RIP Ralph Baer
I really, really hate writing obits. I really do. But I take it as a personal honor to be able to say good things about the men and women I respect, whether in this industry or just in my life, and Ralph Baer is the reason all of this exists in the first...
What should have been a banner week for Microsoft came crashing down during the big reveal of the Xbox One on Tuesday. Though the idea of a more lazy way to change channels on the TV or make adjustments to your fantasy football team was supposed to be appealing, Xbox One launched with a solid thunk in front of gamers, who were looking for, unsurprisingly, advanced gameplay. They didn't just want advanced graphics, but mentally challenging games with stimulating storytelling, advanced beyond just EA Sports and Call of Duty.
What followed on the Internet resembled Merle's death scene from The Walking Dead. Gamers took to their FaceSpaces, Tweetys, YouStaGrams, and other social medias to denounce repeatedly and loudly the newly christened Xbox One. Gamers jumped ship like rats on a drowning ship, quickly joining the ranks of Team Sony or Team Nintendo, which suddenly didn't look so bad. The response was nearly unanimous between gamers of all walks of life, as well as the press. The thirst for something positive tore at Microsoft like a Walker to a fresh corpse, but Microsoft wouldn't die easily.
Does it play used games? The jury is still out. Backwards compatibility? Simply backwards thinking, Microsoft responds. Always-on? No, of course not! Well, not really. If you want to do the cool stuff, then yeah. But it's not really always-on. Just every day.
Finally in the throes of damnation, Microsoft squealed, “Wait! Rare's going to reintroduce a historic franchise at E3!” And for a brief, fleeting moment, gamers took a break, paused, and thought, “Huh. That's kinda cool.” Then they went back to feasting upon Microsoft's failure.
The thought of Rare, the UK-based studio forever tied to gaming in the late '80s and '90s, bringing back one of their classic franchises stands as one of the few positive moments from the XBone reveal week. Some of the best fighters, platformers, and arguably the pioneer of the modern first-person shooter, GoldenEye 007, all bore Rare's trademark; the gold R became a symbol of quality gaming. The 2000s, however, were not so kind to the studio; Rare has only released two games since 2008, both being in the Kinect Sports series.
Many of the classic series could be revived on the Xbox One – or any eighth-gen console – and succeed. Rare, take note: it would behoove you to re-examine these franchises and consider giving them the (re)boot.
#5 - Wizards and Warriors
Published by Acclaim for the NES, Wizards & Warriors stood in 1987 as ahead of its time. It was hard. It was brutal. But it had unlimited continues. As long as you didn't turn the NES off, you were still in it. There were gems to find, creatures to battle, and Feathers of Feather Fall to find to float fabulously. It was almost universally praised amongst the gaming press and still stands as one of the most challenging games for the 8-bit machine.
Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II came out in 1989, and it was still hard, but didn't have unlimited continues, but it did have passwords. It was fairly good. Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power was released in 1992, and didn't have any continues or passwords. It was fairly bad.
If there's any time to revive Wizards & Warriors, the time is now. Skyrim's sales topped 7 million in the first week alone, and The Elder Scrolls series stands as one of the only dominant fantasy series currently. Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest have both faltered; there's clearly room for another. Kuros's adventures fit well with motion peripherals, especially in an open-world environment. With the Kinect, players could even attempt the nefarious precision jumps from the series in real life. And would have no one to blame when they fail but themselves.
#4 - Banjo-Kazooie
I can hear the fanboys already: “Only Number FOUR??” Calm down. I love Banjo and Kazooie equally. The games have done well, and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts was only recently released in 2008, for better or for worse. So it's not like Banjo-Kazooie has been completely dormant.
However, one good deed deserves another.
The Xbox 360 iteration found praise in its graphics and music, and can only be improved upon in the next generation. Dump the vehicle building and go back to the platforming that made the series great. Sometimes it's okay to give the fans more of what they want: the Mario franchise has been doing it for years.
