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Friday, February 17, 2017

Obscusion B-List: Completely Unexpected Video Game Crossovers

Last year I did a B-List titled "Video Game Crossovers with Completely Unexpected Rosters", where I brought up six(-ish) crossover video games that featured line-ups so non-traditional that it was almost worth checking them out solely for the rosters. It was a rather successful piece for the blog, at least in terms of what I'd consider "successful" here, so I have decided to create a sort of "sequel list" to that one. Now I could have been rather blasé in that regard & simply made "More Video Game Crossovers with Completely Unexpected Rosters" (& I won't say that it will never happen), but rather I want to twist this concept around a bit & instead put the "Unexpected" focus on the crossovers themselves.

Crossovers can be weird... And I mean WEEEIIIIRRRD. It's one thing for a crossover that sounds obvious to feature some crazy surprises in the roster, but what about those crossovers that just make you tilt your head & leave you speechless? Comics legend Archie is a surprisingly notable one, having crossed over with The Punisher & Predator, but there are plenty of other memorably unexpected crossovers. Products like Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, that Power Rangers in Space/Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation crossover episode, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, & even Who Framed Roger Rabbit are perfect examples of when the very existence of said crossovers are a major appeal in & of themselves. Therefore, let's look at six times when video games featured out-of-nowhere crossovers... And, to no surprise, Capcom makes up half of this list, because the former Japan Capsule Computers Co., Ltd. really likes its crossovers.

We're starting things off with easily the most oddball of them all, featuring the mix of Capcom & the now defunct Psikyo. The latter company made a name for itself during the 90s & early 00s as a bit of a cult-classic arcade game developer, creating games & series like Sengoku Ace, Gunbird, Sol Divide, Strikers 1945, & Zero Gunner. So while the idea of having these two companies crossover sounds a bit odd, there is no doubt that both have a roster of wild & crazy characters. So what happens when Capcom & Psikyo joined forces to fight each other back in 2001? The end result is Taisen Net Gimmick: Capcom & Psikyo All-Stars on the Sega Dreamcast... And it's a mahjong game.

Now, to be fair, this makes sense, as the game is a spin-off of Psikyo's Taisen Hot Gimmick arcade mahong series that lasted from 1997 to 2005. Still, it's definitely a bizarre direction to go in for a crossover between two companies known more for their action games. Sure, Psikyo's catalog isn't exactly on the immediate minds of most gamers, but it isn't exactly too hard to have imagined even simply a shoot-em-up crossover, ala SNK's eventual Neo Geo Heroes: Ultimate Shooting in 2010; hell, Gunbird 2 (which came first) had featured Darkstalkers' Morrigan as a playable character. Still, what's done is done, and what we have here is a 1-on-1 mahjong game that's honestly pretty lackluster & lazy when it comes to the actual "crossover" aspect. To their credit, Psikyo's side follows through, with Gunbird, Sengoku Ace, Sengoku Blade, Sol Divide, Battle K-Road, The Fallen Angels, & Dragon Blaze all seeing some sort of representation here. Really, it's Capcom that drops the bomb, as its entire half of the roster is simply all 31 characters from Street Fighter Alpha 3 Upper (the arcade update based on the original console ports), right down to the character artwork, stage layouts, & even music. Not just that, but you don't actually play as the characters themselves playing mahjong, but rather you play against them... At least in concept.

As a mahjong game it's okay, and it's at least worth owning a copy of for the novelty factor alone, but Taisen Net Gimmick: Capcom & Psikyo All-Stars is really the perfect example of what this list is about. Having it be done is a genre no one would really think of is just the cherry on top.

The Super Robot Wars series is a celebration of everything mech anime, and has seen so much success that, soon, a mainline entry will be released with a complete English translation for the first time ever. But the same year Banpresto debuted that series it also made games where Gundam would interact with Kamen Rider & Ultraman, two of the biggest tokusatsu ("special filming") franchises. Therefore, wouldn't it make sense for Banpresto to develop an SRW-esque game featuring nothing but tokusatsu franchises? Well, such a game did indeed happen, but what makes this unexpected is who developed it, how late it came out, & the lineup itself. Here's a quick breakdown of Super Tokusatsu Taisen 2001.

