Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Sequels (8)

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Bubsy: Twisted Dreams

Bubsy: Paws on Fire! was my first Bubsy game and I loved it and thought it set a new standard for rhythm platformers. After 100%ing it on Steam, I’m playing it again on Switch and it’s still great. And I guess Bubsy must have gotten into my head, because I decided I wanted MORE BUBSY and went ahead and tried the only other Bubsy game made more recently than the 1990s: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. And… it’s decent!

I wasn’t expecting to like it. The game was not well received and got a metascore in the mid-40s on both PS4 and PC. But honestly, I don’t think the game got a fair shot. It was the first Bubsy game in over two decades and even the announcement that the series was getting revived was met with hostility. With expectations like these, the game would have had to be fantastic to overcome reviewers’ predispositions to dislike it, and… it isn’t that. The core gameplay is solid and I enjoyed playing through the levels, but the menus and other connective tissue feel a bit unpolished (including bizarre omissions like not being able to see your current high score per level), the boss fights are tedious, and perhaps worst of all - the game is very short. I fully completed it in something like five hours (about one-third of the time it took me to do the same with Paws on Fire!).

To me, these flaws don’t destroy the game’s strengths and I think a fair rating would land in the “mixed” range rather than the “negative” one. But with the baggage carried by the Bubsy IP, this game was never going to get a “mixed” score. Either it would be good enough to smash preconceptions and rate “positive” or it wouldn’t and it’d be dismissed out of hand. A mediocre Bubsy game is not, in most people’s eyes, a sufficient reason to revive the franchise.

Or maybe I’m just biased because of how much I liked Paws on Fire!. Or both. Who knows.

Anyway, the people I feel sorry for are the long-time Bubsy fans who saw their beloved series was returning. They had to watch the internet mock the very idea of a new Bubsy game. Then when the resulting game was middling and quite short but had promise and could easily have had an excellent sequel, the fans had to watch the internet call it pure trash. Then when another Bubsy game followed, it turned out to be by a different developer in a different genre. The result might be a game that I love, but when I imagine one of my favorite dormant franchises getting this kind of treatment - oof.

So, I’m definitely keeping an eye on Bubsy. I’m quite interested to see what happens next here, and I really hope something does. And for the record, I would be excited to see a follow-up to Paws on Fire! but I would also be excited to see a follow-up to The Woolies Strike Back.

In the meantime - folks like me who enjoyed Woolies and aren’t sated after its short runtime are best advised to move on to its developer’s previous work: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. The gameplay is actually quite similar. That might also have been a knock against the reviews for Woolies (some felt it showed the game was a rushed cash-in that reused most of an existing game design) but it’s definitely a bonus if you’re looking for more Woolies-like game to play.

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I think Dragon Quest has held on to its core...

I think Dragon Quest has held on to its core identity in a way that Final Fantasy hasn’t.

Dragon Quest has evolved, but there’s a clear through-line from the original game to now. As the series and its fans both grow up the games lean a bit more on nostalgia - and a huge part of why that’s effective is because the series has maintained a consistent tone across its installments. Playing Dragon Quest XI today feels a lot like how it felt to play Dragon Quest III on the NES.

Final Fantasy, meanwhile, has reinvented itself a few times. Multiple mainline games feel like the sort of experiment you normally see as a spin-off title, taking the series in bold new directions that sometimes stick and sometimes don’t. Final Fantasy XV is all-but unrecognizable as a descendant of, say, Final Fantasy IV. There’s still nostalgia, but it feels more detached - like bits of intertextual homage rather than bringing tradition forward.

For example: Final Fantasy XV feels the need to justify/contextualize the inclusion of the classic victory theme by having one of its characters sing it. Meanwhile, Dragon Quest XI just straight-up uses the classic sound effects.

Modern Final Fantasy is nostalgic for classic Final Fantasy. Modern Dragon Quest still is classic Dragon Quest.

I think this is why, despite having played more Final Fantasy as a child, it’s Dragon Quest that I’m still drawn to today. It’s Dragon Quest that I want to wrap myself in like a blanket.

