Five Video Game Franchises in Need of a Sequel

A few weeks ago during E3, Double Helix announced this September would mark the return of Killer Instinct.  The new free-to-play game for the upcoming Xbox One is the first game in the franchise since KI: Gold graced the Nintendo 64 as a launch title way back in 1996.

Killer Instinct is by no means the only series suffering from neglect in recent years, so as we prepare for the return of Jago, Glacius, Fulgore, and the rest, here are five other franchises I’d like to see make a return in the upcoming generation.

1) Turok

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

First Game: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (Iguana: Nintendo 64, 1997)
Last Game: Turok (Propaganda Games; Xbox 360, PS3, 2008)

Based on a Valiant comic series, the Turok FPS franchise is equal parts dinosaurs and wacky sci-fi weapons, one of which is a probe that bores into an enemy’s head and drains the brains inside like a medieval surgeonTurok: Dinosaur Hunter was an early title for the Nintendo 64; an entertaining, albeit flawed sequel appeared the next year, followed by several sequels of varying quality.  After publisher Acclaim folded, new owner Propaganda Games took over the rights to the franchise and managed to turn a game about a time-traveling Native American battling dinosaurs and aliens with sci-fi weapons into a bland, boring, generic shooter.

If left in the hands of creative developers more interested in making a fun game than convincing people to name their children after Turok, this franchise could be fun again.

2) Vectorman

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

First Game: Vectorman (Blue Sky Software: Sega Genesis, 1995)
Last Game: Vectorman 2 (Blue Sky Software: Sega Genesis, 1996)

I could go on for a while focusing on just series Sega could work on instead of finding new ways to ruin Sonic the Hedgehog.  Vectorman starred the eponymous robot made of green spheres as he battled War Head, a robot with a nuclear bomb for a head.  The game was a fun platformer and featured some of the best use of shading of the 16-bit generation.  It was also a game with a lot of variety: in one stage you are a runaway train barreling over a bridge while another casts you as a top spinning through a disco parlor.  Blue Sky released a sequel in 1996.

In 2003 Sega attempted to revive Vectorman as a third-person shooter for the PlayStation 2.  However, apart from some screenshots and alpha videos, the game never saw the light of day.

3) Viewtiful Joe

Image Source: IGN

Image Source: IGN

First Game: Viewtiful Joe (Clover Studio: GameCube 2003, PS2, 2004)
Last Game: Viewtiful Joe: Double Trouble (Clover Studio; Nintendo DS, 2005)

Viewtiful Joe was a unique 2D beat ‘em up with stunning cell-shaded visuals, great music and a sometimes punishing difficulty (hello, four boss fights in a row without a save point).  Borrowing its plot from Last Action Hero, Viewtiful Joe cast players as Joe, a film buff who jumps into his favorite movie to rescue his girlfriend.  Capcom and Clover set up Joe’s adventure as a trilogy; however, only parts one and two ended up getting released before Clover closed shop in 2007.

Joe has since run the Capcom crossover fighter circuit, making appearances in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3.

4) Perfect Dark

Image Source: IGN

Image Source: IGN

First game: Perfect Dark (Rare: Nintendo 64, 2000)
Last game: Perfect Dark Zero (Rare: Xbox 360, 2005)

Released for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, Perfect Dark was a more-than-worthy follow-up to the classic FPS GoldenEye 007; some go as far to say Perfect Dark, with its creative weapons and dramatically expanded multiplayer, was the better game.  For a time it appeared the adventures of Joanna Dark were destined to expand beyond the game with plans for TV show by Fireworks Entertainment and possibly a feature film.  Those plans never materialized; to make matters worse, Perfect Dark Zero proved a lackluster sequel when it came out as a launch title for the Xbox 360.

An HD remake of the original came out on Xbox Live in 2010; since then Rare has been content to focus on Kinect games.

