Genre Hopping – Part 2: Concepts

Last month, I discussed many (if not all) of the times the MegaMan franchise as a whole has deviated from the traditional “jump ‘n shoot man” style of gameplay. From racing games to puzzle games, fighting games to FMV games and so on, MegaMan has done far more than just his infamous style of platforming. I also brought up the fact that as Capcom has had little luck with reviving the Blue Bomber in his traditional format, why not try another spinoff?

You’re probably asking, “But Professor Icepick! It’s so obvious what Capcom should do: just make another 2D game, except with something besides 8-bit graphics!”. And of course, why fix what isn’t broken? Well, to be honest, the fact is that, while MegaMan’s traditional gameplay format is time-tested, the sheer amount of games in the series that follow this formula has made the franchise itself something of a joke. Furthermore, I never implied that a MegaMan 11, a MegaMan ZX 3 or even a MegaMan Star Force 4 would deviate from the gameplay that made its specific franchise so popular. I’m thinking about this more from the angle of a spinoff, not unlike the games I discussed last time. Sort of a way to get people who never played any of the old-school games a chance to fall in love with the series that we love.

Take, for example, the rhythm-based platformer: not too far removed from the MegaMan pedigree, but with enough potential for a different experience. Games like the Bit.Trip Runner series and Harmoknight, for example, which blend classic platforming gameplay with rhythm-based gameplay, typically determined by the background music. Considering the fact that one of the most important elements of any MegaMan game is the music, this seems like a match made in heaven. MegaMan Classic would be the best choice for this genre, in my opinion: imagine blasting Metools and Sniper Joes in perfect harmony with rearrangements of classic Robot Master themes like Needleman, Flashman or Napalmman. Better still, you could simultaneously buck the trend of simply having 8 robot masters before starting the fortress, while getting newbies acquainted with MegaMan’s history in the process.

Unfortunately, there is a fatal flaw with this idea: the majority of rhythm platformers tend to be exclusively auto-scrolling affairs. Does that sound familiar? Because that’s exactly what they did with the much maligned Rockman XOver. Sure, most other rhythm platformers tend to add hazards, but considering the sheer amount for fan backlash, well, it would probably be best to avoid anything that even resembles XOver at this point. If there were some way to properly craft a game that allowed players to maintain the freedom of movement of a typical 2D platformer while maintaining the amount of rhythm elements in traditional rhythm-platformers, I think it could work.

Another problem would be the fact that it would be harder to utilize Master Weapons, arguably the MegaMan franchise’s most defining trait, in the context of a rhythm game. Granted, all modern consoles often have shoulder triggers on their most common input methods, allowing for quick switches, but traditionally weapon selection is done via a pause menu in MegaMan games, and pausing mid-stage would pretty much ruin the flow of a rhythm game. Maybe it would work if you were allowed to map specific weapons to specific button presses, though few systems would have enough buttons for each weapon considering you’d also need a button to jump. Perhaps if outside the context of boss fights, alternate weapons had only superficial differences from the standard Buster –maybe they could all be different instruments! Either way, there are some interesting ideas there, but it would take a lot of work to make a proper rhythm-platformer that is undeniably a MegaMan game. However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to see Capcom try it. Quite the opposite.

In that case, what about a platform that focuses more on exploration? A “Metroidvania”, if you will. Sure, many people will argue that the ZX series was already fairly Metroidvanian, but I’m talking less about individual stages connected by a hub world for the most part and more of a single major area, almost akin to a dungeon crawling platformer, with save points in lieu of extra lives. Within the MegaMan canon, I feel like this would be a good choice for a Legends spinoff, due to that particular sub-franchise’s emphasis on exploration and let’s face it, most of the major action stages in MML were basically dungeon crawls. So it’d be interesting to see the one MegaMan game that was always meant to be in 3D be ported back to 2D.

Of course, doing a game in the Legends series that isn’t MML3 would likely reopen old wounds and making such a dramatically different game into the third Legends game would likely cause widespread backlash from the fanbase. As such, finding another MegaMan franchise to do this kind of experiment with would be difficult. Classic and X definitely wouldn’t work, due to the fact that most Metroidvanias try to guide players into tackling various obstacles in a specific order by closing off certain areas until you obtain a certain power-up, the Classic and X series are better known for their non-linear stage order. Zero’s been concluded. The aforementioned ZX series may be similar in style but it still focuses on stage-based gameplay at its core. I suppose maybe Battle Network and Star Force could work, but considering the fact that both series have been more or less concluded, it might be better to avoid it. So while making a Metroidvanian MegaMan spinoff may lack the design issues making a rhythm platformer would have, it’s still probably for the best to put that idea on hold.

Speaking of Legends, I guess the most obvious answer would be transitioning the Blue Bomber from 2D to 3D. I mean, I’ve seen enough people ask for this kind of thing. Throw in some TPS elements or maybe just some good ol’-fashioned lock-on to handle the aiming, make sure it’s got some actual platforming in it like the 2D games have and you’re pretty much set. Frankly, the idea of MegaMan going 3D platformer doesn’t exactly inspire much excitement out of me. On the other hand, a 3D platformer going MegaMan sounds outright interesting. Imagine trying to navigate “Yoku” block puzzles (you know, those bits with the disappearing platforms) in full-on 3D. Of course, if they ever did anything like that, they’d probably switch back to a 2.5D view, like many modern 3D platformers do. Spoilsports.

I guess there are a few major things holding back any existing MegaMan series from being made into a 3D platformer. The fact that MegaMan managed to survive the entire PS1 generation without being turned into a straight-up 3D series, an incredible feat considering the fact that pretty much everything went 3D that generation, usually to disasterous results. Yes, I know Legends was 3D, but it was also a spinoff as opposed to an existing series, Classic and X both only got 2D games on PS1. Furthermore, the first time a traditionally 2D MegaMan went 3D, MegaMan X7, well, let’s just say that managed to poison the well in a way that even its vastly improved sequel couldn’t untaint. On that note, I’m sure for as many fans who want to see a 3D MegaMan game, just as many (if not more) fans want the series to keep its traditional 2D gameplay. So the only way to do something like this without the potential for massive fan backlash would be a completely new sub-franchise, and considering that Capcom appears to be working on unifying the brand rather than branching out even further…well, I’d say “outlook not so good”.

Maybe we should go in a different direction, how about a traditional top-down 2D action-RPG? You know, not exactly like Zelda, but closer to say, Crystalis or Startropics. More of an emphasis on combat rather than puzzles, leveling system and all that good stuff. At the very least, it seems like a good way to do a more story-oriented MegaMan game or at least quell the unquenchable demand a small fraction of the fanbase has for a MegaMan RPG without going for your traditional turn-based JRPG-style combat system and keeping at least a modicum of traditional MegaMan gameplay in the game itself.

Unfortunately, the whole idea that MegaMan needs an RPG is somewhat flawed in and of itself. Legends is already an action-RPG, albeit a 3D one. The Battle Network and Star Force series themselves were more traditional JRPG fare, albeit with a much more active battle system. This leaves Classic, which really doesn’t need it; X, which already got a traditional RPG itself; Zero, which is over and done with; and ZX, which frankly, I’d rather just see return in its standard format. I guess a 2D action-RPG would work as a budget title in the Legends series, but aside from that, it doesn’t seem worth pursuing.

Another major strikingly different genre MegaMan could possibly take on would be that of a first-person perspective (FPP) game. Call it an FPS if you have to, but I’m referring more towards games like Portal and Metroid Prime, which focus more on other elements besides just headshots, tactical strikes and multiplayer. Granted, there is a pretty cool multi-player MegaMan FPS deathmatch fangame out there, which sort of implies that a Capcom-made single-player first-person MegaMan game would be an interesting experiment, to say the least.

Of course, for all the potential a MegaMan FPP game might have, it would definitely be the easiest to mess up. Considering Capcom’s attempt at moving towards a more Western style for their worldwide releases, it seems likely that doing a game in a genre that’s strictly seen out of Western developers would likely cause a perfect storm of the exact phenomenon that has so many Capcom fans so leery over their shift towards Western-friendly titles in the first place. As for a series that might work with this idea, a single-player FPP adventure would probably work best as either a Legends game (consider the amount of exploration seen in Metroid Prime) or an entirely original sub-franchise.

So, having gone through these five different genres, another question occurs to me: are there any genres that were used to make earlier MM spinoffs that I’d like to see get a second chance? Well, yes, yes there are, I’d love to see an actual MegaMan one-on-one fighting game at some point, whether it’s traditional 2D, a 3D arena fighter or even done Smash Brothers-style. I’d also love to see a puzzle game, a shmup and especially a WarioWare-style minigame-dealie, like those Japanese cell phone games I mentioned last time.

Regardless of whether the next game in the MegaMan series is a traditional 2D platformer like the rest or something totally different, doesn’t really matter in the end. What matters is whether or not the next MegaMan game properly represents the spirit of the franchises. All things considered, it’s unlikely that the next game in the series will be anything like the last one, due the fan backlash regarding the 8-bit homage art-style. If Classic resurfaces, it’s likely that we’re going to venture into some uncharted territory regardless. But as long as the spirit of the MegaMan series is still there, I have faith that whatever Capcom delivers will be fine.

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First is the Worst: The Flawed Beginnings of Legendary Franchises (Part 2)

Welcome to the second part of my series examining the rough starts of classic series. As I’ve hopefully pounded into your head by now I love sequels and hate when people present them as a bad thing, so I’m going to show you three more series we should all be very grateful are not represented by their first attempt. I even have one that isn’t by Nintendo this time, so let’s dive in!

Resident Evil

Platform: Playstation
Year of Release: 1996

The Good Parts

I think we all know about the influence Resident Evil had on gaming. While like every game that spawned clones it wasn’t the very first example of its genre, Resident Evil was the template for the survival horror games that came after it. 3D itself was pretty new to most gamers in 1996, and few had ever seen it used the way Resident Evil did. Resident Evil used its detailed pre-rendered backgrounds and static yet varied camera angles to frighten players, an emotion games really didn’t capitalize on at the time. The story was pretty unique for gaming at the time, and there was an atmosphere of mystery that the series hasn’t replicated since. As cheesy as the voice acting is, both the setting and the gameplay had an atmosphere of tension that was amazing for gamers at the time. Resident Evil was one of the first games to use 3D for an experience that absolutely could not have been done in 2D.

The Bad Parts

Notice how I made barely any mention of gameplay under The Good Parts? Yes, Resident Evil was trying to be scary, and yes, that would have been undermined if your character was too powerful. However, you still need to balance things like that, and Resident Evil simply didn’t. Your character controlled poorly, was at the mercy of camera angles often ill-suited for gameplay, and was completely incapable of even the most basic spatial reasoning. The problem with zombies is that the stereotypical version RE uses is actually less of a threat than a normal person. Since Resident Evil wanted even the basic zombie to be a large threat to the player, they had to make your character truly terrible at dodging and fighting. Everyone knows about the infamous tank controls, and not assisting aiming in a game with pre-rendered camera angles is just sadistic. In a common theme, Resident Evil had a good formula, but it just hadn’t been polished to the point where the gameplay could stand on its own.

