my name on PS3 is: jumanjidoubtfire my no on 3DS is:4983-4920-9567
Final Fantasy IV
No More Heroes 1&2
Metal Gear Solid Series
Ace Attorney Series
Sin and Punishment.
I like old fighters no one likes.
I like weird games like Warioware, Katamari, MuscleMarch, Cho Aniki, Rhythm Paradise etc.
My favorite movie is the one with the guy and he's shoot the guna nd thers exploshuon yknow the onetha t and that guys from analyse this or analyize that or somethin and the filmi think is clled jumanji.
Carrying on from last week, I've sought to establish through current and ongoing trends what's likely to come in the future of Franchises. From the decades old household names that never change but just won't die to the big name big money critic proof annual releases that bulldozer the charts no matter how good they actually are.
Reinvigorating a franchise doesn’t have to come in the form of a remake or a ground up reboot, it can also come as a spin-off. Above you can see two very distinctly different visual styles of games from the same Capcom published game series developed within the same year.
Lost Planet 3 (pictured left) is developed by US developer Spark Unlimited and E.X. Troopers (pictured right) was internally developed in Japan. Both belong to the Lost Planet series and take very different shapes.
Lost Planet 3 (from the main series canon) offers the gritty atmospheric gravitas of a first person science fiction shooter set on a hostile alien planet whereas E.X.Troopers ( a spin-off) exudes a colourful anime adventure world with an exciting and engaging cast.
Having games within the same series take on such a different approach helps cast a wider net on the publisher’s audience rather than just re-invent the series. Unlike Devil May Cry, a choice is presented rather than the nuclear option of resetting everything back to the drawing board. This is a great tactic in keeping games (and franchises) new and as a result accessible to new audiences while also showing established audiences that they get a more developed progression of what they already like as well as the prospect of something new on the side that would likely engage them rather than the more common expectation of merely a repetitive rehashing of the previous installment in the series.
However, presently Capcom appear to have shot themselves in the face by deciding not to release E.X. Troopers outside of Japan, thus snuffing any chance of expanding into a new market. This comes despite the game being released on Playstation 3 as well as the Nintendo 3DS in Japan with both ports cited as being very similar and offering little difference in recent reviews. An exercise that personally seems needless and costly to me when greater gains could have been made (if need be on a single format ) worldwide. Disappointing and baffling to say the least. 1 step forward in development terms, 2 steps back in distribution.
Possibly one of the more drastic franchise reboots of recent times is that of Konami's reincarnation of the Castlevania franchise (which over 25 years, without including spin-offs, ran through a somewhat cohesive narrative timeline spanning 21 games).
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is an example of both a migrated franchise and a series reboot. With development duties passed to Madrid based developer MercuryStream, the direction for this game was lead by a unlikely party under the Konami banner. The Hideo Kojima helmed studio; Kojima Productions. Kojima productions operates under Konami as publisher but with the freedom to collaborate and offset it's own projects through and with other developers.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow has since spawned its own offshoot timeline, Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 will follow on from the previous game with the series also migrating from home consoles to the Nintendo 3DS in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate. Although not much is known about the games at this point in development, the direction appears to have switched fully to MercuryStream’s creative ends. Series stalwarts such as Simon and Trevor Belmont as well as Alucard (above) will make their first outings in a revised manifestation.
BAFTA Annual Games Lecture 2012. ￼
The BAFTA annual games lecture once again helps to bring Games into the same spotlight other visual arts enjoy. This year’s lecture prepared the stage for an aforementioned visionary producer, Hideo Kojima. More an interview than lecture, a lot of the evening adhered to narrating his career and focusing on the Metal Gear brand.
As mentioned, Kojima was charged with initially bestowing the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow reboot with the same sort of ethos he’d established with the Metal Gear series at Konami.
When thinking about excommunicating the position and freedoms auteured works such as his have in the industry, it’s important to think about why he has those liberties when a lot of producers of such high profile (“AAA“) titles and series’ must adhere stringently to industry archetypes and set criteria established by the publishers. Simply put, having hit after hit offers the same sort of creative controls to a games producer that a Hollywood film director might enjoy. However, the games industry landscape is very different from films and has changed more dramatically over the last 20 years.
This may in part be due to new avenues of accessibility to new developers and markets due to the soaring rate of indie and mobile games appearing on the scene over the last 10 years or so. On the other end of the spectrum, Kojima’s end, we now have a stream of around 20 visually stunning heavyweight games appear every October from the Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, Call Of Duty (etc.) model. Not forgetting all the annual sports releases which perfected this pattern. The target is the Christmas market. Think of this occurrence as the ‘September Issue’ formula for the games industry.
It’s these later type games that command a high production value and large (often international) staff. These games cannot afford to miss their mark and that‘s why they don’t always deviate from the formula that made them so successful in the first place. The opposite of a game directed by an individual auteur (like Kojima) where the rules of the series can change on the whims of a producer, a product of a more or less singular vision . It’s because games such as Metal Gear Solid and Metal Gear Solid 2:Sons of Liberty (in particular) were hits before this landscape was established to such a high end that he has the freedom to work as a creative luminary. It’s also games like these that helped shape what is expected of today’s AAA titles.
Kojima’s dedication to following a more creative controlled approach to his work is undoubtedly more commonly seen in the film industry. It is unsurprising then that he is overseeing a forthcoming Sony and Columbia pictures movie adaptation of Metal Gear Solid. This creative approach works, Kojima is far from the only auteur to produce work the way he does in the Games industry.
Kojima productions are moving their hallmark Metal Gear Solid franchise forward in two distinct directions. That internally developed first direction is with Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeros.
Ground Zeros is the next canonical sequel to the series narrative featuring series icon Snake (whichever Snake that may be) as the lead protagonist.
A game created solely using Kojima's "Fox" engine. The intention of the new software is that other developers (primarily published through Konami) will also be able to take advantage if utilising it. Konami have already reportedly used the engine to develop Pro Evolution Soccer 2013. Kojima is rumoured to be using it in the next Silent Hill game. Just as with the Epic's Unreal engine (which made it's engine available for other publishers as well as developers), thus developers are able to co develop with each others tech.
