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I've Got Your Number
Only One Time Around for You
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on August 10, 2003   |   Episode 1 (Show Archive)  

            

After many years of trying and two games under his belt, Nintendo's Robot Operated Buddy just couldn't seem to phone home.
There have been a lot of flops in the video game industry, many of them are just not justified, but sometimes, every so often, a product is only tried once, and is never to be attempted again. In this episode of I've Got Your Number we want to look at a few of these video game faux pas, and try to make some sense of what these products brought to the table.

It would be easy to point out a lot of games that never had sequels for one reason or another, but that's no fun, and frankly, it would take up many more pages. Instead we wanted to look at some concepts and ideas companies will never try again. Products like Gyromite for the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

The novelty behind Gyromite was that it used Nintendo's clunky robot named R.O.B. The Robot Operated Buddy, and Nintendo dubbed it, was a stand alone control that lifted and dropped blocks to affect the game play. Considering there had just been a video game crash, Nintendo figured that it might take some flashy "toys" to get the public interested in gaming.

But while the effort was well intentioned, and probably ended up working to reenergizing the industry in a small way, R.O.B. just didn't work. The accessory would have a hard time keeping up with Gyromite, and would become a frustrating experience to even the most loyal Nintendo fans. It was also something of an eye sore, just sitting there next to you imitating E.T.

Of course, Gyromite wasn't the only game that used this funky little robot. Stack-Up also attempted to get

Perhaps the most depressing thing of all was that even if R.O.B. had worked, Gyromite still wouldn't have been any fun!
the peripheral to work. But the reason Gyromite sticks out is that it mixed the classic style of Mario Brothers (the one before Super Mario Brothers) with R.O.B. Gyromite is the game that proved the accessory was not ready for prime time.

This fiasco ultimately taught Nintendo a valuable lesson they have stuck to ever sense: accessories need to do more than just sit there. Be it the power pad or light gun, Nintendo kept the control interactive with the player from that point on.

For a company so concerned with perfection, Nintendo has a way of making some questionable decisions when launching a new console. Take their most recent system, the GameCube, for example. Unlike every other console launched by the Washington-based company, the GameCube didn't have a Mario game anywhere in sight.

Now that may not seem like much, but just look at the track record. The Super NES had Super Mario World, GameBoy had Super Mario Land, Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64, heck, even the Virtual Boy launched with Mario Tennis!! But not the GameCube. Oh no, it had a game called Luigi's Mansion.


A timid Luigi spots a gang of wild pokemon at 9 o'clock, he fears his arsenal is useless!
Gamers expecting to play a Mario-style game, with characters jumping around and climbing down pipes and other familiar things, were let down to realize that Luigi was not going to have any of that. Oh no, instead he came face to face with a bunch of ghosts in a creepy old mansion. Using his trusty vacuum, Luigi manages to scare up a number of new game play techniques that really showed a different side to the man in green.

But after poor sales, negative reviews, and not a whole lot of interest in a follow up, Nintendo may have finally learned a valuable lesson. You see, Nintendo needs to stick with Mario titles, especially when they launch. It's familiar, it's something everybody likes, and most importantly, it's what's going to sell your system. You don't need to look much further than the GameBoy Advance, which launched with a number of Mario related titles, and has flourished ever since.

Sega found themselves in a similar situation a few years before Luigi ever stepped foot into that haunted mansion. Knuckles Chaotix was supposed to be the great Sonic the Hedgehog spin off, sort of what the Jefferson's was to All in the Family. Problem was, with unconventional game play, silly characters, and horrible level design; it was more along the lines of that Gloria show.


The bigger they get, the lamer everything seems!
Like Nintendo, Sega thought they had a hot commodity on their hands, a character that could do the same sort of business as Sonic, yet feel new and fresh. But lightning rarely strikes twice. Knuckles Chaotix traded in the fast game play for characters tethered together, using each other to jump, climb, and attack enemies. While this was certainly a unique take on the genre, it was an idea so poorly conceived no game has attempted anything like it since.

Not all games on this list should be considered bad; in fact, some of them are unique in a rather pleasant way. Final Lap Twin, for the TurboGrafx-16, was a pretty solid racing game for that era, a genuine cut above your average racer. It featured a two player mode, fast visuals, good handling, and enough tracks you keep you interested for a good long time.

