How Wii Will Remember U

As I write this, Wii U owners and critics are preparing for a dramatic switch.  I don’t mean the console, I mean a switch in how the system is viewed.  Wii U did not sell very well, it was the underdog for almost all of its life.  This led to excessive and vicious trolling at every opportunity: people bashing it for lacking games while the “real” eighth gen systems subsisted on very slightly polished PS3 games, redefinition of what 3D meant to bash Nintendo, and of course predictions of its imminent death.  And what happens when it actually dies?  Worship.  When’s the last time you saw Dreamcast or GameCube or Neo Geo Pocket Color bashed for their poor sales?  Wii U is destined to be a revered cult favorite, and will surely be Nintendo’s last “real” console according to trolls at some point.  So, as we look back at its life, let’s do it both ways.  Every system has good and bad parts, so let’s look at Wii U from both perspectives.  I always get the bad out of the way first, and it came first chronologically anyway, so let’s begin with:

The “Wii U is Still Alive” Perspective

Wii U was a spectacular failure.  The very first we ever saw of it was a horrible trailer that made it look like it was just a controller accessory for the original Wii.  The tablet like controller never caught on with the mass market, and even Nintendo was quick to pretend it didn’t exist.  Retail games dried up almost instantly.  Nintendo went right from their best-selling console to their worst, everything about the Wii U was a disaster.

After launch day, the system suffered a terrible drought that lasted nine entire months.  Nintendo delayed their “launch window” games and the most we got from third parties were multi-plat games that were often missing features.  Despite bragging about all the third parties supporting them at the system’s reveal and re-reveal (where it was just possible to tell it was a new console), third parties were quick to abandon the Wii U.  Late or inferior PS360 ports were the extent of the support from major western publishers, and even those dried up to almost nothing within a year.  Major publishers and developers openly mocked the system and no efforts were made by anyone to give it games that were only on eighth generation systems.  Third party support became worse than it had ever been.

Nintendo’s games should have been the saving grace, but they refused to give gamers what they wanted.  We got a 2D Mario at launch, a linear 3D Mario, a freaking Donkey Kong game instead of Metroid, and some squid game.  Paper Mario Color Splash was a slap in the face to every former fan of the Paper Mario series, and Nintendo constantly let 3DS steal Wii U’s exclusives.  Nintendo had clearly given up on the system by 2015 and forced it to do a death march until they finally released a new console.  Everything about the system was a mistake and it would be in the best interest of Nintendo and gamers everywhere to just forget that this failure ever happened.

The “Wii U is Dead” Perspective

The Wii U was a fantastic system subjected to some of the greatest injustices in gaming history.  The system had some of Nintendo’s best games and incredible potential that could have easily made it a bigger success than the original Wii if anyone had given it a chance.  The Wii U Pad can do everything you could possibly want out of a controller and simple quality of life improvements provided by the touchscreen could have given it the edge over other systems in nearly any multi-plat.  Wii U didn’t fail, we failed the Wii U.

The supposedly terrible drought was the result of the system having a launch that was too good, over 30 games were available at launch and if you were depending on Wii U for your console needs there was enough to last you until Pikmin 3 in August 2013.  That’s right, the “great drought” lasted nine months, as opposed to around two years for the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, which had terrible launches to boot.  And remember PS4 getting praised for playing used games, and Xbox One for adding limited backwards compatibility long after release?  Guess what system fully supported used games and had full backwards compatibility from the start?  Wii U was the victim of a hypocritical and vicious media, plain and simple.

The lazy, entitled, and viciously unprofessional actions by third parties were in no way the system’s fault.  Did Nintendo tell Ubisoft to traumatize everyone with the original Red Steel, leading to Zombi U’s disappointing sales?  No, and they didn’t tell them to sabotage poor Rayman Legends in response to that just to make sure Wii U didn’t even have it as a timed exclusive.  Did they tell companies to leave DLC out of the Wii U versions of multi-plats, setting up a vicious cycle where they couldn’t sell?  Did they personally summon whatever demon was running EA and provoke it into every act of blatant sabotage or immature public shot at the Wii U?  Third parties never gave the system a chance, Nintendo’s big mistake was giving THEM a chance.

Now as for Nintendo’s own games, they made some of their best games ever.  We got two fantastic Mario games lacking nothing but nostalgia rebranded as “soul.”  Mario Kart and Smash Bros. were leagues better than their Wii counterparts.  Star Fox, Pikmin, and an absolutely phenomenal Yoshi platformer made their returns.  Splatoon showed Nintendo can still make a great and popular new IP whenever the mood strikes them.  Nintendo made alliances with third parties to get great exclusives like Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101, Pokken Tournament, and Hyrule Warriors.  Super Mario Maker made the longstanding dream of gamers come true, and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is one of the best platformers of all time.  Even the mini-game compilation at launch was bursting with content and far deeper gameplay than you would expect.  Nintendo not catering to the exact whims of jaded gamers (who would doubtlessly have changed their demands as soon as they got them) doesn’t mean they didn’t bring their A game.

My Actual Thoughts

So, to conclude, what do I think of the Wii U and its life when I’m not purposefully being blindly positive or negative?  Well, I’m not going to deny that some mistakes were made, there’s no way to deny that the console sales were indeed pretty much a disaster.  I’m not going to absolve Nintendo of all responsibility for what went wrong, but double standards on the part of third parties and the gaming community definitely share some blame for what went wrong.  Nintendo misjudging how long it would take to get the hang of HD development was a big factor in the initial drought, and they should have made Wii U being a new system clearer.  Third parties abandoning it after their late, often inferior ports didn’t sell a huge amount, though, is something that really happened and it is not at all fair to blame Nintendo for that.  The things PS4/X1 got praised for that Wii U had ignored probably weren’t the result of malicious intent, but it was unfortunate timing that Nintendo wasn’t responsible for.

Nintendo really did make some of their best games on the system, even if they had clearly changed their focus to the Switch late in the Wii U’s life, the things I said about games in the positivity section are pretty much how I really feel.  New Super Mario Bros. U, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and Yoshi’s Wooly World are exceptional games that people unfairly dismissed because they were 2D.  The collaborations with third parties for exclusives were a great idea and were usually successful (assuming anyone remembers Devil’s Third, that was the obvious exception).  Wii U’s amazing attach rate for first party games shows that Nintendo was still making great games and that people still like them.  However, third party was clearly lacking (and not just in big budget games like the hidden gem filled Wii) and Nintendo’s learning period for HD game design limited the quantity a bit.  While there were some great indie games, Wii U really could have used the mid-ware style retail releases that gave Wii so many overlooked but great games.  Thankfully, the portable/console dual nature of the Switch shows signs of bringing those back.

Appropriately enough, I’d rank the Wii U solidly in the middle as far as Nintendo systems go.  It didn’t match its predecessor or the legendary SNES, but it could easily compete with Nintendo’s other systems.  Definitely a quality over quantity system, a couple of dozen great exclusives that definitely justify its purchase, but aren’t going to push it to the top of the Nintendo heap.  I’m not sad to see the negativity that dominated the Wii U’s lifespan go, I’m more than ready for a Switch.  The system itself, though, has a solid lineup of great games that I would strongly recommend collecting before their inevitable price inflation.  In the future, when the negativity of the era has been washed away by time and the nostalgia filter, I think Wii’ll have many fond memories of U.

 

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But Is It Bart?

 

One of Professor Icepick’s many series that never got off the ground was called “But Is It Art?”, in which he looked at games universally considered bad through the light of a critic desperate to interpret the game as high art that was far too profound to have good gameplay.  I believe a similar concept was used in nearly every review of Gone Home.  So, I will be bringing this series back with my own installment, and since I got my 15 minutes of internet fame from the Dead Bart creepypasta, the only logical choice is to twist more Simpsons media into something unrecognizable.  But this time, the horror comes from the source material, not my interpretation.  It’s time to analyze Bart’s Nightmare, a poorly designed, frustrating mess that probably doesn’t even crack the list of top five worst Simpsons games, which is horrifying.  But maybe we were looking at it wrong, we should have been asking: “But is it art?”

Bart’s Nightmare is the story of Bart Simpson, face of ‘90s animation until everyone realized Homer was funnier, falling asleep the night before a big homework assignment is due.  Bart has one of those hub-based nightmares we all have in which he must collect the pages of his homework from several terrible gameplay styles.  Right away we see this game’s brilliance, the sheer courage of the developers.  Given the task of making what was already just another brick in the wall of terrible Simpsons games, they doubtlessly viewed this game as nothing but an unpleasant homework assignment.  This naked honesty is something few developers would ever be willing to put in their game.  Bart Simpson, underachiever and allegedly proud of it, was the perfect metaphor for Simpsons games.  On the surface the publishers were proud of their money-making crap, but just as Bart is troubled in his sleep at the thought of more failure, the developers are trying to express their inner pain at being forced into this situation.  The bad gameplay is the best way they can make the player emphasize with them.

