8 videogame franchises that need a reboot
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These are the VG classics that deserve a Hollywood-style revisit...
Everything has an expiry date. Particularly in the movie industry, franchises have rebooted in less than ten years – Spider-Man being a prime example. This system of constant recycling may be detrimental to that particular industry, but in the realm of videogames, there’s always a guaranteed cash-in system by way of producing games from ancient franchises, simply by adding a few key features and giving the visuals a facelift. There are plenty of examples where recycling essentially the same game has proven a success time and again – Super Mario Bros perhaps being the most prominent. What’s interesting is that on the whole, that particular franchise has not evolved a great deal. In 1981 Mario was a platform-based side scrolling game where you controlled a portly Italian plumber jumping over goombahs and rescuing a hapless princess. Twenty five years later and guess what, the princess is still not in this castle.
However, for every success, there are failures. Some games simply fail to make the generational leap. Sonic never really successfully advanced beyond the Mega Drive 2, despite Sega’s continual efforts. After almost ten years of trying, they finally got wise in 2010 and made the “official” Sonic sequel with Sonic 4 – a side-scroller as simple and effective as the original games. In today’s modern gaming market, it’s easy to think that a 2D platformer has no place, but by all counts Sonic 4 is considered a massive success and a return to form.
It took Sega ten years of failed attempts, half-measures and borderline desperation to make Sonic a shadow of his former self (wink), but they finally managed it. Sonic was considered a doomed franchise by many former hardcore fans but successfully reinvented itself by cutting the chaff and going back to the basics.
At the moment, Nintendo in particular seem to be exploiting the opportunities available through rebranding franchises for the current generation. Many of the forthcoming 3DS titles are successful titles from the N64 ported over, Star Fox 64 and The Ocarina of Time among them. Essentially though, these are exactly the same games being ported over to the current handheld generation and as such seem a little expensive if the rumoured prices for 3DS games are to be believed.
While Nintendo’s copy and pasting seems a little lazy, there’s no denying that it nonetheless gives many fans what they want. However, there are many franchises that have fallen by the wayside over the years, and several of them are sorely due for a resurrection. It’s worth noting before continuing that some of these franchises are still currently active, but have, in the opinion of the majority, fallen off the wagon and lost their way, whereas others have not had a new game in almost a decade.
When Tenchu first hit the Playstation way back in 1998, it was a surprising success for developers Acquire. It was, at the time, a new kind of game: stealth-orientated action where you controlled one of two ninjas, scaling rooftops, executing stealth-kills and being a bad MF.
Metal Gear Solid offered a similar niche with the stealth aspect, but modern-day weapons came with it, along with armchair philosophy by the wagonload (don’t get me wrong, I love MGS as much as the next man, but those cut-scenes certainly exploited their welcome).
Tenchu, meanwhile, offered a setting that’s sadly seldom explored in today’s market – old Japan. Sneaking through the night with a katana and some shurikens proved to be a great deal of fun indeed. The follow-up prequel Tenchu: Birth of the Stealth Assassins saw the key concepts of the first game taken and improved upon, along with a surprisingly compelling storyline and a new character, Tatsumaru.
By now some of you are almost certainly thinking ‘But Tenchu’s still around!’, and in a way, you’d be correct. The name ‘Tenchu’ is still floating around, and many mediocre incarnations have been made since Birth of the Stealth Assassins on PSOne, but none have come close to capturing the magic or spirit of the original two. The latest effort, Tenchu Shadow Assassins, is sadly just another gimmicky Wii cash-in reliant upon the motion-capture of the console, lacking any real depth at all. In fact, some of the highly-frustrating gameplay mechanics make playing it for any length of time beyond an hour an exercise in heightening blood pressure. Interestingly, Acquire are still the developers behind the franchise, though they seem to have slid way off track since the original concept.
The only major franchise that currently comes close to filling this void is Assassin’s Creed, but there’s still a marked difference between the two: Creed, while assassination-centric, is surprisingly lacking in the stealth department, and this is a gap that Tenchu on a modern day console could almost certainly fill. Combine this with the storytelling seen in the original two games and some new game mechanics and there’s virtually no reason why Tenchu wouldn’t be a runaway success once more. And of course, this has to be a legitimate game – no gimmicky motion controlling, whether it be Kinect, Wii or Move – bring it back to the ways of old.
