Vicarious Visions has a long and storied history since its inception in 1990. It has jumped from Guitar Hero to SpongeBob to Skylanders or whatever else Activision needed it to work on. And now Activision apparently needs the studio to pack up its stuff, move into Blizzard‘s headquarters, and forfeit its potential to be a lead developer. Support others has almost always been in the studio’s DNA, but going out like this isn’t quite right for a team that has created two of its best games over the last few years and had a promising future ahead of it.
Reviving a crashed bandicoot
2017’s Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was one of those two games. Crash Bandicoot had been long dead, which, to be fair, includes many of the games Vicarious Visions made after Naughty Dog threw the bandicoot into a bin and dropped him off at the local fire department. The trio of titles faithfully represented the marsupial’s PS1 days with the visual fidelity of a modern title. Crash 1‘s archaic core aside, most of it felt like a game that Naughty Dog would have made if it had the technology back then.
The excellent Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled might have never gotten the green light if those games had failed. Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time even owes some of its success to that remake. While the talent Toys For Bob handled that sequel, it would have been nearly impossible to gin up excitement for yet another Crash game after so many terrible ones. But the N. Sane Trilogy reminded people what a great Crash game looked like and made a new good one seem more plausible.
Flying high with the Birdman
The Tony Hawk Pro Skater series was in a similar camp: long dead but revived by Vicarious Visions. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 was in many ways even better than those original games it was remastering. Of course, it looked markedly better than those PS1 classics, but also sounded fantastic and had even smoother controls. Not even the N. Sane Trilogy played better than the games it was based on due to the odd jump collision it had across all three entries.
This revival made Vicarious Visions the prime candidate to at least tackle a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3+4 or even a totally new title. The team proved that Tony Hawk could thrive on current hardware if it was given the respect it deserved. A reboot or sequel would be easier to get on board with as this remaster was enough to wash away the stink that was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5.
But now that Vicarious Visions has been sucked into Blizzard, what team will continue the momentum Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 started? Toys For Bob is talented — Crash 4 and the Spyro Reignited Trilogy are both recent proof of that — but it has only helped with one Tony Hawk game in the past (the Wii version of 2008’s Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam) and seems to focus more on platformers.
And which developer would co-pilot the Crash and Spyro series with Toys For Bob? Beenox is a good choice because of its experience working on Nitro-Fueled and Crash 4. Regardless, there is now one less developer within Activision making more diverse games and yet another solely contributing to its huge, AAA multi-million sellers.
The newfound resurrection of these three old franchises meant that Vicarious Visions had entered one of the most exciting parts of its tenure. But folding it into Blizzard is an unceremonious way to cut its potential short as it is relegated to making maps and doing other less visible work. It’s cruelly poetic that a studio named Vicarious Visions now has to solely execute its visions vicariously through another developer instead of having the lead role on any of its creations.