And for God's sake, get rid of the Stop 'N' Swop.
#3 - R.C. Pro Am
Most people mistakenly think of R.C. Pro-Am as a first-party title for the NES, but they would be wrong—Rare holds the rights. Nintendo published the game for NES in 1988, but it was ported for the Genesis in 1992 by Tradewest, who published the direct sequel, R.C. Pro-Am II. The original cart has been widely lauded as the pioneer of the vehicular combat genre, breeding classics such as the Twisted Metal and Mario Kart series.
Microsoft could stand to benefit from an exclusive competitor to those series. They may have teased Forza 5 but straight racing games can hardly be compared to the shenanigans of Sweet Tooth's ice cream truck or a Blue Shell in the hands of Wario. R.C. Pro-Am featured remote control cars that somehow still manage to fire missiles and bombs.
Build in the ability to customize your R.C. Car, and it's possible that Xbox One's voice and heartbeat recognition could prove useful for something after all. Voice commands could fire your weaponry, and the game could recognize when your pulse races for added effects. The nostalgia could add that extra boost needed to finally give the XB1 some much-needed positive press.
Plus, I was thoroughly awesome at the 1988 original. Bring on the next generation!
#2 - Conker
Conker's Bad Fur Day hit the N64 as a spinoff from Diddy Kong Racing. Everyone thought the game would play similar to Donkey Kong Country, and star the cuddly and adorable red squirrel in a family-friendly adventure. Turns out, however, that Conker is a boozing, foul-mouthed greedy bastard.
In other words: awesome.
Bad Fur Day, released in 2001, features the titular squirrel trying to stumble home after a night of binge drinking. In the meantime, our “hero” is the target of the Panther King, for the very important purpose of stabilizing his end table. Throughout his adventure, Conker meets a busty sunflower, a Mafia boss, aliens, lazy game programmers, Nazi teddy bears, and an operatic pile of poop.
Conker's series showcases itself as another version of “give the fans more of what they want,” and could be an especially viable title for the stumbling Wii U. Nintendo has constantly said they wanted to attract the mature players they lost to Sony and Microsoft; Conker presents the opportunity to prove it. Profanity, guns, breasts, and singing fecal matter may not necessarily be Nintendo's forte, but Conker's Bad Fur Day is one of the most popular cult classics on the N64 with minimal advertising (notably in Playboy) and essentially comes with a guaranteed buyer pool. Nintendo has been waiting for a breakout game, and Conker may be just the a**hole they need.
#1 - Battletoads
Ask gamers to name something in the 8-bit era that they didn't accomplish, and almost universally, two things surface: knocking out Mike Tyson in Punch-Out!! (which I finally did at the age of 25 and have not since repeated) and beating Battletoads. The game was just so damn hard. It was "rage quit" hard. "Throw your controller and stomp away" hard.
But it was also too much fun. Players couldn't stay away, and after practically mastering Stage 1 in Ragnarok's World, we were all lulled into a false sense of confidence, thinking maybe the game wasn't so hard after all. Start, rage, quit. Lather, rinse, repeat.
That unique combination of torment and entertainment captured gamers in 1991 and have enthralled them ever since. And for what it's worth, the Dark Queen was both heinous and fapworthy. The 'Toads were last seen in 1994.
If Rare wants to come back on the scene, Rash, Pimple and Zitz are the way to do it. The challenge will fascinate and frustrate today's players while drawing retro gamers to avenge their failures. It could be a 2D or 3D platformer, or a sandbox adventure. It could even be a spoof of Grand Theft Auto complete with hoverbikes and tower challenges. The possibilities are endless, and with three 'Toads, couch co-op is not only attainable but recommended. And we all know how well things worked out in two-player mode on the NES.
Gamers these days have had it too easy. Time to release the Battletoads. The next-gen console that takes Rare up on that classic beat-'em-up series has a serious leg-up in the race.