March’s Question of the Month is brought to you by Luke from Hundstrasse: video game player, Jurassic-Park-themed title finder and pun master. To find out more about him and his site, as well as how you can get involved, take a look at this post.
Video game crossovers tend to be popular with fans and businesses alike. Companies have realised that combining their brand with another well-known franchise can improve the popularity of both; and fans love to see their favourite characters meet for new adventures in familiar worlds. This thinking though has led to some bizarre mashups that seem to have been haphazardly thrown together in a late-night boardroom meeting.
Take Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe for example, the fighting game that doesn’t feature what Mortal Kombat enthusiasts want the most: over-the-top finishing moves. Or Sonic & All-Stars Racing, a release diluted through the inclusion of non-SEGA properties like Football Manager and YouTube personalities. Or the Mercedes-Benz downloadable content (DLC) added to Mario Kart 8, content that breaks the title’s fantasy setting by featuring a real car.
Crossovers as blatant as these have the potential to come across as cheap marketing ploys designed to take advantage of hardcore followers. Sometimes what’s needed is a more subtle approach: a small reference here and there to another franchise’s world, rather than a full-blown mashup. That’s why LucasArts were the masters of handling crossovers in a way that was respectful to both their characters and their fans.
I’d never heard of Loom before playing The Secret of Monkey Island as a kid. Approaching a pirate named Cobb sitting in the back of the Scumm Bar on his own, I noticed his ‘Ask Me About Loom’ badge so it seemed important to do just that when the option appeared in the conversation tree. His personality brightened and he became more talkative after I’d made my request:
You mean the latest masterpiece of fantasy storytelling from Lucasfilm’s™ Brian Moriarty™? Why it’s an extraordinary adventure with an interface on magic… stunning, high-resolution, 3D landscapes… sophisticated score and musical effects. Not to mention the detailed animation and special effects, elegant point ‘n’ click control of characters, objects, and magic spells. Beat the rush! Go out and buy Loom™ today!
At the time I thought it was another joke, and it was only when I signed up to Steam years later that I realised it was in fact a humorous sales-pitch for a title I then got to play. Cobb the pirate from The Secret of Monkey Island was a likeness of Cob the unfriendly henchman from Loom; and his presence in the title served as a reference to exaggerated product placement, also highlighted by the ‘trademark’ running-gag throughout the series.
This wasn’t the only time Monkey Island gave a nod to Moriarty’s adventure. Guybrush Threepwood asks ‘I’m Bobbin, are you my mother?’ on several occasions throughout the franchise and in the second game, he quips about the relative obscurity of Loom’s protagonist. The seagull in the first two instalments also gets its own credit: ‘Seagull appears courtesy of LOOM™’.
It doesn’t stop there though. You can kill that damn bird while playing Full Throttle. In the remake of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, a landscape painting in Brunwald Castle features a scene from the adventure. And the NES version of Maniac Mansion features a broken record called The Soundtrack of Loom. As I said above, LucasArts were experts at handling crossovers.
I like references like these: they’re the perfect way for developers to pay homage to great video games and keep a little in-joke going with their fans. A full-blown crossover may attract the hardcore followers, but a subtle nod can hold intrigue for new players and direct them towards releases they may not have otherwise have found.