2017: Reclaim Your Happy Ending

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

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

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

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

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

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And all the doom and gloom was simply switched off.

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

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

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

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Of Axioms and Idioms: Win Dumb, Lose Fun

Out of all the series I’ve been writing on this site, I’ve got the most ideas by far for the Of Axioms and Idioms series. Kind of sad considering it’s among my newest, but at the very least, it gives me topics to write about. This is one of the earliest ones that occurred to me when I decided to start this little recurring series, so this article has honestly been a long time coming. That’s the best thing about this series: since it mostly relates to my tastes and opinions, it’s kind of difficult for any of them to really become irrelevant. Feel free to stay tuned for the next one, where I discuss how those new-fangled 32-bit consoles aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

The topic I’ll be discussing in this article is a little difficult to explain, but I’ll try my best. Put simply, when I win, I like knowing how I did it. Think of my reactions to gaming across two separate axes: whether I win or lose and whether I understand what’s happening in the game itself. The ideal is obviously for me to win and understand why I won. Losing but understanding why I lost is also fine, that just adds to the thrill of the hunt in my opinion. Losing and not knowing why is generally good as a first step, but hopefully it will eventually lead to an understanding of just how the game in question functions. A first step, if you will, in my process to figure out how a game works. Which brings us to the last possible outcome: winning without knowing how. It drives me crazy, I hate it so much.

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They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. I’m pretty sure that whenever I make a picture, half the words are just the slurred moans of the damned.

It’s funny just how many of these ideas seemed to be inspired by my reflections on the Ys series. The topic came to me while I was reflecting on the differences of Ys VI and its direct predecessor Ys V. Despite the 8 years between the release of those games, they shared many similarities: in setting, in gameplay mechanics and even in my experiences while playing them. In both games, I beat the final bosses on my first attempt. Of course, how I came to the conclusions of each game were completely different. In Ys VI, I understood exactly what I needed to do to beat the final boss, the strategy I needed to follow to avoid losing and it worked out well, taking what I’d learned throughout the game and applying it within the context of a “final exam”. The end of the game just felt satisfying, even if I found that the game’s final challenge lacked difficulty. Ys V, on the other hand, I just sort of randomly beat the final boss. To this day, I still don’t know what strategy I had to use to beat it. I essentially just spammed jump slashes and won. It’s demoralizing to even look back at the video archive I have of it. There was no rhyme or reason behind my victory. Granted, I didn’t really have that much fun playing the game altogether, so my reaction was more one of relief than triumph. In retrospect, my victory felt accidental – and frankly, that’s never a good sensation.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time I remember feeling cheated by something like this. Way back in 2011, I attended PAX East, as I was living in Boston at the time. I generally just went to play demos for upcoming games that had interested me, and among them were two upcoming fighting games: the Mortal Kombat reboot and indie-darling Skullgirls. I played Mortal Kombat first – to the extent where I made a beeline for the booth the second I arrived at the convention, and there was a big line for it – and had a blast. Even though I got my butt kicked, I completely understood what was going on and decided that it would definitely be worth learning the various mechanics and techniques in full when the game released. Skullgirls, on the other hand, had a fittingly sparse booth, with absolutely no line. I got in one match …and I ended up hating it. I won, quite easily, but I didn’t honestly feel any challenge. The victory had no impact, I essentially won easily on a lark and I ended up hating the game for it. It got so bad that, for quite some time, I openly pointed out just how much I hated the game and almost ignored it completely upon its release, deciding to only play the demo on Xbox 360 at a couple of my friends’ requests. The final product was good and to this day I still love it, but it’s just amazing how much of a turnaround my opinion on the game changed from that initial gut reaction. Granted, when I first played the game, it was only beginning to reach a development stage that would eventually resemble the final product, so clearly an insane amount of work went into the game between my first impression and the original public release.

I suppose this last example only really applies as a technicality. I loved the original Dead Rising, even if I only got to it a few years after its initial release, around the time that Capcom was hyping up the release of the sequel. Regardless, my first attempt at a playthrough was disastrous at times. It eventually got to the point where I simply became unable to progress any more. So, I decided to restart the game …only to find that all of the experience levels and new abilities I’d earned on my first attempt had stayed with me the entire time, allowing me a much easier time of progressing through the game once again. Turns out that was Capcom’s intention from the beginning: trying to beat the game on a single run is a challenge that should only be attempted by the most hardcore Dead Rising fans. This had the bonus effect of also allowing players to learn from any mistakes they might have made during previous runs. This replay mechanic allows players to hone their skills and avoid missing out on the game’s main storyline or side missions, teaching them how to better manage their time through the tried and true method of trial and error. While I think the second game managed to strike the perfect balance between accessibility and challenge, the first game’s take was so clever, I can’t help but still love it. Then I think about what’s happened to the series since: Dead Rising 4 is nothing but a bland generic action game, which stripped out any unique elements from the first two and replaced it with the ability to take selfies with zombies.  I’m almost certain one of those drinking bird toys could beat it.

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Oh yeah, I definitely believe this was your first run. No question.

In the end, I suppose this all extends from how I view video games as a whole. Much like how someone who likes doing crosswords or solving math problems in their spare time, I prefer to think of most video games – or at least the ones I enjoy – as puzzles, challenges to be solved and completed. As such, I like winning at video games with seemingly no rhyme or reason behind it as much as a mathematician would enjoy solving a math problem by just guessing the answer at random or a crossword enthusiast would like solving a puzzle by just writing the letter Z everywhere. For me, there needs to be a logic behind any achievements or victory: if I’m just going to randomly win based on nothing, I don’t really see much of a point in putting any form of input into it. I might as well just be watching a Let’s Play at that point – how much of a difference is there between watching someone play through a video game and playing through it yourself when it almost feels like victory is assured from the beginning? I’m afraid I can’t get much out of a game if there’s no struggle, nothing to strive for, no challenge to overcome. At that point, I feel like I might as well be watching a movie. If it feels like I don’t need to earn whatever victory condition is set before me, even in the most rudimentary way, it just ends up feeling patronizing and turns me off.

You’d probably expect this opinion of mine to manifest into a hatred of the trend of “hand-holding” in modern game design. Honestly, you’d be wrong. The thing is that, even at its most blatant, hand holding shows the player everything they need to do. Outside of the most extreme cases, it doesn’t just automatically win the game for them. Even in those rare cases, there’s usually some kind of a caveat, even outside of my own personal “you’re only cheating yourself” perspective. Maybe it doesn’t actually count the stage as beaten, like the Super Guide in various Nintendo platformers: putting a little asterisk there to twist the knife and remind the player to go back and complete the level when their skills have improved to the point where they can do it without help. I’m not going to lie, there are times where forced “hand-holding” is detrimental to game design, but I can’t recall any case where it outright tears out a victory condition and replaces it with “yeah, sure, whatever”. Frankly, I find that way more annoying than every arrow pointing towards the next objective or any sidekick whose sole purpose is to constantly reminds players of various things they either learned in the tutorial or just instinctively knew in the first place.

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Behold, the White Kong of Shame.

This might actually be a pretty big part of the reason why I’ve always liked fighting games, ever since I first played Street Fighter II on my cousin’s SNES when I was really young. At their core, fighting games end up coming down to strategy. A good grasp of the fundamental concepts behind the fighting game genre takes people further than being able to do a pretzel motion ever could. Psychology matters far more than all but the most basic of executions: I can’t even count how many easy wins I’ve thrown away simply because I wanted to finish off someone with a flashy technique, when I should’ve just punched them and been done with it. In fighting games, every loss is merely a new learning experience and every hard-fought victory is simply a crystallization of all that learning. Most importantly, in all but a few fighting games, there’s never any case of winning or losing for no reason – all is laid bare when fighting games are approached from the proper mindset. Adapting to one’s opponent or learning how to play the game in general is more important than a thousand Raging Demons or Deadly Raves, believe me.

