(Editors Note: So, this is an article that I wrote back in March for my old blog that I can't access anymore because my admin broke the site and is in the process of getting it back up. Anyway, I didn't have any blog posts, and I felt like I wanted to share this article with the rest of the world. Enjoy, Dtoid.)
Remember the good old days of Capcom? When they weren’t afraid to experiment with new ideas? Nobody had thought to have a game where the main character gained and changed his weapons from boss to boss. No one even imagined that a game about survival in a city of zombies would explode into a phenomenon. Remember the two player fighting game that exploded into the definition of fighting games? These were all before Capcom decided we could be all milked for all we owned, and spawned out sequel after sequel (and similarily, rehash after rehash-How many times have I bought Megaman 2 and Street Fighter Alpha 3?.) However, back in 2004, Capcom may have had some sort of ‘mid-life crisis’, for they decided to financially back Clover Studios, a game studio that was to originally work on the Viewtiful Joe series, but spawned two more original games from their loins.
Advent Of Clover
Well, around the dawn of the Gamecube, the father of Resident Evil, Shinji Mikami, had the proverbial lightbulb ‘turn on’ within his head. From his ideas, the concept of the Capcom 5 were spawned: 5 games, produced by Capcom, that would be EXCLUSIVE to the Gamecube. No ports to any other system (This plan, however, ultimately f ailed). One of these games actually survived production, and became a staple in Capcom’s GCN library…and became the first game that would push Clover Studios into the spotlight…
Viewtiful Joe (GCN…later ported to PS2)
Henshin A Go-Go, Baby! The catchphrase of the games main protagonist Joe, a 20-something movie enthusiast. The entire game serves as a sort of ’satire’ to many things one would find on TV or Movies: From the main character being a parody of the henshin characters of the 70s, 80s, and 90s (For those who are uninformed, Henshin characters are essentially the Power Rangers that many products of the American 90s grew up with), too the climactic ‘Mech’ battle that ends the game. This tongue-in-cheek humour was part of the charm of Viewtiful Joe. The player could easily laugh at the tried and true “It’s funny because it’s true” formula of comedy, thus getting a few smiles out of the odd game. Aside from the quirky dialogue, the gameplay itself was also an experiment in the gaming world. Joe has been given the V-watch, a device that would transform him into the hero known as Viewtiful Joe, as well as grant him powers to manipulate time, from slowing down time to inflict more damage, or speeding up to set himself ablaze to give his punches that fiery edge. These powers are meant to show the effects that some movies use in their production and add to their satirical nature of the game (The Matrix used slowdown, many movies use ‘Zoom in’ for emphasis, and speeding up has been used in numerous movies that I can’t even remember.) I’m not going to go too in-depth into the gameplay or story itself (Wiki it, or search the numerous more recognized websites on the web), but these gameplay elements could have been horribly done, resulting in a broken game that refused to use these elements to it’s advantage. Luckily for the world, Capcom was able to pull off the game perfectly, from great gameplay to a rather oddly-charming story. Yes, this game was done so well that it warranted a PS2 port (breaking from the plan of the Capcom 5 in the process, but at the same time giving us an all new story-mode with Dante from Devil May Cry.)
However, for some reason Capcom saw itself unfit to publish or develop any more games from their main studio…yet, with the clamoring for a port to the PS2, Capcom couldn’t ignore an opportunity to cash in on a new franchise…thus, they decided to lease the development of the further Viewtiful Joe games to the newly funded Clover Studios. They went on to develop Viewitful Joe 2, Viewtiful Joe: Red Hot Rumble, and Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble. Although Viewtiful Joe 2 was a good game, the other two were mediocre, partially due to the mechanics that were attempted to be implanted on a DS and a Super Smash Brothers-esque fighter, that just didn’t work with the Viewtiful Joe mechanic. Yet, their efforts on Viewtiful Joe obviously gained them some recognition, for their next game would attempt to build on the very same originality that Viewtiful Joe had let them play around with, resulting in…
Ah, Okami. The ‘magnum opus’ from Clover Studios, this game was release in 2006 on the PS2, and unfortunately suffered from a lack of sales, and thus remained a rather unknown title, despite it’s positive reviews from gaming outlets world wide. Game of the Year, Game of the Month, PS2 Game of the Year…all these awards raised the awareness of this beautiful title, yet it was too little too late: by the time these ‘awards’ were given out, Clover Studios had already been shut down, and copies of the game began to appear less and less on shelves everywhere (Hell, my copy was one of two left in a rather popular Gamestop store in the area.)
The game itself was a work of art. It took place in unspecified years past, wherein the story combines multiple elements of Japanese Folklore and Mythology, creating an epic story of a God fighting against the darkest forces on Earth, in an attempt to save the world from the darkness itself. The art and backgrounds of the game are directly reminiscent of the old Japanese watercolour paintings, as well as traditional wood carvings. The game is also ‘animated’, if you will, in a sort of way that calms you, and it appears as though everything sways together as one. The central element of the game is also art related: The Celestial Brush. This adds a breath of fresh air to the usual Action/Adventure game, requiring the user to ‘draw’ on canvas as a way to alter the environment, such as creating a bridge or slash an enemy. It’s really quite original, and allows for a bit of fun during puzzle solving or combat.
