This year, we saw a number of games release that are sequels to games from over a decade ago: Psychonauts 2 (2005), Neo: The World Ends With You (2007), and Metroid Dread (2004). If they were people, the previous games in those series would all be old enough to be in high school now. Two console generations have come and gone and a third has taken over as the new top dog in that time. So playing Neo TWEWY and Psychonauts 2 back-to-back this summer got me thinking about the ways both games brought their series back, and what changes they had to make to accommodate the modern gaming scene.
Psychonauts 2 feels like a time capsule from a different era, like a big budget remake of a beloved classic brought to modern hardware. 3D platformer collect-a-thons were already in decline by the time Psychonauts was released, but the genre is almost entirely dead now. The only other ones that made any splash over the last few years that I can think of are Yooka-Laylee and A Hat In Time, both released in 2017. Psychonauts' art style is so strange yet stylistic, and so much effort is put into the great writing when games are often satisfied with the writing being perfunctory. It's a game too weird and alienating to the average taste but beloved by enthusiasts, which is fine when games could be developed by small teams, but in an era of huge game budgets needing to be recouped, being weird and alienating is a huge risk. But on the other hand, while Psychonauts 2 makes improvements on the original game in some mechanical ways (enemy variety being a great improvement), there's still a lot of jank in the user experience. When it comes to the controls, having to constantly bind and rebind the 8 different powers on the 4 buttons the game offers means that flow of the game often gets interrupted in annoying ways, especially since many enemies have specific power weaknesses that mean rebinding the controls over and over again. This isn't usually a problem for other games, games manage to fit a lot of possible actions onto the controls without needing the player to rebind commands, or employed context-sensitive actions for overworld traversal that could have helped make playing the game feel smoother. By the end, I was both enchanted and frustrated by the game defying modern gaming design conventions.
Metroid Dread, on the other hand, is coming into a world where the 2D "Metroidvania" genre has been totally colonized and claimed by indie developers, to the point where they've devalued the perceived cost of games in that genre. The $60 price point for Dread has come into question, and "Nintendo $60" went viral on Twitter a few days ago with people comparing the $60 price tag and 7-10 hour length to other AAA competitor games. I'll admit, it's hard for me to look at that price when there are modern genre classics like Hollow Knight or Ori and the Blind Forest/Will of the Wisps that cost a fraction of the price with more content, that still maintains to not sacrifice quality for quantity. I've never been a Metroid fan, so maybe my opinion on the series doesn't mean much though, does Dread justify the cost beyond the value of the IP, does it stand out in the now-saturated genre it inspired that didn't exist when the 2D series was at its peak? It's got to be a strange position for the series to be in.
Neo: The World Ends With You had an interesting but difficult dilemma, how to follow up a game that was very specifically designed to be played on the DS- a problem that the original game's iOS and Switch ports couldn't quite overcome- while also releasing into a world where dedicated mobile gaming hardware like the DS that made the first game special has almost entirely gone away. There are no more DS/3DS/PSP/PS Vitas, there's only the Switch's handheld mode and smartphones, where games are expected to be cheap P2W cash grabs. Still, I thought the game did a pretty good job at tackling the former problem- the Beatdrop system captures the ludonarrative theme of "the difficulties of learning to work together with other people" that was so integral to the original DS game experience but lost in the iOS and Switch ports- but it definitely struggles with the latter.
TWEWY very much felt like it was designed to be played on the Japanese commute, so each story mission was intended to be finished in about an hour and that meant the game kept up a good, consistent narrative pace. Neo TWEWY feels like it was trying to take advantage of the Switch and PS4 platforms to be bigger and more ambitious and play like a typical console JRPG, so each story mission instead takes 3-5 hours to complete, contributing to a bloated and grindy pacing problem. According to HowLongtoBeat, TWEWY's storyline could be completed in 25 hours on average, while Neo's story takes about 39. It's an interesting transition to see this game try and soft reboot itself after all this time with that 2D->3D leap as well as the handheld->console leap, and hopefully the next game will be able to iterate on it further and resolve the growing pains.
What should modern sequels to classic games try and do? Maintain what made them special, even as the world has moved on? Try and keep up with their contemporaries? How do they reassert themselves as the top dog in their genre? What are some other series that came back from the dead and either struggled with this problem or overcame it?
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More about Gaming NewsPost: "Long-awaited sequels to classic games: how should companies adapt games from older eras of game design to the modern era and maintain what made them special?" specifically for the game Gaming News. Other useful information about this game:
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