BeiN True to Yourself: How Nintendo Wins

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

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

 

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And look how well pandering to EA worked out.

 

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

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

 

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Mocking its name just made it stronger.

 

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

 

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

 

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

Yes, it absolutely was!

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

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

 

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

 

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

Retro or Reboot?: Streets of Rage 4

(I’d like to preface this article with an apology for the lack of activity lately. I just wasn’t feeling motivated to write any more articles for the past couple of months, mainly due to writer’s block. Fortunately, I’ve got some ideas now and I’ve decided to make up for the hiatus by posting two articles each for the next two months.)

One of my favorite series to write on this blog was Sum of Its Parts. Unfortunately, lately I’ve been lacking proper topics to continue it. I’ve received some outside suggestions, but they were all inappropriate: they were either series that I’m not familiar with or, worse still, series where there’s already an ideal game in the series (which kind of defeats the entire point of a series dedicated to fashioning together elements from numerous games to form an ideal sequel, don’t you think?). Still, I enjoyed writing those articles too much to just completely give up on the idea, so I decided to try retooling it a bit, to create a sort of “successor” to the original concept. Having said that, I hope you enjoy the first of what I hope to be many articles in this new series, Retro or Reboot?

But what is the point of this new series? Basically, I’ll be taking a series that has been inactive for at least two generations (so, at this point, we’d be seeing stuff from the PS2 era or earlier), preferably one that saw all of its releases in the span of a single generation and speculate two potential avenues for a modern revival: a retro-themed revival that would simply try to recreate the original concept (albeit with more modern technology and likely end up as a budget release) and a higher-scale reboot that would take the original concept and try to transpose it onto a genre that would be more palatable for modern audiences. Of course, both of these could go wrong very easily, but I’m going to back away from my standard cynicism and just go with what I’d consider the ideal for both iterations could be.

Today’s topic is, obviously, Streets of Rage: one of my all-time favorite beat-‘em-up series. The entire trilogy was released on the Genesis back in its heyday, though the first two games also received scaled-down ports on Sega’s Game Gear. Since then, the original games have seen multiple re-releases on modern platforms. Aside from that, the series has laid dormant since the third (and currently, final) game was released. Of course, that’s not to say that there haven’t been attempts to revive the series. The short-lived PS1/Nintendo 64 3D beat-‘em-up Fighting Force was originally an attempt at making a fourth Streets of Rage game on the Saturn. There was also an attempt at a series revival on Dreamcast, Bionic Commando Rearmed developer GRIN was working on a 3D remake before their closure, Backbone Entertainment pitched a new game, and even Ruffian Games (developers of Crackdown) made a pitch for an updated revival on what is assumed to be 7th-generation platforms. Unfortunately, none of these projects ever came to fruition and alas, the series has remained inactive since 1994.

Retro

Simply put, we’re talking about going back to basics here. A straight-up, good old fashioned multi-plane beat-‘em-up, in either a fully 2D or a 2.5D style. Of course, Streets of Rage 4 may not be the best possible title for a game like this, considering Sega’s previous attempt at an old-school revival with that number, but for the time being, let’s just use that title as a placeholder.

Potential developers for a retro-themed revival would be a good start, but before we get to that, I’ve got a couple of honorable mentions that were disqualified for various reasons. It’s a shame Sega scared off the team behind that awesome fan-made Streets of Rage remake, they were literally perfect for this kind of a project. Likewise, Double Helix did an amazing job on the Strider and Killer Instinct revivals, so seeing their work on a SoR game would’ve been great. Alas, they got bought out by Amazon and are likely relegated to making shoddy smartphone games for the rest of their tenure there. Just as well though, I wasn’t really fond of their designs for Jago or Hiryu anyway, so I shudder to think how they would’ve done up Axel.

With the honorable mentions out of the way, I do have a few developers in mind that I’d love to see work on this. First and foremost, WayForward Interactive. They did an amazing job on Double Dragon Neon (my favorite beat-‘em-up of last generation) and they have a previous relationship with Sega (they developed the Metroidesque Aliens: Infestation for Sega on the Nintendo DS). Another developer I wouldn’t mind seeing work on this would be Vanillaware. Sega did buy out Atlus, with whom Vanillaware has a previously established relationship, and they’ve done some amazing work in the beat-‘em-up genre with Dragon’s Crown. Finally, in spite of my mixed feelings on their work in the Sonic series, I feel like Dimps Software would be another good choice for a Streets of Rage retro revival. Ignoring their hit-or-miss record on the Sonic franchise, Dimps has actually made a great number of good games, including work on the recent Street Fighter games and the Game Boy Advance title Dragon Ball: Advanced Adventure (a great example of a full-2D beat-‘em-up), Spikeout: Battle Street (a sequel to a Sega Dreamcast game that was considered a successor to the Streets of Rage series) and even Demolish Fist, an arcade-exclusive 2.5D beat-‘em-up in the same vein as Final Fight or Streets of Rage.

