4 Games I Totally Didn’t ‘Get’ But Then Fell In Love With

4 Games I Totally Didn’t ‘Get’ But Then Fell In Love With

Sometimes it just takes a single frame. Some games are just designed like that. The first time I pulled off a Dragon Punch in Street Fighter II at 10 years old I knew it was something. That it meant something. I knew Street Fighter II was an important video game. I knew I’d be obsessed with it for the foreseeable future.

The Secret of Monkey Island was like that for me. Golden Axe. Mario 64: I ran in tight concentric circles for 15 minutes. I hadn’t even pushed the jump button. I knew I was in love.

But sometimes video games don’t really feel right; not to begin with at least. They have a different set of rules, they’re inaccessible. Sometimes it takes a while to understand precisely what it is that sets it apart, what the fuss is all about.

These are the five video games I totally didn’t get at first and how I learned to love them.

Dark Souls

Why I didn’t ‘get’ it…

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first!

Unless you were a player well versed in the debased, unabashed brutality of Demons Souls, you most likely approached Dark Souls with the same level of trepidation as me. You’d heard the praise for Demons Souls, you’d read the glowing reviews for its spiritual sequel, you’d bought the game. You thought to yourself, what fresh hell is this?

Where are my different attacks? Shouldn’t a game like this have a combo system? What the hell is going on here? Why isn’t there even a semblance of a tutorial. Will somebody please, please help me.

All this before you died a dozen times on the first boss.

Dark Souls is unique, obviously. It’s unique in its pacing, unique in its controls, unique in its depth — but it’s a depth that doesn’t become apparent until hours into the experience. In fact, to begin with Dark Souls feels ludicrously shallow. There are limited attack options, limited ways in which to approach enemies, and it all feels so unfair. Not unforgiving (that realisation comes much later) just unfair.

How I ‘got’ it

The reason most of us persisted with Dark Souls was the praise of others. There’s always encouragement because we all understand there is that point, that point where the reward outweighs the overwhelming punishment. The beauty of Dark Souls is that it is a system that can be learned and mastered and, when you do, it feels glorious to navigate. You will always feel weak, you will always feel powerless, but you have the potential to move beyond that.

Every time a new player begins Dark Souls and mentions it on Twitter, or on Kotaku, I watch with interest. When they die endlessly and talk about giving up, I encourage them to keep on. There’s no real moment of clarity in Dark Souls, no moment when it all clicks into place, but there is a point where the journey becomes more important than the destination, the struggle becomes more rewarding than the actual reward. I think that’s the moment when we all ‘get’ Dark Souls.

For me that was the Taurus Demon, the first truly difficult boss battle. It was the satisfaction of defeating an enemy that initially seemed completely impossible, the process of acquiring a skill and then utilising it. That set the tone for the entirety of Dark Souls for me and there was no going back.

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty

Why I didn’t ‘get’ it…

I didn’t play the first Metal Gear Solid, so I had no understanding or concept of what to expect when my brother came home from work one day with a shrink-wrapped copy of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty.

I was instantly bewildered.

The controls were stupidly complex. There were design decisions that, at that point in time, just felt unbelievably and needlessly protracted. Digit gymnastics were required to simply fire a weapon at an enemy. I remember feeling acutely shocked at how difficult it was to do anything with any semblance of grace. Raiden was about reliable as a marionette with loose strings. He simply would not do what it was I wanted him to do.
And every mistake I made was followed by an alerted guard. I was getting spotted and killed each and every time. What the hell?

I haven’t even gotten started on the endless cut-scenes and codec conversations.

How I got it…

Pure persistence.

I think the thing almost all of the games on this list have in common is depth. The second thing is a complete stubborn need to invent their own rules and not give a singular shit about your struggles in the beginning. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons Of Liberty is no exception to this rule.

You have to learn to play Metal Gear Solid because Metal Gear Solid doesn’t play like any other game on the market. In fact, it completely goes out of its way to do things differently, to force you to learn an entire new system of controls just for the hell of it. As frustrating as this is, I wish more games had the balls to pull the same magic trick.

Because mastering Metal Gear Solid 2 gave me access to a completely self contained world and gave me more control over my protagonist than any other game I had played up until that point. Metal Gear Solid 2, on my first playthrough, was a complete chore. On my second? And third? It was a glorious opportunity to perform, to prod and poke at this endlessly deep environment with the new set of skills I had just learned. Mastery of Metal Gear Solid allows for brilliance, it allows for subtlety. It’s a majestic thing, and I wish more people would take the time to master it.

Grand Theft Auto III

Why I didn’t get it…

In hindsight, I have no idea. I had played and loved the original Grand Theft Auto on PC. I absolutely loved it. But when my I first played Grand Theft Auto III on the PlayStation 2 I kept asking myself, ‘is this it?’

