It all started two weeks ago. After an intense DDR Extreme workout earlier that day I went out to lunch with a few of my friends back home. One of which works for a software store, and he told me how a crappy title like Big Mutha Truckers is selling like hotcakes. I couldn't understand why, except possibly for the fact it was only $20. As far as I'm concerned if you want to spend $20 on a game, get something impressive such as Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, not some stupid redneck trucker game.
Anyway, it got me thinking, and next thing you know we started talking about all of these game companies who aren't making any interest in innovation, only creating sloppy sequels with virtually no innovation at all, and therefore leaving the hardcore gamers out to rot.
In the end I decided to take some time to come up with a list of all the companies that I have referred to as "going Metallica," obviously being named after the one prominent heavy metal group whose style started to go downhill after releasing the "Black Album" and going as far as suing their fans just for downloading their music off of Napster. Where is that midget loudmouth Lars these days?
In the TV world, this would be called Jumping the Shark. Remember Happy Days? It was a great show that nonetheless began to lose popularity near the end of its run. So they did a stupid stunt where the Fonz jumped a shark while waterskiing. I am not sure why there was a shark in a net cage right off of a public beach with big signs saying "Warning Shark!" but perhaps he was the official greeter for LA County. Anyway, it was stupid and the show spun downhill even faster after Fonze appeared in hospital shorts and his trademark leather jacket – a perfect skiing outfit when one has to jump a killer shark.
So, let me start with the companies that have completely gone Metallica, or jumped the shark, without any sign of coming back. We can start off easily with the mother of Metallica wannabes-ION STORM AUSTIN. These guys not only jumped the shark, they dove in and got munched by it. Does Daikatana sound familiar? If not, think back to a title which was heralded as the FPS to end all FPS games. Only it takes three years to develop, developer John Romero offers to "make you his bitch" in advertising posters, and a wastes millions of dollars in a tower where all the programmers lived in luxury. Then at last the game comes out — and is rated one of the worst games of the year, nowhere near the level of quality that the hype portrayed.
Just to round things out, before Daikatana they were pressed to show something for all the millions of dollars in investment money they were burning up on leather couches and all-day death matches in their Austin tower. So they released Dominion, which was among the worst real-time strategy games of all time and appeared to be created in about a single afternoon. So Ion Storm, if nothing else, was able to provide two of the worst games in two different genres. And not many companies can claim that!
Where does that end up sending them? In the case of their founder, it is working for Monkeystone and developing games for the soon-to-be ill-fated Jokia N-Gage! Sorry Romero, but it looks like your next gig might be the Austin soup kitchen. And you can't "make someone your bitch" when you are wearing a funny hat and asking if they would like fries with their meal.
While we're at it, why don't we add Ion Storm's publisher, EIDOS. I still remember when Eidos was a small development company in the UK known as Core Design. Back in the day, they made impressive Sega CDs such as Thunderstrike and Soul Star, titles that pushed the 3D capabilities of the SCD without conforming to FMV mediocrity, and it was good. Then enter Lara Croft. While her first two titles could be considered groundbreaking, afterwards it all went downhill, culminating with that nasty Angel of Darkness fiasco. When Paramount executives are raising hell and accusing your game developers for poor box office sales of a movie starring said Lara Croft, you know you have some series problems.
Next up we have my old friends at SEGA. Remember when they bestowed the Dreamcast onto us? All was beautiful. Imagine our shock when Peter Moore, Charles Bellfield, Isao Osawa and their cronies threw a knife in our backs vowing to cut off DC production. Or even worse, blatantly LYING to their fans by taking away Shenmue 2 right before it is to be released (even taking out print ads to promote it for God's sake!). Even their 2K sports series (now under the biased ESPN label) is falling drastically behind EA Sports.
Speaking of which Sega, are you guys aware you're committing pigskin suicide by not releasing ESPN NFL Football until September 2nd while Madden is getting a three week lead in? I guess you can kiss your sales goodbye, and I seriously don't think First Player mode or My Crib (what a joke) will match up against amazing Playmaker controls or a much desired Owner mode!
Of course you fanboys for SQUARESOFT didn't think I'd leave you out of the mix, did you? Come to think of it, I think they've been Metallica since Day 1, considering all they bestow upon us is the same crappy Final Fantasy we've been playing since 1987 (1989 in the US). How many more times do we have to wait for our commands to be entered while the monsters cheap shot us five times in a row? Yes I hear all of you saying "But you liked X!" That's because it didn't follow the cheap FF system that will be returning for X2.
Also when the Dreamcast was out, CRAVE ENTERTAINMENT was one of my favorite publishers, making amazing games such as UFC. Tokyo Xtreme Racer, Aerowings, and even being the lucky recipients of the DC conversion of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (I bet Activisioin is still kicking themselves over that.) But it all came crashing to a halt when they decide to go to budget titles. I'm sorry Crave, but most of the time, budget equals CRAP!
And speaking of budgeted crap, I think THQ needs to realize this regarding Big Mutha Truckers. I don't know how something this bad could be selling so well. It just shows the sad state of our industry when anyone will buy crap and leave great games on the shelves. Another thing THQ needs to realize that they don't have to release three WWE titles a year. Granted I'm a fan of the WWE, but still all these titles are overkill. Even Acclaim didn't release this many when they had the license.