5) Mutant League

Image Source: Amazon

Image Source: Amazon

First Game: Mutant League Football (Electronic Arts: Genesis, 1993)
Last Game: Mutant League Hockey (Electronic Arts: Genesis, 1994)

Another great franchise that debuted on the Genesis, Mutant League Football and the sequel Mutant League Hockey pitted teams of aliens, trolls, skeletons, and other horrors in literal blood sport on the gridiron and on the ice.  In addition to being visceral and damn fun both games were graphically impressive, especially compared to more traditional games like NHL and John Madden Football, and fans have been clamoring for more mutated mayhem ever since.  The series even spawned a toy line and an animated series.

The appearance of the Mutant League logo on the zombie team in the recent NFL Blitz left some wondering if EA would re-animate the franchise.

Which neglected or down-on-its-luck series would you like see make a return?  Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section!

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Dissertation Notes: Paging, Dr. Mario: Medical-Themed SNES Games

“Dissertation Notes” is the oh-so-clever name of my (semi) regular segment briefly highlighting the interesting, unusual, or thought-provoking materials I have come across while working on my dissertation.

1994 was a time of transition for the American home video game industry.  At a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Justice, lawmakers, educators, and moral activists took companies such as Nintendo and Sega to task, alleging “violent video games” were having a deleterious effect on children; some called for government regulation and outright censorship.  In response the industry formed a trade organization–the Interactive Digital Software Association (IDSA), now known as the Entertainment Software Association (ESA)–and an ratings system–the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB).  Meanwhile members of the industry held follow-up meetings with Congress on March 4, and July 29, 1994, to report on their progress.

As industry reps met with lawmakers, they were quick to assert the ways video games were not what moral crusaders had demonized them as.  During the March 4, hearing, Howard Lincoln, Chairman of Nintendo of America, enumerated upon of games offered by Nintendo that encouraged problem solving and education in both a defense of the medium and a subtle dig against rival Sega.  Among other games, he named a series of “titles designed to teach children about health”:

“‘Captain Novaline,’ Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus,’ ‘Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon,’ and ‘the AIDS Avenger,’ teach children about diabetes, asthma, and the dangers of smoking and AIDS, respectively” (Howard Lincoln, “Responses to Questions Submitted by Senator Lieberman,” Rating Video Games: A Parent’s Guide to Games, 94-5)

So why don’t we take a look at those games?

Captain Novolin (Sculpture Software, Raya Systems, 1992):

Captain Novolin, a superhero with Type-1 diabetes, does battle against Blubberman (an obese man who attacks with pies) and his legion of sentient sugary snacks. 

Novolin’s mission is to rescue a diabetic Mayor who needs his insulin shot lest he succumb to hypoglycemia.  In order to do this, he has to literally avoid sweets in the form of giant donuts and boxes of cereal while gathering healthy snacks, such as bananas, pretzels, and cheese.

MedGames2

The captain’s exploits are interspersed with tips on maintaining one’s blood sugar and reminding players to check themselves regularly.

Bronkie: Health Hero aka Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus (Wavequest, Raya Systems, 1994)

Bronkie is designed to teach children about managing asthma.  Bronkie the asthmatic dinosaur has to avoid clouds of dust and secondhand smoke while collecting lungs to fuel his energy.  Players navigate the aforementioned sauropod past asthma triggers and evil dinosaurs, occasionally stopping to answer asthma related questions.

In between levels, Bronkie gave instructions on how to properly use an inhaler.

In between levels, Bronkie gave instructions on how to properly use an inhaler.

Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon (Sculptured Software, Raya Systems, 1993)

Of the collected games, Rex Ronan earns points for having the most interesting (albeit heavy-handed) story: in which the eponymous doctor shrinks himself to microscopic size and enters the disease-ridden body of a tobacco salesman to destroy his various cigarette-related afflictions with microscopic lasers a la Fantastic Voyage.  Meanwhile, he needs to avoid microscopic robots sent by the tobacco industry to thwart his exploits and keep hidden the dangers of smoking.

MedGames6

I wish I was making this up.

More action-oriented than some of the others on this list, the player’s objective is to clear tar out of various parts of the stricken body and destroy (or avoid) the microbots.

Packy and Marlon (Wavequest, Raya Systems, 1994)

MedGames8

For whatever reason, the folks at Raya Systems felt one diabetes-themed game in their library was not enough and released a second one.  This time around, the game follows a pair of anthropomorphic elephants as they gather diabetes medicine and healthy snacks while managing their blood sugar.  In this case, however, if a player gathers too many snacks, Packy and Marlon’s blood sugar will get too high, requiring a restart.

