Some games have epic, sweeping plots that could easily have been made into an action Miniseries instead of a game. Others just seem to have a plot because people feel a little silly doing things for no reason, even if the real reason they're playing is because it's fun.
An Excuse Plot is, in the simplest terms, a plot that is clearly there merely as a justification for the gameplay, or other form of flashy, show-offy-ness, to happen. In short, the story serves the needs of the gameplay, nothing more. It makes no pretense of intrinsic value, but simply provides some banter so you understand why the purple and non-purple units are shooting at each other.
A potential disadvantage of including a half-assed plot (as opposed to no plot at all) is that it can make the game seem unfinished, poorly thought-out, or childish. However, many developers either do not think about these risks or consider the structure and context an Excuse Plot provides to be worth it.
An Excuse Plot is not necessarily a poorly written, minimalistic, or stupid storyline, only one that has been written to obviously showcase something else. Beware of the Anthropic Principle.
Save the Princess is the most common Sub-Trope.
Some games may not even bother with plot at all.
Compare Extreme Sport Excuse Plot, Just Here for Godzilla. For the porn equivalent, see Pizza Boy Special Delivery. Contrast Play the Game, Skip the Story, where the plot is textually deep and/or complex, but is overlooked by players all the same.
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The Cheapass Games board game Devil Bunny Needs A Ham has a story, which, in all seriousness, goes as follows: "You and your friends are living pleasant and full lives in Happyville. You are highly trained and well-paid sous-chefs, who have decided to climb to the top of a tall building, as fast as you can. Devil Bunny needs a ham. And he's pretty sure that knocking you off the building will help him get one. Perhaps he is right. Perhaps he is not." A purer example of an Excuse Plot has yet to be generated.
The Excuse Plot for Fight City is purer. "It's a city, and they fight."
Steam Tunnel couldn't even stay interested enough to finish its excuse: "In the year 2185, in the steam-driven titanium mine deep under the surface of Io... oh, who are we kidding. Steam Tunnel is a great game with no particular basis in reality."
Clue's plot is essentially - "Mister Boddy is dead. Find out whodunnit." There is no explanation of who Mister Boddy is, why would anyone want to kill him, or who the guests are and why they're at the mansion. Various other ports DO list motives, but they're all contradictory (and none of them tell us who he is).
Candyland has a backstory about the King being kidnapped by Lord Licorice and only two children from our world being able to find him, with gingerbread men (the playing pieces) acting as guides. Even as a child, did any of this matter when you were actually playing the game? No.
Many modern eurogame makers have actually admitted that they outsource writing a plot after the game is fully designed.
When the entire theme and plot are tacked on afterwards, the fan site BoardGameGeek.com refers to this as the "theme stapler".
Red Ears: In this pornographic comic book series every pot is just an excuse to showcase sex scenes.
Georges Méličs, being a magician interested in illusions, was really more interested creating a visual spectacle. The "plot" of films such as his famous A Trip to the Moon mainly served to provide a context for his then-revolutionary special effects.
Commando. Not unexpected being that it's part of the Arnold Schwarzenegger oeuvre, but a particularly notable example — the movie doesn't even pretend it's going to have anything to do with the whole "kill the Prime Minister / President / whatever of Val Verde to get your daughter back" stuff. This has the rather amusing result that pretty much every scene with Arius before the climax basically involves him sitting around waiting for Matrix to show up and kill him even if he doesn't realize it.
A staple of many action movies: the action is simply there for the sake of the action.
Porn would count too: the plot is usually unimportant.
Many exploitation movies have a very poorly written plot, simply there to deliver the cheap thrill the poster promised.
Many early Pinball machines could be said to fall under this trope, as their themes were often superficial applications onto a mechanical table. This was averted with modern pinball games, since the use of computerized controllers allow for more complex plots and gameplay.
Atari's Hercules, which was an excuse to build a REALLY BIG pinball machine.
Pro Pinball: The Web has a motorcycle rider who has to stop a woman out to Take Over the World with an army of spiders. You do this by racing bikes, stopping a shuttle, raiding skyscrapers, and other odd tasks... don't ask, just go with it.
Averted with Doctor Who, which has a very detailed (relative to most pinball games) plot involving The Master and Davros teaming up to use a "Time Expander" to destroy all incarnations of The Doctor. Unfortunately, much of it was All There in the Manual, which made it very difficult for casual players to learn the game.
There was a popular Planescape module called The Great Modron March where the event in the title begins decades before it is supposed to, and the PCs are supposed to help the modrons. They'll probably never learn just why the event is happening early, and there are a variety of hooks as to what motivation they have (like being hired as bodyguards by people interested in it) but Word of God admitted that the real reason the PCs are going to want to help the modrons is because it's just so cool. (And admittedly, it is.)
Of course, the actual reason was somewhat serious, but it was part of a plot of a different module (which could be used as a sequel to this one if the PCs do find out. Primus, the ruler of the modrons, had been murdered, and his throne usurped by a "mysterious shadowy entity" who ordered the March early to search for something. The entity was actually Orcus in his guise as the undead demon Tenebrous, who was trying to find his Wand. Orcus' return became the main plot of the epic two-part module Dead Gods.
The plot of Battletech, feudal nobles in space fighting wars with Humongous Mecha, seems intended to create a situation to justify the use of mechs in warfare. But then the writers went into why they use mechs to conquer planets (instead of say, nukes), how they can conquer an entire planet with just a few mechs, and how the wars got started, plus the need to introduce new factions. And it all snowballed into a complete Expanded Universe.
Titanfall: Something about Earth and corporations - HEY! Robots!
Borderlands's plot can be best summed up as this: Something about a Vault - Cool! A revolverthat shoots shotgun shells! And an SMG that lights people on fire! And - well, you get the idea. It's a common joke among the fandom that there is only plot in the first half hour and the last (when the Guardian Angel calls you up to remind you about that Vault thing). Word of God says that they started out wanting to do something at least somewhat serious and Fallout-like, but...
Thankfully completely averted for the sequel. Borderlands 2 has a deep and engaging plot, a strong cast of characters (including a villain you'll love to hate), and quite a bit of expansion on the few plot points from the first game.
Combat Arms: Virtually no plot is given, save for little blurbs on loading screens that mention why Team A and Team B are fighting.
