Usually fans of a gaming franchise get incredibly excited when they get to see their favourite heroes in a new context, and they jump at the chance to try a totally different take on the familar gameplay format they are used to – or do they? There will always be the hardcore enthusiasts who believe that an adventure game franchise, for example, should not be transformed into a racing game (I am looking at you, Mario Kart), but most of us are willing to get a taste of something completely different. This is exactly what Square Enix, the undeniable frontrunner in the JRPG genre, hoped when they decided to give their Go puzzle games series a go.
The Go Original Spinoffs
The company that is behind major franchises like Final Fantasy and the Dragon Quest Builders Minecraft-esque title for PlayStation has released more than 100 games at an average price of roughly $8, with almost 46 million copies sold, and has seen an average playtime of more than 4 hours on Steam since March 2009 and an average users score of more than 75% on the platform. It is self-evident that the studio is a force to be reckoned with, so when they decided to launch the first of their Go games, it certainly raised some eyebrows. The series was released by Square Enix Montreal, which was established in 2011 to work on PC and console games but in 2013 turned to the mobile market. The studio is behind Hitman Sniper, which has seen over 10 million downloads, so naturally, they chose it to experiment. Hitman Go was the first title to launch in 2014 in the puzzle series, and its success led to Lara Croft and Deus Ex each getting their own spinoff in 2015 and 2016 respectively – first as mobile versions, while Hitman and Lara Croft later also made it to PS Vita.
With that move, Square Enix positioned beloved characters like Lara Croft in a turn-based puzzle game setting and tapped into a market full of fans hungry for more. This isn’t the first time that franchises have evolved into unrelated genres – as Betway Casino reports, Hitman has also inspired an online slots game, which features all sorts of his “work tools” like a blade and a syringe, while other pop culture icons have also got their own games: Game of Thrones produced a slot with 243 ways to win, and Marvel’s original Avengers Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk also got their own slots back in 2009 and 2010, using footage from their successful movies. Lara Croft has also branched out into other industries, starring in comics like Top Cow’s Witchblade, books such as James Alan Gardner’s 2005 novel, Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Man of Bronze (that holds a surprisingly good score on Goodreads), as well as the 2001 and 2003 film adaptations starring Angelina Jolie and the 2018 reboot with Alicia Vikander in the lead role. Hitman has also seen two film adaptations, the latest in 2015 starring Rupert Friend and released by 20th Century Fox, two novels (Hitman: Enemy Within and Hitman: Damnation) and endless official merchandise by PlayStation, which also features items very appropriate for Agent 47, such as cufflinks and a tiepin. Certainly, turning pop culture and gaming icons like Agent 47 and Lara Croft into puzzle games is not the most far-fetched “rendering” they have had yet.
The Limits of Gaming Genre Translation
But does it really serve the franchise to do so? While the Go series was acclaimed by both fans and critics, some claimed that they were just a cheap knockoff piggybacking on the success of their incredibly popular parent franchises. Even though the development and aesthetics definitely had that wow factor, transferring Agent 47 into a board game-like puzzle is miles away from the original game, and arguably uses elements familiar from the original title under a whole new light to provide more excitement than it would otherwise have. Critics have claimed that this move actually devalues the franchise by just using popular tropes and visuals instead of actually building on them – any one of the Go games could just as well be based on a different character.
That said, Hitman Go was a surprising success and others claim that it brought a breath of fresh air to the franchise and drew in new fans, as puzzle games are a much easier type of game to get familiar with a franchise than an action game. And it seems that Square Enix has done a great job with transferring the particular atmosphere of each of their games to the puzzle genre, providing true translations instead of simplistic puzzle games. But while this has lured fans in, perhaps it has reached its limits. Square Enix has announced that they have abandoned the Go series and will no longer be looking into creating more spinoffs from their favourite characters. This could be in part due to the fact that Deus Ex Go was not as popular as its predecessors and no doubt that’s why a PS Vita port didn’t take place of this third chapter in the Go series.
The verdict might be this, in the end: while this was definitely an interesting adventure and an elaborate experiment in aesthetics and atmosphere, simple puzzle games tapping into the success of popular characters do not necessarily a franchise make.