Top Five Best Introductions in Gaming

The beginning of a game can make or break a player’s interest. A successful introduction can familiarize the player with the game’s key mechanics, as well as set the tone for the rest to come. Should they manage this, these intros can become ingrained in the collective consciousness of gamers, setting traditions that inform developers for years after release.

With that in mind, here are some of the best game intros:

World 1-1 – Super Mario Bros (1985)

It’s strange to think that players once gazed upon World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros with unsuspecting eyes. The level truly set the standard for all side scrolling platformers to follow and has since become one of the most recognizable levels in gaming. This has made it subject to multiple parodies and tributes, by comedians and filmmakers such as Animation Domination High-Def, Rocket Jump, and Robot Chicken.

But what makes it so super to begin with? Well, the main reason for its inclusion in this list is the way in which it introduces the player to the game’s core concepts. The early challenges goad the player to search for solutions to the game’s essential obstacles, especially by jumping. By mastering these initial hurdles, the player is taught how to play the game and therefore make progress when these are elaborated on later.

Other key reasons for its presence on this list are its memorable musical theme and visuals. These ingredients work in conjunction with the gameplay to create a distinctive, upbeat experience that can be enjoyed across different generations and demographics. This universal appeal explains why the Super Mario series has survived for so long.

Hyrule Overworld – The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Drawing influence from a long legacy of graphical adventure games including Warren Robinett’s 1979 game Adventure, The Legend of Zelda allowed players to explore a vast fantasy world. Dropped into the middle of a forest clearing, the player must search the map for items and the eight pieces of the Triforce within the game’s temples.

As a game built around exploration and player freedom, this established Zelda’s tone from the very beginning, offering the player only vague instructions before setting them loose in an open space. It allowed players to stumble across secret pathways and hidden loot by themselves, without direction, making each new discovery that bit more personal to uncover.

The opening to The Legend of Zelda rewards players for being curious. On every screen is an original non-playable character to encounter, treasure to be plundered, or foes to be slain. It gave players a huge world to explore brimming with unique opportunities, despite the Nintendo Entertainment System’s significant limitations.

Barnett College – Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992)

Game developers have struggled for years to emulate a filmic style, but to this day there are still only a few noteworthy cases of videogames achieving a cinematic look and feel. One such example is the opening of the LucasArts’ point-and-click adventure game Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

So, what does this intro accomplish that others simply don’t? Well, a lot actually. As well as familiarizing the player with the game’s interface, it manages to replicate the tone of the films tremendously by putting you in control of the heroic lead in the midst of an adventure.

The player meets Indiana Jones as he is busy hunting for an important relic amidst a collection of antiques. You must move the mouse and interact with the items around them in the room to advance to the next screen and to the next portion of the credits.

Whereas many of its contemporaries force you to passively watch the pre-credit sequences, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis opts instead to keep the player an active participant in this section, combining scripted events with interactive segments. Its immediacy and presentation ensure that there’s never a dull moment on-screen.

Jungle Hijinx – Donkey Kong Country (1994)

Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System is a landmark title in gaming, and not just for its graphics. The game was a massive success for the British games industry as a whole, marking the beginning of an important partnership between the Japanese videogame giant Nintendo and UK studio Rare. Such a huge event required an unforgettable opening and Donkey Kong Country gave us just that.

Exploding out of Donkey Kong’s tree house onto the jungle floor, the player is immediately faced with a striking visual aesthetic that features a mix of 3D rendered characters in a 2D environment. That autumn in 1994 it was possible for a moment to hear the collective jaws of gamers hitting the floor.

The graphics weren’t the only break from convention either. Jungle Hijinx also introduced new characters to the series – most notably Diddy Kong. This gave players a diverse range of movements to experiment with: from Donkey Kong’s slow forward roll to Diddy Kong’s faster cartwheel.

There were numerous secret areas to uncover in Jungle Hijinx as well. If you were to backtrack at the start of the stage, you could return to the interior of Donkey Kong’s house, which was filled with Kong memorabilia, or visit the Kong’s empty banana hoard. This was in addition to three bonus stages hidden throughout the level, comprised of timed jumping puzzles, barrel slot machines, and golden animal statues. The amount of detail in the level was staggering for its time.

Spencer Mansion – Resident Evil GCN (2002) 

The first Resident Evil game was camp, but managed to provoke a sense of isolation and fear through the use of a fixed perspective and eerie level design. When it was decided by Capcom to remake the game for Gamecube in 2002, several of the sillier elements were removed in favor of a darker style. The game was also given a complete visual makeover.

Retelling the story of the S.T.A.R.S Alpha Team searching for their missing colleagues in Bravo Team, the opening of Resident Evil GCN was a significant improvement on its predecessor. Through a brief cutscene, in which the team discovers some human remains, we are introduced to the team and the threat that they face from the effects of the T-Virus.

Evading a group of zombie dogs, the Alpha team takes shelter inside the mysterious Spencer mansion, which serves as the primary location for the game. Inside the main hall, the player character is forced apart from the rest of their group and urged to go investigate the mansion alone. It is this feeling of seclusion and the intricate detail in the environments that really set this game apart. The atmosphere present in the first 10-20 minutes of the game is something the franchise has tried time and time again to recapture in recent years, with varying degrees of success.

These introductions all establish their games through different means, but share a common principle. This is to ease the player into the virtual world they inhabit and give them the tools necessary to succeed. Some of these entries achieve this through tone, while others depend on design and storytelling. There are plenty of great introductions out there. What are some of your favorites?

When not glued to the latest release, Jack Yarwood spends his time writing and talking about video games online. You can follow what he’s up to on Twitter at @JackGYarwood.