First of all, Banpresto didn't actually develop the game, but rather it was outsourced to Japan Art Media, or JAM for short. To JAM's credit, the studio has worked on many notable products, ports, & remakes, like the various remakes of Lunar for the Saturn, GBA, & PSP, Lunar: Dragon Song, Phantasy Star Generation:1 & 2, & assisting for Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but the fact that Banpresto (or even WinkySoft) was not behind STT 2001 is proof that this game was considered little more than a side project. Not just that, but it's obvious that this game uses the engine that powered SRW F & F Final, which was already four years old by release, instead of the more recent (~1 year old) engine that Alpha & Alpha Gaiden were using, which only made STT feel a little outdated, even for 2001; the lack of any voice work (minus some intro narration) also doesn't help. Finally, though, there's the lineup, which essentially eschews what makes SRW such an appealing franchise. Even from the very first game, which featured Gundam F91 (which was the newest entry at the time), a big marketing point of SRW is that it's where the classics of old can interact with the hot new titles of the present. Sadly, this is completely ignored when it comes to STT 2001, which has nothing but tokusatsu series from 1966-1989.

Granted, it can be argued that tokusatsu was just coming out of a notable dry period which was the 90s, but even by 2001 there was no excuse to rely on nothing but old-school Ultraman, Showa Kamen Rider, Kikaider, Giant Robo, Inazuman, Red Baron, Daitetsujin 17, Goranger, & the Metal Hero series. The Ultra Series already had Tiga, Dyna, & Gaia by the time this game came out, Kamen Rider Kuuga had fully aired, & Super Sentai had never stopped airing, so only utilizing the earliest entries for each franchise is a little mind-boggling. Sure, I get that JAM likely wanted to give more than the Big 3 toku franchises focus & attention, but the end result is a game that came out late in the PS1's life & was focused too much on nostalgia to attract anyone else. Ironically, however, now would be the perfect time for Banpresto to try making another SRW-style tokusatsu game, as the genre went through a wild renaissance during the 00s. Imagine a Super Tokusatsu Taisen 2017 that would feature the likes of Madan Senki Ryukendo, the Chouseishin Series, Heisei Kamen Rider, Ultraman, & Super Sentai, or even Garo alongside the icons of old... Too bad we'll likely never see such a thing happen, since the 2001 attempt didn't succeed.

Does that mean that Super Tokusatsu Taisen 2001 is a bad game, though? Not at all, as I've heard that it's a solid game in its own right, and maybe one day I'll find the chance to play through & review it.

It's Capcom & Psikyo once again here, but this time it's in the form of a more "traditional" game, and the crossover here is all Capcom. Released in the arcades in late 2000, with a port to the Dreamcast a couple of months later, the Psikyo-developed Cannon Spike (Gunspike in Japan) is an interesting "multi-directional shooter" (yeah, that's apparently a sub-genre) that acts kind of like a mix between Smash TV & Capcom's own Commando. Your character can move & shoot in all directions, temporarily lock onto opponents, and even rely on close-quarters combat when needed. It's a really fast-paced & intense game, with enemies constantly coming in, & the boss fights being appropriately tough & cheap (got to get those quarters!). I'd call it a bit of a hidden gem in the Dreamcast's catalog, but considering that it's also one of the more expensive games to get a hold of now for the system, I guess it's fair to say that the gem isn't exactly hidden anymore. Regardless, it's inclusion in this list is due to the lineup, which is rather crazy in terms of what Capcom franchises are included, even if not officially.

On the character select screen you have immediate access to Charlie Nash from Street Fighter Alpha, Cammy White from Street Fighter II, a giant gold knight version of Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins, Shiba Shintaro from the highly-forgotten Three Wonders, & Simone, the sole original character who shares some similarities to Linn Kurosawa from the 1994 Alien vs. Predator arcade beat-em-up. While this is already of a bit of an odd cast, especially the inclusion of Arthur, hidden on each side are two extra characters, Baby Bonnie Hood from Darkstalkers & classic Mega Man! Add to that an extra "Zero Cammy" based on her SF Alpha incarnation & Balrog/Vega as a recurring boss character, and Cannon Spike not only becomes an interesting & fun 3D shooter, but also one of the most curious crossover games Capcom has ever published. Sadly, with the insane prices it goes for I can't really recommend you go out & buy it right now if you own a Dreamcast, but if you get the chance to play then definitely do so, regardless of it it's for the fun & frantic gameplay or simply for the oddball lineup of Capcom characters.

