UPDATE: Pandora’s Tower has been announced for North America, published by XSEED Games, and scheduled to be released Spring 2013!
Pandora’s Tower was released in Europe on Friday, the 13th of April, 2012. The game has yet to be confirmed for a North American release. Of the three games Operation Rainfall is campaigning for, Pandora’s Tower is the most niche.
This article begins a three part series about the title. Each article highlights a different reason Pandora’s Tower is important as a Nintendo property. We will be releasing these articles throughout our month long celebration of Pandora’s Tower.
In 2008, one of my favorite games of all time was released in North America for the Nintendo Wii console. No More Heroes represented one of the three reasons the Wii was a great system for me. Nintendo’s own AAA core-orientated titles, such as Mario and Zelda, are the reason people buy Nintendo consoles. The new “casual” gamer experiences, such as Wii Sports and Big Brain Academy, gave me the experience of playing video games with the non-gamers in my life, my mom, my sister, and other family members. What No More Heroes represented was the niche hardcore gaming experience. Due to the Wii’s lower comparative performance, the console missed out on nearly every AAA 3rd party game. Thankfully, the Wii became a haven for smaller developers who couldn’t afford to produce games on the HD consoles. No More Heroes was an instant cult hit, and quickly became the representative of the niche for the Wii. If not for these niche games, the already sparse lineup of Wii games would have been completely unbearable for the “core” gamer.
Niche titles, like Independent and Art House cinema, have the flexibility that comes from less financial responsibility. No More Heroes was able to do things that would be deemed too risky on a high budget title; it was able to experiment. This is the flexibility of niche titles. As the costs of game development skyrockets, we begin to lose more and more of the flexibility niche developers have. It becomes exceedingly important to value and protect niche development, be it the support of indy games like World of Goo and Braid, or the distribution by major publishers of games by small developers like Grasshopper, and in this case, Ganbarion.
Pandora’s Tower experiments with formulas we already love. There’s a little Zelda, a little Metroid, a little Castlevania, a little God of War, even a touch of Japanese dating simulations. The story of the game is dark with a sort of perverse humor in its own cruelty. Pandora’s Tower uses the pointer of the wii-remote to offer a new kind of combat experience without overusing the technology to define itself as part of it. Pandora’s Tower does what niche games do, it takes risks. The importance and flexibility of niche games is the first reason why we think Pandora’s Tower matters.
Mike D., Editor for The Nintendo Enthusiast, former Operation Rainfall PR Staff:
Like Tyson, No More Heroes is easily one of my favorite new IPs this gen (and one of my favorite new games from this generation, period). That isn’t to say it’s one of the most polished or most beautiful games, though. Far from it. What it lacks in pedigree, though, it makes up for in its mutt charms. There wasn’t another game like NMH before it released: a self-aware gamer’s game, satirizing the very gaming culture it inhabits.
That’s why in another 10 years, Suda51’s blood-soaked ode to violence, and us desensitized hooligans who revel in it, will still be remembered. People will also remember the glut of cookie cutter FPS, music games that overstayed their welcome and shovelware on the Wii, but those memories will bleed together. The biggest titles will, of course, make best-of lists for a long time to come. But there is a mystique to niche games, and that’s what makes them important. Their influence is quieter, but not silent. Travis Touchdown will live on (and his adventure replayed) long after people have moved to the next big thing. In some ways, he already has.
Pandora’s Tower could do the same. Its risks could legitimize developer Ganbarion, showcase action RPG gameplay ideas that may be exploited further in the future, and add a memorably dark chapter to Nintendo’s stable of game releases, right alongside Eternal Darkness.
Ryan Tyner, Co-Leader of Operation Rainfall
As a fan of Japanese RPGs, it saddens me to think that but with a few exceptions, the genre is considered niche. I played Mario and Zelda on the NES, and SNES, but it wasn’t until I was introduced to JRPGs that I really became a fan of gaming; games like Mario RPG and Final Fantasy VII.
I read articles about how the console makers are moving away from the “in their garage developers” because they do not feel that these type of games meet the standards of their consoles. To me this means that the only companies that are going to be able to make games are the same multi-million dollar companies currently making them. It also seems to mean that games that won’t sell millions of copies will no longer be made, games like the Operation Rainfall three such as Pandora’s Tower.
The day that JRPGs are no longer viable for the market, is the day I stop playing video games. It is more important now then ever for fans of niche genre games to buy the games when they release at retail.
Alex Balderas, Editor, Nintendo Enthusiast
The niche game is a truly important milestone maybe for reasons the term ‘niche game’ doesn’t fully convey. Perhaps I would be more comfortable using the term ‘cult hit’. Like No More Heroes, Pandora’s Tower has the chance of becoming a cult hit. After all, it seems to be an interesting blend of God of War, Super Castlevania IV, a dating sim, and a traditional level-based gameplay. The Wii has proven time and time again that there is still an audience for games that base themselves on the rock solid foundation of SNES-era games (level-based, or score-based, or surreal, action-platformer types), and Pandora’s Tower wants to hit that audience as hard as it can. The important factor here is the experimentation: like Earthbound and Terranigma, Pandora’s Tower has a chance at being remember for being “one of those games” that a lot of people seem to like for some reason.