As mentioned, Bart’s Nightmare is hub-based.  Now most games using this format would make a hub that had its own architecture, ideally its own satisfying and creative level, or at least something where you had some sort of control over which level you went to and when.  But this is Bart’s Nightmare, a logical and enjoyable hub world would be the epitome of ludonarrative dissonance.  Instead, Bart’s Nightmare has an endlessly looping sidewalk filled with enemies that are either so easy to avoid they may as well not exist, or that take full advantage of Bart’s terrible jump that is completely unsuited for the ¾ perspective.  To enter the levels, Bart must find a piece of paper blowing across the ground.  The appearance of these are random, and the game even lets you walk either left or right, just to give you the illusion of control.  Is choosing between two options when you have absolutely no way of knowing which is correct really a choice?  Bart’s Nightmare poses that question, and like all great art, stops there instead of answering it.

And then we get to the levels themselves.  There are five levels, and eight homework pages that Bart must collect.  Three of the levels have two parts, each giving you a homework page (in another brilliant metaphor for the randomness of nightmares, whether you have to go back to the hub world or can just continue to part two of a stage after getting the first page of homework is inconsistent between the multi-part levels).  This means two of the levels are just a single part, and these are the two most tolerable levels.  The purple door leads to a mindless but short and painless level taking place in Bart’s bloodstream, while the blue door leads to a Bartman themed segment that would almost be an enjoyable shooter if you weren’t cursed with a slingshot that shoots pellets with a wilting arc that makes hitting enemies a chore.  If every part of the game was like these segments, it might just make it into the elite class of slightly above average 16-bit licensed games.  Alas, the best parts of the game are the shortest.  The message here is clear, the fun parts of life are fleeting.  The Simpsons episode “A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again” examined this same theme nearly 20 years after Bart’s Nightmare, the game is such a profound work of art that it was miles ahead of its source material.

Now let’s look at the larger levels.  The yellow door leads to an Itchy and Scratchy themed beat-em-up.  I already mentioned that the platformer style obstacles in the hub world didn’t work thanks to the ¾ perspective iconic to beat-em-ups, so the stage set in that genre must work, right?  If Bart’s Nightmare were made by incompetent developers, sure.  But this game is true art, and the developers put the effort into making sure that the collision detection in the beat-‘em-up stages was still terrible.  Making the controls only work in one of those levels would be laziness, but making it work in NEITHER is brilliance.  You tediously fight through attacks by both Itchy and Scratchy, ensuring there is a max of two enemies on screen at a time.  The only weapon with decent hit detection is a pan that you get early on, you are given the opportunity to pick up seemingly better weapons later, but trying to line up a hit will most likely get you killed.  The game is teaching you the dangers of temptation, which anyone who bought a Simpsons console game in the 1990s clearly needs a lesson in.  Brilliant.

The green door leads to Bartzilla.  The first segment of this level has you as a gigantic reptilian Bart who must somehow defend himself from constant assaults by smaller and faster enemies, while your hitbox takes up a huge chunk of the screen.  You are in the position of a video game boss: this segment is clearly meant to teach empathy, showing you how little fun being the boss in a game would be.  If you somehow get past this segment, you are forced to climb a skyscraper as a shrunken Bartzilla.  Everything is reversed from the previous part of the level.  You’re small, have one almost useless attack, and instead of auto-scrolling you are constantly knocked back whenever you take damage.  Both sides of the coin cause pain and frustration, just like the choice the developers had between losing their job and making a terrible Simpsons game.  More empathy, Bart’s Nightmare is a fantastic teacher.

I saved the best for last, the orange door leads to the Temple of Maggie.  As a child, this was the only segment I couldn’t beat, and I still have never legitimately beaten it (even with save states, it is incredibly frustrating).  The confusing tile puzzles and absurd leap in logic needed to survive (scrolling the camera ahead somehow triggers traps), combined with the extremely unforgiving lives system (you start with one life, and falling or a temple trap will instantly end it, going for the extra lives will just make the puzzle harder and likely get you killed), ensures that you will spend much more time wandering the barren wasteland that is the hub world looking for the increasingly rare paper that will take you back to the level doors.  The message that life is mostly tedium interspersed with brief false hope and frustration is one that anyone who plays the game will keep with them forever.

Whether you somehow finish the game or finally die in the hub world after the tedium induced fatigue overpowers the frequent extra hitpoint powerups, you will be greeted with Bart waking up and getting the grade for his homework assignment.  Even getting all the pages won’t guarantee the highest grade, there is a point system in the game.  Putting a point system in a game with so many different gameplay styles, as well as an endless hub world, is absolutely nonsensical but makes perfect sense as dream logic.  The ending and game over screen have no difference other than the grade Bart gets on his homework, which is something the character wouldn’t care about.  A meaningless end to a meaningless quest, anyone who has ever accomplished something in a dream will be able to relate.  There is no reward, no happiness, no sense of accomplishments.  There is only Bart’s Nightmare.

Okay, breaking character, what do I really think of Bart’s Nightmare?  Well, I think my “praise” got that through pretty clearly.  Mini-game levels ranging from below average to atrocious, one of the worst hubworld systems I have ever seen in a game, there is nothing redeeming about the game other than the fact that many Simpsons games managed to be even worse.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of But Is It Art?, there will likely be more to come because I want to get SOMETHING out of playing games like this.  See you next time!

Lots of Red, No White but Blue

Hello. This is Dari.  I am starting a new series called “Dari-Isms.”  This is going to try to explain the inner machinations of my mind, which apparently a lot of people don’t understand.  Most of these are going to be about gaming, but I may throw some other opinion pieces in, if people want to hear them. Today I’m gonna talk about some of my favorite and least favorite Capcom “mascots” of yesteryear. I am mainly going to talk about Ryu and Ken (of Street Fighter) and Zero and Megaman X (of Megaman X).

Let’s start with Ryu. Ryu is the mascot and the face of Street Fighter. He is most likely the first person anyone thinks of when they think of fighting games in general, not just Street Fighter. This is one of the reasons I hate him. He’s a very boring character. And his moveset, while copied and done better by most of the other characters that share his moveset, is also quite plain. Ryu himself usually moves like an old man with bad arthritis. He’s so stiff; I wonder how he even fights with any sort of speed! (i.e. crossover games like Marvel vs Capcom.) His Hadoken attack is usually very slow, but powerful. His Shoryuken is again, slow but powerful, and invincible on startup depending on the game, but again, it’s very stiff and can easily be stuffed or even just plain dodged, because it’s easily telegraphed. Ryu’s story is just plain sad. He’s a nomad from Japan who doesn’t have a family who just wanders around trying to get stronger, fight strong opponents and fight the ‘Satsui no Hado’ which can (and has depending on the game/timeline) overtake him and turn him evil, like another one of his counterparts, Akuma. But that’s another story for another time. Ryu is a terrible character. I understand he’s the “entry character” and he’s the base for everyone to learn off, but I feel like they’ve added so many more interesting characters that can take his place, that Ryu really would have, and should have faded into the background. He can still be the face of the series, but he can just be that. He doesn’t need half the popularity he has. He needs to sit down somewhere and stay there for a while. Now, again, he doesn’t need to sit out of a game where Street Fighter characters are prominent, but I mean he needs something to make him interesting.

In contrast, let’s talk about Ken Masters. Ken Masters originally started as the Player 2 alternative for Ryu. But he’s grown so much more since then. Ever since Street Fighter 2, he’s grown so much since being Ryu’s copy. He has fire in his shoryukens, which differentiates him from boring old, stiff Ryu. Also it seems like Ken has more mobility than Ryu ever will. It’s possibly because he’s younger than him.  Ken, I feel focuses more on his kicks than his counterpart. He also seems to have evolved more than his sparring partner. He has a shinryuken attack (in some games and media) that has him doing a strong shoryuken attack covered in a pillar of fire. Ryu cannot do this as far as what’s been shown. Ken also has a shin shoryuken which can hit for 2 or 3 times with his fire shoryuken. Ryu only does it once, but while there’s a lot of power behind it, it’s not as flexible or unique as Ken’s. Ken’s story is also fairly interesting. He has a family, a wife and a son. Some people would say that someone with a family shouldn’t be fighting, but he makes money this way and he also keeps up with his buddy Ryu, and keeps him relevant. So it’s fine. Ken is also an American. He met Ryu while at a tournament. They became friends and sparring partners under Gouken. Ken fights for his family and to be stronger in general. See how much better Ken is than Ryu? This is why I like Ken more than Ryu. They may have started as clones of each other but Ken Masters evolved more as a character than Ryu probably ever will.

