The run-up to the next generation is an exciting time, and it’s an exciting time for theory-crafting and dreaming. This time it’s all a little different; usually we get one big showcase that reveals new hardware for the first time alongside a bunch of games, but in the science-fiction future of 2020, everything is a little off-kilter.
We know what the Xbox Series X looks like, but we don’t know about any of its games. We know that Sony’s next effort is called the PlayStation 5 and even have one exclusive game announced for it, but we still have no idea what that machine will actually look like. It’s all a little muddled, but one thing we can always do is dream about the most important thing: the games.
This generation is bound to be a little bit different. Microsoft has already said, for instance, that the Xbox Series X won’t get any truly-exclusive games in its first year. Initially, stuff will continue to release in a format compatible with both the Xbox One and the newer hardware. But a generational shift is also about more than truly exclusive games – it’s a reset point for the Xbox brand, with this the first all-new Xbox hardware designed by the current leadership team that inherited a beleaguered Xbox One. That means there’s a chance to step back and refocus, not just in hardware, but also in the sort of games Xbox Game Studios creates and publishes, something that has been ongoing with studio purchases and restructuring.
In line with that, team VG247 got to thinking: what Xbox franchises would we like to see return on the Xbox Series X generation of hardware? We want to see all-new ideas too, but some nostalgic revivals and reboots would also be most welcome – so here’s our thoughts:
To be honest, the existence of a new Fable game seems like a foregone conclusion. While this October will mark a decade since the last proper Fable title, the series has hardly been dormant all that time – there was a built-for-Kinect spin-off that released and sank, and Fable Legends, a cancelled service-based four-versus-one multiplayer game that was actually pretty damn sharp when I played early builds of it. That game was cancelled four years ago, taking down Fable developer Lionhead in the process.
Since then, rumours of the return of Fable have consistently run rife, and any time Xbox boss Phil Spencer has been asked about the franchise in interviews the question has always been met with a sort of wry smile that makes clear that this series was never truly dead. Where there’s this much smoke there surely fire, and the rumor mill has already pegged much about this game: its developer, its setting – even concept art has apparently leaked.
Anyway, here’s the deal: supposedly Playground Games, the studio behind Forza Horizon, is the new steward of the Fable franchise – which means the series is remaining in British hands. Playground Games saw significant expansion alongside the release of its most recent Forza title, suggesting a second team spinning up to full-strength, and in 2018 Microsoft purchased the company, making Playground part of Xbox Game Studios. The game will allegedly take place in a far-future medieval re-imagining of Albion, which in the time between Fable 3 and this game was hit by a devastating asteroid.
The story will supposedly involve time travel, include very specific links to the Lionhead Fable titles, offer third and first-person play perspectives, a completely open world and have some form of multiplayer. Like I said – when there’s this much smoke, there surely is a fire… and Fable would be a great fan favorite to bring back early in the Xbox Series X’s life.
Despite being an Xbox 360 launch title, it doesn’t really feel like Perfect Dark has ever really, truly found and made its home on Xbox. Like most of Rare’s first titles to hit Microsoft platforms, Perfect Dark Zero was a leftover from a previous era, beginning life as a GameCube title before transitioning to the Xbox and then finally the Xbox 360, undergoing changes of art style and mechanics several times along the way.
The released Xbox 360 launch title is secretly actually pretty solid despite its reputation – though it also has an identity as muddled as its development. In many ways, the 2020 launch of the Xbox Series X feels like a perfect place for Joanna Dark to begin a new journey and truly carve herself a role as one of the most iconic faces of Xbox.
Why is now the perfect storm? Well, consider that Perfect Dark Zero is set in the year 2020, and depicts a Blade Runner-inspired cyberpunk, corporation-controlled world that we’re not quite at yet but are probably well on our way to. 2020 is sure to be the year of Cyberpunk in video games, with players set to cut about one megacorp controlled dystopia in Final Fantasy 7 Remake in April before heading to another future nightmare come September in Cyberpunk 2077.