Sometimes a crossover's creation is so bizarre that it almost overshadows the product itself. Case in a point is a crossover RPG that's so "Made for Japan" that it could only be "Made in the USA"... Wait, WHAT?! So, back in 1998, game developer Toys for Bob made The Unholy War for the PS1, which combined together hex-based strategy RPG gameplay with arena-based real-time combat in place of the standard stat-based & uncontrollable combat. As revealed in an interview with Matt Chat back in 2011, Toys for Bob co-founders Paul Reiche III & Fred Ford were also fans of the SD Gundam strategy RPGs of the time, so they got into contact with Bandai to combine their game with that franchise. Bandai, in turn, loved The Unholy War, but had "better" plans in mind. The end result is early 1999's Majokko Daisakusen/Operation Magical Girl -little witching mischiefs-, a crossover between classic magical girls from 1966-1980!

Made to tie in with a line of figures under the Majokko Daisakusen DX label, the video game was the closest thing to an SRW-style magical girl crossover title until Banpresto would make that exact game via 2014's Super Heroine Chronicle, though that game isn't really about magical girls. Anyway, Majokko Daisakusen brings together Toei's classic magical girl anime series that helped establish the genre, particularly Sally the Witch, Himitsu no Akko-chan, Chappy the Witch, Cutie Honey, Majokko Megu-chan, Hana no Ko Lunlun, & Magical Girl Lalabel. As a crossover in general, this makes sense, as these series all set the standards that most magical girl anime still adhere to nowadays... Minus the focus on combat. Really, outside of Cutie Honey (& maybe Megu-chan, from what I can tell), these anime were not about fighting evil in a literal sense, so it's all sorts of bizarre that Bandai decided that an action-focused strategy RPG would be the perfect vehicle to bring these icons together. It also doesn't help that every single enemy monster in the game is simply taken wholesale from The Unholy War, & when combined with the fact that Toys for Bob didn't have an easy time working with the Japanese-only faxes that would be continually sent in, it's a bit of a miracle that Majokko Daisakusen even got completed, let alone released.

Oh well, at least Toys for Bob would eventually hit true pay dirt when Reiche & Ford came with up the idea of being able to mix together the collectible figure market with video games twelve years later. Yeah, the people behind Skylanders once made a Japan-exclusive magical girl anime crossover RPG... The world is a crazy place.

Once upon a time Capcom was developing a 3D (or maybe with was 2.5D) arcade fighter called Capcom Fighting All-Stars. The game would mix together characters from Street Fighter, Darkstalkers, Rival Schools, Final Fight, & Strider, alongside four original characters, and was going to include an interesting system where how much life you had left related to how many super meters you could have as well as "finishing moves", ala Mortal Kombat. After some public beta-testing at Japanese arcades in 2003, though, the game wound up being shelved. Still, Capcom wanted to put out some sort of crossover fighting game, and the end result of all of this (after having to replace the producer during development) is Capcom's final 2D (i.e. sprite-based) fighting game, 2004's Capcom Fighting Evolution (or Capcom Fighting Jam outside of North America) for the PS2 & Xbox, which is honestly one of the laziest & most ill-conceived fighting games of all time. Still, it's a crazy-unexpected crossover in more ways than one.

Okay, okay, CFE isn't a terrible game by any means, it's actually a perfectly playable & enjoyable game in its own right, but it sure feels lazy. Compared the what it originally came from, which was only half-filled with Street Fighter characters (one for each "series", essentially), this game's roster is essentially three-fifths SF, since the game acts as a crossover between five different Capcom fighters. It's Street Fighter II, III, & Alpha, Darkstalkers, & Red Earth (Warzard in Japan), the last of which never even saw a home release (even to this day). Each series has four characters & a fighting system, so II has a single super meter, III has parries & super arts (all available at once here), Alpha has air blocking, Alpha Counters, & Custom Combos, Darkstalkers has ES moves & Chain Combos, & Red Earth has the Gem Gauge & Ultimate Guard & Counter. Sadly, it's easy to see that, without being able to select which play style to use, the game has blatantly obvious balance issues, & the fact that Capcom didn't make any new sprites for the returning characters (minus an new head for Zangief... Yeah, a head) just screams the laziness that also affected Capcom vs. SNK, but at least that game had an entire half of "brand new" (for Capcom) characters to balance things out. In CFE, the sole new character is Ingrid, a carry-over from All-Stars who uses an altered version of that game's super meter system, with Pyron & Shin Akuma being re-used as the bosses. It's literally the laziest way possible to make a crossover, because it's the closest thing to an officially-licensed MUGEN title.

