Although I played a large number of games this semester, the two games I played the most were Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Neither games are particularly narrative heavy, but both certainly present interesting approaches to integrate more developed narratives into essentially action-oriented games.
Considering how obsessed the game industry has become on delivering complex and involved narratives, Super Mario Galaxy presents about as bare-bones a narrative as is possible these days. Essentially, the plot is the same as every other Mario game: Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach, and Mario must rescue her. The difference is not that of story, but of setting. For reasons that remain unexplained, Bowser has access to high tech spacefaring technology, and abducts the Princess off to the center of the universe. Mario must go from galaxy to galaxy, picking up stars to power a machine in order to get himself to where Peach is being kept. That’s it. That’s the whole narrative. Every so often, once you’ve obtained a certain number of stars, there is a brief cutscene, but all it ultimately tells you is that a new sector to get stars is now available.
What is pretty interesting is that when you beat the game as Mario, you can then play through again as Luigi. The thing is, during the first play through, you rescue Luigi during one level, and then he helps you find a couple stars. When you’re playing as Luigi, who do you rescue? Luigi! The game even asks the question about whether there’s been weird cloning going on. It’s a strange decision, but also quite interesting.
On the other hand, Twilight Princess offers much closer to the conventional involved narrative. What I do find interesting, however, is how sporadic the narrative passages are. Which, now that I think about it, is how most games work. Few games are continually narrative. Instead, a narrative passage will set the stage for the character moving on to the next area of the game, which, when it is completed, will be followed by another narrative sequence, leading into the next action-focused passage. The game introduces Link, then gives me some fetch quests to learn the mechanics. Then my friends get kidnapped, and after a fairly lengthy narrative sequence, I learn how to progress. Once I’m done with that, I head off to the first dungeon, which represents an hour or two of uninterrupted gameplay. Once the boss is defeated, another narrative passage will tell me where to go. This, it seems to me, is the standard model of game narrative, a back-and-forth between narrative cut scenes and action oriented passages.