2017: Reclaim Your Happy Ending

The state of gaming goes up and down, the state of everything does. As much as I love the idea of the Earn Your Happy Ending trope, it’s obvious that in real life, nothing is ever stuck in a permanent state, positive or negative. But that’s not an easy thing to accept. After Nintendo, platformers, linearity, and 2D games made a comeback in the seventh generation, especially the second half, I desperately wanted to keep what we had gotten back. But even though the game releases in 2013 were incredible, it was clear that night was on the horizon. While trying to convince myself it wasn’t happening, I saw what I loved in gaming go into free fall from 2013-2016. Sure, there were still good and even great games released, but fewer and fewer ones that were what I really wanted. No matter how much I wanted things to freeze the way they were, that didn’t happen and a mix of denial and gloom descended over me (considering how the internet reacts to everything, I have no way of telling if this happened to other people or if that’s just how the gaming community would have reacted anyway).

But you know the good thing about nothing staying the same? After enough time, things also get better. As some of my previous article this years have shown, I’ve seen some very positive developments and trends this year for gaming, especially parts of it that I care about which were slumping in previous years (Japanese games, Nintendo). Even before this year started, the announced games gave me a feeling of true optimism for the first time in years (see my part of the 2017 top 10 lists). While not every game on that list delivered or is making it out this year (same as every year we’ve done those lists), those are more than made up for by both ones that personally surprised me and that were surprise announcements made after the year had started. 2017 for me has made gaming a phoenix rising out of the ashes, both in releases and announcements for 2018 and beyond.

As shown by the previous articles, there are many reasons for this. But why are they converging in the same year, and why have some frankly miraculous things happened against all odds? I always thought Switch had the potential to repeat the history of the original Wii, but I was never certain until it happened, and there are things I never would have guessed in my wildest dreams (Bethesda’s strong commitment, did they make a single game on a Nintendo system before Switch?). Nier went from being a critically-panned example of how JRPGs have cooties in 2010 to a cult classic to… a multi-million seller that already has Square-Enix hiring for its sequel and saying it has franchise potential!? Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy became a mega-hit out of nowhere and along with Mario’s triumphant return could easily spark a resurgence in retail platformers. After pleas for SNES Remix were ignored during the dark days, we not only get SNES Classic, but it has a never before released game on it! So many franchises I missed that hadn’t been seen since 2013 or earlier either returned or had games announced in 2017.

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He’s cool again, no matter how dark his souls apparently became.

So the question is, why? Well, I can’t explain exactly what happened, but I do have a few theories to explain some of it. For the Nintendo stuff, it isn’t hard that hard to figure out. After their big push to turn Wii U around in 2014 didn’t work (E3 2014 just gives me a creepy aura of false hope these days), they went into cocoon mode. The Switch’s formal reveal in 2017 was their chance to come back, to show that they were still the strongest publisher in gaming and that they were not going to become a mobile focused developer (I’ve almost forgotten their mobile games exist in recent months), to prove that they could still make a successful console and that the original Wii wasn’t a fluke. They did it, and achieved things they had been trying for so long that nobody ever expected them to actually happen. Switch didn’t have a post-launch drought, they finally did it! With the delay of learning to make HD games behind them, Nintendo has been releasing and announcing Switch games at a rapid-fire pace. Not only that, there’s been a strong emphasis on giving fans what they had been asking for, which is miraculously working this time. Open world Zelda, sandbox Mario (with enough actual platforming that I’m not upset), Xenoblade and Splatoon sequels faster than anyone thought possible, Metroid Prime 4, mainline console Pokemon. And after I got scared they would minimize platformers because people complained about them on Wii U, they announced a new Kirby and Yoshi at the same E3. Switch is on track to become the best Nintendo system since SNES, and if it keeps it up, maybe, just maybe…

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And all the doom and gloom was simply switched off.

I don’t have as many guesses for the other positive developments, but I have some general theories. Japanese companies as a whole seemed to have trouble adapting to HD, not just Nintendo, so that could explain boosts to companies like Capcom and Square-Enix. PS1 and PS2 nostalgia kicking into high gear could be why Crash N. Sane Trilogy sold so insanely well, and bodes well for Japanese games in general, since they dominated those eras. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One took a while to get going, just like their predecessors, and we’re past that hurdle so their best days have started. I can’t think of much rationalization for long running Japanese series getting so much more western attention all of a sudden, but as long as it’s happening, I’ll gladly take it.

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I didn’t hype it, I didn’t play it, but if one person calls it weeb garbage, I’ll raise hell!

So, there’s my self-therapy session for the day (hey, not like there are tons of readers for me to focus on instead). But I’m not just trying to trick myself into being happy, 2017 really has been an incredible year for gaming in both releases and announcements. No one can ever say for sure what the future holds, but I think we have landed on the bright side of the coin, and hopefully we will stay there for many years to come. We need gaming now more than ever, and 2017 has been more than fulfilling that need.

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Top Ten Sony Franchises in Need of Sequels

There are plenty of publishers out there with huge vaults of beloved IPs that sadly have no guarantee of ever again seeing the light of day.  Capcom, Konami, Sega, Square-Enix, and I think there’s a playing card company who makes games or something.  But there is one company who rarely gets mentioned when this topic comes up, but really should.  Yeah, the one in the title.  Sony actually has a vast collection of quality series, and their annoying habit of throwing series under the bus once they have three games has led to a lot of unjustly hibernating franchises from their camp.  Although not technically a Sony series, the recent revival of Crash Bandicoot has pushed this to the forefront of my mind recently. I’ve decided to rank the top ten absent Sony franchises that need sequels.  To qualify for this list, a game or series needs to have never had a new incarnation in its main series on an HD system.  Meaning HD remasters and cameos in Move mini-game compilations or Smash Bros. clones don’t count.  So, let’s jump in.  I’ll disclose that I’m not an expert on some of the lower ranked series, but everything on this list at least deserves a chance.

10.  Vib-Ribbon

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The only game on this list that I haven’t played, in large part because the original release never left Japan, I was still fascinated by this game simply from reading previews of it.  Vib-Ribbon is a very simple rhythm game, with its hook being that you can use music CDs to create levels in the game based on any song you want.  Now imagine being able to do this with digital music files or streaming sites, and you can see how much potential this concept has on an internet enabled system.  The original may have finally gotten a worldwide release, but there’s so much more a completely new game in the series could do.

9. Omega Boost

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To be honest I didn’t play this game very much (look, no one wants to do a top 7 or 8 list, I needed 10 dammit!), but the genre alone makes me want it to get another chance.  Rail shooters where you control a character instead of just a reticule are a rare breed, and Omega Boost is a well-liked entry in that genre.  I can’t give a huge amount of details on what I’d want the sequel to be like, but a flashy mech rail shooter with PS4’s power could easily be an enjoyable experience.  Give this game the second chance I haven’t yet, Sony.

8. Wild Arms

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Yes, I actually have finished a game in this series.  Of course, this series has several games, but still.  Wild Arms combines turn based combat with Zelda style items and puzzles, something I wish more turn-based RPGs would do, it does wonders for avoiding monotony.  With fantastic music and a fairly unique Wild West/steampunk setting, Wild Arms is one of the better RPGs on the PS1, and what I’ve played of the first sequel seemed even better.  Wild Arms managed to survive multiple generations in its true form, which already puts it ahead of the curve for Sony series, so I think there’s plenty of justification for giving this series another chance.  Maybe crossover with Wild Guns, no one can keep their names straight anyway.

7. MediEvil

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While this may seem like a generic 5th-gen platformer at first sight, MediEvil is actually an interesting genre hybrid.  Platforming, adventure game style puzzles, melee combat that’s pretty involved for a game of its time period and RPG elements, there aren’t many games exactly like MediEvil.  While it definitely shows its age in some places, the game is certainly playable.  But with melee action games having made colossal strides since the 5th generation, there is a huge amount of potential locked away in this game and its expensive sequel, which was never rereleased on PSN, unfortunately.  As long as it took inspiration from the right games, a new MediEvil could be a fantastic addition to PS4’s library, and fill a seldom used niche these days (horror themed game that isn’t bleak or ultra-violent).  Sony, we need MediEvil: Dan of the Third Day!

6. Alundra

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Back when almost all role-playing games on consoles were JRPGs, there was an obnoxious trend to call every single action-RPG a Zelda-style game.  These games often had clunky combat that was practically turn based and barely any puzzles, which meant I was usually disappointed when I played the “Zelda-style” game.  Alundra, though, has thoroughly earned the label of Zelda-like.  Alundra is intensely difficult in both combat and puzzles, has a sometimes crushingly depressing story, but is a huge and satisfying game.  The gameplay is very similar to the 2D Zelda games with the addition of a platforming element, and that is definitely a good thing.  I haven’t played the sequel, which is apparently vastly different and much less well regarded, so I’d say Sony should just give us a direct sequel to the first game.  Even without Working Designs around to translate it, a worthy sequel to Alundra would be a dream come true, and not the bleak, prophetic kind the game features.