Also unveiled this year, Square-Enix's Luminous Engine shows us the next step in visuals for the publisher and its development teams. Whether S-E opens the engine up for other devs and publishers to use remains to be seen.
Before Ground Zeroes, the Next stage for Kojima Productions and it's Metal Gear Franchise is already set. Metal Gear Rising: Revengence is a Platunum games developed action game following supporting protagonist Raiden.
This is an example of a migrated franchise, however the game play style is completely different from the core Metal Gear series so can also be considered a spin-off. On top of that this is an auteur lead subsidiary studio of Konami, that has outsourced it’s creative property to an independent third party developer - Platinum games. Platinum’s style of action games such as Bayonetta and Vanquish stems from Hideki Kamiya’s work on Capcom games like Devil May Cry.
I’m lucky enough to have played it already at the Eurogamer Expo and the frantic sword play and over the shoulder fighting reminded me of other Platinum games Bayonetta and the forthcoming Anarchy Reigns.
The visual and narrative style carry on from Kojima Productions while the gameplay and cinematic style are easily identifiable as Platinum’s. In my mind the shows a well considered collaboration where both parties have clear avenues of the creative control. Providing the game performs well in slaes, It also allows an easy transition to a continuous spin off series which would surely benefit both parties.
The Franchise Horizon.
As explored, large companies like Nintendo as well as corporate publishers like Capcom, Sega, Konami and Square-Enix must raise and maintain franchises. A franchise can either flourish by having it’s direction controlled stringently from the central publisher, even when the games are being made by another party. A franchise can also hope to expand by moving it’s familiar hallmarks and structures associated with it in a dramatically different direction. Rather than have this achieved from within the core publisher, this is often a duty assigned to another party to ‘make or break’.
The first method of keeping things familiar can result in too much of a predictable experience resulting in a diminishing audience. The second method of reinventing the franchise could potentially alienate the greater audience. The losses and risks are high but the publisher must continue to introduce new franchises to help itself prepare for the fallout of having a core franchise break down.
Auteurs like Hideo Kojima, Suda 51, Peter Moleneux, Cliff Bleszinski and other creative pioneers that either work through their own development studio or assume a high level of artistic control in their work, allow themselves a different approach to franchises. The franchise is associated not solely to the publisher but more often to the creative controller. Like a film studio hiring a top director. A high level of quality is expected. The publishers that fund or own studios affiliated to auteurs have a stake in a product that will be created with little corporate supervision. If it’s not a hit, the publisher can detach from the developer. Everything hinges on the auteur and increasingly what is expected from them in the minds of the more hardcore gaming audience who will be familiar with their work.
I feel the need to create spin offs (such as E.X.Troopers and Metal Gear Rising: Revengence) affords the publisher the ability to return the original series un-singed should the spin-off fail to meet expectations. It gives an audience the option of something new rather than taking away what they loved and replacing it with something completely different they could easily hate. Reboots on the other hand are a final option. If a reboot is so radically different, then why not just allow the ‘reboot game’ to stand on it’s own legs as a new original title instead? Remember, Instead of Devil May Cry being a game-changer sequel to Resident Evil (as was originally intended), it became something new and just as big as it’s progenitor. Just as in the examples mentioned, spin offs provide an opportunity to allow a new style and creative talent to prove themselves, to trial new approaches. It is a costly practice but I feel it poses less risk than the nuclear option of rebooting a franchise completely and can be done while the franchise is still a hit in preparation for when it might not be.
As the computer game industry continues to grow I think that the need for more influential creative individuals is greater than ever. Publishers need to not only nurture creatives from their own subsidiary developers to continue the corporate vision for a franchise, but also to support more up and coming self sufficient creatives they can outsource too when they need something new. The indie game circuit is an exemplary talent pool where risks are less severe and only the more unique and pioneering works are noticed. I suspect it’s in this grass roots arena where not only future auteurs will appear but where the possibility of future franchises as well as the future for our existing beloved franchises, will stem from.
I recently started playing Kid Icarus: Uprising on Nintendo 3DS. Although this franchise is considered a Nintendo keystone, there’s curiously only been 3 games made in the series. Kid Icarus was first released on the NES in Japan in 1986, it’s sequel Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters came out on the GameBoy in 1991, an astonishing 20 years before Uprising.
This is the Project Sora developed, take on a series which retained it’s reinvented look of protagonists Pit and Palutena from their own Smash Bros Brawl designed incarnations (created in 2008 under the HAL Laboratory development studio moniker at the time).
20 years can add a lot of distance between what was considered the direction for a series at the time of inception to now. As I played through I was surprised to discover that Instead of starting over with only the core concept of the pit character and mythic world intact, Producer Masahiro Sakurai and Project Sora made the brave step to actually make this a narrative sequel to the last game - from 2 decades ago.
Wisely, the key intended audience is a new one and a young one. Within the game itself lies the assertion that 2 games had come before this and that the battle with Medusa carries on from there (particular emphasis is given to the NES game). The player may be encouraged to seek out those games and discover them for themselves. This is an incredibly good platform fro Nintendo’s Virtual Console service (which is readily available on the 3DS store and Wii shop channel) to garner new customers. Early orders of the game worldwide came with a download of the original NES Kid Icarus . The ability to sell something old as new, a marketing masterstroke for Nintendo.
Sakurai has accomplished this difficult approach to narrative continuity incredibly well and I can talk at length about just how fun and immersive the game is. Marrying an airborne shooter (slightly reminiscent of games like Space Harrier and Sin and Punishment ) with an on-rails combat element gives the game play the much needed reinvention from the dated side scrolling plat former arrangement. I am mostly surprised that the step to continue the franchise as a series was undertaken because when someone new steps onto the flight deck of a major series and takes over, they usually don’t just change the direction, they change the very ship the franchise is sailing on.
As soon as a game becomes a hit for a publisher, sequels will inevitably crop up. Sequels that over time span into a series. Now with a fan base and critical reception to uphold, the challenge lies with keeping the franchise alive. One way to do this, rather ironically - is to kill it.
Reinventing the Franchise.
Finishing off a franchise for the purpose of reincarnating it in an alternate guise has always been a familiar practice in Comics and Films. However, this polarising approach has in recent years really began to emerge as a more standard practice in games.