Now let’s go even further into detail on the most important part of the game: the gameplay itself. The most important thing any developer put in charge of this project must consider is the “feel” of Streets of Rage and how it compares to other beat-‘em-ups. Yes, I’m aware that this is as vague as “soul”, “emotion” or whatever buzzword people who don’t like modern games says in order to justify their inability to articulate what it is they think the game lacks, but trust me, it’s not quite that bad. I’ll elaborate. Beats of Rage is a fan-made engine that has been floating around the internet for a number of years that is based on the Genesis-era SoR games. Many games have been made in it, including fan-made sequels and/or remakes of other classic beat-‘em-ups such as Battletoads, Double Dragon and Final Fight. Of course, these games don’t feel quite right as entries in the series they’re supposed to take place in, they feel like reskinned versions of the later two Streets of Rage games. This is an important distinction to make and as such, the original trilogy’s gameplay engines (especially those of SoR2 and 3) should be the basis to shoot for when it comes to making a brand new game in the series.

A new game in the series doesn’t necessarily have to be a 1:1 recreation of the classic games in order to be a good Streets of Rage game. There are some modern conventions that SoR4 could take on that would improve the quality of the game. As an example, I’d like to bring up the evasion maneuvers in modern beat-‘em-ups like Double Dragon Neon and Dragon’s Crown. Old-school beat-‘em-ups were arcade games through and through, with cheap mechanics that guaranteed that the average arcade gamer would feed their machines with a thousand allowances’ worth of quarters. As we know, the arcade scene is pretty much dead outside of Japan, but beat-‘em-ups never really made the jump properly and still relied on their old tactics like unstoppable cheap beatdowns for the sake of difficulty. DD Neon gave players an evasion roll (ala The King of Fighters) which, if timed correctly, also gave players a boost in damage. Dragon’s Crown gave players the ability to backflip to avoid attacks, which could be leveled up to allow up to 4 evasions in a row. Branching paths, like those found in the cease-and-desisted SoR Remake would be another element I’d love to see brought into the series proper. I’ve always been a sucker for that gimmick. Maybe timed boss fights like those in SoR3 could be interesting, but only if they’re properly balanced. One last thing that I think would be a good addition to the series would be to make good on some lost content. I am, of course, referring to the motorcycle segment that was excised from the third SoR game. Let’s face it, it looked fun and it would definitely add some diversity to the gameplay.

Finally, let’s discuss the aesthetic. Earlier, I mentioned that I didn’t really care whether the game was done in true 2D or “2.5D”. I’d like to expand on that and say that regardless if SoR4 uses pixel art, high-definition 2D graphics or 3D models in its artstyle really doesn’t matter to me. What I find more important is whether or not the game resembles those from the Genesis era. As I mentioned earlier, there were numerous attempts to make another game in the Streets of Rage series and what I’ve noticed about most of them is that many of them barely resembled the games of old. Sure, Fighting Force and the Dreamcast SoR4 had their excuses, they were trying to apply a new spin on a then recent, if slightly outdated series. Less forgivable is what Backbone entertainment’s pitch entailed. The concept art that was released for their pitch was…unsettling, to be polite. In fact, the only pitch with an artstyle I really liked was GRIN’s, because it actually resembled the old games to some extent. Keep the old games in mind when handling the game’s art design and you can’t go wrong.

Reboot

An old-school beat-‘em-up from the arcade days might work well for a low-budget release, but for something demanding a decent budget, it would just be a waste of money. Fortunately, we’ve got a perfect successor to the genre: the modern action game. Games like Dynasty Warriors, Devil May Cry and God of War all stem from the beat-‘em-ups of old, so revitalizing Streets of Rage in this genre would be perfect.