I guess I should consider it fortunate that there aren’t that many games where players can simply win “by accident”. It’s to the point where I can’t even think of any more off the top of my head, aside from the one I mentioned earlier in the article: Skullgirls doesn’t count, that was pre-release build. Yet, I’ve heard many a claim that it is the opposite – losing for inconsistent reasons – that is a true scourge of gaming. While I’d argue that win and loss conditions, not to mention the rules of a game in general, should remain consistent, I’d still say that the worst thing that a game could do is allow victory for seemingly no reason. In my opinion, the existence of a failure state is what makes a game “a game” and by extension, fun. I’ve yet to meet anyone who thinks that winning at a game is more important than knowing how and why they reached that conclusion. I’d have to say that I’m not sure what I’d be able to say to them. In the end, video games are more about the journey than the destination for me.

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“The game is fun. The game is a battle. If it’s not fun, why bother? If it’s not a battle, where’s the fun?” — Reggie Fils-Aime

So, what do you think? Do you find it infuriating to win in a game while never really knowing why? Or do you feel like it doesn’t matter, as long as you’re winning? Does it matter to you whether you know why you won or lost in a video game? Feel free to sound off in the comments below and let me know what you think.

Turn Based #2: Dead on Revival

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

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

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

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Seriously, who wanted a sequel to this?

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

Cats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The childhood of the future.

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

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

Icepick: Does Kid Icarus count?

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

Icepick: What about MegaMan Legends?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wishlist Named GOG

On the one hand, giving up on the PC ports articles helped me out with regards to the quality of my writing, at least in terms of the topics I’d cover. After all, they were effectively vanity pieces, where I would essentially just lay out a list of ten games I’d love to see ported to my current platform of choice, particularly via Valve’s Steam platform. Back in the early days, this was a much more viable endeavor: many companies (particularly those of Japanese origin) had just began looking at PC ports as a potential revenue stream and I simply wanted to make my voice heard, even against the backdrop of a little-known blog, echoing from the most obscure corner of the vast internet. Since then, I’ve gotten a significant dividend on my investments and at this point, it seems like more companies have adopted the PC as a secondary platform for Western releases, superseding the current incarnation of the Xbox, with many smaller Japanese companies considering the PC market as a viable place to invest in general. As such, I decided to focus my interests elsewhere – honestly, those lists about ports of PC-exclusive games to consoles have been fun to write – but at the same time, it feels empty. After all, what’s in it for me? I’ve been itching to write another list and despite the fact that I’ve decided to revive the original concept for one more go this holiday season, I wanted to do something a little different first.

Before we dive into this new list, I’ve clearly got some updates to right, on the acquisitions the PC platform has made since that last list back in April. Truth be told, this was one of the determining factors that all but assured that this list would become a reality: if I’d waited until December to write up on everything else, I probably could’ve written an entire article on all the new PC ports we’ve seen announced and released alone. First off, the first Bayonetta was ported to PC as expected, but it was soon followed by a second Sega/Platinum project, the oft-requested Vanquish. Both have been given an even further coat of paint from their original HD releases and as such, now the PC versions are generally considered the definitive releases. de Blob 2 has joined its predecessor on Steam, skipping out on console versions at this point for some strange reason. Glad to see both games have been re-released on PC – I always felt that they were a bit of a longshot – and I hope this means that THQ Nordic has plans to revive the series down the line as well. Then there were games I’d wanted that didn’t even get the chance to be put on this year’s upcoming list: The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel was confirmed for release tomorrow on Steam, GOG and Humble Store via XSEED, who confirmed that the second game in the trilogy would also be receiving a PC port later this year and is now apparently taking PC development far more seriously (more on that later); Natsume released their first PC game in the form of Wild Guns Reloaded last month; SNK finally granted my wish and released The King of Fighters XIV on PC, with the port being handled by Abstraction Games, the very company that handled Double Dragon Neon, my first successful request; and Raiden V: Director’s Cut, an enhanced release of the former Xbox One exclusive was announced for both PS4 and PC. Speaking of which, last year, I wrote up a top 10 list of the games that I’d mentioned in previous lists that I most wanted to see become a reality. I’m happy to say that not only did two of those entries become a reality, but they were my top 2 choices overall. MegaMan 9 and 10 are coming to PC (as well as PS4 and XBO) via the upcoming MegaMan Legacy Collection 2, with all of their DLC included. As an added bonus, MegaMans 7 & 8 will also be included: truth be told, I’d have paid the $20 asking price for MM9 and MM10 with their bonus content alone; including MM8 was just gravy. Even more amazing was the news from last month that Ys Seven would be coming to PC in the West, via a brand-new port commissioned by XSEED themselves. Coming to us with an improved translation, 60FPS gameplay and enhanced graphics, it’s looking to be the definitive version of the Ys franchise’s first fully-3D adventure. Better still, this means that now, none of my lists are complete failures: at least one game from every list I’ve written up has had at least one PC port listed made, so I’m absolutely ecstatic about it. What this means for Memories of Celceta, now the only modern game in the series missing from PC, I don’t know, but I’m going to keep my fingers crossed, especially in light of the information that Falcom president Toshihiro Kondo went on record saying that he wants “all of their games on Steam“. Of course, with my top two games on that cumulative list acquired, that may just mean I’ll have to write up a new one in December.

So with that gargantuan list of victories, let’s get to the topic at hand – what is the list going to be about this time around? Quite simply, I’m going to turn the entire concept on its head: instead of asking for games that are exclusive to consoles to receive brand-new ports, why not ask for some old PC games (ports or otherwise) to be re-released so that modern generations can enjoy them? If the title didn’t give it away, this wishlist is dedicated to the fine people over at GOG. Formerly known as “Good Old Games”, G-O-G – or “Gog” as I prefer to pronounce it, simply because it sounds like a caveman’s name. Since they generally deal in older PC games, it just seems fitting to me – is perhaps the second-most popular digital platform when it comes to PC games, and that’s probably due to their unorthodox strategies. If their original name didn’t make it obvious, GOG focuses mostly on providing digital re-releases of old games that are long since out of print. That is to say, the majority of their “new releases” are a bit of a misnomer.

I personally believe that GOG’s popularity is because it bucked the trend that many digital storefronts embraced: attempting to create a “Steam-killer”, seemingly going after an entirely different niche audience of PC gamers – a solid concept given their focus on “good, old games”. Of course, perhaps the most prominent way they’ve separated themselves from Valve’s nigh-monopoly is with their strict policy against DRM software. That essentially makes GOG one of the few digital storefronts where you can literally buy PC games. While that’s had the unfortunate consequence of making them the perfect source for PC game piracy, it’s still something that has earned them quite a few companies’ respect, not to mention a dedicated fanbase, especially among anti-DRM advocates. Likewise, while GOG traditionally works off their website, they’ve also built their own Steam-like client, GOG Galaxy, which allows for various quality of life features Steam is acclaimed for, such as in-game achievements, automatic updates and even online cross-platform play with Steam users.

GOG is the class valedictorian to Steam’s starting quarterback with really rich parents. Valve’s massive war chest has allowed them to become everyone’s favorite PC gaming service, effectively becoming the last man standing after the all-out war against the now-defunct Games for Windows Live. GOG’s focus and policies make them a far less popular choice for the majority of developers and especially publishers, but in return, they provide their customers with far better service. Perhaps the best illustration of this is by comparing the two stores’ refund policies: while Steam offers a strange 2 weeks owned/2 hours played policy, GOG offers a 30-day refund policy, no questions asked. Of course, many times when GOG goes out of their way to secure the re-release of an oft-requested title, it’ll often just show up Steam later on, usually after a particularly anemic exclusivity period. Seems a bit thankless to me, but I guess I understand it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about GOG would be their community wishlists. In my opinion, these are the ultimate proof of their dedication to provide their customers with the best possible service. GOG has wishlists for new features on the website, new features on their Galaxy client, new movies (yes, GOG offers digital video downloads as well), but the longest-running and my personal favorite would have to be their wishlist for new PC games. While there are quite a few cases of people completely missing the point of the service, I’ve upvoted quite a few of these and quite a few of these games have ended up emerging on the service. In fact, GOG’s community wishlist is what inspired this wishlist in the first place, both the concept and some of the entries on here. I’ll include links to those with entries on the community wishlist, in an effort to get them some support and, perhaps, one day, some of these games will find their way onto the service.

