As I struggle to decide how I feel about the recent announcement from Nickelodeon that SpongeBob SquarePants is getting a prequel series featuring a ten year old SpongeBob, I can’t help but wonder whether franchises getting this kind of treatment is a good thing or not?
It seems to happen for TV shows and films a lot more than anything else. The Rugrats grew up and went to school, Naruto grew up and had kids, and don’t even get me started on movie sequels where we have to watch our favourite beloved action heroes try to still prove they’ve got it on screen; Terminator, Rambo, Die Hard and Indiana Jones – I mean you. On the flip side, some franchises get a rewind and we see our favourite characters in their heyday, we saw Clifford’s puppy days, Young Indiana Jones and Young Hercules, or to give a more current reference, we recently had Solo: A Star Wars Story. There are a whole bunch if you really start to sit down and analyse it. Sometimes it really works, just look at Logan, old man Wolverine reached new levels of awesome. Other times it doesn’t, seriously, I still can’t forgive Indiana Jones and the temple that is actually a spaceship.
But does this time travelling treatment work for game franchises?
Sometimes it happens in more subtle ways in games, for instance Red Dead Redemption 2 featured a young John Marsten, he wasn’t the protagonist, but it was a nice nod to its predecessor. Little throw backs like this to characters when they’re younger I think are always a nice touch, such as how how a certain scene in Assassin’s Creed Unity ties in with Assassin’s Creed Rogue. Sometimes the aging or de-aging effect is so subtle because you don’t realise it’s even happening until the game sucker punches it with you at some point, such as in Dead Rising 3 when you realise Annie is a glowed up version of Katey.
Much like the TV/Movie business, aging is used often in sequels to present characters making a comeback as older, more rugged versions of themselves – Snake (Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), Max Payne (Max Payne 3), Clementine (The Walking Dead: The Final Season) and my personal favourite – Ezio (Assassin’s Creed Revelations). These aged heroes seem to fare better than their movie screen counter parts, probably because its less painful to watch a CG weathered hero still try and stay relevant than a flesh and blood actor. Sometimes aging a character is the best thing the series ever does, God of War for PlayStation 4 for example. We’ve got more on the horizon too as we’ll soon be catching up with an older Ellie in The Last of Us Part II.
At the other end of the aging pool, in the way of giving game characters a little elixir of youth treatment, I really can’t side-step the whole let’s make Dante an angsty emo kid DMC reboot… But some younger prequels aren’t as bad like Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and some are an absolute treat, such as seeing younger versions of Kiryu and Majima strut their stuff in Yakuza 0.
Should there be more though? Does it work well already? Could it work well? Personally, I’d love to revisit Oliver or Evan from the Ni No Kuni franchises. Imagine Oliver gets called back to help out in the other world and we get to see Drippy again? Sold. Or we get to catch up with Evan as an adult monarch and perhaps some new darkness is afoot in the land. I would absolutely adore to revisit old man Guybrush Threepwood in a new Monkey Island where he can’t keep up with the new, young and hip pirates and he could throw in a few “in my day” anecdotes. I also think the idea of the Persona high-schoolers all grown up could really work if done in a similar way to It Chapter Two; so essentially we see the group grown up and they’ve drifted apart and moved around the country, but they have to reunite to stop similar events in their original game.
Sega already treated us to a trip down memory lane with our Yakuza delinquents, but I’d love to see a proper young teen Kiryu take centre stage and taking on Kamurocho in a more childish way. He could take on other kid bullies, there could be quest lines tied to the Sunflower orphanage and we could even see some more of the relationship between him and Kazama that is touched upon in cut scenes. Dontnod already gave us a jump in one direction, now how about the other? Max as an older woman in a new Life is Strange? I’d buy it even if it had some corny title like Life is Stranger or Life is Still Strange.
So what do we think here? There’s definitely some successes out there, but there’s also some hideous failures. With this mind, do we want to see more age-difference sequels/prequels?