Ever since its conception, PlatinumGames has been what the Japanese like to call かわいいそう “kawaii sou.” “Pathetic” is a bit to strong of a word, so I’m going to go with the word “hapless” as the most direct translation of this phrase.
Meaning? PlatinumGames is a great (the best?) Japanese action game studio. Everything it touches turns to instant gold… in the critical sense. The problem is that gold rarely turns into actual gold. PlatinumGames’ products are simply beloved failures, games loved to pieces by a small, informed audience. With the exception of the first Bayonetta, which did quite well for itself, not a single original IP from PlatinumGames has turned a substantial financial reward for the studio.
Not Infinite Space. Not Vanquish. Not Mad World. Not The Wonderful 101. Not even its spiritual predecessors Okami and Viewtiful Joe.
PlatinumGames could make the absolute best game of the current generation, and people still wouldn’t buy it. In fact, it DID make the absolute best game of the current generation and people still didn’t buy it. What else can it possibly do to convince the public to buy its excellent games?
Simple. Don’t make any more original properties. In its short history, PlatinumGames has worked on two existing franchises owned by other publishers, and surprise surprise, they were successes! The first was of course Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. Truckloads of newcomers bought this (because who doesn’t love Metal Gear?) and these freshmen got to experience the pure action ecstasy of a PlatinumGames product for the very first time!
And then they went straight to Hideo Kojima to thank him for the game. Well… isn’t that just swell?
The second game though seemed to bring them a bit more notoriety. Last year, Activision announced that it had signed a deal with PlatinumGames to have it develop The Legend of Korra, an action game based on the popular Nickelodeon cartoon. The final result ended up like most licensed products do: rushed, forgotten, not altogether up to standards, but still financially successful.
The point is Activision was willing to take a gamble on PlatinumGames, recognizing the prestige its name would add to the product, not to mention its fans who would otherwise never give a Legend of Korra game a second glance. And it did so again this year as well! The two firms must have struck a mutual chord because Activision has contracted it to work on a license with even more ravenous fanboys, Transformers. Not the films mind you, but the original cartoon.
Transformers: Devastation has the superficial look of a licensed title, cheap and relatively light on game design, but there is a whole lot of subtle nods to celebrate here. The most obvious are the graphics, which hearken back to the cel-shading technique commonly used in the earlier half of the 2000s. Platinum veterans created some of the best cel-shaded games of all time, like the previously mentioned Viewtiful Joe and Okami, when they were employed at Capcom.
It’s a nod to their legacy that fans will pick up on instantly.
Being open to working with other licenses has also caught the eyes of two of the biggest names in Japanese video games: Nintendo and Square Enix! Activision isn’t the only publisher with PlatinumGames on speed dial. Both of these companyies signed PlatinumGames to huge contracts which were debuted this year at E3 2015.
We’ll start with the bigger of the two, Star Fox Zero. Believe it or not, Nintendo hasn’t solely developed a Star Fox game since Star Fox 64, and it has instead loaned the franchise out to other notable developers like Rare and Namco to work on instead. PlatinumGames joins a short but prestigious list of companies who have donated ideas to one of Nintendo’s most iconic, not to mention erratic, franchises.
Star Fox Zero showed off incredibly well during Nintendo’s E3 Direct presentation. PlatinumGames’ knowledge of Japanese gaming history runs deep with Arwings, level design, and character models which perfectly channel, not to mention throw a few nods to, the original two games, the ones fans generally regard as the best. This is going to be a fantastic video game. I can already tell.
We should have seen it coming a mile away when Star Fox and his Arwing popped up in Bayonetta 2. Wait, someone certainly did!
Another, slightly weirder choice is Square Enix tapping PlatinumGames to develop the next Nier game. I know, right. Wha? The original Nier had some weird ideas and boss fights that mixed and matched Japanese genres that should never have been mixed and matched in the first place. It’s a really, REALLY weird action RPG, and I didn’t even think it was popular enough to secure a sequel let alone score world class talent to develop it.
My guess is that PlatinumGames gave Square Enix a good deal, and it is just doing this for the prestige factor, to build on its reputation as a reliable developer of existing properties. Or it is developing it for pleasure and just wants to get silly and make the Nier sequel the most abhorrent game on the face of the Earth?
The point is, PlatinumGames has clearly tried to get its name out there over the years, and it has very clearly succeeded. It leaves E3 2015 with four projects under its belt with the backing of four of the biggest names in video games: Activision, Nintendo, Square Enix and Microsoft. Don’t worry. I didn’t forget about Scalebound.
More so than financial success, it is also doing this without sacrificing its principles of keeping the spirit of classic Japanese action games alive. The only difference is that it is doing so with more secure budgets and properties that are guaranteed to bring in more fame and success.
If that can’t be called a victory for a company the size of PlatinumGames, I don’t know what can. When it lands enough of the all mighty dollar in its bank account, it can get back to original ideas… if it even wants to.