Drive around. Shoot people. Drive some more. Shoot more people. I remember thinking it all looked a bit shabby. The controls were clunky. I didn’t understand.

My brother on the other hand was losing. His. Mind. He couldn’t stop playing. He spent hours just creating as much carnage as he could and then trying to survive for as long as possible before the cops got him. I thought to myself, ‘there has to be more to it than this. Is this it? Is this what gaming is now?’

I was asking myself all these dumb questions as my brother and all his friends were passing the controller around, giggling in glee.
It just all felt a bit hollow to me at the time: I didn’t understand the purpose of the game. What was the end goal here? What was the adventure? What were my characters motivations, what made him tick? The world of Grand Theft Auto III felt absolutely dead without these things.

How I got it…

I don’t know if I ever did.

It took the more focused Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to really make me understand what Grand Theft Auto, as we now know it, could be. It was a game with a focused theme, with characters, with a sense of purpose. Grand Theft Auto III felt like a flat flavourless concoction but Vice City was the prototype: a proper entertainment extravaganza.

Grand Theft Auto felt like a prototype compared to Vice City and, in a sense, it was Vice City that made me understand the game that came before it.

Metroid Prime

Why I didn’t ‘get’ it…

Why would anyone ‘get’ Metroid Prime at first? It deliberately takes every expectation you could possibly have accumulated about how it might look, feel or play, and then subverts them in the most frustrating way possible. Metroid Prime is a genuine troll.

A Super Metroid fan? Fuck you. You’re getting a game that looks like a first person shooter.

Play first person shooters? Fuck you. You’re getting a game that looks like a first person shooter but plays nothing like a first person shooter.

Metroid Prime plays like no other game that came before it. And no other game has played or felt like Metroid Prime since. Metroid Prime is an abomination, a weird mutation that blasted forth like a glorious bottle rocket and then settled, never to be seen again.

And I thought it was so stupid. At first.

I thought it made zero sense. At first.

Why be so deliberately obtuse? Why not make some sort of concession to our expectations? Why not create a game that draws you in, instead of pushing you away. Metroid Prime just doesn’t give a single shit about your expectations, it’s as stubborn as they come. Metroid Prime is take it or leave it. I know so many people who left it, but Metroid Prime couldn’t care less.

That’s the beauty of it, but it took a while to get that fact through my thick skull.

How I ‘got’ it…

I ‘got’ Metroid Prime by playing it, exclusively, to the detriment of all other games. Since Metroid Prime feels like it was built in a cocoon, the best way to play it is in a cocoon.

I was lucky. At the time in my life when I played Metroid Prime, I had no other games to play. I had no other choice essentially. I played, I unlearned everything I had learned and slowly but surely it all began to make sense.

The scanning, the lack of a strafe, the shooting mechanics, the exploration. At one point it just all clicked. Metroid Prime had unique controls because it was a unique video game. Metroid Prime was not a first person shooter, it was something else entirely. It was a game played in the first person (sometimes) but it was a multi-faceted exploration simulator that required something a little more sophisticated than the controls we knew by heart. 10 hours in you found yourself wondering: how could I have played this any other way?

Maybe it was a magic trick. Maybe, by playing Metroid Prime exclusively, I simply convinced myself that its unique control system made sense. But, regardless, after three or four hours the clumsiness slipped away and I was able to simply enjoy what would become one of my favourite gaming experiences of all time.


  • I thought the whole idea of the first MGS was stupid until I played the demo. Then I couldn’t stop playing the demo. Then when I bought it the bus was late, so screw public transport I can walk several miles while reading the manual and trying not to get taken out by cars on main roads.

    I’d say the game I’ve done this the most with though was Borderlands. When I first played it on my own, the guns didn’t seem like having any weight behind it, I didn’t pay too much attention to the characters and it just felt like your average shooter in cell painted clothes. Then I played it in co-op and, well, bugger me if it isn’t some of the best fun you can have in your living room

  • Guitar Hero 3 was a game I didn’t get the appeal of to begin with. My friends owned it and played it and my impression was “it’s a crappy plastic guitar with buttons on it, why?”
    Then I played it a bit, and a bit more and before long I was 5 starring expert songs and nobody would play against me. I realised 2 things from playing GH games. I am smug when I am good at things and I like rhythm games.

    • Haha, this is pretty much true for me too. Although my first experience with GH was on a setup in a Dick Smith store, and the controller had been set to “lefty” without me knowing, so all the colours were backwards. Kinda soured my impressions a bit, and I just said “screw this I’m going back to Donkey Konga” 😛

      • evening of the wrath of the lich king launch I convinced the EB Games staff in Launceston to set up 4man GH World Tour on their display TV and then played for about an hour with the staff leading up to midnight, pulled quite a crowd with lots of “that drummer is awesome” and “how do his fingers move so fast” etc.

