Last week I explored some of my favorite opening sequences in gaming, and this week I'm doing the polar opposite, my favorite ending sequences. While a great opening can get you off on the right foot and get you motivated to continue, a great closing is just as important. There's nothing worse than putting several hours of your life into a game only to have it leave you with a sour taste in your mouth.
Like last week, I'll only be including the final moments of player control, and let me stress one more time: SPOILERS AHEAD! Let's get started.
While the end credits in Super Mario World are perhaps my favorite end credits ever (not to mention that I love the music that accompanies it so much that my wife and I played it as we left the church at our wedding), you don't hear too many people talking about the events that lead up to it. You trek your way across the Valley of Bowser and finally make it his castle, and suddenly find yourself with several doors to choose from. The game had already proven itself to be bigger and better than any other Mario game up to that point, and this final stage only drove that fact home.
You have a room with four doors, each one taking you to a different area, and after you get through it, you have another set of four doors. This meant that you had 16 different combinations of paths to choose from in order to reach Bowser, and I had a ton of fun just going back and replaying the castle to see them all (and now I always choose doors 3 and 5 since they're the quickest to get through).
After a short section with a disco ball that you can turn on and off, you come to the final battle. Seeing Bowser descend upon you in his clown car/ship/bowling ball distributor was very intimidating. Then, after you manage to get through the first two stages of the battle, the once happy clown car furrows its brow and starts stomping it's way toward you. This was very intense for a 6-year-old Dustin Thomas, but the payoff is worth the fear if you can pull through.
That was quite a bit to say about an honorable mention, but Super Mario World is my favorite game of all-time, so you may be wondering what could possibly have beaten it? Well, let's continue and I'll tell you.
I play every campaign in the Call of Duty franchise, and I always wind up leaving them satisfied (except Ghosts, there's no logical reason why that dude was still alive). We can say what we want about Call of Duty and how it's become one of those "dudebro" titles, but I still enjoy the campaigns quite a bit, and they always end with some sort of epic showdown or event. But the one I still love going back to is the ending of the original Modern Warfare. I should clarify I'm not talking about the airplane hijacking bonus mission, I'm referring to the end of the actual story.
Up to that point you had already experienced a ton of intense moments, including the Captain Price sniper mission and the terrifying final moments of a soldier's life after his chopper is taken down by a detonated nuke. The game is very bleak at time, but never more so than in the game's final mission, when your vehicle is overturned and you're outnumbered by enemy forces. The game then goes into a cinematic slow-motion scene where you witness your comrades getting shot and the game's antagonist walking towards you.
After an incoming missile strikes down an enemy helicopter, the enemy's attention is diverted, and your camera pans left to find Captain Price (whose mustache is so manly that the only way to make it more manly is to attach my beard to it) who slides a pistol your way. Three concentrated shots later, followed by the words "Objective Completed," leave you feeling like you actually saved the world.
Escape sequences in games are sometimes very captivating. I remember the final bridge escape from Uncharted 2 very vividly, and the Metal Gear Solid tunnel chase is also a very fond gaming memory of mine. But no game has done the escape sequence as well as Super Metroid. Before we get to that, though, let's back up a bit.
As you make your way through the final area of Planet Zebes, you find yourself about to be attacked by an enemy, when suddenly, the once tiny metroid appears, now several times larger, and kills the enemy before turning its attention on you. Once it realizes who you are, it lets you go and you're able to confront Mother Brain. It can't be overstated just how much of a surprise Mother Brain was here. Rather than just fighting a stationary brain in a glass enclosure, this one shows its true form, revealing itself to be the size of a t-rex. When it seems all hope is lost, the metroid reappears, saving and energizing Samus with a powerful new energy before Mother Brain is able to kill the metroid. A noble and appreciated sacrifice.
