When looking at all of the big publishers in 2012, some have made leaps and bounds to improve their placement in the world. Ubisoft hit every stride needed to win over the hearts of gamers and Square Enix’s purchases of  Eidos finally seems to be paying off.

On the other hand, there are the stinkers out there who seem to exist to make us angry. EA comes to mind after decrying the existence of single player games, turning out mostly terrible games, and giving sports fans even more reasons to hate them.

And then there’s Capcom. Oh boy, Capcom. This former towering beacon of fun and entertainment from my childhood has fallen on hard times. Sales are down, profits are drying up, fans aren’t pleased and their reputation as a leading voice in the gaming world is fading quickly. Most of these wounds are self inflicted, mostly caused by a detachment from what their traditional audience wants and what they think the new mass market they hope to tap wants.

But, if 2012 has anything to prove about the once proud Japanese giant, it’s that they are in dire need a makeover. Whether it’s going back to their old image of the Capcom we love or making their perilous leap to full fledged gaming leader, I don’t think Capcom can survive much longer stuck in this limbo of not knowing where to take their company, especially with silly reasons like these.

Misusing Mega Man

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If one character can be eternally tied to Capcom, it’s Mega Man. The Blue Bomber has been a fan favorite for 25 years now, and he alone set Capcom apart from the rest of the crowd as more than just another action game developer back in the 1980s. For such a popular and iconic character, Capcom seems to have forgotten its roots and how much it owes this guy, yet where was he all of 2012?

In 2011, Capcom cancelled not one but two heavily anticipated titles which seemed to take the hero back to his roots. Mega Man Universe was a traditional 2D platformer with the option to create levels and use characters from other series like Street Fighter and Ghosts and Goblins. Even more painful was the loss of Mega Man Legends 3, a sequel to the fan favorite side-series which never concluded its narrative.

With the ridiculous Mega Man Star Force and Mega Man ZX games totally wrapped up, fans were excited for these new releases to bring the dying star back to full form, but their cancellations left them high and dry. Naturally Capcom would make up for it in 2012, right?

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Well, not really. The only original Mega Man game announced was an iOS game called Rockman Xover made in the fashion of an RPG meets endless runner. Fans were immediately taken aback as this thing is what Capcom had planned to celebrate his 25th Anniversary with. Criticism hit the web at full force. Not only had Capcom ditched the games fans really wanted, but their answer for the faithful was what could have been a simple flash game.

At least not turning a deaf ear to complaints, Capcom instead slapped their name on the most impressive fan project to date, Street Fighter X Mega Man, a game designed to actually parody Capcom’s marketing ploy of mishmashing their fighting series, and claimed that this was the real 25th Anniversary game. They didn’t even charge us for it.

Forgive me for seeing this as ridiculous pandering, but putting your name on a fan project is the lowest of low. True throwbacks to the good old days, Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10, were fully realized games from geniuses who understood what made these games great back in the day. Not that Street Fighter X Mega Man isn’t fun, but if you’re going to celebrate your biggest franchise, shouldn’t it be something you made?

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Capcom clearly has no vision for the future of Mega Man. The 2D platformer reboot was a nice distraction for a year or two, but it’s not a model that will last another release. Capcom needs to find a way to make the Blue Bomber work in the modern world, and I feel it will be a long time before it happens considering how Capcom seems to not want to make their own games anymore.

Excessive Outsourcing

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As a kid, Capcom was a seal of quality. I knew that whatever these guys had in store would be pure gaming gold, and 85% of the time, I was right. Capcom developed some of the best classics ever on the NES and SNES, and they carried that torch all the way into even this console generation making early hits like Dead Rising and the first Lost Planet, both of which were fun ideas using new technology.

After 2012, though, it doesn’t seem like Capcom has much interest in making their own games anymore, outsourcing several of their key franchises to small time western studios for a fraction of the price of what it would cost them to make it. This trend began back before most of us had picked up on it, but its effects are much more obvious today.

Producer Ben Judd pushed and pushed for a chance to revitalize the Bionic Commando series back in 2008. Capcom was not too keen on the idea of bringing back what was a cult hit in the day, so outsourcing it to Ghost Recon: Advance Warfighter developers GRIN to get the job done was the option they went for instead.

