You know what’s great? Games. Games are pretty gosh darned neat, but do you know what’s even better? When you find a smaller game inside your game that’s just as, if not even more fun than the main attraction. These “minigames”, as the kids are calling them, are all the rage with creatively bankrupt writers looking for quick and easy listicle ideas.
In all seriousness, minigames give developers a chance to flex their creative muscles and create something unique, and they offer players an experience that’s completely different to the main game. In some instances, the popularity of a minigame has led to the idea being fleshed out in further games, spun off into its own game or even surpassing the legacy of the original title.
To compile this best of list, we’ve played a little bit fast and loose with the concept of a minigame. Essentially, we’re exploring gameplay ideas and concepts larger than something like hacking or lockpicking interactions in stealth games, but aren’t considered to be the “main” mode of a game. Just stick with it, you’ll get through things perfectly fine. Or you’ll hate the article and leave nasty comments. Either or.
1. Mesal Gear Solid – Ape Escape 3
Ape Escape 3 was nothing short of an underrated and underappreciated banger and Sony would do well to remaster it and bring it to the PS4. If Crash and Spyro can get remasters, the Ape Escape trilogy deserves some love as well, even if certain activist groups would potentially have a problem with a game about someone battering and capturing monkeys.
Ape Escape 3 in particular had some decent minigames, with the weird but oddly brilliant Simian Cinema almost getting a place on this list, but Mesal Gear Solid is just unparalleled in its quality. A fully functioning but abridged retelling of Metal Gear Solid, Mesal Gear Solid has you running around Shadow Moses as a Simian Snake. It’s absolutely incredible, and must be seen to be believed. If you don’t have a copy of Ape Escape 3, do yourself a favour and watch the above video on YouTube, or pay £80 and get this game from Amazon. I swear it’s almost worth it.
2. Snake vs Monkey – Metal Gear Solid 3
Now for the reversal, as the Snake vs Monkey minigame sees Snake hunting down apes across the different areas of Metal Gear Solid 3. Don’t worry, he only uses Stun Grenades and a modified tranquiliser gun, it’s not like Snake is gallivanting around the jungle gunning down primates left, right and center. This isn’t the film Congo, after all.
Once you’ve captured all the apes and got high scores across the different levels, you’d unlock a Monkey Mask and Banana Camo for use in the main game. The mask in particular was sort of useless, if not funny, but it could be used against The Boss at the end of the game to briefly confuse her. Shame that the mode didn’t make an appearance in the HD re-releases though. What’s a guy gotta do to get some Ape Escape love these days?
3. Challenges – TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
Less of a singular minigame and more of a collection of minigames, the Challenges in TimeSplitters: Future Perfect imaginatively subvert expectations of the kinds of gameplay a first person shooter can offer. Though the challenges were a staple of the series since its inception, Future Perfect was where Free Radical really upped their game.
Aside from your “standard” fare, such as the throwback Story Classic challenges that have you run through a level in the fastest time possible, you’ve got the weirder challenges like cat drone racing, monkey curling and lobbing bricks through the windows of a Chinese restaurant. With best times and scores to beat for every task, the TimeSplitters: Future Perfect Challenges are some of the most addictive minigames ever made.
4. The Mercenaries – Resident Evil 3: Nemesis & Beyond
A great example of a minigame evolving over time, and being spun-off into its own thing, The Mercenaries made its debut in Resident Evil 3: Nemesis once you completed the main game. Instead of being an intense struggle to survive the undead hordes, The Mercenaries had you play as an Umbrella Merc tasked with running through a segment of Racoon City as fast as possible, with kills and saved civilians adding to your time.
The mode reappeared in Resident Evil 4, but was much arcade-esque in its gameplay. Kills still added time to the clock, but you’re not racing to a finish line. Instead, you’re running around a small location, finding new weapons and time bonuses so that the slaughter may continue. Later iterations followed this formula closely, with its own 3DS spin-off game, Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D, adding equippable skills and weapon sets to give the game a more strategic edge.
