Funny To A Point – 10 Brilliant Shake-ups For Gaming's Biggest Franchises
Sometimes long-running franchises need major changes to remain relevant. Luckily, G.I.'s resident idea man is on the case.
Sequels are often seen as the safe bet in the video game industry; a recognizable name guarantees more sales than a fresh-faced IP, not to mention the added safety that a proven gameplay formula provides. However, if a series goes on for too long, that familiarity can become a detriment – once players think they know what to expect from a franchise, even big changes can go ignored.
That's why sometimes a drastic shake-up is in order, and if you need an example of that, look no further than Nintendo. Wait, what? No, that's right – Nintendo.
Sure, Nintendo's mustachioed plumber has spent 30+ years on the same doomed quest to "rescue" Princess Peach from her "captor" Bowser (accept it, Mario: they're having an affair). However, Odyssey has Mario running around normal human cities* and possessing inanimate objects with his hat – which is now sentient, and possibly an agent of Satan (a conspiracy I cracked not long ago). And don't even get me started on the straight-up bonkers XCOM-style strategy game Ubisoft is working on. What the heck is in the Mushroom Kingdom's water supply?
Regardless, you can't argue with the results: Super Mario Odyssey won a ton of best-in-show awards at this year's E3, and Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle received no shortage of praise either. Clearly drastic changes are the key to reinvigorating an apathetic fan base. The real question is how do you shake up a series?
It takes a certain kind of mad genius to come up with so-crazy-it-has-to-work ideas, but luckily for the video game industry, I do it all the time! Whether it's crafting the perfect headline, or imposing brilliant New Year's resolutions on other people, I'm always up for sharing my special talents. Helping gaming's biggest franchises out of their respective ruts would be my pleasure...well, I guess it would actually be everyone's pleasure since we'd all be playing the awesome games I've come up with, but either way, you're welcome!
The Franchise: Call of Duty
The Problem: It's still a shooter!
The Shake-up: Ditch the shooting (duh)
No franchise gets more guff than Call of Duty. Activision's veteran FPS series has gone from the beaches of Normandy to shooting robots on alien planets, and yet gamers still accuse it of being the "exact same game" every year. So what can COD possibly do to convince all the too-cool-for-school haters out there that this year's installment is actually DIFFERENT?
Considering the fact that it's named Call of Duty: WWII, probably nothing. However, that's why next year's installment should go in a completely different direction. Picture this: The world is on the brink of a global war the likes of which has never been seen. Your task? To make sure it stays that way. As an elite U.S. ambassador, you must lead the United Nations through tenuous peace talks in hopes of staving off armed conflict. Forget the typical eight-hour COD campaign – you'll be playing your way through daylong meetings in real-time, for months on end! Whether you're issuing sanctions or proposing General Assembly resolutions, every course of action you take will have to go through the proper channels. Given Call of Duty's massive budget, the game could capture even the smallest of details, like a QTE to nod along as a translator conveys your lunch preference to other ambassadors – better act fast, or you'll be stuck with the salad!
And if you're thinking about sabotaging the peace process in hopes of getting on the battlefield, think again; while war is certainly a possible outcome, you'll be stuck in your office doing reams of paperwork while NPCs carry out the fight. Have fun accounting for the breakdown in diplomatic relations!
The Franchise: Mass Effect
The Problem: Even with a new cast and solar system, Andromeda felt stale
The Shakeup: Go back in time
BioWare had a herculean task in following up Shepard's saga, and when the space dust finally settled, Andromeda just couldn't live up to the legacy. Not only were the characters and conversations less interesting, the thrill of exploring new alien worlds had lost some of its magic as well. Now with Anthem on the horizon, Mass Effect's role in the BioWare library is more unclear than ever before.
That's why BioWare needs to really shake things up. The solution? Ditch the distant alien worlds and take a new crew of intrepid explorers back to the dawn of the 19th century.
The logistics aren't really important – maybe your ship flies into a tear in the space-time continuum, or aliens zap you with some kind of newfangled time ray. Regardless, you end up in the burgeoning United States of America, and must help guide the founding fathers to prosperity, all while concealing your true identities as intergalactic spacemen (have fun explaining the krograns on your crew!). Sure, you can still zap the occasional red coat with your laser blaster – just make sure there aren't any witnesses, or they may run off and tell the town crier.
Just think of all the opportunities this time period offers the Mass Effect formula: interesting characters, gravely important decisions with far-reaching consequences, and plenty of uninhabited lands to explore. The only thing missing is more aliens – until you realize that all the government figures you're interacting with are actually lizard men disguised as humans. It's a popular conspiracy theory that seems more plausible every day...
The Franchise: Watch Dogs
The Problem: Nobody thinks hackers are cool
The Shake-up: Take the title LITERALLY
Ubisoft's open-world IT sim series has always gotten mixed reviews, but one criticism has remained unanimous: the main characters are super lame! From the gruff mope Aiden Pearce to the hipster millennial Marcus Holloway, the verdict is in: No one wants to play as character who is constantly on their stupid smartphone.
