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.

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.

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!

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.

How Wii Will Remember U

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

The “Wii U is Still Alive” Perspective

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

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

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

The “Wii U is Dead” Perspective

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

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

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

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

My Actual Thoughts

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

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

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

 

Retronaissance’s Most Anticipated Games of 2017

SNES Master KI

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

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The Year Without a PC Port Wishlist

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

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

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

You Just Might Get It

Over the past year, we have seen a significant uptake in confirmations for long-awaited titles with a significant amount of fan demand. Square Enix is finally making a full remake of Final Fantasy 7, Capcom is at work on a remake of Resident Evil 2, Yu Suzuki is finally free to work on the long-awaited Shenmue III and Sony even revived The Last Guardian, a project many had assumed dead (myself included). We’ve also seen Half-Life 3 listed on a Steam database leak that included many other titles which have since been confirmed. Even last month, there have been some rumblings from some very reliable sources that Nintendo may finally be releasing Mother 3 outside of Japan, which is what led me to reflect on all of these events in the first place. Is this the beginning of a new renaissance for video games or could this be the beginning of the end of the current era of video games?
Yes, I know that last bit seems a bit like hyperbole, but think about it: many of these titles have been the money shot for companies, the one big thing each publisher could offer that could bring even the most jaded ex-customers evangelize that their once-beloved company has made a complete return to form…assuming all goes according to plan. After all, this isn’t the first time that games once thought impossible or abandoned have resurfaced.
Exhibit A: Duke Nukem Forever. After languishing in development hell for over a decade, DNF finally managed to hit store shelves in 2011. It was met with mostly negative reactions: the gameplay had modernized the wrong aspects, while keeping outdated elements that could use updated; the game’s storyline and humor was considered immature and juvenile at best and downright offensive at worst and some have even claimed that the graphics in the final build look worse than some of the earlier unreleased builds. One of the best examples of the old idiom “be careful what you wish for”, the only things that came out of Duke Nukem Forever’s eventual release were the IP being doomed to being confined to one of the scummiest developers I’ve ever seen since I started playing video games and the fact that it acts as a perfect warning that any dream game can easily be turned into a nightmare given the proper circumstances.
Then again, Duke Nukem Forever was merely a sequel. I’ve pretty much always assumed that remakes are held with even more scrutiny than sequels. A few years back, I wrote that sequels generally had a rough time just due to fanbases never being able to agree on how much or how little a new iteration of a series should change from its predecessors. Yet no one would disagree that a game’s sequel should change at least something. Likewise, very few fans would bemoan borrowing any concepts from the game’s pedigree – unless there were complete shifts in the series’ history and even then, most fans generally have a good idea of what game to use as a base for future games in their series of choice. When dealing with pre-established material, the idea that anything should deviate from the source material is itself a heated topic for debate. Some believe that a remake should closely resemble the original game as much as possible, with the only real alterations being improved graphics and load times. Others believe that a remake is license to fully reimagine the original source material to the point where it becomes unrecognizable. Most gamers fall somewhere between these two extremes and unfortunately, there’s the rub: with an even broader spectrum to play with, there’s an even smaller chance that the developers can make a product that would satisfy the majority of the audience.
We’re already seeing that now with Final Fantasy 7 Remake. When the game was first announced, every fan of the PS1 classic was completely elated, especially after the cruel tease that the Steam port of the original PC version was being ported to PS4 in the first place. Eventually, information began trickling in. Fans were pleased with the early graphics and the exploratory gameplay impressed many. Then Square Enix revealed the battle system: not the Active Time Battle-flavored turn-based system the fans had grown up with, but rather something that looked significantly more real-time and action-oriented. From what I could see online, the fanbase was immediately divided: some kept open minds about the changes, with a few even stating that the new changes looked interesting; while others felt betrayed, saying that Square Enix had turned their backs on them. However, the worst was yet to come – Square Enix then announced that FF7 Remake would be episodic, that is, split into multiple games. The most positive response to that bombshell was cautious optimism, but the majority saw the decision with pure, unadulterated pessimism.
The way I see things, there are two distinct outcomes for these games and they all rely entirely on sales and fan response, critics be damned. The game either hits or exceeds its sales targets or fails to make them by a significant amount. Ironically enough, I’d consider failure to be the more beneficial outcome on these projects. Why, you may ask? It’s nothing against the projects themselves, but if the games themselves fail and the publishers didn’t sink all of their finances on development, then it should be easy enough to regroup and come up with a new project without the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase resting on its shoulders.
Conversely, let’s say these games are runaway successes. I’ve only got one question for the publishers should that happen: okay, what’s next? Let’s face it, if these games end up succeeding, all these companies (aside from SEGA, I guess, since they’re pretty hands off with Shenmue III) will have blown their loads when it comes to fan service. After all, what do you do for an encore when the most anticipated title in your library finally gets released? Sure, there are definitely other long-awaited titles from many of these companies – the problem is, none of them have quite the same reach as the titles they’ve chosen. Take Square Enix: if FF7 Remake succeeds, then what else can they do? Kingdom Hearts III has already been announced, but it’s currently being held up by FFXV. After that sees release, there’s really nothing with as much appeal – some fans might ask for a remake of FFVI (trust me, I know at least one guy who’s begging for one); others might ask for Squenix to try their hands at another series, Chrono Trigger comes quickly to mind. The problem with any of these projects is that they lack the same consolidated fan response that FF7 Remake has.
Of course, this is all just one man’s opinion – and that man tends to be pessimistic and likes to find the cloud in every silver lining. Maybe I’m wrong to scrutinize the logic behind finally giving the fans what they want, without any potential thought into the repercussions that might have in the long run or at least consideration of what “the next big thing” would be. In fact, I honestly hope I’m wrong. I happen to like most of the companies that are putting their necks on the line and don’t want them to go the way of THQ, all for the sake of a pie in the sky release that has a snowball’s chance in Hell of reaching the immense expectations of a fanbase that’s been salivating over these releases for at least a decade in most cases.