5. Poker – Red Dead Redemption
There’s been plenty of Poker minigames available over the years, with some proving to be more gripping than others. For some reason, I pumped more time into the online Poker minigame in Test Drive Unlimited 2 than I’d care to admit, even if I ended up blowing $100,000 going all in on a Ace High. Thank god I’ve never been to Vegas.
That said, there’s something to be said about the Poker in the Red Dead Redemption series that really captures the card game at its most dangerous. It’s not just losing all your savings that’s a risk when you go to sit at a table. One winning hand, no matter how dubious it may or may not be, could suddenly lead to something much more life threatening.
6. New York Minute – Max Payne
Similarly to The Mercenaries, Max Payne’s New York Minute was a faster paced version of the game that forced you to murder henchmen and goons as quickly as possible to extend the time on the clock. With just a minute to start with, you’ve got your work cut out for you to build your total time if you plan on finishing each level.
Again, like The Mercenaries, the New York Minute has evolved and developed with each iteration. Despite the problems fans might have with Max Payne 3, it offers the most developed and replayable version of the minigame available as you compete for the best score across multiple levels. Plus, New York Minute Hardcore is an endurance challenge for the ages as you try to complete the whole game in one sitting with just one life.
7. Gwent – The Witcher 3
Gwent addiction is a real thing, and one that’s torpedoed too many The Witcher 3 playthroughs to count. The horrors of The Wild Hunt will have to wait because Geralt is too busy finding Gwent cards and challenging tavern dwellers across the land. If you’ve been a victim of Gwent addiction, just remember that you’re not alone.
The popularity of Gwent across the world prompted the developers to spin the minigame off into its own fully fledged releases. Gwent: The Witcher Card Game is a competitive card game similar to the likes Hearthstone, while the recently released Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales takes the gameplay style of Gwent and ties it to a brand new storyline. Seems like CD Projekt Red have the Gwent supply to meet the massive demand. Fingers crossed the inevitable card game in Cyberpunk 2077 isn’t quite as addictive.
8. Motor Kombat – Mortal Kombat: Armageddon
The Mortal Kombat series has made a name for itself for including strange but ultimately fun minigames in a lot of its games. MK Deception double dipped in that regard by introducing both Puzzle and Chess Kombat, both of which were interesting and enjoyable, albeit in short bursts. Test Your Luck mode also added weird stipulations to regular fights, making it an ideal party mode, but Motor Kombat stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Introduced in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, alongside a hefty Konquest mode and a fighter creation system – wait, sorry, “Kreate-A-Fighter”, Motor Kombat puts classic MK fighters into a kart racing game, complete with cutesy characters with oversized heads, power-ups and crazy tracks. With Mortal Kombat 11 now a thing, we ask Ed Boon to bring this mode back for one game only. C’mon Ed Boon, it’d be great.
9. Pick One – Yakuza Series
No, seriously. Pick one, because I certainly couldn’t. When it comes to minigames, the Yakuza series practically has the monopoly, with each new game introducing new concepts while keeping hold of mechanics fans loved from the previous games. Not only that, but the minigames are surprisingly deep and engaging, often times distracting you from the main storyline entirely.
Smaller highlights include Karaoke and the fact you can play Virtua Fighter 5 in the Club Sega arcade, but the big winners are minigames like managing your own hostess bar, running your own gang, joining a Pocket Racer league and fronting your own baseball team. Kazuma Kiryu is a man of many talents, it would seem.
10. Bloody Palace – Devil May Cry 2 & Beyond
The epitome of that thing you hate actually doing something cool, like Fortnite adding a mode where you play as Thanos (and we’ll get to another limited time mode in a bit), Bloody Palace made its debut in Devil May Cry 2, which has long been regarded as the worst entry in the franchise. Fans tend to argue about the quality of Ninja Theory’s DMC, but they can unite on the fact that it’s better that Devil May Cry 2.
The mode has undergone a few transformations over the years, but the core concept remains the same: a series of fights, either random or pre-set depending on the iteration, that get progressively harder as you go on, and at set intervals you’ll have to take on bosses. It’s a monumental endurance challenge and completion is experienced only by those most dedicated. Maybe Devil May Cry 5 will finally be the time for Ash to conquer the Palace.
