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A Brief History of Gaming
The Day Sony Couldn't Make Games
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on May 06, 2009   |   Episode 11 (Show Archive)  

   
EGM Issue 1
There wasn't much entertaining going on during the Sony Imagesoft era!
God of War. Gran Turismo. Little Big Planet. These are just a few of the amazing games coming from Sony's internal game studios. For the past 14 years Sony has been a leader in making triple-A games, including some of the most original 3D games of the last decade. But just because they can churn out an award winning first-person shooter, don't think that this has always been the case. Once upon a time there was a different Sony. A Sony who was nothing more than a punch line to a terrible joke. Sony could do no right and the idea that they would turn into one of the best game studios was ludicrous not even fifteen years ago.

Before there was Sony Computer Entertainment there was Sony Imagesoft. This was Sony's interactive wing, creating dozens of mediocre games in all sorts of different genres. Between terrible sports games, disappointing movie games and
the occasional adaptation of a television game shows, Sony made a name for themselves by publishing some of the worst games of the early 1990s. Today we're going to take a look back at those murky days before Sony became a first-party powerhouse. That's right, we're going to put on our gasmask and find out just how rotten Sony Imagesoft really was.

In its short life, Sony Imagesoft published over six dozen games on consoles as diverse as the Game Boy, Genesis, Game Gear and Sega CD. Understandably, a large majority of Sony's early titles were 2D action games, knock offs of all of the other generic action games on the market. It didn't matter which system the game was on, without fail the game would contain poor graphics, terrible controls and a slapped together feel that demonstrates the title's poor quality. It didn't matter if the games were on the Sega CD or the 8-bit NES, if you bought a Sony Imagesoft game you were in for a gaming experience akin to stabbing your eyes out with a light bulb. This is Sony Imagesoft's story.

Chapter 1: A Race 2D Bottom
These days it's sport to sit back and pick apart all of the terrible movie games. It doesn't matter what the source material
EGM 1992 Video Game Buyer's Guide
It's a game, starring Sly Stallone, about rock climbing. How was that not the game of the year?
is, chances are the virtual counterpart is going to be total trash. We've seen it with exciting action films (Total Recall, Raiders of the Lost Ark), superhero movies (Fantastic 4, Catwoman), dramas (Seven Samurai), horror films (Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street) comedies (Ghostbusters) and more animated cartoons than I care to count right now. Let's face it, bad video game movies are all the rage.

When it came to Sony's output in the 1990s one had to wonder which was worse, the 2D action game or the crummy movie it's based on. From one crummy
EGM 1992 Video Game Buyer's Guide
It's hard to believe that Sony couldn't make a compelling game out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger action film!
movie to the next, Sony Imagesoft couldn't making a new game. Wait, did I say that they made different games? I actually meant to say that they drew brand new sprites and then inserted them into the one template they used for all of their movie-based games. Oh sure, there were a few big differences between, say, Cliffhanger and Hook. But does it really matter when we're talking about games based on a Sylvester Stallone mountain climbing movie and Steven Spielberg's awful attempt at retelling Peter Pan?

And the hits just keep coming. You want a terrible movie game? Then sink your teeth into 3 Ninjas Kick Back. Sony Imagesoft couldn't even be bothered to fill in the story from the first game, that's how bad it was. And then there was Last Action Hero, the movie that nearly derailed Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting career. Watching Last Action Hero is bad enough, why would anybody want to relive that torture in a video game? And I hate to be redundant, but who in their right mind would buy a game based on Cliffhanger? It's bad enough that companies are turning great movies into crummy games, so why bother going after Last Action Hero and Hook? Let's keep those terrible movies where they belong, in the theater.

Chapter 2: I'll Take 'Bad Game Show Games' For $100, Alex!
In the 1990s Sony was known for more than crappy Hollywood movies, they also had their hands in a number of hugely popular television game shows. With hits
EGM 1992 Video Game Buyer's Guide
Not even Alex's mighty mustache could save Jeopardy! on the Sega CD!
like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune, it would have been foolish for Sony to ignore this potential. After all, everybody loves a good game show and who can resist Alex Trebek's sexy mug on cover art? Not me, that's for sure.

Up until then, GameTek had been the only company willing to take a chance on these TV game show adaptations. In a short period of time, GameTek was able to port some of the era's best-known game shows, including Double Dare, Family Feud, American Gladiators and Hollywood Squares.

Given the overwhelming success of games like Double Dare and American Gladiators, Sony Imagesoft had no choice but to release Sega CD versions of Jeopardy! and
EGM 1992 Video Game Buyer's Guide
No, I'm not talking about Double Dare, the documentary about stunt women. However, that does sound better than being slimed!
Wheel of Fortune. There was just one problem - GameTek was a whole lot better at fitting these game shows into fun interactive entertainment. Sony, who couldn't even turn Last Action Hero into a compelling game, found it more than a little difficult to get all of the pieces just right when developing Sega CD versions of their two biggest game shows.

Sure, they were able to get the talent. Both Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy offered full-motion video sequences with Alex Trebek, Pat Sajak and Vanna White. They also managed to get the questions and puzzle right, both games featured an alarming amount of content. The problem was the gameplay, which felt like an afterthought when compared to the crummy videos of Pat and Vanna waving goodbye. Sony's brief foray into interactive game shows proved they had a knack for production, but not much else. Thankfully Sony learned their lesson before releasing the much-improved game show game franchise, Buzz.

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