The popular theory that no press is bad press was put to the test for Microsoft when their unveiling of the Xbox One was met with a series of very humorous memes, and a stunningly low approval rating, that many would have a hard time calling good press.
As bad as it was though, it’s not exactly the worst tragedy in the history of mankind, the video game industry or, for that matter, even Microsoft’s gaming division.
So while the controversial Xbox One may prove to be their biggest bust of all, for now let’s all keep things in perspective by revisiting the top five biggest mistakes Microsoft has ever made.
5. The Duke
A controller is one of the most important parts of launching a video game system, and when that system is your first one ever, may even come to define part of your image for all time.
If that is true, then unfortunately part of Microsoft’s image will always be that of a big fat failure.
“The Duke” as it would commonly be referred to, was a gargantuan gaming controller recognized by Guiness as one of the largest of all time, and by everyone else as one of the worst. Awkward for most, and impossible for some, “The Duke” would later be phased out in favor of the Japanese model “Controller S.”
Though it would lead to one of best controller designs of all time in the “360 Wireless,” few will ever forget the pain and hand aches associated with “The Duke.”
Though Blu-Ray hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the way that DVD’s did, Toshiba’s similar “HD-DVD” format didn’t even make a spark.
Yet when it came time to support a next-gen disc format, which one do you think Microsoft chose?
In a way it’s difficult to fault them for doing so, since at that time the format wars were far fom resolved, and Sony was a big backer of Blu-Ray, but try telling that to everyone that jumped the gun and bought a 360 HD-DVD player, only to have it collecting dust along with a small stack of HD-DVD titles less than a year later.
3. Acquiring Rare
When Microsoft acquired developer Rare for a cool $375 million, it looked like they had pulled off one of the great gaming coups of all time. After all, Rare was only one of the most storied developers ever, and had produced the greatest N64 games this side of Nintendo.
Much like a brilliant assistant coach leaving Bill Belichick though, once Rare was free from the umbrella of Nintendo’s influence, they would flounder in the spotlight.
While the re-make of “Conker” for Xbox was fun, and the 360 launch game “Kameo: Elements of Power” was decent enough, it was that other 360 launch title “Perfect Dark Zero” that would define their future with Microsoft.
It’s a future that includes titles ranging from boring to broken, with hardly a commercial or critical hit to be found. While some gamers hold out hope for the glorious return of one of gaming’s most famed developers, or maybe just a new “Killer Instinct,” it’s looking less and less likely the 11 year old mega deal will ever pan out.
2. Lack of Support for the Japanese Market
As one of the first U.S. grown gaming systems to make it, Microsoft has always had a strained relationship with gamers from the land of the rising sun.
You could argue that they are up against a cultural barrier that isn’t entirely their fault, but from soft system launches in Japan to serious issues in successively seeking out major Japanese developer’s support, Microsoft has done no favors for themselves when trying to gain the support of the creatively, and financially, lucrative Japanese market.
In many ways it feels like they’ve completely written off the idea of ever really selling in Japan and, as a result, guarantee they will never be able to make a serious impact on their biggest rivals until they do.
1. The Red Rings of Death
Really, what else could it be?
The Xbox 360 did a lot of great things for gaming, but instead of being remembered for the brilliance of Xbox Live, or an assortment of classic titles, the lasting image of the 360 will always be blinking red lights indicating a massive system failure that almost every 360 owner has had to experience at some point, or at the least fear forever.
Though a return and re-furbish option became available, once you got the red rings, you never really escaped them, just as Microsoft would never be able to escape the issue, even late into the system’s life span when the lights would become far less prevalent.
Instead the red lights of death are Microsoft’s version of herpes, in that they dealt with it once, and it’s now with them forever.
While we’ll have to wait for the initial sales figures, considering how much of a critical hit it has been already, “Halo 4” is looking to become another runaway successes for the famous franchise. Having now played it, I’m thrilled at how the game truly does invoke that feeling of the original titles while not coming across as the cash-in of a well established formula that it so easily could have been. While it’s not quite so simple, we can thank this in large part to the efforts of the series new developer, 343 Industries, who have admirably taken over from the great Bungie.
When I first heard that there was to be a “Halo” game not made by Bungie, I got worried. Now that I step away from it though, I see that it really was the only way that “Halo” was ever really going to flourish again. In fact, the more I think about it, if we’re being honest, there are a lot of classic franchises that have gone stagnant and could use a fresh start courtesy of a new developer. Here’s five of the biggest examples.