The rules are going to be a bit different this time around, just to make my life a bit easier. Chances are this will end up being a one-shot, so I’m not particularly worried with the changes. I’ll be keeping the concept of consolidating multiple games in a single series into one entry, simply to both save space and get as many games in as possible. As these are all existing PC games, there’s no point in separating series by platform, so it’s pretty much a free-for-all in that regard. I’m bumping the company limitations from 1 to 2 entries this time around, simply because there just aren’t as many companies with games I’d want. Likewise, much like previous “special” lists, I’ll be including an additional write-up, this time focusing on my thoughts on the likelihood of these games being released on GOG in the future. That seems like it might be good for a laugh.

The House of the Dead/The Typing of the Dead – Sega

I’m sure I’ve mentioned on several occasions that when I was young, my main outlets for gaming were the Game Gear, my ill-fated Nomads (never give a child with a temper a fragile, yet expensive handheld) and of course, the family computer. Sega was a constant presence on all three platforms. I was always a fan of the “Sega PC” line of games: it blew my mind to see Sonic 3 & Knuckles on my friend’s computer and I was equally blown away by the mere existence of Sonic CD. But there were many more games in there, and as time went on, Sega’s offerings improved. The Sega PC lineup was particularly strong during the Saturn days. Given the fact that the source code is long gone, I think Sega re-releasing the original House of the Dead’s PC port would be a good way to honor the franchise, especially given the fact that every other game in the franchise has been re-released in some form. Likewise, I’d love to see a re-release of the original Typing of the Dead, given how much I’m loving Overkill. Unfortunately, since The Typing of the Dead 2 was Japan-exclusive, I’m far less optimistic about that one seeing a re-release on GOG, unless Sega decides to include a translation.

Odds: Well, Sega has yet to release any games on the GOG platform, so that makes things kind of dicey. Still, given Sega of Europe’s recent shift towards PC ports and original development, I think there may be a chance that we could see some of these games pop up in the future with enough fan demand. (5/10)

Panzer Dragoon – Sega

It almost pains me to include this one, simply because there was another game I wanted from the Sega PC line-up. Alas, that game ended up below, in the honorable mentions, simply due to the importance of this game. Generally considered one of the best games for the Sega Saturn, not to mention one of the best games developed by Sega period, Panzer Dragoon only saw release on the Saturn, on the Japan-exclusive Sega Ages line and as a bonus feature in the Xbox’s Panzer Dragoon Orta. The Xbox version utilized the PC port as its basis – a not-at-all uncommon move for Sega with regards to many titles from around that era – which should speak to its quality. As such, I had to put my nostalgia aside and give Panzer Dragoon the nod: besides, I never really got to play it and I’ve been interested in the game for quite some time now.

Odds: I’d almost say that it’s on par with the HotD games, but honestly, given the sheer zealotry of Panzer Dragoon’s small but dedicated fanbase, I’d say that if any Sega PC game makes it onto GOG, it’s got to be Panzer Dragoon – though, hopefully, Sega doesn’t decide to stop at just one. (6/10)

Metal Gear Solid: Integral/Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance – Konami

I guess it just sort of proves how dumb of a kid I was: I had no idea that either of these games had even received PC ports. Of course, given Konami’s history with the MSX, I guess it kind of makes sense. From what I can tell, both ports were fairly well done, and there were even mods that upscaled all of the textures and graphics to allow for HD gameplay, effectively giving the PC versions an edge over any other version. There was a rumor for quite some time that Konami was planning to port the MGS HD Collection to Steam, but frankly, I think I’d rather just see these ports of the first two games re-released instead.

Odds: Like Sega, Konami has absolutely no presence on GOG at the moment. To make matters worse, they’ve earned themselves a fairly poor reputation among gamers in recent years, both through many of their releases but mostly due to some of their managerial shenanigans. Unless Konami decides they want to win back gamers, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (2/10)

MegaMan Legends/MegaMan X3, X4, X5 & X8 – Capcom

The funny thing about MegaMan Legends is that, for quite some time, the only version you could buy new was the PC version. It was sold for quite some time on GameStop’s digital service, then just randomly vanished into the ether. I’m not sure if Capcom ordered them to take it down or if the game just stopped being compatible with current versions of Windows. Whatever the reason, it just disappeared. Considering the fact that Capcom was able to license a re-release of all three games as PS1 Classics, I’d kind of hope that they would be willing to swing a similar re-release of the PC version on GOG.

I also decided to include all of the MegaMan X games that came out in English-speaking regions, with the exception of the piss-poor port of the first game, handled by the folks at Rozner Labs. From what I can tell, all the ports I’ve mentioned are on par with their counterparts on PlayStation consoles (that includes X3), which is honestly fine by me. There were also ports of X6 and X7 (as well as Legends 2), but these were strictly made for the Asian market, and therefore, wouldn’t be available in English. From what I’ve heard, the port of Legends 2 was of poor quality anyway – and given how little I think of X6 in the first place, I’d be fine with just ignoring them. X8 was released exclusively in both Japan and Europe, so it gets a pass.

Odds: Well, for starters, Capcom has already released a couple games on GOG, namely the recent PC port of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, but more importantly, their Windows PC port of Street Fighter Alpha 2. This effectively makes them the first company I’ve mention that’s clearly aware of GOG’s existence. Having said that, I’d have to give Legends and the X games two separate scores here. While it’s unlikely that Capcom’s planning any major re-releases of the Legends games, it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw a MMX-themed Legacy Collection down the line. While a release along those lines would technically bring those games back to the PC, it would still be cool to see those old ports re-released on GOG, if only for curiosity’s sake. (Legends: 5/10; X Games: 3/10)

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo – Capcom

This may seem a bit redundant to many of you: after all, I included the HD version of Puzzle Fighter in one of my earlier wishlists. However, I think both versions offer me something different. While the HD version includes online play and the additional two modes that originated in the Dreamcast version, the existing PC port was based on the PS1 release, which means that it has one thing going for it that the HD version couldn’t possibly compete with: nostalgia. SPF2T was one of the earliest games I owned on the PS1, and it included both the original and arranged soundtracks, as well as Street Puzzle Mode. Street Puzzle Mode was among one of the first video game challenges that I found difficult, but managed to overcome after hours of practice and it left me feeling satisfied. Quite simply, Street Puzzle Mode taught me the joys of “gitting gud” at video games, and I can’t stop thanking it for that. While most people would probably just prefer the HD version to get a re-release, I’d personally love to see both: HD on Steam and the original port on GOG.

Odds: Honestly, it’s hard to say. On the one hand, re-releasing the old port would probably be easier than porting the newer version to PC. But given the fact that current platforms in general also lack Puzzle Fighter HD, it’s entirely possible that Capcom would just do it in an effort to keep bringing older games forward to the current generation of platforms. Like I said, I’d like to see both re-released, but something tells me Capcom wouldn’t be onboard with that. (4/10)

Jazz Jackrabbit series – Epic Megagames

It’s actually really surprising how many great platformers there were on PC back in the good ol’ days. I mainly remember Commander Keen and Duke Nukem, but they weren’t the only ones. Perhaps the most popular was Jazz Jackrabbit, who I mainly remember because I kept confusing him with Bucky O’Hare for reasons that…I’m honestly sure I don’t need to state. I never ended up playing the Jazz Jackrabbit games, but when I was young, I absolutely wanted to play them, and considering all of the good things I’ve heard about them, that interest definitely lives on.

Odds: Unfortunately, there’s a bit of a legal caveat here. Jazz Jackrabbit is co-owned by Epic Games and the series’ original creator, Cliff “Cliffy B” Bleszinski. Cliffy B departed from Epic awhile back and is currently puttering around on his own, and I’m not sure if the break-up was amicable enough to allow Jazz Jackrabbit re-releases to be licensed by anyone, let alone GOG. I hope I’m wrong on this one, but the odds don’t look too good. (1/10)

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos/Croc 2 – Fox Interactive (Jeremy “Jez” San?)

I didn’t exactly adjust all that well when platformers made the shift from 2D to 3D. To this day, I’m still not fond of Super Mario 64, which is generally heralded as one of the greatest platformers of all time. I preferred games like the original Crash Bandicoot and Fox Interactive’s Croc. Croc has recently seen something of a resurgence in popularity lately, due to the alleged effect the game had on the development of Super Mario 64, and by extension, the 3D platforming genre. Even before I knew about any of that, I was just fine playing the game on PS1. Seeing the game revived would be a nice little treat in my opinion.

