Have you ever finished a game and wished there was more? I don’t necessarily mean anything that falls under DLC. I’m talking about content that - if it exists - lies somewhere beneath the surface. Content that developers refuse to discuss. Content that you feel relieved to bring up to a forum and discover you’re not alone in thinking this way. Even if you and your friends turn out to have fallen for a wild goose chase, you’ve spent so much time in a particular game that you start to see the pieces of the level design that suggest there used to be more. I love these mysteries, and they’re what keeps me coming back to my favorite games.
We have numerous ways for increasing replayability in our video games. For instance, you can purchase DLC to gain access to new levels or find all of the collectibles if you're a completionist. There's nothing wrong with that, but I believe games with enigmatic auras about them could encourage a more natural reason to replay the games. Whether or not the mysteries are based on rumor or a hunch, you might start to see evidence of scrapped levels and bosses, and find yourself wondering about what could have been. It's even better if you discover a secret so shocking that you can later brag about later online.
Following this line of thinking, two news articles caught my attention. The first is that a player discovered glitch levels in Super Mario Bros. 3, although Kotaku later clarified that the discovery is not new. In another, Nintendo released a screenshot of an unused level for The Legend of Zelda, which looks completely different from the final build. Neither of these are new levels required to beat the game, but they’re still interesting nonetheless. I never knew that you could run past the throne room in Super Mario Bros. 3 (although it’s possible some kid might have discovered it back in the day), and I didn’t know the original The Legend of Zelda was supposed to be a string of dungeons, let alone what it would have looked like had Nintendo stuck to the old build. Now, despite how old these games are, I still find myself thinking, "Is there more?"
An enigmatic game is too alluring to refuse. Take Shadow of the Colossus. Although you have a giant map to explore, your quest is linear. This desolate world is full of ruins, and unlike the laser-focused protagonist, I want to know what secrets these buildings held. Others believed so strongly that there was an extra unlockable colossus, and they even formed a community of secret seekers dedicated to discovering anything else that can be done in the game. They never found a secret colossus, but they did discover content hidden within the game’s code that didn’t make it into the final build. These dedicated gamers managed to extend the initial 10-12 hour completion time for the sake of exploration, and some of it managed to pay off.
Sometimes the mysteries backfire. I remember hearing rumors on the playground about the possibility of unlocking Luigi in Super Marios 64. Although I'm certain I followed the directions completely, I of course never unlocked Luigi and felt like I wasted my time replaying the game (admittedly, it’s not that different from the idea of searching for the 17th colossus). Rocksteady hid a clue in Batman: Arkham Asylum so well that they had to announce it several months after its release, reducing the secret content’s impact. At worst, rumors can mislead lead players to waste their time, but even the faultiest of rumors are too compelling not to try in a game.
Is it important for every game to be as enigmatic as Shadow of the Colossus or offer hidden glitch levels like in Super Mario Bros. 3? No. There are too many games and your time is limited. However, some games are more compelling to think about than others, and even though there's no guarantee that there are more secrets to be discovered, these hunches provide gamers a more organic reason for replaying their favorite videogames.