Reboots evoke anything from excited to jarring reactions from a largely web based fanbase that has made a lot of financial as well as emotional investment into the property over the years. The bitter-sweet feelings of entitlement and property are understandable.
As Square-Enix give Tomb Raider a face-lift and Capcom’s Devil May Cry series gets re-spawned as Ninja Theory's DmC it’s worth taking a look at what is fast becoming the shape of things to come.
With the case of Devil May Cry in particular, it is easy to argue that this is Capcom’s attempt to make a significant breakaway from series auteur Hideki Kamiya and producer Shinji Mikami‘s visionary influence (before they broke away to studios like Clover and Platinum Games). The series’ easily identifiable stylisation and prototype gameplay which owe much to their initial creators still hold a key element which has more or less remained prominent despite them not directly becoming involved any of the sequels. The first game in the series was initially intended to be a spin off of Resident Evil, another property which since the departure of key contributors has undergone a dramatic reinvention from a fairly unique survival horror game built on suspense to a more familiar trend befitting action based first person shooter.
It is more in the business interest of any studio (not just Capcom) to approach a series as an accessible revolving door for contributing producers and outsourced devs that publishing bosses have a greater commissioning control over. it’s far more damage limiting than being a studio reliant on indispensable creative minds that can jump ship out of contract, taking their ingenuity with them. This does however put the visionary direction of the series in the hands of the studio heads who are essentially business men. Making assertions based on profitability and trends, unlike producers who are effectively artists making art, taking the risks to create the new trends.
My difficulty with this is that too many cooks can spoil the broth.
Although in the case of film franchises hits and misses are commonplace, games are a more expensive consumer product. A customer buying a game as a result will be less flippant on what there money is spent on than a film goer. The risk of continuing a series can mean the artistic difference of getting Picasso to paint the rest of a Michelangelo painting. Rather than bring the franchise to new heights it can just as easily ruin it, a feat almost realised already with Devil May Cry when Devil May Cry 2 (bizarrely created by a completely different development team from the smash hit original) was universally panned and nearly killed off the series there and then. It is however important for Studios and Publishers to take risks, just as developers and producers are paid to do, after all the Studios and Publishers have more to lose. If change isn’t invited you end up playing the same game forever and any chance at a new gaming experience or new market is quashed. Progress is a gamble.
Ninten-dos and and don’ts: Owning Property.
Seems a strange practice in an industry of fervent rivalries between developers. Sharing Franchises, or rather, outsourcing them.
Often an outsourced developer can take the reigns and rejuvenate a franchise while the original licence holder collaborates or oversees. They can even shrug off the bulk of the work or not get their hands dirty at all. In this way, the outsourced developer acts like a 'Ghost' Developer.
It's not always for the best. The more Nightmarish outcomes can leave beloved franchises dragged backwards through the dirt. Anyone that played the notoriously heinous Phillips licensed Zelda and Mario games can attest to that traumatic episode.
Nintendo however are a good example of how a publisher uses developers effectively, both their own and others. They have a long history of letting other creative minds steer the ship of their heavy hitters;
Nintendo benefits from having subsidiary studios with very distinct styles and direction. Internally, Nintendo EAD/ SPD (former R&D1&R&D2) and Hardware developers RED and NTD teams handle their systems along with Mario and other recognisable core franchises exclusively. The rest is created through internal subsidiaries:
Intelligent Systems Co for instance will handle second tier franchises such as Paper Mario and Wario as well as strategy games like the Wars series and the Fire Emblem series among others.
Hal Labs (where Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata started his carer in 1983) handle the Kirby and Smash Bros games.
Monolith Soft are a relatively new Nintendo property famed for their Xenosaga series. Since parting with NamcoBandai, they have co developed The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword on Wii and the forthcoming Animal Crossing: New Leaf for 3DS .Multi property collaboration Project X Zone is also one of theirs.
Retro Studios most recently put Mario Kart 7 onto 3DS but are more famed for the Metroid Prime series.
All games developed by outside parties are overseen by the Nintendo Business Technology Development team, or BTD for short. They work as an air traffic control making sure the brand and quality is represented well.
The Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime Series was followed by Metroid Other M. A Co-development between Nintendo EAD and Team Ninja, the TecmoKoei owned combat game developer responsible for the Dead or Alive and Ninja Gaiden games.
Landmark Super Nintendo game Donkey Kong Country was developed by UK based developer Rare as was Donkey Kong 64 among others before the studio eventually became a primarily Microsoft affiliated studio in the early 2000’s. They also had a hand developing StarFox sequel Star Fox Adventures. This series especially has seen a lot of outside creative input. Namco and Q-Games among others have also had a hand in the series.
The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons/Oracle of Ages and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures series as well as The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap have Capcom to thank for their hand in making those games so successful and memorable.
Nintendo still create a lot of landmark works through smaller development studios. Grezzo is a relatively new studio known for there creative teams’ former involvement in Square-Enix branded fantasy games, which makes them perfectly suited to handle the remake of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D for the Nintendo 3DS and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Anniversary Edition on Dsiware.
Nintendo’s franchises continue to uphold a high level of quality and presence in the industry despite much of the work being created outside of Nintendo. This is due to Nintendo learning lessons early on and understanding the invaluable practice of controlling the creative direction of each property themselves. This is also of key importance if they then later want to transfer a franchise to a completely different developer. It also helps that a lot of Nintendo’s franchises aren’t heavily narrative driven along a series and so wouldn’t require any sort of drastic action such as a series reboot. You can argue that most if not all Zelda and Fire Emblem games are a reboot, in fact (with a few exceptions) they don’t follow an explicitly heavy continuous story or design structure between games and so offer a new narrative experience with each game while retaining the same key game play.
Taking The Baton: Migrating Franchises. ￼
Inconspicuous third party developers can sustain a publishers precious flagship behind the scenes.
A fairly innocuous developer; ‘Dimps’ is responsible for keeping Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog franchise alive. Each of their handheld Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush games generated solid reviews while Sega’s core developer ‘Sonic Team’ had flop after flop on home consoles in the corresponding years of release.
Dimps also helped enliven the Street Fighter brand as it co-developed Street Fighter IV. A game the made the series relevant again. Helpfully, Dimps was co-founded by former Street Fighter co-creators Takashi Nishiyama and Hiroshi Matsumoto among others.