Odds: Another tricky one for rights issues, but for totally different reasons. With Argonaut – the game’s developer – shuttered and Fox Interactive having been closed down, it’s hard to pin down exactly who owns the rights to the Croc franchise. I’ve heard rumors that the whole shebang belongs to Argonaut founder Jeremy “Jez” San, and therefore any re-releases or new iterations of Croc may have to go directly through him, but considering the fact that he doesn’t seem to be quite as hands-on within the video game industry these days, that may make this pretty much impossible. (1/10)

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain – Eidos (Square Enix)

I’ll be honest, in recent years, I’ve found myself interested in the Legacy of Kain series from …well, I guess at this point, it would be Square Enix Europe, wouldn’t it? But I’m a stickler for these kinds of things: especially when delving into series that are “newer” – namely, those that started well after I’d gotten into video games – I generally like to start at the very beginning and work my way forward. The original Blood Omen is the one game from the LoK series that hasn’t seen re-release on PCs, though the PlayStation version is available as a Classic on the PS3. I don’t know why, but I always find incomplete collections to be troubling and re-releasing the first game would be the perfect excuse for me to try getting into it.

Odds: Much like the previous two games, there are apparently some legal issues at hand here. I find this particularly baffling, considering that, as I mentioned earlier, the PS version is still currently available on both the PS3 and PSP. Apparently, Activision and Silicon Knights ported the game to PC, which is likely the source of the hang-up. The game’s been made available on Abandonia, an online repository for games that are considered “Abandonware” and has apparently seen no legal action from either Activision or Square Enix. Either way, the chances of an official re-release seem quite poor at this point. (1/10)

Mortal Kombat Trilogy/Mortal Kombat 4 – Midway (WB Games)

Growing up as a kid, I was in a tough spot: I was absolutely obsessed with fighting games, but generally limited to PC as my main outlet for gaming. Man, if only little Icepick could see the literal deluge of big-name fighting games available on PC nowadays! My main outlets for 2D fighters in my early years were the god-awful port of Street Fighter II, handled by the abomination known as Hi-Tech Expressions (even writing their name sends chills down my spine!) and the first 3 Mortal Kombat games. Sure, later on, I’d become enamored with the PC version of X-Men: Children of the Atom, but that’s a story for another time. Now, the Mortal Kombat ports were actually very well made, pretty much as good as their source material, and I loved these games growing up. Fortunately, GOG already has these games available on their service. What I didn’t know is that these weren’t the only MK PC ports made during this era. No, despite my beliefs that the series took a hiatus between 3 and the 2011 reboot, two more games actually made their way to Windows PC. While Trilogy and 4 weren’t the best games in the franchise – Trilogy was the true forerunner to MUGEN and MK4 was just another in a long line of games that were tarnished by the fifth generation’s obsession with 3D – I’ve got enough nostalgia attached to the previous games in the franchise to want to see just how well or poorly these games translated to the PC.

Odds: Like I said, WB Games already put the first 3 PC ports on GOG, they own the rights to the series and I’ve seen footage of both ports running on modern hardware. I think the only thing keeping these games off GOG is their relative lack of popularity compared to earlier games in the series. Seems pointless to keep them off otherwise. (7/10)

Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits – Midway (WB Games)

I’m actually kind of ashamed that I had to make the wishlist entry for this one myself, but it is what it is. The Williams Arcade’s Greatest Hits Collection on PC was one of my earliest introductions to retro video games, particularly those made before or around the time of my birth. Truth be told, I absolutely loved every game in this collection, even if I wasn’t particularly good at any of them. The first two Defenders, Joust, Robotron 2084, Bubbles and Sinistar – all great stuff. Since PC missed out on WB’s most recent slew of Midway/Williams Arcade re-releases, this would be the next best thing.

Odds: Well, if Midway Arcade Origins gives us anything to go by, it’s that WB Games owns the rights to all six of the games present in this collection, so clearly there are no legal issues. This may just be another case of WB not knowing what they’re sitting on. (7/10)

Honorable Mentions

Virtua Fighter PC/Virtua Fighter 2:  I actually had Virtua Fighter PC when I was a kid and that’s what made it so hard to leave it off the main list. I had no idea that its sequel also received a PC port, but considering the fact that I’d almost certainly prefer to see the version from Sega’s Model 2 Collection hit PC instead, I almost considered leaving it off. Still, it’s better to have options in general, so I figured why not?

Jill of the Jungle: This game actually almost made the list, but considering my lack of nostalgic love for the game and what I’ve seen of the gameplay, I decided to push it down to the honorable mentions instead. Still, it’s an important game when looking back at platforming games on the PC, so it deserves to be preserved in some form and enjoyed by modern audiences.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo: I really wish that I had known about this port when I was a kid: if only that SF2 port had been half this good, I would’ve been happy. By no means arcade-perfect, the game is still impressive in just how much they got right. Supplemented with an amazing arranged soundtrack, courtesy of Redbook audio, Gametek’s port of SSF2T should have gotten way more love than it got. I’ve seen its demo floating around on the Wayback Machine’s PC game archive, but I’d love to own the real deal – even just a digital copy.

Having the past of PC gaming available in the modern day is great. It shows you just how far PC gaming has come and what we’ve lost along the way. While I doubt I’ll have enough material to do a follow-up list for GOG in the future, I’m still happy I decided to write up this list. While I’ve got my clear favorites on this list, I’d love to see any of these hit the service in the near future. I’m not particularly optimistic about most of these games seeing re-release, but who knows, maybe by the time I write the next list, this one too will have borne fruit. I just wouldn’t expect any future lists on other services – I wouldn’t have any idea where to begin with Battle.Net, let alone Origin.

Top 5 Games That Mastered Remaking

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

Punch-Out!! (2009)

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

Mortal Kombat (2011)

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

Star Fox 64

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

Ys: The Oath in Felghana

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

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

#5.  Ducktales Remastered

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

#4. Ratchet and Clank (2016)

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

#3. Mega Man Powered Up

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

#2. Resident Evil (2002)

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

#1.  Metroid: Zero Mission

Metroid Zero Mission

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

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

Of Axioms and Idioms: The New Sub-Standard

While I’ve been having fun revitalizing older series that I abandoned awhile back, it would be hypocritical of me to orphan my latest series. This time, it’s not so much a lack of topics that has caused me to forgo writing Of Axioms and Idioms, it’s more a lack of time. I’ve got so many ideas for new articles that I’ve managed to leave a good number of worthwhile topics on the back-burner for quite some time. It doesn’t help that I seem to be coming up with more new ideas quicker than I can write the existing ones. Worst of all is the fact that I tend to find my newest ideas the most intriguing, which pushes things back even further in many cases. Still, it’s been roughly half a year since the last time I wrote an article in this series, so it seems like it’s the right time to bring it back.

This one’s been rolling around in the back of my mind for quite some time, yet ironically, it’s also the latest topic I’ve managed to come up with for this series. Basically, there’s something of a stigma when it comes to long-running series. Specifically, when it comes to their latest iterations. The issue isn’t specifically liking the current games in an old series, that seems to be alright by most accounts. Rather, considering the most recent entry in well-established franchises to be the best that said franchise has to offer seems to be frowned upon among die-hard fans. Likewise, when a more or less “objective” best game is chosen, it’s generally a relatively early title in the series’ history.

To show you just how long this idea has been sitting around, the original example that inspired this topic is no longer relevant. Tekken Tag Tournament 2, while still currently my favorite game in the Tekken franchise – ironically, I’ve yet to pick up Tekken 7 – is no longer the latest game in the franchise. Still, I felt a little ashamed to acknowledge that the latest entry in the series had become my favorite, simply because I was a long-time fan and therefore, was familiar with the earlier games in the series. Meanwhile, ask the average Tekken fan and chances are they’ll name a much earlier game as their favorite: specifically, Tekken 3. If you’ve read my Tekken retrospective from earlier this year, you’d know that I was never really quite as enamored with the game as the majority of the Tekken fanbase, even if I did recognize its quality.

