Let’s be honest here – videogame companies can sometimes play us for chumps. They want that initial $60 we offer up after rushed production, cut corners, and overblown advertising. Even the most fail-proof games can be horrifying disasters.
But at the same time the most bizarre game concepts, designs, and stories have turned out to be some of the best games in gaming history, despite the strange ideas behind them. So here’s my list (completely subjective of course) of the top 7 Would-Be-Flops Successful Videogames. Why? Because sometimes you gotta try a crazy idea to get results!
7) Kingdom Hearts
Why it seemed like a flop: Freaking Disney? What self-respecting adult is going to play a game loaded to the brim with Disney characters and cutesy designs and probably some less than mature themes? More so, it tries to market itself to players of JRPGS, a generally older crowd, while keeping the Disney feature front and center, obviously for younger kids.
Why it works: Nostalgia is a more powerful tool than most give it credit for. I mean, sure, we all SAY we’re too old for Disney but we’re never too old. Fighting against your favorite Final Fantasy characters is great, but fighting alongside Donald and Goofy? Going to the worlds of your favorite characters from all the movies? Defeating the Boogey Man, Ursula, and Captain Hook? EPIC EPIC EPIC!!!
6) Cooking Mama
Why it seemed like a flop: A cooking game? Not to mention one which utilizes the notoriously difficult and infuriating Wii controls, that gives you points for decorations. This screams “Stupid game made for girls! LOOK AT MY PINK ADORABLENESS!”
Why it works: This one has always been a puzzle to me – I get so angry with this game AND THEN I CAN’T STOP PLAYING IT. Maybe it’s because it actually presents the challenge of pulling off a complicated dish and decorating it so prettily. It could also be the fact that its making fun of a mundane, average task.
5) Katamari Damacy
Why it seemed like a flop: The aim of the game is to roll everything as big as you can to please a mystical space king, who wants a giant ball full of random junk for some weird reason. And you take down everything – school children, cattle, toys, buildings, small islands. This is supposed to be fun?
Why it works: This is another one I am not sure about. It seems just way too weird to be any good and yet, there’s satisfaction in taking down an entire building after rolling your stupid, difficult to control ball around, trying to get enough kids attached to get that ice cream truck to stick. Maybe because it isn’t like any other game before it, or since. It could also be the lack of strenuous game play – all you have to do is a maneuver a ball and get it to a certain width.
4) Guitar Hero/DDR
Why it seemed like a flop: Yes, let’s have a videogame that replaces dancing and playing guitar with stepping on four directional arrows and fake strumming a baby guitar. No matter how great the songs, or challenging the sets, no one is actually going to take this seriously.
Why it works: Let’s face it – people are self conscious as Hell about dancing. But no one is self conscious about taking directions and following them. Plus, the game doesn’t grade you on how good you look, or how suave you are cause the goal is total accuracy. As for Guitar Hero, playing guitar isn’t easy, and not everyone is musically inclined, so it takes the experience of being a rock star and making it simpler. I mean, not all of us can professionally cut-a-rug or rock a bass, but it doesn’t hurt to play a little pretend now and then.
3) The entire Fatal Frame franchise (also known as Project Zero, or just Zero)
Why it seemed like a flop: Cameras are not scary. Taking pictures of ghosts isn’t scary. Wandering around an area in the night is not scary. Doing all of these things together IS NOT SCARY!!! Could you come up with a more boring premise? Taking pictures of ghosts to kill them while you try to figure out what’s going on – there just don’t create a sense of panic or danger.
Why it works: Don’t even get me started on all the involuntary screaming this game makes me do. The great thing about the ghosts is you might catch a glimpse of them before they full on try to murder you. And trying to take a steady picture at the right time and angle isn’t easy at all. These games combine some of the most difficult gameplay with some interesting stories and seemingly normal areas and make them scouring missions for precious film and health. That’s what makes this game good – taking the simple and making it terrifying.
2) Silent Hill 2
Why it seemed like a flop: It’s hard to talk about a pre-Silent Hill 2 conception of the game, but we’ll have to try. You have some random dude with no fighting ability – and when I say no fighting ability, his controls feel like you’re swatting flies through syrup while blindfolded – and a dead wife who sends him a letter. The sequel to a somewhat popular, but a little convoluted, game that actually had nothing to do with the first one and focuses very little on action, but rather plot and puzzles. Not exactly something that the horror-genre had seen a ton of at the time and trying this out was a huge gamble.
Why it works: The plot is so good and the town so well designed and intricately layered that this one aspect makes up for any and all other flaws. The characters feel like real people, the drama and the fear are palpable, and it’s incredible way of making you feel lost, alone, and filled supremely with despair is almost unmatched by the hundreds of other games in the genre (with some exceptions) and remains a classic that cannot be duplicated.
1) Super Mario – the entire franchise
Why it seemed like a flop: You play an Italian plumber who can jump really good to save a fairytale princess from a giant turtle with teeth. You must battle turtle, fire breathing flowers, random angry-faced blocks, and other weird disfigured enemies. How does an Italian get to fairytale world? Why is Browser so big when the other turtles are so small? Why do mushrooms make you big? Why don’t you explode when you ingest a star? Who set up all these obstacles? WHOSE ACID TRIP IS THIS?
And not just that – party games with these characters? Racing? Sports? Fighting? Babies? WHY?
Why it works: I will give it to Nintendo – it literally took the weirdest concept imaginable and made it a multi-billion dollar franchise with every type of game imaginable – spanning all the way back to when my father played videogames to today. Mario, Peach, Browser are all beloved gaming icons despite the obscurity of their designs, their plots, and yes, even the way they play soccer. But maybe it was the right game at the right time, and for the right audience who were looking for something new, and maybe a little different.