Bionic Commando is one such series to benefit from outsourced developer direction. The subject of a lot of stylistic remodelling in recent years.
Above; protagonaist Major Nathan "RAD" Spencer has almost seen a redesign per year.
L to R Bionic Commando Rearmed 2008, Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 2011, Bionic Commando 2009 (design also featured in Marvel Vs Capcom 3 and Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 2011).
Success in carrying a brand on your shoulders doesn’t always guarantee sustainability for the outsourced dev team. A prolific ‘ghost’ developer of recent times; Grin inadvertently became defunct, despite a string of triple A affiliated projects. Grin developed Bionic Commando Rearmed for Capcom. This was a download play spin off . They also developed a Bionic Commando reboot in 2009. The developer worked with numerous high profile publishers. Citing an unworkable cash flow issues due to publisher’s delayed payments killed the studio in 2009, the peak of the global recession. Duties moved to Fatshark for BCR2.
Conspicuously, to have high profile reboots of Capcom’s Strider and Sega’s Streets of Rage (reportedly) series’ in the pipeline as well a Final Fantasy Spin-off (code named Fortress) at the time of termination hints that being a co-op or third party dev, means working at the whim of the Publisher. Whether it’s the paltry returns in comparison or being the compliant party in deadlines and communications, (the publisher pays the developer rather than split’s a percentage of profits in some cases) outsourced devs are on the back foot in any business co-allition.
It’s clear that big name franchise games rule the game charts. They demand high profile advertising slots in print and on screen and enjoy product tie-ins just as movie blockbusters do. There’s more to be said about how franchises come about and more notably how they are maintained and by who. How they can go from cash cows to cash outs. I’ll be exploring this further later on in Part 2. Tune in next time![i]
Here's my artwork submission for the Crossover art community blog thing. It's the dream match up of the hyper dimension fighting millennium of dreams EX APLHA PLUS!! Yeah I know it's not funny or whatever but I don't care, I'm not sorry!
I've been fixated with crossovers ever since I started playing games at a young age so i'm glad I have a chance to talk at length about it. Anyway I hope you like my art and don't take my blabbering on too seriously.
Crossovers: Marrying Franchises.
Since SNK decided to condense all their fighting properties into a single crossover game (The King of Fighters), crossovers have been a big part of the games industry, most notably in any form of ‘fighting’ or ‘battle’ genre. The amount of Crossovers springing up is increasing and it’s not surprising. With audiences already established, they are an easy sell and big money. Unfortunately this resurgence does little to counter the opinions of those citing the games industry is running out of ideas.
When talking about crossovers it’s only worth focusing on what makes a crossover a success. Foremost, I personally believe the definitive elements of what made the involved franchises good, needs to be there in the crossover. A simple idea that is often negated along the way.
I’ve decided to focus on this staple of gaming in time with the October 11 release in Japan of Project X Zone. The game features over 200 characters from franchises held by Capcom, Sega and Namco Bandai. It is arguably the largest congregation of licences of it‘s kind. The ’project’ comes after a long stint of difficulties for all 3 companies. Former grandeur has given way to a fare share of struggles creating and establishing new Ips as well as clinging on to diminishing presence. This has been particularly felt by Sega and Capcom who don’t have Namco’s advantage of a partnership within a multi media licensing powerhouse like Bandai.
Interestingly, the game play style itself is based loosely in the same vein as another established crossover series; Super Robot Wars. This series comprises of a large cast from many different giant robot anime. And so even a crossover can create a crossover.
Another way of crossing over franchises is when a series includes ‘guest characters’ from another series.
When Dead or Alive 5 came out at the tail end of September, it incorporated for the first time in it’s history characters from another heavy weight fighting series; Virtua Fighter. Virtua Fighter was attested to being the inspiration for Dead or Alive by DOA’s producer Yousuke Hayashi who asked the permission from SEGA to use the characters himself.
Now the series has gone full circle to the point of enveloping it’s muse by way of guest characters. A mutual opportunity to expand audiences for both series‘ and publishers. DOA5 would also act as an advert to attract a new audience to Virtua Fighter 5:Final Showdown , recently released on Xbox360 and Playstation 3 in June.
The Soul series is probably the most famed guest character fighting game property. Every game in the series since Soul Caliber II has had a guest star. The series has been inventive in how it has implemented these familiar faces. Characters such as Heihachi, Spawn and Link were platform exclusives on the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube respectively as were Darth Vader and Yoda (on PS3 and 360 before being made available as DLC) in Soul Caliber IV.
The series has even gone so far as to implement hidden characters by way of moves and outfits such as KOS MOS in Soul Caliber III and Tekken’s Devil Jin, King and others in Soul Caliber V.
The knock on effect is that many big name games series presently adopt an advanced version of this process by assigning completely different pre-orders bonus material (like characters weapons etc) depending on which outlet you purchase your game from, as well as which DLC may be accessible. This is now a common occurrence.
With these are the 2 main types of crossovers in mind, it’s worth highlighting some notable crossovers in the fighting genre and how they stack up.
Significant Crossover Battle Games.
Namco X Capcom
Just as Project X Zone was developed by Monolith as was Namco X Capcom which serves as a prequel in it’s execution. The game is at it’s core a tactical-RPG with battle elements again pertaining to the Super Robot Wars (/Taisen) mould also developed by Namco although that time by Banpresto and Winkysoft.
Using the Fire Emblem come Final Fantasy: Tactics framework allows all the various properties involved to conform to a neutral game style not too commonly seen. It does however invite a lot of bloated exposition and it’s no wonder that the countless translation as well as international licensing conflicts doomed this game to never see release outside of Japan. This unfortunately may be the plight of Project X Zone also despite huge interest and even Tekken producer Katsuhiro Harada fighting the case for overseas localisation on his twitter.
Probably the most popular and ambitious fighting game crossover series; SSB features characters from all Nintendo’s flagship series in a side on fighter. The big stages and interactive items are reminiscent of games like Power Stone. The original game broke new ground, spawning many pretenders to it’s style.
