Dead Space 3 is still getting its share of the spotlight, BioShock Infinite is on everyone’s mind, and Nintendo has made some weighty promises for the Wii U, so it can be easy to forget about some of this generation’s not-so-blockbuster releases. This isn’t exactly surprising; tons of great games are overlooked on every console—thus the term “hidden gem.” Lucky for us, SEGA has developed or published dozens of unique titles in nearly every genre, adding up to an impressive and action-packed list that few companies can hold a candle to. Better still, many of those releases proposed some seriously innovative ideas that often twisted a genre into an unrecognizable and awesome experience.
Although quirky, cutesy titles like Fez, Journey, and LittleBigPlanet put a bit of much-needed flare into the gaming market, we still need our share of explosions, cheesy villains, enormous guns, and sexy accomplices. SEGA took notice of this, and gave us not one, but two action-packed gun-fests in the form of Binary Domain and Vanquish. Both of these third-person shooters are so chaotic, flashy, and over-the-top that they actually deserve the pre-game disclaimer regarding seizures. Led by protagonists that are almost insultingly masculine, supported by gorgeous women, and with plots that resemble early 90’s sci-fi films, this pair adds some quality “man stuff” to the mix.
And that’s not even the best part. Vanquish uses the game’s suit to insert enhanced mobility into the third-person formula without sacrificing a good cover system. Being able to slide around the battlefield—while shooting evil robots in the face, mind you—not only ups the game’s fluidity, but makes it stand out from the typical “run over there” TPS competition.
Then there’s Binary Domain’s voice input functionality. That’s right, you can control your squad with your own voice via several dozen recognizable commands. And by registering your own list of commands, you can actually customize that command list further. Granted, it did interpret everything I said as a four-letter obscenity, but it’s still pretty damn awesome. Being able to control characters through speech is the stuff of fairy tales for the gaming industry, but here SEGA is taking some tentative baby steps—it did register my sentences appropriately in the voice pre-screening.
Even strategy-RPGs, the woefully endangered branch of the RPG market, weren’t safe from SEGA’s creative stampede. Resonance of Fate turned the genre on its head with angle-based combat, outlandish weapon customization, and an absolutely crushing learning curve. Meanwhile, Valkyria Chronicles was busy winning the hearts of thousands with its gorgeous aesthetic, military tactic-based gameplay, and enthralling storyline told through “visual novel meets CGI” presentations.
Although these two look nothing alike on the surface, a little digging reveals some creative additions to the regular strategy-RPG formula. Joint attacks between party members are nothing new, but placing as big an emphasis on member location and movement synchronization as these two did was pretty bold. While hiding from enemy fire, holding key locations, and maintaining attack possibilities, you also had to manage player movements in a way that allow for necessary and devastating group attacks. And compared to grid-based members of the genre like Disgaea, the enormous battlegrounds of both games proved to be far more difficult (and fun) to manage.
And, of course, SEGA still has speed going for them. Although their blue mascot has been put through some disparaging installments this generation, Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations reminded us what makes this untouchable hedgehog so great. But they didn’t stop at platformers. Hack-and-slash fans were given Bayonetta, a game whose sexy protagonist and spam-punishing combat put Kratos to shame and even rival DmC’s recent reboot. Being able to outpace Mario is one thing, but leaving Dante in the dust is an entirely different story.
That’s an impressive lineup in my book, and all of these games—every last ass-kicking moment—came from SEGA. As developer, publisher (Platinum Games developed Vanquish and Bayonetta), or both, SEGA has a good eye for quality. They may no longer be hardware contenders (though they still earned a spot in the allegorical plot of Hyperdimension Neptunia), but out-of-nowhere releases like these took many fans by storm and proved that the company refuses to fall out of good standing in the gaming world.
Date: February 28, 2013