Metroid Prime remains, and the question of “beating” games

Image by Flickr user  Michel Ngilen (CC)
Image by Flickr user Michel Ngilen (CC)

Last month, the fine folks of A Most Agreeable Pastime posted a thoughtful article titled From The Armchair: Leaving Things Unfinished. As someone with a plentiful backlog of started-but-not-yet-completed games, which I made mention of in that article’s comment section, the post deeply resonated with me, especially considering my grand promise of 2014 to finally complete Metroid Prime. This post here will serve as both an update and admission concerning that game, as well as offer an exploration of the question:

What does it mean to “beat” a game?

I’ve been pondering this question ever since reading that Most Agreeable article and since reaching the finale of Metroid Prime. That’s right folks, I am almost, almost, almost done with Metroid Prime! Since my last update, I attained the beautiful and powerful Phazon Suit, had a stupendous battle with Meta-Ridley, explored the Impact Crater, and met up with the game’s namesake and final boss, the Metroid Prime. I say “met up” because so far, that’s all I’ve been doing, getting to the Metroid Prime…and then being summarily crushed. Though I don’t know how the game ends, my guess is that MP’s ending follows suit with other Metroid games – defeating the final boss brings about a self-destruct sequence and Samus barely escapes an exploding something or other. But some “thing” survives the blast and become Samus’s next archenemy.

Even if that’s not the ending, my issue now is that I’m not all that motivated to discover it. And it’s not only due to the fact that the Metroid Prime battle is a challenging one requiring energy that I simply don’t possess at the moment. It’s more that part of me really feels like I’ve already beaten the game. I’ve lived through Samus’s story, I defeated bosses that I didn’t think I could defeat, and now I’m pretty much at the end of things. The final battle doesn’t hold quite as much meaning as, say, the Meta-Ridley battle, and that’s because I consider Ridley as Samus’s ultra-nemesis. Facing off with Ridley defines the entire bounty hunter vs. bounty hunter scheme of the Metroid games. Okay, so there’s going to be one more boss after Ridley, but that battle, even the brilliant one with Mother Brain in Super Metroid, doesn’t feel quite as…well…personal. Dealing with the Metroid Prime feels more like a chore than a meaningful action because there’s nothing left to the game after that.

The problem with all of this is that this mindset has brought about a catch-22. I can’t yet bring myself to start Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, because I’ve haven’t seen the credits roll in Metroid Prime. Even justifying my sensibilities with that previous paragraph doesn’t allay that feeling of “I can’t start the sequel yet because I haven’t beaten the first game.” This might be one of the dumbest gaming predicaments I’ve ever placed upon myself, because I know that if I just put on my big girl pants and approached the Metroid Prime with focus and tact, I could totally beat it. And still…I don’t know if I care enough to see the game through.

So this brings me back to the question “what does it mean to beat a game?” In ye olden days when quarters ruled gaming, you didn’t beat games (as many were lengthy, finite loops that sped up as you progressed), you attempted to beat a game’s highest score. Enter a game like Super Mario Brothers into the mix, and there you were given a target – beat Bowser, save the Princess. This “defeat [x], save [x]” mindset took off in gaming. But then developers had to think about what would keep the players playing. Because in those linear games, once you defeated [x], you were done. You could get rid of the game and move onto another. The advancement of side quests, “new game plus” mechanics, achievements, trophies, sandbox and open world play, all lent to the notion of replayability. So games were not entities to be beaten as much as completed, and completed to varying degrees. I’ve completed the main stories in games like Skyrim, Bayonetta, South Park: The Stick of Truth, and dozens of others, but the games are by no means “complete.” With side quests and DLC I, and any of us, could be playing (and do play) our current games well into the future.

I guess the notion of achieving 100% complete in a game could render a game as unplayable from then on out and therefore “beaten,” but is that truly the case? (As a non-completionist, I’m not sure how to respond to that myself.) Personally, “beating” a video game is part of my (misplaced?) lexicon. I’ll readily say I “beat” a game when I really mean that I completed a game’s main story (leaving hours upon hours of sidequests behind), or I finished a season, or I got to a vague point that just felt “finished.” But I’ll also say that I’ve beat Super Metroid dozens of times, and I’ll probably beat it again someday. Or, I should specify that I’ve completed the game and beat the final boss dozens of times, and I’ll probably complete the game and beat the final boss again someday?

The issue of semantics aside, is “beat” still a valid word to use when it comes to describing the end of your time with a modern game? When you tell someone that you’ve beaten a game, what exactly do you mean?

