Memorable Ideas from Forgettable Games: Load Screen Time Wasters

Bionic Commando Xbox 360 CoverI'm trying to find the right word to describe the Bionic Commando reboot. Like so many modern pop culture reboots, the desecration of the source material is surely blasphemy. It took a beloved NES classic with an unabashed nerdy charisma and '80s action movie lunacy and reskinned it with lifeless grit, detestable characters, and the kinds of military-political entanglements and absurd plot gimmicks that shouldn't be allowed to escape the feature length cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid. It also exhibited a few genuinely terrible design decisions, like invisible, death-dispensing fallout zones. I'm not sure how nobody questioned the merit of sudden, explosive cancer as a hazard in a video game, but it makes me wonder if Capcom and James Bond villains hire from the same temp agencies.

And yet, despite its many, many, many downsides, the game actually managed to be fun at times. If nothing else -- and that's not really an "if" -- the NES original's joy of mobility remained intact. There was tingling grace and invulnerability in swinging around the bombed-out Ascension City. It was enough to persuade me to finish the game's story mode, all the way through the atrocious final hour that actually made me yearn for the one-screen "Congraturation!" endings of the coin-op age.

"Forgettable" is a pretty good descriptor for Bionic Commando 2009. Marking the game as "god awful" and calling it a day would be a disservice to those ecstatic moments of suspension between swing and freefall. But this is one of Capcom's western-focused HD experiments that won't be the subject of any "PS3 games that need a PS4 update" blog posts, that's for sure.

But hey, the game sure did one thing right: load screens!

Bionic Commando 2009, in perhaps its sole showing of ingenuity, featured a load screen that acted as a sort of interactive tutorial. Rather than displaying a random tidbit of basic strategy or some obscure factoid from the game's terrible lore, Bionic Commando lets the player explore what all the little buttons and sticks and triggers do while the back-end is busy building the next scenario.

While loading, a model of your controller is displayed on the screen. Pressing a button or trigger with your thumb causes the corresponding input on the screen to highlight, and a brief description of its functions shows up. It's all presented in a smooth and relaxed manner that invites the player to check out each and every one of the controller's inputs while there's nothing else to do.

Bionic Commando Xbox 360 Loading

One benefit of this setup that may be overlooked is that it provides a "safe zone" for the player to try things out. When a new player is still learning a game's controls, he or she may be hesitant to try pressing an unknown button during the action. Considering there are so many ways to kill yourself in games these days, it's hard to blame them. Bionic Commando's load screens provide an opportunity to find out which shoulder trigger is the Grenade Button with no risk of an explosive, embarrassing death.

Bionic Commando isn't the only game with load screen tutorials, or even interactive elements, though it does provide the best combination of the two that I've come across. However, there are some other commendable games (of varying memorability) when it comes to interactive or instructive load times:

Super Smash Bros Brawl: While loading an online match and waiting for your opponent to choose their settings, Brawl lets you beat up on a Sandbag. This is an excellent way to waste a little time while a game loads, though why not just let us have a spar against an AI opponent?

Assassin's Creed II: I didn't play much of AC2, but I do remember that the game let you walk around while it was loading. Then again, it only let you saunter about a blank, white nothingverse as the lame future dude, so I guess the game gets an A for concept and an F for effort.

No More Heroes: Pressing the B trigger rapidly causes the loading icon to fling up the screen. Hardly involving and barely even a novelty, butit actually did manage to amuse me while waiting for the next avant garde killing spree to load.

Mass Effect 2: Most game hints offer such revelations as "Head shots deal more damage!" and "Barrels explode when shot!" Mass Effect 2 imparts its share of common sense, but the wealth of actually useful tips that the game's load screens feature is extensive. I distinctly remember learning a few new tricks and features even while taking on the game's final mission. This would be just about perfect if ALL of the hints were available in some sort of interactive menu, to be absorbed at the player's pace and preference.

Bioshock: If you're going to bombard the player with the zombified shell of a Randian paradise throughout the game, you might as well lay it on thicker during the load times with other philosophical quotes to make the player feel even more learned.

So yes, load screens are a crime against humanity and games with them should automatically be docked 30 points on Metacritic. But there are ways to make the wait more bearable. Even a game where half of the level design is inhabited by invisible instant death traps figured it out, so there's really no excuse anymore, is there?

Bionic Commando Xbox 360 Wire

Have any games been ruined for you due to excessive loading? Any other examples of good load time management? Are there any console games that give you something to do while installing?