At this point Samus becomes a two-legged death machine and must race against the clock to get back to her ship before the planet explodes. I just played Super Metroid for the first time last summer, and this was a thrilling final sequence. I managed to escape the planet with only 15 seconds left, and I got really depressed when I discovered you can save the creatures that helped you along your adventure. I was selfish, little ones, and I'm sorry.
If you're a faithful reader of my top 5 lists, then you probably remember that I listed the 2008 version of Prince of Persia as my number one hidden gem on the previous generation systems a little while ago, and part of that is because of how much I loved the ending. Much like the baby metroid, your companion, Elika, sacrifices herself to save the world. If the game were to end right there, it wouldn't be as memorable.
What happens next is that the prince takes Elika into his arms and you're tasked with walking her body outside. The credits begin to roll as you continue to walk. I don't know why this was so cool to me, but it was. It was nice having something to do while the credits roll rather than just sitting around and looking at a bunch of letters formed together to make names. But it doesn't end there. In order to save Elika, you're given control of the prince once more and must destroy the Tree of Life, a major plot device in the game. When he does this, she is revived, but he opens the door for the game's antagonist, Ahriman, to unleash his darkness upon the world.
I would have preferred if this were a player choice: save Elika or save the world, because whenever I'm given a choice, I always opt for the "greater good" conclusion. Nevertheless, this remains one of my favorite ending sequences ever.
Note: do not play the downloadable epilogue, it negates everything great about this ending.
On last week's list, Sonic429 brought up the openings of the Metal Gear Solid games. I then got really mad at myself because I'm one of the biggest Metal Gear fans you'll meet and I completely overlooked the tanker mission in MGS2. It was the first time since I started doing my weekly top 5 series that someone mentioned a game and I felt like I genuinely forgot something that probably would have made my list. Oh well.
But I wrote that list and this one in tandem, and I certainly couldn't write a list of my favorite endings without including one that left me sweating and with an aching thumb. I bought a Playstation 3 for the sole purpose of playing Metal Gear Solid 4, and while I did wind up playing other games on it, it remains my favorite PS3 exclusive and one of my favorite games of the last generation. The only section of the game I didn't care for was that tedious third mission in Prague, but outside of that, I think the game is a masterpiece. But how could you top the finales of MGS 1, 2, and 3? That final fisticuffs battle with Liquid and subsequent chase sequence? Completely outstanding. The weirdness that is the final hour of MGS2? Nothing if not memorable. The fight with The Boss that concludes MGS3? One of the best final battles in gaming.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and try to explain what's going on to anyone that hasn't played the game because I only have so much time left in my life and that would take up the majority of it. The place I decided to start with this one is in the microwave room. Yeah, it's basically just a QTE that requires no skill or reflexes, but it was one of the most tense hours of my gaming life. At least, it felt like an hour based off of how bad my thumb was hurting by the end of it (unfortunately, I couldn't find a video that shows the button prompt, which makes you feel a great sense of urgency). But I had to block out that pain, I had to help Snake reach the end of his hero's journey. Then you get a nice little throwback to the original Metal Gear Solid, fighting Liquid at the top of Outer Haven, with cool close-ups adding a nice touch while the MGS theme plays over the scene.
The final moments of Blood Dragon speak to everything that I love about 80s action movies. There is no possibly way they could have crafted a better final sequence for the type of game that it was than the one that came in the finished product. Some may complain that there's no challenge at all, and it's true, there isn't, but that's what makes it great. You're in a giant, impenetrable, steel blood dragon that spouts one-liners and, in the dragon's own words: "shoots lasers out of its f****** eyes." You literally just walk to the end of the game in this dragon blowing up every single thing you see (no shortage of red barrels here). Oh, and by the way, you do all this while the song "War" from Rocky IV is playing. I listen to that song at the gym all the time!
I've written an entire blog about why I feel Blood Dragon is the best "modern-retro" game ever, and there's really not much left to be said. How can you read that last paragraph and not be blown away? Just watch the video, guys. Trust me, it's worth it.
And as I always do at the ends of these lists, what are some of your favorite ending sequences that I may have missed?
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