18 Comments Add yours

  1. lewispackwood says:

    Great article! Funnily enough, I wrote something about ‘beating’ versus ‘completing’ games a while ago: https://amostagreeablepastime.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/why-do-we-play-games-part-2-challenge/

    Seems odd to say you can ‘beat’ modern games, exactly for the reasons you describe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. cary says:

      Oh, another article to add to my backlog, eh? 😉 Actually placing it in my reader now!

      To “beat” a game is strange terminology when you think about it. (Despite official definitions.) Did you force Monopoly into submission? Did you strike your copy of Ridge Racer against its will? Probably not.

      Like

  2. angryscholar says:

    Good question. For me it has more to do with narrative than with “completion” in the sense of collecting everything or completing all the missions. I’ve tended to prefer games with a strong narrative component, and when I feel that the story has concluded to my own satisfaction, I guess that’s when I think of the game as “complete.” This is complicated by open-world/sandbox games, of course–but it’s probably not a coincidence that while I enjoy those types of games, very few of them have made it onto my list of favorites. Even those that have, most notably Red Dead Redemption, are still ultimately story-driven.

    There was a time when I was a completionist (I sank an embarrassing number of hours into trying to fill out every pixel of the map in Castlevania: SotN), but more recent games, especially the Metroid Prime series, have really beaten that out of me. Achievements and such hold no appeal for me; I’ll only work to get collectibles if they have in-game payoffs, like new gear or, sometimes, an alternate ending. Though with Prime, I still didn’t bother, since the “real” ending, while important, was just too much work to earn. (YouTube also makes alternate endings way more accessible, which I think cuts down on the sense of urgency I used to feel about completing everything.) That in no way diminishes my love of that series, though. I think Prime 3 is simply one of the greatest first-person shooters ever created.

    Weird coincidence, I just wrote the first of a couple of Metroid-themed posts today. I never played Echoes, which is something I’ve been meaning to correct for ages. If you do get to it I’m interested to know what you think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I shall keep an watchful eye out for your Metroid posts — it’s just one of those series that has aged quite well and never gets old in print.

      I like the idea of considering a game complete when one is truly satisfied with the work expended to get to a certain point or ending. And I see your point about open world games. So what if I triumphed over the final contender in Skyrim, I skipped oodles of story to get to that point. To me, the game (and many others) remains a paradox, complete in a sense, but unfinished in another. Yet, I’m remain satisfied with the experience as a whole, and therefore consider Skyrim to be “beaten.” I’d like to think that I’ll go back someday to play through all the story bits that I missed, but I doubt that’ll happen. My non-completionist tendencies win out, save for a handful of games, including the likes of Super Metroid, that were too captivating for their own good. (i.e. I hear you about Symphony of the Night. I’m honestly not sure that anything else in the series tops it.)

      Now you know I can’t just skip Echoes and move onto Corruption :), though now I’m peculiarly drawn to do so after your comment. And you’re looking at someone who doesn’t care much for FPS’s generally, so that’s sayin’ something.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. RaccoonChad says:

    Sadly, I don’t have a lengthy comment to contribute to this post but I would like to say that I also suffer from the condition of starting a a game but never finishing it. Metroid Prime is one of those games, too 🙂
    Will there be a proposal for 2015 to beat the games you started but never finished? Thanks for the article, btw!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Actually, I believe that my colleague Hatm0nster is taking on the challenge of finishing games this year. I wish I had the time to do so, but I’d have to quit my job, not eat or sleep, and figure out how to add more hours to each day!

      Glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂 If you plan to complete Metroid Prime someday, I wish you all the best. I’m going to make an effort in the coming weeks, but promises, promises…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Matt says:

    To me, beating a game is taking down the final boss and watching the credits; regardless of the rate of completion.

    I only get 100% on a game when I am really inclined to do so, which tends to happen with all games of the Mario, Metroid, Zelda, Kirby, and Donkey Kong franchises, plus a few others.

    Considering how great Echoes is, albeit not as fantastic as the original, I say beat that Metroid Prime and start Echoes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Right, that’s a fine way to look at it, and quite similar to my own view. Once I see THE END, the game is beaten. And maybe I’ll beat the game again, and find more stuff along the way that I hadn’t before. I guess, in a way, I have achieved close to 100% in some games, just not in the span of a multiple rather than single playthroughs.

      I appreciate your enthusiasm concerning Metroid Prime! But you make it sound easy. 😛 My poor, old hands and brain just can’t handle all the switching between guns and intricate timing. But…maybe if I have just the right amount of coffee and chocolate, it’ll be a piece of cake.

      And now I’m hungry.

      Like

  5. Sir Gaulian says:

    Strangely the words “I’m done” seem to best describe my feelings when I reach the end of my time with a game. Whether I reach “the end” or not.