Another slightly more relevant example would relate to MegaMan, specifically the Classic series. Personally, I think the tenth game in the franchise – which has been the most recent game for a whopping 7 years at this point – is the best that the series has to offer. Most of the Classic faithful, on the other hand, are still hung up on MegaMan 2. Honestly, I don’t even think MM2 is the best of the NES games, let alone the best in its entire series. MegaMan 2 made the most significant improvements over its predecessor, but the franchise still had room to grow. What I find especially ironic is that MegaMan 9 – a game that was essentially built to perfectly emulate an MM2 ROM hack – received much greater acclaim, despite having weaker level designs. Worst of all, it seems like if you don’t accept 2 as the “one true Classic MegaMan game”, you’re bound to be accused of being a contrarian, or worse still, a hipster. Don’t get me wrong: MM2 is a great game, I just think that some of the later games in the series made vast improvements to the formula, but they’re generally cast aside as inferior copies. As a side note, I think it’s a crying shame that the Game Boy games (namely IV and especially V) don’t receive as much attention as they deserve: I think both of those games blew MM2 out of the water, in spite of their hardware limitations.

A slightly less relevant example would be the near-deification of Super Mario 64 among the 3D Mario platformers. Sure, people recognize the quality of both Galaxy games – to at least some extent – but for whatever reason, 64 is still somehow the golden standard to which all future Mario games of that type are held against. I’ll never understand it: honestly, I never thought SM64 was that good in the first place and I think every other game of that type in the Mario series surpassed it in some way, even the abomination/cult classic Super Mario Sunshine. To make matters worse, I actually consider 3D World to be my favorite in that particular batch of games, though I’ve seen more than a few people dismiss it as an inferior knockoff of 3D Land which was, ironically, my previous favorite. I’d argue that the 3D Marios keep improving with each game and that makes 64 the worst by default. Yet it is still the clear favorite for some reason.

Of course, perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon is the fan reaction to the Legend of Zelda games. While both A Link Between Worlds and especially Breath of the Wild have seemingly put it to rest, the so-called “Zelda cycle” is, by and large, the most prevalent and observable example of this mentality I’ve seen on the internet. The Zelda cycle, as I understand it, can be broken down thusly: after enough time has passed since the release of the latest Zelda game, the fanbase begins its backlash against the game itself, deeming it terrible. This, in turn, allows the previous game in the franchise – the one that was previously dubbed the worst the franchise had to offer – to be viewed as an acceptable game for the series. The game that came before that will then usually take its place at the series favorite, the stated “gold standard” for what the next Zelda game should attempt to be. The former “gold standard” is then considered to be overrated (but still good) and everything before that seems to just fade into the ether, effectively just becoming acceptable in general but not a major focal point for the franchise. A safe choice, considered “good for their time” and generally otherwise ignored.

As for a counterpoint to this particular attitude, the best I’ve really been able to observe would have to be within the Ys fanbase. Put simply, “every Ys is best Ys”. Given the fact that the series has gone through at least two major gameplay shifts in its 30-year existence, it only makes sense that most of the fanbase would generally be pretty chill about liking the newest games in the franchise, as Falcom always seems to strive to improve upon mistakes made in the previous games and avoids change strictly for its own sake, rather only fundamentally shifting the gameplay style once they’ve reached the limits of their current format. Of course, this isn’t a perfect example by any means: there’s a distinct faction that considers The Oath in Felghana (and to a far lesser extent, Origin) as the one true Ys game(s), disavowing anything that came after and, bafflingly enough, before. I guess there are problem children in every fanbase.

Then there’s the Sonic fanbase, which I supposed also acts both as an example and a counter-balance to this perspective. There are essentially three major camps contained within the Sonic fanbase: those who enjoy the original Genesis-era games and feel that this is the best direction for the franchise moving forward, those who cut their teeth on the series during the Adventure games and want the games to go back to that style (in spite of the fact that Sega already tried to recreate said formula twice and ended up with the games generally considered the worst in the entire franchise in the process) and finally, fans of the modern games who consider any references to older titles to be meaningless pandering to a bygone era. If it’s not obvious, the former two camps clearly act in support of my theory, while the third and final camp appears to be its Bizarro doppelganger rather than a nuanced reaction. Of course, these three factions don’t encompass the entire Sonic fandom – there is room for nuance elsewhere – but they definitely make things difficult for Sega moving forward.

Of course, there is a certain level of forgiveness allowed when it comes to committing the grave sin of liking the latest game in a long-running series in general. This is generally reserved for those new to the series. After all, you always remember your first and as they’re new to the series, they have time to learn the “right way” to consider the series. Older fans, on the other hand, generally aren’t afforded the same level of leeway. They’re already familiar with the franchise and its history, so the entire concept of long-time fans disagreeing with the status quo is inconceivable to the hiveminds generally associated with these fanbases. It’s almost like to prefer a game that was intended as an improvement to earlier games in the series is to completely discount the series’ entire history in one fell swoop.

So what exactly is the cause for this animosity towards the most recent games in a franchise? An obvious culprit would be the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Unfortunately, that logic doesn’t necessarily follow: if nostalgia were to blame, then every fan would generally consider the first game they played to be the best in the franchise, which would be a particularly difficult move for those who had been playing games in the series since its inception. Not to mention the fact that if the first game in a franchise is its best, then there’s really no point in continuing to produce them, diminishing returns and all that. Likewise, given the fact that many video game franchises tend to have one or two games that are considered the best at large, that would also imply that most of the fanbase started playing the series upon the release of that specific game, which seems a bit farfetched if you ask me. So clearly there’s more at work here than simple nostalgia.

A much more likely explanation is equally simple: credibility as a fan. With well-established series – regardless of medium – knowledge of the series’ origins has a tendency to give the impression of legitimacy with regards to any particular fan’s adoration for the works in the general. The same could be said for general consensus: as with most group dynamics, a lack of dissention among the ranks has a tendency of creating a much stronger sense of community, an element that fandoms require to thrive at any stage in their life cycles, from their humble beginnings on. Whether or not this means that most fans legitimately believe that the designated best game in the franchise is their actual favorite, they’re simply giving the game lip service to fit in or that they’ve been essentially railroaded into considering said game to be the best in order to align themselves properly within the group tends to vary – all are clear and distinct possibilities, though I’d consider the former two to be the most likely.

This leads to a much more pertinent question: why is there such resistance to the idea that modern entries of an existing series could potentially surpass their forebearers? I mean, it just seems logical to me that games should constantly strive to improve over what came before them, so maybe I’m missing something. Does acknowledging the strength of newer games make the older ones retroactively worse? Is one’s credibility at stake if they acknowledge improvements made to an existing formula if they just happen to be implemented to close to current year? I’m at a bit of a loss here.

Maybe newer games are just being held to a higher standard in general. After all, they do have years of experience to fall back on, so I can’t argue that they should be held to a higher standard than the games of old. However, there is also the potential to take things way too far in this regard: while nostalgia isn’t completely to blame, they can generally build classic games up to be better in fans’ memories than the reality – take a look at how well various re-releases for more obscure games have been received. Put both the overinflated quality of older games with an expectation for every game to exceed the previous entries in their series to an obscene degree, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

I mostly wrote this article to essentially dispel any shame, perceived or otherwise, I’ve felt when liking the latest games in series I’ve been following for quite some time. The sheer sense of elitism when it comes to long-time fans vis-à-vis newer entries has always just struck me as weird. I suppose that this was more of an exercise in trying to justify my own preferences to myself. Of course, this is a fitting use of the “Of Axioms and Idioms” banner, as they’re generally meant to explore my various opinions, unorthodox or otherwise. But what do you think? Do you think I’m completely off-base or am I on to something? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

Rising Fun: Dawn for Japanese Games

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

 

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And thus Japan conquered console gaming overnight.

 

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

 

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Market Combat Evolving.

 

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

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

 

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Looks like JRPGs don’t have cooties anymore.

 

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

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

 

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Mario is back, and he’s not alone.

 

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

 

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This game existing at all is a frigging miracle.

