You’d be hard pressed to find a better video game revival than today’s excellent Guess the Game selection. I understand that reboots are all the rage these days, because, on a whole, this generation would rather experience old things through new eyes than go back and bask in the genuine originals, but this is one case in which I can actually get behind the idea of a reboot because of how flawless the result was.
The original 1989 game in this long heralded stood for many years as an indisputable classic. Platformers at its time, like Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario Bros. 3, were all about speeding through levels, burning through enemies like an invincible momentum-demon incarnate, and arriving at the end game in record time. Sure, some had branching paths and other special areas to explore, but for the most part, progressing slowly and plodding carefully were not exactly the selling points of these games.
Today’s Guess the Game franchise changed those rules, delivering a game in which a very vulnerable protagonist was forced to progress through his dungeons with the utmost care. Once wrong step meant a trap-door would fall out beneath him, sending him to the spikes below. One step too many would slice him in half with awkwardly placed guillotine traps. One mistimed sword swing is all it would take to end his campaign on the wrong end of an opponent’s blade.
It was a revolutionary game, and naturally, this means that replicating these eye-opening moments also proved to be a huge undertaking that wouldn’t happen for many years. A decade and a half and several publisher swaps later, Ubisoft, yes the same company that struggles so hard to be like EA and Activision these days, released upon the world our Guess the Game choice today.
Never before and never since has such a game breathed new life into a neglected franchise. Of course, it barely followed any of the original’s rules, but that is perfectly acceptable. Out with the careful plodding and realistic combat, in with acrobatic stunts and death defying leaps. In a sense, the games have a bit in common based on all of the perilous jumps the protagonists must carefully plan out, but this revival granted a bit of reprieve thanks to a mechanic that allowed fans to rewind time.
Yes, today’s Guess the Game allowed players to basically undo their mistakes. No doubt, this would be decried as a way to baby “casual” gamers in today’s tough as nails market, but it also saved the game from becoming an absolute nightmare. So many ledges, so many ways to jump in the wrong direction. The same goes for combat too. While not that deep, certain enemies would wreck our protagonist if he was unprepared, and a nice little rewind of time would make it all better.
More so than the fantastic gameplay, though, this game also succeeded in its presentation. Graphics, music, everything perfectly falls into place, and at the time, it was praised for not being too dark like a good many of its contemporaries. The game was in fact charming, for lack of a better word. Our protagonist would quip with his love interest, spout genuinely funny remarks while narrating or indirectly berating the player for poor mistakes. Unlike a lot of the rough and gruff heroes of his age, this was a guy we genuinely wanted to hang out with.
It wouldn’t surprise many, but the developers behind this game properly cited ICO as their main source of inspiration. Great developers turning to great games for ideas always produces results.
Unfortunately, they also turned to trends in video games at the time to produce the sequels. Much like the original 1989 classic, this too became quite the task to follow up on. Not that the gameplay took a hit or anything like that. Indeed, with each successive game that followed, Ubisoft’s take on this game’s outstanding mechanics improved.
It was that genuine charm which seemed to vanish in a sandstorm of rage and angst. All of that praise piled on this game’s unique writing and wonderful characters went ignored as Ubisoft instead turned our beloved hero into the angriest jerk in the bar. Gone were the quips and the playful teasings, replaced by abuse, spouting hatred, and just the darkest most miserable character moments imaginable.
You have to realize that this was a time when cynicism was high in America, and everyone wanted things to be dark. Revenge of the Sith was praised for being “dark,” Batman Begins was praised for being “dark,” and a good many video games had descended down this path of feeding into this never ending, vile, disgusting movement.
Luckily, the fans of our Guess the Game rejected the sequel, an Ubisoft was forced to correct itself, writing the rage off as a “curse” in the following game. It stands as one of the most hilarious “we’re sorry” moments in the history of gaming. However, the damage had been done, and, despite a few solid games, Ubisoft was never able to replicate the success that this hit saw.
Then Assassin’s Creed happened, replacing this series as Ubisoft’s “go to” historical action adventure outlet, and attempts to mold it into a modern-age open-world action adventure proved to be pointless in the end.
It’s a shame that this series never found its way for a third coming. But at least we were blessed with this genuine classic, a masterpiece that only gets better with age and one of those games we’ll be talking about until the end of time. It’s worth pointing out that this was released at about the same time as Beyond Good & Evil, and this was an era in which Ubisoft looked like it wouldn’t head down the same path as its peers and rivals.
Alas. That was not meant to be. Not that Ubisoft is a horrible corporate entity or makes bad games, that is far from the case. However, rarely do I see the same kind of creative gears turning in the company anymore that would allow such pure lightning in a bottle to ever be generated again. It tries, but the magic is lost and so is willingness to take such risks with established brands.
So what is it. What is today’s Guess the Game choice?