Simplicity (Sin & Punishment: Successor to the Skies)
The best Mario game is Super Mario Galaxy 2. One of its great achievements (and Super Mario Galaxy does this as well (but 2 is better)) is that you don't have to control the camera. You can reset it, but Wii games weren't designed around dual analog sticks, so most games made do without it. Super Mario Galaxy 2 didn't "make do." It made gold, diamonds, and bitches.
Controlling your viewport in a game is kinda weird. It's necessary in a lot of games, but isn't itself gamified. It's mostly neither interesting nor fun, though we buy expensive mice to make us better at it, and pity those who can't use the auxiliary stick for camera movements on consoles. GoldenEye and Perfect Dark were crowning achievements of their time, and when the PlayStation game Medal of Honor tried to use the second joystick to control the camera, they were laughed at. Yet somewhere between Timesplitters and Halo, it became the norm, and suddenly positioning the camera was now a collaboration between developers and the player.
When Super Mario Galaxy 2 doesn't ask you to take charge of the camera, it is luxurious. The developers are saying no no, we got this, you just have fun. When else could game makers afford you this modicum of comfort? There's probably a lot of people with negative associations to this line of thought because they remember when it went terribly wrong. Back when survival horror was mostly scary because you had to wrangle which direction was forward, every time you moved 3.28 feet. Super Mario Galaxy 2 should have obliterated this anxiety. The beautiful movement you could achieve in this (often non-euclidean) space was so much more complex than what you were only trying to do before. So once again: when else could the creators take it upon themselves to say don't worry fella, we'll handle the camera, you do the murder. (That's mostly what we do in games right?)
Someone got there before me. Well, a lot of people did, though I think they took a different route. Do they realise what they achieved or were they having too much fun and economic failure to stop and contemplate? Classifying a game as "on-rails" often brings a wealth of associations, but the clearest is the Wii version of the super aggressive Mr. Potato Head simulator, Dead Space. Though me and the then-future mother of my children did have fun with it, it was definitely missing most of what made the original interesting (Dead Space Prime isn't actually all that). On-rails has come to mean less, hampered, simplified.
Sin & Punishment: Successor to the Skies made me buy a new dictionary… at gunpoint.
We control a young lad or lassie, using their laser guns to tear through a hundred billion robots, mutants, bad spirits, big fish, and magical boys and girls. Incoming fire can be instantly dodged, and sometimes reflected (using a sword!). You as the player are on-rails-ily propelled through each stage at maximum velocity. Yet you still retain an impressive amount of movement freedom at each target gallery (move up, down, left, and right). Sometimes the player character moves down the z-axis (y?) and here we see the achievement: the player gets to have a full 3d experience, without having tinkering with the camera.
Sure it's a simplification compared to other games. Sure some games had already done this. You know what though? This feels amazing. This game feels so good and fires at such a murderous pace, that what is sacrificed in useless freedom, is returned many times over in military-grade, laboratory developed rampage.
Lemme just say: Metroid Prime. That was a fully 3D, first-person action game, where the camera control was part of the fun, and not something dumped on you by the developers. And in order to give you this gift of pleasant, meaningful, tangible camera control, the game contains none the unbridled madness of Sin & Punishment. It is clean, it is calculated, it is so god damn deliberate. I'm not gonna make this a two-part text where I suddenly switch to Metroid Prime. I just realised there is beauty in having the developers take care of the camera. It affords such freedom in the game design. Yet the opposite path is clearly possible as well, where potentially enormous amounts of time are dedicated to making the camera control frictionless, but an integral and joyful part of the experience. Greedily I start thinking… How could you do both?
Describing something as "the thinking man's…" implies it is of a normally stupid ilk, but this thing requires you to think to enjoy it. Sometimes the implication is that it is therefore superior. Sometimes more boring. Often it means the person describing it is bad at the wordy-words and has to rely on describing x as like y but with brain/gun/sex/gay. The other end of the spectrum is a person exclaiming I don't want to think when I do that thing that I do. This time the implication is that relaxing is enjoying something stupid, because then you don't have to think. As always, let us consider Die Hard, the Ur Something Stupid. I always bring up Die Hard because it is not stupid at all. The writers, director and whoever else, did the thinking for you, so you could enjoy something simple, but cool. Simple is not easy, but they made it look like it was. They made it look so easy that everyone thought it was easy, and so everyone got lazy, and now we have this shithole. I don't need to recommend Sin & Punishment: Successor to the Skies. It's an old game and you can get it however you like. It is on the other hand, the Die Hard of video games, so you would be less if you didn't play it.