  • Your Metroid Prime experience reminds me of my Mega Man Legends experience. I was so frustrated at the game for not being Mega Man, and then I played it until my eyes bled. Although I’ll say Legends was way further from traditional Mega Man than Prime was from traditional Metroid. Metroid Prime manages to stay true to the spirit of the originals once you break through the engine, where Mega Man Legends was more like Super Mario Bros 2, a great game with familiar characters inserted.

  • What really threw me with Dark Souls was that the game plays like you’re expected to crawl defensively through the levels, but really the best strategy is to go on the offensive and just run in there (places with ledges, excluded). I loved this game, but I think a lot of its perceived difficulty is people literally playing the game wrong (and its the game’s fault).

    • I think the big thing is that both methods work.
      Some people like the rush in and that works for them but i also have friends who a firm defenders of the shield up always and poke them with your spear.
      But you are right in that some times the best thing to do is just charge in. Love my clubs jump 🙂

      • Yeah, there’s a big * here because it really depends on the area/enemies. And hey, you can run with your shield up. 😉

        • A big part of it for me was that i co-op’ed through the game with a friend and that changes things dramatically. Everything required a different tactic to navigate through and bosses while still very challenging were engaged in a different manner.

  • I still feel the same way as Mark did about 3D GTA. Absolutely loved 2 and Chinatown Wars, but haven’t really liked any of the 3D ones. They all just feel clunky and bleh. I’ve only played them briefly at friends’ places, but I don’t really feel at all inclined to get the games myself and give them a proper go.

      • The only thing I didn’t like about it was it felt like it took a couple of steps back from what you could do in GTA2. Eg when walking around the city, you could see all these ramps and paths up to the tops of buildings, so you’d follow them around to try and find the start so you could get up there… only to find the thing gated off, and that all those extra parts are just for show. I think I also missed the inclusion of a train to ride around the city.

      • i never understood all the reviews saying it was a poor excuse for GTA. It was the original, honed to a razor.

        It was brilliant.

    • For me, it was Saint’s Row, Gooky. Loved the first 2 GTAs. I saw my mate playing the first Saint’s Row and he described it as a “GTA Clone”. I didn’t play much of it. 2 was the same.
      I ended up getting The Third from a package on Steam at the start of the year (X-Com, SR:IV and Max Payne 3). Installed SR:IV and played for an hour…then thought about how much bandwidth I’d lost downloading it.
      About two months ago, I played it again. And…something clicked. The overtly and overly stupid story, the over-the-top carnage and hilariousness in everything you do…it became a base jumping game, then a barrel roll game, then an assassination game…
      Then I went and got GTA IV and it had all clicked for me somehow. I think I just became tuned to how these games were meant to be played. Some genres click straight away (Never let me near Civilization, right? NEVER! MY LIFE WILL BE RUINED) others it just takes the right experience at the right time…

  • Shadow of the Colossus.

    First time I played it, I felt like there was nothing to it, until I came back to it at a later date and realized the lack of elaboration is what makes that game fucking genius.

    It’s hard to explain, but through its minimalism, the game becomes a product of both Ueda’s imagination and your own. Now, it’s my favourite game of all time, hands down.

  • I bought MGS2 shortly after getting a 360 and the combination of akward controls and losing interest in the PS2 left it neglected.

    The trailers for TTP revived my interest and i recently rebought the game on XBLA. This time I gave it,a good go and really played with the systems – also i started and finished the Tanker prologue – something id always inexplicably managed to skip on the PS2

  • I never did get MGS2 or MGS3. I played them both on super easy difficulty just for the story, but I got super pissed off at the control scheme, which, especially on PS Vita, I thought was a hot mess. And they don’t explain the controls to you apart from haphazardly. The manual is useless, and I had to resort to searching online for the Vita control scheme. Stuff that for a joke!

  • Maybe I should try Dark Souls.

    I quit on Demon’s Souls not due to difficulty but due to bugs and exploits and God awful controls that seemed to be designed to ensure you sometimes randomly fell off a ledge and died in a place you couldn’t recover the goods from. Fake difficulty rather than real difficulty.

    Did Dark Souls fix that?

    • Its quite a bit better, still not a perfect system but I felt it was far in advance of the controls in Demons. Then again that might also be because I switched platform & instead of using a PS3 controller which was way too small for my hands, I was using a 360 controller which was just a little bit too small for my hands.

  • Oh. Majora’s Mask!