Sequels; Melee and Brawl were key sales incentives to the respective Gamecube and Wii consoles, Brawl even features characters from outside Nintendo such as Solid Snake from Konami’s Metal Gear Series and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog. News is that the Wii U installment will see Hal. Labs team up with Namco to develop it.
Smash Bros’ legacy also leads into the Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games mini game crossover series. A partnership believed unfeasible a decade previous, signalling the end of the Sega/Nintendo ‘Cold War‘.
All Stars Battle Royale
Seen by many from the start as Sony’s answer to a Smash Bros clone , All Stars Battle Royale unites an eclectic mix of Sony properties in a super fight where they can smash each other around in a big brawl. The choice to include characters from 18+ rated games alongside characters from games made for young children seems questionable and confused to me, despite the target market being any age ( like Smash Bros). This may be due to Sony not having as many original Ips to pull from. Gameplay is hard to call at this stage as it hasn’t been released yet. Could go either way.
Battle Stadium D.O.N
If All Stars Battle Royale is a shameless Smash Bros rip-off then Battle Stadium D.O.N takes the piss. The game combines popular Shonen Jump properties; Dragonball, Naruto and One Piece. It’s as simple as that. It did however use the ‘full screen extra powered move’ before Brawl did, but only after about a billion Street Fighter games already had.
Outside of the Disney/Square-Enix Kingdom Hearts crossover series, Square-Enix tried their own take on the Smash Bros concept; Dissidia. All the main protagonists and antagonists from the Final Fantasy series match up in airborne battles inspired by the fight scenes from the Final Fantasy VII:Advent Children spin-off film. Had a sequel with the confusingly titled Dissidia 012 (Dissidia Duodecim).
This was Square-Enix’s (then squaresoft) first attempt at a crossover battle game. The fighter incorporated 6 guest characters from the recently released Final Fantasy VII and intended to cash in on the game‘s huge success. Even the development was a crossover as the arcade version was developed by Namco.
Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe
A far softer version of the brutal brawler to accommodate DC (and Warner Bros) aesthetic. A response to Marvel Vs Capcom no one asked for.
Most of the games I play are actually Crossovers. Here’s some reviews of a few that I’ve played far too much.
Marvel Vs Capcom 2
Following on from X-Men Vs Street Fighter and Marvel Vs Capcom comes Marvel Vs Capcom 2!
I love this game. It is everything good about a crossover and mad as balls. All the Capcom characters get super screen destroying versions of their regular moves rather than the Marvel Super Heroes being watered down, that is how it should be done. Not the other way around which is usually the case.
The best thing about this is that Capcom threw as many characters as they possibly could at this game and it rocks. This game is a huge celebration of both companies’ legacies. There are no glaring omissions, just as everyone wanted (yes Thanos would have been nice). That’s right, Capcom were in the habit of giving people what they actually wanted back then. Seems strange now, doesn’t it? (rhetorical question, yes it does)
If this game came out today under a tragically different Capcom it would be a mess of DLC, releases and omissions. And I just realize Iv’e described Marvel Vs Capcom 3, a game that can’t stand up to its technically inferior and far older predecessor on any front.
The gameplay of which would have a lot to owe to this next game….
Tatsunoko Vs Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars (Wii)
The ONLY reason to buy an arcade stick for the Wii (if you don’t count the virtual console). On a system with considerably less fighters than the competition TvC need to be as good as it is.
The game play style relies on a few simple commands and is far less complex than most fighters. Air cancels and full screen super moves filling the whole screen. This leads into the play style of Marvel vs Capcom 3 well which is not surprising given they were both produced by Ryota Niitsuma.
Despite Tatsunoko being a more obscure match up choice outside of Japan, the roster and varying fighting styles feel like a good fit overall. It’s fun and pretty cheap now.
Capcom Vs SNK 2 EO [Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium 2001] (Gamecube Ver.)
The game is rewarding and it is fun. That’s all you really need. All the characters play how you expect them to in their respective franchises and there don’t seem to be many drastic compromises to shoehorn everything in.
EO stands for easy operation and button commands are simplified. Easy Operation in theory maybe but not in execution.I have this on Gamecube, The Gamecube controller wasn’t too suited to the quick reflexes needed for fighting games. Buttons are so big and awkward you may as well be playing with a Fisher Price phone. The AC and GC modes are a no brainier, go AC every time.
GC stands for Giant Cock which is what you’ll be for choosing this mode. Also the ‘Grooves’ play styles range from well suited to redundant, these are modes that improve or impede aspects like jumps and blocks etc. Some are worthless just so they can have different Letter modes spell out C,A,P,S,N,K but it’s nice to have options.
At times this crossover makes me cross …and keel over. Half the characters sprites are rehashed from older games. Anime look Morrigan, and alpha style Blanka and Sagat really stick in my mind like a nail. Not only is the art way too alien to the smooth SNK style render to the rest of the game but the proportions are all wrong. It’s like they couldn’t be bothered to get this right. I still have nightmares about it.
(other crossover games in the series include: Capcom vs. SNK, Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000/Pro, SNK vs. Capcom: The Match of the Millennium, SNK vs. Capcom: Card Fighters Clash, SNK vs. Capcom: SVC Chaos, Carry On SNK vs. Capcom, SNK Kids vs. Capcom Elderly people: Card Collecting Apocalypse, SNK vs. Capcom Save Christmas, Nintendogs)
Jump Ultimate Stars
The Jump series is arguably a progenitor of the crossover game concept. Comprised of billions of characters from Shueisha’s Shonen Jump, Famicom Jump: Hero Retsuden appeared on the Famicom in 1988 kicking things off and spawning Famicom Jump II: Saikyo no Shichinin in 91.
Fast forward 2005 and Jump Super Stars hits Nintendo DS leading us to Jump Ultimate Stars a year later.
Intelligence. Strength. Smile. Jump. These aren’t just the names of my children (never proved), these are also words that fly around in the opening video to Jump Ultimate Stars!
Smash Bros style brawler that’s a simple play, easy to get into, pulling off moves is very repetitive. All the characters from different manga worlds have been uniformed with minor imbalances for rarer chacters as the roster is huge. Each have about three main level power moves which can link into combos. However powerful or silly or smart of whatever theses characters are supposed to be in their respective universes in irrelevant.