Having said that, there’s really only one real choice for this one: Platinum Games. They have the action game pedigree (Madworld, the Bayonetta games and Transformers Devastation to name a few), the pre-existing relationship with Sega and the popularity with core gamers necessary to even attempt a revamp of this magnitude with minimal pessimism. Having said that, if they couldn’t get Platinum to do it, I’d have at least a little faith in Dimps if they got called in to handle this one.

With that out of the way, let’s go a bit more in-depth with the gameplay. Like I said earlier, the best way to modernize Streets of Rage would be to turn it into an action game. The question is, what level of craziness should we expect from a modern translation of SoR? Considering the fact that the first game allowed you to call bazooka support, the second game included locales like a baseball stadium and an amusement park and the third game’s plot involved resurrecting main villain Mr. X as a cyborg and replacing key figures around the city with robot duplicates, it’s safe to say that the series was never really grounded in reality. Fighting hordes of gangbangers across a location as interesting as “The City” is bound to be amazing to say the least. If Platinum ends up working on it, I’d want them to crank up the insanity levels significantly though. I’m talking “fighting the Statue of Liberty with your bare knuckles” (ha ha) insane.

Aesthetic is a much different beast in the reboot compared to the retro revival. As I said earlier, most of the later attempts at a new entry in the Streets of Rage series had aesthetic problems in my opinion. In this case, I feel like the Ruffian Games version best described my fears of what a big-budget SoR revamp could look like: a bland realistic-looking world. Personally, if they decide to go all-out for the graphics in a brand new game, I’d love for them to take artistic cues from the Japanese box art of the Bare Knuckle games. Keep everything really colorful with high contrast. Neon signs and other interesting effects in the city areas and maintain the series’ tendency towards crazy locales. Even the first game, which was more down to earth than any of the others, had a level on a cruise ship. Basically, make the game look like 1990s concept art fully realized. Finally and perhaps most importantly, if you decide to redesign any returning characters, make sure they actually resemble their original designs in some tangible way.

With the two options for a series revival fully realized, I’d like to wrap up my thoughts with some miscellaneous thoughts: elements I’d like to see in a new game in the Streets of Rage series, regardless of the direction it takes. First of all, it is imperative that they get Yuzo Koshiro back for the soundtrack. Next, as for a roster of returning characters, it would be great to see all of the characters from the first two games return. Yes, seeing Adam fight alongside Max would be great, and you’ve got to bring back Axel, Blaze and Skate as well. I was never really fond of Dr. Zan, but I wouldn’t really mind it if he and the other SoR3 characters returned as well.

And so the first article in the Retro or Reboot series comes to its conclusion. What do you think? Would you rather see a Genesis-style revival or one that’s more up-to-date? Do you disagree with any of my opinions about how either take on Streets of Rage should turn out? Let me know in the comments section.

The Son of 10 Games I Want Ported To PC

Well, it’s been another two months, so it’s time for another one of my wishlists for PC ports. When I was first laying this article out, I thought that the fates had been cruel to me, and another game from my master list hadn’t had a PC port announced. Then I actually looked at the list and realized that another game had had a PC port announced: Battleblock Theater, which came out yesterday. So, that’s three for three. Not bad. It’s only sort of a minor technicality, but when I came up with the list, I had no idea there was going to be a PC port. Either way, I’m kind of worried about my chances up keeping up this streak. Who knows when my luck will run out? Considering the fact that many older games are still being ported to the PC now, I guess it doesn’t really matter if games on these lists get confirmed before the next time I write one of these. After all, it’s just a matter of time by now.

Most of you probably remember the rules by now, but for anyone reading this series for the first time, I’ll repeat them. First, there’s only one game per company per list. These lists will be sticking mostly to third-party companies (except Microsoft, because they also release games on PC). Most of the focus on these lists will be on companies that have released games on PC recently in some form or another. Games on these lists will specifically be taken from the seventh (Wii/360/PS3) and eighth (WiiU/XBO/PS4) generations, especially those that were on multiple consoles at the time of their release. Finally, games that are both from the same series that were released on the same platform CAN and often will be packaged together. So with this increasingly pointless recap out of the way, let’s get on with the list.

