Variety

Looking at the home consoles we have now, there is little variety to them. Wii U doesn’t really have anything big to demand a purchase and most games on PS4 and Xbone are crossplatform titles. An argument that often stems from this is that this serves the consumer the best as he now has complete freedom to choose whatever platforms and get all the games he wants. While a valid argument, the selection nowadays seems to be more limited, more homogeneous than what it was in previous generations.

The competition between SEGA’s Mega Drive and Nintendo’s Super Nintendo illustrates well the difference two consoles can have in their library. When you add PC-Engine/ Turbografix-16 to the mix, you have consoles that have a distinctly different library to them. Games that crossed platforms at the time were relatively scarce. Some franchises did cross platforms from back and forth, like Castlevania. Mega Drive exclusive Vampire Killer/Bloodlines/New Generation does follow the usual classic Castlevania fare, yet a unique entry in the series. Similarly Rondo of Blood on PC-Engine had its own and Super Nintendo had the comparative Super Castlevania IV. This is a good example how three games in a same series offer similar experience, but are able to stand on their own. Not only all three are good games, but expanded the series as well.

Another way to bring similar yet totally unique games on a system was to create similar games. The Story of Thor/Beyond the Oasis on the Mega Drive is often compared to the 2D The Legend of Zelda games, thou the influences can be tracked to Hydlide and Ultima. Never underestimate the impact Ultima had on the game culture and industry alongside Wizardry. Anyway, nobody in their right mind would call The Story of Thor a simple Zelda clone. Sure, it offers top-down Action RPG gameplay, but that’s nothing too uncommon, especially for its era.

Nowadays you will not see companies making different games for different platforms like this. This is simply because the development for current generation of machines is expensive and time consuming. According to Masari Ijuin, it takes eight to ten times more work to develop for the current generation. Higher power also means higher needs for time, money and other resources. This is directly mirrored in game prices, which are on the rise.

To use Castlevania as a continuing example, developing both Lords of Shadow 1 and 2 took a lot of time and money. Mirror of Fate is a piece with smaller development budget simply because it was originally developed for a console that does not demand that insane development cycles modern Triple A games seem to automatically get. Mirror of Fate got ported to other platforms later down the line. The argument I’ve seen most thrown around is that pushing the same game on different platforms maximises the profit the company can gain from a game. While I do get called a corporate bitch from time to time, this isn’t something I would support, because that means we’ve lost variety. We don’t have three different Castlevanias on different platforms, we’re having the one and the same Castlevania.

To use Mega Drive and Super Nintendo as an example again, there was a reason to choose between the two, thou if you wanted to get Shooting games, you got the PC-Engine/Turbografix-16. Both consoles had their own variety of games to offer. When a company did one sort of game on one platform, you could be sure you would see a strike back on the other. The reason why Super Nintendo was named as the kiddy console was because it lacked the serious sports titles. The NES was filled with sports titles, and so was the Mega Drive. It gathered a different audience, and the games reflected it. There are so many legendary games on developed during the time when multiplatform titles were a universal standard. Even thou we are having more games developed than ever before, there is a distinct lack of that spark that made the best ones unique jewels.

I question if having an access to almost every game on one platform trumps over having variety in the library of games we are offered in the same manner I question the need for the higher power hardware for home gaming, especially during a harsh economic depression. It would be great if companies saw a game that becomes a huge hit on a system, and then proceed to aim to beat that game’s success on another. It’s true that the competition between developers is harsh, especially considering there are companies giving their games out for free and allowing Valve to devalue their products in Steam. Game industry has gotten too big for its own good, and games have become a common commodity with too little variety.

Looking back at the niche providers

One thing I didn’t plan during the last console generation was to buy one of the many Xbox 360’s the stores had on their shelves. In the end I never did, but as fate weaved her web I did obtain a 360 from my brother at the cost of moving him and fixing the console. Things kinda go that way sometimes.

The question afterwards was what games would I play on it? The 360 had very little titles that I would have wanted, and vast majority of the titles I saw were shared with the PS3. Games like Lords of Shadow were one of the first titles I turned my eyes on, but I soon grew very tired of seeing dozens copies of same game on two different shelves. The Wii shelf always looked more fresh with more unique titles that drew attention. I remember seeing more people in Wii aisles than the two competitors’ sections As such, the unique games that the 360 had raised their heads over the gray mass of multiplats.

