As I sat at home on a lazy Thanksgiving afternoon, I decided to play some games. I didn’t fancy anything too intense, nor anything that required a great deal of concentration. I wanted something comforting and familiar that would go well with the happiness of the holiday. I settled upon an old favourite – the Sega classic, ToeJam & Earl, which had recently been released on Xbox Live Arcade.
I already own boxed copies of both ToeJam & Earl and its sequel, Panic on Funkatron, but I knew that for a few MS Points I could land versions of these titles that added a few little extras. The graphics haven’t been updated, nor has the sound been tweaked. There are no extra levels, characters, or game modes. However, extra challenge is found in the form of little things called Achievements.
I should let you know that I’m not a so-called “Achievement whore”, whose only goal when playing games is to boost their Gamerscore. However, when it comes to games I like, I want everyone to know how good I am. Much as one may wear a t-shirt sporting their favourite band or movie, my achievements serve as notice to others that I’m a fan of something. In this case, I want people to know I’m an old school Sega kid.
Achievements are one of those strange things that many people still don’t get. “What’s the point of them?” I’ve been asked numerous times, “Can they be traded in for more games?”. As we all know, they can’t be traded in for anything, and they really don’t have any point at all. However, anyone who has a negative view of Achievements because they serve no real purpose should ask themselves what exactly is the purpose of video games at all? Aside from fun and entertainment, there really isn’t one.
When thinking about Achievements, a good question to consider is, “Why do developers put harder difficulty modes into games?”. The reason is because people have different levels of skill, and some like to test themselves with difficult challenges. Finishing a game on its toughest difficulty is like a badge of honour, and one that shows your level of devotion to the game. Achievements are a natural progression of this idea – not only do you have a permanent record of your victories, but well-made Achievements can serve as additional challenges that force you to learn new skills and play the games in a very different way.
I’ve noticed over the years that some of my favourite Xbox 360 games are the ones that use Achievements in clever ways. Some use them to amuse; some simply to mark your progress as you make it through the levels; others invite you to try new things, such as finishing levels without killing anyone or making it through in under a certain time. The ones that task you with trying new tactics or mastering certain skills are usually my favourites, as they can show you whole new sides of games you may never have seen before.
This is why I’m happy to rebuy classic titles if there are some interesting Achievements thrown in. In the case of ToeJam & Earl, there was nothing too exciting, but still one or two that made me change my tactics in order to unlock them. I’ve played the game so many times over the years, but this time was different. My focus on Achievements, rather than my usual focus on simply finishing the game, changed the way I played, breathing some new life into the title. Over the course of the afternoon, I unlocked every one that could be done in a single playthrough (need to get through once more to unlock the final one), and I still have Panic on Funkatron to start. Not only is there the immediate thrill that comes from completing a challenge and unlocking an Achievement, but also the lasting knowledge that anyone who looks at my Gamercard will see how much I love ToeJam & Earl.
It’s a real shame that Nintendo never jumped on the Achievement bandwagon, as their Virtual Console provides the biggest library of classic games on any modern system. Sony introduced Trophies to compete with Microsoft, but Nintendo has nothing of the sort. When the Virtual Console was first announced, I imagined how cool it would be with a similar system in place – all these well-known games, but with new focus and new challenges. It’s fun to imagine what crazy achievements could be added to those 8 and 16-bit titles, but I suppose I’ll just have to hope that they land on XBLA instead.
It won’t be long before I’ve unlocked every Achievement in the ToeJam and Earl collection, at which point I may just buy some of the other Sega classics. I’m looking forward to the Streets of Rage games, as well as Golden Axe and Revenge of Shinobi. I’ve played them so many times over the years, but thanks to one little addition, I’m really excited about playing them all over again.
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Image by bobbyzeik