Super Puzzle Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix – Capcom (360/PS3)

Oh man, I have a long history with this game. It was the first game I ever owned with Darkstalkers characters in it, it taught me what Cyberbots was, and it was the game that made Dan Hibiki the #1 Shotoclone in my heart (CRIMSON DEATH FIST!). I was really happy to see this get an HD remake way back when, and it ended up way better than a certain other HD Remix Capcom put out on consoles last-gen. It was based on the Dreamcast re-release, which included two other gameplay modes which mimicked other puzzle games, specifically Columns and Nintendo’s Puzzle League series. The only major flaw with the game in my opinion is that it didn’t receive any sort of re-release on PC. After all, even the original home versions included a PC release. Weird, right? I actually had to look that up, and frankly, I’m just as surprised as you are. So get to it, Capcom. Commission QLOC to make a PC port so this game isn’t lost to the impending digital apocalypse once more.

Anarchy Reigns/Madworld – Sega/Platinum Games (360/PS3)/(Wii)

When I put this on the list, it was before Namco Bandai announced their upcoming PC exclusive 2-on-2 brawler, Rise of Incarnates. Many people have compared this game to Anarchy Reigns, as they both seem to exist within the same fighting game sub-genre genre: it’s an arena game akin to Virtual On, Castlevania Judgment or Namco’s own Gundam Extreme Vs. series. While RoI may have an edge in the PC market due to being exclusively designed with Western audiences in mind, I’d still love to have Anarchy Reigns on PC, just due to how unappreciated it was in the West, due to mitigating factors. Better yet, pack it with a remastered port of its predecessor. Madworld didn’t get much mainstream success due to its odd status as a hyper-violent game on Nintendo’s Wii platform, so giving the game a second chance on a new platform would be amazing.

Soul Calibur II HD Online – Namco Bandai (360/PS3)

Speaking of Namco Bandai, I was honestly a really big fan of the Soul series from the first game. I first played Soul Blade on the PlayStation 1 when I was a kid. The first game I picked up for the Dreamcast when it launched was Soul Calibur. Soul Calibur II is generally considered the best game in the series and for good reason. It just hit everything right. The series began its decline shortly afterward: Soul Calibur III was pretty good, but IV and V were terrible. Namco Bandai recently re-released Soul Calibur II on PSN and XBLA, while snubbing Nintendo and PC owners. While a Nintendo re-release would obviously necessitate adding Link back into the game (thereby finally creating a literally perfect version of Soul Calibur II with all three guest characters), a PC re-release wouldn’t require that kind of work. Just fix the netcode this time around, okay?

Metal Slug XX – SNK Playmore (360/PSP)

I was happy to see that Metal Slug 3 made it to PCs not too long ago, and I have to say, DotEmu did a good job handling that port. The online was around the same caliber as that of KoF XIII’s, and the emulation itself was handled well. Having said that, I’d like to see even more Metal Slug games make it to PC. Let’s start with the latest one: Metal Slug XX. A remake of the DS-exclusive Metal Slug 7, which added co-op multiplayer and a new character: Leona Heidern from the KoF games, joining her teammates Ralf Jones and Clark Still. Of course, she was DLC in the earlier versions, but considering how SNK Playmore handled the console DLC in KoFXIII Steam Edition, I’m sure they’d include her in the base package. Metal Slug XX didn’t really receive much attention in the US, only appearing on the PSP and Xbox Live Arcade, so a PC port seems like a quick and easy way to garner more attention.

Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold – Atlus/Arc System Works (AC/PS3)

Let me reiterate: I’m not really a fan of most JRPGs. So, when I first saw Persona 4 Arena, I was skeptical and frankly a little angry, as this killed off any chance of a Power Instinct revival. After playing the game, I fell in love with some of the game mechanics (like certain attacks causing status effects, a throwback to the game’s JRPG roots) and was only slightly annoyed by others (auto-combos). Either way, it was an awesome game and I’d personally like to see its update/sequel hit PC at some point, though I’m sure most people would put more of a priority on the JRPGs in the series.

Mighty Switch Force! 2 – WayForward Interactive (WiiU/3DS)

Last time, I mentioned wanting the original MSF on PC, so it’s only fitting that I’d also want the sequel, right? I can’t really tell if I preferred the original or this one, but this game has its own unique set of mechanics which makes it less of a puzzle game and more of a straight platformer than the previous game, opting for a more even balance between its puzzle, platforming and run-and-gun elements. As with last time, I’m pretty much just looking for a straight port of the Wii U version to PC, though I was a little disappointed with the fact that it used the original pixelated graphics instead of the sleek redrawn designs from Hyper Drive Edition. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers and it’s better to have any version of this amazing game than none at all.