GRIN’s 3D take on Bionic Commando might not have been the most successful re-imaging possible, critically and financially, although I think it’s kind of underrated. GRIN’s remake on the classic NES game, named Bionic Commando ReArmed, was a huge success and opened Capcom’s eyes to the wonders of outsourcing.

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Nowadays, they can’t throw their games out their fast enough. Dead Rising 2 was developed by Vancouver based Blue Castle, now Capcom Vancouver. Some weird new jet-pack franchise called Dark Void was tossed out by Airtight Games. Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City was developed by Slant Six Games. Lost Planet 3 is currently being worked on by Spark Unlimited.

If you have a problem recognizing these names, I don’t blame you. Most are young fledgling developing teams with a game or two under their belt, most of which are not so highly regarded, and they are just looking for work. In fact, their work in Capcom games have also been received as subpar as well.

A new IP has even entered the fray. Remember Me is one of Capcom’s more exciting new franchises being developed in France.

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The most controversial, however, is easily Capcom sending out their popular Devil May Cry franchise to the Ninja Theory, developers of Heavenly Sword and Enslaved: Journey to the West. A complete Western overhaul to the game’s aesthetics have turned off fans from day one, leading many to question Capcom’s loyalty to their products. Tempers have died down since the original reveal, but many still remain unwavering in their blind hatred of this game.

I’ve come around after the fun demo, but the overall quality of the game is going to be huge in determining my overall impression on Capcom’s outsourcing tactics. It’s already pretty low, but maybe DmC could possibly save my opinion.

The truth is Capcom is looking to make up for lost ground on Japanese competitor Square Enix by trying similar tactics. The only problem is they don’t have the financial umph to outright buy a publisher with already established IPs like Eidos did, so they need to focus on turning to small teams to get the work done and continue to live behind the excuse that putting Japanese games and Western games into categories is a thing of the past.

And, after expunging itself of their best talent, Capcom barely knows how to make a good Japanese game anymore.

Following Western Trends

Shinji Mikami. Hideki Kamiya. Atsushi Inaba.

Three huge names in the video game market with amazing titles like Resident Evil, Devil May Cry, and Ace Attourney under their belts.

They are also all ex-Capcom employees who headed Clover Studio, a branch of Capcom which created the company’s most exciting games of the previous generation. They found themselves nudged out of the company in 2007 by a board of directors, and they left to form their own studio Platinum Games, currently the hottest name in Japanese action games.

Since then, long time Mega Man, Onimusha, and Dead Rising creator Keiji Inafune also left the company under contentious circumstances, and rather than rework the magic these guys were able to turn out, Capcom instead decided to follow the trend in Western games, and their lack of experience in foreign genres really began to show in 2012 with its biggest hits, Resident Evil 6 and Dragon’s Dogma.

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First up, if I was to show this random shot of Chris Redfield’s campaign or play through his demo for Resident Evil 6, how many franchises could a person on the outside of video games confuse this for? Call of Duty? Battlefield? Spec Ops? The desert imagery, the terrorists he’s pitted against. Chris Redfield’s journey through the heart of zombie world has missions that so sickeningly play to the beat of the modern day shooter trend that it doesn’t even resemble a Resident Evil game anymore.

Even his character has been swiped aside, making him an alcoholic who constantly laments the loss an entire squad. I mean, how much more pandering to a Western audience can one company do? Resident Evil is a zombie survival story, not a soldiers story, but there are plenty of dollars to be snagged up in this military shooter trend. Capcom doesn’t have a spare series to sacrifice to it, so Resident Evil will have to do.

On the other hand, the surprise hit of the year, Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma, is an okay game. They at least had the sense to turn to an experienced director to get the game made. Hideaki Itsuno had worked on Devil May Cry 2, 3, and 4, so he’s made a few decent games during his time with Capcom. His experience with the action genre is ever-present thanks to Dragon’s Dogma‘s exciting combat, but his lack of knowledge in creating an open and explorable world derails the entire experience.

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The point is, Capcom developed Dragon’s Dogma to keep up with Bethesda, BioWare, the Assassin’s Creed III team, and the rest of the gaming world all gravitating towards everything being some form of a Western RPG. They now have their fledgling series to develop and work with, but whether or not they can complete their dreams and make it into a strong franchise has yet to be seen.

