Editorial: On Genre-Bending in Gaming

Lusipurr.com fanatics, I have recently been reminded of the existence of Katamari Damacy and its sequels, and as a result, found myself thinking about some of the more genre-breaking titles in gaming. This week, I would like to discuss some of the more difficult to classify titles in gaming.

One of the things that makes the Katamari games so memorable is their uniqueness; their unconventional premise and gameplay make for a gaming experience that is unlike any other game today. Pinning a genre or combination of genres down for the Katamari series is a difficult endeavor. Are they adventure games? Or perhaps action-puzzle? Regardless of their genre(s), the Katamari titles built up a cult following because of their uniqueness and because they are simply fun to play. Certainly the phenomenal music and colorful settings did not hurt, either. The entire Katamari package is strange yet rewarding, and the games have earned their cult following for good reason.

I make no apologies for that joke.
Katamari Damacy does have one genre classification: RPG, or “Roll-Playing Game”.

Genre-breaking in gaming is nothing new, however. Even older games often did not fit nicely into one or more genre classifications. For example, Pac-Man is a game that still defies conventional genre classification. Perhaps an argument could be made for Pac-Man as a sort of action game, but even this does very little to explain anything about the game. The massive success that Pac-Man achieved can in part be attributed to its uniqueness; its easy-to-learn mechanics and relatively fast-paced gameplay for its time also certainly contributed to its popularity. Pac-Man managed to work within the limits of 1980 arcade cabinet technology to create a wholly new and interesting game with widespead appeal.

flOw is an example of genre-defying gameplay that does not work as well; flOw‘s design only takes a few minutes to wear out its welcome and stop being interesting. The design of flOw is honestly too minimalistic for its own good. The game does a poor job of making its goal or even its premise clear to the player. While it is a unique game, flOw is unfortunately too experimental, too minimalistic, and too simple to have any sort of longevity or replay value.

Like flOw, Flower is a game that defies classification. While also extremely simple and minimalistic, Flower had something flOw did not: beautiful atmosphere and setting. The end result is something that is not fun in the sense that most games are fun but is instead enjoyable as a mellow experience that allows gamers to unwind and relax. The Flower experience is also aided by its shortness. If it were a longer game, then it would certainly wear out its welcome, but Flower can be played through in only about an hour or two.

Oliver will never live that quote down.
”There is no exploration in Metroid!”

There also exist several games that blend genres in ways that are interesting. These games do not defy genre classification, but instead are able to be placed in multiple genres. An example of one such game is Metroid Prime, which combines the Metroid action-platforming with a first person perspective to create an FPS-adventure hybrid. This transition from 2D platforming to 3D FPS-adventure worked especially well; Metroid Prime is a wonderful example of what 3D gaming can be.

The two Portal games also seek to create a new genre that blends FPS with another type of game, in this case puzzles. Portal is a first-person shooter, but rather than shooting enemies, the player is shooting portals at walls and floors to solve puzzles. Combining this genre-blending gameplay with the writing and carefully-crafted setting, Portal and Portal 2 became two of the most beloved titles among modern gamers. The creativity involved in the two games is extremely high. I will not say more about the two Portal titles, though, since I already reviewed both of them for the site.

Based on the games discussed this week, it seems that clever blending of genres is one way game developers can create new and interesting games for the innovation-hungry masses. Genre-blending is not always a good thing, of course; for example, Secret of Mana and Illusion of Gaia combined RPG mechanics with action gameplay and wound up failing at both genres. There are of course, many other genre-bending titles out there, like Persona 4 and Borderlands, but I only wanted to talk about titles with which I have personal experience. What are some other good (or bad) examples of genre-defying or genre-combining titles, readers? Is the meshing of genres typically a good thing, or a bad thing? Comment, dear readers, and share your thoughts!