Time to switch gears and move on to the two robots. I’ll start with Zero.  Zero is the bane of the Megaman X series in my eyes. He is supposedly the only creation of Megaman X that Keiji Inafune made. He wanted him in the beginning of the Megaman X series to be the star, but Capcom told him no. He decided to make him the star anyway. He had to save Megaman X in every game. If he wasn’t trying to save him, X himself was trying to rebuild him because he felt like he needed his friend back to save the world. I find this demoralizing to X and it made him seem like he was trying to steal the main character’s thunder. I find this extremely rude. Zero was so prominent in the grand scheme of things, that Megaman X was an unlockable character in his own game over him! Megaman X8 was the last game in the series. The Character who has been most prominent of the few times that Megaman X was represented was Zero. X appeared in the Project X Zone games, but those games weren’t as popular. Zero was in Tatsunoko vs Capcom, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and a few other games. Megaman Zero even got his own very successful series of its own right, even using X as a boss. I find that demeaning but Capcom did what they wanted so I cannot fault them for what gave them a bunch of money in the end, even if they wouldn’t give X a chance.  I feel like Zero was made to steal the thunder of X and make him obsolete in comparison. They succeeded a bit too well. There are some fans who still care about X and remember who he is. These people are the only people who keep X’s spirit alive. And thanks to that X finally appears in a popular game again, Marvel vs Capcom Infinite. The rumors say that X will be very prominent in the story and he was the first character shown, aside Ryu. My personal opinion is that Zero shouldn’t appear in this and let X have his own shine, as he’s never allowed him to do so in his own series besides then. All Zero did was take over someone else’s series, kill it and then get his own series to succeed, to leave the character he stepped on in the dust.

Finally, we’ll talk about X. Megaman X is the Megaman who took over for Megaman Classic in his own series. X is a really good character that’s underestimated. He’s very powerful, yet he also wants peace. Gamers don’t like this aspect of him, even if Megaman Classic had the same attitude, and he was praised for it. Megaman was sadly overshadowed for Zero. And Zero went out of his way to kill his character and his series. Megaman X was a good character, but most people didn’t like him over his counterpart. He had powerful armors and he was great when he did battle. I feel like X needs more recognition and respect. He was unlockable in one of his own games where his name was still prominent in the title! He is a Megaman and he seems to be either bad luck or a curse upon anything he’s been in recently. I still enjoy Megaman X over Zero because he’s the underdog and even though he’s the main character, some people don’t acknowledge him, or will give him its due respect.

In summation, I like Ken Masters because he’s a great evolution of what was literally a palette swap of Ryu, who is a boring nomad who’s trying to control his evil. I enjoy X because he’s disrespected even though he’s the main character. I hate Zero because he stole the show from Megaman X and killed the entire series to spite X. He also apparently took over the entire representation of the series for some odd reason.  Not to say I hate all second fiddles to Capcom games, Protoman was good because he knew his place. He was a second fiddle to Megaman Classic,  but he didn’t outshine his Megaman, and he was still popular in the long run. I wish Zero could have taken this precedent, but sadly he didn’t.

Another Top 5 Series Revivals

I’m back!  After making occasional cameos in list articles, it’s time for me to make MY OWN list article, my first full Retronasissance article since 2013.  And for my revival article, what better topic than a followup to my list of the Top Ten Video Game Series Revivals?  I’ve managed to scrounge together five more games that meet my criteria of being fantastic entries in series that either had at least two consecutive weak entries before them, or had been missing for at least one console generation.  Not going to rank them in a specific order this time, let’s just focus on celebrating what a great sequel can do for a struggling series.  Without further ado, let’s begin!

Yoshi’s Wooly World (Nintendo Wii U – 2015)

How Things Were Before:  I love Yoshi.  I’ve always loved Yoshi, ever since I played Super Mario World for the first time on my cousin’s SNES.  In 1995, Yoshi got his own platformer, and it was fantastic.  Yoshi’s Island was such a great spin-off of the Mario platformers that it transcended the spin-off designation and was promoted to actual Mario platformer (I know it wasn’t called Super Mario World 2 everywhere, but it was part of the Mario Advance line everywhere).  Then… then tragedy struck.  Yoshi’s Story was an absurdly short, badly controlling disappointment.  Then Nintendo handed Yoshi over to their worst developer, Artoon/Arzest, for his next three platformers.  While Arzest managed to very, very slowly improve, even their best effort was light years behind the SNES masterpiece.  20 years since Yoshi’s Island, and there had never been a Yoshi platformer that even came close to it.  Things looked hopeless.

The Revival:  In early 2013, Nintendo showed some very brief footage of a new Yoshi platformer developed by Good Feel, using the aesthetic theme from Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which had already felt more like a Yoshi game than a Kirby game.  I had a [Developer Name] about this game, and was very happy when E3 2014 confirmed it was still being made. While I expected that we’d finally have an unambiguously good Yoshi game again, I never could have imagined how good it would turn out.  After playing through Yoshi’s Wooly World twice, I still haven’t decided whether it’s better than Yoshi’s Island.  20 years later, the Yoshi series got not just a great game, but a masterpiece that is right up there with YI.  Wooly World plays very similarly to YI, managing to capture its feel better than the really blatant attempts Yoshi’s Island DS and Yoshi’s New Island made when they copied it as directly as they could.  The level design is just as creative and excellent, the control is just as good, completing it 100% is less frustrating: Wooly World is a masterpiece that deserves way more attention than it got.  Good Feel, you better be working on a Switch sequel as I type this, and be planning at least one more Yoshi game after that.  If we get a third Yoshi game from them in the 2020s, at least we’ll average one Yoshi masterpiece a decade.

King’s Quest (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC – 2015-2016)

How Things Were Before:  Yeah, I’m not exactly as knowledgeable about this as I am about Yoshi.  Aside from a couple obscure console ports, King’s Quest was a PC only series for the vast majority of its life.  The original King’s Quest pioneered graphical adventure games in the mid-80s, and continued into the late 90s with eight main installments.  I’ve only played one of those, briefly, and what I’ve read about their puzzle design does not make me want to go back and play them (plus the whole PC thing).  I don’t want to pass judgment on games I haven’t played (although it’s my understanding that the last King’s Quest game before the gap was definitely not well liked), and thankfully, I don’t have to.  No matter how the original games were, the 17 year gap between the last entry in the original series and the first episode of the reboot easily qualifies it for this list.  After several attempts to revive the series that never got past early development, the series’ future looked bleak.  Well, I assume it did anyway, wasn’t really thinking about the series at the time, but that would change.

The Revival:  Inventory/point and click style adventure games have made a bit of a comeback in recent years, and in 2015 a King’s Quest revival finally got off the ground in the form of a five-part episodic series.  King’s Quest Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember was released for PC as well as several consoles, and was even given away to PlayStation Plus members (maybe on other platforms as well, but that’s how I ended up giving it a chance).  In my case, at least, it paid off.  The modern King’s Quest games are beautiful, hilarious, and touching games with great puzzles, fun mini-games, and a fantastic voice cast.  Despite acting as prequels, interquels, and sequels to the original games, I was able to follow the story without issue despite knowing nothing about the earlier King’s Quest games.  Each episode is about a very old King Graham telling his granddaughter about an adventure that took place during a different period of his life, with choices you can make that will affect not only the chapter you’re playing, but the future ones.  Combined, the chapters make an intricate and lengthy story that (aside from some frustrating design choices in Chapter 2) is of consistent, very high quality throughout.  I imagine it’s even better if you’re familiar with the series and get all the references to past games, but the 2015-2016 King’s Quest chapters are something I would recommend to everyone regardless and a fantastic return for the series.

Kirby’s Return to Dreamland (Nintendo Wii – 2011)

How Things Were Before:  Since his debut in 1992, Kirby has been one of Nintendo’s most popular characters.  With platformers on most Nintendo systems and a wide array of spin-offs, Kirby’s appearances have been far too frequent to risk making this list due to a skipped generation.  The quality of the games has never dipped that much either, so what is the series doing on this list?  Well, in 1996 Kirby Super Star revolutionized the core gameplay of the series by changing Kirby’s signature enemy powers from situational one attack wonders to complex sets of attacks that varied based on directional input and Kirby’s position.  This made most powers able to handle all types of situations, and made the gameplay feel so much better.  Then, it was gone.  Kirby kept getting platformers in the years to come, but none came close to the ability depth in Kirby Super Star.  They weren’t bad games, but something was very clearly missing compared to Kirby’s masterpiece, and as a result, they felt bland.  Why had such a great advancement for the series been so quickly forgotten?  I still have no idea.