Legacy of Kain
Many gamers first encountered the Legacy of Kain not by way of said anti-hero/villain, but by his rival and antithesis Raziel with the PSOne’s classic Soul Reaver (released on PSN last week). Immediately thrust into a world overrun with mythology and depth, the atmosphere in Legacy of Kain was palpable. Both Kain and Raziel, at times both acting as antagonist and hero, were excellently-crafted characters and the writing was of such a high quality that you somehow managed to root for both of them at the same time despite their conflicting goals.
One of the key features of Soul Reaver in particular was its shift between spectral and corporeal realms. By today’s standards, this may not be particularly cutting-edge, but in its day it was one of the first games to explore a split-dimension mechanic and in many ways it set the bar. Along with exemplary dialogue and superb voice acting, Kain and Raziel were not the only characters that stuck in your memory long after you’d taken the game disc out – Moebius, that scheming worm, to name just one.
In a way it would be sad to see Legacy of Kain rebooted – Crystal Dynamics left things rather up in the air with 2004’s final outing on PS2’s Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Purposefully ambiguous but hopeful, the ending hints at Kain pursuing the Elder God for vengeance after Raziel sacrifices himself to return Nosgoth to its former glory. A sequel could pick up from here and continue the story, but with almost seven years since the last game in the series, it may just be a better move to start over – not only does this make the franchise more accessible for a new uninitiated generation, it would also bring back Raziel, unarguably a core component of the series every bit as vital as Kain. It may be too soon to simply “remake” the previous games, but an all new retelling, or even better, a sequel that could begin a chain of new games for the current generation, would be a sight for sore eyes.
Ecco the Dolphin
Remember Ecco? Way back in 1992, Ecco the Dolphin debuted on the Sega Mega Drive to surprise success. One might think in today’s market, Ecco has no real place – simplified gameplay, getting from A to B level design and a sense of retro platformer, it’s decidedly basic compared to the majority of games now available. But, while big-budget games are at the forefront of the market, there is an ever-increasing demand for download-only games via Xbox Live and the PSN. Recent download-only platformers including Limbo, Braid and Pacman Championship Edition DX have all been great successes and demonstrate the potential for this growing market.
Back in ‘92, Ecco was a top of the line game, but twenty years later it would be difficult to market as a big budget game. A better idea would be to bring Ecco back as a beautiful, streamlined gaming experience with atmospheric similarities to PSN release Flower and the haunting wide open spaces of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. With today’s modern graphics and HD technologies, Ecco could be a truly beautiful game. Alternatively, there’s always the Wii, Move and Kinect, and for once this is a franchise that would fit into those motion-controlled enterprises nicely.
The first TimeSplitters game was released in 2000 by Eidos Interactive and developed by Free Radical, a group composed mostly of ex-Rare employees who worked on GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, the style of which certainly informed the gameplay within TimeSplitters. Cartoony and with its tongue firmly in cheek, TimeSplitters took a less serious approach to the first-person shooter genre, a refreshing prospect at a time when we are swarmed with ludicrous Call of Duty plotlines and Halo epicness.
As it currently stands, TimeSplitters 4 is on indefinite hold – Free Radical was bought out by Crytek in 2009, who have since said they would continue the project once there is evidence of high demand within the industry. By today’s standards, TimeSplitters might be best compared to 2009’s Borderlands, a zany, acid-trip shooter that never took itself even remotely seriously and was by all accounts a runaway success with fans and critics alike. Given Borderlands’ success, the industry’s demand for similar products seems to be self-evident. Crytek, are you watching closely?
Created and developed by the same team behind Resident Evil, the comparisons between Dino Crisis and RE were always obvious, but by the series’ third incarnation, fans and critics alike had mixed feelings and lacklustre sales brought the franchise to an untimely end with Xbox exclusive Dino Crisis 3. Set in a space station in the year 2548, the producers made the baffling decision to cut ties with previously established characters and storylines, instead jumping the shark to a generic space-station shooter.
