Turn and face the strange
The video game industry is approaching middle-age. Since the days of Pong and the arcade scene, it’s grown into the gorilla it is today, bringing in billions of dollars from the many different platforms available to players. Some of the gaming’s most popular franchises are also getting old. Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Mario Bros.; they’re all at the upper end of what we consider to be a millennial. Soon they’ll be annoying their friends on Facebook by endless posting pictures of their kids and filling up their feeds with pictures of cats in dresses. The flirty 40s will not be a good age for many games, which is maybe why so many of them are reinventing themselves.
Over the past year and a half, we saw three massively popular franchises refresh or reimagine exactly what kind of game they are. Resident Evil VII returned to its horror roots and changed up the perspective for a deeply original experience. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild cast off the cookie cutter design the series had leaned on for more than 20 years to bring players something fresh and bold. Then there’s God of War.
There absolutely was and is nothing wrong with the classicGod of War formula. In fact, I hope other developers come along and continue to grow what Santa Monica Studio started. It’s also beloved, which is why there were so many naysayers when the new game was revealed. There are still some out there, but most have been silenced by the tremendously positive response from press and players alike. Would God of War be as celebrated if it kept true to the original formula? Maybe. Perhaps in another universe, that’s what happened and it too found itself at the top of Metacritic. But in our universe, Cory Balrog and Sony took a risk, found inspiration from their contemporaries, and created something marvelous. It’s time for Professor Layton to do the same.
The Nintendo DS is still my favorite video game device to date, and a big reason why is varied video game genres I was exposed to on it. Several days ago, as the GameStruck4 hashtag made its rounds on Twitter, I posted my four defining games with Hotel Dusk: Room 215 included. It is the game that turned me on to Japanese-style, adventure games. Without it, I would have never given Professor Layton a shot when it launched a year later. While the Hotel Dusk series is dead and gone, may it rest in peace, Professor Layton is still hanging around. Seven main entries later, it’s still largely the same as it ever was as the rest of the industry has moved on. While I still enjoy Layton titles as is, it’s not hard to see the franchise as stagnant.
That’s a common complaint with Japanese developers. Many find a formula and ride to the point where only the most niche of its audience will find it acceptable. Professor Layton & The Curious Village was a monster right out of the gate, selling more than five million copies. Then the sequel sold less than four million copies. Then less than three, less than two, and now who’s to say. Despite solid name recognition and a general appreciation of the character and developer, people just don’t seem to care. I don’t want Professor Layton to go away like some franchises at the end of the DS era; I want the series to reinvent itself.
The age of the two screen gaming device is sunsetting. The DS and 3DS had a great run and there are still wonderful titles ahead on the latter, but the immediate future is single screen. Be it Switch or smartphone, theLaytonof tomorrow is on one screen.
Level-5 knows this. Two of its biggest franchises are seeing changes with how they’re played to adjust. The upcoming Inazuma Eleven will feature a completely reworked control scheme and one would assume Yo-Kai Watch on the Switch will have to reinvent its battle system. Layton, if Level-5 keeps its intent on seeing the series on Switch, will have to follow suit. Layton’s Mystery Journey‘s presentation on mobile was nothing more than tourniquet for the franchise, and future installments will have to embrace the strengths of whatever platform it appears on. Like Layton Brothers Mystery Room did when it released on smartphone. That was a clever little game that absolutely used its chosen platform to its advantage.
Where does it go from here? Well, there are boundless options and examples for it to follow. Perhaps it reconnects with its roots like RE VII and gives us a new adventure with just Layton and Luke. Maybe it takes a page out of Breath of the Wild’s book and trims all the fat from the series — like hint coin searches — and offers players a more open-ended mystery that casts off the linear narratives of the original series. Or maybe it pulls from God of War and finds inspiration in its contemporaries. Puzzle games like The Witness and The Talos Principle are branches on the tree grown from the seed of Myst. They’re also two the best the genre has seen in the last five years. I know a Layton game doesn’t play like one of those, but God of War didn’t play like The Last of Us until it did.
