MCM London Comic Con - Namco Bandai Is No Longer A Brand For Good Quality Games
Namco Bandai had a large presence at MCM London Comic Con this October, although it would have been surprising if they didn't as they're one of the most established and recognisable video game brands around. In 2005, Japanese video game company Namco merged with Japanese video game and toy/model manufacturers to create the large company that it is today. With that, both companies brought a wealth of ownership and distribution rights for classic games like Pac-Man and games/brands like Dragon Ball Z and Digimon.
With an area showcasing all their upcoming games, and an exclusive and much hyped presentation and Q&A session with executives flown in fresh from Japan, it has become clear that Namco Bandai is no longer the reassuring brand of quality that it used to be.
Truth be told, there are some excellent titles coming up soon from the company, namely Dark Souls II, JoJo's Bizzare Adventure: All-Star Battle, and Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z. Each of these look and play fantastic.
- Dark Souls II - Still insanely difficult, but manages to look even better whilst maintaining its incredibly absorbing gameplay. A great follow-up from the first two games (Dark Souls and Demon's Souls), with a brand new hero.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle - Covering the first eight story arcs of the manga, this classic fighter-style game captures the high-octane mania and colour of the original series. Fast-paced, dazzling, and a lot of fun.
- Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z - Looks just as visually stunning as JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: All-Star Battle, and introduces new 4v4 and 4vE gameplay.
The presentation and Q&A with representatives of the games showed that the company can put a lot of thought into development when it wants to. Kunio Hashimoto, for Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z, not only burst on to the stage in full cosplay and screaming "Lend me your energy!" but was also incredibly responsive about the game. When asked why players weren't allowed to transform mid-battle and stick with the only one of each character's transformation in a team, he took the time explain that this was to ensure balance, especially when it came to 4v4, giving an in-depth answer and more than satisfactory response.
There's also other great recent games to their title, such as the sumptuous Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, wich saw the company team up with famed anime studio, Studio Ghibli, to produce something exquisite.
When Namco Bandai want to make a good game, they can make a bloody brilliant one.
But there was also a collection of games that really failed to raise any enthusiasm, or outright bored us, showing that there are times when Namco Bandai couldn't care less, resulting in forgettable games.
- Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers - a generic fighter with cheap graphics, no flair, and no complexity
- Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures - a lack lustre and lazy generic 3D platformer that's as easy as it is dull (read our full review)
These two games shows not just the worst side of the company, but also the games industry as a whole. Here, Namco Bandai are purely trading-in the rights they have to certain brands as a way to make a quick buck rather than a good game. Sure, sometimes they're sturdy and the gameplay is solid, but they're devoid of imagination and ingenuity, which in our opinion is worse than making a bad game.
When compared against the games in "The Good" list above, the graphics and animations are noticeably less polished, and then the gameplay is bog-standard; at best, the developers were rushed to finish the game, and at worse, they just didn't bother. Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures goes as far as almost ripping off Super Mario 64, and Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers adds nothing to the genre since Street Fighter broke ground.
Ryo Mito, in his presentation for Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers, even said that if you didn't want to try for more complex combos and moves, you could simply just "mash the buttons" and still win--hardly a glowing endorsement for the game. To add insult to injury, the demonstrator failed four times in a row to show off the super-special-awesome move that was billed as one of the game's selling points. They eventually gave up and the crowd were told to try and successfully initiate it themselves at the game's demo booth.
Recently, there was also the hideously embarrassing and buggy Star Trek game, which even had film director J.J. Abrams weigh in with outright disappointment for the game.
YouTube game-breakers, BirgirPall, didn't need to do much with the woeful Namco Bandai title, Star Trek.
It's sad that these days, anything from Namco Bandai must be judged on its own merits, as the quality of games from the company sway wildly from the brilliant to the banal, and even to awful. It's not exactly a great position for any company to be in, as if your brand and products can't assure a standard of quality; what faith are your investors going to have in the company's future, let alone gamers who will potentially buy your product?
Yes, admittedly some of the titles mentioned above have been developed by third-party developers and then published by the company. But as publishers they still have a responsibility of quality control. Furthermore, engaging with a third-party developer needn't result in a bad game either; Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch being a prime example where working with developers Level 5 worked wonders for Namco Bandai.
But hasn't it always been like this? A quick look over the list of games that the separate and joint companies have released show a gaggle of obscure and forgotten titles alongside universally praised ones.
Also, to pick Namco Bandai out as an example is possibly a little unfair as there are other large game developers and publishers who make similarly cheap decisions. But if you're going to make a big song and dance about your products at one of Europe's biggest expositions, then at least ensure some level of quality across everything you're presenting or risk as goading such as this one.
"Namco Bandai has become the Forest Gump of the games industry: you never know what you're going to get."
The worst part of it all, though, is that Star Trek, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, and Saint Seiya: Brave Soldiers exist purely to exploit and extort these respective fanbases; a pretty dastardly and cynical motivation, and one that sullies the video games industry.
But for all there is to say about Namco Bandai, no more will the company's brand pique the interest of gamers just because its name is slapped on a title, despite it's long and illustrious history. Namco Bandai has become the Forest Gump of the games industry: you never know what you're going to get.
For more information about Namco Bandai's upcoming releases, visit www.namcobandaigames.com.