The Best Mini-Game Concepts In Modern Console Games
Updated: Sep 15
Nick looks at some of the mini-game concepts that have captured our attention - sometimes more than the game itself!
One of the really fun things that’s happened as video games have gotten bigger and deeper is that more activities have been built in.
"The game-within-a-game concept only seems to be getting more popular, to the point that there are now certain trends within the concept."
Often enough, this primarily means that there are side “missions.” Anything from collecting cult artifacts in Far Cry 4 to running heists in Grand Theft Auto V may come to mind on this front. In other cases, it may mean the option of pursuing an activity on your own — such as collecting all possible outfit variations for your character in a Red Dead Redemption game, or finding as many real-life locations in Fallout games as you can. Really, there’s just about no end to these kinds of activities.
Ultimately though, some of the most interesting add-on entertainment in the biggest and best modern games comes in the form of mini-games. The game-within-a-game concept only seems to be getting more popular, to the point that there are now certain trends within the concept. So, just for fun, we’re going to take a look at some of the best persistent mini-game concepts in popular modern gaming franchises.
It makes perfect sense that sports would be among the most common and appealing mini-games built into bigger video games. The genre of sports in and of itself makes for a very popular category in the gaming world. Plus, in virtually any game with any sort of “lifestyle” component, it’s easy enough conceptually to build in the option of sport for a character.
As a result, we see all sorts of sports mini-games. Some, like the soccer mini-game in “The Farm” social space in Destiny 2, feel almost whimsically out of place, and take on the tone of fictional twists on real-world sports. Others, like the chance to play baseball in Alcatraz in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, are intentionally amusing (if still entertaining). And others still, like a multitude of sports offerings within the Grand Theft Auto series, present like fairly straightforward imitations of real sport. The tennis game in GTA V in particular — one that a guide to activities in Los Santos called “one of the most addictive mini-games” you can encounter — is so good it’s arguably better than most actual tennis video games.
Poker as a mini-game makes sense in much the same way sports do, in that it’s an immensely popular activity, and thus a sure bet to appeal to a lot of gamers. However, there’s also a key difference in this case, which is that poker with something on the line — as many people like it best — is not very prominent on the modern gaming scene. At least as far as American gamers are concerned, that is. There are only a few states with legal online poker with real money, and for everyone else the only options are playful apps and online games imitating the real thing.
Now, poker mini-games are also imitations of the real thing. But at least in the circumstances of the bigger video games they reside in, they’re often made to have real stakes — which makes for an appealing option for a lot of poker enthusiasts. There’s just a little more fun to be had when you’re playing a character who needs money in the game and can win or lose it over a hand of poker. As for where you can actually find these mini-games, the truth is they’re in a lot of games: various iterations of Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry 3, and perhaps most effectively in Red Dead Redemption 2. That said, poker mini-games date back even to some old Super Mario titles!
Most of the poker you find within video games — as well as blackjack and some other casino activities — tends to be real. That is to say, it takes place “in person” for the characters, rather than through video poker machines and the like. However, you do find video games within larger games as well, almost like miniature arcades built into fictional worlds.
This is actually a concept that dates back quite a ways, in a sense. Some old fighting games have arcade backgrounds, for instance, and early Pokémon games had a sort of arcade-slash-casino where you could gamble, even if you couldn’t control outcomes. But in more modern, open-world and adventure games, there are sometimes playable arcades built in. For instance, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76 have multiple video mini-games; Grand Theft Auto V has a sort of Tetris homage called QUB3D; and the arcade system in Far Cry 5 is so extensive it actually enables fans to recreate real-world video games.
It is also quite common to find various types of races built into video games — sometimes as side missions and sometimes simply as mini-games. This could be considered a sort of offshoot of the sports category. Really though, racing mini-games and side experiences run the gamut from sports experiences to all sorts of other off-road, in-air, or simply game-specific activities.
On the sports end of the spectrum, the most overt example may be the inclusion of Formula 1 racing in Grand Theft Auto V. As for game-specific mini-games, Assassin’s Creed: Origins goes so far as to include active chariot racing. In between these examples are countless races on all sorts of vehicles and across a range of games. All things considered, if you lump them all together, this may in fact be the busiest category for mini-games.
Beyond all of the above, there are also some one-off mini-games that have garnered popularity over the years. For instance, there’s a sort of side game based on hacking in BioShock 2 that people enjoy quite a lot; Witcher 3 has its own strategy card game called Gwent. But for the most part, the categories above cover the most beloved and enjoyable mini-games we see in modern gaming.