The Revival:  In 2004, a Kirby game was shown for GameCube that seemed to bring back the ability depth from Kirby Super Star.  The game was never shown to the public again after 2005, but Nintendo insisted for years on end that it had been moved to the Wii and was still coming.  After the excellent (but not really a main series game) Kirby’s Epic Yarn, no one really expected the game to still exist.  So of course, in 2011, just months after KEY’s release, Kirby’s Return to Dreamland was announced, clearly the evolution of the GameCube game.  Return to Dreamland features abilities just as deep as Super Star, as well as some of the best level design Kirby had seen up to that point.  And this time, it stuck!  The 3DS Kirby platformers keep the same great core gameplay from Super Star and Return to Dreamland, and the series has never been better.  After a 15 year wait for a worthy sequel to Kirby Super Star, we got three fantastic Kirby platformers in a five-year span, even if some of the games in the interim were still pretty good, it’s hard to argue that isn’t a fantastic revival.

Tomb Raider (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC – 2013)

How Things Were Before:  In 1996, at the dawn of 3D games with full freedom of character movement, the original Tomb Raider established itself as the premiere 3D adventure game that didn’t star an Italian plumber.  As badly as I think they aged, the first couple Tomb Raider games were beloved at the time and gave a sense of scope and adventure that few games could match.  As yearly sequels continued up to the fifth game, people started to get tired of the series and stopped forgiving the control quirks.  So, the series got a fresh start on the PlayStation 2… and the results were disastrous.  This led to another reboot with Tomb Raider Legend, which got pretty positive reception, but as its formula was repeatedly reused people once again got tired of the series.  Time for yet another reboot (and an excellent isometric spin-off), but was there any point in forcing this franchise to keep going?

The Revival:  Yes, there absolutely was.  Simply called Tomb Raider, the 2013 game got wrapped up in controversy over its darker tone and the fact that Lara would die if the player lost (which is somehow much worse than the playable characters who do the same in 99% of all games where you can die).  But none of that mattered to any but the most pretentious gaming journalist (as in, someone who can say ludonarrative dissonance with a straight face) once you got into the actual gameplay.   Tomb Raider 2013 took the basic gameplay of the Uncharted series (was had taken the basic gameplay of the Tomb Raider Legend and greatly improved it) and greatly improved it.  No more “follow the instructions” puzzles, there were tons of actual puzzles.  No more being told your character was an explorer while you followed a linear path, you actually explored the areas.  No more being limited to guns and “jumping”, you had Zelda style items at your disposal that you collected throughout the game.  No more automated jumping, you could CONTROL YOUR AIR MOVEMENT!  Combat wasn’t as improved, but it was still at least as good and very fun.  Tomb Raider 2013 blows away any previous Tomb Raider games or entries in its genre, and I really hope the just as good Rise of the Tomb Raider finds enough financial success to continue the series.

DOOM (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC – 2016)

How Things Were Before:  Like King’s Quest, this was another series that I didn’t play much of in the old days, due to the good versions being relegated to PC for most of its existence.  Unlike King’s Quest, the classic games eventually got faithful console versions, and in 2015 I dug into them and realized I loved Doom and the faster paced early FPSes it revolutionized.  Doom 1 and 2 are true classics that I can personally guarantee are just as great today even without nostalgia.  As FPSes became more focused on realism, story, and missions, however, the series was either gone or making us wish it had stayed gone.  The only truly new entry in the 6th or 7th gens was Doom 3, which became a linear, horror themed, relatively slow paced and generic feeling shooter.  Everything that made Doom great had been lost, and the development hell consigned Doom 4 didn’t sound like it would make things better, having had a version canceled for being Call of Duty with demons.  Had one of gaming’s most legendary series truly lost everything?

The Revival:  The 2016 release, simply called DOOM, showed signs prior to release that the long development cycle may have been a good thing.  There were promises that it would be pure “metal” as opposed to Call of Doom, and there were very promising details like not having to reload weapons or press a button to make your character move quickly.  But the cinematic glory kills seemed like a bad sign, and was recapturing the feel of 23-year-old original the least bit practical?  Well, I’m going to give DOOM pretty much the biggest compliment I can give a sequel:  DOOM is to first person shooters what Super Mario Galaxy was to platformers.  DOOM doesn’t feel exactly like the first two games, it feels like the evolution they and their ENTIRE GENRE should have had from the start.  DOOM has the same intense action where the enemies are scared of YOU and exploration friendly levels that the originals had, plus modern controls, console style conveniences (well-placed checkpoints), and a brilliant solution to the cover based health regeneration that has been slowing down FPSes for generations.  Remember the glory kills?  They’re basically your health regeneration, they always make enemies drop some health, and they’ll drop extra health if you’re really close to death.  So instead of retreating and slowing down the game when you need health back, you play MORE aggressively and go right up to an enemy to refill your health.  This simple change completely transforms the dynamic and makes the gameplay faster and more intense instead of slower and repetitive.  DOOM is an instant classic that we can only pray has dramatic influence on the FPS genre, if I was ranking the entries on this list it would be number one.

So, there you have it, five more sequels that show you should never give up hope on a series.  There’s no amount of poor entries, no amount of generations missed, that can take away the chance of a series returning to its former greatness.  That’s all for now, but with plenty of upcoming games that could qualify for this series if they play their cards right, I might be back with more in a year or two.  Until then, remember that video game sequels are a good thing, never be unhappy that your favorite series keeps getting entries, even if you didn’t like the recent ones.

 

Of Axioms and Idioms: A Breath of Fresh Err

Well, I said I had a second topic in this series and I’m going to use it. Welcome to another entry in “Of Axioms and Idioms” – the series where I detail some of my more less-specific opinions when it comes to video games. Last time, I detailed how playing later games in a series retroactively ruined their predecessors if I’m not familiar with them in the first place. While this seems obvious in hindsight (sequels are supposed to improve upon previous iterations in the series), it is one of those issues that seems to plague me on a wider scale – not merely effecting how I see series of games, but rather entire sub-genres.

Today’s topic is a little more complex and probably more rigid than the previous entry. When it comes to “bad games” in a series – that is, the ones that are generally considered the worst of their series – I’m generally more forgiving of them the more they deviate from their franchise’s standard formula. Quite simply put, if a game is experimental and bad, I’m far more likely to accept its shortcomings and look upon the game more favorably compared to games that are just a shallow and/or flawed recreation of the series’ pinnacle.

The two games that inspired this article were the fourth and fifth games in the Ys series, both released on the Super Famicom. While Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys for the PC Engine is generally considered among the best games in the entire series, the Super Famicom’s Mask of the Sun was developed by Tonkin House – who previously handled the SNES port of Wanderers of Ys, which is generally considered the worst of the fourth-generation console ports. Both games had similar design philosophies: taking inspiration from the first two Ys games. However, the SFC version took more inspiration from the earlier PC releases of those games, which required significantly more precision when landing attacks. This didn’t translate that well given both the Super Famicom’s simpler control scheme and the comparatively more forgiving Ys: Books I & II, which predated Mask of the Sun by almost 4 years. This led the SFC version of Ys IV to be considered among the worst games in the series.

Its sequel, Ys V: Kefin, Lost City of Sand, didn’t fare much better in terms of reception. Discarding the traditional “run-and-bump” gameplay that the series popularized in favor of a more traditional “hack-and-slash” attack mechanic common to action RPGs, Ys V was a significant departure from its predecessors’ established formula – much like the aforementioned Ys III. However, unlike Ys III, this game would have a much more permanent effect on the series – with future games adopting the more standard attacks system, though handling it much better. Ys V’s controls were terrible – Adol’s slashes felt less responsive than those from the original Legend of Zelda in 1986. The jumping mechanics were awkward and worst of all, different sword upgrades would change the style of Adol’s attack: a horizontal slash or a “stab” (though, I thought it looked more like a “poke”) with more forward range. Throw in a magic system that’s essentially useless and you’ve got Kefin in a nutshell. Due to the lack of any other releases, Ys V is generally considered the worst game in the entire franchise – but due to the lack of any companion titles or remakes, it’s kind of an unfair comparison.