5. Ape Escape

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I’m half convinced the right analog stick on the original analog/DualShock controller was added solely so Sony could claim it had more stuff on it than the Nintendo 64 controller.  I can understand why Sony didn’t want to use it much, it couldn’t be easily replaced by the d-pad on a non-analog PS1 controller like the left stick could, and no one wants to require accessories.  Still, waiting almost two years for anything to use the right analog stick (at least in a meaningful way) is pretty bizarre.  But at least the first game to require it was a good one.  Ape Escape is a fairly standard 5th-generation collection based platformer, with its hook being that you can aim your weapons and items while moving normally thanks to the right analog stick.  The collectables (escaped apes) all need to be caught by using a right analog stick controlled net, so the gimmick definitely gets used enough to justify the controller requirement.  The sequels never felt quite as tight in gameplay as the original Ape Escape, but they aren’t bad games and there’s no reason a new game couldn’t match the original.  This barrel of monkeys has been sealed too long, it needs to be opened again.

4. Skyblazer

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That’s right, even in an article entirely dedicated to Sony, the Super Nintendo still manages to crash the party.  The only pre-PlayStation game on the list, Skyblazer is a hidden gem on SNES that has needed more attention for decades.  Skyblazer can best be described as MegaMan, MegaMan X specifically, with melee combat and a magic based setting.  You jump, punch, and wall climb your way through levels, some of which you can choose the order of, and kill some great bosses to get special moves from them.  The game is begging for a modern big budget character action game/platformer hybrid, Skyblazer with the budget and scale of God of War could be absolutely amazing.  I’m not expecting this game to ever actually get a sequel, but that hasn’t stopped some other games I loved, so there’s always hope.  In the meantime, if you haven’t played this game, try to track it down, a growing cult following is the first step to a series getting a miraculous sequel.

3. Jumping Flash

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Is the robotic rabbit you play as in this a jackrabbit?  Was I missing a reference pun this whole time?  Either way, Jumping Flash was ahead of its time and holds up amazingly well considering.  Before Quake or Super Mario 64, Jumping Flash is a first person fully 3D platformer that showed up with PlayStation 1’s western launch in 1995.  Controlling a projectile and rocket equipped robotic rabbit, Jumping Flash and its very direct sequel (can’t say anything certain about the Japan only third game) are quality platformers that manage to still play well today despite how many opportunities there were to screw things up in hindsight.  With DOOM 2016 hopefully igniting a resurgence in non-realistic, action based first person shooters, now would be the perfect time for Jumping Flash to return.  The game’s signature gigantic jumps combined with dual analog shooting and current-gen draw distance make me salivate.  This is another long shot (well, most of this list is), but a new Jumping Flash would be a… no, I’m not making that song reference, it would just be painful.

2.  Parappa the Rapper/UmJammer Lammy

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See, not everything in the top five is a platformer!  In 1997, I was extremely loyal to Nintendo, the playground “my system can beat up your system!” kind of blind devotion.  Despite hating everything PlayStation related on principle, Parappa the Rapper was so unique and charming that I still wanted to play it.  I actually rented a PlayStation just to play it (the system or game was defective and I had to return it the same day, that didn’t help my system war issues).  By the time I got over my one company mindset and actually got a PS1 of my own, the sequel/spiritual successor Umjammer Lammy had been released, which I loved even more.  I didn’t love Parappa 2, but the PS1 games have some of the best music and characters of all time.  The gameplay needs some work, which is precisely why we need a new game!  Describing exactly what happens in the games feels like a disservice to anyone who hasn’t played them, but if you have played them before, I guarantee you remember them.  While I’d prefer Umjammer Lammy 2 (Parappa had his chance and I just like Lammy’s music style better), any return for these paper pop stars would be incredibly welcome.

1. Jak

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The newest game on this list, the Jak series got a decent amount of attention in its heyday, but I think it still deserved more.  For one thing, are you wondering why I said Jak instead of Jak and Daxter?  That’s because Jak 2 dramatically improved the series and never got the credit it should have.  Yes, it’s darker and clearly took some influence from Grand Theft Auto, that doesn’t change that the gameplay is dramatically improved from the original’s fairly generic collect-a-thon style.  Jak 2 and 3 have tons of variety, some of the best platforming of their generation, and great stories that are not just angsting.  Jak 3 may have resolved the story arc of the trilogy, but it also set up a new story arc that was never given any games.  Naughty Dog became obsessed with realism (which apparently makes dark tones okay while Jak is nothing but an edgelord) and auto-platforming while the Jak series got nothing except lower profile sequels of varying quality that never advanced the story in any real way.  I don’t know if we’re ever going to get Naughty Dog back to their platforming glory, but someone needs to make a real Jak 4, fans of the series have waited way more than long enough.  I’m still furious that Naughty Dog taunted fans of the series by saying they almost made a Jak 4 but canceled it to make The Last of Us (and that they planned to make it play like Uncharted), Jak is number one on this list not only because it’s my favorite series listed but because I feel that Sony genuinely owes its fanbase a new game.  People have been shown to still really love Crash, a 3D Mario platformer is getting more hype than anything in its genre has in at least a decade; it is time Sony, give us Jak 4.

So there you have it, ten Sony franchises that deserve their chance to shine and bloom in HD.  Who knows if any of these will actually get that chance, but it’s not impossible (Sly Cooper not qualifying for this list was a pretty big surprise).  I don’t know why Sony is so inclined towards throwing series away once their generation and/or trilogy is over, but they have a surprisingly rich staple of franchises that could give them the true exclusives needed to make their library stand out from Xbox and PC.  As Crash N. Sane Trilogy shows, PS1 era nostalgia has arrived and PS2 era nostalgia is around the corner, take advantage of this Sony, and give these series the sequels they deserve!

Turn Based #2: Dead on Revival

Professor Icepick: Hello, and welcome to another installment of Turn Based. I’m Professor Icepick and today we’re going to be discussing bad games in established series. Specifically, is it possible for an individual game to be so bad that it effectively renders its series “dead”?

To clarify, we’re not talking about cases where the financial flop of a game manages to kill a company or forces the franchise in question to be put on hiatus for the foreseeable future. However, I will be counting cases where terrible games have had a delayed effect on killing series: ruining the sales of a follow-up, regardless of quality, and leading the series to its doom, simply because the bad game in question did end up killing it.

Now, since we originally came up with this topic, the existence of Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back — a new game from one of gaming’s most infamous series of all-time — has definitely weakened my position, so I’ll be taking a backseat this time around. As such, I leave you in the hands of my capable opponent to get things started.

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Seriously, who wanted a sequel to this?

SNES Master KI: So my basic position is that there is always hope for a series no matter how badly an entry in it is received, for one simple reason: if people care enough about a series to be upset that a game ruined it, people care enough for it to get a sequel. Apathy is the only thing that can kill a series, hatred will cause an equal but opposite reaction in most cases, hence the saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Since Bubsy’s revival pretty blatantly let the cat out of the bag in that regard, I almost feel like we should move on to the other side of this topic, but I’ll give you a chance to argue this first, if you don’t think you’re just kitten yourself.

Cats.

Icepick: Ha, cat puns. I’m more of a dog person myself. You do bring up a good point about apathy, but that is probably your ultimate undoing. We’ve definitely seen cases in the past where apathy can kill franchises, but the exact opposite of love for a property isn’t hate, it’s apathy. Hate implies that you still care, while apathy implies that you’ve given up all hope on that property. A bad game, a game that the fanbase generally hates, can definitely drive its fanbase to apathy. After all, the “hive mind” for a fanbase is simple enough to manipulate. Create a game bad enough, and they’d be willing to give up on the whole thing to avoid enduring another similar disappointment.

KI: You’re underestimating how much people hate things. A game that could potentially kill a series won’t cause apathy, it will cause hatred. No one will ever stop talking about it. Even if the fanbase wanted to ignore it, they wouldn’t be able to. Imagine if Nintendo made a Mario platformer that was as bad as Bubsy 3D. I know my response wouldn’t be apathy, I don’t think that would be many people’s response. And even if I wanted the response to be apathy, trolls would never let people forget about it. People would remember it forever, and no matter how bad it was, someday, the owner of the IP would want to try again. A bad game, especially in a series with a large fandom, doesn’t cause apathy.

Icepick: You’ve got a good point there. It seems like in many cases, the worst thing for a series’ health is to grind their audiences down with similar games, rather than just killing them with one big stinker. But, in terms of large fandoms, Rock Band and Guitar Hero weren’t above death. Prior to the bold new decision of making a game based around World War II, people were chanting for Call of Duty’s demise, to the extent where Activision had to pack-in a remaster of the game that made the series popular in the first place to drive sales.

