First Impressions

These past few months, I’ve been working on a couple more retrospective articles not unlike the one I wrote for The Legend of Zelda back when Breath of the Wild launched last month. In addition to writing a far larger than average article, I’m also left researching various things, simply to jog my memory for games I haven’t played in quite some time, so I’ve had little time to write much else aside from a post on my side blog and another list in what’s quickly become my April Fools tradition. The one upshot to all of this is that I was running low on topics to write about outside of said retrospectives and in the process of writing them, I’ve had time to think of new topics to write on. In fact, the topic for this very article was inspired by a trend I noticed while writing one of the retrospectives.

Effectively, I was researching the fan reception of one of the games I was writing for – a game that I specifically remembered being considered the worst of its series – and found that, unsurprisingly, the game had its own set of fervent defenders. Some of the people defending the game in question made the argument that it was, in fact, the first game in the series that was truly the low point of the series and that most people gave it a pass simply because it was the first game in the entire franchise – and therefore, was owed a great measure of respect, as the series itself wouldn’t exist without it. Obviously, the argument raged on after that, but I must admit the statement gave me pause. I’d felt this way about the originators of various other classic series: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, MegaMan …the list goes on. Yet somehow, an obscure flame war on some internet forum actually made me reflect upon it. Many fans of video game series do generally afford the first games of the franchise in question a greater extent of leniency than all other games in the series.

I mean, the reasoning is understandable. Being the first release in a series means that not only have the basic gameplay mechanics not been completely established, as the games that start series generally end up being far more experimental in nature, simply because they were often developed as stand-alone titles in the first place. As such, it’s dishonest to compare them to their sequels: after all, most sequels tend to build on whatever framework the original had. You know the old metaphor, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”? Same basic principle here – the clear majority of video game sequels wouldn’t be able to reach their level of quality without learning from both the mistakes and successes of earlier titles.

Of course, that leads to the major question at hand: do we overcompensate when it comes to discussing these first games? It does seem entirely possible that when looking back at the games themselves, especially in the case of longer-running series, we’ll often forgive bizarre design choices, stiffer controls, blander level design and other short-comings, simply because they were the originators of their respective franchises. Of course, this is particularly evident in series where there is a designated black sheep – a later game in the franchise that is despised by the fanbase in general, no matter how many lone wolves claim that they actually liked it, either due to contrarianism or genuine love for the game in question.

The weird thing about this is that this level of protectionism only seems to apply to the first game in the franchise, as opposed to earlier games in general. It’s as if, by the time the second game rolls around, every aspect had better be perfected or else the game itself is considered garbage. Take the second Ace Attorney, for example – despite the fact that we only received the enhanced port of the first game, people judged the second game far more harshly. As such, people would ignore the improvements Justice for All made compared to its predecessor’s gameplay, such as increased complexity, a higher difficulty level and the addition of the “Psyche Lock” mechanic.  Instead, most player reactions concentrated on the game’s flaws, particularly some story elements that were not considered on-par with those of the first Ace Attorney. You’ve also got to consider many cases where the second game was a complete departure from the first game’s base concept, though this will often yield softer criticism than incomplete refinements of existing formulas. Yet, in other forms of media that gravitate towards a more serialized approach, missteps in the process of development are generally more easily forgiven. Why then are video games so different?

Is the reason for this standard practice merely consideration for the game’s age and relative simplicity compared to its follow-ups or is there more to it? Could nostalgia play a role? The fact is that while there is a case for nostalgia being attributed to some cases of blatant protection – Legend of Zelda, Virtua Fighter and Metroid all come quickly to mind – this isn’t particularly a rule of the case. I mean, I honestly doubt that many people attribute any lasting nostalgia to games like the original Tekken or Bomberman, but even new fans of a series avoid scrutinizing these early iterations harshly. On the other hand, there are cases where there are objectively worse games later on in the series, which kind of muddies discussion about the first game’s flaws – it’s kind of difficult to pick apart a game if one of its successors is obviously flawed in ways even the original managed to avoid.