Finally, there's the roster itself, which doesn't include some seemingly "natural" choices. Sure, Ryu (for II) & Chun-Li (for III) are here, but there's no Morrigan for Darkstalkers, instead relying on Anakaris, Demitri, Felicia, & Jedah. III features Alex, Yun, & Urien, Alpha gets Guy, Rose, Sakura, & Karin, & Red Earth sees Leo, Kenji/Mukuro, Hydron/Nool, & (freaking!) Hauzer. Sadly, though, very few know how to really play Red Earth due to it being the most obscure CPSIII game, not to mention that it's more of a boss rush game than a traditional fighter, and when combined with the other issues & laziness, I can't really recommend Capcom Fighting Evolution, no matter how awesome it is to be able to play as & fight against a giant dinosaur in Hauzer. It is on PSN as a PS2 Classic & occasionally goes on sale, though, so I guess it's worth it when super-cheap. Still, knowing that this is how Capcom ended its era of 2D fighters is just disappointing, and made all the worse when SNK would show everyone how its done a year later with 2005's Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, which is the way you do a single-company crossover fighter.

Come early 2001, Sega was seeing the eventual end of regular support for the Dreamcast, putting an end to its days as a first-party hardware developer. The force of power showcased by Sony & its PlayStation was just too much for the company to take on regularly, let alone the old rivalry with Nintendo & the coming entry from Microsoft, and so it was time to say farewell to its most iconic era. Tez Okano, however, wanted to make a game that celebrated the legacy Sega already had, but the first time he proposed his game concept, it was looked at as a joke. He was given a budget by Hitmaker president Hisao Oguchi after a second attempt, and promptly made his game in secret over two years, since he had no idea how it would be received by the company. Come 2001, though, Sega saw no problems with the concept of the game, & today Segagaga is looked at as a holy grail in the Dreamcast's library.

Taking control of two teenagers, Taro Sega & Yayoi Haneda, in an attempt to help Sega regain the remaining 97% of the 2025 video games market from the evil DOGMA, the game is a quirky RPG where you bring aboard all sorts of bizarre "game developers" (including an unofficial appearance from Ralph Macchio), but one area where Segagaga really grabs people's attentions (& puts it into this list) is the sheer amount of Sega franchises & characters that are shown. From giants like Sonic the Hedgehog to former mascots like Alex Kidd (who works in a convenience store at first, having only his memories to keep him happy), Segagaga is a true love letter to Sega, reveling in both the (then) recent & old, without only a few confirmed exclusions (like Segata Sanshiro or a Ferrari) due to licensing issues. Hell, Okano even managed to get a deal from Toei Animation in order to give the game some anime cutscenes. Obviously, the game never left Japan, and even there it was only initially available via Sega Direct (before being given a general store & then budget re-release), and today is one of the more expensive games to get for the Dreamcast. There's also a legendary long-attempted fan-translation, though I don't believe it ever got 100% completed, but it just shows that Segagaga really struck a chord with some people, and there's really nothing else like it today, nor could I ever see such a game ever be made nowadays. Probably the closest "successor" would be Nintendo & Skip's Captain Rainbow on the Wii, which utilized a number of small-name Nintendo characters, but even that doesn't quite reach the scale that Segagaga aimed for & hit.
So there are six crossovers that are just so bizarrely unexpected & are really still one-of-a-kind in some aspects. These are perfect examples of the kinds of things that can only happen via crossovers, and while the likes of these six may not ever happen again, at least not quite like how these came about, we can only hope that more truly unexpected crossovers will come our way around the world.

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