Remember Medabots? Yes? No? Maybe?
For those of you who either didn't have a childhood, are old, or who had childhoods that didn't involve discovering the glory of robotic beetles and middle aged Japanese men being able to appear from seemingly anywhere, anywhen to declare it was time to engage in bot-on-bot combat, let me tell you about some gosh darn Medabots.
Also known as the series with this wonderful, wonderful character.
For those of us here outside of Japan, Medabots was simply yet another humble challenger to the Pokémon-held throne of King of Mon. This throne, long contested for, had never been claimed by another, and many had tried.
Whether they were blatant in their peddling of cute monsters or simply quirky and Japanese and accompanied by cute monsters, perhaps simply having "mon" in the title, it seemed like there was no end to them. Monster Rancher, Moncolle Knights, Robopon, Magi-Nation... Flint the Time Detective... Yes, there were many of these would-be champions trying to claim the throne for themselves.
Looking back, we know they all failed miserably, living on only in our memories for the most part, but the effort was there to varying degrees.
And none can say they didn't try like Medabots.
Here in the West, we got our first taste of Medabots in the form of its anime. It premiered alongside the first episode of Digimon Tamers on Fox Kids in the US, so needless to say, by all accounts Fox had the better line of shows. As an adult, I have to just say, Digimon Tamers and Medabots together sounds like a pretty great time. How the heck was it Pokémon won, really?
This guy probably had something to do with it...
Anyway, the concept of Medabots - wow, have I still not gotten to that? - was fairly straightforward. People have robots that have different parts of their bodies you could remove and replace with parts from other robots. People pit these robots against each other in battles. Winners of the battles take parts of the winners, which in a way, makes Pokémon look fairly tame if not for the fact that the arms and legs being ripped off in Medabots can be purchased again at the store.
The anime series took this concept to the place any anime series would: TITS!
Oh, wait, this was made pre-the past five years.
That's right, it took this concept to the place any anime series would: KIDS! SLEEPING WITH THEIR MOTHERS SOMETIMES!
What? Yeah, I still remember that scene. It was cute. Like Ikki's mom.
Ikki's mom had it goin' on, okay?
Speaking of Ikki-- Who is that?
Oh, right! Main character! Meet Ikki Tenryo! This quirky kid in a topknot is the only kid in the whole school without a Medabot of his own! Because reasons. Through a series of crazy events, Ikki is able to get his very own Medabot, the ever lovable Metabee! Now, he can finally fulfill his dreams of having a Medabot, and whatever that entails!
Except... Wait... Metabee doesn't listen to him!? Ohhhh nooooooo!
You may think this is old news, but where Pokémon dealt with Pikachu's disobeying Ash fairly early on, Medabots made Ikki and Metabee's disagreements and inability to see eye to eye a major plot point of the early part of the show. Metabee being a sentient being, albeit a robotic one, made for some much more interesting and memorable interactions.
The fact that Medabots' location was stationary, rather than like Pokémon's where the story was constantly moving due to the heroes being travellers, also allowed for situations where Metabee could just leave and go dick around all by himself for a while.
Where Digimon had yet to really introduce partner characters who had much individuality beyond being loyal partners yet, as the season where it finally did this was only just starting (Gatomon from the first season being the one major exception), Medabots started off right out the gate doing something that was actually pretty fresh for these shows with Ikki and Metabee.
The characters being robots, and everything that entailed, was also pretty unique too. They could be turned off, fall apart, get replaced, and so on. It was all pretty new and unique, even with so many other imitators around.
I mean... Unless you'd seen the Charizard storyline of Pokémon already, anyway, but, uh, fuck that guy, he couldn't talk or make puns like Metabee could.
Charizard couldn't get himself in a line up like this either, so there.
Beyond the anime, as that sort of thing is kind of important, Medabots had some toys, a card game absolutely no one played (I would know), and only a couple of games. It seems like the definition of a franchise that should have been forgotten, like the other late '90s and early 2000s challengers before it.
I mean, besides for the ones we remember fondly from our childhood despite their shortcomings, which is perhaps a category Medabots does fit into, the only ones people really remember are the ones that stuck it out and kept trying, like Digimo...
Oh. I see where you're going with this, me.
