For all the new IP coming in 2013, there are a selection of titles from bygone eras which are now ripe and ready to be revisited with the benefit of modern gaming technology, the sort of titles that really could be exceptional with a modern eye and a decent budget. So here are five I feel are ripe for revival…
Whereas many are currently discussing games that should be forgotten, left to die a dignified death, I’m feeling altogether more positive.
It’s been some time since I began gaming and throughout my years, there have been some utterly amazing games that have left me feeling happy, sad, thrilled, excitable and with that warm afterglow of accomplishment and amusement that denotes time well wasted. Of course, not all games have survived through the years, much to my disappointment, for various reasons; the closure of studios to a general sense of not knowing where to go with them.
But this is 2013, and with a next-gen clash looming at E3 and an industry desperately looking around for new material, perhaps it’s time that we considered the potential that some older games offered, and delivered upon. So with that, here are five games I would personally LOVE to see revived in 2013/2014, along with some reasoning and what a modern take could bring to the table.
1. Theme Hospital (First released on PC in 1997)
For a market tiring of The Sims (and I really cannot say I’m surprised!), it’s perhaps important to take stock of things that EA have in its dark trunk, the one they keep locked underneath their staircase, where all the bodies and remains of formerly successful franchises and studios are kept hidden from the world. Theme Hospital is a game I remember with deep fondness, not merely because it’s take of hospital management and services frankly makes a mockery of the modern-day NHS, but because it was utterly hilarious at every turn. Where Theme Park was rather wry and bright with its humour, Theme Hospital was evidence of the darker side of this hilarity, black comedy in video game form.
Of course, we all know what happened to Bullfrog (it’s remains are in that locked trunk!), so we’d have to inherently trust EA or one of its subsidiary studios to take it on. But you know what? I’d actually like to see them try and do it. First off because I do think Theme Hospital is frankly unbreakable if they adhere to all the basics already present in the old game, meaning that even the most disrespected studio should be able to squirt out something that is entertaining, but because it would also be evidence that EA is willing to take a chance on its old franchises; I mean, I was a big fan of Soviet Strike on the PlayStation after all. I’d like to see the Strike games revived, but their quality was always inconsistent from one title to the next. EA need a bankable old name by which to start mending some of those bridges that are charred and burnt and no longer suitable for use – and what better way than to give The Sims a break, and focus on something like Theme Hospital?
With all that has happened in the fifteen years since Theme Hospital hit the market, and all the epidemics and failed epidemics that have happened, there’s a vast pool of brand new material to be taking on, along with actual advances in medicine and the whole Management Sim genre which give them the scope and ability to really do something quite special. If there’s one title in EA’s back catalogue that appears to be crying out for another chance at stardom, for me Theme Hospital shouts the loudest of all. And just think, instead of King Complex/Elvis Disease we could have… Jedwarditis! Whereby someone has a ghostly apparition next to them thinking them to be their twin, with spiky sky-high hair and generally being hyperactive and annoying in the waiting rooms!
Do it EA. You know you want to.
2. Fighters Destiny (First released on N64 in 1998)
Health bars in fighting games. They’re so… umm… there. As much as I agree that there has to be a winner, you don’t really see health bars above peoples heads when you watch boxing on the television, or when you watch WWE Wrestling (although in that case they really aren’t that far off that system, surely?).
It’s why Fighters Destiny sticks very much into the back of my head. Sure, it had health bars and a K.O. from this would net you three points. But that’s just it. Fighters Destiny provided an interesting alternative to the fighting game fare by allowing a points system interwoven with a nod to Virtua Fighter’s more restrained martial arts technicalities. A Ring Out is worth one point. A throw which lands your opponent onto the floor is worth two points. A typical KO is worth three points. And specials and technical reversals are worth four points. If a time out occurs, then it’s a ‘Judge’s Decision’ worth one point. And you keep going until someone reaches seven points. I remember very much liking this system and wondering why on earth they never followed up on it.