This phenomenon is particularly strange when you consider video game genres and sub-genres in general. While the first game in a beloved series will often be given a pass for their various shortcomings, the same is not always true for games that originated entire genres. For example, Pac-Land could be said to be one of, if not the, earliest attempts at creating a side-scrolling platformer, but doesn’t receive nearly as much love as the original Super Mario Bros., which popularized the genre in general. The same can be said for Karate Champ with regards to the fighting game genre: it’s generally viewed as a curiosity as opposed to hailed as a legitimate game, despite creating many of the conventions the genre enjoys to this day. Likewise, I’ve heard few discussions of the history of RPGs mention the Atari 2600’s Dragonstomper, perhaps the earliest example of the genre appearing on home consoles. Most discussions favor discussing Dragon Quest, or worst case scenario, the original Final Fantasy. This would seem to imply that age is not the only factor that causes people to be protective of the first games in these series, likely because these games are so obscure, they aren’t really under attack either. Still, it feels a bit hypocritical that if earlier games are considered important, these trailblazers aren’t afforded the same privilege.

While writing this article, I also considered if there were any major examples of series originators that missed out on these protections. I racked my brain, trying to think of multiple examples, but in the end, I could only think of one: the original Street Fighter. For the longest time, most people’s knowledge of the series started at “Street Fighter II” and for some reason, no one ever seemed to question what had happened to Street Fighter “One”. I’m not sure what people thought – maybe they figured that the “two” was referencing that there were two fighters in a match? I’m not entirely sure. Basically, back in the 90s, if someone mentioned “Street Fighter”, you knew they were talking about SF2, period. Of course, I had limited knowledge of the original Street Fighter game – but that came in the form of a port that managed to be worse than the original in every respect. These days, however, knowledge of the original 1987 arcade game is a lot more common, albeit tinged with copious amounts of vitriol. I’d probably argue that it’s almost a comedy of errors that Capcom still celebrates the franchise’s anniversaries on the original Street Fighter’s release date. Nonetheless, perhaps it’s the fact that it isn’t afforded any respect that made Street Fighter stick out in my mind: at best, I’ve seen people request characters that are forever tied to the game reappear in later titles as fully playable characters, as they are considered concepts too good to be left as unplayable characters in a game no one likes.

Maybe the true reason for handling the first game in a series so gently is less due to hostility towards follow-ups, but simply done with the purpose – subconsciously or otherwise – of making sure that these games don’t end up like the original Street Fighter. In the end, these games definitely hold an important place in the history of not only the franchises they started, but in the case of some particularly old series, video game history itself. I guess when you take that concrete level of importance into account, it’s easy to see how an attempt at treating these gaming giants with well-earned respect can quickly go overboard – nostalgia filter or no. Likewise, bashing a game simply because the ones that followed it improved on the formula isn’t particularly fair. However, by that very same token, holding a sequel accountable for “not doing enough” to improve on its precursor by criticizing it excessively doesn’t strike me as the proper response either. In the end, I guess it’s just better to keep a firmer grasp on context in general when documenting a series’ evolution, regardless of medium.

Abbott and Costello Meet 10 Games I Want Ported to PC

Hello again, readers. I know I kind of missed out on doing an article earlier this month, but I’m hoping to make up for it with this one. Yep, another article about PC ports. That’s not to say that it’s all been gloom and doom: Sega gave a surprise announcement that the original Valkyria Chronicles would be ported to PC earlier this month, with support for 1080p (and higher) resolutions, the capability to run at 60 frames-per-second, remappable controls (keyboard/mouse support too) and all of the previous DLC included in the base package for the low price of $20. Better still, sales of the game have all but exceeded Sega’s expectations, so there’s a distinct possibility that we’ll see even more delayed ports of Sega games hit PC in the coming months. Tekken 7 was recently announced to be running on two different types of arcade cabinets when it launches in Japan, one that makes use of the System 369 board (used for Tag2, matching the PS3’s specs) and their current System ES (a PC-based architecture), which is fueling existing rumors that Tekken 7 will be hitting PC in addition to PS4 and Xbox One. Finally, in response to Xbox One becoming compatible with Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 10, it’s being speculated that there’s a possibility that more XBO exclusives will be making the jump to PC at some point in the future, either as full ports or through some ability to stream the games on PC from the console itself.