Now it's time to talk about Medabots as it's known in Japan.
Over there, the series is known as Medarot for some reason, and not only is it still alive ("and well" is another story, and what prompted this blog), it is old. A lot older than a lot of those imitators of a certain other series that just jumped in when they saw it become a hit around the world.
How old is Medarot, you ask?
While it was likely inspired by the original Pokémon games to some degree, no doubt about that, the original GameBoy Medarot games were released nearly a full year before Pokémon Yellow was.
To explain how mind blowing this should be to people, there were only months between Medarot 1's release and that of the Pokémon anime's. With that time period, I can't imagine the popularity of Pokémon could have been as big of an influence as it might have been in, say, something like Robopon existing. Digimon hadn't even gotten an anime yet - hell, the first Digimon virtual pets had only just become a thing.
Looking at it from this angle, to me, it feels like the creators of Medarot might've seen the original Pokémon games in the same way other developers saw Mario and thought "Hey, this is a cool idea for a game," - the same sort of mindset that led to things like other platformers existing, rather than the mindset of someone trying to just cash in on something proven. A mindset that persists even today with games like Shovel Knight.
Because when Medarot came out, Pokémon wasn't that proven yet. It was a fledgling success story, sure, but not nearly to the extent it is now at all. I mean, for starters, it wouldn't be a year before the games even came out outside of Japan, so that whole "worldwide phenomenon we can cash on thing" wasn't even a factor yet.
Take that, Yo-Kai Watch!
Admittedly, all this could just be me and my endless belief in creators and my own wants and wishes and things I'd love to do if I could make games acting up again. Ahahahaha! Sob sob sob. Maybe people could just already tell it was going to be huge and wanted in. Dunno, really.
Either way, no matter how you slice it, Medarot has been living eternally in Pokémon's shadow. It's been living in there so much that even those few that managed to step out of it to small extents, like Digimon, cast a shadow over it, even though it is almost just as old or even older than some of them.
With this in mind, I can't help but feel like if things had happened just a little differently, this series could be seeing a revival the same way Digimon has been going through recently.
The fact that the series has stuck to its guns and remained almost entirely a Nintendo exclusive series, something Digimon experimented with and eventually realized to be the one fatal flaw of its games being successful, is something else to consider as worthy of praise, I think.
You'd think they might've tried again, but no - save for three attempts (once on the WonderSwan and twice on PlayStation), all of which predate 2001 and all of which were arguably in the highest point of the franchise, the series has never left Nintendo platforms.
Then again, if the developers got over their seemingly intense hatred of localization, as that seems to be the only reason we don't get these games outside of Japan, that might really be all they needed, but I digress.
With all this in mind, you might wonder just how big this series really is. It's as old as Pokémon, was making games well before Digimon, and, judging by my rambling, is clearly still around in Japan and we're simply just not being allowed in on the action.
So what the heck is going on?
Perhaps more thanks to the anime's popularity than anything, we did get a few games around when it was coming out, but those were the only ones. Of them, only one main Medarot game was among them, and it was a remake of the second game for the GBA. Besides for that, we saw fighting games for the GBA and a GameCube game that most people forget even existed.
Well bots and gals, here's the skinny on that: After what seemed to be the death of the series in the mid-2000s, the last game being a really weird one on the GBA, all of a sudden, it returned on the DS with Medarot DS.
Since then, the series saw an action game and three RPGs release on 3DS, the most recent of which, Medarot 9, only just released last week, and was only announced at the beginning of October.
Perhaps because there was virtually no time to build hype in just two months, or perhaps because the holiday season was just a bad time to release it, I can't say, but, well... what I can say is that, on launch, the game, with both versions combined, didn't even make the top ten releases that week.
Is this the end of Medarot?
Naw. It's not even the end of the blog. This has all just been a lengthy introduction to Medabots, Medarot, and-
Sorry, sorry! Sheesh!
Okay, so remember Digimon? How it's had that whole recent revival in games and all after it seemed like absolutely nothing was going to stick?
Well, as good as the games look, there's something they did with the games that, like it or not, left an impression on a lot of people. A first impression, to be specific. Something that would make them look twice at these games when they might not have previously.