 

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

Retro or Reboot?: Pocky & Rocky

If there are any regrets I’ve had while writing articles for Retronaissance, it would simply have to be the fact that I’m overzealous when deciding to begin new series. It’s not to say that I don’t like the concept of writing multiple pieces based around a single cohesive theme – quite the opposite, in fact. My problem is that I always seem to decide to start them off with only an idea or two to explore. I always sort of take my ability to come up with new ideas that relate to these categories on a whim for granted, but in reality, coming up with topics that I deem both suitable and interesting is a difficult undertaking. As such, I would often exacerbate the problem: introducing more series with the expectation that they’d be easier to write for. Sometimes this ends up working to my advantage – I’ve got quite a few concepts lined up for a few existing series – but when it doesn’t, it only adds to my guilt. As such, I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to try to restart a few of these abandoned series – or at the very least, give them proper follow-ups – and what better place to start than with good old “Retro or Reboot”?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written one of these articles, so it’s only fitting that I review exactly what Retro or Reboot entails. I’ll be looking at a series – with a minimum of two games – that has fallen victim to a significant hiatus. In the past, I’ve considered only games that haven’t seen a new release since the sixth generation (the days when the PlayStation 2 ruled the gaming world), but since the present generation has finally come into its own, I’ll amend this to involve anything that hasn’t been revived since the seventh generation: Xbox 360, PS3 and the Wii. Anything newer than that still has a chance to be revisited after all. Generally, I’ll favor series that only managed to exist during a single generation – it’s just easier to find a cohesive theme when you don’t have to worry about deviations like the 3D Castlevania games or the 2010 reboot of Splatterhouse when considering a franchise’s core concept. I also tend to prefer older franchises, simply because I’m more likely to be familiar with them. In the end, I craft two proposals to revive the franchise: one retro-themed proposition which simply tries to maintain as much of the originals’ concepts as possible and the other a total reboot that tries to reimagine the series with modern conventions. Of course, both proposals can be best described as fantastical pie in the sky wishing, but these are meant to be happy articles, soul-crushing reality be damned!

This article’s topic is Pocky & Rocky. Developed by Natsume, the P&R series is a perfect example of the shoot-‘em-up sub-genre colloquially referred to as the “cute-‘em-up”. The games play similarly to a specific style of shmup where players are capable of freely roaming the stage at their own pace – other examples with similar gameplay include Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Commando and Shock Troopers. Some time ago, the Nopino Goblins went on a rampage. A young Shinto priestess named Pocky managed to put an end to the mayhem, restoring the peace. One day, a Tanuki named Rocky came to Pocky’s temple, asking her for help. The goblins had lost their minds and began their rampage anew. The two team up to find out just why the spirits run amok once more. The second game involves the harvest festival, attended this year by Princess Luna – not that one –  the princess of the moon when she is kidnapped by a gang of demons, led by an oni named Impy. This time, Pocky and Rocky are joined by two new partners, Bomber Bob and Little Ninja. While I personally didn’t own a Super Nintendo when I was a kid, my cousin did and he had both games, so I have fond memories of them from my childhood. Years later, I got to play them again and they definitely held up. Unfortunately, the games haven’t been re-released since: Natsume expressed interest in putting them on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, but they claim that Nintendo wasn’t interested in releasing any titles from that platform.

Retro

The funny thing about this is that I’ve already got a perfect framework to base the entire concept around. Recently, Natsume did an enhanced port of Wild Guns: Reloaded – currently on the PS4 and coming soon to PC via Steam – which took the original game and rebuilt it, optimizing it for larger resolutions, adding new characters and stages and beefing up the multiplayer to allow for up to 4-player cooperative play. With such a product already existing, why not expand on its core concept with another classic Natsume game? I normally try to title these concepts and this time around I actually have a perfect title: “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection”. You know, because the enemies fought in this game are mostly various spirits and other creatures generally associated with the afterlife? Besides, the series hasn’t been active since the Game Boy Advance days – so I think that constitutes “Resurrection” in the title.

Speaking of, that brings up a potential issue with the entire concept. You see, the Pocky & Rocky games are actually sequels in a series of games that were originally created by Taito. Known as “Kiki Kaikai” in Japan, the series originated in Japanese arcades in 1986. Here, the character we know as “Pocky” was referred to as Sayo. Taito would eventually release the game on both the MSX2 computer and the PC Engine and even develop a remake for the Famicom Disk System. After that point, the games that would become the Pocky & Rocky games were developed by Natsume who also published the games in both Japan and North America. These two games improved the gameplay of the series significantly: the original Kiki Kaikai games were slower affairs with stiffer controls. They were also the first games in the series to allow for simultaneous multiplayer play: the previous games in the series only allowed 2 players with alternating turns. The only direct follow-up to these two games was a Game Boy Advance game developed by a third company, Altron. This game was published in the West as “Pocky & Rocky with Becky”, including a third character – “Becky”, Pocky’s nigh-identical friend who first appeared in the Famicom game – though the gameplay itself more closely resembled the original arcade games, to my dismay.

There was another attempt at licensing the Kiki Kaikai name for another title – but by this point, Taito had been purchased by Square Enix which led to an argument over the rights to the name of the game. The game would eventually be released as “Yuikinko Daisenpu” – or Heavenly Guardian as it was known in North America – and is clearly meant to be a spiritual successor. This begs the question: would Natsume be able to make a new game in the Pocky & Rocky series? After all, they re-released the GBA game with little problem, but would Square Enix be willing to license the rights to Kiki Kaikai for a worldwide release or would Natsume have to perform some kind of trademark wrangling in order to get a new game made in the first place? Given the fact that Square-Enix has previously tried to license out the rights to various Eidos properties, allowing independent developers to make pitches for new games in those franchises, I think that there may be a chance that they may be more open to licensing out the property, especially to a former collaborator like Natsume.

The funny thing about this concept is that I’d argue it would work even better with Pocky & Rocky than it did with Wild Guns. They have two games to work from, as opposed to one, offering a wealth of existing content to delve from – after all, both games were pretty much built with the same game mechanics in mind, so utilizing the stages from both games under a shared framework should be completely possible. Throw in some additional brand new stages on top of that like Wild Guns: Reloaded did, and you’ve got a perfect retro revival on your hands.

I’d argue that the gameplay should resemble the original games as closely as possible, but by the same token, take into account various advances we’ve seen in video games since the SNES days. Of course, there were some slightly different mechanics between both P&R games: the single-player in the original allowed you to play alone, while the sequel gave you an AI partner of your choice, that could be thrown as a bomb attack for massive damage or taken control of, offering Pocky an additional hit point. The first game gave each character a health meter and allowed them to power up their shots in two ways – either a spread shot or a flaming shot which did more damage. The second game depicted Pocky’s health via her clothing, allowing her to don additional armor for an extra hit point and added new power-ups like bunny ears that enhance Pocky’s speed and a flashing block that would allow her to switch out her partner for a different character, including those that could be unlocked by finding them while playing the game. Due to these improvements, I would suggest using the second game as the revival’s basis, but offer two different single-player modes: one with a partner (representing the second game) and a solo mode (for those that preferred the first game). Better yet, in the former, you’d be able to choose any of the partner characters as your main – which could allow Pocky to act as a partner character. I originally considered adding in an alternate control method – one akin to twin-stick shooters – before I quickly realized that this would completely break the balance of the games. From the series’ conception, players have only been able to aim in the direction they’re moving, a mechanic that is of the utmost importance when enemy placement is considered. As such, I’d have to insist that Natsume maintain the original control scheme from previous games if they decide to take this route.

Obviously, a multiplayer mode is a must. In fact, keeping in line with single-player mode, there should be individual modes relating to both of the previous games. The first game gave each character their own unique health and extra lives, while the second game only allowed the second player to play as Pocky’s partner – only capable of taking a single hit of damage, but having an infinite set of lives, not unlike the Sonic & Tails mode in Sonic 2 and 3. I’d also suggest adding a 4-player mode (based on the first game’s multiplayer), just like the one found in Wild Guns: Reloaded. This time, however, I’d say that Natsume should try to balance the difficulty levels based on how many players are playing at a time – as the game constantly being balanced for 4 players was the chief criticism I heard levelled at Wild Guns. I’m probably a bit biased, but I’d also love to see an online multiplayer mode in addition to the classic couch co-op mode found in Reloaded. Of course, considering how small of a company Natsume is, a mode like that might be a massive undertaking – but it would be a nice touch all the same.

