Welcome to Gameological Q&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. If you have a brilliant question that would make a fun Q&A, send it to brilliantquestions at gameological dot com.
Good news, everyone! The question for today’s Q&A is adapted from a question we received from ProfFarnsworth. Here it is:
Games have been littering their environments with collectible knickknacks for a long time. Recently, we’ve even seen otherwise dour titles like The Last Of Us and Alan Wake fill their worlds with shiny doodads (dog tags and thermoses, respectively). What game has your favorite collectible items, and why?
When I think of meaningless collectible items that I’ve poured entirely too much of my time and frustration into snagging, I never need to look much further than “The Great Cave Offensive,” one of eight game modes in Kirby Super Star. “Cave” is an adventure much like the other Kirby games, lots of running, jumping, and eating things to steal their powers. It’s also filled with 60 special treasure chests, each containing a unique item that serves no tangible purpose. Things start off easy, with treasure chests in plain sight. Soon, you come across Nintendo in-joke items, like Mr. Saturn from Earthbound and Samus Aran’s Screw Attack ball. Eventually, reaching the chests becomes a real task. The more obscure ones present some of the more daunting challenges that the Kirby games hide away. You might need to have one power to light a candle and another to reach a switch behind a wall. Then, you have to zip up a tower in the seven seconds it takes for the candle to burn out. You can beat the game with exactly zero treasures in your collection, but you know it’s all worth it when you finally hold that Triforce above your head.
Anthony John Agnello
The Memory Vaults in Psychonauts. It’s so cool to be wandering around the psyches of characters only to stumble on thoughts that they themselves had locked away. Among my favorites are the memories of Milla Vodello, the go-go boot-wearing telepath who’s secretly in love with a fellow Psychonaut, Sasha Nein. The Vaults are rare among video game collectibles in that they add so much texture to an already great story, in addition to ticking up your game completion percentage.
When it comes to in-game collectibles, it’s pretty hard to top Assassin’s Creed II. You can’t stab 15 Renaissance-era guardsmen in the spine without stumbling over some glowing statue, treasure chest, or eagle feather. It’s the latter that became my raison d’être. At first, I just happened to randomly snag a few feathers, but before long, I found myself climbing over treacherous rooftops and leaping over sprawling cathedrals in an effort to collect more and more of the filthy, bird dander-encrusted objects. It wasn’t so much the rewards that interested me. (Collect 100 feathers and you can unlock a new weapon, a clothing item, and an achievement.) No, it was more the challenge of it. Could it be done? Just when I thought I’d found them all, there was another one, tucked away on a ledge just out of reach or perched atop a dusty wall sconce. I couldn’t get enough of those goddamn eagle feathers. Of course, my inane feather collecting quest was also a great way to take in the game’s breathtaking vistas, and the joy of climbing around and exploring your surroundings almost never got old. As an added bonus, feather-collecting in Assassins Creed II also happens to be a nice way to break up the time between courting chesty Italian countesses and stabbing papal goons.
I never chase collectibles. I’m happy whenever I find one in a game, but it’s the difference between feeling good about picking up a quarter off the street and combing a beach with a metal detector searching for more spare change. I just don’t have the time or patience to dedicate to that intense a search. The fact that I don’t actively go looking for these extras made the gnomes in Fable III perfect for me. The obnoxious animate lawn ornaments let you know when you’re getting close to their hiding places by taunting you with creative insults, which inspired me to search the area so I could shoot them and move on in peace. I didn’t wind up collecting all 50 before I got bored with the game, but I did feel good about ridding the world of those surly menaces.
Batman: Arkham Asylum one of my favorite games, and one of the reasons is its sense of focus. The sequel, Arkham City, had greater ambition and scope, but in expanding, it lost the first game’s thrilling momentum, the clear sense of urgency that drove your actions from beginning to end. Asylum even manages to make the generally useless distraction of collectibles into a clever, mood-building treat. While Batman spends most of his time beating up thugs and trying to figure out what the hell the Joker is up to, he also gets challenged by the Riddler to track down a series of puzzles, question mark trophies, and other tricks and treats. There’s a promise of a reward if you find everything, but some of the items serve as their own reward. The best of the lot: interview tapes that Batman picks up in various offices. They feature clips of the game’s villains talking to their psychiatrists. In addition to creating backstory, the tapes also exploit the depth and horror-movie spookiness of the Batman rogue’s gallery, adding urgency and suspense to an already tense situation.
