Back in 2013, Keiji Inafune started a revolution. As the “father of Mega Man”, Inafune had become something of a celebrity in the gaming community. Over the years, he oversaw a multitude of Mega Man projects for Capcom, but nothing lasts forever. Inafune eventually left Capcom and decided to strike out on his own. Not long after, he decided to create a spiritual successor to the classic Mega Man titles of old. Thus Mighty No. 9 and its legendary Kickstarter campaign were born. This project has been covered extensively in the gaming media, and there’s even a detailed four-part documentary in the works about the creation process. What we’re here to talk about today is what Mr. Inafune inadvertently started. Recently, there has been a surge of other creators leaving the big labels behind and instead, going small. They’re striking out on their own to deliver the types of gaming experiences they’ve always envisioned, and they might just be the games their fans have been dreaming of.
The Wonder Boy franchise has an interesting history. It’s tied to the Adventure Island series, it’s seen a multitude of radical gameplay overhauls, and the chronology is something of a mess. That said, it’s become a fairly beloved series over the years with quite the cult following. No title in the series has been more lauded than Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap for the Sega Master System, and having played through this game fairly recently, I can attest to its greatness. Unfortunately, the series has been quiet for a number of years. That is, until the announcement of Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze.
Game Atelier (of of Flying Hamster fame) and FDG Entertainment have teamed up with Ryuichi Nishizawa (One of Wonder Boy’s original creators) to develop a brand new entry in the series. Though they did have to drop the Wonder Boy title as Sega still owns the rights, but everything else looks to be a straight successor to Wonder Boy III. It’s got the soul of its creator, some killer art direction, and the musical stylings of Banjo Guy Ollie on its side, and they’re taking their project to Kickstarter very soon. If all goes well, this could be one extraordinary adventure.
Wonder Boy III shares a lot in common with games like Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. It’s not quite a Metroid Style game, but there are some elements of exploration and acquiring new abilities that make it more than your typical 8-bit action game. This type of experience was considered a black sheep back in the day, but a true modern take on that formula could make for a wonderfully unique experience. I’ll be keeping a very close eye on this one.
Banjo and Kazooie have had a rough go of it since Rare was bought by Microsoft. First, the property was left to collect dust for several years. Then, they finally released a sequel that took away many of the elements that made the originals so special, and left fans disappointed. To make matters worse, the 3D platformer genre all but disappeared, meaning that players have had very few good alternatives to keep themselves busy while they wait for their favorite bird and bear to make their proper return. But all hope is not lost. Enter: Playtonic Games.
Playtonic Games is a team comprised of several key staffers from the once great Rare. Many of these folks have over 20 years of experience with the company, having shaped such games as Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Piñata, and the legendary Donkey Kong Country. These folks have banded together to create a spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie in the form of Project Ukulele. Quoting from their website:
“it’ll include 3D jumping, trinkets to collect and inanimate objects with big eye-balls on them.”
If that’s not enough to get Banjo fans excited, I don’t know what is. With games like Super Mario Galaxy showing the world that there are still great ideas to be had in the world of 3D platforming, seeing what these guys have in store is an extremely exciting prospect. The heyday of the 3D platformer was during the PlayStation and N64 era, which was also its birthplace. Video games have come a long way since then, and thinking of what these folks can accomplish on modern tech is staggering. Their Kickstarter campaign launches in May.
Toejam & Earl: Back in the Groove
Toejam & Earl was a wonderfully unique for its time. It hit all the right notes, and was a big hit for the Sega Genesis. When it came time for a sequel, JVP (The original game’s creators) had ideas-a-plenty for expanding on the gameplay that made the first game so great. Instead, Sega demanded they make a side scrolling platformer. Fast forward several years, Toe Jam & Earl 3 gets the green light for the Sega Dreamcast. Again, JVP wanted to return to their roots and make an evolution of the original’s gameplay that fans had been clamoring for. Instead, they were moved to the Xbox following the Dreamcast’s demise, and told to make a 3D action game. ToeJam & Earl: Panic on Funkotron and ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth aren’t necessarily bad games, they just aren’t what the creators had in mind, and as such never quite lived up to the potential the original laid the groundwork for.
Not willing to let his original vision go, Greg Johnson (one of the two original TJ&E creators) has formed Humanature Studios, with the rights to ToeJam & Earl in tow, and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to create that game he’s been trying to make for years. Boasting a totally awesome comic book art style, and a killer soundtrack to boot, Back in the Groove looks to right the ship that went off course a very long time ago. Just read the description on the Kickstarter page to get a look at how they’re harnessing the power of modern technology to really evolve the gameplay that made the Genesis classic what it was. It’s one of those things that just warms the heart to see.
These are just a few of the great gaming projects in the works from what appears to be an infinite number of incredibly talented designers, but seeing big time creators break free from big name companies to create true passion projects is a sight to behold. The indie scene has been a revelation, giving birth to some of the best games for any platform over the last few years. The potential of what these veteran creators can accomplish without the limits of shareholders and focus groups bogging them down is staggering, and could very well bring us some modern classics the likes of which we’ve never seen. Will they live up to the hype? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.