Most games in the Harvest Moon series. The basic plot for these games boils down to this: Friend/Relative X has died and left Player Y with Farm Z. Now go farm on it and steal the village women. The Rune Factory spinoffs vary from this slightly, where the protagonists have Laser-Guided Amnesia... and therefore need to farm and kill goblins.
Battlefield 2 It is never stated why the war is taking place, although one map hints to it being about oil, but no info as to why the USA is fighting China too.
Similarly, neither of the games in the Bad Company subseries offers even the slightest explanation for why the United States is at war with the Russian Federation (yes, Russian Federation, not Soviet Union, so communism can be ruled out), much less why the latter is projecting forces all over the Western Hemisphere in the second game.
Battlefield 3's attempt at a serious plot is so generic and cliched that one wonders if the game is better served without a campaign at all.
Super Monkey Ball 2 fits this trope to a T, with a plot that that goes from exploding an island to making bananas tasting like curry.
An interesting example of a video game Excuse Plot that is not an excuse for the gameplay is the TimeSplitters series, where the time-travelling plot seems to be an excuse to make one giant super-pastiche of numerous story genres, such as western, horror, cyberpunk, and noir among many others.
Tomb Raider: Unfinished Business is four bonus levels made with the original TR1 engine. Since the designer had no resources to make cutscenes or a new artifact for Lara to find, or any means of telling a story in-game, the player just starts, plays the four levels, and then they just... end. Lara achieves nothing. It's still great fun though. The actual plot is All There in the Manual (or online, as the case is).
The later Gaiden GamesGolden Mask and the Lost Artifact also apply, although they do try and integrate their story a little, and Lara is rewarded with the titular.
While most of the other games at least have some plot behind the locations, even if it's very small, Tomb Raider 3 essentially uses this trope too, as, right until the last levels the plot is so slim it essentially amounts to "there are four artifacts located in four separate parts of the world; are you a bad enough gal to find them?"
Why is Lara breaking into the church of All Hallows and why does she need to find a bunch of secret, completely unrelated areas first?
In Bad Dudes, the premise of the game was that the US had recently been hit by a wave of ninja crime, and the White House was their latest target. (As the arcade version phrases it, "RAMPANT NINJA RELATED CRIME THESE DAYS...WHITEHOUSE IS NOT THE EXCEPTION...") This is only really referred to in the opening cutscenes, and the primary goal of the Player Character was simply to beat everyone up.
Smash TV's storyline about an kill-or-be-killed game show is largely an excuse to shoot things and rack up points. There are piles of cash and prizes to be won, and a grand prize (although you get that before facing the final challenge), but it's not clear how exactly these are implemented...how many "year's supply of meat-s" does one man need, anyway?
The NES Mega Man games. Eventually, it became clear that Capcom was having difficulty coming up with new excuses for their latest Mission Pack Sequel. To elaborate more, starting with Mega Man 4 the plot would almost always be a new villain trying to Take Over the World would show up, until it would just turn about to be Dr. Wily again.5 and 6 both did the same exact plot, although 7 and 8 changed it up. 9 and 10 went straight back to the old "it's something else, but then it turns out to be Wily again" formula, where it seemed to openly embrace the idea and played the "twist" for laughs.
Warriors Orochi. The snake god Orochi has brought the warriors of Three-Kingdoms-era China and Sengoku-period Japan together in the same universe to challenge him. Sure, whatever - all we care about is getting to have the Dynasty and Samurai Warriors together at once.
The ancient Windows puzzle game Maxwell's Maniac was based off a genuine physics thought experiment, known as Maxwell's Demon; the premise being that a magical being could observe individual molecules and sort them to reverse entropy. He can't. This is ubiquitous in shareware games, to the point where it seems like authors compete to come up with the silliest one.
Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball makes an attempt to justify transposing the female fighters of the Dead or Alive series into a volleyball tournament/lesbiandating-simulation. They are tricked by one of the male fighters into visiting an island. When they discover that there will be no fighting, they put aside their mortal enmities, play volleyball and other minigames, and buy each other skimpy clothing. And then they fall for it again in the sequel (although only one of them, Hitomi, fell for the exact same trick twice; the other females were at least got there from a different trick).
In Xtreme Beach Volleyball, Zack (the least important character, and with no connection whatsoever to anyone else in DoA) builds an island resort with his gambling winnings. No reason given, and before you ask, he has a girlfriend now (in fact, she helped him with this project). It's eventually destroyed by a volcanic eruption. In Xtreme 2, Zack discovers "the treasure of the Pharaohs", which he uses to... hire an alien spaceship to restore his resort. Again, no explanation offered by any party as to why Zack is doing this, never attempted to search for a safer location, is only interested in women he faced in a fighting tournament in the past, etc. Aaaand, it's ultimately destroyed by a second volcanic eruption, culminating in Zack plunging several hundred feet into the flames. This isn't really spoiling a damn thing here, it's really that much more more gratuitous than any softcore porn flick.
Never mind that, how about the actualDead or Alive? Lessee...something about a dead rich guy, something about a big nasty corporation, something about French opera, something about a wrestling league, something about bioengineered life forms, something about constantly bickering ninjas...ah, screw it! Bring on the ass kicking, fanservice, and counter moves!
Arkanoid actually has a somewhat complex plot: The starship Arkanoid is destroyed by (something) and you escape in the ship Vaus, This leads to bouncing a ball off the Vaus to destroy blocks because Vaus is "TRAPPED IN SPACE WARPED BY SOMEONE" mumble mumble mumble DIMENSION-CONTROLLING FORT "DOH". Well, yes.
Alien Swarm. You're drafted into the army to defeat a swarm of aliens and search for survivors.
Quite a lot of FPSers, especially multiplayer-only ones.
The opening quote is from the lead programmer of Doom. There was originally a long and complex plot with multiple protagonists. This was cut and the plot was reduced to: "You're the last Space Marine left on Mars. Shoot anything that moves." Obviously this didn't detract from its success. Later it adds "Go To Hell and Back". But still doesn't change things.
Left 4 Dead, which has the required Zombie Apocalypsebackstory, but it's never really explained, and the developers admitted they didn't want to put in any more plot than that. It's just one big "slaughter anything that's not you or teammates before it slaughters you," with only a few hints in design and dialogue about the characters themselves (though that is slightly expanded outside the game, which mostly focuses on the survivors than the zombies).
