Out With The Old IPs, In With The New
More than two decades ago, Nintendo became synonymous with video games, due in no small part to a little Italian plumber originally named Jumpman. Jumpman morphed into Mario and a billion dollar franchise was born. Over the years, Nintendo has leveraged Mario's cachet with gamers and put him in hundreds of games. As a video game franchise Mario set the bar for every other video game console, and set it high. Mario was followed by Link, Kirby and Donkey Kong. In an attempt to try to garner the same following for their respective consoles, Sega, Sony and Microsoft followed suit with Sonic, Spyro, Master Chief and a slew of others, with varying degrees of success. I'm sure there are those of us who still remember a certain large-headed caveman named Bonk.
Some of the characters, and other forms of intellectual property have proven successful tools for their respective console counterparts, and helped them carve out niches for the respective platforms. The various PlayStation consoles have become renowned for their JRPGs and epic turn based strategy games, as well as building a strong foundation of racer fans with the Gran Turismo and combat racing games. Xbox became the number one place for FPS fans with the creation of Master Chief and the now epic Halo universe, while Nintendo remains home to Mario and his always growing circle of friends.
Despite these commercially successful franchises, I think that the gaming industry needs to be more forward thinking. Nostalgia for these characters will always have a place in the older generation of gamers, and it's clear that there have been innovations in the old familiar franchise characters, but some of my personal stand-out games of the past few years have been original IP's.
Uncharted and inFamous were two juggernaut titles for Sony, both new IP's, with new characters. Granted, while the gameplay and overall theme of the games have been done before with other games, these titles made you forget about the old familiar gameplay mechanics by immersing you in a well told story with interesting characters and a strong focus on tight game play.
InFamous presented players with a brand new character and story arc contained in an open world sandbox game.
Uncharted introduced us to wisecracking Nathan Drake and allowed us to experience a modern day Indiana Jones movie filled with action, suspense, and even a bit of a romance story. While it did get weird near the end (I'll save spoilers in case you haven't played it), it was still a top notch Hollywood-style experience from start to finish. inFamous, on the other hand, put more control in the player's hands, allowing you to play Cole, bike messenger turned unintentional terrorist struggling to cope with his new-found super powers, and deciding whether to use them for good or evil. Moral choices in video games are nothing new, of course, nor are super hero games, but the comic book style art, the dark tone of the city, and the excellent pace in which you unlock more and more powerful electric based attacks made inFamous one of my top sandbox games ever played, and thankful I took the plunge and bought a PlayStation 3.
While I enjoy the Halo franchise well enough, and I like that they're fleshing out more of the Halo universe past the mythical Master Chief, Far Cry 2 was easily one of my favorite shooters on the 360 over the last few years. You can make the argument that since Far Cry 2 is technically a sequel to Far Cry: Instincts, or the original Far Cry on PC, it isn't a true original. However, having played both titles, I can assure you that Far Cry 2 has little to do with the former titles sharing the name. Rather than another linear, level based shooter, FC2 instead deposits you into a war-torn African country beset by two opposing military forces and infested with an influx of mercenaries, letting you explore, expand and conquer missions in your own manners. The game doesn't have the same scope of freedom as Fallout 3, and the multiplayer is no where as compelling as the Call of Duty series, but it was still one of the most compelling shooters I've played in a long time.
Prototype, Dragon Age: Origins, and The Saboteur are other excellent games that have come out over the past year that, while perhaps being the same genres we've played year after year, at least present new characters, new ideas, and new experiences. As good as the New Super Mario Brothers is, and as excited as we all are for the newest Final Fantasy offering, what we really need is new franchises and more innovation. I don't want my kids to have to choose between inFamous 8 and Final Fantasy 23 when they're my age.
What do you think? What were your favorite new or old franchises over the years?
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