They grabbed an artist whose works were popular with gamers and anime fans and they spiced things up. Not to the point that the game was too racy, as you can see by the rating (that was where upcoming Vita/PS4 game Cyber Sleuth came in), but I think most recognize that this was the game where people started paying attention to Digimon again.
It wasn't the new anime, that most don't even remember or acknowledge despite it being the longest one. To many, even the nostalgia trip of Adventure getting sequel movies isn't what did it for them. It was quality games with fresh art that did it.
Fast forward a few years, and it almost seems like Digimon games might be rapidly becoming a staple of Bandai Namco's arsenal, so long as they keep things up. They know people like these games, and they're willing to keep putting in a little more oomph as a result. Certainly more than some of their other franchises, at any rate.
What does this have to do with Medarot?
Well, Destructoid, my dearly beloved Destructoid, barely 90 days after Medarot 9 was just announced, not even two weeks after it launched, the developers of the Medarot series announced...
Medarot: Girls' Mission. Two versions, as per the series' long standing tradition, though this time seemingly with major differences between versions, as you'll go to different schools depending on which you pick. And instead of just robots varying by version, now the girls will vary too!
The game is already 90% done, will feature a different battle system from Medarot 9, and is the first game in the series to be rated for players 15 and up. Manga artist Sai Izumi, whose works I have to say I have never heard of before, is doing the character designs.
Also, it's coming out in March.
As in, in five months from announcing Medarot 9, not one, but two Medarot games will have come out.
To tell the truth, guys, I don't know quite how to feel about this. I do not.
I mean, let's be up front here. I fucking love Medabots. I have since I first saw the show as a kid. Between this show, Digimon and Beetleborgs, I can probably attribute most of my current love of beetle-themed things almost entirely to the programming on Fox Kids.
Oh. Right. Medarotbots. Anime boobs. Gotta stay on track here. Can't be distracted by football.
So look guys. I'm going to be completely honest and fair about this. And I know some of you will disagree! But on the one hand, I get where they're coming from.
For starters, at least an element this kind of strategy pretty clearly worked wonders for Digimon. The games in which it was done also have the benefit of being relatively good, of course, but the effect the art style change had is undeniable. There's also the fact that what Medarot is doing now pretty clearly... kind of isn't working.
One could argue this is selling out. One might not be wrong if they did. On the other hand, I can't help but feel "selling out" when your alternative seems to be to keep throwing the same dart at the same board that no one is watching anymore, throwing away money and time in the process, might be the only option if you want to keep making games.
Like I said earlier, the fact that Medarot is still freaking around at all is something that I really think deserves recognition. Most other series gave up much sooner. Level-5, for all the glory Yo-Kai Watch is enjoying, killed not one, but two series in a fraction of the time Medarot has been around for, and they were arguably much more successful (and perhaps even just plain better, depending on who you ask) than Medarot was in that time period.
Let's play a fun game. Play "Spot The LBX Character" in this next image. Here's a hint. They're one of the only ones that looks really cheesed to be there.
Since this isn't a numbered entry of the series, it could also be that this is a side project meant to test the waters as to whether or not this could even work for Medarot in the first place. It was clearly developed alongside Medarot 9. It's not like Medarot is going anywhere - it's not Yo-Kai Watch, it's not Digimon, it's not even LBX, and that's all pretty damn sad considering the series' history.
It may be that they'll find that not even this can save the series, and this game is their attempt to see whether or not that holds true.
Even so, they're clearly trying here - that it took them this long to "resort" to a game like this (and I hesitate to say that, as I don't want to necessarily imply there's anything inherently wrong with this sort of aesthetic or style), rather than just calling it quits or doing it sooner, is commendable.
To be quite frank, the fact they're going this route rather than the arguably easier route of trying to imitate Yo-Kai Watch, a route I firmly believe even Pokémon is on to a degree (something I discussed at length in this blog here), is something too. If you go back to the sales of the week Medarot 9 launched, you may notice Monster Strike, a game I previously said was taking hints from Yo-Kai Watch, is doing fantastically for itself.
On a tangential note, I suppose that it could be, much as people claim it totally isn't true, some game series aimed at kids in Japan just really do need to have anime tie ins to take off these days. Even Monster Hunter Stories has one coming for it, and it's not like Monster Hunter is hurting for exposure or anything. Monster Strike, sitting there at the top of the charts, has one too. Of course Monster Strike also gave more than two months notice that a game was coming out, so...
