RPG Confessions: ‘Simon Says’ Retire This Annoying Trope
Good morning! Or… good afternoon, evening, or night! Wherever you happen to be on the globe as you’re reading this, hopefully it’s somewhere that isn’t too warm, this summer already having borne some devastating heat waves throughout the world. In any case, I’m back with another RPG confession, so welcome!
Last time around, I discussed my complete and utter apathy at the prospect of yet again saving the planet from existential ruin. In this confessional, while the stakes are less cataclysmic, they’re no less petty: my present grumblings are against a certain trope that once more extends far beyond the boundaries of our favorite genre. Specifically, my ire is aimed at those little obnoxious tests of memorization that video games often throw at us in the form of ‘Simon Says’ challenges.
You know what I’m talking about, yes? Those pesky unimaginative obstacles that developers too readily incorporate into their games at the behest of providing some unique hurdle to overcome, fraught with the one minor flaw that it’s a mechanic which is neither unique nor difficult so much as it is a major headache. You watch or listen to a sequence of events on-screen, whether these involve a bunch of stupid dancing Gorons, using Yuna’s pistol to ‘calibrate towers’ (sounds like so much fun!), or the directives of a hammer-wielding, physically abusive, monster-masquerading-as-some-kind-of-cute-and-puffy-educator, and then follow suit by pressing the buttons on your controller that match the arrangement you’ve just witnessed, sometimes with the additional stress of a countdown timer.
I encountered this same lazy contrivance in no fewer than four games within the span of about five months recently. As you can no doubt already tell, I wasn’t amused. I could have easily called this article–and most assuredly considered doing so–‘”Simon Says” Tropes Are Lame,’ ‘These Stunts Suck,’ or ‘Memorization Challenges Annoy The #%$& Out of Me!’ but we aim to keep it family-friendly around here and I’m trying not to be overly dramatic about it all. But what were the four games in question and why do I so despise this ploy that is found in everything from the long-forgotten Playstation action-RPG, Brave Fencer Musashi, to the Nintendo 64 classic platformer, Banjo-Kazooie?
It’s actually a vintage Rare platformer that initiated my revelatory disdain for the mechanic of which I speak. Our story begins in the dark and murky caverns of the Northern Kremisphere when, late last year, I decided to replay (and finally complete) the timeless Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Nintendo Switch’s Super NES Online service. These caves that I stumbled upon were no ordinary caves, to be sure. Nay, the mysterious grottos contained magical colored crystals that not only lit up and made sounds, but these strange contraptions were in fact secret keys which, when mimicked correctly, set free the lonely prisoner locked away in a crystal shard hanging from the ceiling above. The poor victim awaiting your aid, in every case, was the even more mystifying species of bird known as the Bananus Goldenus Flutterus, or ‘banana bird’ in layman’s terms.
With approximately fifteen banana bird locations spread across Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble, the ‘Simon Says’ challenges that you’re expected to master should you wish to rescue all of the Banana Bird Queen’s helpless children (which isn’t a requirement to finish the game, thank banana bird heavens) fortunately don’t increase in length or complexity, but I still found each one to be a pain in my monkey ass. Maybe it’s a result of old age or from smoking too much pot as a youth but memorizing the crystal patterns that had to be replicated was a task which my brain refused to register as anything recognizably ‘enjoyable.’
Around the same time I happened to be playing through the lovely, Zelda-inspired action-adventure game, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King. I’ve already indulged you with the feelings of joy and nostalgia that this gorgeous 16-bit piece of eye-candy engendered within me back when I discussed my top five favorite indie RPGs currently available on the Switch, so now let me turn my focus to a small detail that didn’t inspire any lofty sentiments: the singing stones.
Forget about the absurdity of stones that talk, these rugged rascals can hit a note! At various points throughout Blossom Tales you come upon rooms that contain four stones. The premise is the same as the translucent thingamajigs located in the banana bird caves mentioned above. Each of the stones light up and play a sound and you must pay close attention so as to mirror the precise order when they finish their trifling performance. Unless my long-term memory is as unimpressive as my short-term memory, I seem to recall that only a couple of instances featuring these geological vocalists occur which are required for progressing the game, and they all keep it fairly simple. The remainder, however, offering prizes from heart pieces to loot, could be a real chore as they’d endure beyond the typical five or six notes, or the span of time in which my working memory and aptitude for patience still deemed the charade to be tolerable.