Nothing says “Don’t fuck with me” better than the pelt of a mythical beast hanging off your belt. For a professional monster hunter like Geralt of Rivia, these trophies are essentially business cards: “You need giant arachnids or centuries-old transdimensional octopuses taken care of? Here, let me give you my leathery entrails.” In The Witcher 2, there are dozens of such trophies to be found. You can get them off of common swamp monsters or massively irritating harpies, or from rarer, more powerful monsters. Once they’re defeated, you just latch them to your person (only one at a time, unfortunately) and bask in the adulation and terror of passersby.
Borderlands 2 is basically Collectors: The Game. Most of your time is spent digging through piles of discarded bones (why would you ever get rid of something like that?) to maybe find a new gun that sucks. You won’t even get a chance to try it out, what with all the collecting you’ll be doing. The game offers a glut of doodads so overwhelming, they cease to be useful due to volume alone. But there was one collectible from that game that I treasured. I tracked down a secret area of the game where your enemies are characters from the game Minecraft. I assume. I’ve never played that game. But these guys had giant blockheads and dropped upgrades so I could outfit my character with a Minecraft blockhead of my own. Borderlands 2 is a first-person shooter, so you can’t even see your own character and admire the fact that they could now easily be cast in a Daft Punk video. But I played the game on the same TV with my roommate, so I was afforded the ability to make him watch me jump up and down and shout, “I’m a Minecraft!” Later I learned there is a Minecraft character named Steve. I’d like to think they named him after me.
The Simpsons: Virtual Springfield takes you on a Google Street View-like jaunt through Springfield, State Unknown. There isn’t much to do beside poke around familiar haunts like 742 Evergreen Terrace or the Kwik-E Mart and watch silly scenes play out, but there are approximately a gazillion trading cards to hunt down. While I could never manage it, apparently collecting all 75 of the character cards pointed players to a secret and now-defunct website. It’s one of those rare virtual hidey-holes that not even the Wayback Machine preserved in full. There were also special trinkets that unlocked new areas to explore, like a Stonecutter’s ring, but the game didn’t make this clear. No matter. Eight-year-old me was perfectly content circling around Krustylu Studios for the 20th time and getting lost trying to find my way back to Springfield Elementary.
I have to go with the Fallout 3 Vault Boy bobbleheads. I know this is the obvious answer, but I can’t help loving them to bits. Unlike, say, the feathers in Assassin’s Creed, which have only the most tenuous relevance to the larger game, the Fallout 3 bobbleheads practically plant a flag of the creators’ intentions. The implicit message is “Yes, this game takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you’re going to see some harrowing images, but we’re going to preserve a sense of silliness, too. That’s why the most valuable, rare items in the game are freaking bobbleheads.” I love a mix of serious and silly, as regular readers probably know already. But silliness can be so ethereal that game makers struggle to preserve it as their series age. A few of us were just chatting last week at Gameological HQ about the depressing turn the Dead Rising games appear to be taking, from gleefully wacky to—sigh—“dark and gritty.” At a moment when Fallout fans were nervous about the changes a new developer (Bethesda) might make to their beloved mythos, the bobbleheads were a bold, endearing sign that Fallout was not about to lose its sense of humor.
Red Dead Redemption perfected the art of optional collectibles by making the hunt better than the reward itself. A random encounter early in the game puts you in contact with a treasure hunter named Chi Fung. Depending on your benevolence, you can either save him from bandits or loot his corpse, but you get a treasure map either way. I love the way the developer, Rockstar, presents the handful of maps you find—all of them weathered pieces of parchment marked by hard-to-read cursive writing and rough pencil sketches that hint at the location of buried loot. The maps convey just enough information. Instead of smacking you in the face with a giant X that marks the spot, you get rough drawings of rock formations and other visual landmarks. That way, once you finally pinpoint the hidden campsite or mountaintop and dig up one of the treasures, you get a satisfying “Eureka!” moment. (It’s a Western, your exclamations of wonder are supposed to be old-timey.)