Spider-Man, HZD, and The Legend of Zelda -- Or Why Towers Can't Meet Our Lofty Expectations

After completing last month’s excellent collect-athon Spider-Man, I have climbing on my mind.

Since Ubisoft's 2007 mega-hit Assassin's Creed, towers have become ubiquitous -- seemingly countless open-world games now have them. 

Often used to reveal new map areas and collectible locations, players can expect to scale spires in a range of titles.

In 2017 alone, I spent over 150 hours of playtime across two new tower-centric titles: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn.

Zelda's towers were standard-fare -- clear the enemies at the base and reach the top. Fortunately, I was so excited to be climbing in a Zelda game, the rote gameplay of these sections passed me by without leaving much of an impression.

Zero Dawn, on the other hand, I found particularly painful. Here, the towers are machines called Tallnecks. And they move.

To scale one, you need to find elevated ground, wait for the Tallneck to pass you by, and jump on to it. If you miss your jump, you're stuck waiting for the mammoth machine to pass by your spot again for another try.

And I certainly missed my fair share of jumps.

After these two titles, I was at a breaking point and decided I needed some time away from games with tower-affinity. Then along came Spider-Man, and again I found myself locating items from atop steeples.

But something was different.

In Spider-Man, this task is not centered around the sluggish act of climbing the tower itself. I could web-sling my way there without impedance. Rather, the focus is on completing very brief puzzles at the top and then moving to the next objective.

Quickly.

The deftness of the activity is what makes it palpable, but if the best part of Spider-Man's towers is that you pass through them rapidly, are they really a boon to the game overall?

I do agree that a system needs be in place to gradually reveal Spider-Man's map and collectibles -- there are a vast number of collectibles available from the very beginning of the game, and it would be quite overwhelming to see them all the first time you access your map.

However, if the towers themselves are going to be treated as non-events, why not circumvent them all together? Are they really needed when you could simply uncover GPS caches, for example, or craft an awesome gadget in Doc Ock's lab?

Or what about Spidey-sense?

Spider-Man enters a new area, his Spidey-sense tingles, and voila: that map area and its collectibles are revealed. That would be more than enough for me.

In a game that is likely perched at the top of many GOTY lists, tower-perching for collectibles seems a bit ... lazy. At the very least, tired. 

While I am glad to see Spider-Man transform towers into yet another platform for Spidey's fluid parkour -- rather than obstacles to overcome -- it is time for developers to find a new approach to how their games' maps are explored.

If they reach high enough, they just might.

Contributor

A stay-at-home-dad with a passion for meditation and video games.

Games Spider-Man Genres ActionAdventure Platforms Playstation 4 Tags game design
Published Oct. 12th 2018

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