Let’s Talk About Crossovers

Crossovers in gaming is not a new concept, but it is a rather important one. You see, internet, in order for there to be a crossover, there must be at least two continuities with fanbases big enough to appreciate a joining of worlds. In this way, crossover games are marks that video games have matured as a form of entertainment. When games can be built entirely on fan service, you know you’ve built a universe that people actually care about. However, just because crossovers are a milestone for the industry doesn’t actually mean that they are any good. Crossovers are precariously difficult to make. You join together two universes with two, often fanatical, fanbases and you have a very dangerous situation. If the developer doesn’t pay the right amount of lip service, they will get flayed, and that’s on top of simply making a good game, which is hard enough on its own. Today we are going to be looking at gaming crossovers, what works, and what doesn’t.

Poor Luigi. Even compared to the little Ice Climbers he’s a loser.

Firstly let’s look at the biggest crossover series in existence right now, and the reason that this post is even being made: Kingdom Hearts. Truly the strangest crossover in gaming. Who would have thought that Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters would ever be in a game together, no less an amazingly successful, and beloved series. What is it that makes Kingdom Hearts such a successful example of a crossover game? The truth is fairly straightforward. You see, internet, one of the big problems with crossovers is creating a story that can tie the two universes together effectively, as well as properly integrating characters into a game seamlessly despite radically different art styles. The Kingdom Hearts series avoids many pitfalls by having a strong, independent storyline with independent main characters. This is a very successful way of avoiding story problems. When all crossover characters are ancillary, there is little to fear about fan reprisal and you can build the story you want.

The juxtaposition here is wonderful

There are some very unsuccessful games that have crossed over universes and have simply failed. These are more common in JRPGs. The similar games Trinity Universe and Cross Edge are great examples of this. These games rely far too heavily on their crossed over character and fail to make a proper game around them. You see, internet, if Kingdom Hearts didn’t get the fundamentals right with gameplay, music, and story, and relied purely on fan service, it would be a total disaster. Games like Trinity Universe should be a cautionary tale for developers. Crossovers can be good, but you need to provide more than that to get an audience. We need to hope that the upcoming Project X Zone understands this lesson very well.

Amazing, or over-cluttered mess?

Now let’s look at greater continuity crossovers. What I mean by this is characters that share the same universe but different games. This is common amongst Nintendo games. Mario, Wario, Yoshi, and Donkey Kong all share the same universe. This has been a major asset to Nintendo as it expanded the Mario brand. Some of the most successful sport and party titles involve the word Mario. Whether it is Mario Kart, Party, Tennis, or Baseball, Nintendo has been milking crossover titles for years. This effective way of enlarging a brand has been done successfully in comics continuity for years, and Marvel’s movie department is only now starting to see the big advantages to it.

Original Gangsta

Of course, we can’t really talk about crossovers without mentioning the fighting genre. Crossovers were made for fighters. The biggest fan debates are often over who is better: Kefka or Sephiroth, Kirk or Picard, Mario or Sonic. Fighters let nerds live out these debates in graphic detail. More importantly, fighters are almost never tied down with story. It doesn’t matter how god awful Dissidia’s story is… its a fighter. Same goes with Capcom vs. (Insert random series here). It is very hard to screw up a crossover fighter. Sure you still need good gameplay mechanics or you’ll suffer like Mortal Combat vs. DC Universe, but you can rely so much more on pure fan service. There is a reason that games like Super Smash Bros. are so huge, and that is competent design mixed with a ton of fan service, and it works wonderfully.

If you don’t want this, you have no soul.

Crossovers are likely to become more and more popular as the medium evolves. As I’ve said before, video games embody nerd culture like few other mediums and there is very little nerds love more than crossovers. It is hard to deny this with Sony jumping on the Smash Bros. band wagon, Capcom teaming up with everything with a pulse, and Nintendo being… well Nintendo. Crossovers are great opportunities for fun and profit, but are also dangerous beasts that must be handled with care.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer


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