Most video-game fans tend to get into habits when we play. We favour certain genres, and then we play them in a certain way. Some people will buy any military shooter that comes out, then spend 20 hours running madly into gunfire, armed with a default assault rifle. Others will spend hours sneaking around an open-world adventure, planning every attack from the safety of distant bush. Most games are built so that they seamlessly accommodate those habitual behaviours.
But a few either actively seek to wrench you out of your comfort zone, or are so varied and interesting that they make you want to try new things. Fewer still are so beautifully designed they provide you with truly transferable skills, allowing you to take the things you’ve learned to a variety of subsequent games.
Here are five titles that belong in that category – they’re great games in their own right, but they also teach you skills, approaches and ideas that will make you a better player in general. Play any of these for these for a few hours and you’ll emerge a better person … or at least a person better at providing covering fire, zonal marking or bone-crunching ultra combos. And who doesn’t want that?
Blizzard’s superb online shooter teaches most of the basic skills you need to become a competent player of first-person shooters. You learn about different weapon types, about how to move safely through a contested environment and about the need to practise and master maps so that you can anticipate where attacks are likely to come from. On top of this, however, it also teaches you about mastering special abilities – and exploiting specific enemy weaknesses – which is useful for all action adventure titles. And it does all this in a (mostly) friendly and welcoming environment where novice players can really contribute to their side’s victory without feeling like hopeless newbies.
Both Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo provide decent novice driving aids to get your cornering, acceleration and overtaking techniques up to scratch. However Project Cars makes things much more accessible and wide-ranging by featuring a huge range of racing styles, vehicles and disciplines and making them all available from the outset. The handling has been criticised by some for being too ‘game-like’ rather than providing a pure simulation. But for newcomers looking to garner transferable racing skills, the range, variety and accessibility of driving experiences is excellent.
Street Fighter IV
Although it has since been superseded by the visually beautiful Street Fighter V, Capcom’s 2008 iteration remains the place to come if you want to learn fighting game techniques and mechanics. It features all eight of the classic Street Fighter II characters, adds some interesting newcomers and offers a range of compelling playmodes to practise and develop moves. It’s also arguably more balanced and complex than its follow-up, supporting an array of playstyles via its traditional six-button interface. Spending time on a couple of characters in SFIV, learning their focus attacks and ultra combos, will give you a useful crash course is attack and defence strategies.
This rocket car-based soccer sim may look like a crazy free-for-all when you start out, but watch pro players for a few minutes and you’ll learn that its actually a tactically rich team sport. Learning about positioning, taking on different roles and perfecting the handbrake turn and jump/strafe moves all help you to develop into a well-rounded team sports player. The lessons you pick up here about supporting other players and ensuring zonal dominance will be applicable to multiplayer Fifa sessions as well as team-based online shooters.
Super Mario 64 (or later sequels)
With this legendary 1996 platformer, Nintendo effectively invented most of the tropes and traits that have defined 3D action adventure games ever since. Playing Super Mario 64 now (or any of its updates or direct sequels – e.g. Super Mario Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy 1 or 2) will teach you valuable lessons about navigating polygonal environments, discovering secrets and dealing with enemies. The visual language of the Super Mario series is so rich, detailed and intuitive, playing Super Mario is like learning to read and speak in a new form of spatial communication. The only problem is, after playing and mastering these titles, you’ll be forever pointing out the weaknesses of other 3D camera/movement systems.
If you have any other suggestions, add them in the comments section below.
- 10 most influential games consoles – in pictures
- Nintendo Switch: everything you need to know about the console
- The six worst US presidents in video game history