How the Sequels Fixed It

Okay, I’m going to avoid the minefield of Resident Evil 4’s impact on the series, and instead focus on the sequels that used the same formula as the original Resident Evil. Resident Evil 2 took the “here’s the original formula, but we got it working this time” route to sequel improvement. It’s really pretty simple what it did, ammo and healing items were more reasonably given out (and more variety in difficulty settings helped people from feeling overwhelmed or under challenged) and you felt like you were making more progress throughout the game instead of often circling an area draining your resources. Later games would add more helpful features like a quick turn move. Future games just felt less like the game was going out of its way to make your character weak just so that one zombie you could probably kill in real life would be a threat.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Platform: Super Nintendo
Year of Release: 1996

The Good Parts

Back when Mario had only conquered half of gaming’s genres instead of all of them, the idea of Mario being in an RPG seemed bizarre. The last game Square made for a Nintendo system before gaming’s most bitter and painful breakup, Super Mario RPG made this odd combination work. Taking the traditional formula of Square 16-bit RPGs and adding light platforming, humor, and Mario references to it produced a good result. Things like talking to Mario enemy species instead of killing them and a story beyond Princess Toadstool being kidnapped were novel at the time, and really expanded on the Mario universe. The timing aspect to battles and ability to jump broke the tedium that turn based RPGs can fall into. RPGs weren’t big in western markets when Super Mario RPG was released, and SMRPG used a familiar franchise to great effect to get new gamers into RPGs while still making the game enjoyable to RPG fans.

The Bad Parts

Like Kirby’s Dreamland, there’s nothing cripplingly wrong with Super Mario RPG, but compared to its sequels it feels like something’s missing. While there were significant things added to the Square turn based RPG formula, there were still several areas where Super Mario RPG felt like a watered down traditional RPG. The combat was quite easy and while timing hits was fun, there was little strategy involved. While jumping was used to pretty good effect, that was the only thing you could do outside of battle beyond the usual “talk to people/check something” RPG standard. Super Mario RPG was certainly a fun game, but it has a bit of an identity crisis that prevents it from reaching its full potential on either end.

How the Sequels Fixed It

While Super Mario RPG never got a direct sequel, Nintendo has continued to make two Mario RPG series. Paper Mario was released five years after Super Mario RPG with no involvement by Square, and it no longer feels like it’s torn between two identities. Paper Mario is clearly a Nintendo game, and uses its design philosophy to the fullest. While the combat initially seems absurdly simple with only two party members at a time and tiny hit point meters, the battles factoring in things like elements and which weapons can reach an enemy make the fights more strategic. Badges make Mario customizable in a much bigger way than just trying to get the best equipment, which also ensures the combat never feels repetitive. Outside of combat you now have partners that can be used as Zelda-style items, greatly improving the level design. While the series would keep changing after Paper Mario, PM demonstrates the improvement over Super Mario RPG that mattered most: a game that is sure of its own identity and never feels like it is being held back.

The Legend of Zelda

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Year of Release: 1986

The Good Parts

As you can see, I saved the most controversial entry for last. The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises, and it has been that way ever since the first game. The original Legend of Zelda did indeed have a lot of great ideas. The open world and epic feel to the game was something very few console gamers had seen before, and the use of items gave the game a feeling of incredible depth. As you may have guess from my rant against passwords in the first part of this series, the North American Zelda introducing battery saving is one of my favorite technological innovations in gaming history. From the perspective of the late 80s, The Legend of Zelda deserved most of the attention and praise it got.

The Bad Parts

I’m just going to say it, the original Zelda aged horribly. The “puzzles” almost all rely on luck/extreme trial and error, the control is stiff and not suited for how challenging the combat can be, and the second quest is horribly designed in every way. Like Metroid, LoZ is an innovative game with the blueprints of a great formula that simply has not been refined to a playable state. Some praise the game for not “holding your hand.” Yeah, that’s bullshit, pure and simple. Getting through LoZ requires luck and endurance of tedium, not skill. Making it so you can break some identical looking walls with (your very limited supply of) bombs is not a puzzle. And I could fill an entire article swearing at that second quest dungeon hidden under a completely random bush that you have to burn, and which contains the item that lets you burn more than one bush per screen. Like Metroid, the original Legend of Zelda is only worth playing today for historical purposes.

How the Sequels Fixed It

We all know that Zelda II: The Adventure of Link played nothing like the original game or anything else in the series, so there’s not much point in comparing them. Like Metroid, the turning point for Zelda was on the SNES. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past played like the original Zelda, but fixed everything. The controls were improved so that combat was actually fun, dungeon locations and destroyable objects actually had some indication, and the items and puzzles were exponentially improved. A Link to the Past is everything the original Zelda should have been. The series would reach its full evolution in the fourth game, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Yes, the Game Boy one, although seldom acknowledged it set the formula that Ocarina of Time and future Zelda followed. Link’s Awakening put more of an emphasis on level design and puzzles, finally letting the series achieve the promise that its item system had shown glimpses of from the very first game.

So there you are, six legendary series that would have given so much less to gaming and gamers if they had been abandoned at their initial outings. Go ahead and curse me if you love one of the original games I listed, but I don’t think many people will deny that at least most of these examples show how important sequels can be to game series and even innovation. I may do another entry in this series someday, but for now I’m going to take a break from something so controversial. See you next time in Always Online Pay to Win Collectathons Are Our Superiors.

Don’t Do What DLC Don’t Does

When this generation began, I had really high hopes for the idea of downloadable content, or DLC for short. Cheaper expansions for fighting games, as opposed to just churning out 5 additional versions at $60 a pop. Additional level packs for games that already felt complete, a bonus. The ability to put in various ideas that would have, in the past, just ended up on the cutting room floor and be lost to time. DLC seemed like it could have improved the industry at its core, allowing for better experiences. I was optimistic about the good DLC could do for the industry as a whole.

As is normally the case when I’m optimistic, I was dead wrong. I could not have been more wrong. Gaming continues to slide its way into dystopia. DLC is used for little else than cashgrabs and squeezing as much money out of the consumers as humanly possible. This generation we saw the cost of games return to the $60 we saw during the days of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Yes, yes, I know, inflation means that $60 goes less far than it did in the 90s and that game prices back in those days weren’t as standardized as they are today, as carts with larger amounts of memory yielded higher prices. Shut up. That doesn’t mean people didn’t flip their shit when the $10 price rise was announced at the beginning of the last generation and at least back in the Genesis/SNES days, there wasn’t the additional leech of DLC further draining one’s pockets. Yes, somehow the addition of DLC has actually made games even MORE expensive than they were back in the 90’s, and depending on the game, the full cost of the game might even dwarf those of the earliest Nintendo 64 games ($70-$80) or in some cases, even the mighty NeoGeo AES (a whopping $100 per game!). This is ridiculous. I understand that games cost far more now than ever to make, though that’s mainly because most developers focus less on streamlining technology and more on gaudy photo-realistic graphics that nowadays fall well-within the realm of the uncanny valley (you go, Creepy Old Man Head). But hey, that aside’s a topic for another day. This article is going to focus more on things companies should avoid and attempt (but mostly avoid) when it comes to the usage of downloadable content. Maybe if companies heed the words of their customers, DLC can truly reach its full potential: being used to improve games, rather than just bleeding consumers dry.

Rule the first: DON’T do on-disc DLC. It’s hard to forget Capcom’s whole debacle with Street Fighter x Tekken and for good reason. In SFxT, 12 complete characters were found just by searching a disc that was obtained before the street date. Upon the discovery of these assets, Capcom claimed it was done in order to avoid compatibility issues regarding the future release of the DLC characters, as was the case with Mortal Kombat 9. This wasn’t the first time Capcom pulled stuff like this: both versions of Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (DLC characters Shuma-Gorath and Jill Valentine), all versions of Street Fighter 4 (alternate costumes), Dead Rising 2 and Off the Record (alternate outfits and, in OtR’s case, cheat codes). It wasn’t the last either, but the games in question were well into development by the time the controversy began. My point is SFxT caused enough backlash to cause even Christian Svennson, the face of Capcom USA, to state outright that they would be reconsidering using such business practices in the future. So far, it looks like even the seemingly oblivious Capcom of Japan managed to get the message. Furthermore, DON’T take assets that were originally intended to be on-disc DLC and sell them as “true DLC”. Admittedly, this is much harder to prove that the aforementioned on-disc DLC, but it’s scummy all the same.

Rule the second: DON’T make overpowered assets (i.e. weapons, characters) into paid DLC. Frankly, I think it’s wrong to make overpowered assets as DLC period. But charging for said power-ups is just another way of incorporating a favorite corporate tactic: “pay to win”. While “pay to win” is significantly more common in free-to-play games (like Farmville), it’s slowly begun to creep its way into AAA $60 retail titles as well and while it can be somewhat justified in the case of the former, the same cannot be said for the latter. It’s arguably even scummier than on-disc DLC. Of course, there’s an easy way around that: just add the ability to unlock these new weapons, characters or whatever via in-game “achievements”, like beating the game on the highest difficulty level or something. …of course, nowadays, it’s not entirely unheard of for developers to charge extra for said highest difficulty level.

Next we come to the last major rule: DON’T do “true” retailer exclusive DLC. That is to say, don’t do DLC that is only accessible if you preorder a certain game from a certain retailer. Now I’m not saying that allowing for preorder bonuses from ordering from a specific retailer is wrong in and of itself: exclusivity for a limited time is perfectly fine in my opinion. It’s just when the DLC is not made available for general consumption on the system in question’s online store that I get annoyed. It hardly seems fair to anyone who either bought the game well after the game’s release. Furthermore, it doesn’t make any sense to me, as it removes a potential avenue for future revenue regarding older games, which seems a bit counter-productive, considering most publishers these days seem to exist for the sole purpose of draining every last penny from their customers’ bank accounts. Making certain pieces of DLC exclusively preorder bonuses also tends to bother fans in general: I’ve got a friend who still curses to this day the fact that he was unable to get all the DLC characters in Disgaea 4 for the PS3, due to his choice of retailer. Of course, he also complained that he was unable to get the Casino Night DLC for Sonic Generations, which was a pretty pointless piece of DLC in the first place.

Those are the three major rules I’ve come up with, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t other things publishers should avoid when it comes to dealing with DLC. For example, DON’T charge so much for the ability to implement older assets in future titles, looking at you, Namco Bandai with your damn Tekken Tunes in Tekken Tag Tournament 2 and the older soundtracks being in Soul Calibur IV and V. If anything, they should just be included on the disc in the first place, but if you can’t fit it on the disc, don’t charge so much for the entire package: make it roughly $1 for an entire game’s soundtrack or old skins or old maps or whatever. On that note, DON’T make things that would’ve been unlockables in the olden days into paid DLC. Also, DON’T break immersion when it comes to adding additional bonus areas to games: for example, in Darksiders II, the DLC bonus dungeon required you to access it from the main menu, rather than having it appear in-game. Of course, this doesn’t apply to cases with episodic add-on content, like Undead Nightmare in Red Dead Redemption.

Now onto some more positive notes, after all this wouldn’t be much of an article if I didn’t provide any advice to publishers with regards to DLC practices that customers might actually enjoy. For example: DO mix free and paid DLC updates. Now I am aware that in many cases, publishers aren’t ENTIRELY at fault for the fact that it seems like all significant DLC is paid, while free DLC is limited to necessary gamefix patches and that these limitations are somewhat due to certain…other parties at work (*coughhacksnortMicrosoftcough*). Hopefully, future generations won’t be limited by such things, but for the time being, at the very least, making certain pieces of existing DLC free for a limited time (for those who already own the game, at least) might act as a way to garner a bit of good will amongst the consumer base, though this might be even more difficult, just due to the closed nature of most online storefronts. Granted, Valve’s Steam platform has gone beyond the call of duty in this case, by even making entire games free for an entire weekend in order to drum up interest. Free trials have the added benefit of getting consumers who might not have otherwise bothered with your game to try it out, and that could lead to more sales down the line, especially on older titles.