Speaking of ACCLAIM, they seem to be the kings of licensed crap. They used to be on a roll when they had rights to all the Midway titles, and could make a good profit, but once they were gone, all that is left is licensed junk. Even their current big franchise, Turok is falling badly, and let's not forget the nightmare they started when BMXXX was released! I would love to know what they were smoking last year.
MIDWAY, I'm sorry to say, but you're not off the hook either. Your Extreme sports series are not going to be any better now that you went Pro. Despite going from 5-on-5 to 11-on-11, NFL Blitz Pro is still no Madden. Hell it's not even QB Club (another poor franchise which I'm glad to see Acclaim put to pasture). I know you have to limit the violence in Blitz due to NFL regulations, but if you think you'll beat Madden, don't make me laugh.
Now poor little CAPCOM, I feel so sorry for you. You used to be a promising company back in the NES/SNES days, even on the Saturn you made very impressive titles, and offering the 4 MEG RAM cart overseas was a stroke of genius (curse you Bernie Stolar for not bringing it here!). However, the series you depend on drastically (Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Resident Evil) are way past their prime. It's time to think of something new. Steel Battalion is a start, as is Viewtiful Joe, now work on more!
And sorry to say this Poke-freaks, but NINTENDO needs to be on here as well. Despite very strong sales for the GBA SP (which still needs a headphone jack), the house that Ol'Bug Eyes Miyamoto built is falling miserably with the GameCube. I've been saying all along that more ORIGINAL titles need to be released, and even with impressive upcoming releases such as F-Zero GX and Rebel Strike, not to mention the MGS remake it still might not be enough to bring the Cube back to the fray.
Name changes won't help a company either. Case in point"ATARI. I'm sorry, you're still Infogrames, and will always be the same bad Infogrames to me. But as far as I am concerned, Atari went Metallica all the way back in 1984 when it was bought by the moronic Tramiel family who left a high potential system (the 7800) to rot for two years while the NES took America by storm. Since that fateful day they have never been the same.
Lastly, franchise overkill seems to have put 3DO to rest for good. Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy seems to be the final nail in the coffin, and various companies are now fighting for the rights of their franchises (though yet another Army Men title is all that we need). However, I would like to see Microsoft to pick up the rights to High Heat Baseball, as they can use that as the engine for their next MLB Inside Pitch (it would definitely be an improvement over last year).
I also have come up with companies that for a short time went the way of Metallica, but were able to bounce back with some good strategy and listening to their fans. For starters, I felt that KONAMI was going to end up a sports developer, after they jumped on the bandwagon during the PS1 days. The thought of sub-par sports titles against a market dominated by EA was a scary thought. It was made even worse when the 3D bug was going to destroy vital franchises such as Castlevania and Contra.
Fortunately those days are a thing of the past. Contra is back to 2D, Castlevania keeps getting stronger since Symphony of the Night, Gradius is coming back thanks to Treasure (see Gunstar Heroes if you want to see Treasure at their absolute best), the TMNT franchise is returning with classic gameplay, and their Bemani lineup is virtual crack! They're even pushing the envelope still by offering games that even take advantage of sunlight (Boktai on the GBA).
The other company that made a miraculous comeback is ELECTRONIC ARTS. When they decided to ignore Dreamcast fans claiming that "the dollar we spend on DC development is one less dollar on PS2," I thought they officially sold out. But maybe they knew something all along, and could tell what the evil Sega Empire was going to do. Since then, their titles are (most of the time) something to revel about. What gets me the most is how EA Sports has been able to improve on three series that used to be sub par to horrible (NBA Live, NASCAR, and the former Triple Play series) using unique ideas such as Freestyle Control (Live), a new development team (NASCAR Thunder) or just starting from scratch (MVP Baseball).
Heck even with the franchises we thought they couldn't improve on, such as Madden and NCAA, they always find some way to stun me. Two words"PLAYMAKER CONTROL! You could also add Owner Mode as well which fits seamlessly into the tried and true Madden engine.
Lastly, I have to mention the two companies that I feel deserve special credit for never going Metallica and being loyal towards their fans. First of all, ROCKSTAR deserves special credit for having the balls to release the titles that they do. They may be antisocial with an anything goes approach, but when you consider the success of franchises such as Midnight Club, Smuggler's Run, and of course, Grand Theft Auto (3 and Vice City), can you blame them?
Also, though it takes them forever to release their games, BLIZZARD is a euphemism for quality. Have they ever made a bad game? Warcraft 1-3, nah".Starcraft??? Don't think so! Diablo, the basis for all action RPGs? I don't think so. They are all too good. Show me a bad Blizzard game, and I will take back my praise.
It is so sad to see so many game companies fall from grace. I can only hope that they will take my complaints seriously and challenge originality for once.
NOTE: This commentary was originally intended as a parody of the Internet website www.jumptheshark.com, where instead of listing television shows that went bad, I am listing the game companies that I know of who went downhill and the lucky few that made a comeback. It is not meant to attack www.jumptheshark.com or its webmaster Jon Hein. Metallica however, is a different story.