Sunday, July 17, 2011

East Vs. West

Let's turn the clock back about 13 to 15 years. Back then, there were many now-legendary video game franchises that were involved in both hot competition and cold war. Street Fighter was the king of the fighting franchise, but there were many hardcore followers for SF's competition. The SNK titles like Art of Fighting, Samurai Showdown and the star-laden King of Fighters were huge. Midway's Mortal Kombat series was putting out best-seller after best-seller. Later on, Namco's Tekken series started to take the fighting game world by storm.
3D adventure games like like Crash Bandicoot and Banjo Kazooie were making a big splash with 3D Sonic and Mario titles as well.
Doom and Duke Nukem were the shooters of choice, later on Unreal would join the fray.
As a gamer in the 90's, you had a myriad of awesome franchises to choose from. The dorkier of us would get together in our parents' basements and, between gaming sessions despite the warm sun outside, possibly debate fantasy match-ups.
"Who's better, Mario or Sonic?"
The future...? *Sigh* If only.
"OK, if Doomguy and Duke Nukem fought in an arena, no weapons, who would win?"
"Alright now what if it were an urban setting and they both had their respective full arsenals?"
"Ryu vs. Kyo. Go."
Even today I can get together with any gamer and debate fantasy grudge matches between anything really. Comic book characters, athletes, video game characters, cartoon characters... it's all good.
Thankfully, it seems that some game developers like to do the same. Instead of doing it over a couple of beers, they actually go out and make the games to see our fantasies come true!
We received a small taste of this in the late 90's with X-Men vs. Street Fighter. While both SF and X-Men: Children of the Atom were games made by Capcom, X-Men is a Marvel intellectual property so it was really cool to see these two groups duke it out. Later on, we would get Street Fighter vs. Marvel then the enormously popular and successful Marvel vs. Capcom series.
Still, the series wasn't that much a fantasy match up; it was definitely cool, but not some of the first dream matches we'd want to see. That's why, in the year 2000, it happened. A clash of titans my four-eyed, pocket protecting friends and I had debated and dreamt about. A match up I thought I would never, ever see: Capcom vs. SNK: Millennium Fight 2000

Holy. &*^%ing. Crap.

Up until that point, you never really saw two companies collaborate on a game like of this magnitude, especially two companies that have been fierce rivals for the last decade. Finally, Terry Bogard vs. Ken Masters! Ryu vs. Kyo! Iori vs. Akuma! Yes, even Dan Hibiki vs. Joe Higashi! Well, the game didn't turn out GREAT, some characters were directly ported over and looked horrible and some key characters were missing. They made up for it a little buy releasing 2001's Capcom vs. SNK: Mark of the Millennium 2001. Much better, not the best, but still really good. SNK would develop a couple of their own "SNK vs. Capcom" (notice the name switch) titles which were actually superior in many ways, but still not where many of us geeky fantasy gamers were picturing such a title.
Since then, we've seen Capcom vs. pretty-much-every-freakin'-Japanese-game-company-out-there with more on the way. Which finally leads me to my point.
Whoever thought an Italian plumber and a hedgehog
could be rivals?
All these fantasy fights, all these crazy crossovers, seem to be an almost exclusively Japanese/Eastern thing to do. WHY? How come SNK and Capcom could put aside any possible differences and/or legal obstacles and decide, just this once, "Let's work together."? Sure, SNK was going out of business at the time, but that's completely besides the point.  Even long time rivals Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario from Sega and Nintendo respectively finally got a chance to proverbially throw-down, as it were. In fact, let's take third-party crossovers out of the picture. There are still a lot of first-party crossovers, which is exactly what King of Fighters is... oh, not to mention this little-known gem called Super Smash Brothers.
Now, how many of these do you see from western developers? Yeah okay, there are maybe one or two tongue-in-cheek crossovers like Quake III and Super Meat Boy and there are some crossover elements in games like Team Fortress 2 or cameos like Kratos in the newest Mortal Kombat. In terms of full blown crossovers, there probably aren't even enough to count on one hand. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe? Eh, they're both owned by Warner Bros. but for the sake of argument... okay that's one. Anymore?
Thanks to titles like "Namco X Capcom", we gamers were able to see epic showdowns like Pac-Man vs. Megaman. So, why are we not seeing head-to-heads like:
Master Chief vs. Marcus Fenix
Sam Fisher vs. Max Payne
Duke Nukem vs. Gordon Freeman
Commander Shephard vs. Niko Bellic
I want to see the Team Fortress guys trying to survive in Left 4 Dead. In fact, let's break down barriers altogether and put together "Mortal Kombat vs. Street Fighter: East & West Collide" OK, maybe that's a little, let's say, incompatible, but you get the picture. Sadly, for now these are all confined to our imaginations. But what is really stopping developers from doing this?
Fans want it: Check.
Make boatloads of cash: Check.
They want to see it as bad as we do: Probably check.
This really makes Japanese developers look like gamers and western developers look like a bunch of bureaucrats.

Can't we all just get along?

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