Gaming is all about time. We set aside time in our lives to play. We spend time beating bosses, clearing levels, leveling up, and scouring worlds for coins. But sometimes time turns against us in the form of a challenge. When the clock starts ticking down, some of our greatest gaming memories are born.
Let’s take time to celebrate the most heart-pounding moments in the world of video games. Moments that showcase our skill. Moments that make us sweat. Moments that we remember for decades to come — all thanks to a little stress and an optional clock in the corner of the screen.
- Developed by Bungie
- First Released in 2001
What better way to end a brutal war against aliens than a high-octane Warthog ride through the Pillar of Autumn? The ending level of Halo, titled the Maw, marks one of the most thrilling moments in John-117’s inaugural adventure. Many scholars say that this frantic race against time, littered with Flood bodies and fire, gave rise to the phrase "close call."
Actually, no scholars say that. But seriously, John, close call.
- Developed by Rare
- First released in 1991
There’s only one thing that makes diffusing a bomb more stressful: getting chased by a giant rat down a mechanical shaft in the process. Battletoads had an abundance of "challenging sections" (i.e. the game’s entirety) but the tenth level, Rat Race, gave us yet another breathless chase to sweat over and spit curses at.
The dizzying, high-pitched music that tumbles out of the Nintendo certainly helps enhance the sense of urgency faced by our favorite anthropomorphic toad warriors.
- Developed by Number None, Inc.
- First released in 2008
Time to Leave
Our perception of time changes often in Braid because manipulating its flow comes as often as a simple "run and jump." In Braid’s ending moments, the hero Tim runs after the Princess as fire rushes over the path behind him.
Only after Tim finally reaches the Princess do we realize that things aren’t as they seem in Tim’s world, and those precious seconds spent escaping a wall of fire unravel before Tim’s eyes.
- Developed by Square
- First Released in 1994
Escaping the Floating Continent
In most role-playing games we do our best to prevent the end of days. Unfortunately for the brave heroes of Final Fantasy VI, such a catastrophe can’t be stopped. The mad mage Kefka disrupts the alignment of the Warring Triad atop the Floating Continent and ushers in the destruction of the world. That rascal!
Most old-school Final Fantasy fans remember the frantic rush to escape as the world falls to pieces. And then waiting those last few agonizing seconds for Shadow elevates this moment into the hallowed halls of Final Fantasy history.
- Developed by Marvelous Entertainment
- First released in 2009
30 Seconds Left
We all know about those role-playing games that demand dozens of hours to beat. We guide intrepid heroes on quests to grow stronger, uncover weapons of glorious power, and undo ancient evils and emerging threats. Then there’s Half-Minute Hero, which compresses all of that down to 30 seconds.
Half-Minute Hero: for the RPG-lover on the go!
- Developed by Konami
- First released in 1986
First released as "Salamander" in Japan, Life Force reminds us to never drop a controller after the final boss. Seriously. Soon after blasting the one thing that stands between us and sweet, sweet end credits, our ship accelerates to harrowing speeds, forcing us to dodge moving barriers in a few final moments of terror.
In conclusion: it ain’t over ’till it’s over.
- Developed by DICE
- First released in 2008
One Last Run
After hours of evading the authorities and dodging assassins, the agile Faith Connors ends her run through the world of Mirror’s Edge with a final rooftop sprint. As the safety of her sister hangs in the balance and gun-toting agents close in from behind, Faith chases after a helicopter and kicks the antagonist within to the streets below.
A short-but-sweet end to Faith’s breathless adventure.
- Developed by Nintendo R&D1
- First released in 1994
The Destruction of Zebes
With one final blast from Samus’ newly-acquired Hyper Beam, Mother Brain falls. So begins one of the most well-remembered escapes in video game history. With mere minutes to depart from the planet Zebes as it crumbles beneath her feet, Samus returns to her ship and — if we choose — also frees some adorable aliens in the process.
Few games to date have captured the same sense of panic and pressure that the Super Metroid ending boasted all those years ago. Ms. Aran knows how to keep calm in extreme situations.
- Developed by Midway Games
- First released in 1992
No match in the Mortal Kombat series is truly complete without a properly executed Fatality. After all, after several rounds of extreme, highly-stylized ultra-violence, why not tie up loose ends with a decapitation? With just a few short seconds to input a button sequence, using Fatalities remains one of gaming’s original races against the clock. And failing that sequence can lead to the most anticlimactic conclusions in digital competition.
Time’s up. Now you take a shot at it. What moments do you remember most when the clock starts ticking? Tell us in the comments below. Did you race to the top of the tower in Catherine? Or catch Makarov before he got away? Let us know, right now.
Special thanks to Brian Altano for getting this joint off the ground.
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