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Digital games and the salvation of the forgotten franchise
by Joey Núñez

The better part of my teenage years were spent with a PS2 controller in-hand, and over the years I built up a pretty decent collection. Inevitably, though, there were a huge amount of games that I simply never got around to playing.

The Bloodrayne games fall into that category. From what I’ve heard, great games they weren't, but considering that these games centered around a female cahracter giving a good kicking to a vampire arse, and my being a consummate Buffy fan, the series was always prominently featured on my radar.

About ten years after the original game first hit stores, I find myself knee-deep in the awesome Bloodrayne: Betrayal, a downloadable title which hit PSN and Xbox Live a few months ago. A strong departure from the previous games in the series (3D action games), Betrayal is a 2D, side-scrolling extravaganza of a platformer, filled with gorgeous animation and old-school challenge, reminiscent of the great Castlevania games. Betrayal has been an incredibly pleasant surprise, not only because of its high quality, but also because I had all but given up hope in a new game in the series being developed.

Let us not forget that videogames, after all, are a business, and developing and releasing a fully-fledged disc game and putting that game onto store shelves is pretty expensive. As a result, whether or not a game gets made is mostly a matter of numbers; all that the big head-honchos at the top of the videogame food chain want to know is whether their investment will yield any profit. It’s a strategy that keeps the industry making money, but its also the reason we get a 'brand new' Call of Duty each year which isn’t really very 'new' at all. But when developers can eliminate all the costs incurred through the use of the DVD and Blu-ray formats, risks can be taken. In a nutshell, the lower the cost to make the game, the less return those pesky head honchos will be expecting; this means that the developer is free to shy away from the run, shoot, cover, rinse and repeat gameplay formula of most games, and can try a less conventional idea, whilst also retailing for a lower price, enticing gamers to take the risk too.

Rocket Knight, which we'll talk about later, is one IP given a second chance by the advent of downloadable games.

The digital medium has allowed indie developers to throw their hats into the ring and provide us with games that are new, exciting and inventive (Flower, for instance), but it has also allowed established publishers and developers to revisit some of gaming's greatest classics. Most publishers have taken the easy route and ported games from previous generations; you will find PlayStation Store, Wii Store and Xbox Live Marketplace laden with old-school classics now made easily available to the gaming public at large, and whilst I appreciate the opportunity to download Final Fantasy VII and Chrono Trigger directly to my PS3, I think most developers are missing out on a great opportunity; revisiting the classics via new, original games.

Bloodrayne, a so-so franchise to begin with, was given a second chance thanks to the comforts that digital marketplaces provide, and it isn't the only forgotten franchise to be given a second lease of life. Everyone from Megaman to Sonic has felt the love of the digital download in the last couple of years, but the really interesting games have been those which have taken a chance on much more obscure games of the past. Case in point: Rocket Knight. A platformer featuring an opossum dressed as a knight with a rocket pack and fighting off a bunch of moody pigs was the bread and butter of gaming in the 90s, but is certainly a tough sell in the current gaming landscape. Yet the valiant opossum made a return to consoles not two years ago, with a gorgeous looking 2.5D plaform style and engaging and challenging gameplay. Old-school fanboys rejoiced.

Squaresoft's Threads of Fate, yet another game that could be reimagined through digital distribution.

There are many forgotten franchises out there which 'older' gamers, such as myself, would love to revisit. Can you imagine finally seeing a sequel to Squaresoft’s quirky action-RPG, Threads of Fate? How about a brand new Crash Bandicoot game; I’ve always thought we should bring the little critter back as the PlayStation’s official mascot, so why not? Even more recent games such as Prince of Persia (2008) or Folklore, which were somewhat polarising, could be revisited with minimal cost and effort (at least compared to what producing a disc based sequel would entail). Ninja Theory: I know Heavenly Sword wasn’t the huge success everyone thought it would be, but how about a 2D platformer featuring Nariko? Gorgeous art, engaging combat, and a chance to control Nariko again; where do I sign? There are dozens of interesting characters, stories and worlds just wasting away into nothing, and I believe the digital gaming marketplace is the boost that they’ve been waiting for.

How about you, gamers? Do you think more classic franchises should be revisited, or should the past be left out in the cold? Should digital games strictly offer new experiences, or is a reimagined classic enough to get you involved? We want to know, so sound off below.

Oh, and one more thing. Picture this: Psychonauts 2 on PSN. Awesome? Oh, hell yes.

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- Joey Núñez

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