The Mania Treatment
What? Sonic is Devolving!
It would be fair to say the release of Sonic Mania last year was a bit of return to form for the whole Sonic series. For those who hadn’t grown up in the 16bit era, it’s understandable that you’d be very confused as to why they continue to produce games at all what with the successive releases of Sonic The Hedgehog (Sonic ‘06), Sonic and the Secret Rings, Sonic and the Black Knight, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic 4 Episode 1…It wasn’t until Sonic Colours and Generations that the series regained a bit of credibility, only to be dashed again by Lost World and Sonic Boom. I can only imagine their bemusement to be along the lines of mine when they announced the reboot of Bubsy on PS4.
In order to get Sonic out of this funk it took a true hark back to the original roots of the series, not merely the 2D, but the 16bit era gameplay too. Whilst I could wax lyrical about the title itself that spiel is best left for a review.
What the game did get me thinking was whether any other series could benefit from this kind of treatment? I appreciate this isn’t the only example of retro-fying a game series, nor was it the first. Megaman famously continued its run onto the PS3 & Xbox 360 with releases of 9 & 10 and there are various iterations of Nintendo games which have gone through the process on their respective handheld ports too. Playing Sonic Mania recently was which got me thinking so I’m citing that as my influence today.
There are plenty of examples of games which proved to have difficult making the transition to 3D, however most of these have fallen to relative obscurity in recent years. I wanted to go over the series I think failed to be "revolutionized" into the next generation(s) of consoles and would well be worth reviving in their 16 bit glory!
Fair warning! - It became clear in the 32(64?)bit era that Nintendo had somewhat of a special touch when developing their own games so you’ll unfortunately find few references to their library here!
Despite Hudsonsoft's departure in 2012 the Bomberman series is one which has continued to be released on pretty much every console. But sadly it never improved on it's SNES days. There have been various attempts to overhaul the gameplay of the original entries, the N64 tried to push the adventure aspect, Playstation had a sort of isometric attempt, the Saturn version was actually still good, the PS3 & 360 had some sort of awful looking HD-remake-but-in-sort-of-3D-but-2D-almost-prerendered style that was devoid of all personality...
And I'm not even going to mention this;
What they failed to realise is that most of the charm of the series came from the low-res "pixelart" graphics. Not only that but this chunky 256x224 resolution gave an ideal sensation as to whether you were in fact safe from a rogue bomb blast or not. HD and 3D completely messed with our perception of the collision detection, especially when you throw in the goofy costumes and colours that you can unlock on the way.
Give me Bomberman Mania! ...but maybe in like widescreen (still with that sexy 224 vertical resolution!).
I am not a fool and I know Konami apparently don't like making games on anything but a phone or tablet these days (#money) but that won't keep them off my list. Contra is a well loved franchise, particularly for it's Nintendo releases. The single Megadrive release was a decent effort too. Despite it simply being a run and gun style style shooter, it unfortunately didn't translate to 3D well at any point. It also suffered like many others by losing much of it's graphical charm in the transfer too. The screen filling enemies just don't seem as impressive in 3D as an impressively scaled and rotated sprite (or sprites). Even in the early games included a variety of gameplay styles, in the most part running left to right but sometimes running into the screen or the viewpoint being from above. Whatever the style, you enjoyed the action more with 2 players. When entering into 3D on then PS1 the series suffered with drab looking, unclear visuals. A sequel on PS1 showed up too which shifted to a single player experience and was received even more poorly.
Whilst a GBA version of the game was released, it too suffered from awkward multiplayer setup (given the nature of the console) and the screen resolution made the whole thing seem too zoomed in to play effectively (an issue with poorly optimised games on the system).
There are many Shooters which would cite Contra as their inspiration and a new edition encompassing the ideas which the series has bred into these (bring it home) would be a treat. Oh, and make it hard as balls.
I could have chosen from a few scrolling fighters here but most have had some sort of revival at some point; Streets of Rage has been independently reworked into a sequel of sorts which has since received a cease and desist from Sega (hopeful for their own take on the series?), Double Dragon has all manner of sequels even into the present day albeit in 3D, TMNT received 3D updates but the licensing on this ran out in 2011 so doubtful this will been seen in this form again.
Golden Axe was given a modern face lift and sequel in Beast Rider which was poorly received on 360 and PS3 and despite this, still features on crossover games like Sonic and Sega All Star Racing Transformed so one would hope there is still some consideration left for the series.
4 Main games were released with all but 1 on the Megadrive (I'm not counting Beast Rider or The Duel here). The 3rd entry will be unknown to some but was an arcade release in 1992 under the name of Golden Axe The Revenge of Death Adder. It was a 4 player cabinet which was impressive for the time (too much for the 16 Bit consoles of the day to handle) and is a great example of the style I'd love to see revisited again.
What I'd like to see in a Golden Axe return would be to mimic the Arcade action rather than the console's as these weren't up to scratch with their coinop counterparts. Scrolling fighters suffered in the move to 3D for the same reasons as many games, a lack of polish and personality. The entries for Double Dragon demonstrate this and whilst many have fond memories of that series it's hard to revisit the original now (best left in nostalgia). Golden Axe on the other hand is still a solid albeit brief experience to this day. Bring back the glory of Sega's arcade heyday with this entry!
More of an actual dream this one, as there is very much the lowest chance of it happening than anything that I've previously written about. But I have to say my piece on the fact that Disney games, that is games based on Disney movies and series, were impressive in the 8bit and 16bit days and not such soulless cash-ins as they have become now. Particular note goes out to Capcom and Virgin Interactive's efforts (the precursor to Dave Perry's Shiny Entertainment).
I've a young daughter so I get to impose on her a lot of my favourite things on her and these will influence her into the person she will become. One of the more wholesome of these things is Disney movies, especially the golden era ones. Looking at the games of Aladdin (especially on Megadrive), Lion King, Jungle Book it's easy to be impressed with how authentic the style and animations are. This is mainly due to them being drawn as sprites which are a closer representation to the source material than 3D models.
Disney have revisited their archives before in the PS1 days when they released updated versions of the aforementioned games as 3D platformers and adventures. The results were akin to a basic CGI straight to TV movie sequel rather than the hand drawn originals, which we all surely know is only done this way as it's cheaper and easier.
In reality, we've probably already had the best result I can hope for here with the release of The Disney Saturday Afternoon Collection last year and the Ducktales HD rerelease in 2013. Would still like to see that Shiny style again though...
Have I missed something here? What do you think would be a great candidate for a bit of retrofication (re-retrofication?)? Admittedly I've held back on a few as I'm cooking up a followup article shortly but I'd love to hear your views on it to see if they fall in line with mine or if you come up with something I've overlooked. Drop me a comment or email.