XBLA’s Most Wanted: Avatar Party
While it could easily be argued that Nintendo doesn’t fit in very will with mature gamers at times, they do have somewhat of a monopoly on a few types of games. Take the Super Smash Bros series, for example. They’ve had total control of the fighting sub-genre they helped make popular since the first game in the series. Sure, great games like Small Arms have had their day in the sun, but Mario and his crew have remained the relatively unchallenged kings. They’ve remained at the top for so long that Sony decided to try their hand with the long-titled PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. It too boasts the best that Sony-owned franchises have to offer: characters like Nathan Drake, Kratos and Sweet Tooth. So why hasn’t Microsoft joined in and created a mascot fighter. Kotaku tracked down Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s game studios at E3 and asked that exact question. His response was that players “do not want” that type of game. We disagree, as do the Smash Bros series’ collective 21.45 million copies sold
And what of Mario Party? Would you believe that Mario Party 8 alone has sold more than 7.6 million copies? Mock if you want, but that series is successful because it’s fun. They’re games that anyone, old or young, can get into, understand, and have fun with. It’s great for family game nights, college dorm competitions, double dates, and more.
So where’s our Avatar Party? Such a game does not exist, but it could, and could potentially draw in those players who reluctantly turn on their Wii once and a while to play Smash Bros or Mario Party. We think combining the two could be a potential gold mine, even if we’re not using system-based mascots. So join us as we try something new. Instead of pitching the return of an old game we love, we’re pitching a new one entirely: Avatar Party.
What it needs:
Minigames – At the root of any good Mario Party game are its minigames. From catching falling ice cream to running from Bowser each minigame provided something fun, unique, and not terribly difficult to do. They varied in their balance, too; sometimes it was a free for all, sometimes 2vs2, sometimes 3vs1. It ensured that no matter how many times you fired up the game each play felt fresh and unique. It didn’t matter whether you were Mario, Yoshi, or the ambiguously-gendered Birdo, it was just fun rubbing a win in someone else’s face.
The clothes closet – One major weakness of avatar-based games is their inability to use the avatar gear you have downloaded, but that isn’t necessarily on your avatar. Avatar games should be able to look at what your avatar is wearing, then build AI avatars based on other things in your virtual closet. Wearing your Master Chief armor? The AI should be able to wear things like your unused N7 Armor or blue Mortal Kombat ninja costume. It’s a win-win here, folks. Players suddenly have access to a huge array of “characters” and some would even be willing to buy avatar outfits they previously wouldn’t just for the in-game showdown. That, quite simply, ups avatar item sales.
Throwdown mode – This would, quite simply, be the game’s take on a brawler. While we don’t have a specific vision, the general idea is that it plays similarly to any of your garden variety four player brawlers, not just Smash Bros. There are actually quite a few games that fall under what you might call the ‘buddy brawler’ genre — Small Arms, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II (Wii), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up, Power Stone — there are a lot of great games to draw from. No longer would you have to drop retail price for one of these. You could get the same thing as part of an XBLA party game.
What we’d like to see:
Multiple overworlds – Mario Party provided multiple game boards to play on in each game. With each came a slightly different strategy to ensure victory. It wasn’t just about winning minigames, it was about knowing when to use powerups on the game board, about which path to take, and about knowing what spaces to shoot for and which ones to avoid. Again, we’re not looking for a carbon copy here. We’re just saying that just because it’s not a full-on retail title doesn’t mean we can’t have some variety.
Playing dress up – The ability to use clothes you already own should be a given, but for that matter players should be able to create saved players to either select themselves or play from. Why have something random? We want Chief vs Starkiller vs Voltron vs Gene Simmons (all real avatar items). This could go one of two ways: a simpler, in-game avatar editor that allows you to save a new ‘player’ avatar as a save game, or a “Save As” option in the dashboard’s avatar editor that allows you to create a new, local-machine-only profile. For example: go into the editor, dress up as your downloaded Sonic costume, Save As “Sonic Avatar”. Ba-da-boom, “Sonic Avatar” is now a selectable character in the game. Going with this setup would also allow future avatar games to take advantage of the same tech. Heck, even Xbox Live Indie Games could see these other avatar creations and use them as well.
Why it would succeed:
There really isn’t an amazing party game for the Xbox 360, and the few great brawlers just haven’t ever grabbed the attention of mainstream audiences. Combining both games with an avatar-based theme provides a simple, player-can-tailor environment to get folks to crowd around the TV, throw a few elbows and talk some trash while having a good time.