The 5 Most Wasted Opportunities in Video Game History
Every time a game writes itself an opportunity to take its series in a fresh, unique direction but instead chooses to suck on the teat of the status quo, an angel gets violated by its very own harp and its wings get burnt to a crisp. But as long as our monkey brains don't shrivel so much we forget how to program pixels to murder other pixels, we can still capitalize on these opportunities. It's as simple as pointing out where the creators went wrong, shaming them like the naughty little children they are, and making it crystal-clear how to turn this wasted potential into something different and awesome. Luckily, I'm good at all of the above.
Super Mario Bros. Ignores That Wart and Subcon Are Real
Early in the Super Mario Bros. series, Bowser briefly handed over the evil spotlight to Wart, a giant frog king out to rule the dreamland of Subcon because he's "mischievous."
Just like Pol Pot was a shenanigan-causing ne'er do well.
Mario and his buddies won by forcing vegetables down Evil Slippy's throat until he died, saving Subcon and reminding us all that health food = evil (if they'd killed him with cake, we'd be the fittest generation since the cavemen invented "sitting down"). The entire Subcon adventure was then revealed to be Mario's fever dream, and Wart has been cast aside ever since.
"That does it -- no more spicy meat-a-balls after midnight."
Except years later, Nintendo decided that Wart was real, and Mario didn't dream him up. For some reason, they only mentioned this once -- in a 1996 Japan-only sequel called BS Super Mario USA. You (well, not you, probably) played it on something called the Satellaview, which replaced in-game music with radio people dubbing in live voice-overs. Say what you will about the Virtual Boy, but at least it never tried to fucking talk to you.
All the fun of your kid sibling yapping while you play, but even easier to toss through the window in frustration.
The gameplay is Super Mario Bros. 2 all over again, so the less said about it, the better. The real meat is in the plot, which involves Wart escaping Subcon, invading another dream world to recover and prepare for revenge, and finally re-invading Subcon.
"If we're lucky, this dream will include Miss Piggy in the shower."
So ... Wart can't die, he can jump from dream to dream, and he causes actual, real-life damage (notice how Mario doesn't wake up when you lose). Not only is Wart real, he's Freddy Krueger with an army. And Nintendo has taken advantage of this exactly zero times. Even the radio game wastes the idea -- we're simply told Wart's back and can dream-leap, but then Mario kicks his ass again. The end, credits, annoyingly cute J-pop single.
Except it shouldn't be the end. Wart deserves a real chance at being something more than the bad substitute teacher. Give him his own spin-off series, one that sends Mario spiraling through a series of twisted nightmare worlds in a desperate race to put down Michigan J. Joffrey before the entire world becomes too terrified to ever sleep again. Or, alternately, Bowser -- aware of Wart's existence because his damn kid's been up for three weeks straight wailing about it -- can get in on the fun by concocting potions, giant hammers to the head, and other methods of putting Mario to sleep. This would allow Wart to invade the plumber's dreams directly and attempt to kill him on the spot.
It'd certainly be darker than your typical YIP WAH YAHOO LETS-A GO mustache-fest. But when you create a backstory as cool as Wart's, you have to bend the rules and risk an M rating. Even if you did unintentionally shart it out while promoting the single laziest sequel in history.
On the one hand, it's a blow-by-blow retread of a blow-by-blow retread. On the other hand, statues.
Castlevania Ignored a Dracula-Belmont Bloodline Because They Didn't Want a Girl Belmont
Castlevania isn't an easy story to tell, because Konami Digital Entertainment Inc. keeps writing new first chapters. They just can't decide who they want to be the first Belmont to hate Dracula enough to grab a flaming whip, break into his house, and beat him to temporary death. Usually it's a dude, because these are video games, so of course it's usually a dude. But in 1997, someone at Konami decided to buck the trend and write Castlevania Legends, yet another origin tale. The new original whip-cracker's name? Sonia.
Why yes, this is official game art. How did you guess?
This isn't "a vampire hunter named Sue" -- Sonia is very much a woman, and very much not a fan of that annoying bloodsucker who insists on hanging around killing everybody. After a bit of will-they-or-won't-they with Dracula's son Alucard, Sonia beats Drac, who swears eternal revenge on her family, and that's it. For a story that's so hard to begin, it sure does progress quickly once you do.
