While everybody was miserable and embarrassingly crampy over Nintendo’s showing at this year’s E3 because there was no Zelda, I enjoyed the Japan Nintendo Direct for Rodea The Sky Soldier released earlier this year through the magic of YouTube
Created by Yuji Naka (lead programmer of Sonic the Hedgehog, NIGHTs Into Dreams and Burning Rangers), this looks to be the spiritual successor of NIGHTs with a great deal elements added to the foundation. The two games, NIGHTs Into and Journey of Dreams may not be particularly groundbreaking in terms of revolutionary gameplay (The Sega Saturn game ushered in what might be the first successful analog directional pad at the time), but they had a very charming nature placed in a world that was very aesthetically pleasing. I always wanted NIGHTs to become a franchise, but Naka was primarily focused on continuing to make Sonic games. You get burned out for a while and a lot of other ideas you have begin to atrophy.
“Like with Nintendo: Miyamoto has been making Mario games. He’s under that too. He has to keep on making Mario games. [Eiji] Aonuma has to keep making Zelda games. [Hideo] Kojima has to make Metal Gear games. I wish he could take that off of everyone’s shoulders so they could create other stuff, like new stuff. Because that’s healthier for the industry. Movie directors create all sorts of movies, and the movie industry is healthy. I wish the game industry was like that as well.”
-Yuji Naka interview with Polygon Sept 20, 2012
I started this article off with a seemingly needless slap towards the fan base for being content with the same thing over and over, why not challenge for new ideas? Shigeru Miyamoto’s Pikmin series has been way more progressive than Mario, but the plumber and his charming friends are allowed to get a pass. On the flip side, Sonic the Hedgehog, ironically has constantly tried to find his footing here in the next generation, but the results are sparse. Sonic Colors and Lost World were pretty damn good games that nobody wants to talk about. This really puts a damper on any new ideas, new concepts, and new characters to get over with the populace. The Wonderful 101 is one of my favorite Wii U games, but probably due to the poor handling of the console’s launch, not a lot of people talked about it, much less played it! Rayman Legends is the BEST platformer on the console, but people probably gravitated more to New Super Mario Bros. U, ironically I really hated that game. The point I’m making is that I was disappointed that something like NIGHTs couldn’t become a franchise for Sega to push.I don’t wish for any of these franchises to disappear, but hell, I’ve played so many of their games and despite being established icons, they have seldom evolved many new ideas nor have they helped cultivate ingenuity in the last 14 years. Yet these faces and titles flood the market! It just always feels like, “Oh the new Zelda is out. Gotta go get it!”, and it offers nothing but the same old thing! Give me a big, silly bird to fly around on? Thanks, Skyward Sword, how does this dumb bird change things? How many more times can I shoot things in Battlefield and Call of Duty!!??
Yuji Naka is a creator and a programmer. As a creator myself, I always want to challenge myself to do things I’ve never done before to create something lasting and refreshing, so I can understand the lull he must’ve been in prior to leaving Sega. Others like Koji Igarashi, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Keiji Ifune. These gentlemen still have a lot to say to the gaming world, but a lot of developers nowadays just want to crank out another fresh, hot tray of the SAME THING!! I’m getting tired of it and I would love to see a new sleeper hit sweep the audience off their feet. Does Rodea the Sky Soldier have that kind of impact? Will its gameplay be satisfying and addictive? Will it just be 3D combat while the flying aspect just feels like being guided along train tracks? These tangibles and intangibles are hard to tell from a trailer, but I am really hoping it bears fruit. Naka’s new baby has the charm and delight that seems to capture a potentially different way to approach gameplay. Perhaps it’s blind optimism on my part combined with being a little disgruntled with how unevolved modern day gaming has become, but I am rooting so hard for this to succeed, as well as a kind of commercial success for the Wii U. Great, creative developers shouldn’t have to become starving artists.