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Gotta collect ‘em all - our favorite hidden gems in video games

For the completionist gamer, the notion of hidden collectibles strewn around a title can be both a blessing and a curse. Hidden goodies make us search game worlds with a level of scrutiny we may not otherwise have employed, stretching the life of our favorite titles and giving us more time to inhabit the places we love to lose ourselves in for a few hours-or days.

But they can also, without the lack of online guides, turn our treks into frustrating slogs and infuriating back-tracking.

So let’s revel in the games that get it right, rewarding us for our efforts and having a bit of fun with the idea of hiding items in a virtual world. These are the standouts in scratching our virtual adventuring itch.

10. Warp whistles, Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES, 1990)

A warp whistle in Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES
Image source: Neolink's YouTube page

Nestled in the backdrop of certain stages or on out-of-reach platforms, the warp whistles took the place of the warp tunnels in the original Super Mario Bros. Finding one would allow you to shoot forward to another World, and if you really knew how to work them, you could find yourself squaring off against Bowser in less than 10 minutes. The warp whistle may have been seen as cheating by the purists out there, but that’s also what made looking for the chests they hid within so darn fun.

9. Playboy magazines, Mafia 2 (Multiplatform, 2010)

Looking for Playboys in Mafia 2
Image source: Altered Gamer

Let’s suspend disbelief here for a second and forget that the events of Mafia II take place in the late 1940s, before Hugh Hefner donned his smoking jacket and convinced grown women to dress like bunnies. Playboy magazines were not only a thematically appropriate item to send gamers after as they slaughtered their way through rival mafiosos, they also required the player to search during specific chapters of the game, rather than simply cruising around an open world at your leisure. The magazines grounded Mafia II in the machismo-infested pinup times of post World War II America. If only they’d have included a Jack Kerouac essay or two.

8. Artifacts, The Last of Us (Playstation, 2013)

An artifact from The Last of Us
Image source: IGN

Designers have taken to hiding collectibles that serve as self-contained bits of narrative in recent years. While it’s not the perfect example of this technique, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us provides a variety of letter scraps, mementos and other items strewn around post-apocalyptic America that make the strong central narrative of the game feel like it’s taking place in a world where despair and heartbreak exist outside the main story. In a game where you spend a lot of time focused on the relationship between Joel and Ellie, it’s refreshing that the developer spent so much time crafting side stories that tug on your heartstrings just as much.

7. Hidden packages, Grand Theft Auto 3 (Multiplatform, 2001)

A hidden package in GTA3
Image source: G-Unleashed

While the subsequent games in the series have expanded the idea of hidden items in fully-realized game worlds, the thrill of the hunt was most acute in the first three-dimensional entry in the series. As Claude Speed, you couldn’t swim and your options for flight were limited. There was no in-game indicator that helped you locate the glowing white packages that would unlock body armor, weapons and other goodies at intervals, making the sense of satisfaction much higher when you finally picked up that hundredth package. They also made Liberty City feel much bigger than it really was, though it certainly seemed like a huge world when you loaded up your PS2 in 2001.

6. Agility orbs, Crackdown series (Xbox 360, 2007)

Crackdown's agility orbs
Image source: Video Games Blogger

In a game where your objective is to shoot and kill bad guys, it’s telling that the most fun experience was actually hunting down these glowing objects, most of them high above the sky rises of Pacific City. Picking them up augmented your player’s abilities, making the hunt feel like it was worth it when tackling the other tasks in the game. Because of these orbs, Crackdown felt more like a game from a different genre entirely – a platformer – and that’s something to hang your hat on.

5. Skulls, Halo series (Xbox consoles, 2002)

Skulls in Halo
Image source: Games Radar

First introduced in Halo 2, skulls were collectibles that changed the way you played the game. You had to be playing the game on Legendary, and once picked up, they would alter some part of the game and would continue doing so until you turned your game off. They would return in Halo 3, when many would argue they had their finest appearance in the series. Sadly, 343 Industries chose not to make skulls collectibles in Halo 4, choosing to hide terminals instead. While they tell parts of the Halo mythos you wouldn’t otherwise encounter, there’s something charming about picking up a human skull then having all your headshots end in confetti explosions.

4. Treasure, Red Dead Redemption (Multiplatform, 2010)

A treasure map in Red Dead Redemption
Image source: Red Dead Wiki

In the time-honored Rockstar tradition of not holding your hand on collectibles, treasure in this Western video game is found by collecting in game maps that have rough-drawn sketches of where gold bars are buried. If you don’t use an Internet guide, you’ll have to search out the location on your own to determine where a chest might be located. The unlockables aren’t that great (free stagecoach rides and a bigger pouch for consumable items), but you can’t beat the thrill of actually finding buried treasure.

3. Green stars, Super Mario Galaxy series (Nintendo Wii, 2007)

There were green stars in the first Super Mario Galaxy game, but with the sequel Nintendo really nailed the hardcore Mario experience. There are the same number of green stars in the game as regular power stars that you need to progress through the title’s many planets. But the green stars are much harder to acquire, either hidden in difficult locations or requiring some of the most precise platforming in the entire game. What do you get for your trouble of collecting all 120 green stars? Access to the Grandmaster Galaxy, which is the toughest challenge in the entire game.

Capturing a green star in Super Mario Galaxy
Image source: Toy-TMA

2. Audio logs, Bioshock series (Mutliplatform, 2007)

Bioshock audio log
Image source: Gamespy 

In a game that oozes atmosphere, perhaps the most place-setting feature are hidden storytelling items. The player can traverse the entirety of Andrew Ryan’s underwater playground (or, if you’re looking for Voxophones, Zachary Hale Comstock’s mid-air dystopia) without finding all (or any) of these short snippets of audio. Like the artifacts in The Last of Us, Irrational Games went out of their way to develop deep, rich backstories for some characters in the Bioshock universe, and other place-setting vignettes featuring characters that are never heard from again. The quality of these audio-recorded pieces of storytelling, and the fact that the action can continue while the audio logs play, makes these must-collect items.

1.  Riddler trophies, Batman: Arkham series (Mutlplatform, 2008)

A Riddler Trophy in the Batman: Arkham games
Image source: Gamesradar

The gold (or green) standard in video game collectibles has been Rocksteady’s addition of the Riddler trophies to its Batman titles. Less an afterthought of hidden items designed to make you explore the wonderfully woeful world of Gotham and more self-contained bits of puzzle gameplay, the Riddler trophies force you to use your cunning, gadgets and timing to collect ‘em all – in essence, making you feel like the Dark Knight. The trophies are woven into the progression of the game, meaning finding them makes you a bigger, tougher superhero to take down, and finding all of them brings you face to face with one of the most elusive enemies in the game. For sheer variety, number and what they add to the already stellar gameplay, Riddler trophies are the finest example of a video game collectible to date.

What did you think of our list? Did we fail to collect any great in-game items you wanted to see? Let us know in the comments below.

The statewide list…

Click on the link below to see the long list of projects across the state. (I’ll have a pdf link up soon.)