But Is It Art? – Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind

I’ll be honest with you: the concept for this article came to me awhile back, when I challenged KI to beat Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the NES. The game is notoriously bad, largely due to the fact that the only reason most people know about it due to the Angry Video Game Nerd’s videos on it. Still, while watching him play it, eventually the game began to almost make sense to me. This led me to speculate: if this game had been released in a different time, at a different price point, would it have been considered as bad as it is? The game’s mechanics, attempting to reach the end of each level as Dr. Jekyll and trying to regain your sanity when the stress (damage) of being Jekyll turns you into the more aggressive Mr. Hyde. For its time, the game was certainly bad, but the concept struck me as sound, much more interesting than many art games we see today.

So what is the point of this article? Simply put, I’m going to be reexamining games that are generally considered to be horrible under an artistic lens. Are these games actually terrible or was the thin veneer of bad gameplay simply hiding a much broader message? After all, most art is considered inexplicable to the mainstream and a majority of games today that are classified as art are simply pretentious, all subverting the traditional form of video games in similar ways. Even more interesting, there are those out there that consider video games to be an art form all its own. From that stance, would even those games generally considered bad be art?

Today’s topic is Bubsy, specifically the first game in the series – Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind. Bubsy is somewhat infamous on the internet, generally considered the worst of the Sonic imitators that flooded the market during the early-to-mid 1990s. There were worse knockoffs: Awesome Possum springs to mind. Bubsy’s claim to infamy, however, was the fact that he had more games than any other terrible knockoff of its time. Worst of all, Bubsy’s last game – Bubsy 3D in: “Furbitten Planet” – is generally considered one of the worst video games of all-time.

