Is There A Video Game Equivalent of Jumping The Shark?
Naturally, there are significant spoilers for the games in this article (Final Fantasy VIII, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Sonic Adventure and Metal Gear Solid 2) Whilst many of these are older titles, you are advised to stay away if you want to keep their incredibly daft plot points fresh when you experience them for the first time.
Jumping the Shark, that terrible moment in a TV show’s history when it changes in tone or formula, leading to immediate decline, now has a widely accepted Movie equivalent. To ‘Nuke the Fridge’ is to create a scene on the level of getting Indiana Jones to climb into a fridge to survive a Nuclear explosion. This inevitably leads me to wonder: is there a phrase and archetypical scene that defines the moment that computer game series go sour? Here are a few candidates:
‘Forget the Orphanage’ – Final Fantasy VIII
There’s so much that’s awkwardly bizarre about Final Fantasy VIII, that you’d expect picking any one element to hold aloft and say ‘this is so, very, very stupid’ would be nearly impossible. But that’s the thing: you either love this stuff, or you never liked Final Fantasy in the first place. Choosing a single point in this game’s plot that is exceptionally stupid is still a challenge though. There’s daffy and then there’s ‘inviting a future witch into your body so that she compresses time sending you and your friends into the future’ (I prefer to just tell myself ‘a wizard did it’ rather than trying to work that mess out).
The standout moment for me comes much earlier. As the snow falls on a ruined playground, five of your characters suddenly remember that they grew up in the same orphanage, and the supposed villain ran the place! Worse still, one of the characters remembers it all in vivid detail and just happens to think better of mentioning it until halfway through the game.
‘No Russian The Airport’ – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
I can live with a large part of Modern Warfare 2’s ridiculous show-boating, but I still dislike it greatly. Everything it does seems to be trying so very hard to outdo the skilful combination of the bombastic Nuclear explosion and subtle sniping mission from the first game. All subtlety was inexpertly removed in a game that featured snow-mobile chases, nuclear explosions in space and a Russian invasion of the United States. The all too common excuse for it was ‘it’s like a Micheal Bay action movie’, which is poor conciliation indeed.
Gamers are usually more likely to rush to the basin because of bad gameplay than controversy, but the two always seem to go hand in hand. News of the game’s ‘airport scene’ leaked out a couple of weeks before Modern Warfare 2’s release. In it, the player walks slowly through a Russian airport, massacring civilians. The justification for this? You’re an undercover agent, trying to get closer to the leader of a terrorist cell.
For me, what was most shocking about this sequence was that, at no point is it allowed for your character to suddenly realise that the plan makes no sense whatsoever and act on this by starting to shoot at the terrorists. You have the option to not fire a single bullet, but the same sequence of events plays out with you waddling along. And to add insult to injury, it turns out that they knew you were a plant all along.
What? Really? Why would a terrorist cell invite an enemy soldier into its midst and trust him not to have a crisis of conscience whilst they engage in such pantomime villainy? The whole thing somehow manages to be more offensive to your intelligence than your sense of decency.
‘Big the Cat’ – Sonic Adventure
Thanks to the cartoonish naming of characters in the Sonic the Hedgehog universe, this shark jumper comes to us snappily and readymade. Truthfully, Big the Cat is more of convenient shorthand for the problems that the franchise has suffered. He’s really no more nor less annoying than the ever swelling cast of Sonic characters. We’ve seen anthropomorphised foxes, echidnas, armadillos, squirrels, crocodiles, chameleons, bees, bats and rabbits, each more forgettable than the last.
But even twelve years ago, Big the Cat’s fishing game and lure / carry interactions with the world spoke of a series that was trying too hard to find new things for its characters to do. Couple this with an ineptly managed move to three dimensional art and gameplay, and Sonic was never the same again.
‘Mail the Fission’ – Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Metal Gear Solid 2 is perhaps proof that a game with the worst story in the world can still be massively entertaining. Perhaps when video game stories generally reach a higher standard it will be imperative for games to avoid using the Millenium Bug as a plot point, or to avoid featuring a whining protagonist who needs to have even the most basic concepts explained to him.
More than any other example here, Metal Gear Solid 2 failed to truly ruin the series despite all its problems. But then it’s undeniable that huge steps were taken away from the poorly explained, constantly twisting and frankly nonsensical plot of this instalment. Metal Gear Solid 3 deftly dodged the issue by being set several decades before the previous game. Metal Gear Solid 4 specifically set out to make Raiden as likeable as possible.
What Metal Gear Solid 2 did irrevocably change though, was the level of fourth wall breaking humour. In the final level of the game, you’re constantly interrupted by a character telling you to turn off your games console. At one point the game tricks you into thinking you’ve died: then you realise that the game over screen is misspelt, and that you’re still alive and playing. It all far too clever for its own good.
So, over to you folks in the comments thread. Do you agree with my choices? What do you think are the major shark jumping moments of video game history?
Steph Wood is blogging on behalf of Splash Bathrooms, a UK based company selling Bathroom suites and other fixtures and fittings.
[image via The Moderate Voice]