Midway Arcade Origins – WB (360/PS3)

It really shouldn’t be a secret at this point that I love me some old-school arcade games. When I was a kid, I actually owned Williams Arcade Classics on PC. Sinistar, Bubbles, the first two Defender games, Joust and Robotron 2084 were some of my fondest PC gaming memories from my childhood. So when I heard WB Games was making a collection of some of the arcade games they acquired from Midway (and by extension, Williams), I was ecstatic. Alas, it was only announced for consoles. Even more disappointing was the fact that some of the games weren’t emulated so well, especially those that used trackballs. WB Games doesn’t exactly have the best track record for PC ports, but seeing this classic collection ported to PC (with some fixes for those games that didn’t turn out so well) would make me incredibly happy.

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles – Konami (PSP)

I’m a fairly big fan of the Castlevania series, specifically the old-school, linear stage-based games. Rondo of Blood is probably one of my favorite games in the series, but the first time I was able to play this game was through this enhanced remake. One of the games that made the PSP worth buying (at least to me), The Dracula X Chronicles was really three games in one: the base game was a 2.5D remake of Rondo of Blood, and it also included brand-new English translations of both the original TurboGrafx CD version and its sequel, Symphony of the Night, generally considered the best game in the series. Since Konami wasted resources porting MercurySteam’s pathetic attempt at a 2D Castlevania to PCs and other platforms, an HD version of DXC would’ve been a way better use of that time and manpower.

Akai Katana – Cave/Rising Star Games (360)

As you may or may not know, I’m a really big fan of the “shoot-‘em-up” genre. Steam has recently become a haven for indie variants of the genre and they even recently scored a port of Treasure’s classic Ikaruga. But as with most genres I love, it’s just never enough for me. I want more. Cave seems like a good place to start. Though Cave isn’t really known for doing PC ports, the game’s North American and European publisher, Rising Star Games, has handled some of their own PC ports of Japanese titles, so hopefully they can work their magic on this game and add another game of real pedigree to Steam’s every growing shmup library.

Ys Seven – Nihon Falcom/XSeed (PSP)

Recently, I’ve become a big fan of the Ys series. A Japanese action RPG from a company mainly known for dabbling in various forms of PC gaming? Hell yes. So far, I own all 3 (4?) of the games that XSeed has made available from the series on Steam and frankly, I want more. Let’s start with something simple: Ys Seven, like Oath of Felghana before it was originally a PSP exclusive. So why not port that to PC as well? XSeed’s small team for PC ports has done wonderful work with the previous Ys games, so seeing more from them would just be awesome.

So, there we go, another ten games. With three of my six planned lists done, it looks like I’m about halfway through this little series. However, recently, I’ve managed to come up with two more lists, one of which is a special bonus list, so good news for anyone who enjoys these articles, this little series will be continuing on into 2015. As for my hot streak, I’m a little less confident that it will continue by the time my next article gets posted, but you never really know. All the same, here’s hoping for more announcements soon.

Don’t Resuscitate, Reincarnate!

Some of the best video games of all-time have been sequels. It’s generally accepted that sequels are expected to be superior to their predecessors, due to the inherent interactivity of the medium, which allows for more improvements to be made with each new iteration. In fact, we’re generally disappointed when this turns out not to be the case. However, this runs counter to the majority of more story-focused forms of media, like literature, film and television. Outside of gaming, sequels are considered inferior to the originals as a rule, usually due to a ham-fisted attempt at shoehorning in an extension to a story that’s already met a satisfying conclusion. As time marches on, video games become more and more story oriented, which means that soon video game sequels will fall victim to the same exact issues sequels in other media suffer from. At the same time, the idea that each new installment will improve upon the original will likely always be relevant with regards to video games. So how can developers compromise between these two conflicting viewpoints?

As I said before, video game sequels, in general, improve upon the predecessors: refining existing mechanics and adding entirely new ones to create an improved experience. Despite the fact that many gamers bemoan the lack of original IPs, sales figures imply that sequels are much more popular. This is especially important for publishers, where even a single flop could spell disaster for all but the largest companies. The video game industry just isn’t as conducive to new intellectual properties as it once was… back when there weren’t any existing franchises.