Nah, it’ll probably kick my ass all over again.
11. The Streak – WWE 2K14
No, this isn’t a minigame where you beat up some naked guy. That’s saved for the online mode and the game’s creation tools, after all, or at least it would be if the servers were still online. The Streak was a minigame contained within WWE 2K14 that centered on the now legendary WrestleMania undefeated streak of The Undertaker. Of course, this was pre-Brock Lesnar battering an old man at WrestleMania 30.
The Streak comes in two forms: Defeat and Defend. Defending the Streak has you playing as The Undertaker as you take on up to 100 opponents in one sitting in what can only be described as the wrestling version of Bloody Palace. That said, the true highlight is attempting to defeat the Streak, as you take on a powered-up version of The Undertaker in an intense battle for the ages. Just when you think you have the upper hand, Taker teleports behind you and whispers “nothing personal, kid” before hitting you with a Tombstone Piledriver.
12. Insurance Fraud – Saints Row
The Saints Row series has had its fair share of fantastic minigames over the years in the form of its “activities”. These minigames, particularly in the first two games, were used as a vehicle to temporarily gate off the main story as you needed to arbitrarily get more respect in order to progress. Side note: remember when most games of the 2000s were obsessed with earning respect? Those were more innocent times. Now it’s all about accruing followers and influence, like real life social media isn’t enough of a hellscape as it is.
While there were plenty of brilliant activities in the series’ history, including Mayhem, Professor Genki, Crowd Control and Septic Avenger, it has to be Insurance Fraud that makes this list. The premise couldn’t be simpler: dive head first in front of oncoming traffic to score points. There was some strategies to succeed in this minigame, but really, it was an excuse to laugh at ragdoll physics for a few minutes, and we’re okay with that.
13. Knockouts Mode – EA UFC 3
The UFC games are fantastic depictions of the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, but sometimes they can be a little bit too complicated for their own good, particularly when it comes to grappling and the ground game. It’s hard to play a game like this with friends if only one person knows how to take your ass to the ground and make you tap out, and the less said about taking the game online, the better. That’s why Knockouts Mode is bloody incredible.
First introduced in EA UFC 2, the mode was expanded upon in the third game, coming complete with high-as-a-kite commentary from Snoop Dogg himself. Knockouts Mode takes all the bullshit away from MMA. No clinch work, no takedowns, no submissions: just 100% KOs 24/7. Each fighter can only take 5 significant hits (jabs and leg kicks don’t count), making each fight a tense stand-off as you try to score that winning blow. Plus, you can set matches to 1 hit KOs, so you can compete to land the flashiest KO possible.
14. Tekken Ball – Tekken 3 & More
Earlier in this list, we spoke about how Mortal Kombat has a reputation for minigames, but the same could be said of Tekken. When deciding what to put in this list, it was hard to choose because Tekken’s history of minigames includes the likes of Tekken Force, Tekken Bowl and Tekken 5’s Devil Within story, but there could only be one true choice: Tekken Ball.
First introduced in Tekken 3, Tekken Ball is a more violent version of Volleyball, not too dissimilar to a Studio C video about the legendary Scott Sterling. Essentially, you have to make sure the ball doesn’t land on your half of the screen while using sick combos to send the ball hurtling towards your opponent’s face. If there was an actual eSports league for this game, I’d watch it in a heartbeat.
15. Geometry Wars – Project Gotham Racing 2
For this entry, we have the curious case of a minigame managing to survive longer than the series where it made its debut. Geometry Wars was initially developed as a way for Bizarre Creations to test the original Xbox controller during the development of Project Gotham Racing. The team snuck it in as an easter egg for Project Gotham Racing 2, but it became so popular that Bizarre developed its own game for the 360’s Xbox Live Arcade.
Geometry Wars is your basic twin-stick shooter, with the left stick controlling movement and the right stick firing in whichever direction you decided to point it. Though the first iteration of the game seems fairly rudimentary now, the standalone versions of the game adapted and refined the concept to make it one of the finest of a retro throwback ever made. We love you, Geometry Wars, but please don’t make us try and complete that Wax Off achievement again.
