Five Huge Franchises that Need to Make Obvious Changes

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I’m excited about Gotham Knight, just look at that trailer! (right there on our homepage) I also love the NBA 2k games and am enjoying the next-gen version of NBA 2K14. But these series have been here a long time and despite several iterations, some of my favorite franchises seem blind to making some obvious changes that they should have made some time ago. I’m here to fix that, developers take note!

Sonic

 

 

Oh, Sega, giving Knuckles the Hulk treatment is no the way to restore faith in the Blue Blur’s franchise. 2D Sonic games were fun because they were fast paced, played smoothly, and had that great sense of momentum and control. The idea that Sonic is all about speed is misleading. He’s more about realistic momentum and hidden rewards for players who built up enough of that momentum to reach the levels’ higher paths. Then it was all about solid platforming to stay on those rewarding routes. That’s what needs to return to the series.

Meanwhile, the best 3D Sonic games had interesting over-worlds and secrets. It was fun exploring the areas in Sonic Adventure, looking for hidden emblems and Easter eggs. As well received as Sonic Generations was, the experience seemed a bit shallow because there was nothing to do outside of burning through the levels.

Finally, let’s up the seriousness of the characters a bit now, Sega. Most Sonic fans are hold-overs from the Genesis glory days and that means they’re over 20. Sonic should never become one of those characters who tries too hard to be “mature”, but lets add a little more menace to Robotnik (and let’s forget “Eggman since Sonic games generally haven’t been good since we’ve been forced to recognize that name here in North America) and add a little more characterization to the everyone else. Sonic can be kid-friendly but he’s most interesting when he’s written as kind of an a-hole. He’s supposed to be arrogant, remember when he was cooler than the vanilla Mario because he had this perceived bad attitude? If Sega can bring that back without overdoing it (no gun-toting hedgehogs or implied bestiality please), Sonic could have a brighter future.

 

NBA 2K

 

 

This series has been the unquestionable king of the court for some time, but it retains a frustrating amount of vestigial issues that could have been addressed a long time ago. In 2K, players have an “emotion” rating which determines how animated they get on the court. However, the lack of true technical fouls for arguing or anything like that makes this rating completely pointless. Add a technical foul system to this game, 2K. While you’re at it, add some fighting, ejections, and coaches getting “T”s. Make a system that rewards arguing with a rhythm boost for your team to balance out the risk of technicals or ejections. Perhaps the NBA doesn’t want these types of things in the game but these extra-curricular activities are part of the game and greatly increase the drama of a real NBA broadcast.

2K also needs to get the rihgt to portray the conspicuously absent NBA legends and upgrade most of their character models to match the standard they set with the modern players in the next-gen version of 2K. Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Charles Barkley have been in older versions of the game, more effort needs to be put in to make a deal to get them in new versions. Also, how is Reggie Miller still a holdout? These Hall of Famers and their historic teams need representation, especially when I want more era-appropriate teams to steamroll with the Bulls of ’96.

Finally, as well as it plays, 2K needs to eliminate players getting caught in delayed animations. These lead to embarrassing turnovers, bad passes, and extremely bad defense. At the 14th year of this franchise, there’s no excuse for hook shots that are aimed at the back of the backboard or slow passing animations that end up going right into the nearest defender’s face.

Assassin’s Creed

 

 

Bring back the truth puzzles! These challenging, creepy puzzles helped build the lore of the franchise and established its rich history of conspiracies surrounding the eternal battle between the Assassins and the Templars. In recent games the “Truth” is already out, and the sense of discovery is gone. The great change of pace that the puzzles yielded has been replaced by more simple, yet still tedious, hacking mini-games. Not good.  The modern setting is what ties these games together and that overarching story used to be one of the most compelling in video games.

 Also, the combat system needs an overhaul, even after ACIV’s minor improvements. It still feels too easy despite some cheap character types that auto-counter everything (until you just smoke bomb them and they become sitting ducks).These aspects need more attention if the franchise wants to continue releasing annual games without causing fan fatigue.