Ironically, the games of old were always more suitable for sequels from a story perspective in the first place. Most games from the 8-bit, 16-bit and even many from the 32-bit eras of gaming had fairly simple storylines, akin to those of Saturday morning cartoons. I mean, just how many times did we rescue Princess Toadstool from Bowser or stop Dr. Wily’s plots for world domination? But as with so many other aspects of gaming, most modern games’ stories are much more complex, akin to more refined forms of media, specifically movies. Self-contained adventures with a concrete beginning, middle and end. For example, before a sequel was taken into consideration, the original Portal had a very decisive ending, where Chell (the main protagonist) simply escaped at the end. This was later modified with an additional scene via a patch just before the sequel had been announced. Less lucky in this regard was the original Bioshock, which had two fairly decisive endings, neither leaving much room for Bioshock 2, which itself had to play around with the first game’s canon by adding entirely new characters to the existing setting of Rapture. This attempt at retconing was met with much less enthusiasm compared to that of Portal 2.

Of course, other games tend to leave their endings open-ended. Sometimes, it’s because the creator wants to make an entire series as opposed to a single game. Other times, it’s just because the publisher wants to leave the option for a sequel open if the game ends up doing well. Unfortunately, when plans change or games bomb in terms of sales, the main victims are fans of these games. After all, MegaMan Volnutt is still rotting on the moon and loads of people are still waiting for the third installments of both Shenmue and Half-Life, even though most of us have given up hope. Reboots don’t generally fare much better, take a look at how well recieved DmC and Bomberman: Act Zero were.

So how do you reconcile the unique advantage that video games have always had with regards to sequels with the increasing disadvantages a greater emphasis on storylines modern games suffer from? Why, by making spiritual sequels of course! Spiritual sequels, while commonly associated with creators who have lost the rights to their IPs, could very easily allow for iterative sequels of old, without the worries of retcons and unresolved cliffhangers. As an added bonus, now all those whiners can get brand new shiny IPs with the added benefit of using a tried and true formula, allowing for a safer sell on the part of publishers and their investors, compared to an entirely original IP.

I can even think of a few good examples of some existing spiritual sequels that did fairly well. There’s the aforementioned Bioshock, which was actually a spiritual sequel to the System Shock games. The original Paper Mario was originally intended to be a direct sequel to Squaresoft’s Super Mario RPG. Same goes for both Vanillaware’s Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade, respectively codenamed Princess Crown 2 and 3 while in development. Compare Platinum Games’ MadWorld to Clover Studio’s God Hand or hell, Bayonetta and Devil May Cry. Blazblue and Guilty Gear. Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. The point is, it’s been done and in many cases, it’s worked out quite well. There’s your proof of concept.

Of course, in many of these cases, the original games in question haven’t been all that popular to begin with. I mean, Princess Crown never even made it outside of Japan in the first place and God Hand was a colossal bomb in terms of sales. What if you tried a spiritual successor with something like Call of Duty, Madden or Grand Theft Auto? A lot of what makes megaton hits like those three sell as well as they do is brand-name recognition. As depressing as this may sound, there is an enormous customer base that only buys games in specific series (CoD and Madden being the most popular) and nothing else. While most gamers are aware that series like this are exceptionally rare, publishers and especially investors are not. And in these rare cases, spiritual sequels would be incredibly detrimental to the future of any devteams working on said games. Unfortunately, in these conservative times, many publishers hold that intellectual properties are much more important than refined gameplay and given the realities of the marketplace, they’re not exactly wrong.

Maybe there’s a possiblity for a compromise. You could do something along the lines of a spinoff or even a sequel in name only, sort of like what they did with Street Fighter 2010: The Final Fight (which was referred to simply as “2010” in Japan and had nothing to do with either Street Fighter or Final Fight) or Red Steel 2, which had nothing to do with the original. You could also make distinct references to the previous game through advertising. And of course, in cases where the game’s canon has come to a decisive end, nothing’s stopping you from doing a prequel elsewhere in the universe: Bioshock Infinite comes to mind almost instantly.

Regardless of what happens, this problem needs to be solved if the industry is going to “grow up” like so many producers are trying to do with the medium. Personally, I don’t believe that dropping one of the key strengths video games have over most other forms of media is a good way to evolve. At the same time, perhaps gaming should strive to deliver on more experiences than just fun, like some creators want the format to do. Regardless of what direction gaming takes in the future, it is important to discover a compromise between the advantages of improvement of game engines via iterative development and the potential for self-contained narratives in video games.