Jay Button: Where have all the weird games gone?

October 13, 2011

This is a subject I think about a lot. As you can see by my past posts, I have decidedly eccentric tastes. Over the years, my gaming palette has gotten broader and broader, as my mind opened to newer and weirder games. Unfortunately, the amount of weird games being released has had the opposite trajectory. 

Go on eBay and search for a PS1 game lot. You don’t know what it is you’re getting into. Major titles gamers remember as classics range from Parappa the Rapper, a game about a dog in a beanie who raps, to first-person platformer Jumping Flash!. This continues to the PS2. While it featured many sports and war titles, and was very popular for it, the PS2 had no shortage of crazy titles like Giants Citizen Kabuto and Mr. Mosquito.

But now let’s jump to today’s selection. There’s no way in hell a first person shooter in which you play a mosquito who lives in the house of a family of giant Japanese people would see release on one of today’s major consoles. If you were to find a Craigslist lot of 20 games for the PS3 or Xbox 360, you’d see a lot of sports titles from three years ago and a bunch of games that end in 2’s or 3’s. Once in a while we get a cutesy anime-RPG like Disgaea 4, but unless you’re into browns and greys there isn’t much out there for you. At GamePorium, I see everything that hits the shelves, and I get to monitor what’s popular. From what I gather, people are really into shooting brown people for being from another country than they are. But is the audience to blame? Or is it the rising cost of game production? Maybe less people with vision are working in the game industry. After all, we’re seeing plenty of weird and inventive indie titles, but that may just lay credence to the budget point.

I think this can be typified by the history of the Katamari series. In six entries, the Katamari franchise has encapsulated the gaming industry over the last generation or two. Katamari Damacy hit the scene as a budget title. No one expected it to be as amazing or successful as it was, and thus players dubbed it a sleeper hit. Naturally, it was followed by sequel We <3 Katamari, that expanded on the groundwork laid out by the first game and was still developed under the watch of creator Keita Takahashi.

Like any popular series, there was a half-hearted portable entry in Me and My Katamari. This was the first game in the series without the involvement of Damacy‘s creator and started the decline of the Katamari franchise. The next step was to move the up-til-now Sony exclusive franchise to the Xbox 360 with the laziest and worst title in the series, Beautiful Katamari.  There was also a cell phone entry in there somewhere. Realizing what a mess the series had become, Namco went back to what made the series great and made Katamari Forever. This was the best effort they’d made since the second game and is a wonderful addition to the series. But the strings are easy to see as most of the levels are just HD updates of stages from Damacy and We <3.

This once-great series had been wrung out and had every bit of life squeezed from it, rather than just make a new, original series. Compare this to bigger series, like the yearly Call of Duty franchise or even some of Nintendo’s franchises, that are becoming more and more stale as time goes on. Maybe I’m just getting old and my vision is getting worse, but the wall of a game store is starting to blur into a brown and grey mess. Fewer and fewer games stand out, and less people are buying games that push any sort of boundary. Sure, I’m a retro gamer and my to-play list will never end. I like to look at games as a whole rather than just play what’s new, but sometimes I like to discuss what I’m playing and it’s tough to do that with older titles.

And I the only one that feels this way? Maybe I should just sit on my front porch with my Neo Geo Pocket Color and shout at kids to stop playing their 3DS on my lawn.

Shoot Matt an email if you have an idea for something you’d like him to cover. What do you think about innovation in gaming? Have you broken down and gotten a Neo Geo Pocket Color yet? Let us know in the comments.