Needless to say, it’s been a good couple of months for PC gaming in terms of news. Best of all, at least from my perspective, is that my streak of game requests getting PC ports announced appears to be unstoppable. Just a couple of days ago, it was revealed that H2 Interactive, the Korean publisher that has been handling the re-releases of Arc System Works’ fighters on Steam, is going to be porting Blazblue: Continuum Shift EXTEND to Steam next month.

Once again, it’s time to go over the rules. This is pretty much second nature to anyone who’s read any of my previous lists, and if you haven’t, you totally should. A lot of gems buried in those older lists and it may even answer the question of why certain games I’ve mooned over don’t show up this time around. My lists stick mostly to third-party companies (aside from Microsoft) with a general focus on companies that have recently released games on PC. Games will be taken from the seventh (360/Wii/PS3) and eighth (WiiU/PS4/XBO) generations of video games, as well as handhelds from those eras and mobile games. Games that weren’t system exclusives are preferred. Finally, games from the same series released on the same console can be packaged together on a single list entry. Well, that was relatively painless, now to hit you with some games.

Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse – WayForward (3DS/WiiU)

I’ve always been kind of interested in the Shantae series, ever since I first saw an ad for the first game in magazines back in Junior High. Unfortunately, due to a strange aversion to playing video games out of release order, I was only able to actually play through the entire series this past year. Since Risky’s Revenge is already on Steam and the fourth game’s already has a confirmed PC release (among many other platforms), it seems reasonable to ask that “Shantae 3” get the same treatment after the announced Wii U release. Use the Wii U version and Risky’s Revenge Director’s Cut as a base and it should turn out just fine. Considering Matt Bozon teased the possibility of Pirate’s Curse on other platforms, I’d say there’s a pretty good shot we’ll be seeing it hit Steam’s storefront in the future.

de Blob series – Nordic Games GmbH (Wii/360/PS3)

Recently, Nordic Games announced that they had purchased the rights to THQ’s colorful platformer duology, de Blob. Honestly, I view that as kind of a relief: we never really heard about the franchise’s fate during the sale of THQ’s assets after they went bankrupt. Other titles like Saint’s Row, Company of Heroes and Darksiders all got picked up pretty quickly. Better still, Nordic Games even teased that they were considering working on new entries in the franchise. What better way to gauge interest in the franchise than re-releasing the first two games on other platforms, like PC for example?

Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown – Sega (360/PS3)

Well, for starters, this is the third and final game in that Sega PC Ports petition I keep spamming at you. More importantly, it’s a damn good fighting game of the 3D variety, and the PC could definitely use more of those. Considering the fact that Sega’s planning an update to the arcade version (which unfortunately will be removing the game’s online features), there’s proof that the game still has a little more life left in it. Might as well port it to PC and introduce it to an all-new audience.

MegaMan Powered Up/MegaMan: Maverick Hunter X – Capcom (PSP)

In the wake of Valkyria Chronicles’ recent re-release and success on Steam, it seems only fair that I bring up another two games that I feel deserves another shot and a PC port could be the best way to achieve that. Considering the fact that Capcom’s recent releases in the MegaMan series have been re-releases of old games anyway, this would be a much better way of achieving this sort of thing. MegaMan Powered Up is probably one of the best and most necessary video game remakes of all-time. Maverick Hunter X, not as much, but it was definitely an interesting package, especially with the OVA and Vile Mode. Neither game really found its audience, as they were released exclusively on PSP early in its lifespan before it found its audience in any region.

The Legend of Heroes: Gagharv Trilogy  – Nihon Falcom/Bandai Namco (PSP)

Technically, these are actually three games: Prophecy of the Moonlight Witch (the second game released in North America), A Tear of Vermillion  (the second game in the trilogy, but the first released over here) and Song of the Ocean (third game in both respects). One of the few standard turn-based RPGs made by the folks over at Falcom, I found these games somewhat interesting. Unfortunately, due to my personal aversion to using the PSP, I was never able to finish them. Considering the fact that other games in the Legend of Heroes series have been making their way to Steam (the first game in the Trails of the Sky trilogy has already been released on there and the second part is expected to release soon), it seems reasonable to consider a Steam port. I’m not sure if Bandai Namco still owns the rights to these games, but if not, I’m sure XSEED would do an excellent job on porting them, like they did with the Ys games.