Honestly, at first glance, I would probably say that it’s hard to determine which of these two games is worse overall. They’re both essentially blights on their franchise – but neither game really did that much damage to the overall reputation of Ys. Looking back though, I’d probably say that I may have enjoyed Ys V slightly more and my reasoning is simple. Mask of the Sun attempted to recreate gameplay I had seen earlier, but was less competent in the process. It effectively tried and failed to achieve the same level of quality from a previous iteration in its franchise, which gave it no reason to exist. Ys V, for all its flaws, at least attempted something new for the franchise. It may have also have failed miserably, but it tweaked the series’ formula and tried something new. Ys IV had a blueprint for success: its counterpart on the PC Engine proves that. Ys V had no plan, no established formula to follow. While its experiments failed miserably, they led to further games and better titles down the line.

My next example may be a little controversial, as pretty much no one considers one of these games bad anymore. However, for quite some time, it was considered fashionable to bash the Western version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Super Mario USA in Japan) for not being the “true” Mario 2. This title belonged instead to Japan’s Super Mario Bros. 2 (known as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels elsewhere). The latter is essentially a level pack, with insane stage designs that far exceeded what was possible with the original’s controls left intact. I’d go so far as to say that it’s essentially just a less-playable version of the first Super Mario Brothers. Meanwhile, Super Mario USA was an improved reskin of a Fuji TV collaboration game known as Doki Doki Panic. I know, everyone knows that old story. What’s more interesting, however, was the later reveal that Doki Doki Panic was based on a scrapped Mario prototype that focused more on vertical platforming. So, in the end, Super Mario USA could be considered more of a Mario 2 than the “official” Lost Levels.

Another example is a bit odd: the sixth and seventh games in the MegaMan X series. Let me make myself perfectly clear: I completely despise MegaMan X6. It’s probably the worst MegaMan game Capcom ever made in-house. While X7 seems to be considered a worse game overall, it at least had the excuse of attempting to recreate the classic action of the MegaMan platformers in 3D. It’s hard to argue that it failed in this regard. X6, on the other hand, had absolutely no excuse to be as terrible as it was. It was built using the engine of my favorite game in that entire sub-series (MegaMan X4). X5 may have been a downgrade from its predecessor, but X6 crashed and burned. Terrible level design, unbalanced boss fights, the addition of X’s awkward Z-saber attack, the ability to get completely trapped in an area if you lack the right power-up – the only redeeming factor was probably the soundtrack!

There are even cases where swapping genres can work out well for a series. Take, for example, Double Dragon. After the disappointing Sacred Stones, Super Double Dragon was an attempt to recreate the magic of the first two games. While the SNES had a legendary amount of quality beat-‘em-ups, Super Double Dragon not only failed to stand out among its contemporaries, but even faltered in comparison to its predecessors. Conversely, when Technos Japan attempted to make a Double Dragon fighting game for SNK’s NeoGeo platform, it turned out well: despite the sheer amount of competition in that genre on NeoGeo, “Double Dragon” would do so well that it eventually received a spiritual sequel, Rage of the Dragons. Of course, Tradewest – Double Dragon’s publisher in North America – attempted their own fighting game earlier – Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls. The less said about that one, the better.

This even applies to games that are generally considered dead-ends. While I liked both the NES Zeldas more than I expected upon playing them, I think I had a slight preference for Zelda II. Frankly, I’m almost certain that that’s because the original Zelda presented itself as a more primitive version of the other 2D games in the series, while Zelda II was strikingly different. Zelda II was effectively a side-scrolling action RPG, compared to the top-down adventure formula that most of the early games in the series encapsulated, and that difference made it stick out a bit more in my mind. The same could be said for Ys III: Wanderers from Ys – to the extent where I constantly compared Zelda II and Ys III while playing both. It doesn’t hurt that they were considered evolutionary dead-ends in their respective series – and by extension, inherently terrible – but to me, they were simply interesting deviations. Even more ironically, both games were followed by what was generally considered the early masterpieces of their respective series: A Link to the Past and The Dawn of Ys, respectively.

Unlike my “Bayonetta May Cry” axioms, there’s a method to my madness. If a successful formula has already been established for a series, ruining it with a mediocre follow-up that attempts to hit the same note should be impossible. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about games that simply don’t live up to their predecessors and are lambasted as retreads. I’m talking about games in existing series that attempt to recreate their established formula and fail miserably. The MegaMan games for DOS are a perfect example – they were intended to resemble the popular NES games, but failed on pretty much every level. When a series’ formula has been established, there’s a blueprint for success. If the game deviates from that formula in a meaningful way – by changing core mechanics or even switching genres, there’s at least an excuse for a piss-poor final product. There’s just no excuse if a company’s creating a copy-paste of a previous title and manages to create something objectively inferior to what came before.

There’s a corollary here as well. Bad games using established formulas can be toxic to long-running series: there’s always the chance that it won’t simply be considered a bad game, but rather the formula itself has gotten stale and repetitive. On the other hand, development mishaps in a title that deviates from the norm can yield better results down the line. The aforementioned Ys V is a perfect example of this – the following games in the series also utilized “hack and slash” and platforming elements and improved vastly over their SFC predecessor, essentially creating a new trilogy of games that are arguably better than even The Dawn of Ys.

Of course, judging whether something is a bad game or if the entire formula has gotten stale gets harder to judge when there’s a generational gap between games. It’s relatively easy to tell if a game is legitimately worse than its predecessor if they were released during the same generation, especially if they’re both on the same system. Comparing an NES game to its sequel on PS4 makes it hard to determine whether the game suffered from being recreated imperfectly or if the original game itself was simply considered good for nostalgic reasons. Obviously, there’s a chance that the formula itself could just become inherently stale and in need of alteration or outright rejection for the series to survive. Of course, this would have little effect on the quality of the original game itself – it’s a simple case of diminishing returns, nothing uncommon when it comes to video games in general.

In the end, I guess it’s a matter of taste. For some people, deviating from an established formula is essentially considered betrayal of what made that particular series great in the first place. I can respect that difference in opinion, but I believe that at the very least failing in an entirely new way is, at the very least, more interesting than watching someone incompetently recreate a game I liked. More importantly, what do you think? Do you agree that failing in a different way is at least more interesting than second-rate reruns? Are established formulas the key to success? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

 

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

SNES Master KI

Well, 2016 is almost over, and while there were some great games released, I mainly just want this year to end and to focus on the future (or gaming’s future, anyway).  Thankfully, 2017 in gaming fills me with a sense of true optimism (as opposed to forced hope) that I haven’t had in a long time, lots of series that haven’t had an entry (or a satisfying entry) in years are returning and while Nintendo has a lot less representation on this list than my ones from previous years, things should Switch on that front very early in the year.  So, let’s hurry up and get our focus to the new year.  I’ve decided to handle games from previous lists that got hit by delays with a rule that games can only appear on my lists twice, so Zelda won’t be showing up this time.  Let’s get this started!

Continue reading

The Year Without a PC Port Wishlist

Christmas has pretty much always been my favorite holiday, especially when I was a child. I was a greedy little boy while I was growing up: one of my favorite holiday traditions was always writing up my list to Santa on my computer. Sure, some years I’d get overzealous and start thinking about it as early as August, but I’d always have a lot of fun just writing the list itself. I’d always try to sort things in the order I wanted them, but that was actually part of the fun for me: one week I’d really want some action figures, the next some new video game caught my eye. The downside to starting a list that early is that as time goes on, new items catch your eye. Even the greed of a child has its limits, so I would often have to pare down my list, trimming the items I could “do without”. (Gotta love child logic, am I right?) In a sense, I think those PC ports lists I wrote for a long time were the evolution of that favored Yule tradition, but eventually I got tired of doing them. Too much wishing, not enough getting. I’ve taken a hiatus on them and now, it’s been over a year. Instead of making an entirely new one, why not look over my previous works and analyze them a little? This year, I’ll be recounting my 5 favorite success stories, my top 10 most wanted and the game on each list I’d consider the most important (excluding those on the aforementioned lists) plus a brand-new one for good measure!

Before we get started (fittingly enough, with my favorite success stories), I’d like to start with some recent successes as well. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 was released on PS4 earlier this month and it will also be hitting both the Xbox One and Steam in March. Meanwhile, Garou: Mark of the Wolves was also recently released on PlayStation consoles via CodeMystics, but surprise, surprise: an entirely different port hit Steam soon after, from the good folks at DotEmu. In fact, it was such a surprise, I actually had to change a list entry because of it. The DotEmu port is less fancy than the CodeMystics port, but apparently, not only does the Steam version have a more solid netcode, but it’s also getting immediate bugfixes to iron out some of its bizarre glitches. Funny how that works. I expected that to be the last bit of news I got on the PC end of things, but I was wrong: The Legend of Dark Witch 2, another game I’d been salivating over the prospect of seeing a PC port is announced to be hitting Steam sometime during “Q4 2016”. One last big surprise for me.