Two games which clearly look like Western titles on the surface but totally miss the intricacies of what sets the West apart from Japan. The results of these two big hits has Capcom’s traditional means of making Japanese games on the ropes. Little is it known, but the best critically received game of 2012 from the company was actually Street Fighter X Tekken, a game which plays to all of Capcom’s usual strengths. But that went totally under the radar thanks to so much effort being put into morphing Capcom into something it isn’t, a Western developer.

I will give them credit for at least trying Asura’s Wrath, which can be seen as a horrible pandering towards the God of War crowd. They’ve got the benefit of the doubt from me thanks to its off-the-wall ideas. They still haven’t committed to completing the Ace Attorney series as well with the latest entry stuck in localization limbo. It’s hard to believe that we are only a generation removed from the likes of Viewtiful Joe and Okami. Sad to think about that fact at all, really.

Localization Issues with E.X. Troopers

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The fact that they aren’t putting out Japanese games anymore hurts twice as much considering that Capcom’s best game of the year is a Japan exclusive. E.X. Troopers stole our hearts with its charming trailers and then robbed us of our souls when we learned Capcom wasn’t going to publish it in the States. Our demo impressions were strong, and now that I’ve finally gotten my hands on the final game, I’d easily call it the best Capcom game of 2012.

And why not? It plays to all of Capcom’s strengths. Cool action, simplistic gameplay, and a unique charm that can’t be replicated by anybody else. The game rings closer to Mega Man Legends than anything else, so much in fact that fan speculation believes this is what happened to the discarded project.

The official story is that Capcom can’t translate the hard-coded text buddles because they are implanted directly into the game’s art, but I’m calling BS on that. We’ve seen similar projects undertaken in the past, even projects done by Capcom themselves, so you know there has to be other reasons behind them not bringing this game to the states.

Then you hear stories about how Capcom wants to start publishing in over 15 languages for developing companies, and yet they can’t localize a simple little third-person shooter in English. Yeah…okay, Capcom. Whatever…

No doubt, Capcom does not want to mess with this new gruff and western image they have of themselves. Seriously, look at all of their huge games from 2012 and 2013, and honestly try to say that Capcom is not trying to remodel their image. Dragon’s Dogma, Resident Evil 6, Lost Planet 3, DmC Devil May Cry, Remember Me. All of these games are a huge departure from the company who developed Ace Attorney, Ghost Trick, Okami and Viewtiful Joe. The Japanese publisher model doesn’t work anymore in their eyes, and they can’t risk a totally Japanese game like E.X. Troopers ruining this transition.

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So instead of giving it to us, we have to deal with Lost Planet 3 and its somber eyed hero in yet another generic open-world shooter. Oh boy, thanks Capcom, but I’ll keep playing my import copy, thanks.

Locked, On-Disc Content

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Capcom has at least acknowledged this one and have promised to improve upon it down the road. However, they have yet to really follow up on that promise.

Street Fighter X Tekken came jam-packed with characters, costumes, and stages programmed directly onto the game’s disc. Only, all of these extra goodies remained inaccessible to gamers unless they were willing to cough up a small fee. Instead of fessing up, Capcom began calling out and targeting the ones who blew the whistle on them.

Dragon’s Dogma was actually the final straw for a lot of gamers, and their outrage is what forced Capcom to “reevaluate their stance” on the matter, but then Resident Evil 6 was also released to a handful of controversy when it it was found to have a few multiplayer modes already installed and released after Capcom’s promises of changing. They cited “technical reasons” that the content was available and would not be deliverable in any other form.

Whether or not Capcom has any intention of following this plan, which only infuriates their audience, remains to be seen. We’ll see how 2013 fares for them in that regard.

I get the feeling that 2013 is a true make or break year for Capcom. It’s time to either shape up and go back to the way things were or finally produce games that can convince their fading fanbase that the decisions they’ve made have been the right ones. Right now, this company in transition phase is not working for them, and it would be a real shame to see such a huge influence on a lot of our gaming lives thrown into disarray and lost to nothing but good memories.