What Makes an ULTRA Game?

What are the determinant factors that trend on the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis?  

I believe there are two main factors.  Is the game entertaining?  Games are entertainment after all.  Does the game provide a good gameplay loop?  How does it handle design and difficulty curve?  Does it provide more artificial difficulty or natural difficulty?  How is the game feel?  Is it just fun to play?  Is it just…fun?

Games that have a greater focus on entertainment are things like DOOM, Dungeon Siege, Megaman 2, Star Fox 64, and Super Mario Bros.  The stories are not really a huuuge part of the game. The story is a platform for the action to take place.  There’s nothing wrong with a game that focuses just on the fun!  You don’t need to be a tea-sipping fancypants to know good games.

The other factor is whether or not it is inspirational.  Do they have good stories and characters?  Is the world built and designed well?  How well is the player’s emotion directed?  What innovations are there?  These are games like Final Fantasy VI, What Remains of Edith Finch, Baldur’s Gate, Genshin Impact’s character arc quests, and Psychonauts.  Characters don’t need to be super deep.  They can just be fun, have great synergies, or present the world in a way that makes you think about life.  Stories don’t need to be entirely plothole clean.  You gotta use your imagination too!  

I am a little biased because I tend to lean towards more story-telling, world-building, inspirational games.  That’s just who I am, but all gamers are different!  And that’s okay!  There’s also a third mini-factor that I also recognize: the history and context of the game.  What did the developers have to go through to make this?  What was development culture like?  How have they approached this game in the franchise as compared to the past?  What artifacts and history lie beyond the game?  Game history is important.  I love art history, and I think video game history is just as important.

Something that I’ve noticed as we get near the top of the ULTRA is that the games start to converge on both ideas of entertainment and inspiration.  The top ones are usually brilliant at being both.  These are things like Dishonored 2, Celeste, Bioshock, Guild Wars 2, Starcraft, and Hollow Knight.  

I think video games can be such an inspiration and entertaining thing at the same time.  I feel the same for films.  Artistic vision backed up with great cinematography makes amazing films.

I just wanted to let you have a little more insight into the way that video games are seen in my mind.  Although I’d like to believe I have a lot of insight on video games, as it has been a focus and study of my life, this list is definitely not going to be 100% solid for other people.  That’s why we like different games. 

What are some foci that represent what you like in a game?  
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time! 

– Elise

Why I Love: Mega Man 2

Mega Struggle

…Why do I love Mega Man 2?  I looked back on this as it is number 130 on my loose list.  If you look at Mega Man 2, it has a lot of unnaturally rising difficulties.  Sometimes, you can’t even call it rising difficulty because it’s just straight up hard from the very beginning.  A few things are not very respectful of your time either.  I mean, I am very grateful for the E-cans and codes, because in Mega Man 1 you had neither of them.  If you died trying to figure out a level or a boss, you are also expending your time.  Now Elise, you mean you got experience right?  Yes, but we get literally nothing but that, and it’s difficult to find the game respectful of your time when it throws all that out the window because you had to try and figure out something that wants specific solutions.  Or glitchy ones.

So why do I even like this game?  Your top tier platformer gamers will be fine, but I would say the average gamer would have a hard time with game, this series even. So why do we like this kind of game that punishes us so severely for trying to figure out a design the developers do not explain?  Isn’t it partly the responsibility of the designer to make sure cheap shots like this don’t happen?  

Why do we like being punished so much!?  It’s not that we like being punished.  It is that we like climbing something rather difficult.  Although I personally DO enjoy the struggle of climbing a mountain, sometimes it is difficult to see that in game design.  The difficulty of designing a game like Mega Man 2 is that you are risking the retention of your player.  There are moments in this game where you may drop on one-hit kill spikes because you do not have insanely fast reaction times that are not normal for a human being.  UNLESS.  Unless you die to find out first.  Which again, is you spending your time to pay for something that blindsided you.

I guess we want the fight.  We want the fight of knowing that the designer is against us.  It is those games that have enough design in them to not push us over the edge.  Or games where the punishment is the sole deliberation of the designers in games like I Wanna Be the Guy.  They make it pretty obvious in that game that it is being unfair on purpose because that’s the point.  That game is a game where designs don’t matter as much.  The game will blindside you at almost every turn and in the end, the skill is some platforming, but it is mostly you remembering where the enemy will come from.

But Mega Man 2 is still on my top list.  I mean, this is the tops list.  It is some people’s favorite game ever.  Maybe it’s the exception that this game is old.  OR MAYBE.  Maybe it is mercy.

I mean, graphics act a little smoother.  The soundtrack is even better than the last one.  Lot’s of things are great.  But I think it is the added level of mercy in the game that makes it even better.  The game doesn’t reconcile with you by making the game easier than the last one.  It is still brutal, but there are always moments of mercy.  A tiny bit of health here.  A tiny bit of ammo there.  E-cans that fill your life to full can be used in times of desperation.