Sunset Overdrive – Microsoft Studios/Insomniac Games (XBO)

This one’s pretty obvious, honestly. It’s a bright and colorful third-person shooter with parkour elements and one of the few Xbox One exclusives that makes the system worth owning, at least in my opinion. Of course, having said that, it’s probably unlikely that we’ll see a port of this game to PC for quite some time, at least until the XBO’s library is healthier. Of course, considering the fact that Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome (both proclaimed “exclusives” at launch) eventually made their way to PC, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Sunset Overdrive share the same fate a year or two down the line.

Samurai Shodown II – SNK Playmore (360/iOS)

Considering the fact that they’ve been releasing a lot of other games on Steam lately, this one seems like another slam dunk. Regardless, I might as well discuss it. Aside from the King of Fighters games, the Samurai Shodown games are probably SNK’s most popular fighting game franchise, and SS2 is definitely the most popular game in the entire series. Throw in the bonuses and online functionality that we’ve seen in their recent PC Metal Slug releases, give it a similar pricepoint, and I’m sure it’ll sell like hotcakes.

Princess Crown – Atlus/Vanillaware (PSP)

Ever since I first played Muramasa: The Demon Blade on the original Wii, I’ve been somewhat fascinated by the game’s predecessors. After all, Muramasa’s codename during development was “Princess Crown 3”, while Odin Sphere was referred to as “Princess Crown 2”. Unfortunately, Princess Crown itself has never actually been released outside of Japan. Regardless, I’d still like to see it hit North America at some point in the future, specifically on PC, but seeing it hit other platforms would be great as well.

Bangai-O HD: Missile Fury – Treasure (360)

An interesting take on the bullet-hell genre, Bangai-O is a quirky game from Treasure that seems to keep changing every time they release it. The first game was originally made for the Nintendo 64 as a Japanese-exclusive title, but also eventually release in all three major regions on the Dreamcast with enhanced graphics, remixed music and less slowdown. It involved going through stages in an almost platformer-style fashion, while still utilizing typical shmup controls and movement options. The second game, Bangai-O Spirits, was released exclusively on the Nintendo DS, and was more of a puzzle game than anything else, clearing stages with custom weapon loadouts. Missile Fury resembles the original more than Spirits, and the jury’s out on whether it’s a remake of the original or a direct sequel. Regardless, Missile Fury outclasses its predecessors in one significant way: it finally achieves the twin-stick control scheme it’s been aiming for since it was first released on the N64. Either way, it looks hella fun and considering Treasure’s current proclivity to PC re-releases it would be a fine addition to any bullet-hell fan’s Steam library.

Omega Five – Natsume/Hudson Soft [Konami] (360)

Speaking of twin-stick shmups, Omega Five was an interesting experiment. Controlling your character with the left-stick and their aim with the right-stick, the game otherwise sort of resembles Capcom’s old Forgotten Worlds, one of my favorite early shmups. Unfortunately, since the game was originally published by Hudson Soft, I’m not aware if the rights to this game managed to be retained by Konami. Regardless, I’d love to see Omega Five get a second chance on a more welcoming platform.

I was prepared to accept the fact that my streak was technically dead at the end of this article, but I guess it’s stronger than I could have possibly imagined. Nothing new on my lists had been announced to be receiving any PC ports until the last possible day I could’ve gotten any news otherwise. Regardless, I was fine seeing the streak die, after all three games from my lists got announced back in September, so if I wanted to be technical about the whole “one game per list” gimmick. Considering all of the other good PC news I’ve seen lately, I’m sure things will pick up at some point. Until then, I’ll be waiting for SNK and H2 Interactive to release those new (well, new to PC) fighting games on Steam.

The Next Level: Selling Sega Bit by Bit (Part 1)

If you’ll recall, one of the earliest articles I wrote for this site was about Sega’s falling finances. Since that article was written, Sega’s been hit with the whole Aliens: Colonial Marines PR fiasco and they may be looking at a potential class-action lawsuit. Sega’s ship appears to be sinking once again, after losing one of the four or five key franchises they planned on using to remain afloat in these trying economic times, so now seems like as good a time as any to revisit the subject, wouldn’t you say? Last time, I explored the idea of other companies buying out Sega wholesale, but considering what happened with the bankruptcies of both Midway and THQ, it seems fitting to think of just what might happen if Sega gets cut up and each asset gets sold off to the highest bidder individually. So I’ve picked out 10 Sega IPs, some with recent releases, some that haven’t been seen for over a decade, some popular, and some so obscure you’ll probably think I just made them up. And just like last time, I’m not really dealing with what’s likely or possible, just what I personally think would be for the best when it comes to each individual intellectual property.