Again, If you’d like more information on the game itself, wikipedia is always available, or you could do the right thing and go purchase the game. Now, one may ask themselves ‘Why is he so positive of this game?’ Well, in truth, this game is easy to recommend: It’s kind of like Zelda for the PS2. The brush elements are unique and creative, the story is interesting due to it’s mash-up of Japanese mythology and tales from the days of old, and the art and feeling of the entire game just…well, it’s just beautiful, to say the least. It’s amazing how Clover’s first original game became a cult hit, yet they were shut down by Capcom about a year later. However, in this one year timespan, Clover was able to deliver one final punch…(No pun intended)
GOD HAND (PS2)
Oh, God Hand, the troubled little brother to Okami’s prestigious presence. God Hand was released in September of 2006 (for the bargain price of $30), less than a year after Okami. However, in contrast to Okami which gained so much praise amongst critics, God Hand gained a less stable group of scores, ranging from a 3 to as high as a 9. Yet, in this world of over-the-top, bloom-filled, 60-hour long video games, the simplistic greatness of God Hand was overlooked by many.
The game starts off…well, it essentially starts off with the main character kicking ass. It continues like that…until the end of the game. Yes, the entire game is one big 3d Beat ‘em up. No plot, no character development, no EXP system…just combos, over the top humour, and loads and loads of ass kicking. Yes, this game was essentially created as a throwback to the beat ‘em up games that populated arcades back in the 80s and 90s: Streets of Rage, Final Fight, even Captain American and the Avengers. You go around, beating up people, gaining new moves, and using them to beat them up faster. Sounds repetitive, right? No sir, this game is far from repetitive. You continuously unlock new moves that allow you to perform a ‘Pimp Slap’, or the (more serious, deadly sounding) ‘Dragon Kick’, that just add the combos and hilarity of the fights.
Now, fighting aside, the game itself does something that other games fear to do: It makes fun of itself. Nothing in this game could possibly be taken seriously. There’s a fat, mexican stereotype who fights by blowing smoke from his cigar at you. There’s a pair of two flamboyantly homosexual brothers that attempt to beat you by shoving their butts into you, or even spanking you into submission. Hell, one of the earliest missions in the game has you chasing a fast midget around just to get the cure for a bite from a Poisonous Chiuaua. Yes, this is quite possibly the best part of the game: Clover builds on the satirical, quirky style that Viewtiful Joe had allowed them to experiment with 2 years earlier.
Evidently, some of those who played God Hand couldn’t possibly take a joke to save their lives. They don’t realize that the game was a parody, in the same way that Weird Al parodies music: It’s kind of like the original product, yet it’s meant to induce humour instead of a feeling of…fear…or sadness…or whatever the hell kind of feeling your music inspires within you. God Hand is quite possibly the most charming game out of the bunch. It’s humour will leave you with a smile, and the gameplay is so oddly satisfyingly simple that you just can’t stop playing. Even if you don’t want ’simplicity’, Clover Studios included a ‘Hard Mode’, wherein every enemy constantly attacks you first, and doesn’t let up when you run away or attempt to knock them away. God Hand even dropped to 20 dollars recently, allowing for a great gaming experience for 20 bucks. This is one game that you should be sure to pick up, if you like kicking ass or cracking a smile.
(Yeah, the God Hand part of this article was partially weak. Why is that you ask? Because there is a better article about God Hand and it’s essence on one of my favorite sites: Hardcore Gaming 101. Take a look for yourself, then go out and buy it: http://hg101.classicgaming.gamespy.com/godhand/godhand.htm )
Well, after God Hand was released, Capcom must have decided that change was bad, and experimentation could be dangerous, and thus decided to completely dissolve Clover Studios after only two years of existance (instead choosing to continue producing new entries into the Rockman.EXE franchise for years to come). The rights for VJ, Okami, and God Hand returned to their parent company. In fact, Okami is being developed by the main studio for a Nintendo Wii port (meant to optimize the brush techniques for a Wiimote.) Thus, Clover Studios was only able to produce three good games. Yet, each one of them is a great gaming experience. In fact, if it leaves the player with any sort of desire, it’s probably a desire for more games in the vain of a crazy beat ‘em up, epic adventure, or movie themed side-scroller.
It’s not the end for Clover fans, though. Upon the death of Clover, it was allegedly formed into the new gaming studio dubbed ‘Seed’. While it hasn’t been announced that it’ll be working on anything just yet (the web site seems to only be recruiting new employees), it’s almost guaranteed that Clover/Seed will deliver new games to the PS3, a system in desperate need of original, satisfying games. A direct or spiritual successor to Okami wouldn’t be a bad idea…hell, it could even make use of the PS3’s newest technology…and God knows how much of a helping hand that game would be…