Of course there was a sequel. And both games had a terribly strange sense of humour – in Fighter Destiny 2 (apparently because Fighters Destiny 2 was already trademarked!) there was one member of the cast called Cherry, who was… well… a transvestite. Let’s not beat about the bush here and sugar coat the actual truth, he was a bloke in womans clothing and it was very weird for the era. But admittedly, some may argue that it was far ahead of its time as well when you consider how utterly garish Voldo is now in SoulCalibur. Truth is though, neither game really sold much, in spite of the critical praise they received and the quality of the games (for that era). It just led to its being quietly forgotten, and at a point when the fighting game market really could use a proper shot in the arm, I couldn’t think of a more worthy title to be reviving than Fighters Destiny, once again providing a technical and interesting alternative to the standard fare.
As I understand it, the licence remains in the hands of SouthPeak Games (then SouthPeak Interactive), and those who were responsible for its origins are no more. Which is sad, but still, a varied and interesting cast of new and old fighters coupled with the same system and really vibrant, interesting battle arenas really should still be worth at least some consideration. Fighters Destiny is certainly obscure enough to look completely new and original, even if they really stick doggedly to its old mechanics. You couldn’t want for more potential than this has.
3. PLOK (First released on the SNES in 1993)
It would be easy to say my youth was governed by Sonic and Mario and Zelda, but you might be surprised to hear a fourth name turn up into that list of titles that made a lasting impression on me as a young gamer – and that name would be Plok.
Plok is without doubt the cheesiest kind of game to describe. Plok resides on Akrylik, an island in the archipelago of Polyesta. Plok, like much of the region, is made of fabric – hence the multitude of fabric puns ‘Oh joy’, and his favourite flag (which belonged to his Grandpappy) is stolen, which takes him to the nearby Cotton Island and a series of crazy levels. On retrieving it, he arrives back to find his beloved home and subsequent areas around all overtaken by the evil Flea Army, which he will have to defeat to successfully live ever after in peace and cleanliness.
Plok is a hard game to really nail down, because it defies description in some cases. Plok’s weapons are his arms and legs, which detach and reattach from his body thanks to the magic of Velcro. When his limbs are all detached, his body hops along defenceless. He can find presents in the main world that give him power ups, like boxing gloves and massive blunderbusses. He can dive into special stages, where he turns into vehicles and has to achieve the challenge in a set amount of time to “warp” a few stages ahead. The boss battles are crazy, the tone of the whole game is bright and colourful and very innocent, and there are some fantastic sections where Plok reminisces about the exploits of his Grandpappy, and the game goes into an artfully-styled black and white tone delivered with suitably oldy-worldy charm and sounds. And it made an impression not because of any of this – but because it was a bloody good game. Really, really good. Superb, even.
Now in obscurity, Plok remains one of my most beloved little memories. Software Creations UK went tits up after selling themselves to Acclaim Entertainment, which as we all know has ended up shut down itself. But if Nintendo were to find a way to get that nugget back from the ether, even just a super-HD remake of the original Plok would send me screaming into tears of absolute joy. Because Plok was all about the joy, all about the fun and just going mad and pushing the fourth wall aside and being smart and clever and witty. It’s absolutely the perfect sort of game to revive – a game that at heart was just a game, a joyous game, a wonderful game and a reminder of an era when even the more obscure titles all came with charm and class and quality built in.
4. Shadow of the Beast (First released on Amiga in 1989)
In terms of narrative, my youth was dominated by choose-your-own-adventure novels such as Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series. Which is probably why Shadow of the Beast remains foremost in my memory for its dark undertones and frankly epic quest spanning three distinct games, although the second and third didn’t really achieve the commercial success they perhaps deserved.
The games follow the exploits of Aarbron, who was kidnapped as a child and corrupted through dark magic to become a monstrous servant of the evil beast lord Maletoth. One day, a rush of memories of his human life come flooding back after watching a man be executed by Maletoth’s forces – a man whom Aarbron later recognises to have been his father in his previous life. Consumed with guilt and rage, he seeks to avenge his fathers death and undo the demonic corruption that has twisted his body. It’s really a very solid story, told through little vignettes in a pseudo-RPG manner, allowing a connection with a game world that would otherwise have been absent.