People are getting sick of franchises that started as recently as last generation, and the diminishing returns aren’t just present in the games’ sales, the quality appears to dip as well. Hell, I consider myself a huge fan of the Dead Rising series, but the fourth game makes me hope that Capcom lays it to rest, simply because I’m afraid of the horrors they may unleash on us next. Not even the massive shift of 3 caused that kind of reaction out of people, but I’m certainly not alone.

KI: People chanting for the death of a currently active series isn’t the whole picture. Sure, if they kill off the series for the present, it probably wouldn’t cause a huge outcry. But this is about the long game. Let’s say Call of Duty completely burns out, the series stops, whoever is making it now gets sold for two crayons and a carton of chocolate milk. No one seems to care for years.

Then, it’s 2027. People who grew up playing Modern Warfare are the nostalgia panderer’s prime target. Whoever owns the franchise is going to capitalize on that. Fandoms don’t stop series from dying, but they stop them from staying dead. If the fans of something huge are still alive, it’s almost certainly going to return at some point.

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The childhood of the future.

Icepick: I’m not so sure about that. After all, fans of Castlevania appeared to give up on the series after Lords of Shadow 2 and the departure of Koji “IGA” Igarashi, who had been running the series for many years. Even before his spiritual successor Bloodstained was announced, Castlevania’s video game days have seemingly been numbered. All we have to show for it now are various pachinko machines and a critically-acclaimed Netflix TV series. Revivals don’t necessarily have to remain within the original medium to exist. If Call of Duty does fall, I could it see it coming back in 10-20 years as a television miniseries, or maybe even a movie.

KI: Lords of Shadow 2 is only three years old, that’s not nearly enough time to say people truly gave up on it. I also think the rumored Switch Castlevania game is very likely to happen, but even if it doesn’t, there’s plenty of time for nostalgia to make people forget all bad experiences with the series and demand it return. This leads to a question I had already wanted to ask, what is the most popular franchise you can think of that hasn’t had a new game in at least 15 years?

Icepick: Does Kid Icarus count?

KI: No, last game was five years ago. It shows even 15 years doesn’t guarantee death, I said 15 to make it easier.

Icepick: What about MegaMan Legends?

KI: Subseries. IPs can certainly be radically different when they return, but MegaMan falls under one umbrella, only seven years since we got one.

Icepick: Fair enough. Golden Axe: Beast Rider and Sega’s Altered Beast revamp both seemed to kill any enthusiasm for either series. Though, your mileage may vary on the latter.

KI: Those were already revivals, though. Golden Axe had already had a badly received spin-off that killed it for quite a while (Golden Axe: The Duel) and I don’t understand why anyone wanted Altered Beast back to begin with, but Bubsy coming back makes it hard to argue. I still think both games could get something within 15 years of those failed attempts. But as demonstrated, sufficiently popular games/series almost inevitably get some attempt at revival. There are literally dozens of games that got sequels no one would have ever expected or at least been confident of in the last decade, IP death is never permanent.

Icepick: I’m just not so sure about that. We’ve seen several series fall by the wayside, with no clear path to resurrection. At this point, it just feels like we’re splitting hairs. Should we get back on topic?

KI: Yeah, it would take decades for either of us to actually prove our hypothesis. Let’s move on to that other topic I mentioned earlier, I’ll let you speak first this time.

Icepick: I personally do think that there are cases where games should have killed series. Bubsy 3D would be my chief exam-PAW-le. There are others, but I think it’s best to state my reasoning: if a game’s quality declines and offers nothing worth developing further, then there’s really no point to continue the series. At best, you could consider a reboot, but at that point, it might almost be better to explore new concepts with new intellectual properties behind them. MegaMan 10 being the last game in that series (at this moment in time) led to Shovel Knight, a game that blended mechanics from numerous 8-bit games to create something truly amazing.

KI: For the first point, Bubsy was never good, so I don’t think it’s really relevent. Bubsy 3D shouldn’t have killed it, the first game should have. The reason to revive a series is to bring back what was great about it, so there wasn’t much claws for reviving Bubsy. For the second point, I don’t think anyone who worked on Shovel Knight actually worked on MegaMan, I don’t think MegaMan continuing would have prevented the talent behind the game from making it. There’s only one game I’d say MegaMan’s hiatus directly caused, and I think that would be a Mighty weak game to use for your argument.

Icepick: Regardless of Bubsy’s inherent quality, 3D is considered among the worst games of all-time, well beyond the scope of all of its predecessors. As for MegaMan’s absence leading to other games, it certainly increased the profile of Inti Creates, the staff behind the Zero and ZX series, not to mention the latest games MM9 and 10. They managed to leverage that into popularity for Azure Striker Gunvolt, yet another spiritual successor.

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Not quite a Blue Bomber, but you can hardly tell the difference!

To bring up a different shade of blue, there’s the Sonic the Hedgehog reboot, charitably dubbed “Sonic ’06” to save face. If we printed our all of the thinkpieces written in the past decade about how it’s time to put the Blue Blur on ice permanently, we’d both be crushed by the weight.

KI: Sonic is a shining counter example though. After failed attempt after failed attempt after failed attempt to make Sonic games good again, Sonic Colors finally did. If they had given up, we wouldn’t have Colors, Generations, Sonic 4 Episode 2, Lost World, Mania, or Forces. Going back to Bubsy, while Bubsy 3D may be worse than the earlier games, there was still no reason to revive the older games. Since we both want MegaMan to come back, I’m not sure where you’re going with that topic.

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If at first you don’t succeed, fail again and again until you finally do.

Icepick: You seemed to be implying that MegaMan’s absence only led to a certain failed “Comcept”, when it was really a mixed bag. The point is, series can run their course and sometimes it’s better to get a fresh start as opposed to trying trying to redeem something that’s clearly a lost cause.

KI: But the people who made the good games didn’t have access to MegaMan after a certain point, they didn’t choose to make a clean break, they had no choice. There’s no reason to believe Inti Creates making MegaMan 11 or MegaMan ZX3 or my holy grail would have led to a worse result.

Icepick: The point is, losing the MegaMan license was a net positive for Inti Creates. They were able to step our of Capcom’s shadow and parlay that into original IPs and other licensing deal, most recently Blaster Master Zero from Sunsoft. To bring us back on-topic, are there no franchises you see no point in reviving.

KI: There are plenty of franchises I see no point in reviving, but not really any that I liked to begin with. Even if the developer made a better series later, I’d rather have both. I get very enthusiastic about Donkey Kong, Kirby, Yoshi, and Wario platformers, even if Mario platformers are clearly what I love the most.

Icepick: The point is, eventually, the majority of series eventually hits a wall. If they’ve already hit their clear apex, why continue?

KI: The apex game will never be new again. Playing a game for the first time is special, and I don’t want to lose that experience in series that I love. Besides, you never know for sure what the apex is, Super Mario World was my favorite up until Super Mario Galaxy 2 almost 20 years later.

Icepick: Surprised you didn’t bring up Yoshi’s Woolly World. The point is that the height of any game series is only visible in hindsight. Why should series that are clearly well past their prime continue, while perfectly good series are snuffed out?

KI: But we don’t know that a series is truly past its prime, you just brought up Wooly World, released after 20 years of Yoshi platformers that never came close to Yoshi’s Island. As for why some series should continue and some shouldn’t, it’s usually not a choice between them, developers are usually a big factor and individual developers rarely have a huge stable of IPs to choose from. Saying I don’t want any series I like to end is an idealized statement, it’s what I want, but I’m not saying I expect every single one to flourish. However, recapturing the magic of a once great series is still a completely valid reason to make a sequel.

Icepick: Regardless, many IPs lack the ability to maintain their existence indefinitely and frankly while many companies simply choose to put their series on “indefinite hiatus”, the point is that some series just have limited potential in general. Clearly, there are many exceptions, but limitations must be kept in mind in general. Shall we move onto final thoughts?

KI: I feel like we moved away from the original point, it wasn’t whether some series should end, it was whether a game can be bad enough that the series should end because of that. I maintain that there is always hope, even if it’s a reboot 10 years later, for a series to reclaim what once made it great.

Icepick: Personally, I still think that considering the fact that we’ve seen many series go inert after a poor follow-up, it’s entirely possible for a game series, even one that’s very beloved, could be ended completely at the hands of a poor game. I’ve proven that bad games can put long-running series into statis and that ignored series can effectively end up dead due to complete activity, so I think I’ve more than proven my point here. Sufficiently bad games can definitely kill even the most beloved series.

KI: Series going into stasis is never something I argued, I said they shouldn’t and often don’t permanently kill a series. I still haven’t seen evidence of a bad game killing a truly beloved series, after years of alarmist claims Metroid just made a big return. Sonic, Tomb Raider, Yoshi, Doom, (almost certainly) Crash, the big series always find a way back, often as good as before.