You’ll also remember that this past April, I did an “April Fools’ Day” article, revolving around 10 PC games I’d like to see receive console ports. Well, like many of my jokes, this one ended up biting me in the ass. During the PlayStation Experience, Ys Origin (the only PC-exclusive Ys game) was announced to be hitting both PlayStation 4 and, amazingly enough, the Vita on February 21, 2017 with the port being handled by the good people over at DotEmu who are utilizing XSEED’s English translation and coming up with original French, Italian, German and Spanish translations as well. (As an aside, DotEmu’s also bringing a favorite of mine – the NeoGeo classic Windjammers – to the same platforms. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for a PC port down the line!) You’d think that would be enough, but the world wasn’t done having fun at my expense: soon after, it was revealed that the indie platformer Kero Blaster would also be coming to the PS4, thanks to its publisher Playism. They’ll also be bringing Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight to PS4, though release windows for both titles have not been announced. Continue reading

Of Axioms and Idioms: The “Bayonetta May Cry” Syndrome

I have this tendency to start new series on the Retronaissance blog seemingly at random, only to let them die. I think my main problem is that I come up with a topic that I would absolutely love to revisit on multiple occasions, I come up with one topic to serve as a pilot article for the prospective series and then when it comes right down to it, I’m either unable to think of a good follow-up or a severely limited number of viable subjects for future pieces. Here’s hoping this one ends up surviving.

Welcome to the first article in a new series, “Of Axioms and Idioms”. These articles will essentially act as a soapbox for various “rules of thumb” I appear to have. Odd quirky choices that have affected my personal taste in video games and specific trends I’ve pinpointed. These aren’t going to be simple revelations – so don’t expect articles on why I love arcade-style games over their simulation counterparts, why I love fighting games or why I detest most turn-based RPGS – more along the lines of specific aspects that transcend genres, companies and generations.

The topic of this first article is simple, yet more than likely incoherent: a certain phenomenon I generally refer to as the “Bayonetta May Cry” syndrome. Essentially, playing later games in a franchise/genre, has a certain tendency to paint earlier iterations in such a negative light, that I’m completely unable to enjoy them. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it is a prejudice I wholeheartedly acknowledge. Of course, on the surface it probably seems obvious: I’ve never heard of a case of a video game sequel not attempting to surpass its original.

“Bayonetta May Cry” seems like an odd way to phrase it, but I mainly identify it as such due to the events that led me to fully realize and articulate exactly what was going on. I was playing the original Devil May Cry on the PS2 for the first time. Unfortunately, by that point, I had already played through the original Bayonetta on Xbox 360 and it had painted a very vivid picture of what to expect of “character action games”, a sub-genre which DMC trailblazed. Unfortunately, DMC1 did not live up to the hype and as such, I never ended up finishing the game. I may want to do so at some point, but only on my terms – perhaps if Capcom decides to port that shiny HD collection to PC?

There are some other examples that come to mind. Obviously, I played Street Fighter II long before the original (or at least, a real version of the original) – but that’s so common, it’s not worth mentioning. Tekken 1 and 2, on the other hand, seems a lot more interesting. While I did encounter Tekken 1 first (in an arcade on vacation), Tekken 2 was the first game in the series I played. The evolution that went on between these two games is amazing – the graphics, the gameplay, everything but the roster had changed immensely. Likewise, you’ve got the Capcom vs. SNK duology: the first game was alright, but playing the second game first: with its extended roster, the expanded number of fighting styles and the complete overhaul of the ratio system, CvS2 surpassed the original in every way.

Aside from Bayonetta and Devil May Cry, perhaps the best example of this feeling happened with Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series. While I did technically start The Sacred Stones first, playing Awakening on the 3DS pretty much confirmed that I would never be looking back on it. The best part about this one is that I can even track my opinions of it. At first, I thought Sacred Stones was alright, a bit slow compared to other strategy-RPGs I had played at that point, but not bad. After playing Awakening, however, I decided there was no looking back: too much had improved and I was completely looking forward. The ability to pair up units alone confirmed that I would never go back to the GBA title and made me glad that I hadn’t paid a single cent for it – after all, I had received it as a 3DS Ambassador bonus.

Of course, it’s all contextual: I’m a lot more forgiving when it comes to retro games – or at least, what I consider to be retro games. Anything before the 5th generation (Sega Saturn, Nintendo 64 and the original PlayStation) are generally safe, as well as the Dreamcast due to its short lifespan. The rest of the 6th generation – the PlayStation 2, the GameCube and the original Xbox – are more of a blind spot for me. I understand that they’ve been gone for roughly a decade now, but it feels like they were the beginning of what the current generations of consoles built themselves upon, a clear break from the earlier generations. It doesn’t help that that was the generation where I essentially felt out of mainline video games, preferring to stick to portables and classic retro for the time being.

I’m certain this bias has pretty much always existed in the back of my head. It’s part of the reason I’ve always liked playing series “in release order” as opposed to doing what most people suggest and start with the latest game in the series before working backwards. I’m completely convinced that playing later games earlier will ruin the earlier games in a franchise for me, though there have been some cases where this has not come to pass. For example, I played the TurboGrafx-16 version of Ys Books I & II after Ys I & II Chronicles+ on Steam. I enjoyed the TG-16 version a lot, despite Chronicles+ being a longer game, with more responsive controls and superior graphics. There were some things I’d argue that Books I & II did better than the later release – best example would be the fact that the leveling system was balanced to account for both games.

Still, I worry that game mechanics and features that I grow to rely on and expect in later entries in a long-running series may end up spoiling me. More importantly, I’m worried that it may color my outlook on the earlier games, because I’ll be unable to realize whether I hate it because it lacks features I’ve come to expect or if the game is legitimately bad. Of course, that’s something that anyone who focuses on retro games would have to worry about, whether there is nostalgia for the subject matter or if it’s an unfamiliar release. It’s important to keep this kind of thing in mind.

Of course, the truth is it’s for the best that I’ve realized this bias of mine. It helps me to compensate when playing older games. This came into play this past year, when I finally decided to livestream Final Fantasy 7 – one of the three games I’d consider the most beloved (if not overrated) of its generation, alongside the original Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time. When playing the game, I promised not to compare it to more modern turn-based RPGs I liked: games like Undertale, Evolution Worlds and the first two Paper Mario games. I decided to compare it to its predecessors – Earthbound, Super Mario RPG – as well as a contemporary game: Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, originally released a few months before FF7 was in Japan. It didn’t help matters (I still ended up hating FF7), but at least I avoided the pitfall of judging the game against modern games that should have surpassed it.

Of the odd preferences and quirky opinions I could possibly discuss in this series, this one would have to be one of the more negative ones. Comparing older games to later iterations in their series or genre is clearly unfair, but the problem would have to be that it’s common. When you consider that there are younger gamers enjoying the medium, some that weren’t even alive during the 5th and 6th generations, it’s completely understandable: few people my age like watching films from before they were born, so why should kids today be forced to appreciate games that are clunkier and less refined than those that are available to them on a wider and more regular basis? The one upshot to that is that by acknowledging it, I can avoid unfairly judging older games by forcing them to live up to unfair standards and hopefully this will allow me to judge them more fairly, even in retrospect. Maybe one day, I’ll even go back to playing the original Devil May Cry.

10 Games I’d Like To See Re-Released #06: Konami

After a long stint of writing longer articles, I always like coming back to these wishlists. Sure, it’s little more than an exercise in greed, but they’re cathartic for me: it’s always nice to remember old games that I wish we could access in these modern times. For whatever reason, I’ve got a certain intuition that making these lists increases the chances of these games seeing the light of day once again.

As with last time, I’ve decided to moon over recent PC ports and announcements in these re-release articles, since my PC ports wishlist series has been put on hiatus for the time being. First off, we’ve seen two more Steam iterations of classic NeoGeo games readily available on Humble Store: The Last Blade came out at the end of August, while Shock Troopers 2nd Squad came out at the end of September. Both versions have added online multiplayer, as has become common with these re-releases. We’ve also seen the release of Cave’s classic shmup Dodonpachi Resurrection (which I mentioned in a previous list) on Steam this past month, courtesy of the good people at Degica. Nippon Ichi Software announced that it will be bringing the second Disgaea game (rechristened Disgaea 2 PC) to Steam early next year, with all the additional content available on the PSP – including some characters that were exclusive to the Japanese version. Finally, we’ve got some news from the good people at XSEED. Xanadu Next, a Falcom action-RPG, which was originally announced for Summer 2016 will finally be releasing on November 3rd. They also announced two new PC ports: Senran Kagura: Bon Appétit! – a music-rhythm spinoff to the fanservice-laden brawler – will be hitting Windows PC on November 10th, while Nitroplus Blasterz: Heroines Infinite Duel, a fighting game crossovers starring female characters from various visual novels, will be hitting PC “this Winter” with additional features like additional victory animations, animated backgrounds and the ability to save Training Mode menu settings between sessions.

