Entertainment

Video Games Just Aren’t what They Use to be

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Now, it could just be my old age talking, but I refuse to believe that. I find myself more and more disillusioned with the games released these days. Let me just preface this entire article by saying that there are some great games out today and there are also some on the horizon that are sure to be amazing. What I am saying is that so many games today have really lost site of what a video game should be, fun. I will also say that simplicity is beautiful, it is also very elegant.

Over complication is abundant in games today. Multiple button inputs to pull off a single command can get tiresome very quick. On the flip side of that, mashing away on a single button can also be extraordinarily boring.  It really is a fine line between  making an intuitive and fluid play system and something that just ends up being a button masher.

When thinking of my favorite games I always end up reminiscing about the original Sonic the Hedgehog on the SEGA Genesis. It was, and is still phenomenal, and it had it all. Good versus evil, a lovable hero, amazing design both aesthetically and mechanically, and most of all it was just fun! The fact that you only use one button is a testament to how amazing simplicity can be.

Sonic took some big chances and really pushed the boundaries of what we should expect from a platformer.  I’m sure the reason we are seeing less and less innovation recently is due to corporate money.  Big companies buy up indie developers all the time. Once that happens, it’s all about the bottom line. 

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The video game industry is financially the largest entertainment industry in the U.S. It’s good that video games are doing well and that they have been culturally accepted, and soon enough I’m sure they will be recognized by the majority as a form of art. The down side to all of this popularity and large corporations is we end up missing out on what could be some fantastic games. Big companies don’t want to take chances, they want a sure thing. 

That’s why we have a new Call of Duty and a new Madden every single year.  Hey, if you love those games, that’s great, me, I get sick of playing the same thing over and over again.  Yes, I know there are always little changes, roster updates, and so on. But sh*t man, take a year off, take some time to change things up. Listen to your fans, make little tweaks, release a roster update as DLC for the next Madden instead of going retail and charge half the price. Hey, what do you know, now you have the time to do something new with your franchise.

I take a look back at games on the NES and it amazes me how innovative they were and how the developers were not afraid to try something different.  A couple of great examples are Super Mario 2 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link.  Now, for you game buffs out there, Super Mario 2 is actually a Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic

When it was released in the U.S. the characters were swapped out for the Mario crew, nearly everything else was left unchanged. Talk about a huge leap from the original, new enemies, new power ups, and entirely different play mechanics. To this day it remains one of my favorite games. Zelda II is another great example, going from a top down dungeon crawler to a side-scrolling action game is quite a change.  I also prefer this sequel to the original.  In today’s market, I can’t think of a time a company has really tried something different with one of their franchises.  It’s always like playing version 1.5.

Keiji Inafune has had a lot of interesting things to say as of late regarding the Japanese gaming industry.  Infaune is the creator of Mega Man, the Producer of Dead Rising, and has had some role in just about every Capcom game that you can probably think of. Inafune left Capcom two years ago to start his own company, leaving a company that you have worked for almost your entire life is just about unheard of in Japan. The reason for Inafune’s departure seems to be primarily due to a difference of opinion about how games should be made and what makes a game fun. 

“Man, Japan is over. We’re done. Our game industry is finished,” Inafune said. He has been very outspoken about the lack of creativity in Japan and believes that the games being produced in the States are more fun. I do have to agree to some extent, looking back to the Genesis and Super Nintendo, if I named my top ten games for each system, I’m willing to bet that every one of them would be from a Japanese developer. Even up to the days of the Dreamcast, American developers just didn’t have the winning formula. It’s really Microsoft’s Xbox that started the change for console gaming. I would say, primarily I still prefer Japanese titles, but my list certainly would not be as one-sided as it has been in the past.

The way I see it, we’ve lost sight of what a video games primary purpose is, and that is to be fun.  I don’t need every real sports team with every real player. I’ll tell you right now, the best sports game that were ever made didn’t have real teams and players. Super Baseball 2020 and Street Hoop on the Neo Geo, Tecmo Bowl and Super Spike V’Ball on the NES, F-Zero on the SNES, N64, and Gamecube. Not to mention the Mario franchise of sports titles including golf, cart racing, baseball, soccer, and so on. I don’t need or want my games to be so grounded in reality. I play games to relax and escape, I get enough reality already.

Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts on the current state of the gaming industry.  The way things are going, I believe the more strong independent studios that are out there the better off gamers will be. Most big corporations don’t want to take chances and ultimately that stifles creativity. Let’s just hope that some of the big boys wise up and adapt their marketing and business models to help them succeed while still being innovative and pushing the envelope. If all else fails, me and the NES can always take a trip down memory lane.

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Zach Starr has been a video games journalist for nearly 5 years. He is also a contributor for Nfamous Gamers. Follow him for exciting E3 2012 announcements.  ou can follow him on Twitter!