The story mode is extremely monotonous -and ends in a quiz. A QUIZ!! What game ends with a quiz?! What could be a more thrilling and momentous climax to your incredible adventure of wonder than an exam! Even if you do understand all the Japanese magic moonspeak that is still not a fun idea.
If you’re well versed with the subversive versus universe of Shonen Jump, you’ll probably enjoy Jump Ultimate stars on Nintendo DS.
Street Fighter X Tekken (Playstation 3 Ver.)
SFXTKN is a tough one for me to talk about partly because it’s fairly new and partly because I love both franchises but mostly because I hate it.
This was supposed to be the dream match up between everyone’s favourite and second favourite fighting franchise that isn’t Virtua Fighter, Dead or Alive or King of Fighters. Nothing too drastically amiss with the fighting itself in my eyes, the player can expect to adapt to the gameplay the more they play. If I’m honest I do feel the fighting is lacking; the crossover tags and launches are slow and are more of a handicap even when executed well at times.
Also most of the gameplay feels on the heavy side possibly to accommodate for half a roster without projectiles, we all know compromises were likely needed to pull off two distinct gameplay styles, but overall I find it far less responsive and ultimately less fun than SSIV,TekkenTAG2,KOFXIII, DOA5 and actually wouldn’t pick it out off the shelf over pretty much any of the fighters I own unless I just wanted to see the novelty of Heihachi fight Akuma on the same screen.
I could instead boot up a Frankenstein’s monster hacked to fuck Mugen emu if I really wanted to do that and it would probably be more fun… plus I could chuck in Ronald McDonald, Tom Hanks, level 35 Super Sayiin Mecha Gokux (Gokus other other son I just now made up) and a couple of sonic style fan characters (called things like Xtremxz or Jaxzez) that someone on deviant art that likes ‘animal-people’ porn made.
Because that’s just as ridiculous and slightly less insulting than ‘Fat old box art cosplay Megaman’ to me.
There are a few other aspects I could mention although that would veer this too far down into the abyss). Rather, I’m more let down by the sheer amount of crap that’s been seemingly added without much thought with the expectation that this would enhance the experience.
The worst being the ‘Gem system’- a way for people who paid for a power up to cheat their way to victory. You can argue this adds a Mario Kart level of random sabotage to proceedings, It doesn’t. The skill element is removed. This encourages more frustrated players to pay more money to capcom to play power up top trumps. Did you buy the right gems? Well done you already won. If you have two players with similarly powerful gems you effectively have two people playing rock, paper, scissors. I turn it off.
Scramble mode hasn’t evolved from the 2 on 1 feature way back in Alpha 3. Nothing has progressed in over a decade. It’s a load of shit happening all at once on the screen but not in a fun or very responsive way like say Smash bros. Control is given up. Just keep mashing.
But that’s just my stupid opinions, you may love all those things and that’s fine. However, mocking frozen portraits of unattained premium priced characters glaring back from the select screen is a crude move. £15.99 for 12 on disc characters. Not surprising how widely popular that move wasn’t. You can buy Guilty Gear, Street Fighter HD remix, Final Fight, TEKKEN 1,2 and 3 and most of the King of Fighters games on your PSN instead or buy any of the other better recent fighters out there in a sale or pre-owned so I’d do that instead. I know people love it and whatever but I can only view it as garish mess and not nearly as fun as it thinks it is. Fat Mega Man.
The Fight For The Future.
The future is Crossovers. Like it or not. With so many winging their way to our consoles, the precarious selling point of the genre ( and yes, by now we can call it a genre) could easily diminish - it is a novelty. As soon as a gimmick becomes old and the spectacle lost then what you have left is an ordinary game just like any other and more importantly for publishers one without an added sales incentive.
That’s why crossovers must be rare to truly work. With more and more new IP’s falling flat and the post recession economy forcing developers to take less risks, Crossovers may fast become more of a given and less of a gift.
A look at the 25th Anniversary of the Legend of Zelda in 2011.
25th October 2011. An army of excitable hardcore hylians from the N.E.S to the Wii era pile into the Apollo theatre. That night at least a few hundred street pass Miis would clock up on their overworked 3DS systems.
Street passes from all over the world because tonight was a pilgrimage. A return to the kingdom of Hyrule …via Hammersmith.
In the Orchestra pit; bows and reeds were finely tuned and finally tested. Seats taken, lights dimmed and voices hushed to silence. The night would not only belong to series producer Eiji Aonuma and composer Koji Kondo, but also creator Shigeru Miyamoto who unlike his aforementioned peers was unfortunately absent. As the curtains rose the compere for the night took the stage. The spokesperson for the quarter centenary marketing campaign; Zelda Williams.
Selling a legend for a quarter of a century.
The daughter of Comedian and film star Robin Williams (Jumanji, Hook, Good Will Hunting. etc), was actually named after the eponymous Princess 25 years ago (see where this is going). Advertising the series with someone who grew up with it not only tied in a somewhat celebrity endorsement to the series but also promoted an underlying theme the series has nurtured over the years; nostalgia. Long standing players of Zelda games could relate to this. Given a glimpse of what they hadn't had before, newcomers to the series that were either previously too young to grasp the appeal of a Zelda game or simply hadn't chosen to dive in to such an established line before could potentially be reached by using a strong year long campaign in this manner. Nintendo excellently delivered on this marketer’s dream through the promotion of ‘The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’. 2011’s major releases.
Despite releasing toward the later part of the year (Oct 2011) 'Skyward Sword' is worth mentioning first because it owes so much to what has gone before. In particular, 2 heavyweight Zelda titles help to define it.
Interviews with Producer Eiji Aonuma insisted that the artistic influences in Skyward Sword adhered to impressionist artists such as Cezanne and Monet. Although Impressionistic style created a blurred abstraction of horizons and depths helpfully masking the graphical limitations and loading times of the Wii; Visually 'Skyward Sword’ more consciously emulates the cartoony cel shaded imagery of 'Wind Waker'.
‘The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker’ Released in 2003 on a 2 year old Gamecube. Wind Waker was a stylistic reboot aimed at a new and younger audience. Link was a young boy again and the vibrant ocean world was full of humorous characters. The new direction ultimately breathed new life into the franchise.