We know there is another Professor Layton coming this summer. That’s all we know, but until I see it I’m going to keep my expectations low. I love this series, its setting, its characters and its charm, but I know if it ever wants to see the heights it once hit, it’s going to have to undergo a transformation.
To be honest, I love the current Kirby formula. Return to Dreamland is currently my favorite of the series, I really enjoyed Triple Deluxe, and I’m expecting Star Allies to be a strong contender for Return’s spot as my favorite as soon as I play it. I also would like to play Robobot someday in the distant future, but, well… that’s exactly what I’m getting at. The current Kirby formula is starting to feel somewhat samey and a little stale, to the point where I’m feeling some burnout and I can easily skip a game as beloved as Robobot. It’s not a matter of quality, but a matter of redundancy.
As Carter said in his review of Star Allies, this formula is still good enough that there’s no urgent need for an overhaul, and I wholeheartedly agree. But I think going out of his way to affirm that fact points out the increasing expectations for more innovation out of this series. So little has actually changed over a dozen main games that it only seems appropriate to give it a fresh coat of paint.
When I think about it, Kirby’s 2D platformers have a very beat-em-up-like feeling. I remember their puzzles and platforming much less than waves of enemies and impressionable boss fights. Perhaps the next game could take cues from Kirby’s Blowout Blast and Kirby Battle Royale, pitting Kirby in a series of 3D beat-em-up stages with more emphasis on diverse enemy encounters? Giving each Copy Ability more unique control schemes, mechanics, and playstyles to differentiate them from each other would be a risk for a series priding itself on simplicity, but it might also do wonders for keeping gameplay fresh. The aforementioned two spin-offswere received well, so at the very least, it should be worth giving some kind of 3D mainline Kirby game a go.
My answer is going to sound really odd, but I wouldn’t want any game to change itself. People like to bitch about how franchises become stagnant, but the reason a brand becomes big in the first place is because of its approach to gameplay/storytelling/artistic design/etc. If you change things too much, the identity is completely lost. God of War is certainly slower paced than past entries, but it still retains a lot of what made the older games so revered. The same thing can be applied to Breath of the Wild, which did away with a lot of Zelda tropes, but still retained the core identity of Nintendo’s legendary series.
I wouldn’t change Call of Duty’s gunplay, for instance, just it’s mission design. The biggest problem with that series is that it has become a blockbuster instead of a semi-historical reenactment. But change out the guns and military angle and Call of Duty wouldn’t work. Same goes for just about any major franchise; if you alter the elements that made it popular, you might as well just create a new IP.
There is something to be said for trimming the fat and getting back to basics, but I don’t think any game really needs to reinvent itself. What I think needs to happen is for major publishers to stop demanding we constantly get a new entry all the time and allow devs to try new things.
When the first Smash game was released on the N64, it felt like a reinvention of the 2D fighting game genre. Everything from win conditions, the controls, the number of players, and the potential for random elements were totallydifferent from any 2D fighter we’d seen before. These innovations allowed for both highly competitive and loosely casual approaches to play in equal measure. It brought players of all levels together in a way few games had before.
Melee continued on that trend by adding a robust adventure mode and collectibles, which did a lot to appeal to people who prefer single player gaming. Brawl expanded the series even more in that direction with its lengthy story-based Subspace Emissary mode while adding campaign co-op, online play, a stage builder, character customization and even more collectibles. It was a game that had something for everyone, from the solo play completionist to the dedicated team player, from the occasional party gamer to the ambitious tournament competitor.
Then Smash 4 was released, and while the game did nothing to worsen the series, it didn’t do a lot to innovate either. On Wii U, it offered up a new board game mode and 8-player battles, and on 3DS it gave us a new adventure-and-race mode, and that was pretty much it. I love the game, but it definitely doesn’t feel as “new” as its predecessors.
I hope that changes for Smash on Switch. Adding a new huge Battle Royale mode that takes place over a gigantic playfield seems like an obvious thing to try at this point, but with any luck, they’ll also add a Salmon Run-style online co-op campaign, an even more robust single player options, and at least ten things I could never have thought of in a million years. E3 can’t come soon enough.