As expected, once again, we decided to agree to disagree on this topic. What do you think? Do you think that a bad game can stop a long-running series cold or that we should never say die? Feel free to let us know in the comments.Professor Icepick

Becoming Cranky With Age

When Donkey Kong Country was released in 1994, I was eight years old and had never heard of the character Donkey Kong before.  Reading about the game, I learned of the original arcade game that introduced both DK and Mario to the world through the grumblings of Cranky Kong.  The old man ranting about how that newfangled Super Nintendo was stopping people from appreciating retro games was certainly not someone I could relate to on any level.  I was clearly one of the “whippersnappers” he was talking about, aside from early 90s commercials that my accelerated nostalgia gland was yearning for I didn’t have any understanding of longing for a bygone era.

 

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Back when a 2D SNES platformer somehow counted as fancy 3D.

 

 

Well, things have certainly changed since then.  While I was angry at fifth-generation systems for trying to push aside SNES less than a year after Donkey Kong Country was released, it wasn’t until Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze’s release, almost 20 years later, when I had a revelation: I could relate to Cranky Kong.  While the mass market was turning on Nintendo and Tropical Freeze was being treated as a niche, too hard to be entertaining game by many in the gaming media, it was easy to identify with the jaded old ape who complained about kids these days not appreciating gameplay.  It was more people roughly my age not appreciating gameplay, but still.

But it didn’t stop with the Donkey Kong Country series, and I was in fact inspired to write this article because of a different 90s series that recently reentered the spotlight, one with quite a few parallels to the DKC games, despite initially being the mascot for a competing platform.  That’s right, I’m talking about Dark Souls.  Or as it used to be known, Crash Bandicoot.  If you aren’t sure why I would joke about two series with nothing in common being the same, you are a luckier person than I am.  The first three Crash Bandicoot games were recently given complete graphical remakes and released as a trilogy for the PlayStation 4, and the original Crash has somehow gone from a harder than average platformer to a brutal exercise in extreme difficulty, and that exercise has in turn somehow been trademarked under the Dark Souls label.  Crash has become Dark Souls, according to an infamous review, and so many people have overreacted to its difficulty that I can’t tell which memes about this topic are mocking the claim and which sincerely believe it.

 

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This is either Crash or Dark Souls, lost the file label so I can’t tell which.

 

This is where I’d yell at those kids to get off my lawn, but I’m afraid they’ll slip and get hurt, leading to claims that my lawn has become a minefield (the Dark Souls of battlegrounds).  That, and like I said, this really isn’t about kids.  Maybe kids are mocking Bandicootborne for being an impossible to play relic while chatting in Minecraft or comparing fidget spinners, I don’t really know, but the people I’m some combination of amused and annoyed by are self-proclaimed old-school gamers that are around my age.  the people desperately trying to pinpoint the slightest physics changes in Crash N. Sane Trilogy to justify claims that it “became” Dark Souls.  The ones talking about how NST proves how much more hardcore gaming was back in the day.  The people who insist they were great at the games back on PS1 but now can’t reach the first boss in the PS4 version.  This isn’t about age, of gamers or games.

So what is it that’s making me cranky then?  It’s how people treat difficulty in games, both older and modern ones.  There’s the obvious target of people who can’t stand any difficulty in games and resent games that don’t play exactly how they expect because of that, but they’re not the only annoying group.  The people who go on about how games are so easy now and those damn kids could never beat games with REAL difficulty are just as misguided and irritating.  I got every trophy in all three Crash N. Sane Trilogy games in a week, while plenty of people online were complaining about not being able to simply get past an early level in the first game.  Does this mean all those people are scrubs I should mock and tell to git gud?  No, and not just because that would make me an asshole.

 

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I also beat this game in a week! With 100% completion! In one life! Without leaving the chair my character model is fused to!

 

There is obviously truth to the idea that playing platformers for around 25 years is going to make games like the three in the N. Sane Trilogy much easier for me than for gamers who grew up playing Halo and Call of Duty without ever touching a platformer.  But that doesn’t automatically make me more skilled as a gamer or make the platformers harder, the difficulty they present and skills they require are simply different.  Newer games aren’t easier, they’re simply challenging in different ways.  Yes, you can see the ending of pretty much any modern game if you blast through the story missions on the easiest setting, but trying to 100% them on the hardest setting is just as difficult as doing everything in classic games.  And struggling in a genre they have no experience with isn’t a sign that someone is a stupid kid who can’t compare to the “real” gamers of the 90s.  There are elements in genres I don’t play much that frustrate me and probably wouldn’t if I had grown up playing them, I doubt many people are experts at every single genre.  If younger gamers don’t understand platformers, or any other genre you loved as a child, the solution is more new games in that genre being released, not mocking people for being born later than you were.

 

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I haven’t actually beaten this game, the WRPG elements aren’t something I grew up with and they just piss me off. Assuming I labeled this correctly and didn’t accidentally post a picture of Crash again, anyway.

 

And now to tie things back into why I’m cranky.  The way people on both sides of the Crash: New Souls Trilogy issue are acting annoys me.  The people who can’t beat the Crash games and decide that the games are to blame because their lack of auto-platforming is outdated are obviously going to incur my wrath, but I’m probably more annoyed at the people in my demographic using this whole thing as an excuse for elitism.  Yes, supposedly professional reviewers marking old-school genres down because the reviewer is just bad at them deserve mockery, but don’t take it out on entire generations of games or people (like participation trophies, the kids get blamed for things adults are doing because they assume it’s what kids want).  I understand Cranky’s point of view now; but shockingly, the comic relief character from a platformer doesn’t present a robust philosophy ready to be adopted in real life.  I want those damn kids off my lawn, but I also want the adults patting themselves on the back for how much better they played on lawns to shut up and get over themselves.

Top 5 Games That Mastered Remaking

With the announcement of Metroid: Samus Returns and the recently released Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, remakes have been on my mind recently.  Now there’s quite a bit of a scale in terms of how much effort goes into video game remakes.  Sometimes you get simple remasters that basically just polish the textures so the game looks good in HD.  Sometimes the graphics are completely redone, maybe a few gameplay polishes.  And sometimes you get the holy grail, a game that takes the story, settings, and basic gameplay of an old game and makes what can basically be considered a new game.  These are my strong preference for video game remakes, but as you might expect from the amount of effort involved, they are the rarest type.  But these do exist, and so I’m going to listing my top five remakes that truly mastered the art of… re-ing.  But before we get to that, let’s look at some great game that I feel went just a little too far in their new features and have “condemned” themselves to be new games:

Punch-Out!! (2009)

Punch-Out!! on NES is a great game.  Super Punch-Out!! on SNES is better.  But Punch-Out!! on Wii annihilates the rest of the series.  With the same name as the NES game (and one of the arcade games) and almost every fighter from it, Punch-Out!! is almost a remake, but every fighter is changed so much (and almost a third of them weren’t in the NES game) that it feels more like a Mario game that uses the same level themes than a remake.

Mortal Kombat (2011)

I loved Mortal Kombat when I was a kid in the 90s, but it was more the violence taboo, dark fantasy tone, and seemingly endless secrets that intrigued me than the gameplay.  So the 2011 Mortal Kombat installment that brought back almost every character from the first three MK games (the nostalgia and image peak) and retold their stories, but this time with great gameplay, was pretty freaking fantasic.  However, it’s not really a remake, instead being a weird, nonsensical, but very entertaining in-universe reboot that continues the series’ story by changing the first three games.

Star Fox 64

Star Fox 64 has an essentially identical story to the first game, but aside from that (and the fact that doing a remake as the second installment in a franchise, only four years after the original was released would be really weird) it changes as much as any other direct sequel.  Star Fox 64 is an amazing game that aged very well for a fifth-gen game, but I don’t think it can really be called a remake.

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

I haven’t played this game (make a PS4 version, damn it!), but I’ve been assured it is a vast improvement over its basis, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys, and that it has the same essential story and is now considered canon in the series.  Having played both Ys III and Ys Origin (which has the same gameplay style as Oath in Felghana), however, I can’t really consider this a true remake when the basic gameplay genre has been changed so dramatically.  But I’m sure it’s a great game, and again, want a convenient version for myself released.

Okay, with those out of the way, let’s get to the actual list!  Five games that push the remake envelope to its max without breaking it.  Not much else to say, here we go:

#5.  Ducktales Remastered

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Everyone loves the NES Ducktales game, but I’m just going to come out and say that several parts of it aged badly.  The control for the signature pogo cane is stiff, the hit detection is noticeably off, and the game is really, really short.  Well in 2013 we got a fantastic remake that may not be perfect, but fixed all of the aforementioned issues and of course was promptly condemned for not matching the deified memories people had of the NES game.  Well screw that, Ducktales Remastered is vastly superior to the original.  In addition to things technology’s march made possible (gorgeous art and animation that looks just like the show, full voice acting), the game greatly expands every level from the NES game and adds two completely new ones, making for an experience that could almost pass for Ducktales 3.  With the Ducktales cartoon’s reboot about to launch (which I’m expecting to also greatly outshine the original, the previews have done a very good job of showing the Gravity Falls influence), now is a great time to play through this game.  It’s a fitting last hurrah for the 80s Ducktales as a whole, in addition to being a great remake.

