET says:

      Now THAT should be #1

    • Cloks says:

      Wait, wait, what? Time to hit up DOSBOX and lose a day or so.

  26. stakkalee says:

    There’s a Civ4 mod called Fall From Heaven that puts a fantasy skin on the game.  It also includes the in-game game Somnium, a card game you can play agains other people or against the computer.  It’s a simple card game, but what’s great about it is when you play against one of the AI civilizations you don’t play for money, you play for reputation.  A good hand of Somnium can convince a rival to trade with you, or get you some goodwill from a crowded neighbor.  I’ve averted many a war with a timely game of Somnium.  Well, averted it until *I* was ready for war.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Now that would be some masterful diplomacy. 

      “Okay, Hitler, you can have the Sudetenland, provided you best Neville Chamberlain here in a round of Five Card Draw.”

      • Electric Dragon says:

        Maybe that explains the Yalta conference. “I see your Hungary and raise you Poland.” “Straight flush, Winnie. Read it and weep.” “Damn you, Josef!”

        • HobbesMkii says:

          “Church, old boy, why have you taken off your pants?”
          “Is this not the strip variety you Yanks play, Frankie?”
          “We’re deciding the fate of the world, here, Winston.”
          “Also, why aren’t you wearing any underpants?”

        • Asinus says:

          “Keep it up with the questions, Mr. Roosevelt, and I shall beat you with your own leg braces.”

  27. Eddie Ramirez says:

    I instantly thought of Pazaak. That was a lot of fun, but frustrating if luck was not in your favor.
    I guess it doesn’t count, as it’s more of a “sport”-within-a-game, but from Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, I loved the fishing game you had to do.
    I’m also glad none of the games from Red Dead Revolver made it. I hated all of them.  

  28. iamsynecdoche says:

    What, you don’t include that mini-game you could play between periods of Blades of Steel?

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      The little stripped-down version of Gradius you could play after a few rounds?  That blew my simple little mind back in the day.  The fact that they did it, and chose a game of a completely different genre.  It was pretty damn neat.

  29. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    It’s a tangential, but this topic gets me thinking about the now largely defunct bonus round, or bonus room.  Mario games still have them, but in that regard Mario games are the sole curators for many otherwise forgotten game mechanics.
       But they do serve the same purpose as mini-games, something low-stakes and fun to break up the tension of grinding through a game.  It is pretty cathartic to smash apart a sedan with your bare fists after barely emerging intact from a battle with a Brazilian feral child who inexplicably learned to electrically charge his body by observing eels.
       Also, second mention this week, but the accompanying song alone makes ‘Skullmonkeys’ bonus room the gold standard to beat.

    • RTW says:

      I vaguely recall playing Skullmonkeys once a long time ago while spending the night at a friend’s house. All I remember is that it was really long and eventually got hard as hell. I heard the bonus room song the other day and didn’t remember it from that experience at all, but it’s got to be easily one of the best VGM songs ever.

  30. PaganPoet says:

    I can’t tell you how long I played Triple Triad, traveling to each region, trying to eliminate that damned “Random” rule! The Space Station was the worst part, and if I remember correctly, challenging Ellone is the only way to get the Rinoa card.

    • Colonel Mustard says:

      I can’t tell you how many games I saved right before a Triple Triad game, only to reload a dozen times because some asshole got my Selphie card or whatever.

      • PaganPoet says:

        Oh god, that’s the truth. And reseting a PS1 game is the worst, it took forever to load up (see also: Chocobo Breeding in FFVII)

    • Tristan says:

      The trick to dealing with the random rule is to refine all your shitty cards that you can so you are left with your GF and character cards. This will also get you tons of great items that you can refine to get better magic so you can break the game.

  31. Colonel Mustard says:

    I detested Blitzball, and had to resign myself to never getting Wakka’s ultimate weapon. 

    But on to more positive matters!  In what may be one of the first game-within-a-game offerings, I became obsessed with one of the challenges in the 1987 game The Fool’s Errand.  You had to win a game of “Thoth” against a computer opponent, which was played with the Major Arcana cards in the tarot deck.  It’s not entirely dissimilar from Texas Hold ‘Em. 

    I loved it so much that I figured out the scoring system the game was using and started teaching Thoth to people as a real-world option, as valid to play on game night as Hearts or Euchre.  It remains one of my favorite card games to this day.

  32. George_Liquor says:

    Sort of tangentially related: A few old Linux distros would let you play Tetris while they were installing, presumably to demonstrate the awesome power of the mighty Linux OS.

  33. Goon Diapers says:

    I spent more time in the casino in Dragon Warrior IV than I did actually fighting monsters.

    • Everlasting_Godstabber says:

      Trying to put together one good string of double-or-nothings at the poker table

  34. Craig says:

    There was the arcade game in Jet Force Gemini that was basically a stripped down version of Super Off-Road. 

  35. ItsTheShadsy says:

    One that comes to mind is a really interesting five-person variant of rock-paper-scissors from Myst Online in which you have to win three separate rounds with the same move. The twist is that it would become obvious which moves each player had to make in order to win, so it turned into a mind game in which you had to predict several layers of strategy. For something as silly as rock-paper-scissors, matches got awfully heated and could last a really long time.

    The biggest shame of Myst Online petering out is, honestly, that I’ll probably never get to play that again.

  36. DonE says:

    No Boxcelios? I am disappoint.

  37. Basement Boy says:

    The only thing I could think of was “Double Fanucci” from the Zork series… and I don’t remember actually “playing” it, per se…

  38. Milly Thomas says:

    I rule at blitzball.  This is how i know that i am bad at video games.

  39. mad says:

    Triple Triad is terrific. So addictive that I ended up staying up all night numerous times just playing it instead of the game itself (great cue music, too).

    Remarkable that after getting it so right they would come upwith the mediocrity that was Tetra Master.

  40. Andy Lopez says:

    No love for Shenmue? Playing Space Harrier til the arcade closed was the best. 

  41. Cloks says:

    There were, I think, five different arcade games inside of Bully and the reward for beating all of them was that you could play them for “free” without spending virtual quarters. They sucked, but damned if I didn’t master them.

  42. Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

    Instantly thought of that beetle shooty game from Super Mario RPG. Looks like no one has mentioned it yet too. So uh, there.

    • Max M says:

       I swear to god, I started playing SMRPG for the first time in years this week, and bought Beetlemania from that grumpy kid last night.

  43. Dikachu says:

    The “My Blaster Runs Hot” game in Ratchet & Clank Future: Crack in Time was pretty cool too… but horrendously difficult, just like old-school arcade games should be.

  44. No mention of Stooge Fighter, eh?  Actually…despite the “oh, a wise guy?” move, that got old real fast.

  45. Fun article, but did you guys actually play the Fable II games? Fortune’s Tower is nothing like Solitaire. It’s actually a version of Press Your Luck, and it’s a super-intense betting game. Totally addicting.

  46. Per Edman says:

    Perhaps this is a console list, otherwise I would have loved to see the games built into System Shock 2. “Overworld Zero” is a pared-down Phantasy III clone that I naturally had to beat. 

  47. MrBounce says:

    I was really hoping for Day of the Tentacle to be included on this list! It actually had the full version of the original Maniac Mansion included that you could play from a PC in one of the characters rooms. My first experience of a game within a game, and this was back in ’93 or so…