At the Tokyo Game Show recently, we saw a trailer for the new Devil May Cry game, to be made by Ninja Theory, creators of Heavenly Sword. And while I was one of Nariko's few defenders when the PS3 was launched, it's hard not to surmise from DmC's reveal trailer that the torch bearer for action games has been turned into edgy, annoying hipster wank.
In earlier DMCs, you'd know Dante's cool because he didn't need to flex. He was just so above minion fodder it was boring to him. It's not like it was understated or anything - he'd toy with enemies with skill so ridiculous it bordered on funny, and it was your job to aspire to that level of A++ skill in the gameplay.
In the new DMC, you know Dante's cool because he's got a hipster haircut and smokes cigarettes. Just look at him take a long drag at the end of that new trailer. Oh man, that guy is awesome. I hear in the extended version he loads some indie rock on his iPod, and berates Nero for not recycling.
Did I miss something? Are half-demons the new emo? DmC the new Twilight?
Or is this the proliferation of an even worse trend - one of publishers not taking care of their IP? Of course, it's happened before. Hell, look at Sonic. But Nintendo have always been good with this sort of thing - a game with Mario on the cover is a safe bet in terms of quality - and even these bar setters slipped recently, when they let the previously brave & independent Samus Aran be portrayed as an emotional, submissive weakling with few redeeming qualities other than her Zero Suit.
It's not limited to protagonists - gameplay itself can define a franchise. Command & Conquer 4's radically re-imagined gameplay might've been fine - under a different name. But in the final instalment of such a historic franchise, why abandon your roots?
So what's behind these franchise fumbles? Why shoot a cannon load of canon into mediocrity?
I don't have all the answers, but these games mentioned aren't being made by their original teams. Could outsourcing be to blame? The Bioshock and Call of Duty franchises also know what it's like to have a second developer join in and create good, but not great sequels.
Earlier in the year, a Nintendo developer told me around half of Nintendo games are actually made by Nintendo now. Having an in-house supervisor overseeing the project, as is standard, doesn't always work - series creator Yoshio Sakamoto was on hand for Other M and couldn't save Samus' image.
Team Ninja made a solid enough action game in Ninja Gaiden (as did Ninja Theory in Heavenly Sword), and the new Metroid was fun enough - but in an attempt to give Samus a story, a personality, and a voice, they made her weak. When done right, showing a protagonist's weak side can be a powerful storytelling tool. But Other M forgot who Samus was in the process, and now we can't un-see.
If we're allowed to enter the danger zone in terms of extrapolating too much from one trailer - it looks like DmC is about to make the same mistake. Dante? Weak? Mentally disturbed, even? This is a guy who doesn't just go to hell and back when it's necessary, he's created a business around it. He'd do it if he needed a litre of milk.
To take the quintessential badass action character and re-imagine him as an edgy, rebellious teen is about as risky as turning an classical Chinese novel into an escort quest. Ninja Theory might be enjoying a bit too much license. Why not just pop Trish in a training bra, make Virgil's voice break and call it DmC: The High School Years, with special guest Bayonetta to teach English?
Sometimes, the best story is the one that isn't told. The best statement, an understatement. A developer at this year's E3 told me the best story he's seen in a game is Counter-Strike, because they couldn't put a foot wrong. Up until recently, Metroid had that.
The ironic thing is, if you told hipster Dante to play his own game, even he would say the old character was cooler. Ninja Theory have implied that this is the story of early Dante, and I'm betting there'll be a cutscene towards the end that gives him white hair. Hopefully much earlier in the game, he'll wash his shirt and jacket. Perhaps using the nearly identical Nero - not as close to our fanboy hearts - would have been safer.
Worst case scenario, pre-Twilight Dante will live on through Marvel vs Capcom 3. Fingers crossed it won't come to that. Meanwhile, Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya seems just as impressed with DmC as I am. Prove us wrong, Ninja Theory. Please, please prove us wrong.