What sets Final Lap Twin apart, however, is it's rather unconventional use of role playing game elements. In the quest mode, your character travels the countryside looking for both random battles and story driven side quests. The winner of each fight is determined by who wins the race, and you win money and experience to upgrade your character and vehicle.


A car racing role playing game, eh? That's pretty hard to believe. Next you'll be telling me it takes place in Candyland!!
These days gamers do similar things with games like Gran Turismo and Sega GT. You race a lot of diverse locations and earn enough money and experience to upgrade your vehicles to enter bigger and better competitions. But what hasn't been attempted again is the role playing style that Final Lap Twin had. Perhaps companies are afraid that the idea is too unorthodox, or perhaps others didn't get as big of a kick as I did, but whatever the reason, Namco's TurboGrafx-16 racer is unique just for one strange and wonderful mode.

When Electronic Arts first announced Shaq Fu: Enforcer of Justice, we were all pretty dumbfounded. Developed by the competent hands at Delphine Software, the same people that brought us the stunning Flashback: Quest for Identity, all we can figure is Shaq Fu must have looked pretty good on paper.

If there's one thing that Shaq is good at it's playing basketball, I don't think anybody would argue with that. But outside the court he's nothing short of a disaster. When it comes to acting, it takes a certain kind

"HEY!! I'm Shaq, dammit. Just because I'm big and stupid doesn't mean you can make fun of my hip hop!"
of fan to pay money and watch him dressed up as a magic genie. He's not much of a pitchman, either, since he's not the most articulate 7-foot powerhouse. And we wouldn't even be bringing up his music, except that this game is unfortunately based on one of his albums.

So perhaps Shaq had it coming, and some company was just too stupid not to see the signs. Whatever your conspiracy theory, there's one thing that nobody will dispute; Shaq Fu is among the worst fighting games of all time. The controls aren't responsive, the graphics are small, the characters (especially Shaq) are stupid, and there just aren't any reasons to get excited about the package.


There really is no reason to run this picture, except it brings a smile to my face. And really, that's a good enough reason for me!
But here we are years later, and not once has an athlete been given his own fighting game. Oh sure, we still see athletes popping up in stupid places, but nobody is dumb enough to give them their own brawler. It would appear as if Electronic Arts learned their lesson, and will probably never repeat that tragic chapter in their life (though, they came awfully close when they released Def Jam Vendetta).

So if having a top celebrity doesn't help your fighting game and a sidekick hasn't lived up to his potential, then how else are you supposed to make money? Blood and violence? Massive amounts of limbs being chopped off, heads being decapitated, and various other stomach churning moves?

Contrary to popular belief, violence is not always a draw. While parent groups and the government came down on the likes of Mortal Kombat, they conveniently forgot to notice how UNPOPULAR other ultra-violent video games were. Actually, it wasn't games, but just game, singular. You see, even in the hay day of blood soaked fighting games, one title flopped even with excessive violence. That game was Time Killers.

With characters armed with swords, chainsaws, and other sharp objects, players were rewarded for being the first to sever key body parts from their opponents. It would be good to aim for the arm, for example, because your opponent would no longer be able to swing his blade. Aim for the legs and you can watch him bounce around trying to get close enough to end the battle. Keep cutting and you'll have the Dark Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. But I digress.


Having just returned from the Van Halen concert, Death is ready to take on any new punk!
It's hard to tell why this equation failed to drum up much business, but I suspect it's the fact that it was so over-the-top that it was barely effective. Mortal Kombat looked very realistic, and yet had characters pulling off fatalities that were both clever and sadistic. Time Killers failed to grasp the clever aspects, and simply went for the shock value. It also failed to have much of a story, whereas Mortal Kombat was shrouded in mythology, interesting characters, and dark figures.

No matter the reason, it certainly flies in the face of everybody who use blanket claims like violence sells. There have been many other games that half flopped, but none of them as violent. Time Killers set out to redefine violence in the arcades, but it ended up being nothing more than a final stop on a list filled with products that ended up influencing nothing.
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