#4. Ratchet and Clank (2016)

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Straddling the line between remake and reboot, I decided to place this game on the remake side because I’m always going to place gameplay first, and no matter how much the story of the original Ratchet and Clank was changed in Ratchet and Clank 2016, it’s obvious that the original game was still the near exclusive focus.  The advancements in control and quality of life that the later games made are intact, but the levels are almost all from the original.  But like all the remakes on this list, they aren’t just graphically upgraded copies, they’re new levels using the settings and elements of the original.  Ratchet and Clank 2016 does a great job expanding the classic levels it covers and makes them feel every bit as good as new levels would.  While having less levels is a somewhat painful tradeoff and prevents this game from placing higher on the list, R&C2016 is still a polished and satisfying action platformer that can serve as a great introduction to the series for 13 year olds who weren’t alive when the original game was released and are now making you feel old.  Let’s hope we get the Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal remakes that everyone wants, and that they’re as good as this one

#3. Mega Man Powered Up

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This game is criminally underappreciated.  Unlike Maverick Hunter X, which made minimal gameplay additions and was based on a game that aged too well to really need a remake, Mega Man Powered Up takes the very first Mega Man game and adds an absurd amount of content.  You get a ton of new playable characters, a level editor, and brand new chibi-style 2.5D graphics that can be placed over an exact gameplay replica of the original game.  But the crown jewel of this game is the “New Style” mode with brand new levels based on the themes and gameplay elements of the original, in addition to two brand new bosses with their own original levels.  This game just offers everything.  Want the original game with new graphics?  You’ve got it.  Want a better game based on it?  It’s there.  Want to play as Roll or a robot master?  Go ahead.  Impossible to please?  Then make your own damn level, you can even do that.  Mega Man Powered Up needs to be rescued from its relative obscurity, it’s a must have for every Mega Man fan.

#2. Resident Evil (2002)

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One of the most positively regarded video game remakes of all time, the GameCube Resident Evil (or REmake, as it’s commonly known) took the 1996 original, which had already aged pretty badly by 2002, and turned it into one of the best games to use the classic Resident Evil formula.  The flow of the game was shaken up, the puzzles were redesigned, new enemies and areas were added, the controls were updated, a colossal amount of secrets were added, the dialogue and voice acting were made competent, and the graphics were completely redone and looked truly amazing, they still hold up today, even without the long-postponed HD remaster.  This set the standard for video game remakes, and every re-release of a Resident Evil game since has been met with wishes that another Resident Evil game would get the kind of monumental remake that the original did.  While the lack of information has made it hard to remember, we do have the mythical REmake 2 announced, hopefully we can once again get something on the level of this, the runner-up master of remaking.

#1.  Metroid: Zero Mission

Metroid Zero Mission

I debated on the order to place the previous games in, trying to decide how much weight to give how much of an improvement over the original game each remake was versus how much I enjoyed the game personally.  Thankfully, Metroid: Zero Mission excels in both areas.  The original Metroid is enormously influential, but it did not age well at all, and the lack of features and quality of life improvements that Super Metroid standardized is glaring.  Metroid: Zero Mission merges the original game with Super Metroid, adding new abilities, areas, bosses, and story elements to make something that functions as both a new entry in the Metroid series, and a replacement for the poorly-aged original.  While the game is a bit short (despite all the expansions, the aimless wandering and cheap deaths really made the NES Metroid feel longer than it was), the gameplay is just as fun and satisfying as the legendary Super Metroid.  Zero Mission is everything a remake should strive to be, the best possible outcome.  After 13 years of wishing for Metroid II to get the same treatment, we’re just months away from that finally happening, and now seems like the time to recognize both Metroid: Zero Mission and the potential of remakes in general.  If more remakes had the effort and care given to Zero Mission, the world would be a better place and the galaxy would be at peace.

So there you have it, my picks for the top five games that show the full potential of video game remakes.  I’m not saying there’s no place for remasters that simply add some modern quality of life features to a classic game, but I consider games like these five to be the holy grail of video game remakes.  There are plenty of classic but questionably aged games that could benefit from full blown remakes, hopefully we’ll get many more remakes like these five games that mastered remaking.

BeiN True to Yourself: How Nintendo Wins

I’ve been meaning to write an article like this for a while now, and with E3 having just happened, I think I can finally get started now.  As my past articles may give some ultra-subtle foreshadowing of, I am quite happy with how the Switch has been received so far.  After at least four years of almost unrelenting negativity towards Nintendo’s console division, someone finally flipped a switch and turned the light back on.  The Switch has recreated the phenomenon of the original Wii’s launch, an even more impressive feat considering it launched in March instead of November.  With Nintendo seeming to have finally fulfilled their longstanding goal of a launch year without droughts and an incredible E3 that featured a healthy mix of 2017, early 2018, and far away but ultra-exciting games, Switch’s future looks very bright.  So with Nintendo’s four most recent consoles alternating between explosive success and market failure (no, you having nostalgia for GameCube doesn’t mean it sold well, it was closer to Wii U in sales than it was to Nintendo 64, and that didn’t even win its generation), is there any way to make sense of this pattern?

Well, let’s look at the goal behind the four consoles in the most general terms.  The GameCube and Wii U had a focus on attaining something that Nintendo’s competition had in the previous generation that they lacked (disc based software and HD graphics, respectively) and bringing Nintendo back to getting the biggest third-party games and controlling the traditional gaming demographic again.  Both systems also suffered from something of an identity crisis, having drawbacks that stopped them from achieving true parity with their competitors (GCN’s smaller disc space and Wii U’s limited power compared to competing systems) and having stylistic features that conflicted with the goal of winning over the competitor’s fanbase (GameCube’s general “kiddy” image, Wii U’s tablet inspired controller).  After showing a lot of promise at launch, both systems quickly fell behind in market share and third-party support, becoming solid but niche systems you bought for Nintendo’s games.

 

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And look how well pandering to EA worked out.

 

Now let’s look at Wii and Switch.  They actually don’t seem to have fixed the problems I mentioned above, you could even argue they got worse.  Was Wii any less “kiddy” than GameCube?  Is Switch a powerhouse that obliterates or at least matches PlayStation 4 and would be giving PS5 a run for its money if the generations hadn’t gotten completely de-synced?  Did/will either one get all the AAA third party multi-plats that PlayStation/Xbox/PC share?  The answer to all those questions is no.  So why did things work out for these systems, but not their predecessors?

Because Nintendo didn’t half-try to be something they weren’t, they embraced what made them different and turned those weaknesses into strengths.  They flipped things around and succeeded at things their competitors weren’t even trying.  The Wii may have been at least as “kiddy” as GameCube, but it appealed to middle aged parents and senior citizens just as easily, it genuinely was for all ages.  The Switch may be only marginally more powerful than Wii U, but take it out of its dock and it’s a technological marvel as a portable system.  Nintendo solved their problems in ways that their competitors never would have attempted, and unlike trying to copy the other systems, this approach has been rewarded.

 

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Mocking its name just made it stronger.

 

Of course, that doesn’t mean GameCube and Wii U didn’t contribute anything to Nintendo’s future.  Remember GameCube’s bizarre controller layout and various gimmick controllers (bongos, the Game Boy Advance)?  I’m sure you remember Wii U’s attempt to get people excited to play games on the controller’s screen.  Neither of these features caught on, but Wii and Switch managed to evolve these ideas into a functional, wildly popular form.  The Wii had a new way of controlling games that got a huge amount of mainstream attention, and it being included with every system allowed it to thrive.  Wii U’s ability to stream games to its controller at a limited range turned into Switch being a true hybrid that allows you to take complete console games anywhere you want.  Instead of giving up on these ideas, Nintendo believed in them and turned them into something hugely successful.

 

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Its heart was in the right place, it just needed a few tweaks.

 

Now this section is a bit of a leftover from one of the earlier incarnations of this article, but since I’ve compared Wii and Switch so much, I think it’s worth addressing.  Some may ask if we really want Switch to turn into another Wii.  Was its success actually good for gamers?

Yes, it absolutely was!

It’s time to get over the delusion that Wii was nothing but Nintendo lazily making mini-game compilations and third parties badly copying the aforementioned mini-game compilations.  Yes, the Wii ___ series and shovelware that all market leaders attract existed, but you could and can ignore them, and there is a diamond mine hidden under them.  Nintendo made some of their best games on the Wii, and I don’t just mean the Super Mario Galaxies and Xenoblade.  Punch-Out, Donkey Kong Country Returns, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland, Wario Land Shake-It, Metroid Prime 3, Sin and Punishment 2, Pandora’s Tower, games you should give a genuine chance like New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Zelda: Skyward Sword, Nintendo absolutely did not just focus on gimmicky mini-game compilations during the Wii’s lifespan.