Questionable as this decision was, the release of the original Dino Crisis via the PSN shows there’s still clearly a market for the franchise to make a come back. At a time when fans feel Resident Evil is becoming increasingly more action-orientated and less horror-focused, Dino Crisis might be just the game to take over Resi’s survival-action lead and allow the RE franchise to get back to its true roots. As for how to revive Dino Crisis, it’s been a long enough time that a straight-up remake might just do the trick, provided the visuals were up to the current generation standard and the gameplay mechanics took a leaf out of the most successful third-person shooters' books, i.e. Dead Space, Mass Effect, and Uncharted.
Onimusha was in many ways the yin to Devil May Cry’s yang; DMC followed a cocky silver-haired demon hunter set in modern day America (we assume) in a gothic backdrop while Onimusha led us through Japanese history by way of several historical figures, elemental swords, Japanese mythology and...Jean Reno.
Devil May Cry 4 debuted to a mixed reception in 2008, with many fans feeling that they’d lost sight of the series’ core. Capcom’s next move was somewhat baffling then, when they announced a franchise reboot by way of the forthcoming DMC, featuring a younger Dante – one without the silver hair. A curious choice, many are sceptical (none more so than myself) of the series' future with this possibly fatal misstep.
Onimusha meanwhile, has been on the shelf since 2006’s Dawn of Dreams, and it’s certainly time Capcom brought out a new game. From a story perspective, the tale is probably all told, but Onimusha was originally conceived as a trilogy and somehow Capcom found a way to inject a fourth instalment that managed to maintain the continuity and give fans more of what they loved. At a time when hack and slash games are as popular as ever, it makes sense for Capcom to reinvest in Onimusha – particularly with such widespread negative reaction to DMC.
Chances are there are few of you who recall Acclaim’s 1999 N64 action-adventure game Shadowman, a surreally gothic platformer where you control Michael LeRoi, a kind of voodoo warrior dubbed Shadowman, tasked with preventing Legion and his lackeys from unleashing an army upon our world, known in Shadowman canon as “liveside”.
While the game itself suffered from some poor mechanics and awkward camera control, its atmosphere, story and mythology were all rich enough to make for a compelling ride. Given the recent successes of God of War and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, Shadowman could potentially stack up against these two as a competitor if given to a studio with enough intriguing ideas – some voodoo magic abilities, bringing back the Shadowgun, an interesting use of light mechanics, switching between liveside and deadside (ala Soul Reaver), Shadowman could definitely carve its name into the action-adventure market, as well as adding a horror twist few other games can claim to possess.
‘What’s that!?’ you say. 'Resident Evil is still a hugely active and successful franchise!' Well, yes, it is. But to many fans the series has derailed so far from its original course that an all out reboot is required in order to bring back the essential qualities that made Resident Evil what it was; minimal ammo, forced camera angles, multiple scenarios and endings, and most crucially: horror. Resident Evil 4 had some pant-wettingly terrifying moments (IMO) but RE5 was by comparison shockingly lacking. Capcom had stripped the horror to the bare bones and turned RE into what was essentially Left 4 Dead without the sense of humour. At this point, fans of both the “real” Resident Evils and RE4 alike are hoping for some kind of return to form.
Rumours are circulating that the next console RE game will have some kind of dramatic change, and there is speculation about a reboot being underway. Long-time series producer Jun Takeuchi announced in 2010 he won’t be part of the team working on the next RE game, citing creative differences as his reason. This doesn’t bode well for fans hoping for a return to the old ways, as Takeuchi was one of the original pioneers of the survival horror genre, and has gone on record as being unhappy about the direction the franchise is taking.
Despite these well-known fan concerns however, Capcom show no sign of changing direction. There are two forthcoming 3DS games Resident Evil: The Mercenaries and Resident Evil: Revelations that seem to be very much in the vein of the latter entries in the series. The Mercenaries in particular is an extension of a gameplay mode much enjoyed by fans after completing the story mode – it allows the player to choose a character, a setting, and simply survive as long as they possibly can as they fight off hordes of zombies. As fun as they are, it feels a little cheap of Capcom to release an all new title that is dedicated purely to this one gameplay mode – there won’t be any kind of story involved, and subsequently very little to zero atmosphere or horror. Resident Evil: Revelations features RE1 and RE5 heroes Chris and Jill once again, which would be highly unusual if they were to then reboot the franchise with the same characters in different mythology timelines. Capcom have as yet to announce their next console game, but with them so clearly holding onto the established form through the handheld market, the hopes of fans are dwindling rapidly.