Climbing up a mountain without food or supplies is incredibly difficult, but so is climbing the mountain with supplies.  The difference is one is survival and feels unfair, and the other is a challenge.  That is what makes Mega Man so fun.  That is what makes Dark Souls so fun.  They crush us, give us some water, and then send us out to be crushed again.  Because of the bits of mercy here and there, it still feels like a game.  It still feels like a challenge, and just like a challenge, when we overcome it we look back and say, “Wow.  I made it.  I really did it,” and not, “Ugh, I’m finally done with that. Let’s get out of here.”

Ironically, the artificial difficulty in these games is balanced by the complete opposite of what these games feel like: sanctuary.  And I guess that’s why I love Mega Man 2 so much.  Also the soundtrack.  Listen to that thing if you can.  I love it.  I mean, play the game if you can as well.  The collection is available on Steam.  

This is the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis, and this was Mega Man 2 at number 130.  I’ll see you next time!

Why I Love: The Stanley Parable

You Read This Article

Okay, how do I say this?  I guess I could just say it like this: The Stanley Parable is a first person adventure game, and I very, VERY, highly suggest you play it before you read this article.


You can go grab it here, where it is, as of this article, at $15 USD base price.  You’ll want to play it multiple times.  There is also a demo available on the page, if you want to do that.

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So, this game is one of those games that really reaches out as to what a video game can be like.  It does this without trying too hard.  There are games that want to have such a unique idea that they find one, but then they keep pushing it to the point where it is not really a good game.  Or they keep trying to shove new ideas in until the game is a mess.  It’s okay to have a lot of cool ideas in your game, but don’t force it.  It has to fit.

The Stanley Parable does not do that.  This is a game where you play as a man named Stanley.  Stanley works in an office, and one day his computer screen does not show its usual display and so Stanley must look for his higher ups to find out what’s going on.

However, what makes this game unique is that there is a narrator telling you what to do.  Now obviously you are Stanley, and you as the player are free to do what you wish.  That disjointed collaboration between you and the narrator is what makes this game so special.  Let me emphasize this as well: this does not just make it unique, it makes it fun as well.

A lot of games trying to be unique tend to leave behind the fact that games are meant to be fun or perhaps inspiring in some way, whether that is artistically or philosophically.  The experience that is played on in skits by comedy groups becomes something you get to play!  You decide whether or not you want to follow the narrative.  It also really helps that the narrator’s voice actor is absolutely wonderful.

This game sits at number 131 of the Ultra Loosely Thought Ranked Analysis.  

I mean, that’s it really.  This whole game revolves around this interaction with the narrator and I cannot say much more.  If the silliness of this premise is not intriguing, then maybe this isn’t the game for you.  However, as a game and experience I think it is something most people should play to see what it’s all about.  Play the demo at least.  It’s not my choice to make.  I’m just saying things.  It’s up to you.  In a way, we’re already playing the game right now, because I am telling you what to do, and you don’t have to do it.  For once in a video game, you don’t have to do what it says.


So…  what do you choose?

Why I Love: Metroid

Vania Begins

I would say I really started playing video games with the SNES and early PC games like DOOM.  I never really got into what Metroid was until Metroid Prime, and even more so with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.  It wasn’t until after that I actually went back and played Metroid on the NES.  During that time I took a step back to play other NES games as well and, I have to say, I missed a lot of good stuff.

Before Metroidvania games became more commonplace as it is today, I didn’t…play any.  I played Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, but only for like ten minutes.  So that doesn’t count.  Metroid and Castlevania are the main ancestors of the genre, and that is why we are here today.  I wanted to know what this genre was really about.  And it is about a guided open world. 

Metroid is a game with a large, 2D world to traverse.  You play as Samus Aran, the bounty hunter, who is sent by the Galactic Federation to stop evil people from creating a bioweapon using metroids, those jellyfish looking things you see in relation to the series.  The main thing about exploring the planet Zebes is that you cannot explore all of it at once.  There are always limitations, some ability, some knowledge, or some event that prevents you from exploring everything, and that is the biggest thing about metroidvanias that make them the genre they are.

Different items like suits or weapons open new places where you’re allowed to go, and they also open new locations in old spots.  In a sense, every time you get something new, you unlock content for what’s ahead, as well as everything you’ve done in the past as well.  I think that is one of the big appeals for the genre.  Your character’s growth is shown by what you’re allowed to explore.  You genuinely feel stronger and better.  This isn’t because it’s the only thing placed in front of you either.  It’s not like, “Hey, with this ice pick, you can now climb ice walls,” and then they place an ice wall like, in the next room.  It is more like getting an ice pick and recognizing the fact I can go all the back to the beginning because it’s one huge level.  All those ice walls I saw before are now applicable.  (Ice Pick is not an item in the game.)