But the lack of attention those games get is nothing compared to the third-party hidden gems on Wii.  Zack and Wiki, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands, Muramasa, Madworld, No More Heroes 2, Dead Space Extraction, A Boy and His Blob, Rabbids Go Home, Sonic Colors, Epic Mickey, Lost in Shadow, Red Steel 2, Trauma Team, House of the Dead Overkill, Goldeneye 007, Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Boom Blox Bash Party, Rodea: The Sky Soldier, there are so many third party Wii games that may not have been super hyped AAA budget games but were the type of quality mid-ware that people thought died in the seventh generation.  Switch turning out like Wii would indeed be a good thing, and fortunately, there are already signs of its portable ability bringing back some of those mid-ware style games.

 

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Have you played this game? Do you know what it is? This is Trauma Team, just one of the many underappreciated Wii games.

 

So in conclusion, I think the moral here is pretty obvious.  Nintendo systems with one syllable names do better, end of story.  In seriousness, I think it’s safe to say that Nintendo does a lot better when they focus on their strengths instead of trying to attain the strengths of others.  Directly competing on their competitor’s turf doesn’t work, and with the console generations being out of sync between companies now it is barely measurable (I defy you to find a way to compare Switch and PS4’s success that doesn’t require waiting 5+ years to judge).  While it would be nice for Nintendo to achieve the third-party dominance they had with the NES and SNES, I don’t think it’s practical right now and both Nintendo and their fans will have a better time if they focus on what worked for Wii and Switch instead of trying to bring SNES back with one fell swoop.  Wait a second, if you pronounce them “Ness” and “Sness”, those systems are also one syllable… that IS the key!

Turn Based: Random Probability Genre

Hello all. This is a bit of an experimental article, so bear with me. While having a random argument online, SNES Master KI and I actually ended up being really intrigued with the topic and decided to use it as a basis for a new series of articles, written collaboratively through an online conversation. This isn’t exactly the first time I used this style of format, but this one was far more casual than my previous attempts. – Professor Icepick

Professor Icepick: The reason I believe that turn-based RPGs are luck-based is simple: many of the game mechanics themselves rely on random number generation. The amount of damage, the hit rate, the ability to dodge, all of these elements are often tied to random numbers, which while they take static statistics into account still comprise the majority of the gameplay. The player cannot willfully manipulate these elements in order to dodge an attack or do more damage at will, they are held to the whims of the machine itself.

SNES Master KI: Those elements are to some degree luck based, but they only affect a small percentage of the actual outcome.  A fight has to be extremely close in order for a critical hit or miss to determine the winner, preparing for this is part of the process in single player games.  Luck isn’t any more of a determining factor than it is in action games where enemy AIs aren’t 100% scripted.

Furthermore, in multiplayer turn based games (where battles being close is preferred) risk assessment is a vital part of the strategy involved, and plays into the mind games that are a large part of the experience.  Just like playing poker well is a skill despite the huge luck element, accounting for the random possibilities is part of the preparation and strategy in a turn based competitive game.

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Icepick: I like that you brought up the existence of multiplayer RPGs to help your argument. While most of these battles are generally only considered fair when character level is close, this seems to favor strategy over skill. In video games, skill is generally considered the great equalizer. After all, beating Symphony of the Night at max level isn’t impressive, but doing so with as low of a level as possible definitely is. In video games, skill is generally associated with deliberate instantaneous movement. Ideal planning is generally associated with “strategy”: important but separate from skill.

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KI: I would consider strategy to be a part of skill, I would define skill as anything under the player’s control.  Strategy is the core skill in a turn based game, and is still a part of the skill used in real time games.  Although it has to be done much faster, thinking several jumps ahead in a platformer is strategy and a vital part of the skill needed to play them.

Strategy and preparation aren’t the same element, if you gave someone who didn’t know anything about the Pokémon meta-game a tournament winning team, they would still lose spectacularly to an experienced player.  Preparation is what you do before the battle, strategy is what you do during it.

Icepick: Perhaps, but I think we can both acknowledge that there is a difference in what is considered an achievement in single-player and multiplayer games. Within the realm of single-player, there are three categories that are most commonly considered when discussing mastery of a game: the speed run, the no-death run and its more extreme counterpart, the no-hit run. While speedrunning is technically possible in single-player turn-based RPGs, there are no strategies that can absolutely guarantee a no-death run, let alone a no-hit run.

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Of course, there are exceptions.

There are far too many random variables involved in order to certainly, with a small measure of doubt, avoid taking damage throughout the entire game. This is especially prominent when we take random battles, a fairly common gameplay element in the sub-genre, into account. Matters are only exacerbated when random battles come with specific conditions — take for example, the “back attack”, where the player’s party is assaulted from behind by a random assortment of monsters. Again, I must ask, when so many elements of the gameplay are reliant on events that are literally random, skill, as it is traditionally classified when discussing video games, is substantially less prominent in the traditional JRPG than they are in pretty much any other genre.

KI: While no hit runs in most turn based games aren’t practical, they do have an equivalent.  Level 1 runs of turn based JRPGs are a common mastery goal, and through strategy and full understanding of the battle system they are usually possible.  Luck may mess up some attempts, but there is still immense strategy and preparation required.  Dealing with the luck element is just an added layer of risk management.

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As for no hit runs being impossible, that isn’t about luck.  Turn based games are designed around the idea that both sides get turns aside from massively one-sided battles where one side wins in a single turn.  There’s no luck aspect there, the player knows enemies will get to attack going in.

Icepick: Perhaps, however, if I may use a different genre as an example. In the early days of implementing online play into fighting games, many developers would attempt to handle input lag the same way they did in other genres: simply slowing down the game itself in order to allow the information to catch up. Later, rollback netcode – a method that involved “rolling back” the game’s status to the last time both players were in sync – was utilized to much greater effect. Unfortunately, both methods have one major flaw: at times, players often take one action, assuming that they are correctly in sync with their opponent, while in reality, they are out of sync and rolling back an allow their opponent to capitalize on their unwittingly bad decision. When faced with poor connections, players are often forced to make poor decisions due to a lack of information, effectively causing a change in strategizing within the game itself.

This same problem is generally the case in turn-based RPGs, meaning that players generally fight with both their literal opponents, but also the game’s mechanics in general. Maybe you have a perfect attack lined up to defeat your opponent, but you randomly miss. Then your opponent strikes back with a hit you could normally survive easily, but they score a critical hit on you, killing you in a single hit. You might argue that the way to avoid such a scenario would be to create a substantial advantage over future opponents by grinding to a much higher level, but in reality, that’s more of a timesink than proper strategy. If powerlevelling can be considered skill, then what about using cheat codes or paying microtransactions?

KI: Fighting games are built around quick and immediate reactions, while using prediction to counter lag could technically be considered a skill, it is one antithetical to the genre in question, which isn’t the case in turn based games.  Similarly to how fighting game style jumping would ruin a platformer, but is not a flaw in fighting games.

The issue with cheat codes and microtransactions is that they break the game’s balance or give one player an unfair advantage.  Paying for microtransaction style benefits with in-game currency or choosing skills from a skill tree that resemble cheat codes are considered completely legitimate.  The scenario where the luck based mechanic hands the battle to one player is unfortunate, but the ideal counter to it isn’t power leveling in a multiplayer game, it’s having better strategy and risk calculation to avoid such a scenario.  There are scenarios in other genres where an extremely close match essentially comes down to luck, such as two players searching for each other and hoping to spot their opponent first in an FPS or trying to predict what rock paper scissors style attack your opponent will use in a fighting game, they just aren’t as prominent because they happen so quickly.

Icepick: The difference between those instances of luck is that they are more dependent on things that were consciously manipulated by the players in the first place. Returning to fighting games, many fighting games’ metagames revolve around “tier lists” – effectively comparing the chances one character has over beating another one, with all other things being equal. Yet, this is not an exact science: many upset victories have been achieved by players who chose characters that logically had no chance against their opponent’s choice. Meanwhile, even in multiplayer RPGs, the ability to perform well generally comes down to character stats, elements that are generally set in stone before any competition even begins. While upset victories are also possible in these scenarios, even these can generally be traced back to specific choices made in preparation of the match.

This is also prominent in the JRPG’s ancestor: the pen-and-paper RPG. Stats are determined before the scenario even begins and dice rolls – literally considered one of the most basic elements of a game of chance – are used to fully determine the success or failure of the player’s actions. This is no different from the traditional JRPG: predetermined stats and abilities, complimented with a random number generator acting as a digital stand-in for a dice roll.

KI: Creating your team/characters is something in the players control, hence why I described it as preparation and strategy.  The dice roll is a luck element, but I contend that it is only part of the experience and strategy is still vital and the deciding factor the vast majority of the time.  Overcoming bad preparation is harder in a turn based game, but that’s fully intentional, since preparation is part of the game while a fighting game is working towards the ideal of every character choice being equal (even if that never happens in practice).