16. Monkey Fight – Super Monkey Ball
Another series notable for its god-tier minigames, Super Monkey Ball might just be one of SEGA’s best franchises, as you tried your best to get a tiny little ape in a hamster ball to the goal in the fastest time possible. While the sheer amount of normal levels in the main game ensured that Super Monkey Ball would hold your attention for a long time, the minigames are often what kept players coming back.
With well over a dozen fantastic minigames, including classics like Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Baseball and the underrated Monkey Cannon from the less than stellar Super Monkey Ball Adventure, it’s hard to pick a favourite. Nah, who are we kidding? It’s Monkey Fight. Up to four players try to smack each other off a platform with a giant boxing glove attached to a ball, which is as fun as it sounds.
17. Outbreak – Rainbow Six: Siege
For the most part, limited time modes are basically minigames, right? We’re agreed on that? LTM’s like Overwatch’s Lucioball and Junkenstein’s Revenge gave Blizzard the opportunity to add something new for a brief time, attracting older players back to the game with the chance to try a different mode and a new experience. They’re essentially Special Edition minigames available for a small period, and the best example has to be Siege’s Outbreak mode.
A 3 player co-operative experience that added a whole new story to the game, Outbreak took a selection of the regular operators from the main game and plonked them right in the middle of an alien infection that’s ravaging New Mexico. With 3 complete levels, new enemies, operators and more, there’s a case to be made that Outbreak represents the most amount of effort put into a mode that people could only play for about a month. Still, what a great month it was.
18. Chao Garden – Sonic Adventure & Sonic Adventure 2: Battle
Okay, show of hands: who completely stopped caring about the nefarious schemes of Dr. Robotnik/Eggman after you unlocked the Chao Garden? I sure as hell did. No one cares about an evil scientist’s army of robots and his plans for world domination when you can raise your own little bundle of virtual joy.
Introduced in Sonic Adventure, Chao Garden was fleshed out in the sequel to include angel and devil Chao, but the premise remains the same: raise a Chao’s stats to the point that they can take part in and ultimate dominate race events, all so you can earn precious emblems that push you ever closer to 100% completion. On the Dreamcast, you could even take your Chao with you using the console’s Virtual Memory Unit, meaning the minigame was basically Tamagotchi for Sega fans.
19. Tackle Alley – Backbreaker
I’m chucking in an obscure personal pick here, because more people need to be aware of Tackle Alley. The minigame appeared as part of the mediocre American Football game Backbreaker, famed only for the fact that it utilised the Euphoria engine to simulate its physics. You might recognise Euphoria as that same engine that’s led to a host of glitch montage videos featuring multiple Rockstar titles, and Tackle Alley was Backbreaker’s best method of showcasing its power.
Not too dissimilar to playground games like Red Rover or British Bulldog, players have to go from one end zone to another while avoiding being cleaned out by an ever increasing amount of blockers. While regular Backbreaker might have faded into relative obscurity, Tackle Alley morphed into the spin-off title Backbreaker Vengeance, which added new modes and features to the overall experience. If you’ve still got your PS3 or Xbox 360 lying around, give this one a whirl.
I couldn’t find the challenge on YouTube, so enjoy Hulk carrying cars up buildings instead.
We’ve spoke about Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction before on Cultured Vultures – well, no, that’s a lie. I’ve spoken about it a lot, because it was one of my PS2 favourites and I loved destroying New York City with Marvel’s big angry green dude. After being ruined in 2003 movie tie-in game Hulk, Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction was a complete redemption for the virtual version of Bruce Banner’s alter-ego, and one of those reasons is its challenges.
Along with your standard batter all the enemies and crush the city challenges, two particular challenges stood out more than the others: Urban Golf and Gamma Golf. As you might have already guessed, both challenges see Hulk trying to whack a ball into a target in the fewest strokes possible. Watching a big green beefcake lowering his handicap while civilians cower in fear really puts the Incredible in Incredible Hulk. I’d watch more golf if it had giant green men hitting balls around.
And that’s our list, but no doubt we’ve left out some of your favourites. Let us know in the comments which minigames you love.
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