There's also this perception that minigames are just for kids. It's true that more kid-centric titles like Free Realms and Clone Wars Adventures thrive on minigames like you thrive on deep-fried butter balls, but these little diversions exist all over the place in "grownup" titles too. Holidays are a favorite time to trot them out, although there are plenty that exist year-round.
Today we're going to look at 10 creative minigames that have tickled my fancy over the year. Yes, I used the word "fancy." Whatcha gonna do about it?
Part of EverQuest's sophisticated, futuristic game design back in the day was the concept that everything, everything should take a lot of time to do. Players would have to frequently sit their characters down to regenerate their vitals, taking place over several uneventful minutes. To help alleviate the boredom, SOE created a "secret" minigame called Gems for such downtime.
Gems popped up over the game screen and resembled an older puzzle game called Columns. It wasn't the most exciting pastime, but it certainly beat watching your character sit around. The idea of using a minigame to combat dull periods of inactivity is something that we've seen in several MMOs since.
2. Star Trek Online: Duty officers
STO has plenty of minigames, such as Dabo and asteroid mining, but I've found its duty officer system to be the most interesting of the bunch. It takes the concept of time management games, such as Farmville, in which you assign a roster of officers to different (unseen) tasks and then wait for a while until the mission completes and you can rake in the rewards. It's not made up of merely mindless assignments, however; you can increase your odds by matching up officers with qualities better suited for the mission, and you can also pursue chain missions leading up to huge rewards if you're savvy enough.
I have to admit, going full-on Pokémon with World of Warcraft's vanity pets was kind of a genius idea. The obsessive collecting of these pets has been going on since the game's launch, and players had been dying to do something with them other than watch them putter around after their characters.
So now we have players enslaving innocent creatures and forcing them to fight other innocents to the death. Then we tell kids that dog fighting in the real world is a cruel sport. But it's not a double standard if you're leveling up!
4. Guild Wars 2: Bell choir ensemble
So far, Guild Wars 2 has come up with an impressive array of minigames for its two holiday releases. While I won't talk about the jumping races because I like to keep my blood pressure within manageable levels, I will say that I was duly impressed with the addition of the bell choir ensemble for this past Wintersday.
The bell choir throws teams of three together on these large circular platform and then asks them to play a chimey version of Guitar Hero. Really. That's it. And yet it's not something I've seen anywhere else in MMOs, and this game somehow made it work without it seeming completely ridiculous or immersion-breaking. Now, I was horrible at it, but that's not enough to keep it off this list.
Ever since I found out about it, LotRO's freeze tag arena has tickled me no end. It's slightly out-of-the-way in Bree-land and has no purpose other than to be an amusing distraction between friends. Yet it works really well, with the "It" player being able to literally freeze players in place for a period of time while everyone else scales the walls and runs like the wind. I did a whole write-up on it for a Road to Mordor a while back.
6. Vanguard: Diplomacy
How do you visually represent a struggle between the minds? Turning it into a game-wide card battle is a fairly novel solution. Players could challenge NPCs to conversational duels, using a deck of cards and special outfits as tools to win the day.
Dive into the mind of a deranged clown (jester?) who challenges you to cross a room by busting open several seals and using the contents to help your journey. It's a tricky prospect as players scramble to use items like artillery cannons and wild vines to the best effect before the timer runs out.
8. Fallen Earth: Electronic blackjack
The "near future" contemporary setting of Fallen Earth allowed the devs the opportunity to throw in several of our modern vices, including gambling. In certain seedy casinos, players can engage in a couple of different leisurely games of chance. One of these is electronic blackjack, which plays just as you'd expect an electronic blackjack to play. Except you're gambling with fake money and can't threaten the dealer with a shotgun, no matter how much you're losing.
While I haven't personally experienced the excitement of racing unsafe floating disks through the sky, I would think that today's fantasy youth culture would be all over it. I mean, what's not to love? There's flying, flying through glowing green rings, and... and...
Great Scott. It can't be. Can it? It is.
It's Superman 64.
We've all been duped, people, and the apocalypse is upon us! Flee for the hills, running over any small children who wouldn't get that Nintendo reference anyway!
10. Puzzle Pirates: Swordfighting
Well, I'd be drawn and quartered, geek-style, if I left off the mother of all MMO minigames from this list. While Puzzle Pirates is not lacking in diversity, I've always been amused by the fact that this might be the only pirate game that settles swordfights with Tetris instead of, y'know, swordfighting. I like the cut of its jib, I do.
Justin "Syp" Olivetti enjoys counting up to ten, a feat that he considers the apex of his career. If you'd like to learn how to count as well, check out The Perfect Ten. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.