Yahtzee described the plot thusly; "'Here are some zombies' pretty much sums it up."
The wall graffiti found in safehouse exists to provide some background info on the setting as well as possible hints about the infection's origins (more so in the sequel).
Painkiller. You're in purgatory. Shoot everything until it stops moving. When it does, the exit opens up (also, Purgatory is really just every cool environment the designers had time to come up with, regardless of whether it makes any sense to have a modern military base next to an ancient Persian palace).
Quake III: Arena: You are thrown into deathmatches by some sadistic gods. As the game's manual put it: "Frag everything that isn't you."
Every Quake game, usually featuring some sort of Alien Invasion that must be repulsed. The first game vacillated on whether "Quake" was the enemy or the hero.
Except perhaps IV, in which the plot actually has some relevance. II tried as well, but the plot was little more than very basic cinematics in between levels.
Shadow Warrior starts out with you taking down Zilla's men when they try to do a Contract on the Hitman on you for leaving Zilla Enterprises, but then has you taking them down to avenge Master Leep and save the world.
"Nine mercenaries have come together for a job. It's the middle-ish part of a century a lot like the one we just had. A simpler time. There are three TV stations, one phone company, and two holding corporations that secretly control every government on the planet. Each corporation administers its half of the world with a multi-disciplined army of paper pushers. For any problem lacking an obvious bureaucratic solution, mercenaries like these are contracted to address the situation through a massive application of force."
The Excuse Plot for Soldier/Demoman War? Kill more of the other side so you can get the super secret extra unlockable: a pair of boots that shield you from Rocket Jump damage. (In-Universe, it's because RED Demoman and BLU Soldier became friends and the Administrator 1) didn't want to risk sensitive information being shared among her peons and 2) REALLY doesn't like friendships.)
With each successive major update, the absurd, tongue-in-cheek backstory of the game has become more elaborate. (The producers note that it's developed the most detailed story of any Valve franchise, even the plot-oriented Half-Life.) It now involves attempts at achieving immortality through technological advancements, family feuds over inheritance, and a mineral element with fantastic properties capable of making Australia into the world's dominant power. That, however, is all on the TF2 website. Load up the game and it's just "Shoot everyone dressed in the other color."
Virtually any Shoot 'em Up. The best you're likely to get is "The [enemy name] is attacking [us]! Shoot anything you see!".
All your trope are belong to Zero Wing. The opening cutscene of the PC Engine version is rather different from that of the infamous Sega Genesis version.
The official plot of R-Type is "Blast off and strike the evil Bydo Empire!" Later games elaborated on what the Bydo are and why they are attacking, but the games in general still amount to this.
The official plot of Galaxian is "We are the Galaxians. Mission: destroy aliens", not even explaining whether this is instructions for the player character or a threat from the enemy. Even the supplementary material doesn't explain this.
From Crystal Crazy's instructions: "Although it might be possible to think up some contrived scenario like you're a ship raiding somebody else's crystals while some nasties try to stop you, it wouldn't really be worth it."
The "Lost Viking" minigame in StarCraft II parodies this trope.
Jeff Minter's Andes Attackjustified similar gameplay with good aliens fleeing bad aliens by landing on Earth and living with the ancient people there. One of the aliens got bored, and used a timescoop to collect "a Commodore 64 and a study Kempston joystick" from the future to play games on. Unfortunately, the bad aliens picked up the RF transmissions from this, and attacked Earth. Plot was never important to Llamasoft games.
Katamari Damacy: The King of All Cosmos went on a drunken bender and knocked all the stars out of the sky. You're his son and you have to fix it by gathering balls of roughly equivalent size and mass as replacements.
God Hand doesn't even bother to hide how it's mainly all about beating up thugs, demons, robots, and the occasional gorilla in a wrestling mask. The story's actually kind of neat, but it never gets in the way, serving instead to flimsily justify the next level. Even the characters joke about how ridiculous it is.
Pokémon: The point of the game is to get you to collect all the Mons, train them, and perfect your team for battling all other trainers in the land, and, eventually, other players. Having the goal of becoming the master of the Pokemon League and fighting the local evil team is just the framework for you being able to do all this.
Eventually changed in the main series with Pokémon Black and White, where the "evil team" storyline, which was usually confined to the Excuse Plot, is now the main plot of the game, advances within each and every major location visited, and it's conclusion is the conclusion of the game, subverting the usual "beat the Champion and become master of the Pokemon League" ending.
Conkers Bad Fur Day has actually been considered to be an outright parody of an Excuse Plot: Conker gets drunk at a pub, wanders off into the night, wakes up hung over in a place he doesn't recognize, and sets off on a quest to get back home. Meanwhile, the Panther King schemes to kidnap Conker because a red squirrel is the exact height needed to replace the King's broken table leg, which he uses to hold his milk. The plot later thickens as it is revealed that the King's right hand scientist has been incubating an Alien life-form in the king's stomach, and his attempts to capture Conker are to ensure that the King won't go without his milk.
Every single bit of plot in Contra is just an excuse to let you go and mow through enemies with your gun.
Jon Ritman freely admits of Head Over Heels that he "made the whole game up then added the bullshit in the last fifteen minutes".
One of the earliest examples: Donkey Kong, from 1981, although this only partly counts, since it was one of the first attempts to make an actual story in the game.
The Super Mario Bros. and Zelda series: Are you a bad enough plumber/elven expy to save our princess in another castle? Increasingly averted in later games, though, when the Mario series started to makes witty caricatures of themselves while the Zelda series got more complex and darker.
The first The Legend of Zelda actually tried to justify the Dismantled MacGuffin premise by stating that the Triforce of Wisdom was required to defeat Ganon. No explanation as to why. The only indication is that if you enter Ganon's fortress without the completed Triforce, the room immediately after the entrance will have an old man who says "THOSE WHO DON'T HAVE TRIFORCE CAN'T ENTER" and prevents you from going further. Okay, it's understandable that the NES had limitations, but it's still just a bit unsettling that the real reason you need the completed Triforce is, essentally, "Because I said so!"
