The Perfect game – seven games I think are perfect

You often hear people saying that it’s impossible to make a perfect game. Perfection suggests that it’s impossible to improve in any way. That the object under scrutiny is at its zenith in form and function – nothing more can be added. To take away, is to rob it of it’s inherent flawlessness.



I genuinely don’t think there’s a single title in existence that can lay claim to being a perfect game.


crash bandicoot always was a bit shit


Actually Plato, I think you’ll find Crash Bandicoot: Mind of Mutant is perfection personified’ – is not something you’ll see me write anytime soon*, but I do think there are a handful of games that come very close on one level or another, whether it’s mechanically-speaking, or in completely nailing the kind of experience they set out to deliver.


I should point out now that this isn’t a ‘Best Games Ever’ article. It’s just not. While you could argue, and I will, that Outrun 2 is perfect, it’s not the best game ever made. Hell it’s not even the best racing game ever made – it’s just an example of what is, in my eyes, a perfect game.


I would also like to rule out aesthetics where possible. Being a videogame, there will always be room for improvement – the lighting could be nicer, the textures richer, the poly-count higher. Lets just not get into that. Sometimes however, it’s worth noting that the way a game looks, regardles of age, can be just right – timeless almost.


Lastly, this isn’t even a ‘my favourite games’ list either. I don’t really like Minesweeper for example, because it exposes a very real discrepancy between how clever I think I am, and how clever I actually am.




Super Mario World


For me there aren’t many 2D platformers which have reached what Nintendo managed to pull off with Super Mario World. Take the recent 2D Raymans (Raymen?) Rayman games for example.


While decent enough in their own way, in Rayman you just ‘get better at playing Rayman until you do all the stuff‘ – grinding out a result to 100% completion. Learn by rote. Perfect the timing. Do the things. Never go back.


While admittedly short on the spectacle and obscene puppetry of the latter day Rayman games – the joy of Super Mario World is in becoming so skilled with Mario that you can merrily skip through the impossible and accomplish feats deemed extraordinary, nay impossible, when first you entered 1-1. While it’s initially about finishing stages, and finding the keys, and defeating Bowser – it later becomes so much more.


The Mario of Super Mario World is less a vehicle for you journey from A to B rather a tool, an instrument, that can be played in so many ways as to demonstrate your burgeoning skill. For me it is the singularly most solid piece of 2D platforming design ever made. A small skillset, a modest suite of power-ups, and then stages which set out to milk your abilities with these to the fullest, with their firm and deliberate design and enemy types and placements.


Each and every stage a mini sandbox that you can explore, not just environmentally, but explore in terms of what you can do – just for the hell of it. For the fun of it. Super Mario World somehow made you a better videogame player. Teaching you to experiment, to practice – not just to beat the stage, but to become better – to bend the code and level design to your will.


The fact that players are STILL discovering things in Super Mario World it testament to its richness. I don’t forsee Rayman being played with such obsession in 20 years time.





There are some games which have a certain purity to them. I don’t mean like PONG where you just have something simple and elegant in design – what I mean is that the central conceit is so simple, that regardless of the complexity of systems around it, the core remains vital – an engine room that forever stimulates the desire to play.


There are few games that can lay claim to be so powerful, so perfect in this regard. The irony is that Tetris is, fundamentally, about mapping your imperfections.


Tetris is unique in that, unlike most games, it’s not about your successes. Sure you have your scores, and your best-achieved-number of lines – but moment to moment in play, Tetris isn’t about that. It’s about where you’re fucking up.


You’re so desperate to create neatness and order, that your game begins to unhinge at the small mistakes you make. They glare out at you from the screen, you become driven to correct those mistakes at all costs – to bring order back to the board**. As you panic, more mistakes are made, and so the pressure mounts.


Few things in life bring as much tension relief as emptying a board in Teris that, mere seconds before, was on the brink of total disaster.



Outrun 2


While, on the one hand, I feel Outrun 2 conveys the sheer, unbridled joy of driving far better than games like Forza or GranTurismo – like some caricature of the automotive experience – sometimes I feel that Outrun 2 isn’t really a driving game at all. If you’re ‘driving’ in Outrun 2, you’re not playing it right.


For me Outrun 2 probably has more in common with skiing than anything else. Forever sliding against the clock, weaving though a slalom of cars, buses and lorries.


There are two things that Outrun 2 does which is is astonishing. Firstly, you could argue that the original Outrun is perfect – but Outrun 2 takes the same template and refines it – everything it adds is for the best, and yet it takes nothing away. It doesn’t diminish it in any way. It takes ‘perfection’ and makes it even perfecterer. Yes, I know that’s not a real world – but there it is anyway.


Secondly, Outrun takes the notion of the drift and spins it out into an entire journey. A journey where you can pick and choose your drift experience and scenery as you go. Proper Outrun 2 play means that you’re hardly ever doing anything other drifting. Ever.


Interestingly, the main meat and bones of this game isn’t the standard journey play of getting from A to B as fast as possible – it’s in the challenges the game offers in its secondary modes – most notably Heart Attack Mode that requires you be very specific in your play.