Joanna Dark is, of course, a James Bond pastiche – and 2020 is also the year when moviegoers will see Bond retired and MI6’s 007 assignment handed to a woman in No Time to Die. Basically, it feels like the stars are aligning for Jo Dark to be more relevant and contemporary than ever before – and while Master Chief has the traditional FPS locked down, one could easily see Perfect Dark reimagined as a more open-ended shooter – a dash of the immersive sim trappings of Deus Ex or Dishonored, plus the cool multi-function weapons and open-ended objectives the N64 original is so known for.
Plus, not to get all conspiracy theorist, but has anyone noticed that the logo of all-new Xbox studio The Initiative shares its shape and style with villainous PD corporation DataDyne – just as Gears studio The Coalition has a logo that copies the shape of the Gears cog? The Initiative is led by studio head Darrell Gallagher – a Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix alumni deeply involved in the 2013 reimagining of Jo Dark-alike Lara Croft and the revival of the thematically-similar Deus Ex. Perfect Dark has to be that studio’s game, right?
Let’s get real for a second: Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts might not have been the sequel you wanted or imagined to the beloved N64 platformers, but it’s also bloody amazing. It is one of the best games of its generation – creative, entertaining, funny and with an absolutely shocking amount of depth – I went from building comedy vehicles in the shape of a penis (of course) to crafting complex mechanisms in no time at all. I get it, it wasn’t the Banjo game people wanted – but if you deny its quality you’re an idiot.
With that entirely-necessary rant out of the way, let’s talk about Banjo in general. The Xbox has Master Chief, but it is sorely in need of a kid-friendly mascot. Microsoft also owns Minecraft, of course, but that game is also available on every other platform. A true Xbox native is needed. Blinx the time-travelling cat isn’t coming back any time soon, but nor does he need to – Banjo has enormous popularity, as shown by his fans bombarding Nintendo with requests that he be added to Smash Bros. for the last twenty years, since before even Melee released.
The significance of Banjo being added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate can’t be understated; not only have Banjo and Kazooie joined the very exclusive cast of Nintendo’s gaming celebration, they’re also the only characters in the game not to originate in a Japanese series (putting aside Banjo’s appearance in Diddy Kong Racing). Every other series represented was first made in Japan – and every other character except Diddy Kong and K. Rool likewise originates from that country.
HD Remasters of the original two Banjo games did well on the 360 and were included alongside Nuts & Bolts in Rare Replay. Fresh off negotiation with Nintendo for his inclusion in Smash, hopefully Xbox has recognized the strength of this character and set the ball rolling on an all-new adventure. Plus, if Microsoft and Nintendo remain all cosy, this would be the ideal game to release on Switch, as well.
Project Gotham Racing (and Midtown Madness)
Project Gotham Racing is a game that I associate strongly with some of my very best Xbox memories. PGR2 in particular is one of the early Xbox Live games that helped me to truly understand the potential of Microsoft’s online platform. I remember breaking the game with friends to make dumb rule sets for races that were definitely not developer-intended, and I remember showing off slick stunt driving tricks with glee.
Just a month before the release of Project Gotham Racing 4, Activision purchased developer Bizarre Creations, ending Microsoft’s association with the developer and thus the Project Gotham Racing franchise. Bizarre would later be closed down. There is no justice in the world at all. Burn it all.
One gets the impression that Forza Horizon has sort of filled the gap that PGR left in the eyes of the first party team at Xbox, but it still had its own feel and style that remains unique, and it’d be great to see that revisited.
PGR isn’t the only dormant Microsoft racer worth a revisit, though: Midtown Madness was an underrated classic, with the third another seminal early Xbox Live title, and one of the earliest online console games I remember nailing the feel of just aimlessly tooling around an open world. The Madness racing games (including Motocross and Monster Truck) had a different, arcade-style, almost kart-racer like handling and style which, again, isn’t currently served by Microsoft’s first-party offerings at all.
After beginning its development as an Xbox 360 game, a Killer Instinct reboot released in 2013 as an Xbox One launch title. That means this series hasn’t been dormant for all that long, as it got three full years of DLC characters including guests from Halo and Gears of War, but it’s listed here because we really don’t want Xbox Game Studios to forget about KI (and fighting games in general) this coming generation.