New Super Mario Bros. Wii almost has to be parodying this in its intro scene. Peach gets a birthday cake. Bowser Jr and Koopalings jump out of it, throw cake at Peach and carry Peach off into an airship while chased by Mario, Luigi, etc. And Toads fire items out of cannons across the kingdom.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 is about as simple: Bowser captured Peach, became giant and took over much of the universe. Stop him. Or, from the manual, Princess Peach wanting Mario to come to the Star Festival so she can share cake with him.
Super Mario World: Mario, Luigi, and Peach are on vacation in a land of dinosaurs. Bowser has hidden seven dinosaurs in eggs. Even if you use the Star World to warp straight from Donut Plains to Bowser's castle, you will have saved all seven.
Super Mario 64: Peach invites you to her castle for cake. Bowser's kidnaps Peach and imprisons everyone. Go collect the Stars and defeat Bowser.
Super Mario 3D Land: Mario is walking along happily when he's suddenly informed that Bowser has Princess Peach again. Go get her. In 3D.
New Super Mario Bros. 2: The same as Wii, but without the cake and about seventy-thousand times more coins than usual.
New Super Mario Bros. U: This time, Bowser flies directly to Peach's castle, throws Mario & Co across the world. They land in a tree full of magic acorns, spreading them across the world. And now you know.
Super Mario 3D World: Bowser gone into a new world and kidnaps some unnamed fairies for...some...nefarious purpose (that or they just look cute to him). Go and stop him, oh and you can bring along Toad and Peach to help too.
While the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy did feature a cast of memorable, unique characters, the plots generally boiled down to "Hey, look, there's a bad guy doing a bunch of bad guy things! Now go kill everything in your path while collecting gems and X type of collectible!"
River City Ransom deserves special mention: The Big Bad kidnaps Ryan's girlfriend. He makes you face all the gangs in the city, including "evil bosses" (Yes, he actually calls them "evil bosses".) But the real hero is Karma Jolt.
Columns, being a puzzle game, can't help but fall into this trope.
The first game has some blurb in the instruction manual about it being a game played by jewel traders in the Near East or somesuch.
Super Columns for the Game Gear had a plot about getting an amulet back from an evil merchant. You get past her minions by challenging them to the titular game.
Columns III had your character as an Adventurer Archaeologist attempting to find the treasure of the Pyramids. You battle bats, skeletons, scorpions, and mummies... once again by playing a Puzzle Game.
At one point, main developer Icefrog added a third "neutral" faction to "spice things up", he went as far as making a convocatory to allow players to write the backstory for the characters in the neutral faction. Sometime later, when he was running out of space for placing new heroes he simply deleted the neutral faction and relocated the heroes back into the two main factions, he didn't even brought up the issue, not like anyone cared anyway.
MOB As in general run on this, because of the lack of story integration. League of Legends can be summed up as "disputes are settled by elites because having another full-scale magic war will destroy the world," and even then, newer champions are given less and less justified reason for joining the League in the first place. Heroes of Newerth is basically "A coalition of man and beast vs. Demons and a few traitors that are trying to take over the world." Even Dot A 2 is just "two factions unconditionally hate each other and are fighting over territory."
Chips Challenge had a storyline as an excuse for its puzzles. Chip wants to join a club, and all the levels take place inside a magic clubhouse which serves as the entry test.
None of the Kirby games have much of a story, but quite possibly the best, excuse-iest plot by far would be the story for Kirby Squeak Squad. Kirby's strawberry shortcake is stolen. He decides this is obviously the work of King Dedede (it isn't) and sets off to defeat him. The entire remainder of the game consists of Kirby's relentless pursuit of his cake, completely oblivious to everything else that happens.
The majority of the plots of the subgames in Kirby Super Star could be described as "X is causing trouble, go stop them." Which is only slightly better than the plot for The Great Cave Offensive, which has a plot that can be summed up as "Kirby fell down a hole, might as well look for treasure while you're down there, amirite?"
The first Kirby game is definitely an example: "King Dedede has stolen all the food in Dream Land, beat him up and get it back!". Latter Kirby games at least tend to have a Plot Twist of some sort even if they do boil down to MonsteroftheWeek plots.
It's really a let down for Sins of a Solar Empire that in interviews the developers talk about how the three factions come to fight against each other, and that none of them are actually evil, and there are reasons for it. But in the game, the story are just background and use as justification for technology/look of the ships, but no campaign. Fortunately, the developers promised a full campaign some time in the future.
In fact, it goes ALL the way up until you start playing... they have an opening cutscene and everything that is narrated by the same TEC character that did the promos - with the set up for the three factions and their conflict... and then, it's just you vs. whoever...
Postal reputedly had a complex, layered story to explain why you wanted to kill everyone from ostrich farm to military base, but buried it to streamline the slaughter.
In Postal 2, it's plainly obvious that the "plot" is nothing more than excuse to run around committing mayhem. Your missions each day include tasks like buying milk at the store, and returning a library book.
Crackdown has a plot involving gangs and genetically enhanced soldiers. It's really an excuse to tear up a city with your super heroic gunslinger.
And for some reason, the creator of the genetically enhanced soldiers is not just a mad scientist, but a devil worshipper?
Gundam Vs. Gundam has the Devil Gundam come to live and take over arcade machines for games representing all of the franchise's 30-year history, forcing the characters to work together and save their virtual existences. No, really.
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom is even worse: Characters live in TV Land. They beat up each other. The end.
Ultimate All-Stars elaborates a bit: Yami pulls multiple characters from both sides into a mishmash of dimensions; They beat each other up until they realize what happened, then go to settle the matter in the final boss fight.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe: Freak accidents involving Shao Kahn and Darkseid fuse the two Big Bads into a Bigger Bad named Dark Kahn and consequently, cause the Mortal Kombat and DC universes to merge together. The inhabitants of both worlds believe those of the other to be invading their own and thus (surprise, surprise) they beat up the everloving shit out of each other, which said Bigger Bad amplifies by infecting everyone with Unstoppable Rage because, yes, he admits to loving nothing more than the kombat when you confront him at the end.
In Yoshi's Story, the plot is something about collecting fruit to restore the Happiness Tree and save the adults who have been zapped with some kind of spell.
The Interactive Fiction game For A Change has quite a lot of plot, but it gets a mention for its iconic intro.
The sun has gone. It must be brought. You have a rock.