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Sequels Dilute Economic Votes

It’s not clear to me the extent to which various game developers/publishers understand that sales within a franchise can be a lagging indicator.

For example, I used to love the Senran Kagura series of games and I was happy to support it by buying the first several installments - especially the ones that were clearly experiments to see if the games would sell in the west. But the series has clearly lost steam, and the last few games have each been noticeably worse than the one before.

Now here comes Senran Kagura: Burst Re:Newal, a remake of the 3DS original for PC/PS4, and it sounds much better. The original story’s emotional and moral depth is what hooked me on the series in the first place, and this title not only returns to the brawler-style gameplay but apparently improves on it.

This is probably going to be the first Senran Kagura game that I rent instead of buying. My willingness to throw money at this series is dulled considerably after playing the fine-I-guess Estival Versus, the disappointing Peach Beach Splash, and the terrible Reflexions - all of which I did buy. So now I’ve supported bad games and won’t be supporting the presumably-improved one.

I just hope that either most players aren’t like me or the decision makers here understand how this works. But I guess if Burst Re:Newal is totally amazing, I’ll probably go buy it just in case.

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The One Commandment for Game Sequels

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about franchises. Having recently played Mass Effect 2, and then Assassin’s Creed II, and now Uncharted 2, I have a lot of questions about what sequels are and what they should be.

When I played the original Mass Effect, I fell head-over-heels in love. I made three complete play-throughs in rapid succession, I devoured both novels available at the time (Revelation and Ascension), and when called upon to name my favorite three video games, Mass Effect made the cut.

Then I played Mass Effect 2, and now I barely care about the series. I mean, I’ll probably play Mass Effect 3. I guess. Certainly not for full launch-day price. You can bet I won’t pre-order, even if they don’t pull any of my pet peeve shenanigans.

What happened here that turned my devoted fandom to near indifference?

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When the Oldies are Not Goodies: The Questionable Legacy of Nostalgia

Game Over Photo copyright Mykl Roventine - original at http://www.flickr.com/photos/myklroventine/3210068573/

Game Over Photo copyright Mykl Roventine

Once upon a time, people didn’t buy video games. They went to an arcade, and bought playtime in twenty-five cent increments. How much time a quarter bought was completely dependent on the skill of the player. An unskilled player would find their progress barred quickly, and need to supply more quarters. A skilled player could proceed much longer, and was thus rewarded for the time, effort, and money poured into gaining their skill. The public nature of the arcade also rewarded the skilled player with the opportunity to show off in front of others. This provided the unskilled players with something to aspire to and suggested that it would be worthwhile to keep feeding the machines with quarters, so that they too might someday bask in similar glory. So it made a great deal of financial sense for arcade games to feature limited lives with more available for purchase.

Eventually video games moved from the arcade to the living room. Here it was much harder for a player to compare themselves to other local players, and there was no need to keep the quarters flowing since games were purchased outright. The reasons to limit lives had vanished, and barring the progress of unskilled players now served mainly to disrupt the experience and prevent those players from seeing all the content of the game for which they had already paid. This limited the games’ potential audience - why buy a game you can’t expect to make it through? Financially, it made no sense whatsoever for games played in the home to feature limited lives.

But that didn’t stop them from doing it anyway. From the original Super Mario Brothers on the NES all the way up to New Super Mario Brothers on the Wii, mainstream games have still not completely shaken off the limited lives trend. Why?

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Future's Past: Ratchet & Clank and the Problem of Sequels

Ratchet as seen in each of the first five Ratchet & Clank games

Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank have come a long way. Seven years after their first outing in late 2002, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time marks the ninth installment of a franchise spanning three platforms. (Tenth and four if you count the oft-forgotten Ratchet & Clank: Going Mobile.) They’ve even got action figures now.

A Crack In Time is easily the best Ratchet & Clank game on the PS3, and will be many fans’ favorite of the whole series. It certainly does have several series bests: the best writing, the best humor, the best Clank gameplay, the return of the series’s best villain, and the single most fascinating and complex character ever to grace a Ratchet & Clank game.

But to understand A Crack In Time’s greatest triumph, what it accomplishes that none of its predecessors do, we have to look back through the evolutionary paths traced by the series.