Bring on the Remakes

Written by Jon Wilcox

May 3, 2010 | 09:23

Tags: #haze #hollywood #jon-wilcox #reboot #remake #too-human

Companies: #sierra

Roll out the reboots!

More fundamentally, a bug-ridden experience can end a game’s prospects on launch, even if the feature-set is one of the most original in a particular genre. One game that showed both visual flair and original gameplay ahead of release was the 2004 PC strategy title, Evil Genius. Developed by Elixir Games and published by Sierra (now dormant under super-publisher, Activision Blizzard), Evil Genius put players into the control of a 1960s super-villain, hell bent on taking over the world.

Not only was the idea of playing the antagonist of the game fairly innovative, but mixing Dungeon Keeper-like gameplay with a World Domination feature meant Evil Genius seemed certain to flourish. The injection of fresh ideas into the genre should have created a chain reaction of success for Elixir Games.

However, minor and major bugs alike (like an inability to unlock certain research objects), hurt Evil Genius’ prospects and ultimately damaged Elixir Games as a whole. Some of the issues were resolved following a hastily assembled patch, but it was left to fans to wallpaper over the remaining cracks. Evil Genius wasn’t the most bug-laden game in history, there are worse examples (Vampire: Bloodlines? - Ed), but it shows how making big promises you can’t fully deliver on can lead to disastrous consequences. Elixir Games subsequently went under and the rights to Evil Genius is now believed to lay in the hands of UK super-developer, Rebellion - who've been too busy rebooting AVP to look deeper into their back catalogue.

Bring on the Remakes Roll out the reboots!
If ever there was a game which deserved a remake, Evil Genius is it

Perhaps the pressure to develop a one-off game into a successful franchise is a facet of the modern-day industry. After all, aside from the blockbuster hits like Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog, few series lasted beyond a second instalment 25 years ago.

One stand out game during the NES era that has long been expected to be rebooted during this current generation is Kid Icarus. Very much the traditional 8-bit platformer of yesterday, the adventure stopped before it ever really got started. Originally regarded as an amalgamation of elements from other Nintendo games (specifically Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid) Kid Icarus also showcased important and original features such as a password system for easter egg upgrades like invincibility, and multiple endings – the latter arguably seen as more of a modern gaming feature.

There’s some indication Kid Icarus’ failure to develop into a franchise was because it arrived the same time as Metroid and was over-shadowed by Samus’ debut adventure - a huge shame. Admittedly a sequel of sorts did make it onto the GameBoy a few years later, but it was more an adaptation than a true sequel. Weirdly though, despite it’s lengthy hibernation, the sentiment for Kid Icarus has always seemed strong; Pit has even appeared in the Super Smash Brothers franchise, which isn’t bad for a long-dormant character and an indication that Nintendo knows how well a remake might do.

Now readily available once more through the Wii’s Virtual Console, the game’s high level of difficulty and tired production values disguise the potential for a reboot on the platform. A true Wii remake has long been mooted but never confirmed.

Bring on the Remakes Roll out the reboots!
Kid Icarus' Pit remains popular and well known, but a remake of the original has never materialised

Of course, the main reason why games don't often live long enough to merit a sequel is just that they fail to resonate with the market, whether because of low production values or bizarre concepts. Unintuitive button mapping, unresponsiveness, and a lack of balancing, can all contribute to a game’s poor experience and ultimate failure. Back in 2006, Nintendo was ruling the handheld gaming world thanks to the DS, but the company’s GameCube was dragging itself to the grave a bloodied and well-beaten hunk of purple plastic. Many of the games on the console were adaptations of animated movies, with very little in the way of originality. The one title which really did stand out was Odama, a pinball/real-time tactics game from SimTower creator, Yoot Saito.

At a time when the gamers were still months away from getting their hands on the Wii-remote and nunchuk combo, Odama’s mix of controller and microphone was something strangely different. Beyond the pinball control system, Odama’s tactical gameplay had players command troops across the battlefield using nearly a dozen voice commands. It was almost the videogames equivalent of rubbing your belly with one hand and tapping your head with another, exacerbating the difficulty levels and alienating casual gamers.

Perhaps bringing back Odama would be more straightforward in the Wii age, with a potential reboot making use the Wii Balance Board to operate the left and right flippers and the recent advances in voice recognition. Or perhaps not. Offering an intuitive control system is a fundamental requirement to any videogame, and the breadth of possibilities allowed to developers today through the likes of the Wii Balance Board, Wii-remote and nunchuk, as well as microphones, Natal and PlayStation Move, will hopefully see previous games freed from the entanglement of their past control schemes. Then again, things could just get more complex as developers struggle to adapt to technology that’s constantly outpacing them.

The development process of a videogame is both time-consuming and costly, now more than ever before in the industry’s thirty-year history. Risks have been taken in the past, and whilst some have paid off, others have not. The ongoing financial crisis in the world economy will no doubt continue to affect the industry too, with safe, successful franchises continuing to take precedent over more original (and risky) ideas. Publishers will look to the past for plunder the fallen and nearly forgotten, and that won’t necessarily be a bad thing for failed IPs previously ‘born at the wrong time’. Who knows, maybe their time will come again and this time they might get it right?
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