Wario Land in all games in the series can be summed up as 'Wario wants to get more treasure and money by beating up the enemies that get in his way and coming into world saving situations almost entirely by accident. The latest game actually makes the intro and ending completely optional movies that can only be watched from the media room after seeing them once.
WarioWare is another example, in that the plot has hardly anything to do with the gameplay, with said gameplay being 3-5 second micro games, and said story being short random adventures of Wario and friends.
The latest one, Snapped!, is actually more excusable than the preceding — all of the story can be found in the opening.
Atlantica Online has only a thin thread linking all the quests: Atlantis has disappeared, Oriharukon somehow leaked out and is now screwing up the planet's history, and it's up to you and your fellow Remnants to lead your armies and right every wrong.
Gunz: The Duel. The actual plot is only a couple of paragraphs, and considering there are no cutscenes, it's barely noticeable ingame. Made more ridiculous by the fact that it calls itself an MMORPG.
The Korean version has PVE questing and dungeons, but nobody plays this side of the game.
Quest mode has you blasting up goblins and other mobs until the map is cleared, and occasionally fighting a boss along the way.
Donkey Kong Country: Crocodiles have stolen your bananas. Get your bananas back. Cranky Kong had to point this out.
Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest.: Donkey Kong has been kidnapped by crocodiles. Are you a bad enough monkey to rescue Donkey Kong?
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat: DK wants to be King of the Jungle, so he tracks down and beats up all the biggest animals he can find, claiming their territory until he eventually meets up with the Cactus King, who had brain washed the game's bosses. Not that Donkey cares, he just beats the king up to prove he's the baddest Gorilla in all the land.
The WiiUpdated Re-release rectified that last bit by changing the plot from "DK (is a Jerkass and) pummels everyone to absolute pulps to prove his superiority" to "Some big, weird animals from distant lands have stolen your bananas. Get your bananas back."
The original Donkey Kong game - "Some big, weird animal from a distant land has stolen your girlfriend. Get your girlfriend back." The big weird animal in this case being Donkey Kong, and Mario has to do the saving, so maybe Donkey Kong as a Jerkass makes a bit more sense?
An often overlooked fact mentioned in the manual is that the Donkey Kong you play in Donkey Kong Country is actually Donkey Kong Jr.. Cranky Kong is the original Donkey Kong, as evidenced by his comments about in his day they didn't have screen scrolling, and they also say in the game manual as well if I recall correctly. So, it may just be accurate to say Cranky Kong(original Donkey Kong) is a Jerkass, but Junior is more the pacifist type.
You must stop the sun and the moon from fighting by... uh... partying? According to Mario Party 6, yes.
The original Mario Party game had all the Mario characters compete with each other to solve major problems in order to determine who is the "Super Star". Again, by partying. It eventually ends with you unlocking a secret board and trying to recover the broken pieces of the Eternal Star, with Bowser trying to stop you at all costs with his minions. Bring out the party.
Lampshaded in Skate It, where there's a live action video of an announcer describing the horrible devastating climate events which have wrecked the world's major cities. The slides he shows are an 'Artist's Impression' of the events, which are drawn childishly and in crayon. Then you go and skateboard around the ruined cities for no real reason.
Mole Mania: For whatever reason, a farmer with a huge island and more subordinates that outnumber the legions of hell decides to kidnap the wife and children of a mole. As the mole you then go through multiple areas of the island with some fun puzzles, complete bosses like a kangaroo, a legion of hedgehogs, and the sun itself. And in the end, the farmer somehow is an Implacable Man that gives up on his own terms when you beat his challenge.
Earthworm Jim: Don't let your enemies take your super suit. Also, protect Princess What's-Her-Name, cause they're after her for some reason.
The official plot in Galaxian is "We are the Galaxians...Mission: Destroy Aliens". Most people don't even realize the game has a plot in the first place.
If you want a truly ridiculous excuse plot, look no further than Quiz & Dragons, a two-player 1992 CapcomQuiz Game where you must save the kingdom of Capconia from the Big Bad Gordian, obviously a Satanexpy, who has stolen a mystical seed and used it to enhance his mooks' wisdom on subjects including, but not limited to, science, geography, and television! The mooks then go around eating people that get their questions wrong. The sage king has no choice but to send a fighter with a Healing Factor, a wizard who can change quiz categories, an Action Girl that can take out one or two choice answers, and a ninja that deals twice the amount of damage to take back the Wisdom Seed and save Capconia. And what do you get for saving the kingdom? Your name on canned soup flavors!
Glider PRO houses rarely made an effort to provide a justification for the auto-generated opening message of "get every star to win", though a few such as "SpacePods" tried to work in a flimsy premise. The game's engine doesn't really allow a different mode of play.
Online Flash game Powerfox has a little "plot" window during the opening screen that explains the story: "Powerfox, you need to rescue the world!" "Yeah."
Super Space Invaders — the Amiga port of the arcade game Super Space Invaders '91 — adds a story wherein some old arcade machines are jettisoned into space in the year 2061, though a Space Invaders machine broke out of orbit and drifted through space until twelve years later, when an very intelligent alien race got their hands on the arcade machine. Then in 2091, the Invaders, now real and threatening, suddenly show up and proceed to attack earth colonies. After that, you play through was is essentially the same game you've played countless times before.
Portal is a very interesting deconstruction of this trope. The plot at first seems to be a thinly disguised excuse for having you run through a bunch of rooms where you play with the portal gun. With cake as the reward. Then it takes a look at how insane players would have to be to work under such conditions and what kind of psycho would expect them to.
The developers of Carmageddon were forced to come up with a literal Excuse Plot to allow the game's release in the United Kingdom, where the full blood version was refused a rating by the BBFC, effectively banning it. To get around it, they swapped the pedestrian sprites for legions of the undead, tinted everyone visible in the starting FMV a bit green, and changed its voiceover to make the same scenes as in the US release appear to be about a vehicular crusade to exterminate the zombies.
The various sub-games in Half-Minute Hero all boil down to one of the following: "You have 30 seconds to save the world/defeat all the enemies before sunrise/get back home before the gate closes/guard the sage casting the kill-everything magic".
"This gives me a plan, a plan so devious it must have been hastily tagged onto the game after it was complete."