Even if Ubisoft could craft a character that isn't a lame stereotype, hackers just aren't cool or likable people. That's why the next protagonist shouldn't be a people at all – it's time to go literal watch dog.
If you think about it, playing as a canine makes perfect sense. Not only does it make good on the title of the series, but people love dogs! Granted, you'd have to throw out virtually all of the main gameplay mechanics (or would you?). But playing as a guard dog would offer an entirely new suite of abilities, such as peeing on things, dry-humping anything that's close to the ground, and smelling other dogs' butts (which would function like detective vision in most games, but only lead you to dog butts). Naturally all of the controller's face buttons would be devoted to different barks and growls, since that's what a watch dog does best – no more groanworthy dialogue!
The Franchise: Doom
The Problem: Needs more retro appeal
The Shake-up: Go SUPER retro
Make no mistake, id Software's recent Doom reboot was a resounding success. It captured the breakneck pace and manic action of classic entries, while delivering the topnotch visuals of modern triple-A shooters. The only problem? It was TOO successful – how the hell is id going to top that for the next installment?
As I see it, there's really only one option that makes any sense at all – id has to go SUPER retro. I'm talking 8-bit Atari retro. Pixel graphics were the only thing missing from the new reboot, and by going back to the 8-bit era, id can't be accused of not trying something new. To help, I've made a mock-up of an in-game screenshot.
However, a cool art aesthetic isn't enough – in order to really make it a throwback masterpiece, id will have to make the code small enough to actually fit on an old Atari cartridge. Of course they'll also want to include all of the features players have come to expect from the series – gory kill sequences, customizable weapons, enemy variety, blistering multiplayer, a map creator with online sharing functionality, etc. But they're smart guys over there, so I'm sure they'll figure it out. Speaking of retro...
The Franchise: Pac-Man
The Problem: Big P's pellet-munching shtick is so old
The Shake-up: Make him a f---ing triangle
Few video game franchises are as old as Pac-Man – or as stale. Bandai Namco has done an admirable job trying to continually evolve its ghost-gobbling cash cow, but let's face it: When you can play a game in a google search, the thrill is gone.
In order for Pac-Man to grab the attention of gamers again, he needs drastic makeover, and this time a bow and some lipstick ain't going to cut it.**
That's why Bandai Namco should transform Pac-Man into a mother-pucking TRIANGLE. It's another classic shape (just ask the Egyptians), and way cooler than a lame-o square. A triangle Pac-Man would also present all kinds of awesome possibilities; he could point in the direction he's heading (very useful for navigational purposes), and stab ghosts with his sharp corners. He could even spin around and grind through walls – whatever floats your boat, pervert.
Coming Up Next: Brilliant fixes for The Elder Scrolls, Pokémon, and more!
*Seriously, what's the deal with that? I assumed all humans would look like Mario, but now we know he's some kind of cartoony freak in a universe full of normal-looking people. If that doesn't terrify you out, IT SHOULD. (back to top)
**What, you thought "Ms." Pac-Man was a different character? Wake up, sheeple! (back to top)
The Franchise: Elder Scrolls
The Problem: Needs a more memorable protagonist
The Shake-up: Babies
There's no denying that Skyrim elevated the open-world RPG genre to a whole new level. However, some persistent flaws in Bethesda's games have become more noticeable over the years. Amassing a mountain of cheese wheels is as riveting as ever, but players now expect more from their adventures than blank-slate protagonists and forgettable main questlines.
If Bethesda really wants to venture into new territory with Elder Scrolls VI, there's only one viable solution: Make the dragonborn a dragonewborn – play as a baby! Fallout 3's opening set a great precedent for the idea, and the intro sequence is still talked about by gamers.
Playing as a baby would open the door to all kinds of new activities that we've never done in a fantasy RPG. Instead of learning new words for dragon shouts, you'd just be learning new words period – and the dialogue system would evolve dynamically over the course of the game. Bethesda could also introduce a host of new puzzles, like having to stack up blocks to access hard-to-reach cupboards, or devising a plan to get past a dungeon's baby gate. The crafting system would also get a refreshing overhaul, from Mithril pacifiers that endow a soothing stamina regen bonus to Dragonbone diapers that offer greater protection but are vulnerable to leakage.
I'm sure I'm stating the obvious here, but it wouldn't just be your character – all the NPCs, enemies, and creatures in the world would also be babies. That way Bethesda wouldn't even have to fix its wooden animations...
The Franchise: Max Payne
The Problem: Shooting people in slow-motion has gotten old
The Shake-up: The 12-step program
Max Payne was awesome back in the day; the bullet-time mechanic channeled everything that was cool about The Matrix, and the hard-boiled detective act gave the series a dark edginess that games didn't always have. Nowadays, those features wouldn't even raise a blip on a gamer's radar – what grizzled anti-hero can't slow down time with his mind?
Rather than continuing his downward spiral of self-loathing and ultraviolence, Max Payne needs to turn a new leaf by putting down the pistols and atoning for his past sins. The gameplay would be unlike any other action game on the market; instead of going out and killing more nameless grunts, your job is to track down the families of every said grunt you killed in the original trilogy and ask for their forgiveness. Players can look forward to learning about hundreds of unique characters, while traveling all across the globe. Each meeting will consist of awkward small chat before you reveal your true identity, then a series of quick-time events as you try to navigate the emotional responses of the NPCs.
