The noble pursuit of the high score has only recently become something which interested me. Being primarily a console gamer throughout most of my childhood and then moving on to PC gaming for my teens meant that I never really exposed myself to the competitive high score culture of arcades. It’s a culture which had been all but killed off by the Playstation era, which made a conscious choice to create longer, more involving experiences.
These are some of the most memorable games of the Playstation era, classics like Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid and Castlevania Symphony Of The Night. Slowly but surely, high scores and the supreme acts of skill required to obtain them had been getting squeezed out of modern gaming, which moved closer and closer to Hollywood films in their pursuit of cinematic style and bombastic action.
However, the current generation of consoles, along with their digital download services, created the perfect arena for the return of concentrated skill-based experiences and has exposed me to the joy of focusing my energy on not just beating a game, but mastering it. High score culture has returned, and is in many ways better than it was in the arcade. Now you always have someone slightly better than yourself to conquer on the leaderboards. They’re permanent too, so if you make your way right to the top, your name’s going to stay there until someone bests you. Your record of dominance and skill will be there for all to see, unlike in the arcades when it would simply get wiped at the end of the day when the machine was turned off for the night,
So, if you get the urge for a bit of leaderboard conquest, where should you turn your attention? The return of score-chasing has led to some fantastic ideas in recent years, including several interesting takes on previously familiar genres. Here’s ten of what I feel are the best examples of score chasing for the current generation of gaming. Make sure you click the game titles to check out their trailers!
Foul mouthed, violent FPS antics from the folks that created Painkiller. Bulletstorm’s skillshots mechanic dominates the way you play the game, encouraging the player to focus on point scoring opportunities and killing your enemies in creatively painful ways throughout the game’s lengthy campaign. Big-budget score chasing produced by the creators of Gears of War? Yes please!
Hypnotic, frenzied and beautiful Robotron-style shooting action from one of the greatest advocates of leaderboard gaming, the sadly defunct Bizarre Creations. This gorgeous slice of retro arcade bliss originated from an easter egg you could find in your car garage in Project Gotham 2, another fantastic score chasing game itself. One of the purest arcade experiences available on a console.
Phenomenal on rails shooter from legendary Japanese developer Treasure. Tailor-made for the Wii, S&P2’s combination of bullet hell projectile dodging and wii-mote blasting is that rarest of beasts – a quality third party Wii game which caters to the hardcore gamer, perfectly tailored to the Wii’s control scheme. I can’t think of a better reason for dusting off the Wii before Nintendo announces its successor next week at E3. If you play only one game on this list, make it this one.
Chaotic, adrenaline pumping car-chase action from the makers of Burnout. Hot pursuit is undoubtedly the best NFS game in… well, ever. But the main reason it’s on this list is the introduction of the utterly ingenious Autolog. This clever, elegant system compares your race results with everyone else on your friends list, turning each and every event into a high score challenge delivered to you personally each and every time you attempt a race in single player. Fearsomely addictive, this will bring the competitive streak out in everyone.
Yes, Bejeweled. What? The intense facebook version of your grandma’s favourite puzzler is as inexplicably addictive as ever, but adds the presence of regularly updated leaderboards with all of your friends’ best scores. Add in the fact that you only get a minute to play with, and before you know it you’ve completely failed to do any of that important work that was supposed to be finished an hour ago. Truly compulsive puzzling.
Another XBLA classic, the aim in Trials HD is simple – get to the end of each of the game’s tracks as quickly as you can without falling off your bike. Only problem is the explosives, deadly drops, difficult jumps, trap floors and pitfalls which mar your way. Your only tools are your bike’s momentum, speed and personal skill. Its exhilarating and infuriating in equal measures, but the presence of your friends’ times at the top of the screen will ensure you keep plugging away, trying to achieve that perfect run.
A surprisingly authentic pinball experience, PFX2 has taken up more of my time than I thought a traditional pinball game ever would. Complete with 4 tables and many more available as DLC, it’s a comprehensive pinball simulation which allows you to tweak bumper angles, launcher pressure and all sorts of other realistic pinball stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing. Best of all though, are the regular encouragements the game gives you to beat your friends’ high scores. Go on, you can do it!
Cave are the creators of some of the finest shoot-em-up (more commonly known as shmup) shooters on the market. Recently released in the UK and US, Deathsmiles is one of their more accessible titles, allowing players to choose the difficulty level of each stage before attempting to tackle it. Which is handy, since the game has a fearsomely steep difficulty curve and isn’t afraid to throw rivers of one-hit-kill bullets at the player. Like S&P2, the ultimate aim is beating it without using any continues. Good luck with this one!
As David pointed out in his review, RB3 is pretty much the ultimate music game. It’s hugely enjoyable, much slicker than it’s predecessors and is one of the first games to ever try and teach the player how to actually, uh, play an instrument. Wonderful stuff, truly. Whilst perhaps not driven by high scores quite as much as it’s predecessors, it’s still an excellent score challenge for those that are willing to take it on. Beast and the Harlot Pro Guitar on expert anyone?
One for the hardcore. And I mean really hardcore. Ikaruga is famous for two things- its hugely innovative polarity shift gameplay and being monstrously, ludicrously, bonkers-crazy hard. I mean, really. Just surviving Ikaruga is an achievement in itself, so when you download the replays of the best players and watch them chain black and white enemies throughout each of their flawless runs, you will be in awe of the seminal skill these players have.
So, plenty of choices here for achieving high score heaven, but what do you guys think? What are your favourite high score games? Have you found yourself returning to master a game where previously you wouldn’t? And, most importantly, which games have you dominated your friends list on?