The graphical style is a simple decision: just use the same graphics from the old SNES games, like Wild Guns: Reloaded did. Upscale the graphics so that they look good at the higher resolutions modern platforms can display, but keep the character to playing field size ratio intact, while rendering the game itself in widescreen. Fortunately, the shift to widescreen shouldn’t have as much of an effect on the game as it did with Wild Guns, just due to the difference in genre. Likewise, the sprite work found in both games is similar enough that they should be easy enough to incorporate into a single title and any new artwork should be drawn to match the existing style.

Ideally, I’d want P&R: Resurrection to include both original games in their entirety: storyline, stage progression, boss fights, effectively acting as both an archive of the original games as well as their evolution. On that note, I’d love to see a “third” story added to the mix – with an all-new assortment of stages, as opposed to the few new levels thrown into Reloaded. In addition, throwing in a sort of “remix mode” that would throw a random assortment of levels from all three scenarios would be another awesome bonus feature that would certainly add hours of replay value.

Reboot

The first issue with trying to conceive a modern take on Pocky & Rocky is simply that it’s hard to think of a modern genre that could easily represent it. After all, the classic beat-‘em-ups of the golden age of arcades clearly share DNA with modern character action games, and even the shoot-‘em-ups of yore could easily be turned into rail shooters for big-budget releases today. However, what of the run-and-gun variant of the shmup? After all, part of the appeal there is having full control over the playable characters, while both standard shmups and rail shooters both rely on the screen scrolling constantly, pushing the player along designated paths. A better question: what’s the modern equivalent of a cute-‘em-up? In spite of the second game’s “Angry Kirby” packaging, the in-game graphics still maintain a light-hearted appearance. The Bomberman: Act Zero treatment clearly isn’t going to work with this one – granted, it didn’t even work with Bomberman in the first place.

My basic concept involves a lot of genre blending. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any game that plays particularly like this – if anyone does, let me know in the comments – but essentially, it’d be a cross between an action game and a twin-stick shooter, essentially using some elements from a third-person shooter to bridge the gap between those two disparate genres. Essentially, we’d be looking at a game that offers quick mobility, emulating that of the SNES games – you could even incorporate the slide as like dodge maneuvers common in the action genre – but also allows for easy shooting controls. Ideally, the second stick would be used to both direct and aim Pocky and Rocky in a 3D environment, while either a face or shoulder button would be used to fire shots. Likewise, the items used to deflect enemy shots – Pocky’s “magic stick” and Rocky’s tail – would likely be expanded upon, expanding on what the melee attacks both characters were capable of in the previous games, while being sure not to overshadow the long-range attacks.

Originally, I considered basing a reboot of Pocky & Rocky on a third-person shooter. The problem with that is that games of this genre generally have clunky controls, which would be incredibly counterproductive when trying to translate a game like Pocky & Rocky into a modern design. After all, even among run-and-gun/shmup hybrids, both P&R games had remarkably responsive controls. The only game I could think of that even came close to what I was trying to achieve was Red Dead Revolver – itself originally conceived as a modern reboot of Capcom’s Gun.Smoke – but a modern take on P&R would require a much smoother and arcade-like interface. This led me to consider contemporary genres known for their responsive controls – and the action genre struck me as the best choice. Likewise, shooting is much more complex in the third-person shooter genre, so a simpler design choice was necessary and nothing is simpler than twin-stick aiming.

The graphics probably wouldn’t need to be all that complex – and any major release out of Natsume would likely lack the budget for anything ornate – so instead, I’ll discuss the type of art direction I’d like to see in this “big budget” reimagining of one of the cult classics from my childhood. First, I’d rather see an over-the-shoulder camera as opposed to the classic overhead view. If they wanted to retain the overhead view, they’d be better off going with the retro-themed revival. Besides, it would be interesting to see the world of Pocky & Rocky from a more direct angle. As for the game’s art style, I think the game should be done in 3D with cel-shaded graphics. I’m torn about how the art direction should take form beyond that point: either a colorful anime style or a graphical style evoking traditional Japanese paintings (not unlike Okami) would work for me.

As for potential developers, I’m kind of at a loss. Natsume doesn’t really have too many partners that they can commission to develop something like this and the project’s scope is also likely beyond the capabilities of their internal teams. As usual, my gut tells me Platinum Games would be a perfect choice, but given the caliber of publishers that have hired them in the past, they’re likely outside of Natsume’s budget. The best I can think of would likely be some random indie developer. The only team that really comes to mind would be The Game Bakers, the team behind the sleeper hit Furi – a game with an even faster pace than what I would expect from a Pocky & Rocky revival. Having said that, I’m almost certain that there may be some Japanese indie dev I’ve never heard of that would be a perfect fit for this concept.

It feels good to write another one of these and I’m happy to say that I’ve got even more ideas for Retro or Reboot in the pipeline. What did you think of these ideas? Would you rather see “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection” become a reality or does a more modernized take on the series excite you more? Do you disagree that Pocky & Rocky is worth reviving in the first place? Do you have an even better idea for either concept? Are you also excited that Wild Guns: Reloaded is coming to Steam this year? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Respect the Unexpected

Sometimes when you look back on a game after the fact, you realize it wasn’t as good as you made yourself believe when you first got it, or you realize it was actually a lot better than you gave it credit for.  Those games aren’t the focus of this list.  This list is for games that instantly changed my strong preconceived notions as soon as I played them.  It can either be a game I went into with hype that was instantly deflated, or a game that I expected to hate or at least be indifferent towards that I ended up liking.  I have three examples for both types, and I’ll be alternating between negative and positive.  Since I always like ending on a positive, I’ll let the negative examples start the pattern.  Let’s get started!

Mega Man X6

What I Expected

I really, really love the Mega Man X series.  I would consider the first three games to be my favorite trilogy in all of gaming, and the original Mega Man X is one of my favorite games of all time.  The first four X games are my four favorite Mega Man games of any type, and Mega Man X5 is a step down but still a great game that I have played through dozens of times.  So, it should go without saying that I had very high expectations going into Mega Man X6, it looked like just a level pack for MMX5, but I was fine with that.  Two console MMX games in the same year seemed too good to be true, but really, what could go wrong?

mmx6

What Actually Happened

I’m still not sure what the hell happened with Mega Man X6.  MMX6 isn’t a lazy level pack, that would be so much better than what we got.  No, X6 is a train wreck that seems to go out of its way to make as many stupid, frustrating level design choices as possible.  Levels range from the same tedious and frustrating mid-boss fought four times in a row to nightmarish extended dashes to safety as a one hit kill ceiling tries to crush you.  Bosses are just as bad.  Even the story is terrible.  I beat X5, X8, and even the infamous X7 on the day I bought them.  I didn’t force myself to beat X6 until over six months later.  I could tell something was wrong right away, and to this day I don’t understand what happened.  This isn’t the result of greed and laziness, it’s a calculated attempt to twist one of the best gameplay systems there is into a horrible parody of itself.

Doom (1993)

What I Expected

I am a console gamer, I have been ever since I stopped being forced to subsist on Hi-Tech PC games, and I always will be.  So, Doom being a PC originating series that only got inferior console ports for most of its existence put up quite barrier to me getting into it.  I wasn’t all that into first person shooters to begin with, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much, a mid-90s western PC series didn’t sound like it was going to offer much.  I tried the famously arcade like and over the top Serious Sam games via their console compilation, and enjoyed them.  I decided that it was worth trying the Doom compilation, three games and several expansion packs for around $10 made the risk exceptionally low, so why not?  But I wasn’t expecting that much out of it, especially the original Doom and its very direct sequel.

doom

What Actually Happened

Damn you realism, damn you real guns and human enemies, and damn you every mid-90s magazine dismissing all FPSes as worthless “Doom clones.”  I love old style FPSes.  The varied weapons, the enemies with attacks you can directly dodge, the fast movement and lack of reloading, the creative level design, Doom is everything I wanted in the genre but didn’t know until I played it.  The modern console remasters of Doom and its sequel have everything the PC versions did, and I love them.  Doom and its level pack like sequel are probably my favorite western developed games of the 20th century, and easily my favorite PC originating games of all time.  By extremely good fortune, I got into the series just a bit over a year from the phenomenal DOOM 2016, which I have raved about at length in previous articles.  Doom expanded my horizons in a wonderful way.