Occams Electric Toothbrush
In the grand realm of games we want to make a comeback, I’d like to think the Onimusha series is high on that list. It was beloved back in the day and it has been woefully left to molder in the hearts and minds of so many of us. Seeing the return, no, rebirth as a serious journey that stays true to its roots of murdering the faces of all sorts of mythical monstrosities makes my doll part’s heart swell with the potential for Onimusha.
Go ahead and watch the opening cinematic for Onimusha 3. That thing is over a decade old now. Imagine the level of polish and precision given to God of War but set in that world. It would be something special and bring back another classic and make it relevant and popular once again.
The idea of a series making a return is an exciting one and after racking my brain for a long time the most obvious answer for me is Suikoden. I wouldn’t even ask for major changes to the series. Simply the modern trappings of an RPG made in 2018.
The huge cast of characters and old-school art should all remain intact, but even the simple changes in modern localization might make the writing of a series like Suikoden translate a little better. I’m not exactly counting on Konami to give me a new game in the series, but it’s nice to dream about.
I have Conker’s Bad Fur Day to thank for my rich and varied vocabulary when it comes to the scatological. Conker is a rude and nasty little squirrel boy who has only ever been in one single-player campaign, since his outings on the Xbox and Xbox One through Live & Reloaded and Rare Replay are just a faithful remake and a remaster of the original game for the Nintendo 64. His games are crude and perhaps haven’t aged very well, but I think he deserves a revamp now more than ever.
While politically charged humour is hardly new, the current crop of commentator-comedians are doing more than a serviceable job of telling us how shit everything is while still making us laugh. John Oliver and Trevor Noah’s writing teams put a humorous spin on harsh reality, and some of that has worked its way into more classically entertainment-based Adult Swim shows, such as Rick and Morty and The Eric André Show. Let’s be honest here, South Park have been doing it for yearsand capitalised on it once again with their two RPG games, The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole. It’s time to see that knowing wink in more game genres. And what better vehicle for a satirical story than Conker himself?
But I still think there is room,in any new and improved Conker game, for the myth, the legend, the great steaming, honking heap that is the Great Mighty Poo. Mee mee mee mee mee mee…
A lot of times people think about rebooting a franchise when said franchise falls on hard times or its design needs updating to suit modern tastes and trends, but I like to think about changing things up for a series once it reaches the height of its power, ideally before it hits the point of diminishing returns.
I think we’re right about that point for the Persona franchise as we know it. Granted, I said that for Persona 4 Golden, but I really do believe Persona 5is peak Persona for that particular formula. I think there’s a reason that most of the key folks behind Persona 3through 5have moved on to their new project, leaving Atlus to continue milking the brand with the (quite enjoyable) dance spinoffs and a possible sequel to Arena, if they get around to it.
As for what such a reboot or reimagining of Persona‘s famous time management-centric playstyle would look like…I honestly don’t know. The formula itself is so holistic, with every single thing you do in the game feeding something elseyou do in the game, that simple tweaks or patches won’t result in a substantially different-seeming experience. A Persona 6might need to be as different from Persona 5 as Persona 3was from Persona 1 and 2, at which point one might even end up asking if that would be a Persona game at all, rather than a new branch in Shin Megami Tensei‘s endlessly forking development path.
Reimaginings have always been a contentious issue for myself. There have been more than many want to remember and most of them fell flatter than Hatsune Mikus chest…
Do people remember Front Mission Evolved? What about Syndicate, or Guilty Gear 2 or even Pac-Man 2? Having said that, if there was one series I would like to see a reimagining of, it would be one of a series which originally mimicked Resident Evil, a series which saved itself twice by reimagining itself into a different form.
I am, of course, talking about DINO CRISIS! Dino Crisis 2 picked up the pace and took the original tank controls and fixed camera angles & went all in on the fast-paced action style which really started taking the REseries over before they pressed the old reset button with Resident Evil 4. But how cool would it be if they did the same with Dino Crisis? Resetting the whole thing and giving it an over the shoulder look like RE 4? It would continue to pay homage to the series it borrowed so much from and it would likely end up being a good action game while it was at it. It could also be used to retcon *that thing* from existence so it’s a win-win!
For more games that could use a refresh, check outMonkey830’s takeon the topic in the C-Blogs.