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Are Crossovers Over?

/ Jun 27th, 2013 No Comments

Mario & Sonic

Amongst the games announced during the May Nintendo Direct was a new installment for a growing franchise, which was once thought of as incredibly unlikely collaboration. That game is a tie-in for the Sochi Olympic Winter Games featuring Mario& Sonic. This will be the fourth ‘Mario & Sonic’ branded game in the series. This offshoot sports-sim series featuring the familiar mascots may seem more like a casual cash-in title, but the ‘dream events’, which mash-up both property’s universes, introduce new gameplay experiences and makes the series its own unique animal.

Mario and Sonic meet on a neutral format but are their joint efforts running out of steam?

Mario and Sonic meet on a neutral format but are their joint efforts running out of steam?

Over time, rather than an exotic crossover, the games have become more of their own established franchise encompassing the constituted mascots. If gamers went by the general internet reception of that Ninty Direct alone, it is arguable that the video footage for the title received far less fanfare than the few static screens presented afterwards for stand-alone sonic title; Lost World. An isolated case, maybe. There was possibly an added sway towards the latter title to bolster the news of a mitigating Sega deal with Nintendo. But the looming truth is that crossovers are not the spectacle or event they used to be. Crossovers are expected. They are mundane and normal, and that is a problem.

The Faded Glory Of Crossovers

Soul Calibur

Was the trade off between Assasins Creed and Soul Calibur mutally benificial enough?

The crossover was once a gala spectacular reserved mostly for rare fighters (Such as the Capcom fighting crossovers of the 90s and the like) has slowly shifted from a novelty to almost a genre in themselves. Many Nintendo owners wish lists in the run up to E3 would invariably feature Smash Bros on there somewhere. The heavyweight Smash brand was a novelty in its first two iterations, by Super Smash Bros. Brawl it was a given. Wider forum traffic and character petitions signaled the entitlement of an established and expected property and the Wii U entry will be no different. Not to say the passion surrounding it is a negative thing, of course, but save from any new guest battlers the anticipation of the unexpected is long dead. Brawl is certainly not the only series to go from rare spectacle to familiar property. Kingdom Hearts went from a novel Disney/Final Fantasy mash-up to a tried and tested franchise charting a decade of hits over numerous titles and systems. Now Kingdom Hearts III is heading to next-gen on PS4 and Xbox One. Now it is well and truly its own property, just as Mario & Sonic and Super Smash Bros. have become

Guest Stars

Dead or Alive 5

Dead or Alive 5 is more of a confused hybrid partnership with Virtua Fighter than a straight forward series entry.

Balancing a cross over promotion is risky. Apart from running the risk of dulling the sharpness of such a novelty, adding shock guest characters to a series may cause the future of the series to suffer inadvertently as a lack of startling extras. Soul Calibur is a prime example. Soul Caliber V carries with it Ezio Auditore da Firenze from the Assassin’s Creed universe. SCV failed to live up to many gamers’ expectations for a number of reasons, but as far as guests go, Darth Vader and Link are hard acts to follow. Although Ezio’s clout as a star attraction is unlikely the reason why SCV under performed, it certainly was not as much of a novel appearance given the character had also appeared in Prince of Persia: The Forgotton Sands, Final Fantasy XIII-2, LittleBigPlanet, Team Fortress 2 and PowerUp Heroes through cameos, costumes and other means.

Over saturation of a gimmick leaves a played-out impression and it is hard not to think that Soul Calibur must continue on its ‘Special Guest’ treadmill in future installments to keep asserting its relevance on the busy fighting game scene. In fact it needs to outdo the last guest each time. It sounds unfair but this all goes double seeing as Project Soul did away with a number of established cast members last time around and with no new gameplay to offer, the game instead looked to prop the game up on Ezio’s presence. Soul Calibur isn’t the only fighter at it as Dead or Alive is entering the crossover ring.

With Jacky, Akira, Sarah and Pai Chan from Virtua Fighter all joining Dead or Alive 5 along with Momiji From the Ninja Gaiden series, the sheer abundance of bonus brawlers may doom future Dead or Alive games to pale in comparison. What makes the allegiance so bizarre is that DOA incorporated characters from another heavy weight fighting series from another developer; a rival brand. The reason behind the match-up stems from Virtua Fighter being sighted as the inspiration for Dead or Alive by DOA’s producer Yousuke Hayashi, who asked the permission from SEGA to use the characters himself. Although the crossover is undoubtedly very exciting, imagining future VF or DOA games potentially without the dream transferable roster will inevitably be sorely disappointing for many. Leading the crossover to dilute the core product.

Double Crossed

Although Crossovers can be absolutely awesome console sellers that define a generation of gaming, they are also a reflection of an industry out if ideas. A lack of moderation taken in the sheer amount of these mutual trade-offs has perhaps stifled the glamour of the crossover and replaced it with apathy or desperation. Crossovers should be like an Olympics or a World Cup, a seldom seen festival of shared buzz, drawn out amongst a huge audience. Super Smash Bros Melee sold the Gamecube on this hype party. Now with so many crossovers and so often; it is more like New Year’s or a birthday. It is easier to predict what is coming, remember the last one and get used to it.

In the case of Mario & Sonic, if the crossover efforts become notorious enough as being poor (and they are on shaky ground with core gamers already as it is) then that has a negative effect on their respective franchises. In addition to this dilemma comes issues with the volume at which these games are being produced. Annual production line blockbusters (like Call of Duty, Assassins Creed and every returning EA sports game) commonly feel the brunt of being rushed to meet a deadline or copy + pasted to pander to a formula that worked last time.

If the aim is simply to put the game out there on time to meet a deadline like saaaaay…. a coinciding Olympic Games, then what is the point? A crossover needs to be its own event and worth waiting for. It needs to have the time it takes for a Gran Turismo, Grand Theft Auto V, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and (more pointedly) a Smash Bros to produce and unfortunately that means gamers should have to wait for that quality. When Games start throwing any old characters together on a formulaic basis it becomes more of a concern than a celebration, because standards slip at the same rate that expectation does once predictable familiarity draws in.

It is not just a case of ‘less is more’ or ‘quality over quantity’. However, if spending more time, effort and imagination means better games yet less of them, then it is a good starting point.

Olly Jones
Olly Jones is a contributor to the editorial team at Gaming Illustrated. As an artist, Olly has created artwork to publicize games for Capcom, Ubisoft, Arc System Works and Grasshopper Manufacture.
Olly Jones

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