Batman Arkham Games

This is perhaps my favorite franchise of all time so there isn’t much that needs changing. However I’m still concerned about some aspects of Arkham Knight. Will we finally have access to Gotham’s true skyscrapers? Will the addition of the Batmobile drastically change traversal? Will it have any surprising functions like, perhaps, the ability to fly? What about the environments? I know Batman doesn’t kill, but it seems silly that enemies run into invisible walls at the edge of  rooftops when getting pummeled by Batman. I say let them fall, or perhaps, if the height is too great, make Batman have to rush to try and grapple the falling thug, lest he receive a “game over” for breaking his own code.

The detective aspect of “The World’s Greatest Detective” is still lacking in the Arkhamverse, despite an effort to make it more interesting by adding that gimmicky crime reconstruction feature in Origins. I would like a lower tech approach than what we have seen so far. Following trails and having scripted chemical analysis of substances is fine, but I wouldn’t be opposed to giving the player some more agency in Batman’s detective work. Breaking and entering for information, exploring smaller areas for clues, and maybe some heavier puzzle mechanics would all do well to make Batman seem like the cerebral force of nature that he is meant to be. It is the only aspect of the Batman character that seems relatively lacking in the series.

One aspect of Arkham Knight that I really am upset about is the reported subtraction of the multiplayer introduced in Arkham Origins. I’m aware that Origins was not made by Rocksteady and the philosophies of the two developers may differ, but I’m of the minority that believe that the Invisible Predator multiplayer in Origins was the most intriguing (and pretty much the one and only) new feature introduced by WB Montreal to the Arkham series.  Like any multiplayer, there is a leveling and learning curve at first, but once you get past it, it is quite addicting.

I feel like almost nobody paid attention to this mode so I’ll briefly describe it here to justify why I enjoyed it so much. The three Joker Thugs vs three Bane Thugs vs Batman and Robin is interesting and creates a unique level of strategy and tension. It is amazing that the Predator sequences from the single player translate to multiplayer as well as they do. Bane thugs have unique abilities and so do Joker thugs. Each game Bane or Joker themselves can appear, giving one of the thug players access to their respective gang leader. As a game-charging juggernaut, Bane is terrifying, the Joker is formidable, but less so. Every few games you’ll get to play as Batman or Robin. If you like the Predator sections in the Arkham games, it’s worth waiting through a few rounds of decent third person shooting for a chance to really try to be an invisible predator with smart human opponents. There is nothing quite like winning as Batman going 14-o for the match. The biggest problem with the MP is that not enough people play it. It takes far too long to set up matches. If you have Origins, give it a try and be patient with it…but I digress…

Arkham Knight is slated to not have any of that, which is a shame. Origin’s muktuplayer may have been half-baked with limited maps, modes, and poor matchmaking, but it showed great potential and Rocksteady could have really nurtured it into something special.

Mass Effect

 

This was the franchise that defined the last console generation and also served as a cautionary tale about the illusion of choice in video game stories. The series was great but the ending was so unfufilling it ruined the franchise for many of its fans.

The fix for this series, with it’s ambiguous continuation looming, is to simply make sure the player’s choices matter in the end. Bioware did this already. Mass Effect 3 should have ended like Mass Effect 2. You could have a bad ending or good ending depending on your choices or how you performed. Characters could live or die based on your choices and several branching endings could have been possible. Don’t promise choice to the player and so obviously funnel all choice into the same ending that effectively destroys all the lore you created over the course of a console generation.

From the gameplay perspective, this franchise represents the biggest space-faring franchise out there today, so shouldn’t it have actual space combat in its gameplay? Rogue Squadron and Starfox have been dead for some time so there’s a void that Mass Effect can fill. This space combat would supplement the normal 3rd person rpg shooting gameply the same way the much-maligned Mako sections did in the earlier games. Except this time it may actually be a fun change of pace. Nobody knows anything about the next Mass Effect game yet, it may still be early in development with no release window set. Now is the time to introduce a new mechanic to a franchise that’s on a break but sure to return hopefully better than ever.

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