Once again, let’s go over my constraints for this series of articles. I’m going to be looking at games from the 6th generation of video games (Dreamcast, PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox) and earlier, as games from later generations are still easy to get a hold of. To maintain focus, I’ll be looking at one company for each article and considering the fact that I live in North America, I’ll be focusing on games that haven’t seen a legitimate re-release in my own region – I’ll just ignore any talk of importing these games from Japan and Europe. Unfortunately, this means that games that have seen re-releases on services like Nintendo’s Virtual Console and Sony’s PlayStation Classics have technically already been re-released, regardless of their quality (or lack thereof) compared to a full-on remaster. The important thing is that they can be accessed by modern audiences, no matter the quality – sorry, Zone of the Enders. I’ll also discuss any possible improvements that could be made to the games with re-releases.

This time, we’ll be looking at Konami – a fitting choice, considering they made the Castlevania series, considering the time of year. Of course, these days I guess the truly terrifying thing about Konami is their status within the video game market. These days, they seem to be focusing more on farming out their intellectual properties to make Pachi-Slot machines. What few video games they’re still making are…at best, misguided. Things weren’t always this way though, and it’s safe to say that Konami still has plenty of games trapped in their vault that should be re-released. These are but merely 10 of them.

Castlevania Bloodlines (GEN)

This would have to be my number one choice, the game that I figured was the biggest missed opportunity for the original iteration of the Virtual Console. We saw the other two major 16-bit era Castlevanias hit the Wii’s Virtual Console: Super Castlevania IV for the SNES and Dracula X: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine-CD, as well as the SNES’s inferior copy of the latter. Of those three games, Bloodlines was always my favorite: Eric LeCarde’s unique playstyle was a fun contrast to the traditional Belmont style of John Morris. The gameplay was akin to those of the NES games, albeit with improvements. I think one of my favorite parts was the fact that this Castlevania managed to take place outside of Castlevania’s general setting of Transylvania, with Morris and LeCarde travelling to Greece, France, Italy, Germany and England.

I personally feel like each of those three major 16-bit Castlevanias had a strength unique to itself: Super Castlevania IV dropped the stiff controls of the older games and had the best control of the series. Rondo of Blood focused on secrets, with multiple paths, alternate stages and even a hidden character. Bloodlines, however, I felt had the best level design: long sprawling stages, with deviating paths suited for each of its playable characters and unique design gimmicks for each stage. Hopefully, we’ll see it return someday.

Potential Improvements: I’d honestly be fine with just a straight port on this one, though at this point, it will probably be difficult. The modern iterations of the Virtual Console no longer support Sega Genesis and the only platform capable of doing straight emulations of Genesis games is SEGA MegaDrive & Genesis Classics on Steam, which currently has no officially supported third-party titles.

If we did get an enhanced port, I’d love to hear a rearranged version of the classic Bloodlines soundtrack, so long as the classic Genesis FM synth returns as an option. Likewise, the ability to choose between the Japanese and Western balancing would be appreciated.

Rocket Knight Adventures/Sparkster/Rocket Knight Adventures 2 (GEN/SNES)

Despite being considered a cult classic these days, the Rocket Knight franchise was a victim of its times. Released at that point in time where Sonic the Hedgehog had kicked off the “platformer starring an animal mascot with attitude” trend, the original Rocket Knight Adventures was generally considered to have been cut from the same cloth as such gaming losers as Bubsy Bobcat, Awesome Possum and Aero the Acro-Bat. Anyone who looked past the superficial similarities, however, was rewarded with one of the best games the Genesis had to offer. While the original was my personal favorite, the other two games were also great – better than the mediocre 2010 reboot on 7th generation consoles.

Potential Improvements: Once again, I’d be perfectly fine with a straight re-release in this game’s case, especially given the aforementioned reboot, which rubbed me the wrong way. While Sparkster for the SNES is still within the realm of possibility for re-release via the Virtual Console, the Genesis games have less readily available means for legal emulation.

Contra: Hard Corps (GEN)

Last Genesis game, I swear. While most people are fond of the Super Nintendo’s Contra III: The Alien Wars, I had more of a soft spot for the Genesis’s Hard Corps. Taking place in a futuristic dystopia, with robotic soldiers and gun-toting werewolves, Hard Corps ditched the more contemporary setting and in my opinion, it benefitted from it. I’m still surprised that a few years back, it managed to get a sequel: Hard Corps Uprising, developed by the good people at Arc System Works, no less!

Potential Improvements: I was generally more of a fan of the Japanese version of this game, which allowed the characters to take multiple hits before dying, as opposed to being one-hit wonders like the Western versions and earlier games in the series, so the ability to choose between those two versions would be great. Likewise, as with all Contra games of that era, the European version was rebranded as Probotector, replacing the organic protagonists with robotic counterparts, so it would awesome to see both themes in the same release – albeit with the proper framerate, as opposed to the slower one associated with European releases of that era.

Sunset Riders (Arcade)

One part Rush’n Attack, two parts Contra – Sunset Riders is one of those games that were so popular, you would have guessed that they would have gotten a sequel, but somehow they just didn’t. Utilizing the same style of two-plane stages seen in games like Shinobi and Rolling Thunder, Sunset Riders was effectively one of the more interesting games Konami released in the arcades. Since we’ve already seen a re-release of the SNES version, I thought it would be interesting to see the original Arcade version make a comeback as well.

Potential Improvements: Online multiplayer, the usual round of graphical filters and an adjustable amount of credits, leading to multiple “difficulty settings”. Basically, a similar release as the old Simpsons and X-Men arcade games from last-gen.

Kid Dracula (FC/GB)

Kid Dracula’s an interesting concept. Effectively a more comedic take on the Castlevania franchise, the Kid Dracula duology puts players in the role of Kid Dracula, Dracula’s child (who may or may not grow up to be Alucard of Symphony of the Night fame), as he tries to retake his rightful throne from the demon Galamoth. We only saw the release of the second game for Game Boy outside of Japan, but having both games re-released would be great.

Potential Improvements: If they manage to get the first game re-released, I’d love it if Konami were to completely translate the game – sure, the story’s not important, but small details like that are important to me. Other than that, straight emulations would be appreciated.

Contra (NES)

I’m still in shock that this game hasn’t seen a straight re-release (outside of course as a bonus in Contra 4 on the Nintendo DS), but considering that game’s long out of print, I think it fits with this list. Like I’ve said in previous articles, the original Contra is probably one of the three games that most shaped my gaming tastes overall. I just find it weird that Super C got re-releases on both Wii and Wii U, while the original – the more famous of the two NES releases – hasn’t seen anything in a long time.

Potential Improvements: I guess it would be interesting if they included both the NES and the arcade versions of the original Contra together: that would be an interesting contrast. Both arcade Contras were re-released last generation via Konami Classics on Xbox 360, but aren’t available on modern platforms. Likewise, it’d be cool to see a release with the previously mentioned Probotector reskin released in Europe – again, at the proper framerate.

Vampire Killer (MSX)

I’ve always been somewhat interested in this game, despite never having the opportunity to do so. This was the very first revamp of the original Castlevania – but while most of the future versions maintained the same basic gameplay concept while rearranging the stage designs and locales, Vampire Killer totally reimagined it. Many people consider Simon’s Quest to be the original prototype for what would eventually be called the “Metroidvanias”, but Vampire Killer for the MSX has it beat. In this iteration of Simon Belmont’s first adventure, players are tasked with exploring Castlevania, looking for various keys and items to progress, allowing the stages to progress in far less linear fashions.

Potential Improvements: Just a straight port would be fine, though honestly if they decided to give it the “Castlevania Chronicles” treatment with revamped graphics and a remade soundtrack, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.

Snatcher (Sega CD)

Possibly the second most famous game associated with Hideo Kojima – sorry again, Zone of the Enders – Snatcher was an early example of a visual novel more than a standard point-and-click adventure game of its era. However, its storyline was so engrossing to many that it would eventually become a cult classic. There have been multiple releases of this game across various platforms, starting with Japanese computers PC-88 and the MSX2 and later released on the original PlayStation and Sega Saturn. However, the only official English release of the game was the Sega CD version.