Icepick: In the end, turn-based RPGs often rely upon preparation, strategy and luck. There is nothing that relies upon instantaneous feedback in the traditional iterations of the genre. As such, I can’t really say they rely on skill, as from the origins of video games themselves, skill has generally been associated with a combination of quick reflexes and the knowledge of what needs to be done in order to succeed. While RPGs often employ the latter, there are only rare instances where the former are even remotely relevant.

KI: I still define skill as anything in the player’s control.  Turn-based RPGs don’t require every skill type found in other genres, but there are skill types they greatly surpass most other genres in (preparation).  I think this mainly comes down to a difference of opinion on the definition of the word skill as it applies to video games, so there isn’t really anything left to argue about unless we get into a definition battle, and no one wants to see that, at least a civil one.


So, in the end, we just essentially decided to agree to disagree. Who do you think was right: does beating a turn-based RPG rely on luck or is there skill behind it? Sound off in the comments section below. – Icepick

Rising Fun: Dawn for Japanese Games

The second half of the 80s and entirety of the 90s were a golden age for Japanese games.  From the moment Super Mario Bros. revived the American console industry, Japanese games absolutely dominated consoles.  While there were some exceptions, the vast, vast majority of good console games came from Japan during the third, fourth, and fifth generations.  Even the most prominent exceptions were made by western developers that were working with Japanese companies: Naughty Dog, Insomniac, and of course Rare.  Things started to change in the sixth generation, games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto 3, and the rising Tony Hawk series were critical and commercial successes, something very few western console games had achieved before that point.  Japanese games were probably still bigger or at least equal at that point, but it definitely wasn’t the absurd level of domination they previously held.  This was, of course, a good thing: there’s no reason for one country to dominate the way Japan did at one point.

 

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And thus Japan conquered console gaming overnight.

 

In the seventh and eighth generations, however, things started to become unbalanced in the other direction.  Several Japanese companies went into slumps at the same time, while western mega-publishers increased their dominance.  This led to an attitude in the 2010s that Japan was becoming irrelevant to the gaming industry.  I was not happy about this, but it would be fair to ask why when I was fine with how things were in the 90s.  Well, I have a few reasons.  For one, there was a fair amount of nationalistic gloating, treating this as “revenge” and calling the Japanese gaming industry a failure for not being able to match the combined output of two continents.  There’s also the fact that the fading Japanese companies had made so many great games in the past, and losing something is a lot more painful than never having it to begin with.  And while this may be too subjective and in the moment to use as a reason, I would much rather have 90s Capcom, Konami, and Squaresoft as the dominant publishers instead of companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision.  I’m not saying we need to go back to Japanese dominance, but all game producing regions making great games is the optimal situation and always will be.  I just want Japanese games to make a comeback for their own sake.

 

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Market Combat Evolving.

 

That seems to be what’s happening.  After many years of turmoil, Japanese-developed games are making a substantial comeback in 2017, in both the released and upcoming categories.  This year we’ve already seen Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2, Nier Automata, Nioh, and Persona 5; quality releases that have mostly seen a good deal of commercial success and attention from the gaming community.  Looking ahead, we have Sonic Forces, Tekken 7, Tokyo Xanadu, Ys VIII, and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite as some promising 2017 releases.   Compared to the past few years, this is a huge upturn in quality Japanese games.

Going beyond a simple games list, many of these games represent once mighty Japanese publishers and developers showing signs of recovering from their slumps.  Capcom finally made a Resident Evil that was well received, Team Ninja made their first well liked game in who knows how long with Nioh, Sega has two promising Sonic games coming out this year (although one is technically by western developers) – there are decades that would kill for that amount – and Square Enix has brought an underrated series into mainstream success while giving Platinum a chance to shine simultaneously with Nier: Automata.  Series that never had a huge western presence, such as Persona, Ys, Yakuza, and the aforementioned Nier/Drakengard also seem to be getting more attention than they previously did, which is great for the Japanese gaming industry.  The light of dawn may be starting to break through the cynicism that has clouded the concept of Japanese games in recent years.

 

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Looks like JRPGs don’t have cooties anymore.

 

There are two major Japanese publishers I consciously avoided mentioning up until this point.  One of them is a hugely conspicuous absence considering who is writing this article.  Why have I waited until now to say anything about Nintendo?  Because I like building things up before playing my strongest card.  Nintendo is in their own league among developers, and I’m don’t mean because they’re my favorite, their situation as the primary developer for their systems puts them in a very different position than the third parties I’ve covered.  Nintendo has always been prominent as a software publisher, even during the Wii U days their games sold millions with absurdly high attach rates that annihilated the best selling games of other systems with a low userbase.  However, Nintendo’s health is often measured by their console’s sales, and that has certainly not been going well in recent years.

Then it was like someone simply flipped a Switch.  Seeing what happened when they tried to copy their competitors with the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch is showing all indications that it recaptured the lightning bottled by the original Wii.  With the system selling out every shipment it makes almost instantly (and this is in March and April) and a non-pack in game managing to attain an unprecedented over 100% attach rate in at least one region, we have plenty of reason to believe that Nintendo’s console division is back on track.  And they’re definitely contributing to Japanese games making a resurgence in 2017.  This year we have or are scheduled to get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ARMS, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade 2, Fire Emblem Warriors and the game that means so much to me it was my most anticipated game of 2017 based on a six second “tech demo”, Super Mario Odyssey.  Breath of the Wild, the only one released so far, is one of the highest rated games of all time and would single handedly make this a better year for Japanese game reception than some of the last few.  Nintendo is back, and they’re ready to lead the charge in the Japanese game resurgence.

 

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Mario is back, and he’s not alone.

 

And what was that other company I avoided mentioning?  Well, it’s one that’s pretty easy to ignore, if the bitterness doesn’t get you, at least.  Konami, tormentor of employees, bane of Kojima, the Japanese EA.  No other Japanese publisher fell as far as Konami, but even with them, there is a glimmer of light this year.  Super Bomberman R is one of the more prominent Switch launch games that isn’t Zelda, and has been selling amazingly well for such a niche game.  Konami has publicly announced plans to revive more dormant franchises, as opposed to fleeing video games to make pachinko machines.  The slightest bit of hope for Konami is a miraculous step forward at this point.

 

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This game existing at all is a frigging miracle.

 

So, with the games released and announced in 2017, I think it’s safe to say that the sun is rising again for Japanese games.  Again, I’m not asking for western console games to go back to their dark age.  While I generally prefer Japanese design philosophy, western developers (many of whom grew up with games from Japan’s golden age) are perfectly capable of using it, and both sides can learn things from the other’s games.  Gamers benefit from as many developers as possible making great games, no matter what region they’re from.  With E3 fast approaching, we will hopefully soon have even more games to look forward to from Japanese developers and proof that the revival trend will continue in 2018 and beyond.

The Elements of Gameplay

In my previous article, I dissected the meaning behind several essentially identical terms used to judge games, terms that I hate.  I condensed them under the label of “soul,” and argued that if a game actually had a soul, it would be its gameplay.  I realized that just labeling the real important part of a game as gameplay could sound kind of like the copout I accused the term soul of being.  What exactly is gameplay, anyway?  Well, I’ve actually given that quite a bit of thought, and pinpointed five clearly defined (if often subjective in terms of quality) parts of a game that combine to form that seemingly sacred concept of gameplay.  I’ll be going over each one, so let’s start putting together this Megazord known as gameplay!

Control

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Let’s start with something simple, but vital to every game, arguably the primary thing that defines something as a video game.  Control is one of those things where it being good means you never think about it.  You’re not thinking about the controls when you’re steering an airborne Mario past obstacles or circle strafing demons as Doomguy, but if those games had bad controls you sure as hell would be.  Control is the link between the game and the player, good control adds more to immersion than all the graphical touches and flavor text in the world.  Bad control, on the other hand, will haunt a game no matter how much it excels at the other elements of gameplay.  Control sets the tone for a game: some of the other elements have to be designed entirely around the controls.  One game’s perfect control could ruin a different game, and that could easily go both ways.  Control is the vehicle that the other elements of gameplay ride in, and if it crashes, the entire game goes up in smoke.