Speaking of older titles, DO release DLC down the line to revive an established game, with entirely new content. Case in point, Nintendo’s upcoming Super Luigi U is a full-on expansion pack for New Super Mario Bros. U that is as long as the original game, and it’s a DLC add-on. Besides, nowadays consoles seem to be moving more and more towards PCs in terms of hardware architechure, so why not revive one of the great ideas of PC games: the expansion pack? As an added benefit, companies could use expansion DLC as a way to keep the original dev teams of their respective games working and allow for a greater understanding on the sales of said game, rather than just basing the future of a game on its day 1 sales and immediately either starting work on a sequel or just straight up ditching the franchise for the next 5-7 years. Expansion packs just sound more reasonable to me, in the long run.

Another thing with regards to games that have been on store shelves for awhile, DO release “Game of the Year” or at least editions marked “complete” with all of the DLC content included AND implemented on-disc. Whether they come out the next year or a few more years down the line, this is actually kind of important just due to the fleeting nature of DLC itself. Take for example, the whole spiel with the extra characters in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2, when all of those DLC characters and missions were taken down from both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3’s online stores, though they were eventually brought back…for a limited time. Seriously, people are already worried about archiving modern games because bullshit like this. I mean, at least back in even the days of the PS2 and the Gamecube, people never even considered that games might be put up for re-release in the future, but nowadays, it’s so commonplace that this shouldn’t even be an issue. Considering the difficulties that many companies are having with their own re-releases, you’d think that many of them would be openly trying to avoid sabotaging the potential for future re-releases. I guess that’s why many gamers openly opine that games have become far more disposable than ever before, but I suppose that’s a topic better explored another time.

Again, three suggestions with regards to what SHOULD be done with regards to DLC, but what else can be done to regain the trust of gamers? Well, for starters, DO improve bug-testing before going gold. While not strictly DLC related, it does fall into a similar category and a heavy reliance on day-one patches have not helped matters. Also, DO consider doing some cost-effective DLC (like say, extra difficulty settings) for free in order to add some replay. And finally, DO implement backwards-compatibility with regards to DLC. One of the things Rock Band did really well was allow you to access DLC from the first game in the second game. I’d be insanely for the next Street Fighter to allow me to use all of the old costumes I bought in the various SF4 games and SFxT at no added cost.

So there you go, there are some good dos and don’ts with regards to how DLC should be handled. And the timing couldn’t be better, as it seems like publishers are going even further with this sort of thing by implementing a new form of monetization, well, new to consoles anyway: microtransactions. We’ve already seen it happen with Dead Space 3 and chances are we’ll be seeing it a lot more often in the future, at least from EA. This worries me, but hopefully other companies will avoid jumping on the bandwagon and instead try to make DLC more viable and less of a thorn in the sides of gamers.

First is the Worst: The Flawed Beginnings of Legendary Franchises (Part 1)

I’m a big proponent of sequels. Sequels have become a scapegoat for everything people dislike about gaming (and other forms of media), but video game sequels actually have a remarkably good track record for improving on the original. To demonstrate how beneficial sequels have been to video games, I’m going to profile the first game in six series that would go on to be legendary classics. The common thread between these games is that they are the worst (or at least one of the worst) in their series due to design flaws that were greatly improved in their sequels. Some of these flaws were nearly unavoidable at the time, but this is less about bashing the actual games than showing how much sequels can improve a formula and fighting back against nostalgia coded memories. Due to that second objective, games that are universally considered the worst in their series do not qualify for this article (so no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES or Street Fighter 1). So if you’re afraid for your childhood, this is your last chance to back out. Let the list begin!

Metroid

Platform: NES
Year of release: 1986

The Good Parts

Let’s dive right in with a controversial entry. I won’t argue that the original Metroid was a revolutionary game. The open world mixed with action-platformer gameplay and the way items were used to open new areas has created its own sub-genre and is a great concept. I’m not mentioning introducing passwords because I hate them with a burning passion and the only reason I’m not counting them against the game is that the original Famicom Disc System version had saving. Metroid was certainly an ambitious game with a lot of great ideas that laid the foundation for one of Nintendo’s best series.

The Bad Parts

However, that foundation was nowhere near finished and a danger to anyone who tried to explore it. For all the great ideas Metroid had, they had not been built to a playable state. The lack of a map in an open world game is always a gigantic flaw, and the repetition of the 8-bit graphics made figuring out where you had been before an even bigger problem. The power up system was innovative but having to switch weapons by finding their original location again, in a game that was already painful to navigate, was inexcusable. The difficulty was unbalanced with an unreasonably high penalty for dying in terms of how far back you were sent, and starting with 30 hit points (when you could get your maximum amount up to 800) made tedious grinding a necessity whenever you died or entered a password. Controls for this type of game also hadn’t been perfected in 1986, while they certainly weren’t horrible, they weren’t as perfect as is needed for a game this difficult. Unless you have the game memorized already, the current Metroid is only valuable today for historical purposes.

How the Sequels Fixed It

Metroid II: Return of Samus on the GameBoy made a few improvements to the formula, making navigation less nightmarish and adding saving for gamers outside of Japan. This also came with some drawbacks and a frankly disturbing story (Samus is sent to an animal’s home planet specifically to make it extinct), so while I think the game is better than the original Metroid it’s not where I would say the series became great. That turning point was Super Metroid. Released on Super Nintendo in 1994, Super Metroid is quite similar to the original in setting and structure, but fixes everything wrong with it. Perfect control, a much needed map, tons of items that add to the gameplay and never require you to recollect them, and masterful level design make Super Metroid a true classic and one of the best games on the SNES. The series never looked back, the problems that plagued the original Metroid would never return and even the weaker post-Super games were still significantly better than the original.

Kirby’s Dreamland

Platform: GameBoy
Year of Release: 1992

The Good Parts

Kirby’s Dreamland is a fun to play platformer with good level design and some interesting ideas with the sucking/spitting of enemies and ability to fly for an infinite amount of time. There’s really not a huge amount to say about Kirby’s Dreamland, but unlike most of the other games in this article there’s no crippling flaw in it either. Just a fun but not fantastic platformer.

The Bad Parts

You know what I’m going to say. Kirby’s Dreamland is absurdly short, with five not very long levels its length is closer to a single world than a whole game. The game is also extremely easy on the standard difficulty setting, but that can be forgiven due to a very challenging hard mode being available. Even with that, however, you can 100% the game in a day. It’s a fun game, but even in 1992 it’s hard to justify paying full price for it. The game just doesn’t feel complete, Nintendo hadn’t even decided on Kirby’s color when they released it.

How the Sequels Fixed It

Kirby didn’t have to wait long to reach its potential. Just a year after the first game, 1993’s Kirby’s Adventure was released and introduced the format for Kirby platformers that is still used today. Kirby’s Adventure added the signature ability to obtain powers by eating enemies, adding much more variety and giving you more incentive not to rely on the generous amount of hit points to get you through levels. It also added secret exits and mini-games, and most importantly it was much, much longer. Kirby’s Adventure is one of the best first party NES games ever, and even the GameBoy Kirby’s Dreamland 2 would greatly benefit from the template it set. Nintendo may be determined to only let Kirby have platformers on consoles that are about to expire, but no one can deny that Kirby has far exceeded his humble beginnings.

Pokémon Red/Blue

Platform: Game Boy
Year of Release: 1998 (1996 in Japan)

The Good Parts

Everyone knows the good parts of this game (except really bitter people who still think this over 15 year old franchise is a fad), Pokémon Generation 1 had a great concept that was enjoyable even without the whole playground consuming social aspect. Capturing and raising your own unique team of monsters was something few gamers (especially outside of Japan) had done before, and it was addictive as hell. With 150 (Er, 151. Wait, 152, don’t ignore Missingno! And don’t forget the 30 or so kids at school made up.) fully playable characters to capture and train, Pokemon could keep you busy for a long time, especially if you had other players to pit your team against. There was also the emotional connection you felt to Pokémon you had chosen out of so many options and customized so much, and the sheer excitement you felt when you finished a battle and got that wonderful “What? (Name you wouldn’t admit you chose now) is evolving!” message. The battle system was also deceptively complex, with 15 types and a huge amount of moves. Unfortunately, that aspect was lacking in some areas…

The Bad Parts

Of all the games in these articles, Pokemon Blue (Blastoise>Charizard dammit!) is the one I have the most personal nostalgic connection to. Despite this, I have to be objective and acknowledge a simple fact: Pokémon Gen 1’s battle system was completely broken. Several types had no good moves or a severe drought of Pokemon, and even people who didn’t play the game know how completely overpowered Psychic types were. If you somehow don’t, Psychic type moves were only resisted by Psychic Pokémon, and Psychic Pokémon were only weak to one type of move that’s only attacks were so weak being doubled in power still wasn’t enough. That’s not to mention Psychic being a special type attack, which due to how stats were determined had a giant advantage over physical ones. There were other problems as well, such as the tedious to use HM moves, several great moves only being available through a one use per save file item, and the lack of breeding making it a nightmare to get the earlier evolutions of the starters you didn’t pick. When not looking at Generation 1 through the eyes of a child amazed at the concept, there really are a lot of flaws that come close to complete breaking the game.

How the Sequels Fixed It

Pokémon has been making steady progress throughout its life, each generation making a good amount of positive changes (albeit it with a few steps backwards now and then).Pokémon Generation 2 fixed the most obvious flaw of Generation 1, the ridiculous type imbalance. While there were still some types that were better than others (which still hasn’t been totally fixed), there at least wasn’t one type so powerful it made the rock paper scissors system meaningless. As the series progressed we’d continue to get improvements like Generation 3’s ability and revamped EV system making the training of Pokémon more strategic, Generation 4 not permanently tying types to special/physical attacks and adding online trading to ease the amount of games needed for 100% completion, and Generation 5 speeding up the gameplay and making TM’s more user friendly. If you can look past nostalgia, you’ll see the current Pokemon games are greatly improved in both the single player quest and the meta-game of multiplayer battles.

That’s it for Part 1, but in Part 2 we’ll look at three more series and just how far they’ve come since their first games. Until then, try to appreciate the sequels in your life, do something nice for them.

Genre Hopping – Part 1: History

When gamers hear the name “MegaMan” (or if you’re from Japan, “Rockman”), they think “Jump ‘n’ Shoot Man”. The Blue Bomber is pretty much synonymous with run-and-gun platforming action. Hell, even Rockman XOver managed to get that bit right (to some degree). But there have been many occasions where MegaMan has branched out and tried new things, even before Sonic and Final Fantasy did. Most of the time, these experiments failed, but even in those cases, the results were interesting to say the least.