In terms of quality, all of these games are notoriously terrible (Captain Novolin has been an especially easy target for numerous video game writers; see also this one for Bronkie).  To Captain Novalin’s credit, however, of the lot of them it seems to do the best job of staying on message.  While Captain Novalin actually provided detailed information in a relatively accessible way, the others tended to offer little on actually dealing with their assigned ailments.  The others tend to link together poorly-developed action sequences, and it is hard to say how useful some of them would have been in helping kids manage their medical conditions.  Nevertheless, for Nintendo, a company concerned about the prospect of federal regulation they provided useful examples to show the industry was not all about Mortal Kombat and Night Trap.

Notice that I have left one title out.  However, it’s a game that requires an entire article unto itself.  Stay tuned.

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Dissertation Notes: Gamers vs. C. Everett Koop

“Dissertation Notes” is the oh-so-clever name of my (semi) regular segment briefly highlighting the interesting, unusual, or thought-provoking materials I have come across while working on my dissertation.  

On November 9, 1982, US Surgeon General C. Everett Koop delivered a lecture on family violence at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, PA.  Following his talk, discussion turned to the subject of the effects of video games on children whereupon Koop denounced video games, arguing among other things they created “aberrations in childhood behavior” and fostered addiction, saying (in a phrase that was later frequently repeated by the press) children became addicted “body and soul” (“Around the Nation; Surgeon General Sees Danger in Video Games,” New York Times, November 10, 1982)

His comments attracted national press attention, followed by significant backlash from child psychologists,  educators, and game designers who were quick to refute the Surgeon General’s assertions (C.W. Miranker, “Defenders strike back after video games get zapped,” Daily News, November 10, 1982).

"Koop-Man" News and Observer, Nov. 11, 1982 (Source: National Library of Medicine)

“Koop-Man” News and Observer, Nov. 11, 1982 (Source: National Library of Medicine)

Criticism was significant enough that the following day, Koop released a statement asserting his observations “represented my purely  personal judgment and was not based on any accumulated scientific evidence, nor does it represent the official view of the Public Health Service.”

Koop’s comments especially did not sit well with Arnie Katz, editor of Electronic Games, who in the Feb. 1983 issue took the Surgeon General to task, denouncing Koop for making inflammatory comments against gaming without any scientific evidence to support his allegations of addiction.

According to Katz:

“Addiction” is an emotionally loaded and highly charged word in our society.  It conjures up lurid visions of helpless zombies groveling in the gutter until they summon enough strength to mug an old woman for her welfare check.  The use of this word to describe the enthusiasm which millions feel for these games, without offering one bit of scientific verification to back it up is irresponsible and inflammatory, to say the least. (Arnie Katz, “The Surgeon General Says…”, Electronic Games, Vol. 1, No. 12 [Feb. 1983], 6)

Katz called upon readers to write to Koop expressing their displeasure, and Electronic Games included a coupon readers could clip out and send to the Surgeon General’s Rockville, MD, office:

Source: Electronic Games, Vol. 1, No. 12 (Feb. 1983)

Source: Electronic Games, Vol. 1, No. 12 (Feb. 1983)

There is no way of knowing how many arcaders took up the call to arms to inundate Koop’s office with letters; nevertheless while there are numerous examples of attacks against video games the episode with the Surgeon General represents one of the earliest (if not the earliest) backlashes in favor of video games.

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Dissertation Notes: They Grow Up So Fast: Classic Mario

“Dissertation Notes” is the oh-so-clever name of my (semi) regular segment briefly highlighting the interesting, unusual, or thought-provoking materials I have come across while working on my dissertation.  Aimed at a broad audience that includes media scholars, general interest readers, and gamers looking to know more about their hobby/obsession, I intend to demonstrate through a variety of sources the complex history of video games in America and their complicated, at times hotly-contested, relationship with larger debates over leisure, technology, and mass culture.