That's all ultimately another topic, of course. Returning to the roboboobs for a moment...
On the other hand... I mean, I don't think they're fooling anyone with what they're trying to do here. When you announce a game that is literally titled FRANCHISE: PRETTY GIRL EDITION, complete with artwork and profiles of a girl for all tastes and types, it's really hard not to see what the deal is.
That doesn't mean they'll do it badly, that the game has to be bad, or anything like that. Not at all.
Personally, as a big supporter of games branching out and of spinoffs in general, I don't necessarily think this idea, on its own, is bad. Different demographics exist, different genres exist, and so on and so forth, and one of the biggest problems in the industry right now on all ends is an inability to recognize some of them.
So if a series wants to acknowledge some of these things by making a game that might bring new players in for future games or just try something new, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I love the idea of spinoffs of all kinds and I don't want to deny the possibility or potential of this one because I'm having an uncharacteristic bout of... I dunno, let's call it Western shame here.
As far as simply changing the art style for this purpose is concerned, that pretty clearly worked for Digimon. They weren't as blatant about it, of course, but there's clearly some logic to it, as well as evidence that it's even worked for a some what similar series. One could argue they worked their way up to it, with a PSP and 3DS game for all ages slowly but surely paving the path for what was to be Cyber Sleuth.
And, I... Uh...
Okay, you know what, Digimon actually got pretty blatant too, in hindsight. Just in different ways. Not anything wrong with that either, mind! But as far as Digimon goes, at the very least, it didn't name a game after and restricting its cast members to only what it was going for, to clarify on what I think we all know I'm talking about here.
So, yeah. Like I was saying, this is... really, really blatant. I've already seen people say desperate, even, and while I hope that's not the case to the extent it seems... who knows?
What the story is is not really hidden to anyone. I mean, on the flipside, so is the made-for-girls Kenka Bancho romance game, which also has what it is in the name, so it's not like this doesn't go both ways, even with spinoffs, but even so.
And yet... For a series that's tried for nearly twenty years to stick...
I'm not sure which is more sad here. I admit, part of me feels like a really arrogant bastard for calling would could be a perfectly innocuous spinoff, an attempt at reaching a new audience, or just someone's new idea "sad," and I want to be very open about that before I say what it is I feel is "sad." Because far too many people get so hot and bothered over "milking" and such these days when they just shouldn't, and I hate that.
Still. Which is it? Which is more sad?
That Medarot's going to be twenty years old and likely still at it next year and almost no one will give it the recognition (or localizations) it at least deserves a little of, or that it might be that the developers are in a position where they have to do this just to be able to even make it to that milestone in the first place?
But hey - robots and cute anime girls, amirite?
To close this blog, I want to pose the following question, nay, the following scenario to the Destructoid community. If you made it this far, you might be too tired from your journey down Mount Zetta to be able to form an answer at length, so I understand if you'd rather not, but think about it, at least.
Say you are a game developer or publisher or whatever. Say a series you've poured yourself into for years, maybe even the better part of your adult life, is barely hanging in there. You want to keep making more, for whatever reason, but what you've been doing for so long doesn't seem to be working anymore. If it ever did.Even so, and this is key, you still want to keep making games, and in this series at that.
Perhaps you've been clinging to fond memories of when your series was popular, just for a spark of time, and are hoping to recapture that. Perhaps you just really fucking love robotic beetles (or whatever, you know), as everyone should, and want to spread this love to the world.
It's come down to the next game.
In this hypothetical situation, let's assume that, regardless of what happens with Medarot, making another proper game is not an option anymore. That path is closed to you.
Do you do something like Medarot: Girls' Mission or Kenka Bancho: Otome, and make a game that "sells out" or "panders," with at least having hope, or do you stick to your guns and give up your franchise and your dream, and all those years you put into it?
And if you do choose to do something like Girls' Mission, how far would you be willing to go? If knowing the further you went, the better it would do, but doing it at all would guarantee the continued survival of your series, would you do the bare minimum, or would you go all the way with your "selling out"?
Choose wisely, traveler!