On Megaman XOver and other Mobile Games
I have a problem with a recent practice that game developers and publishers are doing. For as long as I can remember, video games have been played either on video game consoles or computers. These games have been extremely detailed in every aspect. Whether one is considering the Mario games during the 80s, the Sonic games during the 90s, the Final Fantasy and Resident Evil titles during the 2000s, or the Modern Warfares of the past few years (or the King’s Quest, Diablo, and Starcraft titles on the PC), these games have been nothing but professional. The effort put forth by developers shows in the final product. But lately, publishers and developers have all bought into the idea that tablets are the future of gaming. Because tablets – general purpose devices – are outselling consoles, they believe that they can gear their efforts towards tablet markets. On the short run, it might make sense – and if done well it would be great in the long run as well. However, because of the perceptions of what gaming “should be” in these tablet devices (casual games) gaming is suffering.
Consider the major “killer apps” for mobile gaming: Angry Birds, Temple Run, Cut the Rope, and other similar titles loiter the top 50 of the iStore and Google Play store. All of these games have something in common – simplicity. These games are easy to play and repetitive in nature. They involve shifting or rubbing the tablet in a certain way, then doing it again and again. Rarely do they have a narrative or any sort of deep mechanic. Instead of engaging, they are addictive. Instead of compelling the gamer to play, they train the gamer to repeat certain motions, very much in the same way that all the Facebook “Ville” games do.
Now think about the major (real) video game franchises, or even the more prominent releases as of late. Think of Mass Effect or Bioshock. Think of Dishonored. Think of Assassin’s Creed. All of these games are complex and compelling. All of these games have solid narratives. All of these games have interesting mechanics. All of these games are the complete opposite to the social and mobile games flooding the market.
Then there’s the question of “portable” games – those that are released in portable consoles like the PSP and the DS (or PSVita and 3DS if you’ve already made the change). These games, just as their console counterparts, are deep and compelling. They are complex and interesting, and they offer great gameplay experiences.
Mobile games do not.
And yet I have noticed companies making more and more mobile games.
This would not be a problem if companies made mobile games and “real” games, but in the past week I’ve noticed a troubling trend. It might be a bit alarmist, but it seems to me that publishers are taking priced franchises and turning them into casual time wasters. That’s a future I don’t want for games.
The first instance of this was the release of the Megaman X-Over iOS game. Megaman has traditionally been a game where the player jumps from platform to platform, goes up and down stairs, and shoot robots. It was complex, deep, and interesting. The latest iOS game features Megaman automatically an endless conveyor belt. The player gets to jump and shoot. For a review, check out this relatively foul-mouthed individual: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=At9KoEzXtAc. The final game should have a “social component” included.
[If you’d like to try out a Flash interpretation, check out the Newgrounds page at http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/604400?updated=1%5D
If this were a side project in addition to a “real” 25h anniversary Megaman game then it would be no problem. But this time waster IS the 25th anniversary title. Capcom is effectively taking a franchise that people care for and turning it into… well… that. And, sadly, they’re not the only ones.
A week ago, Mike Fahey wrote a piece on a similar travesty that was happening one of with every 30 year old’s most memorable character: Sonic. Now, let me get this out of the way: not everyone likes the Sonic games past Adventure 2. They say that the whole concept of exploration and furry friends is lame, and that Sonic is all about running fast. But here’s the thing – whether one buys into the old-school Sonic or the new-school Sonic, one must admit that Sega put quite a bit of effort into their Sonic games. this is specially true of Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations, both of which, pretty much everyone agrees, are great Sonic games. But back to last week. Fahey wrote a piece on a game Sega was to release for iOS – another time waster called Sonic Jump (http://kotaku.com/5952336/theres-no-running-in-the-next-mobile-sonic-the-hedgehog-game). In this new Sonic “game” players get to not run and not explore, but instead to jump (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIQyFunQyo0). If you saw the video you realized that players don’t even control when to jump or how to move in a vertical stage, they simply control which way to jump.
Although this is (hopefully) not the new major direction that Sonic will take, it does make me worry a bit about the future of games in general.
Now, even with these two wonderful titles in the works, I still hadn’t thought to post anything. Today, however, I saw that one of my favorite portable games, The World Ends with You (https://johansenquijano.wordpress.com/2010/06/05/the-world-ends-with-you/) has a sequel in the works (http://kotaku.com/5954064/first-look-at-the-newest-world-ends-with-you-its-a-social-game). I was, of course, highly enthusiastic. However, I then read the commentary on it and it turns out that the official sequel to one of the most compelling and interesting portable games is now a mobile social app. The wonderful company that is Square Enix (boy do I miss Squaresoft) also announced some sort of social card game based on the Final Fantasy franchise.
Naturally, you see why I’m concerned. While I think that having good iOS games is a necessity (and, yes, thank you for those original The World Ends with You and Final Fantasy Tactics iOS ports), I hardly think that time wasters and social games qualify as good games.
So, allow me to make this (possibly insignificant) plea to game developers and publishers: keep making games. It doesn’t matter whether you publish them in a tablet, Steam, or a console, keep making games. But please, don’t make skinnerbox social games. Make real ones, least the industry you work for and we all love be destroyed by mediocrity.