A Chip Off the Old Block?
This is just one big perspective thing, so if you don’t agree with it within reason, that is fine.
I think one of the interesting things about video game series, and well, any series that is in the entertainment industry, is the responsibility they have being a series. Is there the obligation to continue being the same thing? Or is it possible that finding the better thing is the right path? And even more so, does the audience have a say? Should they?
We love sequels. I mean, at least when the game was good, we want more. But do we really want more of the same? If we look at sequels that people love, we can see that they gave us a brand new and great concept. The sequel might look the same, but the development and design have definitely evolved. I am talking about things like Super Mario Bros. 3, Dishonored 2, Half-Life 2, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between worlds. They seem to play just like the predecessors, but there are new concepts that are brought in. So…the same? I don’t think so. Can they kind of feel the same? Yes. Half-Life 2 does indeed feel like Half-Life 1. Does Half-Life 1 have many physics-based puzzles and a gravity gun? No.
So, I guess we want sequels that are not just improvements, but developments in design. That is what we want and should be asking for if we want a sequel, not more of the same. But…are the developers obligated to do so? And should they? I think… not?
“Wait, Elise, wait. What about Mass Effect Andromeda? That game–”
Yes, I know, it wasn’t amazing. But if we take a closer look at what Mass Effect Andromeda feels like, it actually is more like Mass Effect 1. Mass Effect 1 is still a great game. So, why didn’t Andromeda feel like that? It still feels like Mass Effect, just a very different, and older Mass Effect, but some core things have been tweaked just enough to make it not as comfortable. Long, fetch-questy missions, and exploration that felt free, yet restricted at the same time made it feel…inefficient at feeling like Mass Effect. Constant radiation restrictions, a lot of collectible side quests, and change in playstyle pushed fans even further away. I think it was done in a style of Mass Effect 1 with some bad gameplay elements. Personally I feel like the gunplay change was a good thing, but again, it was different. Could Andromeda be the same while still being satisfying? Yes. I think with the same lore and content material it could’ve been better if the game felt a little bit leaner. And saying that, yes, I think it could be that different weird Mass Effect 1 mix while still being Mass Effect.
“Okay, but how far are you going to let that go?”
I think if an idea is different enough, developers shouldn’t be using the same lore and name, because that brings up that responsibility of it having to be like the previous games. I think it all comes down to lore. We see games with very different lore and yet they can play similarly but still be distinguished as two different games. Starcraft 1 and 2 feel very different. But they still feel like Starcraft in the way that they approach the lore.
Let me talk about two examples that have jarring differences in the audience response.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is considered a huge keystone now because of how amazing it is. It is very different from the previous games. It is now an open-world game with only a few small dungeons, and dozens of micro-dungeony things. Crafting is a thing, and getting owned because you ran into a difficult monster is definitely a thing now. Link can now climb and jump, which is very strange for the series. The lore is still the same though. It retains and is accepted as a new Legend of Zelda game.
Paper Mario: The Origami King is a great game with a very different fighting style than the previous four Paper Marios. It is now more like a puzzle-adventure game. You…kind of have partners and bosses are real life items. You don’t level up at all. You still have the durability item system. World-building is fairly different. Lore is largely the same without extremes as in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. And …people are still hesitant to accept it as Paper Mario. Now, you might say, well Paper Mario did GREAT with it’s first two and they shouldn’t have changed it up. You’re right, but The Legend of Zelda also did amazing with its many predecessors. The gameplay in Origami King is also not bad either. Sure, it’s not like Breath of the Wild’s, but I cannot deny that Origami King is a great game in its own right. But it still isn’t accepted very well. So what gives?
Does the audience know what they want? Yes. Will they accept anything else? … The audience of Paper Mario has become so adamant that the first two games are the only way. A lot of Zelda fans, without hindsight bias, believed the old Legend of Zelda was the way as well. And the big difference is that Paper Mario decided to jump off the face of the Earth and try things. Some things worked, like Super Paper Mario, and other things didn’t, like Sticker Star and Color Splash. Color Splash had at least a few things going for it though, I must admit. The thing is, that is part of the process of innovation. You fail, and that is because if you don’t you’ll never find something new. Nintendo has a habit of taking that risk with games like Splatoon or ARMS. Most of the time they do well. Most of the time.
Every time Intelligent Systems took a wrong turn, the fans strengthened their idea that the originals were the way to go. The Legend of Zelda didn’t have the disparity of having games in the main series that were not well received. I mean, there was Triforce Heroes, but nobody even mentions that. I can understand the doubt with EA Games concerning their upsets with Battlefront II, Battlefield V, and Anthem, and when they finally bring something good, like Star Wars: Squadrons, people are hesitant. Most people agree that Squadrons is a good game. But Intelligent Systems took this one step further. They didn’t use something familiar. Squadrons hearkens back to the old days of 3D dogfighting, while The Origami King did something so strange and different.
The lore still feels like Paper Mario to me. And as a game, it is good and fun, and is that not the responsibility of a game?
I think there is a heavy burden on developers of series to be like their predecessors, and I don’t feel like it is necessary. I think developers have to be unafraid of changing things up to make great games. Sometimes even to the extreme of The Origami King. The difference between me accepting The Origami King as a good different successor and Andromeda being a mediocre successor all points to two things: is the lore the same? Is the game still fun?
If we say yes to both, the game has met the responsibility. Is it unfortunate that we likely will not return to the original Paper Marios? Undeniably yes. We may not even return to the Origami King. But it is also fortunate that we can experience something like Origami King. If you only choose to like one style, then you have chosen. The truth is that they can both be great. I think accepting that kind of breaks the status quo, and people don’t like doing that, especially as the consumer. I am fortunate enough to be both a consumer and creator, both as a scientist and an artist, so maybe my view is very skewed.
I think as just a consumer this can all seem kind of unfair, and, you know, that makes sense. Unfortunately, I can’t really say that restricting what I enjoy to a narrow group of games doesn’t really seem that enjoyable to me.
I think that’s the one thing that people despise me as a Game Praiser. I enjoy everything, and that is both a blessing and a curse. I place my thoughts here on this blog because I feel like it is a fairly unique viewpoint, especially with a video game audience. I’ve met very few people who just really like gaming as a whole, and I want to share my perspective. Maybe you completely disagree. Haha. That is fine! This is just meant to be a perspective piece.
Thanks for letting me talk this out. I’ll see you next time.