Killer Instinct was initially developed by Double Helix Games with oversight from series creator Rare, with later seasons refined into an incredibly sharp product by Iron Galaxy. It is without a doubt one the best overall fighting game of this generation, and Microsoft should be applauded for how it supported the game with streams, updates and tournament prize pots. Iron Galaxy really made the game its own in the later years, and it’d only make sense to give that studio full control (with, again, some oversight from Rare) for a next-generation sequel to give Microsoft a continued foothold in the ever-growing fighting game esports market.
Lost Odyssey (or Blue Dragon)
No matter how well the next Xbox does in western markets, one major region is most likely to remain frustratingly difficult – Asia, and specifically Japan. Microsoft’s inability to crack Japan has far-reaching repercussions, too, as a lack of popularity in that region can influence the choice of game platforms for smaller-scale Japanese projects. This is why comparatively lower-budget but ultimately game of the year material like Nier Automata didn’t initially come to Xbox – Square Enix saw that game’s audience as predominantly Japanese – and why bother even developing the game for a platform that doesn’t even have a quarter of a million units sold there? This battle isn’t just about selling consoles, but also about securing games from an entire region.
Some of Microsoft’s 360 strategy of courting Japanese developers and publishers with huge sacks of cash seemed a bit of a waste of time. Japanese RPG exclusives from Namco and Square Enix almost all eventually landed on PlayStation over time, but far more worthwhile was Microsoft’s original Japanese content, the best of which came from Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi.
Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker worked with other developers to deliver two new series’ with obvious parallels – Blue Dragon analogous to Dragon Quest and Lost Odyssey likewise to Final Fantasy. Blue Dragon actually got two Nintendo DS sequels and I’d happily take another big-screen outing, but it’s Lost Odyssey that really holds potential. The tale of a group of immortal warriors and their relationships to the mortals whose lives are so fleeting to them, it carries much of the energy of Final Fantasy to the point of pastiche – there’s even an airship-driving, gruff old geezer called… Sed. Yeah. Basically, Lost Odyssey was the Final Fantasy 13 Sakaguchi would’ve made had he stayed at Square Enix.
Lost Odyssey and Blue Dragon are both flawed-but-enjoyable experiences – the sort of games that could certainly find their feet more with sequels. Plus, Lost Odyssey’s immortal core cast could allow for any amount of time to pass between games, allowing for a Final Fantasy-style level of originality between the first game and any sequel. Mistwalker has only been on mobile and handheld projects for almost a decade – it’s high time Sakaguchi got given a big budget again, and Microsoft sure needs some more games to appeal to Japan.
This one should go without saying, but Rare’s strange little pet simulation game remains one of the most charming and unique things Xbox has ever been directly involved with, and it’s no surprise that it is constantly talked about. This is a cult classic rather than a sales monster, but Viva Pinata, like Banjo-Kazooie, is a game that reaches beyond the usual chainsaws-on-guns, finish-the-fight bloodletting that has typically been Xbox’s bread and butter, which is a good thing. Xbox needs more games like this – and it’s the sort of thing that even the most dedicated shooter dudebro might discover and secretly fall in love with via Game Pass.
I just want to love and nurture cute Pinata animals before smashing their heads in with a shovel to take their candy and feed it to their friends to make them happy. Writing that, I suppose this fits in with Halo and Gears just fine after all.
1 vs 100 (or some other quiz game)
One of Microsoft’s coolest-ever ideas in the gaming space was to bring live game shows to the world of video games. That manifested in 1 vs 100, an Xbox Live-powered massively multiplayer quiz that gave players the chance to earn real prizes. It ran for two seasons, and localized versions of the game ran in the US, UK, Canada, France and Germany. People loved it, but in 2010, the idea was shelved.
The truth is that Microsoft was well ahead of the game with this one, as in recent years live online quiz games have become big business on mobile with services like HQ Trivia, where players participate in live contests with a real host through their phones. The concept has been proven – not just on 360, but elsewhere by other companies. So it’s time to bring it back.
The good news is, Xbox is clearly aware of this. At an event last year, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said “We should do it again” of 1 vs 100, before going on to explain that while the 1 vs 100 specifically wouldn’t be as likely to return as that property is owned by a TV game show production company, the idea behind it is something the company would be keen to continue with.