Twisted Metal (2012)

What I Expected

I was fascinated by Twisted Metal 2 years before I owned a PlayStation, the characters and concept were very interesting to me and I read all I could about it in game magazines.  My instincts correctly blocked any interest in Twisted Metal 3 and 4, but I eventually got to play TM2 and I liked the gameplay just as much as the characters and concept.  Twisted Metal Black rekindled my interest, even though I once again didn’t have the system it was on when the game was released.  I eventually got it and loved it even more than Twisted Metal 2.  Then the series just disappeared, despite the acclaimed revival.  There was nothing but a decent PSP game for a decade, but then hope came, another reboot of the series.  Not having stories for each car was a big negative, but maybe the unified story mode could make up for it, and the important part was getting more of that signature gameplay, with online I could use!

twistedmetal2012

What Actually Happened

989 rose from the grave and cursed Twisted Metal 2012.  That’s my best guess, anyway.  For one thing, the “real story mode” was actually just three traditional driver stories (previous games had 4-5 times as many, for reference) glued together, ranging from decent to an idiotic pun ending.  But that’s not the worst part.  The controls were extremely slippery and mocked me by putting in the classic style that I wanted to use but making it unplayable with a small change (Human biology trivia: we only have two thumbs.  Do not demand we use both analog sticks and face buttons at the same time).  And the “story” mode put in absolutely atrocious and mandatory checkpoint race missions that the controls made into pure torture.  Assuming this doesn’t kill the series, the next reboot needs to be much, much, MUCH better.

Knack

What I Expected

Knack has been a running joke ever since it was announced alongside the PlayStation 4.  A generic PS1/2-era platformer with a character getting bigger gimmick, this was what Sony chose to showcase their new console!?  Sony giving digital copies away with PS4s and not bothering to tell the people who bought the systems just made the game more of a laughing stock.  While I didn’t think the game looked horrible, it seemed like it focused on mindless combat with minimal platforming.  I had little desire to play it unless I could find it for really cheap, and even then it would mainly be so I could make fun of it while streaming it.  Well, the game was $5 on a PSN Flash Sale, so I jumped on it.  While in my Skype group chat I started the stream, ready to laugh at the infamous Knack.

knack

What Actually Happened

My thoughts upon starting the game were that the controls were actually very good.  Combat was pretty solid, much better than I was expecting and actually a significant challenge on hard mode.  Good enemy variety.  Wow, the levels are really long, and there are a ton of worlds.  I thought, “Maybe people were too harsh on this game, or maybe it all goes to repetitive hell soon”.  It didn’t.  The levels and enemies stayed varied throughout the game, the platforming wasn’t too frequent but there was enough to add variety to the combat.  The combat was fast paced and reminded me of classic beat-em-ups, specifically Turtles in Time for some reason (my favorite game in the genre).  Knack… Knack is a hidden gem.  It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a very solid game that definitely kicks the crap out of PS4’s other 2013 and 2014 exclusives.  I’m genuinely anticipating Knack 2, which looks like a significant improvement on what turned out to be a solid foundation.  Give this game a chance: the fact that it’s getting a sequel is a miracle.

Grand Theft Auto III

What I Expected

If you’ve been following my articles, you probably saw this coming a mile away.  But if you haven’t, this is probably a pretty big surprise.  The first two negative example games are hated by most people, but not Grand Theft Auto 3.  This is considered one of the most influential games of all time, it basically started a genre and just look at how much you can do!  Being under 17 and having just recently convinced my parents to let me play M rated games when GTA3 came out in 2001, I decided not to push my luck and ignored it while everyone raved about it.  Years later, I finally picked up the game, my first GTA.  Having heard everyone rave about this game for years and intrigued by the length and scale of the game, I had pretty high hopes when I started.  What could possibly go wrong?

gta3

What Actually Happened

Did you realize that I was referencing Bubsy there?  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to be a hyperbolic hater and say Grand Theft Auto 3 is comparable to Bubsy 3D in quality.

…But it is about as good as the original Bubsy.  Now before you tear into me and I retaliate with my story about how I missed out on a genre I really enjoy for years because everyone insisted GTA was the pinnacle of it (the first good GTA game is Saints Row 2), let me go over everything GTA3 does wrong.  Horrific aiming system, absurdly harsh penalty for dying that means you basically have to load your save every time that happens (and save points are NOT frequent), having to drive back to the start of missions every time you want to try again, needing to track down hidden packages that could be absolutely anywhere in the entire game if you want to mitigate that penalty for dying, this open world game from 2001 not having a freaking MAP.  Trying to actually play this game for any purpose besides mindless chaos is a nightmare, and the game still makes said chaos a pain in the ass to accomplish.  The consequences for dying or being arrested being so harsh goes completely against the “freedom” this game supposedly gave players.  And while future GTAs would fix some of the problems from this game, several gigantic ones stayed around until Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, the first game in the series I actually like.  And it would have been so easy to fix these problems (the HD remaster of San Andreas fixes enough to make it enjoyable), but no one seemed to care about them in any way until Grand Theft Auto IV’s fan backlash.  Sorry, but I think GTA3 is a genuinely bad game and probably the most overrated of all time.

Tetris Attack

What I Expected

Puzzle games seemed inherently boring to me when I was new to gaming.  Doing nothing in a game but rearranging blocks seemed completely pointless.  I was aware of Tetris because everyone on the planet is, but I had no desire to play it, similar games, or games that I would later discover only had its name slapped on them for a marketing gimmick (you know, we’d probably have this game on Virtual Console if it was called Yoshi’s Puzzle League).  I never would have chosen to play Tetris Attack, but Blockbuster had a promotion where renting it came with a free other game rental of your choice, so there was no reason not to rent it.  And since I had the cart, why not give it a quick chance?  But aside from the Yoshi’s Island setting, I wasn’t expecting to really enjoy anything in the game, it would probably be a more colorful Wordtris.

tetrisattack

What Actually Happened

Literally the second I started playing I loved it.  I could go on about why Tetris Attack is the best puzzle game of all time, going into how the mechanics fix a massive flaw inherent to almost every other competitive puzzle game, but that wasn’t what I was thinking when I played the game the first time.  The intuitive and addictive base gameplay is what drew me in when I thought I hated puzzle games.  The competitive mode gave things a fighting game feel that I loved.  There was just something so inherently satisfying about the game, I don’t remember exactly what I identified it as on that day over 20 years ago, but I know my love was instantaneous.  My horizons were expanded that day, and Tetris Attack has remained one of my favorite games on my favorite system without ever wavering.  That moment where a game connects with you instantly and against all your expectations is something that can’t be fully recreated at both my age where I have played so many games, and in the age we live in where you can easily watch videos and read all you want about every game before you play it.  There’s a magic in my first encounter with Tetris Attack that I will always remember.

So, there you have it, six games that flipped my perception of them upside down within the first play session.  Aside from my personal reminiscing, the takeaway from this article I want everyone to have is that you can’t really know what a game is like until you play it.  Even with games where my expectations weren’t so radically shattered, nothing except ruining the game by watching a full playthrough can really let you know what a game is like before you play it.  Always be prepared going into a game, it might be a tragic disappointment, but it could also be a magical moment or great surprise that you never saw coming.

 

Retrospective: The Legend of Zelda – Part I

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Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of retrospectives I’m planning on doing. Considering that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild releases today, it seems only fitting that I start with the Zelda franchise. This is, by no means, a complete look back on the entire series. While I do plan a follow-up in the future to round out the remainder of the series, as of right now I’ve only played through many but not all of the Zelda games. In addition to the ones listed below, I’ve also managed to play Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds. So, given the fact that I’ve played what could potentially be considered the first half of the Zelda franchise – a bit less, honestly – I figured I might as well cover my thoughts on the franchise’s early days in honor of its latest release. Continue reading