You know the old adage that says you can never have too much of a good this? It’s a crock, especially in the world of video games. Developers sometimes unfortunately get stuck in ruts, with one coming up with a successful style of game, and others deciding to try and one-up the original or, in some cases, simply put out a cheaper product and try to ride the first title’s coattails. Granted, not all imitators are bad games, but no one can argue that having any gaming genre flooded with “me-too” titles is a good thing.
One of the worst offenders has to be the animal-raising genre. Virtual pet sims have been around for a long time, but it has been only in recent that we’ve seen an explosion in them, and it’s all Nintendo’s fault. Few can argue that the gaming giant created a winner when they first released Nintendogs for the DS in 2005. However, their success and the unique features of the DS and the Nintendo Wii helped crack open the floodgates. Since then we’ve seen endless Dogz, Catz, Hamsterz and Horsez titles, not to mention GoPets, Purr Pals, Fantasy Aquarium, and even Disney Friends. The pet-training sim genre also spawned a sub-series of veterinarian games, with some borrowed elements from the likes of Trauma Center: Under the Knife. The sad thing is, most of the pet-training games play almost exactly alike, with the only major difference being the type of virtual critter the player is raising. It might work business-wise, keeping development costs down while playing on the inner animal lover in gamers everywhere, but when you start seeing titles that feature the likes of dolphins and wild tigers, not to mention sequels (if you can believe it), then you know it’s definitely gotten out of hand.
While Nintendogs rip-offs are probably the most egregious oversaturation offender spawned by Nintendo, it isn’t the only one. The market has also been absolutely flooded by knock-offs of Wii Sports, Wii Fit and the Brain Age / Big Brain Academy games. Edutainment software itself isn’t a bad thing. In fact it has been done successfully on the PC for years, and some of the titles on the DS (My Word Coach, for example) aren’t half bad. That said, too many developers have dumped shovel-ware onto the system, and even put forth failed attempts to duplicate the mascots used in Nintendo’s own titles. The same holds true for the Wii Sports and Wii Fit clones. For every title that is solid or puts a unique twist on the formula (Carnival Games for the Wii comes immediately to mind), there are too many that string together half-hearted athletic minigames and try to fleece the public. Yes, some of these games are actually worth playing, but they can be hard to find as there are simply too many pretenders to the throne.
Poor quality isn’t always indicative of an oversaturated market, however. Some of the biggest offenders when it comes to flooding the market are known for featuring titles that are typically average to very good. For example, look at World War II-themed first person shooters. Games like Brothers in Arms, Medal of Honor and Call of Duty are all fantastic games, but nonetheless, there are far too many games like this on the market. The same is true with rock-and-roll games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Forgetting clones like Rock Revolution for a moment, between full games and expansion packs, there are have been at least 16 different Rock Band and Guitar Hero titles released on consoles and handhelds since 2005. Definite overkill.
Sadly, oversaturation can even hit in our favorite genres, as it has for this writer and his beloved DS roleplaying games. According to GameRankings.com, in the past six months there have been at least 15 RPGs released for Nintendo’s handheld gaming system, including the likes of Final Fantasy IV, Dragon Quest IV, Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (but not Disgaea DS, which means the number is likely higher). Plus, over the next four months, that number will increase greatly as games such as Chrono Trigger, Luminous Arc 2, Away: Shuffle Dungeon, Blue Dragon Plus and Legacy of Ys: Books 1 & 2 are scheduled for release in North America. For a genre that prides itself on lengthy gameplay, 20-plus multi-hour epics is definitely too much for even the most dedicated roleplaying enthusiast to handle.
So please, developers, enough already. Give us a break from some of these oversaturated game genres. Turn your attention to some neglected types of titles. Craft a new space-shooter or Streets of Rage-esque beat-‘em-ups. Sure, we love our WWII shooters, our rock-and-roll games, and our portable RPGs. A lot of us enjoy motion-controlled sports games and self-improvement titles. Some of us probably even enjoy the wide variety of pet-training games available on the market today. Yet, we love other types of games too, and it would be nice if game makers would stop paying so much time trying to duplicate the games that are currently hot on the sales charts and start trying to give gamers more variety and setting to work on the next big thing.