Potential Improvements: Once again, the main concept that comes to mind would be to include every iteration of Snatcher – preferably with brand new translations, just like Rondo of Blood had in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. It would also be great if the MSX2 game SD Snatcher – meant to be both a slight reboot and conclusion to the original release of the game (which ended on an annoying cliffhanger) – were also included. SD Snatcher reimagined the visual novel as a cutesy RPG, with variations on the original game’s plot, a welcome lack of random battles and a unique battle system.

Mystical Ninja: Starring Goemon/Goemon’s Great Adventure (N64)

I’m still kind of baffled by the Goemon series. Referred to as “Ganbare Goemon” in Japan and “Mystical Ninja” elsewhere, there have been a literal truckload of releases due to its extreme popularity but very few have seen released outside of Japan. North America got a game for the Super Nintendo, one for the Game Boy (Europe lucked out with a second!) and two N64 games. Considering we’ve already seen re-releases for the other games in the series via the Virtual Console, it’s only fair that we also receive the remaining games already available in English, right?

Potential Improvements: Straight ports seem like the best way to go on this one. I can’t think of anything to add, unless Konami decides to do a massive Goemon collection with all new translations of the Japan-exclusive titles. That seems outside the scope of something they’d be willing to do though, so let’s just stick to hoping for straight-up Virtual Console releases.

Getsu Fuuma Den (FC)

Another game of interest to me, Getsu Fuuma Den is effectively the Murasame no Nazo to Castlevania’s Legend of Zelda: a similar game concept that looked like a great deal of fun but was strictly released in Japan due to fears that cultural differences would lead to poor sales. The game thrust players into the role of warrior Getsu Fuma on his quest to recover the three Pulse Blades to avenge the death of his brothers and defeat the evil demon lord Ryuukotsuki, who escaped hell and took over the Earth. The game relies on an overhead map system, not unlike Super Mario Bros. 3, but the action stages themselves effectively play like a more action-packed NES Castlevania game. They’re short, but there are many more of them and a certain level of exploration on the overworld is necessary to beat this game.

Potential Improvements: Bare minimum, I’d want just a full English translation. Of course, if Konami wanted to get on my good side, they would do a full-on remaster, like Castlevania Chronicles or The Dracula X Chronicles. Best of all, they could still include the original Famicom version (with that aforementioned translation) as a bonus unlockable.

As usual, before I wrap this up, I’d like to mention some honorable mentions. First, there’s the Parodius series – as much as I would have loved to have put these on the main list, there are just too many of them to choose from, so I’d probably just want a full-on collection of every game in the series. Next, Castlevania Legends for the original Game Boy. Most people tend to prefer Belmont’s Revenge when talking about early portable CVs, but I think we can all agree that Legends deserved a re-release way before the abysmal Adventure. Finally, there’s Pop’n Twinbee: Rainbow Bell Adventures for the Super Nintendo. A fairly standard Konami platformer, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – just not good enough to make the main list. Likewise, I’d like to give a shout-out to the Bonk’s Adventure, Bomberman and Bloody Roar series: while they’re technically Hudson Soft properties, Konami owns their vast library of IPs, which is a crying shame.

I guess in the end, this was probably the most bittersweet of these lists I’ve had to write. Konami’s currently in a bad place right now: if not in terms of finances (they still seem to be in a good place there, at least for the moment), then definitely in terms of corporate climate. Proclaiming that they were ditching the video game market in favor of pachinko machines and mobile games (before immediately backpedaling), abusing their employees and effectively becoming so much of a super-villain, I’m sure it would make the heads of Activision, EA and Ubisoft blush like schoolgirls. Konami still holds the rights to many series I like, so their recovery would be in my best interest. Unfortunately, at this point it just feels like the only way for these old games to survive is by burning Konami to the ground.

Made To Be Broken

A few months back, I wrote a piece about how both my feelings of nostalgia and general malaise towards more recent generations have cropped into how I view the medium of video games as they move forward: that is, negatively. Needless to say, there are just certain trends that are making me feel burnt out and I somehow long for what I remember as gaming’s “Wild West” era. While I was conceiving the piece, I was persuaded to split it in half and the previous article dealt with the more loose and open nature of the console market in general, focusing on just how many companies tried to break into the video game market in an effort to revolutionize it, but ended up as “also-ran” footnotes in the ever-lengthening history of video games.

This time around, I’ll be focusing more on oddities within the games of this time period themselves – games that would clearly be indies if they were made today. Though for the most part, I’ll be focusing on various cultural shifts that happened during this time period, many of which have had reverberations that affect the medium to this day. Perhaps if some of these events hadn’t happened, video games as a whole would look completely different. Shifts that may very well have only happened due to the sheer fluidity of the format at the time they occurred, things that may have even been impossible if they happened today.

One of the reasons I decided to write these articles in the first place was due to a story I had read online that just amazed me. It involved the cult classic D, an avant-garde full-motion video adventure game released in 1995 on the 3DO, Sega Saturn, PlayStation and PC – the latter has recently been re-released on Good Old Games. The game’s creator, the late Kenji Eno related a story to 1UP about the game’s development. He actually added the game’s story late in the game’s development and it involved cannibalism, a taboo subject in many parts of the world. In order to assure that the game was released uncensored, Eno submitted the game for approval late, sending a copy without the story segments. He then switched that copy with the full game, sending it to be printed out. I am just awed by this story: if anything like this were to happen today, the game would have likely have been recalled and every original copy would have likely have been destroyed.

Indeed, the entire landscape of the video game market changed back in 1993. Due to the controversial video game releases of Night Trap and Mortal Kombat, both in their full unaltered state on various Sega platforms, there was a congressional hearing over whether or not video games with “controversial content” should have been completely banned. That’s right, the United States Congress threatened to ban video games with violent or sexual content, not unlike Germany or Australia’s wide array of video game regulation. In the end, a compromise was made: the video game industry decided to self-regulate content and educate parents on the type of content the products they were selling contained, in order to allow them to make informed purchases of material they deemed appropriate for their children. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was founded the following year in 1994. It was later joined by Japan’s Computer Entertainment Rating Organization (CERO) in 2002 and Pan European Game Information (PEGI) in 2003. In the end, this was probably a net positive overall, but what I find ironic about this was that Sega was putting ratings on their games before the ESRB was even established.

Night Trap and D were both what were referred to as “full-motion video” (commonly abbreviated as “FMV”) games, utilizing the then-cutting edge ability of CD-based consoles to create an entire video game experience using video clips. Typically, these games utilized live-action footage, thus creating “graphics” that trump even modern video games in terms of realism. Of course, this would generally come at the cost of complex gameplay experiences: gameplay was rarely more complex than the quick-time events we’ve seen in video games for generations. Of course, we’ve recently seen a resurgence in the genre, via indie developers. Though this time around, it would seem that the games made in the revival are less about providing graphical fidelity and more about creating “art” – scare quotes intended.

Of course, the existence of FMV games as a genre brings up another point. This may just be a matter of my own perception, but it seemed like there was a time when popular titles would lead into entirely new genres. I remember watching the “first-person shooter” genre blossom from the more derogatory “Doom clones”. Street Fighter II, while not the first fighting game, cemented various aspects of the 2D fighting game genre. These days, it seems like we never surpass the “clone” phase of this evolution: the closest we’ve gotten is the deluge of “crafting” games in the wake of Minecraft, but this generally just leads to games in existing genres adopting its unique elements.

Likewise, another thing I’d consider to be better in “the good ol’ days” would be the limitations put upon developers. In generations past, developers were generally only limited by whatever hardware they were developing for. This would generally lead to clever solutions to problems: arcade games would be entirely overhauled if they weren’t suitable for consoles, various perspective cheats would be used to create amazing graphical tricks and sometimes even entirely new hardware could be added to offset whatever limitations the systems in question had. Meanwhile, in the modern era, developers seem to have the exact opposite problem – an amazing amount of power to work with, but generally held back by the far more mundane problem of a lack of resources. Strict deadlines, a lack of manpower or finances: these are the major bottlenecks that plague today’s developers. In an era where it seems like we’re getting less and less for the same amount, it’s just sad to consider that we’re effectively being cheated out of the best possible games of this generation for such bland reasons.

In the end, perhaps the reason that video games as a medium feels far less elastic and much more deeply rooted in various traditions is due to the simple fact that they have a history now. Much like how early motion pictures were far more inventive than modern films, video games have gone through their own set of growing pains and settled on various frameworks. While adhesion to whatever institutions that have taken root in the industry are obviously not mandatory, they’ve effectively become a groove that the industry as a whole have settled into, effectively creating the landscape we know today.