Masterpiece Microscope is a series in which I choose one great video game, then focus intensely on a single specific feature of its gameplay. Upon close examination, we may gain new insight as to just how great the game is, along with a better appreciation for the quality work that went into every little detail.
Somewhere in the game-loving part of my mind is a spectrum. At one end is Formula; that is, the cold, rational mathematics behind game design. Great graphics + sound + gameplay = great game. Throw in some sensible user interface, move around a few pixels and polygons to their utmost perfect positions, maybe tweak that level design a bit, and you have the foundation for a rewarding experience.
On the other end of that spectrum is Whimsy. This is the area where conniving developers hide their giddy secrets, where artists spend hours trying to get the facial expression of a background character just right for no particular reason, where players delight at bonuses and extras. This is where we encounter the extravagantly unnecessary.
And when I consider examples of video games that contain a great many exhibits of the wonderfully unnecessary, I quickly think of Yoshi’s Island.