Shadow of the Beast was a challenging games series. But perhaps it is also notable that for its time it was also quite revolutionary, with the pushing of parallax backgrounds and narrative pausing that would come to define many of the 16-bit eras titles. Critics of the time hailed all three games for their superb art direction and involving story, if often also critical of the little failings that came with porting the games to other systems, such as the 50/6oHz game speed problems in the first title meaning that 60Hz NTSC versions ran noticeably faster than normal, increasing the challenge, and the distorted sound in Shadow of the Beast 2 as the volume has to be significantly increased for reasons that even I am not really aware of. But as a story, as an arc, as a franchise of the era, it blew my mind. It felt like a proper adventure, a desperate adventure, a really solid title that later titles such as Gods built on exponentially. Indeed, a marrying of Shadow of the Beast with the frankly insane detailing and challenge of Gods would be my ultimate retro-kick, blending the deep narrative tones and significantly challenging tale with the poise, grace and polish of, for me, The Bitmap Brothers finest moment in the gaming world.
Sadly, last year saw the death of Psygnosis – known for some years as SCE Studio Liverpool, being involved for a decade on the Wipeout racing games and taking control of Sony’s hold on the F1 licence for six years. It’s demise leaves much in the air, but if Sony have retained the licence then I can think of no better company to really give it a modern overhaul. Indeed, considering Sony’s internal studios have been responsible for equally dark tales such as Primal, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, Shadow of the Beast would fit in quite well with much of Sony’s modern crop of games. A proper RPG adventure sequel, even done in the style of Primal, would be a wonderful rebirth of a series that is all but forgotten by the passages of time. And that is sad. Because it really does deserve more than to be forgotten.
5. Vagrant Story (First Released on the PlayStation in 2000)
With exasperated cries from gamers begging Square-Enix to give the Final Fantasy brand a break, a look back at some of what Square-Enix hold in terms of RPG licences to explore again – from holding onto some of the Grandia rights to its collectively rampant and dominant selection of Super Nintendo titles like Secret of Evermore and ActRaiser – gives you some idea of what the modern cost of gaming has given rise to. However, when you talk to most people about the one game that they want Square-Enix to revisit, it’s often not the idea of a Final Fantasy VII remake that comes up – it’s a return to the beguiling, bewitching land of Leá Monde that we enjoyed in Vagrant Story.
For you see, if there is one game that for me defines what Square-Enix used to be able to do, it is Vagrant Story. It’s a technical master class of an action-RPG, a shining gem in the crown of the PlayStation’s life and an indestructible beacon still standing when even the once-indestructible Final Fantasy brand lies in ruins on the floor. Re-released on the PS3, PSP and PS Vita, it’s a game that has continued to find new devotees long after its supposed demise, a game that had distinctive influences even on the Final Fantasy series itself. It’s also notable for its massive success in the Western markets; a popularity that continues even to this day. The adventures of Ashley Riot, and the strange and beguiling land of mystery and intrigue that he inhabits, seem almost too perfect for a modern update, or a new instalment.
But it’s an open-book sort of game, and whilst the tale is utterly fantastic in Vagrant Story, it’s the landscaping and the technical achievements the game pushed into that really stand the test of time. The visual style, the crisp comic-book feeling and the menacing, haunting atmosphere just wound with their potential, the possibilities of what could be done. Making and honing weapons into destructive forces specialised to slaying particular foes, hidden dungeons and secrets abound and a beautifully realised combat system that was both tactical and interesting enough to warrant attention have left Vagrant Story in one of those unenviable positions when people still cling to the desperate hope of a sequel, or a new title bearing the Vagrant Story moniker.
What is more crazy is people don’t really want another instalment in the Final Fantasy XIII series. But the cry is still incredibly strong for a new Vagrant Story. And for all the problems in Square-Enix and its concerns that its fanbase may be going off their games, that they continue to wilfully ignore the pleasing masses begging for a new title in the Vagrant Story vein just seem to boggle the mind. It’s one of their finest creations and one that fans are desperate for them to revive.
So why they don’t just seems really illogical.