According to the fine folks at the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, today marks the 32nd anniversary of the release of Donkey Kong: the “climbing game” (as it was described at the time) that proved to be Nintendo’s first big blockbuster in the video game world and introduced the world to Mario.

Nintendo’s mustachioed, overall-clad mascot is one of the most recognizable figures in modern popular culture.  However his appearance has changed a bit over the years.  I have recently been looking through copies of Electronic Games around the time of Donkey Kong’s coin-operated and console debut, and back when Donkey Kong was lighting up the sales charts and liberating players from their quarters, Mario looked something like this:

The cover of the January 1983 issue of Electronic Games

The cover of the January 1983 issue of Electronic Games

Mario with his squinted eyes, pointed chin, and broad, curly mustache resembles a fusion of Mr. Magoo and a villain from an early twentieth century silent film.  Also, there’s this:

No comment

No comment

Seeing the classic Mario as depicted in the pages of Electronic Games is an interesting glimpse at now iconic characters in the earliest stages of their cultural presence, well before the litany of games to follow changed them to their more established appearances.

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Dissertation Notes: The Grand Stand

“Dissertation Notes” is the oh-so-clever name of my (semi) regular segment briefly highlighting the interesting, unusual, or thought-provoking materials I have come across while working on my dissertation.  Aimed at a broad audience that includes media scholars, general interest readers, and gamers looking to know more about their hobby/obsession, I intend to demonstrate through a variety of sources the complex history of video games in America and their complicated, at times hotly-contested, relationship with larger debates over leisure, technology, and mass culture.

At the height of the video game craze of the early eighties, many clambered to jump on the bandwagon in hopes of bringing in some of the dollars being spent while America was in the grip of “Pac-Man Fever” and other gaming-related ailments.  Third-party companies grew like mushrooms, pouring out titles and setting up the industry for its dramatic and inevitable crash, and an assortment of game-related merchandise flooded shelves as companies churned out every kind of video game product from third-party accessories to strategy guides to t-shirts and stickers.

One of the stranger products I have come across during my research appeared in an ad published in the December 1982 issue of Electronic Games: The Grand Stand.

Source: Electronic Games, Vol. 1, No. 10 (Dec. 1982), pg. 130

Source: Electronic Games, Vol. 1, No. 10 (Dec. 1982), pg. 130

Marketed by the Grand Stand Company of Studio City, CA, as a “joystick stabilizer support and score enhancer,” the Grand Stand was basically a narrow wooden podium upon which a player rested his or her controller.  As to what made it so grand for players to rest their controller on a $35 miniature table players had to stabilize themselves with their feet compared to say putting it on one’s lap or simply holding it, I am not prepared to say.  However, for the joystick jockey of refined tastes, one could also spend a little extra for one made of “exotic hard woods.”  Needless to say, the Grand Stand was one of the weirder ways people attempted to capitalize on the video game craze.

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Mother’s Month Part 2: Mother 2/Earthbound

“Mother’s Month,” my three-part series on Nintendo’s Mother RPG franchise continues with a look back at Mother 2, better known in the West as Earthbound:

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Mother’s Month: Mother/Earth Bound/Earthbound Zero

At long last, PSC finally has some new content and I hope that what I have in store was worth the weeks of inactivity.  Today I am unveiling both the creation of a brand spanking new logo and the introduction of videos to the site.  For the first series of PSC videos, which will focus primarily on the history of video games, I will examine one of my favorite video game franchise, which happens to share the same name as the holiday many people in America observed this past Sunday: the RPG series Mother, better known in the West as EarthBound.

Mother is a fairly obscure series with a small, dedicated fanbase that has been trying to get Nintendo to release Mother and Mother 3 in the West for many years.  Last month, fans of the series had some of their prayers finally answered by Nintendo, when Satori Iwata announced on Nintendo Direct (around the 22:30 mark) that EarthBound/Mother 2 will finally make its Western Virtual Console debut (check out more information here).

In honor of the occasion, the next few weeks will be “Mother’s Month” at PSC as I will briefly analyze the Mother series, focusing on each of the three games in this unique series.

First, we will look at the original Mother, released in Japan for the Famicom, known in some Western circles as EarthBound Zero.  I hope you find the videos informative.

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