But that’s where I met a point why I would keep my 360 in a good shape and go my way to prevent the Red Ring of Death. It turned out that the 360 had a large share of Shooting games and CAVE continued to provide more as all the way up until DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou. Next to this you have ports of Ikaruga, Rez and Radiant Silvergun, all of which are more or less portrayed the best of the Shooting games genre. I do admit, that all these three are ports of past systems, so the point goes slightly off. Just let’s discuss the machine in its respective generation for the moment.

What is the 360 most known for? First Person Shooters by far. Halo’s Master Chief is essentially and without a doubt Microsoft’s Mario. We can argue whether or not it is a good thing for a console to be recognized as the home of a genre that is most at home with PC.

History seems to remember some of the systems that lost based on their certain flavour in their library of games. I’m specifically speaking of NEC’s PC-Engine/ TurboGrafix-16, SEGA Saturn and Dreamcast. PC-Engine was known, even at the time, as the system that got all the best Shooting games. Hudson’s Soldier series found its home here and one of the best Caravan-style Shooters can be found on the system. Personal favourite would be Soldier Blade.


Man that first stage music sounds nice

In similar essence, both Saturn and Dreamcast continued on the same ideology that the Mega Drive did, that is to have the best arcade ports. Saturn, by all accounts, was the system for the Fighting and Shooting games by far with nearly arcade perfect ports of King of Fighters, Street Fighter Alpha and many Shooting games. Same goes for Dreamcast, which shared many architectural elements with the SEGA NAOMI arcade system, which made porting of NAOMI games to Dreamcast damn easy. This is why games like Marvel VS Capcom 2 were essentially arcade perfect much like CAPCOM’s previous arcade ports on the Saturn.

Sadly, Saturn and Dreamcast were at the era where the arcades began to wither and die out. A system can’t float around with games that do not draw attention to themselves to begin with. The paradigm shift, where consoles steadily became dumbed down computers where at full force at the time, and this also affected arcades. The rising cost of development was also an issue, and even more so with arcade games and their machines.

Where I’m going with this is that the Xbox 360 pretty much continued with this same path during the Seventh console generation. As mentioned, most people know the 360 for Halo and the shooting console. This is pretty apt naming for the system, as we noted how Japanese developers began to put their Shooting games on the system. In certain circles, the 360 became to be known as the system for random Japanese games, like Beautiful Katamari, Culdcept Saga, Deathsmiles, Earth Defence Force 2017, Espgaluga II, Infinite Undiscovery, Escathos, Lost Odyssey, Senko no Ronde and DoDonPachi Daifukkatsu/ Resurrection plus slew of others that don’t really need mentioning. What circles see the 360 is mostly the hardcore ones, as the common folks don’t really pay attention to these. It’s all in the Halo.

But for yours truly, the 360 allows me to put some dosh into new Shooting games that you can’t play anywhere else outside arcades. DoDonPachi Resurrection, Akai Katana and Deathsmiles were localised here in West, whereas DoDonPachi SaiDaiOuJou, Escathos and few other shooting games were completely region free and thus very import friendly.

I will completely admit that the moment 360 gets relatively easy softmod method to unlock the region, I will be on it like a hungry cougar. Much like the PS3, the 360 has its variety of niche games, mainly shooting games, that I want to play. Unlike with PS3, the region locking on the 360 is miserable fact and a number of Japanese only games enforce it to the full extent. Those, and I’d like to give that Muv-Luv Twin Pack a go just for the kicks of it.

It looks like the losing console always caters the smallest of niches and has only few games that are genuinely great all around. I’m afraid what will happen in a console generation where consoles have games that only cater these small niches rather than going for the Blue Ocean market and expanding and impacting outside the small sub-culture of general pop-culture. For some time it seemed that the Eight console generation would go to that direction, but then I realized that my assumption was pulled out of my ass seeing how early it is to say anything about how this current generation will end up to be like. However, it seems like the traditional shooting game genre will be seeing less and less high calibre games, as the production of them has been decreasing in a steady pace. Perhaps we need a paradigm shift in the genre to make it relevant again. The only question here is What should it be?