One of the earliest MegaMan spinoffs was 1993’s Wily and Light’s Rockboard: That’s Paradise for the Nintendo Famicom. The game itself really isn’t that much special, effectively being a Monopoly-inspired board game where you played as one of five characters from earlier MegaMan games: Dr. Light, Dr. Wily, Roll, Dr. Cossack or his daughter Kalinka. There are some unique gameplay features that make the game a lot more interesting than Monopoly, such as the ability to build property on lots owned by other players, the ability to buy out lots and properties owned by other players, the ability to transform into various Robot Masters for an entire lap of the board (like Gutsman, who allows you to destroy other people’s properties), a space that triggers a racing segment involving Mets going through an obstacle course which you can bet on (fun fact: Nintendo of America’s no-gambling policy is the major reason this game never got localized) and the card system, which grant various perks such as not paying rent when landing on another player’s space or preventing them from collecting rent on any of their properties due to a power outage. Of course, the best improvement of all is that there are actual victory conditions in this game besides just waiting for everyone else to go bankrupt: buying up the majority of lots, placing properties on the majority of lots and having the most money (referred to, fittingly enough, as zenny) all put you right in the winner’s circle. As a person who was traumatized as a child by a Monopoly game that lasted more than 3 hours, I find that kind of take on this game pretty refreshing. Another interesting fact about Rockboard is the fact that it’s also where Dr. Wily’s cackling bird sidekick Reggae made his debut. Aside from Reggae’s design, Keiji Inafune’s only contribution to the game was the cover art.

Next up, there’s Mega Man’s Soccer which is fittingly a sports game. Mega Man’s Soccer was also the first game the original Mega Man headlined in on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, beating Mega Man 7 to the punch by over an entire year in both Japan and North America. I’ll be honest, I’m not really a big fan of this one: the controls are wonky and though I find soccer fairly interesting to watch on TV (as far as sports go, anyway), I’ve never felt it translates to an arcade sports-style game as well as [American] Football and Basketball do. It is pretty interesting to see what got cut out of the game though. Multitap support and actual endings for both the single-player modes? There’s probably a joke in there somewhere, but I’ll just write it off as a colossal oversight instead.

Speaking of sports, doesn’t NASCAR count as a…you know what? Let’s just scrap that terrible segue. Another interesting genre swap for the Blue Bomber was the Playstation kart racer, MegaMan Battle & Chase. It was only released in Japan and Europe, until it hit North American shores many years later via the MegaMan X Collection, for some inexplicable reason. It was your typical Mario Kart knockoff as far as gameplay is concerned, though in typical MegaMan fashion, if you defeated an opponent in Grand Prix mode, you could gank one of their parts, allowing you to customize your own kart, which could also be used in the game’s other two modes. The Japanese version also had some interesting pre-race interviews, but these were cut from the European version. The game let you race as the usual suspects: Megaman, Protoman, Roll, Bass, but also threw in some slightly more obscure character like NapalmMan from MM5, SpringMan from MM7 and in some versions, Duo, the mysterious robot from outer space from MM8.

Of course, if there was one thing Capcom was famous for back throughout the 90s, it was their fighting game division. And MegaMan is no stranger to fighting games, as shown by his appearance in the first two Marvel vs. Capcom games and recently in Street Fighter X Tekken. But what few people know is that he had a couple of arcade fighting games of his own. MegaMan: The Power Battle and its sequel, MegaMan 2: The Power Fighters were released on the Capcom Play System 2 in 1995 and 1996 respectively. The original featured three playable characters: the Blue Bomber himself, his older brother Protoman and his evil counterpart Bass, while the sequel added in a fourth: the aforementioned Duo. Both games allowed for two-player coop play and had three scenarios to choose from, each containing 6 Robot Masters from MegaMans 1-7 and two final bosses to be fought in Wily’s Skull Castle fortress. Like in most MegaMan games, you could obtain the Robot Masters’ weapons by defeating them, but the methods of doing so differed between Power Battle and Power Fighters: in the original, both players would get the weapon, while in the sequel, each defeated boss dropped a power-up and whichever player grabbed it got sole rights to using that boss’s particular weapon. These games would later see a port to the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox on the MegaMan Anniversary Collection in North America and Japan got their own two-pack around the same time, but before that, both games were ported to the SNK’s handheld, the Neo Geo Pocket Color, of all things, under the title Rockman: Battle & Fighters.

Speaking of weird Japanese-only Rockman games, Super Adventure Rockman released on both the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn is probably one of the weirdest MegaMan games Capcom directly had a hand in making. It’s hard to accurately describe what type of game it is, but I’ll give it a shot. It’s one part Genesis-era lightgun arcade shooter port (where you control the crosshair with your D-Pad instead of an actual lightgun), two parts Sega CD FMV interactive movie, with a dash of one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books you read as a kid for extra flavor. The game’s actually more interesting than fun: MegaMan dukes it out with the various Robot Masters from MegaMans 2 and 3, in order to stop Dr. Wily from using an alien supercomputer to take over the world. Better still are all the cameos from the MM1 Robot Masters…as allies, thus being the first official piece of canon that acknowledged that they survived the events of the original MegaMan, which would later be touched on in Powered Up. And if that’s not interesting enough, Keiji Inafune actually disliked the game for its darker tones compared to other games in the series.

Weirder still is a game that was never even released in Japan itself: Rockman Strategy, also referred to as Rockman War, was actually a game released exclusively in Taiwan for the PC. Very little appears to be known about the game, aside from the fact that it’s a strategy game featuring MegaMan characters, but the fact that it’s an official Capcom licensed game, not unlike the terrible PC-DOS games released in the US back in the early 1990s, means that it still counts as an official game. Oh, and before I forget, Taiwan also got another exclusive Rockman PC game, Rockman Gold Empire, which was basically another board game like Rockboard. Seemed like an interesting thing to mention, at the very least.

Rounding out our look at the various non-platformer games Classic MegaMan has appeared in, we must also consider all the cell phone games he appeared in. In addition to ports of the first 6 Rockman games and Rockman 9 appearing on cell phones, MegaMan actually has had a staggering number of cell phone games, even if you don’t include Rockman XOver. Rockman no Dot Art Logic is your basic Picross game, Rockman Solitaire and Rockman Poker are both card games, Rockman Bugsweeper is your typical Minesweeper clone, Rockman Tennis is well, a tennis game, not unlike Mario Tennis, Rockman Diver is like Falldown except you’re playing as Mega Man and trying to avoid an never-ending corridor of spikes and Rockman Pinball is…well, a pinball game. Some other interesting games include Rockman: The Puzzle Battle (MegaMan meets Puzzle Quest), MegaMan Rush Marine (the odd non-Japanese exclusive game which plays not unlike a shmup) and Chokkan! Rockman (a WarioWare clone featuring a whole heaping pile of old Robot Master cameos). I’d love to see some of these ported to other more gaming-friendly platforms down the line (or at the very least, outside of Japan), especially that last one. MegaMan and WarioWare sounds like a match made in heaven.

Of course, Classic wasn’t the only MegaMan who attempted to genre-bend in the past. Take, for example, MegaMan X. MegaMan X Command Mission was a turn-based JRPG that attempted to try to shed a little more light on the storyline behind the X series. The game did eschew from the franchise’s traditional stage select layout, opting for a more linear storyline. The turn-based battle system was interesting, allowing you to field 3 Reploids at a time, each of whom had their own special abilities and the added bonus of being able to switch out party members without wasting a turn. While considered a cult classic by some, I can honestly say I have no real intention of playing this game. So that’s as far as I’m willing to go.

Of course, then there were those MegaMan series that was, by its very nature, subversions of the traditional 2D platforming/run-and-gun gameplay associated with the series. The MegaMan Legends series were the Blue Bomber’s first foray into 3D, effectively playing more like a cross between an action-RPG (not unlike The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) and a third-person shooter more than anything. Bonus points to The Misadventures of Tron Bonne which deviated even further, shifting between “traditional” MegaMan Legends gameplay (with the added element of directing Servbots), puzzle segments where Tron manipulates cranes and forklifts in order to steal containers in a limited amount of moves and an adventure-style mode where controlling one’s Servbots is of upmost importance in completing missions. And then you’ve got the MegaMan Battle Network series, and its spiritual (and canon) successor, the MegaMan Star Force series. These two series were JRPGs with a twist: melding turn-based chip equipment with real-time 3×3 (or in Star Force’s case, 3×1) grid-based arenas. Still, Battle Network did the ultimate subversion: returning to classic MegaMan-style platforming in MegaMan Network Transmission for the GameCube.

Legends and Battle Network both had their own Japanese-exclusive cell phone games: while Battle Network’s games (Legend of Network and Phantom of Network) were based heavily on the same style as the GBA games, Legends’ cell-phone spinoffs were much more esoteric. There was Rockman DASH Golf (obvious), Roll’s 15 Panel (a puzzle game), Kokkai Kobun (where you construct a Servbot [or Kobun, as they’re known in Japan]), Oshioki Kobun (where you play as a Servbot trying to run on a conveyor belt, while avoiding weights and spikes) and Kobun ga Tobun (a game where you direct a Servbot trying to fly over cliffs using a propeller that has been attached to its head). Of course, the most famous Legends cell phone game was Rockman DASH: 5tsu no Shima no Daibouken! (Rockman DASH: Great Adventure on 5 Islands!), which effectively stuck to the gameplay style of the main Legends series.

So while most people tend to think of MegaMan as shorthand for “Jump ‘n Shoot Man”, clearly video game history proves that the Blue Bomber is capable of so much more. Perhaps the best way to bring MegaMan into the mainstream once more would be to divert from his roots. But how would someone go about doing that while honoring the franchise’s storied history? Stay tuned…

Jumping From the Ashes: The Rebirth of Platformers

When we last left platformers at the close of the sixth generation and dawn of the seventh, things were not looking good. The transition to 3D that had seemed so promising with Super Mario 64 had caused initially hidden but quickly expanding problems for the genre, and the gaming market had shifted in a direction that was not very hospitable for platformers. Sonic had become a joke and Mario was for all intents and purposes missing from the genre. Ratchet and Clank could barely be considered a platformer anymore, and no other series from the last generation seemed to be making the leap. Was all hope lost?

It certainly seemed so at the beginning of the generation. While there was some hope with New Super Mario Bros. finally bringing back 2D Mario and its exceptional sales, this didn’t have the same impact as a console game would have, and Mario’s return could be more of a sign of Nintendo’s health than the platforming genre. Besides, a 2D game obviously couldn’t solve how to make platformers work in 3D.

As for what was happening to 3D platformers… it wasn’t pretty. The seventh generation’s large emphasis on cinematics led to what could be called auto-platforming: a jumping system where the player has very limited control over jumps and depends on set pieces to guide their character through acrobatic feats that look cool but take little interaction besides pressing the right direction now and then. This completely removes the point of platforming, platformers are about mastering a game’s jumping system and learning the patterns and layout of the environment so you can navigate it. Auto-platforming removes both of these features, since the jumping tends to be incredibly simplistic and the environments have been reduced to a prop that enables your platforming instead of testing it. There is no freedom in how you navigate the environment, platforming has been reduced to a quick time event. Games like the 3D Prince of Persias, Uncharted, and Assassin’s Creed are examples of games that contain auto-platforming, and for a short but painful time period it seemed that this was the closest we would get to 3D platformers in the seventh generation.

