Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Greatest Game No One Played

In the video game industry, there are winners and losers. This applies to gamers, as they flounder and triumph in ways that would make Samuel Beckett proud. Taken out of the closed system of rules in a single video game, gamers also win and lose from a mere economic standpoint. Video game players purchase games that promise to be “fun”; whatever the gamer perceives as “fun” is exactly what they will be looking for in visual-interactive entertainment and no two gamers will be exactly alike. Websites and magazines review games and try to predict what will be “fun” for most gamers and wrongly assumes that there is one exclusive type of “fun.” While romantically ideal, this reviewing system is rather flawed in more ways than one can count and a significant number of gamers choose to ignore it for valid reasons. While commendable those gamers are for being iconoclasts in a capitalistic market working to create sameness, there are a few small (large) cases where this actually hurt the gaming community.

Like every other entertainment medium, video games shares its vast amount of cults and cult followers – those who adhere to certain ideas, beliefs and desires that go against the machine that is capitalism and normality (sameness). They are small groups, ones who detest that Final Fantasy 7 is in fact NOT the greatest RPG ever made; others stating Sonic the Hedgehog 1 was better than Sonic 2, etc. While these groups are trying to change the populace of gaming by showing their opinions are counter to mass video gaming culture, it is mostly an expression of being an individual. While one of my favorite video games of all time is Street Fighter 2, I feel honored to still be in the competitive arcade scene to this day while others mark themselves as casuals or old-timers. Being different, for myself and others who sway from the norm, feels rather good and it benefits us. There is one specific case where, at least in my opinion, this drive to be different actually damaged the Video Game industry in the respect of game innovation and “fun”; the game reviewing system and the market all drove us to counter something that actually was good in every respect, but our angst got the better of us. This is related to one game in particular which appeared on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive in 1993: Rocket Knight Adventures.

Before I continue, let me first state that, yes – there are hundreds of amazing games that got ignored by the public. Ikaruga, Ristar, Sin & Punishment, Soldier Blade, Shatterhand – all examples of stellar gameplay fused with incredible presentation that were ignored because it was either overshadowed by something else, wasn't marketed correctly, or gamers decided such a game couldn't compete with the rest well-marketed great games of that time. This is a shame, but all of those games have gathered a healthy cult following and have slowly been recognized as being great games – in a small way, gamers have been redeemed for retrospectively acknowledging dismissed games and putting them on the pedestal they deserve. In doing so, gamers receive the best reward one can get for acknowledging greatness – the emergence of either the game series' continuation or other games that take the fantastic gameplay mechanics of others and twist it, making the game industry innovative and fun again. Rocket Knight Adventures, while having a strong but small fan base, has not received this.

At the time seen as a shameless knockoff of the anthropomorphic-attitude trend conquering the early 90's, Rocket Knight Adventures was the conjuration of a mascot idol framed along a hair-frenzying adventure of Contra-esque proportions. It is of no surprise that it was developed by the company that is famous for such ingenious games – Konami. Konami, after making lackluster ports to the Genesis that were either bettered on the Super Nintendo or didn't appear anywhere else due to quality control created an exclusive for the Genesis. The cover doesn't sport the famous black and white gridlines or the later red spines that encompassed the essence of Genesis games, but rather it presents itself as a rebel and something special. Nonetheless, despite rave reviews, it was ignored. Two sequels appeared, one for SNES and another for Genesis, trying to widen its audience base Konami changed the gameplay mechanics of the latter games in order to appease newcomers. Again, mostly ignored. The name of both games was Sparkster - the SNES version lending itself to Sonic-like gameplay (hold down right on the d-pad and jump frequently) and the Genesis version was perhaps the most different among the series, with a larger emphasis on puzzles/adventuring and toning down the difficulty even more considerable than its SNES counterpart. Both panned for not being like the original (the game people didn't buy) and all three games dropped into the Video Game abyss as other mascots took its rightful glory.

This isn't review of the game entirely, but Rocket Knight Adventures is one of the most unique, tight and incredible gaming experiences ever created. Everyone who spends just a few minutes with the game walks away agreeing with the above statement and will often wonder why we haven't seen the rocketeering possum in the 21st century. The blame rests solely on us video gamers who ignored the game when it was released. We forget that as consumers, we control the markets we participate in. We complain that there isn't enough innovation or freshness in video games of the 21st century, but the sad reality is that we don't want it. We see innovation and it gets panned for being too different. We are a people of sameness and it is a shame that fate that destroyed potentially the most exciting game series of all time. We could be playing games of adventure and challenge – ones that take use to underground caverns and a few seconds later ask us to fly away into space. Instead, we have “mature” games using “mature” themes and”mature” graphics – whatever that means. If more blood, profanity and mundaneness is mature, then call me a child.

Rocket Knight Adventures is one of the best video games of all time. If it doesn't get a revival, the least it can do is be ported to Wii Virtual Console or XBLA so gamers can be in sad remorse over the amazing mascot we all turned down. Sparkster, you are in our hearts.

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