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How to revitalize a genre? When Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was released in 1987, Konami thought they were answering that question, although the industry and the audience weren’t mature enough to consider it. Some anger was to be expected, but no one imagined that its design would only be accepted ten years later with Symphony of the Night. In the space between both titles, Castlevania became a game aimed at a market; after Koji Igarashi took on the mantle of series producer, little or nothing changed. Eventually someone – maybe Igarashi himself – decided to look at the audience with newfound respect. Order of Ecclesia gave back friction to the combat, showed that “challenge” could once again be more than cublicles infested with repeating sprites, and that it had more to offer than bishōnen and spasmodic role-play. It only took eleven years since Symphony, and the result is closer to Rondo of Blood – the last “traditional” Castlevania with brains and brawn.

Part insurrection, part teenage whimsy, Resident Evil 5 was another victim of the same kind of public opinion although the erratic reception it got from critics and players had other reasons. Critics fired off the “racism” shots in the hopes of bringing maturity to videogame discussion; players pointed their fingers at Jun Takeuchi, the game’s producer, in the vain hope of electing him as sole responsible for a “terrible” change; Capcom, haunted by the same specter that ensnared Konami, stated that Resident Evil 6 would be a reboot of the series – even before RE5 was published. As if apologizing for the game.

Like other studios, Capcom has shown that even understanding the base design of their own  games, they can apply the formula both spectacularly well and terribly wrong. But this wasn’t the case, and only critics desperately looking to remain relevant and a change fearing audience could have scared Capcom like that. In spite of the similarities that it shares with Resident Evil 4, the differences are where it goes beyond the sequel. It took a pretty slick format, only reconfiguring the necessary elements to create something recognizable (and still entirely worth of the Resident Evil name) but superior to what came before.

Yes, I am saying that Resident Evil 5 is better than Resident Evil 4.

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Comments Off The rock star who wanted to be a roadie

On Brütal Legend, Tim Schafer and his games

In the old days, videogame magazines lessened some of our indecision when it came to buying games. We knew Nintendo for their charming visuals; we knew Taito for their slick shooters; we knew Data East for, other than a good number of reasonable games, that Guns N’Roses pinball machine. But beyond specialty mags and our friends we knew little about who developed what. It all changed with the growth of the internet: over night companies were no longer unknown entities and we began finding out the names of those who worked on those levels, of who coaxed wonderful melodies out of 8-bit machines, of who poured their heart in making those sprites. At certain point gamers began understanding the notion of author and suddenly Mario and Zelda were no longer Nintendo products but Miyamoto’s games. Metal Gear Solid was no longer a Konami game and instead became Kojima’s “creation”. And so came the idea that videogames could be more than montly paycheques and that some creators have a voice or a vision. The idea that the industry may not just be about financial reports but about “art” instead. The idea that certain people in the industry deserve a certain status, even if the jury is made up of people who don’t know what “art” is, much less what a videogame is.

Which is not to say that, once in a while, videogames can’t go beyond themselves without losing what makes them unique and different when faced with other forms of expression. The ratio between attempt and success at this is arguable; less arguable are the mediatic temples consecrated to certain names. Tim Schafer is one of those cases where reputation elevates a creator to rock star status, earning him the esteem of journalists, respect from his peers and worship of the audience. Before Brütal Legend, Schafer was already a legend. Why? When Psychonauts saw the light of day, the press kept building this image of a brilliant designer whose games were filled with fantastic worlds and comedy, but their often mediocre controls and mechanics prevented further recognition. Which is peculiar. Before Psychonauts, Schafer had only worked on adventure games – a genre where controls and mechanics are generally irrelevant. And the only game prior to Psychonauts where Schafer had absolute authorial control was Grim Fandango.

Something to think about: all that reputation was built around one single game. Is it possible that the lack of recognition Schafer gets from the audience stems from a wrong idea promoted by the very journos who wanted to celebrate his work but didn’t quite do their homework?

And if so, how much of that reputation is responsible for Brütal Legend?

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