Mario Should Do What Midway Does

I really like what Midway’s been up to recently. This American publisher appeared to be going the way of Acclaim, then turned around with a new-found focus on high quality, original content aimed squarely at a slightly older audience — stuff like ‘Psi-Ops’, ‘Area 51’ and ‘The Suffering’.

It got even better when Epic announced that future ‘Unreal’ games would be handled exclusively by Midway. Talk about a great franchise to further expand the meaning of your brand name! To use Scott Miller’s terminology, it’s a brilliant ‘line extension’.

I also like how the company is far from screwing up its most important IP: ‘Mortal Kombat: Deception’ is said to be pretty good, with a now finely tuned fighting system and some unexpected extra game modes including a ‘Puzzle Fighter’-style abstract action game. Deception is fully playable online as well, supposedly the first time a 3D fighter pulls this off.

Today I read that Midway is planning to capitalize on Mortal Kombat by releasing a new episode every year. To me, this is a great approach, especially since Midway is not simply going to rehash its fighting game. The next Kombat-branded title, scheduled for fall 2005, is an action adventure called ‘Shaolin Monks’. It looks to be much better than previous, deeply flawed attempts to expand the Mortal Kombat universe.

After Electronic Arts’ incredible success with annual updates it’s a mystery to me why so few publishers have followed suit. Yearly releases may be the only way for videogames to achieve the high visibility and recognizability top brands require. And combined with constant improvements, or even different types of gameplay, even us critics get what we want.

Of course, in a way, this is what Nintendo’s been doing. We get Super Mario’s annual ‘Mario Party’ birthday event, and a year after ‘Luigi’s Mansion’ we got ‘Super Mario Sunshine’, then ‘Mario Kart: Double Dash!!’ and this year there’s ‘Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door’ for all to enjoy.

Still, I’ve argued before that Nintendo should go further. Why not create a huge 3D-platforming team with two subgroups, delivering a focused, just slightly evolutionary but certainly well-playing Mario-episode year after year?

Sunshine’s approach would have blended perfectly with lots of similarly themed follow-ups. Of course, Miyamoto’s experimental EAD-team could still work in the background — coming up with a revolutionary breakthrough at least once every console cycle.

Whether Mario should still be Nintendo’s focus is another matter entirely, but at the very least I think the company should feel no shame for capitalizing even more on what it does best.