Skyward Sword also carried into it's arsenal the character design and teen drama aspect of 'The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess', a game the polar opposite of Windwaker. If WW was a fun and friendly saturday morning cartoon then TP was a three hour Hollywood scale epic in the vein of 'Lord of the Rings'. A much more Drama centric narrative and a Dark and heady world gave older players what they craved; A 'grown up' Zelda. Although audiences were once again split (as with Windwaker) The mainstay series character's (or at least their heraldic incarnations) relationships with one another were explored in more depth than ever before.
This welcome attribute thankfully carried over to 'Skyward Sword' a game explicitly detailed as the first in the zelda series timeline. This information was revealed in an official timeline by Nintendo as a fanfare to end it's anniversary celebrations. The decision to divulge the long guarded timeline in December was like the revelation of a sacred scripture to fans. For years fans had often divided themselves into differing ideas over dynastic traits that crossed between the games. A 'Link'.
Skyward Sword was not only an exciting, new experience peppered with familiar gameplay aspects, it is a worthy tribute to Zelda games of the past as well as a ode to it's narrative future.
Ocarina of our time.
The 'Ocarina of Time' 3DS remake was a game built for fans of the original, of course newcomers to the series would be a prime focus for marketing promos but were it not for the main fan base singing the praises of the 'greatest game of all time' for more than a decade there wouldn't be a remake. Nintendo knew this, the foundation to effectively evoke nostalgia was already exhibited in the product itself, a device Nintendo hit hard with on their publicity campaign. A device to help launch their new handheld.
The prime time father/daughter TV spots featuring Robin and Zelda ran all year and broadly underlined the generational difference between fans of Zelda games from previous console eras and now.
Despite the 14 year difference between the 1998 N64 version and the 2012 3DS revamp, the game is still fundamentally the same. A dramatically enhanced graphical update and the immersive 3D capability of the 3DS being the main difference. This is what makes the franchise so endearing. Whatever game from whatever era you pick up (whether prettied anew with a fresh coat of graphical paint or seen through its original blotchy polygons and cubist pixels) , a Zelda game will deliver a fun and rewarding experience.
"Excuuuuuse me, Princess!"
Back in the 80's and early 90's Nintendo dominated the home console market thanks to the nes. Nintendo reportedly spent $95 Million on advertising and marketing In 1990 alone. In the case of Zelda, this meant everything from Saturday morning cartoons, comics, breakfast cereals and live tours were carrying the brand name. As Sega and later Sony and Microsoft shortened Nintendo's reach on the market in the decades to come, the Zelda name has for the most part been carried by it's consistent reputation for gaming brilliance.
One of the ways nintendo celebrated the 25th Anniversary was by re-releasing through the 3DS e-shop one of it's less celebrated titles; Link's Awakening.
Revisiting a missing Link.
Legend of Zelda: Links Awakening DX ( 1993 / GBC via 3DS £5.40 in e-shop)
Thanks to Nintendo bringing Link's Awakening to 3DS I finally got to play this. I've played and completed every Zelda game except for the oracle entries (The CDi atrocities don't count!). Believe me when I say it: Link's Awakening could just be the best game in the series.
This is an incredibly narrative driven Zelda, and so talking about this game thematically without totally spoiling it is a risk I'm not going to take.
Too much has been said about this game so don't read up on it. Imagine I wrote a book review and told you what happens on the last page of the book and then recommended you read that book. You wouldn't, I wouldn't either.
Most importantly; I don't want to talk about it because you have to play this game for yourself to truly appreciate it.
Like all Zelda's what makes LA fun is it's inventive dungeons, finding key items and exploring. In this game exploring unravelling the mystery of koholit; a vast purgatorial paradise island IS the experience.
It is amazing to think how much nintendo managed to fit into a tiny cartridge.. The world is huge and it could take completists over10 hours to beat.
Without saying too much ( I said I wouldn't) LAs story is a Dante's Divine Comedy of sorts and it's interesting seeing the narrative parallels in an 8 bit Gameboy Game from 1993 to such recent lorded screen works as 'Lost' and 'Inception'.
If you are a Zelda fan you need this game. Buy it now, it's a couple of bob on 3DS.
Zelda 25th Anniversary Concert. London Hammersmith Apollo. 25th October 2011.
Back to the concert, yes I was lucky enough to attend the Zelda 25th Anniversary Concert and I don't use the term lucky sparingly. I felt genuinely blessed by the tide of memories that rose within me with each song. Every symphonic masterpiece was a milestone in the series history, a cutscene played out from a game, a personal moment. The whole concert was a link to the past.
Quite a few video game themed concerts have begun to take place over recent years, some are now regular features. From fan arranged events like 'play!' and 'video games live' to more mature and revered tours like Final Fantasy's 'Distant World's the symphonic off shoot of composer Nobuo Uematsu's live touring band 'The Black Mages'.
Zelda lends itself to a live orchestral production perfectly. Koji Kondo's masterpieces rival the cinematic scores of today's great composers. John Williams, Hans Zimmer and Yo-Yo Ma's efforts are so doggedly embedded into classic fm's too 100 yet Kondo's scores would be just as revered were it not for these works progenating from a 'taboo' medium; computer games. A medium misunderstood by generations old enough to avoid noticing it's dramatic 25 years of ascension as the most innovative and unpredictable art form in the 21st century.
The concerts are not just another way to market and promote the series, they add another way to experience it. They awaken our memories of the series through the game's music. When I look forward to a new Zelda game, I look forward to hearing a new score as well as looking forward to enjoying a new game play experience.
The (Ongoing) Adventure Of Link.
In 25 years 'The Legend if Zelda' has often progressed beyond the restrictions of it's familiar in house development formula. From dropping Link into the world's of rival studio franchises (Link notably appeared in Namco Bandai's Gamecube port of Soul Caliber II and will appear in Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors VS. on 3DS as a downloadable costume) or sporadically outsourcing it's most guarded series to competitive developers like Capcom (notably the 4swords games and 'Oracle' series) and relative unknowns as Grezzo (studio behind the Ocarina of Time 3DS remake) and Monolith Soft (outsourced content developers for Skyward Sword).