First up, the most obvious Sega franchise to get sold off: the blue blur himself, Sonic the Hedgehog. There’s an obvious answer to this one, folks. Some of you aren’t going to like it, but who cares. Nintendo has shown themselves in the past to be the best modern company when it comes to dealing with mascot platformers and even treated Sonic with respect when he made an appearance as a guest character in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Needless to say, I’m sure that Nintendo is more than capable of continuing Sonic’s rehabilitation into a solid series, especially considering their heavy involvement in the recently announced Sonic: Lost World. Failing that, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ubisoft getting their hands on Sonic. Just imagine what a new 2D Sonic might look like on the Ubi Art engine. Just the thought of that gives me goosebumps.

Next up, Virtua Fighter, the first 3D fighting game ever. Not gonna say I’ve followed the series as much recently, but I loved the first 3 games. The obvious answer here is Tecmo Koei. Let’s face it, Dead or Alive’s gameplay is practically identical to that of VF (with a few minor tweaks) and while DoA is considering a wobbling, jiggling joke amongst serious fighting game fans, Virtua Fighter’s pedigree is assured. Besides, VF characters made appearances in DoA5. And while Namco-Bandai is an obvious runner-up, as they’ve made two of the most popular 3D fighter series of all time (Tekken and the Soul series), I feel like Virtua Fighter would be a much better fit for Capcom. Let’s face it, Capcom’s been trying to get back into the fighting game market, but their past 3D offerings have been…well, mediocre at best. Besides, Tekken and Virtua Fighter are two totally different animals.

Then there’s the NiGHTS franchise. Effectively Sonic Team’s first attempt at a 3D platformer, NiGHTS filled the gap left when the Saturn didn’t have a Sonic platformer to call its own. An interesting game in its own right, known for its beautiful (albeit extremely polygonal) artstyle and amazing soundtrack, which truly brought the dream world Nightopia to life. Just due to the family-friendly atmosphere of the series, I’m leaving it in the hands of Nintendo. Sure, Journey to Dreams was kind of lame for a sequel, but I’m sure that with enough time, the Big N could nail down the formula. Otherwise, the game itself seems like a perfect companion to the Klonoa series, so give it to Namco Bandai.

Speaking of games with weak sequels, how about Golden Axe? Man, was Beast Rider a stinker or what? I’d probably end up handing off this one to Capcom, simply for the purpose of killing two birds with one stone. Some people want a Golden Axe sequel that lives up to the original. Some people want a sequel to Capcom’s Dungeons and Dragons beat-’em-ups (which are finally being re-released on every major digital platform). So like that little girl in that taco commercial, I ask: why don’t we have both? Combining the Golden Axe mythos and setting with the gameplay from Capcom’s D&D games would be muy bueno, don’t you agree? If that doesnt work out, I guess Konami, the once-king of beat-’em-ups, is my saving throw. Just because I’d like to think that there’s a chance they could pick themselves up and stop making a mockery of their former glory. Fat chance.

Crazy Taxi was another one of Sega’s arcade hits turned console classics. It was also the subject of another lawsuit, this time in Sega’s favor against both EA and FOX Interactive in regards to another forgettable Simpsons licensed game. Regardless, Crazy Taxi was beloved in its own right, with its unique objective-based racing gameplay. I can only really think of one company these days that tackles arcade-style racing games (and isn’t EA) and that’s Namco Bandai. Nintendo would also be a good choice, as there’s a possibility they might just make it an arcade game again. Just not EA. Screw EA.

