Games are forever iterating, and that makes any journey into a game’s history an interesting experience.
It’s in the nature of video game development that if you have a good and in any way successful idea, the odds are that your publisher will be keen on a sequel. There are of course entire business models built around this concept (hello EA Sports!), but it’s generally true for any game that does well.
Nobody quite has the time to play every game ever made, which means the odds are good that you’ll end up playing a game that isn’t the first in its sequence. You may well get hooked on the sequels from when you jumped on – but how often have you gone back in time to look at where it all started from?
It can bring with it some interesting revelations in terms of how gameplay evolves – and sometimes in how it’s reduced down or changed. I’ll give you a couple of examples from my own gaming history.
WWF No Mercy: Some great predecessors… some not
Ask any fan of wrestling games to name the greatest of all time, and they’ll talk in enthusiastic terms about
WWE 2K20. No, wait, not even I can type that without cracking up.
Instead, they’ll either namedrop their Fire Pro game of choice if they’re into the Japanese wrestling game scene, or head straight for WWF No Mercy, the classic AKI (now Syn Sophia) produced, THQ published grappling title that still offers a compelling experience 20 years since it first came out.
Here’s the thing, though. WWF No Mercy is great, but it was far from the first in AKI’s game series. Prior to that on the N64 you had Wrestlemania 2000, WCW/nWO Revenge and WCW/nWO World Tour, all of which are fine games in their own right. Indeed, if you wanted some luchador-based wrestling action in the late 1990s, WCW/now Revenge was actually better than the WWF games, simply because WCW had the world’s best luchadors under contract at that time.
There’s also the N64 Virtual Pro Wrestling games, which are somewhat the same code released only in Japan, but with much more of a focus on the fighting spirit style of Japanese wrestling. Ask current WWE Superstar AJ Styles what the best wrestling game of all time is, and he’ll tell you it’s Virtual Pro Wrestling 2:
— AJStyles.Org (@AJStylesOrg) January 19, 2015
I’m not going to argue with a man who can put me in the Styles Clash.
However, all of these games come from an even earlier title; either Virtual Pro Wrestling or WCW/nWO Vs The World for the original Playstation depending on whether you bought the Japanese original or Western re-release.
Where I could happily drop WWF No Mercy, WCW/nWO World Tour or the Virtual Pro Wrestling N64 games into a console right now and enjoy the experience, WCW/nWO Vs The World isn’t a game that’s aged gracefully. There’s the core of AKI’s excellent wrestling engine in there, but it’s wrapped around wrestlers that look as though they’re all wearing hammer pants, with submission noises that sound like somebody’s stepping a box of cornflakes and a frame rate that could perhaps best be expressed in the medium of oil painting.
It’s an interesting curio to look back on, but not anything I’d spend serious time playing in 2020.
Bubble Bobble is great, but it was built on a very different game
I make no secret – or apologies – for my retro gaming passion, and especially my passion for Taito’s excellent Bubble Bobble. It is, after all, the best game of all time, according to clearly unbiased independent experts whose opinion is beyond questioning.
Now, Bubble Bobble has more than just a few sequels, spinoffs by way of Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars, Puzzle Bobble and a number of remakes, some better than others.
But it also has a predecessor of sorts, and until very recently, to my shame, it’s a game I’d never played.
That game is Chack n’ Pop, developed by Taito back in 1983 for arcades and ported mostly to Japanese platforms at the time. It’s also on the PSP, Xbox, PS2 and PC Taito Legends compilations, which means that I’d had a copy for some time without realising it. However, on a recent trip to Osaka, I availed myself of a Famicom copy of Chack ‘n Pop – hey, it was only 200 Yen, you’d probably do the same.
Chack n’ Pop’s link to Bubble Bobble is through the common enemies – notably the whale-like Monstas as well as the Mighta that acts as the game’s timer – but where Bubble Bobble is arcade platforming at its core, Chack n’ Pop is more of a thoughtful puzzle game. Sure, it’s one with smoke grenades and constantly moving enemies, but the pace and style are very, very different indeed. If you’re a fan of Bubble Bobble it’s a fine game in its own right to look up and play, but it’s not quite like Bubble Bubble beyond the use of common visual elements.
What are your experiences with dipping back into gaming history? Any gems you’ve uncovered, or do you only ever look forwards in terms of games releases?