So things were at their darkest for platformers, who could save them? Well, it’s actually pretty obvious. Mario, who had both defined platformers and unknowingly set them on the path to destruction, had another 3D platformer coming out in 2007. I’ve tried my best to stay objective throughout these articles, but I’m going to have to let some emotion into this part. Super Mario Galaxy was miraculous. It was as if the decline of platformers had never happened, we had a game that kept the linear essence of the genre and used 3D to enhance the core gameplay and level design instead of replacing it with exploration. To make things even more miraculous, the gaming media and community seemed to recognize this. While few were brave enough to openly acknowledge that linearity could be a good thing, Super Mario Galaxy was incredibly popular and considered an instant classic in a way no platformer since Super Mario 64 had been. With such an amazing game to lead platformers in the seventh generation, the genre’s troubles were surely over, right?

Well, not exactly. Super Mario Galaxy may have been universally loved, but did that guarantee that other platformers would follow its example and that they would also be popular? In 2008, it didn’t seem that way. Despite Super Mario Galaxy the previous year, 2008 was arguably the darkest looking year for the future of the genre. Wario Land Shake-It was a good game that was completely ignored for being 2D, Sonic Unleashed gave up on platforming to focus on action/racing style gameplay and was still mediocre at best, and Little Big Planet focused on customization to the detriment of its core gameplay. Mario, the exception to the genre’s woes, was nowhere in sight and may have again gone into hibernation for most of a generation. Had all been lost?

It turns out all we needed was a little patience. Games aren’t made overnight, and this was truer than ever before with the seventh generation’s rising development time cycles. Platformers weren’t dead in 2008, they were charging. After more than a decade of turmoil, 2009 was the start of the platformer renaissance. If I had to pinpoint a precise moment where it started, it wouldn’t be with a game release, but with an announcement. At E3 2009, Mario shattered his one platformer (if that) per system curse with the announcements of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2.

These announcements weren’t just good news for the Mario series, both games symbolized a wonderful development in the genre. Super Mario Galaxy 2 showed that the original Super Mario Galaxy was not a one time swan song for the genre, it was the new beginning it deserved to be. This would be demonstrated as games like Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, and Rabbids Go Home returned their series to a platforming focus. Arguably best of all, Sonic Colors systematically broke every step in the dreaded Sonic cycle and finally returned the series to platforming greatness. 3D platformers had changed again, and this time for the better. The damage done at the start of the 3D era had finally been healed.

But that wasn’t the only thing that caused the platformer revival. While the 3D platformer finally reached a good place in its troubled evolution, the 2D platformer made an astonishing comeback on consoles. Despite the dismissal Wario Land Shake-It was met with, New Super Mario Bros. Wii became one of the best selling console games of all time and companies took notice. Donkey Kong Country Returns, Rayman Origins, Kirby’s Epic Yarn/Return to Dreamland, and of course New Super Mario Bros. U continued the multiplayer console 2D platformer revival. If anything, 2D platformers are more prominent than 3D ones now, which no one would have ever predicted in the fifth and sixth gens.

So here we are at the dawn of the eighth generation. How do things look for platformers? While we don’t have the sheer quantity from the third and fourth generation golden age and probably won’t any time soon, 2013 seems to continue at the post-revival pace with Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, Rayman Legends, Yarn Yoshi, and a new 3D Mario all released or scheduled for this year. Mario aside, platformers aren’t the market dominator they used to be, but they’re selling well enough to keep a steady stream of them coming. There’s still a ways to go before platformers fully regain their 16-bit era glory, but things look far brighter for the genre than at any other time since then.

The Sequel Conundrum

After years of reading various video game reviews and comments all over the internet, I’ve realized that there has to be a perfect formula you’ve got to keep in mind when making the sequel to a video game, especially a popular one. There must a perfect equation that accurately represents, to the finest decimal place imaginable, the ratio between changes and similarities compared to the previous game in the franchise. Unfortunately for developers, I’ve got no idea what that equation is or even any sort of idea where one would even begin to start calculating such a mystical equation. How do I know it exists then, you ask? Simple: the proof is the very nature of the number one and two most common complaints with regards to video game sequels: too much of the same or too different. …or vice versa, it depends on the franchise honestly.

Let’s answer the easier of the two questions first: under what circumstances would the sequel to a game to be considered “too different” from its predecessor? It’s hard to come up with an objective definition of what could make a sequel too different, but the general consensus seems to involve a complete shift in gameplay – the American/European Super Mario Bros. 2 is a particularly common example of what it means when a game is too different from the predecessor, though this is somewhat justified, considering it was originally a Japanese game by the name of Doki Doki Panic. But by that token, Super Mario World is even more different from its successor, Super Mario 64, but both of these games are held in high regard to this day. Needless to say, accusing a sequel of being too different appears to be extremely random: Grand Theft Auto III is held in much higher regard than the first two GTA games, despite being an almost complete departure from them in terms of gameplay. On the other hand, even now, some people still complain about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link’s differences from the original Legend of Zelda.

In my opinion, another game that diverged from its source material to its own detriment was the NES Strider. Lacking the slash-’em-up action seen in both the Arcade and Sega Genesis games of the same name, the NES Strider reminded me more of another NES Capcom game: Bionic Commando, stripped of all of its unique gameplay elements. There have also been a myriad of Sonic the Hedgehog games that overtly abandoned the series’s signature formula to each game’s detriment: Sonic 3D Blast comes to mind right off the bat. Sonic’s first foray into 3D was a colossal misstep: shoddy controls and confusing perspectives made what could’ve been an interesting diversion into an aggravating sendoff to the blue blur’s glory days on the Genesis.

Despite the argument’s simplicity, it’s easy to understand why many people can criticize a game for diverging from earlier titles in the series. After all, losing the basic essence of what made the fanbase fall in love with the franchise in the first place is a perfectly reasonable fear. Take, for example, Resident Evil: once considered the first true “survival horror” game, the series is now more of an action-shooter these days, much to the chagrin of the older games’ fanbase. Of course, considering that Resident Evil 5 outsold Resident Evil 2 (the highest selling “survival horror” RE) by over 1 million units. Factor in that the last Resident Evil game made with emphasis on “survival horror” underwhelmed Capcom in terms of their target sales (some sources claim it didn’t even break 100k sales) and chances are that in spite of the fanbase revolting (and trust me, they are revolting), the new direction has taken hold over the series for the foreseeable future, but perhaps Revelations’ re-release on more platforms might change things. The point is, that you never know what any sort of major change to a franchise may bring.

Of course, shifting gameplay mechanics can also be extremely advantageous as well, breathing new life into a franchise, when done properly. Take, for example, the Darkstalkers series. The original Darkstalkers was effectively a prototype of the Street Fighter Alpha games starring some wacky Universal Monsters knockoffs, and while the second game Night Warriors didn’t change much, it did begin to carve its own niche within Capcom’s stable of fighting games, focusing more on fast-pased chain combos and non-stop action, effectively inspiring the later Marvel vs. Capcom games. But the series reached its peak with its third (and as of yet, final) game: Vampire Savior, which offered fighting game action so fast, some Japanese players even say it’s “too fast for the West”. Another example of a series that benefitted from some fresh new ideas would be the Castlevania franchise, at least with its shift between standard, stage-based platformers to the “Metroidvania”-style games that focused more on exploration. While I did always prefer the old-school Castlevanias more than any other gameplay style for that particular series, I must admit that the “Metroidvanias”, as they’re called, offered an excellent change of pace. Finally, there’s also Kid Icarus: Uprising, which wasa complete change from the original Kid Icarus games on NES and Game Boy, but was amazing nonetheless.

But then there’s the flip side of the coin: accusing a game of being too stale by not changing enough between iterations. As gameplay is the most important part of any video game, simply improving upon the previous mechanics and perfecting them, in most gamers’ minds, is simply not enough to justify making another game in the franchise, unless there’s some kind of a new mechanic that changes everything. You all know by now that I’m a huge fan of the MegaMan Classic franchise, right? MegaMan has been the video game poster child for stagnation since the ’90s, to the point where even the joke that “MegaMan is stale” has been stale for years now. I’m not going to lie and say that there’s no truth to that, it’s a valid example. People have also said the same thing about Call of Duty and Madden, but those two franchises still sell like gangbusters and are critically-acclaimed.

One game comes instantly to mind when I think of stale franchises: Dynasty Warriors and its various spinoffs. Egads, there have got to be at least 30 of those games all together by this point, and I got sick of this game back around Dynasty Warriors 4. But Koei just keeps making them again and again and again and again and you get the idea. I’d also argue that Mario Kart has been suffering from this kind of stagnation since the Wii incarnation and the fact that another one’s been announced for Wii U already fills me with dread.

Again, this is a valid point: letting a series stagnate is probably the worst thing you can do to it. At least if you end up changing things for the worse, you’re trying to improve on the original. Enshrining the design and mechanics of a series pretty much kills any incentive for most people to buy any future titles (again, aware of my hypocrisy with regards to this statement and my love of Classic MegaMan). So, much like how changing a series too much can be seen as a detriment to the fanbase, leaving everything exactly the same as before has the potential to kill any potential future sales, and by extension, the series itself.

I guess I tend to look upon a franchise’s stagnation much more favorably than most people do, I’ve seen so many ROM hacks, remakes and fan tributes to old games that have piqued my interest in the past. The number one example I’d use with regards to loving a franchise that saw it was fit to “stop evolving” is obviously the aforementioned MegaMan games. You could also bring up numerous old-school puzzle games like Tetris or Puyo Puyo, which don’t really change much in terms of mechanics from games to games. Some also argue that the Professor Layton series also follows a set formula and few have held that against that series.

So we’ve established that all video game sequels have the potential to either discard what made the series so beloved in the first place or to remain exactly as its predecessor was to the point of becoming stale. I never really had any problem with either hypothesis. The real question I wrote the article to figure out is whether or not there is a perfect median between these two extremes. I mean, it would clearly need to vary from franchise to franchise if such a happy medium existed, but whether or not this point exists in the first place is what I’m trying to figure out.

Of course, when it comes right down to it, all of these complaints are the products of people having their own opinions on video games in general. Obviously, there is no perfect ratio to save a sequel from the criticism of being considered too similar or too different from its predecessor. In several cases, you’ll hear people on opposite sides make opposing arguments over the same game: one person’s stale rehash is another’s bastardized departure from what made the original great. The real lesson for developers here is to just avoid trying to please everyone and focus more on developing a proper follow-up to the preceding game(s) in the franchise, regardless of how much you change and how much you retain from earlier games. Because if you don’t, you’ll just end up with something like Resident Evil 6: an ambitious game that tried to please everyone, but in doing so, ended up bland and unsatisfying.

What Went Wrong: Platformers in the 3D Era

The 8 and 16-bit eras were a glorious age for platformers. Super Mario Bros. completely redefined gaming at the start of the third generation, and as a result platformers became the dominant genre in console gaming. This continued through the 16-bit era, with Mario and Sonic engaging in the greatest franchise war in gaming history and countless companies trying to cash in. Despite the mascots with attitude invasion, there were still plenty of great platformers. Donkey Kong Country, Ristar, Mega Man X, Kirby Super Star, Rocket Knight Adventures, it seemed like the good times would never end. As we all know, however, they did. I don’t think anyone would deny that in the sixth generation, platformers were nowhere near as prominent as they had been a decade earlier, but what led to this and where did it start? In my opinion, the roots of the problem can be traced back to the very start of the fifth generation.

