The release of Dynasty Warriors 8 got me thinking about dead horses and flogging.
One could reasonably suggest that Mario, CoD, NFS and the like have congealed, that the dialled-in games of these series blend together like the whites and yolks of an under-scrambled omelette. Us sceptics promote that sentiment too often, perhaps. In truth, these top-selling franchises do tend to turn out games that actually aren’t that bad. There’s fun to be had throwing a talking, blue hedgehog around an unapologetically undeveloped fictional universe at near light speed. That’s harmless fun. And of course there are the lingering ones that live on simply because they’re addictively excellent, like Worms, FIFA or Hitman.
The problem is that the most terrible of all the long-running series never get much attention. This means that they get to keep on releasing rehashed editions of games that were usually a bit crap even by the standards of their own time. The lack of light shone on them as they clamber over the ankle high walls of minimum security game criticism means they can market their products towards uninformed gamers who just don’t know any better. They prey on the weak and make millions of dollars doing it. Kneel before the altar of marginally investigative journalism as I expose some of these lazy, rich, cackling designers. OK, you’re right: nobody non-fictional has ever cackled.
Let’s examine how the seed of my recent frustration has evolved in its 16 year career. The original Dynasty Warriors was a 2D 1v1 beat-em-up following the Street Fighter tradition, primarily set in 3rd Century China. Realising the saturation and decaying nature of the market, they expanded the concept to a 3D free-roaming hack-n-slash in time for DW2. It became as J-gamey as a game can be. Instead of emphasising plot, characters and level design, the devs decided to concentrate on cramming the screen with as many flashing lights, Batman ZAP, POW and KASPLUSHes, and NPCs as they could.
The combat system, which was the only selling point of the game, grew vague, irresponsive and just sort of spun around all the time. 1v1 battles became nigh on impossible as the player character wildly swung a pike without any discernible target. It was like watching Ray Charles trying to swat a fly with a hosepipe. And then they released the game another six times, slapping a new number after each title while yawning into their hands.
We couldn’t easily talk about irritatingly prolific releases without giving a shout-out to Ubisoft Red Storm, developers of the frequently lukewarm Tom Clancy games. By my count, there have been exactly 50 games published either with his name on the sleeve or based on his works. Therefore, if one had been released every single year, the first would have been published in 1963. Naturally, this isn’t the case. The two most prolific series began as recently as 1997 and 1999. You do the maths. Do not worry if you feel angry after doing said maths. The sane human reaction after doing said maths is anger.
I’ve tried to block this one from memory. Not content with forcing separated parents to compete with tiny plastic blocks costing upwards of £100 a pop, the Lego Group decided in 1997 to ensnare a further monopoly over 3+ rated video games. Similar to Red Storm’s business model, Lego’s licensees profit from the intellectual property of others e.g. Lucasfilm or the Tolkien estate, for a fee payable to the licensor of course, and do so with relentless prolificacy. Again like Clancy, by the end of 2014 they will have released exactly 50 games in which characterless pieces of plastic jump around with only a slow, single buttoned combat system to speak of, collecting ‘studs’ (pieces of Lego which interconnect blocks securely – I know, just what you always wanted right?) with no death scenario as they decided that would be too much for kids to take. Lego away, please.
If the first fantasy was so final, why the need for 14+ instalments? Pay attention, JRPGs. You can’t just keep turning up in the West with a 90s physics model and storylines torn from some horny pre-teen’s manga fanfiction. We get it, Enix. Spiky hair and robots are fun. But 14 games in a flashy, over-designed, cartoonish series is too many. Seven was too many for Nayru’s sake; you just somehow created two viable characters that one time. It’s hard to believe you’re the same company that recently churned out such a polished Tomb Raider instalment AND the crack cocaine-like Deus Ex Human Revolution AND the simple yet modern Hitman Absolution. It’s just one more small step to become true legends of the industry. Give it up. Don’t keep making us all think less of you.
Featured image: ryancav via Reddit