With the release of "#Yooka Laylee" and its mixed critical reception, it seems like the right time to talk about "spiritual successors;" particularly the ones achieved through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter.
For a long time, it seemed as if certain genres such as the platform or graphic adventure games were as dead as the dodo. When publishers no longer regarded these kind of games as financially viable, developers such as Tim Schafer and Keji Inafune discovered that they could get the public to bankroll their projects with the power of their reputation alone.
Kickstart my art
The catalyst for this trend was the aforementioned "Broken Age:" a graphic adventure that gained a whopping three million dollars in its funding period.
In the "Double Fine Adventure" documentary, Schafer gave a speech about how "Broken Age's" success was a message to publishers, stating, "why does a big company get to choose what music I listen to, what TV shows I watch, or what games I get to play? They can't do that anymore. You can choose."
Thus began a wave of crowdfunded spiritual successors such as "Yooka Laylee," and the upcoming "Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night." With a brand new means of financing niche genres, it seemed as if fans could finally play the kinds of games that publishers decided were unprofitable.
Then came the "Mighty No. 9" debacle. After a long mismanaged development period and a controversial trailer, the "Mega Man" spiritual successor was released to a cold reception from fans and critics alike.
Among the game's major criticisms were the low quality visuals, uninspired level design, and failure to bring anything new to the old "Mega Man" formula. Other underwhelming spiritual successors included "Moebius: Empire Rising," and most recently, "Yooka Laylee." What links these games together is a failure to evoke the charm of classic games while adapting to the current climate.
Nostalgia is not enough
One of the major lessons developers should learn is that nostalgia is not enough. Good spiritual successors such as "Broken Age" and "Shovel Knight" knew what worked about those kinds of games and largely threw out the aspects of them that didn't. "Shovel Knight" knew that limited lives systems in old 2D platform games were just a cheap ploy to pad the playtime instead of making the levels more challenging.
Conversely, "Yooka Laylee" has quiz sections that ruin the flow of the game simply because "Banjo Kazooie" had quiz sections too.
But what worked back then doesn't always work now. And in addition to an outdated lives system, "Mighty No. 9" has levels that are devoid of checkpoints: another example of a developer clinging to old design choices out of tradition. What's worse is that these games only serve to fuel the ill will potential backers have with crowdfunding, ensuring the irrelevancy of these niche genres.
Is there still hope?
Despite some of the more underwhelming spiritual successors, I still have faith in crowdfunding as an alternative to publishers. Here's hoping that "Bloodstained" and "Psychonauts 2" can remember to give gamers the good feelings that their predecessors did while abandoning the more dated parts of them. #Mighty No 9