So what happened to poor Sonia? Men happened, that's what -- head Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi, who wasn't involved with Legends, learned the first Belmont no longer had a big manly penis and flipped his shit. He declared the game not part of the series timeline, and later released Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, set 350 years before Castlevania Legends. While certainly not a great game (no Dracula, but we did get a guy named Walt), Castlevania: Lament of Innocence at least starred a sausage, and apparently that's all you need.
"He can look like a girl, but he sure as fuck can't boob it up like one!"
But more was lost than the patriarch of the Belmont clan now being a matriarch -- no, we also lost this:
It appears that Sonia and Alucard willed, with the result being a child that will "be praised by all the people as a hero." Yeah, that's Trevor Belmont, judging by how the game makes it clear that child will grow up to hunt Dracula as well. What's less clear is who the father is -- that is, unless you know how fiction works. There are only three characters in the game, and one of them makes a baby. Nobody creates life with someone the audience never meets, so the father has to be one of the other two. Since one of them is Pure Evil, that leaves one candidate: Alucard.
So not all of his heads are unnaturally tiny.
So during Igarashi's noble quest to ensure that every Belmont be a boy, he threw one of the biggest plot twists ever straight into the hellfire. Imagine the tension and drama that would have arisen once future Belmonts realized they have vampire blood in them. Do they continue fighting their great-grandfather (or great-great-, or great-great-great-, or great-great-great-great-grandfather, and so on)? Do they give up the whip and join Vlad (on their own accord, not hypnotized by evil spirits like Richter in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night)? Do they try to play mediator and reconcile the two sides at long last?
Castlevania: Tearful Family Reunion of Despair
But no Igarashi, you're clearly right. Disown Sonia, give us Walt, and keep on denying us that Battle of 1999 game we should've gotten years ago. Clearly you know what you're doing.
Altered Beast Presented Zeus as a Wimp Who Couldn't Fight His Own Battles
Every other franchise I'm picking on so I feel more like a man has lingered on forever despite their unforgivable oversights. Altered Beast, however, made it a whole three games before wying in its gwave for good.
The basic plot, in case you've forgotten, sees Zeus's daughter Athena kidnapped by the demon Neff, presumably because Hades was sick of Persephone and her goddamn pomegranates. Zeus retaliates by resurrecting a dead gladiator and commanding him to go save her.
"Oh, thank me you weren't already rotting. That would've been weird."
Read that again. Zeus, a powerful Greek god -- in fact, the powerful Greek god -- sends humans (dead ones, at that) to do his dirty work. ZEUS. That's like if Raiden sat back and drank mead while Liu Kang killed Shao Kahn for him. It doesn't get better in the sequel, where he once again resurrects mortals, this time to save Mount Olympus itself from an evil monster. What, he and every other god in existence couldn't do it? No wonder people stopped worshiping these guys.
Also, learning how lightning works cancels out the need for a floating toga chucking them around whenever he feels ornery.
Goddammit, Sega. You had the most badass, most epic adventure hero possible -- the fucking God of Thunder -- right there, and you wasted him in favor of a scantily clad zombie. He got one line, Elmer Fudded it up, and we never saw him again. Is it any wonder you're making games for other companies now?
Imagine if the whole beast thing were scrapped in favor of flying around the heavens and the underworld as Zeus, obliterating monsters and demons with both fists and lightning bolts. If you really want to do the animal-transformation thing, Zeus does have shapeshifting powers. In the myths, he typically did this while approaching Earth women he wanted to bang, but I see no reason that the ability to turn into a bull can't be used for destructive purposes as well.
The bull might think of two reasons though.
And don't think controlling an immortal would kill the drama. Zeus is as flawed and prone to damage as anybody else -- he just happens to have omnipotence and tools of destruction at his control while doing so. Plus, while he might not die should he lose, his enemies sure as fuck could imprison him for eternity. Imagine how fucked the world would be if its head god was, say, trapped under a million tons of boulders forever. Isn't that a far more intriguing concept than "I was dead, now I'm not, oops I'm dead again"?
Mega Man Turned "Dr. Wily Is an Alien" into a Goddamn Illusion
Whatever happened to predictability? It bought a mansion in the Megaverse, that's what. Every Mega Man quest is the same -- evil robots, quirky weapons you use once and then forget about like a toddler on December 26, Skull Castle Part Whatever, the least helpful road map ever, Wily begs for mercy, roll credits.
"Crap, I'm in the pelvic bone again. I knew I should've turned up."