Nintendo has kept the essence and appeal of Zelda consistent. There are defining aspects that fire the imagination of first time players and keep familiarised gamers coming back. Fun and satisfying puzzle solving. The incredible sense of wonder and adventure that comes from exploration. Finally, the thrilling action of battle. Wisdom, Courage and Power.
On February 16th I was lucky enough to meet Hironobu Sakaguchi at BAFTA. He was there as part of an intimate Q&A session to promote his latest game from studio Mistwalker; 'The Last Story'.
Famed for creating the Final Fantasy saga at square (now squaresoft) in 1987 while still a student, Sakaguchi effectively gave birth to the highly lucrative 'JRPG' genre.
Seemingly hundreds of roman numeralled sequels and off shoots later, almost every major studio and publisher in Japan has at least 1 franchised JRPG. Some studios ONLY make RPG's. In fact, JRPG's are so popular in Japan they can make or break a console as Microsoft discovered when trying to pitch a flag with the xbox360 without any defining JRPG's to pimp it early in the console's life.
As a result, it's no surprise that this genre has now become very formulaic and can be criticised for being boring and unimaginative in their need to incorporate staple mechanics of previous hits. It can be argued that many of today's JRPG's aren't doing anything new or different to what Sakaguchi was doing in 1987.
With 'The Last Story', He is attempting to pull away from all of that. Released in Japan way back in January 2011, The battle mechanics of the game sees players fight opponents in real time.
The gameplay revolves around the player delegating to their team the strategy for battle on the fly via 'strings'. This way as you fight you can also puppeteer your support to your own means and can position them wherever you want as well as command them.
Battle is a more engaging and satisfying experience and protagonist Zael, can leap in for a melee or use a stealth approach given the right situation. 'The Last Story' is an 'JRPG' this generation has waited for and deserves - a new one
What else is Sakaguchi got in the works? Confessing to being an ardent Apple fan, Mistwalker are branching out to other platforms with 3 ios games in development. 1 is about surfing. The only games I can think of about surfing are California Games and that pikachu surfing minigame from pokemon yellow. Definitely a new direction.
Sakaguchi was chilled out and cool to all the fans and when I got to talk with him he was pleased to see I'd bought a copy of his co-designed masterpiece Chrono Trigger with me.
Although he said he grew tired of hearing about Final Fantasy, I told him IV was my favourite. I had to!
Recently Megaman creator and Former Global Head of Production at Capcom; Kenji Inafune spoke out at the GDC conference this month against the declining innovation in Japanese Games stating:
"Back in the day, our Japanese games were used to winning and achieved major, major success," he said. "We celebrated many victories and walked down all sorts of avenues as winners. However, at some point, these wins became losses and not realizing, acknowledging and accepting that fact has lead to today's tragic state of Japanese games."
"When I look at Japan from the outside I feel we're behind the times. There's a limit to how much business you can generate with just those memories."
Inafune like Sakaguchi also had his first videogame successes as a young man in 1987.
This seems to be a sentiment not lost on Hironobu Sakaguchi who with 'The Last Story' has developed innovations and a new take on this genre that other developers, working from his original blueprint, have allowed to stagnate.
I'd not played Pokemon since the glory days of Blue, Yellow (which was the same game thanks for taking my pocket money gamefreak) and Silver. I loved those games when I was about 10 or whatever. Buying Pokemon Black was a purely nostalgic move, Its ok to like Pokemon as an adult now in the same way its ok to like Mario because a generation has recently grown up into adulthood with Pokemon. My generation.
In the years I'd been away from the franchise I expected there was no way it wouldn't have been improved upon and a more enhanced experience. The reviews were glowing and friends of mine were already enjoying the experience. Everything seemed Goldeen* and I was ready to take a Chancy*.
I was relieved to see that the Pokemon were not the only thing that had evolved as battle system had changed. Other than the normal '1 on 1 kill the other guys pets' I grew up with you could now 2 on 2 or (my favourite) Rotate 3 pokemon during battle. This was excellent but there wasn't nearly enough of this.
The first few towns were completely immersive. I'd liberated Victini from his Lighthouse time prison and we were now best buds kicking Team Galaxy about and crushing their dreams. The first thing that stood out to me is that Black/White is much more narrative driven than its 2 tone pixel Predecessors. This time there's 2 competitive cohorts, phonecalls to supporting cast and a rival bent upon a political mission. More depth.
After getting to the airport town all of this seemed to have fallen away almost completely. We were back to finding the same pokemons again and agin and agen in the grass and I'd realised I'd danced this dance before many years ago. Black began to feel less like nostalgia and more like regression. I didn't play it after that. It was boring.
I'm sure there's a great pay off to Black and that my expectations for something new (which were actually met to a very limited extent) were a little too lofty. It was Pokemon by the book, not Pokemon trying to be something new or different.
As soon as the grind set in I lost interest, I don't care enough to put that much of my life into the tall grass roulette and crucially, Pokemon is not meant for me anyway anymore.
It is disappointing to grow old. It’s disappointing that some things you liked as a child remain the same and remain great albeit not in the way you now think of as 'great'. Some franchises don't age in the same way others do and while the gameplay of brands ( for the sake of case study; nintendo ones) such as Zelda and Mario will appeal universally, others like pokemon and animal crossing don't necessarily.
It’s strange that we live in a time where a lot of our popular culture is geared towards nostalgia; fashion trends that are pointedly rehashed from styles of former decades.
Music across all the main genres also borrows heavily from more inventively intrepid eras. All the blockbusters are comic book superheroes of a bygone heyday, adaptations of old Saturday morning cartoons and even god damn board games now. This year's big Oscar winner was a silent movie in black and white.
It’s this zeitgiest of nostalgia which drew me and many other adults to Pokemon Black/White. It’s a fantastic game. At least I would find it a fantastic game if i was 10. To me it's dissapointing to see how formulaic it has remained after all these years. Like all the Tetris and Pacman incarnations. But it's a formula that works. To its indended demographic who will play it with fresh perspective; it would be fantastic.
Obviously, many people love it and I agree with the positive reviews but I can't like you Pokemon. I've evolved.
Pokemon Black/White.DS. (Black version reviewed).
*copyright Nintendo/GameFreak. All unsolicited usages of pokemon character names punishable by "fainting" (execution).