The “Castlevania” series was forever altered with the release of “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”. Gone were the days of the incredibly challenging and linear, classic 2D side scroller, and in came a new “Castlevania” game that emphasized exploration and advancement, similar to the “Metroid” series (coining the term “Metroidvania”). It was such a success in nearly every respect that it changed the outlook and direction of the series for years to come.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the problem is that was way back in 1997, and the series entries ever since have mostly fallen into the realm of knock offs of “Symphony of the Night” or misguided 3D action romps that are at best average, and at worst “Castlevania 64”. As all time great a developer as Konami is, they don’t seem able or willing to make a truly noteworthy entrant to the franchise anymore. It’s just impossible to believe that with the series rich timeline and incredible gothic atmosphere there isn’t a significant amount of fuel left in the tank. Whether it be a glorious and long overdue return to the series roots, or something else entirely, it’s time that one of the greatest series of all time reminded everyone why it is just that.
Who should develop: From Software, the makers of “Demon’s Souls” and “Dark Souls”. I salivate at the thought honestly, as both “Demon’s Souls” and “Dark Souls” feel like the direction the “Castlevania” series should have gone in long ago. They feature larger than life bosses, a variety of spooky enemies, and a “make you regret that you can’t stop coming back” level of difficulty. The series would fit the developer like a glove.
The James Bond franchise has seen more developers than the role itself has actors, which may help to explain why we still haven’t gotten a significant game from 007 and crew since the legendary “Goldeneye”.
That’s not to say that every entry has been as bad as the recent “007 Legends”, some like “Blood Stone” and “Everything or Nothing” are actually decent, but rather that the it is in dire need of a rejuvenation that no developer has been able to conjure since Rare. Even when they are not great, when we are treated to a Bond movie every 4 years or so, it always feels like an event, and consistently entertains in one way or another. Considering the wealth of material that the James Bond franchise has, and how much of that can easily translate to games, there is no reason that a competent developer shouldn’t be able to produce that same effect for Bond video games.
Who should develop: There’s a ton of candidates I would love to see take a stab at this, but the one that keeps coming to mind is Remedy (“Max Payne”, “Alan Wake”). They’re a developer that exceeds at creating atmosphere in their games, and when making a good Bond game, your first job is to perfectly capture that iconic James Bond atmosphere, without messing up the gameplay too bad. They’re not a huge developer, exactly, but the impossible level of polish and charm they put in their titles would be very welcome for a Bond game.
At times the “Star Fox” series feels like the Buffalo Bills of the early 90’s. Always so close, and never quite there. The original “Star Fox” was revolutionary for its graphical style, while 1997’s “Star Fox 64” had everyone believe that Nintendo had the next great franchise on their hands. From there, though, 2002’s head scratching “Star Fox Adventures” threatened to take the series into an ill-advised and unwanted new action-adventure direction, while every other release has been either a rehash or re-make of the originals, which in all fairness have been good enough to remind us of the series potential, but not great enough to put it over the top.
It’s time then for some new blood that can realize that the lack of games in the rail shooter genre, and the name power “Starfox” still has, and make it all come together for a glorious return to form. The last couple of “Star Fox” installments have produced quality with little to no effort, so it would be interesting to see what the result of an honest new full effort push would be.
Who should develop: This one is tough, but I’ll go with Ubisoft Montpellier. The development team behind the brilliant “Rayman Origins” can pull off that difficult mix of cartoon looks and intense gameplay that “Starfox” needs to succeed.
Ever since then, a few different developers have attempted to re-imagine the franchise and, with only a few very specific successes as exceptions, have all failed in providing any of the quality of the originals. “Silent Hill” was originally defined by its dread filled atmosphere and psychologically challenging scares. In shying away from an action first mentality, it provided a gaming experience that you almost regretted playing, but couldn’t help but be captivated by. The mystique and intrigue the series maintains is as thick as the fog that made the town itself famous, and there is still a lot it has to contribute in the right hands.
Who should develop: There were talks recently of Hideo Kojima taking over the series (which might actually happen), and while that would be fun, while I’m dreaming I’ve got to go with Frictional Games, the developers of “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” and the “Penumbra” series. They’ve been quietly making revolutionary and truly terrifying titles for years now, and a shot at more mainstream, big time success with the next “Silent Hill” game would be incredible.