Don’t crash, pass the cars, drive though the blue, drift through the gates – the drift mechanics are so perfect that Outrun 2 demands perfection from you too.





I once watched a girl a couple of years below me in the school ICT lab, clear a Minesweeper board in seconds. Knowing, and playing Minesweeper myself – because it was pretty much the only game on the school computers outside solitaire – I was transfixed by her. I watched her do the same a few more times before she picked up her bag and left. That memory has stuck with me to this day.


To this day, I’m still unable to complete boards at that speed. I can only conclude that she must have been staring into the fucking matrix.


Like Sudoku, or Picross, this is less a game about maths and more a game of logic – with all but the tiniest, smallest hint of chance. Firstly, can you deduce your way to completion and safety? Secondly, can you complete it efficiently? Thirdly, can you complete it efficiently and quickly?


The enemy in this game isn’t the mines themselves – but the quality of your own mind.


I fucking hate this game.



Super Monkey Ball

this game is definitely perfect-super-monkey-ball

Super Monkey Ball is the perfect example of taking a game that’s well… perfect… and then layering in and adding so much crap that you fundamentally break it forever.


The original Super Monkey Ball on Gamecube was as pure as the driven snow – but with each iteration, Sega added more levels, more furniture, more characters, more story, more mini-games, more nonsense. All very well meaning and understandable to a point, but it also saw one of the most incredible skill based games ever made, bent and twisted and forever hobbled by its need to add more stuff.


Super Monkey Ball’s claim to being a perfect game is helped immeasurably by its control scheme. You just use the analogue stick. That’s it. This is helped further by the Gamecube’s ridged analogue stick housing so you can be sure of always hitting True North when occasion demands.


The goal is simple. Collect bananas if you want, but at least get to the goal at the end – and the gradient of difficulty in each stage is impeccable. Challenging you all the way and helping you to improve your skills.


Finishing all the stages is one thing- but then, slowly but surely, you realise that your thumb has got pretty damn good on that analogue stick. Inevitably you go back to the beginning stages to improve further. As you try to perfect your times and scores you learn new tricks, and exploits – and then the penny drops.


It’s not the monkey in a ball you’re playing with – but the actual levels themselves.



Super Mario Kart


Like Super Monkey Ball, Super Mario Kart is a title that has been diluted to the point that it’s almost unrecogisable from what it started as originally – its very ethos has changed from skill-based driving game, to chaos-based party game. I’m not suggesting that later day Mario Karts aren’t great games that don’t demand skill – they are. Incredibly well made, well crafted and great fun – but are they perfect? Are they perfect like Super Mario Kart?


Super Mario Kart was all about the the solid mechanics of driving. Narrow courses (about four miles narrower that the freeways of latter-day Karts) and with only four fundamental variations in Kart type, Super Mario Kart’s experience can only be described as ‘tight‘.


There was a firmness to the driving model. The drift was hard and deliberate – and made you tighten every muscle in your body from the waist down as you tried to shave the apex of every suitable corner.


Sure GP and Battle Modes were fun, but it was in the purity of Time Trial where dedicated players eventually found most of their play – as every millisecond off their best time was a cause for air-punching celebration.


In a world where Nintendo now has to balance mechanics and spectacle in equal measure – it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a Mario Kart like it again.



Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis


I was going to include Pong – because, well, PONG! And then I remembered Rockstars Games Presents Table Tennis exists. There’s a very high probability that you haven’t played this game – because who in their right minds wants to play videogame Teble Tennis. But to disregard it is to turn your back one of, if not, the finest, most perfect representation of a sport in videogame form.


Rockstars Games Presents Table Tennis is impeccably designed. Tight and quick – it’s such a lean experience and remarkably elegant. But within that ethos of stripped-back simplicity, is a control suite that offers unfathomable depths in strategy.


Player position, player choice, aim and spin are the tools at your disposal as you wage intense battles consisting of plays and counterplays, back and forth, at a pace so lightning-fast that extended rallies are mentally and physically exhausting. Ever point feels like an achievement in itself. A friend of mine once likened it to a game of scissors paper stone – only with 100s of combinations and variations in ‘weapon’ requiring you to fire out your choices, three times a second.


To change, remove or add anything to this game would be to break it. I LIKE the fact it had no career mode or no create-a-player to muddy the waters – just two players smashing a plastic ball at each other – and with it, all the quick-thinking strategy that that involves.


You might think I’m insane including this game on this list – but fact is, there are two kinds of people here – those who’ve played this game competitively for any length of time, and those that haven’t. Anyone in the former camp will know I’m right.



Any of you have any other games*** you feel are close to perfection? Do please let me know in the comments below! 🙂

* oops.

** Is board the right term here? I was going to use the word ‘trough’ but it seemed a bit too agricultural.

*** If you’re interested, games I was also considering including were Portal, Street Fighter 3rd Strike, God Hand, Resident Evil 4, Metal Gear Solid 5 Ground Zeroes and Ikaruga.

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