In Diner Dash: Flo Through Time - The plot is as follows: A broken microwave sends Flo and Grandma through time. And apparently a lot of their customers since we have teenagers and jerks talking on cellphones in the middle ages...
Deadly Towers uses a ridiculously long Opening Scroll to explain that the plot involves a prince about to come of age who has to defeat a devil threatening his kingdom by burning down the seven towers of the devil's castle.
Canabalt: Run and jump across the rooftops to escape... something. The background featuring Humongous Mecha stomping through a wrecked city show that you don't want to be around here, but that's all you get.
Sub Terra has two excuse plots. The one on Spiderweb Software's website is fairly simple: there's a mine, you want to steal the gems, and the miners set traps to prevent you from doing precisely that. The one in the game itself explains the main character as being a scientist with ultimately heroic intentions, but neglects to explain why he needs to collect gems.
"princess is kidnapped. you must save princess." That's the entire Excuse Plot for Eversion, complete with (lack of) capitalization. This is stolen from the old MSX game Crusader.
The original Tekken had a very dull story, essentially being a tournament to find the greatest fighter in the world. This has been improved in later games, though, and Tekken 6 has a hugely developed storyline.
Blast Corps: A carrier is carrying defective nuclear warheads. They leaked, necessitating setting it on autopilot to head straight to its destination regardless of what's in the way when a single impact could set the nukes off and cause nuclear winter. Your job is to destroy every obstacle in its path.
Even after you avert the nuclear crisis, you are then called back into action to destroy more buildings because a damaged space shuttle needs to make an emergency landing and it's in the middle of a town. After that, you are called to go to the Moon to clean up debris left there by mankind and your team knows just how silly the whole thing is, but they go along with it anyway. Just more excuses to blow stuff up and no one is complaining.
Sonic the Hedgehog: An evil scientist is turning cute forest animals into robots; stop him! Sonic 2: Evil scientist is doing it again; stop him, with the help of a mutant fox! Sonic 3 & Knuckles: Evil scientist has duped an echidna into helping him; stop both of them!
Apparently, the in-game plot was kept to a minimum in the Genesis games so that Sega of Japan and Sega of America would be free to make up mutually contradictory backstories, tailored to their target markets. Then came the Sonic Adventure games and the addition of an actual plot to the series (and with it, the Western backstory was almost entirely rendered Canon Discontinuity).
Sonic Generations can be summed up as this: "Time and space is being distorted by an unknown being! Sonic, go team up with your past self and save your friends as you save the world and explore areas you encountered years ago!"
Jojo's Fashion Show: World Adventure. Before each level there's a couple of lines of an incredibly boring story about some stereotypical bitchy fashionista drama, w/e. Other than the story being about fashion designers who are going on a world tour, and the game being about you designing outfits to fit different styles from around the world, it's entirely irrelevant. The level titles are ostensibly based on the story, but they have little bearing even on that.
Lampshaded in the online game Fancy Pants Adventure 2. "You must go in after him! For justice! For humanity! For World 2 to have a plotline!"
Other than a short three paragraph summary at the start of the game, Banana Nababa doesn't really have a complex plot. It mainly amounts to a wizard stealing six jewels and now some guy has to kill six bosses in a tower in order to get them all back.
The First Funky Fighter has a beautiful lady kidnapped as your main reason to punch suckers out of a massive bunch of wacky crocodiles and sharks!!
This trope is one of the (many) reasons why Soulstorm, the third Dawn of War expansion, is so despised. While the previous three campaigns possessed fairly intricate stories with detailed charcters (though Dark Crusade was pushing it), Soulstorm's campaign is "a Negative Space Wedgie attracts nearly every faction in the galaxy to a single system. They fight".
The plot of Warriors Of Might And Magic is present but extremely shady and hard to get (at least in some versions). You work your way through a series of unrelated dungeons (including a village inhabitated by Orcs, a golem-infested maze, a dungeon city full of goblins and minotaurs and zombies, a temple of demon worshippers and a dark temple-prison inside a volcano) in order to remove a mask. Which happens at 3/4 of the game, leaving you with no reasons why to invade the temple.
Blizzard DOTA, another minigame for StarCraft II, is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena that features player-controlled hero characters from various Blizzard games fighting it out in a crossover of several franchises. The story stated in the trailer consists of some mumbo-jumbo about two gods in dire need of some entertainment who kidnap the heroes from their respective universes. The announcer in the trailer then states outright that "these heroes are forced to fight to the death in an endless battle with no purpose other than ladder points!"
Fury3 does have a plot—rogue bionic warriors are rising again to take over the galaxy (or maybe universe, it's never specified)—but in general, all a player needs to know is that you go to random places on random planets and shoot everything that moves. Except for trees.
Jaleco's City Connection had one of the cutest plots ever. You're a tourist who stole a huge load of paint from a hardware store in New York, and the police have just put out an APB on you. The only way to shake them is to paint every inch of the Big Apple's single-lane, three-level highway system. Along the way you have to either avoid the cop cars or shoot cans of oil at them and ram them, as well as not hit any of the enormous cats or roadblocks that show up out of nowhere. Once you're done with New York, it's on to various other cities around the world with increasingly screwy single-lane three-level highway systems.
In Real Life, the games made in computer camp game design classes for kids follow this trope. The games aren't usually meant to be sophisticated enough to have cutscenes and the like. It's just gameplay, with a small backstory added with a "show the game information" command.
In the flash game Gun Bot, the "plot" is being made up on the spot by a developer who was so busy with making the game that he forgot to add in a plot, deciding to just make it up as he goes along. This is the reason why a robot has a bug for a little sister.
Catacomb Abyss: "You arch rival Nemesis has summoned the dark forces of the underworld to destroy all that is good." That's about it. There's some other background information to be found, but it's mainly about the creepy places you'll be going to, which are in themselves a large part of what this game series is all about.
It is actually surprising to learn that Linear RPG does actually have a plot. It's kind of in the background.
Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Instead of just climbing all over a city and tagging, our hero becomes a freedom fighter in a dystopian future enforced by Adam West.
In the opening of Urban Yeti, a silly Game Boy Advance game, we are told that Yetis surely exist and are among us, therefore they would, like us, want to have a home and family. And so the titular Yeti's journey begins. Get ready to Yeti!
