Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Spin off games

'Spin off', in the movie or indeed the game industry can very often put a look of worry and uncertainty on people's faces. 'Spin off' can often be found a few words away from 'cheap' and 'knock off' which quite a lot of the time can be true. In the movie industry, it can be a brand new adventure featuring a lesser known character from a movie we all loved, who just happened to be played by an actor who can be payed vastly less. In the gaming world however, 'spin off' can open a whole new ungodly can of worms which should probably have been left at the bait shop.

You can take a dull idea that has been done to death and blatantly nicked from an amazing title that debuted years before the next gen systems were even dreamt of, and then just stick a happy well known character on the front expecting people to buy it. This seems to be the mentality of the spin off creators. The game I had in mind whilst writing that was Crash Team Racing for the good old Playstation. To me, it seemed like a blatant rip off of Mario Kart, but with Crash and co. slapped on the front. It did not offer anything new that was worthwhile or ground breaking, and just seemed to be something to convince people that Crash could compete with the portly plumber. The excuse that I can see for it is the fact that Mario and Crash graced different platforms, and so this could be forgiven, just about... maybe.

I do not feel negative about all spin offs however, its just some companies do it much better than others. I have never played the game Daxter, but the idea of the lovable sidekick that fans did not just want to euthanise at the first opportunity (that was highly unlikely to ever appear), having his own adventure sounded cool. You get to explore another side to a character that would normally just tag along for the ride, and make generally unhelpful but hilarious comments.

A game that did not do this so good was Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus. Now, Final Fantasy VII was an epic game, and my favourite of the series which seems to be spewing out random characters and situation with each incremental numeral. Why, oh why then do you release a spin off game that has one of the least popular, unloved and optional (that's right, its very easy not to discover this character, and not such a disaster if you miss him) characters in a cast of immense brilliance. We all wanted to play as cloud, wielding his comically large buster sword, or Barret an armless hard man with a gun grafted onto his stump. An expansion to Final Fantasy VII would have gone down a storm with the fan base. This meant that the game developers went for the obvious and natural choice of creating a mediocre third person shooting clone, but with a familiar face.

To end this on a slightly more positive note though, there is one game series that has so many spin offs, it is difficult to think of what they have not done. He has been a doctor, a golfer, a tennis player, dinosaur hunter and monopoly piece. He is of course, Mario (and to a lesser extent, all of his forever expanding cast of chums).

It is hard to believe what has spawned from the side scrolling plumber who kills monsters by planting his feet in their head. Mario Kart is the best known, being arguably some of the finest games on any of Nintendo's systems, but this not where it has stopped. The Virtual Boy or 'migraine master' saw the first incarnation of Mario Tennis, where as Dr. Mario came to the NES. The man in the red cap has also tried his hand at football lately on the Gamecube and even more recently on the Wii. The vast majority of the Mario spin off series are brilliant, as each one is carefully crafted with the Big N's love. It has tried stretching to many different audiences, with titles such as Mario Party being able to appeal to just about anyone who wants a bit of fun.

It is a mine field out there when it comes to spin off games. Quite often they are spawned because developers want something that can guarantee a few sales at the cost of being original. Others are amazing takes on the varying genres and well worth a look.

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