One of the cornerstone franchises of modern-day Sega is the Ryu ga Gotoku series, better known outside of Japan as Yakuza. The games themselves are effectively a cross between open-world sandbox games (GTA, Saints Row, etc.) and modern 3D action games, particularly ones that ape the classic beat-’em-ups of old (God Hand) with some action-RPG elements thrown in for flavor, set against a backdrop inspired by popular Japanese yakuza films. I’ll be frank: I think Atlus is the best possible company to handle the continuation of the Yakuza brand, due to the fluidity of the brand. If they don’t pick up the rights, I’d just give it to Take-Two Interactive or maybe Deep Silver. Maybe it would help them experiment a little more with regards to their respective sandbox games.

Phantasy Star is one of those rare Sega games that debuted in the days of the Master System and still manages to see new entries to this day: the second Phantasy Star Online game is due to hit the West sometime this year, along with iOS, Android and even PlayStation Vita ports. Once again, I think Atlus would be the best ones to handle this franchise. They have plenty of experience with regards to many forms of RPGs, from traditional JRPGs (the Persona series)to RPG hybrids (the upcoming Dragon’s Crown). And considering the way their North American branch handled Demon’s Souls’s online, it seems like they’d be able to handle both the classic Phantasy Star or the much more popular PSO series quite well. Level-5 might also be a good choice, considering their work on games like Rogue Galaxy and Ni no Kuni.

Another series originating from Sega’s pre-Genesis days was Shinobi. Appearing on many systems ranging from the arcades all the way to the 3DS, Shinobi, while not one of Sega’s most lucrative franchises, is still among its most beloved over old-school fans. Considering their interest in the Darksiders franchise and their own (albeit recently-ended) relationship with Sega, Platinum Games seems like a fair choice to take on Joe Higashi et al.’s adventure, considering their success with action games like the Bayonetta series and Anarchy Reigns. FromSoftware would be another valid choice (they have self-published a few of their games in Japan) considering they’ve worked on a few Tenchu games and have made some games that are really difficult, like a good Shinobi game should be. Perhaps you’ve heard of one: Demon’s Souls? Regardless, as with Yakuza, keeping Shinobi Japanese seems like it should be a top priority for the series.

Now onto some obscure games. First off: Panzer Dragoon. Oddly enough, my top pick for the classic rail shooter is Q Entertainment, the developer behind such games as Child of Eden and…well, a whole bunch of puzzle games. Considering how well Q did with Child of Eden, their spiritual successor to Sega’s Rez, I think seeing their take on the Panzer Dragoon series would be interesting. Otherwise, give it to Treasure. Those Sin and Punishment games were amazing.

Then there’s what is arguably Sega’s most popular rhythm game, Space Channel 5. The rhythm market has kind of dried up lately, but I can think of a few companies that still make them. The one I’m going with is Nintendo: Rhythm Heaven is at least as quirky as the SC5 series was and frankly, I’d love to see what kind of stuff The Big N might do with either the Wii U’s gamepad or the 3DS itself. Namco Bandai, who are still making Taiko no Tatsujin in Japan to this day would probably be my second choice.

Next, there is what may very well be the most obscure Sega franchise I’ll discuss: Comix Zone. An awesome action beat-’em-up featuring amazing (at the time) comic book-inspired graphics and interesting fourth-wall breaking gameplay mechanics. Considering both the game’s strictly Western influences and the fact it was developed by Sega Technical Institute, a dev team located in the United States, I don’t think a Japanese publisher could do Comix Zone justice. I just ended up picking WB Interactive, considering they’ve done quite well with the Midway franchises they’ve obtained and the fact that they’ve published totally awesome games like Lollipop Chainsaw, I’m more than willing to say the franchise would be in good hands. Ubisoft‘s really the only other major Western publisher I can think of that’s dabbled in the beat-’em-up genre, with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

Finally, there’s Space Harrier, one of Sega’s earliest franchises. Effectively one of the earliest on-rail shooters, SH had a few arcade sequels and a few home ports, but mainly lives on due to various references in other Sega games, such as Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed including the main theme on one of its tracks. Considering how similar the game is to the Sin & Punishment games, Treasure seems like a perfect fit for the franchise, especially given their history with Sega. Handing it off to Q Entertainment might also be interesting, they’d definitely have an original take for the series.

So there you have it, a dozen Sega games paired up with companies that might end up doing them justice. But let’s face it: I definitely missed some important franchises this time around. So see you later this month with Part 2 and another 12 Sega games I didn’t get to cover this time around.