Just like Mario, the Mega people had an early solution to their repetitious doldrums. In Mega Man 2, you make it to the very last stage and encounter Wily, who exits his five-sizes-too-small bubble ship floating for some reason. We then get this:
Holy fuck. Dr. Wily was an alien? That twist came completely out of nowhere and was fucking awesome, even though at the time it made absolutely no sense. Not to worry though -- once you beat Alien Wily, the game explains everything.
Much like a drunken dad "explaining" to his preschooler that Santa isn't real.
Yep, it was just a hologram, designed for ... something. Was he trying to play mind games, perhaps by convincing a robot with no need for oxygen that suddenly he's trapped in the vacuum of space? Whatever his plan was, it didn't work, and he was quickly beaten and humiliated. This cycle has disappointed countless times since -- just like Mario.
How the people behind this game dreamt up "evil alien scientist" and decided "nifty parlor trick" was the best way to show it off to the world is beyond me. Even though it was only the second game in the series, we were already starting to get the point. By Mega Man 4, we knew exactly what to expect, and by Mega Man 6, we were ready to murder whoever decided "Mr. X" was an acceptable disguise for who is apparently the only evil man on the planet.
"Because Z! ... please kill me."
But what if Wily were suddenly from another planet? Now we have tons of new and interesting stories to explore. Where did he come from? How did he learn our Earth customs? Why did he decide our Earth customs weren't worth a piss and instead decide to destroy us? What's his planet like, and what kind of dangers await Mega Man there as he attempts to destroy it? Or is Wily an exiled outcast, determined to cause chaos and destruction by his lonesome like a competent Invader Zim?
And why won't he ever trick-or-treat as somebody other than Einstein?
That's a lot of untapped ground, and if Capcom stuck me on the payroll, I'd think of a lot more. Problem is, they sacrificed it all years ago to the God of Blase in favor of making their pitch meetings super quick and lunchtime super now:
"OK, so eight robots and Dr. Wily in a machine work for the next dozen games? Great, perfect, cocaine sandwiches for all."
The Legend of Zelda Never Gave Us Zelda III
Zelda's timeline might actually be more fucked than Castlevania's. We got the first two NES games, and ever since, it's been a never-ending orgy of prequels, betweenquels, sequels to prequels, sequels of betweenquels, prequels of betweenquels, alternate timelines, prequels to the alternate timelines, and prequels to the sequels to the betweenquels of the alternate timelines.
When you need a whole book to explain your chronology, you fucked up your chronology.
The one thing we've never got, and probably never will, even though it's right fucking there? Zelda III. Just a straight follow-up to the NES side-scroller, with no wacky timelines or alternate Links or reboots of Ganondorf or anything. Its continued non-existence is the real error.
And yes, I'm aware Ganon failed to resurrect at the end of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Since when has death been an obstacle for game makers, though? But honestly, I wouldn't want Ganon back for Zelda III. The game doesn't need him, because it already has a built-in villain -- this guy:
That's the Nameless Old Man from the end of Zelda II, handing you the Triforce of Courage after you bravely beat back your own shadow. We know nothing about him other than he's old and ankle-high. Who is he? Where did he come from? Why does he have the Triforce? Why (and how) did he turn Link's shadow against him?
And how awesome would it be if he were Link's next opponent? Since he's such an intriguing blank slate, you can make him do anything except enjoy modern music. Let's make him both a wizard with the power to control shadows and give them life, but also a failed hero of Hyrule from way back in the day. After conquering the Great Palace, he went to grab the Triforce of Courage, which quickly deemed him unworthy of doing so. In retaliation, the temperamental piece of geometry trapped him inside the Palace, continually reviving monsters until the wizard grew too old and weak to fight back.
Wisdom, power, courage, and straight-up gangsta shit.
By the time Link came along and made it to the Triforce's room, the wizard had gone completely insane, siccing Link's shadow on him to destroy the intruder. Once Link takes care of that bit of bullshit, he grabs the Triforce and scampers off to make babies with Zelda.
Where "excuse me, Princess" means he stuck it in the wrong hole.
The old wizard, though, is not happy. Link just stole his precious, after all, and now it's time to declare fucking war. And thus begins Zelda III, pitting Link (and Zelda, since it's time she participated in her own damn legend) against a shadow army led by a psychotic old wizard who not only wants his third of the Triforce back -- he wants the whole damn thing.
What would he do with it? I dunno, fuck the hole? He's nuts, so anything's possible. But that's on Nintendo to figure out -- they're supposed to be the smart ones, not me. Until they do, I'll just assume he wants to sex up the Triforce. And so should you.
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