In both of the ‘Simon Says’ minigames that I’ve highlighted thus far, if you mess up, you have to start over from the top and the randomized sequence is different each time. To minimize my irritation as I worked through these vexing patterns, I did what I’m sure any self-respecting Nintendo Switch owner would do: I used the video record feature imbedded in the Switch’s hardware to capture the last thirty seconds of gameplay, thus enabling me to take my time checking and re-checking my button input at each step of the way! Is that technically cheating? Yeah, maybe. Do I care? Not in the slightest! Why?
Because I hate ‘Simon Says’!
I would meet the next loathed example of this rehashed gameplay procedure just a few months later in Capcom’s action-adventure masterpiece, Okami. If my 6,000-word screed (which must surely hold some kind of record inasmuch as SwitchRPG reviews are concerned) wasn’t indication enough, I wholeheartedly adored Clover Studios’ lupine epic. Nevertheless, one infinitesimal complaint that I had at the time, which didn’t feel worth mentioning in my review, involved my recurring run-ins with the
There are four members of the Blockhead clan that you can confront in Okami, and each one becomes progressively more irksome than the last. The basic goal in these encounters is to exploit the Blockheads’ weak points. To discover these you have to head butt the big oaf, this causing a series of dots to quickly flash across his rock hard body. You must then prod the specific points in the order that they were momentarily revealed to penetrate his unyielding physique.
The Blockheads’ ‘Simon Says’ routine was particularly annoying as it relies upon Okami’s brush controls, forcing you to hold down the ‘R’ button to initiate the ‘Celestial Brush’ and then use either the left joystick and the X button or the Switch’s touchscreen to paint ink blots on the necessary positions. This means that if your finger slips off the R button—or you exit to the home screen, for example, to look at your video captures—or your ink mark isn’t placed in the precise location of the weak point, or you mix up the order in which they appeared, you fail and have to begin anew.
As you might assume, each time the configuration and sequence was different, meaning this laborious hassle offered no easy outs. I simply had to repeat the process over and over again until I finally got it right, and let me tell you, afterwards I was completely sure in my conviction that this was an experience I never wished to see in another video game ever again.
Not unexpectedly, less than two months later, I did.
The concluding game that I’ll mention here is, like the first, pretty far outside of the RPG genre. That game is Fez, the inventive 2D puzzle platformer set in a three-dimensional universe that often feels like the byproduct of a feverish acid trip. Yet, even this truly intriguing work of brilliance, stacked with creative ideas and enigmas of all sorts, couldn’t escape the tired and worn out ‘Simon Says’ meme.
To its credit, Fez at least offers a unique spin on the recycled scheme. In its reimagining of ‘Simon Says,’ the player comes across ‘Tuning Fork’ statues (seriously? again?!) which cause vibrations to emanate throughout the controller. These rumblings alternate between the Joy-Cons or Pro Controller’s left and right sides and correspond to the LT and RT buttons. Rather than try to memorize a visual or auditory pattern, in this instance you have to map the feeling in your hands to the correct input. It’s an intrinsically pleasing and fresh take on the time-honored children’s game that, for some reason, I found easier to manage. Perhaps it’s because there are only two buttons to deal with. The chain of commands issued by each tuning fork also don’t alter their layout every time you fail, so the solution is readily available online should you find the whole ordeal insufferable in its very premise. Out of all the versions of ‘Simon Says’ that I’ve enumerated at greater length here, though, this one was by far the least obnoxious.
If it’s not already painfully obvious, my primary gripe with the ‘Simon Says’ mechanic in each of the games I’ve mentioned (and many others I have not) is that 1) it’s not very interesting or creative, 2) it’s mentally taxing, and 3) it’s simply not really much fun. I suppose there can be exceptions but overall I’d prefer that developers leave this tacky, hackneyed propagandist tool of authoritarians, invented for the purposes of brainwashing children into believing that sheepish submission is both enjoyable and praiseworthy, in the dustbin of gaming history. Okay, I confess, it’s not really that deep, but hey, I think there’s some validity to this point if you reach down far enough!
So, that’s my confession. I know it wasn’t limited to RPGs per say, but, as I highlighted, it has cropped up in plenty of those as well, from Final Fantasy X-2 to even World of Warcraft. What do you think, though? Do you dislike ‘Simon Says’ minigames as much as I do? Are there any experiences that you have with them that left you especially exacerbated? Let me know!
Or, as Nestor says, leave a comment below!