Sony should shut door on mascot game revival talks

Sonic, the racing team mascot, looks on as Danica Patrick speaks to students participating in a program at the Texas Motor Speedway on Thursday, November 1, 2012. (Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

Sonic, the racing team mascot, looks on as Danica Patrick speaks to students participating in a program at the Texas Motor Speedway on Thursday, November 1, 2012. (Rodger Mallison/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

There was a time when video game console wars were defined by mascots. Nintendo had Mario. Sega had Sonic. The two went head to head for years, until Sony jumped into the game with a bandicoot, an Australian marsupial, named Crash.

Andrew House, president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, recently told The Telegraph that there has been discussion about revisiting mascot games. “We’ve started to say that maybe there isn’t anything wrong with going back and looking at characters that people still talk about, that was a big part of either their childhood or their youth. I definitely wouldn’t close the door on that,” House said.

He’s referring to games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, which Sony walked away from years ago. The rights to both of those particular franchises no longer belong to Sony. It would take a lot of convincing and even more money for Sony to pry Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon away from Activision, especially since Spyro is tied to the immensely popular Skylanders franchise.

Times have changed, and video games have changed with them. Aside from Nintendo, console makers no longer depend on mascots to push hardware. It’s time to let go and leave them where they are, in classic gaming vaults.

Games like “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto” bring in billions of dollars. I’m certainly not advocating for all video games to be billion dollar triple-A titles; I just don’t think it makes sense to resurrect defunct franchises when there isn’t enough mass appeal for them. Save it for the indies or lower-tier developers, because they’re doing better things with retro-inspired gaming anyway.

I understand nostalgia. I grew up in a time when Mario helped Nintendo resurrect and completely takeover the video game industry. Every publisher needed its own mascot to compete with Nintendo for market share with kids.

Unfortunately, that spawned a glut of third-rate mascots like Awesome Possum, Bubsy, and Rocky Rodent. Where many publishers gave up on mascots, Nintendo continues to rely on its iconic stable of mascots to varying degrees of success throughout the years. The child-friendly publisher still shows signs of creativity and innovation with many of its properties.

Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon were successful in the ’90s but never achieved the same level of success as Mario and Zelda despite Sony taking the marketing battle to Nintendo’s doorstep during the original PlayStation’s run. Because of that, there is a whole new generation of young gamers who won’t know or care about a wisecracking bandicoot.

Arne Meyer, community strategist at Naughty Dog, developers of the original Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, told IGN, “Is it something that makes sense to us now? I mean, we still have people that worked on the Crash games in the studio. We never forget our past, and it’d be great for nostalgic reasons. It’d be the same reason as why there isn’t a Jak 4: I don’t know if it’s playing to our strengths right now.”

Sony should put thoughts of resurrecting properties like Crash away. Children are growing up in an age of mobile and tablet devices with which console makers struggle to compete. If Nintendo has to be the console of choice for younger gamers, they’re better off for it because it’s been Nintendo’s niche for years. In its own way, Nintendo can still provide childhood memories that other publishers could not.

 

Reach the reporter at Michael.Jerome.Martin@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter at @Bizarro_Mike