These days, it is not unusual to see dad swinging a Wii remote like a golf club after work, mom enjoying Farmville while doing the laundry, or grandma playing an intense game of Tetris after her morning tea. The casual gaming trend has grown strong and casual-friendly games can be found on the PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, and every handheld device. Games like Zynga’s Farmville, practically the definition of casual gaming, actually boast over 60 million active players.
Despite the large increase in casual gamers, there is still a large disconnect between the casual gaming market and the hardcore gaming market. That same disconnect tends to exist between the people who play casual games and the people who play hardcore games. Parents who are open and receptive to Boom Blox, Wii Sports, or Rock Band may still be disapproving of Halo, Metroid: Other M, or Dragon Age: Origins, just because the games seem overwhelmingly complicated to them.
Not every game is suited for every game player and not every game player is going to enjoy hardcore games. But, there are ways to get casual gamers more interested in increasingly complex and intense games. The best way to bridge that gap is to introduce casual gamers to gateway games that are neither completely casual nor completely hardcore. The following are games are the best gateway games currently available for introducing casual gamers to more complicated games.
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Wii Virtual Console) – This classic SNES games is available on the Wii Virtual Console at the low cost of $8. The game has bright, colorful sprite graphics that make it nearly as entertaining to watch as to play. There is a rule of thumb that few people can watch someone enjoy themselves at an activity without becoming interested in the activity. A casual gamer, after watching this game being played for an hour or so, is likely to give it a try at a later time. The low difficulty curve, simple story, and constantly expanding adventure should hook just about any casual gamer in a very short time. Interest in this game can easily grow into interest into more complex adventure and sandbox games.
Little Big Planet (PS3) – Game play for this PS3 best seller ranges from remarkably basic to surprisingly complex. But, even more than game play, the real draw of this game is the ability to build a nearly infinite variety of worlds. The building mechanic is incredibly casual-friendly in Little Big Planet, while permitting more hardcore gamers to truly take advantage of the world-building features. The gradual improvement in world-building skills works as a perfect set of stepping stones for casual gamers exploring other games.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) – No matter the system, just about every Mario Bros. game ever produced is a casual game. In fact, Nintendo games in general tend towards casual gaming. Super Smash Bros. Brawl combines the characters from five generations of Nintendo consoles into a crazy, colorful, fun fighting game. Despite the inclusion of characters from casual games, Brawl is not exactly a casual game. It is certainly less complicated than a game like Dead or Alive, but simple button mashing and lack of skill will not win games at anything but the easiest difficulties. Regardless, it is fun to play and casual gamers will relate to the characters. The addictive nature of the game is sure to cause casual gamers to become more proficient at the game and the game is a perfect gateway game to more intense and complicated fighting games.
Civilization Revolution (PS3 / Xbox 360) – The Civilization games on the PC are extraordinarily complex turn-based strategy games that usually take about 8-12 hours to complete. Civilization Revolution is a stripped down version of those games that takes about a third the time to complete, yet still manages to maintain the flavor of the original series. In addition, the game has bright colorful sprite images that make it visually appealing. Casual gamers playing Facebook games like City of Wonder or the Wii Virtual Console game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as King will find this game comfortable and intuitive to play. If the advanced strategies appeal to such players, the next step may be Civilization V on the PC or even possibly real time strategy games like Starcraft II.
Pokemon HeartGold / Pokemon SoulSilver (DS) – Despite being designed for children, the Pokemon series of games are not casual games. A light plot, simple graphics, and colorful monsters hide a rather solidly challenging game with superb, mature game play. As far as role playing games are concerned, few games are simpler, but that doesn’t make this a casual game. By the time most casual gamers realize that Pokemon isn’t a casual game, they will probably be thoroughly hooked by the story and game play. Many a gamer may stick with Pokemon after being addicted, but some will continue to explore the role playing game genre and discover the large array of games that exist.
Dead Rising (Xbox 360) – At first glance Dead Rising may seem like a hardcore game, but in truth in is something of a hybrid between a casual and hardcore game. This brilliant title allows the player to wander around in a sandbox setting and literally ignore the entire plot of the game. The nearly infinite combinations of weapons and attacks make the game constantly exciting and the ability to simply wander and explore has strong casual gamer appeal. In addition, the game is short and relatively easy. After being hooked by the nearly unlimited options, casual gamers are likely to eventually explore the trophies and plot paths that give the game a hardcore feel. The advantage of this game as a gateway game is that such exploration can truly be done whenever the game player feels ready for it.
Metal Slug Anthology (Wii) – The Metal Slug series was a tongue-in-cheek side scrolling shooter reminiscent of Contra, except with incredibly vivid, cartoon-like, colorful graphics and humorous undertones. The Wii anthology brings this arcade classic to the console. The ability to play with basically infinite lives makes the game very friendly to casual players. Even death is handled humorously in the game, greatly lessening the impact of the violence on the screen. Skill is rewarded, though, so casual players are likely to eventually move beyond button mashing and try to actually get better at the game. The skill and reflexes developed in this game will eventually make hardcore shooting games seem much less difficult.