The early Bubsy games are generally considered poorly-made knockoffs of Sonic the Hedgehog. When I look at them, however, I think they’re a little too poorly-made in some respects. Perhaps this is just madness brought on by playing Bubsy via the Steam re-release Bubsy Two-Fur, but some of the design choices in the original game just seemed too purposefully misguided to attribute to sheer incompetence. This has led me to consider the possibility that Bubsy wasn’t simply intended to be just another competitor in the imitation “anthropomorphic animal mascot platformer” race to the bottom. Could Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind instead be a shallow stealth parody of Sonic the Hedgehog?

Let’s take a look at Exhibit A: both Sonic and Bubsy run at incredibly fast speeds. In Sonic’s case, it’s pretty obvious. At this point, there is a not at all insignificant faction of the Sonic fandom that consider anything but mindless high-speed exercises in holding right to win to be a bastardization of the series’ concept (It actually makes me wonder if they played the original games in the first place). Nevertheless, high speed action played a significant role in Sonic’s development and in differentiating him from Mario. For Bubsy, however, the fast speed was more of a detriment to the overall concept. Bubsy’s controls were slippery, the camera moved at a much slower rate and the level design was actually more evocative of the Mario games. In the end, running at fast speeds in Bubsy would pretty much kill anyone without a purrfect memory of the stage layout and clawsome reflexes.

That brings me to my next point, Exhibit B. Anyone who’s ever actually played Bubsy will tell you that he typifies the one-hit wonder mechanic in video games. Bubsy is extremely furagile, considering he can be killed by cheese wheels, eggs and falling from great heights (in a platformer, no less!). To make matters worse, the yarn balls (Bubsy’s take on collectables) are entirely useless, to the extent where they don’t even give you extra lives when you collect enough of them (despite what the game’s manual tells you). Think about it though, if you took away Sonic’s rings, he’d also be a one-hit wonder. I can recall a particularly traumatic segment in the first Sonic game I ever owned – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear – where I was flung into a boss battle with no rings and a child’s mind, believing that the only way to beat a boss would be to hit it and not, you know, just wait for the boss fight to finish itself while dodging bombs.

Of course, there’s more to this parody theory than mere gameplay mechanics. Even Bubsy’s attitude seems fairly familiar to anyone even remotely familiar with Sonic’s peripheral media, especially the cartoons from the 1990s: every other sentence out of Sonic’s earliest animated incarnations (all provided by Jaleel White, better known as Steve Urkel) was some watered-down kid-friendly take on the “attitude” that was prevalent in the mid ‘90s. Bubsy mainly kept his wisecracks to assorted puns and generally invoked a more Looney Tunes-inspired attitude. Meanwhile, the actual Sonic the Hedgehog, the one in the video games, also embodied the same rude ‘tude that was so prevalent at this point in time. The difference is in the way Sonic presents his attitude – through snarky pantomimes and gestures, non-verbally depicting his displeasure with being forced to stand still. In other words, if Bubsy was meant to emulate Looney Tunes characters, then Sonic was paying homage to cartoons of the silent era, Felix the Cat specifically springs to mind.

My last bit of evidence is tenuous at best, but it’s still interesting in retrospect. Both the original Bubsy and Sonic have similar stage breakdowns. Each themed area (classified as a “zone” in Sonic jargon) has 3 levels (“acts”) with a boss fight at the end of the third level/act. Another interesting similarity is that the final level in both games is generally considered its own area – though Final Zone borrows a lot of its aesthetic from the preceding Scrap Brain Zone and consists of a short corridor and the game’s final showdown with Dr. Robotnik.

Of course, most people would probably say that I’m just looking too deep into connections that really aren’t there. That I’m attempting to salvage a game that is generally considered abominable when in reality, it’s just mediocre at best. Obviously, even if Bubsy were poorly constructed on purpose, that’s really no excuse for such a thing. Another think that must be taken into account is that the post-revival video game market was still fairly young by the time Bubsy first hit video screens. Is it really reasonable to conceive that someone could come up with something as avant-garde as a parody of a recent mega-hit in a day and age where every video game had to sell at a minimum of $50?