    The first time I played through it, it just felt like a weird and not-as-good, smaller copy of Ocarina of Time. But then as I’d come back to it, I grew to love it more and more and now I see it as the superior. Would absolutely love to see a total ground-up HD remake of it (ie none of this “oh we kept the same old sounds as the 64 lol” business).

  • Metroid Prime I didn’t get until Metroid Prime 2.
    The first just failed to draw me in, the second got there, then I went back and played through (and loved) the first, then the 3rd came out which control wise was amazing, but story wise a bit less so.
    I went and bought the trilogy set on Wii, and promptly lost the disc. Something that pains me to this day.

  • I don’t know if it was because it was my first proper FPS (though I’m pretty I had played at least Quake or Doom before it), but I never had an issue with Metroid Prime, it just clicked with me from the start.

    It surprises me that no one has attempted to make another First Person Metroidvania, did everyone just get scared off by how well made Metroid Prime was?

  • I understand the Metroid example. I was exactly the same, with one caveat – the potential depth revealed itself before I “got” the control scheme. I remember being frustrated with having to hold the R trigger to look up and down, thinking “this game is leagues behind Timsplitters”. Then I scanned a computer which told me that toxin levels were too high in a generator – or something – and I fell in love with the world. I had no reason to know that. It wasn’t useful information. It was just there.
    It made me wonder, “what else is there?” That question sustained the initial control hump. I don’t remember when the controls became magical and intuitive, but it happened. There was a dialog between my thumbs and the gameplay, with the Cube controller as a perfect, wordless translator. The game’s now in my top five.

  • I don’t feel I truly ‘got’ dark souls until it was too late. I had already completed NG++ before I realised… I should have gone into the game totally cold. Not read about the lore beforehand, not looking up strats for every boss.

    When dark souls 2 comes around I will deliberately shut myself off from hints and reveals, I will go in with no information, and get repeatedly destroyed and bewildered. I think that will be awesome, having to actually tame and understand the world myself, without help.

  • After using Wii controls for the Metroid Prime Trilogy, there’s really no going back.
    When the first game came out I had ENORMOUS expectations (Super Metroid is like, my favourite game of all time) as well as ENORMOUS trepidation (I generally don’t like first-person shooters..)
    Amazingly, I just jumped straight into it and it all clicked for me. Never had any issues with the controls.

  • One of my favourite things these past few years has been steadily growing a base of friends who are completely absorbed by what Dark Souls has to offer. It usually goes a little like:
    1. “Hmm. OK, this actually feels good.”
    2. “F*** I’m dead again.”
    3. Incremental progress.
    4. Boss fight/skill wall.
    5. “Oh! NOW I get that thing! Let me try again.”
    6. “Wait, you mean I can build this character however I want?”
    7. Restart in a different class.
    8. 5am phonecall: “I just beat Ornstein & Smough and I feel like a motherf***ing demigod.”
    9. They learn that invading/assisting exists. “This is probably the single greatest game I have ever played.”
    10. Weeks of intricate discussion and tip trading.
    11. Begin campaign to convert others.

  • It took a while for Operation Flashpoint to click for me. When they released the demo I must have ragequit a dozen times when I got one shot killed by an enemy I never saw. I always kept going back because the promise of the game was something completely different and once the game clicked, I realised it had the potential to be one of the best games I’d ever played. Damn was I right on that count. The most impressive thing was that this all happened before the game came out, modders cracked open the demo files and were making new equipment and missions giving the rather limited demo far more life than many commercial games.

    For some reason I’m just as excited about the release of Arma3 this week, no idea why really since I’ve been playing it for months after buying the alpha but its cool to think of other people having their first experience with such an ambitious type of game. (Might be the last day for people to get it $15 cheaper than retail price if anyone is on the fence)

    Dark Souls was another game that took a while to click. I enjoyed Demon’s but got out of it through a combination of frustration, tiny controller and being distracted by other games. I got Dark on 360 hoping that the niggling issues had been ironed out and that the bigger controller would be more comfy. Much like a lot of people I found it impenetrably hard at first, ragequit a few times but kept coming back, I stopped trying to work out the counterattack for a while and focussed on workmanlike tactics which let me progress bit by bit, I got to the Taurus demon and after a few dozen deaths and countless souls lost I finally killed the bastard and realised that the game had finally grabbed me. Then when wandering in a post-victory haze, I met Havel The Rock who turned me into paste.

  • Knights Of The Old Republic.
    I saw a video of it, and assuming the nicely animated combat was real-time like an action game I didn’t hesitate to get it. I was surprised and disappointed with the passive real-time rpg combat. Played for a few hours straight, trying to ‘get it’. Think I got up to entering the sewers on the first planet. Never thought I’d come back to it. I did about 3 months later, just by chance. And for whatever reason getting off that first planet and the momentum of the the story just hooked me and I played it constantly until it was over.

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