In my case, I’m already fully expecting it to be a very unique game, and for that reason alone I bought Castlevania: Lords of Shadow to truly find out just which truly approximates the semi-cult-hit that is Super Castlevania IV.
David Fernandes, Operation Rainfall Staff
When No More Heroes came out I took the gamble and bought it on the first day. Already being a Suda51 fan, I followed the games development cycle, and while the interface has changed from what it was in the beginning of development, IE. how the health bar, battery icons were presented, and pictured. The combat, the art, the violence, and foul language remained. Suda’s signature ideals are seen throughout No More Heroes, with a new added twist, an American Otaku getting his hands on a beam saber and how he deals with business. Using real world locations, pop culture, and some of his favorite movies as inspirations; Japan and America in a blender.
For being one of the first Wii games to use motion controls, it had its problems, but one thing that really stuck out to me was not just the music, or well designed bosses plus boss battles, or even the way the story was told; it was the way the game was presented. The limited color pallet was used primarily because the Wii is pretty weak hardware, like Silent Hill on Playstation 1, he used the consoles limitation to his advantage, another way to show his work like his previous game Killer 7, it was his way of using the environment to help tell the game’s story, a bleak, bad lands, secretive out of this world setting. Suda always wanted his games outside the norm, in this way, coupled with the reliance on having motion controls, and a very dark overtone with repercussions in its script. Pandora’s Tower shares a lot of things in common.
What I’m seeing is Ganbrion, wanted to make a title that was far different from any game that Nintendo has ever produced, while finally being able to show what they got and show their own vision outside of anime related games, in that sense, they succeeded. The game is really nothing like anything else. While it does uses similar game design choices and incorporates game mechanics from Castlevania, God of War, Devil May Cry, God Hand, Legend of Zelda, Shadow of Rome and even Rygar, what really sets it apart is how it uses all these elements, and blends them into a fine powder. It also has a certain something that you will not find in those games, or in many games in general, a Dating Simulator mechanic. Coupled with how the game has you rely on your weapon for more than just fighting, this mechanic shows your relationship actually determines the ending by how you interact and develop the two main lead characters; in a sense this is the way you see major character development.
You got what could be another “cult-hit” on the horizon, maybe not a big money maker that a giant company like Nintendo wanted, but if this game can produce a fan-base like No More Heroes, it’s safe to say it was worth letting Ganbrion have a go on a new IP, and localizing it in the PAL regions. Niche games, or games that go outside the norm every once in a while is a risk that can be an asset to Nintendo in maintaining a variety lineup for a console, and its fan base of gamers who enjoy multitude of genres.
Yasmine Barkani, Operation Rainfall Staff
Niche games can be great for the video game industry, because they go for a different appeal, and stand out from the rest of the crowd, and doesn’t really follow the status quo.
Such games are usually RPG’s although they are expanded to different genres, like: platformers and action games
Niche games do have a huge potential in the industry. They do use a certain form of creativity that would usually be considered risky, and it is.
Some niche games sometimes do gain a cult status because of their rather different nature; Earthbound is a great example of that, because of its different take on narration.
Pandoras Tower is a niche game, and as of that, it has an interesting blend of different genres. Its mixes several elements and does so very smoothly. None of the elements feel phoned in, which gives us a solid game, and also a good one at that.
I do hope niche games don’t die out, because it’s those kinds of games that help the video game industry running. Such games are rarely seen in mainstream games, and although they might not sell well some of the time, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be an audience for them.
Tyson Gifford, Co-Founder of Operation Rainfall
No More Heroes was my favorite game of this entire generation until I completed Xenoblade Chronicles. I am happy to see the amount of love for the game from my co-contributors on this roundtable. It seems that we all eagerly anticipate Pandora’s Tower and are excited about its innovative story, and unique gameplay mechanics. Personally, I see niche games as the independent/art-house films of the game industry. I am almost always excited at the prospect of a low budget game trying something different, and turning a convention I am used to upon its head. I am also excited by developers that take their first step into the world of original IPs. This largely explains my interest in Pandora’s Tower as a game.
Make your voices heard during “Pandora’s Tower” month; Do YOU care about Pandora’s Tower? What does Pandora’s Tower mean to you?
I would like to thank Ryan, Mike, Alex, David, and Yasmine for contributing to this roundtable discussion. We at Operation Rainfall would also like to thank Nintendo, Monolith Soft, Mistwalker, AQ Interactive, and Ganbarion for making the games we are so passionate about. Last, but certainly not least, we would like to thank everyone who has contributed to, supported, and covered Operation Rainfall since it’s inception last year. Keep fighting!