Regardless, I feel like Bubsy’s status as a terrible game is generally overstated. Aside from Bubsy 3D (which is definitely an abomination), Bubsy’s games were more mediocre than anything. Spotty controls, bizarre level design and most prominently, an annoying purrotagonist may be strikes against the game, but it’s not necessarily unique to gaming’s most despised bobcat. All the same, looking at maligned games from a different perspective was fun – perhaps there will be a sequel to this article down the line.

What do you think? Is Bubsy actually the smartest video game parody of the 16-bit era or am I off my rocker? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

 

Last Splatterhouse on the Left

Well, Halloween is upon us and this is a video game blog, so why not talk about horror video games? Of course, the concept of horror games is itself loose: some people associate it with any sort of game that utilizes themes or elements of other horror media, while others assert that only games that truly cause fear can be considered a part of the genre. Of course, those two are merely the extreme opinions and whether or not a game can be considered horror is usually up for debate. We see it when people have arguments regarding when Resident Evil left the survival horror genre and became a third-person shooter action game. We see it when people debate whether or not Five Nights at Freddy’s should be considered a horror game, due to its mechanics. Needless to say, the horror “genre” runs into the same pitfalls one encounters with the “action” and “adventure” genres.

I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t think I’ve ever really been a fan of “true” horror games. You know, the old-school Resident Evils, the Silent Hills, the Alone in the Dark games, that sort of thing. I can’t explain it but I’ve just never really felt myself drawn to them. On the other hand, I do have a preference to horror-themed video games. I loved the Splatterhouse series, even the 2010 reboot which got mixed reactions for the most part. Darkstalkers is probably my favorite Capcom fighting game series of all time (and I think it’s a crime that we still haven’t seen a sequel, but that’s a rant for another time). I love the House of the Dead series, especially the Typing of the Dead spinoffs.

But why? Why do I love games that use horror themes, but not their implementation into core gameplay mechanics? Hell, I love horror movies, horror stories, even some horror TV shows. The fact that I just can’t enjoy video games as a horror experience baffles me. It’s not like I haven’t tried though. Hell, I even had Code Veronica on the Dreamcast. I just could never get into games like that, especially those deemed “survival horror”. However, there have been some cases where I’ve liked games that were arguably considered horror to some extent.

The Dead Rising games are a good example of what I’m talking about. In terms of games I actually thoroughly enjoy, they’re among the closest to actually being considered “true horror”, mainly due to their storyline being based on a horror movie cliché: fighting off a zombie apocalypse in a once-densely populated area. Of course, the Dead Rising games’ silliness and action-oriented gameplay (relying more on an active survival approach by murdering zombies as opposed to the passive approach commonly seen in survival horror games) makes it a very poor example of a true horror game.

The Left 4 Dead series comes significantly closer and is perhaps the closest thing to a “true horror game” that I actually enjoy. Although the games share the same zombie apocalypse theme as Dead Rising, they take a different approach to combat, generally acting as a detriment to the player’s survival and generally considered a last resort from a gameplay design perspective. A poorly-run multiplayer campaign often provokes more panic than anger from me, which is definitely a step in the right direction in terms of the emotions horror games are intended to provoke. However, both Left 4 Dead games seem to play more like first-person shooters and the game’s versus mode (which allows one team to take control of Infected) tends to undermine the attempts at achieving a tone of true horror.

So what are my main problems with most “true horror” games? Well, I can think of 4 main issues that come to mind. They may not apply to all games from the genre, but enough of them to become pressing concerns for me. First, many games that are considered “true horror” (especially survival horror games) tend to have really stiff or otherwise poor controls. Looking at you, old-school Resident Evil. Now I understand that this is an attempt to immerse the player into their character’s perspective of utter helplessness. Unfortunately, I don’t think most people running for their lives are stuck with things like tank controls or the ability to only aim their gun at three very distinct heights, especially not elite members of a paramilitary organization. There are probably better ways to achieve the same feeling of vulnerability. Maybe give the character a stamina meter that can be drained both by physical exertion and direct confrontations with whatever fiends they encounter. Maybe apply kickback to firearms that either damages the player character or at the very least stuns them, leaving them open for attack if they waste a shot. Hell, some kind of an injury mechanic could be interesting.