When Super Mario 64 was released, the last thing on anyone’s mind was that platformers were going to face a decline. Arguably the most influential game of the 90s, Super Mario 64 single handedly carried Nintendo 64’s launch to record breaking heights, and it was one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. No one can deny that it had a huge and positive impact on 3D gaming as a whole, and few would deny that it is a great game. There are, however, some valid questions about how great of a platformer it is. Super Mario 64 was praised for its sense of wonder and exploration, the feel that you could go anywhere and do anything (at least relative to other games from the time period), but as it took people far too long to realize, that’s really not the point of a platformer. Super Mario 64 did not have as much pure platforming as the 2D Mario games, there was a lot more time spent searching and exploring with often minimal environmental challenges, and dying from anything except bottomless pits was nearly impossible. The non-linear nature of the levels necessitated a simplicity in their design, since it always had to be possible to backtrack. Despite these issues, Super Mario 64 was still a great game and a quality platformer. However, something that revolutionary is bound to have wide reaching influence, and not every designer knows when to stop.

Anyone who was into platformers during the fifth generation will recognize the label collectathon. A collectathon is a platformer where the goal of the game is to collect a huge and varied amount of items that are strewn throughout the levels. They are usually non-linear, and most of the items are checked off a list scavenger hunt style (“In this level find 10 Important Plot Things, 6 Kind of Important Things, 100 Scattered Everywhere Things, and 3 Secret Things”) instead of being a renewable resource like money in an RPG. Super Mario 64 was fairly restrained in what it made you collect, but naturally future 3D platformers wanted to be even bigger and presumably better. Some games such as the Crash and Spyro series struck a good balance, but for other platformers this spiraled out of control. “Platformers” became more and more about checking every corner of usually mapless levels and less about any sort of actual platforming. Since the non-linear design made standard platforming so difficult to incorporate, mini-games were given more and more emphasis (more on that later). This came to a head in Donkey Kong 64. Not only did you need to collect 25 Golden Bananas, 375+ bananas, a couple of hidden Banana Fairies, an Arena Crown and Boss Key, and enough banana coins to buy all the new abilities in each stage… you had to do this with five characters, almost every collectable only being available to one of them! The backtracking and aimless wandering through the massive levels completely overshadowed any platforming, and that’s not even getting into the chunk of the game taken by genre switching mini-games. Donkey Kong 64 was the rallying point for a backlash against collectathon platformers, and developers did listen. Unfortunately, the solution was arguably even more detrimental to platformers.

Enter the sixth generation of gaming. Things started out rocky for platformers from the very start, with Sonic making a rough transition to 3D, Crash and Spyro leaving their original developers, and Mario missing GameCube’s launch. The generation really got started in Fall 2001, and some of the most popular and influential games of that time were Grand Theft Auto 3, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Halo. I bring those up not only because they were trendsetting games that weren’t platformers, but because they are all M rated, which demonstrates one of the big problems platformers faced in the sixth generation. The sixth generation’s market was dominated by mature rated games, which barely any platformers fall under (and the few that do tend to be satire based instead of gritty realism). Grand Theft Auto 3 is especially relevant to the decline of platformers’ mainstream popularity, since the wide open sandbox genre it popularized in many ways took the role platformers had in the fifth generation. Huge open worlds with a gigantic amount of collectables, sub-missions, and gameplay types made the generational transition, but the platforming elements didn’t come with them. Sandbox games were getting all the clones, not platformers.

The defining platformer for the sixth generation was Ratchet and Clank. The gun focused combat system, increased emphasis on story, and more clear mission objectives were all things that the series made standard for 3D platformers in its generation. The influence can clearly be seen with the Sly Cooper and Jak and Daxter series. The first game in those series came out before or at the same time as Ratchet and Clank, and both sequels changed a great amount to be more similar to R&C. Unfortunately, like Super Mario 64, Ratchet and Clank’s formula (which still had a good amount of platforming) would be exaggerated to its detriment in future games. The Ratchet and Clank games consistently reduced the amount of platforming in them throughout the generation, replacing it with RPG style upgrades for the guns and a combat emphasis. Other platformers used the wide open sandbox approach of Grand Theft Auto, leaving little room for platforming. The evolution of platformers in the sixth generation was a lateral move, while the new standards were less annoying than the collection mania of the fifth generation, platforming had been even more shoved to the wayside.

Things were not looking good for platformers as the sixth generation came to a close. What exactly was it that caused the genre to go from its industry dominating golden age to the verge of extinction? The biggest internal problem was the transition to 3D, platformers thrive on complex environmental level design and precise control, neither of which were the strong point of early 3D games. This caused platformers to look for another way to wow gamers, and while it initially worked, it grew out of control to the point where gamers decided they didn’t need the platforming at all. Combined with the rise of cinematic and adult oriented games, everything was perfectly lined up to knock the platforming genre from its dominant position. Things were going to get even worse in the seventh generation, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But that’s a story for another time.

Top 5 Best and Worst MegaMan Classic Games

So, when I said I was gonna do one MegaMan-centric rant per month for the entire year, one of the most obvious topics is reminiscing about my own personal favorite games in the franchise. And what’s the best way to that? How about a ranking? A Top 10 list, if you will. This time around, I’m going to be looking at the series that kicked off the Blue Bomber’s history. MegaMan (or MegaMan Classic, as he’s referred to these days) has had more than his fair share of games, some great, some…well, not so great.  So why not just rattle off what I consider to be the top five best AND worst MegaMan (Classic) games of all time. Don’t worry, folks: I’ll be doing another article on the other series down the line, but this time, it’s all about Classic. Blue headers represent the five games I consider the best, red represents the worst.

5. Mega Man 5 (Nintendo Entertainment System)

First up, we’ve got MegaMan 5: commonly considered one of the (if not THE) worst MegaMan games for the NES, MM5 is still a solid game and perhaps part of the reason I love the game so much is just due to the negativity surrounding it. Commonly criticized its low-quality Master Weapons compared to other games in the series, MegaMan 5 truly shines when it comes to the game’s level design, being one of the most [legitimately] difficult MegaMan games for the NES.

5. Mega Man 6 (Nintendo Entertainment System)

Honestly, I was torn between putting MM7 here instead, but frankly 7 gets a much worse wrap than 6 to begin with, so it’s only fair that MM6 take the plunge instead. Besides, for all of 7’s flaws, it still managed to do a lot of other things quite well and provided a great amount of difficulty (and most of it wasn’t even due to the wonky physics the game had). MegaMan 6, on the other hand, is probably the easiest MegaMan Classic game out there. People may have loved the Rush Suits and MM6 may have given us the Energy Balancer for the first time, but the game they debuted in was pretty mediocre in terms of overall level design and difficulty.

4. Mega Man 2 (Nintendo Entertainment System)

I’m sure a lot of people are going to be disappointed at just how low I put this game in my rankings, but come on, folks: MM2 is definitely overrated (and also possibly the most overrated game in the entire MegaMan franchise). However, even I cannot argue the game’s quality. What else do I really need to say? You probably already know how good this game is. …it would be nice to see a MegaMan remix album without Wily Stage 1, though. Oh well.

4. Mega Man II (Game Boy)

Finished five months after Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge and outsourced to a team that knew very little about the MegaMan series, MMII for the Game Boy has only one thing in common with its NES counterpart: four of its robot masters.  This game lacks quality: it is the definition of mediocre. With its screechy music, somewhat lame original boss Quint (His origin story was pretty cool, being a reprogrammed MegaMan kidnapped from the future and all, but fighting with a jackhammer pogo-stick? Come on!) and extremely weak difficulty, II is probably the worst MegaMan Classic game Capcom’s directly responsible for.

3. Mega Man V (Game Boy)

Yeah, you probably weren’t expecting to see both MegaMan 5s on here, were you? This game had it all. A cast of original bosses (The Stardroids, led by their supremely powerful leader, Terra!), a more refined shop system than the last GB game, an awesome shmup-inspired stage where you pilot a modified Rush Marine to reach Wily’s Moon Base, a new robotic animal companion (Tango, the cat that turns into a buzzsaw!) and (SPOILER ALERT!) this was the first MegaMan Classic game where Wily wasn’t the final boss! All-in-all, an amazing game only tarnished by the fact that it was on the Game Boy, so the screen ratio was a little weird, which limited your field of vision and led to some weird scrolling at times.

3. Rockman & Forte: Challenger from the Future (WonderSwan)

Fun fact: this game was actually developed by Bandai, and for a while, I didn’t even know whether it counted as an official MegaMan game, until one of the Robot Masters from this game made an appearance in a later Capcom game. Having said that, the game itself is pretty wonky overall, but I’m putting it on this list less out of spite and more out of curiosity. In spite of the game’s poor quality, it’s definitely interesting, what with its entirely original assortment of Robot Masters (called “The Dimensions”) and the main villain being a failed copy of the aformentioned Quint, Rockman Shadow. Rockman & Forte: Challenger from the Future (or as some people have called it: Rockman & Forte 2) even makes use of the WonderSwan’s unique ability to be played vertically, which is actually pretty unique for a MegaMan game. Still, the game was otherwise more-or-less a knockoff of the original Super Famicom version of Rockman & Forte, with the majority of the art assets poorly redrawn from the originals and the entire soundtrack being comprised of songs from the original resequenced on the WonderSwan’s…awful sound chip. Still, I wouldn’t mind seeing the Dimensions resurface in a competently developed game in the future, be it official or fan-made.

2. Mega Man 3 (Nintendo Entertainment System)

My favorite NES game in the entire series, MegaMan 3 was a pretty amazing game that managed to do the impossible: it topped MM2 in a great deal of ways, from the level design to the soundtrack and it even managed to avoid falling into the same pitfall MM2 with regards to weapon balance: let’s face it, Metal Blade being as powerful as it was kind of made the game boring. MM3 also introduced various series staples, such as Rush, your constant canine companion and the then-mysterious ProtoMan, MegaMan’s “older brother”. In fact, the only real major flaw with this game is that the difficulty kind of fades once you get past the Doc Robot stages. Of course, even Keiji Inafune said in several interviews that the game wasn’t properly polished before its release, so maybe, had Capcom spent a little more time on it, the game would’ve had an ending worthy of the remainder of the game.

2. [The Best of] Mega Man (Game Gear)

It’s funny, growing up, the first video game system I ever owned was the Game Gear. And, as I’ve mentioned in the past, MegaMan 2 was one of the first three games that got me into video gaming in the first place. So when I heard about Capcom releasing a MegaMan game for the Game Gear, I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, I never got to hold the game in my hands back then. However, it turns out that was the best thing that could have happened: this game was a real piece of garbage. Recycling recolored graphics from MM2, 4 and 5, some hideously rearranged music and what was literally the worst scrolling I’ve ever seen in a MegaMan game (The game had vertical scrolling. Vertical scrolling! COME ON), the game that was once advertised as “The Best of Mega Man” was anything but. For shame, U.S. Gold. For shame.

1. Mega Man 10 (Wii/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3)

And so it comes to this, my own personal #1 choice, which is, ironically, the last Classic MegaMan to be released…thus far, anyway. What can I say about MegaMan 10? A lot of people seem to think that MM9 was superior in every concievable way, but I disagree. MM9 played up the “MegaMan 2” angle waaaaaaay too much for my tastes, while 10 seemed to be more of a send-up to the later games, what with ProtoMan (with the slide and chargable Proto Buster) as a default character, as opposed to DLC. And in this case, the DLC seemed more worth it than in the predecessor, with the MegaMan Killer Trio as secret bosses and a newly-balanced Bass (no more double jump) as the third playable character. MM10 had some awesome bosses, awesome level design, awesome soundtrack, awesome…well, everything. And that’s why it’s my favorite Classic MegaMan game of all time.