Personally, I enjoyed RE4 immensely, but I wholly understand the complaints of fans who “miss the old RE”. With a reboot unlikely at this point, the only place left to go is forward. At the end of RE5, Wesker, the man with the most ridiculous accent since Liquid Snake, was blown away by two rockets inside a volcano. If that doesn’t put him down, nothing will, and if he survives, the series has well and truly jumped the shark, if it hasn’t already. Being the series-long antagonist, there’s now a vacancy for the next big villain to take centre-stage, but with seven “official” games in the series already well established (don’t forget Zero and Code Veronica) and numerous spin offs, it’s a little late in the game to suddenly introduce a new villain. Unfortunately this would mean Wesker makes a return once again and would pretty much make a laughing stock of what little credibility the series still has.
The alternative is to give fans a game centred on that mystical Catwoman-esque Ada bitch-in-the-red-dress Wong. A fan favourite since RE2, Ada has been a slippery customer since we first met her, and even now it’s unclear as to where her allegiances truly lie. It’s pretty obvious by the end of RE4 that she’s not simply working for Wesker and may well have an agenda of her own. Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, it may be a risk to put Ada centre-stage, but it could pay off if executed correctly. The key thing for Capcom to rein in is their continuously escalating OTT moments. RE’s dialogue has never been eloquent, but in RE5 it was truly awful, the kind of fist-in-mouth moments that induce toe curls.
Of course, the other solution is that someone else come up with an entirely new survival-horror that actually has elements of horror in it. In some respects, Dead Space has filled this void, but it’s far closer to the horror-action blend or RE4 than the original PSOne games. A few months ago movie director and gothic visionary Guillermo del Toro announced his plans to collaborate with both THQ and Volition to work on an all new horror trilogy titled inSANE. Del Toro is widely known as being a huge Lovecraft fan, and his own movies have certainly delved into the realm of creepy beyond the scope of sudden jumps and bursts of loud music. An avid gamer himself, he can also be relied upon to know what makes a game successful. With bated breath, we await the results of this collaboration.
There are other franchises that very nearly made it on here: Tomb Raider, Devil May Cry, Mortal Kombat and Parasite Eve to name a few, but all of them have either had a recent incarnation or are in development with a big-budget reboot. Tomb Raider in particular is a franchise that stands out as one that actually needs to have some time out before returning to form. With over eleven games currently in the franchise, it feels too soon to bring Lara back. Even if Crystal Dynamics are rebooting everything and re-introducing Lara as a 21-year old student, there’s a feeling within the gaming community that they’re simply pushing too hard too soon.
The Third Birthday, SquareEnix’s third Parasite Eve game, was recently released in Japan to decent commercial and critical success, earning 36 out of 40 from Japan’s highly-regarded Famitsu magazine, though one suspects this is in no small part due to the wear and tear effect of protagonist Aya Brea’s clothing unravelling after taking damage in the game and a rather steamy shower scene. SquareEnix certainly seem to think they know the way to their fans wallets...meanwhile, I hear the gameplay is pretty good too.
While on the subject of Square Enix, I’d like to take a moment to say there is one franchise very noticeably NOT on this list, and that is Final Fantasy. This may arouse curiosity from a great many people, so allow me to clarify this particular absence – it this writer’s contention that Final Fantasy has strayed so very far from its glory days that a simple paragraph or two would be utterly insufficient to address the numerous and seemingly escalating problems that lie within the franchise and consequently, a future piece carefully deconstructing where it all went wrong is forthcoming.
So, readers, are there any franchises we missed? Any classics you’re desperate to see revived? Which franchises need to be brought back? Which ones need to be killed right now? Which ones should stopped being so thoroughly milked? (COD!) Sound off in the comments section and join in the discussion!
Many thanks to Luke Connolly for some great contributions and ideas for this article.
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