Number two: jump scares. I’m going to be honest, I just think they’re a really cheap tactic. Pretty much every horror game I’ve seen has relied on them to at least some extent. I’m not saying that they should be removed, not at all. Regardless, games shouldn’t rely on them entirely for their scare factor. It just ends up coming off as hokey. There are other types of horror that one can exploit: paranoia, revulsion, the fear of the unknown, helplessness and even the loss of sanity itself. All of these topics have been explored in games in the past, the problem is there just hasn’t been enough of it. Jump scares are far too common and we could all probably benefit from a more cerebral style of horror showing up in the genre at large.

That brings me to my next point: sometimes, when horror games attempt a more involved storyline, it usually comes at the cost of the player’s immersion in both the game itself and as a horror experience. The main culprit would probably be cutscenes. In the past, cutscenes had a tendency to look very different from the game’s usual artstyle. I can understand that they were generally used to animate something that would either be impossible to achieve or at least done significantly inferior with the in-game engine. Even today, however, there is still at least a slight difference between cutscenes and in-game events that just throws me off, not unlike comparing watching a live-action film to a live-action TV show. Maybe it has something to do with the framerate? I can’t really say.

Unfortunately, no matter how insignificant the difference between the two artstyles, it definitely has a detrimental effect on the player’s absorption with the game’s setting. It’s to the point where, unless you’re trying to recreate the FMV horror games of old on a modern platform, you’d be better off leaving out cutscenes entirely. It would likely be better to focus on in-game event, where players maintain the same sense of atmosphere. Of course, there are some cases where you may want the players to lose their autonomy. This would still be better achieved through some kind of an in-engine event, as opposed to a cutscene, just due to a more seamless transition.

My last problem is one where I have seen actual solutions, but at the same time, I also understand cannot really be fixed without a major paradigm shift in terms of how modern games are designed in general. It’s the lack of a sense of pressing danger. You die in a game and…well, then you go back to a previous save. In the early days, Resident Evil tried to work its way around this setback, by tying the player’s ability to save with a specific item, the ink ribbon, which could be used at typewriters in order to save. This did add a sense of choosing one’s saves in the game, but I feel that the saves themselves are the problem. Of course, then you’ve got ZombiU (recently re-released as “Zombi” on Xbox One, PS4 and PC), which I felt handled it better. If your character died in Zombi, that was it. That character became one of the undead. End of story. If you decided to continue on, you’d use an entirely new, randomly generated character and the only way you’d be able to get any items you had earlier back would be to take out your former character’s reanimated corpse. It was sort of like Dark Souls or a rogue-like game in that sense. However, I feel like the fact that the loss of a life came with some sort of permanence made survival more urgent. Now I get that this wouldn’t work out properly in a more narrative-based horror game, but maybe the implementation of a “bad ending” upon failure state, plus a way of making saves unusable upon a failure state would be a good compromise.

Are the solutions I pitched for my problems with “true horror” games actually viable, especially with regards to existing fans of the genre? Probably not, there are just some genres I don’t like. Survival horror may just be one, though I still feel sympathy for the fans who tend to think of the genre as dead, at least outside of indie games. I think I’ll stick to hybrid experiences like Dead Space and Left 4 Dead, those that only use the themes of horror like Splatterhouse and Darkstalkers (seriously Capcom, at least put Resurrection out on Steam!) and those games that aren’t considered horror, but still draw from some of the same tricks (you can’t tell me the Splicers in Bioshock weren’t scary as hell – Vita-Chamber or no).