Content

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You’re playing a modern retail game that does everything perfectly.  You’re completely absorbed by the gameplay, the first two hours made you fall in love and you can’t wait to see what’s next… CREDITS!?  I think we’ve all felt the painful sucker punch of an unexpected credits sequence.  No matter how a good a game is, er, was, if your $60 purchase ends after two hours it’s probably going to lower your opinion of the experience.  Content is probably the most objective element of gameplay: the amount of levels, missions, secrets, etc. in a game can’t be changed by someone’s opinion.  The objective nature of both what content is and how much an individual game has makes this a simple but important factor when it comes to gameplay.  While content doesn’t really affect the core gameplay experience directly, the truth is quantity does matter to some extent, and I think how long you get to enjoy a game is pretty important.  I mean, what are you going to do after you finish a game, just start it over again?  Wait, maybe you will…

Replay

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I debated on whether to combine this element with the above.  It was tricky because while content and replay serve a nearly identical function, the abundance of one often leads to the lack of the other.  These two elements are the only ones on the list that can almost totally replace each other.  Replay value is the other side of content’s coin.  Content is how much you get out of a game before the credits roll, replay value is whether you want to go back and play the game again after that happens.  The line can blur at times, what does going back to earlier levels for a better rank, with the option to do it before or after you beat the game, count as?  What about looking for secrets needed to unlock the real final level/ending after you saw the first ending?  How the hell do you define when a multiplayer game is being replayed?  Replay can also have a purer form, however.  A truly great game will be fun to play again and again even if you’ve seen everything in it.  If you feel compelled to go back to a completed game again and again over the years, it has truly achieved great replay value.  Replay value is what makes a game immortal, how can it not be part of a game’s soul?

Challenge

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If Content and Replay can make up for each other, Challenge completely inverts that and must fight with itself to reach the correct balance.  A game being too easy makes it boring and pointless.  A game being too hard makes it frustrating and stressful.  To have great gameplay, a game has to use the spice known as difficulty and the sweetener known as mercy in just the right amounts, creating just the right amount of Challenge.  Checkpoints should be placed thoughtfully, difficulty spikes and breathers have to show up at the right times, puzzles have to take effort to solve without throwing the player into a pit of despair that only looking up the solution can rescue them from.  The game must somehow appeal to players of different skill and experience levels in the same package.  A game’s difficulty level may not be the most subjective quality about it, but whether it’s the RIGHT difficulty level is going to cause fistfights.  This is where Challenge versus cheapness comes into play, and games should make sure they only rely on challenge, no matter how many people online define cheapness as “any challenge above my personal skill level.”  If you thread the needle just right, however, you’ll contribute something to gameplay that adds a dimension to the experience which other artistic mediums can’t compare with.

Design

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And now we arrive at what I personally consider to be the most important part of gameplay.  I was originally going to call this element Level Design, but in addition to preferring that every element was one word, there are a few genres where that name wouldn’t fit.  Level design is mostly a cosmetic feature in genres like fighting games or Tetris-style puzzle games, after all.  In the end, there are a lot of terms you could use for this element depending on the genre.  Level design, fighting engine, competitive balance, course layout, it goes on.  At its core, this element is a game’s unique and personal layout, the thing that makes an individual game that specific individual game.  You could mess with the other elements in a game and it would be a variant or fragment of the same game, but Design makes it a new game. All of the other elements are intimately connected with design in every aspect.  The most subjective element when it comes to quality by far, Design is truly the core of the soul, the thing that defines the individual.  Whether it’s designing the level, placing enemies, balancing combat, thinking up puzzles, or deciding how far to go with realism, Design is the most important part of gameplay and by extension the most important part of game.

By Your Powers Combined

So there we have it, the five parts of a game that I believe make up that ideal known as gameplay.  Whether you want to think in terms of Power Rangers/Captain Planet/Avatar/My Little Pony or whatever, they have been assembled and Gameplay, the soul of a game, has been formed.  So, if you ever want to argue with someone bashing your favorite game for lacking “soul,” you can use gameplay as a counterargument, and you can use these elements to define gameplay.  Maybe I’ll write something about the anti-elements at some point, but for now I’ve said all I want to.  See you next time, and remember that gameplay puts the soul in console, wait, gameplay is the only consoulation for… no, don’t be con-souled about the soul of… never mind, just go.

 

Striking at the Soul

Over the years I’ve come across many terms that I hate seeing applied to games.  Soul.  Magic.  Heart.  Charm.  Spark.  So it looks like it’s time to do another list, all of these terms deserve to be categorically addressed so I can explain exactly why they are not valid ways to judge games.  Let’s get right to it: time for the intimidating task of dissecting five different concepts in one article.  Let’s get started!

Magic

What it means:  Magic, when applied to games, is a catch-all term for an indescribable feeling you get from a game.  Something you can’t describe, but you just KNOW it when you see it.  Something that supercedes any part of a game you can actually give a supportable opinion on.  Magic is different from the other terms because, because…

Wait…

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All of them are the same freaking thing! 

Yep, the list was a fake-out.  These (and probably many more) terms are all functionally identical, and it’s that concept that I want to argue against, in all of its guises.  There are two main things that the various terms (I’m just going to use soul for the rest of this article) are actually describing, and neither are good reasons for judging a game.  Let’s get to the real dissection!

Aesthetics

You know how some people judge games on their technical or budget merits?  How many polygons there are, how much wide open empty space the draw distance can show at once, how expensive the voice actors were?  Well people who care about a game’s soul would never do that.  Why?  Because it’s not petty ENOUGH!  It’s the little things that make a game great: little touches in the background, the exact right amount of comedic quirk in the dialogue, whether it’s a sequel or not.  Judging a game by the graphics as a whole makes you shallow, but judging it by dissecting minor details of the graphics makes you deep.  Maybe an 8-bit art style could have potentially passed your metric for the game having enough “soul” in its look, but you’re still judging a game for how it looks, and no euphemism is going to change that.

 

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This is what letting games be judged by soul gets us.

 

Why would anyone believe in this double standard?  I’m not convinced that many genuinely do.  The fact is, saying a game is bad because of its graphics is going to make a lot of people disregard your opinion, which in my magical and soulful special spark of an opinion is justified.  As someone who still regularly plays games from earlier console generations, defends Nintendo for focusing on gameplay over writing and story in many of their series, and gets very annoyed by being told my systems of choice are inferior to the “master race” because the graphics aren’t as good, I obviously don’t approve of judging games by their graphics.  So I don’t like it when people ostensibly on my side do the exact same thing but insist that it’s actually about “soul.”  If you care about aesthetics to the point where a game not meeting your expectations in them can ruin the experience for you, I’ll have a much easier time agreeing to disagree if you don’t use vague and frustrating terms to hide it.  But maybe it isn’t really the artistic merit that the game is really being judged on, quite often it’s really…

Nostalgia

Yep, it’s come to this, the big N.  No, not Nintendo… well, a lot of the time they are the ones this is being used against, but that’s not the point.  It’s not a coincidence that sequels and recent games are so much more likely to be derided for having an insufficient quantity of soul.  Nostalgia is a powerful force.  I’m not going to claim to be immune to it: in fact I’m hyper-sensitive to it and develop it much faster than most people (I’m listening to a song that brings back memories of 2014 as I type this sentence).  I’ve certainly replayed many games that in no way merit ever being touched again because they gave me nostalgia, I’m still looking for my floppy disc of Dino: Lost in Bedrock just because it’s a different version than the one you can find online.

 

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This has great nostalgia for me, do I have claws for claiming cat puns and terrible controls are soulful?

 

So having nostalgia is fine, enjoying things just because of nostalgia is fine.  But you have to be aware of what you’re doing, and more important, don’t judge new games on how much they appeal to your nostalgia!  If you want to pick up a game because it’s pandering to your nostalgia just right, go for it, but don’t judge newer games as a whole because they don’t accomplish the impossible task of giving you the same nostalgic feeling a game you played in elementary school does.  It is not the game lacking soul that makes it feel less magical than the 20-year-old previous installment did, it’s the fact that you were 20 years younger back then.  Not understanding your nostalgia cravings is just going to lead to disappointment and despair, and bashing every new game in a franchise because of that makes you annoying, okay? So stop it.

So what would it be?

So if games actually did have souls, what would the soul be?  What is the core of a game, the element that really makes it special?  If you took away all the extras and aesthetics, what would be left to define the pure essence of a game?  How long am I going to insult your intelligence by building this up when it’s blatantly obvious that I’m going to say the answer is gameplay?

 

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The gameplay in this is more soul than you’d find in any pixel art walking simulator.

 

Yes, if we were to say games actually have a soul, it would clearly be gameplay.  In addition to being the most important part of a game, gameplay ultimately leads to the things that are wrongfully called the soul of a game.  A game being good in the first place will be a major contribution to how much nostalgia it eventually produces, right?  And the positive associations a game gives you thanks to its gameplay are what lead to the little aesthetic touches and quirks that people mistake for soul.  If Bubsy was a platforming masterpiece, I firmly believe Bubsy’s annoying puns would be iconic and loved in a somewhat ironic way like the dialogue in Star Fox 64 and Resident Evil 4.

So that’s my rant for the day.  Week, months, whatever I procrastinated it to.  I hope I’ve made some points about what a game should and shouldn’t be judged by, or at least gotten people to find better terms for what they use to judge games.  A thought occurred to me as I was writing this, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that I was using gameplay as just as much of a vague catch-all in this article as the terms I railed against.  Going into detail about what I consider gameplay, though, would take up an entire article of its own… so that’s what I’m going to give it.  Stay tuned!