Give me a show of hands, who enjoyed Batman Begins? It’s a cool film but it’s not the first film that we’ve seen Batman in; heck, the ones with Michael Keaton weren’t even the first time we saw the big black bat on the screen. You’d have to go further back to 1966, to the good ol’ Adam West days to find the real first incarnation of the Batman.
So what’s my point? In recent years, the movie industry has taken to rebooting some of the classic movies into more productive cash cows such as Clash of the Titans, Red Dawn, and coming soon (much to my own personal dismay), Total Recall. This “Reboot Virus” has now spread into the video game world with more and more games receiving the boot and starting afresh, leaving fans with a very mixed bag of results.
Rebooting will split many gamers down the middle in terms of opinions. You will always get fans who will want to play more of the same game, even if they just change the lead character or the location around a bit, gamers will still want more. Why do you think games like Modern Warfare have been successful??
Take a game like Resident Evil: the series has managed to keep fresh by keeping the same core themes (survival and horror) and then moving off into the cannon of the universe to explore new areas and ideas. On the other side of this, there are gamers out there who are continually looking to be challenged by games and don’t really want to be playing the same Call of Duty game over and over again in a different city .
Beyond milking more money out a game, what really is the point of doing a reboot?
When rebooting works
We need not look farther for a case study than Mortal Kombat. In the early 1990’s when games were “chunky” and not really known for kicking butt; a new fighting game sparked a revolution by adding real blood and guts to a fighting game as well as more human looking characters. Mortal Kombat offered you the chance to play an extremely violent game where you could disembowel your opponent and offer you the chance to humiliate your friends in the arcade and eventually at home.
Time went on and the series evolved adding more and more characters to its roster to what became a huge back library of fighters. After the third encounter (and arguably its best), the game began to see a decline in the quality with titles such as Deadly Alliance, Deception, Armageddon, and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. The series became bloated and was on the verge of becoming a laughing-stock amongst the gaming community which had grown up with it as its ultra-violent choice game.
The studio which now owned the licence took a huge gamble and announced to the world that they were to reboot the franchise. They were going to remove all the bloat and garbage of the previous games and leave behind the good points to create a stripped down Frankenstein’s monster of a game throwing back straight back to the 1990’s glory days.
In what can only be described as a JJ Abrams move, gamers boot up the game to begin story mode, only to be told that all that went before was a vision of a possible future from another universe. Now you must change the path which has been set before it come to pass.
The big question is, did it work? Personally I think it did. The game feel and plays like it should, being annoyingly hard against bosses who you know are cheating. At the same time, it adds in some modern twists such as a back story for characters such as Sektor, Cyrax becoming cybernetic Lin-Quai, and just how Jax obtained those robotic arms. The franchise has made a grand hurrah and return to the big time in a well-executed (no pun intended) manner, but what about when it doesn’t work?
When it fails
Now, we all know some of us love (myself not included) this beloved blue speedster from his classic days back on the Sega Megadrive, 20 years ago this year (2011). He was, and still is, the icon for Sega and the one of the main driving force between many a schoolyard argument, who was better Mario or Sonic, in the 1990’s? The premise was simple and easy enough; you go from A to B as fast as you can, collecting as many rings as you can on the way, while avoiding the enemies as you go before defeating Dr Robotnik
As the years have gone on, Sonic has found more friends along the way in the form of Tails, Knuckles, and Amy as well as new enemies like Shadow, Vector, and Metal Sonic. In 2001, Sonic had to find a new home when Sega shut doors on its last console, the Dreamcast, fell to the side-lines in the newly emerging console wars between Sony and Nintendo. In 2002, he began to jump to other rival platforms such as the Gamecube, Playstation, and Xbox.
With each new game, Sonic games showed a gradual movement away from the original formula, leading us to the creation of games like Sonic Rivals, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic Colours, and Sonic Riders. Clearly, the hedgehog was losing his way and needed to stop and turn around.
Roll on to 2010 and Sonic was offered a chance at redemption amongst the gaming community after his awful and pitiful last outing, Sonic Unleashed. The idea was to take him away from all of the lights and glamour of a big release title and move him to the smaller scale of downloadable games (Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, iPhone). This would put him back to his roots of an A to B runner and take away a lot of the convoluted gameplay mechanics that the 3D Sonic game has brought.
The result? Sonic The Hedgehog 4 was seen as a semi decent game amongst the critics and fans did buy the game, but as for the reboot? Well it is my opinion that this failed; people are no longer talking about Sonic as the heavy hitter that he once was. There is no buzz around the release of his next big game. He is confined to the downloadable games market while his counter parts are making hit after hit after hit. Sega are now looking to try their hand at this again with Sonic Generations and now the question remains – is this his last hurrah?
Now I may be being too harsh on the little Blue guy here. But in comparison to his peers he’s being left behind, so should we take this hedgehog out to pasture to meet the same fate as old Yeller? Well not quite yet. I think a reboot is very much like a weapon; In the right hands, it can be lethal and floor gamers with an amazing new world and great new things while bringing many new fans. We have seen this with games like Fallout 3 and Mortal Kombat.
In the wrong hands it can do more harm than good, creating a bloody mess and carnage amongst the gaming masses. Worse, it could swing the other way and become humiliating for the studio, becoming a laughing-stock amongst the gaming community as is being seen with the recent release of Duke Nuke’Em Forever.
If you are going to do a reboot, you need to learn from the mistakes of the past so that you don’t make the same ones over and over again. After all, it was Winston Churchill who said “all men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.”