1. Mega Man/Mega Man III (DOS)

Yep. Come on, people. When you saw Challenger of the Future and Mega Man for the Game Gear, you should’ve KNOWN what number one was going to be. Were going to be. Whatever. The point is, Hi Tech Expressions should have been ashamed of themselves for making this one. And while I have only played the original Mega Man for DOS, if MM3 was anywhere near as bad as the original (and my sources tell me it was), then they both deserve to share the top…errr, bottom spot. Such terrible, unplayable games. Thank God Capcom decided to make things right with Street Fighter X MegaMan…even if it did take them 20 years after the release of MMIIIDOS to do so.

Honorable Mentions: Mega Man & Bass (Super Famicom/Game Boy Advance), Mega Man IV (Game Boy), Mega Man Powered Up (PlayStation Portable)

(Dis)honorable Mentions: Mega Man 7 (Super Nintendo Entertainment System), Mega Man: Dr. Wily’s Revenge (Game Boy)

I’m sure my choices in some cases are controversial: putting MM2 so low and MM10 at number one is bound to earn me some heated responses, but hey, it’s my opinion. You don’t like it? Write your own list. So tune in next month for something a little more significant.

Who Should Buy Sega?

I may be one of the most fanatical Sega loyalists to ever grace the face of God’s green Earth, but even I have to admit that old Service Games is ailing these days. A report made last year said that Sega would be making some serious job cutbacks and focus on existing IPs like Sonic and Football Manager. They also closed down some of their branches in both Europe and Australia. Admittedly, that piece of news led me to make a joke in poor taste: that at least now the credits in Sega games would be half their immense length.

Still, this brings up the topic at hand: let’s just say Sega can’t turn things around and end up like…say, THQ? (Too soon?) Obviously if that were to happen, clearly Sega’s a pretty good candidate for being bought, due to their immense importance in video game history. After all, they were one of the few companies to successfully transition from first-party developer to third-party. So, I’ve decided to write this little article/blogpost/rant/whatever to determine which companies would be the best for Sega. In writing this article, I’m assuming a best case scenario: one where all of Sega’s assets would be obtained by the company who buys them out, rather than the messier scenarios that ended up happening with companies like Midway or THQ. Of course, I might consider writing a second article down the road, with regards to a less “cut and dry” method of selling off Sega’s assets, but for now, it’s just going to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing.

First-Party Developers

Nintendo

And what better company to start with than Sega’s old rival, Nintendo? There have been some rumors circling the internet of the Big N’s intentions to buy out Sega recently, so it’s only fitting that we start discussing Nintendo’s stakes in buying out Sega.

Pros: Obviously, a Nintendo-owned Sega would be doing pretty well on cash, not to mention the fact that Nintendo’s modern line of consoles tend to invoke the creative spirit of Sega’s first-party past, and as such, Sega has a much better track record when it comes to adapting to Nintendo’s unorthodox systems as of late, both console and handheld. A fully integrated Sega could only improve on this state of affairs.

Furthermore, Nintendo has had a good history with incorporating existing firms under their brand name, the most memorable of which was, of course, Rare. Similarly, Nintendo has many “second-party” style companies under their banner at this point in time anyway (HAL Laboratory, Intelligent Systems, and a little firm the once-mighty Sega worked with: Game Freak).

Similarly, Sega’s wide range of titles both complement and contrast with Nintendo’s own library of hits, which would allow for more diversity on Nintendo’s offers. But ignoring other less interesting advantages, I’m just going to blurt out the megaton: this could potential lead to a Mario/Sonic crossover game without the word “Olympics” in it. Mull that one over.

Cons: The most staggering disadvantage to a Nintendo-owned Sega is the same as it would be with many of the hardware companies: it’s a closed platform. With Nintendo at the reins, there’s no way we would end up seeing nearly as much saturation as any third-party developer could give us, which makes sense, when you think about it. Another problem is that due to Nintendo’s systems’ weaker specs, certain attempts at emulation could be subdued in the future. Finally, it seems like Sega’s been making more of a transition towards digital sales: to this day, out of the 3 major console manufacturers, Nintendo still has the weakest online presence in all forms (though this is steadily changing, more due to the increasing incompetence of their rivals than anything else, unfortunately.)

Score: 9/10 Dolphins

 

Sony

Next on the docket: the company that I, to this day, irrationally blame for Sega’s shift to third-party company and for the early deaths of both the Saturn and Dreamcast in North America: Sony! Gonna be honest, I’m not really fond of this scenario, but I’ll try to be as balanced as I possibly can.

Pros: The only major pro I can think of is that, all things considered, Sony has treated most of their second-party acquisitions quite well, though that may only be the North American and European branches, so we don’t exactly know quite how well that would apply to the Japanese branch. Still, Naughty Dog isn’t exactly suffering under Sony’s leadership.

Cons: Sony itself isn’t exactly doing so well when it comes to finances themselves lately, and ironically, they’re playing it even dumber than Sega by sinking a great deal of capital into the Vita, which just isn’t paying off in any tangible way.

Sony’s PlayStation Network, in most cases, would be considered neutral or even slightly positive for Sega at best, but given the sheer amount of downtime the service suffers, it’s probably more of a negative than anything by this point. Sony also shares Nintendo’s prime weakness: PlayStation is a closed platform, so all of Sega’s titles would strictly be PlayStation-exclusive, which limits the scope of what Sega could release and on which platforms.

Score: 3/10 Vice Presidents of Halo Killing

 

Microsoft

And then there’s Microsoft. Microsoft and Sega actually have a pretty long storied history together. The Dreamcast ran on Windows CE, Xbox got quite a few sequels to some Dreamcast games (Jet Set Radio Future and Shenmue II come to mind) and they both had their marketing handled by Peter Moore at some point. But whether or not MS would be the best place for Sega to go isn’t quite as easy to determine.

Pros: When it comes right down to it, even after the bad couple of years Microsoft’s had, they’re still swimming in the big bucks. Sega’s main issue these days is money and a Microsoft-owned Sega would definitely be much more secure than any of the other big 3. There’s also the fact that of the big 3, Microsoft is the only one that has interests in the PC market, so there’s potential for all Sega games to end up on both PC and whatever console Microsoft is supporting. Slim potential, but a much greater one than Sony or Nintendo. Microsoft would directly benefit as well: obtaining Sega could potentially allow Microsoft to make some significant headway into building a Japanese install base, which has been one of the major flaws of the Xbox platform since its inception.

Cons: Let’s deal with the elephant in the room: Microsoft has had a pretty crummy track record with one of their biggest acquistions in the gaming industry: Rare. Turning a once-renown developer into a Kinect minigame manufacturer while outright refusing to use any of the intellectual properties they gained in the acquisition of said company is a black mark that no company can ever hope to erase. Also, with regards to the earlier PC comment, Games for Windows Live (Microsoft’s PC service) is despised by the majority of PC gamers out there, plus Microsoft themselves don’t appear to release much for it themselves.

Score: 5/10 Red Rings of Death

 

Valve

Well, they may not be entirely first-party at this point, but Steambox is a coming and it appears to be Valve’s attempt to enter console territory. Besides, like it or not, Valve basically is the champion of PC and PC is still technically a gaming platform. So let’s do this.

Pros: Being what appears to be the only Japanese developer that understands that the PC gaming markets both exists and has the potential to be profitable, Sega has already released quite a few of their games on Valve’s Steam service as it is, including several emulations of old Genesis games that were also found on other, similar online marketplaces. Similarly quite a few of Sega’s most recent successes have been with series that seems to only thrive on PCs: Shogun: Total War and Football Manager, for example.

Even more important is that out of all the potential first-party developers, Valve has made the most effort to be a multiplatform company, with such releases as The Orange Box, the Left 4 Dead series and Portal 2. While the console incarnations of the these games may not be able to match the sheer amount of customization and the sheer number of updates of their PC counterparts, they are still perfectly functional and a lack of patching is more the fault of the person running the platform than Valve themselves. Considering Nintendo’s recent announcement that they would not be charging for the ability to patch games on the Wii U, it seems only natural that even a Valve-run Sega could thrive perfectly on multiple platforms.

Finally, a partnership with Sega could be advantageous to Valve: allowing them to make a real attempt in trying to gain a foothold in Japan.

Cons: Aside from Valve’s irrational fear of the number 3, I really can’t think of anything major. Perhaps they wouldn’t be able to offer as many financial resources as some of the other companies on the list, but Sega would still be in a good position to make a comeback.

Score: 9.5/10 False Half-Life 3 Rumors

 

Apple

Gonna be honest, I’m only doing this section to round this out to five companies. I’m not a big fan of Apple’s business practices or their products, but they are their own platform(s), so I guess they deserve a shot at this too.

Pros: Money. That’s it. Just money. Apple’s doing well when it comes to finances, much like Microsoft. That’s the only advantage I think an Apple-owned Sega would enjoy. Unless Sega and/or Apple gets off on murdering my childhood. So there’s another possibility.

Cons: For starters, Apple hasn’t really had any success in the gaming field (anybody remember the Pippin?) and it also doesn’t appear to be a part of their modern strategy, at least in terms of first-party offerings: they’d much rather just make the most widespread platform in whatever fields they are attempting to conquer at any particular point in time. At this point in time, that would be smartphones and tablets, so we’d probably only be able to expect sequels to Sonic Jump and maybe the occasional port of an old game with horribly-implemented touchscreen controls. And somehow, despite being effective a PC company, Apple’s iOS is as closed a platform as Sony and Nintendo, if not moreso.

Score: 1/10 New Versions of the iPad Released This Year Alone

 

Japanese Third-Party Developers

Capcom

Moving on from the first-party developers, let’s tackle Japanese third-parties.First up, another favorite company of mine: Capcom. Capcom’s had some pretty good years, but they’ve also been suffering from a recent PR meltdown, concering a few of their more rash decisions over the last couple of years.

Pros: Capcom’s definitely got funds, considering their recent foray into outsourcing various titles (Dead Rising 2, DmC, Lost Planet 3) to Western companies. Not to mention they recently obtained DR2’s developer: Blue Castle Games, or as they’re known today, Capcom Vancouver. Of course, Capcom would also benefit from having Sega on their side, as this might cause them to further embrace the PC platform on the whole, as opposed to their current, admittedly weak efforts at this point. And as a bit of wishful thinking, this might end up making a Sonic/MegaMan crossover something more than just an Archie comic, to the delight of my inner eight-year-old.

Cons: Capcom’s actually got a great deal of IPs just rolling around on their end, factoring in Sega’s wide library would just make an even bigger mess, rather than resolve anything. As such, Capcom buying Sega might end up being one of those scenarios where Sega just makes Sonic the Hedgehog forever. Also, Capcom’s prefence towards acting in the interests of the Japanese market to the detriment of international markets might bite a Sega revival in the backside, as Sega’s largest foothold appears to be Europe.

Score: 6/10 Cancelled MegaMan Games

 

Namco Bandai

Is it Namco Bandai, or is it Bandai Namco? Whatever the case, they’re one of the more popular Japanese third-party game developers, at least on a global scale. So let’s see what they could offer Sega.