    Although in Australia people never really used the term ‘beat’ the game to start with.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Do Australians use the word “taeb” then? (Cause it’s backwards…and counterclockwise…and not in line with our seasons…and quite possibility the worst joke in the world. I’m so, so sorry.)

      I do like the notion of adding the word “done” to my gaming lexicon. “I’m ‘done’ with Skyrim…for now…” Makes total sense.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That was an unforgivably bad joke, Cary (I laughed).

        Anyway, thank you for a thought provoking post. I’m looking at a huge backlog of half-beaten and never-played stuff and wondering about this very question!

        Typically for me if it’s a narrative driven game I consider it over and done with when I’ve seen the end of the story, credits and all. I’ll only very rarely go back to a game after that, unless it’s to replay it from scratch. It’s why in an RPG or Metroid Prime game I usually try and deal with any outstanding sidequests/collectible hunts before the “point of no return” i.e. the final boss. Often those games will let you reload a save before that point, so you can collect all the goodies even after you beat the game, but seeing the credits usually has such an air of finality about it I will only rarely want to return and do more.

        There are exceptions though, like with the 3D Mario games. Beating Bowser with 60 stars in Mario Galaxy 2 felt more like the start of the game than the end. I understand that for others beating Bowser might feel like enough, but I couldn’t resist continuing. If I didn’t enjoy the game in the first place though, I probably would’ve been OK with calling it quits after Bowser (and I recall when I was young playing Mario 64, beating Bowser was definitely enough). Enjoyment and commitment definitely play a part in determining what “beating the game” looks like – is it 100%, credits, or simply “I’ve seen enough”.

        There are also those genres in which the replayability isn’t tied to a story mode in the same way as other games. Fighting games, shmups, puzzlers, racing games for instance. They may have a story mode of sorts but it’s kind of by the by. With those kinds of games I play them by ear.

        Anyway sorry for the ramble here, I didn’t intend to leave a blog post in the comments section here! In conclusion, it’s all subjective. If you’re not feeling to beat the final boss in Metroid Prime, just leave it and move on to 2. I have to wonder how you’ll find Prime 2, if the final boss in Prime is giving you a headache… from what I remember (not a lot admittedly) it’s the bosses in 2 that make it that much harder than the first game. 3 was easier I think.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. cary says:

        You may ramble on as much as you like, I don’t mind. 😊 I’ve no reason to argue — you make vary valid points. And really, the notions being discussed here revolve around personal ideals. You’re right in saying that finality can vary depending on the genre. I like the idea of “I’ve seen enough;” that’s about how I feel with Bayonetta 2. Unlike with Bayonetta, which I turned right round and played again after beating it once, because it was simply that amazing, I had seen enough of Bayonetta 2 in one playthrough to be happy with the results. Maybe I’ll play it again on a harder difficulty, but I won’t be upset if that doesn’t happen.

        Besides, I’ve got a Metroid Prime to deal with! Though if Echoes is harder than the original…well…I guess I’ll have to hope for the best! (And be happy I have an extra controller in case my current one should meet with, uh…an unfortunate accident.)

        Like

  6. duckofindeed says:

    I consider a game beaten when the final boss is defeated, but I don’t really consider it finished until I’ve gotten 100%. I really feel like I need to “beat” every game I get and get as close to “finishing it” as possible, though finishing it is often the motivation I need to play the game a second time. I beat it on my first go, then, I make it worth replaying because I’ll try to get 100% on my second try. Thus, it drives me nuts when I play games like Super Smash Bros because there’s no way to beat it, and finishing it is very difficult and will take all meaning out of ever playing it again. It’s a predicament.

    I understand losing the desire to beat the final boss in Metroid Prime. I like doing side quests and collecting all the, well, collectibles, but once I reach a final boss, I lose all motivation to bother with any of this. I have to make sure I complete such extra objectives before reaching the ending, or I won’t want to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      For me, it really depends on the game and how invested I am in it. For example, right now I’m playing Batman: Arkham Origins, and I feel really compelled to complete all the game’s sidequests because they add little bits to the story. As you said about completing extra objectives before getting to the end — I really want to do that with this game. But I’m also trying to finish Super Mario 3D World, and there it’s just a matter of beating the game without getting all the collectibles, because I can always go back for them in a second run. The compulsion for “everything” just isn’t there.

      It is tough when you get immersed in a game without a true ending. You mentioned Super Smash Bros., and lots of fighting and driving games are like there. If you wanted to, you could just play and play with no end in sight! Can you even get 100% complete in games like that, I wonder?

      Like

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