The freeware shmup Hydorah has only bare hints at a plot. Apparently, there's some sort of alien empire ruled by an evil god named Hydorah that is attacking. But half of what little dialog there is (16 lines counting the post credits scene) makes no sense, and some of the missions don't even involve fighting the Hyodrans/Meropticonians/whatever at all.
In Temple Run, you steal the idol. The demon monkeys start chasing you. Now run. (Good luck.)
Meat Boy: You are a cube of meat/skinless boy. Suddenly, a fetus in a tuxedo wearing jar suit kidnaps your girlfriend (who is made of bandages). Go rescue her. Ther'se also Buzz saws, lots of them.
The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blowout: Bugs Bunny's fan club is celebrating his 50th birthday, but his jealous Looney Tunes co-stars don't like this and do everything they can to obstruct his way to the party.
Hoard. You're a dragon! Burn kingdoms! Steal treasure! Kidnap and ransom princesses! Dodge the evil knights trying to kill you!
The I of It. The intro goes as following - "Once upon a time there was an I and a t. 'Bah', said the t, and left. 'Where is t?' I was wondering, and started the quest."
The games in The Elder Scrolls series are all open fantasy worlds, that give the player a lot of freedom. The premise of these games is to let the player do what he wants. Each game has a main plot, but it can be ignored entirely. In fact, even when the main plot tells you to hurry, nothing bad will happen if you don't.
Except for Daggerfall. Oh, the main plot isn't pressing, but if an individual quest in it tells you you have a limited time to do it, pay attention.
Alien Hallway: There are aliens in the hallway. Aliens are bad. Shoot them. That's all the plot you need.
Dark Orbit: It's a bunch of years into the future. Humanity has left Earth and colonized the stars, but needs resources. Three mining companies have formed. They can't get along. Here's your ship. Join one of the companies and kill everybody not in it.
Where did all the aliens come from, and why aren't the corporations more worried about killing them than each other?
The prologue to the Flash game Robot Wants Puppy in its entirety: "In Zeta Sector, Morgox the Unborn has conquered all of civilization and spread his dictatorship to every corner of the galaxy, ruling with an iron tentacle. / But on Delos IV, a rebellion is forming. Ordinary people are rising up to stand against tyranny. Meeting by cover of night, they plot to cripple Morgox's fleet from within. The attack is set in motion simultaneously by confederates working in stardocks across the sector... / Meanwhile, in a completely different galaxy, thousands of light years away, Robot wants puppy. / By the way, his tentacles are literally iron. That wasn't some kind of metaphor.
Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix has a simple plot for the excuse of having Mario characters having a dance off against each other. Waluigi stole the Music Keys, which can give someone the power to take over the world. He gets defeated but then Wario takes his place and after he gets defeated, Bowser steps in as the Final Boss. Yes, the villains dance off against Mario and Bowser, despite his big frame, can dance pretty damn well.
The plot of Persona 4 Arena is explained as Teddie setting up the tournament and inviting all the characters to see who is the best Persona user. Oh, and some of the characters from Persona 3 want in on the fun too. Except not. The Teddie who set up the tournament is an impostor (as is the commentator, Rise) and the real one has gone missing. That Teddie is the shadow of a girl who was thrown into the TV, and the tournament is her dungeon. And the P3 characters are there investigating the theft of one of Aigis' sister units...
Snowboard Kids. What little plot there is in the first game is All There in the Manual. Snowboard Kids Plus has cutscenes or the prologue and everyone's endings, though, and in Snowboard Kids 2, there are cutscenes before and after each course.
Pretty much the point of the Mission Mode from Dynasty Warriors: Gundam. It had several out of character moments just for the sake of fighting. For example Zechs Merquise's mission involves destroying every mecha that fires energy just to prove melee is the way to go. Master Asia wants to beat up every under age pilot as some kind of hardcore psychologist. A girl can also invite the player to beat up her own older brother Judau Ashta as a punishment. Even couples fight for ridiculous or unexplained reasons.
Angry Birds: The Pigs stole the Birds' eggs to eat, and you have to recover them by flinging the Birds with a slingshot at the Pigs' buildings to defeat them.
Angry Birds Rio has a slightly more complex plot, the main Birds are captured by bird smugglers and taken to Brazil, and they have to save the other locked Birds and defeat Nigel and his minions.
Angry Birds Space has the same plot as the first one, but IN SPACE!
Angry Birds Go: The pigs are having a race for cake, the birds come by and see the cake too and also want it. Thus joining in on the racetrack.
In Find Mii, the little adventure game that comes with the Nintendo 3DS's Street Pass Mii Plaza, your main Mii is the ruler of a kingdom. Monsters break into the palace and kidnap him/her. Use Streetpass to recruit heroes and go rescue them. The sequel uses the exact same plot, aside from adding a prince and princess to the list of royals who need saving.
The point of Time Gal is that a villain named Ludo is traveling through different time periods in order to make himself ruler of the world in his own era. the heroine is a young lady named Reika who is traveling through time to stop him. None of this is mentioned in-game.
The ZX Spectrum game Arcturus has 22 in-game pages of plot involving the development and destruction of at least three intergalactic civilisations, with Earth set to be the fourth. It's quite a phenomenal backdrop and story to justify the fact that, underneath it all, the game is actually just 4x4x4 tic-tac-toe.
Many games by WildTangent (which often come bundled with new computers) are nothing more than arcade games of the type such as tile matching or other arcade-type games, but come with excuse plots that fill time between level-loading, or introducing puzzles to solve.
Ao Oni is a survival horror game, which can be boiled down to "dodge the Oni, solve puzzles, escape". While version 1 puts more into developing a reason for the characters' being there (Takuro was curious about the place, so his three friends went along with it, dragging two underclassmen along for the ride to see how they'd react), subsequent versions do away with the two underclassmen, and settle on curiosity as a suitable reason (version 6.23 reveals it was Takeshi who had convinced his friends to enter the mansion instead).
PAYDAY: The Heist has an extremely bare bones plot where you take part in several kinds of heists to make a lot of money. For the player, it's all about shooting cops and stealing the loot of the level.