Pros: Like Capcom, Namco Bandai is doing pretty well for themselves from a financial standpoint, especially with all of the licensed games they’ve done based on various popular anime series. Namco could also reap the benefits of Sega’s competence in the PC marketplace: Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition was their one major release on PC and it was extremely buggy at launch, to the point where fans ended up releasing a patch in order to fix the game. Finally, Namco Bandai Games have proven that they can successfully juggle the assets of two major gaming companies, so they may be the best choice for adding a third.

Cons: On that last note, let it be known that Namco Bandai took a few years to regain their footing after the merger, which led to some really poor quality games for the time being, so adding a third company might also mess up the equilibrium they’ve found. Similarly, as they’re already working off the assets of two gaming developers, as with Capcom, Sega may just be reduced to a Sonic-only company.

Score: 6/10 Soul Calibur Sequels I Wish They’d Never Made

 

Square Enix

Gonna be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Square Enix, not since the merger anyway. Even before the merger, Squaresoft was on thin ice with me. But leaving them out of the running would be an injustice even I’m incapable of committing. As far as Japanese third-parties go, Square-Enix-Taito-Eidos-Terwilliger is definitely a major player.

Pros: Well, the former Eidos is doing pretty well for itself, making such heavy-hitters as Deus Ex: Human Revolution and the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. And Taito still gets to make awesome arcade games, despite being a wholly-owned Squenix subsidiary. Maybe an SE-owned Sega would enjoy the same fate as Eidos and Taito.

Cons: Square Enix hasn’t exactly been doing so well when it comes to money lately. More importantly, if Sega gets absorbed in Square Enix, thus forming “Square Enix Sega”, expect a similar Sonic-centric release schedule from Sega. But on the plus side, Square Enix’s bag of tricks will increase by a whopping 33.3%! If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

Score: 4/10 More Kingdom Hearts Spin-offs

 

Konami

Konami was definitely one of my favorite companies growing up, being responsible for such beloved games as Castlevania, Contra, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill and Turtles in Time. Lately though, a lot of their more recent offerings have left me unimpressed for the most part. Still, they’re definitely a major player when it comes to video games.

Pros: Wikipedia says Konami is the fifth largest video game company in the world in terms of revenue. I’m not sure if I believe them, but if this is true, then Sega’s debts would probably be easy enough for Konami to leverage for the time being. Another point, Konami’s recent releases have kind of…well, sucked. Considering Sega’s just recently gotten back on track themselves, maybe Sega could fix Konami or something.

Cons: …well, that or just revert Sega into its previous state of releasing really terrible games. Also, Konami doesn’t really have the best reputation when it comes to dealing with companies they’ve acquired: does the name “Hudson Soft” ring any bells?

Score: 4/10 Poorly Thoughtout Franchise Revivals

 

Index Corporation (Atlus)

I needed help picking out a fifth Japanese third-party company for the purposes of this article, the two suggestions I got were Atlus and Tecmo Koei. Considering a write-up on Tecmo Koei from me would’ve been really similar to that of Square Enix, except without the compliments regarding Eidos and Taito and had replaced the words “Final Fantasy”, “Kingdom Hearts” and “Dragon Quest” with “Dynasty Warriors”, “Ninja Gaiden” and “Dead or Alive” respectively. So I decided to go with Atlus instead, seemed like a more interesting choice, even if Tecmo Koei is a slightly more likely contender.

Pros: Well, Atlus is, in fact, owned by a major Japanese conglomerate by the name of Index Corporation. Index Corporation also owns such entertainment comapins as the anime studio Madhouse and major Japanese movie studio Nikkatsu. So clearly, Index definitely has enough money to wave around.

Furthermore, Atlus appears to focus more on RPGs than anything else these days, despite having delved into other genres like fighting games (Power Instinct series) and even medical simulation games (Trauma Center). Perhaps with a more financially stable Sega by their side, Atlus could once again experiment in genres besides RPGs.

One more thing, Sega’s got a pretty decent foothold on the European territories, which is a pretty weak region for Atlus. So that might be helpful.

Cons: Index Corporation already owns two game companies at this moment in time: Atlus and something called Interchannel, which I’ve never heard of, due to the fact that their games tend to be Japanese-only. Three might just be too many for them to handle at this point in time, especially considering the fact that Sega would dwarf both of their current acquistions. However, this seems like less of a problem for Sega and more like a problem for Atlus and Interchannel.

Score: 7/10 JRPGs I’ve Never Heard Of

 

Western Third-Party Developers

EA

So we move onto the Western developers. Obviously, EA is the top contender for Western third-party developers, just due to their size and reputation in the video game industry. But would they make a good choice for buying Sega? No. No. God no. But I’ll write more on the subject anyway.

Pros: Like I said with Apple before, the only advantage here is money. EA’s swimming in it.

Cons: Well, EA IS considered one of the two most evil industries in gaming at this point in time. And unfortunately, that reputation is well-deserved. For starters, they generally destroy any smaller developers they’ve bought out: just ask fans of Westwood Studios and Bullfrog Productions. Some would even argue that BioWare is on the same path in that regard.

You’ve also got to factor in EA’s push for their own PC DRM/digital store platform Origin to the detriment of their own products. That would definitely hurt Sega, who appear to currently ally with Valve’s Steam platform at this point in time. Factor in such scummy business tactics as online passes, Project $10 and Day 1 DLC, and the only reason EA scored higher than Apple is because at least EA is still technically a gaming company.

Score: 1.5/10 Retake Mass Effect 3 Bitchfits

 

Activision

Next up, the other major evil Western third-party developer: Activision. Roughly as powerful as EA and equally scummy in the eyes of gamers, Activision would probably be another major choice for a Western takeover of Sega. Not one most people would be excited for, but there’s still a very distinct possibility.

Pros: According to Wikipedia, Activision Blizzard is the world’s second-largest video game company by revenue. So, like in many scenarios, Sega would be well-taken care of financially. I guess there’s also the potential for a Sonic the Hedgehog/Crash Bandicoot crossover, which would be kinda cool in a misplaced nostalgia, “original vs. most popular ripoff” sort of way.

Cons: While not as bad as EA when it comes to murdering studios, Activision has left many studios dismantled in their wake, though this generally only happens due to lagging sales. Furthermore, Activision’s main strategy appears to be turning anything even remotely successful into yearly franchises, until sales start falling, at which point they pretty much just kill the series for the foreseeable future. The only franchise Sega has that would probably be considered that marketable in the US would be Sonic the Hedgehog, and despite the last couple of games being good, Sonic’s still in a transition period, where going yearly too quickly might just defuse any attempt at repairing the series’ tarnished reputation.

Score: 2/10 Photoshops of Bobby Kotick with Devil Horns

 

Ubisoft

When most Americans think of Western developers, they tend to make the mistake that they’re all located in North America. This is definitely not the case for Ubisoft, a French company that manages to stride the line between the vibrant fantasy we associate with Japanese video games and the more photorealistic fodder expected of Western dev teams. But would they be a good home for Sega?

Pros: Well, for one thing, Ubisoft actually has quite a bit of experience with Japanese developers as it is, they released Lunar Legend and Evolution Worlds (iterations of two of the few JRPGs I can actually tolerate), they handled Resident Evil 4 and Devil May Cry 3’s PC ports (granted, they weren’t good ports, but still) and they even released Grandia II in North America and Europe. The fact that they’re based in Europe, which is Sega’s strongest market outside of Japan, is just a bonus.

Furthermore, Ubisoft appears to be quite good at balancing their releases between both mature (Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, the Tom Clancy series) and family (Rayman, Raving Rabbids, Just Dance) fare, similarly to how Sega manages to cross-promote their various franchises of varying demographics (like putting Shenmue and Football Manager characters in Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing).

Cons: Ubisoft’s actually has some controversial business practices that they’ve only recently begun to abandon, including some of the most terrible DRM strategies imagninable. Couple that with their recent uPlay digital distribution/DRM service, which has been accused of including rootkits, and Ubisoft isn’t exactly a premiere choice.

Score: 6/10 Raving Rabbids Sequels

 

Warner Bros.

Of course, no article with regards to video game company buyouts would be complete without one mention of Warner Bros. Interactive: the people who bought out the majority of Midway’s old IPs and managed to resurrect Mortal Kombat. Warner Bros’s no slouch when it comes to releasing other top-notch games like Batman: Arkham City and my beloved Lollipop Chainsaw.

Pros: Simply put, Warner Bros. has deep, deep pockets. Couple this with their willingness to save a great deal of old Midway IPs (even granting one of them into a critically-acclaimed reboot) and the fact that we’ve got proof that they’re willing to try even the most insane ideas: let’s face it, no other major publisher, Western or Japanese, would’ve given Lollipop Chainsaw a chance like WB did. Suffice it to say, Warner Bros. buying out Sega might be one of the best chances we have at seeing something like say, a reboot of an old Sega franchise (Streets of Rage, maybe?) or hell, let’s shoot the moon: Shenmue III, and either of those games made with as much care as Mortal Kombat 2011 would be nothing short of amazing.

Cons: I may be singing the praises of WB’s video game side, but let’s face it: they’ve been in the movie business for awhile now, so there’s a chance that we could see them going full-blown evil at some point. To the point where they’d make EA and Activision look like saints. A movie studio doesn’t stay in business for nearly 100 years without being ruthless.

Score: 8/10 More Lego Games

 

Take-Two Interactive

Last up, Take-Two Interactive. They’ve already got two of the biggest Western developers under their belts: Rockstar and 2K Games, and as such, they’ve got quite a library of hits to choose from as it is: Grand Theft Auto, Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands, NBA2K (itself originally a Sega franchise), the list goes on and on. But would Take-Two make a good home for Sega?

Pros: Well, like I said, Take-Two already has a good number of hits under their belt, and as such, they’ve got a significant amount of capital. It’s a recurring theme, I know, but still very important for Sega’s continued survival. Furthermore, in most cases, Take-Two has been pretty good when it comes to releasing their titles on all major platforms (PS3/360/PC). All-in-all, Take-Two doesn’t really have any advantages that make them stand out, but the fact that they haven’t really done many scummy things this generation when it seems like every other major publisher has been guilty of. Even the blame for L.A. Noire’s controversial omission of several key members in the games credits was the fault of Team Bondi rather than Rockstar or Take-Two.

Cons: Well, for starters, Take-Two appears to be very skeptical of the potential regarding the Wii U, and Sega’s games have generally sold best on Nintendo platforms, at least as far as the the three major consoles go. This difference of opinion may prove disasterous for Sega’s bottom line.

Score: 7/10 Grand Theft Auto Expansions (That End Up Being Better Than The Game It’s Expanding)

 

So there you go, 15 companies, all hastily and haphazardly assessed in a way that only I, Professor Icepick could do. My top three picks are Valve, with a whopping 9.5/10, Nintendo with a 9/10 and Warner Bros. Interactive with a respectable 8/10. Bottom choices are Apple, with 1/10, EA with a 1.5/10 and Activision with a 2/10. But who knows if Sega even needs to be bought out at any point? Apparently, despite all the doom and gloom I’ve heard, they still manage to churn in excellent sales for such franchises as Football Manager and Shogun: Total War. Perhaps there was no point to this article at all in the first place. Still, not a bad exercise in determining which companies I’d like to see gain a stronger foothold in the video game industry.