The WWE Series
Along with titles like “Goldeneye” and “Mario Kart 64”, wrestling titles such as “WWF No Mercy” helped to make the N64 the system for multiplayer gaming. Of course that was in the heyday of wrestling, and of developer AKI who had a great feel for how to make a wrestling title sing with its gameplay. Since then the series has been passed off to Yuke’s, and while 2003’s “Smackdown: Here Comes the Pain” is one of the best wrestling titles ever, even the most hardcore of wrestling fans have been left feeling cheated by their most recent offerings.
Much like the “Madden” series the complacency of recent WWE titles has removed a real sense of urgency from the games that have taken the competitive spirit a title like that needs to thrive. Respectable attempts to keep the series fresh have been made, but attempt doesn’t mean success, and Yuke’s is sadly failing, even if their intentions are for the best. This game needs a new story mode, a new engine, and a fresh perspective. In short, a complete overhaul.
Who should develop: It’d be fun to see AKI, now Syn Sophia, do it, we don’t know how much of their team from the original is still in tact, plus this is about fresh starts. Instead, why not Team Ninja? The “Dead or Alive” fighting series has always been over the top and incredibly fluid with a variety of unique personalities, which are a few of the most important elements you need for a good wrestling game. Not to mention a Team Ninja developed WWE game would be original to say the least.
Like certain stories or parties, some games can’t be properly explained and you just had to be there for them to fully understand what they meant.
A quick disclaimer. I’m not saying these are bad games. They are just games that were hugely significant at one point, but lost whatever it was that made them special over time, and are left as something that is less than what they were.
“Conker’s Bad Fur Day”
I’ll never forget reading the April edition of Electronic Gaming Monthly (that was a video game magazine to you youngsters) and first hearing about this. You see, EGM used to run a fake article for its April edition as an April Fools Day joke. In the year 2000, there was a preview so absurd that everyone that read it groaned at how lazy the staff was getting at their pranks. It was a sneak peek of the then titled” Conker 64“, that alleged that developer Rare was going to turn the cute and colorful world of Conker into a dark and violent hell, and make Conker himself into a potty mouth, perverted anti-hero. The magazine was flooded with letters from readers saying that they had spotted the obvious gag this time, and that the editors would have to try a lot harder next year.
Of course, that preview would turn out to be the only thing about the game that wasn’t a joke.
I don’t know when it finally sank in that the game wasn’t a prank, but even while playing it I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. To this day I’ve never seen a game try to be so deliberately offensive, and succeed. Conker drank, cursed, screwed, and belittled across an adventure that saw you go to war, get drunk, pee out giant fires, rip the skin off of a bulls ass, help pollinate a horny and well endowed flower, and (most infamously) take on a giant singing pile of poo. This game had pure humor running through its veins, and every second was filled with some sort of gag or movie parody (which were actually quite excellent) that demanded that you kept playing in order to see what absurdity the game had for you in its next set piece. If you were like me and played this at the tender age of 13, it was hard not to believe it was in the sliced bread pantheon of greatest things ever.
Time reveals a different tale of course. For instance though the game was beautiful for its day, (released at the tail end of the N64, its considered one of the best looking games on the system) it still carries that murky and dull 64 look. The gameplay is also pretty atrocious as it mostly consists of making your way from context sensitive action button to context sensitive action button, and fills out its time with annoying fetch quests and segments so frustrating that they were later trimmed down or taken out entirely for the games Xbox remake. Finally that humor just doesn’t ring as true anymore. The game is still funny in its own way, but unless you carry the same sense of humor I did at the aforementioned 13, you’re going to find little incentive to keep playing.
“Conker’s Bad Fur Day” is still a noteworthy and entertaining game (its multiplayer mode especially), but unless you played it when it came out, you won’t get that same punch in the gut feeling it delivered that pretty much forced you to bow down to what you were witnessing.
Modern Equivalent: That’s tough. You almost have to look at the opposite, and imagine Kratos from “God of War” starring in a cute and cuddly platformer. Or if they made “The Human Centipede” into a game where you played a cartoon centipede trying to stop a Saturday morning mad scentist. Even then, Conker is in a league of its own.