Space Harrier, in the manual for the Sega 32 X version, describes a scenario in which Harri, last of the Sentinels of Dragonland, picks up a Jet Pack from the wreckage of a battle with the evil forces of Valna, wonders What Does This Button Do?, presses it and is suddenly flying. Almost none of this is referenced in the game itself.
The Magic School Bus had a number of tie-in games where the intention was obviously to educate kids about certian themes and ideas. Most of them also had a "plot" that mainly served to motivate the field trip and give the player a sense of purpose.
Enduro Racer was an early Sega motorcycle game where you zip through twisty, rock-strewn, jump-filled roads for no clear reason. If you reach the end (NOT an easy task), you're rewarded with this revelatory info: "'Enduro' is a symbolic journey through life via the media of a race. The results are insignificant and what really counts is competing. Of particular importance are the lessons to be learned concerning one's self from the various encounters you experience along the way. There is no victor or loser in this test of endurance; the only thing that really matters is that you make a commitment to begin the long and trying trek. This game is then dedicated to all of the 'life riders' who have started out on the solitary trip to find their own individual limits. Last but not least, may we sincerely congratulate you on a perfect run." Well, at least that last line make sense...
Tecmo's Gemini Wing had a ridiculous plot in the manual of the Western computer versions, in which all the civilized alien races decide to invade Earth because of some journalist wrote the headline "DIE MUTANT ALIEN SCUM."
Played with heavily in the Deadpool game. There is an actual plot involving Mister Sinister trying to destroy humanity and the X-Men recruiting Deadpool to help them stop him, but Deadpool doesn't care about the plot at all. He's much more interested in just having fun and is only getting involved because of a personal quarrel with Sinister. In a way, the game's story is more about Deadpool and his bizarre psychosis andway of viewing the world than it is about fighting Sinister.
A character's intro in Romancing Saga 1 and Romancing Saga 3. serves as an Excuse Plot to set the chosen protagonist off on a journey to defeat evil forces and hunt treasures that, most of the times, do not concern their stories. While some characters do have special episodes and quests, the point of the games is to let the players freely build their own teams and do multiple quests that will eventually lead to saving the world from Big Bads.
Dweep is a puzzle game about controlling a character with the goal of getting him to a specific place. This gameplay can, of course, accommodate many possible simplistic "plots". In the game, the character is a purple Waddling Head and his goal is to reach his children, and that's about all the story there is.
Lampshaded in Werebox 2 by the intermission cartoons which portrayed game company staff trying to come up with a basic plot for the game only to conclude that a "crappy physics puzzle game" didn't need to have a storyline.
In Spooky Bonus strange things are happening in Old Town. A newspaper headline along those lines and a brief glimpse of a crypt with a green light coming from inside are all the introduction you get to a fairly standard match-3 game.
In Zombie Solitaire a bad tofu burger started a zombie epidemic and now you need to play solitaire in order to get away from them. Or something.
Offspring Fling!'s plot is given in short storyboard cutscenes and pop-up messages, but they are entirely optional and the gameplay can be understood just as well without them.
Offspring Fling is a game about a poor forest creature that has misplaced all of her children. She'll have to fight her way through over 100 levels of action puzzle platforming to get them all back home. There's danger around every corner, but she wont rest until her family is safe again.
Karnov: "Get the map that leads to treasure" was the plot of the Arcade Game. The Famicom version, which had a different Final Boss, also had original cutscenes that had Karnov be on a Mission from God and made no mention of any treasure; these cutscenes were entirely removed from the US localization.
Startopia: there was some kind of war that left a lot of space stations hollow and useless, yet inexplicably outfitted with perfectly intact exteriors and no serious structural damage, and you're basically bouncing between them on an administrator-for-hire basis.
Lampshaded in the very title of one of the Adventure Time games, Explore the Dungeon Because I DON'T KNOW!
Tread Marks has a paragraph-long backstory about how the artificially intelligent battle tanks decided to run off to the woods and shoot each other for fun and race each other with live ammunition on the track. Aside from that, there is no plot or story.
The plot of Something is to retrieve the plot stolen by Ballser. It turns meta when Mario reads the sheet with this description.
Cat Poke: You're a little girl who can't go out because it's raining. The most fun you can have at the moment is butt-poking all nine of your cats. Might as well!
Meteos presents its 'match three' gameplay as the sake of all planets being at risk from the evil planet Meteo. While this isn't so bad, the Star Trip mode's story of 'a spaceship has been sent to sort all this out and destroy Meteo forever' is just an excuse to have a gameplay mode that isn't the regular kind.
Sky Serpents is about a kid who wants to beat his father's record of having slain 14 sky serpents. You're told that in a brief intro, and then it's onto the battles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time's plot is this; Krang has stolen the Statue of Liberty. When the Turtles try to get it back, Shredder sends them into a time warp that bounces them from one point in history to another. Other than that, it plays like any other beat 'em up.
In the beat 'em up Mad Stalker: Full Metal Force, all you need to know is that there is some evil supercomputer that was locked away in an old warship and it hacked the military network while sending out these giant mechas called Slave Gears to wreck Artemis City. Now get Hound Dog over there and kick some ass!
The updated PC Engine CD port of this game, however, gave the almost non-existent a much bigger narrative, aided by anime-styled cut-scenes.
The plot in the average episode of The Goon Show had no actual relevance to what happened, with several episodes existing simply as a 20-minute leadup to an Incredibly Lame Pun.
The Akinator website includes the "Story of Akinator" which explains just why is a genie playing "Twenty Questions" with you—not that you need to read it.
Backloggery is a website dedicated to maintaining your video game backlog. It features a story about fighting a villain known as "Bak'Laag" who derives his power from unplayed video games (see the "instruction booklet" on the main page). It's utterly ignorable, apart from adding some silly flavorful messages throughout the website.
This is how clip shows are justified on The Simpsons. For instance, Homer rents Paint Your Wagon one evening for the family, thinking it's going to be a classic Spaghetti western full of gunfights and cowboys (instead of a musical). Once the truth is uncovered, he grows irritated but Marge quickly points out that they actually quite enjoy singing and everyone's dialogue is turned melodic. The initial plot of disliking the movie is dropped and they simply start segueing into clips from previous episodes (with a home invasion subplot breaking in and out as needed).
Betty Boop: Most cartoons have a very thin plot line, simply intended to showcase wild surreal gags and catchy sing and dance numbers.