I'm guessing Rockstar will want to continue pushing the envelope, so they could port over L.A. Noire's impressive motion-capture technology for the conversations, then focus in on creating a true 1:1 voice recognition system, allowing you to apologize in your own words. The results would be ground-breaking.
The Franchise: Far Cry
The Problem: Unlikable Protagonists
The Shake-up: Reba
First things first: I like everything Far Cry 5 is doing. Ubisoft Montreal clearly already understands the importance of shaking things up: They've traded the typical exotic setting for small-town America, made what is somehow a controversial decision to portray a doomsday militia cult as the bad guys, and they've done away with the usual activities like climbing radio towers.
The only stumble? After a string of mediocre protagonists, Far Cry 5 is opting for a completely customizable lead, which threatens to make his or her personality even more generic and forgettable. There's only one way to salvage this dire situation: Reba freakin' McEntire.
Let's face it, getting the Queen of Country Music to lend her likeness, voice acting, motion-capture performance, and complete discography to Far Cry 5 wouldn't be easy – but it would be totally worth it. First off, Reba would fit right in with Far Cry 5's rural setting, and offer an air of legitimacy to a project that has already faced criticism – you can't claim the game is anti-American if it stars Reba, for crying out loud.
We've single-handedly shot our way through countless armies as testosterone-fueled dudes over the years, but never as a feisty, country music-crooning redhead with gentle hands and the heart of a fighter – she's a survivor! Simply put, Far Cry 5 needs Reba.***
The Franchise: Pokémon
The Problem: We've already caught 'em all about a hundred times
The Shake-up: In-depth, uncensored breeding
Fans were thrilled this E3 when The Pokémon Company's Tsunekazu Ishihara announced they were working on a console entry of its long-running RPG series. What he didn't announce, however, was how they were possibly going make to the umpteenth Pokémon entry feel fresh. New Pokémon? Whoop-dee-doo. New location? Sounds like a one-way trip to Color-me-unimpressed-ville.
Pokémon needs a massive change to get fans excited again, and the solution lies in the series' criminally underdeveloped breeding mechanic.
Rather than running around all creation as yet another Pokémon slaver trainer, you'll take on the role of a Pokémon Nursery helper. Your task: to ensure all the correct conditions are met to facilitate some hot pocket-monster action. That means picking the right setting (jacuzzi for water Pokémon, vibrating bed for electric Pokémon, sex dungeon for Ditto, etc.), cueing up the appropriate music, and picking romantic activities to get the would-be fornicators in the mood.
Additionally, an all-new inter-species breeding functionality would push the potential mating combinations into the billions, so expect to fill your Pokédex with tons of notes on each monster's sexual proclivities and peculiarities (you don't even want to know what "Playful" Pokémon are into). Pokémon has always been criticized for its shallow RPG elements, so Gamefreak can shed that stigma once and for all by making the breeding mechanics as in-depth and graphic as possible. You'll never accuse Pokémon of being "just for kids" again after you witness your first mating encounter between a Cloyster and an Onyx!
The Franchise: Sonic The Hedgehog
The Problem: It's Sonic The Hedgehog
The Shake-up: KILL SONIC
Poor Sonic. Once upon a time the Blue Blur was the talk of industry, dashing neck and neck with Mario in the minds of impressionable young gamers. Then Nintendo released a string of revolutionary 2D and 3D Super Mario games each one better than last, while Sonic...did not.
Sonic's string of middling-to-awful games is so infamous that nothing can save him. Even Sonic Mania, which by all accounts looks pretty good, won't convince anyone but the most hopeless super fans that they need to play another Sonic game. Ever.
So what can Sonic do to pique the interest of the larger gaming collective again? Simple: He needs to die.
The next Sonic game should open with a scene overlooking the Hedgehog's death – the more gruesome the better. Players will step into the ethereal red shoes of Sonic's ghost, and must track down who murdered Sega's iconic mascot. Naturally you'll do this by zipping around levels like Sonic always does, only this time you'll be picking up clues and unlocking suppressed memories along the way. All of the franchise's beloved characters will return, this time as either witnesses or suspects.
Essentially, the game will function like D.C.'s infamous Death of Superman storyline – only Sonic won't immediately come back in ten different/lamer forms. That's the main drive: That this is THE LAST ONE. Gamers will flock to the title, either out of nostalgia for the character or simply morbid curiosity. Solving a murder mystery would be a fresh concept for platformers, and give Sonic an edginess and air of intrigue far beyond what that stupid Dark Sonic ever offered.
A game centered on Sonic's death would be the ultimate win-win scenario for everyone involved; Sega would finally be free to stop making Sonic games (they can't possibly enjoy it anymore, right?), and the rest of us can finally stop playing them and/or hearing about them. It's the perfect crime.
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***This entry may have been influenced by my wife recently binge-watching so much Reba that we've both been unconsciously talking to each other in Southern accents, but I'm pretty sure it's still a great idea. (back to top)