I know what you’re thinking: “I want, more than anything, to celebrate Mass Effect 3’s integration of voice commands via Microsoft Kinect!”
Okay, actually, that’s not a popular thought at all. In fact, you aren’t even in the minority if you’re thinking that – you’re in the nonexistent. But it did get me thinking about other games that use voice-control as a large (or small) part of their gameplay, so I decided to compile a list of the “Top 5 Voice-Controlled Games.”
Now, you may wonder, There’s five of them? And that’s a good question, which is why this list isn’t “Top 5 Best,” or “Top 5 Worst.” It’s just… Top 5 of them.
#5: Tom Clancy’s EndWar (PS3, 360, PC, etc.)
I think it’s fitting to start with a Tom Clancy game because he likes to talk so much. Since he has so many books, you see.
Heralded as an RTS that players can control completely with their voices, EndWar takes tactics off players’ thumbs and slaps it on their tongues. The game could recognize only certain phrases, of course, which in turn were structured in a conversation tree – but let’s face it: this is war; there’s no time for valiant dialogues.
I give EndWar the number five spot simply because it made me feel like a brilliant war-room General. I even bought a baton at Wal-Mart to complete the part. They only had a sparkly purple one, but hey, this is war: don’t ask, don’t tell.
#4: Odama (GC)
It’s not often that a pinball game requires strategy. After all, you just hit a ball and let gravity take over. But in 2006, one of the last first-party titles for Nintendo’s indigo box attempted to do just that by mixing pinball with real-time-strategy.
Oh, and voice controls.
One of the few GameCube titles to use a microphone, Odama has you commanding troops via a handful of voice commands while simultaneously hitting a big ball (see: the translation for Odama) over the battlefield and into the enemy’s castle. The handful of commands (just over 10 of them) cover things like retreating and flanking directions, but the real charm of this voice-controlled game is how strangely addicting it is. It has a very old-school feeling, straight down to its unforgiving difficulty.
#3: Hey, You Pikachu! (N64)
The coolest part of this game was being able to talk to your very own Pikachu when you were an innocent ten-year-old. The most uncool part of this game is talking to your very own Pikachu when you are in your twenties. With your girlfriend in the room. On Valentine’s Day.
(Steph, if you are reading this, I’m sorry. Please answer my calls.)
Over a period of 365 days, players raise a wild Pikachu by playing minigames, going fishing, and buying stuff for him from a Pokéshop, all the while talking up a storm into the included microphone. After a year, though, players are told they can no longer have their Pikachu because he is wild (which doesn’t make sense, considering the whole point of the Pokémon franchise is to raise wild creatures), so players are forced to release him back into the woods in a horribly depressing scene that made thousands of children bawl. You’re even obliged to repeatedly tell him goodbye while he just stares, confused, before he finally realizes you hate him.
Rumor has it that he comes back after the credits scroll, but most gamers had already checked themselves into a grief support group by that point.
#2: Lifeline (PS2)
I’m going to disclose something: I genuinely adore this game, which is why I made it #2 – so I wouldn’t look biased. Developed by Konami, you play as a tourist trapped on a spaceship-hotel which is suddenly overtaken by monsters. The catch? You’re trapped in the surveillance room and have to guide Rio – a spunky hotel hostess – via the camera systems and an earpiece. Which probably makes more sense in other countries, where it’s known as Operator’s Side.
Very few controller buttons are used, and even then they serve only for menu options. You have to tell helpless Rio to do everything via a headset, literally everything, and her vocabulary is unexpectedly deep. Tell her to shoot a monster’s left eyeball, and she will. Tell her to pick up an envelope from the nightstand by the bed, and she will. Tell her to take off her clothes, and she’ll tell you to get lost (which was unsurprisingly the first question every gamer asked her).
It’s not perfect, though. If you talk too fast or with a drunken slur, she’ll either just shrug or do something unwanted like run away or stand completely still while an oversized maggot festers on her face. Because of that, Lifeline has the tendency to be extremely frustrating at times (and is largely the reason for its average reviews), but when it does work you can really appreciate the depth of the experience.
#1: Seaman (DC)
Quite possibly the scariest game ever made (unless you are Japanese – then it’s the most normal game ever made), Seaman features hideous fish-humans with whom you can play games or have philosophical debates. Eventually the Seamen will evolve into more complex creatures like tadpoles and frogs.
But players need to dedicate themselves to their Seamen if they want them to survive. The game tracks days in real-time, so players must remember to visit and feed their fish-freaks every day or their illegally-bred pets will die horribly.
Seaman is number one on this list because it was the first voice-controlled game that actually got significant attention, but it’s debatable whether that was due to the unique gameplay or due to the terrifying life-like interactions between human players and human fish. Either way, Seaman is definitely the one voice-controlled game every gamer should try at least once.
Players who missed out on this DreamCast oddity can play the sequel coming soon to 3DS.
Honorable Mention: Milo (Xbox 360 / Kinect)
What ever happened to Milo, the young orphan boy who would watch you undress and force you to submerge your hands into putrid pond water? All sources point to it being cancelled, which is just a nice way to say that Milo was murdered.
Apparently the game didn’t actually work nearly as well as the notorious E3 2009 promotional video claimed, which is not surprising considering it was being developed by Lionhead. They have since said that Milo’s technology will be incorporated into the next Fable game, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll never get to experience having a ten-year-old stranger living in our home without the very real threat of prison.