This means there are only so many things you can do before you’re forced to move on or to discover the next thing for advancing the story.  This is the genius thing about metroidvania games, and in this case Metroid.  You do have a choice to do what you want, but the game can still guide you to progression.  If you feel too weak, you’re not going to go grind.  You are going to go and explore.  The replacement of redundant grinding with exploration is what makes metroidvania games so satisfying.  If you are those of the adventurous nature and would do this regardless of your character’s strength, then your exploring will be rewarded!  So there is a good funneling of gameplay loops for either situation. 

This does create an issue of backtracking, and each game and gamer has their own way of handling that.  It’s a matter of shortcuts, transports, or fast traveling.  Sometimes it’s up to you to decide when to go backtrack as well.

Proper gameplay loops should be fun or rewarding in all parts of the loop and I think Metroid does a wonderful job at that.  Being an awesome bounty hunter woman is definitely a plus as well.

Metroid is at number 132 on the ULTRA.  Things have shifted around the ULTRA since we last wrote anything.  That is my fault, because we haven’t…written much.  Thank you for reading this though!  We’ll see you next time!

Why I Love: Iji

Rise of Indie

I’m going to skip a bunch of games to talk about this game, and then we’ll head back up to where we were before.

I grew up playing indie games.  I remember playing Jumper and Jumper 2 by what is now Matt Makes Games.  I remember scouring the internet for Mario-clones and playing bullet hell games like rRootage and Tumiki fighters.  I remember being hyped for Jumper: Redux because it had multiplayer.  I was curious how big indie games were going to get.  Well, as we know now, they’re everywhere, but I really feel like there was that second surge of indies that, for me, started with An Untitled Story (also Matt Makes Games) and Iji.

Iji is a free, side-scrolling shooter made by Daniel Remar.  The protagonist Iji is a young woman on Earth where an alien invasion is taking place.  She is turned into a cyborg to give humanity a fighting chance against the aliens.  However, as you go through the game you learn more about the aliens.  You decide how to approach the invasion.  It’s up to you to bring peace or death.

Iji proved so many things to the indie world.  It proved there were great stories and lore in indie games.  It also showed a great system with the level up of skills that affects the way that you play through the game.  You can choose between two different weapon technologies (or really, both if you want).  There are exciting secrets that you can find if you were cheeky enough.  And, there is also a bit of a “choices matter” element to it as well.

I also love that it is kind of a balance between classic side-scrolling shooter and metroidvania.  Your choices for your skills can determine if you can reach specific places.  Hm.  I guess that is just like a normal game these days like Dishonored or something, but still.  It’s really well done.  I’ve never had problems with glitches.  It’s fun discovering different weapons and enemies.  The world felt very new because this deep world wasn’t as common in the indie world back then.

Let’s be honest, a lot of indie games back in the days didn’t have super amazing graphics.  I think that never having the most amazing computer until later in my life taught me that graphics don’t matter that much.  They are always icing on the cake, and a cake without icing can be very delicious.  Having the option of icing and what you can do with it has the potential of deliciousness though.  

Indie games and growing up with games on the SNES also taught me one more thing: how graphics can represent things.  These days graphics try to be real.  They try to literally be the thing that they are supposed to be, but back in the days you had to create a representation.  The graphics had to make you feel like it was the thing without completely looking like it.  And limited graphics really weeds out those who can’t do it.  Iji does whatever it needs to make it feel like what it needs to show.  I don’t need perfectly detailed Tasen aliens to know what they look like, because Daniel already got the feeling down and that is a beautiful thing.

Also, the music.  The music is amazing.  The entire soundtrack is so strong.  The very first sector’s song, Kinda Green, nails that perfect feeling of waking up in a changed world with changed abilities.  The beginning is soft, with a repeating background and a soft melody.  After two minutes, the music kicks it up with an electric guitar, but it’s still not too intense.  It’s still a slower melody.  The music feels just as apprehensive as Iji’s attempt to approach this new life, but she’s now on her feet and she knows she has to move on.  The soundtrack’s increasing intensity keeps up with Iji’s emotional ride as she has to go through the story and as you go through the game.

The sounds are all fantastic as well.  The different weapons and their crazy effects feel bright and new.  The small particles of debris and rockets flying around.  Every sound just brings more environment to what is now Earth under fire.  I also absolutely love the short lines Iji says as well.  It helps her feel alive, human, and malleable.

Iji is #55 on the ULTRA list.  There are a few indie games that are higher on the list, but Iji is such an amazing game I still recommend to anyone looking for something to play.  I am a very emotional person, and so stories and characters are always a strong point for me.  I also loved that the protagonist is a female who isn’t sexualized or has some sort of romance.  She just is.  

Iji is also very high on the list because I feel like it opened so many doors to understanding video games and that is very important to me.  It accomplished so much and did so much for me as a gamer and I can only show thanks for it.  Just like with films, I feel like the ones that help us become better people or better at understanding people tend to resonate the most with me, and Iji has done that.


If you want to play iji go to Remar’s site here!

We’ll see you next time on ULTRA!